I do not own Inside Out or any of the associated characters or universe. They belong to Pixar and to Disney.
Happy days turned into happy years turned into a happy life. But now it's all said and done, and the emotions have to move on. It's time to say farewell. Rated PG-13 for tearjerker sadness and melancholy nostalgia. Set long long long loooong after the events of the film itself.
All in all, it had been a very good life indeed.
Between the five of them... Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger... they'd managed to give Riley quite the excellent life. One of relative happiness and overall safety. It wasn't perfect, of course, but it had been good. Mission accomplished. A job well done.
Eleven years turned into twelve. Then thirteen. Then before she knew it, Riley was eighteen. Then twenty-one. Learning to drive a car, resisting the pressures of her peers, going off to college... those had been some turbulent times. But the five of them had rallied and done their best to guide and react to anything Riley had encountered, and in their teamwork been stronger and more influential than anyone one single emotion would be on their own. They were a team. Riley's team.
Of course, there had been rough patches.
Like the time Riley's first boyfriend had cheated on her. With Connie Davenport of all people. Oh Anger had a field day when they found out, and was quick to take charge of the system for at least a week afterwards. The core memory from that break-up had kept Riley single for quite a long while out of fear she'd be hurt again, but eventually everything had worked out.
And that was nothing compared to her first day at her new job, when Fear had gone overboard regarding threats both real and imagined. She'd been a nervous wreck there, but ultimately, she'd settled in well. Risen to become a chief operator at NASA, of all things. She never did make it to the moon, but she'd seen countless beautiful images of it and gotten to view parts of the universe others could only dream of. So it was almost an even trade-off.
Then came her new boyfriend, later fiancée, later husband. Their whirlwind marriage, their loving honeymoon, and even the birth of their first child together. Even Joy had gone a little nuts on that one, before she'd been reined in. But all of her emotions had gone into overdrive. And it seemed like Riley's life just kept getting better and better.
Then... came the budget cuts.
Their broadly expansive control panel had to be replaced with a smaller, simpler model. What had once seated the five of them quite comfortably now was a tight squeeze for four. It also behaved sluggishly, took longer to react, rather than the lightning quick reflexes they were used to. And then they had trouble calling up memories. Even recent ones would get lost or clogged as the transport tubes would break down. Occasionally things kept spilling into the gaping chasm of forgetfulness, despite their best efforts.
It wasn't Riley's fault. She was still keeping fit, eating healthy greens (not broccoli) and following her yoga routine. The problem wasn't Riley's fault... it was time's.
The problem was that she was getting older.
At first it was just a physical thing, not the concern of headquarters up in the head. They just made sure to keep Riley from doing anything truly strenuous so her body wouldn't break down. But as the years went on, age started to affect her mind as well.
Leading up to this... Riley's final day.
Joy sat alone in the central control, manipulating the odd knob and switch to make Riley react to the various stimuli. The room was a lot darker now, even out across the expanse of long term memory. Any memories that hadn't been dumped were faded and dull with age, whitewashed by time until they were barely recognizable when called up. Some of them seemed to have even been distorted by the journey. Things were remembered differently than they had actually occurred. Another drawback to the increasingly cut budget.
A timer on the wall remained one of the few constantly working parts of Riley's brain now. The bright red numbers continued to tick by as they counted the passing months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Slowly winding their way down towards absolute zero. There was no way to stop the clock, only a few tricks had managed to slow it down, and virtually nothing anything the emotions could do would work on removing it.
They knew. They'd tried.
When it reached zero... everything was over.
Sighing to herself, Joy peered out through Riley's eyes as she settled back into her seat, wincing as she heard the creak of old bones, particularly the knees. Balance briefly went off before Joy made a correction to her equilibrium. First a minor one, then a hard smack on the rusty piece of junk to get it to work. But Riley managed to sit down on her rocking chair without falling down, and Joy breathed out a sigh of relief.
She glanced around the room, but the headquarters had also been suffering budget cuts. To its personnel. Where once there had been five... now there was only one.
Disgust had been the first to go. She'd quit sometime after Riley entered her golden years. With Riley virtually unperturbed by just about anything she ate or wore, and her social life so enriched by family and friends who knew her and loved her... there simply wasn't much reason for Disgust to stay. When Riley started having to remove her dentures at night it was officially the last straw. Disgust accepted her resignation with a quiet sort of dignity, packing her many bags and giving each of her co-workers a heartfelt hug for their time together. Her last words before she departed were a kindly 'keep up the good work' on her way out the door.
By contrast, Anger did not go quietly into the night. Especially after he learned about the final diagnosis from Riley's doctors. He had to be physically restrained from the controls, but he damn near burned his way through six feet of steel and tore up most of headquarters in his rage. Finally, however, he cooled off. It wasn't fair, what was happening. It just wasn't. But one of the most important thing Riley had learned growing up (and thus, Anger had as well) was that sometimes, life was just not fair. This was one of those times. There was literally nothing he could do. But that didn't mean he had to like it. For once completely lost for words (his console of curse words had burned themselves out by virtue of being outdated years ago), Anger grabbed his briefcase, jammed his hat onto his square head, and waddled out of the office, slamming the door behind him. They did not see him again.
Then it was Fear's turn. And he'd been dreading it for quite a long while now. After all, once you got older, things that had seemed frightening, if not downright terrifying as a child, seemed horribly trivial and mundane to an adult. Doubly so for an elder. When it came down to it in the end, there was really only one thing left in life to be afraid of: the end. And when Riley made peace with that fact, very late in life, Fear found himself out of a job. So he too packed his bags, shook hands with Joy and Sadness, and decided to follow Riley's example. No one knew what happened to you after you faded away, after all. He decided to brave the unknown and find out for himself.
His final words were, "I'll be waiting for you."
At least this time Joy and Sadness had been ready for it, and prepared a little send-off for Fear. Sadness even gave him a medal for keeping Riley safe for so many years. He'd done his job admirably.
And so it was just Joy and Sadness left, just like it had been early on in the beginning. When Riley hadn't known much about the world, and was still growing and maturing to develop her other emotions. But unlike at the beginning, the two remaining roommates of Riley's head didn't fight for control anymore. They shared it. Sorrow and happiness blended together into a sort of wistful melancholy, as Riley looked back on her life.
"It's so sad everything is ending," said Sadness. "I'm not sure I want to be here anymore. Can we just go back down to Long Term Memory? Maybe if we hide there..."
"You know we can't," Joy replied wistfully. "Hey, wanna watch that memory again?"
Nodding, the blue emotion pressed the recall on a particular memory orb, showing the funeral of Riley's husband. A decorated officer in the air force, he was buried with honors despite having long since retired from service, and yellow and blue intermingled in the viewing as Riley bid him farewell for the final time. Joy for the long life they'd lived together, and sadness for the loss of his presence by her side. It was a powerful core memory, and one of the last few remaining. Others had come and gone over the years, as Riley's personality had evolved and developed.
They re-played the memory every so often in the ensuing days, in between Riley's daily interactions with her fellow seniors at the nursing home. There was still a delight to be found in the simple things, like knitting a sweater for her youngest granddaughter. She was almost finished with it too.
The next day, Joy came in to work alone. And she knew why. Headquarters was shutting down as the timer neared closer and closer to zero, a mere handful of days left to finish her mission. Sadness was gone. At this point even she barely even needed to run anything. Riley's life had become a quiet, contented routine. Even so, Joy stayed with her right up until the very end.
She was the first, and now she was going to be last as well.
But Joy was determined to finish her mission.
Finally, the time came. The last day. Joy checked the counter on the wall as it counted down, red numbers moving with increased frequency before becoming replaced with ominous red zeros. Years, months, weeks, even days had finally all burned out. Now they were down to the last three counters, ticking away.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It was disheartening to watch. Still, there were considerably worse ways to go. At least Riley had the dignity of passing on in her sleep. Lots of poor souls around the world weren't nearly so fortunate.
Riley had gone through her daily routine, unaware of how little time she had left. Still, Joy nudged her in the right direction, making sure she passed on a chance to surf the channels on the aged television and instead drew down one of her photo albums for her final afternoon. Pictures faded with age none the less brought a smile to her wrinkled lips as Riley leafed through the old book. Snapshots of her and her family. Her parents. Her husband. Her children. Their children. Their grandchildren. Photos taken from all parts of the world, vacations in Spain, a deployment to Florida, a honeymoon in Japan. So many wonderful memories. Even those faded and dull with age still shone like gold in her mind as Joy called up each one in turn to remind Riley of the wonderfully happy life she'd led.
She kept leafing through the photo album, and then second volume, long into the afternoon. Riley forgot to get her dinner, but didn't feel very hungry. Only terribly tired. Eventually reaching the end of her precious memorabilia, Riley let loose a long, tired sigh. Her bones ached, but the pain was fading slowly as Joy watched from the control center. Riley decided not to bother getting up, just lay the photo album across her lap and settled comfortably in her favorite rocking chair. The gentle swaying motion helped as her breathing slowed down and her eyelids began to grow heavy.
Just a brief nap, she thought to herself. Chance to rest my eyes...
"And... we're out," Joy said, rolling a wheel lever and watching the eyelids descend.
Her eyes drifted closed for the last time, and Riley drifted off to sleep. Joy pressed a button on the console to put her into REM sleep. Dream Productions had shut down last year, but Joy had cut a deal to make use of their facilities one last time before everything shut down. A montage of memories flickered across the back of Riley's eyes. Some happy, some sorrowful. Time and experienced had colored them all manner of different shades than what they'd originally been. It was a virtual kaleidoscope of colors, faces, names, dates, and more. It was Riley's entire life flashing across the screen.
And it was beautiful.
Leaving the recording to play by itself, Joy found her coat and handbag and prepared to depart. She wasn't sure where she was going, she just knew her job was done. On her way out, Joy paused. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the console as it faded to a dull gray, the buttons and knobs deactivating and going out, and gave one last, sad little smile.
"Good night, Riley," she said softly.
The countdown timer reached zeros across the board, blinking quietly as Joy watched. No fuss, no fanfare, no alarms. Just a quiet, peaceful end.
Turning back around, Joy started up a merry little whistle. She whistled on her way out, feeling satisfied with her work. It hadn't been easy, but Riley had experience a good life. What more could you ask for? Joy's form grew dimmer as the darkness grew, blanketing everything. The glow of her skin faded away, slowly, bit by bit. Like a dimmer switch on a light. Even her cheerful whistling seemed to grow softer and quieter until it finally... stopped.
Please review and favorite if enjoyed.
Inspired by a bit of fridge logic regarding what is the likely fate of emotions when a person reaches the end of their life, as opposed to what we saw in the film at the beginning. I like to think that, like the end of a person themselves, it doesn't have to be a terrible thing. It's just the end of a long journey.