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.

... )
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.

... )
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.

... )
On the Sunday before classes started back, Merry was reorganising her room in McKinley Hall, unpacking her life back into her room. It felt like ages since she’d been here; a different woman had returned than the one who had left, and Merry wasn’t sure she liked her as much.

They’d been back in London for a week – she and Ellie and Geordie, Joss and Leon. Merry had been staying at Neil’s, and there hadn’t been a single day between coming home and leaving again than Merry hadn’t burst into tears at something totally stupid. This was not like her, not like the person she wanted to be at all.

She was more exhausted, and, Merry though, less brave.

... )
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.

... )
Zoe spent the afternoon in the library with the rest of her Critical Thinking class, silently going over past examination papers. The class across the hall from their regular room were doing dramatic readings of some play and it sounded like they were throwing furniture around, and because Zoe’s teacher had feelings for the drama teacher (so the rumour went) he’d shifted their class to the library rather than ask the other class to quiet down.

Zoe didn’t mind. There was more space in the library, and she could sit by herself near the window and get on with writing her short essay. She’d chosen the statement ‘Why bother wasting time trying to understand dreams when there is so much we have yet to learn about the real world?’ which felt annoyingly relevant to her own life. If she’d been able to use examples of her own life she would have killed it, but as it was she was attacking the assumption that the ‘real world’ couldn’t have important reflections in the subconscious. She had to mention Freud. Zoe hated Freud. Her pen was digging into her paper and her hand was starting to cramp.

... )
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.

... )
Merry was alone in their living room at Lillian Cottage when she called Joss. Geordie and Ellie had walked down the road to get Thai takeaway for dinner. It was late for dinner, almost nine, but they'd gone to see an evening film and had only arrived back at half past eight.

She'd been a bit off today. It had been Geordie's idea to sit her in front of a screen for two hours and distract her - or rather, stop her snapping at them for a while. She didn't mean to snap, but they were getting nowhere.

... )
Merry, Geordie and Ellie were staying in a nice little guest house called Lillian Cottage, with Matt the medium shacking up with a lady friend of his not too far away. All three of them took turns driving, though Ellie did not quite have her full license yet she was an excellent driver, and unlike Merry her leg didn’t start throbbing to the point of distraction if she held it in the same position for too long.

Merry had a map of the city laid across the kitchen table, held down with a coffee cup in one corner and a jug of milk in the other. It was a warm morning, the windows open and the wind pouring in off the North Sea. She was the first awake, even though she was still feeling pretty exhausted from spending the whole day in the car yesterday. She’d been the first to bed, too, and had spent most of the night drifting in and out of sleep, comforted by the times she woke up and hear Geordie and Ellie’s voices through the wall.

... )
Merry, Geordie and Ellie were leaving for Aberdeen in the morning. Daria had a few things Merry needed. Money, mostly. Money and a car. Geordie drove Neil's van to Daria's, and waited outside while Merry went in to talk to her sister.

"You are not going to Aberdeen by yourself!" Daria exclaimed (quietly, since the babies were asleep upstairs). "That is - that is - no."

... )
Merry spent the first week of the summer holidays feeling like she was going mad with frustration. She’d moved back home for the break, though she spent most of her time at Geordie’s house, or at Ellie’s, where it was quieter.

How did you track down a boy, a girl and a ghost, when they didn’t want to be found?

... )

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Darker London

October 2014

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