Lizzie doesn't know too much about the Underland. She knows the few things Boots babbles about and what she learned as she broke the code while desperately afraid that rats — gnawers — were going to kill her.
But she does know it's left its mark on Gregor.
He's careful to keep his scars hidden, but in a small apartment there's never much privacy. The nightmares are something everyone shares, even Boots, who never remembers them when she wakes.
Most of the time, they're all too haunted by their own memories to really see each other's pain. But Lizzie is nothing but observant, and she's good a putting the pieces together.
(That's why she was brought to the Underland, after all, because she could see how it all connected, because she could break the code—)
Lizzie doesn't know too much about the Underland because she doesn't want to know more. She feigns ignorance and purposely distracts herself when it comes up in conversation. Try as she might, though, she could never ignore how it's changed Gregor.
He keeps it hidden as best he could. But he's only human, and he slips up often.
His fear of the dark is new, but so is his comfort in it. The first power outage they faced after everything, Gregor started clicking his tongue like it was second nature. He keeps the lights on whenever possible, but on the worst nights he turns them all off and hums under his breath.
Echolocation, Lizzie knows, was something he had to learn for the sake of survival.
It hurts to know that he still needs to struggle to survive in their own home.
Lizzie never says anything about this. She goes through puzzle books and ignores all the code breakers. She turns away when Gregor's scars are showing. She shoves her head under her pillow when someone wakes up from a nightmare and can't tell if they're still dreaming or not.
Lizzie stays quiet about all this, and her own burdens too.
She's only nine, after all.
"Big bat!" Boots says one day, smiling and holding her arms up. "Big bat! Ride big bat?"
The apartment becomes still, becomes silent. Boots waits for her answer, looking around for the bat. "Where big bat?" she asks when she can't find any.
Lizzie doesn't know which bat Boots is talking about. They were all big in the Underland. But Gregor knows. He knows and he leaves the room without a word.
"Big bat?" Boots asks again, and looks to Mom.
"No, honey, not bat," Mom says, voice shaking. "No bat."
Lizzie leaves as well, going after Gregor. Mom is busy with Boots, Dad with Grandma, but Gregor. Gregor is alone and Lizzie is the only one who can't do anything and maybe she wasn't that close with him before all this, but she knows Gregor has given so much to keep them all safe. The least she could do is be with him.
She hesitates at the sight of his closed door. She's never been good at this, never been the one comforting. She always needed the comfort, the steady presence of someone else helping her breathe through another panic attack; being on the other side of it is terrifying.
But Lizzie can hear Gregor's breath hitch, hear that familiar gasp as he tries to keep his sobs muffled. She's done the same thing so many times, after all.
She knocks twice, then opens the door enough to slip in and close it behind her.
In his small room, Gregor is in the corner at the head of his bed, knees pulled into his chest and arms covering his face. His sleeves have slid down enough that Lizzie can see the circular scars that came from a giant squid, can see the scratches that came from going through a jungle and fighting gnawers.
She knows these are hardly the worst of what he's gone through.
"Ares," Gregor chokes out, once Lizzie has settled besides him. "Boots is asking for Ares."
His bond, Lizzie realizes, a sharp pain going through her heart. She leans closer to him and presses her shoulder against his. Their family didn't lose anyone, but Gregor lost his bond.
She doesn't quite know what it means, to be bonded, but she knows it's stronger than anything else she's seen.
"I still reach for him sometimes," he admits, "When I wake up, the first thing I do is reach for him. I don't want to believe that he's gone."
"You remember him," Lizzie whispers.
"That's all we'll ever have, in the end."
They don't talk after that. They stay there, together, for hours, side by side, until Gregor's tears dry and Dad knocks on the door, calling them out for dinner.
They don't mention anything about bats or the Underland. But Lizzie can see the scars, can still feel the chill that came from kneeling on the stone floor for hours, and thinks that memories are indeed the only thing they have.
But it's enough to keep haunting them.
Lizzie pretends that the Underland doesn't affect her much. They all need someone to pretend at normalcy when they're too shaken up from nightmares and Boots' innocent songs.
"Two little rows of ten little toes…"
Part of her wants to say that they'll never be normal again. That pretending everything is fine just makes it all hurt more. But she knows that she's just a kid, just the anxious middle child, and knows that they'll never listen to her.
As if she hasn't dealt with fear all her life.
The taptaptap haunts her. That small tap, the sound, and suddenly Lizzie is back in that room, surrounded by cold stone, and taptaptap — they're closing in on her—
She tries to count. Tries to hold her breath and ground herself to reality. She tells herself that it's safe, she's in New York City, floors above the ground, safe safe safe—
She spirals. She spirals. She spirals.
She goes under.
Gregor carries the most scars out of all of them, physically and mentally. But Lizzie, with a part of herself still stuck in that room, desperately looking through messages to find the code, wonders if her mental scars are closer to mental amputations.
She knows it'll be a long time until things get better, if they ever do. Over or Under, the hurt doesn't fade.
No one will listen, though. No one will care.
She's not the only one with scars, after all.