Lauri won’t look at him when they get back to the hotel, sweaty and bloodied and frightened in a way that makes the receptionist ignore them, her eyes averting to the monitor by her side. They take the elevator in terse silence, much too shocked to even acknowledge the red marks on Will’s arm, still bleeding sluggishly and staining the sleeve of his once pristine button up. A shame, really; Will quite liked this shirt.
Once inside their room, they go through some messed up variant of their usual routine almost robotically. Will unclips both of their cameras from his belt, dropping them on his bed, followed by the Polaroid and the two pictures he’d taken of the back room. The pictures he lays face down on the bed, not looking forward to facing whatever might have been captured by them.
He buttons off his shirt, gaze unfocused, watching Lauri take off her jacket and throw it to the side with this sort of reckless abandon she never treats her clothes with. She sits on her bed and seems to come back to herself slowly, running her hands through her wind-swept hair and taking in a shaky breath, eyes beginning to water.
“Will.” Is all she says, a statement that conveys more emotion than she can put into words. Will tilts his head in her direction to show that he’s listening, gaze transfixed on the red spot on his shirt that smells like copper.
“We should check our footage.” Lauri rasps, standing up and going over to Will’s side of the room to grab the cameras he’d left on his bed. She plugs one of them to her laptop, waiting for the footage to be uploaded, then does the same with the other.
Will waits in silence, running his thumb over the bloody stain he hasn’t been able to look away from. The cuts on his arm sting, badly, but the pain is almost grounding as he feels his mind heading off to another realm; a place where none of this craziness ever happened, a place where he’s still laughing with Tom in the booth at the cafe they’d claimed as theirs, going strong for hours and hours on end.
Will shudders. God, he forgot about Tom . What the hell would he say to this?
“Will.” Lauri calls once again, and Will is snapped from his trance, finally looking away from the shirt bunched up in his hand. Lauri looks tired and haggard in a way Will had never seen her before. He sits besides her on the bed, and she pushes her laptop towards him, getting up and padding towards the bathroom to retrieve something.
While she’s gone, Will busies himself with going over the footage. He almost punches a hole through the screen of his laptop when the corruption appears once again, on both cameras, as soon as they step inside the back room of the Chester House. Whatever this thing is, it’s certainly taken a shine to messing with them.
A dip on the bed tears his eyes away from the screen. Lauri holds up a wet tissue up to the cuts on his arm, the sting of rubbing alcohol making him hiss in pain as she wipes the blood away. When his arm is sufficiently clean, Lauri looks at it for a few seconds before taking out her mobile and snapping a picture of it.
“It’s mocking the holy trinity.” She concludes quietly, and Will resists the urge to tear his arm away. A demon . A demon had scratched his arm. Now that’s rich.
Will looks at the digital clock on the bedside table. 3:00 am flashes at him menacingly.
Lauri wraps his arm in gauze quietly, lips pursed together tight. Will replays the footage on her laptop almost obsessively, examining frame by frame by frame by frame like whatever caused this could be explained away by something on the screen. He has no such luck.
“The polaroids,” he remembers suddenly, scrambling up and away from Lauri’s bed and towards his, grabbing the two pictures with shaky hands. Now that he has them in his hands he’s almost too afraid to turn them over, to face whatever is awaiting for him in them.
Lauri comes up next to him, placing a placating hand on his back. Her thumb runs comforting little circles on the juncture between his shoulder and neck, a quiet reminder that she’s here for him. Will takes in a sharp breath and turns the pictures over in one quick motion, like ripping a bandaid off.
The first polaroid is quite uneventful. It’s the one he’d taken by the threshold of the room, and all that shows up on it are the weird cardboard boxes he’d taken note of before. Some of them are open and knocked over, which Will assumes is where the furniture that attacked them the night prior had come from. Other than that, there’s nothing.
The second picture, however.
It’s the one depicting the crawl space. Will’s breath starts coming out in harsh pants when, at the end of the small tunnel, a dark figure blocks out the light that should be coming out of it. It looks like an upside down head; the top of it pressing down on the floor, dark shadows that look like hair spilling out on the wooden floorboards. Two beady eyes blink at them menacingly, a wide, toothy grin stretching across its face.
Will flips the picture back down like it burned him, throwing it on the bed with shaky hands. Lauri sobs quietly behind him, her forehead pressed against the back of his shoulder.
He looks back at the clock. 3:03 am , it tells him.
“We have to leave,” Lauri gasps out between her cries, hands making fists against Will’s bare skin. “We have to leave right now.”
In a sudden moment of clarity, the fog in Will’s mind lifts and he just knows that he can’t. He can’t leave things unfinished like this. Great, it’s a demon; now what? If he runs back to London with his tail between his legs now, he’ll never be able to live this down. The thought of leaving this town with that thing roaming free bothers him too much.
Most of all, Will is scared of what it could do to Tom.
“We can’t.” He declares, steadily, feeling Lauri flinch behind him. She moves to face Will head on, an incredulous look marring her features.
“ What? ” Lauri bares her teeth at him, though the only thing he sees in her eyes is fear. However, he stands his ground, crossing his arms over his chest and setting his jaw.
“ I can’t.” Will corrects himself. The last thing he wants is to keep Lauri here against her will, but he’s not leaving. “I can’t just turn tail and forget this ever happened. I can’t do it, Lauri. I’m staying.”
“Staying and doing what?! Getting yourself killed?!” Lauri’s voice shakes with anger, though she tries to keep her tone down, mindful of hour. “Look at your arm, William! Don’t be such a fucking baby!”
When Will doesn’t respond, Lauri’s teeth grind together. “This is about Tom, isn’t it.”
Anger makes Will’s nose twist, nostrils flaring. “Don’t bring him into this.”
“I can’t believe you!” Lauri full on yells at him, volume be damned. “You met him yesterday! What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
“Well then, go home! Nothing’s stopping you!” Will feels a bit like a petulant child, arguing with Lauri like this, but the last thing he wants to do with her is fight over Tom of all things. “You can go all the way bloody home if you want!”
“Oh, fuck you, Will.” Lauri’s voice is dangerous, shaky, her eyebrows creased and her mouth twisted in a grimace. “Fuck you. I’m trying to look out for you.”
“And I don’t need you to!” Will protests, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration. “You’re not my fucking mother!”
At this, Lauri falls quiet. She wipes an angry tear away from her cheek harshly, face going red, and turns away from Will, heading to the bathroom.
“What? Got nothing to say?” Will calls after her, against his better judgement, and receives nothing but a door being slammed in response.
With a huff, he steps out of his trousers angrily and gets into bed, shoving the two pictures inside one of the drawers on his bedside table, trying to ignore the guilt slowly eating away at his heart. It wasn’t his intention to make Lauri mad, but this isn’t something he’s willing to discuss.
When Will closes his eyes and sees the face of the demon staring at him, imprinted on the inside of his eyelids, he knows it’s going to be a rough night.
The following morning, Will wakes up before Lauri, body aching and feeling more exhausted than when he had went to bed. Falling asleep had been extremely difficult, and whenever he did manage to doze off, nightmares would plague him until he woke up in a panic.
Will pushes away the images of demons and mud and Tom and uniforms crowding his mind, getting up with more effort than it should’ve taken. According to his phone, it’s 9am, which means it should be a perfectly reasonable time to text Tom and ask to meet up with him, considering he had told Will during their little outing yesterday that he wouldn’t have to go into work today.
Will’s cheeks burn at the thought.
Dragging himself to the bathroom, he tries to convince his inner Lauri that it doesn’t mean anything if Will wants to hang out with Tom right now. He just wants a distraction; something so he doesn’t have to think about the night he just had, or the cuts on his arms.
Will looks at his reflection in the mirror. He has deep, deep bags under his eyes, which are starting to go red from the lack of proper sleep. His skin is pale, a sickly shade that leaves him looking whiter than normal, almost like he’s ill. His hair looks greasy, like all the dust in the Chester House had stuck to him when he and Lauri ran out of the place, scared out of their minds.
He can’t meet up with Tom like this.
Will removes his boxers and gets in the shower, turning on the spray and stepping underneath it, even before the water is done warming up. As he shivers underneath the cold pelting at his skin for a few seconds, Will forces himself to relax, almost like he’s letting the water wash last night’s events off him. His lower back hurts when he runs his hand over it, and when Will twists his body to look at it on the mirror, he sees a blooming, purple bruise coloring his skin.
He spends no less than half an hour locked in the bathroom, scrubbing his body and hair clean almost obsessively. He tries not to think about anything; not the house, not the demon, not his mother, not Lauri and not even Tom. Just the warm water burning off the impurities he’d collected in the span of the past two days.
When Will finally gets out of the shower, his skin is red and abused and his arms are sore, but at least he feels clean. He quickly pats himself down and blow-dries his hair, cursing when he realizes he had forgotten to take any clothes into the bathroom with him. Wrapping a towel around his waist, Will shivers as he steps inside the room, considerably colder compared to the steam that surrounded him just moments ago. As he hurries to pick some clothes from his side of the closet, something catches his eye and makes him stop.
It’s Lauri. Immediately, Will feels guilt fill him up to the brim. She’s asleep, but clearly having a nightmare. Her eyebrows are furrowed, sweat collecting on her forehead and the top of her lips, her long hair getting more and more tangled every time she twists and turns. Will finishes buttoning his chinos up and sits besides Lauri on her bed, watching her chest expand without rhyme or reason.
Carefully, he touches the hair at the base of her scalp and lightly runs his fingers over it, smiling quietly to himself when the crease between her eyebrows lightens up just the slightest bit. Will keeps at it for a few minutes until Lauri is fully relaxed against the mattress, her breaths finally calming down and becoming steady. Will pulls the covers she had kicked away in her fitful sleep over her body and stands up, giving her one last, lingering look before grabbing a notepad, courtesy of the hotel, and writing her a small note. Before leaving, he snaps a picture of the polaroids with his phone, stomach turning just at the mere sight of them.
By the time Tom finally picks up his call, Will is already outside, walking down the street in a brisk pace to warm himself up.
“H’lo?” Tom’s voice is thick with sleep. He can barely string a sentence together. Will chuckles, incredibly charmed.
“Good morning. Did I wake you?”
“‘S fine.” Will can hear some rustling noises over the line, followed by a mighty yawn that Tom fails to stifle. “G’morning, Will.”
Silence stretches on for a little while, but it’s not awkward; Will can hear Tom making all sorts of noises in his bedroom, likely going through his morning routine before talking to Will. It feels so incredibly domestic to him; that perpetual familiarity between himself and Tom growing stronger with each of their interactions, like they’d shared a million moments like this with each other before. It doesn’t make sense, exactly, but Will knows there’s something there.
Finally, Tom’s voice comes through the receiver again. “Did ya want to hang out?” his voice sounds less husky, much more awake, but still a bit slower than normal. Will can’t seem to stop smiling.
“Yes. You haven’t had breakfast yet, I’m assuming?”
“Cheeky bastard.” Tom laughs, making Will’s stomach erupt in butterflies. “Come over, then. Mum ‘n Joe left for work already.”
Will almost chokes at the suggestion, turning his mouth away from his phone to stifle his undignified cough. With a deep breath, he tries to ignore the sudden spike in his heartbeat, wiping his (suddenly sweaty) free hand on his trousers.
“That would be lovely,” he accepts, surely sounding calmer than he feels. “I’ll be over soon, then.”
“You think you can get here ok?”
“I think I can find my way.”
“Alright then.” Tom’s smile is visible through his voice. “I’ll start getting things ready for us.”
He hangs up and Will could not be happier.
Much like yesterday, it’s like all of his troubles have suddenly stopped existing and he lives in pure bliss. It should be quite worrying, really, that Tom can have such an effect over him, but to Will it just sets more and more in stone the fact that they were somehow fated to meet. He’s never been one to believe in destiny and the like, but then again, before this trip he didn’t believe in demons, either.
His phone burns in his pocket with the reminder that he can’t hide this from Tom forever, or pretend everything is fine. But for now, Will chooses to ignore it.
The Blake residence looks considerably better in the morning light. Now that Will isn’t dropping Tom off in the middle of the night after running away from an honest-to-god demon, he can take a better look at the small house. It’s painted white with light blue accents, two stories tall. A cozy front porch stretches along the front of the building, with a small picket fence encircling the property. There’s a small garden, very well tended to, full of colorful flowers that sway gently in the breeze. Will can see a couple of cherry trees behind the house, petals white like snow blowing in his direction. It’s all incredibly idyllic, something Will could picture himself seeing on a dream homes show on TV or something.
It looks like what the Chester House could have been, a long time ago.
Will notices movement by the window, something suddenly ruffling the curtains. A few moments later, Tom opens the front door with a small flourish, running outside to meet Will halfway.
“Mornin’!” he greets cheerfully, grinning up at Will like they hadn’t seen each other just yesterday. Tom’s hair is slicked back today; he looks good in his long sleeved white shirt and tight-fitting black jeans. Not that Will was paying attention to them or anything.
“Good morning.” Will says yet again, almost breathlessly, fingers twitching inside the pockets of his jacket almost nervously. “Your house is nice.”
“You’ve been here before, ya dolt.” Tom says jokingly, lightly punching Will’s shoulder as he turns on his heels to lead him back to his home. As they pass the garden, he seems to notice the absence of something. “Hey, isn’t Lauri coming?”
“She had a rough night. I’m letting her sleep in.” Will says with a cough, not elaborating further than that; lest Tom find out what the both of them had been up to last night.
“Aw, really? That’s a shame.” Tom pouts, pushing the front door open and stepping aside so Will could come inside. “Well, anyway. Welcome to my humble abode.”
Tom’s house is somehow even lovelier on the inside. The living room and dining room are a joint thing, separated only by the beginning of a staircase leading to the second floor of the building. A cozy sofa, large enough to comfortably fit at least five people, is framed by loveseats on both sides, a coffee table littered with magazines and two remote controls piled precariously on top of it acts as the centerpiece of the room. Behind the coffee table, there’s a small, light wood TV console, with said TV placed atop it. A dusty, busted up PS2 is hidden by an unbelievable amount of DVD cases, all threatening to spill from the console.
Will turns his gaze to the dining room. The oak table is the first thing that catches his eye; it’s quite long, dark oak chairs placed throughout the expanse of it, with a small bowl of fruit that doesn’t match with the decor whatsoever placed on the very center of it. The table is clearly well-loved, if the scratches and water spots that adorn it are anything to go by. Tom stops by the bowl of fruit and picks two peaches from it, jerking his head towards an open door towards the back that Will assumes must be the kitchen.
“Come on, then.” He says, taking a large bite off of his peach and throwing the other one towards Will, who fumbles with it a little bit but manages to keep ahold of the fruit. He follows Tom into the kitchen, marvelling at the sight that greets him.
The kitchen table is almost the complete opposite of the dining room one; it’s white, and round, and has so much food and drinks and cutlery and everything piled on top of it that Will has no idea how it hasn’t collapsed yet. Three matching chairs are placed around the table, with a plate set in front of each of them. Tom drops his half-eaten peach on one of the plates and quickly washes his hands on the sink, taking away another plate and placing it back inside one of the cabinets underneath the counter. Will assumes it must have been for Lauri.
He tries to ignore the guilt once again.
“Sorry if this is too much,” Tom directs a nervous laugh at Will, taking a seat and rearranging some of the things on the table anxiously. “I didn’t know what you liked, so…”
“It’s perfect,” Will responds, feeling out of breath and sitting down himself. “Thank you.”
Tom smiles, almost shy. They share another one of their comforting silences, broken only when Tom reaches for the bread by his side.
“Pass me that jam, will ya?”
They spend the next hour talking about anything and everything, while Will loses his mind over how good the food is. He almost can’t believe it when Tom tells him the cherry jam is homemade.
“ You made this?!” he asks incredulously, heart skipping a beat in his chest when Tom becomes visibly flustered.
“Ah, I guess?” his voice pitches higher in his embarrassment. “I mean, we have an orchard just out back…”
Oh, Will could just kiss him right now.
The rest of it goes by uneventfully, with Will taking care not to spill that he had been back in the Chester House. The last thing he wants to do is scare Tom when he’s clearly comfortable and happy, especially if that’s due to Will. It fills him with a sense of accomplishment that is difficult to explain.
When they’re done, Will helps Tom put what is left of the food away and takes out the trash for him, hurrying back to the warmth of the house which is much preferred over the chill of April. He finds Tom wrist-deep by the sink, scrubbing all of the cutlery clean.
“I said I’d do the dishes,” Will protests feebly, moving closer to the counter. Tom looks at him over his shoulder with a sly little smile playing on his lips, his sleeves pushed up to his elbows.
“You’re my guest.” he shrugs, turning back to the soapy water. “Just sit there and look pretty.”
Will ignores the comment, despite his flushed cheeks saying otherwise. Instead, he grabs a dishrag hanging off the wall and starts dutifully drying whatever Tom had already left on the drying rack, despite the playfully scathing look he gets for it.
“We should do something,” Tom suggests after they’re done, wiping his hands with the cloth Will had been using. “Outside, I mean. When do you two go back to London, anyway?”
Will’s throat closes at the reminder that none of this is in any way permanent. “Two weeks from now.”
“Really? I dunno what you’re expectin’ to find here with all that time in your hands, but I can guarantee you there isn’t much,” Tom laughs, scratching the underside of his chin with brilliant eyes shining up at Will that are making it harder and harder for him not to go for a kiss. “I mean, you’ve practically seen most of St Osyth already.”
Will begs to differ. “I found you.”
Really, it’s like his mouth has a mind of its own these days, but he doesn’t exactly regret his words. Not when they make Tom squawk in surprise, his eyes widening a comical amount and his blush reaching all the way up to his cheeks.
“ Bastard ,” he chokes out, shoving at Will’s chest with a shaky smile, just threatening to fall off his face. “You can’t just go around sayin’ those things! I’m gonna start thinking that you mean it.”
Tom pushes past Will and out of the kitchen in record speed before he can even think of an answer.
Will follows him, silently, with the quiet thought that maybe he shouldn’t have said that nestling itself in his mind. He finds Tom by the coat rack, buttoning up his heavy winter coat almost in a hurry.
“Tom,” he tries, but is ignored as the other unlocks the door.
“We can get a cab for the aviation museum,” Tom suggests loudly, stepping outside and clearly waiting for Will to follow despite not looking back to check. “I’ll pay and everything!”
“ Tom ,” Will insists, closing a hand around Tom’s wrist and pretending he doesn’t feel how it makes him flinch. “Did I say something wrong?”
Tom opens and closes his mouth like a fish out of the water, clearly struggling to get any words out. “N-No!” he denies, shaking his head for emphasis. “You didn’t- you didn’t say anything, I’m just being stupid, that’s all.”
Will doesn’t say anything in response, simply arching an eyebrow like he knows a lie when he sees one. Tom wets his lips nervously, looking away from Will with a troubled look in his eyes.
“It’s just,” he says after a few seconds of oppressive silence, clearly not a fan of being held in place by Will until he gives him a satisfactory answer. “I feel like you’re just m-messing with me.”
Before Will can question what the hell he means by that, confusion clearly evident by the way his eyebrows knit together, Tom barrels on, still looking anywhere but Will. “Like, I know we had that conversation before goin’ inside th’house, but- but you saw the sticker on my phone, and now you’re flirtin’ with me and I don’t know if you were before ‘cause I thought you n’ Lauri were a thing, but now I’m not sure and I ‘unno know how ta ask you about it because I do want you to be flirting with me but we also just met and I don’t know if you’re into guys-”
“ Tom ,” Will gently interrupts him, trying not to be deeply perturbed by the idea of him and Lauri being a couple. “I’m gay .”
It’s like all the breath leaves Tom’s lungs in one fell swoop, like Will had punched him in the gut or something. “Oh,” he nearly gasps, and that pleasant blush that had been coating his cheeks this entire time starts spreading down to his neck, just like it had yesterday. “ Oh. ”
“Well,” he continues after a pause, his features giving way to a shy smile. “Do you, uhm- do you want to go to the museum anyway?”
Will nearly laughs at how easy it was to placate Tom, but instead he simply nods with a close-lipped grin, sliding his hand from Tom’s wrist to his hand like it belongs there. “It’s a date.”
If they hold hands all the way through finding a cab, and all throughout the ride to the museum as well , then no one has to know but them.
As far as first dates go, this one stayed painfully platonic, even when Tom made a noise like he was dying whenever Will’s hand found its way into his own again. The museum was interesting, sure, but Will was even more interested in all the ways he could make Tom squirm without getting his lips anywhere near the other’s face.
“You’re relentless ,” Tom protests with a giggle after a particularly smooth comment from Will’s part.
His problems could not be further away from his mind.
The museum is pretty tiny, but so is everything in St Osyth, apparently. They’re done faster than Will would’ve liked, wandering around Point Clear Bay with no real goal in mind, much too focused on the feeling of intertwined hands to enjoy the view from the beach.
It’s late enough for lunch, but with how much they’d both eaten back at Tom’s house, Will feels like he could fare with a light dinner and not much else. Tom seems to echo the sentiment, preferring to walk along the sand rather than venturing back into civilization to find some grub.
They’re perhaps too close to the shoreline now, and just one slight shove from Will would be enough to send Tom tumbling into the cold sea. Of course he doesn’t do that, but the thought of Tom complaining about wet socks makes its way into his mind and it’s almost like he had heard that exact rant before. It sends a tingle up his spine, like he’s forgetting something important.
Despite his best efforts to push the thought away from his mind, one thing leads to another and Will is saddled with guilt over the Chester House all over again. Tom is oblivious to his internal conflict, enjoying the cold sea breeze batting away at his face, getting salt in his pristine hair but not seeming to care about it. It takes one look at his relaxed expression for Will to start to crack. Dammit, he doesn’t want Tom to know, but the thought of keeping a secret from him makes Will feel disgusting. He really ought to get to the bottom of this feeling one day, but only if Tom doesn’t break up with him before they’ve even started dating yet.
“Tom,” Will swallows, loud , when Tom turns to look at him, all happy smiles and squinted eyes because the sun is too strong and they didn’t think to bring sunglasses. Will feels queasy with affection and anxiety all at once.
“I went back.”
Tom’s smile falls immediately, replaced by a carefully neuter-but-bordering-on-upset expression. Will takes a deep breath and soldiers on.
“I went back to the house. I’m so sorry.”
With a single step back and a hand being taken away from his own, Tom makes Will’s world go frigid in a matter of seconds, even faster than the demon in the Chester House managed to. His lips are downturned, displeased, and all that easy going feeling from before has evaporated from his body.
“You promised me you wouldn’t.” is all Tom says, and it’s already enough to make Will feel horrible. Especially when he had found trouble, much like Tom warned him he would. “Well, are you happy now? Did you debunk your bloody demon or do we need to take another little excursion there again?”
He’s clearly more upset than angry, and it tugs at Will’s heartstrings to see Tom like this. But he deserved to know what he and Lauri had found as much as anyone, considering he’d gone into the house with them the very first time and gotten himself into this mess.
“I want you to see something.” Will nearly whispers, taking his phone out of his pocket hesitantly. Tom watches carefully, like he’s preparing himself to run away.
He might as well, after he sees what’s in the polaroids.
Will pulls up the pictures nervously, biting back a sigh of relief when Tom doesn’t move away when Will comes close to him. Instead, he hands Tom his phone, averting his gaze from the image on his screen like it might burn him if he looks at it again.
Tom is quiet for too long. Will tries to focus on the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, instead of the shaky breaths coming from the other.
Finally, a small, anguished sob catches Will’s attention, and he turns to look at his companion besides him. Tom is staring out the sea, quiet tears trickling down his cheeks as he clutches Will’s phone between both of his hands like he’s trying to break it.
“Tom,” Will reaches for him without thinking, but Tom is clearly more upset about what he just saw than at Will himself, so he folds into his embrace without any complaints, hiding his face against Will’s chest and trying to take a couple of steadying breaths. Strangely, now that he told Tom, all the guilt has left his consciousness, even with all the tears wetting the front of his coat. Not that he really cares about that.
“I’m sorry,” he begins carefully, picking his words slowly as to not upset Tom any further. “It wasn’t really for the show, not anymore. I just- I had to know what it was. And now I do.”
Tom is quiet for a long time after that. Will allows himself to enjoy the feeling of holding a warm body against his own, even though that’s the last thing he should be focusing on.
“You’re going back again.” It isn’t a question; it’s a statement. Tom sounds almost resentful as he says it, and Will figures there’s not much point in lying to him again, so he just nods, tightening his hold minutely.
“I have to get rid of it.” Tom doesn’t say anything in response, which is probably a bad sign. “Tom, I’m not gonna be able to live with myself if I just leave it be .”
“And why not?” Tom snaps, pushing away from Will harshly. “Why’s that so fucking hard to do? We went poking our noses into something we shouldn't have and now I reckon it’s high time that you fucking drop it !”
Will didn’t know Tom had the capacity to even speak like that, words charged with venom in a way that hurts him to his core. He ignores it, though; he knows Tom is scared out of his mind, and he’s not really putting much thought into what comes out of his mouth at the moment. “What if it comes after you, or something? I’m supposed to just let it do what it wants, terrorize the town like that? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, Tom!”
Tom is stunned into silence, almost breathless from the argument. He looks down at his shoes, frustrated, teeth practically grinding against each other. But Will can see a flash of something in his blue eyes, something like recognition.
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Tom spits out, finally relenting but clearly not pleased to be doing so. Will lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, stepping closer to him once again.
“I know. And I don’t like it either, but-” he breathes in sharply, bringing his hands to rest on Tom’s elbows. He allows it, affection starting to take over his gaze once again through all the hurt clouding it. “But I have to. And I want you to come with me.”
Tom’s face shutters almost immediately. “What? No. Absolutely not!”
“ Please , Tom!” Will all but begs, nearly getting on his knees right there in the sand. Tom whips his head to the side, refusing to look at Will in the eyes. “I need you there with me. You- you make me-” he struggles with his words for a second, desperately trying to salvage the situation. “I feel strong with you. Like I could do anything as long as you’re with me. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the truth. Please, at least just think about it.”
Tom is shocked into silence, staring at Will with his eyes wide as saucers. Will, mistaking his surprise with repudiation, adds quietly:
“I’ll- I’ll pay you for your help.”
Tom’s eyebrows crease immediately at that, a confused frown making its way into his face. “Wh- Pay me? What the fuck are you even-” he shakes his head, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat. “Fine. Whatever! I’ll do it.”
Will can’t help the grin that stretches across his face, and it’s like nothing was ever wrong to begin with. “You will?”
“Yeah. But don’t let it get to your head,” Tom smiles despite it all, nervous but undeniably fond, like even though he’s still mad he likes Will too much to stay mad. “I’m only agreeing to this because you took me to a date first.”
“So I didn’t just completely ruin my chances?” Will asks jokingly, but still anxious for the response, even though Tom doesn’t fight it when he’s dragged into another embrace. He wraps his arms around Will’s neck, taking a shaky breath to steady himself.
“No. I like ya too much for that, God knows why.” Tom mutters, almost to himself. He tightens his grip around the other’s neck, tension strung high on his shoulders. “You have a bloody hell of a lot to make up for after this, y’hear me?”
“Loud and clear.” Will agrees easily, running one of his hands through the expanse of Tom’s back, who shivers but continues with his demands:
“ And we’re doing this my way. I’m not stepping in that hell again with just that stupid flashlight you gave me last time.” It’s said in a joking tone, but Will knows Tom is serious, and sees no reason to fight it; he knows St Osyth and all its little quirks better than he or Lauri ever will, after all.
“Deal.” he agrees quietly, speaking into Tom’s neck. Despite the mess he’d gotten himself and his potential future boyfriend in, if he managed to not mess up everything even more than he already had, Will feels like somehow, they’d be ok.
He can only hope he’s right.
When Will finally gets back to the hotel, the sun has long since gone down the horizon, making the already chilly weather even more icy. He feels a strong sense of deja vu as he unlocks the door to his room with his keycard, though he’s not exactly eager to face Lauri after the fight they’d had.
He had spent the rest of the day with Tom, walking around the tiny village of Point Clear and trying to not think about what they would have to go through in a few days’ time. Tom was still mad at Will for lying to him and breaking his promise, he’d made that all too clear; but he also didn’t really act like it, laughing along with his jokes and swinging their intertwined hands between them, continuing with their ‘date’ despite the weird look they were getting from the villagers. They didn’t have lunch, either, simply taking a cab to Clacton-on-Sea as soon as the sun started going down and scarfing down a frankly questionable meal at a McDonald’s, not wanting to go back home just yet. It was only when Tom started receiving texts from his mother and brother that they rode back to St Osyth, heads reeling from the day they’d just shared.
Will tries not to think about how he was too chicken to kiss Tom goodnight. In his defense, he could see his brother peeking through the curtains of their house when Will dropped Tom off, a suspicious glint in his equally blue eyes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” Tom had said sweetly, finally letting go of Will’s hand and taking backwards steps towards his front door as he waved goodnight. Will stayed rooted to the spot until Tom was out of view, safely inside and back into his family’s arms.
He shakes his head with a sigh, trying to clear his mind as he finally pushes the door open, like ripping off a bandaid. Lauri is already dressed for bed, underneath the covers as she scrolls through her phone, disinterested. The telly is on, the news feed making for the perfect background noise.
“Oh,” Lauri sounds almost surprised, before she schools her features back into a carefully neuter expression, like she’s testing the waters. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Will says in response, awkwardly shuffling off of his coat and rubbing his hands together to warm them up. The silence between them is immediately charged with tension. “Did you read my note?”
“Yes,” Lauri replies smoothly, putting up the perfectly unbothered front. Except Will knows her well enough by now to know that it’s just that; a front. “Did things go well with Tom?”
“Yeah. He, uhm-” a pause as Will collects his thoughts. “He agreed to help us.”
Lauri exhales harshly through her nose, turning back to her phone with a displeased look. “He agreed to help you .” she says simply, frustration starting to crack her resolve. “I want no part in this.”
“Lauri.” Will calls for her, gently and yet strict. Lauri looks up with shiny, teary eyes, the soft glow of the TV coloring the side of her face with light blue. Will realizes then that this could either make or break the bond between them.
“I need you. You’re my best friend,” he pleads with her, wringing his cold hands together nervously. “We’re partners. I can’t do it without you.”
Lauri looks away with a loud sniffle, throwing her phone next to her on the bed. They spend a few moments suspended in silence, until she feels ready to speak again.
“Do you remember what I said to you the first day of uni?” she questions with a forcibly controlled voice, clearly trying to hide the wobble in it. “When you asked me why I wanted to be friends with you?”
“I do.” Will nods, and he’s not lying. His first day of university was… weird, to say the least. He had just moved to London, leaving behind the quietness of Cookham and jumping headfirst into messy traffic, a confusing tube system and what he was sure was the tiniest flat in the world . Middlesex had been intimidating at first, but when a loud, fiery french exchange student had jumped him at the auditorium and insisted on introducing herself to him, things had suddenly become a little less scary.
“You said I looked like a challenge.” he recalled easily, like it had happened just yesterday. Lauri nods, lips thinning out into a straight line.
“I wasn’t very good at English back then. At the time, I mean to say that you were an enigma,” she clarifies, crossing her arms over he chest tightly. “But now, I think challenge suits you just fine.”
A pregnant silence stretches across them and Lauri sighs again, heavier than all the other times. She finally looks back at Will, expression hard but eyes warm and tender.
“I’ll help you, you magnanimous idiot.” Lauri declares, trying her hardest to bite back a smile. “You owe me so hard for this.”
Will is immediately at her side, hugging Lauri so hard he swear he can feel something in her back pop. She laughs, but returns the hug without hesitation, patting his back soothingly.
“ Thank you ,” Will breathes out, voice nearly suffocated by her long hair. The relief he feels at having his best friend by his side yet again is overwhelming. “Thank you so much.”
“So, Tom, huh?” Lauri pokes Will’s ankle with her toe, after they’ve both calmed down from the moment they’d shared and Will had crawled into bed next to her so they could watch a bit of TV together. “You were gone for a long time. Was it like… a date ?”
Will doesn’t answer, he simply blushes so hard his face lights up red even in the darkness of their hotel room. Lauri cackles, punching his shoulder lightly and celebrating with a loud ‘I knew it! ’.
When Will falls asleep that night, much too tired to get back to his own bed, it’s the first time in a while he doesn’t feel scared by the feeling of dread building up deep inside of him.