The author's head is full of people. Some of them live here.
For those familiar with Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, the concept of a boarding house where all the usual weirdos and suspects hang out with the dandelions between their toes will be very familiar. Milo's Boarding House is the basis for the wonderful, magical land where all of my characters manage to hang out and heckle each other.|
Cast of Characters
**The Author**My name is Linn Browning. This blog is almost entirely written from my first-person perspective as I interact and have mental conversations with a variety of characters, both original and borrowed from various fandoms.
**Trevor Phillips**Originally borrowed from the Grand Theft Auto 5 video game. Trevor's first appearance in my portfolio is documented in "Every Day Is Exactly the Same" . Canon Trevor is a meth-addicted psychopath with depressive issues and a frightening tendency to shoot first and ask questions...well, never. My Trevor is largely the same, though, for the sake of my own morality, he decided to clean himself up and get some help for the depression. He's the most frequently heard-from voice in my head, even though he hasn't had nearly the volume of words written about him. He also tends to crop up in the middle of other stories without a whole lot of warning.
**John Lockard**Originally John Winchester of Supernatural, John and his cast of miscreants have taken over the monster-hunter side of my brain. Their world has spiraled out to include some techno-magical writings, too, though I haven't posted any of that here. John and his family have been quiet for a long while, though he often crops up randomly around the Boarding House, often sitting in the background of some other conversation. His appearances can be found in "The Lockard Dilemma" .
**Dex Lockard**Dex was originally based on Bobby Springer of Supernatural, though he acquired a lot of John's characteristics when I gave him "Alley - Because of You" as his romantic introduction. Of late, he's the Lockard who pops into my thoughts most readily. His half of Alley's story is "Dex Lockard - The Quiet One" .
**Charlie Lockard**Originally Dean Winchester of Supernatural, Charlie has been poking around the back of my head for a long, long while, ever since I decided to start migrating his father's romance into an original story instead of a fanfiction. I don't know Charlie quite as well as I know John, but I'm hoping to change that. His appearances are also found in "The Lockard Dilemma" .
**Maddie Brewer**Maddie is my original self-insert for the Lockard Dilemma material. Her story, "Maddie Brewer - Iron Miner's Daughter" was originally set in my home town of Iron Mountain, Michigan and many of the events and places described could be recognized by people I went to high school with. I moved her story to Sheboygan, Wisconsin during the migration of John's romance to original material and I've continued to write with Maddie and several other original characters, including Thalia Faust, Maddie's college-period lover and eventual wife.
**Nathan "Cable" Summers**Nathan is originally based on the version of Cable present in the Deadpool 2 movie, played by Josh Brolin. I have taken more than a few liberties with his character, which also included granting him a sense of self-awareness in the course of my unfinished fanfiction novel, Muscle Memory . Nathan is often found wandering aimlessly around while carrying a former lab rat on his shoulder. The rat's name is Cecil.
**Wade "Deadpool" Wilson**Deadpool is originally based on Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool of the movies. Since I've also read a fair number of comics, I've incorporated elements from the comics canon as well as just letting him run rampant through my head. Wade likes to pop into other conversations without warning and also stars in Muscle Memory.
**Aliyah "Deadpool" Dayspring**Aliyah is an original Deadpool from an alternate dimension who has wandered into the same universe as my versions of Cable and Wade-Pool. She has wings, a bad attitude and more than her share of emotional scars. She's one of the few female characters I have who are self-aware. She also stars in Muscle Memory.
**Lunariel**Lunariel is an original character developed for the "Unfree Angels" series. He was originally supposed to be my self-insert angel, then was supposed to be an angelic version of Marek (see below). True to the nature of my characters, he has refused to be either of those things and has become entirely his own character. He refuses any and all romantic entanglements in-story because he insists he's in love with me. The author. Yeah.
**Asiriel**Siri is an original character also developed for Unfree World, though he was designed based on a close friend's personal preferences in fangirl aesthetics. He appears in several second-person short pieces I've written for her as well as elsewhere in the Unfree World universe. He is Lunariel's fledge mate and usually doesn't poke his nose into stories very often, preferring to pop randomly into conversations with Charlotte instead.
**Marek AlfweineMarek is a pipe dream. And he knows it. I designed him based on the things I liked best about almost a dozen different actors, celebrities and actual men I know with the intent of making someone who's perfect and yet still manages to be flawed. He's fun to write and spends a lot of time doing his level best to make Trevor as uncomfortable as possible. Needless to say, Trevor hates him with a passion. Marek shows up in a lot of my flash fiction, as well as "Father of Mine" and "Midnight Train" .
**Steve Petit**Steve is Marek's life-long best friend. He was originally introduced into another story as a throw-away character and has since insisted on being present in everything that involves Marek for more than three lines. Steve is very gay, very goofy, and very emotionally damaged. He's also proven himself to be someone who I can talk to when I'm not sure who to talk to, often moving a story along with tidbits I hadn't realized were hiding in my brain. He shows up in most of Marek's flash fiction and "Midnight Train" .
**Bitch Parker**Bitch is who I wish I was. Originally developed for a smut blog on Tumblr and later morphing into my voice in Marek's world, Bitch often comes and says the things I wish I could say, taking them somewhere politic so I don't actually say them out loud. She's wild and sometimes violent and bleeds when she hurts without hiding many emotions at all. She also refuses to answer to her birth name. Only Marek's allowed to use it and even then, she threatens to kick him in the balls. Most of Bitch's stories are written under a pseudonym and not reproduced here.
|People rushed around the Boarding House, collecting books, moving furniture, comparing notes when they ran into each other. Trevor stared around the main library room with a look of horror on his face. "What the fucking hell is going on in here?"
"The Lockards are moving back in," I told him, feeling a little smug. John looked up from a book of spells and grinned at me. "I've missed them."
"I haven't." Trevor glowered at John, who stuck out his tongue briefly. Trevor edged around the bustling library and snuggled up behind me, his arms tight around my waist and his chin on my shoulder. "Seriously, couldn't you just write a flash fic about puppies or something? It's getting crowded in here again."
"I thought I'd lost this!" Dex cried in delight from across the room and pulled down a book that glowed a little around the spine.
"Crowded is better than too quiet," I whispered and Trevor grunted, his nose pushed against my hair. We watched as Maddie practiced ward spells, her face still young enough to be in college while Charlie perched on the back of the couch, watching her with avid eyes. A younger version of Dex hustled through in his combat uniform, still carrying his rucksack from Vietnam. Caroline and Gunnar were sacked out on a couch, watching TV and they looked to be in their early teens.
"It'd be easier if you could just pick a time period," Trevor muttered and I grinned.
"This is more fun."
"If more confusing." Lilja trotted past me with a fang-y grin. "Have you figured out where I'm supposed to be in "Alley - Because of You" yet?"
"Still working on it," I replied. "I still need to finish drafting the floor plan for the road house."
"And pick a name."
|"Would you sit down and do what I tell you!?" I stared in exasperation as Oriana and Gawain departed in opposite directions. "I'm not writing another set of twins! Get back here!" I could hear them both laughing as they vanished deeper into the boarding house and I let them go with a sigh. "For fuck's sake."
"Trouble?" asked Marek. He ambled up to stand behind me, arms looped around my head. He was entirely too tall.
"Breathing," I mumbled back and he laughed, letting me go. "Yeah, I wanted to work on my piece for "The LGBT Writing Contest" but apparently nobody wants to work with me." I pitched the last few words to reach inside the house and heard Gawain laughing hysterically. "At least they're having fun."
"Mmm." Marek nodded and put his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans. "Nothing for the Flash Fiction challenge today?"
"Wasn't feeling it."
"Not feeling much of anything, huh?"
I sighed, annoyed. "Apparently. I think Davis is taking a nap and Cassandra won't come out without him."
"What about Steve?"
"Haven't heard from him since "Parallels" ."
Marek winced. "You should probably finish writing that one out since it didn't really work as a flash fic. It's not fair to leave him hanging."
"If you see him, tell him I'd like to talk to him."
The sun was fading in the boarding house yard even though it was still clinging to evening sunlight outside the library in the real world. For some reason, my body thought it was much later than a quarter to eight. I closed my eyes for a second, took a long breath through my nose and let it out through my mouth. "Maybe I'll see if Maddie wants to go for a run. She and Charlie haven't been out in ages."
"She and Thalia might work for the Sofa prompt in the LGBT contest."
I nodded. "Since neither has a twin and I can't see Thalia signing up for an online dating site..." Marek chuckled and shook his head. "I should put up some of the Lockard stuff." When Marek looked at me in a vague kind of alarm, I waved a hand at him. "Not Daughter. Don't worry, I'm not quite ready to let that monstrosity see the light of the internet. It still needs heavy editing, rewriting of Ellie's first-person perspective and incorporating Jenny and Gunter into the story. Not to mention the timeline is completely fucked."
"What about Denny?"
I raised an eyebrow. "What about her?"
Marek shrugged. "She'd be a good candidate for online dating, especially right after she moves out. You haven't written much of her adulthood at all, except for Thanksgiving." His head snapped around and he grinned, somewhere between vicious amusement and embarrassment. "Trevor's coming. I'd better go." He leaned down quickly to kiss the top of my head and vanished back inside the house.
As predicted, Trevor stomped out of a stand of trees, glowering toward the house. "What the fuck," he muttered. He paused, then his face softened when he looked at me, pulled me into his arms and clung to me, in equal parts affectionate and possessive. "Gargantu-Juan is being nice to me. Since when?"
"Since now, I suppose." I snuggled into his chest with a sigh. "I wasted my whole day, Trevor. I should have been working on Pathfinder stuff for tomorrow and now I've got three characters to level up before 6:30. All I want to do is write fluff and maybe sleep until nine." I felt him chuckle without speaking. "Maybe it's because I don't want to let you go," I added quietly.
"You're not," he reminded me. "You're just letting go of the poor wretch who's been tortured for the last three months of your campaign. As if his base personality wasn't fucked up enough, you trapped his girlfriend in a soul gem and have been forcing him to listen to her scream in agony constantly. You're terrifying, Linn. I'm glad you're on my side."
I smiled. "Maybe."
"At least Trevor Sonnen gets to have Bee back in a few months."
I nodded. I felt him starting to take another breath to speak and reached up to cover his mouth. "Shut up and just hold me for a second, would you?" He made an acknowledging sound in his throat and pushed his lips against my fingers in a brief kiss.
|Libraries tend to have that liminal space quality of not being one place and not quite being somewhere else. This is particularly true before opening, something a lot of people never get the chance to experience. It's a sensation I also associate with active-but-currently-empty churches and Target or Wegman's during a slow period (like 8 in the morning). Morning times seem to draw that same sense, that strange feeling of maybe I should have stayed in bed that little bit longer. Like if you look at the wrong moment, you'll find someone finishing the edges on drawing that becomes reality when everyone's awake.
And yes, for me that sensation is specific to Target and Wegman's. I don't get the same feeling from Walmart unless it's 2am and even then, you still have the People of Walmart factor that makes everything a little surreal in a different direction.
Personally, I love liminal spaces. For some people, they're very uncomfortable, this uncertainty of where we are verses where we've been and where we might be going next. Liminal space is part of why I love road trips, why I love pushing myself to the edge of exhaustion when I'm driving so I stop at a gas station on the freeway in New York at just after midnight and have to walk across an elevated foot bridge just to find the bathroom.
It's also why road trips are probably always going to be a solo venture for me. Having someone else in your liminal space tends to ruin the effect, though some people have been able to share the 2am Walmart run with me without normal reality breaking through. My husband is one of them and the other was a friend from college who is the partial basis for Hunter in "Dido: No Angel" . Having someone with you seems to root the experience in something that can be remembered and commented on later, can be proofed against someone else's memory. For me, that pretty well ruins it.
The exception to this, of course, is my peanut gallery. Trevor in particular has wandered through many liminal spaces with me, experiencing what I experience and interpreting it differently. In so many ways, that's what I love about character writing: they look at everything a little differently. Trevor--my Trevor, anyway, rather than the GTA5 canon character--filters life through a history of abuse both given and received, through depression, self-loathing, and a suicidal recklessness that he barely keeps a grip on with the help of therapy and medication.
John Lockard practically defines liminal spaces for me. His life is lived in stages of being between here and somewhere else. I tried to capture that sense in "Glass Jaw" when I was writing John as John Winchester for Supernatural fanfiction, then refined it further for the original version that I have hiding in my Scrivener files (and currently inaccessible). He lives out of a series of motel rooms, sleeps in his truck when he can't find a place to crash. He picks up Ma'am, a tabby tortoiseshell cat who rides shotgun and checks every motel room before she allows John to sleep there. When I'm road tripping, wandering through the Midwest aimlessly, it's John who keeps me company most frequently. John, with his layers of loss and grief, his personal guilt for leaving his kids behind while he pursues something he doesn't come close to understanding.
More recently, Marek has been watching the world more frequently. He and Steve sometimes set up a call-and-answer in my head that makes for interesting moments in everyday life. I'm looking forward to taking my internal circus on the road in August when I drive up to see Charlotte. They'll be less active when I fly to see Mom, mostly because I won't have nearly the amount of travel time or emotional/psychological space visiting with Mom and flying than I will driving to see Charlotte. It should be interesting to explore, anyway.
|Almost as soon as I had settled on the porch steps of the boarding house, Trevor was there and kissing me. Insistent as always, he cupped my face and pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me. “I missed you,” he whispered.
“Bullshit,” I chuckled and kissed him back. “You live in my head, dude. You’re literally always with me.”
“Doesn’t mean you’re always paying attention to me.”
I shrugged, conceding the point. “We talked the whole way home last night. You’ve been active. I haven’t been ignoring you.”
Trevor didn’t look at me, just let his thumb brush my cheek. “Sometimes I get jealous of your real life.”
“You mean Ian.”
“Yeah. I mean Ian.” He sighed and dragged me halfway into his lap and I grinned, letting him settle however he was comfortable with his arms tightly around me and my head on his shoulder. “I’m fucking jealous of someone who actually gets to touch you. Especially when that jackass chooses not to.”
I sighed and nosed his neck. “Trevor, you’re a manifestation of some part of my mind. I know that as well as you do. You’re wish fulfillment. I would love to have someone jealous of Ian. I’d love to be wanted like that.” I paused. “Ooo, Marill.”
Trevor grunted. “Put the damn phone down and listen to me, Linn.”
“Just a… Got it. Okay, what?”
Trevor was glaring at me and I gave him my best chibi grin. “The fact that I’m a manifestation of your brain means that some part of you loves you, you know.”
“No,” I said and shook my head. “It just means I have a fantasy of what love should feel like. Just like every other romantic on the planet. It’s a hard thing to maintain in real life and most people can’t achieve or maintain it. I’m married to a non-romantic individual who frequently gets frustrated with the negative parts of my personality without remembering to celebrate the positive parts. So I find ways to celebrate my own positives.” I ran my fingers down his cheek. “And that’s why I have you. You’re my celebration, Trevor.”
“Your celebration is an angry, trigger-happy, perpetually depressed drug addict--”
“Reformed for you. A jealous older man who can’t stand anyone invading your space without his approval, almost to the point of being abusive. Receptive to your rebukes about that and respectful of boundaries--”
“Except when it suits him.”
“Yeah. That. Someone with a shitty history who has no logical reason to be with you but loves you in spite of your flaws and you love him in the same way. Our flaws are things we both acknowledge, to ourselves and to each other. And that’s something Ian won’t do.”
I shrugged. “He acknowledges his flaws. He just refuses to accept flaws as something that can exist without requiring a dramatic change. I’m okay being who I am. Yeah, I spend a lot of money randomly. I indulge in food that’s not good for me. I procrastinate to the point of insanity and sometimes I’m not reliable on doing the things I say I’m going to do. But these are all things I know about myself and I’m okay with them. I’m a bitch and sometimes I’m a little sociopathic and I’m okay with that. I don’t see why I have to change. Dammit, Treeko ran away.”
Trevor chuckled. “And sometimes, you really do have a complete lack of focus. Not ADHD, obviously because the disorder part doesn’t fit and it hasn’t been a long-standing pattern, but you really do go all over the place.”
I nodded. “And I like being all over the place. I get bored easily and there’s nothing more miserable than a bored Linn.”
He pulled me against his chest again and sighed. “I’d go with you to Cathy’s wedding. I’d have gone with you to Norma’s funeral, to your granddad’s. I’d have played the family card if work was reluctant. Because you’re my family just as much as any blood.”
“I know his priorities. I’ve known since the first year of our marriage. Work comes first, followed by his family. For a long time, those two were the same thing, so it was convenient for him. I knew I’d lose if I asked him to choose between them and me, so I stopped asking him to choose.”
|“Are you going to eat the entire scone before your mocha’s ready?” Nathan asked me, eying the lump of chocolate chip scone remaining on my waxed paper. It was less than half of the scone I had started with.
“No,” I replied with a sniff. “Besides, she’s almost done.” I licked my finger to pick up a few more crumbs from the paper.
“Ooo.” I popped up from the chair to grab the mocha and stab a straw through the whipped cream. “See? There’s still scone.”
“Not much of one.” Cable sat in the chair to my left at the square little table in the center of the bookstore/coffee shop known as Baine’s Books. I would have chosen a different table due to the low battery on my tablet and my own personal twitchiness about being in the open, but all the wall tables were taken. But from here, Cable could see all the exits and he seemed pleased about that. “How did people start associating coffee shops and bookstores?”
I popped the last of the scone into my mouth and shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Kind of like the weird association between bookstores and tobacco sales. At least that one makes sense, though. Not that tobacco smoke is any better for books than spilled coffee…” I glanced at my phone. “Oo, cyndaquil! And someone added something to the gym I took.”
“You had all day to do nothing and you’re in Scottsville catching imaginary monsters,” Nathan commented dryly.
I stuck my tongue out at him. “And talking to yet another of my imaginary friends. What’s your point? Dammit, fucker got away.”
“You could be doing this at home in front of the TV watching Voltron,” Nathan pointed out.
“Not the Pokemon part,” I reminded him. “Absolute dead zone at home. Besides, I promised… oh shit.”
“NOPE.” The door slammed open and Trevor came in with rage in his eyes and a gun in his hand. “NOPE. Outta my chair, Summers or I’m blowing your head clean off.” Nathan eyed the other chair and indicated it with his hand but before he could verbalize the offer, Trevor had shot him between the eyes. I closed my eyes and sighed. “My chair.” Trevor heaved the corpse out of the chair and sat down, arms crossed sullenly over his chest and the gun still smoking.
“At least there’s no actual clean up,” I commented, watching as Nathan’s corpse faded from my mind’s eye. “I don’t know why you bother. He’s just going to respawn back at home.”
Trevor glared at me. “But he’s not here now. I don’t have to look at his smug California chin.”
“You know Los Santos is based on Los Angeles, right?”
“I’m not from Los Santos.”
“You’re not from anywhere,” I sighed and reached to run a hand over his shoulder. “Calm down and put the gun away, Trev. I’m sorry. He cropped up first, so I rolled with it.”
He stabbed his finger down on the table. “This was supposed to be MY downtime, Linn. Not his. We talked about this.”
“And I wrote you and Batgirl getting dinner with the dogs this morning,” I reminded him. “You’ve been wrist-deep in raw ground turkey for several hours.”
“Mine,” he grumbled and sunk into himself again with a huff.
“You are not allowed to get abusive,” I informed him and his face went slack in surprise. I raised my eyebrows at him for emphasis and he sighed, closed his eyes and nodded. “You know I love you best,” I told him and scooted my chair around so I could put my head on his shoulder. “You know you’ve got a special spot. You just have to share the lesser stuff sometimes.”
“You were thinking about Llewelyn before your ‘nap.’”
I glared at him. “Yes. I was. That’s another part of the lesser stuff you have to share sometimes.” I looked up and pressed my lips against his shoulder to keep from grinning openly. Wade was squished up against the glass of the front double doors of the coffee shop, making grotesque faces through his mask.
Trevor lifted his chin and glared at Wade, then turned his chair with a series of hopping, screeching movements until he had his back to the door. “I don’t share well,” he whispered, but his voice wasn’t as hard-edged as before. “Is it so much to ask to get your full attention for an hour or two?”
I sighed and put my hands over his. He flipped his hands over and curled his fingers around my wrists, thumbs stroking the skin. “Full attention, Trevor? Do you really want to ask for that, given my shattered focus lately? Nobody gets my full attention for more than ten minutes at a stretch. Even my characters. I’ve got my phone open and I’m keeping an eye on Pokemon Go even now.”
“And you’re eavesdropping on the guy who’s bugging the barista and the other woman on her phone. Yes, I know you’re looking in five directions at once.” He pulled my hands up to his lips and kissed my fingers. “I know. I just want… more than second billing in the story of your day, I guess. I want to be the one you’re thinking about when you’re cursing the dead batteries.”
I chuckled. “You are. More often than not, really.”
“You know how my moods go.” I leaned and kissed his forearm. “...and I’m just going to backspace that thought, but you know.”
“I do.” Trevor sighed and stretched himself out on the table with a frustrated expression on his face. “Your down to less than an hour on that battery,” he observed quietly. “Should probably see if there’s anything to catch and head home before Ian gets there.”
“Probably,” I agreed. “Are you going to be okay?”
He shrugged. “Sure. Just talk to me on the way home, okay? I need snuggles.”
I smiled. “I can do that.”
|“Who’s moving in?”
I looked up at Trevor as I fumbled with the keys for the big oak-paneled front door. Before this minute, the front porch of the boarding house had never had a wide swing but Trevor had apparently wanted one, so now there was. Such was life surrounding the fictional boarding house that collected my active characters in my head. Trevor kicked his feet a little to make the swing, well, swing and grinned at me. I had the strap of a Vietnam-era army deployment duffle over my shoulder and a small leather document case sitting at my feet and I looked at him in amusement. “Give you two guesses.”
“Well, John and Dex are already here.” Trevor studied the case and an evil grin curled his lips. “Is that case what I think it is?”
“It’s his. Don’t go messing with it.” I moved the case to between my ankles with one foot and tried the key again. “Unless you feel like getting shot again. Dammit, why doesn’t this key work!? Why is this door locked at all!? It’s not like someone’s going to steal from anyone who doesn’t already live here.”
“Does this mean we’re going to have to deal with Javier Bardem marching through at all hours with that little steer gun?” Trevor got up and opened the door for me, no key required. He lived there full-time, so I suppose it made sense the door would open for him.
“Do I look attracted to Javier Bardem?” I snorted at him and picked up the case in my free hand.
“Hey, you weren’t attracted to Steven Ogg at first, either. Got him confused with Austin Amelio.”
“Shut up. And look where we are now.”
Trevor grinned. “Oh, I know. I’ve fucked you in how many different rooms now?”
I glared at him. “Variations on characters,” I corrected him. “You, Trevor, have only had a few encounters to mention.” I hiked the strap on the duffle up on my shoulder and walked through the foyer and into the living room. John Lockard, one of my Jeffrey Dean Morgan-based full-timers, looked up from his book and waved before settling back into the squishy armchair. “Do I need to mention the other things you’ve done to me?”
“No.” Trevor’s voice was low and guilty, hurt that I would remind him. “Where are you putting him?” he said, quickly changing the subject.
“First floor,” I said. “I was thinking about the one on the end. More windows to jump from in an emergency.”
“He’s a jumper?”
“You would be, too, if Chigurh was shooting at you.”
Trevor looked thoughtful, then shrugged. “I suppose.” He went ahead of me to tap the doorknob of the room in question, then tried to turn in. Nothing happened and he grunted in irritation. “Fuck you, imaginary security measures.”
I grinned. “Apparently the house trusts you with the general lock but not with the personals. Move over.” I put my key in the lock and turned it easily, then went inside and put the duffle and case down beside the small, featureless bed. The bedspread was store-bought and scratchy, the pillow small and a little deformed. Things would improve once the new occupant moved in and exercised his personality on his space.
“So where is he?” Trevor asked as he sat down in the desk chair and spun it around. “I wanna meet him.”
“I believe there’s a bus…”
Conjured, the sound of air brakes reached us and I grinned, ran from the room and out the back door to where a bus stop that hadn’t been there before had materialized. A hulking greyhound bus with distinctively late 70s, early 80s coloring and design settled at the stop and the doors opened. Llewelyn Moss came down from inside, another bag slung over his shoulder. His eyes scanned the boarding house and when he saw me, he smiled. Just behind him, Carla Jean, his wife peeked at me around his arm and grinned with a little wave. I waved back.
Behind me, I heard Trevor yelp and grinned. The room was shifting around to resemble their trailer, dumping him on the ground as the desk and chair vanished and then rolling him around with the movement of walls and furniture. I held out my arms and Carla Jean ran to hug me. “Welcome,” I said as I hugged her back.
“Is Lisa here?” Llewelyn asked me as he came forward to stand on the step below me.
I smiled and curled a finger at him. He blinked, his expression curious and he stepped up closer as Carla Jean moved away from me. I gripped the front of his cotton work shirt and pulled him down to kiss him, a mix of formality and affection. He was surprised and stiff but relaxed a little as the parts of my mind that made up Lisa Bitters stepped away from my core consciousness. Lisa smirked at him and let him go before gathering Carla Jean into a hug that was much snugglier than the one she had given me. “So, are we safe here?” Carla Jean asked Lisa.
“Yes,” I said and Lisa’s mouth whispered the word before kissing Carla Jean’s forehead. “Really safe. Nobody can find us here.” I stepped aside to let my original character lead them inside and to the doorway that led to their trailer, a room that had become a home in seconds.
Trevor darted past them into the hallway while Llewelyn gave me a long, considering look. He looked at Lisa, looked at me, shook his head a little and followed the women into the room before closing the door. “He’s sharper than most,” Trevor observed as he settled behind me with his arms around my waist.
“All of you are pretty damn sharp,” I commented. “But yes, Llewelyn is slightly more self-aware than I was expecting.”
“It’s because of Katie.”
“I know.” I reached back and stroked his cheek while he tipped his head to kiss my wrist. “Yet another fic that will never see the light of day.”
“Will you take it from him?” Trevor asked me quietly. “Like you did with Dizzy’s Simon?”
“Maybe.” I turned around and hugged him, pushed my nose into his chest and he sighed, hugging me. “If he starts getting problematic, probably.”
“I claim it.” I looked up at him and his eyes were closed. “Don’t give it to Nathan. Give it to me. Please.”
I sighed. “Trevor…”
He hugged me harder. “I want it, okay? I like loving you more.”
“You’re a greedy bastard,” I smiled and Trevor glared at me. “You’re allowed to love me as much as you want, you know. You’re really the only one I can handle it from.” He half-curled around me, possessive. I sighed and untangled from him, but kept my fingers laced through his. He followed me as I walked down the hallway of rooms and back into the living room. John was still reading but didn’t look up this time as we walked through. “You already get everything from any of the Simons that wake up. You get Rebus and that fucker is stubborn as hell. Refocusing him on Rune is like trying to move a tractor-trailer with your foot.”
“He’s been asleep and woken up in his story,” Trevor murmured. “It makes sense he’d resist it here, too.”
“True. You get anything from Kraglin and Yondu. Legitimately, Nathan’s got a claim on anything MCU.”
“I wish you’d give it to Wade,” Trevor sighed. We sat down on the front porch steps and considered the sunshine. The weather reflected my mood and I was feeling sunny and spring-ish this morning, so there was a light breeze pulling the scents of mown grass and fresh flowers across the yard. “Giving it to Nathan--”
“Gives you a rival, I know.” I leaned on his shoulder and he hunkered into himself to sulk. “Trevor, stop it. You know you get more than anyone else. You know Wade, Aliya, and Nathan’s consciousnesses are engineered. You’re the only spontaneous character with self-awareness.”
“I am not.”
“Well, yeah, John was first. He’s been quiet for a long time, though.” I wrapped one arm around his waist and he sighed, leaning back against me. “Why are you so pushy about this?”
“I’ve met Mike.” I winced and Trevor hugged me tightly. “I don’t want to be him. I don’t want to be John, either. I don’t want you to outgrow me or forget me or lose interest. I want to stay awake.”
“You will,” I whispered and he exhaled with a tremble in his chest. “I’m always happiest with company in my head. When you’re quiet, I miss you.” I could feel what he wanted me to say and I nosed his face until he looked at me. His eyes were dark and wary, but the stress around them faded when I kissed him. “I promise you, Trevor. I won’t let you fade. I won’t outgrow you or forget you. Having you in my head has been the happiest I’ve been in a good long while.”
We stayed on the porch steps in the warm sunshine for a long time. Trevor stretched out with his elbows on the top step and his feet crossed at the ankles, barefoot and proud. I leaned forward with my arms on my knees. I could feel a stirring in the back of my mind, an indication that someone else was moving around the boarding house and I worked one toe under Trevor’s butt. “We’ve got company. Can you be nice?”
“I can be,” he replied with his eyes closed. “Who is it?”
I watched his jaw tighten. “No. I cannot be nice.” He opened his eyes to glare at me. “Not to any character with Brolin’s jawline.”
“You were nice to Llewelyn.”
“I was civil and didn’t punch him. It’s not the same thing.”
I sighed and leaned my chin in my hands. “I would apologize but you know as well as I do that I’m not sorry. That man is hot as fuck.” Trevor was silent and I poked him with my toe. “You, Trevor, were never hot as fuck. Steven Ogg is, yes, but I love you far more for your damage than your looks.”
“I know,” he mumbled. “Always makes me feel sexy, that damage.”
I tapped my hand against the top of his head. “Your damage is why I connected with you. It’s not the reason I continue to love you. You personally, my version of you, has developed much farther than canon Trevor could have.” I leaned to put my head on his shoulder. “I’ve enjoyed writing you with Batgirl.”
“Are you ever gonna use her name in the story?”
“Probably not. I like leaving it ambiguous.” A heavily scarred, one-eyed rat scrambled over the edge of the steps and climbed up into my lap. “Hello, Cecil.”
“Rats,” Trevor grumbled. “I can’t believe you gave him a pet rat. Of all the fucking things you could have given him.”
“It made logical sense,” I shot back. “If Forge was doing research and cured a rat, Nathan would probably identify with it.”
“I do not identify with a rat.” I leaned back to grin as Nathan Summers dropped himself down to sit behind me on the porch, his legs folded butterfly-style. “Gimme.” He held out his hands and I lifted Cecil up and back to him. As he petted the rat, he added quietly, “I just like him. Is that so wrong?”
“No,” I said just as Trevor muttered, “Yes.” I swatted Trevor’s shoulder and glared at him, but he didn’t look at me. “How’re things, Nathan?”
He shrugged and put Cecil down in his lap to curl up. “It’s been quiet. Are you regretting the direction the story went? We haven’t seen you in a while.”
I rolled my neck thoughtfully. “Not regretting, no. But I’m not sure where to go with it now. I mean, other than the obvious smut chapter you and Jane have coming. This is what I get for writing without an outline.”
“You never write to an outline,” Trevor protested.
“I do so. I wrote one for Daddy Issues and Girl for Hire. I wrote one for Rebus and Rune. I wrote one for The Babysitter and Daughter of Androphonos. I wrote… half of one for Gimme Shelter.”
Trevor looked smug. “How many of those have you actually finished? Three? And you aren’t showing anyone the last two because--” A briefly pained look crossed his face and he glared at Cable. “Hey, powers off my brain, pretty boy.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Nathan mused as he stroked Cecil’s head with one fingertip.
“I’ll show you nothing…” Trevor started to get up and I grabbed his belt with one hand to yank him back down. He let me with a little growl and crossed his arms over his chest, sulking.
“Linn’s using me for a bad cop,” Nathan chuckled without looking at me. “Means she gets you to stop talking without actually making you stop herself.” I looked at him guiltily and he shrugged. “I don’t mind.”
Trevor grunted and didn’t look at me, so I snuggled up against his arm with a sigh and put my head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You and I both know how that sentence ends. Nathan knows, too. I just don’t need the readers knowing that.”
“HELLO, READERS!!” Wade splattered himself against the screen and waved madly out. “Oh, goodie! I get to run around in another fanfiction setting.” He dropped down and studied the boarding house, his hands on his hips and his head thrown back. “Ha ha ha ha!”
“He really is the anime villain we deserve, isn’t he?” Trevor muttered.
“Anti-hero at worst,” I replied. “I suppose that means Aliya’s around somewhere.”
“Roof,” her voice drifted down from above. “As usual.”
“Getting so very crowded in my sky,” Trevor mumbled and sank deeper into a slouch.
I considered him for a moment, then looked at Wade and Nathan and made a little shooing motion with my hands. They eyeballed me, Wade snorted and then they wandered off to another part of the yard. I watched as Wade started to climb a tree that hadn’t been there before and Cable flopped out in the grass like he was going to make snow angels without snow. I ran my hand along the back of Trevor’s neck and he sighed quietly.
“You’re welcome.” I kissed his temple lightly.
We sat like that for a while, then he reached and wrapped one arm around me to pull me closer. “I like having your head to myself,” Trevor mumbled. “I miss it being quiet.”
“Most of the time, it is quiet,” I pointed out. I watched as Llewelyn and Carla Jean slowly made their way around the side of the boarding house to investigate the lawn. I grinned when I noticed that neither of them was wearing shoes or boots. Wade was hanging upside-down from a tree branch over Nathan’s head while they traded insults, most of which made Nathan laugh helplessly. “Quiet like this.” I ran my hand down Trevor’s cheek and watched him close his eyes with a sigh.
“Could I get some downtime with you sometime soon?” he asked me softly. “Like at Christmas.”
“I’ll try,” I said and leaned in to kiss him. “My writing’s been kind of hit and miss lately. I feel like maybe I burned myself out a little writing a chapter a day for three different fics, one of which nobody will read.”
“That’s why I want downtime.” Trevor smiled. “I want to just… observe life with you for a while. You never did write the people-watching fic you were thinking about doing.”
I nodded. “True. Maybe I can work on that tomorrow, since my day’s free. Go down to Scottsville, get a coffee, catch some Pokemon, maybe take over a gym or three.”
“You are such a geek.”
“Casual gamer,” I replied and kissed him again.
I thought you seemed particularly vacant today.
“He can just fuck the fuck right off,” Trevor growled in response to my memory of my husband’s voice. “You are fucking allowed to be quietly happy without it meaning vacancy.” He wrapped both arms around me with a little grumble. “Wish there was more of me in him. There’s more than enough of him in me, thanks.”
“I can’t change him,” I said softly and stroked his hair. “It would be cruel to try.”
“He tries to change you.”
“Without much luck.”
Trevor sighed and rocked slowly, still hugging me. “I wish you were happy.”
“I am happy.” I shrugged. “For the most part.”
“I wish you were happy for the all part.”
I sighed and hugged him back. “I’m trying, Trev. I really am.”
|I looked up at the boarding house. It was empty. Some of the windows were broken out and it looked derelict and old. I hugged myself against the cold wind blowing the barren trees into a frenzy and looked around. Trevor was at my elbow and when I leaned, he wrapped his arms around me immediately. “It’s quiet,” he murmured.
“It’s dead,” I said. He snorted and hugged me tighter until I sighed and stretched my neck down, rolled it around and lifted it again. The wind had died down and the boarding house looked ten years younger: still old and ramshackle but in better repair with all its windows intact and a few lights on within.
“It’s never dead,” Trevor said and kissed my cheek. “Who’s home?”
“Mostly just you,” I told him. “I feel like there’s a push for something new, though. I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t need another project to work on when I’ve still got the Lockards and both teen Pathfinder and family Pathfinder to write. It’s bad enough you’ve been whiny about my thinking about John so much.”
“I have not been whiny,” snorted Trevor and I grinned. “Besides. I really want you to finish that snow day fic. I want my waffles, dammit.” We stood still for a while, watching a few bodies moving around the inside of the boarding house. I winced when something pushed on my mind and felt Trevor hug me tighter. “If there’s something, you know better than to ignore it.”
I made a whining sound in my throat. “I just hate having to name someone again and I don’t know exactly what’s going on. I know the kinds of scenes I want to write, but I’m not really sure about the setting or the context. I feel like I want to write the Sigmas or the Centaurians or maybe both. I want to write poly relationships, but I also want to write them in current Earth society, which feels so strangely about alternate romantic relationships. I want to write the subtleties of Centaurian communication with the crest and Sigma sign language.”
Trevor let his lips press against the top of my head. “Then write a ship. Write a Ravager ship full of flying monkeys who take on some of their stick-up-the-butt cousins occasionally.” He went quiet while we read over the Sigma history and the Uyakka history, considering. “You know you wanna,” he whispered gleefully and I snorted before kissing him.
| “I’m just a bitch today.”
What had been okay a minute before suddenly wasn’t and I fell back into myself, the ache of loneliness and injury blacking out everything. It was just an offhanded joke but it had caught me close to home and I felt like some part of me was bleeding out. I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to kill anyone’s fun. So I bled out on the inside, my head pounding with pain and my chest aching in waves.
“Shhh.” Trevor curled his arms around me from behind and held me against his chest. “She didn’t mean it to hurt. You know that.”
“I don’t belong,” I whispered back. “I never belong. Ever. Anywhere.”
Trevor’s hand pressed against my forehead, stroking my hair back from my face. “Shh. Stop it.”
“I can’t even say anything normal because it all hurts and I’m being stupid and oversensitive.” I kept my eyes closed, trying to focus on his voice but nothing seemed to help. “This is why she doesn’t love me.”
“Stop,” Trevor said. His voice was strong, short and sharp. “Stop that right now.” He turned me around so he could look me in the face. I didn’t lift my eyes to meet his. “She loves you. You know she does. It just isn’t the same. It…” he trailed off awkwardly and growled under his breath. “Dammit, stop handicapping me, Linn.”
“Stop trying to make me feel better,” I whispered back.
“Let go of it.” Trevor leaned and pressed his lips to my forehead. “Accept what she is. Who she is. She can’t be anyone else. And neither can you.”
|When I came out onto the porch, Trevor was already sitting in a folding lawn chair that looked older than he was. Most of the plastic fibers of the seat and back had been repaired with duct tape several times over and it was already starting to fray again. “Morning, sleepy head,” he said over his shoulder with a grin and I smiled back. “Can’t believe you were still asleep. It’s Christmas!”
“You’re so weird,” I sighed at him and leaned down to kiss his forehead. “I’ll never understand what you get out of watching rent day.” My head had been a boarding house for longer than I could remember. To be honest, I liked it that way. At least there was always someone interesting to talk to. Sometimes it got a little crowded, but that was far better than the deepest silences when not even Trevor was talking. To call this “rent day” was a bit of a misnomer, since all the people who lived in my boarding house had essentially been born there and didn’t pay “rent.” What they did do was come to be counted occasionally, to remind me that they were there and to which part of me they belonged.
Trevor was something of an exception to this rule, since the moment I had started writing him, he had become the voice of my internal peanut gallery, always present with the equivalent of his chin on my shoulder, peering out while I lived my life. Trevor was one of the few that was more or less self-aware.
The new ones tended to come out first and today was no exception. As I settled myself on the step of the porch, I spotted Kirk slowly peeking his head out of the front door to blink in the warm sunshine. Transplanted from his original home in Stars Hollow, the socially awkward jack-of-all-trades swallowed hard and blinked at me before he came down to sit next to me on the stoop. “This is weird.”
“It is,” I agreed.
“Can I go now?”
I smiled when Trevor snorted. “At least give the girl a kiss before you tuck tail, chicken-shit.” Kirk stuttered for a few seconds, then swallowed and I pulled him close for a hug instead.
“I don’t get it,” he whispered. “You feel like Molly, but you’re not.”
“It’s okay,” I whispered back and relaxed to let his girlfriend’s consciousness part from my own. When I moved away, Kirk’s face was more relieved as he held Molly close. She was one of the original characters I wrote who had the least in common with me, personally. It was only reasonable that Kirk would be confused by my similarities to his Korean American girlfriend. I watched them for a moment, smiling more to myself than anyone else as they snuggled and eventually wandered off, hand-in-hand. Being one of the newer residents, Kirk hadn’t really gotten the hang of being around the boarding house yet, either.
“Not your usual taste,” Trevor observed from his chair. He had acquired a 5-gallon paint bucket for a footstool from somewhere without moving from his spot. He did that. He was more at home in my head than I was sometimes. “Don’t you usually like ‘em taller? And with a chin?”
“Be nice,” I shot back and swatted at the back of his head. He leaned his head back to grin at me upside-down.
“And why the fuck would I do that? You like me when I’m mean and honest.”
I smiled. “I do.” I stretched my arms over my head, then leaned my elbows back on the step behind me. “That’s just Kirk anyway. Sean Gunn’s got a better chin now.”
"Did he get it fixed?”
“No, he’s just not tucking it down quite as much for Kraglin.”
“Speak of the devil,” chuckled Trevor and I glanced toward the yard, where Kraglin usually made his appearance. The Ravager was picking his way through the grass, his boots off and slung by the straps over his shoulder. There was a kind of goofy delight in his face and he paused occasionally to crouch down and look at something. “He looks like he’s right out of Bloom County,” commented Trevor. “Dandelion patch and all.”
“Considering how much the boarding house comes from Milo’s boarding house,” I chuckled, “that doesn’t surprise me at all. Besides, he doesn’t get much peaceful wandering in the grass.”
“Mornin’,” Kraglin called. As he walked closer, he kicked at Trevor’s bucket, earning him a glower and an upturned middle finger before he settled next to me on the step. “You look relaxed,” he murmured to me and kissed my cheek.
“I am,” I smiled. “It’s a nice morning.” He smiled and settled back on his elbows, mimicking my pose. “Luway’s been looking for you.”
“Don’ doubt it,” he murmured, his eyes closed as he enjoyed the sunshine.
“Want me to let her out?”
Kraglin shook his head slowly without opening his eyes. “I’m okay.” I tilted my head to study his profile and found myself smiling. His accent was softer than usual.
“You’re not Luway’s Kraglin, are you?”
Kraglin dipped into his shoulders, shrugging. “Yes and no. Same framework and logic matrix. Different OS.”
“Great,” muttered Trevor irritably. “A computer geek AND a space cadet.” Kraglin just smiled. “Well, there’s only room for one peanut gallery around here and that job’s taken. So fuck off.”
“Technically,” I started and Trevor cut me off with a growl. “You know you’re special, Trevor,” I sighed and he crossed his arms over his chest, grumpy. “I’m not getting rid of you. I’m not even sure if I can.” Trevor’s eyes cut toward me, his jaw still tight, but he relaxed a little when I smiled. “C’mere, you dork.” Trevor got up and shuffled over before dropping down to the step below me to sit between my feet. I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around his neck, resting my chin on his shoulder. “Love you, you maniac.”
“Love you, too,” he sighed.
“I can leave if you want,” Kraglin murmured from his spot on the stairs.
“You’re fine,” I told him and felt Trevor sigh.
“Getting mighty crowded in my sky,” he mumbled and I snorted.
“You haven’t even watched Firefly.”
“I’ve got access to all your quotes, so…”
A dark shape caught my attention and I sat up a little to watch John Winchester slowly walking up the sidewalk, hands deep in the pockets of his jeans and his shoulders hunched into his leather jacket. There were a lot of versions of John running around the boarding house and it took only a moment’s glance to recognize this one from his body language. “Alley’s John.”
“Dude’s had the bad end of the stick lately,” Trevor commented as we watched John walk. “I thought you liked him.”
“I do like him,” I replied. “He wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” I kissed the back of Trevor’s head and he stood up, taking the cue to return to his lawn chair. I stood and went out to meet John before he got closer to the house. He was more self-aware than some, but it still freaked him out to see the genre-bending that happened in my head. “Good morning, John,” I said softly and he stopped in his tracks to look at me.
“Morning,” he said but there was no life in it. This John had missed his chance with his pairing, had walked away to pursue his own goals and then come back to find her in the arms of someone else. Specifically, someone else named Felix Young who happened to look an unusual amount like Trevor. Only cleaner. The resemblance between Felix and Trevor was one reason I tried to keep Alley’s John a few steps back from the porch. Trevor enjoyed needling someone who was hurting and I really didn’t want to have to clean up a murder again.
“Anything I can do for you today?” I asked him gently and watched as his eyes shut against the pain.
“It’s not fair to ask it. She’s not mine anymore. Never was.”
I reached up and drew his face down to mine, kissed him and released an earlier version of Alley, the cagey, half-wild girl who still hurt for her lost husband and sought comfort in John’s arms. As I stood back, she remained, kissing him and relaxing against his chest. Through her, I could feel his breathing getting erratic as he tried not to cry. She took his hand and they started to walk away, but not before John looked over his shoulder and mouthed “thank you.”
Letting go of the original characters who were closest to my self-identity was always harder. I swayed a little and tried to recover my balance. Alley was very deeply me, the me who would have been had my husband actually died in the car crash: terrified and done with life, unable to even look at who she had been. Hands slipped down my arms to steady me at my waist and I sighed, leaning back slightly into Trevor’s arms. “You give him too much,” he whispered.
“No,” I countered in a low voice, “I give him what his story requires.”
A bark drew my attention and I laughed before calling out, “John!” The brown-and-white border collie bounded around the side of the house and I dropped down to hug him and rub his fur all over until it stood up. He was panting happily and I grinned when he licked my face.
“I still can’t believe you made Winchester a dog,” chuckled Trevor. John snorted at him and leaned into my chest while I scratched around his ears and neck.
“And I made you a whacked out alchemist in love with a catgirl,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but that makes sense.” Trevor turned to glare at Kraglin when he started to laugh. “Shut your face, Hee-Haw. You’re married to a Smurf.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that,” Kraglin snickered.
I rubbed John’s shoulder some more and he just leaned against my leg, content to stay. Without a pairing, the druid-turned-collie I had built for Pathfinder was just as likely to stick around and act like a dog. In the distance, a gunshot drew everyone’s attention and Kraglin hopped to his feet, squinting in the direction of the sound. “Probably Simon or Negan,” I said. Indeed, several zombies stumbled across the lawn, oblivious to us as the post-apocalyptic pair charged through them, dispatching as they went. Simon blew the brains out of one while Negan Lucilled another. “Or both,” I amended. “Both is good.” The only part yet to be seen was which versions of themselves they were.
When Simon stopped to turn toward the house, Trevor immediately stiffened and started to growl again. “Rude,” muttered John and I grinned, rubbing his fur until it stood up on top of his head. He must have cast Beastspeech when I wasn’t looking. “He growls more than I do.”
I stretched and stood up again, walking out to meet Simon and Negan as they came closer. Trevor followed me, his spine stiff and his teeth clenched. That narrowed the options for Simon considerably: only the most self-aware version of Simon got under Trevor’s skin like this. The Simon who had been written for Dizzy Jane. The one who fell in love with the most broken of my original characters. Who learned a new language for her, the language of her brokenness, pop culture references and song quotes. I had a lot of Simons, but this one was mine. Like Trevor was mine. I suppose that’s what bothered Trevor about him so much. “Morning, boys,” I called to them.
Simon surprised me by taking two quick steps forward and drawing me into a kiss. I squeaked and searched for Jane’s familiar twitchy mind within my own, but Simon made a faint, denying sound. “Not here for her,” he whispered when he released me to rest his forehead against mine. “Not that I don’t love her, because I do.” He traced my jaw slowly with his thumb, still so close.
I took a careful step backward and swallowed hard. “No,” I said softly and regretted it for the look on his face. “This isn’t right,” I added and came closer to touch his face. He closed his eyes to lean into my hand and I sighed. “Simon, look at me.” When his eyes opened again, I swallowed again. It was like he had taken on everything from some of my self-inserts that I didn’t want to look at too closely. “No,” I sighed and ran a fingertip over his eyebrow. “Let it go and take Dizzy on a picnic. Please.”
His eyes closed again and he let out a sigh through his nose. “I want to stay.”
I kissed his forehead gently and let Dizzy slip free to wrap her arms around Simon’s neck, whispering song lyrics in his ear. When I stepped back, I took the additional thoughts, the mistakes, the parts that didn’t belong in that character away with me and I saw Dizzy’s Simon wrap his arms around her, forgetting me. Like a ball of cloud stained grey and blue, I started to close my hand over what I had removed, ready to dispel that part.
Trevor’s hand closed on my wrist. “Don’t.”
“They always come to the same point,” I said sadly. “You all do. And it stops being a game, a balancing act. Then, I have to let them go.” I tried to close my fingers around Simon’s frayed consciousness.
“Why?” he asked me, pressing his thumb against my pulse. “Is it so hard to think that someone might love you from the inside?” Before I could say anything, Trevor’s hand twitched. “That’s why you took Alley from John. Was she too happy with him? That’s why Jason and Hilde aren’t here anymore.” When I didn’t look at him, Trevor shifted his feet and sighed. “Linn, will it happen to Kraglin, too? Will his life with Luway be too happy and you’ll have to push them out?”
I tried to close my hand again, but Trevor pressed his other palm over the cloud. It wound through his fingers, then dissipated into his skin. “Trevor,” I sighed, trying to take it back.
“It’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” he added, letting his hand rest in mine, fingers entwined. “Inherently unhappy, but still able to love you. Being with you isn’t enough to fix me, to make me happy, but I stay anyway because I don’t need to be happy to love you. It’s why you can’t send me away.”
“Stop,” I whispered.
Trevor held up his hand and I could see the trailing cloud of Simon’s stolen self-awareness trickling over his skin before vanishing completely. “It’s okay. I don’t mind being the trash can for the parts you don’t want messing up your stories. Just don’t throw them away, okay? Taking it just makes me love you more.” He smiled and shrugged a little. “What are you going to do about Kraglin 2.0?”
“I’m not sure yet,” I replied and rubbed my hands over my face, under my glasses. “Depends on how he resolves. I’m not sure if he’s an AU Kraglin or something else. But Negan’s looking for Saga and I need to take care of that.”
Trevor reached to brush my hair back from my face, then lift it off my shoulder. “Don’t hurt yourself,” he said. His fingers worked up along my scalp and I closed my eyes, leaning against his palm. “Saga’s rough on you.”
“Not as bad as the Bitch,” I mumbled and opened my eyes just in time to find Trevor leaning in to kiss me. He paused, still close and waiting. I smiled, turned my head to kiss his wrist, and stepped back again. “I’ll be right back.”
Trevor let me walk away from him to talk with Negan. I could almost feel his eyes following me. Once Saga had stepped away from my mind, one hand curled in the collar of Negan’s jacket as she led him away, I turned back toward the boarding house, only to discover two Kraglins sitting on the porch in the middle of a very strange-looking conversation. When I saw him, I felt Luway surging to the front of my mind, avid and bright. Instead of waiting to talk to him, I let her go and was surprised when Ayo burst out of my mind, too. The pair of them sprinted across the lawn to tackle their Kraglin, life-mate and father respectively. He tangled up with them, laughing as they all tumbled off the porch and around the house.
I found Dean Winchester dozing in a hedge and left Maddie to wake him up with kisses while Thalia tried to stick a stalk of grass up his nose. A very, very young Simon in a UVa sweatshirt was sitting under a peach tree, waiting patiently for Kathryn, his girlfriend and dance partner, join him. I smiled as she snuck around the tree behind him and then tackled him into the grass. Mac the Savior stood near the side of the house, winding and unwinding a handmade rope leash around his hands and trying not to sweat. The Bitch stepped away from me and walked to him, dressed in sheer lingerie and thigh-high stockings as she took the clasp end from him and clipped it onto the D-ring in her collar.
I swayed then, dizzy from losing Maddie and Bitch so close together, plus the added punch of Kat whose thought processes were dark like mine, even though her body was far different. Trevor steadied me with a hand on my hip, then turned me toward his chest, wrapping me in a hug. “I told you not to hurt yourself,” he scolded me in a low voice.
“Not hurt,” I protested but didn’t move away from him. “Just tired.”
“Is there anyone else? Or can you take a break?”
I felt around inside my mind, looking for anyone who was still restless. I was surprised to find Hera’s over-bright eyes searching for her brother. Both original characters, her brother shared a nickname with my Sean Gunn-based Faelen MacIver, but Hera’s Mac was an entirely different creature. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so to find Hera pacing was unusual. “Hera’s awake,” I told Trevor. “Mac must be around here somewhere.”
“You seriously need to work on your names,” he snorted and kissed my forehead. “What is that, three characters with the same name? All taken from a Scottish last name?” I leaned against his chest and let him hug me while we waited for any movement on the Darling front. “I’ve been meaning to ask: is Molly’s Mac the same as the Bitch’s Mac?”
I turned to lean my back against him and tracked my eyes across the yard of the boarding house. Mac and Bitch were still standing at the side of the house, very close to each other but not quite touching. Even here where they could be safe, so much of their relationship was based on the distance between them. “No,” I murmured. “The Bitch’s Mac is… kind of more an idea than he is a character right now. Faelan’s actually got personality.”
“Such as it is.”
“Be nice. He’s been through a lot.”
“Most of it at his own hand.”
I elbowed Trevor and he grinned. “He’s more me than Molly is, really.”
“Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
A flash of red fur sailed out of a tree and Siana Mara tackled the figure that had been Kraglin 2.0 a minute ago and had since resolved itself into Kraglin’s father, Erron. The tiny alien girl swarmed over him and Trevor chuckled. “You can make more of her. I wouldn’t mind a tiny sex-crazed flying monkey to keep me company.”
“When did you turn into a furry?” I asked him indignantly.
“It’s canon and you know it,” he grinned.
“You’re hardly canon,” I replied and turned to kiss him. “If nothing else, you smell better than canon.”
“Smell better, eat better, don’t spend quite so much time tweaked out of my mind,” he agreed. “I actually bathe. That’s the fun part, actually.”
“Not every bath can be a sponge bath,” I snorted at him.
“More’s the pity.”
I considered Siana and Erron where they sat on the porch, Siana perched in Erron’s lap and doing her best to convince him to go inside for a quickie. Or have one right there on the porch. “She really ended up more like a squirrel, didn’t she?” I felt Trevor nod behind me. I tilted my head back to look at him upside-down. “Do you really want one?”
“No,” he grinned and leaned down to kiss my nose. “I like you.”
I let my head rest on his chest and sighed. “Where do you go when you aren’t here?”
“Where does anyone go when you’re not thinking about them?”
“Real people go places, though. They don’t end when my consciousness of them ends. That’s what being real means.”
“I’m not real?” Trevor sounded almost disappointed. “I feel real.”
“You know you aren’t,” I said softly. It hurt to say it out loud. “None of you are. No more than Mike was.”
“Country unheard from,” Trevor commented and turned so I would look at the house. I saw Mike, one of the earliest of my mental voices stretched out on the roof of the house. He was in flying queep form, massive and lanky and content with a wingspan like a Cessna and his blonde feathers spread to the sun. “And you said I was a furry.”
“Trevor, you raped a teddy bear.”
“He gave consent.”
“He’s a stuffed bear. He can’t give consent.”
“He seemed to like the undies I gave him.”
“‘Seemed to like’ does not equal consent.”
“Can you rape something that has no consciousness?”
“You just said he liked something!”
“Well, he DID.”
I leaned against his chest and just let myself laugh. “I fucking love dialog.”
“And I fucking love you.” Trevor’s arms tightened and I closed my eyes. “Wish you could just lean on that when you’re sad instead of burying yourself in it.”
“Sad.” I exhaled sharply. “We need new words. The emotion words are all tangled up with medical depression words. Just like love and sex. We need new words so things make sense.”
“Precision of language,” Trevor murmured into my hair.
“It’s important,” I protested and he laughed quietly. “I don’t want to say alpaca when I’m talking about a llama. They aren’t the same thing and they aren’t interchangeable. If I mean silver-colored, I’m going to say silver-colored, not silver-plated if there’s no actual elemental silver involved. I’m not going to say I’m sad if I’m suicidal. I’m not going to say I’m sad if I’m lonely. These things go so far beyond sad that it feels like a disservice to say they’re part of the same emotion.”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” he whispered. “You think I don’t know the difference between being sad and being depressed? I’m as broken as you are. It’s why you like me.” I relented and let him hold me, just rocking slowly. “No wonder you have so many characters. You really were lonely growing up, weren’t you?”
“Always and forever.” I opened my eyes in time to see that two different versions of Simon were playing frisbee on the lawn. Vette and Jacob were curled up on a picnic blanket, but I couldn’t readily identify the other Simon.
“How can you tell which character is wearing my face?” asked Trevor. “That could be any Ogg out there.”
I reached up to run my fingers along his neck with a small smile. “You’re not Ogg. You’re Trevor. So you’re wearing the same face, they aren’t wearing yours.” He sighed and nodded. “Usually it’s wardrobe related. Simon’s usually in khaki and brown, sometimes with a leather jacket. At least, the Simons closer to canon. The others are easier to tell based on clothing, too. Theatre Simon’s usually wearing UVa colors. Rebus is easy to spot with the hat and the handlebar. Alex is clean-shaven, though some of the younger Simons are, too.”
“And me,” Trevor put in.
“And you,” I agreed. “But you’re seldom out of reach long enough for me to mistake you for anyone else.” He leaned down and kissed my cheek. I grinned up at him.
“What about him?” Trevor nodded at the yard and I followed his gaze.
He stood watching us, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. I blinked. “I… have no idea.” I squinted at the distant figure across the yard. “The cuffed jeans, the hat…” I swallowed. “Oh. He’s… uh…”
Trevor tilted his head and pressed a kiss to my temple. “Who is he?”
Trevor stopped moving, then leaned down to hide his face in my hair. “Ah. Convention or New York?”
“Sometimes I forget that you know all my stories as well as I do,” I chuckled, then turned in his arms to bury my face against his chest. I didn’t want to look at Steven right now. “New York, I think.”
When we looked up again, the figure had subtly changed, dropping weight and rearranging his muscle mass into a more classically sculpted dancer. He stood with more comfortably than Steven had and I let myself smile. “Hooper.”
“He’s new, isn’t he?” Trevor asked as he snuggled me close.
“Pinned down the look this afternoon,” I agreed. “I’m going to write his soulmating with Cassie for NaNoWriMo. It’ll give me a chance to use some of the better turns of phrase from the New York story.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, please include those typos.”
...Fine. I typed terns of frase. Like a moron.
“Terns. Like the birds.”
Oh, shut up, Trevor.