A/N: IT IS DONE. And what a long, strange trip it's been. Behold, the denouement; all is explained, and tied up neatly, and I have officially Run Out Of Things To Say. Seriously. What started as a standard BeejLyds romance has evolved or devolved or something into some kinda weird fuckin' narrative treatise on the human condition and the dangers of losing yourself in stories and I think if you squint and tilt your head just so you can see my recent psychological history written between the lines.
Anyway, I thank you all for bearing with me, I apologize for how the story's managed to completely lose its shit these last couple chapters, and I hope you've enjoyed the ride. Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle until the tram has come to a full and complete stop.
P.S. I am now accepting fic requests for the Beetlejuice fandom, because I kind of meant it when I said I've run out of things to say. I am drained. Tapped dry. I honestly don't think I could come up with something as insane and personal as this. Dammit, the last time I wrote for this fandom (and if any of you look up and find that squelching piece of Sue-smeared literary diarrhea I will hunt you down like a dog) it also ended up being intensely personal and cathartic. Apparently Betelgeuse is my therapist.
Explains alot, really.
Anyway. If you have a fic you would love to see written but don't had the time or energy to do yourself, PM me and we'll talk shop. Though as a warning: I don't do slash. I have nothing against it, I just can't write it for crap.
Over and out (and sleep-deprived, can you tell when I hide it so very, very well?)
The white cleared gradually, like the afterimage of a camera flash, and as Lydia's sight returned she realized they were standing in the living room of the house in Winter River. Delia was there, sculptor's tools dangling limply from her hands, and Charles was staring slack jawed over the top of his newspaper.
"Get the Maitlands," Juno snapped. "Quickly. This is going to take some time, and I don't have much to spare."
She was about to ask Juno just what the hell was going on – and why her mind was filled with strange, blurring images of rotted courts and death and copper fear – when Betelgeuse began to choke and fell to his knees; unthinking, she followed him and started away in when he pitched forward on his hands, vomiting up huge gouts of muddy water.
"Beej?" she ask tentatively, putting her hands on his shoulders.
"It's so loud, Lydia..." he whispered hoarsely, and that was when she realized his skin was warm and pink, and his hair was soft and blonde, and the mold was gone…
"Oh my god."
"Heart, lungs… I never realized how loud it all was…"
He leaned into her and she wrapped her arms around him numbly, feeling his chest rise and fall with breath, blood pulsing and flowing where it had lain dusty and dead for centuries. For his part he seemed content to rest his head against her chest and rest his hands on her back, legs sprawled, and remember how to breathe.
"Juno, what's going on – who is he?"
Lydia looked up and saw that Delia had gotten the Maitlands. Barbara was standing on the stairs, wide-eyed, and Adam was cleaning his glasses nervously.
"Garvan Dunlavy," Juno said simply.
"No, he isn't," Lydia contradicted instinctively. "I saw – I remember – I mean, he was, but – "
"Not anymore." Juno sat down on a nearby chair, more out of habit than anything else. "His contract with Merope is fulfilled. Betelgeuse is dead, assuming he ever really was alive to begin with."
"What's going on here?" Adam said sternly, mustering as best he could in the face of the continuing weirdness of his afterlife. "Juno, if that man's gone and gotten Lydia in trouble again – "
Juno held up a weary hand. "I'll explain. From the beginning, and with all the pieces Merope left out."
Ignoring Lydia and Barbara's mutual shock, she began.
"The entity known as Betelgeuse was an imprint. He was never truly real, in the sense that he died and came to the afterlife or someone mortal dreamed him into being and gave him life. Not in this world, anyway, but if we get into other worlds it goes all metaphysical and there's nothing for it but the asylum. He was imprinted over the mind of Garvan Dunlavy, a young man who loved his wife so dearly that when she died in her first childbirth, and the child was stillborn, he was driven to suicide. Lea, his wife, had known what awaited her in the afterlife. He had no true faith to speak of and furthermore died in a state of such emotional upheaval that even if he had believed in a heaven or a hell or an eternal poker game he couldn't have moved on; his emotions tied him too tightly to this world, and the life he felt cheated of. So he became a part of the administration, like all suicides do, and was good enough at his job that I made him my assistant. Which is where Merope comes in."
Juno paused and took a long drag on her cigarette, as if bracing herself against bad memories.
"Merope is… hard to explain. She began as – well, you'd best think of her as a kind of muse. A being that both embodies and serves stories. Only she got twisted around somewhere, ages ago in the dawn of human dreaming, and began to start forcing stories to serve her. To go where she felt they should go; she began to use them to mold humanity, instead of letting humanity mold them. Tried to, anyway. We cast her down and bound her as best we could but her influence leaks out: there are always humans so desperate to escape the real world that they'll take her poisoned fruit. Garvan was that desperate – and when you're in our afterlife you may well be dead, but you're still only human. So he made a deal with her. Lydia, you saw what it was – he offered anything in return for her promise that eventually his wife would be restored to him and she, seeing the possibility for a good tool and eventually a fine tale – " Juno spat the phrase as if it had gone bitter in her mouth " – she took his identity. Pressed it deep and bound it tight and molded Betelgeuse over the top of it. She couldn't use anything that wasn't already there, of course, so Betelgeuse can be best thought of as Garvan with the brakes removed."
Lydia had been staring at Juno and now she managed to tear her eyes away and look at her parents and the Maitlands. Charles and Delia looked confused, as always, but Adam had that peculiar grave expression he wore when he'd finally understand a knotty, ultimately solvable problem and Barbara was holding tight to his arm, a look of dawning pity and comprehension in her eyes.
"You know most of the rest of the story," Juno continued. "When he saw you, Lydia, the part of him that was still Garvan woke up, for lack of a better term, and that's what that whole marriage nonsense was about. The more time he spent around you, the more he began to revert to his original self; but a calm, casual transition from one state to the other wasn't dramatic enough. It wouldn't make a good enough story. So Merope… arranged things. I tried to warn you, child, in that dream, but she scrambled the memory on waking and you were too deep in her web to reach by that point. She's the one who drew you two off-course that night, so you'd be discovered. And she wormed her way inside your mind," and here she pointed to Barbara, who had the good grace to look sheepish, "and whispered the story you wanted to hear. If you think about what she actually showed you, it hardly qualifies as a horrible betrayal. Not your fault, by the way. She's tempted stronger, and they've generally fallen. And the same goes for you, Lydia."
"But… I almost died, didn't I? I can't really remember past her showing me Be – Garvan's past, but I think I almost died. Wouldn't that ruin things?"
"Of course not. No one said it had to be happy ending, just a properly dramatic narrative. And your marrying him also freed her of their contract."
"You what?" Delia shrieked, horrified. Charles began to fumble for his medication.
"I'm fine, really…"
"Merope had almost complete control of her, by the end," Juno said serenely. "Put her in the middle of a trial that only took place because Betelgeuse – who was Garvan more than anything else by then – was so distracted by hie grief over losing her that the law managed to catch up with him. She married him to set him free and they almost killed and exorcised her. Since husband and wife are viewed as one being, she could be punished in his stead, for his crimes."
Lydia hunched over as the wave of shock and outrage broke over her. "But that's impossible!" and "How could this happen?" and all the variants thereof blurred and merged and flew over her and never touched her heart; she was floating in stillness, though some small corner of her mind was quite sure it was just shock. Betelgeuse – Garvan his name is Garvan Betelgeuse was never real he's Garvan – Garven stirred against her and his hands tightened on her for a moment before he pulled gently away and looked up.
"Juno?" His voice was rough but pleasant, and tenor; nothing at all like the whiskey-cracked, smoke-stained baritone she remembered and her heart clenched. He looked so different – was so different. Warm and alive instead of cold and dead; he moved differently, slowly, without the quick manic motions she'd learned to predict and slide through.
"How much do you remember?" Juno asked, frighteningly gentle, and he frowned.
"All of it," he said shortly. "Every century, but… far away. Like a dream I know was real." He paused then, and turned to her. "Lea… Lydia. Lydia."
He said her name like a question and a prayer and she reached up to rest her hand on the side of his face, looking for something familiar in his eyes. He covered her hand with his own (rough and calloused and too warm, too warm and twitching with the little motions of life) and let her look, solemn and afraid, and it was as if the warmth she had always seen lurking there had come forward, and the sharp cunning receeded. She could still see it there, flashing in the background, but diluted and restrained.
"You're not him," she said flatly. "You're someone else. I don't even know you."
He closed his eyes and flinched and she didn't dare soften because she had loved Betelgeuse, dammit, dark and foolish as it might have been she had loved him and he was dead and here was this stranger claiming that he was the only reason there'd ever been anything to begin with –
"I know," he said quietly. "But you are, literally, my reason for living. It isn't much," he said, lowering her hand and pressing it against his heart and she could feel the slow, steady beat under her fingertips, "but it's all I have, and it's yours whether you want it or not. If it would make you happy I'll leave right now, and you'll never have to see me again – " she almost told him to leave, to get out, because the man she loved was never this open, this soft and kind with his danger neatly hidden " – but you know, I don't think it would."
Her eyes widened at his sudden arrogance and she almost slapped him. He grinned, and it was the old familiar grin, the wolf's grin, and she began to laugh, hysterical laughter that turned to gasping tears as she pressed her face against his collarbone. Juno had turned away, giving her what privacy she could, and glared at the others until they averted their eyes.
A week later, she stood on the porch drinking coffee and watched Garvan load the last of the furniture in the U-Haul, singing in Gaelic and wildly out of tune. She rolled her eyes and drained her mug to the dregs, setting it aside on the porch railing.
"Knock it off or you'll wake up every dog in town!" she called out, and he grinned and blew her a kiss. She smiled at him and went inside to clear up, taking the remains of breakfast with her.
There'd been almost no trouble getting him a social security number and all the other things people needed these days; Juno had 'arranged' things in some unspecified way, and declined to explain how she justified it. Her parents were still wandering around in a mild state of shock and had needed things explained to them several times before it really sank in, but by and large it was understood and accepted that whatever Betelgeuse had been, he wasn't any longer, and there was only Garvan now.
She stopped scrubbing and let the dishes slide into the warm, soapy water. He was dead. She kept remembering and it kept making her heart clench and break itself in two, and she wondered dimly if it would ever stop hurting. She was fond of Garvan, and he loved her so much that she couldn't help loving him a little back, but he wasn't Betelgeuse. He never would be. Betelgeuse had been an illusion, something conjured by a mad ex-muse and Garvan's bitter grief.
Her parents had been very understanding. Their marriage wasn't official in the mortal world, but it went deeper in some ways; they would be bound together, heart and soul, until they passed beyond to a place where those distinctions didn't matter. So Charles had given them the keys to the old place in the city and they'd scrounged furniture from the house (Delia had brought everything with them when they moved, and would have brought the whole of the Upper West Side if she'd been able), not much, but enough to live with, for a while. She had a work-study that paid reasonably well, and Garvan was already looking for a job.
They'd get by. They would. She would.
Her fists clenched and she bit hard on the inside of her cheek, tasting blood. I never wanted this! She would give anything, anything to hear his mad laughter behind her, have him grab her and whirl her away, tell her it had all been a mad lark, one of his sick jokes, or some kind of crazy dream and he wasn't dead and she wasn't living with a stranger who loved her more than his life, who she couldn't help loving a little back and hating herself to betraying the memory of what had, in the end, not even been a dream of a ghost.
"Lydia?" Garvan called from the doorway. "It's time to go."
"I'm coming," she called back, voice unnaturally steady, and turned. He was already walking to the car, still singing, and for a moment – when the rising sun had almost obscured him, left nothing but a silhouette of motion – he looked so like him that she had to seize the door frame or fall under a wave of grief and love and guilt. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. She'd give anything –
Anything? a voice like honey whispered in her mind. She froze, and it seemed for a minute that she could hear the buzzing of bees, low on the wind and rising. Garvan stopped and turned suddenly, fear in his eyes, and she knew he heard it too.
I love you, she saw him say over the rising buzzing tide, and it would be so easy…
She closed her eyes. Juno's voice echoed in her memory.
"…Only she got twisted around somewhere, ages ago in the dawn of human dreaming, and began to start forcing stories to serve her. To go where she felt they should go; she began to use them to mold humanity, instead of letting humanity mold them…"
"…began to use them to mold humanity instead of letting humanity mold them…"
And she remembered Betelgeuse sitting on her bed, telling her that she had to start making her own decisions eventually. And she remembered fainting in his arms, after Ammit, after Egypt, being carried home and his lips pressed against her forehead, the strange light in his eyes. And she remembered the horrible discomfort of the flower girl dress Delia had made her wear, glaring hate while her father and the replacement strolled down the aisle. And she remembered her father sitting empty in his chair, staring at a picture of her mother. And she remembered her mother lying shriveled in the hospital bed and the long, shrill electronic scream that had underwritten her nightmares ever since…
Her eyes opened.
"No," she whispered, and said nothing else. The buzzing faded away and she slumped against the doorframe, tilting her head back to keep in her tears.
"Lydia?" Garvan asked, standing in front of her – he must have run up while she wasn't looking. "What just happened?"
"I… I don't know. A story dying, maybe. I don't think it matters." And it didn't. She felt it with painful clarity, shot through her mind like crystal. It didn't matter. She hadn't gotten what she'd wanted, in the end, and it wasn't right and it wasn't fair and nothing was. The bitter cup could never pass from her, because it was a cup everyone shared; bitter and sweet, though for some one prevailed and others could take one and make it the other and it was all a sprawling, heaving, sinking, grasping, gasping, laughing, loving, crying, killing, dying, living, breathing, fucking mass of human confusion and human joy.
He still looked worried and she smiled up at him, feeling strangely light.
She took his hand and walked into the morning.