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there's a devil in this town, swear he's up to no good

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“Oh, that is such bullshit. ” Is the first thing out of Will’s mouth when Lauri finishes telling him about the St Osyth legend. 

They’ve currently set up shop in a small, pleasant little cafe located at the main street of St Osyth, Essex, UK. St Osyth is a sleepy little town, all old buildings and fresh country air, nothing like the busy hustle and bustle of everyday London. There are few streets, and even fewer cars, which makes taking a drive around town quite the pleasant affair. The afternoon sun shines in through the windows of the cafe, and despite having to squint if he leans in a little bit ahead to talk to Lauri, Will doesn’t really mind. It feels warm, comforting. Even though he’s here for work, Will could very much appreciate taking a holiday in this idyllic countryside.

The cafe itself doesn’t really look like much. Outside, it’s located right by the end of the street, small and unassuming when compared to more well-known locations, such as the Red Lion pub he and Lauri heard so much about when doing research for this place. Inside, though, it’s another story entirely. It’s quite busy, actually, Will is surprised to find. The walls are a comforting shade of cream, the ceiling is made of wood, and the overhead lights are turned off, which makes the natural light all the more pleasant to bask in. The counter offers a great variety of sweets and cakes Will’s mouth is just watering to try, but despite everything, he has to remind himself he has a reason to be here.

Lauri has her work laptop open in front of her, scoffing with a smile at Will’s overwhelming skepticism. This is a song and dance they’re quite used to by now; Lauri is the one willing to believe, Will is the one unwilling to do just that. It works quite well and rakes in the views they need to keep their completely independent channel afloat in the mess that is the YouTube algorithm. Sometimes it’s not ideal, but they make do as best as they can.

“Maybe you should be a little more respectful about it. Most of the locals are quite touchy with this.” She says in her thick French accent, which somehow hasn’t been worn down by her many years living in London. Will rolls his eyes softly, tapping his nails against the hardwood table. 

“That’s just impossible to believe. What, she just got up and picked up her head, just like that? And walked all the way to the nunnery ?” Will shakes his head, wondering to himself how some of his viewers can truly believe in this nonsense. Lauri shrugs, private smile still playing on her lips. 

Before Will can add anything else though, someone stops by their table, breathing somewhat heavily. Will is already prepared to greet one of their fans as enthusiastically as he can, considering he’s still a bit grumpy after waking up from a perfectly good nap at the hotel by Lauri’s insistence, when his eyes finally take in the person that stands before him. 

To say that Will is smitten is an understatement. 

The guy is clearly not a fan, if the apron and writing pad are anything to go by. His brown hair is a bit ruffled, a few curls falling on his sweaty forehead. His eyes are blue as blue can be, blue like the sky on a cloudless day. His soft cheeks are a bit flushed, and the smile on his lips makes Will’s throat go dry. When he speaks, it’s like angels have come down to earth to bless this man’s voice.

“Hello, so sorry for the delay!” His accent is thick, very northern. It’s so cute Will feels his heart about to lurch from his throat. “What can I get you fellas today?” 

“Just a latte for me, thank you.” Lauri smiles pleasantly, looking at Will as the boy writes her order on his pad. It’s like she already knows exactly what is going through his mind, because she turns back and adds, “and he’ll be having an espresso. Double shot, please.” 

“Coming right up.” The guy - ‘Thomas’, as Will reads on his nameplate - smiles pleasantly and leaves as swiftly as he had arrived. Lauri snaps a picture of his stunned stare, following Thomas’ movements with his eyes, before kicking him on the shin and snapping him out of his stupor.

“What was that for?” Will grumbles audibly, reaching down to rub his hand over his leg. Lauri shakes her head with a laugh, closing her notebook and pushing it to the side. 

Focus , loverboy. You can flirt with the locals later.” She says in a conspiratorial tone, leaning over the table like they’re scheming something. Will blushes and scoffs, but doesn’t say anything. It’s not like she’s wrong; this Thomas fellow is probably the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen in his 25 years of life. And he felt this… pull towards him earlier. It was all very strange.

Before Will can give it any more thought, Thomas comes back with their drinks, carrying them effortlessly without spilling a drop as they’re set on their table.

“There you go,” he grins at them, pushing his hands inside the pockets of his trousers. “Need anything else?” 

“I think that’ll be all for today, thank you. Although…” Lauri trails off and Will does not like where this is going. Not one bit.

“Say, what’s your name?” Lauri smiles at Thomas as charmingly as she can. He looks a bit surprised, before responding with an easygoing smile. 

“Thomas Blake. But you can jus’ call me Tom.” Tom . That does suit him more than Thomas. Will wipes his sweaty hands on his trousers. “Only fair that you give me yours, now.” 

“Lauri.” She answers, before shooting straight into the next question. “Are you a local?” 

“Sure am. St Osyth, born ‘n’ bred.” His head quirks to the side. “Why’d you ask?” 

“See Tom, me and my partner here - “ a languid wave in Will’s general direction “ - do kind of a ghost hunting show on YouTube, y’know?”

At the mention of ghosts, Tom’s shoulders tense up a little bit. “Uh huh,” he says slowly, prompting her to keep going.

“So since you’re a local here, I was wondering if you could help us with the legends here? God knows there’s quite a few.” She places her chin on her open palm, shining her brightest smile. Will still only has eyes for Tom. 

“Uh.” Tom crosses his arms, wetting his lips a bit nervously. “Well, I’m in the middle of my shift. If you fellas don’t mind waitin’ a bit, then…” 

“Oh, take your time! Thank you.” Lauri leans back on her seat, seemingly satisfied with the results. Tom excuses himself and heads back towards the kitchen, picking up used mugs and plates from other tables on his way there.

“Way to freak him out!” Will hisses at her when Tom is out of earshot, hands curling into fists on his knees.

“Oh, piss off.” Lauri waves him off, taking a sip of her latte and opening up her notebook once again. “Like you had any better ideas to get him to talk to us.”

Which, ok, Will didn’t. But still.

They sit in silence for the next hour, each of them busy doing their own research. Will doubts that Tom could give them any information they haven’t already scoured in the internet, but any excuse to hear him talking is a good one. He’s already on his second cup of espresso, served to him by a different person, when Tom approaches their table again, this time dressed in more casual clothes; a dark coat that looks like it could swallow him whole, unbuttoned, and light washed jeans that accentuate his thighs quite nicely, Will notes privately. And then he pinches himself on the inside of his wrist, because goddamit, he shouldn’t be ogling at the guy they’re going to be interviewing for the next few minutes. 

“Hey.” Tom says in manner of greeting, waving at the pair a bit awkwardly. Will scooches sideways into the booth, so that Tom could have a place to sit. Next to him. 

Wow, ok. Way to be creepy, William.

“So, uhm…” Tom brings his hands together on  top of the table, running his left thumb over his knuckles. Will notices his right hand is adorned with two golden rings. “Anything in specific I can help you with?” 

“Oh! Uhm…” Lauri is quiet for a few seconds, scouring her mind for whatever legend they don’t have enough information on. The awkward silence stretches on for a few seconds before Will pipes up himself. “Just tell us about whatever you can think of.” 

Tom seems a bit startled that it’s Will speaking this time, since he’s been dead silent for all their exchanges so far. But instead he nods, with a slightly uneasy smile, before scratching his chin in thought.

“Hmmm… I assume you lot have heard enough ‘bout the Osgyth deal?” When both of them nod, Tom takes a minute before continuing. “And the spring?” 

Yet again, they nod. Tom mumbles something beneath his breath, just loud enough for them to hear. 

“Well, there’s the Chester House, but…” 

“Wow, wow, wow! Chester House? What’s that?” Lauri stops him with an interested glint in her eyes. “I didn’t see anything about that on the internet!” 

“A-Ah well, we’re not exactly… known… for that…” Tom chuckles nervously. Clearly, talking about this house isn’t the most pleasant subject for him. Will is overcome with a sudden, intense urge to comfort him, to protect. “It’s a house jus’ by the edge of town. Someone… someone got murdered there when I was two.” He shrugs nervously, pulling the sleeves of his coat over his hands. “People say there’s somethin’ there. Somethin’ bad. So no one goes near it anymore.” He says that last part quietly, very quietly, as though this bad thing hiding in the house could hear him. 

“That sounds perfect . Thank you so much, Tom.” Lauri smiles like that again, that business smile of hers that manages to charm anyone. “Could you give us an address, maybe?” 

“Ad… Address?!” Tom jolts in his seat. Will puts out a hand in his direction placatingly, eyeing Lauri with furrowed brows. “You- you two can’t possibly be thinkin’ of goin ’ in there!” 

“It’s kind of our job. So yes.” Will answers with a shrug. Tom looks between him and Lauri, bewildered.

“But- but y’can’t!” He speaks too fast when he’s nervous, Will notices. It’s quite endearing. Cute, even. “People who go in there, they-“ Tom cuts himself off for a second, a flash of something passing through his blue eyes too quickly for Will to decipher what they could mean. “-they don’t come back the same!” 

“Then why don’t you come with us?” Lauri grins, shiny teeth on display. If Tom weren’t here, Will would have punched her in the arm for suggesting such a stupid thing.

But Tom is here. And he’s quite startled by her suggestion. “I- what?” 

“Think about it. You go with us, we show you there’s nothing there.” Lauri looks at Will for support, who is shaking his head vehemently in a no. Lord knows he won’t be able to concentrate on filming if there’s a cute boy with them. “And if there is something there, which there won’t be, you can lead us to safety and tell us ‘I told you so’. Wouldn’t that be nice?” 

“Not… particularly…” Tom’s eyebrows furrow, before his jaw sets and his eyes light up with challenge. “But there’s no way I’m jus’ gon’ let you birdies head in there by yourselves. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.” 

In retrospect, Will probably should’ve felt offended by being referred to as a ‘bird’. But he’s just so charmed by Tom’s sudden bravery that he can’t bring himself to be bothered. “So you’re coming with us?” He asks breathly. 

Tom turns to him with an audible swallow. He manages a shaky smile, before nodding.

“Yeah. Why not, right?” 

 

 

“This is a terrible idea.” 

The house itself doesn’t seem like much. It’s got two floors, a small yard, a big window on the side; if it weren’t for the deserted neighborhood and Tom wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers every two seconds, Will could imagine himself even living there. However, skeptic as he may be, he can’t deny the energy that comes from the building.

It’s… foreboding. 

The weather is quite pleasant, at the very least. The night sky is clear, a thousand twinkling stars illuminating the empty street as a light breeze ruffles by. Will can’t help but gaze up at it in awe, wishing he could get this kind of view in London. The weight of his camera in his right hand is comforting, familiar; like it’ll protect him from whatever it is that might be inside that house.

Not that ghosts are real, of course. 

“It’ll be ok, Tommy. Me and William do this stuff all the time.” Lauri pats Tom on the shoulder and heads towards the front porch, stepping up the stairs as they creak and groan underneath her weight. Stopping just short of the entrance, she adjusts her grip on the camera in her left hand before pushing the door open, which is even louder than the steps were. Will and Tom both cringe at the sound, Lauri seemingly not affected. 

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Are her final words, before she steps inside.

Tom swallows audibly by Will’s side. The open door looks like a gaping maw, ready to swallow them into the darkness of the home. Suddenly, the light breeze from before feels more like a cutting wind; all the pleasantness of standing underneath the night sky and the stars has been sucked into the dark hole that is the entrance of the Chester House. 

“Hey. You ok?” Will asks quietly, placing his free hand on Tom’s arm. He jumps a little bit but nods, squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw just like he had done in the cafe. 

“I’m fine. I said I’d do this, so I will.” He crosses his arms over his chest and hunches over just slightly, reminding Will of a cat puffing up its fur to seem more intimidating. “I ain’t no chicken.” 

“I mean, you barely know us.” Will remarks, although a bit remorsefully. It feels as if he’s known Tom his whole life; maybe even more than that. “I wouldn’t judge you if you decided to back out.” 

Tom seems a bit conflicted by that statement. He opens his mouth to responds but closes it soon after, shuffling on his feet uncomfortably as a few of his curls fall over his forehead and eyes again. God , Will just wants to reach forward and push them up again; maybe run his hands through his soft looking hair, tangle his fingers in each and every little one of his brown strands. Stare into his blue eyes as he does so- and maybe, just maybe - lean down for a kiss… 

“I jus’ feel… comfortable with you. If that makes sense?” Tom breaks Will out of his trance, making him cringe internally at how fucking creepy he’s being. “Like I’ve known ya my whole life. Is that weird?” 

It hits Will then, that that was the exact same thought he had about Tom. Which isn’t exactly… weird anymore, just strange. Strange because if Tom noticed it as well, then there was definitely something there. 

Well, at least I’m not going crazy yet.’ he thinks to himself. 

“It’s- it’s why I agreed to come here, actually.” Tom continues, talking to himself more than Will at this point. “I mean, if it were anyone else, no way in bloody hell I’d be standing here right now. You two are a pair of crazy bastards, I’ll give ya that. But I just, I just, I wanted to come with you-”

“Are you boys coming?” Lauri’s yell from inside the house nearly makes Tom jump out of his skin, cutting his rambling off. He grips the sleeves of his hoodie so tight Will is afraid he might rip them, but he just schools his expression to a more neutral one instead of the ‘ holy-shit-im-literally-about-to-shit-my-pants’ deal he had going on and takes a shaky step towards the house. 

Finally getting with the program, Will falls into step next to him as well, putting a hand on his shoulder just before they enter the house to stop him. 

“Hey. It’s not weird.” He says almost in a whisper, taking in the way Tom’s blue eyes widen almost comically at his words. Christ, his eyes are so big and so gorgeous. “I felt it too, actually.” 

“Oh.” Tom responds, a bit strangled, before stepping into the house without another word.

Will follows him inside. 

To say that the place is trashed would be putting it nicely. It is absolutely decrepit ; what little furniture remains is either scratched to hell and back, knocked over and askew, or at least partially destroyed, multiple chairs lacking arms or legs thrown across the stretch of living room that is visible to the eye. The windows are shuttered and boarded up, but some of the wood has rotted away, allowing shreds of moonlight to gleam through. To the left, a winding staircase goes to the second floor, which is barely even visible due to the oppressive darkness that covers the whole place. 

To the right is the dining room, which somehow seems even worse off than the living room. Will steps under the archway separating both sections of the house and takes the scene in, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. The large, hardwood table is cracked down the middle, nearly splitting apart from where it lays sideways on the floor. A cabinet left open with nothing but broken glass inside is the only other thing in the room, and the wallpaper is peeling off around the weird, claw-like marks left on it. The carpet smells (and looks) mouldy, the foul stench that emanates from it is strong enough that Will has to cover his nose with his shirt for a few seconds. 

He turns night vision mode on on his camera.

Behind him, a presence. Will tenses up minutely before he realizes it's Tom, fumbling with the flashlight they had given him before arriving at the Chester House. From the noises of frustration he can hear, it doesn’t seem to be going too well. 

“Bloody hell, how do you turn this thing on?” Tom mutters to himself more than anyone else, momentarily distracted from the oppressive darkness all around him. Will takes a second to smile fondly at the scene, pointing his camera to the other boy without giving it much thought. It’s not like he can’t edit these sections out in the final cut, anyway. 

“You have to shake it.” Will supplies helpfully, grinning to himself when it startles Tom. Nevertheless, he gives the flashlight a hearty shake, finally shining some light upon the awful state of the house. 

“There we go!” Tom exclaims triumphantly, though the moment is short lived as he takes in the appearance of the house. “Well, this is horrifying. Wait, is that recording?” 

Tom shines his flashlight directly into Will’s face. 

Ouch ! Yes, yes it is! Lower that!” Will waves his hand haphazardly in the direction he thinks Tom might be, before shielding his squinted eyes. Tom chortles amusedly, before turning the flashlight away. 

“I would apologize, but I reckon ya deserve it for recording me without me knowin’.” He says all that around a laugh, so Will knows he doesn’t really mean it. That’s the only reason for why Will lifts his camera back up, relieved for some reason to be capturing that gorgeous laughter on film. 

Christ,’ he groans to himself. ‘Focus, William .’ 

As their light banter dies down, they’re left standing in the dark, only the measly light of Tom’s flashlight illuminating the dining room. Suddenly, the oppressiveness is back; Will can feel the tension building up in his shoulders and back, like a violin string threatening to snap. Tom doesn’t seem to be faring much better, curling into himself and tucking his hands underneath his arms, pointing the light from a weirder angle now. Even in the dark, Will can tell the fear is yet again clouding over his shiny eyes. 

“Kinda cold, innit?” Tom chuckles mirthlessly, rubbing his free hand over his bicep nervously. Will can’t help but agree; the dining room suddenly seems that much colder, at least a good few degrees lower than it had been moments before. Will would even bet that outside would be warmer than this. 

But that doesn’t really make any sense, now does it?

“Hey, where is Lauri, anyway?” Tom continues his nervous chattering, suddenly aware of the lack of said Lauri amongst their ranks. “She can’t have gone in that far, right?”

“In here,” a familiar voice calls out, from a doorway Will hadn’t even noticed before leading out of the room. “In the kitchen.” 

The boys trade a look. Tom’s eyebrows are knit together in concern; with every moment that passes, he seems less and less sure about himself and the whole situation they’d gotten themselves into. Which, in Will’s opinion, is just silly, because the paranormal isn’t real and it would be more likely that they run into a serial killer than a ghost in here.

But anyway.

“Well, come on then.” Will breaks the tense silence, nodding his head towards the doorway. Tom nods back just slightly, before hurrying towards the kitchen, looking over his shoulder to make sure Will is following. Which he is, of course; lest he lose sight of this gorgeous boy that his presence has been graced with. Jesus, what is up with you today?

Stepping inside the kitchen, there is thankfully some more natural light than there was in the living room. The windows aren’t boarded up, so the moonlight filters in unbothered. But that’s about in when it comes to improvements; the rest of it is similarly trashed like the rest of the house, the mahogany of the countertops smashed to pieces and strewn across the foundation of it. The faucet of the sink is missing, but it doesn’t take Will too long to find it; somehow, it’s stuck to the wall, making quite a few cracks show up on the surrounding tile. The cabinets are all open and pretty busted up, some even lacking any doors whatsoever. In the midst of all it, sits an hilariously undisturbed table, white with only a few stains showing up on it. Lauri kneels by it, probably because she couldn’t find any usable chairs, finishing setting up their nerve center. 

“What’s all this, then?” Tom questions after turning his flashlight off, tucking it inside his back pocket. “You guys are runnin’ a real operation here, huh.” 

“Well, of course. We need eyes on every inch of this house even when we’re not there.” Lauri stands up pretty much effortlessly, considering she has about five cameras and a tripod for each bundled in her arms. “Will, help me set these up.”

It’s a song and dance that they’re used to by now. The first camera, they put up on the kitchen, settling it against one of the corners so they can see the entirety of it. The second one is set up watching the dining room, which still feels inexplicably frigid, and finally, a third camera watches over the living room, where Will catches Tom eyeing the front door with longing. 

The three of them crowd around the staircase, the one they can’t really see the top of. The darkness feels worse somehow up there, filling Will with a sense of dread and discomfort he hasn’t felt in a long time in one of these investigations. Tom has his flashlight out again, but it does little against the pitch black that encompasses the second floor. Will and Lauri have their night vision cameras to guide them. 

None of them want to take the first step.

Will grips the remaining two tripods in his hand harder, steeling himself for what seems like a trivial thing. Nothing here can hurt them. It’s just the dark. Which is actually kind of strange, since Will has never been scared of the dark, but maybe Tom’s uneasiness is just getting to him. That’s what he tells himself, anyway. 

“Well, no use in just standing here. Let’s go up.” And with that, he takes the very first step up the stairs, a chill running down his spine the moment he does so. Choosing to ignore it, Will continues his ascent, ready to strike his tripods into the face of whatever could come crawling out of this darkness to attack them. Not that anything will, but you know. Doesn’t hurt to be prepared. 

When he reaches the landing, his eyes finally adjust to the dark up there a little bit more. He can see three different doors, all in differing stages of decay, a bit open or totally shut, each more unappealing than the next. When Will peeks over the overlook, the living room seems a million floors away, despite him being able to clearly see the light of the camera they set up there blinking reliably. He hates being up here alone. 

Will walks back to the landing and glances down the stairwell. He can’t see Tom and Lauri from here properly, just barely visible silhouettes shifting and barely discernible in the low light. Not even his night vision camera can see much, which is freaky in of itself. The more he looks at the shadows, the weirder they get. It’s almost like they’re merging, melting into each other, turning into something big and scary and violent -

He clears his throat and calls out to them, ignoring the sudden fear that chokes him up and makes him want to bolt from this place. “At your own time, gentlemen.” 

The healthy dose of sarcasm seems to make the weirdness of it all dissipate, if only for a little bit. Will can hear the footsteps coming up to join him. The first up is Tom, which is unsurprising considering Lauri is carrying the remaining cameras. Tom gives him a nervous smile, crease in his eyebrows ever so present, before shining his flashlight in the direction of the first door. Will can see his throat bobbing in nervousness, right hand tightening around the flashlight.

“How are you holding up?” he asks quietly, mourning his lack of hands to reach up and squeeze Tom’s bicep comfortingly. Tom laughs, strangled and miserable, turning to face Will with a tense grimace.

“Could be better.” he shrugs, before turning back to the set of doors, watching them like a hawk for even the tiniest indication of movement. He doesn’t elaborate further than that, so Will drops it, stepping closer to Tom as that is pretty much the only semblance of comfort he can offer at the moment. When he feels a shoulder brush lightly against his own, Will can tell that Tom appreciates it.

With a light groan, Lauri shows up on the landing, blowing a strand of her curly hair away from her eyes. Tom immediately steps forward, hands outstretched to help her with the cameras, but she simply shakes her head and nods towards Will.

“Help me out here, bellboy.” Rolling his eyes, Will sets up one of the tripods right by the banister, where the camera has a full view of the hallway that seems more and more sinister by the minute. As he does so, Tom keeps watch, breath catching on his throat right when Will finishes securing the camera to the tripod and turning night vision on.

“What’s wrong?” Hovering a hand by his shoulder, Will turns to look at where Tom is shining his light at. It’s the half-open, half-closed door of the first room right next to the staircase, which Will can’t really see the inside of. Lauri flanks Tom’s other side, who still seems paralyzed by whatever it is that he saw.

“I saw a light,” he practically whispers, and Will can almost hear the sound of his teeth grinding as Tom clenches his jaw. “Looked like a pair of eyes.”

Will is torn. Of course, ghosts aren’t real, the supernatural doesn’t exist , but at the same time, he doesn’t want to dismiss Tom’s worries as nothing. If he saw something, he saw something, and it was his and Lauri’s job to at the very least debunk it.

“Well, let’s check it out then.” he says decisively, pointing his handheld camera in the direction of the door and taking a couple steps towards it. Lauri joins him wordlessly and Tom hurries as to not fall behind, not willing to be left alone in the all-encompassing darkness with only a flimsy flashlight at his aid. Not that Will would ever leave him behind, of course. Not ever.

Willing his mind to be quiet, he pushes the door all the way open.

His first thought is that they’ve come across a nursery. Beneath all the mold, the walls appear to be pink, a filthy crib set directly underneath the window, with miraculously intact, translucent curtains draped over it, which already improves the visibility of the room considerably. There are a few toys knocked askew, a rocking chair just by the slanted ceiling side of the place. But all of these details pale in comparison to the by far most sinister part of the room, which is the circle of stuffed animals that sits in the center of it.

“What the fuck?” Tom squeaks, gripping Will’s arm with his free hand so hard he can feel the bruises he’s leaving in his wake. But he doesn’t have any reason to complain, so he says nothing. “What- what the hell’s that supposed to be?”

“No idea.” Will murmurs, and, against his better judgement, steps closer to it.

He squats down next to it, capturing the scene on film. Upon closer inspection, he notices three of the stuffed animals placed in the circle seem newer than the others, at least a bit less filthy and ruffled. A large rabbit, a medium sized mouse, and a smaller cat, all placed slightly closer to each other than the other ones. Will chuckles mirthlessly.

“Kinda looks like us a little bit, wouldn’t you say?”

Lauri’s ‘ haha, very funny ’ is drowned out by Tom’s indignant exclamation, the crease between his eyebrows growing even more defined. “Don’t say that!” he hisses at Will, holding the flashlight with both hands as if he were afraid someone would come and rip it from him. Will immediately feels guilty, though he’s sure Tom didn’t mean to make him feel that way. He can’t really blame him, though; the tension is starting to get to all of them. 

“Sorry.” he murmurs before stepping away from the circle, sniffing at the toys as if they had personally offended him. Lauri walks the perimeter of the room with her own handheld camera and points to a spot right by the corner of it, turning back to face Will.

“We should set up the last camera here.” she says quietly, which is unlike her. Despite being the ‘believer’ out of the both of them, Lauri hardly ever takes these investigations seriously. Nevertheless, Will complies, grabbing the tripod he had propped up against the wall earlier and putting it up on the spot Lauri had chosen.

Now with a camera watching the weird circle for them, Will feels like he can breathe a little easier. He checks the feed of all of them on his phone just for a second, just to reassure himself everything is still in working order. He’s still in control of the situation.

Suddenly, the numbing cold of the dining room washes over them once more.

This time it feels worse, somehow. Like this bone chilling draft is permeating his clothes and burrowing inside Will’s skin; suppressing a shiver as best as he can, he buttons up his coat with quickly numbing fingers, breath coming out a bit faster, a bit more frantic. This is weird. The very bad kind of weird; not even outside is this frigid, and April isn’t exactly the warmest British month. As far as Will can tell, the window behind him is closed shut, and no wind comes from the open door leading into the hallway.

Something draws his gaze to Tom. Just like Will, he was doing his best to remain warm, encircling himself with his own arms and tugging his hoodie sleeves over his hands. But something makes him pause.

Tom’s breath is visible to them all, coming out in little puffs of condensation.

“Let’s get out of here.” it’s Lauri’s voice that snaps them out of it, turning on her heels and stalking out of the nursery as fast as she can. “This place creeps me out.” 

Will is quick to comply, wrapping his arm around a flabbergasted Tom on the way, effectively dragging him along. Tom’s eyebrows are once again knit together in that weird way that makes Will want to comfort him, so he rubs his hand along Tom’s shoulder in what he hopes is soothing enough for him. Once they’re out of the room, Tom finally seems to snap out of it; he turns around and shuts the door for good measure.

“You two are bloody insane.” he says shakily, resting both of his hands against the rotting wood of the door, flashlight pointed at a weird enough angle to reach the end of the hallway. “You really want to keep doing this?”

Biting his lower lip, Will crosses his arms and shifts his weight on his feet, deep in thought. Because yes, he does want to keep doing this; this is the first time in a long time that he and Lauri stumble across anything truly worth investigating. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to force Tom to stay in this place any longer than what he’s willing to take. Though it pains him to do so, he steps forward and rests his hand on Tom’s shoulder once again. Distantly, he thinks he could get used to this being a thing between them.

“Listen, Tom.” he begins delicately, squeezing his shoulder for good measure. “You can leave if you want to. Really. No one’s going to judge you for it-”

“No!” Tom’s voice doesn’t really sound quite like his own. Lauri shifts uncomfortably in his peripherals, doing crazy hand gestures that Will thinks mean ‘cut it off’. Tom is still turned towards the door, head bowed low, so Will can’t see his eyes; though he has a bad feeling he wouldn’t like what he’d see anyway.

“I… I mean…” Tom clears his throat, finally taking his hands off the door and turning to face Will. He looks scared, blue eyes clouded over, but most of all he looks like himself. Will feels himself relax. “I want to see this through. I said I would, so I will.”

This again. Will shares a private laugh with himself, thinking back to when Tom had used these exact same words to justify his frankly questionable decision. Once again, he feels awash with the want to be close to this boy, who had so quickly carved himself a place into Will’s heart it was actually quite frightening. Reluctantly, he steps back, giving Tom his space, before turning his camera towards the hallway once more.

“Let’s keep going, then.”

The second room is a bit unremarkable, compared to whatever the fuck the nursery was. Will assumes it’s supposed to be the master bedroom, if the king sized bed and dusty vanity mirror are anything to go by. Other than that and a huge, somewhat scary wooden wardrobe, the room lacks furniture, feeling bare and like a part of it is missing.

“Odd use of negative space.” Tom tries for a bit of humor, dragging his finger over the vanity mirror and pulling a face when it comes back grey and coated in dust. This room has a window as well, although it lacks the drapes the nursery had. Will takes a peek outside, not liking what he sees. Beyond the house lies only the forest and a dark dirt road leading out of town.

It suddenly dawns on him how isolated from the rest of St Osyth they really are.

Ignoring the thought, Will pushes himself away from the window, suddenly plagued with bizarre visions of himself, Tom and Lauri falling off of it. And speaking of Lauri, she doesn’t seem to be having the best time, either; her camera is pointed steadily in the direction of the wardrobe, tongue darting out to wet her chapped lips.

“What’s wrong?” Will questions, stepping closer to stand next to her. Tom’s attention is dragged away from the vanity mirror, and he too comes closer to them.

“Nothing.” Lauri’s voice is dry and lifeless, like just being close to the wardrobe had sapped her of all her energy. “Let’s just film a final sweep of this room and leave. I don’t think there’s anything here.”

Not wanting to push his luck (God knows Lauri is scary when she gets mad), Will complies, walking along the entire room and getting every little nook and cranny of it on film. Since they were out of static cameras to put down, this would have to do. Behind him, he can hear Tom speaking quietly to Lauri, likely offering her words of comfort or something, because he’s just that lovely of a person. Will bites the inside of his cheek to school his ridiculous thoughts into place.

Soon enough, he’s finished. Lauri’s gaze has yet to leave the wardrobe, but when Will gently guides her out of the master bedroom, she goes without complaint. Back out in the hallway, they take a second to regroup.

“Well, since there’s only one more room left, I think I’m gonna head down and start dismantling nerve.” Lauri pipes up with fake cheerfulness. Will creases his forehead with worry; they had barely been there for one hour. Usually, after investigating the whole place, the two of them gave it another two or three hours before packing up and leaving, just in case something else ghastly would occur. Obviously, that never happened, because ghosts aren’t real, but still. Whatever it is that Lauri felt in the master bedroom clearly shook her down to her very core.

“Ok.” Will agrees easily, putting a hand on Tom’s lower back without much thought (he doesn’t notice the way Tom’s breath stutters) and gently pushing him along. “We’ll check out the last room then.” 

“You go do that.” Lauri calls back from the darkness, already heading down the staircase with the cameras and tripods from the hallway and nursery. 

They’re alone again. 

“Well…” Tom chuckles nervously, flashlight pointed towards the end of the hallway and managing to illuminate absolutely nothing. “Shall we go in, then? What’s behind Door Number 3 and all that?”

Will bites back a chuckle at the awful joke, though he can’t hide his smile. Lifting his camera back up, he’s about to take a step when a loud, loud noise makes him stop.

It sounds like a door creaking open.

“Did you hear that?” Will whispers, sudden and primal fear coiling in the pit of his gut. Tom nods, his face a shade of ghastly white. Will distantly thinks to himself that it can’t be Lauri; unless she’s going through the front door and leaving them there to deal with whatever the fuck is in this house with them.

“It sounded like a door-” 

Before Tom can finish his thought, the last door bangs all the way open, and a stool comes flying out of the darkness and in their direction.

“Duck!” Tom shouts and drops to the floor, Will quickly doing the same. The stool slams against the door to the nursery (which Lauri had closed again on her way out) with such force the already weakening wood of it gives in and caves to the floor, falling down with a loud crash and splinters flying everywhere. Tom curses loudly and gets up to run, followed closely by Will as another piece of furniture gets smashed just a hair’s length away from them. 

“Shit, shit, shit!” Tom chants as he runs down the hallway and almost slips on the staircase, a sentiment echoed by Will as he takes a hold of his arm to steady them both. They get to the ground floor without taking a fall, despite the loud crashes that seem to be following them from the landing.

“Lauri!” Will calls out loudly, almost crying in relief when his partner comes running out of the kitchen with all of their bags in tow. Tom is already running for the front door, legs shaking like a baby deer’s. 

“What’s going on?!” she questions, handing Will one of the bags. The loud noises are getting closer and closer.

Before Will can even open his mouth, Tom calls back from the foyer. “There’s no time! We have to go now!”

When another loud crash resonates too close to them for comfort, Will and Lauri take off towards the front door, where Tom is holding it open for them. They run.

And they only stop when they’re at least four houses away from the Chester House, chests heaving and palms sweaty, hair sticking to their foreheads like they’re all matching. Tom bows down and puts his hands on his knees, flashlight lost somewhere in their frantic escape.

“What… the fuck… was that .” he questions, breathing heavily. Will sits down on the curb with a sigh, wiping his face with the sleeve of his coat.

“Probably a squatter or something.”

“A squatter ?!” Tom shouts, probably way too loud for the current hour, but the neighborhood is completely abandoned so it doesn’t really matter anyway. “Are you crazy?! It- it was throwing furniture at us!”

“That’s not that hard.” Will protests feebly, giving Lauri a look that says ‘I’ll explain later’. When Tom gives him an anguished look, Will gets up with considerable effort, wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers. 

“Look, Tom. It’s probably nothing, but we got all the footage we needed out of this anyway.” His hand finds its way to Tom’s shoulder again, almost on its own. “We don’t need to go back there.” 

Tom sighs, so heavy with relief it makes Will feel a little guilty. But he just nods and gives him a tired smile, hand coming up to squeeze Will’s wrist. 

“Can’t say this was fun, but I liked hanging out with you two.” 

Lauri laughs quietly behind them, essentially shattering the moment. Though Will can’t really voice his annoyance, so instead he just turns to look at her, observing her as she dusts herself and her bags off, taking a look at her watch almost like a second thought.

“This is all very sweet and all, but it’s getting pretty late. I think it’s bedtime for all of us.” and then she adds, quietly. “And I don’t really want to be around this place any longer than we have to be.” 

“Seconded.” Tom agrees easily, giving Will one last, sweet look before stepping away and joining Lauri on her way back towards civilization.

Will is left alone with his thoughts for a second. 

That house… he really doesn’t want to go back in there. And he won’t, of course. But whatever it was that was in the Chester House with them has made itself a little corner in the back of his mind and burrowed in deep, a virus just waiting to overtake all of his thoughts. 

Well, at least he got Tom out of all that. 

Will hurries to catch up, hiking the bag Lauri hands him higher on his shoulder, easily falling into step besides his friends. The Chester House looks smaller and smaller the further into town they walk.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Chapter Text

In Will’s dream, there’s mud. A lot of it.

He doesn’t quite know why he’s so certain that this is a dream. He just knows; he grips his dream rifle with such certainty that it’s not real it actually scares him a little bit.

Tom is there, too. They’re both in uniform. And the mud ; it’s suffocating. With every breath Will takes, his lungs fill up with more of it, sinking into every little crevice of his body it can find a spot for himself in, making him watch as the same happens to Tom.

‘Will.’

The mud starts to take form. It’s big, hulking, casting a shadow on both of their writhing bodies. It terrifies him to his very core.

‘Will.’

It weighs down on him, dragging him to the depths of this pit he finds himself stuck in. Distantly, he thinks he needs to untie his kit; free himself from the weight, to buy himself a couple more seconds of life, a couple more seconds to survive-

‘Will! William Schofield! Wake up!”

Will startles awake with a gasp, hands coming up to his chest, shaking with the need to feel himself breathing. Lauri is next to him, he notes almost as an afterthought; she’s kneeled by his bedside with a hand resting on his lower back, eyebrows furrowed and forehead creased with concern.

“You ok?” Her French accent is familiar, relaxing, soothing. Will finds himself taking another couple deep breaths before he trusts himself enough to nod an affirmative.

The hotel room they’re staying at has never felt so foreign to him, and they’ve only been in St Osyth for about three days. The curtains are still draped over the window next to his bed, so it’s still dark in their little base despite the sun shining bright outside. Lauri’s bed is neatly made besides his own, work laptop open with all their cameras strewn around it, which makes him wonder if she went to bed at all after last night.

God, last night . The memories come rushing back to him all at once. The frightening encounter at the Chester House had ruffled all three of them pretty badly; that certainly had to be the reason he had a nightmare so terrifying as that. Not to mention Tom was in it too.

Weirdly enough (or not), Will already misses Tom like a missing limb. After their late night entourage, he and Lauri had dropped him off at his house he shared with his mother and brother, saying their goodbyes oh so very quietly as to not wake up the slumbering residents, before heading back to their hotel in tense silence. However, Tom’s brilliant eyes and easy going grin were permanently engraved in his memory by now. Will groans quietly, dragging a hand down his face and hoping to wipe away all his hardships with it.

“We have a problem.” Lauri speaks up after giving Will a quiet few seconds of reprieve, standing up stiffly to go retrieve her laptop. Will gives her space to sit down properly besides him without her even having to ask for it. The both of them are quite used to this routine by now.

“Our footage is gone.”

That, Will is not ready for.

“Our- what?

“Well, not all of it.” Lauri mutters, almost to herself, quickly speeding up all of the accumulated footage of Will’s hand camera for him to see. It all seems normal until a certain point- as soon as he’s supposed to see that blasted stool flying towards him just like it happened the night before, the footage suddenly becomes garbled up and corrupted.

“What the fuck?” Will says almost in a whisper, taking the laptop from Lauri’s grasp so he can take a better look. Sure enough, nothing changes; up from the most crucial point and to the moment Will finally turned off his camera for good, all of the footage is completely ruined and unusable.

“This happened to all of the cameras, not just yours. As soon as- whatever that was -started attacking us, they all just… cut off.” Lauri runs her hands up and down her arms, curly hair shielding her face in a way Will had never seen her do before. Lauri looked positively frightened. “Will, I… I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

“Well, what else would it be? A bloody demon?” He scoffs, but he can see Lauri visibly flinch. Despite the sudden crushing fear pushing down on his sternum, Will doesn’t relent. “It’s probably some issue we had with nerve or something.”

“We’ve had plenty issues with nerve before. And that has never happened.” Lauri protests, standing up and taking her laptop back to her own bed. She drops it down on the sheets almost like she wants it to dissipate before her own eyes, like she doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. To be fair, Will is quite fed up with this whole thing too.

“I need… I need to go out.” He pushes the covers off himself, feeling almost feverish with want to get out of this awful, cramped room. Lauri doesn’t stop him as he gets dressed way too fast for someone who just woke up, brushing his teeth and hair like he’s late for work. She simply stares at the screen, almost like she’s hoping for something, anything, to change, to give her a sign.

“We need to talk about this later.” Lauri finally sighs, just as Will is pushing the door open.

“We will. I promise.” Is all he says before he’s gone.

It’s almost like the elevator can’t go down fast enough. Will finds himself unable to still his hands, adjusting his scarf every other second or pushing them down as far as his coat’s pockets are willing to let them go. He barely even registers it when he sets a brisk pace down the street, feet carrying him in a set direction on their own. It’s just when they come to a stop that he realizes where he ended up.

He’s back at the cafe again.

Will flushes, frozen at the entrance of the bustling business. It’s like his body knew before even he did that he needed to see Tom, which is just all kinds of embarrassing. Since he didn’t have the decency to ask for his phone number, and showing up at his house unannounced was out of the question, Will simply has to hope that Tom will be working a shift once again today.

Discreetly, he checks his watch. 8:16am isn’t that bad, right?

After a couple extra seconds of internal debate, Will gives in to temptation and pushes the front door open, the little bell above the entrance completely drowned out by the boisterous shouts of other patrons, all crowded around the communal tables and having what looks suspiciously like beer, despite it being a week day, and a morning , more importantly. Will chuckles to himself at the scene, simply observing as the locals carry on with their conversation, all dressed to head to work as soon as their daily ritual is over.

“Will?” a familiar voice snaps him to attention; Will turns to see Tom standing next to him, decked out in his apron and name tag, bright grin illuminating his features. Will notices with a twinge of guilt that Tom seems slightly unkempt, curly hair a mess atop his head and heavy bags underneath his eyes, evidence he hadn’t slept well at all after coming back from the Chester House. That is, if he slept at all.

“Y’have no idea how happy I am t’see you here!” Tom barrels on, his words blending together, warm hand coming to rest on Will’s bicep. When Will hesitates to answer, simply too mesmerized by the view for his brain to catch up fast enough, Tom seems to become aware of himself, reigning his excitement back with red coating his cheeks. His smile, although subdued, remains. “Can I get you anything?”

Tom is already guiding him towards a hidden booth in the corner of the cafe before he can even say anything. “Just an espresso, please.” Will says, clearing his throat as soon as his brain manages to catch up. Tom gives him a fond smile over his shoulder, taking out a rag from the inside of his apron and wiping the table for good measure.

“Double shot, right?” Tom asks as he waits for him to get seated. Will laughs and smiles back.

“Yes.”

As he waits for Tom to return with his drink, Will takes a second to just sit there and breathe . The footage issue is still the forefront of his mind, though it has been pushed back just the slightest bit thanks to the enthusiasm he was greeted with. Will runs his thumb over his knuckles, crease forming once again between his eyebrows as he falls deep in thought. He and Lauri should probably go back to the house, but…

“Here you go.” Tom sets the cup of espresso down in front of Will delicately, and he can’t help but notice the small pastry that he’s pretty sure wasn’t included the last time he and Lauri were here. The morning light catches and shines on Tom’s rings, matching the bright grin on his face. And Will is whipped .

He can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t make him look like a complete fool, so Will simply nods and takes a sip of his coffee. Tom crosses his arms over his chest, looking around as he worries his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Listen,” he says rather quietly, leaning down with a worried glint in his eyes. “My shift ends at noon. I’d love to just sit down and talk to you, but…”

“I have time. Don’t worry.” Will laughs, taking a huge bite of the pastry before he could compliment Tom on his gorgeous eyes or his soft hair or something equally embarrassing like that. Tom sighs in quiet relief and smiles, before mouthing a small ‘ok’ and waving at Will. He weaves his way back to the kitchen, and Will is alone again.

Over the duration of Tom’s shift, he seems to be making excuses to go see Will at his booth. The first time, he comes around to pick up the empty cup and accompanying plate from the table. Then, he drops off a glass of water without comment, and comes back to take it away later. When Tom hands him the third slice of cake in two hours, Will stops him from leaving with a laugh.

“I don’t even want to look at my bill after all this.” Tom, who was setting down a fork and knife next on the table, blushes quite violently and refuses to make eye contact with Will.

“It’s on the house.” he says with a shrug, and leaves.

When noon finally rolls around, Tom comes to Will’s booth once again, this time dressed in everyday clothes, a brown, beat up messenger bag slung over his shoulder, and two cups of coffee in each hand. Tom sets them both down on the table before throwing himself on the seat with a groan, running a hand through his messy chestnut hair.

“My manager just gave me the talkin’ to of my life ,” he complains tiredly, gulping down half of the contents of his cup in one go. “I forgot to take my rings off today.”

Will chuckles as he takes a sip, but internally he feels a bit guilty, since he had noticed Tom had them on. But it really isn’t his fault that they look so good on his hands, so he gives himself a pass. “What a lousy waiter you are.”

Tom sticks his tongue out at Will, pushing the rest of his coffee away with a sigh. He crosses his arms over the table and uses them to pillow his chin, staring out the window they’re sitting next to. “So… last night, huh.”

“Last night.” Will sighs, looking down and taking a mighty sip of his drink as well. It was his third coffee in the 5-or-so hours he’s been at the cafe, and it’s starting to make him feel a little wired. But he’s in good company, so he can’t find it in himself to care. “You didn’t get much sleep, did you?”

Tom looks proper embarrassed then, like his mother had just caught him with his hand down the cookie jar. “So you’ve noticed, huh?” He chuckles, lifting his head up again and running his hands through his unruly curls in a sad attempt to tame them back. “Yeah, not really. I was thinkin’, what if that thing followed me home?” He sighs once more, shaking his head, defeated. “I know you said it wasn’t a demon or whatever, but you know, I watched your videos last night, and I reckon I should take what you say with a grain o’ salt. A ghost could push you out of a window and you’d say it was the wind!”

Will is too caught up on the fact that Tom actually went looking for his and Lauri’s channel to really stop his rambling. He hides his grin behind a closed fist, coughing as he feels a flush overtake his cheeks, going down to the base of his neck and up to the very tip of his ears. “You watched our videos?”

Tom cuts himself off, in the midst of a long-drawn tirade about something or other him and his brother got in trouble for when they were younger. Will missed how the story correlated back to ghost hunting, but he didn’t actually mind. Tom rubs his hands together slowly, as if trying to find something to distract himself with, cheeks alight as well.

“Well, yeah. I figured I might as well, since I went through all the trouble of following you into that bloody demon house.” He laughs, almost to himself, eyes focused on a specific groove in their table, instead of making eye contact with Will. “It’s… well, it’s silly, but it helped me sleep.”

As cute as that was, which Will does not have the time to unpack right now, Tom’s comment about the Chester House reminds him of what he came here to forget; their footage. Swallowing back a grimace, Will polishes off the rest of his coffee, bracing himself to be the bearer of bad news. With how superstitious Tom is (which actually isn’t that much, but in Will’s book, everyone who believes in ghosts or demons is the same when it comes to that), he’ll probably freak out when he hears this, and freak out bad . Will ignores the worried look Tom sends his way, adjusting his collar with a small cough.

“About the Chester House,” he begins, a bitter taste on his tongue as he says the name of that awful place, “I have something to tell you.”

“Yeah?” Tom’s head tilts to the side. He looks like a dog, almost. It would be quite amusing, if it weren’t for the goddamned house souring up every pleasant bit of this conversation so far. “Well, what is it? You’re making me nervous.”

“You have to promise not to freak out.” Before Tom can even say anything, Will takes a sharp intake of breath, and continues on. “It’s about our footage. It was working alright up until when we started getting furniture thrown at us… then it’s just corrupted. All of it. On all of our cameras. For the same time frame. So.”

Tom looks stunned for a second. His eyebrows furrow like he doesn’t quite understand what Will just told him; he takes his bottom lip between his teeth, something Will is starting to notice he does when he’s nervous. “Corrupted how? You mean you can’t use it?”

“None of it.” Will agrees, finding it difficult to look at Tom in the eyes. “It doesn’t mean it was a demon, or whatever. It’s just weird because… well, the handheld cameras aren’t connected to nerve. If it was just the static cameras it wouldn’t be that weird, but it was all of them-“

It’s then that Will notices Tom is shaking. His eyes look haunted, mouth pressed into a thin line and arms crossed over his chest. He swallows so loud, Will can hear it even with the shouting of the other patrons going on all around them. They almost seem like they’re part of a separate reality; like the center of the entire world is here, now, in this booth with him and Tom.

“I told you.” Tom says quietly, breaking the tense silence that had formed between them. “I told you there was something there. I bet it doesn’t want you two showin’ all that shit it did to the rest of the world.”

Will doesn’t respond for a second. Not knowing what to say, he simply shrugs, running his hand over the tabletop. “Demons don’t exist.” He says through his teeth. Tom scoffs, but doesn’t try to argue against it.

“You’re not going back, are you?” At Will’s hesitation, Tom leans over the table, propping himself up on his elbows so Will has no choice but to look at him. “You can’t. Alright? You just can’t. Y’know, you oughta just delete whatever footage you still do have and forget last night even happened.”

Will’s voice dies in his throat. Tom is looking at him with such soft, pleading eyes he almost relents. But he can’t not go back. There’s something in that bloody house, and not hell nor high water will stop him from finding out what it is.

Please , Will.” Tom takes Will’s right hand between both of his and squeezes. He has no choice but to nod.

“Ok.” He lies, swallowing down the lump forming in his throat.

Tom sighs, relief making his shoulders drop. He sits back down properly, and Will mourns the lack of warmth surrounding his hand. The air around them instantly feels lighter, though, and it’s like they’re back in the real world. The two of them.

“Good.” he says with a smile, fishing back his cup of coffee from where it sat on the middle of the table and finishing it off. Will cracks his knuckles, almost nervously, trying to distract himself from the predicament he put himself in. With any luck, Tom wouldn’t have to find out what he’s going to end up doing.

“So,” and once again, Tom is the one bringing Will back from the depths of his own mind. This time, he can actually look into the blue eyes across him, and finds nothing but friendliness shining in them. “I just realized I know next to nothin’ about you. That doesn’t seem very fair, I reckon.”

Will chuckles, but nods, agreeing easily. There’s also little he knows about Tom, other than he’s a local and is deathly afraid of all things supernatural. He knows he lives in a small, cozy little house with his mother and older brother, and that’s about it. “Well, what would you like to know then?”

“I dunno.” Tom shrugs, smiling like he’s proud of himself when his answer gets a laugh out of Will. “You’re from London, right?”

“Close, but not quite. Cookham.” Will clarifies, leaning back on his seat. “But I live in London nowadays.”

“Did you go to uni?”

“Attended Middlesex and got myself a shiny English degree that I’ll probably never use. You?”

Tom’s eyes avert Will’s as soon as the topic of his education is breached. Will is about to tell him he doesn’t have to answer, when Tom wets his lips with a quick dart of his tongue and continues.

“I don’t really have the means to go anywhere right now. My family’s pretty poor. We’ve been struggling to make ends meet since pops died.” Before Will can say anything, as he’s sure it’s obvious he wants to, Tom shakes his head with a small smile. “It’s ok, I’m used to it by now. He died when I was fourteen. Ever since then it’s just been me, mum n’ Joe. I’ve been workin’ here for awhile now, trying to save up enough money to move away as soon as I can.”

He looks around the cafe as if reminiscing a time Will was not privy to; and he doesn’t intend to breach that privacy. He simply nods, solemn, wishing he could do more but having no idea where to even begin.

“That sounds like it was hard.” He settles on that. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Tom lets out a short laugh, though the tension Will expected to fill the empty space between them doesn’t seem to come. “Damn right it was. But I came out better at the end of it. Me, Joe, and mum. Shoulda seen us back then. A proper bunch of misfits, we was.”

His accent is so endearing, it’s enough to bring Will’s smile back around. “Your family sounds lovely.”

“They are lovely! They are.” With a pleased sigh, Tom’s gaze filters down to his lap, as if he’s recalling said memories of his family he just shared with Will. “Don’t know where I’d be without ‘em.”

The two of them are silent yet again, but it’s nowhere near uncomfortable. Will takes a look out the window. The sun is finally start to break through the clouds, a previously grey morning shifting into the warm hues of afternoon. Despite knowing he will inevitably break his promise to Tom, Will feels lighter on the inside, like his problems are all very far away from this little haven he found in St Osyth.

“What about your family?” Tom questions, bringing the conversation back around. Though he instantly seems to regret it, when something unpleasant passes through Will’s face.

“Shit, I guess it’s my turn to make it awkward, huh?” he mumbles through a frown, running his teeth over his lip without noticing. Which hasn’t stopped being endearing at all.

“I mean, you told me about yours. It’s only fair.” Will wraps his hands around his cup, despite it being empty, to give himself some time to collect his thoughts. “I don’t have the best relationship with my parents. Especially my mum. She thinks all this that I do,”- he makes a broad gesture around himself with his left hand -“is a waste of time. She insists it’s not a real job, and that I should do something in my actual area of expertise. I’d say I’m a pretty big expert on ghosts at this point.”

That gets a laugh out of Tom. Will smiles, a little crooked, a little pleased.

“That’s part of the reason why I moved to London, actually. I wanted to show her I could take care of myself just fine with the money I make from the show.” That brings up some memories he’d honestly rather forget. The image of his mum, in all of her pissed off glory, face red and eyes disapproving, takes the forefront of his mind. “It’s been working out so far, at least.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Stick it to the old people!” Tom raises his also empty cup, like he’s proposing a toast, before his cheeks flush red. “Uh. No offense, of course.”

“None taken. In fact, I agree!” Will’s eyes crinkle at the corners with pure mirth, so big is his smile. “But yeah, that’s that on my parents. There’s also my older sister. We’re pretty close. She’s pregnant with twins, in fact.”

“Really? Well, would you look at that! Uncle Will.” Tom says in an almost conspiratory tone, running his eyes over Will like he’s seeing him for the first time. “I think it fits you, actually.”

“It makes me feel old.” Will complains, hiding his pleased smile at Tom’s laughter behind the closed fist he uses to support his chin.

Conversation flows easily between the two of them for the remainder of time they stay at the cafe. Tom orders lunch for both of them, and dinner later on, using his employee discount. They talk well into the late afternoon, only leaving the cozy little booth they’d littered with empty plates and glasses when Tom’s coworker stops by to kick them out.

Will pays for his part and tries not to cringe at the amount on his receipt, crumbling it up and shoving it inside his pocket to be dealt with later. Tom insists his half of the bill be put on his tab, whining to his coworker and nearly getting on his knees to beg for it until he got his way.

When they finally leave, the sun has just started disappearing behind the horizon, sinking the town in the cold tones of the evening. Will breathes in the crisp, cold air of April, all of his problems suddenly so far away it’s laughable to think about the state he was in just a few hours ago. Distantly, he’s aware that this is simply momentary relief; considering his resolve to go back inside the Chester House and get to the bottom of his whole thing, even if he has to do it by himself. But he doesn’t need to think about that right now; right now he’s with Tom and everything is right in the world.

“Why is April always so goddamn cold?” Tom grumbles behind Will, zipping up his coat as far as it’ll go and shoving his hands inside his pockets in an attempt to keep himself warm. Will chuckles at the ruddy shade of his cheeks; they make Tom look so childish it’s quite hilarious.

“Bring a scarf next time.” Will supplies helpfully, pausing to adjust his own around his neck, purposefully ignoring it when Tom scoffs loudly next to him.

“Show off.”

The two of them walk down the street silently, just being in each other’s company being quite enough for now. It’s only when they reach a fork in a road that Will notices he forgot something.

“Wait!” Will exclaims just as Tom turns to say goodbye, his house in the opposite direction of Will’s hotel. “I don’t have your number.”

Although Will didn’t think it to be possible, Tom’s cheeks somehow get redder, spreading to the sliver of skin on his neck that isn’t covered by his coat. He steps closer to Will, fishing something out of his pocket; his phone. Will is taken aback by how much the small device just screams Tom ; the screen is cracked to hell and back, chunks of plastic missing from the bottom and exposing the wiring to the elements. There is no phone case- which is practically suicide at this point, Will thinks to himself -, but the back is covered in stickers, some clearly much older than others. Will holds his breath when he notices a rainbow flag sticker, instantly catching his eye even though it’s mostly covered by Tom’s hand.

Tom notices his staring, averting his gaze with something like shame in his eyes. “I can’t afford a new one.”

“But I like it.” Will protests without thinking, though it’s certainly worth it when Tom looks back with pure surprise, a small smile gracing his features. Will clears his throat and looks away himself, finding it hard to maintain eye contact.

Wordlessly, they exchange numbers, Tom holding Will’s phone almost like he’s afraid that even touching it would make it break. Will, on the other hand, runs his thumb over the cracks of Tom’s mobile like he can’t get enough of it, still blown away by how much personality this piece of junk holds.

“I should really get going now. I promised I’d help mum with dinner.” Tom says, almost apologetically, though he doesn’t seem to be in any rush to leave. “Text me, ok? I want to go out with you again before you go back to London.”

Will doesn’t want to think about when he has to go back to London. He doesn’t want to leave this thing, whatever it is that he has with Tom, behind; but he just gives Tom a smile and an easy nod, not wanting to burden him with such thoughts. “Of course I will.”

The hug Tom envelops him in is so fleeting Will almost misses it; one second they’re sharing the same space, breathing the same air, a warmth between the two of them he had never experienced before- and the next, Tom is stepping away, giving Will an almost shy wave of his hand, that brilliant grin of his nearly blinding him once again.

Tom’s quiet ‘see you soon’ is lost to Will in the evening air; he’s too busy touching his face with the back of his hands, worried that he has a fever.

 

-

 

“Nice of you to come back.” Lauri rolls her eyes at Will, who doesn’t even bother to take his coat or shoes off before he faceplants on his bed, burying his face in his pillow. “Ready to talk now?”

“No.” Will groans, still in another world, replaying the hug Tom had given him over and over in his head. Despite it being a first between them, there was something so familiar about it that Will simply could not pinpoint; it was weird, but also comforting, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“Well, you don’t really have a choice.” Lauri huffs, bringing Will back from his thoughts, pushing him to the side to make space for herself on the bed, much like they had done that same morning. Will twists his face against the pillow, finally taking a proper look at Lauri. She looks better, at least. Her long, curly hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and the bags underneath her eyes are less prominent than they were earlier in the day. “What are we doing about this?”

Will remains quiet. He doesn’t want to talk about the Chester House; he feels like his good mood will evaporate into thin air as soon as he does so. Instead, he closes his eyes and thinks back to the day he just had. “You know, I went to see Tom today.”

“Is that so.” Lauri humors him, sitting criss cross on the bed and waiting patiently (or not so patiently) until Will is ready to talk about it. She’s quite used to his deflecting by now; it’s hard not to, considering they had met all the way back in uni and had been inseparable ever since. “On a scale of one to ten, how much of a disaster were you?”

“Like… an eleven .” Will groans, but the smile tugging at his lips suggests otherwise. “I can’t help it, Lauri. He’s just-”

“I get it, I get it.” Lauri chuckles, knowing to stop Will before he goes into a tangent talking about Tom. “Did you tell him about the footage?”

And just like that, Will’s good mood is instantly sapped out of him with that phrase alone. He should’ve known better than to think Lauri would let him get away of this conversation; he smothers his face on the pillow once more, his answer almost entirely swallowed by the fabric. “Yes.”

Lauri sighs, running her fingers over Will’s hair in a placating gesture. “And he freaked out, I’m assuming.”

“He freaked out.” Will agrees, trying not to think back to the look in Tom’s face when he made him promise not to go back to the house. But that’s not a promise Will can keep; he has to go back, it’s simply not an option. “He told me to just forget about it. But, Lauri, I can’t -”

“I know. We need to go back.” Lauri shudders, as if the thought alone terrifies her. “We need to see this through.”

Slowly, Will props himself up on his elbows, nodding almost solemnly. The quicker they get this over with, the better; but the last thing he wants to do right now is think about heading back to that god-awful place.

“We should just go there tonight.” Lauri suggests hesitantly, looking out the window and into the dying light of the sun, the final rays of orange and blood red disappearing over the dark horizon. The lonely light coming from the lamp on top of the bedside table is the only thing keeping them from being absolutely swallowed into the darkness of the room. It feels like sealing their faith; like if they go back to the Chester House today, everything will change.

Will swallows. It sounds deafening to him, in the stillness of their hotel room. Lauri looks back down at him, her eyes glinting in the dark with resolve. He feels himself nodding, almost like his body is making the decision for him.

“Ok.”

As the setting sun finally disappears from view, Will wonders if this is perhaps the stupidest risk he’s ever taken in his life.

 

-

The house is no less intimidating than the first time; in fact, it’s gotten worse, like the everlasting darkness of the inside of it had bled to the outside, bleeding out on the front porch and dripping down the windows.

It’s also worse because Tom isn’t here. Despite that constant sense of foreboding from last night, it had been quelled considerably by Tom’s presence; he was a good distraction. Now, however, it’s just Will, Lauri and their cameras. Will swallows in dry, running his thumb over the side of his old, old Polaroid camera. If whatever is in this house doesn’t want to show up on digital footage, well that’s just fine; Will knows how to adapt. Film can’t get corrupted. He sends a quiet thank you to his past self for packing up the old thing, despite thinking he wouldn’t have any use for it. It certainly comes in handy now.

“You ready?” Lauri questions, standing next to Will in her best ghost hunting getup, the lack of bags and technical equipment a little jarring to see. Will is an old man at heart; he barely even knows how to work the hand cameras, let alone hook them up to cameras and the like. That had always been Lauri’s thing, but after the spectacular failure that was last night, the unanimous vote was that they should just forego the extra cameras and equipment. Will feels a little naked, going back inside the house with just a Polaroid and a digital camera, but even so he nods, stubbornly setting his jaw and ignoring the feeling that they were being watched.

Grimly, he nods, not trusting his voice to come out steady right now. Demon or not demon, something is living inside this place; something that’s carved out a little spot for itself inside Will’s mind, something that shouldn’t bother him as much as it does and yet it manages to do just so. It’s infuriating, really; he had gone through the scariest hauntings in the world, huge asylums and frigid prisons, all unable to unfaze him, just to end up stuck here of all places. This frankly unimpressive house, torn down and aged, was somehow able to accomplish what all those other ‘haunted’ locations hadn’t; it had frightened him.

Lauri is quiet this time as she steps through the threshold; no witty comment to make, only her somber wince as the front door creaks open once more, despite Will being very sure they had left the door open when they bolted from the place just last night. The foyer and living room remain much the same, with only a few new additions of broken furniture to be noted. Somehow, the physical reminder that they were attacked yesterday makes the pit in the bottom of Will’s stomach grow larger. It’s nearly impossible to look away, but Lauri is already heading up the stairs, two steps at a time, and Will doesn’t want to be left behind.

As soon as they reach the landing, Will feels sick. Since the door had caved in last night, the nursery, with its translucent curtains and minimal visibility, is the first thing that they see, just the way they had left it. Except the three toys that had caught Will’s eye before now lack heads, stuffing spilling out from the holes left in their necks.

“Fuck this.” He says through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the scene with all of his might. Lauri looks pale, taking in a shaky breath and following Will down the hallway. They don’t even stop at the master bedroom, heading straight for the open door of the final room they hadn’t gotten to see last night. They stop just before going in, trying to make out anything in the dreadful darkness.

Will raises his Polaroid and takes a picture.

As the camera spits out the picture, Will waits with bated breath, thinking on the image the quick flash of light had just supplied. Apart from a few cardboard boxes, he didn’t see much else of the room; taking his handheld camera from where it hangs at his side, he turns on night vision mode, watching Lauri do the same with hers.

“Should we take a look at the picture?” She whispers, as if to not disturb the quietness and stillness of the house.

Will purses his lips and shakes his head, sliding the small rectangle inside his pocket carefully. “Later.”

Finally, they step inside, sticking close to one another like they never had before. This room feels chillier than the rest of the house, but Will can feel a draft of wind coming from the back, so it’s probably not due to the unnatural cold that seemed to follow them around last night. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, almost too afraid to look into the viewfinder of his camera, Will notices a crawl space, just barely big enough to fit a child there, made up of an unpainted brick wall. The draft feels stronger the closer they come to it, so there’s probably a window on the other side of this thing.

“Weird.” Lauri says simply, crouching down to have a better look. “This doesn’t look like it was part of the house originally.”

“Yeah.” Will agrees, almost absentmindedly, trying to get a look at the other side of the room through the holes left between the bricks, clearly a sign of sloppiness. “Can you see anything?”

“There’s light at the end of it,” she responds, straining her eyes to see better, putting her camera to the side. “But it’s looking pretty empty-“

Lauri cuts herself off with a barely-there gasp, suddenly going very, very still. Will tries to ask her what’s wrong, but the bizarre chill has caught up with them yet again; only this time, it’s so strong Will feels paralyzed. Like ice is growing inside his lungs, almost suffocating him.

Lauri remains equally immobile, eyes wide and unblinking, staring into the crawl space like she’ll die if she looks away. Somewhere in his mind that’s not completely consumed by the cold , Will notices her breath is visible, much like Tom’s had been yesterday.

The seconds stretch on.

Finally, finally , Lauri breaks out of her trance, scrambling backwards until her back hits one of the piles of cardboard boxes left in the room. She points to the brick wall, mouth open but no sound coming out of it, her normally friendly and mischievous eyes looking haunted and unfocused with pure, mind numbing fear.

“Take a picture,” she finally manages to rasp out, too afraid to even avert her gaze from the hole. “Take a picture now !”

At the urgency in her tone, Will is quick to comply, not even registering the feeling of the cold leaving his body. He crouches by the crawl space much like Lauri had done, quickly snapping another Polaroid before standing up as fast as he could. He grabs Lauri’s camera, abandoned to the side, and rushes to where she’s still sitting, curling into herself as she shakes.

“Let’s leave.” Will commands, clipping both cameras to his belt and grabbing Lauri’s forearms, trying to pull her up despite her unwillingness to even move. “We have to leave -!”

It all comes to a head when the brick wall explodes behind them.

Lauri’s scream is drowned out by the noise of bricks flying everywhere, one of them hitting Will right on his lower back. He bites back a groan, sheltering Lauri’s body with his own, not even daring to look up in fear of being hit smack on the face.

Only when the bricks stop clattering does Will look up, swiveling his head wildly from side to side, trying to pinpoint whatever it was that had caused a whole wall to come crashing down on them , when he suddenly notices the back of the room had finally become visible.

A black mass stands right in front of the window, its eyes boring holes into Will’s soul.

Things suddenly get bit fuzzy; adrenaline takes over Will’s brain, his body going on autopilot with the instinct to survive . It’s like he’s watching himself move; watching himself pick up Lauri in his arms, an urgency to his actions he had never experienced before. Will isn’t even sure how he gets to the bottom of the staircase, even; all that he knows is that there’s something dragging across his arm, something sharp, something real.

He nearly drops Lauri when they’re finally outside; at least, she seems capable of running on her own now, taking hold of Will’s hand and pulling him along at breakneck speed. Blood runs down his left arm, dirtying his palm as well as hers, dripping from the three claw-like marks imprinted on his skin.

For the second night in a row, William Schofield is chased out of the Chester House, some part of his sanity broken and shattered beyond repair.

Chapter Text

Lauri won’t look at him when they get back to the hotel, sweaty and bloodied and frightened in a way that makes the receptionist ignore them, her eyes averting to the monitor by her side. They take the elevator in terse silence, much too shocked to even acknowledge the red marks on Will’s arm, still bleeding sluggishly and staining the sleeve of his once pristine button up. A shame, really; Will quite liked this shirt. 

Once inside their room, they go through some messed up variant of their usual routine almost robotically. Will unclips both of their cameras from his belt, dropping them on his bed, followed by the Polaroid and the two pictures he’d taken of the back room. The pictures he lays face down on the bed, not looking forward to facing whatever might have been captured by them. 

He buttons off his shirt, gaze unfocused, watching Lauri take off her jacket and throw it to the side with this sort of reckless abandon she never treats her clothes with. She sits on her bed and seems to come back to herself slowly, running her hands through her wind-swept hair and taking in a shaky breath, eyes beginning to water. 

“Will.” Is all she says, a statement that conveys more emotion than she can put into words. Will tilts his head in her direction to show that he’s listening, gaze transfixed on the red spot on his shirt that smells like copper. 

“We should check our footage.” Lauri rasps, standing up and going over to Will’s side of the room to grab the cameras he’d left on his bed. She plugs one of them to her laptop, waiting for the footage to be uploaded, then does the same with the other. 

Will waits in silence, running his thumb over the bloody stain he hasn’t been able to look away from. The cuts on his arm sting, badly, but the pain is almost grounding as he feels his mind heading off to another realm; a place where none of this craziness ever happened, a place where he’s still laughing with Tom in the booth at the cafe they’d claimed as theirs, going strong for hours and hours on end.

Will shudders. God, he forgot about Tom . What the hell would he say to this? 

“Will.” Lauri calls once again, and Will is snapped from his trance, finally looking away from the shirt bunched up in his hand. Lauri looks tired and haggard in a way Will had never seen her before. He sits besides her on the bed, and she pushes her laptop towards him, getting up and padding towards the bathroom to retrieve something. 

While she’s gone, Will busies himself with going over the footage. He almost punches a hole through the screen of his laptop when the corruption appears once again, on both cameras, as soon as they step inside the back room of the Chester House. Whatever this thing is, it’s certainly taken a shine to messing with them. 

A dip on the bed tears his eyes away from the screen. Lauri holds up a wet tissue up to the cuts on his arm, the sting of rubbing alcohol making him hiss in pain as she wipes the blood away. When his arm is sufficiently clean, Lauri looks at it for a few seconds before taking out her mobile and snapping a picture of it.

“It’s mocking the holy trinity.” She concludes quietly, and Will resists the urge to tear his arm away. A demon . A demon had scratched his arm. Now that’s rich. 

Will looks at the digital clock on the bedside table. 3:00 am flashes at him menacingly. 

Lauri wraps his arm in gauze quietly, lips pursed together tight. Will replays the footage on her laptop almost obsessively, examining frame by frame by frame by frame like whatever caused this could be explained away by something on the screen. He has no such luck. 

“The polaroids,” he remembers suddenly, scrambling up and away from Lauri’s bed and towards his, grabbing the two pictures with shaky hands. Now that he has them in his hands he’s almost too afraid to turn them over, to face whatever is awaiting for him in them.

Lauri comes up next to him, placing a placating hand on his back. Her thumb runs comforting little circles on the juncture between his shoulder and neck, a quiet reminder that she’s here for him. Will takes in a sharp breath and turns the pictures over in one quick motion, like ripping a bandaid off.

The first polaroid is quite uneventful. It’s the one he’d taken by the threshold of the room, and all that shows up on it are the weird cardboard boxes he’d taken note of before. Some of them are open and knocked over, which Will assumes is where the furniture that attacked them the night prior had come from. Other than that, there’s nothing. 

The second picture, however.

It’s the one depicting the crawl space. Will’s breath starts coming out in harsh pants when, at the end of the small tunnel, a dark figure blocks out the light that should be coming out of it. It looks like an upside down head; the top of it pressing down on the floor, dark shadows that look like hair spilling out on the wooden floorboards. Two beady eyes blink at them menacingly, a wide, toothy grin stretching across its face. 

Will flips the picture back down like it burned him, throwing it on the bed with shaky hands. Lauri sobs quietly behind him, her forehead pressed against the back of his shoulder.

He looks back at the clock. 3:03 am , it tells him. 

“We have to leave,” Lauri gasps out between her cries, hands making fists against Will’s bare skin. “We have to leave right now.” 

In a sudden moment of clarity, the fog in Will’s mind lifts and he just knows that he can’t. He can’t leave things unfinished like this. Great, it’s a demon; now what? If he runs back to London with his tail between his legs now, he’ll never be able to live this down. The thought of leaving this town with that thing roaming free bothers him too much. 

Most of all, Will is scared of what it could do to Tom. 

“We can’t.” He declares, steadily, feeling Lauri flinch behind him. She moves to face Will head on, an incredulous look marring her features. 

What? ” Lauri bares her teeth at him, though the only thing he sees in her eyes is fear. However, he stands his ground, crossing his arms over his chest and setting his jaw.

I can’t.” Will corrects himself. The last thing he wants is to keep Lauri here against her will, but he’s not leaving. “I can’t just turn tail and forget this ever happened. I can’t do it, Lauri. I’m staying.” 

“Staying and doing what?! Getting yourself killed?!” Lauri’s voice shakes with anger, though she tries to keep her tone down, mindful of hour. “Look at your arm, William! Don’t be such a fucking baby!”

When Will doesn’t respond, Lauri’s teeth grind together. “This is about Tom, isn’t it.” 

Anger makes Will’s nose twist, nostrils flaring. “Don’t bring him into this.” 

“I can’t believe you!” Lauri full on yells at him, volume be damned. “You met him yesterday! What the fuck is wrong with you?!” 

“Well then, go home! Nothing’s stopping you!” Will feels a bit like a petulant child, arguing with Lauri like this, but the last thing he wants to do with her is fight over Tom of all things. “You can go all the way bloody home if you want!” 

“Oh, fuck you, Will.” Lauri’s voice is dangerous, shaky, her eyebrows creased and her mouth twisted in a grimace. “Fuck you. I’m trying to look out for you.” 

“And I don’t need you to!” Will protests, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration. “You’re not my fucking mother!” 

At this, Lauri falls quiet. She wipes an angry tear away from her cheek harshly, face going red, and turns away from Will, heading to the bathroom. 

“What? Got nothing to say?” Will calls after her, against his better judgement, and receives nothing but a door being slammed in response. 

With a huff, he steps out of his trousers angrily and gets into bed, shoving the two pictures inside one of the drawers on his bedside table, trying to ignore the guilt slowly eating away at his heart. It wasn’t his intention to make Lauri mad, but this isn’t something he’s willing to discuss. 

When Will closes his eyes and sees the face of the demon staring at him, imprinted on the inside of his eyelids, he knows it’s going to be a rough night.

 

-

 

The following morning, Will wakes up before Lauri, body aching and feeling more exhausted than when he had went to bed. Falling asleep had been extremely difficult, and whenever he did manage to doze off, nightmares would plague him until he woke up in a panic. 

Will pushes away the images of demons and mud and Tom and uniforms crowding his mind, getting up with more effort than it should’ve taken. According to his phone, it’s 9am, which means it should be a perfectly reasonable time to text Tom and ask to meet up with him, considering he had told Will during their little outing yesterday that he wouldn’t have to go into work today.

Will’s cheeks burn at the thought. 

Dragging himself to the bathroom, he tries to convince his inner Lauri that it doesn’t mean anything if Will wants to hang out with Tom right now. He just wants a distraction; something so he doesn’t have to think about the night he just had, or the cuts on his arms. 

Will looks at his reflection in the mirror. He has deep, deep bags under his eyes, which are starting to go red from the lack of proper sleep. His skin is pale, a sickly shade that leaves him looking whiter than normal, almost like he’s ill. His hair looks greasy, like all the dust in the Chester House had stuck to him when he and Lauri ran out of the place, scared out of their minds. 

He can’t meet up with Tom like this. 

Will removes his boxers and gets in the shower, turning on the spray and stepping underneath it, even before the water is done warming up. As he shivers underneath the cold pelting at his skin for a few seconds, Will forces himself to relax, almost like he’s letting the water wash last night’s events off him. His lower back hurts when he runs his hand over it, and when Will twists his body to look at it on the mirror, he sees a blooming, purple bruise coloring his skin. 

He spends no less than half an hour locked in the bathroom, scrubbing his body and hair clean almost obsessively. He tries not to think about anything; not the house, not the demon, not his mother, not Lauri and not even Tom. Just the warm water burning off the impurities he’d collected in the span of the past two days. 

When Will finally gets out of the shower, his skin is red and abused and his arms are sore, but at least he feels clean. He quickly pats himself down and blow-dries his hair, cursing when he realizes he had forgotten to take any clothes into the bathroom with him. Wrapping a towel around his waist, Will shivers as he steps inside the room, considerably colder compared to the steam that surrounded him just moments ago. As he hurries to pick some clothes from his side of the closet, something catches his eye and makes him stop.

It’s Lauri. Immediately, Will feels guilt fill him up to the brim. She’s asleep, but clearly having a nightmare. Her eyebrows are furrowed, sweat collecting on her forehead and the top of her lips, her long hair getting more and more tangled every time she twists and turns. Will finishes buttoning his chinos up and sits besides Lauri on her bed, watching her chest expand without rhyme or reason. 

Carefully, he touches the hair at the base of her scalp and lightly runs his fingers over it, smiling quietly to himself when the crease between her eyebrows lightens up just the slightest bit. Will keeps at it for a few minutes until Lauri is fully relaxed against the mattress, her breaths finally calming down and becoming steady. Will pulls the covers she had kicked away in her fitful sleep over her body and stands up, giving her one last, lingering look before grabbing a notepad, courtesy of the hotel, and writing her a small note. Before leaving, he snaps a picture of the polaroids with his phone, stomach turning just at the mere sight of them.

By the time Tom finally picks up his call, Will is already outside, walking down the street in a brisk pace to warm himself up.

“H’lo?” Tom’s voice is thick with sleep. He can barely string a sentence together. Will chuckles, incredibly charmed.

“Good morning. Did I wake you?”

“‘S fine.” Will can hear some rustling noises over the line, followed by a mighty yawn that Tom fails to stifle. “G’morning, Will.” 

Silence stretches on for a little while, but it’s not awkward; Will can hear Tom making all sorts of noises in his bedroom, likely going through his morning routine before talking to Will. It feels so incredibly domestic to him; that perpetual familiarity between himself and Tom growing stronger with each of their interactions, like they’d shared a million moments like this with each other before. It doesn’t make sense, exactly, but Will knows there’s something there. 

Finally, Tom’s voice comes through the receiver again. “Did ya want to hang out?” his voice sounds less husky, much more awake, but still a bit slower than normal. Will can’t seem to stop smiling. 

“Yes. You haven’t had breakfast yet, I’m assuming?”

“Cheeky bastard.” Tom laughs, making Will’s stomach erupt in butterflies. “Come over, then. Mum ‘n Joe left for work already.”

Will almost chokes at the suggestion, turning his mouth away from his phone to stifle his undignified cough. With a deep breath, he tries to ignore the sudden spike in his heartbeat, wiping his (suddenly sweaty) free hand on his trousers.

“That would be lovely,” he accepts, surely sounding calmer than he feels. “I’ll be over soon, then.”

“You think you can get here ok?”

“I think I can find my way.”

“Alright then.” Tom’s smile is visible through his voice. “I’ll start getting things ready for us.”

He hangs up and Will could not be happier.

Much like yesterday, it’s like all of his troubles have suddenly stopped existing and he lives in pure bliss. It should be quite worrying, really, that Tom can have such an effect over him, but to Will it just sets more and more in stone the fact that they were somehow fated to meet. He’s never been one to believe in destiny and the like, but then again, before this trip he didn’t believe in demons, either. 

His phone burns in his pocket with the reminder that he can’t hide this from Tom forever, or pretend everything is fine. But for now, Will chooses to ignore it. 

The Blake residence looks considerably better in the morning light. Now that Will isn’t dropping Tom off in the middle of the night after running away from an honest-to-god demon, he can take a better look at the small house. It’s painted white with light blue accents, two stories tall. A cozy front porch stretches along the front of the building, with a small picket fence encircling the property. There’s a small garden, very well tended to, full of colorful flowers that sway gently in the breeze. Will can see a couple of cherry trees behind the house, petals white like snow blowing in his direction. It’s all incredibly idyllic, something Will could picture himself seeing on a dream homes show on TV or something. 

It looks like what the Chester House could have been, a long time ago. 

Will notices movement by the window, something suddenly ruffling the curtains. A few moments later, Tom opens the front door with a small flourish, running outside to meet Will halfway. 

“Mornin’!” he greets cheerfully, grinning up at Will like they hadn’t seen each other just yesterday. Tom’s hair is slicked back today; he looks good in his long sleeved white shirt and tight-fitting black jeans. Not that Will was paying attention to them or anything.

“Good morning.” Will says yet again, almost breathlessly, fingers twitching inside the pockets of his jacket almost nervously. “Your house is nice.”

“You’ve been here before, ya dolt.” Tom says jokingly, lightly punching Will’s shoulder as he turns on his heels to lead him back to his home. As they pass the garden, he seems to notice the absence of something. “Hey, isn’t Lauri coming?”

“She had a rough night. I’m letting her sleep in.” Will says with a cough, not elaborating further than that; lest Tom find out what the both of them had been up to last night. 

“Aw, really? That’s a shame.” Tom pouts, pushing the front door open and stepping aside so Will could come inside. “Well, anyway. Welcome to my humble abode.”

Tom’s house is somehow even lovelier on the inside. The living room and dining room are a joint thing, separated only by the beginning of a staircase leading to the second floor of the building. A cozy sofa, large enough to comfortably fit at least five people, is framed by loveseats on both sides, a coffee table littered with magazines and two remote controls piled precariously on top of it acts as the centerpiece of the room. Behind the coffee table, there’s a small, light wood TV console, with said TV placed atop it. A dusty, busted up PS2 is hidden by an unbelievable amount of DVD cases, all threatening to spill from the console.

Will turns his gaze to the dining room. The oak table is the first thing that catches his eye; it’s quite long, dark oak chairs placed throughout the expanse of it, with a small bowl of fruit that doesn’t match with the decor whatsoever placed on the very center of it. The table is clearly well-loved, if the scratches and water spots that adorn it are anything to go by. Tom stops by the bowl of fruit and picks two peaches from it, jerking his head towards an open door towards the back that Will assumes must be the kitchen.

“Come on, then.” He says, taking a large bite off of his peach and throwing the other one towards Will, who fumbles with it a little bit but manages to keep ahold of the fruit. He follows Tom into the kitchen, marvelling at the sight that greets him.

The kitchen table is almost the complete opposite of the dining room one; it’s white, and round, and has so much food and drinks and cutlery and everything piled on top of it that Will has no idea how it hasn’t collapsed yet. Three matching chairs are placed around the table, with a plate set in front of each of them. Tom drops his half-eaten peach on one of the plates and quickly washes his hands on the sink, taking away another plate and placing it back inside one of the cabinets underneath the counter. Will assumes it must have been for Lauri. 

He tries to ignore the guilt once again.

“Sorry if this is too much,” Tom directs a nervous laugh at Will, taking a seat and rearranging some of the things on the table anxiously. “I didn’t know what you liked, so…”

“It’s perfect,” Will responds, feeling out of breath and sitting down himself. “Thank you.”

Tom smiles, almost shy. They share another one of their comforting silences, broken only when Tom reaches for the bread by his side.

“Pass me that jam, will ya?”

They spend the next hour talking about anything and everything, while Will loses his mind over how good the food is. He almost can’t believe it when Tom tells him the cherry jam is homemade.

You made this?!” he asks incredulously, heart skipping a beat in his chest when Tom becomes visibly flustered. 

“Ah, I guess?” his voice pitches higher in his embarrassment. “I mean, we have an orchard just out back…”

Oh, Will could just kiss him right now.

The rest of it goes by uneventfully, with Will taking care not to spill that he had been back in the Chester House. The last thing he wants to do is scare Tom when he’s clearly comfortable and happy, especially if that’s due to Will. It fills him with a sense of accomplishment that is difficult to explain. 

When they’re done, Will helps Tom put what is left of the food away and takes out the trash for him, hurrying back to the warmth of the house which is much preferred over the chill of April. He finds Tom wrist-deep by the sink, scrubbing all of the cutlery clean.

“I said I’d do the dishes,” Will protests feebly, moving closer to the counter. Tom looks at him over his shoulder with a sly little smile playing on his lips, his sleeves pushed up to his elbows.

“You’re my guest.” he shrugs, turning back to the soapy water. “Just sit there and look pretty.”

Will ignores the comment, despite his flushed cheeks saying otherwise. Instead, he grabs a dishrag hanging off the wall and starts dutifully drying whatever Tom had already left on the drying rack, despite the playfully scathing look he gets for it.

“We should do something,” Tom suggests after they’re done, wiping his hands with the cloth Will had been using. “Outside, I mean. When do you two go back to London, anyway?”

Will’s throat closes at the reminder that none of this is in any way permanent. “Two weeks from now.”

“Really? I dunno what you’re expectin’ to find here with all that time in your hands, but I can guarantee you there isn’t much,” Tom laughs, scratching the underside of his chin with brilliant eyes shining up at Will that are making it harder and harder for him not to go for a kiss. “I mean, you’ve practically seen most of St Osyth already.”

Will begs to differ. “I found you.”

Really, it’s like his mouth has a mind of its own these days, but he doesn’t exactly regret his words. Not when they make Tom squawk in surprise, his eyes widening a comical amount and his blush reaching all the way up to his cheeks. 

Bastard ,” he chokes out, shoving at Will’s chest with a shaky smile, just threatening to fall off his face. “You can’t just go around sayin’ those things! I’m gonna start thinking that you mean it.”

Tom pushes past Will and out of the kitchen in record speed before he can even think of an answer. 

Will follows him, silently, with the quiet thought that maybe he shouldn’t have said that nestling itself in his mind. He finds Tom by the coat rack, buttoning up his heavy winter coat almost in a hurry.

“Tom,” he tries, but is ignored as the other unlocks the door. 

“We can get a cab for the aviation museum,” Tom suggests loudly, stepping outside and clearly waiting for Will to follow despite not looking back to check. “I’ll pay and everything!”

Tom ,” Will insists, closing a hand around Tom’s wrist and pretending he doesn’t feel how it makes him flinch. “Did I say something wrong?”

Tom opens and closes his mouth like a fish out of the water, clearly struggling to get any words out. “N-No!” he denies, shaking his head for emphasis. “You didn’t- you didn’t say anything, I’m just being stupid, that’s all.”

Will doesn’t say anything in response, simply arching an eyebrow like he knows a lie when he sees one. Tom wets his lips nervously, looking away from Will with a troubled look in his eyes.

“It’s just,” he says after a few seconds of oppressive silence, clearly not a fan of being held in place by Will until he gives him a satisfactory answer. “I feel like you’re just m-messing with me.”

Before Will can question what the hell he means by that, confusion clearly evident by the way his eyebrows knit together, Tom barrels on, still looking anywhere but Will. “Like, I know we had that conversation before goin’ inside th’house, but- but you saw the sticker on my phone, and now you’re flirtin’ with me and I don’t know if you were before ‘cause I thought you n’ Lauri were a thing, but now I’m not sure and I ‘unno know how ta ask you about it because I do want you to be flirting with me but we also just met and I don’t know if you’re into guys-”

Tom ,” Will gently interrupts him, trying not to be deeply perturbed by the idea of him and Lauri being a couple. “I’m gay .”

It’s like all the breath leaves Tom’s lungs in one fell swoop, like Will had punched him in the gut or something. “Oh,” he nearly gasps, and that pleasant blush that had been coating his cheeks this entire time starts spreading down to his neck, just like it had yesterday. “ Oh.

“Well,” he continues after a pause, his features giving way to a shy smile. “Do you, uhm- do you want to go to the museum anyway?”

Will nearly laughs at how easy it was to placate Tom, but instead he simply nods with a close-lipped grin, sliding his hand from Tom’s wrist to his hand like it belongs there. “It’s a date.”

If they hold hands all the way through finding a cab, and all throughout the ride to the museum as well , then no one has to know but them.

 

-

 

As far as first dates go, this one stayed painfully platonic, even when Tom made a noise like he was dying whenever Will’s hand found its way into his own again. The museum was interesting, sure, but Will was even more interested in all the ways he could make Tom squirm without getting his lips anywhere near the other’s face.

“You’re relentless ,” Tom protests with a giggle after a particularly smooth comment from Will’s part. 

His problems could not be further away from his mind.

The museum is pretty tiny, but so is everything in St Osyth, apparently. They’re done faster than Will would’ve liked, wandering around Point Clear Bay with no real goal in mind, much too focused on the feeling of intertwined hands to enjoy the view from the beach.

It’s late enough for lunch, but with how much they’d both eaten back at Tom’s house, Will feels like he could fare with a light dinner and not much else. Tom seems to echo the sentiment, preferring to walk along the sand rather than venturing back into civilization to find some grub. 

They’re perhaps too close to the shoreline now, and just one slight shove from Will would be enough to send Tom tumbling into the cold sea. Of course he doesn’t do that, but the thought of Tom complaining about wet socks makes its way into his mind and it’s almost like he had heard that exact rant before. It sends a tingle up his spine, like he’s forgetting something important.

Despite his best efforts to push the thought away from his mind, one thing leads to another and Will is saddled with guilt over the Chester House all over again. Tom is oblivious to his internal conflict, enjoying the cold sea breeze batting away at his face, getting salt in his pristine hair but not seeming to care about it. It takes one look at his relaxed expression for Will to start to crack. Dammit, he doesn’t want Tom to know, but the thought of keeping a secret from him makes Will feel disgusting. He really ought to get to the bottom of this feeling one day, but only if Tom doesn’t break up with him before they’ve even started dating yet.

“Tom,” Will swallows, loud , when Tom turns to look at him, all happy smiles and squinted eyes because the sun is too strong and they didn’t think to bring sunglasses. Will feels queasy with affection and anxiety all at once.

“Yeah?”

“I went back.”

Tom’s smile falls immediately, replaced by a carefully neuter-but-bordering-on-upset expression. Will takes a deep breath and soldiers on. 

“I went back to the house. I’m so sorry.”

With a single step back and a hand being taken away from his own, Tom makes Will’s world go frigid in a matter of seconds, even faster than the demon in the Chester House managed to. His lips are downturned, displeased, and all that easy going feeling from before has evaporated from his body.

“You promised me you wouldn’t.” is all Tom says, and it’s already enough to make Will feel horrible. Especially when he had found trouble, much like Tom warned him he would. “Well, are you happy now? Did you debunk your bloody demon or do we need to take another little excursion there again?”

He’s clearly more upset than angry, and it tugs at Will’s heartstrings to see Tom like this. But he deserved to know what he and Lauri had found as much as anyone, considering he’d gone into the house with them the very first time and gotten himself into this mess. 

“I want you to see something.” Will nearly whispers, taking his phone out of his pocket hesitantly. Tom watches carefully, like he’s preparing himself to run away.

He might as well, after he sees what’s in the polaroids. 

Will pulls up the pictures nervously, biting back a sigh of relief when Tom doesn’t move away when Will comes close to him. Instead, he hands Tom his phone, averting his gaze from the image on his screen like it might burn him if he looks at it again. 

Tom is quiet for too long. Will tries to focus on the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, instead of the shaky breaths coming from the other. 

Finally, a small, anguished sob catches Will’s attention, and he turns to look at his companion besides him. Tom is staring out the sea, quiet tears trickling down his cheeks as he clutches Will’s phone between both of his hands like he’s trying to break it.

“Tom,” Will reaches for him without thinking, but Tom is clearly more upset about what he just saw than at Will himself, so he folds into his embrace without any complaints, hiding his face against Will’s chest and trying to take a couple of steadying breaths. Strangely, now that he told Tom, all the guilt has left his consciousness, even with all the tears wetting the front of his coat. Not that he really cares about that. 

“I’m sorry,” he begins carefully, picking his words slowly as to not upset Tom any further. “It wasn’t really for the show, not anymore. I just- I had to know what it was. And now I do.”

Tom is quiet for a long time after that. Will allows himself to enjoy the feeling of holding a warm body against his own, even though that’s the last thing he should be focusing on.

“You’re going back again.” It isn’t a question; it’s a statement. Tom sounds almost resentful as he says it, and Will figures there’s not much point in lying to him again, so he just nods, tightening his hold minutely.

“I have to get rid of it.” Tom doesn’t say anything in response, which is probably a bad sign. “Tom, I’m not gonna be able to live with myself if I just leave it be .”

“And why not?” Tom snaps, pushing away from Will harshly. “Why’s that so fucking hard to do? We went poking our noses into something we shouldn't have and now I reckon it’s high time that you fucking drop it !”

Will didn’t know Tom had the capacity to even speak like that, words charged with venom in a way that hurts him to his core. He ignores it, though; he knows Tom is scared out of his mind, and he’s not really putting much thought into what comes out of his mouth at the moment. “What if it comes after you, or something? I’m supposed to just let it do what it wants, terrorize the town like that? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, Tom!”

Tom is stunned into silence, almost breathless from the argument. He looks down at his shoes, frustrated, teeth practically grinding against each other. But Will can see a flash of something in his blue eyes, something like recognition.

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Tom spits out, finally relenting but clearly not pleased to be doing so. Will lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, stepping closer to him once again. 

“I know. And I don’t like it either, but-” he breathes in sharply, bringing his hands to rest on Tom’s elbows. He allows it, affection starting to take over his gaze once again through all the hurt clouding it. “But I have to. And I want you to come with me.”

Tom’s face shutters almost immediately. “What? No. Absolutely not!”

Please , Tom!” Will all but begs, nearly getting on his knees right there in the sand. Tom whips his head to the side, refusing to look at Will in the eyes. “I need you there with me. You- you make me-” he struggles with his words for a second, desperately trying to salvage the situation. “I feel strong with you. Like I could do anything as long as you’re with me. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the truth. Please, at least just think about it.”

Tom is shocked into silence, staring at Will with his eyes wide as saucers. Will, mistaking his surprise with repudiation, adds quietly:

“I’ll- I’ll pay you for your help.”

Tom’s eyebrows crease immediately at that, a confused frown making its way into his face. “Wh- Pay me? What the fuck are you even-” he shakes his head, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat. “Fine. Whatever! I’ll do it.” 

Will can’t help the grin that stretches across his face, and it’s like nothing was ever wrong to begin with. “You will?”

“Yeah. But don’t let it get to your head,” Tom smiles despite it all, nervous but undeniably fond, like even though he’s still mad he likes Will too much to stay mad. “I’m only agreeing to this because you took me to a date first.”

“So I didn’t just completely ruin my chances?” Will asks jokingly, but still anxious for the response, even though Tom doesn’t fight it when he’s dragged into another embrace. He wraps his arms around Will’s neck, taking a shaky breath to steady himself.

“No. I like ya too much for that, God knows why.” Tom mutters, almost to himself. He tightens his grip around the other’s neck, tension strung high on his shoulders. “You have a bloody hell of a lot to make up for after this, y’hear me?”

“Loud and clear.” Will agrees easily, running one of his hands through the expanse of Tom’s back, who shivers but continues with his demands:

And we’re doing this my way. I’m not stepping in that hell again with just that stupid flashlight you gave me last time.” It’s said in a joking tone, but Will knows Tom is serious, and sees no reason to fight it; he knows St Osyth and all its little quirks better than he or Lauri ever will, after all.

“Deal.” he agrees quietly, speaking into Tom’s neck. Despite the mess he’d gotten himself and his potential future boyfriend in, if he managed to not mess up everything even more than he already had, Will feels like somehow, they’d be ok.

He can only hope he’s right.

 

-

 

When Will finally gets back to the hotel, the sun has long since gone down the horizon, making the already chilly weather even more icy. He feels a strong sense of deja vu as he unlocks the door to his room with his keycard, though he’s not exactly eager to face Lauri after the fight they’d had. 

He had spent the rest of the day with Tom, walking around the tiny village of Point Clear and trying to not think about what they would have to go through in a few days’ time. Tom was still mad at Will for lying to him and breaking his promise, he’d made that all too clear; but he also didn’t really act like it, laughing along with his jokes and swinging their intertwined hands between them, continuing with their ‘date’ despite the weird look they were getting from the villagers. They didn’t have lunch, either, simply taking a cab to Clacton-on-Sea as soon as the sun started going down and scarfing down a frankly questionable meal at a McDonald’s, not wanting to go back home just yet. It was only when Tom started receiving texts from his mother and brother that they rode back to St Osyth, heads reeling from the day they’d just shared. 

Will tries not to think about how he was too chicken to kiss Tom goodnight. In his defense, he could see his brother peeking through the curtains of their house when Will dropped Tom off, a suspicious glint in his equally blue eyes.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” Tom had said sweetly, finally letting go of Will’s hand and taking backwards steps towards his front door as he waved goodnight. Will stayed rooted to the spot until Tom was out of view, safely inside and back into his family’s arms.

He shakes his head with a sigh, trying to clear his mind as he finally pushes the door open, like ripping off a bandaid. Lauri is already dressed for bed, underneath the covers as she scrolls through her phone, disinterested. The telly is on, the news feed making for the perfect background noise. 

“Oh,” Lauri sounds almost surprised, before she schools her features back into a carefully neuter expression, like she’s testing the waters. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Will says in response, awkwardly shuffling off of his coat and rubbing his hands together to warm them up. The silence between them is immediately charged with tension. “Did you read my note?”

“Yes,” Lauri replies smoothly, putting up the perfectly unbothered front. Except Will knows her well enough by now to know that it’s just that; a front. “Did things go well with Tom?”

“Yeah. He, uhm-” a pause as Will collects his thoughts. “He agreed to help us.”

Lauri exhales harshly through her nose, turning back to her phone with a displeased look. “He agreed to help you .” she says simply, frustration starting to crack her resolve. “I want no part in this.”

“Lauri.” Will calls for her, gently and yet strict. Lauri looks up with shiny, teary eyes, the soft glow of the TV coloring the side of her face with light blue. Will realizes then that this could either make or break the bond between them.

“I need you. You’re my best friend,” he pleads with her, wringing his cold hands together nervously. “We’re partners. I can’t do it without you.”

Lauri looks away with a loud sniffle, throwing her phone next to her on the bed. They spend a few moments suspended in silence, until she feels ready to speak again. 

“Do you remember what I said to you the first day of uni?” she questions with a forcibly controlled voice, clearly trying to hide the wobble in it. “When you asked me why I wanted to be friends with you?”

“I do.” Will nods, and he’s not lying. His first day of university was… weird, to say the least. He had just moved to London, leaving behind the quietness of Cookham and jumping headfirst into messy traffic, a confusing tube system and what he was sure was the tiniest flat in the world . Middlesex had been intimidating at first, but when a loud, fiery french exchange student had jumped him at the auditorium and insisted on introducing herself to him, things had suddenly become a little less scary.

“You said I looked like a challenge.” he recalled easily, like it had happened just yesterday. Lauri nods, lips thinning out into a straight line.  

“I wasn’t very good at English back then. At the time, I mean to say that you were an enigma,” she clarifies, crossing her arms over he chest tightly. “But now, I think challenge suits you just fine.”

A pregnant silence stretches across them and Lauri sighs again, heavier than all the other times. She finally looks back at Will, expression hard but eyes warm and tender. 

“I’ll help you, you magnanimous idiot.” Lauri declares, trying her hardest to bite back a smile. “You owe me so hard for this.”

Will is immediately at her side, hugging Lauri so hard he swear he can feel something in her back pop. She laughs, but returns the hug without hesitation, patting his back soothingly.

Thank you ,” Will breathes out, voice nearly suffocated by her long hair. The relief he feels at having his best friend by his side yet again is overwhelming. “Thank you so much.”

“So, Tom, huh?” Lauri pokes Will’s ankle with her toe, after they’ve both calmed down from the moment they’d shared and Will had crawled into bed next to her so they could watch a bit of TV together. “You were gone for a long time. Was it like… a date ?”

Will doesn’t answer, he simply blushes so hard his face lights up red even in the darkness of their hotel room. Lauri cackles, punching his shoulder lightly and celebrating with a loud ‘I knew it! ’. 

When Will falls asleep that night, much too tired to get back to his own bed, it’s the first time in a while he doesn’t feel scared by the feeling of dread building up deep inside of him.

 

 

Chapter Text

As it turns out, doing things ‘Tom’s way’ ended up being much more work than Will had expected. Whereas he and Lauri would barge in on whatever location they were investigating without so much as hours of googling about it under their belts, Tom insisted that they should go above and beyond with measures to ensure their safety. Which is why they’re trudging in the cold towards a cab to take them to the West Clacton Library, at nearly 7:30 in the morning. 

“I start my shift at noon today, so we have to do this early.” Tom had explained over the phone after waking them up with the incessant ringing at around 5am, though his voice was raspy and laced with sleep. Will had felt a twinge in his heart at how dedicated Tom was to this whole issue he’d been sort of unwillingly dragged into, despite wanting nothing more than to go back to the warm cocoon of blankets that was his bed.

The sun is finally starting its ascent into the sky, the first few rays peeking over the horizon but partially hidden by the clouds making its way to the city, large and heavy with rain. Will takes in a greedy breath of crisp, chilly morning air, wishing he could get such cleanliness back home. Life in London is fantastic, but nothing could compare to how pure St Osyth feels. 

They’re walking towards the cafe at a brisk pace, where Tom guarantees they’ll be able to flag down a cab relatively quickly. Speaking of Tom, Will has a hard time keeping his eyes off him today; he’s clearly not dressed to impress,  what with the hour it is and all, but somehow that just makes him all the more endearing. His hoodie is zipped halfway up, showcasing his Muse graphic tee to the world; a pair of simple joggers with a shoelace belt keeping it secured to his waist, one of the tips chewed to hell and back, ties the whole ‘lazy morning’ look together. And yet, somehow, he manages to look better than Will, with his beige cardigan and yet another pair of chinos, this time in a dark grey color. Though anyone would feel boring when compared to Tom Blake , Will muses to himself. 

Tom catches him looking, though Will supposes that with the somewhat ambiguous relationship they have now, he doesn’t exactly need an excuse to be staring. He gives Will a slightly smug smile, though it doesn’t achieve the desired effect with sleep still clinging to his edges; he still looks like he just rolled out of bed, hair a mess and falling over his blue eyes. Will wants to kiss him, but he’s just out of reach, walking slightly ahead of them to lead the way. 

“See something you like?” Tom teases, taking his right hand off his pocket to mock-wave at Will, wiggling his ringed fingers at him like a schoolgirl. Lauri makes a gagging noise from his left, her long hair pulled up in a bun that looks as messy as the rest of her. She still has pillow creases on her cheeks, sunglasses perched atop her nose to hide her reddened eyes. Will flips her the bird. 

He doesn’t answer Tom; he feels like it’s obvious enough already. 

Eventually, they’re seated inside a much too small cab, the three of them squeezed together in the backseat. The driver is Irish, and his accent is so thick Will can’t really understand a word of what he says; though Tom seems to comprehend him perfectly fine, giving the appropriate directions and even making small talk with the older man. At Will’s bewildered expression, Tom chuckles lightly, leaning in and speaking lowly so the others can’t hear:

“My da’ was Irish. I’m used to this.” He explains with a smile, launching right back into conversation with the cabbie. Will is left reeling at the feeling of Tom’s lips brushing the shell of his ear, wide-eyed and blushing. Lauri snickers, not caring when Will sends her a warning look. 

‘You’re whipped,’ she mouths at him with a too pleased grin, and Will can’t bring himself to deny. He doesn’t care if he’s falling in too fast; not when it feels like he’s known Tom since before he was even born. 

Weird thing, that. 

In no time at all, they’ve arrived at Clacton-on-Sea, wind whipping their hair as Will pays for the ride. The sea is visible from here; the water seems to sparkle where the sunlight touches it, illuminating the grey and dreary morning. Tom smiles softly at the scene, turning back to Will and Lauri with renewed vigor. 

“Mum used to take me ‘n Joe here all the time when we was kids. Water was always too damn cold to swim in, but that really didn’t stop me,” there’s a dreamy look in his eyes, like if he focuses hard enough he can practically see himself and his brother running around as children. “Always went back home with a cold, I did. But it was worth it.” 

They head inside the library. Immediately, Will has to blink to get his eyes used to the sudden darkness of the building, compared to the brightness of outside. It looks more like a bookstore than a library, really; the fluorescent lights are all off, but the big windows make up for the lack of artificial light. Tom heads to the front desk like he’s done this same thing millions of times (which he probably has), and leans in towards the librarian to speak in quiet, hushed voices. As he does so, Will takes the opportunity to have a look around; the place is quite colorful, totally deviating from whatever it was that Will had in mind. It was certainly not this. Lauri trails behind him, but she’s much too tired and grumpy to really take in their surroundings. 

Tom quickly catches up with them, a thin strip of paper clutched in his small hand. “Newspaper clippings are this way,” he jerks his head in the opposite direction and takes off, not looking behind to check if Will and Lauri were even following. Not that there was any need to; at this point, Will is certain he’d end up following Tom to the ends of the world if he was asked to. 

“What are we looking for?” Will questions as they come closer to a number of grey cabinets, all labeled with letters and numbers he can’t really make sense of. Tom checks the note he’s holding and searches the cabinets with his eyes, tilting it to the side so Will can see it too. 00-ST , it says. Eventually, they happen upon the corresponding cabinet; as Tom rifles through the clippings there, he answers with a mutter.

“Stuff about the murder. Aha!” He exclaims, pulling out a folder labeled ‘ April 6th, 2000 ’. The folder is quite fattened up compared to others in its section; Will assumes April 6th must’ve been the day the murder Tom told them about at the cafe happened. With a shiver, he realizes April 6th just so happened to have been three days ago, ergo, the day of their first visit to the Chester House. He pushes the thought away from his mind, sitting down next to Lauri at the table she had saved for them to look through the clippings.

Most, if not all of the yellowed scraps of paper spread out across the table, mention the incident in some way or another. Tom separates the contents of the folder into equal amounts between the three of them and starts reading his pile, frowning here and there at the certainly not pleasant text. 

Will is quick to follow his example, skimming his eyes through a couple of paragraphs first before picking one of the clippings and reading it in earnest. The paper doesn’t go in much detail aside from basic facts; and Will isn’t exactly pleased to know what went down in that house, even if it’s at a very superficial level such as this.

A husband- Edward Chester -killing off all of his family; not exactly unheard of, but not common, either. Will shudders at the thought. Someone who you’re supposed to trust, to love , being capable of doing such a thing to those of his own blood… he doesn’t even want to imagine it.

He and his dad are not particularly close and not exactly in good terms either, but just the idea of him doing something as horrendous as this makes Will sick to his stomach.

“What an asshole,” Lauri breaks the silence offhandedly, though ‘asshole’ is a major understatement. “Says here he shot himself in the head after killing his wife and children. God, that’s so fucked.” 

“Mm.” Tom grunts in grim acknowledgement, scratching behind his neck with his lips pursed tightly. When Will looks up to take a gander on how Tom is handling all of this, he’s quick to notice most of the hair that was previously falling over his eyes has been pulled back with a hair tie in a ridiculously small bun, which is simply hilarious considering his downturned lips and furrowed eyebrows. Will stifles a laugh behind his closed fist, suddenly feeling a bit more relaxed. 

“We need more details,” Tom speaks up again a few moments later, pushing aside a good part of the clippings he’d selected for himself. “A lot of this is just stuff we already know, over ‘n over again.” 

“I found something different,” Lauri responds, fishing a bigger piece of newspaper out of her own little pile; this one is a whole page, folded multiple times. They all huddle together closely, quickly skimming the text for the most important bits; this is a much more detailed account of the murder, and of the Chesters’ home life leading up to the incident. 

“Seems like someone did a little snooping around.” Tom mutters, leaning in closer to read the fine print of the newspaper, weathered with age. “How d’you reckon they got ahold of all this stuff, anyway?” 

“People can be persistent.” Lauri answers without much thought to her words; she’d studied journalism for a while alongside her English major. “Sometimes, if someone badgers you about something too much, you might just tell them what they want to hear if it means you’ll be left alone.” 

“It says here that they couldn’t demolish the house.” Tom adds, peeking at a copy of a clipping dating from a few weeks after the murders, placed in the folder probably due to the relevancy to the subject. “I wonder why.” 

“This is awful,” Will is unable to keep himself from interrupting, skipping a whole section that droned about how Edward had started behaving weirdly a whole month before the murders and instead jumping right into the paragraph detailing about the animal remains that were found in the basement of the house. “He did rituals.” 

“There’s your demon,” Tom grimaced, reading over the paragraph Will was pointing at. “But why would he just start performin’ random rituals all of a sudden?” 

The newspaper didn’t have an answer to that, so neither did they. Lauri sighs, displeased, and instead reads one of the passages that has caught her eye out loud. 

‘The bodies of Grace Chester, 35, Jonathan Chester, 10, and Charlotte Chester, 1, were all found in different locations around the house, all mangled and nearly unrecognizable. The cause of death for all of them has been determined to be blood loss.’ This guy’s a total psychopath.” Her mouth twists downwards, clearly out of disgust. “This is making me sick.” 

“He killed his baby,” Tom mumbles, almost to himself, like he can’t believe it. “The nursery…” 

The three of them go quiet, an uncomfortable silence settling over their table. Outside, the first few drops of rain have started pattering against the window. Will reads over and over the passage about how the neighbors had called the police after hearing screams, though he can’t seem to retain any of it. All of it is too horrible for him to wrap his head around. 

“We didn’t check the basement at all.” Will says eventually, almost dazed with the brutality of what had happened in the Chester House. “I don’t even remember seeing a door leading to it.” 

“Then we’ll go down there next time.” Lauri’s voice shakes when she says next time , but her expression is unwavering, fists clenched tightly in grim determination. Tom nods, though he seems uncertain, face pinched and eyes heavy. 

They don’t find much else in the clippings; the crime had been written off as the doing of a perturbed man, not some supernatural being having a hand in all of it. Though the trip hadn’t been for nothing, as they’d gotten a lead for their future investigation out of it, Will feels like they could’ve gone without all this reading, as evidenced by Tom’s shaky hands as he shuffles all of the newspapers back inside their folder. 

“Hey,” Will places his bigger hand over one of Tom’s, squeezing it lightly to get him to stop. His hair is already out of the weird little bun he’d made, and brown curls fall over his wide eyes once more. “It’s alright.” 

Tom nods, jerkily, and resumes his task without saying anything, though he takes much longer now that one of his hands is held securely in Will’s grip. 

Lauri is nice enough to pretend she doesn’t notice anything. 

When they leave the library, the rain is starting to pick up slightly, and Will really doesn’t feel like dealing with wet clothes today. They practically dive inside the Sea Breeze Diner for shelter, ordering whatever as Tom shakes stray droplets of water out of his hair. 

Will thinks to himself he looks a little bit like a dog, and then laughs. 

A few minutes later, they’re surrounded by about five plates of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs, just like true Americans would. Will scoffs quietly to himself at the comparison as he picks at his bacon, not really that hungry but not keen on wasting food. It just isn’t as good as breakfast had been in Tom’s house yesterday, that’s all.

Tom and Lauri have no such reservations; they scarf down their food like they’ve never eaten in their lives, probably to take their minds off the clippings they’d just read. Will watches the two of them fondly, occasionally taking a bite here and there. 

“That was pretty fucked,” Tom comments, a bit distracted, trying to remove a piece of bacon stuck between his molars with just his tongue. “We should visit the church next.” 

Church ?” Will questions almost incredulously, not at all attracted by the idea. Growing up with an overly religious mother can do that to you. “Why?” 

“Whaddya mean, ‘why’? It’s a church, Will. Their whole deal is that they exist to protect us from Satan or whatever.” Tom frowns, finally managing to pick out the bacon from his teeth. “And to spread the word of the Lord, I guess.” He adds, definitely as an afterthought. 

“Yeah, but-“ Will sighs, ignoring the weird look Lauri sends his way. “Just because the demon is real doesn’t mean any of that stuff would ever work on it.” 

“D’you have any better ideas?” Tom questions, looking cross, arms wrapped defensively over his chest. “Either we do this my way , or I’m out.” 

Will can recognize an empty threat when he sees one, but Tom does look genuinely annoyed at him, so he drops the subject. “Fine.” He sighs, feeling a bit like a child who’s upset for not getting their way. 

They finish their meal in silence, and Will tries not to seem too bothered by the idea of spraying the demon with holy water or something like that would do anything. But Tom is right; he doesn’t have any better ideas. Begrudging as he is to admit it, a church does seem like a pretty good place to figure out ways to stop this thing. 

“Oh, and we should talk to my brother, too.” Tom suggests after a while, after basically licking his plates clean. “That one clipping said the last attempt to demolish the house was in 2016. Joe works in construction, he should know somethin’ about this.” 

Will doesn’t know much about Tom’s brother outside of what he’d gathered from the many stories they’d shared the past two days. Joe is quite a few years older than Tom and equally frustrated, from the looks of it; though it seems he’s given up on getting out of St Osyth at this point.

“I’m a bit relieved, honestly.” Tom had admitted underneath his breath yesterday at the McDonald’s, picking at the lettuce on his Big Mac. “It means that mum won’t be alone.” 

Any excuse to put off their impending church visit is as good as any in Will’s book, so he readily agrees. Lauri gives him a look , but he’s become a bit of an expert when it comes to ignoring her after all these years.

A loud swear snaps Will back to attention. Tom’s chair scrapes across the floor loudly in his rush to get up, though the sound is almost completely drowned out by the chatter in the diner.  When Will gives him a questioning glance, Tom holds up his cracked phone screen, smiling apologetically. 10:30am .

“I have to get home to get ready for work,” he explains, digging through his pockets for his card. “You two don’t have to come with, though.”

They do come with, because what else would they do in Clacton-on-Sea without Tom as a guide? Well, even though there’s a plethora of things, Will isn’t exactly interested. So they all ride back to St Osyth, in silence this time, with no Irish cabbie to fill in their silences for them. 

“We can talk to my brother when I’m done with my shift,” Tom tells them as he jumps up the steps to his front porch, clearly in a hurry. “I’ll ring you later, ok?”

Will doesn’t have a chance to answer before the front door slams closed.

Lauri blows out her cheeks, exhaling as obnoxiously as she possibly can. When Will gives her the stink eye, she laughs a tad nervously, holding up her hands like she has no idea what he could possibly be annoyed about. “What? I just think it’s cute how much you like him, is all.”

Ha ha . Look, I know it’s weird, ok?” Will shoulders his way past her, heading in the opposite direction of Tom’s house but with no real goal in mind. Going back to the hotel feels like a waste. “It’s like… like a pull between us. And he feels it too, so leave it .”

Lauri catches up almost effortlessly, a worried glint in her eyes despite the easy smile she has on. “I believe you, ok? It’s just that you dropped the church thing so easily…” she tucks a loose strand of her curly hair behind her ear, long free from the ponytail, like she always does when she’s nervous. “Though we did catch a demon on camera, so I guess it’s not the weirdest thing that’s happened lately.”

Will sighs, but says nothing, trying to not retreat into his own thoughts too much. Religion is a touchy subject for him; in the house he grew up in, it was a constant. As in, church every sunday, praying before any meal, premarital sex is a sin, etc etc etc. He wasn’t all that bothered by any of it, but after he came out to his mum, it was a different story. Though she didn’t kick him out of the house, or yell slurs at him, or anything like that, the sudden contempt she had for her own son was so obvious it made Will’s blood boil. 

So now he doesn’t go to church anymore. 

“It’s fine.” Will shakes his head, making a sad attempt at distracting himself with the passersby; not that there are a lot, because St Osyth is just so damn tiny . “If it helps with the house I’m willing to try anything.”

He doesn’t dare say the name of the place out loud, not wanting to ruin the purity of this moment. The sun shines through the spaces between the leaves on the trees, not enough to blind them but enough to feel warm in the chill. It’s quite funny how his life has completely changed in just a few days, Will thinks to himself. He can’t even begin to imagine what it’ll be like when they leave St Osyth; it feels like all of his life has led up to this point and now he doesn’t know what comes after. 

When he was little, Will used to have weird dreams. Dreams of a man in uniform, no older than 19, with curly, dark hair trapped beneath a funny looking helmet. Some nights the dreams would be welcome; the man seemed to have a perpetual smile on his face, always telling the funniest stories that Will would wake up struggling to remember. And other nights, he wanted nothing more than to stop being plagued by the visions of holding his friend in his arms as he bleeds out, knowing he would be feeling his blood on his hands throughout the day, no matter how many times he’d wash his hands. 

Tom reminds him of those dreams. 

Will stays quiet the rest of the way to the hotel; they do end up going back, after all. Lauri excuses herself for a nap and Will’s left on his own, nothing to do and no one to talk to in this strange little town he finds himself so fascinated with. After three days of nonstop outings, having free time is just bizarre. 

Try as he might to follow Lauri’s example, Will can’t seem to fall asleep, feeling restless and exhausted all at once. The minutes seem to slow down to a crawl, and Tom’s shift is only supposed to end at about four hours from now. At this point, Will could probably eyeball the ugly eggshell color that is the ceiling of their hotel room, and he’s been reduced to counting dust motes as they flutter down, visible only due to the sunlight filtering in through the window next to his bed. If this demon doesn’t kill him first, then boredom will. 

Oh, right. The demon

Will fishes his phone from the bedside table, opening the browser and licking his lips nervously as the search bar stares innocently back at him. He can’t believe he’s doing this. 

exorcism ’. 

It takes barely a second for all the 14.700.000 results to load, thousands upon thousands of links at his disposal, and yet Will has the worst gut feeling none of it will do him any good. Nevertheless, he scrolls by the definitions and clicks on the first result that seems like it would be any help. 

In no time at all, Will’s fallen into a research rabbit hole of trying to discern what is complete bullshit and what might have some glimmer of truth to it. Apparently there’s all different kinds of exorcisms, from all types of religions, and no way of knowing what would work on their little problem . There’s so much that could do the trick and yet they don’t have the time nor the resources to try it all.

In a last ditch attempt to come across any sort of lead that could help them, Will opens his Netflix app and starts watching ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’. 

Halfway through the film and one thoroughly bitten thumb nail later, Will remembers reading somewhere that the movie had been based on a true story. So now he finds himself watching documentary after documentary about Anneliese Michel’s life and all the exorcisms she’d gone through. 

None of it helps.

In his frantic search for any morsel of information that could be useful, Will doesn’t even notice that the four hours of Tom’s shift had flown by, and now his name is lighting up his phone screen, making the device vibrate in his hand. He’s so startled he drops his mobile on his face, right against his nose. 

With a heavy heart and now a throbbing nose, Will is quick to recollect himself and accept the call. He feels weird, like his head is full of cotton and his body is made of lead, but if there’s anyone who can cheer him up it would be Tom. Will can’t stop himself from smiling as a voice crackles through the receiver. 

“Alright Will?” Tom’s voice sounds a bit far away, like he’s walking. From the eery lack of background noise, it’s safe to say he’s left the cafe already. Before Will can answer, Tom continues. “Listen, my brother’s already home, but he’s going out to meet some mates down at the pub in a couple hours, so we need to hurry. Can you two meet us at my place in thirty?”

Will’s throat feels dry and scratchy after nearly five hours of disuse, but he manages to answer without breaking into a fit of coughing. “That can be arranged.”

“Ok, you arse, just be sure to be here on time.” Tom reprimands him, but the smile is all too clear in his voice. “Joe can be proper difficult when he wants to.”

“We’ll be there.” Will reassures him, though all he can think of now are the judgemental blue eyes he’d seen through the window of Tom’s house yesterday, and they’re truly not a pleasant sight. “Just have to drag Lauri out of bed.”

“Cheers.” Tom bids him goodbye, a bit absentmindedly, and the line goes dead.

Getting Lauri out of bed is no easy task, so he’d better get started if they don’t want to miss their opportunity to talk to Joe. With a groan, Will finally gets up from his own bed, back popping in three different places when he stretches out. He ignores his phone, which now continues to play the documentary Tom had interrupted with his call, and heads towards Lauri’s side of the room, somehow managing to avoid all the stray clothing (that one is on him) and camera equipment littering the floor. He’s used to it by now.

Like she has some sort of fucked up sixth sense and she can feel Will getting closer even in her sleep, Lauri burrows further under the covers, curly hair disappearing beneath the patterned quilt. With a world-weary sigh that someone his age shouldn’t be able to heave, Will pulls all of the covers back at once and ducks when Lauri swings at him in her sleep-addled mind.

“Who’s there?” Lauri groans, sitting up in bed, completely disoriented. Somehow, there are pillow creases on both sides of her face, more than just a few strands of hair stuck to her mouth. It would be endearing, if Will hadn’t seen the same sight about a billion times before. They’ve been friends for a long time. 

“Come on, up you get.” Will holds the covers away from her, lest she just pull them back over herself and fall back asleep immediately. Lauri flops back down with a whine, curling into herself, but Will knows her well enough to be certain she won’t fall back asleep without the duvet. 

“Don’t wan’ to.” Despite her words beginning to slur together, she sounds more awake, at least. Will bites back a laugh and drops the blankets down on the floor, moving to shake her shoulders in that annoying way he knows she hates. 

“This is non-negotiable. Come on. You’re getting up.” When Will starts tugging on her arm, that seems to do the trick; with the mightiest groan of all, Lauri swats his hand away and sits up slowly, picking at stray strands of hair that have stuck to her face. Her eyes are crusty with sleep, slitted halfway, but finally she gets up from bed. Wordlessly, she pushes past Will and picks up random clothes from her suitcase, not giving any of it much thought, before locking herself in the bathroom without so much as asking Will if he wanted to go first. 

Classic Lauri. 

While she showers, Will digs through his own suitcase, stressing over a proper outfit to meet Tom’s brother with. Which shouldn’t even be a big deal, because they were meeting for work reasons; it’s not like Will has to impress him. But at the same time, he doesn’t want Joe to think his little brother’s been hanging out with a slob . He takes a singular look at his chinos, picking at the fabric like he’s debating if it’s quality enough to go out with. 

In the end he ends up only swapping out his shirt for a button up, and picking a different jacket (Will can’t help but feel a little sad as he stashes his favorite coat away, but it has a sharpie stain on the breast pocket). As soon as Lauri is out of the bathroom, still ambling somewhat sleepily through the motions, Will squeezes past her to shower as well, trying his best to not be bothered by the wet spots on the floor. He’s always hated sharing bathrooms, but sharing one with Tom probably wouldn’t be that bad. 

The thought is so sudden he almost slips. 

Trying to ignore the blush he feels taking over his face and the way his heartbeat just spiked at the idea, Will turns on the water, stepping underneath the spray and willing his brain to just shut up for a few minutes. He and Lauri are going to go have a nice little chat with Joe Blake, and it’s not gonna be weird, and he won’t have any more weird thoughts about Tom for the rest of the day. Nope. None at all. 

He tries not to spend too much time picking his reflection apart in the mirror, blow-drying his hair and ignoring the way his palms suddenly feel sweaty despite just getting out of the shower. Will truly has no idea why he’s so nervous about all of this, but meeting up with Joe feels important somehow. Like it’s a big thing he needs to do, needs to make it happen. 

Everything that he does in St Osyth feels important, actually.

Will tries to not let the thought bother him too much, getting dressed quickly and stepping out of the bathroom with his back ramrod straight. Lauri takes one look at him from her perch on the bed and can tell that something is wrong, quirking one eyebrow at her companion as she bends down to tie her boots. 

“You look like you’re gonna be sick.” She states, matter-of-fact, getting up and shrugging her coat on. Will does the same. “Are you nervous?” 

“No.” Will scoffs, unlocking the door for them, before wondering to himself why the hell he’s even trying to lie to Lauri. “Yes.” 

“Relax. You always get so worked up over the tiniest things,” Lauri huffs, pushing some of her hair behind her ear as they step inside the elevator. “It’ll be fine. Alright?” 

“Alright.” Will mutters in agreement, not too convinced but also not feeling like instigating Lauri any further. The sun is low in the sky when they step outside, clouds beginning to take an orange tint. It would be peaceful, if it weren’t for the inner turmoil brewing inside his chest. Something about this feels so familiar, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. 

The walk is silent, only the occasional passerby or chirping bird breaking the quietness. Will takes a sharp intake of breath as Tom’s house comes into view; it looks much the same as last time, but something feels different now. The lights are already on in the living room. It’s not quite dark yet, but it’s dark enough. 

This time there’s no enthusiastic ruffling of the curtains and a certain someone stepping outside to meet them. Will and Lauri walk up to the porch, side by side, shoulder by shoulder, like they always have, stopping by the front door. With a deep breath, Will reaches forward and rings the doorbell. 

Joe answers the door, and suddenly all the anxiety Will had felt before is gone. 

He nearly can’t breathe, so big is his relief of seeing this man alive - he doesn’t have the time to wonder why that means so much to him. Despite having never seen Joe before in his life, he looks much like Will expected him to; just like Tom, a little older. 

“You must be Tommy’s friends,” Joe says amicably, though his blue eyes betray a certain suspicion. “Well, come on in.” 

“For God’s sake Joe, stop fuckin’ calling me that!” Tom barrels down the stairs just as Will and Lauri step inside, Lauri taking a not-so-subtle look at her surroundings. Will knows she doesn’t mean to be rude, so he leaves her be. He has more important things to take note of, after all.

Tom’s hair is wet, a pink hand towel draped across his shoulders to keep his shirt from getting soaked through. He’s in a different pair of joggers than the ones from this morning; these look rattier, like they’re only meant to be used at home. Will feels a bit silly for putting so much thought into what clothes he was going to wear when it’s clear that Tom is comfortable enough with the both of them to wear whatever he wants in his own house, but it was all just to impress Joe, after all. 

Speaking of Joe, clearly he couldn’t give less of a shit what his guests thought of him; he’s in a pair of blue dungarees, streaked with dirt in multiple places, with a white undershirt underneath it. There’s a pair of dirty gloves discarded by the foyer, next to a dingy pair of boots, which evidently belong to him as well. 

“Makes me sound like a damn child,” Tom continues to complain, stepping up to his older brother with a pout. Joe is taller, but then again, it’s not exactly hard to be taller than Tom. He reaches forward with a cackle, ruffling his brother’s hair and quickly stepping out of the way when Tom swings at him. 

“Fits ya with how much of a brat y’are all the time,” Joe laughs, very much ignoring the way Tom flips him the bird. Lauri watches their exchange, clearly amused, before saying:

“Heh- hem .” 

Tom straightens up immediately, like he just remembered he invited guests over. He gives Will and Lauri a small smile, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. With how much he’s wiping his palms on the fabric of his trousers, Will realizes that he’s nervous.

“Right, sorry. This is my brother Joe,” Will is pretty sure Tom skipped like five pleasantries when introducing them to his sibling, and the familiar crease between his eyebrows gets more noticeable by the minute. “Joe, these are Will and Lauri.”

Joe hums noncommittally and begins moving towards the kitchen, grabbing a chair from the dining room on his way. Tom jerks his head towards his brother and follows after, prompting Will and Lauri to do the same. Compared to yesterday, the kitchen is practically spotless, no left over dishes to be washed or put away, no food placed on top of the round kitchen table. The curtains on the window above the sink are drawn, made up of a translucent checkered pattern that looks as old as Will’s nana. The thought makes him smile, but he’s quick to stifle it when Joe’s gaze lands on him again. 

“Well,” Joe sets the chair down by the table and sits, stretching his long legs across the ceramic tiles of the floor. The other three are quick to follow his example, Tom giving his brother a dirty look that Will’s not very sure what it’s for. Joe ignores him, easily, practiced, and continues: “Tommy told me you birdies have some business to discuss wit’ me.” 

“Joe,” Tom growls in warning, his hands curling into fists where they rest on his knees. It’s only then that Will begins to wonder exactly how strained the relationship between the two of them was; Tom hadn’t said much aside from telling him about how Joe had to drop university to help their mum with money when their father died. Joe smiles caustically at Tom, crossing his arms as he finally turns to face his little brother properly.

“Yeah, Tommy ?” 

Tom looks like he’s one second away from vaulting over the table and committing fratricide, so Will thinks that it’s best to intervene. “You work in construction, right?”

Joe looks at Will in that calculating way of his, one eyebrow quirked in confusion. “Sometimes. I do all sorts of things around town. Got to keep us afloat somehow, ain’t that right, Tom?”

Tom’s lips curl in displeasure, but he doesn’t say anything in response, staring straight ahead and practically burning holes on the wall with his eyes. Lauri awkwardly shuffles on her seat, giving Will a look that says ‘get on with it!’ .

“Did you,” Will licks his lips nervously, toying with the sleeve of his coat as tension becomes palpable in the room. Tom still refuses to look at his brother, but the way his shoulders are tensing up is hard to miss. “Uh, were you part of the demolition attempts of the Chester House in 2016?”

Silence. 

Joe’s face twists into something angry, anger that comes with fear. Tom finally chances a look at him and clearly doesn’t like what he sees, averting his gaze to where his hands are wringed together on his lap. Instead of screaming his head off at him, however, as Will was sure Joe was about to, he simply takes in a sharp breath and nods.

“Yes.”

“Why couldn’t your company go through with it?”

The self control Joe is trying so hard to maintain is clearly slipping from his grip. His teeth grit together so loud Will can hear it. “Bloody evil thing, it was. It froze all of us to the spot and showed us the most horrible things. Yes it did. It showed me…”

Joe takes a troubled look at Tom. “Showed me my family.”

He doesn’t elaborate further than that, but he really doesn’t need to. Will can take a good guess at what he meant. 

“And you didn’t tell anyone about it?”

“Of fuckin’ course we did! Not that it did us any good.” Joe snarls, vicious, reliving memories Will has no doubt he’d much rather forget. “Mass hysteria, they said it was. Them lads in the government sent in three other companies to do the job, and not one of ‘em got any closer to doin’ it than we did. Mass hysteria, my arse!” 

Joe pounds a fist against the table, face going red. Wordlessly, Tom rises from his seat and grabs a glass from one of the cupboards, filling it up with tap water. Joe takes the glass when it’s handed to him with shaky hands, gulping down the contents of it in one go.

“Why do you ask?” Joe asks quietly after a few seconds of silence, like he’d tired himself out talking about the house. Will and Lauri share a nervous look, debating whether or not they should tell him.  

Tom shifts his weight from one foot to another where he stands by the counter, arms crossed tightly together. Shaking his head, he elects to tell Joe himself: “We’re trying to exorcise it.”

Will flinches at the word. It’s true, after all; they are trying to exorcise it. But saying it like that just makes it sound stupid, like they’re playing pretend. Joe doesn’t share the sentiment, however; he whips around in his seat to face his younger brother, nearly shattering the glass in his grip as his knuckles go white.  

We ?! You’re not doing shite near that house, Thomas!”

“Piss off, Joe!” Tom screams back, pointing an accusing finger at his sibling with fire in his eyes. “Ye don’t fuckin’ git to tell me what to fuckin’ do! And ye never have!”

Will cowers in his seat at the venom in Tom’s voice, Lauri doing the same. Distantly, he takes note of how thick his accent gets when he’s angry. It would be amusing, if he wasn’t this mad.

“Y’have to be bloody jokin’! I’m the one who puts food on this damn table everyday! When you start helpin’ around, then you can go off prancin’ with your little friends, chasin’ demons or whatever.” Joe gets up from his seat, towering over Tom by a good few inches. Tom doesn’t let himself be intimidated, however; he squares up his shoulders and stares right into his brother’s eyes with an intensity Will had never seen before. He starts wondering if he should get between them, before an actual fight breaks out. “When y’start using yer money to help me n’ ma, then I don’t give a shite if ye want to go get yerself killed in there!”

“That ain’t true and ye bloody know it. It ain’t!” Tom roars, pushing Joe away and moving towards the doorway. “I do the groceries every other week. Stop treatin’ me like a damn kid, I’m twenty one!”

“Oh, every other week ! Like we don’t do literally everything else ‘round here!” Will feels frozen to his seat as he watches the Blakes quarrel, throat going dry like sandpaper at the scene. “If yer twenty one, then bloody act like it, Thomas! I’m tryin’ to look out for ye, if y’haven’t noticed!”

“STOP TRYING TO ACT LIKE DAD!” Tom’s shout shocks Joe into silence, eyes going wide. Tom himself looks a bit startled, but he doesn’t let up. “Ye always do this! Always ! I’m not a kid anymore, Joe! When the fuck are ye gonna realize that?!”

Tom rushes out of the kitchen, clearly choked up. As he hears the front door slam shut, Will can’t help but wonder how the hell that escalated so quickly. 

Joe exhales heavily, collapsing back on his seat. He covers his eyes with one hand, sitting there and seemingly forgetting all about his guests, rubbing his temple with his thumb and index finger. Will clears his throat, incredibly awkward, getting up from his seat swiftly and waiting for Lauri to do the same. “Right, then. Thank you for your help. We’ll be on our way.”

Joe says nothing. 

Outside, it’s nearly dark, the sky a cold shade of dark blue. They find Tom sitting on the steps leading to the porch, rubbing his hands over his arms, clearly cold but unwilling to go back inside. Lauri laughs to try and break the tension, looking as  uncomfortable as Will feels. “Well, that was a disaster.”

“‘M sorry.” Tom mutters, looking downright miserable. Wordlessly, Will sits down next to him, placing a comforting hand on his lower back. Tom tries to smile at him, but it’s clearly forced. “It’s always like that with Joe. He’s my brother, and I love him, but god, he’s just so …!” He trails off, biting his words back before he starts crying. Will winces, sympathetic. 

“He’s just trying to look out for you.” Will rubs his thumb against Tom’s back, not pulling away when he shuffles closer and leans his head against his shoulder. His wet hair doesn’t feel exactly pleasant pressed against his cheek with how cold it is, but Will isn’t going to deny him this one thing. “I’m sure he didn’t mean what he said to you back there.”

Tom sighs, looking up at the sky like it’ll somehow give him an answer to his problems. Lauri sits down on his other side, placing a small hand on his knee.

“When I started working,” Tom begins, digging his nails into the flesh of his right arm. “Joe was real mad when I said I wanted to save up to move away. Mum said it was fine, that I needed to see what was out there for myself, but he’s been pissed off at me ever since.” He lets out a sardonic laugh, which just sounds sad to Will. “I don’t think he’s looked at me properly in the eye for like… a year.”

With a wet sigh, he continues. “I love Joe. A lot. He’s done so much for me n’ mum, and I appreciate him for it, ‘course I do… But he can’t expect me to stay here forever.”

Tom turns to look at Will with an anguished look in his eyes, brimming with unshed tears. Will feels his breath catch on his throat, wanting nothing more than to take his sadness away. “D’you reckon that makes me selfish?”

“You’re not selfish for wanting to make something of yourself, Tom.” Lauri pipes up gently, taking one of his cold hands between her own. Tom shifts to look at her, sniffling. “Joe just wants to protect you. He just doesn’t know how to tell you that, is all.” 

Tom wipes his eyes with the back of his free hand, humming. “I suppose so.” He looks even colder than before, now that the adrenaline is leaving his body, so Will drapes his arm across his shoulders. “I’m sorry you two had to see that. But at least it wasn’t all for nothing.” 

Will doesn’t even want to begin thinking about the Chester House after all that, so he shakes his head, squeezing Tom’s arm comfortingly. Plus, Tom’s bound to catch a cold soon, sitting out here with no jacket on and his hair all wet. “We’ll talk about this later. You should get some rest now.” 

“Hm.” Tom grunts, looking over his shoulder and at the front door, clearly not too keen on going back inside. “I guess.”

“Hey, it’ll be fine.” Lauri pats his knee and moves to stand up, stretching her arms above her head. “Remember what I told you, ok? He just wants what's best for you.”

Reluctantly, Tom disentangles himself from Will, standing up as well. He shivers when a strong breeze blows past them, finally convinced to head back in. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Before Tom can open his door, Will stops him with a hand on his shoulder. 

“Tom,” he begins, unsure of himself. “If you don’t want to do this anymore because of your brother, it’s- it’s fine, alright?”

With a small laugh, Tom gives Will his first real smile of the night. “Are you kidding me? If anything, I want to do it even more now, just to piss off that bastard.”

Will doesn’t know why he expected anything different.

“Well… cheerio.” Tom says fondly, finally stepping inside and shutting the door carefully behind himself. Will can hear him sneeze the second he does so, stifling a laugh and turning to walk back down the stairs. 

When he and Lauri settle in that night, all Will can think of before he falls asleep is how much Tom really does look like Joe. 

 

-

 

The following morning, they’re up early again, though not as early as yesterday. Tom has to work the night shift today, so they can take things at their own pace. They meet up in front of the cafe, since it’s closer to the church than Tom’s house is.

The church. Will is absolutely dreading going there. 

He knows he’s probably blowing this whole thing way out of proportion, but he’s been known to overthink everything that he isn’t exactly keen on doing. Will knows they’re not going there to go to the confessional, or to participate in mass or anything like that, but he still feels that familiar hole opening up in the pit of his stomach, full of Christian guilt he has never truly grown out of. It’s complicated. His mum’s voice is loud inside his head, past conversations insisting that religion would fix all of his sins taking the forefront of his mind for the first time in months.

Will swallows heavily. 

In a desperate attempt to put off his impending doom, he suggests the first thing that comes to mind:

“Why don’t we ask around the neighborhood about the house? The people who used to live close to it, I mean.” 

Tom and Lauri share a weird look that Will can’t make sense out of. They agree easily to his proposition, though he feels like they can see right through him. 

Tom knows the people they have to talk to by name. Will doesn’t question how, or why; when you live in a tiny place such as St Osyth, it’s hard not to know everyone personally. Will went through something similar back during his childhood in Cookham; it wasn’t nearly as small, and quite close to London at that, but he knew everyone in his neighborhood and everyone in his neighborhood knew him. He knew the kids he used to play cops and robbers with in their driveways, and he knew the boys he used to dream of kissing before it got hammered into his brain that being gay was wrong and something to be ashamed of. He feels dirty with sin just thinking about home. 

Will tries to stop that train of thought right there. It had been difficult to unlearn that he wasn’t broken or messed up for loving who he loved, and he doesn’t want to reopen old wounds again. He had started going to therapy as soon as he got away from home, and he’d made good progress since then. But Will isn’t stupid; he knows it’s not that hard to spiral down those thoughts again when he starts having them. Best to cut it off at the root, rather than letting them fester and eat him up from the inside. 

They go around and ask. It’s extremely uneventful, as no one is willing to give them a hand. In fact, they get doors slammed on their faces as soon as the word ‘Chester House’ gets out. It can’t be a good sign. Will rubs his hands nervously, trying to warm them up as a bitter cold at his predicament starts filling up his veins. So much for avoiding a visit to the church. 

“What a waste of time.” Lauri comments bluntly after their sixth and last attempt to talk to someone about the murders; Tom’s list of names had run out way faster than Will had bet on. With a resigned sigh, Will turns on his heel and stalks away from the house, not even bothering to check if the other two were even coming after him. 

Tom is quick to catch up with him, finally dressed appropriately for the weather. He’s in a faded, clearly well loved Helmut Lang jacket, with enough frays on the sleeves for Will to guess it’s second hand, or at least a thrift store find. He looks warm and cozy in it, like the jacket was made just for him. Will smiles at the thought. He could use a distraction.

“I like your jacket.” Will offers as a compliment, though he knows Tom can see it for what it really is: he’s just deflecting. Tom smiles anyway, hands fitting comfortably inside his pockets. 

“Thanks. Me mum got it for me ‘couple years ago.” He says with a dreamy look in his eyes, like he’s reliving the moment in his head. “For my eighteenth birthday. Said I had to start dressin’ like a proper fellow. I ‘ave no idea where she found it, though,” he adds, running one of his hands over the front of the jacket. “It’s supposed to be an expensive brand.” 

“Mums always find a way.” Will responds without really thinking about it, but it’s true in a way. He knows it’s true for him; his mum always found her way. She got her way when it came to his education, to his friends, to his personal life in Cookham; and she still gets her way whenever he comes over to visit, like his life back in London is just a little game of pretend that he can put on hold whenever she calls for him, like he’s some sort of dog. 

There’s the thoughts again. Will’s expression twists into something bitter, and of course Tom notices it. He takes a look over his shoulder, at Lauri, who seems to be giving them space as they walk, and turns back to Will, lowering his voice so only he could hear it. 

“Look, I don’t know what your issue with goin’ ta church is, and it isn’t my place to ask.” He begins carefully, looking at Will with kind yet stern eyes. “But it’ll be quick, ok? Swear it on me brother.” Will lets out a cautious laugh at that, a small smile making its way on his lips. 

“I thought you were mad at him?” It’s Tom’s turn to laugh. He winks and turns to Lauri again, beckoning her over with a jerk of his head. 

“He doesn’t have to know, right?” His voice is light again, airy, and Will figures that church can’t possibly be that bad. 

The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is, somehow, exactly like Will imagined it to be, a funny contrast from the library yesterday. It’s an old building, and so goddamn traditional Will can’t help the hesitation he feels when they’re about to step inside. The interior is quite dim compared to outside, just like pretty much every other church ever. Tom makes his way through the pews with confidence, like Will’s sure he’s done many times before. Will and Lauri hang back as he enters the sacristy, which just goes to show how familiar with this place he is. 

There’s no one else around. Lauri sits down on one of the pews, craning her neck to get a proper look at the tall ceiling. Will tries to keep his nerves in order, messing around on his phone until Tom comes back, followed closely by who Will assumes must be a priest. 

“This is Father David,” Tom introduces him without any preamble, sitting down next to Will and making him scoot over to make space for the priest as well. “He agreed to help us out with your… research.” 

Will doesn’t even get the chance to wonder what the hell Tom told this man to get him to help them without any further questions, before Father David is leaning over to talk to him and he has to try his hardest to quell the panic rising up in his throat like bile. 

“Thomas told me your sister is pregnant.” His voice is kind, wise, and weathered with age, but all Will can think of is the priests back home who’d give him dirty looks for daring to be different and stray from their flock. 

“Yes sir.” He says instead, nodding jerkily as the priest takes one of his hands in his own wrinkly ones and pats it with a congratulatory smile. 

“And you’re worried your house is suffering from a demonic infestation?” 

Will whips his head to look at Tom, a bewildered look in his eyes. Tom frantically gestures like he’s saying ‘just roll with it’ , eyes widening comically in his panic. So that’s what Will does, looking thoroughly put-upon but hopefully not enough that the priest notices it. 

“I- yes. Yes I am.” 

Lauri disguises a very undignified snort with a cough. Will feels like he could kill her. 

“Well, the first step,” Father David begins, completely oblivious to the obvious farce happening right in front of him. “Is knowing how to protect yourself. You can use holy water, rosaries, talismans, anything of religious significance to you and your family.”

“Uh huh.” Will doesn’t know what to say that won’t ruin everything, so he keeps his mouth shut and only makes a sound when it’s needed. Confusion and panic brawl inside his head, like he can’t make up his mind on how to feel about this situation. 

Everything is so different from home. The sounds. The people. And yet Will still feels stuck to the past, his mother’s voice loud again inside his head, and it quickly becomes too much. 

Will doesn’t register much else of what the priest says. All he knows is that he wants out, and fast, and he can’t be bothered to listen when he knows Tom and Lauri will be there to pick up his slack. He also can’t be bothered to admit how selfish of him that is. 

“Do you understand, son?” Father David’s concerned voice snaps Will from his trance, and he is quick to nod, wanting nothing more than to be out of this place. Despite the clearly worried look he sports, the priest simply nods, leaning back and getting up with that difficulty that comes to be expected at old age. Tom helps the man on his feet, though he doesn’t step in line with Will and Lauri as they turn to leave.

“Go on ahead, I’ll catch up.” He doesn’t elaborate, and Will is so desperate to get out of this place that he doesn’t even question it. It’s only when they step out into the courtyard that he feels like he can breathe again. 

“You ok?” Lauri asks, genuine apprehension coloring her features. Will nods, taking a shaky breath and wiping his sweaty palms on the front of his third pair of chinos. It’s over. He doesn’t have to go back inside there ever again. His mum isn’t inside his head, she’s all the way back in his childhood home, all the way back in Cookham. It’s fine. 

“It was just weird.” Will offers, and Lauri doesn’t seem convinced, but she drops it easily, knowing when not to push him farther than he’s willing to go. They wait for Tom in silence while Will does his best to calm down, remembering the breathing exercises his therapist had taught him the year before. He’s alright. He can do this. 

Tom doesn’t take too long to come back, shoving a small packet full of somethings Will can’t take a proper look at inside his jacket pocket. He turns to give Will a good look, placing a warm hand on his elbow with an apologetic, hesitant smile. 

“Sorry.” Is all he says, not like he really needs to. Will shakes his head, taking the hand in his own and squeezing gently. 

“It’s fine.” He finds the time to be mesmerized at how small Tom’s hand is in his own. “Church reminds me of my mother, is all.” 

Tom doesn’t ask, doesn’t question what he means by that, doesn’t demand an explanation to his issues. Will could almost sob at the relief that comes from not having to explain himself when he doesn’t want to. 

Yet again, Will finds himself enveloped in one of Tom’s wonderful hugs, his fingers bunching up the leather of the Helmut Lang jacket on reflex. Tom twists to plant a quick kiss to Will’s cheek and he nearly flatlines just then, mind going blank of any stray thoughts. 

“It’ll be worth it, I promise.” Tom lets go and takes a couple steps back, which Will thinks is just criminal. He doesn’t trust himself not to say something incredibly foolish, so he says nothing at all, following Tom out of the courtyard like a lost puppy. 

He very much ignores Lauri snickering behind him, just low enough that Tom won’t hear it. 

The rest of the day goes by in a blur. The three of them mess around in town for a bit, walking as far into the roads as Tom is confident in taking them. Since he has work later, they can’t just get it over with and head inside the house. Which is fine in Will’s book; he doesn’t feel nearly mentally prepared enough as he needs to be, almost ashamed at how much of a toll the church visit had taken on him. Clearly he wasn’t as over it as he convinced himself that he was. 

Tom bids them a quick goodbye when they stop by his house, much like yesterday morning. Will finds himself wishing that he’d come back out and hang out with them some more, but he has responsibilities to get to. Will feels a bone-deep type of tired settling in that he rarely experiences, and he really doesn’t feel like fighting it today. 

Lauri doesn’t try to make conversation, and he’s thankful for that. They simply head back to the hotel and Will settles in for an early night, quickly dozing off to the sound of television playing in the background and Lauri scrolling through her social media just a couple meters away from him. 

Will wakes up disoriented in the middle of the night from a nightmare he doesn’t even want to remember, overheated and in desperate need of water. He throws back the covers and steps inside the bathroom, rinsing his mouth and splashing cold water on his face until he feels like a human being again. 

They won’t be able to head into the house today either, according to Tom. He has to work the night shift again. Will sighs as he remembers, staring into his reflection until he gets tired of looking at his wet, miserable face. He just wants this to be over .  

At the same time, he’s endlessly thankful for everything that happened, in some weird, fucked up sort of way. He has Tom to thank for that. 

Will dries himself off and heads back to bed, falling back asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. 

When he wakes up again, it’s quite late in the morning; 11:00am, the digital watch tells him. The first thing Will notices is the clear absence of Lauri, meaning he is alone in their impersonal hotel room. Feeling a tad creeped out, Will sits up in his bed slowly, pulling the covers to his chest and reaching for his phone on the bedside table. There are two texts waiting for him:

Went out. Couldn’t wait for your lazy ass to wake up anymore. Will bring breakfast. This one is from Lauri.

hope u slept well. see u 2day maybe? 2morrow 4 sure :). And this one is from Tom. 

Will doesn’t even notice how hard he’s smiling. 

Despite all the hardships, he has good people in his life, old and new. He sends Lauri the middle finger emoji and drafts Tom a proper response: 

I’d love to. What time?

He receives an answer just as he’s stepping out of the shower, not bothered enough to blow dry his hair. Lauri said she’d bring breakfast, so he doesn’t need to get ready to go out yet or anything. The text reads:

come by the cafe 2night? 8pm. i have 2 close up 2day. helping mum with the house rn, sorry :(( 

Will laughs at Tom’s obsessive use of 2’s as an abbreviation and sends him his confirmation quickly, putting down his phone to quickly get dressed, lest Lauri see him with just a towel wrapped around his waist. He’d never get to hear the end of it. 

The day goes by uneventfully, though it doesn’t slow to a crawl like two days ago. Lauri comes back with a proper English breakfast, and Will tries hard not to think of how ridiculous it is that they actually eat beans on toast ; his American followers have been rubbing off on him. They talk, and watch movies on the telly together, and spend all of it in each other’s company. It’s moments like these that really drive home the reason why Lauri is his best friend. 

8pm comes quicker than expected, and finds Will in front of the cafe, knocking on the glass door despite the sign that clearly states ‘Closed’ . Tom is quick to answer, standing there in his work apron and disheveled hair. Will laughs, reaching out unthinkingly to push a curl away from Tom’s forehead. 

“Having a hard time?” Will teases, reveling in the way it makes Tom blush. Tom scoffs, slapping Will’s hand away without any heat behind it and turning on his heels, stalking back inside the cafe once more. Will follows, closing the door behind himself. 

“‘S all goin’ perfectly fine, I’ll have you know.” Tom grabs a broom propped up against the corner and continues to sweep the floor with it, though Will can’t see anything on the wooden floor that needs cleaning still. The chairs are all placed on top of the tables, so he can’t really sit anywhere. 

“Need any help?” He offers, leaning against the counter as he watches Tom sweep. Tom gives him a knowing smile, but shakes his head all the same. 

“No thanks. I’m almost done.” He responds truthfully, pausing for a second and leaning his weight on the broom, crossing his arms over the tip of the handle. “Hey, d’you want a coffee?” 

Will spends the rest of the evening with Tom, any thoughts of the Chester House pushed far away from his mind for the moment. For now, he doesn’t need to be William Schofield, ghost hunter extraordinaire, or William Schofield, the unwillingly perfect son. For now, he’s just Will, or ‘Scho’ as Tom has taken to calling him now and again, and it feels good. 

It feels really good.

 

Chapter Text

Standing in front of the house for the third (and hopefully last) time, Will tries not to have an argument with himself about what the fuck he’s doing here . He doesn’t feel the least bit prepared to brave it once again, even with all the supposed ‘protection’ Father David had offered them yesterday. Will takes a deep, steadying breath, feeling his toes curl inside his shoes with anticipation.

It feels colder than usual, which isn’t particularly exciting. Despite not wanting to make it dirty with dust, Will had said fuck it when he was getting dressed earlier and elected to put on his favorite jacket, the one with the sharpie stain on the breast pocket. It’s not his warmest jacket, however, and now, shivering on the yard of the Chester House, Will has half a mind to berate himself internally for such a stupid decision. It’s almost easy to pretend his biggest problem here is how cold he’s feeling, but the open door of the house doesn’t allow his thoughts to stray too far from it. 

Will looks away. 

Things feel… weird this time. Whatever it is that’s been keeping tabs on them seems to have taken a step back for now, but the feeling that he’s being watched makes Will’s hair stand up on the back of his neck. Shaking his head almost violently, he turns to his companions, desperate for a distraction. 

Lauri looks nonchalant enough swaddled in her knee-high coat, but Will knows her well enough to know that she’s having a mini freakout on the inside. Her brows are furrowed just enough that he can tell she’s nervous, neck tensing up at the smallest of noises. Next to her is Tom, who’s digging through a small knapsack he brought with him, almost oblivious to his surroundings as he focuses on this one task. He’s got a patterned windbreaker on, in the clashing colors of black, pink and blue. The hood is large enough to protect his neck from the wind, which is simply hilarious considering Will forgot to bring a scarf. He smiles privately at how their roles have reversed, rubbing his hands in a failed attempt to bring back feeling to his numb skin.

“Got it,” Tom says eventually, holding up what Will identifies to be the small somethings he’d put in his pocket two days ago at the church. He realizes then that they’re actually rosaries, one for each of them, beads made up of a light terracotta shade. Will takes one off Tom’s grip, gently, taking a closer look at it. 

“I asked Father David ta bless these for me.” Tom explains, handing another rosary to Lauri and hanging the remaining one around his neck, hidden by his windbreaker. “Not much, but it’s somethin’, right?”

Will has never been more charmed in his life. 

Normally, he would never even consider putting on a rosary, his disdain for religion becoming all too clear once again. But this is different; Tom got this for Will because he truly believes it’ll protect him. He runs his thumb over the small cross dangling from the string of beads, taking in all of the small details engraved in the metal.

Tom, mistaking his stunned silence for a confused one, steps closer, prying the rosary from Will’s fingers carefully. “You’re supposed to put it on,” he smiles hesitantly, no doubt thinking back on how badly Will had reacted to the church a couple days ago. Tom holds the rosary above Will’s head, not daring to go any further. “Can I…?”

Not trusting himself to be able to respond properly, Will nods, shivering when the cold material of the beads comes in contact with his bare neck.

For good measure, Tom tucks the small metal cross beneath Will’s shirt, pressing against it with his palm just the slightest bit before stepping away. Will can’t help but notice the violent blush on his cheeks even in the dark, shoving his hands inside his pocket before he acts on instinct and does something stupid. He can feel Lauri’s eyes on the back of his neck, undoubtedly judging his every move.

Tom crouches down next to his knapsack, abandoned on the grass by their feet, and begins rifling through it once again, though he looks more distracted now. He gets back up with something else cradled in his left hand; a transparent vial full of... something. Will might have an inkling of an idea of what it is, but he’s really not up to getting splashed with cold water at the moment. 

“It’s holy water.” Tom crams the vial inside his pocket, cinching the knapsack and swinging it over his shoulders. Will lets out a minute sigh of relief, making sure not to take his dry coat for granted. Instead, he takes a glance at the house, which simply refuses to let itself be forgotten in the backburner of his mind. It’s looking more and more intimidating by the minute, and Will is not looking forward to this at all .

“We should just go inside.” Lauri speaks up, quietly, but firm. Will lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, nodding just the slightest bit to show them he’s listening. Tom looks nervously between Lauri and the house, like he’s wondering if there isn’t a better way to do this.

“Alright.” he concedes eventually, crossing his arms over his chest with a tense grimace. “Let’s get this over with.”

Wordlessly, they climb the three steps towards the porch, and Will is perturbed by how much it reminds him of the Blakes’ house. If he concentrates hard enough, he can almost see Tom sitting on the steps, shivering from the cold and teary-eyed because he just had a fight with his brother. When they finally walk inside, thankfully, the illusion is shattered. 

The house is much the same as they’d left it last time; a faded red splatter on the banister is the only sign left over from Will’s last visit with Lauri. The cuts on his arms tingle unpleasantly at the reminder. Will is quick to look away, ignoring the shiver that runs down his spine. 

His Polaroid camera hangs heavy on his neck, a weight that used to be so comforting now makes him want to hurl the thing across the room. The pictures he’d taken four days ago won’t leave his thoughts, no matter how hard he tries to focus on the here and now. It’s maddening. 

Will wants to go home. 

With a bitter sigh, he digs the new flashlight he’d purchased in the afternoon out of his pocket, turning it on and squinting at the sudden brightness. Lauri and Tom are quick to follow, unwilling to stay in the pitch black darkness for much longer. 

“Well.” Tom speaks up, uncertain, taking the vial of holy water out of his pocket and shining his torch in the direction of the dining room. “We need ta sprinkle some o’ this in the most active areas. I think.”

Will takes the lead and heads towards the dining room, bracing himself in case that dastardly chill decides to come over them yet again. His eyebrows raise minutely at the insecurity in Tom’s voice. “You do know what you’re doing, right?”

Tom hits him lightly on the shoulder, pouting. “‘Course I do.” he huffs, stepping around Will and hurrying over broken furniture to duck into the next room. “‘S just my first time doin’ somethin’ like this, ok?”

Lauri passes by Will as well, giving him a weird look with the corner of her eye as she does so. Will sighs and begrudgingly follows, dimming the light of his torch so he doesn’t go blind within the next hour. 

Because he’s too focused on adjusting his light, Will doesn’t notice when Tom stops walking in front of him, colliding against his back with a muffled curse. “Why did we stop?” he groans, catching himself on Tom’s shoulders so he doesn’t topple over. 

Tom gives him a frightened look over his shoulder, lips pursed together tightly. His flashlight illuminates a suddenly very obvious detail Will isn’t very sure how he missed the first time they came here; a door , right next to the broken cabinet, white and suspiciously well maintained considering the state of the rest of the house. Will takes in a sharp breath.

“The basement?” Tom stiffens uncomfortably at the question, no doubt thinking back to what they had found in the newspaper clippings a few days ago. Lauri comes closer to the both of them, looking around tensely as if she’s searching for something. “Should we go inside?”

“I guess.” Tom sighs, pushing around some debris on the floor with the scuff on his shoe, hesitantly. “No point in puttin’ this off.”

Will isn’t blind; he can see clear as day how nervous Tom looks, from the tense line of his shoulders to the wrinkle forming beneath his eye. Putting a hand out, he squeezes Tom’s bicep in what he hopes is a comforting enough gesture, tugging him aside slightly. 

“I’ll go first.” 

It’s only fair, after all. The only reason they’re here at all is because Will insisted on it. 

Lauri looks thoroughly alarmed, but Tom’s gaze softens appreciatively. He keeps his torch pointed at the door as he moves out of Will’s way, like he’s afraid of what could happen if he let it out of his sight. 

Will steps forward. 

The door handle is cool under his grip, made of shiny metal that looks like it’s just been polished. Pushing it open, he meets no resistance. The stairs look like they're made of plywood; Will hesitantly puts one foot down, testing if it can hold his weight. It wouldn’t do for them to get injured in such a stupid manner when there’s possibly a demon around the corner, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. 

‘Don’t think about it!’, his mind screams at him. Will grits his teeth together and starts his descent, running a hand along the wall to keep his balance. 

Tom and Lauri are quick to follow, their steps echoing quietly behind his own. Will chances a look over his shoulder and is met with Tom’s face, pinched in concentration and clearly afraid of slipping. He gives Will a nervous smile that looks more like a grimace. 

He can’t find it in himself to smile back. 

Will turns back to the never-ending darkness, speeding up the pace and getting to the bottom of the stairs as quickly as possible. Down here, it’s mouldy, and nearly suffocating, like the walls are closing in on them faster by the minute. He swings his torch around frantically, afraid of what he might find hidden in the crevices of the room, but his hands are too shaky for him to get a proper look. 

A familiar weight on his shoulder makes him stop. Tom’s other hand grips his wrist lightly, looking over him with worried eyes and furrowed brows.

“You ok?” His voice feels like it could be drowned out by the dark any minute, but Will clings to the familiarity of it, allowing his head to clear up some. He nods, albeit weakly, but it’s good enough for Tom, who steps away. 

Will feels the loss of the warmth almost immediately, like a cold fist puncturing his lungs. He feels awful in this place, like he’ll never be happy again. Swallowing heavily, Will turns his back to the basement to face Tom and Lauri, wanting nothing more than to rush back up the stairs and out of this damn house. 

“Let’s get this over with.” He mutters, pretending to be messing with his light again so they can’t see the troubled look in his eyes.

Tom takes the initiative and pushes past Will, looking around and making an effort to keep himself composed. The basement is smaller than they’d expected, but it’s not exactly tiny, either. It’s dusty as hell, and Will finds himself coughing frequently into his elbow, hardly being able to focus on anything at all. 

There’s a doorway leading out of the room they’re currently in into a bigger one, with weirdly empty wooden shelves that look to be in ok condition. Will runs a finger over one of them and is surprised to find that his finger comes back clean, which is just bizarre. It’s almost like there’s someone- or some thing -keeping things orderly around here. 

Will has an idea of what that might be.

For good measure, he wipes his finger on his trousers, turning away from the shelves with an involuntary shudder. The rest of the room (what he can see of it, anyway) seems pretty barren, not much to see aside from cobwebs and cracks on the walls. He hurried back to the center of the room, where he can see Tom and Lauri’s torches moving around in the dark as they walk. 

“Find anything?” 

“No.” Lauri huffs, pushing a rogue strand of curly hair away from her eyes, irritated. “Can we go back up now? I’m going to have allergies at this rate.” 

Before Will can answer, Tom makes a noise like he just got sucker punched, eyes widening as his flashlight illuminates something on the floor, just beside Will. Will looks down at his feet, taking a step back to have a better look. 

To put it simply, it’s a pentagram. 

Will holds his breath as he runs his eyes over it, trying to take in every detail and at the same time, trying not to see anything at all. From what he can tell, it’s red, painted on the floor with a viscous liquid long since dried. He doesn’t want to think of what it might be. 

One of the lines that make up the pentagram goes off the circle it’s contained in, almost like something was dragged in that direction. Tom follows the line silently, coming to a stop by a hole in the wall so big that Will can’t even begin to understand how they didn’t notice it before. When he steps closer to it, it feels like all the evil in this world is burrowed away inside this crevice. 

A loud noise that sounds like something clattering to the floor makes Will jump, stepping away from the hole with a muffled swear. Next to him, Tom has started shaking so badly he couldn’t keep a hold of his torch anymore. His eyes won’t leave the crack on the wall, like there’s something in there only he can see. It’s only then that Will notices Tom is crying, quiet tears streaming down his cheeks in a non-stop flow. 

“We shouldn’t be ‘ere,” he sobs, sounding like he’s out of himself. “This was a mistake, we need to leave -!” 

Will catches Tom by his arms when he collapses onto him, trying to hold him up as best as he can. “Ok. Ok, we’re leaving. It’ll be fine.” He mutters almost to himself, a bit frantically, but the way Tom has just given up on speaking and is staring into the hole like he’ll die if he looks away is seriously scaring Will. He turns around as best as he can, looking for Lauri’s silhouette in the dark without the aid of his torch. 

“Lauri?” Will calls out, trying his best not to panic. Tom is practically dead weight in his arms, shaking so badly he’s starting to have trouble holding the both of them up. He hears some shuffling, and like an angel sent by god, Lauri rushes out of the darkness and into Will’s field of view. 

“What happened?” She seems hesitant to touch Tom, hands hovering by her sides awkwardly. Will exhales weakly, feeling a bit unsteady on his feet. 

“I don’t- I don’t know.” He stammers, feeling completely useless as Tom continues to weep, immobile. “He just got like this all of a sudden. Lauri, I think we really need to leave-“ 

The rosary around his neck shatters, the sound drowned out by Lauri’s scream of surprise. Suddenly, everything is very cold. 

It’s a type of cold Will hasn’t ever felt before. The chill that paralyzed him by the crawlspace last time doesn’t even compare. It’s like his entire body is encased in pure ice, making the struggle to breathe even harder than before. His heart feels squeezed in his chest, slowing to an almost stop. 

Slowly, he looks back at the hole in the wall, like his gaze is drawn to it. He can't see anything but rubble and petroleum darkness, as if the crevice is filling up with it, viscous like the blood that trickled down the cuts he sports on his arm from just a few days ago. They ache all of a sudden, like the thing that gave them to Will is nearby. 

That would be an understatement. 

The mass of black gathering inside of the hole flies out towards them. When it goes by past them, Will feels himself choking, like there’s liquid filling up his throat. Tom stopped shivering in his arms a while ago. He’s too scared to look down and check if he’s still alive, or even there at all. 

Will can’t see. Or hear, or breathe, or do anything, in fact. It’s like being buried alive, the weight of a world pressing down on him as his body struggles to get oxygen to his lungs. His hands scramble for purchase against whatever this is, but it proves to be futile. The skin underneath his nails starts to rack and bleed the more he tries to escape , mouth open but producing absolutely no sound. 

There’s a noise beneath it all. It’s the one thing he can hear. It sounds like nails scraping against a chalkboard, but about a hundred times worse. It makes his brain shake inside his skull, head pounding like it’s going to split open. Will cries out, agonized, for anything or anyone that might be nearby, that might be able to dig him out of this hell. 

Tom. Tom can dig me out. Where is he? Tom would know what to do. Where is he? Where is he? Where-

Will realizes the noise is actually saying something. 

He strains his ears to listen, momentarily distracted from his struggle to survive. Past the awful, awful screeching sound, there’s a voice that he knows well. It sounds just like his mum. 

“Little boy.” his mother’s voice rasps, but it can’t be her, it cannot be her . She’s far, far away from here, back in Cookingham, back in Will’s childhood home, saying her graces before every meal and twisting her rosary between her fingers whenever she’s angry at him. She’s not here.

“Little boy,” the voice call out again, and Will forces himself to listen, because panicking only makes him suffocate faster. “Little coward man, do you really think you can contend against me? Do you have any idea what it is that you’ve done?”

Will can’t exactly feel the tears that start to stream down his eyes, but the demon coos at him anyway, sarcastically. 

“Why is it that you weep, little mouse?” there’s something twisting around his neck, squeezing tight. Will can tell it’s the rosary, but not the one Tom had given him; it’s his mother’s. “Look at you, playing at being a believer. Lying about God won’t make Him real for you, you pest .”

The rosary squeezes harder than ever before. Will is transported back to his old bedroom, to his mum slapping him for talking back to her. 

“Do you think if you send me away, he’ll want you back? Greedy. Greedy little man.”

Will can finally see something amidst the darkness. It’s Tom. 

It’s Tom, lying on his back, bleeding sluggishly from his gut. He looks so pale, so dead , but so peaceful, it makes Will cry harder. Tom is so close to him. If he could just move, if he could just reach over and touch him-

The vision dissipates like a cloud of smoke. Will tries to swallow against the bile building in his throat, lungs screaming for air. 

“Don’t you know what I did here? Don’t you know what I did to this foolish family?!” the demon roars too close to Will, making his ears ring. 

“I don’t think you understand!” the voice grows louder and louder, the nails scraping the chalkboard become longer and sharper. Will squeezes his eyes shut, but the same darkness greets him behind his eyelids. “Would you like to see, then? Is that it, stupid little boy?”

The ground beneath Will starts crumbling away, sucking him in. He screams, desperate, soundless, feeling himself falling, falling, falling -

You are no longer yourself.

You look down at your feet, spreading your hands open before your eyes. They aren’t yours; not anymore, at least. They haven’t been for a long time. Your life lines on your palms are becoming shorter by the minute. You watch them shift, entranced. 

Look up , it commands you. So you do. 

Before you is your wardrobe. It’s big, made of wood. You press one of your hands against it. It’s so warm, pulsating like it has a heartbeat. Your hand feels like it’s burning up, skin about to shrivel up and fall off like ashes of a cigarette, but you let yourself feel it. You can’t feel much of anything, these days. 

Slowly, you move your hand to the handle. It used to be gold, but the blood smeared on it makes it look scarlet like lipstick. What a beautiful color , it says. You find yourself forced to agree.

You open the wardrobe.

Inside of it, is your wife; or what remains of her, anyway. You know it's her because you’re the one who put her there. Her once beautiful face is now mangled beyond recognition, a bloodied mess that drips drips drips and keeps on dripping viscous red liquid all over your expensive work clothes. Her eyes were ripped from her sockets, and so were all of her teeth and her tongue. You remember how warm she felt when you ruined her beauty; she was still alive, screaming and begging for mercy. Her head is almost completely severed from her neck, blood gushing from it like an open wound. You search inside of yourself for even the tiniest bit of remorse, and come up empty.

She looks gorgeous , it assures you. Suddenly, you aren’t in your bedroom anymore. 

You are staring out the window of the nursery. The forest looks peaceful behind your house, undisturbed. You think about how nice it would be to take a walk out there, by yourself. Just the songbirds to keep you company. You could even wash your hands by the river that you were never able to reach, but knew for certain was there. The cold water would feel good on your constantly burning body.

You turn around. The body of your son is sprawled out on the floor. You give the corpse a nudge with the tip of your foot. 

He’s lacking both of his arms and legs; punishment for running from you when you’d warned him to stay put. The marks your hands left on his soft neck are still very visible, purple bruises that adorn his skin like a necklace. If you look hard enough, squint your tired, short-sighted eyes just the right amount they need to to get past the blurriness that is the world without your glasses, you can see tear tracks left behind on his cheeks. That kid has always cried too much, anyway , it spits. And then you are in your basement. 

You’re familiar with your basement. You spend a lot of time down here, after all. You’re careful not to step on the pentagram you drew on the floor; it’s still wet. It would be a disrespect to your baby daughter, the only truly innocent member of your family, who gave you her blood just for this. You think about her little body resting inside the mausoleum made of brick that you built for her, in her playroom. You know she’d be happy in there, finally able to rest in peace away from this sickening world. It was so noble of you , it praises.

Now, you are in your dining room. There are sirens wailing outside.

They are yelling something, but you can’t be bothered to listen and figure out what. It sounds like ‘ ’come out’ . Why would you want to go out? You have everything you need right here. 

You stare down at your hands again. On your right, rests your pistol. On your left, your life line has disappeared from your palm.

You bring the pistol to your head. The cold barrel of the gun feels nice against your burning temple. You can’t wait to be away from it all.

You pull the trigger without hesitation. You’re proud to say that your brains were the hardest thing to clean up in the house. 

Will wakes up.

He startles awake on the floor, too close to the bloody pentagram for comfort. He scrambles up to his knees and retches, his dinner splattering all over the ground. His lungs take in air gratefully, nearly starting to hyperventilate. Will weakly wipes his mouth with he back of his hand, letting out an anguished groan. Fresh tears spill from his eyes, and he has no energy to try and stop them.

“Will!” he knows this voice. It’s Lauri. She rushes to his side, gripping his forearms, trying to pull him up to his feet. Will leans on her gratefully, taking in the sight of his best friend. 

Lauri looks awful. Her hair is a mess, matted to her forehead with sweat. Her eyes and nose are red from crying, and her voice sounds raspy, like she’d been screaming. Will imagines he doesn’t look much better. 

“Did you see it?” he asks shakily, not recognizing the sound of his own voice. Lauri nods, tears welling up in her eyes again. 

“I did, I did, I- we need to leave! We should’ve never come here at all-!”

A wail cuts her off. Will feels like hitting himself. Tom.

Will disentangles himself from Lauri and looks around madly in the dark, trying to spot Tom. He almost falls over again in his rush to get to his friend when he sees him kneeling a few meters away, hands gripping his curly hair so hard he might end up ripping it off. 

“Tom?” Will pries Tom’s hands gently from his hair, holding them between his own. Tom isn’t really here; his eyes are glazed over, panicked, misty with tears. He’s saying something Will can’t understand, so he leans in to hear better. 

“Dad,” Tom sobs in his ear and it’s enough to tear Will’s heart apart. He pulls Tom up to his feet, ridden with guilt. Tom goes easily, too lost in his own mind to resist. 

“We’re leaving. Now.” Will doesn’t bother looking for his flashlight in the pitch black darkness. He tugs Tom along, reassured by Lauri’s footsteps bringing up his rear, and climbs the plywood stairs with an urgency he’d never once felt before. It’s only when they’re finally out of the basement that his mind begins to clear up from his panicked trance. 

He can feel its eyes on the back of his neck, the phantom pain of being suffocated coming back slowly to him, bit by bit. Will shakes his head violently and focuses on getting Tom through the living room and out the front door, wishing for nothing more than a warm shower and his bed, all the way back in London. 

As the three of them stumble outside on the rotting porch, Will swears he can hear that awful, ear-splitting voice cackling beneath the floorboards. 

Will and Lauri work together, pulling Tom along by his forearms. He doesn’t struggle against them, but his unresponsiveness is worrying. It’s only when they’re a good few blocks away from the house that Will finds his voice again, compartmentalizing what he just went through to be dealt with later. 

“We need to get him home.” He sounds strangled and weak. Lauri winces at the quality of his voice but nods, though her steps seem to be faltering as well. They fall into silence again, only interrupted by Tom’s occasional groans and indiscernible babblings. 

The walk is tense. Any sort of little noise and creak is enough to make Will start to nearly hyperventilate, immediately plagued by the feeling of suffocating. When Tom’s head lolls against his shoulder and the expanse of his neck is no longer hidden by the windbreaker, Will can see the beads of his rosary are black, looking like they were burnt to almost crisps. 

He swallows heavily, tugging Tom closer to his side. 

When Tom’s house comes into view, Will can’t stop the guilt from sitting heavy in his gut. They can’t just leave Tom in the doorstep and sneak away like nothing had happened, obviously, which means he’ll have to face Joe after dragging his younger brother into hell. Mrs. Blake will probably be there too, now that he thinks about it. Will really didn’t want their first meeting to go like this. 

They shuffle awkward to the front porch. Tom has gone disconcertingly quiet between the two of them. 

“Should we… should we just knock?” Lauri worries at her bottom lip, clearly anxious, taking out her phone to check the time. “Holy shit, it’s already half past two.” 

“We don’t have a choice.” Will cringes, but raises his hand and gives the front door one, two, three forceful knocks. He steps back, and waits.

After about three minutes of awkward silence in which Will contemplated just looking for the spare key, lest he keep knocking until his hand falls off, the door swings open, a gruff Joe Blake standing behind it, clearly displeased. Next to him is a plump, petite woman, with greying hairs and wrinkles underneath her tired eyes, wrapping a shawl tightly around her shoulders. 

The woman’s eyes (they’re green, Will notices) widen considerably once she takes in the scene before her, any remnants of sleep evaporating from her in an instant. “Tommy?!” 

Mrs. Blake rushes forward, gathering her son in her arms in a practiced motion. Tom slumps forward without resistance, leaning on his mother even though she’s shorter than him. She tugs him inside in a hurry, not sparing a second glance to her ‘guests’.

Will breathes a little easier, knowing Tom is in good hands. The relief, however, is temporary; the second his eyes meet Joe’s, it’s like a bucket of ice water has been dumped over his head. 

Joe’s eyes are stone cold, stormy with anger. His jaw is set so harshly Will can hear his teeth grind against each other, and it’s a sound that reminds him too much of the demon’s voice. 

“Yer a right down bastard, ain’t ye?” Joe growls, grip on the handle tightening. “I told Tom ta stay away from all this.” 

“Tom is an adult. He can make his own decisions.” Lauri butts in between them, squaring her shoulders despite being shorter than Joe by a good few inches. Will’s heart swells with affection for her at that moment. Despite the extremely stressful and traumatizing night they just had, she’s still willing to defend her best friend with teeth and nails. He smiles softly at her as thanks, though she doesn’t seem to notice. 

“Yeah, an’ look how well that turned out for him. The hell did ya do?!” Joe’s voice is beginning to raise dangerously. Down the street, Will notices a light turning on in one of the neighbors’ houses. He shushes Joe with urgency, trying to avoid making a scene. 

“Look, it’s hard to explain. Just- don’t be mad at Tom. He’s stressed.” Stressed doesn’t even begin to cover it. If Tom went through the same thing as Will did, traumatized would be a better word to use. Will shivers at the thought of unpacking tonight’s events, and just having to deal with them. 

Bitterly, he thinks to himself that he just can’t let that thing win. 

“Get the fuck out.” Joe’s eyes narrow into thin slits, spitting at them with venom. “Get the fuck outta ‘ere! Go! Leave!” 

“Don’t have to tell us twice.” Lauri snaps back, grabbing Will by the sleeve of his coat and pulling him down the steps with her. He doesn’t want to just leave , though, Tom is still in there, he needs them-

“No!” 

Tom’s shrill scream is enough to stop both of them in their tracks. 

Will looks back at the front door, towards a bewildered Joe. He hears Tom coming before he sees him, squeezing past his brother and nearly tumbling down the stairs in his rush to get to Will. He doesn’t have his windbreaker on anymore, the pale skin of his arms covered in goosebumps from the cold. 

“Y’can’t leave!” Tom wails, gripping the front of Will’s coat desperately. It’s clear that he hasn’t snapped from his trance yet, eyes wild and unfocused. “It’s still out there! I- I can’t-!” 

“Tom, it’s ok. It’s ok.” Will grips Tom’s forearms soothingly, feeling his muscles relax beneath his palm. Tom’s skin is on fire . Will is worried he might have a fever. “I won’t leave if you don’t want me to. I-“ He pauses to take a deep breath. “I don’t want to leave either.” 

“It’s still out there.” Tom insists, nearly choking on his words. Will simply nods and begins leading them up the front porch again, and inside the house. This time, Joe doesn’t say anything as they walk past him, though his irate anger is quite obvious in the way he slams the door shut behind him. 

Tom clings to Will like he’s afraid he’ll disappear into thin air if he lets go. Mrs. Blake walks up to them with a grim look of worry on her face, placing a kind hand between her son’s shoulder blades. 

“I’m goin’ to run him a bath. He’s shivering,” she says while rubbing his back in large circles, displacing his shirt slightly and exposing the bruises on his neck where the rosary no longer sits. Tom tucks his face against Will’s collarbone with a whimper. “Why don’t ya give me a hand?” 

“The girl can help ye, mum.” Joe interrupts, hands buried inside the pockets of his slacks. Lauri bristles at his comment, looking like she could rip the elder Blake a new one. “I need ta ‘ave a word with Will ‘ere.” 

Will swallows thickly but doesn’t protest, stepping away from Tom remorsefully. Tom looks too tired to put up a fight, letting his mum and Lauri lead him up the stairs. Joe trails them with his eyes, waiting to hear the bathroom door shutting closed, before he turns to Will fully, looking seconds away from snapping. 

He doesn’t say anything at first. The silence is tense. Will feels like prey, being scrutinized by the animal that’s about to make dinner out of him, and it’s not a pretty thought. He squirms uncomfortably where he stands, shoulders coming up to his ears defensively. 

Anxiety pools in his stomach when Joe finally speaks up. “Lis’en.” He grumbles, expression very hostile. “I don’t give a damn if ya want to go get yerself killed messin’ with shite ya don’t understand. By all fuckin’ means, be my guest. But you,” Joe steps close enough for Will to feel his breath, jutting a finger against his chest, just above his heart. “Keep. My. Brother. Out of it.” 

Will doesn’t let himself shrink underneath Joe’s gaze. He’s taller, after all. “Won’t happen again.” 

Joe takes a step back, retracting his hand. He doesn’t look very convincing, but Will continues to school his expression, no emotion showing on his face.

“See to it that it doesn’t.” He bites out after a while, turning on his heel and climbing the stairs in twos, presumably to check on Tom. Will lets out the breath he’d been holding, willing his muscles to relax. 

He doesn’t know how he’d envisioned this night going, but being threatened by Joe Blake was definitely not in his plans.

Will collapses on the huge couch with a sigh, sinking into the old cushions. Running a hand through his hair, he unbuttons his coat with the other, though the process goes very slow considering how badly he’s started shaking. Being down here, alone, with only a dim light bulb overhead to keep him from being swallowed into the darkness, definitely makes Will nervous, like the demon could come back at any second. But he needs a moment for himself before he braves upstairs; he needs to be mostly ok to be able to help Tom. 

Just the thought of Tom is enough to leave Will swimming in guilt. The last thing he wanted to happen was Tom getting hurt; the absolutely worst case scenario. That had gotten pretty damn close, though; Will rubs a hand over his neck nervously, making sure that everything is as it’s supposed to be, shivering at the thought of what had happened back in the house. The demon had buried Will alive; he doesn’t even want to think what it was that it did to Tom.

And despite everything that just happened, he still can’t let it go. He just can’t let that thing walk away free from all this after all that it had done. It was just pure evil down to its very rotten core. 

Get a grip, man. ’ Will thinks to himself, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. With one last, punishing tug of his hair in both of his hands, Will stands up slowly, afraid he might fall over if he tries to rush things. He takes his time with the steps, admiring the picture frames that adorn the walls leading up to the second floor.

There’s no shortage of them. Most of them are depict Tom or Joe, or even Tom and Joe, through various stages of life. Others have Mrs. Blake in them, starting by a portrait of what Will assumes is her in her teens, and going all the way to a picture that couldn’t be more than a couple months old, of her taking out a pie from the oven. There’s enough pictures that Will could spend a good hour looking over them, but only one has the person he’s looking for. 

Tom’s dad.

The picture looks dated, that much is clear. Which doesn’t make sense, judging by the date in the corner; it reads 2012. But it’s yellowed and the corners are wrinkled, like it had spent a good while out of this picture frame before being encased and displayed on this wall. Tom is easy to find in the photograph; he has the same brilliant grin as always, though his hair is a mess of dirty blonde curls instead of the brown Will has come to be so used to. He’s sitting down at the kitchen table, hands gripping the collar of a dog Will doesn’t recognize. Standing behind him is Joe, looking at the camera with a grumpy glower, turning away from it as best as he can while still showing his face. By the sink, hands twisting her apron, is Mrs. Blake, looking jovial and happy, shoulders relaxed and back straight. And next to her, is Mr. Blake.

Will takes his time taking in the man’s face. He has blue eyes, the exact same shade as Tom’s. A great big mustache covers up most of his mouth, but Will can tell he’s beaming by the way his eyes crinkle at the corners. The black hairs on his head curl in a way so familiar it makes Will’s heart clench, tongue suddenly feeling dry like sandpaper inside his mouth. He steps away from the picture, blinking back tears he doesn’t understand away from his eyes. Emotions are still running high tonight; that has to be it. 

With a deep breath, Will continues to climb. 

As soon as he gets to the landing, a door down the hallway bursts open, and out of it comes Lauri, looking frazzled but considerably better than she did when they’d just gotten here. She spots Will and rushes over, taking both of his hands in her own. 

“I was going to come down and get you. Martha needs you in the bathroom.” Will doesn’t have to ask her who Martha is; he simply nods, eyes glued to the door Lauri had come out of. “Tom is still too nervous. You need to help him relax.” 

Will nods jerkily, pushing past Lauri and into the bathroom with his heart about to leap out of his throat. The first thing that he notices is the warmth; the steam makes everything foggy. Will is quick to spot Tom, sitting in a half-filled bathtub, stripped down to his underwear, visibly shivering.

“Oh, darlin’.” Martha speaks softly, as if soothing a wounded animal. Her hands waver hesitantly over Tom, uselessly, as if she’s afraid that touching him might set him off. Tom doesn’t look at all there; his arms are curled protectively over his stomach, eyes set on the wall before him, far away from them all. Will feels his insides twist when he realizes the place that Tom’s covering is where he’d seen the stab wound in that vision, back in the house. 

“Tom?” Will calls out, nervous. 

Recognition flashes in Tom’s eyes, and he turns his head towards Will, eyebrows creasing together like he’s struggling not to cry. Martha looks like she could kiss Will, smiling with teary eyes as she smoothes a hand over her son’s hair. 

“There you are,” she whispers. 

Will steps closer, slowly. Tom’s shivering has subdued some, but he still looks like a total wreck. As soon as Will kneels beside the bathtub, Tom shuffles over, leaning over the edge. 

“Can I touch you?” Will puts his hands out, carefully so he doesn’t startle Tom. He needn’t have bothered, though; the second Tom is close enough, he leans against Will, eyes squeezed shut like he’s afraid of opening them again. 

Will wraps his arms around Tom, unconcerned if his clothes end up getting wet or not. He squeezes Tom’s shoulder in that comforting way he knows helps, worried if his hands are too cold. Tom doesn’t really seem to care.

Martha stands up with a shaky exhale, leaning heavily against the tiles on the wall. “I’ll give you two some time.” She sounds exhausted, but Will can’t blame her; he’s feeling like pure death himself. So he just nods, finding himself too tired to speak. 

They don’t really talk. Tom only moves to shift himself so he’s closer to Will, and that’s it. Eventually, he stops shivering completely, though if it’s out of exhaustion or if he’s truly more relaxed Will can’t tell. He simply holds Tom through it all, finding one of his hands and squeezing hard.

“I’m sorry.” Will mutters with half of his face buried in Tom’s curls. He gets no response. 

Will isn’t sure how much time passes. The water in the bathtub is starting to become too lukewarm for an April night. Martha comes in eventually with two sets of clothes and leaves them on the toilet lid, pointing out which ones were for Tom and which were Will’s. As soon as she closes the door behind her, Will begins to tug Tom out of the bathtub, taking on most of his weight himself. 

“Let’s get you dried up.” He mumbles, mostly to himself. Tom doesn’t respond other than giving him a weak sigh, taking one of the towels hanging on the wall and beginning to pat himself down. Will grips Tom’s waist tightly to support him, not complaining even once whenever he needs to lend a shoulder so Tom can reach lower without toppling over. 

The only thing remaining is taking off his wet underwear. Will clears his throat, averting his gaze. 

“I won’t look.” He promises. Tom gives him a wry smile, which is better than nothing, he supposes. 

“Shouldn’t be a big deal.” Tom mumbles while he strips fully, flinging his boxers to the side and fishing a clean pair from his pile of clothes, but Will doesn’t look either way, eyes burning holes on the bathroom rug. It’s only when Tom’s finished dressing that he looks up, ignoring the way his face is lit up with red. 

“Get dressed.” Tom squeezes past Will and out of the bathroom with tired eyes and slumped shoulders. Will can’t help but wonder if Tom is mad at him, though that would be only fair; Will would be mad at himself too, after the night they’d just had. 

He strips quickly, bundling up his clothes in his hands and placing them on top of the toilet lid so they don’t get even more wet. The clothes Martha picked out fit him, but it’s a near thing. The shirt is a bit too tight around the shoulders, and the sweats only reach down to his ankles. These must be Joe’s.

Will picks at the collar of the shirt, uncomfortably. 

When he steps out of the bathroom, Tom is slumped against the wall, practically asleep already. He collapses against Will without any hesitation, clinging tightly so he can’t be pushed away. 

Not that Will would ever want to do that, of course. 

There’s someone coming up the stairs; their steps are heavy, loud. Will flinches momentarily, relaxing only when Martha’s soothing green eyes come into view. She takes one look over them and smiles, though her face look heavy with worry. 

“His bedroom is just down the hall.” She speaks quietly, like she’s afraid of waking Tom up; but that doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon. Will follows Martha’s lead, dragging Tom along with him, feeling his knees click like they always do whenever he stays up for too long. 

Tom’s bedroom is dark, of course. The curtains block out the moonlight from filtering into the room. Martha pulls back the covers on the bed and Will is careful to deposit Tom down on it, making sure his head hits the pillow and not the wooden headboard behind him. 

Tom goes easily, of course. Though he doesn’t let go of Will’s arms when he moves to stand up, even if he’s clearly asleep already. 

“He’s done that since he was a baby.” Martha whispers affectionately, tugging the covers over Tom’s body. Her smile is sad, strangled. “He’s such a sweet boy, my Tommy.” 

Will could just blow up with shame. 

“Ah, I gave the guest bedroom to your lady friend.” Martha tries to wipe her eyes inconspicuously, though Will notices the tears when they stream down her cheeks. “Maybe it would be best if ya slept ‘ere tonight, hmm?” 

“Sure.” Will can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t want to stay, really. Sleeping away from Tom tonight sounds like a nightmare. He climbs underneath the sheets as carefully as he can manage, exhaling when he feels Tom curl to his side. Just like a cat. 

Martha moves to shut the door with a muffled good night, but before she can do so, Will calls out to her.

“Mrs. Blake?” 

Her figure pauses, hand leaning heavily against the door handle. Will can’t see her face with the hallway light shining from behind her. 

“Yes?” 

“I’m- I’m so sorry.” 

He can hear the regret in his own voice, and it makes him wince. 

From the doorway, Martha shakes her head. Will doesn’t have to be able to see her to know that she’s smiling.

“He’s always been awful stubborn, that Tommy.” Her tone is warm, kind. Will feels his body sinking into the mattress, sleep starting to soften his edges. “He would’ve gone with you no matter what you said to him. Good night, dear.” 

Martha shuts the door with finalty. The darkness washes over them, but this time, Will isn’t scared. 

He lets himself relax with Tom’s weight pressed comfortably to his side. It’s no time at all before Will falls into a deep, fitful sleep. 

 




Chapter Text

By some miracle, it’s morning when Will finally startles awake to the sound of birdsong. He props himself up in his bed, taking large, heaving gulps of air to calm his racing heart. His blood rushes to his ears, making him fall back against the mattress, dizzy. 

Will squeezes his eyes shut, trying his best to remember the breathing exercises Lauri taught him years ago. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. He does this until he feels like his brain is finally getting enough oxygen, finally free from that awful nightmare. 

Will doesn’t really remember what it was about, and he doesn’t want to find out.

It’s only then that Will notices- he’s not in his bed. The mattress is far too soft, as if the springs were old. The sheets smell familiar, but not like his own.

Before he starts panicking again, Will takes a look around the room. What catches his eye is the discarded phone by the bedside table, looking about to fall apart.

Oh, right. This is Tom’s house.

Will sits up with considerable effort, leaning against the headrest. One look at Tom’s phone tells him it’s just past 11, way later than when he usually wakes up. Then again- ever since he set foot in St Osyth, things have been weird. Both the good and bad kind of weird.

Then, comes the realization that he’s alone. Will is pretty sure he fell asleep with Tom by his side, curled up against him as he practically passed out from exhaustion. The bed feels awfully big now, without that warm weight pressed up to him. And cold. 

Will shivers, dragging the covers up to his waist. He doesn’t like not knowing where Tom is. Not to sound creepy or anything, but after last night, he thinks he’s justified in wanting to know if he’s ok. 

And he is trying his damndest not to think about last night. Not for now, at least. 

Just as he’s about to drag himself out of bed, a noise pricks at Will’s ears. It sounds like two people arguing, getting louder as they move down the hall.

Tom and Joe. Will doesn’t have to think too hard to figure out what they’re screaming their heads off about. 

With a resounding ‘piss off, Joe!’ , the door bursts open, and through it comes Tom. He looks- disheveled, to say the least. His curls are a matted mess, sticking to his forehead and the nape of his neck with sweat. Dark red circles have taken residence underneath his eyes, which are totally bloodshot. His shirt is rumpled and creased like someone had run their fingers much too often through the fabric. 

Tom startles when his gaze meets Will’s. His expression quickly turns from soured to sheepish.

“Oh, did I wake ya up?” 

Will’s throat goes dry with guilt, finding himself unable to speak. God, Tom is so pale he looks sickly. He shakes his head in a ‘no’, but his hesitation is enough to make Tom grimace anyway. 

“Sorry we was so loud. Joe can be a proper arsehole when he wants to.” He speaks softly, a stark contrast from just a couple seconds ago. Finally closing the door all the way shut, he pads to the bed, arms crossed tightly over his chest. 

He looks worried. Will can’t stop the swell of emotion building up in his chest. 

“That’s fine. Tom, I’m-“ he sounds strangled even to his own ears. Tom cringes in sympathy. “I’m- so fucking sorry.” 

Tom sits down next to Will on the bed, enveloping him in a strong hug instead of using any words. Will returns it just as enthusiastically, wrapping his arms around Tom’s waist like they were made to fit there. 

With his face safely tucked into the crook of Tom’s neck, Will takes a second to reflect. The past few weeks have been- nothing short of insane. He feels world weary in a way he’s never experienced before, like someone had just added about a thousand years to the pile collecting on his shoulders. He never wanted this when he and Lauri started their stupid YouTube channel- he just wanted to have some fun with his best friend. He never wanted the both of them to be going toe to toe against an age-old entity, capable of doing the most unspeakable things Will’s never even thought of.

And then there’s Tom. 

Try as he might, Will just can’t regret any of this. Sure, he wishes that it never happened in the first place- but he doesn’t regret it. Because it’s thanks to this mess that he’s become complete, as ironic as that may be. 

Will brings Tom closer. He’s got at least one good thing out of all this. 

“I think ‘s strange when you swear.” Tom murmurs, raking his fingers through Will’s hair. Will grunts, lifting his head just enough that he can look Tom in the eyes.

Tom’s mouth quirks to the side. “I ‘unno. Ya look like the type to say effin’, ‘s all.”

Will scoffs, pulling away from Tom, but keeping one stubborn hand resting against his thigh. He rubs the corners of his eyes, mostly unsurprised to find that they’re a bit wet. “Do I look like I’m twelve?”

“Ah, give over, Scho. Y’take yerself so seriously, y’know that?” Tom laughs, though it sounds a bit off. Maybe they shouldn’t just pretend last night didn’t happen; it would be easier to just address the elephant in the room as soon as possible.  

“Listen. Yesterday, at the house…” something in Tom’s expression shutters immediately when Will brings it up. “Come on, Tom. We can’t just ignore it.”

“We can try, can’t we?” Tom scowls, tensing his shoulders defensively. “We tried our best, an’ it didn’t work out. Bloody hell, Will, we could’ve gotten killed!

Will doesn’t say anything in response, teeth digging indents on his bottom lip. A groan of distress comes from Tom when he realizes just what his silence means.

“You can’t be fuckin’ serious!” He springs up from the bed, breathing coming out in short bursts. “You can’t really think that we can stop it-“ 

“No, I guess I can’t. But I’m not going to just-!” Will throws his hands up in the air, exasperated, feeling his throat go tight with tension. “I can’t just leave this. I can’t. And I’m going back. By myself, this time.” 

Tom doesn’t say anything, eyes wide as saucers. Will takes it as his cue to keep talking. 

“I can’t forget what I saw. And- and I know you saw it as well. It might be just a matter of time until that thing moves on to somewhere else. I can’t let that happen, ok?! I know you saw it too.” He buries his face in his hands, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes until he can see color bursting from his eyelids. The only sound in the room is their mismatched breathing.

Will wants it to be matched again.

“Don’t be mad, please. Tom, I can’t handle it when you’re mad at me.” He’s about to start begging if he needs to, but Tom’s expression continues to be closed off and unreadable. “I’ll be careful, I swear. I just-“ 

“Yer not goin’ back there by yourself.” 

Will blinks, surprised. “What?” 

“Y’eard me. ‘M comin’ with.” 

Now that - that’s an awful idea. Will shakes his head violently, getting up from the bed as well. 

“No. No you’re not! I put you in too much danger already.” 

“Will-“ 

“And your brother- he’d kill me if you went back there again, you know that?”

“My brother doesn’t ‘ave a fuckin’ say in this-“ 

“You know what, he was right all along. You should’ve never have come with us. It was wrong of me to involve you in this, and-“

“Would ya stop treatin’ me like a child?!”

Will pauses at the sheer hurt in Tom’s voice. His blue eyes are glazed over with pained irritation. “You sound just like Joe.” 

A pregnant silence stretches over them. Will shifts uncomfortably on his feet, rubbing his clammy hands over his arms. “I’m sorry.” 

Tom sighs harshly, looking away. “‘M twenty one. I can make me own bloody decisions. I’m goin’ back inside that house with ya because I care, Will. I care and I don’t want ta see ya gettin’ hurt. An’ that's final.” 

In a last desperate attempt to convince Tom otherwise, Will finds himself scouting his mind for the conversation they had at the beach, back when this all started. “If this is about the money, I can pay you-“ 

Money?! God, Scho, what the fuck do I look like to you?!” Tom sounds genuinely upset; his anger feels scathing. “I don’t want you ta fuckin’ pay me! Are ya deaf? I said I care ‘bout ya, you utter moron!

Will winces, shrinking into himself. He’s never felt so small before, not even with his mum. Tom seems to notice this, a twinge of guilt softening his expression.

“I’m-“ with a defeated sigh, he lets his head drop, curls coming over to hide his eyes. “I didn’t mean ta yell. ‘M sorry.” 

“It’s ok. I deserved it.” Will chuckles humorlessly, though he does mean it; he deserves much worse, probably. Tom looks up again, this time with an anguished set to his eyebrows. 

“You didn’t. Scho, please -“ he steps closer, hands coming out to rest on Will’s elbows. “Please let me help you.” 

It’s another few seconds of silence and harsh breaths before Tom’s eyes are fluttering shut and he’s leaning towards Will. And Will doesn’t feel the least bit inclined to stop him when their lips finally brush together, in the softest but most rewarding kiss he can ever remember receiving. 

‘Finally,’ he thinks to himself, winding both arms around Tom’s waist and pulling him back in when he tries to let go. 

“Took ya long enough,” Tom huffs, still a bit put off but attempting a smile. Will scoffs. As if Tom hadn’t been the one to start it. 

“Right.” He grunts, before leaning in for seconds. 

The rest of the time Will spends with Tom in his bedroom, he makes it last. It would be too much of a hassle to figure out why, exactly, but this feels like a closing chapter. Maybe because he’s set to go back to London in less than a week; and maybe because he can’t say for certain he’ll survive another excursion into the stupid house. But right now, in this moment, Tom is here, and he’s warm, soft, real. The whole world melts away in Will’s mind, except for this tiny room in St Osyth, Essex. It’s like Will can’t breathe , but he finds that he really doesn’t want to. He’s more than happy to just suffocate and be put back together by Tom’s grip. 

What a funny thought, that is. Will doesn’t really know how it happened, or even why, but his whole life he’s simply been waiting for the empty space by his chest to be filled by Tom Blake, and he didn’t even know. Will doesn’t believe in soulmates, or true love, or any of that stuff, but he believes in two people finding each other. His hands resting on Tom’s hips tighten. 

An unpleasant thought worms its way to the forefront of Will’s mind, making him pause where he’s trailing kisses along Tom’s jaw; what happens when this is over, and he has to go back? Assuming not everything will have been blown to hell by then, Tom can’t exactly just up and drop his life here, no matter how much he wants to leave his hometown. Just the idea of being separated from that which feels like it was made to be his for an uncertain period of time is enough to make Will choke up, something like a primordial type of panic clouding his judgement. 

“Will?” Tom rubs his shoulder softly, concern clear in his eyes. Will takes a deep breath, feeling disoriented. 

He doesn’t even know where to begin; his tongue feels like lead in his mouth. “What happens when I leave?” 

Tom looks startled, eyebrows raising towards his hairline. “What?”

“I have to go back to London, Tom. Soon.” The words feel unpleasant tumbling out of his lips, and if Will could take them back, he would. But sadly, he’s simply stating facts. Tom deflates visibly when he brings it up. 

“I don’t- I don’t want ta think ‘bout this now.” He sounds uncertain, stress coloring the edges of his voice. Will doesn’t even flinch when Tom grips his arm that much tighter. “Won’t do us any good.” 

“But-“ 

A loud voice from downstairs interrupts them. Will heard it enough last night to recognize it’s Martha with ease. “Thomas! Breakfast is ready!”

She sounds cheerful enough, but there’s just something there that’s enough to tell Will she’s faking it. It’s understandable, though. After the night they’d had, how can anyone be expected to be in good spirits?

Tom turns back to face him, discomfort evident in the way his eyes are set. “Lis’en, we’ll talk ‘bout this later. I’m proper starvin’, ain’t you?” 

He offers Will a tentative smile, palm outstretched. Will sighs, resigning himself to another hard conversation at a later time. 

“Famished.” He nods, putting his hand in Tom’s. Eating right now sounds like a chore unlike any other, but Will is nothing if not a good actor. 

*

Breakfast is not exactly a pleasant affair. Martha has set everything up in the dining room instead of the kitchen, considering her two guests probably wouldn’t fit in the crowded space. The five of them spread out on the large oak table, having to awkwardly ask each other to pass things like the jam or the butter in oppressive silence. 

Joe sits at the head of the table, seething. He keeps giving Tom the evil eye, who, in turn, is very pointedly ignoring his brother, sending Will a forced smile now and then, most likely to spite him. Normally, Will relishes in being the center of Tom’s attention, but right now, he wants nothing more than to just… not be here. 

Martha and Lauri do a good job of pretending nothing is wrong. They exchange pleasantries like they’re meeting up for afternoon tea, not… whatever the hell last night even was. Will notes, a tad bittersweetly, that in different circumstances he could see the two of them hitting it off wondrously. 

Will doesn’t dare attempt to strike up conversation with Tom, lest Joe vault over the table and actually strangle him. So he sits there, alone with his own thoughts, chewing on a dry cracker quite unenthusiastically. Inevitably, his musings stray to the house. 

He isn’t sure how to go about things. He meant what he’d told Tom- he can’t just leave things be. But his time here is limited; he and Lauri can’t just drop their lives back in London for something that might not even work out, anyway. So, Will has to be efficient. 

He thinks back on the hours he spent researching about exorcisms he didn’t actually get to perform. That could be a start; but he’d have to get possessed first. Which, doesn’t sound fun. At all. 

And not only that, Will isn’t crazy to attempt anything again inside that damned place. That clearly didn’t work out too well for any of them. It’s not like he’s an expert in (actual) demons or anything, but it’s probably not the best idea to mess with a malevolent force such as this one in its own territory. But what does he know, anyway?

Will scoffs, ignoring the weird look Tom gives him. A plan is forming in his mind, but it’s far from a good one. It’s dangerous, reckless, the ‘might-not-live-to-see-another-day’ type, but at this point, he’s desperate enough to attempt it. 

He can tell Tom and Lauri won’t be exactly thrilled, though. 

Will halfheartedly pushes the rest of his food around on his plate, already dreading the earful he’ll get for even suggesting this. But it’s not like they have any better ideas, and they’re running out of time. Tom elbows Will on his side quite roughly, giving him an exasperated look when he finally gets his attention.

“What?” Will hisses, low enough that it doesn’t catch the attention of anyone else around the table. Tom’s brow furrows, looking quite vexed. 

“I asked ya a question, you twat.” He grouses, setting his cutlery down. His plate is spotless, as is to be expected. Will sighs.

“Well, I didn’t hear you.” He shrugs, pointedly ignoring the weight of Joe’s murderous glare on the back of his neck. “What is it?” 

Tom blinks, saying nothing. Turmoil is evident in the way his eyes shift nervously.

“‘S nothin’. Pass me the orange juice, please?” 

Tom can be difficult at times. Will knows better than to push it, especially in front of his family, so he gives in easily, passing the juice carton over. 

Eventually, Joe rises from his seat noisily, rattling the table and scraping his chair against the hardwood floor. Tom rolls his eyes exaggeratedly, flipping Joe the bird subtly from underneath the table. 

Joe, getting red in the face, simply ignores it. 

“I ‘ave ta go to work.” He practically spits, collecting the plates and glasses he’d used and taking them all with him to the kitchen. Martha sighs, looking exhausted. 

“Okay, darlin’. I’ll see ya tonight?” 

Joe doesn’t say anything in return, heading upstairs two steps at a time. 

“Jerk.” Tom scoffs, taking a vicious bite from a peach left over in the fruit bowl. 

It doesn’t seem wise to interfere in the stupid little quarrel they’ve got going on in any way, so Will says nothing, taking a swig of his lukewarm coffee and looking away when Martha’s eyes harden. She points her knife towards Tom, looking wildly unthreatening in her pink robe. 

“Don’t go cursin’ at yer brother now, Tommy. I’ve raised ya better than this.” 

Tom looks like he wants to protest, but just shrugs weakly, shoving more of the peach inside of his mouth. “Sorry,” he mumbles gruffly through the bites of fruit, swiping at his bottom lip with his right thumb. Martha looks satisfied enough, turning back to her eggs like nothing had happened.

Nobody says anything else after that, until it’s Martha’s turn to leave for work, right after Joe stomps angrily out of the house. At this point, Will is eating for the sake of it, and his already upset stomach is not enjoying it one bit. 

“Well, I have ta head to the store now. Do you have work today, Tommy?” She stops behind Tom’s chair, bending down to kiss his forehead. Tom turns a deep shade of crimson, going down all the way to his neck. 

“Mum!” He complains loudly, but she still won’t let go of his shoulders. “Night shift.” He mumbles, defeated. 

“Don’t forget to put the dishes away, hm?” With a satisfied pat on his back, Martha offers them a tired smile, and heads upstairs as well. Tom sinks into his chair, pouting. 

Will waits until he can hear the sound of running water, before turning to Lauri and Tom. “I have an idea.” 

Lauri doesn’t seem all that surprised. She pushes a few of her curls behind her ears, sighing. “You’re not letting this go, are you?” 

Will shakes his head. Actually, he needs Lauri for his stupid, near-suicidal plan to work; he really doesn’t want Tom to come with. But clearly that isn’t happening, and Will fears that if he tries to do this behind Tom’s back, he might never hear from him again. It’s a good thing he knows how to adapt. 

“Well then, let’s hear it.” Lauri drops her fork and knife on her plate exasperatedly, settling back against her chair. Tom watches him from the corner of his eye, gripping the edges of his shirt anxiously. 

“Well,” Will begins, uncertain. “Clearly just trying to exorcise it won’t work. That thing has too much power inside that house.”

To be clear, he has no idea if that’s even factual. But it makes sense in his head, and that’s the best they’ve got. 

“So, we need to get it out somehow.” He continues, looking right at Lauri’s forehead instead of her eyes. Will is sure he’ll break if he looks into her eyes. 

“And how do you propose we do that?” Lauri hasn’t ever sounded this tired in all the years Will’s known her. God, he’ll owe her more than ‘so hard’ when this is all over. 

Tom is strangely quiet. Will can’t find it in himself to look at him, either. 

“If it possessed one of us, we’d be able to drag it away.” 

A distraught silence falls over the table. Will feels the need to clarify: “By one of us, I mean me.” 

Lauri looks to be at a loss for words. Her eyes are wide as saucers, mouth gaping open. “Are you insane?!” 

“Look, it’s all we’ve got to go on, alright?” Will winces at the volume of her voice, putting his hands out placatingly. “If we just prepare ourselves properly-“

“Oh, because that worked out great last time.” Lauri huffs, pushing away from the table. “I’m not helping you get yourself killed, William. Right, Tom?”

Tom hasn’t said anything yet. His eyes are set firmly to his lap, fingers rubbing at his rings like he’s deep in thought. Lauri hesitates at his silence, eyebrows furrowing. “Tom?”

Out of all reactions possible, Will wasn’t expecting Tom saying this: “I think it could work.” 

Will lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “You do?” 

“I mean, ‘s not like I ‘ave a better idea.” Saying this, Tom directs his gaze to Lauri. “Do you?”

“No, but-“ she stutters, hands flailing as she tries to come up with an argument. “This is just stupid! Putting yourself in danger like that- Will, what if we can’t do it?” 

She does have a point there. If Tom and Lauri can’t drive the demon away, that would be a problem. He does have an out, but that would be a total last resort. 

So instead, he just shrugs. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” 

“When we come to it?! Will, we’re already on it! ” Lauri throws her hands up into the air, quickly tangling them in her hair and pulling hard, like she always does when she’s stressed. She turns away from the table and begins pacing the length of the dining room- the image is so reminiscent of their uni days, of losing sleep over finals together, it makes Will’s chest clench with nostalgia. 

“Look,” he interjects, raising from his seat as well. “It’s- yeah, it’s not the best idea, but it’s all we have. And I want to try it.” 

Lauri eyes him angrily, but he knows her. She doesn’t have many convincing arguments left. Well- actually, she has plenty. He just knows she has none he’ll actually listen to. 

“If it doesn’t work out again,” Will continues, feeling the weight of Tom’s stare heavy on his shoulders. “Then I swear I’ll drop it.” 

Lauri sniffs, wiping at her red face with the back of her hand. She looks frazzled, irritated, upset. Will cringes, reminding himself that yeah, he deserves her anger. 

Finally, after an excruciatingly long silence, she speaks up again, voice raspy: “I need a shower.” 

She clunks noisily up the stairs, heavy on her feet. Tom makes a noise of distaste, getting up and starting to collect their plates.

Will is by his side in a second, hands hovering hesitantly over his shoulders. “Wait, let me help-“ 

“‘S ok, Scho, I got it.” Tom offers him a tired smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Y’know what, ya need a shower too. Y’can use Joe’s bathroom, mum left your clothes on top of me dresser.” 

Will has a feeling that Tom doesn’t want to be around him right now. Which- he tries very hard not to take personally. They’re all strung up at the moment, nerves scrubbed raw from the close call that was last night. And now he’s asking them to voluntarily march into hell once again, with the stakes set higher than ever- it’s not hard to figure out that Tom might want some quiet time to himself, really. 

It does still hurt a bit, though. 

Will nods tightly, turning on his heels and heading jitterily upstairs like he can’t feel the weight of Tom’s stare on his shoulders. A shower should be good. It should clear up his mind. 

It’s only when he’s already locked himself in Joe’s bathroom that Will notices that’s not happening at all. 

There are so many water spots. Everywhere . And there’s- there’s hair stuck on the white bathroom rug. On a good day, that would already be enough to annoy Will thoroughly- but as it turns out, today is quickly revealing itself to be a piss poor day, and therefore, all these little inconveniences in Joe’s bathroom make him so angry he could explode. 

Will turns on the cold water and forces himself to relax. He’s fine, it’s fine. He’s just overreacting. It’s not like- god, he feels bad even entertaining the possibility, but it’s not like Tom purposefully sent him to the one bathroom in the house that hits on all of Will’s pet peeves. It’s probably the only bathroom available, anyway; he hasn’t seen Martha or Lauri out and about yet. 

Will leans his forehead against the cool tile, letting the icy water pelt against his skin as punishment. Christ, the showerhead pressure here is better than his own back in London. 

Eventually, contrary to what this whole string of events might have led some people to believe, Will’s not a masochist, so he turns the hot water on and starts showering for real. It does little to actually soothe the ache between his shoulder blades, but it does diminish his irritation by quite a bit. So that’s that. 

Just as he (finally) steps out of the bathroom, a door down the hall slams closed, curly hair nearly escaping from his view. Will ought to have a talk with Lauri about banging doors in other people’s houses, but at the moment maybe it’s best to avoid her and her fiery temper. Which leaves talking to Tom. 

Now, it’s not like Will wants to avoid Tom or anything- of course not. But that doesn’t stop his stomach from twisting uneasily, making his palms clammy. He can’t help but think things are weird between them now.

There was that whole thing in Tom’s bedroom. And breakfast? Well, that was nothing short of a disaster. Will tells himself to suck it up and deal with it like the man he is, marching down the stairs even though all he really wants right now is to not be going through any of this.

The front door has been left ajar, letting in a cold draft from the outside. Will can’t find Martha downstairs either, so she must’ve gone out already. He steps out into the front porch and closes the door softly behind himself with a small ‘click’, exhaling at the view that greets him. 

Tom, leaning against the railing… smoking? 

“What’s that you got there?” Will asks dumbly, clearly surprised. Tom quirks an eyebrow at him, nonplussed by his sudden appearance. Smoke trails out from between his parted lips, disappearing into the crisp air of morning. 

“A cigarette.” He responds dryly, taking another drag. 

Well, duh. Will wipes his palms on his trousers, which he’s beginning to think must be a nervous stick, and comes to stand next to Tom by the railing. “I didn’t know you smoked.” 

“Only when ‘m stressed.” the ashes collecting on the tip of it are quickly flickered to the side in a very practiced motion. “Takes the edge off. Just don’t tell me mum, ‘kay?” 

It’s meant to be humorous, an ice breaker. But Will’s way too focused on that first statement. “You’re stressed?” He nudges Tom’s arm softly, concern coloring his voice. 

It should be obvious, but the way Tom said it, such bone deep tiredness, it pulls at Will’s heartstrings a little bit. Tom’s shoulders sag, fingers picking at the end of his cigarette. 

“Yeah.” 

A heavy silence settles between them. The smell of nicotine permeates the air, forcing Will to stifle a cough. He’s never liked smoking much. His mum used to do it all the time, though it was mostly cloves. She said they were ‘classy’. Will imagines they must be just as bad. 

From the corner of his eye, Tom takes quite the noisy drag, clearing his throat as if he wants to say something. Will twists his hands together, elbows planted firmly on the wooden railing. 

“Lis’en,” Tom raps his knuckles softly against the banister, pinching the cigarette tightly between his index finger and thumb until it folds underneath the weight. “If ya want to- like, really finish this, ‘m with you, Scho. But ya ‘ave ta promise me somethin’.” 

Tom looks at Will right in the eyes, then, some sort of grim determination coloring his expression. Will nods, suddenly unable to find his voice. 

“You can’t push me away.”

Push him- what?

“Look, this whole you goin’ back to London thing- we can make it work. I know my phone is shite but Jesus , not that much.” Tom continues, raking his hand across his curls a bit frantically. He sounds like he’s about to go on another rant. “What won’t work is you tryin’ to keep me out of these things. ‘M part of this just as much as you are. And- I know this might be goin’ too fast for you, fine, whatever, I think it was kinda fast too, but I know there’s somethin’ ‘ere, and I just-“ 

He cuts himself off, cupping his face in both hands and rubbing hard. Will just stares, mortified, because he can’t believe Tom might’ve even entertained the idea that Will doesn’t want him around. 

“Just- tell me if you actually want this.” Tom sighs, dropping his arms. He looks exhausted well beyond his years. 

In retrospect, he does have a point. The two of them were strangers to each other not even a month ago, and now there’s a level of codependency that Will is sure it’s something his therapist will have a grand ol’ time unpacking. But it’s so strange. It’s like he’s known Tom for ages . And not in the metaphorical sense of it, either- it feels like it’s been literal decades. Thinking of it that way, it’s not really moving fast at all, is it?

“Of course I do.” Will somehow manages to get out through the fog that’s taken over his mind, stepping closer to Tom like he’ll die if he doesn’t. His hands are shaking, he notices. “I’m really- I’m sorry, I thought it was obvious?” 

Tom’s lips twist into a smile, looking like a major weight has been taken off his shoulders. “Well, y’know. A little reassurance goes a long way.” It’s clearly meant to be a joke, but the relief in his voice is hard to ignore. 

There’s still much to talk about, but not right now. Right now, what matters is that Tom wants him around, and Will wants to be around, long commutes be damned. Wasn’t he planning on moving, anyway?

“Anyway, that’s all I needed to say.” Tom reaches out and squeezes Will’s bicep, affectionately. “I reckon ya should go ‘ave a talk with Lauri now. Sort yerselves out, won’t ya?” 

Will looks over his shoulder, back towards the house. He’s not particularly excited to face Lauri’s wrath, but he supposes he doesn’t have much of a choice. 

“I guess I should.” Will doesn’t even think about it when he leans down and gives Tom a peck on the lips. It’s easy as breathing, really. Very much something he could get used to. “Wish me luck?” 

Tom laughs. Will’s come to realize he has the nicest laugh he’s ever heard in his life. “Right, yeah. Good luck, an’ that. Now stop puttin’ it off and go!” 

He shoves Will good-naturedly on the chest, turning his back on him and resuming his previous spot on the railing. Will takes a second to admire the scene. It would be nice, he thinks, to share a life with Tom. To have these mornings together, to not have to worry about a murderous demon living just a few streets away. It would be pretty great, actually. 

But right now he needs to talk to his best friend and pray that she doesn’t kill him for daring to show himself to her. Will takes a deep breath, tells himself to stop being so dramatic, and heads back inside. 

He tries to be as quiet as possible, sneaking up the stairs much like he used to do when he’d be trying to avoid his mum after a bad day for the both of them. The door Lauri disappeared behind is still firmly shut, which Will assumes must be the guest room. It’s hard not to feel nervous when he’s scared their friendship might be going through more than it can handle. 

He doesn’t want to scare Lauri, or put her in danger, or any of that. Of course not. She’s like a sister to him- in fact, Will is closer to Lauri than his actual sister. But he also wouldn’t blame her if she decided enough is enough, and bailed on this entire thing. He wouldn’t blame her at all. 

The thing is though, Will needs Lauri if he wants this to work. He’s not even sure of any of the logistics just yet, but he knows she needs to be there. Lauri is great to have around in a crisis. She always knows what to do, how to keep her head clear, which step needs to be taken next. Will is good at planning ahead, but he’s total rubbish at keeping his cool. And Tom is… not great at that, either. Bottom line is, they can’t do this without her. 

Will finds it in himself to raise his hand and knock on the door. As expected, he is met with silence. Will sighs through his nose, leaning his body weight against the door. 

“I’m coming in, ok?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before pushing it open; he’d probably be here all day if he did. Will steps into the room, squinting at the sudden bright light.

The curtains are open all the way, which he wasn’t really expecting. When Lauri broods, she likes to do so in the dark; preferably buried underneath her duvet and favorite weighted blanket. But this isn’t London, and Will isn’t coming over Lauri’s flat to comfort her with bad Chinese takeout and be a shoulder for her to cry on. And just like everything else, things seem to work almost backwards in St. Osyth. So is it really such a surprise to find Lauri by the window, hair pulled away from her face and taking in the view?

“Hey.” Will calls out as quietly as he can, though he still cringes at how the silence is broken, either way. Lauri gives him a weird look- not quite unwelcoming, but not her usual friendly one, either. 

“Hey.” She responds, pushing away from the window. She looks much more put together than Will had expected. 

He clears his throat, awkwardly taking a seat on the edge of the freshly-made bed. Lauri follows, a bit hesitant. “So. We need to talk, I think.” 

Lauri lets out this weird noise, a mix between a scoff and a laugh. “You think. Right.” She shakes her head, lips twisting into an angry smile. “Sure doesn’t seem like it sometimes.” 

Well, she’s clearly very mad. That’s not changed. Will pinches the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes. “Ok. I’m an idiot, I know.” 

“You are more than an idiot. You’re a moron.” Getting called a moron twice in the same day by two different people- and it’s not even lunchtime yet! “Seriously, Will. Did you really think I’d have no complaints about this- this suicidal plan of yours?”

“I knew you would. But it’s all I could think of.” He’d much rather have a plan that doesn’t involve voluntarily giving up his body to this ageless being, but it really is their best shot. “Unless you can come up with something else?”

“No, Will. I can’t come up with something else. I can’t. There! Are you happy?” Lauri throws her hands up angrily, blowing her cheeks out. “My God, is it so weird that I don’t want to help you get possessed by a literal demon?!” 

“It’s not weird.” Will tries for placating, but by the look Lauri gives him he might’ve just riled her up even more. “It’s not! Really! But if I don’t do this, I-“ 

Will furrows his eyebrows, looking for the right words. “...It’ll never leave me.” 

Lauri gives him a strange look, humming thoughtfully. It’s only then that Will realizes she has heavy bags under her eyes, making guilt ripple through his stomach. That feeling seems to be a constant these days. 

With squinted eyes, it’s Lauri’s turn to take a deep breath. “Okay, you know what? I’ll help. But only if you swear to me that if this doesn’t work again, we’re leaving it .” 

Will hesitates. Lauri looks like she’s seconds away from jumping him. “Swear to me, Will.” 

“Alright, alright. I swear.” He sighs, looking down at the bed sheets. It’s only fair, he supposes. If he’s lucky to get out of this again alive, maybe it’s for the best he forgets it happened at all. But still, it’s a hard promise to make. 

Though successful or not, Will has a feeling his time in St. Osyth will never leave him. 

“Good. Good.” Lauri nods, mostly to herself, like a reassurance. “One more time, and it’s over.” 

When she puts it like that, she makes it sound so simple. 

In a best case scenario, they’ll get rid of this devil and Will’ll get out of it alive, preferably with all of his limbs intact. But things never quite go his way, so he’d better start preparing for the worst. 

And the worst possible outcome would be if Tom and Lauri got hurt in the middle of all of this. Last night was already bad enough, and they weren’t actually physically harmed. But this is a new level of stupidly putting his loved ones in danger. 

Will takes a good, long look at Lauri. He loves this girl. She’s been there for him like nobody else ever was. If he were ever to lose her, because of his own stupidity… that would be hard to deal with. But she’s willing to help him out one more time. For now, that’s enough for him. 

He reaches out towards her with his right hand, tucking a few stray curls behind her ear. “Hey. Thanks.” 

“Don’t mention it. You have a hell of a lot to make up for when we get home.” She still sounds considerably pissed off, but less so than before. “And don’t you forget that.” 

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Despite it all, Will can’t help but smile, looking out the window and watching as the sun hikes higher and higher up in the sky. There’s so many things that could go wrong, and even more that he’s putting at risk, but at least Will isn’t walking into all of this alone. Despite all the evil he’s witnessed, he can still find beauty in other aspects of life. 

Will sighs, leaning his weight on his palms, letting the sunlight wash over his face. He better enjoy the fresh air while he can.