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A Face of Gold, A Heart of Coal

Chapter Text

Luke is awake more than he is asleep.

Most nights are spent just like this one; staring up at ceiling in the dark but not really seeing it. Or seeing anything really. Anything other than power lines against the sky from the open grave he briefly shared with Robert Peach, drowning in his own blood.

'Taking a bloodbath,' a voice - a memory - that doesn't belong to him whispers giddily in the back of his mind. A wide grin delighting in Luke's discomfort, the stench of blood beneath decades old cologne, pale blue eyes watching his every move, every breath, just waiting to see what the "Mouse" will do next.

Max whines, tail thumping against the bed as the dog crawls closer and shoves his snout against Luke's neck. The coldness of it snaps him out of the fog in his mind, makes him relax his death grip on the sheets, and he forces himself to relax. The Peach family is dead, all that is left of them are bloody bits and pieces scattered in the tall grass. Well, there's Alice, but from what Zoe has told him, she's not really here anymore.

'So afraid of losing her mind and she lost it anyway,' Zoe had said and that had been the end of it; Luke understands not wanting to talk about family. Family that let you down, betrayed you. Family that you take one look at and find that you don't really know them and you're not sure if you ever did.

'Mouse.'

With a quiet groan, Luke shifts onto his side, careful of Max, and presses his face into his pillow.

The Peach family is dead - save for Alice - and they're not coming back. For the first time in years, Butcher's Block is safe. Safer. All the graffiti of their legacy has faded and been painted over. The only place they haunt anymore are people's memory.

'Mouse.'

Luke shoves his head beneath his pillow in a vain attempt to block out the sound of Robert Peach calling him by that annoying and condescending nickname. He hates it. Hates it like he hates the memory of his blood making the body under him feel warm and alive and close.

Robert Peach is dead, Luke reminds himself, eyes squeezing shut until there are spots blooming behind his eyelids. I killed him myself. I buried him. He's gone.

A prickle of unease claws its way up his spine as a breath (a breeze, he must've left the window open, forgot to close it) ghosts across the curve of his shoulder.

"Dead doesn't always mean 'gone', Mr. Mouse Man." Luke's eyes snap open at the sound of that familiar voice speaking in reality instead of just in his mind, in his memory. It's quiet, like sharing a secret and Luke can hear that damn grin in his voice. "Oh look, we match."

At the too real touch against the scar tissue on his neck, Luke scrambles away, falling off his bed in a flurry of limbs and blankets.

Max's head pops up over the edge of the bed; it's just the dog and Luke in here, in the dark.

Dread settles heavily in his stomach when he sees that the window is closed.

(He can hear the whistling coming from nowhere as it keeps in time with his rapid heartbeat.)

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It's like they're playing hide and seek, cops and robbers, and Louise and Nathan are just bystanders watching the game unfold.

(It's like Luke Vanczyk and Robert Peach are the only living people in the world, a world where a game of chase is the only thing that has any meaning.)

Fear and worry roll in Louise's stomach, following after Luke as he chases Robert Peach through the hospital halls. Fear, because she didn't like the look in Robert's eyes, the way he was completely focused on Luke and Luke alone, and worry because she's always known that the Bad has always had a habit of leaking out Butcher's block and spreading like an infection, but she's never dealt with it like this, never firsthand.

(Her brother had disappeared, gotten snapped up by the Peach family; she hadn't seen it herself, but she knew. She knew.)

Louise got so caught up in following after that she hadn't noticed Nathan falling further and further behind until the doors slid shut and refused to open.

"Go around," she tells Luke when Robert Peach holds a knife to Nathan's throat. She wants this game of chase to end without an innocent man being killed.

The look on Robert's face as he stares past her is one she wishes she could forget, to scrub from her memory.

(Like a schoolboy with a crush pulling on pigtails. Taunting. Teasing. Ripping out hair until he gets what he wants.)

But the look in Robert Peach's eyes as Luke leaves to find another way around, how his expression goes from anticipation to Nothing as he slits Nathan's throat... An icy chill skitters down her spine, makes the hair on her arms stand on end.

It was the loss of his audience, the only audience that mattered to him. Killing Nathan... it was almost like he was throwing a fit.

Alice and Zoe may have drawn out Joseph Peach, reminders and replacements for the daughters he lost, but something about Luke had drawn Robert's attention.

(The way he laughed once he had Luke's attention on him again is something that will haunt Louise, echoing at the edges of her dreams.)

It's not until later, when Louise is helping Luke scrub the blood from the backseat, that she realizes that Luke is drawn to Robert just as much as Robert was to him.

At the very least, she's relieved that no one will ever have to find out how deep that spiraling rabbit hole could've gone.

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After a week, Police Chief Arthur Vanczyk is declared missing.

Last known location: Butcher's Block. Please call if you have information.

(No one ever calls, except for Luke's brothers, asking him 'what happened?' and 'where's dad?')

After a month, his position is filled and life moves on. Luke's brothers still call but his answer never changes.

"I don't know."

It's not good, but it's the only one he can think to give; it's a given fact that Luke was never a creative liar, just like how he cares too much about everyone around him despite how much his dad had tried to smother that part of him over the years.

'You know what I like about you?' a far too familiar voice whispers in his mind, in his ear. 'You wear your heart on your sleeve, Mouse. An open book just waiting to be read.'

"Don't call me that," Luke says under his breath on reflex. He doesn't know why he does it, why he responds to the memory of a dead man his mind likes to conjure up.

The laughter that follows curls around him, uncomfortably warm and near delirious with how giddy it sounds.

Normally, anywhere else, that laughter would fit right in, but not here. Not here in the town of Gerrett, Michigan and definitely not in the middle of Medallion Park.

Not in the heart of Butcher's Block.

The tops of the tall grass tickle his palms as he goes, the too warm, muggy summer air making him tired. Almost as if Medallion Park is trying to lull him to sleep, but there's nothing left here for it to feed; not even stray animals willingly come here and the birds all stay away. There's no immediate threat anymore, but the land has been marked in its own way. At least, that's what Louise tells him.

'Decades of murder and cannibalism doesn't just clear up overnight. The whole neighborhood will remember it far longer than people will,' Louise had said one night on the back porch. 'Shit like that... it tends to stick around.'

'In more ways than one,' the voice of Robert Peach whispers the way someone who's sharing a secret with a lover would, and it makes Luke grit his teeth. Even in death this guy won't leave him alone.

"Y'know, for a figment of my imagination you really don't know how to mind your own business," Luke replies, glad for once that Todd elected to stay in the car. It's one thing to talk to himself in the dead of night, it's another to do so during the day where anyone could hear him.

'You mean like how you did? Let's not pretend we both don't know how much of a Nosy Nellie you really are, Mouse.'

With a sigh, Luke keeps his mouth shut and keeps going.

Going and going until he comes across the rusted playground.

'Ah, if only the old family home was still there,' Robert Peach laments mockingly. 'You should've seen the basement, Mouse. I think you would've gotten a real kick out of it, considering what you did to me in Ms. Lispector's.'

Luke's stomach twists in disgust. "Can you just—not?"

'Oh come now, no need to be shy. We've shared a grave and blood after all.'

Scowling and intent on ignoring the figment of his imagination, Luke steps forward, over an invisible threshold so he's standing where the house once did. Between one blink and the next, the playground is replaced by polished wood floors and wallpaper that would be considered tacky by today's standards. Ice slithers down his spine despite the heat from the crackling fireplace.

This isn't right. This isn't normal.

"You live in Gerrett. If you wanted normal you should've left, Mouse."

Swallowing thickly, Luke shuts his eyes, doesn't turn around.

"You'll have to face me sometime," the too real voice says, and it sounds amused.

"No I don't. You're dead."

That gets a laugh. "Not quite. Look at me."

Luke doesn't budge. Doesn't so much as crack an eye open, doesn't want to see because if he does then—

"Look at me, Mouse."

His eyes snap open when the voice comes from in front of him instead of behind, when he can feel warmth radiating a bare few inches from him, and Luke is met with piercing blue that is distinctly Too Real.

"There you are," a very real looking Robert Peach says, an odd yet familiar glint in his eyes.

Chapter Text

Panic has him in a chokehold.

This can't be real.

His immediate reaction is to step away, but Robert Peach's hands shoot out quick as a snake, dragging Luke back in by his wrists. Which ruins the denial that had been trying to rise up his throat. The specter in front of him is far too calm and still for his liking.

Watching and waiting.

"How?"

It's shaky, like a newborn calf learning to walk, and out in the open between them without any thought. Or maybe too much thought. There's so much he still doesn't understand about what happened, but he does understand the warmth of Robert Peach's hands that practically burns him to even acknowledge.

This isn't unresolved trauma haunting him.

Because reality doesn't work this way, but the Peach's never cared much for following the rules of something like that.

"Isn't it obvious, Mouse?" Robert asks, deceptively soft tone at odds with the iron grip he keeps on Luke's wrists, thumbs rubbing circles into the backs of his hands versus the ever present smug expression. Though now it looks more indulgent than anything else, as much as it pains Luke to even think it. "I'll give you a hint: go to our grave."

"That's not really a hint," Luke manages to say without stumbling over the words.

"You're right. It's not." The conspiratorial way he says it like they're both in on whatever the hell is happening makes Luke's body sway a little bit closer, drawn in like a moth to the flame. "But let's make a game of it."

Dangerous words.

Luke should refuse. He knows he should, just like he knows that he won't get any answers unless he accepts, but that would be playing right into whatever trap Robert Peach is making. And Robert, the smug bastard, is getting a kick out of Luke's obvious dilemma.

Then again, Luke's never been good at ignoring bad ideas.

That infuriating glint returns to Robert Peach's eye, like he knows he's got Luke - hook, line, and sinker.

"Bring a shovel," he says before finally releasing Luke. As he takes a step back, the house falls away and Luke is standing in the middle of Medallion Park once more, alone.

Well... as alone as Luke Vanczyk can be.