Jimmy rolled himself into The Dot in accordance with the message that had been left on his phone. He'd had Emma drop him off at the park originally, rather than anywhere where he'd be spotted by people that knew him and played a few rounds of basketball before venturing back into the land of the living. Spin was already there, tying an apron around his waist behind the counter.
Spinner turned and after the shock, a smile burst across his face. Jimmy waited while his oldest friend skirted around the counter and wove through the tables to close the distance between them.
"Dude!" Spin exclaimed, reaching down to give Jimmy a quick hug. As nice as it had been to be out with people who really understood, there was nothing like your best friend. Spin pulled back and raised an eyebrow in a familiar look of concern. "You okay?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm fine," Jimmy insisted, trying to brush away all of that worry that he could see had built up in Spinner's system. "I just…I couldn't be there and Toby was skipping—"
Spinner nodded in understanding and Jimmy simply stopped talking. Spinner got it and no matter how much time had passed the shooting and the people involved was still something Spinner and Jimmy did not talk about. Not since the conversation in the gym which had proven nearly fatal to their relationship. Neither knew how to breach the subject and really there was a great divide between the two of them when it came to the events that had occurred two years ago.
So instead an uncomfortable silence fell before Spinner broke it with, "Have you called Ash?"
Jimmy closed his eyes and swore mentally. "No."
He'd been right when he'd told Toby that Ashley would understand. She had been very understanding, if not completely worried in her voicemails. All she'd wanted to know was that he was alright, wherever he was.
It was worse than her anger or that cool, clipped princess voice she occasionally adopted when pissed.
"Call her man," Spinner advised, "She was flipping out." That pronouncement from Spinner was not any help with the guilt he was currently feeling. If Spinner had picked up on what an emotional tailspin she had been sent for it had been pretty bad. "I'll go get you some food, it's on the house today."
"You don't have to do that Spin."
"Yeah, I do. But call her, seriously," Spin insisted, pointing a finger in Jimmy's face. "Because you so owe me for taking that on."
Jimmy shook his head as he pulled out his cell phone. He held down the number two and it instantly flashed a smiling picture of Ash on the phone before it started ringing. It only made it one ring before she picked up. "Oh Jimmy! Thank god!"
He flinched at the relief in her voice. He'd scared her by disappearing and keeping things from her and he would have been pissed if she'd done the same. He was an ass of a boyfriend. "I'm sorry I wasn't picking up, baby, I know—"
"No, no, don't be," she insister, her words tumbling out and rushing over his own. "I'm just glad…where are you? Do you…I mean, can I come or would you rather wait until dinner? Do you still want to come to dinner? I can always tell Mom that you're not up for it."
He smiled at her flustered speech coming out in a jumble of blurted statements. Ash had always hated being lost, in every way. Whenever she was she tended to burst out and try as many possible solutions to get back to a known path as possible.
"No, tell your mom I'm coming. Missing a dinner by Kate Kerwin, I'd be a fool." Smile fading, he pursed his lips for a moment at the last words. He'd been avoiding her and avoiding the subject of Rick, mostly because it'd had been uncomfortable, never really thinking about how it might be better to say something. "I've been a fool."
He couldn't do it like this, with her voice sounding far away on the other end of a cell phone and far too many people around. "I'm at the Dot, the usual table," he told her, interrupting the protest that he could be a fool about this. "Swing on by."
"Okay, I will. I'll be right there. I love you."
The clatter of dishes and the hum of conversation slid away as he closed his eyes and heard those words. "I love you too." He could see her smile in his mind and caught the snap of her phone, which brought him back into reality.
He opened his eyes and the hustle and bustle of The Dot came alive around him again. Jimmy closed the phone with a sigh.
"So, bullet dodged?"
Fries were set down in front of him. Jimmy glanced up at Spinner's phrase, and his mocking face. "She was surprisingly understanding," he admitted. A little upset and on edge, but on the whole really not bad. Which was better than anyone could really hope for after ditching their girlfriend for the day and not returning a single phone call.
Spinner rolled his eyes as he pulled out the chair opposite from Jimmy and spun it around. "That's because I dealt with her all afternoon."
"See," Jimmy said, his lips curving up into a bit of a smirk. "I'd expect her to be worse from that man."
Spin's face darkened as he sat in the turned around seat. "I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear you say that." The mock anger faded away to a much more serious expression. Jimmy watched as Spinner's fingers absently fiddled with the unused silverware for the other side of the table. It was a moment before Spin looked up again. "But seriously Jimmy, you're okay?"
The amount of time he spent hating Spinner often seemed like a waste now. Whatever Spinner had done, and been guilty of, he was still his best friend. Hating him had taken too much energy and effort and he was far too good of a friend.
"I am. We went by Rick's grave," Jimmy said, testing the phrase out. It sounded weird coming out of his mouth and he shot a look at Spinner to see how it sounded.
The ever familiar gape of shock that Spinner always employed when something hit him as exceptionally odd or unimaginable filtered on to his friend's face. Definitely weird all around. Jimmy fidgeted with his silverware as the silence lengthened. "Dude, are you serious?" Spinner asked in a low whisper.
"Yeah," Jimmy nodded, "It was Toby's idea but it was surprisingly okay."
"Wow, dude that's…wow."
"I guess." It had been a shock when they'd arrived and he'd been pissed as hell with Toby. Now, however, he was calmer than he had been when the day started.
Spinner seemed to be unable to grasp the concept as anything . Jimmy wanted to suggest that it would probably be good for Spinner to go, that it would help him. There were things he wanted to say about how it had been, how it worked. Once, they had been able to say just about anything to one another, and mostly they could but then there were these awkward gaps now that Jimmy couldn't seem to fill. The things he wanted to say all sounded wrong in his head.
Rather than comment, Spinner gave him a bit of a smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. In a long practiced move, Spin slid out of the chair and flipped it back around. "Alright, man," he said, clapping Jimmy on the shoulder, "I've gotta get back. Shout if you need anything."
Jimmy watched him slip back behind the counter and seamlessly start pouring coffee for a customer feeling a little sadder.
After the required stop home with a phone call to Kate to assure her that yes, he was fine and so was Jimmy, and that they knew it wasn't right to skip school, but well, they couldn't stay, he headed back to Degrassi for the student council budget defense. Of course, waiting on the front steps was Manuela Santos looking gorgeous and fit to kill.
Liberty was going to be on his back the second he got inside the building, so of course, Manny had to beat her to the punch by blocking the entrance. He really wasn't sure he had it in him to deal with the assault from more than one side on this. Ignoring her, as the knot in his stomach intensified, he started up the steps to the school building that he didn't want to enter.
Ignoring Manny, however, was impossible. And he knew that in the same way he knew that if he didn't go inside to Liberty he'd be murdered in a slow torturous way. So he found himself looking up at the furious, raven haired girl.
"Where the hell did you go?"
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It didn't settle any of it out, but he continued up the stairs anyways. "Manny."
She seemed not to notice his weariness or the fact that he didn't want to talk to her right now. Or perhaps it was just that she didn't care. Emma couldn't have gotten in touch with her or she wouldn't be this mad. Manny and Emma were usually a package deal, and when they weren't one of them was usually not happy about it.
"It's one thing for Emma not to pick up the phone, god knows she does it enough, but I would have expected better from you."
For all anyone's ever expected out of anyone else, they expect ten times more from him. Good, solid, dependable Tobes. He'll be there when you need him, and even when you don't and after you've forgotten you can just go back like you'd never left because well, he wanted you back. But in this instance he couldn't figure out for the life of him why he was supposed to the one who came out of this situation okay.
"Why should I be better than that?" He shouted the question at her and for the first time in his life he saw Manny take a step back from him. The anger sapped and left only sadness behind. "I've lost my second friend in two years, explain to me why it is that I have to be the one to hold it together?"
"Because…" Manny trailed off, looking small and lost for the first time in a long time. "You're Toby," she finally supplied.
"Thanks," he remarked sarcastically, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "That makes it all better."
Toby went to continue past her, tired of the conversation, of getting up and facing the next day, of facing the school building in front of him. He was far too young to be this tired by everything that he confronted.
"Hey," her tiny hand squeezed on his arm and guilt swarmed through him. It doubled when he finally turned to look at her face, the brown eyes filling with tears. "I was worried about you."
"I'm fine," he lied.
It slipped out of his lips easier than almost anything else he said. Toby had lost count a long time ago how many times he had uttered those words when everything was anything but fine. He'd become quite the liar as time went on.
"No," she insisted, shaking her head, tears finally slipping down her cheeks. "no you're not. None of it's fine."
And just like that, Good Ol' Tobes was back, taking her into his arms as she cried on his shoulder. Her hands clutched at the back of his shirt as she cried and he made soothing motions on her back to try and calm her down. The world seemed to slow a little and all he could hear were the sniffles and choked sobs, and feel the tears soaking into his shirt.
He could see Rick again, and their stupid bet to get as many kisses as possible. Or JT and his stupid plans to get any action with a girl that he possibly could, including Manny once she stopped being their cute friend to being a siren. And he could see the old gang as they had been once upon a time. Just a bunch of kids trying to keep up with school work and hormones, summers that were used for nothing but wandering around with water guns or getting into Liberty's Jacuzzi.
The scent of bubble gum and text books and of four kids bored out of their mind trying to do anything to alleviate the lack of excitement. The feel of his lungs wanting to explode as he continued trying desperately to keep up with the cool, athletic Jimmy. Or the look of the lights, and cameras and the fleeting victory of a Brain Bowl win.
It took a moment for Toby to realize that he was crying right along with her. His arms had tightened on her and he wondered if he was crushing her but he couldn't seem to stop the tears for long enough to ask. Toby couldn't even seem to loosen his arms to give her a little relief. He just needed someone, anyone, who knew him before it was all wrong to hang onto.
Toby wasn't sure how long it had been when the awkwardness began to seep in. Manny was one of his oldest friends but puberty had long ago made things like hugging his friends who were girls awkward. Toby let go and ended up stuffing his hands in his pockets as Manny's delicate hands wiped at her tears.
"I should probably go in before Liberty loses it."
"Yeah," Manny said, giving off a little laugh that still sounded as if she were crying, and managed a shaky smile. "I'd hate to have anything happen to you, or for Lib's head to explode. I should probably go leave another harassing message on Emma's phone."
He nodded, embarrassment warming his cheeks. "Alright."
"I'll see you later though?" Manny asked tentatively, a rare occurrence for her.
"Bye Tobes," she said softly, leaning up to press a kiss to his cheek. She wiped her thumb across some of his own tear tracks before she left. "If you ever need to not be okay again, just…let me know okay?"
He watched her walk away from the school and wondered how different his life would have been if he'd never met JT or had been forced to move in with Kate and Ashley. A different school, a different life, less tragedy maybe, but different friends. That was a price Toby wasn't sure he would be willing to pay.
Sean slowly climbed the stairs next to Emma without touching her. Despite allowing the admission that he loved her to tumble from his lips at the cemetery and holding her while they stared at the grave of a boy who had changed them forever, it now felt odd to touch her. He was still having trouble wrapping his mind around the thought that she felt as guilty as he did.
She'd never told him about Rick putting his hands on her or about how terrified she must have been by the whole thing. He should have been there for her. He should have known.
It was bullshit, and he knew it. They'd been apart nearly a year when they'd come across Rick in the hallway, hadn't spoken more than two words to each other in over six months, not even when he'd come to her house to fix Snake's car. The closest they'd come to an actual conversation had been some stupid exchange about the anti violence ribbons, which was mostly Ellie pushing Paige and Emma for their reasons for what they were doing.
He hadn't known what was going on with her, had no reason to know. Emma hadn't had a reason to tell him either. Two years ago they had not owed each other anything anymore, except maybe a few apologies that had drifted into the silence between them. Funny how a man with a gun had changed everything.
"If you'd rather be alone, I could go."
Emma's voice was quiet and hesitant but still startling. He looked up to see her standing uncomfortably in the middle of his apartment.
"No," he replied quickly, trying to bank down a little of the panic that came from the thought of her being out of his sight just yet. God he was starting to sound paranoid. "I mean, unless Spike and Mr. S are going to be mad that you're not home."
"I left a message," Emma responded with a shrug, as if she wasn't sure what their real stance on the whole thing would be. "I told them we were together, that I was safe. That should be enough for them right now."
Sean couldn't help but feel stupid, standing in his own living room nodding his head like an idiot. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets because he couldn't figure out how to put his hands on his girlfriend without freaking them both out. He wanted to do something, anything but nothing came to mind. Finding the right thing to do had rarely been his strong suit.
Emma, per usual, saved him from his inability to figure it out. She crossed the room to him and tossed thin arms around his neck. Rather than awkwardly standing there as he had after the shooting, he embraced her just as deeply. A sob hitched in Emma's throat, as he nuzzled it and hot tears began leaking against his shoulder.
'Are you sorry Emma's alive?'
Jimmy's words echoed in his head as he inhaled the scent of her hair. He couldn't be sorry for this. There was a very long list of things that Sean wished he had never done, but if not doing them meant he wouldn't be holding on to her.. The fact that he might have had to stand before her grave today and regret not killing Rick when he had the chance, it was hard not to be sorry.
Sean held her even tighter as he buried his nose in her silky hair. "I shouldn't have just walked away from you at the cemetery like that," he mumbled.
"It's okay," she told him, pulling back so that they could face each other. "I understand. I should have figured out where Toby wanted to go sooner."
"It's not your fault," he insisted fiercely. When her head dipped down so she could avoid looking him in the eye, he took her face in his hands to make him face her. "Em, none of it was your fault."
Emma's eyes were still shiny with tears. "Some of it was my fault," she insisted, her voice stronger. "I started the original campaign against him Sean, I tripped him, I told him he was pathetic." The sad, pained look that he was getting far to used to seeing on her face clouded her features as she looked down at her hands. "I wasn't kind."
Sean could have lied and told her he was sure she had been better than she asserted. He knew how she could be though and when Emma didn't like you, it wasn't a secret. She could be, for a lack of a better word, a real bitch when she wanted to be.
But he could top Emma on this one.
"I shot him."
Emma gave a strangled laugh as she wiped at her tear streaked face. "What a pair we make," she said, in an attempt to be light.
It fell flat, though and Sean reached out with his own hand to wipe away the tracks on her face, hoping that maybe he could heal some of the damage. Maybe just take a little more of her pain onto himself so that she didn't have to hurt like that.
She brushed at a curl of his that had fallen into his eyes. "I still dream about it sometimes. I watch you two fall to the ground, and you don't get up. You don't get up and Rick does…"
"It's not real," Sean reminded her.
But he knows the dream. He's too late to do anything. Except in his, the shot gets fired over his shoulder and he turns to see her crumple to the ground, sliding down the door jamb leaving a long, bright red trail of blood from a wound in her head. Toby screams as Sean closes the distance. Sometimes he reaches her to hold her and sometimes he doesn't before a second shot echoes through the hallway and he wakes up, sick and shaking.
He pulled her tightly against him, feeling that sick shaky feeling creeping over him.
"It might have been," she murmured into his shoulder. "Really, it could have been."
He repeated the words over and over again until it just sounded like nonsense tumbling out of his mouth. It was as if everything fell away into nonsense now that he didn't quite understand. But he lived, and so did she and they're together and he was holding her on the couch, it was all that mattered to him in that moment.