Category: Anime, Gundam Wing, Yaoi, AU
Warnings: possible creepiness
Pairings: 1x2, 3x4, will have more
Email: arigatoumina (a) hotmail . com
Website / Complete Archive: www . geocities . com / arigatomina
Part Two: Pitch Black
An uncomfortable silence spread over them as the four teens stared down that narrow, gravel road. The forest to either side had risen up, or never been cleared back properly. Branches came together above them, obscuring the midday sun until a shadow encompassed their path.
The sound of their footsteps on the mixed gravel and dirt was loud compared to the quiet of the wood around them. It felt as though the forest were barren of life, or holding its breath to watch their passing.
Quatre shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. "This forest is in mourning."
Heero didn't know what the boy was talking about, but Trowa nodded with a sober look. Duo raised an eyebrow at the two.
"What do you mean, mourning?" asked Duo. "Don't tell me you're already hearing ghosts."
"No," said Quatre, "not ghosts, not human at all. It's more like...a murmur, or an echo. They're mourning, cold, bitter, angry but resigned, and...aching. They aren't hiding, they're oppressed and missing something. And it's so old they're shadows now, whispers in the wind."
"There isn't any wind," Duo commented, looking at the dark woods to either side of them.
The blonde boy blinked over at Duo and gave a weak smile.
"I didn't mean that literally," said Quatre. "The emotions are just faint with age - but it's so complete in this forest that I can still feel them. If it were only one, I'd never catch any of it."
Heero shot a suspicious look at Quatre, not quite glaring at the boy. "Not human spirits. Do you mean you can feel the forest itself? Animals? Plants?"
"I think so," said Quatre, giving a slow nod. "It doesn't feel or sound like a person - I can't make out the words. But the emotion is clear and layered. It would have to be coming from the wildlife around us, blanketing the area."
"And they are spirits," Trowa put in, looking over at Heero. "Ghosts of some sort, just not human. I can't communicate with them."
"I've never seen spirits that weren't human," said Heero.
He frowned at the forest to his right, eyes flicking from shadow to shadow wary of spotting some corporal presence. "I don't see any-"
A shadow shifted, so quickly that Heero froze in place.
One spot of bushes not too far from the gravel drive wasn't quite as dark as it had been a moment before. He didn't know if he'd caught some movement or if the branches above had shifted in a high breeze, waving the shadows to the side.
"What is it?" asked Duo, turning back to stare at the dark-haired boy. "Do you see a ghost?"
"No," Heero muttered, still squinting at the spot, "just a-"
The others turned to him and Quatre pointed a shaky hand to a tall tree on the left side of the path. His eyes were very wide, and he swallowed sharply before speaking.
"Something just...just moved over the road." He whipped around to shake his head at the others. "But I can't see ghosts! I've never been able to..."
"Then it may not be a ghost," said Heero.
His eyes narrowed and he focused on searching the dark wood on that side of them. Now he wasn't looking for some vague outline so much as a physical one.
"Or maybe you don't need to have extra senses to see them here," Duo offered.
Quatre and Trowa frowned at him, and he shrugged, not really bothered by how doubtful they looked. "I mean think about it, those stories Relena told us. If other people saw ghosts, maybe they're just stronger than the ones normally seen."
"A hot spot," said Trowa. "A gathering, perhaps. If this house is as old as she said, then it's quite possible that the number of spirits here is so high they can manifest a visible form to anyone who comes into the center of that energy."
"Maybe," said Heero, not looking back at them.
If it were true, then that was fine. Normal people spotted ghosts regularly in certain areas of the world, hot spots, as Trowa had called them. But there was still the chance that whatever Quatre had seen was not a ghost at all. Heero planned to keep his guard up until he knew for sure.
"Stay in the middle of the path," he said.
He nodded to the others as they moved ahead of him, leaving him to trail after with his gaze shifting from side to side, watchful of any movement in the woods around them.
"So," said Duo, walking alongside Trowa and Quatre. "Why would a forest be in mourning? Is it because of the people who were supposed to have died in that house? I didn't think animals would care much about things like that."
"Energies affect everything in hot spots," Trowa explained. "Enough death and darkness in one location and it can seep out to taint everything around it, including the natural wildlife itself. Animals sicken and die, plants wither or grow mutated. Ground water turns sour and carries diseases. It's rare, but it has happened. The effects rarely last long, though, at least the effects on nature. Animals are quicker to recover, and it's usually the people who feel the lasting residue of that sort of left over darkness. Even if spirits remain to haunt the place, the wildlife will simply move on, easing back to stay at a safe distance."
"These haven't done that," Quatre said quietly, his pale eyes sweeping up to the trees blocking the sky above them. "Maybe they can't. They're resigned as if they were tied to this spot, forced to remain. Or else the energy swept so quickly that the entire region was affected and what I'm feeling is the result. If enough animals and wildlife died at once, they could have been stuck in the aftermath. Only...the sadness and longing doesn't fit with that. As if they chose to stay and suffer for whatever it is they're aching for."
"I don't know about that," Trowa admitted. "All I hear is the murmur. I'm not getting any sort of feeling from it."
"So animals have ghosts, too." Duo smiled and shook his head. "I guess that makes sense, but you never hear of people seeing ghosts of their dead pets - just relatives."
He glanced back at Heero, following the boy's gaze to the forest. "But it's quiet here. There aren't even any birds."
"As if the entire area were dead," Quatre whispered, hugging himself to ward off a shiver. "And all I can hear and feel is the pining of the deceased. How could anyone choose to live here when they never stop crying...?"
Trowa shook his head, distracting the boy. "The real question is why they're crying - and why they're still here after all this time. And if the forest is so dark, the house is guaranteed to be worse."
Heero stepped up on the other side of Quatre and frowned when they looked at him.
"We're being followed," he said coldly, his voice soft and dangerous. "I still don't think it's a spirit - not the sort I have seen in the past. But it's visible. It just doesn't seem to be concrete enough for me to catch more than a glimpse of the shadow before it shifts out of sight. When it moves, darkness moves with it, as if the clouds were following to make sure no light falls on it long enough for me to make out its form."
Wide eyed and a little unnerved, Duo shot a quick look at the trees towering over them. "If it's not a ghost, what could it be?"
"A ghoul," Trowa said quietly, also scanning the trees. "Or a poltergeist, some sort of negative spirit not necessarily human at all. There are many dark things that haunt alongside ghosts. They're drawn to the energy of the place."
He turned a sharp look on Duo. "Like the ones you had earlier."
The others were also looking at him now, and Duo sidled away so they weren't quite so close to him. "What are you talking about?"
Heero's eyes narrowed and he sniffed at the wide-eyed boy. "You really can't see or feel spirits at all? Even a normal human can feel when there are that many in the same area - the temperature drops."
"I've never seen a ghost," Duo frowned.
"I didn't see them," Quatre said softly, looking at Duo in sympathy. "But I heard them. You came in with at least three, earlier. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but they seemed to be feeding off your energy."
"Like a ghoul," Trowa nodded, also frowning at Duo. "You must be a very powerful telekinetic if you didn't even notice their presence. But you must have seen others shy away from you - Dorothy was doing it when you first came in."
"People have always done that," Duo said slowly. "You mean to tell me I've had ghosts following me around and that's why people are so uncomfortable? That's just stupid."
"Or you are," Heero snorted, "for not noticing. Two of them were human, but the others were barely formed. They could have been anything from a fading spirit to an outright ghoul, all sucking your life force like parasites."
He gave a disgusted shiver, snapping his eyes away. "You might as well have been covered in leeches."
Duo grimaced, rubbing at his arms since they suddenly felt all slimy. "Don't say that."
"If you didn't feel it, then there's really no harm in it," said Quatre.
He gave a very weak smile, doing his best to reassure the boy. "You never even knew they were there, so it could be worse."
"Like the one that follows you?" asked Trowa, his eyes flashing down at the blonde.
Quatre winced, dropping his eyes with an uncomfortable look.
"Spirits tend to follow those they know can hear or see them," he said softly. "They can't help but attach themselves."
"And you can hear them," Heero sniffed, "so you're a captive audience. That radio that you can't turn off."
"He usually isn't so loud," said Quatre, his eyes darting away as warmth crept to his cheeks.
Trowa frowned at the boy, a hint of that anger from earlier coming back to narrow his eyes.
"I've never lost a relative," he said slowly, "but someone like that would drive me crazy after a few days. If you can't respond to him, you should have gone to someone to act as mediator and see why he remains."
"I know why he remains," Quatre said sharply. He grimaced, shaking his head as he quickened his pace.
"There's no reason to talk about this," he said, his voice trailing back. "We have more important things to focus on."
Duo looked at the boy's back in confusion for a long moment before turning his attention to the two boys still near him. "What's that about?"
Heero gave a dark sneer, shaking his head roughly. "He's haunted, like you."
He caught Duo's confused gaze and frowned at the boy. "You really know nothing about ghosts."
"No," said Duo, tossing his hands up in exasperation. "I told you guys earlier, I've never had any experience with ghosts."
Trowa sighed, glancing back at the boy. "When people die with deep-rooted problems, they often attach themselves to loved ones. Normally people don't notice it so eventually the spirit fades out or drifts away. Others remain until they're driven away. It just depends on the spirit."
That made sense in a way, though Duo still didn't believe that he'd been surrounded in vampire ghosts. He raised an eyebrow at Heero. "Have you ever been haunted?"
"Yes," Heero said sharply. His face darkened in an almost hateful scowl. "But I drive them away. Vengeful spirits bent only on mischief, I've no time for that."
"I see." Duo gave a slow, hesitant nod. "I guess it would be nice to be able to just banish any ghost that gave you trouble."
"I can see it!"
Quatre's voice drifted back and the others were surprised to find themselves so far behind. They cut into a quick jog, watching as the trees opened ahead of them. Then the clearing was visible and they halted next to Quatre at the end of that old drive.
The yard was wild looking, with grass up to their knees as if lawnmowers hadn't been invented. But their eyes were drawn to the house that stood directly across from them, two stories with odd pale brown walls and shadowy windows. The front stood out with a roofed porch below the second floor, a dark door almost obscured by the overhanging shade. The roof was a dark color, but didn't seem to be made of the usual roofing shingles.
Heero let out a sound of disbelief. "This was made in 1900? Impossible. There aren't enough willows in this region to make a house that large. They would have to be shipped in."
"Who would make a house out of willow trees?" asked Duo, raising an eyebrow at Heero. "And how do you know it's made of that?"
"I know trees," Heero sniffed. "But it doesn't matter. Even if someone did manage to collect enough usable hardwood for a building that size, willow doesn't keep. It would have collapsed after only a few years."
"And the roof," said Trowa, his voice sober. "What is it made of?"
Heero's eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "Bark, maybe. I have no idea. Whoever built that was either mad or a genius architect. It should not be standing."
"It's not very pretty," Quatre commented, frowning up at the lonesome looking house. "The wood is so...dull looking. There are more than enough walnut trees in the forest here. Anyone would use those instead of something like willow."
"Enough about the building material," Duo smirked. "We're here. So what's first? Do we look around outside or go right in and start exploring?"
Heero turned a droll look on the boy and sniffed at him.
"You can't go off on your own," he said. "You'd come back with half a dozen ghosts attached to you without even knowing it."
Duo bristled, but held his retort. Straightening his shoulders, he turned away and stalked off to look around the wide yard.
"I wonder if there are any ghost bones," he said. "That would be neat."
"Relena didn't really say much about outdoor ghosts," Quatre said, his voice drifting back to the boy.
He'd turned and was looking at the ground on the opposite side of the clearing. "Just the bones and a ghost tree."
His eyes widened and he turned to look over at Trowa and Heero. The boys had approached the porch, taking the center.
"Do you remember what she told us?" Quatre called. "The people said they saw a willow tree in the front lawn. She didn't mention that the house was made of willow trees, but I'd bet the two are connected."
"Ghostly plants," Duo laughed, shaking his head at the thought.
He turned away and continued scouring the high grass for any glimpse of the reported bones. A few steps and he saw something else that was just as interesting.
"Hey," Duo called, grinning over at Heero. "I found the stump! But it's huge. There's no way it was a willow."
Trowa nodded to Heero and the two of them crossed to join Duo. They were nearing him when a sharp cry sounded behind them. Duo gasped and they turned just in time to see the blonde boy disappear.
Duo froze, staring in shock at the spot where the boy had been standing. The two near him broke out of their paralysis quicker and he shoved his legs into motion, running after them.
They were six feet away when the sun disappeared, a wave of darkness flowing from the forest and across the lawn. It didn't touch them, but it obscured the grassy spot they'd been aiming for. For a moment it was as if something had eclipsed the sun, pitch black inches in front of them. It lasted mere seconds before disappearing into the ground, right where Quatre had been standing.
Duo ground to a halt, his mind stunned that he had actually seen something paranormal. And a vague thought filtered through his mind as he stared at the suddenly too-bright grass in front of them. Heero had said that ghosts were felt by a drop in the temperature. But as black as the thing had been, he'd felt a definite heat radiating from it, not cold air.
Silence gave way slowly, leaving the impression of a soundproof door being opened to the outside. Faint sounds filtered to them, as if something was calling from an airtight room.
Heero, whose gaze was still locked on the place where Quatre had stood, took a slow step forward. Trowa caught his arm immediately, halting the boy with a sharp shake of his head.
"Look," Trowa said softly, pointing at the ground.
Duo eased close to his side and he directed their gazes to the splintered wood a few feet away, half hidden by the overgrown grass.
"Do you remember what Relena said was in the yard," Trowa continued, "aside from the tree trunk?"
Duo's eyes widened and he gasped, the blood rushing from his face. "The well...! But...if he fell in the well and that thing went in there after him-"
With a forceful shake, Heero removed Trowa's grip on his arm and stalked forward. He watched the ground carefully until he spotted a black spot through an ivy-covered surface that was a little too high to be the ground.
Crouching next to it, he glared into the darkness. "Quatre? Can you hear me?"
That faint sound came again and this time they all recognized it. But the boy sounded so far away. The well couldn't be that deep, and it should have echoed. Come to that, they should have heard the wood break when the boy fell through it.
Trowa crouched down beside Heero and held a hand up for the boy to remain silent.
"He isn't alone down there," he whispered, his eyes very narrow. "Let me listen. I may be able to communicate with it. If it's what we saw in the forest, I really doubt you'd be able to banish it."
He turned, catching Duo's eye. "See if there's a rope in the house, something we can-"
"No," Heero said sharply.
He glared in frustration but remained firm. "There is definitely something here, but the main manifestations have been in the house. He can't go in alone."
"Yes I can," said Duo.
He stood and nodded down at the two teens. His eyes were still a little too wide, the whites showing more than they should have. But he didn't care. "I'll be right back!"
Heero growled when the boy whipped around and ran to the house, but he didn't move from his spot. If it came to it, he'd consider the entire well a ghost and try banishing that - hoping to catch whatever was down there.
Glaring into the darkness, he narrowed his eyes, straining to catch any hint of movement below.
- - -
Something brittle but almost soft had broken Quatre's fall, leaving him to gasp in shock rather than pain.
He hadn't stepped on the well. He knew he hadn't. The ground had been clear beneath him when he'd placed his foot down. Only the moment he moved forward to complete the step, the ground had changed under him. He'd barely had time to recognize the rotten wood before he'd fallen through.
How could a spirit disguise the ground like that? And why? Why would anything want him at the bottom of a dark well?
His hands closed over what felt like crumbled bits of sandstone as he pushed himself up, his legs curling to support him.
The well hadn't just dried up, it felt as if it had been baked. The air was thick and dry, so much that his first anxious cry for help came out soft and hoarse.
He tilted his head back, eyes staring above him. A tiny bit of light sparked at such a height that he rubbed his eyes before looking again. Surely he hadn't fallen that far.
He leaned forward and pushed to his feet before tilting his head back again.
"I'm down here!" Quatre yelled.
The bit of light disappeared as if in response to his yell and for a long moment he thought one of the other teens had leaned over to look down at him. Only the light didn't reappear and the air was suddenly much heavier.
Quatre's eyes widened slowly, a soft rustling sound catching his attention.
It wasn't a voice, it was movement. Behind him.
A shiver passed over him and Quatre's wide eyes stared into the pitch black around him. He turned his head slowly, almost afraid to put his face toward whatever it was, but not wanting it at his back either.
A distant sound caught his ear and he let out the breath he'd been holding as he recognized Heero's voice calling to him from above. "I'm-"
Sharp pain erupted on his leg at the same moment something landed on his shoulder. Quatre screamed, kicking at what felt like an animal climbing up his leg. He flailed back and his hands rose to shield his face.
The ground gave beneath him with a dry crackling sound and he fell onto his back. One of his hands came down, automatically trying to brace him to stand again, and he felt something smooth beneath his palm. And his fingers identified what his mind refused to admit.
He'd landed on bones, dry, broken, crumbling bones.
Small claws ran across the back of his hand, more climbing up his stinging leg. He could hear that rustling around him grow closer and he drew his legs up, his shoulders hunched as he brushed frantically at his legs, seeking to shove them away.
Wetness met his fingers but whatever rats or creatures were biting him, his hands went right through them. He could feel the little teeth, claws ripping at him, but he couldn't push them off.
Another light weight fell on his shoulder and his cries turned into a muffled whimper as he curled in on himself, drawing his knees up to his chest and curving his arms over the back of his neck.
How could they be biting him when he couldn't touch them? How could there be so many? How?
Imprisoned, bound. This will be your tomb.
The voice was soft, a bare whisper of amused and ancient silk, but Quatre heard it with his ears as well as his mind.
Those ghostly creatures were still tearing at his arms and legs, sharp teeth pulling on his hands to get at the back of his neck.
He curved tighter, screaming into his knees. "Somebody help! Please! Get me out of here!"
A suiting punishment, don't you agree? Even if it dries up one day, you'll never break the binding I've laid. No one crosses me, not even you.
"You have to wrong person!" Quatre cried, his eyes burning as he felt blood trickling down his wrists and inside the collar of his shirt. "You don't know me! I've never done anything to you!"
The air grew thicker, hotter, suffocating. Quatre gasped against it, red flashing behind his eyelids.
The voice had shifted into laughter, loud and booming, pressing on him as if the well itself were vibrating from it.
He whimpered, tears streaking his hot face. "Help me..."
'You don't belong here.'
The sensation of claws pulling at him faded away and Quatre opened his eyes. The air was still hot and heavy, but the voice was different.
This one...almost sounded real. As if it had heard him and understood.
"I didn't mean to fall in here," Quatre whispered, not lifting his head in case the ghostly creatures attacked him again.
'Get out, then.'
The voice was deep, flat and emotionless. But it was a direct reply to what Quatre had said.
Swallowing the dry lump in his throat, Quatre tentatively lifted his head. "I - I can't get out. Not on my own."
'You're disturbing the innocent. Get out.'
"I want to," Quatre said quickly, his voice rising along with his panic. "I want to, I really do, but I can't!"
He tilted his head back and stared hopelessly at the pitch black above him. It was as if the well had been covered over again, as if he'd never fallen through the ancient wood shielding it.
"Someone! Is anyone up there?!"
That rustling sound came again and Quatre flinched, choking back a sob. "No..."
'Fresh blood. They feed on corpses. You're taunting them.'
"I don't mean to," Quatre cried.
He rose quickly, ignoring the wet pain from his scratched legs. "Heero! Trowa! Duo! Can't you hear me?!"
"But...but you can..."
Quatre turned his head, not sure exactly where he should focus. Red lights caught his gaze and he jerked back a step, nearly falling over his own legs. "Aah!"
Heavy silence settled a moment after his cry, broken as the rustling came again.
Those weren't lights gleaming in the blackness. They were glowing red eyes less than a foot away from him.
Quatre's throat went dry, his legs weakening until he fell to his knees. And unwittingly, he'd managed to put himself at eye level with the thing.
"W-what are you...?" he whispered.
The glowing orbs seemed to float a few inches closer and he cringed back, another soft sound escaping his throat. "Don't..."
The air was thickening, blurring his sight until those eyes smeared over the darkness. Quatre stopped breathing. Maybe he held his breath, or maybe the oxygen just disappeared.
That shifting, blurry red color over the black was no longer recognizable as eyes. Now it seemed more like a mouth, gaping, gleaming with impossibly large teeth that spread to swallow him whole. And still, he couldn't breathe, couldn't move.
Now he could hear a voice in the distance, hiding in the forest beyond the reach of this place, screaming giddy and gibbering in triumph.
I told you not to go, told you not to go, you never listened, but I told you, didn't I, you know I told you not to go, you wanted out, wanted free, to live, but now you'll die, and don't you wish you'd listened, I'm always right, you ignored me and see where it gets you, next time you'll listen, only there won't be a next time, scream, scream and remember, remember I told you, I told you not to go, scream, doesn't it hurt, it does, it hurts, I told you, didn't I tell you, I told you so, you know I told you so, I told you-
That gaping mouth filled his sight, but Quatre didn't care. Anything to shut out that voice, anything at all to just make him stop.
The dark lashed out, sinking its teeth into him, shoving him back and up, crushing him in coils of pressure, and he barely heard his own scream.
- - -