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Breath of Life

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“It is easy to go down to Hell; night and day, the gates of Death stand wide, but to climb back again, to retrace one’s steps to the upper air - therein lies the difficulty.” - Virgil, the Aeneid

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The campfire roars, as it always did, crackling and licking the dark sky, never taking a moment’s rest even in the coldest or windiest of times. It had always been raging on despite any effort in putting it out. Dirt, water from the nearby pond, or even, as David and Ace liked to try, peeing on it never worked.

It had become a sense of both comfort and great anxiety to the unfortunate group that call themselves the survivors. For whatever reason they had been brought into this world, the Entity’s world, this is where they lived, where they healed, and where they hoped to get out of one day.

But in the meantime, they waited.

They played the Entity’s sick and twisted game.

But most importantly, they tried to encourage one another in the worst of times to stay strong, whatever that meant.

Lately though, things have taken an odd shift around the campfire. Before, when there were only a handful of them, they would entertain each other with stories and songs because to them, they really had all the time in the world, and it was a nice distraction from the impending doom of another trial that always loomed over them.

Meg was one of the first survivors in their group along with Dwight, Claudette, and Jake, with all of whom she grew close to. Every few months or so, honestly, she couldn’t tell how long she had been there accurately, another person would wander into their campfire and there they stayed.

With each passing person coming to join them, their small and quaint group grew into what now seems like a big family. This should fill Meg with hope or some sort of happiness, and it does to a point.

But as each day goes by, a small part inside of her starts to wither away and give up. It’s not much, but the dread she feels grows worse like an infection, threatening to make her weak, to give up.

When she arrived, she wasn’t sure how long she would be trapped here whether it be a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or even forever; she never liked to think about that last option.

But when a new person shows up, and now with their ever growing family, there is still no hope of ever getting out, only staying here.

She keeps these fears tucked away deep inside her because she is afraid if she ever says them out loud, then they’ll be out in the open.

Too exposed.

Too real.

What would they even think of her if she were to tell them? Realistically, she thought they would try to calm her down and rationalize her thoughts, but what if they had the same feelings? She certainly didn’t want to bring them down with her and ruin their chances of hope that they may escape.

So she tries her best not to indulge these thoughts and rather enjoy her time with her new found friends.

While staring at the fire, her thoughts are interrupted briefly by the sounds of shuffling feet and multiple groans coming from the woods to her right.

“Bad trial?” She calls out already recognizing the groans to be from her fellow survivors, Dwight and David.

“You could say that,” Dwight says wincing as he reaches the campfire.

“More like it was fuckin’ shite,” David hisses, spitting to his left before wiping his face. “We weren’t even close t’gettin’ out. One fuckin’ gen and the bastard slaughtered us.”

“Again?” Claudette’s soft voice comes from behind Meg as she walks up to take a seat beside Dwight. She grabs his arm to inspect it for any sort of lingering injury.

Dwight nods before speaking up, “All my trials have been like that lately, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“It’s not you, kid,” David says, his tone a little less confrontational this time. “It’s these damn killers! They’re gettin’ too strong. I used to enjoy going up against this fuckers but now…”

“Well, where’s Feng and Bill? They could get out and maybe the trial wouldn’t be a complete loss,” Meg suggests trying to remain at least a little hopeful.

“They were both hooked when we died, they should be joining us any second now.”

Meg’s mouth forms into a tiny ‘o’ as she says nothing but understanding that the trials are getting harder and not lasting as long.

“You guys,” Claudette says, pausing briefly before continuing, “what if the killers aren’t getting stronger, but instead we are getting weaker?”

“Bullshit,” David mumbles, his voice lacking his usual confidence.

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Meg admits, looking up at the worried expressions etched into her friends’ faces. “What if this is it? It could be a sign.”

“A sign of what?” Dwight asks, wincing as Claudette touches at a fresh scar on his arm. They all have similar ones from when the Legion decides to kill them themselves. It seems Dwight’s injury was just reopened lately.

“I don’t know, it’s just…we’ve been here so long with no glimmer of ever getting out. What if the Entity is sick of us and wants to push the older survivors out and get new ones?”
Meg’s words are met with silence that even David can’t argue with. They all stare at the fire trying to think of something encouraging to say, something to lighten the mood.

They are failing miserably.

“Aye you sluts!” Nea practically yells as she comes and leaps beside Meg, slapping her thigh before taking a look at everyone. “Why all the gloom and doom?”

Claudette is the first to snap out of the dark mood as she rolls her eyes at Nea.

“For the last time, what have I said about calling us sluts? You know not everyone likes to be called that,” Claudette says, crossing her arms as though she’s reprimanding a child.

Nea breaks into a laugh as David joins in and shrugs. “Well it’s a good thing none of you are allowed to hate me cuz you’re stuck with me.”

“Nea…” Claudette warns.

“You know I’m not talking about you, Mama Claudette. It’s like my term of endearment, just let me have this,” Nea crosses her legs and leans against Meg, who leans back and puts her head on Nea’s shoulder.

“It’s her way of saying she loves us, just let her have it,” Meg smiles at Claudette.

“You two can be such a pain sometimes,” Claudette huffs quietly as she puts her supplies away, muttering to herself. “Such children, no manners…”

“Hey guys, I think I’m going to turn in,” Dwight mutters, standing up and swaying slightly.

“Oi, you good, mate?” David says, standing and grabbing a hold of Dwight’s shoulders, making sure he doesn’t fall.

A slight blush creeps across Dwight’s cheeks as he looks away and waves his hand in David’s face.

“I’m fine, really. That last trial just took a lot out of me. Sleep sounds nice right now.”

David narrows his eyes and inspects Dwight for a moment making sure he’s not gonna fall over on the way back to his tent. Once everything seems to be to his liking, he lets go of Dwight’s shoulders and gestures over his own shoulder.

“Get some damn sleep already,” David orders, sitting back down.

Dwight smirks back as he limps away from the campfire to his tent.

As soon as he is out of earshot, Nea takes the opportunity to tease him about their…whatever they have.

“Soooooo,” she starts, her voice wavering up and down.

“Nah, it ain’t like that, sweetheart, don’t get excited,” David dismisses her with a wave of his hand. “He just can barely take care of himself. I feel for the lad. He’s too shy to ask for help and at least I can make sure he’s still breathing at the end of the day.”

Meg hums in disagreement, a smile splitting across her face.

“That’s how it always starts out,” she teases, poking David’s upper arm with a thin finger.

“Oi! Get your witchy fingers outta my personal space!” David yells, swatting at her hand. “And besides, I’m a ladies man. They can’t keep their hands off of me, see?!”

“Oh of course. Well where are those ladies now, huh?” Nea laughs.

“Well Meg here was just tryin’ to get a feel for my muscle. If ya wanna feel it, all ya gotta do is ask,” David says, flashing an over-exaggerated wink at Meg who scoffs in return.

“I’ve seen bigger,” she snaps back, causing Nea to burst out laughing beside her.

“Oh ya, ya. Funny,” David mutters. His tone is full of hurt, but Meg knows better than to believe that when she can see the small smirk playing across his face.

“I think we’ve upset them,” Nea says through fits of giggles as she gestures to Claudette and David, now looking anywhere else but at them.

“They’ll be fine. They love us too much not to talk to us,” Meg replies.

The warm feeling that comes from laughing settles like a nice blanket over them as they sit and watch the fire, very much in a different mood now than they were before.

Maybe they aren’t getting weaker, Meg thought. There is always a lull after a trial, even if they weren’t in it. They have all become so close, it was hard not to feel sorry for one another as they return.

But being surrounded by people she genuinely cared about made all the difference in the world, and nothing can ever change that, not even the Entity.

Just as she was about to speak up and change the subject about Claudette’s very intensive care of Dwight, a slight fog rolls through the campfire.

A chill penetrates them deep within their bones, sending shivers up and down their spine.

Meg always hates the feeling of being called to a trial. Though the obvious reasons of being chased, hung on meathooks, and potentially killed were high on her list, the simple act of being called was a whole other beast entirely.

Just as the campfire screams safety, security, and moments of reprieve, the fog burns every nerve in her body. The fog spreads dread and absolute terror in its wake as she knows what is about to happen.

“Ah, for fucks sake. I just got out of one!” David yells, kicking at the dirt in front of him. The fog only shows up for the people who are called, so you’re never too sure who you’ll be in a trial with even if they are sitting right next to you.

“Looks like I’ll be joining you. Let me get my flashlight real quick,” Nea says, jumping up from the log and sprinting away to her tent. The fog doesn’t care where they’re at when it calls them, but at least it gives them enough warning to grab any items that might be useful, or burn any little trinkets they find around the campsite.

“Anyone wanna go to MacMillan?” David says, pulling a small key out of his pocket. “I keep findin’ these and I wanna get rid of some.”

“That’s fine with me. At least there are a lot of good places to run around there.” Meg replies, shrugging, as David tosses the rusty key into the fire.

“And now we wait.”

She didn’t have anything to throw in the fire or take with her, unfortunately. Being more preoccupied with keeping her mind busy, she tried to stay around her friends for as long as possible and not wander off to scavenge for things. Plus, that had never been her main interest.

Her main weapon was her speed.

When Meg first arrived, she was just burning the little trinkets or bouquets out of spite.

‘Why would they give me a small key?’ she thought. With trial and error, she realized when she threw that in, they’d all go to Macmillan Estate. With the others trying out different combinations, they soon began to realize they would do better in some games when they burned certain things.

There were some items they found that would even change the moonlight, but they haven’t been able to find any more of those offerings in awhile, no matter how much they scour the forest around them.

Soon she simply gave up actively looking for things to burn because in her mind, she was terrified that soon she wouldn’t be able to find anything.

If the Entity can give them these little boosts, it can take it away just as easily. She preferred to distance herself in order not to be disappointed if or when the Entity decides to make things worse for them.

Meg blinks and suddenly she’s standing in front of a large iron building surrounded by darkness. It was always jarring to start the trial and always took a few seconds to get their bearings.

One minute they're sitting by the campfire and in the blink of an eye, everything is different.

Meg looks around while mentally preparing herself for the trial, hoping to see the face of one of her companions standing near her.

Unfortunately, she’s alone.

But she hears no heartbeat, yet, so she can’t complain.

Taking it slow, she starts to walk into the building knowing that there is always one generator here and it is usually the most difficult and dangerous so, it helps to get it done early.

As she walks, she is careful to breathe quietly in through her nose and out through her mouth.

In through the nose, out of the mouth.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

She is okay for now, she can do this.

The haunting echoes of the iron building shifting around her does nothing to calm her racing heart or shaking hands, so she clenches her fists, hard.

The pain of her nails biting into the skin of her palm helps ground her.

Just keep going.

She reaches the generator and starts working connecting one wire here, another there.

For knowing nothing about electronics or generators, there is always that sliver of gratitude that the Entity made repairing these so easy.

Meg connects the colored wires for a few minutes and it springs to life, lighting a fire within her chest that keeps her going.

No heartbeat yet.

She wonders if it’s a silent killer like the Shape or Wraith, or if they are even playing at all.

The best trials are the ones where it is almost as though the killer gives up as soon as it starts, almost defying the Entity and refusing to play its game.

The killers never move an inch through the whole trial, ensuring everyone can get out. Though she knows the killers don’t do it for the survivors’ sake, it’s nice to know that they are trying something in this twisted game of cat and mouse.

It never lasts long though, as usually the next time she runs into the same killer, they are even more brutal and filled with rage.

She notices new blood on them as well, and can only imagine what the Entity does to them when they don’t do its bidding.

She doesn’t want to know.

So she works, hoping that her friends are okay and maybe they can make it out. It’s looking like a good match to say the least.

With a loud hum, she hears another generator power on to her right a little ways away. There are a couple of tall walls blocking her view to see who was on it, but she silently thanks them for getting it done.

In her silent thanks, her heart starts pounding in her chest as she hears it: the heartbeat.

Immediately crouching behind a rock, she covers her mouth with her hand in an effort to make her breathing less noticeable.

No matter how many times she goes into a trial, it never gets easier.

The heartbeat grows louder with each passing second until it is so deafening in her ears, she can barely hear herself think.

She needs to run.

Whoever it is is here and will see her here, so without another thought, she pushes her heels into the slick grass and makes a run for it.

Adrenaline coursing through her veins allows her to burst away for a few seconds to put some distance between her and the killer, but it never lasts long.

Looking behind her, she sees the killer marching after her, cleaver in one hand and bear trap in the other.

Her heart sinks as she looks around for a window to vault through and try and confuse him. It works sometimes, but his bear traps always terrify her more than anything. As she runs, her ankles already tingle with the phantom pain of being caught in a trap.

Please don’t step in a trap, please don’t step in a trap, she chants to herself over and over again as she runs around the brick walls and around rocks, causing him to miss his swings every time.

Two more generators pop almost at the same time, causing her to push on and giving her the hope that maybe they’ll get out of this one. It won’t be so bad this time, right?

She runs into the building in the middle knowing that she already got that gen done so maybe she can take the killer away from her friends who are hopefully working on the last generator.

Come on…

She can practically hear the Trapper’s breathing down her neck, he seems so close behind her, but she has to think quick.

Looking around, the basement is here, so she doesn’t want to go downstairs. Going upstairs surely won’t work, and there aren’t any pallets.

She takes a deep breath and sprints for the only window in the building and hoping for the best…

But she was wrong.

An ear-splitting scream pierces the cold air as Meg lands in a beartrap hidden by grass on the other side of the window. Its jaws snap shut so tight, Meg can barely get her fingers through to try and pry it open. Tears stream down her face as she feels like she is about to throw up from the excruciating pain that now is shooting up and down her leg.

For a brief moment, through blurry vision, she looks up at the Trapper who simply stands on the other side of the window and watches her struggle.

If she can just get her foot out, she can run for it as best as she can if he’s just going to stand there, and in her time of desperation, it sounds like a good plan to her.

Within seconds, her fingers become slippery with her own blood that pours from the wound on her ankle. She can barely get a grip on the jaws and when she thinks she has a handle, she opens it about an inch before her fingers slip, causing it to come crunching down on her ankle once more.

She hears the hum of the final generator be done and now if she can just get out, she knows she will be fine.

Come on…

But it’s too late.

The Trapper bounds through the window and picks her up with ease. Being almost twice her size it is no difficulty for him to carry her, as it always is, to a hook that sways in the wind.

Despite Meg’s injured ankle, she kicks and hits him, putting all of her energy into each kick hoping that it will make an impact. Sometimes it does, most of the time it doesn’t, but she hopes that this will be one of those times.

Please, God, let this be one of those times.

Her stomach is in her throat as she sees the hook getting closer.

She starts pleading, something she hasn’t done for awhile.

“No, no no please no,” she coughs in between sobs but before she can get out any more protests, she feels the sharp agony of the hook piercing her shoulder.

She lets out another scream as though it would help with the absolute agony of being left to hang like a dead animal.

Whimpering, she tries to regain her composure, or some semblance of it, as she knows three of her friends are out there and they can get her and they can make it out.

As she hangs there her mind begins to detach itself from her body as a way to cope with the pain. It was a practice she learned after the first couple of trials. The pain, the excruciating agony of it all is too much for one person to handle, so she tried to detach herself. She wasn’t Meg, and Meg wasn’t hanging here on a dirty old meat hook about to die.

She used to picture the forest, but soon the look of trees make the pain worse as it proves as a reminder that trees are all she sees. Before being here, she loved the woods. The smell, the crispness of the air in her lungs and on her face, the peacefulness of it all, and the way the leaves sound as the wind blows through were some of her favorite things.

Now she thinks of the beach.

It is very different from the woods, and anything to take her away is a welcomed idea.

She is torn from her thoughts once more as a giant spiked spider leg tries to impale her stomach, and knowing it’s the Entity, she grabs a hold of it, trying to keep it away from her for as long as she can.

She never wins, but buying any sort of time before being killed is enough for her.

None of her friends have come for her yet, and a seed of resentment plants itself deep in her stomach as she looks around frantically.

She ran the Trapper for three generators! They should save her!

But just as soon as she had those thoughts, one-by-one she heard the screams of her friends from the far corner of the map.

They all were downed, they were all going to die, and it is yet another loss in their books.

But they were so close to being out, so damn close.

Tears flow freely from Meg’s eyes as she tries to blink them away, but the moment she stops focusing on the giant spike in front of her, it stabs her in her stomach, instantly killing her.

She never knows what happens in between the time of being killed and waking up in the woods close to the campfire.

All she knows is that her physical injuries are gone, for the most part, even though phantom pains still linger for awhile.

Especially the pain in her shoulder which is always a constant reminder of what happened within the trial. Depending on the killer, there will be other pains, like in her back or her arm, but the worst has to be the ankle pain she never quite goes away, despite not going against the Trapper in weeks.

With a small groan, Meg comes to as she reaches for her shoulder instinctively.

No hook.

Her shirt is dry with no blood.

Everything is as it should be.

Taking in a deep breath, she opens her eyes and looks around, taking in her settings so she knows which direction to walk when she gets up.

Her whole body tenses as she bolts up as though she were on fire. The sky isn’t the dark starless midnight black as it always is at the campfire.

It's a pale blue with streaks of orange lining the clouds.

It almost seems like morning, but that can't be right...can it?

Twisting her head so fast she could give herself whiplash, she begins to panic. Not having felt like this in a long time after a trial, she breaks out into a sprint in a random direction as she ignores every rational part of her brain.

Branches from bushes and trees whip at her face and legs leaving little scratches that trickle blood as she tears through the trees, ignoring any sort of path laid out before her.

She knows she will come to the campfire soon, and everything will be back to normal, right?

She will see her friends and Claudette will scold her for running like a madwoman and cutting up her face, and everything will be fine.

This must be some trick played by the Entity, she thinks.

But as soon as she hears the soft chirp of a bird, her whole world freezes and her blood runs cold.

Meg loved the sound of nature before, but at the campfire, there were no sounds. Only occasional wind that they couldn’t even feel. Everything seemed so fake, so artificial, as it was. The Entity tried to make it look like the forest with its dense trees and foliage along the ground, but there was always something that was simply off.

The only animal noises she would hear were the echoes from the dead cows at the farm, the frogs in the swamp, and occasionally the piercing caw of a crow.

Never a song bird.

Then that’s when she felt it.

She feels it on her neck, making her baby hairs stand on end as she turns towards it.

Wind.

She actually feels wind kissing her face like a lover, caressing every inch of her body.

It flows around her, engulfing her in the cool sensation that reminds her of a brisk fall morning.

She chokes on a few tears, knowing this can’t be real and somehow the Entity got better at making things more believable. This is a trick, she tells herself.

A mirage.

She has to get back to the campfire.

Taking a few steps forward, she stops as she hears more birds not only chirping, but practically singing.

What once would be music to her ears turns eerie and cold, making her want to shut out noise forever.

What a whole new level of cruelty, but then again, what did she expect from the Entity?

She begins to run once more, hoping to find the campfire in her frenzied panic, and at least she won’t be alone.

Everyone else at the campfire will have experienced this and they can talk about it, maybe come up with a theory or two.

Ace always had ridiculous theories that he always tried to prove, and right now she can’t wait to hear his theory about this because she can’t stand being here alone.

The trees begin to thin which gives Meg a little hope that she is getting closer to her friends, so she pushes on despite her screaming muscles.

But as she draws closer, she isn’t closer to her friends, or to the campfire.

She isn’t running through the Entity’s woods, and she most certainly doesn’t see anything she has seen in years.

A parking lot opens before her with two cars parked on either side, yet with no other people.

She can hardly believe it. These aren’t like the cars at Autohaven, no, these are cars that work. They are well-maintained and washed.

The panic that settled in her stomach begins to expand once more as she runs to the street, expecting to be taken away at any time or see some new killer or fall into some other weird dimension.

But instead of any of those thoughts that plagued her mind, she runs down the street and around the corner and right into a small woman carrying groceries.

Upon impact, the woman drops her groceries and begins to profusely apologize to Meg who, instead of apologizing back, stands as still as a statue.

Although she doesn't move, her eyes dart around the street like a wild animal as she sees buildings, actual buildings, and people walking around, cups of warm coffee in their hand as they are bundled up for the day.

“Miss? Miss?” The woman finally is able to get through to Meg who turns her attention towards her. “Are you okay?”

Meg can barely find her voice as it seems like something is squeezing tighter and tighter around her neck.

“Do you need help?” The woman asks, balancing her groceries on her hip and placing a hand on Meg’s arm.

“Where am I?” Meg manages to whisper, her voice hoarse and scratchy.

“Downtown, honey. Do you need me to call someone for you?”

“No, no I mean, what town is this? Where am I?” Meg asks finally finding her voice.

“You’re in Issaquah.”

“Issaquah,” Meg repeats slowly. This can’t be happening, she repeats to herself.

One minute she is spending eternity somewhere not even on Earth, and now she is here, in a seemingly normal town, talking to a seemingly normal woman.

“What state? What year is this?”

“Washington, dear, it's 2019, please, let me call an ambulance for you or something, you don’t seem well-” the woman says, pulling out her phone.

“No! No…no, I’m okay, I’m…” Meg mutters, beginning to walk off and ignoring the protests from the polite woman. Either the woman gave up trying to stop her or Meg tuned it out because not long after she walks away from her, all she can think about is the distant hum from car engines, and inaudible chatter from the people all around her walking along the street.

As Meg walks, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, her eyes wander between all the inconspicuous faces walking by her. There are just…so many people. She hasn't seen this many in a long time. Always seeing the terror and angst etched on the faces of her fellow survivors, along with the terrifying and sadistic ones of the killers, she had gotten used to seeing the same faces for years.

Here, though, she sees men and women of all ages…and children.

She can’t even recall the last time she has seen a child, so full of hope, of promise.

So innocent.

As she comes to an intersection, one face pulls her from her thoughts as she looks in front of her. Her eyes snap up and are met by a giant of a man standing on the other side of the street, staring at her.

Her heartbeat quickens instantly growing louder in her ears as her palms sweat and her legs twitch wanting to turn and run in the opposite direction.

Although every fiber of her being is telling her to run, she stays rooted to the spot. A few people bump into her as they pass, muttering apologies, but that is the least of her worries.

The man standing planted in front of her must be almost seven feet tall with broad shoulders, heaving up and down with every breath. His muscles almost burst through the very old timey looking suit he is wearing.

He stares at her as her whole body begins to shake, phantom pains radiating all through her limbs as an especially sharp pain shoots up her shoulder. Giving her a slight nod, he takes a tentative step forward, waiting to see if she will turn and bolt like a scared rabbit.

She wants to move, but right here, right now on this crowded street, she can’t seem to even breathe.

With just a few big steps, he reaches her. Meg practically has to crane her neck up in order to see his face.

She can barely process who she is staring at.

In the real world.

In broad daylight.

With tears in her eyes as she looks up at the man in the mask looking down at her, she realizes she is face-to-face with The Trapper.

Chapter Text

Time is a construct.

Time is nothing.

Time is everything.

Time is irrelevant.

Though no matter what anyone thought about time, it meant nothing in the realm of the Entity.

The survivors would talk for hours of the different times they were taken, but for the most part, they realized that they were within the same one hundred years of each other. For Meg, however, every time a new survivor would appear at the campfire, the years seemed to drag on.

She was taken in 2009.

The latest survivor, Ash, was taken in 2018.

Nine years she missed, though she tried not to think if she had spent nine years living around that campfire and being brutally murdered, or if time meant absolutely nothing.

She never knew the answer, it could have been either.

But as far as she knew, there were no survivors or killers that were from the distant future.

So maybe there was a limit on from what times the Entity can pull people from.

That’s the only explanation, right?

Because then how are her and the Trapper both stuck in 2019? If they were to get sent to their own times, she would be sent back a decade ago, and the Trapper would be sent back even farther she assumed.

Time meant nothing it seemed, but the more she thought about it, there must be rules that even something like the Entity had to follow.

But for now, the only thought running through her mind is that she is staring at the Trapper, and she has to run.

It was as though a sudden invisible force pulls her from her frozen state, ushering her to run, to get as far away as she can.

Pushing her heels into the ground beneath her, she sprints off in the opposite direction of the stunned Trapper, who simply stares at her for a few seconds, before seemingly getting his own confidence and chasing slightly after her.

As it was in the trials, she was never faster than him, never faster than any of them, but with her racing heart and the pure adrenaline coursing through her veins, she sprints away as fast as she can, ignoring any poor bystander she passes.

Her eyes dart around as she squeezes between groups of people, couples walking on the sidewalk; a mother and child, or even the occasional single person walking, she doesn't care.

All she knows is that she needs to get away as far as possible, as quickly as possible.

The heartbeat that grows in her ears is just as loud as any trial, and a small voice inside her mind makes her question if this is just another Entity’s game to make her feel like she’s safe then drop a killer in to kill her in broad daylight...

But yet everything here seems so real.

Thinking back, there was always something off about the trials and about the campfire though she could never place a finger exactly on what was wrong.

The way the fire crackled wasn’t quite normal as it always stayed too orange and never flickered enough as though it was like a painting.

The trees had waxy leaves and branches that seemed too hard and unyielding, and meanwhile the cars and metal barrels were almost too warm and too soft for metal.

The very feeling of the trials seemed like an illusion, or as Dwight liked to call it, a cheap escape room.

There was nothing that held her close enough to the real world in the trials, and what if the Entity knew that? What if whatever power it had suddenly turned into a new power over all of them that made them feel safe, warm, and welcome, and then ripped that away in a whole new level?

With that thought in her mind, she kept running. She kept running faster than she ever thought she could run, and with her heart in her throat and her head becoming dizzy, she looks behind her praying to whatever deity was responsible for her right now that she isn't being followed, but the Trapper was right on her heels, as he always was.

“Will you stop running, for fucks sake?” She hears him grunt in between breaths that she never heard him make. When killers chased her, they never seemed out of breath, or really showed any sort of weakness, and here he was, almost sounding out of breath.

Almost.

Plus they never talked...

Without responding, she bolts suddenly to her right down an alleyway, hoping to lose him at the end by making a beeline to a new road, but unfortunately trash bags overflow the alleyway, blocking her one route of escape.

With a whimper, she looks up to see if there was something she could potentially climb onto, but before she knows it, two huge strong arms crash into the wall on either side of her, effectively trapping her within the Trapper’s grasp.

“Let me go!” she shrieks, not caring if anyone around them heard, or maybe she secretly hoped they would.

“Will you shut up and stop moving for a minute?” the Trapper grunts, his aggression clear in his strained voice.

Meg struggles as she starts clawing and punching his arms, her movements becoming frantic like a trapped cat.

“I’m not going to hurt you!” the Trapper finally yells, “I just want to talk!”

Meg freezes, not sure whether to believe him or not, though she knows she isn't really in a position to argue or disagree.

“What do you want?” she finally spits, her voice full of venom, as she look at his face merely inches from hers, although she couldn’t make out his expression due to the mask he still chose to wear during this time, even if it draws more attention to himself.

“What have you done?” He hisses at her, through, what she could guess, clenched teeth. There was no sign of him moving or him letting her go though his words worried her almost more than anything. “What have you done?” He repeats.

Meg’s mouth opens and closes, unable to find the words she truly wants to say. Her heartbeat seems to be exploding in her ears as every nerve in her body is on fire. She just wants to leave, wants to get out of his grasp, wants to leave and never be face-to-face with him again.

“What do you mean ‘what have I done?’” She asks, her voice a strained thread.

She is so close to his face, she can see his eyes search hers for the first time. She had never been this close to him to realize that there was truly a face underneath the mask that made up The Trapper.

In reality, she knew that there had to be a face under there, but with every monster and every killer she had come against, she was never too sure, but the way his eyes search hers, it causes a weird pit to begin to form in her stomach.

It almost makes him more human, which is something she doesn't need to think about him now.

She quickly glances at his arms expecting to see the usual rusty metal protruding grotesquely from his skin, but to her surprise, his arms look unscathed through his tattered suit.

He could pass for a normal man for once if you look past the mask.

Meg frantically searches his masked face for some sort of explanation.

“What do you mean where are we? Do you think this is my fault?” Meg screams back, still trying to wiggle out in between his arms. “We can talk just let me go!”

“You’ll only run away and I know this has to be some trick, some ploy by you survivors or something because this isn’t normal. This isn’t right! What have you done?” He repeats himself, his voice strained slightly more this time.

“I haven’t done anything!” Meg defends herself as she stops wiggling around as she simply stares him straight in his eyes that she now can see. “I want to get out of here as much as you do, I think. This wasn’t our doing, I’m as confused as you are!”

Silence passes between the two as both of their chests heave up and down furiously, before slowly calming down with each passing minute that they stand staring at each other knowing that Meg won’t run, and the Trapper won’t attack.

Questions enter Meg’s mind faster than she can even begin to handle, and she wonders if this is simply a game, or a glitch, or something worse, and coming face-to-face with someone who has made it their life goal to kill her every single day isn’t making this any easier.

Her heart still beats rapidly in her chest though the anxious bubbling in her stomach and throat has gone down.

She’s speechless, waiting for him to say something, or to try and defend himself as to why he thinks that her - no - the survivors could be behind whatever is going on, but he remains just as silent as ever.

“Hey!” A strange voice calls to them, causing them both to snap out of their trance and turn their heads towards the direction of the voice.

A small man stands at the end of the alleyway, his phone in hand.

“I’m about to call the cops! You okay miss?!” He calls out, his thumb on the dial button waiting for Meg’s confirmation.

Is she okay?

No.

But what can she say to the cops?

She has no idea.

“Oh I’m fine!” She replies as the Trapper takes his arms down from either side of her. “We are fine.”

Her stomach sinks with such a lie, but what could she possibly say? How can she explain her being missing for a decade and yet being the same age?

How can she explain showing up in a town states away from her own house with no clue as to how she got there?

She thought she would want the cops but now she doesn't think she can go through that, so she settles on practically defending the one person that she hates the most in the world.

The man’s eyes dart between hers and the Trapper, him especially eyeing his mask, as he slowly nods and puts his phone down.

“Alright miss. Just thought I’d ask. Have a good day, you two.”

Neither of them make any response.

Meg swallows hard before turning back to the Trapper.

“What are you doing here?” She decides on asking, although she already knows the answer, she just doesn’t want to believe it.

“Dunno. Woke up in the woods and followed some tracks here; I’m assuming the tracks were yours.”

“And you know nothing else?” Meg asks, her tone sharp masking her absolute terror inside.

“You seem to have been here longer than I have, you tell me,” he replies, crossing his arms.

Meg lets out all of her breath in a quick sigh, not quite knowing where she wants his conversation to go or where she wants any of this to go.

She just wants to go back to the campfire where everything is predictable.

She just wants her friends.

And yet she is here encompassed by the Trapper.

“Well I’m going to go find out exactly where we are,” she starts saying as a hand grasps her arm tight.

“I’m not letting you out of my sight,” he growls.

“Excuse me?” Meg tries to stand defiantly yanking her arm away, but ends up almost collapsing under the weight of his words, her chest gripping so tight she can’t breath.

A phantom pain surges its way from her shoulder and radiates down her arm and spine.

“If this is your doing somehow, I’m not letting you out of my sight,” the Trapper repeats once more, taking a slight step forward.

Meg has to strain her head as she looks up, trying to look at his face.

“You may have control in the trials, but you have no say out here,” she says, her stomach flipping rapidly.

She knows full well he can lift her over his shoulder, could grip her neck with one hand, could break her bones with one squeeze, and yet she tries to hold onto the sliver of hope deep within her chest that maybe this is different.

Maybe everything is different.

She is terrified, mortified, petrified by the thought of the Trapper standing in front of her, but through her shaking legs and her breathy words, she stands her ground.

This is the only way in her mind that she can tell if this is real or not, and she needs to make sure.

She can’t keep wondering.

So despite her heels itching to run away, she stands, looking up at the Trapper who glares down at her, his chest heaving and empty hands twitching as though they are missing the weight of his weapon in his hand.

“You truly have nothing to do with this?” He asks, taking a slight step back and letting go of her arm causing Meg to let out a sigh of relief she didn’t realize she was holding.

If the Trapper realizes this, he makes no move to show that he noticed.

She is thankful.

“Of course not! You monsters killed us day in and day out, if anything all we wanted was to get out! Not to play some sick trick on you!”

She notices he flinched when she said the word ‘monsters’ but she couldn’t care less.

That’s what they were, what they are, there is no denying.

They killed her and her friends for sport over and over again, and she could never forgive them or forgive that.

She even wonders what she is doing still talking to him when she knows she should be running.

Every voice in her head that she knows would be telling her to run, and yet she stays.

She must have a death wish.

Before long the Trapper takes another step back and crosses his arms across his broad chest.

“That mouth of yours is going to get you killed,” he threatens, his voice growling low in his chest.

Meg flinches but stays rooted to the spot.

“We both know you could kill me easily, you wouldn’t need to warn me.”

He remains stoic, the only thing giving away that he isn’t a statue is his chest rising and falling in turn with Meg’s heartbeat.

But almost as quickly as their argument began, he turns and begins to walk away, and much to Meg’s surprise, she yells after him.

“Where are you going?”

He stops yet remains silent.

“Don’t you think…” Meg trails off, not quite sure what she wants to say, how to say it, or even if she should say it.

She has a second chance it seems, so why should she even be in his presence longer than she needs to be?

She knows she should let him go so she can try to get back to some semblance of life, a life that makes sense. But something about this whole situation doesn’t sit right with Meg. It’s like a constant buzzing in the back of her mind so quiet, she can almost tune it out, but yet, through all the noise, there it remains.

“Well?” The Trapper’s low voice breaks her from her thoughts. “Spit it out.”

“Should we really be separated?”

The Trapper says nothing as he turns his head slightly over his shoulder.

“I assumed you would want to get away from me as quickly as you could,” he responds with a slight chuckle before continuing, "as I also tried to get you not to leave what, five minutes ago?".

He was right, Meg knew he was right, so she remained silent, her stomach in knots. He did suggest staying together in a weird way but the way his arm clenched around hers and the venom in his voice when he said that initially sent pure chills down her spine.

She doesn’t want to be with him, but right now, he is the only person, the only thing that could possibly make sense to her.

“You’re not wrong,” Meg admits to him, “but what if this is some trick?”

At that, the Trapper spins around again, his voice growling deep in his chest.

“For the last time-”

“Yeah you say it’s not!” Meg interrupts throwing her hands up in the air. “But I don’t know that for sure! Plus, if it isn’t, shouldn’t we stick together to actually figure out what’s going on?”

The Trapper’s chest heaves up and down as his mouth turns downwards from what Meg can tell.

“Fine,” is all he says while turning around to walk back to the street.

The sickly sweet sinking feeling that settles over Meg almost makes her feel like she's going to be sick as she pushes herself off the wall and walks towards the one person she never would have thought she’d ever want to follow.

They reach the end of the alleyway before he stops dead in his tracks causing Meg to bump slightly into his arm.

Meg begins to ask why're they're stopping before she stops herself as she glances between the Trapper and what he seems to be looking at: the traffic.

Morning traffic is just beginning it seems as a constantly flow of cars pass, all different models and colors and sizes. It doesn't impress Meg much, but after a few beats of silence listening to soft rumbling cars pass them by as rush hour begins, the Trapper finally speaks up.

“Are those….automobiles?” His voice almost sounds a hundred miles away as he speaks. “They look so different.”

“Cars? They look about the same to me,” Meg responds. “Didn’t you ever see them in the trials?”

“Not particularly. Too focused on sacrifices.”

Meg’s stomach drops as she nods slightly. Of course he would only pay attention to his one goal: kill them. It only reinforces that they may have both been stuck in the trials but have had completely different experiences.

“And if I did, I’ve never seen them go so fast,” he whispers so soft, Meg can barely hear.

She peels her eyes from the road and looks up at his masked face that stares straight ahead lost in thought.

Silence passes between them, Meg unsure of what to say. In a weird way, this seems like a very intimate moment for him, and Meg only feels like she’s intruding on something she isn't supposed to see.

So instead of trying to come up with something to say, she rubs her arm and clears her throat.

“So, if we are going to be walking around, shouldn’t you take your mask off?”

The mention of the mask seems to instantly take The Trapper out of his trance as one of his broad hands reaches up to touch his face.

“We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves even more so than we have already,” Meg says, her voice small as she feels she might have crossed a line since he still hasn’t said a word about the mask.

“I don’t need you telling me what to do,” he spits in her direction causing her to recoil slightly.

“Well excuse me for not wanting to get the police called while we walk around,” Meg hisses back defensively. "We barely escaped that once, who knows if it'll happen a second time!"

“We will be fine,” The Trapper snaps back, seeming to get a newfound confidence before walking ahead, effectively ending that conversation.

She stalls slightly watching him take steps onto the sidewalk, his back upright and head held up high displaying his mask, a cruel vision that could easily hide anything else he was feeling.

She knows this is a lot for her, and she can only imagine how much it could be for him to be in a normal setting, so despite Meg’s blood boiling and heart racing, she walks after him concentrating on looking anywhere but directly at him.

They walk in silence for a few minutes as they both seem to observe their foreign surroundings.

The irritation, humiliation, and fear she felt with The Trapper in the alleyway seem to disappear slowly with each step.

The town, or rather street, itself is pretty tiny; a few blocks of shops and restaurants, with two stop lights interrupting the flow of traffic. She doubts this is the only street in town, but for growing up in a small town herself, she feels like this is the highlight of whatever town they are in.

By this time the sun is still low in the sky; its rays begin shining, illuminating shop fronts and reflecting off of passing cars. The thing that truly catches Meg’s attention though is the sharp, bold smell of coffee wafting out of the coffeeshop the two of them pass.

It takes her a moment, the smell like an invisible wall, trapping her in her place.

Instinctively, she breaths in slow and deep, savoring the one smell she thought she’d never experience again.

Being a runner and an athlete, she tried to stay away from caffeine or anything that would impact her ability to truly be in the moment; she got the energy and the rush from running, she didn’t need coffee, but that didn’t mean she didn’t like it on special occasions.

It reminded her of the weekends she would spend waking up early to go on a long run and then coming home to the smell of a big breakfast and coffee, or the times she stayed up way too late with friends so they jogged and got coffee before school, or any of the various times her mom would surprise her with trips to the local coffee shop just because, all flooded in her mind all at once. All the feelings of nostalgia practically cripple her for a moment as she closes her eyes and breathes in deep allowing the smell to encompass her and almost make her feel safe.

She never liked to think about it much at the campfire, resigning herself to the fact that she may never experience the smell or feelings that came with the hot beverage ever again.

But here, right now, she inhales the intoxicating scent letting it overflow her mind.

And now…she wants coffee.

Taking a step towards the coffee shop, he feels a forceful hand clamp her shoulder, jolting her out of her trance.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the Trapper asks, pulling her roughly aside.

The sudden forceful movement causes Meg’s stomach to drop and her heart rate to pick up, adrenaline taking her, her body screaming that she isn’t safe.

Like a scared rabbit, she almost makes a run for it, her mind confusing the fact that the Trapper is front of her, but isn’t actually trying to hurt her.

The Trapper, seeming to pick up on this, lets go of her though slowly and not all at once; he lets his fingers linger a little too long on the edge of her shoulder before letting his arm drop to his side.

“I’m not going to hurt you here,” he says, his voice full of venom and annoyance contradicting his words.

Meg’s frantic eyes look between his hand and his masked face.

Goddammit how she wishes he would just take off the mask like she suggested.

The spiked teeth, the dead eyes, the bloodstained, scratched wood, it all reminds her of torture and blood and pain; something she doesn’t need to be thinking about now that she’s smelling her coffee out in the morning almost believing that she is out of that nightmare for good.

But here she is, face-to-face almost touching one of the monsters who contributed to her torture for a decade.

And he is trying to take her away from the one joy she has left.

“Can you just please take off that goddamn mask already?” she ends up yelling, her voice octaves higher than normal. The jumbled words in her brain a mess, floating around not sure what she quite wants to say, so she settles on the one thing first and foremost on her mind.

She wants coffee, she doesn't know where she is, she wants to go home, she just spent a decade being killed, she wants her friends, she's standing beside her killer...

She knows deep down that attacking his mask once more wasn’t the right response, but it was the one she settles for.

“Just…please…” she almost pleads. She can’t see his expression, she never could anyway, but the way his shoulders slouch slightly and his hands remained at his side, flat, she could assume, or at least hope, that he isn’t mad at the second suggestion about his mask.

Silence passes between them for a minute, as a group of four students pass by them, coffee in hand, coming out of the shop behind them.

Out of the corner of her eye, Meg notices them staring at the two of them, whispering to each other. What they say, she doesn’t know, nor does she particularly care.

The Trapper shifts slightly before turning around and beginning to walk away, once again, without a word.

“Hey!” Meg calls out, stumbling over her feet slightly to catch up to him. “Are you even listening?”

“I’ll take it off when we get to the estate.”

“Estate?” Meg asks. “What estate? Do you even know where you’re going?”

“I know where we are,” he replies, his words clipped and short.

“Well then where are we going?”

Silence answers her question, and even despite that, Meg continues to follow him.

They begin to turn down different streets, pausing every now and then as the Trapper seems to figure out a way to go, but the sheer confidence that is radiating off of him keeps Meg following him without question.

He stops, looks around, looks at the sun, the streets, then decides on a direction.

She has no idea what’s around here, and if the Trapper knows something, then he is better off than she is, and the way he’s acting proves he may know something she doesn’t, so she doesn’t question his ability now.

They continue like this for awhile, Meg losing track of time with the only thing telling that they’ve been walking for awhile is the sun. It is now higher in the sky, burning into her skin.

Multiple times she almost wants to stop and savor this feeling of warmth, safety, and peace that rests on her skin with the warm sun, but she tells herself she’ll have more time for that later.

But in reality, deep down, she knows she just doesn’t want to piss off the Trapper again, not that he’s done anything too horrible, but there’s a part of her that feels like she’s pushing her luck.

She’s not dumb, and she knows how she can be.

Stubborn, or headstrong, or “too much” as some people would like to say as she was growing up. She pushes people, but she always figured the ones who stayed were worth it in the end, but now, she knows he isn’t worth it, but she also knows first-hand what he is capable of.

So instead of questioning, she walks.

In silence.

If this is real, Meg thinks, she will have plenty of time to enjoy the sun, and for right now, she will act as a little duckling and follow the Trapper to wherever he is going.

They turn corners and begin walking down what look like abandoned streets with their boarded up buildings and broken down cars.

A pit begins to form deep in Meg’s stomach, screaming for her to get out, and yet she continues to follow, slightly tripping over her feet.

They continue like this for a few minutes before they are met by more and more trees along the path, making Meg slow her walk.

The way the trees sway in the wind like broken arms, looking only half alive with their wilting branches and dry bark give her an uneasy feeling, much like the creeping tingly feeling that would tickle its way up her spine every time she started a trial. The stillness of the leaves doesn’t make their trek into the woods any easier as the background noise begins to fade.

Here there are no sounds of cars, traffic, or people; the only thing that fills Meg’s mind are the steps the two of them take, and the beating of her own heartbeat like thunder in her head.

As they make their way deeper, the trees, though having no leaves, begin to bend together on each side of the road, encompassing them and stealing away any light that may want to peak through.

Meg’s heart drops. The farther they get into these woods, she realizes, like the Trapper, she knows where she is too.

Though she’s only ever seen this place in the darkness, she knows she isn’t mistaken.

“Why are we in the woods? Macmillan? From the trials?” she asks, stopping and refusing to go any farther, her feet now firmly planted to the ground.

The Trapper stops but doesn’t turn around to face her which almost seems worse in her eyes. His voice is low, wavering, and very much uncertain, though she can’t see his face, she can hear it in the way his voice almost cracks when he talks.

“I told you I knew this place,” he clears his throat, looking straight ahead once more, “It’s the only place I figured I could go.”

Meg’s brow furrows slightly.

“Because of the trials?”

The Trapper lets out a small laugh at this, causing Meg’s body to shiver, the hairs on the back of her neck standing straight up like a startled cat. She almost says something else before he interrupts her thoughts.

“No. My name is Evan MacMillan.”

“What?”

Meg’s heart sinks into her stomach.

“MacMillan, the trials in those woods and in those buildings, those were all a part of my home, where we are close to now. Though, I suppose it’s not my home anymore.”

Meg doesn’t say anything, she simply stands there, eyes wide and heels ready to run.

“I don’t quite know why we are here, or why we were put here, but I knew where we were the instant I got out of those woods.”

A sliver of her mind for a second, a very brief second, wants to go run and tell her fellow survivors, her friends, that MacMillan was actually the Trapper’s map, or as she could call him, Evan’s map.

Through the years, they had found clues, little tokens and charms, and etchings in the metal decorating the trial locations that tell them the name, or at least it gave them something to call it to differentiate the dozens of trial locations from one another.

MacMillan, they thought, or at least Jake and Claudette thought, was a metal company.

She almost smirks thinking that they were wrong about something for once.

Not that she ever wanted to prove them wrong, she couldn’t, but they were always so sure about how right they were, and now she knows something they don’t.

And goddammit, she misses them.

Her stomach twists like a knife was plunged deep into her core as she is taken back to her current situation, not even knowing if she’ll ever see her friends, her family, ever again.

Instead, she is standing here, staring at the Trapper who she just learned is really Evan MacMillan, in the real woods around the real MacMillan maps, without her family and friends to help her.

She never knew she could feel so alone ever again, and yet here she is.

“I can’t be here,” she says, slowly backing away from Evan.

“Suit yourself, you’re the one that wanted to stay together,” Evan responds, his voice now back to normal with no more of the hesitation he exhibited earlier.

“How was I supposed to know you lived here?” Meg hisses, gesturing her hands towards the woods before continuing, “I just wanted to find out where we were…not…” her voice trails off.

“Look, if you just listened-”

“No, I don’t want to listen! At least not to you of all people!” she yells. “I just want things to go back to making sense! I want a logical explanation and to just find out how to get home…”

Evan pauses, though his chest starts heaving up and down once more, reminding Meg too much of how he looked during the trials.

“You talk of things making sense,” he starts quietly, “do you have any idea how much this whole situation, and this world does not make sense to me?”

“Do you honestly think I care?” Meg spits at him, “All you ever did was make our lives a living nightmare! Why would I ever think about how you might feel in all of this?”

Her heart sinks slightly knowing that she crossed a line. It was a line she doesn’t regret crossing, but it was a line nevertheless. They are not the same, and she honestly doesn’t care what he might be feeling. He has been through the same trials she has, but it was different, it has always been different. He did something to deserve that place in the trials, whereas she did nothing but go on a run one day.

It was just a run…

But she can’t think of that now, so she thinks back to Evan.

Nothing could ever compare to what him and the Entity made her and her friends feel over and over and over again for so many years.

He could never imagine.

So instead of apologizing like every fiber of her being is telling her to do, she stands there, nostrils flaring and heart racing, ready for whatever will come next.

“You survivors made our lives just as horrible,” he starts, “you have no idea what we had to deal with, and now I’m here with your incessant attitude.”

“Well now what?,” Meg says, crossing her arms. “We are stuck here together and-”

“You seem to be under the impression that I want you here,” Evan lets out a dry laugh, void of any humor interrupting her. “I never asked you to follow me, nor do I need you here. You may do as you please now that you’re not trapped in a nightmare of my doing any longer.”

“I-”

“If you are going to say one more thing to insult me, I don’t need to hear it. I’m going home. Follow me or not, it makes no difference to me.”

Evan turns from her, continuing on the path through the dense trees.

Does she want to go with him?

Certainly not.

But should she?

Again, she has no idea.

So she stays, glued to the spot, until Evan becomes shadowed by the lack of sunlight and becomes a silhouette being eaten by the trees.

Her throat is dry and her eyes well with tears as she makes her decision and spins on her heels, trudging through the dirt to find her way back to town.

She knows he was right, he didn’t ask for her to follow him, but there was that part of her no matter how much she didn’t want to admit, he was the one thing in this world that was certain.

In the years she knew him as the Trapper, she knew she would see him as he was stuck in the Entity’s world just as much as she was.

And now they are both out in this strange world they have both been gone from for so long, even if his time away was much longer.

Pushing Evan out of her mind, she tries her hardest to retrace her steps from before they got into an abandoned part of town, and back into the busy streets filled with shops and cars and people.

And food.

A hand flies to her stomach as it lets out a loud growl, something she hasn’t felt in a long time.

In the Entity’s realm, they never felt hunger or thirst, or really any natural bodily functions except for sleep. They slept, and they felt fear day in and day out. That was it.

She almost forgot what it was like to feel hungry.

As her eyes scan her surroundings, she finds a bench next to a broken down park across the street, and without another thought, she crosses the road beelining to the bench.

She needs to sit and come up with a plan before losing her mind.

Sit.

Plan.

Find food.

In that order.

As much as she wants to wonder if she would find food with Evan, that thought is pushed from her mind from her current situation.

Evan isn’t here, nor should he be.

It is her, and only her.

It’s not like this is the first time she has been out on the streets trying to find something to eat with no money.

She always managed.

She can manage now.

She reaches the bench that begins to look like a beacon in the growing light of the afternoon, and so she sits.

As she sits, her muscles practically scream in reprieve, and not quite realizing how tired she was, she just decides to close her eyes for just a moment.

Just a moment until she can figure out what to do next.

Chapter Text

“Meg follow me.”

She looked around, blinking away the fog in her mind, trying to get used to her surroundings.

Cornfields.

David stood to her right hunched over slightly as he gestured for her to follow him.

She finally got a moment to gather her thoughts as she looked around orientating herself.  The haunting groans of decaying cows filled her ears as she followed David without another word.

She brought a toolbox this time equipped with a brand new part that shone bright in the moonlight, as well as more cords that would hopefully make her gears in her toolbox last longer.

As the pair worked on the gen silently, they had yet to encounter a heartbeat. Meg breathed out silent praises as the gen started running faster the more they connected wires and parts.

“David?”

He grunted in response.

“Who do you think the killer is?”

He shrugged and wiped off beads of sweat that formed on his forehead.  Meg loved David like a brother, but she always hated starting a trial with him because outside the trials, he was fun and lively but once the trials started, a whole new side came out, and it was one that she never liked to be around.

Or maybe that was the real David and the other was him trying to hide it.  He became rough, mean, and bull-headed.  He was tough, really tough, but it always made Meg realize that she would want to stay as far away from him as possible were they not stuck there together.

So instead of trying to talk, they sprung the generator to life and ran to the next one. 

Beginning to tweak with the gears and wires, they heard the loud metallic sting of a bear-trap being set off followed by an ear-piercing scream from their other survivor, Feng.

David groaned and Meg sighed as the dread of the killer being The Trapper settled over them. 

“My ankle has barely healed from the last time we went against him,” Meg muttered to David, but mostly to herself.  It almost seemed as though the old wound could barely heal up before it was reopened again just a few trials later. 

“How many times do we need to go against this piece of shite lately?” David spat out.  The anger seeped out in his words causing him to rip a wire more violently than he intended.  The generator exploded in front of them, making Meg jump back and shield her eyes from the bright sparks.

“Careful!” she hissed, “I know the traps suck, but the faster we get this done, the less of a chance we will even step in one.”

David ignored her reprimand and went back to trying to make up for their lost progress.  While working, Feng limped over slowly, looking between the two at work.

“David you keep working, I’ll bandage up Feng,” Meg said, pulling out some bandages from her pocket. 

“Thanks,” Feng whimpered.

“Of course,” Meg replied, looking at the now purple and red bloody ankle.  No matter how many times Meg saw the same injury, it never got better.  She took a deep breath as she tried to steady her shaking hands to apply the bandages.  The combination of the bear-trap and slipping her ankle from the trap ended up gouging out chunks of skin, leaving behind a mangled piece of flesh that profusely bled dark red blood. 

The generator lit up and David came to help speed up the process with bandages of his own.  Another generator lit up in the distance right as they finished healing Feng who smiled at them before setting off to find the remaining generator.

David and Meg followed her wordlessly knowing that if the three of them found another one, they could finish it in no time, and have a once in a blue moon trial where Meg didn’t get caught at least once.

“Did the Trapper try to chase you?” Meg asked Feng as they found the last gen they needed.

“No.  I was stuck in his trap for awhile too, but he never came.  It was odd.”

“Yeah, we haven’t heard a heartbeat all game.”

“Neither have I,” Feng responded.

They finished the generator without another word.

Hearing the familiar sound of all generators running and the distant siren that lets them know they doors were now powered were like music to their ears.

Always filling Meg with an extra confidence boost, she sprinted off to the nearest door and with a tug, she pulled the lever down, watching the bright red lights light up in front of her.

“Easy trial,” she laughed to Feng beside her.

The door began to beep, it was almost open!

That was when she heard the heartbeat in her ears for the first time that trial that grew louder than the door, but as the metal groaned, the door opened faster than the Trapper could get there.  Before running completely out to join her friends, Meg looked behind her to see the Trapper standing away from the door, just watching.

Not trying to run at her.

Not setting traps to waste time until they leave.

He simply stood there.

Observing.

As the ground began to glow and crack, Meg knew she needed to leave, so without another backwards glance, she ran out into the woods, leaving the Trapper behind, though she could feel the burn of his eyes long after she ran out of that gate.

———

“Ma’am? Ma’am?” Meg groans slightly as she feels a large hand on her shoulder.  “I need you to wake up.”

She opens her eyes slowly, rubbing them as the bright light of a flashlight pierces her vision even though it’s not even dark yet.

“If you could come with me,” a tall skinny man in a security uniform says, his voice more of a command than a suggestion.

It takes her a second to realize where she is, almost expecting to see one of her fellow survivors hovering over her to tell her about another idea they have or that she might be called to a trial.

“Ma’am you need to get up,” the man demands, his voice becoming deeper and a little more intense.

“I’m getting up,” Meg mumbles, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. 

“Ma’am, you do realize this is a public park?” The stern man questions, still not lowering his flashlight.

“I…” Meg pauses, looking around through one eye open, observing her surroundings.

It takes a moment for her to adjust herself to where she is now.

She’s not in a trial.

She’s not at the campfire.

She’s not with her friends.

And she’s not even with Evan.

She’s alone and she doesn’t know where she is.

“I know it’s a park, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” she decides to say truthfully.

The man takes a moment, looking her up and down for any suspicious signs before lowering his flashlight and reaching into his pocket, pulling out a notebook.

“Is there anything I can help you with, miss? Anywhere I can help you find?”

“I’m not sure-”

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

The accusation makes Meg’s stomach drop and her mind dizzy. 

“No,” she answers. 

She has no idea what this guy wants and for right now, all she wants to is to be left alone to figure out where to go from here, not be berated by some lowly power-hungry security guard.

“Do you mind if I ask where you’re from?” the guard asks.

Meg’s mind fills with excuses, trying to weigh the pros and cons of all choices, though even she doesn’t know what the most inconspicuous answer could be. 

She remembers she’s in Washington…

Issaquah, if she can remember clearly…

So what’s a town in Washington?

“I’m from Seattle,” she answers fast.  “I’m here visiting.”

“Visiting, huh? Well welcome, although this is hardly considered a ‘visit’ from Seattle.”

“Well, I don’t get out here much,” she answers, shrugging her shoulders. 

The guard lets out a chuckle at this and lowers his notepad. 

“I suppose that’s true.  There really is no reason to travel out this far from good ol’ Seattle is there? So what brings you to our small town?”

This is exactly what Meg wanted to avoid by not calling the cops.  As her brain wracks the proper answer, her throat seems to close up, already knowing that if she says something wrong, it could all be too suspicious. 

But then an idea comes to mind.

“I’m doing a report,” she says. “For a class.  It’s on the MacMillan Estate so I figured I could come and learn about this town where the estate is.”

“Oh?” The guard pauses, “Hardly anyone has come around here for that in years.  There are still classes interested in reports on the estate?”

“It’s about historic companies,” Meg blunders.  Rubbing the back of her head she continues, “I don’t know much about it, but I’ve wanted to know more for awhile.”

She hopes her lie is convincing, or at least convincing enough to let the guard let her go and get on with her business.

Her stomach growls again.

A flash of warmth spreads across the guards face as he puts away his notebook and offers a hand out to Meg with a kind smile.

“Here, lets get you something to eat and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about the estate.  I grew up here, I like to think I know a thing or two.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t-”

“Nonsense! If it’s for a school project, what type of lawman would I be to let a young girl flounder her way through town hungry and lacking the knowledge she so seeks?”

Meg lets out an uncomfortable laugh at this.

“Well thank you.”

They walk to a sad, broken down looking parked car with a scratched  ‘security’ decal decorating the side.  Meg shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other unsure if this is even the right thing to do.

‘Don’t go in strange people’s cars.’

‘Don’t talk to strangers.’

‘Always have an exit strategy.’

Her mother’s words echo in her mind as the man opens up the passenger door for her before getting in the driver’s seat.

But then again…she has been in worse situations.

Getting in and fastening her seatbelt, the guard begins talking with a much lighter tone.

“My name’s Matt, by the way,” he says, starting the car and slowly driving away from the decrepit park.

“Meg.”

“Nice to meet you Meg.  So tell me, where is it you’re going to school?”

Her mind goes into overdrive trying to think of any schools in Washington.

Did she apply to any in Washington when she was applying?

She did get a scholarship to one didn’t she?

If only she could remember the name…

“It’s just a small community college in Seattle.  There’s a whole bunch, I don’t need to bore you with the details.”

“Oh nonsense, I appreciate meeting new people, especially when they’re interested in local culture! So where do you go? Bellevue, Shoreline, Seattle Central, North Seattle?”

“Oh, uh, Bellevue,” Meg stumbles out the name hoping that will please him so he can just stop asking her questions. 

‘Always have an exit strategy,’

“I got my associate’s from there! Great school.”

“Yeah, I love it, so anyways, about the estate…”

“So what’s the paper on?" Matt asks, interrupting Meg, "Just so I know what I can help you with." His voice a little quieter after sensing Meg’s hesitance to answer questions about herself.

“Just the history of it.  What did the MacMillans do exactly?” She asks. 

“They had their own mining company that grew into one of the largest mining operations to date in the Pacific Northwest.”

“Ah, I see, so, is it still in operation?”

Matt quiets down and says nothing as he slows down and turns into a parking lot in front of a small brick building that reads ‘Police Station’ in yellowing letters.

“It isn’t,’ Matt speaks up, putting the car into park and shutting off the engine.  “It hasn’t been since the incident some people even call the worst mass murder in the PNW.”

Meg’s stomach drops as her heart feels like it is being tied with a rope squeezing tighter and tighter.

“What caused the accident? What happened?” She asks, her voice cracking slightly.

She asks this, yet she knows.

She doesn’t need to ask.

“Here, lets get you inside, you can take some notes over donuts and coffee,” Matt says, his voice jumping back to its cheerful tone.

The way his moods can jump doesn’t settle well with Meg, and right now all she wants to hear is what happened at the MacMillan Estate.

Then her stomach growls.

With a sigh, she nods and flashes a small smile at Matt, who nods at her back and gets out of the car.

She is hungry and having some free food will be good for her until she can figure out something else.

Plus she will finally get that coffee she was craving earlier, she just wishes she could enjoy it without her nerves eating her up inside at what Matt has yet to tell her.

Deep down, she always knew that the killers did something to deserve being killers in the Entity’s realm.  Her and her friends would like to talk about how they got there and what they were.

Sometimes they’d make a joke out of it.

Other times, not.

David and Ace liked to come up with the most ridiculous stories that always had the group in tears after their dramatic retellings that they would both somehow be telling at the same time.

Though other times, they were not as funny.

The group would try to figure out why the Spirit was cut all over with glass shards protruding from her body that would sometimes fall to the ground if you stunned her with a pallet.

Or why the Wraith was silent, emotionless, and never seemed to like killing, nor did he dislike it.  He always seemed quite passive.

Or if the Nurse and the Doctor were really a nurse and a doctor?

There were all these questions, and they had nothing but time to try and figure out why they were the way they were.

But of course, they never found any answers to their theories, and for all they knew, they could have been human beings just like them that were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of becoming a survivor, they unfortunately were picked for the ‘killer’ team.

Meg never liked to think of that option much because if they were killers before their time there, then they did something to get there.

They deserved to be caught in a hellscape forever, right?

Though she never liked to wish ill on anyone, it was hard to have any sympathy for people who would murder her and her friends every single day.

The sympathy she did have quickly vanished and was replaced by something darker and more sinister deep in her bones.

And now she is here, sitting down with Matt, with coffee and a few donuts in front of her, about to hear about the MacMillan Estate tragedy, and if Evan was behind it all along…

And if he deserved to be taken into the Entity’s realm.

“Cream, sugar?” Matt asks, gesturing to the contents in front of Meg.  Taking a brief second to shake her head no, she grabs the flimsy paper cup filled with steaming black coffee and takes a huge gulp, too excited to wait any longer.

It wasn’t too hot, but it was hot enough letting the warmth spread through her very body, through her limbs and to the tips of her fingers.  The bitter taste of it welcomed her home like an old friend as she closed her eyes and savored the moment.  She takes another sip, grateful that Matt hasn’t interrupted this time, nor has he pointed out that tears have started to form in her eyes. 

He might suspect that the coffee was too hot, and she will let him think that.

Although the police station stale coffee isn’t what she had in mind, she was ecstatic nonetheless to have coffee, one of the things she missed the most.

Setting the cup down and wiping her mouth with her sleeve, she starts on a donut.  Her stomach is thankful.

“You act as though you haven’t had coffee in years,” Matt says with a chuckle.

“You have no idea,” Meg replies through a mouthful of donut. 

“Well, here,” Matt says, giving her a small notepad and a pen.  “You may use this to take down some notes if you want.  Or you can just continue to eat and drink.”

Meg’s cheeks turn a shade of red, as she finishes her donut and clears her throat.

“I think I’m ready for notes actually.”

“Well, jumping right in, Archie MacMillan was the creator of the MacMillan Mining Company, as well as building up the MacMillan name.  He was ruthless and ruled with an iron fist…get it?” Matt smiled at Meg, eagerly awaiting a reaction that she was in no mood to give him, so he continued, visibly deflated.

“Anyways, he was as cruel in his policies as he was cruel to just about everyone around him.  He had a wife, Arlene, and a son, Evan.”

The mere mention of Evan makes Meg’s blood turn cold.  She’s secretly thankful that she’s holding hot coffee to help ground her. 

“As he grew older, his policies became even more strict, so his workers began wanting to unionize which didn’t settle too well with good ol’ Archie.  Now this was never confirmed, but some say he began killing them then and there, taking the more outspoken ones and tossing them into the cast iron smelters in the foundry.”

Meg slammed her coffee cup on the table.

“That’s inhumane! How was he even allowed to do that?”

Matt chuckles and shrugs.

“It is just how it was back then.  They could get away with a lot of stuff that wouldn’t fly now.  One missing person every now and then wasn’t a priority.”

“Well if it’s not in operation now, he must have gotten caught right? Thrown in jail?” Meg asks, her mind buzzing.  Maybe that was why the Entity picked Evan, right? He didn’t do anything particularly wrong, but he had his father’s genes to be a killer?

She doesn’t know what would make her feel better to hear in this exact moment though.

“No,” Matt sighs as he leans back in his chair, “He recruited his son to be a part of the family business and he taught him everything he knew, the good and bad.  From a strictly business standpoint, he was an amazing business man, but a horrible human being.”

Meg nods slowly along with his words, “So Evan MacMillan took over the company?”

“Technically, yes, but his father was still the head of it, so when Archie MacMillan had an idea, his son would abide by what he had to say, which lead to the mass murder in the mines.”

“What happened there?” Meg’s stomach is churning by now and she regrets drinking so much coffee so fast as it threatens to come back up.

“The workers grew more and more rebellious, which was understandable, but the MacMillans weren’t having it, so Evan lead them down into the mines and blew it up.  Boom.  More than a hundred people killed in an instant.”

It was like a punch in the gut.

She knew he was evil, she knew it, but to simply murder people because they wanted a fair working environment?

“Speechless huh? Well, here’s the weirdest part,” Matt continues, leaning forward as though he’s telling Meg a juicy secret.  “People thought it was Archie MacMillan’s idea to kill his workers out of some weird mental breakdown, but when help reached the estate, Archie’s body was found locked in the basement, rotting away.  He died from starvation.  So all things point to his son, Evan MacMillan, who disappeared and was never seen again.”

Meg thinks back to the trials, and she almost wishes she could go back in time to where she didn’t know how evil Evan really was.

They could have their impossible theories, but knowing his actual history is so much worse.

He deserved everything he got in the trials and in the Entity’s realm.

He deserved every goddamned thing.

“Cool, huh?” Matt says, his face alight with joy.  “I mean, not that people died, but it’s a pretty interesting piece of history.  That happened in what used to be Weeks, Washington, and Issaquah was founded around it.  After the tragedy, the town was abandoned for awhile until people wanted to resettle here as Seattle continued to grow.  And now here we are.”

“Is the estate still there?” Meg asks, ignoring his joyful attitude that was beginning to grate on her nerves.

“It’s still there, though no one goes up there anymore except for the occasional group of teenagers on a dare.  It’s weird though.  It’s been abandoned for over a hundred years, and yet it still is there.  It has never decayed or collapsed.  It’s probably dusty as hell, but it is still in relatively livable conditions, though no one in their right mind would ever stay there.”

Meg clears her throat as she stands up.  She stuffs the notepad he gave her in her jacket pocket and looks around.

“Well thank you for your time, Matt.  I really think I need to be going though,” Meg says, her voice curt.

She found out all she needed to know and being around this man who told this story with such joy is almost too much for her.  She needs to figure out where to go from here, not be around someone who takes pleasure in the death of so many people, history or not.

“Ah, yes, I suppose you’re now eager to get to work on that paper right?” Matt says, standing up and gesturing Meg towards the door.

“Oh, uh, yeah.  I got all the information I need, thanks.”

“My pleasure.  You do have a place to stay here, right? I’m not going to see you asleep on any more benches in the abandoned part of town am I?”

“Yup! Have a place to stay, no more benches for me.” The word flies out of Meg’s mouth like a bullet. 

“Well, it was a pleasure, Meg. Good luck on your studies,” he says, placing a hand on her shoulder and giving it a slight squeeze.  “Just be careful, a small town like this has a way of scaring off outsiders.”

Meg’s skin crawls at the touch.  Shivering at his words, she flashes an uneasy smile and without another word she practically bolts out of the police station feeling like the air was becoming too thick and too heavy.

She needed air, and every fiber of her being was on fire the more time she spent in that tiny office with Matt.  She couldn’t exactly tell why, but there was something about him that she couldn’t place, but she didn’t feel comfortable being in there listening to him talk about the tragedy of the MacMillan Estate.

And those last words, what did they even mean?

When she is certain she is a few blocks away from the station, she doubles over, her heart pounding and ears buzzing.

She feels like someone is gripping her heart and squeezing tighter and tighter, making the world spin too fast and the air disappear.

She can’t breathe, she can’t think…

Oh god what is she going to do…

“Hey!”

No, not that voice…

“I was looking for you.”

She opens her eyes and blinks a few times, the sheer panic in her chest settling slightly, but not completely.  Still hunched over with her hands on her knees, she looks up to see Evan standing across the street.

Without waiting to see if she would run or not, he bolts into the street, walking as fast as he can towards her, reminding her of how he would walk in the trials - full of intense purpose.

She stands up slowly, her heels already itching to run, but she won’t run this time.  He had his chance to hurt her earlier, all she can hope for is that he hasn’t changed his mind.

Especially since he was a killer even before the Entity took him.

Halfway across the road, the screech of a car slamming on its breaks echo through the street as the driver lays on her horn at Evan, who doesn’t even seem to react to the distressed driver.

“Look before you cross the street next time, asshole!” The driver yells from her window before she speeds off again.

Meg looks between Evan and the car even though his eyes never leave her until he is squarely in front of her.  Despite his determination, and almost accident-causing nature, he says nothing as he merely observes her trying to regain her composure.

“What do you want?” Meg asks when it’s clear that he wasn’t going to say anything to start the conversation.

“I felt it unfair of you to leave earlier.  I know you have no place to stay, nor do you have any means of surviving out here.”

Meg lets out a small laugh.

“I’ll be fine,” she replies, taking in a deep breath and looking away from him.  “I’ll figure it out.  I don’t need you to be wondering where I am.”

“No, you won’t be fine,” he says matter-of-factly.  Before Meg can say anything otherwise he continues, “Not that it would be an ideal situation for either of us, you may come say at the estate should you choose.  I didn’t quite give you the option earlier.”

“Why would you even want me there?”

“I don’t.  But you said it yourself, if this is real, it could be beneficial of us to figure out what is going on and where to go from here if we were together.”

Meg looks away, not wanting to look at his mask as he talks to her.  The juxtaposition of his deep voice coming from the once silent Trapper makes her feel uneasy, and now that she knows there really is no difference between the Trapper and Evan MacMillan, she has no idea how she could be in the same room as him, alone.

But if she could see what Evan MacMillan looked like, maybe she can learn who he is, or was. 

Taking a deep breath, she mentions the one question she hates to ask again, but feels like it’s the only way she can begin to even continue a conversation with him.

“You’re right,” she starts, crossing her arms across her chest, “But if we are going to be working together to figure it out, I need you to take off the mask.”

Unlike the first time, he remains stoic. 

“With the mask, you’re the Trapper, not Evan MacMillan, and I need to not see that mask that makes up so many of my nightmares.”

His breathing remain steady.

Calm.

His shoulders even relax slightly as he looks at her.  She has no idea what he could be thinking, but a small fire lights in her chest knowing that he hasn’t yelled or gotten angry yet.

For a moment, she wonders if he even heard her, but as soon as she was about to ask again, he reaches two fingers under his grotesque smiling mask and pulls it over his head.

He grips the wooden mask in his hand so tight, his knuckles turn white, as he looks away from Meg.

His face is hard and stern, almost how she pictured when Matt told her his history.  There are firm lines around his mouth and eyes from years of work and stress, as well as various scars across his cheek and chin.  He looks older than she imagined.

Despite the scars and lines from age, though, Meg manages to catch a glimpse of his eyes, a deep forest green.

He is not bad looking, Meg thinks, but this isn’t the time nor the place to be thinking that, so as soon as the thought enters her mind, she shoves it deep down, hopefully never to resurface again.

Swallowing hard, she nods slightly at him.

“How does that feel?”

He takes a deep breath, and turns from Meg.  He is still squeezing the mask so tight, she almost thinks he might break it in half.

“Are you going to follow me to the Estate or are you going to continue to be stubborn and fend for yourself?”

Meg scowls, almost tempted to argue, but he’s right.  She can’t fend for herself, not like this, not knowing where she is or how she will even begin to get…home.

Home seems like such a foreign word…is there even a home for her to go back to?

“Fine.  I’ll follow you,” Meg ends up agreeing though there is no power behind her words.

As they begin to walk, all she can think about is what Matt told her.

The mining operations…

The poor employees who only wanted to be treated fairly…

The ones that were burned alive before the massacre…

And then the ones that were buried beneath rubble to be forgotten…

This was all him.

She looks up at Evan as they walk.  He may not be wearing the mask now, but he always was a monster, and now all she can do is find a way out quick before she falls prey to him once more.

Over the years, dying fell lower and lower on the list of worst things that could happen to her, but now that she thinks she is out in the real world, she doesn’t particularly have a death wish yet.

What would all of this have been for if she were to die permanently in the hands of someone who has killed her hundreds of times already?

She loses track of time as they continue to walk in silence for what almost seems like an eternity.  Her feet begin to ache and send piercing waves of pain up her legs with every step as they keep walking, but she isn’t going to complain, not in front of Evan, and not to herself.

They begin their descent into the familiar woods that she has seen hundreds of times and it takes everything in her to remain calm knowing that she is really here, in the woods, with Evan MacMillan.

They walk for a little longer, Meg taking deep breaths as she eventually has to look at the ground in order to keep going.  The very feeling of being in the woods is enough to suffocate her.

Evan makes no note of her distress, nor does Meg want him to.

They just need to keep going until they reach the estate.

Soon though, Evan begins to breath quicker and deeper beside her mirroring how Meg feels.

He still walks as though nothing is wrong, but his posture slouches slightly and the hand that grasps his mask is almost pure white.  She almost could of sworn she sees small blood trails leading from his hand down the wood from him squeezing so tight, but she looks away quickly.

She shouldn’t care.

So she walks.

“Well,” Evan begins as they walk through some more trees before entering a clearing with a magnificent house standing before them, “here we are.”

Meg is speechless, not only due to the fact that she is here, going to stay in a house with him, but also how the house itself looks. 

Three stories high and in almost immaculate condition, this house still stands.  There is a wrap around porch out front that Meg almost has to laugh at; Evan MacMillan would grow up in a huge house with a wrap around porch, and yet he turned out to be a monster.

The off-white house stands ominous before them as he takes in a shaky breath before walking forward.

“Have you gone inside yet?” Meg asks, the question even catching her off guard.

“No.”

“Oh, what have you been doing all this time?”

“After we parted ways, I walked all this way, saw it was still standing, then went to go find you.”

“Why were you trying to find me? I wanted to be left alone,” Meg hisses, looking away from him and the house.

“Well pardon my manners for finding you and letting you stay here rather than on the sidewalk somewhere,” Evan spits back.

Meg can’t argue, nor does she admit that he’s right.

She walks forward a few steps, trying to gather the courage to go inside.

The house almost reminds her of many of the fake houses she saw in her time during the trials, but this was much bigger…and she hoped there wasn’t a basement.

She reaches the emerald-colored front door that has a ridiculously large brass door knocker on it.  Running her hands along the doorframe, she imagines the type of houses she wanted when she was little.

This would have been a dream.

Now…not so much.

“Well go on, open the door,” Evan says from behind her, making her jump.

“Jesus Christ, don’t come up on me like that!” Meg turns around, yelling at him.

He looks down at her without moving his head, making her shrink slightly away, feeling dumb.  But she puffs our her chest and takes a deep breath.

She’s not in the wrong here.

She knows it.

“Well then move so I can go in,” Evan says, almost shoving her out of the way ungraciously.

He opens up the door, letting the old smell of dust and decay penetrate Meg’s nose.

Matt wasn’t joking when he said that there would be dust here.  From what she can see, everything is covered in inches of dust and cobwebs, but it is all there.

As they walk in, she sees wooden bookshelves, lined with books, old ancient looking furniture, and more paintings than they had room for on the wall.

Meg regains her composure as Evan bellows in front of her and stomps into a room to her left. 

Not sure what to do or where to go, Meg follows Evan.

“This is the kitchen,” he mumbles looking around as he continues to walk introducing various rooms to Meg who timidly walks behind him as she assumes this is some sorry excuse for a tour. “This is the dining room. One bathroom. The study, don’t go in there-“

“Why not?” Meg interrupts him as they pass what Evan pointed out as the study. It almost amuses her that he already is forbidding her from going somewhere as though he has something to hide that she doesn't already know. 

He clears his throat and his hands twitch so his side which Meg catches on immediately as she backs away a few steps.

After a few beats of silence, Evan speaks up although his voice is gruff.

“I told you do not go in there, plain and simple.  I have asked you one thing, just....listen for once.”

“One thing?” Meg practically scoffs, “You have asked me one thing after what? After years of killing me and yet you want me to listen to you for one thing?”

Evan turns to Meg slowly, her confidence dropping with every passing second that he says nothing. 

His green eyes meet her blue as he stares at her, the side of his mouth twitching almost in time with his hand.

“You know…I have been trying to be patient,” he starts, his voice low, “I have been trying to be patient ever since I saw you across that street this morning but I will not sit here and be berated by you at every turn!”

The sheer volume of his words grow with each syllable, making Meg shrink slightly.

“I am aware of what I did during those trials and I have come to have to live with those actions, so I have been patient with you, but enough is enough!”

“Well what about those people in the mines, huh?” Meg explodes back.  

“What- how did you-”

“You have been a monster way before you met me, Evan.  You have always been a monster, and you being ‘patient’ with me won’t change your horrendous actions that you have displayed your entire life.”

“Oh? Do you want me to agree that you’re right? Would that make you happy?” He yells, punching the doorframe beside him, causing a sickening crack to echo through the hallway,  “I was not raised to have a comfortable life, nor was I ever a decent person.  I tried at times, and yet…here we are.”

Meg, stunned by the admission, stands still, debating whether to walk away.  What is she even doing here? What does she want to gain?

“And do you want to know the twisted part of it all?” Evan continues taking a step towards her.  They’re so close now, she has to crane her neck to see his face as he looks down at her, his mouth turned up to the side as though he’s sharing a funny joke. His voice drips with malice as he continues, “You may have grown up differently, and yet we ended up in the same situation, trapped with no escape.  Actions don’t matter while you’re alive, not here anyway.  They never did.”

With that, Evan finally takes a step back, letting Meg regain her composure before she turns into a trembling mess at his words. 

She had nothing to say for once, reminding of the few times her mother or her coach called her out on her reckless behavior.

No one ever tried, and as much as she didn’t want to admit it, Evan had a point.

He was a monster.

All she did was go for a run, and yet they ended up in the same world they thought they’d be trapped in for eternity.

Maybe nothing does matter…

“You can stay in the room behind you,” Evan gestures vaguely over her shoulder towards the upstairs as he breaks eye contact, forcing her to come back to reality.

Her eyes never leave him though, not after that display.  They may be out of the trials, but now she knows he can be just as cruel.  Her eyes dart over to the cracked wooden frame for just a split second before staying glued to him once more as he speaks. 

“I’ll try to find something for dinner,” he says, turning away from her and walking back downstairs, leaving Meg alone once again, worse off than she ever could have imagined.

 

Chapter Text

Evan was four the first time his father raised a hand to him.  He remembers it as clear as day.

The pain.

The betrayal.

But what impacted him the most was the realization on what his father truly was.

Before that day, he idolized his father as he seemed almost larger than life.  He was a business man, had a beautiful wife, and seemed to know the answer to every question Evan ever asked of him.

To a child such as Evan, Archie MacMillan was a god, but soon he found out gods can also be cruel.

If only he had known just how much worse some gods can be.

---

As soon as Evan wakes up in the woods after that last trial, his spine tingles and chest feels heavy as he looks around, knowing exactly where he was.  It wasn’t from the years of hunting and tracking, no, it was because this is where it happened.

These were the woods where his father told him about his mother’s death however long ago it must be by now.  Through the years spent with the Entity, it never let him forget this day, as it played it in his mind and through his nightmares the occasional times he would find sleep.

He remembers the way his father looked past him towards the trees as he spoke.  There was no remorse, grief, or even a hint of sadness in Archie’s voice as he said those words that truly broke something in Evan that day.

“Your mother is dead.  It’s best you forget about her.  Nothing good ever came from having women around.”

Afterwards, while barely giving Evan time to process that his mother, his beautiful, caring, doting, protecting mother was gone, his father made him catch and kill a deer with his own hands.

They were there for hours setting traps, just so Evan could watch as a young deer stepped into one of the sharp claws and then thrash around knowing this is the end.  Archie expected Evan to approach it and stab it in its neck, giving it some sort of release.

“There is nothing like killing something with your bare hands.”

It was a slow and agonizing death for the deer which seemed to please his father but only made Evan’s stomach twist violently.

But he knew he couldn’t show any weakness in front of his father, nor did he want to.

This is a man’s duty, a man’s job after all.  He should be strong, like his father.  But he’s weak, and his father never missed a chance to tell him.

So he killed the deer, letting it bleed out while they watched it slowly give up fighting for its life.  When the kicking stopped and the mewls of pain got quiet, his father did the one thing Evan strived for his whole life: he gave him a firm pat on his back, looked at him, and nodded.  It was just one simple nod but it meant the world to Evan.  Getting the praise or approval of Archie MacMillan was rarer than any of the precious gems they found in the mines, and so Evan began to live his life chasing that high he felt when his father finally nodded at him.

As a young boy, he was always eager to help, to please, and to listen to what his father had to say, hoping that one day his father would tell him he was proud.  One day he could be like him.

Soon after his mother died though, this idea, this unquestioning loyalty began to twist into something else so slowly even Evan didn’t realize how he was acting until one day, a fleeting thought crossed his mind.

It was such a quick idea that was lost to the wind almost as quickly as he thought it…but it was there nonetheless, leaving a permanent black stain on his soul.

He was going to kill his father.

He shoved that thought so deep inside him, he cried that night for the first time in years, he cried for even thinking such a thing. 

You cannot kill a god.

So instead, he began to draw and paint as an act of defiance.  It was nothing big, but the act itself, knowing that his father would disapprove, was something he could keep within him knowing that he was doing something…anything.

But in reality, he knew it was to keep the other darker thoughts from surfacing again.  He often thought about the deer and how it felt to kill it, knowing it was completely at his mercy.

He didn’t want to kill it, but the deed was done…and he wanted more.  He wanted something else to be completely at his mercy…

But that is something he could never do.

So he drew.

Unfortunately, the more he drew, the more ideas came to mind about who his father truly was.  People disappeared here and there; Evan thought nothing of it.  It was almost normal in their business of mining, but then one day he began drawing a picture of his mother.

“Your mother is dead.”

Archie said his mother died while going for a swim one day, but Evan knew her better than he ever did, he knew that, and the one thing he was positive about is that Arlene MacMillan hated water.   She stayed as far away from it as possible, always staying around the house and in town, or occasionally finding little nooks and crannies in the forest to sit under to read or write.

So why was she out swimming? Evan always tried to push this from his mind until he started drawing her, and before he knew it, he drew his father drowning his own mother and when he sat back to fully take in the entire picture, he almost felt nothing at all.

Maybe his father was getting to him.

That was until Archie himself found the picture and ended up framing it above his bed like a prized trophy.

What once could pass as a fatherly act of being proud of his son’s talent was then tainted by the pure malevolence that his father exuded as he smiled down at his son.

He knew what he was doing.

He admitted to killing his mother, and Evan was now powerless against anything.

So he said nothing as he turned away, never to touch paint or to draw again.

A week later, after he watched his own father brutally torture and murder five of his employees, he took Evan out into the woods again.

“You have to keep them in line.  You have to be tough and not show any weakness like you do now.  They’ll walk all over you.”

Evan walked along saying nothing.  He knew he was right, but there was something deep inside him that couldn’t get himself to voice his agreeance.  They walked in silence, rifles, knives, and bear-traps in hand, always hunting bears, but as soon as they reared a hill, Evan saw a man tied to a tree.

“Now is a time where you can finally prove yourself.  Take that step into becoming a man who means business.”

As the tied up man saw them, he let out a scream muffled by the wet and bloody gag that was tied around his face.  Tears stained his bloodshot eyes as they darted around like a mad man’s would, looking for an escape, any escape.

Evan’s stomach sank.  He looked between the bear-trap and the man, then to his father who stared at the tied up man as though he were nothing but dirt on his shoes.

“He was the one who sold you out, you know.  I know you were working with them to try and unionize.  He sold you out for a couple extra bucks.  Show him how the MacMillans deal with disloyalty.”

---

Evan closes his eyes, trying to forget the memory.  He looks around, noticing how the woods never changed.  He became someone completely different and yet, nature always stayed. 

As he looks around trying to figure out exactly what direction to go, he could almost see the man tied up to a nearby tree, or the way his father smiled down at him as he made the poor man beg and plead for his life.

He even remembers the exact spot he left the poor man after he bled out and had chunks of flesh missing from various parts of his body once Evan and Archie were done with him.  The spot was beside a half broken decaying tree, but there were flowers blooming nearby that Evan thought the man would have liked.

He remembered having long talks with this man…

He liked flowers.

Evan starts walking in a direction, not quite remembering how to get back, but knowing this was close enough.  As he walks, his mind can’t help but think this is another cruel trick by the Entity.  The Entity was always learning, always changing, and it was about time that he finally got a hold of one of the memories Evan kept buried deep inside him.

He knows he will come across his little shack on the edge of the Estate.  In the Entity’s realm, he made a separate shack to stay in, as he always refused to stay in the actual home itself that the Entity prepared for him.  It wasn’t real, and he wasn’t welcomed in it.  So now his only option is to walk.

Before long,  he sees small tracks in front of him.  They aren’t from an animal, they are from shoes.  Small feet, a woman’s…and the way they were spread apart suggests she was running.

Running from what?

He picks up his pace slightly following whatever tracks these could be, wondering if a survivor found their way too deep in the forest.

This isn’t a place for them to be, and although he has no idea what he would even do if he were to find one of them, he knows they shouldn’t be out this far.

It was part of an unspoken rule, they stayed near the campfire, and the killers stayed around in the woods in their own areas.

But as he follows the tracks, he also notices the trees start to open up and grow thinner revealing a light blue sky with wisps of orange and pink.

That was never normal in the Entity’s realm.

So he follows the tracks with more vigor and determination than he ever felt tracking something before.

Whose tracks do these belong to?

With his head down, he stumbles slightly onto pavement, not quite realizing that he fully made it out of the woods.

But while looking around, he doesn’t recognize anything. 

There are strange looking automobiles sitting on one end of the lot, but they were like nothing Evan had ever even dreamed of.

As much as his body and his mind wanted to stay and try to figure out what they were, he knew he needed to move.  He doesn’t have time to stand there and try to figure that out by himself.

For all he knew, this could still be a trick of the Entity’s, and it wouldn’t be the first time that he felt some small grain of hope only to be taken away in an instant.

But there is something different about this that he can’t quite place.

To start with, he is wearing the same suit he wore when he killed so many people…

On top of that, everything looks so real.  For someone who spent a lot of time in the woods, this feels so much different than what he got accustomed to in the trials. 

Over the years, he began to forget what real trees looked like and what real wind felt like.

Or what real birds sounded like.

He lets the music of various bird songs fill his mind for a minute, just a minute, until he proceeds on.

Sure, there were crows in the trials, but nothing as beautiful as birds practically singing.

Coming around a corner, he comes upon a street he knows quite well, although it looks so much different than it did.

Downtown Weeds, if he’s not mistaken.

The General Store was to his left, as well as the butcher, then the florist was to his right.

He stares at these places, transported to another time as his legs, getting a mind of their own, begin walking.

But once he approaches the general store, he notices everyone else around.

The clothes, the sounds, the smells…

Nothing is the same, and everything is…

Where is he?

What is happening?

Turning around, about to head back into the woods away from noises Evan can’t even begin to place, that’s when he sees her, the red head from the trials, Meg, he often heard survivors call her.  She stands on the other side of the street like a scared rabbit about to bolt at any sign of movement.

He stares at her, grounding himself, drowning out any sounds around him, afraid if he makes any sudden movement, she would sprint away, and in this town, in this strange time… he feels like he would never be able to find her again.

So he waits as he stares at her.

He remembers the first time he saw her, her fiery red hair in messy braids blowing behind her as she ran across the map, oblivious to him lurking in the shadows.

The grace she exuded when she ran, she was so soft and gentle, yet she had power behind each step, it put him into a trance.

No other woman had ever caught his eye like she had, but he knew at once that the Entity would never allow such a thing, or even such thoughts.

And as cruel and heartless as the Entity was, he wasn’t fast enough.  It knew, and it made sure that Evan suffered for it.

For many trials after that, Meg was what some killers nicknamed ‘the obsession’, meaning if they attacked her first, or attacked her more, the Entity would provide them with some assistance in order to kill of them faster and more efficiently. 

He knew it was the Entity’s way of saying that it knew the forbidden thoughts he had about her at first; it was a fitting punishment.

But then again, he much preferred this over the Entity coming to him as his father, and torturing him in the most unimaginable ways as it had done so many times before.

When he tried to spare her, like he did a few times, the Entity, disguised as his father, would take him aside, and twist his bones, turn his blood into acid, light unyielding fires across his skin, pierce more metal permanently into his skin.

He quickly learned that she was not to be spared, or thought of in any way, and even the thought of her made his body go into overdrive remembering how the Entity, or his father, hurt him, he knew he couldn't look at her any differently.  She was a survivor.  That is it.  He quickly learned to shove any thoughts aside of the redhead and continued to do his job.

His duty.

He was a business man after all.

He had a job to do and he was going to do it well.

But here she is, and every bone in his body knows that they aren’t in the Entity’s realm anymore.

The whispering from the Entity is gone for once, and now all he knows is that he’s out.

But where is he?

As he stares at Meg, she doesn’t move, so he nods slowly, wondering if she will run, and if she wants to, now is her chance.

She stays grounded to the spot.

So he crosses the road, focused on her ignoring all the foreign lights and sounds and cars around him.

But as soon as he gets face-to-face, she runs.

---

Evan doesn’t watch as she runs away the second time from him once they reach the woods.  To be honest, he was surprised that he got this far with her, as he expected her to either never follow him to begin with, or go kicking and screaming at his suggestion earlier that they should not be separated.

But he also discovered that she was also so…aggravating.

He truly should have known that she would have a temper, and he feels like a fool not to expect as such.  As soon as she suggested him taking off his mask in the alleyway after their yelling match, he knew this wasn’t going to work out. 

He was used to telling other people what to do, and the only person who ever told him what to do was his father.

He can’t be weak.  He can’t have some woman telling him what to do.

No.

It is probably for the best that they part ways.  He can figure things out on his own, and she should be capable enough…

Right?

No - he isn’t going to think about it. 

So he walks.

He walks without looking back as he feels her eyes burning into the back of his skull.

He just needs to get a little bit further until she won’t be able to see him anymore, and he won’t have to worry about her.

Before long, he feels the weight of being alone once more though it is something he became accustomed to long ago in the Entity’s realm.

So he walks, trudging through the familiar woods praying to whatever deity there is left that the house he is looking for won’t be standing.

An odd feeling settles over him though as he walks.  Remembering all the pain, the screams of the innocent people he -

He can’t think about it.

He can’t think about his father and his rules, the strict way of growing up without his mother to protect him, the beatings, the way he could never be enough, and the way that he discovered he was just like his father in his business habits.

His mind goes to where this all happened: at the Estate.  He walks, though somewhere in the back of his mind, even though he knows he doesn’t want the house to be standing and he most certainly doesn’t know if he could even go inside, part of him wants to know if it is there because where else would he go?

Anywhere is better than there, he tells himself, but from the slight glimpse he saw of the world now…he can’t be back in 1889.  How could he ever begin to live on his own without a house to come back to?

Swallowing any doubts he started to let himself think, he suddenly comes to a clearing seeing the house he wished would be a pile of ash, but, like always, it stood a haunting vision taunting him in all of its glory.

“Let’s get this over with,” he mutters to himself, his mind willing him to move forward towards the abandoned house, but his feet stay rooted to the spot.  Can he really go in there?

He should.

He has to.

And yet…

His mind wanders back to Meg. 

‘Should we really be separated?’

He sighs thinking back to their last encounter.  She really has no place to go, and it could be beneficial if they stayed together. 

He tries to think if he could live with himself if he got her killed by letting her wander away again.

But then another voice in his mind laughs at that thought.

He has been killing her for years, and she wastes no time telling him that, so her only enemy out here is him.

But he doesn’t want to hurt her here; he doesn’t want to hurt anyone anymore. 

Goddammit, well now he has to go look for her again.  If she would have just stayed with him and not ran away, they could go in together, and now here he is, cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Taking a deep breath and turning from his childhood house, he goes back through the woods, truly wondering if he wants to find her, or if he just doesn’t want to go inside his own nightmare alone.

 

Chapter Text

“You can stay in the room behind you,” Evan says, gesturing vaguely to a door upstairs before he turns the corner, leaving her alone once again.

“I’ll go find something for dinner,” he says as he is around the corner, and honestly she has no idea if he said it to her or just to himself, but she doesn’t care.  She doesn’t dare to follow him now, not after that, so she takes a few steps backwards making sure that he wasn’t going to come back before she turns around and bolts upstairs.  At least she has the stairs to separate them…

Not that she thinks he will do anything.

He has had plenty of chances to hurt her and she has pushed him probably one too many times too, and yet, she still can’t tell her heart to stop racing and her nerves to stop feeling like they’re on fire.

So she swings opens the door to the room she assumes he was talking about, locking it behind her.

Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she slowly sinks to the ground as it takes everything in her not to let the tears from the last twenty-four hours break like a dam and come flooding out.

Everything has changed and she has no idea if it’s better or worse now.

Though she knows it’s irrational to think that everything is worse now, she can’t tell her mind to shut up.

Nothing can be worse than being killed every single day in horrific ways…

But at least she had her friends.

She knew where she was.

She knew what to do and what was expected of her.

She knows it’s ridiculous, but she can’t help but feel that sting of missing the campfire that rests deep in her chest.

Clearing her throat and opening her eyes, she takes a deep breath and stands up observing her surroundings.  There is a four poster bed sticking out from the wall to her right, and a bookcase filled with books to her left.

‘How many books can one family have?’

Across from her is a giant window that lets in the growing moonlight illuminating everything around her. 

The walls are decorated with more paintings that Meg can’t quite make out in the dark.  She is thankful though for the rugs that decorate the floor, keeping the room a little bit warmer than the rest of the house when she walked in.

As she walks over to the bed she thinks about what Evan said.  He claims he was never a decent person…but there’s something about him that Meg can’t quite put a finger on.

Any horrible person wouldn’t want to come and find her and invite her to stay after how she acted towards him, whether he deserved it or not. 

But why did he come back? He said he felt bad for not giving her the option, but why would he care to begin with?

She figures that it would be easier to simply ask him, but after what just happened, the very thought of being face-to-face with him right now sends waves of panic through her whole body.  But then again, if she truly gets to know him and brings him out of his angry little murderous shell, maybe she can see a different side of him.

She could almost laugh at the absurd thought of it all.

Getting to know Evan MacMillan, the Trapper, as though he deserves any sort of human decency now…

But she is stuck here with him, and maybe understanding something about him will help her not be so goddamn angry at him all the time.

That is if he would even let her get to know anything about him.  Thinking of how horrible he has been since they saw each other across that street, she knows this isn’t going to work out by just going and talking.

She needs this to work.

Being back in the real world, having a real chance at life now…she has no idea what she will do if it doesn’t.

In some weird, disturbed way, within twenty-four hours, Meg has come to rely on the idea that she is out, and Evan is here with her.

She is not the only one that is confused about the times and where she is, and just knowing that she’s not alone in her absolute abandonment makes her being here with him, or just someone, almost okay.

She just needs to make sure it will stay that way.

Though she isn’t jumping up and down excited for the idea of trying to get to know him, at least it will be something that won’t seem so horrifying in this new world they are both stuck in.

Pushing those thoughts from her mind, she scowls and looks down at the state of the bed.  How does someone even get dust off of a comforter? Instead of taking the obvious route of gingerly wiping it off, Meg starts wiping the comforter with all the power she has, trying to get every single piece of dust off. 

Going into a coughing fit at the sudden onslaught of dust filling her lungs, her scowl deepens as she sits down, a cloud of dust settling around her.

She doesn’t have time for this.

So she lies down anyways, her skin itching and crawling from the dust settling and the dust she didn’t quite get off the comforter.

Instead of being disgusted, she tries to think of the positives.

This is the first time she has been able to sleep on a bed in nearly ten years, and at least it is sort of comfy.

It could be worse…she could be sleeping on another bench.

As she closes her eyes, she hopes maybe a nap will give her the courage to actually talk to Evan, the real Evan, and not have it turn into a horrible fight once more.

---

Meg doesn’t know how long she’s asleep for but when she rolls over and opens her eyes, the moonlight seems even brighter as it is almost directly above the house in the sky, a taunting vision reminding her of how the moon always looked in the trials.

Bright and exposing.

Rays from the moon illuminate the specks of dust in the air as they shine casting weird shadows across the bed that makes Meg’s mind whirl.

She has to close her eyes and concentrate on breathing as the moon brings back haunting images of meat hooks, blood, and absolute agony.

She’s not in a trial.

She doesn’t need to run for her life.

There are no generators around.

There are no brick walls.

No exit gates.

She’s not going to be killed, hopefully.

She concentrates on the silence that is so quiet, it makes her ears ring, but she doesn’t mind.

She doesn’t even remember the last time she was in a place this quiet.

There was always something, some fire, or generator, or screams…

But she’s not there anymore.

And although she’s here with the Trapper - no - Evan, she is safe for now.

As she spends a few minutes breathing and listening to the nothingness of the room, she thinks back to her time in the Entity’s realm as a way to try and separate herself.

She isn’t there anymore.

She just got sleep, which is amazing to her.

While in the Entity’s realm, she was never able to sleep more than a few hours at a time, and although she assumes that aspect of sleeping wouldn’t change overnight, literally, the fact that she had uninterrupted sleep means there is a change.

She is okay.

She will be okay.

Deciding to get up as her frazzled nerves and rapid breathing calms down, she swings her feet so they dangle off the bed, but as soon as she decides to kick off the bed and touch the floor, there is a huge crash that almost makes her fall over.

It sounded like it came from downstairs and she prays she didn’t do anything to cause it…

All she did was get off the bed.  But this is an old house, it’s practically an antique. 

Oh no…

She doesn’t dare to move as she puts a hand over her mouth to cover up her rapid breathing to see if she can hear anything.  Any movement or any curses from downstairs or the hallway…

A minute passes by and she hears nothing, so she shakes her head and laughs slightly to herself.  She can go out and face him, she has done it a hundred times, she can do it once more.

She doesn’t quite know what she wants to achieve by talking to him, but they have to at least try to not get into a screaming match every time they talk to each other, and now is as good of a time as any.

And maybe he found food like he said he was going to.

She tip toes to the door and opens it slowly, waiting to hear any other footsteps.

She knows she needs to talk, but she can’t help but listen to the thought in the back of her mind that hopes he made food and went to bed so she could wait to try some other time. 

Peeking out into the hallway, she notices a soft orange glow coming from the staircase.  Walking over, she realizes that there are candles and lanterns lit in various areas downstairs and along the staircase.

Did they even have electricity in the 1800s?

Though she would have preferred a simple light switch to light up the house, she can’t deny that this is actually a little bit nice too.

It is relaxing in a way that the campfire was for her for a long time.  The soft warm hue that flickers and dances across the house mesmerizes Meg as she descends down the stairs slowly. 

She still doesn’t hear any footsteps from Evan, but as quickly as she thinks this, she could swear she heard the clink of a glass being set down on a table.

Getting to the landing and turning the corner, she sees that Evan had made a fire in the fireplace and was pouring himself a drink from a mini bar that sat in the corner of the room.

The first thing she notices is that he changed out of his torn up suit from earlier, and instead he is now wearing a pair of black slacks, a white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and a pair of suspenders.

She has never seen him look so…human.

It catches Meg off guard, so when he turns around and sees Meg, a slight blush creeps across her cheeks and she hopes that he didn’t catch her staring. 

She reminds herself that he is still the Trapper.

He is still a monster.

Pausing for just a moment, Evan gives her a slight nod before sitting down wordlessly in a chair by the fire, staring at the flames as he drinks some sort of amber looking liquid that Meg can only assume is a type of alcohol.

“What was that bang earlier?” Meg decides to ask breaking the silence as she shifts from one foot to another.

“Knocked over some bottles.”

A tiny sigh of relief escapes Meg’s lips now that she knows she did nothing to break anything like her mind wanted her to believe.

“Why? Did I wake you?” Evan speaks again, turning his head slightly to her but not quite making eye contact.

“No, it was that other loud crash that woke me up,” Meg says dryly, an attempt at joking around although it comes out sounding foreign and awkward to her ears.

“Ah, good, was worried there for a moment.”

Silence passes between them as Meg stands on the edge of the room, looking around and occasionally glancing at the cracked wood from earlier when Evan broke the doorframe.  She stands there, her arms crossed as she shivers slightly despite the fire raging in the room.

“So much for finding food, huh?” She says nodding at the alcohol and the fire in an attempt to start some sort of conversation.

She could never tell him, but it sure seems like Evan made himself comfortable in the time she was asleep, and she almost resents him not having any food as though it was solely his responsibility.

“There’s some rabbit in the kitchen.”

“Rabbit? You had time to find, kill, and cook a whole rabbit?” Meg responds incredulously as her mouth hangs open slightly.  How on Earth did he have enough him for that?

He nods and continues staring at the fire as though that was something totally normal.

“How long was I asleep for?” Meg asks still refusing to believe he did all of that while she was sleeping.

“Dunno. An hour or two? I got the rabbit, cooked it, and starting drinking.  It’s been quite the night.”

“I guess you could say that again,” Meg mumbles before turning around and venturing into the kitchen, knowing there is now food waiting for her. Her stomach doesn’t just growl, it feels like it is practically eating itself alive as she enters and smells the savory flavors of cooked meat float to her nose.

It has been forever since she had any sort of meat, which was her favorite before she was taken.

Always trying out new recipes, Meg found that her favorite to make was steak on the grill, although she would never say no to any decent cut of meat.

Not that they got it often.

They couldn’t afford it.

But the special times that Meg got her promotion, or her mom was cleared from cancer, they had to celebrate somehow, and Meg always got a nice cut of steak and prepared it for them.

She can’t say that she has ever had rabbit, but meat is meat, and she is as eager to try it as she ever could have been.

A single plate sits out beside the hunk of meat, as well as a knife and fork.

She tries not to think that Evan put this out for her whenever she was ready.

That would be too nice for him, but it makes her stomach flip nonetheless. 

She cuts a piece off and puts it onto the plate, and she can hardly wait to dig in, so she eats it standing up, scarfing down chunks of savory and juicy rabbit that she never thought she’d enjoy as much as she enjoys now.

She could practically moan at how good it is as a drop of juice slides down her chin.  She needed real food, not just coffee and donuts.

“Enjoying yourself?” Evan walks in, startling Meg so much she drops her fork and knife onto the plate with a load clattering noise.  “Well don’t go breaking things now.”

She swallows her bite and looks at him, unsure of whether to joke back or not.

When she had the idea of talking earlier, she thought she’d have to do it while forcing him to talk, and now he’s just…joking with her? Is this the alcohol or has he just turned into a completely different person?

“How much have you been drinking?” She asks, her voice low and stern.

“Not too much, but enough to ignore the fact that you have food on your face.”

Meg’s face turns red as she quickly wipes her mouth with her sleeve before turning back to him, a frown plastered on her face.

“Was your point of coming in here just to watch me eat?”

Evan looks at her for a second before shrugging and walking back into the other room.

Meg, rolling her eyes, and getting real tired of him just shrugging,  puts her plate in the sink and walks into the living room to join Evan even though her feet are fighting her every step of the way.

“Want a drink?” Evan asks, gesturing to the bar behind him as he enters the living room, but there seems to be in invisible barrier to Meg as she stops abruptly in the doorway, refusing to enter the room with him.

Meg shakes her head as she continues to stand beside the cracked doorframe.

“I don’t need one.”

“I didn’t ask if you needed one.”

Meg stops and looks around at the glass before making the mistake of saying, “I don’t need alcohol to feel like a functioning human being, thank you.”

Evan stops, puts down his glass slowly, and looks at her through narrowed eyes.

“Is this going to be another one of your arguments you pick with me to make yourself feel better about everything that is happening now?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Meg coughs out.

“You can yell at me all you want,” Evan says, his voice passive, “but will that really make staying here any easier?”

“I-“

“Or you can get off your high horse and accept that you’re here now.  I bet there are things in your past you’re not proud of, but I am not sitting here judging your character every waking minute of every day,” Evan finishes saying.  Although his words stab Meg like a knife, his tone wasn’t that of hatred like it had been for the last day.

As he said those words, he just seemed tired.

Broken down.

She stares at him as he continues to drink as though he didn’t just insult Meg’s very being.

“I am okay with what I’ve done in life.  I’ve never done anything as heinous as you.”

“Doesn’t mean there aren’t things you regret,” Evan says, taking another sip of his drink before gesturing to the mini bar and changing the subject quickly.  “Come on, have a glass.  It’s not like you’ve never tasted it before.”

Meg notices the change in conversation, but her head spins and as much as her blood is boiling and her stomach is churning, she can’t seem to find the right words.  He deserves everything she said to him, and how dare he compare his crimes to maybe a few things she wishes she could change in her life?

She doesn’t even know where to begin, so she settles on answering his last statement instead.

“I’ve never drank, actually.”

Evan lets out a full-on belly laugh at this, causing Meg’s scowl to deepen.

“I do not believe that.  A lady of your age…how old are you?”

“Twenty-four.”

“A lady of twenty-four should have at least had a glass or two by now.  Especially should you want to drink with your husband when you get married.”

Now it’s Meg’s turn to laugh.

“A husband? That’s why I should have already have had alcohol? Is that what you’re telling me?”

He stares at her, eyebrows raised slightly in amusement.

“It’s only customary,” he says, taking another swig.

“Okay maybe in your time,” Meg responds. “Now, teenagers drink and get alcohol poisoning in a field somewhere behind their parent’s backs which never seemed to interest me.  People my age go out and get drunk in public and make fools of themselves,” Meg hesitates before speaking again, “Plus my father…he was an alcoholic.  I never wanted to touch the stuff.”

Evan stares at her for a second before humming, acknowledging her statement. 

“I suppose my father was one too, yet it never stopped me.”

“And this is why the first thing you chose to do, after spending a hundred years trapped, is to drink.”

“Yes…and?”

Meg sighs as she takes the leap, her heart in her throat, and walks into the room, taking a seat across from him in a dark brown leather armchair.  As soon as she sits, a puff of dust explodes into the air.

“We really need to do something about this dust,” she says through coughs, changing the subject as the dust reminds her of the state of her bed upstairs.

“Well you can start on that tomorrow,” Evan says flapping his hand in her direction while gulping down the rest of the amber liquid in his glass.

“Excuse me?” Meg scoffs, “And why would I do that?”

“It’s a woman’s job,” he replies as though he were stating a fact like the sky is blue or grass is green.

“It’s not my ‘job’,” Meg sneers, putting extra emphasis on the word ‘job’.  “Both men and women cook and clean and do whatever else it is you have deemed gender roles from your time.”

“Gender roles? What nonsense is that?”

Meg lets out a huff of frustration as she pinches the bridge of her nose.

“You know like it’s a woman’s job to cook and clean and it’s a man’s job to work.  Now men and women can do whatever they want."

Ignoring Meg’s explanation, Evan gets up and walks over to a small lit bar.  He picks up a new glass and pours more amber liquid into it.  He begins to pour some in the glass he was using but stops for a moment before setting his glass down and settling for taking the bottle itself. He walks back over and shoves the glass at Meg who takes it out of reflex before he settles back into the chair and takes a huge swig of the alcohol from the bottle.

“You’re not sly right before you start to yell.  I can tell when you don’t like something I say,” Evan says, holding the bottle in one hand, swirling it around slightly,  “You get this little crease in between your eyebrows, and your mouth turns downwards creating a dimple in your right cheek.  It’s as plain as day when you’re upset.”

Meg says nothing as her face turns red.

“So here’s some whiskey,” he continues, nodding to the glass that Meg has yet to take a sip out of.  “Drink.  It’ll let off some steam that you don’t need to take out on me.”

Meg opens and closes her mouth, looking for something to say in return.  How has he been that observant in only a few times that they’ve talked?

It immediately makes Meg feel self-conscious and embarrassed that she can be so easily readable.

So instead, she stares at the glass of whiskey Evan handed her and swirls it around, mirroring what he’s doing with the bottle.

Evan eyes her carefully, taking more drinks of his own.

“You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want it.  Thought I’d be polite.”

Meg quickly laughs at that, him being polite after attacking her for rightfully not trusting him. But she knows she may as well not even try right now.

It seems like right now, he is trying to be something that’s not a monster.  Plus, as she thinks back to why she even came downstairs, she just wants to talk to find out something that might make sitting across from him easier.

So she stares at the whiskey, thinking if she really wants to drink it, and as he said, maybe it could help.

“Well, it’s not that I don’t want it, well, no, I don’t want it, but I’ve always been curious about it,” she says, lifting up the glass and taking a sniff before pulling it away in disgust.

“So whose to say now isn’t the perfect time? I bet you just yesterday you thought you would never have the chance to try it,” Evan says, raising his glass slightly and ignoring the disgusted look on her face.

Meg can’t help but nod though because he’s right.  She never thought she’d get the chance, and it was one thing that bugged her whether she wanted it to or not.

“So now here’s to new chances,” Evan slurs slightly as he nods at her, keeping his bottle raised in the air.

With a scowl, Meg leans forward and clinks her glass to the bottle and brings the whiskey to her lips.  She can smell it long before it reaches her mouth and it almost makes her want to gag, but Evan is right.

What would be so bad finally trying it?

As soon as the whiskey crosses her lips, she swallows fast and lets out a long sigh of relief after.

“There’s a good girl,” Evan remarks, a smirk playing across his lips.

Meg’s skin prickles with goosebumps as she tries to ignore the feelings Evan’s comment and smirk made her feel.  She decides instead to concentrate on the warmth that spreads through her body.

The whiskey isn’t the best tasting thing in the world, but the after effects, even almost immediately, Meg can’t say she hates.

She takes another small sip and sets the glass down in her lap as she turns to look at the fire.

Silence passes between the two of them, and for once, she can say that it isn’t uncomfortable.  Her body melts into the chair as she enjoys the warming effect of both the alcohol and fire in front of her.

“I’ll help tomorrow,” Evan speaks up, breaking the blanket of silence.  “With the dusting. I suppose there isn’t much for me to do around here anyway.”

“Thank you.” Meg shoots him a small smile before going back and looking at the fire again.

Out of the corner of her eye, she cold have sworn she saw him smile too, but she wasn’t going to look at him to make sure.

“Was your mom the one who cleaned mostly?” Meg asks, sipping at the whiskey as she decides to try and make conversation that isn't about the Entity or their past mistakes.

Evan doesn’t answer right away before shaking his head.

“No, she died when I was young.”

“I’m sorry.”

“We did have help though.  My father hired maids.  They had this place looking nice and tidy up until he-“

Evan stops talking and takes another huge gulp of whiskey but he doesn’t continue.

Meg peels her eyes from the fire and glances over to him to see him just staring at the bottle now. 

“Until he what?” She decides to ask.

Evan scowls, lost in thought but remains silent despite Meg’s prodding question.

She clears her throat and decides to break the tension.

“My mom used to clean, that was until she got sick.  So all the cleaning and grocery shopping and cooking, it all fell to me, on top of going to school and having to work in order to help out with bills.” Meg taps lightly on her glass before continuing.  “I never had time for friends, or drinking,” she says holding up her glass to him and lets out a sad laugh.  “But I didn’t mind.  My mom was my best friend and I would have done anything for her.”

Evan looks up at Meg, the fire reflecting deep lines in his face that seem to soften as she continues

“I wanted to do everything I could to keep her alive, and I think I did…until I disappeared, I guess.”

“Was she alive when you were taken?” Evan asks, his voice full of genuine curiosity.

“Yeah, but I don’t know if she’s alive now.  She was pretty sick and I don’t know who would have taken over taking care of her.  It was just me and her…”

Meg quickly wipes away a tear that slides down her cheek before she gulps down the rest of the whiskey in her glass.  Letting out a grunt she shivers as all of the alcohol hits her at once, but she shoves her glass towards Evan anyway.

“Come on, don’t hog it all.”

He chuckles as he leans forward and fills her glass.

“Careful with that, you won’t like how you feel in the morning if you keep that up,” Evan suggests, leaning back in his chair.

Meg shrugs.  “I’ve been through worse.”

The fire crackles as Meg looks away, though Evan’s eyes stay on her, observing her every movement.

“What was it like?” Evan asks, breaking the silence after a few minutes.  “Being a survivor, having people there with you, helping along the way?”

“It was…helpful I guess,” Meg starts, trying to ignore Evan’s burning gaze as his eyes haven’t seem to have left her for the last few minutes.  “I had people to rely on, to help get through the days.  We became a family, which was nice since I didn’t have much of one to begin with.”

“Must have been nice,” Evan comments.

“It was, if you looked past being tortured and killed in heinous ways every few hours for years.”

Evan finally looks away and shifts uncomfortably in his chair. 

“What about being a killer?” Meg asks, her voice strained slightly, not knowing if it’ll be a sensitive subject for him, and the last thing she wants to do is make him mad now that he has alcohol in him, and she really thinks that they might be getting somewhere with this conversation, and anything is better than screaming at each other constantly.

And she’s so tired.

“It was a fitting punishment,” Evan speaks up finally.  “For everything  I did, for everything I was, becoming a killer in the Entity’s realm was a perfect punishment for me.”

“So you didn’t like it?” Meg asks, surprised that he at least enjoy it a little.  Most of the killers looked like they were fueled by such bloodlust and joy as they were brutally murdering her and her friends over and over again.

“No.  I made the mistake in my lifetime that ended hundreds of decent human beings' lives, but it didn’t mean I wanted to kill people forever.  I never wanted to kill anyone again.”

“So why did you do it the first time?”

Evan remains silent, staring at the fire, his eyes a hundred years away.  They sit in silence for a few minutes, Evan not responding and Meg not pushing the question this time.

Although she can never forgive him for anything he did, whether it be to her or the miners, the poor miners, she is just so exhausted, and she wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to know the answer right now.

She can continue her ruthless tirade tomorrow, but for now, between the warmth of the fire and the whiskey, she can almost say she’s content with being in the same room as him now. 

Not happy, but not upset either, and that is an improvement in her book.  She closes her eyes for a brief second, basking in the warmth of the world around here, as she enjoys the first time she truly feels comfortable.

Her mind begins to drift from the Entity's realm to what she should do now as they sit in silence for what feels like twenty minutes, and the longer the silence drags on, the more Meg melts into the chair, her body feeling heavier and her eyes wanting to remain closed.

So she figures a few minutes more of silence isn't bad.  She can ask more questions after that...

“I’m sorry for what I did to you,” Evan begins to say, but when he looks up, Meg’s eyes are closed and she has a small goofy grin on her face that Evan can’t help but take a few seconds to stare at.

He has spent most of his life killing and murdering innocent people, whether there was someone behind him urging him on or not.  It made no difference.

Blood was spilt by his hand, and seeing this girl talk about her family, her life before this whole sorry mess, he can’t help but take a deep breath to try and ignore the dull ache that starts in his chest.

He had come to terms with what he did in the trials, true, but he never had to talk to his victims like he has now.  One-on-one.

He had been in fights with her since coming back to the real world, but her yelling and screaming at him only made him more defensive, more angry.

He reminded himself of his father when someone questioned him.

But when she sat down and wouldn’t even barely look at him as she talked tonight, it made something deep within him come to the surface once more.

It made him realize, everything he did, he was doing to real people in those trials, not just pawns in the Entity’s game.

He hurt them, over and over and over again.

He can’t take back his ruthlessness, nor does he feel he needs to.

He was forced into it after all, he had no choice, but the choices that lead him to being there were all him.

He knew it.

She knew it; She never missed an opportunity to tell him.

He stares at her sleeping across from him, and he finds himself wondering if she slept like this in the Entity’s realm too, or if she had just as many sleepless endless nights as he did.

He wonders if the fact that she had friends there, or perhaps even a boyfriend, and if any of that truly helped at all.  She said it did, but there was a sadness in her voice that made him question her words.

While she had people around, he was alone the whole time, stuck facing every single mistake in his life replayed over and over in his mind like a record stuck on loop, unless he was in a trial.

He supposed it was the Entity’s way of building anger, or any strong emotion it could feed off of, but he stopped caring a long time ago.

Was he worthless to the Entity now? Is that why it let him go? He stopped playing its game and feeding it?

But what about her?

What did she do to get out?

He gets up and trudges to a closet in the hall as he silently prays that what he is looking for is still there and no thieves came and stole it.

Although that is a ridiculous thought, knowing that all of his paintings and books and other antiques are still here, that means it still had to be here too…

He opens the closet and sees a chest at the bottom, engraved AMR.

Arlene Marie Rhodes.

His mother’s chest she had from even before she met his father.

Placing a hand on the letters, he wipes off a layer of dust and stares at the wooden engraving, not quite expecting his chest to begin to ache as he thought about his mother.

Sure, he had thought about her for the last hundred years, but this was different.

This was actually hers.

He was actually home.

Swallowing back any sort of emotion that threatened to come up, he opened the chest and inside was a light purple knitted blanket.

She made it for Evan was he was just a baby, but his father didn’t approve of the color, saying it wasn’t manly enough for his son.

He was going to be a pansy, going to be weak with a color and blanket like that, his father would say.

But she kept it anyway, and told Evan it was his whenever he wanted it, as long as he didn’t show his father.

He promised never to tell, and there it still was.

In a very dusty condition but still intact.

Throwing it over his arm, he walks back into the living room and sees Meg in the same position that he left her.

There is something inside him that tells him not to wake her up, not now, not as she looks like this.

She looks peaceful.

A tingling in his stomach begins slowly, but he does everything he can to suppress any of those thoughts, as his body shakes thinking of what the Entity used to do when he would have any thoughts of anyone.

He throws the blanket on top of her and begins to walk out, pausing once in the doorway and looking back.

He could never explain any of this to her.

He could never explain any of his decisions, his choices, his consequences to her.

She wouldn’t understand.

But he would be lying if he said that it wasn’t nice to at least get some things off his chest tonight, whether she remembers them or not.

Tomorrow they can go back to fighting; it almost makes it easier than having to face the consequences of his actions like he had to tonight.

Despite it being easier to ignore all of it, the last thought that enters his mind as he walks upstairs to his old room, is that he wants to know more about who she was.

Who she is.

But then again, maybe that is just the alcohol talking...

Chapter Text

The first thing Meg notices when she wakes up is just how warm she is.  The gentle crackle of the campfire calms her nerves as she listens to it beside her, feeling the weight of her sleeping bag draped on top of her.  She’s so warm, and she hasn’t felt the pressure of the Entity or the fog calling her for a trial in awhile which is always a good sign.

The first thing she does is listen for her friends.  Between everyone being in trials at different times and it seemingly always being eternally night, there were always a couple people awake at any given time.

Knowing that they were awake and they were there became a comfort to Meg, something she relied on when she woke up.

She would listen to David and Nea loudly banter and talk about different ways of fighting, or Ace trying to do magic tricks with various leafs and branches he found, which he also tried to make his own cards out of.  She would hear Claudette, Dwight, Feng, and Jake quietly talking and laughing, retelling old stories they liked like Star Wars and Harry Potter.  What always made Meg smile, even if she wasn’t too interested in either one of those, is how they changed with each telling of the story by each person.

It was a fun way to pass the time since they didn’t have any books or tv to prove that their retelling was the true one or not.

Bill and Ash would be slightly apart from the group, retelling stories from their “good ol’ days that the kids wouldn’t understand”, and although they spent a lot of time sitting on the edge of the forest, gazing out into the darkness, reminiscing about a life that they were convinced they’d never see again, they were just as much a part of the survivor family.

Nea and Feng always referred to them as the grumpy dads of the group, and the more they said that, the more Meg could see it.

The times Meg loved the most though, was waking up slowly to the sound of soft guitar music that Kate would play around the campfire.  On occasion, Jeff would join in, his soft voice floating above everything, making it feel like they really had no problems in the world.

They had nothing to worry about.

That is, until Meg finally woke up and discovered that she definitely had problems.

Just like now.

Meg shifts slightly, her neck throbbing painfully from being in the same uncomfortable position that she fell asleep in, and it isn’t until then that she realizes that she’s not sleeping on the ground.

And she’s not under her sleeping bag.

Cracking her eyes open just a bit, she groans at the realization of where she slept as a stabbing pain radiates through her head in time with her heartbeat.

She sees a house, a fireplace, and a purple knitted blanket covering her.

As she looks around, her mind begins to acclimate back to where she is, in the current time, as her chest grows heavy with longing for her friends.

For someone familiar.

Someone who isn’t Evan MacMillan.

She takes a deep breath and twists her body so she’s sitting in the chair properly as she pieces things together fairly quickly, her mind catching up to the current times, but the purple blanket, that is still a mystery to her.

Did Evan put it on her? She can’t imagine him ever having a purple knitted blanket, or really anything warm.

Pulling the blanket to the side, she gets up, and her head spins at the sudden change.  Her hand grips the armchair for some sort of stability as she unsticks her tongue from the roof of her mouth with a dry click.

Water.

She just needs water.

As she looks to her right, she sees a glass set out, already filled with water and she frowns, feeling as though she is being treated like a child.

Did Evan put that out too?

Does he have absolutely no confidence in her?

But then again…

‘He’s trying to take care of you.’

‘I don’t need to be taken care of, and especially not by him.’

Hesitating as she looks between the water and the blanket, her mind whirls wondering why he would try to be so nice to her lately.

Did he feel bad about last night?

Or is it larger than just last night? Did he feel bad about everything he did? He said as much, but Meg didn’t think it quite constituted him now setting things out for her and covering her up with a blanket as though she was incapable of handling herself.

Plus, a blanket and a  glass of water can hardly make up for years of torture by him.

Sighing, she knows she can’t refuse the water as she tries to swallow, her throat as dry as a desert and her tongue feels like sandpaper.

Looking around, she confirms that she is alone, as she takes the glass and gulps it down in just a few seconds as she makes sure she gets every drop.

“You’re finally awake,” Evan interrupts her as he comes around the corner.

Almost dropping the glass, she looks at him with a sour expression plastered on her face.

“For someone who I could hear coming from miles away before, you tend to have a surprisingly light step now.”

“It’s useful for hunting.” Evan shrugs.

Meg swallows, not quite sure where to start and suddenly feeling self-conscious under his gaze as she remembers the purple blanket and the fact that she fell asleep.

While he was sitting across from her.

They were talking and she fell asleep.

“Did you put this blanket on me?” Meg asks, running her fingers over the soft wool of the blanket.

Evan looks between her and the blanket with an odd expression on his face that Meg can’t quite place.

“Where else would the blanket have come from?” He says finally looking at Meg and not looking away.

Meg lets out a breathy laugh, “Well I just didn’t think you’d even have something like this, let alone cover me while I was sleeping.”

“My mother made it for me when I was young,” Evan says, not breaking eye contact, “I figured someone may as well use it.”

Meg nods, not quite sure whether to say thank you or really what to say at all.  From last night, anytime Evan mentioned his mother, it seemed like a sensitive subject, so Meg thought it best not to push it for now. 

She can always ask later, after all.

She begins to open her mouth to explain or apologize for falling asleep on him to begin with, she wasn’t sure which one until something came out, but before she could say anything, Evan turns around and gestures for her to follow.

“Come with me,” Evan demands, not even looking at her as he speaks and changes the subject.

“What? Why?” Meg asks, refusing to move until he tells her where they are going.

“We are going hunting.”

“Hunting?”

“You said it yourself,” Evan stops walking as he turns his head slightly towards her, his mouth turned up in a mocking smirk, “You want to do everything a man does, so we are going to go hunting.”

Meg opens and closes her mouth, looking for the right words to protest, saying that this isn’t what she meant last night.

She expected him to help with dusting since it’s his house, and plus he could help even if it wasn’t.

She didn’t expect him to take it to heart and expect her to hunt with him.  She doesn’t even know the first thing about hunting.

“Well, come on,” he says, walking out the door though he stands there holding it open for her, his eyes scanning around the trees outside, a hunter preparing for anything. 

“Fine.”

Meg follows him out of the house only to be greeted by cold chilly air.  The sun has yet to rise but the sky grows lighter with every passing second, casting beautiful rays of violet and pink.

“Why are we hunting this early?” Meg asks, following Evan.

“You want food for the day, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Hunting while you’re hungry isn’t a pleasant experience, therefore if we go now we will have food for the day.”

Meg hums in acknowledgement as she follows behind him.

“Well, to be fair, we aren’t really hunting, I already set out traps earlier.  I just need to go check them to see if we got anything.”

“Then why do you need to me to come along?”

“I don’t.  But if you want to help, at least now you’ll know where to place them in the future and what to look for.”

Trying to hold back a shiver that runs down Meg’s spine, she looks up at him.

“I guess I should thank you for teaching me?”

“I don’t need any thanks.  Just do the job and we can go home.”

Meg’s eyebrows shoot up her forehead at the attitude that comes from him.  He’s the one that asked her out here and she is just trying to be polite.

She takes a deep breath, trying not to say anything back that will get him in a bad mood, as it seems he usually is.

Regardless of that, Meg never would have guessed how sassy he could be and it almost makes her want to laugh.

The Trapper having sass even when she isn’t doing anything to provoke it.

If only her friends could see him now…

They walk in silence as the sun rises slowly, illuminating the sky turning wisps of clouds into beautiful shades of orange and pink.  As it begins to get lighter, Meg can see the slight sheen of morning dew decorate the grass that she can’t help but smile at.  Birds begin to chirp around them as the wind rustles the leaves on the ground, bringing the woods to life.

It reminds Meg of when she used to go out for early morning runs, when she was sure that she had time all to herself. She loved the crispness of the air, the way that she could watch the world wake up around her, and the way she could just enjoy nature and enjoy being a part of the world, really connecting to it.  She hasn’t felt this way in a long time.

“You said you set the traps out earlier,” Meg speaks up, a little out of breath trying to keep up with his long stride, “But I couldn’t have been asleep for too long since it's still dark out.  Did you get any sleep at all?”

“No,” Evan says, looking straight ahead.

“Have you slept at all since being here?”

Evan doesn’t say anything, but his silence speaks volumes.

“You really should try to sleep.”

“I don’t need you telling me what to do.  I will sleep when I need to,” Evan snaps at her.

“You drank a lot last night and you still haven’t slept, so sorry that I want to know you’re not just going to pass out on me in the woods, okay?” Meg defends herself, shoving her hands into her pockets and frowning. 

Evan scoffs at her yet says nothing.  Meg sighs to herself.  She doesn’t want to fight so she doesn’t try to press the matter any more.

It’s his problem if he doesn’t sleep, not hers.

So they continue their journey in silence, Evan leading the way as they check about five different traps that he placed in different areas around the woods. Meg stares at each of the traps and her surroundings, drilling the locations of them in her head.  A phantom pain pulses in her ankles remembering how painful it was to step in one.  That is something she never wants to experience again.

Continuing on and checking the traps, the first four were empty and untouched, but while they approach the fifth trap, Meg hears the poor animal before she sees it.  Mewls of pain tear from a trapped deer as it thrashes around violently trying to tear its leg from the closed steel jaws.

Evan grunts, his face emotionless, as he pulls out a knife and walks over to the deer.  As though it were second nature to him, he presses the blade into the neck of the deer and gently helps it to the ground, the thrashing grows weaker and the cries of pain quiet with each passing second.

Meg’s whole body shudders as she hunches over, turning around and placing a hand over her mouth.  Flashes of the trials appear in her mind like lightening as her ankle now doesn’t just throb, it stabs her at the thought of what the deer went through.

Yes, they had to hunt and get food.

Yes, the animal was going to die.

But she didn’t quite realize how seeing a bloody dead animal in a trap would effect her until now. 

“What’s wrong?” Evan asks as he resets the trap and slings the deer over his massive shoulder, blood dripping down the front of his shirt.

“Nothing,” Meg spits excess saliva out of her mouth, still refusing to face the trap.  “It’s nothing.”

Evan stops for a moment, just a brief moment, as though he is questioning whether to keep at the question.  It is clear he decides against it, as he turns around without another word and heads back to the estate.

Trying to gear her mind back to her current situation, she follows, staring at the ground with her arms across her chest, hugging herself tight.

As they approach the estate, Evan stops, dropping off the deer outside.  His shoulders sag slightly, and he turns around to face Meg who, not knowing he wasn’t going to keep going, walks straight into his chest.

His arms twitch by his sides as Meg shakes her head and looks up at him.

“Sorry,” she mutters as she tries to walk around him. 

“Something is bothering you,” he states, a simple sentence, but it was definitely not a question.  “You haven’t been this quiet ever since you got here, and not that I’m complaining, but it’s different.”

“It was just the bear-traps, I’ll be fine,” Meg snaps, then immediately regretting the outburst.  “It just reminded me of the trials, I’ll be okay after getting away from…” She glances at the dead deer on the ground, blood still oozing from the wound on its neck and on its leg.

Evan’s chest deflates slightly as he looks down at Meg, who shuffles her weight from one foot to the other. 

“I didn’t think about how the traps could impact you,” Evan says, staring down at Meg who doesn’t make eye contact with him.  “Or the dead animal, I apologize.”  He looks forward above her head rather than at her, and for just a second, he begins to raise his arm, making Meg think he was going to give her a pat on the back or something just as unnatural for him.

But just as quickly as his hand comes up, it floats it in the air for just a second, before he changes his mind and turns around.

“I was going to teach you how to skin and cook a deer.  But if you’re not up for it right now, you can get started on dusting.  I’ll make breakfast.”

Meg’s lips pull into a small smile at the gesture, and as much as she doesn’t want to admit it, it is surprisingly sweet coming from him, who just yesterday was yelling at her in the streets.

Following him inside, he goes straight to a closet in a room in the back of the house, and pulls out an old fashion looking feather duster and a towel.

“The maids used to keep their supplies in here, if you need anything else, it’ll be in here,” he says, handing the supplies to Meg.

“We need to get better supplies,” she says as she looks between the feather duster and towel.  “It’s going to take a lot more than this to clean this house.”

“Well what else is there?”

“Really?” Meg blurts out as though he’s telling a funny joke, “They have way better tools now, or at least they did when I used to clean.  I can only imagine what they have now.”

“And with what money do you propose we use to buy these supplies?”

“Well, I mean, I didn’t mean we need to get them right now.  We can figure something out,” Meg says looking up at Evan who just looks at her with a frown on his face.  “This is good for now.”

“Good,” he starts saying while turning around, “I’ll let you know when breakfast is ready.”

Meg watches him turn the corner, and once she knows that he is busy, the telltale sound of cabinets opening and closing as well as cast iron pans being set out, she gets to work.

Grabbing the old supplies such as a very stiff broom, a bunch of towels, and a feather duster, she sighs and walks out into the hallway, deciding on where exactly she wants to start.

She could start in her room; she has seen firsthand how much it needs it, but as she begins to climb the staircase, she looks to her right, slowly eyeing the study that Evan told her not to go into.

The very act of looking at the two giant, dark, mahogany doors that guard the study like a prison cell causes sirens to blare in Meg’s mind knowing that she can’t go in, but at the same time, what harm would there be if she just took a peek in?

If she doesn’t actually go in, there can’t be any fault to it, right?

Right?

Despite every rational thought in her head telling her not to let go of the railing to go upstairs, she looks around briefly before letting go and creeping ever so softly over to the doors.  Her walk, the way she hunches over, and the way she controls her breathing all remind her of how she used to sneak in the trials, and even though she hopes this isn’t a life or death situation, she knows she shouldn’t even be thinking of going in.

But what Evan doesn’t know can’t hurt him, or hurt her.

So despite her best judgement, her hand hovers above the golden doorknob, truly wondering if this is the best choice…

Nothing good has ever come from Meg thinking anything through…

So she opens the door and before she changes her mind, she slips inside, quiet as a mouse, and closes the door behind her, hoping Evan doesn't hear the latch click as she stands there silently holding her breath.

No footsteps approach the room.

So she takes this chance to look around just from her vantage point in the doorway with the full intent of not going inside more.

The study itself looks like what a normal study would look like if you were to say that word to Meg.

The walls on either side of her are lined with leather bound books with gold print.  From the ones she can see to her immediate right, there are history books along with science, astronomy, and botany.  To her left, there are piles of papers shoved in between books of mythology and books of wars between gods and men.

Directly in front of her, there is a large mahogany desk, the same design and wood as the doors and bookcases, and a large wooden chair behind the desk, and although no one sits in the chair, the sheer size and intricate design of the chair leaves Meg feeling intimidated and small.

Now that she got a good look around, she knows she needs to leave.  Her legs twitch thinking about turning around, but right as she’s about to leave, her eyes catch a paper that is on the floor, slightly torn up and yellow, but the drawing on it is very clear.

It features a dark misty circle with what appears to be spider legs coming out from the mist.

Meg stops breathing for a moment as she blinks multiple times to make sure she isn’t just seeing the picture.

It isn’t her mind playing tricks on her.

It isn’t her imagination.

Swallowing the bubbling sense of panic that rises in her throat, she takes a step into the study knowing that she is breaking every single thread of trust that Evan and her developed the last day.

Granted, it wasn’t much, but regardless, Meg can only imagine how he would react seeing her in here.

She doesn’t want to find out.

She listens once more and all she hears are the unmistakable clatter of utensils on pans, making food from the other room.

With her chest puffed out and her fists clenched, she walks over to the paper on the ground.

As she picks it up, she knows she wasn’t wrong.

The legs that come out of the spiraling mist look exactly like the ones that killed her day in and day out for years, as the mist looks like the same that would carry her up as she died, only to be resurrected at the campfire once more.

She saw this exact image so much, it is burned into her brain like a scar.  It will never go away, no matter how much time has passed, she can almost guarantee that.

Gripping the paper so hard in her hand, she walks over to the desk.  There are papers all strewn out across it in a haphazard fashion and clearly not organized.

Whoever was in here last, and Meg could only assume was Archie MacMillan, wasn’t too preoccupied with organization, or rather it seemed like whoever was in here was in a panicked frenzy.

Bits and pieces of paper were torn up and thrown on the floor around other pieces of paper that simply were crumpled up and thrown off to the side.  The fully readable papers were almost thrown on the desk as though someone was trying to make sense of all of it but didn’t even know where to start.

Did Evan “organize” this?

Or was this Archie’s doing?

Or for all Meg knows, it could be someone else.

As her eyes frantically scan the documents, she picks up words like Entity, darkness, void, killers, and hunger.

She decides to pick up a small pile that lie on the corner of the desk, her heart stopping as she begins reading.

 

‘There is a force around this Estate, though I do not know quite how to explain, but it comes to me, but not just to me, it comes from within me. Soulless, ancient, eternal.  It requires sacrifices, human beings to do its bidding.  I am not strong enough, I believe.  It has yet to take me, but my son, Evan, he could be the key…”

 

“As I killed a worker today, I could have sworn I heard the whispers, the demonic deep voice of an ancient language I do not have the capability or capacity to understand.  It spoke to me briefly, instructions I could not understand, but I think I know what it wants me to do.   I think I have known all along.”

 

“This being, this entity, it promises things I cannot yet fathom in this life.   It promises ideas beyond riches, beyond eternal life, beyond knowledge.  It promises all of these and more.  I can only find out what it is once I get there, but I know I can do it.  I have to do it.”

 

“The whispers have grown louder, more intense, more ingrained within my own mind as though they have become thoughts of my own.  Although I do not know what the whispers say, I know what they want me to do.  I do not know if I am the right man, but the Entity stays like an infection, manifesting itself deeper within my blood, my bones.  It grows, slowly taking over, and yet…I don’t mind.  Instead, I welcome it.”

 

Meg scans the yellowed paper, her hands trembling so badly she can barely read the last note.  She has to find more, she needs to read more…

Flinging her hand around to grab more papers, her hand comes in contact with a small bust that decorates the desk, causing it to go crashing onto the floor with the loudest crash Meg could have ever heard.

Whether it was because it was actually loud, or if the possibilities of being caught in here amplified the sound, she didn't know.

All she knows is that time seems to stand still and everything seems to happen in slow motion.

The blood rushes from Meg's head so fast she feels faint, and while gripping the desk, she stops breathing, listening so carefully, wanting to hear the clatter of pots and pans in the kitchen so badly her head hurts.

Instead she is met with silence.

Absolute silence that makes her ears buzz.

Meg’s whole body freezes when she hears the door open.

“What are you doing in here?” Evan demands, his voice oddly clipped.  Her head snaps up to look at his.  A muscle in his cheek begins twitching in time with his hand, but unlike the last few times, his hand isn’t empty this time. 

He holds a knife that drips with blood, and with the silence around her so quiet, she can almost hear the faint drops of the blood hit the floor in time with her heartbeat that pounds in her ears.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

She doesn’t know what to say.  Her blood turns cold and her face burns hot with embarrassment.

She only meant to stick her head in, she didn’t mean to come all the way inside.

“I didn’t mean to come in-“

“I told you not to come in here,” Evan hisses at her, his face turning various shades of red within seconds, his mouth turned up in a cruel sneer, bearing his teeth resembling a snarl.  The pure fury that was etched on his face was unlike any other time Meg had seen him, in the Entity’s realm or not.

‘Get out get out get out.’

“Look - I know - but have you even been in here before?” Meg tries to reason with him as she takes a step back in an attempt to distance herself as her eyes dart between his twitching face and the knife he holds so firmly, his knuckles are white. He still stands in the doorway but the room seems to collapse on itself, seeming to be so much smaller than it was before. Her back hits the edge of a bookcase in the back of the room, and immediately her heart starts pounding as her mind goes into overdrive.

“It shouldn’t matter if I have ever been in here or not, I told you not to come in here and I expected you to follow that rule.  I asked you one thing..one thing!” He goes from hissing to full on yelling as his words echo across the room causing Meg’s ears to rattle.

Her knees threaten to give out beneath her as she stares at him, her eyes wide and full of panic.

“Just look at this!” she rambles, shoving the papers she found with his father’s writing on it in front of her almost as a barrier, “I think it’s about the Entity and - “

“I don’t care!” Evan roars.  “This study is off limits, as is its contents.  You can’t just listen to one single thing, can you?”

His words cut Meg and make her feel like he may as well of used the knife in his hand to hurt her.  Her chest hurts just the same.

“Look, I know I’m sorry but just listen-“

“No.”  His voice is strangely quiet now compared to how he was just a moment ago, and somehow that’s even worse.  “Get out.”

“Evan-“

“Get out!” Evan bellows as he shoots his arm towards the doorway, pointing the way for Meg.  “I have tried, but you have tested my patience for too long, get out.  You are not welcome here.”

“W-what?” Meg stutters.  She clears her throat before speaking again.  “You can’t just kick me out-“

“I can, and I just did.  You are not welcomed here and you need to leave.” 

“I-“

“You need to leave right now if you know what’s best for you,” Evan threatens, his grip tightening on the knife.

Meg swallows her tears and skirts along the edge of the room past Evan as she never takes her eyes off of him. 

“I just think you should look at the papers,” Meg affirms, a final act of defiance.  If he’s kicking her out, and she will never see him again hopefully, the least she can do is inform him of his father’s actions in all of this, if he had any.

Evan says nothing.  He doesn’t even turn to look at Meg as she walks out of the room then bolts out the front door as fast as she can.

As soon as the cold sting of the air hits her face, she runs. Pushing her heels into the dirt, she musters everything she has right now to run, run as far away as she can, her heart racing and her head pounding.  She looks back expecting to see Evan chasing behind her.

Flashes of him chasing her in the trials come to mind, his grotesque, rusty, bloody cleaver heavy in one hand, raised above his head before it comes down, splitting her back open as she lets out an agonizing scream. 

As she pictures him now though, she pictures him without his mask, and honestly she doesn’t know which is worse.

But as she looks, he isn’t chasing her, he stands at in the doorway, watching her run, but just as quickly as she looks back, he becomes a distant figure.  She runs for her life, looking ahead of her instead of back as she jumps over a huge log on the ground and off she goes.

Her blood pumps and her breathing gets faster, and although her eyes sting with tears, and her muscles begin to burn, she keeps running, pushing past branches and bushes.  They scratch at her face and arms, contributing to her already scratched up body from just two days ago when she ran out of the woods a second time.

Who knew that she would be running back in just as quickly?

Soon, she gets to the abandoned part of town, so she decides to slow down to a light jog before stopping completely and hunching over, catching her breath for just a few seconds.

Looking around, she thinks she recognizes where she is and how to get to the main part of town from here.

Although she doesn’t quite know where she wants to go, she knows she can’t stay in this part of town at least.

This is where Matt, the security guard, found her before, and she doesn’t particularly want to come face-to-face with him again in this state. 

As the adrenaline from running begins to calm down and her racing heart slows, the emotions of what just happened catch up to her.

How could Evan be so cruel? She thought she was getting somewhere with him, or at least making it so they weren’t enemies.

They most certainly weren’t friends; she never thinks she could have ever gotten that far, but with everything they shared last night, she thought last night meant something…

In her mind, she knew it wasn’t anything big, or life-changing, but she thought maybe they broke through that layer of absolute contempt to at least be civil, and then earlier today, it was clear that they could help each other at least as house mates until she could figure out where to go or what to do from here. 

The red hot hatred she would feel when she saw him wasn’t there today, and she enjoyed being able to walk beside him without feeling like she was going to explode.

She was hurt by his threats, his refusal to listen, but most of all, she was angry with herself for not just keeping her curiosity at bay for once in her life.

They could have gone in there together, maybe after they could know each other a little bit more.

But she couldn’t resist.

She shakes her head, trying not to think of mistakes, so instead, she walks, her stomach flipping and chest tightening at the fact that she is totally and utterly alone now.  She really pushed him and she crossed a line, although deep down inside she knows that those papers in the study had some meaning that they could use.

They were important, and although they sound like ramblings written by a madman, they talked about the Entity, and Evan, and rifts to go back and forth through the different realms.

There had to be some truth to them, Meg thought.  They were too precise, and had too much knowledge of the Entity for someone who has never been there.

Hell, within just the few papers she read, it contained more information than even she knew.

What did Archie MacMillan know that he kept from everyone?

Or did Evan know, and that’s why he wanted her to keep out of the study?

Thoughts fly through Meg’s mind as theory after theory comes to her almost too fast for her to keep up.

Did Evan purposely kill those people to get to the realm?

Was Archie in on it?

Or was Archie using Evan and turning him into a monster because Archie worked with the Entity?

How would a human even work with an ancient being like the Entity?

So many questions that now she thinks she will never learn the answer to, and now she has no idea where to go or what to do in a town with no money and no way of getting back to her hometown in Montana. 

She wanders, letting her feet carry her without much thought as she just tries to silence her buzzing mind.  It gets easier as she begins to hear the soft rumbling of distant cars, as well as distant chatter from people going in and out of shops.  She must be close to downtown.

Heading straight, trying to find the source of all the talking, she begins to approach a bar with soft rock music wafting out of the propped open door.  She doesn’t hear much except for the clink of glasses and a few quiet voices talking…

That is until she hears a glass shatter.  Loud, powerful voices start yelling over each other almost immediately, too jumbled her for her pick out any specific words or voices.  Tempted to peek her head in, she quickly shoves that thought aside, not wanting to draw attention to herself while tensions clearly run high inside.

Lowering her head as she passes, she hears a deep english voice of someone reminding her of David.  But that can’t be, she immediately convinces herself, that’s impossible.

“I’ll knock the livin’ daylights outta ya, ya piece of shits!”

“It’s not worth it, they’re a bunch of assholes, just come on,” a second voice all too familiar responds. 

“Fuck you!”

Meg stands stunned, her heart pounding as tears start to form in the corner of her eyes.

No, this can’t be…

A drunken David and Nea come stumbling out of the bar, leaning on one another.  David grumbles words to himself as Nea is spitting curse words towards David, along the lines of “having to clean up his mess, fucking dumbass”.  It only takes a second for them to both look over.

David’s mouth drops open as Nea speaks, practically dropping the heavy man on the concrete out of shock.

“Wait…Meg? Is that you?”

All of the tears, the pain, the absolutely raw and primal emotion burst from Meg in one sentence, one breath as she runs over and collapses into her friends’ arms.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

Chapter Text

Meg remembers when she first met Nea.

Through everything in the Entity's realm, that one day Meg always held close to her heart.  It was the day she met her best friend. 

The short-haired, brazen, skittish survivor crept up to their campfire, eyes darting around filled with determination not to be caught, yet mind filled to the brim with curiosity. 

Meg was peeking out from her tent, curious to see if anyone was awake or sitting around the campfire for right now, and that’s when she saw the blue-haired urban evader peeking out from behind a tree.

Not daring to make a move, Meg stared at this new person with just as much curiosity as the stranger was looking at the campfire, so Meg let her do her thing and come out at the right time.

Like a beast hunting its prey, Meg stayed glued to the spot, observing the strange way the newcomer crept around virtually silent; leaves falling to the ground were louder than her footsteps.  If Meg wasn’t awake and didn’t see the stranger, she never would have guessed someone was walking around their campfire mere feet from where Meg stayed in her tent.

The way her shoes connected with the ground was flawless as though she was connected with nature itself.  Meg was mesmerized how someone could be so quiet.  She could learn a thing or two from her.

Multiple times she wanted to call out but she hesitated, waiting for the right time.

When it was clear that this new mysterious girl wasn’t going away or coming forward anytime soon, Meg took the initiative and called out to her.

“Hey!”

The girl stopped, her eyes wide, a deer caught in headlights.   Her whole body stiffened resembling a scared cat posed to run.

“I’m not going to hurt you!” Meg called out, slowly getting out and up from her tent, “I just want to talk.”

“What the fuck do you want? Where the fuck am I?” the girl snapped at Meg.

Though her words were laced with venom, Meg didn’t mind.  She understood the confusion this girl must be feeling; it wasn’t too long ago she was feeling the same thing.

Meg just hoped that this is another survivor and not some trick played by the Entity because who knows what it was capable of?

“I’m Meg.  I’m a survivor.  Welcome to our campfire.”

—-

 

“I can’t believe it’s you!” Nea screams, her voice full of delight, as she smacks Meg’s shoulder sending waves of shock through her whole body that mirror the frantic thoughts that go through her head.  She melts into Nea’s touch and closes her eyes tight, listening to the next part of her sentence. “We were looking everywhere to see if anyone else was here!”

A laugh escapes Meg’s lips as she smacks Nea back and draws her in for another hug.  “Yeah, it sure looks that way,” she jokes, glancing briefly between the bar and a swaying David beside them.

“Hey, don’t look at me.  This big guy wanted to go in, and what was I supposed to do? Stay at the hotel with mama Claudette?”

“Wait, Claudette is here too?” Meg asks.  Her voice is full of hope and familiarity for the first time in what seems like forever.

“Yup.  She doesn’t condone our adventures out here, so she stayed back to keep an eye on the place.”

“Yeah, but where the fuck you been?” David interjects as though he didn’t catch any of the previous conversation. Despite that, Meg can hardly contain herself as she looks between her friends, a huge smile plastered on her face. 

David looks the same, his face is hard and ruthless, but his eyes are kind when he looks at her.   Nea stands there, her eyes wide and mouth open as her fingers grip tightly around Meg’s wrist.  She looks like she is seeing a ghost, and if she lets go, Meg will disappear into thin air.  Despite Meg’s hand tingling from the circulation being cut off by Nea’s vice-like grip, she hardly notices as she smiles and gives her friends another huge hug.  She takes Nea’s hand in her own, both in an attempt to regain her circulation, and to simply be close to her best friend again.

“I’ve been here,” Meg gestures vaguely around her with her free hand, the words practically spilling out of her mouth before changing the subject, “I didn’t know anyone else got out!”

She catches herself for a moment noticing that she didn’t mention Evan, but in her mind that is a conversation for another time. 

“Where have you been? Have you been out since our last trial?” She continues, her eyes wide with curiosity.

“Yeah, we snuck into a hotel,” David mumbles as he attempts to lean his body nonchalantly on a lamppost.  “ 'S not too crowded, no one has caught us yet.  Called some shit like Escape at Eastside.  Ironic, aye?”  He sways slightly, trying to catch his balance before standing upright once more.

Meg pretends not to notice, but all she can do is smile at the absurdity of it all.

“And where’d you get the money for the booze?” Meg asks as she tries her best to shoot him a disapproving look.

“Well, ya see, love, ya don’t gotta pay when you get kicked out before you can,” David declares, brandishing a white smile as he sends a wink Meg’s way.

“You did not…”

Nea rolls her eyes as her head snaps towards David.

“Yeah, and this isn’t the first time he has used that plan.  Before long, we won’t be welcomed anywhere if he keeps this up.”

“Yeah, I sure see you complainin’ as you’re downin’ your drinks.”

Nea stares at him intently for a second, before her face relaxes as she mutters, “Well you got me there.”

“You know you could just…” Meg pauses for emphasis, “leave without paying? Sneak on out.  You two have plenty of experience sneaking out of situations.”

Silence follows for just a moment until David’s laugh breaks into the air.

“My god, we’re dumb,” Nea mumbles smacking her face and groaning.

“Yeah, but where’s the fun in that? I know what I’m doing here, sweetheart,” David chimes in, cracking his knuckles.  “ 'S about time I get into a good fight or two.”

Nea hits David on the arm and starts yelling at him for not telling her that sooner, and they could have been so much smarter, but all Meg can do is smile and laugh along with David trying to defend himself. 

She honestly can hardly believe this is real. 

They are out and her friends are here.

This is everything she ever wanted for so long.  She knows she should be happy, and to an extent she is, she is overjoyed, but why can’t she stop her chest tightening and her stomach from flipping when she looks at them? 

They begin to walk together down the street in order to get away from the bar door, laughing and carrying on, as they always did, but to Meg, it feels like there is an invisible wall, an impervious force that she feels she can’t cross to get to her friends.

The laughter and the way Nea squeezes Meg’s hand so tight should feel like a security blanket, a safe haven, but there is something inside her that is keeping her from enjoying this completely.

Is it Evan?

She knows she didn’t necessarily lie to her friends earlier by not telling them the whole truth, but it still gnaws at her, a voice inside her to just tell them.

While being at the campfire, and having to rely on each other one hundred percent through trials, they all had to build up an unusual trust.  They couldn’t hide anything, and to her knowledge, no one did.  While they were scavenging, they always told someone where they were going and what they found.  They always talked about their own experiences within the trials and why they made the choices they did, and overall, they always knew they could rely on one another.

It was the only way they knew they would be able to get out of a trial alive, or to get out of the Entity’s realm altogether.  If they kept things inside and weren’t a hundred percent transparent, a seed of doubt would plant between them that would threaten to grow separating them in their time of need.

This revelation, or ease of teamwork, didn’t come naturally to them.  When it was just the four survivors, Meg, Jake, Claudette, and Dwight, they wanted alone time.

They wanted to keep things to themselves. 

They wanted to be able to keep that part of independence and self-control, but it only caused issues, and instead of feeding into the angst that loomed around them like tar, they figured out that they just need to be honest.

Open.

Why not just tell them about Evan? They’d understand, Meg repeats to herself like a mantra. 

But as she looks between her friends from one life, she realizes that just for a little bit, she might want to keep Evan a secret.

She’s not sure why; whether it be due to her own guilt about the situation in which her and Evan parted ways, or fear of how Nea and David would react to her not absolutely hating him now, she has no idea what option would be worse.

And as much as she wants to hate Evan, wants to kick and scream and forget him forever, she still finds herself wondering if he looked at the papers, or if he shut that part out of his life once more.  She wonders if he knew about it all already.

She wants to know what he knows.

She wants to talk to him.

“Fuck, David, don’t wander off, oh my god…” Nea’s voice interrupts Meg’s thoughts so fast, she has whiplash.   She looks around wondering what is going on as she notices David walking, or rather stumbling, across the street towards a nearby cafe with empty chairs and tables.

“I’m lookin for a seat, lady, let me be,” he slurs, flapping his hand in the direction of Nea, who follows after him muttering like a disgruntled mother.

“I shouldn’t have to look after you every time we drink!”

“Well keep up with me on the drinking and you wouldn’t have to!”

There was no traffic that Meg could see, and there was hardly anyone around them in the shops other than an occasional bystander.  She briefly wonders what time it is, it can’t be late, lunch time maybe.  Her stomach growls softly, and she clears her throat realizing that she has yet to eat today.

Though she knows that she can’t be too upset at anyone but herself… Evan did have food preparing at home. 

She wonders what it would have been like if she stayed, if she just listened to him.

She could have gone into the study at another time with him, or at least him knowing.  She tries not to think about that realization, even though it hits her like a ton of bricks every single time it comes into her mind.  Shaking her head almost as a way to physically get those thoughts out of her buzzing mind, she thinks about the deer that she could be having.

Who knows if it would have been good…it could have been awful, she tries to rationalize it to herself. That is until she remembers the rabbit from last night, and her stomach growls again, angry at herself for leaving before getting anything more to eat. 

But then again...

She glances over at David who already, very roughly, jumped the small fence of the cafe just to get to the tables.  If she stayed with Evan, who knows when she would have found her friends again, if ever, so she swallows those intrusive thoughts about Evan, and walks behind Nea to the cafe.

When they reach David, he plops down in a chair, letting out an audible groan before leaning back and spreading his legs.  One arm raises up and rests on his head while the other drapes down his leg. 

Nea stares at David as she opens up the small door in the fence that he could have used.

“You really had to jump over that, didn’t ya?” Nea says, holding the door open for Meg to come in behind her.

“Well, yeah.  I don’t have time to try and find the door.  I wanted to sit,” David mutters, not opening his eyes or lifting his head to look at them as they walk over to the table he chose. 

Nea takes a seat next to David, but not before giving his chair a quick kick causing him to scramble in surprise.

“Aye! Watch it,” David warns before returning to his original position, eyes closed and resting once more.

“You’ll be fine, ya big baby.  Just don’t fall asleep, you won’t wake up.  Don’t think I won’t leave you here overnight.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m awake,” David mutters, although he makes no effort to hide that he is very much attempting to try to sleep.

Meg settles down into a chair across from David thinking about all the times he said he used to drink a lot.  She always found humor in his dumb stories and retellings of things he did when he was wasted, even though most of them ended with him being thrown in the drunk tank for the night.   That always seemed to deter her away from drinking should she ever get out, but then Evan came along.

She tries not to think about drinking with Evan last night, even though now that time seems so far away.  Almost blurting out that she finally tried whiskey, she bites her tongue knowing that they’ll only wonder where she got it from. 

Leaning forward on her elbows, Meg rests her head in her hands

“Yeah, David, you can’t fall asleep because I need details!” she says excitedly, trying to find out more about them so she can push Evan from her mind and stop feeling so damn guilty about keeping her last few days to herself. “The hotel, Claudette, and uh…if you two have forgotten…we are out! I think there’s a lot to catch up on.”

“I’m just sad that we got out before I could teach the Entity who was truly in charge there,” David laments, opening his eyes and leaning forward on his arms on the table, mirroring Meg.

Nea and Meg exchange a quick glance before bursting out laughing at the thought of David standing in front of whatever the Entity is, a ball of mist with spider legs for all they know, and trying to fight it, just like he always says he would.

“What? Oh fine, you two wouldn’t get it,” David mutters, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms like a sad toddler.   “I went along with it all, but I could fight it!”  He truly makes his point by balling up his fists and giving the air around them a few nice punches.

“Uh huh, of course.  We all know how much of a big strong man you are,” Meg says, reaching over the table and giving his hands a pat.  “Don’t need to show us.”

“We aren’t interested in seeing you fight anyway,” Nea teases, leaning back in her chair and balancing it on its hind legs, “You’d just bore us to death before the Entity could have killed us itself.”

David puts down his hands and lets out an exaggerated huff of disappointment. “Out of all the nice survivors, I would get out of that damn place with you two…constantly burstin’ my bubble,” he says pointing a finger at the two laughing girls on either side of him, “You’re lucky I don’t fight ladies.”

“Oh definitely, you couldn’t be more right,” Meg answers, holding in another laugh and giving him an over-exaggerated nod.

“Yeah cuz we all know we’d kick your ass,” Nea finishes her sentence.

David just frowns and leans back in his chair, not wanting to bury himself a deeper hole.

Silence settles around them nicely as they take a moment to simply bask in the sun, the laughter from earlier dancing around them. 

Meg doesn’t know the last time that she has laughed, truly laughed like this while being able to not worry about a trial, or the campfire, or flashlights or medkits or toolboxes…or killers.

As she looks between Nea and David, she sits back in her chair, mirroring their comfortable attitudes, her lips pulled into what seems like a permanent smile that hasn't left her face since seeing them. 

At the campfire, every time they had any sort of reprieve, there was always that dread of another trial hanging above them like a guillotine, threatening to come down on them at any moment.  It was hard to truly enjoy the time they had while thinking about the pain that would inevitably come again.

But here…

Here they can just be.

Despite knowing that, Meg still can’t get her nerves to calm down, so she sits, breathing in an out, and concentrating on the relaxing nature of the three of them together.

“So,” Nea starts, rolling her head to the side and looking at Meg. “You really tried to skirt around the question of where you’ve been these last two days.”

And just like that, the carpet beneath Meg’s feel is pulled out and she takes a deep breath, still not knowing if she should tell them. 

“Well, it’s a long story,” Meg says in the best nonchalant voice she could muster, “it’s a good one for another time.”

Nea lifts her head up and shifts in her chair so she’s sitting more upright and facing Meg, ignoring the soft snores that begin to come from David.

“You’ve been ignoring the question, and, Meg, we don’t care what you’ve done to survive for two days,” she says, gesturing over to the sleeping David as though he is still in the conversation, “we’ve done things we aren’t proud of either.  But we gotta survive, ya know? We always have.”

She’s right, and goddammit, Meg always hated how much Nea could get under her skin.

When Nea first came to the campfire, she was rude and belligerent, and all around cold towards everyone except Meg. They never talked about it after they began to grow close, but there was a certain amount of sadness, or loneliness, that seemed to draw them together.  They instantly seemed to bond, becoming like sisters, though they would never admit that to each other.  They had other ways of showing their love for one another like finding resources and offerings and always splitting it with the other person, or being the first one to save or help the other in trials, or just being attached at the hip whenever they were both out of a trial together.

Meg never questioned it, as it happened as naturally as anything, but she loved Nea, which also came with the negatives of having someone that close to her.

Nea could always tell when something was wrong, and with her not being the typical motherly type of person, she always called Meg out on her bullshit and didn’t let her go until she had the information she wanted.

Not that she could complain much, Meg was often the same towards her.  They pushed each other, and Meg was always thankful for that.

So now that they are finally here, face-to-face, in the real world, in daylight, Meg hates that she just came seem to spit out that she had been staying with Evan - no -

The Trapper.

To them, that’s all they’ll see him as, and Meg doesn’t know how to explain to them that he isn’t just someone who has murdered and killed them for years.

While yes, that is true, she has seen a side of him that even she doesn’t quite understand.

The very thought of him still brings up the true terror she felt in the trials and makes her very being vibrate with nerves, but she has also seen that there is a weird kindness within him that she can’t place.

But he has hurt her and her friends for too long.

That can’t be forgotten.

She has to remind herself that she can’t forget that.

So if she can’t forget it, how could Nea?

“Meg?” Nea asks, leaning forwards towards Meg, resting her elbows on her knees.  “Is it that bad?”

Meg shakes her head, “It’s not…bad…but I just don’t know where to even begin.”

“Just say it, and then I’ll sit here as you ramble and try to explain it like you always do,” Nea says, resting her head on her hands.

Before Meg can say anything, Nea’s face changes and her eyes squint in suspicion of…something.  She doesn’t look at Meg, but past her, just over her shoulder.

“Nea?”

Nea smacks David’s knee, hard, causing him to thrash for a second before realizing where he is.

“Oi, what’s that for?”

“David,” Nea says, her voice low and calm, but she doesn’t take her eyes off of whatever is behind Meg. “You need to wake up.”

“What is it?” Meg starts to turn to see what is making Nea so uneasy, but she is met with a slap on her knee from Nea, a clear sign to get her not to look.

But Meg never listened, and her heart sinks as she lets out a groan.

Evan stands on the other side of the street away from Meg, Nea, and David, just standing there, still as a statue.  He changed his clothes from this morning, where he was wearing overalls and a coat, hunting gear, and now he is back in a black shirt, black pants, and suspenders.

“He’s been standing there for awhile, and I don’t like this.  We gotta go,” Nea hisses, not taking her eyes off him like a hawk. 

“Fucker, I’ll take care of him,” David hisses, cracking his knuckles one at a time as he stands up.

Nea doesn’t stop him as he begins whispering threats under his breath.

“Guys, wait,” Meg speaks up, placing a hand on Nea’s shoulder, keeping her from standing up.  She can’t reach David, but she’s silently thankful that he has had too much to drink to actually walk properly.

“Do you know him?” Nea glances over at her for a moment, a flash of confusion in her eyes, before she looks back at Evan.

Meg remains silent for a moment, trying to gauge how they’ll react, even though she knows she needs to tell them. Now.

At the same time, it takes everything in her not to go up and smack Evan himself for being so damn dramatic about this.

He’s the one who kicked her out, bloody knife in hand, threatening her to leave, and yet here he is, once again, corralling her back, if that’s what he’s trying to do.  A brief thought flashes through her mind telling her that he isn’t here to get her back, but he’s here to kill her.  It disappears just as quickly the more she looks at him.  She doesn’t see a knife, or weapon of any sort hanging from his bare hands, so she safely assumes that he isn’t here to cause permanent damage, hopefully.

“Guys,” Meg whispers, hesitantly, “I haven’t told you where I’ve been staying because I’ve been staying with him-“ but before Meg can say who he is, Nea interjects.

“You’ve been staying with him? Do you even know this guy? What if he’s dangerous? He looks dangerous-“

“He looks like an asshole, is what he looks like,” David interrupts, already cracking his neck, ready to fight.

“No, I mean, yes, but okay…”Meg hesitates, it better come out now, “It’s the Trapper.  From the trials.  I’ve been staying with the Trapper.”

Silence fills the air, and it’s not the pleasant, warm silence from earlier.  This silence makes Meg’s ears buzz as she begins to feel crushed by the weight of it.

“I know it sounds crazy-“

“That’s one word for it,” David says, “Fuckin’ insane is what it is!”

Nea doesn’t say anything for a moment, but she puts a hand on Meg’s forearm.

“You probably had your reasons, but Meg, the Trapper? Fuckin’ really?”

“What happened to not judging where I’ve been staying?” Meg yanks her arm away, suddenly aware of the hypocrisy coming from her friends.  “Look, I know it’s crazy, this was why I didn’t want to tell you.”

They look at each other, all of them seeming to forget that ten yards away, Evan still stands, watching the three argue.

Nea takes in a deep breath and lets it all out in a quick sigh, “You’re right.  But…Meg…him?”

Meg stands there, speechless. 

Suddenly everything they shared, the night by the fire drinking, him taking her out in the woods and teaching her the placement of traps so she could help, or him making her food, all seem almost too personal, too intimate, and she doesn’t feel right saying those things out loud to her friends.

That was a time that her and Evan shared, and for some reason, it feels wrong to just blurt it out into the open, no matter how she feels about it.

“He really isn’t as bad of a guy as he could be,” Meg reassures Nea, “he isn’t the best, and I still don’t know if I fully trust him, but, I’m still here! He didn’t hurt me, at least. ”

“So why were you out here? You looked pretty lost when you ran into us,” Nea retorts, crossing her arms as though to prove a point.

“Well, he kicked me out,” Meg admits, rolling her head to the side as she flashes her friends a pained grin, hoping it would lessen the blow.

“He kicked you out?” David interjects.  “I don’t care who he is, you don’t kick out a lady onto the streets.  Aye!”  David ends his shocked sentence by calling across the street towards Evan.

Evan’s steel eyes snap from Meg onto David as he stands still, a looming presence.  Beads of sweat start to form on Meg’s forehead as she stares at him looking more like the Trapper than she has seen him without his mask on.

She has to remind herself that they aren’t in a trial.

They are fine. 

It’s Evan.

Evan hasn’t hurt her.

Not yet anyway.

David jumps the small white fence once more with a little difficulty, the unsteadiness and slurring of his voice still there.  Meg almost doesn’t want to watch what is about to unfold as David trudges across the street.

Evan looks down at David who, though taller than Meg, still stands a solid foot shorter than Evan and isn’t nearly as wide as he is.  Evan could put him down in just a few seconds, yet he doesn’t move.  He watches David with indifference, like a bear would with an ant, as the drunken man marches up to him.

“You kicked her out?” David yells as he gets closer.  “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Evan ignores him and looks over to Meg, who stands as still just as still across the street, facing him.

The two don’t dare to move, captured in a time of their own, as they try to ignore the imminent situation at hand.

Meg replays the situation she left mere hours ago, the feelings of dread, of terror, of guilt rush to her head and make her dizzy.  What Evan is feeling or what drove him here, Meg couldn’t even begin to guess as he stands there as hard to read as ever.

“Oi, you listening to me?” David shouts as he reaches Evan.  David raises his arms up and gives Evan a rough shove on his chest.  Despite the pure anger and force behind David’s shove, it hardly makes Evan move as David stumbles back slightly.

“Do. not. touch. me,” Evan hisses, being shaken awake by the shove from David, each syllable he speaks accented with a pause, “This is none of your concern.”

“This is all of my concern, mate,” David rebukes, once more invading the very large personal bubble Evan keeps.

“You need to step away.  We may not be in those trials but I can kill you just as easily,” Evan threatens through clenched teeth.  He twists his neck, popping it with ease before looking down at David, then back at Meg who still stands frozen across the street.   

The look on Evan’s face reminds her of the first day they realized they were out.   His eyes spit anger, fury, and almost seemed to change color completely as he stares at David, who doesn’t do the smart thing and back away. 

Nea rushes behind David, now getting the confidence to go across the street towards the danger, rather than stay behind with Meg.

“David, come back,” Nea calls, trying to get him to back away. 

A fist draws behind the drunk man, and as fast as he could manage, tries to come in contact with Evan’s jaw.  Due to the sheer size and sober advantage, Evan stops David in his tracks, grabbing his hand, encompassing it completely in his own.

Meg took this strange opportunity to rush across the street to intervene, finally getting her frozen legs to work properly after the fear that this could get physical.

They’re out, she can’t let anything happen to David now…

“David!” She ushers, “I really appreciate what you’re trying to do, but it’s okay!”

David growls, not breaking the intense eye contact he has with Evan.

“It’s not just the fact that he kicked you out…” he grunts.  His arm muscles bulge, shaking and pulsating from pressing against the unmoving force that is Evan MacMillan. “But this fucker needs to pay for what he’s done.  For all of it.”

David doesn’t say anything more as he flings his other fist towards Evan, and as though Evan could predict the sudden movement, he catches his fist with his other hand, grasping it firmly.

“If you don’t want your friend to get hurt, I suggest getting him to calm down,” Evan spits towards Meg, who keeps grasping at both Evan and David momentarily, not sure who to help first.

“Look, David,” Meg shouts above the anger and rage that fills the air between the three of them, “It’s okay! I swear, it’s okay.  Just…we can talk about this, you don’t need to hurt Evan, at least not right now.”

As Meg finishes her sentence, her muscles calm down and she almost can collapse out of relief as David lowers his hands and looks at Meg.  She takes a step between the men trying to distance them because she can only imagine what could happen if a fight between them broke out in the streets.

As soon as David speaks, she realizes the mistake she just made.

“Evan?” David scoffs, “Who the fuck is Evan?”

Meg swallows her heart that seems to make its way into her throat as she looks between the drunken angry David and the solemn stoic Evan.

Meg could laugh, not out of humor, but at the true irony of this situation…defending the Trapper out of all people.

“It’s him, the Trapper. This is Evan MacMillan,” Meg informs David, gesturing to the man who stands behind her.  Before she knows it, she feels Evan’s fingers rest on the back of her shoulder, so gently.  She can feel him standing a lot closer to her now, can practically feel his breath on her neck, and she almost wants to smack his hand away before she realizes it couldn’t have been him who stepped closer. 

Meg was in between the two men, but with every breath she unknowingly shuffled slightly backwards towards Evan, who now grips her shoulder tighter with each passing moment until he's holding her with the force of a hurricane.  She doesn't know why she began to take steps back.  It could have been because she felt the need to defend Evan, although she knows firsthand he could handle himself, or maybe the pure fury that reflected in David's eyes pushed her back, wanting distance.  She wasn't sure, but either way, she didn't know which was scarier in this moment. 

Evan makes no move to pull his hand away or take a step back in order to give them more room.  He only rests his hand on her as they stare at her fellow survivors. Before she can think to pull away from his hand, her mind is pulled from her thoughts by David, who finally looks away and makes a sound out of frustration, defeat, anger.

“Evan…you’re calling this fuckin’ monster Evan now,” David hisses. 

Meg doesn’t have anything to say back because he’s right.  She can’t even possibly know where to begin and if the situation were reversed, she has no idea how she would react either.

She isn’t sure how she feels feeling Evan’s callused fingers bruise her shoulder as she stands there in front of him.  She doesn’t want to think how or when she has gotten this far, but then she feels Nea’s slim fingers wrap around her wrist once more, pulling her from her trance.

Finally taking a step away from Evan, his fingers leave her shoulder.  His face shows no emotion as though it never happened as she steps more towards the middle of the two men and Nea.

“David,” Nea starts, “You don’t know him,” she spits out the word ‘him’ like it’s poison, “But we know Meg, and shouldn’t we listen to her before we draw conclusions?”

David huffs, his shoulders rapidly moving up and down, refusing to listen to reason, but after a couple of minutes of silence, Meg and Nea looking at each other, silently communicating, David decides he is outnumbered before continuing.

“It’s not right for him to kick her out, you know that, and she should know that too,” David mumbles.  “It’s not right after everything he’s done to us.”

A small smile pulls against Nea’s lips as she agrees, “I know, but it’s Meg.  If she says it’s okay, it has to be.  She wouldn’t lie to us, I hope.  Cuz she knows we would call her out on it, right?”

Meg smiles at that, relieved at the chance to have Nea on her side. 

Evan doesn’t move as they talk.  He remains behind Meg with his arms to his side and his eyes glued to her every movement.

“I can explain,” Meg begins, “I never thought we’d be out, any of us, and as soon as I walked out of those woods, Evan was the first person I saw, and I didn’t even follow him right away.  I couldn’t.”

“So what changed?” Nea asks, her voice stern and clipped.

“You said it yourself, we do things to survive.  I can’t survive on the streets, not again.  I did it once before the Entity, and I don’t know if I could handle that again.”

Meg hears Evan take in a breath behind her. 

"So you went with him..." Nea acknowledges slowly.

Meg nods, not sure what else to say until she can almost feel Evan bend down slightly behind her, his breath on her ear.

“Can we talk?” Evan asks Meg, his voice barely above a whisper, urgent and low, “Alone?”

Meg’s immediate reaction, especially with Nea and David there is to scream no at him, let him know he’s not welcomed here especially after he has treated her the last few days, but at the same time, the last few days is exactly why she doesn’t say no.

He has been stubborn, insensitive, and rude.

And he has been considerate, kind, and protective in his own messed up way.

Nea looks at Evan, ready to strike along with David, who doesn’t sway with the wind anymore, and he seems to be fully aware of what’s going on, which gives Meg both comfort and anxiety in this situation.  But going with Evan could give them a couple of minutes to process it.  They weren’t getting anywhere screaming at each other in the streets.

“I’ll be okay,” she reassures her friends as she turns, ready to follow Evan, “Just stay close.”  Although she knows almost one hundred percent that she is “safe” with him, there’s always that buzzing in the back of her mind that screams at her that she needs to run.  Needs to get away.

Years of working for the Entity can’t just go away within a couple of days, and she doesn’t know if Evan is going to snap, or if he has already.  So, talking to Evan now seems a lot easier knowing that she has her friends waiting off to the side.

Evan grabs her arm, not roughly, but not in the comforting way Nea had earlier.  He yanks her down the street and into an alley where she stumbles after him.

Once they enter the alleyway, she yanks her arm free with a yell, “What was that?’

“What?”

“You don’t have to be so rough, you know.  I agreed to come with you!”

Evan takes a step forward, effectively causing Meg to take a step back.

“You need to control your friends before I do,” he threatens, scowling down at her.

“What does that mean?”

“They need to control their tongue before they speak to me.  I may not be as nice the next time that oaf tries to touch me.”

“Well I can’t control how they react,” Meg retorts,  “This is the first time they’ve seen you outside of a trial.  We still don’t even get along and I’ve had more time to process it than they have.” Meg tries to reason while gesturing her arms between the two of them, completely understanding her friends’ worries.

Evan looks at her with a look she has never seen before.  His body stands tall, taller than any man she has ever seen, as it seems he could almost apocalypse the sun if he stood any taller.  Meg barely comes up to his chest, and yet, his face doesn’t meet the threat his body language is trying to convey.

She really gets a good look at him now in the daytime as she takes another step back, her back hitting the brick wall behind her with a soft thud.

He is bald, as he was in the trials underneath his mask, but it matches his face which is hard and structured with a strong jawline and cheekbones.  She tries not to think of how he would look if his face wasn’t covered in scars with one running down his cheek and onto his lip, and one on his right eye, and another gouged deep in his chin. 

She does briefly wonder if these were scars from his past life or if the Entity had something to say about them.

The few times she was able to take off her hoodie while being away from the Entity's realm, she noticed that the white scar from the Legion’s knife piercing her arm still blazed white and raw on her forearm, she had five points on her stomach where the Nightmare would pierce her stomach, and her ankles were decorated with white jagged lines from Evan’s bear traps.

The bigger injuries running up her spine, shoulder, or stomach weren’t there, but the smaller ones, it almost seemed like the Entity forgot to heal those.

Or maybe it didn’t forget.  It kept them there as a constant reminder of where they were.  They had some control, but at the same time, none at all.

The illusion of having control was enough for some, it seemed, but it was never enough for Meg, or her few close survivor friends.

“So…why did you want to talk?” Meg asks, her tone wavering, “Or are you just going to stand there staring at me in silence?”

“I wanted to come find you to apologize,” he mutters, his voice lacking the usual confidence he exudes.

“What?”

“I’m sorry, for how I reacted towards you,” he continues.  “I don’t care about your friends, but I wanted to apologize to you…” There’s a hint of something more that he wanted to add, but he doesn’t.  The words lost as he looks away.  He takes a moment before continuing, “But I am not sorry for being upset.  I specifically told you not to go in there, and yet you did…” he tapers off a second time gathering his thoughts before continuing, “I asked you one thing, and it wasn’t the first time we have argued about the study, yet you couldn’t resist going behind my back.”

“It wasn’t that I thought about going behind your back,” Meg starts in an attempt to defend her actions that even she knew were wrong, “But as soon as I saw that there was something in there to do with the Entity…I couldn’t stop.  Don’t you want to know what those mean?”

Evan stares at her, his eyes hardening by the second as he speaks, “You have known me two days.  I shouldn’t have to justify my behavior to you.” His once patient, calm demeanor dissolves so quickly, Meg visibly sees the changes in his body.

His shoulders and neck tense, his chest inflates, and he gets even taller than Meg could have thought possible.

“Did you know those papers were in there?” Meg asks, her voice small. 

Evan shakes his head, “Even if I did, it doesn’t justify you breaking the one rule that is set in that house.  Before the Entity, no one lived to tell the tale of how they crossed me.  You need to learn to listen.”

Instead of taking any steps back, she takes a step forward and looks at him.  Her heart beats so rapidly in her chest, it’s all she can hear, but she points a finger right at Evan, challenging him.

“We both know that’s true, we do, but you don’t scare me, Evan MacMillan,” Meg swallows, hoping he doesn’t catch the blatant lie coming from her mouth.  He says nothing so she continues,  “I’ve seen sides of you that I bet you haven’t even thought of showing for years, decades even, and you can threaten me all you want, but I know you’re not going to go through with it.”

Evan remains silent, his chest heaving up and down like a bull ready to charge, yet he says nothing, so Meg continues, hoping he doesn’t call her bluff.

“You had so many chances, yet you still continue to seek me out and help me.  I think a part of you feels guilty.  So you won’t hurt me.  And you don’t scare me.”

Meg slowly lets her finger fall as her arms hang limply to her sides.  Their eyes meet as they both refuse to look away, almost challenging the other to let it go, to submit, and Meg knows this game well by now, so she doesn’t give up.

A muscle in his jaw goes as he glowers down at Meg, who despite every muscle in her body wanting to shrink under his heated stare, stands her ground.  She doesn’t deflate.  She doesn’t sigh.  She holds her breath and stares at him, standing tall.

They have had screaming matches before, almost too many in the span of them being out, but this is different.

He threatened to kill her at his house, kicked her out, and yet here he is, wanting to apologize, again, but Meg won’t stand to be treated like how he treated her before, not when she has her friends with her, and not when she knows she truly has nothing to be scared of…

Hopefully.

A small voice in the back of her reminds her that he was a murderer before the Entity, but he hasn’t hurt her, not yet, and she’s really beginning to convince herself that he won’t.

With everything she has seen from him, he is an unpredictable force of nature, and that scared her - still scares her, but she knows there has to be some decency in him.

He didn’t even end up defending himself against David, even though he could have easily stopped him in his tracks.

So instead, she stares at him, refusing to back down, as his eyes search hers for something, though she doesn’t know what.

Although his face is hard as stone, for the first time as she looks up at him, really looks into his eyes, there is something there that she can’t place. 

This close, she can see the flecks of gold in his irises.  She can see the faint scars she didn’t notice before, one beside his left eye, one on his temple.  Wounds of war, she could think once, but now, it wasn’t war.

It was terror.

“You’re not going to hurt me,” she whispers, a victory.  Her mouth turns upwards in disbelief, in suspicion, in defiance as he didn’t say anything to call her bluff. 

“Why are you so goddamn stubborn?” Evan asks quietly.  He exhales slowly as though he was holding in a breath. 

“I suppose years with the Entity made me that way,” Meg replies, no humor in her voice as she lets out the breath she was holding along with him.  The tension seems to fade away ever so slowly into something that makes Meg uncomfortable.

He doesn’t grab her shoulder like he did before, but she can almost feel him wanting to reach up, to touch her again, as though some sort of electricity was going off between them, frantic and unpredictable until he speaks, lessening the intensity, and making it easier for Meg to hear herself think again. 

“Regardless,” Evan starts, pausing.  Meg notices how he said nothing in the contrary to him hurting her.  Relief floods over her like a dam breaking as Evan continues, “I’m done arguing with you.  Think what you want about me, it makes no difference.  Just…” he pauses as he brings a hand to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose out of annoyance as he finally breaks the intimate eye contact with her,  “You need to respect living in my house.  This isn’t an option.  I don’t appreciate you sneaking around where you do not belong.”

Meg flares her nostrils and lets out an exasperated sigh.

“I know but look, there are clues in that house that can tell us-“

“I am aware but we don’t need them.  Not right now.  Or at least, we can look together so you’re not going through every single piece of my family history.  It is a bit invasive, don’t you agree?”

“I guess, but what if there is something you don't want to look at? Another piece you forbid me from finding?”

Evan looks at her and doesn’t look away.  He doesn’t seem to blink as his gaze focuses purely on Meg once more, who does her best to ignore the scrutiny of his stare. 

“What is it exactly that you hope to find in my home?” He asks, his voice low, almost like a growl.

Meg thinks for a moment, because she honestly doesn’t know.  She feels foolish making this big deal out of this without any end goal in sight. 

“I just want to know more about the Entity.  Your house was clearly a hot spot for it, and I think it is a good place to start.  Don’t you want to know?”

Evan finally peels his eyes from her and looks away.

“I’m not sure I want to.  I came in contact with the Entity enough to last a lifetime, or rather multiple lifetimes.”

“But don’t you want to know why?” Meg stresses ‘why’ trying to drive in the fact that they could find out something, or anything, about this situation.

And maybe they won’t get caught in the same nightmare twice, but she wants to make sure - no - she needs to make sure.

She doesn’t know if she can survive a second time.

Meg sighs and crosses her arms across her chest.

“Look, I’m sorry for going into the study, I really am,” she apologizes, suddenly feeling self-conscious that she didn’t apologize sooner, so she looks at the ground just past Evan’s feet.  “It was invasive, and again, I’m sorry, but I just can’t stand by and wonder if the last ten years of my life were absolute agony for nothing.  If I can get some answers…on anything…”

Meg flounders slightly as her apology falls apart the more she rambles. 

Evan takes a small step towards Meg, reminiscent of the times he had crossed the personal circle between them, but instead of just standing there intimidatingly like so many times before, he raises a huge hand and sets it on Meg’s shoulder, only this time, it isn’t on the outside of her shoulder, it is closer to her face.  He grasps tight, his thumb resting on the base of her neck, and she knows he has to be able to feel her swallowing her fear as her breath quickens.  If he noticed, he doesn’t mention it as he looks at her.

“It wasn’t for nothing.  You were put in a situation with the Entity you clearly did not deserve, and for that I'm sorry,” he says, barely above a whisper.

Meg is speechless as Evan finishes his sentence.  She looks at him, and she can almost picture an old school miner and business man that he claimed to be.  The way he carries himself was assured and strong, stronger than any man she’s ever seen, though she’d never tell this to David who is convinced he can beat anyone and anything in his way.  He is intimidating, to say the least, but he has this quiet charisma that seems to calm Meg at that moment.

It’s no wonder he got his workers to follow him blindly.

Evan stands there like a man with a purpose.  Everything he does has a reason, everything he says is concise and to the point, and he says a lot in the pauses between his words.

As much as she knows she messed up, she feels like he’s giving her a second chance.  A chance at what? She isn’t sure.  She isn’t sure if she even wants a second chance.

When she found Nea and David, she wondered if that was the second chance she was looking for when she first realized she was out.

Not with Evan…

“You’re welcome to come back to the Estate should you choose,” Evan says, giving her such a minuscule squeeze on her shoulder, she barely felt it before he took his hand back to rest at his side once more.

Should she go back? All Evan did was make her feel unwelcome and unsure of being there. 

But that’s not true, Meg thinks.  He was sure to try and make her feel comfortable…

She was the one who pushed him, kept interrogating him in his house.

But it was completely necessary, Meg thought, or at least a little bit.

Meg can hardly keep up with her mind fighting within itself as she tries to rationalize the huge part of her that wants to go back.

She ran away with the intention of never seeing him again, but hearing his apology, she knows she was wrong, no matter how much she doesn’t want to admit it, and maybe they can work together. 

There can be a different perspective other than just hers and her other survivors.

And it isn’t like her friends are going to disappear.  Meg can see them and work with them too, all figuring things out together.

Or so she hopes.

They can make sure they never have to encounter the same torture they all went through ever again, and maybe keep other people from experiencing it too.

From the years of training her hearing to pick up even the smallest of sounds, Meg focuses on the sounds around her as she hears Nea’s familiar light step come up behind her around the corner before she hears her speak.

“Meg?” Nea calls out from the street not too far from Meg and Evan. 

Meg hesitates for just a moment, though it seems like an eternity to her.

Evan looks at her with no judgement, his mouth turned downward slightly, but his eyes spring to life, exuding emotions Meg doesn’t have the time recognize.

It causes something to stir within Meg that either she doesn’t recognize or doesn't want to admit, so she clears her throat and turns towards Nea.

“I’m just making sure everything’s okay? This shithead hasn’t killed you yet?” Nea calls out, looking past Meg, clearly attacking Evan.

The calmness Evan was beginning to project disappeared quickly, Meg could practically feel him tense up behind her.

“I’m okay, we were just coming back.”

Nea waits at the corner for Meg, clearly not wanting to leave them alone again as she stands there, her arms crossed and a foot tapping the ground.

Meg doesn’t look back at Evan as she walks towards her friend, taking a deep breath and sending her a small smile.

“You can stay here.  I want to talk to her,” Nea spits at Evan before taking Meg’s hand, grasping her fingers between her own.  Evan’s eyes flicker down at their interlocked hands and back to Meg, then to Nea, as he says nothing.  After a moment, he nods and leans against the side of the building, a clear sign that he would wait there for Meg’s answer to whether or not she would go back with him.

Nea drags Meg a little ways away, not as far as Evan dragged her, before she brings her close and narrows her eyes.

“Sooo, when were you gonna tell us you were shacking up with the Trapper for the last few days?” Nea says, her voice light, but the look on her face betrays any sense of ease she might try to exude.

“I wanted to tell you!” Meg starts, “As I said, it was a long story…”

“You could say that again…”

Nea leads her over to David, who sits on the curb of the street, leaning back on his hands placed out behind him, fingers sprawled out on the concrete.

“So, what’re you thinking?” Nea says, pulling Meg down to sit on the curb with the two of them.  She lands with a harsh thud that sends waves of dull pain up her spine.

The shock does nothing to lessen her nerves or choices she has to make right now.

Before it would be so simple, of course she’d go with her friends, but now…

Now she knows there are answers that lie within the MacMillan Estate, answers that she wants to know and she doesn’t know if she can find anywhere else.

She doesn’t know if she can just abandon that so easily.

But she also knows that she could be making the biggest mistake of her life.

“I…” Meg hesitates, “I think I’m going to go back with him.  Just for now!” she adds the last part in such a rush, it comes out like a jumble of words.  “I just need to figure out what is going on, and I think he is a key part of it all.”

“What’s going on is that we are out,” David mutters without opening his eyes, “We are out, love, and I don’t care why or how, but we are here and we should enjoy it.”

Meg frowns.  “Yeah, but I don’t think I’m contented with just knowing we are out.  Giving it some meaning at least could help, right? Can you just live knowing we’ve been through hell and back for no reason?”

David opens one eye and peeks at her for a moment before shaking his head and closing his eyes once more, “Nah.  I’m here now, why would I worry about the ‘why’?”

Meg takes a deep breath trying to suppress all the words that threaten to come bursting out of her mouth.

“Well I’m glad that you are content in being in this world and drinking your troubles away, but I actually want to know more about our lives for the last decade,” Meg bursts out, annoyed that David doesn’t even try to see that there could be something more to this...and it's not just David.  But Nea and Evan both seem to be just fine not knowing, and Meg can't stand that she is the only one who seems to care. 

“Hey, it could be worse, ya know,” David responds, not concerned.  “We could still be there.  If you want to go live with the fuckin’ monster and relive those times, you can.  We ain’t stoppin’ you.”  He gestures over to Evan who stands against a building at the end of the street.

“David…”Meg mutters, reaching out to him, “Look you have your way of coping and I have mine, and maybe Nea wants to know what is going on too...”

“Oh, don’t bring me into this,” Nea says, throwing her hands out in front of her.  “I will say that I really don’t understand why you’re going back to The Trapper…but that’s on you.”

“If your way of coping is to go play house with a killer, then go right ahead.  It’s your funeral.”  David stands up, sways slightly, and then stretches, raising his hands high above his head.

“It’s not that I want to live with him,” Meg starts by saying but then pauses, not sure how to convince her friends.  She can feel their disapproval and hesitation so thick in the air, it’s suffocating.

"If this means so much to you, we can figure things out together," Nea says, giving Meg a reassuring nod, "you don't need him to figure things out.  We have mama Claud on our side, and you know how much she loves figuring mysteries out."

Meg takes in a deep breath, realizing the key point she hasn’t even brought up.  Wanting to smack herself, she settles on telling them the thing that she hopes can convince her friends the most.

“Look, I found documents there, and I think they could help find an explanation as to why we are here, or we were sent there in the first place.  They were…weird, but they talked about the Entity and I feel like if I’m there, I can find out more.” Meg gnaws at her lip, waiting for her friends’ replies.  “I know you don’t want to know, but I do, and I think I should also be able to find that out without being interrogated by you two.”

David and Nea exchange a quick glance as Nea stands up and holds out a hand for Meg.  David crosses his arms, his eyes squint at Meg, clearly debating whether to fight it more or just let it go.

She shoots him a pleading glance as to tell him to just think about the possibilities.  Before he can say anything, Nea speaks up. “Meg, it isn’t safe, and especially being with him? He already kicked you out once.”

“Yeah, and what makes you trust this bastard? What if he tries something and we aren’t around to protect you?”

Meg lets out a small laugh before getting serious once more.

“I don’t trust him, but I really don’t think he would try anything though.  He had plenty of chances to kill me or hurt me…and he didn’t.”

“But what’s to say he won’t in the future?”

“I can handle myself.”

“We know that, but,” Nea pauses, glancing over at Evan who stands looking at his hands, “he’s a big dude, just as big as he was in the trials, and we all know how strong he was there.”

David scoffs at that, peeling his eyes away from Meg as he now examines Evan.

“I could still take him,” David boasts.

“Of course you could, tough guy,” Meg says, smiling sadly at him.  “Okay okay, what if I found a way to get a phone or something? Something so we can keep in touch at all times?”

“And how would you get one?” Nea asks sarcastically.  “It isn’t like they’re just throwing them at people.”

“That’s for me to figure out, but what if I got one, would that make it better?”

“I still don’t like it…but I guess,” Nea trials off not quite giving the go ahead that Meg receives in her mind.

“I’ll find a way and I’ll let you know.  Give me your address and I’ll tell you directions to where we are staying.”

Nea mumbles to herself as she listens to Meg tell her the directions from where they stand as they get to the Estate, and Meg even has to pause, not realizing how accustomed to walking to and from the Estate she has become.

“I’ll figure out a way to get some phones, or something for us to keep in touch, okay?” Meg says to Nea as she gives her one more hug, trying to reassure both her friends and herself.  Glancing over at Evan, he is now leaning against the building, one leg crossed over the other, gazing at the bystanders with more malice than indifference.   

“You’re really going with him…” Nea mutters as they all look over at the brooding man, “He really doesn’t look any different than he did before.”

Meg does her best not to think of what Nea just said as she gathers up her friends and waves Evan over.  Meg has come to see him a little differently, she thinks, or maybe it's her own mind trying to come to terms with being in the same proximity as him.  Either way, she decides she is going to separate him from The Trapper.

He is Evan.

Evan MacMillan.

This is the only way this will work.

Both David and Nea stare at him as he walks over, neither of them making any attempt to forgive or forget. 

“Look, remember where we will be.  Ask anyone, they’ll know the hotel.  Please get back to us by tomorrow or I swear Meg, we will come find you and kill anyone in our way,” Nea says, grabbing Meg’s hand one last time and giving it a tight squeeze.

Meg smiles and nods at Nea’s tone, always protecting her, though it sounded more like a threat than anything.

Although her friends aren’t as furious as they were before, Meg can’t help but feel absolutely awful at the idea that she chose Evan over them as they part ways; she never thought it would come to this. 

Still unable to quite hold his balance, Nea hoists her arms under David’s shoulders as they walk going off in the opposite direction.  Meg shoots her friends one last reassuring glance before turning and walking with Evan back to the one place she should be wanting to run away from, not go back to.

She knows how much she should hate the Estate, want to get away from it kicking and screaming, but as she told her friends, there’s something there, and she’s not wasting time looking for it.

Silently praying to a god she gave up on long ago, she hopes she is making the right choice.

Meg looks up at Evan as they begin to walk, side-by-side, different from any other time that they’ve walked this familiar route.

“You know, you aren’t allowed to kick me out again, and if you do, I won’t leave,” Meg threatens, looking from Evan to the road in front of them.

“I won’t.  To be fair, I was surprised you left the first time.  I almost expected you to refuse.”

“Why? You were so adamant,” she pauses before adding, “You were so mad…” Meg shivers remembering the look on his face when he came into the study.

“And I’ve been mad before, yet you fought me then.”

“You had a knife in your hand…you threatened me, what else was I going to do?” Meg almost yells at him, debating whether to turn around and run back towards Nea and David.  They couldn’t be too far away now…

“I was just preparing dinner and then you did what you did…old habits are hard to break,” Evan responds, floundering just slightly over his words.  If Meg hadn't talked to him as much as she has now, she wouldn't have noticed the hesitation.  “Would it help if I told you I wasn’t holding it to hurt you?”

“Not really,” Meg mutters remembering all the times that he killed her with his own bloody cleaver.

Evan balls his hands into a fist at his side while talking, “Although my mind doesn’t miss the trials, my hand misses the feeling of a weapon in it.  I don’t know how else to explain it."

Meg nods as a way of understanding, although she really doesn’t understand it at all.

After a few beats of silence, Evan speaks up again.  “Did you really think I was going to hurt you?”

“Well, yeah.  I messed up, and I can’t say we have the cleanest of histories here,” Meg replies, confused about where this conversation is going.  “You did do that very thing for over a decade.”

“I see.”

“But look,” Meg hesitates before responding, “I am really sorry...about going into the study.  I know I said it before, but I messed up, and I’m sorry.  I should have apologized sooner than I did...”

“Well," Evan pauses, his voice dropping low as he glances down at Meg out of the corner of his eye, "I will admit that it is nice to hear you say you were in the wrong for a change." The corner of his mouth pulls up into a smirk and that's when Meg realizes he is trying to lighten the mood even if it is at her own expense. 

Meg looks at him, knowing she deserves his…teasing? and she wonders if she should go along with it or not.

A game of cat and mouse, as it has always been, and it is certainly a game she doesn’t need anymore.  It feels weird coming from him of all people, but it reminds her of how he was last night, whiskey in hand, smirking at her from across the room.

“Have you been drinking?” Meg blurts out, the question coming from her before she could convince herself not to ask.

“No,” Evan responds, an eyebrow quirked.  “Why?”

“You’re just…chatty.”

“Chatty.” Evan repeats, a hint of humor in his voice

Meg takes a deep breath, wondering if he was going to say more or simply leave it at that. 

Once the silence drags on a little more, and it was clear he wasn't going to say anything more, Meg can't help but ask the one last thing that burns in her mind before they go back, “I just don’t know why you came and found me again, or why you’d want me to come back after what I did.”

Evan looks down at her then back up, the slight smile from earlier fading from his face as they continue their journey without a word.  Meg realizes the silence said more than he could have said himself, and that was the only answer she needed.

He is just as confused as she is.

So she remains quiet as they walk about a block before she speaks again, trying to regain her voice.

“Just…please don’t kick me out again.”

“Don’t do anything to warrant getting kicked out.”

Meg squints up at him, prepared fight, but instead she sighs.

She hates that he’s right. 

“Okay, deal.”

Evan doesn't respond which Meg takes as a hopeful ‘deal’ since anything he seems to disagree with he vocalizes adamantly.  Meg pauses, taking a deep breath, simply reassuring herself of where she’s going, as though if she makes this choice, it is life or death, and the weight of her choices will come down on her like a hundred pounds no matter what she chooses.

Evan places a hand on the small of her back to usher her to continue walking, nothing urgent, but it was almost comforting…if it didn’t come from him.

It is just enough to send a jolt of electricity up her spine, coaxing Meg back into reality, walking once more.  Her hand twitches, simultaneously wanting to both push his hand away and let him keep it there, but before she can decide, his hand stays for just a moment until it falls back to his side of its own volition. 

She begins to follow him, but pauses briefly in the doorway of the bar from earlier, the doors still propped wide open, tuned into the news channel. 

“Evan, wait,” Meg calls to him, looking at the TV, a blaring white and red headline runs its way across the bottom of the screen that makes Meg’s heart stop.

 

String of recent killings in Jefferson County. 4 Dead, 4 missing.

 

——

“There have been multiple sightings of a clown terrorizing neighborhoods within the last two days, as well as a number of cases of missing people across the Puget Sound in Chimacum, Port Townsend, and Port Hadlock.”

“We have with us an eye witness.  Mr. Jed Olsen claims he has seen this man, described as being six and a half feet tall, three hundred pounds, and warns all residents to stay indoors at this time. Mr. Olsen, what do you think about the situation? Can you tell us anything about what you saw?”

“Thanks, doll.  You see, I was near the old barns down Egg&I in Chimacum, and that’s when I saw him, a huge clown.  To be frank, I thought he was covered in what looked like blood, but when I called the police to go investigate, everything was normal.  No clown in sight.  Now, you see, I don’t like being wrong.  I know the poor missing people and the clown sightings are connected.  It seems like there might be a killer clown on the loose and I just want to keep living, as I expect many people do, too. I think it is a good thing to inform the public, my fellow survivors, to stay indoors.  Don’t go out looking for trouble, or it might find you.”

Chapter Text

“Do you think it’s him?”

The question hangs in the air like a noose, swinging back and forth like an inevitable omen for not only Meg, but seeing the way Evan freezes as he turns away from the bar and marches away, she can only assume it isn’t good news for him either.

Despite Meg wanting to hear more of the news story, she quickly decides that keeping up with Evan is the safest thing to do right now, so she jogs to his side once more, questions about the clown tingling at the tip of her tongue.

She doesn’t want to ask them right away, not after how she saw his whole demeanor change, so she physically bites down on her tongue to try and keep quiet.

She has pushed her luck far too long, she doesn’t want him to get mad at her before they even make it to the house.  So she thinks as they walk in silence, making their way to the, unfortunately, very familiar woods now.

Thinking back to the broadcast, her mind bounces between the killings, the places…where are they?…and the guest interviewer they had…

What was his name?

Jed Olsen, Meg thinks.

She rolls the name on her tongue, it sounding all too familiar though she can’t quite place from where…

Maybe a past life, or a name that sounds similar to someone else she once knew…

The more they walk, the more she tries to forget the name, brush it off as nothing more than paranoia after hearing something about a killer clown, but each time she tries to think of something else, the name Jed Olsen comes back even stronger.

So instead of asking Evan about the Clown, she needs to ask this.

“Evan?” She speaks up, her voice still sounding far away.

He lets out a sound, more resembling a grunt, as a way of continuing.

“Do you know a Jed Olsen? Does that name sound familiar to you?”

Evan walks beside her, nothing changing in his stride or posture, but he doesn’t say anything for a moment, as though really thinking about it himself.

“No, I don’t believe so,” he finally responds, breaking the silence between them.

Meg frowns beside him, not sure what answer she wanted to hear, convinced that nothing would have made her happy in that moment.

If he heard of a Jed Olsen, it would mean potentially another killer, and if he didn’t…well that just means Meg is back to square one, trying to figure out why that name sounds so damn familiar by herself.

She does have her friends that she can ask, but that is only when she can talk to them again, and who knows when that would be? Nea’s words echo in her mind warning her that she needs to get a way to be in touch with them, but she still has no idea how to do that.

Before, with her friends beside her and the fuel of going back to the Estate igniting her thoughts, she didn’t even stop to think how she would get a phone, or anything to keep in touch…

But the farther she gets from the bar and where she met her friends, the bigger the pit in her stomach grows, unsure that she made the right choice.

And although she doesn’t want to upset Evan even more, she thinks she recognizes this part of the woods, and she thinks it is close to the Estate, so she tempts her luck.

“I want to talk about the Clown,” she blurts out, less subtle than she meant it to be.  Evan tenses to her side so badly, she can almost feel his annoyance radiate from him, but she continues as they walk, “I can see the way you’re reacting.  Really, do you think it’s him? The Clown from the trials?”

“I…” Evan hesitates, for one of the first times Meg has ever seen him hesitate.  Sure, she has seen him pause, even stumble on a word, but never be at such a loss like he is now, “Do you want the honest truth?”

At that, Meg’s stomach drops, all of her fears of all the killers working together coming at her full speed as she nods her head, “Yes.”

Evan looks at her and slows down a little bit, not completely, but enough to make a difference as he looks down at her.

“I think it’s him.  I…killers were never close, but it seems all too convenient.”  He pauses for a  moment before shaking his head slightly and resuming his walking, “Nevertheless, we are here, and we are safe.”

“We are safe?” Meg repeats, disbelief clear in her voice, “And how can you guarantee that?”

“No one will come here.”

“Well, I did, and you did, so what makes you think that this is some impervious fortress?” Meg asks, her voice picking up now. 

She tries to control the volume and tone of how she asks, but she can hardly believe what she’s hearing.  She wants to think she’s safe, and as much as he hates to admit it, being with Evan is probably the safest she is from other people; how safe she is from him though is a different story.

But…how can he be so confident in such a blatant lie?

“He is dangerous, clearly, he has gone back to his old ways, and if it’s on the news here, the towns must be close,” Meg says, looking at the ground, trying to concentrate her eyes on looking at the rocks rather than looking up at Evan.  She doesn’t want to get mad, she doesn’t…but she’s scared that if she looks at his nonchalant attitude, her anger will bubble up to more than she can handle, so she stares at the ground.

“He has no means of getting here, we are safe, I told you,” Evan repeats, sounding more robotic than comforting. 

Meg says nothing in response, not wanting to go ahead and push this for now, as she tucks away her thoughts for a time when they both aren’t so exhausted.  She hasn’t been up for long, but her eyes can barely stay open the more she walks, and she can only imagine how Evan must be feeling, since he admitted to not even sleeping more than a few hours for the number of days they’ve been out.

So she stops, and maybe however she can get to her friends, they can come up with something.  She knows they’ll have her back, hopefully, even after she chose to go with Evan instead of them.  Her only hope is that they haven’t abandoned her just yet, even though deep in her chest it feels like she abandoned them.

It’s for a greater cause, she tells herself.

But it doesn’t work, not for long…until she looks at Evan, and somehow, it seems okay again, just a little bit.  Him being beside her must mean something, anything, in the grand scheme of the Entity. 

It made killers and survivors, but out here, it can’t control them, she hopes.

As long as they are out of its claws, they should be safe.

So she walks, thinking of points to talk over with her friends once she finds out a way to get in touch with them.

For the rest of the walk since the Clown talk, she thinks about ways that she can get in contact with her friends, all options sounding more and more ridiculous as she pushes them from her mind.  Instead, she thinks about how the last few hours have been enough to almost tip her over the edge between Evan kicking her out, terrifying her to her very core, running into her friends she was convinced she’d never see again, and then convinced to leave said friends to return to the man who kicked her out to begin with.

This would be enough to make anyone want a break, a pause on life, on drama, on thinking…

But Meg has been through worse.

Has always been through worse.

She can hardly believe what she has experienced the last few days since coming out of the nightmare she was stuck in, yet here she is, ready and eager to learn exactly what the hell brought her there to begin with.

So she walks, wanting food to stimulate her mind until she can start looking into other mysteries that, hopefully, Evan will allow her to look at.  Her stomach growls, both from nerves and hunger, and soon all she can think about as her and Evan make their way back home, home? - to the Estate, is trying to get food. 

Although she doesn’t mention this to him as they walk, with each step, her eyes grow heavier and her mind becomes less and less focused on what she needs to do.  Instead, she listens to their footsteps, hers light, and his heavy, crunching the dirt. 

When they reach the estate, her mind wanders to food, but her head pounds and she can barely keep her eyes open.

A nap, she thinks, would be the best way to start this.  Take a nap, then figure out things afterwards.

Without a word, she walks upstairs to the same room she was given, and without even taking off her shoes, she collapses on the bed.

Hours pass, how many for certain, Meg doesn’t know, but when she wakes up, the moon is once again illuminating her room casting rays upon the dusty ground. 

She rolls over without opening her eyes, ignoring her skin crawling from the mounds of dust she didn’t get to clean off, as she lets out a small groan.

She’s so comfortable…she could probably go back to sleep if she gave herself just a minute or two…

But then her stomach growls.

Remembering that she hasn’t had anything to eat yet, she pushes herself up, rubbing her eyes to will them open.

She tries not to think about everything that happened yesterday as she walks out of her room, her feet padding softly across the hallway towards the stairs.  She knows she is welcomed here, Evan wouldn’t have invited her back, but she doesn’t want to impose or make him mad again.  They can talk more in the morning, she tells herself, and they can go from there.

Taking one step at a time, she makes her way down the staircase, and as she reaches the bottom, she almost expects to see Evan still awake and drinking like she caught him last night.  There are some lanterns lit that give off a soft warm glow around, and as she gets closer, she can hear the soft crackle of the fireplace in the room at the bottom of the stairs.

Peeking her head in, she sees Evan sat in the same chair he sat in yesterday, but his hand is empty.  Squinting to see better in the dark, she realizes his eyes are closed, as his chest rises and falls so slowly. 

He’s asleep.

She’s seeing Evan asleep.

She knows she should just leave him be, but she also knows this is a rare sight, like catching a glimpse of something you’re not supposed to see.

So she watches him, just for a minute.

The fire casts an orange glow on the side of his face, creating shadows that make his scars look even deeper, but otherwise he looks peaceful.

She can hardly believe how relaxed he looks; she has never seen him like this before.  She didn’t even think he could be this relaxed.

But that relaxation starts to disappear as he twitches once, groaning, and his breathing starts to quicken.

She begins to think he’s awake until he starts moving in his chair, mumbling words so quietly, Meg can’t make any of them out.

Is he having a nightmare?

Meg never would have guessed that he could actually dream about anything, let alone have a nightmare, to have something scare him seems impossible.

You never think of the monster having nightmares, something to be scared of.

She looks back at him, thrashing around so slightly, it almost doesn’t seem like much, that is until she notices how white his knuckles get as he grips the chair, and how tense his jaw locks as his frantic mumbling words spill from his mouth.  She almost wants to wake him up, to make him stop, even if just for the fact that she’s worried his teeth with shatter from the pure force of his jaw clenching and teeth rubbing together.

“Evan?” She calls out softly, almost too soft she doesn’t hear it.  Taking a deep breath and clearing her throat, she takes a step into the room, calling out his name once more, a bit louder this time, “Evan?”

He stirs a little bit at the sound of his name, so Meg takes it as a sign that she should call out again, taking another step forward though not too close.  Never too close.

“Evan?” she calls out.  His eyes fly open and land on her immediately.  His breathing is so fast, Meg thinks he’ll pass out, but he doesn’t, as he looks at her.  His knuckles still grip the leather so tight, his fingers dig in and his knuckles turn white as paper as he doesn’t blink, just stares and breathes.

“Evan…it’s okay,” Meg whispers, holding her hands out in front of her, not sure what else to do.  Her own anxiety begins to bubble in her chest seeing him like this.  This is the type of person she thought he would be originally, angry.

Uncontrollable.

She doesn’t want to take a step forward, but everything in her feels like she can’t take a step back either. 

“Evan, I’m here…you’re safe.”

He sits, his eyes fixed on her, his blinking coming back to normal so slowly, she can count the seconds in between his blinks becoming double digits until he slowly starts to blink faster while breaking eye contact as he looks away from her.

His breathing, once rapid and fast, begins to slow down as he takes in longer breathes.

“Are you okay?” Meg asks once his breathing has returned to normal and his eyes aren't so wide and panicked.  His fingers gradually relax and stop trying to rip through the leather in his armchair.

Her question is met with silence as she stares at him hoping for some sign of…well, anything.

“Evan?” She repeats sounding like a broken record.

He pushes himself up so quickly, it takes Meg by surprise causing her to take a step back.

The two of them stare at each other for a minute, two, three, before he finally starts walking, walking right past her and to the stairs.

He goes up and to the left, to a door right beside her room, before he shuts himself in completely.

She can almost hear the stark lock on his door, but she doesn’t dare to try and see if he really locked himself in.

So she goes into the kitchen, waiting.

There is a plate filled with a hunk of meat, cuts of carrots, and leaves, which she assumes is salad, in front of her in the kitchen.  A fork, knife, and spoon are set out perfectly and a cloth napkin sits in front of the plate, as though he made it just for her to enjoy.

Despite what just went on in the next room, she could almost cry at the generosity of it all, as she looks upon the meal laid out before her.

She clears her throat again, not knowing if it’s it make her presence known, or if she’s just that hungry, but she steps up, takes the fork, and digs into the delicious meal that awaits her.

---

As she finishes her meal, she thinks of taking her own personal tour around, but as she pushes herself back in her chair, the temptation of looking around the Estate is sorely ripped from her when she remembers everything that happened the day before.  Instead, she looks around and decides to go sit outside and wait for Evan to wake up.

Not wanting to go where she doesn’t belong for now, she carefully walks into the foyer and opens the door.  A loud creak echoes through the house as she does so making her cringe at the noise.  Quickly, she squeezes through the crack and accidentally closes it a little too hard once she’s outside.

Pushing the noise from her mind, she bites at her lip as her eyes scan the trees around her.  The sky begins to turn a light blue as Meg takes a seat on the front porch step, resting her arms on her legs as she looks around.

In the distance she hears a few birds start chirping their morning song, and it’s music to Meg’s ears, each note soothing her nerves as she looks at the sky.

Each morning since being out, she has been awake to see the sun rise, but hasn’t truly been able to just sit, watch, and listen to the world waking up around her.  Although the feeling that this has to be some trick is still there deep in her bones, trying to claw its way to the surface, she does her best to ignore it so she can just sit and enjoy this time that she can have to herself. 

She lets her mind wander from one thing to another, never thinking too much about one specific thing before her thoughts drift to something else, but then somehow, her mind goes to Evan, briefly thinking about what happened that morning.  She almost wants to go back inside and check on him, see if he’s okay, see if he’s sleeping. 

Quickly deciding against it, she leans back on her hands and goes back to looking at the distant tree-line.  There is no way that she could justify herself if she were to go into his room just to see if he’s okay.

Of course he’s okay.

It shouldn’t matter to Meg even if he wasn’t.

So instead, she takes this time to just relax, listen to nature, and enjoy the feeling of the warm breeze on her face.

She remains like this for awhile until she hears the door behind her open and before she can turn around, Evan is standing beside her, two cups of coffee in his hands.

“Figured I’d find you out here.  Here, made some coffee,” he mumbles, his voice deep with exhaustion.  He bends down and sets a mug next to Meg, who eagerly picks it up and holds it close to her chest, warming her up. 

“Thank you,” Meg responds, taking a sip.  It’s bitter and scalding hot, but Meg swallows it full of appreciation anyway.  “How’d you know I’d like this?”

“I remember how you looked when you smelled it outside when we first met.  Assumed from then on that you liked it,” Evan says, taking a step down from the porch, but not quite sitting yet. 

“Oh.” Meg remembers them passing a coffee shop only vaguely; there were more important things in her mind at that time, but it doesn’t make her shock that he would remember any less personal.  “Where’d you get this from?”

“Found some in the cupboard.”

Meg practically spits out the sip she just took, sputtering her words.  “In the cupboard? So it’s been sitting there for over a hundred years? Is this even safe…?” Meg rambles, holding out the mug in her hand as she inspects the dark liquid, as though it would tell her itself if it was safe or not.

“Dunno, guess we will just have to wait and see.” Evan shrugs.  “But then again, I didn’t take you as one to be concerned of the health risks of drinking old coffee,” Evan finishes, a slight smile making its way on his face that only makes Meg frown.

“Well, if I’m going to be killed by anything, I wouldn’t want it to be at the hands my favorite drink.”

Evan actually laughs at this, a deep chuckle resounding through his chest.  “You’re not going to die from old coffee.  I think you’ll be fine.”

Unconsciously, Meg begins to smile at Evan’s retort, but not wanting to give him the advantage, she deepens her frown to an almost cartoon-like level trying not to let him see her smiling.  She takes this opportunity to bring up a plan that she had been thinking about earlier, in hopes to catch him in a good mood when she brings it up to him.

“Speaking of old coffee,” Meg starts by saying as she looks up at him still standing beside her, “well you can sit down you know,” she interrupts herself by patting the step.

He looks behind himself at the wood and then at Meg who feels like she’s being looking down upon by him.  Her stomach twists uncomfortably not knowing if its from nerves from telling him what to do, or if the coffee is really just that bad.

He doesn’t say anything for a moment, and just before Meg was about to continue and ignore the fact that she asked him to sit, he sits down with a sigh.  He still towers over her as they sit side-by-side, and suddenly Meg wishes he didn’t sit down because now this feels too close.  She can’t look at him while she talks so she switches her gaze between the trees and her coffee.

“Anyways, I was going to say, maybe it’s time we go and try to get food? Or real coffee?”

“With what money?” Evan responds, staring straight ahead.  “If you have some that you’ve been hiding, that would be a great thing to share.”

“Well, okay, tell me if I’m overstepping-“

“Good way to begin to convince me of whatever you’re going to say,” he interrupts her, but Meg continues, ignoring his retort.

“In older times, sometimes people hid money or gold or valuables in houses, or in the woods around their homes.  I used to hear stories of it all the time from people I would see on runs,” Meg shifts uncomfortably, feeling like she is prying too much into what else he could be hiding.  “I was thinking maybe your father might have hidden something? Or if you know where something could be? I don’t know, we could trade it in.  Once I have money, I’ll pay you back for what I use!”

Evan sits there taking sips of coffee and swishing it around his mouth before swallowing.  Every time he swallows, Meg expects an answer, that is until he takes another sip and repeats the process, mulling around the coffee in his mouth like the idea in his head.

“Look, I’m sorry if that’s a crazy request, but we can’t just keep living off of old coffee and meat.  Plus getting a phone or something could be useful too,” Meg throws in the last part, hoping to convince him that phones could be a good idea, and she could get one to her friends before they end up too freaked out to let her stay here. 

“We have a telephone,” Evan responds, his brows furrowed in confusion.  “Though I doubt it would still work for you to try and call whoever you’re wanting to.”

“No,” Meg holds back a small giggle at the way Evan looks at her, a look of confusion clear on his face, “Now we have phones that fit on our pockets.  We can use them to call or send texts, like letters but the other person gets them instantly.  I was thinking that it would be handy to have in any case of emergency.”

“What sort of emergency do you think will happen?” Evan asks, the confusion slowly melting from his face and replaced by one of his eyebrows shooting up in curiosity.

“Well, that’s the thing about emergencies, sometimes you don’t know what can happen until it does,” Meg says back, taking another sip of the bitter coffee as something for her hands to do.  “And the Clown is still out there…”

Evan continues staring at Meg, who feels the heat of his stare despite not even looking at him.

“Out of anywhere, this is probably the safest place for you to be.  No one will hurt you here,” he says, the ghost of his words from yesterday hang in the air between them.

I won’t hurt you.

Meg takes in a deep breath, her throat is dry despite her not feeling thirsty.  The words come out strained but she pushes on anyway.  “I know.  It would just make me feel better knowing I can call my friends.”

Evan finally peels his eyes from her as he scans the tree-line.  “I suppose that’s fair.”

The two sit in silence, sipping the old coffee as they watch the sun change the sky from light blue, to pink and orange, to a hue of lavender before Evan speaks up again.

“My father always kept his valuables in his study,” he says, glancing over at Meg.  “If we were to find any hidden fortune that you’re talking about, it would be there.”

Meg nods along with what he’s saying although flashes of the study and its contents flash in her mind like lightening, a warning sign to not go in there again.

“Will you kick me out again if I offer to help look in there?” Meg asks hesitantly. 

Evan's mouth twitches up into a smile but disappears just as quickly. 

“No,” he begins, “but we can go in there together.”  A pause.  “Just so I know you’re not snooping where you don’t belong.”

“Oh so, I can just snoop to see if I can find money, got it,” Meg teases back.  Finding the perfect opportunity to tease him like he has been teasing her made her feel almost human, like she was back bantering with Nea and David, and just for a moment, she forgets who she was actually talking to. 

Their conversation today has been laced with familiarity and a sort of calmness that Meg never would think she would get with Evan, but there she is, almost feeling comfortable sitting next to him now.

He looks at her, and quickly, so quickly Meg would have missed it if she blinked, his eyes flicker down to her lips, before they came back up and rest on her eyes, maintaining eye contact like always.

“I won’t dignify that with a response,” he ends up saying, holding his hand out and gesturing towards Meg’s empty coffee mug.  He takes it and stands up, his knees cracking as they stand.  “Are you ready?”

“For what? Are we looking now?” Meg asks, pulling herself up using the handrail. 

Evan nods and heads inside, not waiting for her to follow.

He makes a quick pit stop to drop their mugs in the kitchen as Meg waits outside of the study, not daring to go in without him.  As much as she can hardly contain herself and how much she wants to go inside, she waits, bouncing on her heels.

Evan comes in behind her and says nothing as the two of them stare at the intricate dark wood doors.  His breathing becomes audibly louder to the point that Meg can hear him take in the deepest of breaths behind her.

“I can go in first if you want,” Meg offers, her voice quiet.  She’s not sure if that is what he is waiting for, but neither of them dare make the first move.

“Before yesterday, I never stepped foot in that room,” Evan says, his voice barely above a whisper.  “I never even knew what it looked like.”

Meg’s mouth forms a tiny o as she stares straight forward, no wanting to look at him.  The way he is talking about the study makes it seem like it’s none of her business, and maybe it’s easier for them both if they don't look at each other while he talks.

“I’m really sorry I made you go in there,” Meg apologizes, holding her hand out behind her, not sure what she’s even trying to do.  The guilt that plagued her by going in there to begin with multiplies the longer they stand there without going in.  She keeps her hand behind her, and if Evan wants to grab it he can, but really it’s her way of showing that she is sorry, a handshake to make things better, or even a little bit okay as far as she’s concerned. 

But then she realizes it could come off wrong, or like she’s reaching out for him…

Is she though?

So she slowly brings her hand back, but she could have sworn she felt his fingers brush against hers before her hand returns to her side.

They stand there, another breath, not wanting to go into this one place both for very different reasons.

“Well, I suppose now is as good of a time as any,” she says, finally turning and looking at him.  He doesn’t look down at her as he stares over the top of her head towards the study.  He stands as still as a statue, the Trapper truly returning at this point.

“Do you want me to go in first?” Meg asks again, more power behind her voice.  They need money, they need to go in there, and maybe Meg can try to look at the papers again…sneak a look or something to get a better idea. 

They need to go in.

Evan shakes his head and pushes her to the side, not roughly, but not in a gentle manner either.

“I can do it,” he says, his voice stern. 

He pushes open the doors and goes inside, immediately scavenging a cabinet to their right.  Taking that as a sign that she can go in, Meg takes a tentative step inside to gauge how Evan will react, and he doesn’t.  He is immersed in whatever is in that cabinet, so she walks over to the desk where all of the papers from before are still thrown haphazardly around, just as she left them.  She glances at Evan to see what he’s doing, and when it’s clear that he isn’t actually paying attention to what she’s doing for once, she runs her fingers along the edge of the desk, pretending to look at the drawers, when she’s really looking at the papers stacked on top.

There are more drawings, or what would look like scribbles to anyone else, of the deep recesses of one’s mind.

There is a paper right in front of her that shows what looks like the hooks from the trials, but they are decorated with barbed wire, razors, and needles.  She never saw those.  There is fire raging on the ground, and not just in the barrels, but around the hooks, as a swirling Entity watches from above. 

Meg’s stomach drops, making her need to look away.  To give herself a break, she pulls open the bottom right drawer in the big mahogany desk. 

There are files and more papers stuffed in there, but unlike the papers on top of the desk, these hold no interest to Meg.  They look like ledgers, bills, and accounts of some sort, that she pulls out just in case Evan can make some sense of them.

Perhaps he did trust the banks and put his money away…surely if that’s the case, it must still be somewhere in the banking system, right?

Meg wasn’t positive about what happens to old money, or money that came from banks a hundred years in the past, but any clue is good enough for her.  Placing those on top of the desk, covering up some of the ramblings and pictures, she looks over at Evan who is now carefully studying a book he pulled from the bookcase near him.  Although his eyes scan the pages, his face hardens and his eyes gloss over.

The front is red with gold letters that Meg can’t make out from where she’s standing.

“What did you find?” Meg asks, gesturing to the book Evan clasps tightly in his hand.

“My mother’s diary.”

“Oh, Evan…” Meg begins, standing up.  She wants to say she’s sorry, but nothing comes out after she utters his name. 

His eyes pause, stop moving, frozen on something he must have just read.  She takes a step forward and leans on the desk, waiting for him to say something.

Without a word, he slams the book shut and throws it on the bookshelf before marching out of the room.  Meg scrambles to get back up and follow him, wondering where exactly he’s trying to go.  Her heart skips a beat thinking that he found something, but the way he stormed out, she has no idea if it’s a good or bad thing.

Evan goes outside, marching towards the edge of the forest, his nostrils flare like a bull charging, with Meg trying to keep up behind him. 

Should she really be following him? Where is he going?

Something in her tells her to turn around, but she ignores it, following him as they go.  She trips a few times while trying to keep up, but she always gets her balance back, determined to see where Evan is going.  He hasn’t stopped her from following yet, which she takes as a good sign.

They get to the trees and Evan stops, looks around, and goes to the left a few paces before he falls to his knees, digging his bare hands into the earth like an animal digging for a bone.  He frantically digs, picking up grass, roots, rocks, and dirt, throwing it all to the sides and spraying Meg with some as she catches up to him.

“Hey, what-“

“I could have gotten out…” he mutters, not to Meg, but to himself.  “Could have been out, had a good life…”

“What’re you talking about?” Meg asks.  She raises a hand to put on his shoulder, try to get him out of whatever trance he’s in, but she decides against it, not wanting his aggression to be redirected towards her.  “Evan what’s going on?”

He ignores her questions and continues mumbling to himself, making a pit form in Meg’s throat as she stares at him, her brows knit tightly together. 

She chews at her lip, watching him dig, his movements growing slower by the minute as the hole gets deeper. 

“I can help-“

“No!” Evan shouts, startling Meg to her very core.  She takes a step back and crosses her arms, letting him continue without another word.  “No…I…” Evan stutters and then stops as his digging slows down to almost a stop.  Every few seconds he reaches in the hole with bloody hands and grabs another handful of dirt, throwing it to the side.  Dirt compacts under a few fingernails, while the rest are torn to shreds, bleeding, his blood falling and mixing in with the dirt like water. 

Meg takes this chance to squat down and sit on her heels, bringing her knees close to her chest beside him.  She doesn’t reach out, but she hopes that maybe her presence can be of any help at all.

She doubts it, but there isn’t anywhere else to go.

So she sits with Evan, staring at the now fairly deep hole in the ground.  It impresses her how he was able to dig into solid earth with just his hands, and make a hole that goes up to his elbow when he reaches in fully.  It also scares her.

She knows how strong he is, she has seen first hand, but it is clear that none of that strength has gone away in his time outside the Entity’s realm.

Through deep breaths, Evan finally speaks, only a few words before having to pause, but the fact that he isn’t acting like a wild animal calms Meg’s nerves down just a bit.

“My mother…she hid money.”

Another few digs in the hole.

“Wanted to get away. Wanted to take me away.”

Another dig.

Then another.

Until his hand hits something with a hollow thud that was like electricity to both Evan and Meg, both of them perking up at what was buried there.

This seems to rejuvenate his energy, as he reaches in fully and after about a minute of working at the hole, he pulls out a plain small wooden box.

Evan wastes no time looking at it before he opens it up.

Gold coins and old looking bills are stuffed into the box, filling it up with money.  Evan hovers his hand over the contents of the box unmoving.  He doesn’t look anywhere else but at the money, lost in a time of his own.

Meg doesn’t want to interrupt, so she looks between the box and Evan, watching his reactions slowly change as he gets the courage to touch the money, knowing that it is real, it won’t disappear. 

He shuffles some bills around, feeling the paper beneath his fingers.

“This was supposed to be her ticket to freedom,” he mutters, except this time, he looks at Meg acknowledging her beside him.  “Will this be enough for now?”

Meg swallows all the questions she wants to blurt out.

Why was his mom hiding this? Was she going to take him somewhere? What happened to her?

But instead she takes the box from Evan’s uncharacteristically shaky hands and looks inside.  She has no idea how much old coins and money could be worth, but it’s better than nothing, and at least they could get something out of this.

“I think so.  Did you want to keep any of it?” Meg asks, handing the box back to him.  Evan hesitates taking the box back, but when he does, he shuts it and closes his eyes.

“No.  It would do me no good to have this around now.  Not after what it was buried here for.  May as well get rid of all of it.”

Meg nods, and pushes herself up with her knees. “Alright then, that’s settled.  But look, Evan-“

“Don’t,” he says, the word coming from him like a bullet.  A warning.

“You have been acting weird today, ever since this morning, is there anything you want to talk about? Especially after your…thing this morning and then now?” Meg pushes on, always ignoring warning signs.

Evan looks at her, his face oddly blank, as he blinks once, twice, then looks away, brushing dirt from his pants as he stands up. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”

“You can’t be serious,” Meg says, raising an eyebrow. 

“Nothing happened this morning that needs to be discussed.  This doesn’t need to be discussed. I am fine.”

“Oh, right.  Well if this is how perfectly fine people act, then I guess I was wrong,” Meg says, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

A muscle in Evan’s cheek twitches before he responds.  “I will repeat it again, I am fine.”

Meg holds back a scoff, knowing this is not the time to get too testy with him.  “I was going to say that I’m here in case you needed to talk to someone, even if you are fine.  You don’t have a lot of options of people around right now.”

Evan lets out a quiet sigh, turning towards the trail that leads back to the house.  He pauses after a few steps and nods his head towards the opposite direction of the Estate.

“Well, are you coming?”

Meg closes her eyes for a just a second, annoyed that her offer was met with a lack of enthusiasm.  Not that she thought he would be willing to talk to her, but she would like to know something, anything, in response to what has happened today.

But then again, being in the dark has been her specialty for years now.

She follows him for a few minutes, walking through the woods until the trees get thinner and they get out into the street. 

“I don’t want to talk about it, but…thank you,” Evan mutters finally, his voice low.  Meg is taken aback at his sudden thanks but she also is a little bit warmed knowing that even though it took him the whole walk to town to get up the guts to thank her, he actually acknowledged her attempts at being nice.

They both are trying, she guesses.  Trying to make a life that doesn’t revolve around the trials.  Trying to talk and not get mad at each other.  Trying to move on.  They are trying; Evan in his weird indirect way of helping, and Meg’s confrontational way of trying to help.

It’s something.

Anything is better than how they were yesterday, even if this does make her feel more awkward and exposed to him, something she never thought she’d ever feel around the Trapper.

But then again, she corrects herself, it’s not the Trapper.  This is Evan.

“Do you have any idea how to get money out of this?” Evan asks, holding the box close to his side.

“I dunno, a bank? Or we can see if there’s a special store that buys this kind of stuff.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to start at the bank but…” Evan stops and clears his throat.  “I’m not sure if I should be the one doing the talking.”

“Evan MacMillan, are you asking for my help right now?” Meg teases, shooting him a cheesy grin, half in an attempt to lighten the mood, and half being serious.  Who would have thought?

“Don’t push it,” he warns, but she can see a spark in his eyes as they wrinkle up with just a little bit of humor.

“Fine, yes I’ll do the talking, though I don’t know if I’ll be much better.  I haven’t been to a bank in over a decade.”

“That’s more recent than me,” Evan responds. 

They walk a little ways in silence until they reach downtown, both of them having the same idea to start looking for a bank there.  By this time, the morning sun that had began to shine above them was quickly covered by dark rain clouds.  There was a distant rumbling from thunder that shook her with excitement.  Not that she wanted to be caught out in the rain, but she always loved thunderstorms ever since she was little.

The way the air smelled right before it started to rain, and the calmness of everything broken up by the thunder and lightening crashing around her was always her favorite.

She just hoped that they could get the money, food, and phones before it started to rain, but with the pace of the clouds overhead, she began to feel that they weren’t going to make it home in time.

Towards the end of the street, they come across a small building that simply has the word ‘Bank’ in big letters above the door, and a neon sign that also says ‘Gold Exchange’ in the window.

Before going in, and interacting with what may as well be the first normal interaction for both of them in forever, they look at each other, almost as though they are silently encouraging each other to take the leap and go inside, the same feelings Meg felt earlier with the study bubbling up inside her.

“I’ll ask one more time, you don’t want any of this, right?” Meg clarifies.  She would rather him get annoyed with her now, than be mad at himself or her later for letting go something of his from the past.

“I’m positive.”

With that, Meg opens the small glass door that she’s sure Evan has to duck under to get inside.  A tiny bell announces their presence.  A tired looking old woman sits behind glass, and as she hears the bell, she gives them a kind smile.

“Welcome in, how may I help you two?” Her eyes go from Meg to Evan with no visible changes in her attitude, and with that, Meg almost forgets how to speak.

“We have this,” she says, holding out the box in front of her as she walks to the counter.

The woman, whose name Meg can now see on a name-tag is Evelyn, smiles at her.

“What’s in the box, deary? We can’t exchange boxes here if that is what you’re asking.”

Meg opens the box and shows her the contents inside.  After a brief discussion on the era of the coins and bills, and their value, the two women discuss the value of it all. 

Megs heart nearly stops when Evelyn gives her the total that she can trade-in their money for.

They’ll be set for months, maybe even the next year if they budget their money right.  Meg catches herself before she gets too excited.  Meg hasn’t even began to think about being there with Evan for months; she’ll probably be gone long before then.  So she looks up at Evan, giving him a small smile.  He’ll be set for awhile.

Evelyn begins punching in numbers into the computer and taking money out from below the counter.

“Well that was easy,” Meg starts to say until she notices Evan’s hesitation.

“Easy,” he copies her words.

Silence follows them both as Meg can only imagine what Evan is going through…

The uncertain way his family’s money, his own money, is being handled, the fact that it’s now officially over a hundred years old, the fact that he clearly had a breakdown finding this, and everything else that must be going through his mind…

Meg decides not to test him as she lets him stand there, breathing slowly as Evelyn occasionally clicks one edge of the screen, types a few things on the keyboard, and clicks a few more places.

Evan follows Evelyn’s movements like a cat with a laser pointer, his eyes constantly darting to where the cursor stops on the computer.  Although it seems normal to Meg, she realizes that this is probably the first time Evan has seen a computer, or any kind of technology like this.

It must be killing him inside not asking what is happening, and most certainly not trusting the computer’s calculations for how much his own money is worth.

After a few minutes, Evelyn excuses herself to get some of the larger bills from a different area of the bank.

Evan takes this opportunity to finally speak up.

“What is that?” Evan asks, gesturing to the computer monitor that sits facing away from him.

“It’s a monitor.  For a computer.  It’s like…” Meg flounders trying to come up with a simple way to explain computers to someone who doesn’t even have modern electricity in their house.  “The computer has everything you can imagine on it.  All kinds of information, music, tv shows…”

“Tv shows?”

Meg sighs and looks up at Evan who stares down at her with a frown.

“We really need to get you caught up somehow.”

The next few minutes waiting for Evelyn is spent with Meg trying to explain what she can about technology even though she doesn’t know much about how it works.  She just knew it did.

Evan nods along but his confused expression never changes, giving Meg the impression that he really isn’t understanding at all, but she has to appreciate the fact that he’s trying.  She just gets to trying to explain Google when Evelyn shows back up, wads of money in each hand.

“Here we are,” she says, plopping down in her chair and counting out the money for them to see.  Evan’s eyes remain transfixed on the new paper bills that she hands them beneath the small hole in the glass.  Evan hesitates, not grabbing them right away, so Meg takes it upon herself to grab the cash and stuff in it the pockets she has in her hoodie and leggings. 

A mental image of her looking absolutely ridiculous with bulging pockets, overflowing with money comes to mind, and for a second, she is nervous to be walking around with as much cash as they have, but then she looks at Evan and has to laugh at that thought.

He’s right.

Nothing will happen while he’s around, and anyone who tries to attack them will be in for a rude wake-up call.

“Thank you for your help,” Meg says to Evelyn, turning around and walking out of the bank with Evan trailing at her heels.

“Now to find a grocery store,” Meg mumbles, looking up and down the streets.  They pick a direction to walk in, hoping to either stumble upon a small store, or run into someone who can tell them.

Normally, Meg would want to keep her distance, figure it out for herself like she always has, but right now, she can hardly wait to go.  Her pockets are heavy for what feels like the first time in her life, and although she knows they can’t go in a mass shopping spree, the fact that she can go and buy food for the first time in a decade in enough to make her feel like a kid on Christmas.

Her stomach has butterflies as she looks up at Evan, a huge smile on her face that definitely does not mirror his mood, and although she wants to be nice and try to think about how this is his money from a time that she can’t even begin to imagine, she won’t let him burst her bubble at this moment either.

Some might say it was selfish, unfeeling, cold, but she doesn’t care.  She is so grateful for the money, and she is even more grateful for the chance to be able to shop with it, even though she still knows she wants to pay him back someday, somehow.

Before they get too far, Meg gets the idea to run back to the bank and peek her head in, knowing Evelyn will be in the same spot they left her.

“Where is the nearest grocery store?”

Evelyn gives detailed directions to Meg.  Although the store is only a couple streets away, Meg is happy she asked not knowing if they would be able to find it on their own. So they walk, Meg focusing on the street signs and muttering the directions to herself.

At one point she thinks she hears Evan chuckle beside her as she repeats the directions to herself, but she pays him no mind, determined to get there, the thoughts of all the possibilities of food flowing through her mind. 

Eventually they turn a corner and are greeted by a generic looking grocery store that can almost make Meg cry.

She looks back at Evan with a smile as she can hardly contain it, and he looks down at her, his eyebrows raised with curiosity at her pure energy at getting there.

As they walk up the the doors, Meg grabs a big metal cart that Evan looks at with suspicion and curiosity, but Meg quickly walks along before he can stand there and study it much longer.

The doors slide open letting them inside with a soft ding and a rush of air that makes Evan flinch and look around, wondering where it came from.  He looks around for the source of both the noise and the air for a moment before looking back at Meg and scowling as he walks forward to catch up to her. 

He walks closer to her, she notices, when they enter places that he isn’t familiar with, and although his expression hardens and his very presence becomes even more intimidating, not only to her but everyone around them, she can feel him shuffle just a little bit closer to her to the point of them almost touching.

“This must be just like the stores that were around before,” Meg starts to say in an attempt to make him a bit more comfortable.  “They’re just bigger and have more things, but it’s the same premise.”

Evan doesn’t respond, he just looks around, carefully eyeing the deli and bakery departments that are to their right. 

“When we bought meat and bread, they were in different shops,” he says, his voice low yet not confrontational. 

“Well, everything is about convenience nowadays.”

He grunts in agreement as his eyes scan around them so fast it would make Meg dizzy if she were to try to carefully inspect every single thing like he is doing.

“Well I guess we can go aisle by aisle, see what we need,” Meg suggests, waiting just a moment to see his reaction.

“You’re the expert.”

Meg shoots him a small smile as she nods, not not appreciating the half compliment at her knowing something in this new world.

They begin to wander to their right through the bakery and deli, picking out essentials like bread, donuts for Meg, even though Evan says they don’t need them, and some different cheeses.  Evan goes for the more expensive kinds that make Meg want to laugh, like they could afford it.  She almost smacks a particular brie out of his hand that costs twenty dollars, but when she informs him of just how expensive cheese like that is, Evan throws it down in disgust.

“That’s how much I was paid for a month of work, how could they ask that of people? For cheese?” Evan asks, bending down and looking at more cheeses with more investment than Meg has ever seen him look at anything before.

“Well lots of things have changed…if you’re mad about that, you won’t want to look at the total when we are done,” Meg says, tapping him lightly on the arm getting him to move on, even though as they walk she can still hear him mumbling about cheese and the prices, saying how the world has gone insane.

She walks a little bit in front of him, a smile on her face that she doesn’t try to hide anymore.  He is being ridiculous, she thinks, but at the same time, this is the most human she has ever seen him…freaking out about the price of cheese.

She can hardly believe it.

So she says nothing and lets him simmer beside her. 

While they walk through the aisles, every few minutes she has to remind Evan to keep up as he gets distracted by some colorful box decorated so neatly at whatever it is advertising.  Once it was cereal, another time was granola bars, and once he wondered why there were teddy bears on huge packages of toilet paper.

“They’re brands, and each brand has to have a certain appeal to it.  There are a lot of choices now, and each brand has something that separates them from the rest,” Meg tries to explain as Evan picks up applesauce with little dancing apples on it as he asks what the difference is between the other fifty applesauces around.  He frowns looking at the apples with happy faces drawn on, clearly not quite understanding what makes this one so special to “have the apples themselves be so happy”. 

Meg stands at the end of one aisle, leaning on the basket as she watches Evan looking so intently at the applesauce, feeling something in her chest that she hasn’t felt in a long time.

She doesn’t even know the last time she felt it, looking at someone and being so entertained by something they are doing, and yet not wanting to stop them. 

But then again, that’s not true.

She was always entertained by David and Ace, Nea and Claudette, her friends were the most entertaining…

So what makes this any different?

She pushes any thoughts other than her friends from her mind as she picks out some essential condiments, Evan beside her.  His arm occasionally brushes against her, not wanting to leave her side.

It feels like she is shopping with a toddler, always having to keep him on track and not get distracted by everything in every single aisle, but the more he tries to examine the foreign products, the less insistent she gets at moving along at a steady pace.  She lets him look at Poptarts and Spongebob mac and cheese for as long as he wants.  He stopped asking her questions a few aisles back, but she still hangs around in case he comes up with another.  Occasionally she grabs something he was looking at for awhile and throws it in the cart without his knowledge, thinking that maybe she can introduce him to a couple of her favorite meals and foods at some point.

If they’re going to be stuck together and have to make food together, it’s the least she could do, she thinks.  She is staying at his house and being supported by his money after all…

By the time they reach the other side of the store, she looks at the cart and realizes that most of the food in there was for him to try along with the things she missed the most.  He stopped protesting her opinions after the cheese debacle earlier, so she was free to put together cheap meals she used to live off of, and snacks that she used to enjoy. 

She also threw in some unhealthy options, figuring that Evan would have never been able to try anything like it, and it isn’t like she is training for anything right now; she has time to let go and treat herself after what she has been through.

In the produce, Evan spots the fresh herbs in little planters that are snuggled between the flowers and the rest of the produce, and gravitates towards them.

She pushes her cart over and gives him a light tap on his arm.

“Interested in herbs, are we?” she says, eyeing the cilantro that she might pick up.  Before she can choose the right one, Evan begins picking up all of the herbs and placing them on top of the cart.

Evan stands there and stares at the herbs for a moment before speaking, the excitement gone from his face.

“My mother had an herb garden, or rather a whole garden, but she taught me how to tend to the herbs.  Never got the chance to learn about the rest before my father found out.”

“Oh.”

“Wasn’t a man’s job, he said, but…” Evan pauses and swallows loudly, “he’s not here so…I’m going to try to remember how to grow some herbs.”

“Well, I think that’s a good idea,” Meg replies, sending him a smile at all of the difference from the other night when he still thought dusting was a woman’s job, and now, he’s taking the initiative to do what he wants.

Meg is happy for him, weirdly happy for him.

She never thought she would ever be happy for him to do anything, but again, she thinks that this definitely isn’t a situation she ever thought she’d be in, so she goes with it.  The image of Evan bent over tending to small herbs in a garden comes to mind and she can say that is something she can't wait to see.

“You do?” Evan asks, an eyebrow quirked as he looks at her.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t ? While I’m making you new age food, you may as well be harvesting some good herbs to go along with it,” Meg replies. 

Evan doesn’t quite smile back, but his face relaxes and his eyes light up just a little as he looks at her.  “I think I like that idea.”

Silence passes between the two of them before Meg clears her throat and looks at their half-full cart.

“Well I guess now the last thing to do is see if they sell phones, and then we can go, unless there’s something else you want to look at?”

Evan doesn’t take his eyes off Meg when he responds, “No, I believe I got what I wanted.”

Meg glances at him before she pushes the heavy cart away, not trying to think of the implications of his words.  Her main goal in mind is to get the phones and get them to Nea. 

She also slips a chocolate bar in for her friends that she swears to Evan over and over that she will repay him for.  It seems weird to her, but for him to loan her food is one thing, to buy her friends food is something else entirely.

Meg takes the lead in putting all of their belongings on the conveyer belt as they stand in line, waiting for the people in front of them to buy their items, a total normal thing for Meg, but something so foreign to Evan.

They reach the cashier, a young high school boy, who scans their items with the attitude that he could be anywhere else but here, and Meg doesn’t mind.  She welcomes the lack of small talk as she looks at their total being rung up.  Meanwhile, Evan looks around, eyeing various things suspiciously. 

“Will you calm down?” Meg whispers to him, placing her hand on his forearm, a move that even shocks her that she would do, but she keeps it there in an attempt to get his attention. 

Evan lets out a shaky breath and nods, keeping his eyes on Meg as though she is the one sure thing in his life right now.

She glances at him through the corner of her eye and goes back to counting the money they owe the cashier. 

Evan huffs beside her but looks down, darting his eyes between Meg and the money, until Meg pays the man what they owe, and Evan’s eyes fall on her once more.

“So,” Meg starts, trying to break up the awkward tension that exudes from having Evan stand so close to her.  “When are you going to start planting those herbs?”

“Soon,” he replies vaguely, making Meg let out a quiet laugh at his herb garden secrecy.

The cashier hands Meg her change and nods towards the insane amount of bags they have.  Meg grabs a couple, and Evan reaches for the rest with ease.

“Oh,” Meg almost forgets to ask, “Do you have phones here?”

The cashier looks at her blankly and blinks a few times before answering, “Should be at the end of aisle 7.”

“Okay perfect, thank you,” Meg responds, shuffling the bags in her grip before walking back to where the phones are.

There are a few options, a couple flip phones and some more modern looking ones.  All have the basics, texting, calling, and even a GPS, which Meg thinks could be useful since they have no idea where anything is now.  She picks out a couple of the knock-off looking iPhones for her and her friends, and a flip phone for Evan, even though he protests the whole time they wait in line again.

“I don’t need one.” “I’ll be fine.” “Don’t waste money.”  Are all phrases she hears until she tunes them out as she pays for a prepaid plan for all of them, and shoves them into their bags.

“You don’t know if you’ll need one.  I got you a simple one I think even you can figure out,” Meg says as they walk out.  Even ignores the slight jab, a scowl almost permanently on his face by now.

The gust of air that greeted them on the way in blows in their faces as they walk out, which causes Evan to jump and look around again, seeing nothing, before he mumbles and looks away, following Meg.  They walk out into the street and without another word, walk towards the direction of the Estate.

It isn’t raining yet, but the sky has darkened significantly with more angry grey storm clouds.  The wind picked up too while they were in the store, blowing Meg’s braids around.  With a particularly strong gust, her braids come and smack her in the face which she brushes off and just wants to get home before the rain starts.  The distant rumbling of thunder grows so loud, Meg can almost feel it deep in her bones.

She glances up at Evan, a silent thank you at the tip of her tongue.  It's weird, she thinks, wanting to thank him out of all people, after everything.  But as they walk back to the Estate, she feels more connected to him than she ever thought possible.

Meg isn’t sure when she started to look at her and Evan against the world, or if she would even feel that when they got back, but being out today sure made her feel that way.  Although Meg had more experience with technology and modern life, she still couldn’t help the way her skin crawled as she walked around, feeling like an imposter, like she didn’t belong there.

She can only imagine how Evan felt.

So while they were shopping, she began to watch him, keep track of him, and she thought that maybe she was staying as close to him as he was to her.

The idea of relying on him was still one she wasn’t thrilled for, but she will do what she has to now, and with getting to know Evan just a little bit more, it didn’t seem so hard to work with him.

He was still stubborn, and mysterious, and unpredictable, but something changed with that shopping today that she can’t even describe.

And she’s okay with that.

So they walk, her carrying a couple bags of groceries as he carries about five in each hand with ease, making a quick pit stop at the Estate before Meg tries to go drop off the phone to her friends.

She bubbles with excitement at seeing her friends again on a, hopefully, better basis.

She also wants to talk to them about the Clown, see what they know, if anything, and where to go from there.  Evan didn’t seem too concerned, but within the few days she has spent with Evan, it is clear that him and the Clown are two different entities altogether.

Evan has spent his time trying to gain her trust, in a very weird roundabout way, and she hasn’t made it any easier, but he has said multiple times that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and that means the world to Meg.

The Clown on the other hand, if this is really who they think it is, he has wasted no time breaking into old habits, and who knows what he is capable of now.

Meg shivers, not wanting to think of the possibility to die by his hand out here in the real world.

But there is one question that plagues her mind as she walks…

What if he finds out that they’re here? Every rational part of her thinks that there is no way he could ever find them, but another part of her isn’t sure.

There is always that possibility of the unknown, anything can happen.

She glances at Evan, and although she doesn’t want to think it now that they have hopefully gotten past their burning hatred for one another, a brief thought comes to mind, thinking what if this is all a ploy?

This was his plan.

Find out where they are…

Get them together…

But she can’t think of that, not now.

Not ever.

Or she will go insane.

Just as she begins dwelling on the fake betrayal that hasn’t happened yet, she takes a deep breath and swallows down the idea, opening her eyes and walking straight ahead.

They reach the Estate a little bit later as small raindrops start to fall from the sky.  Evan goes up the door first and holds it open despite him carrying an exorbitant amount of groceries.

Meg goes in first and goes to the kitchen, setting the paper bags down and immediately goes to work putting the groceries in various empty cabinets.  She has to shoo away a spider or two before she puts a box of mac and cheese in the pantry, but to her, it’s worth it.  They made sure to buy some ice, at Meg’s request, to put in an ice chest to keep some things cold, as she almost forgot about the lack of refrigeration here.  Evan was planning on throwing away the rest of the deer he made the other day, which Meg agreed, but now they can keep up on keeping a place cold to store more meat, which makes Meg’s mouth water just thinking about it.

As they’re done putting away groceries, Meg turns to Evan, wanting to bring up the Clown again, but at the same time, not wanting to get into an argument yet again

“You want to talk,” Evan states, looking at Meg.  His eyes are lowered and his brows crease just slightly as he talks.  He doesn’t say anything as he gestures for her to follow, a slight nod of his head, as they walk into the other room with the fireplace and two leather chair across from each other.

A reminder of where they talked before, really talked about their lives.

Meg feels weird sitting across from him now.

It feels too familiar, but she shakes that thought from her head, just wanting to talk to him.

“I really didn’t want to bring this up again-“

A sigh comes from Evan as he speaks, “But I know you, at least a little by now…what is it?” As though he read her mind, wanting to talk about something again and it makes Meg feel both irritated and listened to.

At least he’s listening to her enough to know when something is bothering her, right?

She scowls, wanting to make him listen carefully, but the more she hesitates, the more she realizes he really is listening. 

His eyes never leave hers, and his posture straightens, waiting for whatever she has to say, his whole body listening attentively.  In contrast with his sarcastic words, she almost appreciates the full attention.

“We need to go learn more about these clown sightings.  What if it’s him? We are so close, and I feel like we are sitting ducks, and if we find out what we can, then we can either relax, or we can take care of it.”

Evan stares at her as he leans back in his chair so softly, it couldn’t be that much, but the way he relaxes is almost like a siren.

“And how do you think you’ll protect yourself against him hmm?” He crosses one leg over the other, looking more like a therapist than a…friend? Accomplice? “Did you have much luck with him in the trials?”

“Well, no, but…” Meg starts stuttering slowly, so she stops for just a second, annoyed that her mouth and brain can’t cooperate at this time. She hasn’t has trouble with stuttering in years. “If you can come…I don’t want to rely on you, and I know you don’t want to hang around me and my friends, but…this is important.  With everything, don’t you think we should know?”

Evan takes in a deep breath and audibly sighs beside her.  “Is this that important to you?”

“Yes!” Meg replies, a bit too quick, a bit too loud, “But I think it is important to all of us.  And you out of anyone would have some insight, something to help-“

“If you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t want to think of that time.  I don’t need help, I just want to move on.”

“Oh yeah, by living in your old house and doing what?” Meg snaps, a little bit too aggressive than she meant it to be.  She closes her eyes and takes a breath, trying to relax for the next sentence.  “We all went through Hell…you longer than most, I know that, but we can’t just expect that waking up one day outside of it all is the end.”

Evan stares at her, his eyes not even blinking as he thinks, various flashes of confusion, irritation, and something else mixed in flash across his face, as he thinks, is this truly what he wants…

“If it really is him, I doubt you and I would be strong enough to stop him.”

“I want to take my friends.  Nea, and David, and Claudette,” Meg responds, as though she had the response prepared somewhere in her mind.  “We can all go, and, truth be told, if it isn’t him, then we can all relax...” Meg pauses and looks around the living room quickly, “since we are all so relaxed now…” she says dryly. 

Evan doesn’t say anything, but she could swear she sees the edge of his mouth twitch faintly into a smile for a split second before it disappears and is replaced by the familiar look of dread that comes across his face when he doesn’t agree with her in the slightest.

“We talked about this-“

“But I don’t agree,” Meg interrupts, advocating for herself.  “I want to know.  I can get my friends, we can go, you don’t have to come.”  Meg pauses and leans forward a little, resting her elbows on her knees as she makes sure to make eye contact with Evan as best as she can, “I am going whether you want to or not.  This isn’t about you and me.  You can join me if you want.”

Evan tips his head up as though he’s looking at Meg from the bottom of his nose, his face scrunched up in disgust.

“You would really go, you and your survivor friends, risk yourselves for what? A hunch?”

“It’s more than a hunch! If it’s anything we can know, at all, then that means everything.  That’s why I’m still here with you, isn’t it?” She blurts out.  Even shifts in his chair at her words, yet says nothing.

Her words come flying out of her mouth faster than she meant, but in all honesty, that’s what she should mean, right?

She’s here at the Estate to find out what’s going on.

She’s not there for him.

So why does it feel like she just said something to attack him?

“Anyways,” she says, changing the subject as the silence draws on a bit too long. "I feel like I should go get my friends and get them on board,” Meg says while holding up an extra phone, “Plus I guess they’ll be wanting this, whether you’re coming with me or not.”

Evan’s eyes flicker over to the phone Meg pulls out of her pocket.  “I’m going to regret this…but do you want me to go with you? To find Jeffrey-” he pauses, clearing his throat, "The Clown?"

"Jeffrey? Is that his name? No, nevermind that is for another time..." Meg shakes her head before continuing, "but it's up to you if you are coming or not," she says, not quite sure what else to say, and definitely not expecting him to offer to help after his adamant refusal earlier and her being very blatantly passive just moments ago.  His proposal catches her off guard.

"If it were up to me, I wouldn't go, but I believe I asked do you want me to go?" Evan asks again, putting emphasis on the 'want'.  Meg wants to say no, let him off the hook, but she isn't stupid.  She knows if she were to go alone with just her friends, there would be a strong possibility that something bad would happen.  Even if it wasn't the Clown, there is a murderer out there and she isn't too keen on actually going and being face-to-face with one alone. 

"Fine, yes.  I want you to come.  I would feel a lot safer if you did..." Meg says, looking away from him, hating the way that she admitted to feeling safer having him by her side.  

"Then I'll go. We can leave straight from your friends' hotel once we give them the phone,” he suggests with hesitation in his voice that Meg chooses to ignore for the sake of not having to go alone. "If I can't stop you, I suppose it's the least I could do...make sure you stay alive."

Meg looks at him, the smallest of smiles flashes on her face as she pushes the phone back into her pocket.

“Well, I appreciate it,” Meg says, pushing herself up from the chair and stretching her arms up.  “So are we going now?”

As soon as the words leave her mouth, the blinding flash of lightening illuminates the room followed only a couple of seconds later by a loud crack of thunder that resounds around them. 

“I don’t particularly want to be walking out in the storm,” Evan responds dryly.

“I…” Meg lets out a huff of disappointment, “You’re right.  Okay but as soon as this storm passes, we go.”

Evan nods, silently agreeing. 

Meg sits back down in the chair and watches as Evan gets up and starts stoking the dying fire they had forgot to put out before they left earlier.  She sighs to herself, thankful that nothing happened to the house or its contents while they were gone. 

After a few minutes, the fire starts crackling and spreading warmth around the room that makes Meg relax more in her chair.  By this time, the thunder and lightning has only gotten worse as now raindrops hit the windows and roof around them hard, a soothing sound that makes Meg melt into the chair even more.

Meg looks around at some of the books in the bookcases around her as she decides to get up.  May as well spend this time doing something.  She picks out a pretty blue book with intricate silver designs along the spine.  Although she doesn’t know what book it is, she settles back into her chair, and begins to read.

Knights of the Round Table.  She vaguely remembers learning about King Arthur in school, but at that time, she couldn’t have cared less about it.  Now, she is happy to be able to read anything again.  Evan gets up and walks over to the minibar across the room, getting himself a drink.  He settles back into his chair and stares at the fire, though every now and then his eyes flicker over to Meg who pretends not to notice.

As Meg reads, her eyes begin to feel heavy and with the warmth coming from the fire and the sounds of the storm outside, she can hardly stay awake.  Debating on going upstairs to her bed, she pushes the thought from her mind, whether it was because she was too lazy to go up there, or if it was too comfortable down here, she doesn’t dwell on the reason.  She closes her eyes only expecting to sleep just a few minutes.

A little cat nap is all she needs.

She rests her head to the side and lets sleep overtake her once again.

Waking up what seems like hours later, the sounds of the storm that lulled her to sleep continue raging outside, soothing Meg as she lets out a yawn and opens her eyes.  The purple blanket from yesterday is draped on her once again, and instead of throwing it off right away, she grabs it and curls into it almost instinctively. 

Someone may as well use it.

Evan still sits across from her snoring so softly, she can barely hear it, with a piece of paper clutched in his hand replacing the glass of whiskey from earlier.

Flashes from morning come to mind when she watched him sleep, and she almost doesn’t want to curse it again, doesn’t want him to wake up in a panic with her watching him.

She almost closes her eyes, wanting to sleep some more, until he drops the paper.  Meg watches it float gently to the ground so close to the fire, she thinks it might float in and burn up.  She gets up from the chair and rushes over on her toes, trying not to make any noise so she can catch it and place it on the other side of him as she waits for him to wake up.

Meg flattens the paper out, and as much as she tries not to look, the name Arlene MacMillan catches her eye.  She glances back at Evan quickly, hearing him still snoring, so she goes back to the paper, scanning its contents.  As she reads, her heart sinks and her chest feels tight as she looks between the letter and Evan, thinking about the life that could have been if this letter actually took place…

 

My Dearest Waylon,

I did not want to drag you into this mess, and I know this is foolish, but I have to think of my son. I finally acquired enough money; I think it will be enough to take us far away from this place, away from that monster.  I see the way he looks at Evan.  There is an evil there that I cannot describe, yet it chills me to the bone.  I see a lot of Archie in Evan as well, and that scares me more than anything.  I refuse to let my son become anything like his father.  The plans are set, the money is buried beneath the old cedar tree where Evan and I would sit when I taught him how to read.  Dig it up and meet us on the other side of the woods at 5AM.  We will be waiting.  I will give you your payment at that time.  You have no idea what this means to me, means to us, as I know you are betraying your boss.  I will make sure Archie never knows it was his right-hand man who helped us. Please, help us, there is no other way.  You can come too, should you change your mind, but we are leaving.  We have to get away from this place.

Much love,

Arlene Rhodes-MacMillan

 

 

Chapter Text

The rocks came tumbling down in front of Evan so fast that one moment he was staring into the black abyss of the mines, and the next, grey, brown, and black rocks decorated the front of his vision.  The explosion was so loud in his ears that for a solid minute after the initial shock, Evan didn’t know where he was.  All he heard was the loudest of ringing in his ears as coughs wracked his already overworked lungs. 

Dust from the rocks falling filled the air and mixed in with debris of dirt and dust, as well as the powder from the deadly explosives Evan was given by his father.  He coughed more, or rather forced himself to cough, as the pain and suffocation were just enough to prolong the realization of what Evan had just done.

He coughed, or maybe he screamed, and at that point he couldn’t tell the difference with the way his chest squeezed so tight like there was a rope, squeezing tighter and tighter around his rib cage threatening to cut him in half.  He let tears flow down his face as his lungs screamed for air, for reprieve, until he was certain he could taste blood in the back of his throat.  He should have stopped, but instead he coughed even more, spitting mucus and blood from his mouth until finally…he couldn’t take it anymore.

His coughing slowed in time with the world around him.  There was no way that he could have even began to think about what just happened, so he stood there taking deep breaths in and out so carefully.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

He couldn’t hear himself breathe in, couldn’t hear anything around him, but even within the loudest silence, he thought he could still hear his lungs screaming at him, or maybe those were the screams of the miners…

Screams of all kinds filled the air for a few seconds after Evan detonated the explosives… or was the screaming coming from him?

For a moment, he almost wished it was just him screaming, but it was too loud, there were too many voices all at once, too many crying for help, there were just too many until even those began to get quieter.

And then…

Then it was silent.

He blinked once, twice, trying to look around him or even trying to take a step back from the rubble, but found he couldn’t.

Every single muscle in his body was frozen like ice, turning him into a statue.  If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought he actually became a statue, unable to move, or speak, or scream…but he knew that was not possible.

He was okay.

He was alive.

Unfortunately.

As he stared at the broken wood planks, the rocks, the dirt, he wondered if anyone survived down there.  Would it be too late to go get help? If he left now…

No, he knew that was impossible.  He knew where to put the explosives so they wouldn’t have to suffer long.  The whole mine would come caving in around them, and hopefully he gave them a quick death; they deserved as much.  But he wasn’t down there with them…he was alive…and he just killed one hundred and thirty-six people.

His goal was one hundred and thirty-seven.

How could he have messed up so bad?

He finally was able to take a step away from the rubble.  His mind was still blank, and his ears still rang so loud he couldn’t hear anything around him.  Where could he even go from here?

He let his feet carry him back up to the surface, though every fiber of him being didn’t want to see the sun again.  He already said his goodbyes; he didn’t need to see it once more.

When he reached the surface, the sun shined on his face, a beacon, a spotlight for the world to see.

Traitor.

Murderer.

He knew those words rang truer than ever, and he came to accept them…but he didn’t expect having to live knowing the whole world would soon know them too.

He didn’t need them plaguing his thoughts every waking hour.

He didn’t need them hovering around him whether he got thrown in jail.  He didn’t need them when his father would pay off the officers, and then just like that, the tragedy that took place would be replaced by stories of an unfortunate accident.

How much money could Archie MacMillan put on the lives of one hundred and thirty-six people? How much money is one life worth?

There would be whispers in town.  Evan knew that people wouldn’t go near him or his family ever again.

No one will know that he did it, or that his father ordered it on purpose…but how could they even begin to build up their fortune again?

Their reputation?

What was his father thinking?

When he ordered Evan to do this, he knew Archie MacMillan was going insane, but there was some small part of Evan that wanted to think his father knew what he was doing, wanted to trust him like he had his entire life.

He knew he was putting his trust in the wrong man, but it was too late. 

Evan didn’t even process what it was that he was asked to do until it was done.  He planned to kill himself in those mines with his workers, his friends.  It would be better than living a life here.

Once he reached the porch, all the overpowering guilt punched him in the stomach causing him to double over.  His stomach heaved as his breakfast came back up, sour and burning, as it splashed on the ground. 

What had he done?

Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he walked up the stairs to the house in a trance as his mind went in and out, thinking everything and nothing all at once.  He was too focused on finding his father, to ask him why or get some sort of an answer to ease Evan’s overwhelming guilt that he tried to keep at bay, but he knew he was quickly losing that battle.

Evan pushed open the door to the house so fast, he didn’t even hear the telltale creak of it opening as he walked to his father’s study knowing he would be in there.

He always was.

As he approached the forbidden room, papers on the ground caught his interest more than finding his father at that moment.  Archie MacMillan never had papers lying around, so what were those?

Evan bent down and picked them up as he began reading.

They spoke of some sort of “Entity” but the way his father described it made it sound like he was talking about a god, or God himself.  But that was not possible.  Evan’s father was never religious; he never believed in anything he couldn’t see or feel.  Evan kept reading, none of it making sense to him.  Trials, sacrifices, killers…it seemed the ramblings of a madman, but then suddenly, like a flash of lightning, everything made sense.

His father had gone mad, and there was no rhyme or reason to murdering all of his employees…

None at all.

And yet Archie MacMillan was coward enough that he didn’t even want to be the one to pull the trigger…he let his only son take the burden, shoulder the weight of one hundred and thirty-six people, one hundred and thirty-six lives, ended.

Anger bubbled inside Evan as he banged on the door to his father’s study with a fist, and as his hearing finally came back, the faint pounding of the door resounded within his own head like a war drum.

“Open up!” He shouted, shocked at the level of his voice.  He never once raised his voice to his father, but now…

Something had changed.

Everything had changed.

“Open-“  Evan yelled again until the door opened before him slowly, which caused Evan to stumble a bit inside not expecting his father to be standing there with a smile on his face.

He had never seen his father smile before.

“What did you just make me do?” Evan hissed at his father through clenched teeth, not giving the man a chance to say anything. Archie continued to smile at Evan even as he raised a fist and hit his father square in the jaw with all the strength he could muster.

The memory becomes fuzzy for Evan but he blinked, his mind trying to stay on track.

Suddenly, they were down in the basement.  His father was sprawled out on the concrete before him, broken and bloody.  There was blood everywhere.  It coated almost every inch of Evan, and he could taste it on his tongue, and smell the coppery tang of it in his nose, but he was in no pain.

That wasn’t his blood.

That was his father’s blood decorating the room like paint. 

“You’re going to kill me, boy? Is that it?” Archie grunted as he spat a tooth out of his mouth that was covered in dark sticky blood. 

Evan stood there as pure fury radiated from the deepest places of his mind, his chest, his heart…for the first time he had become something else entirely, fueled by the red hot blazing anger that ripped through him.  All he knew was rage, all he was, was fury.

But he couldn’t seem to do the one thing he had thought about his whole life.

It would be so easy now, he knew it.

Archie’s legs stuck out at awkward angles from where Evan stomped down on them, breaking them almost in two.  His fingers were tattered and torn to shreds from Evan grinding them into the hard floor.  Archie wouldn’t run away, couldn’t fight back.  Half of his teeth were missing, and one eye was already swollen shut.  There was no way he could fight back, and with the amount of hate Evan felt, he could easily end him once and for all.

But there was something in him that couldn’t end his own father’s life.

“I should kill you.  You have done nothing to deserve to keep living,” Evan mumbled more to himself than anyone.

“And you have?” Archie spoke up.  “What about all of those people you just killed? Do you think that you deserve to live too?” Archie let out a wet laugh that was followed by more bloody coughs. 

“You made me do that!”

“I didn’t make you do anything.  I gave an order that you could have refused,” Archie said as he pushed himself up to lean against the cold wall.  His head lulled to the side as he let blood trickle out from the corner of his mouth giving Evan a smile.  “You know you wanted to do it, deep down, you’ve always had that dark side.  It was just nice to be able to act upon it with no real responsibility hmm? Blame it on good ol’ Pops.”

“Because this is your fault! Everything…if I refused you would have killed me or worse…” Evan trailed off, shivering as he remembered the few times he refused his father.  The deep scars on his back were a constant reminder, always throbbing, always a warning not to cross Archie MacMillan again.

“So,” Archie’s smile grew, “You put more value on your own life than that of one hundred and thirty-six people.  What makes you, Evan MacMillan, so special?”

Evan stood there, staring down at his father, but instead of saying anything, he closed his eyes.  He had heard every single horrible thing that could come out of his father’s mouth through his lifetime, there was nothing he could say that could surprise him.   

“Speechless now? I shouldn’t be surprised,” another wet cough, “you always have been a coward, letting me push you around…never able to stand up for yourself…Just kill me like you did my workers, and get it over with.”

That broke something in Evan, the last thread of any sort of control he thought he had in that situation. “I gave them a quick death which is something you do not deserve,” Evan snapped at Archie who sat on the floor, laughing.

“So you’re going to leave me here? Prove that you’re just as much of a monster as I am?”

“You are a danger to everyone out there.  If I keep you here, I’m doing them a favor!”

“No, Evan, you’re doing this for you, no one else. You truly are my son,” Archie’s smile started to fade into something resembling peace, like he got what he finally wanted after all this time.   “Go ahead, leave me here to die.  I completed what I needed to.  You hear that Entity? I did it! You can take him! Take me!” Archie started screaming, his deep voice cracking and bouncing off the concrete walls around them.  Evan, thinking that his father had finally lost it, turned around and walked out without another glance, locking the door shut behind him.

 

 

Evan’s eyes fly open.   The dream, the memory of his last moments before joining the Entity, the feeling of his fathers breaking bones beneath his fingers, the smell of blood, all of it is so vivid in his racing mind until he scans the room, and his eyes land on Meg.

She sleeps across from him with her feet tucked up, resting her head on her knees as her gentle breaths move hair that has fallen in front of her face.  Not wanting to look around the room at everything that will take him back to the memory, he focuses on her, really focuses.

Pain begins to radiate up his arms as he realizes he is gripping his leather armchair so tight, he can’t feel the tips of his fingers anymore.  His heart beats so fast, it almost feels like he is back in his dream, his last memory of being at the Estate before being taken by the Entity.  It pounds in his chest so fast, he can hardly breathe…so he stares at Meg, grounding himself to where he is now.

He is okay.

His father is gone.

He isn’t in the Entity’s realm anymore.

He is okay.

He is here with her. 

She makes things okay.

He pushes that last thought from his mind, trying to make it a blank slate and concentrating more on breathing and calming down the panic that settled deep within his chest from the dream.  He doesn’t need to be thinking about her, and he doesn’t need to be thinking about her like that.

It is unfair to her, he knows this, and there is no reason why she would ever regard him in any other light than that of an associate, a business partner.  She has helped him cope with these new times that he cannot even begin to understand, and he is helping by giving her a place to stay, and maybe some answers until she is satisfied, and will leave to go be with her friends.

But there are those times her eyes linger on him a little too long…

No.

Any thoughts he had, or has, he stuffs deep down, hopefully never to rise again.  He was good at forgoing how he truly felt for the greater good; he learned how to do that a long time ago.

There is one thing that Archie MacMillan taught him that he appreciates: Striving to be happy has never given anyone anything.  You cannot survive off of being happy.  There are more important things in life.  He doesn’t need to be happy.

The more he fights within his mind, weirdly enough, soon his mind begins to calm down.  Between the thunder outside and the gentle breathing that comes from the girl across from him, he regains control, able to breathe and think all at once. 

The first thing he does is get up to get his purple blanket from the other day that he threw back in the closet. 

Meg looks so peaceful, and he doesn’t feel the need to wake her up, not now, so he walks back, blanket in hand, and covers her up before going back to the study.

He walks to the forbidden room, hesitating once he’s outside of the doors.  His father’s screams when he would knock echo in his mind, and he has to take a moment to tell himself that his father isn’t here.  He can go in and out as he pleases, and all he wants to do is get his mother’s diary.

Somehow, earlier it seemed easier with Meg in there with him, but he walks forward anyway, refusing to wake her up because he is too much of a coward to go into his father’s study alone.  His back and shoulders tingle when he enters the room as though he walked through a cold breeze, so he picks up the red diary and beelines out of the study, shutting the door behind him with a loud slam. 

His whole body stiffens, already training his ears to listen for the heavy sound of his father’s footsteps like he did something wrong, but instead of the heavy footsteps, he hears light ones so faint, he hardly equates them to footsteps until he sees Meg come around the corner.  Her eyes are half shut from sleep, and her hair sticks out at odd angles, but she is there, peeking around the corner looking both concerned and scared at the same time.

It is a look he often sees on her.

“Was that bang from you?” she asks, her voice cracking from sleepiness.

Evan nods. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.  Go back to sleep.”

Meg stands there, rubbing one eye with her right hand before she covers her mouth, yawning.  She remains there for a few seconds without moving almost as though she were debating arguing with him and telling him to get ready to see her friends, or just letting sleep take back over.  With how she sways as she nods and turns around, he knows she settles for the later option. 

He expects her to go upstairs to her room, but instead she crawls back into the leather chair in the living room and pulls the purple blanket back over her without question.  He almost wonders if she will remember this in the morning, or if she was just that much half-asleep.  Something in his chest tightens as he watches her from the hallway, peacefully going back to sleep out in the open, making her comfort level perfectly clear.

That warms something within him knowing that she isn’t as terrified of him as she used to be, but then again, he should know that by now.

No one goes grocery shopping with a monster…

But nothing can change how he looks at himself, and he hates that she has had to overcome such terror, and for what?

What could she ever possibly gain from being comfortable around him?

He walks back into the living room and takes his seat across from her, taking a moment to look at her, knowing she’s there and that she’s safe, before he cracks open his mother’s diary to the last page he read, hoping that maybe having Meg there could help him read through it, whether or not she were awake.

He would never tell her this though, no.

The way she helps him by just being there is a secret he plans to keep, never making it into something more than it needs to be.  She is simply a comforting presence, that is all.  After his outburst upon finding the money, to his overwhelming trip to both the bank and grocery store, he felt having her close calmed something deep inside him.

But he knows he can’t become too attached to the way she makes him feel because he knows she will leave, as she should.  He can’t keep her there, and he doesn’t want to.

So he will enjoy it while he can by occasionally glancing up at her as he reads about his mother’s life, her plans, her dreams.  A small letter falls out onto the floor, the one he read earlier, and his stomach twists uncomfortably simply looking at it.  He doesn’t need to read it again.  Gripping it so tight in his fist, he is tempted to throw it in the fire, burn it up never to be thought of again, but…his mother wrote on this page.  He has a full book of her thoughts, but he can’t seem to get rid of any of it.  So he holds it in his hand, not looking at it or reading it, but as a lifeline of what might have been if his father didn’t kill her soon after she wrote this.

Archie MacMillan could have found this letter for all he knows and that’s why he did it…

Evan wouldn’t have put it past him to do such a thing, even to his own wife…but that begs the question… why?

It isn’t like he cared for Evan or had any fatherly bond with his son, so why did it matter to Archie MacMillan so much to keep Evan there at the Estate?

In the long run, it would have been easier for him to let them go, never hear from them again as he ran his business, maybe had another kid with one of his many women he had coming in and out of his bedroom at night. 

He didn’t need Evan there, did he?

Evan swallows bitter thoughts and looks back at Meg, trying to get back to the once calm place he was before he started thinking too much about his father.

Maybe answers lie within his study, just as Meg thinks, but does he really want to know?

He ponders on this for awhile, switching his eyes between the roaring fire and the gentle way Meg’s chest moves up and down as she breathes, and the way her mouth parts open so slightly…

A part of him wants to go over and brush the hair from her face, but he decides to stay in his seat, not wanting to wake her up or make her feel uncomfortable by sleeping in front of him.

So he closes his eyes and tries to think of other times, other experiences he had in his life, particularly with his mother, holding the note in his hand, and soon the rain outside and the fire beside him lull him into a semi-comforting sleep for the first time in what feels like forever.

 

 

A few hours later as the storm lessens, Meg is woken up by a distant rumble of thunder, much farther than it was before.  The storm makes its exit almost just as quickly as it came, although the rain stays, a vision of what once was there.

Not that Meg minds, though.  On the contrary, she loves the background noise as it distracts her mind from reeling with thoughts after finding the letter from Evan’s mom, wondering what happened and why they didn’t get out.  The letter seemed pretty insistent and everything was planned out so meticulously, and yet…the fact that the money was still there is a clear sign that they never got out. The fact that Evan was still here is another sign saying they didn’t get out.

After Meg read the letter, she curls back up in her leather chair as she debates on whether to go to her room, stay there, or wake Evan up and maybe talk about the letter. 

Imagining how he was earlier when he read it, she decides against the last option, and like earlier, her bed almost seems too far away and too dusty compared to the warmth and comfort she feels in the chair now.  So she stays put and with the heavy feeling of sleep overtaking her body, she curls into the blanket on top of her and closes her eyes, with the last thing she sees being Evan across from her, sleeping soundly.

 

 

A little bit later, Meg wakes up once again as rain gently patters on the window behind her.  She looks around and notices that she is alone, and that it seems lighter in the room, so she assumes it must be morning by now.  She stretches her sore muscles from sleeping in a chair as she takes in the scene around her. The fire is still going, making Meg feel like she doesn’t even want to get up, but as she looks around, her eyes land on a a small clock sitting on a bookshelf. 

7:00AM

It’s a miracle, she thinks, that she slept all night.  She doesn’t even remember the last time she got that much sleep in one go, let alone curled up in a chair.

She gazes outside and suddenly an urge to go for a run overcomes her that is so strong, she can hardly contain it.  It reminds her of how she used to feel when waking up in the morning wanting to go for a run, back when running was an escape for her, not a requirement to stay alive.

When she lived with her mom, she used to get up around this time in order to get in a run before she would have to go off to whatever obligation she had that day whether it be school or her job.  After taking a brief moment to look around, she wonders where Evan went, but she quickly forgets that thought as the urge to go running gets stronger and her feet are practically aching to go.

Not holding back, she makes sure her shoelaces are tight as she rushes outside, throwing the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, as though that would keep her from getting wet, and off she runs.

Her blood pumps and her heart begins racing, but despite her joy of being able to run, she has to constantly remind her brain that she isn’t running from something for what seems like the first time in her life.  She is running to run, and slowly the endorphins she feels like she could live off of pump through her blood as she reaches the woods. 

She slows down a bit debating whether to go in and run to town and back, she knows that route well, or if she should run along the edge of the treeline and stay in sight of the house.  Maybe she could explore the Estate a little bit, see what else there is to discover.

But she quickly pushes the last thought from her mind thinking that she saw the different aspects of it plenty of times over the last decade, and she doesn’t think she is truly ready to face them yet in the real world, even if it is day time.

Taking a deep breath, she picks up her pace once again and heads into the woods that have become very familiar to her by now, and as much as she doesn’t want to admit it, she almost feels comfortable in the woods that once made her skin crawl and shoulder throb just a few days ago. 

A little time passes with Meg running with pure joy coursing through her until suddenly, a shiver runs up her spine that makes her slow down to a walk.  The way her whole body tenses and the hair on the back of her neck stick up, she frantically begins to turn around looking in every direction.  She is still on the path, she can run back to the Estate and make it there in no time, but she feels like a deer being hunted, and if she moves, that will be the end.

She is being watched, there is no doubt about it, and she doesn’t know from where or who is watching her.  It is reminiscent of the trials when she would go against Ghostface or the Pig or the Wraith.  They were hunters, waiting for the perfect time to strike, and when they did, it was almost too late. 

Carefully looking around, Meg doesn’t see anything.  Only trees, logs, dirt, and grass.  Everything is as it should be, but she knows something is wrong, and she doesn’t want to wait around much longer to figure out what it is. 

Making the split decision to run back to the Estate, she digs her heels into the dirt and sprints off in the other direction.  Nothing jumps out at her and nothing follows her as she runs, but all joy she felt earlier turns cold and bitter in her veins.  When she sees the house in the distance, she pushes on despite her now aching muscles, and with one last look behind her to make sure she really is alone, she rushes up the steps and turns around fully. Her eyes scan the treeline looking for something, anything, even if it was an animal, but she sees that she’s alone.  She sees nothing.

Paranoia…that is what it had to be, or at least that’s what she tells herself.

Maybe she wasn’t as comfortable in the woods like she thought.

She turns around to go inside, and for a brief moment she could have sworn she saw a flash of something white just behind the trees, but when she looks again, nothing is there.  Swallowing her concerns, she wipes beads of sweat from her forehead with her sleeve and goes inside.

Evan sits in the living room to her right, reading.  He gives her a small nod before setting his book down, and goes to stoke the dying fire.

He recently changed, and although his outfit is pretty much the same, his shirt is now a dark green and she almost wants to compliment him.  It looks nice.

But she doesn’t say anything, due to both not wanting to make things weird, and not quite knowing where the urge to compliment him came from.  She sniffs the air, smelling a hint of cologne, woodsy and warm, that Meg can't say she hates.  She briefly wonders where it is coming from, not equating it to Evan, until he stands up and comes closer to her.

“You-“ she stops herself, “It smells nice in here.”

“Just bathed.  I drew you a bath in case you wanted one,” Evan says, gesturing down the hall.

Meg smiles at the gesture. “Thank you.”

She wants to ask him about the letter, the words tingling at the tip of her tongue, but as he nods and walks back to the living room, she decides against it for now.  Instead, she begins to walk towards the hallway, but not before taking a quick glance at him before she is out of sight, and she thinks she can see him smile a little as he picks up the book he was reading again. 

As she walks away, she smells the air trying to smell his cologne one more time in an attempt to just enjoy the smell of cologne.  Like everything else, cologne and perfume had been missing from her life for such a long time, she almost forgot how it felt to smell it.

She definitely wasn’t smelling it because of him, she tells herself, as she makes her way down the hallway.  When she gets inside the bathroom, she sees that there is indeed water in an old fashioned clawfoot white bathtub with a bar of soap propped on the edge of one of the corners. 

Stripping off her clothes that stick to her skin uncomfortably with sweat, she can hardly contain her excitement about having an actual bath.  She takes her greasy hair from their braids and runs her fingers through her hair trying to comb the matted knots out, while also trying not to fall down as she stumbles into the tub, eager to finally be able to clean herself. 

Lowering herself in, she hisses as the warm water hits her various cuts from the last few days, but otherwise she is comfortable.  The water isn’t as hot as she would want, or would normally take a bath in, but this is better than anything she has had in ages.  So she leans back, trying to clear her mind, as she enjoys the feeling of being in an actual bathtub in an actual bathroom taking an actual bath.

After a few minutes her face starts to turn as red as her hair as she begins blushing, her thoughts flowing to Evan, like they always seem to do now, as she thinks that he actually made sure to prepare this for her.  Did they even have working plumbing for hot water? If not, this would have been a chore to get the water warm…

No, it should have been easy, there is no way he would go through all of this trouble for her. 

To take her mind off of Evan, she grabs the bar of soap and begins to scrub her skin, trying to get the years of dirt and grime off her.  Although she doesn’t look dirty, the thoughts of what she went through for a decade stick to her skin like a leech, and no matter how much she scrubs at her arms, she doesn’t feel clean enough.

Not only has it been almost a week since she has been out and hasn’t had a chance to clean herself, but in the Entity’s realm they never had a proper shower or bath either.  They had a stream and a pond nearby that they would bathe in as they tried their best to rub off dirt and blood and any other mysterious substances they would find on themselves sometimes after a trial. 

So this…this is nice.

Meg’s skin starts to turn red with her scrubbing but it almost feels like this is her chance to finally scrub everything from the realm off of her, finally be a new person, finally get clean, but even though her skin starts to feel raw and begins to look like she has a sunburn from the way she rubs the soap over her skin, she doesn’t feel any more clean than before.

She still feels dirty.

She’ll never be clean again.

There will always be that permanent stain of blood and dirt and vomit that permeated her skin, sticking with her through everything. 

After awhile, the water begins to cool and she decides that she should get out despite wanting to go over her body one more time with the soap.  Taking in a deep breath and closing her eyes, she sinks beneath the water, washing the soap from her hair and her face, and when she comes back up, she can say she almost feels refreshed.  Almost.

There is a towel sat on a chair next to the tub, as well as some folded clothes that Meg isn’t sure are for her or not.  Taking the towel and drying off, she looks at her dirty clothes on the floor and considers putting them back on, but grimaces at the thought.  She feels a little bit clean, and putting her old sweaty clothes back on doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, so she goes back to eyeing the clothes on the chair. 

There is a burgundy-colored button-up shirt, but it’s small, probably the right size for a teenage boy, and a pair of black pants, again, for a man, but they are way too small to fit Evan now, so she assumes they aren’t set here for him.  He is practically a giant, so she hopes that she would be able to make these work, and what’s the worst that could happen by her wearing them?

Evan tells her to change? She could handle that.

She pulls on the old clothes, excited to be wearing something different, something she has never worn before.  Her clothes in the Entity’s realm were hers; they were a link between her life there and her life back home, and she cherished them almost more than anything.  But now…now when she looks down at her dark blue hoodie, white shirt, and leggings, all she is reminded of is the torture and excruciating pain she went through.

She is okay with wearing something else for awhile, so she buttons up the shirt and rolls up the sleeves, making her miss some of the flannels that Nea would give her to wear sometimes.

Pulling on the pants, they are a little bit too long and as she turns around to look in the mirror, she can’t help but let out a laugh at how ridiculous she looks.  She looks like a little kid playing dress-up in their dad’s old clothes.  But then she gets an idea, one she steals from Feng who used to tie her jean vest in a knot sometimes. 

She takes her shirt and ties it in a knot right above the waistline of her pants, not so any skin is showing, but it helps give more of a structured feel which Meg likes, as she buttons up the rest of the buttons up to the collar.  She also rolls up the pants and uses her hair ties to keep them in place and hopes they stay as she gathers up her things.  She likes her clothes to be stable, adaptable.  Not baggy and loose. 

Feeling more comfortable both by being clean and wearing new clothes, she steps out and goes to put her old clothes upstairs until she can wash them at some point. 

When she comes downstairs again, she finds Evan in the kitchen looking through the cabinets where Meg put their food from their excursion yesterday. 

He doesn’t notice her there right away, and something in her doesn’t feel the need to make her presence known, so she watches him as he picks up various items they bought, stares at it for a little bit, and puts it back exactly how he found it.  He repeats this process item-by-item until he finishes one cabinet and goes to the next, as though inspecting everything they bought but not wanting her to find out.

It is almost endearing the way he is trying to come to terms with how things are now, and Meg appreciates that he is trying, instead of refusing and just wanting to hunt meat forever.

Evan finishes looking in the current cabinet and goes for another, but then Meg’s cover is blown as he glances at her from the corner of his eye, slamming the cabinet door shut making both of them jump.

“You startled me,” he begins, his voice was calm and collected, giving off no hint at actually being startled.

“What were you doing?” Meg asks taking a full step into the room, ignoring the fact that she somehow startled Evan MacMillan of all people. 

Evan doesn’t respond to the question as he stares at her, but unlike times before, he doesn’t try to hide the fact that his eyes travel up and down her body once before landing back on her face, and Meg takes it as a sign that maybe she shouldn’t have helped herself to his clothes.

“I’m sorry if I took these, I thought-“

“Don’t be sorry.  I put those there for you,” Evan says, his voice low before he clears his throat and continues, “I thought you’d want some new clothes.  Those were mine from when I was younger.”

“Well I appreciate it.  The other ones were…” Meg blushes slightly at the way that Evan’s eyes flick down to where she tied the shirt just at her belly button and then back up, “Well it was time to wear something else.”  She doesn’t know what it is, but he looks at her with such an intense stare at that moment, and it isn’t like how she normally sees him full of anger and fury.  This is intense in every opposite way, like he is studying her, and it causes her to have a weird pit in her stomach that she tries to ignore as she takes a step into the kitchen.

“They aren’t bad.  I guess teenage Evan had decent taste,” she says, trying to feign being at ease when she feels anything but that.

“Only decent?” Evan retorts as he chuckles.  “I would say I have impeccable taste.”

“You would say that, since your taste definitely never changed,” Meg laughs, gesturing to his outfit now that looks almost identical to hers, except he is wearing suspenders and has his shirt tucked in, rather than tied in a knot like Meg’s.

“But this style is timeless.  Why would I change it?”

Meg smiles and shrugs while nodding, accepting that yeah, he had a point.  As she walks further into the kitchen, she runs her fingers through her hair, trying to distract herself from Evan’s gaze that she doesn’t quite understand.

“Have you had any of the food yet?” She says, walking closer to him and over to some of the cabinets he was looking at.

This finally seems to snap him out of his trance as she shakes his head.

“Was waiting for you.”

“Ah, okay…well…” Meg hums, trying to find some of the perfect food to try first.  “Are you really hungry?” Meg asks, this question determining the next step of what food to pull out.

“Not particularly.”

Perfect.

She grabs a big bag of cheese puffs and settles on him trying some snack food before heading out.  They have to get their sugar intake up, she thinks, as a vision of Evan having a sugar high comes to mind making Meg let out a small laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Evan asks, an eyebrow raised.

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” Meg says, shaking her head and sitting down in a chair next to the table with Evan following her over.  Opening the bag with a pop, she immediately shoves one in her mouth, missing the fake cheesy taste of the crispy snack.

“Here, try this,” Meg says, shoving a bright orange cheese puff in Evan’s face.  He immediately recoils, his face scrunching up in disgust at the fake cheese smell that violates his nose.

“What is that?” he asks, bending over to examine it, still not taking it from Meg’s hand.

“It’s a cheese puff,” she responds while taking the cheese puff from her hand and putting it in her own mouth, crunching down on it.  “They’re good.”

“They look horrible.”

“That’s because you’ve never tried one…come on, just one,” Meg puffs out her lower lip, pleading. She pulls out another one and hands it to him, shooting him a smile as he takes it, even if he does pick it up with the tips of his pointer finger and thumb like it is diseased.

“Why is it so orange?”

“For flavor.” Meg emphasizes this by flashing him jazz hands that Evan only looks at, adding to his confusion.

“I dont-“

“Oh my god just eat it already!”

Evan frowns, like always, as he carefully puts the cheese puff in his mouth and chews slowly, his face not changing.

“I don’t like it,” he says, reaching for another one from the bag.

“Oh really?”

Eating another one and already reaching for a third he mumbles, “They’re terrible.”

“Uh huh,” Meg hums, a look of triumph on her face. 

“No, really, I’ve never tasted something so revolting in my life,” Evan mumbles, a mouth full of crumbs, as he takes a seat next to Meg and moves the bag so it is in between them on the table. 

Meg smiles and takes another cheese puff for herself while rolling her eyes. 

They sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes, snacking on what Evan keeps mumbling is the worst food in existence.

Meg takes this moment to think of something else to have as her stomach growls wanting more than just cheese puffs.

“Oh, I know, you have to try a donut too!” Meg remembers, jumping up and almost flinging the bag of cheese puffs on the floor.  If it weren’t for Evan’s newfound “disgust” for them, he might have let the bag fall to the floor, but instead he grabbed it so tight and sent a glare over to Meg who was too busy trying to find where she put the donuts from yesterday.

“Hey, be careful.  You almost knocked these over,” he says, shaking the cheese puff bag at her, “We can’t be wasting food.”

“Yeah because I know the only reason why you’re eating it is because you don’t want to waste food, right?” Meg mocks.  Although her back is to him, she can feel his eyes on her and can almost picture him scowling at her, chewing on a cheese puff, trying to come up with a good retort. 

She finally opens a cupboard where she stuffed the bread and donuts, and brings out the donut box with glee.  Throwing the box on the table, she expects she would have to move the cheese puff bag, but by now, Evan has it sitting in his lap, his fingers on one hand fully coated with the orange dust.

Her eyes flicker between the bag, Evan’s fingers, and his face that remains as passive as always, until he notices what she was looking at.  He squints his eyes at her almost daring her to say something more.

She swallows any rebuttal that comes to mind with a small laugh as she opens up the donut box.  She was sure to get a bunch of different ones back at the store: some filled with cream and jelly, some maple bars, a couple glazed, and a few with different colored frosting and sprinkles on top.

“Okay what donut do you want to try? We’ll split it.  I don’t know how much fake sugar you’ll be able to handle,” Meg says, eyeing one of the donuts with pink frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

“I don’t need to try one,” Evan replies, staring at the different donuts in the box.

“You said I could introduce you to different types of food, and I feel like until we can go out, and the rain stops, now is a good time.  What else would we do?” Meg insists, taking the initiative and picking out the donut she was eyeing with the pink icing. 

“Anything but you forcing me to eat disgusting food.”

“Come on, it’s not all that bad,” she says, ripping it apart and giving Evan the bigger half.  He is a big guy, after all.

“I know what donuts taste like.”

“Oh, no you don’t.  Not these donuts.  Your old donuts back when you had them were a pretty sorry excuse for this delicious breakfast food.”

“People eat these for breakfast?”

“Mhm!” Meg nods, taking the first bite of the soft doughy donut that she has had in years.  Like with the cheese puffs, she closes her eyes, enjoying the flavors that remind her of better times like having breakfast with her mom, or watching trashy TV on the weekends and eating junk food.

She goes in for another bite and notices Evan watching her, really watching her.  He stopped eating his cheese puffs and hasn’t taken a bite of his half of the donut either.

“What?” Meg asks, hesitating.  Did she have something on her face? Or did she make a weird moan when she took the bite? She didn’t think so, but maybe she did…she really loved donuts.

But without warning, Evan reaches out and with his thumb, brushes a few crumbs from Meg’s cheek, causing her to flush red with embarrassment. 

Or was it something else?

Butterflies flutter in her stomach, making Meg lose her appetite, but she takes another bite anyway, careful not to get anymore crumbs anywhere.

“You had food on your face,” Evan says, finally taking a bite of his donut.  His face scrunches up and he looks around, again, unsure about the taste.

“It’s so sweet…how do people eat these in the morning?” He continues, completely moving on from what just happened, as though that were a totally normal thing for someone to do, or for him to do to her.

She chooses to move on too, thinking that it was probably nothing, as she pushes thoughts of the donut first and foremost in her mind.

“Well, you’ll get used to it.  It’s good,” Meg smiles as she chews.  She turns to look at him as he takes a couple more bites, chewing slowly as though he were debating swallowing it or spitting it out, until he finishes the whole thing and reaches for second donut.

“Oh, going for another huh?” Meg teases.

“Maybe it was the icing on that one, I’ll try another one.”

“Just be careful.  You can’t get a stomach ache when we leave.  You’ll be miserable.”

“I think I can handle it.  I’ll be fine.”

Meg watches as he deliberates on what donut to pick up, until he finally picks a glazed old-fashioned one.  Without a word, he splits it in two and hands the other half the Meg before he sniffs his half.

She takes it and smiles, not particularly wanting another one, but the thought was nice, too nice, and she couldn’t just set it back down, so she eats it happily.  Evan is beside her poking and testing the glazed donut, and before Meg almost spits out the last bite she took out of laughter, he finally tries it and nods.

“I like this one better.”

Meg raises her eyebrows and smirks at him.  “I knew you’d come to your senses.”

They finish their food, neither one of them trying to start up another conversation, but Meg doesn’t mind since she feels weirdly comfortable just sitting beside Evan right now.  It isn’t strange and awkward, like so many times before, no, this is familiar and warm.  Meg almost doesn’t want it to end.

A few minutes pass as both of them stare out the windows and watch as the rain, once pouring, now turns to a light drizzle, a good indication that it should be stopping soon.

“So,” Meg starts out, breaking the silence and turning towards Evan, “I was thinking that maybe we could look at those papers I found in the study before we go…”

Evan turns to face her, his eyes glossing over at the mere mention of the study.  It turns Meg’s blood cold thinking about how she just ruined the perfectly good day they were having, but she presses on.

“If we are going against the Clown, and who knows what else is there, it may be good to know what your father knew.”

Meg knows that this is testing her limits in this newfound comfort they have somehow built over the last twenty-four hours, but as she said yesterday, she is there to find out about the Entity, and that is what she is going to do.

“Why do you want to look now? I doubt there is anything worthwhile in those notes,” Evan responds, his voice reverting back to its usual guarded tone, not giving away too much information other than using his words.

“Because from what I saw, I think there might be more there to help us…and even if there isn’t, we should look at it sometime,” Meg responds, trying not to get defensive, angry. 

She tries her best to make sure her voice is level and calm even if she feels anything but those.

“I don’t think they’ll help us with the Clown.”

“And how do you know?” Meg interjects almost immediately.  “You’ve never seen them! Did you even read them after…” Meg pauses remembering him holding the knife in his father’s study, “After I left the other day?”

Evan hesitates, looking away from her and out the window. 

“No, but I’ve seen some of them before.  I thought…” his voice trails off, but Meg doesn’t hesitate to fill the silence after he stops talking.

“What?” She yells, her voice cracking,  “I thought you didn’t know what they were! You told me-“

“I know what I told you,” Evan yells back, effectively interrupting her.  “I told you what I believed to be true.  I didn’t know they were in there, but I have read some of the notes in the past.”

Meg sits stunned, unsure of what to say as she has to concentrate on not shaking in her seat out of pure anger. 

“I have been saying over and over again that we need to look at those…” she fumes, barely above a whisper.  “And you let me think that neither of us knew about it…that you didn’t know about it.”

“Look, it’s not…” Evan hesitates, his voice a lot lower and his words not as aggressive as before.  “I found some of those spread out in the hallway after the 'incident' here…I thought they were nothing, ramblings of a lunatic.”

Meg stays silent for once, waiting for him to continue, to keep going, to answer why he hasn’t told her about it before this.

“I haven’t thought about those papers in decades.  It wasn’t until I remembered in a dream last night that I saw them before…” he stops again.  “Before I left my father to die.”

Meg’s mouth practically falls open at hearing the way Evan admitted to killing his father.  Although she knew as much, it was still weird to hear him say it.  She wasn’t sure if the regret and hurt clear in his voice made it better or worse. 

Evan takes her silence as a way of explaining what happened when he saw those papers.  He tells her how the details are fuzzy for him, but he tries his best to tell her about seeing the papers, what he read, and how he confronted his father in his study, beat him to a bloody pulp, and then dragged him down to the basement.

There’s a basement?

Meg wondered if Archie’s bones were still down there and it makes her stomach churn.

“The last thing I remember before waking up in that fog was walking away from the Estate, from here, and going into the woods,” Evan says, and for the first time since the beginning of this conversation, he turns to Meg, his lips tugging up into a sad strange smile, “And do you want to know the funny part of it all?”

He waits for Meg’s confirmation, which she never gives him, so he continues a few seconds later.

“I like to convince myself that I was actually going to find a doctor, or maybe even help for the mines.  I think I was doing the right thing, but maybe that was a trick by the Entity, maybe it was decades of wistful thinking but…” he swallows, his smile fading, “I really do think I was going to go back.  I wasn’t going to let him die. But…”

“But the Entity took you before you could do anything…” Meg finishes his thought, her voice small as she connects the dots.

Evan doesn’t look away from her, doesn’t even seem to blink as he talks, “That’s why I didn’t tell you about the pages earlier today.  I knew you’d go back to looking at me like you do now.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Meg asks, almost fully aware of what he means as she tries to ignore the way her muscles twitch, wanting to push herself up and run away, and the way her heart beats too loud in her ears, she can barely hear him over it.

“The fear in your eyes when you looked at me, it was almost gone, but now, the fear is as prominent as anything.”

Meg thinks about what to say in response, not quite sure what Evan is even referring to.  Why should it matter if she looks at him with fear? Realistically, in their situation, it shouldn’t matter…

But something has changed.

Something.  The word floats in her head as Meg sticks to the thought, not knowing what it is, but not wanting to go back to hating each other either. 

All she knows is that she just likes how they were yesterday at the bank and the store…and she likes how they were earlier with the food.

She doesn’t want that to change, she thinks.

“Look I don’t know what you want me to say, or how you want me to react. ” She peels her eyes away from him and closes the donut box as a way to keep her hands busy as she talks.  “I can’t help being shocked when you tell me you left your own father to die after killing over a hundred people,” Meg says, pushing the food away from them and folding her hands together. 

Neither of them say anything so she continues, thoughts coming to her mind as she talks.  “I’m not afraid, or mad now, I guess, that you didn’t tell me about the papers.  You just told me a lot and truthfully, I have no idea how to react.”

As she holds her hands together, she can feel her fingernails pushing into her skin so hard, she almost expects to see blood leak from her palms despite her continuing, “But…you haven’t hurt me.  The fear I feel…I can’t help it.  It’ll take more than a few days to go away after everything.  I know you won’t hurt me…just…don’t keep things from me like this despite how I may react.  If you try, I’ll try.”

She wants to know the truth, or really anything that can help her in her search for the truth of the Entity, whatever that means. 

Evan nods as he reaches out almost like he is going to put a hand over hers, but instead he rests it just beside her arm, not touching.  They stay like this for a few moments until he takes his hand back and stands up

“I understand,” he beings saying as he grabs the food and begins putting both the donuts and cheese puffs back in the cabinets where they got them from before he walks back over to Meg. "We can look in there when we get back from your friends' hotel.  I have yet to read most of the notes, if that helps."

"Okay, deal."

She gazes outside and sees that the rain has nearly stopped, leaving wet streaks along the window with no new raindrops hitting it. 

Taking in a deep shaky breath, Meg stands up and looks at Evan, giving him a quick nod, trying to change the conversation.

“Should we go? The rain has cleared up.”

Evan takes a moment before he disappears out of the kitchen, not telling her where he’s going or if he’s coming back.  She thinks about following him, but instead she uses this time to process what he just told her, and how to move on from there.

She can’t say that what he said was surprising, especially since Matt, the security officer, already told her that Evan was most likely to blame in his father’s death, but the way Evan described it sent chills down her spine and sent her mind to a dark place that she hasn’t been to for a few days.

She was almost forgetting how it felt to be in the presence of a murderer.  Although she never forgot what he did, she has seen sides of him that are so different from The Trapper, or even the picture of Evan MacMillan she had in her head when she first got out of the Entity’s clutches. 

Feeling nothing but terror every time she would see his face for as long as they were trapped, she had a hard time differentiating that from Evan MacMillan, but the more time she spends with him, really spends with him, without yelling and taking their anger and hurt out on each other, she feels like she can truly see the man behind the mask.

And she doesn’t want to give up on that man just yet. 

Before long, Evan comes back in with a canvas bag in his hand.

“We should pack some stuff to go.  We don’t know how long we’ll be gone, we shouldn’t go with nothing prepared.”

Spoken like a true hunter. 

She gives him a small smile and agrees, pushing herself up and following him around the house as he picks up various tools that she doesn’t recognize, but she trusts his judgement.  He stops by his room, and with Meg feeling too uncomfortable to go inside, she stays in the hallway, leaning against the wall waiting for him.

“I packed some more clothes for you,” Evan says as he comes back out.  “They should be the same size as the ones you’re wearing.”

“Oh,” Meg says, a blush crawling across her cheeks at the thought of him offering her more clothes.  She tries to replace the blush with a grin as she continues, “Trying to say you hate my style huh?”

Evan smirks back at her. “You can’t say you have style when you’ve been wearing the same thing for days now.”

“Oh so between this and the bath earlier, you’re just trying to say I stink and have no style then?” Meg retorts, crossing her arms across her chest feigning being hurt.

Evan chuckles and begins to walk away, but pauses to add, “You’re the one who said it, not me.”

Meg laughs at that, actually laughs, and it feels good.  She laughed with David and Nea the other day, but she’s never laughed like that in front of Evan, but…she couldn’t help it. 

“Do we really need extra clothes though? We will only be gone for a day, maybe two,” Meg says, peeking into the already stuffed backpack.

“We need to be prepared.  You don’t know what could happen,” Evan responds, already walking away with the bag without giving Meg a chance to fight it, and although she didn’t quite agree about the extra clothes, she can’t say she hates the fact that he is finally thinking about the possibilities of emergencies.

The tension from earlier slowly seeps into the background, not completely forgotten, but instead maybe it was just another building block to their already weird and twisted companionship they’re slowly building.

She doesn’t know if she would go so far as to say they were friends, that term seems too familiar for her, but when she looks at him now, she doesn’t feel absolute hatred like she did before.  She is almost ready to admit that she enjoys his company, but she wouldn’t admit that out loud, not yet, if ever.

But she will say that it is a feeling she quickly became addicted to, whether it was because she was craving that company from someone new, or maybe it was because she really enjoyed being around him.

So instead of focusing on anything else, she revels in the fact that she can actually laugh around Evan now as she follows him, circling back downstairs to the kitchen.  They pick out food to throw in their bag, including donuts that Evan wrapped up and tried to sneak in without Meg noticing, even though she caught him in the act.  She laughs and rolls her eyes at him and helps him position the donuts so they don’t get squished by everything else. They look at the bursting bag and agree that they should hopefully be set for their journey.

“One last thing,” Evan say as they get to the front door, holding out a small looking pocket knife to Meg. “You need to have this on you.”

Meg hesitates, knowing that while it is probably a good idea, the thought of carrying around the knife makes what they’re about to do seem all too real. Evan seems to notice her hesitation and speaks up, not letting her say no.

“You said it yourself, we don’t know what emergencies can happen until they happen.  Keep it with you,” Evan orders, his voice stern.

Meg nods and takes the knife from him and slides it in her pocket.

“I have some on me too, but if anything happens, and I’m not there, you have a way to protect yourself,” he says, his voice unusually stern.

That makes Meg feel a little bit more comfortable knowing that he has ways of protecting himself too. 

“Just don’t let anything happen to you and we’ll be fine.  I swear to God if you make me use this…” Meg threatens him by pointing the knife at him, still in its small sheath. 

Evan chuckles and pushes open the door for her, totally not intimidated by her threat.

After that, they are ready to leave, and as soon as they walk out and shut the door, Meg feels a kind of heaviness in her chest, already wanting to go back inside where it is warm and safe. Although she hasn’t spent much time there, she stares at the wooden door and takes a deep breath, hoping that this isn't the last time she is going to see it. 

Turning around, she pats her pockets quickly making sure she has all of their essentials, money, phones, and her knife.

Standing next to Evan, she looks up at him, almost waiting for him to look back at her.  It takes him a minute, but finally, through the corner of his eyes, he glances down at her before turning his body towards her fully. 

“This is it,” she starts, not quite sure what to say and feeling like she should make a point of some kind before they take off.

Evan reaches up and rests a giant hand on her shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. 

“We will be back, there’s no need to worry,” he reassures her, oddly comforting her. 

“I know, I just…nevermind, let’s go,” Meg stutters, nodding as she turns forward and walks off the porch. 

As they begin to walk, Meg eyes their supplies that Evan carries in his hand instead of carrying it on his shoulder, but the more she looks between the bag and his shoulder, it almost seems comical how small the bag is compared to him.  She doesn’t even think it would fit on him comfortably, and she almost feels bad that he is carrying it.

“I can carry the bag, if you want,” she offers, holding her hand out.

“I can do it,” he rejects the offer with a wave of his hand.

“No, seriously, I doubt you’d even be able to carry it on your back.  I can help,” Meg insists, not giving up until finally Evan hands over the bag to her and she hoists it on her back.

She doesn’t tell him how she is actually happy to carry it as it reminds her of the times she used to go hiking and carried her supplies on her back.  The weight is familiar and the comfort of feeling prepared relaxes her somewhat, despite the way she doubted him earlier about the necessity of bringing supplies.

As they walk, the backpack conversation slowly slips from her mind as she thinks about telling him how she feels about the house, how although she hates everything about it, the way it looks, the memories it brings up, the dust, and how nothing in it is her, she still feels oddly connected to it, and she doesn’t know why. 

She assumes that it is because it's the first house in ten years that she has had the chance to stay in, and she lets herself think that, not wanting to think too much into the causes of her feelings. 

They walk a little bit, making their way to the woods as the trees encompass them fully until all they can hear is the soft wet noises of their shoes on damp leaves and water dripping from wet trees around them.

After about fifteen minutes of walking, Evan chuckles beside her.

“I hate what I’m about to say,” Evan mumbles.  Meg’s stomach drops, unsure if she even wants to hear what he is about to say.  Her mind goes to the worst case scenarios that she isn’t ready for.  But instead of waiting for Meg’s reply, Evan continues, “You were right.”

That wasn't what Meg expected to hear.

“I'm always right," Meg jokes. "But what am I right about this time?”

He shoots her a glare before continuing, "Don't make me regret admitting you were right."

"Okay fine, fine, what is it?"

“My stomach…it might hurt, just a little.  I’m fine,” he quickly adds that he’s fine, “It’s nothing.  Doesn’t even hurt…but how unhealthy were those things you made me eat?”

Meg almost fights back, saying how she didn’t make him eat anything but she remembers that she really did. 

“In all fairness,” she begins, pointing a finger up at him as they walk, “I didn’t make you eat as much as you did.  I did warn you.”

Evan lets out a grunt beside her as he keeps walking, not saying anything to continue, but he shuffles just a little bit closer to her as they walk and occasionally, she feels his hand brush so lightly against her knuckles, but when she looks up at him, he remains as stoic as ever, facing forward. 

They bask in the warmth of the silence despite the frigid rain dropping down from the leaves as they make their way through the woods.

“So,” Meg breaks the silence after a few minutes of walking as the reality of what they’re about to do weigh on her more with each step.  “Can I ask you a few questions?”

Evan snorts beside her, “I feel like you will whether or not I say yes.”

Meg frowns, giving him a light tap on his forearm, “That’s not true.  I would stop.”

“Until later when you would ask me again,” he says calling her out as he glances at her through the corner of his eyes.

Meg scoffs and continues to look forward, refusing to make eye contact with him.  “Regardless, at least I’m asking this time right?”

“Okay, I will give you that.  What is it?”

Meg smiles, and thinks about the first thing she wanted to ask yesterday, and then they can go from there.

“You mentioned that the Clown’s name is Jeffrey.  Do you know the other killers’ names?”

The smirk that was on his face fades slowly and his whole demeanor changes with every passing second before he finally nods.

“I only know a handful of them.”

“So, were killers…close? Like, you know that all of the survivors had the campfire and we had each other, but…what was it like for you guys? The killers?”

Meg hesitates, not wanting to push him to answer something he isn’t totally comfortable answering, but they are potentially going to see another killer, and it is only fair that Meg knows as much as she can about who they might face when they get there.

But…even though she asked, and she justified it to herself that it is something worth knowing, she can’t help the way her stomach flips and her chest pounds as she waits for an answer.

She almost doesn’t want to know.  She wants to keep being in the dark, thinking that Evan didn’t know anything, he is one of the “decent” killers…

She can’t say he’s good.

He was a murderer before he went there…They have had to have been apparently.

But she wants to know.

Eventually, Evan speaks up, both his voice and his eyes seem far away as refuses to look at Meg while he talks.

“No.  We all had our own places to stay in different parts of the woods.  I had the Estate there, though I built my own house, refusing to stay in the house there.”

“You built your own house?” Meg interrupts, impressed.

Evan glances at her and nods, before returning to his original story.

“Killers can visit others at their leisure.  I never had any interest in communicating with the others, but they sure liked coming onto my property, some more than others.”

Meg thinks about this, images of the killers sitting around together and hanging out come to mind.  What would they even talk about?

The trials?

Killing?

“Jeffrey Hawk visited a few times.  Boasted his name loud and clear like some introduction to us being buddies, but I always kicked him out.  As I said, while never having interest in knowing any of them helped, he was extremely vulgar and repulsive, which solidified my desire to never come in contact with him again.”

Hearing that Evan, someone who also was stuck murdering people practically for sport, didn’t like the Clown makes Meg feel physically ill.  In her mind, getting to know Evan and how he is as a human being has helped lessen her anxiety when she thinks back to the trials with him.  The shock and fear and anxiety is still there, and she isn’t sure how long, if ever, it’ll take for it to go away completely, but knowing that Evan can be a decent person helps.  He didn’t like the killing and he was stuck there like everyone else.

The survivors weren’t so alone, it seemed, not that it would help much at the time as they were still being tortured and killed. 

But then…if the Clown was like that, he probably loved it there.  She knew he did, deep down, but she didn’t like to think of it much.  Even the way he would look at them, full of some dark desire as he watched them struggle.  The more they struggled, the more he laughed his repulsive, disgusting, wet laugh. 

Meg can’t think about him now.  She just wants to get to her friends and then they can plan. 

She swallows, pushing thoughts of him away, as she swears she feels another raindrop fall on her cheek.  Then another.  Then another.

She looks up at the sky, the grey clouds only looking darker than before, a clear sign that it is starting to rain again.

Meg quickly takes out her phone from her pocket and punches in the name of the hotel as they near downtown, wanting to put in directions before it starts raining harder and ruining the phone. 

According to their GPS, they’re still about a twenty minute walk away, so Meg quickens her pace just a little so hopefully they aren’t soaked to the bone by the time they get there. 

Meg looks up at Evan as she pats at her backpack.

“I guess it was good we thought to pack some extra clothes before heading out.”

“Even though you fought me the whole time,” Evan replies, a smirk coming back on his face.

“I did not!  You just told me I stink.  Plus I got stuck carrying the bag.”

“If I remember correctly, you offered.”

“I didn’t think you would let me carry it.”

“Well hand it here then,” Evan says, holding out his arm. 

“I’m carrying it now, I’m fine,” Meg says, flapping her hand in his direction, not wanting to give him all the satisfaction that he was right as she smiles up at him.

Evan chuckles beside her, “Well I can carry it when you get tired.”

“Who says I’ll get tired?” Meg replies, more determined than ever to make sure she doesn’t get tired of the backpack out of spite.

Evan smiles as they walk even after talking, and the few times she glances up at him, she almost has to take a double take, not totally used to seeing him actually smile.

Smirk? Yes.

Smile? No.

The tension while talking about the killers fades a little as they walk and the rain picks up.  They walk in silence, enjoying the sound of the rain around them and wanting to get to the hotel as soon as they can.

Meg speaks up, hopefully not ruining the mood, but she was curious about one more thing.

“Were there any of the killers that you did like? Or not particularly hate?”

Evan hesitates, the question hanging in the air between then.

“I suppose Philip wasn’t a bad guy, the Wraith.  He was quiet.  I had no problem with him.”

“Is that it?” Meg asks, not really surprised that out of all of the killers, Evan only liked one other one.

Evan nods, “I suppose so.  As I said, I never liked to talk to any of them.  Didn’t talk enough to get to know them, and they stopped coming onto my property.  Left me alone most of the time.”

“That sounds…lonely,” Meg says, looking up at Evan, trying to imagine over a hundred years being totally and utterly alone.   

Evan takes a deep breath in so slowly, as though trying not to let Meg see the way his chest shakes ever so softly before he speaks again.

“It was, but I managed.  As I’ve said before, it was what I deserved.”

Meg wants to say something to reassure him, try to make him feel a little bit better about the whole thing, but she fails miserably.  She is torn between agreeing that he deserved such treatment, and saying that nobody deserves to live like that.

But she knows she would be wrong, maybe people like Jeffrey Hawk deserved that…but Evan? At one point she would have said all of them deserved it.

Hell, even a few days ago she would have said Evan deserved it too, but she has come to see his regrets firsthand, so maybe everything isn’t as black and white as the Entity made it seem.

“But see,” she starts out, biting her lip, not wanting to say the wrong thing and talks as the thoughts come into her mind, “You clearly regret your actions that lead you there.  While they were horrible and heinous…you know what you did was wrong, and that shows more about you than I think you like to see.  You aren’t an inherently bad person.”

Evan slows down, his walking coming almost to a stop, and it takes Meg a few moments before she realizes he’s not walking beside her anymore.

She turns around to face him, and sees him stare at her with a stunned look on his face. 

Suddenly reminiscent of all the times that she felt like his stare could burn a hole right through her, she becomes self-conscious, worried that she said the wrong thing.  Not that it would matter, she tries to tell herself, she was trying to be nice.

It’s not her problem if he takes it the wrong way…but…

She sighs and gives him an uneasy smile.  After everything that has happened today, she finally admits to herself with a racing heart that she does care what she says around him.

When did that change?

“I’m sorry if what I said upset you-“ she begins to apologize, wanting to move on and get to the hotel that they think they should be close to by now.  She breaks eye contact and looks around, thinking she sees the hotel at the end of the street.  They could easily just turn and go, forgetting what she said.

But Evan speaks up, “No, no don’t apologize.”  His brow furrows and he stares at her hard.  “That may be the first nice thing someone has said to me in decades…even before the Entity,” he whispers so soft, she can barely hear.  He takes a few giant steps to catch up to Meg until they stand less than a foot apart, him invading her personal bubble, like always, almost like a ritual between the two.  But this time… it feels different.

She has to crane her neck to look up at his face, but she smiles, wiping wet strands of hair from her face, trying to blink rain away from getting into her eyes.

“Well, I guess you have stopped being such a pain for the last day, it’s only fair I can say a nice thing or two every now and then,” she says, her voice cracking halfway through, but she pressed on anyway. 

“Meg…” he says her name like it is a breath of fresh air, and she realizes that it is actually the first time he has said her name out loud.  The rain picks up as they stand there, feeling like electricity is flowing between them, and as much as Meg wants to step away, she doesn’t.  The force she feels standing there with him, them staring into each other’s eyes feels both unnatural and something that she has come to rely on these last few days.

If someone were to say to her a week ago that she would be standing mere inches away from the Trapper, staring up at him and feeling anything but pure terror and fear, she would have laughed in their face.  But here she is, not quite sure what is happening.

She feels everything all at once, and nothing at all, encompassed within the rain as he lifts his giant hand and wipes away hair that sticks to her forehead.

“Thank you,” he says, his voice unnaturally low and hoarse.  She is about to say something, or even reach up and grab his hand that hovers right above her ear that he just tucked her hair behind, but then she hears her name being called from behind her.

“Meg? Meg is that you?”

The desperate cry of Nea jolts Meg back into reality, and suddenly the electricity she felt with Evan becomes too much, shocking her away as she jumps back and clears her throat.  She turns to find Nea running at them, pure panic etched across her usually calm face.  Her wide eyes don’t even look at Evan as she runs up and brings Meg in for a huge hug, putting one hand on the back of Meg’s head and the other around her shoulders, pulling her in close.

Meg returns the hug and lets out a small laugh.

“What’s going on? It has only been a day…”

“No, I’m really happy to see you, I am, but something has happened.  I’m so glad you’re finally here.”

Meg’s stomach drops and suddenly the relaxing sound of the rain is too loud, too chaotic in her ears.  It rattles her to her very core making her too aware of her own heartbeat.

“What is it? Is everyone okay?”

“I don’t know…look Meg…” Nea finally glances from her to Evan who stands stoic, as always, quickly putting back on his professional demeanor that makes Meg want to laugh knowing that she has seen other sides of him.  Meg looks between Nea and Evan, curious about what she will say, but instead she squeezes Meg’s hand and pulls her in close, hissing in her ear.

“Look, come inside, but I don’t want him following us, not right now.”

Meg pulls away a little bit and frowns at Nea.

“Well, he can’t just stay out here in the rain-“

“I don’t give a shit where he goes but he’s not welcomed in the hotel.”

Meg is taken aback by the sudden one-eighty that Nea is trying to pull with dealing with Evan, but she swallows any defensive comments she wants to say back, trying to see Nea’s point of view.

“I know you don’t like him-“

“That’s not it! He’s a killer, Meg, and…” she pauses, taking in a deep breath, and even through the rain, Meg can see her eyes well with tears when she continues, “Claudette is gone.  She disappeared and we have no idea where she is but someone left a note, and I think someone took her.”

Meg freezes and begins shuddering despite not being cold as she looks at Nea, forgetting everything else around her.

“What did the note say?”

Nea pulls out a crumpled note from her pocket and despite it raining, she shoves it into Meg’s trembling hands.  It’s short, nothing Nea couldn’t have memorized already, but as Meg reads it, her stomach drops as her world turns upside down.

 

I know you saw me on the news, come and find us.

-J.O. <3

 

 

Chapter Text

Meg’s hands shake so bad, she can barely see the dripping words on the paper that she clutches tightly in her hands.  Looking over at Evan, she notices he stands there looking just as frozen as she does, and her heart sinks.

“J.O.,” she mutters, not to Nea, but to Evan directly, suddenly everything making sense, “Jed Olsen…who is Jed Olsen, Evan?”

Evan remains still and silent, visions of the Trapper play in Meg’s head as she looks at him standing there as straight as a board; his shoulders move up and down with his controlled breathing slowly yet he remains silent.  But despite that, Meg knows there has to be a connection between everything, and she hopes that there is an explanation for this, something that makes sense.

“Jed Olsen? Who? Nevermind, you can tell me later.  Meg, let’s go,” Nea interrupts, clearly frustrated at the situation and the silence that followed Meg's question.  Nea grabs Meg’s wrist and painfully yanks her towards the hotel entrance muttering to herself.  “We don’t have time for this.”

“He’s Ghostface,” Evan says, his voice cuts through the rain and effectively makes both Meg and Nea stop walking.  Meg’s heart stops and her blood freezes as she stares straight ahead.  She doesn’t turn around right away, she doesn’t even look at him, but she knows he takes a step closer to them as the heavy sound of his boots splash against the puddles on the ground.  “I’m almost positive now, but I didn’t know for sure when you asked me before.”

“So…” Meg can’t seem to find her voice but she presses on quietly, hoping that Evan can hear her over the sound of the rain.  “You thought you knew it was him, and you still didn’t tell me.”

“Because I had no reason to worry you unnecessarily-“

“Unnecessarily?!” Meg whips around, pulling her arm from Nea, as she faces Evan.  “But you thought-“

“You were so preoccupied with Jeffrey,” Evan interrupts her, his voice a little louder as he takes a step towards her, “I wasn’t going to tell you something I could have very well made up in my own mind.  But now, I believe that it is him.”

“Well why aren’t you sure? If you know his name, you know his name!”

“Because I spent decades hearing him call himself Danny Johnson, not Jed Olsen, but I can faintly recall a time he mentioned a Jed Olsen, whether he was talking about himself or not, I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” Meg yells, gesturing back to Nea, “We could have been here sooner, maybe even in time to help Claudette and yet…”

“I didn’t want to give you another reason to go off looking for another murderer.”

“Why? Why does it matter what I do? Why would you even care?” Meg asks, all the questions come fumbling from her mouth before she knows what she is asking. 

Nea takes a step forward so that she is beside Meg and grabs her hand.  Evan says nothing as he glances at their interlocked hands and then back to Meg. 

“I wasn’t going to send you off on a pointless search for something that I wasn’t certain of.  This is why I didn’t want you to go alone,” Evan replies, ignoring Meg’s initial questions.

Meg swallows back tears as she looks at Evan trying to understand the feelings of both betrayal and something else…

Care?

She feel betrayed because again, Evan hid something from her that could have helped them in the long run, but at the same time, she knows it is almost foolish to think that he did it on purpose.  He’s right, she knows this, him telling her some vague information wouldn’t have helped, especially with no evidence to support it.  She was focused on finding the Clown, finding Jeffrey, and thoughts of who Jed Olsen was was pushed to the back of her mind as soon as they were done talking about him.

He clearly thought about Jed Olsen more than she did, and he wanted to try and keep her safe, even if it backfired and instead got one of her friends taken…

She inhales deep, blinking back tears before she nods, an acceptance that she understands in a weird way where he was coming from.

“Meg,” Nea snaps, not hostile towards Meg, but more of a jolt, waking her up.  “Look, I don’t know what you think, but I don’t believe a thing he says, and we need to go.  He’s full of bullshit.”

Nea begins to drag Meg away who stumbles a bit at the sudden movement.  Evan takes a step forward, not quite following them, but instead reaches out as if to catch Meg if she falls, and this makes Nea stops immediately.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Nea yells, whipping around and facing Evan.  “Don’t you dare come in with us.  I’m taking Meg, you can fuck off.”

“Nea-“ Meg starts.

“No,” Nea’s spits, holding Meg’s hand a little bit too tight, “No.  Claudette is gone, Meg, have you lost your mind? I don’t know what is going on here between you two,” she gestures with her free hand between Meg and Evan, “And frankly, that is something we can talk about another time, but I want to get our friend back, not try to stand here and get deep with another killer!”

“And do you think I don’t want to find her?” Meg yells, yanking her arm back forcefully from Nea’s vice-like grip. “But I know Evan isn’t included in this.  He has been with me the whole time since we left yesterday.”

“The whole time? Every second?”

A muscle in Meg’s cheek twitches, wanting to say yes but hesitating.  She did go for a run, but she knows Evan isn’t responsible. 

He can’t be.

“For most of it, I was there.  Nea, he’s not the same person we always thought he was.”

Meg takes this chance to glance over at Evan who still stands there emitting the threatening aura he always had in the trials.  She got used to not seeing him like this, and right now, she just wants to go back to how things were when they were at the house, in their own world for the last twenty-four hours. 

Everything has come crumbling down within the span of just a few minutes, and Meg’s mind can hardly process it enough to keep up.

“He has been with me the whole time, I can vouch for him-“

“But what if he has something to do with it?”

“How would he even get in touch with them? He doesn’t even know what a freakin cheese puff is or how to use a cell phone!” Meg laughs out the last part out of pure desperation for her friend to just believe her right now.

Nea is silent as she stares at Meg, processing what she is saying but refusing to believe it.

“Look, I wouldn’t bring him here if I thought he was a danger to us or to me.  Let’s all go inside.  We can all talk, civilly, on where to go from here.”

Nea huffs like a boar ready to charge as she looks between Meg and Evan before turning around and letting out a sigh of frustration.

“Fine. But I swear if anything happens…”

“Nothing will,” Meg tries to reassure her friend by taking her hand and giving it a small squeeze.  “Trust me.”

They walk around to the back of the hotel where Nea says they’ve been sneaking in and out of in order to avoid the front desk.  Meg glances up at a security camera that is propped in the corner near the door and laughs because either the front desk doesn’t care, or it’s just there for decoration.

As soon as they’re inside, a shiver runs through Meg due to the eerie silence in the hallways and the sudden dryness from being outside.

The three make their way to the room, leaving a trail of water behind them, and soon they are outside of room 113.  Nea knocks on the door a couple of times before knocking again once, and Meg can only assume is to signal that it was actually her. 

Evan takes a step closer behind Meg, and although she can almost feel him breathing down her neck behind her, she doesn’t even react anymore, almost feeling like this is a normal reaction for him.

Shuffle closer to her whenever there is any sort of tension around.

Or really any time that he can be closer to her…

David opens up the door, and Meg doesn’t even get a chance to breathe before he grabs Meg’s wrist and tugs her inside.

“The fuck? Didn’t expect you!” he says, giving her a hard pat on the back that echoed sharply due to the fact that her clothes were soaked from the rain.  “Goddamn we were worried about ya.”

Meg smiles and begins to say how good it is to be with them again but then David’s whole demeanor changes as his eyes land on Evan, who takes a step closer to Meg and stares at David’s hand on her back.

“And what the hell is he doing here?” he growls.

Meg hears Nea stifle a sarcastic laugh as she shoves past Meg and David, making her way to the dresser across the room, “I didn’t want him here either.”

“Look,” Meg starts before David can say anything to argue, “Evan can be useful, especially to us now.  He knows things we don’t, and he knows these killers, at least a little bit,” she begins explaining and as she talks, she is tempted to look at Evan, but decides against it as she keeps her eyes glued to David as she talks. “Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have some more power on our side when it comes to finding Claudette.”

David’s eye twitches and he looks away for a moment when Meg mentions Claudette.  He slowly lets go of her wrist and wipes his nose before scowling up at Evan. 

“Killers? There are more?"

Meg swallows, not wanting to tell him about what just happened outside, but knowing that she has to in order to move forward.

"J.O...we think is Jed Olsen, who is Ghostface."

David immediately grabs Meg and pulls her behind him so that he is in between Evan and Meg, protecting her from the one person Meg knows she doesn't need to be protected from. 

"If that's true, did you not stop to think about the possibility that they’re working together? They all got off on killin’ us all the damn time.  What makes you think he’s not a part of it?”

“David, come on, it’s not like that.  Evan isn’t like that, just…”  Meg hesitates as she moves beside David and gestures to Evan, beckoning him to come in so they can at least close the door and not have their fighting match for anyone to hear, especially since they’re not supposed to be there to begin with.  “I pretty much had to drag Evan here because I wanted to go look for the Clown.  I think he is around too, along with Ghostface, and if what I think is true, Claudette is probably with him too.”

“How could you even begin to know any of this?” Nea asks, coming out from the bathroom in changed clothes.

“When we left you guys the other day, I saw the news in the bar you two came from.  They had a guy named Jed Olsen on, and there have been sightings of a clown in towns nearby as well as missing people and murders that started as soon as we all got out…who else would that be?”

“And why didn’t you tell us this sooner?!” Nea practically shoves David out of the way to get to Meg in the tiny entry way.  “Are you seriously saying you knew about this for a whole day and a half and are just now coming to us about it?”

“I didn’t really think much of it then! How would he even find us here? We-“

“Well someone found us here! Claudette is gone, and you had information that could have helped us a lot sooner!”

Meg swallows, trying fight back bitter tears as she thinks back on the last twenty-four hours.  Nea was right, they couldn’t have been far, and she feels absolutely stupid for not telling them right then and there…

But no, she didn’t even know it was the Clown, and she still doesn’t.  All she knows for sure is that Jed Olsen is here, and Jed Olsen has Claudette.

“Look, you’re right, and I’m sorry,” Meg starts before having to clear her throat to keep it from cracking, “But you can’t blame me for not rushing back and getting you guys! I didn’t know it was him, and truthfully…”

She hesitates not even sure what to say to justify anything…

She had this same argument with Evan just a few minutes ago, didn’t she? When she was mad he didn’t tell her about about Jed Olsen.  She accused him of keeping things to himself, and yet here she is, keeping things between her and Evan for the sake of what?

Meg feels sick as she tries to keep herself from throwing up when she opens her mouth. “I should have told you guys,” she looks back at her friends, trying her best to ignore the betrayed look on their faces, “I don’t know what I was thinking, but I figured if I thought of something that could help, it would have been better than involving you two.  I was wrong, but now we need to look at finding Claudette.  That is what is important.”

Nea rubs her arm and glances at David, who hasn’t changed his absolute furious expression since seeing Evan, only now, the expression is directed at her.

“Look, we will step out.  Meg, you can change into some drier clothes I have, I think we just have to talk for a moment,” Nea says with no warmness in her voice.  Without waiting for a confirmation from anyone, she grabs David’s upper arm and pulls him outside into the hallway, shutting Evan and Meg in the hotel room alone, and although there aren’t as many people in the room now, it couldn’t feel more suffocating.

“I really messed everything up, didn’t I?” Meg admits, staring at the scratched white door.  She can only imagine what her friends are saying out there, and she is almost tempted to creep up to the door and try to listen, but she can’t.

Not only would it be an invasion of privacy, and she respects her friends too much to do that, but she is also terrified at what they’re saying. They wouldn't just abandon her now, would they?

Evan walks up behind Meg and says nothing as he brushes a few fingers through the ends of her hair as he takes the backpack off her back, finally relieving some of the pressure and exhaustion she already felt.

She pretends not to notice how he stood closer than he needed to reach the bag, or how he hesitated as his fingers laced through her hair for just a moment.

And most of all, she pretends that she didn’t want it for more than just that second…

Anything to make her forget about what an absolute horrible friend she feels like she has been.

“I’m such a hypocrite,” she admits, turning towards Evan.  He still has the bag in his hand as he looks at her.  “I should have told them when we saw the news the other day.  I was so caught up in our own situation…”

Meg has to stop talking for a moment, trying not to get choked up as the realization hits her.  “I shouldn’t have been mad at you for not telling me right away, about Jed Olsen, or the papers, or anything…Everything has seemed so black and white to me for ages and I…” she trials off, not sure where she is going. 

She wishes there were an easier way to deal with everything, deal with this, and all she wants is to move on, to survive, to get her friend’s all in one place.

Feeling tears burn her eyes, she doesn’t try to swallow them back anymore as she finally lets them loose, a dam bursting as she stands there, feeling so helpless, ashamed, and alone.  

It is the first time she has cried, really cried since being out, and even before that, she doesn’t even remember the last time she cried within the realm.  Sure she had times, but lately, she felt more broken and beaten down than anything, she didn’t even think she could cry if she wanted to, but now…

Now she couldn’t even stop.

She tried, but that just lead to more ugly full on crying that she couldn’t control.  Despite how she feels, within just a couple seconds of her crying, she feels strong arms wrap around her as Evan pulls her close to his chest.

Not quite understanding the intimacy that she should feel, she cries into his chest, letting all the pain and tears and overwhelming madness from the last few days seep out of her until a few minutes pass, and her sobbing quiets down into brief sniffling.  Her hot tears feel cold against Evan’s wet shirt, and as the minutes drag on, she begins to listen to his heart beat.

Strong, steady, secure.

It helps calm her down to the point of being almost embarrassed at her outburst, especially when she realizes that she is still in his arms, being held like a child, and so she reluctantly decides to pull away from the warmth he provided.

As she pulls away, his hands linger on her arms for a moment as he looks her right in her eyes, his stare permeating any defense she tries to put up after what she thinks was an embarrassing display of emotions.

“We are all trying to get by.  We are all struggling, and you are doing what you can,” he says, but instead of pulling away completely, he raises a hand and cups the side of her face, drawing small circles on her cheek and wiping away tears with his thumb.  But before she can fully lean into his touch, he pulls away, letting arms fall once more by his sides.

Butterflies fly around in her stomach, in her chest, in her head as her head swims with what just happened, and how much she didn't hate it.  

She almost wants the comfort back, wants his body warmth back, and she shivers, realizing how cold she really is, and how they have been standing there in their wet clothes for minutes now, when they could be getting dry.

Before she reaches back for the bag, she smiles at him, trying to forget how his hand felt on her face.

“I’m sorry for being horrible about Jed Olsen, I realize now how maybe it is hard to know the right time to tell someone something…I just…I didn’t think about it.”

The side of Evan’s mouth twitches into a smile that disappears just as quickly as he opens the wet bag, pulling out their clothes that laid on top of the pile.

“You have done nothing that you need to apologize to me for.  I understand completely,” he says, but there is something sharp in his voice.  It makes Meg realize that something has changed, truly changed between them, and she can't say she doesn't hate how she might understand him a little bit better now.

Evan hands her the damp clothes he picked out for her from the bag, changing the subject before Meg can say anything more. “They’re a little bit wet, but at least they’re not soaked,” he observes, pulling out his clothes and finally setting the bag down on the linoleum by the doorway. 

Meg notices that he doesn’t say anything more, and as much as she wants to apologize, wants him to know how awful she feels, she doesn’t push it, so she nods, takes her clothes, and steps into the bathroom to change.

As soon as the door closes, she lets out a long exhale, letting all the air and grief and pain from the last few minutes out of her body as she looks at herself in the mirror.

Her eyes are red and swollen from the crying, and she can’t ignore the bags under her eyes that she begins to think will never go away.  She feels like she will always be exhausted, always be fighting…

Looking at herself, she resembles a feral wet cat more than anything as her hair sticks to her head and her clothes hang uncomfortably from her body.   Despite her outburst, she still can’t quiet the absolute frustration in her mind about not telling her friend’s sooner about her discoveries about the Clown and Jed Olsen, and she almost wants to break the mirror in front of her out of pure red hot anger that explodes from her chest, that is until Evan’s words echo in her mind.

“We are all trying.”

He is right, she thinks…there was no guide, no handbook to how they should be living.  No one should have to live like they did, and then expect to come out completely unscathed…

She tries to tell herself this as she takes deep breaths in and out, trying to calm herself down before she decides to change. 

Grasping the clothes Evan packed for her, she sees that the outfit is just another pair of black pants and an emerald green button-up.  It is pretty much the same outfit she had before, except significantly less wet.

For a moment, she is tempted to go out and find something that was completely dry that was Nea’s, but something in her stops herself.

She kind of likes being in these clothes.

Not wanting to think of the reason behind it, she clears her throat and rubs the last few dried tears from her eyes as she changes into the drier clothes before she walks out of the bathroom.

The first thing she sees is Evan, still changing as his back is turned to her, and Meg can’t help but take in a sharp inhale as she looks at him.

His back is muscular, like the rest of him, but it is riddled with deep angry white scars that look painful enough alone, but they also seem to stretch uncomfortably as he moves.  She also notices deep red scars along his arms and along his shoulders from where the metal used to be protruding horrifically from his body, and although the deformities aren’t there, she can picture them just as clear, making her look away.

She doesn’t remember him having any metal where those white scars along his back were though…

Was that something else? Maybe from the Entity? Or before?

She tries not to think of it long until Evan turns around and she hears him clear his throat, an indication that he was done.

Turning to face him, she almost mentions the scars, but decides against it, and just as she is about to open her mouth again, the door to the room opens as Nea and David come back inside.

David marches towards Evan, but instead of stopping and saying anything to him, he walks past and takes a seat in one of two armchairs that sit in the corner of the room.  Meg walks closer to Evan and takes a seat on the bed, as Nea takes a seat beside Meg.

Meg’s stomach is in knots as she looks between David and Nea, waiting for them to say something.

“So, we decided that he can stay,” Nea says to Meg, not even looking in Evan’s direction.

Meg has to bite her tongue as she wants to say that Evan was coming with them whether they wanted him there or not.

He is a powerful ally they need to have, and within the span of just a few hours, she knows how essential it is that he is there with them.

But Meg nods anyways, wanting to move on.

“I still don’t trust you, and I swear if you make one wrong move, I will kill you myself,” David growls at Evan, who looks as unimpressed as ever as he stares back.

“David-“ Meg tries to say only to be interrupted by Evan.

“We both know if you try to kill me, I’m not the one who will end up dead.”

“Listen here, you fuckin’ piece of shit,” David yells, pushing himself up from the chair, “If anything happens to Claudette, or any of us, I won’t be the only one wanting to kill you.”

“Be that as it may, I don’t think threatening me will do you any favors right now.”

David takes a step towards Evan but before he can get anywhere, Meg jumps up from the bed and goes in between the two men.

“Will you two just stop?” Meg hisses, trying not to raise her voice.  “You don’t like each other, that’s fine, we get it.  But David, we need Evan right now, and Evan…just don’t get him riled up.”

The two men stare at each other, David shooting daggers and Evan breathing slowly, but Meg has been around Evan enough to know that it is taking everything in him not to attack David right then and there. 

She has been on the other side of Evan’s fiery stare before, and she knows exactly what he wants to say, and she is thankful that for whatever reason, he remains quiet.

“Can we just get to talking about what we are actually going to do?” Nea interjects.  David visibly relaxes and with one last glare at Evan, he takes a seat back in the armchair, and Evan goes to the opposite wall and leans against it, crossing his arms.

Meg takes a seat back next to Nea on the bed and before she speaks, Nea grabs her hand, making Meg choke up a little bit.  Scared that she had ruined anything she had with her best friends, a wave of relief rushes over her when Nea gives her hand a squeeze and resumes talking.

“So we know that Jed Olsen is Ghostface, and he has Claudette, and we think that the Clown is somewhere around here too.  So where do we go from here?”

“We could start in the town where he said the Clown was,” Meg suggests.  “It could have been a sign, him somehow getting on the news and telling about the Clown.  It is clear they’re working together, right?”

The two men don’t say anything but Nea frowns, looking at the ground.

“But it feels all too convenient.  Why would he want us to go and find them?”

“Could be a trap,” David mumbles, looking outside at the sky before leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees. 

“But we have to at least try to save Claudette.  Even if it is a trap, we can’t just leave her out there with them,” Meg says.  She looks at Evan who is already staring at her and it makes her stomach churn for some reason she can’t place, so she looks away, but she knows he still looks at her.

“Well, he was here in town.  Do you think he’s still here with her? What if sending us looking for the Clown is his way of getting rid of us for whatever reason?”

“Well earlier today, I think I saw something in the woods,” Meg starts saying, wanting to make sure she tells them everything she knows now.  She rubs her arm and isn’t quite able to look at any of the eyes that are now glued to her.  “I went for a run this morning, it was pretty early, and I thought someone was following me so I ran back.”

“Well did you actually see anything? Or was it just a shadow?” Nea asks, placing a hand on Meg’s knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“No, well, maybe.  I got back to the house and when I turned around, I thought I saw…something…but when I really looked nothing was there.  It was probably my imagination,” Meg continues, waving her hand vaguely in the air as though waving her thoughts away.

Evan stares at Meg, as the three survivors glance at each other.

“Do you think it was him?” Nea finally says as the awkward silence hangs over the group.

Meg shrugs, not fully convinced it was or wasn’t.

“I don’t know.”

“So, what if Claudette is in those woods and we go adventuring off somewhere else leaving her to him?” Nea argues adjusting her body so she is facing more towards Meg.

“But they could be working together.  He could have been trying to grab me too for whatever reason,” Meg pauses, trying to gather her thoughts about the whole situation.

“It could have been a distraction,” Evan chimes in for the first time since Nea and David came back in the room.  All three of them snap their attention towards him as he looks at the ground, not making any eye contact with them right away.  “Not that I would want to give him or Jeffrey any sort of compliment, but that being said, neither of them are stupid.  Danny Johnson knows what he’s doing, as does Jeffrey, and if he was in the forest around the Estate, he knows you would catch him there."

"So why didn't he just come out and tell Meg that he was there, or take her himself?" Nea asks, looking at Meg almost in refusal to look at Evan himself. 

"I believe he beckoned her to follow him in that note, did he not? He made himself known, or rather suspected, to Meg earlier so you three would want to look around the Estate first, and perhaps he could have more time with your friend elsewhere.  He knows that Meg saw him on the news, or he was calling a really good bluff.”

No one knows what to say, as Meg’s mouth hangs open, shocked at the admission from Evan.  Looking from Nea to David, she knows they must feel the same way she does.

Shocked at the brief glimpse into the personality of two other killers, as well as Evan speaking up in general.  At first, Meg thinks about what Evan says, but as she looks at her friends, she doesn’t see them considering what he said as much as she does.  They scowl at him, then at each other before they look back to Meg.

Before they can say anything, Meg takes the initiative to break the silence.  “I can believe that,” she says, shrugging to her friends.  “He probably wants us to find him, there's no doubt about it, but what if he is trying to lead us off for a bit?"

“But if he’s in those woods, what makes you think he’s anywhere else now? Why would he want to lead us off his trail when he literally told us to find him?” Nea snaps, crossing her arms as she now looks directly at Evan, challenging him.

He finally looks elsewhere that isn’t the ground or at Meg as he looks at Nea and takes a deep breath.

“As I said, I don’t know for sure.  But that is just my assumption.  I don’t know much about them, but I know that they would want this to be a game.”

“I don’t think-“

“Then don’t believe me,” Evan interrupts Nea, cutting her off completely with his deep voice.  “It isn’t my friend that was taken by them.  I’m only here because I was asked to be here.”

A blush creeps onto Meg’s face as she tries not to look at her friends after what Evan said.  Yes, she asked him to be here, but he didn’t have to blurt it out like that.

“I agree with him,” Meg says, clearing her throat as she looks back at Evan, ignoring the stares from her friends.  “He would know better than we would, and I think we should go with our original plan.”

Evan nods, the movement so microscopic, she hardly registers it as a nod, and that’s when she knows the nod was just for her.

“Fine.  But if we find nothing, I’m not resting until we find her,” Nea says, pushing herself up roughly from the bed, and gathering up some bottles of water they have in their mini fridge. 

“Ay, you lot better be prepared for the next few days if we don’t find Claud,” David responds, staring straight at Meg as though he would have to convince her out of anyone to try and find Claudette.

“You don’t have to convince me, I want to find her.  I just think we should be smart and honestly, I think this is the best way to go.”

Nea grabs a small bag from the closet and throws water and clothes into it before coming back over to Meg.  She takes her hand and squeezes it so tight, her fingers start to tingle from losing feeling.  They all stand in silence for a moment before almost collectively taking a deep breath in, getting ready to set out on their journey.

After a brief discussion on where to go and how to get there, the trio discovers that Chimacum Washington is central to the places that there were reports, and Egg & I road, the same road Jed Olsen said in his interview, is in Chimacum. 

They would need to take a ferry boat over a body of water, and then another bus or taxi to the road, and after some debate, they decide on a taxi to the ferry, then a bus to the small town.  A taxi wouldn’t take them all the way across, nor would a bus, and this was their cheapest option.

David and Nea walk out of the hotel first, barely waiting for Meg and Evan to gather their still wet clothes and stuff them back into their bag, just in case.

“Do you really think this is the best idea?” Meg asks, taking out the donuts from their bag so she can shove in the old clothes before squishing those.

“I do.”

Those two words had more conviction behind them than Meg has ever heard come from Evan, and in that moment, a sense of security washes over her as she glances up at him.  He stands there, looking assured of himself, as he watches Meg take their clothes and fold them before putting them inside the bag.

She almost says she trusts him, but bites her tongue and instead she just nods and closes the bag shut before slinging it back on her back.

“Well let’s go then.”

As they walk outside, Meg notices it isn’t raining anymore, which she is thankful for.  Nea already took the initiative and called a taxi company who said they’d send one over in just a few minutes; they just had to be ready outside.

So the four of them stand side-by-side, with Meg not knowing what to say to her friends in those moments as they all looked around, suddenly very unsure of their plan.  Nea rests a hand on Meg’s arm and gives her an uneasy look, clearly trying to be supportive, but also looking just as nervous as ever.

“I know,” Meg whispers to her, grabbing her hand and giving it a small squeeze before Nea takes a deep breath and goes to stand by David who stands apart from their group.

She doesn’t blame them, of course, with how they stand a part from her and Evan, and she doesn’t blame them for eyeing him with complete and utter disdain and fear, but she hopes that the more she stands beside him, maybe they can realize he isn’t going to hurt them, even if it will take them more time to come around.

So she glances between Evan and her friends, even though the only thing that comes to the front of her mind right now is wanting to find Claudette, and hoping that agreeing with Evan wasn’t the biggest mistake of her life.

The taxi comes, and the three survivors clamor into the backseat, while Evan awkwardly gets in front with the driver with a thick New York accent, even though he claims he was born there in Seattle.

As soon as the car begins moving from the curb, even from the back seat, Meg notices how Evan grips his seat so tight, his knuckles turn white, as he frantically looks around at the passing scenery with wide eyes.  She occasionally makes eye contact when he glances backwards but he quickly looks away as something else catches his eye.

Soon Evan’s complexion turns a sickly shade of green and she almost asks the driver to pull over, but as she is about to ask, the pungent smell of seawater and fish permeates the car despite the windows being closed, and she looks to her left, seeing them drive closer to a vast body of water.

The driver slows down and pulls up beside a glass building on the beach that leads to a ramp where Meg can assume the ferry will pull into.

Evan, despite trying his best to undo his seatbelt without shaking too much, fumbles for the door handle and practically spills out onto the street as soon as the car is stopped completely.

“I…what…how fast were we going? How is that even possible?” He stutters, his face still a shade of green as he frowns at the yellow taxi.  “That can’t even be safe!”

Meg laughs, which causes his scowl to deepen.

“I’m serious.”

“I know you are,” she replies through fits of giggles.  “Cars are surprisingly safe.  Our driver wasn’t even going the speed limit half of the time.  He could have gone way faster.”

“How?!”

“The speed limit was fifty, he was going forty most of the way down that last road.”

“Fifty?! Fifty what?! What does that even mean…” Evan peels his eyes from Meg as he watches the taxi pull away and turn the corner, mixing once more into the afternoon traffic.

Meg laughs again, covering her mouth as Evan’s sour expression turns to her.

“No, no I’m not laughing at you…I’m not…” she tries to say in between fits of giggles that overcome her.

“That was horrifying! Human beings were not made to be in something that goes that fast…I don’t understand…”

Meg smiles at him as she starts to nod only to appease him and make him feel better as he doubles over and takes a deep breath in. 

“Well, at least you’ll have a break until we have to get onto a bus on the other side,” Meg says, giving his back a soft pat. 

He shoots up and stares at her with wide eyes, “We have to get in something like that again?”

“What did you think a bus was?”

“The buses and trolleys we had didn’t go that fast!”

“Okay…okay,” Meg smiles.  “You're right.  But hey, just try to enjoy the boat ride next, okay? Here, let's go buy tickets before the ferry leaves without us.”

Evan mutters something beside her, as she rolls her eyes and begins to walk towards the ferry terminal.  Before opening the door, she turns towards the beach and takes a moment, a sense of nostalgia overcoming her. 

She never thought she would see a beach again, or if ever. 

Growing up in Montana, there weren’t many opportunities for her to see open water like this, and honestly, it takes her breath away as her eyes scan the magnificent now blue water as the sky cleared up on their drive over. 

There are groups of families clumped together along the beach, as most of the kids play in the sand, and about an handful of them splash around in the water.  Meg shivers, thinking it is still too cold to be in the frigid water, but she remembers when she was a kid, and she thinks she would probably have gone in too.

Couples walk hand in hand along the beach, enjoying the temperate weather, and in the distance she thinks she can see the stark white ferry coming slowly towards them.  Knowing they have a few minutes before the ferry gets there, a thought enters Meg’s mind, and she almost grabs at Evan’s arm, wanting to pull him towards the beach for a moment, just to get a feel of the sand, but she refrains, as she looks between her friends, Evan, and the ferry terminal.

She walks ahead, going inside the glass building.  After a brief discussion on who should talk to the clerk to buy tickets, Meg takes the lead, buying them four walk-on passenger tickets.  It takes a few minutes of walking to get to the top of the ramp that leads onto the ferry itself, and Meg enjoys herself by looking in both directions at the beach and the gentle crash of the waves on the sand.

As they get to the top, it is muggy and hot as the sun beats down on them within the glass walls, but after what seems like just a few minutes, the ferry docks and begins letting passengers off. 

Patiently waiting their turn, Meg stares off into the water as Evan takes a seat next to her on the small bench, as Nea and David pace around in front of her, occasionally bumping into the people trying to leave.

“Will you guys sit and calm down?” Meg says after Nea almost bumps into a man with a suitcase who looks just as lost and flustered as they probably feel.

“No, these people need to hurry the fuck up so we can get on.”

“Yeah, taking their sweet ass time…”

Meg rolls her eyes and waits until a loud chime happens overhead and a loud female automated voice comes on the loudspeaker telling them that they can board. 

Nea and David rush on board, fast walking their way up to the front of the ferry, Meg and Evan following in their footsteps.

Meg can’t help but be a little curious about what the front of the ferry looks like, and she is as excited as they are to get outside once more, feeling more like a cooped up child than anything.

They get outside, and notice some other passengers have the same excitement they have.  Meg sees tourists taking pictures of one another, smiling in sunglasses, and trying to get the majestic mountains Meg sees in the background of their pictures.

Mountains line the horizon, and she sees a giant mountain that she assumes to be Mount Rainier, clear in the distance from here. 

Pulling out her phone, she quickly snaps a low-quality picture of the horizon, hoping that maybe it’ll turn out as beautiful as it looks now, but when she looks at the picture afterwards, it only looks sad and unimpressive, so she sighs, and stares at the sight hoping to commit it to memory.  It really makes her miss the mountains back in her home town. 

A deafening horn blares over the water as the ferry begins to move, and almost falling over at the sudden movement, Meg decides to go sit down in a patch of chairs that line the side of the boat.  She already sees that Evan made himself comfortable in one of the chairs, so she decides to join him, taking the seat beside him. 

He says nothing as she sits down, looking out at the blue waves as she feels the rush of cold air on her face.

Her chest swells with excitement, never thinking she would ever feel things like this ever again.

Taking a moment, she gazes over at her friends at the front of the boat.  David is standing there, a shifty look in his eyes that seems to be there permanently now, but also seems so out of place for him pretending not to enjoy the rush of the breeze here. 

Beside him, Nea practically hangs over the railing, excitedly looking between the waves and the sky.  David says something that makes Nea frown and go over and smack him on the arm until he laughs, and she just goes back to the railing, starting up her freeing stance once more.

“You can go with them, you know,” Evan says over the wind in Meg’s ear, speaking up for the first time since they got on the boat.  He lifts his chin up, gesturing over to them before looking out across the water.  “You don’t need to stay by me here.  I think we are safe on this boat.”

“I see, just because my friends are here, you’re trying to get rid of me,” Meg laughs beside him.

He blows out a puff of air from his nose and shakes his head.  “I don’t think I could even if I tried.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You keep coming back,” Evan says, raising an eyebrow and turning to look at her.  His body relaxes and he sits back in the hard plastic chair as he raises his hand again and gestures over to Nea and David.  “But you’ve been wanting to see them and be with them for awhile now, I’m sure.  I’m fine here.”

“But I like…” Meg pauses, stopping herself before she realizes what she is saying.  She almost admits that she likes to spend time with him, and that she wants to stay there with him, but as she looks over at her friends, she knows that is where she should be…

Right?

But something in her presses her to say the one thing she doesn’t mean to say.

“I like being here with you.”

She feels her face turn red, and she can’t seem to look at him, so she stares out at the blue water.

She squints her eyes, it almost being too bright and sunny for her to see properly and comfortably, but then again, nothing about this ferry ride is comfortable.

Evan remains silent beside her for a few beats until he replies, his voice soft, “I enjoy you being here, too.”

They don’t look at each other, but she can almost feel him relax even more beside her, melting into the chair as they watch the waves crash against the ferry. 

About ten minutes pass in silence as the soothing sound of the waves and the sharp sting of the wind whips at her face, and she thinks she could really start to enjoy this ride before a loud chime rings through the ferry boat and an automated female voice echoes across the water.

We are now arriving at our destination.  Drivers, please make your way back to your vehicles.  Walk-on passengers please proceed to the front deck.  Everyone must disembark the vessel at this time.  Thank you for riding aboard the Washington State Ferries.

Meg looks around and sees the loading dock closing in, so she doesn’t move, knowing they are at the front of the boat. 

This side of the water looks much different from the other side, and she doesn’t quite know how to feel.

This town, Kingston, is small, or at least the part she sees is.  From the vantage point of the ferry, she sees the loading area, as well as a significant portion to what she could consider downtown.  There are small, quaint buildings lining a street that leads to and from the ferry, and she wonders what more there is when the road curves that she can’t see. 

She tries to focus on the town itself, that reminds her of home, instead of thinking about how this could have been a huge mistake, and now knowing how long it takes to travel by ferry, she realizes it really would screw up everything if Ghostface was back in Issaquah…

So as she looks at all of her friends, she silently prays to a god she doesn’t quite believe in anymore that they are making the right choice by being here to look for Claudette.

She doesn’t even care about Jeffrey, the Clown anymore…

She just wants to make sure her friend is okay.

After a few minutes, Evan ushers her up out of her seat, as the four join a group of walk-on passengers and walk down a long winding ramp to the ground.

“Now what?” David asks, as they find themselves between a coffee stand and a small crepe shop, looking each direction trying to find out where to go.

Meg scowls and doesn’t say much as she tries to use the internet function on her phone to navigate the strange bus schedules she finds online.

It takes a team effort as Meg tries to read it, and thinks that the next bus isn’t coming for another five hours, before Nea takes over and thinks that the next one is in fifteen minutes.  David doesn’t believe either of them as he takes a look and he thinks that the next one is in two hours and before they even ask, Meg looks at Evan who stares off into the distance, so they decide to skip his input.

No matter how much time they think will pass before the next bus will get there, they all somehow found the right bus that will take them to their destination, so instead of arguing on what to do, they decide to go to the bus stop and wait for as long as it takes.

Meg digs around in her pockets for the smaller change she put in there from the change from the ferry as she divvies it out amongst her friends and Evan.  She also remembers the cell phones she bought for them, and hands those to her now excited friends.

The bus arrives shortly after, and they take their seats, Nea and David sitting in one row, eager to begin looking at their new phones, as Meg and Evan sit across from them, like always.

Not that Meg minds, and she doesn’t think either one of her friends would want to sit with Evan, so she sits next to him happily as he leans slightly towards the middle of the seats, taking up more space than the average human being due to his size.  Meg tries to shuffle more towards the window to accommodate him, but it doesn’t make much of a difference as she feels his leg press against hers and his arm against her shoulder.

She swallows, not trying to make it seem like it is any weirder than one of her friend’s sitting beside her, but this is the most contact she has had with him yet, or at least the most prolonged.

She can feel every twitch and every tense of his muscles beneath his clothes, so she looks outside, trying her best to ignore the fact that they are so close to each other, as she crosses her arms and stares at the scenery that grows darker with their journey.

Every now and then, she feels his hand brush against her thigh and she tries to tell herself that it is only him adjusting how he’s sitting, nothing else.

But she can’t stop the nerves that feel like they are on fire every time he touches her, so she stares outside, trying to focus on where they’re going.

"I still don't understand how anyone can be inside something that goes this fast," Evan mumbles beside Meg about halfway into their bus trip.

She smiles and glances up at him through the corner of her eye, trying not to laugh at the way he can take the most generic things and somehow make a huge deal about it.

Flashbacks from the price of cheese comes to her mind which makes her actually laugh beside Evan, and if she didn't know any better, she could swear she feels him push his leg just a little bit more towards hers after that.

The rest of the ride is in silence, the dull hum of the engine being the only thing Meg allows herself to concentrate on. 

It’s fully dark by the time they arrive at the bus stop in the small town of Chimacum, Washington.  The four very odd looking group step off of the empty bus and watch it slowly pull away, driving through a stop sign and disappearing around a corner. 

For a moment, it feels like they are frozen, each and every one of them taking in the scene around them, wondering where to go from here, and what they are possibly doing.

“The GPS said it is about a twenty minute walk to the road that Jed Olsen talked about,” Meg decides to say, breaking the very tense silence that settles over them the longer they stand there.  “It’s just down the main road, back where we came from and then to the right.”

Silence passes between the four as they study their surroundings before making a clear decision to start walking.

The bus stop is at a small gas station with a closed down sad looking coffee stand in the parking lot.  It’s late, too late for it to be open, so there are no lights on from it or the gas station itself. 

In the near distance she can see the words ‘Chimacum Cafe’ illuminated in a flickering red neon sign, but other than that, everything around them is dark and bare with no sign of life anywhere.

There is no traffic, and the only sound that fills their ears comes from the four-way stop they are beside as a small flashing red stoplight hangs above the signs, flashing red and casting an eerie glow over them every other second.

“Well let’s start walkin’,” David mumbles, already walking in a random direction before Meg has to correct him and tell him to walk to his left, not right. 

Unconsciously, they separate into their two groups, as it was this whole trip, with Nea and David leading them, and Meg and Evan hanging back a few paces. 

As they walk, the sidewalk narrows and eventually disappears into a small dirt path along the side of the road lined with dense forest on one side, and farmland on the other. 

They turn on their flashlights from their phones after they walk a little ways from the small town they were at, not realizing that where they were walking to had absolutely no streetlights along the road, nor was there a lot of traffic to light their way. 

It was virtually silent, which Meg both loved and hated, each emotion building inside her as they walk.

She loves listening to the distant chirp of crickets and the sound of frogs along their path and it almost makes this whole trip worth it.  The gentle breeze that flows around them helps ease her anxiety along with listening to her friends talk in front of her.

Meg wasn’t sure what she expected, but she definitely didn’t expect this road to be in the middle of nowhere, and as the minutes pass and the road gets darker as the moon rises, she wonders if they made the right choice.

She hopes they made the right choice.

It was her idea to drag them out here, after all, and could she even live with herself if something were to happen to them because of a wild idea she had?

What if Claudette isn’t even here?

She closes her eyes for a brief second, trying not to think about that possibility, but she manages to get her foot stuck on a small root that sticks out of the ground.

Stumbling forward slightly, she feels one of Evan’s strong hands wrap around her wrist and the other rests at the small of her back, trying to make sure she doesn’t fall.

“Careful,” he says, and although it takes a second for Meg to turn around and thank him, she shoots him a relieved smile, thanking him for catching her.

He hesitates a few beats before letting go of her wrist, but his hand lingers just a moment longer on her back before he lets that fall and nods forward at David and Nea that somehow didn’t hear what just happened as they kept walking.

Meg resumes walking, her eyes glued to the ground now, not wanting to trip again, and although she is now being careful, she notices Evan walking more to her side and closer to her, like he could prevent another small stumble.

A strange feeling bubbles in Meg’s chest that she ignores, or tries to ignore, as she glances up at Evan’s dark frame illuminated by the moonlight behind him.

He looks down at her, an odd expression on his face before he looks back up, concentrating on the road in front of them.

“Evan,” Meg starts, moving slightly over so they can walk side-by-side, and although the path is small, they make it work even if they are practically touching and their hands and arms graze each other as they walk.

He looks back at her with an eyebrow raised, as to say, go on.

“What if we made the wrong choice?” Meg says, the anxieties of this trip are suddenly too much the farther they get, and she doesn’t want to bother Nea or David with them, not after everything she has put them through today, so it seems like Evan is the next best choice.  “I want to find the Clown, I think, and I definitely want to find Claudette, but…being here…” she pauses, not wanting to finish her sentence.

“I did warn you about this trip this morning,” Evan says outright.  His voice is flat, and he lets out a long exhale before continuing, “But I know how important this is to you.  We will be fine.  We are as prepared as we can be.  I know we need to find your friend, and this is the first step.”

Meg swallows as she gives him a small smile, thankful to have him there beside her, even if Nea and David don’t agree.

They can come around, and they definitely haven’t seen the sides of him that she has seen, and she just hopes that they can get the chance to see him for who he is now, rather than who he was before.

Not that she can forget it, and she doesn’t expect them to, but she is learning more about who Evan MacMillan is, and she can’t say she hates who is beside her.

Not one bit, even despite his stubborn, old-fashioned, crotchety self.

“Promise me something,” Meg blurts out, the words fumbling from her mouth.  Evan doesn’t say anything and she almost expects him to say something sarcastic, but instead, he nods.  “Just…if things go bad, if we find the Clown - no - Jeffrey, I mean, or Jed Olsen, just…please make sure my friend’s don’t die.”

She looks ahead at Nea who is saying something to David, and the two of them laugh quietly, and she misses a time where she would normally be a part of that, and now it seems like she chose a side when she didn’t know there were sides to choose. 

But regardless, she wants them to be safe, needs them to be safe.

“No matter what happens to me, just make sure they’re okay.  I…I feel like I dragged you all into this and I don’t know what I would do if something happened to them and I knew it was my fault that they were here to begin with…”

Meg’s voice cracks, effectively ending her small speech. 

Before she can even begin to talk again, Evan responds, “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“That’s not what I - “

“I know what you asked.”

Meg doesn’t try to argue any more, and although she is comforted by the fact that Evan is so insistent on protecting her, she still feels like she is walking with her stomach full of lead. 

After everything today, she can’t lose Nea and David too, and the thought of Claudette being lost, and potentially not even being here is enough to make Meg want to throw up right there on the side of the road, but she pushes on, knowing that her feelings aren’t what is most important right now.

She swallows the bitter saliva that gathers in the back corners of her mouth and walks on, eyes scanning the darkness for any signs of…anything.

Meg and Evan walk in silence for a few minutes, as Nea and David quietly talk in front of them.  It’s too quiet for Meg to make out any of their words, but she doesn’t mind right now, content in the silence and the calmness that Evan’s presence brings her. 

After awhile, the moon is now high in the sky like a spotlight, shining down on them as though they are about to be a part of some twisted show, one that Meg never agreed to be on.

It reminds her of the trials, the moon always feeling like a mocking vision of being in the spotlight, a never-ending play that she can’t seem to get out of.  As she walks, these feelings grow until she begins to sweat despite it being cold out, and her knees shake from nerves.

Slowing down, she clutches at her chest, trying to calm her racing heart.  Even though she knows she isn’t in a trial, her body reacts as though there is danger just around the corner, and for once, she can’t tell herself that there isn’t.

Her mind races and her heart pumps like she is running a marathon.  Her lungs constrict and she can almost hear the buzzing of distant generators and screams and knife against skin and bone...

“Meg?” Her name pulls her out, only this time it isn’t Nea or David saying her name, it is Evan, and Meg can hardly see anything as his huge frame steps in front of her until he is all that she sees. “Meg, what’s wrong?”

Her name coming from Evan’s mouth still sounds unnatural, but she clings to it as she stares at him, trying to breathe and grounding herself to the fact that she isn’t in any danger right now, at least not yet.

Staring into Evan’s eyes, even in the harsh darkness, she can see his eyes meet hers.  He is stable, calm, collected…a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean and she stares at him listening to his steady breathing for everything she is worth.

Eventually after what seems like hours, even though Meg knows it was probably at most thirty seconds, she begins to regain control of her mind.

Her heart begins to slow until she can’t feel it anymore, and her breathing returns to normal, matching Evan’s steady rise and fall of his chest until that is the only thing she can concentrate on in that moment.

“Are you okay?” He asks, his voice barely above a whisper.

Meg nods slowly as she straightens her back, standing upright again.  

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she finally replies, not sure whether to take a step back or a step forward, so she stays put for now, before she repeats herself, a little more assured this time.  “I’m fine.”

Evan’s brow furrows as he looks at her yet he says nothing.  Nodding, he takes a step to the side to let her pass him so he’s behind her as they walk.

Meg notices that Nea and David are a lot farther away than they were before, clearly not noticing Meg’s panic episode, not that she cares. 

She feels oddly comforted by the fact that they didn’t see her like that, but then a thought hits her so fast, her breath hitches for a moment before she shoves it aside.

Her friend’s should be the ones she should count on to help her through those episodes, not Evan…

She gives Evan an uneasy smile as she wipes her sweaty palms against her pants.

“Thanks for that…I mean…I don’t know what came over me but…” she glances back at her friends to see if they are looking.

They aren’t.

So she continues.

"I'm glad you're here," she mutters, looking up at him.  He stiffens slightly and she notices muscles in his neck tense up for just a second, before relaxing once again.  She doesn’t want to push anything, or make anything weird between them, but she is glad that they have each other in their own twisted way.  Although they still know virtually next to nothing about each other, she can hardly believe how close she feels with Evan right now, and as much as she wants to say that it is just because they have become acquaintances, she knows she is lying to herself, and that terrifies her more than anything.

She’s just not ready to admit anything yet, so she shoves those thoughts down for another time, another place.

“I am too,” Evan says, catching Meg off guard with his response to her broken up thoughts.  But she smiles and begins walking again, a little faster this time in order to catch up to Nea and David.

Soon, they reach a curve in the road, and when they get to the other side, they see a reflective green street sign glowing in the moonlight ahead of them, and a street to their right that cuts through the farmland and into more trees on the other side.

A sort of heaviness settles through the group as they walk, all of them trying their best to ignore it and continue like they were just a minute ago. 

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Evan asks behind Meg, and as much as she immediately wants to whip around and tell him yes, she doesn’t.  She doesn’t even respond as she continues walking, not sure what on Earth she could possibly say at this moment, not wanting to move forward, but knowing she can’t stop.

“We can always come back when you’re more able to handle this.”

“I can handle this,” Meg hisses, still facing forward. 

“Well earlier-“

“I don’t care about earlier!”

And suddenly all the irony of yesterday comes flooding into her mind, thinking their positions have only reversed.  Yesterday, while Evan found out blowing information and set out into the real world for food, Meg constantly was trying to make sure he was okay only to be met with him snapping at her and today…Meg feels like their roles have truly been reversed.

She could argue her panic that jolts through her with every heartbeat, every step, every breath, is worse, but this isn’t a competition.

And she can only laugh to herself thinking that now here he is, acting as the voice of reason, after everything. 

“I’m fine,” she repeats.  “We have to do this, and we have to see if Claudette is here at least.  If we don’t find Jeffrey, then fine, we can head back, but we have to try…”

Meg’s voice falters as they reach the sign.

Egg & I Road.

The same road Jed Olsen talked about in the news show, and Meg can hardly believe she is standing in this spot with only three other people, and just a few knives as weapons.

Although she knows, or at least she hopes, that there are only a maximum of two other people they would need to fight here on the other side, it feels like they are going to war and they are terribly outnumbered.

As the four of them regroup, Meg tries to give a reassuring nod, but as she looks from her friends’ faces, to Evan, the nerves she feels make her knees shake once again.

“You guys ready for this?” Nea says, her voice brash but the conviction behind it wavers.  Immediately, Meg knows she has to be as scared as she is.

“I’m always ready to kill some shitheads,” David responds, punching a fist into his other palm in an almost comical fashion.

“We are here for Claudette,” Meg contributes, “And I guess to kill them if the timing is right.”

“That’s my girl,” David says, punching Meg on the arm with a smile.  David always seemed rejuvenated when he had the chance to fight, and now is no exception.

Nea smiles along with them and nods.  “We can do this.”

“We’ve been through worse,” David adds.

Meg agrees.

Yes they have.

They can handle this.

Meg almost waits for Evan to say something, but she knows he won’t, not in front of her friends anyway. 

“Well let’s go,” Meg says, ushering them forward down the dark road illuminated only by the moonlight and their cheap cell phone flashlights. 

The road before them cuts between some farm land but there aren’t any animals out right now, so Meg only looks at the seemingly ever expanding land before them with bales of hay set out randomly. 

She focuses on this because she is terrified to look straight ahead at where the road goes, knowing it can only lead to danger, and the worst part is that it leads into more forest.

The trees encompass the road like a gateway, a black hole.

“You sure you got the right road?” David speaks up from the front of the group.

“Yes, I’m sure.  It was a pretty obscure name…what other road would I have Egg & I confused with? Egg & Me?”

“No need to get your knickers in a twist, love.  Just wanted to make sure,” David mumbles, hunching over slightly, getting into his usual trial stance.

Hunched over, serious, ready to attack at a moment’s notice.

Meg doesn’t reply, neither does anyone else, as they walk into the black pit that is the trees, as it seems to swallow them whole. 

Thankfully, only a few minutes pass with them walking in pitch black darkness before they come to another clearing, but as the group looks around, it does nothing to lessen their nerves.

There are a couple of broken down, collapsing barns on either side of the road, with sparse barren fields surrounding them.  Meg almost wants to compare them to the barns and fields she saw on the Thompson maps, but she doesn’t let her mind wander that far, not sure how she will feel if she let herself think about them completely.

“Do you think this is the place Jed Olsen was talking about?” Nea says, narrowing her eyes and looking around.

“I think so…he said something about the old barns on Egg & I…this should be it, unless there are more up the road, but here is a good place to start,” Meg replies. Evan is by her side at this point, practically bumping into her as she turns around to look, but she doesn’t bother to tell him to move out of the way as her eyes scan the area.

She doesn’t see much except for the rotting wood making up ancient looking barns and buildings, and some old rusted farm equipment long forgotten that sits around the fields.

“Well, we can either go look as a group or split up.  I vote we split up, cover more ground faster, and the faster we check, the faster we can get out of here,” Nea demands, suddenly taking charge of the situation.

Meg swallows any arguments that she wants to say, knows she probably should say, but she feels so unsure right now, that Nea taking charge like this is almost welcomed. 

“We can go alone, and the Trap-…Evan can go investigate the other barns,” Nea instructs.

“Evan isn’t going to just go off on his own,” Meg argues, “What if something happens? Isn’t the whole point of splitting up being to cover more ground and also be safe while we do it?”

“I still don’t trust him and for you to go off with him alone? No.  We stay together and if you’re telling the truth, he can handle himself if he finds them before we do.”

David stands off away from the group a little bit, looking around and not wanting to be in on the decision it seems like, and Meg almost wants to ask him what his opinion is, but she knows it would be pointless. He would agree with Nea, and awhile ago, she knows she would have agreed with her too.

Meg feels a big hand clasp her shoulder and squeeze.

“I’ll be fine.  You go with them,” Evan says from behind her.  She turns to look at him and for a moment, she doesn’t know what emotions she should feel. 

Looking at him, she instinctively grips the knife he gave her that she has in her pocket as she nods slowly. 

“You have your knife right?” Meg asks, making sure he is as prepared as she is, although she doesn’t feel nearly as powerful now that she thinks they could be splitting ways.

“Of course.  You have yours?”

“Well someone wouldn’t let me forget it,” Meg says, scoffing and trying to roll her eyes in an attempt to lighten the mood, but it falls flat and feels awkwardly forced, but Evan doesn’t point it out.

Instead he takes a tentative step forward before straightening his back and taking in a deep breath.

“Let’s meet back here in ten minutes.  I know it isn’t a lot of time to search, but it should be enough to look through the barns and get an idea of what we are looking for.  Here,” Meg says, handing Evan the small flip phone she bought for him just yesterday, although now it feels like forever ago.

“Quick lesson, just open up the cell phone, and…hold on,” she takes the phone back and pulls out hers, navigating the menus until she finds the phone number.  Punching in the number to her phone, she tries to explain that it will be on the phone already available and if he needs her, he has to just push the green button.

Evan stares at the tiny phone like it is some sort of disgusting insect as he holds it in his hand, nodding along slowly to what Meg is saying.  As she is explaining, she can feel Nea and David growing increasingly impatient behind her, but she doesn’t care.

She has to make sure Evan is safe too.

He needs to be safe.

“Remember that promise earlier?” She asks as she finishes her quick cell phone tutorial.  “I’ll be with Nea and David…so I can make sure they’ll be fine but please…Evan…” she reaches up and rests her slim hand against his bicep, hearing his breath hitch like it always does when she touches him.  “Promise me that you’ll be safe too.”

Evan doesn’t promise right away, but he takes another small step forward while lifting his hand up to brush hair from Meg’s face, much like he did earlier that day, but now it doesn’t seem as electrifying.

Now, it is a simple gesture that is almost serene, as he tucks her hair behind her ear and lets his hand linger for a moment before lowering it. 

He doesn’t say anything, but oddly enough Meg feels like that gesture alone was his promise.  The feelings she felt deep in her chest were confirmation enough between them as he takes a step back and they stare at each other, forgetting that anyone else is around, before Evan turns and begins walking away towards the stray barn on the other side of the road. 

Meg takes a moment, gathering her scattered thoughts, her breath, her heart…as she turns towards her friends as a way to ground herself to their task at hand.

She hates how Evan makes her feel, and she this morning she thought that was only a one time thing, a fluke…but now…

Now she wanted him to step closer, so she can touch him like he touched her, and she doesn’t know why, and she doesn’t want to think about how she enjoyed him being right beside her or right behind her for most of the day, or how it made her feel safe, protected.

Even though in any sane person’s mind, she knows she should feel fear…

Meg walks back to Nea and David, and without a word, she beckons them forward with a her hand, as though to follow her towards the barns.

Only a few seconds pass before she knows one of her friends will decide to speak…

“So, what the fuck was that?” David’s voice cuts through the air like a knife. 

“Yeah, care to explain that to us?” Nea interjects.  Her voice isn’t mad or even irritated, just curious and when Meg looks at the two of her friends, she notices both of them have absolute dumbstruck looks on their faces.

“What?” Meg asks, looking forward again, trying to move on and pretend like what just happened between her and Evan was normal.

“Please don’t tell me that we have to spell it out for you,” Nea laughs as they walk towards the first barn.  Meg’s face begins burning as she waves at hand in Nea’s direction. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, so you just want us to ignore the fact that neither of you have left each others sides the whole day today, or how he just touched you back there?”

“Or how he keeps gettin’ way too close to you.  Thought I’d knock him out myself a few times, the way he makes himself comfortable practically suffocating you all the time.  Personal space, bud,” says David, cracking his knuckles.

Meg chuckles at that and shakes her head.  “No, you guys, it’s not like that…it’s just…”

It’s just like what?

Evan and her are partners in this whole weird mess as they are trying to figure out why they’re here, right?  She has helped him with things and he has helped her, but that doesn’t mean that they are even friends, are they?

David scoffs and shakes his head as they reach the first barn, interrupting Meg’s thoughts that she tries to justify before she tells them herself. 

“I don’t need to hear it anyways.  You ladies have your girl talk, I’ll look in here if you two look in the one over there,” he says gesturing to a worn-down looking building a few hundred yards away.  It doesn’t look like a barn, but Meg can’t tell what it is supposed to be.  Maybe an abandoned house…she can’t tell from this far away in the dark.

David doesn’t wait for their approval before he splits off and trudges towards the barn himself.

"Shouldn't we stick together?" Meg calls out to David's back.

He flaps his hand in the air, dismissing them.

"It's a barn, what could be inside? I'll meet ya house at the house in a few."

Nea and Meg hesitate, looking at each other, while debating on following David.

"I bet he'll be fine," Nea mutters, not fully convincing Meg, but they decide to turn towards the house, occasionally taking glances back at the barn. 

“Anyways," Nea says, breaking the silence.  "Just because David doesn’t want to hear about what happened back there, doesn’t mean I don’t.  Spill,” she demands right away.

Meg lets out a nervous laugh and looks straight ahead, thankful that it is too dark for Nea to see the way her face flushes and she can’t seem to make eye contact as they walk.

“I don’t know, Nea.  I mean, I can’t explain it, I really can’t.  He isn’t a bad person, and yes, I know what you’re going to say, “ Meg points a finger in Nea’s direction before continuing, “I know you’re going to say I’m crazy and try to remind me of what he’s done…and I know.  I can’t forget what he’s done…” she pauses for a moment before gathering her thoughts once more.

“But after everything, I think it is good that I’ve seen another side of him.  He was just as stuck as we were there.  Believe it or not, he didn’t want to be killing us, but he was forced into it like we were.”

“What?”

“I know!” she replies a little bit too loud,” I know…It sounds crazy, especially since we all thought they loved it, but he didn’t want to.  And…it doesn’t make it easier but…”

Nea’s pace slows down and Meg matches it, almost as though they were hesitating on getting closer to the house, and also to prolong this conversation by just a little bit.

“Do you like him?” Nea asks, a hint of disgust in her voice that Meg ignores.

“I mean, as an acquaintance or maybe even friend I guess,” Meg flounders, the question catching her off guard.

“No, you know what I mean.  I saw you two in the rain earlier today, and I saw you now, and Meg…I’ve never seen you look at anyone the way you look at him.”

Meg doesn’t respond, not because she thinks she would deny it, but she honestly has no idea what to say, or where to even start.  This conversation suddenly becomes too much for her and instead she takes a deep breath as they get closer to the house. 

Her stomach is in knots and she tries to convince herself it is only because of the task that is set out for them, but she knows it is everything that has gone on the last few hours, and all she can do is take a deep breath and move forward, trying her best to remain calm.

Nea stares at her, expecting an answer, but when she doesn’t get one, she doesn’t push the subject any longer, which Meg is thankful for.  This isn’t quite a situation they’ve ever been in and she doesn’t know how she would react if their roles were reversed, and she is just thankful that Nea is being a little understanding right now, or at least conscious knowing that maybe now isn’t the time to get into some deep talk.

Meg can’t even begin to think about that.

"Can I ask you something?" Meg asks as they approach the house, changing the subject.

"Of course."

"We are okay, right? Like, you and me.  I know I messed up with everything earlier by not telling you what I have known the last day, and Nea, the thought that I could have messed up our friendship is enough to kill me."

Nea stops and turns to Meg, giving her a smirk.

"Meg, there is nothing you could do to get rid of me.  You're stuck with me, sorry."

Relief washes over Meg as she pulls Nea in for a hug, trying her best not to cry into her shoulder.  Not only was she worried they could get hurt here, which they still could, but she was worried all day that she lost her friends' trust on top of it.  

"I was so worried..."

"I'm still not going to let you slide by without talking more about you and the big guy though," Nea says, pulling away.  "But that can wait until later, okay?"

Meg nods, agreeing that they can talk about it later.  That sounds good.  It was almost a promise in itself.  There will be a later for them, and they will get out of this just fine.

As they get closer to the house, they both notice the dark wood door isn’t even on hinges, and instead it is propped to the side, resting on the doorframe.  A gust of wind would be enough to blow it down, and that’s what makes Meg’s stomach sink.

Someone has been here recently to prop the door like that.  Suddenly the lightness of the air between the two of them turns sour and heavy. 

Glancing at Nea, Meg grips her knife so tight, she thinks it almost melts into her skin with the pressure.  Nea goes first, shoving the door aside without as much of a backward glance or word of confirmation from Meg, and the door falls against the dusty ground with a loud crash.

Meg flinches back at the sudden noise but what really sets her nerves on fire is the distant deep scream she hears coming from the other barn that David is in. 

Nea’s head swings towards the sound and she stands frozen, as every second seems to last an hour and time stands still.

Meg looks around, and though she doesn’t see much, she knows that there is someone in the other barn with David.

“Stay here!” Nea yells at Meg as she is already bursting out the front door, “Look around here, I’ll go check on David!”

Meg stands still, debating whether to listen or to follow Nea.  In the trials, they always had one person linger behind to work on a generator or cleanse a totem, and Meg isn’t sure if Nea said that out of habit or what…

If there is something wrong there, she should be with them right?

She begins to jog out of the house when she hears a floorboard creak above her, and it makes her heart stop.

It could be the house settling…or someone could be here too…

Goddammit…

She looks between the exit and the stairs to her left that lead upstairs, wanting to explore what is in this house, but not wanting to go alone, as she also wants to go with Nea to make sure her and David are okay…

But if she just takes a quick peek upstairs, it can’t hurt…hopefully.

Fuck.

She runs upstairs, already knowing that if there were anyone up here, that they would have heard her by now, so she bounds up the stairs, taking two of them at a time until she comes up to a small hallway with two rooms to her left and one to her right. 

She picks a random room to her left, knowing there aren’t many choices and she could get to the rest easily from there, but when she throws open the door with all of her weight, her eyes widen and her heart stops.

She sees a slouched figure in the darkness, and as soon as she shines her dim flashlight in the room, she sees the familiar pageboy cap and dreads from one of her best friends…

It can’t be…

She was right…

“Claudette?” Meg runs up to her friend, collapsing on the ground in front of her.  She squints in the darkness, straining her eyes, trying to see if Claudette is awake, breathing.  It’s too damn dark to see anything and in her haste to make it over, she threw down her phone beside her somewhere…

Gripping the front of Claudette’s clothes, she brings her close as her blood turns cold when she realizes she is the only person talking.  She hears nothing coming from Claudette.

“Claud?” She repeats, quieter this time, placing her hand on her friend’s cold face. Her chest physically hurts as she is met with silence. “Claudette?”

Chapter Text

Meg shakes her friend violently, and before she calls out her name again out of pure desperation, a sudden intake of breath and a silent scream finally meet her as Claudette’s dark eyes open so wide, Meg can see the whites of them almost glowing in the faint moonlight. 

“C-cold…” Claudette whispers as she begins to shiver violently in Meg’s grip.

“Oh Claudette,” Meg hugs her friend to her chest as she curls up beside her, letting Claudette regain some sense of reality as she grasps for the warmth Meg brings, climbing onto her lap.  “Claudette, I’m here, it’s me, it’s Meg.”

Claudette begins sobbing quietly into Meg’s shirt, but she doesn’t mind, she holds her friend for all they’re worth, forgetting the world as Meg starts whispering words of reassurance to the shivering woman in her lap.  She rubs Claudette’s back for a minute, trying to get her to where she will be able to walk out and talk, but instead as the minutes pass, Claudette begins babbling about something that Meg can’t quite make-out, which only sends shivers down her spine.

“Come on, Claud, we are all here.  Nea and David are outside.”

She hopes.

“We need to get you out and we can go, we can go back to where it’s safe, come on…”

Meg frantically waves her hand across the dusty floor looking for her discarded phone and finally, her knuckle hits the edge of the flat phone.  She scrambles to pick it up, and when she does, light floods the room, and she is thankful that the light is still on as she lifts it up.  Looking around the room, she notices the floor is wet and when she flashes her light on it, it reflects dark and red.

Blood.

“Claudette! Claud, is this your blood?”

The soft spoken girl lets out a whimper beside her.

“Come on, I need you to talk to me.  Are you bleeding?!” Meg’s heart races and her hands shake so bad, she can hardly grasp at Claudette’s clothes trying to see if it is her blood from now or…

“No, not bleeding anymore, I don’t think,” Claudette’s small voice brings Meg’s attention back to her. 

“Okay…okay…” Meg breathes out in relief, though not quite as relieved as she could be.  This was Claudette’s from before, and she can only imagine what happened here…

With tears burning her eyes, she hoists her friend up, throwing her arms under Claudette’s shoulders, trying to drag her out into the open at least.  Claudette fumbles along, and as soon as they get to the stairs, Meg takes the first one and turns towards her friend, keeping her held up.

“Can you walk down the stairs? Claud, David and Nea are outside, we just need to get to them, and then we can go.  We can leave.  I just need you to get down these stairs, okay?”

Claudette lifts her head up and looks at Meg for the first time since she woke up, and Meg gives her a supportive smile that comes off more manic than anything else.

She nods her head before leaning against the wall, letting out a quiet moan of pain.  Meg tries to focus on what is currently happening rather than what happened to Claudette here within the span of just a day.

That is something she can figure out later, but now they need to leave, need to get out.

Meg helps Claudette take the stairs, one at a time, as her groans of pain grow louder with each step.

“We are almost there, you’re doing great,” Meg tries to encourage her, hiding the fact that her voice cracks and she feels like she is going to throw up along side Claudette.

While they near the bottom step, she hears heavy footsteps outside bounding towards the house, fast.  Every single nerve and every single cell in Meg’s body begins to burn, wanting to run away, desperate to run away, because she has no idea who it is. 

“Claudette, I need you to hold yourself up for a second,” Meg demands, disentangling herself from her friend as she struggles to reach in her pocket for her knife.

Goddammit she didn’t want to use this.

She stands at the bottom step, tears welling in her eyes, as the footsteps leading to the house become louder and don’t slow down once they get closer.  In fact, they seem to pick up.

Meg grips the knife, her palm sweaty, and she hopes that it won’t slip out of her hand if she needs to use it. 

Taking in a deep breath, she holds it, unable to let it out and too afraid to move otherwise.

She sees a huge shadow come through the door before the actual person, and that is when she jumps out, slashing at whoever is at the door, but before she can do anything, strong hands grip her wrists and arms effectively stopping her movements before causing any damage.

“It’s me!” Evan yells bringing Meg close to him in an effort to calm down her wild thrashing.  It takes her a moment to hear him, or rather to register what he says, and as soon as she hears his voice she melts into him.

She stops and stares at his eyes, wide and panicked, which mirrors her feelings perfectly, and as much as she wants to curl into his chest, wants to feel some sort of safety and security, she knows now isn’t the time.

“Claudette is here.  You have to help her, and I can’t carry her,” she says, running back over to Claudette who still stands swaying on the staircase.  “I don’t know what happened, and she won’t talk much, but she can’t walk by herself.”

“Move,” Evan demands, his voice low, as he walks past Meg to Claudette.  He scoops her up with one swift motion, reminding Meg of how strong he really is, and how they really wouldn’t stand a chance against him.

She is just grateful that he is on their side.

“How did you know we were here?” Meg asks, following them out.

“Heard the scream come from the barn and rushed over.  By the time I got there, your friends were both there but you weren’t.  The snarky one said you were still over here.”

“Are they okay?”

“They found more survivors.”

“What? Who?” Meg asks, her heart skipping a beat.

“Wait-“ Claudette mutters.

“Claud, it’s okay.  We have you.  This is Evan, he is on our side,” Meg tries to reassure Claudette.

“No…wait…others…” she whispers before her whole body starts writhing as coughs wrack her body.

“Others?”

“Others…in the house…” she says, her voice sounding far away as though she is spending all of her energy to get them to know what she is telling them.

“Other survivors?”

“Mhm.”

Meg stops walking and turns back to the house, and it takes Evan a moment before he stops along with her.   

“Meg, stay with us,” he says, as though reading her mind.  “We can go back together, you don’t need to go alone.”

“Obviously Jeffrey and Jed aren’t there now or they would have come out while I was there with Claudette, and Evan, I can at least get them ready to go if there are still more of my friends there!”

“You don’t even know if that’s what she is trying to say.  She is delirious! Look at her.”

“I know! But if more of my friends are in there, I can’t just leave them.”

“We aren’t leaving them! It’s dangerous to go back alone, you know that!” Evan’s frustration is clear in his voice but Meg doesn’t pay attention.  She just thinks back to her friends and what if they need help.

What if they’re hurt and need immediate attention?

She can’t just let them bleed out when she can easily help them.

“Just…Evan I’ll be okay.  Go take Claudette to David and Nea, and then meet me back at the house, okay? I’ll get them ready to go.”

Whipping around, she begins running back towards the house with a newfound determination at the front of her mind.

“Meg!”

She hears her name being called after her by Evan, but she doesn’t turn around, doesn’t let him stop her.

“Goddammit,” she hears him yell before he turns away, and soon his heavy footsteps fade into the sounds of Meg’s breathing and her own frantic running hoping to find other survivors there.

Deciding to check upstairs first, she bursts into the next room beside where she found Claudette, waving her flashlight around wildly, only to be met with silence.

Okay, nothing in there.

The stark contrast of expecting someone to be in the room, to finding nothing, is jarring to say the least, but it helps Meg realize that she should take a few seconds to herself.

Just take deep breaths.

In and out.

Then she can walk around the old house calmly versus practically breaking down every door she comes across. 

Taking this opportunity, she steps out into the hallway and looks around.  The floorboards creak underneath her weight, but other than herself, she hears and sees no one.

The hallway is bare and dusty, a clear sign that it was abandoned until they got there, but it still makes Meg’s skin crawl and stomach flip.

A lot calmer now, she goes into the last room upstairs and pauses before pushing the door open.  Whether it is due to her adrenaline fading and her wits coming back to her about the uncertainty of what is behind the door, or if it was just because she maybe didn’t want to see what was on that other side, she doesn’t know, but all she knows is that her stomach is now in knots and her hands shake as she reaches for the brass doorknob.

She rests her fingers on it, feeling the cool metal beneath her touch.  Instead of turning it to open the door, she leans forward, pressing her ear to the old wood trying to see if she can listen for anything on the other side that could help her.

Is one of her friends in there? Or is it someone else? Or maybe even nothing at all.

She is met with silence, but she knows she wants to go in there to double check anyway.  As she turns the handle, she hears heavy footsteps downstairs entering the house, and with a sigh of relief, she decides to wait to check the room now that Evan is back and he can look with her.

Rushing back to the stairs, she doesn’t even look at who stands at the bottom until she is halfway down, until it is too late.

“It took you long enough to-“ she begins to say looking up, but then she stops as her whole body freezes and her head spins once she looks down at the landing, not seeing Evan at the bottom of the stairs.

Instead, she sees a huge silhouette resembling a nightmarish clown looking up at her, and her heart stops as soon as her eyes adjust to the darkness seeing who is really standing in between her and her one escape.

“Thought I heard a lil’ mouse upstairs,” Jeffrey Hawk, the Clown, slurs out, almost like he had too much to drink, but the way he stares at Meg with his beady eyes, and the way he doesn’t sway, not one bit, tells her that he is as alert as ever.

His greasy smile widens exposing rotting yellow teeth as he takes a step forward.

Bells on his outfit jingle, a cruel sound that once could be joyful within the right context, on the right people, but instead fills her with dread.

“You shouldn’t be here darlin’,” he drawls out before letting out a phlegm-filled wet cough.  His voice drips with the sounds of nails on a chalkboard and black tar, and that’s not what Meg ever expected him to sound like, but at the same time, it is worse than anything she could ever imagine.   

His giant frame encompasses the bottom step completely with no way for Meg to fit around him to get outside.

“Just let me go.  We will leave, and you’ll never have to see us again,” Meg tries to reason with him even though her throat feels like it is closing, and she can’t even get in a full breath.  He doesn’t seem to listen as he takes a step up, the floor creaking under his immense weight.

“What if I don’t wanna let you go?” He chuckles which makes his whole belly shake.

“Please, what could you possibly want with us now? You were stuck with us forever and-”

“Nah, lil’ mouse.  It wasn’t forever, but that’s what I’m wanting,” he slurs.

“What?”

“Forever,” he brings up a massive arm and wipes his nose, smearing grease paint and snot all over his face and on his sleeve before swallowing thickly.  “I don’t want to be out in this sorry excuse for a world longer than I need to be.”

As he takes another step up, he grasps the handrail, and Meg can see a faint beam of light from behind him coming from the door.

What if she ran and tried to duck under his arm? Could she fit?

But if he saw it coming, she would run right into him.

There really was no way…

She gave Evan her number but didn’t manage to get his…come on…

Where is he?

Her eyes dart around like a caged animal, trying to find an escape, but as Jeffrey ascends up the stairs, she knows her options become limited as she breaks out into a sweat.

“Come on, lil’ mouse, no need to give me that look.  Jeffrey will treat you right.  Haven’t I always?” he lets out another wet laugh and at that, Meg makes the split decision to run upstairs in order to buy time until Evan can get there.

Evan always knows what to do.

Evan said he would be there to protect her…

Suddenly her promise to keep her friends safe seems trivial and meaningless if that means that she dies at the hands of Jeffrey fuckin’ Hawk himself, and the selfish thought alone is enough to make her want to hate herself.

But she can’t think of that right now, not when she hears Jeffrey’s heavy shoes bound up the stairs behind her, at a slightly slower pace, but still too loud and too fast for her liking. 

She bolts into the closest room and slams the door shut, knowing she isn’t getting away, but maybe making it more a nuisance to catch her will buy her the time she needs until Evan comes back.  For a moment, she fumbles around, groping the door handle looking for a lock until she feels a small metal latch that she quickly turns, locking her inside.

Much as it was in the trials, she hears Jeffrey’s disgusting laugh before she hears anything else, and afterwards, for a moment, the house is silent.  Her mind lets her believe that maybe he stopped, maybe Evan came back, maybe he disappeared, but those thoughts soon came crashing down with the thundering sound of him pounding on the door Meg currently stood in front of.

“Come on, darlin'.  Let me in,” he growls from the other side, pounding on the door, making it rattle beneath Meg’s body weight that she holds the door with.  With every pound, her teeth rattle and her mind frantically tries to find some sort of solution as she looks around the room. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in this room except a few boxes stacked in the corner, as well as an empty closet to her right with more boxes.  There really is no place to hide.

She’s stuck with only a flimsy rotting door between her and a monster of a man whose intentions Meg can only begin to imagine.

There is a window to her left letting in the bright moonlight, and she tries to look out to see if she can see the other barn, see her friends, see anything familiar that she can call out to, but she must be on the wrong side of the house.  All she sees is bare, stark fields, and with a whimper, she tries to hold the door in place for as long as she can.

She closes her eyes and silently prays for Evan to come back, to rescue her from Jeffrey Hawk that still stands on the other side of the door, slowly breaking it down with every pound.  Despite Meg’s insistence of holding it shut, she feels the wood break on her back with every hit.  She knows that soon he’ll be able to break straight through the door, no matter how much she can hold it closed for now.

Before she can figure out what to do or where to go, the wood behind her cracks in half, officially breaking the integrity of the door itself, causing it to half collapse on Meg before she scrambles out of the way. 

What the hell is taking Evan so long?

Her eyes dart around, once more a caged animal, feeling even more trapped than before.  She stands in the middle of the dark room as the Clown stands on the other side of the doorway, blocking her one means of escape.

But she has her knife.

Her hand flies to her pocket and grips the handle, ready to use it if necessary, but she prays that she won’t have to as she stares at the giant man in front of her.

He has to duck under the doorway and slide in at an angle in order to get his full girth through the door, and as he takes a step towards her, Meg can hardly see him straight as her vision starts to blur out of fear…or is it tears?

She doesn't even know what was happening within her own mind, or her own body, as she instinctively takes steps back, hitting the wall behind her with a loud thud.

“I will use this,” she threatens, brandishing the knife from her pocket suddenly as a last ditch effort to make sure he didn’t come any closer.

It doesn't work though, as he simply chuckles a wet laugh within his chest, taking steps towards her until he is in the middle of the room, only a couple feet away from her.

If she reached out, she thinks she could touch his protruding stomach, but she can’t get herself to even move as he studies her.

“Didn’t think I’d get to see you this close so soon, lil mouse,” he muses, his eyes looking her up and down once more.

Meg looks around, hoping that maybe she can run past him and get to the door despite the fact that he stands directly in front of her, but she is fast.

She has always been fast.

Without letting herself talk herself out of the idea, she bursts into a sprint and goes to his right while she swings her knife at him, hoping maybe it would catch him off guard and give her one precious second for her to slip by.  She gets past him but he is too quick, always too quick, and she feels his arms wrap around her torso, pulling her back into the room.

She kicks back at him, hoping to hit him where it hurts, but no matter how hard her kicks come in contact with him, he carries her like she is a rag doll, never reaction to her frantic kicking and screaming.

Flailing her knife around her, she expects that even the various cuts she knows she is making on him will do something, but he only laughs behind her as he spins around, throwing her onto the floor.  She lands with a harsh thud and her vision goes dark as she smacks her head on the ground.

Groaning, she blinks several times to get her vision back as she tries to scramble away as best as she can given the circumstances.

“I admire your tenacity, I’ll give ya that.  I always liked seeing you run away in our trials, but now, now I can really play with you,” Jeffrey moans as he stands above her, watching her struggle to get away like this is some game.

Meg tries to push herself up as quickly as she can, but as soon as she begins to jump off the ground, a heavy black boot comes crashing down on her chest, pushing her back onto the floor and knocking the wind out of her.

“Oh, you’re not going anywhere, lil mouse.  Not until I’m done with you,” he muses.  She feels droplets of blood drip on her from the slashes she made in his arms and chest, and she thinks she can even see a shiny deep cut on his cheek, but it’s like he doesn’t even care or couldn’t feel it.

She gasps for air, feeling like she can’t get enough in her squeezing lungs from the pressure coming from his boot, and she wants to yell, wants to scream, but she can’t even make any sound come out of her mouth.  Absolutely frozen with terror, she has no choice but to stare up at his slimy grinning face.

Jeffrey takes his boot off her chest and she gasps for air, but it doesn’t last long before he straddles her and sits down roughly crushing her legs and pelvis into the hard floor.

Instinctively, she begins swatting at him, knowing that it won’t make a difference, but she has to fight, needs to fight even though now she is totally and utterly trapped at the mercy of Jeffrey Hawk.

“Let me go!” She yells to no avail.

He grabs both of her forearms in one giant hand and yanks them painfully over her head, causing her knife to clatter to the side of her arms just out of reach.  The tears that Meg has been trying to fight back this entire time now burn at her eyes and begin to trickle down the sides as she glares up at him, still thrashing and attempting to wiggle out from underneath his immense weight. 

This does nothing but make him smile down at her as he uses his free hand to grab her face, digging his dirty fingernails into her cheek.

He brings her up close, too close to where she can smell his putrid breath on her face.  He smells like death and decay mixed with the sharp stench of rubbing alcohol and chemicals.  She has to hold her breath to keep from vomiting as his watery eyes look her up and down, making her feel more violated than she has ever felt before.

“What do you want?” Meg blurts out loudly, trying to mask her fear by yelling, but it only makes her voice crack and crumble before her.

Jeffrey lets out a hum as he brings her closer, inhaling deep, and letting out a gruff groan.

“Mmm, you don’t need to yell at me, lil mouse.  It doesn’t suit you.  I can cut out that nasty tongue of yours just as easily if you don’t shut the fuck up for me.”

His hand grips her forearm so tight, she can feel his long fingernails cutting harshly into her skin causing blood to trickle down her arm, and she can feel bruises start to form the harder he squeezes.

She lets out a yelp of pain as he tugs one wrist up towards him, looking at her fingers.

But he’s not just looking at them, no…he is studying them, reading them like a book, and looking at them like nothing he has ever seen before.

He brings her hand up to her face, and despite her wiggling to try to escape from underneath him, it proves to be a fruitless effort as his weight bares down on her more, crushing her pelvis and grinding every single one of her bones painfully into the floor.

“My friends are here, they will kill you once they come back.  You’re outnumbered,” Meg cries out as her bones feel like they are to the breaking point, but he says nothing.  He only lets out another wet, disgusting laugh as he brings one of her fingers to his lips.

“Ah, but they’ll be awhile, I’m sure.  We have them nice and distracted,” he informs her, breathing on her finger.

“We?” Meg croaks out as her stomach drops thinking of all the possibilities that he could be talking about. 

She tries to pull her arm back, but the more she fights, the harder he grips, making it clear he has all the power here.  Jeffrey just laughs and shakes his head, not answering her question and not giving her any more information.

Despite his grip tightening to the point of being absolutely crushing, she tries to pull away more, tries to fight, but it makes absolutely no difference, and he pushes her finger past his greasy lips.  Rubbing it along the ridges of his crooked teeth, he lets out a moan before opening his mouth fully and licking her finger from base to tip in one obscene gesture. Trying to curl her finger away, to do anything that she can when she can’t even move, he notices and catches her finger between his teeth, stopping her movements. He bites down, not hard enough to cause any serious damage, but for the warning itself to be there. 

Meg tries to let out another scream, or anything to call out for help, but it only comes out as a sad whimper, which seems to please Jeffrey as he pushes her whole finger into his mouth, encircling it within his lips.  He sucks on her finger like a lollipop and then pulls it out with a lewd pop.

“What are you doing? Just let me go…” Meg cries through burning tears in her eyes.  Her thinly veiled composure begins to crumble and her defensive attitude slips from her as the seconds drag on, making her more into a pleading mess than anything.

“I missed the taste of these in particular, yes,” he grunts, shifting slightly on the floor until Meg can feel something long and hard jab into her hip, and once she realizes that the hard object was coming from Jeffrey himself, she wants to be sick.

“No, no, no please,” she starts pleading, thrashing around more and fighting against his terrifyingly strong grip.  He hasn’t even started anything, but the thought itself has Meg already seeing black spots in her vision, ready to pass out from the fear. 

He ignores her pleas as he yanks her arm towards him so hard, she feels her shoulder pop and her vision flashes white with agony, croaking out a painful yell that doesn’t seem to deter him from sticking more of her fingers into his mouth and sucking.

“These probably taste like that pretty little cunt of yours, don't they? I bet you use these to fuck yourself, huh? I can taste you on them…”

Meg barely registers what he is saying above her as the pain of her shoulder being moved around and her bones being crushed by his weight becomes too much for her to handle.  Her stomach heaves and her head turns to the side, spraying the ground and herself with vomit, her head whirling on the verge of passing out.

Deep down, Meg hopes that this may cause some negative reaction in Jeffrey, or something to make him get up, let her go, anything to lessen the pain, but instead she feels his hard cock twitch against her hip before he ruts into her thigh painfully.

“I didn’t expect such a show from you.  Didn’t expect you to be such a whore, wanting me to enjoy this, huh?” He laughs again, always with his laugh that Meg feels like she will never be able to get out of her head now.

It’ll be a constant ringing in her ears, a blaring horn, a dangerous siren, and through the stinging of vomit coming up her throat and some of it spraying through her nose, she can barely register what he begins doing.

He drops her arm with a thud, sending shocks of hot hot hot pain through her whole body, and next thing she knows is his hand groping her breast, hard. 

A newfound wave of nausea hits her as she tries to fight him even more now, and despite the agony that radiates through her body and the sheering pain of his dirty fingernails digging into her skin, she needs to get away.

Get away get away get away.

But she can’t move her arm, can’t even begin to lift it without wanting to scream, and unfortunately, the more she moves, the harder he gropes and melts into her like he is trying to consume her whole.  He bends down more causing his huge stomach to lean against her, making it difficult to breathe.

She resumes kicking her legs as best as she can, making her upper body writhe under him and she can feel her own vomit mix in with her hair and seep into her clothes.

Then a thought goes through Meg’s mind, so distant, she begins trying to make it happen.

What if she just let go, separate herself like she did in the trials as she hung like a piece of dead meat on those horrifying meat hooks?

She isn’t Meg Thomas and she isn’t being groped and violated and licked and tortured by a murderous clown.

She can be somewhere else…anywhere else.

It would be over soon, she hoped, or maybe Evan would come soon…if he didn’t leave her.

As time drags on, she begins to think her friends must have left, like they did in trials.

Left her alone to suffer, left her alone to die.

If she died now, maybe it would be all over, and she wouldn’t have to feel the painful sting of betrayal.

“Come on, give Jeffrey a little smile, huh? Don’t pass out on me yet, there’s still so much that I want you to feel,” Jeffrey purrs, rutting into her thigh again trying to get more friction between their clothes, and as he does so, his grip loosens just a little bit on her other good hand.

But with that, hearing Jeffrey taunt her as he does what he wants, something breaks in Meg.  She spent years with him where she couldn’t fight back and now…now she isn’t in the trials.

Swallowing her absolute terror, with the sight of this grotesque man on top of her and wanting to defend herself, a burst of adrenaline courses through her as she yanks her hand from his grip suddenly, taking him by surprise.  Her skin tears with his nails in the process but she barely registers the sharp pain as she grasps for the knife that is so close to her.  Swinging the knife up, she stabs it into his massive gut, causing a terrifyingly loud howl to come from the sweaty clown.

“You fucking, bitch!” he grunts fumbling off of her, giving Meg a chance to push herself away from him by frantically kicking the floor to scramble to the corner by the door.  He grips at his enormous stomach, and Meg knows she messed up by not aiming for somewhere more lethal as he stands up and yanks the knife out without hesitation. 

She tries to push herself up, only to come tumbling back down on the ground, her legs and hips too numb from his weight baring down on her for so long.

Jeffrey takes one large step towards her, his wound leaking dark blood onto the floor that he doesn’t even seem to pay attention to after the initial stab.

“Now that’s not very polite now, is it?”

“I told you to stay the fuck away from me!” Meg shrieks, still trying to claw herself away from him.

His face distorts as he grimaces down at her but before he can take a step forward to close the gap between them, a huge shadow encases the room.  Jeffrey seems to notice this too as he swings around from Meg.

“Ah, didn’t think I’d see you here.  Welcome to our little show!” Jeffrey announces with a brassy showman’s voice as though completely forgetting Meg was crying and panicking on the floor behind him. 

“Get away from her,” the voice growls, and Meg immediately recognizes it as Evan.  A tidal wave of pure relief washes over her as she tries to push herself up against the wall. 

“Hey, buddy, I never said you couldn’t get a turn.  I can be a nice guy, I can share,” Jeffrey boasts, finally stepping away from Meg so Evan can get a good look at the broken girl on the floor.

Evan’s face, already twisted with rage, flashes with something else entirely as his eyes land on Meg, broken, bloody, and covered in her own vomit on the floor. 

“Ahh, I see you’re a man of taste as well.  Like what you see, huh?” Jeffrey says, a laugh escaping his fatty lips.  Before Meg can even comprehend what is going to happen, Evan takes a couple steps closer to Jeffrey, winding up his fist behind him and sending it flying towards the Clown, landing square on his jaw.

This takes Jeffrey by surprise as the big man stumbles back, and a gloved hand flies to his face.

“Well that wasn’t very nice, bud.  You’re just like your whore here, resorting to violence before the fun even starts,” Jeffrey coughs out, regaining his composure.  Evan marches over to Meg, trying to get in the middle of them and never taking his eyes off of Jeffrey.

“You know I can do much worse.  If you know what is good for you, you’ll leave right now.  I’ll give you one more chance,” Evan threatens, his voice rough and low.  She has never heard him sound as dangerous and threatening as she does in that moment, and her chest tightens knowing that he is here defending her. 

Jeffrey stares at him for a second before letting out a loud laugh, followed by chunky sounding coughs.  He spits onto the floor before wiping his face on his sleeve.

“Or you’ll do what? Kill me? I can give you a slow death, and you can die watching me fuck your little whore over there.”

With that, Evan doesn’t hesitate as to throw another punch at Jeffrey, but this time, he was ready and steps out of the way.  Jeffrey elbows Evan’s back, almost knocking him to the floor, but Evan recovers fast, spinning around and launching towards the putrid Clown.

Meg watches from the ground with wide eyes and terror etched onto her face as the two giant men begin fighting in front of her.  She tries to push herself up or grab the knife, but with each attempt, her body falls limply to the ground and she hits the ground out of frustration at not being able to get up and help.

Evan lands decent punches onto the Clown, and once Meg hears the small sound of a tooth falling onto the ground covered in dark red sticky blood.

But with each blow Evan lands on  Jeffrey, the Clown lands one on Evan too followed with a horrid laugh.  Meg can almost feel the punches that land on Evan, and she tenses and twitches every time. 

The grunts and dull sounds of punches and kicks landing on the two men echo through the room, and Meg has never felt so helpless in her life.

They seem pretty evenly matched, and Meg’s heart drops when she thinks of the possibility of Jeffrey somehow winning.

No.

That can’t happen.

She refuses to let that happen.

So she wills herself to think that Evan will win.  Evan will save her.  Evan will protect her.

Evan’s face is twisted with both rage and concentration as he leaps forward, trying to grab Jeffrey and toss him aside enough to lose his balance, but Jeffrey ends up landing a hard punch on Evan’s neck, making him cough violently and stumble backwards himself.

Within the span of a few seconds, Meg sees the glimmer of something in Jeffrey’s hand, metal reflecting in the moonlight, and Meg’s whole soul panics when she realizes…

“Evan! He has a knife!” She screams, sudden adrenaline coursing through her veins as she scoots closer to the men fighting.  Evan is able to recover and as his eyes flick down to Meg scooting closer to them on the floor with her legs stretched out.  Evan gives Jeffrey a hard shove, causing him to take a step back and stumble over her outstretched legs.

Evan takes this chance to grab the knife from Jeffrey’s waving hands and without a second thought, plunges it deep within his chest.  Jeffrey sputters for a second, not even yelling out in pain, as he looks between the knife and Evan before collapsing to the ground with a loud crash. 

He barely misses where Meg is sat on the floor, but Meg kicks her way away from him and closer to where Evan is now standing, staring down at the bleeding clown before them. 

The sounds of Jeffrey coughing and gargling for a few minutes is the only thing that they hear, until even those begin to quiet down until there is nothing.

It is pure silence.

“Is he…dead?” Meg asks, still sitting far away, unable to move any closer.  She squints in the dark, trying to see any movement from the Clown at all, any sign that he is still alive, not quite sure what she wants more in that moment.

Can she live with herself knowing she helped murder someone? But then again, this isn’t just any other person…

This was Jeffrey Hawk, The Clown.

Someone who abused, poisoned, tortured, and killed her so many times…

He was going to do it again, and who knows what else he would have done.  Her mind snaps shut like closing a book, refusing to even think about what more he could do.

She helped kill him, but it was self-defense, she starts repeating over and over again. 

It was self-defense.

There was nothing else she could do.

“I don’t know,” Evan huffs.  “But I don’t want to wait around to find out.  We need to leave.”

She nods her head, silently agreeing through cloudy vision. 

“Evan, look, I’m so sorry…” she begins to say as tears well in her eyes.  “You were right, this was a mistake and…”

“Stop,” he whispers, his eyes finally landing on her.  “We can talk about this later.  Can you walk?”

“I think so,” she mutters, but as soon as she tries to push herself up, stabbing pain radiates from her hips, up her back, and then explodes in her shoulder, as she lets out a painful cry.  She hoped that it was just her legs refusing to cooperate from being crushed, but now she isn’t sure.

“My shoulder…Evan, I think he dislocated it,” she says, already letting fresh tears roll down her face.  “Goddammit,” she mutters, smiling a sarcastic smile at Evan.  Out of everything she had been through in the trials, she knows she can handle a dislocated shoulder and bruised bones, but why is this so incredibly painful? Even when she tries to move, she sees stars and feels like her stomach squeeze painfully, wanting to force all of its contents out again.  “Fuck!” she screams, punching the floor again with her good hand.

Evan kneels down, ignoring her tears and outbursts as he studies her shoulder.

“I…I don’t know how to fix this,” he says, “but I can try.” His words, although still slow and even, shake just slightly as he scoots closer to Meg on the floor.

“I’m fine, it’s fine.  Just…help me up.  We can fix it later.”

“You can barely stand.  How do you expect to make it all the way back to town?”

“Help me up!” Meg demands, getting more frantic through more tears that turn hot like the anger she feels radiating from deep within her.  “We can make it.”

Even through him scowling, she can see something else in his eyes as he sighs, bending down and trying to scoop her up into his arms like he did Claudette, but unlike her friend, as soon as he touches Meg, the pain in her hips and shoulder explode once more into fire and acid and agony.

“We can’t move you like this,” he says, matter-of-factly, but she sees a glimmer of sweat start to form on his brow, and her heart races.

He’s trying not to panic, trying not to show that he is just as frustrated as she is, and that somehow makes it worse.

She glances back at Jeffrey, lying face up, his greasepaint makeup dripping with sweat and mixing in with the vomit and blood on the ground. 

She can’t be in here any longer, not with him…can Evan move him?

No…no that would be impossible.

They can call 911…

And explain what?

How could they even possibly begin to explain this? Any of this? Or them…

Meg’s chest squeezes so tight and she begins to hyperventilate, feeling like there isn’t even air around her.

There isn’t enough oxygen in the room, and how can she think when she can’t even breathe properly?

Her vision blurs with more tears and she begins to not just cry, but sob pitifully on the ground, frustrated with the situation, but more frustrated with herself. Her being here is all her fault, and she knows this...if she only listened...

“Look, let’s get your friends back here.  You survivors were always good with patching each other up right? Maybe they know how to fix this so you can at least walk out of here.”

“H-h-how w-w-will,” Meg starts stuttering, barely getting any words out and the way her chest wracks with sobs does nothing to lessen the agony in her shoulder.

Evan immediately grabs Meg’s face within his own two hands and turns her face towards him.

“Look at me!” He demands, not yelling, but all the confidence he lost within the last few minutes returns to his voice.  Deep, strong, commanding.  “Meg Thomas, I will die here before I let anything happen to you.  We will get you out of here.”

She tries to listen, tries to focus, but her gaze flickers back to Jeffrey lying cold on the ground…

“No.  Eyes on me.  Only me, okay?” He commands, rubbing a thumb underneath her eye, not roughly, but with enough pressure to make her look back at him.  “Breathe with me.  We will figure this out.”

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

He deliberately takes in long breaths through his nose, holds for a few seconds, before exhaling slowly out of his mouth, which Meg can’t do immediately at first.

She hiccups and sobs for a minute before her breathing starts to quiet down and starts to match his.

Instead of focusing on Jeffrey Hawk, the Clown, potentially dead behind Evan, or how she just went through one of the most traumatizing experiences she could ever face, she focuses on the way Evan’s fingers feel gripping her face.

His hands are big, and it feels like her face rests in the palms of his rough hands comfortably due to their size.  His thumbs draw small circles on her cheek and up to her temple before coming back down to her cheek.  The movements are so slow, she almost doesn’t realize this thumbs are traveling up and down her face until she realizes they are at a completely different spot than they were when he started this.

She focuses on his face, illuminated dimly by the moonlight, and his eyes.  She can’t see the color of them, so she tries to think about it.  Green with gold flecks in the irises.  She wants to see that color again.

After a few minutes of breathing, Evan’s movements on her face slows until they are staring at each other, breathing perfectly in sync, and are a lot closer now.

His face is mere inches from hers, and she tries to tell herself it is because he wants to try to block her view of Jeffrey.

She doesn’t know if she quite believes that though.

He gives her a small nod and sits on the floor in front of her, bringing one leg up beside her, and extending the other one over her legs.  Still not letting go of her face, he loosens his grip so it isn’t so rough anymore without fully letting go.

“Better?”

She nods just a little bit, as much as his hands let her, and his mouth twitches into a smile.

“I say there are a couple of options,” he begins saying as he still stares straight into her eyes.  “One, we call the police, or whomever we can to come get you.”

“What would we even say?” Meg finally speaks up.  Her voice is deep with previous tears that she tries to swallow away.

Evan’s eyes search hers for something, though she isn’t sure what.

“I don’t know.  Therefore, option two is that I get your friends over here.”

Meg’s stomach twists and heart pulls as her mind goes into panic mode once again.

“You can’t leave! You can’t leave me here,” she says, beginning to look around but as soon as her eyes leave his, he pulls her face towards his again.

“I’m not leaving you, at least for long.  We need help.  You need help that I can’t possibly give you right now without causing more damage or more harm.”

“I can’t be alone, what if he wakes up? What if someone else comes?”

“We looked through all the buildings on this property, and your friends should only be over at the barn.  They aren’t far.  It will take me two minutes,” Evan says, a look of determination on his face as he lets go of her face.  “I will leave a better weapon with you.  Countdown the seconds until I’m back.  I will be back.”

"But Jeffrey said there was someone else here.  He said there was a distraction with all of you...what was that?" Meg asks, trying to control the rising panic she feels again.

Evan takes in a deep breath and sighs.  "Yes, they seemed to have heard something in the woods and wanted to go investigate it."

"Did they see what it was?"

He shakes his head and lets out a small laugh.  "No, but it took a lot of convincing. You survivors seem to like to rush into dangerous situations without thinking much," he observes with a frown.  Meg smiles at him, imagining Nea and David arguing with Evan outside.  What did he say to finally convince them to stay?

"Hey," Meg starts with a half shrug with her good shoulder, "when you spend years in constant danger, you want to know what is happening around you at all times."

Evan hums, bringing his hands up to cup Meg's face once more.  "I will keep you safe, Meg Thomas.  But first, we have to get your friends.  I will be back, I promise."

Meg doesn’t say anything, can’t say anything as her mind searches for the right words in this situation.  She felt like she was going to die, and not only was she goes to die, she was going to be tortured…and worse…in her last moments.

She feels like she barely made it out alive with Jeffrey, and now he is wanting to leave her alone again when who knows what else could be out there?

Evan grips her face as they look into each other’s eyes for just a moment, and he is so close, Meg’s heart starts racing.  His eyes flicker down to her lips and then come back up to meet her eyes, and for a moment Meg thinks that he might kiss her…

Then he lets go.

Meg pushes all thoughts away about what she thinks was going to happen, and she gives him a nod. 

“Please hurry,” she mutters to him as he stands up.

“I will.  You’ll be safe.  I promise you that.”

Meg gives him an uneasy smile as he turns to leave her once again, and she tries not to cry out of absolute fear in this situation.

But he said he’ll be back.  He hasn’t lied to her yet, she knows he will hurry.

She will be okay.

Taking a deep breath, she looks around the room, trying not to look at Jeffrey lying on the floor in his either dead or comatose state, but she definitely doesn’t want to get close enough to see.

Instead, her eyes glance over to the closet near all the boxes, and maybe she can hide in there just in case…

It’s her best bet, she thinks, as she pushes herself across the wet floor with her weak legs and uninjured arm.

She bites her tongue to try and keep her grunts of pain down to a minimum, but it doesn’t work as every single movement sends shocks of pain through her whole body.  All she knows is that she can’t stay in the middle of the room.

After a few seconds of pushing herself, she finally reaches the closet with a sigh of relief.  Wiping beads of sweat that formed on her forehead, she takes a moment to rest and take a deep breath, letting her body relax just a bit until she pushes herself in completely.

With one last burst of energy, she propels herself backwards and tries to curl up into the corner.  She pulls the dusty old boxes towards her, hoping that maybe it will hide her more if anyone were to come in, and as she gets situated, she thinks she hears footsteps coming up the stairs.

They aren’t heavy like Evan’s, and there is only one set of them.  Her mind begins to panic preparing for the worst.

The door to the room creaks open letting in a stream of moonlight right beside where Meg stays hidden behind the boxes, and she is relieved just a little by the fact that she decided to move herself.  She clutches at her knife, thankful that Evan was so insistent on her bringing it and giving her a better one than the one she had against Jeffrey.

Every rational part in her brain tries to tell her that this is just one of her friends, another survivor, or maybe it’s Evan and he’s back.  He just forgot to announce it.

But as time drags on, every second feeling like an hour, she realizes that this possibly can’t be a friend coming into the room.  She covers her mouth with one hand in order to stop her rapid breathing and quiet the involuntary whimpers that come out of her mouth.

Her mind plays the cruel image of Evan asking her if she was ready for this just an hour ago, turning it into a mockery of her confidence.  She thought she could handle this.

She thought that because she spent a decade being chased and killed, that she could handle being here no matter what she faced.

But she was wrong.

She should have listened to Evan.

She closes her eyes, and that is when she hears the voice of whoever stepped into the room.

First she hears him tsk and out of curiosity, she peeks out between a small crack from the edge of the closet and the boxes to see what is going on.

A man, average height and an average build, stands illuminated by the moonlight.  He looks down at Jeffrey with one boot on Jeffrey’s face, pushing it more into the floorboards.

“And here I thought you would put up a fight, at least make this a little bit interesting,” he mumbles, his voice is smooth like velvet, but drips with acid after every syllable.  It makes Meg’s skin crawl.

But then again…

She knows that voice.

Her brain goes into overdrive, trying to think of where she knows it.

People from her past, a past survivor maybe? Nothing comes to mind until…

“Thanks, doll.  You see, I was driving near the old barns down Egg&I in Chimacum, and that’s when I saw him.”

This is Jed Olsen…Danny Johnson…whoever Ghostface is, and now he is standing in the same room as Meg.  She quickly brings her head back, hoping that he didn’t see her, but all hope was crushed once he speaks again.

“You can come on out, Sweetheart, I won’t hurt you,” he calls out to the seemingly empty room.  Despite both of them knowing she is there, she doesn’t dare to move, thinking that maybe he is just trying to see if anyone else is in here.  It’s a bluff, one that she’s calling.

She doesn’t move a muscle.  The only sound she hears is her heart pounding so fast in her ears, it’s deafening. 

“Playing hide-and-seek is my specialty.  You won’t win,” he says again before taking a step into the room.  His boots splash in the fluids on the ground, making Meg’s skin crawl as she grips the handle of her knife tighter through shaking hands.

Jed Olsen walks around the room a bit, his boots occasionally splashing in some mystery puddle of blood or vomit or water, before looking around. 

“He got pretty carried away there at the end,” he says, but his voice is so low, Meg thinks that he might be talking to himself, that is until he adds, “Don’t you agree?” He pauses like he is waiting for a response before he continues, “I got some good pictures though, especially towards the end.  There were a few that looked like you were enjoying it.”

Meg presses her hand onto her mouth even harder, trying to gain some sort of control over her involuntary gasps.

“Pleasure, pain, it all causes similar reactions.  You just gotta know the right context, is all.  Hell, some people even get off on the pain.  Are you one of those people, Sweetheart?” His voice is so close to her by now, she just hopes that he doesn’t check behind the boxes.

Please don’t check behind the boxes.

“You know,” he pauses right in front of the closet door, so she can see his boots and his legs, but he can’t see her.  Not yet anyways, and if she believed in any sort of god, this would be the time for praying.

But her prayers were never answered.

So she prays to Evan, wanting him to come back.

Has it been two minutes yet? It has felt like an eternity.

“They say, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.”

He takes a step into the closet, and begins slowly, so tantalizingly slowly, removing the boxes that Meg is encased in, and she can’t even move.

All she can do is watch it happen.

Soon the last box shielding her is removed, and the moonlight has never been so bright as she looks at the man that is Jed Olsen.

Before she can get a good look, he raises a camera and quickly snaps a picture, causing a shocking white flash to blind her vision, and for a moment she wonders if the blinding white flash from her shoulder dislocating was her mind reacting to the pain, or if he was there the whole time.

“Hi.”

Meg tries to propel herself forward and reach him with the knife, but the pain shooting through her body grips her movements and makes her wince.

“Well that’s no way to greet an old friend, now is it? Sweetheart, we are going to have to teach you some manners, aren’t we?” He exclaims, crouching down in front of her and snapping another picture that causes Meg to temporarily go blind for a few seconds.

“Evan is coming back, and if he finds you, he will do the same thing to you that he did to the Clown,” Meg threatens, furiously blinking her eyes trying to regain her sight while she swings the knife around with her good arm.  Even if she doesn’t hit him, it feels like it creates a more protective bubble than anything.

“Ah, yes, I did hear what that big oaf had to say while he was leaving.  You have him wrapped around that little finger of yours, don’t you? I wonder why that is…” his words fade away as he over dramatically raises his hand to his chin as though seriously thinking of an answer.  “Curious indeed, Meg.  Can I call you that? I’m going to call you that.  At least that’s what I heard him call you.”

He pushes himself up and starts walking around the room, as though he was talking just to hear himself talk.

“I never got the honor of hearing your name, and why, that hurts me, wounds me deeply, after all the fun we shared.  Doll, we really gotta have some bonding time of our own.”

“What do you fuckers want?” Meg grunts out in between throbs of pain.  Her shoulder and hips all throb uncomfortably in time with her heart, and it only gets worse the longer she sits there.

Where is Evan?

“Ah, there’s no need for such vulgarity,” he says, turning to her and flashing her a smile, ignoring her question.  “I bet that’s not how you won Ivan over is it?”

“It’s Evan.”

“Ivor. Whatever the brute’s name is.  What makes him so special? And what makes you so special? You see, these are all things I’d love to find out, but, as we both know, Igor should be back anytime now,” Jed says, marching his way back to the closet and kneeling down so he is face-to-face with Meg.  She tries to kick at him, a warning to get away, but he catches her ankle in his grasp with one solid movement.

Although he doesn’t look as strong as Evan and Jeffrey, he grips her ankle and twists it painfully to one side, causing her to let out a yelp of pain.  She tries jerking her leg back, but it stays stationary within his grasp.

“I expect some more decent manners next time we meet.  After all, it’ll be like a reunion, won’t it? All of us together, it’s a shame we couldn’t get family time now.  But I suppose it isn’t the right time,” he mumbles, still gripping her ankle as he crawls up her leg so his face is close to hers.  He takes his free hand and grips her chin painfully, turning her head one way and then the other.

He doesn’t say anything as he seems to study her as much as she’s studying him.

His lidded eyes are dark, and even though they are in a dark house, she can tell they are dark all the time, with almost black baggy circles under them. 

There is stubble over his cheeks and chin, a sign he hasn’t shaved in a few days.  His nose is crooked like he broke it one too many times and never bothered to fix it somewhere in his past, but his smile…

His smile is the worst part of him.  He has nearly perfect white teeth, but when he smiles down at Meg, she knows it isn't a good thing.  It makes her feel like he is telling her a joke she doesn't understand, but she doesn't want to find out what it means.

At least he doesn’t stink, not like Jeffrey did.  He just smells like cigarettes, liquor, and cheap hotel rooms. 

“I’ll be seeing you around.  Try not to have too much fun without me,” he mutters with no emotion in his eyes as he lets her go and stands up.  Taking one last look behind him, he walks out of the room, and Meg hears his light footsteps walk down the hallway and down the stairs…and as much as she wants to feel relieved that he’s gone, the absolute fear of being face-to-face with him takes over and freezes her to the spot.

Silence overcomes her, as her heartbeat and her shaky breaths are the only things that she hears for a few seconds until she thinks she hears distant footsteps outside once more.

As much as she wants it to be her friends and Evan, she doesn’t get her hopes up, not again, and she slinks back into the corner of the closet, hoping that if it is them, she will see them before they see her just in case it is someone else, someone else that she doesn’t want to get in contact with.

Before she gets far, she hears her name echoing through the yard outside.

“Meg!” Nea calls from outside and Meg’s heart leaps into her throat.

“Up here!” She tries to yell back but her voice gets caught, not going anywhere but within the closet she hides in.  Dragging herself out, she hears thundering footsteps pounding upstairs and run to the room.

Evan bursts in the room first and immediately goes to the closet.  He takes one look at the absolute horror that is etched on her face and falls to his knees on the floor in front of her.  It is a weird sight for Meg, seeing Evan lose his composure enough to collapse on the floor in front of her, but it isn’t something that is unwelcome.

Instead, she practically clamors for him, beckoning him close with her good arm until he encompasses her within his arms, immediately becoming a beacon of safety for her that she never wants to let go of.  She tries her best not to break down and cry, not again, but she can’t help it, as tears break and she silently cries into the chest of someone she never thought she’d crave the comfort from. 

A part of her doesn’t even want her friends to see her like this, broken and sobbing for what seems like the hundredth time today, but with Evan, she feels like she can cry into his chest and he’ll somehow make it okay.

“I’m here,” Evan whispers to her as he combs a hand through her hair, ignoring how wet it is with various substances.  “It’s okay.”

His deep voice soothes her and she clings to it with desperation, trying not to fall into the dark pit that her mind wants her to go to.  It helps her regain her composure, her thoughts, herself.  A few minutes pass then lighter footsteps finally come up the steps and stop once they reach the room.

“What the hell happened here?” Meg hears David ask from the hallway.

Reluctantly, she pulls away from the comfort that Evan gives her as she looks in the room, seeing two beams of light illuminate the floor, making it look even more gruesome than she could have imagined.

Jeffrey is still in the middle of the room, surrounded by old water, harsh red blood, and chunky vomit.  It seems like no matter where Meg looks on the floor, there is no dry spot, and it makes her stomach flip, wanting to throw up again, but she swallows and takes a deep breath, trying to control her reactions.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Evan speaks up for her after noticing how Meg only looks around the room, not answering.  “She needs your help so we can leave.”

He looks back at Meg one more time, and as their eyes meet, he reaches for her face, resting his palm against her cheek just for a second before nodding and standing back up.

“I think he dislocated my shoulder, fuckin’ bastard,” Meg spits out informing her friends of what happened, while also trying to sound annoyed to mask the feeling of her whole chest shattering like glass inside her.  “I can’t move without it hurting.”

As she wipes tears from her face, David comes over and kneels beside her.  Nea follows, shining her flashlight down at Meg.  Even from where she sits, Meg can see how Nea’s face twists with both worry and rage, reflecting how Evan also looks beside her.  It almost makes her want to laugh if the situation weren’t so serious right now.  They really had a lot in common, if only they could actually talk without hating each other.

“Okay, love, this is gonna hurt,” David says immediately as he shuffles closer to Meg and takes her hand in his.

“Oh woah woah woah,” Meg stutters, smacking his hand away with her free hand.  “Do you even know how to do this?”

“I’ve had plenty of these in my day.  Fixed ‘em myself most of the time,” David mutters back not quite looking at Meg’s face, but instead studying her flimsy shoulder. 

“Will it hurt after you fix it?” Meg asks, unsure of what’s happening.  Thinking back, she always took pride in the fact that she never broke a bone or dislocated anything despite growing up as a daredevil tom boy.  She always thought she was lucky when it came to her injuries, but now…

Now not so much.

David lets out a sound of amusement before glancing up, finally meeting Meg’s eyes.

“It’ll hurt like a bitch for awhile, and it’ll hurt like hell fixing it, but once it’s over, it won’t be so bad.”

Meg shifts and lets out a sad laugh.  “Thanks for the amazing reassurance.”

“Aye, you know I can’t lie to ya.  Okay, you ready?”

Meg nods and David begins to count down.

“Three, two,” he grasps her shoulder and her elbow in both hands, and maneuvers them in place on the count of two, effectively popping her shoulder back into place but not without a yell from Meg.

“Fuck, what happened to one?!” Meg yells, gripping her arm against her chest as her shoulder radiates with shockwaves of pain with every heart beat. 

“Didn’t want you to tense up,” David replies nonchalantly.

“Then why did you count down in the first place?!”

David stares at her, and shrugs before standing back up and looking between Nea and Evan, who both share equal looks of concern on their faces.

“Can you walk?” Nea asks, bending down and taking Meg’s hands in her own, filling Meg with familiarity and comfort. 

“I don’t know,” Meg mutters, deciding to try to push off the ground with her good arm, but as soon as the weight shifts to her legs, they buckle under her weight as her hips and pelvis radiate with pain from being crushed so long with the weight of the Clown. 

Evan doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even wait for a confirmation or an okay before he shoves past Nea and scoops Meg into his arms, much like he did with Claudette earlier.  With Meg's shoulder back into place, him picking her up doesn't hurt nearly as much, but she still hisses as he shifts her in his grasp.

“It’ll be easier if I carry her,” he says, adjusting her within his arms, as she leans against his chest, feeling both irritated at the lack of confidence in her, but comforted within his arms once more.

“Meg? Are you okay?” Nea says, taking a step towards the two of them while glancing at Evan, as though to ask if him carrying her was okay, not if she was okay.

Meg nods.

“I just want to go home,” she mutters, trying to control her voice as her whole body seems to be on fire with both her shoulder throbbing and the heat of being in Evan’s arms.

“We got the rest of them out by the road, we just need to call a couple of cars and we can leave.”

“The rest of them? The rest of who?”

Nea grabs Meg’s hand excitedly, ignoring that she is also mere inches from Evan, who stands there surprisingly patiently as they talk.

“We found others.  Dwight, Ace, Kate, and Feng were all in the barn.  We weren’t the only ones who got out.  So it looks like we lost all of our bragging rights,” Nea says with a smile squeezing Meg’s hand before letting it drop back to her side.

She nods her head at Meg before looking at Evan, and she does something Meg doesn’t expect in that moment; Nea nods at Evan too before turning around.

“Well come on you two, unless you want to hang around for this dude to wake up,” she says, gesturing towards the Clown, who is still on the ground. 

“We have to look around the house first,” Meg says.  “What if we find someone else?”

“David and I already looked,” Nea says, walking back towards Meg and Evan.  “There’s no one else here.”

Meg considers fighting harder for them to look again, but she decides against it, trusting their judgement.  She also thinks she should tell them about Jed Olsen, or Danny Johnson, but as they begin to walk out of the house, Meg in Evan’s arms, she can’t bring herself to talk about it.

Not right now, not right away.

She knows she will tell them as soon as they leave, she knows she needs to, but right now, she can’t even let her mind go back to the last thirty minutes of her life, so instead, she focuses on the way Evan’s strong arms feel as they carry her, and how with every step, she melts even more into his touch.

If you were to tell Meg a year ago, or a month ago, or hell, even a week ago, that she would be within the Trapper’s grasp and not want to be kicking or screaming, she would have laughed in your face, but now…now she doesn’t want to leave his arms.

Leaning her head to the side more towards his chest, she listens to his breathing and his heartbeat, both steady and strong, just like him, and she can’t believe that she is clinging onto him for safety out of anyone. 

Her whole body throbs painfully and her mind reels, thinking about Jeffrey, about Jed, about her friends, and she can barely keep up with all of this new information, so she stares at Evan’s face as he carries her.

He looks straight forward, clearly trying to avoid how she stares at him so intently, but she can’t help it.  She wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him, and after everything they have ever been through, something has changed.

Everything has changed.

He saved her life, and now she feels she owes him something, anything, in thanks, but she can’t seem to voice it just yet, so she settles on calling out his name.

“Evan?”

He hums in acknowledgement as Meg feels the vibration deep in his chest.

“Thank you…for everything.”

She doesn’t even know where to begin to thank him for protecting her, for helping her, or for being there for her, so she settles on just a simple thank you, and when the time is better, she can thank him properly.

But even with her small thanks, he hesitates just a bit, a fault in his walking, before he gains his rhythm again, but as soon as he starts walking, his grip on her tightens, bringing her closer to his chest.

He doesn’t say anything in response, doesn’t even acknowledge it, but with the way his breath hitches and he holds onto her so tight, she doesn’t mind. 

So they walk in silence towards the road as Evan grips onto Meg for dear life, as she melts into him, not wanting this walk to end.

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

As soon as Meg scooted closer to Evan in that bed, time seemed to slow down around him.  He couldn’t believe that she would willingly scoot closer to him, and for just a moment, he had to make sure he wasn’t imagining the situation he now found himself.  Asking to sleep in the same bed was bad enough, and as soon as it left his mouth he regretted putting it out there, and the longer he was met with silence, he knew he pushed it too much. 

He didn’t even know what came over him at that time.  He definitely didn’t plan on sleeping in the bed with her, the thought didn’t even cross his mind until he turned off all the lights.  But just before he got into his own separate bed, he saw her curled up facing away, and all he knew was that he wanted to touch her.

Not in any inappropriate way, he just wanted to be next to her, feel her breathing, know that she was alive and she was okay.

The past day had been so nerve-wracking for Evan worrying about her, and to have proof that she was alive was something his whole body craved.  His hand twitched by his side as he stood in the small gap between the two beds, and he tried to convince himself to just get into his own separate bed, forget these feelings, control himself, but the longer he stood there, the more feeble his attempt became.

He could get into his bed and know she was okay by just being in the same room.  That crossed no lines in their partnership, and he could be satiated by knowing she was there, but in that moment, it wasn’t enough.  He needed more.

Frowning at himself and his inability to control his legs, he took a step towards her bed and sat down in the mattress slowly, ready to get up at a moment’s notice.  He heard her breath hitch with the groan of the mattress under his weight, and with that sign from her, he was tempted to not say anything more, just get up and forget about it, but he couldn’t just leave his action up in the air like that, so he continued.

“Is this…” He was making a mistake.  “Can I sleep here?”

His words were out in the open and he wanted more than anything to take them back.  Who did he think he was to think she would want to sleep in the same bed as him, the same person that, as she always put it, killed her for years?

It was never a lie, and for him to cross this line made him almost furious at himself that he would put her in this situation.  He just hoped that no matter what she said, it was because maybe she wanted him there too, not because she felt like she had to say yes.

But then again…

The whole time today she had been by his side, held his hand, and came back to his room three separate times…

Perhaps she did want him beside her as much as he needed her next to him.

But as the seconds dragged on, and the silence grew longer, he began to accept that she wasn’t going to respond, and maybe even pretend like she was asleep despite both of them knowing that she was very much awake.

Evan began to get up without a word, wanting to forget about the last few minutes, until her voice cut through his thoughts startling him. 

“Don’t.”

For a moment, he didn’t know if she meant don’t sleep there, or don’t leave, but the way her voice sounded strained, panicked, he believed it to be the later, so he sat back down, staring at her red hair until she slowly turned towards him.

There was a faint blue light that flowed in the window, illuminating her blue eyes that brimmed with tears, just a little bit.  She looked at him with no fear for what felt like the first time, and it made Evan’s chest squeeze all the air from his lungs.  As they stared at each other, their breathing almost virtually stopped as his eyes searched her face and landed on her slightly parted lips.

While maintaining their eye contact that had Evan’s head swimming, he lifted his legs up onto the bed slowly, allowing her a chance to change her mind at any second.

But she didn’t, and instead, she slowly rolled back on her side away from him, adjusting herself beside him.

At first, Evan planned to just sleep next to her, feel the mattress dip just a little bit with another person in the bed, hear her breathing, know that she is safe, but then that overwhelming urge from earlier to touch her became too much.  Without thinking, he rested his arm on her side lightly, again, looking for an objection, and when he didn’t get one, he finally relaxed with a long sigh.

But then Meg shocks him by scooting closer, and at first he thinks that she is just adjusting herself, tries to rationalize that she could not be possibly wanting to be closer to him, that is until she bumps into his chest and stays there.  Without a second thought, he pulls her closer to him, enjoying the feeling of how perfectly she fits there as she relaxes beneath his grasp.

It doesn’t take long for Meg’s breathing to slow then deepen as Evan holds her tight in his arms, and before long, the sun starts rising, casting soft shadows of blue and purple around the room.  Opening his eyes and looking down at Meg, he watches as the shadows slowly shift from one position to another across the bed and on her face. 

Propping himself up slowly on his hand, he looks down at her, admiring how relaxed she looks, and just how at peace she seems to be here in his arms.  He never thought he would ever get the chance to be this close, he thought he didn’t want to be this close, it would be an insane thought back in the Entity’s realm, but here they are.

And to top it all off, he couldn’t believe that she would want him next to her.

When they first ran into each other almost a week ago, my god how she infuriated him.  She challenged him and yelled at him and never once did she let him slip up without her calling him out on it, but despite all of that, he wanted her around.

He can admit it to himself now as she breathes slowly beside him, and he brushes the back of his finger along her cheek, tucking a loose piece of hair behind her ear.  She stirs just a little, but after a moment, she is fast asleep once more, and he can’t help but continue to stare at her. 

He doesn’t know how long he stays like this, contented with the fact that he gets to hold her beside him, and eventually he must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knows is that he is being waken up by the feeling of Meg’s slender fingers tracing soft lines on his face then moving down to his arms, tracing the deep scars caused by both the Entity and his father.

Opening his eyes slowly, her face is mere inches from his, but their eyes don’t meet, not immediately.  Her eyes instead seem to trace his face and arms along with her fingers, and her brow is scrunched up just a little, creating that small crease in between her eyebrows that he has since come to really like.

She seems lost in thought, as she is often, but he admires her for her deep thoughts and concentration. 

The touch of her fingers sends pleasant shivers down Evan’s back, and unconsciously his grip tightens around her waist, and only then does it occur to Meg that he’s awake. 

Expecting her to jump, pull her fingers away along with herself from him, she surprisingly does neither of those.

Instead her eyes stare into his, but her fingers stop tracing the scars along his arms, and she doesn’t move her hand.  She rests it firmly on his forearm and gives him a small smile.

“Did I wake you?” She asks, her cheeks flushing pink, a vision that makes Evan feel strange.  He wouldn’t say it was nerves, but it was something else that caused butterflies to flutter in his chest and stomach.

“No,” he says, his voice hoarse from sleep.  “It was the other fingers tracing my arm that woke me up.”

“Oh, good.  Was worried there for a moment.”

The two share a knowing smile, recalling one of the first nights they spent at the estate when he woke her up by dropping the whiskey bottle on the mini bar.

“I didn’t think you’d remember that,” she says, looking away from him, though not successfully due to them being to close, so her eyes wander to his arm instead.

“Well, it was one of the first civil conversations we had,” Evan responds with a small laugh.

The sides of Meg’s lips tug into a smile and Evan can’t help his eyes as they flicker down to her lips again, and the thought of how easy it would be to lean forward and plant his lips on hers at that moment is the only thing that comes to his mind.

He looks back up meeting Meg’s eyes, a clear sign that she caught him staring at her lips, this time with no question.

Her eyes flutter as she makes a point to mirror his action by slowly looking down at his lips, then comes back up to meet his stare but before either of them could do anything, there is a loud, frantic knock on their door.

 

 

Meg doesn’t know when or how fast she fell asleep in Evan’s arms, but after feeling how warm Evan is beside her, it must have taken no time at all.  As though no time passed, she groans quietly as a streak of light falls right on her eyes making her feel like she is practically going blind.

She still feels Evan’s strong arms wrap around her, though not as tight as before, as he breathes in and out softly beside her.  Slowly turning so she is on her back, she looks at the sleeping man beside her, actually shocked that he is asleep.

Thinking back to the estate, she has only seen him sleep a couple of times, with both times being fitful and restless, but now he looks peaceful.  Selfishly, she would like to think it was because she slept beside him, but she doubts that’s the case.

Taking this moment to see him up close, relaxed, and not scowling at one thing or another, her eyes start to roam his face, looking from all of his scars, down to his lips, still in a small frown, and down his one arm that lays over her. 

She takes her time looking at all of his scars, tracing all of them with her eyes, until a strange urge to touch them comes to her mind.  Trying to brush it away, it stays there refusing to leave until she just gives in, reaches out and touches him.

It’s not weird, she tries to tell herself, she did just sleep in his arms, so what would make this any different?

Lifting up a small hand, she tentatively touches his forearm, gauging a reaction.  Evan doesn’t give her one, so she starts moving her fingers, tracing one scar and gently moving to another, wondering what the background to any of them are.  Were they all from the Entity? Or did he have most of these beforehand?

She wants to ask him, wants to know, but even now, she doesn’t want to bring up any aspect of his past that he most likely doesn’t want to talk about.  Not when they are warm and comfortable and just alive.

There will be time, there always is, so right now she moves her hand up, feeling his warm skin beneath hers.  It is rough, even up his arm and neck, but it’s not unpleasant, just different.  She figures years spent like he did, not even with the Entity, but mining, and in a whole different time period, she wondered what that would do to skin.

She likes how it feels beneath her fingers as her hand makes its way up to his face, tracing the scars starting at his temple, then gently over his eye, down his cheek and then down his lips…

Her thumb runs over his lips so softly, she barely touches them, worried that she’ll wake him up.  As she stares at the way his lips turn just slightly downward and how surprisingly soft they look compared to the rest of him, she rests her hand on the side of his face, drawing small circles along his cheek like he has done so many times to her.

It’s only fair she gets to hold his face like he holds hers, after all.

Not knowing exactly what emotions come over her, she stares at him sleeping soundly beside her, and it makes her scoot just a little bit closer to him while she tries to figure it out, and tries to quiet the relentless buzzing in the back of her mind. 

She lets her mind wander back to the trials, something she keeps trying to get herself not to do, but having Evan here, wrapped in his arms, feeling safe and guarded causes her mind to think back to how he used to be.

His cruel mask, metal protruding from his flesh in places, the way he had the strength that no human should ever have…

There was a time where they all tried to come up with stories on where they thought the Trapper came from, or who he was, if he was anything even human.

Now Meg knows he is very much human.

Ace and Ash tried to say that he was some backwater local who sold fish and game, hence his name ‘The Trapper’, and due to his size and looming presence, they never even thought he was even human, which meant he couldn’t talk either.  There were some killers that they knew could talk, or maybe had the capacity to talk even if they were monsters like Ghostface, the four Legions, the Clown, or even the Doctor.  But Evan, he never said a word, never laughed, never said anything other than an occasional grunt.

With a smile, she doesn’t know why they never thought he could talk, or would talk, and Meg can’t even begin to wrap her head around the fact that she was stuck with this man for a decade, ten whole years of her life, and now he has come to be one of the most important people to her.

Before, she wanted more than anything to forget about him, disappear from his existence, never to see him again, and now…now she doesn’t want to try to think about what would happen if she lost him.

Just like if she lost any of her friends, she tells herself.  If anything happened to Nea, or David, or Ace, or any other survivor…

But with Evan there is something different, and although she knows he can handle himself, she knows firsthand how strong he is, there is no way she would ever let him get in harms way for no reason.

At that thought, she lets out an amused puff of air through her nose as she stares at him, still cupping his face before she starts tracing his scars back down on arm once more.

‘Let him get into harms way’ as though she really has a say…

But he has been listening to her more and more lately, and she has listened to his reasoning.

They really are becoming an unlikely team that she never would have thought about a week ago.

So now, now she focuses on how he feels against her as she goes back to tracing his arms as she sits inches away from his face.  Suddenly, she feels his arms squeeze around her which cause her eyes to meet his, open and awake.

He caught her tracing lines on him…

She feels heat travel to her cheeks as she smiles, words from their first awkward night together echoing in her mind.

“Did I wake you?” She asks, simply amusing herself, not expecting him to remember her response.

“No, it was the other fingers tracing my arm that woke me up.”

Oh.

He does remember.

And his voice…it sends shivers down Meg’s spine and deep in her stomach listening to how hoarse and strangely vulnerable it is.

She has never heard him sound like that, let alone been around when he wakes up.

“Oh good, was worried there for a moment.”

Evan actually smiles at her, a genuine smile that reaches his eyes, creating small wrinkles on either side of his eyes at the gesture.

She’s never noticed how his eyes wrinkle up when he smiles, but then again, she’s never been this close to him before. 

“I didn’t think you’d remember that,” she says, barely remembering it until now.  She merely said it as a joke to herself but the fact that he remembered too is nice. 

“Well, it was one of the first civil conversations we had,”  he laughs out.  She has heard him laugh more the last day than ever before, and that is a sound she is becoming surprisingly accustomed to.  It is a nice sound.

As she stares at him, silence flowing around them, his eyes roam her face and land on her lips for a few seconds, enough time for Meg to notice he wasn’t hiding it anymore, as his eyes come back to hers.  She mirrors his actions, slowly looking down at his lips as they’re pulled into a smile, creating a small dimple in Evan’s right cheek. 

She never noticed that either.

It catches her attention before lifting her eyes back up to his, and in that moment, she doesn’t have to even think.  She lets her pure instinct take over, trying to clear her mind as they stare at each other, this moment feeling strangely perfect. 

Just for a split second, Evan begins to move, she thinks, just barely towards her, but then there is a frantic loud knock on their door successfully shattering their bubble they created just for themselves, and now Meg’s mind gears towards the knock.

Panic settles over her and chills her to the bone despite the fact that she is wrapped up so tight in Evan’s arms.

Meg and Evan stare at each other, so differently than how they were just a minute ago, before either of them get up to see what could possibly be causing someone to bang on their door.

“Meg? Are you in there? God I hope you’re in there, well not really, but come on, one of you open up the door!” Feng’s shrill scream meets them from the other side of the door,

They both exchange worried glances before Evan takes his arm back and begins to sit up with Meg following suit.  Limping over to the door as fast as she can, Meg opens it and is greeted by Feng looking like she did in the trials, eyes wide with panic, figidity, with a gleam of sweat on her forehead.

“What’s wrong?” Meg asks.

“It’s Kate.  We woke up and she was in the bathroom throwing up and then she collapsed on the floor, and I don’t think she’s breathing-“

“Did you call 911?” Meg blurts out, grabbing their bag and already waving Evan out of the room behind her as she goes into the hallway following Feng.

“Obviously,” Feng snaps, ”Ace is in the room with her, and I’m just getting everyone together before the paramedics get here. Do you know where Dwight is? He wasn’t in our room.”

“He’s with David.”

“Figures,” Feng responds with an amused laugh as they walk towards the other room, “He’s been talking about David nonstop for the last week.  Anyways, can you and…” she pauses, her eyes darting to Evan then back to Meg, “…him get everyone else? I’ll meet the paramedics outside and show them to our room,” Feng instructs without waiting for Meg’s confirmation before she turns around and heads for the front office, leaving Meg and Evan alone once more.

Glancing up at Evan, Meg wants to say something, anything in response to what happened last night, or this morning, but swallowing anything she wants to say, she knows now isn’t the time as she looks forward and ushers Evan beside her to follow as she begins walking towards the other room.

Meg’s stomach feels like it is eating itself alive with both nerves and hunger, fear and anxiety, and the more she limps along, the harder it is to even see straight thinking about what could be wrong.

They quickly reach the room, and with one knock, the door flies open as though her other friends were expecting them.

“Oh thank fuck it’s you,” Nea sighs in relief, leaning dramatically against the doorframe.  “I woke up and noticed that you weren’t back and then someone else who isn’t you,” she whispers and points behind her, “was in here in David’s bed.  We were wondering…” Nea stops and straightens back up as she looks between Meg and Evan, and a worried expression quickly replaces the amused one she had moments before.  “Wait, what’s wrong?”

Meg glances past Nea, seeing Dwight and David sitting in the chairs around the table, already awake and sipping coffee from small white paper cups, and Claudette still curled up in bed as though she didn’t move at all during the night.

“It’s Kate,” Meg answers, looking back at Nea.  “Feng said that she passed out and she wasn’t breathing, so they called an ambulance.  We should probably get a couple of cars too, I mean if they’re taking her to the hospital we should be there, right?”

“Shit, really?”

“Did I hear you right?” David speaks up, getting up from the table inside the room.  “Kate’s hurt?”

Meg nods, taking a step into the room followed by Evan.  “Yeah, Feng is meeting the paramedics outside.  They should be here anytime now, hopefully.  Ace is with her in the mean time.”

“I really want to go be with her too,” Dwight says, his forehead creased in worry as he reaches up and rests a hand on David’s shoulder. 

“I’ll go with you,” David mumbles, already ushering Dwight out of the room first.  “We’ll meet back here if you ladies can get a car so we can follow her there.”

Meg and Nea nod as they watch the two men disappear from the room in a frenzied panic before turning back to each other and giving a small knowing smile.

“So, David and Dwight,” Nea laughs quietly, “never saw that coming.”

“Oh totally,” Meg replies with an over-exaggerated nod, “they definitely kept it such a secret from all of us.  At least they’re finally accepting their feelings.”

“Yeah, at least some people are,” Nea teases, raising an eyebrow at Meg and flicking her eyes over to Evan who stands in the corner of the room near the bathroom, looking in as though the mirror is really fascinating to him in that moment. 

The very thing that Nea hints at is enough to change Meg’s attitude, her smile fading, as she looks at Claudette who still appears to be asleep through all the noise around her.

“Ignoring that and moving on,” Meg says, jabbing Nea with an elbow, “How’s Claud?”

The smile on Nea’s face fades just as fast as she looks at their friend.  “She’s been asleep ever since you left.  I don’t know if she’ll be up for a trip to the hospital.  I can stay back with her if you two go.  I still have my phone if you just send updates.”

“Are you sure? We can always stay back-“

“No, no, go.  It’ll be nice to have the room to myself anyways.  Catch up on some shut eye or something while I wait for an update.”

“You’ll be able to sleep at a time like this?” Meg asks, slightly taken aback by Nea’s brazen attitude about Kate.

“We’ve seen each other die hundreds of times.  Kate will be fine.  She has to be,” Nea reassures her by patting Meg on the arm. 

Meg sighs and smiles back at Nea.  “Okay, if you say so.  I’ll update you as soon as we hear anything.”

Turning back towards Evan, the pair begin to walk to the front of the hotel with Meg fiddling away with the app Nea downloaded on the phone to call a car.  After a few failed attempts at figuring out just how to use the app, she thinks she figures it out as a little picture of a car on a map fills her screen and tells them their driver is only a couple minutes away.

As they make their way out through the lobby and outside, the loud sound of the ambulance siren fills the morning air as it drives away, already rushing to the local hospital. 

“That was fast,” Meg comments, walking up beside David and Dwight. 

“They were already in the room by the time we got there,” David responds, staring off in the direction that the ambulance went. 

“Well I hope it was fast enough,” Dwight mumbles.  “She looked pretty bad.”

No one says anything more, standing in tense silence until a car pulls up and rolls down the window, eyeing the five outside.

“Nea?” The driver asks.  Oh, she forgot to change the name.  Meg nods regardless and looks back at her friends.

“There isn’t enough room for all of us, you two go.  We’ll get another one,” Feng answers for everyone as she stares at Evan, a weird expression on her face.

Not in the mood to argue or even question the attitude that exuded from Feng, Meg and Evan crawl into the backseat of the car without another word.

The car ride to the hospital is relatively uneventful since now Evan seems to be finally getting used to fast moving vehicles as he sits, relaxed, gazing out at the passing scenery around him with a small frown on his face.

Always with that frown.

There wasn’t much to look at from the hotel to the hospital except for more trees and the occasional car passing by going the other direction, but Evan stared out the window nevertheless.  Meg followed suit and watched as the sun peeked over the horizon, casting an early morning orange and pink hue across the sky that she loved.  Wishing she could enjoy the sunrise, her stomach flips with worry as she thinks about where they’re going, and how Kate is doing.

Somewhere along the way, their hands found each other in between them, their fingers locked together once more like it was the only natural thing to do, and in that moment, she isn’t sure whose hand sought the other, but it didn’t matter.

The warm, stable feeling of Evan’s hand in hers was something she was quickly becoming used to, and in that car ride, it seemed like the only thing keeping her from going insane with worry.

So Meg gladly holds onto his hand as the hum of the car fills their ears driving along a single road. 

It is as incredible as it is terrifying, really, that he went from killing her to being the one person she has come to rely on since.  The fact that they have become friends still is mind-boggling to Meg, and as her own friends slowly stop staring at him with such malice and hatred, the fact that Evan is here, and Evan is on their side becomes all too real. 

She wonders if he would ever become a true part of their friend group, if they could accept him like she has come to accept him.  Of course they could, she hopes.  With the way a few of her friends looked at him, and the way even David and Nea don’t seem too scared of him anymore is promising.

Then there was the way Kate even joked around with him…

Meg’s stomach twists at the thought of Kate, and unconsciously, she squeezes Evan’s hand like a safety net.  She just wants her friends to be okay.

Soon they pull up to a very small white hospital that overlooks a body of water, and without a quiet thank you to their driver, they get out of the car and rush in as fast as they can. 

Going into the ER waiting room, the first thing Meg sees is Ace, sitting slouched in a hard plastic hospital chair, staring straight ahead looking at nothing.

“How is she?” Meg asks, hobbling over to him.

“Dunno,” Ace replies once they get closer, his voice sounding odd to Meg without his usual confidence.  “They rushed her in and told me to wait out here.  Haven’t heard anything since.  Plus,” he looks over Meg’s shoulder and glares at the reception desk, “I’ve only asked them for an update three times.  Three! That’s nothing! And now they practically banned me from going up to the desk to ask anymore.”

“We will give you an update when there is one to give Mr. Visconti,” a bored sounding voice scolds Ace from behind Meg, and when she turns her head, a plump middle-aged woman is already glaring at Ace behind a pair of small glasses. 

“That’s what you said fifteen minutes ago, Sheila! There should be one by now!” Ace yells back before slinking into the chair with a dejected sigh. 

“Well,” Meg starts by saying while taking a seat next to the sulking man, “No news is good news, right? If we haven’t heard anything, it means she is still alive.”

“Bah,” Ace scoffs, flippantly waving a hand in Meg’s direction.  “I know she’s alive, but…” he trails off and stares at a spot on the floor, his face scrunching up in thought.

Meg swallows and takes in a slow steady breath before answering, “Did anything happen back there at the barns that could have triggered this? Or do you think maybe it’s something else?”

Ace sighs and lifts up his arm, scratching his head.  “They often took us one by one, and we don’t know exactly what they did to any of us.  We...” Ace pauses wiping a hand across his mouth.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Meg offers.  “If you don’t want to, but if you do…”

“It’s fine,” Ace mutters before continuing, “we didn’t talk about it much after we would come back, but when Kate came back yesterday, she had something running down her face.  Apparently the Clown had these…mixtures.  Don’t have a clue what was in ‘em.  They were almost like the ones in the trials, not nearly as bad thank Christ, but Kate said he forced her to drink one of them earlier yesterday.   Claimed she felt fine other than just being a bit dizzy.  Fuck,” Ace wipes his face with his hand and adjusts his baseball hat on his head.  “We should have known sooner.” 

Meg’s heart sinks thinking about the possibilities of what could have been in those mixtures, and even the thought of them immediately sends a tickle to the back of her throat, making her want to cough. 

Those gases were horrible in the trials, immediately making everything seem fuzzy and disorientating; she couldn’t imagine having to drink it.

“Do the doctors know this?”

Ace nods.  “Well, I told them as much as I could without saying what happened.  Made up some story about mixing up bottles and she thought it was some sports drink and drank a sip.”  He sighs once more and looks back up at Sheila.  “I just want to find out what’s going on.  Sheila, my girl, my eternal sunshine, can you just go and check for an update one more time?” Ace boasts, changing the subject while getting up and walking over to the reception desk, leaving Meg alone in her seat.

“You can take a seat, you know,” Meg says, gesturing over to the seat next to her with a nod of her head.  “You don’t have to stand there brooding.”

Evan’s face softens slightly, or at least he isn’t frowning nearly as much, as he takes the seat next to Meg without another word.

He lifts a hand and hovers it for a moment over Meg’s leg as though debating whether to place his hand there, before deciding to lower his hand to rest on the top of her thigh, gripping it hard with a reassuring squeeze, leaving it there as he looks around the waiting room.

His touch sends shivers through Meg as she looks down at his massive hand encompassing her thigh as he starts moving his pointer finger slowly in a comforting way that makes her heart flutter and melt.  With a soft inhale, she grabs his hand and moves her thumb across his fingers gently. 

They both look up and meet each other’s gaze at the same time, and Evan smiles at her before giving her leg another squeeze.

“I never spent time in any hospital in my time, but this is so…different,” he speaks up, looking from all the chairs in the room to the tables with magazines scattered around them before landing on a small tv in the corner of the room playing an early morning cartoon that she immediately recognizes as being Spongebob Squarepants. 

She almost says something about the cartoon before she looks up and sees the look on Evan’s face which is unlike anything she has ever seen on him.  His mouth hangs open just slightly as a scowl takes over his entire face, watching this silly dancing sponge.  Meg stifles a laugh as she watches Evan watch a cartoon for a few minutes before he finally speaks up.

“What…what is that?”

“It’s a TV.”

“And what is it doing?”

“Well, it plays shows,” Meg says, still smiling.  “For instance, this is a cartoon that came out when I was about fourteen.  TVs have lots of shows, sometimes with real people, other times it is animated like this.”

“But how does it work?” Evan asks, straining his head to look around the TV from where they’re seated. 

“Well, that’s something we both should find out because I have no idea,” Meg finishes with a shrug. 

Evan’s frown deepens, creating deep lines in his face at the kid’s show, a weird juxtaposition to how he should look watching anything, but it only makes Meg laugh. 

“You know, when I used to spend the night’s at the hospital, it seemed like they were always playing cartoons.  Maybe there’s something about them that calms people, puts them into a different headspace,” Meg says, still watching how Evan’s face changes as the scenes go by on the show.  When she begins to talk though, his attention shifts towards her as his eyes finally peel away from the yellow sponge. 

“Your mother?” He asks, quirking an eyebrow up at her.

Meg nods, feeling oddly comforted by the fact that he remembered that she took care of her mom even if he was drinking when she confided that in him.  He remembers more of that night than Meg gave him credit for.

“I once missed a whole week at school because she was in the hospital.  It was purely my choice, after all.  She kept yelling at me to go saying that she would be fine, but I couldn’t leave her.  I really couldn’t forgive myself if she…if something happened and I wasn’t beside her all so I could go learn about algebra and ancient Egypt,” Meg sighs, giving Evan’s hand another squeeze, grounding her to where she is now.  With her free hand, she scratches at her cheek, trying to blink back tears thinking about her mom.  “I never thought I’d be in another hospital again, or rather a working real life hospital.  At least, somewhere that wasn’t Lery’s.”

“That place was abysmal, wasn’t it?” Evan mutters after a few seconds, still looking around the room slowly as though processing everything around him.

Meg smiles and nods.  “It was truly the worst.  I guess compared to there, this hospital isn’t too bad.”

Evan grips her hand once more in acknowledgment to her statement.

The two sit in silence for a bit with both the TV and the quiet bickering of Ace and Sheila in the background to fill their thoughts.

“Don’t make me call security, sir.”

“Come on, do I look like a bad guy? I just want to know what’s going on.”

“Mr. Visconti, I have given you all the information I have right now.  When there is more, you will know.”

“You see, I’m a gambling man, and I know when people are lying.  Sheila, my babushka, just one update.”

“I bet she will be okay,” Evan says quietly, making Meg jump just a little bit at the sound of his voice breaking her concentration as she listened to the two bickering. 

Meg’s brows knit tightly together as she takes in a deep breath.  “I know, I’m just worried.  What if Jeffrey or Jed did something more than we know to her? What if they did it to anyone else?”

As if on cue, David, Dwight, and Feng all come through the front sliding glass doors and into the waiting room, completely ignoring Sheila and Ace as they walk over to Meg.  Although Sheila’s attention is mostly taken up by Ace, Meg notices how she shoots them a stern look before going back to trying to work.

Evan’s huge hand gives Meg’s thigh another soft squeeze, and her immediate response is to let go of his hand, let him take his own hand back, pretend like they weren’t just holding hands in a waiting room, but she does none of that.  Instead she pretends like it is a normal thing to do, right? Friends comforting friends.

But even the word friends doesn’t sound right to Meg anymore. Not after last night, and most definitely not after this morning…

And right now, she doesn’t want to let go.

When her friends get closer, she notices how David glances down at Meg’s and Evan’s hands resting on her thigh, and she can practically see the gears turning in his brain debating whether to say something, or talk about the more pressing matter at hand.  Meg sighs with relief when Dwight decides to speak first.

“Any updates? How is she?” Dwight asks, plopping in the seat to the other side of Meg, followed by David, and Feng taking seats across from them.  Feng doesn’t look anywhere else but Evan, slowly eyeing him up and down with a disgusted look on her face.

“I don’t know,” Meg says, ignoring the way Feng looks at the two of them, “Ace has been badgering that poor receptionist the whole time we’ve been here, but still nothing.”

“Well, s’ppose no news is good news,” David says, leaning back in the chair.

“That’s what I said! I’m hoping that she’s okay, but look…” Meg says before she turns to face Dwight and Feng, “is there anything that you guys should at least think about? I mean, I don’t want anything to happen to you, and if there’s a chance that something could be wrong, we are at the hospital…”

Dwight and Feng both look away from everyone, with Feng rubbing her arm and Dwight looking at a small square on the floor, and before too long, Meg speaks up again.  “You don’t have to talk, not right now, I just…I want to make sure you guys are okay.  We thought Kate was fine and then-”

“I’m fine, and I’ll talk about what happened, but I don’t want him here,” Feng says, finally looking up and directing all of her attention towards Evan.  He squeezes Meg’s hand, but this time it doesn’t feel tender and caring; this time it is out of shock, maybe a bit of annoyance, but when Meg looks at him, his face remains as passive as ever.

“Feng-” Meg starts before she’s interrupted.

“No, Meg,” she spits out, the disgust from earlier coming through clear in her voice as she leans forward and continues, “You seem to have everyone else here fooled, and I don’t care that you’re sleeping with him, but this is insane that any of you trust him! Our friend could be dying because of a killer and there’s one sitting right here with us too.”

“I’m not…what?” Meg can’t even find the words to reply to her accusation and sudden mood change from before.

“Feng, stop,” David warns.

“No! Look, we didn’t have much time and I didn’t have the energy last night but now…now we can really talk about this,” she says, crossing her arms across her chest. 

“It’s fine,” Evan spits out like a bad taste on his tongue before clearing his throat and giving Meg’s hand another squeeze so tight, she feels her pulse in her hand but she doesn’t let go.  Instead she tightens her grip to match his as she looks at Feng.

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating-“

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.  You’re not dumb, and I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting otherwise, but I am offended that none of you will listen to me when there is a clear killer sitting around us,” Feng hisses, lowering her voice just enough to no one will hear them, but the venom in her words was louder than anything. 

Meg’s nose flares as anger brews deep in her chest at Feng’s words…if she had any idea, any idea at all at what Meg and Evan have been through, she wouldn’t be saying this. 

“I’ll let you talk, I’ll go outside for a little bit,” Evan says pulling his hand from Meg’s as he stands up.  “Come and get me when you’re done,” he says looking directly at Meg with a nod before turning and walking towards the automatic doors leading outside.

“Are you serious right now?” Meg hisses as soon as Evan is out of earshot.  “He has been there every step of the way protecting us, helping us, and here you are completely attacking him!”

“Every step of the way huh? Have you completely forgotten the however many years you were stuck with him when he was doing anything but helping?”

“Because he was forced into it!” Meg yells, a little bit too loud.  She sees Sheila look away from Ace, looking even more annoyed that not only does she have to deal with Ace talking her ear off wanting updates, but now there’s an argument happening in her lobby.  Meg sends her an apologetic look before looking back at Feng.

“But what got him there to begin with, huh? We all thought the killers had to have done something to deserve it, so what is it, Meg? You must know by now since, as you said, you know him so well.”

Meg hesitates, tears brimming her eyes as she looks between her friends looking for some support, but she knows that question is something that all of them would want to know;  There’s no doubt about that as she looks between David and Dwight, both leaning in just a little bit more, faces alight with curiosity.  They aren’t going to help her now, or interrupt this, and she can’t blame them.  She wanted to know this just the same.

“That’s not my story to tell,” Meg eventually settles on because of a couple reasons, first she doesn’t have to tell them right away, and second, it really isn’t.  Evan didn’t even tell her, she heard from that creepy security guard.  She hasn’t even talked about it with him since, and as much as she wants to know the reasons behind it, she knows there has to be an explanation, there has to be something…

“Oh bullshit it isn’t your story to tell,” Feng rolls her eyes and sighs changing the subject back to her original point.  “You know he can be in on this.  He could have ways to contact them and we are just going to let that happen? This could have been his plan all along, and it backfired when you guys got there and somehow escaped the Clown and Ghostface.”

“He killed the Clown.  He is on our side,” Meg fights back.

“And you don’t think that could be a cover? The Clown and Ghostface made it pretty clear that they want to go back, they want to be in that Hell hole, and what if he’s with them? What if killing them takes them back there?”

“I-“ Meg is speechless at the accusations, not only because she wants to defend Evan, but she is suddenly making a lot of sense in ways that Meg never even thought of.  “No, that’s impossible.”

“Is it though? Is it so impossible to believe that someone who spent decades killing would want to go back?” her voice raises slightly.  “None of us know how we got there, and maybe that’s what they’re trying to figure out, or maybe they figured it out already.”

“Feng,” Dwight starts by saying, leaning on one of the armrests of his chair before looking directly at the angry girl, “While I don’t disagree with a lot about what you’re saying, this is Meg.  Come on, we know she has more common sense than just to lead all of us to our deaths.”

“I’ve spent the last day with the two of them, and as much as I still don’t like the bastard, he’s as hopeless out here as ya could get.  I reckon he wouldn’t even know how to contact them,” David chimes in.

“Exactly,” Meg begins, grateful that Dwight and David chimed in finally, “after everything Evan has done, do you really think he would just be doing this to get back at us? And for what? Surviving as best as we could during those trials?” she continues, looking at each of her friends for confirmation.  David and Dwight seem to nod just a little bit, but Feng stays solemn.

“He may be struggling, but he’s not dumb, that much is obvious,” Feng says, her voice straining from trying to keep it low and collected,  “and you’re pretty headstrong.  If he thought you had your mind set on this, do you think he could have just played with it until he knew you would trust him because he fought enough and made you believe that you ‘convinced’ him?”

“I don’t believe that,” Meg argues, frowning.  “You don’t have to trust him but I do.”

“The dick really that good?” Feng hisses while rolling her eyes and leaning back in her chair.

Meg’s mouth falls open, as does Dwight’s beside her, and David’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead all in shock at Feng’s vulgar statement.

Meg can’t even come up with a good response other than to stand up, feeling like all the emotions that come from Feng came to a head and forced her to stand, she can’t sit in front of her any longer.

“That was uncalled for…” Dwight whispers, knowing she went too far.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? There’s something there, and I found Meg in his room this morning.  At least I can think clearly.  You know I was never in the tight-knit group you guys are in, blinded by your so-called close friendship,” she yells gesturing at David and Dwight.

“We are all a family,” Meg tries to offer but it is met with Feng rolling her eyes.

“Oh yeah, feed me the family line again.  Look, we were all stuck in a situation we couldn’t control, but even in there it was obvious you guys were all close, and I wasn’t included in that, which is fine, but don’t pretend like all of our friendships were equal.”

No one says anything, not fighting it.

“You guys are blinded by your loyalty to her, and then she’s blinded by whatever The Trapper has done to her, but I can see this clearly, and this is wrong.  Everything about this is wrong.”

Meg doesn’t have anything to say to Feng in this moment, so she simply turns and walks away needing a moment to herself without her friends’ judgmental faces staring back at her.

David and Dwight weren’t as bad, but there was still that seed of doubt that Meg could see in their eyes, they are just a lot more tactful than Feng.

Thinking back, Feng was always more of a lone wolf, yes, but Meg never thought less of her than her other friends.  She would sit with them around the campfire and help them search for items or offerings, laugh and cry with them, and it was true that she often liked her private time to herself, but Meg never thought that she felt like she was on the outside of their group.

She never thought Feng would be so absolutely horrible to her and Evan…but then again this situation is one that Meg never thought any of them would be in.

Things change, as they always do, and she just hopes that Feng isn’t right, although she made some good points that makes Meg’s skin crawl and stomach churn.

Once Meg is outside, she leans against the cool cement wall taking in deep breaths, trying to calm the pure anger that seemed to overtake her as Feng was talking.

By now it must be early morning, and the sun has fully come out, casting rays of orange light through fluffy white clouds.  Birds are chirping and it is quiet, the only sounds in Meg’s ears being the birds’ songs and the gentle sound of distant waves washing against the cliff on the other side of the parking lot.  They really couldn’t have chosen a prettier spot for a hospital.

Thinking about the picture she took the other day on her phone, she thinks this could be a good picture too, something to take her mind off of Feng and Kate.  Pulling her phone out of her pocket and clicking it on, she quickly snaps a picture of the ocean with a contented sigh.  Going to her pictures, the one she took on the ferry is the first to fill her screen, and only then does she notice there is a crack in the lower righthand corner.  Bringing the phone closer to her face to inspect the crack, her heart stops looking at the picture itself. 

No.

Pinching her fingers together and zooming into the lower corner she sees a man standing on the lower deck of the ferry staring right at her, a smirk plastered on his slimy face.

Jed Olsen was on the ferry with them…

He was following them the whole time…that can’t be possible, can it?

But she is convinced that this man in this photo is him, despite her only seeing him in the dark, but his lidded eyes are the same, his prickly beard and smirk, his messy brown hair…

That is him, there is no mistaking.

How long was he following them?

They really didn’t sneak up on the barns or Jeffrey Hawk; they knew they were coming.

Although Meg figured they really didn’t get much of a jump on them since Jed Olsen left them a note practically begging them to come, she had no idea that he was following them the whole time, keeping tabs on them, even after he took Claudette. 

Was Evan really working with them?

No…

No she can’t let herself think that, but Feng made some good points in there…

What if he knew that Jed was following them all along?

No.

Clicking off her phone, she tosses it to the side and buries her head in her hands, massaging her temples slowly, trying to focus on the calming sounds of nature around her instead of the whirling thoughts in her brain. 

She knows Feng is wrong, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about…right?

Meg takes in a shaky breath, barely able to control the way her chest grips and keeps her from breathing as she thinks about what she does know.

Evan has been with her the whole time, or really, practically the whole time.

She saw how his mood changes when faced with anything remotely modern: grocery stores, phones, cars, the prices of cheese, for goodness sakes.

Anyone who would want be trying to trick her wouldn’t save her, multiple times, or touch her like she will disappear if they let go, or fall asleep curled up next to each other…

“Are you okay?” Evan’s voice comes from out of the blue beside her as she snaps her head up seeing him come around the corner.

Meg quickly wipes brewing tears from her eyes as she nods and looks forward back at the water, not sure if she wants to look at Evan right now.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” she says, her voice octaves higher than normal, it sounds weird even to her.

“Is your friend okay?” He asks, coming closer.  Meg doesn’t quite know which friend he is referring to, whether it is Kate’s health, or if it is Feng absolutely yelling at them before he left.

“I don’t know,” she settles on saying, figuring that it answers both questions. “But look, Evan, can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” he replies, taking a seat next to Meg on the cement, leaning against the warm building.

“This is going to sound…ridiculous, I know, but-“

“But you need to ask,” Evan interrupts, finishing her sentence.  “You know you can ask me anything by now.”

Meg turns her head, finally looking at him, his profile, as he stares forward towards the water and an overwhelming urge to grab his hand comes over her, missing how it feels in her grasp.  As if reading her mind, he turns towards her and finds her hand, grabbing it within his while giving it a small squeeze. 

Suddenly, Meg feels silly to even be asking this, to be doubting everything that has happened between them all because Feng can’t see past what he was, which Meg understands.  She doesn’t blame her one bit.

Hell, even a week ago Meg felt the same way.  She yelled, insulted, accused, and all around distrusted Evan from the very start, and how can she explain to Feng every little thing that has happened between them in the time they have spent together?

She can’t.

“You’re blinded by him…”

Meg frowns, swallowing a growing lump in her throat, hoping that Feng isn’t right about that. She’s still thinking clearly, she has to be.

“You…” she starts before clearing her throat again and letting out a quiet laugh.  “You’re not working with Jed are you?”

“You think that I am working with him?” Evan asks, his voice strangely clipped and forced like he is offended Meg would suggest such a thing.

“No! No, I mean...” Meg trails off, immediately regretting bringing it up and wanting to smack herself for being so damn sensitive to think otherwise.  “Feng just made some interesting points and I defended you but Evan…I just need to hear you say it.  Please?”

Evan hesitates just for a moment as he takes his hand back and turns his head back to the water.  That gesture alone is enough to make Meg’s heart sink. 

“I will say it, I am not working with him.  But why would you think I would be working with him now? I have tried to prove to you time and time again that I am on your side, Meg.  Why would I do anything to put you in danger?”

A stab to the stomach is all Meg feels as she listens to the strained way Evan says her name, and her hand twitches with the emptiness it feels. 

“Just…you knew who Jed Olsen was, and you kept it from us until it was too late.  Even if the name was familiar…you looked me in the eye and you lied about never hearing the name, and now Kate’s…”

There’s a pause, Meg unable to finish the sentence as her words hang and turn sour in the air between them.

“You know that’s unfair,” Evan says, his voice unusually stern.  “I didn’t recall his name because in the years I knew him, or tried to avoid him, I only ever heard Danny Johnson.  But even if I had known his name, all I have done is try to protect you, keep you away from harm, away from this!”

“Why? I don’t need your protection…I can do just fine…”  But she knows that’s a lie.  Without him, she would be dead by now, and she knows that.  Her voice cracks as she yells at him, both of them aware of just how wrong she is, but Evan doesn’t correct her.  He listens, a soundboard for her to take her frustrations out on, but as she takes a breath, she realizes herself just how unfair she is being.  “I’m sorry, I just…Kate could be dying and I…”

“I know,” Evan whispers.  “I know.”  He holds out a hand to her once more, a peace offering.

“No, Evan, I’m sorry.  That was unfair, you’re right,” she apologizes, placing a hand in his as he immediately pulls her closer to him, wrapping his other arm around her. He runs his fingers through her hair gently soothing her worries away with his touch as she wraps her arm around him, pulling him just as close to her as he keeps her. 

Meg closes her eyes and inhales deep in his shirt, letting his scent fill her senses as her eyes begin to well with tears, burning at the anger, embarrassment, everything she felt right then. 

“I know you’re not with them,” she mumbles, “and after years of only trusting a handful of people, I’m just terrified I’ve come to rely on someone who…”

She doesn’t say it, not this time.

The words so close to spilling out of her mouth, “someone who killed me for years” but what good would that do now?

They both are aware of their situation, and she has reminded him time and time again of his mistakes, she doesn’t want to bring it up again, can’t bring it up again, for either of their sake’s.

“I’m not perfect, Meg.  I’m not even good,” he begins to say, running a hand through her hair as he pulls away to look at her, “But trust me when I say that you have become my priority.”

Evan’s word sends shivers through Meg’s whole body as she stares up at him.

“But why?”

Evan doesn’t say anything as his eyes roam her face, finally landing on her lips then making their way back up to her meet her eyes.  As always, his green eyes with the gold specks in them meet hers and she becomes frozen, her stomach flipping and her pulse racing. 

“You didn’t deserve the treatment you got from the Entity, and as frustrating and infuriating as you can be at times, I wish I never had to inflict such pain and torture upon you,” his voice breaks so subtly, Meg almost misses it before he clears his throat and continues.  “I would gladly take it back if I were able.  I am truly sorry it had to be the way it was.”

Meg’s heart skips a beat, not truly accepting what he is saying right now, with everything.

She knows he apologized to the whole group yesterday, but this, this is more personal than Meg could have ever imagined.

“I have years to make up for, and I plan to try to make up as many as I can.”

Before Meg can respond, they are interrupted once more by the hospital doors opening and David coming outside, looking in both directions before seeing Meg and Evan sitting against the hospital wall. 

“Oi, they’re letting us see Kate,” he says, waving at them impatiently to follow him inside.

“Really? How is she?” Meg’s heart leaps in her throat.  Evan stands up first, and helps Meg up effortlessly.  Neither of them let go of each other’s hand as they walk back inside the hospital with David.

“She’s resting now,” David responds.  “Dunno what happened though, I just said I’d come find you two.”

Following David’s lead, they make their way through the waiting room and then down a few hallways before running into Dwight standing outside of a small room.

“Have you been inside to see her? How is she?” Meg asks Dwight as they get closer.

“Haven’t been inside yet.  Ace won’t leave her side, and it felt weird to go in alone,” he answers.

“Well how ‘bout you two go in first? Dwight and I can wait,” David interjects, wrapping an arm around Dwight’s back and pulling him closer to him.  Meg’s eyes flick down between David’s arm and the way Dwight’s face turns a slight shade of pink, and as she looks back up, David is already looking at her, his eyes narrowed.

As much as she wants to say something, she decides against it, and instead, she smiles.

“Sounds good.  But hey, have you guys seen Feng?”

Both men shake their heads.

“She said she was going for a walk after you left.  She’s around here somewhere, you know she’ll come back when she stops throwing her tantrum,” David says, rolling his eyes.  Something about Feng being alone doesn’t sit right with Meg, and even after everything she said, it would be nice to at least talk civilly, but that can wait until after they see Kate. 

Meg hums in agreement, and with one last look at Evan, they enter the room with a soft knock.  The first thing she notices when she enters the room is Kate hooked up to a bunch of different wires, all hooked up to machines making various monotonous noises around the room, filling Meg’s head with images of her own mother laying in the hospital.

Sleeping.

Barely alive.

Not breathing.

Evan’s hand on hers brings her back to reality at what she’s seeing.  It’s not her mom, it’s Kate, and Ace is beside her, his brows furrowed together in a worried expression she has only seen on him a handful of times before.

Ace was always the happy-go-lucky survivor, never down, never letting anything get in his way, and so seeing him like this, worried with a frown on his face is so much different than she has ever seen him.

Quickly taking a glance around the room, something catches Meg’s eye that makes her chuckle quietly to herself despite the worried aura around the room.

“Kate Visconti?” Meg speaks up, staring at a whiteboard on the right wall with Kate’s, her nurse’s, and doctor’s names all written on it in black marker.

“What?” Ace looks up at her, his face splitting in two with a smirk, “It was the only way for them to give me any updates.  If I said I was her husband, of course they wouldn’t keep me in the dark.”

“How did they know your name?”

As if Ace was expecting that question, he reaches into his jacket and flicks a small plastic ID from his pocket.

“You…you still have your ID on you?”

“Well obviously.  I carried it with me wherever I went, so naturally when I woke up in the fog it was tucked in my lil back pocket right where it always was.”

Meg walks to a chair on the other side of the bed facing Ace as she raises an eyebrow at him.

“Couldn’t have said you were her dad or anything?”

“Hey,” he takes a hand and puts it to his chest, “I’m not that old.  Plus we would make a hot married couple, don’t you think? The handsome older gentleman with his beautiful country singer wife beside him.”

It is then that Meg finally notices how his other hand still rests mere centimeters from hers on the bed, his pinky just barely touching hers on the pale white sheets.

Meg just rolls her eyes at him and looks at Evan who stands in the corner, looking more ominous than anything, but that has become pretty common for him anyway.

With a smile at both Ace’s comment and Evan, Meg turns back to the older man and looks down at Kate before speaking. 

“So what did they say was wrong? Do they know?”

Ace shifts in his chair and the hand that was on the bed clenches into a fist.

“Apparently in the mixtures the Clown made her drink, he mixed it with antifreeze.  He was really planning on killing us slowly, and the fucker was almost so clever about it.”

“What do you mean?”

“The doc said symptoms of drinking antifreeze can take awhile to set in so, naturally, she wouldn’t have gotten sick right away, and I can only imagine…” he trails off and clears his throat before looking up at Meg, and then surprisingly, Ace looks up at Evan as he finishes his sentence.   “I don’t know what would have happened if all of you didn’t show up when you did.”

“You can thank Meg for that,” Evan replies, a hint of admiration clear in his voice as Meg looks up at him to find him already looking down at her.

She can feel her cheeks begin to burn but before she can deflect the compliment, Ace speaks up.

“Yeah, yeah, I know how our girl can be, but still, we owe you one, big guy.  Or I guess, maybe we are even now.  I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I like the odds that you’re on our side.”

The three of them sit in a comfortable silence listening to the quiet beeping of the machines around Kate until Meg speaks up, one last question on her mind.

“So, do they know when she will be okay to leave?”

Ace takes in a deep breath and sighs before answering.

“They said they wanted to keep her here overnight at least, monitor things, do doctor things, you know? Tomorrow at the earliest, but they said it could be a few days.”

Meg hums, the information not quite being what she wants to hear, but she doesn’t know what else to say in that moment either as she stares at Kate in the hospital bed, looking more haggard and pale here than she ever did in the Entity’s realm, if that were even possible.

Frowning, Meg thinks about all the times they’ve been sick, had fingers cut off, been stabbed, shot, mauled, and she always thought they had seen all of them at their worst and yet...

This almost seems worse.  With all the medicine and technology at their fingertips now, Kate is left looking pale and closer to death than ever as her hair hangs around her face, clinging to her forehead and neck damp with sweat. 

If anything happens to her…

With a deep breath, Meg stands up abruptly, the room spinning around her as she grabs Evan for balance.

She just wants to get out of the room.

“You good, kid?” Ace asks, looking up at Meg.

She clears her throat as she looks at Kate, “Yeah.  Yeah I’m fine, I just need some air, I think.”

“Well, not that I’m tryin’ to push you away, but maybe you need some rest.  I was thinkin’ maybe we could stay here another night.”

“At the hotel?” Meg asks, not quite opposed to the idea, but instantly thinking about the limited money they have.

“I put it under my card, if it went through the first night, it should be fine tonight.”

“Your card? Ace, you do not have a credit card on you too…” Meg asks in disbelief.  Thinking back to her decent into the Entity’s realm, she knows at first that she had her ID, cell phone, and wallet on her, but along the way it must have gotten lost.  There was no way she could ever keep track of it, and one day it was just gone, she simply figured it was lost to the Entity’s realm, and it wasn’t like she would ever need any of it again. 

“Guess they never canceled my bank account,” Ace says with a shrug, “Things tend to go my way, if I do say so myself.”  He ends his statement with a wink and a finger gun towards Meg.

“Do you really think that’s smart? What if they track it? You have been missing for years, ya know.”

With a flap of Ace’s hand he shakes his head.  “Nah, that’s a problem for future Ace.  Right now though…” he looks back at Kate and leans back in his chair.  “David and Dwight already said they didn’t care if we stayed another night.  Said I’d ask you two, after all.”

Meg looks up at Evan for any sort of opinion one way or the other, but instead he simply raises an eyebrow as if saying that it is up to her. 

“I suppose that wouldn’t be bad.  It would be  nice to get some real rest tonight and hope for the best tomorrow when it comes to Kate.”

“Can’t say I disagree.  I’ll stay here as long as they let me, so I can send updates if you kids wanted to go back to the hotel for a bit.”

“Okay, well, take this at least,” Meg says, reaching into their bag and fishing around for the extra cell phone she got for Evan, which now seems pointless since he never seems to leave her side, even for a moment. 

With a quick glance, she sees there is still battery left as she hands it to Ace. 

“Keep us updated, and seriously, if anything happens, let us know.  I put the other phone numbers in there, Nea should still have the other phone,” Meg says, closing the bag.  Evan takes it from her without a word, and she lets him as she leans against him slightly as the pain in her hips starts to grow with standing. 

“Can do, buckaroo,” Ace says, leaning back in his chair once more before focusing his attention back to Kate.  With a small nod Meg and Evan begin to walk out of the room, but with one last glance back, Meg sees the small grin on Ace’s face fade as he leans forward, grabbing Kate’s hand in his, looking more serious than she’s ever seen him.

Before she can think too much about the sudden interest in Kate that Ace is showing, Evan breaks her from her thoughts.

“Are you okay?” He asks as soon as they’re outside of the room.  David and Dwight are no where to be seen so Meg leans against the hallway door outside and closes her eyes.

“Yeah.  I’m sorry, I just…I needed to get out of there.  You’d think after years of watching her die that it wouldn’t hurt this bad or be this stressful…”

“Well, I would suggest perhaps going back to the hotel for a bit like your friend said, but I also know how you might want to be with your friends here for a bit, so it’s up to you,” Evan suggests as he puts his hand on the small of Meg’s back, gently guiding her forward as she looks up at him.

“Going back to the hotel sounds nice, but we should find David and Dwight, let them know we’re leaving first, right?”

Evan agrees, still resting his hand on her back as they walk, making their way back to the seating area.  While they walk, Meg thinks about what she really wants to do in that moment, and if leaving the hospital is the right thing to do.

Yes, she wants to stay with her friends, with Kate, make sure she’s okay, but…

Nea and Claudette are still at the hotel too.  They can go update them, and it would be nice to get out of the hospital for a little bit.  She’s still so tired.

And her stomach growls.  Food would be nice too.

As they turn the corner to the waiting room, Dwight and David sit side-by-side, looking slightly more disheveled than they looked before when Meg saw them outside of Kate’s room.  Dwight’s hair, as messy as it always is, looks even more messed up, and as she squints her eyes, she sees that his shirt buttons are off by one, making his shirt hang from his torso at a strange angle.

David on the other hand, leans back in the chair with an arm raised and resting over his face as he leans back with a goofy-looking smirk on his face, as his other hand rests on Dwight’s thigh.

Dwight leans against the bigger man, eyes closed and face slightly red, and it was as if Meg and Evan had the same thought at the same time as they both stopped and looked at each other, eyebrows raised.

A smile splits across Meg’s face as she widens her eyes at Evan before looking back at her friends, then back at the man beside her, trying to silently communicate.  She doesn’t think she has seen Evan’s eyebrows as far up on his head as she sees now, and that alone is enough to make her laugh.

At the sound of her laugh, both Dwight and David startle awake and look at the pair standing in the room with them. 

“You two look comfy,” Meg says, looking between the two men.

“Can’t a guy take a nap in peace?” David growls as Dwight stays quiet, his face turning even more red.

“Well I was just coming to say that we are going back to the hotel if you two want to come,” Meg says trying to contain her smile at them looking flustered. 

The two men exchange a quick glance and shake their heads almost in unison. 

“Nah, we’ll stay here for a bit.  Keep an eye on things, ya know?” David mumbles, still not making eye contact with them.

“Yeah, because that’s exactly what it looked like you two were doing.”

“What else would we be doing?” Dwight asks, raising up an arm and scratching the back of his head as he looks away. 

“That really is the question isn’t it?” Meg teases and earns a soft chuckle from Evan beside her.  “Ace has a phone in case you guys need anything.  Try not to get into too much trouble.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll see you later.”

Meg and Evan begin to walk away but Meg stops and turns around wanting to ask one last time about Feng.

“You two haven’t seen Feng at all yet, have you?”

“Nope.”

“Hm, okay,” Meg hesitated, “Well can you just send a text when you see her? Just to know that she’s not lost somewhere.”

David nods as he leans back in his chair, resuming the position he was in before they interrupted him.  Taking in a deep breath, Meg looks up at Evan and nods. 

As if reading her mind, they begin walking towards the exit, ready to get back to the hotel.  With the relief that Kate is stable for now, Meg feels like she can actually breathe and not be so goddamn worried. 

And Meg can’t even begin to express how grateful she is for Evan and to have him there with her, being that calming presence even when she knows she doesn’t deserve it, like earlier.  It was ridiculous to doubt him, she knows that now, and she just hopes that maybe she can prove to Feng that they’re all on the same side.

They’ll be okay.

“I don’t appreciate your friend calling me, kid,” Evan speaks up randomly as they walk.

“Ace?” A quiet laugh escapes Meg’s lips before she can control it as she shakes her head. “He calls everyone kid, even people older than him.  But he might actually be older than you, or at least spent more time here on Earth than you.  How old are you anyways?”

“Thirty-five, give or take a hundred years or so.”

“Oh, tough luck.  Like it or not, he is older than you now,” Meg says with a smile before adding, “Kid.”

“You’re hardly one to talk,” Evan says as one corner of his lips pull into a genuine smile. 

“Hey, it just means both of us are young.  We could be middle-aged with greying hair and a gambling addiction like Ace, but yet here we are, the picture of youth.”

Evan lets out a snort and shakes his head not saying anything more as they make their way back outside.

But as the pair begin to walk out of the waiting room, an ice cold shiver runs up Meg’s spine, making her feel like she was dunked into a bucket of cold water, freezing her to the spot.  Evan continues to take a few steps forward before he notices that she stopped, and as he turns around, his whole demeanor changes as he looks at something behind Meg.

The way his face hardens like stone and the way his posture straightens does nothing to ease the very unsettling tingling that shocks its way through Meg’s body from her head to her toes. 

“Meg,” Evan growls, still staring at whatever or whoever is behind her.  “Get behind me.”

In that moment, Meg closes her eyes, just for a second, but that second seems to last an eternity and the only thing she hears is her own heartbeat.  Every single nerve in her body screams at her to turn around, listen to Evan, but she doesn’t want to know what’s behind her, and in this quiet second, she can be comforted with the ignorance of what could possibly follow.

She hears her heartbeat once, twice, and then a laugh.

It is quiet and less distorted, but she would know that laugh anywhere.

Turning around slowly, she sees a man just as tall and muscular as Evan standing at the other end of the hallway dressed in a nice white dress shirt, a purple waistcoat, and black slacks, and even without his usual apparatus pinned to his head, she immediately recognizes the looming man staring directly at her and Evan. 

Evan grabs Meg and steps so he’s in front of her like a shield as he speaks, his voice low, but the sheer fury behind his question is loud and clear.

“What are you doing here, Herman?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Herman.

The Doctor.

One of the most ruthless, merciless killers out there was standing mere feet away from Meg, with only Evan standing in the way of the two.

Meg knows that she shouldn’t feel the electricity tingle from the soles of her feet up to the roots of her hair, but she still feels her whole body tremble as she peers behind her one protection. 

The Doctor leans to the side resting his right side against the wall, his legs crossed nonchalantly as he stares at Evan with an unnaturally large smile on his face.

Although most of his face was always visible in the trials, he never seemed human with his electric eyes and mutilated body chasing them around, but here he is looking surprisingly normal, and Meg doesn’t know if that somehow makes it better or worse.

He is very much human, but she saw how much he enjoyed killing and torturing them, just like Jed Olsen and the Clown…He’s no better than them, but as the three stand silently staring at each other, she can only hope she is wrong.

“Hello, Evan.  It’s been awhile.  I can’t even recall the last time I saw that lovely face of yours,” the Doctor, or as Evan called him, Herman spoke. His voice was deep but still sent chills down Meg’s spine thinking about all the times she heard his electric sounding laugh. 

Evan doesn’t respond, not right away, he only puts out an arm beside him and slightly backwards keeping Meg in place behind him.

“That was by choice.  Now I’ll ask again, what are you doing here?” Evan growls as his whole body tenses ready to attack at a moment’s notice. 

“Why, I could ask you the same thing.  What an interesting place to run into each other, isn’t it?” Herman says, pushing himself off the wall and gesturing around.  “And I see you have a little friend here with you.  Care to introduce us?”

Even though Meg is still behind Evan and can’t see his face, with the mention of her, she feels red hot anger radiate from him, filling the air like a last warning, and she has no idea how to stop the dam from bursting.

Her first instinct is to run, to tell Evan to just drop it and get away so they’re safe, they’re alive, and they’re away from Herman, but she can’t leave her friends, especially since she doesn’t even know where Feng is…

“Evan,” Meg croaks out his name at her sudden realization, “Evan, what if he has Feng?”

“What if I have who?” Herman overhears despite Meg trying to keep her voice down.  “I can assure you I am in possession of nobody.  Come on out from behind Evan, dear, there’s no need to be shy.”

“Meg, don’t move,” Evan instructs as he takes a step forward closing the gap between him and Herman.  “Herman, after what we have been through, I will not hesitate to kill you right here if you don’t start answering my question.”

“Such harsh words, such brutish manners.  You are making a spectacle out of yourself here, Evan.  Do you want to go outside where we can talk like civil human beings?” Herman asks, raising his arms up to his sides and gesturing around them.  There aren’t many people around but a few lone individuals in the waiting room, as well as a nurse eyeing them suspiciously from behind a desk waiting for it to escalate or keep going.

“No,” Evan huffs barely above a whisper.  “We are leaving, and I swear to any god or deity there is out there, if I see you again, I won’t hold back.”

Herman doesn’t say anything, he just smiles, but as Evan turns around and grabs Meg’s hand to pull her along with him, she doesn’t move, something keeping her tethered to the spot. 

“Evan, look, I’m all for leaving, but we need to find Feng, and we need to tell the others,” she hisses, hoping it was quiet enough to where Herman doesn’t hear, but that hope is quickly squandered when Herman laughs. 

“If this makes this whole awkward situation better,” Herman interjects, “I can assure you, I’ve changed my ways.  As much as killing every single day was enjoyment enough, it did get tiresome after awhile.  That was never my main goal anyways.”

Meg doesn’t move, she doesn’t even turn around to face him as she stares at Evan for any sign of approval.  They need to tell their friends, there is no doubt about that, and the way the hair on her neck stands straight up, she isn’t sure she believes Herman as far as she could throw him.

“There was no…spark, I could say.  Here, I may do as I wish,” he finishes his sentence with another cold laugh, making Meg shake where she stands.

“Look, where is Feng?” Meg finally asks, swinging around propelled by the absolute shock and fear she feels deep in her bones as she turns to face Herman.  Evan is behind her, and without him guarding her, she feels strangely exposed, a deer in headlights as Herman looks at her.

The way his eyes begin to roam her body isn’t in a lustful way, but rather like he is examining her, calculating what she might do next, and all she can do is stand there and try to breathe normally, her nostrils flaring from the fire burning in her chest. 

“Excuse me,” the nurse from earlier finally speaks up as she stands up from behind the desk, phone already in hand.  “May I remind you three that we are a hospital, and you need to lower your voices or step outside, please.”

Meg is the only one to mutter any sort of apology as both Evan and Herman stare at each other, Herman still with his unnaturally wide grin and Evan with his eyes filled with hate. 

“Look let’s just go outside-“ Meg says to Evan, her voice low as she glances at the nurse, still staring at them to see what they’re going to do next.

“After you,” Herman gestures behind Evan with a small bow, extending his arm towards the hospital entrance.

With a frown and a sound of annoyance, Evan grabs Meg’s hand, a gesture Herman doesn’t miss as his eye contact finally breaks and flickers to their hands, and somehow, his smile grows even wider as he stands back up straight.  Evan ushers Meg outside slightly in front of him as he looks over his shoulder at Herman who follows them just outside the sliding glass doors.

The once peaceful sun outside now seems too intense, a spotlight on what is happening as Meg begins to break out in a cold sweat looking between the two huge men with her out in broad daylight.

“So,” Herman ends up breaking the silence as he crosses his arms over his broad chest.  “You were asking about someone.”

“Feng,” Meg speaks up, her nerves vanishing slowly as she thinks about her friend.  “I know you have her.”

Herman lets out a thoughtful hum before opening his arms with a sweeping gesture.  “I can assure you, as I said, I don’t have anyone.  I am simply trying to make a new life for myself before you two showed up.”

“Before we showed up?” Meg scoffs, becoming too brave for the situation.  Evan takes a step forward behind her, putting a hand on her lower back, a small gesture that reminds her not to provoke him too much, despite how she feels in that moment.  “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have to be, but why are you here? What could you possibly gain by being here?”

“Why those are an awful lot of questions for someone you just met,” Herman answers as he glances over to the hospital doors as though waiting for someone to come out.  “Though I don’t feel I need to answer them as my life is my own business, I do appreciate the sentiment.  Now, if we are done here, if you’ll excuse me-“

“No,” Meg snaps. 

“Meg,” Evan warns, his anger still clear in his strained voice that wavers slightly as he talks.  “I know how you’re feeling but just let him go.  If he wants to leave, that’s what is best for us right now.  We can’t do anything and we just need to go.”

“Let him go?” Meg swings around at Evan.  “Let him go?! He has to have Feng, right? She has disappeared and-“

“Who has to have me?”

Meg’s rant is suddenly cut short by the front doors opening and Feng walking outside and with a quick glance, Meg notices that she looks just the same as she did after their fight.  She doesn’t look hurt in any way, and as Meg slowly turns back towards Herman, she is met with his huge smile and a twinkle in his eye.  “I told you,” he purrs.

“Meg…” Feng stutters, finally looking at Herman, her eyes wide and filled with panic.

“Herman Carter,” he introduces himself with a small bow.  “You must be the mysterious Feng I’ve been hearing about.  Your friends were quite worried about you.”

“Herman, leave her alone,” Evan commands, stepping around Meg to get in front of both her and Feng.

“Why, I’m not doing anything a gentleman such as myself wouldn’t do in the presence of such fine young women.  You could use a lesson or two in manners, Evan,” Herman replies, his smile never fading like he is in on some inside joke that no one else knows. 

As though a switch flipped in Evan’s mind, he grabs Meg’s hand and turns around, dragging her off away from Herman and Feng while angrily muttering, “Enough is enough.  We need to leave.  Now.”

“What? What about the others? What about Kate?” Meg hisses as Evan begins to pull her away from Herman who merely stands observing them as Meg stumbles a bit to keep up with Evan’s long strides.  “It’s not like Kate can just leave the hospital, not now…”

“I don’t care,” Evan mutters as Herman’s laugh grows quieter the farther they walk away.  “It’s not safe with him here, I don’t care what he says.”

“Evan, stop,” Meg demands, yanking her arm back as soon as they round the corner, breaking line of sight with Herman at the entrance to the hospital.  Feng didn’t follow them, not right away, but Meg doesn’t even think about it as she looks at Evan huffing like an angry bull.  “What has gotten into you?”

“It’s him! He is dangerous, Meg, more dangerous than the others by far and him being here is anything but a good sign,” Evan yells, smashing his fist into the hard cement wall next to them.  Meg jumps back, flashes of the Trapper coming to her mind seeing Evan like this and not his usual collected self. 

Sure, she has seen him mad and yell, but never enough to lash out and actually hit something, let alone a cement wall.  This isn’t the Evan she has seen, and although every instinct tells her to walk away, go back inside, she doesn’t, not when he’s like this.  He hasn’t left her when she’s been in bad moods, she can handle this…she thinks.

Tentatively, she reaches out a hand and places it on his forearm that still presses into the building, and where his knuckles meet the wall, streaks of dark red blood run down the bright white paint.

Her touch is enough to make him look at her as she gently moves her hand down his arm, to his hand, and takes it within both of hers, lowering it down so she holds his hand in front of her.  She doesn’t break eye contact with him, and she doesn’t say anything, but as the moments pass, his once rapid, shallow breathing begins to slow down, get deeper, and soon his face begins to relax as well.

“Meg…I’m sorry…” He begins to say before Meg lowers her hands, letting go of his and wrapping her arms around his midsection pulling him into a hug, leaning her head against his chest. 

“It’s okay.  I know,” Meg whispers as Evan hesitates for a split second, seemingly still trying to process that Meg is hugging him out in the open like she is.  Before long, he raises his arms up and pulls her closer into a tight hug together as he leans down slightly, resting his head on the top of hers. 

There have been so many times within the last few days that Evan has comforted Meg, and she can’t even begin to express how grateful she is for that, for him, and if she could have the chance to soothe any of his worries, she wants to help.

She wants him to be okay.

They stay like this for a few minutes, Meg breathing slowly in time with Evan, until they hear footsteps approaching them from behind.  Reluctantly, they both let go slowly, taking a step back from each other.

“Are you okay?” Meg asks quietly, taking his injured hand again in hers as she brings it close to inspect it.  His knuckles are cut, swollen, and turning different shades of purple and red from where he punched the wall, but if he was in any pain, he made no move to show it.  “This looks bad.  Are you sure you didn’t break something?”

Evan just chuckles and shakes his head.  “I’m fine.  I’m not sure what came over me, but my point still stands from earlier.  We should leave as soon as we can.”

“I know,” Meg agrees, but before she can say anymore, Feng comes walking up behind them.  With a deep breath, Meg turns away from Evan and towards her friend, eager to know just where she was during that whole time.  “Where did you go?”

“When?” Feng asks, shuffling from foot to foot before leaning against the wall, completely ignoring the drying blood beside her.

“Well, I don’t know,” Meg says sarcasticly, “Maybe before after we fought, and also just now.  That was clearly-“

“The Doctor,” Feng interrupts.  “Yeah, I know.  He said as much earlier.”

“Earlier? What do you mean earlier?” Meg asks, letting go of Evan’s hand and letting hers fall to her side, walking closer to Feng. 

“After our fight.  I mean…Meg I’m sorry about that,” she mutters, flicking her eyes up at Evan and then back on the ground.  “It was uncalled for, I know.  It’s all a lot to handle, ya know?”

“I mean, yeah, and that’s fine but lets rewind and tell me what you meant by ‘he said as much earlier’,” Meg continues, perplexed that she could come off with that statement as though it meant nothing.

Feng blows a puff of air from her nose like she is amused by something, but nothing about whatever is around them is funny to Meg in that moment.  Feng kicks at the ground before looking back up at Meg.

“Well, I didn’t know that was him,” she begins by saying.  “He was just some charming man that came up to me a little bit ago in the hospital.  Said I looked lost, I guess.  Because, Meg, I was mad earlier, like, really mad, but then when I calmed down, I had no idea what area of the hospital I ended up in.  So he began asking questions about me and why I was there and then it was like a light turned on and I finally realized that it was him.”

Meg’s mouth falls open in shock and she can’t help the annoyance that laces her next words.  “You finally realized it was him? After how long? What did you tell him?” Meg asks beginning to panic at what could have possibly been said.  After all, Meg knew it was him right away.  How he was dressed, his smile, and although he didn’t look inhuman like he did in the trials, his very aura was the same, as well as his laugh.  It couldn’t have been more obvious to her…why did it take so long for Feng?

“It’s not like I did it on purpose, okay?” Feng hisses back before pinching the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes.  “I may have let slip where we are headed after here.  Issaquah.  But that was before I knew it was him!” She reiterates while opening her eyes and looking away, a slight red blush appearing on her nose and cheeks. 

“Are you serious? Why would you go around telling anyone that? You have no idea what could happen or who is out here…”

“I know, it was stupid! I…I didn’t want to think he’d do anything, or you guys would see him.  I was on my way back trying to find you and…him,” she motions over to Evan, “but then I saw the three of you standing outside.”

“But I just don’t understand why you’d tell anyone where we are going? What would anyone want with that information, let alone some ‘stranger’ you met in a hospital?” Meg is practically yelling now, feeling like she can’t wrap her head around what Feng is saying.  Feng isn’t dumb, she knows that, but this…this is completely out of pocket for her. 

“Did you talk to him for long? Alone?” Feng asks, pushing herself off the wall forcefully getting closer to Meg.  Her whole face is a shade of pink, out of embarrassment or anger, Meg can’t say for sure, but she doesn’t care either way.  She probably looks just the same.

“No, I was with Evan -”

“Then you don’t know what he’s like!” Feng yells, the sheer volume of her voice matching Meg, and she is almost sure someone will come outside and tell them to be quiet with how they’re arguing.  “I was telling him things before I consciously knew what I was doing.  He made me feel things, Meg.  He’s charming and manipulative and nothing like the person we saw in the trials.”

Meg stands there, her anger bubbling in her chest trying to think of anything rational to say without completely laying into Feng about everything that has happened today.

“She’s right,” Evan speaks up while stepping closer to Meg.  He lays a hand on her shoulder and instantly the anger she feels seems to begin to dissipate, cool down.  Her chest and face don’t feel as hot as Evan continues.  “As I’ve said before, he’s dangerous.  He knows people, and he knows how to make them talk.”  No one says anything right away as Feng looks past Meg and up at Evan, finally looking at him for once without looking so disgusted.  “That’s why we need to leave.  I don’t know what he could be planning, but if he knows we are here and where we are going, the sooner we leave, the better,” Evan adds, stepping so he’s beside Meg.

“We should be fine.  I didn’t tell him much, not enough for him to find us, I don’t think,” Feng mutters. 

“Well, there’s that at least,” Meg mumbles, still not quite as forgiving about the whole situation despite what Evan said.  First Feng yells at her for bringing Evan around them, then she goes and talks to a killer without realizing it’s them for who knows how long.  The hypocrisy is just blaring like a horn in her face but she doesn’t say anything more, knowing that if she were to open her mouth, she would say something she regrets. 

Instead, she turns towards Evan, completely away from Feng.  “We can’t really leave Kate though.  The best we can do is see if she can be transferred to another hospital or something.”

“I guess,” Feng speaks up.  “But who knows how long that’ll take.”

“All I am positive about is that we will be safer back at the estate,” Evan points out before grabbing Meg’s hands within his while looking directly at her, ignoring that Feng is even there by now.  “I told you that you have become my priority, and as much as I’d like to think I can protect you against Herman, he is strong, and I don’t want to risk anything here when I know I have a better chance on my own land.”

Meg’s eyes begin to well with tears at his words, almost too overwhelmed at how much he wants to protect her.

“Okay,” she clears her throat.  “We need to go talk to Ace and Kate, but okay.  I trust you,” she breathes out, the weight of her trust not lost on her despite everything that has happened.  She knows how powerful her admitting she trusts him is, and all she hopes is that Evan isn’t steering her wrong.  She knows that it wouldn’t be on purpose, but as much as he knows about Herman, he thinks this is the best choice and this is what Meg will go with.

Feng doesn’t say anything as Meg turns around, blinking back the tears that pooled in her eyes a few seconds ago.  “Can you get Dwight and David while we go see what we can do about Ace and Kate?” Meg asks, and without another word, Feng nods and turns to go back inside. 

Following Feng in, Meg and Evan go straight to Kate’s room, both hoping that they don’t run back into Herman on the way. 

“Well didn’t think I’d see you two back so soon,” Ace greets them as they walk in the room.  He hasn’t moved since they left him alone with Kate, still gripping her hand in his while she sleeps.  His usual smirk starts to disappear once he gets a good look at Meg “Everything good?”

“Ehhh, not exactly,” Meg says, taking a seat.  “The Doctor, from the trials, he’s here in the hospital.”

“Ah…well shit,” Ace mutters, leaning back in his chair while running his fingers through his hair.  “Is he like, good? Like our friend over here?”

“No,” Evan says immediately.  “He says he means well, but don’t trust him.”

Meg looks at Evan, his shoulders and back so tense, she can see his muscles bulging and shaking beneath his clothes.  She wonders what happened between them.  It must be something that happened while they were in the Entity’s realm, but what more could have happened between them to where the mere sight of him was enough to drive Evan to punching a wall?

Tucking that question away for later, Meg decides to break the silence with Ace being surprisingly quiet for once.

“So we were thinking that we could look into Kate being transferred to another hospital or something. It isn’t safe here, not with him being around, and we were thinking about heading back to the estate as soon as we can too.”

“That’s probably smart.  Let me go see what I can do,” Ace says, nodding his head in agreement.  “What’s the town again? Issaquah?”

Meg nods and watches as Ace exits the room, hearing his loud voice echo at the nurses station just outside the door.

“Mary, my muffin, I have a favor to ask.”

Meg and Evan continue to sit in silence listening to Ace’s particularly loud attempt at convincing the poor nurse sitting at the nurse’s station that they need to talk about transferring right away.

“Mr. Visconti, someone will be in to talk with you and your wife in a little bit about a transfer.”

“But how long is a little bit? Just a ballpark estimate?”

“I am not sure, but as soon as I find out, I will let you know.”

While there is a lull in Ace’s conversation outside, Meg hears a small groan coming from the bed and as she looks over, Kate’s eyes are opening slowly as she grimaces, gripping her stomach.

“Was that Ace?” She groans, her eyes looking out the door towards his voice as he still pesters the nurse, Mary, like he was with Sheila earlier.  Before she has an answer from Meg, her eyes scan the room and stop on the big white board beside the bed.  “Kate Visconti?”

Meg lets out a laugh as she jumps up, excitement overcoming her at Kate being awake and being okay.  Going over to the seat that Ace was in before she woke up, Meg plops down and grabs Kate’s hand, giving it a squeeze.  “Yeah, apparently you’re Ace’s wife now.”

Kate’s whole face relaxes as she laughs as best as she can given the circumstances before she shakes her head in amusement.  “Really now? How was the wedding?”

“It was pretty small.  Nea got drunk and David got into a fight with the bartender but overall it was nice,” Meg jokes.

“Sounds about right,” Kate says before clearing her throat and swallowing hard.  Wincing, she looks around another time.  “Is there any water?”

Nodding, Meg quickly gets up and gets her a small plastic cup of water from the sink in the room before sitting back down.

“Thank you.  It’s really nice for you guys to be here.  I didn’t mean to make such a fuss,” Kate says just before she quickly drinks all the water in the cup and with an audible sigh, she continues,  “So what happened? I mean the last thing I remember was being in so much pain…I don’t remember much after going into the hotel bathroom…”

“Turns out that the Clown was poisoning you,” Meg says, getting up and refilling Kate’s cup with more water.  “It just took awhile for the symptoms to show up, but according to the doctors, you’ll be fine.  They just want to keep you for some observations tonight.  But…” Meg hesitates, not completely wanting to cause Kate more stress, especially not now, but she should know about Herman.  They can’t just keep the fact that there is yet another killer around. 

“What is it, hun?” Kate asks, reaching out slowly and resting her hand on Meg’s, and Meg’s chest grips with guilt.  She should be the one comforting Kate right now, not the other way around.  Flipping her hand over and grabbing Kate’s, she scoots closer to the edge of her seat.

“Well, you’re okay, but we ran into the Doctor here.”

Kate’s face scrunches up in confusion.  “Well, I sure hope so.  There should be plenty of doctors here…in the hospital?”

“What? No…oh God, no I mean yes, there are doctors but I meant The Doctor.  From the trials.”

“Oh.  Well…that’s not good news now, is it?” Kate gives Meg’s hand a squeeze before laughing quietly.  “It just seems like it’s one thing after another, doesn’t it? He didn’t hurt you at all, did he? Because if he did, I will get out of this bed and-”

Meg smiles, and as she looks up and over at Evan, he actually has a small smile on his face as Kate talks, once again threatening to protect them against anything event hough she is the one who nearly died this morning.

“We are all okay,” Meg reassures her, cutting off Kate’s ongoing rant.  “Ace is trying to see about transferring you while the rest of us try and scope out the estate back home.  I think Ace is going to stay here with you in the meantime.  We couldn’t pull him away even if we tried.”

“God bless him,” Kate says, her cheeks turning a shade of red at the mention of Ace. 

“You should have seen him earlier, Kate.  He was a wreck and wouldn’t leave your side at all.  So I’m just saying, if Kate Visconti sounds good to you…” Meg nudges Kate’s arm with her elbow while wiggling her eyebrows at her.

“Oh stop it! I doubt it’s like that.  Ace is a sweet guy, I’m sure he’d do the same for y’all.”

Meg just stares at her with an eyebrow raised, trying to send the message that no, Ace would not do this for anyone else.  Sure he would be worried as friends are, but not to this extent.  This…this is definitely something else.

“Will you stop givin’ me that look?” Kate laughs, rolling her eyes at Meg who just continues to smile at her.  “I’m serious here!”

“Okay, whatever you say,” Meg replies, smiling as Ace walks back in, a big goofy grin on his face as his eyes land on Kate.

“You’re awake!” Then he looks between Meg and Evan. Flopping in the chair beside Evan, he leans his arm nonchalantly on the back of Evan’s chair, who just looks at him like he is too close for comfort.  Ace doesn’t seem to notice as he continues talking to Kate, “How’re you feeling?”

“Like a field of daisies.”

“You look just as beautiful,” Ace purrs, flashing a cheesy grin and a wink at her that only makes Meg groan and Kate laugh.

“Anyways,” Meg interrupts purposely dramatic, “What did you find out?”

“Ah, well they said they’d let me know.  Couldn’t really get more out of them, but they gave me permission to stay overnight here with her if we don’t hear anything today about transferring.”

“Okay, well, are you sure you’re okay if we head back to the estate? We can see if David and Dwight want to stay behind, too,” Meg asks, glancing over at Evan to gauge his reaction.

“Them? They’re too busy foolin’ around like a couple of horny teenagers.  Wouldn’t make a difference if they were here or with you kids,” Ace scoffs.  “I think we should be fine, and I’ll make sure we can get somewhere tomorrow.”

“Are you sure? We don’t know what the Doctor has planned, if anything.”

“And that’s something we can handle if he decides to do anything.  There’s not much he can do while we are right next to the nurses station.  I’ll be fine, honey.  All y’all didn’t need to stay here for my sake in the first place,” Kate inputs, putting on a brave face even though she’s the one stuck in bed with a killer walking around the hospital around her.

Not wanting to argue or discourage them in any way, Meg nods, although she is still unsure about leaving them altogether.  But Evan is right, and the safest place for the rest of them to be is away from here, she hopes.

“Okay, Ace you still have the phone, right?” Meg asks, giving Kate’s hand one last squeeze before standing up.  Quickly reaching into his pocket, Ace dangles the phone Meg gave him before sticking back in his pocket and giving it a pat.  “Keep us updated.”

“Didn’t we just have this conversation? We will be fine, promise, Firecracker.  Now you kids get outta here and I’ll let you know on what I hear,” Ace says, taking the seat beside the bed that Meg was sitting in. 

Meg nods and with a smile, she turns around and follows Evan, who seems to have the same plan, out of the room. 

“That was easy,” Meg comments, surprised that Ace and Kate were so receptive to being left alone even with the Doctor around.  But she guesses that they did make a good point that they will be surrounded by people, and if they are vigilant, she knows they’ll be okay. 

“She’s a tough one,” Evan comments as soon as they begin the trek outside of the hospital once more.  “Well, all of you are.  Truly.  I’ve never met tougher people in my life.”

“I guess we just learned that we had to be.  There was no other option,” Meg replies.  After all, being in the realm and going through those trials weren’t easy by any means, and if you weren’t tough, or strong, there was no way they could survive.  They weren’t sure what would happen if they gave up, but somehow they all knew it wasn’t good. 

“That is fair, but even outside of there, and being here, all of you continue to be tough, and I really admire that about you and your friends, especially you though,” Evan says softly while brushing his fingers against the back of her hand before taking it within his grasp. 

As much as Meg appreciates the sentiment as she squeezes Evan’s hand gently, she isn’t sure if she could even compare to her friends, but she isn’t going to argue.  Not right now when she is just tired, and appreciative of a compliment wherever it comes from.  “Well, I don’t know how much I compare, but thank you.  I think all of us needed to quickly learn some sort of bravery in the realm, even you, and it shows.  We’ve been through Hell and back.”

“Me? No,” Evan scoffs.  “My time there was mostly cowardice, protecting myself from more pain and torture that I fully deserved, but you…your friends…for all of you to remain so…human is incredible.”

“Human? I mean, you’re human too,” Meg laughs quietly, not quite understanding what he’s saying.

“No, no I’m not.  Or at least I wasn’t.  But along the way, and even now, you and your friends can joke around, laugh, act like nothing has happened.  It is evident that all of you held onto some semblance of humanity through the most inhumane circumstances,” Evan pauses and takes a deep breath before giving her hand another squeeze as they finally reach the hospital front doors leading back outside.  “That takes courage and hope, way more  than I could ever imagine.  You are truly incredible.”

“I mean…” Meg starts, wanting to fight him while not feeling quite like the hero he is making her out to be.  She lived because that’s all she could do.  She never felt brave or courageous or any other positive word.  She was stuck, and even if she felt depressed and hopeless, she doesn’t even know if that would have changed anything at all.  “As much as I appreciate how you look at me and my friends, I don’t think that it is well-deserved.  We did what we had to, not because we are strong or anything.  It was just…our lives.  We were in Hell, and we did all we could.  I don’t think it takes much bravery when there’s no other choice.”

Meg lets go of his hand to rifle through her pocket for her phone, finally trying to fiddle with the app on her phone to call another car to bring them back to the hotel.

“I don’t believe that,” Evan continues as they wait.  “You could have given up, could have stopped fighting.  Either way, you were living terrible lives, but you kept fighting, and the way I see all of you interact now, there is emotion there that I haven’t seen in over a century.  You may think what you want, but I will be here impressed by how incredibly strong you have been and still are.”

“Well, we could talk about the flip-side of that,” Meg says, raising her eyebrow.  “You lived a life you clearly didn’t want to live within the realm, and yet here you are, completely, surprisingly, normal, unlike the rest of the killers we’ve seen this last week.”

“That has nothing to do with any sort of bravery-“

“But it shows how you are, and how strong you are to hold onto some humanity when the Entity tried nothing more than to push it out of you.  If I’m strong, so are you, Evan.  I don’t get the same feeling from you that I felt with Jed or the Clown or the Doctor.”

“Which is surprising.”

“Stop it,” Meg says, smacking his arm gently.  “I’m serious.  You may have not done…great things in your lifetime that lead you to the Entity, but you’re not the Trapper, at least that’s nothing like I’ve seen so far.”

Evan doesn’t argue with her and doesn’t say anything as their hands find each others again, interlocking as David, Dwight, and Feng finally meet them outside, chatting amongst themselves as they wait for the van to pick them up and take them back to the hotel to pick up Nea and Claudette.

Meg and Evan don’t say much after their conversation earlier, but Meg’s face still can’t stop radiating red heat at his words that she can’t stop thinking about. 

Strong.

Yes they were strong because they had to be, but as each day passes, she doesn’t know how strong she really has been.  She has just been doing what she needs to, but for Evan to think it is something more than mere obligation is a nice reassurance. 

A few minutes pass and a small grey van pulls up, eyeing the group suspiciously with their dirty torn clothes and exhausted demeanors.  The driver shrugs and with a few confirmations that he was there to pick them up, the group climbs in, and after a quick car ride, they reach the hotel faster than Meg expected. 

Quickly getting out, Meg gets Nea and Claudette, explaining the situation to them as best as she can while trying not to let her nerves take over or sound too frazzled.  Nothing has happened yet.

But they just need to leave.

“Ace is trying to see if Kate can be transferred, or if he can just stay at the hospital, keep an eye on things.  Nothing can really happen while they’re there, we hope,” Meg finishes telling them as they walk out of the hotel.

“I guess.  Were there a lot of people around? Like would there be any chance that…what was his name? Herman? What kind of name is Herman? Nevermind-“ Nea shakes her head, getting her mind back on track.  “The Doctor would maybe even impersonate another doctor? Be able to get into her room?”

Meg shakes her head and shrugs her shoulders, completely unsure and while leaving isn’t the best idea, staying would be just as bad for everyone.  “I hope not.  There were a lot of people around, and I bet Ace can get her transferred,” Meg begins before laughing.  “You should have seen how he was talking to those poor nurses.  Trying to use his charm to get what he wanted.”

Nea lets out a laugh at that.  “That is true.  He’ll convince them, or he’ll just annoy them enough that they’ll give in if that just gets him away from them.”

Meg nods, agreeing completely as they get back in the van that waited for them outside, and with that, they are off back to the ferry in a tense silence filled with the unknown circumstances that are surrounding them once more.

With Meg’s nerves raging inside her, both the car and ferry ride are relatively fast, going by in a blur.  While on the ferry though, Meg begins to constantly look around and over her shoulder, the hairs on her neck standing up on end feeling like she is being watched, but no matter how many times she looks around, she doesn’t see anyone she knows other than her friends.

As much as she wants to say she is just being paranoid, the picture on her phone of Jed on the ferry with them appears in her mind until she is gripping Evan’s hand so tight, she thinks she is cutting off the blood supply, but he doesn’t say anything.  He lets her hold onto him with all of her might, and she is grateful. 

Once the ferry docks and Meg works the app to get a van to pick them up, they wait for the car to bring them back home, back to safety, and Meg feels like she can’t get there fast enough. 

No one says much during the journey, everyone seemingly concentrating on themselves, other than David and Dwight that stay huddled up whispering to each other quietly once in awhile.  Claudette and Nea occasionally answer yes or no questions the driver asks to make conversation, but after awhile, even the poor driver gets the hint and stops talking, letting everyone sit in silence for the remainder of the ride. 

Soon they begin to pass familiar places like the small bank they sold Evan’s gold to, the grocery store that finally broke some barrier between them, the park Meg fell asleep at, it all seems like too much as she grips Evan’s hand in hers, not knowing how important it would feel to know that he is with her now.

He squeezes her hand back with just as much force that still sends chills up Meg’s back as the car approaches the woods.

“You can let us out here,” Meg speaks up when she sees the familiar overgrown dirt path. 

“Here? You sure?” the driver asks, slowing down despite the worried expression on his face. 

“Yeah, this is fine.”

As the car comes to a stop, Meg and Evan wait for her friends to climb out first before they clamor out of the van from the backseat, and once they close the door, the van speeds off, not even waiting for them to start walking before disappearing into the night.

“This is cozy,” Nea mutters looking around at the trees that Meg and Evan begin to walk in without a second thought.

At some point in the walk, Meg and Evan must have slowed down, not in any particular hurry to get back as the other survivors passed them on the walk, following the path and getting annoyed by their slow pace.

They didn’t mind though as they walk; it was nice, just enjoying the night air and the feeling that maybe they were alone in these woods, for once.  The feeling of security that flows around them is clearer than ever and Meg feels like she can finally breathe.

As the trees begin to thin and the moonlight grows brighter, Meg knows they are getting close.  She shuffles just a little bit closer to Evan, thinking about how they were when they left, walking this same path just a few days ago. 

But so much has changed.

Everything has changed.

Meg smiles to herself as she holds onto Evan’s hand for all that she is worth, him stepping closer to her as the house comes into view through the trees.

Thinking about the same walk they had getting Nea and David, she teased him, a lot, since he had just tried food that seemed so normal to Meg, and they walked with distance between them, awkward tension in the air that mixed with uncertainty and the unknown.

Now…now they are closer than ever, and with every step, she shuffles just a little bit closer, as does he, making sure they aren’t apart, and as much as it still feels strange, foreign, Meg wouldn’t change it for the world.

With him by her side, he gives her peace, which is something that even makes her laugh when she says those words to herself, but overall, Meg doesn’t feel so alone. 

She just hopes that maybe she’s making him feel just a little bit safer too, in any way that she can, not that she could ever protect him physically, but maybe…

Maybe just calming his mind and getting to know him, having him open up will make all the difference.

Glancing up at Evan, she wonders so many things about him, and so many questions crop up as the house comes into view.

She wants to know about his life, about his family, about him.

They haven’t had much time to talk about things that didn’t pertain to the trials or their lives stuck in that hellhole, and she wants to know simple things.

Now that they’re back, she just hopes that they’ll have time now to relax, rest, plan, and start to get to know each other more after a decade of being around each other without exchanging a single word.

“Hey Evan?” Meg says suddenly.

He squeezes her hand and looks down at her through the corner of his eye, waiting for whatever she is going to say next.

“What’s your favorite color?” She continues asking.  Even the simplest things she finds herself wanting to know.

Without hesitation Evan answers, “Red.  Like your hair,” he clears his throat, fumbling slightly.  “It has always been a favorite color of mine.  It reminds me of sunsets.”

Meg feels heat rise to her cheeks at his comment about her hair.

“Why sunsets?” She asks, consciously changing the subject away from her hair. 

“My mother and I would stay up and watch the sunsets together,” Evan answers almost immediately.  “It was the only time my father would be holed up in his study, and we could be left alone.  There were very few times we were able to, or that I remember, but the times we did watch, I remember quite vividly.”

Meg smiles.  “That sounds really nice, actually.  I was always more of a sunrise type of girl, myself.”

“Well, there is a ladder that leads up to the roof.  I was surprised you hadn’t found it in your snooping of my house,” Evan says, a smirk appearing on his face as they walk.

“Hey, I wasn’t snooping.  Not much anyway,” Meg defends herself.  “But, if there is a ladder to the roof, you can’t keep that from me now.”

“Did you want to go up there?”

“What? Like now?” Meg asks, her eyebrows high on her forehead.

Evan nods, his eyes crinkle on the sides as he smiles. 

At that moment, they both turn and see Meg’s friends all standing around the yard, still far enough away from the main house as to not want to go inside, but unsure of where else to go. 

“I suppose we should get them settled first.”

“Are there enough rooms in the house?” Meg asks, sure there probably are with the sheer size of it, but still not positive.  Honestly, she hadn’t explored it as much as she wanted while she was here, only seeing the downstairs area as well as the bedroom upstairs that she slept in one night.  She never even went into Evan’s old bedroom.

“Yes, but we also have a separate area where miners could come and stay should they have two or more shifts in a row and needed sleep.  There are small rooms, a bathroom, all the essentials.  It is up to your friends what they’re comfortable with.”

“Well,”Meg pauses, thinking about what they’d like the most, until another idea comes to mind. “Go ask them.”

“Me?” Evan practically coughs out.

“Yes, you.” Meg laughs, smacking him on the arm gently.  “Come on, we all need to figure we are on the same side.  Plus you saw how they reacted when you apologized, I think they just need to hear from you more, so go ask them yourself.”

Evan looks at Meg, hunched over slightly, a frown replacing his cheerful smile from a few minutes ago as he glances over at the group of survivors and back at Meg. 

“Fine.”

With a smile Meg pulls him along, fully aware that they are still holding hands despite being in front of five of her friends.

But by this point, she couldn’t care less.  They are back at the estate, safe for now, with Ace and Kate following them there soon, hopefully, and with the amount of people that have caught them being close these last few days, the thought of her friends seeing them hold hands is the farthest from her mind.

She just doesn’t want to let go.

“So, I guess we have a few different options where you guys want to stay since the estate is pretty big,” Meg starts, letting Evan take the lead after her.

“There is the main house that has a few rooms, or we have a private section of small rooms a bit across the property.  It is secluded-“

“I can go there,” David interrupts, not bothering to hear what else Evan had to say.  “It’ll be nice to have some peace and quiet, right?” He looks over at Dwight with an eyebrow raised.  “Right?”

“Oh-oh yeah.  That does sound nice.  I guess I’ll go over there too,” Dwight agrees, nodding his head that only makes Meg smirk in response. 

“I’ll stay there too,” Feng says, crossing her arms and looking at the ground away from everyone.  “I still don’t trust…everything here.”

David and Dwight exchange a look before David very dramatically rolls his eyes and frowns, but doesn’t say anything.

“You guys can have the small rooms, where are the big rooms at? I heard from Meg at one point there’s a fireplace? I want to be there,” Nea answers.

“Yeah, that sounds nice, actually.  I don’t really want to be far from everybody,” Claudette agrees.

“Alright, well just continue down the path and you should find the rooms.  I don’t know the condition of them, haven’t gone and looked, but if they’re bad, you can come back here,” Evan says, gesturing down around the house with one hand. 

“Got it,” David mumbles, already turning on his heels and walking in the direction Evan pointed without a second thought.  Dwight looks between Evan and David before nodding his head.

“Thank you,” he smiles, turning to follow David before hesitating and looking at Feng.  “Are you coming?”

Feng, still looking anywhere but at the survivors finally looks up and nods, following Dwight, leaving Evan, Meg, Nea, and Claudette to go inside the house.

As it was before, Evan leads the way with Meg behind him, pushing open the door, the condition of the house looking exactly the same as it did when they left, but somehow it feels a lot more like coming home, somewhere familiar. 

Maybe home is a bit of a stretch, Meg knows this, but it is familiar, and with her changed perception of the man that is now waving for Claudette and Nea to follow him as he takes them of a small tour of the house, she can’t help but be warmed by the old presence of the home.

“This is the living room, kitchen, dining room…” she hears him mumble to her friends like he did when they first got there what seems like weeks ago.  “That’s the study, don’t go in there.”

Meg smiles when she hears Nea scoff immediately.  “Why not?”

There is silence and she can imagine Evan sighing and closing his eyes so vividly, she wouldn’t be surprised if that is what he was doing from the other room.  Within the silence, Meg decides to go and join them on their tour and as she turns the corner, a laugh erupts from her when she sees Evan pinching the bridge of his nose and shaking his head just like she imagined.

“Why must you survivors be so stubborn? All of you,” he mutters as Nea lets out a loud laugh, which was quite the opposite of what Meg did when she was told not to go in.

“Come on Nea, this is his house.  If he is being gracious enough to let us stay, we should respect his boundaries,” Claudette speaks up.

Evan’s eyes fly open as he looks at Claudette.  “Thank you,” he says, his words sounding genuine. 

“Thank you for letting us stay.  Although I am not the most…” she hesitates, holding her left arm against her, “comfortable being here…after everything, I appreciate the shelter.  This is hard for us, and this must be hard for you, so thank you.”

As Evan stares at her, his mouth falling open just slightly at the genuine kindness of Claudette, Meg’s chest begins to swell with happiness.

She hasn’t seen much of Claudette these last few days, and for her to speak up and begin to show the old Claud, is enough to make Meg want to run over and throw her arms around her, happy that she is okay.

But she doesn’t; She watches as Claudette speaks to Evan as though he were any other person, and it is incredible, really.  If not a little amusing the way Evan’s face flurries through about five different emotions in a matter of seconds, not sure how to react to Claudette’s kindness before he realizes Meg is standing there and looks at her as if to say ‘help me’.

“Come on, Claud.  You’ve petrified the poor guy.  Just show us to our rooms and we will get out of your hair…well,” Nea catches herself with a snort.  “We will leave you two alone.” Nea flashes a glance at Meg who only rolls her eyes at Nea’s comment, knowing full well what she is insinuating. 

If Evan had the capacity to blush, Meg thinks that this would be the time his face would turn all shades of red, but instead he clears his throat and puts on his serious face, his own sort of mask, as he nods and turns without a single word, beckoning them to follow up the stairs.

Taking a few steps faster, Meg catches up to Nea and shoves her with her elbow before shaking her head, amused at the comments Nea said that managed to somehow lead Evan to not saying a word.

Out of all the times Meg and Evan have gotten into arguments, or bantering as friends, she has never seen him so at a loss for words as he was standing in that hallway, and of course leave it to Claudette and Nea to do that to him.

She can only smile though, knowing that it is possible and it is nice to know that maybe her friends are coming around to the idea that Evan is on their side, not that they needed a lot of convincing now.

And now that they are all staying in this house for some indefinite amount of time until…

Well, until what? Meg doesn’t know for sure, but she knows they will be here for awhile, and she’s happy to see that there won’t be as much tension as she thought.

Evan shows Nea to one room and Claudette to another - one with a lot of books.  Just a few days ago she was following him around this house just the same, feeling trapped, awkward, and all around stuck, and now, she knows she is right where she should be, and somehow with most of her friends by her side.

For a moment she wonders about the others she hasn’t found yet: Yui, Jane, Adam, Ash, Jeff, and all the others…

There are eight of them together now, but there were so many other survivors, and with the number of killers around them increasing, she wonders if they’re out there somewhere too.

Are they around here? What makes this place so special as to have everyone within fifty miles of each other in small towns in Washington State?

Swallowing brewing questions that make Meg’s head pound uncomfortably, she puts them away for a later time, maybe a time she can discuss with her friends, but right now as Claudette thanks Evan again and shuts her door, she is alone with him once more, and a warmness flows through her chest and down to her fingertips as she buzzes with excitement.

“So, now the roof,” she says, jumping up on her toes excited to watch the sunset.  It reminds her of the times she would climb on the roof of her and her mom’s old single level home, but this house is huge, and to get a vantage point so high is exciting to her.

Evan only smiles down at Meg and crosses his arms.  “Well that’s no way to ask nicely,” he teases.

“I have watched you give two tours of this house, and not once did you ever mention a ladder to the roof.  Either take me to the roof, or I want a new tour guide,” Meg says, crossing her arms mirroring him with a smile.

“Seeing as I’m the only one available, I suppose I can take you,” Evan says, turning and gesturing his head to follow.

Meg’s chest tingles as she follows, feeling like this moment is strangely intimate as he leads her to a room down the hall with a small looking hatch on the ceiling and a ladder carved into the wall. 

After a few tries, Evan gets the hatch open and waves for Meg to go up.

“You want me to try that ladder first? The centuries old ladder that hasn’t been used for a few lifetimes?” Meg asks, gawking at him.

“I’ll be here to catch you if it breaks, unless you feel you can catch me instead.”

That thought alone makes Meg bark out a laugh and for a moment, she has to stop and think about what is happening.

He seems very cheerful, which isn’t like Evan, not one bit, but who is she to complain that he seems strangely happy?

Hasn’t she felt the same way ever since they stepped foot back into the house? She has admitted as much to herself, but to her it is because this seems safer, away from Jed Olsen or Herman or death or decay or…anything negative. 

For Evan though, now there are people here who hate him, and he made it pretty clear that this house holds no precious memories for him, so the fact that he seems just as content as Meg is a mystery, one that she thinks she knows the answer to, but won’t say.

“Okay so,” she begins, grabbing the first rung of the latter, “promise you won’t let me fall and crack my head open?”

“I promise.”

With a deep breath, Meg takes the ladder up, and due to her injured arm and stiff hips, the climb is slightly awkward but thankfully with only a few creaks and groans from the house and from her own bones, she makes it up safely as a gentle breeze whips through her hair. 

They aren’t at the highest point of the roof, but this is less slanted than the other section so Meg can stand comfortably, not feeling like she is going to lose her balance as she looks around, the view taking her breath away.

She didn’t think it would be much with the amount of trees surrounding the area, but from up here, the tree line looks distant and far as she can see the tops of the trees stretch on, meeting the sunsetting on the horizon. 

She can’t see the town on the other side, the view isn’t that tall, but the way the sun melts into the trees makes her feel like the house is far from any civilization, anything to bother them or harm them, and she can’t help her mouth fall open at the view of it all.

Wow.

The sky is shades of pink and red, with brighter red cloud wisps in the sky, and as much as Meg says she loves sunrises with the hues of purple and orange, this is just as spectacular.

Meg hears the creak of the ladder as Evan comes up to join her, taking a seat beside where she stands, not that it makes much of a difference with his height. He comes up to her chest sitting beside her as she stands, gawking at the magnificence of what she sees.

“This is one of the reasons why red is my favorite color,” Evan speaks up, looking just as lost in thought as Meg peels her eyes away from the sunset and looks at him.  The amused look he had on his face with his smirk and mischievous eyes is replaced by a small frown, and his brow furrowed just a bit, a look Meg often sees on him, as he stares forward.

“And what’re the other reasons?” She finds herself asking, finally taking a seat beside him and staring out into the sunset. 

Silence fills the air around them for a few moments and Meg thinks he isn’t going to answer, until he speaks up, though not answering her question right away.

“Do you want to know what I first thought the very first time you appeared in a trial with me?” Evan asks, and Meg’s initial instinct is to say no, not ruin the moment, don’t bring her back to the trials.

But she can’t bring herself to say no, not right away, as she swallows a growing lump in her throat.  Does she want to know? She knows now that Evan, as well as the other killers do have mind and brains and thoughts of their own, but knowing they had opinions even during trials feels weird, foreign, like it’s breaking every single rule that Meg thought she knew about the trials.

“Sure, but don’t ask what I thought of you.  I don’t think you’d like it,” Meg says, trying to make light of the sudden heavy topic Evan brought up.  The sun sets more, making the sky turn a shade of dark maroon.

“I wouldn’t expect any less,” Evan says with a quiet chuckle before continuing.  “But the very first thing I thought about was your hair.  The color.  I had never seen anything quite like it.”

“What? There were no red heads back in your time?” Meg asks, calling him out on whatever bluff he’s saying.

He smiles and looks at her through the corner of his eye.  “There were red heads but your hair is…” he pauses.  “It’s quite beautiful.”

“Oh,” the smile on Meg’s face from teasing him fades as she feels her cheeks burn and turn the same shade as her hair.  “Thank you.”

“Of course.”

There is a beat of silence that almost suffocates Meg so she decides to speak, fill the empty space that seems too heavy all of a sudden.

“I used to hate my hair, actually.  Not that I hated it myself, but I used to be teased about it when I was younger.  Blamed my mom for it, of course.  She had the same color hair as me and…” Meg blinks back a few tears that sting her eyes bringing up her mom.  “But now I think about her a lot when I see my hair.  It feels like a connection, no matter how small.”

Evan takes this opportunity to lean back just a little bit and rest his arm around Meg’s waist, pulling her closer to him gently.  Willingly, she scoots closer until their bodies are touching, side-by-side, and slowly, Meg leans her head on Evan’s arm.  Between the feeling of him beside her, and the setting sun, exhaustion slowly starts creeping through Meg’s bones.

“I would thank her myself for giving you such lovely hair if I could,” Evan speaks up quietly.

“Thanks,” Meg laughs, the absurdity of the statement being enough to distract the sadness that threatened to pool over at the loss of her mom.

The thought alone of Evan and her mom meeting is enough to make her laugh.  What a strange colliding of worlds, of times, of…everything, and as much as Evan has become important to her, she doesn’t know if that is something she would ever want.

She is a different person now, a completely different person than she was when she last saw her mom, and although Meg knows now that it isn’t Evan’s doing, he was a part of all the horrible things that happened to her, and to ever think of the three of them sitting around her mom’s small living room, talking, getting to know each other…

Her brain can hardly comprehend such a thing, so she quickly tries to think of something else, anything else. 

And for some reason, her mind wanders to the house in Chimacum, the dark dank dirty house with three bedrooms upstairs that Nea thinks were only two…

“I have a question,” Meg breaks the silence once more, changing the subject to a question that had been on her mind, had they not have had to go to the hospital before she could ask.

He hums in acknowledgement, an indication to go on.

“This seems…random, I know.  But, do you remember how many rooms were upstairs in that house back in Chimacum? Where…” her throat closes as her breath hitches, not wanting to take her back to the way Jeffrey, the Clown groped and touched her and made her feel so violated… “Where we found my friends?” she settles on saying.

Evan looks away from her scowling and she can practically see the gears in his brain look for an answer.  “I…I wasn’t paying too much attention to the rooms, but I would guess at least three.”

“There were three? Are you sure?” Meg’s heart leaps into her throat with the confirmation she needed.

“Why?”

“Please, just, you know there were at least three?”

Evan’s scowl somehow deepens on his face, lost in thought, slowly nodding as he continues like he wants to get all the details right.  “There was the one you were in, the one across the hall and…yes there was another one at the end of the hall.”

“That’s what I thought, but Nea was trying to tell me yesterday there wasn’t another room and I…Evan, she’s my best friend and I don’t know why she would lie, but there were three rooms.  I know it.”

“That’s odd,” Evan hums, looking back to the now darkened sky.  “I’m positive that there were clearly three.”

“Odd,” Meg repeats slowly.  By now it is pretty much completely dark as the sun finally set, and it casts a cold chill in the air around them.  With a shiver Meg sighs, both comforted by Evan’s confirmation but unsettled with not knowing why Nea would lie, or only see two rooms.

But then again, it was hectic and there was so much going on, maybe she didn’t bother to check the other room, or didn’t see it.

Yes.

That has to be it, Meg tells herself.  She can’t let herself think anything else.

“It is getting late,” Evan comments looking around once before looking over at Meg.  “I think I’m about ready to get to sleep.”

“Same,” Meg sighs.  “It’s been an exhausting few days.  It’ll be nice to just sleep.”

With that, Evan stands up first and holds out a hand, gently helping Meg so she is standing beside him, and with one last look around the darkness, she lets Evan guide her back to the small door and helps her down before climbing down himself. 

As they walk down the hallway, Meg’s room comes up first and as she slows down, she can’t help but try to quiet the feelings of disappointment that brew in her stomach.  Almost as though Evan reads her mind, he slows down with her until they are both standing outside of her room, motionless.

“Thank you for showing me that.  Now I get why you’d want to be up there all the time.  That was gorgeous, I can’t even begin to imagine being able to see that every day? Like…wow!” Meg starts rambling, overcome with just how freeing it felt to be up there, the feelings not quite hitting her until now. 

When she came from a place where all she was was trapped, no matter what she did, being able to feel like she was on top of the world meant everything to her. 

“I really can’t wait to see a sunrise from up there,” she mumbles mostly to herself, smiling up at Evan.

“You’re more than welcome up there anytime,” Evan responds, lifting up a hand and tucking a stray hair behind Meg’s face, his fingers lingering on her cheek.  That very act has become almost normal for them, but it still sends shivers down Meg’s back just like it did the first time. 

Meg stands in the doorway as Evan takes a step forward, too close, always too close.  She looks up at him, her blue eyes searching his for something, some answer to what is happening.  She doesn’t find it, but as she is about to turn around and go in her room, he caresses her cheek, drawing small circles along her skin.

“I’m thinking we could go back up there in the morning? We should still have some of those donuts left in the cupboard downstairs if Nea doesn’t find them during the night,” Meg whispers through raging nerves, leaning into Evan’s hand, cupping it within her own.

“We?”

“Well duh.  We can make some coffee and have donuts and go up there.  That is if you wake up early enough,” Meg suggests, poking his upper arm. 

“That sounds pleasant.  I suppose I can make time for that.”

“Just don’t oversleep.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Evan finishes, finally taking his hand away from her face and takes a step back.  “I should let you get some rest though.”

Meg’s smile fades, her body missing the closeness of him but she knows he’s right.  It’s late, and they should get some sleep.  She almost asks him to stay, but for some reason she can’t bring herself to say it, despite the fact that they did share a room, and a bed, last night, but here, in his house?

She misses the opportunity and figures she should try to get some sleep on her own.  After all she hasn’t had any alone time to herself in what seems like weeks now. 

“Goodnight, Evan,” she says.

“Goodnight, Meg.” He smiles down at her, a smile she is beginning to realize she really quite likes…

And with that, she slowly closes the door and looks around the dusty room.  Nothing has changed, much like the rest of the house, but sudden nerves and anxiety crash into her like a tidal wave as she grips her chest, trying to calm her suddenly racing heart.

The bed is still unmade, dusty, and the rising moon starts to cast odd shadows around the room, and as much as she is happy to be back, the thought of being in here alone is almost too much for her.  Before she can think, she swings around and opens her door, seeing Evan still on the other side facing her like he didn’t want to leave her as much as she didn’t want to leave him.

“You…you can come to my room, if you want,” he mumbles, uncertainty straining his voice. 

Does she want to?

Yes.

Should she?

She doesn’t even have to think about it as she nods and grabs his hand, already leading the way further down the hall with Evan right behind her.  All she knows is that she liked sleeping next to him, even after only doing it once, and it gave her a sense of security, of comfort that she has long since felt and she wants it back.

She wants to be next to him. 

Maybe it was time for her to admit that there are deeper more…complicated feelings for him that she feels, but mentally shaking her head to herself, she thinks that is for her to think about another time.  She just wants to sleep and she wants Evan by her side.

Once they reach his room, she lets him go in first, opening the door for her to come in, and after they’re both in there, the air seems to somehow get thicker, more dense as Meg looks around, seeing the bed and suddenly feeling just as self-conscious as she did back at the hotel despite this time both of them agreeing to sleeping in the same bed. 

Evan crosses the room and opens a dark wardrobe on the wall opposite of her pulling out a couple of shirts and pants. When he turns around, he looks just as lost in thought as Meg feels, staring at the clothes and then back at Meg almost like he forgot she was there somehow.

Clearing his throat he closes the distance between the two of them and holds out a pair of pants and a shirt.

“I figured the clothes we’re wearing now have seen better days, and you may want to change before bed.  I’ll go change in the other room,” Evan says, not giving Meg a chance to say anything either way before he walks out of the room, leaving Meg alone once more.  Although his hasty exit wasn’t quite what Meg was expecting, it definitely is a nice thought to get to change into something that hasn’t been soiled with sweat and dirt and blood.

It also gives her a chance to look around the room without Evan standing there, so she quickly peels off her old clothes and bunches them up in a rather large bundle and slips on the “fresh” clothes.  As old and dusty as they smell, anything is better than what she has been wearing at least.  The clothes are just the same, too big for her and nearly fall off, but she doesn’t mind the comfort it brings.

Tying her shirt, and cuffing her pants, she takes in a deep breath finally looking around the room, taking in her surroundings.  Everything looks almost the same as her room she slept in, seeing a large four poster bed, a few bookcases, a wardrobe, and a large window on the opposite side of the wall, but as the light shines in, a small glass frame on a table catches her eye. 

She walks over and picks up the picture, curious as to what it could be or what could be so important to keep in his room, and is surprised to see two men, probably father and son with the way they look so much alike, standing side-by-side. 

Before she can really look, there is a knock on the door followed by Evan’s voice, “Can I come in?”

“Yeah, I’m decent,” Meg answers with a smile as the door opens.  She goes back to looking at the picture as he comes in and stops a few feet from her, and now that she can get a good look at the son…

“Wait…is this you?” Meg asks, her mouth open in shock.  “How is that even possible?”

“What?” Evan asks, taking a step towards her before realizing what she was looking at.

“You were so small…you had so much hair…”

Evan frowns and snatches the picture away from Meg’s grip.  “Don’t rub it in.”

He stares at the picture for a moment before throwing it in the trash bin beside the table.  The piercing sound of shattering glass bounces off the walls as Meg looks between Evan and the trash.  She knows his anger isn’t directed at her, not one bit, but she can’t ignore the feelings of guilt that she pointed out the picture when he maybe even forgotten about it himself. 

“Evan…” Meg sighs, walking over to him and putting a small hand on his forearm getting his attention directed towards her again.  “Okay, I probably shouldn’t have pointed out the picture.  You had it in here for a reason and-”

“Complicated reasons,” Evan interrupts her as he rests a hand on her shoulder, brushing her hair gently onto her back while continuing, his voice softer now,  “but I don’t need it anymore.  I don’t need to be reminded of him, not now.”

“So I guess you’re stuck with me for company without that picture there,” Meg jokes.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Evan says, gently running his thumb on her shoulders, soothing every bit of nerves she has by being in here. 

The two share a moment just looking at each other before walking towards the bed almost in sync.  Meg is the first to crawl in, her body aching to lay down, as Evan sits down on the bed beside her almost as though he’s worried she is going to change her mind at any moment.

She won’t though, she knows that, but Evan simply sits there, looking down at Meg as she lays on her back staring up at him as he raises a hand and brushes hair off her bruised shoulder that peaks out of her shirt.

“I’m so sorry this happened,” he whispers, his deep voice cracking slightly from just how quiet he talks. 

“It’s okay.  It wasn’t your fault-“

“I should have been there,” he interrupts, taking a knuckle and gently drawing a line from her shoulder to her neck with the back of his finger right over her pulse point.  If he pressed down, she knows he would be able to feel her pulse pick up as she tries to put on a reassuring smile on her face.

“You did everything you could, okay?” She reaches up and grabs his hand.  She tells herself it’s to prevent him from feeling just how fast her heart is racing, but she knows it is because she just wants him close.  “We are okay now, right?”

He is silent for a moment too long; a moment that Meg won’t allow to last any longer.

“Right?” She repeats, more insistent this time as she squeezes his hand.  “You said it yourself, we are safe here.  You fought me tooth and nail about that, you can’t go taking it back now.”

This makes Evan’s small frown straighten out as his eyes meet hers. 

“I would never hear the end of it, would I?”

“Nope.”

The side of Evan’s mouth tugs into a crooked smile as he brings Meg’s fingers up to his face, his lips.  He doesn’t kiss them, but she feels how smooth his lips are against the back of her hand as he blinks, letting his eyes stay closed for a few seconds before lowering her hand and raising his legs onto the bed, finally laying down next to her.

As Evan is fully on the bed, he doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arm around Meg’s waist and pull her closer to him, not roughly, but there was a sense of possessiveness that made Meg let out an involuntary quiet gasp as he pulled her to him.

Usually he was always hesitant, hovering his hand or arm above her before committing to grabbing her hand, but this was something completely different, and she would be lying if she said she didn’t sort of enjoy it.  At first she appreciated the hesitation, him giving her the option to say no, to move away, but now, after everything, she’s glad that he knows his touch is okay, welcomed. 

As they both settle deeper into the lumpy mattress, Meg leans forward resting the top of her forehead against Evan’s chest, inhaling deep letting his smell fill her senses.  He smells like sweat and trees but overall, it is so undeniably him, and that alone has become comforting.  She remembers a time not too long ago where he smelled like blood and metal and death…but that wasn’t Evan.

That was the Trapper, someone who is dead, and this is Evan.

  As she inhales deep, Evan lazily runs his fingers on her back, tracing long lines along her spine that sends pleasant shivers through Meg’s whole body as they lay there together, the world far away from the two of them.

“I will keep you safe, Meg Thomas, even if it’s the last thing I do,” Evan says softly, his voice vibrating deep in his chest that she feels while leaning against him.  The sound of her full name coming from him is different, and if she thinks back, she thinks it’s the first time he has ever said her last name out loud. 

She doesn’t even remember telling him her last name…

But she doesn’t dwell on that, not one bit, as she inches closer, wanting to melt into his body and his warmth and closes her eyes. 

She meant to reply, meant to say something, but the pure happiness she felt in that moment was almost too much as she quickly falls asleep, wrapped up tightly in the arms of someone she used to want to get away from, and now never wants to leave.

 

 

The next week goes by without any incident, with much anxiety to the survivors and Evan.  At every turn, every second, every moment they wake up, they all expect something to be wrong, someone to be gone, or someone waiting to kill them. 

It is an odd sensation to wake up and realize that no, actually, everything is okay, everyone is alive, and as far as Meg is concerned, no one is around to kill them…yet.

The ever looming threat of Ghostface and now, Herman, the Doctor, is on her mind, but with each passing day, the thought of them somehow flows farther and farther, and no one dares to bring them up like a curse.  If they forget about them, maybe the threat will go away, maybe they won’t have to worry, and maybe they can just move on.  Multiple times, Meg is tempted to bring up Herman and why Evan hates him as much as he does, but as the days pass, she never finds a good time, not wanting to ruin the facade that everything is okay, and she knows she can always find another time to ask later.

She tries to rationalize the increasing relaxation to herself that it’s being at the estate with her friends, outside of the trials, outside of anywhere harmful, and that helps, but she can’t seem to get rid of the quiet buzzing in the back of her mind that as comfortable as they are, something isn’t right.

Being in the trials, the campfire, the realm, it seemed to give them all a sixth sense for danger, as that was essential during their time there, and maybe Meg just doesn’t know how to get rid of the paranoia in the back of her mind, but every day she feels like there are alarms going off in her mind.  Most of the time, they’re quiet, like a distant alarm clock, but other times Meg feels like her whole body is on fire and she needs to run, get somewhere else, get to safety…

But they are safe.  At least that’s what Evan has said, and that’s what her friends say like a mantra reassuring her as much as they’re reassuring themselves. 

It did help when Ace and Kate were able to leave the hospital, with no Herman Carter or Jed Olsen following them, and with some sort of miracle, Kate seemed well enough to be discharged which lifted everyone’s spirits knowing that she is okay and they are all together once more where they all hope will be safe.  After a day or two of tense silences, awkward interactions between the survivors, excluding Meg, and Evan, things begin to shift as the group falls into a sense of normalcy they haven’t felt in years.

Seeing Nea and David sparing in the front yard, Ace and Kate playing poker, and Claudette humming to herself as she plans out a small patch of land that used to be a garden that she could make her own, it all just feels…nice.

Then at the end of the day, Meg and Evan somehow have gotten into a routine, a routine that she never thought she’d ever experience with anyone, let alone Evan.

At around ten o’clock, they both go upstairs, brush their teeth side by side with very old toothbrushes they found - Meg needs to remember to pick up more new ones from the store next trip - and they both go into Evan’s room and curl into his large warm bed side-by-side, fitting against each other like puzzle pieces until they drift off into sleep.

The very real possibility of something happening between her and Evan increases every night that they spend together, his arm wrapped around her waist so tight pulling her against him, as she nuzzles into him, making sure there is no space between them, and sometimes, Meg isn’t sure if she wants something to happen.

The way her friends look at her once they emerge from his room in the morning the few times they’ve been awake before them make her blush and want to ignore their questions, until even their questioning lessens as though it is something totally natural and normal for them.

Meg and Evan.

They’re friends…and Meg feels safe with him, and why would she give that up for anything?

But…now that they sleep in the same room, the same bed, cuddling, never parting, even Meg has to realize that is more than anything she has ever felt with someone.  Even in the day time when they are together, she finds that Evan’s hand is often resting on her thigh, or back, or he has his arm wrapped around her like that is the only natural place for it to be, and sometimes, she reaches out for him, missing the way it feels for his hand to be in hers.

And although this has become something normal for her, for them, she hasn’t let her mind wander completely to the fact of why she likes it so much.

No.

She lets herself pretend it’s normal, it’s natural, for what they’ve been through.  Human touch is a miraculous thing, she tells herself one day, and maybe they are both just that touch starved that having someone else there is comforting enough for them.

But that doesn’t explain how her heart rate picks up when he looks at her from across the room, that small smirk on his face that creates that small dimple in his cheek, or how she finds herself wondering what he’s doing, or how he is when he’s not with her. 

She even began rooting for him in the poker matches between him and Ace - not that she’d ever tell Ace this.  He’d be heartbroken.

So instead of thinking about how Evan makes her feel, and how he should NOT be making her feel that way, or the feelings she doesn’t dare to admit to herself staring right in her face when she goes to sleep every night, she focuses on one of the things that seems to be out of place in this seemingly increasing normal day-to-day life for them. 

It started out small, nothing Meg thought was out of the ordinary but as the day’s passed, she couldn’t help but be concerned.  The only thing in this peaceful life they begin to lead that makes Meg nervous is Feng, and she hates how her stomach churns and her mind starts whirling when she looks at her friend, or at least the person she hopes is still a friend.  They went through so much, and as much as Meg wants to admit it, she isn’t forcing her here, Feng can leave, but she doesn’t want her to.  Not so soon, not after everything.

But…as the days go by and everyone grows more relaxed, Feng only tenses up.  At first she sat with everyone, floated from group to group, seeing if anyone needed help, joined in the conversation when she could, but often there were times that Meg noticed she simply…disappeared.

The first time seemed like a fluke as Meg wanted to ask her something, something about some game she heard Feng talk about once, and the girl was no where to be found, which was odd. 

Meg went around and asked everyone and was only met with a shrug and a sigh, resorting to the possibility that Feng was simply out on her own, as she often was in the realm.  It wasn’t anything different…

But with everything going on, and the fact that they aren’t in the realm made it seem odd to Meg, and as much as Nea and David tried to tell her it was nothing, she didn’t believe it.  So when Feng showed up again, Meg couldn’t help but inquire, ask where she had been.

“Hey, Feng,” Meg called out as soon as she saw her friend emerge from the trees after looking for her for what seemed like hours.  Feng didn’t even seem to notice or hear her as she stared at the ground, wringing her hands in front of her walking more like a zombie than anything.  “Feng?”

There was silence and something immediately didn’t seem right, didn’t feel right, so she ran up to Feng, calling out her name once more and only than did Feng notice her.  Her head flies up as she looks at Meg with wide eyes; eyes filled with questions and panic and fear; eyes they often saw on each other during the trials.

“Feng? What’s wrong?” Meg asked, reaching out to Feng, only to have her flinch away.

“Nothing! It’s nothing.  I’m fine,” Feng stuttered out, swatting Meg away as she continued walking towards the old guest rooms.

“You sure don’t look fine.  Where were you? What happened?” Meg probed, trying to get the girl to tell her where she went.  “I’ve been looking for you for hours now.  We didn’t know you left.”

“I was out.  Can’t I have some time to myself?” she snapped, causing Meg to recoil slightly. 

“Well I’m sorry that I was worried,” Meg snapped back, her tone harsher than she meant.

“You don’t need to be worried about me,” Feng said, her tone a lot less confrontational this time, realizing just how rude she was before.  “I’m sorry.  I’m still just…getting used to things now, I guess.”

The corner of Meg’s mouth pulled up into a sympathetic smile.  “We all are.  I know.  Just…don’t shut us off completely, okay?”

Feng reflected Meg’s smile with one of her own as she nodded, “Okay.  I’ll try.”

But after that encounter days ago, Meg hasn’t even talked to Feng once, or seen her around her friends.  She often sneaks off early in the morning and comes back late at night, but the more Meg harps on it with her friends, the more they try to reassure her that it’s fine.

“She has always been like this.” “She might be looking for a job or something.” “She’ll open up when she’s ready.” Her friends say, so Meg drops it by the sixth day of Feng disappearing during the day, wanting to just enjoy the time she now has in this new world. 

On one particularly sunny day, Meg walks into the kitchen and sees Claudette outside, small planters in hand that they got from the store, and she figures that she is finally going to be starting her garden.  Meg smiles, happy that her friend is feeling better, and although she hasn’t quite opened up about what happened back at that old house in Chimacum, Meg knows her friend will tell her one day, but for now, she’s healing. 

Claudette used to tell stories of her small planters she had growing up with a bunch of flowers, plants, vegetables, and fruit, and they always said they wanted to try and help her start one in the Fog, not that it was even possible, but the thought itself helped.  They were going to have a community garden, and Adam and Claudette would be in charge of it, the two of them being the most knowledgable on how to grow plants and not kill them, unlike most of the other survivors.

They never got to have that garden, and thinking about Adam creates a black tar pit in Meg’s stomach, so she pushes him from her mind as she remembers something else about gardening she almost forgot about.

Diving into some of the kitchen cabinets, she tries to look for the herb starter kits Evan bought from their first trip to the store, remembering that he also wanted to learn how to garden.  This would be such a perfect opportunity for the two of them to get along and for Evan to really talk to Claudette because, after all, who doesn’t like Claudette?

“Can I help you look for something?” Evan asks, his voice cutting through the silence and causing Meg to jump and bump her head on the top of the cabinet she was practically crawling inside at that point.

“What gave it away that I needed help?” Meg asks, backing out of the cabinet and rubbing the back of her head, sheepishly looking at Evan, wanting to surprise him with her idea.

“Intuition,” he responds, a smirk playing across his face. 

“Well if you must know, where did you put those herb kits you got last week?” she asks, standing up, still rubbing the sore spot on her head that throbs and feels warm under her touch.

“I left those outside, near the old garden.  Did you think I’d just put them in the kitchen?” he asks with another laugh.

“No, I was just in the cabinet for fun,” Meg replies rolling her eyes with a smile.  “But I had an idea that I wanted to run by you.”

He raises an eyebrow and waits for her to continue.

“Well, Claudette was always into plants and botany, and she’s been really down lately too with everything, and I was wondering if maybe you both would want to plant those.  I bet she knows how and she could teach you.”

“Oh,” Evan’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead.  “That sounds…nice.  Do you think she would be willing to teach me a thing or two?”

“Of course,” Meg says, already grabbing his hand to pull him outside.  “It’s Claudette.  She loves helping, you’ll see.  You’ll really like her, everyone does. ”

Evan follows along willingly and as soon as they get outside, Claudette greets them with a warm smile.

“Hi, you two,” she says as she looks over at them, shielding her eyes from the midday sun with one hand, and balancing a few planters on her hip with the other.

Meg quickly explains to Claudette about the herbs and asks if she would be willing to teach Evan as though he weren’t standing right beside her the whole time like a child waiting for permission to step forward and help.  Claudette’s radiant smile beams on her face the more Meg talks, and after she’s through asking, Claudette doesn’t hesitate to wave Evan over.

“Of course I’d help! Herbs are really fun and really useful for a lot of things, actually.  Food, medicinal purposes, therapeutic purposes, it would be nice to have some on hand.  Here, take this shovel,” she starts instructing Evan who, at first, doesn’t step forward towards Claudette as she begins to explain the different groups of herbs and the scientific names for the ones Evan picked out.  It isn’t until Meg gives him a little shove that he seems to come to once more as he frowns and takes the small trowel in hand, and due to his size, it looks more like a kid’s toy than anything.  But he seems to listen intently, nodding every so often and planting where Claudette says to plant. 

Meg watches with a big goofy smile on her face for a bit until the heat from the sun begins to make her clothes stick uncomfortably to her skin with sweat.

“I’m gonna head inside,” she says, already turning around with one last look at Evan who seems to really be enjoying himself now.  “You kids have fun,” she adds at the end.  Evan’s head flies up with a scowl at the mention of ‘kid’ that only makes Meg laugh, remembering how much he hates Ace calling him kid, which he has done the whole week.

As soon as Meg heads inside, she gets herself a bottle of water and sits down at a small table in the kitchen looking out the window.  Beside the house she can see Claudette and Evan talking about plants, and she tries not to get distracted at the way the muscles in Evan’s back move beneath his shirt or the way he wipes beads of sweat from his forehead or…

“Hey.” Nea’s voice catches Meg off guard with a start as she turns to face Nea who walks into the kitchen.

“Hey.”

Nea comes over to Meg at the table and kicks her feet up, casually leaning back in her chair that is only met with a disapproving sigh from Meg.

“You know Evan said to keep your feet off the table,” Meg says with a playful smile knowing full well that Nea won’t listen regardless of who is telling her.

“Yeah, and so did Claudette but they’re not here are they?” Nea laughs as she leans back in her chair and puts her hands behind her head.  “And speaking of which, since it’s just the two of us, what’s going on between you and the big guy?”

“Nea,” Meg sighs, looking away from Nea and definitely not looking outside at Evan, “We’ve talked about this so many times.  It’s nothing.”

This only makes Nea laugh as she stomps her feet on the ground and leans forward on the table.

“We both know that’s a lie.  You’ve been sleeping in his room every night, and anyone with eyes can see how you two are together.  Come on.  It’s me, you can tell me,” Nea says, leaning on her hands and giving Meg a toothy smile that just makes Meg frown.

“It’s nothing.  We…well okay.  I don’t know.  I like being around him, and we all know what he did, but he makes me feel safe, ya know? For some reason…”

Nea narrows her eyes and purses her lips.  “Is that it? You feel safe?”

“Is there supposed to be something else?” Meg asks, avoiding the very obvious question Nea is hinting at.  She has asked her before, and Meg believes she is telling most of the truth, but when she opens her mouth to try and explain more