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Bitter Season chapter 1
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moonchild10 wrote in sugarhell
Title: Bitter Season
Fandom: Silent Hill 2
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: James/Maria
Summary: "Where do you go after you've already been to hell?" James would often wonder when he woke in the cold winter light of this newly harshened world, but the mirror held no answers.




It had been long enough since the day of his return that James could once again blend into the fabric of everyday life. At first he had felt like a monster, like a bizarre, invisible thing that could not possibly exist among normal human beings. When someone spoke to him at first, he was unsure of how to speak back anymore. By and by, it grew easier, and soon James felt as though he was once again living his own life. His life was not a particularly remarkable one, and he blurred into the memories of those he met.
James was a quiet man, and that was all his neighbors really knew about him. If they knew about the tormented soul that lingered just behind his face, they would have kept their distance. The torment was perhaps less so after his return from "vacation", as his father insisted it was, but it was still there. Mary was still gone, Mary was still dead, and he was no closer to reaching the answer of where she had disappeared to after that last ragged breath huffed against the pillowcase. He was no closer, for that matter, to solving the riddle of what would become of him.

"Where do you go after you've already been to hell?" he would often wonder when he woke in the cold winter light of this newly harshened world. Did the afterlife even have a place for James, who had been to that terrible town, seen terrible things, battled horrible demons who were not even there. James had seen his wife die in his mind's eye hundreds of times, had seen horrible creatures rend each other's flesh, had seen people, real people, die. He himself, as dark as the memory was that resonated behind his skull, killed two people. And so James wondered day after day, often aloud, and the mirror held no answers. 

"I'm worried about you, James," his father told him on the rare occasions that they met for lunch or dinner. Frank Sunderland was not a large man, but he was a strong man, and James liked to think perhaps someday he could be equally strong, of mind at least. "You should move in to Ashfield Heights. That Eileen Galvin moved in with one of the other tenants, so her apartment is vacant. Consider it." Frank liked to tell James about his tenants, who he saw the way a priest might see his congregation. He knew all of them and their stories, from Charles Dunway the artist to Henry Townshend the introvert. James did not want to be added to this particular list of people just yet, and so he repeatedly answered "We'll see." More than a change of scenery, what he wanted was a real connection to people like his father seemed to have, which he found his own life devoid of after Mary's passing. 

All of this and more was what had James in his current rut, and there didn't seem to be a way out of it. For the first few days after his return from Silent Hill, James had felt fresh and renewed, the sense of guilt that had so long plagued him mostly dissipated. However, after such a life-changing event it is easy to become stagnant once more, and people flitted in and out of his life like moths around an undependable porch light. He tried dating, but as most things were, it felt more like a chore than a pleasure. He gave up on it quickly. Increasingly, what he needed was a connection to the man he had been in the past, and nothing, not his father, not his job, not his home could give it to him. 

James was so desperate for that old connection to life that when it came, he supposed he should have been happy for it. However, it was more traumatic than relieving. It came in the form of a knock on his door one particularly gray morning, when the sun in South Ashfield was so blanketed by clouds that James had had to turn on the lights although it was only eleven AM. He expected a repairman or someone come to check the meter, and so he was wholly unprepared when he opened the door.

"Did you miss me?" she asked, hand on her hip, dressed in a skintight snakeskin miniskirt. She looked like some sort of bizarre sight out of an 80's music video, and for a moment, James could only stare. "What's the matter, James? Not even going to say hello?"

"Maria..." James muttered, looking her up and down to make sure she wasn't about to fade away. "What are you doing here?"

"What kind of greeting is that?" her lips curved up in a wry smile. "What about, 'hi' and 'how have you been'?"

"I thought..." truthfully, James was not entirely sure what his previous notions had been. When they reached his car in the parking lot of Rosewater Park after the tedious escape from Silent Hill, they had parted ways, Maria assuring him she had people to see and places to go. James had not even been entirely sure that Maria was not simply a hallucination. Now that she was standing on his doorstep in the foggy morning air, her bomber jacket not even zipped against the cold, she looked more real than she had in that place. Silent Hill wasn't the real world, as he had told himself time and time again.

"You thought what, silly? That I was just going to disappear after you let me out of your sight?" Maria had not changed a bit and it was a little disconcerting to James, since he himself had become a much darker person since that time. She shifted her weight, leaning on her other hip. Her shirt looked uncomfortably tight and she was still wearing those thigh-high boots that James imagined could not have been very easy to run in.

"Well no, I just wasn't sure if... you were real," James' voice came out weaker than he had hoped.

"Of course I'm real, James," Maria assured him, looking more smug than the situation warranted. She stepped forward and placed a hand on his cheek. Her fingers were cold. "Do you need proof?"

"No, that's not it," James lifted his hand and carefully removed Maria's from his cheek. "I just... so much of what we saw in that place, I wasn't sure what I was really seeing and what I wasn't. There were things that couldn't have been real. So..."

"You mean Silent Hill?" Maria asked. She said it daringly, as though it was a challenge. "Forget about that place. Aren't you going to let me inside?"

"It's hard to forget," James sighed, looking away, and then looked back at her, expecting her to been gone. He stepped back and she moved into his living room, rubbing her arms against the chill outside. Shutting the door, James turned the conversation to more important matters. "How did you find me?"

"I got your letter," Maria replied, and instantly warning bells went off in James' head. He turned on her with a ferocity that surprised even him. Maria certainly didn't look like she was expecting it. 

"What letter?" he demanded, grabbing her by the shoulders. If James had sent a letter, he would most certainly remember, and he had not written a single letter in years, especially not to someone he would rather have forgotten, someone who tied him to that terrible time in Silent Hill.

"You're hurting me, James," Maria gasped, and she sounded so much like Mary in that moment that James let go and jumped back as though she had burned him. Unexpectedly his eyes grew damp and he looked away quickly, vulnerability hitting him in waves. He was sure Maria could sense it.
 
"I'm sorry," he whispered, resisting the impulse to add 'Mary' to the sentence. "What letter?" he asked when he had calmed down a bit, and Maria reached into the pocket of her jacket, pulling out the folded sheet of paper. Seeming slightly subdued after James' outburst, she held it out to him and he took it carefully, and he unfolded it. Inside he found, much to his own surprise, his own unmistakable handwriting, his own signature. With trembling hands he held the letter, reading it over and over again until his eyes started to burn.

"James?" Maria asked, and he felt her hand on his shoulder. This time, he didn't pull away.

"I don't remember writing this," he told her honestly, looking up. "And I had no idea where you were, Maria. How would I have sent you a letter?"

"I don't know," Maria replied offhandedly, glancing around the living room. "I supposed maybe you looked me up in the phone book? Something normal? But you don't remember writing this letter? If that's the case, then I'm not sure what normal is anymore," she sighed, plucking the letter from James' hand and stuffing it back into her pocket. The letter was gone, but its message remained clear in James' head and he felt a shiver go through him.

I'll be waiting for you…

It was what had been written in the letter just before it displayed his own signature.

There was the sudden sensation of being in cold water.

"Maria, are you sure that letter is from me?"

"You tell me," Maria replied, giving him a look he couldn't quite name. "It's your signature, and it led me to your address."

"But I didn't write it..." James covered his forehead with his cool hand.

"You could have forgotten about writing it," Maria claimed matter-of-factly. "Or you could have been drunk when you wrote it."

"But I didn't," James was forceful when he spoke, and Maria took a step backward, looking threatened. James was unsure why and for a moment he had the urge to comfort her. "I would remember... writing a letter..."

"Then who wrote it?" Maria demanded, sounding tired. "Who else would send a letter to me with your name on it?" her voice was climbing higher, and it was obvious she was becoming distressed. "All I know is that I got a letter that it said it was from you, and it said you wanted to see me. What was I supposed to think?"

"I don't know," James turned and busied himself straightening the stack of magazines on the table by the door. They were all from years ago. Mary had kept the newest editions there but James had lost track of their old subscriptions. Such trivial things didn't really matter when she was gone. For a moment there was silence, and when Maria's hand landed on his shoulder again, it startled him enough to make him jump.

"James?" she asked softly, and he turned around to find her eyes watching him, looking as afraid as he felt. She looked very small and very vulnerable for a moment, and she was reaching out to him. He did not want to push her away, but he did not want to give himself to her.
 
"What?"

"That isn't the first letter I've gotten from you," she said, almost in a whisper. "But the first didn't have a return address, so I didn't come until I got the second."

"What did the first letter say?" James asked, almost afraid of what the answer would be.

"I don't have it anymore, but it was short," Maria looked very, very far away. "It said... 'where do you go after you've been to hell'. Something like that. Something weird and... James?"

James had stepped back as she spoke, and his back hit the wall for support. Outside, the wind tapped a twig against the window again and again, a melancholy metronome to accompany his thoughts. It was a small and insignificant sound in a large, gray world.

And James still had no answers.

Chapter Two

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