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Chapter 9
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Contrary to popular belief, Natalia does not only look out for her own interest.

Her adoration for Ivan - no matter how warped or twisted it had become in the last few years of her life and in the time after - is genuine, and wants nothing more for the other to be happy. Ideally, his happiness would be entwined with her own, but as she has gradually come to realize over the past few weeks, such a thing is not possible even now in death. Even with using her own brand of logic, she knows Ivan is unhappy and in leaving him to mope around as he has been doing so could cause him to evolve into one of those nasty paranormal beings she had seen back when first searching for him.

Knowing this, she finally came to a resolution.

After leaving Ivan to his own devices one evening, Natalia begins to roam the city streets in search of another of their own kind. She had met him years ago, stumbling across the other apparition when first stalking Alfred in his younger years. He had been fussing over the two Italian brothers, whatever their names were, that Alfred had befriended. Many times he had attempted to converse with her and always it ended with him being disappointed in her lack of response. Though somewhere along the line, she began to encounter him in other places and in need for an outlet of her frustrations indulged him in conversation.

It isn't exactly a friendship they share as it is a casual acquaintance in which one bestows generous amounts of information that is not in the least bit wanted on the other. Some good has come from the connection though, as Natalia has come to realize in the last few days.

"Ah~ another visit from this pretty lady! To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Natalia pauses in front of the other apparition; an older gentleman, somewhere near sixty if she makes a guess, with a full hair of shaggy brown hair and kind eyes. Natalia always took him for being a slacker in life, if the stubble still gracing his chin is any indication, though never questioned him on the matter.

"You came back from the other side, did you not?" she instantly asks.

Evident surprise settles on the other's face before an awkward sort of smile takes over in it's place. "Strictly business today, is it?"

"Answer my question… please."

"Well, since you're being so nice and all," he teases. "Yes, I did come back from the other side."

"But why?"

"To see my grandchildren, of course," he says, and gestures at the two brothers inside the apartment the younger one shares with his friends. "But in doing so, I'm not sure when I'll be allowed back, if at all."

"So you have not crossed over since the first time?" Natalia presses.

"No," he answers. "Do you want to?"

"I want to know if it is possible for a being of our kind to pass on still."

"Hmm…" The other apparition closes his eyes and strokes at his half beard in thought. "I'm sure you would be able too. By all means, you shouldn't be here to begin with."

"Yes, I know," Natalia replies dryly. "I assumed those that stay behind remain for unfinished business."

"I've heard that as well. Though I've come across many who feel too much regret from their life, or those who feel as though they've met their end too soon or unjustly."

"For those that feel regret…" Natalia begins but trails off. She becomes unsure on how to word her question, and is slightly hesitant in wanting to hear the other's thoughts on the matter. At this point, she's not quite sure how she would be able to take in anything that isn't what she wants to hear.

"Would the be able to cross?" he finishes for her. "I've actually seen one of them pass over."

The words causes her eyes to widen in alarm and feel excited at the same time. "You have?"

"Yes, a good friend of mine that had been lingering behind before I decided to come back. He was feeling remorse of some kind for the living conditions he left his family in. But, I said to him, I said, 'You don't need to feel this way. Look at the way your eldest takes charge, he's going to be a better man because of this hardship. And the little one, will still have a father figure in his life to help guide him.'."

He pauses in his storytelling, becoming lost in his thoughts and continues on in a smaller voice. "I was only trying to cheer him up a bit, but the more he said that I was right and that he didn't need to worry, shouldn't worry, doesn't worry… he faded out of my sight, and I felt his absence. He left this world for the next. So, I can only think that anyone who holds onto some kind of regret can easily depart when they have no reason to."

Natalia is perfect still throughout his tale, understanding slowly creeping into her with every word. When he is complete with his account, she nods marginally and begins to excuse herself with a small word of thanks in gratitude for the recollection.

"Are you planning to move on yourself?" he asks her.

She remains in her position, though she's moved her head to the side in order to avoid any eye contact.

"No," she replies. "At least, not yet. But there is a friend of mine that I.. care very much for. I wish to help him."

A genuine smile works its way onto the other's face. "He's lucky to have you."

Natalia turns away completely from him, making her way back to the house without another word. She steadily begins to formulate a way to help Ivan cross over to join Alfred. It does not take her long…

"Where is it you are taking me?"

After many more tiring weeks of being persistent, Natalia finally manages to convince Ivan to leave his home. Since taking one long final look at the dwelling with a new "For Sale" sign planted in the front yard, she took up Ivan's hand and began to lead him on the same journey Alfred made that fateful day.

For the most part, Ivan remains quiet. Whether lost in his thoughts or simply wallowing in his own self-pity, Natalia doesn't know but she does find herself to be more relived when he does speak.

"I want to show you something," she answers. "It will make you feel better, surely."

"We are not going to the cemetery, are we?"

"Vanya, that would not make you feel better."

They soon approach the site of the accident, and even though neither one had been present for the even, the remnants of small memorial city workers have finally begun to tear down let them know that Alfred had died in this vicinity. Natalia feels Ivan tense through the simple grip she has on his hand as they pass, and gives it a small comforting squeeze.

"You are aware of how it was Alfred died?" she asks him once they are away from the scene.

"I had heard that it was because he took the place of another in the accident," Ivan answers dismally. "Which I am able to believe completely. It sounds very much like something Alfred would do… Natasha, how is this supposed to make me feel better?"

"We are almost there, simply listen to what I am telling you." Natalia pauses in her speech to sort out her thoughts and to also figure where would be the best place to begin. "As you know, I have seen your sister, and the truth is that I have visited her household many times since finding her location. She has a family, Vanya. She married not long after our deaths and started a family. She gave birth to only two children, a girl and a boy. The girl she named after myself, and the boy after you. And really, he does appear very much like you did when you were younger."

Ivan smiles contently at hearing of how well his sister's life had turned out. "Is that so?"

"Yes. He is twelve and the girl is over eighteen. The girl, her daughter, is a baker and has opened her own shop right here in the city. The same one that Alfred and his cousin became patrons of."

"A shop-"

"Katyusha often needs to deliver items that her daughter leaves behind at home to her. She still must depend on public transportation though, and as such, the delivery becomes more difficult than it should seeing as how others rarely offer assistance… Alfred, however, was very happy to aid her."

Natalia comes to a halt, and in turn Ivan stops behind her. She lets go of his hand and for a brief moment, the two allow the living pedestrians to walk through them before Natalia finally moves to face the other. She moves her lips to speak, but Ivan cuts off anything she might have said.

"Alfred took Katyusha's place," he says simply.

Ivan's shoulders sag considerably at the sight of Natalia giving him an affirmative nod and he lets out a small sad laugh.

"Did he know this?" he asks.

"I do not think so," Natalia answers. "I only overheard this information a week or so ago, but it seemed that they had only met the one time and not much was discussed between them as far as family was concerned."

Ivan staggers against a nearby brick wall and buries his face into his hands. "I.. am not sure how to feel," he confesses. "I am glad that my sister is still alive and well, but when I think of Alfred giving his life for that to be…"

Natalia moves beside him and takes his hands into hers, she leads him to a large window with painted words and baked goods on display. She urges him to look within, to the sights of his sister and her children inside. Any negative emotion Ivan may have been feeling melt away at the scene of his beloved Ekaterina setting down a plate of sweets in front of a young boy surrounded by school books at a corner table before returning to help a new customer at the register. He sees a another woman, younger and the spitting image of his sister in her older teens, emerge from the backroom with a large box in hand.

"Do you see?" Natalia asks. "Katyusha is doing very well."

"Yes, she is very… happy." Ivan smiles and glances at his companion. "She looks to be so happy, Natasha, I am very glad for that."

Natalia smiles sadly back. "Are you feeling better?"

"I am feeling much better," he responds. "Thank you, Natasha, I had been worried for her well being for so many years… Thank you."

Natalia continues to stare at Ivan as he plays a voyeur to the lives of those inside the bake shop. The more she does so, the more she feels as though he's beginning to grow more transparent then normal.

"How do you feel, Vanya?" she asks again.

Ivan turns to look in her direction, a bit of confusion written on his face.

"Happier, I suppose," he tells her. "As I have said before."

"You do not feel… lighter, in any way? As though you have nothing left to worry for?"

Ivan pauses to consider the notion. "Yes.. I do. Seeing Katyusha living in this manner has left me with no worries for her. That has been my one concern since dying."

He smiles and says, "I could ask for nothing more than to have her living well without me."

Ivan fades away from her sight so quickly that Natalia was most certain that if she had blinked she would have missed him leaving from her side. Not that she needs her eyesight to tell he is truly gone, she is able to sense the lack of his presence completely, and while it was her aim for him to leave for the other side, she can't help the sad laugh spilling out from her lips. Without so much as a second glance at his family, Natalia begins to make her way back, trying not to let her emotions show even if there is no longer anyone to hide them from.

"Wait until I nurse my heartache," she mutters to herself. "When I am able to pass on myself, I will be such a disturbance to both of you as payback."

As Natalia makes her way back to her former home to keep her still living mother company, Ivan finds himself in a new environment.

He blinks in surprise of not seeing Natalia in front of him as she had been, and it takes him a moment longer to realize that he is no longer in front of the small bakery, but rather a tall red bricked apartment building. He steps back from the structure and notices that none of the surrounding is at all familiar. He's encircled by a residential area filled with small apartment complexes nestled on the sides of a single paved road running continuously.

A sudden breeze passes by him, and the moment the wind hits Ivan's face, he lifts his hand to touch the side of his face and gasps at being able to feel a small bit of warmth coming from his skin. He then realizes when he gasped, he actually breathed in air. He tries so again, taking in a deep breath and concludes that yes, he is breathing.

"Move out of the way!"

Ivan turns briskly in the direction of the voice calling out and is met with the sight of a small blonde boy in a sailor suit riding a scooter at a great speed coming towards him. He barely dodges an impact and stumbles into someone who had just emerged from the entrance of the apartments and had been attempting to move past him.

"E-Excuse me," he stutters. It has been so long since he had the chance to collide with another being that the phrase feels foreign when he says it.

A girl half his height blinks up at him in a panic. She shakes her head, causing the blue ribbon in her blonde hair to flutter about.

"No, no," she says. "It was my fault, please, excuse me, I am very sorry."

"No, the fault was mine. I am not used to being… solid."

The girl's eyes widen considerably and she takes a small step back to study the man before her. "You have just crossed over? That is why you look so lost."

"I look lost?"

"I mean to say, your surprise when I walked into you, I am sorry by the way, I have seen that occur many times already. For some reason, those who cross over appear here first."

Ivan quickly moves his head in all directions, taking in the

"Lily!"

Both of them turn their heads upwards, spotting a blonde haired figure leaning out of one of the third level windows.

"I told you not to talk to strangers!" he shouts down. "Get back inside!"

"I am sorry!" Ivan calls back. "She was only explaining to me what this place was. I am new, you see. I have just crossed over from the living world."

"Good for you! Now, stay away from my sister!" The other male's green eyes turn back towards the small girl, his sister apparently. "Lily, get back inside, now!"

Ivan holds his arms up to keep Lily away from reentering the building and calls back to the other male. "Please, if you could tell me if you know anyone by the name of Alfred Jones? He is blonde with blue eyes and glasses, maybe?"

"Never heard of him!"

Lily lowers Ivan's arm and distinctly calls up to her brother, "Yes, we have, brother! He is Mr. Jones' son! We met him the day we bought our lamps from their store!"

Ivan rounds onto Lily and grabs at her hand. "You know Alfred?"

"Yes," Lily nods. "He often plays with the children at the park with me."

"Where would I be able to find him? Do you know?"

"It's a work day," Lily's brother calls down to him once more. "He's probably at the shop. Go up this road and turn right on the first intersection, you need to take a left on the next intersection and it's the third store on the right side. It's the only one with a neon 'open' sign."

"Thank you!" Ivan calls out to him. He clenches at Lily's hand and expresses his gratitude towards her help just as exuberantly before detaching himself from her and taking the directions he has been given hurriedly.

Ivan moves quickly through the streets, gaining the stares of some of those out walking or working though he pays little attention to them. He becomes a tad breathless by the time he makes it to the store with the sign described to him, and it takes a few moments for him to regain a sense of composure before immediately shoving his face into the window for any glimpse of a blonde cowlick. The storefront is empty, yet instead of slinking off into another direction, Ivan moves to the entrance and pulls at the handle to let himself in.

A bell on the door signals his entrance and is the only greeting he receives when entering the front room filled with floor lamps, television sets, and other electrical devices. Ivan feels his heart begin to pound, a sensation so forgotten that he is sure that it's bound to fall out if he does not calm himself as the seconds tick by.

Suddenly though, a voice rings out to him, "Hold on a sec, I'll be right out!", and the familiarity of the voice catches his breath.

"My dad's not in right now," the voice goes on and becomes louder as the sound of footsteps descending a staircase from behind the counter is evident enough to hear. "So if you're here for him you're gonna hafta-"

The second one Alfred F. Jones appears in the front room and lays his eyes on who he thought was an ordinary customer, his words are cut off from the very shock Ivan's appearance gives him. It's only when Ivan manages to choke out the other's name that Alfred finally snaps out of his stupor and sprints to the other side of the counter before tackling Ivan right to the ground.

The impact is painful, though neither one seems to care or even bother in paying attention to it. The two find themselves preoccupied with clinging to each other mercilessly lest they be ripped apart once more.

"I didn't think I was gonna see you again," Alfred says into his chest. "I thought Natalia was gonna keep you on the other side because I left you-"

"You did not leave me," Ivan interrupts. "You did not, it was accident, Alfred. Only an accident."

He grips Alfred closer to him and presses a kiss into his hair, and for a moment his newly regained senses are overloaded with everything the other has to offer. For the first time ever, Ivan is allowed to feel the strands of hair between his fingers, to breathe in the blonde's own scent, and to taste his lips when finally bringing them to his own. Alfred clutches at him just as vigorously, and though he goes through the same thought process as Ivan, he pulls away to lock eyes with the other and apologize again.

Ivan brushes loose wisps of hair away from his face and even straightens his glasses before saying, "It does not matter now. Though, I did miss you. Very much."

"I missed you too," Alfred confesses. "I wanted to go back, so many times I thought about going back. But then I found my parents and… my mom was happy to see me, well, not really because I was dead, but y'know what I mean."

"It does not matter now," Ivan repeats. "I am here now with you."

"You promise to stay with me?"

Ivan presses their foreheads together, locking his eyes with Alfred's once more, making certain that the other can see that his reply is nothing but serious.

"Of course."

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-Ze End! ^-^

-Soo, I just realized that Ivan and Alfred died the same way. Blow to the back of the head. Coincidence? Lol, no way.

-And I'm sure I'm not the only one that thinks Natalia deserves a thank you of some sort. As well as the mystery ghost who helped her who was?... Grandpa Rome! Idk how he got in here, but he did...

-Lily and Vash ended up in there too, and I'm just like, "... Sure!" XD Srsly, at this point, I'm not even gonna bother to control fics anymore, they can just do what they want. Irresponsible? Maybe...

-Thanks very much to those of you who reviewed through all this, spesh to the ones who reviewed every chapter, you gaiz get my official recognition of Awesome. Course I would still love for everyone to drop a line on the way out, seeing as how it's the end and all...

-But yeah, hope you all liked the fic in any case... That's pretty much it, lol. Gotta get back to the other fics so, later all and see ya 'round the site. :)

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Anonymous Reviews:

Earth Coyote: Thanks for reviewing, and hopefully this chapter was as awesome as the rest of the fic. I get the feeling that it was very fluffy, and a lot of my own headcanon showed through. -sweatdrop-