As I started to tear my own heart out once again by rereading the Gregor the Overlander series, an annoying little plot bunny started knowing at my ankle until I finally acknowledged it. So, despite that fact that I really should start another fic I'll likely struggle to finish, this chapter flew off of my fingers and onto the page.
I haven't actually looked at the fandom on in a long while, so I don't know if it's been done before, but here ya go. A time travel fix-it that I know twelve-year-old me would have died for when I first read the series.
Gregor woke to the soft tap of knuckles against wood at his door and his mother's soft voice. His body tensed, ready for a battle that never came and would probably never come again, but his mind lagged behind like an old computer on its last leg.
"I'm leaving now, Gregor. Take care of Boots and Grandma for me while I'm gone." There was a whisper of a sigh, echoing with exhaustion and regret. "I'm sorry about camp, love."
He remained in bed for some time after that as his mind slowly rebooted. There was something wrong with what she said. He ran it over in his sleep-addled mind as he slowly opened his eyes. He stared up at the ceiling, a familiar ceiling…that he had not seen in a little over five years. His body seized and he choked on his breath.
"Take care of Boots and Grandma for me while I'm gone."
"I'm sorry about camp."
"Take care of Boots and Grandma."
"Boots and Grandma."
He sucked in an unsteady breath, heart beating wildly and his eyes roved sightlessly over a familiar tiny storage room, turned bedroom.
Grandma was dead.
"Simon! Simon where are you!?"
He rolled out of bed and ran straight to their tiny bathroom to puke his guts out in the toilet. After his rolling stomach finally settled he pressed his face against the cool plastic seat and tried to take deep calming breaths like his therapist had been trying to teach him during their last session.
Once his heartbeat slowed to a steady tempo he slowly started to get his feet, eyes catching and staying on two small hands devoid of the callouses developed from training and fighting for his life in the Underground. He swallowed as another wave of nausea rolled over him, but forced himself to finish pushing himself to his feet in to look in the slightly chipped mirror.
He nearly dove for the toilet again, or his bed to hide under the covers until he woke up. Because surely this was a dream. It had to be.
Gregor pressed his back against the wall and slowly slid to the ground.
He wrapped his arms around himself, digging his nails into the flesh and flinching at the pain. He had nightmares and even some hallucinations after everything that happened in the Underground, but not like this. They were usually about a battle or being lost in the dark listening to the deaths of the people he cared about. His breathing started to stutter again and he forced those thoughts away.
A touch of warmth slid down his arm.
Gregor looked down and winced. He had managed to dig his nails deep enough to draw blood. He sighed and mechanically dressed his wounds with the scattered supplies they had below the bathroom sink. Gregor stared down at the red splotches on the washcloth for some time, think about how his mother was going to be so worried if she found it and he'd have to do laundry before she came back.
His mind stuttered to a halt as his surroundings slowly started to dawn on him.
'I'm in my old apartment in New York' He thought slightly dazed. 'The one with the grate straight into the Underground.'
He stared at his reflection. He knew if he searched, he would not find the scares that had faded with time, but would never fully disappear from his skin. The only indication of the horrors he went through was the haunted and slightly crazed look in his eye.
He took a breath.
Even as a thousand possibilities ran through his head Gregor didn't dare to hope as he walked out of the bathroom and into the only air-conditioned room in the stifling apartment. If he began to hope, then he knew everything would fall to pieces. Like it did back then with…he cut that thought of with the vicious precision of repeated practice. He pushed open the door and found his grandmother, alive and well curled up in her quilt of former dresses.
Gregor watched distantly as she smiled in relief and repeated half-forgotten words about a lunch pail and plowing.
Could it really be? Could he be…?
'No.' He popped the bubbling hope. 'This is just a dream. A little different from most of my nightmares, but still just a dream.'
"Ge-go!" A curly head popped out of the crib.
He felt a smile tug at his lips despite himself.
'Even if it's just a dream, I'll enjoy it while it lasts. It's better than reality anyway.'
He picked her up and swung her around in his arms for a few moments, making her giggle. Ignoring the crusty bits of food and slight smell he pecked her forehead and checks about a dozen times until she was laughing so hard she was hiccupping and pushing him away with her tiny pudgy hands.
"No, Ge-go! No!" She laughed.
His Boots, who now went by Margaret because she was eight and decided she was too old for such a silly nickname, never let him play with her anymore.
'Of course,' He thought ruefully. 'Who would want to play with a big brother who could barely function in the polite society of a small rural town in Virginia? Who constantly zone out or retreated to the safety of his room at every opportunity? Who flinched and went pale when her friends pretend cries of death in their little fantasy games reached his ears?'
He held her close and closed his eyes.
"Ge-go?" A tiny had touched his cheek. "Ge-go sad. Ge-go have boo-boo?"
He laughed softly. It was a strangled, pathetic noise, but a laugh all the same.
A knock brought his attention back to the room, the apartment. The place and time he shouldn't be. He shook his head and marched to the door.
Just a dream.
'I'm just reliving memories.' He thought. 'Mr. Jones mentioned it, once or twice. It must be a result of the new medication I'm taking. That's all.'
Mrs. Cormaci bustled in just like she did all those years ago, though this time he didn't have a root beer for her to take. She started on a huffy tirade about the weather but stopped when she got a good look at his face.
"Gregor, dear, are you alright? You look awful." A hand reached out to touch his forehead and he couldn't help the flinch that followed. Boots patted his cheek again, whispering 'Ge-go, boo-boo' under her breath.
Her eyes widened then narrow and he realized he had to say something quickly since apparently, this dream was not following the script.
"I, um, I'm fine Mrs. Cormaci." He tried for a smile but wasn't sure how it looked. He was a bit rusty at it. "I just had a really nasty nightmare last night…"
He trailed off as her eyes softened.
"If you're tired dear, I don't mind looking after little Boots as you take a nap."
He shook his head.
Even if it was a dream he would never pass up the chance to see the Underland again.
"No, no! It's okay." He explained as bright as he could manage. "I just need to move around a little to shake it off. I've got some laundry to do, so I'll take Boots to do that."
The woman was too perspective for her own good, Gregor noted sheepishly as she nodded slowly but obviously didn't believe him. Her eyes drifted to the bandages on his arms, completely exposed as he held Boots against his chest. One was already peeling from the heat and sweat sliding down his skin. He wondered what she thought of the crescent-shaped scratches. But, she didn't say a word.
"Alright dear, be careful on the stairs." That was all she said before she moved over to sit with his Grandmother.
He took a breath and held it for a moment before releasing it slowly.
Despite his slowly bubbling excitement, he did take the stairs carefully. If only because Boots had started wiggling in his arms and it was difficult to carry her and a basket of clothes. But, he didn't want to put her down either. This was the innocent Boots, who laughed and befriended everyone. Including giant cockroaches. His Boots was still a smiling and generally happy little girl, but sometimes her smile would fade and she'd call out names or cry in her sleep at the horrifying memories of a time she barely remembered.
(They all had their scars, physical or not. As much as his mother had hoped Virginia and its large airy house in the country would heal them…it didn't.)
'Especially for me.' He thought glumly, mind flashing through the seven different therapists, a long stay at the hospital and several suspensions from fights where he sent someone else to the hospital.
He liked Mr. Jones, though. Maybe he'd tell him about this dream when he woke up. Gregor hadn't quite managed to trust him enough to tell him about the Underland, but he had hinted at it enough he got the feeling the man had started coming up with theories. Most of which were probably false.
A smile crept over his lips as he pushed open the door to the laundry room.
No one who didn't see it themselves could ever guess at the Underlands existence. It's beauty, and it's horror.
No, Mr. Jones probably thought he had been involved in some sort of gang. He was nice about it though, never pushed too hard for him to talk about things he wasn't comfortable sharing.
He set the basket down and stared at the grate that started it all.
He never thought he'd see it again, in a dream or otherwise.
"Ge-go, down!" Boots wiggled and squirmed in his grip. "I play. I play."
He laughed and set her down, but didn't let go of her hand.
"Say, Boots. Want to go on an adventure?" He grinned down at her.
(How crazy was it that he wanted to go down there after everything that happened?)
'But it's true.' He glanced at the grate waiting for the wisps of currents. 'Even after everything that happened, one of the reasons I crashed the way I did in Virginia was because I realized I could never go back.'
(And since it's a dream...)
A giddy feeling rushed through him as the grate began to bang.
"Ad-tue?" Boots questioned, eyes following his towards the grate.
"Yeah." He breathed.
(He could see everyone again. As they were, not as the broken people they became.)
"I go. I go!" Boots giggled and started towards the grate, not understanding but still a curious two-year-old that wanted to poke everything that moved.
(Luxa. Vikus. Howard. Ripred. Mareth. Nerissa. Aurora. Temp and Tick. Even, even…)
This time he caught Boots before she dove into the grate herself. He hugged her to his chest and they rolled into the darkness together.
The currents caressed his skin as they drifted down, deeper and deeper into the earth. Boots giggled and laughed. Though he knew it was foolish Gregor couldn't help, but keep an eye out for a pair of large black wings as the light from the laundry room faded away.
As they reached the end, Gregor twisted in a way his mind remembers but his body didn't to land on his feet. He winced at the pull of strained muscles, but forgot about it soon after because, because…
He was here.
They landed together in the Underland once more.
(He could even see Ares.)
So, there ya go. Like I said, time travel fix-it. It's a little depressing on Gregor's end, but I mean the series itself had a horribly disheartening end. If he didn't come out of that with major depression and ptsd then I'd eat my left shoe!
Ahem, well. Anyway, I might knock out a few chapters this weekend since I'm feeling inspired (The feels are real y'all and I'm only halfway through book two in my rereading marathon.) but I have to go back to actually finishing my wayward next chapter for my other story in the Naruto fandom at some point, so this might be left to hang for a little bit. I'll come back to it eventually if that happened though, I always do. It may just take a little while.