Fic info: takes place right after The Empty Grave. Rating: General. Pairings: Lockwood/Lucy and Holly/her ‘flatmate’. Ao3 link: here
“I leave for one minute and you let me get nicked again.”
“You were gone for a week!”
“Yeah, whatever. Some friend you are.”
Lucy comes home to find the skull missing. On their quest to get him back, Lockwood & Co. discover that the secret to eternal youth might not have been the only thing the Orpheus Society were striving towards.
Part 4 – New Member
DEPRAC arrived sooner than expected; it turned out Jake had heard the cacophony of explosions and gunfire from his cab and contacted them. They had brought ambulances with them, and paramedics were now tending to Holly’s arm and Kipps, who had managed to rip some of his stitches.
“You lot just can’t keep out of trouble, can you?” said Barnes, grumpily.
Barnes gave an illegible grumble, then raised an eyebrow at Skull who was slouching in the seat on my left. Barnes looked him up and down and grimaced. I could understand his disgust; aside from Skull’s ragged clothes and bare feet, he was covered in grime and his hair seemed to be spiked with mud and grease, obscuring its natural colour. “New member?” he asked.
“Yes!” Lockwood announced. “This is…”
“Jim!” George supplied, and I felt Skull tense up beside me.
Barnes nodded with a sigh. “Good luck, Jim,” he said, before moving off to deal with the arrests.
I turned to George. “Jim?”
“Oh! Didn’t I tell you?” said George, shooting a grin at the Skull who glowered in return. “I did some research into Bickerstaff’s associates after we found out what our good friend really looked like. He matched the description of a serving boy named Jim Walker. Sound familiar, Jim?”
‘Jim’ crossed his arms and muttered something that was most likely death threats.
“’Jim’,” I repeated, laughing; I had a feeling he’d never really forgotten his name.
“What’s wrong with ‘Jim’?” Skull demanded.
“Nothing,” I said, still snickering. “I just figured you’d have a cool name, like ‘Dexter’ or ‘Sebastian’ or something.”
“Your taste in names is questionable,” he told me. “And what about Jim Moriarty?!”
“Pretty sure he went by ‘James’,” I replied. “Plus, he had a cool surname. Yours is kind of common. Just ’Walker’.”
“Jimothy Walker,” said Lockwood, grinning gleefully.
“Jimbob Walker,” George added, snorting.
“I could kill you both in a second,” Skull reminded them, shortly. They shut up pretty quick after that.
Holly wandered over to us, her arm now bandaged and in a sling, and took a seat next to George. “They’ve taken Quill to hospital,” she informed us, “and I have to check in tomorrow, but I’ve managed to get away for now.”
There was suddenly a shout from across the room. “Holly! What have they done to you?!”
A girl in a DEPRAC uniform and a midnight blue Hijab ran over and flung herself down next to Holly, gently taking her hands.
Holly laughed. “I’m fine, babe. Nothing to worry about.” She turned to the rest of us. “Hey, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Rani. Rani, these are my colleagues from Lockwood & Co.”
“I’ve heard all about you!” said Rani, smiling broadly at us. “Lockwood, Lucy and George, right? And… uh…”
“This is Jim,” I said, patting Skull’s leg as he gave me a dirty look. “He’s new.”
“Lovely to meet you, Jim,” Rani said, oblivious to the death glare Skull was shooting her way. “Anyway –” She turned back to Holly – “I’ve got to go, babe. You’ve caused such a mess.”
“Hey!” Holly protested. “That wasn’t all my fault!”
“Sure,” said Rani, tusking jokily as she got up to leave. “But just so you know, if you get into any more fights, I’m gonna have to divorce you.”
“We’re not married!” Holly called after her, laughing.
Rani turned back to her, just before she disappeared back into the crowd of DEPRAC operatives, and cupped her hands over her mouth. “One day, babe!” she called.
Holly leant back in her seat with a stupid grin on her face and rosy cheeks. It was nice to see her so happy. I wondered if I’d ever have a relationship like that, then I blushed at the thought; Lockwood was sitting on my right, his knee pressed against my leg, his hand set casually between us so his fingers brushed mine.
“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend, Holly,” Lockwood mused.
“Lockwood, I told you about her, remember?” Holly chided. “When you asked me if I wanted to move in and I said, ‘no thanks, I’m living with my girlfriend’.”
“Ohh,” said Lockwood. “You meant you were living with your girlfriend, not female friend.”
“Lockwood…” Holly started, then sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Always oblivious, this one,” said Skull.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lockwood demanded.
“Are you not weirded out by two girls in a relationship?” I asked, suddenly curious.
“Oh, please,” said Skull. “Like we didn’t have lesbians in the old days.”
We got home a little after 9 pm, after a lot of questioning from DEPRAC, lying from us, and George running off for some reason.
“Oh,” said George, just as I was about to push open the door, “I should probably mention, I called my mum to meet us here.”
“What? Why?” I exclaimed. George’s mum was lovely and everything, but to be honest, after the day I’d had, I just wanted to relax with my friends.
“Well, she’s a doctor, remember?” George answered. “I figured she could give Jim a little check-up. Make sure everything’s tip-top. He did just come back from the dead after all.”
“This is for your scientific research, isn’t it?” Skull groaned.
“Might have something to do with that.”
“Fine,” said Skull. “Let’s just get this over with. I can always smother you in your sleep later.”
I pushed open the door, ignoring George’s squeak of protest, and was immediately met with the shrill shriek of Mrs Cubbins as she bustled into the hallway. “Oh, you kids! Always getting into scraps! Let me look at you.” She took George’s face in her hands and tusked. “Oh, darling! Those bruises still look awful! My poor baby…” She bundled him into a tight hug.
“Mum…” George moaned.
“And just look at the state of this place!” Mrs Cubbins scolded, releasing George and gesturing around at the mess. “I’ll have to stay the night and clean up in the morning!”
“Mum…” George tried again.
“Lockwood, you’re looking skinny. And Holly! Look at your arm, you poor thing. Lucy, sweetheart, I hope you’re looking after them?”
“Doing my best, Mrs Cubbins,” I replied as she gave us all squeezes in quick succession.
Finally, Mrs Cubbins turned to Skull, who was trying unsuccessfully to hide behind me. “And you must be Jim,” she said, pushing her thick-rimmed glasses up her nose in a manner very much like her son. “Used to be a ghost, hmm?”
“That’s the one,” said George. “We used to keep his skull in a jar.”
Mrs Cubbins gave him a side eye. “I hope you weren’t cruel to him.”
George forced a laugh. “No, of course not.”
“He put me in the oven once,” said Skull, helpfully.
“George!” Mrs Cubbins scolded, and her son had the good grace to look a little guilty. “Right, well,” she said, turning back to Skull, “why don’t we go into the living room and take a look at you? I’ve already set up in there. George, you can go and clean out your desk while I’m gone. There were maggots in the drawers! I’ve told you not to leave food lying around.”
George groaned but went off to sort out his desk, dragging a reluctant Holly with him to help.
“Be nice,” I told Skull as he passed me to follow Mrs Cubbins into the living room.
“When am I not?” he replied. The door closed behind them, leaving me alone with Lockwood.
“So, I have some news,” Lockwood announced, as we moved into the kitchen. “Barnes mentioned it to me just before we left. They’re building a gallery where Fittes House used to be, to show the history of the Problem, and they’re naming it after me! I would have suggested the ‘Lockwood & Co. Gallery’, but I guess I didn’t have a say.”
“Well, the ‘Anthony Lockwood Gallery’ has a nice ring to it,” I said, grinning at him. I was genuinely thrilled for him; he’d always wanted a name for himself, and now he’d have a whole building named after him for years to come. And he deserved it; he had solved the mystery of the Problem, after all. “That’s amazing news, Lockwood. I’m so proud of you!”
Lockwood rubbed the back of his neck, shyly. “I just… I wanted you to be the first to know. None of this could have happened without you, Luce. You really are amazing, you know?”
And, as I gazed up at his face with that beautiful sparkle in his eyes and a sheepish, lopsided smile that could put the sun to shame, I couldn’t help myself. Maybe it was the excitement of the day, with the last dregs of adrenaline still in my veins, or the joy of having the skull back, if not quite how I expected, or the relief that everyone had gotten out safely, if a little worse for wear. Whatever it was, somehow it gave me courage. So, I reached up, grabbed Lockwood’s collar to tug him down, and kissed him. And he kissed me back almost immediately, smiling against my mouth and wrapping his arms around my waist to tug me closer. My heart pounded in my chest as I reached up and I ran my fingers through his hair, standing on tiptoes to get a better angle.
Then we heard the front door open and leapt apart.
“Managed to get discharged early,” Kipps announced as he waltzed into the kitchen and took a seat. He really had a knack for interrupting at the worst time. “Stitches all sorted now! Though, not gonna lie, little bit buzzed on pain meds right now.” He looked at us and raised an eyebrow at our ruffled hair, flushed faces, and swollen lips. “Did I interrupt something?”
“What? No, no, no, not at all!” Lockwood blundered, frantically running a hand through his hair to neaten it up. I felt a strange thrill at seeing him so flustered and I made a mental note to do that more often.
Kipps raised an unconvinced eyebrow at us and was about to say something when George and Holly returned from the office.
“There!” George declared. “Maggots all taken care of. Mum should be happy!”
Holly gave a shudder. “Never let your desk get like that again.”
We heard the living room door open and, a moment later, Skull walked in and headed straight for the cupboards. He shoved a few biscuits in his mouth, eyed a packet of Holly’s dried fruit before chucking it over his shoulder, then opened the fridge and downed some milk from the carton. I would have scolded him, but I guess he hadn’t eaten anything I decades, so I let him off.
Mrs Cubbins entered a moment later and dropped her Doctor’s bag on the table before gathering us all around her, leaving Skull to continue demolishing our food supply. “Well everything seems to be alright,” she announced. “His temperatures a few degrees lower than normal, but everything else seems fine, so I put that down to his connection with the Other Side. Also –” She lowered her voice – “there was some scarring on his back. I think he may have been abused, poor thing.” She shot him a sad look before straightening and moving over to the counter, where she began bustling around, making us something to eat.
I glanced across at Skull, who was currently digging through the freezer, and felt my stomach twist unpleasantly.
“That’s awful,” Holly murmured.
“It would have been pretty normal in those days,” said Kipps. “Discipline and whatnot.”
“That doesn’t make it alright,” said Lockwood, grimacing.
“Who would’ve done that to him?” I asked.
“Most likely Bickerstaff,” said George, removing his glasses to wipe them on his jumper.
“That can’t be right,” I said. “He idolised him.”
“Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?” said George. I felt my stomach twist again.
“What are you lot whispering about?” Skull called to us with his mouth full.
“Oh, we were just talking about you behind your back,” I told him casually, ignoring the sick feeling of pity in my chest; he wouldn’t appreciate it.
“Rude,” said Skull. “If you’re gonna insult me, you do it to my face.”
“Fine,” I said. “We were just saying you should take a bath. You’re kind of gross.”
“That’s more like it,” said Skull. “Also, no. I’m still scarred from my last bath.”
“Ah, yes,” I said. “Forgot about that.”
“What’s this about?” Holly questioned.
“George took a bubble-bath with the skull,” said Lockwood.
“It was an experiment!” George exclaimed as Holly gave him a horrified look. “And, in my defence, we didn’t know he was sentient at the time!”
“Let me tell you, bubbles only cover so much,” Skull said, darkly. “I have seen things I can’t unsee.”
“You’re not scarred from taking a shower, though, are you?” I said.
“Oh, I forgot those are a thing now,” said Skull. “Always wondered what those were like.”
I allowed Holly to take Skull upstairs to show him how to work the shower, after firmly telling him not to try and kill her.
“Poor thing,” Mrs Cubbins said again as they left.
“Mum, please don’t adopt the skull,” said George.
“He has a name, George” Mrs Cubbins chided.
“Sorry. Please don’t adopt Jimbob,” George corrected.
When Holly returned, she joined us all in helping Mrs Cubbins prepare home-made pizza, and if a little flour or pizza sauce happened to hit a few people in the face, it totally wasn’t my fault.
Kipps sat out due to his fresh stitches, and chatted to us about a lot of things, occasionally going off on a tangent, which I put down to his slight morphine-induced high.
“…and I couldn’t see it at first, but his body just got more solid around the skull, and I thought it was weird that I could see it without my goggles, but now we know why. Skulls are so weird, though. Cos, like, your brain’s inside it, so you’re actually inside a skeleton, not the other way around. Also, the teeth are part of the skull, but they’re outside the body. Surreal…”
I tuned out Kipps’s rambling and thought about Skull. There was still so much I didn’t know about him: his childhood, what happened to his family, why he chose to save me and Lockwood… I wouldn’t question him just yet, though; he needed time to settle down. To get used to living again.
I heard the sound of the shower cutting off and the floorboards creaking as Skull moved around upstairs. A few minutes later, the stairs creaked and Skull stepped into the kitchen. And we stared. Because, beneath all the grime and dirt, Skull was, I had to admit, cute. The filth had been washed out of his hair revealing dark, chocolatey locks that were damp and tousled and just beginning to curl. His face had a healthy, olive complexion, as opposed to the grey of his ghostly counterpart, and was adorned by numerous freckles. It made me wonder what Flo looked like beneath all the sludge.
Kipps cleared his throat. “You, err, scrub up well.”
“I know your sexuality is ambiguous at best, Kipps, but keep it in your pants,” Skull said, causing Kipps to splutter and George to snicker.
“Are those my clothes?” Lockwood blurted.
Skull looked down at the soft grey hoody and pale blue jeans he was wearing. “Yeah. Took me forever to find clothes in there that weren’t all poncy. Do you purposely buy all your shirts two sizes too small?” Lockwood flushed and Skull didn’t wait for him to answer. “Besides, it was either you or George.”
“Fair enough,” said Lockwood.
“The pizza’s just gone in the oven, Jim, dear,” Mrs Cubbins said. “It will be ready soon.”
Skull shrugged and wandered off. I let the others handle tidying up and went after him. I followed him all the way up to my little attic bedroom, where he went to stand by the window, leaning on the windowsill where his old jar used to sit, staring out across the street. I leant against the wall next to him.
“I’ve never had pizza before,” he told me after a moment. “Never had a lot of things.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll love it.”
We stood silently for a moment, watching the ghost-lamp flash on and off.
“So,” Skull said, eventually, “you and Lockwood, eh?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, feeling my face flush.
“Oh, come on! There have been some obvious developments. He keeps looking at you like a love-sick puppy. Give him a good snog at last?”
“I don’t need to answer that.”
“Ooh, you did!” Skull said, grinning at me and nudging me with his elbow. “About time, too.”
“Oh, shut up,” I told him, looking away so he couldn’t see how red my face had gone.
“Don’t be like that! You’ve gotta give me all the juicy details. Did you use –”
“How does it feel?” I blurted, suddenly. Skull raised his eyebrows questioningly. “To be alive again?” I finished.
Skull sighed and turned back to stare out of the window. “It’s… I dunno. Thrilling? Exciting? Exhausting? Has its ups and downs. Having bodily functions again is weird. Can’t do the Happy Farmhand anymore, either. That’s a bummer.”
“Do you wish you’d stayed dead?” I said, quietly.
He glanced across at me and something flickered in his eyes, then he gave me his familiar grin. “Nah. I’ll be dead again soon enough, anyway. And this is what I wanted. To live again. Might as well make the most of it. How many people get a second chance?”
“You’ll stay, then?” I said, eagerly. “Join Lockwood & Co.?”
Skull hummed in thought. “I mean, I could kill you all and become a street urchin again… but I do kinda like the hot water and constant access to food.”
“So, you’ll stay?”
Skull shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “Yeah, I guess.”
I suppose I was still kind of buzzed from the day’s events, but whatever. I lurched forward and flung my arms around his neck.
“Alright, alright. Don’t get soppy on me, Carlyle.” But even as he said it, he was hugging me back.
Neither of us were willing to let go, I guess because I was so glad to have my friend here in the flesh, not just a glass jar and a voice in my head, and he had been starved of human contact for decades. Whatever the case, we stood like that for a long time.
I had my face buried in his shoulder so my voice came out muffled. “I never thanked you. For saving me and Lockwood. Even though your source could have been destroyed.”
“Meh, it was nothing. You still had your life to live,” he replied. “Besides, what are best friends for?”
And as we stood there, in the room we’d shared for years, holding each other close until Mrs Cubbins called us down for dinner, I didn’t bother denying it. Because, despite our constant arguing and his incessant ramblings and my threats to bury his jar in the yard, I guess he was my best friend after all.