Dolly wasn’t sure what time it was but that was by design. Keeping the Safe Haven going for this long wasn’t easy and it wouldn’t take much at this point to pull them out of it. Looking at the clock would immediately bring her back to reality and with the return of the real world would come the pounding migraine that she could already feel building in her. She could tell that Lydia was already starting to feel it as she pulled at her kitty ears in discomfort. Stuart looked like he was ready to fall asleep. Even Will was having a hard time helping to keep things going, his own efforts to get them talking were starting to falter. The only one that seemed like he wasn’t in danger of collapse was their newcomer. Matt looked at the fire like he expected it to open up and make everything different any second now. Occasionally he would look at the room with that wide eyed terror that he’d been saddled with as Will’s words weighed on him when they first got here. It never lasted as he allowed himself to be drawn into the light of the fire, looking at it until the flame reflected in his eyes and he seemed to calm down again.
“Is he going to be okay?” Lydia said, in a small voice.
“He looks like he’s going to be sick,” Stuart added, frowning. “Should we do anything or is it better to let him have the time to just sit?”
“He’s had a really rough night, even by normal standards,” Dolly agreed. “I don’t want to ignore him but I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do. Will? Did you have any suggestions?”
She looked over to see him pacing and muttering under his breath. The spider legs were out now, as he was too tired to bother trying to hide them, and he didn’t seem to notice them flexing and gesturing as he walked back and forth, each leg seeming to have a particular connection to his thoughts. Toby watched from a nearby web, occasionally jumping to a new perch each time Will wandered in a new direction where his spider couldn’t watch him. Dolly was convinced now that this giant spider that was terrified of most things was actively babysitting their friend. She also noticed that Will wasn’t the only one he was keeping one of his six eyes on. Every now and again, he would make a small jump up on a higher rafter and watch the boy that was new to their world. She was certain a few times that she saw a giant spider sigh and watch him until Will did something else to get its attention and then Toby would leap back toward Will and look after where his legs were going.
Through the fog of the moment, Matt could hear their conversation but didn’t actually care that much about it. Their words swirled around him and all that really mattered was that he knew he wasn’t in danger. That alone was enough to make it so that he could ignore it. He was too busy being comforted by the fact that he didn’t care about anything right now. He knew this wouldn’t last but for the moment, it was almost blissful. He knew that Blair was dead and it didn’t matter at all. He didn’t even feel guilty that he knew that he wouldn’t miss him. He was aware that very soon, he would definitely care that Blair was dead and he would feel a lot of dreadful feelings about the fact that he didn’t know how to mourn someone he kind of secretly hated. Yes, he knew these things, even as he’d been trying to deny it for the better part of a decade. It was all coming soon enough and when he thought about anything for too long, he could actually feel it bubbling to the surface. But it was far away right now and nothing mattered. Everything laid out before him now was just the naked truth and he didn’t have to worry or give anything of himself. He could simply be and know that everything he’d known, everything he’d been trying to work for and everything that he’d suffered for was over. His home would be gone as soon as Blair’s adoptive family noticed he was missing and there was no way that Matt could continue to live there. There was no point in going back either. Nothing he had was of much value except his camera and he had that with him. If he tried to tell the truth, he was well aware that he would take the blame for it. He knew that being black was as good as being guilty, and the crime was never something minor. He’d been accused of selling drugs to buy his camera. He’d been accused to stealing from his workplace when someone asked here his savings had come from, despite him being able to prove that he worked three jobs one summer. No matter how good he tried to be or how much he did to prove that he wasn’t the bad kid in the group, he was never going to be able to walk out of their assumptions. This was especially true in the case of Blair’s family members. They had called the cops on him numerous times for everything ranging from minor vandalism in his own apartment building to trying to rob them. Those attempts to get him arrested might not have stuck because they usually had nothing on him but it was still on record. There was no way for him to tell anyone what really happened to Blair without him getting called a murderer.
That was something that was making its way through the fog, even if it was only slightly. He knew that telling the truth was useless and he knew that he was damned for even trying. And who would listen? He’d seen a monster. He knew he’d seen something with giant antlers on its head skewer Blair and rip into him. Even he had a hard time thinking that this could possibly be real. Who the hell would listen to this bullshit? There was no reason to but Matt knew it was true. He knew it was because of what he’d seen in that monster’s liquid gold eyes. He’d seen right into him and knew that this thing had killed Blair because he felt he had to. When he’d looked into the creature in front of him, he didn’t even need to talk. He just knew that it had seen Blair as a challenge. The price for that challenge was your life and once he’d looked into him, he’d seen what Matt had always known. Blair had always, and would’ve always, used the resources of those around him to make himself look big. He would always climb his way on the backs of other people to pretend that he was king of the castle, even though he couldn’t use a camera for shit, he had no ability to charm anyone, he wasn’t even good at writing the scripts. He was someone who would always take but never ever give anything away. And the creature had seen that. He knew that he had nothing to give and saw it as a mercy killing. Matt didn’t know that he agreed with it but he knew that there was no malice in it. He hadn’t done it for any other reason than because he was required to. It was the sacred vow of what it was.
It had called the word draw in him and when he said it, he felt the difference in him. He was granted this one glimpse and it had been overwhelming but, for once in his life, it was a good thing. For possibly the first time in his life, it was the unquestioned understanding that he was right. That he had been seen and when he did something, it was honest. It was true and there was no looking him up and down to make sure that he wasn’t trying to pull one over on him. There was no searching him to see some flimsy pretense that he was trying to take something that wasn’t his or that he was trying to lie about anything. When they stared into each other, the creature saw right through him and there was no question about who he was or what he’d intended to do.
For a second, some unwelcome sense of self came through the fog and he felt the pang of something like panic. The creature knew him as who he was but the real world didn’t. The rest of the world only saw him as a black kid with nothing to lose. They saw him growing into a black man that they didn’t like and didn’t trust. A black man that just seemed to have a magnet in him for everything that went wrong around them. And he’d seen someone get killed. Even if the Buck didn’t have any sense of malice in the act, Blair was still dead and the other two were likely dead too. And that left one person standing that no one liked and no one would believe.
Matt felt his eyes burning and felt something bubble up in him in a way that felt both good and horrible at the same time. It felt like the aftermath of those few times he’d allowed himself to cry himself raw but with a deep, rabid flame somewhere inside of himself that felt worse than hatred. It was something feral that wanted badly to surface. For a very short second, he saw the wary looks of the people around him and for a moment, he saw enemies. People who judged him. People who hated him. People who were no match for the power surfacing in him. Just as the thought came to him, Matt choked it down with considerable effort. He winced as he forced himself to change the narrative in his head. He could see Dolly in his mind as she was in the real world. She was vulnerable and couldn’t run. She was also the person who had gone out of her way to set up a time when it wouldn’t inconvenience him when he’d been setting up that awful prank on her and Stuart. She had been protecting the others when she’d been angry with him. She’d protected him too. That other Buck would’ve killed him and she had brought him here to save him from it.
He felt awkward and ashamed as they all looked at him now. He didn’t know if he’d actually spoken any of what had just gone through his head or if they were just reacting to the way he looked. To his horror, he didn’t have to wonder. He could suddenly look into them. Just like what happened early when he had faced down the biggest Buck, he could see the people in front of him and sense, immediately what they wanted or what they saw. It was worse than being able to read their minds because he could feel what they felt. He could sense their curiosity and their compassion. When he looked at them each, he could sense what tangle of emotions was coming from which body but it was quickly becoming overwhelming. Only one of them seemed to understand but there was a fear within him. The giant spider person. When Matt looked at him, he could see the man he used to be and underneath the monstrous form, what he still was. Lanky, nerdy and utterly useless at combat. The kind of person who got way too excited about the things he liked and wanted nothing more than to give that excitement to everyone around him. The kind of person Matt always got accused of being and had worked so hard to prove otherwise. The kind of person he’d been afraid he’d be mistaken for if he didn’t do the posturing shit with Blair. The kind of guy that he was and always had been.
Matt suddenly felt too exposed and he needed to escape. He knew they wanted to help him but this place felt suffocating all of the sudden and he needed to leave. He needed to be invisible to everyone for a while. He felt that wild spark in him flair up but instead of feeling raw or powerful anger, it was something far deeper in him that came to the surface. Something he’s known for many years and something that had driven him through every disappointment when he would be transferred to another foster home or forced to go to yet another school or felt the shadow of someone other force that was going to make him try to fit into a box he didn’t want to go into came along. A tiny flame inside of him that wanted nothing more than to burst into something bigger and compel him to do one thing, if only just to feel the chains come off for just a second. He’d never done it. He’d never even tried because he knew it was useless. Now he couldn’t resist it as his mind and body finally couldn’t be denied and he was faced with a future that wasn’t going to allow him any other options. He thought of only one word and watched as the spider man’s eyes widened and he tried to say something but Matt couldn’t hear it over the deafening cry echoing in his mind.