Entitled: These Ashen Men
Length: 5,000 words
Disclaimer: I don't own Skins and etc.
Notes: I think writing this gave me nightmares.
Summary: One week after the finale, John Procter is alive, and Cook's on trial for the murder of his best friend. But Freddie's ghost is talking, and Effy can't sleep. — CookEffyFreddie
It was very simple. At one moment she was sleeping, in the next, she wasn't. Effy opened her eyes.
Freddie stood at the edge of her bed, hands in his pockets. His skin was unbroken.
But that couldn't be right.
Effy held her breath, watching him as he stared back. It didn't seem to matter if she blinked.
Effy's hand shook as it hung in the air, palm up. His head tilted, and he smiled with his sad eyes, bending and pressing his lips to the center of her palm. There was no warmth. There was only the faintest pressure.
"Don't leave me," Effy cracked, but knew he was already gone.
Her hand fell back against the sheets.
And then the phone began to ring.
Karen smiled without her teeth, and moved over so that Effy could sit beside her. Sometimes Cook would pause to look back at them. There was still an ugly purple smear settled below the skin around his left eye. It looked even worse in the courtroom's lighting.
"You're saying that you saw this man, and decided to follow him?"
"Had you ever met him before?"
"Did you know who he was?"
"Kind of. A bit."
"Mr. Cook, you will elaborate. What made you follow Mr. Foster?"
"I didn't recognize him or nothin'. It was just a hunch."
"A hunch. You are referring to your testimony, where you claim that my client was the one who killed Fredrick Mclair?"
"I didn't know that then. Freds said that he was going to hurt Effy."
"You mean, Elizabeth Stonem."
"And why was he going to hurt her, Mr. Cook?"
"Objection! Your honor, the question posed by the prosecution is purely speculative."
"Did Mr. Mclair say anything to you about why he suspected my client of ill intentions?"
"No. He didn't say anything to me. He wrote it down, and I found it after he'd disappeared."
"And what did it say?"
"It said, 'John Foster wants to hurt her.'"
Effy closed her eyes.
Solid case: James Cook, wanted man with a history of spontaneous violence, murders the current boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend.
("About how long have you known the defense, Ms. Stonem?"
"A year, I suppose."
"And you dated?"
"You deny ever having a relationship with the defense?"
"No. I deny having dated him. We were romantically involved before I dated Freddie, or is that not what you were trying to ask me?")
James Cook, now with a fresh corpse, disposes of the body and attempts to frame John Foster for the murder of Freddie Mclair. John Foster, hearing a noise, picks up a baseball bat and moves to deal with the intruder. John Foster observes James Cook planting the fabricated evidence. No words are exchanged between the pair. James Cook attacks John Foster, but is struck unconscious by a baseball bat. John Foster calls the police. The bags full of Freddie Mclair's possessions are found covered in James Cook's fingerprints, but a body is not recovered.
("You testified that you saw Mr. Mclair's body underneath the bags containing his clothes, is that correct?"
"I saw a body. It didn't look like anything. Just meat."
"We searched for a body, Mr. Cook. It, along with Mr. Mclair's cell phone, were never found."
"I know he was in there, okay?"
"Mr. Cook, where is Mr. Mclair's body--"
"Objection, your honor, this is not included within the defense's testimony, as the defense stands by its claim that it had nothing to do with the murder of--")
As the jury shifted uncomfortably, Karen turned. "But none of this matters," she said, "Where's my brother?"
Effy shook her head.
Karen stared at her a long moment, lip jutting angrily, then looked back towards the front of the court room, at the witness stand.
"If they don't have a body," Karen raised her chin stubbornly, "He isn't fucking dead."
Effy stooped to gather her purse, and then left the room quietly.
She had to wait nearly two hours just to see him. She picked up the phone, and thought about using it as a club. She would bash straight through the bullet proof glass and pick Cook up by the ears and drag him back with her.
"Do you think I did it?"
"I wouldn't. Not Fred."
"Yeah," she sighed, and studied him. He didn't look so much like a boy, now. She touched her eye, "Is that where...?"
"'m sorry I didn't get him."
"How long were you out for?"
"Can't say. Not more than an hour. Listen, Eff," Cook leaned forwards, looking at her straight, "Don't worry about it. Just get out of here, yeah? Get away from him. If I ever get out of here I'll come looking and find you, alright? I'm good at that."
"Cook--" she swallowed, wet her lips, tried to ignore the madness, "Did you--was it really Freddie?"
He didn't say anything, and after a minute she nodded, and slid the phone back into its cradle. Her head was full of nails and chalkboards.
She went without telling anyone. Not even the whispers in her head would follow her to John Foster's house. She knocked to be safe, and then eased the lock apart, shutting the door gently behind her. The police hadn't found anything, but--but maybe they hadn't looked for wasn't there.
Effy stooped just beside the door, and drew her nail along the edge of a floor board. It came away utterly clean. A place where people should have been walking.
Her stomach clenched, and she rose, then made her way downstairs. Where Freddie would have gone, where she had been only once, and she sat numbly in the patient's chair.
There was something awful about how still the room hung. Effy clenched her teeth, fingers curling into the chair, and she reached--
Because what if Karen was right? What if--what if Freddie was alive? They'd not found his body, after all. It wasn't impossible. Maybe he was sealed into the walls.
She looked at them, unobtrusive and clean. A few pictures and a clock.
I'm here, Freddie said.
"Fuck," she said, voice catching on the hard k, mangling it.
God, was she--
She put her hands over her mouth, watching the fireplace. There weren't any ashes, but soot stained the wall.
"Oh, fuck," Effy said, again, and sat down hard so she could put her head between her knees, arms curling through her hair. There was laughter stuffed up her nose, and she snorted, then giggled helplessly, her eyes pressed shut.
They were all fucking mad.
"Freddie," she rasped, "Freddie, I don't like it. Freddie," she licked her lips, and found she couldn't speak anymore, had to bite down on her hand, because it was so fucking lonely without the voices in her head.
There was a creak behind her.
"Elizabeth," John Foster looked at her kindly, "What're you doing here?"
Effy jumped, turning before she'd thought to wipe her face clean, "I..."
But she could see it now, the bat. He saw her look, and followed it. He set it down loosely, with a rueful laugh, "Sorry. I've had a bit of trouble with people breaking in, as of late." He strolled towards her, then knelt, his face wearing the lines of a grandfather.
Her pulse trembled.
"But since it's you, I suppose it's alright." John Foster smiled again, and patted one of her hands. He didn't let go. Effy hung still, breathing, wondering if--if this was fear.
Lie, Freddie said, the echo of his voice sitting low in his ear. You've got to lie. Please.
"I..." Effy struggled on her next breath, "I was...scared."
"Everyone's...leaving me. And I just--I didn't have anyone else to talk to. No," Effy paused.
Her brother with the devil's tongue.
"I didn't want to talk to anyone else," she corrected, swallowed her sickness, and looked straight into his eyes.
There was a moment of silence so terrifying, she could have screamed. But Freddie was with her. Freddie was here, baked into the very walls. This place where he had died.
John Foster ran his thumb in small, thoughtful circles on her palm.
"There's something different about you," he said, distantly.
Effy stared at their joined hands, and smiled tremulously. His grip tightened.
"You can help me, can't you?" Effy asked, words tumbling out of her, "You can make it better?"
"Of course," John Foster nodded after a pause, and patted her hand yet again, "Yes, of course I can. I know exactly how to take care of you, Elizabeth."
She had a pocket full of Freddie's ashes and the melted bits of a broken phone.
It was almost anticlimactic.
She waited until the next day before going back and clearing out the fireplace, then walked to the police station, sat with a bag full of evidence on her knees on three different busses, and even dared cutting through the streets she shouldn't have gone.
And when she walked in, the receptionist directed her straight to the candy bowl.
"What can I do for you, hon?"
"I know who killed Freddie Mclair." Effy said, as clearly as she could manage, "I've found him."
The receptionist stared at her. Effy took a mint.
They directed her to a little room, and she waited while they ran through what she'd brought them. There was a phone on the table, tempting her, and she reached out and took it.
"John," she cleared her throat, "Did I tell you that I can hear Freddie, sometimes?"
"I--well, hello. I can't remember talking to you on the phone before now."
"We haven't. Did you hear what I said?"
"About Freddie? Yes, I heard. It's not uncommon, especially so soon after his...absence. You're very sensitive, Elizabeth."
"So, you're saying that it isn't real. He isn't real."
"Give it time. I can help you to deal with it for now, but with time...with time you will truly forget. No more bad thoughts."
Effy closed her eyes and gripped the hard, shiny plastic. Mad. He might have been speaking backwards.
"Why do you keep trying to take Freddie away from me, John?" she asked, but caught her rising voice and swallowed it. "I can't stand it."
"I'm not taking him away, Elizabeth," and she could almost picture how earnest he'd look, "He's already gone. I don't want you to be hurt for any longer. Man is a selfish creature. We can't exist on the whims of other people. You cannot let yourself be defined by him, Elizabeth. I couldn't bear it."
"But don't you understand?" she glanced up, caught the eye of one of the detectives, and moved to press her back against the door. There wasn't time. There was never any time.
"I know you loved Freddie--"
"Love," she corrected, "And yes, I do. And you're right. You're right. In a month I might not remember how long his bangs were, or the distance between our lips, but I'll still remember that I love him. I'll still remember that time when I tried to kill myself and it almost killed him too. I'll still remember that he'd go through all this shit for me and I--and nobody expected him to, you know? I'll still remember that. Fuck, John. Fuck, I'm not going to forget anything."
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Elizabeth."
And she wanted to scream.
"You're right," she stopped, "I think you were trying to help me."
"Elizabeth, of course I--"
Effy's legs slid out of their lock as someone tried to force open the door. She snapped them back into place and gripped the knob. Don't slip, girl.
"You can't take anyone else away from me," she whispered, "I won't let you."
There was a shout, and Effy winced, dragging her feet against the carpet as she was pushed forward.
"Oh, Elizabeth," John sighed, and after all of that, still sounded so pleasantly tired, "What have you done?"
"I know Cook better than you do," Effy said, and let the phone drop to the floor.
"You understand that you broke into this man's house. None of this evidence can be used in court."
Effy simply looked at the detective. "Yes. I do know. And now I'll do my community service, and you'll get a warrant, and you can make the front page of the paper."
The detective sighed. "You know I can't--"
"He's not going to drop out of the ceiling and tell me it was all a joke," Effy interrupted, "Is he?"
The detective said nothing, and she looked quietly towards her lap. "It'll be tricky. I know. I'm sorry. But I had to do this. I had to."
It had to be her.
She knocked twice, and Karen opened the door after half a minute, sparkling pink lips making love to a cigarette.
There were shadows in her eyes.
"Hello," Karen said, awkwardly. They looked away from each other. Effy took a breath.
"He's dead, isn't he?" Karen said, without emotion. She spoke very clearly, almost loudly.
Effy opened her mouth, swallowed, said, "I don't know. He doesn't feel dead. I think he's just...sort of gone."
Karen nodded, and kept nodding, and her arms tightened across her chest and her cigarette dropped as her pretty-girl lips fell, her eyes very bright. She teetered down the step, and laid herself against Effy. It felt good to hold something.
"Do you hate me?" Effy asked, her voice sounding all funny and strangled. Karen jerked against her, and her shoulder grew wet.
"I tried to," Karen gasped, "I can't. I can't. He loves you. It doesn't make it any easier, so...so, no. I just--" she gestured helplessly, "I want him to come home and he won't, he won't ever come home and I--I can't stand it!"
They sunk into each other, holding on as tightly as they could manage.
It was a very long time before they let go.
"Do you want to come in?" Karen asked, rubbing away her bleeding face. There was another girl underneath. She looked a lot like Freddie.
And she'd meant to say no.
"Could I see his room?"
"Yeah," Karen nodded, now running her wrist underneath her nose, "Go on."
So Effy slid around her, and thought of Freddie's back as he ran up the stairs, just before her, and on the third step from the landing he'd look over his shoulder and grab her wrist to tug her up faster.
He has kissed every inch of me, Effy thought, hand against the door. It swung open, and she waded through the mess of clothes and band posters. His bed was only half-made. She waited a moment, to see if Karen would follow her immediately, and then took off all her clothes and climbed into his bed.
She pulled the blankets right up to her chin, and listened to the echo of her own breathing.
"We'll get a house," she whispered at length, "And we'll say that we'll paint it neon orange, or something, but it'll come in slate blue and we'll be too lazy to paint it anything else. But secretly, I never liked neon orange so that's alright. And you like me, so you'll learn to live with it. And we won't have any kids, except maybe one day there'll be an accident and I'll be too lazy to go to the doctor's, so I guess we'll have a little fuck-up. And if it's a boy, we're naming it after your mother. At this point, we'll probably get married, because before then I would've been scared of commitment, but seeing as you knocked me up, there's not much point in holding off from getting a lot of free toasters, is there? So, congratulations, you caught me. Only, you know, I wouldn't actually mind getting caught. I wouldn't mind if you married me and we lived in an ugly house with accidental children. I don't think I'd mind at all."
She bit her lip.
"There's not much I can fucking do about it anyway, is there? Just something that's meant to happen, you know. Because I like being your Effy. I like making you happy. I think it'd make me happy as well. I love you. You always come and save me. You're always there. So I wouldn't mind. Only, none of those things can happen now."
She pulled the sheets up and over her head. "They don't get to happen now."
Karen had smiled at her when she left, which was enough to keep her for the rest of the day, until she reached the park. She sat, then, and looked straight ahead as she always did, towards the water and not the person sitting next to her. It could have been anyone. It could have been nobody at all.
Effy closed her eyes. She knew those scrambling foot-falls.
Cook vaulted over the back of the park bench and fell back, sitting perhaps too-close to her. "Hullo, Eff. Reckon I'm a terror of the streets yet?"
She turned to look at him directly, "I don't think I can be Effy anymore."
"What, again?" he grinned, and she knew that he wasn't happy, "Should I call you Elizabeth?"
"I dunno," she shrugged, fingers curled under the edge of the bench. She could feel old gum, and shoved at it with her nail. "No one ever called me that but John."
"I'm not letting him kill your name, too."
Effy blew out a breath, and laced their fingers together. She knew these hands. "It's not my name. I just..."
"You want to go somewhere with me?" Cook asked, holding her hand tightly.
"Anywhere. Everywhere that Freddie never got to go. The moon. Let's go to the moon."
"It'll be cold."
"We'll take blankets and body heat."
Effy smiled, then looked back across the pond, and the ripples that came rolling towards her. "The bottom of the ocean."
"Yeah. And then a castle in the sky."
"Well, fuck," Cook nodded, rocked onto his feet, and turned to look down at her, "We should be going, then."
But there was still gum stuck to the bottom of the bench, and she couldn't leave until it'd been pried off. "Is it that easy?"
"Don't think about it too much, and it will be."
The gum fell into her hand, and she let it drop to the ground before wiping a hand down her pants, and getting to her feet.
"If I go now, will you still be here?"
Cook's eyes darkened, "I wouldn't leave without you. You know that."
"That's alright," she nodded, "It's my birthday tomorrow."
"I won't wear clothes, then."
"You never wear clothes," she corrected, and put her hands in her pockets, "I should go home."
She had nearly made it to the gate when she heard him running after her. A year ago, he wouldn't have done that. A year ago, she wouldn't have stopped to wait.
Karen was sitting on the front step, watching the people move about her. Cook peeled off when he saw her, and Effy walked up alone.
The other girl stood and brushed off the backs of her thighs. There was a package tucked under her arm.
"This came in the mail, about a week ago," she explained, pulling out the package. "I opened it after you left. I mean--well, you know. It wasn't addressed to you. But this is yours. Sorry that I, you know, saw it."
"It's fine," Effy shrugged, and held out her hands. Karen didn't pass it over.
"Promise me you won't open it until it's actually your birthday."
Effy raised her eyebrows, then shrugged, "Sounds expensive."
"Yes," Karen said simply, and handed it over. "There's a card inside, too. I think. I didn't read it."
Karen waved with both of her hands, and retreated. Effy tucked the package under her arm, and jogged up the steps. Her mother called to her from the kitchen, and Effy said something back, then ran up to her room and shut the door softly. She studied the package. Her fingers itched.
But--she'd promised. She'd promised.
So she sat on her bed and watched the clock move.
Her mother came in at nine.
"Do you want to eat anything?"
"Not really," Effy said, then stopped, watching the tired way her mother's face folded. "Can I have a sandwich?"
"Sure," her mother nodded, and smiled. She blinked at the package in Effy's lap. "What's that?"
"My birthday present," Effy informed her, "From Freddie."
"You want to open it alone?"
"I think so."
"Okay," her mother paused, and then touched the side of Effy's face, smoothing down the skin along her cheekbone.
"I didn't protect you, did I?" her mother asked, not crying, her guilt holding steady, "I couldn't save you. I'm the knight that failed."
Effy blinked, and smiled wryly, gripping her mother's hand, "You don't have to joust with anyone, mum."
"No..." her mother trailed off, and shook her head. She moved back towards the door, "I'll bring you your food in a minute, okay?"
The door shut. Effy went back to staring at the clock.
I'm the knight that failed.
Her mother brought her a sandwich. Effy took a bite, and then left it sitting on the edge of her bed. It made her sad to think of throwing it away.
I'm the knight that failed.
Like in the legends, the ones where a princess sits locked within her tower, and only the greatest of heroes could save her. And the ones who failed, died. They were never given names. Faceless. Silly boys.
Effy stared at the package.
Ten minutes and she'd be an adult. Ten minutes and she'd still be Effy, still have brown hair and freckles. Or maybe she'd be Elizabeth. Maybe everything would change.
She looked up.
Freddie sat across from her, watching.
"I know what's in here, don't I?" she asked him. The minute hand chinked into place. Just five more.
And so Effy Stonem broke her promise.
She reached inside, and pulled out the card, and then the little box. She tore open the card, scanned it, and stuffed it back into its envelope. Just a receipt, then. Very deliberately, she threw it away. She wouldn't need to send anything back.
The little box weighed almost nothing in her hand. Karen had already broken the seal, so it was easy enough to open.
Effy looked up. Freddie smiled at her with his sad eyes, and she lifted the ring for inspection.
A little diamond on a silver band, with her name engraved on the inside. Not Elizabeth, but Effy. She'd always been his Effy.
It was a little too big and fit her perfectly.
She held out her hand so he could see.
"You're right," she nodded, "Elizabeth doesn't suit me."
The day turned over, and Effy Stonem cried until she thought she'd break.
Her mother was already awake and making breakfast.
Her mother looked back, paused, but didn't comment on how red her daughter's eyes were. "Happy birthday, sweetheart. There's a boy on our couch who isn't wearing any clothes."
"Yeah," Effy agreed, "I was pretending there wasn't."
"Don't go ravishing me now, Eff! I've still got two months."
"Hm," Effy agreed, watching her mother butter the toast, "You could put some pants on."
"What, and take away all the risk?"
Effy smiled a little, accepted her plate, and wandered over to the couch to sit by Cook. She moved one of the pillows to his lap.
"Charmed," he snorted. Her mother sighed.
"Oh, Effy, now I'll have to buy new covers."
Effy ate her toast, feeling oddly at peace.
Cook had the grace to wait until her mother had turned her attention to the dishes before leaning over, and muttering into her ear, "So?"
She showed him her ring, then took it off so he could see the engraving.
"So, what, are you engaged to him now?"
"Right. Shall we go?"
"Wear Tony's clothes. You know where his room is."
"So demanding," he stood, then stooped and pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth, "Jam."
"There wasn't any."
"No," he agreed, and made his way up the stairs. Effy turned to her mother's back, watching the older woman's shoulders shift as she polished a glass.
"You're leaving, then?" her mother asked, and the glass had been dry for some time now, "So soon? Are you ready?"
Effy smiled, then stood and meandered into the kitchen. She leaned against her mother's shoulder.
"I want to die," she admitted, "I want to be buried with him. I want us to sink to the bottom of the ocean and then I want us to burn together, until there's nothing left." She turned to look at her mother, who looked like--like she understood.
Effy smiled, and ran her plate under the water, washing it clean. "Ever since he died, I haven't heard the voices talking. They're still there, but far off. They can't hurt me now. I don't need the medication any more. Maybe he's keeping them away, or maybe I'm just so crazy that I'm sane again. It doesn't really matter. I want--I want him to come back to me. But I can't have that, so I'll just have to settle for everything else."
Her mother looked at her strangely for a moment, and then out the window.
"You know where I'll be," she said, and Effy knew that meant that she was supposed to go, because a daughter was never allowed to see her mother cry.
Cook had already raided her room by the time she got upstairs. He tossed a bag at her, grabbed her arm, and said, "I grabbed a lot of spare underwear this time. I hope you don't mind sharing. I'm calling dibs on the lacy ones."
Effy stared at him, then snickered, and just as suddenly realized that--that it was time to leave.
"Alright," Cook shouldered the bag away from her, gave her a cheeky slap on the butt, "After you, Elizabeth."
"Cook..." she trailed off, then decided, "James."
"Right-o," he shooed her forwards. "We've got to show Fredrick some sights, haven't we?"
She nodded, and took the first step.