You see him in your dreams.
He's younger and you're younger- but not by much. Not by much at all. His hair is black and combed just over the sides of his head in an old-fashioned way you think is dorky and cheap-but you like it, anyway. He tips his glasses to the tip of his nose and shoots you a wink, pointing at you with both index fingers. "double pistols and a wink!" He chimes through the popping speakers.
It's a weird dream. You're surrounded by water that goes further than you can see and you never see anyone else. Somehow, you know there's no one else in the world to see. Dream logic is weird.
But then there's him. He sends you pictures of guns and monsters he hunts, he talks in a weird way that's as old fashioned as his hair and it's more real than you want it to be. But, god, he's tan and scarred and beautiful and you fucking hate him for it.
You wake up in your shitty apartment and get Dave out of his crib and put him in clothes that smell the least of shit and drop him in the baby-backpack whatever you picked up at thrift store and take him to work.
You come home tired and angry and silent and you tuck him in and you don't know what to do. He's not real. He was never real. He can't be real. You aren't that lucky. And you hate how much you want him to be real and how much you know he isn't. If only you thought he was out there, you wouldn't be so bitter about it- but Dirk Strider is not a fool and there is no Jake English. You have never been that lucky.
You spend another hour working on the washer and feel better, you've always liked machines.
You go to sleep and have a dream where your computer rings and there he is, bloody and bruised and barely breathing. Bigger monsters, things he can't handle. Guns are great until they run out of bullets. You wake up and for the first time in your life you are afraid for something. You wake up Dave, small and fragile, too fragile, and give him his first sword. You might not be able to protect fake Jake English, but you can protect real Dave Strider, and you will.
You stand on Beat Mesa and draw your weapon. You always did your best to protect your little brother. From his emotions, from the emotions of others, from men and gods and monsters. You gave him a sword and the know how to use it, you gave him a shield for his heart and his mind. And now you're about to give him your life.
You dodge another slash of the beast's sword and feel your jaw tighten. Dirk strider is not a fool and there is no surviving this. You have taught Dave well and taught him all you can. He can do it on his own now. He doesn't need anything else from you- well, this Dave might.
The beast glows green and freezes. The whole world screams, the air around you cries out in terror and loss and hate and it emerges from the fire with teeth and claws and hate.
You shove your glowing, creamsicle-orange, winged ghost-brother out of the way and scream the last word you will ever say, the first thing you have said in a very very long while. Your voice breaks, rusty with disuse.
And just like that, you're gone, too.
It takes a few minutes of bleeding, but you are surely getting there. It left you, obviously uninterested in a defeated opponent. Your own sword, too. You think it's almost funny.
You see a ship overhead. It's so far away, but you can see him- just barely- at the helm. Funnier still, you think, how you have a sword jutting out of your broken ribcage and this is only thing that hurts. He's old, so old, and looks so different- but you can tell. You know Jake. You know him like you know the taste of air and the walls of your apartment and the length of your sword. You know Jake. And that, above you, is he.
The sun rises without you, and he never looks down.