Disclaimer-- Gosho owns DC, I do not. DIC owns the RGB, I do not. This story is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for language and adult concepts. It is the next story in the "Supernatural" series, following on to "Gift of the Moon."

Shinigami Tears

Kudo Shinichi woke from dark red dreams to a pounding headache and a mouth that tasted like the aftermath of one of Kogoro's benders. Something soft and heavy was lying on his face, and for one second, he panicked. Had They found him? Was he on his way to be examined, as one of two known survivors of the apotoxin? No... his hands and feet were free, though there was something cinched loosely around his waist. In fact, if he was right...

"Okay," Shinichi demanded, voice full of a calm he didn't entirely feel. "Why am I in the back seat of a car with a blanket over my face?"

The sound of creaking leather indicated startled movement nearby.

"Kudo?" Hattori's surprise was audible in his voice. "You're awake?"

"No, Hattori, I'm talking in my sleep," the detective replied sarcastically. A snort came from somewhere towards the front of the vehicle.

"Sounds like he's back with us," Kuroba commented, sounding blackly amused.

Shinichi frowned under the blanket. Back with them? Why did they sound so surprised... and why did he have the nagging feeling he was forgetting something?

From what Shinichi identified as the driver's seat, Hakuba's voice floated back to him. "You are currently in the back of a van, not a car, because we found it necessary to relocate from Washington DC to New York City," the blond told him.

"As for the blanket," Hattori continued, "it's keeping you from contracting a case of terminal sunburn."

Sunburn? What did Hattori mean by--At that point, Shinichi's memory finished booting up, tossing him images of a glowing gem, burning pain, and a terrible, all-consuming hunger.

"... I'm a vampire?" he managed, his tone caught somewhere between incredulity and panic.

Kuroba sighed. "Yeah, near as we can tell. Don't worry, you didn't get a chance to bite anybody. Hattori-kun's got the reflexes of a cat, apparently."

"I attacked you?" Shinichi could tell his tones were getting up into dog-whistle ranges, but he couldn't quite help himself.

"You just gained somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty kilos out of absolutely nowhere," Hakuba informed him calmly. "The strain it placed on your metabolism must have been enormous. I'd imagine it was rather like hanging a steak in front of a starving lion."

Groaning, Shinichi covered his face with his hands, being careful to keep his limbs under the blanket. Careful prodding with his tongue indicated that yes, he had fangs; fairly sharp ones, too. He could imagine the carnage he could have wreaked if Hattori had only been a little slower.

A comforting hand came down to rest on his ankle. "Didn't happen, Kudo, stop beating yourself up over it. Aside from that, how're you feeling?"

"Not too bad. I don't ache as much as I usually do after a cure, and I don't feel weak and sick, either. The hunger... it was really bad last night, I don't remember anything but feeling it burn inside me. Now it's kind of... I dunno, quiet. Still there, but it's not filling everything."

More creaking, as if someone was twisting around in their seat. "I could help with that," Kuroba offered. "Just enough to get you stable."

"NO!" Shinichi shuddered. "No way. I'm afraid if I got started, I might not be able to stop."

"In any case," Hakuba broke in, "I don't think we should give Kudo-kun any blood until we're certain that it won't make it impossible to reverse his condition."

Beneath the blanket, Shinichi blinked. "Reverse my condition? Hey, why are we going to New York, anyway?"

Hattori chuckled. "Apparently, Hakuba-kun's cousin is an expert in this sort of thing. Hopefully, he can help us fix this."


"Distant cousin, really," the driver replied. "My parents married, in part, because they were both from families with a long and distinguished scientific history... My mother's maiden name is Spengler."

Shinichi groaned. "I'm just going to go back to sleep and pretend this isn't happening..."

"Only for another few hours, tantei-kun," Kuroba shot back.

"If that's all I've got, I'll take it." And Shinichi drifted back to sleep, trying fervently to remember which deity he could have possibly offended badly enough to explain this mess.

It was kind of a tight fit, Winston Zeddemore mused, but by dint of careful handling, they'd managed to get the van parked in the lobby of the firehouse without scratching either its paint, or Ecto-1's. Which was good, because the converted hearse got banged up enough on jobs.

Satisfied that his Lady was safe, the Ghostbuster turned his attention to the van parked beside it. A blue Ford, it looked as though it had been deliberately selected to be as nondescript as possible, which was interesting given that it was supposedly carrying four teenage boys. It was just one more facet to a mystery that had started with last night's call.

According to Egon, the call had been from a distant cousin, one Egon had only met a few times, mainly at large family functions that the physicist hadn't been able to avoid attending. The kid-- Saguru, if Winston remembered correctly-- hadn't been particularly forthcoming, only saying that he needed to hire them and that it wasn't feasible to discuss the details over the phone. And that it was rather an emergency, so would they be available sometime the next day, late afternoon or evening?

Egon's rather dated memories of his cousin painted the kid as a fairly typical Spengler; in other words, he thought Egon was nuts, but was fairly polite about it. The physicist had no idea what would send him asking for their help, but it had to be bad to get through the usual skepticism most of the family wore like armor. So they'd quickly moved around some of their calls, and were now waiting for some answers.

First out of the car was the driver, a tall teenager whose Asian features, dark blond hair, and unusually formal clothing pegged him as Egon's cousin. Shutting the car door behind him, the boy stretched, spine audibly popping in a way that had Winston wincing in sympathy.

Not too far behind him, a shorter brunet was climbing out of the passenger side, moving with surprising grace, considering how long it looked like Saguru had been driving. Leaning against the side of the van, he swept the garage with a wary consideration that reminded Winston of Peter entering a bust for the first time. Note to self, the black man thought, amused. This one's dangerous.

Sweep completed, the brunet rapped on the side of the van. "All clear, guys," he called, the faintest hint of an accent to his English. "No direct sunlight, anyway."

Sunlight? Winston's eyebrows rose, but he said nothing, just exchanged glances with Peter, who was stationed at the foot of the stairs. As usual, the psychologist had taken up the best position either to take cover or open fire if something went hairy. The man raised paranoia to an art form, and Winston loved him for it.

After a moment, the rear doors on the van opened, and two more teens climbed out. First was a black-haired boy in jeans and a White Sox cap, who was sizing up the room, and the Ghostbusters, with the same caution Winston'd seen in his spiky-haired friend. But the interesting one was the fourth, another brunet, in jeans and a t-shirt. He and the front passenger could have been twins, differing only in hairstyle and the fact that his skin wasn't just pale, but almost ashen, verging on white. He wobbled slightly, and his twin and the baseball fan were quickly there, supporting him.

Saguru looked up and smiled, a trifle awkwardly. "I... thank you for seeing us on such short notice," he began. "I'm Saguru Hakuba, and these are my... friends; Kaito Kuroba, Heiji Hattori, and Shinichi Kudo. It's Kudo-kun's problem we're anxious to talk to you about.

"No problem," Peter replied easily. "I'm Peter Venkman, the bouncing redhead is Ray Stantz, that's Winston Zeddemore, and of course, Egon Spengler, though you probably remember him."

"I... yes," Saguru replied, head cocking to one side. "I was only seven, but... you haven't changed at all."

"Which is interesting," Kaito drawled, with a casual tone that Winston knew better than to trust. "Given that according to the records I looked up last night, Dr. Egon Spengler is supposed to be fifty years old, and you look maybe thirty-five."

...Ouch, this guy was sharp.

Peter grinned. "That'sright, Spengs, that's this year, isn't it? The big five-oh, the half-century mark, the Golden Anniversary, the--"

"The age you'll be turning in October of next year," the physicist replied, blue eyes sparkling behind his glasses. Venkman winced, miming a shot to the heart.

"Yes," Egon continued, "It's somewhat of a... side effect of our profession, you might say."

"Side effect?" Heiji asked curiously.

Ray nodded. "PKE-- Ghost energy-- has weird effects on people, when you get large quantities of it."

"And 'large quantities' is an understatement," Winston added. "How many near-apocalypses have we lived through, Pete?"

Venkman made a face. "Hell, Zed, I lost count ten years ago."

Sighing, Egon pushed his glasses further up on his nose. "Specifically, when a person is exposed to psychokinetic energy in large amounts over a fairly long period of time, unusual mutations are known to occur. In our case, the telomeres on our chromosomes have been--"
"Egon!" Peter warned.

"It retards cellular degeneration," the blond man translated. "We age slowly. Specifically, in the past twenty years, we've aged... about five."

The four boys exchanged glances that Winston would classify as being half-worried, half-conspiratorial. "Sounds like the Fountain of Youth," commented Heiji, tone deliberately light.

"Sure," Peter replied, rolling his eyes. "If you're willing to put up with being beat up, slimed, shot at, slimed, chased by things with more legs than teeth, slimed, and swallowed whole by the occasional ocean spirit with a grudge. And did I mention the slime?"

"There are more than a few drawbacks," Egon agreed, shooting the psychologist a glance filled with fond exasperation.

The boys exchanged glances again, then Shinichi sighed.

"Yeah... I'm kind of familiar with that situation, too. See, I kind of ran afoul of a gem that's supposed to grant immortality... and it made me a vampire."

There was a moment of silence while the four Ghostbusters digested that. Then Winston sighed.

"This is gonna be a long story, isn't it?"

"Whoa," Kuroba blinked, entering the lab. "You guys have blackout shutters on the windows?"

Egon nodded, as he and Ray quickly moved to close said shutters against the light of the rapidly lowering sun. "We do on occasion have experiments that are photosensitive, and given New York's tendency towards light pollution, waiting for night doesn't do much good. Since Kudo-kun seems to be able to stand ambient sunlight, the shutters should be more than sufficient. If you two would get him situated in the chair over on that wall?"

"The one with the colander on it?" Hattori asked wryly, as the two of them steered their burden toward the indicated seat.

The physicist sighed. "It's not a colander. It's an ecto-electro-encephalograph helmet, used for taking more in-depth readings than can be attained with a standard PKE meter."

"Yeah," Peter added, a mischievous smile on his face. "Now, when we started out, it was a colander..."

Taking a deep breath, Egon counted to ten. Backwards. In Sumerian. "We had a distinctly lower budget back then, Peter," he said, with dignity, "and besides, it still worked."

Ray, obviously wanting to head off another of Egon and Peter's verbal volleys, quickly broke in. "So, while we're getting the equipment set up, why don't you guys tell us exactly how you got to this point?"

The four boys exchanged glances and then gave what Egon suspected was a somewhat abridged version of the events leading from Kudo's hospitalization for a bad case of the flu to the present point. Predictably, Ray took the news that one of their guests was a now-retired international jewel thief with bouncing excitement, while Peter simply looked amused. The teens, on the other hand, looked rather wary.

"We're not gonna turn you in, if that's what you're worried about," Winston commented, seeing their expressions. "Not much else you could have done, especially now that we know how nasty that thing is. Besides... not like we have any proof, is it?"

"Don't mind him, he thinks he's a detective," Peter broke in. "Let a guy go running around the city with the ghost of Sherlock Holmes one time, and he gets a swelled head."

Kudo and Saguru both perked up at that. "Holmes?" the brunet echoed, eyes wide.

"His ghost?" added the blond, a bit more skeptically.

"He said the magic word," Hattori commented, rolling his eyes.

Egon smothered a chuckle. "Before we get into that story, may I examine the gem?"

"Oh, yes, of course," Saguru answered, digging in his pocket and pulling out a small plastic evidence bag. Within sparkled a small red gem, about the size of a man's thumbnail.

"Gloves, Spengs," Peter admonished, as Egon was handed the bag.

The physicist rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mother."

Kuroba snickered. "What do you know, Hakuba-kun, you two are related."

Saguru's mumbled response was in Japanese, and quite probably unprintable.

Pulling on a pair of plastic gloves, Egon carefully removed the gem from the evidence bag, keeping one ear on the conversation behind him as Ray hooked Kudo up to the Ecto-EEG, and Peter and Winston kept the four distracted with the tale of Winston's adventure with the ghost of Sherlock Holmes.

The first step, of course, was to determine the gem's composition and crystalline structure. Sliding the gem under a microscope, Egon peered through the eyepiece. Eyebrows raising, he pulled back, adjusted the focus, and looked again.

"Fascinating," he commented absently. Twin groans arose behind him.

"I hate it when he says that," Peter complained.

Winston nodded. "It always means trouble."

"What is it, Egon?" Ray asked, looking up from the electrodes he was affixing to Kudo's temples.

"This isn't a gem," the physicist replied. "It has no consistent internal structure. The crystallization patterns appear almost random. Add in that I'm reading negative valences on the PKE meters..."

Saguru blinked. "I'm sorry, could you please translate that for the laymen in the audience?"

"Pot, kettle," Kuroba muttered, only to duck as Hattori smacked him across the back of the head.

"Negative valences indicate a solid being, rather than an ectoplasmic or energy one," Ray replied.

"Wait, that thing's solid PKE?" Peter asked.

Egon nodded. "More to the point, it's crystallized PKE. Except that it follows no laws of crystallography that I can see, which is really rather disturbing."

That got a snort from Hattori. "'Disturbing' has kinda been that thing's MO up 'til now, so I ain't that shocked."

Before any of them could respond, the gem pulsed once, a burst of red light that was echoed by a similar flash from Kudo's eyes. Too fast for anyone to react, the vampire detective was on his feet, electrodes torn away, grabbing the nearest person, who happened to be Kuroba, pulling him close in a classic "human shield" position.

The magician let out a yell as Kudo sank fangs into his neck. After a few seconds, the vampire pulled back, licking blood from his lips. "I was right," Kudo chuckled, an obscene grin flitting across his face. "You taste way too good for me to want to stop."

"Kudo..." Hattori started, only to break off as the vampire drew his prey closer.

"Hey, Hattori. Don't worry, once I finish with Kuroba-kun here, I'm sure I'll have room for dessert."

Kuroba grimaced. "Can we just skip the dinner date, please?" Down by his side, out of Kudo's line of sight, his hand moved quickly.

Keep him talking, Egon translated mentally. He really is entirely too much like Peter.

"You might have a problem with that," Egon said aloud. "Because I still have the gem, and I don't think you want to leave without it, do you?"

"Egon," Peter muttered, moving closer, "do we need to have another talk about not drawing the attention of things that are willing and able to hurt you badly?"

A blond eyebrow arched. "Forgive me, Peter, I forgot, that's your job."

"Hm, and here I thought Hattori-kun was the only person who aspired to the status of 'professional target,'" Saguru commented, also sidling towards them. All three of the speakers deliberately kept their eyes off Kuroba, who seemed to be slowly inching something out of his sleeve.

Kudo snorted. "You can't keep that gem from me, Dr. Spengler. It's mine... and I'll have it, one way or another."

"Yours?" Winston asked, moving in from the other side, drawing Kudo's gaze. "Who says? You weren't even the one to steal it."

"It's mine, my power, and you won't take it away from me." Pausing, the vampire pulled himself together, then grinned. "But I'll be happy to share it with you guys. Just think of what we'll be able to do... immortal, together... we'll never have to be afraid of a bullet in the dark again. We'll have the entire world at our feet, anything we want. Nobody will be able to stop us, not even the Syndicate. We'll be invincible."

"Except you've still got one big weakness," Kuroba commented.

Kudo looked down at him, smirking. "Yeah? What's that, Kuroba-kun?"

"You still talk too damn much." And with that, Kuroba triggered a blast of pink gas into Kudo's face. The vampire only had a moment to look startled before his eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed to the floor.

Kuroba staggered slightly, waving Ray off as the occultist moved to support him. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I've lost more blood than that on heists."

"That is not reassuring, you git," Saguru replied, stepping closer.

"I'm fine, Hakuba-kun," Kuroba growled. "Just... make sure Kudo's secure, okay? We don't need a repeat of this, you know?"

Peter nodded, moving over to the unconscious detective. "We've got some bungee cords that ought to hold him. We'll put him in the guest room, take turns standing guard. Egon, what do you think made him flip out?"

"Offhand?" The physicist looked to the nearest clock. "I'd say the fact that it just became full dark outside. Or possibly moonrise, since they do coincide right now. Given the gem's associations, either is possible."

"Readings are mostly normal," Ray reported, looking up from the meter he'd pointed at Kuroba. "Doesn't look like you lost enough to blood to give you more than fading residuals."

The magician shuddered. "Thank the kami for small favors," he said bitterly. "I... if you need me, I'll... I'll be back." And he vanished from the lab with astonishing speed.

"If you have roof access, he'll probably head up there," Saguru commented, worriedly. "Will that be a problem?"

"Shouldn't," Peter replied, as he and Hattori hauled Kudo up between them. "I go up there to think all the time."

Egon sighed. "In the meantime, let's see what we can learn from this gem... because I am getting one of your bad feelings about this, Peter."

The psychologist made a face. "Oh, joy."

He had to get out-- it was all too much, too bright, too loud. He didn't usually have a problem with crowds, but ever since Kudo's fangs had sunk into his neck, his senses seemed to have taken a boost, as if a covering he had even known was there had been ripped away from his eyes. Bursting out onto the moon-silvered roof, Kaito scanned it once, almost automatically, for any shadows or structures where a person could hide. Seeing none, he collapsed into a tight ball, back leaning against one of the roof's retaining walls.

The sounds of the wind, the traffic, and the nightlife, so similar to those of Tokyo, comforted him, and bit by bit, his breathing slowed, though he didn't raise his head from where it rested against his knees.

Oh Kami-sama... he'd really messed up this time. He'd thought they'd dodged the bullet when Kudo'd woken in the car, still mostly himself. Worst of all had been the fact that the detective's logic had seemed so plausible, so attractive... if they'd been alone, Kaito was very much afraid he would have simply let Kudo continue with what he was doing. And the carnage that would come from both of them transformed... Kaito shuddered. He didn't want to think about it, but he had a feeling he'd be seeing it in his dreams anyway.

A sudden gust of wind blew around him, ruffling his hair like affectionate fingers. Just like his father always had, when Kaito was a child, watching his father's newest trick with wide eyes. Oyaji... I'm sorry. You've got to be so disappointed in me...

"Actually, no. Not at all."

That voice wasn't his imagination, and it sure as hell wasn't one of the Ghostbusters or the detectives. Kaito looked up sharply, and Poker Face took a hike, astonishment clearly written on his features. Because standing in the middle of the moonlit expanse of gravel was Kuroba Toichi, looking every inch as whole and healthy as the last time Kaito had seen him, nine years before.

Kaito could only stare, drinking in every detail of the image before him. His father was dressed in the white tuxedo, blue shirt, and red tie that were Kaitou Kid's trademark, cape hanging from his shoulders, rippling slightly in a wind that Kaito couldn't feel. The monocle and hat were missing, however, (Those are masks, you can't take those with you here,) and Kaito shook his head, trying to clear the half-remembered words whispering in his brain.

"O... Oyaji?" the boy whispered, eyes wide. "I... I can see you?"

His father smiled slightly. "You can now, yes. Most people can't... you have to have at least one foot outside of normal reality."

"Like being out of your mind with a fever," Kaito realized.

"Exactly. Or having the faintest trace of Pandora's curse running in your veins, thanks to your friend's bite."

Hanging his head, Kaito snorted. "Yeah. I guess my screw-up had a few good consequences."

"Kaito..." Toichi knelt before his son, one hand hovering just over the teen's shoulder. "You didn't screw up. No one could have known Kudo would reach out and grab the thing as it fell. Even he didn't know it. Pandora... it does things. It calls to people, on levels they don't even really hear. It hijacked his reflexes... and as you know, he has very good reflexes."

A smirk. "Yeah, he's a damn good shot, too."

"Don't remind me, you two scared twenty years off my afterlife with that stunt on the theater roof. But the point is, it wasn't your fault. And feeling guilty isn't going to help you fix it."

"How can I fix it? How can I destroy the thing? It's evil, I can feel that from here. Y'know, if turning Kudo into a vampire wasn't a big enough clue..."

Toichi sighed, sitting back on his heels a bit. "I can't tell you that, Kaito. I... There are rules even I have to follow. If it were anything but Pandora, I wouldn't be able to interfere at all. But it is, and we're kaitou, you and I, and a rule that can't be broken can always be bent, ne? I'll give you a riddle, Kid to Kid... because that's what we are, and that's what we do."

(It's not one of ours, let's put it that way,) the half-memories whispered again, and Kaito blinked hard, forcing the words away.

"Okay," he said aloud. "I'm listening."

"You came to exactly the right place, you know. It all comes back to legends and stories, and the library here has them all. Ask your friend Hakuba about Agamemnon's death, and you'll start to see. Pandora's like us, and Kudo's like it, and the answers are all there if you know where to look."

Kaito blinked. "... I... Okay. Will... will I see you again?"

A sad smile from his father. "If you're lucky... no. But that doesn't mean I'm not with you. I always have been. I'm very, very proud of you, Kaito... but you have to let me go. Find your own way, and let me fade into the dream I've become."

"I'll... I'll try." Kaito swallowed hard. "I love you, Oyaji."

"I love you too, son."

The wind picked up, ruffling his hair again, and Kaito had to shut his eyes against the sting of tears that threatened to fall. When he opened them again, the roof was empty, and he was alone.

"Okay," Peter announced, re-entering the lab. "We've got Kudo secure and Winston's on detective-sitting duty. I don't know how strong that pink stuff was, or how ramped up his metabolism is, but I'm gonna guess he'll be out for a few hours at least. What's going on in here?"

"Research," Ray replied, indicating his book. "Heiji's trying to trace the Hope Diamond backwards..."

The black-haired detective rolled his eyes. "And believe me, it's not easy," he threw in. "Once you hit the Tavernier Blue, anything earlier than that's pretty much just legend and story. Maybe the diamond was the eye of a Hindu idol statue, but I'm guessing that was thrown in later, once the diamond got the reputation of bringing bad luck."

Saguru sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose in a move that reminded Ray entirely too much of Egon when he was frustrated.

"I've been investigating the comet whose pass is supposed to trigger this whole mess, but it's slow going. There is a comet currently in the solar system, Volley's comet, and it has an extremely slow orbit, taking the better part of a week to pass through the vicinity of Earth. But even that orbital period is well shy of ten thousand years, or even one thousand. Any body with that great of an orbital period would be too far past the solar system's gravity to make more than one pass through."

Ray frowned. "Hey, that's right. The comet's got to have come through a lot of times... maybe nobody had the gem at the time, so they didn't notice?"

"There are further problems," the blond continued, as Peter took a seat nearby. "Specifically, ten thousand years ago was eighth millennium BC, predating any form of writing by approximately three thousand years. People were only beginning to settle the plains of the world. If Pandora made its first appearance then, its legend would have had to survive three thousand years as an oral tradition. I can't imagine how badly it would have mutated, yet obviously the major characteristics of the gem were communicated intact."

That had Heiji looking up from his book, frowning as well. "So... that means what?"

"That ten thousand years is a place-holder, more than likely. The ancient world was horrible about using symbolic numbers, exact quantities that stood in for more general ideas of size. Forty days and forty nights, for instance. We still do it today, saying things like 'a thousand years' to mean 'a very long time.'"

"So we don't know how old Pandora is, just that it is old?" Peter translated. "What did they do, pull the number out of a hat?"

Saguru shook his head. "No, symbolic numbers have meaning, if only for a sense of the scale of the vast time." Then he frowned. "But the Semitic peoples didn't use ten as a symbolic number. The Egyptians did, though it was a minor one..."

Sitting up straight, Ray nodded eagerly. "That's right, ten didn't really become a major symbolic number until Pythagoras and the Greeks! Pythagoras thought it symbolized wholeness and eternity. Greek thought influenced most Western math and science, which is why we have a base ten numbering system."

"And that thing's called Pandora. Greek name," Heiji threw in. "Coincidence?"

"I dislike coincidences," replied Saguru. "Hmm. You could consider it a gift of the gods, I suppose, especially given the character flaws the Greek gods were prone to. They did delight in the destruction of the prideful and unwary."

Leaning his elbows on the table, Peter propped his chin in his hand. "Okay, so if the ten thousand comes from the Greek additions to the legend, what does that mean?"

"Well," Ray answered, "Ten years was a decade, a cycle in the life of a person. A hundred was a cycle in the life of a city-state. A thousand would be on the scale of the gods, so..."

"A cosmic round." Saguru's comment was quiet. "Older than the gods themselves, on the scale of Chaos giving birth to Gaea and Uranus. I think... I think the comet's not the trigger, it's a trigger. One of many. That's why Pandora remained dormant, the time wasn't right. The comet was just the most visible indicator, written in the stars..."

He shook his head. "Ah, damn it, something's tickling my brain and it won't come loose."

"Leave it alone for a while," Peter instructed. "The answer will sneak up on you when you're not paying attention, I promise. In the meantime, what are you two mad scientists up to?"

"I'm continuing my examination of the gem's physical properties," Egon replied phlegmatically, ignoring the "mad scientist" comment with the ease of long practice. "Even if it doesn't help us identify what we're dealing with, the answers may come in handy in denaturing and destroying it."

Ray grinned. "I started out with a Greek text on gem legends, and there was a story about the gems from Pandora's Box being scattered when the evil was released, and one of them landed in Egypt. I followed the Egyptian text up, and found out the legend came in during the Dynastic period... apparently the story started in Sumer. I don't have the book I need here, though, so I've been online with a friend, he's got most of the appropriate stuff in a PDF file he's going to send me. The story mentions a gem red as blood, pursued by night-creatures and granting its wielder life everlasting, so I think I'm on to something."

"Right," Peter replied. "And... what can I do?"

Heiji yawned. "Coffee would be nice," he said sheepishly. "We didn't get a lot of sleep last night, an' then we were drivin' most of the day. At this point, I would probably drink that paint stripper Kudo makes."

"You're in luck," Egon rumbled. "Peter's coffee has been known to inflict bodily injury."

Ray had to smother a smile as the psychologist stuck his tongue out at the older man.

"See if I bringyou any, Big Guy," Peter retorted, getting to his feet. "I'll be back in a bit."

Peter was, as always, as good as his word, coming back not only with an entire carafe of hot, very strong coffee, but also a platter of sandwiches which he forced on teenagers and adult men alike.

They'd just settled back into their research when Ray heard footsteps at the door. Looking up, he saw Kaito leaning in the doorframe, wry smirk not quite distracting from his red, swollen eyes.

"Kuroba-kun?" Saguru asked, sounding both incredulous and concerned. "Have you been... crying?"

Kaito blinked. "Huh? Oh... yeah, kinda," he replied absently, swiping at his eyes with the back of one hand. "It's nothing major... Can I have some of that coffee?"

Mouth thinning, Saguru hesitated, then sighed. "Against my better judgment, yes, but only because you look like hell."

"Love you too, Hakuba-kun," the magician snarked, stumbling over to the one unoccupied chair in the lab. Taking the mug Saguru handed him, he drank deeply.

And spluttered. "Gah! And I thought the Task Force liked it strong enough to dissolve spoons! Kudo didn't make this, did he?"

"No, but apparently Dr. Venkman is just as much a master of the art of overclocking stimulants. Kuroba-kun... what happened to you?"

Kaito sighed. "You won't believe me-- no, wait, sorry, forgot who I was talking to." A deep breath.

"I saw my dad."

Ray winced. He'd lost his parents years ago, when he'd been far younger than Kaito. He wasn't sure how he'd feel if he ever encountered their ghosts; thus far he'd been lucky enough not to deal with that situation.

"Um, Egon? Not to sound nitpicky, but don't we have alarms up that are supposed to tell us if a ghost sets one ectoplasmic foot within a hundred feet of the building?"

"We do, Peter, but I seriously doubt any of them would be able to detect the ghost of a man who made avoiding alarms and security his life's work," the physicist replied dryly.

Kaito snickered. "That'd be Oyaji, all right."

"However," Egon continued, "it would appear that for whatever reason, the sensors on the roof were NOT bypassed. I'm showing a set of human biorhythms-- yours, Kuroba-kun-- and a second set, ectoplasmic in nature." His eyebrows drew together then, and he frowned.

Peter rolled his eyes. "I don't like that facial expression..."

"These readings are very... anomalous. Raymond, take a look at these, would you?"

Moving to look at Egon's computer screen, Ray didn't see it for a second. Then he did, and his eyes widened.

"Oh, wow!"

"Danger sign number two," Peter announced. "You two want to actually communicate?"

"Is something wrong?" Kaito asked.

Ray shook his head, moving so that the screen was visible to the rest of the room. "Not wrong, just surprising. From what you'd said, we would have expected your dad's ghost to be a Class Four, the ghost of a human with a strong will, and maybe some magical ability. Fours are pretty strong for human ghosts, but there are a lot of ghosts more powerful. These readings definitely aren't from a Four."

"... That's a classic interference pattern," Saguru commented, leaning in. "Is that two signals in one?"

"Exactly," Egon replied. "Specifically, it's a hybrid reading combining the signals of a Class Seven and a Class Eight."

Kaito and Heiji blinked in unison. "Say WHAT?" the dark-skinned detective asked.

"... Are you saying that wasn't really my dad?" Kaito added faintly.

"No, the frequency of the readings corresponds too closely to the frequency of your biorhythms for that. It's almost certainly your father's spirit. It's just that for some reason, he's not the type of ghost we would have expected," Egon replied gravely.

Folding his arms across his chest, Heiji cocked his head. "What're Class Sevens and Eights?"

"Well," Ray answered, "Class Sevens are extremely powerful, independently mobile ghosts. They're usually called "demons," but they aren't all evil. Some youkai actually read as Class Seven, though that's kind of iffy since they're still alive."

Egon nodded. "Class Eights are elementals, the spiritual personification of some type of natural force. Almost always benevolent, though they aren't always particularly sympathetic or friendly to humans."

"... Oh." Kaito absorbed that, looking slightly lost.

"Kuroba-kun," Saguru said quietly. "I know this is difficult, but... do you know why he came?"

Kaito nodded. "Yeah... he came to help with Pandora. He said he couldn't tell me flat out what it was, but he could leave me a riddle, Kid to Kid."

The blond sat up straighter. "A Kid riddle? He said that?"

"Yeah... why?"

"Kuroba-kun, you know as well as I do that in a Kid riddle, anything can be a clue, most especially the wording of the text. And if something is constraining him from giving us full information, you can be certain he'd pack as many hints and clues into the context as possible. I want you to tell me exactly what happened, from the moment he appeared. Can you do that?"

A sigh. "Yeah... Yeah, I can. Okay, I had my head down on my knees, and the wind ruffled my hair..."

Kaito recounted the entire conversation in a level of detail that impressed Ray, but that Saguru and Heiji seemed to take entirely for granted. He wondered if that was because they were that used to Kaito's abilities, or if they simply didn't think the ability was that unusual.

"Agamemnon?" Egon commented, when the tale had finished. "Greek mythology again..."

"Didn't he get killed by his wife?" Peter asked. "I think I remember that from one of those bad late-night movies..."

The look Saguru gave the psychologist indicated he wasn't buying that any more than Ray was.

"Yes, Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, in retribution for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to Artemis in order to get a good wind to attack Troy. And probably a whole host of other reasons as well. Greek mythology makes soap opera families look downright healthy," Saguru replied dryly.

"Moreover, it was prophesied that Agamemnon could not be killed on land or on sea, while feasting or fasting, while naked or clothed. His wife killed him in the bathtub, while he was eating an apple, after first throwing a piece of netting over him."

That set Ray nodding. "That's a common motif in Celtic mythology, too, not being one thing or the other. And I think one of the Hindu gods killed a demon king that way, too... Vishnu, I think."

"Not one thing or the other," Kaito said thoughtfully. "That's what Dad is too, now... and so is Kudo, and so am I. He's not dead and not alive, and being not alive, he can't ever die, so he's immortal..."

"And if Pandora's like him and like you, then it's not one thing or the other either," Heiji added. "It's not solid or crystal, it's kinda liquid but it isn't..."

Saguru was frowning even more strongly now, but Ray was distracted by the beeping of his computer.

"Hey, my email came in!" Wheeling his chair over, the occultist quickly pulled up the file and started skimming. Then he winced.

"Uh oh."

"Ray, Egon's the only one who's allowed to 'Uh-oh' like that," Peter admonished him.

"What is it, Ray?" Egon asked.

The redhead swallowed. "Um, I found the legend. The stone was known as the Heart of Ereshkigal. Ereshkigal was the Sumerian Queen of the Netherworld and the dead, a little like the Norse Hel, or the Japanese Izanami. According to the legend, when the time was right and the stars rained fire, the stone would glow in the light of the moon, and weep 'tears of eternity.' Thing is... given the way it's written, 'tears of eternity' can be as easily translated 'an eternity of tears.' Eternally not living, not dying, only feeding and destroying. It goes on to say that the one who uses it will become a vessel of the goddess' hunger..."

"It's a parasite," Saguru said slowly, with the expression of one who is putting together a puzzle. "Not alive but undying, not one thing or another, something a shinigami has no power over..."

Peter blinked. "Shini-whatsit?"

"Shinigami, Peter," Ray answered. "Literally means 'death god,' it's a Japanese spirit that's supposed to collect and guide the souls of the dead... oh!"

"Or in this case, steal them," Saguru commented, faint amusement in his tone. "It makes sense, yes? The personification of an elemental natural force that's also a powerful mobile spirit... And you said you remember hearing that Pandora wasn't 'one of ours,' which indicates that there's some sort of pantheon or organization..." He suddenly went white.

"Oh holy God," the teen breathed, eyes widening.

Kaito sat up, alarmed. "Hakuba-kun? What is it?"

"The stars, when the stars are right! I'm a fool..."

"Hey, you want to start speaking English or Japanese?" Heiji demanded. "Come back and pick up the rest of us!"

Saguru dragged a hand through his blond hair, obviously collecting his thoughts. "It came in a rain of fire, probably a meteor shower. It's parasitic, feeding on the life force of those around it... does that sound familiar? Colour Out of Space?"

At that, Egon let out a rare curse, diving for his computer. "Of course! That explains the anomalous readings, the lack of an identifiable structure, it doesn't follow our laws..."

It took Ray a second, but then he understood. "Oh wow! It's Lovecraftian?"

A sharp nod from Saguru. "I'd bet on it. Of course it isn't 'ours,' and an Earthly pantheon would have no power over it."

"HEY!" Kaito and Heiji yelled in unison.

"What the hell are you talking about, and when are you going to explain to the rest of us?" the black-haired detective demanded.

Ray smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. There was an American writer of science fiction and horror, in the twenties, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He's best known for a series of stories about a being known as Cthulu, and a lot of other horribly alien entities, ones that aren't really anything human beings can understand. Well, his stories drew on a lot of real information, about real things. The Great Old Ones... the stories said 'when the stars were right, they came, but when the stars were wrong, they could not live.' They're dead, but not as we understand it, and they're eternal and will rise again when the stars once again are right."

"We fought Cthulu once," Peter added. "Not fun. Definitely not fun."

"And the readings we took during that encounter definitely correlate with those I received from the gem," Egon reported.

Kaito frowned. "Still lost here..."

"Think... think of our universe as a PC, running a basic PC's operating system," Saguru commented. "That, and any other Lovecraftian artifact or creature, would be something from a Mac. It doesn't... interface right, and therefore doesn't fall into any categories. Hence all the clues your father wove in."

"And it's... what, linked to Kudo?" Heiji asked.

"Yes. Basically, it's reformatting him. Hence flipping between reasonable sanity and... well, what we saw last night."

Kaito's face went hard. "So now that we know what it is... can we destroy it?"

"I think so," Egon replied. "The real problem will be breaking its connection to Kudo before we do. Or he'll just become the localization for the instability."

"Not gonna happen," Heiji growled.

"Well, whatever we do," Peter interrupted, "we'll find the answer a lot better on a few hours sleep. I suggest four hour shifts. Our three guests and I will conk out for four hours, and then relieve you guys and Winston."

Saguru blinked. "We can't sleep now!"

"Hakuba-kun, you've been driving all damn day," Kaito pointed out. "Not to mention you've been running yourself into a hole with the research, and I am not leaving you to spend the night anywhere near that thing, especially when it has a track record of hijacking people's reflexes. Either you can go lie down and get four hours sleep, or I will gas you the way I did Kudo, and we'll tie you to a bed for a full eight hours."

The teen opened his mouth to protest again, but Egon cut him off.

"Don't bother," the physicist said, with a knowing look. "I think they're a Spengler family curse."

Peter made a face at the older man. "Thank you, Spengs, it's nice to know I'm appreciated. And just so you know, if you don't have all your experiments wrapped up or running on autopilot by the time I get up in four hours, I will borrow Kaito's sleep gas from him."

"See what I mean?" Egon smiled calmly. "Don't worry, Peter, unlike you, I've never had a problem meeting deadlines. Ray and myself will be ready to turn things over to the four of you in four hours."

"Good." And with that, Peter chivvied the three teenagers out of the room, Saguru still protesting as he was led away.

"Family curse?" Ray asked, amused. Egon simply grinned, and the two of them returned to their work.

What with showering, dressing, threatening Egon, coffee, and breakfast, it was nearly dawn by the time Peter relieved Winston at his post watching over the unconscious Kudo. Dawn was good-- Egon theorized that the detective's personality shifts were probably triggered by the rise and set of the moon. Given that the moon was full, moonset and sunrise occurred at the same time. Which meant that if Kudo woke up while the sun was high, the odds were pretty good he'd be in his right mind. Not that Peter was taking any chances with that. Kuroba'd given him another capsule of the sleep gas, since the stuff had worked so well last night. Surprisingly well, according to the magician; apparently the stuff was only supposed to keep an adult down for a couple hours.

As if in response to Peter's thoughts, the teen lying on the bed shifted position slightly, eyelids fluttering open.

"... I'd ask what crawled into my mouth and died, but I already know the answer," Kudo said flatly, still staring at the ceiling.

"Well, 'died' is putting it a little too strongly," Peter replied, shifting in his chair. "Kuroba's just fine, currently annoying the living daylights out of your two friends by being the mother hen from Hell. I think I like him."

A flat crack of laughter. "Yeah, I do too. That's why I bit him last night... I thought I was doing him a favor. I... I wish I could say it was like a dream, or I wasn't in control, but that's the worst of it, I was. I was in the driver's seat the whole time, just... my mind was all twisted up."

Peter nodded, even though the kid wasn't looking at him. "Believe me, I know the feeling. You're talking to Petey Venkman, sometimes known as the 'Host with the Most.' If somebody's going to wind up possessed, overshadowed, influenced, or otherwise on a physical time-share with something from beyond the grave, it's probably gonna be me. If you want, I'll tell you about Watt sometime."

"About what?"

"Don't start that joke, we ran it into the ground when it happened. Watt was a demon who took me over to try and break all the ghosts out of the containment. It was nasty. Not quite like what happened to you, but I've been through that too. And I can tell you it really does help to talk about it."

Kudo said nothing for a moment, just staring at the ceiling. "I... I was so hungry that first night, I really don't remember anything. I must have been running on instinct, because they told me I went for Hattori's throat, but I don't remember any of it. Anyway, he knocked me out, and I guess I went from that to regular sleep... I'm pretty tired all the time, probably from the transformation. It seems to use a lot of energy. Then last night... I remember, it was like somebody flipped a switch, and all of a sudden, the hunger was back, but it wasn't the same. It wasn't overpowering me, it made me strong, made me fast, made me feel like I was stronger and faster and smarter than anyone else in the room. And I wanted to share that with my friends, I wanted to make them like me, immortal, powerful, not afraid of anything anymore. And then Kuroba-kun gassed me, and I went back asleep.

"I hear it in my sleep, you know. It talks to me, showing me things. Promising me things."

"Like what?" Peter asked, keeping his tone neutral.

The detective's response was equally matter-of-fact. "Oh, the usual. Power, vengeance, vampire queen in skimpy clothing."

Ahh yes, teenage hormones. Retarded aging or not, Peter was quite thankful he was past that mess.

"You know... I got the feeling that story you guys told us last night was only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever Pandora's selling you, I'd guess it has to do with all the things you aren't telling us... and I'd guess they're things you haven't told anyone, maybe not even your friends out there. What I said before holds true, it really does help to talk. And I can promise you, I am very good at keeping secrets. Nothing you say will leave this room unless you choose to let it out."

Silence for a long moment from the bed. "... It's not a safe secret to know."

"Ghostbusting isn't a safe profession. If I wanted safe, I'd have listened to my Uncle Alf and gone into hardware. Or at least run the other way when I got paired with this blond nutball of a physicist who honestly believed he could scientifically prove the existence of ghosts. I don't give a damn about safe. I do give a damn about keeping you from self-destructing, because you seem like a good kid, and it'd be a black mark on my professional record."

Another silence. Then Kudo sighed, and, never taking his eyes off the ceiling, he began to talk. Starting from how he'd followed two men in black into a dark alley to see a deal, and been given an experimental drug that had taken ten years off his age, through murders and assaults and thefts and close calls, up until a high fever and a visit from a ghost had brought him here. About the constant fear of being discovered, the soul-crushing boredom of being seventeen in a seven-year-old body, and the ache of watching the people most important to him wonder what had happened to him, and if he was alive or dead. And over all of it, the deep and abiding fear that the people who had done this to him would get away to do it again.

"Immortality," Peter said slowly. "You know, I'm gonna be fifty next year, and I've got the body of a guy in his early thirties. Leaving aside that I am a marvelous specimen of humanity, you'd think it'd be everybody's dream, right? Except you know what it does? None of us, not one of us, has any type of meaningful relationship outside the business, except family members. And even they're kind of wary. Who wants to have a long-term relationship, any kind of relationship, with somebody who's going to outlive you by fifty years? Who's going to be young and kicking butt when you need a walker to get around? Egon's the only one of us who has a girlfriend, and that's because our secretary's been around us so much, she's just as soaked in PKE as the rest of us. And as it is, they've both decided that they've got too much of the stuff in their systems to ever risk having kids. Now, we're okay with that. We've got each other, and that's enough. But we're still mortal, you can ask any of the local hospitals just how much blood they've had to pump into us in the past. Eventually, we're gonna get old and die, and that's okay too. But real immortality... anybody who honestly wants that is either an idiot or a sociopath."

Leaning forward, he squeezed one of the detective's ankles. "You did the right thing by hiding, and you're doing the right thing by fighting them. And you're right to be scared out of your mind. Just don't forget you've got your friends to lean on, okay?"

Kudo smiled. "... Okay. Thanks, Doctor Venkman, I actually do feel a little better."

"Peter, please. Only people who call me 'Doctor Venkman' are people I don't like, and Janine, our secretary. But I'm repeating myself. Now... what do you say we get some coffee and go join the research group already in progress?"

"That'd be great," Kudo replied. "But... um, can you untie me? Ireally need to go to the bathroom."

Rubbing his eyes, Heiji tried to focus on the printed page before him. His English skills might have been good enough to read newspapers from all over the States, but the dense, over-wrought and rather archaic prose favored by HP Lovecraft and his colleagues was enough to give him a serious headache. He probably didn't even really need to be reading this-- Hakuba'd dumped a couple of books on him and Kuroba in the name of "bringing them up to speed," but Heiji had a feeling it was more to keep the two of them out of trouble while the more technically-gifted detective had poked at the notes and research tomes Stantz and Spengler had left behind.

Not too long afterwards, Kudo'd drifted in, yawning widely enough to show fangs, but otherwise looking much more normal than the night before. Which was a definite relief, as was the fact that Venkman had followed him in, and was hovering nearby, just in case.

The five of them had passed the time in quiet research until noon or so, when the other three Ghostbusters had returned from their naps, at which point Spengler and Stantz had joined Hakuba in poking at various machinery, and Zeddemore had recruited Heiji to help keep the group fed and caffeinated, between stabs at reading comprehension.

Pushing the book away, Heiji looked around the lab. Kudo had his nose buried in one of Zeddemore's mystery novels, mug of coffee firmly located at his elbow. The sight reassured Heiji more than he was willing to admit; no matter how bad the situation got, if Kudo was still drinking paint stripper, something was normal in the world.

The three mad scientists-- he was really beginning to like that phrase of Venkman's-- had their heads bent over some mess of wires and circuits, speaking in low tones that Heiji wasn't even going to try to overhear. Venkman and Zeddemore both had large, antique tomes that Heiji was positive predated the printing press, and Kuroba...

Heiji blinked. The magician was sitting on the lab's sofa, upside down, legs draped over the back of the piece of furniture. Despite the awkwardness of his position, he was calmly reading a book that, from what Heiji could make out of the title, seemed to be written in... Latin?

"Okay, I'll bite," he sighed. "Kuroba... how many languages do youspeak, anyway?"

The magician looked away from his book, flashing one of Kid's trademark grins. "Hmm... Japanese, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and a smattering of German. I can read Latin, mostly, though I don't speak it that well. I've wanted to be an international magician ever since I was three, Hattori. Oyaji... Oyaji got me started early, and it was a fun game." He shrugged, an odd motion given his position.

"How about you, Hakuba-kun? Where do you rate on the linguistic scale?" Kuroba asked, deflecting attention as usual.

"Hmm?" The blond teen looked up from his work. "Oh... About the same, though my German is better than my Italian. And add to the list reasonable fluency in Quenya."

Heiji blinked. "In what?"

"Elvish?" Venkman asked, raising an eyebrow.

Hakuba ducked his head, blushing slightly. "I didn't do much as a child other than study. And... they were fascinating books."

"English, Japanese, Spanish, American Sign Language and Japanese Sign Language," Kudo threw in, not looking up from his book. "My dad's brother's deaf."

"Yeesh, I feel inadequate," Heiji griped. "English and Japanese."

Venkman shrugged. "Hey, I speak English and bad Spanish. I barely made my foreign language requirement in college, and I've forgotten half of what I knew." He shifted.

"How 'bout you, Zed?"

"English, Spanish, and bits and pieces of Vietnamese," Zeddemore replied, looking up. "I don't even wanna ask Egon and Ray."

The psychologist snorted. "Living languages only, boys. What's the tally?"

"Um... English, Russian, though I'm only semi-fluent in that one, Spanish, Scots Gaelic, thanks to Uncle Andrew..." Stantz replied, ticking them off on his hands.

Spengler looked up, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. "Not counting dead languages? English, Japanese, German, French, and Spanish."

"Wow," Heiji commented. "We're a regular United Nations here." He shifted position. "So, do I dare ask what you three are working on?"

"We think we may have found a solution to Kudo-kun's problem," Hakuba replied. "Currently, it's simply a question of adjusting the device to accurately mimic the frequencies we need."

Looking up from his book, Venkman frowned. "Wait a minute, if you geniuses already have the answer, why am I chasing down squid tales?"

"Because," Spengler replied, "there's a small chance we won't be able to make it work, and if that's so, more information would be very useful. Besides, it keeps you out of trouble."

"... I am so short-sheeting your bed one of these days, Spengler. Expect my vengeance."

Kudo looked up as well, face expressionless. "I really hope it works. I'm not sure I can take another night like that."

"To hell with that," Heiji growled. "If I have to knock you out as soon as I see that grin again, I will."

His friend smirked. "Thank you, Hattori, that's disturbingly reassuring."

"I think that got it," Stantz broke in. "Saguru, if you can put that plate back on... I think we're ready to give it a try."

Venkman regarded the machine warily, while Hakuba did as instructed. "And what, exactly, is that thing?"

Spengler opened his mouth to explain, then, apparently taking pity on the laymen in the audience, sighed. "It reverses Pandora's 'reformatting,' to use Saguru's analogy from last night. It sets up what's basically a counter-wave, converting Kudo back to this dimension's 'format.' If done correctly, it should basically push Pandora's influence back through the link and into the gem. At that point, we'll be able to destroy it."

"Yeah?" Kuroba perked up. "How?"

The physicist pushed his glasses back up on his nose. "I recommend a very large hammer," he said dryly.

"Oh, I like you." Kuroba's grin held more than a hint of sharpness.

Kudo pushed himself to his feet. "Okay, so... what's the catch?" he asked warily. "There's always a catch."

That got a wince from Stantz. "Well... you have to keep your hands on the plate until the link is broken, or it'll just come right back. And... we're shifting your cellular structure back to something that obeys our physical laws, so..."

"It's going to hurt like hell," Heiji translated. He might not understand fancy scientific terms, but he could see where that was going easily enough.

"Yeah," the red-haired man sighed. "Pretty much."

Taking a deep breath, Kudo came around the table. "Don't care. Frankly, after the last year, I'm kind of getting used to pain... let's do it now, before I lose my nerve. Or worse."

Hakuba pressed several buttons on the device, which looked like nothing so much as a very large hotplate with a flat, chrome top. A soft hum rose from the machine, and the faintest blue glow seemed to surround the plate. "Just place your hands on the metal surface and hold on," the blond detective said quietly.

Biting his lip, Kudo closed his eyes and did as he was told.

And promptly went completely rigid, eyes snapping open as every muscle locked, looking rather like he'd just received an electric shock. His jaw dropped open, fangs gleaming prominently in the overhead lights. Sparks began crackling over his hands as his body was enveloped in a baleful red glow.

Kudo's fingers twitched, and suddenly Kuroba was there, hands covering Kudo's, holding them to the metal plate, even as the red sparks spat and struck at him. "Don't let go," Kuroba ordered, voice low and even despite the wince he couldn't quite suppress. "I'm not losing anybody else to this thing, especially not one of the few people who can actually give me a challenge. Hold on, damn it, Kudo-kun, or I will kick your ass all the way to the afterlife and back."

Heiji only hesitated a moment more, before moving in on Kudo's other side, adding his own hands to the pile. Red electricity snapped at him, and he swore briefly; it was like getting cracked with a whip, only it was cold and hot all at once. But he locked his hands over Kudo's, ignoring the pain and Kudo's increasing struggling.

"Damn it, Kudo, I did not go through getting shot, getting beat up, and bodies falling from the sky onto my head just to lose you now! You've been too damn stubborn to give up before, don't you dare quit now!"

"It's working!" Stantz cried excitedly, from somewhere off to the side. Well, duh, Heiji could have told him that. Not only was the blue aura getting stronger, pushing its way up Kudo's arms, but the vampire detective's struggles were growing more frenzied as Pandora fought to hold onto its host. Heiji and Kuroba traded glances; Kudo was a hell of a lot stronger than they were. If Pandora broke through his stubborn resolve, he could easily throw them bot across the room, and kami knew what would happen then.

Suddenly a pair of pale hands came down, locking around Kudo's wrists. Standing on the other side of the device, Hakuba didn't say anything at first, simply locking eyes with Kudo.

"Hold on," the blond said quietly. "And we'll hold with you."

A high whine from the device, and the blue aura surged up Kudo's body, washing red away in a sudden flash, blowing all four of them in four different directions. Blinking against a sudden sea of white, Heiji heard Stantz yell "NOW," and a sharp splintering crack that changed into the sounds of something screaming; the voice of something long dead and gone to the four winds. Then the noise died away, and all was silent.

It seemed like forever, but it was probably only a few seconds before Heiji's vision recovered from the flash. Kuroba and Hakuba were picking themselves up off the floor, faces reflecting the same stunned hope Heiji was feeling. Venkman was holding a claw hammer-- or what had been a claw hammer, there wasn't much left of the head but a twisted lump of metal. On the table before him was a pile of red shards that were even now slowly evaporating into nothing. Stantz and Zeddemore were helping Kudo to his feet, while Spengler had one of those weird meters trained on the detective.

As for Kudo himself, he was running his tongue over his teeth, an expression of astonished hope on his face. "They're gone," he said numbly. "It's gone?"

"It appears so," Spengler replied. "These readings look entirely human."

Kudo's jaw tightened, in a stubborn look Heiji'd seen on his face a hundred times when he was Conan. "Only one way to know for sure," Kudo commented, pulling away from the two men supporting him and walking over to one of the windows. Before anyone could react, he'd whipped open the blackout shutters, letting in a flood of late-afternoon sunlight.

"... It's gone." Kudo whispered, closing his eyes as he let the light fall on his face. "It's really gone." And then for the third time in as many days, Kudo Shinichi passed out.

It wasn't hard to know when Kudo woke up, Saguru mused. Despite the fact that he'd been placed in the bunkroom, and the six of them were down in the living room with the stereo playing, the lecture Hattori was giving the other boy was clearly audible, if not always intelligible. Saguru thought he caught "idiotic," "self-destructive" and "all the self-preservation skills of an octopus in a takoyaki restaurant" somewhere in there, however. Hattori had a gift for colorful turns of phrase.

Even so, when the two teens came down the stairs, both looked more pleased than anything else. Most impressive was the fact that Kudo was walking on his own, and a hint of color had finally returned to that ashen complexion.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty awakes!" Venkman called, as the two entered the living room. "How're you feeling?"

Kudo smiled, dropping gratefully into the chair Venkman offered him. "Pretty good, all things considered. Thanks to you guys."

"Don't worry about it," the psychologist replied. "We'll send you a bill."

"PETER!" Stantz yelled from the kitchen.

The former vampire just grinned. "Send it to my parents, they'll consider it money well-spent. Other than that, though, I am starved. Do you think we could order a pizza?"

"Sure," Zeddemore replied, grabbing the phone beside the couch. "We've got the local place on speed dial. What do you want on it?"

Kudo grinned wickedly. "Anchovies."

"KUDOOOO!" Kuroba, in a truly impressive display of flexibility, launched himself from a cross-legged position on the floor, knocking Kudo out of his seat and back down to the ground, applying a furious noogie as he did so. The brunet detective tried to fight back, but was hampered by the fact that he was laughing hard enough to rupture something. For that matter, so was Hattori, who was now leaning against the wall beside the bookshelf, arms wrapped around his stomach and tears starting in his eyes. Stomping down the smirk that threatened to cross his own lips, Saguru edged his chair away from the mess on the floor.

Over on the couch, Venkman cocked an eyebrow at Egon, who looked down his nose in pretended haughtiness.

"Don't even think about it," the physicist rumbled.

"You're no fun, Spengs."

Blue eyes twinkled behind glass. "I should say not, Peter. I'm a scientist. We don't do fun."

The knot of limbs on the floor had come to a stop, Kuroba apparently feeling Kudo'd been punished enough. "You know, Hakuba-kun, that explains so much about you," the magician commented, one arm still looped loosely about Kudo's neck.

Saguru didn't dignify that with a response, only throwing his cousin a long-suffering glance. "A family curse, you said?"


"Anyway," Venkman broke in, "we talked about it, and given the events of the day, we decided it'd probably be best if you guys stayed here another night and got on the road in the morning. You're probably none of you in any shape to drive back to DC."

Hattori groaned. "Don't remind me. We gotta go back and explain this whole mess to Kudo's parents..."

"We appreciate the offer," Saguru replied, "and... we accept."

"But I get the couch," Kudo commented. "No offense, but I've seen enough of that guest room to last me a lifetime."

A snort from Zeddemore. "I hear ya."

Kudo sighed, leaning back and using Kuroba as a make-shift backrest. "I don't know about you guys, but for tonight, I just want to forget the rest of the world exists. Tomorrow we'll have work to do, more than enough to make up for it."

"Yeah, speaking of that," Venkman commented, pulling out a sheet of paper. "I don't know what all you're planning to do about your big problem, but this might be useful."

"Names and phone numbers?" Kuroba said curiously, taking it from him.

"NYPD. We've gotten to know a lot of them over the years... these are the guys we know without a doubt are clean. Good guys, the lot of them. Don't know how much help it'll be, but it might be a place to start."

"Thanks," Kudo replied, as Kuroba handed it to him. A gleam in his eye indicated he was beginning to get an idea, but in deference to his earlier stated wishes, Saguru let it go for now.

"So," Hattori commented, "Seriously. Who's up for pizza?"

"Hattori, so help me, if you order anchovies, I will hurt you..."

"Spengs, you want pineapple, right?"

Saguru sighed. He must be losing his mind... he was actually looking forward to this.