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Silence Lay Steadily

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No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there walked alone.

 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

David heard the scream before he realized it came from his mouth. The sound was loud and shrill, and it vibrated around in his ears like feedback from a microphone at his family’s annual Christmas party. He watched the edge of his bed, but there was nothing there. There’s nothing there. There’s nothing there.

Alexis bounded over within seconds, abandoning her bed to jump onto David’s like she planned to tackle whatever he was staring down single-handedly. Despite being five years younger, she was the braver of the Rose siblings — sometimes, David wondered if she was literally fearless (while he was anxious enough for the both of them).

Next came Adelina, who walked through the door like he’d called for her specifically — though, considering her job description, it was not a stretch to say he did. She looked around the room, then sat opposite Alexis on the edge of David’s bed.

“Him again?” she asked, and David nodded.

The ‘Man With the Trench Coat’ had appeared at the foot of David’s bed almost every night since they’d moved in. The figure hadn't said a word, not once; it just stared, dark eyes boring down on David like it was waiting for him to do something… but, every time, David froze. He couldn't so much as wiggle his fingers until it evaporated— always just as quickly as it'd appeared, leaving nothing but fear in his wake.

“You remember what we talked about before?” Adelina asked gently. “About dreams?”

David chewed on his bottom lip. “They can spill.”

His nanny nodded, reaching over to pat his tiny hand. “That’s right, mijo. Just like a cup of water can spill sometimes. But kids’ dreams are special, remember? They’re like…”

“…An ocean!” Alexis chimed from her side of the bed.

“Right, mija, an ocean,” Adelina agreed. “And the big dreams can spill out sometimes.”

David looked at her hand, covering his, and he frowned; it didn't feel like a dream. Sometimes, the man in the trench coat felt more real than anything else in the house.

“When can we go home?” he asked.

Adelina sighed, gently coaxing him back under the blankets. “In September, mijoin time for school next year.” She tucked the comforter up around his chin, then kissed his head. “Go back to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

As she scooped Alexis up and tucked her back in, David curled up beneath his blankets. Even as he drifted off to sleep, it didn't feel like a dream. He could hear the house breathing, its lungs creaking into the steady silence of the night.

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

David’s Uber pulls up to the driveway at the Hill House Hotel, and his stomach twists itself into a knot just at the sight of it. Not for the first time since getting the news, he considers homelessness as an alternative to walking back into that monster masquerading itself as a house.

“You, uh, gonna get out, dude?” his driver asks after a moment, and David realizes he hasn’t moved. “I got a gig to get to. Y’know, I’m a part-time DJ, so—”

With a clipped, “Sorry, I’m going,” David unbuckles his seatbelt and exits the car to avoid hearing the rest of that sentence. (He’s already in a horror story, thankyouverymuch.) Once he’s retrieved the two suitcases that carry his only remaining belongings, the driver shifts into reverse and backs away, leaving David alone with the house that has literally haunted his dreams since he was a kid.

He’d expected it to be less imposing now. That’s what Dr. Lee had told him during one of their last sessions at the center. Everything looks big when you’re small, right? A bunch of bricks can’t possibly be as scary as he described. Standing here now, though, David can confidently say that Hill House is just as intimidating now as it was back then — maybe even more so, now that he knows what waits for him inside. It towers over him, blocking the light from the sun and covering him in shadow. If that isn’t a metaphor for something, he doesn’t know what is.

As he stands, frozen, the porch light begins to flicker slowly — on, off, on, off. And it’s with a sharp ache in his chest that David remembers Adelina’s rule. He can hear her voice in his head saying, “Porch light means it’s time to come home.”

Well, now he’s home.

Clenching his jaw, David takes a sharp breath through his nose and walks up the drive, dragging his suitcases behind him. He’s halfway to the door when he hears a quiet tapping sound, like a fingernail against the glass. He stops and scans the windows he can see on the first floor, but… nope, no one. Fuck. Already. He hasn’t even gone inside, and this place is trying to drive him —

A cold hand wraps around his wrist.

David yelps, jumping halfway out of his skin and jerking his arm away… only to see Alexis, the fucking menace, standing with her hands in the air.

“Fuck!” he half-yells. “Fuck!”

Alexis looks like she’s trying not to laugh at him. “Okay, relax, David, it’s me,” she says, raising her brows as David tries to stop himself from going into cardiac arrest or whatever. “God, you’re already so jumpy.”

“Of course I’m jumpy! I’m—” he cuts himself off, then takes a deep breath through his nose. (In — 1, 2, 3, 4. Out — 1, 2, 3 4.) "Never mind."

He looks behind her to see their parents stepping out of — what he assumes is — their Uber. Including Alexis, they all seem to have about the same amount of luggage he does. However, movers will supposedly be showing up tomorrow with whatever the government isn't seizing, which (thankfully) will include the bulk of his wardrobe.

“David, my darling,” comes his mother’s greeting as she approaches. She pats his cheek twice. “You’re looking much better.”

He cringes a bit. That isn’t as much of a compliment as his mother thinks it is — the last time she saw him, he was a strung-out mess as she dropped him off at the rehab center.

Still, he says, “Thanks,” through his teeth.

His father pats his arm in greeting. “Hello, David.”

David nods at him.

“I was just telling your father how fortuitous it is that he’d purchased this place all those years ago,” Moira says, and David tries not to scoff. “We can live in one of our Rose hotels whilst we get back on our feet.”

“The last Rose hotel,” David hums, while Alexis nods.

“Yeah, it’s, like, super fortuitous,” she says, then places a hand on David’s shoulder; he only flinches a little this time. “David is just a liiittle jumpy.”

Johnny frowns. “I know, son. This is all very disorienting,” he says, “but we’ll get it sorted out and be back on our feet in no time, you’ll see.”

“Yes, and in the meantime,” Moria says, “Just be grateful they missed out on what a gem this place is. Imagine if we were forced to hole up in something as horrendous as a roadside motel!”

David shakes his head. “I would literally rather share a motel room with Alexis than live in this fucking monstrosity again.”

“Oh... you’ll still be sharing a room with Alexis,” Johnny says, and another flare of panic shoots through David’s chest like an arrow.

“What?”

Johnny looks back and forth between his stunned children. “Well,” he says, “We need to reserve as few rooms as possible for ourselves — We don’t want to turn away guests.”

“Yes,” David says, “because we’ve got a line of people chomping at the bit to stay here — that’s why the D.O.R. told us it wasn’t worth seizing.”

“I don’t think they quite said that, David.”

“They did. They literally said that.”

Alexis smacks his arm lightly. “Aww, David, come on, it’ll be just like old times!” She thinks she’s funny, and he knows it, but he’s not laughing.

“There are like a billion rooms in this place!”

Moira clicks her tongue. “All right, David, that’s quite enough of your dramatics,” she says. “You’ll listen to your father.”

David hasn’t felt more like a child since… well since he was a child.

His mother should be on his side, but she hardly remembers their first stay here — apparently, she’d taken so many sleeping pills that summer, her terrifying encounters just… disappeared from her memory. Either that or she’d simply dismissed them into oblivion. Okay, and it's not that David wishes his mother had spent the last twenty years tormented by their ghosts or whatever, but…

No, actually, he kind of does, a little bit.

Once upon a time, they'd been in this together, but he’d ended up alone.

Somehow, David always ends up alone.

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
THEN

The old Cadillac rocked a bit as it pulled into the dirt drive, wobbling over the pebbles scattered on the uneven ground. It followed the long path, past the towering metal gate, and through the curve that led to a shaded car park. Brakes squeaked as the car came to a stop, as if in warning — but the passengers didn't know to be afraid.

First out of the car was Johnny Rose, who happened to be the newest owner of the imposing mansion looming before him. Hill House was just one of several dozen properties with his name on the deed. He'd made quite the career for himself in real estate; Forbes even went so far as to call him a mogul when they'd featured him the previous year… not that he found any and all opportunities to bring that up in conversation.

He did like to brag that the Rose empire was one of the world's most popular luxury hotel brands — often mentioned in the same breath as Ritz Carlton, Waldorf, or the Four Seasons… but not even Johnny Rose had ever owned anything like Hill House.

Hill House — a house of such magnitude, it needed a name — sprawled over 9,000 square feet on an entire acre of otherwise empty property. With neat bricks stacked for three stories, it reared up into the sky and cast a shadow over the Rose family — one they didn't know to read as foreboding. As they pulled suitcases from the car and ushered moving vans to the front of the drive, the menacing visage watched their every move…

Someone might hear all of this and think, “But it was a house, not a person,” because that’s what any reasonable person would say.

However, things like reason and fairness ceased to exist within the gates of Hill House, along with hope and kindness. Perhaps it hadn't always been that way, but the house itself had become inseparable from the ghosts that haunted it. Evil itself lived in the walls.

And the Rose family was poised to step right into its mouth.

“This place is hu-uge!”

The backseat door slammed, and Alexis Rose stood next to her father, clutching a blue teddy bear in her hands.

“This isn’t a house,” she said, rocking on her feet. “It’s a castle.”

Behind her came a scoff — the particularly bitter kind that could only come from the lips of a moody ten-year-old. “Nope,” came next. “It’s just a really big house.”

David’s feet crunched against the gravel a little harder than necessary, and Johnny turned to see his son standing with his arms folded over his chest — though that was his default pose at this point. David had made it very clear that he was not happy about their summer getaway, nor… happy about much of anything at all lately.

“I still don’t know why I can’t have my own room,” he grumbled. “There’s, like, a bazillion rooms here.”

Johnny sighed. “Bazillion isn’t a word, son.”

Their nanny — a young woman named Adelina — came around from behind the car with a suitcase in hand. The Rose family had employed her since David was an infant and, while neither Johnny nor Moira would willingly admit it, she might've been more bonded to the children than they were.

See, Johnny was often traveling, and Moira flew between L.A. and Vancouver for filming so regularly… Let’s just say they weren't the most present parents. It didn't help that their bedrooms back home were in entirely different wings, nor that Rose Manor was so large they could easily go days without so much as passing each other in the hallway, even when they were all at home…

Adelina saw them every day, and she had a natural caretaking instinct that Moira and Johnny simply didn't have. The kids listened to Adelina. Respected her. Loved her, even.

Of course, the Roses loved each other too, but it was the kind of love that wasn't really detectable — not even amongst themselves — which was part of the problem. It buzzed in the background like radio static, easy to tune out, but it was there. It could be tuned, if anyone bothered to try. So, it's no coincidence the kids would grow up to feel just as unacknowledged. Their love for Adelina (and her love for them), on the other hand, was a melody they knew by heart: steady and dependable.

Mijo, you and Alexis need to stick together,” she said. “Other people will come and go, but you two will always be family. Don’t take that for granted.”

Alexis poked her brother’s arm. “Yeah, David, don’t take me for granite.”

“She said granted, dummy,” David said. “Granite is, like, a rock or something.”

“Da-aa-d, tell David to stop being mean to me!”

Johnny didn't look away from the bag he was lifting from the trunk. “No name-calling, David,” he said.

“Well, if she wouldn’t say such du—”

“—That’s enough.” Their father released a sigh as he slammed the trunk closed. “Why don’t you let Adelina show you the room we set aside for you kids, huh?”

David rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

The younger Rose was much less apathetic, however. She took off like a shot, running up the porch steps like her life depended on it. “I pick my bed first!” she chirped.

David chased after her. “Nuh-uh, I’m oldest!”

“And I’m the cutest!”

Johnny and Adelina exchanged a glance before she patted his shoulder and followed the bickering children with a click of her tongue. Johnny watched as she led them into the house.

“No running, please!” he called after them.

(Someday, when Johnny Rose looks back on this day, he’ll wish that he’d told his kids to runfar away from Hill House and the horrors within it.)

For the moment, he turned his attention back to the movers, who were pulling furniture and boxes from the several UHaul trucks parked in the drive. While Johnny hadn’t done manual labor in many, many years, he was excellent at delegating. He gave tasks to his employees, assigned things like cleaning, cooking, and unpacking to home staff… Hell, he delegated his parenting, even (to Adelina)… though he’d never put it that way. It was what made him such a successful businessman, after all.

“John, dearest,”—he was interrupted by his wife’s distinct timbre—“Will you bring my cases up to our bed-chamber? The girls shouldn’t be exposed to this heat.”

‘The girls’ that Moira refers to were her wigs, of course, not additional children — heaven and hell forbid. The Roses could hardly handle the kids they did have… emotionally, anyway.

(Financially, they could probably sustain an entire orphanage.)

Moira just wouldn't travel without at least a week’s worth of options, lest she ran out and wore the same hairstyle twice in seven days. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with her natural hair; it was perfectly fine (if maybe a little stringy). One style just wasn't enough for a larger-than-life woman like Moira Rose. And, if loving his children was radio static, Johnny’s love for his wife was the air itself: essential, ever-present, and enveloping. Despite their differences (of which there were many), Moira loved him just the same.

So, he smiled fondly. “Of course, sweetheart.”

Inside, Hill House was all dark wood and detailed carving, punctuated with a large staircase in the very center of the foyer. It met a landing about halfway to the second floor, then split into two separate stairwells that birthed their own hallways in either direction. Above them, a wide landing overlooked the entryway.

Here on the first floor, Johnny could see a small conservatory behind the stairwell and long hallways on either side. Already, he could envision the front desk, bellhop carts, a sitting room… All of it. He could already feel the eyes of their future guests on him from the moment they walked through the doors.

“Oh, Mr. Rose, you’re here.” A disembodied voice got his attention, and he watched as a young woman rounded the corner into view. She was relatively tall, with mousy brown hair and ripped jeans — that is, jeans that had ripped, not jeans that were manufactured with rips. “I’m Maureen. We spoke on the phone?”

Johnny set the boxes down and met her halfway, extending his hand. Maureen Budd was the woman he’d hired to manage the hotel, both during its renovation and once it opened. From what Johnny gathered over the phone, she and a small group had already started some basic repairs and painting.

“Of course,” he said. “It’s, ah, great to meet you in person. This is my wife, Moira.”

They made brief small talk, and Maureen told the Roses — her new employers — about the progress she and the construction team had made. Walking them through the house, she also casually mentioned a niece, Stevie, who was nine. Apparently, she'd come by on occasion, and both Moira and Johnny were pleased to know David had someone around his age to spend time with — maybe a friend was what he needed.

However, Maureen decidedly did not tell him that she and Stevie would always leave promptly at five-o-clock, never within even a mile of Hill House after dark.

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

When they walk inside, David sees a young woman sitting at the front desk, hunched over a bit and very concentrated on whatever she's doing on her computer (just in a side-long glance, David is pretty sure it's Sudoku). When she turns, though, David is met with a familiar pair of dark brown eyes. The hair framing her face is longer than it'd been when they were kids, and she's tragically taken after her aunt when it comes to the flannel, but… it's unmistakably Stevie Budd.

Every once in a while, when his subconscious is feeling kind, the young Stevie from his memories will show up in a nightmare just to pull him out. Always to pull him out.

And here she is.

“Stevie?”

He should ask her what the fuck she's still doing here, but he's too relieved to care at this particular moment. He's suddenly grateful that the single good thing about this place is here.

Except, then she tilts her head and says, “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

It stings. It really stings, actually, until a little smirk tugs at her lips.

“You kind of remind me of this friend I used to have,” she says, “but he disappeared a long time ago. See, he told me that he would write—”

“—Stevie—”

“—but he didn’t," she continues. "Now that guy… he'd really have to do something pretty big to convince me not to hate him. But. I'm pretty sure he must be dead or something.”

Alexis makes a tutting sound, reminding David of her presence. "Sounds like that guy's a real dick, Stevie."

"I'm confused," Moira says. "Do you know this young woman?"

David starts to answer, but Johnny's brain seems to buffer because he blurts, "Stevie!" His arms fly out in front of him. "Right, yes, of course. You're Maureen's niece. You and David were actually quite close." Buffering, buffering… "Oh." There it is.

Johnny clears his throat. "Where is your aunt, by the way? We'd love to say hello."

Stevie looks uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rose, but she, um. Died. Two years ago."

Oh, fuck.

Johnny says the more diplomatic version of that: "I'm so sorry to hear that, Stevie." He sounds genuinely mournful, which surprises David a bit. Stevie looks surprised too.

"Yeah, she… left me her job at the hotel—"

David startles. "And you took it?" Alexis pinches his arm, which gets a loud, flinching, "Ow!"

"She wanted it to stay in the family." Stevie shrugs.

David wants to push it — why would she stay here willingly? — but Moira speaks first.

"Well, that is very admirable of you, Stevie. One's family legacy is very important."

Johnny nods. "Very admirable," he agrees. "Well, I'm glad this hotel has been in… what I'm sure are, um, very capable hands."

Visibly uncomfortable with the attention, Stevie turns back to her computer and starts typing without another word, then swivels around on her chair to grab two sets of keys from the wall.

"Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Rose," she says pleasantly, handing one set to Johnny, "you'll be in one of the master suites on the second floor, up the stairs to the left. Follow the hall down."

"Alexis," she says next, and David seethes as his sister grins in delight. "You and... your brother will be in your old room — it's the second room on the right."

Alexis takes the keys, then reaches over the desk to tap Stevie on the nose. "Thank you so much, Stevie," she chirps as the brunette scrunches up her face. "It's, like, so good to see you. You're super pretty now, bee-tee-dubs — you know, in a down-to-earth, non-threatening sort of way."

"...Thanks?" She looks over at David, but her eyes dart right back to Alexis as if she suddenly remembered she's too mad at him to commiserate. David rolls his eyes.

"Um, I'm going to bring these upstairs now," he says, gesturing to his suitcases, "but I'll, um. Yeah. I will… be right back."

Stevie smirks. "Sure, I have no reason to doubt that."

He sees Alexis bounce a bit in the corner of his eye. "Ooh, burn, David."

"Fall off the balcony, Alexis."

 

* * *

 

"Stevie's, like, suuuper mad at you."

After clunking his three suitcases up the stairs (with zero help, just Stevie's amused gaze), David is breathing heavily as he unlocks the door to their bedroom. Meanwhile, Alexis has barely broken a sweat with one duffle over her shoulder and a single suitcase dragging behind her; a second duffle strap is looped over the handle.

"And you should really get some cardio in more often. You look, like, faint."

David grits his teeth as Alexis brushes past him into the room, and he trips over himself to get himself and his luggage through the door. Immediately, Alexis drops her suitcase onto the bed furthest from him, but David shakes his head.

“Mmkay, I’m going to need that bed,” he says.

The blonde blinks. “Why?”

“Because I need it.”

“Why?” she repeats.

David takes a deep breath. “Well, first of all, it was my bed when we were kids,” he replies. “Also, if one of those ghosts were to break in here in the middle of the night wanting to murder us, they would attack that bed first. So I need this bed.”

Alexis’s jaw goes slack as she gapes at him. “Oh my god. So, you’re saying that you want me to get murdered first? In front of you?” She waves her arm, bangles clinking at her wrist. “And then what would you do? Would you just run away and leave me to bleed out... On the floor?”

“Uh,” David says, cringing. “Sort of, that was the plan, yeah.”

Of course, that is not the plan and would never be the plan. David remembers dragging Alexis across the hall when they were in danger as children, and he wouldn’t do things any differently now… but he’s obviously not going to say that.

“Kay, well, you can have the bed when I leave,” she says, sitting on his bed.

Now it’s David’s turn to balk. “Wait, where the fuck are you going?”

“Stavros is flying in to get me,” she says, absently typing on her phone. “I told you that.”

David drops his hands to his hips. “Mmkay, one: no, you did not tell me that. And two… What? When? When is he doing that?”

“Like, whenever stupid Mary-Kate stops hogging his plane.”

David chokes on a humorless laugh — of course. Of course, Stavros is coming to get her, and of course, she’s leaving them behind. Good to know that she’s the same selfish, self-centered Alexis she’s always been. If anyone's going to leave anyone bleeding to death on the floor, it's her.

“What kind of sociopath,”—he gestures somewhat wildly—“abandons her family in some ghost-infested hell house to gallivant around the world with her dumb, shipping heir, loser boyfriend that she’s only known for three months?”

Alexis looks up from her phone. “Um, David, it will be four months next month.”

“Oh my God!”

“And,” she says, “he just told me that he could potentially see himself considering saying ‘I love you' at some point sometime soon, so...”

David covers his face with his hands. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he groans. “I’m telling mom. I’m telling mom and dad, have you told them?”

“No!” Alexis all-but-shrieks. She jumps to her feet. “No, David, I’m waiting for the right opportunity, okay? Otherwise, dad’s gonna cry, and mom’s gonna do that thing where she pretends nothing’s wrong but then doesn’t talk to me for five months. And I don’t want that.”

Ah, yes. Nothing like their unhealthy family dynamic to guilt David into compliance.

Not this time.

“Well, I need this bed,” David says coldly. He takes a deep breath. “I need it, so.”

“You need it? Really?" Alexis pushes her suitcase further onto his bed. “You know what, David? You get murdered first for once!”

For once?

For once? Is he not the one this house has tormented for the last two decades?

Fuck that.

“No,” David’s voice is stern as he crosses into her space; he lifts her suitcase and drops it roughly onto the other bed. “You get murdered first.”

Alexis groans. “David,” She stomps over to grab her suitcase again, then practically throws it onto the second bed. “You get murdered first!”

“No, you!” he yells, lunging to take it back. “You do it! You get murdered first.”

“OhmygodDavid!” Alexis mashes it into one word. “What does it matter if you think ghosts are gonna get us? What ghost uses a door, hmm? Maybe he comes right through that wall and smothers you in your sleep first, anyway.”

That…

Well, that...

Frankly, it sickens him. David grabs onto the footboard closest to him and pulls a long breath through his nose. Exhale — 1, 2, 3, 4.

“You know what?” he says when he’s calm enough to. “Fuck you, Alexis.”

For perhaps the first time, he walks away first.

 


 

 

 

New York City, New York
YESTERDAY

There's something about holding a paintbrush that makes David Rose feel powerful.

He'd always liked feeling in control — more than liked, really. David liked designer sweaters. He liked bagels, and pizza, and wine, and any dessert that uses the words "molten" and "chocolate" as descriptors. But David needed control in the same way he needed food, and water, and sleep. That is, he thrived best when he had a lot of it, and there was a minimum amount that he needed even to function.

Maybe that's why he'd struggled so much with the serenity prayer. It'd been repeated in so many meetings and written on so many motivational posters that he could recite it in his sleep:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Accepting things he cannot change? Courage? Wisdom?

Literally none of those were his forte.

With a paintbrush in his hand, though… David was in complete control. He could take something empty and fill it with color. He could sketch something from memory in charcoal or pencil and breathe life into things that otherwise only existed in his mind. Sometimes, he pretended the emptiness of the canvas was his own, as he filled the liminal space with broad strokes of color — or, more often, monochrome. He created his own reality. And, sure, people could interpret it however they liked, but they did see it. They saw him, in a sense... but only what he allowed them to see.

His mother told him once, "When you're little, you learn how to see things that aren't there. And when you grow up, you learn how to make them real."

Maybe that's all art was — everyone scrambling to bring their monsters into the light.

Ugh, okay. That got too deep for eleven in the morning.

Shaking it off, David nudged his palette over, and a headline jumped out from the layer of newspaper protecting the table:

Everything’s Coming Up Roses: Rose Gallery Debuts Powerful New Exhibit

So much for feeling powerful... David dipped his brush into the glob of black paint and smeared it across the header with a scowl. It was a great review (he'd read it), but it was hard to be happy about a success that had been pre-arranged — a.k.a., bought — for him. Or not even for him, but for the name above the door. Regardless, David should've been grateful that the gallery was open at all, and he was on some level.

The thought of it closing, of proving everyone right when they'd said he was nothing but a socialite living off his parents' money and could never make something of his own…

He didn't need to add that to his multi-page tag on TMZ.

Perez and the gang had been slamming him for his 'partying,' drugs, and public intoxication since he was, like, eighteen or something. More recently, they'd gotten their hands on some pictures David hadn't known about — and let's just say that whatever hadn't already been laid bare at the public's feet for either entertainment value or a cautionary tale… It was out there now.

It'd just gotten out of control, you know?

Because Rose Gallery had been a dream come true when he’d opened it several years ago. At the time, David had been sober for two years (the longest he'd ever been clean since he was sixteen), and even Alexis showed up to the unveiling. Sure, she’d had a lot of unsolicited opinions for someone who had no idea what she was talking about, and that’d been irritating, but she’d shown up, and he’d die before he admitted how much it’d meant to him.

And, at the time, the gallery had been thoroughly primed for success, in the perfect location, and with the Rose name proudly displayed in red lettering. He’d even gotten the illustrious Sebastien Raine to contribute several photos to one of the gallery’s earliest shows.

That’d turned out to be a huge mistake and the first tip of the wagon, so to speak.

His sobriety had survived the heartbreak when the 'Illustrious' Sebastien Raine had been too much of an ‘artistic spirit’ for monogamy (or photographic consent laws... or consent in general). But it'd crumbled under the nightmares that followed. Suddenly, a ghost that hadn't visited him in years watched from the corner of his bedroom or the other side of the street.

Much, much later, his therapist would blame it on stress… but that wouldn't happen until after David went on a bender that could’ve impressed a young Robert Downey Jr. He would've totally tanked the gallery if his parents hadn’t stepped in and 1) found someone to run the place while he spiraled, and 2) replaced the funds he’d started siphoning to sustain his habit.

They'd paid to keep the gallery afloat and for his extended rehab program. They paid for his penthouse now, for his credit cards, and they continued to pay patrons to show up for the sake of the gallery’s reputation — though, he wasn't convinced that wasn't strictly because it was their name above the door too. Johnny and Moira Rose couldn't have the failure of their dramatic, “hysterical” mess of a son stain the Rose name in the business world. He’d done enough of that in his personal life, might as well have maintained the illusion that his professional life was a success, right?

It’s what they’d always done; the eldest Roses seemed to think they could fix him from their side of the globe if they threw enough money in his general direction.

David only realized he'd been absently painting back and forth over the headline when his phone rang and snapped him out of the trance. He dropped the brush like it'd bit him before digging his phone out of the pocket of his painting apron: it was Shannon, the receptionist at the gallery.

How he'd managed to get an application from a brilliant student at NYU's veterinary program was beyond him, but, apparently, people who loved animals could also love art, and they might've even sought out a part-time gallery job to help get them through school. Who knew?

"Shannon," he said, after swiping to unlock his phone with the knuckle of his index finger. "Hey, what's up? If that asshole is asking about that sculpture piece again—"

"—No! No, I told you I had that covered," she said. "It's, um. The department of revenue, actually? I think you should get over here. They've got a warrant to seize, uh... everything."

 

***

 

David wtf

people are here just taking our stuff!

Idk what's going on

Yeah, I'm at the gallery

They're here too

Booking a flight to Vancouver

before they lock my card

no don't do that

toronto

Alexis

Why would I fly into Toronto

Alexis istg

You're not actually going back there

Are you???



hello??



omg RELAX david. I'm on the phone with stavros

your not the only one in a crisis

but it's the only thing they're not taking

apparently it's not making enough money

like to be worth anything

I asked him if there was another option

he literally said

and i quote

homelessness

No

Nope

Not happening

you literally have no choice

you can't keep your penthouse

where tf are you gonna live

I'll figure something out

I'll stay with a friend

is that a good idea??

 

David stared at his phone for entirely too long.

Was that a good idea?

It didn't happen often, but… he really, really hated when Alexis was right. Not a single one of his "friends" would be NA-approved. Not one.

They also say you shouldn't make any "significant life changes" in your first year… and, fuck, he wasn't really sure which was more significant: becoming homeless or going back to the haunted house that had literally drove him to drugs in the first place .

Okay, no. Dr. Lee would make him rephrase that.

Hill House hadn't made him do anything. It'd caused significant trauma that'd led him to make many poor decisions, which had led him to addiction. He owned that now.

The point kinda still stood, though.

His phone buzzed again.

 

 

 

david?

please come.

 

He sighed. Alexis was… let's say, 'more attentive' since seeing David in rehab — which, by the way, had been a total coincidence, not a deliberate visit on her part.

Stavros had apparently been in the same program, and she'd shown up to see him. The resort-like facility that the Roses paid for was big enough that David never had to see him, thank god, but… Alexis had stood in the back when he'd gotten his 90-day chip, and that was more than David could say for their parents, even though her being there had been nothing more than a happy accident. And, regardless, it was obvious she was worried about him now. Worried enough to say 'please.'

He groaned and typed out a reply.

 

 

 

Fine

At the end of the day, she was right. What choice did he really have?

It might've been different if he'd actually cultivated some real friends… but David's ideal friend had been as simple as 'someone hot, cool enough to be seen with at a club, and has (or knows someone who has) a connect.' They weren't a supportive bunch, and they expected nothing from him except to pick up the check. (David used to think it was a symbiotic relationship; it turns out he'd been covered in parasites.)

Ironically, he was pretty sure the last time he'd made a real friend was when he'd lived at Hill House, but… Stevie wouldn't still be there. She'd been intelligent, brave, and David had no doubt she was drop-dead gorgeous by now.

No way she'd still be in that hell hole.

 


 

 

 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

Over the first couple of days, David learned one crucial lesson about Hill House:

It was a different place in the daylight.

During the day, sunlight streamed through the big picture windows, and it seemed… normal. When you held it up to the light, it was easy to see the beauty in the old place. That’s because Hill House was an angler fish; as long as its prey kept its eyes on the light, they wouldn't see the sharp teeth lurking in the shadows.

Even David could be distracted by the glow. He was especially drawn to the ‘movie room’ (or so he called it). So much so, it had become his favorite in the house.

A plain, white screen dropped from the ceiling against the furthest wall, light shining onto it from a projector across the room. It was connected to an old-fashioned film reel and a small library of tapes along the back. It was almost odd how perfect this room was for him, but he wouldn't complain about having one space he felt safe. Thanks to his mom, he’d always had a soft spot for the classics. David also loved having a place that he could keep to himself…

Well, most of the time.

Today, Stevie followed David's heels as they headed to the movie room. She was carrying a comically large bowl of popcorn and kicked the door shut behind her.

Because, as the Roses and Maureen had hoped, David and Stevie had been spending a lot of time together.

They grew very attached to each other, very quickly, in fact, which made perfect sense to anyone who watched them for more than a few minutes. They were too young to know it, but David and Stevie were kindred spirits, cut from the same cloth, and their guardians might've been more concerned about their matching attitudes if it weren’t for the fact that both David and Stevie were smiling more than their parents (and aunt) had ever seen.

David didn't think about that as he set up Singing in the Rain, then plopped down on one of the couches, popcorn resting between them.

“Do you ever… see things?" he asks. "When you’re over here?”

David dug through the bowl of popcorn for a handful, trying to be nonchalant.

Stevie furrowed her brow. “See what?”

“I dunno,” he replied, although he did know. “Stuff. Stuff nobody else sees.”

“Oh, you mean like the ghosts?”

David looked up, and Stevie looked back with a completely calm, unruffled look on her face. Though, unruffled was a reasonably good word to describe Stevie in general. Despite having grown up in a broken, supremely fucked up home — or perhaps because she grew up in such a broken, supremely fucked up home — it took a lot to ruffle her feathers.

But she had yet to see Hill House in the dark.

David perked up, though. “You’ve seen them?” he asked.

“No,” she shook her head. “Not me. My mom did.”

“Your mom?”

Stevie nodded. “She used to work here,” she said. “Gave her the creeps.”

David hummed, tossing a piece of popcorn into his mouth. “Gives me the creeps too,” he admitted. “I hate it here.”

Stevie promptly threw a piece of popcorn at his face.

“Gee, thanks,” she snarked, and David laughed.

“Except you, Stevie,” he said. “You’re not so bad.”

She clutched her heart in faux surprise, trying to look as emotionally touched as a ten-year-old was capable of.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”

David didn't know — maybe Stevie didn't even know — how close to true that was.

 


 

 

 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

David takes a moment to compose himself before he starts down the stairs. Seeing him approach, Stevie smirks and props her feet up on the desk.

“So,” she says. “Convince me not to hate you.”

“You were serious about that?”

Stevie blinks 'innocently.' “I’m always serious, David.”

He tilts his head back, staring at the ceiling as he takes a deep breath. “Look,” he tries, turning back to her. “I… am… sorry… that I didn’t keep in touch. I… was a kid, and I was, um, traumatized, and I just never wanted to think about this place again, which… didn’t even work, anyway, so…” He sighs. “You… were... the only thing that... made this house bearable, and I…” His voice quiets. “I really need you to not hate me right now.”

Stevie looks at him, her face completely unreadable. It’s so blank that it makes him uncomfortable, and he starts picking at his cuticles. Because this is going to be hell. Being here is going to be hell if she’s going to be like this, and—

Suddenly, she cracks an easy smile and sets her feet back down on the floor.

“Okay,” she says, suddenly so cavalier.

David’s brows pull together. “I.. Um..” he stammers. “Wait, okay? Just like that?”

“Yeah, I get it.” She hops up to her feet. “I just wanted to see you beg.”

“I—Oh.” Well, fuck.

“I've also heard that your life really sucked without me, so.”

David pulls his lips into his mouth. “Wow, I forgot how much I hate you.”

“Oh, I think we’ve established that’s not true,” she says, a glint of mischief in her eyes. “What was it that you just said? I was the only good thing in your life?”

David squints. “I don’t think that’s what I said.”

“I think it is.”

David tries so fucking hard to fight the smile threatening to break across his face, so he tucks it off to the side as if Stevie won't notice it over there.

“Fine,” he says. “You… might’ve made it a little... more than bearable.”

She nods, lips still curved in entirely too much enjoyment for David's comfort. “C’mere,” She says, walking around the desk. “I’ve got something to show you.”

David raises a brow. “Don’t you need to watch the—” Stevie rolls her eyes at this and turns, walking off in the direction of the stairs. “Oh,” David says, “Oh-okay.”

He knows where they’re going as soon as they turn left on the second floor. They have to pause as Stevie pulls a key out of her pocket and unlocks it, but then they’re standing in the movie room — and it's exactly how they’d left it.

“H-how?” He asks. “You didn’t… turn this into a bedroom or something?”

Stevie shakes her head. “Nah. I asked Maureen to keep it after you guys left, and she told everyone not to touch it, so they didn't.” She shrugs. “Now, I’m the only one with the key.”

"I can't believe you kept it," he says, looking around.

He catches her rolling her eyes. "Okay, don't get sappy about it," she tells him, plopping back on one of the cozy couches.

"I'm not getting sappy!"

"Okay good, because… I really just kept it so I'd have somewhere cool to bring guys in high school."

David whirls. "Wait, you brought your little boyfriends into my room?"

That makes him feel… something. It swirls around his chest — whatever it is — strongly enough to be uncomfortable. And he's not jealous. David can't be jealous because they were literally kids when he left… but he feels… fuck, he feels something, thinking about Stevie bringing people into his space. David thinks about what it'd be like if he'd kept in touch. Would that have been them sneaking off to the movie room in high school?

Except, then Stevie laughs at him.

She laughs, and David realizes she's messing with him again.

"No," she says, waving her hand. "Fuck no. I wasn't bringing anyone to Hill House. Are you kidding me?"

He disguises his relief with a scoff. "Okay…"

He's not sure if Stevie buys it. If she doesn't, she shows him mercy by not pushing it.

"I got new movies for the reel," she says instead. "I found some really old horror movies — the original Wolfman, Frankenstein, The Blob… the classics."

David gives her a look. "Okay, well, we won't be watching any of that," he says with chagrin. He almost feels nostalgic as he picks up Singin' in the Rain and loads it into the projector. "This is a classic, Stevie. It needs to have 'class' to be a 'classic.'"

"Ugh, said like such a former rich dude."

He groans. "Don't remind me."

When he walks around to the front of the couch again, Stevie is sprawled across it, taking up the whole damn thing.

"Scoot over," he says.

Instead of getting up, Stevie lifts her legs juuust high enough in the air that David can sit, then drops them into his lap once he's settled. It's like he's ten years old again, sitting in this exact position — in the only part of this place that ever felt like home.

 

***

 

David doesn't start walking back to his room until close to midnight.

Stevie left hours ago (at five, that rule hasn't changed), but he'd stayed behind in the movie room for as long as he could, just to avoid his sister.

As soon as he reaches the landing, however, he hears something he doesn't expect.

David looks up to see his mother wandering the hall in her lengthy, silk robe. She looks particularly unhinged like this: flowing robe, bare feet, lips moving imperceptibly as she mutters to herself. Based on the slow way she's moving, he'd think she was sleep-walking if he didn't know better — but David does know better. As a matter of fact, he's pretty sure he knows Hill House better than any of them (except maybe Stevie).

He's never told anyone, but he thinks that they — he and the house, that is — have a connection. He thinks it's been there since he was a kid. Because he's always seen the house for what it is. He sees its teeth in the dark. The thing is, the house sees him too. From that very first night, it's learned his fears, his desires… He knows it sounds impossible, but he's always felt like the spirit of the house (or the spirits in the house) somehow followed him back to Vancouver, then New York. David's never been able to shake it because… Well, those teeth he mentioned? They'd sunk into his neck and never let go.

They'd gotten to his mother too, but she'd never opened her eyes enough to look back. Seeing her fall into the same trap… Something in David's brain screams at him to get out. He could run to Stevie's, beg to sleep on her couch until he figures himself out — fuck it. Alexis is running off with Stavros, anyway. If she can do it, why can't he?

After all, how often have they really been there for him — other than shoving money into his hand (or, indirectly, his bloodstream)? Where were his parents when he was a teenager stealing his mother's pills, or when Alexis traveled around the world, getting into god knows what with god knows who? Where were they when he was drowning? Where were they when Alexis was literally kidnapped? What does he owe them?

David takes a breath. The truth is, he doesn't owe them anything.

But none of that could actually convince him to walk out that door. His family may be inconsiderate and selfish, and they may have missed a million signs, but he genuinely doesn't believe that they'd knowingly walk out on him. If they knew what he did — if they'd just fucking believe what he was telling them about this house — they'd have his back. He has to believe that. And, honestly, even if it weren't true… he's not half as good at abandoning people as he is getting abandoned.

So, he doesn't run. He crosses the hall to his mother.

"Hey," he says, grabbing her upper arms before she wanders too close to the stairs. He carefully spins her around. "Mom, look at me."

This jolts her, and she jumps as if being snapped out of hypnosis. "David?" she says. "What are you doing in our suite?"

"Noo-ope, definitely not in your suite," he tells her, sighing as she looks around in confusion. "C'mon. It's back here."

Gently, he starts to lead her down the corridor. Moira seems somewhat reluctant, still a little dazed, but she follows along.

"I am having the strangest dream," she says.

And, all at once, David understands: "You really think you're dreaming."

"Of course I'm dreaming, darling," she replies like it's obvious.

All of these years, he's wondered why she doesn't carry the same memories of this place that he did. How could she, out of all people, not understand him? He'd just assumed it was denial or too many sleeping pills… but it's neither and both of those things, isn't it? That's the catch. It's never been real for her. The horrors of Hill House are neatly packed into a series of bad dreams.

David doesn't have the heart to wake her up.

"Right, yeah," he says with a sigh. "You'll wake up in the morning, and it'll… be fine."

When they're halfway to the suite, Johnny stumbles out the bedroom door, looking concerned... until he spots them. David nods at him, still steering Moira down the hall.

"Sweetheart, there you are," Johnny says. "And… David?"

David gently nudges his mother into his hands. "I believe this belongs to you."

"Don't worry, dear," Moira says, patting her husband's cheek. "It's just a nightmare, that's all. Just a screaming meemie. Everything will be right in the morning." She squeezes David's arm. "Goodnight, my darling."

If anyone asks, he will vehemently deny it, but… his heart clenches just a little as his mother turns and slips through the open door of her suite.

"Sleepwalking again, huh?" Johnny says. "Haven't seen her do that since..."

David gives him a look. "Since we were here?" he says, barely succeeding at keeping his voice low as it lilts. "Gee. I wonder what the common denominator could be."

Johnny sighs. "Not this again, David — I thought we were past this." He looks to make sure Moira isn't wandering back out. "What would your therapist say?"

"Oh, we're doing this?" he asks, taking a deep breath through his nose. "My therapist would probably say to get the fuck out of the creepy house because she actually listens to me," he snaps. "And I doubt she'd deny what's right in front of her face."

Dr. Lee treated his ghosts as a metaphor, that's true, but… he's pretty fucking sure she'd run for the hills — no pun intended — if she saw this place. But his father recoils like he'd slapped him.

"Son," he starts, but David holds up his hands.

"Look, just keep a better eye on mom this time, okay? I don't care if you have to put a bell on her neck. She can't…" He shakes out his hands, at a loss for words. For as much as he wants to say he doesn't give a shit, the sight of his mother so close to the edge of those stairs really shook something loose inside him. "Just watch her."

He knew it the moment they got here, but he's even more sure about it now. He needs to get them the fuck out of this hotel. Preferably before it kills someone.

 

***

 

David slips into their bedroom quietly, careful not to wake his sister — not out of concern for her, obviously, but because he doesn’t think he can take another fight today. As it is, he’s already planning to find a meeting somewhere in town tomorrow.

There have got to be plenty of alcoholics and drug addicts in a place like Schitt's Creek, right? Who (other than a recovering addict) can stand living here completely sober?

David walks straight to their small bathroom to go through the soothing motions of his skincare routine, so he doesn’t notice until he walks back out:

Alexis is fast asleep in the bed closest to the door, and there's a small note on his pillow.

NO ONE is getting murdered.
P.S. Stavros isn't coming.
xo Alexis

Chapter Text

Use your cup of stars. Insist on your cup of stars. Once they’ve strapped
you into being like everyone else, you’ll never see your cup of stars again.


Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

Alexis scowled at the construction paper sign taped to the door of David’s movie room:

NO GIRLS ALLOWED (CEPT STEVIE)

David kept doing this to her, even though dad said the whole point of this vacation was to spend time together. She wasn't sure how she was supposed to spend time with her big brother if he locked her out of rooms. Also, her father had been busy with the renovators, and her mother… Honestly, Alexis never knew what her mom was up to, but it was not having tea parties with her incredibly adorable daughter.

With a resigned sigh, she made her way out the front door, starting to explore the expansive yard a bit more… and that’s when she saw her for the first time.

Right at the edge of the property, sitting beneath the willow tree, was another girl. Alexis thought she looked about her age, and she was pretty, too — with long auburn hair and a loose dress covered in daisies. After a moment, the girl caught Alexis’s eyes and waved.

Alexis trotted over, happy to see someone finally wanted to talk to her.

“Hi!” the girl said, looking up with the biggest smile Alexis had ever seen. “I’m Twyla.”

The blonde beamed. “I’m Alexis.” She tapped the tiny, circular charm dangling from her neck, indicating the ‘A’ in the center. “We just moved in.”

“I know,” Twyla said, almost proudly. “I was hoping someone cool would get here soon. That house had been empty for a loo-ong time.”

Alexis sat down in the grass, folding her legs beneath her. “Do you live around here?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah! My house is over… there!” She pointed vaguely to the left, and Alexis’s head turned to follow. “In the woods over there.”

She blinked. “You live in the woods?”

“Yep! Pretty cool, huh?”

Alexis, a city girl with no experience in the woods outside of the fairytales Adelina read to her at night, didn't know if that sounded cool or not. She thought it sounded kind of creepy, but she nodded anyway. Alexis was in no position to turn down friends at the moment, and she liked Twyla already.

“Totally,” she said. “Totally cool.”

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

Alexis tugs her earbuds from her ears as she enters the café, letting them drape around her neck like a scarf. The perimeter of Schitt's Creek isn't half as scenic as her usual run through Central Park (it's actually kinda gross), but it's close enough to her normal routine that it's still comforting. It's kept her sane over the last couple of days, living in such close proximity to her family. She's not a control freak like her brother, but who doesn't like a little normalcy after literally everything else blows up?

Café Tropical isn't as familiar.

During her first summer in town, Alexis and her family went to the café only once. Her mother initially wanted them to experience the "provincial, homespun delicacies of their bucolic summer home," but she was so unimpressed by the food that they'd eaten at the house from then on. Nobody could beat Adelina's cooking anyway.

Alexis vaguely remembers it being a cute little diner, though. Of course, she'd also been five at the time, and it'd only taken some decent mac and cheese to impress her. After meeting Beyoncé in Mykonos, spending several summers at Kate Winslet's home in Tuscany, being proposed to (and dumped) in Rio, sailing the Riviera in a luxury yacht, traveling the world as a teen model, etc., etc.... it takes a lot more to hold her attention.

Also, she doesn't eat empty carbs anymore.

Anyway, as she walks into Café Tropical now, she surprises herself by thinking it actually is sorta cute. It's obviously nothing special, but it's got charm... in a cheeky, rural kind of way. Alexis might even use the word 'homey,' which is totally not her brand, but the warmth is strangely appealing after spending last night at the old, creepy, potentially haunted mansion-turned-hotel on the outskirts of town.

She doesn't remember Hill House being so dark.

If she's honest, she doesn't remember much about Hill House at all — not like David, who was, like, beyond traumatized by it. She does remember him having nightmares; she remembers curling up in Adelina's room with him or sometimes pushing their twin beds together. She remembers him pretending that it was because he wanted to protect her, but she also remembers knowing better, even then.

Alexis wishes he'd done that more often after Hill House — leaned on her, that is. If he had, maybe he wouldn't have needed to depend on… other things…

Though, she'd never seen the house the way he had — still sees it, apparently, if the whole debacle with the beds told her anything. Alexis thinks about that summer and remembers tea parties in the shade of the willow tree. She remembers sunshine and warm afternoons. She remembers laughter… and she remembers Twyla.

Mostly.

Alexis can't really picture her face now, but she thinks she'd know her smile. Every time she leaves the house, she carefully looks at everyone she passes, hoping to find a warm, familiar smile framed by auburn hair. Here at the café, her gaze sweeps over the booths and tables, and Alexis tries to tamper down the disappointment when she sees nothing but townspeople she's never met. And it's silly for her to be bummed, she knows.

If Twyla is even real, there's a good chance she's living in another city by now. Alexis knows she can ask around later, but not yet. She's not ready for the blow of hearing that there's never been a Twyla in Schitt's Creek and she's missing an imaginary friend… or, worse, something creepy like, "There was a girl named Twyla who lived on that property, but she died 200 years ago!"

Alexis suppresses a full-body shiver at the thought.

Taking a seat at the counter, she snatches one of the menus from the little rack. It's way too big, and she fumbles with the bulky, multi-page book as someone pushes out the kitchen doors in her peripheral.

"Be with you in a sec!"

Alexis spends way too long looking for a section with smoothies, especially since she only finds a line that reads "Meadow Harvest Smoothie" without any hint of what's in it. Hearing footsteps on the other side of the counter, Alexis says as much as, "Umm, what's in the Harvest Mead—" before she looks up and sees the smile she'd apparently recognize anywhere and an eerily familiar set of green eyes.

She teased David when he explained that he'd recognized Stevie when he saw her eyes… but, now that it's happening to Alexis, she gets it.

The face in her memory is still fuzzy, but it's sharpening as she looks at Twyla again now (and this is her, Alexis is sure of it). The woman in front of her is, obviously, older than the six-year-old Twyla who's lived in Alexis's memories for twenty-ish years, and she's changed. This woman's jaw is stronger, sharper, and her face seems longer? Sort of? But her eyes are exactly the same — not their shape, exactly, but like… ugh, like her actual eyes are the same? It's hard to explain.

Even when Twyla's hair is swept into a ponytail and the freckles along her collar are obscured by the ties of an apron, Alexis recognizes her — not a doubt in her mind.

Twyla isn't just real. She's here. In front of her.

So Alexis just blurts, "Twy?"

And it takes the other woman a moment, but then her entire face lights up.

"Lex!"

Alexis hops off her stool as Twyla walks around the counter, and they meet in the middle with a hug that nearly knocks her off her feet. For a minute, it's nothing but happy noises and talking over each other, but Alexis can barely hear it over her heart pounding in her ears. God, she can't wait to rub this in her family's faces.

"I'm so sorry I didn't say goodbye," she says, pulling away just enough to look at her face. Alexis typically isn't great at apologies, but she's been sitting on this one for over two decades. That's literally almost half her life. So, it's practiced. "My mom had, like, a total mental breakdown, and we just packed up and left and —"

"—Lex, I know," Twyla puts her out of her misery. "I went looking for you and met Stevie, and she told me everything. Well, everything she knew, anyway."

"Oh," Alexis breathes. "Well, good, then. Good!"

"I saw you and your family on the news and stuff over the years, and I almost tried to get in touch with you, but… I didn't think you'd remember me."

Alexis gapes. "Are you kidding, Twy? You're, like, the best friend I ever had." She chuckles. "I literally ran away from home to come here looking for you. But I was ten or whatever, and Adelina figured me out too fast."

She skips the rest of that story — it's not important now.

Twyla's cheeks flush a lovely shade of pink, and she starts to speak… but then she just shakes her head and yanks Alexis into another hug instead. Alexis can feel both of their hearts racing, just slightly off rhythm with each other.

Alexis has a feeling it's only a matter of time before they're on the same beat again.

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

Each day, the Roses’ vision for the hotel got closer to reality. The piano would fit exactly where Moira wanted, and they’d decided there was plenty of room to create a sitting room adjacent to the lobby. They’d need to get some fresh plants for the courtyard in the back, maybe get rid of the old statues, but…

If Johnny closed his eyes, he could just see the first floor bustling with people, enjoying their nightcap while a pianist played something soft but upbeat… Perhaps they’d visit from time to time, and Moira would stand by the piano and sing for the room. His reverie was so clear — maybe a little bit too clear — more like a memory than a fantasy.

As if someone fumbled a discordant chord on the piano of Johnny’s vision, the room filled with the echoing sound of heels clacking against wooden stairs. That vivid image faded from his vision, and Johnny focused his eyes on his approaching wife, who was carrying a box overflowing with colorful fabrics.

“I’ve got that, sweetheart,” he said. It didn't look heavy, but that didn't stop him from trotting over to take it from her hands. “Where’d you find all this?”

Moira smiled in that way she did when she was particularly enthused about something, crinkling her nose. Johnny loved that smile. Of course, he loved all of his wife’s many (many) expressions, but he was pretty sure this one was his favorite; it made him feel like he did something right, bringing her to a place that could make her smile like that.

(This, reader, is what storytellers call irony.)

“Oh, John,” she cooed, “there’s a gorgeous dressing room upstairs — you should see it! There's all sorts of costumes, fabrics, and wigs, the most darling little vanity.” She put her hands on her hips. “It looks like I’m not the first actress to grace these halls.”

Johnny couldn't imagine why there was a room like that in this house — but he was told the former residents were eclectic, to say the least, so he simply smiled and nodded along. If it could make Moira comfortable here, he was glad she found it.

“Perhaps not the first, but certainly the best,” he said, earning another smile.

“Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Rose.”

Johnny grinned. “Don’t I know it.”

Suddenly, another set of footsteps echoed against the walls, and Johnny stepped around the corner just in time to see their daughter running by, speeding towards the stairs — an accident waiting to happen. He clicked his tongue.

“Alexis, I’ve told you. No running in the house!” he called. “You’ll break something.”

The young girl stopped short, swaying on her feet… and it was tough for Johnny to be angry with her when she looked at him like that: all bright-eyed and the spitting image of her mother. Perhaps it was one of the reasons he hadn't gotten the hang of parenting at close range. Discipline was not his forte.

“Sorry, daddy,” Alexis replied, though she didn't look sorry at all. “Me and Twyla are gonna have a tea party outside — I need my tea set!”

Johnny blinked. “Twyla? Who’s Twyla?”

“My new friend!”

This wouldn’t be a big deal under normal circumstances. Unlike her brother, Alexis had always been a friendly child; David generally preferred to keep to himself. What was strange was that nobody but Alexis had seen this unchaperoned girl with auburn hair.

Moira stepped out beside her husband as her manicured hand came to rest on Johnny’s shoulder. “Alexis, where is your brother? We told him to keep you out of trouble.”

Alexis huffed. “He’s in the movie room with Stevie again.”

“The movie room?” Johnny furrowed his brow, but Moira’s hand patted his shoulder.

“Let the children have their imaginations, dear,” she said to him, then turned to their daughter: “Run along and play, Alexis.”

Johnny sighed. “Don’t actually run, please!”

With one last look at Alexis ascending the stairs at a reasonable pace, he turned back to his wife’s box of fabrics. “Where were we, Moira?”

“Ah, you were flattering me,” she replied cheekily.

“Right, right… Well, let me tell you what I’ve been thinking about the sitting room…"

 


 

Vancouver, Ontario
ALEXIS — AGE 10

Alexis's feet didn't even reach the carpeted floor of the airport gate as she swung her legs back and forth, then side-to-side. It was quiet, except for the whirr of the jets outside, but… that wasn't super surprising since it was pretty early in the morning, and Alexis was kinda in trouble. She could see the guy waving his little traffic cone sticks around on the runway, and she opted to watch him instead of meeting her nanny's gaze.

"Alexis," Adelina said sternly. "Taking your mother's credit card? Trying to buy a plane ticket to Toronto? Mijita, what were you thinking? This isn't like you."

Alexis squinted up at her. "Where's my mom and dad?"

"Your mother is in the States," Adelina replied, "and your dad thought that it'd be a good idea for me to come get you."

"He thought wrong."

Alexis thought she saw hurt flash across Adelina's face, and she deflated instantaneously.

"It's just… They never come get me," she said, "I could go to Antarctica, and they wouldn't care! You're the only one who'd know I was gone."

"Oh, Alexis," Adelina daid in that soft voice of hers. "That's not true."

That tone was usually directed at David — he was the fragile one. Even at ten, Alexis didn't like it directed at her.

Adelina patted her leg. "Where were you trying to go?"

"Home."

"You are home, chiquitita," she said with a frown, but Alexis watched as it clicked. "Wait a minute… Are you talking about the hotel?"

Alexis sighed. "I liked it there."

"Because of your friend Twyla, right?"

She nodded. "Kinda."

"Don't you have friends here?"

"Obviously," Alexis replied with a petulant sigh. "But Twy's better. And… We were all there. All of us. I thought, if they came for me, maybe they'd stay."

Adelina sighed, seemingly understanding the way she always did. "Because you miss being together, don't you?" she says.

"Mom and dad are never around, and David's being a stupid boy with his stupid friends," Alexis lamented. "And I miss Twyla. Everyone keeps telling me she isn't real, but she is!"

Her nanny nodded. "I know that you miss—"

"Whatever." Alexis cut her off. "When I grow up, I'm never gonna be home, either."

Adelina squeezed her knee. "What did I tell you and your brother about family, eh? No matter where you are..."

"We're stronger together," she said dutifully. "But we're not together. Ever."

"That's the thing about family, Alexis. They are always with you."

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

"One Meadow Harvest Smoothie," Twyla says, returning with a sundae glass full of… something green... that she slides across the counter to Alexis. "Your turn."

They're playing twenty questions because it seemed like the most fun way to catch up. So far, she's learned that Twyla started working at the café in high school, that she has her own apartment here in town, and she did watch A Little Bit Alexis. In return, Alexis has caught Twyla up on her career as a teen model, her perfume line, and what it'd been like to have the government people swarm her house like soccer moms on Black Friday.

"Did you go to college?"

Twyla shakes her head and sips her water. "I took some theatre classes in Elmdale, but I didn't get a whole degree or anything."

"Theatre? That's so cute, Twy!" Alexis reaches across the counter to playfully give her arm a light smack. "Why'd you stop?"

Twyla shrugs. "Didn't really have the time?" she says, twirling her straw around. "After my stepdad got arrested, my mom needed me, so." Twyla waves the subject away with a delicate hand. "What about you? I bet you were a sorority girl."

"Hunny p," she replies, taking a sip of the smoothie and covering her cringe with her hand. "I hosted some great sorority parties — but, um, I didn't actually go to school?"

Twyla looks surprised. "Why not?"

"Guess I didn't really have the time either," Alexis says, which is her well-practiced answer to this question. "I was, like, modeling, and then the show got picked up — and my career was thriving without it, you know?"

The thing is, she's not talking to the random stranger that would usually get that spiel. She's talking to Twyla, her childhood best friend — and, okay, sure, she hasn't seen her in a long time, and maybe she doesn't really know her as an adult, but… It doesn't feel like she's a stranger? It's like… Alexis has spent so many years thinking about that summer and wondering how much of it was real. And she finally has this thing — this person, this connection — that she's been looking for, like… She doesn't want to waste more time?

So she says, "Can I tell you the truth?"

"Always," Twyla replies.

“I can’t go to college yet because I didn’t finish high school," Alexis says, lowering her voice and leaning over the counter to keep her secret quiet. "It's super embarrassing, but it’s this long boring story involving a yacht and a famous soccer player, and like, a ton of mushrooms..."

"Um, what is happening here?"

The familiar voice would typically be grating to her ears, but… Now, Alexis is thrilled to hear his annoying little voice interrupting her conversation.

"David!" she says, overly cheery. "Ohmygod. I'm so glad you're here."

He looks at her like she's grown a second head or, like, split ends or something.

Then he cringes. "And… now that I see your face... I don't think I want to know."

"David! This," she gestures across the counter, "is Twyla."

His eyes widen. "Twyla," David echoes.

Alexis lets her smile become smug. "Mmmhm!"

"I used to live on the property next to Hill House," Twyla jumps in. "I mean, it's literally acres away, so I guess I wouldn't say next to it, but—"

"—No, I know who you are," David stops her. "I just…"

Twyla's smile is disarming. "Didn't think I was real?" she asks. "Yeah, Lex told me about that. But I get it. You don't have to apologize."

"I wasn't—"

"What do you want, David?" Alexis stops him from being too rude. "I'm busy."

"Um, well, since this is literally the only restaurant in town," he retorts, gesturing to the mostly empty dining room. "Maybe I'm not here for you?"

Twyla perks up. "Oh!" she chirps. "Of course, David. Do you know what you want?"

Alexis takes the opportunity to look at her phone, checking her Twitter feed as David rattles off an order — that is until he tacks on a "for Stevie" after the last item. That puts her on full alert, and she swivels her stool to face him.

"Ooh," she says with a shimmy of her shoulders. "You're getting lunch for Stevie? That is super cute and, like, gentlemanly of you, David!"

David blinks. "O-kay, first of all," he says, holding up his pointer finger and waving it in a circle, "I don't know why you're surprised. I am incredibly cute. Like, all the time. Also, the whole 'gentlemanly' and 'ladylike' thing is, like, an oppressive construct, so."

"Tell that to Jared Leto," Alexis says, sneaking a glance and a wink over at Twyla before turning back to David. "Remember when you two were dating and you, like, left in the middle of your trip to Nassau?" She looks at Twyla. "He left the poor guy on an island, and his wallet was on the plane. Jared had to take a sad little boat back to the Keys."

Twyla frowns. "David, that's so mean..."

"Mmkay, no, he left me in Nassau. I was the one forced to stay in the Keys overnight, and it was very traumatic for me — but, anyway, that's… not even relevant," he says. "Stevie and I aren't dating."

Alexis smirks. "Well, whatever you're calling it when you two sneak off to your dark little movie room, then…"

"Aww," Twyla says. "Are you and Stevie—"

"—No. No, Stevie and I are friends."

Alexis raises her brows and thoroughly enjoys the way it makes him squirm.

"She wears plaid utility shirts, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't own a hairbrush. She's not into me." He sighs. "Besides, I actually did leave her, so. That's. ...That's not a thing."

Alexis kicks him in the shin. "David, ohmygod, you were ten."

"Yeah, for what it's worth," Twyla says, "I'm not holding it against Lex."

Alexis beams and reaches over to tap the tip of her nose.

"Thanks, Twy."

David groans. "Can I order lunch now?" he asks, petulantly flinging out his arms. "Or are you just going to let me starve to death?"

Alexis starts to speak, but Twyla shoots her a small smile before beating her to it.

"I'll bring this,"—she waves her cute little waitress pad—"to the kitchen."

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

"Twy, I have a question," Alexis said one afternoon. "Where are your parents?"

They were sitting in the playroom at the time, drinking air out of teacups (a normal afternoon for six-year-olds like themselves).

Twyla shrugged, one pinky in the air as she brought the tiny cup to her lips. "Out," she said simply. "Doing adult stuff, I guess."

"My mom and dad are out a lot too," Alexis confessed. "They're around lots now, but it's not like this when we're home. I like this a lot better."

"Then I do too," Twyla said, then putting on the exaggerated British accent she'd heard in Mary Poppins: "Because I like our tea parties."

Alexis also tried the accent: "Would you like a biscuit, Twy?"

That was about as far as that went before they broke into giggles.

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

Her parents are equally surprised to see that Twyla does exist when she brings her home for dinner that night, and her father stumbles through an apology that is mostly "ums" and uncomfortable fumbling. Alexis is pretty sure it's the only apology she's ever gotten from, like, any member of her family, so she doesn't mind that it's not perfect.

Meanwhile, her mother simply says, "How were we supposed to know that your faithful companion was skin and bone, Alexis? You never brought her to us before," because it's Alexis's fault they've never listened… or paid attention… or cared.

By the time they leave, Alexis is angry and tired; but, when she suggests she and Twyla ''make up for lost time' with a sleepover at Twyla's apartment, it's not only because she wants to get away from them — she really does want to spend more time with Twy.

"Tea?"

Alexis blinks up at her, pulling her gaze from the spot she'd started staring at on Twyla's floor. "Hm? What?"

"Do you want some tea?" her friend asks with a fond smile on her face.

"Twyla, are you asking me to have a tea party with you?"

The smile she gets in response is blinding. "Yes, Alexis," she replies, bringing out an exaggerated English accent. "Would you like to join me for tea?"

"Yes, a spot of tea sounds quite lovely."

Despite having traveled to England, Alexis's accent is somehow worse, like a terrible Manchester-Cockney Frankenstein, but it's enough to keep Twyla's smile sparkling.

They end up sitting on the floor around Twyla's coffee table, sipping tea and eating an entire sleeve of Oreos from Twyla's cabinet, though the accents don't last more than a couple sentences. And their game of 20 Questions quickly becomes rapid fire:

"What's your favorite movie?" Alexis asks.

Twyla answers, "My Cousin Vinnie," with a grin. "Favorite place you ever traveled?"

"Ibiza, even though I barely remember it." Alexis shimmies her shoulders. "Have you ever left Schitt's Creek?"

"Nope, not for more than a weekend. How do you take your coffee?"

"I don't drink coffee, actually? You?"

Twyla smiles. "Little cream and sugar — I'm simple."

"Ew, Twy, that sounds like a bad thing," Alexis scrunches her nose. "Don't say that. You're… classic. Like a high power pony or, like, an A-line skirt."

The way Twyla tips her chin up and smiles can almost be described as preening, and Alexis can only smile right back. "Thank you, Twy."

"For what?"

"For all this, for coming to meet my parents tonight... " She shakes her head, curtain of blonde hair sweeping around her face. "You, like, have no idea how much I needed this. How much I, um… like… needed you to be real."

A soft hand reaches across the table and falls to her arm. "Me too."

"It just, like, got to me, you know?" Alexis looks into her tea for a moment. "Nobody listened to me. I even started doubting myself, like… Maybe I was just really lonely. Maybe I was just super imaginative or... whatever."

"I'm so sorry, Lex," Twyla frowns. "I can't imagine how hard that was for you and David."

"David?"

"Yeah — because of the ghosts?" Twyla explains. "I mean, he thought I was a ghost, right? Isn't that what you said?"

"I… I, uh, never thought about it like that," she says, blinking. "I mostly thought he was making fun of me — like, he just had bad dreams, that's all. Ghosts... aren't real."

Alexis watches as Twyla smiles around the rim of her teacup, shaking her head slightly before she puts it down on the coaster (because she doesn't have saucers).

"Oh, I think they are. I went with my aunt when she did an exorcism for this couple in Elmdale once," she says. "It was this whole big thing with a snake in their living room. She was really into all of that, actually. She taught me a lot."

Alexis pauses, brows pulling together. Could it be real, the same way Twyla is real?

The conflict must be written all over her face because Twyla asks: "Do you think, maybe, you guys were both hurting each other? He didn't believe you, and that was hard, but… It sounds like you didn't believe him, either?"

She's never thought about David's... issues... as the same as hers. He has nightmares — maybe even sleep paralysis. That's what their parents and Adelina always said. It's what the doctors said, according to David. Just like their mom, he slept better after popping a couple benzos, and it got out of control — that's what she's always thought.

"Um, I know I said I'd stay here tonight, but I think…" Alexis groans — being a better person is so fucking inconvenient. "Ugh, I think I need to go make sure David's okay. Maybe he shouldn't be sleeping there alone."

Twyla smiles. "I think that's a very good idea, Alexis."

With a hug and a promise to talk tomorrow, she heads home.

Chapter Text

I've seen a lot of ghosts, just not in the way you think. A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory,
a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But, in my experience, most times they’re just what we want to see

 


Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
THEN, THE FIRST NIGHT

David couldn't move.

When he opened his eyes, the moonlight peeking through the window cast its light directly over his face… and he couldn't move. He wanted to roll over and bury his face in the pillow, but he couldn't. He couldn't even lift his arm to drape it over his eyes.

Something like dread settled over his tiny body, and his lungs seized up, breaths punching through him in ragged puffs. David was panicking, unable to even wiggle his pinky — but that wasn't even the worst of it.

No, that slight feeling of dread? The thick anxiety that settled into his stomach like molasses? That was nothing. That was child’s play compared to the rush of cold, hard fear that took over when his eyes drifted, and he saw the figure at the foot of his bed.

It just looked like a shadow, at first, until David blinked and he could make out the shape. He took in the broad shoulders and popped collar, the bowler hat just slightly crooked on his head… In the dark, the figure barely had a face. David could only make out the curve of his nose and round, glowing eyes that seemed to pierce into David’s skin. There was a terrifying man in a trench coat standing right at the foot of his bed, and he couldn't run. He couldn't scream. He could only breathe rapidly as the panic took over his body and the man stepped into the light.

And then he shrieked.

Not David. The man.

His mouth opened so wide that nearly his entire face turned into a gaping black hole, and he shrieked so loudly that David felt it in his bones. It left his ears ringing when it stopped, but then it was gone. As quickly as he’d appeared, he was gone, and whatever had rendered him immobile released. Now David could scream.

Boy, did he scream.

David screamed until his cheeks turned red. He screamed as life finally came back to his hand, and he could fling his blanket off his body. He sobbed as he tripped over to Alexis’s bed, where his sister was innocently rubbing her eyes.

“David?”

He fumbled to grab her hand. “Someone was here — we need to get Adelina, we gotta go!” David practically dragged her out of bed, ignoring her sleepy protests, and pulled her across the hall, where their nanny’s door swung open.

“Alexis? David? What’s going on?”

It wasn't until he was in Adelina’s room, curled up between her and Alexis, that David calmed down enough to speak. She'd checked under his bed and his dresser, in his closet, and inside every other hiding space she could think of… but there was no sign of the man with the trench coat or any indication he was there at all.

“I can’t believe you didn’t hear it,” David said, breathing deeply while Adelina’s hand carded through his hair. “He screamed so loud, it hurt my ears.”

Alexis’s head rustled against the pillow as she shook her head. “I didn’t hear anything, I promise,” she said.

“It sounds like a horrible dream, mijo,” Adelina cooed, “but he’s gone now. Right?”

David shuddered, but he nodded. The cold feeling was gone, and no glowing eyes were watching across the room — none that he could see, anyway.

“You can both sleep here,” Adelina said. “Just for tonight.”

“Just for tonight,” David echoed.

 


 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

"Why does it bother you so much that she's real?" Stevie asks, peeling off a piece of her Twizzler like it's string cheese. "Twyla is nice — like, freakishly nice. She literally brought me chicken soup when I was sick once, like a cartoon character."

They're in the movie room, To Catch a Thief playing in the background (though neither of them are actually watching it, at this point).

David shakes his head. "It's not her, specifically."

"I mean, did you want your sister to have been haunted by a creepy ghost kid?"

It's a stupid question, and David knows Stevie is asking it on purpose. So, he rolls his eyes and says, "Obviously not. You know that's not it."

"So, what is it?" Stevie blinks innocently in that facetious way she does.

David hates how much he likes her. He angrily rips a Twizzler with his teeth.

"It's just… If Twyla was — is — a real person, not a ghost, what if…" He sighs and turns to face her head-on. "Stevie, what if it means I am crazy? What if there were never any ghosts here, and I'm a fully grown adult still afraid of monsters under my bed?"

Stevie sighs, turning too, so they're both sitting sideways. Her arm drapes across the back of the couch.

"David, you know I don't think you're crazy, and I know what you went through here. I saw it too. And you know that I believe you because you know I'm incapable of faking sincerity." She pauses. "I'm also incapable of sincerity in general."

He considers pointing out the irony of her making a claim like that while simultaneously being more sincere than anyone else he's ever talked to about this, but he doesn't.

She nudges him. "Have you thought about how this could actually prove you right?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Alexis didn't make Twyla up, right? Everyone told her that she did. Everyone told her she was in her head — including you, by the way," Stevie says.

"Mmkay, what's your point?"

"I mean if Alexis could've been right all along… Who gets to say you're not?"

David opens his mouth. Then he closes it. Even when they were kids, Stevie was shameless about calling him out on his shit, and apparently, his self-doubt as an adult is no exception. Who gets to say you're not? Like it's simple. Like it's nothing. The unwavering belief in him does something really stupid to his heart, especially as he watches Stevie smirk because she knows that she's got him. That's when he does what could become one of the stupidest things he's ever done. He puts his hands on either side of her face, and he kisses her.

It's brief, impulsive, and — for just a moment — when she pulls back to look at his face, David feels a rush of panic. He thinks, well, there goes his one friend, just because she gave him a little crumb of validation. Fuck. When did he get so pathetic?

But then Stevie doesn't pull away.

It can't last more than a literal second, maybe even less, but their eyes meet, and a question hovers in the air. David hears it. If Stevie's raised brow tells him anything, she does too. Because they have a decision to make but little time to make it; this is their trolley problem, and they're careening towards the fork in the track. Do they want to do this?

Stevie decides.

She leans into him, and their lips crash back together in a bruising kiss.

This one is deliberate. It isn't rushed and impulsive, like the first. It's purposeful. Exploratory. Stevie's hand finds the back of David's neck as he plunges his tongue into her mouth, and her fingers card up into his hair slowly enough to make him shiver. When David's hands fall to her hips, she swings one leg over his to straddle his lap.

It's easy. Natural.

And David has kissed friends before, but never one with the kind of history he and Stevie have. To be fair, he's never had this kind of history with someone, period, but that's not the point. Things between him and Stevie are complicated, while his past relationships are simple enough to be narrowed down to people he got high with, people he worked with, and people he fucked. Sometimes, they overlapped, but that didn't really deepen the pool. Comparing the meaningless flings in his old life (even the good ones) to what he and Stevie have been through together is like trying to compare apples and oranges. You don't pit a rich, complex Bordeaux against cheap boxed wine from a gas station.

So, when Stevie pulls back for air, she gives him a knowing smile.

"Still mad about Twyla?" she asks.

David grins crookedly back. "What's a Twyla?"

He shakes his head as he leans back in to kiss her laughing mouth. It's all teeth and tongue, but it's David's favorite kiss so far, and it only leads them back to where they started. After a bit, he totally loses track of time while they lazily make out on the couch of their movie room like the teenagers they should've been together, occasionally pulling apart to breathe and tease each other, Cary Grant brooding behind them.

Is it minutes? Hours? Days? Time has always felt slower in this little pocket of their world, but with Stevie in his lap, his tongue curling around hers, it passes like fucking molasses. And it's nice. It's better than nice. Except.. then the alarm on Stevie's phone goes off, and they both jump so high they nearly fall off the couch.

"Jesus!" David exclaims, his hand flying to his chest like he's an 18th-century maiden. "The fuck is that?"

Stevie leans towards the arm of the couch to find her jacket, reaches into her pocket, and holds the phone up so he can see the time. "4:50," she reads, and David drops his head back against the couch with an over-exaggerated ugh sound. She just laughs at him as she slides the alarm off and settles back down onto the couch next to him.

"Well," she says, "Guess I can't say I've never brought a guy in here anymore."

He clicks his tongue. "Would we say you brought me here, or…" He leans his elbow on the back of the chair and props his head up with his fist. "It's kind of my house."

Stevie tilts her head. "It's kind of my hotel."

"Mm, is it now?"

"I mean, basically. I run the place. You just live here."

David shuts that down with yet another kiss, this one brief. When they separate, he starts to speak, but so does she, and their words get buried in the awkward fumble.

"You go," he tells her, bracing for the, well, this was fun, but we should never do it again.

Instead, she says, "You know, you… You can come back with me to my place. Instead of, um, sleeping here. I know you hate it here."

"Oh."

David tries to hide his smile, and… fuck, he wants to say yes. He wants so badly to say yes; it almost scares him more than this house. Once upon a time, he'd been desperate to find any reason to not sleep here — that David, the strung-out David of six months ago, would've said yes, but this David sighs and says, "Tempting, but…"

"But..." She raises a single brow.

It takes a moment, but then he realizes. She's just as concerned about rejection as he is.

(It's weirdly comforting.)

He shakes his head quickly. "No. No, it's not… not that." He clears his throat. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but… I can't leave my parents and Alexis? Alone? My mom's been sleepwalking again, and I just have this fear she's gonna walk right off the—"

"—Hey." Stevie puts her hand on his arm. "I get it." Because of course she does. "You know there's no way in hell I'm getting a room here, though, right?"

David laughs in surprise. "I'd actually rather you didn't."

"Ouch," she teases.

"You know what I mean."

"David Rose," she says, pronouncing it slowly, almost tauntingly. She leans closer into his space. "Are you worried about me?"

"You know what?" he replies, nudging her away playfully. "No, I just want you out of my house."

Stevie laughs and grabs her bag as she rises to her feet. "Careful, or I'll kick you out of my hotel."

"I'll fire you first."

"Ooh, that's right. You're kinda like my boss, technically, aren't you?" She tilts her head. "How many Hill House Hotel company policies do you think we just broke?"

David's face twists into something like horror. "Out."

"Actually, speaking of which," Stevie does move closer to the door, casually stepping backward, but she keeps talking. "Do you think I could have that raise now, or do you think that'd be considered favoritism?"

David rolls his eyes. "Goodnight, Stevie."

"See you tomorrow, boss." She grins as she opens the door. "Best wishes."

"Warmest regards."

David stares at that door (for longer than he'll admit) after she's gone.

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

"I have regrets," David said, gripping the railing tightly as he and Stevie descended into the basement. His other hand held his flashlight, whipping it around to point every which way (as if he could see everything at once if he tried hard enough).

When they'd found a laundry shoot earlier that day, it'd seemed like a fun idea to toss something down and see where it went. However, that was before they'd realized it meant trudging down the stairs into the dark basement.

Stevie, undeterred, just held her flashlight under her chin, creepily illuminating her face. "Are you afraid of the dark, David?"

"No," he said, too quickly. Stevie arched a single brow, pulling the truth right out of him: "I am afraid of bad things hiding in the dark, though."

"How is that different from being afraid of the dark?"

David rolled his eyes. "It just… is, Stevie."

They made it down, David immediately making a beeline for where he thought the shoot would end, both of their flashlights dancing together in the dark. Sure enough, they found Stevie's baseball cap on the dusty floor below a metal shoot. David saw her smile as she proceeded to put it on her head.

"Neat!"

David, on the other hand, cringed. "Ew, Stevie!" he whined. "You don't know what's been down here. You could've just put a cockroach on your head!"

"I've always wanted a pet." Even in the dim light, he could see her smirk.

"Ugh!"

When they turned for the stairs, though, they were reminded that there were much worse things than cockroaches. On the opposite wall, David's flashlight found a pair of glowing eyes in the dark. His lungs seized as something rumbled slowly, lowly, like the growl of a jungle cat. They could just barely make out the shape of a person there, on all fours, and it growled again before it started moving towards them.

"What the heck is that?" Stevie half-shouted, her voice at a higher key than David had ever heard it. He grabbed her hand. "David, what is that?"

"Go," he choked. "Stairs. Go, go, go."

David bolted to the stairs, yanking her along and giving her a push to go ahead of him when they reached the first step. They ran (up, up, up) until David dared to look behind him, where he saw nothing but a dark basement. He couldn't decide if that was a good or a bad thing, because it meant he didn't know where that thing was now. Distracted, he tripped on the last step, and Stevie pulled him to his feet before shoving him through the threshold. David landed flat on his face as Stevie slammed the door, then locked it behind her with a hard click.

"I told you," he said, letting Stevie help him to his feet. "I told you, I told you, I told you — this place is bad, Stevie! It's bad!"

"Was that a ghost?"

"Obviously!" David yelled, then: "Probably!" His chest heaved. "Come on, you need to come tell my parents you saw one, too. They'll have to believe me if you tell them too."

 

 

 

In the living room — what would eventually be a guest lounge — Moira leaned against her husband's chest while he wrapped his arms around her waist. Even surrounded by overflowing cardboard boxes and empty shelves, they managed to feel completely at home… simply because, for them, home was wherever they stood together. It had always been this way for them, ever since they'd met in a crowded bar all those years ago. Johnny, of course, had been seeing someone else at the time, but Moira had waited, and they'd found their way to each other eventually. Now, they were inseparable; the Roses were seen as a 'power couple' within their circle, a term that Moira, especially, was fond of.

"You know, I'm having quite the deja vu, John," Moira said. 

Johnny chuckled. "It does remind me a bit of our den at home."

"No, not like that," she replied. "I see this room. Specifically."

"Oh, yeah? What do you see?"

"Hmm, well, there are two tables here," she described. "Plush, velvet couches line that wall there, and a reading chair — no, two reading chairs, facing each other — sit right by the window." Moira paused. Though it'd be impossible for her to explain why, a clear image of this room unfolded before her eyes, as familiar as a dream the morning after: clear, to a point, then slightly faded around the edges. "Some case goods and leather tucked away, and this tall bookcase full of leather-bound books — all of the rare first editions at the very top... where the children' dirty little hands can't reach, obviously."

Johnny made a thoughtful noise at the description.

"Well, that... got very specific, Moira."

"Mmhm, and you know what else I see, darling?"

He pressed a kiss to her temple. "What's that?"

"An accident worthy of a Sunrise Bay season finale," she replied, pointing at the balcony outside the locked, red door, "if you don't talk to the crew about that rusty railing."

"I'll talk to Maureen before she leaves tonight."

As parents often are, Johnny and Moira were interrupted by their son when he burst through the entryway. Stevie was right behind him, her hand clasped in his.

"Kids," Johnny asked. "What's going on?"

"We need to go home, dad." David looked to Stevie, who was actively disguising how much his eagerness to leave stung. "Tell him what we saw."

She opened her mouth, but Johnny shook his head before she could speak.

"Stevie, I think we need to have a family conversation," he said. "David can find you later."

With a cringe that said 'good luck with that,' she released his hand and left the Roses alone. The snub probably should've hurt, but Stevie knew she wanted nothing to do with that conversation, anyway; She'd overheard her fair share of adult conversations and put up with enough family drama for a lifetime, already, in just nine years. Meanwhile, Johnny exchanged a look with his wife before turning back to his son with a stern expression.

"David," he said, "now I know that you've been having nightmares—"

"—They're not nightmares!" David whined, cutting him off. "This house is bad, dad. I want to go home."

This time, it was Moira who sighed.

"While I encourage your enthusiasm for the dramatic arts, darling, I think it's best we save it for the stage, hm?"

Her son groaned. "I'm not —"

"Adelina," Johnny spoke suddenly, as the nanny walked into view in the foyer. She'd be better at handling this situation than him and Moira. "I think the kids could use some fresh air. Would you mind taking them for a walk?"

As David turned, he saw her smile.

"Of course, Mr. Rose," she said, holding out her hands. "Come on, David."

Satisfied with this, Moira stepped away as well. "I'll be in my dressing room if you need me," she said, more to Johnny than her son and Adelina.

If David didn't prefer Adelina's company to his parents, he might've persisted, but he would rather spend his time with his nanny, so he crossed the room to her with a sigh and accepted her hand.

As he and Adelina walked away to find Stevie and Alexis, David softly asked:

"Which room is her dressing room?"

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

David misses the city. He misses the constant movement and light. He misses being able to go get pancakes in the middle of the night just because he wants to. He misses the art, the theatre, the hum of traffic, and speed-walking through the streets. Most importantly — or, at least, most relevant — he misses being anywhere that's not here.

Why did he have to be a decent person and not take Stevie up on her offer?

Here the silence screams in his ears, loudly enough to keep him awake. There are no more comforting, whirring sounds of the city outside his window; in this literal ghost town, all he hears are crickets and the occasional creak of floorboards, or… walls… or whatever is so fucking creaky in this hell-hole. David curls up on one side, facing the wall, but that’s not any less uncomfortable. So he shifts to his other side, then practically flops onto his stomach to bury his face in the pillow.

“Can you, like, not sleep any louder, David?” His sister’s voice is muffled by her blanket.

He huffs and rolls again, leaning on his elbow to glower in the general direction of her twin bed. “Well, you’re the one who put that shit about ghosts walking through walls into my head.”

“Oh my god,” Alexis snaps, sitting up sharply. “It’s not my fault you’re practically forty and still believe in ghosts.”

David sits straight up too. “Practically forty?” he echoes, voice rising in both volume and pitch. “I’m basically twenty-nine.”

“Yeah, okay,” Alexis scoffs, “and this place is basically haunted.”

“And you’re basically a bitch.”

“And you’re bas—”

She’s interrupted by a loud bang, like a fist on a door… but it doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the entrance to the room (nor is Schitt’s Creek the kind of place where anyone starts knocking on doors at 2 AM anyway). It sounds like it’s inside the walls.

David’s blood runs cold.

“What was that?” he asks as if he doesn’t already know.

With another thud, the paintings rattle on the wall across from them.

“I… don’t know.” Alexis hesitates. “Go turn on the light.”

Another thud. The bathroom door slams shut.

You go turn on the light, Alexis!”

Thud. The dresser wobbles.

“Ugh, you’re the older one, David.”

Thud. Something crashes to the floor across the room.

You’re the one who doesn’t believe in ghosts!”

David’s voice rings in his own ears over another thud; this one is so loud, it shakes the wall behind them, jostling their rickety headboards and the painting between their beds. Another thud and the frame crashes to the floor.

Suddenly, just like she’s six years old again, Alexis bounds across the room to jump onto David’s bed, and he scrambles to switch on the bedside lamp without putting his feet onto the floor. No longer small children with bad dreams, they’re squeezed tightly together as they sit side-by-side on the little cot.

This kind of closeness, he realizes, is strange now…. Especially when she surprises him by looping her arm through his. Their elbows fold together like they’re the Bennett sisters visiting Pemberley, not twin victims in a Stephen King novel. As if that’s not weird enough, Alexis tucks herself into his side as another crash shakes the walls, then another, and another, until they’re surrounded by it. He doesn’t know where it’s coming from anymore; all four walls are shaking as if being run into by angry rams.

“Fuck, c’mere.”

Instinctively, David wraps one arm around his sister’s back and tucks her head under his chin, just in case pieces of the ceiling start falling or something; his other arm wraps in front of her, over her head, just as another shield.

Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.

Then, just as quickly as it started, the banging stops. Everything goes still.

They still don’t move for nearly a full minute; David’s not sure he trusts whatever this is to be over, and Alexis doesn’t seem to, either. When it stays quiet, though, Alexis carefully detaches herself and starts fixing her hair as David clears his throat.

His voice lilts: “You were saying?”

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

"What do you think is in there?"

"I don't know, Alexis. That's why I'm trying to open the door."

David huffed as he jiggled the so-called skeleton key in the lock, trying desperately to hear the click of the tumblers. It'd been weeks since they'd moved into Hill House, and they still hadn't found the key to the mysterious room on the upper landing. 

Amongst the plain wooden entryways on the second floor, a lone red door sat at the end of the hallway. It was tucked only feet away from the children's bedrooms, but somehow seemed out of place — not just in color, but in its size and shape. More appropriate for a medieval castle, the red door was plump and round, lined with bolts around the edges, and featuring a brass lion's head for a doorknob. Just outside the room, the dark aisle opened up to a balcony that overlooked the library and a wide spiral staircase. There'd been much speculation about what, exactly, hid behind it, but the Roses weren't quite willing to break down the ornate wood just yet.

Well, David probably would've, if his parents allowed it. (They would not.)

"I bet it's something cool," she decided. "Like… a really big closet. With lots of shoes!"

David agreed. "That would be cool."

But she lost him when she chirped, "Maybe it's a pony!"

"This door has been locked for years," he retorted, shooting his sister a look. "If there's a pony in there… it's dead."

The five-year-old blanched. David slammed his hand against the wood.

"Come on," he said. "This isn't working."

When they turned their backs and trotted down the staircase, they missed the shadow creeping by on the other side of the door.

 


 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

“O-kay,” Alexis says slowly, scooting back, so she’s sitting on the foot of David’s mattress; she doesn’t even feign an attempt to go back to her own bed just yet. “There is a chance that… you may have been... not wrong. About this place.”

David looks at her, ragged breaths punching out of his chest like his lungs haven’t gotten the memo that nobody is breaking through the wall and Lizzie Borden-ing them.

“So, you’re saying I’m right?” he asks. “You’re finally saying I’m right?”

“Ugh, David.” Alexis rolls her eyes and makes a show of it like she actually wants to look as annoyed as physically possible. “Don’t, like, gloat about it or whatever.”

David shakes his head. “Mmkay, no, I have every right to gloat about it,” he retorts, gesturing broadly with his hands (that are definitely not shaking, thanks). “Everyone but Stevie has been telling me I’m insane for, like… twenty years!”

Alexis huffs. “I never called you insane, David.”

“Oh. My god,” David forces a breath through his nose. “You might as well have, Alexis. Do you have any idea what it’s been like for me? What it’s like being back here?

Alexis bites the inside of her cheek. “Fine, I’m sorry, okay?” Her voice is sharp at first, but then she sighs and softens. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you — but you didn’t believe me about Twy, either, you know. Nobody did.”

David looks down at his hands. It’s not really the same — Twyla hasn’t haunted Alexis for two decades, and she was her friend, not a creepy dead stalker — but the point isn’t completely moot. They did tell her that her best friend had been in her head for years.

Quietly, he admits, “That’s fair.”

“So, we’re even?” Alexis seems pleased.

Not really, he thinks, but his entire body seems to think they’re still being attacked, and he doesn’t have the emotional or physical energy to explain that to her right now. At least he got an apology, twenty years late, even if it had a ‘but’ after it. With this family, David has learned to just take what he can get.

“Fine,” he mumbles.

The room falls quiet as David absentmindedly turns the ring on his index finger in a full circle, following it with a deep breath. One. He does the same with the ring on his middle finger. Two. His ring finger. Three. His pinky. Four.

“So, what are we going to do?” Alexis asks, startling him.

“I don’t know,” he replies. One, two, three, four… “Let me think.”

One, two, three, four. One, two—

“What are you doing?”

David looks up. “I just told you.”

“I mean with your rings.”

“Oh.” Caught, David flexes his hand. “Nothing, just… a habit. Helps me think.”

One. Two—

“Ohmygod, David,” Alexis blurts, and he knows she remembers because her eyes go all wide like she caught onto something scandalous — which this stupid little habit is not. “Are you… counting? Do you still do that?”

He stands up and shakes out his hands, trying not to rile himself up more. “Alexis, can you just stop judging me for, like, five fucking seconds, please?”

“I’m not judging you,” she says, immediately enough that David looks at her in surprise. After a slightly longer pause, she admits: “I actually think it’s… kinda nice.”

David blinks. “Oh.”

With a nod, she crosses her legs into a pretzel and pats the head of the bed. “C’mon, sit back down.” When he obeys (what choice does he have?), she reaches out to grab his hand — not to hold, but to point directly to the ring on his index finger.

“One,” she says.

“Alexis, you don’t ha—”

“Two.” She points to his middle finger.

He takes a deep breath. “Three…”

“Four…”

“One.”

“Two.”

“Three.”

“Four…”

 


 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
THEN

"I just want to go home."

David whined, certainly not for the first time, as Adelina tucked the blankets around his shoulders, then around his sister's. Tonight, she didn't even need to cross the room because Alexis was right beside him. They'd pushed their twin beds together, something they'd done a few times now in the aftermath of one of David's nightmares.

Adelina smiled softly. "Can I tell both of you a secret?"

The children nodded, as children are wont to do when adults treat their advice like a magical secret; Adelina, of course, knew this.

"The wonderful thing about family," she said, "is that anywhere can be home, as long as you stick together. That's because, no matter where you go, you carry each other in your heart. And that's what home is." Adelina paused, then looked directly at David. "Next time you're scared, I want you to remind yourself that you're never alone, mijo."

David sighed. "How?"

"Hmm." The nanny considered this question for a moment. "Well, when I was upset, my mama taught me to take a deep breath."—she demonstrated, waving for David to follow—"then count to three… but you're going to count to four."

"Four?"

Adelina nodded. "Your mother, your father, your sister, and you," she explained. "That's who you carry with you, even when you're far apart."

Alexis beamed up at her big brother. "Did ya hear that, David? You carry me everywhere," she said, earning a light shove from him.

"Unfortunately," he replied, but the slight smile on his face said otherwise.

The smile on Adelina's face was a bit less subtle, and full of fondness for the kids she cared for as much as her own. "I'm going to turn off the light," she said, "and I want you to give it a try, okay?"

With a soft kiss to both foreheads, Adelina left them for the night, the soft sound of David counting matching the pace of her receding footsteps.

1, 2, 3, 4...

Chapter Text

There’s natural phenomena that we understand, and there’s natural phenomena that we don’t.
Primitive humans used to die of fright during an eclipse. They had no idea what it was. The eye
of an angry god. An evil spirit. Nothing supernatural about it, though. Once we understood
what it was, well, it was just natural.


 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
THEN

David stepped out into the hallway quietly, closing the door behind him for Alexis. It was rare that he left their bedroom after bedtime, but Adelina had flown back to Vancouver for the weekend to see her daughter, so dinner had been a disaster. David had eaten as much of his mother's attempt at enchiladas as he could (mostly because it'd been slathered in cheese), but he woke up starving only a few hours after he went to sleep.

The only thing that could make a young David Rose brave the halls of Hill House at night was the promise of food in the kitchen.

As he approached the stairs, though, he heard chatter, so he stopped, jumping behind a banister. What he saw, though, didn't make any sense to him: he saw his mother in the opposite hallway, talking emphatically to the air.

Of course, seeing her talk to herself wasn't unheard of. Moira was an actress, and her family often saw her rehearsing lines for one thing or another… just not at this hour.

What he didn't know was that his mother wasn't talking to herself at all… At least, Moira didn't think she was. She didn't stand in the hallway of Hill House, but back at the Rose manor, with a crumpled newspaper in one hand and a telephone in the other. While David saw the dark hall of their summer home, Moira was immersed in a ghostly illusion.

"They'd dare call me irrelevant?" Moira was saying as David approached, her voice rising in volume. "Shag carpeting — that's irrelevant! L.A. is irrelevant. I am relevant!"

"Mom? Who are you talking to?"

When Moira turned, David watched her blink herself back into reality; her glassy eyes focused on him, then danced around the room as she took in her surroundings. Suffice to say, they were both confused.

The matriarch looked back to her son, who watched her with concern. "David," she said, bringing herself into the present. "I… It seems I'm stuck in a reverie, dear."

It was at this point that Johnny Rose slipped out of the bedroom he shared with his wife to find her in the hall — not for the first time. There'd been several nights this month that he'd woken up in an empty bed, only to find his wife wandering around the grounds. Sleepwalking wasn't something Moira had always done, but he was sure that it just came along with sleeping in a new place.

"Sleepwalking again, Moira?" he said as he approached, before spotting their son standing near her. "David! What are you doing out of bed? It's the middle of the night."

David gaped a bit like a fish. "I was just… getting some water," he lied. It didn't seem like a good time to mention his growling stomach. "Is mom okay?"

"Oh, I'm… I'm just fine," Moira answered, still visibly disoriented. "Just having a bit of a walking dream — nothing a couple of bedtime pills won't fix. Go on, back to bed."

The boy hesitated before he obeyed, glancing between his parents before he retreated to his room without a snack. Johnny and Moira lingered in the hall.

"Are you sure you're all right, sweetheart?" Johnny asked.

Moira waved a delicate hand. "Just another strange dream."

"You've been having a lot of nightmares lately." Her husband's voice was laced with concern. "Is something on your mind?"

"I just miss my work, darling, that… That must be it." Moira sighed, a sound a bit too melancholy to be wistful. "Do you think they'll forget me, John? All this time away…"

Johnny's smile was soft and fond. "Impossible."

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

When Alexis wakes up, she's fucking freezing, and it only takes a second to figure out why once she opens her eyes. The first thing she sees is David, wrapped up in one comforter like a happy little burrito, the other partially draped over his side. Apparently, her pain-in-the-ass brother steals blankets even when he's got his own. They'd pushed their beds together last night, just like they had when they were kids and David had a nightmare — or, shit, when he'd apparently seen an actual ghost and they'd treated it like a nightmare, she guesses.

The squeeze of guilt is almost enough for her to just let him keep the fucking blanket.

Almost.

Instead, she grabs as much of her comforter and tugs as hard as she can, successfully pulling enough of it back to cover herself and jostling him awake.

"What the fuck?"

Alexis rolls herself up in the blanket now that she can pull it completely on her bed. "You're a greedy little racoon, David," she says.

"Excuse me," he says. "Greedy? Who graciously pushed these old, heavy beds across the room because you were scared last night?"

Alexis gasps and throws the blanket off her head like a hood. "Because I was scared?" she echoes, jaw dropping. "That's so not what happened."

"Please, you came running the second things got weird—"

"—Because I thought you'd be scared, David!"

There's a loud knock — this time, on the door — and Alexis jumps. Even more embarrassing, she immediately reaches to grip David's arm.

"Children, would you care to join your father and I for brea—" Their mother's voice rings through the door before it swings open, but halts when she sees their room. "Well, well! What's this little encampment you've made for yourselves?"

David rolls his eyes. "We just moved the beds a little."

Their father appears behind their mother's shoulder (because the universe hates them, apparently), and looks at them like they're holding a bunch of kittens or something.

"Would you look at this!" He's outright beaming. "It's so nice to see you kids getting along — isn't this nice, sweetheart?"

Moira hums. "Very nice," she says, sounding almost suspicious. She points at the walls. "Is there any particular reason you've vandalized your room overnight?"

Oh. The paintings. All four around the room had dropped onto the floor, and a few of them now have cracked frames. Both their parents look around and their father's voice goes from delighted to disappointed.

"Kids, we need to take care of these rooms," he says.

David looks at her and they have a silent conversation: Do we tell them? I don't know, should we tell them? No, they'll make a thing out of it. Yeah, it's not worth it — not like they'd actually help.

"Didn't you say something about breakfast?" is what he says aloud.

 


 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
THEN

"Where's Moira?"

They were in the kitchen one morning: Johnny with his paper and coffee. Maureen stood at the stove, with a kettle, making tea for herself and Adelina, who was due to come downstairs with the kids any minute now. Somehow, the Roses (and their nanny) were incredibly lucky to have two children who liked to sleep in.

"Oh, she'll be down in a bit," Johnny replied. "Off to a late start. She's still in her dressing room."

Maureen's brows pulled together. "Her dressing room?" she asked, seemingly confused before shaking it off and refocusing. “Is she okay?” she asked instead.

“Hm?” Johnny looked up from his paper, and she gestured to the stairs. “Oh, yes, of course. She just hasn't been sleeping well the last week or two. Been a little…”

He trailed off, searching for the word.

“Scattered?” Maureen supplied.

Johnny pointed at her and nodded. “Scattered,” he agreed. “Yes. She’s a bit scattered. Been a lot to do around here lately, and she’s been cooped up, so…”

Again, he trailed off. Things were quiet for a moment, save for the sound of Maureen pulling mugs from their respective cabinets and Johnny flipping the pages of his newspaper. It was the kind of silence that hung when something went unsaid. In its own right, that hovering something was a ghost too, lying in wait.

Until Maureen shined the light on it:

“My sister-in-law used to work here,” she began, turning to lean against the counter. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Years ago — before Stevie was born.” She nodded as if agreeing with herself. “Kathleen. She was a maid. They lived on the property.”

Johnny regarded her carefully. He wasn't a psychic — didn't even believe in them — but he didn't need to be psychic to know this wasn't going anywhere pleasant. Maureen wasn't about to tell a happy story… It was right there in her tone.

Even if it weren’t, he should've expected it. There were no happy stories about Hill House.

He set his mug down and simply said, “Oh?”

Maureen nodded. “It was when the original family — the Hills — still lived here. Did you know this house had been in their family since the 1800s?”

“I… No, I didn’t know that.”

“Mmhm, they owned the land before there was even a house on it, and then it just got passed on, and on, and on…” She absently pulled at the sleeve of her flannel. “Anyway, Kathleen worked for the last of them. There was, ah, Henry, his wife, Sally, and Henry's sister. Her name was… Hannah, I think? Yeah. Hannah. Hannah Hill, and she had a daughter. Her name, I don’t remember. Jenny? Jackie? Something with a J.”

Johnny said, “Fascinating,” which, in this case, translated to, ‘I really don’t care.’

Maureen keeps going anyway. “The thing is,” she said, “this place… it fucked Kathy up. My brother told me all about the nightmares she had when she came back from a long shift — or just a night shift in general. She’d wake him up screaming bloody-fucking murder. Started sleepwalking, too. Talking to herself, walking into the woods in the middle of the night. Just snapped like a twig.”

Johnny thought of David’s screams and Moira’s wandering… but he shook it off pretty quickly. He’d always been a man of logic, while his wife was a woman of whimsy. And David took after her. When they felt, they felt strongly, and that was why David’s nightmares kept him awake and why Moira's sometimes carried her right out of bed. It was just who they were, not something lurking in the dark.

Whether it was naivety or denial, the simple fact was that Johnny didn't believe in ghosts. But he was curious. So he allowed Maureen to continue.

“One night, right after she found out she was pregnant with Stevie, my brother — her husband, obviously — found her wandering outside in the middle of the night, in the snow, nothing but her pajamas. No coat, no shoes. So, for Stevie's sake, they decided… Okay, they'd go stay at our mother's until they got their own place, and no more working at the house after dark. And you know what?” She waited, mostly for effect. “No more nightmares. No more sleepwalking. She still ended up a drug addict, or whatever — that’s why Stevie is with me most of the time, but… It seemed like a good rule to me, after all that. So we never stay after dark.”

Johnny raised his brows. “So, you’re saying…”

“I’m saying, if your wife has been acting a little… scattered, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to send her home for a bit. Let her take a break.” She shrugged. “From the house.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

He didn't think he would, but he said it anyway.

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

David must text Stevie on the way to the café because she's waiting in a booth when they arrive. Alexis watches as she slips off the bench to let David take the inside seat, her hand brushing against the inside of his wrist as he sweeps past her. It could be an accident, or… Alexis squints, but then Twyla is calling her name from behind the bar and she decides she'll harass David about it later.

"Hey, Twy," Alexis says, giving her family a 'one sec' gesture before trotting over to the bar. "Sooo something happened last night, and I was, like, really hoping we could get your expert opinion on it — since you're a profesh exorcist, or whatever."

Twyla looks bashful. "Oh, I wouldn't say that I'm—"

"—Don't be modest!" she says. "We're gonna ixnay on the ostsgay while my parents are around, but… think you could come hang with me and David later?"

At this, Twyla just smiles. "Sure, Lex."

Alexis reaches to tap Twyla's side of the counter twice.

"Thanks, Twy."

Alexis feels almost like a teenager again, if she'd actually had a normal teenage experience — y'know, just waiting for her parents to leave and then having a secret little huddle in a booth at the café. Obviously, the situation isn't ideal, but… it's almost nice?

This part, she means. Not the whole ghost situation. Like she said, that's not ideal.

They recount the night for Twyla and Stevie — David, obviously, being super dramatic about it and nearly smacking Stevie in the face with the breadth of his gesticulating. Conveniently, neither of them mention the part where they pushed the beds together, like some sort of unspoken sibling pact or something.

Alexis says, "We were wondering if you could call your aunt."

Twyla hesitates. "So, the aunt who taught me about spirits is actually in jail for fraud?" David and Stevie share a look at that, but Alexis ignores them. "She taught me a lot, though, and I still have some of her books, so… we can give it a try?"

David cringes. "Setting aside the fact that the woman who taught you everything you know is in jail for fraud —"

"Oh! Don't worry. The fraud wasn't because of her psychic services," Twyla says. "She was just stealing credit cards."

Stevie presses her lips together. "Well," she says. "That's a relief."

"I'm still not sure about this," David says. "What if we just piss them off more?"

Alexis rolls her eyes. "You could just, like, not come, David, if you're gonna be so cagey about it," she says. "This is Nicole Ritchie's real-life Ocean's Eleven team all over again."

Stevie has a visible reaction to this, and she looks like she's about to press for more details, but Twyla speaks first.

"Actually, David should really be there."

"Um, why?" he asks.

Twyla grimaces. "It just sounds like you and the house have, like, a real connection, so our best chance is to have you there—"

"As, like, what: bait?" David interrupts, and Alexis rolls her eyes.

Alexis is pretty sure that Stevie puts her hand on David's leg under the table when she says, "I don't know if that's a good idea."

At least she objects at a reasonable volume.

"Don't be a baby, David," Alexis says. "Twyla won't actually let anything happen to you." She looks to her friend beside her. "Right, Twy?"

Twyla nods. "Of course," she says. "It's less like having you as bait and more like… having better reception the closer you are to a tower."

David and Stevie exchange a glance, but his shoulders noticeably relax.

"Either that, or we talk to your mom."

Alexis and David say, "Absolutely not," in unison.

"She will not help," he says firmly. "I'll… I'll do it. If we can get rid of them for good… fine." He shakes his shoulders. "We can do it tonight."

Twyla shakes her head. "Actually, we have to wait for the next full moon, which is… next week, I think."

David groans. Stevie says, "Seriously?" And Alexis just shrugs.

"That's nothing," she says. "How much can happen in a week?"

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN

Nobody knows how Hill House chooses its victims or if it chooses at all. Perhaps it latches onto people at random, like a leech or a sinister parasite. Maybe it crawls through the cracks found in particularly vulnerable people… Or, perhaps, it has no say in who it haunts — just like a person has no say in whether or not they are haunted.

You might say some people are just prone to darkness, whether because they leave their hearts unguarded and become easy prey or because their boundless imaginations carry their thoughts to places that the average person never goes. And darkness has a way of spreading, like rot. It starts small, maybe as a simple thought, but then it sinks deeper. It grows. Sometimes, if someone gets too close, it can latch onto them, too, pass itself on… but it all starts with one spot.

So no one could say what caused Moira Rose to wake up in the dark. It could've been chance, bad luck, fate, or maybe she sensed the presence in the room. Whatever it was, when Moira opened her eyes, she knew that she and Johnny weren't alone.

At first, she just saw a shadow at the door — of a woman, maybe — but the figure disappeared too quickly for Moira to be sure. The shape seemed too tall to be Adelina, but… It could've been Maureen? The clock on the nightstand read 2:04 AM.

Had she stayed in her bed, things may have happened very differently for the Rose family, but Moira had never been the type to stay put.

"John," she said instead, nudging his arm. "John, someone's in the house."

She received nothing but a snore in response. So, Moira carefully stepped out of bed and into her slippers, wrapped her robe around her, and padded out into the hall.

At the end of the aisle, an unfamiliar woman waited for her. She was tall, slim, and very fair-skinned, dressed in a twenties flapper dress. Moira didn't recognize her, but she did know that she was not Maureen or Adelina.

The woman, Sally Hill, wasn't a woman at all anymore — it'd be a stretch to call her a person. She had been once, a very long ago, but it'd become impossible to know where the darkness ended and where she began. The truth is, Sally was lonely and bored and got a kick out of dragging others into the dark. She tilted her head to the side, indicating that Moira should follow along.

"Come on," she said. "Time's a'wastin'."

Like being pulled by an invisible force, Moira followed the stranger down the opposite hallway until they pushed through the dressing room door.

"I love what you've done with the place," Sally said, seeming to marvel at the additions Moira had made — paying special attention to her row of mannequins. "Your wig collection is somethin' else."

Moira seemed to soften with praise; her ghostly companion noticed.

"It certainly is," she agreed, brow raised. "You should know, this isn't even half of it. Just a selection of my favorites."

"Well, ain't you the bee's knees?" Sally sat down at the vanity, propping her chin upon her palm. "You must be quite the canary to have digs like this."

The room was exactly as it'd been when Moira left it last, but she looked around too, suspiciously following the other woman's eyes.

Moira feigned modesty. "I've been called one of the shining stars of my generation, but..."

Sally hummed. "I fancied myself a star once too, you know," she continued wistfully, "but that's the thing about stars, ain't it, sugar? Stars and flames… They both burn out."

This was a bit foreboding for Moira's particular tastes.

She raked her gaze around the room again. "I'm… dreaming, yes?"

Unperturbed, Sally smiled. "Of course you are, darling. I'm a dream, and so are you, and so are we." She gestured to the settee across the room. "Sit awhile."

Moira did, crossing her legs at the knee.

"You're lookin' a little tense," Sally observed. "Do you wanna talk about it?"

"Confabulate with a perfect stranger? I don't think so."

Moira didn't need to spill her secrets — not when Hill House had been watching her every move since she'd stepped inside. So touched by darkness, it found a way to seep into the skin of anyone unfortunate enough to stay too long. Sally Hill was already in Moira's head; she was in her lungs, like black mold, and soaked to her bones.

Best she didn't know that, though.

"It's your dream," Sally said with a shrug, turning her attention to the jewelry on the vanity. "You know, I used to love this room." She held a pair of dangling earrings next to her face. "Made me feel a little more like I belonged here."

Moira nodded. "Well, we're only here for the summer."

"But that's all it takes."

"All… what takes?"

Sally turned to her and said, matter-of-fact: "For them to forget you, of course."

There was a crashing sound, and Moira felt a sharp sting in her hand. Her knuckles were bleeding when she looked down.

"What just ha—"

"Moira!"

When she looked up, she wasn't standing in her dressing room, but in the bathroom she shared with her husband. Directly in front of her was the mirror, where she saw not one reflection, but a prism of her face where the glass was cracked. Johnny, on the other hand, saw his wife standing in front of their bathroom vanity, clearly having put her fist through her own reflection.

"Sweetheart, what happened?" Johnny came to her side, cradling her bleeding hand in both of his. "Why did you do that?"

Moira blinked. "I… don't know," she answered. "I was having such a strange dream, John…"

 

***

 

The following morning, Johnny's hand gently moved up and down his wife's back as she sat with him on the edge of their bed. Her suitcase was packed and propped open behind them. There wouldn't be time for someone to pack her wigs properly, but they'd arrive later in the week and safely return her girls to the manor. For the trip, she'd wear her favorite of the bunch (a short chestnut bob she called Gertrude).

"I'm sorry to leave you here, John."

"Don't be sorry, sweetheart. All I care about is you feeling well — and you haven't been sleeping here," Johnny told her. "You're exhausted."

She sighed, resigned. "It all just snuck up on me," she said. "Perhaps it's… all the fumes from the paint and construction. You know that's not good for my complexion."

"I'm sure that's all it is," John said gently.

"Are we leaving?"

David's voice startled them both as he spoke from the doorway, wide eyes glued to the open suitcase on the bed.

Johnny turned to his son. "Your mother is," he replied. "She hasn't been feeling well, so she needs to rest at home — but, don't worry, son, we'll finish the summer."

"But dad, I want to go home," David argued, waving around a piece of paper before thrusting it into his father's hands. "Look! I came here to show you this."

Johnny sighed as he leaned forward to inspect the sheet that his son had handed him. It was a disproportionate crayon sketch that Alexis had done of her friend Twyla, surrounded by flowers, including a big daisy in her hair that was nearly as big as her face.

"What am I looking at, son?"

"Alexis drew this," he said, exasperated, as if that ought to explain it. "Don't you get it? She's hanging out with a ghost! She has lots of drawings of her. But what if it's a bad ghost and it hurts her after it makes her feel safe?"

"Where would you get an idea like that?"

David rolled his eyes. "Scooby Doo," he answered, "but that's not the point!"

"That's a cartoon, son. If you're going to be a lawyer someday, you'll need to put together a better argument than that." Johnny shook his head. "Your sister has an imaginary friend, that's all. It's normal at her age."

The boy stomped his foot, earning a raised brow from his father. In his outrage, he didn't acknowledge the fact that even at ten, he knew he had no intention of being a lawyer.

"She's not imaginary! I don't know why Alexis got a nice ghost and I got a creepy one, but… Twyla has to be a ghost. She just has to be."

What he didn't say was, I can't be the only one like this.

Johnny sighed, then folded his hands. "I thought Adelina talked to you about that? It's normal for you to have nightmares, too, and for them to… uh, fall out."

"Fall out of what?"

"Fall out… of your head?" Johnny frowned. "Isn't that what Adelina says?"

David sighed petulantly. "Spill," he supplied. "She says dreams can spill."

"There you go!" Johnny held up a hand. "That's all your jacket man is. He's just a spill."

"But dad—"

"—David," Johnny stopped him there. "Alexis having an imaginary friend is one thing, but you're not five years old anymore, son. You should know the difference between what's real and what's imaginary."

Little did Johnny know, the only imaginary thing in Hill House was the illusion of peace he had created for himself.

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

A lot can happen in a week.

It actually only takes three days.

They're eating breakfast when Johnny comes bursting through the archway. Alexis is vaguely concerned since he looks a bit sweaty and he's breathing like he just ran a mile. His face is lit up in a smile that is so uncharacteristically manic, it's a little scary.

"Kids," he pants. "Moira, I have news…"

"Um," David says, setting down his coffee and scrunching his nose up. "If it's that you switched to Alexis's natural deodorant, we can tell."

Alexis gasps. "Ohmygod, rude, David!"

Her mother, on the other hand, looks genuinely concerned.

"John?"

"We got a buyer for the house!"

Absolute chaos breaks out.

Their mother makes this shrieking sound, and David tries to hide the fact that his eyes are welling up in tears while wearing a smile bigger than Alexis has ever seen on him. They're all practically jumping up and down (actually, Alexis literally does start jumping up and down). Next thing she knows, Stevie is walking into the kitchen, asking about all of the noise, David's taking her arm…

And then something explodes.

Literally.

There's this loud bang sound, and David stops tugging Stevie out of the room to say, "Mmkay, what the fuck was that?"

"That did not sound good," Stevie observes. "It sounded really bad, actually."

"I… don't know what that was," her father says. "Sounds like it came from the basement."

Like a well-dressed Scooby gang, they all go to the basement. Her father is the only one actually willing to go downstairs, though. David nearly has an aneurysm at the thought and Stevie simply says, "Nope." Based on their reactions, Alexis is pretty sure there's something she doesn't know about the basement… and probably doesn't want to know.

When her father resurfaces, he does not look thrilled.

"Okay, okay, it's okay, everyone," her father says. "It looks like a pipe burst. Easy fix."

David gives him a look. "Is it?"

Their father nods. "It's an old house, that's all," he says. "I'll get this fixed up, and by the time Andy gets here for dinner, it'll be like it never happened."

The way Alexis, David, and Stevie all exchange looks, Alexis knows they're all thinking the same thing. That wasn't just a pipe.

"Do we need to worry about that?" Stevie asks quietly. "Should we call Twyla?"

Alexis shakes her head before David can speak. "No," she says. "No, after tonight, it's somebody else's problem. We're done."

"We're done," David repeats.

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
THEN, THE LAST NIGHT

Moira intended to leave the following day — she really did. Her bags were by the door, ready for her to pack into the car on her way to a morning flight, but Hill House had a different bon voyage in mind.

Instead, she padded out of their bedroom in the dead of night, following the sound of her name echoing against the high ceilings. She walked through the hall, past the second-floor bedrooms, and came to a stop near the spiraling staircase outside the red door. Searching for the source of the sound, she gripped the banister and leaned forward to peer into the library. What happened next was unclear, even twenty years later.

For many years, Moira would swear that she felt two hands firmly pressing against her back before she pushed through the broken railing, but Johnny (and two sleep therapists) would say she'd merely sleepwalked to the overlook and leaned forward a bit too heavily. Either way, Johnny was woken up by the loud sound of metal-on-hardwood and walked out of their bedroom to find his wife in a heap on the floor. 

 

***

 

"Kids," Adelina's voice broke the silence in the children's bedroom, shortly after the clock ticked past 3:00 AM. She maneuvered between the two beds, gently shaking David and Alexis awake, both of them whining at the intrusion. 

"Mijo, mija, up, up."

David seemed the most annoyed. "What's going on?" he whined.

"We're going home," she answered, gently pulling a groggy Alexis up into her arms. "Get dressed, okay? The jet is waiting for us at the hangar." 

Alexis wiped her eyes. "Why?" she asked, while David, for once in his young life, happily complied with an early-morning instruction. 

"Don't worry about it, sweetheart. Everything is fine."

"That's what people say when it's not fine," David observed.

Adelina gave him a look. "Get dressed, David."

And, just like that, their summer at Hill House was over.

Johnny and Moira would arrive home several days later, after Moira's entire leg was contained in a black-and-white cast that, to this day, David couldn't confidently say wasn't somehow affiliated with Thom Browne. She was given a fair amount of pain medication, stopped sleepwalking, and never spoke of that summer again. 

To the relief of the adults, the children would remember very little about that night, especially young Alexis. By the time she was an adult herself, she remembered nothing but how she'd fallen asleep on the plane and woke up safe in her bed at Rose Manor. And neither Moira nor their father had any intention of changing that.

David did put it together over the years, though. It wasn't too hard to do — not once he remembered the rusted metal railing that hung from the balcony above the library as Adelina ushered them to the door.

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

Andy, the man who wants to buy the house, is an absolute pig. He's blatantly chauvinistic, hits on all three women in the room, and calls Alexis 'hot stuff.' It makes her want to throw up in her mouth, but he's filthy-fucking rich, and Alexis wants out. David needs out.

So she bites her tongue.

Moira "made" dinner, which just means that she transferred a frozen lasagna from its plastic tray into a glass casserole dish. They end up sitting around the grand dining table for the first time literally ever, making small talk about the town and the house. Well, she and their parents make small talk. Stevie (mostly) silently nurses a glass of wine while David stuffs his face.

"Yeah, my granddad," Andy says, mouth full, "opened our family's first shelf factory in a small town just like this one." Alexis cringes as she sees little bits of food flying from his mouth as he talks. "I tell you, this place is bursting with opportunity."

Johnny clears his throat. "Well... I think you're getting a bargain."

"975,000 dollars," Andy replies, clicking his tongue. His eyes turn to Moira. "That's a heck of a lot of cheddar! Don't you think so, sweetcheeks?"

"Sweetcheeks?" she echoes. "Aren't you the old-fashioned charmer?"

As Andy makes a horrific, 'rrow!' sound, Alexis exchanges looks with Stevie and David — both of whom also look like they want to vomit.

Alexis takes a breath. This is nothing. One dinner, and then they'll have almost a million dollars to split amongst themselves and get out of this house. She's survived much worse dinners than this one — like the one that was interrupted by the Korean police and ended in her getting arrested, or that awkward night on a yacht that got interrupted by Somali pirates, or...

"You know, Andy," Moira says, suddenly. "$975,000 suddenly seems like such a girly number."

Oh, boy.

Johnny looks suspicious. "What are we doing, honey?"

Unlike her father, Alexis knows a hustle when she sees one, and she glances over at David to see that he sees through their mother's game, too; Alexis can tell he's trying to hide his smirk with a long swig of his sparkling water. She watches as David and Stevie have a silent conversation, and her expression shifts to look a lot like his. Alexis winks at her with both eyes, and she jumps a bit. It takes her a second to realize it's because David kicked her under the table.

"Mm!" Stevie agrees, eyes sparkling mischievously as she looks across the table at David, then Alexis, then Moira. "I'd say it's almost... limp."

Alexis takes that as her cue and perks up, throwing her hair over her shoulder. "Yeah, it's, like… a-a-almost there, but not quite, you know?" She leans on the table, using it to deliberately highlight her cleavage. If Alexis knows how to handle one thing, it's an old-fashioned pig. She looks at her mother. "But, I mean… a million…"

"That's bold," Moira agrees. "That's sexy." (Ew.)

Andy makes this borderline-lecherous sound. (Double ew.)

"These are quite the little ladies you have here," he says, glancing between Johnny and David.

David smirks. "Mmmhm," David says, "But, you know... I think the little ladies are right."

And, finally, Johnny jumps in: "What's an extra $25,000?"

"It's chump change," Alexis agrees.

Stevie throws in, "It's cab fare."

"$25,000?" Johnny repeats, glancing at his wife.

"For you?" Moira says, sliding a hand onto his shoulder. "Come on. You can cough it up."

Andy hesitates for a split second before giving in and smacking his knee.

"All right," he agrees. "You know what? Let's call it a million! What the heck!"

Alexis screams internally. A million dollars.

"I'll come back tomorrow with a contract drawn up."

And that's it. They bid him goodbye, Alexis, Stevie and David cheering behind his back as he recedes into the foyer as Moira graciously walks him out. One million dollars. That'll do more than get them out of this house. Even if David and Alexis only get a couple hundred-thousand each, it'll get them to New York or Los Angeles, or wherever they —

It sounds like a car crashes through their front door.

"Um, what the fuck was that?" David asks, jumping to his feet.

Stevie does that thing where she says, "I'm sure it's nothing," but her voice pitches up from its usual monotone.

Then Moira screams.

Dread fills Alexis's veins as they all jump up from their chairs and start towards the foyer at the front of the house. David looks back at Stevie, who is close behind them.

"Nothing? You might want to tell that to your face," David replies with a grimace. "Personally, I'm feeling a deep, aching sense of dread right now." He gestures around his chest.

Alexis rolls her eyes. "You're always in a state of dread, David," she says. "That's kind of your whole brand at this point."

"Run with scissors, thankssomuch!"

When they get to the front of the house, Stevie roughly grabs David's arm, but it takes Alexis a second to realize what the fuss is about. Obviously, she sees right away that the 'crash' they heard was the sound of the chandelier hitting the floor. The huge hunk of metal and glass sits lopsided in the middle of the room, looking… honestly, like it'd really needed to be dusted anyway.

That isn't the disturbing part.

The disturbing part is that Andy's legs stick out from under the chandelier like the Wicked Witch of the East after Dorothy dropped a house on her. A gag-worthy amount of blood pools around the whole scene.

Hill House now has a body count.

Chapter Text


 

When we die, we turn into stories. And every time
someone tells one of those stories, it’s like we’re
still here for them. We’re all stories in the end.

 


New York City, New York
THREE MONTHS AGO

Alexis slipped through the doorway as quietly as possible, stepping off to the side and leaning against the back wall. Someone was at the podium talking about milestones and steps, and a couple of people collected little poker chips. Not paying much attention to that, Alexis's eyes scanned the chairs for a familiar pompadour and designer sweater.

She found it — found David — in the last row after a moment, recognizing him even though she could only see the back of his head. Who else wore Neil Barrett to rehab?

"Would anyone like to take a newcomer chip? How about 30 days clean? 60? 90?"

David stood then, to some quiet applause, and Alexis resisted the urge to clap loudly and yell something like, "Go, David!" Instead, she watched him step up to the group… uh, leader… person… and selected a green chip from the bowl held out for him. David probably thought he was hiding his smile, but Alexis saw it, and something like pride swirled around in her chest. Maybe because it's what she saw in his smile too.

He switched places with the woman and her bowl, holding his chip tightly as he leaned on the podium.

"David," he said. "Addict."

Everyone in the room echoed, "Hi, David," including Alexis, once she caught on (though it did put her a second behind everyone else).

David didn't seem to notice. "Haven't gotten this far in a long, long time," he said, waving the chip slightly. "And I'm starting step four again, which... I mean, 'a fearless moral inventory,' right?" He chuckled, clearly self-deprecatingly. "Mmkay, so I've been called a lot of things in my life. Like, let's see... 'loud,' obviously, um, 'a little much,' 'spoiled,' 'crazy,' — that's a big one — um, 'emotional,' 'a waste of talent.' You get it." He flicked his head back like he was flipping nonexistent hair from his face. "But fearless? Definitely not. I mean, the first time I went to rehab, it was a short detox program, and I was diving headfirst off the wagon within, um, I think it was three weeks?"

His voice lilted, and Alexis sighed. That sounded about right.

"Not fearless," he continued. "I was, like, barely legal, and I did it for my little sister, who was, um, still a teenager at the time. And, like, if you want someone fearless, she's the one you want to talk to. I don't think she's been afraid of anything in her whole life." He paused, waving one of his hands around as if to wipe the thought from the air. "But, anyway, she'd been getting into some trouble, and I… didn't want her to end up like me, you know? So, we made a deal. I'd go to rehab, and she'd never get a DUI again — which, um, technically, we both held up our end of the deal."

Alexis blinked a few tears out of her eyes and quickly wiped them away.

"The second time, it was for an old girlfriend, who'd said she was concerned, and I made it through the first month and a half." David shook his head. "Then I caught her with someone else when I got a day pass, and… uh, I didn't go back." He cleared his throat. "So, this is different. For me. And I realized recently that, um. It's different for a reason. It's different this time because I'm not here for someone else. I'm, um. Here for me. And that's… Yeah. That's new — but that's what they always say, right? You have to want it?"

David looked out at the room, and Alexis could identify the exact moment he spotted her. She saw his eyes widen momentarily, then watched as he blinked the surprise out of his expression. The sheer amount of surprise there was actually almost hurtful. Like, was it really that shocking that she'd come to see her brother in rehab?

Sure, she hadn't visited last time, but she hadn't even known he'd gone a second time until she'd heard he'd skipped out on the program already. This time, David had basically blown up his life and everyone who watched E! knew he was in rehab right now. The pictures TMZ had published the last night he'd been seen drinking were… damning.

David trudged through. "Anyway, I'm just gonna say thanks to Dr. Lee, who's probably — definitely — the reason I'm still here, and… Honestly? The rest of you, too. I had a really hard time with this part, in the beginning. The sharing, I mean. I've never been good at it — mostly 'cause, historically, the more people learned about me, the less interested they got, or the more they used it against me. But… Nothing like a court order to make you better at something, right?" David looked at who Alexis was fairly sure was Dr. Lee, who snorted. "No, but, after a while, hearing you guys talk about your stories, I… I've gotten better at it. I want to be better at it. "Because, um. Any addict alone... "

The room finished, "...is in bad company."

Okay, Alexis had never heard that one, so she ended up just saying, "pany," uncertainly.

The meeting went on for another twenty minutes, but after several more 'shares' and the chanting of this little prayer she thought she'd heard somewhere before (a little cult-like, if you asked her, but no one did), David met her at the table. Predictably, he grabbed a couple of cookies and poured himself a cup of coffee.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Um," she said, bristling slightly at his clipped tone. For reasons she'd never be able to properly explain fully, she blurted, "Stavros."

David blinked, clearly surprised. "Stavros?"

"Yeah, he's staying here — I actually, like, totally forgot you were here, too," she lied. "But look at you!" She tapped his arm. "90 days. That's three whole months, David!"

"Mm!" He nodded. "Mmhm, that is how long 90 days is, yep."

"I just thought I'd say hi," she said, twisting a piece of her hair. "While I was… here."

David swallowed another cookie, almost completely whole. "Well. Hi," he said, avoiding eye contact with her. "But I, um, don't want to keep you from Stavros, so..."

Alexis cleared her throat. "Right, mmhm. Stavros." She plastered a smile on her face. "I'm happy for you, David. You should come home for a bit after this. We can… hang."

"Sure," he said, and she knew it translated to absolutely not.

She bobbed her head a couple of times. "Okay, I'll, um. See you then," she said.

Alexis was fairly sure he didn't even watch her leave.

So… that went well.

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

"I mean, like, it's a super old house," Alexis is saying, arms folded tight in front of her chest. "This morning, a pipe burst, and my dad had to put it back together with tape or something. My brother and I heard the pipes, like… in the walls, the other night."

That's what their dad had said when they told him. Must've just been the old pipes. Alexis can hardly tell the cops that, actually, the ghosts who live in the house didn't like this asshole, so they dropped a chandelier on his head. So. She goes with what makes sense. The natural answer. The supernatural answer is… too much.

"Can I go now?" she asks, and the cop nods, just giving her a card and saying to 'call if she thinks of anything else' — as if she'll actually be doing that. She shoves it in her back pocket and sets out to find her brother on the grounds.

It doesn't take long. David is sitting on the concrete table at the edge of the property, his feet on the bench and a shock blanket around his shoulders. In his hand is a small, green coin; for a second, Alexis wonders where he got a poker chip, but then she remembers watching him take that little thing from a bowl three months ago.

She takes a deep breath and approaches the table, stepping onto the bench at his feet before plopping down next to him. For a moment, Alexis just sits with him quietly, watching the property change colors with the whirl of the police lights.

"You okay?" she asks after a moment, eyeing the chip he's passing between his fingers.

He closes his fist around the plastic. "Um, in what way?" he asks. "Are you asking about my sobriety or, like… in general?"

"Both?"

David chuckles, nodding quietly to himself. "Well, sobriety-wise, I'm not a flight risk," he says. "If that's what you're really asking. I'm okay — don't worry."

"I just noticed you're playing with the chip…"

"If anything, that means you have to worry about me less," David says. "I like having it with me. It, um… keeps me grounded. Reminds me how far I've come."

Alexis sighs. "I am really proud of you, you know."

"Thank you." It's barely above a whisper.

Another bout of silence. Alexis watches as David flips the coin across his hand like a magician moves a quarter between their fingers.

"I lied to you."

"Mm, well! That's not ominous at all," he says, face contorting into a cringe. "What about?"

She takes a deep breath. "Stavros didn't go to rehab," Alexis admits. "Not where you did, anyway. I just said that."

"What?" David's entire body moves with the question. "Why?"

"I didn't want you to know I was worried about you."

David nods several times. "Okay."

"I didn't exactly plan it?" She twists her fingers in her lap. "You asked why I was there, and it just came out. But you asked like… it'd be ridiculous for me to come see you."

"Alexis, at the time—"

"—I know," Alexis stops him, patting his knee twice. "At the time, you thought it was. I know that now. I left you behind."

David blinks rapidly, in that way he always has when he's trying not to let tears spill out. "It… kind of felt like that, yeah." He takes a shuddering breath. "It actually would've been nice to know that you were worried about me."

"Yeah, I know that now too," Alexis says. "I've been wondering if… If I would've been around, would you…"

David covers her hand with his. "Nope. Don't go there. It wouldn't have changed anything," he tells her sternly. "Not when it comes to that. I made my choices, Alexis. That's… a big part of the program. Thinking about that stuff. And you were a kid when I started going that way." He shakes his head. "If anyone could've done a better job being there, it was me."

"What?" Alexis balks. "David, what are you talking about? You were always there. Like, yeah, you drove me crazy, but when I called…"

"You shouldn't have had to call, is the thing," he tells their hands. "More than half of the messes you got into shouldn't have happened because you never should've been there in the first place. If I weren't such a mess, if I hadn't been high all the damn time, maybe…"

"Nuh-uh." It's Alexis's turn to cut him off. She squeezes his hand. "What did you, like, literally just say, David? It wouldn't have changed anything for me either. I made my choices. Right? That's a two-way street."

"I, um… I think I'm gonna go to a meeting?" David says after a moment. "When they tell us we can go?" He clears his throat. "Y'know, so, if you wanna come."

She smiles a little. "You want me to?"

"If you want to."

Alexis nods. "I want to."

She watches as he tries not to smile, tucking his lips off to the side. She rolls her eyes, then scoots close enough to drop her head to his shoulder. It's quiet again for a few minutes, oddly comfortable amongst the sounds of a crime scene.

"Hey, Roses!"

She lifts her head, and they both look behind them to see Stevie walking through the grass. Alexis's eyes flick to David's face just in time to see it soften.

"The cops say we're free to go," she says, hopping up onto the table on the other side of David. "You can't stay here tonight, so… I guess you can come to my place."

Alexis smiles. "Thanks, but… I think I'm actually gonna call Twy," she says. "We're, like, twenty years overdue for a sleepover anyway."

"What about our parents?" David asks.

Stevie's smile shifts into a smirk. "Oh, they're fine," she says. "The mayor heard what was happening and stopped by — you're all welcome to stay with the Schitts."

"Oh, god."

"Yeah." She snickers. "You're welcome."

"Speaking of your generosity..." David says with a shoulder shimmy. "Um, Alexis and I are actually gonna catch the 7:00 meeting, sooo do you wanna pick me up then?"

Alexis chimes, "And give me a ride to Twyla's?"

Stevie pretends to protest, but they all know it's just part of her Cool Girl vibe. Both David and Alexis are already mostly packed (ugh), so they're able to grab the essentials and toss a couple bags into Stevie's trunk before heading over to the Town Hall.

 


 

 

 

Los Angeles, California
ALEXIS — AGE SEVENTEEN

David slammed the door after practically throwing himself into the driver's seat. He'd just stuffed a bag of Alexis's belongings in the trunk while she'd listened to radio static in the passenger seat. She watched as David plugged his phone back into the cigarette lighter, filling the car with what he'd been listening to on the way to the airport: Fall Out Boy's last album. That would tell Alexis he was mad even if his entire… everything didn't already — he always regressed to his hair straightener phase when he was pissed off. With an over-the-top roll of her eyes, she sighed and reached over to turn down 'I Don't Care' so she could hear herself think.

"Put your seatbelt on," is all he said.

She complied with another deliberate sigh. It wasn't until they were on the highway that Alexis cracked, seeing David mouthing along to a particular angry song that she didn't know because it wasn't a single.

"You're mad."

We never believe again / Kick-drum beating in my chest again.

David turned it so low she could barely hear it anymore. "Yes, I'm mad, Alexis," he said, using his Indignant Big Brother Voice. "I just flew across the country in the middle of the night because you called me to bail you out after you drove a car into a Prada storefront."

"Ugh, it looked like the entrance to the parking garage!"

"Because you were high off your ass!" David's voice started doing that annoying, shrill thing that made her want to rip her ears off. "What the fuck were you doing driving?"

Alexis rolled her eyes. "You didn't have to come, David. Mom and dad would've picked up the phone eventually and sent someone," she retorted. "And I really don't think you have any right to be lecturing me about this."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm just saying," she continued, words flying from her mouth before she could catch them (not that Alexis thought she would anyway), "like, maybe you should wait until the coke is out of your system before you lecture me about drugs."

Alexis watched David's knuckles go white as he gripped the wheel. She hit a nerve.

"That's not fair," he said.

She laughed humorlessly. "Isn't it?"

"I'm not high right now, Alexis."

"Because you just got off a three-hour flight," she said, jaw tightening — such a self-righteous hypocrite. "I give you a solid twenty minutes before you're in mom's medicine cabinet when we get home. You think I don't know, David?"

David took a sharp breath and he went quiet for, like, a frightening length of time. Alexis started to turn the volume up to save herself from the silence, but David pushed her hand away from the dial and, next thing she knew, pulled onto the shoulder.

"Oh my god. Are you kicking me out?"

He blinked, surprised. "What? No, of course not," he says. "I'll wait until we're off the highway before I make you start walking. I'm not a monster."

Alexis rolled her eyes. "Ha ha."

The truth is, her brother was an incredibly predictable person. He was emotional, and it was almost embarrassingly easy to push his buttons to the brink. But, every once and a while, he managed to surprise her.

He did that when he said: "What if I went to rehab?"

The words rushed out so suddenly and so fast that Alexis thought she might've misheard.

"I — Okay, what?"

David took a deep breath. "If I go to rehab," he said, slower, "will you promise me that you won't pull something like this again? No more DUIs."

Alexis let out a breath. "You'd do that?"

"You could've killed someone — or yourself," he said, in lieu of an answer.

She pressed her lips together. "Okay," she said.

"Yeah? Deal?"

"Deal."

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

Alexis shifts in her seat, the last in a row in the town hall. Apparently, this is where they hold their AA meetings, and, apparently, there are quite a few addicts in Schitt's Creek. Somehow, that's both surprising and exactly what she'd expect. David had squeezed her hand before he'd volunteered to share, and as Alexis watches him fidget behind the podium, she feels a little swell of pride — not just for her brother, but for herself, for them as siblings, and for them as a family.

"Hi," he says, "I'm David, and I'm an addict."

"Hi, David."

(Alexis says it right with everyone else this time.)

"So, my sister's with me today. That's new." Alexis gives a little wave, which makes David smile (which feels surprisingly nice). "It's very new, actually, for us. Because we didn't have what anyone would call a normal childhood? So we haven't been — you know, normal siblings?"

She nods emphatically, feeling a few pairs of eyes on her, and David continues: "Most adult siblings, like, do things like… get lunch, and hassle each other's significant others, or… go mini-golfing… or something. I actually… don't know what normal people do?"

The group laughs quietly.

"But, instead of doing… any of that, I was picking her up from foreign embassies and sending colored contacts across the border, and she… um." He takes a deep breath. "Mmm, she probably just spent a lot of time hoping I wasn't dead or something?"

It punches Alexis right in the gut, and she has to look away from his face — because she never, ever told him that, but it's true. Because David loves to call her fearless, and it is true that she's not afraid of much. She doesn't put much stock into the opinions of other people, and she's pretty much the queen of "fake it until you make it." Alexis knows she's independent, capable, and savvy; her entire life thus far has depended on her being those things. But there is one thing that can strike fear in her heart and it's a pretty big one. See, she's spent a decent chunk of her adult life terrified that she'll have to bury her brother.

Those days are over, though.

They aren't those distant siblings anymore. They won't be.

David clears his throat. "So, yeah. We're not normal siblings. We're not a normal family, period. And most people think it's just because our parents are famous, or whatever, and that's definitely part of it, but… a lot of the messed up shit actually started here — when we spent the summer in Schitt's Creek as kids. At Hill House…"

So, Alexis listens as he recounts the story from his perspective and, by the time they walk out together (cookies in hand), she's somehow a little prouder than she was an hour ago.

 


 

 

 

Vancouver, British Columbia
LAST CHRISTMAS

When Alexis saw her brother, she almost didn't recognize him. He stood with his back against the railing on the second-floor balcony, french doors wide open, and his face turned toward the sky. He was skinny, his sweater hanging on him almost more like a poncho, and the moon illuminated his sunken cheeks. He looked anemic, which he very well might've been, but… Mostly, he was just on another bender. She'd seen him go in and out of those phases since she was a teenager — sliding along the scale between drug-addled mess to your average wealthy party boy — but, since Sebastien, David might've been on his worst slip yet. At his best, David would dive head-first into his collection of rom-coms and junk food after a breakup, but at his worst… Apparently, he blew up his entire life.

Meanwhile, their mother was performing downstairs after dipping into her own holiday stash and, somehow, this all felt like a metaphor for Alexis's entire life. Her mother, stoned and oblivious downstairs, David on a ledge upstairs, and Alexis stuck standing between them with empty hands.

"You gonna come out here, or are you just gonna stare at me?"

David turned his head to face Alexis directly, his words wrapped in smoke. Tendrils swirled from the joint between two of his fingers, though she knew that was the tamest thing in his system.

Still, Alexis folded her arms over her chest and stepped onto the parapet.

"Can you not, like, lean on balconies when you're fucked up, David?" she asked, pulling him back with a fist full of his too-big sweater. "You look like shit."

David swatted her hand away with an expression of annoyance but did step a bit closer to the house. "And a very Merry Christmas to you, too," he retorted.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" she asked. "You were doing great, David. You had the gallery, and… Two years! You had two years. And you threw it out because you got dumped? I know those pictures were—"

David barked a laugh loudly enough to cut her off. "You think this is about Sebastian and revenge porn? Oh my god. No." He flicked what little remained of his joint onto the concrete. "Also, it turns out, I didn't have the gallery. Never did. Mom and dad had the gallery. They paid off all my patrons. So. I had nothing."

Fuck. Their parents were really clueless, huh?

"They were probably just trying to help," she tried.

David shook his head. "Is there something you want, Alexis?"

God, and she could've screamed. She wanted to. She really wanted to.

"I want my brother back," was what came out instead. "You see him lately?"

David rolled his eyes. "You're looking at him, Alexis. This is it," he said, gesturing exaggeratedly to his general person. "One foot in crazy, the other on a banana peel — isn't that what mom said?" He shook his head sharply, then walked around her to the doors, which are still wide open. "I tried. Turns out, this is as good as it gets."

When he stormed back inside, Alexis dug her heel into the joint on the floor.

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

After Stevie drops her off, the first thing Alexis does (other than hug Twy for, like, probably longer than socially acceptable) is hop in the shower to wash the day off her skin. By the time she's done, Alexis is feeling more like herself in one of her cutest little pajama sets, and she settles on the couch to twist her damp hair into a braid.

"You can take the bed," Twyla says, pulling a set of sheets from the linen closet. "I don't mind dressing up the couch."

Alexis gives her a look, snapping the elastic into place. "Twy," she says, almost scoldingly. "You don't have to do that. It's your apartment."

Twyla's brows pull together. "Well, you're not sleeping on the couch," she says.

"Um, no," Alexis says, scrunching her nose and making Twyla smile. "No, I definitely am not… but I think we can just share the bed. It's, like, not a big deal."

Twyla shrugs. "I just thought that after what you've been through today, you might want some space," she says, and it's Alexis's turn to smile.

"Honestly?" Alexis replies, "That's the last thing I want."

Twyla turns to place the sheets back on the shelf with a little hum, then walks across the room to sit on the couch. She drops her hand to Alexis's knee.

"Okay," she says. "So, what do you want?"

'"Do you want to watch a movie or something?" Alexis asks. "I just don't want to think about today anymore, you know?"

Twyla nods. "That's a great idea, Lex," she says. "Find something on Netflix, and I'll make some tea?"

Alexis and her family have been in Schitt's Creek for less than two months, but seeing Twyla again has been — by far — the best part… and, okay, that's not really saying much when the rest has been a shit-show, but Alexis knows it'd be the case either way.

So she nods. "Yeah. That sounds good, Twy, thank you."

"Anytime."

 

* * *

 

"I had my own line of perfume, my first kiss was Zac Efron, and I'm allergic to mango."

Twyla makes a show of considering it, her nose scrunching as she hums thoughtfully. They're lying in her bed, both on their side, facing each other. Alexis can almost count the freckles dotting Twyla's cheeks — not that she, like, notices, or anything.

"The second one is a lie." she nudges Alexis under the blanket with her foot.

"How do you know?"

Twyla smiles, green eyes soft in the moonlight. "Because I was your first kiss, Lex."

"You were not!" Alexis says, eyes going wide.

"I was!" she insists with a giggle. "I can't believe you don't remember. We were out by the, um, remember that tree we used to meet up at?"

"The willow tree, obvi."

"Right!" Twyla smiles. "The chain on your little A necklace broke and the pendant fell into the grass, remember?"

Alexis does remember. "Oh! Ohmygod, yeah! And I was so upset because it was, like, my first real piece of jewelry," she says. "Adelina gave it to me. She had one that matched."

"Mmhm, but then…"

"You found it," Alexis says with a laugh. "Oh my god, Twy!" She reaches over and nudges her shoulder playfully. "I forgot! You found it and I was so happy, I just, like, planted one on you."

Twyla beams. "Yep! You kissed me," she says, poking Alexis's arm, "and then you just said, 'Thanks, Twy!' and we never talked about it again."

"Sounds like me, mmhm, yep." Alexis laughs.

The truth is, Alexis doesn't even remember much about that summer. She remembers that afternoon, now that Twyla's reminded her, but… They'd been so young at the time; Alexis barely remembers Hill House at all. What she really remembers is the feeling of belonging that she'd felt then, and she's been chasing it ever since. From one adventure to the next, Alexis has searched and come up empty.

But it's been here. Right where she left it. The whole time.

Because, unlike most of the people from their old life, Twyla is warm. She's kind. She makes people (not just Alexis) feel comfortable because she's so… like… like, she makes people feel like they've known her their entire life. Alexis went twenty years without her, and yet it feels like no time has passed between them at all. Because that's clearly just who Twyla is. She feels familiar. She makes herself feel familiar by making everyone feel welcome around her.

And Alexis never ever wants to be without this feeling again.

But it's hard to say that out loud. Alexis doesn't even know how to try.

Instead, Twyla says, "I've got one. Or, uh. Three."

"Okay, go."

"I'm allergic to shellfish, my family cat was named Charlie, and I'm really, really glad you're home, Lex."

Alexis smiles and quickly taps her finger to the tip of Twyla's nose.

"Your cat's name was Binx."

 

Chapter Text

“Journeys end in lovers meeting; I have spent an all but sleepless night,
I have told lies and made a fool of myself, and the very air tastes like wine.
I have been frightened half out of my foolish wits, but I have somehow
earned this joy; I have been waiting for it for so long.”

 


 

 

New York City, New York
TWO MONTHS AGO

“I, um… It happens in the middle of the night. I open my eyes, but I’m just, like, totally frozen. I can’t sit up, can’t move my arms… Nothing.”

David absently bounced his leg where it crossed over his knee. The couch he was sitting on was so plush, it was easy for him to lean back and slouch into it — as if he was back at his penthouse and not biding his time in an overpriced inpatient facility uptown.

The doctor wrote something down, or perhaps just doodled — no one will ever know what goes into a therapist’s notepad, huh? — and hummed once in understanding. “What happens next, David?” she asked.

“I usually panic, obviously — I mean, what would you do if you couldn’t move?” He sighed, broadly gesturing to his chest as he continued. "My lungs usually get really tight and I can't, um... I can't breathe. My heart starts going totally nuts. Kinda feels like I'm dying."

“That sounds like a panic attack."

David shook his head. "Those aren't real."

Dr. Lee shrugged, and David noticed, not for the first time, that she was unusually easy to talk to, despite — or maybe because of — her cavalier, blunt style of counseling. In another life, David was sure they'd be getting drinks and gossiping right now, rather than digging through his head to pull his inner demons out by their little goatees.

"Do yourself a favor and never say that in group," she said, "but we can table that conversation for later. Right now, we're here to talk about you."

He mirrored her shrug, looking down at his rings as he numbly twisted one around, and around, and around his pinky.

“Actually, I’m here because it’s court-ordered and better than jail.”

After all, being a Rose wasn't without its perks — especially when his father could purchase a sentence to a cozy rehab when he got a DUI.

Dr. Lee sighed. "While we're on the subject... Your father called. Wanted to check in on your progress."

He snorted. "Typical."

"Why don't you call him back?" Dr. Lee suggested. "Tell him about your chip. You've done well here, David."

He looked down at his rings again. "Yeah, he won't believe me. They never believe me. Or in me." His father was probably just checking to make sure he hadn't somehow managed to fall off the wagon in rehab — snuck out, got to one of his connections, whatever. He'd be far from the first. Around, around, around, around. "It's kind of their thing."

"Hmm." Dr. Lee shifted her tone to get them back on track, tapping her pencil against her notepad. “Do you see things? When you’re frozen?”

Just the question made David uncomfortable, but he was grateful that she changed the subject. He thought she might have noticed his discomfort, though; her expression changed like she was suddenly watching him more closely. He cleared his throat.

“Why um…" His voice lilted. "Why would you ask that?”

“Well, sleep paralysis is more common than you think, and lots of people claim to see things. Shadow people, flashing lights, animals, all sorts of crap,” she explained. “When you have an episode, it’s because part of your brain wakes up a little too early — before the rest of your body catches up. That’s why you can’t move, and why… sometimes, you can keep dreaming. Your brain will still be in REM.”

Suddenly, David remembered Adelina’s voice:

“A little spill.”

“Hm?”

Oh. David hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “No, it’s… something my nanny used to say when I saw him as a kid,” he explained. “She said that… kids’ dreams were special, and sometimes they could spill out, like water in a glass.”

To his surprise, Dr. Lee made a thoughtful face and jotted something down. “I mean, there’s nothing special about it. Sounds to me like she was feeding you some of the normal bullshit you feed a kid — but, yeah, the spill part… That’s not half bad.”

“I’ll tell her she has your approval,” he joked.

Dr. Lee gave him a look, then paused again. It’s the kind of pause she did (or so he’d learned, in the last couple weeks of seeing her) when she was about to call him out on something. Like…

“You said 'him.' Who?”

David sighed. He hesitated. But then he told her.

He told her all about The Man in the Trench Coat. David told her about the nightmares and how he’d wake up and see his ghostly shadow by his bed. He told her about Hill House — even about Twyla, who he still thought might’ve been a little ghost following his sister around.

By the time he was done, he’d twisted his ring nearly completely off his finger.

"We never went back, but some shit followed me, I guess," he said, then cleared his throat.

He still wasn't used to this kind of open honesty, even with someone being paid to listen to him — maybe because he actually did feel like Dr. Lee was listening. It was both more comforting and more terrifying than the alternative. On the one hand, David desperately wanted to be seen. Who didn't? On the other, David would prefer to hide. He hid from his ghosts, hid from the hard truths, from the people he cared about... It was easier that way. there was no risk that way. No one could judge him on things they didn't even know about. There was also no reward. No one could help him with the things they didn't even know about, either.

"So, that's why I started using to begin with. To just shut it all down? Like, I'd get clean for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, but... Then, there he was again. Same old tacky coat, same stupid hat." He started picking at his cuticles absentmindedly. "I saw him in my sleep, mostly, but in other places too. And I could... It was like I could feel him, you know? Sneaking up on me. Like a stalker, but way less flattering." David laughed humorlessly, covering his face with his hands. "Fuck, I sound crazy."

Ronnie said, "Nuh uh," very sternly. "That's the C-word around here. You're not crazy; you went through something traumatic. That follows you, David." Again, she jot something down on her little notepad, staying quiet for a moment. "So, when you were high, you never saw him?"

David nodded. “That, and it usually started after I saw him in one of those... sleep paralysis things, too,” he said. “Since the pills knocked me out cold, I had less of those. That's how it all started. Just trying to sleep through the night." He chewed on the inside of his cheek. "I learned that trick from my mom, actually. I'd catch her sleepwalking at Hill House and she'd say she needed to take her 'bedtime pills.' So, when I was in high school, I started stealing them when she was out of town, which was... often. And it just got worse from there.”

"Your mom, huh?" Dr. Lee blinked. “You know, that’s… pretty fucked up, Rose.”

It punched a surprised laugh out of him.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “We’re pretty fucked up.”

 


 

 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
EARLIER TODAY

After lunch with Alexis and Twyla, they still have several hours before dinner with Andy, and David's got the bulk of his belongings packed — these days, he has much less of them. Naturally, he and Stevie disappear to the movie room for what he hopes will be the final time. It feels important that they give it a proper send-off, maybe with one last viewing of An American in Paris, since it happened to be the first one they'd watched together.

"So, I guess I'm gonna have a new boss," Stevie says, though David is 99.9% sure they both know she won't be staying at Hill House. It's just easier to joke about it instead of talking about what it really means. David rolls his eyes as he plops on the couch.

He says, "I have a better idea."

Stevie sits next to him, arm stretched out on the back of the couch. "What's that?"

"Come with me to New York."

Her immediate reaction is to laugh, and David thinks she might not realize he's serious. He can't really blame her. But, when he doesn't laugh, or grin, or rib her further, Stevie's laughter fades into something softer.

She brushes her hair behind her ear. "What?"

David nods, a smile forming at the corner of his mouth.

Stevie squints. "Yo— You're serious. Really?"

"Mmhm."

"New York?"

David chuckles. "That's the name of the city, yeah," he says. "It's not gonna change if you keep saying it."

"I don't even know what I'd do in New York," she says.

He grins. "Oh, you just watch a season of "Girls," and do the opposite of what they do," David says casually. 

"But you have this whole life there, with your fancy friends…"

David shakes his head. "I don't, actually," he says. "See, when you base your friendships on who can get you high, those bonds shockingly don't last after you go to rehab."

"That is shocking." Stevie pulls her lip between her teeth and smiles. "You're sure?"

He sighs. "Okay, listen, I'm going to say this once, and I will deny I ever said anything this disgusting if you tell anyone about it." David shakes his shoulders. "But I left you here once, and… Stevie, I have a lot of regrets, and I mean a lot of them. Like… a lot." He rolls his eyes at himself. "But... closing the door on Hill House without pulling you out first? Pretty high on the ranking. So. I'm not into the idea of doing that again?"

Stevie looks literally anywhere but him, and David knows that she's trying not to give away how strongly he'd just tugged on her emotions; he knows because it's like looking in a mirror, as it often is with her. They're like two pieces from the same fucked up quilt. Maybe that's why it's been so easy with her, from the moment he'd stepped back into that house. After everything, it's nice to have something like this — something without explosive drama, without the complications. For once, it's nice to just be. He can just be with her.

"You're coming with me," he says, reaching out to cup her face in his hand. "Pack a bag. Pack two. ...How many bags do you ha—"

Stevie silences him with her lips, which works just fine for him, and he's pretty sure that it's a yes, then. So, he slides the hand on her face into her hair, cradling the back of her head, while his other arm wraps to haul Stevie into his lap. She straddles his hips easily, and the fingers that card into his hair tug just hard enough for Stevie to steer their angle exactly where she wants it.

Slowly, David moves his hands beneath Stevie's shirt. He traces up her spine until she lifts her arms above her head, and he doesn't hesitate to discard what's probably a Fruit of the Loom, polyblend t-shirt. He starts kissing the line of her jaw, mouthing down her neck to her clavicle and the crest of her breast, feeling for her bra clasp only to pull back with an eye roll when there's nothing but fabric where hooks should be.

"Problem?" Stevie asks, smirking.

David gives her a look, hands gently skimming the curve of her ribs before finding the clasp at the front of the bra. It's this weird snap thing, and he fumbles with it, obviously enough that she laughs. Usually, laughter in this scenario is extremely unwelcome, but with Stevie, it triggers a spark of arousal that travels up his spine like lightning.

"Mmkay," he says, a smile playing on his lips as he gestures exaggeratedly at the offending garment. "What the fuck is with the chastity bra?"

Stevie laughs again. "It's actually much easier to get on and off," she says, pulling her hands from his hair to pull the pieces of the clip apart.

He hums as he pushes the straps off her shoulders, and it slips down to the floor.

"Agree to disagree."

The grin on her face can only be described as wicked. "I'm sure you'll keep that in mind when you choose a boob prison to wear for eight hours a day."

"'Boob prison'? Very sexy," he teases before a laugh bubbles to his lips, and she swallows the sound with another fierce kiss.

It works to shut him up, except when she pulls his hair in retaliation, which draws a completely different sound from him. The kiss becomes needier, then, and David's hands get back to exploring, thumbs brushing her nipples as he traces the curve of her breast on the way to her waist. Her hands move too, first down his chest, over his sweater, then back up underneath it. David can take a hint (occasionally), so he breaks the kiss to pull it carefully over his head and gently fold it in half before setting it on the little table across from the couch.

"What?" he says when he catches the way she's looking at him. "It's Givenchy."

Instead of giving her the chance to make fun of him further, he moves to — admittedly, somewhat awkwardly — guide her to the side and onto her back, essentially switching their positions, so she's lying beneath him on the couch. When he hovers above her, his chain dangles from his neck, and Stevie traces her fingertips along the cool metal.

"I like this," she says, and David tucks his responding smile into the corner of his mouth.

When he says, "Thanks," it's after he's buried his face in her neck, and his teeth scrape lightly against her skin.

Settling between her thighs, David kisses his way down her throat, then the length of her chest, leaving open-mouthed kisses until he reaches the button of her jeans. He looks up at her, seeking out eye contact when he asks, "Can I?"

Her smile softens when she nods, then tugs her bottom lip between her teeth. And, yes, that look does go straight to his cock, thanks for asking. David makes quick work of her jeans and her panties, dropping them to the floor in a heap, then kisses both of her hip bones before he gets his mouth on her. The sound she makes when David starts working her with his tongue is gorgeous, so he waits until he hears her breathing waver before he slides a finger in; he doesn't want to rush this with Stevie. Instead, he takes his time, lavishing her clit with his tongue and slowly curving his finger inside her until she keens, legs shaking, and pulls to guide him back up.

David obliges, wiping his mouth with the outside of his hand. When their lips crash back together, he traces his hand down her side to fuck two fingers into her while simultaneously fucking his tongue into her mouth. He's pretty conscious of the fact that they're not working with a ton of space, but he also can't be bothered to care when she wraps her trembling legs around his waist. She's sexy as hell, and the kiss gets sloppier, less coordinated, while David works his thumb in circles around her clit. When she finally comes around his fingers, he smiles against her mouth.

He kisses down her neck while she catches her breath, but the still moment does bring his full attention to how much he's straining against his jeans. David catches himself instinctively seeking friction by pressing his hard length against her hip, but when Stevie snaps back into the present, she tugs the button at his waist like she's just realized his pants haven't come off yet. "Off, off, off."

David, again, gladly obliges. He stands up to strip as gracefully as he possibly can, sighing with the slightest bit of relief as his cock springs free.

"Tell me you're a walking cliche with a condom in your wallet," Stevie says.

"I don't love the way you put that, but yes... Probably."

He retrieves his wallet before draping (closer to tossing) his pants across the table. He fishes around and (thank fuck) victoriously pulls a condom from the otherwise empty cash fold. When he settles between her legs again, he opens the wrapper, rolls the condom on, braces one hand next to her head, and (finally) guides himself inside her. David can't even be ashamed of the way he groans against her neck then — not when they fit together like puzzle pieces, which, shit, maybe he is a walking cliche. It's probably all of the rom-coms... but it doesn't make the sentiment any less true, and he's pretty sure they both deserve a little of that after all the shit they've gone through. David noses into her hair, breathing in the scent of her shampoo, and Stevie's legs wrap around him again; it's definitely the most comfortable position for the small space. He skims his hand along the outside of her thigh. And, on some level, David is vaguely conscious of the fact that this is the first time since they came back to Hill House that he's not scared, or worried, or anxious. This room has always been the only place in the house that David feels safe — and he's not stupid. He knows it isn't just the soft lighting and the comfort movies and the snacks (though, they definitely help). It has a lot more to do with the fact that it's a space he shares with the only person he's ever felt understands him.

Believes in him, even.

So, yeah, he's fucked friends before, but none of them were Stevie Budd.

Neither of them are gentle, either. Stevie's hands continue to grip David's hair (to his delight) as he pulls his hips back, then drives back into her hard enough to punch a moan from both their chests. They find a rhythm, kissing messily and, at one point, laughing into each other's mouths when David has to grab the arm of the couch to avoid toppling onto the floor. When he starts to feel that familiar coiling in his belly, he pulls back to change his angle and hikes her leg higher on his hip. Stevie's back arches in response, and she raises her arm to hold onto the couch while her other hand slips between them. David watches her writhe beneath him as she touches herself, and it's easily one of the hottest things he's ever seen. Gripping her thigh, he deliberately paces his thrusts with the strokes of her fingers until her legs start to shake again and she stills, coming with a loud cry. He's not far behind; less than half a dozen thrusts later, he's crashing into an orgasm that rips a stuttered groan out of him.

Afterward, David collapses against her chest and kisses her shoulder. For a moment, the only sounds are their rough little pants as Stevie pets his hair and the hum of the sleeping projector. It's almost kind of peaceful, actually. David presses another kiss, this time to her clavicle, before pulling back to look at her face. And, fuck, she's stunning. Even with hair sticking to the sweat on her forehead, face flushed, and lips kiss-swollen, Stevie is gorgeous. He doesn't think she can get more so, but then she grins at him — that crooked, wicked one he loves — and he's a goner.

"So," she says. "New York…"

He beams. "New York."

 


 

 

 

Vancouver, British Columbia
DAVID — AGE 17

David was making a lot of noise as he rifled through his mother's medicine cabinet, but it didn't matter. It didn't matter because the staff was gone for the night, and he had the house to himself, yet again, so there was no need to be stealthy.

His mother was in Los Angeles, his father was visiting a potential new location in the Turks, and his sister was in… Paris? David lost track of the cities she traveled to for shoots. Alexis was several years younger than him and she was rarely home anymore, now that she'd landed that contract with Tyra Banks' modeling agency.

So, no. No one was watching as he fumbled for a bottle of sleeping pills at 11-something on a Wednesday night. Of course, he didn't find what he was looking for (just his fucking luck), but he did find a bottle of painkillers and… Well, that'd do just fine, right? He just needed something, anything that could dull the endless roar in his mind.

His hands were shaking as he closed the mirrored door, and he yelped when the reflection showed a man standing behind him — trench coat around his shoulders, hands in his pockets, and a face shrouded in shadow. David whirled, tripping over his own slippers, only to find his mother's bathroom completely empty. Fuck. Fuck.

1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4...

Years after Hill House, he somehow managed to find David. The pills clattered around in the bottle as he fussed with the child-safe lid and poured a couple into his hand.

1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4...

This was happening more and more frequently.

It always started in bed, right around this time. He woke up cold, realized he couldn't move, and saw his ghost at the end of his bed. By the time the man screamed and disappeared, David was wide awake. And he didn't sleep for days afterward. David saw the man in mirrors, in windows, in puddles of water — anything reflective — and in crowds on the street for days. He was on day three, and he thought he might've been losing his mind.

1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4…

David brought the bottle with him back to his bedroom and dropped it on his nightstand before crawling back under the covers. He left the lights on when he curled up on his side. His eyes found the bedside clock, where he focused on the colon blinking rapidly between the numbers. David stayed like that until, finally, finally, his thoughts started to slow, his body started to numb, and sleep found him.

Shortly before he did, David watched the clock flick from 11:59 PM to 12:00 AM. The date in the corner blinked 07/02.

 


 

 

 

Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
TODAY

Stevie's keys clatter into the bowl on her counter as David toes off his shoes. It's been a fucking day, and the meeting definitely helped him process some of it, but… that doesn't make him any less exhausted. He drops his head back against the couch.

"You good?" Stevie asks.

He opens his eyes. "Mostly," he replies. "You?"

"Oh, I'm great. Love a good ghostly homicide to get the adrenaline pumping."

David closes his eyes again. "You're the worst and I hate you."

Something on Stevie's side of the room drops to the floor, which David assumes is the sound of her taking her own shoes off. He expects to feel her weight fall next to him on the couch, but when he instead hears another soft thud, David opens his eyes to see Stevie in nothing but that front-clasp bra.

"Well," she says, "since I'm the worst and you probably want some time alone… I'm gonna take all this,"—she unhooks the bra and lets it slip to the floor—"into the shower, because it's been… Whew, it's been a really long day, huh?"

Dropping her hands to her hips, Stevie tilts her head and flashes that smile — so, yep, she absolutely knows what it does to him (the menace). David blatantly lets his eyes trail down her body, then back up to her face as he stands.

"I mean, I guess you're not the worst," he says, crossing the room with the swagger of a jungle cat. "There might be, like… a handful of people that are worse."

"Oh, yeah?"

Stevie says it with a smile, just barely letting it down enough that their teeth don't clink together when David grabs the back of her neck and pulls her in for a filthy kiss.

"Someone actually told me once that I was the best part of their life," she says, and David pulls back to raise a brow.

"I'm pretty sure I said you made it 'a little more than bearable.'"

Stevie smirks, casually unbuttoning his jeans. "Yeah, but your life kinda sucked, so 'a little more than bearable' is basically as good as it got, right?"

"Mm, I think you're very rude."

Completely unbothered, she simply shrugs. "Is that all?" as she steps back toward her bathroom — an invitation if he's ever seen one.

"I might have a few other opinions..."

Stevie ends up luring him into the shower, where they wash the stress of the day off their bodies — like, literally, apparently, because the chandelier sent dust flying into them or something. He doesn't want to think about what he's scrubbing off his skin. So, he massages Stevie's scalp when he washes her hair, kisses her under the spray, and hikes her leg up on his hip when he reaches between them to get her off.

It helps burn some of the adrenaline, but they're still a little wired, so they settle on the couch with some junk food and Gilmore Girls reruns because neither of them feel like scrolling through her streaming apps (and also because 'A-Tisket, A-Tasket' is running when they turn the tv on). Stevie has her legs thrown over his, while his feet are propped up on the coffee table, and he almost forgets his house killed someone tonight. Not quite, but it's a close thing.

"What do we do now?" he asks, after a while.

Stevie shrugs. "I dunno, I think I saw that Lady Gaga is hosting SNL later…"

"I mean about the house," David clarifies, though he knows she knows what he meant.

"I don't know," she says, leaning over to set the mostly empty pack of Oreos onto the table. "Maybe we just revert to plan A. We go back with Twyla in a couple days, exorcise the bitch, and then it'll at least be safe to live in until you can afford repairs and sell it."

It's a decent plan. Really, it's the only plan, because everything he thinks of involves setting it on fire, and his knits should never be around that kind of smoke. Or gasoline.

David sighs. "Well, the key takeaway is that I was right, and everybody else was wrong."

"That's the key takeaway?" Stevie says with a raised brow. "Also, I knew it was all real too, remember? And so did Maureen."

"—aureen?" David echoes, immediately after putting an entire Oreo in his mouth.

Stevie rolls her eyes at him, but she says, "Yeah, Marueen knew. So did my mom. It, like, literally drove her crazy — but I kinda told you the kid version of that."

David nods.

"That's why Maureen asked me to keep it," she tells him. "We kept people from staying too long, didn't hire any staff outside of ourselves — even though the place is fucking huge. She didn't want it to get to anyone else, or whatever."

Simultaneously disturbed and impressed, David pulls his brows together. "Um, you didn't tell me that before."

"It didn't come up."

His voice pitches. "In almost two months?"

"It's really not a big deal, David."

David balks at her. How the fuck does she think something like that is not a big deal? He imagines living in that place his entire life, not just a summer, knowing what's inside it… and it's more than a big deal. It's —

"Seriously," she says. "I never went at night. I actually think… I can't believe I'm about to say this sentence, but… I think the house liked it."

"You think it liked it."

"Yeah," she says. "I think it liked us keeping people out."

David hums. "Just don't tell my dad that," he warns. "Might give him a heart attack to find out you didn't sell extended stays. Or at least, like, give him some very severe indigestion."

 


 

 

 

New York, New York
NINE MONTHS AGO

"You didn't need to come with me."

David twisted his ring around his middle finger as his mother's hand came to rest between his shoulder blades. It was surprising, to say the least, that she'd volunteered to not only pay for his second rehab stay, but to fly to New York and check him in. It was uncharacteristically motherly of her, but… Admittedly, David wasn't really complaining.

"Of course I did," she said, like being a good mother was actually normal for her. "What kind of matriarch would I be if I didn't see you off, hm?"

David scrunched up his nose. "Mmkay, nope," he said. "What's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

He raised a single brow and eyed her suspiciously. "You didn't see me off the first time," he pointed out, "or for… literally anything else."

"I want to see you checked in, that's all," she replied. "We've made a commitment."

That particular phrasing ("a commitment ") clicked everything into place for him. 

He snorted. "You want to make sure I don't run," he said. "Buying off the cops is non-refundable, I guess?"

Moira pulled her hand from his back with a disgruntled sigh. "Oh, fine, David, but you must forgive me for being circumspect," she said, voice rising. "We aren't in this quagmire because you've been particularly dependable."

"Oh my god."

That wasn't untrue, exactly, but… David grit his teeth and looked away. For a split second, he'd actually thought she'd cared enough to show up for him. It'd been a naive thought, on his part; Moira Rose didn't have a selfless bone in her body. She'd let him and Alexis down, time and time again. Fuck, Moira couldn't even admit that what they'd seen at Hill House was real; she'd rather let everyone think he was a hysterical, delusional mess, even though she knew damn well that he wasn't. What made him think that today would be any different? Thankfully, though, his name was called before they had to continue that conversation.

She tried to give him a goodbye pat, but he pulled away before her hand made contact with his arm. To David's surprise, his mother was persistent and lightly grabbed his wrist.

"Don't misunderstand me, David. Your father and I want you to stay here as long as you need to. Money is no object," she said firmly. "Get well. I hate to see you this cadaverous, darling."

David opened his mouth, closed it, and simply nodded. 

Perhaps she could surprise him after all.

 


 

 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

David is awake long after Stevie is fast asleep on her side of the bed, and he can't stop thinking about the house. He closes his eyes and he can just see it, sitting at the top of its little hill and surrounded by forest. He remembers the first day he saw Hill House; Alexis had seen a castle, but David knew even then. It's no palace. It's just a big house.

It's just a big house.

It's just a hotel in the woods. Shit: now that it's empty, it's less than a hotel. There's nothing alive within its walls. It's nothing but death, and darkness, and rot… like a carcass. It's just a carcass in the woods that infects everything within its orbit with, like, typhoid or... whatever you get from a rotting body. Ugh. That metaphor fell apart.

Anyway, now it's a carcass they can't even sell because now everyone knows what a state of disrepair it's in. So they have work to do before it's even worth anything, and they can't afford any of that… which basically means they're fucked. It's probably worth more in insurance coverage than it would be on the market, at this point.

Wait.

It's worth more in insurance coverage than it would be on the market.

If, say, that pipe was to burst again and flood the basement — if it were to do enough damage that they could make a claim for a payout — they could collect insurance money on the damn thing and at least get back on their feet. Like, they own it. It's literally the only thing they own. Even if they couldn't get anything close to the value of the property, it'd be enough to get them started. Like, just a fourth of what it's technically worth would have to be, like… several hundred-thousand dollars, right?

Worst-case scenario, they could have enough for a down payment on a place that hasn't, uh, irrevocably traumatized them. Even if it's just in Elmdale or something, fuck, it's better than this. Shit, staying elsewhere in Schitt's Creek would be better than this.

Best case scenario, they can all go back to where they came from. He can get a smaller apartment in the city and buy the gallery back, maybe, or work on that consignment concept he's been stewing on for years.

David turns his head to look at Stevie, who is snuffling slightly in her sleep. Her hair is splayed messily across the pillow, he's pretty sure she's drooling a bit, and he doesn't think he's cared this much about another human being in his entire life. Like, he's literally watching her sleep right now — who the fuck is he?

Honestly, he'd been looking forward to bringing her to New York. They were going to get the fuck out of here, together this time, and… well, he didn't know what came after that. He can't really think about it unless he wants to lose his nerve, but… With some of the money they would've gotten when they'd sold the house, they could've figured it out.

They can still figure everything out.

He makes a decision, takes a breath, and carefully gets out of bed.

 


 

 

 

Vancouver, British Columbia
DAVID — AGE EIGHTEEN

Another new office, another new doctor.

David was cycling through them like it was his job, always finding a reason not to come back, excuses ranging from reasonable to nonsensical. They either sugar-coated everything, they were too harsh, or their personality was unbearable. Like, his first doctor was judgmental and shopped at Wal-Mart. The next rubbed him as at least vaguely homophobic, while his replacement had a Seinfeld poster on her wall. The one after that smelled like licorice (black licorice, not Twizzlers), and he was followed by someone who pronounced 'supposedly' as 'supposibly.'

Most importantly, none of them got it. Got him. He wasn't sure they were even trying to. His newest doctor, Dr. Fields, took notes on an iPad and looked at the screen more often than he actually looked at David. It was unsettling.

"You know, I noticed something, David," he said, looking at his notes. "No matter what we talk about, it always comes back to the same place. Your parents, your sister, your underage drinking, it all circles back to one thing."

David sighed. "Yeah," he agreed, knowing where this was going. "Hill House. And, look, I don't expect you to believe me. People usually don't."

"How can a house," the doctor said, "just a collection of bricks, and wood, and glass have that much power over someone?"

David shook his head, folding his arms over his chest. It wasn't a surprise that this guy wasn't hearing him. Some things, people needed to see with their own eyes.

"You haven't been there," he said simply.

"That's true," the doctor replied, "but neither have you. Not for a long time. And I think that, if you went back there, after all these years, you'd see it isn't a monster at all — just a building. Just a hotel in the woods. Might even have a nice view."

A nice view.

David never did make that follow-up appointment.

 


 

 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

The old Camry rocks a bit as David pulls into the dirt drive for the last time. It wobbles over the pebbles scattered on the uneven ground, follows the long path past the towering metal gate, and through the curve that leads to the shaded car park. Stealing Stevie's car probably isn't the best decision he's ever made, but... he'll more than make it up to her when they're out of this nightmare. Because he's getting them out of this nightmare. Tonight.

He looks up at the house that's robbed him of so much and watches the porch lights slowly flicker on, then fade off — welcoming him home. On, then off.

David grits his teeth. It's just a hotel in the woods.

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change," he whispers in the dark, "the courage to change the things I can..." He kills the engine. "And the wisdom to know the difference."

Courage has never been his forte, but enough is enough.

He can change this. He can fix this.

Besides, this will be easy, he tells himself. All he needs to do is walk in, climb down the stairs to the basement, undo whatever his dad did to get the pipe leaking again, get back in his car, and never, ever come back here again. It's just like the baseball cap. Except, he's not a little kid anymore. He can handle this.

In. Out. And gone for good.

David shakes the tension out of his shoulders as he steps out of the car and walks up the short path to the porch. He grits his teeth as he unlocks the front door, takes a deep breath, and goes inside.

The broken chandelier is still in the middle of the foyer, now a disturbing monument of dust, blood, and glass. David holds his breath as he walks past it. Then he slips through the kitchen and heads for the basement door... but he hesitates before he turns the knob.

He tells himself, 'In. Out. And gone for good.'

He's stopped by a sharp, stabbing pain on the side of his head. It's hard enough to make his stomach lurch.

But, before he can even turn around, everything goes dark.

Chapter Text

Fear is the relinquishment of logic — the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns.
We yield to it, or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.

 


 

 

Schitt's Creek, Ontario
TODAY

Alexis has been ignoring the twinkling ring of her iPhone for a solid thirty seconds by the time she feels Twyla nudge her shoulder.

"Answer it," she says. "It might be important."

Of course, Twyla is sweet enough to care about who's on the other side of the phone, while Alexis wants to club whoever it is over the head for waking them up. She rolls over, and the time blinks at her from the digital clock on the nightstand.

"It's three in the morning," she replies, staring at the angry red numbers for a moment before slamming her hand down onto her phone. "It better be important."

Alexis clicks 'accept' without even looking at the contact name.

"What?"

"Alexis?" It's Stevie on the other end, which is weird enough to wake her up a bit. "So, David didn't… show up over there with my car for some reason, did he?"

Something cold wraps around her heart. "Um," she says, sitting up. "Hang on."

"Lex?"

Alexis gets out of bed and pads over to the bedroom window, moving the blinds to peer into the row of guest parking spaces — then the rest of the lot — for Stevie's car.

"Lex, is everything okay?"

Alexis blinks. "No?"

"No, it's not okay?" Twyla asks; at the same time, Stevie says, "Well, he's not here."

That cold feeling spreads from Alexis's chest down to her stomach — down to her toes. "What do you mean he's not there?" It's a good thing Alexis has learned to stay calm under pressure. She takes a breath. "David isn't at Stevie's," she tells Twyla.

"What do you mean, what do I mean? I mean, he's not here," Stevie replies, petulant. "I woke up, and he's just… gone. And so is my fucking car."

Alexis thinks she knows the answer, but she asks anyway: "Where would he go?"

Stevie's silence tells Alexis that she's already realized it too.

"You don't think he's..." she trails off. "But it's Schitt's Creek. We're not in New York. Where the fuck is he going to get loaded past eight p.m.? Our liquor store closes at six."

Alexis twirls a strand of her hair around her finger. "Drug dealers don't have hours."

"I know that. I went to high school with several... but how would he know where to find one?"

"I dunno," Alexis replies, putting her on speaker. "Could he have seen something at your place?"

"Oh, yeah!" Stevie scoffs. "I forgot I had our local crack dealer's business card on my refrigerator! What was I thinking?"

Twyla sighs from bed. "What did you guys do tonight?"

"We… talked," Stevie answered, and Alexis hears the hesitation in her voice — she'll interrogate her about that later. "We talked about what happened, about the house… Some other stuff..." Stevie trails off. "He seemed okay? I mean, for David. It's not like he was giving me any, I dunno, relapse vibes."

Alexis shakes her head, sitting on the bed. "He told me he was okay," she says. "I specifically asked him if he was going to be okay, and he said I didn't need to worry. And, like… We went to the meeting, and… He was good. He was good, guys."

"It's not your fault," Twyla says, scritching between Alexis's shoulder blades.

Suddenly remembering something, Alexis jumps. "Wait, he made me turn on the 'share my location' thingie after the whole pirate situation. Do you think it goes both ways?"

Both Stevie and Twyla tell her to check, but she's already doing it. She pulls up her text message thread with David and finds the little locator right away. When she zooms into the map, though, her stomach drops.

"Um," she says quietly. "He's at the house."

"The house?" Stevie repeats. "Why—Why would he go there?"

"I don't know, Stevie," Alexis snaps. "You're the one who was with him. Did he say anything?"

"Did he say anything about going to the haunted hotel that dropped a chandelier on someone today?" Stevie replies, audibly frustrated. "No, he didn't mention that."

Shaking out her hands, Alexis sucks in a sharp breath... but when she looks back at Twyla, she's already slipping her shoes back on.

"Okay, well… Get dressed," Alexis says into the phone. "We'll pick you up."

Alexis throws her phone onto the bed after she hangs up, and Twyla strolls over to put her hands on her forearms. The warmth helps a little, but the thought of her brother in danger stirs a rare feeling of anxiety in her chest. It feels a little bit like they've switched places — but she's not used to coping with this swell of panic, and he hasn't broken free from the kind of danger she has. Because David pretends to be all cold and unaffected, but Alexis knows better. He's tenderhearted and… Fuck, he's not cut out for escaping a ghostly hostage situation. What the fuck was he thinking?

"We'll find him, Lex," Twyla says, shattering Alexis's train of thought. "Come on. My car's right up front — I'll drive."

 

* * *

 

Glass crunches under her feet as Alexis pushes through the front doors of the Hill House Hotel. The chandelier really did leave a mess — down to the bloodstained carpet in the entryway. Just hours ago, she'd watched coroners drag a body from that spot. It wasn't even the first dead body she's ever seen, but it's somehow the most disturbing. How could it not be? It was, like, living — uh, well, not living — proof that David was right.

Hill House is (and always was) dangerous.

And Alexis doesn't feel guilty often. It's just, like, not an emotion that she tends to dwell on. She's not like David, who absorbs everything everyone says to him and stores it away so that he can use it against himself until the end of time, or whatever. Now, though, she feels guilt deep in her gut, clawing at her from the inside. If something happens to him, Alexis will literally burn this stupid place down.

She tilts her head to look up at the balcony above her head, using her phone's flashlight to search in the dark for him — or any hint that he's been here.

"Okay, I don't think we should split up," she says. "That, like, never goes well in horror movies, and one of us has already gone rogue, so…"

When Alexis gets no response, she turns to find herself utterly alone in the foyer. "Twy?" she calls. "Stevie? Um, hello? What the fuck, you guys?"

She takes a step backward and feels her heel crunch into something bigger than a bulb shard. Carefully, Alexis lifts her foot to find a phone, now featuring a heel-sized crack in the center — it only takes her about a millisecond to realize it's David's phone. She recognizes the case and the abstract, monochromatic wallpaper. Fuck.

"David? David!"

Nothing answers, except the slight echo of her voice.

It's cool.

It's fine.

It's just a house.

It's just a haunted house.

But she's survived Somali pirates and angry Sultans and, like, literal mafias. Some dead assholes aren't going to get under her skin now. And she's not worried about where Stevie and Twyla disappeared to. Not at all.

With a sigh, Alexis steps further into the foyer, toward the library, but stops in her tracks when she sees movement out of the corner of her eye. When she whips her head around, though, it's not her brother standing on the overlook. It's not Twyla or Stevie. Nope, wandering absentmindedly upstairs is...

"Mom?"

Her mother doesn't respond, but Alexis is pretty sure that she heard; Moira stops for a second, looking around before she trudges forward with purpose. She's heading closer to the red door, and Alexis follows along to the foot of the spiral stairs.

"Mom," she says again. "Mom, come down here. Why aren't you at the Schitts's place?"

Moira doesn't go down the stairs. She doesn't even look at Alexis — in fact, she looks everywhere except toward Alexis, mania behind the movement of her eyes. Alexis calls her again and, for a moment, she thinks her mother is finally going to listen. Moira stands at the railing, leaning over as if she's looking for the source of Alexis's voice… but then the metal snaps with a loud crack, and Moira falls forward off the balcony. It all happens so fast, Alexis doesn't have time to do anything but scream and lunge forward. She holds her hands out like she's going to catch her mother — which is stupid, she knows, but she does it anyway — until, suddenly, Moira disappears mid-air, becoming ash in her hands. Before Alexis hears the thud of her body hitting the tile, she's gone, and Alexis is alone.

"Alexis."

It's not her mother's voice, but Alexis turns anyway, and she sees a vaguely familiar woman standing near the bookcase.

Alexis thinks she's finally found Stevie, at first, but then she remembers that Stevie is wearing a plain white tee tonight (sans the frumpy flannel). This woman is wearing an oversized, green utility shirt. It's also, like, not Stevie's face, Alexis sees after she really looks. They look awfully alike, though, and something about her tugs at a memory Alexis can't locate — maybe even several memories.

"Hey, kid," the woman says, and it clicks.

Alexis slowly steps toward her. "You're Maureen, right?" she says. "Stevie's aunt — but you're… I thought you were dead?"

Maureen smiles a little crookedly. "You're lucky I am," she says.

Before Alexis can ask, Maureen taps her forehead, and Alexis gasps awake. When she opens her eyes, she sees a leak-stained roof high above her head, but then she slowly sits up and realizes she's in an unfamiliar room of the hotel. She does recognize the red door, though, shut on the other side of the room — Alexis didn't think they'd ever been able to get in here. And it seems dumb, now, that this is what was blocked off. It's, like, empty, except an ugly, dirty carpet and a miniature chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Well, that and Stevie, who is slumped up against the wall like she was tossed there. From where she's sitting, Alexis can easily see that her friend is breathing fine, but she watches the rise and fall of her shoulders for a moment, just to be sure. Next, she looks around for Twyla, who is sitting cross-legged in the corner, eyes closed.

"Twy," Alexis says, running over to her. She snaps her fingers in her face, but she doesn't even flinch. "Hey, Twy. You with me, babe?"

Great. Okay. Stevie is knocked out, Twyla is in a trance, and she's pretty sure there's mold on the walls. Fan-fucking-tastic.

Thankfully, this isn't the most dire situation she's gotten herself out of.

Alexis just wishes that she knew how they all got here. One moment, they were walking in, then Twyla and Stevie just disappeared… Well. Hm. At least, Alexis thinks they'd disappeared. She isn't sure what was a dream and what was real, now that she thinks about it. Did anything she remembers actually happen? Ugh. This is all so confusing.

Alexis doesn't see David until she stands up again — but he's on the other side of the room, also knocked out, curled up on his side. She doesn't worry too much (she just woke up, herself) until she notices the little dark spot on the carpet by his head.

She crosses to his side of the room, where she crouches down on the floor and gently rolls him onto his back. And, if her hand trembles when she feels for his pulse point, nobody needs to know. Because, under her fingertips, she feels his heartbeat, and it feels… normal, she thinks? She doesn't know precisely how fast it's supposed to be, but it doesn't seem, like, weak or anything, so she's pretty sure he's okay. With a deep breath, she leans back to sit properly on the floor.

"Ugh, David," she mumbles at her unconscious brother. "I hate you so much."

There's a wet patch right at his hairline above his forehead, so… Okay, that's where the blood is coming from, obviously. Alexis should put something on it for the bleeding, but they're in an empty room, so she doesn't have many options. After a moment, she ends up taking off her jacket and carefully putting it under his head like a pillow, then bringing the sleeves up to press one against where she's pretty sure the cut is. Blood doesn't come through it or anything, so Alexis is reasonably sure it's not actively bleeding anymore. She breathes a sigh that is equal parts relief and annoyance. Still, Alexis holds the sleeve over the spot anyway.

He's buying her a new cashmere cardigan — she doesn't care that they're broke.

It's only another minute or so before she hears Stevie startle awake.

"What the fuck?" she says, voice dry.

"Ugh, finally," Alexis says, tipping her head back — even though she hasn't been waiting long. "Can you come here and keep an eye on him while I check out the room?"

Stevie blinks at her, taking a second to process the request, but then her eyes focus, and they focus on the same thing Alexis initially latched onto.

"Holy shit, David." It's louder than Alexis is used to from Stevie, but still, not even half as shrill as David can get. "Is that blood?"

Alexis waves a hand while Stevie scrambles to her feet and does the same, concerned little speed-walk that Alexis had done just a few minutes ago.

"He's fine," she assures her, and Stevie looks incredulous before giving David a once-over (as if Alexis hadn't bothered doing that or something).

She clicks her tongue, brushing his back where it's starting to curl, probably trying to get a better look at the injury that's causing all the panic.

"He's bleeding."

"It's just a little cut at his hairline," Alexis replies, nudging Stevie's hand away so she can show her. "See? Just a little gash. It probably means that someone hit him over the head to knock him out. Been there, done that, babe. I'd be more worried if he had a big ol' cut back here,"—Alexis gestures to the back of David's head—"and he was breathing weird or something."

Stevie wears an expression that seems to be half concerned, half impressed; it's a look Alexis has gotten many times before.

"Head wounds bleed a lot," Alexis continues, "even if it's just a little thing. David's just got a little bop," — she jabs the side of Stevie's head with her finger — "so, take a breath. I'm sure he's fine. I'm, um. I'm actually more worried about Twyla?" She tips her head back, pointing to her with her chin. "She's in a trance or something. I can't wake her up."

Stevie switches places with her, frowning as she holds the sleeve against David's head, then looks over at Twyla. "How did that happen?" she asks.

"That's kinda the thing," Alexis replies. "I don't know. What do you remember about getting here? Because I remember walking in and you guys disappearing, but I don't know what was a dream and what was real? So, like. What happened?"

Stevie blinks groggily. "Um, I remember —" she starts, then stops. "No, we walked in, and you and Twyla disappeared. Then I—" She stops again, and Alexis can tell that she's deliberately cutting herself off. "Some stuff happened that obviously didn't happen, and… My aunt Maureen…"

"Did she tap your forehead?"

"Yes?" Stevie blinks in surprise. "How…"

Alexis nods. "She woke me up too."

"Huh," she says. "You know, she did die here."

"I'm sorry, what? She died here? Like… like the house…"

"No, no," Stevie replies. "Nothing like that. She had a heart attack, actually — totally not ghost-related. Her cholesterol was off the charts. But she… She was here."

Alexis chews on her lip. "So, do you think she's…"

"Here?" Stevie finishes. "I… Maybe?"

"Well, that's, like, good news, right? If she's here, we at least have…" She bobs her head side-to-side. "I dunno, a friend on the other side, or something."

Stevie nods. "Yeah. Yeah, that… Maybe. I hope so."

Once that momentary lapse of panic is over, Alexis gets up and tries the door (locked, but worth a shot) and then starts running her fingertips along the wall, feeling for any soft spots. Over the years, she's picked up a few tricks for breaking out of places that seem unbreakable — before escape room games were cool — so Alexis sets out to familiarize herself with the room. This is the part where she's useful.

Even if she can't find a way out physically, no situation is completely inescapable. Sure, she's never been kidnapped by ghosts, but if you think about it, ghosts are just… dead people, and Alexis knows how people operate. You can always negotiate with people. Everyone wants something (even, Alexis is willing to bet, the dead).

 

* * *

 

David wakes up in his bed at the hotel, moonlight streaming in over his eyes; they never did fix those blinds. He starts to roll onto his side to bury his face in the pillow like he always does when it's a little too bright and he's desperate to go back to sleep, but he realizes that he can’t move.

His lungs seem to shrink his chest as he realizes it's happening again.

He tries to wiggle his pinky like his doctor taught him to...

...but then he sees the figure at the foot of his bed.

David takes in the broad shoulders and popped collar, the bowler hat just slightly crooked on his head; every detail is the same as he remembers, down to the yellow, glowing eyes. As always, the figure barely has a face in the dark, but then it steps into the light, and it's not the face that has always chased him. David recognizes him, though, just… from somewhere other than his nightmares. He recognizes the strong brow, squared jaw, and lips pressed into a thin, thin line.

It's him.

As in, it's David, standing at the end of David's bed, his expression completely blank. Even his eyes are vacant, and the (real?) David, sitting on his bed, also recognizes that emptiness. It's something he used to see in his reflection, back when he'd been at his worst. Being on the other end of that — that haunting numbness — might be scarier than the man that'd terrified him as a child.

"You know I'll always find you." Empty David tells him.

Suddenly, David is sitting upright, and he looks down to find a familiar little bottle in his hands. He drops it like it burns him — and, god, it has. So many times.

"Nope," he says, seemingly to both versions of himself. "Nope, no. Nuh uh."

No. It's a word David rarely dares to say, but it feels good on his tongue.

Like every night before, the man at the end of his bed shrieks. Empty David's mouth opens, and the real David doesn't hesitate to throw the blankets off his legs and run out of the room; he hears the shrill scream down the hall. But, before he makes it to the stairs, another voice gets his attention. This one is softer, kinder, but still a bit stern as it says his name. David stops and turns to see a woman with long, brown hair and a flannel button-down.

"Maureen?"

She steps closer to him and gently taps the center of his forehead.

"Wake up, David."

* * *

 

He wakes (again) with a start, suddenly not in his bedroom but lying on the floor (ew) of a dark, unfamiliar room with two shadows hovering above him. They’re shrouded in the light from a small chandelier, but their presence doesn’t feel threatening, especially considering the delicate hands on his face. It doesn’t hurt that he hears their voices, vaguely, murmuring variations of his name coupled with little platitudes.

(“David, are you awake?” “Look at me, David,” “You’re okay, David.”)

They come into focus as he blinks: first, his sister, and then Stevie, whose… hands, he realizes, are the ones on his face, her thumbs that brush the apples of his cheeks. Both women’s eyes are more worried than he’s ever seen them, and he doesn’t revel in that nearly as much as he’d expect to. Without thinking, he reaches for the curtain of hair that’s framing Stevie’s face and pushes it behind her ear.

“Um.”

It’s slightly uncomfortable-sounding, but it’s all he can croak out before Stevie’s hands slide off his face and roughly punch his chest instead.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she half-yells.

Good question. What the fuck is wrong with him?

It takes a second, but David filters through his memory to remember where he is. Hill House. He came to Hill House to break the pipe. Right. For the insurance. He blinks a few more times. He’d gotten halfway to the basement door and then… Then what? David’s hand flies to his forehead, where his fingers meet a small wet patch. When he pulls them back, his fingertips are red with blood. Yep. Wonderful.

“Seriously, David,” Alexis says. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Um, hi, what the fuck are you doing here, Alexis?”

Stevie's the one who answers. “We’re saving your ass, stupid,” she says, folding her arms over her chest. “What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that I could re-break the pipe that dad ‘fixed’ this morning and flood the basement, so we could collect the insurance money and get out of here.”

Both women are quiet for a beat.

“Oh,” Alexis says. “Actually, that’s… not the worst idea you’ve ever had, David.”

The noise Stevie makes is very nearly a growl. If he weren’t bleeding from the head in a haunted house, he might kinda like it.

“Okay, so your intentions weren't totally idiotic, but... coming here alone? Why didn’t you wake me up?” She balks. “Did you forget this house killed someone today?”

Even though he’s literally being scolded (and not in the fun, sexy way), his face breaks out into a grin. “Stevie Budd,” he says, “Were you worried about me?”

She grinds her teeth. “No, I’m just… I just think you’re an idiot, and I’m annoyed that I had to haul my ass out here to rescue you in the middle of the fucking night.”

“Yeah,” Alexis says, “We’re just, like, super inconvenienced.”

David tries (and fails) to dampen his smile. “Mmhm. Mmkay.”

They're interrupted by the sound of Twyla gasping awake across the room, and the noise of relief his sister makes is, like, practically visceral.

"Twy!" Alexis jumps to her feet immediately and rushes to her side. "You were out of it for a hot minute — Really freaked me out."

"Sorry, Lex," Twyla replies, voice light. "You were all sleeping when I woke up, so I thought I'd try one of the meditations my aunt taught me, and I think I get it now.”

They all watch as Twyla stands up and starts pacing the carpet. When she turns to face them again, the moonlight from the window bathes her in an eerie glow. It's weird; David spent all of that time thinking Twyla was a ghost, but now she really looks like one. The vacant, far-away look in her eyes sends a chill down his spine.

He hears Alexis’s sharp intake of breath. “Get what, Twy?”

“This hotel is alive — or, well… it's… living dead? I guess?" she says as if that’s a normal thing to say. As if it’s a simple fact, like bananas are yellow, or paisley is always tacky. “This room is like its heart,” but then stops to tilt her head — like a cat listening closely. “No. Nope, not its heart,” she corrects herself, “its stomach.”

The swoop that David’s own stomach does… it’s not the good kind. It’s not the exciting rumble of anticipation, like when he’d opened the doors to his gallery in New York. It’s more like an overwhelming, sinking feeling of dread. He sits up straighter, folding his legs in front of him, and he feels Stevie’s hand press against his back to steady him.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” he snaps, pinching the bridge of his nose as he fights the wave of nausea that comes with being upright.

Alexis shoots him a glare.

“David, I know you, like, probably got a concussion or whatever — which is your fault for coming here alone, b.t.w. — but Twy is doing her best. I don't see you getting any helpful tips from the dead people.” Alexis gestures to her pasty, freckled version of Oda Mae.

In Twyla’s defense, she does look like she's listening to… something. Her head is still tilted slightly, her ear tipped towards the ceiling.

"Would we call anything she's saying helpful, or is it just creepy?"

The thought of Twyla straining to understand the literal whispers of a ghost — or ghosts, plural, fuck — is goddamn horrifying. David tries not to picture a hoard of them all gathered around her in a macabre huddle.

“Wait,” Twyla says. "You've been in this room before."

Alexis shakes her head. “No, babe. The door was always locked.”

“That’s just what the house wanted you to think,” Twyla replies. “I think.”

David starts to say something along the lines of, 'We need better than ‘hinking, Twyla,' but Stevie’s hand squeezes his knee, and it’s like releasing the pressure on a trigger. He tries to relax his shoulders and his head throbs.

“What do you mean it’s what the house wanted us to think?” Stevie asks, and David can tell she's straining to keep her voice as calm and casual as it always seems to be. “We couldn’t have hung out here if we’d wanted to. Not even my aunt Maureen had the key.” She looks between David and Alexis. “Trust me. I asked her dozens of times.”

“It tricked you," Twyla replies simply. "You were in here all the time, and you had no idea. It was a movie room for Stevie and David, a dressing room for Moira, and a playroom for Alexis.” Twyla returns to pacing. “But… it was all… this room. All the Red Room. It just put on different costumes, so that’d you’d…”

The pause seems to last forever; even Alexis gets edgy, moving her hands as if to say, come on, out with it.

“So we’d what, Twy?” she asks.

“Stay calm. While it… digested.”

Alexis blurts, “Ew,” at the same time David says, “Oh my god,” and Stevie mumbles, “Well, that’s reassuring.”

"That's why it knows you," Twyla clarifies. "How it got in your heads. How it fed off your fear."

David almost (almost) prefers when all of this was a mystery.

“Okay, well, we're locked in its stomach, so...” Stevie says. “How do we get it to… y'know…" She makes a motion with her hands. "Regurgitate?”

David cringes. “You literally could not have picked a grosser word.”

“What? You wanna go the other way?” Stevie asks. “Shit us out?”

“Oh my god.”

“Pull a ‘Jonah and the Whale’ and just… spit us out its blowhole?”

“Please never say blowhole to me again.”

Alexis clears her throat. “Okay, hello, can we just get the fuck out of here?”

"Twyla," Stevie tries. "Know anything about that?"

The door creaks open, making David sit up in a rush. He lives to regret that, though, as his head screams in protest, and he tries pressing the heels of his hands against his temples to stop it. Fuck. David positions himself somewhat in front of Stevie and his sister, just instinctively, but... What the fuck is he going to do if they're attacked by a ghost again? Vomit on it? Yeah. That'll help.

Luckily, it's not a ghost in the doorway. Well. It is, but it's not an unfamiliar ghost.

It's Maureen, and she's gone as quickly as she'd appeared.

"Maureen bought us some time," Twyla says, "but we need to go. Now."

She doesn't need to say it twice.

Twyla and Stevie help David to his feet, which brings on a whole new rush of queasiness. His slight wobble must be noticeable because Stevie's arm suddenly wraps around his waist, and Twyla moves a steadying hand to his shoulder. Alexis, meanwhile, frowns at him.

"Ugh, now we're gonna have to take you to the hospital to make sure your brain isn't, like, broken or something." She pauses; David knows exactly what she's going to add before she says it. "Well, more so than usual."

He rolls his eyes. "I'm fine."

"Nope, if that Casino Night sponsored by the Yakuza taught me anything, it's that you should never ignore a head injury," Alexis says.

David literally can't think about half of the things he wants to say to that right now.

"Okay, fine," he says instead, "but we're finishing what I came here to do, first."

 

* * *

 

Since his father’s expert idea of “fixing” the pipe involved entirely too much duct tape and nothing more, it shouldn't be hard for anyone to believe that didn't last. They'd talked about the pipes when the cops had interviewed them earlier, too, so David thinks they'll be able to pull the whole thing off. When they get to the basement door, though, Alexis stops David from going down the stairs.

“Move,” Alexis says. “If I could escape that shady casino basement with, like, my hands literally tied behind my back, I can handle some duct tape on a pipe.”

"I’m sorry, you escaped a what now?”

“Ugh, not now, David.”

He steps aside, folding his arms over his chest, admittedly a bit relieved that he doesn't need to go back down there — Maureen or no Maureen. Alexis trots down the stairs for all of them; David then hears some rustling, then a loud pop, and an even louder whoosh of water moments later.

When Alexis returns, she brandishes a small pocket knife dangling from her keys.

“Wow,” Twyla says. “You really are prepared for anything, huh?”

Alexis winks with both eyes. “Like a super hot girl scout, babe.”

Stevie makes a little “huh,” sound, but David outright cringes.

“Okay,” he says abruptly, “Let’s go before the house changes its mind about letting us out.” David sighs. “And that is a sentence I actually said. Out loud.”

Beside him, Stevie snorts, and one of her arms wraps protectively around his waist again. “You still look like you’re gonna fall on your face,” she says, explaining away the gesture, and David swings his arm around her shoulders without a word.

"I'll drive him to the hospital in Elmdale," she says. "You guys can follow?"

Alexis nods. "Hunny p."

"Good plan," Twyla agrees. "We can call your parents on the way."

David places his palm between his sister’s shoulder-blades, watches her twine her own fingers with Twyla’s, and the four of them walk out of Hill House together, giving it — and each other — the one thing it wanted all along:

Peace.

Chapter Text


It wouldn’t have changed anything. I need you to know that. Forgiveness is warm.
Like a tear on a cheek. Think of that and of me when you stand in the rain.
I loved you completely. And you loved me the same. That’s all. The rest is confetti.

 


 

ONE MONTH LATER…

When the Roses pull up to their new home, tires squeak against the asphalt. There is no grand gate to pass through, no curved and winding path: it's a simple driveway, barely long enough to fit two cars, leading up to a closed garage. Similar driveways flank it to the left and right, and directly across the street. Most people would consider it a normal neighborhood, but to the family that had everything and then nothing, it's more than that. It's far from their first house, but it may be their first home.

"It's so small," Alexis says as she steps out of her father's new car, stopping to stare at their newest property. It doesn't tower over her, nor does it look like a castle. It's a two-story house made of red brick and cement, each window framed with light green shutters. "It looked bigger in the pictures."

David steps out next to her. "Everything looks bigger in pictures," he says, eliciting a snort from Stevie, who is standing behind him. David turns to give her a look. "Filthy animal." He smirks.

"It will certainly take some time to get used to," Moira says, 'supervising' as her husband pulls a large suitcase from the trunk. "I haven't the faintest idea where I'll put my girls."

Johnny drops the suitcase onto the concrete and lightly kisses his wife's temple. "We'll figure it out, sweetheart," he says, and her sigh can only be described as petulant. "Let's all keep things in perspective here," he chides. "It's… smaller than we're used to, but it's a good place."

"It is cute," David admits with a tilt of his head. "I like the shutters."

Alexis nods. "It kinda reminds me of this place Klair and I had that layover in London," she says.

"I suppose it has a certain arcadian charm," Moira reluctantly agrees. "And it's... clean. It'll do."

His father beams. "See? This is going to be great," he says. "And look at us — all in one house again."

"Would we say we were ever 'all in one house' before?" David asks, voice lilting.

His father sighs. "Well, we are now." As he makes it up the driveway, he claps a hand on his son's shoulder. And, when David looks, Johnny's gaze is the most sincere he's ever seen it. "We are now."

 

* * *

 

It may be an understatement to say that Johnny Rose has a new "perspective."

Being called to the hospital in the middle of the night would do that to even the most distant of fathers, but… In his case, that terrifying call coincided with the realization that he'd been keeping himself in the dark. Either of his children could've died — not only on that night one month ago, but in the two decades beforehand — partially because of his stubborn refusal to see the Hill House Hotel as anything but a pile of bricks. Things could've gone so much worse for Moira, all of those years ago, too. She could've easily been brought back to the manor in an urn, rather than a full-leg cast.

So, yes, the Rose patriarch had some new priorities.

They'd all had to think about their priorities after that night.

When the insurance adjusters checked the house, they'd found the basement flooded, obviously, but no actual reason for the pipe burst. Luckily, it wasn't caused by rust or anything like that, so they ruled the incident as "spontaneous combustion," and covered the damage. Twyla, of course, had her own opinions about that; and, after everything, the Roses (and Stevie) were pretty quick to accept her explanation that the pipe situation was, in fact, ghost-related.

The bad news? (Obviously, there'd been bad news.)

In a twist that likely surprises absolutely no one, David had no idea how home insurance actually worked when he'd concocted his little plan in the middle of the night. The payout for the damage — not for the whole house, since it was only the basement that was wrecked — was decent, but not nearly enough cash to get them back to New York or L.A., or anywhere but a nice house by the creek.

So, that's exactly what they did. The Roses became official Schitt's Creek residents. In the span of just a few months, they went from living in a six-bedroom mansion in Vancouver to a 10-bedroom haunted house-turned-hotel… to sharing a modest four-bedroom house.

For the first time ever, they'd live in a 2,000 square-foot space, share a single car, reacquaint themselves… maybe even start acting like a family. Alexis and David (thankfully) got their own bedrooms again, but they'd no longer be separated by a wing — instead, they'd be just across the hall from one another.

When they'd first gotten pictures from the realtor, Alexis had responded by smacking her brother on the chest. "Aww, it'll be like we're cute lil' neighbors," she'd said, holding her hands in what can only be described as a t-rex pose. "Like I could come over for some sugar, or something."

"Mmm, why would I have sugar in my bedroom?"

Alexis had made a whole show of rolling her eyes. "I mean, it's you, so…" she'd said, then shook her head at David's chagrin. "It's an expression, or whatever."

(He'd known exactly what she'd meant, obviously.)

And, anyway, when David paused in the archway of his new bedroom on move-in day, looking at Alexis's open door just across the hall… He had to admit, it did feel like that, and he didn't hate it.

 

* * *

 

"David, what the fuck are you going to do with all of these clothes?"

Stevie's voice comes from behind him, where he can barely see the top of her head over a stack of boxes. That also means she can't see the smile it puts on his face.

He shrugs, strolling around next to the boxes. "That's what the fourth bedroom is for."

"I thought that was an office for your dad?"

"He can put a desk in there — I don't care," he replies with a grin, then gestures to his own closet. "I'll keep the clothes closest to in-season here, and hang the rest up in the other room. I figured I'd get one of those free-standing clothes racks, or whatever."

Stevie makes a thoughtful sound, brushing her fingertips over a soft sweater at the top of a box. She unfolds it and holds it up in front of her chest.

"I really like this, actually." She sounds surprised about it. "I like this a lot."

David preens, as he is wont to do when someone compliments his wardrobe. "Thank you," he says with an upward tip of his chin.

Stevie grins. "You know, if you wanted to leave a couple at my place…" she says, trailing off a bit. "I might be able to find a drawer for them."

He can feel the way his face goes through several expressions of surprise, confusion, curiosity, and eventually amusement — all within the span of a second.

"Did you just offer me a drawer?"

She raises a single brow. "Under the condition that I can wear them whenever I want, obviously."

"Obviously." David tucks his lips into the corner of his mouth, cheeks dimpling. "I guess I can allow it," he says, "as long as they've been out of season a while…"

Stevie seems satisfied with this, and she brings the garment to the chair with her messenger bag, apparently claiming it.

"Should I bring a toothbrush too?" David teases.

Stevie smirks. "Don't push it."

 

* * *

 

"Favorite flower?"

Alexis shimmies her shoulders as Twyla takes entirely too long to decide. It's a cool night, so she's got a blanket wrapped around her shoulders in addition to the one they're sitting on. Obviously, they're playing twenty questions again — but they just have so much to learn about each other. These little games are quickly becoming "their thing" and Alexis kinda likes it.

"Daisies," Twyla decides with a resolute nod, "but it's a pretty close call. I really love all flowers."

The blonde turns to boop Twyla on the nose. "Well, that is good to know."

In a way, it makes sense that flowers would be on Alexis's mind; Twyla has been at the new house since dusk, having brought juniper and cedar to burn — "just in case" — and a few other herbs that she planted in a miniature garden in the backyard. Twyla's, like, really good at that sort of stuff, as it turns out, and Twyla seems right at home with her hands in the dirt and talking about rosemary stems.

Though, Twyla kind of always makes Alexis think about flowers, probably because she is one.

"Beach or mountains?" Twyla asks.

"Um, beach, obviously. Dream vacation spot?"

"Paris," Twyla says, after a long pause. "N*Sync or Backstreet Boys?"

"Ohmygod, that's not a fair question, Twy!" Alexis playfully swats at her. "I'm obviously going to pick N*Sync after JT, like, single-handedly saved my Sweet 16."

Twyla smiles. "Right, my bad," she jokes, shaking her head fondly. They slip into a comfortable silence for a few minutes, until Twyla asks: "Do you ever miss it?"

"Miss what?"

"Your old life," she explains. "I mean, everything changed for you pretty fast, right? And then everything happened with the hotel, and your brother, and… I dunno. We never really talked about it. So, now that all the ghost stuff is over, how do you feel about everything else?"

How does Alexis feel about it? Fuck, she doesn't know. She's not really someone to dwell on her feelings or get in her own head about that stuff. Alexis has been rolling with the punches for as long as she can remember; her ability to deal with rapid change is one of her most marketable traits. She's a woman of action, not a woman of reflection… but now Twyla's got her thinking about it.

Alexis sighs. "Yeah, I miss a lot of it," she says. "I really miss the money; I miss not having to think about that stuff. And I used to have, like, a lot of fun."

"I hear a 'but' coming."

"But I don't hate it here," Alexis confesses. "I thought I would, but… David looks better than I've seen him since we were kids, and I feel like I have my brother back, you know? And my parents are here, actually, like… kinda actually being parents, sort of. It's a little late, but… It's nice. I guess."

Twyla smiles, and the kindness in it is unlike anything she's ever seen in another person. "That's really great, Lex," she says, and Alexis knows she means it. "I'm happy for you. All of you."

Alexis lightly bumps her shoulder into Twyla's. "There's one other little thing I like about being here."

"And what's that?"

"You, Twy."

It happens slowly. First, Twyla blushes; her smile is so bright, it could almost convince Alexis the sun is already rising. Then, green eyes dart down to Alexis's lips, then back up again, so Alexis knows they're on the same page. Finally (finally), they meet in the middle, lips colliding in the sweetest kiss Alexis has ever had. It's almost as chaste as their innocent first kiss under the willow tree — at least, at first — but it makes Alexis feel more than most actual orgasms in the past. Because Twyla's lips are soft. Really soft. And they press against hers so tenderly.

Honestly, such a gentle kiss has literally no right to make her feel this much. Like, Alexis's heart actually flutters — flutters! — as Twyla's hand comes to cup her cheek. She parts her lips to deepen the kiss and, when their tongues slide against each other, every nerve-ending in Alexis's body lights up. It's like seeing color for the first time. She actually laughs a little when they pull apart.

"I like you too, Lex," Twyla says, still close to her mouth. "So much."

Alexis couldn't imagine a more perfect beginning.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Six months in, David hasn't seen the man in the trench coat even once — not in his dreams, and not in the mirror. He hasn't run into his mother, disoriented in the hallway in the middle of the night, and his one-year chip proudly dangles from his keyring.

He still goes to meetings, at least twice a month, but that's just part of his life now — he needs to explain that to Alexis and his parents more than once. "They call it recovery for a reason," he'd told them. Because, unlike the literal ghosts, addiction makes a home inside a person, not the other way around. David couldn't leave it back at Hill House to drown in the basement; it's weaved into the fabric of who he is, and he's come to accept that.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

He's got a better grip on that now.

"David?" He hears his sister's voice before he sees her descending down the stairs in her clunky wedges and boho dress. Even when she does come into view, Alexis doesn't look at him; she's too busy tapping on her phone. "Dad says you're taking the car later, but… I need it."

He makes a face. "Um, no? I need it. That's literally why I used his stupid sign-out thing."

"Ugh, can't your girlfriend just take you wherever?" she asks, and David sees Stevie's scrunched-up face in the corner of his eye. "I have this totally cute idea for Twy, so I need to get cheese and stuff."

David rolls his eyes. "Sorry, can't," he says, not sounding sorry at all. He plops onto the couch, throwing his legs over Stevie's. "She's busy, and I've gotta go fill out my incorporation papers."

Alexis makes a face, finally looking at him. "Mmkay, I have no idea what that means."

"I leased the space where the general store used to be," he explains.

For once, Alexis not knowing about a major event in his life isn't due to her selfishness, but because David hasn't told her yet; he hadn't wanted to jinx it by telling everyone. His family is also infamous for not being able to keep their mouths shut about something, and David was trying to avoid being the talk of the town for now. So, his sister just blinks in surprise and confusion.

"Why?"

David looks up at Stevie, who just smirks at him.

"Don't look at me," she says, holding up her hands. "If you wanna tell her, tell her."

"Tell me what!" Alexis drops her hands to her hips.

With a deep breath, David sits up, exchanging one more look with Stevie before turning to his sister.

"So, I have this idea," he says, "for a store."

"What kind of store? Like… your gallery?"

"Mmkay, first of all, my gallery was not a store — a gallery is not a store," he says, "and also… um, no. It's different. Very different. It's more like a replacement for the general store?" David pauses to gather his thoughts, gesturing broadly with his hands. "But it's also a very specific store…"

 

 

* * *

 

 

In the end, everyone got what they wanted… Including, you could say, Hill House itself.

Even today, it sits quietly behind its gates, untouched by the living — more importantly, where it can't touch the living itself.

Not anymore. Not ever again.

Nobody knows how Hill House chose its victims, or if it chose at all. Perhaps it latched onto people at random, like a leech, or a sinister parasite. Maybe it crawled through the cracks found in particularly vulnerable people… Or, perhaps, it had no say in who it haunted — just like those who knew the terror within its walls had no say in whether or not they were haunted.

You might say there are some people who are just prone to darkness, whether because they leave their hearts unguarded and become easy prey, or because their boundless imaginations carry their thoughts to places that the average person never goes. And darkness has a way of spreading to whatever it touches, like metastatic cancer.

Some people are consumed by it. Some refuse to acknowledge it. Some think they can escape its clutches if they run fast enough, or that they can make themselves lighter by unloading their darkness onto others.

And then there are those who embrace it, wear it like a badge of honor, and they're not afraid. Not of the dark, not of themselves, and certainly not of bullies like Hill House. Those people — those few people — have learned to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.

But Hill House, not sane, still stands by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it has stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet neatly, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walks there, walks alone.