Coming back to Elmville didn't carry the same jubilant triumph that defeating Kalvaxus brought. They were tired. Exhausted. Worn and frayed at the edges. Their world shifted several degrees to the right but no one else followed suit. The long drive back was more often silent than not, everyone in the party taking turns sleeping in the safe haven as the van rumbled across the continent. There were no trumpets, no celebration waiting for them when they passed the sign that proudly proclaimed “Welcome to Elmville” in large swooping letters. Life continued on without them, classmates kept themselves busy with high school parties or sports, Bud Cubby continued to deliver mail, Basrar’s ice cream parlor stayed open as always. However, the Bad Kids return feeling a little less than who they were when they left
“Well… See you around guys.” Riz stood leaning against the open door of the van, his new vest looking ill-fitting after such a long drive back. Lux's apartment was lit up, casting sickly light across Riz’s ever-present dark circles under his eyes. He didn’t sleep at all during the ride home, his father’s arquebus always on his lap as he scanned the passing landscape.
Gorgug nodded, his voice hushed in consideration for those asleep. “Right, right. Say hi to Sklonda for us.”
“I’ll text you tomorrow, The Ball.” Fabian piped up from the passenger seat, offering him a little wave.
“Yeah. Tomorrow.” Riz hesitates, his eyes looking panicked and darting to his party members in the backseat. With a deep shaky breath he closes the van door and rushes back into his apartment feeling like he left a part of him in the Nightmare Forest and several parts in the Hang Van.
The girls are next to go, Gorgug and Fabian try to wake them gently but Fig only scowls in her sleep and slaps at their hands. Kristen snores even louder and buries her freckled nose deep in Tracker’s neck. Fabian curses under his breath and grabs a discarded pillow to smack Fig in the face.
“Get up, I need to get back to my three thousand thread count sheets.”
Fig grumbles incoherently and flips Fabian off before shaking Kristen, Adaine, and Tracker awake. Sandra Lynn easily hefts some of the girl’s bags and heads inside with a simple, “drive safe boys. I’m calling your parents tomorrow and I’m sure Jawbone would like to… Talk about what happened in there.”
Kristen leans over the console and gives Gorgug and Fabian both a one-armed hug, “love you guys.” She says sleepily before being tugged away by Tracker. Adaine, too tired for words, gives them a wave and a smile. She’s holding Aelwyn’s hand and gently guides her inside. Fabian and Gorgug watch them go silently before Gorgug sighs and starts up the van again. In the back, Gilear murmurs something in his sleep and Fabian scoffs.
“Forgot that I allowed him to sleep in my home.” For all of Fabian’s haughtiness, the statement comes out softer than it would have before spring break. Gorgug hums, knowing that his friend is simply trying to make the situation a little lighter.
“He’s not so bad, really.”
“No, he’s not.”
Driving up to Seacaster Manor has always been strange to Grogug. He can hardly imagine a space so big for such few people. He feels like his parents are always within arm’s reach in the tree, but Seacaster Manor is big enough to get lost in.
Gorgug parks in the valet parking, fingers tapping idly on the wheel. “You’re good to go in?” He asks absently. Fabian nods,
“Mama will still be awake, probably. Thanks for the ride Gorgug. If you need anything you’ll let me know, yeah?” He smiles which Gorgug returns with one of his own and a quick nod. Fabian turns to look at a sleeping Gilear and cups his hands around his mouth, “come on Gilear!”
“Ow! Oh. Oh, dear. Fabian, I don’t think I can walk… On account of hitting my head. I might be bleeding.”
Fabian is already out of the van and halfway up the marble staircase. Gorgug fidgets awkwardly in his seat “Um. Mr. Faeth do you need… help?”
“Oh no… That’s alright I’ll just limp my way to the garage. It’s a common occurrence.” Gorgug winces in sympathy but still breathes a sigh of relief when the van doors close.
The silence felt omnipresent, there were no snores or sleepy snuffles, no hushed laughter and whispers. Just the sound of the van rumbling along the road. Gorgug sighs and fiddles with the van’s radio hoping to drown the silence out.
Life doesn’t go back to normal. High school feels trivial compared to the trauma they went through just days before. Jawbone helps in what ways he can but nothing can stop the nightmares. The waking up in fear of not knowing the difference between reality and dream. The sleepless nights medicated with caffeine. The 4 am “are you ok?” texts with quick lightning-fast replies.
Their beds feel so much emptier, large expanses of cold sheets and an oppressive quiet that none of the Bad Kids are used to. Tracker sneaks into Kristen’s room often, it’s better than being alone but still not right. Tracker’s arms are around her as always but there’s not a knee dug into her back or a hand wrapped around her ankle. Kristen stares at the ceiling of her room hoping Tracker’s breath against her neck will lull her into sleep. She thinks about Tracker leaving soon to investigate her own goddess, leaving Kristen’s bed cold and barren.
Her crystal buzzes by her leg and Kristen fumbles to reach it, the light blinds her momentarily and she blearily squints to make out the words of the text she received.
Riz [03:47]: Hey come outside
Riz [03:47]: Everything is ok. Bring adaine fig and tracker
Riz [03:48]: Gorgug is here too
Adaine and Fig were already both awake when Kristen crept into their rooms. Adaine was reading by lamplight in the bottom bunk, looking like she hasn’t read a single word. While Fig was humming softly while playing notes on a piano stopping often to scribble in a notebook or twirl a glimmering feather between her fingers.
“Riz and Gorgug are here? Are they ok?” Adaine hisses, already leaping out of her bed and throwing on her denim jacket. “Fuck, where’s my spellbook.”
Kristen holds her hands up, “Uhm, he said everything’s fine. They’re outside.” Tracker rubs at her eyes and clutches at Kristen’s tie-dye sleep shirt.
“Got my skateboard and bass, I’m ready to go. Hey, you guys want an energy drink? Dunno if we’re doing a heist or what but I wanted to be prepared.” Fig says as she slips into Adaine’s room. Tracker mumbles and nods, flailing her hand out towards Fig for a can. Somewhere deep beneath a mound of covers piled on top of the top bunk a sleepy Alewyn grumbles.
“Could you possibly do this anywhere else.”
“Want to tell me why we’re all going to Fabian’s at four in the morning?” Adaine gently tugs on Riz’s ear when his bouncing leg starts to vibrate through the whole van.
“Look. I know you guys aren’t sleeping or trancing or whatever. Obviously, I don’t sleep but- I, I just-” His shoulders slump in defeat and Gorgug smoothly interjects,
“If we sleep in the same place we can protect each other better, right? And I uh… have been having nightmares, you know. About everyone.” The sentiment rings through the van, Fig jumps in with all her gentle forwardness.
“Hey man, I think we’ve all been having nightmares,” all the teenagers quietly agree, “plus it’ll be fun! Like a sleepover!”
“Aren’t we down a gay half-orc?” Kristen hooks her chin on Gorgug’s seat and mimes throwing a football, “you know, big, football player, does the hoot growl thing. A member of this party.”
“Look, we tried to wake him! He was completely knocked out.”
Adaine says and lets her forehead thump dramatically on the headrest, “Riz, you can’t just keep breaking into people’s houses!”
“Well, how else are we going to get into Fabian’s house?”
“Why can’t we just knock? Like normal people. Would that be too hard?”
“Shit. Fuck. Almost had it.”
“Riz you’re suppose to--”
“I know how to pick a lock, Fig! It’s like my whole thing! Solving mysteries, connecting clues, bringing justice to--.”
“Hey! This window is unlocked.” Kristen smiles lazily on the other side of Fabian’s private patio and heaves the window open. She steps inside, “Fabian wake up, dude!”
“Kristen what the fuck!”
“It’s a sleepover, chill!”
“Yeah I guess we can have a sleepover but uh, where are you guys going to sleep?” Fabian replies while lounging on his bed that takes up one-third of his equally gigantic room. "My bed clearly isn't big enough for all of us. Guess you could take the floor?" The rest of the Bad Kids give each other looks before a large grin spreads across Fig’s face.
“I call center!” She leaps through the air and bounces next to a startled Fabian.
“Oh no, no, no. Absolutely not. We are not--” Laughter fills the air as bodies begin to pile upon each other as they all scramble on Fabian’s bed.
Closets are soon raided for extra pillows and comforters, nests are made and hushed conversations are had. Kristen is running her fingers across a new braid in her hair thanks to Tracker, Adaine is blowing cool air on Fabian’s newly painted fingernails, admiring her work with a self-satisfied smile. Fig and Riz are hanging their heads off the edge of the bed, playing a game on their crystals and occasionally throwing taunts at each other. Gorgug watches them all with a small smile, he texts Zelda a quick thank you for the sleepover idea. It's comfortable, warm, and most of all it feels safe.
The sun is forcing its way through Fabian’s curtains when Adaine lets out a yawn that ripples throughout the adventuring party. She slumps down, head cradled by Gorgug’s shoulder and legs thrown across Fig’s, “Think it’s time to sleep.” Her mumbled statement is barely heard but undeniably understood as the kids all curl in on one another to finally sleep after an exhausting week of trying to learn how to be alone again.
Fig snuggles into Kristen’s hair, her arm thrown across the redhead and grasping onto Tracker’s sleeve. Her legs are tangled with Fabian’s as he stretches over to turn off his bedside lamp. Riz is curled at the foot of the bed, his clawed hand reaches out and gently grasps onto Adaines ankle, his thumb against her pulse. Riz’s head rests on Gorgug’s thigh, the bed is nearly big enough for the half-orc, only his feet dangle over the edge. Still, he snores contentedly with Adaine’s head on his shoulder and an arm thrown across Fabian’s chest. Fabian has a hand curled through Riz’s hair and his face pressed into Gorgug’s shoulder. Kristen sleeps curled around Tracker, and Fig’s knee pressed into her back. She blindly kisses Tracker’s forehead which was met with a demanding whine from the rest of the party members. Kristen giggles and sleepily doles out forehead kisses to all her friends as they sink into the warmth and comfort that could only come with feeling at home with those around them.
They wake well past noon feeling well-rested and happy in each other's company. Seven teenagers who never have enough time to be teenagers tumble into Fabian's kitchen and crowd around the granite tabletop where Cathilda was already making towers of pancakes. With knees bumping into knees, hands stroking through hair, and soft sleep-warm smiles on faces, they felt just a little more like normal teenagers who bemoan about upcoming tests.
As the weeks go by, sleepovers become a common occurrence. Each of the Bad Kids receives a golden key engraved with filigree tucked into their lockers. Folded alongside the key, a threat in Fabian's immaculate calligraphy reminded the Bad Kids not to break into his room unexpectedly again.