Manny woke, as usual, rooted into a corner. He could see the morning sunlight coming in through the window in soft beams. It was calming to watch the dust motes suspended in them drift by. It was… peaceful, like this. Why even bother getting up, or going anywhere.
He enjoyed the tranquility for a few more minutes, musing about the nature of time and wondering if this was what it was like to just… be. Just exist with no purpose and no need to be anywhere, do anything. He wondered if… if truly dying would be like this. Like putting an end to all the pressures forcing him to keep moving.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of voices out in the hallway.
"-yeah, just gimme a second! I could've sworn I last saw it in here!" The door to the room was thrown open as someone walked in, apparently looking for something. It was… Nelson?? He was back to normal; not whispering, all in one piece, not a speck of red to be seen. He crossed to the table and picked up a book on historical enigmas.
"See I told you! I must've lent it to someone and forgot."
"Yeah, yeah, can we go now? It's gonna be a long flight back and Elaine's waiting on us." Guybrush had poked his head in. His plain old unchanged human head. Wait… they were leaving? Since when?
Manny's jaw was too overgrown by now to properly hinge anymore, but that was fine. He hadn't really needed it anyway.
"Going somewhere?" The two Psychonauts jumped at the sound of his voice, like they hadn't realized he was there. Nelson looked around for a moment, confused, before spotting the corner full of foliage. He squinted, trying to make out the figure woven within. At last he spotted Manny's skull amongst the flowers and greenery. He looked nervous.
"Oh Manny! I didn't realize you were in here! We're, ah…, yeah, we're heading back home. The quarantine was lifted, don't you remember?"
Guybrush had stepped into the room fully when Manny had startled him, and then come to stand by his partner. After Nelson finished his sentence, Guybrush elbowed him before giving him a meaningful look in Manny's direction, like he'd just said something insensitive.
"Aha, that is… I mean… You… don't remember?" Nelson was wringing his hands, looking around for any way to escape the conversation.
"No, I don't. What are you talking about?"
"They finally found a way to fix us. Everyone's leaving." After that stunning opener, Guybrush didn't seem to know where to go next. There was a long, awkward pause before Nelson broke the silence.
"But, the, ah, the doctors yesterday… they said your bones are too rotted through with plants. If they cured you you'd just disintegrate… so they're just… not going to. You're staying here."
Guybrush put a hand to his temple like he was receiving a message. "Ohp, Elaine says we need to get going or she's leaving us behind. It was nice to see you Manny, buuuut gotta go!" And with that he disappeared out the door.
Nelson looked from the door back to Manny. He gave one nervous grin before fleeing out the door after his partner.
Manny began tearing his way out of the corner. Hurrying, he stumbled once before finding his feet and running after them. He couldn't have taken too long, but the pair was nowhere to be seen. Picking up the pace, Manny took off down the hall before rounding the corner and running almost directly into Eddie.
"Manny! Hey, what's going on? Where're you going?"
"They… they…," Manny was panting as he leaned on his partner, struggling to find the words. "They're leaving me here…" Saying it out loud made his phantom heart ache.
"Yeah… I heard about that. That's actually why I came to find you, leaving you here all alone just didn't sit right with me."
Manny looked up. Eddie was smiling at him, but even though he was clearly trying to reassure the skeleton there was still something… almost mournful about him.
"I'm sorry it turned out like this. They said they'd be able to save everybody. But don't worry… I'm not going to let you be alone. Nobody should have to be alone."
Manny straightened up. "Mijo… what are you talking about?"
With no warning, Eddie grabbed him and brought him in close. The hug pinned Manny's arms to his sides, and Eddie's height and strength lifted Manny off the floor.
When the warmth of human contact suddenly became the sweltering heat of a pyrokinetic charging up their powers, Manny finally understood.
"EDDIE! EDDIE WAIT-" Manny started thrashing, trying to escape the hold, but he was no match for the strong arms locked around him. He had no purchase, no leverage, no way to escape the oncoming inferno.
They were the last two in the building, and no one was around to hear Manny scream as his bones began to turn to ash in his partner's final embrace.
Manny woke with a strangled yell. He couldn't move he was stuck it was dark he couldn't see he couldn't-
He'd begun desperately tearing at the roots anchoring him to the walls and floor, even going so far as to start tearing them out from around his bones as well.
He fell to the floor, curling up into a ball and wrapping his arms around himself for protection. Breathing heavily, he tried to get a handle on the blinding panic and properly assess the situation. It was… dark. He was in his room. He'd been asleep.
It was nighttime and he'd just had a nightmare. A terrible, horrible, awful nightmare where all of his friends had abandoned him to be forgotten in the woods and then burned him to death so he wouldn't be lonely without them.
Even with the context Manny couldn't quell the rattling of his bones. They… they wouldn't do that, right? Right?? Just because he was already dead didn't mean he couldn't get better… right?
His downward spiral was interrupted by a knock on the door. Whoever it was had only tapped once or twice, but the sound was like a gunshot in the silence. Still shell-shocked, Manny couldn't muster anything to answer them.
It didn't matter. Almost immediately after they'd knocked, his visitor opened the door and stuck their head in. Guybrush. His fiery hair lit up the doorway, and he was rubbing one of his dead eyes with his good hand.
"Look, I don't know what's going on in here but some people are actually trying to-" he cut off his own irreverent rebuke when he saw Manny in crisis. Taking in the scattered plant remains, the state of the corner Manny'd been in, and the skeleton shaking on the floor, Guybrush blinked once or twice before leaving without a word and shutting the door behind him.
Manny was alone. Again. Even when they were in the same boat his friends were still-
And then the door opened again. And the Nelsons were scurrying through it, rushing over to peer at Manny curiously. Puzzle had barely had time to ask him if he was alright before Eddie was lumbering in behind them.
Carefully, still trembling, Manny sat up. He didn't know what to do, what to say. But he knew one thing; if Eddie tried to give him a hug right now he was going to go to pieces, physically and mentally. He wrapped his arms around his legs, pulling himself in tight like it would help him magically be okay again.
Eddie knelt by his side, and he could see Guybrush floating over his shoulder, almost uncharacteristically concerned for his usual obnoxious attitude. Eddie didn't bother asking pointless questions; Guybrush must've filled him in on his assumptions, and Eddie was smart. He could see what had happened.
"Do you wanna come stay the night with me?" Mutely, Manny nodded his head yes. He needed… he needed someone, anyone else to be in the room just to make sure they hadn't forgotten about him. Weren't going to leave him somewhere no one would remember until he'd finally put down roots permanently and melded into the floorboards and forgotten what it was like to be truly alive and-
Gently, Eddie took one of his hands and helped him stand. When it became clear he couldn't get enough control over his legs to walk, Eddie had moved in to pick him up. However, after Manny had immediately stiffened and almost fallen over moving away from his partner, Guybrush had swooped in to steady him and do the lifting himself.
The trip across the hall to Eddie's den was short, but it still felt like miles. The four Nelsons had surrounded Manny and Guybrush like some kind of tiny red honor guard, and with Eddie leading the procession Manny could only imagine what they looked like to anybody else wandering the halls this late.
Guybrush settled Manny into a chair, and Feral sat down by his feet like some kind of guard gnome. Fear rejoined Eddie on the beanbag, while Puzzle and Confusion made themselves comfortable in other nooks around the room. Guybrush was still floating in the corner, drifting lazily and making no move to leave when Eddie spoke up.
"Do you… Wanna talk about it?" Eddie was trying, but even with all the trust they'd built in their relationship as partners they'd still never been good at talking about their own emotions. Manny didn't even know where to start; he shook his head.
"Well, uh, we're here. All of us. If you need anything." Honestly, that was all he could ask for at the moment.
As the night went on, one by one his friends drifted back to sleep. It was quiet, but even in the darkness he could hear their breathing and the knowledge that they were still there helped ease some of the tension in his body. Hours later, surrounded by the other Wildcards, eventually he fell back into the darkness as well.
He hadn't had any more dreams. When he next woke, he was lying on the beanbag beneath a pile of Nelsons. Eddie was nowhere to be seen, he must have moved Manny from the chair when he got up. Gently, he nudged Fear and Confusion off of him and sat up.
Looking around in the daylight, he could see someone had left him a glass of water and a plate of toast and fruit. Beside them was a note.
Sorry you're not feeling well, let me know if you need anything! -Z
He did feel a little better after some more sleep, and as he ate he walked back to his space to change out of his pajamas. He wasn't going to spend today stuck in one place; he was going to get up, wander around camp, and see if there was anything he could help with.
Someone had cleared the foliage out of the corner while he was asleep. There was no sign of his panicked frenzy, and most of the flowers along his arms and rib cage had already grown back.
He'd begun walking towards the main lodge when he heard it; a powerful engine. He would have ignored it, but the sound of those classic glasspacks had him doing a double take towards the front gates. The Bone Wagon.
Glottis' prized hotrod. Which meant…
He squinted at the parking lot for a few moments, searching, before he took off in a sprint. Or, y'know, the fastest sprint an overgrown skeleton with short legs can pull off. When he got there, his big friend was arguing with someone at the archway that led to the rest of the camp. Something about clearances, quarantines, and other nonsense that didn't matter because his friend came for him.
The speed demon's eyes had immediately found Manny, and his face split into that big goofy grin of his.
"Manny!" Ignoring the protests of the security guard, he crossed the threshold of the campground and just about crushed Manny in a hug.
"Do you know how long it took me to find this place? Elaine is good at keepin' secrets, but even she can't resist ol' Glottis." Manny couldn't help but smile. After everything, Glottis was still Glottis.
"Y'know if you keep disappearin' on me I'm gonna have to put together an MPS tracking device or somethin'. You can't get away from me that easy!"
"MPS?" Manny knew he was going somewhere with that. It was an easy enough set-up, and the skeleton was only too happy to oblige.
"Yeah, a Manny Positioning System. Y'know, like a GPS, but for finding your undead skeleton friends when they forget to call their roommates and tell 'em they're gettin' kidnapped again."
Whatever retort Manny had planned was interrupted by the security guard again. Glottis had stepped over the property line, which was against the rules of quarantine or something.
"Leave him alone, Mac. He's non-psychic, and he's got Psychonauts guest clearance. He's visiting a friend, not declaring war on the camp."
Glottis had gotten out his wallet and showed the guard the guest ID Manny had commissioned for him. After some deliberation, and a call to his supervisor, eventually it was decided that Glottis was allowed into Whispering Rock.
And even if he wasn't, Manny could have stood there at the property line all day if it meant spending time with his friend. When this whole mess had started, originally he'd kept Glottis as far away as possible for fear of infecting him too. But after a while it became clear that non-psychics weren't really at risk for this kind of thing, and Manny had started to miss him.
Seeing him again was like a breath of fresh air. As they walked back toward the Wildcards' living area - Eddie would no doubt want to see Glottis too - the rest of his fears from last night started to evaporate. Even if everyone else forgot him, there was always Glottis. Who else would have driven halfway across the US after pestering one of the Psychonauts' top agents just to see him?
And even if it turned out there was no cure, Manny had already beaten death once; who said he couldn't do it again?
Just walking, catching up on all the gossip from the mechanic's shop, Manny felt he had all the time in the world.
It was… peaceful.