"So you've made up your mind, then?" Nathan swept his eyes over the near empty room, lingering on a large stack of cardboard boxes, all filled with Gregory's belongings.
"Yes." The answer came out a little forced. His heart hadn't quite accepted the decision yet, though his mind had been determined for days. This flat was home to him now. The thought of moving hurt a bit. It was a hurt he could easily ignore in favour of nursing his heartache, though.
"When does the truck come?"
Nathan hadn't moved from the doorway yet. Perhaps the news of his moving were too sudden- they had barely spoken a word to one aother since the man showed up on his doorstep. The flat was as barren as it was on the day that he moved in, three years ago, and that thought brought Gregory back to unhappy days and depressing memories. These three years had done him well, in many ways, and he would not have traded them for anything, but…His grief disagreed heartily.
Gregory squashed it, set on not thinking about it.
The tension was suffocating, and neither man could voice the things that bothered them.
"We'll miss you, you know." A glance in Nathan's direction told him that the man was restless, uncertain of how to hold this conversation, and those words were a sad attempt to lead them in the right direction. Which was a direction that Gregory had no wish to go. But he owed it to his best friend to bid him properly goodbye- for now. It wasn't like they'd never see one another again, just not…for a while. Not until Gregory's feelings had settled a bit.
"I know," he said. Shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "You two should come over sometime, after I get settled in."
A ghost of a smile touched Nathan's face. "Yeah, we'll- we'll do that. Promise. You didn't decide on jobs yet, did you?"
"No. I'm not sure."
From tomorrow on he would be a regular man, a citizen like any other, with no strings attached to the spirit world beyond those he chose to make. His contact with ghosts wouldn't stop at the drop of a hat, but he'd no longer have to seek them out for work related purposes. Perhaps, if he was lucky, they would leave him alone. He taped the last box shut and added it to the pile, took a step back to give everything a once over. He never did have many possessions- most of those he owned were clothes, books, things from the kitchen, some mementos. The flat never looked like it belonged to him in the first place, but he felt a little sting of melancholy as he stared at his surroundings.
"I'm going out for a while," he said, suddenly, and went to get his coat.
There was one last trip he needed to make before tomorrow.
"I'll give you a ride."
Gregory paused, shook his head and bent to pull on his winter boots. "That's alright, Nathan. I'd like to walk."
There was something very lost and sad about the man's expression at that moment, and the guilty conscience that rose in him was hard to squash. He offered a little smile. "I'm just stopping by his old place to pick up my things. Don't worry."
That was not entirely the truth, but he must have convinced Nathan since the man didn't push the subject. Knowing him, he probably knew that Gregory needed to stop by Trent's flat to say his goodbye.
They locked up and walked together to the parking lot, where Nathan had parked his Sedan.
"I'll give you a call tomorrow night," he promised.
Gregory suddenly found himself wrapped in a big bear hug. Strong, trusting arms gathered him close and squeezed him hard enough that he couldn't breathe properly, and he brought up his own arms and buried his face in Nathan's jacket. The leather was cold and uncomfortable to touch, but it didn't matter. This was Nathan; his best friend and companion for three years and the only man he would entrust his life to. A lump grew in his throat. He'd miss him terribly. Those words seemed to be stuck in his throat, no matter how much he wanted to let him know.
"I'll miss you, mate." He sounded a bit shaky. "Just make sure to call us. I don't care if it's four in the morning, but don't be a stranger." Nathan cupped his face as they pulled apart and leaned forward to press a kiss to his forehead. The lips were dry, chapped and warm to his skin.
"Me too," was all he could say.
"I'll tell Alexandria you said hello, 'kay?"
The loss of warmth made him shiver momentarily.
Gregory watched the car back up and leave the parking lot with a steadily growing heaviness in his stomach.
No use in regretting anything now, however.
He put his hands in the coat pockets, bent his head against the chilly wind and walked off.
November and December had come and gone and brought no significant changes along, but plenty of minor ones. Nothing was quite as it had been before; Max's broken bones had healed perfectly, and yet there was a tightness in the boy's smile now that was missing only a few months ago, and Sam's anger had lost its frightening edge and mellowed out. And then there was Nathan, precious Nathan, who struggled to recover. It was going in the right direction, thank god. Silence more often than not filled the time they spent together. Gregory was fine with that, truly, but it was disheartening to see how his friends and colleagues were lost in the ghosts in their minds.
He refused to nurse his heartache.
Suppressing emotions was never a good way to handle things, as Max had told him with a pat on his shoulder. It worked for him- to some extent.
His insomnia had reversed over the past two months. It was strangely curious that he now couldn't seem to get enough sleep. He slept fourteen hours straight, only to wake to tired, heavy limbs and a hazy mind. Any less sleep had the same effect, so he gave up on fighting it. None of his sleep was restful. He had too many nightmares for that.
Gregory stopped before the familiar, worn down building. Misty puffs of air rose from his parted lips. Standing there was all the could do, for a while, until he felt himself shake from the cold. He pushed open the front door and walked through, found the door he was looking for, and stood before it. Hesitated. One push was all it needed to swing open and reveal the dark rooms within. Holding his breath, he walked inside, shivering at the chill that had seeped into the apartment now that it was abandoned.
Everything was exactly has they had left it.
In his chest the pressure increased and squeezed his lungs in a tight grip.
Briefly he imagined that he could sense Trent's presence here; a lingering trace of his witty sarcasm, his all too fragile smiles, the twitches of anxiety.
He released a breath he was hardly aware of holding and walked further into the small living room. His fingers brushed along the top of the couch and the dust that had gathered there.
It was fitting, he supposed, that the apartment had been left in that state. The dead should not be the only living in a home.
Gregory shook his head. It was about time he did what he came here for, in both senses. His toothbrush and comb were still in the bathroom, and he found his clothes precisely where he last put them. It didn't take long to gather the belongings in the bag.
His feet were glued to the spot.
This was the last bit that remained of Trent in this world.
The realization hit him like a punch in the gut.
"It's hard, isn't it?"
Erica stood in the doorway. In the dark her form shimmered with soft, gentle light. A smile tinged with sadness touched her eyes and the curve of her mouth.
They stared at each other for a while, awkward in the silence, until Gregory nodded his agreement and lowered his head. Goose flesh spread along his arms as she approached him.
"Letting go is hard," she murmured, raising a hand to touch his cheek. He was too busy breathing through the constricted feeling in his chest to flinch at the cold touch of her delicate fingers to his skin. "You aren't coming back, are you, Greg?"
"No." He forced a tight smile. "I'm moving tomorrow."
"You quit your job, then."
Her smile was understanding in ways it shouldn't be for someone so young. "That's a good thing, I think. You need to take care of yourself for a while," she said softly. "You really did love him, didn't you?"
He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. There was no point in denying it. This would be the last time he talked to Erica, after all, and she had been kind to him all along. She deserved honesty.
"Do you think you can…help me?"
He looked at her, the question visible in his eyes.
"I don't think I can go on my own. If it's by your doing, I might just be able to leave my mother behind."
Although her expression was kind, the slight tremor in her voice told him that she was frightened at the thought of passing on. And who could blame her for that? None of them knew what waited on the other side, and there was no way to find out for certain. Once the soul passed on no traces of it lingered in this world. Gregory raised a hand to cover hers, fingertips gliding through the ethereal skin that had no strength to take a corporeal form, and held her eyes. "Are you certain? It can't be undone."
"I'm certain." She withdrew her hand. "It's tiring to live like this, Greg. My mother is better now, even if she'll never be her old self again, and I am curious to see what's on the other side. Might be something good, you know?"
"If that's what you want, I'll help."
This would be his last job. In all fairness, it was a favour, not a job, done by his own wish to ease Erica's soul.
"So, um, what do I do?"
Gregory took a step back and pulled off his gloves. "Be still. That's all. Keep your eyes on mine if you are scared."
They made eye contact, and he made certain to never avert his eyes while he held his hands out before himself and touched the palms together. Erica shivered, not from cold but concern and fright of the unknown, and all he could offer her to ease that worry was a kind look.
"If I see him, I'll tell him hello for you, okay?"
Gregory did not believe Trent would be in the place he was about to send Erica, though he nodded nevertheless, unable to crush that tiny bit of hope held in some deeply buried part of himself. If, by some chance, Trent's fragmented soul had managed to pass on to the afterlife…God, he hoped that was the case. He couldn't bear to think that Trent was out there on his own, fragmented and alone.
Softly spoken chants left his mouth in a string of foreign and familiar words, old spells forgotten by most living people. He spoke calmly, firmly, never raising his voice. Erica began to shimmer weakly in the dim light, and her eyes were wider now, surprised, but the small smile he offered comfort her and mellowed out her expression. She opened her mouth to speak without a sound, believing that he could hear her when he in fact could not, and returned the smile.
"Be at peace, Erica."
A shudder ran up her spine.
And then she was gone.
He stared at the spot where she previously had been and could not help but feel saddened despite knowing that she must be in a better place, somewhere warm and safe and peaceful or perhaps nowhere at all, but no longer in pain. A girl like her was too young to have suffered the experiences she did.
A long, trembling breath left him.
His business here was done. He should return to the flat and recheck that everything was in its proper box and that he had no forgotten to mark any of them with the contents and his name.
Except, he couldn't move beyond a couple of steps in the direction of the door.
The awful tightness that he had come to know so well reappeared in his throat.
Speaking the words out loud helped him break the connection he had to this place.
It was final.
Something at his feet caught his attention, and as he bent to pick it up he saw that it was a photography. He recognized it instantly -it was the only photo of Trent he had ever seen- as the photo he found the first time he came to this flat. The hand writing on the back was Quentin's, surely, but Trent had taken the picture before a mirror, for reasons he couldn't fathom. It was a blurry, mediocre picture at best that did nothing to better Trent's sickly pale complexion, but Gregory held it so tightly that it shook.
A reminder was the last thing he needed.
He put it in his jacket pocket and left. The biting wind gave him an excuse for the wetness that gathered in his eyes.
The moving truck would be here in an hour. Gregory had finished bidding the flat his goodbye and accepted the apathy that came with leaving the place he considered home. Life might not turn out as he hoped in the new place, but he had to try and he had to leave this behind him if he wanted to keep his head above water and not fall into a funk.
He had not yet informed Miss Connie of his decision to move; for the past few days she had been absent, leaving him to wonder what was keeping her away. Likely she had found someone she deemed needing of her attention, even they could not see or hear her.
Gregory looked out at the empty living room, not liking how it made him feel.
A cup of coffee or a cigarette would be great right about now, to calm down, but the coffee machine was still broken and he had no intention of breaking his promise to Trent about quitting smoking. Abstinence had him trembling and pacing restlessly back and forth when he had nothing to pass the time.
"Greg, honey?" Miss Connie's voice wavered. "I suspected you were leaving, but…so soon?"
"I'm afraid so," he replied. "It's about time."
In her quiet distress she forgot to stay grounded to the floor and floated up a few inches. Her face was lovely, all concern and motherly affection, and she reached out to pat his arm before she could stop herself. Then she remembered that she couldn't physically touch him, and that put a sad look in her eyes. "You'll take care of yourself, won't you? Properly, I mean, not as you have done up until now."
"That is why I'm moving, Connie," he said softly.
She smiled. "If you come back sometime, do stop by to have a chat with me, no?"
"I will. Promise." He wished he could squeeze her hand for reassurance.
"Oh!" The sound that flew from her lips was very nearly a squeak. "I was so distracted that I completely forgot- there is a letter for you by the door."
The secretive look she sent him made him frown. She tapped a finger thoughtfully on her chin, smiling. "It was delivered to me when you were out."
The implications of her words struck him as strange. If it was handed to Miss Connie specifically, the person must have been able to see her and also know that she frequented his flat.
"The young man seemed very anxious that you read the letter as soon as possible," she said, a hint of concealed amusement and joy in her words.
He stared blankly.
Because that just wasn't possible. It wasn't-
All air left him suddenly, and god, his chest tightened and hurt so much. Connie motioned for him to go get the letter. He tottered over to the door and found a folded paper on the floor, addressed with nothing but his name in a messy, large hand writing.
He trembled so hard he could barely read the words as he opened it.
Three lines were scrawled on the white paper by the same hand.
Greg. Sorry for leaving you alone.
Come get me, you bastard. I'm freezing my ass off.
His vision was blurry when he looked up and made eye contact with her.
Her smile widened. "Go on, Greg. Don't keep him waiting."
A choked noise slipped from him.
He moved, rushed downstairs without shoes, without his jacket, driven by heartache and acute longing, skipping two and two steps down the stairs. He all but tore the door open and halted in the doorway, wild eyed, searching for the mismatched eyes he saw in his sleep.
His heart skipped a beat.
Then, upon hearing that familiar, ever so sarcastic voice, he turned his head to have a toothy smile flashed at him.
Notes: This is the end, peeps. The epilogue took me a small eternity to write, perhaps because it is always hard for to end a story, but it's done, and I'm immensely relieved. It may not be the happy, conclusive ending that you wanted, and I'll leave it up to you to decide whether Greg and Trent ever will be able to be in a healthy, good relationship.
Dedications: I'd just like to shout a big Thank You to everyone who has read, silent reader or not, and say that you made writing this fun for me, however long it took me to get to the end. I'd be delighted if you would pop by my other, far more light hearted story, by the name of 'Death under a pink umbrella' and give it some love!
Until next time, be well, everyone, and have a splendid summer vacation!