Prompt: Oh my god. What if at one time, even very briefly, both Parker and Hardison were in the same foster home?
As soon as he walked in the door, Alec could tell this wasn't a good place.
It didn't seem like it was bad, at least - not the type of bad he'd heard about from other kids, the type he knew he'd been lucky to avoid so far. But there were a lot of little signs that this wasn't one of the good places, either. It wasn't so much the small house, or the five other kids he saw when they took him inside. The furniture looked old and beat-up, and the TV was a dinky old monstrosity, and there really wasn't much else to see. But none of that was what clued him in; way more important was the way Mr. Reeves smiled at him.
Alec could tell fake from real easily enough.
As soon as his social worker left, he was told to leave his stuff in the back bedroom and stay quiet, and then Mr. Reeves walked off. A moment later, a door slammed down the hall. It wasn't anything scary, but the cold disinterest was its own sort of stinging. He didn't much mind though, or he told himself he didn't anyway, because it wasn't like he was staying here long. He was supposed to be staying with a Mrs. Hardison but apparently she'd gotten sick and wouldn't be able to take him in for another week. He didn't know what he was going to be in for with her either, but for the moment not having to stay here any longer than a week was plenty good enough.
Once Mr. Reeves was gone, the other kids livened up a bit. Alec didn't go put his stuff away, instead flopping down on the floor near the crowded couch and making friends. He might only be here for a week, but that was no reason he had to be lonely.
Elijah was the one to tell him about the ghost.
Everyone was normal amounts of friendly, for foster kids. Meaning a pretty even mix of cheerful and reclusive, one very tall boy wearing a lot of black, a couple little kids too young to make good conversation, one older girl who sat crosslegged in the corner of the room and didn't say a single word the entire afternoon. Elijah was cool though, and so were Alex and Sanjay, so Alec mostly hung out with them. They watched cartoons and after a while Alex pulled a pack of cards out of her jacket pocket and led them to the bedroom so they could play Go Fish in peace. It was actually a pretty big room, but most of the space was taken up with bunkbeds so it still felt crowded. Sanjay showed Alec where he'd be (the bottom bunk near the door, because of course all the better beds were taken) and if he were staying any longer than a week, he might've tried to trade with one of them. He could have made it a bet. In his experience, all kids liked betting on games, and also in his experience, Alec could win any bet that relied on cards since he could keep track of who had what in his head pretty easily.
He was glad he didn't try, anyway, because Elijah was the one whose bed he would have gone after, since it was a top by the window, and Elijah was the one who liked him enough after beating him three times to tell him about the ghost in the house.
Weird things had started happening a while ago, he explained. At first no one thought anything of it, because there were a lot of people coming in and out who could have been moving stuff around, but then Mr. Reeves came storming in one day yelling about someone taking his watch. The one he wore all the time and never took off, not even when he showered probably. He made everyone go through all their stuff, and pretty much everyone found things missing - but they were all in with someone else's belongings. It would have turned into a huge argument except by the time everyone found they had someone else's stuff they were all too confused to be angry for long. Also, Mr. Reeves' watch didn't turn up, and he'd yelled for hours about it, which kind of distracted everyone.
Except that right after he finally gave up and left the room, he came rushing back asking who put it back on his dresser. It was obviously impossible, because everyone had been in the room the whole time getting yelled at. A rumor started about the ghost that night, after everyone had been sent to bed without dinner because no one had fessed up. And at first, Elijah said, he hadn't believed in it either (he must've caught Alec's snort), but then stuff like that just kept happening. People lost stuff, even if they carried them around everywhere, only for them to turn up in weird places days later, like on top of the ceiling fan or inside the cereal box instead of all the cereal, or stuffed inside someone else's shoes. Some of the stuff that went missing never came back. But most of that stuff belonged to Mr. Reeves, so the kids didn't usually mind too much.
"Don't worry about hanging onto whatever you want to keep," Elijah said, finally. "It doesn't matter, the ghost will take it right out of your hand if it wants to. My advice is just to ask it to give it back. It listens, sometimes, if you're nice about it."
Alec tried really really hard not to roll his eyes, because even if he was only going to be here a week that was no reason to be lonely. Elijah didn't seem to notice.
Alec was pretty good at sleeping, as long as he remembered to try. He didn't have any trouble falling asleep in a brightly-lit room, or with lots of noise, or even a bedtime that changed every other day. As long as someone made sure he wasn't in front of a computer or a book or painting or trying to build a crossbow out of sticks or whatever else caught his attention that day, he could fall asleep in two minutes flat once he decided to.
So he didn't actually need a better bed, and he wasn't bothered by the couple of times other kids had to slip past him in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Someone crying into their pillow across the room didn't phase him, not any more than hearing someone cry always did. He knew better than to go help, especially because he was pretty sure it was the tall boy wearing all black, and older kids usually hated younger kids showing them up at anything.
The first night he stayed with Mr. Reeves passed uneventfully. So did the second, third, fourth, and fifth.
Since it was summer, there wasn't really much to do other than sit around the house. Mr. Reeves made the older kids help out with chores, but he didn't really bother the younger ones and Alec was small for his age so he got off easy with just babysitting the really little kids. There was a yard, but it was mostly just dirt with a few weeds, and they weren't supposed to wander off into the neighborhood. Alec saw all the older kids leave anyway at least three times apiece, but it wasn't really any of his business so he didn't worry about it. Besides, one thing Mr. Reeves did have was an old bookshelf with some battered paperbacks, three of which were actually Star Trek books Alec had never read before. He tried to make them last, because without school to go to or a library nearby he didn't have access to any computers and the TV really did suck. It didn't work too well though, he still finished all of them two days into his stay, and then he didn't have anything else to do but just hang out with the others. It had been a good idea, making friends.
Alex taught him some new card games he'd never played, up until Wednesday when her pack of cards went missing. She'd just shuffled it up and put the rubber band back around it, tucking it into her pocket, when Alec spotted a Jack that had fallen to the floor. She went to get the pack back out of her pocket, but it wasn't there anymore. Alec had been right there the whole time and he hadn't seen or heard anything.
It was stupid, ghosts weren't real.
(He checked through all his stuff that afternoon, just in case. Nothing was missing. Of course it wasn't, ghosts weren't real.)
Mr. Reeves was never around, except in the mornings when he gave everyone their chore lists. He didn't even spend much time in the house at all, but when he did he was mostly back in his room or watching the news on his really just unfortunate TV. Whenever that happened, the other kids cleared out and left him alone, without really making a point of it or anything. They just found other stuff to do - even if it was in the same room, like on Thursday when it was raining really hard. No one tried to sit on the couch with him and they all got really quiet. Alec noticed that everyone seemed to follow his rules really well whenever he was around, even though when he wasn't there they pretty much did whatever they wanted. He didn't seem to notice or care as long as stuff like the laundry and dishes got done, and nobody got hurt. Alec hadn't had a single conversation with him all week.
Not one of the bad ones.
But not good.
On Alec's penultimate day in the house, something of his finally went missing. It was a notebook he'd carried around since the start of last school year, when his then foster-parent Keller gave it to him for taking notes in class. Alec didn't really ever bother doing that because he usually could figure out whatever the lesson was and remember it later without writing anything down, but he did like to draw in it. He'd started trying to write code in there too, but honestly he didn't like trying to write down what he was thinking because his hand could never keep up with his brain. He was much faster at typing, even if he only really got to on school computers. Mostly, Alec just liked to draw stuff.
It wasn't like the notebook really mattered. Alec didn't have a lot of stuff, but most of what he did have didn't matter too much. He'd like it to matter, he'd like that a lot, but the simple fact was he didn't have anything he really cared about, not that couldn't be replaced if he really needed. A new book would still have the same words, he didn't even really like any of the clothes he had except his glow-in-the-dark Darth Vader shirt and even that was starting not to glow anymore. The notebook probably came closest to something really special.
Alec thought about getting mad. He really did, he really almost came very close to blowing his top. But he'd been in not-so-good houses before. He'd spent hours walking around the neighborhood, smiling at people who half the time slammed the door in his face, trying to sell them on a religion he didn't even feel very strongly about. He'd tried getting mad before and it just never really worked. And he didn't have time here to try something that didn't work, even if he really really really wanted to.
Instead, Alec asked the other kids about his notebook. None of them had seen it anywhere, or at least none of them admitted to seeing it. Some of them didn't even bother to answer, or he didn't bother to ask them. The toddlers weren't exactly going to be much help.
Next, Alec searched the house for his notebook. He looked under everything, behind everything, he even went to Mr. Reeves' room and asked him very politely if he'd seen it, hovering on the threshold and looking around everywhere. He didn't see anything and Mr. Reeves just told him no and to leave him alone. He sounded so final and Alec was only here one more day, and so far nothing had happened to explain why all the other kids stayed very quiet whenever Mr. Reeves was in the room. He didn't need to find out if there was a reason.
He didn't need the notebook, anyway, and he could leave without it if he had to but he didn't want to. He wanted it back. He wanted it almost enough to believe in ghosts, if that was something that would work, and after dinner he went to the bathroom and spoke to the ghost while he was washing his hands so no one else would hear.
"That's mine and I want it back please," Alec told the ghost, feeling very silly. "You're a jerk if you don't give it back before I leave."
He didn't go to sleep that night, because ghosts weren't real and even if they were it wasn't like he was gonna put his trust in a thief to fix things. Alec still got into bed, still lay down and breathed quietly and even closed his eyes when Mr. Reeves stuck his head in to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, but he didn't sleep.
Instead, he waited for everyone else to fall asleep, so he could use the flashlight he'd taken from the garage to look through all their things until he got his notebook back. Only Elijah and Sanjay had been willing to let him root through their stuff during the day. Mostly everyone ignored him, blaming it all on the ghost.
Alec waited until he couldn't hear anyone else making any noise, then a few more minutes to be sure they were all asleep, then counted to three hundred just in case, before finally sitting up. He turned to face the rest of the beds, pulling the flashlight out from under his pillow but not turning it on yet.
And then he saw the ghost, floating above Elijah's bed. Alec froze up, only a quick gasp making its way through his lips. He felt terrified for just a moment, scared for his life because he wasn't going to bet on the ghost staying friendly when someone caught it. And also it looked like it might be trying to eat Elijah's soul, or something.
But then the ghost lifted its head, just enough for the moonlight coming in through the window to shine on its face, to make the long silvery strands of spiderweb hair catch enough light that they looked blonde again. The shadows around its skull no longer looked faceless.
In fact, it was grinning at him. It held a single pale finger up over its lips.
Alec blinked rapidly, watching as the ghost moved over Elijah's bed like a spider, only touching the frame. It crouched on its tiptoes, fiddling with the window - the locked window that no one could get open, so it got insanely hot in here during the day and no one spent much time here if they could help it - and a moment later swung it open silently.
The ghost-girl, she was a girl with pale skin and long hair silvery in the moonlight, slipped through the window feet first, reaching out and up and either catching on something or just floating in midair, before she let go of the windowsill and swung backwards into the night. In the last moment before she let go and fell head-first down to the ground, she smiled at him again and twiddled her fingers in a silent wave.
Alec's heart thumped hard when she vanished out of sight. He listened but he didn't hear anything hit the ground. His fingers were trembling, he felt like something might grab his ankles from under the bed.
When he flicked on the flashlight, carefully covering all but a slit of the beam with his fingers, it turned out there was no need to search: his notebook was sitting on the floor right in front of him, looking perfectly innocent. He snatched it up, then hid under his covers with the light to check that none of the pages were missing, that everything was the way he'd left it.
It all was - except on the last page, where there were several sketches of cars. A couple from the outside, the rest from what looked like what you'd see from inside the driver's seat. They were really good, probably better than Alec's art. They were also weird, little lines marked at the driver's side window, several spots on the inside of the dashboard, one drawing just a tangle of wires. It didn't make any sense at all, but it was back and that was good enough.
He'd be leaving tomorrow morning, he didn't need to know any more (even if he really really wanted to, now).
In the morning, Alec snuck the flashlight back into the garage before Mr. Reeves got up. He shrugged when Elijah caught him carrying his notebook around and laughingly asked him if he'd asked the ghost to give it back. He wanted to tell his friend about actually seeing the ghost, but something stopped him. He wasn't sure what, exactly. It wasn't like he had any reason to be scared of her, since he was leaving and he was pretty sure ghosts couldn't leave where they were haunting. But still. Something about the memory of her shadowed grin, her finger telling him to hush… it wasn't scary really, but he didn't want to ignore her.
Mr. Reeves clapped a hand on his shoulder when his social worker came to pick Alec up. He laughed with her, told her Alec'd been no trouble at all and they'd had a great time together. He shook her hand and helped Alec carry his stuff out to the car. He told him "take care, son," and smiled down at him and shut the car door for him once he was inside the backseat.
Behind him, a couple of the other kids stood in the yard or the doorway. Alex and Sanjay were waving; Elijah had his arms crossed and a frown on his face. Benny and Miles, the little kids, waved for a second before getting distracted by something on the ground.
And standing in the doorway was an older girl with long blond hair and pale skin, her mouth set in a neutral line. The girl who barely spoke to anyone, who spent most of her time this past week working on cleaning out the gutters together with the oldest boy John, and then just vanishing all afternoon. Her eyebrows furrowed a little as she watched the car start to take him away, and Alec suddenly felt a crazy impulse to wave at her over any of his friends.
He twiddled his fingers at her, grinning.
The car was pulling away, starting to speed up down the street, but Alec still saw her. Saw the ghost-girl blink, then smile, just a quick flash before he passed her completely.