this is a short fic based on maureen johnson's shades of london series. it's set in an AU where [the madness underneath and the boy in the smoke spoilers!!!!!] stephen doesn't use the terminus on peter and shows up at the eton boathouse when he dies for some reason. [end spoilers!!!!] it doesn't make much sense (i haven't read the third book yet so i don't actually know what happens to stephen) but i reaaaaally just wanted more stephen & peter interaction haha. it's probably really ooc but who cares! not me! maybe i'll write a second part to this but honestly i churned this out over like 2 days at the end of spring break a few weeks ago and i'm still burnt out.
warnings for mentions of past suicide attempts and also murder!!! it's not that dark though.
this is dedicated to mar for supporting me through ghost teen hell.
He hadn’t expected to be anywhere in particular - especially given that until a moment ago he had been unable to expect anything, due to being dead - but in retrospect, there were a number of places Stephen could think of that would have made more sense. He had gone unconscious in the flat, but he could have died in a hospital room, or in a car between the two places; he didn’t know where, exactly, but he had died in London. All the ghosts he had encountered had appeared near their death places.
Rory’s voice was still ringing in his head. ‘You are not going anywhere.’ But he had gone somewhere, because Stephen was not in London. Stephen was in the Eton boathouse.
He felt his eyes being drawn to the ceiling. It was an unconscious action, trance-like. He was still processing the fact that he was dead now, and a ghost, and not in London, and the combined weight of those three things was enough to keep him from tearing his eyes away. The third beam from front of the building. Halfway between the center and the left wall. The noose had been gone for a long time now, but Stephen remembered the feeling of it around his neck. Of suffocating. Of the relief when the chair had been shoved back under his feet.
The thought of the other boy was enough to jolt Stephen out of his trance. Find Peter. That seemed like a reasonable goal. He needed a goal, right then, some task he could focus on to channel some of the manic energy that would undeniably be otherwise put into some sort of breakdown. And finding Peter would be both comforting and productive - he was someone Stephen knew, and also someone who could tell him how to deal with being dead.
Stephen shook his head to clear it. This was going to take some getting used to.
God, Callum was going to be so mad.
He looked around the room. Peter wasn’t there, which meant that he was probably outside, but nearby. Stephen decided to check the old dock where he had last seen Peter, back when he was alive, where Peter had kissed his cheek and thanked him for the offer, but ultimately decided that no, he did not want Stephen to use the terminus on him.
Stephen turned the doorknob and slipped carefully out of the boathouse. He briefly wondered if he could have passed through the door, but he decided not to test it. He felt reasonably solid. Jo had been much less so, and she had frequently mentioned how awful going through solid objects was. It was not something that Stephen was itching to try.
It was weird now, walking. He could feel the ground, still, but it was different from how he remembered. His steps felt lighter than they ever had before.
He turned the corner and Peter was there, walking back from the end of the dock. They locked eyes. Stephen went through the reflexive motions of inhalation, but no air moved. A grin broke out across Peter’s face.
“Stephen!” he called out, joy and surprise evident in his tone. He rushed forward, more confident now than he had been last time. Stephen smiled softly and managed a few more steps forward before Peter was there, taking Stephen’s hands in his.
Stephen had approximately half a moment to register how much more solid the other boy felt now (maybe it was a ghost thing, he realized, something to do with the fact that they were both stuck in this strange limbo) before Peter’s face crumpled into an express of mixed terror and sadness. Stephen frowned and tilted his head, concerned. “Peter?”
Peter’s sad eyes widened and a soft whimper escaped him. He seemed to be unable to speak. But then his grip tightened on Stephen’s wrists, and Stephen breathed out a small ‘oh’ of understanding. Two of Peter’s fingers were resting where Stephen’s pulse point should have been.
Stephen was overcome with the urge to comfort him, despite the fact that he was the one who had just died. “Peter,” he tried, “it’s--”
He was cut off by Peter grabbing his face and shouting “Are you okay?!” in far too loud a voice to be necessary. Peter didn’t give him a chance to respond and kept babbling.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry, what a stupid question, of course you’re not okay, Stephen, oh my god you’re dead. No. No no no no no I’m so sorry why are you dead, Stephen you’re not supposed to be dead, you didn’t deserve this. Oh my god. Stephen oh my god. What even happened? No no please please tell me it was an accident, please don’t tell me--”
“Peter!” It was the third time Stephen had said his name in as many minutes, but this time it was forceful. Peter shut up immediately and continued to stare at Stephen, wide-eyed.
“I’m okay,” Stephen told him.
Peter shook his head. He broke eye contact and stared blankly at the ground between them. “You’re not okay.”
Instead of responding, Stephen lifted his hands to cover Peter’s, guiding them gently away from his face. Peter let him, but then twisted his hands free, curling them against Stephen’s shoulders. Stephen blinked, unsure of where his hands should go. He left them hovering in the air between them.
Peter lifted his eyes again. “Stephen.”
“I didn’t do this.”
“...You mean you didn’t kill yourself.” There was a touch of relief in Peter’s voice, a slight relaxation of his face.
“Yes,” Stephen affirmed. Then he paused, thinking back on what had happened. “Well. Not intentionally.”
“Not intentionally?” Peter squeaked, alarm rushing back into his features. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I…” How was he going to explain the past few months in a quick way that made sense and managed to calm Peter down? “It’s...complicated.”
“A lot has happened. I think I probably caused my death, but--”
Stephen scowled. He was still in too much shock over being dead to be dealing with this. “I was not trying to off myself!”
All of a sudden Peter sagged, eyes softening, the fight draining out of him. He slipped his arms around Stephen’s neck and tugged gently as he lifted himself onto his toes. Stephen let himself be pulled forward. His hands came to rest on the middle of Peter’s back, his face pressed into the junction of his neck and shoulder. It was a hug. Peter was trying to comfort him, and they were hugging.
Peter was not warm - it was a side effect of being dead. He wasn’t particularly soft. He didn’t smell like anything. But Stephen was okay with this. The physical closeness - the being held by someone he trusted, the hand rubbing a small circle at the base of his neck in a comforting gesture - made up for it. It was a good thing ghosts couldn’t cry, Stephen thought, or else he might have broken down.
The river sloshed gently. Stephen gripped Peter tighter.