Zoe tensed when she heard footsteps running up the library steps behind her, even though she didn’t expect that whoever it was was actually trying to catch up with her, even though people ran past her all the time, she still tensed. You could expect danger, and still not be prepared for it, which was why when she heard the voice behind her say her name, she wasn’t expecting it, and jumped.

Merry smiled because she understood jumping at the sound of her own name. It was a ridiculous thing to understand, but it was a ridiculous thing to do. Her stupid, jumpy self; she hated it. “Alright,” she said, to Zoe.

“Hi,” Zoe said.

The girls eyed each other suspiciously, out of habit.

“Gonna study?” Merry asked.

“In the library? No,” Zoe deadpanned. “Gonna shoot up in the bathroom.”

“Haa,” Merry made a face: yes yes, you’re very funny, but I suppose a stupid question deserves a stupid answer.

Zoe started walking again and Merry fell into step beside her. “What are you working on?” Zoe asked. She expected that question to really kick Merry off – she was the type of girl in high school to have a number of projects on the go, articles for the school paper and ways to bring down the government and/or patriarchy. But Merry just shrugged.

“Nothing,” she said.

It was an obvious lie but Zoe didn’t question it. Well, she raised her eyebrows to show she didn’t believe her, at all, but she didn’t need an explanation.

They sat at a table together and Merry helped herself to Zoe’s psychology textbook, in the way of someone who had grown up with six sisters and had an underlying belief that all property is shared property. Merry was probably the least likely of all the Waterhouse sisters to act this way usually, but lately she had found herself missing her family, more and more, and so emulating their traits, more and more. Right now she was Daria, shamelessly intruding in other people’s lives, without invitation or comment, but also without any of Daria’s openness or warmth.

But Zoe figured that so long as Merry was just going to read her textbook in peace and let her get on with her other homework, then that was fine. Zoe was all done for classes for the day, but Liz was going to pick her up on her way home from work in a couple of hours so she had some time to kill.

Merry couldn’t find Joss. Ellie and Tarique were in his room, probably banging, and Geordie had solid classes till evening. Merry had her own class she was supposed to be at right now but she hadn’t done any prep for it and she really, really didn’t want to go.

What was missing one class, anyway?

She skipped the boring bits of the text book like child development and went straight to abnormal psychology, which was clearly the most interesting. She made it through most of the chapter, and it was closer to five than four, when Joss finally replied to her where are you? message with an answer than, in hindsight, should have been obvious.

“I’m gonna go meet Joss in the pub,” Merry said, quietly sliding Zoe’s book back. “Uh, interested?”

Zoe shrugged. “Yeah okay.”

Merry hadn’t expected her to say yes, but Zoe had been staring at a chemical equation for the last fifteen minutes and could not make her brain concentrate because she was thinking about Danny, running around trying to do anything he could for the girl who had punched him in the face, and trying to work out how she could get him to stop. She wasn’t getting anywhere, on either problem, so a distraction until Liz showed up actually sounded appealing, even if it was a university pub.

Well, she certainly got her distraction. Joss was with April, at a table near the window. The shotglasses used to have something in them.

“It’s Monday afternoon,” Merry said, in a voice that didn’t sound like any of her sisters; it was purely Merry. “What happened?”

April looked across the table at Joss, then eventually up at Merry. She looked tired, an lacked her usual animation. “Teagan’s been sent to hospital," she said. "I mean, she’s been an outpatient there for a bit, but now she’s locked up in the Priory. She's... cray."

"Joss?” Merry asked. She hadn’t missed the bruise on his face, though it was small, and it was hard not to see the dark bite mark on his neck. "What happened?"

"She ran away from home,” April answered instead. "We'd all been rostered onto Teagan Watch, but fucking May wasn't paying attention last night and she slipped out. Went to Joss's."

“Are you okay?” Merry sat next to him. Joss smiled at her, but barely, and she frowned in response. “Did you guys fight?”

Joss closed his eyes, and nodded. The crack as her head hit the door when he pushed her into it had been awful. He kept imagining worse scenarios. What if she’d hit something pointed. What if he’d shoved her down the stairs. He shouldn’t have touched her. He should never have touched her.

Merry put her hand on Joss’s back. “Is she hurt?” she asked April.

“Don’t think so,” April shrugged, peering into the bottom of her glass. Her reflection peered back, her face as distorted as she felt. “Least her parents didn’t say. They just said she were more messed up than we could deal with, and she needed proper intervention. Like, you lash out at someone once maybe it’s an accident. You freak out a couple of times, maybe that’s all it’s gonna be, but she keeps lashing and freaking so… I just don’t recognise her any more, y’know?”

Everyone sort of muttered their agreement, though none of them really knew. April looked around them all. She was a talker, and usually vented through talking, but no one was talking back. She shouldn’t have expected Joss to talk, or Merry, come to think of it, and Zoe seemed like she was cut from the same cloth. Ugh. April wasn’t even sure they liked her; she was pretty sure they just put up with her because she was Teagan’s cousin and linked into the whole mess. She needed to make more friends but mostly she couldn’t be bothered.

“I’m getting another drink,” she pushed herself back from the table.

Joss agreed with this sentiment, and followed. Drinking heavily sounded like the best plan.

Merry ran her hands over her hair and looked at Zoe. “Fuck,” she said, because she needed so say something.

Zoe sat down at the end of the table. "The Priory’s not so bad," she said eventually, though she wasn’t sure. She didn’t like the way they were looking after Danny. They weren’t good enough.

“Mm, it’s probably best, but… shit.”

“I have a friend in there,” Zoe said. “So you need to tell me what's wrong with Teagan.” She needed to know if she could help, or if Teagan was someone Danny needed to stay away from. "What happened over the summer, with the ghosts?"

“Fuck, everyone knows about ghosts now?” April sat back down with a beer.

“I know plenty,” Zoe said. “What’s wrong with Teagan?”

April hands flew up in a gesture of frustration at her inability to explain, or hell, even know what exactly was wrong with Teagan. She didn’t live at home any more, mainly she relied on stories from her family but her family were equal parts dramatic and secretive and she honestly didn’t have a clue.

“She hates herself and wants to die,” Joss spoke up for the first time, sitting down heavily with his drink.

“Oh,” said Zoe.

“Fuck,” repeated Merry.

“Yeah,” agreed April.

Joss raised his glass for a moment, eyes closed, then clunked his glass against April’s and drank it dry.


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Darker London

October 2014

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