Meg has never thought of herself as a coward, but as she clings to Chris on the back of his motorcycle as they head out of town, that’s exactly what she feels like.
Not for running, because neither of them are, really - if they were, they’d be heading somewhere else entirely - but for leaving the way they are; for slipping out in the middle of the night, without saying goodbye to so many of the people she’s going to miss so much.
For being brave enough to leave at all, when she wasn’t brave enough to follow her heart in a different direction, with a different boy, just a few weeks ago.
“Stop,” Meg suddenly finds herself saying before she’s even thinking the word.
“What?” Chris yells back over the sound of his bike, not taking his eyes off the road in front of him.
“Stop!” she repeats louder this time; she still hasn’t taken the time to fully think it through, but her heart has already made the decision for her.
“Meg, I can’t just-”
“Chris, stop!” the blonde orders one last time, squeezing his waist to put more force behind her words.
Eventually the bike slows to a stop on the side of the dark, empty road, and Chris keeps it balanced with a foot as he shifts in his seat so he can look back at her.
“What’s going on?” he asks, sounding mostly confused and concerned, but there’s an obvious hint of frustration lacing his tone, too, like he knows what she’s going to say and he was expecting this. “What is it?”
Something about the way he’s looking at her has Meg second guessing herself for just a moment, turning into that girl that sometimes changes just a little bit for a boy who never really would for her.
But then she thinks of that other boy again, the one who’s always changed and grown with her, and it renews her sudden resolve. “We have to go back.”
Chris laughs hollowly, but not cruelly, misunderstanding her. “I knew you wouldn’t-”
“No, not home,” she stops him before he can finish. She aches as she says it, but somehow, going back home now feels like it would just make her even more of a coward than she already is. “To north Philly.”
It takes Chris a few long beats to realize why she wants to go there, and when he does, he sighs.
“Meg,” he tries, but she’s not budging, not when it comes to Sam. She hasn’t in all the years they’ve been friends, and she’s not going to start now.
“Just take me, Chris,” Meg snaps, somewhere between begging and demanding, the place she seems to always find herself with him. “I-I have to say goodbye. After everything we’ve been through, I owe him that much.”
Meg owes Sam a lot more than that, but at least this is something she can give him.
Chris sighs again, giving in, and turns the bike back around.
It isn’t until Meg is knocking on the Walkers’ front door, that she considers the possibility of someone other than Sam answering it.
She could handle Henry or Angela, but she worries Nathan would somehow see through her; she worries that he’d only have to take one look at her and just somehow know what she and Chris are doing.
Thankfully, though, Meg is spared from giving Nathan another reason not to like her, when the door opens and reveals her very confused friend on the other side.
“Meg?” he questions, leaning outside to check who else might be around before he takes a step back to invite her in. She only shuffles forward a little, not going inside, but still granting them a little privacy. “What are you doing here this late? Did you come here on your own?”
She shakes her head, voice suddenly caught in her throat. “Chris is waiting for me,” she manages to spit out, not taking her watering eyes off of the boy in front of her.
Sam, of course, notices her distress. “Are you okay?” He tentatively reaches out, but stops himself before making contact. It breaks her heart a little, not knowing if he would have hesitated before. “Meg, what’s wrong? Has something happened?”
“I’m leaving,” she blurts out before she can talk herself out of it. Gosh, Sam is just so sweet and always so easy to talk to. “We are, Chris and me.”
“To Canada?” he questions, recalling their phone call the other day and the solution he’d offered for their problem.
Meg shakes her head, a tear or two falling as she really thinks of the finality of what she’s doing. “To California,” she corrects him, not sure if he’ll understand why. “Chris says there’s a lot of people out there fighting to end all of this, and he wants to help instead of running. But if he goes, he can’t come back, and I…”
“You’re going with him,” Sam finishes for her.
He looks and sounds upset, but not angry, at least, but it’s still hard to look at him as she quietly confirms what he already knows. “Yeah.”
Silence lingers between them as Sam seems to finally realize just what she’s here to do.
“You’re not coming back, are you?” he asks, even though he already knows the answer.
But that doesn’t make it any easier for her to confirm; “I don’t think so.”
They stand there together in pained and heavy silence, like the world has made them do so many times before; they either don’t know what to say or don’t know if they can.
“Will you call?” Sam asks after a moment, voice small and defeated, but understanding, too, just like always. “Or write?”
“Of course,” Meg quickly promises, firmly and without hesitation, as if her conviction makes any of this easier for either of them. “As soon as we settle down and it’s safe, you’ll be the second person I call. I already promised Rox she’d be first.”
Sam cracks a small smile at that, and though it’s sad, it’s better than nothing. Somehow, Meg just knows Sam has already figured out why her family isn’t on that list.
“Okay,” he accepts without complaint, never asking her for more than she can give.
And something about that simple, short word says so much to Meg, and she finally starts to really cry. “I’m sorry,” she chokes out, dropping her eyes in shame.
Sam moves closer to her, hovering in front of her, but not sure how to comfort her. “For what?”
“For not being brave enough,” Meg confesses through her tears. She wipes roughly at her cheeks before she looks up at her friend again, not fazed by how closely they’re standing now. “I’m sorry for being able to leave my family and everything behind for Chris, when I couldn’t even risk it for you.”
She’s sobbing now, more than she did with Roxanne, because saying goodbye to her past was hard, but it turns out that letting go of a possible future is even harder.
(Everything with them is always harder.)
And Sam - sweet, gentle, kind, understanding Sam - pulls her small, shaking body into his arms and makes it feel impossible.
“It’s okay,” he assures her, gripping her shoulders tightly. “It’s not your fault. Some things are just easier.”
“It’s not fair,” Meg mumbles into his chest, remembering the first time she said those words to him all those years ago; the first time she realized the full truth of them.
Sam squeezes her harder before letting her go. “It’s not,” he agrees sadly, seemingly remembering that same afternoon, too, even though he’s probably had a lot more of them than she has. “But it’s just the way it is.”
She knows he’s right, but she wishes he wasn’t; more than anything, for so many reasons, she wishes things could be different.
But she doesn’t need to say that, because she knows Sam wishes it, too.
So instead of saying anything else, Meg acts without thinking one last time; she cups Sam’s cheeks, pushes up on her toes and kisses him, like she’s wished she’d been brave enough to do so many times before.
It’s a real kiss, even if it’s a goodbye, and maybe that just makes her even more of a coward, but she doesn’t think she could’ve lived with herself if she didn’t do it.
“Look out for Rox for me, okay?” she whispers when she pulls back, her lips tingling and undecided on what shape to take.
Sam nods dumbly, not sure what to say, and Meg turns and walks away, leaving before he can figure it out.
The next time Meg sees Sam, it’s on her own porch, someday or three years later, just after noon; Chris is long gone and things have changed.
Not a lot of things, not enough to make it easy, but enough to make Meg brave enough to try, anyways.
Sam kisses her before either of them can say anything - everything they need to say has already been said, over and over, in letters and phone calls that felt more like lifelines - and as Meg pulls him inside her little one bedroom Berkeley apartment and closes the door behind them, she’s never felt more fearless.