Notes: This is my new baby, and I'm working hard on writing a lot quickly. For some reason it's easy to write this story, more so than my other ones. This one might make any other stories slow down, but I promise to get back to them not before long.
This is also based off a one shot I have that I always wanted to continue, named Phasma meum quiscete, which I've also posted. The character is the same, although his eye colour has changed from blue to brown.
The ghost's head tilted backwards to stare at him with glassy, see-through eyes and a small smile on its colourless lips. They parted and moved, speaking words he could not hear, and moments later her form had faded all together and vanished from the human realm. No traces were left behind, and the concrete that her feet had touched just a little while ago looked just as black and hard as it ever had. Gregory knew this: he'd seen them fade more times than he could count, had managed another job without failure when the ghost passed on to the afterlife. And yet, there was no feeling of joy or relief, but a hollow emptiness that pounded dully in rhythm with his heart.
He kneeled on the pavement and pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket, flipped it open and took out two cigarettes, one which he put on the ground and left there.
"May you find peace," he chanted and rose from the ground, a distant look on his face. With the lighter he kept in the other pocket he lit up the cigarette and drew a deep, soothing breath of the smoke. It tasted stale and uncomfortable, but it was a familiar discomfort that he enjoyed rather than disliked. He opened his mouth and let the smoke rise into the air all on its own- creating whirls and figures in the dark. Watching the smoke was half the fun, but he supposed that was a shitty reason for poisoning himself, just as every other reason he'd ever come up with sucked just as bad.
"Fuck, it's cold."
It was the 2nd of October, and already the weather had turned cold and unfriendly to heat-loving people such as himself. Winter was drawing closer with every passing day, and Gregory dreaded the coming snow, knew he would find it covering the hood of his car one morning soon. He shivered and pulled the jacket a little tighter, gave the spot where he'd put the cigarette one last look before he turned and began the walk back to HQ.
The walk felt much longer than it should have- Gregory blamed it on the freezing temperature and the fact that he didn't have the money for a cab to take him there. HQ was only a fifteen minute walk away from his current location, but he was certain he'd be able to catch a cold before he walked through those doors and fetched himself a cup of coffee. Thinking of sipping the hot, black liquid only caused him to shudder violently, and he silently wished his coffee machine hadn't broken down two days ago.
By the time he reached HQ he had already smoked two cigarettes, and his thoughts had drifted enough to make him mellow and quiet. He pushed the door open with his shoulder to avoid taking his hands out of his pockets and breathed a sigh of relief when the warmth enveloped him.
Almost subconsciously Gregory scanned the entrance hall as he came into it, and ease settled in his mind when he saw that nothing was out of order. The large room remained as he had left it. In his line of work you never really could predict what might happen, even if it was ridiculous to think that HQ could be invaded.
The walls were painted a deep, lush red that some might say looked more like brown, and various pot plants were spread about the room to give it a feel of calm and freshness. There were no windows, although the soft, warm light from the ceiling made up for that. Apart from the large, wooden desk on his right, the only furniture was a book case, a couple of chairs and a wide, spacious drawer in oak. Behind said desk sat a woman, writing as it seemed, and Gregory recognized her but couldn't remember her name.
She looked up when she heard the sound of his heavy boots, and the smile was ready on her face. It faltered only for a brief moment when her eyes settled on his face; he had to admit, she was good at keeping up her appearance despite the surprise he had seen flickering there for that short moment. But she could hardly be blamed.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Jade?" she asked pleasantly and put down her pen to give him her full attention.
Gregory felt uncomfortable with the way she was staring at him so intently, and he cast his eyes to the floor to avoid hers and felt his hands clench and unclench in his jacket pockets- a nervous habit.
"There should be an envelope for me from Info."
He heard the woman click her tongue, probably because she was trying to remember, and when she did remember she made a pleased "ah, yes" and turned in her chair. He followed the movement from the corner of his eye and watched her search through a pile of envelopes, papers and notebooks on the desk to retrieve a large, yellow envelope addressed to "Gregory Jade, Rank B - Dep. Of Exorcism".
She handed it to him with a wide smile, and he took it without hesitation and nodded as a simple 'thank you'. He thought she looked a little unhappy that he wasn't talking to her, but he did not particularly care what she thought. She made no sound or tried to talk to him again when he turned and walked away, exiting through one of the doors on the left.
The yellow envelope was clutched tightly in his fingers as he walked down the corridor past the offices of his co-workers and subordinates. The lights were on in most of the offices still even though it was past midnight, but that was hardly unusual. Work hours at HQ tended to vary according to which Department you belonged to, and The Department of Exorcism had the most inhuman shifts of them all. No one would be surprised if you pulled an all-nighter here or spent 35 hours straight awake to finish a mission.
Gregory shrugged the sleeve of his jacket away from the watch on his wrist and glanced at the current time. It was 03:45 AM. If he was lucky he might be back home before six to get some decent sleep. Missions had a way of putting a considerable amount of strain on your body, and all Exorcists were required to rest for a period of 12 hours after they had finished their mission and written their reports to hand over to Research.
Gregory came to a stop in front of a door that carried his name in the form of a small, metal name plate with black, curly letters. The key was in his inner pocket; he took it out and locked himself in, flicked on the lights and dumped into the chair by his desk.
For a couple of minutes he felt too drained to do anything much but breathe and stare at the white wall ahead of him. His body felt heavy- the aftermath of the exorcism he had performed earlier was slowly seeping into his bones and flesh and made him tired and weary. Then he recalled the envelope in his hand and reached out for the letter opener he kept on his desk. The envelope came open with a little noise, and when he stuck his hand inside it came back out holding one single sheet of paper with some text and a photo on it.
Gregory's mouth tensed when he looked at the woman's smiling face in the old photograph; she'd looked nowhere close to innocent and beautiful in her moment of death. One finger traced the outline of her red curls and dark eyes. He had seen it- how this woman had been stabbed by the one man whom she trusted more than anyone, just because she'd been rich and pretty and easily fooled. He had seen her face become twisted with the terror and pain she felt when the blade cut into her soft abdomen and pierced vital organs. It had been over so fast;
He knew she'd hardly had the time to realize that she was dying before her heart stopped. But the tiny fraction of a moment that she did get had been enough to leave her hanging even after death.
He skimmed through the text to see if anything was new, which it turned out not to be, except for two lines.
"As a child, Sarah Hammond was abused by her older brother, but it was never reported to the police. The parents thought she was delusional and wanted attention and chose not to believe her."
The word made him shiver. Gregory's mouth became tenser while he read those two lines over again, and he moistened his dry lips. Without thinking he touched his right cheek gingerly and felt the rough lines that had been carved into the skin there by a hand other than his own. He traced the shape that formed a pentagram; the scar had faded to a whitish pink over the years, but it had once been far more noticeable than it was now.
"Sarah Hammond, 26 years old and engaged to 28 year old Richard Pritkin," he mumbled to himself and put the paper aside to get the third of the black notebooks that were lined up on the desk. The pages were filled with text and newspaper clips, and he turned to a fresh page and picked a black pen from the cup of pens and pencils and stared at the blank page.
"Sarah Hammond, died at age 26 on May the 14th, 2008. Cause of death was a stab wound in her abdominal region," he muttered to himself and began to jot down the things he could remember. His hand seemed to move on his own; the words flowed until they filled two whole pages, and when he could think of nothing more to write he put the pen away and cut out the picture of Sarah and added it to her profile. Somehow it felt lacking. She deserved something…something more, he thought vaguely but could not come up with anything. He looked down at her smiling picture and felt a little sting in his chest at the thought that she had been a spirit for five months before she was discovered. And those had been five months of torment and inability to cope with her new form and helplessness before HQ handed the case file over to Gregory and sent him off to close it.
It hadn't been easy, at first, to make her co-operate with him. Sarah Hammond had been too absorbed into her own feelings of hurt, betrayal and anger to do anything but lash out at him and try to wound him too. But Gregory was a patient man, and reluctant to use any form of restraint to make a spirit listen to him. The moment she managed to draw blood from his face something had broken in her, and she'd listened then.
"Help me," she had pleaded with him. "Make it go away, please. I never wanted to become a ghost." Gregory had almost pitied her when she stared at him with such glassy, sad eyes, and when he asked her to tell her story it came out in bits and pieces, interrupted by angry outbursts or nervous break downs and hysterical sobbing. Two nights had passed since then, spent listening to Sarah's spirit and helping her come to terms with what had happened. There had been no resistant when he finally spoke the spell of release and let her go. It had been an easy case, but Gregory felt as tired as if he had been running the marathon all day. The strength had been zapped from him after he returned here to HQ, and he feared there was more to come still.
The knock on the door startled him enough to make him jump in his seat; it was unexpected.
Visitors were few and usually far between, and no one was likely to know yet that he had returned. The thought of having a conversation at this time of night unsettled him. He frowned and cleared his throat.
"The door is open."
When the door swung open and Gregory found himself staring at a familiar, handsome face he sighed and tried not to show how uneasy he felt. In the doorway stood Nathan Blue- fellow Exorcist and one of the very few people that didn't make Gregory feel uncomfortable and awkward. The tall, slender man leaned his shoulder against the door frame and smiled knowingly at him. His eyes were brown, a lighter shade than his own, and the short, brown hair was tousled. The pink tinge to Nathan's cheeks indicated that he had been out walking just recently, and sure enough, he was dressed in his brown leather jacket and sneakers.
"Up writing reports, Mr. Jade?" Nathan teased, full well knowing that Gregory never could fully rest until everything had been taken care of. "Come on; join me for a drink at the pub. You look like shit. A drink would refresh you, mate."
Gregory sighed again, glanced at his desk where the empty report waited for him, and he shook his head at the man. "I had better finish up this first," he said quietly and turned his back to Nathan. He heard the man make a displeased sound before he walked across the room and sat on Gregory's desk with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Nope, I'm not letting you," Nathan insisted and put his hand down on the sheet of paper Gregory intended to write on. He glared up at him, but it was futile to resist once Nathan had set his mind to something. And right now that mind was set on dragging a reluctant Gregory down to the pub. A slow smile spread on Nathan's handsome, but rough face when he realized that he was winning him over.
"Let the ghosts sleep for a little while, mate. They aren't going anywhere," he said in a softer tone of voice and removed his hand. Gregory nodded.
"Alright, but only one drink. No more."
"Got it. One only- for you that is."
Gregory rose from his chair and pushed it back in place against the desk, pulled on his gloves and walked with Nathan from the building. If possible, the night had become even colder, or maybe it just felt that way because he'd slowly started feeling warm again after being inside, but his teeth were close to clattering in his mouth. He could tell that Nathan was staring at him, but kept his eyes fixed on the ground under his feet while they walked.
"Winter is a bitch, don't you agree?"
Gregory was hardly in the mood for chit-chat, worn out and mellow as he usually was after completing his mission, and he knew that Nathan was aware of that. The man's silence was probably a result from that understanding, because normally the tall Exorcist had a hard time keeping his mouth shut.
The streets were mostly empty at this time of night, and they only met one other person on their way to the pub one block down.
Nathan lead the way, and inside The Bucket it was warm and lively despite the time. Several men sat hunched in front of the large television that hung over the bar desk, watching a football game in a foreign country while hissing cheers and insults at the players, as if that would help change the outcome.
"Go sit down, I'll get us some drinks," Nathan offered, and Gregory nodded and headed off to one of the more isolated tables in the corner. The other people would not be able to listen well to their conversation here, and Gregory liked his privaccy.
He took a seat on the fake leather bench and unbuttoned the top buttons on his jacket not to suffocate. The heat felt nice and cosy and made some of the tension ebb from his limbs. While Gregory normally stayed away from bars and clubs, he felt a sort of fondness towards this particular pub. Nathan had dragged him down here for drinks for two years now, since he first began to work for the Organization. Counting the times he had come here against his will was impossible, but looking back at it only served to make him mellower, not annoyed with the other man.
When Nathan joined him on the opposite side of the table and shoved a mug of beer across it he looked up and was greeted by a friendly smile.
"Drink up. Judging by how tired you look you had a couple of tough days."
But Gregory picked up the mug and sipped the beer. It tasted bitter, like his cigarettes, but in a wholly different way. He drank it slowly, unlike Nathan who took big, greedy swallows and left the mug half empty once he put it back down.
"So, what have you been up to for the last two days? We haven't seen you at HQ at all," Nathan inquired and curiously raised an eyebrow at him. Gregory shrugged and stared into his beer.
"My case was a woman who'd been killed by her lover. She was bound by her hurt over being betrayed by that man."
"Anyone would have felt the same," Nathan said casually. Gregory supposed that was true, but he could not really compare his own experiences to anything like that.
"So, was she reluctant to pass on?"
"In the beginning, yes. She needed me to listen to her story before she could be sent off," Gregory replied. He heard Nathan sigh.
"I see what you mean. No wonder you are so tired. It's high maintenance to keep that up for two days in a row."
The two of them fell into silence, and had it been anyone but Nathan sitting here with him he'd have thought it to be uncomfortable. Being around people too often resulted in awkward silences since Gregory had little experience when it came to handling other humans. Their presence made him feel awkward and clumsy, and he knew from experience that he was more likely to say something offensive or wrong than get it right.
Ironically, Nathan was the only exception.
For a man who was so fond of talking and interacting with his fellow humans, you'd think Gregory would find being with him very uncomfortable. But the man had very keen senses and was good at understanding other people, and thus he'd understood that Gregory was one of those awkward, silent people right from the first time they met. And for Gregory it had been a relief to finally find someone who understood and didn't demand that he explain anything or try to be something he was not.
"I got sent over to Grane, the town half an hour from here, and I'm not kidding when I say that they've already got snow over there," Nathan grumbled and swallowed another mouthful of beer. "It was so cold that I thought my ears would fall off."
"And your case?"
"A revenge-bound ghost. The damned thing tried to chop off my head when I first got there." He rolled his eyes and snorted. "Apparently his dad had backstabbed him, literally, when he found out that his son was queer." He shrugged. "Makes you realise how cruel people can be, huh?"
The smile on Nathan's face and the tone of his voice were sarcastic, and Gregory just nodded in agreement.
"Anyway, it took me three tries to send the kid off, and after I was done I pretty much collapsed right on the spot, and that's why I only just got back. I missed the other train and had to wait for two hours."
Nathan sulked, but Gregory knew that the annoyance didn't cut deeper than the surface. The man loved his job almost as much as he loved his girlfriend, Alexandria. His expression changed, as if he suddenly remembered something, and he pointed a finger at the silent one across the table.
"By the way, the chief told me to pass on a message to you as soon as you got back. There is a new mission for you, a tough one, and he wants you to work on it alone. Didn't tell me the details though, just that it might be a hard case."
"Alright." Gregory pushed the mug aside, half full still, and linked his gloved hands upon the table's wooden surface. "I should go."
Nathan frowned at him, but seemed to agree. "Go get some sleep, mate. I'll see you around."
Gregory rose from his seat and stepped away from the table.
"Tell Alexandria I said hello."
"Sure, I'll do that."
Gregory stuck his hands back into his jacket pockets and braced himself for the cold that awaited him when he came through the door. The contrast made him hiss and close his eyes, and his throat ached when he breathed in the chilled air. As he left he glanced at Nathan through the window, thankful for having his work interrupted.
Ah, that must be the sleepiness muddling his head.
After all, his work was what he lived and breathed for.
His apartment was located close to HQ, two blocks away, and walking there from the bar only took him eight minutes. He pushed opened the entrance to the building with his shoulder and slowly walked up the two flights of stairs to the third floor. It was an average apartment complex that house many people other than himself. With the paychecks he received from work he could afford moving into some place bigger and nicer, but Gregory had lived here for three years already and saw no reason to change that. It sufficed for his needs, even if it was small and built back in the 80's. Should he ever need to move HQ had a couple of nice, vacant apartments that their subordinates could use.
He flicked on the lights and tried to shake the cold from his body. His fingers were frozen stiff. Thankfully, the apartment was nice and warm, because the only thing Gregory really spent much money on was paying the electricity bills each month.
It was abnormal for a person to feel as cold as he always did, he knew that, but he also knew the reason why it was so.
On his way to the bathroom he pulled the thick, turtle-necked sweater over his head and left it hanging over his arm. The bathroom was small, nothing special, and he left his clothes on the chair he kept in there and changed into his PJ's. His fingers removed the bubble from his hair and ran through the blonde hair that fell to his shoulders.
The person staring back at him from the mirror was silent and clearly worn out, and the dark brown eyes looked withdrawn.
He ignored his complexion and picked up the toothbrush from a cup on the sink, brushed his teeth, rinsed and spat before he turned off the light and left.
The bedroom had been painted a dark green before he moved in, and Gregory had hardly changed anything in the apartment after he moved in, other than re-painting the kitchen from yellow to blue. His bed was placed right next to the window along with a bedside table where he kept notebooks and painkillers, just in case. He slipped into bed and turned on the little lamp next to the bed, pulled out a notebook and read the few lines he'd jotted down the previous night in a state of half sleep.
None of it was important.
Gregory froze when he felt the cold aura that began to fill the room, but forced himself to relax and waited patiently.
Moments later a ghost slid through the wall and looked around, smiling in greeting when it spotted him.
Miss Connie was the ghost of a 29 year old woman who'd died in an accident involving one of the building's elevators a couple of years back. She was thin and small for her age, and her face still retained an innocent, sweet look even in death. Being a ghost she was mostly colourless, but her long hair still held a shade of the vibrant red it once had been. Her pride, she'd told him.
She floated over to his bed and pretended to sit down, though he knew that it was useless to a ghost like her who hardly had the power to materialize. She tucked her chin onto her hand and gave him a once over, then frowned deeply.
"Greg, honey- you aren't taking proper care of yourself!" she said.
"You need to eat and sleep properly, how many times have I told you that?"
He sighed. Naturally, she was also the kind of ghost that in her living time had been a mother hen. She had come to him a few weeks after he moved in here to see what kind of person he was and he had triggered her paternal instincts. Or so she told him. He had tried to convince her to move on, but she wasn't going anywhere until she saw him happy and free of troubles.
He could live with that. For a ghost, she was pretty harmless.
"I'm fine. The job was tiresome, that's all," he assured her.
"Oh? Well, turn the light off and go to sleep. I don't want to see you sitting up all morning while you worry that pretty, little head of yours again," she scolded mildly.
"I was just getting to that, Connie."
She blinked, then suddenly she was on her feet again.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't know you just got back," she apologized and folded her hands behind her back. "I'll come back tomorrow. The man downstairs left his TV on before going to sleep, so I'm going to watch for a while. Nighty, Greg."
And just like that she vanished through the floor and left him alone.
Greg put away the notebooks and turned off the light, slipped under the thick, fluffy covers and pulled them up to his chin. Ten seconds later he was sleeping like the dead.