Darkness Before Dawn
Full Summary – The Wendigos were supposed to stay on the mountain. Blackwood Pines was never to be spoken of again. The survivors were supposed to move on. Supposed to. Two years after 'the prank', one year after their escape, the survivors were getting their lives back on track. But when disappearances and grisly discoveries are found in their hometown, they realize the Wendigos may have finally come off that mountain. And they're not going down without a fight. That doesn't mean it'll be easy. There was so much the survivors had seen on that mountain, so much they had lost, and it's time for them to take a stand.
"You don't want to go to Homecoming?"
"But you were a football player! Isn't that, like, the entire point? Where you go back and relive your glory days during the long weekend and talk to your old coach and teammates and act like life is never going to get much better than high school?"
Matty Taylor laughed to himself, his hands moving on auto-pilot, an almost direct contradiction to his words. Going home, the actual part of Homecoming was the part he was looking forward to. He wanted to go home, wanted to see his mom and dad, wanted to have some time away from college and the break neck speed of his classes and assignments. It was a bigger slap in the face for him, he moved onto campus, away from home—and the memories—as soon as he got the chance.
And it worked.
All until the dreaded long weekend came up. "Fall Break". Also known as homecoming for all college students to go back to their hometowns that they'd only just left to see what had changed and what had stayed the same. Matt knew the answer without having to go back, he'd changed. Everything changed after that night.
His mother had gently insisted he come back, that "you don't have to go to school. You don't have to see anyone else. You just have to see me." And Matt could practically see the smile she had on her face. His mother was always hard to say 'no' to. Almost as hard as his girlfriend, Cleo Reed, who lounged on his bed, chin in hands as she stretched out, gently kicking her feet back and forth, her heels striking her butt with each bob.
"Life got much better at high school," Matt said. He reached over and zipped his suitcase shut with a quick flick of his wrist. He heaved it to the floor then turned back to Cleo, folding his arms. "Trust me. Besides," he pointed a finger toward her, "Isn't it your school's homecoming, too?" Cleo nodded, her wavy hair bouncing gin her face. "So why aren't you going home?"
"Because I want to go with you." She blinked up at him, eyes as brown as her skin, but sparkled nicely. "You said you'd take me to meet your mom. And this is the best chance for it!" She shrugged her shoulders, picking at her nails. "I mean, unless you've got something to hide and that's why you're trying to talk me out of it." She climbed up to her knees, bouncing against the springs of his mattress holding an imaginary microphone out to him. "The people want to know, Matt, why don't you want to go to homecoming?"
Matt chuckled, shaking his head. He sighed quietly, trying to figure out what excuse he could come up with to explain. He turned his head, tugged at the earring in his left ear.
"Am I making you nervous?"
Cleo's innocent question immediately made Matt drop his hand from his ear. He hated how easily she could see through him. Or, rather, how easily he showed the tell-tale signs of his nerves, of his worries, of his anxiety as much as he tried to hide them. His mother always said he'd tug on his earlobe when he was anxious about something, thought that getting the piercing—as cool as it was—would stop him.
"Yes," he finally replied. "All these questions are making me nervous." He grinned at her. "I can't tell whether or not you're planning on teaming up with my parents to make fun of me all weekend." His smile faded a little. "You don't have to come."
"I want to." Cleo bounced off the bed and stood next to him, a healthy 5'7 to his 5'8.
A match made in heaven for someone who was looking for a boy who was at least the same height, if not taller than her, all through high school, as she admitted to him later. It was the biggest reason, she said later, that she'd asked him to join the Ballroom Program.
She'd been with the rest of the club, passing out flyers on campus and had noticed him and his distinct swagger as he crossed the quad. It wasn't a confident swagger that he may have once had–it was a controversial topic before the year started that he had numerous football opportunities at numerous colleges and universities and turned it down—but looked more like a limp had set in at some point. A limp that no amount of physical therapy would fix.
Then she noticed how tall he was, a height that no other guy she'd met so far had worked. Too many people that were too short or too tall, and, finally, she found someone who was the perfect height. Goldilocks she wasn't—her curls were a deep shade of chocolate brown—but she was going to make sure it worked. So, she thrust a flyer into his hands as he passed, making sure to give a bright smile and flutter her eyelashes a bit as she did so.
Of course, she was teased about it by her friends later, filling the dining hall with girlish shrieks of laughter. But it worked. She went to the next meeting of the club and found him cautiously looking around as he rubbed at his thigh, as if working to rub out an injury.
"I knew you'd come," she said, going over to him. Matt looked at her. "I mean, I wasn't exactly sure, but I thought you couldn't turn down a new challenge. You were a football player, right?"
"I was," Matt agreed. And he left it at that. Cleo's shoulders slumped a little. It wasn't like she expected to have a moment of clarity pass between them that would immediately make him see how he'd be a good partner for her, but she expected him to be a bit more of a big man on campus.
He'd just admitted he was a football player, didn't he?
Cleo twisted her mouth to the side, watching him continued to knead this thigh. "Old injury?" She asked.
Something flashed across Matt's face, a haunted look coming to his eyes. Then he stood straight and folded his arms, turning up the side of his mouth. "Something like that," he replied.
The instructor arrived, and Cleo moved aside, pulling her long hair into a ponytail. She listened as the instructor lead them through their stretches and explained how the club worked to the new students—how they practiced and competed, and while they competed, it was still important that they had fun with it.
Then they were instructed to start out with understanding of how framing their bodies worked. That was the part of the class that made people giggle and look around to see if the instructor was being serious. It was the part that Cleo had grown used to since she started ballroom dancing at five years old. She had to trust her partner as much as they trusted her—it was easier (and much less sexualized) when it was first introduced when they were kids.
Cleo had to tune out all the chuckling and sly glances around her from the pairings that still weren't used to being chest to chest with their partner. Matt slid right into it, doing everything he was told with precision and concentration, surprising Cleo that he picked up the moves so quickly.
They were able to, quickly, move from the beginning steps into the basic opening for the foxtrot. And moved on to the rest, getting through the dance at half speed by the time the club ended. Cleo knew then, from the tired smile on Matt's face, that he would come back.
It was the icing on the cake when, after months of being in the club he'd said, "You know, I like this," Matt commented. "Being so close to you."
Cleo grinned. "I thought you would."
It was almost as good as when she said, "You're the best thing that's happened to me."
Matt brought the rumpled, musty towel down from his face and looked to Cleo, who had saddled up to his side a few weeks after the club had started. A wry smile came to his lips. "Never thought I'd hear that in my life. Not until I was thirty at least."
Cleo rolled her eyes, shoving a handful of curls off her forehead. "Well…if you hadn't showed up today, I would've been stuck with Daniels." She tossed her head back to the other side of the room where the man furiously rubbed a towel between his palms as if working to light it on fire.
Matt chuckled, his eyes tracking Cleo's to the woman who stood next to him, rubbing her tailbone that had suddenly an unexpectedly had a date with the floor. "What would've killed you? The bad breath or the sweaty hands?"
"Both." Cleo's nose wrinkled. She turned back to Matt, placing her hands on her hips. A frown puckered her lips. "I don't know which one I could've withstood longer." She looked at Matt closely, her frown deepening with concern. "You haven't been around lately," She remarked. "Is everything okay?"
Matt quickly brushed off the concern. But since then, they were nearly inseparable. And, the only time he'd wanted to have her on her own was…well…he wouldn't have been too upset if she had decided to go to her own homecoming instead of insisting on his. If he didn't know any better, there was something she was trying to avoid seeing her home as well.
"It's a small town," She said, when they were getting to know each other. "You've seen them once, you've seen them all. What about you?"
Matt had abruptly changed the subject and she never brought it up again. Until she continued to wheedle at him about Homecoming. That was Cleo, never took 'no' for an answer and was the most passionate person he'd ever met. He almost couldn't say 'no' to her.
But he found himself unable to do so when she grasped his hands in hers, lovingly rubbing her thumbs over the backs of his hands and said, smiling prettily at him, "I want to get to know your parents. And your friends. I want to get to know you better. I want to know what makes Matt Taylor, Matt Taylor. Who I love to spend so much time with." She thought for a second, scrunching up half her face. "Who I'm not so happy to spend six hours in a car with…"
Matt laughed as she trailed off and wrapped his arms around her waist. He pressed his forehead against Cleo's and closed his eyes. He took in a deep breath through his nose, letting it out through his mouth, smiling when Cleo shivered and giggled quietly with the warmth that spread over her face. He opened his eyes, his hazel ones so close to her browns that he could feel her eyelashes fluttering against his.
"I hope you don't make me listen to Justin Bieber the whole way there," he said finally, dropping his arms from her waist.
Cleo laughed and shoved him on the arm, picking up her purse from the floor to deposit on his bed before retrieving her shoes from the floor. She was so preoccupied with her last-minute gathering of items that he didn't notice the heavy sigh Matt released, pressing a hand to his stomach before lowering it to his thigh, where he pressed his fingers into the twinge of muscle just below his jeans.
A reminder that he could never full shake. He ignored it when Cleo grasped his hand and asked, "Ready?" as if nothing was amiss. For her, nothing was. For Matt, he wondered how long it would take for all of it to come out. Wondered how long his pretending that none of it existed would hold up.
The drive to his home started out well; they sang along to every song, doing intricate dance moves in their seats as they did so, even scream-singing to the ones they hated. They talked about everything; about their classes, their classmates, their upcoming ballroom competition, their hometowns, their families. His parents were excited to meet Cleo while Cleo's parents were equally excited to know things were becoming serious with them as well.
Matt was careful to avoid anything about 'the prank' and 'the incident'. As it was, he probably should've warned her he was a bit of a local celebrity, but she was the one who wanted to tag along on the trip. He hadn't invited her, honestly. But she'd insisted on coming, saying she could tell he wasn't excited about it and could probably use some company.
"Besides," she reminded him. "You're my partner, we're supposed to trust each other."
Matt smiled, almost bashfully. He lowered his chin, looking at her up through his eyelashes. "That's true," he agreed. It was what their instructor had drilled into their heads on the first meeting of the club; whomever their partner was they had to trust each other fully, not just due to the painful lifts and spins they'd put each other in, but to trust each other to have the audience feel the emotions they were putting into their dance. "And, if I can trust you after you gave me that concussion…" he sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth. "I guess I can trust you with anything."
Cleo then gave an indignant squeal and punched him on the arm while Matt laughed. "I told you I was going to try a high-kick. You were the one who put your head in the way."
"I was just distracted by you able to get your leg up that high," Matt defended himself. Then he shrugged and added, placing his hand on her knee, rubbing the exposed skin from her tiny shorts. "And you've got nice legs. I'm a lucky guy." Cleo shoved him hard on the chest, not enough to move him, but caused them to burst out into loud laughter again.
Matt hadn't laughed that hard in a long time.
And as the closer he got to his hometown, the quieter he became. He wasn't sure if Cleo noticed, she just continued to talk and talk, jumping from one topic to the next, each sentence chasing each other as the seconds passed. Matt simply grasped the steering wheel harder and harder, wondering if it was too late to turn around.
The passing of the sign that announced their arrival into his hometown.
Matt let out an irritable sigh.
Cleo immediately cut off, silence stretching through the car. She brought up her finger and started to twist them in her curls, a move Matt easily recognized as her nervous habit. A move that also made her appear ditzier than she was. She parted her lips, paused, and finally asked, "Am I talking too much?"
Yes. But Matt couldn't say that. It wouldn't be him. He was too nice. Too sweet. He was the good guy; the people pleaser. The one who would let someone literally walk all over him so that everyone else would be happy. The one who could be a pushover.
Were you a pushover when you left Emily dangling like that?
The voice came to his head before he could stop it. Grimacing, Matt brought a hand up to his mouth, almost as if he were about to throw up. He really did want to. Any memory of the wendigoes managed to affect him more than he'd like to let on. And there he was, driving back into the devil's den because…
Because he'd avoided his home long enough.
Because he was tired of the way his parents looked at him.
Because he was tired of the concerned glances when they weren't acting like everything was okay.
Because he hated how they acted like nothing had happened and that he was still the same ol' Matt who was the 'football superstar'—despite him not getting that football scholarship.
'The incident' had ruined any chance of that happening. Too much time in the hospital, too much time in therapy, unable to leave the house until he finally learned to put that mask on.
"You hesitated," Cleo pointed out. Despite the tiny smile on her face, he knew she was worried over his rapid change in demeanor. He couldn't help it, the closer he got to home, the sourer his face got. "Is it my fault?"
"No," Matt replied, almost immediately. He couldn't allow her to blame herself for something when it was him that should be blamed. He was the 'good guy' who managed to become a 'bad boy' all because he got roped into a prank because he wanted to keep a good party going. And it resulted in so much death, so much bloodshed… "It's mine."
Matt sucked in a deep breath, wondering if she noticed the large bags under his eyes. What was he supposed to say?
That it was two years since 'the prank'? That it's been a year since he managed to come off Blackwood Mountain relatively unscathed. Matt's breath turned to a snort. Unscathed? Sure, if scars on his back, hands, and knees from escaping a falling fire tower and mines filled with horrific, monstrous creatures was unscathed. If having numerous nightmares for the first three months to the point that he refused to sleep was unscathed.
If going away to the furthest college you could get into on a sports scholarship and throw yourself into your work only for your body to betray you and start the nightmares again was unscathed, then yes, he was having a field day.
A/N: I've had this on my computer long enough, really wanted to get it up. Mostly because Man of Medan is coming out soon and the gameplay is similar, but because I've wanted to do this fic since I first watched gameplay of Until Dawn (and even more since I had bought and finished the game myself). I know the fandom's not very active anymore, but I hope you guys still enjoy the story.