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The young man paces down to the edge of the waves, sits down with his bare feet on wet sand and his ass on dry land. He stares out at the horizon. There’s no sun in this place, but at the same time, it’s as light as a sunny late afternoon in California. The waves rolling in are a perfect clear blue, and the water chuckling in around his toes and over the tops of his feet is a refreshing mix of sun-warm and cool.

He doesn’t look behind him, or around. He knows that there will be nothing but endless beach from side to side, and behind, a formless blur of colour. There will be red in that blur, he knows. Red like Max’s hair, red like the rage behind his eyes (strange, how he feels so calm now); red, like blood.

Billy Hargrove knows that he’s dead. He knows how he died (being suffocated slowly by the weight of that horrific malice, afraid every moment of being melted to bubbling gunk of flesh and bone and subsumed into the whole, afraid that the being that spoke with his voice, moved and acted with his body, would kill someone, kill that little red-headed menace and her friends the way it had killed so many others, or worse).

Billy Hargrove died a hero, died protecting that strange, brave little girl that the monster inside him had hated so, so much. She was Max’s friend, and he thought that might not have been enough to make him die defending her, but damnit, he’d owed her.

She’d freed him, given him back control of his own body. She’d cried for him, known the things he never wanted anyone to know, the things that no-one else outside of him could be bothered to see or remember, and fuck it.

She was just a little girl. She hadn’t deserved the suffering that the monster had wanted to inflict, and Billy was an asshole, was enough a bloody-minded, stubborn idiot that fuck, if he wasn’t going to die making sure that the darkness that had fucking destroyed so many people, had taken away his free will and trapped him in the only place that was meant to be his and his alone - his own fucking mind - never got what it wanted.

Max had been there, before it had gotten dark and he’d woken up here. Telling him to stay there, to wake up. For once, Billy was sorry that he hadn’t been able to give Max what she wanted. Over the last year, after she’d scared the shit out of him with that bat, they’d been getting along a bit better. She was fucking fiesty, a sassy little shit, and even if he envied her the protection that being a girl, being Susan’s little girl, gave her; Max wasn’t the worst.

But if Max had been there to tell him to stay, he was sure of one thing. Max was brave, not stupid. If she’d been there, it was a fair bet that the fucking monster was dead. And Billy wasn’t exactly happy about being dead, but knowing that, first, the monster hadn’t gotten what it wanted, hadn’t managed to kill that little brown-eyed girl, and second, that the monster was dead, and wouldn’t be going after anyone else, after Max, ever again; that, maybe, made dying a little bit less of a fucking shit deal than it maybe would have been otherwise.

Who had Billy been trying to kid? He’d just been waiting, after all. For the moment when he’d be driving so fast, he wouldn’t be able to hit the brakes in time. Waiting to drink too much and never wake up, for his dad to start in on him and not stop until Billy wasn’t just unconscious, but dead. Waiting to start a bar fight with a fatal ending, or for the moment when a jealous boyfriend or spouse might finally come after him with a knife or a gun.

Billy had been living his life while waiting to die for a long time. Dying for that little girl, to try and buy her some more time? Hell, for an asshole like him, it might be better than he deserved, even.

He opened his eyes, shook his head a little. Billy hadn’t even realised he’d had them closed. He tipped his head back, kept his eyes on the horizon. He sniffed, could smell the salt of the sea, the faint scent of high-summer flowers, floating down from the hills backing onto the beach. Those hills didn’t exactly exist here, but the scent remained.

He’d honestly been expecting to wake up to flames and damnation, the Devil spitting in his face. But then again, what devil could possibly hope to outdo Neil Hargrove, outdo the horror that had ended Billy’s life.

Sitting on this beach, staring at the line where sky met sea for the rest of eternity… It didn’t seem like such a bad deal.

Billy lay back, put his hands behind his head, closed his eyes and tilted his head in the direction where the light was strongest. The air was balmy, and a warm breeze swept through. He smiled.

Yeah, this didn’t seem too bad at all.