The fireplace in the front parlor at the brownstone in Louisburg Square crackled with dancing flames. Somehow the warmth from the blaze did not seem to reach all the way into the room. The curtains were drawn aside, but the afternoon was so gray it seemed night had arrived prematurely. A cold November rain fell.
Arthur Conan Doyle felt the chill in his bones.
He stood by the fireplace, leaning with one elbow on the mantel, his pipe held loosely in his hand. It was unlit, the tobacco tamped down inside, waiting for him to enjoy it, but for some reason he had not yet set it to burn.
Ceridwen sat on the floral loveseat with Julia Ferrick, holding the shattered woman's hand. Dark circles hung beneath Julia's eyes. Her clothes were wrinkled and her hair was tied back in a ponytail. For the past two nights she had slept - though slept little - in a guest room in Conan Doyle's home. They had all needed time to recover from the events set in motion by Baalphegor, and Julia needed to be close to Danny.
Conan Doyle had let it go on as long as he dared without interference. This morning that had changed.
He caught Ceridwen's eye. She smiled wanly at him, doing her best to comfort Julia and, somehow, to comfort Conan Doyle as well. Ceri had taken to wearing the clothes that Eve had helped her choose to blend better in the human world - the Blight. It astonished him to see how comfortable she looked in the navy skirt and light blue cashmere sweater she wore today. Even while sitting there with Julia, sharing the woman's fear and grief for her son, Ceridwen remained elegant, her presence powerful.
Conan Doyle had to tear his gaze away from her. Impatiently he withdrew his pocket watch and opened it, sighing at the time.
"Don't get your knickers in a twist. I'm here."
He glanced up to see Eve standing in the arched doorway and nodded his approval.
"What of Squire?"
Eve glanced regretfully at Julia, then looked at Conan Doyle and shook her head. "He's not in the mood. He and Shuck are watching his Knight Rider DVDs downstairs, eating chili dogs and ice cream."
"Ah," Conan Doyle said. "I wondered what that smell was."
Ceridwen smoothed her skirt, tightened her grip on Julia's hand, and looked up at Eve.
"He's going to keep the beast, then? Here in the house?" She glanced at Conan Doyle in surprise.
"Might not be a bad idea to have a guard dog around," Eve replied.
Conan Doyle frowned. He'd not have expected Eve to support the idea of having the slobbering shuck around the house. As far as he knew, she hated the beast and had no use for pets in general.
"We shall see," he said, and then he looked around at the three women. "All right. It's only the four of us, then. Shall we discuss the reason for this gathering?"
Julia took a deep breath and sat up a bit straighter. "My son, you mean?"
Conan Doyle narrowed his gaze, perturbed by the edge in her voice. "Yes, Julia. Your son. More particularly, what's to become of him after the events we all witnessed this week."
Ceridwen placed her free hand on Julia's back.
Eve entered the room and slid into a high-backed chair. "I take it you've made a decision."
Conan Doyle stepped away from the fireplace, regretting the diminishing warmth on such a raw day in his drafty old house. He clutched his pipe in one hand as he strode over to the windows to peer out at the gray day. The one benefit of a day as dark as this one was that Eve did not have to hide away.
"What are you going to do?" Julia asked tersely.
He turned, tapping the bottom of the pipe's bowl in his open palm, idly packing it further.
"The sack that had formed on his chest has disappeared. His humanity, the accumulation of everything about him that might be considered a soul, has been reabsorbed into his body. I've examined him closely, much to his displeasure, and all that remains as evidence of this episode is a round patch of hard, callous-like tissue that had been the sack, and a scar where Daniel cut himself."
Conan Doyle saw the hope in Julia's eyes and glanced away. He looked at Ceridwen, and then at the doubtful expression on Eve's face. Of all of them, she was the most cautious about Danny. He wondered at her cynicism. If anyone could provide the example the boy needed, it would be her.
"That's . . . that's wonderful news, Mr. Doyle . . . Arthur," Julia said. "But I'm more concerned right now with what's going on inside of him than outside."
He nodded. "Agreed. But in this case you cannot separate the two. Danny's been through a great deal. He is a confused young man. He has been presented with awful truths and terrible choices, and I worry that he made the wrong ones. Had Eve and Squire not been there to interfere, on two separate occasions, and myself on a third, I fear that Danny would have taken a path from which he could never return."
Ceridwen gazed at him with those violet eyes, full of love and compassion. "Surely, Arthur, we've saved him from that."
"We did," Julia agreed. "We stopped him."
Eve leaned forward, staring at the other two women. "Yeah. For now. I'm sorry, Julia, but there's no way to know where his head is at. He's hardly talked to anyone since we brought him home. We all want to think that now that he's got all of that humanity back inside of him that he'll be all right, but with it comes the guilt and the doubt surrounding the things he did. He's never going to know what he would really have done at the end, because the choice wasn't his. And it doesn't help that Doyle incinerated his father right in front of him."
Conan Doyle glared at her. "You won't make me regret that, Eve. Baalphegor deserved no mercy and received none. Had I allowed him to live he would only have plagued this world and others even further, and he would have returned for Danny again and again until he had what he wanted."
She threw up her hands. "I agree. I'd have toasted the son of a bitch myself, given the chance. But Danny was torn, Arthur. I could see it. We all could. The fact remains that this particular hellspawn was his father. He has to live with that. And he has to live under the roof of the man who killed him."
The room went silent. After a moment Eve sighed and looked around at them all. "What? I'm only saying what we're all thinking."
Julia looked at Conan Doyle and then turned to Ceridwen. "What about you? Do you think he'll be all right? I know you have a sense of people, an empathy."
Ceridwen turned her violet eyes upon her lover again, and for several seconds they just stared at one another. Then the elemental sorceress looked at Julia again.
"I do. He's in pain. A great deal of pain. And Eve is not wrong about his guilt. Danny is profoundly confused and afraid, of and for himself. But he loves you, Julia. And he feels a sense of safety here. That much I know. What the future will hold for him, though, none of us can predict."
Conan Doyle cleared his throat. He was cold by the window, but he remained where he was. "Ah," he said, "but Baalphegor made a prediction. Or was aware of one. He indicated that some seer or another had prophesied some great destiny for Daniel."
"That's . . . that's got to be good, yes?" Julia asked, eyes imploring.
"We can't know that," Eve said. "He'll play a role in something huge. In my mind, that's got to be the fight against the Demogorgon, but we don't know. Just like we have no idea who'll benefit from the role Danny plays. The light . . . or the darkness."
Again they all fell silent. Eve had a talent for quieting a room.
"So, what now?" Julia asked at last.
Ceridwen smiled softly. "Now, we wait. We continue our fight and our preparations for the coming of the Demogorgon, and we watch Danny very closely. All of us. We become his family, and we take care of him, and we make sure that when the time comes that he must make a decision at last, that he chooses the light."
"And we are going to need your help with that, Julia," Conan Doyle continued. "Which is why I hoped you would move your things in here."
"What?" she asked, brows knitted. "Live here?" He spread his hands, pipe still clutched in one. "Temporarily, if you wish. But, yes, I do think it would be greatly beneficial to your son. For his sake, and possibly for the world's, he needs you here."
She shook her head. "I couldn't just live here. I'm a grown woman. I'm capable of taking care of myself. I'm hardly a charity case -"
"Stop it," Eve snapped.
Julia flinched and stared at her.
"This isn't charity. Put aside your pride. You're thinking like you're still some suburban mommy whose kid is at boarding school or something. Danny is a part of something greater than himself, now, and like it or not, that means that you're a part of it, too. Now, you can walk away from your son if that's your choice. But if not, then snap out of it. You can live as much of your normal life from here as is possible. Otherwise, things like the mortgage and the electric bill aren't that important anymore."
She smiled. "And besides, Doyle's got embarrassing amounts of money. Why not live here and let him worry about the grocery bill? He won't even notice. And then you can focus on Danny."
Ceridwen gave Julia's hand a little shake. "You really are welcome here."
Julia nodded slowly. "All right. Let me think about it a while. I do appreciate your offer. I'm . . . I'm just very afraid for him right now."
"We all are," Eve said.
Conan Doyle crossed back to the fireplace, the chill from outside having crept into his bones. He set the pipe down on the mantel and let the heat of the flames warm him.
"I've been afraid for him from the beginning. I always feared something like this."
"You knew this would happen, didn't you?"
Conan Doyle did not turn to face her. "Demons do not leave their changeling offspring in this world for no reason. I knew that one day, Danny's sire would come for him, though the circumstances I could only guess at."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Julia asked. "You came to see me when he was just a boy. You could have warned me, then."
At the fireplace, Conan Doyle hesitated. He was very poor at explaining himself and his decisions. How to tell the woman that a warning would only have destroyed the happiness of the years she had with her son before it all had become so horribly wrong?
"That's what he's good at," said a familiar voice, deep and rich and full of simmering anger. "Keeping secrets."
Conan Doyle turned, eyebrow raised, to see the ghost of Dr. Graves shimmering in the center of the room, the gray day and the firelight conspiring to give him more dimension and gravity than he normally manifested.
The ghost had his arms crossed and was staring at him.
"Arthur always knows more than he says," the ghost went on. "That's how he maintains control. Or, at least, the illusion of control."
Conan Doyle gazed at Graves, his expression neutral. "Welcome back, Leonard."
Even as he spoke, he saw Clay enter through the arched doorway from the hall. He wore a thick brown leather jacket, spattered with rain, and faded blue jeans. His close-cropped pepper and salt hair glistened with raindrops.
"And welcome back to you, Joe," Conan Doyle added.
Clay gave a small wave and leaned against the door frame. "Yeah. From the update Squire just gave us, it sounds like we missed quite a bit."
"You might say that," Eve muttered, and Conan Doyle saw her exchange a meaningful look with Clay. The two had been bonding quite a bit in recent months, and how could they not? Clay was perhaps the only creature alive with whom Eve shared any real kinship, save the filthy vampire hordes.
The ghost of Dr. Graves went over and pretended to sit on the arm of the loveseat beside Julia.
"Are you all right?"
"I will be," she said, brightening with his presence. "We really could have used you, Leonard. I'm so glad you're back."
"I'm sorry," the ghost replied. "Had I any idea, I would have put off my search."
"I know," Julia said. It was as though she and the ghost were alone in the room. The warmth and caring between them was unmistakable. "Did you find what the answers you were looking for?"
Graves cast a baleful glance at Conan Doyle. "I did."
Julia smiled. "Yet you're still here."
The ghost nodded, reaching out to touch her hair. His hand passed through her, but she went to touch him as well, grasping only smoke.
"I've solved my own mystery," Graves said. "But there are so many threats to the world, now. The darkness is coming nearer, and I thought I should stay and do my best to help. And I made a promise to you, to help Danny adjust to his life. I've done a poor job of that, obviously. I'll do what I can to make it up to you."
Julia smiled even more broadly. "Thank you. You can't imagine what that means to me."
Graves did not reply, save to smile. Then he turned toward Conan Doyle, and the smile faded.
"We're pleased to have you back, Leonard," Conan Doyle said. "You and Joe both."
The ghost drifted toward him, not bothering to mimic the rhythm of walking. He simply floated across the room, his spectral substance wavering in the November gloom.
"One of the reasons I stayed, Arthur, was to keep an eye on you."
Conan Doyle stiffened and crossed his arms. "I'm not sure I like your tone, old friend."
"How are you my friend, Arthur? Honestly?"
"I have always been your friend."
Ceridwen and Julia looked taken aback, staring at the two in surprise and concern. Eve shot a curious glance at Clay, but his expression was unreadable. Conan Doyle took this all in and then focused his attention on Graves again.
"From this point on," the ghost replied, "don't think of me as your friend. Think of me as your conscience. I will be watching you, Arthur. You, with your arrogance and your manipulations. You think so damned much of yourself that it blinds you. You always know best, don't you? Or you think so, anyway. Your genius, your cunning, your wisdom. Only you can save the world from the darkness, and from itself. And you gather us around you not as friends or comrades or even respected allies, but as pieces on a chessboard.
"And you think that only you can save us from the darkness, and from ourselves. So you keep secrets, the way you kept them from Julia and Danny. And the way you kept them from me!"
In a fury that Conan Doyle had never seen from him before, the ghost lost all cohesion and surged forward like a crashing ocean wave. His face coalesced from the ethereal mist just inches from Conan Doyle's own.
"You knew, you bastard!" the specter, his visage terrifyingly inhuman, roared. "I thought you were ignoring me, or that you were not the detective I had been led to believe. But all along, you knew, didn't you?"
Conan Doyle stared at him, jaw set. "You don't understand."
"Damn you, Arthur! You left me lost! You let me wander all this time!"
"It wasn't . . ." Conan Doyle began. Then he lowered his eyes. "An examination of your remains made certain conclusions inevitable. I planned to tell you about the Whisper, but when I realized you hadn't been shot, it was not difficult to follow the logic to the additional conclusion that Gabriella had been involved -"
Julia gasped. "Oh, my God," she whispered, covering her mouth in horror.
Conan Doyle raised his eyes and looked at the churning, furious apparition before him. "I knew the truth would destroy you, Leonard."
Slowly, the spirit of Dr. Graves coalesced again. His expression was stoic, his spectral clothing neat and his manner nothing less than civilized. He stared at Conan Doyle with disdain.
"And, quite obviously, you were mistaken," Graves said. He glanced at Julia and Ceridwen, over at Clay, and finally at Eve. "All of you, take note. Arthur Conan Doyle is fallible. He makes mistakes."
The ghost wavered in the air. Through his transparent form, Conan Doyle could see all of the others staring at him.
"I will stand by your side, Arthur. The darkness that rises now is too great for us to be anything but allies. But from this point on, I warn you never to underestimate me or attempt to deceive me again. If you expect any of us to survive the coming of the Demogorgon, if you expect the world to survive, you have to start taking us into your confidence, treating us like your friends instead of your pawns. Otherwise, the darkness will claim us all, and our fight is hopeless."
Graves extended one spectral finger, pointing at him. "If I think, for even a moment, that your arrogance is jeopardizing our chances of survival in all of this . . . I will remove you from the fight."
Conan Doyle glared at the ghost, spine stiffening, a cold anger rising inside of him. He nodded. "As it should be. And rest assured, old friend, that I will do the same for you."
As chilly as the room had been before, it had become far colder still. The fire burned low in the fireplace, as though the oxygen that fed it had been stolen away.
The ghost stared at Conan Doyle a moment longer and then turned to Julia.
"With your permission, I'd like to see Danny now."
"Please," she said, nodding. "I think it will do him good. If he'll talk to anyone, he'll talk to you."
The ghost drifted from the room. He paused to nod toward Clay, who still stood leaning against the door frame. Clay nodded in return, and then the ghost of Dr. Graves was gone, disappearing into the darkness of the corridor.
Within the parlor, the only sound was the crackling of the fire, the howling of the wind, and the patter of icy rain upon the windows.
Danny lay curled on his bed, ancient Pearl Jam playing low through the ear buds of his iPod. He stared at a spot on the wall, focused on the feeling of his chest rising and falling with each breath. Just breathing. That was what it was to be alive.
The room stank badly of teenager and demon. There was no pretending to himself anymore that the smell was anything else. Despite the chill outside, his window was open a few inches. The cold breeze that whipped through that gap felt good, and it took some of the stink away. At some point, he was going to have to clean his room and do laundry.
A shower wouldn't be a bad idea either.
At some point.
But not now. He couldn't bring himself to get up. His stomach rumbled hungrily, but even that was too much trouble. And it brought too many ugly thoughts into his head. What, exactly, was he hungry for?
So he lay there, letting the battery of his iPod run down, smelling his own stink, staring at that spot on the wall, and feeling himself breathe.
He realized he was not alone. He shifted his gaze away from the spot on the wall for the first time in hours and looked up at the ghost of Dr. Graves, hovering beside his bed.
A spark of something ignited within him, and at first he mistook it for anger. Graves had abandoned him. The ghost had promised to help him, to keep an eye out for him, and when Danny had needed him the most, Graves had been nowhere to be found.
But even those thoughts seemed dull. The spark in him wasn't anger, and he wouldn't allow himself to think it was anything like hope or relief, so he ignored it.
Danny pulled the headphone buds out of his ears.
"You never heard of knocking?" he asked, his throat a growl from going too long without speaking.
Graves mustered a sad sort of smile. "Hello to you, too."
The ghost nodded, his expression all seriousness now. "I won't be leaving again."
Danny frowned in confusion. "But you were going to go . . . to go on."
"Change of plans. I'm here. And I won't be leaving again."
A maelstrom of convoluted thoughts and questions entered Danny's mind. He wanted to talk, but he did not know what to say.
"Maybe you're not ready yet," the ghost said. "To talk about what happened."
Danny nodded slowly. He still had to work things over in his own head a while before he could talk to anyone, even Dr. Graves. He stared at the transparent figure, could see the mess of his room right through him.
"All right," Graves said. "That's all right. I'm going to go, now. But I'll be here in the house, when you want to find me. Before I go, though, I wanted to give you something."
The ghost reached into the pocket of his jacket - a piece of clothing that was just as much a phantom as he was - and withdrew a scrap of thick paper. He offered it, and Danny took it from him. The paper was no ghost, but real and rough like parchment.
"What is it?" Danny asked, glancing at the scrap and at the writing scribbled on it.
"Something to think about," Dr. Graves said.
Then the ghost faded away, vanishing in increments, from figure to silhouette to nothing, and Danny was alone again. He looked down at the scrap of parchment. Upon it was written a quote from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
"In each of us, two natures are at war - the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our hands lies the power to choose - what we want most to be, we are."
Danny stared at it for a long time, read it over and over again, and eventually simply focused on the final line. He felt a strange, cool, dampness on his cheeks, but only when he reached up and touched the moisture there, put it to his tongue and tasted salt, did he realize that he was crying.
And then he cried all the harder, and he smiled.
He could cry.