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Breath of Life

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As another successful trial ended, Evan stood waiting on a hill for the Entity to call him back to the woods as the last survivor died on the hook.  He could have had four kills, but he will take the three he did have figuring that no generators got done and the last person escaped through the hatch, saving herself.

As he hooked his last victim, an older man with a cigarette that constantly seemed to be in his mouth, he walked away letting the man die without him cruelly watching him, knowing that he will most likely see him again in a trial or two.

The stench of coppery blood filled his nose, and his skin felt sticky and clammy with the splashes of blood that flew from the survivors whenever he slashed at them with his cleaver or picked them up from a bear trap. 

There seemed to be a permanent dark red stain that made its way up his arms and down his back.  Evan knew it was the blood and gore from the trials, but no matter how much he scrubbed at his arms, there it stayed, a tattoo to constantly remind him of what he does, who he is.  The more blood he got on his hands, the more it seeped into his pores, discoloring him even more.

But he tried not to think about it too much.

That was where he was trapped, and he had a job to do.  He came to terms with the fact that this was his punishment for a lifetime filled with horrendous actions that ended the lives of so many decent people.

While Evan was alive, he never believed in God, or Heaven and Hell, but within the Entity’s realm if you were to ask him if he believed in those things, he would say that Hell was very much real, and he was living it.

Always stuck in an endless loop, constantly being reminded of his poor excuse of a life both in and outside of the trials, he knew there was no escape. 

He heard the telltale sound of a hook breaking, the sign that the Entity took the dying survivor with it, and Evan let out a sigh, thankful that he did relatively well this trial. 

The times he didn’t do as well, he knew he would go back to the woods and be greeted by his father, broken and bloody like the last time he saw him, but he would be strong, too strong.  He would torture Evan, slice at his skin, deform him even more with more metal or open wounds that never seemed to heal.

He knew it wasn’t Archie MacMillan doing this, but seeing his father continue to haunt him within his own personal Hell never got easier, and it always stayed with him when he tried to do his best to defy the Entity.  He could never win though; there was no winning there.

As he saw the spindly spider legs lift up the lifeless body of the old survivor, relief washed over his him knowing that hopefully that will be enough for it now, and he can rest until the next time he is called.

The only survivor to get away was that red head with the braids.  He refused to believe he let her get away.  He knew he needed to be vigilant, needed to concentrate, but there was a time that trial where he could have grabbed her from a trap but instead he pretended to see something somewhere else.  He also wondered if he ran just a little bit faster, if he could have caught her as she jumped in the hatch.

Maybe.

It was too late now to dwell on it.

She got away and he will tell himself that she simply outplayed him.  That was it.

He knew that he could never think of her in any way that defied their roles, and every time she came into his mind, he blocked it out immediately, but sometimes, even he surprised himself and he couldn’t stand the way his body betrayed him when she was in a trial with him. 

Swallowing a lump that grew in his throat, he shook all thoughts of the red head from his mind.  With a blink, he realized he stood in the forest and not in the snowy terrain he was at within the trial.  The transition was always jarring, but he didn’t mind.  He wanted to be out of there as soon as possible, so without another thought, he began to walk back to his shack, hopefully to rest, clean his cleaver, and not be called to another trial for awhile.

He needed to be alone.

“Well well well, didn’t expect to meet you here, big guy,” A voice unfamiliar to Evan called from behind him.  He was tempted to keep walking, not give into whoever spoke out to him, but before he could make up his own mind, he heard the heavy thud of boots running up beside him.

Evan turned towards the sound and saw a man running towards him wearing a black and white mask, a black robe with black boots and black gloves.  Evan rolled his eyes and kept walking, figuring this to be a new killer that he didn’t need to get to know.

He had effectively stayed away from all of the other killers and made it known that they don’t need to bother him.  Thinking that he will have to do it again was exhausting.

“Not even a hi?” The smaller man asked clutching at his chest like he had been shot, “What have I done to deserve such harsh treatment?”

Evan remained silent as he walked, taking deep breaths in and out, trying to remain calm and just get back to his shack in the woods.

“So you’re more of a quiet fella, huh? Well, let me introduce myself.  The survivors call me Ghostface, isn’t that cute? While I would have preferred a more intimidating nickname, I guess a name with as much brilliance of a toddler is fine too.  It’s better than the Trapper.”

Evan didn’t react, didn’t give this man the satisfaction of any sort of emotion, but in that moment it took everything he had in him to ignore Ghostface incessantly talking at his side.

“Aww, did I hurt big bad Trapper’s feelings? Didn’t think I could get to you so easily…”

“What do you want?” Evan asked, bored, finally glancing at Ghostface. 

“What do I want? Well I want a lot of things, but one of those things was simply to meet you, is that so bad?” Ghostface said while running a finger down his mask like he was crying.  “I’m hurt that you wouldn’t want to get to know me.”

“I don’t need to know you.  What you can do is leave before I make you leave,” Evan replied with more malice in his voice than he intended.  He was just relieved to see his shack come into view through the trees a little ways away.

“Aww…come on, big guy.  We are both just as stuck here.  Shouldn’t we have friends to share this experience with?”

Evan didn’t respond, and with his silence, he hoped that maybe this already irritating man would finally get the hint and leave him alone.  But unfortunately, Ghostface didn’t let the silence last more than a few seconds before he spoke again.

“I mean there is Jeffrey, that bulbous clown, he could be interesting…probably a little crazy, definitely perverted in some way…I mean, have you seen how he looks at those fingers he keeps from the trials? What a weird dude, right?” he chuckled to himself as Evan scowled, trying to focus and stare straight ahead just wanting to get back to his shack and slam the door in the smaller man’s face.

“I suppose some of the ladies aren’t bad, are they? Hmm..they’re all a little young though, like the ones with the masks, and most of them are so mean.  All they do is yell at me when I come by.”

“Telling you to go away hasn’t stopped you from bothering me,” Evan muttered, his patience for this man growing painfully thin with every breath he took beside him.

“Because I’m not trying to get in your massive pants, now am I? I gotta let off some steam here sometime, how do you do it?”

Evan rolled his eyes and picked up his pace.

“Oh, didn’t think you’d be so shy.  That’s fine, buddy.  We can go back to talking about friends.  Hmm…back to friends, back to friends… there’s that doctor lookin’ fellow.  Haven’t introduced myself to him yet.  Can he even talk? I hear he wears that mask thing all the time.  I doubt he would have anything…shocking to say,” Ghostface stopped and threw down jazz hands, particularly emphasizing his very predictable pun that did nothing to amuse Evan.  “Come on…nothing? Ya know what they say, big guy, the more you string me along like this, the more I can’t resist ya.”

“For God’s sake, what do I have to do to get you to leave?” Evan finally snapped, stopping in his tracks as he turned towards Ghostface.

“Just tell me one thing,” Ghostface said, his voice turning unusually stern.  Previously his voice bounced from word to word, excited and full of energy, but as they stopped, there was something laced underneath his words that made Evan shift his eyes to him.

“What is it?”

“Where are you from?” Ghostface asked not looking away from Evan. 

Evan hesitated, narrowing his eyes at Ghostface before responding, “Why do you want to know?”

“Can’t a man be curious about where his friends come from?”

“We aren’t friends,” Evan growled.

“Okay, best friends, same thing,” The faint excitement came back to his voice, but Evan’s attention was caught.  Before he could argue, Ghostface continued, “So where is it, bud? I’m thinking somewhere like…Colorado.”

Evan took a step forward as he slowly looked away from Ghostface, continuing his walk towards his shack.  They were a lot closer and Evan just wanted to get inside, so he was tempted to let Ghostface think that he was from Colorado, somewhere else.

He could tell him whatever he wanted, he didn’t have to tell the truth, but a small voice in the back of Evan’s mind that sounded frighteningly like his father yelled at him for not being proud of his hometown, his business, where he grew up.  Before he knew it, he grumbled out his actual home, more to himself than to Ghostface, if only to get his father’s voice to quiet itself within his head.  “Washington.”

“Ah! They’re so much alike, good state, good state.  I once visited a place called Issaquah.  Nice tiny little town.”

“That name means nothing to me,” Evan mumbled as they reached the shack, and just as Evan reached for the door, he turned to Ghostface.  “Now get off my property.”

Ghostface didn’t seem to hear or didn’t seem to care as he continued to speak, “Yes, well, it was founded around a smaller town, Weeks, I believe.  Interesting history there.”

Evan’s eyes flew open at the mere mention of Weeks.  As he swung around towards Ghostface, he caught the smaller man’s robe within his fists, shoving him into the side of the shack with a sickening crunch that echoed though the forest around them.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Evan growled, grasping the front of Ghostface’s dark cloak.

“I don’t want anything but to be your friend here, bud.  I don’t know what you mean,” Ghostface dramatically shrugged while looking up at Evan.  Although both of them still wore their masks, he could almost picture the slimy grin Ghostface was wearing underneath his.  He simply exuded arrogance, and with the mention of Weeks, Evan knew something was wrong.

Evan’s grip tightened as he slammed Ghostface once again, harder this time, and for a moment, Evan thought he might break the wall with how loud the second bang was.  If it hurt Ghostface, he made no mention of it, but Evan just wanted to know who exactly this man was, and why was he talking to him about Weeks?

“I’ll ask again, who are you?”

“I’m a picker, I’m a grinner, I’m a lover, and I’m a sinner,” he began singing, but it didn’t take any time for Evan to throw him on the ground which made Ghostface shut up for once.  He simply looked up at Evan as he lounged on the ground, making himself comfortable by propping his head up on one of his hands.

“We both know I can’t kill you here, but I swear I will make every single moment of your sorry existence Hell if you don’t answer me.”

“Ah, I seem to have struck a cord, haven’t I?” Ghostface chuckled as sat up and rested his arms on his knees.  “Well, I was a journalist.  Did lots of traveling, saw lots of places, knew lots of names,” he answered nonchalantly as though he weren’t being absolutely berated by someone almost twice his size.  “If you help me up, I can shake your hand and properly introduce myself.”

Evan huffed for a moment, almost considering the offer, but his pride prevented him from moving as he decided to stare daggers at the man on the ground.

“I will do no such thing until you start talking.”

Ghostface shook his head back and forth on the ground before he pushed himself up with a small grunt.  “Well, I’ll be nice, unlike someone here.  I have had many names.  Ya know how journalists are…gotta cover their tracks.  They sure make a lot of enemies.”

Evan took a step towards Ghostface.  His shadow encompassed the smaller man which caused him to hold out his hands in front of him and take a step back, “Fine, fine.  My name is Danny Johnson.”

That name meant nothing to Evan, and he could have sighed out of relief knowing that this man wasn’t someone from his past, or anyone he could have known.

“I’ll give you one last warning to leave,” Evan threatened, taking another step forward, not letting Danny get enough room in between them.

“Yes, okay,  I can tell you’re in a touchy mood.  I’m leaving,” he responded.  He began to turn around and walk away, and without waiting to see if he really left, Evan turned around and grasped the door handle to his shack.  He could hardly wait to get inside where he was alone, and he could try to convince himself that hopefully this was some trick.  The last thing he wanted was to be reminded of his old life, his old town.

There is no way someone would ever know that, that’s impossible.

At least, that’s what he thought until he heard Danny Johnson’s voice from behind him, a little bit farther away, but not far enough that he couldn’t hear him.  “I look forward to getting to know you.  I really do find you fascinating, Evan MacMillan.”

Evan swung around at the mention of his name, a name he hadn’t even muttered to himself in decades, but by the time he turned around and scanned the tree line, Danny Johnson was gone.  Evan marched towards the trees to try and see if he could find Danny, but there was no trace of anyone around which caused shivers to tickle Evan’s neck and back. 

An illusion, a warning, that was what it had to be he told himself.  The Entity could come to him in many ways, and maybe that was one of them.

He swallowed down his doubts and turned back towards his shack, wanting to get inside as quickly as possible and forget this whole sorry excuse for a day.

 

 

Moments after splitting up from Meg and her friends when they arrived at the barns, Evan wants to turn around.  He wants to turn around and argue, not caring that he may come off as rude to Meg’s friends.  They aren’t who he’s here for, and the only guaranteed way that Meg would be safe is if she was with him.

With each step, a sinking feeling worms its way into Evan’s stomach but he presses on, ignoring the feeling, convincing himself that they will be fine, and he is simply overreacting. 

But the moment he hears David’s yell, his heart stops.  It is faint and distant behind him, but there was no mistaking that it was someone, a man, yelling across the barns and fields. 

After everything that has happened the last few days, Evan doesn’t know if he could ever forgive himself if something were to happen to Meg, and although it wasn’t her scream he heard, he knows that he sent her off with her friends and she must be close by.

Evan may not have any particularly strong emotions either way when it came to her friends, and, if anything, he looked at them with more annoyance, but he knows how important they are to Meg, and that was the only thought in his mind as he turns and runs towards the distant barn.

His footsteps thunder through the ground, pounding into the dense dirt, the only thing that runs through his head is her.

After a few minutes, he reaches the barn and throws open the rotting wooden door as fast as he can with a loud echo, not thinking about the possibility of what could be lurking on the other side.

The moonlight streams in illuminating pale, frightened faces all turned towards him as he stands there.  He recognizes all of them as survivors from the trials, and with only a moment of silence to process any of it, they all start screaming at him.

David and Nea stand in the middle and glance between their frightened friends and him, listening to the panic that builds rapidly around them.

“No, no it’s fine! He’s…” Nea shouts over her friends as she kneels down beside an older man with greying hair.  “He’s with us.”

“What?” The man shouts, whipping his head back and forth between Nea and Evan.  “Are you sure? Who the hell is this guy?”

“Is he one of the killers?” Another voice calls out, but it is too dark for Evan to see where it comes from.

“It’s a long goddamn story,” David mumbles from the corner of the barn while he’s bent over helping a man with glasses try to stand up. 

“What was that scream?” Evan asks, panic slowly rising in his chest, ignoring the questioning going on around him.  His eyes frantically search for Meg, but no matter where he looks, her telltale red hair can’t be seen anywhere.

“Was startled when someone,” David emphasizes his words by glaring at the man he is helping up, “grabbed my leg.”

The man David holds up looks away, “Well, I couldn’t call out to you,” he begins saying, but his voice is weak, tired.  Evan barely hears it and he is only standing a few feet away from them. 

But he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care about these survivors, these people, and the only person he cares about is no where to be seen.

“Where’s Meg?” he asks, trying to keep his voice level and in check.

Nea looks at Evan and then back to the man on the ground that she was trying to help up in the first place.  The man keeps falling back down, unable to really use his legs or gain his balance.  Nea becomes visibly frustrated and sighs before answering Evan. 

“She went to the house.”

“You left her alone?!” He bellows, his deep voice echoing through the barn as his very core begins to shake.  “What made you think that in this whole place, going off alone was the best thing to do?!”

“We heard David and had to come check-“

“So you left her alone?!” Evan takes a step towards her and his vision turns red thinking that he left Meg with them so they could be with her, but instead they left her alone just the same. 

The look on Nea’s face makes him stop as she shrinks away, dropping her friend and looking up at him with wide eyes which was often how he saw her before he ever knew anything about her. 

“Is she still there?” he asks with a deep breath trying to ask calmly, although his voice comes out more demanding and stern than anything.

“I left her back at the house, I haven’t heard anything since.  She should be fine, she knows how to handle herself,” Nea says, gesturing to the side of the barn that Evan assumes the house is on outside.  He begins to want to yell, wants to scream at her and David for leaving her alone, but the more he hangs around there, the longer she is left alone, and all he can hope is that she is okay.  Thoughts and emotions bubble inside him that he can’t quite put into words or even begin to think about as he swallows them, not even sure why he is feeling absolutely terrified for the first time in…forever.

The thought of losing her because of a dumb mistake they made is enough to make his blood boil and heart pound as he turns and bounds towards the house. 

He knew that they could potentially be getting into a dangerous situation, and as soon as she suggested it the other day, he didn’t want to believe anything could happen, but now, now he is sure that there is something here, especially with the other survivors being injured and trapped here.

Evan has seen who these people, these killers, are firsthand.  He hated the killing, hated having to do it, but he was stuck with no other choice, but them…they loved it. 

Jeffery Hawk and Danny Johnson were both just a couple of the killers who really enjoyed it, and if one or both of them are actually here, he has no idea how he could ever forgive himself for letting Meg come here, and let them split up when they could have all been smart about it.

As he reaches the house, he is almost relieved that he hears nothing that resembles any sort of screaming or struggling.  As he bounds in the door, the flash of red hair and frightened yet determined look on Meg’s face is enough to send a wave of relief over him. 

She’s okay.

“It’s me!” he yells, grabbing her wrists as his eyes glance to the flash of metal she holds in her hand: the knife he gave her.

She was being smart, and an odd sensation makes it way into his chest as he stares at her before letting go, knowing that she is okay, and how impressed he is at her fighting spirit, even after everything.

She was ready to fight, no matter who it was, and he could not be more proud.

 

 

Now Evan looks down at the girl in his arms, bloody, covered in vomit, and looking more broken than he has ever seen her.  The way her face twists as he carries her and the way small mewls  of pain come from her mouth cause his chest to tighten, and the only way he thinks to make it better is to bring her closer to him, squeeze her against his chest, reassuring himself that she is still breathing.  Glancing back up, he tries not to look down at her, not again.  He continues forward seeing distant figures standing and sitting by the main road.  Just get her there and they can leave, never looking back at this place.

He hates that this happened to her, and he could have been there to prevent it if he had fought her friends even just a little bit when they thought to split up.  If he were there, this wouldn’t have happened and it takes everything in him not to apologize to her over and over again as they walk.  Before they arrived, he promised that he would keep her safe, and that he wouldn’t let her die.  He accomplished half of that, but his goal was for her to walk away from here whole and untouched. 

Safe.

Secure.

As he walks on, he can feel her eyes on him, burning a hole into his chin but he can’t look at her out of shame that he let this happen.  He had one job and he failed her.  Although she clings onto him even now, he thinks she should be mad at him too.  But the way that she clamored towards him whenever he entered the room at the house and cried into his shirt tells him that she is too forgiving to be mad at him, so he can be mad at himself plenty for the both of them. 

His thoughts are interrupted by Meg calling out his name, her voice sounding miles away and rough. 

“Evan?”

It takes him by surprise and for once, he doesn’t know what to say, so he hums in acknowledgement waiting for her to continue.

“Thank you…for everything.”

That is the last thing he would have expected her to say, and he would be lying if he said it didn’t make his breath hitch and walking stop just for a moment. 

He doesn’t say anything, can’t say anything, so he brings her closer to his chest walking towards her friends, wanting to get her out of there as soon as possible. Her head lulls to the side facing his chest, and he could have sworn that she hears him breathe in deep and sigh, but before he thinks too much about it he simply tells himself he imagined it.

All he does is tell himself that she is okay, she can talk, she is with him.

He will keep her safe.

 

 

Meg leans her head against Evan, listening to his heartbeat and his steady breathing as he walks with her in his arms.  Part of her knows she should try to walk, try to get herself out of here, but after what just happened, she is thankful he is there, and for right now, she will take advantage of not having the worry about herself. 

The thought of going back to the estate, maybe getting into a warm bath and into a warm bed is enough to make her stomach sink with longing, realizing that is all she wants right now, and the faster they get to the main road, the faster they can leave.

“Meg?” Her ears catch her name spoken from someone other than Nea, David, or Evan, the only people she has heard her name from for what seems like a whole new lifetime.

She sees Kate holding up Feng and Claudette on either side of her, while David walks over to Dwight who sits on the grass, and Nea who has already managed to get over to Ace and show him her phone while frantically look up something that Meg can't see from here.

Meg can’t help but smile seeing more of her friends, and it takes everything in her not to immediately jump out of Evan’s arms to run and give them a hug. 

But that thought is replaced the closer they get and she can truly see their faces.  Along with bruises, cuts, and a sort of darkness that is now in their eyes, there is also a look of absolute terror and confusion plastered on each and every one of their faces. 

Nea and David are the only exceptions, of course, but Nea is too busy looking at her phone and David is busy fussing around Dwight, checking his arms and legs for any sort of injury. 

She suddenly feels self-conscious being carried by him, and she doesn’t know what they could have seen or drew conclusions to as they walked closer. 

“So,” Kate’s southern accented voice cuts through the awkward silence that came over the group as they approached, “Anyone care to explain him now?”

Evan seems to notice Meg’s tension as he gently lowers her down so she can talk to her friends without being in his arms.  Despite letting her down, he stays glued to her side, both as a stabilizer to lean on, and something else that Meg can’t quite place. She hisses as her feet touch the ground, and pain shoots up her hips, back, and shoulder, so without another word, she leans onto the strong man beside her for support, grateful he is there.  He reaches an arm around her, keeping her stable.

Although she is in pain, she is happy to not have this conversation while in the arms of someone who murdered her friends for sport for years.  Yes, he hated it, she knows that now, but they don’t, and Meg groans knowing she will have to explain this to even more people.  David and Nea haven’t even come around fully.

“I don’t know what you’ve been told-“

“Virtually nothing,” Feng interrupts, shooting a glance at David and Nea who both look away, pretending not to notice.  “They said it was a long story and expected that to be the end of it.”

Meg sighs.  Yeah, she doesn’t quite know where to start either, so she settles on the same thing she told Nea and David when they first met him.

“This is Evan,” Meg awkwardly lifts her arm and gestures towards Evan beside her, “he was the Trapper.  But he’s not a bad guy,” Meg hurriedly puts in that last part before anyone could react to him being the Trapper.  “He has helped me ever since we got out.  I didn’t find Nea, David, or Claudette right away, and he has been with me for the last week.  Seriously, guys, he’s actually on our side.”

All of them exchange worried glances before looking back at Meg and Evan.  Meg’s stomach sinks when hardly any of them change the looks on their faces.  The only person’s face that softens is Kate’s as she tilts her head to the side and gives Meg one of her signature warm smiles. 

“Well, honey, if what you say is true, then I believe ya,” Kates says before looking up at Evan.  “Thank you for taking care of her.  Meg tends to get into more situations than she can get herself out of, and Nea and David aren’t much of a help.”

Evan actually laughs beside her making Meg’s jaw drop but also makes her want to smack his arm.

“What? I do not,” Meg tries to defend herself before being interrupted by a brush of Evan’s hand on hers, making her throat close.  She doesn’t think that anyone can see since his hand is behind her, but it doesn’t make the gesture any less exposing.

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Evan says, his voice breaking just a little with humor as he chuckles while he talks.

Now it is Meg’s turn to scowl as Kate and Evan both look at her, smiling at her expense.  Although they’re laughing at her, this should warm Meg, but as she looks between her other friends, they don’t seem as easily swayed as Kate is.

“Look, this family moment is nice and all, but I think we should really focus on the main point here,” Feng snaps.  “He killed us for years, tortured us for years, like it was a game! A sick and twisted game, and are we just going to forget that?”

Silence falls across the group so fast, and the only sounds Meg hears are distant bugs chirping and the wind blowing through the trees.  Either no one was brave enough to disagree, or everyone agreed with her, but no one argues one way or the other as Feng continues to glare up at Evan.

The smile from earlier fades from his face, and once more, it is like he wears a mask with no feeling, no emotion.

“Feng, yes, I know and I haven’t forgotten that.  I’ll never forget that,” Meg says, and she feels Evan tense beside her.  “But he was stuck there just like we were.  He was forced into it he…”

“I never wanted to hurt any of you,” Evan speaks up, and for a moment, Meg can hardly believe it when she hears his voice.

Every time she tried to defend him in front of her friends, he let her do the talking.  She never took offense to it or wanted him to talk because maybe it was best her friend’s hear from her.  They trusted her, not him. 

But then again, with the way all of them look at Evan in that moment, Meg thinks that maybe he should have talked from the beginning.

Feng’s eyes dart to Evan and her stern expression wavers slightly.

“I made mistakes in my life before I unfortunately stumbled into the Entity’s realm, but hurting you, all of you, was the last thing I wanted, and I am sorry.  I truly am.” Evan ends his apology with another brush of his hand on Meg’s, and it felt like a question.

Was that okay?

She leans into him just a little bit more hoping to give him the reassurance she knows he is looking for in that moment.

“Ah ha!” Ace’s showman of a voice breaks through the silence as he finally looks up from the phone screen.  “Ladies and gents, I called it.  I told you.  Killers are nice.”

“You only said that because you wanted to try and talk to the Deathslinger,” Feng says, rolling her eyes but this only makes Ace shoot her a finger gun with one hand before he continues.

“Because he had that whole cowboy vibe goin’ on.  I wanted to see if he could gamble like the good ol’ days.”

“The good ol’ days? How do you even know what those were like? You weren’t even born then!”

“Exactly! So he could teach me.  You see where I’m gettin’ at?”

“But why would that make the killers nice? It still didn’t prove your point.”

Ace takes this opportunity to shoot Feng a finger gun with each hand before winking at her.  “It doesn’t, but I was right, wasn’t I? At least this fella is nice…apparently.”

Feng groans and rolls her eyes before looking back at Evan.

“Look, you may have half of us convinced, but the other half you aren’t going to sway just as easily.”

“I understand,” Evan says giving her a nod and saying nothing more on the topic.  A few seconds pass and Meg hopes that it won’t fall into that horrible silence from earlier, but then Nea speaks up.

“The car should be on its way, but they said it could take a little bit,” she calls from beside them.  “Then it’s about a half an hour drive to the nearest hotel.”

“Hotel?” Meg asks.

“We looked it up because Ace wanted to see the ferry we went on, and there isn’t another one tonight.  We can’t really make it back to Issaquah until tomorrow.”

Meg frowns, her hopes of getting into a warm bath back at the estate being crushed, but maybe a hotel wouldn’t be so bad.

It wouldn’t be so damn dusty, that’s for sure.

She looks up at Evan and quietly asks, “Do we have enough money for that?”

Brushing his hand against Meg’s again, Evan nods.  “We all need a safe space to stay tonight.  We have more money back at the estate, but we have enough for now.”

Meg nods and smiles, happy that Nea had this figured out before she got there, and she can just rest for a few minutes.   Noticing that everyone starts to sit down, she wants to follow suit as her legs shake uncomfortably under her. 

“Can you help me sit?” Meg asks glancing up at Evan, almost embarrassed to have to ask for help with that in the first place.  “My hips…dammit they hurt to stand.”

Without another word, Evan helps Meg down into the damp grass beside him.  He still keeps his arm stretched out on the grass behind her as he leans back slightly, allowing Meg to scoot just a little bit closer to him…

For stability sake of course.  She can’t sit with her legs crossed, and sitting with them stretched out with nothing to support herself on hurts her back after only a minute of sitting there.

The two of them don’t speak, or rather don’t feel the need to speak.  The silence is comfortable between them, and Meg just wants to listen to the quiet chatter of her friends around her.

Ace and Nea sit next to each other, talking and laughing like old friends.  Meg has to hold back a pang of jealousy thinking that she wants to be over there with them, wants to talk to them.  She always liked Ace; he always had a way of making her laugh at his insane antics, but as she feels Evan’s fingers brush at her back as he adjusts his arm, she knows she is right where she wants to be.

Looking away from Nea and Ace, she sees David and Dwight slightly apart from everyone, and a smile creeps up on her face.  David and Dwight didn’t seem to pay attention to anything that just went on as David still is inspecting almost every inch of Dwight, and by this time Dwight is playfully smacking David’s frantic hands away.  David points a finger at Dwight and says something that makes him laugh before he goes back to trying to take care of him.

It is sweet, and they really would make a cute couple, she thinks.  She remembers all the times her and Nea would tease David about it, try to get him to admit his feelings, but he is one of the most stubborn people Meg has ever met.  Even after those particular trials where both of them refused to let the other person die, no matter what, and with more fervor she has ever seen from her friend’s, they would fight.  Not that they didn’t fight for anyone else, but this was different.

She’s just glad they’re together again. 

It looks like they really needed each other.

Peeling her eyes away from them, she glances at the group in front of her that consist of Claudette, Feng, and Kate.  Kate is fussing away at both of the other women, with Feng swatting Kate’s hand away as Claudette smiles at them.  Kate’s soft voice floats across the air, and even though Meg can’t hear exactly what she is saying, she can hear the care and concern in her voice as she tries to look at Claudette.

She’s in good hands.

Claudette is the one that worries Meg the most, and she wants to call out from where they’re sitting to see if she’s okay, but she knows that it would only embarrass Claudette more than anything if she called more attention to herself. 

So she watches Claudette look around, her eyes darting from one thing to another.  With each passing minute she starts to relax becoming more aware that she is safe with them around her, but it doesn’t stop her from sitting in a tight ball with her knees pulled up to her chest.

Meg doesn’t blame her friend though, not after what happened to her…and that only lasted a few minutes.

She can only imagine what Claudette went through, what her other survivors went through, and her stomach sinks.

Taking in a deep breath and leaning more towards Evan, she tells herself that she can talk to Claudette later when both of them are better, mentally and physically.

Meg will say that she is glad Kate is here to dote on Claudette and make sure she is okay, just like how she always did.

Kate and Claudette were always the mothers of the group, wanting to make sure everyone was taken care of, and Meg can’t even begin to tell her how thankful she is for her being here.  Kate gently brushes her fingers through Claudette’s tangled hair, massaging her scalp, and trying to calm down the shivering girl in front of her.

“Are you okay?” Evan asks, making Meg jump slightly.

“Yeah, I think so.  Why?” Meg responds, gearing her attention back to her and Evan.

“You’re shaking.”

“Oh.  I’m fine, just a little cold, I guess.  I just want the car to get here so we can get out of this place,” Meg replies shaking her head.

Despite the feeling of being protected while she sits beside Evan and in a group with her friends, she can’t help but shiver thinking about what could be around them, or who could be around them.

Is Jed Olsen still out there? Is he waiting, watching?

And Jeffrey Hawk…Evan stabbed him, but did any of them bother to check if he was still dead?

They forgot to check…

Oh god he could be alive!

Suddenly and without warning, Evan turns to Meg and scoops her up effortlessly, placing her in his lap, making Meg completely forget about the intrusive thoughts she was having about Jed Olsen and Jeffrey Hawk.

“What are you doing?” Meg gasps, instantly blushing and looking around at her friends.

“You’ll be warmer this way.  I can set you back on the ground if you want,” Evan says, his deep voice vibrating in his chest against Meg’s back.

“Well, no.  No, this is fine,” Meg breathes, not hating the way she feels sat in his lap, his body heat caressing her as he wraps his arms around her legs, not touching her in any way that feels too much, and she definitely likes how warm she is sitting with him.

Meg expects her friends to be looking at them, wondering what is going on, but instead no one pays them any attention, too wrapped up in their own small groups, to which Meg is thankful.  But then again, this shouldn’t be weird, right? They’re simply keeping each other warm, something she had done with Nea especially on nights that the campfire seemed too cold.  They’d sit on each other’s laps like friends do.

Meg refuses to think of this as being any different, but she also can’t help but think about how his muscles feel on her back…

Headlights appearing through the trees interrupt her thoughts as a car makes its way down the road towards where they all sit.

It was as though everyone had the same collective thought and held their breath.  It could be the taxi, but it could also be anyone else, and how would they even begin to explain why a group of nine people, all looking dirty and covered in blood, are sitting near the place where clown sightings have been.

As the vehicle gets closer, Meg notices that it is a huge van, and as it slows down to a crawl, the window to the passenger side opens.

“One of you Nea?” An older man calls out at them.

“Yeah, yeah that’s me!” Nea calls, jumping up and running over to the passenger door as the man finally stops the van.  They talk for a few seconds before Nea waves everyone over. 

Evan helps Meg up from his lap, and the rest of the survivors all seem to struggle to stand back up too, but after about a minute they hobble their way over to the van.

The old man looks at all of them, up and down, giving them an uncertain look, and for a moment Meg is worried he is going to drive away, leave them there, but before she can begin to panic, she hears the doors unlock as he looks forward.

Nea jumps into the front seat first, and they glance inside at the van.  There are two seats in the back, and then two rows of three.  Everyone glances back at Evan, as though questioning where he is going to sit, but figuring no one else would want to sit with him, Meg takes the initiative and gestures for him to help her in.  He does so with ease, and they make their way to the very back.   

The rest of the survivors climb inside the small van, and Meg wonders what on earth this driver must think about giving them a ride, but if he had any negative opinion at all, he doesn’t share it.  He simply punches in something in his phone, which Meg assumes is the address to the hotel, and next thing she knows, he’s pulling a U-Turn back towards the main road.

Meg breathes a sigh of relief as she watches the old barns quickly vanish from view, and in that moment, she thinks she is safe.  The feeling isn’t quite there fully, but they are out of the woods, literally, and she couldn’t be happier.  Evan’s hand brushes Meg’s leg, and as she looks up at him, she tries not to laugh at how comically small the backseat looks with him sitting in it.  His poor legs are cramped up and he can’t move an inch even if he wanted to.  He rests his hand so close to hers, and as his hand moves, it brushes against hers a few times before they reach the main road.

She almost wants to tease him, or even ask if he’s okay, but with everyone else in the van sitting silently watching the world around them, she doesn’t feel right calling attention to themselves, so she remains quiet, smiling silently to herself.

Moments after the last she felt Evan’s hand brush against her own, she gazes out into the darkness, soaking in the now soft, calm, serene environment, but then she hears a soft snort come from beside her.

She glances over and realizes that Evan’s hand isn’t just near her, but instead their fingers are intertwined, enclosed with each other, his large hand enveloping hers.  She doesn’t remember him moving towards her this time, so it must have been her own traitorous hand that sought him out, and she flushes with embarrassment as her cheeks burn like fire.

She tries to let go, tries to disentangle her hand from his, but his fingers chomp down on hers, hard, a bear trap.

Evan says nothing, he doesn’t even look at her, but he keeps her hand squeezed in his so tight, if he squeezed any tighter she felt that her bones would break.

So she sits, holding onto the hand of Evan MacMillan, someone who she thought just a week ago was a monster, someone she should hate.

But after everything, she doesn’t hate him, not one bit, not anymore.

And she doesn’t hate the way his thumb draws small circles on the top of her hand.

Or how his grip is so hard as though he is afraid he is going to lose her again.

Or how even though he pretends he isn’t holding her hand, he won’t let her go, no matter what.

Instead of fighting it, she lets her hand melt into his as she slowly leans over, resting her head on his broad shoulder before closing her eyes and letting sleep take her under for the rest of the ride.

 

 

A little bit later, she is woken up with a gentle shake on her shoulder and a squeeze around her hand.  What is she holding?

Her eyes fly open…

Oh.

Her face turns red when she glances down and sees that Evan’s hand is still interlocked within hers.  Slowly, they look at each other and as though almost in sync, they breathe in and out together before Evan’s hand disentangles itself from hers. 

Glancing back to the window, there is a line of buildings, all dark since it seems like it is still too early for any business to be open.  To her other side, she sees a run-down looking hotel that a handful of her friends stand in front of.

The taxi driver clears his throat from the front, shooting impatient glances between Meg, Evan, and the hotel outside. 

“Oh, sorry,” she mumbles, helping Evan awkwardly out of the small seat before she can follow him out. 

Stumbling out of the van, Evan helps her back onto the pavement and helps her limp towards her friends at the entrance of the hotel.  She notices that Nea, Kate, and Ace are already inside talking to a tired looking girl at the counter. 

She figures the choice of people to send in was good, as they looked the cleanest, and between Kate’s and Ace’s very different charming personalities, Meg can almost guarantee there would be no questioning when it came to a huge group of people piling into a hotel looking like they’ve been through a war and back.

A few minutes pass and the three who were inside come out, beckoning in everyone else as the concierge goes into a room off of the desk, not noticing how much worse the others in the group look now in bright lights.

They follow them wordlessly, David helping Dwight, Evan helping Meg, and Feng helping Claudette as they turn the corner and walk a little bit away. 

“So we got three separate rooms,” Nea says, stopping and turning towards her friends.  “They’re all on this floor, but they’re kinda separated.  We figured we’d split two rooms, and Evan can have his own.”

No one objects, and as much as Meg weirdly wants to stay with him, she knows it would be best to be back with her friends for the night, make sure they’re okay.  She knows Evan can handle himself, and it would only look even more suspicious if she were to offer to sleep in his room.

They divvy up the small plastic keys to their rooms with Dwight, Feng, Ace, and Kate going to one room, and Meg, Claudette, Nea, and David to the other, and Evan alone to go to his.  With a few agreements on when to meet back in the lobby in the morning, the group splits off, each going to their separate rooms.

“Man, I’m excited to just sleep in a damn bed,” David mumbles as they reach their door.

Meg stares at him with an unamused look on her face before he turns towards her.

“What’re you lookin’ at, love?” David continues, smirking at Meg despite trying to sound threatening.

“You all have literally been staying in a hotel…what makes this any different?”

“What? Can I not want to sleep in a bed?”

“You made it sound like you haven’t slept in one in ages is all I’m saying,” Meg smiles back at him, missing their banter that they used to have.

“Oh, so I can’t miss being in a bed? I should sleep on the floor like a dog?” David jokes, dramatically gesturing to the floor as though to make a point.

“Okay okay, fine.  I’m excited to sleep in a bed too.”

“See?”

Nea opens the door by sticking the plastic key card into the card reader attached to the door, and Meg suddenly thinks about Evan and his struggle with technology.  Nea opens the door and holds it for both David and Claudette, but Meg hangs around thinking about how she completely spaced on the fact that Evan might not even know how to get into his room.  Just then, a comical vision of Evan standing outside the door fiddling with the lock comes to her mind.

“Look, I’ll meet you guys back in the room.  I’m going to help Evan with the door so he isn’t the one sleeping out in the hallway on the floor,” Meg says, calling out that last part to David who is already collapsed on top of one of the beds.

She darts off as fast as her bruised hips let her, ignoring the various complains and questions she hears coming from her friends at their room. 

For a moment, she just wants to sit down, but she is worried if she sits, she won’t get back up, and she doubts any of her friends would willingly go and make sure Evan got into his room okay, so she turns the corner in the hallway, seeing Evan standing in front of his door, staring at it with a deep frown.

“Having troubles?” Meg calls out.  Hobbling along, she leans against the wall for support trying to ignore the shooting pains that radiate through her hips, up her back, and make her shoulder throb.

Evan seems to perk up at her voice, his back straightening as he turns towards her, and with one look, he is already rushing over to her, his brows knitting together in worry.  As soon as he reaches her, he wraps his arms around her arms in an attempt to steady her.

“You shouldn’t be walking,” he chides.  “You should be resting.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Meg lies through gritted teeth.  “But maybe it’s a good thing I showed up.  You looked pretty lost looking at that door.”

Even though Meg can’t see Evan’s face as they both struggle a bit getting her to the door, she fights a smile knowing that her comment was met with his usual silent stubbornness.

“I could have figured it out,” Evan mutters with a frown as they reach his room.

“Yeah? Well open the door then,” Meg teases while she lets go of Evan.  Leaning against the wall next to the door, she lets him focus on how to work the mysterious card reader.

Evan looks between the door and the key reader, and that is when Meg realizes he doesn’t even have the key card in his hand.

It only takes about a minute with Evan trying to shove open the door with pure force until Meg thinks that it just gets plain sad, so with a small smile, she jumps in.

“Where’s the small plastic key card that we gave you?”

“You mean this?” he asks, pulling it out from his pants pocket.  “Isn’t this just a thing to write the room number on?”

Meg sighs while she looks up at him and raises her eyebrows.  “No.”

Evan’s face somehow sours even more as he looks between the key and the card reader and the door, and after a few seconds, something clicks.

He slowly raises a hand and puts the card in the reader, and when he takes it out, a small green light greets them as well as a quiet click, signaling the unlocking of the door.

“Look at you getting a grasp on modern day technology!”

“How…what happened to good old fashioned keys? What made those so bad? Why fix something that isn’t broken? This is ridiculous…” Evan begins ranting as he pushes open the door and holds it open for Meg, even though she didn’t expect to go inside. 

“Well I’m glad that we got you inside your room, but I really should get back to my friends,” Meg says looking away from Evan, trying to ignore the urge to go in even for just a little bit.

The side of Evan’s mouth tugs into a half smile as he nods.  “Of course, go be with them.  They need you right now.”

“Try not to get too confused with the very complicated hotel room,” Meg jokes, taking this last moment to tease him once more before leaving.  The way he frowns at her, but with a ghost of a smile on his lips eases her nerves and fills her chest with happiness at being able to joke with him again.  It feels nice to be able to laugh and make jokes despite what happened mere hours ago.

Meg gives him a smile and begins to turn but loses her balance just a bit before grasping the wall.  Cursing under her breath, she stands still for a few seconds, blinking rapidly and trying to calm her racing heart due to her hips still not wanting to work properly.

“Let me walk you back,” Evan offers, already holding her up against him not waiting for her permission.  She wants to swat him away, tell him she will be fine, but instantly being able to lean against him takes both pressure and pain from her hips away and makes her sigh with relief.  They still throb uncomfortably with every step, but it is better than nothing.

They make their way down the hallway and as they get closer to her room, she realizes she didn’t take a key with her.

“I’ll be fine from here, thank you. I just forgot my key, but someone will let me in,” she says, shooting a grateful smile up at Evan.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to catch you lying on the floor because you fell and couldn’t get in.”

“Oh ha, ha,” Meg rolls her eyes while trying to hide a smile at his sarcasm reflecting hers from earlier.  “I’ll be fine.”

“You know where I’ll be if not,” Evan says as he pulls away slowly, making sure she can stand on her own.  His hand lingers on the small of her back for just a moment too long that makes Meg’s heart skip a beat, and she has to mentally tell herself to calm down.

“Have a goodnight, Meg,” Evan says before turning and walking back to his room.

She smiles and watches him walk away before taking a deep breath in and knocking on the hotel room door, waiting for one of them to open it up for her.  She hears nothing for a few seconds, and the worst possible scenarios immediately invade Meg’s thoughts.

Jed Olsen found them.

They disappeared.

Something bad happened…

But before her mind can get away from itself, the door opens as David ushers her inside.

“It’s about time you came back, Christ. Claud is in the bathroom with Nea.”

“Is she okay?”

“She looks fine but she started blabbin’ about somethin’ then ran to the bathroom.  Dunno what got into her but Nea’s in there with her now.  They kicked me out,” David tells her as he closes the door behind them.  “You go help ‘em.  I’m goin’ for a walk.”

Meg nods and turns towards the bathroom to her left.  Raising a fist, she knocks tentatively on the door, listening to dull sounds of dry cries coming from the other side.

“Claud? It’s me.  Can I come in?”

She hears the shuffling of someone getting up off the floor, so she takes a step away letting Nea open the door for her.

“What’s going on?” Meg whispers, trying to peek her head in to see.

“No idea.  One minute she was fine, and the next she started hyperventilating and ran in here.  I’ve been sitting with her trying to calm her down,” Nea mutters quietly.  Grabbing Meg’s hand, she maneuvers her inside the tiny bathroom where Claudette sits against the bathtub huddled in a ball.

“Hey Claud,” Meg says quietly, trying her best to make her voice sound as soothing as possible.  Claudette doesn’t look up at her even as Meg uses the porcelain tub to lower herself on the ground next to her.  Meg’s stomach sinks as she looks at her friend, noticing that her eyes don’t seem to be looking anywhere in the bathroom; instead they look distant, a thousand miles away.

“What’s going on? Claud, what’s wrong?” Meg asks trying to refrain from hissing at the way her hips throb as she sits completely down on the hard floor.

Nea takes a seat directly in front of Claudette, and leans forward, placing her hands on Claudette’s legs, gently rubbing her hands up and down.

Noticing how Claudette doesn’t flinch away from the touch, Meg puts her arm around the crying girl and pulls her close hoping to give her a safe space to be with them. 

Meg rubs Claudette’s back and arm gently as the three girls sit in silence, listening to Claudette’s cries and hiccups begin to grow quieter and less frequent until finally, after who knows how long, she is breathing along with Meg, in and out slowly.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Meg asks pulling away just a little bit so she can look at Claudette’s face.  Her big brown eyes are still watery and wide with fear, but overall, her shivering has stopped and as she slowly exhales, she nods.

“I thought I was going to die there.  It is so much different being around them and thinking that that is the time they finally kill you for good.  It would all be over…” Claudette croaks out quietly.  “They…they…”

Claudette trails off again, and Nea frowns, worry etched across her face.  The way Claudette stutters and begins mumbling again stabs Meg’s heart, flashing visions of being in that dark room through her own mind.

Jeffrey Hawk on top of her, molesting and rutting against her, violating her in ways she never thought she would ever have to endure.  She just hopes Claudette didn’t suffer the same, or worse, situations with them.

“They came in, kept coming in, asking questions, and when I couldn’t answer…didn’t answer…they…” Claudette begins to shiver against Meg once more. So Meg pulls Claudette closer to her, leaning her head on Meg’s chest as she runs soothing strokes through Claudette’s hair.   

“Take your time, we are here,” Meg whispers, trying to soothe her.  She glances at Nea who looks confused and takes this opportunity to mouth ‘They?’ at Meg, without actually saying the word.

‘Jed Olsen’ Meg mouths back, making Nea’s eyes widen.  Before, Meg felt that the knowledge of Jed Olsen being there was universal between them, but in that moment, she realizes that it could just be her and Claudette that knew they were there.

Maybe her other survivors knew too, but Nea, David, and Evan are still in the dark about it, not that it matters much now. 

Silently, Meg and Nea stare at each other, and give a small nod indicating that they’ll talk about it later, and now isn’t the time, not when Claudette is trying to talk but can’t get out more than a sentence before turning into a trembling mess.

“What type of questions did they ask?” Nea asks, trying to sound supportive, but it comes off more serious than anything.

Claudette hesitates, but after a minute she speaks up.  “They were about the trials, about my life before…waking up after…they asked me things I didn’t know…and they weren’t happy with that…”

Claudette begins shivering again, and Meg sighs quietly to herself, figuring that questioning this poor girl isn’t helping, not right now.   “Look, let’s get you into a shower, get you clean, how does that sound? We can always talk later.”

That sounds good to Meg right about then as her clothes stick uncomfortably to her back, and her hair falls in strings around her face, but that’s not what is important to them right now. 

It’s Claudette.

The shivering girl nods and immediately Nea jumps up, walking around them to the bathtub and turns on the water, filling up the tub with warm water behind them as Meg struggles to stand up and help Claudette onto her feet.

Soon, steam fills the bathroom, flowing and dancing around them that proves to have a calming effect on all of the women in the room.  Sensing this, they all take a moment to just breathe, letting the steam relax their senses.

Claudette turns around and begins to take off her clothes before she steps into the tub and once more, curls up into a ball pulling her knees to her chest in the warm water.  Nea and Meg take this as a sign to begin to help, and for once, it is nice to be able to take care of Claudette.  She was always the one who looked after them, bandaged them up after trials, healed them and made sure they were okay; it’s about time they take care of her.

Meg gently lathers shampoo into Claudette’s hair, starting at the scalp and working the shampoo through the ends of her hair, carefully massaging as she goes as best as she can with her one good hand.  Nea scrubs at Claudette’s back, arms, and legs making sure to get all the dirt and grime and blood that cakes onto her skin from at least a couple days of torture. 

They pamper Claudette until she closes her eyes and exhales slowly, finally looking calm and content at where she is.  As the water gets colder, they finish making sure their friend is free of any stray dirt or leftover blood before helping her out of the tub and wrapping her in a fluffy white towel. 

“Nea, there should be extra clothes in my bag outside.  They’re the ones I had on yesterday but they should hopefully be dry by now,” Meg says to Nea before she grabs Claudette’s old clothes from the floor.   Knowing that it would feel nice to get into new clothes, Meg wants to make sure Claudette is in something new, not her old dirty shirt and pants before they can clean them.

Nea comes back with the clothes, the extra button-up and slacks, and helps Claudette get dressed before wrapping her up in her own arms.  Claudette faces the mirror and stares at herself as Nea hugs her, just for a moment, before Claudette closes her eyes and melts into Nea’s touch.  Meg smiles at the two of them, undoing the drain in the tub, letting the bath water drain before she limps over to them and wraps her good arm around Claudette from the other side.

They stay like this for a minute before exiting the steamy room and helping Claudette as she gravitates towards the very neatly made bed closest to the bathroom.

“How’re you feeling now?” Meg can’t help but ask as they tuck her in, making sure that she is warm and comfortable.

Claudette smiles at them so softly, a sad smile, before nodding and closing her eyes.

“I’m okay, I think, for now,” she whispers, grabbing both Nea’s and Meg’s hand, “thank you both.”

“Of course,” Meg says back, squeezing her hand tight.  “We love you, Claudette.  We’re family through and through.”

“We aren’t going anywhere,” Nea adds. 

Claudette smiles and nods before taking her hands back and tucking them under her head.

“Get some sleep,” Meg says, tucking in the sheet extra tight to her.

They all exchange a look of love, familiarity, and comfort.  Nea and Meg sit beside her in silence before deciding to get up and distance themselves as best as they can due to the small hotel room. 

“So,” Nea whispers as they go to sit near the hotel door, the farthest point away from where Claudette is on the bed, “What was that about Jed Olsen?”

Meg hesitates, frowning as she lowers herself next to Nea on the floor.  “He was there, with the Clown.  He was in the house right before you guys came back for me and-“

“What?” Nea exclaims, a little bit too loud for that moment, causing her to visually shrink, afraid of waking Claudette up.  “Meg…”

“I know.  I know I should have told you, but seriously, we are out, okay? Let’s just…” Meg trails off as her mind brings her back to that place.

The smell of blood and vomit, the pain, the absolute terror, all flash through her mind as Jed Olsen took pictures of her huddled in the closet. 

“He really did a number on you two,” Nea observes, grabbing a hold of Meg’s hand and taking it within hers.  “The look in your eyes just now is the same Claudette had.  I’m sorry, look, we are all here whenever you want to talk.”

Meg smiles at her friend but can’t seem to maintain the eye contact so she looks away.

“But,” Nea says, squeezing Meg’s hand to emphasize her point, “If there is anything that you should tell us, anything important that we should know, I hope that you would tell us.  If we are all in danger, you need to tell us.”

Meg closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“No, we aren’t in danger, I mean not for right now, I think.  The only thing is that he threatened to come back, to find us.”

Nea doesn’t respond as the two stare forward at the white wall in front of them.

“Can I ask you something?” Meg muttered as thoughts of the house come into her mind.

“What is it?”

“That room, the last room upstairs in that house, what was in there?”

“What room?” Nea asks, furrowing her brow at Meg.

“Well, there was the room that Claudette was in, and then the one that you guys found me in, but there was another one.  I didn’t get to check it before….“

Nea’s frown deepens as she looks at Meg.

“There was no other room, there were only the two upstairs.”

“What are you talking about?” Meg asks, wracking her brain thinking about the rooms she searched before she got caught by Jeffrey Hawk…

She looked in the room with Claudette, and then there was another room, right?

There had to be….

She remembers touching the doorknob, being careful not to open it, until she thought she heard Evan downstairs and then…

“Are you sure? There was another room upstairs, I swear.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Nea answers, looking straight at Meg with a look of concern. “There were only two rooms.  The one we found you in and then there was another one that was covered in blood…”

“So the one I found Claud in?”

Nea shrugs while nodding.  “I guess.  There were only two rooms up there, Meg, I don’t know what else to say.”

Meg hums in acknowledgement, although not quite agreeing.  The two sit in awkward silence with Meg wanting to argue, and Nea looking like she is thinking about the rooms in the house.

“Look, I’m going to go take a shower,” Meg breaks the silence, wanting both to forget about the conversation and to finally get clean.  The smell that sticks to her is enough to make her want to get sick all over again, and she just needs to get clean, needs to wash the last twelve hours from her skin.

Nea nods and lets go of her hand.

Meg pulls herself up on the counter behind her, wincing, before she limps over and grabs her bag with extra clothes in it, taking it into the bathroom with her.

Turning on the faucet as hot as it can go, the water splashes against the white tile, and she doesn’t know what comes over her.

A wave of grief crashes into her, causing her to double over into her hands, tears bursting from her eyes with the same power as the water in the faucet.

As the water turns hot, filling the bathroom with more steam, Meg can’t seem to control her absolute sobbing. 

While she was in the Entity’s realm, she doesn’t even remember the last time she cried.  The routine, the horrible, heinous, pain-filled routine became as normal as it could be, and sure, she had her moments of severe self-pity, but she was never one to cry.

But within the last twenty-four hours, she can’t even begin to count the amount of times she has cried about what is going on.

Claudette’s words from earlier repeat in her mind like a broken record.

It is so much different being around them and thinking that that is the time they finally kill you for good.

She tries not to think too much about it, but the tears keep flowing from her eyes as she pushes herself up and manages to peel the disgusting clothes off of her.  Through the steam and her blurry eyes, she lowers herself into the tub, not wanting to stand longer than she needs to, as the water fills up around her. 

The water turns a slight pinkish brown as the blood and dirt begin seeping off of her and mix into the clear water. 

Grabbing a clean washcloth, she lathers it up with soap and begins scrubbing at her body until her skin is red and raw, not feeling any more clean than she did to begin with, but the way the tub is now a darker shade of pink, she knows she is clean, she has to be.

The next thing she notices is her hips and thighs.  They are severely bruised and look more like a painting than anything.  A mixture of dark purple, yellow, and red colors mare her legs and hips.  Wanting not to look at that any longer, she moves onto washing her hair.

She makes sure to get all the dried chunks of her own vomit from her hair, and that in itself is enough to make her feel like she is going to get sick all over again.  She dry heaves a couple of times so she works quickly, determined just to get herself clean and then she can get out of the tub, hopefully feeling a little bit better.

Her first thought is that she can go out, be with Claudette and Nea, curl up in a warm bed and finally get some sleep knowing her friends are there for her.  The warmness of the hotel room bed, free of dust, almost calls her from inside the bathroom, but despite knowing how comforting this could be...

She wants Evan.

She wants Evan right now, and she doesn’t know why. 

She tries to tell herself it is because she needs to tell him about Jed Olsen, not letting herself keep that a secret any longer, so what harm would it do to go and visit him before getting some sleep?

Stepping out of the shower, she rubs her already tender skin roughly with a towel trying to get herself dry as fast as she can.

Reaching into the small canvas bag, she feels the old donuts, various metal tools, and then her hands clasp around the only set of clothes in the bag now.  They were Evan’s from yesterday that got soaked in the rain, but thankfully they’re dry by now.  Meg considers putting them back and bringing them to him so he can wear them, but as she looks down at her old clothes, her body heaves forward.

She can’t put those back on, not like that, so she picks them up and runs them under the faucet in the bathtub, trying to clean them with the small hotel room soap bar and water as best as she can.  After a few minutes of struggling to clean clothes with one arm, she thinks she got them sort of clean, and then hangs them above the shower rod to dry. 

She can use Evan’s clothes for now until those are clean, she thinks…

Hopefully he won’t mind.

Pulling on the huge black slacks, they hang from her being about four sizes too big, and as soon as she puts on the oversized dress shirt, she has to laugh.  She thought the other shirt was huge, and then there is this one…

She leaves a few buttons unbuttoned at the top, letting it hang over her injured shoulder that is now looking a lot like her hips, turning deep shades of purple and yellow.  Letting it hang outside of her shirt helps with the pain, just a little bit.

Maybe it is all in her head, but she doesn’t care, if it makes her feel better then so be it.

Exiting the bathroom in a hurry, she clutches the canvas bag in her hands, already making the decision that she is going to go see Evan.

Looking to her left, she sees that David finally came back and is sitting huddled closely with Nea around a small table, mumbling to themselves trying not to wake up Claudette who breathes heavily in the bed.  There is a small first aid kit on the table in front of them and it looks like they’re trying to split the supplies and bandage themselves up.

She tiptoes over to them to tell them that she will be back, but when they look up at her, their faces split into fits of laughter.

“What?”

“That shirt, those pants, Meg those have to be like four sizes too big,” Nea says through a fit of quieted laughter.  “You look ridiculous.”

“Well they’re Evan’s.  We didn’t pack more clothes for me so…” Meg’s argument seems trivial in that moment, and as Nea and David still smile at her, she just shakes her head and smiles back.  “Shush.  We’ve all seen each other in weirder outfits!”

Nea and David immediately stop laughing and shift their gazes from Meg who smiles in triumph. 

“You’re lucky I’m not going to bring up either of your horrible neon track suits you two would wear in the trials,” Meg adds with a small laugh. 

“Well, at least nothing could be as bad as Dwight’s elf outfit.  I swear, hearing his little bells jingle as he ran around was the funniest shit,” Nea laughs as she looks over at David for his input.

“Or his neon orange bicycle outfit with the spandex leggings and helmet,” Meg laughs thinking about both of the things he used to wear.  “What a man of fashion.”

“Aye now, nothin’ could be as horrid as Ace’s clothes.  I don’t even have a specific example just…all of them were bloody disgusting,” David says, clearly trying to steer away from the Dwight topic.

“Oh god, do you remember when he tried to slick his hair back and make that an actual style?”

“I hated it.  I have to admit, I let him die on the hook a few times after that,” Nea says, shaking her head.

“Yeah, I think we all did.  That hair…it changed him,” Meg says with a smile thinking back. 

“If I remember correctly, I think Kate was the only one who actually liked it,” David says, pulling out a rolled up bandage.

“She was just too nice to tell him the truth,” Meg replies.

“Kate? No, she would politely tell us when we look ridiculous, remember? She wouldn’t lie about it,” Nea chuckles before she does a very poor impression of Kate, “’Oh honey, oh dear, what on God’s green Earth are you wearing? It is your choice but wow, bless your heart.’”

The memory of it all warms Meg as a comfortable silence falls over them.  She’s glad that she didn’t rush out, didn’t panic too much before leaving and that she could have this time with them, but there is still that urgency that pulls her away wanting to go see Evan.

“Well, guys, I’m actually going to go see Evan real quick.  I was about to leave before you two so rudely made fun of my clothes,” Meg says, already turning to leave the room.

“Didn’t you just come back from seeing him not too long ago?”

“Well, yeah,” Meg says, shifting from one foot to the other.  “I was just getting him into his room, but now I just want to see how he’s doing after settling down for a bit.”

“Uh huh,” Nea smirks at her before giving David a look and elbowing his arm playfully.

“What was that look for?” Meg huffs, feeling strangely defensive like she is in the spotlight.  This brings back the feelings when they asked her about Evan when they reached the barns and even now, she doesn’t have a good answer for them.

“You know exactly what this look was for,” Nea laughs.

“Come on it’s not like that.  We’re friends.”

“Friends don’t caress each other on the cheek or hold hands all the way home on a car ride.”

“What are you talking about? Nea, we hold hands all the time!” Meg has to smile as she sees Nea’s face scrunch up in thought before a small ‘oh’ escapes her mouth.  Before Meg can bask in the feeling of winning this conversation, Nea grabs Meg’s hands and pulls the two of them closer together.

“Is that what this is? Could it be?” Nea says dramatically.

“I’ve always known we were meant to be,” Meg professes just as dramatic as the two burst into a fit of giggles while David stands behind them rolling his eyes before going back to bandaging up a particularly nasty cut on his arm.

“Seriously though, you never blush like a love-struck teenager when you look at me,” Nea says through a smile.

“What? I don’t…I…” Suddenly any argument is pulled from Meg as she scrambles to try and find a smart thing to say back, but instead she puts her arm on her hip and takes a step back.

“Think what you want.  I’m going to go see him because after everything, he did save me.  He saved all of us.  It’s the least I can do.”

Nea and David both nod slowly at her statement because right now, Meg knows they can’t fight her about that.  She’s right and even as a small smile spread across her face, she is content in knowing that maybe this will be the one thing that makes them not hate him so goddamn much.

“I’ll be back, okay?”

Nea raises her eyebrow and lets out an exaggerated hum.

“Try not to stay out too late.”

“We expect you home before nine, young lady,” David chimes in. 

Without letting David or Nea say anything more as they stand there smirking at her, she turns around, grabs her bag, and shuffles her way to Evan’s room.  While she walks, she rolls her eyes to herself. 

They don’t know what they’re talking about.  Evan and her are…friends.

Friends.

It still feels weird to admit to herself that they’re friends, or anything more than just an acquaintance, or someone that she is working with to figure everything out.

But after tonight, she is confident is saying that they are friends, and she has come to rely on that more than anything these last few days.  Having him there has made her feel safe, not terrified like it should, or rather like it has for years now.

Merely having him beside her gives her a sort of calm serenity that only he makes her feel, and she doesn’t know why.  But she knows she enjoys his quiet stoic nature, and how he can make her realize when she is being irrational. 

Plus he has helped her through her many panic attacks within the last day, and she feels like she wants to repay him somehow, even if she knows that it is him who is paying her back for the years spent in the Entity’s realm killing her and her friends.

But even that seems so far away, and that person, that monster, that isn’t Evan.  Evan is her friend, and he won’t hurt her.

She just wants to thank him, wants to tell him how much she appreciates everything that he has done now that they aren’t going to be attacked, and now that she can comprehend her words better than at the barns in Chimacum.

Reaching his door, she stands in front of it, butterflies fluttering in her stomach, nervous for some reason that is beyond her.

Raising her hand into a fist, she is ready to knock on his door, but hesitates, not wanting to bother him…

No, it’s okay.  Before she can talk herself out of it, she knocks on the door twice and waits for him.

A few seconds goes by before Evan opens the door, and immediately Meg has to stifle a laugh when she sees him.  It isn’t because of the shocked look on his face seeing her, or how huge he looks compared to the doorframe, taking up most of it as he stands there, no.  Those things aren’t what surprises Meg.

What makes her laugh as her eyes travel up and down his body is the fluffy white bathrobe that definitely does not fit him that he wears with nothing else on. The length of it comes to his upper thighs and it just manages to close over the important parts, but his chest sticks out clearly being too big for the robe to close over his muscles.

Evan’s surprised expression turns into something she has never seen.   His cheeks turn just a faint shade of pink while he notices her struggling with trying not to laugh at him.  She brings a hand to her mouth before raising her eyebrows at him.

“Expecting someone else?” She teases, looking between the robe and his face.

“I didn’t expect any visitors,” he says, scowling down at her. 

“You sure? With an outfit like that…”

Evan blinks and turns away, letting the door begin to close but Meg is fast enough to push it open and smile at him.

“Okay okay, I’m done.  I just came to talk, but I see that you’re busy,” she says through a huge smile on her face.  The robe is just long enough to cover his butt, just barely, and she can’t help her eyes as they travel up and down his muscular thighs.  She has never seen his legs, or even how they would look through his tailored pants, but she can’t say she’s surprised.

Evan turns around and Meg immediately looks away from him, scared that he caught her staring so she looks around the room, pretending to be interested in the layout of it even if it looks exactly the same as her room.

“You can come in.  I’ll go change.”

“No, no it’s fine.  Don’t let me ruin your party,” Meg jokes as she takes a step inside and closes the door behind her.

When she looks back at Evan, she is met with a frown.  He doesn’t say anything as he takes his clothes and walks into the bathroom, ignoring how Meg giggles quietly to herself as he walks by her.

“But your clothes are probably dirty.  I washed mine.  I’m just waiting for them to dry and then you can have these back,” Meg gestures towards Evan’s clothes that she currently wears.

“I did notice you took the liberty of changing into my other clothes,” he observes smirking at her.  Now it is Meg’s turn to blush as she looks away.

“I mean, Nea gave my old clothes to Claudette because…well, you know,” Meg begins to say until Evan interrupts her.

“I don’t mind.  If I’m being honest, I like seeing you in my clothes.  It suits you,” Evan blunders slightly before clearing his throat, “Well the clothes suit you, the color is nice.  Not that they’re…mine.” He clears his throat again and looks away, scowling at the bag on the floor. 

Meg’s eyebrows shoot up her forehead as she listens to Evan stumble over his words in a way she has never seen.  What is going on?

She is so surprised at how flustered he seems to be that she doesn’t get a chance to think about the actual words he said.

“Just go change unless you want to hang out in the bathrobe,” she teases.  That seems to set Evan back on track as he nods without another word, and turns around to go into the bathroom, leaving Meg alone with her thoughts.

That was the last thing Meg expected to walk in on, Evan in a bathrobe, and when she was worried about bothering him, she only thought maybe he was sleeping, or he would want some peace and quiet… not that he was having a full-on self care night complete with a fluffy white bathrobe.

Then his words come back to her mind and cause her stomach to flip, and for a moment, she can’t tell if she is happy or not, that is until the words echo in her mind, ‘I like seeing you in my clothes.’

She smiles.  She doesn’t know why, but she can’t help it.  Maybe it’s the affirmation of not feeling like she is so haggard, disheveled, or maybe it was just a compliment from a close friend.

That must be it.  When Nea would compliment her, she always liked that, who wouldn’t?

You know you liked it more than that.

Evan emerges from the bathroom, dressed back in his usual shirt and slacks, but this time he isn’t wearing suspenders, and the last few buttons on his shirt are undone, revealing his toned chest underneath. 

“What is it you wanted to talk about?” Evan asks, breaking Meg from her thoughts about his choice in clothes.

“I just really wanted to thank you, truly.  I mean…” she trails off, trying to find the right words to convey how much it meant to her that he was there, and how he truly did save them all by attacking Jeffrey Hawk.  She thanked him earlier, but it didn’t feel like it was enough.

“It’s the least I could do,” he replies taking a seat on the bed opposite of Meg so they’re face-to-face.  She sits back on the bed, but with she sheer size of him, his knees stick out and almost touch hers as he sits.

“Well, I guess, but still, you didn’t have to come.  You didn’t have to risk your life, and,” Meg pauses, swallowing her regret and looking away, “We got into a situation I never thought we’d get into.  When I thought we’d find the Clown, or Ghostface, I don’t know, it never seemed as dire as it did once we got there, and I really should have thought things through.”

Evan takes a moment, mulling her words around as he glances between his clasped hands and her face.  “I suppose, but you did find your friends, and Jeffrey is dead.  There was good that came out of this situation, at least.”

“I know,” Meg replies with a half smile, “But so much could have gone wrong, and it feels childish and trivial to just say thank you, or I’m sorry, even though I mean them both more than you could ever imagine.”

“Don’t,” he snaps, though his voice doesn’t raise.  “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

“I dragged you into that situation-“

“That I willingly accompanied you to,” Evan looks around for a moment before settling back on her face and scowling as though remembering something, “Wait, did you say Ghostface was there?”

Meg nods, knowing that this was one of the things she also wanted to bring up, and now is as good of a time as ever.

“Jed Olsen was there,” she admits cutting straight to the point. “That was something I wanted to talk to you about too.”

“What?” Evan clenches his fists on his lap as a flash of both anger and betrayal cross his face.  “Why didn’t you tell me while we were there?”

“What was I supposed to say, Evan? You know we were in no condition to go after him,” Meg’s voice raises, mirroring his attitude as she tries to defend her actions yet again.

“But I was perfectly capable to handle him myself! I was there and-“

“But I am not going to risk losing you, dammit!”

Silence passes between them as implications of Meg’s words flow through the air, whirling around them as they stare at each other, both breathing heavily as though they just ran a marathon. 

“We were all down for the count,” Meg says, quieter this time before she continues, “I can barely walk, Claudette can’t really do anything, the rest of us are broken down and beaten up, and we can’t rely on you to defeat him alone, especially if we don’t know exactly where he is.”

Evan huffs, finally shifting his gaze away from her and on a spot on the floor, right next to her shoe.

“I wanted to tell you, I did, but while you carried me from that house…” Meg stops and closes her eyes, trying to chase visions of the dark house away from her mind, “I couldn’t handle it, at least not at the time…”

“Did he hurt you?” Evan whispers, his eyes darkening the longer Meg stayed silent.

“No,” Meg whispers, lowering her eyes and staring at her hands as she picks at a small patch of old dirt on her pants.  “He basically just threatened that he would be back.  He seemed curious about us, you and me specifically, and I don’t know why.”

“But why didn’t you tell me this sooner? We have been over this way too many times for you to keep things from me.  I understand it was hard but-“

“Because, as you said, you would have wanted to go after him, Evan, that’s why.  I didn’t want to think about it, and I didn’t want you to leave us to go after him and put us all in more danger.”

“More danger?” he barks out a laugh, his voice suddenly louder than before.  “At least we knew where he was.  I could have easily tracked him down.”

“But if we wait, we can all stop him.  This isn’t all on you, believe or it or not.”

“But this could have ended.”

“What if something happened to you, huh?”

‘I would have been fine-“

“You can’t guarantee that though! There is no guarantee that you would have been fine!” Meg shouts, pushing herself off from the bed and turning away, trying to blink back angry tears that brim her eyes as she takes in a deep breath.  She limps over to the table and leans on it with her good arm, stabilizing herself. 

Hearing the bed creak as Evan stands up and walks behind her, she can feel his always overwhelming presence standing so close to her now.  He doesn’t say anything as he reaches her, he doesn’t even touch her, but she knows he has to be mere inches away from her, both comforting her and making her feel suffocated by him. 

She speaks again changing the subject to something he said that maybe could prove her point.

“Did you mean what you said back there? In the house?”

He doesn’t respond so she continues, finally turning so she is facing him.  She has to crane her head up to meet his face as he stares down at her, an eyebrow raised as an indication to go on.  

“That you’d die before you would let anything happen to me.”

He visibly stiffens for a second before raising a giant hand to rest on her cheek like he has multiple times that last day.  Her breath hitches in her throat and she hopes he doesn’t notice how she doesn’t pull away, not at all.  Instead she leans into his touch so softly, afraid to break what is happening between them now rather than the arguing from before.

She leans into his hand as his fingers curl into her hair while he whispers, “Of course I meant it.”

“Then you know that leaving us there without you would have put us in more danger, and…” she pauses, raising a small hand up to cup his as she looks up at him, “I can’t have anything happen to you either.”

The look on Evan’s face sends bolts of nerves, appreciation, admiration, everything Meg has come to feel around Evan MacMillan the last few days through her.  It is intense and uncomfortable, yet Meg can’t help but cling to his hand that tightens through her hair, as though they are holding onto each other for dear life. 

His chest deflates with a sharp exhale as he looks at her like he is truly seeing her for the first time, and his whole face softens into a small smile.  Suddenly they are closer than before, and Meg’s head whirls with so many thoughts, she isn’t sure who stepped forward in that moment. 

She thinks back to the moment they had in the house, the dirty, dusty, blood covered house, where he was comforting her and his warm hands were on either side of her face, soothing away all of her fears.  He begins to draw small circles on her cheek with his thumb, much like he did then, and she remembers how for a moment, a fleeting second, something inside her thought he would kiss her.

It was a crazy thought and she knew that then, so why does she think about it again as he stares down at her with his green and golden eyes that she could get lost in. 

They’re friends…right?

Just friends…

Her mouth parts just a bit as she exhales, her heart beating rapidly in her ears.

“I’m sorry.  You’re right,” he whispers as he raises his other hand and rests it on her uninjured shoulder.  “I could never forgive myself if something happened…”

To you…

The ghost of the words he doesn’t utter are at the tip of his tongue so that even Meg knows what he wants to say. 

“We just have to be smart.  We can do this, together.  That’s how this all started after all, didn’t it?” Meg lets out a small laugh at the irony that Evan was the first person she saw outside of the Entity’s realm, and now here they are, fighting for something together.

Evan’s mouth tugs into a bigger smile that makes Meg’s heart flutter for a reason that she doesn’t want to think about.

She can’t think about him like that…can she?

Before she can get herself to answer her own question, Evan abruptly drops his hands from her, and a cold shiver runs through Meg at the sudden loss of touch.

She wants it back.

“You should probably get some sleep,” he says, taking a step away from her.  “We’ve all had a long day, and I’m sure your friends probably miss you.”

It felt like a weight was dropped on Meg’s chest as she looks between Evan and the door.  Nodding, she knows he’s right, she knows that this is the best thing right now, so why does the immense feeling of disappointment fill her head as she gives him another smile?

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, giving him a nod and limping towards the door.  Evan follows her and holds the door open as she pauses in the doorway.

She turns around to give him one last smile.

“Thank you, again,” Meg says, her voice cracking at the end of the sentence.

“No, Meg, thank you.”

Evan smiles at her as she slowly walks towards the door, willing herself to leave and not find another excuse to stay behind with him.

“Do you want help back to your room?” He asks from behind her.  For a moment, she wants to say yes, wants to feel how his arm wraps around her as he helps her back, but she takes in a deep breath knowing that she shouldn’t feel like this.  She can make it back on her own, and she needs to somehow stop these intrusive cravings that seems to take over her body around him.

As she exhales, she shakes her head reluctantly.  “I’ll be fine.  But thanks again,” she says with a laugh, feeling like all she has been doing is thanking him.  She never thought she would ever be thanking him for anything, let alone not wanting to leave…

Evan seems to respect her distance, for once, as he nods and says nothing more as she makes her way out the door and begins to limp back to her room with her head filled with thoughts she never thought she would have.

What went on back there? After holding hands earlier, to the pure electricity and absolute nerves she felt being around him, to admitting that she doesn’t want anything to happen to him…

As her hotel room door approaches and Evan’s room gets farther away, she pushes those thoughts from her mind and focuses on just wanting to sleep.  She wonders if Evan is going to actually be able to get sleep, or if it will be a fitful restless night for him.

Thinking back to the estate, she only saw him sleep twice.  The first time he practically gripped the arm on the chair so tight, she thought his fingertips would pierce straight through the leather as his breath came in rapid gasps from a nightmare he was having, and the second time, he fell asleep after her and was up before her.  She doesn’t even know if he got much sleep that night or not, but she hopes maybe a few hours of sleep here will do him some good.

Maybe being in a hotel, a different place, a different bed, will help.  She can ask him about it tomorrow morning, she guesses, if she remembers.

She reaches her own room, and while shaking her head and unlocking the door, she pushes it open only to be met with darkness. 

All the lights are off but there is a soft dark blue glow that comes from the window on the other side of the room, and while wondering what time it is, she has to squint at the clock to see the time.

5:00AM

It’s almost morning, and they have to check out in just a few hours; no wonder her friends passed out.  She should have done the same.  Closing the door behind her softly, she tiptoes over to the beds and notices Claudette and Nea in one, and two people already in the other. 

There are two men, one with his shirt off, clearly David, and curled up against his broad chest is another man with short messy black hair.  Their arms and legs are intertwined with each other, holding onto each other with such intensity that only makes her mouth drop.

A smile splits across her face as her eyes adjust to the darkness and she realizes it’s Dwight curled up with David, holding onto him and breathing almost in sync with the bigger man. 

Seeing them together confirmed every single suspicion her and Nea had of the two of them, and she is almost tempted to wake Nea up to show her, but she immediately decides against it.  She’ll let them have their moment in peace, but she can’t wait to tease David about it tomorrow.

Looking at the other bed, she sees Claudette and Nea already sound asleep with Nea spread out taking up most of the bed, and Claudette curled into a ball in the top corner.  She feels sorry for the girl, but it is clear that Meg now has nowhere to sleep either.  The thought of going into the bed with Nea and Claudette crosses her mind, but she knows Nea will go right back to taking up most of the bed, and Meg will probably wake up with an elbow in her face and a knee jabbing into her side. 

She shakes her head with a smile looking at her close friends before turning around and exiting her room.  There is always the other room with Kate, Feng, and Ace that she could try, but she knows that Feng and Kate would be sharing a bed, and Ace would have the other, she doesn’t need to check.  There would be no room for her there either, and before she knows it, she is standing back in front of the door she really shouldn’t be back in front of.

Meg stands outside of Evan’s door, unsure of what exactly she is doing back here.  She could just sleep in the chair in the other room but then again, she really doesn’t want to, not again.  She spent a few nights in the chairs back at the estate, and her body practically aches at the thought of being in a bed.  She misses the feeling of actually lying down, and that won’t be possible back in her room.

It makes sense, she thinks.  She only wants to sleep in his extra bed…he has two in his room after all.  The other would just go to waste.

So why does her stomach flip as she stands outside his room, unsure whether to knock or let herself in or….

The door opens.

Meg jumps a little bit and looks up at Evan who stands there, staring down at her.

“Did you ever leave this spot or have you been here the whole time?”

“I did leave, thank you very much,” Meg responds, looking away from his interrogating gaze.  He lets out a quiet chuckle and steps aside, beckoning her back inside.  She glances between him and the inside of the room, remembering how they left just a few minutes ago.

Her cheeks turn a shade of pink thinking about how he stared at her and grabbed her face; he was so close to her, and now, now it is like nothing happened at all.

“What brings you back?” he asks, closing the door behind Meg as she looks at the beds.

Why is she so goddamn nervous to ask him now? It’s nothing that they haven’t been through before with her falling asleep in front of him at the estate.

“All the beds were taken up in the other rooms and I…I’m so tired.  Can I sleep in here?” Meg asks, wanting to rub her arm as it throbs uncomfortably in her chest. 

Evan flashes her a small smile before gesturing to the bed.  “Oh.” He sounds surprised.  “Yes, of course.”

Meg smiles back and walks over to the far bed already seeing how Evan pulled back the covers on the other bed, probably ready to go to sleep after she left.

Sitting down on the bed, she looks around, suddenly feeling too self conscious to do anything more than to watch Evan walk back.  He clears his throat as he sees her sitting on the bed, and right as it looks like he is about to say something, he looks away, walking back to the bathroom.

Meg takes this opportunity to lie down, propping herself on her good shoulder away from him as she stares at the wall on the opposite side of the bed.  Slowly, all the lights turn off until it is too dark to see anything, but she doesn’t hear Evan get into his bed despite the darkness in the room.

A minute passes, and she can practically feel his eyes burn a hole in her back.  Before she can turn around and say something, or wonder what he is doing, the bed sinks behind her as Evan sits on the other side, and for a moment, she stops breathing, and everything is silent. 

“Is this…” he pauses, “Can I sleep here?”

Meg swallows as she stares at the white wall in front of her.  Despite not talking, she knows what she wants to say; she has been thinking it all night.  They stay frozen in time breathing virtually silent as the question hangs in the air.  When she doesn’t answer, she feels the bed start to move as Evan begins to stand up.  Something grips in her chest, and before she knows it, she finally speaks up.

“Don’t,” she whispers.  Stay, she means.

She feels the bed sink down once more, and she inhales deep before she rolls on her back, looking up at Evan. 

He is already staring at her as his face is illuminated just a little bit by the dull morning light, but it is enough for her to see his eyes stare into hers, both too nervous to make any move from here.

She swallows a growing lump in her throat, not quite sure why she told him to stay, but there is something in her that told herself that she is happy she did.  Evan could go back to his own bed, let her sleep on her own, and they could get their own respective space, but as soon as she felt his body weight begin to leave the bed, she panicked.

She didn’t want him to leave.

She wanted him there beside her.

She just stares at him as he begins to lift his legs up on the bed and lowers himself beside her, maintaining the intense eye contact neither of them break.

As he is fully on the bed, they aren’t touching, and there must be at least a foot between them on the bed, but she has never felt closer to him than she does right now.  The way his body encases hers without even touching makes her feel protected, and she can’t believe the way she almost wants to melt into his touch and just be there beside him.

He lays beside her with his head propped up on his arm, still looking down at her. 

“Are you sure?” he asks her, feeling too close and yet too far away all at the same time, and Meg doesn’t know what she wants more in this moment, so she settles on nodding her head and slowly turning back to her side away from him.  Although she turns from him, she hopes he saw her nod her head since her voice is caught in her throat.   She isn’t sure if she could even speak with the raging nerves in her stomach and chest.

After a beat or two, she feels him settle more into the mattress beside her as he lets out a slow exhale.  Meg thinks back to earlier, feeling his warmth as he pulled her into his lap, but this…this is different.  Earlier he didn’t ask, but even sitting in his lap seemed friendly, nothing too personal. 

He was just keeping her warm.

But as Meg closes her eyes, she can feel him beside her despite them not touching.  She can hear him breathing slowly, and if she tried hard enough, she thinks she can hear his heart beating…

Or maybe that’s hers…

This seems more intimate than anything so far between them, and as much as her body begins craving being beside him, it is almost too much.  For a moment she considers getting up and going over to the other bed, or waiting until he falls asleep to move, but she quickly pushes those thoughts from her mind as she feels Evan scoot closer to her.

She tells herself that he’s only situating himself on the mattress so he’s more comfortable, more on the mattress so he can fall asleep easier, and suddenly she’s hyper aware that she isn’t comfortable where she’s at either.

She shifts just a little bit more towards the middle of the bed, fitting more into the groove of the mattress, as she lets out the breath she was holding slowly.

Closing her eyes and swallowing her anxiety about the situation, she realizes she really is comfortable finally being in a bed, and finally being able to get some rest.

The familiar heaviness of sleep begins to take over as her breathing slows and her mind begins to detach itself, not thinking about Evan or Jed Olsen or her friends, and before she can fully fall asleep, she thinks she feels the heavy weight of Evan’s arm drape across her waist, shifting just an inch or two closer.  Meg’s eyes fly open at the sudden touch, and at first, the touch is light, hesitant.  He is looking for an objection, and when Meg doesn’t give him one, his arm relaxes settling on her side.

She welcomes it, wanting to curl into his warmth and feel that he is okay, just as okay as she is, and everything else they can figure out tomorrow.

She inhales deep, and as she exhales, she moves closer to him until her back bumps into his chest, and she stays there, closing her eyes.  Briefly, she wonders if this is okay, if her scooting closer was too much, but her questions are answered when Evan’s grip on her tightens, pulling her closer to his chest as his head comes to rest above hers on the pillow so his chin is resting on the top of her head. 

As they lie there, she feels every movement, every breath, as her body fits just right against his. 

Right now, Meg is happy as she lets sleep overtake her, curling into a man who holds onto her like she is protecting him as much as he is protecting her.

Finally, for the first time in forever, she feels safe.