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come and go with me

Chapter Text

"Sam, come on!"

Icy wind beats harshly on her back, slices straight through her, and she clenches her fists to hide how she trembles all over. From the cold, the fear, the adrenaline.

Behind her, the mansion is an inferno of splintering wood and echoed screams. The image of that...thingmilky-eyes unseeing as it stood inches before her, that tattoo on it's shoulderis forever burned in her mind, and despite the fact that she's said her goodbyes to Hannah long ago, a tiny part of her still feels like she's losing a friend, or maybe she's finally truly appreciating what kind of end her friend must have went through. If there's any good that can be seen out of all this, it's that the creature is gone and Hannah can truly find peace with her sister.

Before her is the helicopter where two park rangers are helping Ashley up. Emily and Matt are already huddled inside, and Chris moves forward to pull Ashley close.

Jessica...A ranger is trying to talk to her, but her eyes don't focus and she sways. Sam can't hear what she's saying, but even if she could, she doubts it's anything lucid.

Mike's looking back at her, a bracing hand on Jessica's back, brows drawn together. He beckons her closer, giving her a look that clearly says, 'you haven't had enough of this hellhole?'

A feeling makes her hesitate, makes her heart throb in pain as if petrified, desperate fingers are squeezing tighter and tighter, don'tleavemecomebacki'msorry.

She feels on the precipice but doesn't understand why. She thinks to push back these feelings, to put this horrible night behind her, but when she opens her mouth what comes out instead is:

"I'm staying."

Shock makes her mouth snap shut and Mike simply freezes, as if he can't comprehend what he's heard. She can hardly believe it either. But...she  has  to.

Mike stares at her, seems to realize this isn't some terrible joke, and his expression hardens. He faces one of the rangers, says something urgently while gesturing at Jessica, and as soon as the older man nods, Mike marches to her. The set of his jaw makes Sam swallow nervously, but she doesn't back away.

Mike stops when he's just a breath away and grabs her by the shoulders.

"Look, I don't know what you're thinking but you are not. Staying. Now, come on."

He tries to pull her but Sam resists, yanking back.

"No, I'm not. I have to get Josh—"

Mike let's out a sharp bark of laughter that's anything but happy. He sounds slightly crazed.

"Josh?" he asks incredulously. "Josh is dead, Sam. There's no point in going back because there isn't anything to go back for."

"I know," Sam hisses, "I know that. I just—it doesn't feel right, leaving his body down there. The Washington's have already gone through so much, they at least deserve a body to bury this time." A lump in her throat makes the last of her sentence come out nearly strangled, but it gets out nonetheless and on a night like tonight, she's taking any victory she can get.

Mike's lips thin and there's a storm brewing behind his dark eyes. He opens his mouth, no doubt to argue more, but he's interrupted by the sound of the helicopter blades starting up.

"Time to go!" shouts a ranger, his voice barely coming over the din as he waves them over. Sam and Mike exchange a look before Sam slips by him.

"I'm not going," Sam calls when she gets to the uniformed man.

An arched brow greets her statement and she pretends not to notice when Chris's head snaps up.

"Yes you are," he tells her, frowning. "You all need immediate medical attention and the boys at the station are going to want to ask you some questions."

Sam doesn't feel like giving the long explanation.

"One of my friends is still down there, in the mines," she sort of lies, "And I'm not leaving without him."

The man frowns and looks up for a moment, squinting in the early morning sunlight.

"I can't leave you alone up here," he finally says.

"She won't be alone."

It's Mike. Of course it's Mike. He's drawn up even with the both of them and while he doesn't look too happy, there's a determined air about him that refused to be disputed.

Not that Sam doesn't try.

"No, Mike—I know you want to get out of here—"

"Don't," Mike warns, holding a finger up. "Don't even, Sam. Of course I'm not leaving you. And…" he sighs, crosses his arms, "You're right. We shouldn't leave Josh. Not like this."

Grateful, Sam gives him a ghost of a smile and squeezes his shoulder. As one, they face the ranger.

"We're staying," Sam informs him.

"Me too."

Surprised, they all look up to see Chris hopping down.

"What are you doing?!" is Ashley's panicked cry.

Chris looks up at her, looking more serious than Sam's ever seen him.

"I'm going with them."

"Chris—"

He doesn't wait to hear the rest of Ashley's pleas and walks towards the three of them, his expression daring any of them to tell him to go back.

Sam wouldn't dream of it, and Mike wisely says nothing, though he throws a troubled glance Ashley's way.

The ranger shakes his head.

"This doesn't sit right with me. But you all look like your mind's made up."

He's right, and they simply wait.

"If you all insist on going back out, then I'll go with. Someone's gotta keep an eye on you."

The three of them exchange glances, then Chris eyes the ranger speculatively.

"You got a gun?"

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

“Hey, Sam.”

“Emily,” Sam’s voice was warm with welcome and she leaned back in her chair, away from her laptop. “How are you?”

It wasn’t a surprise to hear from her, but Sam always felt a tiny bit relieved when Emily called. It meant that there was hope that she could talk Emily around, maybe get the group back together...

Emily snorted, the phone going static-y for a second. “As good as expected, I guess. Not dead.”

Sam chuckled without much humor.

“Yeah. I know what you mean.”

Sam glanced to her bed where Jessica was currently sleeping, her nose just barely peeking over the blanket. Sam crossed her legs and twisted her computer chair to the side, stretching her legs.

“You free to hang?”

“Um,” Sam stilled and her gaze flickered to Jessica again. She wanted to say yes, just invite Emily over, but…

A tense silence stretched, then, “Who’s there?”

“...Jessica,” Sam admitted, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t—”

“Save it,” Emily cut her off, her tone glacial. “Just call me when you’re free.” Click.

“Ugh,” Sam groaned. Dismayed and frustrated, she tossed her cell onto her desk and sagged back in the chair, viciously rubbing her eyes. Why couldn’t anything ever be simple?

“What’s wrong?” Jessica’s sleepy voice asked.

Immediately, Sam dropped her hands and turned to the blonde.

Jessica was sitting up, one arm between her legs, the other drowsily rubbing her eye. Her hair was loose from her usual pigtail braids, and the long, mussed hair hid most of the still-healing cuts on her neck and the sides of her face; she looked so adorable Sam had to smile.

“Nothing,” Sam reassured her, rising from her seat. Mentioning Emily would either confuse or upset her, depending on what she remembered today, and Sam didn’t want her working herself up. “Hungry?”

Jessica yawned and either didn’t hear the question, or ignored it.

“Where’s Mike? He...” her brow wrinkled as she tried to recall, “He should be here.”

“He’ll be here soon, don’t worry.” Sam soothed “Want to watch Netflix?”

Jessica smiled, so sweet and innocent Sam felt a strange mixture of protectiveness (because she still wasn’t the same and it had been a month) and jealousy (because she could forget).

“Can we watch the Kardashians?”

Sam rolled her eyes good-naturedly, smiling as she reached for the remote.

“Hulu it is.”

They both got comfortable on Sam’s bed and watched the show from the tv atop her dresser where she’d twisted it to face them. She only left two times, once to use the bathroom and again to pick up the pizza she’d had delivered. Jessica had found her appetite by the time it arrived, just like she thought it would, and they stuffed their faces with and laughed until Mike arrived.

“Whoa-ho!” Mike said the moment he let himself in, exaggeratedly sniffing the air. “Is that pizza I smell? Now, surely you ladies saved me some?”

Jessica giggled while Sam rolled her eyes.

“Luckily for you, we graciously saved two whole slices for your royal majesty,” she told him graciously, holding out the box.

“I love you ladies, I really do,” he confessed, grinning. He snatched the box and Sam watched as he thrust his keys into his pocket and climbed on top of the bed to sit next to Jessica, sandwiching her between them.

“Ah-ah!” Sam reached over to smack Mike leg. “No shoes on the bed!”

“All right, all right, just hold on a second,” Mike acquiesced, holding up a palm in mock-surrender. He toed off his boots, then gestured with raised brows. “There, see?”

“He can be taught,” Sam exclaimed in mock-awe, and Mike shook his head, looking to Jessica imploringly.

“You see how she treats me, babe? No respect.”

Jessica laughed happily, like the tinkling of bells, and leaned close.

“I missed you.”

Mike’s smile went small and soft.

“I missed you too,” he told her. They kissed for a moment. Then Mike reclined against the wall like them and grabbed a slice.

“What are we watching?”

It was nice, just being together with people she cared about. She tried to spend as much time out of the house as possible, but with Jessica and Mike being over so often, Sam found herself most comfortable around them. Her eyes grew heavy and even though she couldn’t sleep, it was the most relaxed she’d probably be until their next visit. Jessica, on the other hand, lasted maybe another hour before she was dozing again, warm and content against Mike’s chest. When she realized this, she sat up slightly.

“Hey,” Sam whispered, “I think she’s asleep.”

Mike glanced down. “Uh-oh.” He gave Jessica’s shoulder a little shake. “Jess. Hey, Jess? Time to go, baby.”

“Mmmm.” Jessica struggled to wake but she eventually pulled herself up, head bobbing as she tried to resist the urge to close her eyes.

Sam rose as Mike did and grabbed Jessica’s bag.

“Don’t forget this,” Sam handed him the backpack and Mike slung the it over one shoulder, holding Jessica’s other hand.

“Thanks, Sam. Was she..?”

Sam glanced at Jessica, then lowered her voice to a whisper.

“No nightmares.”

“Good.” Mike nodded. “Good.”

Sam walked them to the front door of her apartment, stifling a yawn of her own. It was pretty late, but she doubted she’d be getting much rest.

Just outside the door, Mike hesitated, a frown creasing his features as he glanced at Sam.

“What?” Sam asked, worry creeping into her tone. Instantly a dozen things popped into her head, none of them good. Lately it seemed like she only got bad news...

“It’s nothing like that, Sam, so don’t look at me like that,” Mike said, sounding exasperated. Beside him, Jessica leaned heavily against his arm, eyes hooded.

Mike looked uncomfortable, and when he spoke, he sounded resigned, as if he already knew what response he would get when he spoke.

“It’s just—have you talked to Chris?”

Sam stiffened where she stood, lethargy forgotten.

“Mike—”

 “I get that you’re mad, but we’re still sorta his friends, Josh—”

 “Stop!” Her voice wasn’t a yell, but it was a near thing. “Just. Stop. I’m not going to see him. I already told Chris that. Several times.”

 Mike frowned. “Just one time, Sam. Everyone’s gone, hell, even Emily—”

 “It’s not happening,” Sam told him, her voice like steel.

 For a long, tense moment, they glared at one another.

 “What’s wrong?” Jessica asked, lifting her head. Her green eyes looking between them with confusion and growing concern.

 “It’s nothing,” Mike reassured her, not looking away from Sam. He took in Sam’s defensively crossed arms, her glare, and shook his head.

 “What are you so afraid of?”

 Shock and instant denial made her mouth drop open.

 “I’m—”

 But Mike didn’t stay to hear her reply, simply turned and guided Jessica into his truck and drove away, leaving Sam seething.

 It took a few long minutes, but Sam only went inside once she no longer felt like bursting into tears or ripping her own hair out. She went straight to her room (after checking the door lock and alarm twice) where she curled under her blankets with the lights still on.

 But no matter how much she tried to clear her mind and sleep, she tossed and turned, hearing Mike’s voice echo in her head.

What are you so afraid of?

Chapter Text

 

The mines are silent but for their footfalls.

The ranger, Officer Roy, he’d introduced himself as, had tried to ask a few questions before, but the combined glares of the three of them had clued him in to use discretion when speaking. He looks confused and irritated, but Sam’s only thankful he doesn’t feel the need to assert his authority over a bunch of kids. Maybe it’s the knowing look in their eyes. Maybe it’s the blood.

When they pass an archway that has a jaw—just the bone, the teeth still there—lying casually on the ground, the officer goes ashen. The sound of metal sliding on leather comes, then the echoing click of him switching the safety off his gun; Sam doesn’t worry about him anymore.

Sam and Mike lead the way. They’ve both gone this trail before, and while Mike has the most experience dealing with the wendigos, Sam has the light, she’s quick to adapt, and she’s fast. They make a good team.

Officer Roy and Chris make disparaging sounds when they get to the pool of water, and Sam silently agrees, though there’s nothing to be done. Mike looks paler, the sweat shining on his forehead. The way he eyes the water is unsettling but Sam decides not to ask him what he’s remembering. He visibly takes a deep breath and is the first to sink in.

Sam follows and sonuvabitch the water is somehow colder and she has to sink her teeth into her lip hard just to keep the shriek down.

She wades forward and hears a splash behind her, then “Fuuuuu-huuuuuuck!” Chris hisses. She takes a moment to pity him, just because he has the most layers and by the time they get back to civilization, he’ll probably be courting frostbite.

Following Mike like ducklings, they make it to the other end. Pulling herself out of the pool feels more exhausting than it should, and it’s only then that Sam comprehends not just everything they’ve been through that night, but for how long. The only time any of them have slept was when they were knocked out; hardly restful. Sam dreams of her bed and never, ever getting back up.

They wait for Officer Roy and Chris to rise from the pool, and while Mike moves ahead, Sam holds out cautioning hands.

“Look, there’s something up ahead that’s going to...disturb you,” she warns them. “Just, try not to freak out.”

She’s looking at Officer Roy for most of this speech, but it’s Chris she’s looking at when she’s done, because he’ll recognise the body.

“What...what is it?” Chris asks, eyes darting to Mike who’s scoping out the open doorway ahead of them.

“It’s...a body,” Sam says quietly. “And his...head.”

Chris sucks in a sharp breath, recognition dawning in his eyes, and the officer beside him frowns heavily.

“A body?”

Sam nods, then turns and leads them, hardening her heart against the horrific sight she knows that’s waiting for her.

She averts her eyes when she passes the Stranger’s head, following Mike, and while she’s hears nothing from Chris, the Officer stumbles.

“Jesus Christ…” He mutters, horrified.

Inside the small shaft of wooded space, the headless body swings idly on its chain.

“Oh, God,” Chris moans. Sam turns in time to see him averting his gaze to the ground angrily, fists clenched. She walks to him and lightly rests her hand on his, so that he looks at her. The turmoil is clear on his face, and she swallows, squeezing.

“We have to keep moving,” she tells him. “Just...try not to focus on it. Think of Josh.”

That does the trick, and Chris steels himself, giving the body one last glance before he’s away, walking quickly to catch up to where Mike waits for them.

Sam starts to follow but a heavy hand on her shoulder keeps her from joining them. Officer Roy looking at her with wide eyes. He looks ill.

“Who did this?”

Sam is instantly hit with the realization that all of their problems will be far from over when (if) they get to safety. They’ll be questioned, of course, but it is only now that she comprehends how difficult it will be. What will they say? People abandoned on the mountain became mutated and hunted down other people? It sounds far-fetched at best, and suspicious at most.

Sam looks at the officer hopelessly.

“A monster,” she says finally, and walks away.

Before, Josh had been just on the other side of the makeshift wall, hallucinating wildly and stumbling around. Now, he’s nowhere to be seen, which makes their search that much harder. More than once, they take a path that dead ends and each failure makes Sam’s grip on her sanity strain tighter, ears straining for one of those terrifying screeches, eyes dreadfully looking for either a body or thin, contorting limbs.

Twenty minutes, thirty, an hour pass, and just when Sam’s starts to believe their search is pointless, the tunnel begins to brighten. Just the sight of it makes them hurry their pace, if for no other reason than a whiff of fresh air before the once again plunge into the darkness of the mines.

What they come to is another dead end, but it stretches up, up, and light from the surface pours in and illuminates the stalactites and slick rocks, the dust in the air.

Crumpled at the base, as if he’d been tossed aside like trash, is Josh’s body.

Sam gasps sharply and covers her mouth. Her eyes burn. Mike’s expression is sickened and tired as he mutters, “Goddamnit,” but Chris’ horrified chant of “No, no, no, no, nononono,” is the loudest.

Sam had thought she was prepared, but she’s wrong. Hot tears pour down her face as she watches Chris run to Josh and fall to his knees beside him, his hands darting out and stopping just short of touching him, hesitant and afraid. She has to look away, wishing reality wasn’t so cruel.

“Oh, God.”

Mike’s arms wrap around her and she sinks into the comfort, her mind a tumultuous riot of bitterness, anger, and mournful sorrow. Nothing about tonight was fair, but this is the worst.

“Wait, wait!” Chris urgently calls, and Sam twists with Mike to see.

Chris’ lowered head is inches from Josh’s now upturned face, where a track of blood clearly runs from beneath his hairline to his chin. His ear hovers over Josh’s parted lips, then he straightens, snatches up Josh’s hand, and presses his fingers down firmly on the inside of his wrist.

“He’s—he’s alive,” Chris, dumbfounded, looks at them.

“What?” Sam asks, stunned as Mike starts, “How—?”

But Sam stops listening there, runs over and fall to her knees at Josh’s head opposite Chris. Just as hesitantly as Chris, she digs her finger underneath his jaw, searching for a pulse—and tears up again when she finds one.

“Oh, thank God,” she sighs, sagging.

“He must have been knocked out,” Chris suggests, finger hovering over the blood trail.

“Josh!” Sam gingerly shook Josh by the shoulders. “Josh, wake up!” Still nothing. Sam slaps his cheek, as delicately as she can, and Josh groans. It's a wonderful sound.

“Come on, man,” Chris joins in, giving Josh a shake as well. “It’s time to go.”

Josh’s eyes flutter, and he stares straight up, into the light. He’s clearly not with them, not yet.

“Josh? Are you okay? Can you hear me?” Sam tries for calm and misses by a mile.

Light green eyes meet hers as his head sluggishly rolls.

“...Sam?” His voice is hoarse, like he’s been screaming. Still, he’s speaking. He’s alive.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s me, Sam,” she finds herself saying uselessly, reaching down to grasp his hand in hers. He blinks, then gives her hand the slightest squeeze back. It makes her breath catch.

“Jesus, man, you scared the shit outta me,” Chris accuses sharply, the wobble in his voice betraying his relief.

Josh’s head twists to him. “Chris…? What—Where are we? What’s—ugh…” Josh grasps his head, right above his injury, and flinches at the contact.

“Easy,” Sam cautions, moving his hand away.

“Here, let’s get you up,” Chris tells him and he snakes an arm beneath Josh’s shoulders, raising him into a sitting position.

Mike comes near and crouches by Sam and Josh looks between the three of them, the honest confusion clear.

“Wha...What are you all doing here?”

A heartbeat of silence—as they stare at Josh, and Josh stares back.

“What are we—?! We came to get you, man!” Chris exclaims, bewildered.

“We sure as fuck aren’t here for the sights,” Mike agrees, a hint of smile on his face. Sam smiles and nods her head when Josh looks to her.

Dazed, Josh seems to reel from this.

“I—I thought…” he trails off, eyes falling to his hands. They’re dirty, crusted with blood and dirt. “I thought I was alone,” he finishes, and his voice is so small, so lost and hurt and scared, that Sam’s body moves of it’s own volition. Her arms go around his shoulders and she can’t help but feel like this is an entirely selfish hug, more for the reassurance that Josh is real and solid against her than for his comfort.

A breath later, Chris’ arms go around both of them.

“You’re not alone, buddy,” Chris tells him, voice rough with emotion. “We’re not leaving without you.”

Slowly, falteringly, as if he’s afraid to believe in what is happening, Josh’s arms come up to grasp at both of them. He heaves a deep, unsteady exhale.

“Thank you,” he whispers, pulling them closer. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

“Wow. You look like shit.”

The smile on Sam’s face turned into a scowl. Amused, Emily’s smile grew wider and she leaned back in her chair, arms crossed with self-satisfaction. She knew Sam’s default setting was Nice, but she always felt quite accomplished when she could make the blonde look a little less perfect. Not because she was bitter or jealous; she was a little more mature than that. Just sometimes it just got exhausting watching Sam pretend that everything was hunky-dory.

“Thanks,” Sam said sarcastically. She settled into the free seat at Emily’s table and slid her purse from her shoulder, hanging it on the back of her chair.

It was mid afternoon, and the restaurant—Bar Bouchon—wasn’t too packed yet. Perfect for two girls to catch up, gossip, and, in Emily’s case apparently, lay out some inconvenient facts.

“Well, it’s the truth,” Emily insisted, worried despite herself as she took in her friend. “Those are some serious bags underneath your eyes. Are you going through a vampire phase?”

Sam’s glare intensified as she sat and Emily just looked right back, unphased.

“I’m fine, Emily. Just had a late night.”

“Uh-huh,” Emily commented, her voice dripping with disbelief.

Before she could press the issue, their waiter arrived.

“The salmon bisque and a salad for me,” Emily ordered straight away, “And an ice water. With lemon.”

“Um,” Sam picked up the menu and gave it a half-hearted look over. “The...same, I guess. Water for me, too, please.”

Emily could see that the restaurant made Sam a little uncomfortable, awkward even. But Emily didn’t settle for anything less than the best in everything that she chose, no matter what. She supposed they did contrast a bit, two young college girls casually dining when all around them where business executives and their pretty assistants, all dressed in five-grand suits and three-hundred dollar pocket squares. But they were pricks and Emily couldn’t care less what they thought.

“So,” Emily continued as soon as the waiter was gone, “What’s new?”

“Wellllll,” Sam said slowly, thinking, “I’m back in school.” She gave Emily a little smile, shrugging. “No big deal, just some online classes, but it’s something, you know? I just...I’m done putting my life on hold.”

“That’s great, Sam,” she congratulated her. “Really,” Emily stressed, so that Sam looked at her properly, “Good for you.”

And she meant it. That had been her attitude from the moment she’d come back from Blackwood. She’d talked to the shrink they’d thrown at her, told them fuck you when she’d been prescribed uppers, and was back in school that Tuesday. Yeah, she’d been handed a really shitty deal, and yes, she’d had to switch all her night classes to day one’s because walking back to her car at night brought some really intense flashbacks, but she could deal. If she stayed at home all day, just lying around and thinking about it she’d go crazy.

“Your waters, ladies,” The waiter suddenly interrupted, lifting the glasses off his tray. Emily took hers while Sam thanked him, perfectly polite smile right back in place. Emily sighed quietly and sipped her water while they ‘thank you’d’ and ‘you’re welcomed’, trying not to gag at how picturesque it was.

“What about you?” Sam asked when the waiter left. She idly stirred the lemon in her water around with her straw. “Anything new?”

“Mm,” Emily took another sip, considering. “Not much, really. School’s fine, and my parent’s stopped trying to make me go to counseling, thank God. It was getting so annoying.”

“You should talk to someone,” Sam said gently.

Emily rolled her eyes. “I already talk to you, so I don’t really see the point.”

“I’m not a professional.”

“Ugh. Screw that. I have better things to do than spend a couple hundred dollars talking about how I feel with some asshole.” Emily tucked a stray lock of hair back behind her ear and scowled, fingers tapping agitatedly on the tables surface. “Honestly, I don’t even want to think about it. It’s over.”

Something she said must have struck a nerve with Sam because she looked so freaking sad and disappointed, and anyone who knew Sam for more than five minutes knew that her look of disappointment was legendary, and the fact that it was actually working pissed Emily off.

Luckily, Sam’s opportunity to push the issue was interrupted by the arrival of their food and Emily straightened gratefully, shaking off the bad mood that was starting to settle around her like a blanket.

For a few minutes, the only sounds between them were the metallic clinks of their utensils against porcelain and the low, murmured conversations of the people around them. Miraculously, the silence wasn’t the least bit awkward. Sam and Emily had never been close, but they’d been friendly enough, and in the wake of Blackwood, Sam was the only one Emily really trusted anymore. All the time they’d spent together meant that Sam knew when and when not to take offence to what she said. It was a relief, especially since Sam was a quick learner, because Emily was extremely short on friendly faces these days.

Not that she cared. Good riddance.

Ugh. Now that she was thinking about them her mood soured, like it always did, and now that she’d started, she couldn’t stop.

Emily scowled and leaned back in her seat. She could tell that Sam was looking at her, curiously, but she didn’t meet her eyes.

“I forgot to tell you,” Emily started, struggling to sound unaffected, “Matt’s still texting me.”

“Oh, yeah?” Sam’s expression was cautiously hopeful when Emily glanced at her.

“He’s wasting his time.” There was that damn look again. Emily focused on her food. She’d had better. “I mean, how many times does a girl have to say ‘fuck off’ before he gets the message?” She punctuated the end of her sentence with a few vicious stabs at her salad.

“He cares about you, Em,” Sam insisted, her food quite forgotten. “And he’s worried.”

Unfortunately, Emily couldn’t argue that. Matt had made it abundantly clear just how much he cared and Emily...Emily wasn’t ready for that.

“Well, he can stop worrying, I’m fine. I’m not some scared little girl who needs his protection.”

“It’s not like that and you know it,” Sam reprimanded. She leaned closer, beseeching. “Just talk to him. It would be good for you, for both of you. And,” Sam’s expression turned pleading, “Matt’s not the only one who’d like to see you again. The others—”

Emily laughed. It wasn’t a happy sound.

“Please. Really, Sam? You know that’s not happening. And isn’t that a little hypocritical of you? You still won’t go see Josh.”

Sam went from open and pleading to defensive in a second.

“That’s different—”

“It’s really not,” Emily interrupted, giving Sam her patented, ‘Seriously?’ look. “I don’t know why you aren’t talking to Josh and I don’t care. That’s your business, just like not talking to the other’s is mine. I know you’re just trying to get us all back together so we can all sing kumbaya and pretend last month didn’t happen, but I’m not. Interested. And don’t expect me to kiss and makeup when you can’t even follow your own advice.”

Emily crossed her arms, staring back frankly at Sam as she watched first the surprise, then anger, then defeat and finally the acceptance on her face. Sam’s shoulders slumped and she ran a hand through her blonde hair, looking off to the side and out the window.

“You’re right,” she said helplessly after a long pause. “I am a hypocrite. It’s just—I can’t—I can’t deal with that. Not yet. I will,” Sam promised firmly, “But…not yet.” Sam trailed off, her expression pinched and uncomfortable as she settled for looking down at her hands, tightly clenched together on top of the table.

Heart bleeding, because while she liked irritating Sam she didn’t like to see her genuinely upset, Emily reached over and covered Sam’s hands with her own.

“Forget everything else,” Emily counseled, “Do this on your own time. There’s no rush, and it’s not like Josh doesn’t have other people in his life to take care of him. If you’re not ready, then you’re not ready.” When some of the tension left Sam’s shoulders, Emily leaned back, satisfied. “And quit looking like the world’s about to end. You’re making me feel like I kicked a puppy or something.”

Sam laughed, and, well, as embarrassing as it was to admit, Emily felt better for it.

Gross. Sam was definitely rubbing off on her.

They called for a check and moved outside, taking a few minutes to simply talk a bit more. When they finally said their goodbyes, hugging, Sam pulled back and held Emily at arms length.

“Despite me being a hypocrite, I want you to think, just think,” Sam stressed when Emily rolled her eyes, “about talking to Matt. Just a text, that’s it, okay? Just so he knows you’re still alive.”

“Whatever,” Emily responded noncommittally, looking away. Sam smiled.

“This time next week?”

“Yeah. See ya.”

“Peace!” Sam called, waving as she walked away. Emily waved back and shook her head when Sam turned the corner. Sam was nothing if not persistent, she’d give her that.

It felt way too early to go home and she and Sam had gotten pretty serious when they’d talked; a therapeutic shopping spree was definitely in order. However, she’d gone no further than three feet when her phone vibrated.

And what was flashing insistently when she looked at her cell’s screen? Matt.

Heart thumping and lips pursing, Emily reluctantly unlocked her phone to view the message.

hey, em how’s it goin? just got outta practice, thinking bout you. hope ur doing ok.

Emily could feel herself blushing and hated her body for betraying her like that. It had been a month and even though she never responded Matt seemed hell-bent on not giving up. It was stupid. And so irritating.

Just a text, Sam had said, and Emily hesitated, her thumb hovering over the reply button—

Matt’s arms hold her tight, squeezing to the point of being painful but she doesn’t think to tell him to stop, only fists her hands in that dumb letterman’s jacket of his and buries her face in his chest, trying not to cry as he rocks her gently.

“I’m so sorry,” he apologizes for the eighth time in five minutes, voice rough, “I thought I lost you, God, I thought you were gone—

Shivering, Emily locks her phone and tucks it into her purse.

Like Sam, she’s just not ready.

Chapter Text

It’s Mike who gets them moving again, worried about one guest too many being attracted by their noise. He and Chris get Josh up, arms over shoulders, and they make the slow, painstaking way back the way they came.

Because Officer Roy has a weapon he takes point, gun out and at the ready, held just at waist level. Sam brings up the rear, eyes torn between every shadow in the mines and Josh’s stumbling form suspended between friends.

Josh is silent, and it’s a worrying silence beyond merely keeping his mouth closed. She can see how Mike and Chris murmur in his ear and exchange worried frowns when he doesn’t answer. Josh has retreated from them, someplace within, and Sam’s heart is clenched tightly by worry and fear. Have they come all this way just to lose him now?

Things are quiet until they reach the body, hanging up high and swaying slightly by some phantom breeze.

“Noooo,” Josh moans, head lolling to one side then the other in sluggish denial. Louder, he cries, “No more! No, no, noooo! Stop...stop it! Leave me alone!”

Chris and Mike both stumble from the sudden force of Josh’s thrashing.

“Dude, chill!” Mike commands, struggling to keep a grip. “Damn it, don’t start this!”

“Josh! Josh, calm down!” Chris is trying to get Josh’s attention, trying to tug him back into place. In response, Josh pushes them both away, stumbling, and his eyes dart all over wildly, his terror clear. He looks seconds from bolting.

They’re too loud. Any wendigo within a mile is bound to hear them and the thought makes icy fear shoot through her veins. Their only protection is their wits and a ranger who has no idea what he’s in for. If this doesn’t stop soon, this rescue is going to end very quickly.

Realizing the futility of just shouting at Josh, Sam quickly moves in front of him.

“Josh!” Sam’s hands hold Josh’s cheeks, her fingers going into his hair as she forces his confused eyes to meet hers. “Focus on me, Josh,” she urges. “What you’re seeing, it’s not real, okay? But I am. Focus on me.”

He starts to shake his head, an automatic denial, but Sam won’t hear it. She looks away long enough to find his hand, then she grasps it in hers, squeezing hard.

“Do you feel that?” She’s practically crushing his fingers and Josh winces. “This is real, Josh. We’re all real. So I need you to quit fighting us, all right? We’re on your side.”

Josh blinks rapidly, and his internal struggle to find reality is clear to everyone. His head gives a small, aborted shake.

“You’re real,” he echoes, comprehension bleeding into his gaze. “You’re real.” His eyes slide shut suddenly and he takes a deep, deep breath. When his eyes open again, they’re mostly clear of fear, and determined. “I’m okay.”

Relieved, Sam exchanges tired smiles with the guys and leads them to the underground lake they came from.

The sight of it makes Josh’s hard-won lucidity crumble around him.

“No, no,” he protests, looking at the water with full-blown terror. “She’ll get me, she’ll get me!”

He tries to yank his hand from Sam’s but she denies him, grips him tightly and steps close. She places a grounding hand on his cheek and makes him look down at her and not the water.

“I’ll protect you, Josh,” she promises, her voice like steel. “Look at me,” she insists when his eyes start to slide from hers. She gives him a shake and he focuses back on her, expression heartbreakingly fragile. “I’m not going to let anything hurt you. Just don’t let go, okay?”

Josh’s eyes devour hers with all the desperation of a drowning man. He licks his lips.

“O-okay. Yeah. Okay.”

Thankfully, he sounds more like the old Josh, the real Josh, and Sam darts a glance to where the others are watching them with bated breath. Mike gives her a nod and Chris smiles encouragingly. Officer Roy looks like he regrets ever going with them into these god-forsaken mines.

“All right,” Sam says. She releases Josh’s hand long enough to sit at the edge of the pool, then holds out her hand to him, waiting patiently. Josh swallows but moves to sit beside her nonetheless. He takes her hand and his grip is tight enough that she’s sure there will be bruises. She grips back just as hard. “Ready?”

A bead of sweat slides down Josh’s face from temple to chin. He very deliberately exhales, long and slow, and strokes his thumb against the back of Sam’s hand. Her heart constricts.

“Ready.”

The plunge is unforgivingly frigid and Sam’s entire body locks up from the sudden shock. Beside her Josh sucks in a sharp breath.

“Ohhhh-kay,” Sam says shakily, giving herself a chance to adjust. “Let’s go.”

Sam leads the way, Josh keeping pace, although she has to pull on his arm a bit when they’re halfway through. His mouth opens, then shuts again and he shakes his head.

The others follow just behind and when Sam glances back, to give the others a thumbs up to assure them Josh is doing fine, a sound stops her.

It’s the unmistakable screeching howl of a wendigo.

“Fuck!” Chris and Mike swear simultaneously and then everyone’s nearly running, wading as fast as possible and hauling themselves up and out of the water, feeling their chances of survival increase when solid ground is back under their feet.

“We gotta go,” Mike jogs ahead, scopes out the tunnel, and waves them forward. “Let’s move!”

Chris comes on Josh’s other side and takes his free hand. He and Sam look at each other and something passes between them, an understanding; nothing is taking Josh from them. Chris lips twitch, quirk up, and Sam mirrors it.

Then they’re running. At least in this, Josh doesn’t need help, and perhaps their urgency pushes through his on and off again hallucinations, because he doesn’t yell, doesn’t try to shake them off, just moves. A quick glance at his face shows Sam how deathly pale his face is, how he somehow looks gaunt even though it’s only been a few hours. Worry doesn’t even begin to describe how she feels, but she has to concentrate on the now so that there can be a later where they can try to fix this horrible, fucked-up situation.

They don’t stop until they reach the way they came, an elevator directly below the mining facility. The pile in and Mike flips the lever the second they’re all safely inside.

The wendigo’s screeching grows more and more distant the higher they climb (thank God) and Sam’s breathing comes a little easier. The sound of her sigh draws Josh’s attention and when she notices his concern, she gives him a fragile little smile.

“We’re safe,” she tells him and he watches her speak as if he’s never seen lips before.

“Safe,” he repeats quietly. He looks forward as the lift come to a stop. “We’re safe.” He loosens his grip on her then clutches again even tighter.

“I think we’re good,” Mike says after walking a bit ahead. He still insists on taking point with Officer Roy at the rear, but no one’s arguing.

Now that they’re outside, Officer Roy radios their position and tells them that a return helicopter is already in-bound and the rendezvous is only a few minutes away. He’s greeted with relieved cheers and fist-bumps from Chris and Mike, and a heartfelt thank you from Sam. Josh even smiles.

The hike is nice compared to what they’ve all been through. There’s no immediately impending sense of doom and no one’s being forced to face the weight of their own mortality. Just a little ahead, Mike and Chris are in deep discussion with the officer, although Chris looks back periodically to check on Josh.

“How are you feeling?” Sam asks, unable to help herself. Before, she would have prided herself on at least being able to guess how Josh was feeling but now things are so different…

“How am I feeling?” Josh echoes slowly, eyes on his shoes as they crunch in the snow. “Terrible. Confused.” He looks at Sam, distressed. “Is this real?” he asks, almost begging. He stops walking and Sam has no choice but to do so as well; they haven’t stopped holding hands. His other hand comes up and he strokes his knuckles very lightly down the side of her face. “Are you real? I thought I knew, but I can’t—I can’t tell anymore.”

Sam’s heart feels like it’s shattering into a million pieces and bleeding all at the same time. She very suddenly wants to cry for her friend but knows that tears won’t help anything, not now. Instead, she lightly curls her hand around Josh’s wrist and forces the unsteadiness from her voice.

“I’m real. This is all real. We’re going home.”

Josh nods his head, eyes sliding shut and brow furrowing.

“All right. I believe you. I trust you.”

“You guys okay?”

Sam, blinking rapidly, twists to see Chris and the others paused a small distance away, watching them with varying degrees of caution and nervousness. Sam clears her throat.

“We’re good,” she calls back. She trudges forward and pulls Josh along with her and, together, they all make it to rendezvous where their transport is already landing at the top of the hill in a small clearing, whipping up icy air that snatches at their clothes.

They four of them climb into the back of the helicopter while Officer Roy takes the co-pilot’s seat. Sam and Josh end up sitting together with Chris and Mike opposite. She puts on her safety belt because there’s no way in hell she made it through everything that happened last night to die from falling out of a helicopter. Josh is quiet again, distant, so Sam reaches over and buckles him in, giving the straps an experimental tug to make sure he’s secure.

With that done, Sam sags back in her seat, truly and thoroughly exhausted. She tiredly rubs at her eyes and mentally bids Blackwood Pines the most final of farewells.

A touch on her leg brings her from her thoughts and Sam sees that’s it’s Josh, his palm resting above her knee. She turns her head and Josh is watching her, concerned.

Suddenly, she remembers that those eyes have watched her a lot tonight. Through camera lenses and in person, and she shivers, for the first time feeling real...not fear, something closer to  helplessness and despair, all of it coiled together in weariness and frustration and a thousand other emotions she can’t even begin to process. How had she never noticed…?

Weary, Sam places her hand over Josh’s, heedless of the knowing look Chris and Mike share, and pats it.

“We’ll be okay,” she says, the words like ash in her mouth as her eyes slide shut.

Josh’s warm hand in her own, all she can think is: How could this happen?

How could she let this happen?

Chapter Text

It was Friday, which meant it was Mike and Jessica’s turn to babysit.

The thought was perhaps a little ungrateful, but that didn’t make it any less true. Usually Chris came over, but Friday was date night. So Mike and Jessica it was. Which meant he should probably make an effort to seem normal, even though he felt far from it.

Josh should talk. He knew this. His reluctance to speak up had led to this whole mess in the first place—he knew this.

But. It was just so damn hard. Everyone had been so good to him, bending over backwards to make sure he was never alone for too long, always near a friendly face. How was he supposed to look into their kind, patiently supporting faces and say, ‘It’s not enough’?

He didn’t even know why it wasn’t enough. All he knew was that he’d be looking at Chris, or talking with Jessica, or joking with Mike, and he’d suddenly feel this distance. As if trying to have what they had—their normalcy, their happiness—was so beyond him that any attempt otherwise was an exercise in futility.

But he could barely put the concept into a thought, let alone words that anyone else would understand and help him with. So he took his pills, took more for the inevitable headache, and dressed. He had a smile in place for Mike and Jessica when they got to his door, and hated himself for the lie.

“Come on in, guys,” Josh greeted, holding the door wide open.

“Hey, Josh,” Jessica greeted first, a beautiful smile on her scarred features. She gave him a hug in greeting and moved inside so Mike could clasp his hand.

“Hey, man. What’s up?”

“Nothin’ much,” Josh answered around a wide yawn. “Sorry. Just woke up.”

Mike and Jessica gave him incredulous looks.

“Dude, it’s three o’clock.”

Josh shrugged as he shut the door. Time didn’t really mean much to him these days. He slept when he slept.

Ignoring the concerned looks aimed at him, Josh shuffled away past the foyer and into the living room where he collapsed bonelessly onto the couch. He shifted to his back and stretched his arm out far enough to swipe the tv remote from the coffee table, and settled in for some channel surfing while Mike and Jessica made themselves at home.

“Your folks out?” Mike called from the kitchen, and Josh’s expression darkened.

“What else is new?” he muttered.

“What?”

“Yeah,” Josh responded, raising his voice and aiming for as disaffected as possible. “They’re in Miami or something.” His response was met with low whispering and Josh’s thumb stabbed at the remote. Thirty-two-hundred channels and still nothing on.

A few minutes later a groan from Mike made Josh glance over to see him and Jessica settling together on the other couch. Mike was balancing two plates with sandwiches perched precariously on them and a bag of chips. Jessica was already seated and held her arms out eagerly for the food, grinning and making grabby hands. Mike handed over her plate with a soft smile.

Josh looked away quickly, squashing down the dark envy that settled in the pit of his stomach. He could care less about the food; it wasn’t like he could eat all of the crap his parents left him anyways and letting the others bum food made him feel a little better about everything they did for him.

No, it was the affection. It was probably the only thing he disliked about the visits. Mike and Jess were so clearly in love it was physically painful to witness it. Once, he’d thought he’d been close to that, had even dared to hope for it—

Josh shifted, suddenly uncomfortable, and tried to push it from his mind. He hardly needed the reminder that Sam wanted nothing to do with him. Her absence spoke louder than anything.

“As fun as it is watching you look at every single channel, what are the odds of you picking something this year?”

Mike’s voice pierced Josh’s depressing thoughts and he started slightly. He hadn’t even realized he was still pressing the button. Tiredly, he sat up and ran a hand over his face.

“Here,” he said, standing. He tossed the remote to Mike who scrambled to put his sandwich down in time to do a fumbling catch. He glared at Josh but Josh was so far beyond teasing with the mood he was in he just ignored it as he walked by. “Just put on whatever. I need a drink.”

“You sure about that, man?” Mike’s worry was practically tangible. Josh huffed a laugh and waved a hand over his shoulder.

“It’s fine,” he assured them as his socked feet hit the chilled tile of the kitchen floor, “Just having one.”

With his back to his friends, Josh allowed his face to show some of his internal struggle, the frustration and guilt and sadness.

God, he missed her.

Rubbing at his neck, Josh retrieved a glass from the top cabinet in the kitchen and knelt down to the cabinets at ground level just beside the fridge to fetch the liquor.

If there was one thing he was grateful to his parents for, it was that they were never short on alcohol and weren’t around often enough to keep track of it. Josh’s hand reached for a bottle of Jack, but even as his fingers curled around the bottle he remembered—

waking up to urgent hands, a panicked voice telling him he had to wake up, Hannah and Beth are gone, they still haven’t come back and it’s been hours, Josh struggles to waken, his vision is so blurry he can barely see and the first thing that comes into focus is the tipped, drained-dry bottle of whiskey—

Josh sucked in a sharp breath, going stock-still as the memory assaulted him. His arm dropped and he had to take a moment to simply breathe, to do as Dr. Hill had told him. Don’t let your memories control you, he’d said.

“Goddammit,” he muttered, and then he skipped the whiskey and grabbed the tequila instead.

His hands were unsteady pouring but he got it inside the glass without spilling and that’s all that counted. He didn’t stop until the glass was halfway full and then he threw it back, counting on it to chase the memories away.

It was fucking disgusting, but it was straight tequila, so no surprise there. He still chugged it down until he’d drained the glass dry, and he took deep, heaving gulps of air when he was done, staring down into the cup as if it would solve all his problems.

Nope. The bad feelings were all still there, but with alcohol in his system he could feel them growing stronger, laughing at his attempts to drown them out. His eyes darted to the bottle again. Maybe another…?

A soft hand went over his and stopped him mid-reach, and he flinched, snatching his hand away as he spun to face the intruder.

It was Jessica, watching him with brows furrowed and a worried frown on her lips. She said nothing, just watched him, and Josh slowly relaxed, ashamed of himself.

He set the glass back on the counter and screwed the lid back on the tequila.

“Sorry,” he murmured, putting the bottle away.

Jessica placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and when he looked up, she was smiling at him, not with pity, but with understanding. It immediately made the last of his tension fade away.

“Come on,” she ushered him back towards the living room, “Help me pick a channel. If we let Mike have his way we’ll end up watching old football games all day.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Mike yelled indignantly, eyes glued to the game on the large flatscreen.

“Nothing, sweetie,” Jessica said in a sickly-sweet tone and she sauntered over to sit beside her boyfriend. She slid in next to him and traced a pattern on his arm, slowly inching higher. Josh simply shook his head as he settled back in his seat and stretched his legs out before him. “Only that it’s incredibly boring and it kind of makes me want to blow my brains out.”

“Hey—!”

Quick as a flash, Jessica darted forward and snatched the remote from Mike, laughing.

“Project Runway it is,” she announced smugly, switching the channel.

“Oh, so that’s how it is?” Mike asked, his annoyed tone ruined by the smile on his face.

“Yup.”

“But baaaaaaaabe,” Mike moaned, “You always get to pick what we watch! It’s not fair!”

“That’s not true!” Jessica replied indignantly. Mike rolled his eyes and leaned towards Josh, cupping a hand around his mouth.

“Don’t let those beautiful hazel eyes fool you,” he told Josh in mock-confidence. “Just the other day she made me watch the Kardashians,” and here Mike shuddered in horror while Jessica rolled her eyes, “It was awful. Thank God Sam ordered pizza or—”

Mike broke off his sentence, suddenly looking awkward, and Jessica’s playful expression morphed into surprise, then concern. They both looked surreptitiously at Josh, guilty, as if unable to help themselves.

Josh looked away from them and stared blindly at the tv screen, feeling a sudden lump in his throat. Of course everyone was aware that Sam hadn’t bothered to visit Josh since they’d made it back to California. And in response Josh knew they’d tried not to bring her up around him, for fear they’d be rubbing it in his face. Sometimes he was grateful for it, other times it was worse than them talking about her because she became this silent, heavy presence, quietly haunting him and plaguing him with doubt and regret.

If he didn’t say anything, they could move on. Mike or Jessica would change the subject and they could all pretend it never happened. He couldn’t take back his reaction, the way he’d stilled and given Mike his full attention at her name, but, again, they’d pretend for him.

Instead, as if the words were ripped from him against his will, he asked, very quietly and definitely not making eye contact, “...How is she?”

It made him feel fucking pathetic, how he couldn’t help but ask, to need to know how she is, to cling to any bit of information he could get. Every day was an exercise in restraint when all he wanted to do was ask for every little detail of her life, what she was doing, is she happy?

Perhaps he should’ve been more bitter, angry even. She had promised to be there and she’d lied to him, just like everyone else always did. And some days he did get angry. When he was alone he’d rage, hot tears burning from the stinging rejection of dozens of ignored calls and texts; his room was always a complete mess when he calmed down.

But he could never stay mad, not at her. Sam...Sam was so much better than him, in every way. If she wanted a life free of Josh, frankly, she deserved it.

Josh wasn’t good for her.

Mike and Jessica exchanged apprehensive looks.

“She’s uh, she’s good,” Mike said, straightening where he sat. He shrugged. “She moved out of her mom’s place. Living in an apartment about…” Mike thought for a moment, “Ten? Fifteen minutes from her old place? She seems okay.” He exchanged a glance with Jessica and frowned. “Me and Jess are pretty worried about her, actually,” Mike admitted lowly.

Josh tensed, his own feelings drowned out with worry.

“She looks sick,” Jessica admitted quietly, letting her head rest on Mike’s shoulder. Mike’s arm went around her and hugged her briefly before she continued. “I don't think she's slept since we came back.”

Josh opened his mouth but hesitated. What could he say? He hoped she felt okay? That was lackluster at best and Sam deserved better than that. The thought of her alone at night, in pain, made his heart ache for her. For some reason, he never considered that Sam was hurting, that she wasn’t out with friends, smiling, enjoying life. He wished he could see her, to hold her, to make everything better.

But he couldn’t. She probably hated him.

Josh swallowed around that thought, despising how it always affected him. He had earned Sam’s hatred. He just had to live with it.

“Hey,” Mike removed his arm from around Jessica and scooted up to the edge of his seat, elbows backed on knees as he leaned closer to Josh. “You alright, man? I know you don’t like talking about her, but—”

“It’s fine,” Josh said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. “I’m not going to break down just because Sam hates me now.”

“Whoa—” Mike started but Jessica interrupted, scooting forward in her seat, too.

“That’s not true,” Jessica insisted. “I know it’s not! And you do too.”

Surprised, Josh gave Jessica an incredulous look that morphed into anger when he realized she was being serious. “How would I know that, Jess?” he asked, pissed. “She won’t talk to me! The only thing I know is that she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

Restless and angry, Josh lurched up from his seat and paced, grasping fistfuls of hair before running his hands through the strands, searching for calm.

Gently, Jessica asked, “Did you apologize to her, Josh?”

Josh froze. How many times had he tried? Calls, texts, even Facebook messages; so many he’d lost count. She refused to see him now and even back then, that last day one month ago, he'd tried his damnedest but she’d gotten this look on her face, as if she couldn’t bear to hear the words…

Josh exhaled slowly, his arms falling to rest listlessly at his sides.

“No,” he confessed, grimacing. “She...she won’t let me.”

Jessica rose from the couch and placed her hand on his shoulder again, looking nothing but certain.

“I know I forget things sometimes,” Jessica started, for a moment her eyes falling, bleeding sadness. Then she looked back at Josh and visibly forced it back, “But I know you’re trying so hard to be better and we’re all,” she gestured to Mike, who nodded, standing now as well “so proud of you. And I know Sam is too. Just give her some time. I’m sure she misses you, Josh.”

Josh stared down at Jessica, torn between wanting to believe her and not daring. His heart fluttered madly in his chest at the thought that Sam hadn’t given up on him. It was probably the height of foolishness to entertain the notion that Sam held nothing but contempt for him, but Jessica seemed so sure…

“Yeah. Okay.” Josh nodded, then smiled at Jess. “Thanks, Jess.”

Jessica beamed.

Chapter Text

INCIDENT REPORT FORM

CASE NO: 2573

DATE: 02/02/2015

OFFICER: F. ROY

PREPARED BY: CPT. OWENS

 

INCIDENT:

AT C. 02:21 AM STATION RECEIVED S.O.S FROM EASTERN FIRE TOWER. MESSAGE WAS HINDERED BY STORM AND DUE TO SEVERITY OF BLIZZARD EARLIEST RELIEF WAS SENT AT 06:20 AM. UPON ARRIVAL AT BLACKWOOD PINES MOUNTAIN LODGE OFFICERS ON SITE REPORTED COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF BUILDING, SURVIVORS JUST OUTSIDE WRECKAGE. ALL RETRIEVED AND BROUGHT BACK TO STATION FOR QUESTIONING.

DETAIL OF EVENT:

SURVIVORS ALL INJURED IN SOME CAPACITY, MOST NOTABLY WITH CAUCASIAN BRUNETTE MALE MISSING TWO EXTREMITIES ON LEFT HAND. POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS OBSERVED IN SOME. CAUCASIAN BLONDE FEMALE CATATONIC.

 


 

09:21:17 AM

BMCPD0136

POLICE INTERVIEW

ROOM 3

 

JOSHUA WASHINGTON

MALE

20 YRS

 

[JOSHUA WASHINGTON ADMITTED TO INTERVIEW ROOM]

[J. WASHINGTON MUMBLES INCOHERENTLY, LOOKING AT HANDS RESTING IN LAP]

 

INTERVIEWER: Mister Washington, we have a few questions for you regarding what happened last night at your family’s lodge.

 

WASHINGTON: [continues to talk to self, seemingly unaware of surroundings]

 

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Washington? Mr. Washington, can you hear me?

 

WASHINGTON: [grows increasingly more agitated, shakes head]

 

INTERVIEWER: [yelling] Mr. Washington!

 

WASHINGTON: [startles, looks up from hands] What—? Wh—?

 

INTERVIEWER: You are Joshua, correct? Joshua Washington?

 

WASHINGTON: I—I’m Josh. Yes. [shakes head, visibly tense] Who are you? Where am I?

 

INTERVIEWER: I’m Officer Williams. You’re at the Blackwood Park Ranger Station, along with the rest of your friends, remember?

 

WASHINGTON: [looks away to the side; speech is slow, slightly slurred] I remember...the lodge...I had plans but— [cradles head in hands, shaking] it was wrong, wrong, wrong, I was so mad, I’ve been mad for so long and then Hannah [shaking worsens, voice distorted by tears] oh, God, Hannah, oh, Hannah—!

 

INTERVIEWER: I don’t understand, what plans? I need you to clarify, Mr. Washington. What happened, exactly?

 

WASHINGTON: [still holding head, voice slightly muffled] I was angry. They, they moved on but I couldn’t forget and they—[voice rises, lowers arms to glare] they didn’t care! [sudden anger leaves, slumps against chair] But I was wrong. I was bad. I hurt them, hurt myself, I thought I was doing the right thing—[incomprehensible muttering]

 

INTERVIEWER: You hurt them? How? What did you do?

 

WASHINGTON: [no response, continues talking to self]

 

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Washington? Joshua!

 

WASHINGTON: [no response, continues talking to self]

 

INTERVIEWER: …[aside, to C.O. observer] I don’t know how to get through to him.

 

INTERVIEWER: [leaves, comes back with a cup of water] Here. [cup is placed in front of WASHINGTON]

 

WASHINGTON: [speaks up] I don’t understand.

 

INTERVIEWER: [resumes seat opposite] What don’t you understand?

 

WASHINGTON: ...They came back for me…

 

INTERVIEWER: Who did?

 

WASHINGTON: Chris. Mike. Sam. They came back...they hugged me, like...it didn’t matter. Like I mattered. I hurt them...and they came back for me.

 

INTERVIEWER: Where were you? It says here [shuffles through report papers] that your friends and one of our officers went down into the abandoned mines to retrieve you. Why were you down there?

 

WASHINGTON: I was taken—dragged—I didn’t think it was real, I thought it was all in my head, but she was real and it’s all my fault, I left her down there—

 

INTERVIEWER: Slow down. You were forced there? By who?

 

WASHINGTON: [mutters unintelligibly, holds head and rocks back and forth]

 

INTERVIEWER: [sighs] How about we try something else. What happened to the lodge? Why was it on fire?

 

WASHINGTON: [jerks up] Fire?

 

INTERVIEWER: Yes. The entire estate was in flames, blown up from what we believe to be a gas leak. We’re still trying to understand how the leak occurred.

 

WASHINGTON: [shakes head] I don’t know. It wasn’t me. Not in the plan.

 

INTERVIEWER: You keep saying ‘plan’. What plan are you referring to?

 

WASHINGTON: [hunches in seat] My plan. I. I wanted to hurt them. Make them hurt like I hurt, make them pay.

 

INTERVIEWER: What did you do?

 

WASHINGTON: Nothing good. Nothing good.

 

INTERVIEWER: Can you be more specific?

 

WASHINGTON: Was just supposed to be a prank. Recorded it. Everyone—we were all going to be famous but—I fucked it up, I fucked it all up.

 

INTERVIEWER: Did you intentionally try to harm your friends?

 

WASHINGTON: [jerks in seat] NO! No, I—I did hurt them, but not on purpose, it was fake, but Mike was so mad and I—I hurt Ashley, I was just so mad, it was going all wrong—

 

INTERVIEWER: You assaulted your friend?

 

WASHINGTON: [covers face] I’m so sick, I’m a monster, I’m a monster—[more unintelligible muttering]

 

INTERVIEWER: Joshua, if you could try to focus and talk to me about what happened at the lodge—

 

WASHINGTON: [agitated, stands abruptly] What is this? Why am I here? Where is everybody?

 

INTERVIEWER: [rises from seat, holds out hands in placating gesture] They’re being interviewed just like you—

 

WASHINGTON: [yelling] You’re wrong! I don’t believe you! They left me, didn’t they? Tell me the truth!

 

INTERVIEWER: They’re—

 

WASHINGTON: [runs to door and begins pounding on it] They left me alone! They promised! Why?! [continues banging fists] Let me out! Let me out!

 

INTERVIEWER: [aside, to C.O. observer] I doubt we’ll get anything else from him until he’s had proper treatment.

 

INTERVIEWER: [granted permission, opens door for WASHINGTON] I’ll take you to your friends.


[END INTERVIEW—09:31:55 AM]

Chapter Text

Matt thought that—to an outsider—what they did was a little weird.

Like, all these college-age kids practically taking shifts every day of the week so that their other mutual friend didn’t spend a single day entirely alone—who had heard of that? But if anyone needed to be reassured he had friends, it was Josh, and Matt was more than willing to do his part.

How could he not be? He’d never stopped feeling guilty for the part he’d played in Hannah’s prank and the twins disappearance because of it. He’d held the fucking camera for Christ’s sake. Sam had been right (like usual). It was cruel, they were jerks, and there was no doubt in his mind that they all had a hand in what made Josh do what he did last month.

Don’t get him wrong, he didn’t think they deserved it (the image of a severed pig’s head and a message written in blood will always be imprinted in his mind), but yeah, with time and hindsight, they definitely had it coming.

Which was why Matt didn’t mind sacrificing a day or two a week just chillin’ with Josh. They had never been close before—his closest friends out of everyone had been Em and Jess—but they’d been cool enough.

And while he knew everyone typically just hung out at Josh’s place, for Matt it felt just a little too uncomfortable; strained. He’d barely lasted five minutes the first time he’d visited and they were across town getting burgers as soon as Josh had mentioned lunch. The house was just so empty and quiet without Beth or Hannah and he could never fully relax.

So Matt took him out. Josh was back on his meds, so it wasn’t like he was a danger to anyone, he got some sun, and they didn’t have to sit around awkwardly in his living room pretending like they were super-close best friends. Win/win/win.

Today, the name of the game was basketball, and Matt was definitely winning.

The park was quiet since Matt was an early-riser and he always felt better about his day if he got out and did something right after he was up and ready. In this case, it meant showering, throwing on some basketball shorts, dragging Josh out of bed, and then whooping his ass on the court.

It never even occurred to Matt that he should take it easy on Josh. When it came to sports, there was no coddling, no mercy, no pity. It was rough shoving and pouring sweat and straining muscles. The past didn’t matter, and neither did the future. It was only here and now, the ball, the court, the net.

Matt charged to the three-point line at the end of the court, quickly pivoted when Josh rushed him, barely dodged the steal, and threw the ball. It soared through the air, arced, fell—

“Hell yeah!” Mike yelled, pumping his fist as the basketball made that oh-so-satisfying swish! He grinned as Josh retrieved the ball from beneath the goal, scowling. “Come on, Josh! At least make me work for it!”

Josh flipped the bird at him, dribbling the ball with his free hand with a dark smirk on his features. “Whatever, man. You’re about to eat those words.”

“I don’t know,” Matt goaded, matching his smirk with one of his own as they circled one another, “Sounds like you’re all talk, Washington.”

To be fair, Josh put up a good fight. He could handle himself on the court, and he was fast. Unfortunately, he was playing against Matt, sports extraordinaire—not to brag or anything. He just didn’t stand a chance.

Matt called for the first break when he had a good thirty point lead and they crashed together on the nearby bench, catching their breath. Josh rested with his elbows on knees, head hanging and while he tried to catch his breath Matt dragged his backpack closer and fished out the water bottles he’d brought.

“Hey, man,” Matt panted, and he tossed one to him, not really caring if Josh caught it or not.

Luckily, Josh looked up just in time and barely caught it, most likely too exhausted to give Matt a proper dirty look. The next few seconds were filled with silence as they both swallowed down the icy water, the taste incomparable at that moment, before the air was once more filled with their harsh pants.

Matt leaned back against the bench, tossing one of his arms over the back. The sun was getting higher and more people were filing in; middle-aged moms power-walking with their strollers, proud owners walking their dogs, bikers—the usual. In about an hour the place would be useless and the court would be packed with punks playing around thinking that some Nike’s and a chain made them real G’s.

Matt glanced sidelong at Josh. Aside from the typical taunts, he’d been quiet. It was often hard for Matt to tell the difference between a normally quiet Josh and a disturbingly quiet Josh. He just didn’t know him like that. But he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to give him the opportunity to talk.

Matt leaned forward and nudged Josh. “Hey, how ya holdin’ up, man? Everything cool at home?”

Josh shrugged one shoulder, twisting the lid back on his water. “I’m all right. Found a decent combination of meds, so that’s good. My psychiatrist says I’m improving, so,” Josh unscrewed the cap and took another swig, “not all hope’s lost.” He smiled, but it was dark and humorless.

Matt frowned and considered the asphalt beneath his sneakers. Josh was definitely in a mood, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess why. Still, he hadn’t earned his reputation as a dumb jock for nothing, so he asked his next question with all the blissful ignorance that was expected of him.

“Sam come visit yet?”

Even from the corner of his eye, the change in Josh was obvious. His shoulders hunched forward slightly, shoulders nearly covering his ears, and the water bottle in his grip made a series of sharp, crinkling noises as it was crushed in a suddenly-too-tight grip.

“No,” Josh said flatly, the monotone betraying his turmoil more effectively than any scream.

Matt feigned obliviousness, even though privately he figured as much.

“Oh. That’s weird.” He picked his basketball up from it’s perch at his feet and spun it a few times.

Josh scoffed. “Not really. I’m sure she has better things to do than babysit the freak.”

That...that actually kind of pissed Matt off, and it took a lot to make him angry. Matt stopped the spinning of the basketball with the flat of his hand and deliberately set it down, picked up his water, unscrewed the lid, and poured the entirety of its contents over Josh’s head.

Josh sputtered, flinching away and off the bench. He stood just to the side of Matt and ran a hand down his dripping face, wiping inaffectively.

“What the hell—?!”

Matt stood up and jabbed a finger into Josh’s chest.

“You don’t get to throw a pity party after the stunt you pulled,” Matt interrupted without preamble, brown eyes flashing. Josh’s eyes darkened and he opened his mouth but Matt steam-rolled him. “Is that what you think this is? Babysitting? Do I look like a babysitter to you? No,” Matt made a cutting motion when Josh made to speak again, “Shut up. We’re friends, and if we weren’t I wouldn’t be here.”

Matt’s gaze went soft and his jabbing finger became a soothing, grounding grip high on Josh’s shoulder, thumb digging into his clavicle.

“We all care about what happens to you, Josh. And we’re doing this because you told Chris this is what you wanted. All of us, helping you. So that’s what you’ve gotta do again.”

Josh’s green eyes were filled with confusion. “Do what again?”

“Talk, man. Tell people what you want. It’s obvious you miss Sam, so do something about it. Go see her instead of sitting on your ass and hoping she’ll come back to you,” and here Matt had to pause and swallow, realizing the hypocrisy of his words when he remembered that despite her feelings about him, Josh had seen Emily more times than he had in the last month, but this wasn’t about him and he shoved away thoughts of her (always near) away so that he could get through to Josh. “You’ve waited long enough.”

Something Matt said must have been right because the earlier darkness had completely faded from Josh's gaze and he smiled slightly.

“Maybe you’re right.”

Matt grinned and clapped Josh’s shoulder. “Of course I’m right. I’m always right.” He released Josh and retrieved his basketball. He spun it on his finger for a second and sent Josh a decidedly evil smile. “And I always win. Now, are you ready to get ass beat, or what?”

He walked backwards to the court, dribbling the ball the whole way, brows raised challengingly.

“Thirty’s all right, but I’m feeling a fifty-point lead,” Matt taunted.

“Oh, you’re full of shit,” Josh said, jogging over, a feral grin on his face. “Thirty points, my ass.”

“Oh, it’s about to be your ass, Washington,” Matt promised with a laugh. Josh looked better than before, focused and full of purpose and Matt was glad that he seemed to have made a breakthrough.

Thank God. It was getting a little too mushy for his taste.

Chapter Text

 

Sam breathes a sigh of relief when she’s let out of the interrogation room.

Interview room, she means, although it’s hard to see the difference right now.

As the metal door swings shut behind her with an ominous click, another one is opening to her right and out comes Mike, looking world-weary and seconds from passing out. Their eyes meet and while they don’t have it in them to smile, a moment of peace passes as they acknowledge that they’re finally, truly, safe.

Raised voices make Sam look away to where at the end of the hall another officer, Chris, Josh, and Officer Roy are clustered together, all regarding Josh with a mix of worry and anxiousness.

Sam and Mike make their way over and she catches the tail-end of the discussion.

“—e just needs his meds. Have you called his parents?”

Chris has a steadying grip on Josh’s shoulder, features pinched. Josh looks like he’s fading fast, his bruised and bloody face devoid of expression and his lips slightly parted. He’s swaying.

Frowning, Sam walks right in their midst and to Josh’s other side, pulling his arm over her shoulders and wrapping an arm around him. He twitches, but doesn’t otherwise acknowledge her.

“How’s he doing?” Sam asks Chris. He shakes his head, glancing at Josh and quickly away again as if the sight is painful.

“Not good. He freaked out during the interview but now he’s not talking.”

Sam looks between the two officers. “Is there somewhere he can sit down?”

“Of course,” the unfamiliar officer answers, stepping forward. “Follow me.”

“What about—?” Chris starts.

“We already have people contacting your parents. As soon as we hear back, we’ll have answers for you.”

Down the hall takes them past more than a few offices and Sam has to grit her teeth when every head turns, when curious, judging eyes watch their every breath and whispers spread and rise across the precinct, mouths hidden behind clipboards and hands.

‘We’re not a show!’ Sam wants to yell, but it’s the exhaustion talking, she knows, so she focuses instead on keeping Josh in her arms, unsteady and silent, counting their footsteps and listening to the officer's shoes click sharply on the concrete floor.

Their escort stops at an open doorway and gestures them inside.

“The break room is yours for the time being. Make yourselves comfortable and let any of us know if there’s anything we can do to help.”

“Thanks,” Mike tells him, and the man nods before walking away, leaving them to themselves.

Chris and Sam shuffle in to see a decently-sized room with a large, circular table pushed to one side beneath an old tv mounted up high in the corner. The far wall is one long counter, broken only by a fridge, where papers and a coffee machine wait.

At the table sits Ashley and Jessica. Huddled together on a leather bench on the opposite side is Matt and Emily. All of them have bright orange blankets over their shoulders, and a steaming cup in their hands.

“Chris!” The loud, sharp scrape of the metal chair makes Josh flinch and look up, blinking. Eyes only for Chris, Ashley runs to him, tears spilling down her cheeks.

Chris looks to Sam and when she nods, he lets go of Josh to meet her, embracing her before they separate far enough to see the other’s face, Ashley’s voice nearing shrill while Chris mutters soothing words and runs his hands up and down her arms.

Behind them, Mike ghosts past and speed-walks to Jessica who rises, shakily.

“Mike,” she breathes, then they’re holding each other, Jessica’s hands clinging tight to Mike’s shirt as he strokes the back of her head, the red of his bandages glistening in the harsh fluorescent lights.

“Sam!”

Sam tears her gaze away from the display as Emily approaches, Matt her silent shadow. In her arms are more blankets that she holds out when she draws to a stop.

“Here,” she hands over one of the folded blankets to Matt and shakes out the other one. Sam cautiously separates herself from Josh, making sure he doesn’t collapse, before she takes the fabric Emily holds out for her.

“Thanks,” Sam says, pulling it over her shoulders.

Emily nods, her mouth pinched as she takes her in. “I can’t believe you went back down into that hell-hole.” She takes the last blanket from Matt’s hold and roughly shoves it into Josh’s chest, looking at him as if he’s a bug she’d like to grind beneath her heel.

He stumbles back a step at the force, watching Emily with alarm and apprehension, barely catching the bright fabric.

“You better fucking appreciate it,” Emily tells him icily, her eyes flashing.

Josh cringes away from the naked contempt in her gaze and words, clutching the blanket tightly to his chest.

“Hey,” Sam steps between them, a hand on Josh's chest and her other raised warningly, “None of that. It’s been a long night, and we’re all tired and stressed. Let’s not fight.”

Anger still burns bright in her eyes but Emily relents, reaching up to draw the blanket more firmly around her.

“Whatever.” Emily brushes past them and out of the room, the shock blanket fluttering as regally as a cape behind her. Matt sighs, then gives Sam a tiny smile.

“I’m glad you both made it back.” He even looks hard at Josh, so that he knows he means it, and the gesture makes the sides of her mouth twitch up.

“Thanks, Matt.”

Matt jerks a thumb at the counter. “There’s hot coffee if you want it. I know it made me feel a hell of a lot better,” he suggests, and then he follows Emily out, half-jogging to catch up.

Sam glances at the others, but for a moment they’re caught up in each other and the tantalizing smell of coffee is too good to ignore. She almost reaches for Josh’s hand before she reminds herself that there’s no need now, no deadly mines to guide him out of and there’s plenty of friends around to support him. Josh needs watching, and comforting, not coddling.

She faces Josh and when he keeps his eyes on the ground, jaw working, she delicately reaches out and tugs the blanket from his vice grip. He lets go reflexively and she can feel his gaze burning holes on her face as she unfurls it and stretches her arms out to throw it over him. She has to stand up on her tip-toes a bit as she bring it around, but she very firmly doesn’t look at his face, now so close.

She brings the two ends around him and tugs them down, feeling comforted seeing Josh taken care of. Josh grasps the two tails when she steps back and if he’d been anyone else, she would say he looked almost...shy. Definitely uncertain.

“You want something warm to drink?”

“...Yeah.”

Like the trauma victims they are, they shuffle over to the coffee machine and Sam pulls out two styrofoam cups from the overhead cupboards. She fills her cup a little over halfway, knowing she’s about to add an unhealthy amount of sugar and cream, and glances at Josh as she pours his.

“How do you like yours?” The absurdity of the moment suddenly hits her and it feels like she’s in a paradox, a sudden bubble of incongruity where asking Josh how he like his coffee is as natural as breathing, as if he hadn’t spent the better part of a year planning how he would torment her, as if things tonight had played out very differently and they’ve just woken up and maybe she’s wearing one of his shirts as she pours his drink, yawning behind her hand as dawn’s light pierced through the windows and even though he’s just as tired, he can’t help but smile at her and she smiles back, heart swelling with love and affection—

Sam has to stop pouring because she’s shaking all over. The image is heart-breaking because it feels so real yet so completely unattainable and Jesus Christ, she just wanted to like a boy and not have to deal with all this complete and utter shit.

“Black.”

The word snap Sam out of her tumultuous thoughts and she concentrates on how Josh is staring into the cup she just finished pouring, expression once more wiped clean. It takes her a moment to understand why he’s listing colors, but he reaches over and takes the cup, steam billowing over his face, and he tips it back, chugging it down like it’s refreshing water after days in the desert and not scalding hot and bitter.

“Whoa!” Sam pulls Josh's hand down, forcing the cup away from his lips. “That’s really hot! Be careful.”

His lips are red, but other than that he doesn’t show any sign of having even felt it even though just touching the pot is hot enough to burn.

His eyes on her are dark, darker than she’s ever seen, half-lidded and dilated, and even though Sam hasn’t feared him once tonight, not since he took off the mask, she feels nervous now because this is a look she has never, ever seen before.

A thought occurs to her, insidiously spreading icy horror throughout every inch of her.

Who is looking at her, right here, right now?

Josh? ...Or something else?

Chapter Text

The sun was too bright.

Jessica groaned into wakefulness, blindly searching for her blanket. The sun pained her even with her eyes closed and one of her headaches started up again, a vice-gripped pressure just behind her eyes that made consciousness a chore.

Blinking, she pulled her covers over her shoulders and reached to the bedside table where her pills and a room-temperature glass of water awaited her.

The headaches were routine these days. Anything and everything seemed to trigger them, from half-remembered dreams to focusing too long and hard on the simplest of things; the TV, loud noises, a memory…

She tried to stay calm and relaxed, if not a bit distant, like the doctor said, and as a result the days tended to blur together if nothing really significant happened. It was scary at times, waking in bed and suddenly realizing she was eating dinner with her mother or across town with Mike hours later with no idea what happened in between. But those close to her understood her condition and were good at soothing her and filling in the blanks.

There were constants, thankfully, that served to keep her grounded. Her mother, of course. Mike and Sam. Josh. As long as she had them, she knew she would get better.

The throbbing in her temples seemed to worsen with every passing second and Jessica fumbled with the small container, the pills rattling against the plastic.

After a small struggle Jessica managed to pry open the lid and she took the pills with quick, practiced ease, swallowing them down gratefully.

“Ugh,” she moaned, shuffling back under the blankets. She’d get out of bed later, maybe when the sun had set…

“Jessie, sweetie?”

Suppressing a frustrated noise, Jessica called back, “Yes, mom?”

The click of her door sounded and Jessica pulled the blanket from her eyes, blearily trying to meet her mother’s gaze as she came in and stopped at her bedside.

Looking down at her fondly, Jessica’s mother reached out and ran her fingers through the hair on her forehead. She looked older, more tired since Jessica had come back, and her pretty blonde hair had more gray in it than before. But she still snarked with the best of them, and she still called her Jessie even though she knew how much Jessica hated the nickname.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m headed to work.”

“Mm,” Jessica nodded, letting her eyes flutter closed for a moment as she felt the feather-light brush of lips across her forehead. “Bye, Mom,” she told her quietly around a yawn.

Jessica’s mother stilled, and a strange expression flitted across her features. She looked...uncomfortable? Maybe a bit sad, and Jessica’s eyes widened at the sight. That look , it happened every so often when she’d gotten something wrong, when she didn’t say or do something the old Jessica would have done and her mom always looked as if she were mourning her daughter all over again even though she was right there in front of her.

Visibly shaking off the moment, Jessica’s mom gave her a strained smile and left, leaving Jessica alone.

Nervousness chased away the last of her drowsiness and Jessica rose to a sitting position, eyes darting to the cellphone on the table. She thought about calling Mike, inviting him over, but…

Jessica pursed her lips and squeezed the blankets pooled around her tightly.

She had promised herself that she wouldn’t rely so heavily on the others. If she didn’t start taking charge of her life then she’d always have to have someone nearby to hold her hand and treat her like the invalid they all assured her she wasn’t. She could do this.

‘Shower,’ Jessica thought. One step at a time.

In the bathroom, the cold tiles seeped into her skin as she shut the door and she shivered. She ran the shower quickly, breathing a sigh of relief when steam began to fill the room; these days, she wasn’t very fond of the cold.

She avoided the mirror as she brushed her teeth and was glad to turn away when she was done.

Jessica knew how ugly she’d become. She didn’t need the reminder.

Everything was going fine until she’d stripped of her clothes and stood in her underwear. Suddenly, her head ached and her shoulders itched, like—

being stabbed, hot blood trailing down her skin and glass digging deep, hair ripping from the roots—

Jessica wrenched herself from the phantom memory and braced her arm against the wall as she swayed. Her free hand came up to her forehead as another headache began to form.

“Stop,” she whispered to herself, as if she could repress the visions through sheer determination, “I don’t want to remember.”

She had no idea how much time had passed, but she only moved when she’d gained steadiness in her limbs and sweat began to bead on her skin. She grit her teeth.

She could do this.

She stepped into the shower and when she closed the curtain behind her she was abruptly in a small, safe space, where warm water soothed the last of the tension from her body and she could breathe easier. Her fingers combed back hair from her face and she let herself bask in the spray for a moment, content.

A solid minute passed before she decided not to push her luck on how much hot water she had left and she reached for the soap. Then, her vision tilted and fuzzed, went funny, and her hand looked suddenly different and she froze, knowing it wasn’t real but still she saw—

blood, scratches, welts on her hand as she reached, grasping clumps of dirt and snow, struggling to pull herself away, away, but a hand, too large—bony, like a skeleton coming to collect—grasps her ankle, too tight too tight, it hurts, everything, every where hurts, dragging her away, over rocks and branches that cut her skin, she screams but her throat is raw, something tears and she screams, help me mike please no stop please no mike help me save me help me save me pleasepleasepleaseplease—

Jessica screamed, panicked, and shoved the shower curtain open. Heart racing, those horrible images still imprinted in her mind, she scrambled out of the tub but her arm was tangled in the curtain. She tugged, but it—

won’t let go, milky unseeing eyes in the darkness on a grotesque, hollow face and it opens it’s mouth, screeching, showing long, pointed teeth, glistening with blood, her blood—

“NO!”

Completely consumed by the memory, Jessica raised a fist and punched, already knowing that the contact would only hurt her more than that thing —and encountered air instead.

The shock of it jarred Jessica enough that she snapped out of it, but not quick enough to catch herself as she fell.

Pain exploded on her side and face as she smacked into the tiled floor. She landed in a sprawl, head bursting into a full blown migraine. Water sprinkled on her legs as the curtain remained shoved away but it was the furthest thing from her mind.

Shame, frustration, anger, helplessness—it all bombarded her in a riot of tangled emotions and she covered her face as tears poured down her cheeks and deep, wracking sobs left her crying out for help that wouldn’t come. Not this time.

Why? she asked herself. Why did she have to be like this? Why couldn’t she be normal? Why did last month have to happen to her?

She hated herself. She hated this weak, pathetic baby that could only remember things when she tried to be a functional human being, things that made her nauseous and terrified and useless. She missed the old her, the real Jessica, who was confident and happy and beautiful and even when she wasn’t she could at least fake it. Now she was just a shadow of that girl, who had to sleep with the light on and had trouble remembering her own name at times.

Sometimes she wished she’d never come back.

Minutes or hours went by as she laid there, crying her heart out, but eventually the storm passed and exhaustion stopped her tears. The water in the shower had long since grown cold and she shivered on the ground, her legs soaked.

Cramped, Jessica levered herself up and winced at the creaks and pops her body made as she straightened. Her head was killing her, her nose was stopped up, and she just wanted to lay down and pretend today had never happened.

Sniffling, she turned off the water. It was with dismay that she finally noticed the water pool on the ground and she retrieved several towels from beneath the sink and covered the floor with them.

‘Can’t even take a shower without fucking up,’ she thought, her mouth twisting into a small self-deprecating smile.

Her body still ached from the fall, but a persistent throb on her face made her face her reflection in the mirror.

From cheek to temple an angry red bruise flowered on her skin. A dismayed noise left her as her as she tilted her head this way and that to see it better. Already she couldn’t help but think of her mother’s reaction when she saw it. Jessica would make her excuses and she had no doubt her mom would believe her, but the whole thing was so tiring. And who was to say she’d even remember how she’d gotten it in the first place?

Tentatively, she pressed the pads of her fingers to it and winced at the sore, tender feel. Leaning so close to the mirror, Jessica was forced to confront her scars.

Her right side was nearly untouched, with only a small inch-long scar on her cheek. The right side, however, was scoured in long, deep gouges, on her cheek and forehead, across her nose and through the corner of her lips. The bruising on her eyes had faded away, which lessened the amount of pitying looks she got on the street, but still....she looked like hell.

She brushed her fingers lightly against one of the marks. She used to be so pretty…

The tale-tell stinging of her eyes jerked her from the reverie and she snatched her hand away, breaking her gaze from the mirror. It was stupid crying over something she couldn’t help.

She grabbed one last towel and wrapped it around herself before she went to her bedroom, completely drained. She rummaged through her clothes and pulled on long socks, a thick pair of black leggings, and a turtleneck. Hyper-aware of the scars that stretched below her face, she felt hot, but more importantly, shielded from prying eyes and difficult reminders.

Jessica crawled onto her bed and curled on her side, blankly staring at the wall and waiting for sleep to claim her.

 

—[]-[]-[]—

 

Someone was calling her name.

Jessica struggled into wakefulness, thoughts fuzzy as she tried to place the voice. Her eyebrows drew together and she licked her lips.

“...Who…?”

“It’ me, Jess,” the Voice replied more clearly, and oh. Jessica rolled onto her back, squinting in the light and tiredly rubbing her face.

“Mike?”

Mouth open and usual half-smile on his face, Jessica blinked confusedly at him when he suddenly froze, staring at her.

“Jess,” he said, so softly it made her hackles rise. He reached out and gently brushed his fingers down the side of her face.

Surprisingly, the contact...hurt. Mike was hurting her? Jessica frowned. No, that wasn’t right. Mike would never hurt her. And he was barely even touching her; she wasn’t that fragile.

“What happened?”

Jessica’s eyes darted to Mike’s and she almost flinched away from the naked worry she saw. She wracked her mind, trying to remember…

She managed the shower, visions of blood and snow, all of it lines as she was pulled, the shower, cold, the floor, tiles, pain—

“It’s nothing,” Jessica said, pushing away—

the memories

—Mike’s hand and raising up, not meeting his eyes. A familiar self-loathing overcame her and she pursed her lips, clenching her hands in her blankets; she was definitely more awake now. “An accident. I’m fine.”

Had been any of the others, Sam or her mother, that wouldn’t have cut it. It would have been all soothing noises and gentle urging to share her thoughts, a cup of water and a long, stilted conversation on why she should talk more, couldn’t she see they couldn’t help if she didn’t talk?

Mike, however...Mike was different. Mike was calm and quiet, the steady rock her tumultuous waves beat against until the storm had passed. He didn’t say a word. He simply came closer and wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

Jessica took a shuddering breath, raising her hands to grip the fabric of his shirt, and buried her face against his neck. Mike’s hand ran soothing trails across her back and rested his head lightly on hers.

“It’s okay,” he mumbled. “It’s okay.”

Soon, the last of Jessica’s tension drained away and she broke the embrace, giving Mike and almost shy smile. He returned it before glancing down at the rest of her.

“What are you wearing, babe? It’s seventy degrees out.”

Jessica shifted, running a hand over the fabric of her knee. She shrugged.

“I don’t know, it’s comfortable.” She glanced at Mike and quickly away, shame coloring her tone though she tried to sound as disaffected as possible. “I just don’t want people staring at me today,” she confessed quietly.

“Hey, no,” Mike took one of her hands in his, swiping his thumb across her skin. “If anyone’s staring, it’s because they’re wondering how I landed myself a girl who’s so damn hot.”

Dismayed, Jessica looked into his eyes and tried to pull away.

“Mike, stop…”

“I’m not lying to you, Jess. You’re the hottest girl I know.”

A tiny traitorous part of her warmed at the praise but the rest of her refused to listen to his sweet lies, knew better.

“Mike,” she sighed deeply, suddenly feeling much older. She felt worn thin by weeks of insecurity that robbed her completely of the patience to hear any more. “I appreciate that you still try to make me feel better, I really do, but can you honestly look me in my eyes and say you actually think I’m attractive?” She didn’t give him a chance to speak however, eyes going hard, daring him to lie to her again. “Mike, I’m— deformed. I’m ugly and weak and, and I keep having these flashbacks like I’ve been through a war and I can’t sleep without a fucking night light—”  

“No.” Mike cut her off fiercely and seized her by the shoulders. “Don’t ever say that about yourself.”

Jessica swallowed, her heart quickening in her chest. Mike’s brown eyes were ablaze with fury, as if hearing her words had offended him. His hands smoothed down her upper arms before he laid one over her tightly clasped ones and raised the other to cradle the side of her face.

“You are as beautiful to me as the day I first met you. No,” he stopped her when she tried to look away, “You think I give a shit about some scars? I don’t, Jess. I love them.”

Jessica started, looking at Mike with wide eyes. When all she was met with was his firm, unwavering gaze, she ruthlessly squashed the butterflies and warmth the stirred in her belly, denial making the feeling curdle around the edges.

“No, Mike—” Distressed didn’t even begin to cover it.

“I mean it, Jess. I do. Every—,” his words hitched and Jessica ceased her struggle, shocked to see such naked emotion in him, in the way his eyes suddenly shined and how he seemed to wrestle with himself to keep his voice steady, “Every mark on your skin is proof that you never stopped fighting. That you kept trying to get back to me.”

Mike went quiet for a moment and Jessica was glad for it. She took a shuddering breath, her heart full to bursting with love and a bittersweet ache, eyes stinging.

Mike’s head bent for a moment as he looked at his hand over hers. Slowly, reverently, he raised her hand between them and traced the marks on her with a soft touch. Silence spread as he did so, and then he raised it higher and left featherlight kisses on them, one by one. Her breath caught and she was powerless to stop the first tear that spilled down her cheek.

“I thank God every day for each and every one,” he professed, glancing at her with something she didn’t dare name in his eyes.

Jessica huffed a breathless laugh as Mike leaned close and peppered kisses all over the right side of her face, where her scars were plentiful. Tears spilled freely down her cheeks and her eyes fluttered closed, basking in the tenderness of the moment and knowing at least somebody wasn’t disappointed with the person who came back down from Blackwood Mountain.

She leaned away slightly, only insofar that she could detach him from her forehead, then she kissed him properly. Her hand slid over his shoulders and held him close, wanting to express her gratitude, her thankfulness, her happiness .

Mike received her kiss enthusiastically, crushing her body to his as if he were afraid of losing her all over again. His hand slid from her back to the nape of her neck where it tangled in her hair, and she belatedly realized she hadn’t tied it up for the day. Still, Mike’s touch felt good there and she melted into the feeling, content and safe.

The kissing stretched on for a long time. Jessica had started out in need of comfort, but this embrace was to heal a bit of both of them. Mike was always so confident, always ready to take charge and lead and guide, that Jessica sometimes forgot that he had doubts, that he’d been hurt and scared just as much as the rest of them and had to deal with his own demons.

What was supposed to be a gentle, simple act of comfort was quickly evolving into something more desperate as Mike traced the seam of her mouth with his tongue in a cursory movement. Then he was there , stroking in and out with slow, lazy flicks of his tongue. Jessica hummed in pleasure, rubbing his chest through his t-shirt, thoroughly appreciating what she felt beneath it.

Their kiss unbroken, Mike wrapped his free arm around her waist and pulled her forward onto his lap, his hand on her hip holding her firmly and possessively in place. Jessica gave a startled giggle at the movement but found her mouth occupied too quickly for anything more. Not that she minded. She rotated her hips slightly, grinding down, and was rewarded with a low groan. She certainly didn’t need anymore proof that Mike found her attractive, not if the hardness she felt beneath her had anything to say about it.

Her heart was already racing, but her next thought nearly hard it tumbling out of her chest.

‘Oh, God. Is it happening?’

Sex hadn’t been a priority since they’d been back stateside, and even before….well, they’d both gone to Blackwood with the unspoken understanding that the romantic backdrop of a snow-kissed cabin would be the perfect setting for their first time together. It was with more than a little bitterness that she regretted that it hadn’t happened. Ever since, when it came to romance they were strictly at kissing and over the clothes touching, Mike treating her like spun glass and Jessica very much feeling like it.

But now that particular problem didn’t seem like it was going to stay a problem. Not for long.

Mike’s hands drifted to the hem of her sweater and lifted it slightly, fingers greedily caressing the skin there. He broke the kiss and attacked her neck, licking a long stripe she arched with, sinking her teeth into her lip at the feel of. The heat of him was consuming her and suddenly she resented her clothes, these hot, stifling things that kept Mike from her, and then all thoughts were shot when Mike suddenly bit down, hard.

“Ah!” Convulsively, Jessica twitched and her hand on Mike’s shoulder squeezed while the other, resting on his head, grasped a handful of thick dark hair and pulled.

Fuck, Jess,” he grunted against her ear and she shivered at the feel of it. Mike groaned again, but this time he sounded pained, reluctant. “Shit, no. We have to stop,” he murmured, although that didn’t stop him from giving her waist a squeeze, from placing another kiss on her neck.

“Mm,” Jessica sighed, eyes sliding shut. “Why…?” she asked, sliding a hand between him to press against the muscles she felt there before teasingly tracing the top of his pants.

Mike sucked in a sharp breath and pulled back far enough to see her face. Jessica arched a brow and continued her stroking, licking her lips as she took in his disheveled hair and blown pupils. He swallowed at the sight of her, as if her bedhead and turtleneck affected him as much as he affected her.

He opened his mouth, hesitated, then darted forward and stole another hard kiss before separating himself forcefully like she was a temptation that took every bit of resistance he could muster to deny her.

“We—” Mike glanced away at Jessica and quickly away, no doubt to keep focus, “Sam. We’re supposed to meet Sam.”

Jessica pouted but relented.

“Fine,” she complained, letting her hand fall away from him. She didn’t even try to hide her disappointment as they both clambered off her bed. They had been so close, too…

Mike chuckled and leaned over. Jessica met him halfway and they shared a slow, sweet kiss, a cooldown after all the heat of before.

Mike stroked her cheek, searching her, and Jessica wondered what he saw. His smile stayed, but something was changing it, giving it a deeper meaning.

“Soon,” he murmured lowly, a promise.

His brown eyes were dark with desire and Jessica’s heart lurched in her chest, excitement and nerves making her toes curl in the carpet.

Soon.

 

—[]-[]-[]—

 

When Sam answered the door, Jessica frowned.

Sam...Sam looked awful. There were dark, bruise-like bags beneath her eyes and her skin looked abnormally pale, a disturbing look on a girl who hiked and biked and swam and generally soaked in the sun every chance she could get.

Even more telling, she didn’t even notice Jessica was frowning, which was a big enough flag that Jessica found herself really worrying about her friend. Before, when she and Mike had told Josh they were worried about her, she’d hoped they hadn’t been too dramatic. Now she felt as if they hadn’t stressed it enough.

Mike and Sam were smiling at each other and Jessica wondered if maybe it was just her.

“Hold on, let me just grab my wallet,” Sam said, ducking back inside her dark apartment to grab her things. As she turned away Jessica glanced up and saw Mike’s easy smile fall into a worried grimace, and felt both reassured and guilty for feeling that way. He smoothed away the expression when Sam joined them in the hallway and locked up behind her.

“Let’s go.”

Jessica was certain Sam couldn’t sense it, worn out as she seemed, but there was a fine sort of tension during the car ride, just beneath their conversation and smiles, there in the too often glances Mike would send Sam’s way when she wasn’t paying attention, there in the bite of Jessica’s lips to keep herself from simply blurting out her misgivings.

It was a relief to arrive at the park. The sun would be setting in a few hours and the park was crowded but not too crowded, with just enough people to blend in but not enough to be overwhelming.

They decided to simply walk around at first, and with the sun and good company easing the rigid line of Sam’s shoulders, they took turns sharing what they’d been up to since last they’d met, about family and jobs and student loans. They moved away from the last topic quickly; they already had enough depressing things to dwell on.

Despite Sam’s condition, it was nice. They laughed and teased, shoved and hugged, and altogether felt a little bit like the teenagers they were before last month had happened.

“Hey, look,” Mike said, pointing with the hand over Jessica’s shoulder. “Free table.”

The three of them piled into the wooden picnic table before someone else could take it and Jessica sighed happily to herself, stretching her legs beneath it. It had taken some cajoling, but she was outside in a skirt and t-shirt and feeling very thankful for it beneath the heat of a merciless California sun. Mike was so good to her.

A sudden growl cut through her thoughts and Jessica’s head jerked up, eyes wide.

The sound was like....an angry cat being stepped on. Mike had the same bewildered expression on, staring at Sam, who was blushing furiously. She rubbed her upper arm, hunching herself self-consciously.

“Uh, sorry?” she said sheepishly. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was…”

Mike laughed and Jessica joined him, and after a pause Sam did too, shaking her head in embarrassment.

Mike stood from the table when they were done. “Don’t worry, Sam, you won’t starve on my watch. You like pretzels?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Great! You want one, babe?” Jessica scrunched her nose up at him and he rolled his eyes affectionately. “Right, I forgot about your thing. I’ll make sure it's unsalted, you animal.”

Jessica giggled as Mike ran off across to where a vendor stood patiently waiting beneath his little umbrella, appreciating the view as he left.

Sam was regarding her with a knowing smirk and an arched brow when she finally turned back in her seat, and while she blushed at getting caught, she didn’t stop the impish smile from stretched across her face either. Sam simply chuckled at the sight and looked away, shaking her head again as if at the folly of youth.

But even smiling couldn’t hide how unhealthy Sam looked, how she subconsciously seemed to try to make herself smaller at every opportunity and sometimes needed them to repeat themselves every so often because she’d drifted into her thoughts, or entered a state of near-dozing.

Jessica uncomfortably wondered if this was what it was like for everyone to deal with her. And with that thought came clarity.

“It’s the nightmares, isn’t it?”

For the first time Sam seemed to jerk into full wakefulness, eyes wide and posture stiff.

“What? No, of course not,” she told Jessica, waving her arm in a dismissive wave. “I’m fine.” Her green eyes softened. “What about you? And your mother? She still working those late shifts at the hospital?”

She was good, too good. Jessica opened her mouth and a reply, ‘yeah, it’s no big deal, I know she’s doing it for the money and not to avoid me’, had been on the tip of her tongue before she recognized the questions for the deflections they were.

“Sam, it’s okay if you’re having them, no one’s going to judge—”

“Seriously, Jess, quit it.” Sam’s voice was stern, her hand on the table clenched tightly before she visibly made herself relax it. “I’m a little stressed, is all, okay? Work and school and all that. No big deal, so stop worrying.” There’d been a hint of warning at the end of her little defense and Jessica knew Sam enough not to push.

Jessica slouched against the table with an irritated huff, pillowing her cheek on her hand and agitatedly bouncing her knee up and down.

Tried to help, and see where it got her? Awkward silence, which she hated. If this was how Sam coped, well, who was she to force her to talk? Jessica despised when others made her open up and it was selfish of her to expect someone else to do the same.

The silence stretched, neither girl looking at one another, and it would have been infinitely more unpleasant if they weren’t as good friends as they were.

Instead of focusing on it, Jessica found her thoughts drifting to Josh and what he’d said before…

The exact memory eluded her and she frowned, trying to recall his words.

“Oh, yeah,” she muttered to herself, and then, louder, “Josh says he misses you.”

Jessica glanced over in time to see Sam’s surprised expression, her wide eyes and even wider mouth, opening and closing several times before snapping shut. A dark look suddenly came over her normally bright features and she murmured under her breath, in a bitter little voice she obviously didn’t think Jessica would catch, “Sure he does.”

“I come bearing gifts!” Mike announced as he approached them, arms ladled with several foam food containers.

As if it had never left, Sam’s smile was back, although now that she’d seen through it for just a moment, Jessica couldn’t help but think it looked horribly fake.