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A Familiar Stranger

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Leaving the Bridge was necessary, but it didn’t mean they liked it. Roger had been unusually quiet the entire time, writing in his journal like he was preparing for death, but Bertie hadn’t thought much of it at the time. When asked, Roger had simply said he was writing down things he’d need to remember. Bertie had left it at that. 

But now… 

The moment Roger set foot on the mainland, his expression had melted away into something... terrifyingly blank. He blinked, looking around as if he didn’t know where he was, and Bertie felt the beginnings of dread creeping into his bones at the strange behavior, the way he glanced around as if for answers. 

“Roger?” he asked, soft and worried, and Roger didn’t respond until it was clear Bertie was talking to him. By then, Etta and Kate had noticed his odd behavior, and Kate’s soft, wide-eyed whisper of ‘no’ solidified the liquid dread in Bertie’s veins. He called Roger’s name again, louder, more afraid this time, and Roger turned those dark eyes on him with a complete lack of recognition that chilled Bertie to the core.

“Um... I-I’m sorry, I...” Roger started, trailing off slightly, his face more open than they’d ever seen, “Do I... Where am I?”

“Roger?” Bertie asked, alarmed, and Roger tilted his head.

“I’m sorry… who?” the simple word stopped Bertie’s heart dead in his chest, and he faltered. Kate seemed to see his confusion, his rising terror, and squeezed his shoulder before stepping forward until she was in front of Roger.

“What’s your name?” she asked, her voice gentle yet authoritative. Roger hesitated, looking uncertain, an act that so un-Rogerlike that it made Bertie’s skin crawl.

“My name is-“ he started, and then stopped, “My... My name is... My name...”

“You don’t remember?” she asked, her voice deceptively soft, though Bertie saw the tension in her frame. Tension mirrored by Etta when he looked to her for answers. Answers she clearly didn’t have.

“Kate, what is happening?” he asked in a whisper, his eyes wide as he prayed for them to laugh and say this was all a prank, to slap Bertie on the shoulder and laugh about how gullible he was. For Roger to roll his eyes and ask if they could get moving now that the silly joke was over.

That didn’t happen.

“I’m sorry.” Roger said helplessly, “I’m sorry, I don’t know. I don’t know. Do… Do you know, miss?”

“Kate, please.” Etta said softly, eyes wide and worried, “What’s happening? Why is he-Why can’t he remember anything?”

“I think he lost a bet.” Kate explained, her face stony the way it always got when she was trying to stay strong, “I suspected, but I thought it was just a story. But this… It’s more Bridge bullshit. All I can say for sure is that leaving the Bridge seems to have triggered total amnesia.”

No !” Bertie exclaimed vehemently as Etta gasped, his entire being railing against her words, “No, that can’t be! Not Roger, not him, he can’t-

“Bertie-“

“He can’t have lost everything!” he continued, tears springing to his eyes as the tremors overtook his whole body, dangerously close to panicking, “He can’t have! He’s Roger, our Roger, he’s… he’s…” Irreplaceable. Indispensable. Precious. Their cantankerous rock in a stormy sea. His rock. The man he’d come to love despite everything, the man whose voice soothed his anxieties and whose touch calmed his nightmares, whose vocal dissatisfaction with everything around him made Bertie laugh even in the darkest moments. 

Roger looked at him with an expression of polite confusion, more open and vulnerable than Bertie had ever seen him. 

“Are you… okay, sir?” he asked him softly, like he was a perfect stranger.

Bertie broke. A sob escaped him, and as Kate squeezed Etta’s trembling hand, Bertie wrapped his arms around Roger like a lifeline. Roger started, but didn’t try to pull away, although he didn’t reciprocate either. Nor complain like he should have. Bertie held him close, trembling as he clung to him and buried his face in Roger’s shoulder. Roger patted his back, but Bertie could tell the gesture was more politeness than anything else. It made his throat constrict even more, the pit in his stomach deepening.

“It’s okay.” he whispered, as if Roger was the one who needed to hear it, as if Bertie’s world wasn’t falling to pieces around him, “It’s okay. We’re gonna figure this out, Roger. We’re gonna figure this out.”

“If you… say so?” Roger said, sounding so confused. It broke Bertie’s heart. He held him closer, as if he could protect his supervisor from the world, from his own mind. Kate was speaking quietly to Etta, but Bertie’s entire focus was on the familiar stranger in his arms. 

Later, they would remember the journal he’d written in so dedicatedly. Later they would all curl up on the couch with Roger in the center, safe and warm and slowly growing used to the strangers he’d once called friends. They would all read the journal together, learn about how he saw the world, the truth about his existence, the way he loved and protected his friends even as he tried to keep them at arm's length. There would be tears from some, and watery laughter from others, and Bertie’s hand would never leave Roger’s arm even for a moment as they all tried to get used to this new Roger.

For now, Bertie held Roger close, mourning the man he loved for a second time.