Aidan had been waiting for ages by the time Peter finally came to find him. They had decided it would be best for the walking skeleton to stay out of sight, and so he had been camping out in a parking garage a few buildings down from the hospital. Although it had taken the fool forever to come back, Aidan certainly hadn’t been bored; every second had been spent in the fear that someone else would stumble across him.
“She’s not well,” Peter said as soon as he came into sight. He slipped into the stairwell that Aidan was sitting in and sank down next to him. “She had some sort of hallucination and thought she was being attacked by that Despernot ghost…ended up stabbing herself twice. Well, once, but with two different…you get the idea.”
“What should we do?” Aidan asked.
“What can we do, Bare Bones? She needs help. Certainly physically, but also….” He sighed and unbuttoned his collar, letting the wound around his neck breathe a bit. “I think we should leave her here.”
In the heart he did not have, Aidan knew Peter was right. From a practical standpoint, there wasn’t much of a choice. They needed to get to New York City; the longer they delayed the more opportunities Sir Hugo had to recruit people to the company. Add to that the fact that Lori was ten different kinds of broken and still had way too much life ahead of her and the decision was clear.
“Who’s going to take over for you?” he asked. The question had introduced itself into his thought process and wouldn’t leave. It was curiosity, mostly, but Peter began to look uncomfortable.
“Well, that depends,” he said. “There are some people Sir Hugo could call in; he has several of us out in the world, doing who-the-hell-knows-what. He could bring one of them back, but he might not want to interrupt their work.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“I just said I don’t know. But if he chooses someone who’s in England right now…I bet he’ll pick Alexandre.”
Aidan thought about it for a moment and then nodded. As much as he hated to admit it, Alexandre was far gone enough to mindlessly kill someone for the disembodied director. They sat together in silence for a while, Peter lost in whatever dark thoughts he had and Aidan listening for any sound of approaching footsteps. As he kept watch, so to speak, he found himself remembering Lori’s tears in Black Boots’ house. Her desperation, her plea to let all of this mean something….if they left her behind now, none of it would. Not for her, at least.
“…we’ll come back for her,” Peter said suddenly. “We’ll go to NYC and look for the Ithen, and then we’ll come back. She’ll be at least a little better by then, maybe up for travel with crutches or something. She wanted to be with us for the end of it, after all; it doesn’t matter if she can’t go to New York.”
“Do you think she’ll feel that way?”
The fool pushed himself to his feet with a little groan. His thin fingers worked at the buttons on his coat, hiding his wound again. “I think she’ll realize she hasn’t much choice,” he said. “Wait here.”
He was on his way before Aidan could say another word. The skeleton scene-painter settled back against the stairwell and resumed his paranoid vigil. Time flew in an anxious wind as it had before…until at last he heard something. Someone was coming down his stairs from the level above. Quickly, Aidan drew himself into the intermittent shadows beneath the steps and drew his knees to his chest like a frightened child. He kept his face raised, and as he watched a man came into view.
He was barefoot, which struck Aidan as odd. It wasn’t a particularly disgusting parking garage, but even so it seemed like a good place to be considering the use of proper footwear. His clothes were a mess, too, and as he made his way down Aidan caught a brief glimpse of his expression and felt the heart he didn’t have skip a beat. The eyes, a horrid, intense blue, stared ahead without seeing. There were tear tracks down his sunken cheeks, and the way his lips seemed to be curling away from his teeth led Aidan to the realization that this was a ghost. And then in a rush of panic, he knew that it must be Despernot.
Lori had described him as having dark hair and blue eyes. While that could apply to any number of people, Aidan somehow had a feeling that this was the sea-ghost who had killed her godfather. It was too much of a coincidence for her claim to had attacked her and then for this mysterious, barefooted specter to appear. And if it was true, then it meant that leaving Lori here by herself was perhaps not the best idea, after all.
Despernot—if that was truly who he was—left the stairs and wandered off, weaving his way between cars, casually setting off their alarms as he went. Aidan thought he heard him giggling to himself. He was half tempted to follow, but a small shred of sanity and his missing arm reminded him that stalking dangerous ghosts was not for the breakable.
Twenty minutes later, Peter came back.
“We have to take her with us,” Aidan said at once.
Peter went from shocked to annoyed in about half a second. “I just told her–”
“I saw Despernot.”
“…really? How can you be sure?”
“He fit her description. He was obviously dead and he seemed a little…off. It had to be him. What are the odds that two blue-eyed ghosts are hanging around the hospital?”
“Pretty good, considering I have blue eyes.”
“You know what I mean.”
The fool sighed and rubbed at his head. “Damn it, Bare Bones, you know what this means? We’ll have to kidnap her. There’s no way they’ll just agree to release her. They were prepping a psych referral when I was there.”
“Can you do it?”
A faint smile slipped beneath the frustration, and Peter’s eyes—far less frightening than Despernot’s even in the shadows—softened. “See, this is why I brought you back, Tristan.”
Aidan nodded, but discomfort settled on him like a noxious cloud. He couldn’t help but feel distance from that name. He had spent all of his afterlife, which was all he could remember, learning to become Aidan Lawrence. To suddenly be an imposter was difficult to handle. He might have chosen to ignore whomever Tristan Hathaway was and just keep on being Aidan, if it weren’t for Lori. Her father was lost. It seemed unfair for him to take on that identity. It was grotesque and disrespectful and yet…it was all that he knew.
The existential crisis could wait. Peter was already heading for the hospital again, and this time Aidan—or whoever he was—followed him. This could all go south very quickly, and he needed to be ready either to help or to know which way their escape attempt took them. He cast a wary eye about for Despernot as they made their way out of the parking garage, but all that crept after them was the setting of the sun and the first tendrils of darkness.
(TCOS continues next Monday! New social media handle: @greenherself )