Work Header

Character Growth

Work Text:

“Sorry if I ever got under your skin during any of that stuff, man, I just… I say a lot of stupid shit when I’m scared,” Tyler blurts before he can hold himself back, before he can fully realize the knife he’s plunging into his own stomach with the statement. “Not that I’m scared of you, because I’m not! It’s just… I mean, you’re…” He closes his mouth and keeps it that way.

Liam is sitting on the porch next to him, the side of his face resting in his open palm. A half-empty Coke can sits next to him. A fly buzzes around and finally settles for resting on the metal tab. “I think scary is a fair way to describe me, to be honest. And looking back, that shit with the cult was damn terrifying, I think you were the only one out of us who had a normal fucking reaction to that shit.”

Tyler lets out an awkward chuckle— it’s a little too late and a little too loud. Liam doesn’t seem to mind.

“Hey, so, Liam. Do you…” he hesitates.


“After all the shit we went through— like, as a group of friends or whatever, I mean— do you hate us? Or like, hate me, specifically?”

Liam looks stuck halfway between offended and incredulous. “Are you fucking kidding? No, I don’t hate you.”

Tyler remains unconvinced. “But I—“

“Look, no, seriously. I don’t hate you,” the man insists on what is surely a strong contender for the most outright shocking thing Tyler has ever heard. Lifting his own flat, lukewarm soda to his lips, Liam gazes past the horizon line with glassy eyes. “I… nah, never mind.”

He’s trying to brush it off; Tyler won’t allow it. “No, dude. What is it?”

Liam pulls the can away from his mouth and taps it’s side nervously, black polished fingernails clinking gently against the metal. “…Do you think I can ever make up for it?”

The ‘it’ is innocent, nondescript, but also inherently terrifying. The ‘it’ climbs up through Tyler’s ribcage and wraps around his tightened lungs like a vine of rot. He wonders if that’s what their group will call this entire cult nightmare scenario, the ‘it.’ “I—“ he says, and his throat closes before he can finish. He tries again, with more confidence, “I don’t think there’s anything really to make up for. Like, you fucked up a whole lot, but you weren’t exactly in your peak state of mind. And I think you did a pretty good job just helpin’ us outta all that shit, soooo… I think we’re even? You’re our friend now!”

Liam narrows his eyes at nothing. “I don’t deserve that sort of treatment. I put you guys through hell for a bunch of bullshit.”

Tyler frowns and his shoulders droop. “No, c’mon man—“

“I’m serious,” Liam cuts in. He seems like he’s getting agitated, and despite his best efforts to the contrary Tyler is frightened by it. “Even if you don’t outright hate me, you have to at least resent me.”

Tyler tries and fails to not let how he feels show on his face. Everything he’s saying in this conversation feels more like error than trial. What could he possibly say? “…I don’t resent you,” is what he finally settles on. “I mean like, I can't speak for everybody else, but I know I don’t resent you… I’ve looked up to you for way too long to do that.”

Liam’s hand clenches and crumples the sides of the aluminum soda can he’s holding. A small bit sloshes over the side, missing his fingers just so and splashing down onto the porch. They both ignore it. “That isn’t a good reason not to resent somebody, Tyler.”

“Look, dude, my lack of resentment or whatever isn't hurting me. I’m fine.”

“‘It’s not hurting you,’ huh? Well that’s good,” Liam spits sarcastically, “You don’t need more of that, I think I did damn well enough on my own.”

It takes a moment for Tyler to decipher what was said, and he’s halfway through blasting out a reply when everything catches up to him. “…Are you honestly like, wanting me to resent you? Is— I mean, is that what’s happening?”

He watches Liam wince. “I don’t want to be resented, it’s just… how can you not resent me? I don’t get it. I hurt you, and I hurt Sunny, and Noah, and Ari, and I hurt Nim.” Liam says it himself, but his eyebrows knit together and his eyes grow sad as if he’s being yelled at. “I hurt fucking Nim, Tyler! He was my best friend, I loved him, and now I’ve fucked it up again! I can’t fix this!” He’s blurting the words like they’ve been pent up inside of him for years, thoughts that have been banging around inside his skull just waiting to break free. Tyler understands, but his eyes flicker anxiously between Liam and the door, waiting for anyone to open up and check to see what all the yelling is about.

Once he’s done, Liam slouches in on himself like he’s trying to disappear, pulling his legs up and drawing his knees to his chest. “I feel like a real piece of shit because apparently I’m making you guys feel bad for me or whatever, but like, just think about it. You literally shouldn’t have me around. I’m an awful friend and a bad person.”

“…I think we’re all those things, sometimes, y’know? Like, I think that’s kinda how all people are. We gotta like, pick each other back up when they’re like that, give ‘em a lift or whatever.” Tyler pauses. “Wow, holy shit. I feel like a philosophy professor right now. I’m like, galaxy-braining.”

A snort escapes Liam before he can muffle it, and he looks away, embarrassed. Tyler grins.

After a minute of comfortable silence between them, Liam yawns and stands up, stretching his muscles. “I need to like, walk around for a minute. Be back in a sec.” Flashing a peace sign and a smile, he steps off the end of the porch. Everything is wet from the last rain, and the ground sinks and squishes as he steps onto it. Tyler watches as he rounds the corner of the house, kicking a small, flat rock along with him as he goes.

As Liam leaves, Nimbatroid’s front door opens with a small creak. Sunny walks out onto the porch. They’re holding a can of Sprite, and they have a small splotch of light pink face paint just under their eye. Tyler assumes that, maybe, it was supposed to be a heart. Sunny sets the can on the windowsill and signs, ‘Are you okay?’ They’re looking down at him in concern, and it’s not until seeing the look on their face that Tyler realizes his eyes are tearing up.

“Oh, I’m fine!” Sunny looks unconvinced. “I know how it looks, but seriously. Trust me on this one. Everything is totally cool.”

From the side of the building, Tyler hears Liam mumbling to himself; it’s something of a nervous habit he’s picked up since leaving the cult. All the words he says are incomprehensible, really, but it’s definitely Liam’s voice. Sunny seems to realize this too, if their change in expression is anything to go by. Their mouth instantly draws into a thin line, before the edges of their lips pull upwards and they smile lightly, giving Tyler a gentle nod. They pick up their soda can and head back inside. As the door closes, Tyler sees Salim throw his hands up and Nim yells “Yahtzee!” Ari is smiling fondly at them both. Noah looks exhausted, but happy. Tyler is pretty sure they were supposed to be playing Go Fish.

“They gone?” Liam’s voice asks suddenly, and Tyler feels as if he jumps a full foot into the air. The taller boy is leaning against the house, under the porch’s canopy and right next to a puddle of water that’s been draining down from the rooftop. His face is plastered with a smug, crooked grin. Tyler intentionally dodges the thought that it’s the same one he fell head over heels for back when they first met. (He is startled to realize how long ago that moment in high school feels. Everything with the cult felt like an eternity, like years upon years within itself when in reality it was only a few months. He wonders if, after all that happened, he can ever be normal again.)

“Y-Yeah, Sunny, uh. They went back in,” Tyler manages to stammer out. Liam nods and sits back on the porch. He leans back a bit and props himself up on his hands. One of his hands grazes Tyler’s. Liam’s hand quickly moves away and Tyler’s twitches involuntarily (no, no, come back.)

There’s a long pause of silence. Tyler fidgets uncomfortably; Liam sits perfectly still.

Finally, Tyler can’t take it anymore. “Do you—“

The door behind them flings open and almost slams against the siding of the house. “Guys!” Nimbatroid says excitedly, “C’mon back in! We’re— me and Noah and Ari are playing Twister, and Sunny is making cookies! Uh, Salim is just taking a nap, but that’s cool too! Also, the pizza rolls are getting cold. You gotta come back in!”

Tyler’s eyes flicker to Liam and he’s surprised to find that Liam is already standing up again, brushing imaginary dust from his front and crumpling his now-empty can of coke in his fist. “What kind of cookies, dude?” Liam asks.

Nim pauses, “Uhhh.” He sticks his head back in the door, “Hey Sunny! What kind of cookies are you making?”

There’s a moment of silence, presumably where Sunny is signing to Nim. Tyler cautiously looks up at Liam’s face— he’s smiling, in that gentle ‘cool kid who doesn’t care about anything’ type of way. Liam, Tyler thinks, looks a whole lot cuter when he isn’t frowning.

Nim pops his head back out. “Any kind you want, but they’re making shortbread right now.”

Liam nods as if contemplating this response. Nim seems to be vibrating from excitement. Tyler knows he loves shortbread cookies, especially when he takes jam from the fridge and absolutely smothers them in it. He also knows Nim couldn’t stop talking about the get-together party in the group chat— Tyler suspects some normality and getting together with all his favorite people is really putting Nim in a good mood, and Tyler can’t blame him.

“I’m down for shortbread cookies,” Liam says with a shrug. He turns to Tyler expectantly, “You in?”

Tyler blinks. “I, uh— y-yeah. I’m down. I love… baking.”

“Nim, dude, we’re about to start playing,” Noah’s voice calls from the living room.

“Okay!” Nim replies, and looks back to the both of them. “Um, just come in when you’re ready!” And the door closes behind him.

Liam looks blankly at the door. Tyler looks blankly at Liam. Surely, in some context, a meaningful conversation is behind had.

“How…” Liam starts, “How am I supposed to just get over it? I mean. I’m the one who did all the bad shit, and yet it feels like you guys are the ones who are just… beyond it? It’s like nothing happened to all of you. But I can’t figure out how to move on.”

Tyler wobbles into a standing position, his legs stiff from sitting for so long. “I guess it’s like… you just have to take steps forward, dude. Like, you’re being friends with us! And that’s pretty great. You have like, a support system now, and you don’t have to worry about us being shitheads or something because you’ve kinda already seen us in our worst moments.”

Liam pushes up his glasses and looks to the side. “I guess so, huh?”

Tyler stuffs his hands into his hoodie pockets. “Uh… you ready to bake some bomb-ass shortbread, dude?”

Liam huffs out a laugh, more air than noise. Tyler wants to hear it again. “Yeah man… hey, I bet I can eat more raw cookie dough than you without Sunny noticing.”

“No way, you’re on!” He gives a wide grin.

Tyler throws open the front door, and as they walk in together it feels like entering the rest of the world.