They won’t stop looking at him.
Who? He doesn’t care enough to figure it out. Everyone is, for one reason or another. Someone is angry, someone is anxious, someone is talking but the words are not meant for him. Maybe all of those are the same person? That’s a lot of emotions for one person to have at once, but it could be possible, he supposes. He can relate. He’s also had a lot of complicated emotions lately.
Camila would tell him to take a breath and try to accept what he’s feeling. She probably will, too, when she gets him alone to talk. Would it be fair of him to lie and say he will? If it helps her lose even a fraction of the tension that buzzes under her skin, sending light tremors through the otherwise-steadying hand on his shoulder? Would it really be so wrong?
Actually, that would make Luz upset too. So maybe he won’t do that. Ugh, his two weaknesses: honesty and humans.
…and what about the others?
Even now, Hunter is nothing if not observant. He heard Amity and Luz arguing earlier when they thought they were being subtle, sneaking off to hide behind a tree. As if that would hide anything. Normally he would laugh at that (and what a wonder, to laugh with nothing but affection underneath the sound), but they were trying to be quiet for a reason. Probably him, now that he’s thinking about it. He’s usually the reason.
Titan, he hopes Gus isn’t mad at him. At least he’s used to being the subject of Amity’s wrath. Willow… he would never hurt Willow, and she’s way stronger than he is anyway, so that doesn’t really matter. But Gus? Gus is just a kid. Gus is a kid that looked up to Hunter for reasons he still can’t quite understand, even when he was the Gol– when he was in the Emperor’s– when he was. Yeah. When he was.
Gus didn’t deserve to see that. Gus didn’t deserve any of this.
One day, Hunter will have to make it up to him. There. Something to look forward to. Make it up to Gus, talk things out with Willow the way she deserves, thank Luz a million times over for everything she’s done for him. Deal with Amity whenever she’s ready. A list makes things infinitely more manageable. Just… maybe not yet?
A shiver crawls up his spine at the thought of facing his friends without anyone on his side. No, not yet. But he’ll get there. Soon.
Willow has always been a bit of a wallflower.
Pardon the pun, but it’s true. In most social situations, she ends up on the outskirts of the main interactions, letting the secondhand happiness wash over her like sunshine on a warm summer day. She can trail along after whoever she’s following that day and be content with nothing more. For most of her life, that role of an observer has suited her just fine.
But ever since their debut, the Emerald Entrails have done nothing but challenge that idea. The team (plus Luz and Amity, who are honorary members if she has any say in the matter) respect her as an equal. They look up to her, even. None of them have ever judged her for her decisions to lead or to step back. Somehow, she knows they never would.
And isn’t that a funny thought? Whether she’s leading the team or sticking to the sidelines, her team is constantly offering to include her. They act like it’s not difficult to always leave space for her to join in, like it’s not frustrating when she chooses not to fill it. Like it’s the easiest thing in the world to love her. With friends like that, she is more than content to watch their various shenanigans and soak in the knowledge that she will be welcomed if she chooses to get involved.
This, though? Whatever’s going on between Luz, Amity, and Hunter?
Willow really doesn’t want to get involved in this one.
Titan, she wants so badly to take a step back. But that’s not really an option for her anymore, is it? The team– her team– is cracking under the weight of the last few months. If she abandons them now, they’ll shatter the splintering ice beneath their feet and drown in the freezing waters below. She can’t just close her eyes and ignore it. Not with their lives at stake.
Before all of this, her team chose her to be their captain. Of all the witches in the Isles, they put their trust in her . And now more than ever, they need her to act like a leader.
So, this fight is Willow’s responsibility now. Even if it isn’t exactly any of her business, she’s going to meddle. What else can she really do right now? With the Isle in shambles, her dads still who-knows-where, and Hunter… well, she needs something else to keep her mind busy. That’s all. If she can just focus on her friends, she can stay strong for them.
(She’s worried that if she looks down, the earth will crumble beneath her feet. She’s convinced that if she looks up, she’ll see the ugly truth: the world has already come to an end. They’re only failing to hold off the inevitable at this point. They were always going to be too late.)
(She is fourteen years old, and she is their captain, and she is terrified .)
Yeah. In context, mediating an argument between her closest friends isn’t nearly as daunting as stopping to consider their current situation. The opportunity shouldn’t give Willow the kind of desperate hope that it does, but… this might be the best time to sort out their issues. Better to smooth things over before Hunter comes back to them, if only to avoid any more friction growing in the group. None of them need another cloud hanging over their heads. They all need to be ready to support Hunter.
Willow needs to be ready to support Hunter. And everyone else, while she’s at it. That sounds manageable. They trust her to be there for them, so she can’t break down now. She just has to be strong enough to get everyone through this.
(There are tiny plants bursting forth from the ground and curling around her feet with every step. She ignores them. She’s only gotten better at denial since they arrived in the Human Realm.)
But that’s all fine! Really, it is. Willow can take her shaking hands and shaken hopes and use them to pick her friends back up from where they’ve fallen off the path. Titan knows they need someone to rely on right now. And all she needs is to do anything other than trudge through the suffocating silence.
So, when Amity finally speeds up to get away from the somber group, Willow sees a path open up before her. And like a good captain, when opportunity appears, she strikes.
“Amity,” she says quietly, catching up to the witch. It’s time to pull herself out of her own head, if only for a bit. “What– um, what happened between you and Luz?”
Amity huffs, crossing her arms and looking pointedly in the other direction. “What do you mean, what happened? We talked. We disagree. We’re giving each other space.”
Willow winces at the harsh tone, almost backing down out of habit. It takes effort to remind herself that Amity is just on the defensive right now. That kind of treatment isn’t justifiable, she knows that, but… to be fair, it’s an understandable reaction. Amity certainly hadn’t been prepared to handle the whiplash of the last few hours, nor had any of their little group. How could any teenager be ready to face the end of their world?
(Another vine digs into Willow’s ankle. She kicks it off. No time for that right now.)
Time to pry. Willow sets her jaw and forges on. “Alright, fine then. Should we talk about whatever happened between you and Hunter instead?”
Bingo. Amity stiffens further, hands clenching and unclenching rapidly. As if on autopilot, she pulls out a little blob of abomination clay, using magic to mold and pull it over and over again. The motion looks familiar, like something Luz would have done with her own non-magical clay, back in the Human Realm. The muscle memory from their stay has yet to fade. Willow misses it already.
Amity must be thinking something along the same lines, or maybe she’s just lost in thought, because it takes several minutes for her to respond. Eventually, she says, “There’s nothing to talk about, Willow. Just leave it alone.”
“Uh, that’s not gonna happen.” Willow may be too drained to summon up her typical cheery demeanor, but she is nothing if not determined. She is going to prove that she is worthy of everyone’s trust, even if it is the last thing she does. “We have to talk about it. You can tell Luz anything you want to, but I know when you’re lying. And you’re doing it right now.”
There’s no response. The guilty silence says enough.
In the pause after Willow speaks, Amity gives a simple hum of acknowledgement. That’s a good thing, Luz thinks, hidden behind the dull foliage as she follows them from off the side of the path. If the two notice her eavesdropping (and she really doubts that they would), they don’t care enough to be quieter. Small blessings.
The silence stretches out for a while after that. Where birds and insects and people should be filling the area with noise, there’s only the eerie rustle of dried leaves blowing across the beaten-down dirt of the path ahead. A shiver skates its way down Luz’s spine at the uncanny stillness of it all. She wraps her arms around the bottom of her ribcage, almost like a hug, and hates herself just a little bit for wishing that the arms were Amity’s instead of her own.
Finally, finally , Amity starts talking. “...I don’t know what to think anymore,” she admits quietly, refusing to turn to look at Willow. Her head is tilted up towards the sky above them. That’s Amity for you, Luz thinks, far too fondly. All pride and sharp edges when something goes wrong. She can only admit her wrongs when she can pretend like she’s talking to thin air. They’re working on it, or at least they were working on it before all of this.
Willow follows suit, tipping her head up and softening her tone. “Think about what?”
“Hunter. Belos. Grimwalkers. My family, your dads, our safety. Arriving here, leaving the Human Realm. Being too late to stop any of this. Take your pick.” Amity huffs out a small, bitter laugh at the end of the list.
Oh, jeez, that was a lot of things. Luz winces in sympathy, feeling like she’s only missing a few more pieces to make sense of the entire puzzle that is Amity right now.
Willow seems to have a similar reaction, hands briefly curling into fists at her side before releasing. “Start with Hunter. And grimwalkers, I guess. Fill me in on your thoughts for once.”
To her credit, Amity takes the time to think this one through too. “I think I’m scared, Willow,” she confesses, like it hurts to peel back her layers and expose the restless fear underneath. “I think I’m terrified. I mean, all our lives we’ve been told horror stories about tortured undead grimwalkers roaming the streets at night to take away misbehaving little kids, right?”
Oh. Oh, no. Luz sucks in a horrified breath as the information clicks neatly into place inside her head. That makes… so much sense. They’re definitely going to talk about that later.
Amity starts to talk faster, breathing erratically, tripping over her words as she finally pries the truth out of herself. “I’m scared that we’ve been in danger for months and none of us knew. I’m scared that Hunter is still possessed right now. I’m scared that he’s going to hurt all of you and break us apart after everything we’ve survived together, and I think that I’m scared that he’ll get hurt too, and–”
Before Amity can spiral any further, Willow cuts her off. She stops walking, reaching out to take Amity’s clenched fist in both of her own hands. “Breathe, Amity. It’s okay to be scared.”
Amity nods, and the motion is so unsure and shaky that Luz aches to comfort her. “I know, I know it’s okay, or at least I’m starting to.” Her voice cracks in the way it always does when she’s trying to hold back tears. “But that doesn’t make it any better. The Human Realm was safe – we were supposed to be safe there, but now I feel like we weren’t ever really safe at all. We’re going to be running from this war forever, if we haven’t already lost. And Hunter might be fine, or he might die on us anyway, or he might kill us for failing in the first place, and I’m scared that all of that is equally hard to think about because it means that I care and I don’t want to!”
A drop of water hits the path and soaks into the dirt.
Willow doesn’t freeze in the way that Luz does (though, in fairness, that could just be because Luz isn’t supposed to be listening in the first place). She squeezes Amity’s hand once, giving Amity her undivided attention. There isn’t a hint of pity in her profile. A long moment of silence passes between the two of them as Willow waits patiently for Amity to collect herself.
“It’s normal to be scared,” Willow says, breaking the silence as they start to walk again. “That’s okay. We’re all scared. Even Camila, believe it or not. But you’re allowed to be scared for Hunter too, you know?”
Luz has to unstick her frozen legs, so as to not get left behind, and catches Amity shaking her head slowly; evidently, she does not know.
Willow looks over at Amity, making eye contact for a brief moment before turning her attention back to the path ahead. “I mean it, Amity. You lived with him for months. He’s our friend, no matter what you say. You can be scared for him. He’s going to be okay, though, and so will you. So will all of us. Belos can’t get to us right now, right?”
“I don’t know ,” Amity complains, scrubbing a forearm over her face to wipe off the last few tears with the sleeve of her shirt. “I don’t know anymore. That’s the problem.”
“Then we’ll figure it out.” Coming from Willow, it sounds so simple. Luz envies the natural confidence that pours out of her words. There’s a reason the group chose her to be their leader.
“Yeah. We will.”
The two friends share a loaded glance, filled with empathy and fear and hope and a plethora of other emotions that Luz can barely pick out from her angle of sight. What really gets her isn’t the look, though. It’s the way Amity clutches onto Willow’s hand like a lifejacket, to survive the aftershocks of the storm she just let out of her head.
“Okay,” she whispers.
Willow nods, waiting until Amity loosens her grip to continue. “I think you should apologize to Luz,” she says decisively. “And you should have a talk with Hunter when he’s… back to normal. His normal, at least. I think you need to see for yourself that he’s still the same person he always has been.”
Yikes. Luz does not miss the emphasis on “person”. Neither does Amity, judging by the wince. It seems like Willow is a little angry about Amity’s earlier words, too. Is it bad that Luz feels a little vindicated by that?
“Will… will he be hurt?” Amity asks, and Titan, if Luz isn’t so ridiculously proud of her girlfriend. She’s proud of Amity for backing down, for admitting that she cares about someone that she thinks she should hate, for leaning on the people around her and trusting them to help. Luz loves her just a bit more for all of it.
“By you?” Willow clarifies, squeezing Amity’s hand just a bit tighter when she nods. “Not really. Not if you actually talk to him. I think… whatever you think about him, I’d bet that what he thinks about himself is worse.”
And yeah, Willow is definitely right. Luz is all too familiar with Hunter’s opinions about himself and about grimwalkers. She knows his fears better than she knows her own at this point. If Amity talks to him, he’ll listen, and he’ll inevitably forgive her. After all, Hunter has respected Amity since Eclipse Lake. And Amity cares about Hunter too, in her own stubborn way. Neither of them are good at showing it, but it’s true; they are closer than either of them really want to admit.
Amity also agrees with Willow’s assessment, evidently. “I will, then. I’ll talk to him soon.” She sounds resolved now. Determined, fierce, protective. All the best parts of herself, laid out on full display. It’s beautiful.
From there, Luz decides to fall back and return to her mom’s side. She knows logically that she really shouldn’t have eavesdropped on them for that long, or at all. As she makes her way back, though, she can’t really make herself regret it either. The little raging ball of anxiety in her chest is finally settling down somewhat, and Amity will talk to her soon. Amity will talk to Hunter soon. She just has to wait, and then her friends will all be okay again, and they can handle whatever’s waiting for them in Bonesborough if they stick together. Everything will be okay.
(As she gets lost in her thoughts, Luz fails to take note of the tiny ripped vines scattered across the path. She misses the larger ones sprouting up to curl around Willow’s ankles, too. Those sink back into the dirt after Willow makes it out of sight, but the ripped ones remain motionless. Dead things cannot be puppeteered. They just stay dead.)
Waiting can’t be that hard, right?