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The Other Road

Chapter Text

The airplane touched down in Georgia, and Matthew sighed. He hated flying. It always fouled up his senses for a bit, making his balance feel off. He quickly grabbed his hastily packed bag from the overhead bin and went directly to rent a car. He was almost glad for the terrible Atlanta traffic as he barely moved along the highway. His destination wasn’t exactly his favorite place in the world.

It took a few hours to reach Pollet’s Gulch. The roads were still dirt, the town a mundane backwater so boring that he half expected it to be in black and white instead of color. Matthew could probably still name everybody who lived here. Not much had changed, and that disturbed him. He wanted to have moved beyond this stilted little town, but it was always going to be where he was from. The past was always going to have happened. It couldn’t be changed.

He drove aimlessly for a while even though he knew where they would probably be. The trailer was long gone, sold after his father died and eventually burning down from a cooking fire that thankfully hadn’t killed anyone. The empty lot still had a scalded look even years later. Mrs. Pankhurst had died as well, and her grandson had taken over the farm, so the old barn where he had eavesdropped on Eric and Jessamine was padlocked and had a very large sign on it warning trespassers about a guard dog who was, in actuality, an overgrown Golden Retriever puppy. The only place left was one he had absolutely no good memories about, but there was plenty of unfinished business in it.

Matthew parked his car in front of the old Cortland house and looked around for his brother’s bike. Sure enough, just within a stand of trees close to the drive, he caught the glint of chrome. It wasn’t the same bike from so many years ago, but Matthew knew it was Eric’s from the moment he laid eyes on it. He took a deep breath, nervous and feeling twelve years old again. He wasn’t sure exactly how this would turn out.

He took a little longer than absolutely necessary to lock the car and put the keys in his pocket before walking towards the front door. No signs of the bizarre struggle that had taken place here two decades ago remained to the naked eye, though in a few places the grass was withered in patterns that might have matched the path of the dragon. On the other hand, it could just be kudzu. He’d gotten so used to expecting the bizarre and unnatural that sometimes he missed the obvious explanations.

The house itself was abandoned, a wreck of the fine mansion it had once been. Kids had shot out some of the windows with BB guns, the shrubs had grown into bizarre shapes, shingles were falling from the roof, and he would bet good money there was no electricity. Still, a glow came from one of the second floor windows. They were definitely there. His hand hovered next to the door, his thumb nervously rubbing his knuckles before he knocked.

That was when the door abruptly swung open on its own.

“I knew it was gonna be you!” said a voice that was deeper than he remembered it, and he found himself enveloped in a crushing bear hug. “I told you I’d come back!”

“Twenty years later,” Matthew started to say, but as he drew back from his brother, his jaw dropped. “You’re… you’re…”

He stared into a perfectly normal face. If he squinted, he could even see the boy Eric had once been.

“I’m not Brad Pitt, I grant you, but it’s a hell of an improvement,” Eric said with a grin.

“But how?” Matthew asked.

“That’d be you, baby brother,” Eric said, ruffling his hair like when they were kids. “When you sent the necklace, it started to repel the effects from that night. Then when I met up with Jessamine again, she was able to undo the rest of the curse.”

Matthew said nothing, only stared in wonder. He was so happy for his brother that he didn’t trust himself to speak.

“Jess!” Eric called over his shoulder and up the stairs. “It’s him! I told you he’d show up!”

Matthew heard a clatter of high heels in the upstairs hallway and then saw her coming down the stairs, still gloriously pretty, maybe with just the slightest touch of something not quite human about her, a flicker of magic in her eyes. She was smiling, and her perfectly applied red lipstick only magnified the effect.

“Oh, don’t gloat, Eric,” she said, rolling her eyes as she came forward to hug him as well. “He’s been predicting you’d be here any minute for the last day and a half.”

“Well, don’t just stand there on the porch. Come in,” Eric said.

The house’s inside wasn’t much better than the outside, though someone had obviously dusted off the couch and a table and a few other things. Dozens of candles littered the entryway, enough so Matthew wondered how he’d missed their light as he drove up.

“Planning on burning the place down?” he said as took them all in.

“Actually, yes,” Jessamine said, “but not yet.”

Matthew blinked in surprise.

“We need to clean up the last of the negative residual energy in this place, and considering the stuff that went on in here, razing it to the ground is really our best bet,” Jessamine explained, giving the room a sour look. “It’s not much of a loss, and don’t worry, we’ll be safe about it. No one will get hurt.”

Matthew winced slightly, remembering the officer who had been accidentally killed at the crypt during their previous chase. Most of the department was still convinced that the perpetrator, who no one knew was his brother, was guilty of murder. He was sure it hadn’t been intentional, but that didn’t make the man any less dead or the other officers any less angry.

One glance at Eric made Matthew realize he was thinking about the same thing, and Jessamine seemed to pick up on it as well, though she hadn’t been present when that part happened.

“I know we can’t stay,” Eric said. “I really didn’t mean for that to happen. I didn’t know he’d try to shoot the chandelier.”

Matthew believed him. What exactly a chandelier had been doing in a crypt in the first place was another question, but it was the crashing weight of the crystals that had killed the man. An accident. A stupid, horrible, unavoidable accident.

“No one would recognize you as the person from that night now,” Matthew said. “At least, I don’t think so.”

“Probably, but it doesn’t feel right,” Eric said. “We've decided to leave the country, though, just to be safe.”

“Where will you go?” Matthew asked.

“Jessamine knows a lot of places, don’t you babe?” Eric said, and it sounded like an inside joke.

"Way too many," she said. “When my mother’s curse hit me that night, it made me start, well, for lack of a better term, popping,” she said.

“Popping?” Matthew asked.

“In and out of places without any pattern,” Jessamine said. “I never got to stay anywhere longer than a couple of days before I’d suddenly disappear from one spot and reappear somewhere else, usually someplace really obscure: suburbs in the Midwest, islands in the Pacific, the middle of a desert, mountaintops, rain forests, Antarctica a few times, the Australian Outback, an actual Outback restaurant’s kitchen, the lower levels of a battleship in the Mediterranean, you name it, it happened. The whole point was to make it so I could never set down roots anywhere. I was never in any one place long enough to have a friend, a job, a home, nothing. Complete isolation. I nearly went crazy.”

Matthew shuddered. When Mrs. Cortland had disowned her, she’d really down the job properly.

“It took me a long time to find you, but I knew you were out there,” Eric said, wrapping his arms around her from behind and kissing the side of her neck briefly. “Again, thanks to you sending me that necklace, kid.”

“Speaking of,” Matthew said, taking it out of his pocket.

Jessamine’s eyes widened in surprise.

“You left it at the crypt,” Matthew said. “Don’t worry. There’s a perfect replica of it still being studied back in California. The only difference is this is the one with the protection spell.”

“And the curse,” Eric said warily.

“It actually shouldn’t be a problem anymore,” Jessamine said. “The curse came into effect because two different sides of Tricot’s family tree were fighting over it. Now that the branches are bound together again, the necklace should be at rest.”

“Bound together?” Matthew asked.

“We got married in Vegas,” Eric said with a grin, and for the first time Matthew noticed the ring sparkling on Jessamine’s finger. “I guess that counts.”

Jessamine grinned at him. “Sure does.”

“So that’s it. The other Cortlands are gone, the curse is lifted, and it’s time for you guys to ride off into the sunset to wherever,” Matthew said.

“We’re thinking Fiji,” Eric said.

“Nice choice,” Matthew said approvingly, but he suddenly had the dizzying realization that everything he had worked for since he’d been a kid was done. He didn’t have a goal anymore, and soon, he wouldn’t have a family again either.

Jessamine looked at Eric out of the corner of her eye.

“Wait, you do realize we want you to come too, right?” Eric said.

“What?”

“You’re my only family left, baby brother. We’ve talked it over, and unless you’ve got somewhere else you want to be, we want you to come with us,” Eric said.

“Yeah, it’s not like I’ve got family falling out of trees either,” Jessamine said. "Actually, in my case, if I do, that's a pretty terrifying thought."

“On your honeymoon?” Matthew said, raising an eyebrow.

“Okay, so you’ll actually live down the road a piece,” Eric said. “Seriously, I’ve missed you, Matt. It’s time to come home.”

The words slowly lifted a weight Matthew had been carrying since that horrible day so long ago, and he felt like he could breathe for the first time in twenty years.

“Okay,” he said. “Yeah, yeah, okay. When?”

“Right after the big bonfire tonight,” Eric said. “Then, zoom, we’re outta this hellhole.”

Later that night, as he watched the green and blue flames climb towards the stars as they consumed the old Cortland house, Matthew looked over at his brother and his wife, their faces lit by the enchanted fire. The sapphires of the necklace glistened from their place on Jessamine’s throat, and Matthew could almost feel the last vestiges of the Cortlands’ vengeance melting like ice in the fire. It was finally over.

“Ready to go?” Eric asked both of them as the final embers died away and a stiff wind scattered the ashes so that no sign of the old house remained.

"But how?" Matthew asked.

"Now that I have the necklace, it'll be the easiest trip you've ever taken," she said.

They stood around the bike, and Jessamine took both of their hands, forming a circle. Matthew blinked and found himself and the others standing in brilliant sunshine on the side of a hill covered in tropical flowers and overlooking a deep blue ocean.

He was finally home.