Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars - martyrs have put on their coronation robes glittering with fire; and through their tears have the sorrowful first seen the gate of heaven
-
Edwin Hubbel Chapin Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)


Sometimes life has a way of inflicting hardship upon hardship that can wear someone down ages older than their current age, Stephen thought to himself as he sat in the cafe right in front of where Rory sat. She looked wistful as snow fluttered around her, flinching slightly when she moved in a wrong way that moved her bandages and stitching. He wanted to reach out to Rory, to let her know that the Shades were still there and still wanted to talk to her, but couldn't due to the fact they were bound by the government not to. She moved like a restless panther, getting up from the bench and walking away from it just to come back moments later. She brushed her lighter-than-normal auburn hair back from her cheeks when a gust of wind would rush by. She'd stare at the cafe like she saw him before she turned away quickly. It pained him to not tell her he was there, but he resisted and made sure that she stayed safe. It was strange fate how she'd mean so much to him in such few months.


The first time Stephen saw ghosts was when he'd nearly taken his own life. He thought it'd be so easy, to just get the rope and the chair. To tie the rope to the beam and disappear. He thought the pain of the world would disappear as soon as he placed the noose around his neck and kicked the chair aside. He didn't expect for the actual death to be so long and painful, or for the seconds that he was held tight by the rope to feel like years. The ropes constricted around his windpipe like a snake. The moments that he believed would lead to his death were the most painful he'd ever experienced, like the feeling of being suspended in freefall. Except of course it was much more painful. When he had seen the boy walk into the barn, he nearly sobbed with relief as he began to claw at the noose again. The boy looked at him with a mixture of wonder and sadness before he pushed the chair right back underneath him. Finally, the pain was over, but the trauma he endured would never have left.

After that, life became a bit of a blur. Of course being sent to a psychiatric ward unwillingly for a bit tended to do that to you. Life in the mental hospital was like that of staring at an aquarium for far too long. He'd become an outsider (not that he already wasn't) and when he came back, he decided he'd go back to school, see if Cambridge still had accepted him and do... work. Whatever he could get. His plans were halted when he was about to leave the psychiatric ward as they deemed him 'fit' to go back into the world. He'd obviously lied to the doctors there, making them believe they'd cured him. What they don't tell doctors about mental trauma and illnesses is that they don't go away. The afflicted just learned how to cope with it. So he had lied, and gotten certified by the doctor he wasn't a threat. If only the results they jotted down on their stupid patient files could've resided within him, he'd feel as if he were on the track to reclaiming his life. Without his parents. It was insulting and stupid they sent him to this sodding ward when they barely paid attention to him for his entire life. As he packed his stuff up to leave the hospital, he noticed a woman out of place in contrast to her surroundings. A tall, brunette woman with a crisp ironed navy pantsuit and tied back hair. She contrasted starkly against the monotonous grey and white walls of the hospital. Stephen's interests peaked as she turned from the receptionist and walked towards him.
"Mr. Stephen Dene?" the woman approached him. Stephen simply folded his arms across his chest, nodding at her.
"I'm Agent Ella Romero. I was wondering, are you free?"
"I was about to leave," Stephen replied. The agent smiled as she turned from him and said, "walk with me."

"So what you're telling me is that I can see ghosts. And that there is a ghost hunting division squad within Her Majesty's government."

"Yes, I said that," Agent Romero said as they sat on a bench in front of the ward. They held their steaming cups of tea and he took a sip. Agent Romero continued to look around her surroundings, smiling when she laid her eyes on the hydrangea flowers that were just planted on the grounds.
"Well, I'd say you're bloody mad, but you're not are you?" he asks.
"I'm dead serious," she answers. Then, her lips quirk at the (doubtedly unintentional) pun.
"Let's say I do agree to work with this ghost division, who would I work with? You mentioned something about the division being silent for year. What would I be doing?"
"Doing England a favor and ridding her of the ghosts that haunt her. You'd be the leading the first ghost hunting division since it closed years back."
"Do I get to finish my education?"
"Of course. You'd receive the best education and training from her Majesty could offer you," she added, taking a sip from her tea. Stephen paused, thinking of what Agent Romero told him. A chance to help the world from the shadows? It seemed as if the world didn't want to give him back up to the dead. However, the initial assumption was was wrong because the ghost division would always lead him to the edge of death before yanking him back.
"I'm interested," Stephen had sat up straighter, drinking his still piping-hot tea.


The first time Stephen met Rory was under circumstances that weren't the best. Apparently, she had seen something that no one else had. "Maybe it's just a coincidence," he mused to himself as he read the file the police sent him one more time. It stated that she was legally named as Aurora Deveaux, an American who was studying in London for her senior year to study, and that she had seen a potential Ripper suspect. The latin he took in his school career came back to him, as he thought of a sunrise when he thought of Aurora Deveaux's name. He had gathered from her file not much, deducting some reasons from her picture. He imagined that this Aurora would burn bright in a way no one else did.
He then realized Boo and Callum were watching him watch the picture of Aurora. Rapidly, he hemmed his throat as he set down the picture and announced to them that he was going to go to Wexford school to see the witness.

"Ms. Deveaux?" He said to the girl with light auburn coloured hair.
"Um," she replied. Stephen nodded, knowing full well she was the Aurora Deveaux. She looked as if she and her roommate had just woken up, the two of them blinking sleep away. And her accent was... Southern? He turned away from her to look at her roommate.
"And you're Julianne Benton? Her roommate?"
"Yes," the girl responded, cowering behind Aurora. He pressed on with his questions while Aurora stared at him in confusion and suspicion.
"You were together last night at two A.M?"
"Yes," the girls replied. Aurora was the louder of the two, using her voice as a shield in front of Julianne. He couldn't help but admire the girl; sleep-deprived and fueled by suspicion with nerves of steel.
"You saw a man?" He continued, sizing Aurora up and down.
"Yes. I told -," she began before he cut her off.
"And you didn't," He turned to the roommate, "You're sure?"
"No, I... no."
"Even though he was directly in front of you?"
"I... No. I … No..." the roommate was stupefied. She wasn't used to being second-guessed. Bloody hell, he nearly swore in front of them all. One saw the suspect and the other didn't.
"Both of you," he said as he regained composure, "Don't speak to anyone from the press. If they approach you, walk away. Don't give your name. Do not repeat anything you told the detective this morning. If you need assistance, phone this number," he handed the stunned Aurora his card and turned away. He really hoped that this Ripper was the work of an unhinged sociopath and not that of a ghost.


The second time he met with Aurora (and not the time when they made eye contact in which she made it perfectly clear to Stephen that she was a force to be reckoned with, which to be fair, sort of-kind of-maybe excited him) was when she had followed Boo.
"There's something wrong with me," he heard her voice before he saw her face. Stephen looked to Boo in shock as she replied quickly with an "I didn't know, she must've followed me." Boo ran to Rory, kneeling beside her as Jo told her to breathe in and out. Her expression was a cross between shock and disorientation, as one did when the world is ripped right from underneath their feet. Stephen sighed as he realized the game was up, but at the same time, he was thrilled that their would be another person who would join their world; who he could share it with. No, focus, the annoying voice in his mind chided. He and Boo bickered as Aurora stayed in her state of disbelief.
"Take her back to yours, talk to her," Boo said. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes and went for the police car, watching as Aurora was carried by Boo and Jo and ushered into the back.
"My name is Stephen," he told Aurora as he drove, "Stephen Dene."
"Rory," she mumbled from her position in the back; her distress had subsided so now that she could speak at least. It was a start.
"I know. We met." He responded as he turned. That seemed to snap Auro- Rory (he'd have to remind himself to prevent himself from calling her Aurora) from her stunned state.
"Oh yeah. Are you actually a cop?" There was a trace of sarcasm mixed with the skepticism of her question.
"Yes," he replied.
"So am I," Boo added. The rest of the ride was filled with silence, with glances from Boo as her eyes would flicker back to Rory and he himself would pay attention to her from the corner of her eyes. He offered to help her out of the car, his hand out but she refused to take it. She was stubborn and therefore, she was definitely trouble.


He had explained to her what her ability was and he saw Rory's face transform as she absorbed the details; from incredibly skeptical, to an attitude that would have keep any fears at bay, denial to outright outrage that she had to keep her ability a secret. It would be much more painful for her in a way it hadn't for him, since she was surrounded with people who cared. A twinge of jealousy rang through him before he had told her that what the Shades did was classified. She nodded, still in a stupor before she added, "I need to go to bed now. I just want to go home." There was a vulnerability to her face that wasn't there when he started to talk. All he could do was nod and say "Right. I'll take you two back."


The next time they had met was when they had taken Rory ghost-spotting and Boo and Callum were acting in typical Boo and Callum fashion, so it was really only him and Rory. He felt like a teacher as he explained to her what they did as Shades. She had turned her head attentively, arms wrapped around herself as the four of them wandered around the Underground. She stayed close by to Stephen as he told her about ghosts and she interjected with occasional questioning. Stephen liked that about her; she was inquisitive when the world wasn't throwing life-changing information at her. He nearly fell when he heard her say that their current Ripper wasn't the actual Ripper, but rather a copycat. She was quick, he had to agree with that statement Boo's had made of her.

He went home that night and all he could think about was the Ripper copycat and (what a surprise) Rory. He fretted after he dropped her off at Wexford and went home to make sure she was okay but she was in his head and he couldn't not stop thinking about her. A smattering of freckles over her face coupled with her short stature, American nature and sweet Southern accent were all invading his thoughts, distracting him from the files.
"I need tea," he said to no one. Boo wasn't there and Callum was watching yet another game on the telly. It seemed that in the short moments he had with Rory and the things he told her, she had managed to reopen a part of him he thought was closed ever since his sister died. He had dreaded human interaction leaving the ward, but dealt with it in the brisk manner that made every believe Stephen was a tool as opposed to disliking human interaction. Stephen was definitely unsure of what this revelation meant for him.


The third time they had met it was under worse circumstances as Boo had been the target of the Ripper's rage. Rory held it together better than anyone else had they been in her situation, herself being wanted as the real target of the Ripper's rage. He had to take her to the flat, and had her change from her outfit. It was kind of distracting to him because 1) since when did he ever pay attention to the female species that 2) he was sort of staring at Rory as he handed her the closest change of clothes he had on hand in the flat. Which had happened to be his own clothes. He pretended not to pay close attention to the way his clothes looked so over sized on her small stature; how she looked more at ease sitting right across from him, calming down from the recent events; and also, the fact that he had to look away from her and the tea as she wrapped herself in the clothes. It was strange how he had Boo as his top priority but also Rory. He wanted to wrap Rory up in his arms because the Ripper was on the hunt for her and all they could do to find him was go by vague ideas and hints of who he would've been prior to his shade status.


The other time they met was unfortunate timing was when he was sitting in the square in Rory's house, and he had looked to see Rory and Jerome kissing. Another stinging swelled inside of him which he stifled out quickly. Looking away, he cleaned his glasses but not before he saw a certain-someone open her eyes to see him look away and she detached herself from the other boy. Of course it was stupid to feel jealous over a girl who already had a boyfriend, and was two years younger than him boyfriend, but he liked to think that there was a connection between him and Rory; she saw more to him than where other people stopped. He had found her in Wexford's campus coffee shop, leaning against the window. She held a drink to her lips, but she didn't look like she cared for what was inside it. She looked out the window, a faraway look on her face. He had to admit that Jerome made a smart connection to the Ripper. Rory's face changed as she told him about telling Jo about Boo and together, they had taken the Tube. He was silent, but it wasn't as if he didn't want to stay silent; it was more that he was worried about Rory and the fact that she had a bullseye on her back. He also couldn't help but glance at her throughout the Tube, sneaking glances of her throughout the ride; drinking in the pale skin, her lighter than auburn hair and uniform. The faraway look was back in her eyes, her expression melancholy. It was strange how after not really caring much about the opposite sex, those feelings came back when he was around Rory.


The next time they had worked together, they were nearing the mouth of hell. He had told Rory the story of how he nearly died minutes to the countdown the copycat Ripper laid in front of them. It felt strange revealing the most intimate secret of his that he kept by himself for two, nearly three years, to a girl he just barely knew in the span of a few short months.
"One question," she said. "Did you tell me all that because you think I'm going to die?" He nearly barked out a laugh, watching as Rory's face was composed of one-half fear and the other determination. He didn't know why he told her, but it somehow made sense that he should have.
"No," he said. "It's because you're doing something brave, and I felt that I should too." He saw the steel determination nearly relent to fear before she nodded.
"I'll take that as a yes," she said as she placed her hand over Stephen's and pushed the door open together.
He couldn't feel anything but sorrow and relief as he realized that he'd go down with Rory. What a strange way that some of his uncertainty faded when she had touched him. Together, they'd walk into the abyss of what laid in the darkness.


The next time he'd seen her, and unknowingly the last for a while, they were both in shit states. She was in a hospital bed, hooked up to several machines and her breathing soft. He felt a sick after the insulin shot the Ripper, Newman gave him hours ago, and Rory had given the antidote. She had looked frightened and miserable as she applied the needle to his arm with Newman hanging around her with the knife held to her. But, he didn't care about his own pain. He cared about the risk Rory was taking, gambling her own life in exchange to give him an antidote and Newman what he wanted. He walked inside her hospital room to see her blinking around in a drug-induced haze. She stared right at him as he stood in the doorway.
"We were sent to the same hospital," was all he ended up saying to her. She nodded, her head slumped like it was fighting the drugs that lead her to sleep. He had told her that the knife hadn't done anything serious to any vital organs to which she replied "I must be on some awesome drugs then." He nearly cracked a smile right there, but noticed that Rory started to doze off. He had to tell her that Thorpe was coming and that she should prepare herself.

When Thorpe said that she was bound by the Official Secrets act and she couldn't leave England and she couldn't contact the Shades any more, Stephen wanted Thorpe to leave the room immediately. It wasn't exactly Thorpe's best idea to drop that bomb on Rory right after she survived the Ripper attack. He left and then he saw Rory's mask crack as she let out a sob. It frightened him terribly and threw him into a brief blitz confusion. How did you comfort someone after they'd been attacked by a copycat Jack the Ripper killer and nearly died? After they had to deal with the trauma of nearly dying twice, one of those times leading the reason that they could see dead people? All he could really do was reach out for her arm; not gingerly as if he didn't know what to do, but firm. He needed her to know that she had an anchor in this mess of the shadow world she was dragged into. He'd have to cut contact with her as Thorpe said, but worry for Rory made that impossible. He sure as hell knew he couldn't keep in contact with her so he had made a split decision in that moment. As he squeezed her arm and told her "It's over now," he resolved to make sure that he'd keep an eye out on her as soon as she was released from the hospital as kind of a dark knight for her.


Sometimes life has a funny way of making the end result worth all the pain, Stephen thought as he continued to watch Rory before she finally left.