Things had gone sour at uni, anyone could see.

Joss had turned up once on Monday, stayed at home for the rest of the week, and turned up again on Friday afternoon. One side of his face was painted with fading bruises. He felt pummelled, but could not bear to stay at home another day. Razvan was judging him.

... )
It was some late hour on Tuesday morning when Joss got home, stumbling into the chasm of the entranceway, one hand on the wall as he moved, step by step toward his bedroom. He’d stayed at the uni pub with April till they closed, then went back to the halls for more drinking, as he and April encouraged a group of first years to write off Monday night completely. On the surface is was a great night. There was a lot of laughter, especially when he and another guy (Jack? Frank?) walked in on April with her hand down Ollie’s pants, and when Dana threw up out the window and everyone who wasn’t a Nutford resident had to flee out the same window because one of the dorm neighbours called campus security because it was nearly three in the fucking morning and they just wouldn’t shut up.

He and April split up from the others, running toward McKinley till April had to bend over, hands gripping her knees, gasping for breath till the panting turned into tears.

... )
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.

... )
Joss never admitted to anyone just how often he wished he was still on the road.

He'd been getting sick, he knew that. He hadn't been eating right or sleeping well and that way of life was... unsustainable. But was life now really any better? The food was, but he didn't give a shit about food really.

In the back of Kenzie's van he'd found something few people ever found: a love that crossed all boundaries, even death. And he'd discovered Teagan, and fallen half in love with her too. Those girls were forever entwined in his mind. Did he love Teagan, or was it Kenzie he was seeing? Joss lay away in his nest on the couch and contemplated this question, but he never got any closer to answering it than he had on the road.

... )
Zoe had mixed feelings about university.

On the one hand, it was a comfort to be one part of a faceless crowd, all of them with their own personal end goals. It felt good to have a purpose, and be surrounded by people with a similar purpose.

On the other hand, she wished Danny was here with her. Or if Cai was a year older (and cared about higher education, which he didn’t) or even Rachel, just to have someone to hang out with between classes. Through high school she’d gotten used to being on her own, then in her final year Rachel had attached herself to Zoe and now it almost felt like Zoe didn’t know how to spend the day on her own without missing anyone.

... )
Two weeks into classes and Merry thought everyone seemed to be holding together.

Joss made it to classes every day, not that Merry was keeping attendance (she was absolutely keeping attendance). He turned up under the trees near McKinley most mornings with a coffee and a cigarette (he’d started smoking again, in earnest) and waiting for her or Ellie to notice him skulking and either come out or let him in. He never tried to call up and he didn’t text to say he was around, he’d just park himself somewhere and wait. He kind of reminded Merry of the Waterhouse's cat Hecate, aloof, yet totally needy.

... )
Joss was still awake when Leon came home, in the early hours of the morning as a flurry of raindrops were starting to fall. He’d heard the car come back and had drifted from the lounge toward the kitchen to pick at the remains of dinner and wait for Leon while pretending he wasn’t waiting for Leon.

“What’s up with Carly?” Joss asked, casually, as Leon joined him in the devouring of the cold chicken while the kettle boiled.

... )
Teagan lay on the ground, her cheek pressed against the concrete, arm outstretched like she was reaching for Kenzie to come back. Kenzie was supposed to stay with her. Kenzie was supposed to protect her. There were too many ghosts in this city, too many had followed them here and she could feel them watching her or watching Kenzie.

Had Kenzie really killed Leon?

Had Kenzie really slashed open Merry’s arm?

Had Kenzie really shattered every window in the motel?

Had Kenzie really left her?

Was she, Teagan, dying?

... )
Joss had been almost asleep, his eyes closed, leaning against Leon as the sounds from the TV wound themselves into his half-dreams. Leon too had started to drift off, and Ellie and Geordie had gone to bed over an hour ago. Merry was the only one still properly awake, still feeling like she had to watch over them all, still too worried to relax, and she was curled on an armchair sipping peppermint tea, when all the lights went out.

Joss heard Teagan’s scream through his half asleep state, and jolted himself awake. Disorientation spun him for a moment till he saw Leon, recognised him even in the dark. Leon was there. Leon he thought, looking at his brother in the glow from the streetlights outside. Leon is here.

“JOSS!” Kenzie screamed from outside, her voice hoarse. “JOSS I NEED YOU!”

Too much, too close )
Merry hadn’t explained the full situation to Leon when she rang him – she tried but he’d stopped her. “Look,” he said. “Just tell me where you are, and I’ll be there.”

It took Merry by surprise how reassured she was by this; Leon’s voice, promising to come and help her with Joss. Or it might have just been that he was the most adult person she’d spoken to in a long time. (Matt didn’t count as an adult, Merry had worked that out a long time ago. He was older, sure, and he had an important skill, but he wasn’t adult. She could rely on him to get the job done but she couldn't rely on him. Merry missed her dad horribly.)

Leon didn’t feel much like an adult as he was driving across the UK to find his missing brother. It had been eleven weeks since he’d last seen him. Eleven weeks was a long time. They hadn’t been apart for this long since Leon came back from Europe, that spring seven years ago.

... )
When we last left our hero he was suffering the after effects of a nasty car accident, piled on top of nearly two months of shitty food, worse sleeping habits, and the wild and twitchy belief that this was love and love would conquer.

In a haunted motel in Liverpool, Joss was lying in a rented bed, not sleeping. Of course, Joss didn't know it was haunted, but he was hardly the best person to assess what 'haunting' really was.

... )
When Joss woke up it was still dark and he felt like screaming.

It wasn’t the pain, the pain wasn’t that bad. It was everywhere, it was his whole body, but it was not the pain that made him want to scream.

Everything was just terribly terribly wrong.

... )
In a couple of weeks, Joss would turn twenty, and he’d finally be older than Kenzie when she died.

Kenzie lay with Teagan, who was half asleep, thinking about this, her thoughts influencing Teagan’s dreams. Joss would grow up, Joss would continue to grow up, and so would Teagan. Did ghosts grow up, Kenzie wondered? Had Joy, the ghost inside her grandmother’s head, felt like she’d gotten older as Grace aged? Why was this something she’d never asked Grace?

... )
Merry strode across the hospital carpark flanked by Ellie and Geordie and feeling like she was striding into battle. She had it all planned out; what she would say, how she would feel; all her plans riding on the momentum she’d felt start to build last night, when they left Aberdeen.

The momentum had been killed a little when they’d stopped half way to Liverpool so that everyone could sleep, eat, and brace themselves for the next day. It died a little more when they hit roadworks outside of the city, and even further as they wound their way through the midday traffic.

Then once they arrived at the hospital, the head nurse on duty said that Joss was sleeping, and Teagan was having some tests, but if they’d like to wait they were welcome to see them a little bit later.

So the momentum died for good in the waiting room.

... )
When mid-morning arrived in Liverpool, it bought Matt with it, pulling up in the hospital carpark on his bike. He'd driven all night, eager to get back into the action after two weeks of nothing major happening in Aberdeen.

There'd been some odd stories come out of Aberdeen in the last few years, and Matt had been up there a couple of times before to deal with things. There'd been a highland werewolf pack, really feral, about six years back that the Grenadiers had managed to get rid of, and of course there were the usual number of hauntings for a city that size and age. Still, the last fortnight he hadn't had much to do except catch up with his Scottish Anabella, which was not a hardship.

... )
A doctor tried to shine a light into her eyes as Kenzie was trying to get to Joss. "I'm fine," she insisted. "I don't need help, I don't need lights, just let me go and see Joss."

He was not the first person to shine lights into her face. The paramedics had done it when the ambulance arrived, and they'd put a neck brace on her too, which was really irritating. Kenzie was aware of an echo of Teagan's pain in her neck - all over her body, really, but to Kenzie it was just an annoying echo and not something that was going to stop her getting to Joss.

... )
Wrenched from sleep by a crash of thunder and a creature clawing at his leg, Joss hollered in surprise.

The world came into focus, out of the black of deep and dreamless sleep; Teagan’s face all pale as the moon. It was her hand, not that of some animal, on his leg, and the thunder was the dragging metal screech of the van door as she rolled it open.

“Wake up,” she gasped, her eyes wild and wide. “We have to go.”

... )
"'m not sure I can drive today," Joss said, clutching his coffee like an exhausted man clutching coffee. His head throbbed his brain throbbed and his eyes were burning dry. They were supposed to be heading up to Aberdeen today but all of Joss's sleep deprivation had caught up with him at once. He was seeing crawling things out of the corner of his eye and he wanted to punch them all.

They'd checked out of camp and were sitting in a cafe after a trip to the supermarket. He'd been fine up till now, till he stopped moving. (Okay, fine might have been an overstatement there...)

... )
While Teagan was at her appointment Joss trudged across the park to the public library. He hadn’t slept the night before; this time because Teagan was so worried about ghosts that he promised to stay up and guard her. There was nothing he could have done, and both of them knew it, but somehow it had helped.

Kenzie was awake too. They’d parked under the orange light in the camping ground which was too dark to read by, but light enough see the patterns Kenzie drew in the fog on the windows.

His life felt more like a dream every day.

... )


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Darker London

October 2014

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