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Fog and Ice

Chapter Text

Fog. Nothing but fucking fog.

Hank stared at the view of the little town called Silent Hill as chills from the cold air rippled through him despite the thick jacket he wore. He’d come here before. Not for a long time. He remembered it being foggy, but he sure as shit didn’t remember it being this bad. Even when it snowed it hadn’t been this thick. Was it age causing his eyes to fade? Memory skewing things? Or was the fog actually stronger now?

He took a swig of his drink. He wasn’t drunk. Not yet. He lowered the bottle and continued to stare.

The town looked still.

This was by far the stupidest thing he’d done in a long time. Hank did a lot of stupid things, but this had to be top five. Driving hundreds of miles for… for a fucking letter. A letter that just couldn’t be real.

The letter was held in the hand that didn’t grip a bottle. Hank periodically stared down at it, although he’d memorized the text.



In my restless dreams I see that town, Silent Hill.

You said we’d go back someday. That last day of ice-skating on the lake, you promised. One day we’d go back. But we never did.

I’m alone there now.

I’m waiting for you, Dad.



Hank could not have said if it was Cole’s handwriting. It’d been his name on the envelope. But the last thing his son had written for him had been twenty years ago, in a childish scrawl. His handwriting wouldn’t stay the same across twenty years. This handwriting… it was done in neat letters.

But that wasn’t even the sticking point. The sticking point was that dead people didn’t write letters.

Hank took a bigger swig of scotch before slumping on the railing again.

This was a trick. That’s all there was to it. A shitty prank from an asshole who thought that bullshit like this was funny. Fuck, he wouldn’t put it past Gavin. Although he was sure he had no photos at work. Nothing that could tip off anyone on sight, but if they dug in his files…

Two options. The first was a prank. In which case, he was going to find them, punch them in the face and go home to continue drinking.

The other option was that Cole was alive.

That raised so many other questions. Why he’d been gone. How his death had been faked. What he’d do with a twenty-six-year-old Cole that he hadn’t seen in so long.

Hank sighed and turned to stare back at his rusty bucket of a car. The only car here at this tiny roadside bathroom. The highway didn’t go any further. It had been closed off. There was only one way to go on wheels and it was back the way he came. The roadside bathroom was crawling with graffiti, insects and dried, crusty messes.

What a bleak welcome. Even the town, as still as it looked, was better. Hank shut his eyes, blocking out the shitty bathroom and the old highway. He tried to imagine what his son would look like now. The picture in his mind was crystal clear, like he’d just seen a photo. He’d imagined it many times.

If there was even the slightest chance Cole was down there…

Hank took one last swig before putting the bottle inside his jacket. It clinked lightly near where he kept his gun. Not solid gun safety. But fuck it.

He turned and descended down the steps into the fog, to the town below.

It was a long walk. Quiet. But every footstep made a noise—almost a crunch—that echoed. Hank was sure he’d hear anyone that approached him long before he saw them in this damn fog.

If he’d been walking through a thunderstorm it probably would have been clearer. He didn’t realise he’d walked into a cemetery until he bashed his foot on a tombstone.

“Fuck!” he bellowed, hopping on his non-injured foot before resting his foot on the offending tombstone— sorry, you poor bastard, he mentally told whoever lay under the damn thing—so he could rub the pain out of his foot. As he did, he heard a voice call out from the fog.

“You shouldn’t swear.”

Hank frowned at the fog, moving his foot back to the ground. A child’s voice. A little girl.

“Who’s there?”

There was a shuffle of feet before Hank saw someone emerge from behind one of the tombstones. The girl peeked out over the top, staring at him with doleful eyes. Maybe ten years old, with tied-back brown hair and brown eyes that looked sad and tired.

Hank took a step towards her. “Hey, you know where--”

The girl quickly hurried back, shifting back to another gravestone and hiding behind it instead. Hank immediately came to a stop, holding up his hand.

“Whoa, just… look, I’m not moving. I’m not trying to hurt you, kid.” He spoke quietly, the same sort of tone he used on the job with any kid who had seen some shit. “I just wanted to know which way the town was.”

The girl peered at him for a moment with a wary stare. The kind that shouldn’t be on any kid. Then she raised a hand and pointed.

“There’s… one road. It isn’t hard,” she said quietly.

“Well, don’t I feel like an idiot.” Hank tried to smile at the kid, before looking around. “I assume your, uh, parents or something are around? You shouldn’t be playing by yourself in a graveyard.”

The girl watched him for a moment longer, still seeming afraid. At the mention of parents, she recoiled very slightly.

“Your… caretaker?” Hank guessed. “Anyone?”

“...You shouldn’t go to town,” the girl told him. “It’s dangerous.”

“I’m not going to trip down the stairs if that’s what you’re saying. I know it’s foggy, but I can handle some stairs.”

The girl shook her head. “It’s dangerous,” she repeated. “There’s… there’s...” She stopped, her voice breaking. Hank frowned a little before sitting down, getting more on the kid’s eye level. He didn’t move forward, just sat despite the cold ground and waited.

“There’s…?” he prompted. He’d questioned kids before. Had to be gentle with them.

“...I don’t know what they are,” the girl said quietly. “They… they chased us.”

“Who was with you?”

“Kara. Kara was with me, but we got separated when they were chasing us. She didn’t mean to leave me behind. I crawled through a gap in the wall and she climbed onto a roof.” The girl moved a couple of inches out from the gravestone. “Have you seen her? She has short, white hair and blue eyes and she’s really pretty.”

“Can’t say I have. This inside the town or outside it?”

“Inside. They’re… only inside.”

Well, that’s just great. This couldn’t be a quiet trip, could it? Probably a bunch of punks that thought menacing women and kids was a fun time. It didn’t sound like they were armed, at least. Or at least not wielding guns.

“Okay. Okay… You got a name, kid?”

The girl squinted at him, head tilted as she stared. Hank sighed irritably.

“You don’t have to say. Look, I just figured that I could help take you to the police station. Probably heading there anyway and I’m sure Kara would--”

“Police?” The girl immediately took a couple of steps back, looking more terrified than ever. “No, I don’t want to… I don’t want...”

“I’m not going to arrest—“

“No!” the girl yelled before bolting backwards, disappearing into the fog near immediately. Hank heard her footsteps pound away, heading in the direction that she’d been pointing. Whatever she’d been afraid of, she was apparently fine running back towards it if it meant escaping Hank.

“God-fucking-dammit...” Hank got to his feet and stomped on after her. It took some walking before he found the edge of the graveyard, finding steps that continued to lead down into the town.

By the time he reached the road, there was no little girl to be seen.

There was no-one at all to be seen. No lights on. Every window was dim and there was nothing but cracked payment and run-down buildings. Dust and litter covered the street. The town look abandoned. But if the town was abandoned, why hadn’t he heard about it? It’d been a long time, sure, but… not that long. And wouldn’t he have heard something before he drove hundreds of miles to get here?

Plus, he’d just seen a child. There had to be someone else. Even if it was just two civilians and a bunch of assholes that thought chasing them was a good time.

“Kid! Where’d you go?” Hank called out.

He picked up the pace, passing cars that looked like they hadn’t been touched in years. One was wedged into a lamppost, the leftovers of a violent crash. Hank tried not to look at that one. He just moved down the street.

His foot slipped on something wet. Hank skidded to the floor, landing on his ass in the mess. It was damp and… blue. Hank swiped his fingers through the sticky liquid that, now that he looked beyond it, was liberally coating the ground. He lifted his hand and sniffed the liquid on his fingers.

He knew this smell. He wasn’t sure where from.

Wrinkling his nose, Hank wiped the muck off on his jacket. As he did, he heard footsteps. He turned and saw a figure—adult-sized—stumble into the fog. Only its silhouette could be made out, and it walked like a drunkard. Hank would know.

“Hey! This your mess?” Hank called out, but the figure ignored him and vanished. Hank rolled his eyes and stomped in the same direction. “Fuckin’ prick, could at least clean up after himself. Someone could--”

Someone could skid on the road. Slippery road. Could skid on the ice.

No. Don’t think about that. It wasn't even snowing.

Hank reached into his jacket and grasped for his bottle of scotch as he went in the direction of the figure. There was more blue on the ground, splattered like it was leaking off something. What was it? Coolant? No, the smell was wrong. What the fuck was it?

Hank followed the puddles as they winded into an unpaved street. That street led into a construction yard, winding amongst old rusted fences.

He heard the first noise that wasn’t footsteps. Radio static. Faint at first, but quickly overwhelming any sound around it. Squeaking with distortion. And then Hank came to a dead end. Dead except for a tiny concrete alcove filled with trash and half-barred with planks of wood. Blue was smudged on some of the planks and the static was coming from there.

This felt like a distinctly stupid idea, even as Hank stuck his leg through the gap and climbed on through. His eyes found the source of the static. A tiny radio, designed to fit in his pocket. The static was louder than screaming. Hank picked it up.

Something moved out of the corner of his eye. Hank turned, one hand up to show he meant no harm.

“You the asshole that was drippin’ that… that…”

Hank’s words failed him as the figure slowly uncurled from where it’d been scrunched over on the floor. The… the… what the hell was it?!

Slowly, Hank’s hand went for his gun. He didn’t point it at the creature, still keeping the other hand raised.

Creature was the only word for it. It was the size of an adult man and it had legs—oddly firm, shapely legs for all that they were slimy and covered in scabbed, blue veined skin. The creature got more twisted the further up its body he looked. The stomach sagging and largely disproportionate. There seemed to be a gaping hole in its chest that contracted and expanded like it was breathing—each time with a wet rasp—and that was where the blue fluid was heavily leaking from. And the face… there were no eyes. No nose or ears. Scabby, pallid skin with only a large, gaping maw of a mouth. A black, rotten tongue drooling out. The creature let out another wet wheeze, and orange-brown liquid spilled from its mouth.

The stench rolling off this thing… if not for the stench, Hank might have thought this was a hallucination. But that smell—rotten meat and something chemical that seared the hair in his nostrils.

The creature groaned at him before letting off a hideous retching noise, and orange-brown liquid sprayed at him. Hank dived back, but it stained one of his pant legs. There was a noise like bacon sizzling, and his leg started to burn.

Hank raised his gun and fired.

For all that this creature was horrific, one well-placed bullet was all it took. There was another moan—disturbingly ecstatic in nature—before the thing collapsed to the ground. Blue and that orange-brown puddled around it. Not quite mingling into a new colour, seeming more like oil and water in how they mixed.

...He didn’t think that street gangs or rowdy locals were the problem Silent Hill had anymore.

He prodded the creature with his foot before looking down at his leg and wincing. The pant leg had been fucked up, and the skin underneath was red and had white blisters springing up on it. Stung like a bitch, but he didn’t think it was gonna be a problem right now.

“What the fuck is it?” Hank whispered to himself.

It wasn’t human. That was for fucking sure.

It took him some time to realise the radio had stopped emitting static. That it had ceased to do so the moment that Hank had shot the creature. Hank put away his gun after a wary stare around the rest of the trash-filled hideaway before playing with the radio. Trying to see if it picked up anything. A news broadcast? Or fuck, even some music would be nice.

He didn’t get any music. He did get speech, but it was garbled and distorted like the static had been. He held it to his ear and tried to make out any words.

He could swear he heard ‘dad’ in whatever the person on the radio was saying, but it soon cut off entirely.

“What the fuck,” Hank breathed again.

He shoved the radio back into his pocket and left the alcove, walking back the way he came. Trying to put distance between himself and the creature. He’d report it if he found anyone, but… jesus, he was starting to realise why no-one had showed up yet except for the kid.

If there was ever a time to leave, this was it.

...Fuck it, though. Worst came to worst, this town would just be finishing off the work of years of alcoholism, cholesterol and the sorts of terrible decisions that had led him here to begin with.

With that, Hank walked right back into the fog without a clue on what the fuck he was doing.

Chapter Text

Well, shit.

Hank had spent some time going from door to door. Alleyway to alleyway. Just knocking, testing doors, seeing if anyone was holed up. As far as he could tell, so far no-one was. Hank had broken a few windows in the process. He didn’t think anyone would cause a ruckus about it.

Nothing much to find so far, just ruins, but he’d swiped some medicine from one house. Found some stuff to put on his leg to soothe the damage from the monster puking on him. There had been more monsters as he traveled. More of the same badly proportioned creatures with the chest cavities that couldn’t stop puking. But the radio now clipped to his jacket always started crackling when one of them got close, so they couldn’t surprise him. As long as he kept his distance and put them down quick it wasn’t as much of a problem as he would have thought.

At least until he ran out of bullets. That was going to be a bad time.

However, it wasn’t until he’d explored a few blocks that he’d actually found signs of any human casualties. One casualty.

Hank grimaced and covered his nose with his sleeve as he stared at the body. It hadn’t been a clean death. They were slumped in an alleyway, and there was so much blood that Hank couldn’t figure out where the wounds were. The blood almost obscured the oddly jubilant patterning of the shirt peeking out of their jacket. It smelt like decay. The corpse had been here for a while.

Poor bastard.

Hank, still trying to block out the smell, gave the body a brief prod. It was not a good feeling. As Hank shifted the arm, he heard a faint jingle. Pulling the arm slightly away from the body, a set of keys fell out of the corpse’s hand. A little plastic tag with an address was attached to it.

 

205, Wood Side Apartments.

 

Hank looked at the keys, then at the dead body.

Well, it wasn’t like he had any better ideas yet. Maybe there were others holed up there who were waiting for this guy to get back. Although given the state of decay…

Hank turned quickly and walked away, trying not to breathe through his nose until he was far clear. The rot still lingered in his nostrils for a while after.

The apartment building was on the same street. One of the keys opened the front gate. The other also had ‘205’ printed into the metal. Hank locked the gate behind him. Better to stop any more monsters from wandering in.

The apartment building looked just as dilapidated as anything else. If he hadn’t had the keys, he would have probably just tested the door and moved on if it didn’t work. But the door was unlocked.

The inside was dark, with only the light from the door to faintly illuminate the surroundings. Hank tested the electricity, just in case. Nope. Shit. Too much to hope for, he supposed. An empty lobby that consisted of a bit of abandoned furniture and a wall of mailboxes.

Hank knocked on the door to 205 first. He wasn’t surprised when no response came. But moments after he did so, the radio started to admit static. Getting louder as footsteps emerged from down the hall.

“God-fucking-dammit,” Hank muttered under his breath, turning and raising his gun. Already these monsters were becoming more of an annoyance than anything. He pulled the trigger and the puking monster that had been stumbling towards him collapsed like the others.

He was a little disconcerted at the fact that this was already becoming a fucking chore. Maybe he was just holding off on cracking. Maybe he’d already cracked. Or maybe the booze was just keeping him calm.

Hank took another swig of scotch. Just in case.

With that, he slid the key into the lock for 205 and entered, only to squint his eyes against a spot of light that immediately shone right at him. Hank raised his hand to block it, unable to see beyond that one bit of brightness.

His eyes started to adjust. Eventually he lowered, although bright spots still flickered across his vision. The source of the light was a tiny flashlight pinned to the front of a jacket. Hanging in the middle of the room on a plastic mannequin torso.

Hank took a step forward, frowning at it. Who left something like this in the middle of the room? He reached over and pulled the flashlight off the jacket.

Immediately, something lunged at him from the shadows. The radio roared to life a split second too late. Hank couldn’t lift the gun before the thing charged into him. The gun flew from his hand, clattering somewhere in the darkness.

It seemed like there were too many limbs on this thing. It thrashed and slammed limbs—arms, legs?--against him, flailing about while screaming. A high-pitched, almost human wail. Hank saw glints of red as the limbs passed by his face.

Hank managed to wrench a leg free from the creature and kick it off him. The creature landed on its… back? It continued to flail. Hank scrambled to his feet before giving it another kick, digging the heel of its boot into its midsection. Third. Fourth. Fifth. It stopped moving on the seventh kick.

Hank doubled over, breathing heavily from both stress and exertion before shining the flashlight on the creature to look at it properly. It had… limbs. But they didn’t have hands or feet. The body looked plastic and had a weird shine to it. There was no head. The glints of red, though… there seemed to be a red, crystallized substance coating much of the creature, sprouting from plastic flesh like it was growing from it.

First monster he’d seen that wasn’t a Puker, even if it was just because this thing didn’t have a mouth. Hank pushed it away from him with his foot before shining the light around the room, trying to find his gun.

He found it next to where the mannequin had fallen. As he picked up his revolver, he looked at the jacket again. Then he shined his torch on it.

He knew this jacket. It was worn by a lot of members of his police precinct. This one was frayed in ways that tickled his brain.

Hank used to wear this kind of jacket, but he hadn’t done so in years. Back when he’d given enough of a shit, he’d always kept it tidy. Not frayed like this one. There had been a time when he’d looked after his appearance.

He remembered that Cole had sometimes worn his jacket. Usually if Hank had slept in too late, especially after the divorce when there was no other parent to distract Cole from stealing his things. Cole would borrow Hank’s jacket. His police cap and his badge. He’d put them on. And it would be a struggle to get them back again.

Hank had always kind of hoped Cole would end up as a detective, too. Whenever his mind drifted and thought about what Cole could have been… somehow, cop work and detective work always seemed to enter into it. Kid had been an inquisitive little shit (he thought fondly), he would have been good at it.

Hank let out a low sigh, gripping the jacket and pressing his head to it for a moment.

“What are you fucking doing, Hank?” he muttered.

After standing there for a while, he let go of the jacket. This town was experiencing some bizarre apocalypse, he had bigger things to worry about than a jacket.

Back to square one, since it didn’t look like anyone was still living here. Might as well check the other rooms.

 


 

Locked door after locked door after locked door.

There was exactly one apartment on this floor that was unlocked, and of course it was the very last one he could check. There was a metal grate barring the way to the back of the building, although Hank could see a staircase entrance if he shone his flashlight far enough. But the rest of this building was just corridors full of doors. For all he knew, he might have been trying the same doors over and over again.

He headed up to the third floor, but that one had another metal grate right by the stairs. Who the hell put those here? It wasn’t like they were keeping the monsters out, since

The only unlocked apartment, 208, led to a small apartment. There was a tiny, old-fashioned television in the corner with an armchair in front of it. The armchair had lost most of its stuffing by now. Then there was a second room that was almost empty except for this big-ass grandfather clock propped up against the wall and a bit of graffiti next to it. Lines with names written next to them.

Hank stared at the clock with a frown for a moment. He wasn’t exactly an interior decorator, but the thing just looked so out of place. He absently tapped his finger against the glass covering the clock face. The glass was part of a tiny door, the rim of which was made of burnished metal.

He checked the shelves for anything. Some food or meds. Although then again he wasn’t sure if he could trust anything edible in this dump. He didn’t find anything like that, but he did find a key. Identical to the one that had unlocked 205, but with 202 on it instead.

Hank grumbled under his breath as he left the apartment, giving a small kick to the metal grate blocking off the rest of the corridor just to see if it moved, before stomping off towards 202. He passed by 205 on the way, and for a moment couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

It clicked as he was putting the key into 202. The corpse of the Puker he’d shot earlier was gone. God, if he was dealing with some kind of zombie reanimation thing… He doubled back and pushed open the door to 205 as well. That plastic, crystallized monster… it wasn’t there anymore, either.

Hank gritted his teeth a little before returning to open 202.

No monsters inside. But he gets an immediate sense of deja vu. He’s raided enough red ice labs in his career to know a set-up when he sees it.

Hank steps inside and starts to stare at the glassware decorating various surfaces. Stained and long unused. Even by the standards of red ice, he wouldn’t trust anything made with this. Clusters of the red crystals were strewn about, though they didn’t seem packaged. They were just part of the furniture they were resting on now.

The Plastic monster had crystals on it. Was this entire incident just a really fucked up drug side effect? Someone spilled their ingredients into the water and just… made monsters?

No. That was dumb.

One of these pieces of glassware--a large beaker--was still filled with liquid. Red. Murky. There was something at the bottom of it, though he couldn’t tell what.

Hank considered sticking his hand in there to fish it out. His fingers were nearing the top of the beaker before he shook his head and grimaced. What the fuck? No. He wasn’t going to do that. Instead, he slammed the beaker onto the table and let it shatter, drenching the table in red liquid. He realised shortly after that just pouring the liquid out would have been fine. But smashing something felt good.

Out tumbled a key. This one was much smaller, not designed for a door. Made of a burnished metal. Hank picked it up. Turned it over in his hands. And goddamn if he wasn’t pissed as all hell.

This town was fuckin’ with him.

After a moment he dismissed that thought. People fucked with people. So did smarter animals. Hank remembered when Sumo was being trained to not shit all over the house. Hank would lock him in a particular room at night to stop shit from being everywhere. The dog would deliberately scarf down as much food and water as he could before bed so that it would be harder for Hank to carry him to where he was meant to sleep. Damn smart dog. But a town was just a collection of buildings. It didn’t have the intelligence to fuck with him.

Still, running back and forth between rooms because everyone here kept their keys in other people’s locked rooms… just such bullshit.

Hank shook his head as he headed back the way he came. Out of the floor and up the stairwell to the third floor. Lobby dealt with. Second floor dealt with. If there was nothing good up the third one then he could leave.

Turned out there wasn’t much of anything up there. Another set of metal bars blocked off half the floor, and there were only a couple of apartments that were reachable on his end. Hank squinted through the bars.

He saw movement further back, just on the edge of where the corridor got too dark to see. He pulled the flashlight off his jacket and held it up to the bars, trying to shine a light further in, and caught a glimpse of white hair before the figure bolted back, too far to be seen.

Shit. Well, guess the kid’s caretaker was still kicking, then.

“Hey! You!” Hank yelled through the bars, but he got no response. Either because she was already out of earshot or because she was willfully ignoring him. “Kara!” Still nothing.

Why could no-one just stay still for a moment? Hank wasn’t that terrifying, was he?

Hank clipped the flashlight back to his jacket before checking the other apartments. Hoping there was a way through. Out of the two he could reach, one was blocked. The other was open, but led only into a room that was entirely empty except for a shopping cart. The walls were pumped full of bullet holes.

Hank peered into the shopping cart, frowning, before putting away his revolver briefly and picking up the handgun inside. Different from his gun, used clips instead of individual bullets. There were two clips in the shopping cart too.

Well… shit, that’s convenient.

He stuck the gun into his belt, but retrieved his revolver immediately after.

No getting to Kara from this floor. He could just leave her there. But she might have seen Cole. She might know something about what happened here. Besides, leaving someone alone surrounded by monsters was kind of a fucked up thought.

Hank kicked the metal bars on his way past, but they didn’t budge. As he headed back into the stairwell, he looked at what he had. A gun. Another gun. A tiny, burnished key. He’d seen a keyhole. That clock had been really out of place. And just beyond the bars near that apartment he’d seen another stairwell.

This town. Was. Fuckin’ with him.

With a heavy sigh, Hank left the stairwell again on the second floor and started to head for 208 again.

The radio in his pocket started to buzz as he moved that way. Louder and louder. Hank expected a Puker or a Plastic to jump out at any moment (although the Plastic hadn’t set off the radio until it moved). But he kept moving. Nothing.

Still, the radio got louder. It was practically screaming.

Then, finally, he saw it. There was the metal bars blocking access to the back of the floor and the staircase beyond. And behind those bars…

It was humanoid. Much like the others. A little bigger. But it had the right amount of arms and legs and it was largely proportionate. Chunks of metal had been welded to its arms and legs, however. To its chest. It looked slow and cumbersome, and the effect made it look bulky despite its human size. There were multiple chain links wound around one of its arms. And then there was the head. Like the Plastic, it had those same red ice growths. But for this one, it submerged them from the shoulders up, obscuring whether this thing had a human head or not. Just a mass of crystals with pale, blue-veined flesh swelling up around where the crystals started.

Hank couldn’t see any features through the red crystals… except for one large, grotesque eye lined with veins on the left side of its head. The eye was a pale, tired blue.

It stared at him through the bars. And it didn’t move.

Hank raised his gun on it. Still, it didn’t move. Hank’s eyes quickly flickered in the direction of the door to 208. The radio was so loud he could barely think. Hank shifted towards the door, gun still aimed at the creature, and he opened the door and pushed it gently.

The change was immediately obvious. The clunky little television in the corner had been turned on since he was gone. Part of the screen was splattered in blood, and there was a corpse slumped in the armchair in front of it.

Hank  turned his attention back to the creature, who still hadn’t moved, and fired. The bullet left a small scratch in one of the metal plates weighing down its limbs. Hank tried again, and this time the bullet sunk into flesh. It got exactly the same reaction. That was to say, no reaction. The creature just silently stared at him as it oozed blue onto the floor.

Hank froze for a moment, then in a panic emptied the rest of the ammo in the gun at the creature. No matter where he hit and what visual damage occured, the creature never moved or reacted.

With no other ideas, he backed silently through the door to 208 and shut it. The static from his radio cut off immediately, leaving only the fainter static of the television in the corner.

“...I hate this place,” Hank muttered. His voice was shakier than he’d like and he could feel cold sweat running down his face.

He reloaded his gun. Still half a box of ammo in his jacket. Lesson learned. Don’t waste any on whatever the fuck that thing was. As he fiddled with the gun, he eyed the corpse in the chair. Couldn’t make out its facial features. They’d mostly been blown out. Just a bloody, gaping hole underneath blood-matted, grey hair. Hank grimaced and looked away, walking into the other room to examine the clock.

He gave the writing on the walls a proper look this time. Three lines--no, arrows, he could just make out the ends--next to three names. Henry. Mildred. Scott.

Hank rolled his eyes as he used the tiny burnished key to unlock the front of the clock. Hours. Minutes. Seconds. Goddamn puzzles. He opened the face plate and turned the hands so they were in the same place as the lines on the wall. As he did, there was a small ‘click’ from the clock as something slid into place.

He’d raided places that had weird ways of blocking off rooms and storage they didn’t want anyone to know about, but this was taking the cake. Hank gave the clock a push to the side and it shifted. There was a hole behind it, just enough that Hank could squeeze through if he sucked in his gut a bit.

This would lead him right to the stairwell. It would also lead him right to where that creature had been silently standing. But if anything, the need to get there was now higher. If only to warn Kara about that particular monster.

Hank squeezed through the gap into the next room. Nothing of interest in here. He headed for the door and opened it just a crack.

No radio static.

He looked out proper. He could see the other side of the bars. The creature was gone. There was only some blue stains where it had been standing.

Hank didn’t know if that was better or worse than it still being there.

He inched forward, moving up the stairs, and it wasn’t long before the radio started to spit static again. As it did, Hank spotted traces of blue on the walls. One smudge looked like a hand had trailed absently along the wall, leaving blue in its wake. Leading to a door that was slightly ajar.

Hank could hear wild, frantic thumping. Struggling. He hoped to god it wasn’t either Kara or the kid who was the source. He crept over and pushed the door just an inch further open.

He almost let out a sigh of relief when he saw nothing human in the room—better just monsters than a mix of the two—but it caught in his throat at the last minute.

The monster with the massive, crystallized head was standing in the kitchen of the apartment. It was standing perfectly still, seeming almost peaceful. If not for the fact that it had a monster in its grip. One of the Pukers, who was the source of the thrashing. Those bizarrely shapely legs smashing against the ground wildly, flailing as it tried to wiggle out of the monster’s grip.

The monster had taken one of the chain links that had been previously wound around its arm, and had wrapped it around the creature’s neck. Slowly, but surely, it was strangling the Puker to death. There was a grotesque gurgle as a small dribble of that orange-brown acid escaped the Puker’s mouth, and a horrible sizzle as the rest stayed in the throat. Unable to escape through its usual means, the acid was burning holes in the Puker’s throat, spilling out brown and blue.

Hank started to step away, and the crystallized monster turned that huge head towards the door. Stared right at Hank with its one blue eye.

It gazed for a moment, then dismissively turned back to its work.

Hank closed the door and the static cut off immediately. Then he bolted down the corridor. He wasn’t going to ask why that thing wasn’t interested in following him right now, but it meant he had a chance to check if anyone else was here before getting the fuck out of dodge.

He knocked on each door quickly, tested the doorknob and moved on. Each door was locked. Door after door after door. No other monsters wandering the corridors here, which somehow set Hank even more on edge. He waited for the radio to suddenly flare up again, but nothing came.

Locked door. Locked door. Locked door.

Each locked door just set his teeth on edge. By the time he reached the second-last, he was frustrated enough to just give the door a kick instead.

It practically flew off its hinges. And immediately after, someone smacked him in the face with a table leg.

“Jesus Ch--” Hank started what would have been a multitude of swearing, clutching his face, but stopped. Partially because he didn’t want to make noise. Not if that thing would find that interesting enough to follow. Partially because the source of the blow was indeed the woman who must be Kara. Hank didn’t think a lot of people here were likely to have white hair. She raised the table leg again, staring him down despite the fact that the hands holding the leg were slightly shaky.

“Who are you? What do you want?!” she yelled at him. The kid hadn’t been wrong. She was a pretty woman, but a big part of that had been marred by a mass of bruises and swelling near her right temple that gave her face a lopsided look. Something had clearly struck her recently, and it didn’t look to be a small knock. Her clothes looked scavenged. Male clothes that weren’t made to her size and were dirty and frayed.

“Not so loud!” Hank hissed, holding his nose. He smudged a bit of blood away--although he was pretty sure it mostly ended up in his beard anyway--before putting the revolver back in his belt and holding his now empty hand up. “You Kara?”

Kara lowered the table leg just an inch. “...How do you know that?”

“Met a kid who mentioned--”

“Alice?” Immediately the wariness fades, although it’s replaced with worry. “You’ve seen Alice? Where is she? Has anything happened--”

Hank held a finger to his lips, eyes darting back down the dark corridor. Kara went quiet, her eyes moving that way too before she looked back at them.

“Are they up here?” Hank didn’t need to ask what she meant by ‘they.’

“A big one. Bullets don’t do anything and it’s between the stairwell and us.”

“I know a way outside, but it’s fenced off. I don’t… I don’t think most of the monsters wander far, the ones that separated me and Alice got bored quickly. We might be okay out there.” Kara was still eying Hank, a little bit of suspicion creeping back into her features, but seemingly she’d decided he wasn’t as bad as the threat down the hall.

“Alright. Alright…” Hank reached for his revolver again. “Lead the way and stay close. If you see anything ahead get behind me.” His tone was more brisk, trying to keep his orders clear. Sometimes civilians in a bad situation panicked or didn’t listen. Kara seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, though. She nodded, immediately heading towards the door.

No static yet. Hank kept the gun ready, making sure not to point it at Kara, as she silently lead the way forward to the end of the corridor. Hank glanced over his shoulder and saw nothing.

She opened a door into yet another stairwell--how come this building had so many stairwells and none of them wanted to lead anywhere straightforward--before guiding him down to the ground floor. There was a door that was clearly meant to lead to the lobby, but it had been barred with planks and nails.

Now that they weren’t on the same floor as the creature, Hank felt a little better about speaking.

“You know what happened here?”

Kara shook her head. “Me and Alice were just… we just…” She tailed off for a moment before saying, “We’re not from here.”

“Well… fuck,” Hank muttered under his breath. So much for someone who could give him a lay of the land. Who could tell him where Cole would be if he was here at all. “You, uh… you wouldn’t have seen a guy called Cole by any chance?”

“I haven’t learned any names, you’re the first one I’ve spoken to,” Kara said as she pushed open a door.

Hank never thought he’d be happy to see that thick fog as they stepped outside. No monsters in sight. Hank recognised this as very close to where he’d entered the apartment complex, but the fence sectioned this part off.

He gave the fence a look. One of them could probably give the other a boost over that.

“You saw Alice. Did you… is she…?” Kara trailed off, the possibility too horrible to voice.

“Last I saw her she wasn’t hurt. On the outskirts of town, near the graveyard. She ran away when I said…” Hank stopped. Thought about it for a moment before saying, “You’re on the run, aren’t you?”

Kara’s grip tensed on the table leg, but Hank quickly raised his hand.

“Don’t hit me with that again, alright? Look. I am a cop, but you have nothing to worry about. I’m not here on business, this isn’t my area. Anyone asks, I didn’t see you. At least until we’re out of this town. You fine with that?”

Kara considered it for a moment. Her eyes blinked quickly as she grimaced but slowly nodded.

“It’ll do.” With that, Kara turned and pointed around to the back of the apartment complex. “This area leads to another apartment. I saw a couple of people wandering about there. Maybe one of them is… Cole, you said? What does he look like?”

“I…”

That image of how he imagined Cole popped into his head as clear as day. But that was just a daydream.

“I don’t rightly know," Hank conceded. "Brown hair. Blue eyes. Late twenties. He’s… he’s my son, if that helps. If it gives you something to go on.”

Kara nodded, although her grimace got stronger. “I saw one who matches that, but he didn’t look like you. He definitely had a gun, so don't startle him like you did with me."

"Don't kick in the door, got it."

"And there was another guy walking around. Shaved head, darker skin, had a big coat on... Saw him trying to warm up in the courtyard that way. Maybe one of them’s Cole, or maybe they’ve seen him. Do you… do you know which way Alice ran?”

“Towards town from the graveyard. Maybe she went back there after she lost me.” Hank gestured at the table leg Kara was still holding. “You planning on killing Pukers with that?”

“...Pukers?”

“Uh, y’know… there’s Pukers and Plastics and that… big Ice Head thing? Look, I don’t have time to workshop names for those creatures,” Hank grumbled awkwardly. “You used a gun before?”

Kara stared at him for a few long seconds before saying, “I’m not sure.”

“How can you not be--nevermind. We’ll go with no. Alright, normally I wouldn’t do this but given this town…” Hank put away his revolver before drawing the handgun he’d found in the apartment building. He checked to make sure it was unloaded first before holding it out to Kara, keeping the barrel pointed away from both of them. “Take it. Let’s see your grip.”

“...You’re sure? You… don’t you need it?” Kara said slowly.

“Nah. I prefer my revolver,” Hank grunted. “Just take the damn thing.”

Kara reached out slowly and took the gun. After a moment of holding it awkwardly, there was a flicker of recognition in her face as she shifted the gun into a better grip.

“I have used one before,” she said. She sounded a little surprised.

“There you go, then.” Hank slapped the rest of the ammo for it into her hands. “Find the kid, then get out of town. There’s a rusted junker up by that roadside bathroom. I’ll head there once I’m done, and I’ll give you a lift to the nearest truck stop or something. If I see Alice, I’ll take her up there myself.”

Kara looked at him, then looked down quickly. After a moment she looked back up again.

“Why?”

“...I mean, she’s a little kid, I don’t know if she can find the way by herself.”

“Why any of it? What do you get out of it?”

Hank gave Kara a stunned look. “...Jesus Christ, lady, I’m not an asshole. You expect me to just leave you here?”

Kara squinted at him for a moment. Then she smiled. “I did. Sorry. I haven’t met--” She stopped for a moment, frown flickering across her features, before she said, “It’s fine.”

“The other apartment dangerous?”

“Not when I went through it, but… who knows. It leads out near Rosewater Park, though. That’s not far from where me and Alice got separated.”

“Shit, that park’s still there, huh?”

Hank remembered it clearly. The park was within view of the southern part of Toluca Lake. He and Cole had eaten lunch there a few times, sitting in the grass and staring at the frozen lake after a bout of skating. It had been freezing, but Cole hadn’t wanted to eat inside. He liked snow.

Hank couldn’t fucking stand snow.

“Well, I think I cleared out most of the road from here to the graveyard so…” Hank clasped his hands together and made a step for Kara to climb on. “Think you can hop this fence? Can’t go back through Woodside.”

“Oh. Yeah, I can manage that.”

Kara wasn’t hard to lift up, and she scrambled over the fence easily enough. Thankfully there were no barbs up the top. When she landed on the other side she turned back, fingers clasping through the fence as she looked at him.

“I don’t even know your name,” she said.

“Lieu--” Hank stopped midway through his habit of introducing himself as ‘Lieutenant Anderson’ on the job. No need to remind Kara of cops if she was on the run. “...Hank’s fine.”

“Hank.” She nodded. “Stay safe.”

“Yep, you too. Go find the kid.”

Kara disappeared into the fog. Hank turned his attention to the other apartment. The one that would lead him to the park.

Cole had mentioned ice-skating in his letter. Would he be near the park? Near the lake they’d skated on? Either way, with that damn crystal-faced strangler at his back it felt like the only way to go. Like the town was funneling him in that direction.

This town was fucking with him. Absolutely.

Chapter Text

It was official. Hank was never going to go into another apartment building again after this town. Not if he could help it. He felt like he was developing claustrophobia just by being in here.

Maybe it was worse because he’d gotten a chance to breathe for a few minutes. He’d needed to pass through a small courtyard to get to this second apartment complex, and it had just been so open. There’d been monsters. Most of them flailing about in an empty, cracked pool. But they hadn’t been able to figure out how to climb out of the pool, so Hank had just left them there. No use wasting ammo.

The only other thing that had been in the courtyard worth noting was a bin that had clearly been used as a fire. To warm up or to burn something. Maybe both. Hank had poked around in the refuse but there’d been nothing interesting.

But now he was back indoors, in another apartment with too-narrow corridors and too many locked doors. The stairwell that would have led him out of the building and to Rosewater Park was blocked, because of course it fucking was.

Hank hated this place. Hated it. He had active plans to drink this whole incident out of his memory the moment that he found Cole.

With an irritated sigh, Hank turned back down the corridor after a few more minutes of attempting to kick the stairwell door down. Had Kara meant this stairwell? This seemed to be the only way to get out, surely she would have mentioned that it was blocked off. Maybe it was open on one of the other floors.

He’d shot a couple more Pukers that had been in the way, but already their bodies had just… vanished. Blue stains remained, but still… Hank had to wonder if maybe these were all just the same monster coming back to haunt him.

The radio was quiet. It flared up on occasion when he opened a door, and would quiet back down when Hank dealt with whatever was inside. In some ways it was easier than, say, chasing down a suspect in a similar setting. Systematically clearing out each room. As nerve-wracking and claustrophobic as this whole place was, it was a little familiar.

The ground floor had one room in it that had anything noteworthy. Room 105, which was largely empty except for a well-carved desk with a burnished plaque. Hank had only paid attention to it because when he shone his flashlight over it, metal had glinted strongly back at him. Not just from the plaque, but from something sitting on top of it.

Upon further examination, the glint had come from a coin lying on top of the desk. Made of brass or a similar material, it had a hanging man carved on it. It was a little bigger than any money coin, and had an odd weight to it.

Absently, Hank tried to flip it and almost dropped it. He fumbled with it for a second before staring at the desk. He tried to open it, but it was locked.

There was no keyhole. Instead, there were five indentations. All the same size as the coin. Hank held the coin up to it and tried to slide it in one of the slots to see if anything happened. Nothing did, and Hank took it out again. Then he read the plaque that decorated the desk.

“Three bright coins in five holes be. At one end sits the Seducer of she. The wind from... blah blah blah blah…” Hank skimmed ahead. “Blah blah… Tis to the Prisoner’s left that he doth rot.” He looks at the coin in his hand, and at the hanging man on it. Then back to the desk. “Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Kicking the desk didn’t open it. Hank sighed and turned away from the desk, pocketing the first coin as he did so. Just great.

Guess he was on the lookout for coins now. What was it with this town and puzzles?

Nothing else was on the ground floor, so he made his way up to the second. He checked the stairwell door there. Blocked as well. He could swear he heard the door groaning, like there was something pressed against it. He knocked. No response. He swore quietly and continued on.

He started to check the other rooms, doing a once-over of the place just to make sure. But he heard footsteps and muttering coming from one room before he could even check the door. Room 207.

Hank reached out to touch the doorknob only to realise that the door had been completely kicked in, evident from the splinters. It was still slightly ajar. Hank nudged the door open, gun still at the ready as he checked the corners of the room.

Most of this apartment matched the others. Plain and decrepit. But in this one there was another corpse. Red splattered across the counter in the little kitchen, the body slumped over near the oven. Hank sighed and looked away from it. Poor bastard.

The movement was louder now, coming from behind another door in the apartment. Hank approached, gun raised, before leaning close to the door and listening. He could hear muttering, but couldn’t make out the words.

He was about to knock when he heard a quiet, hissed ‘fhk.’ Immediate disappointment, irritation and confusion in equal measure flooded through Hank and he opened the door.

“What the fuck, Reed?!”

Immediately, a gun was pointed straight at Hank, who raised his own again in response. Gavin glared at him for a few long moments, half leaning on a filthy sink that was tinted red. After a pause, a mocking if shaky grin crossed his face.

“...Wow. All this way in and not dead yet?” he said, gun lowering an inch. “You actually sober on the job for once?”

Hank lowered his gun slowly, and Gavin mirrored the motion. At which point Hank took three steps forward and smacked Gavin in the face.

“Jesus, what the--” Gavin already had the gun half-raised again when Hank grabbed him by the collar, pinning him closer to sink.

“I fucking knew it,” Hank growled. “You think sending me that shit was funny, asshole?!”

“What the fuck? What are you even talking about?”

“The letter! Did you send me the letter?!”

“I don’t know what you’re on about. Now back off, old man, before you have an accident. I don’t think anyone’d notice if you vanished in this shitburg.”

Hank was still way more pissed off about the letter than about Gavin not-so-implicitly threatening him. He was on the edge of getting it out and shoving it in his face, but his hand stopped halfway to his jacket. No. It wouldn’t make sense for Gavin to turn up here to taunt him about it. Travel hundreds of miles just to go ‘gotcha?’ He was more likely to wait back home and laugh at him when he walked back into work.

He slowly let go of Gavin, who immediately gave him a shove backwards before turning back to the sink. Hank’s mouth tightened a bit and he was tempted to shove back once more, but there was already enough to fight in this hellhole without getting into a slapfight with Gavin. He could do that back home.

“...What the fuck are you doing here?” Hank asked. Voice still high and irritated.

“What am I doing here? You’re the one who ran off. Fowler’s losing his shit about it.” Gavin lowered his gun again and scratched his nose with a frown. “Saw your shitheap out front of the town, figured you were here. Didn’t really expect the whole monsters thing, though. Fuck.”

Hank squinted suspiciously at him. “...You followed me all the way here?”

“Tell me about it, this place is the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere.”

Hank shook his head wonderingly. He didn’t think Fowler would go to that extent to check on him. He didn’t precisely remember what he’d last said to him. He had been pretty fucking drunk when he found the letter. Maybe he’d said something worrying. Hank supposed if one of his co-workers had gotten balls-off-the-wall drunk and driven off while saying something about finding his dead son… yeah, Hank would have wanted to follow up on that.

Why did it have to be Gavin, though?

“Alright, look,” Hank huffed, raising his hands. “I have business here. I’ll go back when I go back. Tell Fowler to get off my dick. And to send reinforcements or something while he’s at it, because jesus christ.”

“Oh, what the fuck am I gonna say to him? ‘Anderson wanted to stay in a shitty tourist town to fight monsters, send help?’ Yeah, I’ll sound real fucking sane.”

Hank paced a couple of steps away before sitting down on the edge of the rusty bathtub, resting his arms on his thighs and leaning forward a little.

“You seen anyone?”

“I’ve seen monsters. Just monsters.” Gavin says it quickly, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. It’s a closed-off stance. Hank narrows his eyes, gaze drifting back to the direction of the kitchen.

“And the dead guy out there? You know anything?”

Gavin’s eyes drifted in that direction too. His mouth tightened a little and his posture tightened up. He shrugged.

Hank squinted at Gavin for a few long moments. “You didn’t see Ice Head lingering about or anything?” When that only got a confused stare Hank motioned around his head. “The guy with all the red ice crystals growing out of his flesh.”

“...You mix something in with your booze? Ain’t seen any like that. I’ve seen things that weren’t human, but--”

“It would explain a lot if I was.” Hank rubbed his forehead, trying to drive back the headache that was starting to build. “You want me back at the precinct? I’ll go once I’ve found my son, so if you want to help me with that--”

“Of fucking course you lost him,” Gavin groaned. “Were you drunk? You’d lose your own ass if it wasn’t attached to your face.”

“I didn’t lose him, he was already—Okay, fuck you too, then. Keep up that attitude and you’re riding in the trunk on the way back.”

Gavin didn’t respond for a few long moments. He’d started frowning again, nose wrinkled in thought, before he let out a hiss of breath that might have been another swear. It was hard to tell.

“Whatever. I’ll look if it gets you outta here quicker. But I’m not babysitting your ass, you’ll just slow me down. And if you take too long then I’m leaving without the both of you and telling Fowler you tripped and drowned in the lake. Now fuck off, would you? I need a minute, this place stinks and it’s making me want to puke.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Hank left Gavin there by the sink. Leaving him there didn’t take much persuasion, for all that he felt like a bit of an ass over it. But Gavin was both an asshole and a cop. He’d probably be fine, and Hank wouldn’t be too torn up if he wasn’t.

He glanced back at the body. As the flashlight illuminated it, light glinted off something on the kitchen counter. Hank walked over, trying to hold his breath and not get the smell of decay, and picked it up.

Another coin. Same size and weight as the other one. Made of copper this time, with a snake carved into the front.

“I’m stealing your coin!” Hank called out.

“Whatever, I don’t collect those! I’m not a nerd!” Gavin yelled from the other room.

Hank stuck it in his pocket and headed out.

Back to checking rooms. Door after door after door. He went from the second floor to the third floor, but it was more of the same. Door after door after door.

The stairwell door here was locked. However, it didn’t have the same… pressure to it as the other stairwell doors had. This one somehow felt openable. Hank gave it a kick but to no avail. He grumbled to himself before heading away from it.

Finally, though, his eyes landed on a sign at the other side of the floor. A fire escape sign. Fuck, that had to lead somewhere. Outside?

The door was locked, naturally. Who the fuck locks a fire escape without locking the front door? What is the point of a fire escape if it’s locked?

He sure wasn’t interested in going to look for another set of keys. He hadn’t found keys for the stairwell, he couldn’t imagine that the fire escape would go any better. And he didn’t have that last coin, if having it would even help at all.

Hank took a step back, gripping his revolver tightly and staring at the door for a moment. He knocked on the door three times first, just in case Kara or someone else was on the other side with another table leg. No response. Then he kicked the door with all the strength he could muster.

It flew open, and Hank saw fog. His foot went where ground should have been and found nothing but air and he started to fall.

Hank’s hands flailed through the air for a moment before grabbing the wall. The fire escape hadn’t led to a stairwell or anything of the sort. It had opened outside significantly more directly than what he’d thought. Another apartment building was barely two feet away with an open window right across from him. He couldn’t see the ground, not with this fog.

“Goddamn trickster bullshit,” Hank muttered under his breath, holding the window frame tightly before stepping across into yet another fucking apartment. “You know that’s not what I meant by outside.” This town just got weirder. Who the hell builds a fire escape that leads out into the open air and into another building? The answer was either ‘idiots’ or ‘assholes.’

With that, he was stuck in yet another corridor full of doors. This was really grinding on his last nerve.

Door. Door. Another door. Another door. As Hank wandered this apartment, his feet sloshed through puddles. Something must have been leaking from elsewhere in the apartment. Ugh, nothing worse than damp socks.

He reached the end of the corridor and tested the doorknob of the last apartment. It was locked, too. Huffing under his breath, Hank turned away. Only to hear the faint click of a latch being unlocked. A moment later, the door opened a crack.

He turned to see a green eye peeking out from the sliver between the door and the wall. The eye blinked at him for a moment before the door opened an inch more.

“Are you with the Order?” he asks.

“...The fuck kind of order are you talking about?”

“I will take that as a no.”

With that, the door opens properly. The man standing there is tall, with his hair shaved down to black stubble. Brown skin with a smattering of freckles. His eyes don’t match. One is blue, and as the man’s gaze flickers out into the hallway Hank can see that the blue one doesn’t move. A prosthetic.

After a moment of checking the corridor he studies Hank with a slight frown. “What are you doing here?” He doesn’t sound hostile. More confused. Concerned.

“Uh, I was… I was lookin’ for my son? You seen him?”

“I didn’t think anyone was in town. Not… not this town, at any rate. Is it clear?”

“There’s, uh… there’s monsters. That… if you’ve been locked up for a while that might sound crazy, but--”

The man sighs. “No. Not crazy.” He steps aside and gestures into the apartment. “Come in.”

Hank steps inside and the man closes the door behind him. He’s not armed. The coat that Kara mentioned him having has been draped over an armchair, and there’s nowhere else to hide a firearm, let alone something like a table leg or other melee weapon. Hank takes a moment to look around the apartment.

The weird thing is it doesn’t match the other apartments at all. A little dusty, like someone went on holiday for a while and only just got back. But there’s a balcony that’s letting the light in and the fog is both a disconcerting and welcoming sight. More than that, the furniture looks soft and less stained and torn than everything else in the apartments Hank has checked so far—though again, it’s not impeccable.

But then there’s the decorations, which are a little disturbing. Whoever lived here was really into taxidermy. There’s stuffed creatures on shelves and animal skins scattered about. Then there’s paintings, which while not as blatantly creepy have something off-putting about the detailed distortion of the faces. But maybe it’s just because Hank never had much of a head for art.

The man returns to a corner of the room where a small table and the armchair sit. A book is open on the table. He reaches out, folding the corner before shutting it and quietly turning it over so that the front of the book is no longer visible before he turns back to Hank. After a moment of consideration he puts his hand out for a handshake.

“Markus,” he said.

“Uhh… Hank?” He doesn’t know what to make of this weirdly calm greeting in the middle of a nightmare town. But he slowly reaches out to shake the hand anyway.

Markus’ grip is firm but brief, at which point he gestures for Hank to sit down in another chair just by the little table with the books. Hank doesn’t take it.

“I’m kind of in a rush. I need to find my kid, and there’s others wandering around that might be waiting for me outside of town,” Hank said gruffly. “I mean, this is nice and all--” He gestures vaguely at the chairs. “But I don’t really have time for it.”

“Right. Sorry. It’s habit, I suppose.” The corner of Markus’ mouth twitched into a smile. “Carl never had patience for pointless pleasantries, either. Unless they were bringing some decent scotch.”

“Clearly a man after my own heart,” Hank said, looking around the room.

His eyes landed on some photos hanging on the wall. He recognised a few of the buildings in them as various locations around Silent Hill. One was the park. Many of them had clusters of people standing in front of them, looking important. Hank walked over to have a closer look, but he saw Markus shift uncomfortably at the same time.

“I don’t like people lookin’ at my old photos either,” Hank said, turning back to Markus. “You live here?”

“No. I used to live in this town, but that was a long time ago. This was Carl’s apartment. You said you were in a hurry, didn’t you? Anything you want to ask me?”

“If you haven’t seen anyone then you wouldn’t have seen Cole. Don’t know anyone by that name? Haven’t heard it in the last twenty years?” Markus shook his head. “Well, shit. Okay, one more question then. What the fuck happened here?”

“...Specifically? Because Silent Hill has a very extensive history of insanity.”

“Just… start at the monsters, alright? I’m pretty sure you can guess that I meant the monster apocalypse.”

Markus’ mouth tightens for a moment before he stands. “That part, I’m not… I’m not exactly sure on. I have guesses. I don’t know if they’re right. And I don’t know if they’d help you.” He frowned a little before crossing the room to pick up a bag. “You said there were others… how many? Names? What did they look like?”

“Kara and Alice—a white-haired woman and a small child—and Gavin, who’s a fucking asshole. Just look for an asshole, seriously, he radiates it. And Cole… if he’s here, he should have brown hair. Blue eyes. Probably looks like me. Less old and saggy.”

Markus nodded as he picked up the book and shoved it into his bag. Hank caught a glimpse of the cover, but only the word ‘crimson’ etched in gold, and black flowers embroidered along its edge. He could tell from a glance at the side that the pages had yellowed extensively. Hank’s fingers itch to pick it up. He could never resist old books, the mustier the better.

“Can I ask you one more thing, then?” Markus asks. “I… I lost something. Have you seen a bottle of white liquid? It would be in a pointed bottle with a cork.” Hank shook his head. Markus gritted his teeth and muttered, “Great. If you see it--”

“Hold onto it for you?”

Markus nodded. “And if you see anyone named Simon, Josh or North just tell them to...” He considers it for a moment before saying, “Happy Burger. They’ll remember where that was. Tell them to meet me at Happy Burger.”

“Oh yeah. That place still open?” Hank shook his head and waved his hand. “No, dumb question. If you see a little girl named Alice, tell her that Kara’s safe and she should head past the graveyard to the rusted junker by the roadside stop and wait.”

“Done. I’ll keep an eye out, but if there’s other people around then I need to get going.” Markus walks quickly past Hank before stopping and turning back. “...Have you felt the urge to leave Silent Hill yet?”

Hank has to think about it. The apartments, yes. Mostly through frustration. The town itself?

“No,” he finally says.

Markus grimaces, and the look he gives Hank is one of pity.

“If you get that urge? Take it and run. This town doesn’t like to let go of people.”

And he’s gone. Hank turns and looks back at the photos on the wall now that Markus isn’t there to feel uncomfortable about it. He wipes dust off a few of the glass surfaces covering them and notice that most of them have the same man in them. Middle-aged, with rolled up sleeves and tattoos on the forearms despite his otherwise conservative dress. Hank assumes that must be Carl.

There’s a photo of this man, some other adults and four young teenagers—he’d place them all at about fourteen or fifteen—that reaches his eye. He picks out one of the teenagers as a young Markus, easily recogniable even then. The others include a pale boy with big eyes, a skinnier, lankier boy with darker skin than Markus, and a girl with dark eyes and a long plait. None of them look happy. Neither does Carl, despite the smiles of the other adults.

It gives Hank the creeps and he looks down at the table that previously held the book. There’s one item that Markus left behind. A coin, just like the other two. This one, however, is a silver colour and has an old man carved on it instead.

He hesitates a little longer before pocketing it than with the last one. But he reasons to himself that he can always give it back to Markus later if he needs it. Or that he would have taken it with him if he needed it.

With that, Hank heads back through the ‘fire escape.’ Back towards the room with the desk and the riddle.

It takes a little longer than the clock riddle to figure out. For all that Hank’s a decent detective, he’s not really the sort to puzzle over word games. People in interrogations don’t talk to him in Ye Olde Bullshit.

He fucks up a couple of times. Thinking the snake goes on one end, then the other. Trying to figure out what the hell ‘the wind’ referred to. So on and so forth. But eventually he pushed the prisoner coin into one of the slots and the desk clicked.

Hank found a key inside. He picked it up only to find it had no numbers or labels attached to it. But he could think of the one place he’d really wanted to unlock. If this wasn’t for the third floor stairwell, he was just going to break a window and climb out of it, fences and property be damned.

He climbed back up the stairs, mind filled with various possibilities of environmental damage to this shitty apartment. He tries the key the moment that he opens the stairwell door.

There’s a satisfying click as it unlocks. Hank nearly cries from frustrated relief, and he opens the door and walks through without thinking.

The radio immediately hisses to life. The crystal-headed monster is standing in the corner.

Hank turned the gun on it as it gazed at him. Docile. Much like it had been earlier when it was strangling the life out of that Puker. It was holding the chain link that it had used to do so, and Hank could see that it was coated in blue and dripping on the floor.

Hank moved to put his hand back on the stairwell door and back out. Before his hand could even touch the door, it slammed shut. Hank was sure nothing had been there to do the slamming, and when he grabbed the doorknob and tried to wrench the door back open he found it was locked.

This fucking town.

Ice Head moved. Dragging its feet like every movement was a herculean effort. Its knuckles—lumpy and disfigured, but still so close to human for all that they were death-pale—tightened on the chain link. Slowly, but surely, it started to move towards Hank. That one eye was fixed on him.

“Oh, fuck. No. Nonono...” Hank whispered under his breath. His eyes darted left. The stairs leading down, although he could only see the railing from here. They were meant to lead him out, he just had to—

He bolted for the stairs, but his eyes were fixed on Ice Head. He didn’t notice the problem until his feet hit something slick and cold. He slipped, landing hard on his back. A choked noise left him as all the air was driven out of his body.

He was lying on ice. It was as if someone had filled the entire stairwell with water and frozen it solid and smooth. The surface was murky and brown, smooth and bone-chilling under his back. He remembered lying like this on ice before.

Clear as day under his eyelids, he can remember trying to sit up and not being able to, and reaching for his rolled-over car. Glass shards dug into his face and jacket. Unable to call out his son’s name.

He’s so abruptly consumed by this memory that he forgets where he is until Ice Head is standing over him. Hank tries to scramble away, his hands rubbing raw against the ice as he attempts to push himself to his feet, but a pale, meaty hand grabs the back of his jacket and starts to slowly pull him back.

Hank manages to scrape up his gun as he’s dragged by where he dropped it on falling, pointing the gun upwards and firing. The bullet plunges into where swollen, painful flesh meets those huge, red crystals. Blue starts to stream down, splattering on Hank’s face until blue washes most of his vision. Until it’s all he can see and smell and taste. But Ice Head doesn’t even notice.

It pulls him back from the ice, moving at the same pace no matter how Hank tries to wriggle away. And then the chain link wraps around his throat. Once, twice, and then Ice Head grips the chain and yanks it tight until the metal is crushing his windpipe.

It waits.

Hank shoots it again, even as it feels like his neck is just going to cave. The blue gets heavier. This actually garners a response, but it is almost… blasé. Ice Head shifts both ends of the chain link to one hand, and with the other hand reaches out and grasps the barrel of the gun.

Gently, like someone prying a knife from the hand of a child, it tugs the gun away. It lightly tosses it out of Hank’s reach. Then it returns one end of the chain link back to that hand and tightens the metal noose.

Hank flails. He tries to elbow whatever bits of flesh he can reach, but most of the time his elbows just hit metal and send squiggly, twitchy pain through him in bolts. He kicks the ground, trying to push himself up, and tries to dig his fingers underneath the chain to try and give himself some breathing room. He can’t manage it, only managing to scratch up his neck in the process.

He’s getting light-headed. The skin around the chain is bulging. His face is going blue, even under the blue still trickling onto it.

Ice Head doesn't move. He continues to patiently wait for Hank to die.

Hank kind of hopes now that this was all a trick. That Cole really is dead. At least that would mean a reunion was coming.

Maybe this is fine.

That thought runs through his head. And Ice Head lets go of one end of the chain link, the metal scraping his throat as its pulled away. Hank collapses forward onto all fours, wheezing and coughing violently. One hand gripping his throat, equal measures relief and disappointment flooding through him.

As he coughs, Ice Head walks by him. Dragging those overweighed, metallic feet. It walks towards the ice. The ice, he notices, is no longer smooth and solid. It has defrosted into a watery, ice-cold slush. Ice Head walks into it as if it was nothing, sinking into the depths. It doesn’t look back.

Hank doesn’t move. Just breathes. A minute later, the slushy water starts to drain away. And the stairwell is left open, albeit damper than it should have been.

Hank can’t muster up any thoughts or words. He just gets to his feet, picks up his gun and stumbles down the stairwell. On the way, he groggily wipes his sleeve against his face, smearing as much blue away as he can. Near the bottom, he sees that the ground floor door has been opened. The hallway beyond it is flooded to the ankles. Hank's feet slosh in it and it feels like needles stabbing into his limbs. It's so fucking cold, but he can't bring himself to give a shit.

Fuck that thing. Fuck this whole town. He just wants to see Cole, and he feels bitter and angry that he was so close. And that this town, that thing, fucking knew it and yanked it away. He knows it’s a stupid idea, but that’s the only explanation he has. That this town has a grudge against him. A horrifically personal grudge.

Hank shoves open a door and he’s in the outdoors again. It’s colder now. Or maybe that’s the brush with death or his feet being freezing and soaked talking. He rummages for the bottle in his jacket, and he tries to drink. His throat can’t handle it, not after being crushed down like that, and he splutters and coughs up drops onto the pavement. His mouth doesn’t taste right. It’s stained with blue and the taste is like chemicals and smoke. It mingles wrong with the booze.

Still wheezing, Hank looks up and sees the street. He knows this street. Knows it goes to the park. To the lake. He remembers it. He stumbles down the street, and he remembers walking these exact steps while holding Cole’s hand.

God, Cole. Please be at the lake. The park. Somewhere so that this wasn’t all for nothing.

He walked. On and on. It was only a street or two but it felt like miles. Slowly, his breath started to return but his lungs still burned. The road under his feet eventually turned to nice tiling, albeit with tiles missing here and there.

Rosewater Park’s sign seemed to teleport out of the fog. He walked by it into the park that had barely changed since the last time he was here. The grass wasn’t as overgrown as he would have thought. As he stumbled along, he saw the gazebo on the edge of the park. He should have been able to see the lake. That gazebo was where he and Cole had sat, and the pier was mere feet beyond it. But the fog was so thick that he couldn’t see a thing beyond it.

Hank stared at the gazebo for a long moment, hoping that Cole would just appear out of the fog, before a sound reached his ears.

A faint, metallic ting coming from the pier.

Hank slowly raised his gun and started to move forward. As he did, he heard another ting. Another. He stepped forward and the pier started to fade into view.

“Cole?” he tried to call out, but his voice was still hoarse and decrepit from the choking.

And even as he called out, the radio started to hiss again. He wanted to scream with frustration. Gun darting towards the pier and not seeing anything, he turned and scanned the park like he should have when he came in. He was just too transfixed on the gazebo and the pier. On old memories.

Pukers. Three of them, stumbling out of the garden.

“...Fuck off. Fuck off!” Hank bellowed, although his voice cracked painfully halfway through the yell. He raised his gun, stepping backwards as his foot hit the wood of the pier with a clunk.

He shot once, twice. The bullets lodging into the leg of one of the Pukers, followed by the head.

“Why the fuck can’t you leave me alone? The fuck do you want with me?!”

He fired again. This time square in the head of another Puker. If these were people, he wouldn’t have been doing this. They’re humanoid enough that the systematic way he’s gunning them down starts to make his stomach crawl. But that disgust is swamped by rage.

“Just… fuck… off!”

He aims at the last one and pulls the trigger. The first bullet only skims the chest cavity. A good shot on a person, but not here. Hank pulls the trigger again and his gun clicks uselessly.

...Fuck.

Hank started to back up as he reached for his pocket, where he kept his spare ammo, but it was like the creature sensed weakness. It suddenly charged at him, almost falling over in its haste to get at him before it leapt, latching onto him by latching its legs around him. The cavity in its chest spilling sticky blue all over him. The mouth rasped inches from his face, and acidic vomit trickled into his jacket and started to burn it away.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck--

Hank elbows the creature in the face, feeling that black, rotten tongue slap against the dissolving fabric. It didn’t let go by the legs, although it flailed backwards and almost pulled them both to the floor. The creature slurred and groaned, spitting up more brown acid--

A gunshot cracks through the air. The back of the creature’s skull explodes. It clung for a moment longer, even in death, before sliding off him and hitting the ground with a wet plop.

Hank stepped back, hands almost immediately going for the bullets and reloading his gun just in case. His eyes remained focused on his gun for a moment, and then he turns down the pier towards the man who’d appeared from the fog. Gun still raised and pointed where the creature’s head had been.

Hank’s breath catches in his throat. He knew that face. He’d never seen the face before except outside his imagination… but he knew that face.

“...Cole?” he said slowly.

The man cocks his head to the side for a moment as he lowers the gun. He’s completely identical to the elaborate daydream that Hank has sunk into again and again. Features that look like Hank in his youth blended with those of his ex-wife. The dark, tidy hair with that one loose bit near the front. And his clothes… the office wear mixed with an outside jacket and tactical boots made for chasing people down. Hank could read a cop from a mile away.

Then he takes a step forward, emerging further from the fog as he eyes Hank with a puzzled squint. And Hank’s stomach sinks in disappointment.

No… the eyes. The eyes were wrong. Cole had possessed Hank’s eyes. Very blue. This man, for all the similarities… this man had completely different eyes. Dark brown, almost doe-like. Hank takes a step back, and even that step is enough for the fog to obscure the man to the point where his eyes could be any colour.

The man who isn’t Cole watches him for a moment longer before finally speaking.

“My name is Connor. I’m the detective assigned to this precinct.”

Chapter Text

Hank would like to say that he dealt with this in a calm and rational manner.

“Oh fuck no. Fuck. No!” he bellowed, pointing his revolver square at Connor’s face.

Connor raises his hands immediately, but there’s no trace of alarm on his face. There’s not much of anything, really. He takes a step forward. Once again close enough that Hank can make out his eyes properly.

“You need to calm down.”

“Screw you! Don’t you fuckin’ move!”

Hank’s aim is not the best. The gun barrel is wavering all over the place. A mixture of intoxication, lack of air and the fact that there is a white-hot pain slowly spreading across his torso. Connor’s eyes flicker down and he takes another step forward.

“You’re damaged. You need to remove that jacket before the acid eats through and leaves permanent scarring.”

“Stay there!”

Connor’s eyebrows twitch in a way that looks mildly irritated. “If I do, will you follow instructions?”

“Just… just shut up for a moment, would ya?”

Connor says nothing, only nods, and comes to a standstill again. Hank waits for a moment, despite the burn sinking in further, before quickly lowering the gun and pulling off what remains of his jacket. He can feel traces of the puke sizzling through the shirt underneath too, but only drops. There’s a surge of panic as he realises the letter is in his jacket pocket, but he manages to retrieve anything important before it falls apart.

Connor remains where he is, hands still stretched out. There is the most minute flinch in his face as he eyes the dissolving jacket.

Once the jacket’s on the ground and Hank’s left in just the stripy shirt he was wearing underneath (which has a few acid holes but nothing too bad), he returns to pointing the gun at Connor. He starts to feel a little disgusted with himself for it. This isn’t one of the creatures. But he’s just… unsettling. He’s…

God, he looks so much like how Cole should. It physically hurt to look at him.

“Are you uncomfortable with my presence?” Connor asked mildly. After a moment he asks, “Did you mistake me for someone else?”

“I… I thought...” Hank stared at him for a moment, but the moment he makes contact with the eyes—stranger’s eyes in a familiar face—he can’t keep looking. “...Thought nothin’. Just… just stay there. I’ve had enough of this town’s bullshit, I don’t need… don’t need this. You ain’t… you can’t be real, and I’m up to fuckin’ here with this damn town’s bullshit.”

Connor puts away his gun. Hank notices that it’s also a revolver. Connor then raises his hands again now that they’re empty.

“Stay calm. I can’t hurt you.” With that, he starts to walk forward again with his hands open. He slowly walks until his forehead is practically against Hank’s gun barrel. “Lower your gun, Lieutenant. It will make life easier for the both of us.”

Hank almost pulls the trigger just out of sheer contrariness. But it’s the mention of his title that makes him fully realise what he’s doing. Pointing a gun at another person—another police officer, at that—with no provocation. One that had just possibly saved his life.

Wow, what the fuck was he doing?

Slowly, Hank lowered the gun until it was pointing at the ground. Connor’s mouth stretches slightly in what might be a smile, although it’s hard to tell.

He immediately slaps Hank in the face.

“What the fuck?!”

“There. I have proven that I’m not an apparition. Now we can move on to more concerning matters,” Connor said briskly.

“Oh, fuck you. Just… fuck you,” Hank grumbled, rubbing his face.

But as much as he hates to admit it, his head does feel a little clearer now. He realises now that he must have looked like a homicidal, trigger-happy maniac. And whatever the daydream in his head entails, he’s pretty sure he’s never envisioned Cole slapping him in the face.

“Alright, you’re definitely not Cole.”

“My name is Connor.”

“Yeah, I got that, just...” Hank shook his head and started to walk past Connor. Further along the pier. Trying not to make eye contact with Connor even as he heard footsteps start to follow him.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” Connor said, “But there’s been very dangerous activity around here as of late.”

Hank can’t help but let out a mock gasp. “No!” He gestures wildly at the multiple monsters bleeding blue on the ground behind them. “Really?!”

“You shouldn’t be wandering the streets alone.”

“I’m doing fine so far, aren’t I?”

Connor tilted his head, staring at the numerous acid-based blisters, the tattered clothing, the bruised nose, the blue blood still smeared all over Hank’s face and the painful, red welts from where Ice Head had choked him.

“...It could be worse!” Hank protested. “Either way, I don’t need a babysitter.”

“There would be no babysitting. Your condition aside, you’re clearly both experienced and armed. It would be mutually beneficial.” There’s a pause before Connor adds, “You’re stumbling.”

“I’m not drunk!”

“Lieutenant. Stop.” Connor reaches out to stop Hank from moving forward, quickly steering him to the railing that lines the pier. It’s only when Hank leans on it that he realises just how shaky and boneless he feels. He’s also freezing. The wind is blowing right through him and his feet are practically numb, as are the patches where his clothing was dissolved. “Take a moment.”

“Screw you. I outrank you.” But Hank rests against the rail anyway.

“Not here, Lieutenant. You’re out of your jurisdiction.”

“Shit.”

He has a moment to breathe, and it’s really the first moment since Ice Head got him that he could do so. Connor moves over to the railing beside him and stares absently at the lake. As he does, his hand goes into his jacket pocket and retrieves a coin (a normal quarter, not like the weird coins in the apartment building) which he absently starts to play with. As he flips it and catches it, Hank realises what that faint metallic ting was.

He has questions but he’s having a hard time figuring them out because he can’t get past ‘why do you look like him?’

“What the fuck happened here?” he rasps instead.

Connor continued to roll the quarter over his knuckles, mouth tightening a little. “I don’t know,” he finally said.

“Fucking christ, really?”

“I woke up and everyone was gone. I do not know where to start investigating.” Connor started tossing the coin between his hands, eyes still focused on the lake. He sideways at Hank before turning around, thoughtfully gazing at their surroundings. After a moment he points further down the pier. “There is shelter this way. I think we should go inside.”

“I’m fine, I just need a minute,” Hank grunted.

“It’s a bar,” Connor said lightly.

“Lead the way.”

 


 

The first thing Hank does is walk right over to the bar counter and pick up both a rag used for cleaning and a half-full bottle of scotch. He first wipes as much of the blue blood from his face as he can. Then he unscrews the bottle, takes a big mouthful and swishes it around in his mouth before spitting it out into the corner. Trying to get the acrid taste out of his mouth before he starts drinking properly.

Connor watches Hank spit on the floor and his eyebrows twitch a little at the sight. But he doesn’t say anything about it. Instead, he starts checking underneath the counters. One after another, he starts putting anything that might be useful onto the counter. Once he locates the bar’s first aid kit, he opens it and stares inside for a long moment before placing a tube of some kind of gel onto the counter by Hank.

“These kits aren’t made for acid burns,” Connor said. “But it might help.”

Hank grunts, still in the middle of trying to consume as much scotch as possible. Connor puts a few more random items on the counter--a lighter, some rags, any bottles of alcohol that might be sterile enough--before walking over to the entrance, at a little counter where coat checks would be done. It’s easier to watch him when he’s not looking.

“Do you have a preference in colour?” Connor calls out from the other room.

“Wha?”

“Colour, Lieutenant!”

“Do I look like I care? Just don’t make me look like some spring daisy!” Hank yelled back.

He hears a thoughtful hum and a quiet, “Yes. With that shirt it would be overkill.” After a few moments, Connor emerges and dumps a dark grey jacket--one of those puffy ones that Hank associates with hobos and fishermen--on the counter by Hank before seating himself on a barstool opposite him.

“What’s wrong with my shirt?”

“It’s not important.”

Hank snorts and tips the bottle back again. As he does, Connor rummages through his pockets and produces a notepad and pen.

“This ‘Cole.’ Are you looking for him?”

Hank pauses, bottle still tipped up, before he lowers it and scowls at Connor.

“Yeah, maybe.”

“He’s important to you? I presume he must be, if you’re remaining in town to find him in these conditions.”

“He’s… yeah. He’s my son.”

“In that case, it would help if you gave me any information you had on him.” Connor flipped the notepad open and put the point of the pen to it. “We can narrow down his location and get both of you evacuated as soon as possible. Unless you’re willing to leave this work to me and wait outside of town?”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” Hank said.

This town doesn’t like to let go of people, he recalls, but Hank tries to brush it off.

Connor doesn’t protest. Hank supposes he’s pretty light on options, too. Though he’s still disturbingly calm for someone who’s town has been overrun with monsters. Hank supposes it’s not too weird. He’s seen detectives experience some dark shit and still come out of it seemingly stoic. It’s usually after the cases that most of them drink.

“Full name. Cole…?”

“Cole Anderson.”

“Age?”

“Twenty-six.”

“Physical description?”

Hank stares at the table for a long moment, then eyes Connor with distaste. He lets out a long sigh and gestures at Connor.

“Look in the mirror. Just…” Hank gestures at his own eyes before he looks away again. “Just bluer.”

It’s not strictly accurate. But it’s better than explaining to Connor… fuck, better than explaining what is rapidly becoming a more insane situation the longer he looks at it.

“...I see,” Connor says after a moment.

Hank looks at him quickly, because Connor says that softer than the clear and concise method of speech he’s been using so far. There’s a tightness in his jaw and a slight squint. But then the expression is gone as quick as it came. Connor looks back at his notepad, and immediately returns to the brisk diction he’d been using.

“Address?” Connor asked. Hank sheepishly shrugs, prompting those doe eyes to fix on him again. “Not even the area? South Vale? Paleville?” After the silence continues to stretch on, Connor puts down his pen and crosses his arms on the desk, leaning forward a little. “His job? Any recreational groups? Somewhere he might have gone?”

Hank takes another swig of alcohol. Connor is now eying him with the smallest frown.

“You have remarkably little to go on for someone so important.”

There is just the faintest hint of disapproval in his voice. Hank wants to punch him. It’s not like it’s his fault that he knows nothing about his son.

But he doesn’t strike. Instead, Hank plants his face in one hand and puts down the bottle of scotch so he can flip Connor off. Connor isn’t phased. He waits patiently until Hank lowers his hand to pick up the bottle again.

“Do you have anything at all?”

“Just… his letter says he was here, alright?! That’s all I know,” Hank says, largely speaking to the scotch bottle.

Connor says nothing, then gets up and starts to pace. As he does he retrieves the quarter from his pocket and starts fiddling with it again. The constant metallic tings starts to crawl on Hank’s nerves, so he shuts his eyes, presses his fingers in one ear and tries to ignore it.

Where would Cole go?

Why can’t he figure that out? He thinks of Cole and there’s nothing to latch on. Just that park. The ice-skating. That and…

Hank opens his eyes again. Connor has his back to him again. For a moment, Hank could be in that daydream. Where his son follows in the steps of his old man and becomes a cop. Maybe even makes lieutenant younger than he did one day. Idle daydreams based on minor thefts of his badge and too many games of cops and robbers.

“Where’s the police station around here?” Hank asked, his eyes still fixed on Col--on Connor’s back. Connor turns around, quarter rolling over his knuckles.

“Hm. That’s a good idea,” Connor says. His hands close over the quarter as he gestures with his finger. “The precinct might have records of your son if he’s ever been involved in or reported a crime.”

“...Well, I mean… sure,” Hank says, trying to pass it off like that was the idea all along.

“There is a slight problem. The main station is in Paleville. That’s on the other side of Toluca Lake.”

“Well, the road still goes that way, don’t it?” Hank asks. As he does, he screws the lid on the bottle of scotch and grabs the winter coat, pulling it on, before shoving everything back in. He checks his box of revolver ammo last. Thirteen bullets. Two more full rounds after his current one. One bullet to spare. Just in case. “Worst comes to worst, we can walk.”

“The road goes for miles and the bridge is closed.” Connor casts a look at the non-shattered windows of the bar. “It’s getting colder. It’s not weather that we want to be stranded in.”

“Well, if you’ve got a fuckin’ problem with it, you don’t have to come with me! In fact, that’d be a fucking blessing if you didn’t,” Hank snapped. With that, he walked out of the bar and started off again, travelling east.

He doesn’t look back at Connor and he goes as quick as he can without entering a full sprint. Hoping that he’ll lose him in the fog.

There’s a bit of guilt there, too. But goddamn, he cannot deal with this shit right now. No matter how solid Connor was, how warm and non-corpsy his hands were, Hank was not going to deal with ghosts. No way, no how.

 


 

Hank jogs for a good twenty minutes. After the first ten, he hits the long road that circles the lake. It’s not exactly had to miss. Even as foggy as it is, he can just make out the lake. As long as he can see the lake, he’s going in the right direction.

There are Pukers and the occasional Plastic wandering about on the road. The Plastics remain lifeless on the ground if he doesn’t get too close, but the Pukers groan and waddle after him. They’re slow enough to fall behind quickly. Hank doesn’t have the ammo needed to deal with them.

He jogs.

He jogs further.

And for the second  time today, he nearly steps off a ledge.

This time he doesn’t stumble. The road starts to feel craggy and broken before he steps right off the edge of it.

When Connor had said ‘the bridge was closed,’ Hank had assumed he meant it was, at worst, in disrepair. He didn’t think it meant the bridge was just going to be flat-out gone. But it just ended in the middle of the air.

Hank walks close to the edge, leaning over precariously and eying below. Once again, he can’t see the bottom. He can’t see the other side. He can only see fog. It’s like the world ends at this ledge.

“Well… shit,” Hank muttered under his breath.

“I did warn you.”

Hank sighed irritably, turning around. He hadn’t even heard Connor following him.

“You don’t have to follow me around like a poodle.”

“It’s mutually beneficial, Lieutenant.”

Connor approaches the edge and leans over much as Hank had done, gazing at the foggy void. Panic seizes Hank’s gut, and he reaches out and yanks Connor back.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Hank snapped.

“I thought there might be a way down.” Connor turns away, clasping his hands behind his back as he falls into step next to Hank. “The only other option I can think of is procuring a boat.”

“Y-yeah.” Hank pushes down the remnants of that little panic surge. “Gotta be one somewhere, I guess.”

As he turns away from the broken bridge, his eyes land on something. There’s a corpse nearby. Largely covered in acid burns that obscure the features, although Hank can see a few wisps of grey hair left. It’s stretching an arm out towards the bridge. There’s a piece of paper lying next to it. Hank kneels and grabs the paper, smoothing it slightly before straightening up.

“...Huh,” he mutters.

“What is it?” Connor peers over his shoulder at the piece of paper.

It’s a map of the South Vale of Silent Hill. The area that Hank had already passed through. In rusty brown (maybe once red) is a circle, traced around a location labeled as Cafe Mist.

“...Weird,” Hank said.

“What would make a cafe notable enough to circle it in blood?” Connor asked. He looked sideways at Hank. “It might be worth looking at.”

“Well… I’m sure as shit out of other ideas,” Hank said, pushing the map into Connor’s hands. “Here, hold this. If you’re going to be tracking me like a goddamn labradoodle.”

Connor tilts his head slightly, and the motion in of itself is very labradoodle-like. But he takes the map anyway.

 


 

Cafe Mist looked normal. The windows were too thick and smudged to be able to see much more than silhouettes of a couple of chairs. Quaint green-and-white striped awning over the window. It looked decrepit, but what didn’t?

Hank moved to push open the door, gun already out, but he saw that Connor was staring off to the side.

“Hm? Second thoughts?”

Connor blinked, then shook his head before gesturing just a little down the street. There was a payphone built two buildings away.

“I was wondering if any of the phone lines were working. If they were, I could connect with the station and see if there are other survivors,” he said. He started to take a couple of steps towards it before turning back. “Will you need assistance in there?”

“I didn’t need assistance to begin with, just…” Hank waved his hand at the phone. “Do your thing.”

Connor nodded and walked towards the phone. He paused, then turned back.

“Do you have a quarter, Lieutenant?”

“...Connor. You’re holding a quarter right now.”

Connor looks at the quarter that he’s currently rolling over his knuckles. He sighs.

“I suppose I can use this one.” He doesn’t sound happy about it. Hank rolls his eyes before rummaging through his wallet and flicking a different quarter at him. Whatever gets the kid going, he supposes.

Connor catches the new quarter and gives Hank a small smile--the corners of his mouth actually tug up minutely--before turning back to the phone. Hank turns back to the cafe door.

He reaches out to test the handle. It’s unlocked.

The cafe is dusty, but otherwise seems in decent condition. Nothing special. Tables and chairs in little clusters. A door that probably leads to a kitchen. And there’s a doorway that leads to a second room, likely also filled with seating.

Hank can hear voices. He immediately slows down, lowering his gun.

“What did he do?” That voice was familiar. The little girl. Alice. She still sounded nervous, but less so than she’d sounded in the graveyard.

“Too much to list, honestly. Higher than you can count.” That voice is also familiar. It’s Gavin, although he’s not quite using his normal asshole tone. Even he could figure out that it would only spook kids. Now his tone was just kind of patronizing.

“I can count very high,” Alice said defensively.

“Sure. Sure you can. Maybe he’s just that shi—terrible,” Gavin said.

Alice starts to speak in a hushed tone. Hank can’t make it out. He walks slowly towards the doorway, until the words start to make sense again.

“--said that I’m not allowed to talk about things like that. He said I couldn’t talk to the cops.”

There’s a short huff before Gavin says, “Well, he ain’t here, is he? And ‘snitches get stitches’ only applies in prison. If you’re that worried about it… hell, how should I know? Write it down and leave it somewhere. Can you write?”

Hank takes another step, but this time the floor squeaks. The conversation immediately comes to a halt. Hank hears the click of the safety of a gun being switched off and calls out.

“It’s not a monster, just calm down.”

He hears Gavin huff and Alice lets out a quick, brief squeak. Figuring he’s not doing any favors by hiding, Hank puts his gun away and steps out of the doorway.

Alice is already retreating from where Hank is, looking afraid. She’s clutching what looks to be a photo in her hands, but Hank can’t see what’s on it. Gavin is sitting at one of the tables with his feet resting up on it and is in the middle of putting his gun back down. Bizarrely, he’s holding a mug of coffee.

Hank raises a hand towards Alice, trying to show that he’s peaceful. “Calm down. I’m just--”

But Alice is already backing away. Abruptly, she turns and runs through a door that leads into the kitchen.

“Alice! Oh, come on,” Hank growled under his breath. “I’m trying to help you!” But he heard her shuffle quickly through the kitchen despite it.

“Told her you were a cop, huh?” Gavin said quietly, grinning at him.

“Why the fuck wouldn’t I?! What’d you say?”

“Told her I was a private investigator,” Gavin said, sipping at his inexplicable coffee. He rubbed the side of his face, palm scraping against the stubble. “She bought it because I’m ‘scratchy.’ Kids are so dumb.”

The sound of the front door swinging open came to his ears. Shit, he hadn’t told Connor about the kid. He hoped he had the sense to not say he was a cop, but given that he’d opened with it when they met…

“Fuck, will you help me get the kid out of town?” he asked Gavin, already moving towards the entrance. “I told Kara I’d get her to my car.”

“It’s not my job to herd kids around. Besides, she’s doing fine on her own.”

“...Seriously? You’re going to have a coffee break--where the fuck did you even get that--instead? Seriously, Reed?”

“Better than your booze break? The stench is rolling off you,” Gavin said snidely. “Funnily enough, I don’t think helping an alcoholic wrangle her into his car to inevitably drink-drive her somewhere is great policework.”

“Wow. Okay, forget you.” Hank turned to leave, mind ticking over how he was gonna get the damn kid to slow down. Gavin called out after him.

“Nasty burns there, Anderson! I hope you’re not hesitating!” He gave Hank a nasty grin. “As old and intoxicated as you are? You need every second you can get. Besides, it’s not like they’re human.”

Hank left without bothering with a response.

When he got outside, he found the street empty. No Alice. No Connor.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath.

It’s only moments before he hears footsteps, however. Connor reappears out of the fog, coming to a halt in front of Hank.

“Did you see--” Hank started.

“A little girl. She went this way.” Connor started to walk off again. “I tried to catch her and tell her it was dangerous, but she was quick.”

“Yeah, we’re probably not doing a good job at being friendly,” Hank grumbled. Somewhat bitter that Gavin of all people had gotten her to stay still for a few minutes. He picked up speed and hurried after Connor.

Connor winded down a couple of alleyways before coming to a stop and gesturing at a tiny gap between two buildings. Enough for a small child to squeeze through, but neither Hank or Connor could manage it.

“She went through there.”

“Dammit. Let’s find a way around.”

Connor nodded, walking off around the building to see if there were any other paths. As he walked he asked, “Do you know her?”

“Alice. I told her guardian that I’d send her up to the roadside stop for a lift out. If we see her again, I’m gonna have to send you to talk to her. You might have more luck, what with being all young and gooey-eyed.”

“...Gooey-eyed?”

“Oh, like you don’t know,” Hank grumbled.

They found a chain link fence that was low enough to be climbable, although Hank struggled significantly more than Connor did climbing over it. God, he was getting old. But it led them around the block, and soon enough they heard light footsteps.

Hank saw just a glimpse of Alice as she turned towards one of the nearby buildings and ran inside, pushing open large doors that almost looked too heavy for her.

There was a heavy, stone sign. It said ‘Brookhaven Hospital.’

“...Nothing good is gonna be in there,” Hank muttered under his breath as he stared up at the building.

“Agreed,” Connor said. “We should exercise caution.”

Hank nodded slightly before giving Connor a sideways look. “You’re fine with it? If you don’t want to throw yourself into this bullshit, I’d get that.”

“It is my job, Lieutenant.” Connor said. He gave Hank a small, lopsided smile. “I always accomplish my mission.”

Hank supposed there were worse partners.

Chapter Text

Predictably, the hospital was a fuckin’ mess. A dusty mess that Hank knew he was going to learn to hate.

Hank plucked his flashlight from his jacket and held it up, shining it into the corners. There’s an elevator in front of him, but pressing the button does nothing. Figures. The hall seems to circle about before part of it splays out. The only sound is a light trickle coming from nearby. Part of the wall has collapsed and there’s exposed plumbing leaking all over the floor.

“Lieutenant? Over here.”

Connor is gesturing at a corkboard near the wall, which has a map of the hospital pinned to it. Connor pulls it off the wall and moves over to Hank so he can get as much light on the map as possible.

“Three floors,” Connor continues. “Combing the building floor to floor seems like the most reasonable method.”

Hank stares at the many, many small rooms on the map and can already feel the frustration starting to boil.

“Fuck’s sake, I’m not doing this again,” Hank grunted under his breath before calling out. “Alice! I’m not going to arrest you! I met Kara, she said it was fine!”

“Lieutenant, I wouldn’t shout. It might attract--” Connor starts.

Before he’s even done, there is the noise of multiple doors squeaking open and the radio crackles to life. There’s the sound of shambling and inhuman noises. Hank aimed his flashlight at their surroundings, swearing quietly under his breath as figures emerged.

Three monsters, twitching so violently that it looked like they were prematurely entering their death throes. They had different faces, but all had something distorting the features. One was swollen and purple like the life had been throttled out of it, one had bits of their face squashed and leaking blue. One had parts of their face burned away, exposing black and charred bone. There were limbs missing or damaged, abrasions and tumors crowding the skin. The only similarity was they all had that same pale, blue-veined corpsy skin and they all wore tattered patient gowns.

Hank raised his gun. But the noise they were making… the noise made him pause. They were making choked, watery noises. They didn’t have eyes, but they were clearly sobbing. Their hands reached towards Hank with open palms. Begging.

Hank pauses. Connor doesn’t.

While Hank is still staring, Connor just charges right by him. He’s not holding his gun, but instead gripping an iron pipe that looks like it’s been wrenched from the exposed plumbing. With a quick lunge, he cracks one of the creatures over the head with it.

Immediately, the remaining two snapped their heads towards Connor with a sickening series of bone cracks. Their hands immediately clench, still reaching but now aggressive. Rotten, jagged fingernails grasping for him.

That shakes him out of his hesitation. Hank shoots three times, missing once because of how their heads are twitching and flailing about. One of them is inches from Connor when Hank guns it down. Blue blood splatters across Connor’s face. Connor blinks a couple of times, hand raising a moment too late to try and stop the splash back, before looking down at the one he’d initially attacked. It’s still moving, bucking like someone having a seizure. Connor cracks it again across the neck. A quick, brutal snap that stops it from moving.

Hank waits to see if the Patients are going to get up before he turns his attention back to Connor. He’s off-put at how… efficient… that was. Like Connor’s been bludgeoning monsters all his life.

“...Why are you using a pipe?” Hank asks after a moment, looking down at his gun. He opens the chamber and slides three more bullets in to replenish those he just fired. Sixteen shots left.

“I’m out of ammo.”

Hank’s hands pause halfway through reloading and he stares at Connor incredulously.

“You didn’t think to mention this?!”

“It isn’t a problem I can easily remedy.” Connor wipes his face, smudging blue blood in a long smear across the back of his hand. He examines the smudge thoughtfully, tilting his hand slightly in the faint light given by Hank’s flashlight. Before Hank can tell him not to, he lifts his hand to his mouth and runs his tongue over the blue smudge.

“HeyheyHEY, Connor, what the hell are you doing?!” Hank yelled, hand snapping out to grab Connor’s wrist and pull it back down. But Connor moves his arm out of Hank’s grip before he can.

“I was wondering if it was actually blood, since it seems to serve the same biological purpose. I thought taste might help to figure it out.” Connor considers it for a moment, mouth twisting, before adding, “It doesn’t have the same quality.”

“Ugh, you’re… just… don’t put things in your mouth! I cannot think of anything worse you could do than drink the blood of monster patients. That’s at least three times the risk of picking up some kind of fucked up disease.”

“Got it.” Connor tests the weight of the pipe again before crouching and examining the monsters further. “In any case, the blood is not acidic and these don’t seem to have a long ranged attack. I should be fine with no firearm.” He stands up, looking over at Hank. “If we come across any with acidic qualities, I will let you deal with them.”

“Right… yeah, you do that,” Hank mutters, still trying to suppress the urge to vomit. “I can give you some ammo, dumbass. We’re using the same type of gun.”

“That won’t be necessary, Lieutenant. The pipe is sufficient.”

Hank shakes his head, holstering his gun and looking around. After a moment he grumbles, “Well, great. Guess we have to comb the place after all. Just what I wanted. Another building of endless doors.”

“It’s not all bad, Lieutenant. Perhaps there are patient records. There is always the chance that Cole has been processed here in the past.”

“...I guess.” Hank doesn’t want to think about that. He gestures behind himself. “Get behind me. Let me handle the door kicking. Mark off the doors as we check them.”

“Of course.”

 


 

The search continues through several rooms with no sign of Alice. The best thing that can be gleaned so far is that they haven’t found her corpse or heard her scream.

So far there’s been no Pukers. A few more Patients are wandering about, and Hank opens one room to find one of the Plastics standing stock still in the corner. The radio quiet until Hank shines his flashlight on the damn thing and it jumps to life. Hank only uses two more rounds as they clear out the first floor.

He ends up letting Connor knock out the rest. His first instinct is to keep the kid behind him when possible. After all, Hank’s much older and it’s less of a big deal if he goes down than if a kid Connor’s age does. Plus Hank’s no slouch up close and personal. He’s gotten into his fair share of fist fights while drunk and walked away from most of them, and that’s just in his personal life.

But Connor’s fast and brutal. After the first couple of rooms, Hank just scans for Pukers, takes one down if there’s more than one in the room, and lets Connor at them. It’s starting to become evident why Connor’s one of--possibly the only--survivor of whatever happened to this town.

It’s starting to make Hank feel a little useless. He needs a pipe. Or a bat or… something. He’s starting to dread what will happen when he inevitably runs out of bullets. Fourteen left.

There’s not much on the ground floor. They find one office and a bunch of empty check-up rooms. They could have checked the rooms more thoroughly--Hank can see Connor giving the filing cabinets a curious stare--but there’s a ticking clock on finding Alice.

So they move on. They find the stairwell.

Fuck, does Hank not want to go in the stairwell. When he opens the door and sees nothing but stairs going up and down, he comes to a standstill.

“Cold feet, Lieutenant?” Connor asks, head tilting a little.

“In more ways than one,” Hank mutters. He thinks his toes might have frostbite. But it’s enough to get him going again, because he doesn’t want to talk about the last stairwell.

There’s stairs leading down to a basement, but that door is barred. Hank is really fucking grateful for that. An abandoned hospital is shit enough without having to factor in the inevitable basement horrors too. Especially since the map doesn’t indicate the existence of a basement at all. So they go up.

The second floor is as decrepit and dusty as the first. But there are a fair amount of photos and a couple of paintings hanging on the walls in between various rooms. Most of the photos are old and faded. Founders or notable doctors and members of the town. The paintings look a little more modern, and it clashes dramatically with the rest of the hospital.

The art style looks familiar. Hank eyes one of them--a portrait done in many shades of blue, and in Hank’s opinion it looks much too gloomy to be something he’d want to stare at in a hospital.

The next room that opens is a small office. There’s a small cot for patients to lie on, but the vast majority of the room is filled with filing cabinets and papers too. There’s no monsters. Hank huffs as Connor walks in after him, holding the pipe at the ready.

“Nothing,” Hank grunted at Connor before leaving the room. He expects Connor to follow, but instead he hears nothing. He turns to look back, and sees that Connor has walked over towards the desk. His eyes are fixed on a picture hung on the wall above it.

Hank walks over to look at it, too. The photo looks old, much like the others. It showcases an older woman who, even in portrait form, looks incredibly poised and stern. Everything about her appearance, from her clothes to her perfectly coiled hair, is immaculate. She’s holding an umbrella, and her smile is small and looks strictly polite. Just a tightening of the lips with no real curvature.

Hank looks at the picture, then looks at Connor. He’s entirely transfixed on the photo. His eyebrows are slightly furrowed as he stares at it.

“...This, uh… this someone important?” Hank asks, fielding a guess. Although the picture looks old enough for Hank to think it was taken a long time ago. Decades. Probably before Connor was born. But it could be some historical figure for the town or something. Connor’s probably a big enough nerd to know about those people.

Connor looks at him and opens his mouth, but then immediately closes it and looks away. His eyes flicker around nervously for a couple of moments before landing back on the portrait.

“...I thought it was a nice photo,” Connor says after a few moments.

Hank eyes him for a moment, then looks away. His eyes land on the desk now that he’s standing by it. There’s a strange key lying on it. It almost looks like a keycard, but way more antiquated. It’s lying on top of a sheet of paper that’s been written on a typewriter, and on top of that is a post-it note.

Hank skims the letter quickly.

 

The potential exists in every person. Under the right circumstances, any man or woman would be driven to ‘the other side.’ The ‘other side’ may be a misnomer. There’s no wall between here and there. It is simply where reality and unreality mingle. A place both close and distant.

My coworkers are struggling to find a cure, but I would question whether this is a disease at all.

What he is experiencing is nothing more than invention and imagination. But it is real to him. There is no other reality. And he is happy with the reality he has made for himself. Why should we deprive him of that happiness for so-called moral reasons? Why, in the name of healing, must we drag him back into an imperfect world?

 

The post-it note is written in neat, tidy letters.

 

Kamski, stop leaving your fucking keys everywhere. If I find this one somewhere weird again, it’s going in the trash.

 

Hank looks at the typed letter for a few long moments. Then he lets out a ‘tch,’ scrunches it up and tosses it across the room. The key he jams in his pocket. When he looks at Connor, he’s still staring at the picture. Hank gives him a quick clap on the shoulders to shake him out of it.

“Connor! You there? Head back in the game, kid.”

Connor doesn’t respond, but he does tear his eyes away from the portrait. Hank watches him for a moment longer, then claps him again.

“Come on. We’ve got a job to do, right?”

“...Right,” Connor says quietly. He blinks, shakes his head and repeats, “Right.” He sounds more sure that time.

 


 

They checked the rest of the second floor. And the third floor. But they found nobody. There was a door leading to the roof, but it was locked.

Check room. Look for Alice. Move on. Check room. Look for Alice. Move on. No real examinations, only quick glances.

As they move on, Connor doesn’t quite bounce back from his distracted mood. When Plastics and Patients wander out, he’s just a little slower to attack. Sometimes Hank looks back at him and sees him shifting, agitated. He keeps scratching at his arms, slipping his fingers under the sleeves of his jacket. It’s a familiar sort of agitation but Hank’s blanking on where he’s seen it before.

Hank uses four more bullets to clear out these rooms. Ten left.

And then they check the last room on the third floor and they can’t help but stop.

“What the fuck is this?” Hank asks, shining his flashlight on the stained cot.

There is a box. That in itself isn’t the weird thing, even if it’s weird to have a locked, metal box sitting on a hospital bed. The weird thing is the ridiculous amount of bindings on it. There’s two padlocks with four-number combinations required. There’s a regular lock on the box itself. And there’s chains wrapped around it, binding it to the bed and fastened with yet another lock.

“What. The fuck. Is this?” Hank repeats, walking slowly forward. He half-expects a trap. But nothing happens as he nears it.

“A box.”

“No shit, Connor, I mean why is it… like this?” Hank gestured at it wildly. Hearing a faint clink in his pocket, he reaches in and retrieves the odd keycard. He looks at it, looks at the box and tries to line it up with one of the keyholes. It matches the one on the box itself.

Connor taps Hank on the shoulder and gestures at the wall. There’s a message written there, in rusty brown blood.

 

Just a little while longer, Chloe.

We are going to do amazing things together.

 

“...What the fuck is this?”

“You’re stuck in a loop, Lieutenant.”

Hank rolls his eyes at Connor before looking back at the box. He tries to slide the key in, but can’t get past the chains.

“Fuck. Fuck!” Hank growled. “I know what this is!”

“A bo--”

“IT’S ANOTHER FUCKING PUZZLE!” Hank roars. “No normal box has this many keys! This town is fucking with me!” Hank kicks the bed, and only earns a pain in his foot. “Fuck!”

“I like puzzles,” Connor says mildly.

“Oh, of course you fucking do. Can you solve this one so I don’t have to deal with it?!”

Connor crouches by the bed, head tilting as he stares at the box. For the moment, the agitation seems to have subsided in favour of curiosity. He gives the box a good, long stare.

“...It needs keys,” Connor finally says.

Hank throws his hands into the air and walks out of the room.

It’s not just the puzzle that is frustrating him. Alice isn’t anywhere. How hard can it be to find one little girl? But they’ve checked every door. And even if there’s some fucking puzzle blocking their progress, how would that be a problem? Alice certainly wouldn’t have gotten any further.

Something’s wrong.

He hears Connor moving around behind him as he walks off into the dark corridor, cursing whoever invented puzzles and whatever was causing this town’s general fuckery. As they walk, Hank hears Connor scratching, shifting, fidgeting. He doesn’t have to look to know it’s happening. It’s making Hank feel itchy just hearing it.

The footsteps drift into another room before stopping. After a moment he hears Connor call out.

“Lieutenant? I think I’ve found something.”

Hank spots Connor from across the hall, as he’s left the door of the shower room ajar. The shower within is one of the more off-putting things Hank has seen here so far. It looks like a prison shower. There’s no way around that. One with half the showers tucked away out of view. Turn the water on high enough and no-one would be able to see or hear anything happening back there.

Hank is getting the distinct impression that maybe this hospital wasn’t great even before it became a literal hellscape.

Connor is on his hands and knees, staring into one of the drains on the floor. His pipe is sitting next to the drain as he examines it.

“What the fuck are you doing now? Get your face off the floor!”

“I think there’s a key in here,” Connor said, eye practically pressed into the drain. “I see something metallic.” He tries putting his hand in there—regardless of Hank’s immediate noise of protest—but can’t fit it inside.

As he stares, something suddenly moves in the shadows and the radio flares to life. Half-hidden by the shower wall, a Plastic leaps into the light with its bizarre limbs twitching and flailing. It makes a lunge for Connor. Connor doesn’t move in time, eyes coming up to bemusedly stare at the creature before it tackles him. Hank’s gun is up quick, but not quick enough. It’s impossible to shoot without risking hitting Connor.

The Plastic makes muffled, strange squeaks—Hank has no idea what it’s screeching from because there’s no mouth on it—while its crystal-encrusted limbs—all arms, no legs— try to wrap around Connor’s neck. Connor grips its wrists and tries to kick it off.

Hank feels panic seize up his stomach, stronger and hotter than when Connor was peering over the foggy depths. And then he sees red.

“Don’t you fucking touch him!” Hank snarls.

He snatches up the pipe Connor had been using and swings, bashing it into the side of the Patient’s head and forcing it to roll off. Connor scrambles backwards, sliding across the filthy bathroom floor, as Hank starts slamming the pipe into whatever flesh he can reach.

His blows aren’t the same level of precise as Connor’s. He doesn’t much care what he hits. He just does it. Again and again. The thing has long since stopped moving when Hank finally slows down.

For a moment, he feels… good. Then the rage and adrenaline ebbs away, leaving him with only faint nausea in its place. After a few moments, he turns and grips Connor’s arm, pulling him to his feet.

Connor doesn’t say anything. He just stares at the Plastic on the ground. Face largely impassive, but he’s blinking a lot more than normal. Hank eyes him, then lifts Connor’s wrist so he can look more closely at Connor’s hands. He doesn’t really need to use his eyes. He can already tell that they’re violently trembling.

“Connor?”

“I’m fine, Lieutenant.” Connor pulls his hands away before trying to pry the iron pipe out of Hank’s hands. “That was my fault. I wasn’t thorough in checking this room. I will do better next time.”

“...Uh huh.” Hank doesn’t let go of the pipe. Instead, he grasps Connor by the forearm and pulls him out of the room.

“I want to get the key out of that drain. It might be useful,” Connor says stubbornly as he’s pulled along. He starts scratching at his arms again.

It’s not the only change. His face has an ugly, blotchy flush and--although it’s difficult to tell given that his eyes are already very dark--his pupils are dilated. Hank stops Connor long enough to press the back of his hand to his forehead. Too warm. He shuts out memories of doing this for Cole--the kid had liked the winter too much to stay inside and had run a few fevers in return.

“You feel like death warmed over. Is this because you ate monster blood? I swear to god, Connor, if you’ve caught something from sticking shit in your mouth--”

“I’m not sick. Even if I was, there is nothing to be done about any symptoms. There are no doctors present,” Connor protests. “We have a job to do.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure you’re not. Come on.”

With that, Hank drags Connor down the hall to a room not far from the chained box. He remembers it being small. Just a cot and small table. Nowhere that a monster could hide. Once he’s there, he pushes Connor down by the shoulders and makes him sit on the cot.

“Now lie down and don’t do anything until you get better,” Hank said, pointing irritably at him.

“I am fine,” Connor insisted, moving to get up. Hank pushes him down again.

“Connor,” Hank says sternly. It’s too easy to lapse back into that stern but soft voice that he’d use to cajole Cole into taking medicine or eating his vegetables. “You’re no help to any mission if you’re sick.”

He sees a flicker of hurt across Connor’s face before it shifts back to his usual impassive, albeit still somewhat dazed, expression. Connor looks down and says nothing. With that, Hank holds out his hand.

“Pass me your gun.”

“It’s empty.”

“Yeah, I know. Just give me the gun, kid.”

Connor hands over the revolver. Hank retrieves the box of ammo from his pocket. There’s only six bullets in it, since the other four are in his own gun. Hank loads Connor’s gun before holding it out to him again.

“In case any monsters come wandering in,” he says.

Connor stares at the gun. Absently, he twirls the chamber once before looking up. “You need this ammo, Lieutenant.”

“Nah. I’m taking your pipe with me, though.”

Connor looks back down again. “...I should be able to continue in a few minutes.”

“I’ll check the hospital once over for those damn keys, see if I can find Alice, then I’ll come back. Deal?”

Connor says nothing. Hank takes it as an agreement. He turns to leave, but Connor speaks up behind him.

“Can I ask you a personal question, Lieutenant?”

Hank grimaces and rolls his eyes before turning back towards Connor. He doesn’t want to say yes, but he can’t quite bring himself to say no. So instead he shrugs and waves his hand in a silent ‘if you have to’ gesture. Connor looks up and fixes those doe eyes on him.

“What will you do if you cannot find your son?”

Hank stares silently back.

He wishes Connor would go back to averting his gaze. But he doesn’t. Just stares. Waiting for an answer to a question that is just too horrible to contemplate.

“...Get some rest,” Hank finally says.

He does a once-over glance of the room--just to make sure he hasn’t somehow missed a monster--and sees a glimmer on the little bedside table. A key, with a tag that has the letter ‘R’ on it. Hank picks it up before leaving the room.

As he leaves, he sees Connor trying to lie down and looking like he’s never relaxed in his life, clasping his hands over his stomach like how a corpse gets rearranged at a funeral. Hank quickly closes the door.

 


 

The third floor doesn’t have much on it. No keys, no numbers. Barring, of course, the key that’s jammed in the drain of the shower room. But Hank can’t reach it, no matter how hard he tries to jam his fingers into it. He tries to use the pipe, but the pipe is just too big to fit. So Hank gives it up for now and moves on.

Down the stairs. Back to the second floor. And as he starts to pass through those corridors again he hears faint voices. Murmurs coming from a door labeled Examination Room 3.

It’s not monstrous snarls, so Hank lowers the pipe and tries to wipe as much blue blood from it as he can. He approaches, then raises his hand and knocks three times.

There is a pause. A few more murmurs. Then faint footsteps before the door is pulled open.

Markus looks him up and down for a moment before nodding his head. “Hank.”

“Markus,” Hank grunts. He’s not surprised. The portraits on the wall had given him a faint inkling that the man might be wandering nearby.

Markus opens the door further and gestures for Hank to enter. Hank’s eyes immediately move to the bed. Kara is there, sitting on it with one hand pressed against the side of her head. The side with the bruising and the slightly lopsided appearance. She doesn’t immediately look up--her eyes are closed--but when she does she gives him a strained smile.

“You look terrible,” Markus says frankly. As he does, he walks back over to Kara. “Sorry, continue.”

“I’m fine,” Kara said. “I don’t need--”

“I just want to check. Continue.”

Kara sighs before closing her eyes for a moment. “Twenty. Nineteen. Eighteen...”

She continues to count back from twenty. As she does, Hank glances around the examination room. It’s not much. Rather similar to the room he left Connor in. The only difference is this one has a desk with a typewriter on top. Markus’ bag is also resting on the same desk. Open, with a first aid kit and a series of bottles that Hank doesn’t recognise scattered about it. Hank scans for one resembling the one Markus had mentioned. None of the bottles are pointed, nor do they have white liquid inside.

Kara is still counting.

“Eight… eight…” Kara starts to lose track and blinks furiously a few times before saying, “Five… It doesn’t matter. I’ll look into a doctor later.”

“Why does no-one around here want to sit still when they’re sick?” Hank muttered.

Markus turns away from Kara and reaches for one of the bottles lying on top of his bag. This one is filled with over-the-counter painkillers, and he hands them to Kara.

“It’s all I have,” he tells her. “It might help, but it might make it worse in the long run.”

Kara shakes her head with a smile, though she immediately winces and presses her hand to the bruising again. “It just has to last until I get Alice out of here.” She looks up at Hank. “Did you--”

“She’s in here somewhere. I’ve scoured the place, but--” Hank starts.

Kara straightens up as she unscrews the bottle of painkillers. “Here?”

Her voice is worried and her face creases in a frown, but it’s the stress of a mother whose child is hanging out with someone she doesn’t quite approve of rather than the absolute terror of a mother knowing her child is in mortal danger.

“Saw her come in, haven’t seen her leave yet. I’ve checked around but--”

“I should get going, then. I want to catch her while she’s still here,” Kara said distractedly. “Maybe she’s hiding. She said… she said something about...”

Kara trails off, fingers pressing deeper into her bruised temple. She looks at Markus and clasps a hand over his wrist for a moment.

“I’ll keep an eye out,” she tells him, giving him a quick hand pat.

Markus says nothing. He just gives her a small smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes and pats her  hand back before she moves away. Kara stands up. She picks up the gun, considering it for a moment before holding it out for Hank.

“Are you sure you don’t need this?” she asks.

“Nah, I’m good,” Hank lies. “You need me to go with you? There’s a lot of--”

“No, I’ll be okay,” Kara says. “I… I haven’t seen your son. Have you found him yet?” Hank shakes his head. “I’ll tell you if I see him. Or I’ll send him to your car, too.”

“Appreciate it, but it’s dangerous out--”

Kara’s already walked out.

“Fuck,” Hank grumbled.

“She’ll be fine.” Markus starts putting away his various bottles. “She got up here on her own.”

“Yeah, well, I got up here too and I’ve still almost gotten murdered several times today,” Hank said.

“True, but she has advantages you don’t. Pass me those papers, please?” Markus asks, gesturing to the other side of the typewriter.

“Advantages? Like what, a gun with more bullets?”

Hank picks the papers up and passes them over. A lot of medical claptrap he doesn’t understand, but he sees a signature by ‘Kamski’ on the bottom of the front one. Markus takes them and slides them into his bag, too.

“Hey, you aren’t a doctor or anything, are you?” Hank asks. “I got this guy, Connor, upstairs. He’s acting a little off. Running a temperature, really twitchy. Think he ate… something… that wasn’t great for him.”

Markus shakes his head. “I’ve got painkillers, a few bottles of expired medicine and a couple of assorted first-aid implements. But I can’t give much of a diagnosis. Picked up a few things in the past, but nothing that can substitute for real expertise.” Hank’s about to ask if he can at least have a look, but Markus continues. “Was your son sick?”

“Connor’s not my son.”

“I meant Cole. Was he sick? Hospitalized?”

Hank squints at him, frowning. “...I don’t know? Why?”

“I thought, since you were here... In any case, I’ve been looking through the paperwork here. I didn’t see any Cole mentioned.”

“It was a thought, yeah. Well… that saves me some work.” It’s kind of a relief. No morgue records, no severe illnesses. No car accident records. “I wanted to check the police station, but--”

“Other side of the lake,” Markus interrupts.

“Yeah.”

Markus nods thoughtfully before rummaging through his bag again. Hank watches, then his eyes drift to the typewriter. There’s no paper inside it, but there’s a sheet of carbon with the imprint of what was typed on it last.

Hank’s eyes slide over most of it. It’s badly typed and near incoherent.

 

i know it i know it he wont open the box anymore i changed the number i need to remember it 2605 i can remember it 2605 he wont get it he wont get it he wont get it 2605 he wont he wont he wont

 


Hank writes down the number on the edge of his map. And as he does, Markus nudges his arm and holds something out. It’s another key, but it’s carved and looks very old.

“...The hell is this?” Hank asked slowly. “For the box?”

“I don’t know of any box. But you need to get across the lake, don’t you?” Markus asks. Hank nods and Markus gestures at the key. “That key opens the front door to the Historical Society on the edge of the lake. They have rowboats out back by their little pier. Just leave the front door unlocked, I need to… to pick up something from there.”

“Oh. Oh shit, thanks, that’s…”

The back of his neck is prickling a little.

“...Why?” Hank asks slowly. “I mean… you just happened to have this? And you’re fine handing it to some random stranger?”

“Is there a problem?”

“It’s really fucking convenient, is all I’m saying!”

Markus continues putting bottles away without replying for a few moments. When he does, he’s clearly picking his words carefully.

“Is that the only convenient thing that’s happened to you?”

“I mean, it’s the first flat-out helpful thing. Most of this town is just one big fucking inconvenience.”

“Then don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Hank.”

Hank huffs irritably. But yeah… he doesn’t really want to give the key back. This town might be fucking with him. Markus might be fucking with him. But he’s got nothing else except for leaving town, and he can’t. He just can’t.

“Okay… well… I’m gonna finish checking for Alice, pick up Connor and head there, then. Thanks, I… I guess. Also if you want a lift out of town just head for the roadstop when you’re done. I’ll try and wait for you if you want.”

Hank wasn’t sure how he was going to fit everyone in his car. Life finds a way.

“I’ll… keep that in mind. Thank you. But don’t wait too long. I might be busy,” Markus said, turning back to the desk. He doesn’t look back as Hank leaves.

 


 

“Aha. Son of a bitch.”

It took him until the first floor to find another key, hidden away in a drawer. It’s a weird-looking key. Made of thin metal and old-fashioned, with a blue rock of some kind embedded into it. It looks like what someone might use for a personal treasure box, not something inside a hospital that requires chains and a combination lock too.

Hank checks the various keys he’s collected as he walks back upstairs, once he’s sure there’s nothing else to find. The box had four locks. He’s got three keys and a combination, is that right? Plus a key for the Historical Society. Which one of these was that? Fuck, he’s starting to mix up what goes with what.

As he heads for the room with the puzzle box, he pauses by the room he left Connor in and listens. He can hear the shifting of feet. His hand is reaching towards the door when he hears the metallic ting of a coin trick. Immediately, Hank rolls his eyes and pulls his hand back. Coin tricks didn’t count as rest in his book.

Still, this time the noise was reassuring rather than irritating.

He leaves the kid to rest for a bit longer. He moves back to the room with the puzzle box instead. He has to have enough bullshit by now. A keycard and a key with a stone in it and this key with ‘R’ on the tag and a number combination… that’s four. The box had four locks.

The moment he looks, though, he remembers that two of them were combinations.

“Fuck,” Hank mutters. He spends a couple of moments lining up the keys he has before figuring out which one doesn’t go with it. The key he found in Connor’s room. ‘R’ on the tag.

...Oh. Roof Key.

Hank feels like a fucking idiot. These puzzles were getting to him. But on the plus side, the door to the roof was right across from where he currently was. Hank flips off the puzzle box and leaves the room, sticking the key into the slot and heading up. Sure that, for whatever reason, somewhere up there there’ll be a four-digit code that will let him open this fucking box.

He steps into the cold air. He doesn’t see fog. All he sees is pitch black night.

The sight throws him off. When had it become night? It had still been bright out when they entered. It couldn’t have been more than an hour since. Hank frowns as he removes the flashlight from the front of his jacket and shines it around.

Nothing. Just a small, concrete square lined with a chain link fence to stop anyone from jumping off.

Hank presses his face to the chain link fence and stares out at the darkness, straining his eyes to see even the faintest light. He sees nothing. He twists his fingers through the links, and he thinks.

What will you do if you cannot find your son?

Too horrible to contemplate.

Hank contemplates it anyway.

There’s an ear splitting screech of metal behind him and Hank turns in time for strong, pale hands to grab his jacket and yank him upwards.

Ice Head stares him down with that one pale eye. Just for the briefest moment. And then he shoves Hank against the chain-link fence.

Hank doesn’t fall, just slamming with a rattle against the fence and grasping at it to stop himself slipping. The other hand already bringing the pipe up even though he knows it will do nothing. But there’s an ominous creak from the metal he’s leaning on and then a snap.

The fence falls backwards. Hank falls with it.

He sees a glimpse of Ice Head peering over the edge at him, leaning precariously over the edge and looking like he might fall as well, weighed by the crystals coating his head and upper torso.. Then Hank plummets into the darkness and the last thing he hears is a crash.

 


 

He’s lying on something hard and cold. His back hurts. Everything hurts. Something chilly is dripping persistently onto his face and there’s bits of something hard sticking into his jacket. It’s familiar.

“Cole?” Hank croaks out loud as he tries to sit up. Reaching for where the car would have been.

He’s not on the road, though. There’s no car to reach for.

The pipe and the flashlight have fallen next to him. He picks up the flashlight first and shines it upwards.

He’s back in the hospital. There is a gaping hole in the ceiling just above him. Broken pipes line the gap and one is dangling precariously down. It should be trickling more water, but instead there are only thick icicles dripping down. One is steadily dripping on his face. Hank looks up at it, then moves the light of the flashlight around him.

The architecture is familiar. He recognises the signs on the doors. The entrance to the roof is nearby. But thick ice entirely coats it, spreading out from the roof and turning into a light frost as it gets further from the door. Some of the doors around him are barred with planks or covered in thick tarp. The entire place looks frozen over.

How long was he out?

Hank climbs to his feet and picks up the iron pipe. It’s covered in frost, too. It still has traces of blue from that Plastic that Hank fought earlier when Connor--

Shit, Connor.

Hank immediately bolts for the room he left Connor in. It’s not far down the hall, seven or so small rooms away. Hank doesn’t knock, doesn’t bother with any formalities. He just shoulders the door open and charges in.

The room’s empty. It’s glazed with frost as well, and Hank thinks he can hear… something. A gluggy, choking cough. But it’s coming from the walls itself. It’s like the room is trying to breathe.

Hank stares up, shining the light around like it’ll help him see the source. The light comes to rest on the table next to the cot he’d put Connor on.

There’s two items. One is Connor’s revolver. The chamber has been removed and placed next to it, and five of the bullets are scattered across the end table. There’s one still inside the chamber.

Next to that is a small, plastic baggie. Hank picks up the baggie and holds it to the light, staring at the red crystals inside. He realises where he’s seen Connor’s scratchy agitation before.

“...Shit,” he mutters under his breath.

Chapter Text

The hospital had changed for the worst.

It was like the whole place had become a walk-in freezer. Hank could see his breath fogging up the air in front of him, and the puffy fisherman’s jacket he wore was doing little to keep him warm. Some doors that had previously been open were locked, and others which had been locked were open. It threw Hank’s whole idea of the layout out of whack.

Patients were wandering the halls once more, but now they all had black, frostbitten limbs and walked with sick crunching noises. When Hank hit them, they cracked like plaster and chunks fell off them before they bled sluggishly. He didn’t shoot. Didn’t want to waste any ammo.

Ten bullets. Six were in his usual revolver. Three were rattling around in his ammo box. He’d used the bullets Connor had left behind to fill his gun again. However, the one left in the chamber of Connor’s gun… he hadn’t touched it. He’d just put the chamber back in place and stuck Connor’s revolver into his jacket too.

He didn’t really know why.

Two particularly weird things had changed about this floor. The first and most obviously a fucking issue was the stairwell. It was iced over, just like the path to the roof. Not just the light frost of everywhere else, but thick and impassable glacier-style ice. Albeit glacier-ice with what Hank could only call ‘a bit of a piss tinge to it.’ So yeah. He wasn’t getting downstairs easily. There was an elevator, but pressing the button did nothing.

The second thing was there was a new door. Or maybe there’d been another door here before, but not one like this. This one had an elaborate painting on it. It was rather stylistically similar to all the paintings on the second floor. Realistic but with an emphasis on shadow and colours.

This one was of a blonde woman who was extending her hand towards Hank, with a background of delicately painted roses done in blue and yellow. The painting then merged into a protrusion from the door. A chunk of metal shaped like a graceful hand that led directly from the painting’s arm, as if it was inviting him to enter. As if this painting was breaking the rules of reality and stepping beyond it just to try and hold his hand.

Hank stared the door down, then slowly—expecting the metallic hand to snatch at him—reached out and lightly touched the back of the hand. No movement. No snatching. Hank then grasped the wrist and gave it a tug. Could have just been a weird door handle. But nothing. The door wasn’t budging.

He could swear the woman’s blue eyes were following him when he moved away.

Hank should have been panicking for so many reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that he was trapped here. Even if he could find a window to jump through, he was on the third floor. But he didn’t really find that worrying.

This town was fucking with him, he knew that. But he was getting a sense for it. This town had rules. It funneled him around, but it always left somewhere for him to go. Trapping him up here to freeze to death… that wasn’t how this was going to go. If he looked hard enough, he’d find a way.

Even if it meant another fucking puzzle.

What was more worrying was what had happened to everyone else. Were Kara and Markus still in here? Was Alice still hiding? Where the fuck was Connor? Why had he left his gun behind? And the baggie of red ice gnawed away at the back of his brain, even if there were bigger things to worry about.

As he mulled it over, he opened another door that had been priorly locked and came face-to-face with the last combination code he was lacking for that goddamn box. So that was good, Hank supposed.

Less good was finding that combination code written in blood--actual red blood--on the wall of a padded room. It was trailing off haphazardly from a huge splatter that looked like someone had simply slammed their face into the walls until even the padding couldn’t do much to soften the blow. The fact that there was no bodies here, not even monsters, was unsettling in its own right.

But nevermind that. He had the code now. And goddamn, there better be something good in that fucking box.

Hank crossed the chilly floor and headed back for the room. The letters on the wall were harder to read now, as the ice had taken them too and left them cracked and distorted. Hank dropped the two keys on the bed before fiddling with each lock in turn, snapping them off one after another. Unwrapping the chains from the box and quickly discarding them. The metal was so cold it burned to touch, and all he could think of was Ice Head.

But finally, the box was unlocked. Hank opened it.

He stared at the contents for a good thirty seconds in silence.

“...FUCK!” he bellowed finally.

He’d thought, at first glance, that there’d been nothing in there. But on closer examination, there had been precisely one thing in the box. Hank reached in--carefully--and plucked the single, blonde hair from the box.

“Fucking… fuck! FUCK! FOR THIS?!” Hank yelled. He half-expected the walls to start laughing at him, like the coughing from within the walls. But nothing.

He took the hair with him anyway, and that was the most galling thing of all. As he walked out and stepped down the hall, his flashlight shone on the woman painted on the nearby door. The strand of hair matched hers.

“...Guess you must be Chloe,” Hank grunted to the door, holding the hair up. After a moment of consideration, he tried draping it over the metal hand. Nothing happened, so he took the strand of hair back and kept going.

Hank scoured the rest of the floor before eventually sitting his tired ass down inside a little office. He couldn’t read any of the paperwork scattered about. It was all frosted. He sighed, putting his hands to his face and leaning back despite the cold sting that this chair was giving him.

“The fuck are you gonna do, Hank? The fuck are you gonna do?” he muttered to himself. He pressed his palms to his face, rubbing his eyes, before lowering them and staring at the desk in front of him.

There was a stuffed toy fox there. Weirdly untouched by the frost.

“Looking warm there, huh? Lucky bastard,” Hank muttered to it. He had to shake his head slightly after. He was losing it. But hearing someone talk, even if it was just himself, was something.

He reached out and gave the stuffed toy fox a pat on the head. There was a brief prick of pain in his finger and he yanked it back. He paused, then reached more carefully and touched where the prick had come from.

After a moment, he pulled out a bent needle that had been jammed into the stuffed fox.

“...Sick bastard,” Hank muttered, glaring at the fox. Either that was just bad design or some asshole had actively wedged a needle into something designed for kids. He was leaning towards it being intentional, because this needle had been bent by hand.

Hank made to toss the needle away, but then paused. It was bent in a curved way. Like a hook.

...Huh.

He got up and headed back towards the shower room. Once he was there, he sat on the frosty tiles. Then, carefully, he held the bent needle up and tried his best to line up Chloe’s lone hair with the eye of the needle.

God, this damn hair was gonna snap. Or he was going to drop it. Or any number of dumb things would get in the way. But the hair slipped through, and carefully Hank managed to tie it. Then he held the other end of the hair and carefully dangled the makeshift fishing line into the drain.

“Careful. Careful…” Hank whispered under his breath. He had to jiggle the hook a bit to get the key attached to it before slowly raising it out of the drain.

Just as he pulled the key out, the hair snapped. Hank tried to catch the key, and ended up batting it into the corner where it skidded along the ice before coming to a halt. Still, better than in the drain.

“Hell. Yes.” Hank felt a small surge of elation as he picked up the key. Followed by annoyance at being happy about solving a puzzle. Fuck puzzles. He examined the key. It, too, came with a tag.

Elevator key.

Hank frowned as he headed back for the elevator. He hadn’t even noticed a keyhole. But when he got there, he noticed that there was a panel he’d missed below. Opening it showed the necessary keyhole. When Hank inserted the key and turned it, the elevator panel lit up and the doors slid open. The light was faint and flickered, but it existed.

Hank stared dubiously at the elevator for a long time. He was sure the damn thing would plummet the moment he got on it. It was rusted and icy and just putting his foot out and touching it gave an ominous, metal groan.

Maybe there was another--

From below, he heard a child scream.

Hank immediately jumped on the elevator and jammed his thumb on the down button. The doors creaked shut and the elevator started to inch downwards. Slow. Too slow. Hank pressed the down button again like that would help.

As it inched downwards, he heard another scream. This time, he made out words.

“No, Daddy, no! Don’t hurt me!”

Hank pressed the button frantically. Finally, the doors slid open again. Hank didn’t even know if he was on the second floor or the ground floor. He just bolted out and ran in the direction of the screams.

He shoved his way past a set of large double doors designed to flap open easily for gurneys. Sealed before, but now open. And as he ran, he heard a loud, rumbling snarl that almost sounded like words. Almost, but not quite.

Hank knew what door it was immediately. Because it was the one door not covered in ice. Tendrils of untouched wall that the ice hadn’t touched, and bullet holes in the door and around it. It’s so out of place that he knows it’s where the screaming is coming from.

He kicks open the door, immediately plunging into a room where every surface and every piece of furniture is draped in tarps, sheets and all manner of coverings. There’s books, and another one of those stuffed foxes sitting on top of a nearby tarp. All of this is dwarfed by the monster in the room, and Hank feels an immediate tinge of regret for charging in here as he cranes his neck up.

The monster has its back turned. It’s… vaguely humanoid but most of its bulk is in the top half, with only stubby, short legs barely supporting it so that it half seems to crawl like a slug along the ground. Red crystals are buried deep into its flesh, many of them gathered from where the mouth should be and spreading down its front. It opens some kind of maw, and more slimy crystals seem to drip out as it snarls. It has large, flabby arms that seem coated in grease and sunken eyes. Maybe no actual eyes at all, just dents where they should be.

It turns, and as it turns its hands—massive, with flat and ropey fingers—come into view. It’s clutching Alice in its paws and occasionally shaking her. She’s not screaming anymore, but tears and snot are streaming down her face.

The creature turns fully and towers over Hank, spitting out crystals as it starts to amble towards him. Hank sees its grip start to tighten on Alice, who lets out a short, cut-off squeak as it starts to crush her lungs.

Hank draws his gun and shoots the thing right in the face. Thankfully, that face is a massive target. It stumbles, letting out a distressed groan as one hand loosens to reach up and touch where the blue is streaming from. Alice immediately tries to wriggle out of his grip and--perhaps aided by the weird slime the creature is covered in--she manages it, dropping to the floor and rolling away.

“Get out of the room!” Hank yells, not looking to see if she does. But he hears her move and her footsteps run from the door.

He shoots the thing twice more. It’s not like Ice Head, who would have taken these shots without flinching. The thing groans and clutches at its head, rivulets running through its fingers. But it’s like it has a headache rather than three normally fatal wounds.

Behind him, he hears the door rattle. But it doesn’t open. It’s locked. He can hear Alice’s choked, terrified sobs.

It swings one huge arm at him, and it's like being hit by a truck. Hank sees bright lights dancing under his eyelids as he lands with a thump on plastic fabric. He raises his gun again, but the thing is already grabbing for him. Those flat, stained fingers wrapping around his leg and yanking him up.

The monster gurgles at him as it lifts him in the air. It's so close to words.

It's near impossible to aim upside down and all the blood is rushing to Hank’s head, so he goes back to the pipe. Hitting whatever flesh he can, mostly making contact with the arms and stomach. Each attempt makes a noise like sticking his hand into jelly and yanking it out again. A wet pop every time.

Another gurgle followed by a roar, as the thing throws Hank into the wall.

This time, he blacks out for a second. It’s disorientating in more than one way. The idea of being beaten around by something this massive… it’s not one he’s ever had to think about. His weapons are gone from his hands as he tries to stand up and he doesn’t have the faintest idea of where they’ve gone.

The creature looms over him. And it seems to stare at him for a moment with those dark pits, dribbling crystals onto him. The sludge that comes with them is warm and rubbery and reminds him of Sumo slobbering all over his face. But so much worse. Just so much worse.

The thing speaks. It’s distorted, muddled by a mouthful of crystals, but it’s making words.

“--think you’re... better than me?!” it gurgles.

Hank pushes himself up, wiping his mouth. Something feels loose and when he lowers his hand it’s coated in red. He tries to get up, but there’s a sharp pain in his chest when he does. Fuck. He needs a minute. He doesn’t have a minute.

The monster doesn’t speak this time. It just snarls at him and moves forward, hand raised to slam it back down.

There’s a gunshot.

For whatever reason, this one finally stops the damn monster in its tracks. It touches its chest, which is now bleeding sluggishly, before turning slightly. Then it topples. Hank has to scramble backwards before it crushes his lower half into paste.

He looks over and sees Alice drops the gun. Her eyes are glassy and her face streaked with tears and snot, but her expression is numb. She stares at the mountain of rotting flesh and crystals. Slowly, her eyes travel over to Hank.

Hank says the first thing that comes to mind.

“...Your dad’s a real shitbag, Alice.”

Maybe it’s not the best phrase he could have picked. Alice doesn’t say anything. Hank doesn’t either. He just leans against one of the tarp-covered pieces of furniture, trying to catch his breath and fight away that sharp pain in his chest. Might be a broken rib or two, but what the fuck is he gonna do about it?

He shuts his eyes for a few moments, trying to get his breaths under control. He hears Alice’s footsteps shuffle closer towards him. He opens his eyes and watches her sit down. Not quite within his reach, but close by. Her eyes are still on the monster.

“...That isn’t my dad,” she says finally. Her voice is trembling.

“Yeah. ...That makes sense. You alright, kid?”

Alice nodded slowly as she curled up where she was.

“Good. Good…” Hank closes his eyes again. It’s weirdly warm in this room, compared to the icy chill out there. Comfortable. “Tell me if it starts moving again. Whatever it is, it deserves another ass-kicking.”

Alice doesn’t reply.

He just meant to rest for a moment. But he falls asleep.

 


 

When he wakes up--and he doesn’t know if it’s a few minutes later or several hours--Alice is gone. The monster is still there, and the floor is just washed with blue from it leaking everywhere. Hank blinks hazily at it for a moment before huffing.

“Fuuuck,” he groans.

Find the kid only to lose her. Great job, Hank. Great job. Still, it’s better than dead.

He manages, finally, to get to his feet. His chest hurts something awful and he definitely lost a couple of his teeth in the fight. But it’s fine. He’s on his feet. That’s all he needs. He picks up his gun, still lying where Alice dropped it. He loads the final three bullets in his ammo box into it. Five in this gun. One in Connor’s.

He retrieves his pipe, too. He walks back out into the chilly hospital halls. As he does, he hears a crackling sound behind him. When he looks back, ice has coated the door he’d just left.

...Guess he was done with that room, then.

Hank gave this new, more frozen version of the second floor a once-over. In the process, he found jack shit. So it was straight back to the ground floor for a once-over of that, too. The front door was covered in that piss-coloured glacier-thick ice. Of course it was. This would have been too easy otherwise. Fucking bullshit hospital.

He searched every room, and found one newly unlocked door. Inside, the room was largely empty. Barely any furniture. Just a fridge lying on its side in the middle of the room.

Hank grabbed the handle of the fridge and gave it a yank to try and open it, and another sharp pain ran through his ribcage. Robbed of breath again, Hank sat on the fridge and rested. Ugh. Damn Alice’s fake monster dad. Damn him.

Sure could use some help. Where the fuck was Connor? Wandering around just as he was? Sitting in some little room in this place, smoking his goddamn brains out? Why the fuck had he left the gun behind?

Hank hoped he was alright. Even if he had some fucking words for him.

He’d checked all three floors. There was one place he hadn’t gone. One place he was dreading going. The basement hadn’t been accessible before. He’d tried it with Connor, but the door had been barred. But he had the elevator now.

Something terrible was going to be in that basement.

Fuck it, though.

The elevator took a while to get to the basement. Hank had plenty of time to reflect on how stupid a decision this was. On how stupid this entire everything was. What happened if he left the hospital? If he went to the Historical Society, got a boat and got to that police station? What were the odds of finding anything there? Even if he found out something, what was the likelihood that it would lead him to Cole?

How the fuck could Cole have survived here? Five survivors so far, and almost none of them had been here prior. He hadn’t even gotten around to asking how long the town had been like this.

Hank rummaged in his jacket and pulled out the letter, staring at it. The handwriting seemed to swim in front of his eyes. Trying to read was making him dizzy, so he folded it up again.

He didn’t think it was a prank any more. Or at least not a prank from anything he could comprehend. There was too much weird shit going on for this to have been a harmless—if douchey—joke.

Goddammit, Cole, did you send this? Are you anywhere?

It felt simultaneously more likely and more unlikely by the minute.

Hank felt the elevator grind to a stop. Basement. He shut his eyes for a moment, breathing hard through his nose. Pipe in one hand. Gun ready in the other. Opened his eyes again as the doors opened.

The room he entered into didn’t have much of anything except boxes. Boxes that he couldn’t touch because they were walled off by chain-link fences. Must have been a storage area. Hank eyed the shadowy boxes warily. The radio wasn’t going off, but the radio wasn’t always reliable. Hadn’t gone off until it was too late with Ice Head.

Directly in front of him, there was a shelf covered in a sheet, obscuring its contents. Blue, once-sticky hand prints decorated the side. Hank put away the pipe but kept the revolver in hand for now. With that, he walked around to the hand print covered side.

He gave the shelf an experimental push and a sliver of space appeared. No radio static. He kept pushing until a hole was exposed in the wall. It was decently wide, but only reached up to his waist.

“Great,” Hank muttered as he crouched. He stuck his head in, trying to see something in the dark and waiting for the radio to—

Footsteps behind him. Hank straightened up too fast and banged his head against the top of the hole. Rubbing the back of his head and seeing double briefly, he spun to face the person behind him. A familiar, but blurred, figure.

“Cole?”

It was Connor. His eyebrows creased slightly in frustration. He was breathing hard, like he’d sprinted from the room Hank had originally left him in straight down here.

Where had he come from? The elevator hadn’t moved since Hank arrived.

“Goddammit, sorry. Jesus, kid, you scared the hell outta me!” Hank grumbled, still rubbing the back of his head. “I told you to stay put! What the hell were you doing?”

Connor stared at him silently, even as his breathing stilled. The look he was giving Hank… a wide-eyed, stunned look. It made Hank feel like he’d kicked a puppy.

Then, like a switch was flipped, that expression changed. Eyes narrowed, mouth tightened.

“What was I doing? What were you doing?!” Connor shouted at him.

Hank took a step back, hands raising slightly. “What the fuck—”

“I wouldn’t have had to do it if you had been quicker, Lieutenant! If you’re that slow, maybe you should step down and let someone faster and more competent take over your position!”

“Just hold on a—”

“Perhaps if you weren’t constantly drunk, Lieutenant, you wouldn’t be stumbling like one!”

“That’s big talk coming from an ice addict!” Hank snarled back. It was Connor’s turn to step back. “I don’t know what your fucking problem is all of a sudden, but you stay the fuck out of my business. I’m not the one getting high on duty!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The fucking baggie! You left it with your gun, don’t think I didn’t see. ...And why the hell did you leave your gun behind? And where did you go? I’ve been looking all over the damn place!”

“I’m sorry,” Connor started icily. “That almost dying back there was such an inconvenience for you.”

“The fuck are you talking about?!” Hank roared. “You were fine last I saw you!”

His head was pounding. He was hopelessly confused, and it made him want to throttle Connor until he started making sense.

Switch flip. Suddenly that kicked puppy look was back on his face. When Connor spoke, his voice was now quiet and shaky.

“Why am I surprised? You can’t even remember my name, Hank.”

“Fucking Christ,” Hank muttered, covering his face for a moment. “It was a mistake! I remember your name, Connor! I just… just...”

Suddenly, Connor lunged at him. Hank nearly clocked him in the face before realising it wasn’t an attack. Instead, Connor wrapped his arms around Hank and buried his face in his shoulder. Hank froze briefly, arms hovering. More confused than ever.

“I thought I was going to die. ...I was scared,” Connor said quietly. His voice has a faint tremble to it. “Please don’t leave again.”

Hank found himself returning the hug before even quite registering that’s what it was. It should have felt weird. A stranger hurling himself into Hank’s arms like this, no matter what he looked like.

But it felt… it felt natural. It felt like he’d done this before.

He still wants to yell at Connor. About the nonsense. The accusations. The package of red ice. Instead one hand starts rubbing Connor on the back, the other patting his head.

“It’s okay, son. It’s okay,” Hank murmurs. “I’m not going anywhere.” The words spilling out before he even really realises what he’s saying.

They remain like that for a bit. He feels Connor’s breathing steady before eventually he moves backwards. Eyes closed as he leaves his hands on Hank for a moment longer. For a moment it’s Cole again, and then the eyelids flicker open and it’s back to Connor.

Switch flip. A flat, politely neutral expression. He lets go of Hank and puts his hands behind his back.

“Did you find Alice?”

Hank doesn’t switch gears back so easily, blinking and staring at Connor for a moment. “...Yeah? I mean, I did, but… I got battered around a bit by one of the monsters. She was gone when I woke up.”

“Then we should continue to make that our first priority. Combined with finding a way out, now that the front door is sealed,” Connor said brusquely. He walked over to the hole Hank had been trying to crawl through, peering inside.

Hank watches him for a moment, still disconcerted by the mood swings. He can’t see any signs of withdrawal right now. No agitation, no flush. It was like Connor had never stopped following him at all. Like there had been no argument. No hug. Just co-workers on a mission.

“Lieutenant?” Connor asks. Tilting his head slightly and staring at him with doe eyes. No pupil dilation.

It’s starting to feel like he imagined it.

“Sorry. Thinking,” Hank grunted before shining his flashlight inside.

After a moment, he crawls through. He enters into a small, perfectly square room. At first glance, it looks like there’s nothing in here. But shining the flashlight at the floor, he notices a small gleam of blue. He kneels down and picks up a ring that was lying on the floor. Metallic and polished to perfection. Too small for Hank, it looks like it’s been shaped for thin, feminine fingers.

Well, he knows where this goes.

He heads back through the hole in the wall and heads back for the elevator. Connor follows, still wearing a polite and pleasant expression. It’s both comforting and unnerving.

Before heading back to the third floor, towards the painting with the metallic hand, Hank stops the elevator on the ground floor and leads Connor to the room with the fridge lying on its side.

“You can’t open it on your own?” Connor asked with concern after Hank explained that he’d been through earlier.

“Think I might have busted a rib or something. Keep getting pangs. I’ve had worse.” It wasn’t a lie. In so many years on the police force and even more years as a raging alcoholic, he’d gotten his fair share of batterings. Though, in fairness, they didn’t usually all come in such a short time span.

“You should take better care of yourself,” Connor said frankly.

As he says it, he reaches down and gives the fridge door a strong heave. It creaks open slowly at first before shifting with a large crash. Connor peered inside for a moment before reaching down and plucking out something red and crystalline. Immediately, Hank moves in and yanks it out of his hand.

“Absolutely not,” Hank snaps.

Connor blinks at him, tilting his head. “...Not a fan of jewelry, Lieutenant?”

Hank looks at him, then looks at the ring Connor pulled from the fridge. It’s lined with several translucent red stones.

This fucking town.

“I like the blue ring better, too,” Connor says lightly.

“Sure,” Hank mutters as they head back to the elevator. He catches a slight frown on Connor’s face as he turns away.

There’s a slight pang of guilt. Goddamn, he hates red ice addicts as much as the next person, but he’s also never been a fan of people needling him over his alcoholism. It sure as hell never helped curb it. If anything, it made him drink more out of spite.

Hank’s not exactly great at reaching out to people. Still, as they step back onto the elevator, he tries.

“...Connor, I won’t pretend we have a lot of time to just sit around and chat about shit right now,” Hank said slowly. “But how about… I’ll take better care of myself as long as you do the same.”

“How would—”

“You know how, Connor.”

Connor turns his head back to face the front of the elevator, looking impassive. Hank watches, then does the same.

“...I will try,” Connor finally said.

“Guess that’ll do for now,” Hank said.

Wasn’t like he was going to get much better than that here.

With that, they stepped back out onto the third floor and almost immediately came face to face with the painting of Chloe. Hank shone the flashlight on her, then down at the metal hand. Slowly, he took the two rings out of his pocket--one smooth and blue, one red and jagged--and slid them onto her delicately shaped fingers.

For the briefest moment, the chill of frosted metal receded and it felt like he was touching warm flesh. Then there was a click, and the door creaked open onto a stairwell. Hank shone his light further in, but only saw the stairs curving out of the way and further down.

Connor peered over his shoulder for a moment. “This is the only way you haven’t tried?”

“Yep.”

“Perhaps it leads to an alternative exit.”

“God, I hope so. Otherwise our only option is to hole up until the spring defrosts everything and eat those damn patients for sustenance. Not that you’ll have any problems with that.”

Connor huffed lightly in response.

Hank was still having trouble getting his feet to move despite this. Half-expecting that if he tried to escape down this stairwell he’d just come across another sheet of ice blocking his progress. Connor looked at him, tilting his head, before moving his gaze back to the stairwell.

“The quicker we move, the quicker we will know one way or the other.”

“I know, I know.”

With that, Hank stepped inside. Connor followed on his heels. As they moved downwards, Hank gave the door one last glance. Chloe’s eyes had definitely shifted and were now fixed on him, and there was no polite smile on her face. It was a small shift, but Hank sped up anyway despite the pangs of pain it caused in his torso.

The stairwell went down. There were no doors that opened onto the second floor. There wasn’t one that opened onto the first floor either.

It just kept going down.

Further.

And eventually they reached a single door. Hank grasped the handle and yanked it open, and ice cracked audibly and flaked off the edges as he opened it.

In front of them was a hallway. Narrow. They wouldn’t even be able to comfortably walk side by side. Hank couldn’t see the end of it. But just staring at it, he had a sensation of creeping dread.

He drew his gun before glancing back at Connor.

“Stay behind me.”

Connor said nothing. Just nodded, eying the hall with just as much apprehension.

The floor was difficult to walk on. Tiled and slick with enough frost that it was just a little slippery. The walls were covered in thicker ice than most of the hospital. Not the glacier level of the front doors, but an inch or so of ice. The fog from Hank’s breath was so thick that he could barely see through it.

The hallway turned. And then turned again. Each turn, Hank would reach out to stop Connor, then step out with his gun ready to shoot down anything he saw. But there was nothing.

Hank walked on. Connor walked behind him. Their footsteps were the only sound.

Until Hank realised there were too many footfalls just to be the two of them.

He turned back. Connor stared back at him questioningly with those doe eyes. Just over his shoulder loomed a mass of red crystals with one pale blue eye.

Hank grabbed Connor’s arm and threw him ahead of him, unintentionally scraping Connor along the icy wall as he did so. Connor stumbled, giving Hank a mildly perplexed look that immediately shifted into subtle, but distinct, terror.

“Run. Run!” Hank yelled, giving Connor a shove forward.

Connor didn’t need to be told twice, sprinting down the hall as Hank tore after him. But this time, Ice Head kept up with them. Hank heard the footsteps in a flat-out sprint behind them, and realised they weren’t metallic anymore. When he looked back, he saw why.

The armor-like metal that had dragged down Ice Head’s footsteps had been torn away. Much of the flesh had been torn with it, and blue was seeping off the creature’s legs in rivers. But he didn’t seem to notice or care. He was just sprinting. His one eye was fixed over Hank’s shoulder on Connor. The chain in his hands, the blue staining it now crusty and flaking much like the ice around them.

Hank fired twice at its feet, and one made contact. Ice Head paused for the briefest moment, not in pain but in mild bemusement. Like he’d been shoulder-checked by a stranger. It was enough for Hank to put a couple more feet of distance between them before it returned to sprinting.

Connor was a few feet ahead, but kept turning back to check on Hank. Face impassive but eyes concerned and terrified.

“Don’t look at me, idiot, run!” Hank bellowed back at him.

It came out in a wheeze. Sharp pains were slamming through his torso every step, his vision starting to swim. He fired again. Made contact again. Got a couple of feet of reprieve once more.

They turned yet another corner. This one stretched on into the darkness and they kept running. Three sets of footsteps thumping along. And then the hallway ended.

An elevator. Door open and waiting.

Elation surged through Hank at the sight. And then his foot hit something. A blue-stained chain caught his ankle, and Hank plummeted. Rolling hard along the floor and sliding several feet on the icy floor—car, reaching, ice everywhere—before he tried to scramble up. Sharp pains froze his limbs as he wheezed.

Inches from the elevator and just a few feet ahead, Connor stopped and started to turn.

“Run!” Hank shouted as he raised his gun.

He fired twice more and both made their target. How could they not, when Ice Head was so close? He pulled the trigger a third time and got only a click. Completely out.

Hank was grabbed under the arms and yanked back. He looked up in time to see Connor turn and use all the momentum he could muster to hurl Hank past the elevator doors. Leaving himself outside.

The moment Hank was inside, the doors tried to slide shut.

“No. No, fuck, no—” Hank scrambled to his feet and jammed his hands before the doors could completely shut, leaving only a small sliver of space. Not enough to squeeze through.

Connor jammed his hands inside the doors as well, trying to pry them open himself. His breath coming out shaky. Eyes clearly wanting to look behind him but not daring to look, even as Ice Head approached.

“Connor, you fucking idi—Connor!”

Hank pushed. The doors opened just an inch more with his and Connor’s combined efforts. Connor still refusing to look back. Instead, his eyes fixed on Hank.

“Da—”

The chain wrapped around Connor’s neck and he was yanked back, Ice Head’s hands already tightening on the metal. Hank caught a glimpse of Connor’s terrified expression and his hands still outstretched towards the elevator before the doors slam shut despite Hank’s best efforts.

“No…” Hank whispered. “No. Nononono!” Each no got louder. He hammered against the buttons of the elevator, trying to get them to open. “Connor! Connor!” Screaming through the door like it would make it open.

He can still hear them.

He can hear clanking. Thrashing. Wheezing. The sound of something banging against the elevator door. Hears choked, gurgling noises and a horrific series of snaps.

And then he hears nothing.

Only then do the elevator respond, and only by creaking to life and moving upwards. Leaving Hank with his hands pressed to the cold, metal door. Staring hopelessly ahead before slowly sliding to the floor. He turns and presses his back to the door, covers his face and doesn’t move.

He remains there even as the elevator stop with a cheery ‘ding.’

There’s silence after that. It’s unbearable.

Hank wants something to happen. Wants the scraping of a monster shuffling towards him or the patter of feet, or even the crackling of ice spreading further. But he hears nothing. The hospital is silent. The town has nothing for him.

Hank sits there in the stillness for a few long minutes. Waiting for something. Anything.

When nothing comes, he starts screaming.

“What do you want?! What do you want from me?!” His voice echoes in the tiny elevator. “Why can’t you… just… just...” He trailed off, before slumping back against the door. “Fucking Christ, what do you want?!”

On instinct his hand went to his jacket where he usually kept a bottle. His fingers grazed it, but they were shaking hard. They bumped against something else on the way. Metal.

He still had Connor’s revolver. One bullet in the chamber.

A brief calm passes over him, colder than the ice. Hank lifts it, finger brushing over the trigger, before he reaches up and absently spins the chamber. Watches it twirl.

Then he holds it to his head and pulls the trigger.

Click.

Hank grimaces, looking at the gun.

“Message received,” he said bitterly. He tosses the gun aside, letting it clatter, and grasps for the bottle of scotch he’d pilfered from the bar.

It wasn’t like Connor was going to keep his half of the deal now.

He drains the bottle right there on the floor of the elevator. This time, when unconsciousness claims him, he’s all too welcoming of it.

 


 

He wakes up on something… softer and warmer. Granted, it’s not harder to beat out a frozen elevator floor in that regard.

The mattress he’s lying on is lumpy and there’s a spring digging into his back, and it smells like piss and puke. But it’s better. There’s a dusty blanket draped over him and a stiff pillow wedged under the side of his face.

He cracks one eye open. He recognises the room. One of the examination rooms of the hospital. It looks dusty and derelict, but by the normal standards of Silent Hill. No ice. Just papers and bottles.

Two figures are curled up in the corner on an office chair. Kara has one elbow resting on the desk next to her, eyes shut. The bruising on her face has taken on a yellow tint. Alice is curled up on her lap, resting against her and fast asleep.

“You didn’t have to give me the bed,” Hank says, his voice coming out as a croak.

Kara opens her eyes, although Alice doesn’t, only stirring slightly in response. Kara looks at Hank, then down at Alice. She shifts very carefully and manages to slide Alice off her and back onto the chair. She makes sure that Alice won’t fall off it, then walks over towards Hank.

“You looked like you needed it. How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Like crap,” Hank says bluntly. “How’d I get here?”

“We found you passed out drunk in the elevator. Like I said. You looked like you needed it.”

“Passed—” It comes rushing back. Hank stops, then looks down at the musty blanket he’s covered in. “Oh. Yeah.”

Kara watches him with concern, although one of her blue eyes is staring slightly the other way. It’s the one near the bruising. Hank nods his head slightly at it and the bruising around it.

“I guess the kid’s dad must have done that, huh?”

If he talks, he doesn’t have to think. Doesn’t have to remember. Even if just for the moment.

Kara lifted her head slightly, mouth tightening for a moment. Slowly she says, “That’s… what I was told.”

“Told?”

“I… I don’t really remember. I remember Todd, but not…” Kara gestures at the bruises. “I’m sure it’ll come back to me eventually.” She looks down, then looks back at Hank. “Alice… Alice told me what you did for her. I don’t… I don’t know if everything she said is true, it sounds—”

“A huge monster puking crystals?”

“...Yeah. It just sounds… I didn’t even know this hospital was so dangerous, I knew it was dangerous outside but… I just…” Kara’s mouth quivers for a moment before she reaches out and presses her hands to one of Hank’s. “I don’t know how to thank you. I really don’t.”

“Ain’t necessary. I… I just happened to be there. You can thank me by getting out of town.”

“Did you find your son?”

“...Not yet.”

Kara glances over at Alice before looking back to Hank. “I want to help. I owe you so much, and… and I know how important Alice is to me. I’m sure Cole is just as important to you.”

“No,” Hank said bluntly.

“Hank, please, let me—”

“My son’s dead,” Hank interrupted. “He died twenty years ago.”

Kara had her mouth open to keep protesting, but now she closed it slowly, regarding Hank with confusion. As she did, there was a faint stirring behind her. Alice had awoken, and was quietly watching with doleful eyes.

“I know that makes me sound crazy,” Hank said bitterly. “And maybe I am. Fuck, probably am. All I’m doing is following a letter that could have been sent by anyone. Some piece of paper, with no return address, saying that he’s here.

“It’s probably not worth it. But… but I have to know if there’s anything to it. I don’t care how dangerous it gets here or how stupid and pointless that truth is, because I’ve got nothing else. ...But I’ve already watched someone die for an answer that might not even exist. I’m not letting it happen again.”

Kara continued to watch him for a few moments, then stood up. She walked over to the desk. As she did, she saw that Alice was awake and reached out to pat her head with a small smile, as if to reassure her that she was still there. Alice watched her for a moment before looking down again, her eyes flickering sideways over to Hank.

There was some shuffling around and a rattling noise before Kara turned back. She put two items on a small table next to Hank. One’s half the container of painkillers that Markus gave her. The other is the gun that Hank gave her in the apartment building.

“I… I checked your revolver,” she said, nodding her head back at the desk. Connor’s revolver is sitting over there, along with the empty bottle of scotch and a few other odds and ends that must have fallen out of Hank’s jacket. The sight of the gun makes Hank’s stomach tighten up. “One bullet. Alice and I can run fast enough. We can make it back to the car. If you’re going to stay, you’ll need this.”

Hank wants to argue. But he knows she’s talking sense. He moves to climb out of bed, but does so with a groan. He immediately reaches for the painkillers.

“My car keys over there?” he asks, gesturing at the desk. Kara nods. “Take them. If I take too long, just get out of here. Don’t come looking for me.”

Kara looks at the keys, then looks at him. Her mouth tightens for a moment, clear reluctance.

“I… I can agree to that. But only if you promise to try and get back.”

Hank has to think about it. His eyes slide over to eye Connor’s revolver.

“...I’ll try,” he says.

Kara smiles at him sadly, perhaps realising it’s the best she’s going to get. She puts her hands over his.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for. And I’m… I’m sorry.” She moves back to the desk and picks up the set of car keys before holding her hand out towards Alice. “Alice? Ready?”

Alice doesn’t say anything immediately. She clambers off the chair and walks close to Kara, but stops. She looks at Hank. Then looks at his little pile of random belongings on the desk. She removes something from her pocket. A photo. Hank remembers that she was holding it in the coffee shop.

She places it on top of Hank’s belongings before reaching out to tightly grip Kara’s hand. She doesn’t move her eyes from Hank as they leave the room.

Hank sits there on the bunk for a while. Swallows a couple of the painkillers (perhaps a bigger dosage than what the bottle recommends) and hopes it’ll soothe the sharp pangs inside his chest. He sticks Kara’s gun into his jacket, along with the painkillers, and then moves over to pick up the rest of his belongings.

He picks up the photo Alice left him. It’s a headshot. The kind often used for making ID cards. Hank stares at the photo blankly. At the young man wearing a police uniform.

Why did Alice have a photo of Connor?

No. This man isn't Connor. His eyes are blue.

Chapter Text

It was snowing.

It might have looked like a peaceful scene if it was daytime, but it was still night. Hank still had no idea when it’d become night, or if he’d passed multiple nights in his drunken stupor. His internal clock was fucked to shit. But as he stood on the steps of the hospital, he could see the gentle, soft flakes drifting around him.

This town was mocking him.

He stood on the steps of the hospital for a few minutes. Head tilted up as he stared at the snow. As the damn flakes melted in his hair. He instinctively reached for his jacket, but he was out of liquor. He still had a bit of a headache from getting drunk on the floor of the elevator, anyway. But it was faint. Or maybe it was just faint in comparison to the various aches and pains he was nursing.

Still, the painkillers helped. The pain was just a faint but consistent throb.

Hank looked down at the photo Alice had left him as he walked along. The photo of Cole. Staring solemnly at the camera as he stood still for the ID photo. Distant, blue eyes. The collar of a police jacket—just like the one Hank had seen in the apartments—visible. He looked so much like Connor. And Connor looked like the imaginary picture in Hank’s head.

Did Hank imagine it? Or did he remember it? No matter how he strained, all he remembered was a six-year-old child sitting in the car seat next to him just before his wheels slid on a sheet of ice. He didn’t have anything of this man, no matter the picture in his head.

None of this made any sense. Did he go back to the apartment? Find the jacket that the flashlight had been attached to? See if there were other clues attached? Hank considered it long and hard.

But Connor had suggested the police station. Even if he wasn’t… wasn’t here anymore… that had been his suggestion. And a police station would be familiar. Hank just wanted something that made sense. That was familiar in a way that didn’t hurt. It felt like the answer had to be there.

Sometimes the radio crackled. Hank slowed down whenever it did, trying not to let his footsteps crunch too loudly on the snow-covered road. Patients were now wandering the street. Sobbing as they dragged their often-damaged feet. Hank switched off his flashlight despite the dark night and walked on, and if he kept his distance they didn’t notice him.

As he walked, he stared at the photo. His eyes lingered on the jacket. Just like the one that Hank had used to wear during police work. Just like the ones many members of his precinct wore. And how this was framed… it was for ID. Alice had no reason to have an ID photo. If she knew Cole in any personal way, she’d have a normal photo.

But a workplace might have copies of this.

She'd been talking to Gavin.

Hank walked north. When he got to the Historical Society, the elaborate doors—covered in twisting metal vines and with doorknobs that shone like gold when the flashlight slid over them—were already kicked open. Hank was left holding the key, wondering why Markus had even bothered chasing down the key at all.

Hank could see a glimpse of the docks attached to the Historical Society from here. Rickety wood stretching out into the foggy lake. Even see a glimpse of a boat bobbing in the water. But the fences blocking them off were too high for him to climb, and lined with barbed wire. No way there but through the building.

Inside, he found little but empty rooms covered with paintings and photos. As he stared around, eyes drifting over images of buildings and people of a time long past, he realised… this was familiar. He must have visited the building with Cole. Perhaps in some attempt to educate the kid before they got bored and left to do something more fun.

Hank wandered past most of the photos and paintings. These ones weren’t like the paintings in the apartments or the hospital. They were much older. One of them caught Hank’s eye.

He stopped in front of it, raising his hand to brush some of the dust of it. A humanoid figure with something red and all-encompassing present over their head. However, the red is painted on with an a amateur hand over what is otherwise a delicately painted picture. It resembles Ice Head now, but only because of obvious vandalism. The creature was at the forefront, with dangling corpses in cages behind him. As Hank’s eyes glide over the picture and the inscription on the frame--’Misty Day, remains of the Judgement’--he hears movement from further in, and a shattering of glass.

Hank reaches into his jacket. Instinctively, he touches Connor’s revolver first. Then he pauses before reluctantly moving his hand to the one Kara had left him instead. He doesn’t draw it yet. Just walks on.

There’s not really anywhere to go. One path through the rooms. Just more paintings. More photos. Hank sees another photo of the woman Connor had been staring at in the hospital next to a photo of a pale man with tied-back hair. There’s photos of the hospital near it. Brass panels with writing explaining the significance.

But it doesn’t have shit to do with Cole, so Hank keeps moving.

He finds the source of the noise. A shattered glass case a few rooms in. There’s red smudged on the broken case. It’s also dripped on the floor. Nothing’s left in the case. There’s photos lining the wall surrounding it.

Many of them are the same as the ones in the apartment that had belonged to Carl. Hank recognises the one with Carl, Markus and the three other teenagers. Bloody hand prints have smeared over it, fingers clearly tracing the faces of the three teenagers that aren’t Markus.

Hank hears footsteps faintly in the distance further on, and when he enters the next room there’s just a set of stairs going downwards into the darkness. He sees movement. He sees a glimpse of the worn coat that Markus had been wearing, and blood dripping onto the floor, but it quickly fades into the darkness.

“Markus!” Hank called out.

No response.

Hank just wants a goddamn boat. Wants to get to the station. Wants this to be done. But this staircase downwards is the only way in that direction, so Hank starts to descend.

He walks on.

On.

On...

It seems to go forever. The walls of this hallway aren’t wood or plaster. They’re cracked rock. And as he walks, he hears a faint, low noise. The klaxon horn of a boat. He strains his ears, and the sound repeats. Were there actually boats running on their own? Actually other survivors of the town besides the five—four—that were left?

And still, the staircase hasn’t ended.

Still, it keeps going.

And still, Hank doesn’t turn back.

Finally, there’s a door directly ahead of him. Hank pushes it open and finds himself in what looks like a dingy reception area. A desk is near the door, and there’s a sheaf of yellowed notes on the table, done in typewriter script. Hank reaches out and turns them around so he can read them.

It’s lists of names. Each name has a number next to it. And the papers are dated. The year is 1820. Hank squints at the papers for a moment, then lets out a ‘tch’ noise and pushes them off the table before moving on. Nothing from 1820 is going to help him, and at this stage he’s done questioning this bullshit.

He pushes his way on. And he comes to a dead end. Or it might as well be.

Hank kneels by the square pit in the floor, shining his flashlight down into it. He can’t see the bottom. This is just… nothing. There’s nowhere to go but down, and there’s no way anyone jumping down there would survive if he can’t even see the bottom.

He turns around. And stares through the door he just came through. Through to the dingy lobby. To the hideously lengthy staircase he’d followed down here. And if he goes all that way… where does he go after?

Hank stares behind him, then turns back to the pit.

...Fuck it.

Hank steps off the edge. He plummets.

 


 

Somehow he doesn’t die. He falls for way longer than he should, and then slams into something hard and damp. But nothing’s broken. Maybe it’s the painkillers kicking in for real. There’s a few moments where Hank can’t breathe, and then that passes. He can’t see, but he realises quickly why. He’s lying face-down, and the flashlight is pinned underneath. When he pushes himself up, light floods the area.

Hank climbs to his feet. He sees solid brick wall ahead of him. He turns. And turns. Solid brick wall all around him. Underneath his feet is soggy trash, compressed over the ages. There’s no exit except for up, and no way to get up there.

Fuck.

Hank stares upwards, then at the wall. He reaches out and touches it. Still solid. Very slimy. Water is lightly trickling down.

“Haven’t you messed with me enough?” Hank asked outloud, voice tired. “We both know you’re not going to stop me here.”

There was no response. Hank didn’t know what he was expecting.

He circled the pit, tracing his hands along the edge and slowly getting more frustrated. Finally, he gave the wall a kick. And another. Then another.

On the third kick, there was the noise of rock shifting. Hank blinked, and there was a door in front of him. He looked up again.

“Was that so hard?” he muttered before opening it.

It’s watery in here, too. The way the halls twist and turn makes Hank think of sewers. The radio starts to lightly crackle, and the sounds of faint splashing and groans, along with the occasional nauseous heave, can be heard in the distance.

Hank walked on. He almost wanted to chase the footsteps, even though he knew they’d only lead to monsters. Those noises were nothing human. Still, it would beat this endless silence. He’d have someone to tell him he wasn’t nuts. He was starting to almost regret sending Kara back to his car. He definitely regretted not running a little harder when he’d seen Markus. Where the fuck had Markus gone?

He didn’t end up chasing the footsteps. He just kept walking. Until he came to the end of the hallway. He shone the flashlight down.

“...Really?” he muttered outloud.

Another hole in the ground. The water was trickling into it. Once again, Hank shone the flashlight into it, and once again he couldn’t see the bottom. This one had a grate that had clearly been covering it, however. The grate was oddly well-made, and it had letters carved along the edges.

 

Tis doubt which leadeth thee to Purgatory.

 

“Well… I definitely can’t say I’m certain of your bullshit,” Hank replied, staring down into the pit. Purgatory, huh? If this was purgatory, he’d hate to see what the next stage was.

This time, he didn’t hesitate for as long. Purgatory or not, what did he have left to lose?

 


 

He landed on something that creaked this time. Or woke up on it, at least. And he kind of wanted to laugh at the absurdity of landing on a bed. Like some cartoon bullshit. ‘Oh, jump off a building but you’ll be fine if you just land on a mattress.’

Hank sat up. He tried looking up, but couldn’t see the hole he’d come in through. Though he could hear the water trickling down somewhere nearby. Then he looked around him.

Bars. A prison cell. He was sitting on a scratchy, old cot with stains just as bad as the hospital, maybe worse. There was a foul toilet in the corner and a tiny table in the corner. Hank climbed off the cot before walking over to the entrance. He reached out and gave the bars an experimental push.

They slid open, and Hank stepped out into a corridor. He was in a cell block. A cell block miles under the earth. Under a sewer under a museum. If this town had possessed a modicum of sense, it was gone now.

Hank passed most of the cells, occasionally glancing inside. Most of them were too dark to see deep into. He occasionally tested the doors, but found most of them locked.

One of them he finds unlocked. It opens up into a room that is much like the cell he woke up in. A bed, a filthy toilet and a table. But the table is covered with items. Old tomes and pieces of paper. Hank doesn’t really bother with the papers--they’re all covered in symbols he doesn’t understand--but he quickly looks at the spines of the books before flicking open one of them to look at the words.

They all have titles that are obviously occult--‘On Sacrifice and the Art of Demon-Summoning,’ ‘Tome of the Seer,’ ‘The Fallen Angels of Mercy and Favor,’ witchy bullshit after witchy bullshit--and the couple of pages he stares at are written in that old Shakespearean style that Hank can’t be bothered to process. Hank quickly shuts the book before moving it aside.

Wedged between the books is a square tile. On it are carved outstretched hands, grasping forward. Lining the edge, words have been carved into the tile as well. ‘The Zealot.’ Over and over. Hank shoves it in his pocket because it's weird and he knows this town well enough to know that means it's important.

Then he moves back into the cell corridor and hears heavy footsteps nearby.

When he turned and shined his flashlight through the bars, he saw nothing. The shadows were still too thick. And still he heard the heavy footsteps. The back of his neck prickled. There was a voice. But its speech was garbled and distorted. Calm and deep.

Hank quickly moved on. It wasn’t the company he wanted.

He exited the cell block, and came to a new corridor. These were not barred, but instead had doors. Each was labeled. Visitor’s Room 1. Visitor’s Room 2. Visitor’s Room 3. So on and so forth. Hank made to walk by them, but he heard muffled voices once more.

This time, the voice was distinctly human.

“--thought you were so goddamn smart, huh?”

Hank stopped, head tilting towards the noise, before he slowly pushed open the door to Visitor’s Room 5.

It wasn’t what he would have called a room. Really more of a cubicle. Split in half down the middle by thick glass, with the other side having its own exit. On Hank’s side, there wasn’t much. Just a table pressed against the glass divide and a chair. There was something on the table. A flat, green tile. But Hank’s eyes were quickly pulled to the other side of the dirty, smudged glass.

There was a corpse sitting in the chair opposite Hank. It looked horrifically fresh. It was still dripping vivid red from bullet holes in its face and chest. Most of the top half of the head was gone, and what remained of the bottom half was stretched in open-mouthed horror.

And there was Gavin. Gripping the corpse by the back of its jacket and shaking it violently, making what remained of its head loll around, dripping gunk and bits of skull all over the table in front of it. In his other hand, he was holding the standard-issue handgun from back at the precinct. He was violently prodding the corpse with the barrel.

“Not so mouthy now, huh? Nothing left to say?” Gavin jeered at it, like it could still hear them.

“Reed!” Hank tries for the commanding shout he’d use on the job if he wanted someone to stop doing something highly illegal. He’s seen some fucked up shit on the force. But his voice cracks, falling faint for a moment. “The… the fuck are you doing?!”

He doesn’t really have to ask.

Gavin’s eyes move over to Hank. He straightens up. A grin unfurls on his face. His eyes are wide and manic. But they’re also crinkled at the corners, smiling even more than his mouth. His cheeks flushed with excitement. It reminds Hank of Connor and the bag of ice, but he knows at a glance that Gavin is experiencing an entirely different high.

“You are doing a lot better than I thought you would! You know what, maybe Chris was right. Maybe there was something to your reputation, ‘Lieutenant.’” He’s talking in a tone that makes Hank think of meeting co-workers in the break room the day after a particularly wild work party.

“The fuck. Are. You doing?” Hank repeats.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Gavin spins the corpse’s chair towards him. Resting his hands on the arms of the chair as he looks at the corpse with a grin, still holding his gun up to it. It’s predatory despite the fact that there’s really nothing left to chase.

“Well. It looks like you’ve fucking lost it and murdered a guy.” Hank stares at the vivid red liquid oozing everywhere. “...Jesus, Reed. Is that an actual guy?”

“So what if it is? He had it coming. Asshole just… he didn’t know when to quit. Not my fucking fault.” There was a slight shift in Gavin’s expression, suddenly defensive rather than gleeful. “Why should I let this guy walk all over me? Why should I let any of them walk over me?”

“Oh god, that was a real guy,” Hank said faintly. Immediately, his hand starts to drift towards his gun. But slowly, hoping Gavin won’t notice.

“What am I meant to do? It’s not like this place has laws!”

Gavin’s tone is still defensive, but almost immediately the grin starts to unfurl against his face again. He lowers his voice, like he’s telling Hank a secret.

“It makes things so much easier. No paperwork. No lawyers getting them out of it. Just put the gun to their head.” He raises the gun to his own head briefly, taps the barrel against the side. “Puh-kow.” With that, he mimes pulling the trigger before letting out an almost giddy laugh.

Hand still inching towards the gun, Hank stares at him. Gavin had always been a little… ‘high-strung’ was the word Chris had so diplomatically used for him. But goddamn, those strings had snapped now.

But he had to ask.

“You gave that photo to Alice, didn’t you?”

Gavin pauses. Slowly, he wheels the corpse back around and lightly gives the chair a push away from him. The corpse falls forward to slump against the wall. Gavin then leans forward on the desk on his side, scant inches from the glass.

“What’s the matter, Hank? I thought you wanted to find him.” The tone is accusatory.

“I do. But what the fuck are you doing? Why did you have that picture? Just… carrying around photos of my son? Why?”

“I’m here for the same reason you are.” Gavin squinted at Hank. “So where is he?”

“I’m asking the questions here.”

“Yeah? Because we both know you’d never tell me if you’d actually found him. How the fuck did you lose him to begin with, Hank? ...Oh. Oh, oh, wait, don’t tell me.” Gavin laughs, staring Hank down with eyes that are slightly watery with amusement. “Did you get sick of him being an embarrassment to the family name?”

“...What are you talking abo--”

“Did you bury him yourself?” Gavin interrupted, leaning forward with anticipation. “I didn’t think you had it in--”

A gunshot goes off.

Gavin’s expression of fucked-up glee cracks as quickly as the glass does. He shoves himself back and trips over in his haste to back away from the glass. He remains still for a moment, breaths quick, before realising the glass didn’t shatter. There’s just a cobweb of cracks centered right where his face was a few seconds ago.

Hank still has his gun raised. The barrel still warm from the shot. The metal not as hot as the thick, boiling anger in his gut.

Gavin inches a little closer, staring at the cracks, before he starts laughing. It’s a little higher, with undertones of fear. Almost hysterical.

“Like I said,” he says quietly. “Here it’s so much easier.”

Gavin backs slowly towards the door, gun in hand. Hank says nothing, gun still trained on him even though he knows it won’t do any good.

“...One way or another, I’m going to find him first,” Gavin whispered. “You’re not going to get away with it this time.” He lifts his gun, tapping himself on the side of the head once more. “And there’s no judge or jury here.”

He pushes the door behind him open, and then he’s gone.

There is an overpowering urge to shoot the glass again. Hope it shatters so he can go out there and gun Gavin down. Or better, throttle him with his bare hands. The only thing that shakes Hank out of it is the sight of the red-blooded corpse. Only then does he lower his gun.

Fear starts to overtake the anger.

Even as his stomach seethes, Hank reaches out to take the green tile on the desk. Same shape as the Zealot tile. On this one, hands also decorate it. But they’re clenched and clawing rather than open and welcoming. He sees more words. ‘The Saboteur.’

Hank takes it with him, too.

There’s a timer. A timer on how long he has to find either Cole—the much preferred option—or the time he has to find Gavin and pistol-whip him into unconsciousness until the police roll into town. Or, alternatively, just fucking shoot him. It would be easier.

God, he feels fucking disgusted thinking that.

But Hank can’t find Cole if he can’t find his way out of this prison that he so intelligently jumped into.

So he moves on. And he keeps peering into rooms on the way. He finds nothing in the other visitor rooms, nor does he find a way into the area Gavin was in. Soon enough, he comes to another cell block. Or maybe it’s the first one. It looks the same.

There’s movement that comes to his ears in here, too. Lighter steps. And an aggressive, though distant, metal clanging. Like someone bashing their dinner tray against the bars nearby. A series of loud crashes, then they fade. And then they start up again.

But he still sees no-one, monster or otherwise.

Hank tests cells. And eventually another one opens. This cell is similar, except that the thin, mouldy sheets from the bed have been draped over the table to make a fort. When Hank kneels to pull the sheet up, he half-expects something to leap out at him.

Nothing does. Inside, he finds a small wax doll that looks like it’s been made by a child sitting on another one of those strange tiles. When he pulls it out, he has to somewhat chisel the wax doll off it. And honestly, Hank has no idea why he pockets the doll at all. It’s just a lump of wax with stubs as limbs and a couple of dots for eyes. Still, he does.

Then he examines the tablet. These hands are clasped. Not quite in prayer. More like someone anxiously rubbing their hands. ‘The Liar.’

Hank takes it with him, and goes to leave the cell.

The cell door is locked.

He stares at it, then tries it again. Then shakes the bars, trying to rattle the damn thing off its hinges. He can’t see anything outside. The darkness is too thick. Still, the door remains locked.

Hank is about to pull out his gun and aim for the lock, gun safety be damned.

Then there’s a click. The cell door unlocks again. And Hank hears footsteps nearby, but they quickly fade. When he leaves the cell, not looking back, there’s nothing in the corridor.

This town hasn't stopped fucking with him. No surprise there.

Hank hesitates for a while before moving on. And honestly, he wishes something would just show itself already. Something that he can shoot. Or at least see. He feels like he’s being watched everywhere he goes. His neck prickling, his nerves going haywire. But there’s never any movement in his vision.

Just occasionally those heavy footsteps.

The prison’s starting to all look the same, and he can’t figure out if he’s walked these cell blocks before. But he eventually comes to a set of large double doors, ones that are definitely different from the rest. He pushes them open, straining against their heavy weight.

He steps outside.

...How the fuck did he step outside? But he has no doubt that he’s outside in some form, because there’s snow falling on him once more. It’s pitch black all around him, with only a circle of dirt illuminated by his flashlight. He can’t see far enough upwards to know if there’s a cave ceiling. A prison yard under the earth, and it’s snowing.

Hank shuts his eyes, reaching up to rub one of them with his palm.

This shouldn’t be. It just shouldn’t be.

Is he in Hell? Purgatory? Is he suffering through some weird afterlife? Did Ice Head kill him after all, and his hell is just to continue as he was?

He moves forward, and for a long time it seems to not make a difference. Just dirt and snow. Until he comes to what he can only assume is the middle of the yard.

It’s a gallows. With four nooses hanging there, the flashlight making the silhouette cut sharply along the ground. A lever ready to drop anyone with those nooses around their neck to their dooms. Hank stares up at the four ropes, and his fingers and neck both itch. Then he looks down at the platform that forms the base of the gallows and notices that the front is decorated. He plucks the flashlight from his jacket and shines it on the plaque.

It’s a mural of two beings standing on either side of a hanging man. The heads of the beings have been scratched away, like someone has rubbed a sharp rock over the metal again and again. Below that are four indentations. Each a perfect square. And below that are words printed to underline it all.

 

I give you blood to atone for the Four Sins.

 

Hank looks at the indentations, then removes the tiles from his jacket and looks at them. The Zealot. The Saboteur. The Liar. Three sinners. Where’s the fourth?

With no other ideas, Hank slides the three panels in. One after the other. Then he stares hard at that fourth square. After a long, long think, he stares upwards at the noose. The one on the end, corresponding with the blank square.

A thought comes to mind. It’s a stupid one. If reason applied here… but it’s snowing in a prison yard in the depths of the earth. Reason doesn’t apply.

So Hank walks around, and he steps up the steps of the gallows. He stops just under the noose that corresponds to the blank square, pulls it down and loops it around his own neck. It fits so well.

Then he stretches out his foot and kicks the lever that would make him drop.

He falls.

 


 

Hank wakes up in front of the same gallows. The four nooses are untouched, and snow covers his face. It’s like he did nothing and instead just lay down and took a nap while pondering his situation.

Except that there’s something in his hand. The fourth tile. This one with hands that are just dangling. Absent of any implied movement. ‘The Bystander.’ Hank stares at this tile for a while, fingers tracing over it.

He’s a little annoyed that this worked so easily. With a huff, he slides it into the last remaining indentation.

There’s the noise of the gallows opening its floor again with a ka-chunk. And Hank hears a hideously human scream that sounds like it’s right next to him, one that is quickly cut off with a snap. But there’s nothing there when he turns.There’s no-one hanging from the gallows. Hank waits, listening for other noises, then rounds the gallows again and steps upwards again.

This time, the floor of the gallows is still open. And once again, Hank can’t see the bottom.

This town needed a new trick. Hank wondered if snow would still inexplicably find its way down there.

He steps in and drops once more, still feeling as fucked as he did when the noose was around his neck.

 


 

This time, he lands on tiled floors. It still doesn’t hurt as much as it should, leaving Hank with only a brief ache in his back and an unpleasant slimy feeling soaking into his jacket. The smell of rotting flesh assails his nostrils and he covers them with his sleeve, which despite being covered in all sorts of muck by now is still a little better.

Hank sits up, looking around him. It’s a morgue. A morgue that hasn’t been taken care of very well. There are no covers to the morgue drawers. They’re really only circular holes in the walls surrounding them. He can see feet sticking out of them. Sometimes multiple pairs. Bodies crammed in where they shouldn’t be. They’re old and rotted enough that Hank can’t even tell if they bleed red or blue. It all just looks like black stains to him.

As he turns away, he thinks he sees one of the feet move. But he doesn’t look back. Honestly, he’d just rather not know.

He walks on.

And of course, he finds another goddamn pit. This one has a very clear purpose. There’s gurneys surrounding the hole, and one of them has toppled and left the body dangling precariously off the edge but not quite plummeting. A disposal area. If this was ever a real prison, the staff must have been some fucked up folks.

Hank doesn’t bother looking for another way out. He knows the deal by now.

He jumps and he falls once again.

This time, he lands on his face in what almost looks like a cave. Rocky, damaged walls with cold water trickling down the sides once again. Hank pushes himself to his feet, and he keeps going.

And almost immediately, another god. Damn. Fucking. Hole.

What is this town’s fucking fetish with holes? Just on and on and on… but if this town is weird and fucked up for shoving these pits at him, Hank must be weird and fucked up for jumping down them time after time after time.

Hank looks up slightly and lets out an irritated breath before falling forwards. Maybe if he just falls head first, it’ll at least splatter him so he doesn’t have to do it anymore.

It doesn’t. He comes to on a different floor. This time, it’s chilled metal. Not icy. But cold to the touch, making his fingers numb at the tips when he presses his hands against it and climbs to his feet.

Hank stares at the sight in front of him. He stares for a good, long while.

Then he starts laughing. It’s not… quite happy laughter. But he has to. He just has to. For whatever reason, the fact that there is now an elevator in front of him is the funniest thing he’s ever seen. He laughs so hard he has to sit back down again. Laughs until his sides burn from lack of air.

He might have been crying a little, too. Honestly, he wasn’t really sure.

Whatever it was, he just lay there on the floor for a long while. Wheezing with his face pressed to the chilly metal.

Finally, he stops. He catches his breath. He’s still gasping a little as he finally gets to his feet and staggers onto the elevator. It’s not like the one he was in before. The one where he listened to Connor die. It’s open to the air and rickety, like the kind of elevator a construction site might use if they didn’t want to build a permanent one.

There’s no buttons, only a lever. Hank pulls it.

Of course, the elevator only goes down.

It goes down for a long time, creaking like it's going to fall to pieces. Swaying just the tiniest bit. Hank wonders if the elevator is here because this particular fall would have been too much to survive, or whether the town was just sick of him tumbling into pits.

Finally, it comes to a stop and Hank steps out.

He's immediately unsettled by the fact that this part looks almost normal. Wooden floors and painted walls, even if the paint is flaking and the gaps between the wood looked a little mouldy.

He walks off down the hall. It starts to twist and turn quickly. Itisn't long before he ends up at the elevator again. A labyrinth of wooden hallways.

Hank frowns, then rummages for the map of the hospital still tucked somewhere in one of his pockets. Once he finds it, he flips it over. He draws a square for the elevator, then starts drawing lines for the hallways. And he continues on, making a map as he goes.

There are still no monsters.

The first weird thing he comes to is a door frame with wire stretched over it. What looks like hundreds of strings of wire (or one very long one) stretched across again and again. Hank gives part of it an experimental tug, but it's taut. He isn't getting through that. Yet.

So he continues.

And he finds a ladder leading down. Always down. Hank climbs it without hesitation.

He drops down into an icy slush. It looks like sewer tunnels again. Brick walls, narrow halls. But frosty. And the radio finally starts to crackle again. Hank puts away the map and goes for the gun, and this time grabs Kara’s gun immediately.

He could go left or right. He tries right.

He doesn't see movement at first. But as he walks on, the floor merges into metal grates that most of the icy slush trickles through. There's something under these grates.

Hank can't get a good look. He sees pale fingers poking out through the holes where they can. He realises quickly from placement that this thing has three hands, not two. As he stops to try and shine a light through the grate, the creature pulls itself up enough to gurgle at him. The last arm seems to have sprouted from the front of its neck, and has a thinner appearance. Bones with ragged skin stretched over them. The creature is built slender and the face of the creature is oddly human except for the wide, white eyes.

It stares at him for a moment, then swings along the underside of the mesh like a monkey in a cage and vanishes from view. It lets go of the mesh often with its regular arms, but almost never with the bony neck protusion.

Still, the radio crackles even as the creature vanishes from view. Hank stops shining his flashlight down and points it forward only to immediately see a glimmer of red.

Ice Head is standing in his way. The metal chunks have been welded back onto his feet, and the skin around it looks swollen and melted. It gazes at him with that one goddamn blue eye. Then it takes a slow, struggling step forward.

Hank bolts.

When he reaches the ladder, he doesn't take it. Instead, he tries the left path. Feet sloshing, then not sloshing as they come to more grates. More of the Danglers hang underfoot and simply watch him run. The corridor curves.

He finds a door. He hurdles through it only to find that it's a dead end. One room with only the exit he just came through.

Hank’s eyes are immediately drawn upwards. There are bodies hanging from the ceiling. Each one with a chain holding it up there by its neck. Hank counts seven of them, all in various stages of rot. Long drained of blood. Some of them look like monsters. Some don't.

He shuts his eyes for a moment, then opens them and looks for Connor amongst the bodies.

He doesn't see him.

He turns his eyes down and the only other item that catches his eye is something lying on a table. A chain soaked in blue with traces of red bleeding in to it.

Hank picks it up and tests the weight. It jangles ominously, but it's easy enough to carry. Hank loops it into his belt.

Fucker ain't getting anyone else with this.

He leaves, and he heads the other direction. Only to see Ice Head waiting for him. Still passively standing there in the icy slush. Turning to watch Hank. This path goes in a circle. It's just a circular sewer with a room in the middle. A room that could only be Ice Head's home.

But Ice Head doesn't hurry. He just leaves Hank be as he backs away. Hank feels disgusted at himself for running again. But he could pump every bullet he had into Ice Head but it wouldn't do any good.

Hank goes back up the ladder, and the radio fades back into silence. He moves on, further into the labyrinth, drawing the paths as he goes.

The silence leaves him too long to think. Too long to consider what could be happening elsewhere. For all he knew, Gavin could be right behind him. Or worse, ahead of him. If Cole was here, and Gavin found him first…

And what was he even on about? ‘Not going to get away with it this time?’ With what? What the hell had Hank done? Was Gavin just being a melodramatic shit about that one Christmas party where Hank barfed all over his good jacket?

Hank tried to remember something that might have happened, but the memories felt… slippery. Like he'd reach out for them and they'd brush the tips of his fingers before slipping away again.

He wouldn't know until he found Cole.

He wouldn't know until…

Everything is dead silent. The labyrinth of hallways straightens out after many twists and turns. Now it's long and dark and Hank had this horrific sense of deja vu. Made even worse by the knowledge that Ice Head is trudging about below.

And he hears a sound that makes his heart skip a beat.

The quiet but distinct metallic ting of a coin being flipped.

Hank freezes. Staring ahead. It can't be. He imagined it. This town is fucking with him. It has to be.

He hears it again. And again, quicker this time. A rhythmic but irregular series of metallic tings. Ting. Ting ting ting. Ting. Ting ting.

It's coming from straight ahead.

Hank breaks into a run.

He comes to the end of the hall and shoves against the lone door, not bothering to even slow down. He just slams his hands against it and it bursts open.

He's in a room. Much like the room he saw Gavin in, it's split down the middle with no means of passage between each side. On his side, there is only a chair. On the other side, both a chair and a stained cot propped near the wall.

Connor is seated in the chair. Sitting neatly with one hand in his lap and one hand casually rolling the quarter along his fingers. Looking like someone waiting to catch the bus. There's no sign of injury. Even his clothes are clean.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” he says pleasantly, giving Hank a small smile.

Hank stared blankly at him for a few seconds, convinced that if he blinked Connor would just vanish. But eventually he had to. He blinked, and Connor remained. Finally, Hank took a few shaky steps forward.

“You’re… you’re alive?” Hank said thickly. “Jesus… jesus christ, Connor, I thought… are you hurt? Are you…” Hank trailed off, trying to spot any signs of bruising around the neck. There’s nothing.

“Hurt?” Connor tilted his head slightly. “No.”

“Connor, you… I saw… that thing, it… fuck, Connor, it strangled you! I saw it, I… I heard you die!” Hank gripped the bars. He wanted to reach out and touch Connor, so sure this was a trick. But he couldn’t bear to be proven right. “How’d you get away from it?!”

“Strangled me? What do you--”

“The hospital! The elevator! Don’t you… how can you not remember that?!” Hank’s voice was getting higher-pitched and more strained by the second.

“Hank? What are you talking about?”

“Just before! You… you...” Hank pulled the chain from his belt and held it up, letting it jangle in the quiet. Connor regarded it with mild, untroubled puzzlement. There wasn’t a flicker of recognition as to what it was.

Hank was going mad. That was the only explanation. One of them was mad, and Connor was staring at him too calmly to be the crazy one. Still with his head tilted. Still with that small smile.

Then the smile faded. Connor leaned forward and clasped his hands in his lap.

“Did I worry you?” he asks quietly.

“Fuck… fuck, kid, of course you did,” Hank sighed. He’d sat down at some point. He wasn’t sure when.

“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean for us to get separated.”

“It’s not your fault, it’s this damn town—”

“You’re always the one covering for me. Always stepping in. I… I want to do good, but I just… just… you’re always so much better at it. You make it look so easy.” Connor’s eyes flicker to the side, before darting around briefly before he closes them and rests his head on his hands. A sudden surly mood overtaking that mild confusion. “Some things don’t change, do they?”

Hank stared at Connor for a few long moments.

“Don’t give me that look.” Connor raises his head a little, trying once more to roll the coin across his knuckles. This time he can’t quite manage it. The coin clatters to the floor after slipping off the second knuckle. Connor grimaces and leans forward to pick it up. “Just don’t, alright? I fucked up. I know I fucked up. You don’t have to look at me like I fucked up.”

Connor rolls the coin across his knuckles again. He drops it once more, and frustration flickers across his face. Sharper and more obvious than the little annoyed twitches Connor had shown before.

“...Connor?” Hank said uneasily.

“Look, I’m sorry! Alright?!” Connor snapped, before raising his hand and rubbing one eye with the palm of his hand. “I… I’m sorry. And I appreciate you keeping them off my back while I fixed everything. Told you I only needed five minutes.” Despite the visible frustration, a small grin--one that was very unlike Connor, too many teeth--flickers across his face. “And I’ll admit… you punching Perkins was great.”

...Holy fuck. Hank remembered that.

Perkins with his smug, irritating face. Strutting around like he owned the place even though he was there to investigate what was honestly pretty minor shit. Implying to Hank that he was a has-been who couldn’t do his job anymore. Hank had punched him because… because… why had he done that?

But he did remember the crack of his knuckles against that nose. And he knows that’s something Connor shouldn’t know about.

Hank reaches for his pocket and retrieves the photo of Cole. He looks at it, then looks at Connor. Connor’s eyes are still unmistakably brown. Connor is fiddling with the coin again, mouth twisted in a wry smile.

“Wish I’d gotten a copy of the security footage. Would have loved to see it again.” Then there’s a small jolt in how he sits up before he whispers, “Fuck, I should have grabbed it from the evidence room on my way out. Damn.”

“...How do you know about that?” Hank asked slowly, pressing a little closer to the bars. “You’re… you are Connor, aren’t you?”

Connor stares back. Then he straightens up again into that more formal posture, the grin fading away. He starts rolling the coin again, and this time the movement is fluid and graceful. The look he gives Hank is almost blank, but there’s a twitch to his mouth and a hardness in those normally gentle eyes.

“I’m not Cole.” Connor’s voice is low and cold.

“Then you’re Connor.”

“I’m whatever you want me to be, Lieutenant.”

Hank’s jaw tightens as he glares at Connor, slightly shaking his head. “Oh, don’t you fucking do this. Don’t you fucking… can’t you just make sense?! I just want something to make sense! Fuck you!”

He stands up so abruptly that he knocks over his chair, and he gestures at Connor with an angry finger.

“Fuck you! Fuck this town!” he shouts. “Fuck the snow! Fuck all these goddamn pits and hallways and elevators! Fuck the fact that I might as well be in the center of the earth! Fuck Gavin and fuck Markus and… and fuck Ice Head and all those other monsters! I just… Why can’t you make sense!” Hank slams his fist against the metal bars. “Make sense for fucking once, because I’m fucking tired of it!”

Those last few words are each punctuated with him slamming his fists against the bars again. Hank can’t look at Connor anymore. He just breathes hard and seethes, staring angrily at the ground with his hands against the bars.

After a few moments, Hank slumps back down. He remembers a moment too late that he kicked back the chair in his rage and half-stumbles to the floor instead, landing hard on his knees with his hands still on the bars.

“I’m just so fucking tired,” he mutters.

He stares downwards until he hears the squeak of Connor’s chair being pushed back. Hands reach through the bars to cup his face and tilt his head up.

“Hank. Hank, look at me. I’m here. See?” Connor’s voice is quiet, and his hands are warm and lightly calloused. They undeniably feel like the most solid, real thing this town has given him so far.

So Hank does look up. At Connor, who knelt on the floor too so that they were on the same level. Blinking at him with those deep brown doe eyes.

Not Cole’s eyes. Cole had Hank’s eyes. And it’s more evident than ever when he stares at the picture of twenty-six-year-old Cole. Blue eyes. A distant, pale gaze. He tried to picture Cole staring at him so warmly, but… but he couldn’t do it.

Whenever he looked at that photo, he didn’t think ‘that’s Cole.’ His immediate thought was always ‘that’s Connor but wrong.’ It felt distant, even with physical proof. And Connor was right here. Staring at him with eyes that felt welcoming and receptive.

“Who I am doesn’t matter,” Connor said gently. “What matters is that I’m here for you. That I can be what you need me to be. What you wanted me to be. Isn’t that enough?”

For a moment, the temptation to stay here encompasses everything. Hank looks down again, eyes shutting. If he could just drift off now he’d die… happy? Or something close to happy, at least. Better than wandering about alone through the middle of the earth. Honestly… much better, much easier, than chasing ghosts. Why was he chasing ghosts at all?

Wouldn’t it be fine if he just stopped?

“I… I don’t…” Hank croaked.

He wanted to stay. But if Gavin found Cole first… or even if he found his way into Connor’s cell and mistook him for Cole...

Hank reached up, and rested his hands over Connor’s for a moment. The warmth was even more pronounced compared to the chills that Hank was wracked with, and his hands must have felt like ice. After a moment, he peels Connor’s hands off his face.

“Do you have a way out of there?” Hank asks gruffly. Although his voice is still a little croaky and exhausted.

Something unreadable flickers over Connor’s face. Then it’s gone. He gets up, and so does Hank.

“My door is barred from the outside and the mechanism is too far for me to reach,” Connor said. Also back to his usual calm tone.

“Alright. Alright… I’m sure there’s some way over there. I’ll find a way around and get you out of there.” Hank reached into his jacket, pulled out Connor’s revolver and held it out. “Uh, it’s only got one bullet but it’s better than nothing.”

Connor tilted his head, staring at the revolver. After a moment, he reaches out and takes it.

“I’ll wait here.”

“You don’t really have much of a choice there,” Hank grumbles.

“True, but clarification never hurts.”

As Hank turns to go, he sees a small, open panel by the door. It’s sparking slightly, but he hadn’t noticed. He’d been too fixed on Connor. It might have once been a light switch or something similar. There’s a set of wire cutters resting on top of it. Hank picks them up. He’s not surprised that they’re here.

Connor sits back down, resting the gun in his lap. He looks at Hank for a moment, opens his mouth and seems on the verge of saying something. But then he closes his mouth, rethinking, before saying, “Hurry back.”

“Yeah… yeah, I’ll try.”

Hank leaves the room. And he runs.

Chapter Text

Hank cuts his way through the wire across the door frame as fast as possible. He misses wires several times because his hands are frantic and jittery.

He has to move. He has to hurry.

Once the wires are separated, Hank finds a ladder leading down. He climbs down, only for his feet to land in icy slush once more. Just like the circular passage that was Ice Head’s home. The radio starts to crackle. Hank grasps Kara’s gun in hand, and he moves quick. Feet noisy, sloshing through slush.

His feet enter dry territory and step over metal bars, and Hank sees the Danglers underfoot again. Just watching him, swinging about but not lashing out. Only hanging by the bony arms that extend from their necks, their fleshier arms dangling uselessly at their sides.

Hank is not entirely surprised when he sees Ice Head standing in his path. He slows down, then stops. Stares him down for a moment, pale stare meeting pale stare.

Ice Head isn’t alone. He’s holding one of the Danglers this time. He’s not throttling it with a chain. This time, he’s just holding it up by its own neck-attached arm while it twitches and drools. Ice Head watches Hank, but doesn’t move towards him.

“...Ain’t got time for this,” Hank mutters.

Ice Head doesn’t move. He remains squarely in the middle of the path, feet buried in the icy slush. Hank steps forward. No movement. He steps again. Nothing.

Slowly, Hank walks past him. There’s no response from Ice Head apart from that silent stare, even as the radio screams. The Dangler, on the other hand, starts thrashing and reaching out for him. But Ice Head holds it so that it misses Hank by inches.

Hank leaves them behind, and once the radio quiets down he breaks back into a run.

The slushy, sewer-like path goes on for a while, curving and twisting. But soon, there is a ladder that leads back up. Back into unsettlingly normal hallways of wood and flaky paint. Hank’s sense of direction is not good enough to know if this is leading him towards Connor, but it’s the only way to go.

His nerves have reached an all-time high now that he knows Ice Head is behind him. Will Ice Head start the chase again once Hank frees Connor from that cell?

But there’s no choice but to try.

Hank pushes on. By this point, his feet are not only numb but feel weirdly squishy. All the ice and water cannot be doing them any good. The pain is returning to his chest, throbbing with each step. Hank rummages in his pockets for another dosage of painkillers. This time, he takes the proper dose.

The pain has not yet faded when he comes to a room that is almost entirely empty. Still wood. Still flaky paint walls. But there’s a notice board on the wall, with newspapers pasted across it. Hank slows to a brief stop. Partly out of curiosity--he hadn’t been curious since he got to this damn prison, but that detective instinct was kicking back in--and partly because it gave him an excuse to breathe without feeling like an asshole.

His eyes quickly slid over some of them. Not reading thoroughly, just letting his eyes skim over the words. One quickly caught his eye. An article with a face he had seen back at the Historical Society. In Carl’s apartment. A pale boy with large eyes. Most of the article has rotted away, the pages yellow and stained, but portions of it are readable.

 

A search is under way for a missing 15-year-old boy. Simon------------ast seen leaving school on Thurs----------------nished en route. Simon was described as white, 5’--------blue eyes and blon------------as wearing black tracksuit pants and a blue hoodie----------------.

Parents of th------------------ould not be reached for com--------

 

Hank neared the wall closer. Looking over it, these all seemed to be missing person articles. Moving on, he spotted photos of the other two teenagers. The second one being the lanky black kid, dating eighteen months after the article regarding Simon.

 

Investigation into the recent disappearance of 17-year-old Jos----------ontinued with no progress. Police hold concerns for his safet------------scribed as African-Amer-------tall with a lanky bui-----------------maroon shirt with a black ves-------------------he was last seen.

Police bel---------may be linked to a disa-----------------------sh was also known to associate with--------------------

Parents of the missing teenager could no-------------------ment.

 

The third was of the girl with plaited hair and dark eyes, staring at Hank almost accusingly. Hers was dated only eight months after Josh’s disappearance.

 

Poli-------------------enage girl missing for more than twenty-four hours have appealed for help from the public. North, 17, was last seen walking in the Palevi------------------as been detained b------------------------otably for alleged possession of PT------

Pare-----------------------er could not be reached for comment.

This is the third disappearance in recent years that has----------kus was also not available for comment, with associates nonetheless claiming he was worried for her safety.

 

Of course this town had a problem with missing persons. Of-fucking-course it did. Question was why the hell did Markus think these three were going to meet him at Happy Burger? (Then again, why did Hank expect to find his dead son here? Maybe they’d all been lured here with the temptation of missing loved ones.)

Hank’s eyes slid only a little further before they came to a stop again. He was now staring at a photo of Markus. This one was placed next to a photo of Carl. It’s dated barely a week after the article regarding North. This one, however, reads much differently.

He skims the first few lines, then reaches out and tugs the article off the wall and takes it with him to read closer. Hank doesn’t want to stay still for too long. But as he walks, he periodically shines his flashlight down to keep reading.

 

Police are still on the lookout for Carl Manfred, age 67, after he was recently named as a suspect in the disappearances of multiple teenagers across the last few years. The once-respected artist and member of the Silent Hill Historical Socie------------------well-known for his altruism and work in the community, but has been reclusive in recent years and is known to be prone to mood swings and depression.

Carl Manfred is believed to have fled Silent Hill in an attempt to escape justice and either kidnapped or otherwise been responsible for the disappearance of Marku-----------------who was last seen entering Carl’s apartment. Markus is described as 6’1 with----------------prosthetic blue eye on the right.

Parents of the missing teenager could not be reache--------------------

The only sign of motivation so far is an alleged note that was left in the suspect’s apartment, stat----------old man’s regr----------the red devils will not take this one.” Police have declared that Carl may be unstable and should not be approached. The public has been advised, if Carl or Markus is spotted, to alert the authorities immediately on----------------------

 

Hank’s mouth twisted as his eyes focused back on the headshots of Carl and Markus. The hell was this? Did these newspapers even mean anything at all, or were they just here to confuse him? Even if they were real--actual newspapers that had been published with only the facts--what did this even mean? That Carl was a crazy child murderer and Markus was possibly a ghost?

...Nah. That couldn’t be right. Honestly, anyone who had the sense to flee from Silent Hill couldn’t be that crazy. Red devils or not. And at this stage, he’d seen his fair share of fucked up shit in all shades of red.

Hank folded up the article and stuck it in the pocket that contained Cole’s letter. His fingers remained touching the letter for a moment before he withdrew his hand. His jacket, belt, pockets… they were all getting pretty full by now. And the jangling of the chain and the iron pipe meant he wasn’t moving at all stealthily.

The wooden corridor came to an end, and opened out into a perfectly square room that was mostly comprised of metal grates. Hank gave a wary stare downwards, anticipating more Danglers, but he saw nothing below the grates.

Above the grates, however...

Six bodies hung from nooses. Humanoid and in varying states of decay. Each of them with a note pinned to their chest. Hank approached one and prodded it with his gun, but there was no movement. These were corpses, not creatures. He looked at the note pinned to the first one’s chest.

 

This man was hung for the crime of thievery. Justice and revenge has been served.

 

“That’s rough,” Hank told the corpse. He blinked and shook his head slightly afterwards. He needed to stop talking to corpses, that was just an extra stepping stone down the path of insanity.

He glanced around at the others. All of them had the same words scrawled on their notes. Only the crimes differed.

Thievery. Murder. Swindling. Arson. Kidnapping. Counterfeiting. All six punished with hanging. Whoever ran this prison sure didn’t have much use for perspective.

This set-up just stunk of puzzles. Though Hank couldn’t figure out what the hell he was meant to do. So he walked away from the six corpses and entered the next room.

It was the same room. Same size. Six nooses in the same positions. The only differences were that the nooses were empty and there was a plaque nailed to the wall nearby. Oh yeah. Definitely a puzzle.

Nothing for it, Hank supposed. Just needed to figure out what the damn thing wanted from him. He wandered over to the plaque and read over it. It was a little poem, and Hank could practically hear the rhythm of it in his head. Like a fucked up nursery rhyme.

 

Dead men, dead men, swinging in a tree

How many dead men do you see?

Tongue turned blue and face gone grey

Watch them as they twist and sway

 

Gross.

“Six. There’s six,” Hank told the plaque. That didn’t get much of a response. But there was a lot of poem left. Hank sighed irritably before reading on.

 

The first one killed the butcher man

Then cooked him in the frying pan

Served him to his hungry guests

And gave them seconds on request

 

The next one with his smile and sweets

Stole poor children off the streets…

 

Hank huffed, skimming as he continued. Just descriptions of their crimes, written in rhyme to make them sound cute. If he handed in reports of this bullshit, he’d be fucking laughed out of the precinct.

As he skimmed, Hank paused on the second-last paragraph of the poem.

 

Three houses into ashes burned

The sheriff with no place to turn

Did spy a stranger in his town

Locked him up and beat him down

 

What a shitty sheriff. Blaming the first random guy that walks into town. That shit would also get Hank laughed out of the precinct, if it didn’t get cost him his badge. Hank gazed at the poem, them looked at the nooses behind him. Then he reread the poem. All the other paragraphs talked about how the criminals did their crimes, or how they fucked it up. The arsonist’s paragraph was the only one that didn’t confirm guilt.

Hank walked back into the first room to look at the bodies again, finding the one that belonged to the arsonist in the corner furthest from him.

“Not supposed to be up there, huh? Let’s get you down, then.”

Hank reached up and gave the noose a tug, but it remained where it was. He tried to untie it, but the knots were too good. The executioner must have been damn good at his job. The body continued to sway.

“Son of a bitch,” Hank grumbled. He stared at the man, then walked back to the room with the empty nooses and found the noose that corresponded with the arsonist. Reaching up, he pulled the noose down. Pulled it until it was low enough that he could have stuck his own head in it. Again.

He mulled that option absently for a moment before his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sudden, quick footsteps in the other room.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Hank hissed under his breath, going for the gun and barging back into the first room.

The arsonist’s body was gone. The note detailing his crimes had been left on the floor under his noose, alongside something that glimmered in the light. Hank walked over and picked it up. A set of keys, heavy and old-fashioned. Clearly designed for a prison.

“God speed, you undead bastard,” Hank said.

He hoped that arsonist wouldn’t come back to try and murder him later. Oh well.

He moves on, key in hand. He returns to sprinting.

Back to halls. Twists and turns. Architecture that makes no sense outside of a hedge maze. Left, right, drawing where the turns lead and where they go wrong as he moves along. Until it straightens out again. He has to be close. He has to be.

As he runs, he sees a door. It’s not the way forward. It’s just a door in this hallway, but the only one he’s seen so far. Hank quickly marks it on his map, and means to come back to look at it. But then he hears a voice. Soft and male. Shaky. Pleading.

He stops.

That’s not Connor’s voice. Nor Cole’s. He knows it isn’t.

It isn’t his business.

He’s running out of time.

He takes a step away, then sighs.

“Fuck,” he grumbles to himself, pulling out his gun before turning back.

He can’t just leave anyone who sounds like that alone to die. He kicks open the door, hoping that Connor can wait just a little longer.

The first thing that hits him is a wave of heat. He doesn’t know where it’s coming from, just that when previously he was wracked with chills, now sweat is already starting to trickle down his face.

He steps on metal plates, and he can see symbols in red painted on them. Circles with more circles within them. But the metal plates are sporadic, jutting out of the floor like knives through flesh, and seem to be… shifting. Shuddering, almost. The rest of the floor, the walls, they’re red and sticky. The entire room looks like something off the cover of a Knights of the Black Death album, but it’s the shifting that’s just wrong. Hank can feel the floor pulsing under his feet. It’s like the room is alive.

In the middle of this, there’s… at first Hank thinks it’s just a heap of burned flesh. But it’s blue-lined rather than blood-red. Cords are trailing off from the heap, binding it to the ceiling.

But as Hank stares at it, he starts to discern limbs. The limbs are all attached to the cords, and as the room pulses the cords twitch, and so do the limbs they’re attached to. It’s not one lump at all, but rather three humanoid creatures. All charred and oozing. One of them has bunches of white flowers and oblong leaves sprouting from portions of it, despite the rest of it still being charred skin. Blossoms digging through the cracks in the skin like moss taking over an old building.

And inside that, he can see glimpses of normal flesh and a black, tattered coat. Markus.

He’s just sitting on the pulsing floor in the middle of this squirming mass of limbs. His green eye is glazed over as he talks quietly, not really staring at anything. One of the humanoid monsters wrapped around him has its fingers digging into the side of his face, one finger digging into where the blue prosthetic eye is. Digging a burned, bloody finger between fake glass and real skin. Markus doesn’t seemed to have even noticed.

“It’ll be alright… it’ll be alright...” he’s repeating, voice trembling. He sounds almost feverish. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry. I know better now. It’ll be alright.”

One of his own hands is resting on the back of the neck of another one of the creatures, a different one from the one that’s currently mauling his eye. The other is gripping the hand of the one that’s sprouting flowers. Both his hands are stained with red blood, that leaves smeared streaks wherever he touches. All the creatures are streaked with it, particularly on their faces. But Hank can’t quite discern where the blood is coming from.

There’s tears trickling down Markus’ face. But he doesn’t look afraid.

Hank raises the gun, feeling like he should do… something. But he really doesn’t know what to do with it. So he speaks.

“...Uh. Markus?”

The three humanoid creatures all turn their faces towards Hank. Their charred skin cracks further and bleeds. The flower-covered monster starts to let go of Markus, its head snapping to the side and mouth cracking open into a snarl. One arm raises towards Hank, the cord seeming to pull it up like a puppet string. One of the other creatures, smaller and just a few shades paler through the few scraps of unburnt skin, wraps tighter around Markus and shifts so it’s putting itself between Hank and Markus. The last one, the lanky one digging its fingers into Markus’ eye socket, makes a rattling noise that almost sounds like an attempt at words through vocal cords that have been charred raw.

“It’s fine,” Markus says quietly. Hank can’t tell if it’s directed at him or directed at the creatures.

The creatures don’t move. Still alert, still staring Hank down. It somehow seems less mindless than most of the monsters Hank has seen so far. It’s horrifying to think that. That there might be intelligence behind any of the twisted visages he’s seen here.

Hank slowly points the gun at the one that’s currently digging its fingers into Markus, just because watching it do so is making him squirm even though he’s not the one with fingers touching his eyes. Immediately, the other two monsters try and push their way in front, crawling over and shifting the seething mass of cords and flesh.

Markus’ hands stretch out through the mass, palms flat towards Hank.

“Don’t. Please,” Markus whispers.

“...They’re monsters. You realise that, don’t you?” Hank said slowly.

Markus says nothing for a long time, hands pulling back to make contact with what he can. He tries to shut both his eyes, although one of them can’t get past the fingers. He opens them again.

“Please,” he repeats.

Hank keeps the gun up for a few seconds longer. Instincts screaming for him to shoot. Markus is clearly not all there. He’s hugging monsters. The monsters are digging into him and he’s letting them do it. If Hank lowers his gun and leaves, and they tear Markus apart…

Markus has his gaze focused on the flower-covered monster, though at the same time he’s gently shifting the smaller, paler monster a bit more to the side so its not covering him so protectively anymore. Carefully touching the wrist of the leaner one digging into his eye, finally making sure the fingers aren’t going in too deep but not entirely removing them. The touches vary on both sides. Ranging from freakishly intimate—he sees one of the monstrous hands cup Markus’ face gently, he’s not sure which one—to angry and rough, like the fingers. On Markus’ part, his touches don’t get aggressive. Most of them are light. But they’re often firm, almost guiding. Like he’s herding them, trying to calm them.

It reminds Hank, for one incredibly bizarre moment, of when he was a child and his dog gave birth to a litter of puppies. A couple of months on, he had a small mass of growing dogs that all wanted attention and recognised him as the leader of the pack because he was the one that filled their food bowl.

How Markus touches the monsters is too soft and gentle, and it’s so very wrong. But Markus clearly wants to be here, no matter how many tears are streaming down his face.

And fuck. Hank doesn’t know if he himself is all there either. Who’s he to proclaim Markus as insane?

Hank lowers his gun and he turns away without a word.

“Thank you,” he hears Markus say quietly.

Hank doesn’t reply back. As he starts to step out, he notices that Markus’ bag is resting near the entrance. Still filled with medicine bottles and a first-aid kit. Still with that book that has the deep red cover with black flowers embroidered on it. There’s another item sticking out. A goblet made of some kind of black, glossy stone. A snake carved around the handle.

Hank casts a look back at Markus.

Markus hasn’t noticed Hank staring at his things, too focused on the burned flesh writhing around him, so Hank looks back and quietly slides the red book out of the bag, finally getting a better look at the title. ‘Crimson Ceremony.’ Hank glances back over his shoulder, before opening the book.

He stares at the first paragraph for a moment, then looks back at Markus. Then back at the book.

 

Speak.

I am the Crimson One.

The lies and the mist are not they, but I.

You all know that I am One.

Yes, and the One is I.

 

That’s… weird.

“It’s going to be alright,” he hears Markus whisper. He doesn’t see which of the monsters he’s whispering it to. “It’s okay. We’ll all be free this time. I won’t leave you behind again.”

And that was just downright terrifying.

Hank closes the book. He doesn’t put it back in the bag. Instead, casting a look over his shoulder to make sure Markus is still focused on the monsters swarming him, Hank leaves. Taking the book with him. With nowhere else to put it, he tried shoving it in the back of his pants. It makes walking a little uncomfortable, but it’s doable.

He should ask Connor if he knows where to find a bag.

...Shit. Right. Connor.

Hank speeds up again, although it’s a little harder to run now.

He comes to a split in the hall--now back to wooden floors and flaky paint--that leads down two very short paths. The one on the right goes towards a ladder that, once more, leads downwards. The one on the left lead to a set of bars. There was a metal valve not far from it, but the mechanism was locked shut by a set of handcuffs, of all things.

Hank stuck the arsonist’s key into the handcuffs and unlocked them. Then he turned the valve and the bars slowly creaked upwards, jolting with each turn.

He moved forward, breaking back out into a sprint. Within seconds, he reached a new door and shoulders through it.

He’s in Connor’s cell.

Hank’s eyes first move to the chair that Connor had last been in. It was empty. But his eyes then slowly rove over to the cot in the corner.

Connor’s lying there quietly, eyes shut. One hand is resting on his stomach while the other lies on the surface of the stained cot next to him.

“Connor? Get up, we gotta get moving.”

Connor didn’t move.

Hank’s stomach dropped. A chill of dread ran through him.

“Connor?”

Hank slowly approached. As he did, going around the cot until he could get a better look, he could see that there was a blue tint to Connor’s lips and a small trickle of vomit that had trickled out of the side of his mouth and to the side, staining the already filthy mattress.

Other than that, he could have been sleeping.

But there’s no breath. When Hank slowly reaches out to touch Connor’s wrist, the skin is ice cold. There’s no pulse, either.

“...No. Not again. Not again!” Hank whispered desperately.

Hank grabbed Connor’s shoulders and gave him a shake. No response, only Connor’s head lolling lifelessly as Hank fruitlessly tried to wake him. More vomit sluggishly trickling out of his mouth.

“Connor!”

Nothing.

“Why? Why couldn’t you just… why couldn’t you...”

Hank shook him again, but this time lighter. Just because he wanted to try. Instead, he just ended up rocking him slowly.

“Why, Co--”

He stopped. Shut his eyes. Opened them again.

With Connor’s eyes shut, he could have been either of them.

Hank lowered him to the mattress again and reached out to open the eyes. To check. But he couldn’t bear to know, so he pulled his hand back. He wasn’t even sure if he dreaded seeing brown or blue more.

Hank sat down on the end of the bed next to the corpse, and he buried his face in his hands.

“...Goddammit, Cole,” he whispered.

He sits there for a long time.

Eventually, however, he sits up straight again and wipes his eyes. He looks back at the corpse. Hank’s eyes lingered on his face, before he looked down at his hands.

The hand stretched out is not far from his revolver. Hank picks it up and checks the chamber. The one bullet still remains. It’s lined up with the barrel. Hank spins the barrel absently before looking at Connor’s other hand.

There are traces of red on his fingers. Crystalline specks staining the skin, stuck under the fingernails.

“You fucking idiot,” Hank says quietly.

He’s seen enough OD’ed junkies to know what he’s looking at now.

Somehow, that’s even worse than Ice Head strangling him. That it wasn’t even the town that killed Connor this time. Just asphyxiation on his own vomit. It’s so mundane that he wants to start laughing again.

Hank stands up. He turns the revolver over in his hands, then raises it halfway to his head. This time, however, he doesn’t lift it all the way. Doesn’t give Russian Roulette a go.

There’s still Cole. Still one ghost to chase.

He leaves Connor(?) behind.

Hank walks slowly. The brief flare of energy that he’d experienced in his rush to find the entrance to Connor’s cell has left him more drained than ever. He goes back the way he came and this time takes the ladder down. Feet landing in icy slush once more.

He doesn’t see Ice Head down in this sewer. He doesn’t see anything. The town leaves him alone with the chill in his feet and the numbness in his chest.

It doesn’t feel real. Even though he felt icy skin underneath his fingertips, it doesn’t feel real.

He walks on.

The sewer doesn’t end with a door. Instead, the icy slush trickles out onto snowy ground, resulting in slippery dirt that might be muddy if it wasn’t for the cold freezing it up, and Hank emerges once more into the nonsensical open air.

The snow is falling thick now. Drifting from a sky that he can’t see and doubt exists. His feet leave grooves in the fresh snow as he walks forward, shining the flashlight around on autopilot.

It’s a graveyard. The light bounces off old, snow-covered markers. There are also thick clusters of white blossoms and oblong leaves that haven’t been overwhelmed by the ice, sprouting in tufts along where the water from the sewers should flow. Flowers that match the ones growing from one of the monsters climbing on Markus. The snow, the flowers… it’s all beautiful and picturesque except for the fact that the whole graveyard is still enclosed with the brick walls of a prison.

Hank’s feet slowly crunch over the snow. He points his flashlight at each grave he passes. He doesn’t recognise the names. Not at first.

He comes to three graves that are clustered together and directs his flashlight at the name carved into the first. Once he sees the first, frowning at it for a moment, he knows what names will be on the other two. These thoughts are only confirmed once he shines the flashlight over.

 

Simon

Josh

North

 

The three graves are filled and the stones aren’t fresh.

Hank looked at his feet, at the mounds where the dirt raised enough to make the snow curve into small hills, and saw more white flowers. The ground around them is damp and slushy. He wonders if the graveyard is prone to rain, but… they’re underground, how can they be prone to any weather?

He moves along the graves, searching for any more names he recognises.

He comes to the corner of the graveyard. There are no passageways. No doors. There are four graves clustered together. But unlike the others, these ones are empty holes in the ground. Pre-prepared but unfilled, waiting for bodies.

Hank shines the flashlight over the first headstone, reading the name carved onto it. The carvings are fresher than all the other headstones.

 

Markus Manfred

 

The hell did this mean? That Markus really was a zombie that rose from the grave? It’d explain his affinity with the monsters. But… who knew? Maybe the town was just ready.

Hank frowns, then points the flashlight at the second headstone.

 

Gavin Reed

 

Well, that one isn’t much of a surprise. There’s probably a lot of people that want to bury Gavin, Hank amongst them. Still, that the grave is here…

The third grave is dug much smaller than the other two, and already that sends a chill through Hank’s gut. He knows what name he’s going to find on this one even before he shines his flashlight on it.

 

Alice Williams

 

Markus, he could understand. Gavin, he could very much understand and would probably be down with whoever was making these graves if it was just him. But Alice? Who the fuck pre-digs a grave for a child? Sick bastards.

Hank expects the fourth one to be Kara, perhaps. Next to Alice, that would make sense. It’d be fucked up, but it would make sense.

It’s not Kara.

 

Hank Anderson

 

...Well. Alright, then.

He’s less surprised by his own grave than he should be. What surprises him is that this is clearly a selective list. Kara isn’t on here. She’s exempt. Why her? Why her and not Alice?

For that matter… Connor’s not here, either.

Is he exempt because he’s already dead? Is there a filled grave around here with his name on it? Maybe even two of them? Hank thinks about doubling back and looking. But he doesn't.

Hank steps closer. Shining a light across all the graves, he can see that the first three are normal. No more than what a dedicated undertaker would do. But Hank’s grave?

It’s another goddamn endless hole in the earth.

Hank shuts his eyes for a moment before rolling them upwards, staring at the snowy void.

“Really?” he asks flatly.

He gets no response. He didn’t expect one.

Hank continues to stare upwards for a few moments, staring at the snow, then shuts his eyes and lets himself fall forward into his own grave.

 


 

When he opens his eyes this time, snow is still gently fluttering on him from somewhere above. He can’t see the ceiling, and it’s only in this one place. He’s in an empty room. There’s only one way to go. Another narrow hallway going forwards.

Hank immediately slides his gun out and holds it in his hand as he moves on.

The hallway goes downwards.

Of course it does.

For a long time, it’s nothing special. It’s brick walls and stone floors. But as Hank walks on, it starts to change. A mist starts to collect around Hank’s ankles. He looks down and sees that there’s little grates in the wall where the mist is filtering in from. The hall slowly merges into tiles, as do the walls.

As he goes on, the walls start to get redder. First drizzles of blood here and there. But he goes on further, and it becomes thicker.

The hallway feels like it goes for a mile. When he comes to the end of the hallway, the walls are drenched in blood.

There’s a weird tingle that runs down Hank’s spine as he gets ready with the gun. Holds it up, facing the door, like he’d do on any raid. Then he kicks the door wide open

He comes face to face with a gun barrel, much like in the apartments.

It takes a moment for the rest to come into focus, because the room is almost as misty as the outdoors. It looks like a walk-in fridge. There are bodies everywhere. Some are dripping red, some blue. The blue ones… they’re not creatures that Hank recognises. He can’t get a good look at their individual features through the pile of flesh, but he doesn’t see the red crystals or the patient gowns or the gaping, vomiting maws that he’s seen on his own. Doesn’t even see the burned skin and flowers of Markus’ creatures. They’re all oddly exaggerated sizes. Either small, waist-high at best, or they tower, large and bulky. The room stank. Blood, gunpowder and the strange chemical smell of blue blood was the scent that filled every crevice. The room is tiled but with shutters that are clearly designed to open and view the next room. Except that Hank can’t see a mechanism for doing so.

Gavin looks a mess. Hank doesn’t know if most of the blood splattering his clothes belongs to him or not. Most of it is red but there’s a few sprays of blue. One leg looks mangled and he’s having a clear bit of trouble putting weight on it. Hank doesn’t remember if he had that injury in the visitor’s room or if it’s new. Despite all this, he’s grinning as he points the gun at Hank.

“I’ve been dreaming of doing this for a long time,” he said.

Hank should shoot. He doesn’t. He’s tired of death today. And no matter how much Gavin might deserve it, he doesn’t want to be the one to fill that grave upstairs.

“Drop the gun, Gavin.”

“Yeah, right. I’ll do that and we’ll hug it out.” Gavin stretched his free hand out. “Everything’ll be fixed! You just want me to drop the gun because you know you’ll lose, old man.”

“I want you to drop the gun because you’re a fucking lunatic and you need to stop with...” Hank gestures at the bodies with his free hand. “Whatever the hell this is.”

“Oh, I’m not done, Hank. I’m just getting started. Tell me it isn’t better, huh?”

Gavin gestures at one of the more human bodies.

“Him? Good alibi. We all know it was him, knew he just had people willing to back him up. But it was too iron-clad. Gets away with murdering his wife and makes me look like an idiot for not finding the hole in it.” Gavin points at another. “Her? Wealthy. Crazily wealthy. Can afford the best lawyers. They talk rings around any offence, they get her off. The fact that her kids just dropped off the face of the earth means nothing except a few inconvenient days in court.” Points at a third. “That guy? Had the connections to make all the evidence ‘just disappear.’ Now doesn’t that one just sound real familiar?”

Hank squints at Gavin and opens his mouth to speak. And then, echoing through the fridge, he hears a small, metallic ting.

Immediately, his attention slips. His eyes dart sideways. Left, right, trying to figure out if he really heard that. His attention slips and Gavin’s doesn’t.

A gunshot rings out. Hank squeezes the trigger of his gun just a moment after. Right before he registers a white-hot pain bury itself in his left arm. The pain is distant, though, like someone else is experiencing it.

At the same time, he sees red splatter. He doesn’t see where Gavin is bleeding, only hears a hoarse hiss of pain. The moment the blood splatters, Gavin shoves open the door behind him and disappears into the next room.

There’s a pause, then a laugh.

“Told you that you shouldn’t hesitate!” Gavin called out, voice echoing through the next room.

“With monsters, sure. Although the distinction’s a little fuzzy with you...” Hank muttered under his breath. He wants to reload his gun, but his left arm doesn’t want to work. Too slippery.

There’s a lot of blood. Maybe he should deal with that. Hank looks at the corpses piled in this room before noticing one wears a tie. He kneels by it and clumsily undoes the knot with his good hand.

“Just with me, Hank?”

Hank doesn’t respond. With some struggle, he binds the tie around his arm just a bit above the bullet wound. It’s clumsy and not at all up to standards, but a shitty tourniquet is the best he can do for now. And the pain is still just a distant pulse in the back of his mind.

Then, one arm dangling uselessly but at least not bleeding so much, he shoulders his way through the door after Gavin.

It was nearly pitch black inside. There were faint lights embedded in the ceiling, and sharp, black silhouettes that were human-shaped. But the lighting was framed in just such a way that Hank couldn’t make out any details. He saw that the shutters in the wall by him continued on before disappearing into the dark.

Hank quickly reached up and, for the first time in a while, he switched off his flashlight before moving deeper in.

“You never knew when to quit, Hank. Never could let shit be.”

He can’t tell where Gavin’s voice is coming from. It echoes and bounces off the walls. Hank steps further forward, and the door slams closed behind him. He hears a click. He doesn’t think Gavin’s the one locking him in.

Gavin’s voice descends into slow, bitter mockery. “’Oh, show some respect, Gavin. That man was the youngest lieutenant in Detroit, he foiled this and ran this bust and blah blah blah!’ Like you were still something important because of shit you did decades ago! Never knew how to move aside and let someone else do the shit you were getting too slow to do.”

Hank slides close to one of the human-shaped silhouettes. At this closeness, he can make out that it’s another red-blooded corpse. But it’s been propped up, almost scarecrow-like, with the use of a pole. There’s a blindfold tied around its face.

As Hank nears it, there’s a gunshot. The corpse’s face splatters. Hank turns his own away before sliding behind the body. He briefly sees movement behind one of the shutters. The other silhouettes… he can see the ties that give away that they’re all wearing blindfolds. He also realises that they’re in one line, closer to one wall than the other.

He realises what this room is for. Death by firing squad.

“That’s why I chased you. Because if it was anyone else… Fowler or Chris or whoever… they’d want to ‘hear your side of the story.’ They’d want to believe you. And like fuck I was going to let you get away with anything else. You and your goddamn son.”

Hank stood with his back against the corpse, trying to pinpoint where the footsteps were coming from. As he did, he thought he heard another metal ting. This time, he didn’t stop to look.

“Indulge me in some last words then, Reed. What the hell did my son do?”

“Like you don’t know. Why don’t I list what he didn’t do? That list would include three words, and those three words would be ‘his fucking job.’”

“Rich words coming from you. Pretty sure mass murder isn’t part of the job, either,” Hank said coldly, even as his head spun. Trying to reach some speck of memory. But there was nothing. Nothing that included Cole, certainly nothing that included Cole and Gavin even meeting.

“Oh, yeah? Lieutenant Hank Anderson getting on his high horse over there?”

Hank heard footsteps echoing all around him. Trying to be quiet, Hank shifted to shielding himself with a different body on the firing range. He couldn’t stop the chain on his belt from jingling slightly.

Gavin’s next words are quiet, but they still carry perfectly.

“If you’re so perfect, Hank… then why did this town call you?”

Another metallic ting rang out through the room. Hank’s head jerked to the side at the noise, but then he stilled again.

It was just the town. Just the town trying to trip him up.

Hank quickly slipped past two more corpses, trying to move quick and scanning his surroundings for any sign of Gavin. But still, he just heard slow footsteps, heavier limping steps after light ones. Bouncing around the room.

He sees movement behind another shutter, a faint but familiar silhouette. And hears that distinctive coin flip once more. His judgement fleeing in the face of that noise, Hank shifts a little further out.

He hears a click and cold metal press to the back of his head.

“Some detective. Jingling like a Christmas sleigh,” Gavin taunted.

He paces around Hank, dragging his leg. Gavin reaches out and flicks Hank’s flashlight back on, illuminating himself in the process. The side of his head is leaking blood. Hank’s bullet had taken a good chunk of his ear. He moves so that he can press the barrel to Hank’s forehead.

He’s still got the gun in his hand, but he can’t point and fire it without Gavin getting him first.

“Out of ‘respect,’ Hank… I’m gonna give you the chance to beg. Do it real good and maybe I’ll let you live.” Gavin grinned lopsidedly and said, “Besides… I want to see the look on your face once I find Cole.”

Hank just stares at him, tired and unimpressed. The grin fades from Gavin’s face, to be replaced by a scowl.

“You listening to me?”

“Just get it over with, Gavin.”

“I said ‘beg!’ Beg or I’ll make Cole cry like a little bitch when I find him!” Gavin lashes out, punching Hank in the stomach. “Beg. Beg!” His voice is veering upwards, near hysterical.

Hank says nothing. He just shrugs, even as he clutches his stomach. The pain’s still distant, even though he knows a blow that close to his cracked ribs should be causing him agony.

“Beg!” Gavin bellowed, fist coming back for another strike as the gun remains pointed at Hank’s forehead.

Something bounced off Gavin’s right temple. Again with that slight metallic ting. The coin left nothing more than a slight red mark on the skin before rolling to a stop at their feet.

Gavin turned his head first. Hank did a moment after, the flashlight pinned to his chest coming to rest on Connor standing by the shutters. Alive, not even a vomit stain on his shirt. Hand still extended forward from when he’d flung the coin, for want of any better weapon.

The grin immediately fell from Gavin’s face as his eyes widened and his pupils shrank. He looked at this pale, unarmed young cop with his hand outstretched and holding nothing.

He shrieked. A long, terrified shriek as he immediately turned the gun on Connor.

Hank raised his gun at the same time, pointing square at Gavin’s head. At this range, he didn’t need to aim. And he had no interest in waiting around for Gavin to beg.

He pulled the trigger. Just barely after Gavin fired everything he had at Connor. One shot from Hank, five from Gavin.

It felt like the room exploded with gunfire, the noise echoing a hundred fold around the walls of the firing range. Hank was blinded by a vivid splatter of red on his face as the bullet found its mark, splattering Gavin’s skull all over the range.

Gavin remained on his feet for a moment more, wavering with his gun still up and his finger still squeezing the trigger even though there was no longer anything in the gun. That look of sheer terror still frozen on what remained of his face but mingling with the start of slack-jawed surprise. Then he fell, tumbling to the floor and remaining still. Hank scrubbed the blood from his eyes, already turning towards Connor.

He didn’t see Connor collapse. Just found him on the ground, all five bullets buried in his chest. The way he breathed with wet gasps suggested a punctured lung, and he starts coughing violently as Hank reaches him. Thick strings of bloody spit spilling from his mouth with each cough.

There’s no red to be seen. Only blue.

Hank doesn’t care.

“Hang on, son, hang on. I got you this time, just… just hang on,” Hank pleaded. “There’s got to be… got to be something around here, something, anything, just… hold on!” He started to drag Connor across a floor already slick with both blue and red. Hank felt his arm tear. It didn’t seem important.

“H-Hank,” Connor coughed, spitting up more blue. “Hank, I… I w-wasn’t…”

“Shut up, stop talking, just…”

“Wasn’t… meant… to do that…” Connor gurgled.

“Connor, for fuck’s sake, stop talking!”

Hank doesn’t even know where he’s trying to drag Connor. Just somewhere. Anywhere. If he keeps going, he might find something. But all he has on him are painkillers, and that won’t save Connor.

Fuck’s sake, isn’t there anything he can do this one time?!

“Hank…” One hand reaches up, blue smearing across the side of Hank’s face as Connor grabs clumsily at his face. He stares up at him with those doe eyes, even as his face twists in agony. “T-this… this didn’t happen… alright?”

There’s nothing he can do. There’s nothing he can do. There’s nothing he can do.

“I can’t… I can’t…” Hank says hoarsely.

He turns and he sits down, curled up with his knees to his chest. He can’t look. He doesn’t have to watch to know how this will end, and it burns too much to even consider looking.

Eventually, the damp, gluggy breaths stopped and silence overtook everything.

Hank still doesn’t look behind him. Instead, his eyes find Gavin lying nearby. The puddle of red under him is still spreading. Hank can smell it in the air, coppery and unpleasant.

It really was easier than having to drag him back to his car. Easier than dealing with the paperwork.

Nevermind that he’d just gunned him down, execution-style. Hank had shot people before. He’d been on too many red ice raids not to have. But never point-blank. Never so close that he’d ended up with skull fragments stuck to his clothes.

Hank could have shot him anywhere. It might have even been better to go for an arm or a leg. To stop him before he could raise the gun high enough to gun Connor down. But he picked the head. Twice. Back in the visitor’s room and here.

And he just couldn’t feel bad about it.

He couldn’t even be afraid of the consequence. Whatever other madness he’d been spouting, Gavin had been right about one thing. No law applied in Silent Hill.

Hank plucked the coin off the floor before blood of either shade can ooze over it. With his still-good arm, he tries to roll the coin over his knuckles like Connor did. He drops it quickly, but picks it up and continues.

He tries several times before he finally summons the nerve to look at Connor. Blue has puddled all around him. His eyes are open, those doe eyes glassy and lifeless. Hank reaches out and checks the pulse, and just like before there’s nothing.

This didn’t happen.

Hank shuts Connor’s eyes and immediately regrets doing so.

The kid looks peaceful despite everything. Despite the bullet holes. Despite the blue blood. Hank couldn’t imagine what had made Gavin look at Connor and see something worth shrieking at. Couldn’t imagine what had made him turn the gun on an unarmed kid instead of the grizzled cop with a gun of his own.

Hank turned away. He got up, putting Connor’s coin in his overcrowded pockets. He walked away from both the bodies.

He thought about burial briefly. But the odds were good that Connor would be back before long.

As for Gavin? ...Well, fuck Gavin.

Hank headed for the door at the opposite end of where he’d entered, and he pushed it open.

The sunlight blinded him for a brief moment after so long in the dark. Hank raised his good hand to his eyes and felt heavy snow already settling in his hair and on his puffy fisherman’s coat.

He was staring at the lake. He’s outside the back of the Historical Society, on the docks that he’d forgotten he was trying to reach. And the snow is falling so hard that it’s on the edge of a snowstorm.

It's impossible. After all that, to emerge above ground without even a staircase upwards is impossible. But Hank doesn't give a shit.

Hank walks towards where the little rowboats are. Tied to the dock. Only to see that they’re no longer bobbing in the water. They’re still. The water underneath them has frozen solid. The entire lake is just one big sheet of ice.

One more piece of mockery from this shitstain of a town.

Hank lets out a tired sigh, walking to the edge of the pier. He raises his hand and squints through the snow. He can’t make out much through the combined forces of the snow and the fog.

He can see a faint light in the distance.

It’s all he has to go on.

Hank sits down on the edge of the dock before pushing himself off. His feet land on the frozen lake and he nearly slips, but steadies himself at the last moment. The old memories flash through his head. The flipped over car. Reaching and calling Cole’s name.

Something’s off about them. That itch, like he’s forgotten something. It gets stronger.

Hank keeps his hand raised near his eyes, staring at the light in the distance.

Slowly, he starts to make the hard, slippery trek across the lake.

Chapter Text

One step after another. The light never seemed to get any closer.

Hank squinted against the flurry of snowflakes, bracing against the wind. The cold blew right through him, like there was no skin or meat between him and the snow. He stepped forward. Again and again.

He has to believe he’s getting closer.

In the foggy depths of the snowstorm, he thinks he sees the outline of a car.

The moment he does, his legs give out. He can feel chunks of glass in his jacket as he tries to struggle back to his feet. Everything aches, especially his back. He stumbles to his feet, stretching his hand towards the car.

He tries to call Cole’s name. He can’t. Again.

But this time he can move.

One step after another.

He reaches for the silhouette of the car. His hands touch the handle, and for a moment he feels metal under his hands. Then nothing. The car’s gone. Another taunt.

Hank grits his teeth, wanting to swear but knowing he won’t be able to without getting a mouthful of snow in the process. He lifts his hand up and he continues on. One step after another.

The light seems to stay in the same position no matter how far he walks. But if he looks back, he can no longer see the Historical Society or its connected docks.

He walks.

And he walks.

And still he walks.

Until he’s suddenly there. He doesn’t ever see the light get closer. He just stumbles onto the dock, and he’s next to a lamp. It’s a dim lamp. It shouldn’t have been visible from the other side of the lake. Hank shakes his head slightly, water from the melting snow dripping down his face as he stares on.

The police station sits in front of him. Hank wonders why the dock connects with it at all. Was it to help with transporting misbehaving citizens from the holding cells to the prison? In case they needed to search the lake? Did it matter? Not really. Hank pulled his coat around him with his good arm. His bad one didn’t feel like much of anything.

One step after another, and his hand rested flat against the door into the precinct. He pushed open the doors and finally stepped out of the cold.

The building is surprisingly well-kept. It’s a little dusty. A little old-fashioned compared to the one that Hank worked in back home, which had an overabundance of glass amongst other qualities. But it’s cleaner than any of the ruins that Hank has explored so far. Perhaps the northern side of Silent Hill has held up better.

Maybe other cops have survived and kept the place tidy. Hank doubts it, though.

At the reception, Hank immediately checks the map of the emergency fire exits and important locations. It doesn’t list everything. Labeling the evidence room on a map like this would be catastrophic, just letting any random civilian know where that was.

“Wish I’d gotten a copy of the security footage. Would have loved to see it again.”

Would Hank find anything relevant in the evidence room here? It wasn’t his precinct. Maybe it was Cole’s, maybe it wasn’t. It was Connor’s, and Connor--Cole?--had been the one to bring it up. Ugh, it was all too jumbled in his head…

Hank glanced down at his dangling left arm and the sub-par tourniquet attached to it.

...He should probably deal with that. Thankfully, this map did note where the first-aid room was.

 


 

Hank had no trouble getting to the first-aid room. There was not a glimmer of static to be found. Nor were there signs of the bizarre architecture that had been almost immediately evident inside the Historical Society. Prison. Whichever.

So far, the police station was just… normal.

It felt off-kilter, like missing a step on your way down the stairs.

Hank found the right room, and spent some time doing what he could to fix the bullet hole in his arm. He didn’t have full-on surgical training, but he knew a bit about patching people up temporarily. The station had bandages and the basics for injuries and other general first aid. Better than a tourniquet made from a tie.

Not much better.

Hank had to peel off the jacket in order to do this properly. Same with the shirt underneath. At least staring at the walls here didn’t feel like it was giving him several rust-based diseases just by staring, but he was sure the risk of infection was high. He dumped some of the belongings shoved in his jacket and the back of his pants onto a nearby table.

As Hank went about with trying to fix up the gun wound as best he could, his mind drifted.

The car. The ice. He could hear the snow outside. It was only getting heavier. The car. The ice.

There was now-dried blood all over his arm. Red. Red like the corpses that Gavin had littered the prison with. Red like Gavin’s blood. Hank paused to run fingers through his damp hair, even more dishevelled and stained than normal. His fingers scraped out more blood. Bits of glop that might have been dried brain matter.

He still didn’t feel bad. He felt disgusted that he didn’t.

When he was done with his arm, he tried moving the fingers. Then tried bending his arm.

It moved better than it had any right to do. Was he just naturally resilient? Was it the painkillers? Or was the town actively working to keep him alive and going? Realistically, he should have been dead at least once for every pit he jumped down. Every noose. Every stupid injury.

He had to wonder what the town even wanted, if it wanted anything at all.

As he scraped dried blood off his arm, he found that any traces of blue blood had vanished. He touched his face, looking for the blue that had been smeared across his cheek when Connor died in his arms earlier. Nothing. He thought he could still feel it, his face itching where he knew it had been, but attempts at actually seeking it out went nowhere.

His mind brought up questions. Hank crushed them down.

Satisfied, he put the remainders of his shirt back on. Then he started searching the room. His pockets were too crowded to deal with. Soon he found what he was looking for. A backpack that was clearly designed for taking a medical kit and other supplies with him. This one did have a kit, but it had a lot missing. Not up to code.

That was fine. Hank was sure he could carry on a little while longer.

With that, he started actually cataloging what he had on him.

There’s what he came in with. His wallet. The letter from Cole, sitting neatly in an envelope. His empty revolver. The wallet’s not of much use right now and the revolver hasn’t been since he ran out of revolver bullets. Hank puts the wallet and revolver in the bag he’s packing anyway. He leaves the letter on the table for now.

Then there’s basic survival items. The flashlight--how the fuck else would he see--and the radio that warned him (usually) of when enemies were coming. His two functioning firearms. The handgun he’d given to Kara, and which Kara had given back. And Connor’s revolver, still with only the one bullet. A last resort in multiple ways.

He still had the iron pipe and Ice Head’s fucked up chain. Weirdly enough, the blue had stuck to that one. Or maybe it’d been stained with so much blue that it simply couldn’t fade.

There were the two ‘medicinal’ items. The painkillers and the baggie of red ice that he’d never gotten around to throwing away. Hank stared at the latter for a while.

He’d promised Connor that he’d take better care of himself if Connor did. He wondered if perhaps he should have been more specific and tacked on that dying multiple times certainly didn’t count as taking care of oneself.

Then there’s the paperwork he picked up on the way. The map of the hospital, with numbers scribbled on the edges and a map that made no geographical sense scrawled on the back from the prison. An old, damaged newspaper article about Carl Manfred, possible child murderer. And there was Markus’ book, scarlet with ‘Crimson Ceremony’ emblazoned on the front.

Hank flickered that open again, eyes still not going far. It made his head hurt. Mostly he stared at the first page some more. Rambling about the ‘Crimson One,’ lots of ominous religious mutterings.

 

Thou shalt ever call upon me
and all that is me
in the place that is silent.

Oh, proud fragrance of life which flies towards the heart.
Oh, cup which brims with the whitest of wine,
it is in thee that all begins.

 

Hank briefly wondered if the ‘Crimson One’ mentioned within was the fucked up being responsible for the town. Maybe it was. Maybe he wasn’t. He supposed it didn’t matter, if it didn’t bring him any closer to figuring out what he was doing here. He’d never had all that much patience for religion. Too much faith, too much looking for answers in something that wasn’t tangible. He much preferred to have the answers laid out in front of him. Trying to figure out the thought process of a distant god was just another puzzle that he didn’t want.

In any case, any book that chattered about doing favors for crimson gods wasn’t a good one, but he kept it with him anyway.

And beyond that…

He had a fuckload of keys. A small wax doll. Connor’s quarter. And the photo of Cole that Alice had left with him.

Hank carefully packs most of it into the bag. He considers leaving shit behind. The mass of keys, maybe. Ice Head’s stupid chain. The bits of paper, the baggie of red ice. But he doesn’t. He slips the two still-loaded guns back into his belt. Same with the iron pipe. Clips the flashlight and radio back on. He puts the Connor’s quarter back into his pocket, though he gives it an experimental but failed roll over his knuckles again first.

Everything else goes in the bag immediately. Except for Cole’s photo and the letter.

Hank picks up the photo for a bit and just looks at it, like it will impart some clues. Like he’ll see something he recognises in the background, even though the background is just a solid wall used for ID photos. He ends up putting it in his pocket, too.

Then he picks up the letter. He hasn’t looked at it since the elevator. He’s got it committed to memory, anyway. He read it too many times on the way there.

But he opens it.

Hank stares at it for a long few minutes. Confusion starting to overtake the corners of his brain like static on the radio.

There’s nothing written on it. It’s just a piece of paper.

Hank stares blankly at it for a while, then starts rummaging through the bag he just packed. Did he mix up sheets? The envelope… it still has Cole’s name on it. But the contents of the letter itself are just gone.

...He must have misplaced it.

If he hadn’t, if this was the letter as it had always been… why would he have ever come here at all?

Hank pushes those thoughts away too, quickly folding the piece of paper and shoving both it and the envelope inside his bag.

Evidence room. The answer will be in the evidence room. Where would that be? Hank focuses on that, tries not to think about the letter.

Find the main office. Go from there. It would likely be somewhere easily reachable, to make it easier for the detectives working there. Though who knew, given how fucking bananas this town had been so far?

Hank strapped the bag over his shoulder, and he starts to look around.

He finds the briefing room easily enough. This particular station still uses blackboards, and there’s remains of old chalk writing smudged all across it. Hank squints at it for a while, but he can’t make anything out. Beyond that, the floor opens up into the bullpen. Various desks lined up, with plenty of room to walk between them.

The layout’s familiar. For all that the decor is different--faded green-brown walls, an absolute lack of technology beyond typewriters, the layer of dust collecting over everything, the old-fashioned wooden tables and chairs--how it’s laid out is exactly like how it’s laid out back home. Hank could pick out his desk.

He does. He approaches it, half-expecting a nameplate that says ‘Lt. Anderson’ on it. He doesn’t find that. He finds pieces of paper, and half-expects one of them to be his missing letter. But they aren’t.

There is a note, however, and a couple of words catch his eye so he picks it up. Clearly handwriting.

 

Can’t let you into the evidence room until the boss is done. Think he’s reviewing evidence upstairs. Said something about how he needs a view of the lake to think. Maybe the view of those stupid flowers motivates him or something. Ask him for the key if you’re so desperate.

 

Hank huffs lightly. The note couldn’t have given him directions or anything? Although, view of the lake, that only covered so many rooms. If the station followed logical architecture for once. Hank turned, heading for the end of the bullpen and travelling along the side that would be closest to the lake.

He quickly found the holding cells. Unfriendly barred rooms with nothing but two benches each and a toilet in the corner, dirty but not the same level of foul as the prison. He would have passed them without comment or notice.

But someone was in one of them. Hank’s heart immediately skipped a beat at the movement, only for disappointment and relief to hit him in equal measure. It wasn’t Connor. It wasn’t Cole. They weren’t an adult.

“...This is not where I told you to go, Alice,” Hank said quietly, nearing the holding cell.

Alice lifted her head up from her seat on the bench inside. She looked at him, then got to her feet and neared the bars. Not enough for Hank to reach her, but close enough to get a better look.

“Do you work here?” she asked.

“Hell no. Who locked you in there? Where’s Kara?” Hank squinted at Alice for a moment before asking, “Is she--”

“Kara’s okay. We made it to your car,” Alice said. “She got tired, though. She needed to sleep. And the car smelled funny, so I… I left.”

“You left safety because my car stunk a bit? Jesus, I know it probably smelt a little boozy, but it’s not that bad! This isn’t the sort of place you should be wandering around. How did you even get here?” Hank asked incredulously.

“...I walked?”

“Well… fuck, the rest of this town makes just as much sense.”

Hank reached out, expecting the door into the cell to be locked and to have to solve some puzzles to find his way inside. But to his surprise, the door creaked open immediately. Hank took a step inside, and Alice took a step back.

Immediately, Hank raised his hands. There was a jolt through his bad arm, but only a jolt. He flinched and a hissed swear escaped through his teeth, and Alice took another step back.

“Not you,” Hank said hoarsely. “Sorry. You still afraid of me?”

Alice watched him for a moment and considered it for a while.

“No. Not… not a lot,” she finally said.

“Can I sit down?”

Alice nodded. Hank moved forward and sat on one of the benches. She sat on the other one, keeping a bit of distance but less than before. Hank reached in his pocket and pulled the photo of Cole, holding it up.

“Why’d you give me this?” he asked.

“That’s… that’s your son, isn’t it?” Alice looked up at him and added, “I told Mr. Reed that the only other person I’d seen was a big, grey-haired man that smelt like beer. And he said ‘oh, that’s Hank.’”

“It… was scotch, technically, but alright.”

“Then he showed me the photo.”

“But why’d you give it to me? I’m not… not saying it was bad, I’m happy to have this.” Hank looked at the photo again. Maybe happy wasn’t the right word. He’d only been more confused since he saw it. “But why?”

“Because… because you looked sad. And family is supposed to make people happy. It… doesn’t always do that, but it’s meant to. I thought maybe you’d be happy to see him. I thought it might help, even if he’s bad.”

Hank tilted his head with a squint. “‘Bad,’ huh? Did Gavin say that, too?”

“Yes. But… I thought it might be true, anyway. Silent Hill is very good at hiding bad people,” Alice said quietly. She looked down and said, “That is why I told Kara about this place. Because I… I heard my dad talk about it on the phone. He used to...” Alice flinched inward and said, “I’m not meant to say.”

“Drug user, right?” When Alice stared at Hank, looking on the edge of bolting again, Hank gestured around his mouth. “That monster we both saw… it was like your dad, wasn’t it? It was puking red ice crystals.” Hank gave Alice a small smile and added, “You didn’t snitch. I’m a detective, I figured it out. So no stitches.”

“No stitches,” Alice whispered. She nodded a little before continuing. “Dad had all these… ‘business friends.’ I had to stay in my room when they were here. But sometimes I listened. And sometimes one would sell these bags of… they looked like seeds, but they didn’t grow well. PTV, Dad called it. The plant it’s made from… he said it only grows here.”

“...Huh. I do know of that,” Hank said after a moment. It wasn’t a widespread drug. More a curiosity that cropped up on occasion during busts on people who carried lots of weird specialized shit, or tourists who were hopping various borders to find different types of highs. He didn’t think he’d ever seen the raw plant, but… he recalled the faded articles, the monster growing flowers. The graveyard. “...White flowers?”

“I don’t know. But the guy who brought them to Dad also said that Silent Hill was good for hiding. Bad people hide in Silent Hill, they don’t get found. Good people can search the town all over and never find them. So when… when we had to run, I told Kara that. I couldn’t think of anything else.”

“Yeeeeeah… think the monsters probably ate them,” Hank muttered.

“...Yeah.”

Hank sighed, rubbing his face before listening for the snow outside. It was starting to batter against the walls. It sounded like the station was rattling.

“I don’t think you’re getting back to my car by yourself,” he said. Alice said nothing, she just lowered her head. “I got something to do. But… I wouldn’t mind the company.”

Alice looked down for a long moment before looking up at him.

“Do you see the monsters when I’m not here?”

“...Yes?”

Alice’s mouth creased into a frown for a moment and she stared at Hank with renewed suspicion. But then it faded.

“Okay. I will try not to run away this time.”

“Good, good. I’ll finish here, and we’ll see if the snow has subsided by then.” Hank hoped that Kara didn’t wake up and try to find Alice on her own in this mess. But there wasn’t anything he could do about that right now.

 


 

They explored together, and still they heard nothing.

Alice didn’t say much as they walked around the police station. Often, it seemed like she was on the edge of talking. But she would always quiet down again. Hank didn’t say much either. Still, the company was something. It was much better than wandering the prison alone.

Hank aimed to explore any room with a window that had a view of the lake, although the few rooms that had windows didn’t have a view of anything. Outside the glass, it was just white fog and snow. Hank could only hope he was even checking the right side of the building.

There was nothing in the first floor. They passed a lot of rooms. A breakroom that still smelt slightly of old coffee grinds. A briefing room. Another holding cell. And not far from the bullpen, there was an elevator. That was promising, but just looking at yet another elevator--one that undoubtedly went down--gave Hank the chills. It was locked, anyway. Hank was kind of glad.

Still, there were no monsters. Hank had expected the chances to double, now that he and Alice were traveling together. Each room that they explored, Hank tried to either leave the door open or show some sign that he’d been there, like opening the old shutters that many of the rooms had.

It wasn’t until they went up the stairs to the second floor that Alice spoke.

“Do you have other family?”

“What brought this on?” Hank asked as he shined his flashlight up the stairs. No movement. No static. Just dusty brown wallpaper and the occasional photo of various cops and newspaper articles. None of them caught Hank’s eye.

“I just… I want to know.”

Hank huffed lightly. If it had been anyone other than a kid, he would have told them to fuck off and mind their own business. He still almost did.

“No. I got an ex-wife and a son who… I don’t know what the hell is happening there. It’s not a lot of love,” Hank said brusquely.

As he spoke, he found a door that led into a small office. One that looked well-decorated, and had photos scattered all about the desk alongside a still-open evidence folder. There was a window to one side, pure white view. Hank checked the corners of the room, then started searching the place.

“Did she leave because you always drink?” Alice asked bluntly. “Mom left because Dad was always angry and smoking red ice.”

“Jesus, just pry into it, why don’t ya?” Hank grumbled. When Alice recoiled in on herself he said, “Fuck, kid, didn’t mean it like that.”

“Shouldn’t swear,” Alice mumbled under her breath.

“Right, right. And no. I… I don’t think I drank as heavy back then. It was the work. Being a cop’s dangerous work, and the sorts of things I was assigned to in particular?”

Hank pushed aside some photos on the desk. They didn’t relate to him. They were faces he wasn’t familiar with. Figures on street corners, although some of the street corners tickled his mind a little.

“Lot of bullets. Lot of injury. Lot of risk. And I think… I don’t know. I don’t imagine Cole stealing my police jacket and hat and wandering around in them exactly gave her the warm fuzzies either. The idea of him following me into that line of work. He wanted to be a cop, too, and… and I encouraged that. I think we argued about it a couple of times.”

“So… she loved you so much that she didn’t want to see you get hurt?”

“...Maybe. It was a long time ago.”

That had been a year before the accident had occurred. The divorce. The trip to Silent Hill nine months later. Then the accident a couple of months after that. Hank had been in the middle of some involved cases during those few months. His wife had been the one to take Cole for a while. The trip to Silent Hill had been a long-awaited reunion. (Or it had seemed long at the time, though what was a few months compared to twenty years?)

“Your mom left, then? She’s not… not sticking around with Todd back home?”

Alice averted her eyes and shook her head. “She has a new family. I don’t think she wanted to come back.”

“Jesus Christ,” Hank muttered as he continued searching. He found a desk drawer and tugged it. It was locked. He eyed the padlock, tilting it to find a combination key. It wasn’t numbers. It was letters. Four of them. Hank started flicking through them, trying to make words. “And… what about Kara?”

Alice didn’t respond. Hank looked over, raising his eyebrows.

“You don’t want to tell me?”

Alice shrugged.

“...Can I ask a weird question, then?” Hank watched Alice for a moment before asking, “Do you know if she bleeds red or blue?”

He tries to spell ‘blue’ out on the padlock as he says it, but can only find a u on the second set of letters.

Alice’s eyes squinted and she tilted her head. She stared back at Hank for a moment before answering. “Red. I… I saw it when Dad hurt her.”

“Okay. Just… just wondering.”

So Kara was human. Probably. Maybe. Why wasn’t she in the graveyard with the rest of them, then? Or maybe the blood meant nothing. He’d seen a lot of red-blooded corpses around considering how few people he’d seen. Who knew if the monsters were exclusively blue-blooded.

Hank returned his attention to the lock. Ugh, this was going to be another bullshit puzzle. He knew it. Fuck.

...Nah, that’d be too easy.

Still, Hank tries it. He circles the letters along until the padlock just spells ‘fuck.’ There’s a click. The padlock opens.

“...This town is finally on my wavelength,” Hank mutters outloud, grinning as he tosses the padlock aside. He pulls open the drawer and, as he expected, finds a key. The tag attached to it says ‘evidence.’ “You seen the evidence room yet, Alice?”

“No. I think it would be a very secret room.”

Since they’re already on the second floor, Hank decides to keep looking. Saves him from walking up and down the stairs in case of both puzzles and the evidence room being up here after all. He continues on, feet sending up little clouds of dust. Alice’s feet sending up smaller clouds still.

Soon, they find a locker room. Lined with lockers on the edges, as well as a row that divides the room into halves. Alice goes to open one, but Hank holds out his hand to stop her.

“Never know with this sick town. I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts bringing out traps. Everything’s been too easy so far,” he said. “Stay behind me.”

Alice nodded, pulling her hands back and stepping behind him.

Hank starts trying to open each locker. Most are locked. None are trapped.

It isn’t long before he finds something. Another key, in a locker near the back of the row closest to the door. It had a long-faded name and address tag, but the key itself had an ‘E’ carved onto it. Evidence key? But he already had the evidence key, didn’t he?.

Hank picked it up. Just as he did, he heard a sound. A creak from near where they entered.

Immediately Hank’s radio started to faintly crackle. Hank immediately put out a hand to reach for Alice, other hand going for his gun. Quickly, he glanced at the locker he’d been investigating.

He considered shoving Alice inside for a moment, making sure she wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire, but if the monster found her there… so instead, he shifted his gun to his bad arm before scooping her up with the good one. Alice immediately froze up, but there wasn’t enough time to say anything. Hank backed away quietly, rounding a row of lockers and moving to put more layers between them and the door.

He caught a glimpse of white flowers before ducking away. Hank’s gun lowered slightly, but not entirely.

He wondered if this was the same one that had been clinging to Markus, or just one that resembled it. Like how he had seen multiple Pukers, but got the feeling that Ice Head was the same being every time he saw him. The way this one had been behaving earlier gave Hank the feeling that this creature was closer to Ice Head than a Puker.

He could try shooting it. But Markus hadn’t wanted that, and if this was a more Ice-Head-esque being, who knew if it even could be gunned down?

Hank strained his ears. As he heard the monster shift its feet, he moved his own. Trying to match the footsteps as well as he could. He reached the end of the row and quickly stuck his head out, still trying to keep Alice as far out of sight as possible, to see where it was.

It was facing away from him, reaching out to touch one of the lockers with thin, spindly fingers. Hank had a better look at it now than before. Despite the distance, it was no longer tangled so tightly with the other monsters. He could see which limbs belonged to it. It was crouched, like it was just holding off the urge to run on all fours like an animal. Built thin with an obviously feminine body covered in those deep, festering burns. The flowers were largely clustered around its face and shoulders. Another quality that reminded him of Ice Head, especially if those were the sorts of flowers that PTV was derived from.

It turned its head slightly to peer inside a different locker, head craning towards Hank but not quite. Although its face was obscured, Hank could see broken, blackened teeth and its jaw unhinging on occasion. He could also see the source of the flowers. They were sprouting through a gash in the creature’s throat.

Hank leaned back, taking a couple of steps back before reaching for one of the lockers and quickly opening and shutting it with a squeak. He heard the creature freeze for a moment before starting to round the corner quicker, and Hank moved with it. Matching speed to round the row of lockers just as the creature did on the other side.

There was a squeak as the creature opened the locker that Hank had just fiddled with. Hank slowed his footsteps, making them quieter, as the monster let loose a croaky snarl. Soon he heard crashing noises, as the monster started opening and slamming shut any lockers around it, convinced that Hank or Alice was still nearby.

Hank pushed open the door and left, and the radio quieted once more. He wondered why the monsters didn’t just follow the static. Was it just white noise to them since every radio did it?

Once they were far away, Hank put Alice down. She was still frozen. Her face had gone dead white and tears were making her eyes appear glassy. Hank sighed, crouching down. He made sure not to touch her again and keep at a respectful distance, but close enough that he could still shield her from any monsters.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, there was just no time. You alright, kid?”

Alice took a few moments to come out of it.

“...Yes. I… I know you weren’t doing anything bad. It’s just… it just...”

“You just don’t like it. That’s alright. I… I can’t promise I won’t do it again, but I’ll try to warn you and I’ll only do it if I have to. Okay? And I won’t do it again once we’re out of Silent Hill. Deal?”

Alice nodded. She hesitated, but then shuffled over next to him and held his hand tightly, keeping her head down.

Hank only quickly combed the rest of the floor before deciding to move back to the bullpen. Still sure that the evidence room would have to be near it. He didn’t see any signs of other puzzles.

They were heading back downstairs when she said, “Was that your monster?”

“I don’t really own any of the monsters… but do you mean ‘was that my Todd?’” When Alice nodded, Hank continued, “No. ...That one is Markus’ monster. He must be nearby.”

Hank hoped Markus didn’t realise he had the book.

“Is Markus bad?”

“...I don’t know. He helped me and Kara out. But...” The monsters holding him came to mind, and the ominous words in that book. “He’s got some weird shit going on,” Hank concluded diplomatically.

“If he sees monsters, he must be bad,” Alice said simply.

“We both see monsters, Alice.”

“I know.”

Hank looked sideways at her for a moment as they walked back through the bullpen. “...What do you think you did, Alice?”

Alice said nothing.

“Because if it had anything to do with your father… and if your father really resembles that monster we fought? Fighting against something like that doesn’t make you bad. Even if it went a little far.”

Strictly speaking, Hank knew he didn’t have all the details. But fuck… what the hell did a kid have to go through to think they deserved monsters?

Alice’s next words were very quiet.

“I shot Dad. He was hurting Kara. I had to make him stop.”

“...Yeah. That checks out,” Hank said, equally as quiet. After seeing her with the gun back at the hospital? He had an inkling. He squeezed her hand slightly before saying, “I’ve met much worse.”

Alice’s grip tightened on Hank’s hand. Her next words were a whisper.

“It wasn’t the bad thing that I did.”

“...Oh.”

...What the hell was worse than shooting someone? Had she shot other people who didn’t deserve it? Hank was about to ask when he came face to face with the elevator near the bullpen area again.

Oh. E for elevator. Right. His brain was really slowing down on these key labels.

Hank didn’t let go of Alice’s hand as he unlocked the elevator and the doors slid open. They both stepped inside, only for the most grating alarm that Hank had ever heard to blare loudly at them. It sounded like ten phones going off in a warzone. Immediately, they both jumped back off.

“What was that?!” Alice yelped, clinging to Hank tighter and hiding a little behind him, staring at the empty elevator.

“I… I guess we’re not doing something right.” Hank leaned into the elevator, looking around for clues. He soon found the issue. A sign was bolted to the side.


One person only.


“...Shit,” Hank muttered.

He could have kept searching the police station. But goddamn, he knew this town. This might as well have been a neon sign saying that it was where Hank needed to go. Hank listened, and could hear the snow only getting heavier outside. There was no chance of him walking Alice back to the car and returning. ...Now that he thought about it, a lack of snow would also be a problem. What if the lake defrosted before he could get back?

He could think about that later. The issue was that he couldn’t take Alice either out of the station or down below with him. He exchanged a look with Alice, who stared up at him, then at the sign.

“...We’re two people,” she said.

“Yep.”

Alice’s grip tightened on his hand. Already, she was starting to shake. And at the very least, there was still one monster prowling the area, even if it was upstairs.

But that elevator… he had to go down that elevator.

“Oh god, I am about to violate so many gun safety laws,” Hank muttered to himself before removing his gun from his jacket. He kneels in front of Alice. “I don’t want to leave you up here. But--”

“But your son is down there.”

“...He might be. Or… or something that’ll tell me where he is. Maybe I can be done quick. But I know I’m going to be leaving you in literally the worst position. So…”

Hank stood up again, pulling Alice back towards the bullpen.

“Have you ever seen the monsters teleport into a room?”

“I… don’t think so. It’s hard to tell. Everything’s always dark.”

“Well, maybe we set up a barricade. Leave small exits that you can crawl out of but that the monsters can’t get through. That’s how you escaped them before, right? We use the holding cell. We fortify the place. We hide you as best we can.”

“I… I don’t… can’t you just wait until the snowstorm stops? Or maybe we can find another way?” Alice pleads. “I… I…”

“I… I could try, Alice. If that’s what you need.” Fuck, how the hell was Hank going to be so heartless as to tell a little girl that she just didn’t matter more than his son? Even if it was true? But instead, Hank settled on a different truth. “The thing is… I don’t think the storm will stop until I see whatever the town is pushing me towards.”

That, Alice seemed to understand. She looked down, her feet shifting.

“...Can you be fast?”

“I really hope so. If I can bring any evidence up here, I’ll do it. But it depends on what’s there. If I can’t find what I’m looking for in five minutes, I’ll come back up.”

Alice’s mouth shook slightly, but she nodded.

“...I’m good at forts,” she said quietly.

Hank snorted before looking around at the various desks that were littering the bullpen.

“Well, kid? We are going to make one grand fucking fort.”

 


 

Hank wasn’t going to lie. This was the best fucking fort he’d ever made, as either a child or an adult.

A mix of lockers, desks and chairs had been stacked in such a way that there were plenty of exits, but all of them were small. They’d be difficult for any monsters to crawl through. The flower-covered monster wouldn’t be able to get all its foliage through, and all the others Hank had seen were too bulky to get through. It wasn’t foolproof, but it was a barrier.

He’d used some of the shutters torn from various windows to add some extra obscurification to Alice’s presence in the fort.

“Are you… are you sure no-one will find me there?” Alice asked doubtfully.

“The monsters are dumb,” Hank replied. “They won’t know.”

It was a half-truth. It’d all be obvious to anyone human. Maybe even to the smarter monsters, though Hank couldn’t be sure about that one. But he didn’t think the dumb monsters had the presence of mind to look at this fort and think ‘that’s a hiding spot.’

As for the human threats… if Kara somehow found her way here, that was all the better. Markus… Hank was going to hedge his bets on Markus remaining friendly. Gavin… he wasn’t an issue anymore.

There was the possibility of a resurrected Connor walking in. ...Hank was going to hedge his bets there, too. He didn’t quite know what to think of Connor any more, but he didn’t think the guy would attack a child. He knew Alice. He’d… he’d tried to help.

It was the whole reason they’d searched the hospital. It was the reason that Ice Head had strangled him to death.

Bitterness curled up in Hank’s stomach for a moment as he looked at Alice, who was still staring critically at the fort. But he pushed it away. She was a kid. It wasn’t her fault.

“It’s not perfect,” Hank admitted. Now, he crouched next to her and held out his gun. “How much do you know about gun safety?”

“...I’m not allowed to touch guns,” Alice said, staring wide-eyed at the gun that had passed from Hank to Kara and back again.

“Well, I can’t expect you to fight with an iron pipe.”

Alice shook her head. “I don’t want to shoot anything.”

Hank frowned. How the hell else was she supposed to survive if a monster got into her fort? Although… although then again, he was trying to hand a gun to a ten-year-old with a history of shooting her father. That was not going to win him any common sense awards.

“...Alright, then what’s your plan if a monster gets into your fort?”

“I’m… I’m going to run really fast.”

...That was really all he could ask of her.

“I guess that’s the best we can do.” Hank stood up. “Alright. Five minutes. Then I’ll head back.”

Alice nodded. She crouched and crawled inside, before sitting and pulling the little shutters down. Entirely obscured from view. It would do.

God, did Hank not feel right about this. But he had to go down there.

Wasn’t there something else he had that could help? He checked his bag. All he found was a bunch of bullshit. Including the little wax doll that he’d found in the prison. For want of any better ideas, he pulled it out.

“Uh… you want this? For company or something?”

Hank pushed it through a gap in the fort. He heard Alice shift.

“...It’s gooey and weird-looking,” Alice said.

“Fine, give it back.”

“No. I like it. ...Thank you.”

Kids were weird.

With that, Hank got up and headed back to the elevator. He stepped onto it.

Immediately, that horrible alarm emitted from it again.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Hank snapped at it. One person allowed. He was alone, what more did it want? He glared at the sign, crossing his arms. As he did, he felt his bag shift by his side.

...God-fucking-dammit.

Hank unstrapped the bag. He considered taking it back to Alice, but there wasn’t much else in there for her. He just placed it by the elevator, hoping no-one would steal his shit while it was there.

He tried again.

That alarm once more.

“Fuck!” Hank bellowed. What was in his pockets? Two guns. He put Connor’s revolver into his bag, though his eyes lingered on it for a second. Tried again. The same alarm. With a wince, he put the iron pipe in there too. Then he tried his last gun.

Still, the alarm sounded. Why the hell was this elevator so finicky?

What did he even have left on him?

The flashlight. The radio. ...Oh god fucking dammit, that was not going to work. But still, Hank unclipped them from his jacket and put them in the bag. After consideration, he strips the jacket off and throws that over his bag.

He tried again.

The alarm still went off.

Hank didn’t swear this time. He just angrily gritted his teeth. What else did he even have on him? He searched his pant pockets.

He found two things. The photo of Cole. And Connor’s quarter. Hank breathed long and hard through his nose as he eyed the two items. They weighed almost nothing.

And yet.

Hank placed them carefully on top of his jacket. Once more, he stepped into the elevator.

No alarm.

Hank shook his head slightly, rubbing one eye tiredly with the palm of his hand. God, he was sick of this. But he reached over and tested the elevator buttons.

Only one worked. The one going into the basement. Hank pressed it, and the elevator doors slid shut. Down he went, shivering from the cold without that fisherman’s jacket. Unarmed and defenceless except for a solid right hook.

The elevator doors slid open, and Hank realised just how fucking dark it was. He’d grown used to working in dim light. Too used to the flashlight. That had become his new normal. But now he didn’t have that, and he couldn’t see anything ahead of him except for what faint glimmer came from the elevator’s dim light. That only reached so far.

But it seemed to be a hallway. One way.

Fucking hallways and elevators always hand in hand.

Hank walked forward very carefully, one foot after the other.

Five minutes left.

At first, there was nothing. Just his own faint footsteps and the pitch black darkness. Occasionally, Hank reached out and touched the walls to make sure they were still there. That went on for a while.

Until his foot bumped something that felt hard and plastic, and it burst to life. Hank couldn’t see it, just hear it flailing by his feet, thrashing limbs against the floor. Hank could only quickly slide past it, but in doing so his foot collided with another one. He stumbled further forwards, only to hear one of the monsters hit the other one--accident or purpose, he had no idea--and for them to start flailing at each other. The whole mess was happening on the ground. They weren’t standing.

Hank quickly left them to it.

Four minutes left.

He sees a glimmer of light. Just a flicker of orange. He doesn’t know what the light was from. The air smells a little smoky, though. And he catches a glimpse of light bouncing off red crystals. His heart freezes for a moment. He’s sure it’s Ice Head. But it isn’t. It’s another Plastic. This one standing stock still in the hall. Hank carefully presses against the wall and slides by it. It doesn’t move.

He continues on, and these flickers of orange light become more common. Each time, Plastics accompany them. The smoky smell gets stronger, and gains a noticeably more chemical scent to it.

Three minutes left.

He’s honestly glad that he couldn’t bring Alice down here now. They never would have managed if they were both trying to squeeze through these halls.

He wonders if the town knew that. The town had hurt Alice. But it hadn’t killed her yet. It just wanted her to hurt. It wanted him to hurt. Why the fuck did it want them to hurt?

As Hank wonders, he sees a glimpse of more Plastics on the ground, illuminated by orange flickers. Each flicker comes accompanied with a ‘phwut’ sound. Like a match or a lighter being lit. Tiny flickers of fire? But they’re too brief to be anything more.

He manages to step over the next Plastics, but there’s more of them just lying about. Like they had a wild party and are now sleeping it off.

Two minutes left.

The bodies are getting thicker. Hank’s feet collide with one. It doesn’t attack, only stirs lightly. When Hank realises this, he isn’t as careful with the next. He gets only mild twitches and weird, muffled noises from the Plastics. Nothing violent.

Good thing, too. They’re just piled up now. Hank has no choice but to walk on them at times.

One minute left.

Hank sees a dim light bulb. He breaks into a run.

He comes out in a room with no exits except the one he just entered through, and part of him expects to see Cole there in the flesh. But that’s not what he sees.

What he sees is, once again, what is almost a weird old-fashioned recreation of a room from back home. This time the evidence room.

There’s that wall at the back for anything that’s being examined and re-examined regarding current cases. Where evidence can be hung up and ordered and shelved. But here, instead of being weirdly shiny and modern, it’s dusty and makes Hank think of an old museum instead. Except that it’s empty. There’s no evidence on that wall, just squares and shelving where it should be. But Hank can almost envision what would be on those walls back at the precinct. Baggies of anything both standard and unusual from raids. Weapons used at the scenes of the crimes. Any records of evidence that couldn’t be freshly kept there but which was important enough to note, like fingerprints.

There’s also something else where the terminal that lets people access files and other evidence is. Instead, there’s an old, blocky television. The kind that Hank hadn’t seen in years. A VCR is hooked into it.

And on top of it, so obvious that it feels like a trap, is a video tape.

Hank picks the tape up anyway, weighing it in his hands like doing so will let him know whether it’s a trick of the town or not. It… it just feels like a tape. He hasn’t even seen tapes in so long, yet here it is.

He eyes the VCR for a long, long moment.

...Fuck it.

He puts it in and presses play.

 


 

It’s CCTV footage.

More a collection of stills than actual moving video. People jolting all over the bullpen. It’s unmistakably filmed from the corner of Hank’s workplace. Partly obvious because of the layout. And partly obvious because he finds himself in the footage almost immediately.

The grey hair and jacket was a giveaway even if he couldn’t make out features. Sitting at his desk, arms crossed with one hand pressing into his forehead. Could have been a hangover; a fact made more likely by the blob that Hank assumed was his thermos. He only brought that in when he was hungover enough to not want to repeatedly walk to the nearby break room for coffee.

There were other people milling around. Hank could recognise most of them by general shape. A glimpse of Fowler in the corner, heading into his office. Chris and Tina were walking back from the breakroom, clearly in discussion even through stills. Gavin was resting his feet on his desk as he stared down at his phone.

Time passed. Then another figure appeared in the corner, moving blip by blip across the screen. Hank recognised the coat and style of dress even if he couldn’t make out the face on the distorted footage. Perkins, coming in to…

That was when the Hank on screen got up. There’s a brief freeze-frame as Hank slams back the rest of the coffee in his thermos before making a beeline for Perkins. He must have been moving fast, because he’s crossed the room in the brief lag between each separate still.

Hank didn’t really need to watch, but he did. He remembered bone cracking under his fist. Perkins yelling at him and another cop trying to restrain him. He remembers making the biggest fuss possible for as long as possible.

But as he watches, he catches little details that he couldn’t have seen at the time. Like Fowler standing by his office with a coffee, watching Hank do this without acting to stop him. He sees Gavin lift his phone slightly, seemingly trying to get a picture of the shenanigans.

And at the corner of the screen, almost too quick to be seen, he sees a familiar figure flit by and head in the direction of the evidence room. With this quality, he can’t really make out the figure’s face. But he sees the dark hair, the police jacket, and the way the kid stands is familiar. It isn’t like how Connor stands, formal and sure of himself. The way he’s holding his arms as he goes by makes it look like he’s trying to take up as little space as possible.

Then the clip flickers and tails off into static. It flickers back a couple of times, between the CCTV footage and the static. Then it comes back in, but the footage is different.

 


 

The clip changes with a flicker, a few bursts of static. This time, there’s a red tint in between flickers. A fog that gets heavier, and almost seems to be emitting from the television.

Then it flickers back into a picture that is similarly low quality and similarly accompanied by sound. It is, rather weirdly, a close-up of a greasy, sloppy burger. The camera shifts more deliberately than it did in the last clip, although there’s an undercurrent of shaking. Something handheld. A phone?

“...Cole, what the hell are you doing?”

That’s Hank’s voice. The camera tilts up to look at Hank, who’s sitting at the same table as the burger being focused on. But it’s not him as he is now. There’s brown in his hair, although he’s still heavily grey. The hair’s still long, but tied back. The face is a little less lined, but still exhausted. He’s wearing his old police jacket. He’s drinking from the thermos here, too. It sits next to his customary pineapple soda.

“Taking a shot of your burger. From this light, the grease shine is actually kind of nice.” That voice sounds like Connor, although it’s more fluid. A little more emotive and less well-pronounced.

Hank let out a ‘tch’ noise. The camera shifted back down again as Hank turns to the side.

“So how’s the job so far?”

“You see me enough. How do you think it is?” Cole’s voice is quiet and dismissive.

“I see you, sure. In passing. I don’t get to watch you work, conflict of interests and all that. A real bummer, honestly. So how is it?”

Cole keeps the camera focused downwards. Hank can almost see his expression behind it. Eyes down as well.

No, he’s not seeing. He’s remembering.

“I know you bug Fowler about it all the time. And you’re asking enough questions that Gavin’s constantly bitching about you interfering. You don’t have to dig for what I’m doing. I’m fine. I’m not… not freezing anymore.”

“Hrmm.”

When the camera looks up, Hank is watching it with the straw from his soda stuck in his mouth. No, he’s not looking at the camera. He’s looking past it to Cole.

“I heard your last raid was a mess. You, uh… you want to talk about it?”

“It wasn’t a mess. The job got done,” Cole said shortly.

“Lot of bullets for ‘not a mess,’” Hank muttered. Suddenly, he reaches out and grasps the wrist that is holding the camera. The camera stops with the persistent tremble. Hank holds it for a moment, clearly eying Cole’s face.

Hank recalls what he was looking for. The same signs he’d looked for after he’d found the baggie of red ice in the hospital. He remembers that Cole hadn’t looked the same that day. He’d had the shakes, but he’d had the red, tired eyes of a ice hangover rather than the flush and eye dilation of someone in the middle of one.

When the filmed Hank speaks, it’s in a much lower tone.

“The fuck did I tell you?”

“What does it matter? You were half-drunk last time it came up.” The camera looks down again as Cole mutters, “Then again, you’re always either intoxicated or hungover.”

“Fuck you. That’s not--”

“It’s exactly the same except that my habit doesn’t slow me down. So fuck you,” Cole says venomously. “Why don’t you wait until you quit with the daytime drinking? Maybe then you can lecture me on my habits?”

Hank glared back, reaching out for his thermos of coffee and taking a very long drink.

The clip cuts off. Hank remembers that Cole switched his camera off at that point, being too irritated to continue trying to film a burger.

Hank hadn’t stopped drinking after that, nor had Cole given up the ice.

The clip flickers a bit, and this time it takes longer to come back.

 


 

This time, the static is split with frames that just seem to be pure white. Immediately, Hank’s stomach tightens. He knows what’s coming.

And then he’s looking at himself again. But this time younger, much younger. Brown hair cut short, nowhere near as many lines in his face. He was staring at the road, eyes set in a squint. The windshield was a flurry of white.

The camera view turned and looked at the windshield and the snow. It would flicker slightly every now and again. Quick as a blink. It was blinking. Then the view turned back to Hank. It was set lower, so it looked like the camera was looking up at Hank.

It wasn’t a camera at all. Hank was viewing this through Cole’s eyes.

“How can you see, Dad?” Cole’s voice coming from behind.

The Hank on screen said nothing. Mouth creased slightly. Hank remembered the answer. He couldn’t. He could see fog lights on occasion, but everything a few feet in front of the car was just white.

“Don’t worry about it,” Hank had said.

Then he glanced sideways at Cole before a small smile came to his lips.

“How’s that book going for you?”

The view shifts down to look at a children’s book about space and robots. Cole seems to consider it for a moment.

“Astronauts are cool. I think I’d like being one second-most to anything else.”

Cole had changed his ideas on his second-preferred job every week. Cop had always remained in number one, but his mother had always tried to persuade him to at least consider other ambitions.

“Maybe first if there are space criminals to arrest. I can be both,” Cole continued.

“There’s loads of space criminals. That was Han Solo’s whole thing,” Hank remarked. “Can’t be that hard to find more.”

“I don’t want to arrest Han Solo, though. He’s--”

Then there’s a truck horn blaring so loudly that it seems to burst Hank’s eardrums. Fog lights seem to apparate in front of them, heading right for them. Hank doesn’t see his own reaction, he just sees through Cole’s gaze.

“Da--” Cole started.

And then there’s a jumble. Hank can’t make out anything because Cole can’t. He hears screeching, sliding, the clunk of a car rolling and the shatter of glass. Everything’s a blur until it isn’t. It goes black for a long, long moment.

Then it brightens, though there’s a few black periods in between. Cole blinking slowly, then fast. Then his head turns. There’s a yelp of pain that tears Hank’s heart to hear. A hand comes up to touch something just above the camera, then those hands move around. Then the camera turns again. Another whine.

Then the view focuses on outside. It’s still thickly snowing, but everything’s upside down. The windshield has shattered entirely from Hank being flung through it. His seatbelt hadn’t held. Cole’s had, and was now dangling him above the upended roof of the car. Looking through the shattered glass, he can see himself lying on icy ground nearby. One arm extending towards the car. Unable to call out.

There’s the sound of an engine stopping nearby. Soon, hurried footsteps. Another figure—the driver of the truck? It’s too snowy to make out any real details. He sprints over, bending over Hank. Hank doesn’t remember this. He must have passed out by then. Then the driver turns to the car.

“Hey! Hey, kid, are you okay in there?” he calls as he heads closer.

There’s a pause. Then Cole calls out shakily.

“I’m alright! Is… Dad, is he--”

“He’s still breathing, he’ll be alright. Just hold on, kid. It’ll be alright.”

That voice continues to stay by the car and say comforting words--ones that Hank would have liked to be able to say--as static clouds the screen again.

 


 

And then it’s back. Another car. Hank’s car. The one he drove into Silent Hill with.

The camera is still blinking, but doing so quickly so that the screen is dim much of the time. The breaths are quick and panicked. From behind Cole’s eyes, the camera turns to the side. Looks at the driver’s seat. It’s empty. Looks forward again. Looks outside.

It’s foggy. Not quite as foggy as the town itself, but foggy. The edge of Silent Hill. But all that can be seen is the road stretching ahead and behind, and disappearing into the fog both ways.

Red smoke is slowly but surely filling the car, creating a hotbox of chemicals swirling around. A different fog from the outside.

The screen goes black for a moment as Cole covers his face with one hand. The other’s holding the pipe. When the screen fades in, there’s a few sheets of paper visible in Cole’s lap. It has starts of letters scribbled in and scrawled out. None of them legible.

Cole tops the pipe up, and he keeps smoking.

Eventually, he irritably tosses the top page away and clearly means to start again. But instead, he hesitates and tosses the rest of the paper and the pen on the driver’s seat.

“Fuck… fuck…” he mutters under his breath, hands clasping his head.

He keeps smoking.

Keeps going.

Even when sweat starts to coat Cole’s hands and his breathing starts taking on a strained, wheezing quality, he keeps going.

He only stops when the pipe slips from his hand.

The screen goes black. But the noises don’t fade. And soon, the noise of strained breathing becomes wet and gluggy. It becomes sticky coughs that only get thicker. A horrific choked gurgling.

Then there’s nothing.

Nothing until the sound of footsteps in the snow and Hank’s own voice floating in from the outside, grumbling.

“God, I think I busted my back getting the tire back here. Hey, Co--” He stops. There’s a long pause and then a sharp intake of breath. “...Cole?”

There’s no response.

“Cole. Cole!”

No response. Black screen.

“Co--”

The tape ends.

 


 

Hank stares blankly at the screen. He stares a lot longer than the promised five minutes he’d intended to stay down here, even if he didn’t count however long that tape took to play.

He can feel tears sliding down his face and soaking his cheeks and beard.

It’s a hell of a thing to remember twenty years of memory all at once.

There is a distant thought that maybe the town was being kind when it put all those puzzles and obstacles in the way. Ignorance was bliss.

But it’s there now, like someone connected the loose wires that were stopping it all linking together.

Cole didn’t die twenty years ago. It had only been the day before he’d stared over the view of Silent Hill, convincing himself that there was someone to be found there.

But there isn’t. There’s nothing here for him.

His hands crave the revolver, but it’s upstairs. So instead Hank puts his face in his hands. He slumps. And he doesn’t move for a long time.

Chapter Text

Not so long ago, a rusty old shitheap of a car parked outside a roadside bathroom that had long since been abandoned.

Not so long ago an aging, grizzled drunk had stood in that bathroom after climbing out of the car. He’d stared at the mirror--stained and filthy--after resting a half-drained bottle of scotch on the sink, not caring about hygiene standards. Or much of anything.

He was alone. The day before, he hadn’t been. But now he was.

The drunkard had held a blank piece of paper and a pen. He’d had an envelope, too. He’d stared at the mirror with reddened, dried out eyes while ideas sloshed around in his head and slowly congealed into a plan.

But the town had other ideas. Other plans.

And as the man stared, the town did its work. Shuffled reality around just a little.

The man’s eyes had glazed over for a moment. Then he’d looked at the blank piece of paper and treated it like something that it wasn’t. Then he’d stared back at the mirror again. A new reality planted in his head.

Soon he would pick up the bottle of scotch. He would turn around and walk out of the filthy bathroom. He would then walk over to the nearby view and continue to drink, staring at the town and thinking about his new circumstances. He would take his first step into town and start his search for a ghost.

But for now, he just stared into the mirror and he thought about his son.

Elsewhere in the town, Connor opened his eyes.

 


 

He was alone.

He blinked slowly, then a little faster. Staring straight ahead. His reflection stared back at him.

Slowly, he reached up and touched near where his eyes were, stretching the skin slightly as he stared. Brown. Somehow, that felt a little wrong. Then he reached up and touched his hair. Tidy, except for that one persistent lock near the front. Less wrong. He lowered his hands from his head, still staring, before adjusting his tie.

Then, almost groggily, he stared around the room he found himself in. The mirror he’d been staring at was decorated around the edges with colourful magnets and stickers. He was standing next to a child-sized bed with sheets that held the remnants of vivid, childish patterns that had faded with age. There was a bookshelf stacked with moldy picture books. An aged action figure, the paint and colour having long since peeled off to expose the plastic underneath, lay on the bedside table.

Alongside this action figure lay two other items. The only ones in this room not rotted by mold or coated in dust. A shiny quarter and a revolver.

These items belonged to him.

So the room couldn’t be his. This was a child’s room and children were not given guns by any responsible parent.

He picked up the gun first. He turned it over in his hands. A revolver. Why a revolver? Not standard issue at all. He opened and checked the chamber. Five empty. One bullet. He absently spun the chamber.

It lined up perfectly, ready to fire. He didn’t fire it, instead spinning the chamber again. Then again. And again. Every time, the bullet lined up.

He gingerly put the revolver back down, frowning. Instead, he picked up the quarter.

He turned it over in his hands. After considering the coin for a moment, he tried to do a trick. A simple one, tossing it from one hand to the other in a straight line. He flung the coin into the wall by accident. He crouched and picked it up, then tried a different trick. He tried to roll the coin over his knuckles. But it slipped through and clattered to the ground once again.

A suppressed but frustrated noise quietly stirred in his throat. He put the coin into his pocket, the corners of his mouth tensing slightly.

He picked up the revolver again. He continued absently spinning the chamber, and every time it lined up ready to fire. He closed his eyes, still spinning the chamber.

There was nobody here.

Was it because of the monsters?

He opened his eyes again and stared at his reflection again. He thought he saw a glimpse of blue. But then he blinked and saw nothing but brown again.

What was he supposed to do? He didn’t have any ammo. He couldn’t clear the town of the monstrosities that filled it. Who knew how many there were? He… he could run? But… but abandoning the town somehow didn’t sit well either. He’d be leaving behind any remaining civilians, if there were any.

He spun the chamber of the gun again, eyes flickering down to it.

A gun with one bullet was a very clear option.

He snapped the chamber shut with a click, but his fingers continued to spin it absently.

What did he want?

He…

He wanted someone to talk to. Someone that he could help. The thought of being useful was a warm comfort. More comforting than sitting here trying and failing to perform coin tricks. If he found someone… then he wouldn’t have to be alone.

Was there anyone left?

He considered leaving the gun behind. One bullet wouldn’t protect him from much. It only carried the temptation of an easy solution to this difficulty.

He took the gun with him anyway.

 


 

The town was certainly living up to its name. It was so quiet out that the silence felt thicker than the fog.

He left the small house he’d woken up in. There hadn’t been anything useful in it. Apart from the child’s bedroom, there had been an empty master bedroom, a small living room and a bathroom. It looked like anything useful had been long since cleared out of the cupboards and storage. The only exception was a notepad and pen, which he had taken for later use.

He was close to the lake. He couldn’t see it, but he knew it wasn’t far. Knew that on a less foggy day, he could have seen the faint shine of the lake water.

The streets were empty except for the occasional monster. Armless creatures with gaping holes in their chests, spitting up acidic waste. Creatures made of limbs and plastic. He anticipated a fight, but none of them bothered him if he kept his distance. They didn’t make noise. Even their footsteps seemed muffled.

His feet carried him on a path that he knew. That he--

He’s staring upwards. Everything is bigger. The fog has receded and the lake can be seen. One gloved hand is holding a cup of cocoa. His left hand is gripping another hand, larger and warmer despite being ungloved. He looks up to see short, brown hair, but the man is staring at the lake and so his face can’t be seen.

He stops. Opening and closing his left hand. He frowns slightly to himself for a moment, eyes flickering left to stare at where the lake should be. Then he continues on.

He ends up walking along the pier, footsteps making short wooden clunks as he moved. They seem unnaturally loud in the quiet. Like he was the only person in town. Or anywhere at all. For all he knew, the whole world could have dissolved.

What would he do if that were the case?

But before he had to answer that question, he came to a park. Rosewater Park. His eyes moved left to the gazebo that sat near the entrance from the pier.

There was a woman sitting in the gazebo. A white blanket spread out on the bench she was seated on. Relief flooded his gut and he walked forward, approaching much slower than he wanted to. He didn’t want to frighten her. He held his hands up, attempting to communicate that he wasn’t a monster.

The fog only seemed to get thicker behind him. From within the park, the fog seemed to press in on all sides like a solid wall. Like this park was floating in a white, cloudy void.

The woman sat with her hands resting in her lap, as calm as if she was waiting for the bus. She was in her late forties and her hair was braided and coiled in elaborate patterns. Her white and blue clothes were of high quality and had a draped, robe-like quality to them. He had never seen anyone so poised and dignified.

As he approached, the woman turned her head towards him. Her face was impassive. She regarded him expectantly, like she’d been waiting for him.

“Hello,” he said. He paused for a moment, mouth slowly and soundlessly moving before he continued. “...Amanda.”

He didn’t realise he knew her name until it passed his lips.

“My name is…”

He stops as his mind goes briefly blank. A slight blip of static that clouds over his memory. He moves his mouth silently again, his eyebrows scrunching up a little.

“My name is Connor,” he finally said. There’s an odd hitch in his chest as he says it, and he’s not sure why. It quickly passes.

Amanda watches him, head slightly tilted like someone analyzing an experiment. Then she gives him a small, tight-lipped smile that seemed devoid of any actual happiness.

“...Connor,” she said quietly. “It’s good to see you.”

Connor mimicked the smile she made, stretching his mouth without really curving the ends upwards.

“Do you need any help today, Amanda?”

“That remains to be seen. ...Why are you here, Connor?”

“To… see if you needed help?” Connor’s tone was uncertain, but yes. This felt right. Amanda had seemed a stranger just a minute ago, but now that he was here he was sure he’d known her for a very long time. “To see if you needed help,” he repeated more firmly.

“That is… kind of you,” she says after a moment of consideration. The words should be a compliment, her tone is disapproving. “But this isn’t what you’re here for.”

Connor blinked before looking down.

“I… I don’t know what I’m here for. But I would like to help you.”

Amanda lifted her head slightly, giving Connor a look that made him feel like he was being x-rayed. After a moment, she turned her head and looked away. Staring at where the lake should be.

“I’m not why you’re here.”

Connor looked at her, then looked at the fog pressing in. One hand reached out to touch the old, slightly rotted wood of the gazebo.

He was holding the paper cup of hot cocoa and staring at the lake again, sitting on the gazebo bench. The gazebo wasn’t rotten, but still had an air of age.. His knees stung from falling on the ice a couple of times, but it wasn’t a bad hurt. He had to look up to see the face of the brown-haired man with tired blue eyes, who was drinking from a paper cup of his own. He could smell cheap coffee, and he could smell the faint, lingering scent of alcohol despite an overlay of deodorant and breath mints.

“You good to give ice-skating another go?” the alcohol-scented man asks.

Looking up, he nods and grins. His face is numb from the cold and his nose is runny and red, but it doesn’t matter. He feels happy, so happy that his chest might burst.

Connor removes his hand from the wood of the gazebo. He blinks, then looks at the bench. Amanda had left while Connor was zoning out. The blanket is gone, too. It’s as if she was never there.

He frowns at the empty gazebo. Then he turns and continues to wander, for lack of any other ideas.

 


 

Connor doesn’t go far before he sees someone else. A small figure moving in the fog.

A little girl with brown hair and sad eyes, who bolts across the road, ducks into a street alley and vanishes from sight as quickly as she appeared. Connor immediately turned in that direction, picking up speed to see if he could find her.

This wasn’t the sort of place a child should be alone in.

“Hello?” Connor called out as he veered down the alley. He got no response.

He emerges in a new street and sees no-one. But he does find a puddle of blue, sticky liquid that’s thick and viscous, too thick to be water or any close relative. It’s trailing off towards a different road.

Connor dips his fingers in it, checking whether it’s fresh or dry. Fresh. He has the fingers halfway to his mouth before wondering why. He didn’t even know what this was. He sees streaks in the puddle that indicate that someone else swiped their fingers through it recently.

The blue liquid led up the road. Connor made to take a step forward.

He was looking down at a horrific, armless creature with blue and orange-brown puddling all around it. He prodded the creature with his foot before looking down at his leg. The pant leg had dissolved, and the skin was red and had white blisters springing up on it. It stung.

“What the fuck is it?”

Connor stopped. Leg still raised slightly to step forward. Free of blisters or burns. Nausea floods his stomach and his nose is filled with the scent of puke and a chemical smell that matches the liquid on his fingers.

...Not that way.

Connor turned and went the opposite way of where the blue stains were trailing.

Only to find more blue stains a few streets away. These ones… They didn’t make Connor itch. He knelt down and touched them. These were dry.

They led to the door of a large, oddly clean house with a front gate. Connor touched the front gate, hands running over largely unrusted metal. There was a small plaque on the gate.

 

Doctor Elijah Kamski

 

Connor knocked on the front door before entering. He knew there was no point in doing so. It was likely that this place was abandoned, given the state of the rest of the town. But he knocked anyway.

There was a click. And the door creaked open on its own. Connor stared at the now open door for a moment, then slowly ventured in.

The inside of the home was dusty, but otherwise tidy. It was sparsely decorated to the extent that it looked like a store advertising a house’s furniture rather than an actual lived-in space. Connor looked at the lobby room that he’d entered into.

There were two chairs, clearly designed for people to wait in. There was a painting. A portrait, larger than life. A man in a suit who stared down at Connor with a smug, enigmatic smile. He was not familiar.

Connor stared upwards at this painting for a moment, then went about searching the house. But each room was much the same. Sparsely decorated and barely lived in. Like someone was too busy keeping up appearances to do anything with those appearances. He passes a mirror on the wall in one of the little hallways, and stops to check his tie once more. The sterile surroundings are making him feel self-conscious.

It was only when he found a study that he found anything out of the ordinary. A desk that, contrary to everything else, was covered in pieces of paper and photos. Old-fashioned, black and white. Connor touched some of the sheets, moving them aside as his eyes slid over them. Many seemed to be official documents of sorts. Patient records and accounts of--

His fingers, covered in plastic gloves, push aside some of the photos of two men dealing in something that sparkles red. The sight of even a photo makes his throat dry. He slides past that photo, pushing it aside and finding a different one. The same two men, with a couple of other men in the background.

The focus of the picture isn’t on those people, but that’s where his eyes go. A young man wearing a jacket and a beanie, trying so hard to appear discreet that it’s having the opposite effect. His face is familiar. He’s seen it in the mirror. His hands pluck this picture out, and slide in a different picture. Different viewpoint, but the same men. The same scene, but with the beanie-wearing man shielded from view.

His hands crumple the original photo before shoving it in his pocket. He peels the plastic gloves off, too, and shoves them in that same pocket. He turns and leaves, anxiety making a lump in his throat. He walks past glass and along tiled floors, and spots a ruckus. A blur of grey hair and a vibrantly patterned shirt assaulting another man--

Connor blinks a few times. Thumbs rubbing over his fingers, feeling that odd powdery texture that came with plastic gloves for a moment. Then he continues pushing various letters and photos aside.

Most of these hold no interest for him. But then he spots a familiar name in a letter lying open on the desk, an old-fashioned but nicely decorated fountain pen lying next to it. Connor slid the letter towards himself and read it.

 

"A man offered a serpent to the sun and prayed for salvation. A woman offered a reed to the sun and asked for joy. Feeling pity for the sadness that had overrun the earth, God was born from these two people.”

I find it fascinating that the Order has such a high opinion of itself, that it believes humanity gave birth to God. And yet, centuries of time and we can’t recreate that promised rebirth. We must be missing something, musn’t we? That is the flaw in indoctrination, isn’t it? No-one ever has any new ideas.

Please do not tell the Order I said that. They may just toss me on the altar next and be done with my blasphemy.

I have ideas, Amanda. And you’re the only one I trust to listen and perhaps offer something more than accusations and a rampant amount of angry pointing. I don’t believe we can do the things we do and still be allowed to walk the path to Paradise. But I’m fascinated to see what would open the path for others.

Tell me it isn’t worth the risk, Amanda.

 

As Connor’s eyes slid over it, he thought he heard a voice. A male one, unfamiliar. Incredibly casual, for all that it seemed to speak to him from all sides or from no tangible source at all.

“Be a dear and deliver that for me, would you?”

Connor turned, looking around at the empty room. Then he picked up the letter and left the house. Feet taking him back to Rosewater Park.

 


 

Amanda was there when Connor got there, as he knew she would be.

She’d left the boundaries of the gazebo, however, and was seated in a corner of the park instead. She held a pair of gardening shears, and was attempting to prune the overgrown, colourless flower beds. The white blanket was spread out beneath her, preventing her clothing from getting too dirty. Despite the nature of her work, there was not yet a smudge on her white fabrics.

Connor approached, and the fog got thick and impenetrable around the boundaries of the park once more.

“Hello, Amanda.”

“You are not focused today. Are you, Connor?” Her tone was brusque and cold.

Connor said nothing. He just held the letter out to her, waiting for her to turn and look. She did only after clipping away a couple of rotten blossoms.

When she did, however, there was an expression besides cold indifference that flickered across her face. Confusion. She reached out and took the letter, opening it. As her eyes slid over it, recognition then crossed her face.

She lowered the letter, staring ahead for a moment before her eyes closed.

“Ah,” she said simply.

“I found that at--”

“At the Kamski mansion. Yes, I’d know his writing anywhere.”

Her eyes are still closed. A smile tightens her lips again. But it feels slightly more real than the one she’d offered Connor earlier.

“I suppose he couldn’t wait for my input,” she remarked quietly. “Why did you bring me this?”

“Your name was in it,” Connor said. After a moment he added, “Someone asked me to. ...I don’t know if it was Kamski. I couldn’t see him.”

Amanda didn’t say anything for a long time. She opens her eyes only to stare ahead, deep in thought. Then she placed the letter down and started examining the flowers again. As she did, Connor knelt and started plucking the trimmed leaves from the ground and gathering them in a small pile, making it so that they could be cleared away easily later.

“You went to his house. You heard him,” Amanda said, her tone cold again. Clinical, reciting facts. “He spoke to you but didn’t appear.”

“That is correct.”

“Interesting.” Amanda clipped a blossom from the flowerbed and examined it. It was old and withered. “I did not expect that. But I did not expect you to come here, either.”

“Why wouldn’t I come here?” Connor asked, head tilting.

“You’re here,” Amanda repeated. “Perhaps the town is in the mood to grant a miracle.”

Her gaze moved to the side, like she was listening to something else. A distant voice or strain of music. She gazed off for that moment, then returned her attention to the flowers.

“You wanted to help, Connor?”

Connor straightened up a little in anticipation, watching Amanda carefully.

“There is an old apartment complex not far from here. Inside, look for an apartment that is covered in paintings and anything indicative of taxidermy-based interests. Within, there should be a bottle of white liquid.”

Amanda turned her head, fixing her stare on him.

“Find this bottle. Take it to Kamski’s home and leave it where you found the letter. Then return here. I’d like to know if you were successful.”

Connor nodded slightly. “I’m assuming there must be some form of obstacle. I’d be willing to escort you if you’d like to see Kamski yourself.”

“What is an obstacle for me is not an obstacle for you.” Amanda’s eyes bored through him for a moment before she gave him another tight-lipped, joyless smile. “If anyone can do this for me, it’s you.”

“I retrieve the bottle of white liquid. I give it to Kamski. And you’ll get a miracle?” Connor asked slowly. It seemed overly simple.

“The chance is still small,” Amanda admitted. “Miracles are not for everyone, no matter how often Kamski chased them.”

“Understood.” Connor again mimicked her smile. “Statistically speaking, there’s always a chance for unlikely events to take place.”

He pushed the discarded blossoms and leaves into a small pile, then got up.

“I’ll be back once I’ve accomplished my mission.”

Amanda didn’t respond. She just stared distantly at her withered flower bed.

 


 

Blue Creek Apartments was the first set of apartments that Connor came to, entering from the back and approaching the emergency stairwell. The actual entrance had been fenced off. However, when Connor opened the door that should have led him up the stairs, he was met with a wall of solid ice.

“...Huh.”

Connor nudged the ice with his foot, then slowly closed the door. He wasn’t sure what type of malfunction could have caused that. Air conditioning mixed with flooding? It wasn’t worth deliberating on.

Instead, Connor walked around the perimeter of the apartments until he found a chain-link fence. Climbing over was tricky but not undoable. He supposed this would potentially class as breaking and entering under normal circumstances, but he was sure that any tenants would understand if they were still present.

From there, he walked through a small, concrete courtyard. There were monsters wandering about in the empty, stained pool that took up much of it. Connor glanced over, judging that the monsters could not reach him since they had no arms to pull themselves out of the—

“—really a good thing for everyone if I dominate the market. Otherwise you’ll get that shitty garage-style red flooding the streets again.”

A man is pulling himself out of the pool, water sparkling faintly as the last rays of the sun shone on it. An odd luxurious tint to what was otherwise a fairly cheap motel. The man—shaved head and somewhat overweight—smelt of cheap liquor, and that was familiar, but he also smelt of smoke, and that was less familiar.

“It’ll work out for the both of us, you understand?” the man says, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder like he’s an old friend. However, his grip is iron.

“Give me the names and I’ll consider it.”

“’Consider it,’ Detective? Can’t have me scratching your back if I’m going to get a dagger in my own once I turn away.” The shaved man grinned at him, teeth rotten from ice use, and added, “I can’t imagine your old man would be happy if—”

Connor blinks out of it with anxiety and shame twisting hot in his gut.

He shuts his eyes and tries to still his breathing. This was starting to become very inconvenient. If it’d happened closer to the monsters, he might have ended up soaked in acid while in the middle of a… daydream?

Connor glanced at the pool again, still fighting a wave of anxiety, and he saw a small glimmer of metal.

Connor paused, then neared the empty pool. He waited until the monsters had staggered off towards the other end—he would hate to be in vomiting range of them—before jumping into the pool, grabbing the metal item and pulling himself out.

He waited until he was some distance away before examining what he’d picked up. It was a coin, but one different from the quarter in his pocket. It was a little bigger, made of brass and had an odd weight to it. On its surface was carved a picture of a hanging man.

Connor tried to roll it over his knuckles, but the weight was unwieldy. So he put it in his pocket instead, but he retrieved the quarter instead. He tried to roll the coin over his knuckles, and did succeed in not dropping it this time. However, the trick itself was slow and slightly fumbled. It was an improvement, but the imperfection irritated him even as the process of rolling the coin calmed him.

He entered Blue Creek Apartments, and started his search.

Connor combed the first floor quickly, looking for paintings and stuffed animals, but he didn’t find anything of the sort. The only item of note was a set of drawers in Room 105.

The drawers attracted his attention because they were clearly custom-made. A burnished plaque sat on it, and there were five holes carved into the wood. Holes that perfectly matched the coin he was carrying.

Connor tilted his head as he read the plaque. A poem talking about coins. Coins that he wasn’t holding, since none of them referenced a normal quarter. Connor retrieved the brass coin and held it up, lining it up with one of the holes. Same size.

The last two lines clearly referred to the coin he’d found.

 

'Tis to the Prisoner’s left
that he doth rot

 

A puzzle. The idea made Connor’s mind tickle pleasantly. But Amanda needed his help and he only possessed one coin.

Connor looked down at the brass coin, then slowly placed it on top of the drawer. Hopefully whoever came by next might have the other coins. Then he moved on.

He didn’t find much of anything on the second floor, either. The third floor was similarly empty. Many doors were locked. Connor decided that he could come back if he didn’t find what he needed.

He walked along, exploring, until he reached the fire escape and opened it.

It just led out into the open air. There was another apartment directly across and it had a large, open window for him to climb through if he stepped over the gap.

This was an unacceptable hazard. Connor made a mental note to report this building for extraordinarily terrible fire safety standards as he stepped across.

This new apartment is similar to the last, old and rotten. But the floor is awash with puddles, and Connor’s boots slosh as he walks. He tries to move quietly, but watery noises follow him.

It is only at the final apartment that he finds what he was looking for. The door is unlocked, and when Connor creaks it open his eyes are met with a riot of colour that almost makes them sting. He’s not sure he’s ever seen so much color in one place.

Connor’s eyes roam over animal skins and stuffed animals, and over the distorted portrait paintings hanging on the wall. Finally, they come to rest on a small table by a cushy, though slightly stained, armchair.

The bottle rests on that table. A pointed bottle with a cloudy, white liquid. It is not the only item on the table. There is also a book with a crimson cover, a piece of paper and a coin that is similar to the one he found earlier. Only this one is silver and has a portrait of an old man.

Connor picks up the bottle, weighing it in his hands. After a moment, and despite better judgement saying he shouldn’t, he unscrews it and sniffs the contents. It immediately sends an odd shock through his nose. The closest he can compare it to is the scent of fresh rain, magnified tenfold, and it leaves his nose tingly.

He is tempted to try and taste a drop of it. But he wonders if that would interfere with what Amanda needs it for. Even just sniffing it might have—

“This is such bullshit. You are such bullshit,” a man grumbles as he stares at him. Unkempt, with three days of stubble and a small but fresh scar across his nose.

He’s glaring at the small bottles of white pills in front of him like they’ve personally done him a wrong, occasionally cross-referencing what he’s looking at with paperwork that he’s holding. There’s a weird, fresh scent in the air. Even with the pills bottled up like they are.

“How is this my fault?”

“Because you’re shit, and it’s making me look like shit. Only I don’t get the nice cushion of having a washed-up drunk of a dad who did something cool fifty years ago.”

“Twenty-one,” he mutters under his breath. “Get off my dick, Gavin. I didn’t ask for—“

“I’ll get off your dick when you grow one. Either way, now we’re stuck tracking PTV and it’s gonna go nowhere.” The unshaven man rubs one hand across his eyes before saying, “I can bullshit the rest of this. Every PTV shipment leads right back to Silent Hill and then goes cold. Can’t find shit in that bumfuck nowhere tourist town. Token effort, then maybe Fowler’ll let me do something actually important. Hey. Get me a coffee, dipshit.”

“Get fucked.”

“Whatever. You’d just fuck that up, too.”

Connor carefully screwed the lid back onto the bottle. Definitely something he shouldn’t go smelling. He put the bottle in his jacket before eying the piece of paper. Curiosity won out, and he picked it up.

It’s covered in handwriting. A poem or prayer written in delicate, elaborate cursive. But there are other notes in a different handwriting and different ink scrawled in the margins.

 

When the Crimson Words are found,
I shall dedicate this thing.
Oh, you Gods deep in slumber,
Grant us fortune eternal.

 

This one is the least marked. It just has a tick next to it. Connor’s eyes drift to the side to look at the red book, then they slide back to continue reading.

 

When the White Breath is found,
I shall dedicate this thing.
Oh, Spirit of the Mist,
Grant us fortune eternal.

 

That paragraph is bordered with words. Many of them crammed together. One word can be distinguished. ‘Flowers?’ Then there’s a small, inky sketch of a girl with a braid, done absently but with great skill. After that, however, the word ‘Apartment’ is written. Finally, there’s a checkmark beside it.

There is one more paragraph.

 

When the Dark Grail is found,
I shall dedicate this thing.
You who deny Death,
Grant us fortune eternal.

 

That one has question marks scrawled into the margins along with a list of locations. ‘Apartment.’ ‘Hospital.’ ‘Museum.’ ‘Mansion.’ The word ‘apartment’ has since been crossed out.

Connor wonders if this is the same miracle that Amanda wants. He wonders if there’s more than one miracle to go around. Is it a miracle if it works for everyone?

He puts the sheet of paper down. His fingers itch to pick up the coin, too. But he’s already stealing from whoever owns these things. He shouldn’t steal more. He hopes they can still get their miracle. But Amanda asked him first.

He turns and leaves. Feet splashing through the puddles. He hopes he can remember the way back to—

He was staring at a creature behind metal bars in a narrow hallway. It was humanoid, but red crystals sprouted from its torso and consumed most of its head, if it had ever possessed a head at all. One pale, tired eye stared out of the crystals. It stared through the bars. And it didn’t move.

Static screamed in his ears and cold sweat ran down his face.

Connor comes to holding the revolver straight ahead, aiming at a creature that isn’t there. He slightly lowers it, exhaling, before returning it to his holster. Sweat really is trickling slightly down the side of his face. He reaches up and wipes it away, combing his hair back with his fingers as he does so.

He slowly starts moving forward again, and steps through that horrific fire hazard back into the original apartment. The halls are very similar to the one that the crystalline creature was standing in, but there’s no bars. Still, he feels uneasy.

He starts to head downstairs, and hears movement on the second floor.

Footsteps. Then a slamming noise. Silence. Then footsteps. A slamming noise. Silence.

Connor walks down the stairs anyway, but stops and slows down. He squints into the dark hallways and spots movement.

The faint light shows a silhouette of a man with his gun out, facing one of the doors. The prior two have been kicked in, and he’s clearly preparing to do the same to Room 207. Connor wonders if this was the person he’d just stolen from, or whether this is some other stranger.

As the man kicks open this third door, light from inside briefly illuminates his face. Connor knows this man.

He can’t see anything except red smoke that seems to press against the plastic visor over his face. He feels shattered glass under his feet. But he can hear too much as he crouches behind a flipped-over table.

Gunfire. Something shattering. Shouts. Someone’s yelling orders at him and they’re just not registering. He’s frozen. Fear is coursing through his body like blood, pinning him to his position. He can’t breathe, even with the mask on.

He remains until the gunfire stops. There’s a pained hiss followed by an incoherent, badly-pronounced swear. Then another, then several more. A chain of fucks, each one sounding clogged. Legs go past him as a man with another mask steps past him. His hands are trying to pull the mask off.

He follows and sees Gavin yank his mask off outside. Words about safety die in his throat when he sees that the visor of the mask has been broken to pieces. A bullet skimmed so close to it either the bullet or the mask shattering left a gash across Gavin’s nose, which is steadily dripping blood.

“Fhk,” he hisses, touching his face. Then he looks over. He looks furious. “Great job covering me! What the fuck were you doing?!”

He has no words. He turns and heads back inside, wanting to avoid that accusing stare and knowing he can’t be followed with a broken mask. He can hear other cops moving about the smoky mess. It’s a red ice lab. Something had broken during the raid, hence all the smoke. There was a tray with a lot of red crystals inside it, clearly having been in the middle of being examined. The tweezers used to hold the crystals up to the light were still lying in the tray.

He reaches out to touch, then pauses. Closes his hand and lowers it again.

Gunfire breaks through Connor’s haze as he hears three shots from inside. He presses his back to the wall and waits, and hears something hit the ground. Then slower footsteps. Followed by another pause.

“...Shit,” he hears Gavin mutter. “Shit. Shittttt.”

Connor starts to move forward to see what’s happening inside. He should. Whatever is occurring… there were gunshots. Something hit the floor, and it sounded heavy. As he walked forward, he touched the revolver. One bullet… if this man was harming people—

He moves towards the door, but something stutters in his vision. He’s back where he started, further down the hall. He tries again, and it happens once more. It’s disorientating. Is he moving back? Is he tired and stumbling and not recalling it?

He pauses. Touches his revolver again. He feels like whoever this person is… they won’t be happy to see him. They’re jittery and they’re armed. He has one bullet and that might not be enough. He could miss. He could be too slow. If he dies, no-one will help Amanda achieve her miracle.

Yes. It’s rational to turn around and leave. He does so, walking away from the mutterings.

The trip out of the apartments goes smoothly after that. He crosses the courtyard and climbs back over the fence, and he starts to walk the path towards Kamski’s home. He can feel the bottle of white liquid weighing in his pocket.

What will he do afterwards? Once he’s finished helping? Continue helping Amanda? That sounds nice. She would probably want to leave Silent Hill soon. There wasn’t much here. Although the idea of leaving the town was hard to conceive. What was outside the town? Connor had never been.

He was sure he hadn’t.

He wondered if it was this foggy there.

As he thought about it, he heard a voice call out. A woman’s voice.

“Alice! Alice!”

He heard footsteps accompanying the voice, and turned to see a woman walking in his direction. Short hair dyed white, blue eyes that were framed with bruises on one side. Clothing that had clearly been scavenged. She had a gun tucked into her pants. No holster available. Her eyes were sweeping her surroundings as she called out.

Connor raised his hands on instinct, walking towards her.

“Hello,” he said. “Are you looking for someone?”

The woman didn’t look at him. She didn’t respond. She walked right by him like he wasn’t even there.

Connor tilted his head, frowning, before turning and following her. Keeping at a brisk pace in order to do so.

“Alice!” she yelled, hands cupped around her mouth. Apparently uncaring of the risk of monsters if it meant finding the person she sought.

“Ma’am. If you continue calling out like that, you might attract unwelcome attention,” Connor said, reaching out to touch her shoulder. Trying to do so gently, in case the problem was that she was missing one or more of the five senses and simply hadn’t noticed him.

His hand misses. She’s inches away, and yet he misses. He tries again, and it’s like there’s a stutter in his view. He reaches out, his hands are almost there, then suddenly they’re not.

Something curdles in the pit of Connor’s stomach. A slow, dawning realization that something is very wrong.

She moves a little further, still unaware of him, before slowing to a stop. She puts one hand on her hip, and the other comes up to rub the side of her face where the bruises are gathered. Her stance is just a little unsteady.

She needs medical help. That much is obvious.

Connor can’t give that to her. Not personally.

Pushing down questions that he knows neither of them can answer, shoving away that sour horror in his gut, he instead pulls the notepad and pen from his pocket. He knows this town. He was born here. He can draw a map to the hospital, and does so quickly.

Then he tears the page and holds it in front of her face. Then he lets go, allowing it to flutter by her.

Almost immediately, she turns and her eyes train on the glimmer of movement as the piece of paper falls to the floor. She looks at the piece of paper, reaching out warily to touch it as if it might attack. After some hesitation, she picks it up and looks at it. Then she turns on the spot and clearly searching for the source. Once more, her eyes simply slide over Connor.

“Hello?” she calls out.

Connor doesn’t try responding. He just turns and leaves.

As he does, he briefly glances down at his hands. He has questions. He doesn’t think they matter, at least not right now.

For now, he’d helped. That was enough.

Soon, he comes to Kamski’s home once more. He knocks, and the door opens for him again. He walks back to the study he’d found the letter for Amanda in.

He places the bottle on top of the desk. He waits, looking around. He wonders if Kamski is doing what he did to the white-haired woman only a few minutes ago. Walking around him, getting frustrated at an inability to make contact or communicate.

He feels, for the faintest moment, someone touch his shoulder. He turns, but sees nothing. He turns back, and the bottle of white liquid is gone.

He hopes that means his mission is complete. At the same time, he also dreads it.

Connor walks out of the study and heads for the exit, and passes by the mirror that he had earlier checked his tie in. He turns towards it and instinctively does so again. Then he stops. He leans forward and presses his fingertips to the surface. Brown eyes stare back.

He’s just—

He’s breathing hard. He’s slamming his fists down, and with each smack they sink into something soft wrapping something harder. There’s cloudy rage pulsing through his body like a heartbeat. Through the neck, the spine, tightening his chest and making him scream words that might be gibberish.

And then the anger fades. The heat dwindling and being replaced by cold horror.

He straightens and stands. There’s a dresser nearby, an old-fashioned one with a burnished mirror. Out of place amongst the mostly cheap furniture. He stares at himself in the mirror—dishevelled hair, angry flushed face, blue eyes bloodshot red—before slamming his fists down on the dresser.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”

He’s not even the only person in here, but everyone else is too out of it to pay attention to him. They’re lying on the floor or on the bed or whatever seat they can find. Some are staring at a television in the corner. The whole room smells of varying chemicals, some unfamiliar amongst the usual scent of red ice. There’s a man close to his age on the floor, back resting against the bed, pipe in hand but smoking something that issues white smoke rather than red. He’s watching with spaced-out interest.

He’s staring at the bloodied body on the ground, of a shaved and somewhat overweight man. Then at his own hands, still clenched with liquid dripping in thick strings off his knuckles. He slowly opens them, looking down at the splatter.

“Fuck… fuck!”

He needs to hit something else. So this time, his hands go for the mirror.

Connor smashes his fist into the mirror. Then he blinks. Blinks a few times, anger and revulsion stirring in his gut. He looks down at his hands. They’re dry and clean, but they feel sticky. His knuckles sting, but when he looks at them there’s no marks. No sign that he punched a mirror. Or beat a man to death.

He leaves quickly, leaving broken shards behind him. He thinks he hears a mutter about rude guests, but doesn’t have it in him to apologise.

 


 

 

The walk back feels lengthy.

He doesn’t know what to think. He doesn’t understand.

Would Amanda understand?

He walks along the road leading to the pier, fog pressing in. It’s cold. It’s so cold. Connor walks with his arms curled around himself. He knows each step he takes like the back of his hand. This is his town. He knows it is.

But so many of those memories… they’re not his town.

They’re not his.

He speeds up. He breaks into a run. He makes his way back to the park, the noise under his feet turning into wooden clunks as he travels the pier, before becoming soft as he moves over grass once more.

He finds Amanda standing in the middle of the park. She’s holding a parasol, and he can’t ascertain why. There is no sun to block out, not in this fog. As Connor races over the boundaries of the park, once more the fog seems to thicken behind him.

Amanda doesn’t turn towards him, even as Connor skids to a halt next to her. She’s staring distantly at the concrete gateway and the elaborately-wrought metal gate that decorates the other entrance of the park.

“Thank you, Connor,” she says. “Whether anything comes of it or not, at least now a miracle can be attempted. I only wish I could see it happen. But that’s beyond either you or I.”

She turned to face him, eying him somberly. She doesn’t smile this time.

“You look lost,” she observes.

“Are you real, Amanda?” It’s the only question Connor can properly latch onto. The only one he can ask without having to trip over explanations of the mess inside his head.

Amanda twirled her parasol slowly, giving Connor a stern, disapproving look. “Are you asking because you have doubts about me? Or because you have doubts about yourself? What do you consider real, Connor? Are you asking whether I’m flesh and blood? If I have a soul? If I can affect the world around me? If I am my own person?”

Connor didn’t respond. He just looked down for a moment, mouth tightening in frustration. He looked up again.

“That’s not an answer, Amanda.”

“No, it isn’t. I cannot leave this garden. Within its boundaries… I suppose I am real enough for your purposes.” She gave Connor that tight-lipped smile once more. “You treat reality as if it is an absolute.”

“Isn’t it?”

“In most places, yes. In Silent Hill? That is a subject of contention.”

“I don’t understand,” Connor said slowly.

Amanda turned away.

“Connor… the gods are here. You know that they are. You were born here. There are things here that neither of us can ever really understand. We can only play our parts.” Amanda gazed distantly at the fog. “This town can grant incredible things, if it feels like doing so. You… you are proof of that.”

“I…” Connor stopped for a moment, eyes flickering downwards, before he said, “I don’t think that I can be classed as ‘incredible.’ I am having… difficulties.”

Amanda said nothing, simply waiting for him to continue.

“I possess memories that are not my own, and they are becoming progressively harder to distinguish from reality.”

“Why do you say they are not your own?”

“Because…”

Connor’s first thought is the eyes. The blue eyes in the mirror. But that’s not truly the sticking point.

“Because he made bad decisions. I would make better ones.”

“Of course you would,” Amanda said. “That’s why you’re here. That is why you were made. You were designed to accomplish a task, and that task was to be better. So that when he comes to find you, he finds the you that he actually wanted.”

“I don’t… I don’t understand. I still don’t understand.”

Amanda turned back to him, twirling her parasol. This time, her stare was focused.

“What do you think of Lieutenant Anderson?”

The name hits Connor like a truck.

Memories. A rain of incoherent emotion and flashes of brown merging into grey, of wrinkles appearing over the years, of a well-dressed, tidy man going to seed and smelling more strongly of alcohol and bacon grease each year—

“Why didn’t you pay for your meal, Dad?”

“Gary’s a friend. I scratch his back, he scratches mine.”

The Lieutenant leaning over his desk and eying his paperwork, and quietly pointing out what he’s done wrong this time before moving off to clock in or out. The Lieutenant arguing with Fowler, gesturing vaguely through the glass at him. The Lieutenant slamming his fist down on Gavin’s desk, telling him to knock shit off. Gratitude. Irritation. The Lieutenant giving a glare over to whatever cop was eying him down, accusations of nepotism. Shame. Resentment.

Anderson grins, having heard of the dealers that he pulled in, all by himself. Pride coloured with shame. Then later still, the grin is replaced by silent suspicion when those records get too good and he can’t figure out how. Just shame. Anderson raging and throwing red crystals down the toilet. Anderson sighing quietly at the next lot. Anderson saying nothing at the third. Anger. Anger. Red-smoked anger.

“It helps me. I don’t freeze. It’s just a little bit.”

“Fucking Christ, Cole. You can’t just fix your issues with ice.”

“Do you have a better idea?!”

Hank chugs booze straight from the bottle when he has to admit what he’d done, what he does, covers his face for a moment, covering disappointment and embarrassment. Shame. Hank runs at Perkins like it’s his life mission. Hank grips him by the shoulders and makes him promise that this will be the only time, the last time, and it isn’t, it never is. Hank still giving him hugs when he does real good on a job, no matter what it took to get there. No matter how much shit is between. Pride. Warmth.

Dad holds his hand as he slides about on the ice. Dad laughs as he runs around wearing that smelly police jacket while Mom glares at Dad. Dad sinks into his work, more distant as the divorce takes its toll. Dad smiles when his son follows him into the work. Pride. Anxiety. Inadequacy. Dad lying on the ice after being hurled through the windshield. Fear. Worry. FEAR. Dad driving that rustbucket car and pulling up alongside him after he panicked and walked along the highway, hands still faintly sticky with the blood of another man.

“I can’t make this go away, Cole.”

“...Yeah. I know.”

“So what are we going to do? Where were you going?”

“...Do you remember where we went ice-skating, the year that you and Mom split up?”

Dad slamming his hands against the steering wheel when the tire goes out. Dad promising he’ll be back soon. Dad disappearing into the fog. Shame and relief and hatred twisting hot and furious in his gut, and building and building and building—Building too far. Spilling. Spilling.

“Connor?”

Connor’s out of breath. He’s sucking in air and it’s coming out wet. A damp hiccup escapes and he covers his mouth to try and suppress it, then reaches up and wipes at his eyes with the palm of his hand.

Amanda eyes him dispassionately. She waits for him to regain the slightest bit of composure before reaching out and resting a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t feel it, even though he can see it.

“You’re designed to accomplish a task, Connor. I’m sure you’ll do well.”

And she’s gone. Connor never sees her leave.

He stands in the park for a long time. Then he turns and he slowly walks towards the pier. He scrubs at his eyes. They’re drying, but they’re not quite there yet. He crosses his arms on the pier’s railing. He rests his head on them. He doesn’t move for a while.

He feels a chain wrapped around his throat. Blue is trickling onto his face. The skin around the chain is bulging and he’s getting light-headed. He’s dying. Acceptance is the first emotion that ripples through his gut. And the chain lets go.

Connor reaches up and rubs his neck, straightening up. He can feel dark relief coursing through his chest, followed by disappointment. It continues, even as the sight and feel fades. It’s not his. Not feelings that belong to him.

Do any of his feelings belong to him? Or are they all Cole’s? He’s not Cole. But which parts of him are him? Which are Cole? Which belong to the father he was made for? And which of it is just the town?

Connor looked upwards, as if he’d see something more than fog staring back.

He was designed to accomplish a task.

But this task…

He didn’t want it. He wanted to help people. He wanted to do something worth it. Not be an implement for… whatever this town wanted with Da—Hank. Hank. Not Dad.

Connor retrieved the quarter from his pocket, and started to roll it over his knuckles. This time, it went perfectly. Calm started to take over. But underlying it were emotions he still couldn’t trace to himself. Resentment bubbling away. Hatred of this town—that one probably wasn’t him, it was his town, but then again—and a sheer amount of pure want. The desire for companionship. Or a desire for death. Possibly both.

Connor continued to play with the quarter with one hand, but the other touched his revolver. Still with the one bullet.

The town had given him this gun. Was it an exit?

Connor pulled the revolver out. He stared at it, a frown on his face. The urge—the need—to pull the trigger… was that his? Was it Cole’s? Was it Hank’s? He stared at the gun, then at the coin. He flipped the coin up into the air experimentally.

He did so a few times. Each flip he caught let loose a small, metallic ting that nonetheless carried far.

He didn’t want to do this task, and yet he hated the alternative. Yet he craved that alternative, and wanted to fulfill his task. He wanted to be useful.

Heads or Tails.

Heads, and he would use the gun. Opt out rather than deal with this any longer. Leave Hank on his own. For better or for worse.

Tails, and he would continue. He would be the Cole that Hank wanted. For better or for worse.

Connor flipped the coin a final time and caught it, but didn’t yet look at the result. He held the quarter in his hands, and the other hand raised the revolver. Jamming it under his chin. He half-expected another little stutter to stop him from doing so. But nothing interfered.

A voice faintly breaks through the fog.

“Cole?”

The voice is hoarse and decrepit. And is soon accompanied by the crackle of a radio.

Connor walks a few paces back towards the park and he sees him. Grey hair and a vibrant shirt. Three of the vomiting creatures are advancing on him. He’s bruised and battered, and there are red welts around his neck where he was choked with a metal chain. He’s still shouting despite that.

Something in Connor’s chest tightens. His fingers start to loosen on the coin, still covering up the result.

Hank shoots down one of the vomiting creatures. Then two. Screaming his rage at them.

“Why the fuck can’t you leave me alone? The fuck do you want with me?!”

Connor knew what he wanted. Or knew what the town wanted.

Then the last creature lunged, wrapping its legs around Hank and clinging for dear life, spilling acid onto him and burning through his jacket. No bullets, no weapon, he’s going to di--

Connor removes the revolver from beneath his chin. He raises the gun and points it square at the creature. The gunshot muffles his whispered ‘Dad’ as he fires his only bullet.

The creature holds on for a moment, then lets go and lands on the ground with a wet thud. Hank stepped back, not looking at Connor immediately. Instead, he starts reloading his gun just in case. As he does, Connor finally opens his hand and looks down at the result of the coin.

Heads.

...But he’s made his choice now.

Connor shuts his eyes. And he lets what the town wants him to be seep in. When he opens his eyes, he’s calm and composed. Just as he needs to be. Hank is staring back at him, still mostly obscured by the fog.

“...Cole?”

Connor cocks his head to the side, lowering the gun. He takes a step forward, and sees palpable disappointment swamp Hank’s face once he notices the deep brown eyes.

It hurts. It hurts more than anything.

But he squashes down the hurt. Even so, bitter resolution replaces the pit in his stomach where the hurt was.

Fine.

He’d play his role.

“My name is Connor,” he said firmly.

He’d be what Hank wanted him to be. He’d play the role of the son so well that Hank would never even remember he’d had a child before him.

Chapter Text

Hank couldn’t say if he sat there for a few minutes or several hours. Either was equally plausible. He sat, with his face in his hands. Slumped. Craving many things. A revolver. Booze. His son. His stomach crawled and his face was soaked and he just…

“Cole…”

He sits there. And he tugs at the tangle of feelings and regrets in his chest, and he tries to make something out of the ball of yarn that it is.

He has a long time to think, and there are so many things for his mind to linger on. He doesn’t know how long he sits there. Only what breaks him out of it.

What breaks him out of it is the television spluttering back to life. It doesn’t play the tape again, thank god, Hank doesn’t think he could withstand it a second time. There are no visuals, it’s just static. Just snow.

But there’s noise. It’s clogged by static, but a voice makes its way through.

The television turns back on. And a voice speaks out.

“Dad? Dad? Where are you?”

Hank raises his head as the television flickers. He knows that voice. And he knows he’s heard this before, when he first picked up the radio. But it’s just a little clearer now.

“Dad? I’m waiting. Dad, I’m… I’m scared. Dad? Are you coming back?”

Hank reaches out to touch the television screen, the static causing his fingers to prickle.

“Dad, please… Don’t leave me here. Don’t leave me again. Dad? Hurry. Hurry back. I’m near. I’m nearby. Are you lost, Dad?”

Hank presses his fingers tighter into the screen, as if doing so will allow him to reach through and grab his son. But it doesn’t work like that.

“Do you hate me? Is it because I’m a fuck up? Is that why you won’t come back?”

Hank presses his forehead to the television screen, eyes shut. Then he pulls away and gets to his feet, turning and walking back the way he came.

“I want to see you. Dad? Can you hear me, Dad? I want to see you. Dad… Dad… Dad...”

The static-distorted voice of his son follows him, repeating that one word over and over, as he moves back into the dark corridor before it fades into the distance.

The corridor has changed since he last walked it. His feet come into contact with hard, cold ice covering everything. The Plastics are still lying about, but they’re all frozen over like age-old Neanderthals preserved in a glacier. There’s no more orange flickers. The scent of chemicals still lingers, but it’s not as strong. Hank’s feet crunch over them as he continues back. His arms wrap around himself, the jacket still upstairs and unable to protect him from the chill.

The bodies of the Plastics trail off, but the ice remains. He slides past the one standing framed in the middle of the corridor. It’s frozen, too. It makes no move towards him, even when his shoulder collides with it. It just rocks slightly and remains where it is.

He expects something to lash out at him, but nothing does. He makes it back to the elevator and steps into it.

Frost coats the inside of it and some of the buttons are dripping icicles. But it slides shut before he can even try to press the buttons and moves back up.

He distantly wonders if Alice is still okay.

The elevator opens once more, and the first thing Hank sees is that the entire precinct looks much more wrecked than it did when he first walked in.

Before it was dusty, but largely fine. Now the windows have shattered and let the snow in, flakes drifting onto the furniture and sending chills through the room. Frost coats walls that are now rotten and damp.

Despite this, Hank’s belongings are untouched right where he left them. He can see the photo and the quarter lying on top of his jacket. And he can see the handle of Connor’s revolver near the top of his open bag.

 

 

Hank’s hand instinctively goes for one of his belongings.

In one world, it’s the revolver.

In another, it’s the photo of Cole.

In a third, it’s the quarter.

It doesn’t matter which one it was yet.

 

 

Eventually, he packs everything back onto his person. Jacket on. The photo and the quarter in his pant pocket. Weapons slid into his belt and the bag slung over his shoulder. He clips the flashlight and radio back on, and turns the radio’s dial, hoping for something.

No static. No voice calling for him.

He steps back into the room he left Alice in, and his eyes turn towards where the fort was. He immediately comes to a halt.

...Shit. That wasn’t what he was expecting.

The fort is still present, in some sense of the word. The ice, oddly, has stopped just outside of its new borders. It’s bigger than it was, and layered. But it’s now more than chairs and sheets.

Metal bars have clasped over many parts of it, twisting over each other like a weaved basket. Barbed wire circles it further. And yet, it is still clearly a child’s fort. There are still glimmers of sheets and chairs, and Hank can see stuffed toy animals jammed into the wires and bars here and there. The tiny wax doll he left her with is seated just inside the outermost layer of bars.

There is no entrance into the fort.

Hank crouches down beside it. He wants to move on, static and his son’s voice echoing in his mind.

But even so. His conscience won’t let him do that.

“Alice?” he calls out quietly.

He hears movement from inside. A slight shift.

“...You came back?” he hears Alice ask quietly. He still can’t see her.

“The fuck happened here?”

Alice doesn’t say anything at first. There’s more shifting. Hank tries to turn on his flashlight to peer into the darkness of the fort. Only to find that the flashlight won’t turn on. It’s out of batteries.

Shit.

Instead, he squints into the darkness.

“Do you have a way out?” he asks.

Silence carries for a little longer before Alice whispers, “I don’t deserve a way out.”

“Kid, come on. That’s dumb, you don’t deserve this shit. No matter what you did to Todd--”

“I told you. That’s not the bad thing I did. I… I miss Dad, even though he was mean and yelled and hurt me sometimes. Even though he didn’t always love me. But that is not the bad thing I did.”

Hank sat down, scooching closer to the cage. He leans his back against the least spiky part of it that he can. He waits.

Eventually, he hears Alice shift a little closer.But she remains out of sight.

“...I lied to Kara,” Alice said quietly.

Hank tilted his head a little towards her voice, eyebrows scrunched. Alice continues, her voice wavering.

“I met Kara the same day that we ran away. She stopped by the house because my teacher was… was concerned about how I was being treated. She thought I was withdrawn and quiet, and she’d seen my dad, and… and I guess she knew Dad was… not nice sometimes. So they sent Kara to check on me.

“Dad said that I had to show I was happy in front of her. That if I didn’t act normal, she’d take me away to a worse place. I was scared. But… but Kara was nice. She was kind. She said she could help me. That it didn’t have to be the way it was.”

There was a sniff and a pause as Alice shifted, wiping her eyes.

“Dad got angry. He’d… he’d been on the ice again, and… and he got mad. He didn’t want Kara to take me away. He hit her. Again and again. And I remembered where he kept his gun, so… so I...”

“You shot him,” Hank said flatly..

“Yeah. But… but Kara was already hurt. I didn’t… didn’t call an ambulance or the police because I was afraid. I waited for her to wake up instead. And she did, but...”

There was a pause. Alice swallowed back a sob.

“She didn’t remember anything. Dad had gotten her in the head, and it’d made her forget. And I was afraid she’d leave. I didn’t… I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted to… to know what having a good mom was like.

“So I told her… I told her that she’d taken care of me. That we’d… we’d been together for a long time, and that she loved me. That she’d fought Dad to stop him from hurting me. And she… she believed me. She took my hand, and we ran.”

There’s a small thump as Alice kicked part of the bars. The fort barely moved.

“And we kept running. ...I did a bad thing. I did a bad thing, and I got scared.”

Another little kick.

“So I… I kept lying. Every day, I’d lie again. I’d make up things that we did and games we played and made up a new story of how we met… I lied so much. Again and again and again.”

Each ‘again’ gets another kick.

“And then we got here. And… and the monsters came. But they only came for me.”

Hank tilted his head with a frown, turning to stare into the dark fort. He still says nothing.

“She… sees the monsters, sometimes. But they don’t chase her. And she only sees them when I’m there. She sees my monsters because she wants to protect me from them, but she… she said she saw nothing in the hospital. She saw nothing after we got separated. She doesn’t see the weird bits of the town. To her… it’s just… she only sees my bits of weird. She only gets hurt by what chases me.”

Finally, Hank sees two small hands emerge from the fort and curl around the bars, although he still can’t properly make Alice out.

“That’s why I left her in the car. That’s why I came here. Because this is where bad people go so they won’t hurt anyone anymore. I’m…”

She lets out a shaky breath.

“I’m scared. I don’t want to go to prison. I don’t want to be alone. But if I stay here and I lock myself away, no-one will hurt Kara anymore.”

Hank turned his head back, looking straight ahead for a moment. He considers it. Rolls the words around in his mind.

He’s never been good at lying. Not for shit like this. He’s always been blunt.

So he tells her what he thinks is the truth.

 

 

In each world, that truth starts off very differently.

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

“You fucked up, kid.”

“Will that make her happy?”

No matter what that truth is… Hank eventually leaves that room alone. Because even if he wants Alice to follow him--and that is something that varies--Alice can’t follow him where he’s going.

He knows the town won’t allow it. Whatever’s ahead is for him alone.

 

 

He starts checking the doors of each floor once more, remembering how the hospital’s doors changed when it became covered in ice. He found many of the same rooms. But now the break room smelt moldy rather than like old coffee, with rotten piles of refuse. The briefing room was trashed to all hell, chairs flung about like someone had stormed the place. The holding cell had stains coating the floor that looked suspiciously bloody. Though whether that blood was red or blue was impossible to tell.

So he went upstairs. More rotten, snowed-in rooms that were filled with little but chilly air. He passed by the well-decorated office with the photos.

These photos, however, were now different. They depicted criminal headshots and bodies on the floor. Hank had never seen any of these men in person, but he’d seen glimpses of these files before. Men who had died in drug raids. Not all of whom had died in the name of definite self-defence.

Cole on ice had not been the calmest cop on raids. But there’d been results and they'd been violent criminals. The sort of deaths that it was easy to forget.

The second floor is icy and filthy, but then Hank approaches the third floor. He never went up here before, so subsumed by the idea that the elevator was the key. He wasn’t sure what to expect.

He entered the stairwell, and exited it to find himself in a hallway. A hallway that was short. Even in the darkness, he could see the other end from his position. But this hallway was damp. Humid. Ice remained in small puddles but was quickly dissolving.

Hank frowned, stepping forward to open the nearest door.

He found himself in the same hallway. Only this one was even warmer. The ice was gone now. Hank quickly went back through the door he’d come across.

The same hallway. Drier and hotter. He could feel sweat starting to trickle down his neck. Otherwise it seemed normal, but… the heat. The heat was unnatural, and it wasn’t… wasn’t the unnatural that this town usually stuck with Hank.

Hank tries several doors, and they all just lead him into the same hallway once more. He’s too exhausted to be mad, but there is an increasing sense of hopelessness that’s pooling in his stomach as surely as sweat is pooling on his skin.

The hallway was now so hot that the air was making everything waver.

And then Hank opens a door and his radio finally crackles to life.

One of Markus’ monsters is standing in the doorway, silently barring his way. It’s the smallest of the three creatures. Like the others, its body is a burnt, blue-veined mess. But it lacks the flowers growing from the one that had been prowling the locker rooms. What it does have are eyes. Huge, blue eyes that look unsettlingly human and untouched in the burnt, skeletal ruin of a face. It blinks dolefully at him, eyelids so tattered and flimsy that Hank can still see the blue of his eyes when they’re closed. This is followed by a bizarre shudder that makes several bones in its spine crackle.

Hank stares at it for a moment. Then he silently closes the door in its face and walks away as quickly as he can. Even so, he hears the door squeak back open behind him. He hears light footsteps as the monster follows him down the hall.

He opens the next door and the radio gets louder. This one is taller. Lankier. It possesses longer, delicate fingers that have something clasped between them. A prosthetic eye, blue in color, that’s covered in streaks of blood and burnt, flaky flesh. This creature moves forward at him, but raises the hand not gripping the eye. It instead seems to extend this hand, and it makes a rattling noise. It’s trying to speak. Trying to open a dialogue.

Hank doesn’t bother closing the door on that one. He just backs away and moves further down the corridor, as the eye-carrying monster joins the first and they both start to pace after him.

They’re both shaking oddly, heads twitching with unsettling cracks. The blue-eyed one more so, more violent shudders rolling down its spine, while the tall, thin monster seems comparatively calm. Hank backs away, and grabs for the last door in the corridor, throwing himself through it without thinking.

He expects another monster.

Instead, he’s faced with an inferno.

Flames lick up the walls, flickering across walls that look wet and fleshy. That are pulsing like an organ, even as flames run through the gaps and along veins, following the paths of least resistance and charring the meat where it passes. The whole room smells like roasting meat and it makes Hank feel both a wave of nausea and a weird desire for steak. But despite all this… it’s the same hallway. The doors are in the same places, the dimensions are precisely the same.

Markus is standing there. Waiting for him.

Flames lick his clothes and skin, rendering his coat little more than a rippling sheet of fire that’s burning more by the second. Burns are raising on his skin, and yet he doesn’t seem to either notice or care. He stares at Hank with his one functional eye. The other eye socket is empty, and there are deep red gouges in the skin around it. Dried blood cakes both that side of his face and his clothes.

“You have my book, Hank,” Markus said.

His voice is quiet and calm, as per usual. But there is something underneath it. A tension to his jaw, a slightly shaky note to his words.

This calm feels fragile.

“I’m going to need it back.”

As Markus says this, doors open by him and the two monsters that were tracking Hank down the hall emerge from them. Both of them gravitate towards Markus immediately, the small one curling its arms around Markus’ arm while the taller one puts a hand on Markus’ shoulder and rattles at him reassuringly.

Hank looked at them, then looked behind him at the door he’d just come through. He takes a step towards it.

As he did, Markus reached out. One hand extended. And he silently moved his hand, motioning like he was opening the door himself.

It creaked open before Hank could even touch it, and he saw a stairwell. One covered in frost. It’s a door he’s walked through before, and yet the stairwell is new. The way ahead.

But before he can do more than take another step towards it, Markus swoops his hand back and it closes.

When Hank grabs the door and yanks it open, he’s staring at more fire and more flesh in the same damn corridor. The smell of cooking meat filling Hank’s nostrils as he shields his eyes. Something lunges out of the fire, unnatural and charred hands grabbing him and slamming him to the ground.

Hank grabs the gun and points it up, even as the flower-infested monster leans down close to him. Breath that smells like rain and something sickly sweet blows in his face as it snarls at him, blackened teeth just inches from him.

“North,” Markus says sternly.

The plant-infested creature doesn’t immediately move. It twitches, vibrating angrily like its being physically held back. Then it leaps off him and scrambles back. Circling him so that it’s behind him before curling its arms around his back, holding him protectively and glaring at Hank. Or it would be if it still had eyes. Or even the top of its head.

“How the fuck?” Hank croaked, mouth dry as he looked back at Markus. He sits up, hand tightening on the gun but not pointing it.

“Reality is funny in Silent Hill, Hank." Markus steps forward slightly, the creatures moving with him. "I can stop you here. I don’t need to fight you to do that. These corridors will go on forever unless you return what you stole from me.”

Hank grimaces, head rolling back a little as he eyes the creatures. They’re twitching. They’re staring at him like they’re going to eat him, particularly the flower-infested one.

“Trying to solve this peacefully, huh?”

“I’m trying. They’re…” Markus’ remaining eye twitches slightly. “They’re proving a little difficult to restrain.”

Hank looked at the flower-infested one, gesturing with his free hand. “That’s North?” His eyes move to the lanky one that keeps rattling and rasping. “...And so that one would be Josh. And that…” Hank points at the smaller one with those huge eyes. “Simon?”

Markus sighed, rubbing his hand along his face. "Yeah. That's them. ...Guess you saw the articles if you can pick out who's who." Picking up flakes of dried blood as he did so. “Just… I just need the book back. I won’t bother you again after that.”

“Why do you need it?”

“It’s not your concern.”

“You know, it probably isn’t. But…” Hank sighed, rubbing his face in almost a mirror mirage of Markus. “Look, I’m a cop. I don’t know what that counts for in this town. Not much. No laws and all. But the shit in that book? All that bullshit about a ‘Crimson One’ and calling upon things? Normally I’d dismiss that as a bunch of hokey cult shit… but in this town? I’m pretty sure that means something.”

Hank reaches into his bag and retrieves the book, holding it with his free hand. Quite deliberately holding it not far from the flames. Markus’ remaining eye widens, then creases.

“...You can see the fire?” he asked.

“It’s everywhere, of course I…” Hank trails off, squinting, before asking, “Did you see ice?”

Markus slowly shook his head, his eyes trained on the book.

“...So the fire’s yours?” Hank held the book an inch closer to the flames. Markus’ hands raise slightly, fingers clenching. “You can’t just make it go out? You can fuck with my shit but can’t fuck with yours?”

“The fire’s always there,” Markus murmured. “I can’t do anything to it.”

“Huh. The fuck are you doing, that the town thinks you deserve fire?” He lets the book dangle. “The hell is ‘freedom’ for you? What’s freedom for them? You trying to free the creatures from this town? Are you trying to spread what this town does? Because… fuck. You get that I’d have to stop that, right? Even if there’s no law officially against it, that’s just wrong. At this stage… being a decent cop’s all I’ve got.”

Markus’ eye is trained on the book. But he manages to tear it away and move it back towards Hank.

“It’s a ritual of resurrection. I need the words so I know how to talk to the town.” Hank’s eyes narrow and his eyebrows scrunch, but before he can ask questions Markus continues. “I’m not following the Order. I’m not trying to… to usher in Paradise or carry on any of their disgusting doctrine. I don’t… do that anymore. I’m not like that anymore.”

“Like what, Markus?” When Markus doesn’t respond, Hank inches the book a little closer. “I saw your name in that graveyard. What the fuck did you do?”

Markus’ eyebrows scrunched together and his nose bunched up, eyes closing tighter. He reaches up and peels away the limbs of the monsters from himself, putting them at an arm’s length. They all turn their gazes from Hank towards him. One of them reaches out to touch him, but this time Markus curls in on himself and shifts away.

“The Order had… ideas about what was necessary. What had to be done to keep their power. To learn. To… to cleanse. About what had to be sacrificed to get there. They believed it. I believed it. Whether or not it were true, it… I… we...”

His voice cracks a little and he stops.

“Whatever you’re imagining, Hank… it’s probably worse than you can even dream.”

“I’m a cop that worked homicide, Markus. Try me.”

“I gave… everything to them. To this town. I gave and I gave… and a lot of that was never mine to give.”

Without opening his eyes, he reaches out. He briefly rubs the back of his hand against the face of the smallest creature. The one called Simon. Simon shifted a little, gazing at Markus as he pressed into the hand.

“We were born into it. Raised into it. Us, our parents, our grandparents… The Order was all we knew. All we knew how to want. And what we had wasn’t enough for me. I wanted a bigger part in what the Order was doing. And I wanted to bring my friends with me. So we pushed for a bigger role.” His hand moves back to cup Simon’s chin. “He was the price we had to pay.”

Hank didn’t move the hand holding the book. But his eyes moved to stare at Simon. At the burnt, charred flesh. Bile rises sharp in his throat--he’s not sure whether it’s because of the sight or the words--but he forces it back down. His other hand tightens slightly on his gun.

Markus moved his other hand up, making a similar motion towards the monster known as Josh. Josh is substantially less friendly to it. His head twitches slightly as Markus’ hand comes to rest on the back of his neck and he lets out a low, rattling breath.

“Josh… he saw sense long before I did. Always… always too soft for the shit they had us do. That I… that I thought needed to be done. He wanted out. So they pushed that duty on to me and North. After all, we’d brought him in with us. We had to get rid of him. ...And we did. He didn’t go quiet, but he went.”

Josh rasped quietly, rolling Markus’ prosthetic eye in between his long fingers. The eyelid covering Markus’ empty eye socket seems to twitch in response, like it can feel what Josh is doing. Markus lets go of both Josh and Simon. His head tilts slightly towards North as he turns around, although his eyes remain closed.

Hank’s gun raises just the tiniest bit on instinct at the sight of Markus’ back, but not entirely. He wondered… would gunning Markus down release him from this burning hallway? Or would it trap him here?

“North… was fanatical. We both were,” Markus said. “But I... I don’t know if I was cracking or becoming saner. I just know… I know that the Order, it had… some fucked up ideas. The sorts of ideas that…” Markus’ voice failed him for a moment before he said, “The sorts of rituals that would have needed someone like North. I thought…”

Markus reached out. His fingers brush the gash in her throat that the flowers are spilling from. Abruptly, Markus pushes his hand forward and sinks his fingers into the burnt, bloody flesh with a disturbing squelch. North doesn’t respond to it except with a gurgle that pushes out more flowers and more blue, only reaching out with bony, charred fingers and touching Markus’ face.

Hank’s hand inches towards the fire, the book nearing destruction. The other hand slightly raises the gun a little more.

“I thought I was sparing her,” Markus whispered. “If I’d just… if I’d listened to Carl a little earlier…”

Markus pulls his fingers away from North, and they come back slicked in blue. He opens his eyes. Hank sees a glimpse of the flesh of his eye socket. He also sees that the remaining eye is glassy and damp.

“Please… I just want my friends back,” Markus says, his voice cracking. “I gave up everything for this town. Why can’t I take something back for once?”

Hank’s hand pauses. Then he pulls the book a few inches back, but doesn’t entirely relinquish it. The look he gives Markus is of pure disgust. His mind is trying to fill in the gaps, piling horrific ideas and imagery into his head, fueled by the knowledge that it might very well be worse than whatever he’s imagining. Memories of crime scenes he’s seen in the past… they only bolster the imagery in his head rather than dull it.

But he can understand, at the very least, the desire.

“...Is that all?” Hank asks slowly.

“That’s all. Hank… I need that book. And I will do anything to get it back.” Markus’ hands seem to flicker as the flames lick from the walls to touch them. The blue-slicked fingers catch alight, and flame starts to spread. Still, Markus doesn’t really respond to it. “Please don’t make me do that.”

Hank’s grip tightens on the gun. Then he lowers it. But he doesn’t put it away.

“Alright… let’s say I can let go of the whole ‘murderous cultist’ thing. Let’s say I believe you when you say you’re not planning to bring the apocalypse or anything insane. Can this town really do that? Resurrect someone? Have you seen it happen?” Connor flickers through Hank’s mind for a moment and he slowly asks, “Does the town make a copy? Or does it bring the body back? What the fuck happens?!”

“I don’t know. It… it isn’t something I saw done, it… the book belonged to Carl. But I have to try. I have to… to hope the town wants to listen.” Markus takes a step forward. “It’s all I’ve got left. It’s all I can do.”

“You’re relying on the kind feelings of this town?! This town is a sadist! It fucks with you!” Hank yelled, coughing when a mouthful of hot ash floods his mouth in response. Spluttering, he chokes out, “It fucks and it fucks and it doesn’t even give a goddamn reacharound.”

Markus takes another step forward. The flames traveling up his sleeves. Like he’s carrying two balls of fire. He looks at Hank, and for the first time in this hallway he smiles. Very slightly. But his eye is staring through Hank like he’s seeing everything that Hank’s locked away.

“People make the town what it is, Hank. Can you honestly say you didn’t want what it gave you?”

 

 

In all worlds, Hank takes a moment to think on it.

The creatures. The snow. The revolver. The video tape.

The memories. The absence of memories.

A small child with blue eyes. A young man with brown eyes.

That moment passes, and he comes to three different conclusions in three different worlds.

 

 

One way or another, he leaves the burning hallway because of, or despite, Markus.

He leaves through the fire escape door, which quite frankly is a little on the nose even for this town.The world returns to ice, the sweat that’s pooled on his skin frosting over and leaving him colder than ever.

Although this was said to be a fire escape, it doesn’t go down at all. The stairwell only goes up. Up to where there shouldn’t even be an up. The stairwell is metal and coated in frost. It leads up to a new door.

A new corridor. This one looks like it had become an impromptu storage area. It was stacked with boxes and trash bags, like the precinct had been snowed in for so long that they’d just decided to discard of garbage here. Hank can’t see the end of this one. His flashlight is still broken.

What he can feel are snowflakes. Despite the lack of seeming entrances in this corridor, fresh snow dusts the ground and he can feel them drifting into his face.

Hank turns a corner. Then another. The hallway curves out of any architecture that the police precinct should have been able to hold, if it were judged from the outside.

And then that hallway enters another. This one stretches out, too. But only forwards.

Hank’s radio crackles to life, and his hand moves for the gun, but there are no monsters in the hallway. The radio crackles with a voice, almost drained out by static.

“Dad?”

Hank keeps walking forward.

“Dad, you there?”

He wants to run. He also doesn’t.

“Dad? You’re close, Dad. Dad? I’m waiting.”

He wants to reach the voice, but there is a creeping sense of dread as he walks this corridor. The acute sensation of walking to something… definite. Something dark and unavoidable. The last mile before an execution.

“Dad?”

And then he reaches the end, and the radio dies with a pop. Hank reaches down, but it won’t turn on again. As useless as the flashlight is.

The hallway opens and Hank realises his gut instinct was right.

It’s a gallows, but not like the little one back at the prison. This one towers, stories high. The room is empty except for the gallows and two doors. One on either side of the gallows, each with a small indentation instead of a handle.

Hank’s eyes go upwards, tracing the spindly staircase that leads to the noose.

This time, there is only one noose prepared. But it’s already occupied.

Three figures stand atop the gallows. Two of the figures are identical, their heads a mass of red crystal. Two Ice Heads stand on the edge, on either side of the noose. They stare down at Hank, tall and still. Neither of them have the chain that Hank still carries in his bag. That Hank instinctively reaches to touch as he stares up. Instead, they hold nooses of their own, dangling loosely in their hands.

The figure in the middle, the one occupying the noose, is Connor.

He’s staring down at Hank, eyes wide and mouth tight like he’s trying not to cry out but desperately wants to. His hands are bound with masses of rope and the noose is looped tightly around his neck.

“Hank,” he says hoarsely. His voice sounds tired and broken, like the noose has been wrapped tight around it for a while. The skin around it is inflamed and red.

One of the Ice Heads starts to slowly move towards the lever that will drop him.

“Stop,” Hank whispered before raising his voice. “Stop it! Leave him the fuck alone!”

But Ice Head takes another step.

Hank lunges for the spindly staircase, bolting up the stairs as fast as he can manage. No matter how his ribs scream at him, no matter how tired his feet are… he runs. Hoping. Hoping despite knowing how this is going to end.

“Leave us both the fuck alone! Stop! Stop!”

Connor turns his head towards Hank, his bound hands reaching out for him. Just as Ice Head pulls the lever and opens the floor underneath Connor’s feet.

Hank’s so close that he feels Connor’s hands brush against his own for just a moment. Warm and real, like they’ve always been. Soundlessly, Connor falls and drops from sight.

The rope goes taut. There’s the sick crack of a neck breaking.

Hank collapses to his knees, staring over the edge at Connor’s once-again lifeless body. Eyes shut in a way that indicates he had them shut as he fell, still screwed tight but slowly relaxing. His head jerked at an unnatural angle as he sways slowly in the air.

Hank’s hands shake, then curl up. He screams. A wordless, grief-stricken roar. It’s all he can do. Scream and slam his fists on the wood like a small child having a tantrum.

He stares down at the body, and then he hears each Ice Head shift a little towards him. Hank turns his head up, staring at the faces of his perpetual tormentors.

He looks at the one on his left first. The one that stares at him with that single blue, exhausted eye. Then he slowly turns his head to look at the other one.

This one is identical to the first in all but one aspect. It has an eye on the opposite side of its head. And this eye isn’t blue and exhausted. Instead, it’s deep brown and doe-like.

Hank’s head bows again. He remains on his knees. He hears them shift a little closer, hands tightening slightly on their nooses.

“...I needed you,” he whispers.

The two creatures don’t move. They just watch him with brown and blue.

“I needed you like I needed scotch or cholesterol or spinning the chamber on that fucking gun. No matter how much I tried to forget, some things were always there. Eating away at me. I needed someone to dole out the punishment that I was too afraid to face.”

Hank’s hands clench tighter.

“I needed you to make me hurt. I needed you because I was a coward.”

Slowly, Hank gets to his feet. One leg after another. His hands loosen and open. Head still bowed.

He’s still only whispering. But his eyes are burning with rage, even as his next words come out cold.

“But I’m done with that.”

He pulls Kara’s gun from his belt and he turns around. Turns away from where Connor fell. Head raising as he stares at one, then the other.

“You don’t fucking scare me. I remember who I am now.”

The two Ice Heads take a slow step back as Hank raises the gun.

“I don’t need you anymore.”

He points it at the blue-eyed one that’s been chasing him from the beginning, and he fires.

He pulls the trigger again and again. The Ice Head doesn’t immediately react to it, even as blue flows from the bullets that bury themselves in its chest. It remains still for a few moments, before slowly dragging its feet forward.

Hank doesn’t move back. Instead, he hears the same dragging footsteps behind him. These ones belonging to the doe-eyed Ice Head. He turns the gun on it instead. Fires again. Again. Again.

They both converge, leaking blue. Hank remains where he is.

He fires again and again, until something loops around his neck. A rope that scratches against his throat. The blue-eyed Ice Head tightens its grip, yanking him back by the neck and starting to drag him towards where Connor fell, step by agonizing step.

Hank points the gun up like he did before in the apartments, and he shoots into the mass of crystals. Once. Twice.

The blue-eyed one lets go this time, a hand reaching up to scrape at the crystals that coat it. There’s patches of what might be a neck visible, blue streaming vividly from it. The crystal crumbling under its hand. Hank turns on the brown-eyed one and fires there, too. There, again, the crystals crumble in flecks. Blue drips. Hank can taste that chemical tang as specks of blood splatter everywhere.

With another wordless yell, he fires. Again. Again. Again.

And it does nothing. But god, does it feel good. It feels like something other than the numb disgust that’s been filling his chest.

He keeps firing.

Until, finally… Kara’s gun makes a quiet but definite click. Out.

Hank keeps the gun raised for a moment. Still wavering between pointing it at each of the Ice Heads. His feet are just on the edge of the trapdoor that drops criminals to their deaths. Then he drops the gun and pulls the iron pipe from his belt instead.

“Come on, then…” he whispers. Then he bellows. “Come on!”

He swings, smashing the pipe into the brown-eyed one’s face. It steps back. Not a stumble, more like someone moving back after being shoulder checked by an angry co-worker. Crystals crumbling away. Is there anything under the crystals? Does it matter? Hank swings the other way, cracking the pipe across the blue-eyed one’s shoulder. Back and forth, kicking and swinging.

This time, it’s the doe-eyed Ice Head that loops its rope around his neck. It clings on, no matter how Hank hits it. With his pipe or his limbs, elbows and feet flailing about trying to damage the fucking thing. As it grips the rope and pulls it tight, garrotting him rather than use the noose at the end for its intended purpose, the blue-eyed one stalks slowly towards him.

Hank raises his legs to kick at it, heels burying themselves in pale, blue-veined and tumor-ridden flesh. But the blue-eyed Ice Head doesn’t respond. It’s in noticeably worse shape. Crystals crumbling away. A veiny, bloody neck--although Hank can’t tell if it’s actually a neck or just flesh--visible. Blood dripping down it in rivers. But it eyes him as the doe-eyed one holds him back with that rope. The rope scratches painfully against his neck, rubbing it raw and bloody but not quite ending it even as it chokes the airway.

As Hank’s mind goes fuzzy this time, he does still accept it. Much like the apartment, it’s almost welcome. But that acceptance doesn’t reach the rest of him. It’s submerged in sheer, vitriolic spite. Spite that makes him keep fighting.

He kicks and swings the pipe, and does so with a cracked grin and a wheezy noise that might have been the tired laughter of someone who knows its all he can really do.

But damn if he’s not gonna do it.

The blue-eyed Ice Head reaches up and grasps Hank’s face, meeting Hank with that stare that’s just as exhausted as his own. It doesn’t move for a moment. Then its gaze moves to the doe-eyed Ice Head that’s throttling him from behind.

There’s a beat of understanding.

Both of them let go, pulling their ropes free. Soaked in blue blood, they’re still standing firm. But they let go of Hank and take a step back.

Hank wheezes, touching his throat and seeing his fingers come away red. But then he grips the iron pipe, ready to chase these fuckers down so they can never come after him again. So they either have to finish the job of killing him or let him end their existence. But neither of the Ice Heads acknowledge him.

Instead, as one, they turn towards the edge of the gallows. They reach up and tie their nooses to it, each on one side of where Connor hung. In synchronized motion, they pull the nooses down and hook them carefully over the mass of crystals that still remain on each of them, sliding the rope in where the crumbling crystal will allow it.

Again as one, the two Ice Heads step off the gallows. And they fall.

Hank hears two more grotesque cracks before the world goes still once more.

He doesn’t stare off the edge. This time, he wipes the blue blood from his face along with the spit that had foamed at his mouth as he choked. He turns and walks slowly down the stairs he’d bolted up. Only then does he tilt his head up to stare at the three dangling bodies.

His gaze lingers on Connor quietly dangling before it moves over to the Ice Heads. He coughs, rubbing his throat once more.

“That’s what I thought,” he muttered hoarsely.

It was done.

Hank turns his eyes to the doors on either side of the gallows. He half-expects a key to just… drop. Two indentations. Two Ice Heads. It could be a coincidence, but that’s unlikely in this town. Hank stares at the doors, then back at the Ice Heads as they sway. Their eyes open and unmoving.

...Their eyes match the rough size of the indentations.

Hank shuts his eyes, nose wrinkling in disgust. Then he reaches up, fingers hooking into the blue eye of the older Ice Head. It’s weird, because he shouldn’t be able to reach. They’re dangling high above him. And yet somehow he does. He doesn’t watch, he just feels crystals scrape against his knuckles before his fingers dig into something soft and squishy.

After a few moments, he yanks his hand back before opening his eyes and looking down. The eyeball barely fits in his hand, so immense is its size, and he can already see parts of it dissolving like the cow eye he once dissected in biology. It’s got remnants of red crystal clinging to it instead of any optical nerve.

Hank doesn’t look up to see the hole he left. He just shuts his eyes tight and reaches for the doe eye of the other Ice Head. He sinks his fingers in, hearing another unpleasant squelch, and he yanks. When he opens his eyes once more, each hand holds a near-identical eyeball. Both his hands are absolutely coated in blue. It’s already crusting underneath his fingernails.

Despite the nausea, Hank doesn’t immediately move for the doors. He just looks up—trying not to look at the now eyeless Ice Heads—and watches Connor’s body sway for a moment. Stares at the unnatural tilt of the neck. He’s not wearing his tie. Did the Ice Heads take it? It’s a stupid thing to wonder, but Hank wonders anyway.

He walks away.

He pushes the blue eye into the door on the left with a horrible squelch, and it oozes blue out of the hole even though it remains in place. But the door doesn’t open. So he leaves it there, and moves over to the door on the right to squish the doe eye into place.

Immediately, both doors creak open. He can already see that they lead to the same place.

It’s another hallway. Frosted with snowflakes drifting through it once more. Too dark for him to see the end.

Hank doesn’t wipe his hands of the blue blood. He just walks on, his hands stained. Breathless from the fight, from the throttling.

As he walks, he hears voices. He reaches up to touch the radio he’s still carrying, but it’s silent. The voices come from around him, seeming to not have a proper source. He hears his own voice echoing back at him. Yelling at the top of his lungs.

“Cole, are you serious? Are you fucking serious?! Give me the damn pipe!”

Cole’s voice speaks up, and it sounds fractured and watery.

“Look, I’m putting it away, alright? I just… I just…” Cole takes a shaky breath before muttering, “Nevermind.”

An echo of himself huffing floats down the corridor as Hank continues to walk, feet slowly as he listens.

“So that’s it, then? Is that the actual reason you picked Silent Hill of all places?” Bitter venom is colouring all of Hank’s words. “Chasing another drug high, since that one worked out so fucking well for you—“

“No! ...No. I just… no-one gets found there if they don’t want to be found. I thought…” There’s a sigh. “It doesn’t matter. We’re almost there, we might as well.”

There’s a long stretch of time. During which Hank comes to the end of the hallway, faced with an aged, wooden door. He slowly reaches out to push it open when the voices resume, and he stops. Looking up and listening.

“Don’t give me that look,” Cole’s voice mutters. “Just don’t, alright? I fucked up. I know I fucked up. You don’t have to look at me like I fucked up.”

There’s silence from the echo of Hank. Cole’s next words are murmured more to himself than Hank.

“You’d do so much better without me.”

And Hank—the one listening in with his bloody hands pressed to the door ahead, wishes he could say something to that. But he knows. He knows before the voices continue that he never said anything to it at all.

He knows, even before he hears it, that nothing else is said until the sound of a tire popping tears through the hallway.

“Oh, of fucking course,” the echo of Hank mutters. “How long ago did we pass that gas station? No second cellphone or anything on you, is there? ...Fuck it, I’ll walk.”

The sound of a car door opening. The sound of it starting to swing shut, only for a small thunk to sound out as Cole stops the door.

“Dad, wait.”

“Yeah?”

But then there’s only the silence, thicker than the fog, of something going unsaid. Finally Cole says, “Hurry back.”

The car door closes. Footsteps fade. And a different sound reaches Hank’s ears. Quiet, near-silent sobs.

“I’m sorry… fuck, I’m so sorry for this…”

The sobs eventually fade. Hank keeps his eyes shut, leaning on the door and waiting for something else. Like it will change how that all ended. But it won’t. The town can’t give him that.

Finally, he pushes the doors open, leaving behind streaks of blue, and enters into another staircase.

This staircase, much like the apartment, is flooded with a sheet of solid ice that stops Hank from going down. He can only go back up. He walks up the rusted stairs. It’s metallic and industrial. Bars of metal line the path up, too tall to be viable as a railing.

And then he exits onto a roof.

He sees the fog. Snow flutters down on him, heavy and soft, and a cold breeze drifts across the roof, blowing the snow gently into his face. There is nothing on the roof apart from a couple of air vents and pipes, and a railing that in contrast to the last doesn’t even reach his knees. It looks like it might be the roof of the police precinct, but Hank can’t be sure. Because beyond the roof he can’t see anything. Not the police station. Not the lake. Not the town. It is as if he stands in an isolated pocket of fog and ice.

Hank briefly glances behind him where the stairs were, only to find that there’s no stairs at all anymore. Nowhere to go.

But that’s fine. He doesn’t plan to leave.

Hank turns back and focuses on the figure standing at the edge of the roof.

The man has his back towards Hank. He has one foot resting on the railing and is leaning over the roof, staring off into the endless fog and snow. The breeze makes his jacket flap lightly. A police jacket, frayed in ways that tickled his brain.

There’s the noise of a lighter being clicked. The figure leans on the leg he’s propped up, and Hank sees the lighter. The tiny flame threatening to go out in the breeze. The man’s holding a pipe filled with red crystals in his other hand. He holds the lighter underneath his pipe, leaning to keep his hands steady, before he straightens up. He puts the lighter away and lifts the pipe to his lips.

Hank takes a few slow steps towards him, the snow and frost crunching under his feet. The man turns his head slightly, and Hank catches glimpses of the facial features that are a perfect blend of his own in his youth and those of his ex-wife. He sees dark hair that’s disheveled, especially the strands falling down near the front which are mussed and wavy. That tuft that could never be tidied but which is particularly haywire right now.

The man lowers the pipe after taking a long drag. He holds the smoke in his lungs for a few long moments, then tilts his head up and breathes it out in a cloud of red that seems to linger, weirdly unaffected by the cold, snowy breeze.

Finally, he turns around. A small smile crosses his face.

“Hey, Dad,” he says.

It has the cadence of Cole’s speech rather than Connor’s more formal mannerisms. More red smoke issues from his mouth as he speaks. His facial features are dead on, and the disheveled appearance, right down to the vomit stains from the overdose that soak the front of his shirt…

It looks like Cole. It sounds like Cole. Hank very much wants to believe it’s Cole.

But Hank can’t see the colour of his eyes through the smoke.

Hank slowly reaches into his pocket. He retrieves the quarter that belonged to Connor. The blue on his fingers smudging onto the coin.

“Catch.”

He tosses the coin to the man who might be Cole, and waits to see what he’ll do.

Chapter Text

In this world, when Hank sits in front of the television with his face pressed to his hands, he thinks of the revolver and a spinning chamber.

 


 

When he goes to pick up his belongings after leaving the elevator, Hank’s hands practically lunge for the revolver. And immediately, he spins the chamber before holding it to his head.

He doesn’t expect it to work. But he wants and dreads in equal measure what waits for him ahead. He’s wanted and dreaded death ever since he walked into that roadside bathroom with a blank piece of paper.

The gun clicks once more. An empty chamber. Hank sighs. And he slots the gun back into his belt.

“Fine,” he tells the town. “Have it your way, asshole.”

 


 

When he moves back, walking and following the last thread of hope he has left--the voice of his son calling him through static--he aches. The wounds he’s accumulated not hurting as much as they should, but hurting nonetheless.

 


 

“I don’t know what to tell you,” are Hank’s words to Alice as he sits outside her cage.

He was sure there had to be something that could be said. Something comforting. But he didn’t have the words. He’d never been about words. Never been great at communicating his feelings. Comfort had been right out of his wheelhouse. Action was easier.

“I just want to get you out of there,” he continued, hands pressing to the bars. “Is there an exit?”

“Do you?” Alice leans a little closer. Hank can see tear-streaked cheeks and watery eyes. “You remind me of Dad.”

“Jesus, kid,” Hank muttered under his breath.

“Not… not because you’re mean or angry. Because you drink and you’re sad and you’re all broken.”

Alice blinks at him, and there’s a cynical look in her eyes that shouldn’t have to be on the face of any child.

“You… you saved me once. Do you think… do you really think you can do it again? Will you love me? Take care of me? Fix everything that hurts?”

Hank says nothing.

Attacking the Todd creature had been pure instinct. Taking care of a child…

He hadn’t done well with the last one.

The idea of doing it again wasn’t just difficult… even contemplating it exhausted him. Much as the idea of doing anything had when he stood in that roadside bathroom.

Alice moves an inch back, so only her hands are visible again. As she does, the bars and wires around her shift with fluid, oddly alive motion. Like plant vines growing around and consuming a building, reclaiming it for nature. They start to overlap her cage, sealing it off further.

“See?” she says quietly. “You can’t help. You’re sad, too.”

“Alice—“

Her hands retract as more metal threads link over the cage, in thicker and thicker layers. Hank has to yank his hands back to stop himself from being caught in them.

The cage closes. No gaps can be seen. Hank tries and gets his fingers underneath the metal, but only succeeds in scraping his hands up on the barbed wire that comprises of much of it.

“...Fuck,” he says quietly.

He should feel something stronger. But he just feels another wave of exhaustion. Accompanied by uselessness.

“Sorry, kid,” he mutters under his breath, fingers still digging into the barbs.

He walks away alone, knowing that he won’t see Alice again.

 


 

“People make the town what it is, Hank. Can you honestly say you didn’t want what it gave you?”

When Markus poses that question, as Hank dangles the crimson book over the flames, it is the revolver that Hank’s mind goes to once more.

The spinning chamber. A desire to spin it again and again until it eventually has to line up. It goes to the aches from his cracked ribs and acid burns and where the chain pressed tight against his windpipe, and how every time that pain would never go quite far enough. It goes to trying to drink himself into a coma on a frozen elevator floor.

It goes to an end to the guilt.

All the town did was prolong it.

Hank whips his arm back and flings the book into the flames.

All hell breaks loose.

Hank sees a glimpse of Markus stretching his hand out uselessly, remaining eye widening as he lunges for where the book fell, even as the pages start to curl up and blacken. Face otherwise still blank. But whatever’s been keeping the three creatures where they are… shuddering violently on the spot without lunging forward… it breaks.

The North creature lunges quickest and fastest, sprinting towards him with the flowers that comprise much of her mass waving around like a garden on a windy day. Flames catching and licking along them, but not quite traveling far enough to consume her.

She’s moving too fast.

Hank raises the gun and fires. After only a brief second of hesitation, not even really registering if the bullet hit, he fires twice more.

North is not a creature like Ice Head. She doesn’t shake off those bullets. Two hit her in the torso, and one strikes somewhere in that bushel of white flowers that makes her let out a rattling, blood-soaked glugging noise before collapsing on the ground.

Markus isn’t looking, however, he’s walking towards where the book fell. Now a flaming pile of blackened scraps and a few traces remaining of a red cover with golden flowers embroidered on it.

The creature known as Josh starts to walk forward, twitching violently but rattling loudly, like he’s shouting. Dropping the prosthetic eye and screeching at Hank. Not even attacking. Nothing but noise.

Hank turns the gun on him anyway.

He’s just done with this. He’s done with this town putting obstacle after obstacle in his way.

Only one bullet is needed this time, splattering the lanky creature’s head as it collapses to its knees, letting another rattle--this time wispy and breathless--before it hits the floor.

Markus’ hands bury in the flaming cinders that were once the book, and he sifts through the paper like he’s trying to find scraps that he can still read. But his arms are catching alight as he does so, fire traveling up them. The fire that’s been flickering across his coat starts to travel further, starts to get brighter.

The last remaining monster, the blue-eyed one called Simon, lunges too but doesn’t do so at Hank. Instead just wrapping its arms around Markus and turning so that he’s between Hank and Markus, even though doing so causes the flames now consuming Markus’ form to spread to him as well. The blue-veined flesh starting to blacken as Simon attempts to shield Markus.

There’s still no response from Markus.

Hank fires again. It’s in the way. It has to go.

The blue-eyed creature clings for a moment longer, blue trickling from its head, before letting go of Markus and slumping to the ground.

Hank approaches Markus, gun still raised. He doesn’t fire at Markus, however. The human visage makes him hesitate. Just points the gun and approaches. As he does, the fire starts to burn hotter. Consuming the three monstrous forms that are now lying on the floor so that they’re spots of light burning in an already too-bright hall.

The floor trembles. The fire starts to erupt into new flames, starting to bubble into a full-on firestorm. A new wave of heat washes over Hank, hot ash blasting into his face as he lifts his arm to try and stop it from blinding him.

“Let me out, Markus,” he says, voice clogged with the ashes that fill his mouth whenever he opens it.

Markus doesn’t even look up. Flames travel along his collar, moving up and starting to consume the edge of his face, flickering along his jawline.

“Markus--”

“I just wanted to free them.”

“Let me out or I’ll end us both here.”

Markus turned his head and finally looked at the three corpses on the ground. Fingers holding a pile of ashes as the fire got so hot that the room was largely white. The floor is starting to collapse. Creaking ominously, the meaty floor sloughing away to reveal more blackened flesh and yet more fire.

“You already have,” Markus whispered.

He reaches out and grips the limb that’s closest--the burning arm of Simon, limbs still stretched out from where he fell. Markus doesn’t hesitate to plunge his arm into the flames, but why would he when his own body was already burning? He shuts his eye. Fire flickers in the empty socket of the other one before he shuts that too.

Hank shuts his eyes as well, but he can’t block out the brightness of the flames surrounding him. He just holds the gun to Markus’ head and pulls the trigger once more.

The heat vanishes. Instead, cold washes over him. The sweat coating his body immediately turning into a light frost.

When Hank opens his eyes, he’s in the hallway as it previously was. Ice chilling each surface, and the fire escape open. With a frosted stairwell leading onwards.

There’s no sign of the three bodies of the monsters. Of North, Josh and Simon. And there’s no sign of Markus, either.

Except for a fresh coating of red splattered across Hank’s hands and jacket.

 


 

Hank goes to the gallows with a few less bullets.

There’s guilt as he rubs his fingers over hands that are more freshly stained with the blue of the Ice Heads, blue that coats Markus’ red. And he can feel, older still, remnants of Gavin crusting his hair. He goes to the rooftop with the revolver heavy on his mind. With the fates of Alice and Markus fresh in his head, Gavin a little less fresh, along with the multiple grisly deaths of Connor.

There is guilt and self-loathing there, but overlaying it is jealousy.

When he sees the man who might be Cole, there is relief. And some of it is for the fact that, perhaps, maybe this time it really is him.

But part of that relief is just knowing that some form of end has to be near.

 


 

“Catch.”

The man who might be Cole catches the coin with his free hand. He pauses, thumb rubbing over it and tracing the smudges that have smeared all over the face on the side of the coin.

His mouth tightens. And he throws the coin back. Hank fumbles with it, but catches it after a moment of juggling it between his blue-soaked hands.

“You need cheap tricks to be able to recognise me?” Cole/Connor asks. His voice is cold. The cadence is still like Cole. But the tone is too calm--albeit with an underlying sense of rage--for it to be him.

“What do you want me to say? Yeah, I’m not sure who you are.”

The man tilts his head slightly before tucking his hands behind his back, hiding the ice pipe from view as he straightens his posture.

“You’re not much of a detective. Are you, Lieutenant?”

“Not as good as you, Connor,” Hank says, bitter sarcasm colouring his voice. He takes a slow step forward. “...You know, I don’t think I ever told you my rank, did I? Or my name?”

It’s not Cole. It’s not what he was looking for. Once again, this town is fucking with him. Or Connor is. Maybe there’s not much difference.

Connor’s mouth curves a little, but it’s not a nice smile. His eyes, slowly becoming more visible as the red smoke dissipates, are cold.

“You never had to tell me, Lieutenant. It’d be nice if you managed to return the favor for once.” He takes a step forward. “I’m not Cole. Cole’s dead.”

Connor says ‘Cole’ with utter disgust. He takes another slow step forward.

“Cole’s dead because of you. Cole’s dead because you pushed when you shouldn’t have and didn’t do anything when you could have.”

“Shut up. Don’t you talk about my son.”

Connor raises his eyebrows slightly, shifting his stance so that his legs are a bit further apart, his shoulders slightly more hunched. It’s an aggressive, cocky stance. He then opens his mouth to speak again. What comes out, however, is not his voice. There’s what almost sounds like a rush of static that bubbles in his throat before he speaks using a voice that Hank last heard in a firing range.

“I think I got plenty of right to talk about him. I got more right than you do. I’m the one dealing with his dumb mistakes. Why don’t you sober up for a fucking change and realize your damn kid isn’t suited for this line of work? Stop covering for him. Nepotism’s just shit in most jobs, but here? Kids who don’t deserve it have a tendency to, uh, get a bullet or two in their back.”

Hank says nothing, but his eyes narrow. Connor waits silently for a moment, then clicks the side of his mouth while blinking at him in what looks like a failed wink.

But then he shifts. He crosses one arm over himself defensively and pulls his legs together, a stance made to not take up as much space. He holds the ice pipe between his fingers, more like a cigarette than the glass implement that it is.

His voice crackles, then resettles. When he speaks, once again it’s completely different. A low female voice, slightly hoarse from years of cigarettes, that Hank knows well but which he hasn’t heard much over the last decade or so.

“Hank, this again?! How can you encourage him like this? How can you do this when you know what effect the job has on you?!” He takes a step forward, eyes wide and just a little damp. “Hank… Hank, please… it hurts you, dear, why can’t you see that? Why would you want this for our son?”

“No! Nope! Stop!” Hank yelled, disgust creeping into his voice this time. It was one thing to hear Gavin’s voice issuing from Connor’s mouth. But hearing the voice of his ex-wife come from a face that looked so much like his son… that was uncomfortable and disorientating in a very different way.

Connor doesn’t immediately, letting out a small and irritated sigh that he’d heard every time Cole ran around with his police badge, but then he shifts his stance back to normal again. Turning the pipe in his hands so it’s held normally once more.

“You should have listened to them,” Connor said lightly.

“And what the fuck do you want me to do with that now?”

Connor shrugged. He starts to heat the pipe up again, watching Hank as he does so. Almost like he’s daring Hank to say something about it, and it’s a dare that Hank has to take him up on.

“Put the fucking pipe away.”

Another shift. This one, Hank doesn’t immediately recognise. Once again, the stance is more surly, but this time it’s also slightly unsteady. His eyebrows crease and his eyes close a little more as he gives Hank a tired, grumpy stare. Shifting his grip on the pipe so that this time he’s got his hands wrapped around it, holding it upright like it might spill. When he speaks, the voice is gravelly and exhausted, and there’s a slight drunken slur to it.

“Everybody’s gotta die of something. What’s it matter how I deal with things, as long as I do my job right?”

The pitch that Connor mimics Hank’s voice at… it’s not even just a copy of Hank’s voice, but how Hank’s voice sounds in his own head. He’s heard recordings of himself before, and it always sounds different than how he thinks he sounds, but Connor isn’t copying that. He’s precisely mimicking how Hank thinks he sounds.

“...The fuck are you?” Hank asks bluntly.

“I’m what you wanted, ‘Dad.’” When he says ‘Dad,’ frustration visibly flickers across Connor’s face and his eyes blink a little. At the same time, his voice distorts slightly like a radio being tuned. “If you’re not happy… then you only have yourself to blame.”

Hank stares at Connor for a long moment.

He knows Connor’s right.

All Connor is doing is spewing his own thoughts back at him, but it hurts to hear those words physically spill nonetheless. Each word is another small barb, piling into the twisted knot in his stomach that’s been building and building as he goes through this shitstorm of a town.

“Connor. I’m not doing this anymore. I’m tired. I’m real fucking tired.”

Hank drew the revolver. The one that belonged to Connor. He hesitated for a moment on whether to put it to his own head or to Connor’s.

It ended up pointed at Connor. At the representation of all the ways he’d fucked up. Oddly, as he does so, the chamber twirls on its own. Clicking into place.

Connor doesn’t move. Doesn’t acknowledge this except with a slight blink. He just lifted the pipe to his lips and continued to smoke, breathing out clouds of red that obscured his eyes once more. Even then, Hank didn’t lower the gun.

“I could kill you, and you’d just come back like nothing happened. Right? What happens if I pull this trigger? Nothing? Oblivion?” Hank’s mouth twisted into a small but joyless smile. “Heaven? Is there a heaven for you?”

Connor’s chilly veneer breaks for a second. His eyes--only barely visible--flicker to the side, down, then back to Hank’s face.

“I doubt there’s a heaven for me, Lieutenant.”

The barrel shakes slightly, but Hank doesn’t lower it. His mouth tightens and he shakes his head slightly.

“I’m done with this game. I’m done with this town. I’m done with you. ...I want to see my son, Connor.”

Connor looks away. He lowers the pipe and shuts his eyes, hands clasping over the pipe as he does so. For a moment, he looks as tired as Hank feels. As he does, Hank can feel the wind pick up. The snow gets thicker, whipping both their jackets wildly. Hank can barely see through the blizzard.

Then Connor tilts his head back slightly and he turns back. He opens his eyes and they’re cold and hard. Colder than Cole’s blue ever was. When he speaks, his voice is distorted and pitched down, crackling with static for all that the words are pleasant and calm.

“I can help you.”

Hank doesn’t even see him move.

Something hard and metallic plunges into Hank’s stomach, and Hank is pinned to the ground like a moth to a board. Something thick and red burbles in Hank’s throat as he stares up. As Connor leans over him.

But it’s not Connor as Hank has been seeing him. Not Connor disguised as Cole, not Connor in his tidier state. Not anything that could be recognized as human. A mass of blue veins and pallid, dead flesh.

Hank is staring up at a torso suspended in a cage. The head and arms are mostly intact. One hand reaching forward to grip Hank around the throat. The other hand is gripping the bars of the half-broken metal cage that holds him. It reminds Hank morbidly of a child clinging to a swing, with Connor leaning as far through the broken cage as he can. Unable to actually clamber out of it.

He’s unable to climb out because a noose is bound around his neck and tied to the cage, keeping Connor’s neck jerked back. His head is at an unnatural angle, almost upside down from Hank’s view, much like it had been after he fell at the gallows. Skin bulging and bleeding around the rope. Furthermore, Connor’s legs are missing. Straps and chains are keeping the stumps suspended in the cage, unable to move far, as blue leaks in thick, sticky ropes onto the floor.

The cage, however, is very active. Most of it is clasped around Connor, stopping him from moving away. Rusted metal stained in blue. However, much like the cage that Alice had built for herself, parts of the metal have come loose and are moving of their own accord. Several of them shifting and skittering along the ground to move the cage forward with faint clicks that almost sound like the ting of Connor flipping his coin, giving the cage the look of a rusty, metal centipede.

It is one of these rusty, centipedal legs that has plunged itself into Hank’s stomach, digging through the flesh like it’s a soggy paper bag.

“You shouldn’t have woken up.”

Hank still has the gun. He tries to raise his arm to aim it, but Connor moves first. There’s a second squelch as another one of those legs impales his forearm to the ground. Hank lets out a damp, spluttered wheeze in place of a scream, red now leaking down his chin and building up around where Connor’s hand is squeezing. His hand spasms, the gun slipping from his grip.

Connor stares at him placidly. Despite his monstrous appearance, the face--for all that it’s now pallid and blue, stained with black rot--is still the same. Same features, down to that tuft of hair that never lies still. Those doe eyes gazing at him even as metal wriggles around in his insides.

“You could have been happy, Lieutenant,” Connor tells him quietly, face scarce inches away from Hank’s.

Connor starts to drag Hank towards him, using the metal buried in his stomach and the hand wrapped around his throat to do so. With Hank’s remaining arm--and even that one is screaming at him, because it’s the one that Gavin shot and all the wounds just feel like they’re reopening as Connor tears through him--he flails his arm back and grasps for the gun, fingers just barely skimming the top of it and pulling it with him.

Whether Connor doesn’t notice or just allows him to do so, Hank’s not sure. But the cold surface of the roof vanishes from Hank’s back as Connor yanks him up. With a series of metal clicks as his cage-made legs skitter across the roof, Connor turns to the rooftop edge that he’d been standing on when Hank found him. He kicks the flimsy barrier on his way, and it topples off the roof into the snowy, fog-filled void that is the world beyond this roof.

Hank’s feet barely skim the roof, scraping along the frost-covered ground. Slipping on the red blood leaking from his chest and the blue leaking out of Connor’s cage.

“But you didn’t want to be happy. You wanted this, Dad.”

Connor’s tone is clear this time. He almost sounds pitying, even as his hand tightens further around Hank’s throat. As Hank’s legs swing wildly in the blizzard. There’s nothing but Connor and snow.

“I did,” Hank splutters, more red bubbling in the corner of his mouth.

With a squelch and a choked, breathless hiss of pain, Hank yanks his arm off the metal impaling it and brings it to the gun. Raising it with both hands, his arms shaking so violently that he would have missed if he had to aim at all.

But he doesn’t have to aim this close. He just presses the gun to the underside of Connor’s chin.

“I do.”

He pulls the trigger.

Connor’s already-broken neck snaps back once more, head jerking back. A burst of blue exits through the top of his skull, and more starts to spill from his lips. The angle of Connor’s head causes the blue from his lips to trickle over his eyes, making them bluer than Cole’s.

His hand loosens on Hank’s throat, slipping free without really moving away. His head tilts slightly and his eyes go dull.

He doesn’t fall. He just… stops. Like a clockwork toy that has wound down.

That’s all Hank sees before he falls back, sliding off the metal legs with a wet squish. His feet slip off the roof, and all he sees is snowflakes rushing by him even as the blizzard seems to slow and come to an unnatural halt.

He falls.

He doesn’t die.

Of course he fucking doesn’t.

He lands hard, and pain spasms through him once more. Centered strongly on the gaping wounds in his stomach, but shooting through the bullet wound Gavin left him, the broken ribs, reminding him vividly of just how much he’s injured himself.

But still. Despite this, he doesn’t pass out. Whether because the town wills it or because of sheer spite.

It’s quickly overtaken by a numb chill that dulls the pain. He realises that, once more, he’s lying on ice. There are snowflakes still drifting around him, but they’re much lighter and gentler. Hank lies there for a long moment.

Then he struggles to his feet, clutching his stomach as red continues to seep through his fingers. That red overlaying blue once more.

He’s standing on the frozen lake.

He can’t see the police station. He can’t even see the light that led him there. He can’t see the shore. He can’t see anything except the lake stretching as far as the eye can see in this fog. All he sees is fog, ice and one distant shape.

The shape of a car lying abandoned on the ice.

Hank walks towards it. This time, the wind doesn’t slow him down. He feels it, but it doesn’t push him back. Only brings him forward. Almost like the town’s hands raking on his back, pushing him on.

He’s at the silhouette of the car before he knows it.

Hank reaches out to touch the car door, and expects it to vanish from underneath his hands like it did when he encountered it on the way to the police station. But this time, the cold metal remains under his fingers.

He looks the car over. And sees that it’s not the car that he had the accident in twenty years ago. It’s similar. Still a rusted heap of shit. But no. It’s the one he drove into Silent Hill, or at least one very like it. Maybe it’s the same one, brought here by the town. Maybe not.

His numb, blood-stained fingers curl around the door handle, and Hank opens the car door.

Someone’s sitting in the passenger seat. Not looking at him for the moment. Fingers twiddling with a pen as the figure--so similar to the rooftop, right down to the vomit stains on his shirt--stares down at a piece of paper. Hank sees glimpses of crossed out sections and scrawled words. Then the figure folds the paper up before it can be read, finally looking at him.

His eyes are blue. They are Hank’s eyes reflected back at him.

Hank climbs into the driver’s seat, and shuts the door behind him.

“Cole,” Hank says hoarsely.

He says nothing else for the moment. Just reaches out and grips his son’s hand. The hand is not warm. It’s cold and clammy. But it is undeniably there, or at least Hank feels it so strongly that it really makes no difference. Cole’s mouth quirks upwards for a moment--and it’s similar to Connor, but there’s a different twitch to it. Wider with a glimmer of teeth.

“You came back,” Cole whispers.

“...I know. I… I… fuck, I am so sorry. I’m so sorry, Cole. I…”

“Dad...”

Cole blinks hazily at him, and even as he does… Hank sees that there’s a trickle of vomit running from the corner of his mouth. Sees red specks underneath the fingernails. Knows that this isn’t a miraculous resurrection the moment that he sees it

“Dad, it’s alright,” Cole says sleepily.

“It’s not alright,” Hank croaked.

“You didn’t drug me. You didn’t make me do this.”

“No. But I… I could have stopped you. I should have said something. I should have listened. I… I should have noticed.”

Hank swallowed, trying to find the ability to speak, and felt more blood still rolling down his throat, clogging up his airways. Making his breaths come out as damp as Cole’s were.

“I did notice. I was just… I was angry. Disappointed. I thought… I thought you should have been better. And I didn’t think--didn’t want to acknowledge that… that I’d never helped you out of your bullshit. Just covered it up so you could keep doing it. So I wouldn’t have to let go of that dumb daydream in my head.”

Hank wrapped his arm around Cole, pressing his forehead to Cole’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t better. I’m sorry.”

Cole’s grip tightened on his fingers.

“We both kind of screwed the pooch on that one, Dad. We fucked up. You don’t need to apologize to me. You’re suffering enough. Whatever you think you needed to do, however you think you needed to hurt for your fuck-up… it’s enough. You don’t need to hurt anymore.”

Cole coughed, and more vomit trickled from his mouth.

“Dad…?” Cole blinked hazily at him, then pushed the piece of paper he was holding into Hank’s hands. Hank looked at the letter, then at Cole. Cole just sighed, head resting against the car seat. “There’s… I don’t know what to tell you. There’s too much. I tried… but I didn’t know what to write, and...”

Hank stared down at the letter, then slowly reached out and put it on the dashboard. He tightened his grip on Cole’s hand and shifted closer, wrapping his other arm around Cole’s shoulders.

“I’m here, son. I won’t leave you this time.”

Cole coughed a little more violently this time, but a smile spread across his face even as his face started to go purple from lack of air.

“Thank you.”

Nothing else was said.

Hank lets Cole rest against his shoulder. And he remains there, even as Cole starts to cough. Much quieter, audible but not moving much. Head jerking a little as he does so.

God, Hank wants to look away.

But he doesn’t. Not this time. He owes Cole that much.

He watches as Cole’s lips go blue from lack of air. He watches the throes as his lungs try to expel vomit, even as his eyes roll back and he slips from consciousness. He hears the breaths bottle up and stop, foam collecting at the corner of Cole’s mouth.

Cole’s hands slowly go cold.

As they do, Hank starts to hear an odd, familiar sound. For a moment, he thinks they’re footsteps. Then he thinks of bubbles popping. Finally, it hits him as to what the sound actually is.

The ice is cracking.

He’s heard the sound before. He heard it with Cole, their last vacation here. They never saw the ice melt… but they heard the start of it. That slightly eerie noise of air rising and the lake starting to break apart.

Hank listens for a moment. And thinks he feels the car shift ever so slightly.

Then he shuts his eyes, pressing the side of his face into Cole’s hair and tightening his grip around his shoulders. He listens and he waits.

His mind goes to the last memory that Silent Hill had tampered with. Standing in the bathroom, contemplating. Holding a blank piece of paper, thinking of what to write on it. How to explain what he was about to do, then debating whether to explain at all. Wondering who they’d even send the note to.

Contemplating whether he should shoot himself in the filthy, abandoned bathroom or take his car--the car with Cole still lying in the trunk, tucked away to escape the notice of any drivers he might have met on the way--and drive into the lake. Hope they’d never be discovered, never be dredged up again. Hope that no-one would ever see the mess that he and Cole had made of themselves.

The car shifts more this time, and a bobbing sensation. Like sitting in a rowboat. There’s the slow creak of ice grinding on ice.

“It’s gonna be alright, son,” Hank says quietly, eyes shut as he holds on.

He waits.

The car tilts, the ice weak under the weight of metal and rubber.

“It’s gonna be alright….”

The fog disappears from view as the windows are swamped in cold, slushy water. But Hank doesn’t open his eyes to look. He just clings to Cole tight enough that it’s likely leaving purple marks on the skin where his fingers dig in.

“I’ll be with you the whole time.”

A closer sound. Glass cracking under pressure.

Eyes closed, Hank lets a small smile cross his face.

The windshield shatters.

Cold--all-encompassing and incomparable cold--sweeps his body. Freezing water flooding everything, soaking into the open wounds in his stomach and clogging up his nose and his throat. A wave of burning pain. Then numbness.

Hank holds onto his son for as long as he can.

Then there’s nothing.

This time, the town lets him rest.

Chapter Text

In this world, when Hank sits in front of the television with his face pressed to his hands, he thinks of who his son once was. He thinks of what he became. And then he thinks about watching it happen and doing nothing.

 


 

When he reaches his belongings outside the elevator, Hank picks up the photo first and leans against the cold wall. Fingers tracing over it.

He shuts his eyes and sifts through the memories that he possesses. Remembers now when Cole showed him the ID card with this photo on it.

God, he’d been proud.

He’d pushed for so long. Encouraged was the kinder word for it. Encouraged any cop-based ambitions, any schoolwork, any training. But pushed might have been more accurate.

He’d pushed and pushed and he hadn’t wanted to let go of it.

Hank put the photo away, and then went about assembling the rest of his gear.

 


 

When he moves back, walking and following the last thread of hope he has left--the voice of his son calling him through static--he thinks about how the fuck everything got so twisted and wrong. He can see a web of mistakes stretching in front of him. A clusterfuck of bullshit that led him here. Twenty years in 20/20 vision.

 


 

“You fucked up, kid,” Hank says bluntly, as he sits outside the metal cage that Alice has imprisoned herself in.

He hears a short, choked sob in response and sees her hands tighten on the bars.

“I know,” Alice whispered.

Hank thinks on it. Then he shifts and reaches his hand out, touching the bars closer to where he can see Alice reaching through. He doesn’t make contact. He just puts his hand close enough that she can, if she needs to.

“I fucked up, too,” Hank admits. “I bet that’s true for anyone wandering this town. I didn’t fuck up in the same way you did. But… I wasn’t there in the right way for someone I cared a lot about. Pushed for some fucked up idea of what I thought they should be. Wasn’t there for them when they needed me. That’s something I can never undo. No matter how much I might want it.”

He looks over at her hands. He can see they’re shaking.

“You can still fix yours.”

He sees her hands pause, recoiling slightly from the bars but not quite letting go.

“You fucked up. I won’t lie and say that you didn’t. But locking yourself away… that won’t fix anything. One way or another, you still made those mistakes. Now you have to face up to them. And… honestly, kid? It might have been a shitty decision, but you made that decision from a place of fear.” Hank tilts his head back towards the cage. "Emotions always screw everything up. I think she'd get that.”

“...Will she forgive me?”

The easy answer would be to say ‘yes.’

“I don’t know,” Hank says instead. “That’s up to her.”

“...I’m scared.”

“Yeah… takes a lot of bravery to come clean.” Hank keeps his hand stretched out. “But… once I’m done here, if you need help?”

He hesitates a little longer. Not quite sure if he’s the best person for it. It’s not as if he did well with the last kid.

But it’s him or nothing.

He can’t leave Alice with nothing.

“I… can at least make sure you don’t have to do it alone.”

He didn’t think Kara would lash out physically over it. Emotionally? It’d probably fuck her up something awful. Either way, being there wouldn’t hurt. Whether Kara dealt well with it or not… he could do something good for fucking once.

It wouldn't undo a lifetime of mistakes… but it would stop him from making the mistake of leaving Alice be.

He waits.

Eventually, a small hand touches his own and holds on tight.

The cage shifts. The metal peels away like a plant pulling away its tendrils. Not moving far, just enough to give Alice a space to leave the prison that she’d made for herself.

She lets go of his hand and crawls through the gap in the metal, sheets and chairs. Then she moves back, grips his hand from the right side of the cage this time. And she wraps her arms around him and starts sobbing.

He doesn’t tell her it’ll be alright. He just remains silent as he hugs her back. He remains there with her for a while.

If Cole can forgive him for anything, he can forgive Hank for the delay.

 


 

“People make the town what it is, Hank. Can you honestly say you didn’t want what it gave you?”

Hank’s mind goes to a boy with blue eyes. A letter. A photo. A young man with brown eyes. Or were they blue? It goes to that man dying over and over, goes to a humanoid with a crystalline head. To scotch and Russian roulette.

It goes to a small girl with sad eyes, hands reaching through a cage as she hoped for some way of helping someone she loved, even if it left her alone. It goes to an unshaven man with a scar across his nose, jeering at a red-blooded corpse responsible for some apparent crime, chasing some bizarre power high or some weird form of ‘justice.’ And then it fades back into the present. To a man in a burning coat who can’t let go, surrounded by facsimiles of the friends he’d murdered and by fire he must think--possibly correctly--that he deserves.

“Honestly?”

Hank keeps his hand where it is. The book still dangling dangerously close to flames.

“Honestly, maybe it tried. But you know what? I’ve tried that shit myself, too. Just loading myself on whatever I want. But that shit’s never been good for me. Kind of the whole reason I want it. And this town… if this town isn’t trying to fuck with me? If it’s trying to help?”

The elevator flickers through his head. Hands trying to pry open the doors and a chain wrapping around a pale throat. The jail cell. Hands touching his face. A body lying on a cot, vomit trickling from his lips.

Hank shakes his head slightly, sweat trickling down his face in rivulets as the fire continues to burn.

“Jesus Christ, it doesn’t know how to fix that shit any better than I do.”

Hank’s eyes land on the creatures, shuddering violently. One of North’s arms is pulling towards him, like she’s fighting whatever is keeping her still. A rotted, vine-infested monster, flanked by two others. Three corpses on their feet.

“So how about you, Markus?” Hank nods his head at the three creatures. “Tell me that’s what you wanted.”

Markus says nothing. His mouth tightens and his remaining eye flickers down. That’s all the reaction he gives.

But there’s another ripple of movement through the three monsters. The blue-eyed one and the lanky, rattling one give a violent jerk forward, still remaining where they are but clearly straining to converge on Hank. Shuddering like the dying in their death throes. Markus’ hold on them briefly slipping.

And it slips too much on North, who pulls free.

Lunging over Markus and sprinting at Hank, face turned towards him. Fingers curling as she snarls, mouth opening and flowers bristling from the force of how she moves.

“North! North, don’t--” Markus yells, hand reaching out. She shudders as she runs, stumbling slightly, but she doesn’t listen. The fragile grip he had on her is broken.

Hank yanks the book back from the fire, curling his arm around it, before he raises a foot and squarely kicks the charging monster in the chest. Knocking North back before raising his gun.

He doesn’t fire immediately. Hoping, maybe, that he won’t have to. Not wanting to do to Markus what Ice Head did to him outside the elevator.

“Stop it! North!”

But she just lunges forward again, fingers scraping violently into Hank’s arm as she lunges, trying to either dig for the book or just claw Hank to pieces. Lines of red being drawn either way.

“Sorry,” Hank mutters under his breath.

He doesn’t want to. But he’s not dying to a shadow, no matter whose shadow it is.

He kicks once more, driving North back, before raising his gun and aiming square at the torso.

One shot.

North doesn’t quite go down. She slows, hands reaching up to grasp at the blue leaking from her ribcage, turning white flowers blue. She curls up, letting out a distressed rattle before slowly slumping to the floor. Before she can, Markus reaches her and grabs her, bringing her to the floor more gently.

“North! North, it’s alright, it… it’ll be alright…”

Hank lowers the gun immediately. He takes a step forward before Markus flinches, holding out a hand.

“Don’t. Stay where you are,” Markus says. His voice stays low, but it cracks. “I can’t…”

He twitches slightly. As he does, the two remaining monsters both shiver, still remaining where they are.

“Stay where you are,” Markus repeated. “I don’t… I don’t want you near them.”

His attention focused on North. She’s stirring, rattling as her face turns towards Hank. Trying to squirm out of Markus’ grip towards Hank, even now.

Markus presses a hand to the bullet wound somewhere behind the mass of flowers, but blue continues to seep past his fingers. His fingers, previously flickering with fire, are now being consumed with blue, with petals and with ashes. He blinks quickly a few times before his eyes shut.

“What do you want me to say to that, Hank?” he whispers. “What do you want me to say? That I wanted my friends in… in this form? In this… mockery? No! No, it’s not exactly what I wanted! But I have to hope. I have to! Why the hell do you want to ruin that?! Why can’t you just leave us be?”

Hank stares at Markus, then looks at the book now tucked under his arm.

“This town won’t help you, Markus.”

Markus doesn’t respond, his fingers still trying to stem the tide of blue. North isn’t moving much in his arms anymore. Simon and Josh shudder once more before slowly moving forward, but they don’t move towards Hank. They sit on either side of Markus, hands reaching out to touch North’s arms, and they remain still as well.

Hank could try to drag Markus from them. But this town didn’t like to let go, and it had clawed deep into Markus. An iron grip that Hank couldn’t break.

Hank takes a step forward. Then another. He slides the gun back into his belt before holding the book out towards Markus.

“Don’t end the world with whatever’s in this book, alright?”

He wants to ask Markus to come to his senses, but he knows a lost cause when he sees it. Seen it too many times, even if never in these circumstances. Seen it in the bathroom mirror before the town took hold of his mind.

He’s still not sure if that went away, either. But if it was, it wasn’t because anyone told him to reconsider.

Markus had. ‘If you feel that urge? Take it and run.’  But he probably knew that Hank wouldn’t have, either. Not then.

Hank waits, not wanting to let go of the book in this room of flames.

Slowly, Markus lets go of the wounds with one hand and blue-stained fingers reach out. He touches the book, leaving blue streaks behind on the red cover as he pulls it towards him.

Markus still doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t even look up, his one eye trained on North. But there’s a creak from behind Hank. He glances back to see that the door leading out has opened, and that icy stairwell is visible once more.

“Go before I change my mind,” Markus mutters, voice croaky.

The fire flares up a little, and starts to crisscross along the floor. Trailing between Markus and Hank, pushing Hank onwards.

Hank starts to walk forward, but his eyes are still on Markus.

“Sorry,” he mutters, because he feels like he should apologize. For what specifically, he’s not even sure. But he feels that he needs to.

And then he tears his eyes from the sight and walks through the door. It closes behind him without him touching the handle. He doesn’t reopen the door to check if Markus is still there.

He has somewhere to be.

He has regrets to deal with before they drown him. Before they destroy him as surely as Markus’ regrets were destroying him.

 


 

Hank goes to the gallows with a few more scratches and one less bullet.

He goes with an extra layer of blue on his hands, even if there’s no red. He goes with a fresh regret, but also with the knowledge that he’s done something decent. He doesn’t know yet if they balance each other out. And as he walks to the rooftop, mistakes weigh on him. But they weigh alongside something he hasn’t felt in a while. Even before Cole’s death, when he was drinking himself to death to block out the difficulties of the job.

Clarity. Whatever else, there’s clarity.

 


 

“Catch.”

In this world, the man who might be Cole drops the pipe of red ice in order to catch the coin. The crystals go scattering against the ground, but he pays no mind to it. He immediately tosses it to his other hand, catching it between his pointer and middle finger, before tossing it back again and starting to roll it over his knuckles.

His mouth tilts up slightly—but only slightly—as he eyes Hank with doe-brown eyes. Hank still can’t quite see them… but he knows now that’s what colour they are.

“You kept my coin,” Connor says quietly. There’s clear surprise in his voice.

“Figured you’d want it back,” Hank muttered.

Connor turns the coin over his knuckles before glancing down at the red ice pipe. After a moment of oddly bemused consideration, he pushes the pipe away with his foot and looks back to Hank.

“Are you here for Cole? Or are you here for me?”

Hank breathes out long and hard through his nose as he stares at Connor.

“...Sorry, Connor. But you know the answer to that.”

There’s a small but noticeable spasm of obvious hurt across Connor’s face before he looks down, catching the coin and clasping it in his hands. Slowly, he raises his hand and waves away the red smoke.

“You know he’s gone. You know I’m not him. I’m Connor.”

“Yeah. You are.”

Connor takes a step forward.

Hank holds up his hand and takes a step back. Connor raises his hands, staring at Hank with those docile, brown eyes. Still the same, even though the rest of him is so perfectly mimicking Cole.

Hank looks. He really looks. And for a moment, he thinks he sees something else. Something blue. Something metal. But it’s the briefest flicker. The briefest, yet clearest, flicker.

“Stay where you are.”

Connor doesn’t. He takes another step forward. When Hank moves away from him, his head cocks to the side.

“What’s--”

“Stop it. Whatever you’re doing… stop it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Are you kidding me? Are you really fucking kidding me right now? Connor, would you fucking look at what you’re doing?”

Hank gestured at Connor with wild hands, the motions getting progressively angrier.

“You can’t turn up like that and tell me you don’t know what’s going on!”

Connor reaches up, instinctively reaching for where he normally wears a tie but stopping once he recalls what he’s wearing. He frowns a little, then stares at Hank. “You… you don’t want this anymore?”

“You really think I wanted some asshole to pretend to be my son--”

“I’m not Cole,” Connor said quickly. “I’m Connor.”

“Then why the fuck are you dressed like him?! Why are you doing this?!”

“Because you wanted it.” Connor adjusts his jacket thoughtfully, mouth tightening, before looking at him. “Did I do this wrong?”

“Yes! Yes, this is fucking wrong! Connor, what the fuck would make you think I wanted this?!”

Connor tilts his head a little further. He gazes at Hank before taking another step forward, raising his hands.

“You want a lot of things, Lieutenant.”

Hank slowly puts one foot back, meaning to step away again, but doesn’t. He freezes as Connor steps closer, slowly extending his hands. As he does, there’s that weird flicker again. Metal clinking on the floor, a glimmer of metallic, spiny legs. But Hank doesn’t get a good look before it’s just Connor.

“I can be all of them, if you’ll let me,” Connor said softly. “Your partner. Your buddy to drink with. Or I can be the son that won’t disappoint you. The son you actually wanted, the one that you always imagined when you thought of what might be.”

Another step forward. His hands are inches from Hank.

But Hank steps back again, wrenching his feet back but feeling them drag like they’re weighed down with lead.

“Connor. You can’t replace him.”

Connor retracted his hands slightly but didn’t lower them. He blinked at Hank with clear, hurt bemusement.

“Why not?” he asks, the tone he uses almost childish in its incomprehension. “It would be easier. You would be happier.”

“I would be,” Hank says, his voice cracking. “God, I would be.”

Connor reached out for him, but Hank stepped back again.

“I was happier ignoring the problems that Cole was having, too,” he continued. “Happier believing that things would work out. That he’d solve his issues on his own as long as I took care of the ones threatening his career. Told myself cop work was right for him. That anyone who said otherwise was an idiot or jealous or worried.”

Hank’s eyes focused on the discarded pipe of red ice, crystals scattered across the roof.

“I believed what made me happy to believe. It killed him,” Hank said hoarsely.

His eyes moved back to Connor’s face. To the disheveled clothing and messier hair that was just… so Cole. Cole as he’d truly been, not the tidier appearance that Hank had previously imagined. The more put-together look that Connor had worn.

“I’d be a good son. I’d be a better son,” Connor said. His voice had a strained tinge to it, even as he stepped forward again.

Hank didn’t move back. And he gave Connor a small, tilted smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Eyes that were as misty as the void surrounding them, but he scrubbed at them anyway. Trying to keep it together.

“You’d be a great son, Connor. But you’re not Cole.”

“Yes, I… I know. I’m Connor,” Connor said. He was staring at Hank with eyes that were progressively getting wider. Confused. Afraid. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand, Hank!”

Hank can only give Connor a pitying grimace. Of course Connor didn’t understand.  He was a part of the town. And the town… Connor included... they might have tried. Maybe it really was trying to give Hank what he wanted. But it didn’t really understand how fucked everything was.

“Whatever you’re trying to do, Connor… it’s just not doable. This town can’t help me. And I’m done with it.”

Hank doesn’t say ‘I’m done with you.’ But he knows Connor hears it anyway from the way he flinches, from how hurt flashes sharp across his face. Like Hank had slapped him.

The snow starts to fall heavier. The wind picks up.

Those goddamn fucking doe eyes blink a few times before he looked down. Hurt and an angry, upset flush crossing his face, like Hank had slapped him. That flicker again, but this time longer. Stronger. Blue veins and rotten flesh. Hank took another step back, even as Connor raised his head again.

“No,” he whispered.

“...No?”

“No. You can’t leave. You can’t.” Connor’s voice crackles, distorted by static for a moment. “You’re… you’re everything, Hank. I can’t… I won’t...” Connor’s breathing faster, and there’s that flicker again. Again. Each time, his voice distorts, slowing down and coming out near-unintelligible. Hands clenched into fists.

The snow falls harder and faster, and Hank can barely see Connor through the blizzard it’s becoming.

“Connor--”

“I won’t let you!”

The coin slips from Connor’s hands. The flicker becomes stronger, quicker, until it’s not the Connor that Hank recognises standing in front of him, but instead a monstrosity. He sees the glimpses of blue-veined flesh and metallic, spiny legs that he’s been seeing as only flickers, but now it’s the human side that’s only glimpses until it phases from view entirely.

Hank can only think that it’s no wonder Gavin screamed, if he saw anything even close to what he’s looking at.

He is staring at a torso suspended in a cage. The head and arms are mostly intact. Mostly human, apart from the black rot and pale, blue-veined skin. Still speckled like Cole had been, like Connor was. Is. Connor’s clenched hands are now clinging to the bars of the cage, shaking them like it’ll allow him to move past them but unable to actually clamber out.

He’s unable to climb out because a noose is bound around his neck and tied to the cage, keeping his neck jerked back. His head is at an unnatural angle, almost upside down from Hank’s view, much like it had been after he fell at the gallows. Skin bulging and bleeding around the rope. Furthermore, Connor’s legs are missing. Straps and chains are keeping the stumps suspended in the cage, unable to move far, as blue leaks in thick, sticky ropes onto the floor.

But the cage is not immobile. Hank slowly takes another few steps back as Connor bears down on him. Most of the cage is clasped around him, all rusted metal stained in blue. But much like the cage that Alice had built for herself, parts of the metal have come loose and are moving of their own accord. Several of them shifting and skittering along the ground to move the cage forward with faint clicks, giving the cage the look of a rusty, metal centipede.

All the other monsters… they looked more human than this in most aspects. All of them had largely human bodies, albeit with bits misplaced or ruined. But none of them had possessed humanoid faces. And Connor… his face still looked like himself, albeit more pallid and corpsy.

“Oh, Jesus Christ…” Hank breathes out.

His hand inches towards Connor’s revolver on his belt, but it hesitates. That hesitation is enough.

Several tings, almost ringing out in the pattern of one of Connor’s more complex coin tricks, as the centipedal cage legs scramble forward and Connor slams into him, humanoid arms grasping and clawing.

His back hits the ground, sliding slightly along the ice-slicked roof, and Hank sees several metallic legs click around him. One hovers slightly, just over his chest. If it were to slam down, that leg could easily impale him. Despite the oddly blue rust, the tips of the legs are sharp. Filed down to jagged points.

Hank shuts his eyes on instinct, but no blow ever comes. He opens them again.

Connor is twitching. Hank has seen that specific shudder before. In the burning hallway, in the monsters surrounding Markus. How they’d shivered while holding back from harming him. Only Markus couldn’t be holding Connor back. Connor was Hank’s monster.

Another leg slams down, so close that it splices through Hank’s jacket while barely missing the flesh underneath, pinning part of his clothing to the floor.

Connor shudders again, eyes blinking furiously, before he claws at his head for a moment with his humanoid fingers. Then the metallic legs all crouch slightly, lowering over Hank, before he slams his hands into the floor on either side of Hank.

He doesn’t say anything. But frustration bubbles every time he hits the floor, thumping his fists like a small child being denied its favourite treat.

“Tell me what you need me to be!” Connor yells, slamming his fists against the ground. “Tell me what you need and I can be it. Make sense. Why won’t you make sense?!”

The centipedal legs tighten, slamming into the floor again and again, but slightly missing Hank every time. Close enough to restrict his movement, just shy of harming him.

“Get the fuck off me, Connor!”

“No.” That one syllable is distorted, a hiss of radio static.

But there’s that shudder again. Was Hank holding him back? No. Connor clearly wasn’t listening to him. For all that he claimed to be what Hank wanted, now that it came down to this he’d chosen to disobey.

The metallic legs shift very slowly for a moment, then slam inward abruptly with force, like machinations whirring to warm up. This time, Hank feels the freezing metal pierce his jacket and slide along the skin. Leaving shallow but vicious lines of burning red behind. But then the metal prongs clasp around him and drag him up, and at the same time Connor wraps his humanoid arms around Hank’s shoulders and clings to him.

“You can’t… you can’t go. I don’t want you to,” he whispers, voice glitching and crackling. Connor blinks a few times. “I… I don’t want that.” There’s a lot of emphasis on ‘I,’ his static-soaked voice dragging the syllable out like it’s unfamiliar.

“Connor--”

“I. Don’t. Want. That.”

The way the metallic legs were curling around him was affectionate but desperate. Icy chills from the metal. But the fleshy arms, for all that they looked blue and dead, they were still warm. Even in this form…

Even now, Hank is tempted to cave.

He wrenches his arms as far away from the metallic cage as he can, as Connor tries to keep him captive. But he wraps one arm around Connor, returning the hug and pressing his face into that blue-veined, rotting shoulder.

“I don’t want it, either,” Hank says quietly.

Connor blinks a few times, arms pausing. Then he grips tighter with his human arms, but his metallic ones loosen very slightly.

Enough for Hank to extract his other arm, gripping the revolver, and to jam it into Connor’s gut and squeeze the trigger.

The snow comes to a halt, the flakes seeming to freeze in the air as the wind stops.

The cry Connor makes is voiceless, only a staticky crackle, as his legs lock up. Hank yanks himself back, his jacket tearing to shreds as he extracts himself from the metal. A jacket that Connor had given him, leaving him in only the stained, somewhat acid-damaged shirt he’d worn into the town.

He leaves the revolver behind. It has no bullets left, anyway. Instead he scrambles back, watching as Connor lunges after him.

“You can’t--”

But the metal legs aren’t moving anymore, only the bleeding fleshy half that’s locked within it, and as Connor tries to throw himself after Hank, the cage only tips and he slams to the floor, hitting it hard on his side. Arms still stretching out towards Hank.

Hank only moves further back, out of reach, before slowly getting to his feet. The snow is falling again, but gently.

“You’re not stopping me, Connor. I’m sorry.”

Connor curls up on the ground, one hand scrabbling to stem the tide of the blue that’s spilling from his guts. The metallic legs curled up like those a dead spider, immobile.

“Hank!” he rasps.

Hank turns his head away, shutting his eyes tightly. Mouth tightening as he tried to keep himself impassive. But it wasn’t working. He could feel his hands shaking, even as he clenched them tightly.

“Hhh… Hank… Hank... “

There was the scraping of metal along the floor. The sound of something heavy being dragged.

“Hank… Dad… please…”

Hank couldn’t help but crack open one eyelid just a little.

Connor had one arm extended, fingers digging into the floor as he dragged himself forward. He slammed the other hand onto the ground, too. Pulling himself forward inch by inch. His eyes, still so human, were focused on Hank. Desperate and glassy.

As Hank watched, there was a flicker. Much like there had been earlier, but the other way around. For a moment, Hank saw a fully human form lying on the ground. Human except for the blue leaking through his shirt and from his nose and mouth. Connor coughed damply, spitting blue onto the floor, before extending his hand to pull himself just a few inches closer to Hank. Hank blinked, and he was staring at the caged monstrosity once more.

“Please…”

Hank shut his eyes again for a moment longer. He wanted to shut his eyes until Connor finally died.

But… but that would be running. He wasn’t going to run anymore. He’d made Connor what he was. Just as he’d made the Ice Heads. Possibly made every creature that he’d seen in Silent Hill. Another mistake in a life of mistakes. Another one that he couldn’t truly fix.

Hank took a step forward. Another. Approaching Connor’s crawling, writhing form before kneeling down in front of him. Wordlessly, he reaches out.

He half-expects an attack. And Connor does grab him tightly. One hand digging into Hank’s forearm so tightly that it’ll leave bruises for sure. Blue streaking the skin underneath. Connor’s mouth moves, clearly trying for something, but no words come out.

Hank shifts closer, reaching out with his other hand and pulling Connor upwards, propping him up somewhat as much as he can when he has to work around the metallic cage encompassing the lower half. Blue slicks the ground. Coats Hank’s hands, over the layer of blue from the Ice Heads and the layer of blue from North.

Slowly, Hank wraps both arms around Connor and hugs him close.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry, kid. It’ll... It’ll be alright.”

It wouldn’t be. But what else could Hank say?

Connor blinks hazily. His grip hasn’t abated on Hank’s forearm. But the other arm reaches out and curls around Hank, too. Connor slumps a little, face buried in Hank’s shoulder. He doesn’t move, but he relaxes slowly.

“Da… Hank,” Connor mumbles, correcting himself even as his voice glitches and slurs. One mechanical malfunction and one all-too-human malfunction. Hank tightens the hug.

“It’s alright, son… it’s alright.”

The least he could do was try and let the kid die happy. The least he could do was pretend, if only for a moment. For both of them.

Connor’s eyes shut for a moment as he leaned into the hug before they flickered open again. Once again, for just a moment, Hank’s holding a fully human form. Blue mingling with the vomit stains on his--on Cole’s--shirt.

Connor reaches up with both hands and grasps Hank’s face, bringing his head in and butting their foreheads together. Blue streaks get smeared along Hank’s face, cooling and leaving a sticky tingle behind. He shuts his eyes for a moment, and for once Hank doesn’t see Cole in his place without the brown to remind him.

He breathes in. Out. A shaky, watery breath. Pain still twisting his features. He opens his eyes a little, eyes flickering to the side, before he meets Hank’s gaze again. When he speaks, it’s not crackly. It’s quiet and clogged with liquid, strained like he’s forcing every word out. But it’s clear.

“I’m glad to have met you, Hank.”

Hank said nothing. He just tightened his grip even more, tears trickling down his face. He couldn’t reply. Any words caught in his throat. But he desperately hoped that Connor would know through the tight grip and the tears.

“I hope one day you can get over what happened to your son.”

Hank watched as Connor’s eyes blinked a few more times before a blank glassiness overtook them. His head fell back slightly, his eyes closing as his face muscles, blue-veined and distorted by pain, slowly relaxed. His hands slipped off Hank’s face and fell, hitting the floor with a dull thud.

Slowly, Hank rested a hand on Connor’s forehead. Then he lowered the kid to the ground, the movement cumbersome as the cage’s bulk shifted slightly. He sat there for a long moment, cradling the cooling body in his arms.

Then he got up, and plucked the coin from where it had fallen during Connor’s breakdown. He turned and walked back, kneeling by Connor’s body. He pried open Connor’s hand, placed the coin inside it, closing the fingers over it.

“I hope so, too,” he muttered. He shuts his eyes again, both hands gripping Connor’s own. “...I’m sorry I wasn’t what you needed, kid.”

 


 

He doesn’t recall walking away, and doesn’t know where he’d walk to if he had. The rooftop had no exit.

He just finds himself on the frozen lake.

He turns around, feet slipping slightly on the ice. He can see the light of the police station, the one he originally followed across the lake. The one that shouldn’t shine as brightly as it does. The snow has slowed down to a light fall, sprinkling around him.

The wind has gone. Nothing pushing him forwards or dragging him back. Like the town has dropped him here only to let him run wild. Hank lifts his hand, squinting through the fog as he shields his eyes.

He sees only two things. That light shining in the distance. And the silhouette of a car, lying on the ice. Just as he thought he’d seen on the trip over.

It is towards that silhouette that Hank walks.

The walk is almost peaceful. And he soon arrives at the car, sitting there and waiting for him.

Hank reaches out to touch the car door, and expects it to vanish from underneath his hands like it did when he encountered it on the way to the police station. But this time, the cold metal remains under his fingers. Hank pauses, shutting his eyes for a moment, then he opens them and looks the car over.

It’s not the car that he had the accident in twenty years ago. It’s similar. Still a rusted heap of shit. But no. It’s the one he drove into Silent Hill, or at least one very like it.

Maybe it’s the same one, brought here by the town. Maybe not. He hopes it’s not. He’s not sure how he’d drive away if his car is down here.

His numb, blue-stained fingers curl around the door handle, and Hank opens the car door.

Someone’s sitting in the passenger seat. Not looking at him for the moment. Fingers twiddling with a pen as the figure--so similar to the rooftop, right down to the vomit stains on his shirt--stares down at a piece of paper. Hank sees glimpses of crossed out sections and scrawled words. Then the figure folds the paper up before it can be read, finally looking at him.

His eyes are blue. They are Hank’s eyes reflected back at him.

Hank climbs into the driver’s seat, and shuts the door behind him.

He finds that he doesn’t have anything to say. He’s a little afraid to grasp his son’s hand. Afraid that it might be another trick of the town. Afraid that, despite the eyes, it might be Connor once again. Even barring the lack of a gun, he doesn’t think he can kill Connor again.

Cole’s the one to reach out and touch his own lightly. The hand isn’t warm. It’s cold and clammy. But present. Undeniably so. It’s also stained with red specks of ice. Hank can see vomit crusted at the corners of Cole’s mouth.

It’s not a resurrection. It’s a ghost, if it’s anything at all. Hank can’t trust that it’s real. He knows that he would have trusted even less if it’d been a healthy, sober Cole. This town doesn’t grant miracles.

But it’s something close enough. Something that, this time, he’ll take from the town if it’s offering.

If only for the moment.

He could be weak for a moment.

Hank just shuts his eyes and wraps his arms around Cole, pulling him close and clinging tight. He can hear Cole breathing, and hear that it’s thick and bubbly. It feels off, and that makes it feel more solid, more real, than if it’d been perfect. Of course it’d be terrible and wrong and off-putting. Cole was dead.

Cole tosses the scrap of paper and the pen to the floor of the car, and he returns the hug. The hands are clawing and desperate, and it makes Hank want to recoil briefly. Blurring the present with the rooftop. But he feels a smile curve against his shoulder.

“You came back,” Cole whispers.

“Yeah. ...Fuck, I am so sorry. I’m sorry it took so long, I just…”

He shakes his head, still pressing his face into Cole’s shoulder and rocking him back and forth slightly.

“I just… lost sight of everything. Did it here. Did it out there. I could have stopped you. I should have said something. I should have listened. I… I should have noticed.”

Cole says nothing. He shifts his head slightly, nose bumping against the side of Hank’s face as he resettles a little so he can watch Hank without moving out of the hug. Vomit’s leaking from his mouth and onto Hank’s shirt, but Hank doesn’t move away.

“...I was fucking pissed at you,” Hank muttered. “Y’know, I still kind of am?  I was just… I was angry. Disappointed. I thought… I thought you should have been better. And I didn’t think--didn’t want to acknowledge that… that I’d never helped you out of your bullshit. And you’d…”

“Just killed a man?” Cole mutters dryly.

“Yeah, that. Killed a man in front of witnesses. Everything I’d pushed you into, just… gone. And the moment I picked you up in my car and we ran… well, I’d gotten involved. You’d… we’d fucked over any chance at either of us having a career again… and I could have stopped it before it got to that point, but I didn’t. But I didn’t want to blame myself, so… So I blamed you, and I said nothing.”

“You still blame me?”

“Kind of. ...I think part of me just wanted to be rid of you. Forget about you, start over. That’s… that’s pretty fucked up, huh?”

Cole’s grip tightened on his back.

“Pretty fucked up, yeah. ...But if it’s true, then why are you crying?”

Hank said nothing. Just looked back, then his eyes flickered downwards and he buried his face back in Cole’s shoulder. Soaking the already vomit-stained shirt.

“I wish I could hate you. I wish shit wasn’t all screwed up,” Hank mumbled.

Cole coughs, covering his mouth with one hand to muffle the vomit trickling from his lips. But when he lowers the hand, he’s grinning a little.

“We both fucked up,” he said simply.

Hank laughs, although it comes up waterlogged. “We sure fucking did. Guess it runs in the family.”

“Dad?” Cole blinks a few times, looking down, before he manages to look him in the face. “...You didn’t forget. You won’t forget.” He pulls back, but his hands remain on Hank’s back. His fingers squeeze down. “It’s alright.”

Hank has to look down. As he does, he hears a noise. It’s an odd, familiar sound. For a moment, he thinks they’re footsteps. Then he thinks of bubbles popping. Finally, it hits him as to what the sound actually is.

The ice is cracking.

He’s heard the sound before. He heard it with Cole, their last vacation here. They never saw the ice melt… but they heard the start of it. That slightly eerie noise of air rising and the lake starting to break apart.

Hank listens for a moment. And thinks he feels the car shift ever so slightly.

Cole looks out the window too, even though neither of them can see anything beyond the fog and ice, before they both look at each other.

Cole reaches up and cups Hank’s face, fingers rubbing against the blue stains that Connor left there when he did the same. There’s a purple tint to his face, the purple of asphyxiation even though he’s still moving like he’s conscious otherwise.

“I need you to do me a favor, Dad.”

He could have asked anything in that moment and Hank would have done it, even if it meant staying in this car. Hank just nodded. Might be the last thing he’d ever hear from the kid. For once, he had to fucking listen.

“...Can you move on for me?”

Hank’s eyes flickered to the side. To the worn seats, stained with vomit. To the upholstery that, were this his actual car, would be separating him from the trunk. The place where the real Cole was.

He thinks about leaving this town. He wants that. Wants to be somewhere where he understands everything. Somewhere that operates within the boundaries of reality.

But he doesn’t know what life he can live without his kid. He can’t even imagine what that life might be like. Now that Cole is slotted back into his memories, he realises what an empty existence he thought he’d led after the town fucked with his head. It’s an easy thing to do until he has to think about what it’ll involve.

“I don’t know,” Hank mutters.

“Can you try?”

Hank hesitates. But he shuts his eyes for a moment, butting his forehead against Cole’s, before opening his eyes again.

“Okay.”

Cole grins. But his eyes drift to the side as the sound of the ice breaking echoes once more. He stares off at the lake, then back at Hank. Mouth tightening into a line to stop from shaking, pale blue eyes quiet but fearful. Hank stares back, that same look in his eyes. Running in the family just like everything else.

Wordlessly, Hank pulls Cole towards him for one last hug. Clinging tight, probably leaving bruises. He knows Cole’s fingers digging in as he returns the gesture have to be.

He doesn’t say anything else. Neither of them do.

Hank lets go. He opens the car door, looking towards that one light shining steadily in the fog. The light on the dock by the police station.

He climbs out of the car, and he walks towards that light. A few steps in he looks back.

The car’s gone. Cole is gone with it.

Hank turns away again, and he walks towards the distant light even as the lake starts to crack and melt behind him.

 


 

He walks. He reaches that dock. His feet touch unfrosted wood, even as the lake cracks behind him, dissolving back into a cold slush. Soon it’ll be nothing but water, just as it was when he arrived.

Hank walks back to the police station. But he doesn’t need to go back inside. There’s a small figure sitting on the steps outside the station.

Alice waits, legs curled up to her chest, resting against the railing. When she sees him, she breathes a sigh of relief that might have gone unnoticed if her breath didn’t mist in front of her face.

Hank stops within a few steps of her and holds out his hand. She immediately gets up and hurries to his side, reaching up to clasp his hand. No words are shared.

They walk away from the police station, Alice pulling slightly ahead to lead Hank along the lake’s edge. Presumably following the way she’d taken here.

As they walked along the road, Hank’s eyes moved back to the lake. It was hard to tell if it was still coated in ice from his view. Snow still fell, but it was just the lightest sprinkle.

By the lake’s edge, he saw a figure moving about. A figure wearing a long coat with burnt edges, crouching by the lake and yanking flowers that grew on its banks from the damp, frosted dirt. White flowers that matched those that had grown from North.

Hank doesn’t slow down, but as he walks with Alice--who is too focused on the road to look towards Markus--he watches. Markus looks over at him, one good eye focusing on him. Hank thinks he sees two other figures moving a little further in the fog, but he can’t be sure.

Markus gives him a nod, mouth tightening, then returns to picking flowers. That’s all Hank sees before he and Alice move too far away, and Markus and the silhouettes of his monstrous friends are swallowed up in the fog.

Hank waits for the broken road that had stopped him from traversing north so long ago. How long had it been? It felt like years, but at the same time it felt like no time at all

But they never come to a broken road. The road continues on. The bridge that had been gone is now there, solid as anything else. Hank doesn’t bother thinking about it too hard.

They circle the lake. It’s a long walk but it’s uneventful. Nothing attacks. Nothing moves in the fog once they’ve passed beyond Markus. Hank glances at the lake again, and sees that it’s water now. Lapping gently against the edge of the lake.

The snow stops.

Alice starts to slow as they approached the southern side of town once more. Once familiar buildings start to loom into view, Hank moves a little further forward and takes the lead as they walk back into the streets. Streets that Hank had traveled with Connor and on his own in a hungover haze.

A shape moves in the fog, and Hank shifts Alice behind him quickly. But a voice quickly accompanies it.

“Alice? Alice?!”

Alice came to an immediate halt at the sound of Kara’s voice. Her mouth shook, and she looked up at Hank.

Hank tightened his grip on her hand and nodded slightly.

Alice looked forward, and they both moved towards the figure.

Kara emerged from the fog, still bruised and battered but looking none the worse for wear since last time Hank had seen her. The moment she spotted them, she sped up into a run.

“Alice!”

She knelt and wrapped her arms around Alice once more, burying her face in Alice’s shoulder.

“Don’t scare me like that,” she murmured, grip tightening.

Alice looked over at Hank even as she tightened her own grip. She stared for a moment, then her grip tightened a little more.

“Kara… I need to tell you something.”

Kara blinked a few times, moving back.

“Tell me some--”

“It can wait,” Hank interrupted, stepping forward. Kara’s eyes moved over to him and she quickly stood up, taking Alice’s hand as she did so.

“Oh. Oh, you came back! Does that mean--”

Hank jerked his head towards the direction of the roadside bathroom. “I promised a lift. Let’s just get the fuck out of this town already. Then we can talk all we want.”

The last thing he wanted was for Kara to react badly enough to make the town act up. Alice needed to tell the truth… but there was a time and a place for it. That time was away from this foggy shithole.

Hank looked at Alice, and her mouth tightened before she nodded back.

“Yeah. Yeah… it can wait,” Alice said quietly.

“Okay.” Kara looked at Hank. “Are you done here, then? Did you… did you find your son?”

“As best as I’m ever going to.” Hank started to walk. “Come on.”

Kara watched him for a moment, then started after him. Hand clinging to Alice’s as the three of them made their way through the fog. Made their way past buildings and alleyways, still so empty.

Past the road that led to the park and the pier.

Past the apartments that Hank had found Kara, Markus and Gavin in.

Up the stairs out of town. Through the graveyard he’d met Alice in.

Finally heading up and reaching the parking lot, and the roadside bathroom. Arriving at the railing that Hank had leaned on, staring at the lake in the distance and contemplating ghosts. Once again, Hank leaned on it for a moment. Wondering if he’d see that light at the police station if he just stared hard enough.

He didn’t.

But a white flicker caught the corner of his eye. Not just his eye. Kara’s head turned at it, too. But before she could say anything, Hank approached where he’d seen movement. Just by the roadside bathroom.

A letter had been dropped on the ground. Hank knelt to pick it up.

It was addressed to him, in the same handwriting as the letter he’d imagined. And he recalled the piece of paper that Cole had been crawling on in that car on the frozen lake before tossing it to the car floor in favor of a hug.

Hank lifted his eyes, staring around him. Looking for a sign of who’d dropped it. He thinks he feels a presence for a moment, but then there’s nothing.

Kara’s staring around as well.

“It’s not just me?” she asks under her breath. Hank raises an eyebrow at her, but Kara shrugs. “I… I just had that happen before, that’s all. Not with letters, though.”

Hank’s fingers itch to open it. But it can wait. He can’t trust any letter he finds in this town. Maybe when he’s out of town… maybe then. At least he’ll know it’s not a trick of the fog. He puts the letter in his pocket, and he turns towards the parking lot.

There are two cars there. One is his own. The other is a car--better cared for than his own--that he recognises as belonging to Gavin. Hank’s mouth tightens slightly as he eyes the little football player bobblehead glued to the dashboard before he turns away.

Hank instead eyes his own car. Identical to the one that he’d seen on the lake, but this one… this one is definitely for real. The car he drove into Silent Hill with.

He can smell old puke and a hint of something rotten. And Hank’s eyes linger on the trunk.

He’ll have to deal with that. There were simpler answers to what to do there. Go back or continue on. But though the answers were simple, contemplating it was much more painful.

But first he could drive Kara and Alice to the nearest gas station, and help Alice explain what she’d done. Do something good. And then…

And then he’s not sure what he’ll do. Help them get where they need to go? Go back home? Try to explain what happened? Though how the fuck he’ll explain Cole… and how the fuck he’ll explain what made him turn around, or what happened to Gavin… he doesn’t know, either.

“Keys,” Hank says outloud, and Kara tosses them to him.

He unlocks the car, giving another glance at the roadside bathroom. At where the letter had fallen. He thinks he sees a figure leaning on the railing for a second, a figure flicking a coin over his fingers and watching the view much like he’d done, but he blinks and the figure is gone.

One way or another, he’ll deal with what happens next.

Kara climbs into the backseat, and Alice climbs in beside her and rests against her shoulder. She glances back at the town as well. Kara looks, too, but she doesn’t give the town the same scrutiny as Hank and Alice do.

He’ll keep going, if only for another day. He promised Cole, even if it was just something that the town invented for him. And then the next day, he’ll try and do the same.

And maybe, someday, he can forgive himself for the apathy that led him here.

Maybe he can forgive himself for Cole. And for Connor. For anyone else he failed to save and those he’d personally gunned down. For a lifetime of mistakes he’d made.

Hank starts up the engine.

Not today. But someday.

Chapter Text

In this world, when Hank sits in front of the television with his face pressed to his hands, he thinks of a small child, and wonders when the fuck he messed up that kid.

 


 

It’s the quarter that he touches first, despite its relative mundane nature compared to everything else. As far as he knows, this quarter is not tied to any puzzle. It’s not a weapon. It’s not memorabilia from his past.

It’s just a quarter.

But Hank stares at it like it holds the answers to everything. Very slowly, he tries to roll it over his knuckles.

He recalls Connor doing it vividly. And just a little less vividly… he remembers Cole sitting at his desk in the precinct, trying to do the same. How he fumbled with it every time. He’d been doing it originally as some sort of distraction exercise. Keep his mind occupied so that he didn’t itch for something red. But the frustration only made him crave it more.

Hank rolled the coin once more, and then he put it away.

 


 

When he moves back, walking and following the last thread of hope he has left--the voice of his son calling him through static--he can’t help but get bitterly angry as he thinks over those thoughts. Of memories that until a few minutes ago ended with a violent crash, but which beforehand were picture-perfect.

 


 

“Will that make her happy?” Hank asks, as he sits outside the metal cage that Alice has imprisoned herself in.

There’s a pause.

“It will make her safe,” Alice said.

“That’s not what I asked, kid. Will it make her happy?”

Alice shifts uncomfortably. Hank can hear her doing so. “She only thinks she’s happy because I lied. It’s not real happiness.”

Hank shifts around, leaning his back against the cage and resting against it.

“Look… one way or another, she already loves you. Do you think vanishing will make her remember everything? Hiding in a cage won’t stop her. It’ll just mean she’ll keep searching for you. Keep searching until… until what?”

“Until--”

“Until she gives up,” Hank says grimly. “And if you’re all she knows? That isn’t going to be pretty.”

The tendrils of metal shiver a bit. Hank feels them shift under his back. But they don’t pull back.

“If I tell her the truth, she won’t love me any more and I’ll be alone anyway,” Alice whispered.

“...Maybe, kid. Maybe. The truth hurts.” Hank tilts his head up slightly, staring at where the ice starts. Some feet from him, not touching Alice’s cage. “The truth’s vicious. It tears right through you and leaves you bloody, and sometimes what you get in exchange just isn’t fucking worth it.”

All that remembering had done… it had shown him a Cole ruined by this fucked up world where the only way people could get comfort is with a fistful of powder. At least when he’d only remembered the small, ice-skating child… the memories had been good. He’d remembered someone happy, and it hurt to remember that happiness being cut off…

But god, it had been better than recalling that happiness drain slowly away.

“If it’ll ruin you both to tell the truth… then don’t tell her.”

Ignorance was bliss. The town had done a kindness to Hank, making him forget. And a cruel thing by giving him the thread that would bring it all back.

“I think you both deserve to be happy. I think it’s worth a few lies.”

There’s nothing for a moment. And then the cage shifts more definitively. Slowly. Just one string of metal winding away after another. Until finally, Hank can see Alice’s tear-streaked face through the gaps.

Slowly, Alice crawls out. Then she sits down again, back against the cage as well. She doesn’t shift closer to Hank.

“What do I do?”

“...Dunno, kid. Make new memories? Maybe it won’t hurt so bad once there’s something good to fall back on. In any case… you ain’t gonna make good memories in a cage.”

He reaches out slowly, but Alice stares at him warily, so Hank just awkwardly claps his hand on the cage instead of her shoulder.

“Kara’s got my keys still. Get outta town. Think about it then. Tell her I said to just go.”

“...You don’t need your car?”

His car… he did need his car. Or a car, at least. But… but Kara waiting for him… that’d involve a lot of explanation once he caught up.

Especially if he brought anyone with him. He still remembered Connor appearing in the firing range. The scream that Gavin had given upon looking at him.

Hank shrugs. “We’ll see.”

 


 

“People make the town what it is, Hank. Can you honestly say you didn’t want what it gave you?”

Hank’s mind goes to a young boy with blue eyes. A boy that had been chatty and idealistic. A boy that had wanted little more than to be a cop, possibly one that arrested intergalactic smugglers. The boy that Cole had been the day of the accident. And then it goes—briefly—to a twenty-six-year-old man with blue eyes, smoke on his breath and blood on his hands. A man with all the idealism sucked out of him, and only stress, bitterness and chem-induced rage remaining.

And then it goes to a near-identical man with brown eyes, eyes that still looked on even this horrible town with an odd sense of curiosity rather than apprehension. A man whose response to finding a drunk, angry stranger in this monster-infested town was to offer help. Who was quick and didn’t hesitate in a fight, who liked puzzles and did stupid things like tasting monster blood. Who had warm, lightly calloused hands that felt real, that had gripped his face through the bars as he promised to be what he needed.

Hank pulls the book away from the fire. He takes a step forward, then another. Lowering the gun entirely and sliding it back into his belt. And he holds the book out to Markus.

“Maybe you’re right.”

Markus looks at him, then looks at the book. Slowly, his fingers reach out before pausing. He looks at his own hand for a moment, flames trailing along it before the flames recede somewhat, remaining on his arms, leaving the fingers charred but not aflame.

“This town’s a sadist. But maybe there’s something to be said for whatever the fuck it’s doing,” Hank muttered.

Markus doesn’t immediately take the book. Instead, his eye look over Hank’s shoulder like he expects to see something or someone there. Then he looks back to Hank. Fingers finally reaching to take the book from Hank’s hands, handling it like it’s made of fine china.

The lanky creature moves slightly forward. The one called Josh. It rattles quietly in Hank’s direction.

“Josh,” Markus says sternly.

But Josh turns his head and rasps at Markus, in a way that really sounds like it should be words. Markus tilts his head before looking at Hank.

“He doesn’t mean harm,” Markus said slowly.

Hank’s eyebrows scrunched together slightly before he looked at Josh. He wondered… did they even look like monsters to Markus? He knew they were monsters, but did he really see it? Did it matter?

“Is he… actually saying things?”

Markus looked at Josh, eye darting briefly down to the prosthetic eye that Josh still held. Then back up to his face.

“Usually is. Dialogue and all that.” The corner of Markus’ mouth tugged up slightly. “Guess you were right,” he told Josh. “Sometimes it works.”

Josh shifted slightly, reaching out with blue-streaked hands. Hank’s instincts said to recoil, but he didn’t. Josh lightly touched Hank on the shoulders, burnt and skeletal fingers slightly crumbling on Hank’s jacket, before he retracted his hands and wandered back towards North and Simon.

Markus looked back to Hank, head inclining slightly.

“Thank you.”

“I stole your shit to begin with. Not really anything to thank me for.”

“Maybe. But returning it… it’s more than I deserve. More than any of us do, maybe.” Markus turned away, hands grasping the red book tightly. All three of the monsters turned as well, eyes and faces following Markus.

Markus started to walk away. But as he did, he waved his hand lightly through the air, much as he had before. The door at the end of the hall creaked open, revealing a frost-coated stairwell. The way on.

Markus was near the other end of the hall when Hank called out to him.

“Can they leave Silent Hill? Or does this town keep them in?”

Markus stops, flames rippling along his coat. He thinks on it.

“...I don’t know. I’ve… I’ve heard of times when things from this town have gotten out. Weird occurrences here and there. Look into the history of the towns around Silent Hill and you’ll see.”

“I… I ain’t much of a small town history buff.”

Markus’ mouth twists into a slightly amused grin. But it quickly fades.

“Do you… you were looking for your son, right? Is he…?” Markus gestures around himself.

Hank shakes his head. “Not here.” Brown flickers through his head for a moment, then blue. “Neither of them.”

Markus tilts his head slightly, eye squinting a little.

“...I can’t give you the answers. But… you never know. Maybe the town’ll be kind. We have to hope for something, right?”

He turns. Flames whipping behind him along his coat as he walks away. Fire bubbling through the meaty floor behind him as he goes, until he’s blocked out by smoke and flame. The three creatures stare at Markus for a moment before turning and following. Black shapes in the smoke that quickly fade.

Hank turns away, and enters through the frosted doorway that’ll lead him on.

 


 

Hank goes to the gallows with less wounds and more bullets than he does in those other worlds.

With less blue on his hands. Less red on them, too. Some. But less.

When he faces the Ice Heads, after they drop Connor to his death for a fourth time, Hank feels nothing but rage.

Angry that he let himself forget.

Just as angry that he let himself remember.

Furious that he can’t stop punishing himself. Who was it helping, to carry this guilt around like a physical weight?

For fuck’s sake… why couldn’t he just be happy for once?

Why did he have to keep killing that happiness?

 


 

“Catch.”

The man who might be Cole fumbles with the coin, but manages to catch it despite nearly shattering his pipe in the process.

He looks at the coin, then at Hank, then at the coin. Very slowly, he tries rolling it over his knuckles. It makes it to the fourth finger before it slips through, although he catches it before it clatters to the ground.

Hank watches this happen, and watches as an embarrassed, irritated flush crosses the man’s face in response. Then he steps forward once more.

“...I’m back, Cole,” he said.

Cole’s mouth twists a little before he looks down.

“Took you long enough.”

“Yeah, it… it did. I’m… I’m sorry.”

Hank took another step forward. As he did, Cole frowned a little deeper at the floor before turning away again. He’s turning the coin over and over in his hands, not doing tricks with it. Just fiddling with it without grace.

“A lot of detours,” Cole muttered. He looked over at Hank once more. Eyes pale and squinted. “Didn’t you want to see me?”

“What kind of question is--of course I wanted to see you!”

Hank reaches towards Cole as he steps forward again. As he does, he can’t help but wonder what will happen if his fingers make contact. Will it be like the car on the lake? Reaching forward only to touch nothing and for the vision to vanish?

Can he deal with that, if this Cole turns out to be a mirage?

Hank swallowed as his hand froze in midair, not quite making contact but remaining outstretched.

“I wanted to see you. More than anything. The fuck do you think I was even in this shithole of a town for?!”

Cole laughs. It’s a low, bitter laugh that twists his face into something ugly for a moment before it fades. More red smoke emits from his breath as he does.

“Yeah. Okay.”

He steps forward as well, and he raises the coin.

“Then what the fuck was with this?” When Hank didn’t reply, Cole took another step forward. This time, Hank stepped back. “What the fuck is with him?”

Hank grimaced, suddenly unable to make eye contact.

“...It took you a fucking day to replace me, Dad.”

“I didn’t--”

“Jesus Christ, I knew I was a fuck up, but a fucking day?!”

“I didn’t replace--”

“What the fuck is Connor if he’s not a replacement?!”

“I don’t know!” Hank yelled back. “I don’t know, he just turned up! That’s not my fucking fault! It’s not my fault that he was--”

“Was what, Dad? Was what?!”

Hank says nothing.

Cole steps forward again, fists clenching. Aggression etched into every line in his face, evident in every tensed muscle.

“Why don’t you just say it?! That he was better? Jesus Christ, maybe I should have offed myself sooner! No wonder you never said anything, no wonder you let me do it!”

“Goddammit, Cole, I didn’t want that,” Hank whispered, voice cracking. “I didn’t want you dead.”

“But it sure did turn up roses for you, didn’t it? Now that I’m out of the way, you’re free to do whatever you want. Free to pretend like I died in a car accident because you couldn’t handle how I ended up. Free to take this new kid and pretend like I never existed. Like you never fucked up.”

“I didn’t want that! Cole--”

“Then say I wasn’t a disappointment. Say you wouldn’t change how I was. Say I was worth knowing beyond the age of six. Say it,” Cole hissed.

Hank opens his mouth to say it. The words catch in his throat. He shuts his mouth.

He says nothing. Just like in the car.

Cole’s expression just… breaks. He turns away before his face can entirely crumple, clenching his hand over the coin. He stands there for a moment, then covers his face.

Hank watches for a moment, guilt bubbling away in his stomach, a horrible soupy warmth compared with his cold surroundings. He steps forward, hand reaching out again. To touch Cole’s shoulder, to comfort him.

To find some way to lie that didn’t involve words.

Cole’s hand lashes out and catches Hank’s wrist before he can do so.

His skin is ice-cold to the touch. A spike of cold lances through his arms like a knife and pools in his stomach, contrasting the heated guilt and making everything feel numb. So horribly freezing that Hank can’t stop a hiss of pain from scraping through his teeth.

“What do you want me to say, Dad?”

His voice is quiet. It makes the back of Hank’s neck prickle uncomfortably.

“What did you think was going to happen? That I’d forgive you? Absolve you of any sins so that you could run away without feeling guilty?”

The snow picks up, twirling through the air in thicker clouds. But even that isn’t as cold as the numb chill spreading through Hank’s fingers. Cole turns back. Those blue eyes glacier-cold and staring holes through Hank.

“You thought it’d be like that? When I had to die to fix my own bullshit?”

Cole’s other hand snaps forward, grabbing his other forearm. Then Cole steps backwards, yanking Hank with him, before jamming his heel into the frail railing behind him. It falls, tumbling into the foggy void.

“Why do you deserve any better, Dad?”

“Cole… for fuck’s sake, don’t…” Hank croaks.

“You don’t. You deserve what I deserved.”

Cole’s fingers dig in hard enough to bruise, and he pushes off the ledge, heels just barely touching the rail as he leans back with only Hank’s arms stopping him from falling into the fog.

Hank’s feet slide, and it’s all Hank can do to push back with his feet, trying to hold Cole in place. Trying not to fall to his death. Something he might have welcomed even recently.

Cole’s heavy. Heavier than he should be. Hank has always been bigger, and even barring that… he grabs Cole’s forearms too, trying to drag him back, and he can feel bones under his hands. Thin, frail arms wasting away from the ice eating any meat it could find.

He didn’t remember Cole feeling like this. Was that something he’d forgotten?

As Hank digs his heels in, trying not to let Cole wrench him off the rooftop, he has to look Cole in the face. There are shadows under Cole’s eyes. He looks ill. Tired. Premature lines from an unhealthy lifestyle that weren’t there a second ago. It’s as if Cole is wasting away, like he would have if he hadn’t killed himself.

He looks more distinct from Connor by the second.

The chill is growing colder. Making Hank’s arms feel numb, dulling the pain of the bruises that his grip is leaving. Nails scratching the material of his sleeves. They’d be drawing blood if they were touching Hank’s skin.

Would this Cole bleed red?

Was this Cole real? He didn’t feel real.

The overpowering urge to let go flares up, strong in a slushy mess of guilt and cold. But Hank digs in with his feet and pulls, trying to yank Cole back from the ledge. Dragging him inch by agonizing inch, even as his arms get tired. Until with a final heave, Hank wrenches Cole back up and throws him the other way, causing him to stumble towards the center of the rooftop.

“Are you Cole? Are you Cole?!” Hank shouts.

Cole lunges. Just swinging his fists, not even using a weapon. The blows are heavy, but they’re clumsy. Blunt weight behind each attack, hands thumping on whatever they can reach, trying to force Hank back towards the roof.

He doesn’t think this is Connor.

He doesn’t want to think it’s Cole. Cole was a lot of things, but he wasn’t this.

Would this Cole bleed red?

Hank raises his foot and boots Cole square in the chest, making him stumble away again, and then he draws the gun. And, a horrible sinking feeling in his gut, he points it at Cole.

“Are you Cole?!” he yells again, voice strained and desperate.

Cole stares at him with murder in his eyes. “Since when did that matter to you?”

Would this Cole bleed red?

“That didn’t matter before! Admit why it matters now!” Cole shouts at him, lunging forward again.

He’d bleed blue.

He had to bleed blue.

If he bled blue, he wasn’t real. If he bled blue, this thing was just another manifestation of the town. If he bled blue, he was like Con--

This didn’t happen.

If he bled blue, he wasn’t really Cole.

Hank pulls the trigger. Not aiming. Just firing.

An empty click comes from the chamber, so quiet yet impossibly loud.

There’s no time to try again. Cole’s hand wraps around the barrel and he jerks the gun from Hank’s grip, tossing it away with one fluid motion. His other hand wrenches the iron pipe from Hank’s belt, but that one he doesn’t toss. Instead, he cracks it across Hank’s shoulder, a blunt pain rippling out from the blow.

“See? See?!” Cole shouts at him. “You wanted me dead!”

“I didn’t want you fucking dead!” Hank shouted back, lifting his arms--a spasm of pain traveling through the shoulder Cole had just hit--as Cole throws himself at Hank again. It’s not what he expected from up here. He expected…

He didn’t know what.

Something else. Ice Head to reappear. Or something worse.

This is just a skinny, tired man lashing out with an iron pipe.

But he has to bleed blue.

Hank ducks, catching Cole’s wrist before the pipe can hit him again. His other hand finds the pipe and a brief struggle ensues before Cole yanks it back, sending it flying. Unlike the gun, the pipe goes definitively sailing over the edge and into the fog. The gun’s somewhere. Hank heard it land but can’t see it.

Cole grips the front of his jacket and tries to pull him towards the ledge again, still so focused on throwing them both off it. His hands catch on the strap of Hank’s bag and tear through it, sending the bag clattering to the ground. It opens. Belongings scatter everywhere. Empty guns, bits of paper, a baggie that sends crystals flying across the floor and--

With a clatter, the blue-stained chain that belonged to Ice Head skids across the frosted rooftop and rests not far from Hank. Hank’s eyes linger on it for the briefest second, even with Cole still struggling to hit every part of him he can reach.

He looks back. At Cole, with the shadows under his eyes and the tired, murderous stare. No tie. Shirt’s buttoned badly, and the collar’s open just a little near the neck. Pale skin bared to the snow and the ice and any metal that might circle around it.

“...No. No, no, no…” Hank whispers under his breath, and he’s not sure who he’s talking to. The town? Cole? Himself?

He hesitates. Of course he fucking does.

It’s enough for Cole to tackle him to the ground. Still too heavy for his size. A block of ice sitting on his chest, one knee digging into his gut and pushing out breath. Hands clawing for Hank’s throat. He looks exhausted and deranged, but god... he still looks like Cole.

“Fuck’s sake, Cole, stop it!” Hank snapped. “Stop! I don’t want to--”

“Liar,” Cole snarls.

God, why did he have to do this again? Why did this town have to do this? Shove people that looked like Cole at him, and the moment he got used to one, another one had to turn up.

Hank shuts his eyes for a moment before lashing out with his foot, kicking the frenzied Cole square in the chest and forcing him away. Scrambling back. Hank’s hands find the chain link that he’d taken from Ice Head’s room. Still stained with blue. His fingers tighten on it, and dread seeps into his stomach.

God, he doesn’t want to do this.

He wishes Cole would show himself as something hideous and disgusting so that this would be easier. Wish that this consistent chill wasn’t the only tip-off that this Cole wasn’t real.

Why can’t he make this easy?

Why couldn’t Cole ever make anything easy?

Hank’s hands tighten further, and bitter rage sweeps through him.

“I didn’t want you dead!” He shouts with too much heat, too much blame.

Cole’s going for his throat again, but this time Hank’s ready. He draws back a hand and punches Cole square in the face. He hopes for a broken nose, because then Cole has to bleed. It doesn’t happen, because that would make this too easy.

Cole hits the floor, and has no time to get up. He’s pushing against the floor, trying to get to his feet, when Hank pulls the chain tight and loops it once against Cole’s neck.

From here, Hank cannot see his eyes. Only hear a hitch of breath that gets cut off with a croaky stop. Blue-tinted metal digging into pale skin. Hank grips both ends of the chain, and he pulls them tight. Just as Ice Head had done.

Nausea, hot and powerful, is already bubbling away deep in his gut and rising in his throat. Disgust. Horror. Mingling with the rage for a horrible cocktail of bullshit. But if he does this...

“I just--”

What starts as shouting immediately tails off into something quieter.

“I just… wanted you to be different. I didn’t… I didn’t want this…” Hank whispered.

Cole says nothing. He can’t. There’s no air, no voice, to do it with. He thrashes. He tries to get away, elbows swinging back to hit Hank where they can, feet sliding hopelessly against the frost-slicked rooftop.

“I’m just… I’m just so fucking tired…”

He wants to be free of this.

He shuts his eyes tight. And he waits.

It’s like holding onto a fish while trying to scoop it into the net, a constant battle to keep the wriggling, cold mass under control. The cold infects the metal, his hands are numb. His hands grip so tightly on the chain that the metal digs into his hands and tears them bloody, making them drip red that only makes holding on harder.

He turned his head and kept his eyes shut, even as the thrashing lessened. Even as the gurgling slowed.

It takes a long time for ‘Cole’ to die.

But thrashes become twitches.

Twitches eventually subside.

What little breath that can escape does so in a gurgle. He can hear spit collecting ang bubbling. Can visualise how the skin must be swelling around the metal, even without opening his eyes.

Movement stops.

A couple of minutes later, so does the snow.

Even then, Hank remains there for a few minutes longer. Chain still taut.

Afraid to let go. Afraid to open his eyes and acknowledge what he’d just done.

Afraid to see if the chain had rubbed the neck raw. If it had made it bloody. If it was blue blood.

It had to be.

He didn’t need to look.

Finally, he lets the chain slide out of his hands. He hears a heavy thump. Hank remains there, on his knees, with his face turned away. Breathing hard.

He slowly opens his eyes, but doesn’t look at the body. He looks blearily at the items scattered across the ground.

His eyes catch the glimmer of the quarter, left on the ground. He doesn’t remember Cole ever dropping it. He picks it up. Not far from it is the discarded revolver with one bullet. Hank slides it into his belt.

Most of the other items on the floor, he just leaves.

The only other one his hand hovers over is the photo of Cole. Staring at him with pale eyes. They look accusing, in the face of what he’s just done. Hank’s fingers brush the photo. Then he stands and leaves it behind.

He never once looks at the body.

He feels lighter.

 


 

He doesn’t recall how he left the police precinct. How he found the exit from that rooftop. He just finds himself outside it, and has no desire to go back.

Instead, Hank walks back down the dock and looks at the lake.

It’s not frozen any longer. Not a glimmer of ice to be seen. He stands there for a bit, staring out over the fog to see if he can make out anything of the other side. Then he moves towards the end of the dock.

A couple of rowboats are lashed to the dock. Hank climbs into one, unties the rope and picks up the oar.

It should hurt to row. It doesn’t. There’s no pain where he’s been hit. Not even the bullet wound bothers him. He realises he left the painkillers on the rooftop, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Hank rows away from the light of the dock, assuming that he’ll have to hit the south part of town if he just rows directly away from it.

He rows for a long time. And he thinks.

On the way, he sees another rowboat in the fog.

Hank sees a familiar silhouette before he can make out the figure properly. It’s easy to recognise Markus with that coat, burnt edges and all. The water almost seems to bubble around his boat. Like that fire that had consumed the hallway is still burning somewhere near him.

There are three other shapes in the boat. Humanoid. But they’re lying quietly at the bottom of the boat. Hank can see glimpses of the white flowers, but little else.

Hank’s pretty sure Markus hasn’t noticed him, because he can only see the empty eye socket from his view. Markus isn’t rowing towards him, towards the north side of town or the south side. Instead, he’s just rowing towards the middle of the lake.

As Hank watches him, he thinks he sees something in the fog. A tiny island, rimmed with trees and an old church. It has its own dock, and it is that which Markus is rowing towards. But then the fog swallows it up and it’s gone.

Even that brief glimpse is enough to make his neck prickle. Still, if the town fucks Hank over again and won’t let him leave… especially if it tries to make him leave alone... maybe that’s somewhere he can go. Even if he’d rather not venture close to a creepy church inhabited by former cultists with possible resurrection powers.

He sees nothing else until his boat bumps into land once more. Hank climbs out of the boat with some difficulty, feet landing with a splash in shallow banks. It’s cold, but it’s not icy cold. He trudges out of the water, and heads for the town.

It doesn’t take him long to find his bearings. He soon finds the street he’d followed to try and go around the lake originally. He follows it back towards the bar that he and Connor had sat in, where Connor had first offered to help him find his son and given him pointers on where to start.

He stops by the bar long enough to steal a bottle of scotch. He needed a drink more than he ever had in his life.

Then he wandered towards the pier by Rosewater Park, following the path that he and Cole had walked twenty years ago. He walked along until he found the place where he’d met Connor.

He stopped. Unscrewed the lid of his bottle of scotch and took a swig. Then he leaned on the railing, resting his forearms on it, and stared at the water.

He didn’t have to wait long.

As he took his third swig, he heard a slight shift of movement next to him as Connor leaned on the rails as well.

“You should stop drinking, Lieutenant,” he said.

“It’s been a rough day, alright?” Hank grumbled.

Connor doesn’t contest the point. He just looks at the lake, too. Not a mark on him from any of the four--

This didn’t happen.

--three times he died. No vomit stains, no marks around the neck from either the chain or the noose. He gazes at the lake, and for the briefest moment Hank thinks he sees blue. But it’s gone quickly.

Hank silently removes the quarter from his pocket and pushes it along the railing towards Connor. Connor looks down at it, picks it up and immediately starts to roll it over his knuckles flawlessly once more.

Silence--not quite awkward, but not quite comfortable--reigns for a while. Connor’s the one who breaks it.

“You killed Cole.”

Connor doesn’t say this like it’s an accusation. The tone he uses is like someone stating a vaguely interesting fact. Like he’d just said ‘I prefer the colour blue’ or ‘it’s going to snow today.’

Hank takes a very long swig of scotch, shutting his eyes for a moment, before slumping against the railing again.

“That wasn’t him,” Hank mutters. “Cole’s gone. That… that was something I made.”

It had to be.

If it wasn’t, then what he’d just done--

Without a word, Connor steps closer and rests a hand on Hank’s back. When Hank turns his head, Connor reaches out with the other hand and pulls Hank in for a tight hug, resting the side of his face into Hank’s shoulder.

It takes Hank a moment to react. The warmth is immediate and it encompasses everything. And with it, the doubts crawling in Hank’s stomach seem small and unimportant.

Connor’s here. He’s warm. He’s real. He feels real in a way that the Cole on that rooftop hadn’t.

It’s enough.

Hank wraps his arms around Connor in turn and buries his face in Connor’s shoulder. And he just starts bawling. Once he starts, he can’t stop. It’s the sort of shit that he’d normally find embarrassing. But at the same time, it feels good.

If he lets it out now, he can leave it here.

Connor still says nothing as Hank cries, though he rubs Hank’s back much like Hank had done for him in the hospital.

Eventually the wet, wheezing gasps and sobs tail off into quiet sniffs, and even those slow. When Hank pulls back, his eyes are rimmed red and damp and his face streaked with tears and snot, which he tries to wipe away with the back of his hand.

He realises soon after that he’s using the hand that was previously holding his scotch. He turns to see Connor taking a swig of it. However, he almost immediately chokes and covers his mouth, spluttering before shoving the bottle back into Hank’s hands.

Hank tries to ignore the flair of panic at the sound of wet coughs, even as he can’t help but grin at Connor’s look of disgust.

“That’s terrible,” Connor wheezes, wiping his mouth as he looks at the scotch. “You drink this voluntarily?”

“Yeah, so don’t waste it. What happened to not drinking?”

“It’s been a rough day,” Connor echoed.

“Yeah… fuck.”

Hank scrubs at his eyes and nose again, trying to tidy himself, before looking at Connor. It makes sense to reach out and rest a hand on his shoulder. Just to make sure he’s still there.

“Connor?”

Connor tilted his head, watching Hank but saying nothing.

“I think we should go. Before some other bullshit happens.”

“We should--” Connor stops, mouth moving silently, before he gives Hank a surprised, almost suspicious look. “You… you want me to come with you?”

“Do you have anything better to do here?”

Connor’s eyes turn towards the lake. He rolls the coin over his knuckles a few more times. Corners of his mouth tugging back thoughtfully.

“You… you actually want that,” he mumbles, more to himself than to Hank.

“I mean… yeah. Why wouldn’t I?”

“What about Cole? You… you know I’m not him, right?” Connor says this slowly and there’s a slight strain to his voice as he does, like he doesn’t want to but also wants to rip off that band-aid as quick as possible.

Just hearing Cole’s name… it starts to once again bring to mind the small child that had stood with him on this dock. There’s a flicker of a tired twenty-six-year-old, but Hank pushes it away.

“Cole’s gone,” Hank repeated.

He looks at Connor, still rolling the coin over his knuckles. Immaculate except for those flyaway strands of hair at the front. Meeting his gaze with those warm doe eyes. Warm underneath Hank’s hand, just as he’d been in the prison. Blue flickers through his mind again, both eyes and blood. But Hank pushes it away.

Hank gives Connor a small, exhausted smile.

“It’s alright. I’ve… I’ve got you.”

Connor watches him, then a smile crosses his face, too. Small, but his eyes seem to light up as he does so. He abruptly moves forward and hugs Hank once more, and this time Hank doesn’t hesitate to return it.

“Thank you,” Connor says quietly, muffled further by Hank’s jacket.

“The fuck are you thanking me for?” Hank grumbles lightly.

Connor pulls back. But before he steps away, he pushes something into Hank’s hands. As he does so, there’s a flicker of a frown on his face.

“I have to give you this.”

Hank blinks, then looks at what Connor gave him. A letter. The handwriting on the envelope… it’s the same as the letter that Hank imagined. Hank gives Connor a puzzled look.

“The fuck is this? You write me something?”

“No. They’re… they’re not my words. I’m just passing them on.”

Hank stared at the letter, his thumb tracing the opening. “Whose words?”

“You know whose.” Connor took a few steps past him, in the direction of the park. “I’m just passing it on. Just accomplishing my mission. What you do with that is up to you. I… I would prefer not to remember.”

“The fuck does that…” Halfway through his sentence, Hank shrugs it off. He looks at the letter.

A letter from Cole.

He wonders if it’ll say anything different than the Cole on the rooftop.

Hank looks at the letter, then eyes Connor. Connor just waits patiently on the edge of where the fog starts to dissolve their surroundings, where the park meets the pier, playing with the coin once more and not watching Hank. Then he looks down at the letter again.

He considers the letter for a little longer. Then he holds his hand over the railing and lets the letter fall into the water below.

He turns and follows the direction Connor went, and finds him absently staring at the gazebo near the edge of the park. When he approaches, Connor doesn’t immediately acknowledge him. His eyes are clearly scanning his surroundings for something.

“You looking for--”

“No. No-one’s here,” Connor muttered. He looks at Hank and gives him another smile, although this one seems more designed to reassure him than to actual genuine effect.

They continue on. Together they walk slowly through the town, making their way through the fog. Making their way past buildings and alleyways, still so empty.

Past the road that led to the park and the pier.

Past the apartments that Hank had found Kara, Markus and Gavin in.

Up the stairs out of town. Through the graveyard he’d met Alice in.

When Hank finds the stairs that lead up to the roadside bathroom, he holds a hand up to make Connor stop before slowly climbing them. Waiting to see if Kara and Alice remain. Wondering what he’ll tell them if they do.

It doesn’t end up mattering. His car is gone.

“All good,” Hank calls back.

He hopes Kara and Alice go somewhere safe. He thinks about what was in the trunk, and quickly takes another swig of alcohol. Blocks out the thought. Nothing he can do about it now.

There is still one car remaining. A car--better cared for than his own--that Hank recognises as belonging to Gavin. Well… he won’t need it. Not after--

Hank recalls the firing range, and Connor lying on the ground with bullet wounds in his chest. Pushes it away. Pretends.

Connor seems to realise what Hank intends before he has a chance to say it outloud, walking over to the car. Before Hank can say anything, Connor slams his elbow into one of the windows, shattering the glass.

“Connor, what the fuck?!”

“It’s the most efficient way to get inside.”

“Goddammit, there’s gonna be glass everywhere…”

Well… hopefully no-one would pull them over for it. The road had been fairly empty here. It should be on the way to… wherever they were going. Hank climbed into the driver’s seat before rummaging underneath the seat. He knew that detail from Cole, who’d occasionally driven Gavin back home when he was drunk after a terrible raid or case.

He was still holding the scotch. He eyed it for a moment before putting the lid back on it and shoving it in the glovebox.

“Connor, can you drive?” Hank calls out. He probably shouldn’t be driving even after just a bit of booze. Be a hell of a thing to survive this shitburg town only to crash on his way out.

He doesn’t get a response.

Fear starts to settle in his stomach. Fear that Connor’s vanished. But when he climbs out of the car, he sees Connor still there. Leaning against the back of the car and looking at his hand.

There’s a very noticeable tremor there. Connor’s staring down at it with a slight frown. Not realising Hank’s watching him, Connor tries rolling the coin over his fingers again. This time it slips.

Connor shuts his eyes, clasping his fingers over the quarter in clear frustration. An irritated, unnatural flush crawling across his face. Hank sees Cole for a moment, then reaches out and grasps Connor’s arm.

Still warm. Still real. It’s fine.

“Come on, son.”

He steers Connor towards the car and pushes him into the passenger seat. He’ll risk driving, at least until the first stop. Until they’re out of the town. Out of the fog.

Hank starts up the engine, and gives Connor a sideways look. He’s fiddling with the coin, staring ahead. Slightly dilated pupils. Hank can smell something familiar and chemical.

He reaches out and grasps Connor’s shoulder.

“You good?”

Connor nods silently.

“Alright.”

“You remember the deal we made? Back in the hospital?”

Connor’s mouth quirks upwards at one corner. “I recall that.”

Hank stares at him for a long moment before saying, “You better keep your end of that deal.”

Connor’s eyes flicker to the glovebox where Hank has stashed his bottle of scotch. He says nothing. Just nods. With that, Hank returns his attention to the road and starts to drive.

Hank doesn’t know if the town will allow this. Any of this.

But fuck if he’s not gonna try.

And for the moment, he’s happy.

Chapter Text

Before the town, a young man died alone in a car while waiting for his father to return.

In the minutes before losing consciousness, he tried to write out his thoughts. Tried to write an explanation. More than that, a farewell.

He never succeeded. Words are difficult at the best of times, and the incoming haze of a lethal overdose doesn’t help. What attempts he made, in all worlds, are shredded and crumpled and lying forgotten underneath the seats of a rusty car. Nothing but scribbles, even if they could be pieced together.

But the town heard.

The town pieced together what it could from the dying boy on the edge of the fog.

And in all worlds, it gave those words to the drunk old man. The letter that Cole wanted to write.

 


 

In one world, that letter sits on the dashboard of a car as the windshield starts to crack from the force of icy water, and soaks as the car vanishes beneath the ice.

In another world, that letter is given by a ghostly hand. It sits in a jacket pocket as the old man leaves town with two others in tow.

In a third world, the letter is dropped into the lake and left behind, as the intended recipient walks away with an easy lie.

Maybe the old man reads it.

Maybe he doesn’t.

But in all these worlds, the words of the dying remain the same.

 


 

In my restless dreams I see that town, Silent Hill.

You said we’d go back someday. That last day of ice-skating on the lake, you promised. One day we’d go back. But we never did.

I’m alone there now.

I’m waiting for you, Dad.

Waiting for you to come back before I do something that I’ll end up regretting, just like I regret everything else. But it hasn’t been long enough. I know that. Too soon for you, even as it’s too late for me. But I’m waiting anyway. Hoping anyway.

I don’t know what I want to say to you, but I know I want to say something.

I want to tell you that I’m sorry.

I should apologize to your face. I mean, I did. But it doesn’t feel like enough. I’m sorry for so much. For dragging you down. Being a disappointment. For the shit I did while trying to chase some weird ideal of how to be good. For leaving you like this.

I wish I could change what I’ve done. But I can’t.

I want to tell you how important you were to me. I wanted to make you proud.

I remember… I remember there was a time when you giving me that grin and telling me I did good… that meant more than anything. And you know, I’m not sure that ever went away. But I remember it got harder to get that smile.

Maybe I should have looked closer at how tired you used to be after you got back from work. Those days that you’d get a bad raid or a homicide that involved partners or kids, and you’d pour extra whiskey, and you’d sit and stare at the television but in that way where you weren’t really watching it.

I don’t know why I thought I could handle it.

But god, I wanted to make you proud.

I wanted to make you proud so badly.

Badly enough to take ice because I thought it would stop me freezing on the job. Badly enough to deal with criminals, to trade information on their competitors for turning a blind eye, so I could look like I was good at investigating. Bad enough to do a hundred bad things, and every time I’d tell myself it was all fine. Because I was doing good if I could do good at your job.

I wanted to be like you, and someone like you could never be bad.

But that wasn’t me. Maybe it wasn’t you, either.

I want to say all these things to your face, but every time you look at me… and I see those eyes, and I see the disappointment and the disgust in them… the same disappointment and disgust I see in the mirror every day… I just get angry.

I want to yell that it’s not my fault, even though it is.

I want to blame you for so much, even though I can’t.

And I want to stop smoking this damn pipe before it’s too late, even though I can feel the ice coursing through my veins, feel it twisting my chest and making it hard to breathe. It’s too late. It feels wrong.

Dad, I want you to know a lot of things.

About why I did what I did, about how I felt, the gritty details of every fuck up that I ever did. The ones you know about and the ones you don’t. But I guess that would take too long. And maybe… maybe I don’t want to leave you on a bad note. Our life was filled with bad notes and I wish I could leave you on a good one for once. Just for fucking once.

So instead I’ll say this.

You are not the perfect person that I thought you were when I was a child. The hero cop that I struggled so hard to emulate. Honestly… you’re kind of a fuck up, too. You’re shit with your feelings and you cope in the worst ways. And I won’t pretend that the pressure to be like you didn’t fuck me up.

But I love you so much.

I’m still glad to have you as a dad. I hope you were glad to have me, despite everything.

I know it’ll be easier if you just forget about me, and move on with your life. But I can’t bear the thought of you forgetting me, either.

I’m scared, Dad.

I don’t want to die. I do, but I don’t. I already regret this and I’m still lighting this piece of fucking shit pipe like it’ll fix everything. Maybe it will, but...

I hope you come back.

I hope I can say this to your face. Even though I know I’ll wuss out the moment I see you.

I hope one day you find something that makes you smile like you used to.

I’m going to miss you, Dad.

I’m going to

 

The letter ends.