Hey, guys! Surprise oneshot! (unless you read my LiveJournal, then you had a head's up!) I was itching to do something in the Halloween spirit, and, like a message from God, StrifesLove suggested a story continuation for my "Haunted" series. It caught my interest, so I warped her plot suggestion (possibly for the worse ^^;) and wrote it out! So, thank her for this, because she definitely gave me the kick-start I needed. On a side note, I tried to return to the writing style more similar to HbaA and SotC, which is weird because it's definitely lighter than the "City is at War" style, and less detailed (which makes sense since I wrote it a while ago)…Meh, and now I'm rambling. Anyway, on with the story, Happy Halloween! :D
Oh, and keep in mind that this is only a oneshot! Don't be surprised if the ending seems a little abrupt!
Haunted-3: Memories of the Forgotten
"Yo! Rude! Hold up a sec, will you?"
The large man turned at the sound of his name, rolling his eyes behind dark-tinted glasses as his usual partner, Reno, ran up to him. As usual, the red-head's suit was untucked and rumpled, his grin as wide – and apologetic – as it could possibly be. Sending the younger man a disapproving frown, Rude crossed his arms over his broad chest. "You're late."
"I know, I know." The electro-magnetic rod in Reno's hand swung wildly with his exasperated gestures. "The traffic was horrible! I mean it! I still don't know why the new HQ has to be so far away from Radiant Garden, I can never get here on time for my shift!" With a long suffering sigh, Reno swung his weapon around, nearly smacking Rude across the face. "And then you always start on your rounds without me! I mean, we're partners, right? That's just not cool! What am I supposed to do if Tseng finds out and accuses me of skipping out?"
"Then he'll finally know the truth."
Reno gasped, "Man, that's so not true! I work really hard!"
Instead of replying, Rude turned back to the walkway they were currently on. With or without Reno's participation, it was their job to patrol the exterior of Shinra's company building during this time slot. It didn't help that the building was very large, so if they didn't keep going at a reasonable pace there was no way that they would be done in time to punctually start their next task.
Today, however, Reno was keeping pace with him, a possible indication of a good work day. As they walked, the redhead lowered his sunglasses down over his eyes to block out the morning sun, resting his weapon jauntily on his shoulder as he looked up at the building and company they were protecting. "I'm still not completely used to this place, yo. It's way different than the last HQ. I still say they could have salvaged the old site, I hate having to learn my way around a new place…"
"You know staying in Midgar was out of the question. The cost of covering the damage done by the explosion would have been more than the cost of this building. And you shouldn't be complaining; being out in the countryside makes this site much safer."
"Yeah, yeah. I've heard that from Tseng way too many times. Almost have the damn speech memorized." Looking up at the building, blue eyes scanning the smooth concrete walls and industrial windows, Reno frowned. "Still…this place isn't exactly in the top picks of my favorite location…"
Rude didn't have anything to say to that. He couldn't say that he sympathized with his partner, but he understood. Sort of. All the Turks did. After all, their elite security group was the one that knew this building best.
The unusually quiet curse passed across Reno's lips in barely a whisper, but instantly caused Rude's eyes to snap to where the other man was looking. Four floors up, the highest floor of the building, a white form darted past one window, then the following one, rushing through the hallway like a rush of air.
"Yo…" Reno's voice shook slightly as a shiver ran down his spine. "Do you think we have to check that out?"
"Rufus is still incapacitated from the bomb hit." Though the attack on Shinra's previous headquarters had occurred almost a full year ago, their CEO, Rufus Shinra, was still restricted to a wheelchair. His office had been so close to the epicenter of the blast that it really was a miracle that he had survived at all. It had taken the Turks hours – even with the aid of fire and rescue teams – to dig him out. When Tseng, their group leader, had finally pulled him out of the rubble, he had barely been recognizable. Luckily, the company had enough funds to pay for the best medical care, and Rufus was on his way to making a full recovery.
Still, Rufus was the only one with access to that portion of the fourth floor other than the Turks and, well, the Turks wore black suits. They had seen it, and now had an obligation to investigate in case it was an intruder.
Reno knew this, but it didn't stop the whine that escaped him. "But, come on, we know that's not someone breaking it. It's, it's happened before...! And it's so creepy!"
Screwing his eyes shut, Reno took a deep breath, trying to pull all of his courage together. He could do this. With any luck, it would just be an intruder and he could beat the guy's head in with his electro-magnetic rod. "Alright, let's go."
Reno took the stairs two at a time as Rude took the elevator, splitting up to make sure that the possible intruder didn't sneak down one of the two exits from the fourth floor. Bursting through the stairwell door as the elevator dinged its arrival, Reno shook his head, panting lightly at Rude's silent question. He hadn't met anyone on his trip up. The intruder was still on this floor.
With a flick of Reno's wrist, the electric-magnetic rod was in front of him and crackling with charged energy. Rude didn't have a weapon, but he didn't need them. His fists and martial arts would be enough to take down anyone foolish enough to try and sneak into Shinra. Together, the two of them slipped down the white hall. The tension rose with every closet and side room they checked, all of them empty.
As they reached the end of the hall, Reno's fingers tightened around his weapon. "Alright, yo, only the boss's suite left."
Rude nodded stiffly, waiting until they were both in position before he threw open the door to Rufus Shinra's office.
They had been prepared to come across a possible hostage situation. Instead, Rufus was at his desk, the platinum blond man fixing them with an irritated glare as he held his phone to his ear, obviously in the middle of a business call. The man's voice was almost a snarl as he spoke into the receiver. "No, sorry, can I call you back later? Yes, an issue just stumbled into my office that I need to deal with."
Reno and Rude flinched as their boss ended the call and turned his icy gaze back to them. "Reno. Rude. Do you want to explain or should I just skip to the part where I call Tseng in to deal with you two?"
Both of them swallowed but before Reno could let out more than a nervous chuckle, Rude stepped forward. "Sorry, sir, but we saw movement up here from the grounds. It looked as if someone in white was heading toward your office."
Rufus' eyes narrowed. Then, he motioned down to his own pristine white suit, "Well, as you can see, I'm the only one in white here at the moment. And I think I would have noticed someone else barging in here. So, if you are done taking up my time, get back to your posts-"
He was cut off by a clatter from outside the room, back in the hallway. Rufus frowned and waved his guards out to investigate, his other hand falling to the wheel of his wheelchair. "Go see what that was."
Hearing the pounding of running feet, Reno and Rude spun around just in time to see a corner of a black shoulder disappearing into one of the rooms back at the other end of the hall. They ran to catch the intruder as the door slammed shut behind the figure but were only halfway down the hallway when the sound of a gunshot cut through the air. Heart pumping with adrenaline, Reno reached the door where the person had disappeared first and kicked it open, prepared to be face to face with a gun.
The rows and rows of the archival room were stacked to the ceiling with confidential files, records of old business deals and research. Swallowing as he felt Rude come up behind him, Reno motioned for the bigger man to take the right side of the room as he went to the left, clearing the room shelf by shelf.
Just as he had cleared the last of his rows, Reno heard Rude call him from the other side of the room. Reno ran over only to see the last row in a complete state of disarray; files ripped open and papers scattered all over the floor. Rude's attention, however, was on the small open window at the far end, its lock literally shattered – possibly by the gunshot they had heard only seconds before. Cold autumn wind blew in through the window, scattering and scrambling the papers further as Reno gingerly stepped over them, meeting Rude at the window. It was four floors down, and no one was visible on the grounds.
"The window below us is also open."
Reno blinked then leaned out the window – the move causing Rude to grab onto the back of his jacket – only to see that yes, the window right below them was also wide open. The third floor was where some of the scientists worked. Most of them weren't fit enough to make the dangerous jump down to the next floor, but for the information in these files, it might just have been worth it for one of them. And it seemed like they were armed. "Yeah, one of the bastards might have gotten something."
"I'll sound the alarm."
Three hours later and Shinra had finally moved from complete lock-down to total evacuation, as protocol demanded. The Turks had been kept busy the entire time, gathering all of the employees from the building and systematically questioning and searching all of their possessions for possible stolen files, the evacuation allowing them to search uninhibited through everyone's stations.
The police had responded to the alarm within fifteen minutes – the drive from the nearby city precincts having taken most of that time – and it was apparent that they too were getting tired of standing out on the company lawn when there was no obvious emergency.
Reno shivered, pulling his suit jacket closer about him to keep out the fall chill. It seriously sucked having to question everyone. He had just finished talking to one of the secretaries from the second level when yet another police cruiser pulled into the parking lot. Running his hands through his spiked bangs he let out a short sigh. "Man, another one?"
In the middle of speaking to one of their scientists, Tseng raised his head. "Reno, we don't need any more officers. Since you're free at the moment, go talk to them."
"Yeah, yeah…Why do I always get the rough jobs…?" Sighing again, Reno nonetheless sauntered over to the cruiser. He brightened considerably though when he saw a familiar face stepping out of the driver's door. Maybe this wouldn't be so rough after all. "Hey, yo, Mr. Strife, sir! What's going on?"
The older man frowned as a short-haired female officer exited the passenger side, the scar cutting through the center of his face emphasizing his irritation. "That's what I'd like to know. I've got five boys out here but all I was getting through the radio was confusion." Leon ran a hand through his brown hair as his eyes locked onto the mass of people standing in front of Shinra's headquarters. "I came to bring them back to the station or to settle things myself as quickly as possible."
The female officer grinned. She seemed much more nonchalant than Leon about the situation. "Don't worry about him. Captain Strife's just riled up because it's his last day of work and he was hoping to head home early before his vacation."
"What? It's true. We just came because you were fidgeting too much at your desk."
Leon shot an icy glare over to the younger officer but didn't deny the accusation. Instead, he turned back to Reno. "What exactly happened?"
Reno shrugged helplessly. "I'm not really sure. Me and Rude were patrolling the grounds when we saw someone on the top floor. We went in, chased the guy into one of the archive rooms, heard a shot fired, went in and saw that one of the windows was open and all these papers on the floor. We thought one of the employees must have tried to sneak in and steal something."
During his explanation, Leon's scowl had turned thoughtful and he had crossed his arms over his chest. "Why are you so sure that it was one of your staff that broke into the room."
Reno chuckled, "Duh. It's pretty much impossible to get into the building if you don't work for us. Elena and Tseng have been at the entrance all morning at the security desk. They would have definitely stopped anyone who didn't have their ID. And what's weird is that everyone has to go through a metal detector when they come in too, so it's not like they could have snuck in a gun that easily either…" Reno trailed off at this point, a shudder running down his spine as a thought suddenly occurred to him.
Seeing the change of expression, Leon tilted his head to the side. "What is it?"
"N-Nothing. Just thought of something. I, uh, I need to talk to the other Turks. You can probably pack the police up and get out of here though. We can finish things up here."
Leon didn't look completely satisfied with the answer, not he nodded after another second of thought. "Right. We'll leave the rest to you. But if you do find the person, alert the police right away. This is something the law needs to be part of as well; don't just leave it to Shinra."
"Please, it's not as if we have a secret torture chamber that we use to question suspects with." Laughing nervously, Reno waved his hand, "Of course we'll hand the guy over if we find him…erm, eventually anyway."
Before Leon could respond, Reno was scampering off toward where the other Turks had gathered around their boss. All of them looked as exhausted as Reno felt and as he came up to them, Tseng let out a sigh. "Well, what did that last unit have to say?"
Reno grinned weakly. "Don't worry about him, I know the guy, he's a family friend. In any case, he's taking the rest of the cops out of here."
Sure enough, Leon was already herding his men back to their cars, the captain glancing once or twice at his watch, the action making Yuffie laugh as she climbed back into the passenger seat of their cruiser.
Stuck in his wheelchair, and undoubtedly infinitely annoyed at the lost work day, Rufus drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair. During the evacuation, he had acquired a white blanket to fight against the autumn chill. It was wrapped around his shoulders, looking more like a general's cape than a comfort for an invalid. "Excellent. I'm going back to my office. Anyone who disturbs me for the rest of the day will be fired."
Tseng immediately stepped forward. "I'll escort you back-"
"No. I've seen enough of your faces for the day."
It was a warning. Tseng wisely remained silent after it but his lips pressed into a thin line as the four of them watched Rufus wheel back into the building, several other employees following after a quick, fearful glance back at the Turks.
Elena crossed her arms, watching them filter back inside. "Are we really just going to let them all back inside?"
Tseng's dark eyes narrowed as he turned to the youngest member of the guards. "There's not much more we could have done. Everyone was questioned. Security cameras back up everyone's alibi."
"But, Rude told you what happened, right?"
Elena nodded. "This really is becoming annoying. I mean, things have been happening since we moved in but I think it's been getting worse lately." She nervously combed her fingers through her pixie cut. "It's not unusual to get false alarms, but this time seems kind of, different, wouldn't you say? Like more violent?"
Hearing strange footsteps, seeing flashes of figures; this was old news to the Turks. Since the first time they had set up shop in this new building, strange events like that had become a normal occurrence. They had learned to deal with it. But this was the first time that they had heard gunfire, or a door slam so loudly. And to have actually been in the hall and witnessed the door close…Reno felt a chill run up his spine all over again. He hated dealing with this creepy stuff. It was totally his brother's territory. But so far Rufus hadn't approved of outside help coming in. It was understandable, considering that Shinra consulted for some highly confidential clients – the military just to name one – but still.
Rude grunted in agreement. "Reno and I suspected that it might be another false alarm. We would have brushed it off but then it became…noisier."
"No," Tseng shook his head. "You did the right thing. A possible top-level security breach is nothing to take lightly." He frowned and ran a restless hand over his long black hair. "However, if these incidents really are escalating, we will definitely have to change tactics…"
Just as he trailed off his cell phone rang inside his jacket. Only one person had that phone's number besides Reno, Rude, and Elena, and apparently he had just made it back to his office. With practiced professionalism, Tseng pulled it out and flipped it open. "Yes, Mr. Shinra?"
The other three Turks watched as their leader nodded, "Yes, sir. I understand. The matter will be dealt with."
Snapping the phone shut, Tseng raised his gaze to Reno. "Mr. Shinra wants something done about this. We'll re-evaluate camera positions and replace all the locks and key codes on the doors. Meanwhile, I want your brother and his team here. As soon as possible."
Axel sighed contentedly as he stretched his long legs out on their couch, leaning his head back against the plush arm as he turned on the TV. This was the great thing about getting off his twenty-four hour shift at the fire department; coming home to a fantastic entertainment system and a couch you could instantly fall asleep on. That and a certain feisty blond, of course, but Roxas wasn't due back from his work for another half hour at least.
Axel had just swung his legs back onto the ground when he heard the front doorknob rattle. Perking up, he grinned, ready to greet his boyfriend-of-two-years only to see Reno stepping inside. Immediately, the grin fell from his face and he flopped back onto the couch. "Ugh, what are you doing home early? Shinra finally fire you?"
"Axel! Great, you're here!"
Axel grunted as Reno grabbed his shoulders from behind the couch, looking warily up at his older brother as Reno practically beamed. "What, what the hell, man? You're creeping me out. Get off me."
"No, Axel, listen. Remember all that weird stuff I told you was going on at Shinra's new HQ?"
"You mean your girly whining? Yeah, I remember."
"Shut up, yo. It's real. Today was bad. Rude and I saw this figure through one of the windows and when we followed it up to Rufus' floor, we ended up chasing it to the end of the hall. And a door slammed, and we heard a gunshot – the point is that Tseng wants you and your ghost hunting group there ASAP."
This caught Axel's attention. Tilting his head back so that he could see his brother's face better, Axel smirked. "Really? The big boss wants us there?"
"Well, Rufus didn't technically say it, but yeah, basically."
"I wonder how much I should charge for this?"
"Charge?" Reno grimaced, face paling a shade. "You don't usually charge for this sort of thing, do you?"
Axel tilted his head side to side. "Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. If we're working for Shinra, we definitely do."
Axel grinned at Reno's whine. "Hey, do you want me and the gang there or not?"
Reno sighed, releasing Axel's shoulders. "Alright, fine…but only because I'm desperate." As Axel chuckled, Reno finally began to calm down, finally moving to pull off his suit jacket. "Now that that's settled, what am I supposed to do with myself, yo? I was let off early today to come and talk to you."
Axel gave him a look and motioned to the television, "Well, I'm eventually gonna have to get up and make dinner. Of course when it's just me and Roxas we make out on the couch-"
"Who makes out on the couch?"
Hearing the familiar deadpan tone, Axel turned to the front door, unable to control the grin that spread across his face. "Roxas!"
In the two years since he had gotten the key to Axel's apartment, Roxas had grown from a teenager to a young man. Now nineteen, Roxas had lost most of his baby fat. He was taller and thinner than his older brother, head now coming up to Axel's chin rather than his chest. His style and disposition had also toned down some – he tended toward more fashionable clothes rather than his earlier punk ones – though he still managed to conjure up a snarky attitude reserved almost exclusively for Axel.
At Axel's happy greeting, Roxas only rolled his eyes and walked into the room, dropping his backpack next to the couch. "After a long day at school and the café, the last thing I want to hear when I come home is you telling Reno some made-up shit."
"Aw, don't be like that, Roxy." With an apologetic smile, Axel snagged the younger's scarf, pulling him down next to him. Pressing a quick kiss to the blonde's temple once he got him down, Axel continued. "And you know that it wasn't a complete lie…"
Roxas flushed a deep red, fingers digging into the arm Axel had wrapped around his waist though he didn't try and pull away. The action made Axel chuckle and he used his free hand to tilt the blonde's chin up and kissed him tenderly on the lips. Across the room, Reno made a gagging noise and quickly skirted into the hall. "Gah. This is why I never want to come home early. I'm going to my room. If you do anything on the couch, you totally have to cover the dry-cleaning bill."
As they pulled away from the kiss, Axel fondly bumped his forehead against Roxas'. "By the way, welcome home."
Roxas blinked then offered a small smile, "Yeah." Suddenly his brows drew together. "How did Reno get home before me?"
"Ah, he was let off early. Apparently we're finally going to check out Shinra's new building."
"So it's actually haunted?"
"Yeah, seems like it might not totally be Reno's paranoid imagination after all. Feel like getting the group together again?"
"Sounds like fun." Roxas hummed happily then snatched the remote from the coffee table, beginning to flip through the channels as he leaned into Axel's side. After a long moment of comfortable silence, he tilted his head thoughtfully. "Hey, Axel?"
"Isn't Shinra's building really big?"
"From what Reno's told me, yeah. It holds a few hundred employees."
Blue eyes met green. "I think we might need more help to cover that much ground quickly."
"Have anyone particular in mind?"
"Sora and Riku probably have some free time. I suggest my dads but they're heading off tomorrow for their anniversary trip."
"Ooh, sounds like a good idea to me. I think we need a vacation." Axel grinned and pulled Roxas closer, wrapping his arms all the way around him and burying his face against the younger man's neck. Releasing a noise of exasperation, Roxas wrestled his cell phone from his backpack then settled back into Axel's grip, though his sullen expression was negated by the blush still stained across his cheeks. He couldn't deny that he liked being in Axel's arms, though he'd never overtly tell the redhead that. If he was that romantic he might lose all of his dignity.
From his desk in his and Riku's bedroom, Sora watched in amusement as Cloud once again went back downstairs for something he had forgotten to pack. He was having a hard time working on his senior thesis when there was so much activity going on in the house; or maybe that was just his natural desire to procrastinate. Either way, when Cloud came back upstairs, Sora called out to him. "You know that you're going to a resort hotel and not a deserted island. If you forget anything, you can probably buy it there."
Cloud frowned, beach towels in his arms, "Sora, you can never be too prepared. Plus, we're already paying enough as it is for the room. The less we need to buy, the better."
Before Sora could even come up with a response, Cloud was already on the move again, hurrying back to the master bedroom to re-evaluate what he and Leon had already packed. Chuckling, Sora could only shake his head, though the slight lift in his mood quickly sobered when he looked back at his computer screen and the amount of writing he still had to do. College was so much work. But he knew that he had to get through it. Riku had graduated just last summer. If Riku had managed it, if he had managed to catch up on over a hundred years of education to come out with a degree, than Sora had to rise to the challenge as well. He had to make his husband—the word still threw him for a loop, and he was only assured that it was really real when he saw the gold band around his finger—proud . Pressing his lips together firmly, Sora buckled down, gearing all of his focus into his assignment.
When the telephone rang, Sora only registered the sound from far away, and didn't even hear Cloud telling him to get it. It wasn't until a marble-white hand thrust the receiver into his field of vision—and his computer screen flickered and warped—that Sora blinked and grabbed for it, blinking in surprise up at Riku as he put it to his ear. "H-Hello?"
"God, Sora, dense as usual. If the phone rings, you can't use Riku to answer it. You know that messes up the sound."
"Uh, yeah, sorry. I was caught up in homework." Taking Riku's hand, Sora pulled him over to the bed, away from his computer so that the former ghost's electro-magnetic field didn't cause the machine to shut down. Riku chuckled at the action, kissing Sora's knuckles in a sign of understanding. "What's up?"
"Are you and Riku free tomorrow? We just got a paranormal case from Reno. It's the Shinra building, and it's really big. Axel, quit, quit it, you bastard! Sorry. Anyway, the building's too big, and we'll need extra hands. You in?"
Sora glanced at Riku. "Are we free for some ghost hunting?"
Riku frowned slightly but cautiously shrugged. Though he himself had been a ghost, a part of his life—so to speak—that would be impossible to forget, he generally tried to stay away from supernatural activity. Not only was he able to sympathize with the other spirit far too well, but it also dredged up memories of his own hauntings that he preferred not to remember. But, if his close friends were looking for assistance, he would be hard pressed to turn them down. "I believe I am available. It's up to you."
Taking a breath, Sora looked once more to Riku then nodded. "Right, we'll help out. But you owe us lunch, and maybe dinner!"
"Way to think with your stomach, but we may actually be able to pay you this time—Axel, I swear to god I will kill you if you don't stop, don't touch me!—if Axel's telling the truth about getting some money out of this. In any case, we'll come by the house at ten to pick you up. Sound good?"
"Yeah. See you then?"
"Definitely. Say hi to Cloud and Leon for me?"
"Right. Bye!" Sora smiled wistfully as he hung up the phone. After nearly a year, it was still strange to think that Roxas wasn't living in their house any more. He had been so used to having his brother close by, the one constant in his life, that it had been almost painful to see him leave. After all, for the first early years of their lives, before they had been adopted, it had been just the two of them. But he had slowly adjusted. And it was probably for the best; both of them had to live their own lives after all, and they would have had to separate eventually. And although it was still a little sad, Sora was grateful that Roxas was at least still in the same city.
Sensing the slight downturn in his mood, Riku rubbed his arm gently. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah." Sora managed a brighter smile when he looked up at Riku. As he pulled himself together, he stretched up and kissed Riku tenderly on the lips. "I'm fine. Anyway, that just added a bit of excitement to our weekend!"
Leon and Cloud were a little less excited when Sora relayed their plan over dinner that night. Leon especially always became immediately cautious whenever something supernatural was mentioned. "I knew there was something Reno was leaving out. I don't like the idea of everyone going off to some haunting while we're away. Especially the Shinra compound. It's full of confidential information. You'll have to tread carefully just to avoid legal issues, not to mention dealing with any ghosts that might be on the premises."
"Maybe we should push back our reservations for the hotel," Cloud suggested, "So we can be here just in case something happens."
"No!" Sora shook his head emphatically. "You guys have to go! You've been planning it for months and a little bit of ghost activity isn't going to keep you here!"
Across the table, Leon raised an eyebrow as he set down his fork and knife. "If I didn't know any better I'd say that they wanted us gone."
Sora flushed then pouted. "N-No, that's not it. It's just, you two always work so hard, and I can't remember when you've taken a vacation with only the two of you. I think you really deserve it. But you're both such workaholics that I knew you'd try slipping out of it!"
This time Cloud and Leon had to glance at each other sheepishly. After another bite of his meal, Cloud cleared his throat. "We just want to make sure that you and Roxas are safe. But, if you insist, we'll go ahead with our plans."
"Although I think that part of their excitement comes from the fact that we'll be leaving these two newlyweds to an empty house."
"Leon!" Sora flushed a deep red. Sensing his young husband's embarrassment, Riku reached out under the table and squeezed his hand. Sora pouted at his parent's teasing but squeezed back. It wasn't as if he could completely deny it after all. After his parents left, they would finally be able to enjoy themselves in a way that they hadn't been able to with his parents in the house.
The next evening found Axel pulling into Shinra's parking lot, Roxas stretching out in the van's passenger seat. Another black van was already there and as soon as they parked next to it, Demyx was jumping out, Namine not far behind him, a wide grin on his face as he ran up to Roxas' side of the car. "Hey guys, long time no see!"
Roxas laughed and pushed the door open, trying to avoid knocking Demyx into the other van. "It hasn't been that long, we saw you last week for dinner!"
"Yeah, but it's been almost forever since we had a real solid case." Squirming happily, Demyx twisted around the door to grab at Roxas' sleeve. It was obvious that as much as Demyx loved his day job with the orchestra, ghost hunting was always going to be one of his favorite activities. "We were getting a little bored with minor house calls, to be honest."
"Bored might be a little bit of an overstatement, and not entirely respectful to our clients." Zexion carefully slipped out of the car, joining Demyx and Roxas as Axel went around to the back of the car to help Riku and Sora who had started to unload the equipment. The former priest's eyes drifted over to the large building. "Though I have to admit, this does seem as if it will be a little livelier."
"You got that right!" Axel called out from the back, coming into view with arms filled with video equipment. "This is going to be like the old times again, back when we actually had some action."
"Because that was so much fun for everyone involved." Roxas muttered. After that incident with Maleficent, he was still terrified of being alone in the dark.
Axel tilted his head in understanding. "Alright, let me amend that. Let's hope this is going to be like old times, but without team members getting completely beaten up." He ignored Riku's quiet snort beside him.
Before the boys could get too riled up before they had gotten started, Namine tilted her head and smiled sweetly. "Why don't we start with getting everything inside?"
"Sounds good." Axel grinned as he easily hefted a camera case onto his shoulder. "Sora, help ghost-boy with the table, it's pretty heavy."
Sora frowned but climbed into the van to grab one end of the table as Riku took up the other. This would have been a lot easier if they had been on their property. Since he had gained energy from Maleficent's staff, Riku's telekinesis had been stronger than ever. Moving a table around would have been no problem. Riku seemed to agree with him if the grunt of exertion was anything to go by.
Luckily, the table was one of the heavier items that they had to carry into the building and within a few minutes they had set up a nice little base camp right off of the main lobby in what looked like an empty conference room of sorts. Reno was nervously dancing around them, hopping from foot to foot as he watched them connect cords and set up their cameras. "So, how long do you think this is going to take, yo?"
"Why?" Axel glanced back to his brother, clearly enjoying the other's anxiety. "Got somewhere to be?"
"Hardly. I'm just freaked out, you know? Tseng might have given me the key for the weekend, but it's like I shouldn't be here at all. I'm freaking out here; it's like I can feel Rufus staring over my shoulder and he's not even here!"
"That's probably just the ghosts staring at you."
Reno paled to a chalky white, almost putting Riku's pallor to shame. "D-Damn it, Ax."
In the process of pulling the last infrared camera out of its case, Axel apparently took pity on his older brother because he sighed and glanced over his shoulder to the other redhead. "Look, if you're really not comfortable being here, why don't you drive back into town and grab us something for dinner?"
"Yeah, that sounds good. I'll just leave the keys to the building here, yo. Don't get into anything that says 'Restricted' or else I'll get into a shit load of trouble, okay? Otherwise, you guys get the run of the place! See you later!"
Watching as Reno practically ran out of the building, Zexion raised an eyebrow. "Should he be leaving us alone? It seems like a thoughtless breach in security."
Axel snorted. "Yeah, well, that's Reno for you. We'll just be careful about we get into. Demyx, Roxas, you guys over there go all the charged battery packs in for the hand-helds and recorders?"
Leaning over a table scattered with technology, Demyx nodded as Namine clipped in the last battery pack into a camera. "We're ready to go. How do you want us to split up?"
"I'd think we'd want to break up the sensitives as much as possible and try and get one on every team." Axel said, as usual taking the lead role. "Roxas and Namine can come with me to the second floor. Zex, you'll be down here at base camp. Dem, go ahead and take Riku and Sora to the third floor. You guys can go ahead and start heading up with an infrared, hand-held, and recorder. Set the infrared up at the end of the hall and start an EVP session. Roxas, Namine and I will get a camera down here then go up to the second floor. Zex, keep an eye on everything; we'll have walkies in case you need to contact us. Everyone good with the plan?" Getting a round of nods from the others, Axel grinned. "Excellent. Let's get going then and see what we can find."
As he, Demyx, and Riku started up the stairs, Sora couldn't help but feel relieved that Shinra's headquarters was so much different than the usual places the ghost hunting group usually visited. Glancing over at Riku, Sora saw that his husband's face was set in a purposefully neutral expression, lips pressed firmly together, as if he was fighting to make sure he revealed absolutely nothing about his thoughts. He quietly slipped his hand into the other's. "Riku, are you okay?"
The question caused Demyx to look back at them as they climbed, a few steps ahead of the younger couple. Sensing Sora's uncertainty, Riku graced him with a small smile. "I am doing well. It is just a little…unsettling. There are others here."
"You feel it too?" Demyx sounded surprised. He had a right to be of course, Riku had never mentioned that he was sensitive to spirit activity that took place off of his property.
Riku frowned, quick to defend himself. "Not with any clarity or surety. But there is something."
"Yeah, there's definitely something here, a large amount of spirit activity." Demyx was leaving the issue of Riku's sensitivity alone for now, but it was clear that it was not going to be completely dropped that easily. "I think this means that there's either a large number of weaker spirits or a few really powerful ones." The blonde let out a small laugh, "I don't really know which one would be worse. It's going to be work either way to get them out of here!"
As Demyx was speaking, they reached the third floor landing. Demyx pushed the door open carefully, as if expecting a ghost to jump out at them and attack. Instead, he pushed open the door to see that the floor was largely open, a few load-bearing pillars stretching from floor to ceiling like a thin forest between hundreds of desks and laboratory tables. It looked like a chemistry laboratory seen in high school or college, just expanded a few more hundred square feet with numerous writing desks and computers among them. The evening light cast long, golden shadows stretching through the room made it seem that much longer and more vast.
Their footsteps echoed as they stepped into the large room. Sora had the camera at the ready; it was on and recording as he looked around with wide eyes, trying to take everything in. At the same time, Demyx pulled his digital recorder from his pocket and turned it on. "Hello?" He spoke to the open air, voice easily carrying across the empty space. "Is anyone here? We heard that you've been getting more active lately, that you like to interact with people. Can you give us a sign that you're here?"
Standing next to Sora, Riku held back a shiver as a chill suddenly ran down his spine. His teal gaze sharpened and he took a protective step closer to his husband. Demyx also stiffened, all three of them silent when the sound of paper rustling half way down the room reached their ears followed by a small clatter, something falling to the floor.
All three young men shared a look before moving toward the source of the small noise. A few yards into the room they came across one of the desks. A pen was lying on the floor right next to it. When Demyx stooped down to pick it up he found that the pen was warm, a good sign of a poltergeist maybe.
Setting the pen back onto the desk, Demyx straightened up, speaking out to the room again. "Alright, that might have been you, but could you do something else? Just so we can be sure…?"
When Demyx was on his last word, his exhaled breath came out in a visible puff of air. Sora's blue eyes widened as the cold that had fallen over Demyx reached him as well, the chill coming almost in a wave. The small temperature monitor on the camera screen registered a ten degree drop in the room and it was all Sora could do to press his lips together in a firm line. He couldn't be scared; after all, he would be just fine with Demyx and Riku with him.
Still, when the room darkened, the brunette scooted a little closer to Riku, comforted when their sleeves brushed together. Then a shadow darted between two of the columns just a few feet away. The column where the shadow had disappeared was adjacent to a laboratory counter and a few of the test tubes on that desk shifted, tinkling as they tapped each other.
Sora was thankful that he had had the camera pointed in the right direction. Maybe it had been able to catch something. Behind them, the papers on the desk rustled again with more agitation this time. Then the wind that had caught the papers passed right by the three investigators, startling all of them. With a small squeak, Sora fell back against Riku as Demyx twisted the recorder around to the new activity, the witch's expression calm, schooled only from experience. "What's your name? Why are you here? Are you connected to the Shinra company?" Between every question he paused for a moment to allow for a quick answer. At the last question, he grip around the recorder tightened. "I think I heard something! Did you guys hear anything?"
Sora shook his head but Riku's silver brows furrowed. "I'm not quite sure," the former ghost murmured, "perhaps, but if it was a voice I could not understand it."
"Here, I'm going to replay the tape." Fiddling with the recorder for a few seconds, Demyx laughed with success when it began to play back what they had just experienced through its small speakers.
The white noise that filled the air was familiar to all of them. Then, Demyx's voice came on. "What's your name?"
There was something that followed Demyx's light tenor. But it wasn't a voice. Or if it was, it was incomprehensible. It sounded more like a garble of noises mixed with tonal changes that sounded like vocalizations.
"Why are you here?"
Again, incomprehensible noise. But it was definitely an EVP, a voice they had only been able to capture on electric devices. They hadn't heard it with their own ears, it was definitely supernatural.
"Are you connected to the Shinra company?"
Ear-splitting shriek. Startled, Demyx dropped the recorder as if it had burned him, the noise cutting off when the device hit the floor. Demyx immediately dove to recover the recorder but it was clear that all of them had been shaken. That had not been a friendly noise, and unlike the other two responses, this had been a single sound, a mass of voices screaming out.
Eyes blown wide, Sora gripped Riku's arm hard. Demyx turned to them, expression equally disturbed, though he was obviously trying to school it into a more neutral position. "Hah, uh, o-okay. Nothing to worry about. Obviously, they know the Shinra name-"
Without explanation, he cut himself off, blue gaze wide as he seemed to stare off into the distance. Then, he grabbed Sora's free hand and started pulling him toward the stairway. "Okay, um, so let's set up that last IR camera and then come back when we have the rest of the guys, alright?"
"What is it?" Sora asked, already dreading the answer as he looked side to side, trying to point the hand-held camera in all directions at once.
"I just got a really bad vibe." Demyx explained, palm sweaty against Sora's. "Like, really, really bad. I haven't felt anything so angry since, well, since the Maleficent case!"
As if in response, as they passed it one of the desk lamps began to rattle, its base shuddering against the wooden table top. In the next second, their footsteps were joined with another pair, heavier and quicker. A dart of a shadow, then –
The three stopped in their tracks at Riku's noise of pain. The pale young man was stooped over, one hand pressed against his lower back. His teal eyes were glowing but pulled into a wince. Sora quickly went back to his side. "Riku…?"
"My back…it feels as if it's on fire." Sucking in a breath, Riku pursed his lips then shook his head. "I'm fine. We should continue, do what needs to be done, and then return to the others."
Wary of any movement around them, and now moving as quickly as possible, Demyx quickly set up the stationary camera Axel had sent with them. Then, without so much calling down to Zexion to ask if the angle was okay, they raced back to the stairs.
Back in base camp, Zexion was hunched over the series of computer monitors, fingers flying across the keyboard. He barely glanced up their way but when he did his brows furrowed in irritation. "What went on up there? The camera you took with you finally turns on only to be pointed in some miscellaneous direction and you don't so much as check in with me to see whether or not it's satisfactory?"
Panting lightly, Demyx shook his head helplessly as Sora maneuvered Riku into one of the folding chairs they had brought with them. "Sorry, Zexy. We, we definitely ran into something up there. And it was not friendly."
Zexion's attention sharpened on his boyfriend. "How so?"
"Well, for one, it seems to have attacked Riku. How is he?"
Sora tried to smile through a grimace as all the attention turned onto him and Riku. Gently pushing up his husband's shirt, he released a small hiss when he saw four long scratches scraping down the other's lower back. They were raised and a glaring pink against Riku's normally perfect white complexion, drops of blood beginning to bleed at the very end of the scratches where they were deepest. "He really got hurt!" Pinning Riku's shirt with one hand, Sora used the other to dig through a bag of their supplies until he found a small pack of tissues. He carefully pressed onto of them to the scratches, reassured when Riku leaned against him some.
Demyx watched them for a little longer then turned to Zexion. "It was scary how fast activity picked up in there. I mean, I can sense that this place is somewhat off but within a few minutes of starting our EVP session we just got attacked!"
"Interesting." Zexion's hand unconsciously traveled to the messenger bag at his side. That was where he kept his Bible and cross, their near proximity a new comfort. "Should we call back Axel's team and reassess the situation?"
"I think so, but, it's up to you."
Zexion pressed his lips together tight then snatched up the walkie talkie. "Base camp to Axel. Come back as soon as you can. We have a new potential problem."
There was a second of silence before the radio crackled to life. "Axel here. Understood and we're coming back. Don't know what you guys found, but I think we found some good stuff. Everyone okay on your end?"
Zexion glanced over at Riku as he held to radio up to his lips. "Relatively."
It took only three minutes for the other group to come back down from the second story. Roxas immediately ran over to Sora and Riku as Axel tossed their digital recorder to Zexion, who caught it with only a slight grimace. He didn't like to encourage throwing around such expensive equipment, but allowing it to fall onto the ground to teach a lesson wouldn't have done him any great service. "Can you get that up on the screen?" Axel asked, "We kept hearing this murmuring as we were walking around but couldn't catch anything specific with just our ears."
Meanwhile, Namine was madly sketching in her journal, pencil racing across the page at almost a manic pace. Seeing the other's eyes on her, Axel could only shrug. "She started a few minutes ago and hasn't stopped since."
"It's not my fault!" Namine's voice was as quick and hurried as her hand, the feverous speed and emotion of her drawing tiring her as much as a run. "Images keep coming and they just won't stop! I have to get everything down before I forget but there are so many of them," she flipped a page and continued drawing, "and they're all so intense. I've never sensed so many spirits in the same location!"
As Demyx maneuvered his little sister into a chair, Axel turned to Zexion. "Is it loaded up yet?"
"Patience is a virtue."
"So are a lot of other things that I don't have." The sight of Roxas bringing out the first aid kit thankfully drew his attention briefly away from Zexion before the religious man had to come up with another retort. "Everything okay over there?"
"Riku got scratched. It's not that bad, but, so early in an investigation?" Roxas shook his head. "It's weird. Does that ever happen?"
Though Roxas had been ghost hunting for a few years now, he still referred to Axel and the others; after all, they had officially been in this line of business for many more years, with plenty of experience before that. Scratching his cheek, Axel frowned thoughtfully. "Not usually. I mean, maybe if the thing was demonic—which is unlikely from the vibes Namine has been getting, but possible. It might make sense if you were provoking it. Riku, did you say or do anything to piss it off?"
Gritting his teeth, Riku shook his head. "I hadn't uttered a single word when Demyx began the investigation." He shifted in discomfort as Roxas spread antiseptic over the scratches before Sora pressed a large bandage over it.
"Hm, well maybe it just didn't like the way you looked." Axel joked. "Either way, you've been the only one attacked so far. Zexion?"
"Yes, I have it ready. Honestly, you're worse than Demyx sometimes."
Axel made face back at the normally stoic man but made room as everyone crowded around the computer, save for Namine who was still bent over her notebook. For a moment, there was only the sound of her pencil scratching across the paper. Then the recording came to life over the speakers.
Roxas' voice was first. "Yeah, it's on."
"Good. Shinra HQ, second floor, seven o'clock. Just heard a strange series of sounds, hopefully they'll start up again-"
"Shh, Axel, I hear it again!"
Namine's delicate voice was followed by what almost sounded like….a conversation? No, it was more like an argument, with multiple voices by the sound of things. Words were muffled into hisses and rises and falls of tones but they sounded agitated. However, rather than being directed at the ghost hunting group, they seemed to be responding instead to each other. Arguing with each other.
"Are, are they fighting?" Sora asked, leaning closer to the computer.
Axel frowned. "Sounds like it. Guess they're not all one big happy family then, huh?"
"I guess just because they haunt the same building doesn't mean that they need to work as a team all the time." Demyx murmured, "But what does that mean for us?"
Straightening up, Axel crossed his arms over his chest. "It means that they're not a single group, maybe they're here for different reasons. It also means that they already seem to have an irritated predisposition."
"What we need to understand now," Zexion added, "is why there might be so many spirits here. Why they might be angry, and lastly, why out of all of us they decided to attack Riku. There may not be a straight answer, but this definitely calls for some research."
"Right." Clapping his hands together, Axel evaluated their small group. "Reno should be getting back any minute now with something to eat. Let's take a dinner break then divide into teams again. Zexion, Namine, bring out the other computers and see what you can dig up on this location, Shinra, and anything else you can think of. Sora, you stay here and watch what the cameras are recording, you'll be base camp now. Riku, I'd have you stay, but Zexion doesn't want you that close to the electric stuff. You'll be coming out with me, Dem, and Roxy. Maybe if you're with us we can rile up the ghosts a bit more. Sound good?"
When Axel had received nods from everyone, though Riku had given one only very hesitantly—obviously not excited about being dragged around as bait, Axel reached into his pocket and flipped open his phone after speed-dialing. "Yo, Reno! Are you planning on running away all night or are you actually coming back with food anytime soon? ...Yeah, yeah, somehow there's always traffic when you're driving…No, that sound's fine. Did you get some drinks?...Great, see you soon." He snapped the cell phone shut. "Alright. He'll be here in about five minutes."
Zexion rose from his seat at the computer. "While we wait, Demyx, you and I should place up some warding around the base camp. I would feel better knowing that one place is at least secure from spirits' ill intentions."
By the time Reno arrived, Demyx and Zexion had secured the room they were in; laying salt lines along the doorways and windows and hanging both Wiccan and Christian protective symbols up. The room was now as safe as it was ever going to be, protected against anything the site had to offer. Except, of course, Reno, who broke the line of salt across the main door with a scuff of his foot as he carried in several boxes of pizza.
"What? I said I was sorry! How was I supposed to know! I was just trying not to trip over extension cords and shit!"
Despite the weak attempt at an apology, Zexion still sent the older redhead a disapproving glare that would have put the strictest nun to shame as he repaired the line with more salt from the canister they had brought. The pizza at least was still warm, though not completely hot—a testament to the traffic Reno had claimed he had gotten trapped in. They ate mainly in silence, caught up in their own thoughts, although Sora and Roxas had started up a conversation. Sora was eager to know what his brother had been up to, wanting any knowledge he could get about his little brother's new life, wanting to make sure that Roxas was taking care of himself alright. It was a little overprotective, Sora knew; after all, Roxas was bigger than him now and, frankly, had his life put together just as well, but still. He was the older brother, and even knowing that Roxas had Axel wasn't enough now that they were living separately.
Sitting beside Sora, Riku listened in half-heartedly to the conversation. As usual when he was away from the house or when he was ill, he ate very little. After getting through half a slice of pizza he gracefully slipped the extra onto Sora's plate. Sore finished it off without a second thought, having long ago become used to his partner's habits away and at home. And luckily, he was still young enough to have a strong metabolism.
A few chairs away, Namine had finally been able to wrench herself away from her drawing notebook. She looked exhausted, fingers clenching slowly as if severely cramped as Demyx opened up a can of soda for her. At the moment, Zexion was flipping through her drawings, his face impassive as he scanned the multiple images save for his eyes, which as always were burning with that fierce intelligence, piercing enough for one to think that he was memorizing every single feature as he passed over them.
After the meal, Reno hung around just long enough to annoy Axel to the point where he kicked his big brother off of the premises again. Then they broke up into their pre-determined groups and the investigation began again, this time with a greater air of caution and anticipation. After all, they knew something was here; now they just had to learn more about it.
Sitting at base camp with Namine and Zexion, Sora could only suffer through the silence as he kept an eye on the live camera feeds on Zexion's computer as he had been told. It was a boring job, and reminded him way too much of staring at his essays, and he really wanted someone to make a noise or say something, but he held his tongue. This wasn't his investigation and Zexion and Namine had their own way of doing things; even if that way was uncomfortably quiet for an extrovert like him. The only sound in the room was in fact Zexion's fingers racing over the keyboard of the second laptop they had brought. Namine, meanwhile, had brought out a map of the area, scanning its typography as if it held the secrets to the haunting; which, for all Sora knew, it could.
For now, Sora's only entertainment was watching the screen and waiting for Demyx, Axel, Roxas, and Riku to pop up in one of the images. Right now in the top right feed, the one streaming from the second story, he could see them just coming into view. A smile fell onto his lips as he watched Riku cautiously looking around. Riku really was very handsome, in another life he could have easily been a movie star or model. Now though, Sora was lucky enough to have gotten him all to himself. He allowed himself to get a little lost in his own thoughts, blaming his lack of concentration partially on the darkening room and the silence of the coming night.
Fifteen minutes passed before Zexion let out a small hum of triumph. Eager for any break—and trying to pretend that he hadn't just been eyeing up his husband for the past few minutes—Sora perked up, though didn't dare allow his eyes away from the screen. "What is it?"
"Information of Shinra was surprisingly difficult to get a hold of, though, considering their confidential services should not be that exceptional I suppose. In any case, in the more recent years, under the leadership of Rufus Shinra, the company has been steadily expanding their enterprise. However, for many years prior they have been dealing with weapons development and manufactory, something which we may want to take note of."
"I have something to add to that," Namine chimed in, "The word 'Quarry' appears several times in nearby landmarks. It might have something to do with all of the activity. Zexion, could you maybe look that up for me?"
"Yes, good thinking."
Sora could only sit confused as Zexion typed furiously again, wondering just what a quarry had to do with a haunting in Shinra's building. Before he could even ask, Zexion anticipated his question and began to speak as he opened up several tabs in his search engine. "Many people have the belief that certain minerals enhance and attract spiritual energy. Here, yes, it seems that in this area, actually just about where we are now, about a half mile off, there used to be, ah, this would explain it, a limestone quarry."
"Limestone is one of the more powerful minerals that can attract spirits," Namine chimed in for Sora's benefit. "This means that while something about this building may agitate or draw ghosts to it, the local landscape only encourages it and in fact probably keeps spirits trapped here. You can compare it to a lighthouse, or maybe even a funnel? It would also explain why I was able to get such clear pictures of many of the spirits residing here, my own sensitivity would have also been heightened by the limestone around us."
"In addition, I see that there seems to have originally been a river in which the miners used to deposit their residual ores. Chances are that the river was built over when this region became more populated." Zexion clicked open another window, "Yes, it's path seems to run directly under this building actually. Poor choice on the part of the construction crew, and for any chance of this case being an easy matter of a mass exorcism."
Tilting his head to the side, Sora let his eyes slide briefly from the screen. "Would the river be kind of like the limestone?"
Zexion frowned thoughtfully. "In a sense, yes, they are rather similar. Both draw energy, and together would make this place prime territory for supernatural activity. That, and the strong burst of psychic energy caused by Maleficent's downfall a few years back could have certainly created the perfect storm for a spiritual trap."
"So would something be haunting this place no matter what?" Sora asked.
"Maybe." Unfolding another map, Namine delicately shifted in her seat. "It's hard to say. There is a good chance that Shinra's choice of business had something to do with the great numbers here though."
Zexion nodded. "A violent end can lead to a violent afterlife. There is a strong possibility that we are dealing in part with victims of Shinra's weapons productions."
"Axel to base camp! Are you getting this?"
Sora's head whipped back to the images he was supposed to be watching only to see that the top right image had turned an inky black. Zexion was immediately standing by his shoulder, the older man's quiet but firm voice quick as he spoke into the radio. A shift of fabric told Sora that Namine had also come up behind him to see what was going on. "Negative. Our view is blocked. What happened?"
"We're surrounded! Hang on – Dem, do it, man!"
For a second it seemed as if nothing had happened. Then the blackness suddenly jumped off of the camera, allowing them to see the other investigators. They were crowded around each other. Nearest to the camera, Demyx was holding out what Sora recognized as a charm for a water spell. Even from the distance, it was visible that the Wiccan was panting from the strength that the spell took.
The corners of the room soon caught Sora's attention. The shadows were definitely moving. In this case, they were moving away from the four young men and Demyx's spell. Heart in his throat as concern for his husband and brother swept over him, Sora gasped up at Zexion. "Are they alright?"
Zexion's lips had been pressed hard together but Sora's voice snapped him into action. "Is everyone alright? Has anyone been injured?"
The Axel in the black and white camera feed opened his mouth, asking a question they couldn't hear then lifted the radio. "Everyone's fine, just a bit shook up. It's been a while! We're going to keep going."
Sora's eyes were on the computer screen as he allowed himself to relax under Axel's reassurance. He stiffened though, when he saw one of the shadows fall between two waist-high filing cabinets that were only a few feet from the investigators. His heart pounded uncertainly in his chest, nearly stopping when the black shape suddenly appeared right behind Riku. Grabbing the radio from Zexion's hands, Sora all but screamed into it. "Riku! Behind you!"
Everyone in the video turned to face the silver-haired man just as the shadow darted up his leg. Within the blink of an eye, Riku was doubled over, his long fingers grasping at his throat as Roxas grabbed onto his shoulder. Jerking out of his chair, Sora sprinted for the staircase, terror for his partner adding speed to his steps. The only thought in his head was 'Please let him be okay, god we haven't had nearly enough time together! I can't lose him like this!'
The trip up the stairs was a blur and within seconds he reached the second floor. Axel, Demyx, and Roxas were crowded around Riku, the pale man gulping deeps breaths of air as Demyx pulled away with a paper spell crumpled and used in his hands. Running over to them, Sora dropped to his knees in front of Riku and took the other's face in his hands, lifting it for inspection.
When Riku saw who it was in front of him, he managed a weak smile though his voice came out in little more than a wheeze. "I'm alright, Sora."
Sora could only shake his head and throw his arms around him, trying to conceal his tremors of relief by burying his face into Riku's shirt. "Oh god, I thought I might have lost you…!"
With a long sigh, still fighting to get his breath back, Riku placed a hand over Sora's spiky hair. "Everything is alright. Demyx was able to get to me in time before any permanent damage was done."
Having pulled himself together now that Riku was recovering, Axel ran a tired hand over his face. "Yeah, well, great as that may be, this is the second time tonight you've been attacked. Something in here seriously has it out for you."
The red marks that crisscrossed over Riku's throat told as much; clear finger marks of someone who had pressed hard into the flesh, determined to kill.
Sora stiffened curiously when he felt Riku's head shake back and forth above him. Craning his next up, he met his partner's teal gaze. Riku's expression was troubled. "No." Riku said, "I do not think it was me they are after. When I was being strangled, I, I heard them say my father's name."
"Your father's name? Sephiorth Miyuno?"
They were back at base camp, having regrouped after Riku's second attack to try and gather their wits and come up with some sort of plan.
Riku nodded to Zexion's question, the former ghost's face bleak as Zexion returned to his computer to do some quick research. In the Strife household, they never mentioned Riku's former life, or what had happened after his initial death so many years ago. It was a source of depression for Riku, who could never again experience that life he had once had, and had made all the best efforts to put it behind him.
Roxas was standing behind the chairs Riku and his brother were sitting in. His eyes had been on the camera feeds on the computer screen until he glanced down at his brother-in-law and crossed his arms, thinking back to when they had first done research on Riku. "Sephiroth. He joined the military, didn't he?"
"That connection would help to explain the ghosts' animosity toward Riku." Zexion spoke as he typed, though he was slowly becoming more and more agitated. "Unfortunately," he tisked at the screen, "there seems to be very little information about Sephiroth's involvement with Shinra. Though we know Sephiroth was military, and that Shinra developed weapons, it is a tenuous link at best. It would help if Shinra had made their older records more public."
"Well isn't it lucky that we just happen to be in Shinra's headquarters, where they might just keep old records." Axel pushed himself away from the folding table he had been leaning against and reached into his pants pocket, pulling out a ring of keys and twirling it around one of his fingers. "While Reno's AWOL, we have the run of the place, so let's see if we can't dig up a little something about Sephiroth in all of the info they have stored here. Riku, I'm keeping you here with Zexion at base camp. I think it'd be safer for everyone to keep you here in a safe room."
When he heard this, Riku frowned and pushed himself to his feet. "If it is about my father then I will insist in being part of this research."
Axel turned fully to face him, giving Riku his full attention and the full weight of his gaze. His expression softened slightly though when he saw the determination looking back at him. "Look, Riku. It's because it's your dad that I don't want you looking; who knows what kind of shit he got into after you passed. From the little bit I do know, he was no saint, and no one likes hearing about the bad stuff their parents might have done. Plus, if we let you out, there's a hundred-percent chance that you're going to get beat up again if things repeat themselves so I'm going to encourage you to sit this one out."
Riku scowled but his gaze dropped down to the grey plastic table. Then, almost painfully, he lowered himself back down into his chair. Axel nodded when the former ghost's choice was clear though he didn't look any happier about it than Riku. "Okay, now that that's settled, the rest of us can head out. We want to get out of here some time tonight so we'll break up into groups again. Demyx and Namine, here's a key for you. I'll take the Strife boys. The key should open most of the doors in this building. We're looking for any info on Sephiroth that we can find. Try not to dig into anything unrelated though; we're slightly trying to stay out of as much trouble as we can here."
Sora felt wary about leaving Riku again after what had just happened, but he allowed himself to be lead out of the room only under the assurance that there was no way a ghost could get to Riku with all of the wards up in that room.
So, once again, he climbed back up the stairs. His legs were beginning to ache after all of that exercise, especially that last sprint up to the second floor when he saw Riku being choked. This was a dangerous place; maybe not for him, but for Riku definitely, and he wanted to get out of it as soon as possible. But, he had offered to help his brother and the others, and he wouldn't abandon them just like that. He might convince Riku to leave without him—which would be hard since Riku still didn't know how to drive so he couldn't really go back home—but he at least was going to stay as long as his brother was here.
As it turned out, Shinra kept a lot of records. After a few minutes and through conversations over the walkie-talkies, they quickly learned to identify the archival rooms. Namine and Demyx had even found a computer in one of the rooms with a sort of search option, and they had been able to pinpoint that any older records that had been kept were on the fourth floor records.
As they walked down the stark, empty hallway toward one of the rooms, Sora couldn't help but feel as if they were still being followed. No one had been attacked since Riku agreed to stay with Zexion, but Sora swore that he could still feel ghostly eyes following them, but whenever he turned back to look, the best he saw was a shadow darting just out of the corner of his eyes. Whatever spirits were here were much less aggressive.
There were three archive rooms attached to the hallway. Looking them all over, Axel nodded to himself. "Alright. I'll take the middle one, the rest of you guys can split off to the other two. The information we're looking for has got to be in one of these rooms, if it's here at all."
Axel went into the middle room and after a moment's evaluation, Roxas shrugged, took Sora's hand, and pulled him toward the door to the right. The room was similar to the other ones they had recently explored; taken up mostly by rows and rows of filing shelves, stocked with hundreds of file boxes. Grabbing the first box closest to him, Sora pried the lid open, nose wrinkling. "Ugh, dusty."
Roxas snorted as he started on the box next to him, "Duh, I bet no one ever looks into these things anymore. And why should they, this info's from-" he pulled out one of the files and his blue eyes narrowed, "1912. Close, but a little later than what we needed. Probably."
Sora hummed, though the sound choked in his throat when he heard a rustle from somewhere behind them. His fingers stilled, "Roxas, did you hear that?"
"Yeah." If Roxas was startled, he didn't know it, his little brother's eyes locked firmly on the papers in front of him. "It's to be expected since we already know this place is haunted. Just keep looking through the files and try to ignore it."
"Okay…" Turning back to his file box, Sora pulled one out curiously. It was a list of contacts dating back to 1920. It really was amazing that they kept information from do far back but, then again, when the other information was to get rid of it, it might not be so strange that a smart corporation like Shinra would keep it. Just in case.
Then, a chill ran down his spine as he heard movement again. It wasn't rustling this time though, but a dry dragging noise. Biting his lip, Sora glanced back only briefly. The room was dark despite the one overhead light that they had on, the far corners of the room especially shrouded in darkness. But if he strained his vision; there, one of the file boxes was hanging precariously off of its shelf, about to fall off. Despite what Roxas had advised, Sora slowly walked over to it. He could tell his brother knew what he was doing by the way Roxas had tensed up, but Sora went on anyway. When he reached the shelf, he tentatively pushed against the jutting box, for some reason relieved when it easily went back into place. The cardboard was warm to the touch though, despite the fact that the air in this corner of the room was so cold that he could see his breath.
"Sora." Sora started at the sound of Roxas' voice, loud in the suddenly eerie silence. "I think I found something."
Sora went back to his brother's side to see a file out and open in Roxas' hand. The file was a little more worn and discolored, but Roxas grinned when Sora reached his side.
"I found something," he repeated. "Look here, its Sephiroth's name."
Sora looked down, squinting in an attempt to decode the intricate hand-written log entry. Sure enough, "Gen. S. Miyuno. Meeting with Mr. Shinra proposed for next month. Expecting purchase and agreement for testing of products in combat situation."
"…What do you think that means? Sephiroth tested out weapons for them?"
"Seems that way…" Roxas tilted his head to the side, blue eyes matching his brother's in curiosity. "I guess it would make sense. I mean, it would have been good both for Shinra and Sephiroth, right? The military got weapons, and Shinra got to see how well they worked."
Sora allowed a moment to soak this in then looked further down the page. "Gen. S. Miyuno. Reported miscalculation in Project Jenova. 56 men lost. Gen. Miyuno suggests improvements and accepted the next version of the Project."
After reading this the silence seemed much more oppressive. Swallowing, Sora clenched his fists nervously. This didn't sound good, or like it had been a morally correct decision on the part of either the Shinra company or Sephiroth. If the weapons they had tested had been that dangerous, if it had killed 56 innocent men. And then they had just gone on to the next idea? Suddenly Sora was relieved that Riku hadn't come with them. He didn't want him to know what sort of man his father had become.
Roxas lifted the paper to see if there was any more only to make a noise of surprise when something small fell out of the file. Sora stooped down, picking it up off of the ground when he realized that it was an early photograph. It was yellowed around the edges but it clearly showed a group of men. Most of them were wearing long white labcoats but several in the center were dressed in double-breasted suits.
Sora instantly recognized one of the men in the center because it looked exactly like Riku. So startlingly similar in fact, that for a moment Sora actually thought that it was Riku. But on second glance, the man was older, and his hair was longer, tied in a pony-tail and draped over his shoulder. His face, also, was different; more angular, sterner. Sora could only assume that the rest of the men in the photograph were Shinra executives and researchers. "I guess he really was close to Shinra," Roxas murmured. "Damn. And if what I'm getting from this is right, because he was part of the early productions, he would have been a major reason why Shinra's weapons actually came into use. That would explain why the ghosts don't like Riku. They look almost exactly the same; if Sephiroth helped to get men killed, it's no reason their ghosts would try and attack him."
Suddenly, they both tensed as they heard the dragging noise again followed by a crash of box and papers hitting the tiled floor. Sora whipped around to see that the same box had fallen off the shelf this time. At the same time, a call came in over the radio. It was Demyx and he sounded panicked. "Everyone watch out! Spirit activity just dramatically increased. Nami and I are being attacked!"
A second later, Axel's voice crackled over the radio waves. "Sora, Roxas, get back to base camp! They're here too, Dem! Damn! I'm holding them off with my pocketknife but I could use some help!"
Sora grabbed onto Roxas' arm. His little brother tucked the file under his arm and together they hurried to the door. But when Sora grabbed the handle and pushed, the door stayed firmly shut. Brows furrowing, Sora tried to push and pull the door, rattling the handle but it stayed closed. "Uh, Roxas?"
Scowling, Roxas nudged him to the side and tried the door himself. They could see the lock, it wasn't functioning right now. With a soft growl, Roxas threw his whole weight against the door, grimacing and rubbing his shoulder when it didn't budge.
"Shit." Roxas quickly raised the walkie-talkie to his lips. "Sora and I can't get out of our room. The door's jammed."
Nothing but white noise came in return to Roxas' distress call. The blonde pursed his lips, glancing at the door once more before he sighed. "I think I saw a window at the end of one of the aisles. Let's see if we can get out that way."
The window at the back end of the room was also locked. Which was even more worrying because there was no actual lock on the window frame. It just wouldn't open.
Biting his lip, Sora turned back toward the room, only to shout when he saw a box flying towards them. He threw his arms up in time to absorb the brunt of the impact, but a chill ran down his spine when the throw was accompanied by what sounded like a muffled shriek of fury. As it hit him, paper exploded from the box, raining down around them like confetti, the white paper standing out in stark contrast to the shadow figure standing just a foot away, its outline flashing in and out of definition as papers fell behind it.
Suddenly feeling very much trapped against the window, Sora stumbled back to where Roxas was. The blond youth quickly stepped in front of his brother as he pulled out a pocketknife of his own. He flipped it open, knife locking into place with a soft click, steel blade catching the slight bit of moonlight coming in through the window.
It wasn't much of a weapon, but steel was one of the few things that could defend against ghosts since it was mostly iron. Axel had given it to Roxas when he had first begun serious ghost hunting with them and luckily it had become habit for him to keep it on him at all times.
Roxas could feel Sora's panicked breathing on the back of his neck as his blue eyes narrowed. Though Sora would always be older than him, Roxas knew that he was the one with the experience right now. And though he had always had a protective streak for his big brother, now he was taller than Sora, and more aware than ever of how delicate Sora really was. Now it filled him with astonishment at how strong Sora was to have faced Xenmas alone four years ago, when they had both been so much younger.
But now Roxas was older, wiser, and was the one with the weapon, and he had to get them both out of here safely. "Hold on to this," he murmured, passing Sora Sephiroth's file, all the while keeping an eye on the shadow which had taken another step closer and released another bone-chilling moan. Before it could take another step, Roxas reached back and snatched Sora's hand and at the same time lurched forward to slash at the shadow figure. The smoky form disintegrated under the knife blade, allowing them to run back to the door.
It was still stuck tight. Gritting his teeth as he heard the file boxes rattling behind them, Roxas pushed down the talk button on the radio again, voice cracking. "Axel! We could use some help here!" When there was once again no response, Roxas threw the walkie to the ground, "Shit!
When he felt Sora press against his back, Roxas spun around again to see the room filling with shadows again; just like before when Demyx had been forced to use his water spell. Only this time, Demyx wasn't here! The mass of shadows around them were letting out a continuous wail of pain and anger; dark transparent arms reached out for them.
Just when they had come so close that Roxas would have been able to slash out at the grasping arms with his knife, the door behind them let out a loud bang, the wood bulging toward them under some great force. Sharp, white panic stung Roxas' throat, threatening to choke him as he thought that the ghosts were attacking from behind as well now. Then, relief swept over him when he heard Axel's voice from under the thin crack at the bottom of the door. "Hey, Roxas! Sora!"
"Get us out of here, Ax!"
"Hold on! Back off from the door if you can, I'm breaking it down!"
Back off from the door? How, they were cornered against it! Roxas was just about tell Axel that they needed a new plan when Sora grabbed his sleeve and pulled him a foot to the side; still within the shrinking pocket of clear space but out of the way of the door's path.
And not a second too soon. There was another loud bang on the door and both of them heard wood splinter. Roxas just had to slash at one more shadow, his arm going through another though and freezing it to the bone, when there was another bang and Axel came through the door with a crash.
The redhead was panting, but acid green eyes narrowed when he saw the mass of shadow figures and he reached into his pocket, pulling out a small vial of holy water. Uncorking the vial, he splashed across the first few rows of shadows. They shrieked but dissolved into the air.
Taking the chance, Sora and Roxas bolted out of the room followed quickly by Axel. As soon as all three were out in the hallway the activity suddenly stopped, the bulk of shadows instantly dissipating from the archival room with disturbing ease.
Roxas gasped when he felt something land on this head, eyes flying up to see that it was only Axel, running his hand through his blond spikes in relief. "Man, I'm glad I felt something off when I didn't hear a response. That was too close." Green eyes met blue and Axel pulled Roxas closer with a weak laugh. "You did good though, keeping your head. I'm glad to see you have that knife with you."
Blushing, Roxas still managed to huff a little, "Yeah, well, of course I brought it with me. I've been working with you guys for four years now; I have actually learned to come somewhat prepared."
"Thank god for that. Now, let's get back downstairs. Zexion already called Dem and Namine down; apparently activity picked up around base camp too."
Roxas was expecting another battlefield when they made it down to the first floor but they seemed to reach it only on the tail end of whatever fight had gone down. The expensive marble floors in the lobby were completely soaked, droplets on the windows indicating that water had been thrown rather liberally about. The salt lines at the doorways to the base camp were still intact, but as they stepped over them, they could see that the outside edges had almost been clawed at, streaks of the salt pulling back into the lobby; the ghosts would have eventually made a break in the line and gotten through.
Once everyone was in hearing range, Zexion stood up from his chair. "I think it would be best if we call it a day." He said, tone low but leaving very little room for argument.
Demyx nodded. "Yeah, I'm wiped." He looked it too. His hair was mussed from its normal style and his shirt and pants were soaked. Scratches also littered the skin visible on his arms and hands, evidence of the resistance he had faced. "Every time we banish or take out the ghosts, it seems like ten more take their place. It's getting ridiculous!"
"No." Namine shook her head, delicate features troubled. "From what I have been able to tell, judging by the images that keep appearing in my mind, we're fighting the same spirits over and over again. They're just not leaving, most likely because they are too stubborn and too angry."
Looking over to Zexion, Axel tilted his head questioningly. "Can you do anything with this?"
With a small sigh, Zexion shook his head. "Unfortunately not. From my evaluations I would not be able to perform the level of exorcism required to repel so many ghosts. We would need someone officially sanctioned. However, if Demyx and Namine's spells aren't working, I doubt an exorcism itself would have the desired effects. It would drive them away from here, but because this site has such strong spiritual energy, they would undoubtedly just come back again within a few months."
"Crap. Well, we'll think of something. But for now, I think you're right. Let's take a step back, go back home, and think on things for a while. In any case, we're not coming back here again without the proper gear. It might have just attacked Riku at first, but it definitely wasn't happy with the rest of us just now." Axel pulled out his cell phone with a low sigh, "It sucks to leave without solving Shinra's problems, but it'd be worse for anyone else to get hurt. I'll call Reno and let him know what we're doing, then we can head on out of here."
When they got back home, Sora unlocked the door and walked inside, turning around to smile at Riku as he followed him in. "Feeling better?"
Riku smiled and straightened up, running his hand over the doorframe. "Much. Though it's not quite so taxing on my body to be away from the house anymore, it does start to wear on me after a while."
Chuckling, Sora stepped up to him and wrapped his arms over the other's shoulders, smile growing to a grin when Riku reciprocated with his hands encircling Sora's waist. "I bet I could help with that."
Riku only hummed in amusement, wasting no more time on speech as he leaned down. Sora met him halfway on his tiptoes as they pressed their lips together. Slowly, Riku began to move them backwards toward the couch in the living room, their kiss deepening as they moved further into the house.
Noticing where they were headed, Sora broke the kiss, lips still meeting Riku's chin and neck. His breathing was labored; as always he was stunned into love and lust whenever they made out inside the house. Outside the house, their kisses were like any other couple's but inside, Riku was thrumming with energy, the power of it making his teal eyes glow and send invisible sparks down any points of contact. "Bedroom…?"
Riku nodded quickly, genteel manners set aside as he hurried both of them up the stairs.
The next morning, Sora was woken up from the sun in his face. In their haste to get to the bed, they hadn't bothered to close the curtains. Which was fine then, the bed couldn't be seen from down on the street, but now it was annoying. Shutting his eyes tighter, Sora tried to bury himself under the covers but the only thing that his squirming did was wake up Riku. The silver-haired man let out a low grunt, reaching out with a marble-white arm and pulling Sora against his bare chest. "Sleep a little longer, darling."
The antiquated term of endearment made Sora smile and he rested his own hands on Riku's, but he still shook his head. "Can't. It's too bright."
Sora felt a small breath against his neck before Riku pulled his hand away from Sora's and flicked his wrist in the direction of the window. The curtains slid together on cue, sending the room into a warm darkness. "Better?"
Sora nodded and settled back into Riku's embrace, enjoying the feel of their bodies pressed together. His husband's breathing was just starting to lull him back to sleep when the loud ring of the house telephone echoed into the room. Riku snorted then pressed a kiss to Sora's shoulder. "I should have expected it. If its not one thing it's another."
"I guess it's just time to get up!" Sora snickered, pulling himself out of Riku's arms. He stumbled a bit on his first few steps out of bed – last night's activities coming back to him in a happy rush – but managed to find his balance and walked to the door. He had just the presence of mind to snatch up his boxer-briefs and the button up shirt Riku had worn yesterday and threw it on before exiting their room. The shirt fell to halfway down his thighs and in addition to the underwear kept him from feeling completely naked as he walked downstairs.
He managed to pick up the phone one ring before it went to voicemail. "Hello? This is the Strife residence."
"Roxas?" Sora's brows furrowed, "You sound weird. Did you get enough sleep last night."
"Ah, haven't slept actually." Roxas continued before Sora could berate him. "But listen, we've been working on a plan over at our place and I think we have a decent idea. I just wanted to run it by you guys first."
Sora wasn't sure that he liked the sudden hesitance in his little brother's voice but he was curious. "…Okay? What is it?"
"The ghosts seemed pretty much unfazed by whatever Demyx threw at them. And you heard Zexion when he said that any exorcism he could perform would basically be ineffective. We're calling Auron and Zexion's gonna get in contact with some old religious connections, but all that would take more time than we'd like. So then Namine suggested something that might be able to help." Roxas took a breath and Sora realized that whatever he was going to say wasn't going to sound good. "Okay, so she basically suggested that we summon Sephiroth."
"I know, I know. We don't even know if that would be possible; if Sephiroth's moved on there's no chance that we can bring him back, but the thing is, he's the only one amongst the higher ups during that time that we have enough info on. You see, Namine needs certain information, like full name, date of birth and death, a good image of the person – things that we already have or that Riku should obviously know. We were thinking that if we could summon his spirit, then he might be able to help us fight back all of those other spirits."
"How does that even make sense?"
"Well, he helped killed all of them once, maybe he could help do it again."
Sora shut his eyes; he really should have just stayed in bed. "Ugh, Roxas, Riku's really not going to like this."
"Yeah, I know. Sorry, it was the best thing we could come up with that had the best probability of success."
"Look, I'll bring it up with him but-"
"You don't have to make a decision right away. Namine and Demyx would have to prepare for it, so we'll need to wait four or five days anyway. We'll start preparing for it anyway, but maybe he could approve of the idea within that time frame? If he's really not comfortable with it, we won't do it, but it's our best chance right now."
Biting his lip, Sora looked anxiously up toward the second story, where Riku was peacefully lying in their bed. He was going to totally ruin the calm, romantic morning they might have had. "Alright. Um, I'll talk to him about it and get back to you. Get some sleep, okay?"
"Okay, yeah. Thanks, Sor."
"Mhmm. Talk to you later."
Sora hung up the phone once it went silence then sighed and leaned his forehead against the wall. So troublesome. This was why he didn't like ghost hunting, nothing ever went the way you thought it would.
"Sora? What's wrong? Who was on the phone?"
Sora whipped his head up to see Riku coming down the stairs, dressed casually in slacks and a light sweater, perfect attire for the autumn day.
When he saw Sora's expression, his eyes narrowed with concern. He walked over to the brunette and ran a hand across his cheek. "Did something happen?"
Closing his eyes again, Sora leaned into the touch then sighed. "It was Roxas. He and the others have come up with a plan but…you're not going to like it."
Riku's brows furrowed in confusion but he took Sora's hand and led him to the couch in the living room. "Tell me?"
Ten minutes later, Riku had his head in his hands, expression unreadable. Sitting next to him, Sora clasped his hands together anxiously in his lap. Not knowing what to say, he just sat there and offered his presence as comfort. After a long moment, Riku took a deep breath and lifted his head. Sora took that as a cue that he could move closer and gently maneuvered Riku's head to lean into the crook of his shoulder, running his fingers through the other's long, silky hair. "It's going to be okay…"
Riku shook his head, Sora feeling the movement against his collarbone and neck. "It is anything but. How could they do that to my father? They don't know what it's like to have to go through that…"
"But Roxas said it wouldn't work if he had already moved on so if it did and they managed to summon him, wouldn't that mean that he was still trapped in this world anyway?"
Sora felt Riku stiffened before arms encircled his waist. Riku was silent for another few minutes, allowing Sora to pet his hair. Then, after Sora kissed the top of his head, Riku sighed again. "If they did manage to summon him, what would I say to him? How could I face him? For decades I worked in partnership with Xemnas, harassing the owners of this house until they left. I was a coward, falling under the control of the man who killed me."
Frowning, Sora kissed the top of his head again. "You weren't a coward! Not at all! You were just trying to survive – your dad couldn't hold that against you." He paused then murmured low. "But, if you really don't want to see him, you can probably stay here when the rest of us go back, if you really want."
"No." The reply was quick and sure. "No, if they truly do intend to summon my father, then I have to be there. I have to. I need to. I never, never got the chance, before, to tell him a proper goodbye."
"Alright. We have a few days before Demyx and Namine will be ready so for now let's just try to relax? We'll take it easy today, okay?"
Riku nodded and lifted his head to press his lips to Sora's jawline in thanks. Smiling softly, Sora tilted his chin down so that their mouths met, relieved that Riku seemed to be recovering from the shock.
The next weekend, Sora pulled his car into Shinra's parking lot. They had been asked to come at ten at night so when they got there most of the building was shrouded in darkness, the few lamps that were lit in the parking lot doing little to illuminate anything on the corporate complex. Riku was sullen and silent in the passenger's seat, bundled up in a black wool trench coat and blue scarf, but still stepped out when Sora did, a long bundle of towels tucked under his arm. The silver-haired man had come to a sort of emotional impasse; he didn't want to do this, but at the same time he had convinced himself that he had to do it. So when the time had come for them to leave the house, Riku hadn't put up any sort of fight, but he was carrying himself as if someone had died.
The others were already at the site; their base camp once again set up in the same room, salt lines again along the doors and windows to keep the soon-to-be riled up spirits at bay.
Demyx was the first to see them because he was in the front lobby, drawing on the marble floor with blue chalk, visible against the white stone. He was in his black leather trench, the one that had protection charms sewn into it, looking strange as he scribbled on the floor. He was in the center of what was so far a large circle, the palms of his hands already covered in blue dust. "Hey guys!" When he saw Riku's somber expression, his smile sobered up a little. "Uh, yeah. You're, you're okay with this, right?"
"No, but if it needs to be done…" Riku trailed off.
Quickly stepping into the conversation, Sora added. "But we're here, aren't we? And we brought what you asked for." He glanced over at Riku, who held out the towel-wrapped item he had brought.
"Thanks." Demyx gingerly took it, unwrapping the towels to reveal Sephiroth's sword, the same weapon that had been used to fight and kill Maleficent so many years ago. The blonde held it in his hands for a moment, almost as if testing its weight before he smiled weakly. "Great. This will be perfect. Why don't you two go over to the table? Namine can explain things further."
Namine was flanked by Axel, Roxas, and Zexion, leaning over what looked like a large, broad goblet. All of them were also in the same black trench except for Namine who was wearing her signature white dress. They were in the middle of what sounded like an intense conversation. "I'm pretty sure it'll be safe enough." Axel was saying. "The oil to water ratio is good enough that we won't have too big a fire so we can go ahead and keep it inside."
"That would be best, I think." Namine murmured. "It would be easiest to keep this spell as localized as possible, that way we can waste less energy and have a greater chance of success."
Zexion nodded. "It would also gain the attention of our ghostly friends, which would he helpful. If they gathered themselves for us, it would save us further time."
Guessing that they weren't going to be noticed any time soon, Sora made his way over to Roxas, leaning against his brother's back. "Hey, what are you guys looking at?"
Roxas jumped at the contact, jerking around only to sigh with relief when he saw who it was. "Sora! Gods, you scared me!"
Axel took the surprise in stride. "Hey, glad you can make it. We were just about to get things started. Namine, care to explain?"
"Well," Namine tilted her head to the side then motioned toward the items set out on the table. "We will use an old family spell for the summoning. We have all the things we need, this goblet," she lay her fingers along it's broad rim, looking into the liquid it held at her own reflection, "will act as a mirror into the spirit world. Spelled candles and the magic circle Demyx is drawing will allow us to focus our energies on drawing Sephiroth's spirit out. The item you brought will allow us to anchor his spirit to this place." She offered Riku a small, comforting smile. "If this does work, and we do manage to call him to us, afterwards I promise that we will do everything in our power to help him move on so that he can be at peace."
Riku nodded just as Demyx popped his head into the room. "Everything's set up in here if you guys are ready."
"Yes, I think we are."
The group moved into the lobby. Setting the goblet in the center of the chalk drawing, the pentagram inside the circle almost glowing against the white marble, Namine then went around the edge of the circle, setting up candles at regular intervals. Then she went back into the center, taking the sword from Demyx with her and kneeling in front of the goblet.
Outside the circle, Zexion signed the cross over his chest and Axel shifted his weight. Demyx began to light the candles before he joined his sister in the circle, kneeling down behind her, ready to offer his own strength for her to use.
She began the spell with a soft murmured chant, so quiet that the boys standing just outside the circle couldn't hear. The room seemed to grow darker save for the brightening halos around the candles, a chill entering the air that hadn't been there before. When the liquid inside the goblet began to ripple, Namine's delicate voice finally rose to an audible level as she outstretched her hands lifting them into the air. "I call upon the spirit of Sephiroth Miyuno. I call upon the spirit of Sephiroth Miyuno. I call upon the spirit of Sephiroth Miyuno. Please hear my words and come to our aid."
All at once the liquid in the goblet burst into a flame that shot a good two feet into the air before simmering to a low blaze. Axel had tensed at the sight of the fire and Sora looked over to see a small fire extinguisher on the ground beside him, ready to go in case things got out of control.
Then Sora realized why he had even noticed it. It was rattling against the ground. Biting his lip, Sora reached out for Riku's hand, reassured when he felt the other's long fingers wrap around his own, squeezing tightly.
Slowly, a silver mist began to gather on the other side of the goblet, growing denser and taller as Namine continued to murmur a spell. Within the smoke features began to materialize; first, limbs, starting with the legs, moving up to arms and shoulders. Then the face began to take shape and clothes came into focus.
Riku's grip tightened to the point where Sora feared that his hand may bruise but he remained silent as Sephiroth began to appear before them. Both of them knew what this meant; for whatever reason, Sephiroth had been stuck wandering on this earth for over one hundred years.
Sephiroth's ghost was now clearly in focus; he looked so similar to how Riku had when he had been a ghost. But he was taller, taller than Axel even, broad shoulders and pristine suit imposing. His long silver hair was tied back, slightly defying gravity and floating behind him. Then, his eyes snapped open, eyes as white as Riku's had been but so much more intense.
If Namine was intimidated, she didn't show it. Instead, she craned her neck up, looking at his face. "General Sephiroth Miyuno?"
White eyes fell down to the source of the voice. Though his expression was unreadable he opened his mouth and spoke. From being around Riku so much, Sora was used to the wavering, underwater tone but he saw the others' shifts of surprise out of the corner of his eye. "That is my name. What business do you have with me?"
"My name is Namine. I summoned you to ask for your help. Do you remember the Shinra group?"
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "Shinra?"
"Yes. We're currently in their office. Soldiers who worked for you, and enemies that were killed in battle using their weapons have invaded this space. We need your help to get rid of them."
"Shinra's problems are no concern of mine. What do I care if they were infested with the scum that were killed by their weapons?"
"Father." Riku surprised everyone by stepping forward. Immediately, Sephiroth's eyes zeroed in on Riku and he vanished. Sora just had enough time to suck in a breath of surprise before he felt a substantial chill against his back and he and Riku whipped around to see Sephiroth not a foot away.
Riku raised a shaking hand, fingers curling into his palm just inches away from his father's transparent arm. His voice was trembling just as badly as his hand. "F-Father."
They heard the ghost suck in a shaky breath. "Riku…" Sephiroth took a step closer to his son. Though a general and responsible for innumerable deaths, his relief was tangible even through the spiritual haze. "Riku. You, are you well?"
"I am." Swallowing, Riku closed his eyes, trying his best to keep himself composed. Seeing that Riku was falling apart emotionally from the presence, Sora put a tentative hand on his shoulder, letting his hand slide down to the small of Riku's back when he felt the other tremble under his touch. When Sephiroth's eyes narrowed at the gesture, Riku was quick to continue. "This is Sora. He, he and his family rescued me."
"I see. So Ansem did not completely destroy you. It, it is a relief…to see you living the life that was stolen from you."
Riku nodded. It was obvious that he wanted so badly to hug his father but Sephiroth's present state kept him from it. The two silver haired men stood there, staring at each other, caught up completely in the bittersweet reunion.
Finally, Riku's brows furrowed. "Father, why are you still here in this world? I was not able to leave because of Ansem but, why have you remained?" His words came out strained at the end, face falling into grief.
Sephiroth looked away, transparent features becoming neutral. "I cannot answer that because I do not know the reason. Perhaps it was because of what happened to you, son, for that has forever haunted my mind. Perhaps it was for another reason. All I know is that I have been wandering for a long time." The general sighed, eyes scanning their entire group. After a long moment, he flickered out of sight again, reappearing back in the circle, his sword snapping up into his hand. "I will help you," he said, "If only for the sake of my son." He unsheathed the sword, powerful enough to easily manipulate the sword as if he was material himself. "There are many beings here. I will take on the greater mass, leaving the rest to your group."
Just as he said this, a shadow figure darted into the room – wailing so loud that Sora needed to clap his hands over his ear – followed by four others. Sephiroth immediately turned his drawn sword on the figures, slicing the first two down with one swing. He had barely even moved, but his voice had lowered to a dangerous growl. "It's a shame how stupid you are, fighting a warrior like me!" He waved his hand back then cut through the other two. "Go and begin clearing other parts of this building. These miscreants posed no threat, but many more are beginning to assemble."
"You heard the man." Axel reached into his trench, once again retrieving his pocketknife, "Demyx, pass out charms to everyone. We'll go as a group this time to keep an eye on each other. Let's go. We'll get this place cleared out in a few hours tops."
Within minutes they were leaving the room. Riku's gaze lingered on his father, understandably unwilling to part from the spirit so soon.
Catching his gaze, Sephiroth tilted his head back, one edge of his transparent lips tilting up into a gentle smirk. "Go, Riku. You will be safer in a larger party. I will meet with you after this is all over."
Nodding, Riku hesitated another moment longer then backed out of the room toward Sora and Demyx who had held back to wait for him. When he reached them, Demyx pressed a wooden charm attached to a thin leather cord into his hand, "Here. Put this around your neck. It'll keep you safe." As Riku did so, the blonde waved them onward. "Come on, we gotta keep up with the rest of the group."
They managed to keep up with the rest of the investigation group in the next room, but that was only because they had been confronted by a wall of shadows. Zexion already had a canister of holy water in one hand and a Bible opening in the other. His voice was strong, halfway through a Latin chant. The instant he gave the final "Amen" the ghosts were blasted back a good five feet, the ones who were closest shrieking as they dissolved into ash.
Just feet away, Namine was whispering a spell, hands clasped together. The air was whipping around her, striking out at any ghost that came too close. Axel had Roxas right next to him as he lit the corner of a fire spell; it would ignite within the next few seconds.
However, whatever spirits they destroyed seemed to instantly return. Though no one but Namine could distinguish one shadow from the other but the numbers in the room were barely falling, one or two disappearing after Zexion's efforts. The one's that were hit with Axel's fire blast appeared just to the side of the fire, much to the man's obvious frustration.
Sora cried out as one of the shadows suddenly broke from the pack and swooped at him, the noise cracking in his throat when Riku jumped in front of him. It might have been instinctual for Riku—the need to protect Sora—but in his haste he seemed to forget that he wasn't in his home anymore, he had no supernatural powers here. Nevertheless, the charms that Demyx made them wear did their job. The spirit could only come a foot from them before it was rebuffed by an unseen force, bouncing off with a snarl. Before the shadow could figure out another plan of attack, Axel had jumped on it, slashing across its chest with his knife.
It disappeared, the suffocating dark lifting away from them just enough to see the others. Roxas was facing down a spirit, knife in hand, blue eyes warily following every move the ghost made. Demyx was beginning to lay out a large water spell, emptying a canteen of the liquid onto the tiled floor as he pulled out a charm sheet.
Then the room became cold, breaths escaping everyone's lips in small clouds of condensation. It wasn't the ghosts, they seemed just as uncertain as the investigators, more so, in fact, by the way that they suddenly seemed to cluster together. Then two orbs of black energy seemed to explode from the wall behind the investigators, shooting toward the mass of ghosts.
Each orb quickly enveloped half a dozen spirits, swallowing and erasing them into nothingness. As they contracted, Sephiroth jumped out of the wall, sword somehow also materializing through the solid wall. He quickly began to eradicate all of the shadows within his reach, moving so quickly that his silvery figure became little more than a blur.
Though Zexion's methods seemed to be slowly working, Sephiroth was shockingly fast and just as vicious. His blade cut through the shadows, letting loose a chorus of screams of anger and pain.
This pattern continued as they made their way though different rooms. The shadow figures, so enraged to see Sephiroth again, so angry with what Shinra had put them through, flooded toward them. The investigation took care of them if there were only a handful of the spirits but if any more came Sephiroth would somehow sense the congregation and come to eliminate them.
As everyone was fighting, as he watched Sephiroth bury the tip of his sword into one of the spirit's torso, memories of the day Riku died came to his mind. Maybe that one moment had curse Sephiroth as well as Riku. Though Sephiroth had not been tied down the house, maybe the guilt of his son's murder had been so crushing that he had in a way cursed himself. It had driven him to join the army in life and kept him from moving on in death, unable to ever rest.
Sora might have voice this epiphany but as it was, he couldn't hope to get a word in; he wouldn't have been able to be heard over the dark shrieks of the spirits or the prayers rising all around them. Though Sephiroth was the most effective in fighting the angry spirits, their small group was fighting hard against what they came across, trying at least to keep them at bay and at a manageable level until Sephiroth swept in like an avenging angel.
Finally, the building fell quiet. By now the investigation group had traveled upstairs to the third floor. They were clustered in a tight group amongst the laboratory islands and desks. Zexion had just finished his fifth minor exorcism of the night and sweat was beading on his face and neck, matting his violet hair to his skin. But with his last "Amen" the last three of the spirits who had been hunting them dispersed. The rest of the team seemed similarly exhausted but Zexion was the only one who's eyes showed true fatigue, body having been strained by saying prayers that he wasn't sanctified to give.
Roxas looked over to Namine. "Can you sense more of them?"
Namine felt out with her senses, eyes flickering open only after a long moment, "No. The desperate anger that was once in this place is gone. I think the spirits have all been laid to rest."
"Mostly by force, but hey, whatever." Axel drawled, finally snapping his switchblade closed. "I only wish that I had been able to bring my chakrams with me – it would have made everything a hell of a lot easier."
"You would have broken everything in here." Roxas muttered, pocketing his own knife after he had stripped off his leather trench, relief flooding his features when the cool air hit his skin.
"Yeah, but it might have been worth it to see Reno's face. In any case, if we're really sure that they're all out of here, I think we can start cleaning things up."
"None are left in the building." The ethereal voice had come almost from the air itself but a second later, Sephiroth appeared before them, silvery mist twisting up to form his body once again.
"Father." Riku stepped closer to the towering spirit, his own face lit by the glow coming from his parent. His face was set in firm determination, fists clenched to his side. "You know that's not true. There is one more spirit here who needs to move onward."
Sephiroth stared down at his son, a moment of silence passing between them. Then, Sephiroth nodded his head, looking as regal as a king. His gaze passed over their small group before they focused back on his son. "Riku. The last time I saw you was when you were being lowered deep into the ground. I am…pleased to see you again, to see you somehow whole and healthy." the spirit paused, one large misty hand reaching out to Riku's cheek, hovering over it as if in a familial caress. "That his child lives well is all a father could ask for."
As Riku swallowed, clearly trying to choke back his emotions, Namine stepped forward, hands clasped to her chest. "General Miyuno, do you think you are ready to move on now?"
Sephiroth nodded slowly, his low tone washing through the room. "Indeed. My soul feels lighter now and I have been wandering far too long searching for a nameless adversary. I am glad that you summoned me, witch, if only for the last comfort of seeing my son. Riku," his attention turned back to his son, "I am sorry my actions led to your death, it was my one regret in life, my one true sin."
Riku shook his head quickly. Tears were building in the young man's eyes. "No. No, I never blamed you, Father. It never even crossed my mind to do so. I loved you, as I still do today."
"You are a good son, and I loved you as well, as any does their own blood." Sephiroth's form wavered as he sighed, body twisting back around to face Namine. "Let us get this over with, witch, before I convince myself of reasons to remain."
Nodding, Namine retrieved a single white candle from Demyx and lit it. The glow of it's flame flickered across her face. Then she began her spell. "Where light dwells, all darkness flee; spirit ghost go towards the light, for ye are dead and must move on and away from this place. I ask thee to go with our blessings and love into the light where those you love ever wait for you!"
Sephiorth's form flickered and he looked up at the ceiling then back down at Riku, "I look forward to seeing you again. May it be many years later." His image flickered against then suddenly grew brighter, glowing so strong that the group had to look away or shade their eyes.
Then, he was gone.
Sora quickly moved over to Riku, catching the silver-haired man in an embrace as his husband seemed almost to collapse. "It was worth it," Riku whispered, clutching Sora close. A single tear escaped as he desperately tried to compose himself. "It was worth it."
Watching the aftermath of the reunion, Axel shook his head gently before turning to his group. "Alright, guys. Let's start putting everything away. If we have the energy, we can try to mop things up a bit but otherwise I'm calling Reno and letting him know that we're done here…"
Just as he was pulling out his cell phone though, it went off in his hand. Grimacing, he flipped it open. "Hey, Axel here…Yeah?...No kidding….No, we can come by in a few days. Does Friday evening work for you? Alright, send me an email with your address and additional information about what's going on and I'll see what I can do. No, no problem. Yeah, bye."
He hung up with a flourish, natural smirk back on his face as Roxas let out a knowing groan. "And here I thought we were going to have some down time for once! We got another case, guys, a haunted house this time. So get ready, next Friday we've got some business to take care of!"