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You always hear the stories, you wonder if it's real

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"Will, I know the car was right here. I know it was," Grell says. She's trembling beside him, clutching her cardigan tight around her thin frame even in the summer heat. It's tattered and stained with blood, most of which is not hers. Her hair is half escaped from its braid, and her fringe is matted to her face with blood on one side where she was hit earlier by a falling light fixture.

"But it's not here now, is it? Honestly," Will hisses. His forearm aches from taking a dinner knife clean through, and he presses it tighter against his side. The bandages are gummy and uncomfortable.

"So what do we do now?" Ronald asks, voice raspy from screaming. The left leg of his jeans is crusted with blood and filth, and he is clearly favoring that side as he leans against a scraggly tree.

Will has no immediate answer. They should go back in time so that they would never have set foot on this property. They should go back so that he could stop Grell when the car broke down and she suggested slipping through the gate with the broken latch to see if there was a land-line at the old manor house that they could use to call for assistance. They should go back so that he could do everything differently.

"I want to go home." Grell presses herself against him, burying her face in his good shoulder, and Will allows himself to cradle her shaking body.

"So do we, love," Ronald says. "We'll get out of this somehow."

They stare out at the empty dirt road where the car had been several hours ago. The road had been paved, several hours ago. Eric and Alan had been alive, several hours ago.

 

Eventually, the three of them decide to go back into the manor, for lack of better options. It's growing dark, and the forest surrounding the area looks disturbing enough in the light of day. To get lost there would almost certainly end badly.

Grell has switched from clinging to Will to supporting Ronald as they trek back across the grounds. Will has taken up a pruning pole as a weapon after nearly tripping over it in the gardens. It's not ideal, but it's something, and it keeps his hands from itching to snatch Grell back to him. He's going to ask her on a date if they make it out of this. He'll treat her to the best dinner money can buy, and take her home afterward and kiss her like he was ashamed of wanting to do when they were fifteen and she was still Geoffrey. He'll apologize for wasting so much time trying not to love her.

They settle in the entrance hall. There's little immediate cover, but they have clear lines of vision and there are several directions to run in if the demon comes for them again. When it comes.

Will grips his weapon tightly and feels Grell press her back against his harder. Ronald is lying beside them, his breathing shallower than Will likes, but there's nothing to be done about it. Just as there was nothing to be done when Eric, hallucinating, had stabbed Alan in the back. Or when the demon taunted a grieving Eric into taking his own life. They can only endure and fight.

"William?"

"What is it, Grell?"

"I'm sorry. I dragged everyone here, and it's my fault you and Ronald are hurt. It's my fault we lost Eric and Alan." She makes a small, choked noise. "This was all so stupid."

Will turns to the side so he can look at her. "That wasn't your fault."

Grell buries her face in her hands. "I knew the legends about the Phantomhive house, Will."

Will goes cold, then hot. His chest aches.

Ronald sits up with a grunt. "Grelly? What do you mean?"

"I--I swear, the car trouble was a coincidence, but I saw the house, and I wanted to meet the demon. I had to know if it was real."

"And now you fucking know it is!" Ronald heaves himself to his feet and limps toward the door.

Will scrambles to follow, dropping the pruning pole in his haste. "Ronald!"

"I'm leaving, Will. I am getting the fuck out of this place, and she--" Ronald cuts himself short and stares past Will. "Will, where's Grell?"

It's only been a few seconds. No sounds had come from behind them. But when Will turns around, Grell is gone. No hint of red anywhere. He takes a step forward and feels Ronald grip his arm tightly.

"We're leaving, right now."

"Let me go." He'll find her first, then they can leave.

"No, Will. She's the one who wanted to be here, and she's got what she wanted," Ronald says. "We are done. We are going to walk out this godforsaken nightmare and find a way home."

Will stares him down, but Ronald doesn't relent.

"I love her, too, but she just disappeared in a run-down, demon-possessed manor house. She's p-probably already--" Ronald chokes and takes a shaky breath. "She's gone, and we're next if we don't find a way out."

He's right, and Will is sick with it.

Ronald turns the knob, opens the overlarge door, and--

"Oh," he mumbles, staring down at the bloody hole that has appeared in his chest. He looks back at Will just before he collapses across the threshold. He doesn't move again.

Whatever force eviscerated Ronald slams into Will, knocking him back and sending his glasses flying. In the darkened hall, he can't even make out a blurry shape that might be their assailant, and he gets on his knees, hands sweeping across the floor desperately in search of his frames. His fingers shake, and his heart is near to pounding out of his chest.

He can't find them, he can't find them, he can't fi--

Two footsteps, directly in front of him. A pale hand. His glasses are settled gently onto his face, and when the world snaps back into focus, the first thing he sees is a familiar pair of green eyes.

"Didn't I tell you a long time ago to take care of the glasses, William?"

The thing wearing Grell's face smiles at him with too-sharp teeth, and for the first time all night, Will screams.