A/N: Sorry the update took so long. Life caught up with me and I got a bit sidetracked. Anyways, I'm back and going at this again. Any reviews would be appreciated!
"Where are we going?" Lydia demanded, her short legs making it difficult to keep up with Betelgeuse's quick pace as she followed him down the twisting hallway. She noticed for the first time the total lack of architectural constitution of the place; the hallway was winding, the floors uneven. The walls jutted out at differentiating angles, the doors dotting them ranging in size and shape. Nothing here made sense; it was as if the structure itself defied even the most basic laws of physics. "Betelgeuse!"
Coming to an abrupt halt, he rounded on her, eyes narrowed. "Look, you heard Juno. If Acker knew where you worked, chances are he knows where you live, too. We can't go back there. Not yet, at least."
"So you're helping me, then?" She questioned, her eyes searching his.
He continued to glare at her. "Don't take it for more than it is, Babes. I might not want to kill you, but that doesn't mean I want to save you, either. I'm only lookin' out for myself, here."
"Then why not just kill me," She demanded, spiteful. "It'd make things a whole lot easier on you, wouldn't it?"
"I might be a lot of things." He snarled, taking a step closer to her. His emerald eyes flashed menacingly as he glared down at her. "I've done some pretty nasty things in my time, things you couldn't even imagine; but I ain't no killer."
"Either way," she spat, refusing to break eye contact with him. "How much good can you do, anyway? All your good for is stupid parlor tricks. With me or against me; wouldn't make much difference." She swallowed the lump in her throat. It was a lie, she knew. Even if he lacked any great power, he would be a help to her. He had a much better understanding about the situation, not to mention quite a bit of experience with being dead…
"Don't tempt me, girl." His voice was low, menacing. He expected her to back down, but to his surprise, she stood her ground. She'd obviously recouped somewhat over the previous months; no longer the jumpy, easily intimidated woman he had stumbled upon.
"Where are you taking me?" She demanded once more.
He smirked, a bit too sinisterly for her liking. "Can't go back to your world for the time being, not 'til Juno and the council find someway to keep Acker from finding you. I'm not riskin' your neck by going back there. Not tonight, anyways. He finds you, and I'm fucked."
"You didn't answer my question." She said flatly.
At that, he grinned and turned; continuing down the hallway.
"This is all your fault, you know." Lydia spat angrily, crossing her arms over her chest.
"My fault?" Betelgeuse demanded, falling back into a ratty old recliner. "You called me."
"Granted. But you didn't have to pull that whole 'binding' stunt. I told you I wouldn't send you back, but you wouldn't believe me." She countered, shifting her weight back into the cushions of the musty couch. Much to her consternation, Betelgeuse had brought her back to what he referred to as 'his place'. It was neglected, murky, and filthy as hell. It stood to reason that the place had been unoccupied for sometime; a heavy layer of dust was evident on everything, even the garbage littering the floor. Making a face, she wiped her hands on her jeans. "God, when was the last time you were here, anyways? It's disgusting." She complained. "Not that I would really expect any better from you."
He pulled a face at her. "I'm flattered." Came his mocking reply. "If you really care to know, I haven't been here since before I first met you."
"Because they locked you up… for what you tried to do to me." She said simply, understanding. Even she was surprised by the lack of compassion in her tone.
"That's the nice way of putting it." He grumbled, absently swinging the chain with the two rings around his finger.
"You were with him, Juno said. Acker? How come?" She questioned. He simply glared at her in response. "Come on. You can at least explain to me who this guy is. He is trying to kill me."
Betelgeuse rolled his eyes, catching the rings in his hand as they circled around one last time. "Fine. But don't expect me to coddle you when you have nightmares." It was her turn to glare, and he smirked. "Nathaniel Acker was never a good man; dead or alive. Before he died he'd killed more than sixty people; and not just killed, either. I'm talking torture. He liked to play with his victims; physically, mentally. It was all fair game. Stories say that when he was kid, he watched as his father and baby sister were murdered. A friend of his father did it, making off with both Acker's mother and a substantial amount of penance. His mother had been deceitful, and apparently helped orchestrate the whole thing. They left Acker for dead, carving him up and leaving him in a crumpled mess of blood and other… pieces."
Lydia made a face, pulling her legs up under her so she was sitting cross-legged on the couch across from him.
"He was found the next morning, barely alive. They say he had the mangled body of the little girl in his arms; that they had to break his fingers to pry the corpse from his grasp. He was on death's door, and no one thought he'd make it. But, to what would come to be everyone's dismay; he did. Never spoke a word, after that, not for a number of years, anyways. Then one day the boy turned up missing. Came stumbling back into town a few weeks later, covered in blood, part of his mother's dress clutched in his fingers. The whole incidence had driven him insane; and no one knows how, but he found her. He found both his mother and his father's traitorous associate and killed them both."
"That's horrible…" Lydia said, taking it all in with interest.
"Don't go feelin' bad for the guy yet, Babes." Betelgeuse said. "Everyone knew the kid was traumatized, but no one could place the blame on him for what he had done. It was a known fact that his mother had orchestrated the whole thing, wanting to be freed from the constraints of her controlling husband and the burden of her two children. While he wasn't punished for what he'd done, they did send him away. Shipped to a growing town in northern England, where the minister of a local church had agreed to take the boy in. From that day on, it was like something inside of him had reawaken; he was talking, socializing. The act of revenge had allowed him to continue living." The ghost paused for a moment, leaning forward in the chair, "He grew up in that town, became an integral part of it, even. No one ever suspected what he was doing all those years…"
"He kept killing." Lydia ventured.
Betelgeuse nodded, a small smile playing on his lips. "Horrific murders, twisted lies. Every sin a man could commit, he took upon himself. A wolf in sheep's clothing; no one suspected a damned thing. Somehow the evidence always pointed to someone else."
"How did he die?"
At this, the ghost chuckled. "The truth?"
She swallowed, the nodded tentatively.
"I killed him."
"But you said you never…"
"No one that didn't deserve it, Babes." He said simply, pulling a cigarette from his pocket. "Don't count those."
Lydia scrunched up her nose, both owning to the fact that Betelgeuse had just admitted that he had in fact killed before, and because he was nonchalantly blowing the cigarette smoke into her face. "Why'd you kill him? I mean, ok, serial killer; but it doesn't seem like you to jump in and play hero, not unless there was something in it for you."
"Touché." He said, avoiding the details. "I was still working with Juno at the time, and we'll just say it was sort of… 'in the job description'. So I killed the bastard, right? Turns out to be a not-so-good idea. Apparently he'd made some deals with some bad spirits that we didn't know about. Well, like oh-so-many baddies, he turns up in the Netherworld with so called 'unfinished business'. Now, we all might be a bunch of freaks and the like, but even we don't take to murderers. Juno and the council stuck him on some routine haunting near London, stripping him of even the most mundane powers a ghost can have. Less likely to cause trouble, that way. 200 years, I believe; that's how long he was supposed to be there. Then he could come back for review."
"Review?" She questioned, raising an eyebrow.
"To see if he could leave, go onto 'bigger and better' things." He explained, gesturing with his hands. "But, this guy's pissed that he was taken out by the dead, right? Juno had sent me after him, initially. You see, there's a lot of paperwork when someone dies, even more when someone commits suicide, and a whole hell of a lot when someone is murdered. Things get fucked up. Someone isn't supposed to die for a few decades, and then this jerk comes along and offs them. Makes the unlife hell for the civil servants. Even the suicides hate murder victims, 'cause they're usually stuck doing the filing. Part of their debt for offing themselves."
"But that doesn't make sense, it's not the victim's faults." Lydia said, incredulous.
"Exactly." The ghost agreed, blowing out another long puff of smoke. "That's why Juno wanted him taken out, and I just so happened to be nominated. There's a lot of paperwork when a ghost kills a mortal, but it was easier to handle that once than keep dealing with Acker's victims."
"God, you guys are really something. You didn't stop him because he was killing innocent people. You stopped him because he was causing you extra paperwork!"
He shrugged. "Everyone has their own priorities, Babes."
She shook her head, disbelieving. "So then what?"
"Acker finds out what we did, and he's not too happy. Vows revenge on the Netherworld and The Land of the Living, just the same. We're not sure how he didn't, but he got out of his assignment. He got out and he got power."
"He started killing again." Lydia concluded.
"Mortals, yes; but the dead can't die." Betelgeuse explained, leaning back and flicking the cigarette butt into the middle of the floor. "He began possessing the living, exorcising the dead; wreaking havoc on our society. He was drawing attention to our world, damning mortals and the dead alike. His actions threatened to tear down the boundaries between the worlds, and even I know that's a bad idea."
"Possessing, like, controlling people?"
"Some of the most horrific murderers in history." He explained. "Gilles de Rais. Thug Behram."
Lydia stared at him blankly.
"Jack the Ripper?" He tried; searching for something the girl might be familiar with.
"Oh." She said.
"And he was one of the tamer incidents." Betelgeuse explained, rolling his eyes. "Anyways, this went on for over 200 years, until the Council finally found a way to contain him. He's been under strict lockdown since then. Up until now, that is..."
"How'd they stop him last time?"
Betelgeuse sighed, defeated. "Don't know. Could have been a number of things really. They practically tried everything. My guess is they eventually got lucky, he slipped up, and they got him. Not that it matters. Acker isn't stupid enough to fall for the same trick twice."
A silence fell over the pair, both lost in their own thoughts regarding what they were now up against. Lydia felt sick, the realization that a being responsible for uncountable deaths now had her in his sights. "Where are you going?" She questioned. Betelgeuse had stood up, and was making his way to a door at the far end of the room.
"Unlike you, Miss Deetz, I have not spent the last two months snuggled up in a nice warm bed. I'm fucking tired, and I'm going to sleep." He said dismissively, not looking at her.
"What am I supposed to do?"
"I'd suggest the same; Juno wants to see you in the morning, anyway. Trust me, it'll drive you insane to deal with her on anything less than a full night of sleep."
"This couch is gross." She grumbled, convinced she'd seen a rather large beetle crawl down between the cushions.
The poltergeist groaned, hoping to himself that they wouldn't be stuck here very long; he wasn't sure how long he could stand the excessively complaining he was sure to endure.
Lydia sighed heavily, staring wide-eyed around the room. The ceiling was vaulted, and like the architecture she had seen in the other buildings, nothing made sense. The walls were uneven, doors were at odd angles, the windows jutted up in thin panes that reached nearly from the floor to the ceiling. She didn't know how long she'd been sitting on the couch, all she knew was that she was utterly unable to sleep.
The sun had begun to creep up, and she was tenuously grateful that the one wall of the room faced to the east... well, at least what she presumed to be the east. Did the Netherworld sun rise in the east? Didn't quite matter, she was simply appreciative of the hazy sunlight that was making its way through the faintly colored glass. Even the feeble morning rays did wonders to illuminate the dreadfully mundane room.
Pulling her legs out from beneath her, Lydia reached down to the floor to collect her discarded boots. Brave and daring as she might be, she was not about to walk about this place barefoot. Neglecting to lace them, she stood, making her way over to the window. The landscape had caught her attention as they had made their way here through the darkness the night before, but now that she was seeing it in the spectacular morning light she felt a wave of angst that she did not have her camera. For being the Land of the Dead, it sure was beautiful…
The sound of rustling stirred her from her thoughts and she turned quickly, trying to identify the source of the noise. "Betelgeuse?" She questioned tentatively, looking about the room. The noise came again, and her nose scrunched up as she watched a large black rat scamper from under a pile of trash in the corner.
"This place is disgusting…" She muttered, her eyes dancing around as she walked back to the center of the room. Yet despite its obvious faults, she found herself intrigued by the poltergeist's home. Being careful to avoid any of the discarded trash on the floor that might make unwanted noise, she began to make her way down the hallway. Most of the doors were ajar, and upon closer inspection she found that none held anything particularly interesting. More trash, empty boxes, broken furniture, rats. She realized that even if Betelgeuse had possessed anything of value, chances are it would have been nabbed in the number of years his home had sat abandoned.
Trailing her fingers idly along its dusty iron railing, Lydia softly ascended a winding metal staircase at the end of the hall. Pulling a face, she wiped her now sullied hands on her pants as she took in the room she had just entered. It was decidedly less disgusting than the rest of the house, but that was not to say it too wasn't littered with filth. Aside from the trash, all that sat in the huge space was a rather large piece of furniture set between two windows on the far wall. She approached it tentatively, her eyes tracing the heavy cloth that covered it. Curiosity got the better of her, and she grasped the corner of the sheet in her hand and pulled. It slid away easily and pooled itself on the floor by her feet.
Her dark brown eyes traced the intricate curves of the dark wooden vanity in front of her. She ran her fingers along the deep wood carvings, her eyes suspecting an elaborate floral design. However, she was surprised that upon closer inspection the carvings were actually revealed to be a stunning tapestry of woven spider webs and bats. A small smile played at the corner of her mouth as she ran her finger along the twisting outline of a crow perched near the top of the oval mirror. She was particularly astounded that the glass was unbroken, if only a bit dusty. Using her sleeve, she wiped off a large circle, revealing her own disheveled reflection. She made a face. While the vanity might be a twisted thing of beauty, she sure as hell was not.
"God, I need a shower…' She mumbled absently, leaning in closer at she wiped at the dark makeup smudged under her eyes. It did little to reduce the dark circles adorning them, as she had failed to sleep at all. Her hair was a downright disaster, and the only remedy she had for that was to simply pull it back in an equally disastrous pony tail.
"What are you doing?"
Lydia jumped, slamming her knee painfully into the corner of the vanity. She turned her head, glaring at the form in the doorway. "You scared me." She said flatly, rubbing at her wounded leg.
"You're snooping." Betelgeuse replied in the same flat tone, his eyes narrowed at her as her walked into the room.
"I couldn't sleep, and I was bored." She said in her defense, realizing how lame of an excuse that was to go peering around someone's house. He was close now, mere inches from her, in fact. Her eyes followed him as he reached down for the discarded sheet. "I like it." She said simply, her tone changing. She returned her gaze to the mirror. "It's pretty."
"Also illegal." He snapped, throwing the sheet back over it.
Lydia's face scrunched up in thought. "You're not allowed furniture?"
"Mirrors, you moron. We're not allowed mirrors." He snapped, taking a step back from both the fixture and the girl. He watched as she crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at him. Okay, so maybe the name calling was a bit unnecessary, he thought. "We can use them to look into the Land of the Living." He explained, deciding he'd rather just clarify the subject than apologize for his uncalled for callousness.
Lydia's mind drifted back to that night, when she had been looking through the pictures at Ty's, the luminescent green eyes in the mirror of the picture… Maybe she wasn't crazy. "So you can see through to the other side, through our mirrors…" She said, her mind working.
"Yep." He affirmed. "Did some recon on the Maitlands that way, before I popped in on them. Saw your angsty teenage self sulking around more than a few times, too. '…by the time you read this, I will be dead; having plummeted off the Winter River Bridge…" He quoted mockingly, his voice sing-song, a smile playing devilishly on his lips. "That's when I knew you'd be an easy one."
"You're an asshole." She snapped, not amused. Suddenly her eyes went wide, and she quickly spun around to face him. "Wait. Any mirror?" She demanded.
He grinned evilly, knowing exactly where her thoughts had drifted, her brain recalling the countless times she had dressed or undressed in front of her own reflection. His grin widened. "Any mirror."