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In the dark: In Principio

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Now the Stranger Paul was gone, nobody could stop Ethan from approaching Tim and bringing him home. For that to happen, however, he needed Tim to walk away from Becky.

It was only fitting Ethan was the one to return him home. It was Ethan’s fault that Tim traveled through time in the first place – his fault that Tim had been stuck here for a few days now. He grew more and more certain of himself as he tried to inconspicuously keep an eye on Tim, without drawing the attention of nurses and patients. He had managed so far.

Then, Becky brought the boy back to his room. He still wasn’t talking much, but she didn’t mind. As she went back to work, Tim was left in his room, stayed in for a second, and then decided to get a snack from the vending machine. Ethan, who briefly lost sight of Tim, quickly spotted him again.

That was Ethan’s chance. He started to walk to the boy, who waited for his snack to be dispersed by the machine. Ethan’s mind buzzed. He was starting to get excited. It was time to right his wrong and to bring Tim home.

He stopped in his tracks, however, when he spotted a girl on the other side of the hallway. It was the same girl he’d seen yesterday, in Mr. Kruger’s dry-cleaning van. Harriet, his mother, walked toward Tim. She came specifically for him; there was nobody else in the hospital Harriet could come for.

 From this distance, Ethan watched Harriet and Tim talk. It was so weird to look at, but somehow, it looked right. Tim smiled as he was talking to Harriet, who was laughing as well. They were having so much fun with this conversation. Since Tim only had been here a couple of days, it was hard to believe they hadn’t known each other for years, as that was what it looked like.

Every decision for something is a decision against something else.

If Ethan chose for bringing Tim home, he chose against his own existence.

If Ethan chose for leaving Tim behind, he chose against saving Tim and his father. He chose against saving Tim, thirty years in the future, from going into the cave.

It’s a closed loop, Ethan realized. It was a permanently closed loop. If Ethan were to mess with it, what happened? Tim wouldn’t be here, Ethan wouldn’t exist, and beyond that, it was hard to see what the world would look like.

Ethan knew it already happened in his time. Tim was living it, but this was all behind Ethan. Like the Stranger Paul, he was only an observer. He wasn’t supposed to be here and lift Tim from his new home.

Besides, Ethan saw he was happy. Tim seemed to be doing well enough for the situation. He found Becky and Harriet. Soon, Becky might adopt him. And he’d grow up as Tony, with Becky and Harriet’s love.

Ethan turned around and left.

When the shift was over, Henry went straight to his car. He wished it had been largely uneventful. But of course, Ewan Monroe had to show up, the father of the big boss. Ewan Monroe, whom he had to give the times and routes of all people who worked the night Max disappeared. Ewan Monroe, who wanted to speak to him.

That was all Henry’s fault. He shouldn’t have acted so worried. If he’d reacted in a normal way, Ewan would have no reason to plan that interview the day after tomorrow. He should have faith. He knew nobody would know his role. He would remain anonymous.

But the thought of the interview was enough to make him nervous.

When he sat in his car, he opened the glove cabinet and grabbed some candy bar out of it. He kept it there in case he got hungry, but now, he ate it for comfort.

Nothing’s going on, Henry thought. You’re fine. Everything is fine.

It was November 9, after all. It was time again. He drove away from the power plant, making sure nobody saw him drive on the forest road. Not that it mattered - so many people came here via this road, it’d be more suspicious if one of the familiar vehicles drove down the state road. He shouldn’t worry if anyone saw him.

Still, he could feel Ewan’s breath over his shoulder, and Henry drove a little faster.

He checked the back seat. There, in a neatly sealed bag, lay his hood and coat; oversized, ageless. His trusted outfit when he had to travel. The outfit that could blend in with every place he visited.

He was going to have to wear it today. He wasn’t looking particularly forward to it, but if this is how they were going to save the world, this needed to be done.

It had to be done. No buts, no going back.

Just the grind of righteous work.

Henry parked the car close to the bunker and his cabin.

Ethan traveled home, back through the same chiseled out crawlspace, back through the caves. When he walked out of the caves, he looked around. The worn-down couch and chair stood where Ethan was expecting them. He was back in 2019.

Still reeling from his decision and all the existential shit that came with it, he found his bike and drove home. The journey through the caves was longer than he experienced them; it was day when he left in 1986, and it was nighttime in 2019. There was something funky about the tunnel that didn’t make the journey any longer, but it felt like time passed more quickly around him as he traveled through the crawlspace.

Half an hour later, Ethan finally arrived home. He was never so happy to see the house grandma Becky had lived in - in which Tim had lived. Tim had a good life here. He never said otherwise when he was Ethan’s father.

He climbed the stairs and almost walked into his room, but stopped. He turned around and looked at his mother’s bedroom door.

He needed to talk. He didn’t know if he was going to say anything about what had happened or if he was going to ask for advice, but he needed to talk to someone who knew him and cared about him.

Silently, Ethan opened the door. It hadn’t been quiet enough, however, as Harriet’s bedside light turned on and Harriet visibly sighed in relief.

“Jeez, Ethan, don’t scare me like that,” she said.

He wanted to speak, but lost his voice. He looked at Harriet and saw only the girl he’d seen this afternoon, talking to Tim Houston, smiling and maybe already falling in love with him. And now, thirty-three years later, he stood and watched her. His mother.

Harriet saw him only stare.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

For a few more seconds, there was silence. Then, Ethan’s lips finally moved.

“Do you believe in fate?” he asked.

Fate - such an abstract concept. And yet, Ethan firmly believed he had experienced it the moment he saw Harriet and Tim talk to one another.

Harriet wiped the sleep out of her eyes and shrugged.

“Well…” she sighed. “It seems to be my fate that all men leave me.”

“Dad didn’t,” Ethan said, walking closer towards her. “He loved you very much.”

Harriet nodded. “I know.”

And she cried. Ethan hugged her and held her tight as she cried, maybe mourned him for the first time - or mourned that she seemed to be undesirable to men. Either way, there was some built-up sorrow inside of her and she was letting it all out, in Ethan’s arms.

Minutes later, she wiped away her tears and told Ethan to go to bed. She switched off the bedroom light when Ethan had left. He didn’t go to his bedroom, however. He went to the attic.

Tim spent a lot of his time here the past years. He created beautiful art, reflecting how he felt about the passage, how his life had turned out, and nobody had understood it. As evident from the map, he was looking for the passage through time, but could never find it.

Maybe that, too, was fate.

Ethan had made his decision. Tim stayed in the past, and Ethan had to live with that decision. Now, he needed closure.

So he took a metal bucket and a lighter and sat in the middle of his bedroom. He took Tony’s suicide letter from his pocket and read it over one last time. Then, he lit it on fire and dropped it in the bucket, so it could burn safely.

Ethan watched until the last spark had died out and the only thing that remained of his father’s letter was only a pile of ash. The closure he needed to move on, as well as knowing Tim was probably happy as he grew up.