Epilogue: in which our Hero finds new life in old

--

Light was streaming in the windows of his dorm room, right onto Neil's face, as he'd forgotten to close the curtains again.

He sat up in bed. Looked around the familiar room.

That wasn't familiar at all.

Pulling his knees up to his chin, Neil sobbed softly and rocked back and forth.

"I'm dead," he said quietly. "Ritter's dead." No point to killing yourself then. The snarky voice tried and failed, since it was out of practice.

But even as he sat there hugging himself, the memories were fading. Not like a dream, where they vanish and never return, but as though he was remembering something that had happened a long, long time ago, and not something that had occurred not five minutes before.

Walking to the mirror on the wall, Neil gave himself a shaky smile. "It's fine. You're fine," he tried to convince himself. "You'll get over it. Maybe."

There was a knock at his door.

Neil answered it, in all his twenty-year-old, bad-hair-day, pajama'd glory. "Hi Emily," he said when he saw who was on the other side of the door.

She smiled at him. "Are you feeling better? You sounded horrible yesterday."

Neil nodded. "I'm okay." Emily didn't believe him. "How did it go with Josh?" he asked in an attempt to distract her.

It worked.

"He won't go out with me. He didn't really give a reason, just said he wasn't interested." She sounded a bit down, but shrugged fatalistically. "I'm sad, but- hey! There was this absolutely gorgeous guy at the club last night." She chatted on happily. Neil ignored her as he got ready for the day. Although he wasn't- he checked the clock on his desk. Oh. It was Sunday. Neil nudged Emily until she was facing the wall so he could finish getting dressed. Sunday. And I have at least one day's homework to catch up on. Actually, since that day was Friday, maybe it wouldn't be any different than any other Sunday. Assuming I can remember anything about my classes, what with the mush my mind has become.

Running a comb through his hair until it looked almost presentable, Neil tapped Emily's shoulder. "Lunch?" he asked.

She nodded, and they left, Emily's babble marking their passage to the Eatery.

Neil got his food first, and made his way to their usual table. So far Josh was the only one present. Actually, Neil paused to take a good look- a really good look at Josh. He looks just like-

"See something you like?" Josh asked, winking.

Neil blushed, setting his tray down and sitting across from Josh. "You turned Emily down," he said, that being the best topic he could come up with for conversation today.

"Emily's not my type," Josh said.

"No?" Neil asked, studying his food. "What is your type, then?"

"I prefer the shy and blushing type. The ones who like plain white rice…"

Neil paused in poking at his rice, looking quickly up at Josh, who winked again.

"Ready to find out how they ruined the rice today, Neil?" Emily asked as she set down her tray next to him.

Neil gave her an obliging smile, and then returned to poking at his food. Nothing had looked very appetizing today. And he really wasn't hungry. Not after- not after his dreams. His memories? Neil didn't know what to call them. He'd only be able to explain them as a dream.

But they still felt real. Distant, but real.

"How's your cold?" Josh asked.

Neil nodded absently.

"It must have been pretty terrible on Friday since you wouldn't even open the door. I was starting to think you were dead," Emily said.

I am, Neil thought, shrugging. "I think it's better, but I had a really weird dream last night, so I'm feeling rather off."

"Really?" asked Josh. "What was your dream about?"

Neil shook his head. "I wouldn't know where to begin."

"Because I had a weird dream last night, too," Josh said.

"Really?" Neil's head snapped up.

Josh nodded. "You were in it."

"I w-was?" Neil asked, not sure what to make of the information.

"'And you were there, too, Aunty Em,'" Emily said suddenly, in a high and girlish voice. "I mean, what is this, guys? The Wizard of Oz?" She rolled her eyes.

"Actually," Josh said, "You weren't there, Auntie Em, but I think you were supposed to be?" He sounded confused.

"Dreams are weird," Emily said. "I had this one about a tiny purple panda that had escaped from a zoo that was inside a skyscraper…"

Neil, having already heard about the shoe-polishing purple panda, let her words wash over him. He scooted the rice around his plate a bit more, and then abruptly stood up and left. Emily was more than he could handle at the moment.

Once he'd escaped back outside, Neil took a slightly wobbly breath. I'm not really adjusting to being back here very well, he thought, starting to trudge back towards his dorm.

"Oy! Neil!" a voice called out from behind.

Neil glanced around to see Josh running after him.

"Wait up a bit," Josh said, pausing to catch his breath once he was beside Neil. "Do you think- I mean, would you- or, could I- I mean, um, if you like-"

Neil smiled at him. "Would you like to go to dinner with me?" he asked.

"What?!" Josh said.

"Dinner?" Neil repeated. "It's what you were getting at, wasn't it?"

Josh scrubbed his face with his hand. "Yeah. Dinner. I mean, yeah! Dinner!"

Neil smiled again, and slid a hand into one of Josh's. If his hair was a bit longer, and his muscles a big larger, and if he lost that ridiculous excuse for a goatee on his face, he'd look just like Ritter. He tugged on the hand he'd claimed. "Maybe we should go somewhere to talk about this 'dinner.'" Neil said.

Josh looked confused, but smiled at him nonetheless, allowing himself to be towed along. "I'm not sure there's much to talk about."

"Well," said Neil, "We can start with talking about our dreams."

--

Awww, isn't that sweet!

Josh did not dream he was Ritter, if you were thinking that. That's the set-up for the sequel (which I may even get around to writting someday).

Don't forget to review!