Chapter 1: The Seed
Like most of Lockwood's ideas, it was a bad one.
Like most of Lockwood's ideas, I was a full and willing participant, despite having more than an inkling that it wouldn't end well.
And like most of Lockwood's ideas, it involved blood, gore, and a great deal of blindingly agonizing pain.
My blood, gore, and blindingly agonizing pain.
It started on a London morning as grey and unwashed as George's underpants, when Lockwood and I were sharing a quiet, companionable breakfast at the kitchen table, spilling bits of egg and toast crumbs over George's message that he'd once more spent a night scouring the sludge of the city with Flo. He would return some hours later reeking of stagnant water and with a dirty backside and mulch in his hair, but he would also be too distracted to notice the odd, quiet mood at 35 Portland Row, or the strange matching flush to both Lockwood's face and my own.
But at that moment, George was still somewhere distant, quite possibly snogging in waist-high waterproof dungarees (a mental image I didn't relish), Holly had taken the day off to visit her mother, and Kipps was elsewhere, taking a brief break from trying to fill in as the pale, living, slightly more socially ept replacement for the Skull. Lockwood was frowning at the side of the box of Holly's low-sugar muesli, and I hummed tunelessly as I dipped a bit of solider in the runny yellow yolk of my soft-boiled egg.
Suddenly, there was a great sucking sound as Lockwood opened his mouth very wide then promptly shut it again over a mouthful of air. I glanced at him sideways. He was still frowning, but no longer at the cereal box, and instead looked very puzzled by the dusty sconce on the kitchen wall.
After some obvious deliberation, he opened his mouth again, and said with charm that--oddly--sounded forced, 'There are very few people more Talented than the two of us, Luce."
"Er." My voice was muffled by egg yolk. Crumbs flew. "I know."
He tapped the dry corner of his now-cold toast against the rim of his plate. "My Sight and your Listening and Touch," he said, increasingly thoughtful. "We are quite the unstoppable team."
I swallowed. "Of course we are," I said, then took another bite, sending a spray of crumbs across Holly's shopping list (kale, sunflower seeds, soy granules for goodness sake). He was right, of course; we always had been, even when our teamwork left much to be desired (burning houses to the ground, nearly destroying a large section of London in our attempts to take down Marissa Fittes, etc. etc.), we worked well together. We complemented each other. We were very good at stopping the other from being killed. Hardiness was a sought-after quality in an agency, and no other agency in London had survived what we had been through, nor would they have to, thanks to us.
Lockwood carried on, his normally smooth, unfurrowed forehead looking like a field freshly ploughed. "And George believes that there is a genetic component in Talent," he said. He was speaking very quickly now, as though he thought this a conversation best left to someone else, and was only relaying it out of a sense of duty. "Not always, of course--but that there is a good chance that two parents with psychic abilities will pass those same abilities down to their children."
I gave a little start at the word, children. I'd spent my life surrounded by children: agents, the Night's Watch, my sisters. I'd spent my life watching other children die.
"Lockwood?" I said. I wiped my buttery fingers on my leggings. My hands were shaking, and I had a strange, sick, heavy feeling in my stomach, and though the room was warm, it felt very like a ghostly malaise was creeping, prickling, tingling across the floor and tugging hard at every hair on my skin.
Lockwood, for his part, was still making eyes at the ruddy lamp. "The Problem is still a problem, Luce," he said, more quietly now. Finally, he turned to look at me, and there was something quite strange about his eyes--like he had stared into the light for a bit too long, and in place of my face he was seeing something quite a bit brighter and more beautiful than stocky, stern-faced Lucy Carlyle.
"And it could always get worse before it gets better. How many years do we have left, really, before we're like old Kipps? Three? Four?" Lockwood continued. His eyes were still set on me, quite alarmingly now. I'd grown use to these long glances in the past few years. Ever since we'd gone together to the Other Side, when I'd grown white streaks to match the strands of silver in Lockwood's own dark hair. Those brief streaks of monochrome had bound us, as did the sapphire that always rested in the hollow of my neck. Beyond the connection of the Other Side, now shared in small part with George, Holly, and Kipps, we'd been something ever since the day that he gave me his mother's necklace. And as always, it was impossible to pin a name to that something. As usual, we hadn't talked about it. We had walked together, alone, long enough where George had begun to make curious and unappetizing noises at our return. We had kissed--more than once. We didn't really talk about that, either.
"We've made a name for ourselves," Lockwood was saying, while I found myself focusing on his lips, remembering the very long, very energetic kiss we'd shared the night before, and forgetting entirely what he was talking about. What was it? Oh, right. Lockwood & Co. Its future. Growing old and watching our Talents crumble but still refusing to stand down, like a middle aged man on a football pitch, pot belly bobbing, chasing a ball around a field and pausing every ten paces to pant over a hitch in his side. Only with ghosts entering the field to play opposition.
What else had Lockwood mentioned?
Once again, I listened very intently to what he was saying, my ears hot and my cheeks pink, and low, humming words bubbling at the back of my mind like the distant jeering of a skull in a jar. I often wondered if my Listening skills were slipping now that the Skull was no longer here to test me. Sometimes on cases I had to strain to hear the faintest whispers. I had spent so long assuming that like Marissa Fittes, my Talent would never go. Now, I couldn't be sure. Lockwood had a point.
"But how much longer will we be taken seriously if we're bumbling about London with those goggles strapped to our faces?" Lockwood carried on. He fixed me with that charming smile, and it outshone the sconce by miles. "It would be the end to the Lockwood name, and our reputation."
That smile, for once, did the opposite of calm me. Instead, it made me uneasy, and cautiously curious of what he was trying to talk me into. It also made my thoughts try to veer once more to last night's fumbling below the faux sheepskins in the library.
"We can hire new agents," I replied, turning my attentions once more to my toast and taking aim for my egg with a soldier. I missed.
"And we'd be supervisors," Lockwood said. "We all know what great use they are. And we very well don't need four of them."
"You're not really proposing a solution, Lockwood."
"Am I not?"
I looked up at him, and my toast went very limp in my hand.
He was no longer smiling.
"We need someone with the Lockwood name." His hands were folded neatly in front of him on the kitchen table, the rapier-callous shining dimly in the crook of his thumb. His fingers twitched. "Someone we trust, and someone so Talented the ghosts wouldn't have a chance." He made a sound deep in his chest, something phlegmy, almost a growl. "To hell with Fittes," he said. "I think it's time for a new family enterprise. What do you say, Luce?"
I fixed him with a look that I hoped at the time looked very clever, but most likely resembled the expression of someone who had just been hit round the head with a cricket bat.
I blinked. "Okay," I said.
"Excellent." His chair careened backwards as he exploded from the table. Long fingers unfolded before me, waiting for my hand. "Shall we?"
My blush deepened. "Do you ever need to ask?"
His hair flopped in his eyes. His half-grin was like a ghost light, bright and momentarily blinding.
"I thought it best."
His fingers were surprisingly warm against mine. And a bit unsteady, as though he might be shaking beneath the cool, calm exterior, the cableknit jumper that George's mum had bought him for Christmas, the slim cut trousers that left very little to the imagination.
I hesitated, just briefly. "This could be a bad idea," I said.
His grin widened. "Has it ever stopped us before?"
"Good point," I replied. My chair screeched across the floor. "Let's go."
Chapter 2: The Sewing
I was bleeding. Again.
It was the fifth month I'd looked down as I sat on the toilet and sighed at my pants as they stretched between my knees. I didn't call Lockwood, because I never did. Instead, I went back to my attic room and sat on my bed, legs bent, elbows resting on my kneecaps, hands hanging loosely between my thighs.
Outside, the birds sang. The morning shone with almost aggressive brightness. The ghost-light outside my window had been decommissioned now that most nearby spectres had been eradicated (mostly by a bored Kipps keen to test the longevity of his goggles); ivy grew up the post in snaking tendrils, leaves flicking to and fro in the breeze.
Closer to home, the skull jar sat lifeless on my dusty windowsill as I banged my head back against my bedframe.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I told the jar. "It was a stupid idea in the first place."
It didn't reply, but it didn't take a genius to know what it would say if it could.
"Has someone broken in again?"
George emerged into the kitchen from the library with his glasses askew and icing sugar in his hair. The sugar could be explained by the small wedge of donut clenched in his left hand. The flush to his cheeks, however, was unexplained, and the sweaty sheen to his face made me immediately uneasy.
Lockwood frowned. "No. Why?"
"My book on fertility rituals in the Near East has gone missing."
Holly giggled quietly from her herb chopping by the fridge. I shot her a look, but she either didn't notice or was avoiding my gaze.
"I really don't think anyone's stolen it, George," Lockwood said, stabbing at a flaxseed pancake with a fork, much more polite toward Holly's attempts at breakfast than I was (as, like George, I was also eating sugared donuts, but from the hollow of my lap while Holly's back was turned).
"It was on the side table yesterday and now it's not," George said.
"I'm not sure why you're so worried about it," I replied, hoping the hotness of my neck didn't give anything away. The book in question--a big, old, heavy volume with daguerreotype asides and plate illustrations was currently wedged beneath a stack of towels in my room.
It was George's own turn to go pink in the ears.
"No reason particularly,' he sniffed.
"George has been thumbing certain pages before bed," Lockwood muttered, and Holly choked as she took the chef's knife to a head of lettuce.
"I have been researching," George insisted. "And I'm pretty sure that since you two are taking this both so lightly, it's one of you who has it." Lockwood and I avoided meeting eyes and instead both reached for another pancake neither of us wanted. "And further to that question," George pondered, lifting his shirt to scratch at his belly, "…why?"
"Don't look at me," I said.
I've always been a rubbish liar, but the look Lockwood was giving me over the table was making my throat constrict, and my words were emerging with a suspicious creaky quality, like hinges on a door that shouldn't be opened.
"I have little interest in many of your books, George," Lockwood said coolly. His fork scraped against his plate as he took another careful bite of pancake.
"I might have been using it to write on," Holly piped up. "Actually, I think I have…the one with the large woman on the front?"
"That's the one," George said gruffly.
"Sorry," Holly said. She sucked on her thumbnail and went back to chopping. "I think it's in my bag. I'll give it back later."
I frowned. Lockwood tapped a finger against the table. "Fine," George grunted. He vanished, only to be replaced by heavy, shuffling footsteps on the stairs and the sound of his bedroom door slamming shut.
"I'm going to go finish up my paperwork from last night," I said. I stood, making a little basket with my skirt to hold the rest of my donuts.
"And I might go say my hellos to Esmerelda," Lockwood said. "Thank you for breakfast, Holly."
"Yes, thank you," I said.
"Not a problem," Holly replied. A pancake fell apart as she attempted to flip it. It gave me a strange moment of satisfaction to watch her fail at something, and I stayed a few seconds after Lockwood had gone, just to relish her sigh as she tried to meld it back together in the pan.
"Don't worry, Lucy," she suddenly whispered. I jumped--it was like the voice was coming from a ghost in another room. Her back was still turned to me, the spatula worrying at the edges of the doomed pancake. "I won't tell," she said.
There was a pause as I discerned her words, realizing that it was her. That I wasn't imagining things. The long fringe of her eyelashes appeared as she turned toward me, just a fraction, waiting for my reply.
"Tell what?" I asked. My fists clenched and unclenched at my sides.
"Nothing, obviously," she replied. Even with her back turned, it sounded like she was smiling.
"Okay," I said.
I did go to the office, and I did complete my paperwork in three hours rather than one, and I had intended on beating up a dummy downstairs with Lockwood and imagining that it was my stubborn ovaries stuffed with straw, but instead I went back to my room and pulled the book from beneath my bed.
It was thicker than before, with a gap in its most dog-eared pages.
There was another book inside, and one that hadn't been there before.
I pulled it out.
It was a small paperback, staple-bound, with yellow pages and a cover that dated it somewhere before the Problem began. The front image was a badly drawn illustration of a woman holding a baby with a huge head. The back had a crossed-out barcode from a local library that had closed nearly a decade ago.
Tiny sticky notes fluttered at the top edges. The first was larger, bright yellow, and said, Thought this might be more help. -H <3
I let out a breath, heart racing, warm and flustered and oddly touched all at once.
The bed creaked beneath me as I lowered myself onto it, and finally settled as I opened the book to the first page.
"Sometimes I forget, I think," Lockwood said.
He was sitting at the end of my bed, my blankets drawn around his hips. He held the skull jar in one hand, peering at the browned bone visible through the cloudy glass.
I, for my part, was on my back, clutching my knees to my chest like it was completely normal and like I was not at all mad.
"What I'm doing," Lockwood said. He slid the jar back onto the windowsill. "Why I'm doing it. I think I might be a little obsessed with the dead."
I gave him a gentle smile. "It's our job, really."
His answering glance was warm. "I know," he said. "It's only…I love this house, but I wouldn't love it nearly as much if it were just me knocking about. It would be rather lonely without George and Holly."
"And me," I corrected him.
"That's a given," he said, his smile so disarming that even after I still wanted to melt into a puddle of goo. "I think focusing on death so much can make someone forget that they're still alive, and the prospect of creating life…I think I've forgotten that it's possible. I hadn't really considered it? I don't know."
"I know what you mean," I said, locking my fingers more firmly around my ankles. I thought of the street, and the clouds of silvery light I no longer saw at the end of the lane, and the ghost fog that no longer choked up the iron chains that lined the nearby cemetery. We'd started this like a business plan, but I knew that Lockwood wasn't the only one beginning to feel, deep down, that the plan was losing its luster. Bringing a child into the world as financial security had made sense at the beginning, but now, we were starting to think like humans, like lovers, like...parents. "But things are getting better," I said. I released my ankle, and brushed a tender hand across his leg.
"You're right, Luce," Lockwood said. "They are getting better."
The covers shifted as he bent down, hovering over me with his side against my thigh, and kissed me. He drew away and pressed his forehead to mine. His breath smelled like my strawberry chap stick.
"I think I'm quite excited," he said.
My heart began beating faster again. "I am, too," I whispered.
"Can I sleep here tonight?" he asked.
I was already scooting over, the narrow bed protesting at our combined weight, but I didn't care a jot.
"You can always sleep here," I replied. I twined my fingers with his. "Though they might start suspecting something."
"I reckon they will eventually." Our twined hands brushed my stomach. He smiled again.
"'Night, Luce," he wished me, his forehead once more pressed to mine.
"'Night," I replied.
Though we didn't sleep for quite some time.
Chapter 3: The Bud
Sorry this took so long. Life happens, etc. Thanks for your patience (previous and continuing).
We would have to tell them.
At some point.
Maybe in six months time.
For now we said nothing. George said nothing. Holly didn’t even say anything, and only looked slightly smug when she caught me in the study with the sewing kit, letting out the waistband in my trousers.
Kipps was clueless, as usual. He’d also developed a perturbing habit of locking himself out of the house at inopportune times (3am on our night off, Lockwood in my room with me under the covers) and I’d have to rush to the door, hoping he didn’t notice that I was wearing Lockwood’s dressing gown.
“You’re looking a bit peaky, Carlyle,” he said to me one morning when he’d stopped by for breakfast and was flipping delicately through a copy of that week’s London’s Weirdest Hauntings. He glanced at me over the cover (Possessed Kitten Speaks Pig Latin! Page 13) and raised an eyebrow. ‘Too many donuts?’
“Yeah,” agreed George, “didn’t want to say anything, Luce, but you are packing it on a bit lately.”
“Drop it, you two,” demanded Lockwood. “Lucy can be as fat as she wants.”
“Oh, stuff it, Lockwood,” I snapped, and he pressed his lips together to prevent a smile. “And you two, if I hear you comment on any woman’s body again I’ll feed you to the Limbless Hound in Vauxhall.”
“Bit touchy, too,” Kipps stage-whispered to George.
“Yeah,” said George. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was preg-“
Conversation ceased. A bit of scrambled egg fell to Kipps’s plate. George took his glasses off, rubbed the lens with his shirt, and shoved them back on again. His eyes were very large and blinky as he leaned toward me across the table.
I’m still not sure what gave it away. Maybe the color I felt rising in my cheeks. Perhaps the slight green tinge of my skin at the smell of Kipps’s eggs. Or maybe, just maybe, it was Lockwood, finally announcing, as though the words were under severe pressure and sealed with a flimsy lid, “She is!”
Kipps said something unrepeatable. George shouted, “I knew it!”, and Lockwood continued grinning as though this had been the plan all along.
“You’re both fools,” Kipps said.
George nodded. “Utter nincompoops.”
Lockwood’s famous smile faltered. “I thought you’d congratulate us.”
“So it is yours,” George said, wiping his hands on his grubby t-shirt, as though we were the unclean ones.
“Of course it’s his,” I grumbled. “Who else would it belong to?”
“My mistake,” George said to Lockwood. “I thought you had sense.”
“What is your problem, George?”
“My problem?” George stood and once more began wiping his lenses furiously. “My problem. You” –a chubby finger pointed at Lockwood, then to me- “get her pregnant, and you expect me to be absolutely fine with it?”
“We can soundproof the nursery,” Lockwood said. His face had become quite concrete, all the premature lines appearing. He suddenly looked very much older than his eighteen years. “I’ll be sure it’s not an inconvenience to you.”
“An inconvenience!” George spat. I then noticed that Kipps had made himself scarce, the coward. “That’s what you're worried about, the inconvenience? How many times have you been out on calls in the last few months, Luce? Did you know?”
Lockwood and I exchanged glances. I gave a small nod.
“Idiots!” George proclaimed. “Imbeciles!”
“If you could calm down, George, we may discuss this as the adults we are, about to have a child together.”
George collapsed in his chair, threw his head back so he was sitting in it nearly diagonally, and gave a deep groan.
“I’ve heard about this,” he told the ceiling. “Girls getting knocked up then heading out on calls. It never ends well.”
Lockwood began to say something but George cut him off. I stayed silent, my thumb brushing the slight bulge of my lower belly, harboring the sinking feeling that I knew exactly what he was talking about. I didn't have to think back far, only last week: the Georgian terraced house in Storey's Gate. The Visitor had been a Whig politician long-dead, and had cornered me in the study with a speech so passionate about working mothers that I'd nearly reached for him and the softly glowing buff-coloured ribbon in his insubstancial hand. It was only at the last minute when I remembered that I mistrusted all adults who tried to sell me something and withdrew my rapier, cornering him neatly behind iron filings.
I hadn't told the others. We tried not to discuss politics on Portland Row--Lockwood and Kipps would come to blows. And, well, I didn't want to admit I'd nearly been ghost-touched.
“What gets stronger when women get pregnant, Lockwood?" George said, confirming the source of my sinking feeling. "The senses, isn’t that right?”
“I’m hardly an expert,” Lockwood sniffed.
“I’m not either,” I said, though I was a bit, if only because Holly had been a never-ending supply of family-planning books, and I'd already nearly finished, Your Baby, Your Visitors and You. It wasn't hopeful reading.
“Well, that’s what happens.” George blinked deeply. “You’ve already become strongly misled by your Listening before, Lucy. Too emotionally entangled. I reckon things will only get worse from here. You’re going on desk duty immediately.”
“No!” I protested.
“Lockwood, she’s your girlfriend,” George beseeched him. He made a rubbery face. “And your employee. And she’s carrying your unborn child. Which is all a bit gross, really.”
Lockwood’s lips pulled sideways in an expression of uncertainty. “Maybe he’s right, Luce.”
“I’m not your property!”
“Of course you’re not.” The soothing timber of his voice made me want to punch him. Punch Lockwood, the future father of my children.
Good lord, what was wrong with me—three months gone and I was already thinking of another one.
“I just think,” Lockwood whispered, “that maybe George is right.”
“That’s beautiful,” George said, softening. “George is right. You really must say that more often.”
"You do have a poor history of self-preservation," Lockwood said to me, ignoring George. "And you must remember there are two of you, now."
"Yes, I know, and no, I don't," I protested. "I’m not going on desk duty."
“You are,” George said.
I rose from the table, the emotion of one medium person and one very small one filling me with a fury so pure I could light the entire room red.
“No, I am not. No matter how pregnant I am. Leave me behind and I will end you.”
Lockwood cleared his throat and scooted back from the chair.
"I'll get a spare cushion for the wheely chair," he said.
"Excellent," George said. "I'll help."
And they left me to stare at their empty places across the table.
Cat-like, I slowly pushed Kipps's cooling eggs until they clattered satisfyingly to the floor.
"I'm not over-emotional," I told the empty room, and I squished the eggs beneath my feet until they were but a thin film on the linoleum.