by Tenshi

Kajite declared rights to the Halloween party: the candy, the costumes, the champagne. I declare rights to something else entirely.


Oh it gets dark it gets lonely
on the other side from you.
I cried a lot, I fight a lot,
Goes through without you
I'm coming back now, cruel Heathcliff
My one dream, my only master
Too long I rove in the night
I'm coming back to decide, to put it right
I'm coming home to Wuthering Wuthering Wuthering Heights
Heathcliff, it's me your Cathy
I've come home! I'm so cold-
Let me in your window...

--Pat Benetar/Kate Bush "Wuthering Heights"

"And there, hanging over the tombstone- was the very same jacket she had borrowed the night before..." Ryou let his voice trail off on an ominous note, eyeing his audience hopefully for effects of his tale. Sai was still bent studiously over his wristwatch with a pair of pliers, trying to repair the damn thing, Rowen was openly yawning into his hand and Kento seemed to have dozed off over his guitar. Only Sage had listened quietly and politely the whole time, as though he hadn't heard the old story before.

"Original, Ryou," he commented, one eyebrow raised.

Ryou made a disgusted noise and flopped into the nearest chair. "Oh I give up. This is pointless, after what we've been through we aren't as easy to spook as some." He jabbed Kento in the shoulder. "BOO!"

Kento woke with a jangled murmur of accidental chords. "Whuhuh? Ow."

"Spook? PUH-Lease. That story wouldn't scare my dad's lab rats. And I bet even THEY'VE heard it." Rowen eyed Ryou disdainfully.

"Well FINE then, YOU tell one. Ghost stories were YOUR stupid idea anyway." Ryou glowered at the archer. "What's it this time? 'The Hook Man who Stalked Brooklyn'?"

"Maybe Kento should play something," Sai suggested softly.

Sage nodded slightly, internally relived. Kento had a nice voice but even if he didn't, ANYTHING was better than Rowen's dearly beloved gore. Sage didn't even want to be here in the first place. It was one thing for Sai to have a distant Great-Uncle Earl somebodyorother in Britain. It was one thing for them to house sit for him, in exchange for a free week away. It was quite another thing altogether when the house was a decrepit stonework Tudor horror perched precariously on the English coast with the surf roaring a few hundred feet below and the date was October 31. The place REEKED of the paranormal. It was just the sort of place they hung, you know? Like finding reefers at a reggae bar.

Sage most definitely did not like it. Not just Halloween, mind, that was fine and good. Western Halloween he could take; his father had brought the holiday with him in his gaijin culture and despite his grandfather sneering at "pagan celebrations" Sage had plenty of memories of ghosts and greasepaint and bellyaches from too many sweets. A perfectly harmless event. But that was his childhood.

In Japan.

Here, however, plunked on the rim of the world in the middle of Nowhereth-shire England on the night when doors came unlocked and walls thinned to nothing, that was a different matter. Sage could feel their attentions on him. There were THINGS out there in the roiling dark, moving in the wind and shadows, things that could sense his mortal heartbeat and bright soul, things that whiffled and snuffed with hunger and hollow shade and reeked of the grave.

Things that knew what he was afraid of.

Sage had to fight not to summon his armor, to march out of the warm firelit room into the haphazard rain and Flying Dutchman clouds and challenge the damn things, the way he confronted everything he feared.

But that's what they wanted. He could almost hear them mocking. Yes, come out, come out. Bring your yummy sweet light. We'll drink it like wine, we will.

We'll crawl inside and feel of your soul.

We'll make you ours.

We'll make you like it.

"'And still on a winter's night they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon, toss'd upon the cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor, A highwayman comes riding... Riding...'"


"K'so!" Sage jerked out of his seat, clearing air space at Rowen's light touch on his arm, sending his teacup crashing to the flagstoned floor. He blinked in alarmed and embarrassed surprise, carefully putting himself back into his chair. "I-I'm sorry. You startled me." Sage bent belatedly and began carefully picking up bits of shattered china. "Sorry about the cup, Sai."

Sai shrugged with one shoulder. "It's nothing."

Rowen eyed Sage warily. He'd been getting edgier and edgier all day, and now this. Sage NEVER jumped like that- he could detect a mosquito sizing him up in another prefecture. Being startled like that was as unlike Sage as getting a lip piercing and dying his hair purple.

The others had fallen silent, including Kento's guitar, the lonely ballad that had invaded Sage's thoughts now gone in the hiss of logs in the giant fireplace.

Ryou wished he had it in him to rib Sage about being a scaredy-cat. Had it been any of the rest of them, ridicule would have ensued. But not Sage. If Sage felt fear he simply did not show it. The thought of something that could make Sage jittery was enough to thoroughly terrify Ryou. He glanced at Sai. He did, after all, know this place; he'd spent half of his childhood here. Certainly he would inform them of anything amiss, anything that could pose a danger...?

Sai simply kept working on the hinges of his watch, refusing to surrender it to Rowen even though the blue-haired archer could have fixed it faster. The pliers were steady in Sai's delicate long hands, firelight flickering over his bowed head and turning his hair the color of war.


"I think we should all go to bed soon," Sai did not lift his face from his work, speaking more than he had in the last three hours. He just kept working at the trinket as though trying to disarm a bomb. "It's late."

Sage couldn't agree more. Yes, bed. Bury his body in Rowen's warmth and desire, forget about the banshees scraping on his window like Catherine Linton looking for her Heathcliff. One night and he could enjoy the rest of their trip.

Ryou felt himself nodding distantly. This seemed like some sort of play they were in, the unfamiliar but comfortable cavernous main hall had the air of an elaborate set, an anticipatory hush like an expectant, entranced audience waiting for the climax. Ryou stood up and stretched, trying to force casualness into the scene, to calm his heart. "Yeah, bed's a good idea." He hoped Rowen and Sage would let him bunk with them. Rowen certainly didn't seem adverse to the idea and Sage looked like he could use some calming down. "Teleporting this far takes it outta me. I'll just-"

"Shh!" Rowen froze in a half turn away from the main stairwell, listening intently. Kento paused in the act of putting away his guitar, trying to sense what Rowen had.

"What is it, dude?"

"Heard somethin'." Rowen cocked his head slightly, his blue forelock trailing into his eyes. He ignored it.

Sage looked up from the shattered pieces of teacup in his hand, and found his gaze locked with Sai's. An unspoken moment of perfect understanding passed between them. Sai's hands were not as steady on the watch as they appeared, and something rare shone in Sai's emerald gaze. Trepidation. He was fully aware of what was going on out there in the dark.

Maybe, thought Sage, Even more so than I am.

"Heard what?" Ryou wanted to kick himself for being so high strung, mostly because there was no reason for it. He'd faced down death, demon spirits and the Lord of Darkness himself and he was spooked because Rowen heard a SOUND?

That was bullshit. He was ten seconds away from racing upstairs and hiding under the blankets till dawn because Rowen heard a sound. He couldn't ever remember having such a case of the willies. From the expressions of his comrades, it seemed contagious tonight.

"Sounded like... a horse?" Rowen frowned. The wind outside hissed and shifted, throwing itself against the front of the house. It bore with it the sound of the breathing surf below and, sharp and clear to all their ears, the hoofbeats of a frantically galloping steed. A steed on a dirt road.

The highway outside was paved.

Sage felt his heart turn to ice and slowly begin to freeze the rest of him. He couldn't move or speak, as though bound by invisible chains. A horse. Not a friendly purr of a motorcycle, or one of those infernal English car engines but A Horse. Galloping on a road that wasn't there.

"People use horses around here, Sai?" Kento gave Sai a hopeful look.

"Sometimes," Sai admitted, and stood. "Forget it, guys. Let's go to-"

"It's coming he'a," Rowen made his way to the main front door as the hooves clattered on the cobblestone drive out front. "One of ya neighbors, maybe?"

"No," Sai said tersely, his face drawn, fists clenched. "Rowen. Let's all go to bed. Now. Okay?"

"But - ya got company?" Rowen's practical nature was warring with the instinct that told him to leave well enough alone.

"No One Is Out There, Rowen." Sai enunciated each word sharply. The hoofbeats tittered to a stop, and there was a pause.

"Of course- Of course the'a is." Rowen's hand was on the door handle. "Don't be a drama queen, Sai."

"I'm not. Just let it alone-"

"Please, Rowen." Sage found his voice at last. They were all standing now, like pieces in a chess game, looking anxiously at each other.

Rowen forced a laugh from somewhere. "Guys, we'a scarin' ourselves. The Dynasty is one thing, but aren't we being kinda childish?"

"No," Sai retorted.

"Yeah..." Kento managed hoarsely, his eyes flickering away from Sai to Ryou, who wet his lips and smiled like it hurt.

"Right, Sai. I mean, who's it gonna be, the headless horse-"




Rowen jerked his hand from the vibrating door as the three knocks resounded, like a knell of doom, through the ancient stone house of Sai's ancestry. "Uh..." he said, intelligently.

"Don't you EVEN," Sai warned, now quite pale. Sage didn't look too perky either.

Rowen swallowed, then his eyes narrowed. "Grrreeeeat prank Sai. Hah hah hah. How long did it take you and Sage to set this up?"

Sai rolled his eyes. "Rowen, don't be an ass."

"A prank?" Kento smiled uneasily. A prank. Of course. Had to be. "Who's out there, Brad and Janet?"

"If they're wet," Rowen's Riffraff imitation was flawless, "then they'd best... come inside." He grinned sharkishly. "Good one, guys." His hand went back to the door handle, pulling the giant iron bolt back with a loud thump.

"Rowen!" Sage and Sai yelled in unison, but they were both too far away. Rowen knew he shouldn't, knew it was incredibly stupid, but he had never in his life backed down. He also knew, ghoul or not, that he would never be able to live it down to himself if he didn't find out what was out there, banging on the oak portal.

Call it scientific stupidity.

He wrenched the door open.

You can survive for three seconds in the absolute cold of space, the maximum frigidity known to man.

Rowen's brain didn't make it to two.

The chill blew over him like a tidal wave, the darkness outside from the seemingly empty doorstep rushed around him, filling the chambers of his heart with tangible nothingness. Utter cold. A draining of the human warmth necessary to survival, the complete opposite of what it was to be alive. Beyond winter, Beyond space, beyond Death, it was the touch of a mausoleum at midnight in January, and it nearly wrested his soul from him. The voices behind him were distant and dim, even though he knew they were screaming at the top of their lungs, that hands were trying to pry him away from the doorway. Finally the door was shut with a loud slam, taking all of Kento and Ryou's strength to do so. Kento re-bolted the door with shaking hands as Rowen collapsed, shivering, into Sage's arms.

"Hold me Seiji, holdmeholdme..." He pressed his face into Sage's warmth, breathing in his dragon's blood and sandalwood scent as though he would never hold it in his lungs again, clinging to the green chenille embrace. Sage clutched Rowen close, rocking him slightly. He was cold as death itself, and never had he seen him terrified.

"God," Ryou stared wide-eyed at the now quiet and unassuming door. The room was bright again, glowing and peaceful and normal. "What was OUT there?"

"Nothing," Rowen choked, nuzzling his cheek against Sage's collar before lifting his head to look glassily at all of them. His voice was a shadow of it's usual self. "Nothing at all."

"Not anymore, that is."

All eyes turned to Sai as the soft-spoken warrior carefully poured a mug of tea from the pot on the table, and pressed it into Rowen's hands.

"What are you talking about, Sai?" Ryou demanded, angry now at his own fear and at Sai for apparently keeping something from him.

"I mean there's nothing out there now." Sai touched Rowen's hair soothingly. He almost smiled at the shaken archer, even if it was a touch resigned, as though all this was expected, inevitable. "Rowen, you beautiful, overcurious fool. You let him in."

"Him WHO?" Ryou fought to keep his voice calm, even though it came out as a growl. He was NOT going to slug Sai, no matter how much he wanted to at that particular moment. "Sai, you better have a DAMN good explanation for all of this!"

"Of course I do." Sai poured another cup of tea, this one for himself. "The house is haunted."

Ryou closed his eyes and counted to ten twice. "That," he said, when the red haze cleared, "Is your reason?"

"It's the only reason, Ryou. What, you want me to come up with some idiotic rationale of wind or an echo when it's quite obvious to all of us that that was nothing normal? I always thought that so stupid of people in ghost stories, blinding themselves to what was going on." Sai sipped his tea innocently.

"You could have SAID," Kento grumbled, shifting himself closer to the fire and to Sai.

Sai pouted at him. "I TOLD Rowen not to open the door. Had I said 'don't, you'll let the ghost in' he only would have opened it faster."

"Sai's right." Rowen slowly got to his feet, with Sage's assistance. "It's my fault, all of it. I'm sorry, Sai, I should have listened to you."

Sai sighed and smiled, leaning his hands on the table behind him. "Oh bosh, Rowen. It's no big thing. I opened that door myself once. We'll just have to deal with him haunting INSIDE as opposed to out. Not much difference. Only less restful, you know, being ogled by a shade while you're napping."

Sage shuddered. Sai's tone was so nonchalant it felt like ants tromping over his toes. "You make it sound so... commonplace."

"He's harmless," Sai assured all of them. "If he wasn't I would have said. But he won't hurt you, and I wasn't sure if he would show so I kept my mouth shut. But he won't hurt you. I know. Scare you out of your next six lifetimes, maybe, but he won't hurt you."

Rowen muttered something obscene into his cup, over his fright now and feeling grumpily sheepish.

"Well, is there a story?" Ryou gave Rowen a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Don't these things always have some legend? Who is he, Sai? Is he a relative of yours?"

Sai pondered. "I'm not really sure. I think he's a great to the nth cousin of mine or some such, the bloodline that runs into mine started after the ghost's time. There's a painting that's reputed to be of him when he was well, un-ghostly. It's back in one of the rooms my uncle lets to tourists during holiday season. It more or less LOOKS like him, at least, how he looked when I saw him."

Rowen's head came up swiftly. "You saw him?"

Even Sai couldn't repress a shudder at the memory. "I bumped THROUGH him one night... on the landing. The story I was told after that was full of legendary whitewash, lots of bunk I found out later wasn't true. All that I could uncover factually was that he was the eldest son of a former Duke here, and he was enmeshed in an unwelcome arranged marriage. For some reason he simply refused to wed the girl. Apparently it was of great political import to the family, and his father told him to either marry the wench or get lost. Still he refused, and his father booted him out." Sai picked up his teacup and frowned at the last tepid sip. "It was particularly cold that night, and he froze to death. So he comes back here, wanting in. But when he's let in he just roams the house, like he's looking for something. Mostly in the west wing, along the main stairs and in the library. I don't know what, or why."

Rowen snorted to break the morose silence. "Man, that must have been one UGLY babe."

Sai gave Rowen an indulgent look. "The story is like a Swiss cheese. So much is lost. I always wondered what was so awful about marrying her, and why someone who had lived on this land his whole life could get lost enough to freeze. And I wanted to know why he comes back to a place he was so eager to leave. I once took it upon myself to ask him directly. It was three years since my first and until then only encounter with him, it took me quite that to get over my start!" Sai suddenly reached out for Kento, draping one of the powerful arms around his shoulders and leaning into his embrace. "I sat up one night and waited for him. I must have fallen asleep, but the cold- the cold always comes first you know, with ghosts- the cold woke me. I was so surprised to see him I almost let him go by, but part of me remembered what I was doing and I yelled for him to stop." Sai winced ruefully. "Well, he did, and when he glowed at me like that you can be sure I added a VERY polite 'please.'"

"Did you ask him?" Ryou exhaled eyes wide. All of them were far more tangled in Sai's story than they had been in any of the other tales that night. They huddled in closer, voices hushed.

Sai's eyebrows came together in a frown. "I did. Who he was, why he was here, what he was looking for."

"And did he tell you?" Sage breathed, as wrapped up as the rest of them. He could almost picture child-Sai in his mind's eye, wielding a flashlight like a holy relic and confronting a specter. "What did he say?"

Sai bit his lip, talking mostly to the cup he cradled in one hand. "It makes me cry every time I think about it," he murmured. "I cried for weeks afterwards, and everyone thought it was because I had been scared. But it wasn't that, even though he terrified me. He was just so Sad... so unutterably lonely I could feel-" a wave of empathic heartache washed over him, he rubbed at his chest as though to banish something. Kento hugged Sai protectively and petted the soft hair, a calming noise in his throat.

Sai sniffled faintly. "Anyway. He- he didn't seem to hear my questions, but he... just looked, well, over me I guess, glancing around as though he'd never seen the place before. And he said: 'He isn't here. I can't find him and I've looked so hard. If you see him, would you tell him I waited? Tell him I'm waiting still.' And... and then he was just gone."

Sai pressed the heel of his hand against his eyes, squeezing them shut, but not before a tear escaped. He didn't like to think on that night, on those heartbreaking eyes that had been so burning full of life and desperation still, shining with promises and dreams that were never realized. "Can we talk about something else, please?" he added in a small voice.

"Of course, Sai," Kento said immediately. "Anything you want." Kento racked his mind for the first topic that came to hand. "So, um, your uncle-"

"Great uncle," Sai corrected, with a sniff. Sage produced a handkerchief for him, which Sai accepted. "Thank you," he mumbled thickly.

"Yeah, great uncle. He rents this place in the summer?"

"Some of the rooms, like a bed and breakfast, yes." Sai managed to put himself back together, and offered a watery smile. "The guest rooms are at the back of the house, there's no power back there because they're shut off in the winter season, or I would have given you a tour when we got here. It'll wait till morning, if you like."

Ryou paced like a caged tiger. "And the ghost doesn't bother the- oh, damn. Sorry Sai."

Sai shrugged. "No, Ryou. I'm alright. He doesn't haunt in the summer, not a peep. It starts up around early October and stops around April or March. If the winter is warm sometimes he doesn't show at all."

"So much for quiet," Sage commented, glancing at Rowen to make sure he was still all there. The archer kept his hand tightly in Sage's, an uncharacteristic gesture of affection. Otherwise he seemed fine, if perhaps somewhat... detached.

"Let's go to bed," Sai reiterated, clinging to Kento. "I'm all in and I really don't want to deal with it tonight. Hopefully he'll just roam about the halls tonight and then won't knock anymore while we're here." Sai didn't sound optimistic.

"Good idea." Kento grinned and suddenly slung Sai, fireman style, over one shoulder, making the startled warrior yelp. "C'mon, ghostbuster, before you give us all nightmares! Off ta bed with ya!" Kento bounded up the stairs, carrying a only weakly protesting Sai with him.

Ryou grinned. Kento could always be counted on for levity. He slyed a glance at Sage. "Guys, I was wondering-"

"Please," Sage smiled in invitation, knowing Ryou well enough to know that he would always ask if it was alright, that he would never take for granted that he was welcome with them. "I'm sure you'd rather not be alone tonight."

"No," Ryou affirmed, dispensing with pride for once. "I DON'T."

Rowen hugged himself as they ascended the stairs, pausing on the landing to glance back across the dark main hall, to the closed front door. "Cold..." He reached out for Ryou, and for Sage, pulling them both close to him. "I'm cold..."

"Damned English relic this house, I'm sure it's drafty." Sage's voice was only slightly forced with levity. He pressed a kiss to Rowen's temple, the pale skin was warm and dry beneath his lips, Rowen was neither chilled nor feverish. "Don't worry. We'll get Ryou to warm you up, hnn?"

Rowen, usually perky at the prospect, only nodded, holding to them firmly. The gaze that Ryou exchanged with Sage over Rowen's indigo hair was clouded with concern, and loaded with unanswerable questions.

"They call them the Haunted Shores: these stretches of Ireland and Cornwall that rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here, and seafog, and eerie stories. Not that there are more ghosts here than in other places, mind you. It's just that the people hereabouts are strangely aware of them. You see, day in, day out, you listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There's life and death in that restless sound, and eternity too. And if you listen to it long enough, all your senses are sharpened. You come to recognize the peculiar cold that is the first warning, a cold that is no mere matter of degrees Fahrenheit, but a draining of warmth from the vital centers of the living. My neighbors tell me they would have felt it. Even outside that locked door. We didn't."
-The Uninvited

It took a great deal of effort on Ryou and Sage's part to get Rowen exhausted enough to sleep. He seemed particularly desperate that night, needing them more and wordlessly asking more of them than he usually did when they were together. Ryou and Sage certainly did not mind, but the oddity of Rowen's quiet disconsolateness left apprehensive whispers in the backs of their minds. When they at last slept, thoughts of hauntings at least temporarily banished; it was with Rowen cuddled tightly between them, trying their best to warm his inexplicably shuddering form. Sage woke suddenly from mosaiced dreams of cherryblossoms and armor (and a nerve-rattling one about home perms and his credit history), aware that his waking had been caused by some outside stimulus. He was unsure exactly what it was, apart from the fact that the room felt like an icebox. Ryou, curled into a tight ball of bedclothes (blanket hog that he was) was stirring and blinking sleepily at the empty space on the feather mattress that had been previously occupied by Rowen.

"Rowen?" Sage sat up in a flurry of covers. His gaze flickered around the room, heat skipping a beat as he saw the spectral figure, bathed in blue white moonlight, standing in a far corner of the room. "Chi-!" Oh. It was just Rowen. "-kuso." Sage sighed the last syllable, relived. What was Rowen doing, anyway? Stargazing again? He was just standing by the window, his loose white t-shirt and boxers being ruffled by the frigid night breeze, hair drifting over his eyes.

Waitasecond.. Breeze?

"Rowen, what the HELL are you doing?" Sage swung himself out of bed and padded across the room, hardwood boards like an ice rink beneath his bare feet. His hands where shaking by the time he got to the window to latch it shut. The cold wind stopped but the eerie light stayed, casting strange indigo shadows over the room, making Rowen's pale skin look ghastly, dark cobalt shadows puddling under his cheekbones and eyebrows.

"Are you INSANE?" Sage thundered, hugging himself to get warm again, clad only in his dark green boxers- and silk wasn't exactly thermal. Rowen had startled him more than he cared to admit. "First you're cold and now you're standing in front of windows in your UNDERWEAR?! "

Rowen was immobile, his gaze fixed on something out in the distance, over sage's shoulder. Something hidden out there in the mist and trees snared his attention and kept it.

Ryou slid uneasily out of bed. Something was very wrong. Rowen didn't sleepwalk much anymore. His stance was unnatural, too stiff for him, somehow. And Sage looked a little bit wild; it wasn't just his hair. He looked ready to bolt at a loud noise.

"Damnit, Rowen!" Sage grabbed a handful of white shirt, dragging Rowen around to look at him. "Kotate kudasai!"

Slowly, as if it took a while to get through, Rowen swiveled his head away from the window to look blankly at Sage, as one would a stranger screaming your name.

Sage inhaled sharply in shock, his hand spasmodically releasing Rowen. The Archer's clear eyes should have been the turquoise-violet of a sky at twilight, just after sundown on a perfect day.

Now they glowed a preternatural green to rival Sai's.

"Rowen?" Sage felt his lips move, but his voice had decided sensibly that it wanted nothing to do with this hooey, and refused to show. Sage's face reflected true fear and a vulnerable hurt, lavender draining out of his irises and leaving them the grey they only were when he was afraid or sad.

Rowen mechanically looked beyond him once more. Then without any other gesture, he turned away and strode purposefully out the door, into the gloom crouched waiting in the hall.

"C'mon! Don't just stand there!" Ryou grabbed Sage's elbow, towing the stunned warrior out with him, in hot pursuit of their friend.

"My god, Ryou. Did you see-"

"Yeah... and I wish I hadn't." He closed his eyes briefly. Kento, Sai, NOW!

At the door to the other guestroom the two appeared like magic, in answer to Ryou's mental summons. Kento had surrendered his heavy-duty flashlight to Sai, who was the only one who had stopped to put on his jeans. The others were still clad mostly in shorts and goosebumps.

"Ryou, wha-"

"Let's go, guys, Rowen's possessed." Ryou was never long on explanation.

"Possessed? Really?" Kento looked happily thrilled. "Kewl."

"Oh well is THAT all?" Sai made a face that didn't cover the anxious tremor in his voice. "I've been saying that for years but only Mia believed me."

Rowen moved through several rooms, pausing a moment at a cross-junction, then making a left. His companions skidded after him.

"This is weird. Even for him," Sage commented tersely. Rowen was moving quickly, they had to hustle to keep him in eyesight. "Where's he going?"

"And could he stop in the kitchen on the way?"


Kento cringed at the three-man hiss. "Gezzz, one comment and everybody's bitchy. What happened, anyway? His head spin around?"

Sai shot his love a venomous glare. "This is reality, Kento."

Rowen abruptly ducked into a side passage, well into the unused part of the house by now. They huddled close to Ryou, stealing heat.

"Oh YEAH," Kento grumped. Four mystic-armor wielding dudes chasing their possessed buddy through a HAUNTED ramshackle manor while wearin' nothin but their skivvies. REAL friggin' likely."

"You left out that we're gay." Sai trained his flashlight beam on Rowen, who had stopped by a pair of double doors. "The library?" he mused, puzzled. Ghosts possessed people to fetch them reading material?

The four of them peered around the corner, watching Rowen frown at the locked doors.

"Somebody needs to make a Scooby-Doo comment," Kento prompted.

"That's Rowen's line," Ryou scowled. He didn't like anybody messing with his pals.

"Yeah," Kento's voice was rough suddenly. "Guess it is."

Sage turned to Kento, his gold brows lowered in confusion. Kento quirked a sad smile at him. "I'm worried too, Sage," he murmured.

"Well it doesn't matter," Sai said. "The doors are locked, he'll never-"



They all gawked as Rowen dropped the brass doorknob absently to the ground, as if people ripped them out of oak plywood every day of the week. He pushed open the door and drifted inside.

The four troopers trailed after him, hanging onto Ryou not only for warmth now, and looking rather like an inebriated parade dragon with too many legs.

"What's he doin?" Kento whispered loudly, trying to crane his neck to see. Rowen was poking at all the shelves, apparently not needing light, tossing aside books occasionally and rifling the shelves as though his life depended on it. He was murmuring to himself now, an agitated light in his uncanny-colored eyes.

"We won't find out lurking in the doorway." Sai edged out from the knot of warriors, walking boldly up to Rowen. Spook or no spook, this was his friend, and he had polariods of him in drag. By golly he wasn't afraid of anybody who hadn't known what a garter belt was.

"What are you looking for?" He asked, clearly and distinctly, but not too loud.

Rowen let an 1834 edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets fall from his fingertips as though it was a cheap paperback. He didn't appear to see Sai, but he answered him.

"I have to find my book," he announced.

Sai was visibly shaken. Not because of what Rowen said, mind, but how he said it. It sounded like: "Ayhe Hahve tew fhind mayhe booke" His Bronx accent had evaporated, leaving an older, more aristocratic form of English in it's place that made Sai sound like he'd lived in a gutter in London all his life.

"B'jesus," Kento muttered, awed. "Who is he and what has he done with Rowen?"

"Good question," Sage sulked.

"What... book?" Sai queried, as Rowen leafed through several folios and shoved them aside with a snarl.

"Dammnit all to hell MY book! Must you INSIST upon asking asinine questions at a time like this?" Rowen shoved a stack of tomes to the floor with a waterfall sound, dust rising from them in small clouds. His baleful glare at Sai was quite effective with his eyes glowing like that. "Now leave me be or I shall have you removed from this room in separate parcels!!"

Sai blinked rapidly several times. "Oh, dear."

"Great." Ryou snarled. "Not only is he possessed but he's possessed by an ASSHOLE!"

"Rowen, you little prick!" Kento yelled, glowing orange for a moment in rage. "I'm gonna-" Sage managed, through sheer force, to keep Kento from smearing Rowen for insulting Sai. Kento lunged against Sage, nearly felling him.

"Kento stop it! If you beat the shit out of him it'll be Rowen who feels it, NOT what's controlling him! Just leave him alone!"

Kento gave Sage an enraged, incredulous look. "How can you SAY that? You gotta do something to HELP him, man! JEZZ! Don't you love him at ALL?"

Sage flinched. "Yes," he growled, "I do. So I'm doing what I can, which is nothing. Believe me, if I thought beating him to a pulp would stop this I would have done it. Just let it run its course."

Kento wavered. "But-"


He relented with an expletive, shoulders slumping in defeat. "But... can't we do ANYTHING?" His voice sounded helpless, gesturing uselessly with one strong hand.

"Just wait," Sai had stepped back, watching as Rowen feverishly began trawling through books again. "I think... think that if he finds what he's looking for, it'll stop."

"And if he doesn't?" Ryou asked quietly.

Sai didn't answer.

"Dahmn dahmn Dahmn," Rowen muttered, sending several relics to the floor. Sage winced, both at the abuse of the books and at Rowen's bizarre dialect. He'd been looking for close to half an hour now, Sai trailing along silently in his wake, carefully replacing the volumes Rowen cast aside.

"What time is it?" Kento asked Ryou quietly. Ryou glanced at Sage's night-glow watch.


"Lovely." Kento put his chin in his hand. He'd love to go find something to munch, but no way was he leaving now. Rowen's murmurings had degenerated into occasional outdated profanity, and any attempt to talk to him or get information was met with a blistering retort and threatened bodily harm. Sage sat quietly, trying not to watch Rowen's un-Rowen gestures, the arrogant tilt of his shoulders or the sharp turn of his head if any of them got too close. He had almost dozed off, leaning against Kento's broad back, when something hit the parquet floor with a loud smack.

"Wha-? Ohgod-" Rowen was spilled in a motionless sprawl on the floor, a flat, unpretentious leather journal clutched tightly in one pale hand.

"Rowen?" Sage lifted the archer carefully. The handsome elfin features were drawn, weary dark smudges marring his eyes. "Rowen?"

"Unnnnn..." Rowen stirred, lifting a hand to his forehead. "wha' the fuck?" he struggled to sit up, staring blearily at his surroundings, and the anxious faces of his friends. "Wha' the hell wazzat?" His eyes were once again their usual blue.

"I think he's back," Sai smiled thinly.

"Is 'sis some kinda joke? Why'm'I on the floor?" Rowen tried a shaky grin at Sage. "Don' tell me you decided to take out that chloroform threat."

"You don't remember anything, do you?" Sage petted Rowen's hair, even though his hand was batted away with a wry grin.

"Remembah what?"

"Oh, just trying to perform a one man 'Exorcist'." Kento rocked on his heels.

"You ah-" Ryou looked sheepish, like it was all his fault. "You kinda got possessed, Rowen."

"I WHAT?" Rowen shot up to his feet, trying to grab Ryou by the shoulders to rattle him when he realized he still had something held tightly in one hand. "What's this?"

"Your book," Sai drawled dryly, folding his arms across his bare chest. "The one you threatened to dismember me over if I didn't let you alone to find it."

"I did?" Rowen blinked at the book.

Sai smiled. "Not you, precisely. Something tells me the ghost was in a wee bit of a snit."

"A 'wee bit'?" Kento glowered.

Sai shrugged. "Come on, Kento. If YOU had been in his position for the past few centuries I suppose you'd be rather snappish about it too."

"Ughh..." Rowen shivered. "I think I wanna bath. Got bogeymen crawlin' insidea my skin- blech."

"I want a look at that before you do anything," Sai said, nodding at the large flat volume Rowen held. "But not here. Do let's go down to the kitchen. At least there's electricity."

"Wait a minute, Sai." Rowen turned to the slighter warrior. "You said there was a picture of this guy. I wanna see it."

Sai looked pained. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." All of them announced.

Sai looked crestfallen. "Alright," he sighed.

"Geez," Ryou tilted his head at Sai. "Is it a long walk or something? Why're you so pouty about it?"

Sai bit his lip. "Oh no, it's not far... in fact... it's right up there."

Sai swung his flashlight beam upwards into the darkness hovering over their heads. The light cut through the high-ceilinged gloom to land on a painting hanging above the shelves, a painting of a young man with a slightly amused look on his face and an impudent light in his green eyes. He was wearing a full white shirt, his soft auburn hair falling into his eyes, most of it gathered back in a ribboned ponytail.

"Holy..." Rowen got out, but that was all. The young man peering rather snobbily down at them from the frame could have been Sai himself.

"This night is getting too bizarre." Ryou perched on the counter in the kitchen, dangling his bluejeaned legs off the edge and poking absently at the rack of pots and pans and ladles hanging above his head. They had paused only to put on warmer clothes before re-convening in the cheerily lit farmhouse-style kitchen. Sai had made hot chocolate, the real thing, not powdered junk, and was dolloping out cupfuls as Ryou spoke.

"Getting?" Kento made a face. "Man, can we just get this bogey settled so we can SLEEP?"

"I doubt it'll be that easy." Sai sat down at the large trestle table across from Rowen. The archer had his chin in his hands, pondering thoughtfully in his usual "Rowen is thinking about it" look. He frowned at the unopened book.

"Well, easy or not, we gotta help this guy. And don't ask me how I know, but it's gotta be tonight... I think he might be losing time. Which is why he did what he did."

Sage blinked down at Rowen, stopping the backrub he was giving him. "What? Help him? After what he did to you?" Sage's anger shone violet in his eyes, his hand tightening on Rowen's shoulder.

"He asked me first, Sage," Rowen said quietly, tracing a faded embossed initial on the cover. "He didn't just attack me. I agreed."

"But... WHY?" Sage flopped with more grace than anybody should flop with into the chair next to Rowen.

Rowen half-shrugged. "Cos he needed help." He flashed a bright smile at Sai. "An' if I'd known he was such a hottie, I woulda said yes fasta."

Sai blushed at his cup.

"'Sides... I thought I was dreamin."

"I wish you were," Ryou pushed himself off the counter, his moccasined feet silent on the stone floor, re-lighting on the thick table. "Can we look at this book now?"

"Yes, let's." Sai scooted around, and Kento leaned over his shoulder. In the cozy room ghosts seemed somehow unlikely.

"Well, he'a we go... Only book so good it's worth comin' back from the grave for." Rowen carefully opened the cracked leather cover, exposing a yellowed, thick page. The paper was heavy, otherwise it would crumble at their touch, and filled with spidery, concise script. At the bottom was a very talented sketch of a little girl, pouting cutely, her curls dangling in her face.

"He'a, Sai. You read. It'd take me a week to decipher these hieroglyphics."

"Wouldn't it." Sai grinned. "I suppose it has nothing to do with the fact that your contacts are in your room and you forgot your glasses?"

"Just read the damn book, Sai," Rowen grumbled.

Sai peered at the handwriting. "Oh, hooray, it has a date... November 23, 1761. "

"So READ!" Ryou urged. "I will if you'd stop interrupting," Sai cleared his throat, and began.

"'To-day is my 22nd birthday. As a gift my little Catherine presented me with this volume, so as to record my thoughts and sketches in. She knows well how I consider this house a prison, and told me that if I could not journey to Paris to study, at best I could free my mind by Writing. It is what she does herself, doll poet that she is. I pray my father does not demolish her dreams, as he seems to delight in doing mine. And speaking of the Tyrant, he has given me a birthday gift as well: a chestnut gelding and an ultimatum. To rid myself of frivolity and take my inherited duty more seriously. More directly, Forget painting and Paris, Marry a suitable wench and have brats. Too bad I have little taste for women OR children, save my sister, whom if I had daughters such as her I could not be more pleased. I suppose, for the sake of posterity, that I should record such events as occur around the shire and in the household, but there is precious little to report. There has been a new groom hired, to work the stables, and I am to instruct him in the ways of the house. Damn my father for pouring the duty on me, all he loves is his title and his damn horses. I suppose it would be better for the lad if I am his guide, my father regards him with even more suspicion than usual, perhaps because of his gypsy blood. He must be good with the beasties though, or he'd not have had him hired. I have yet to see him. His name is Ashe. And now I'd best draw my pouting sister as promised, sulking because I failed to comment on her new frock-'"

"What the hell's a frock?" Kento intruded.

"A dress," Rowen supplied.

"Sh!" Sage admonished.

"That appears to be all for the first entry... but it's a start." Sai set the book down, gingerly turning a few more pages so not to damage them. They seemed to be filled with quick renderings of the horse. "He's signed them... 'Colin'. Suppose it's our ghost?"

"It's gonna take all week ta get through that. We can't flip ta the good stuff, the pages'll dissolve." Rowen tapped an impatient finger against his mug, eyeing the book.

"True." Sai chewed his lip. "This is going to take quite a few mugs of chocolate."

One spoon on the suspended rack of utensils swayed slightly, as though by a light breeze. The action went unnoticed by the Troopers engrossed in their book. The spoon bumped a nearby pot, metal chiming on metal.


Sage blinked up, then shook his head. He really was getting too jumpy.

The rack trembled, making a few items jingle in protest.

Sai pondered the best way to get through the book without taking all night. "Is... is it cold in here, anyone?"

The spoon spun faster, banging louder against one pot.


And another.


"Whoa..." Rowen stood up slowly, all of them entranced by the mysterious motion now. Kento had a tight grip on Sai's arm as the ladle moved faster and faster, with a rising staccato of racket.

Ching! Clang! Chingclang! ChingclangclangclangCLANG CLANG CLANG!!

"He's baaack," Kento murmured under his breath. Sage elbowed him.

The utensils rattled at a fever pitch for less than a minute, then stopped, going suddenly and perfectly still.

The warriors held their breath.

Nothing happened.

They exhaled, in unison.

"Well, that was pointless," Ryou griped.


The entire rack of pots and pans and other tools plummeted to the floor, a wind like Antarctic wrath roaring inexplicably around the kitchen, the lights going abruptly out. The temperature dropped another twenty degrees, darkness quick and impenetrable.

"GREAT one, Ryou! PISS HIM OFF!!" Sage's voice strained to be heard over the thunderous din of flying kitchenware.

"Ffffffffuckk..." Rowen's teeth chattered as he tried to blindly dodge random items hurled in his direction, zooming at him in the dark.

"Get DOWN!" Sai ordered, hitting the deck and pulling Kento with him.

The others flattened themselves against the floor as various objects whizzed over their heads. Anger, harsh and bitter and helpless, washed over them. Their empathy seemed to recoil as one from the raw emotion channeling through them.

"This isn't RIGHT!" Sai exclaimed, his voice frustrated in the dark. "He's never been a poltergeist before!!"

"Maybe he got BORED!" Ryou screeched back indignantly.


Silence. The lights came back up. Nothing in the kitchen appeared to have moved, even though they had seen the now hanging serenely rack fall and had bruises from what they couldn't dodge.

"Geez..." Ryou cautiously poked his head up. The room was bright, and warm again.

"I don't understand." Sai blinked in confusion at the tidy space. "He's never... I didn't... so ANGRY!"

"He was pretty pissy when he was in Rowen." Kento reminded.

Rowen shook his head. "No. Agitated, irritable, urgent, yes, but not enraged. That was something very mad and very indignant."

Ryou made a vague noise, half-falling into the nearest chair, his wide blue eyes on the book. It was not open to the page it had been.

"Ryou?" Sai stepped forward, but Ryou lifted the book and read aloud, faltering slightly on the complicated English.

"'Fourth December. Ashe again. I do not know what it is about him that haunts me so, makes me forget my thoughts and think only of him. This hunger is sweeping aside everything in its path and I fear my Father's wrath is imminent. For me to have such tastes is one thing, but with a gypsy and a servant no less! He said he would like to go to Paris with me. I think he would say the same if I expressed a desire to visit hell itself. I would need no model if I had him; I could paint him till my hands bled. Alas I have no oils to do him justice; my father would not allow the expense on frivolity like that. I fear my sketches are only shades of him... He kissed me again today. His lips tasted like June.'"

Shakily, Ryou turned and laid the book to face them. One side held the elegant script, the opposite page filled with a black ink maze of beautifully rendered features, maddeningly familiar. Only the eyes were in color, an intense, white-tiger blue.

As one, they all looked shakily at Ryou. Then they looked at his 200-year-old image in the book.

"Well Sai," Ryou said thickly. "Good news is you haven't got a ghost. The bad news is you've got two of them."

"But-" Kento began, and stopped. The sketch regarded him accusatorily, eyes smoldering with desire even through the centuries. The sultry curve of his lip was unmistakable.

"A lover," Sage said, thoughtfully. "That does put a different slant on the story."

"How can you be so clinical?" Ryou blinked, scowling at Sage, for a moment a stereo image of the drawing in the book. "For Sai to look like the ghost is one thing, they've got the same bloodline, but- but that's ME!" He regarded the book as one would a venomous snake. "And NOBODY in my family line hung out in ENGLAND!"

"I have to be clinical, Ryou," Sage was unruffled by the outburst. "I don't care if that's your face and that-" He waved an arm, indicating the kitchen, "was your temper. If I think about that I shall sit here and go quietly mad."

"A mystery." Rowen, for the first time that night, looked pleased. "Okay guys, let's work it. What have we got?"

"Righto." Sai rummaged in a drawer, eventually producing notecards and a pen. Rowen stood up and began pacing.

"Point numbah one," Rowen began, as though lecturing students. "The ghost told Sai 'I miss him' and mentioned waiting. Can we infer that he meant Ashe?"

They all looked blankly at one another. A ladle on the rack clanged against a pot, once, as though in agreement. The chime sounded like a temple bell. Rowen grinned brilliantly; Sai scribbled on his notecard. "Elementary, my dear Hashiba."

"And his reasons for not wanting to marry are obvious." Sage folded his arms, eyes glassing slightly as he thought. "Not only did he not care for girls, but he DESPISED it here."

"Okay, let's set up a scenario." Rowen spun on his heel. "Say, events build to a head, sometime after that last entry. Colin's father is tightening his grip while the relationship with Ashe is getting more intense."

"Then there's a fight?"

"A BIG one, Kento." Rowen snapped his fingers. "We know Colin was impulsive. At least, I can see him that way. So he finally can't stand it anymore, tells off his dad, and vows to run away that night."

"But he wouldn't leave without Ashe," Ryou was starting to warm to the hypothesis. "Maybe they couldn't leave at the same time for some reason, so he decides to meet him somewhere on the road, but it's so cold he freezes."

Rowen stopped in mid-pace. "Why would Ashe keep Colin waiting so long?" he wondered aloud.

"Colin did write that Ashe would follow him to hell. I know if it was me... hell or high water couldn't keep me from someone I loved." Ryou said.

"What if... he COULDN'T make it?" Sai tapped his pen against his jaw, raising his eyebrows at the others.

"Couldn't?" Ryou almost rose from his seat, forgetting momentarily that it was his doppelganger and not he himself that was being discussed. "Ashe LOVED Colin... I know he had to. Why else would he still BE here? And if Colin was waiting for him, I know if it was me in his place, Ashe would hafta be DEAD to-" Ryou stopped abruptly, alarmed, looking at Sai.

"Had to happen at SOME point, Ryou." Sai looked down at his notes. "And Ashe was a SERVANT. No one would puzzle over him leaving when Colin died- or when he went to Paris, because I doubt Colin's father meant for his son to freeze. But Ashe would have presumably run away."

Ryou's jaw tensed. "Ashe was murdered."

The ladle plummeted to the floor with an indignant clang, making all of them jump.

"Without his lover to go with him," Rowen slowly bent to recover the spoon, turning it over in his hands. "He would either loose his resolve and return or have nothing to keep him away. His father could tell him any line of crap he so wished, as long as he got what he wanted. Colin imprisoned here."

Kento looked up at the ceiling, as though trying to peer into the upper floors. "He's imprisoned here, alright. But I can't believe Colin's father would just MURDER-"

"I can," Sage affirmed. "Remember when and where this is taking place. Ashe was a gypsy, which probably meant Colin's father thought him less than a human anyway. Add to that the fact that he liked boys... well. I'm sure he didn't think of it the same way as killing one of his peers. Neither would the law of the time."

Silence. Ryou swallowed hard. "I guess we're lucky."

"Some of us." Sai looked around the room. "Oh, Ashe. I hope it was quick."

There were no affirmative preternatural stirrings.

Rowen frowned. "But if they both died, probably on the same night, then why can't they just-- get tagehtha?"

"It doesn't always work that way." Sage looked at Sai, who nodded. Sage knew more about this sort of thing in general. "If the spirits have boundaries."

"Ashe is confined to the kitchen you think?" Rowen snagged a notecard and began a quick sketch of the house. "And Colin to the road, stairs, and library."

"Why the kitchen?" Kento wondered aloud. The room did not seem conducive to ghostliness. "Was he murdered here?"

"He couldn't have been." Sai said. "This part of the house is a newer addition of the last century. In 1761 the only thing here would be the dooryard and..." his eyes went wide, his hand going to his lips. "The stables..."

"Bingo!" Rowen grinned, and drew a big X over the kitchen on his floorplan. "He was probably murdered and likely buried-"

Sage stood up and shifted uncomfortably, his gaze going to the flagstones.

"-He'a, and then just was stuck when the kitchen got plunked on toppa him."

"Not on top of him," Sai whispered through his fingers, tears hanging in his eyes like prisms in a window. "When I researched the ghost... my Great uncle told me... they found bones here when they built the addition. A skull and a few other things... buried them in the churchyard, even though no one... knew who..." Sai hugged himself miserably, only just then realizing he was crying, as Kento cradled him securely against his chest, offering solace. Sai's pale fingers knotted up in Kento's sweatshirt. "The cranium was crushed... and... bones... broken... " Sai dissolved into hiccuping sobs, silencing his voice.

"God," Kento breathed. The image of Ryou beaten to death filled their unwilling minds.

Sai jumped as warm unexpected fingers brushed at his tears, the heat of Ryou's fingertips drying them before they could fall any further. "Sai..." He began, and then could not think of what else to say.

Sai looked at him, blinking away tears, azure fire eyes reflected in sea-green ones. The moment stilled, then stopped, as time ceased momentarily. Then there was too much time, all around them, centuries repeating two deaths in tandem, whirling in a perpetual twin spiral that could never meet.

"Whoa," Ryou tore himself away before he lost the ability to do so, clutching the table as though for support.

"Déjà vu and vertigo is a BAD combination," Sai agreed, clinging tightly to Kento and trying to make his head stop spinning.

"Sai, are you alright?" Kento smoothed down Sai's hair at the nape of his neck, trying to soothe him.

Sai nodded into Kento's shoulder. "I will be. But first we have to find some way of getting Ashe and Colin together."

"But their spirits are BOUND." Sage reiterated. "Believe me, I know how this stuff works. They could be two inches away but if there's a line there, they can't touch."

"How awful." Sai murmured, his cheek resting against Kento. "For 200 years... that must be torture..."

Rowen had been thinking hard this whole while, staring at his rendering of the house layout. The answer was right there under his fingers... if he could just grasp it. "Sai... when I went ta the library. Did I take Colin's usual route?"

Sai wiped his nose on his handkerchief-- actually the one Sage had loaned him earlier in the evening-- and shook his head. "No. You took the most direct route. The ghostwalk is more circular because it goes through the older-" Sai glanced up at Rowen's knowing smirk. "When Colin was in you... he broke the boundaries!"

"Exactly." Rowen folded his arms as if to say: Well, that settles that.

"So," Sage leaned forward. "Your plan is to get possessed again?"

"Get TWO of us possessed." Rowen held up his fingers. "Ta balance the equation. Won't work to have one spirit an' one mortal, that's a whole other set 'a problems."

"Damn, Rowen, this is parapsychology, not calculus!" Sage wasn't thrilled with the idea, he wanted no repeats of the library.

"Logic is Logic, Sage." Rowen tossed his head a bit and looked immobile.

"Yes, it is, Rowen." Sai frowned. "And I agree with your idea. But not you."

"Nani?" Rowen blinked. "But... I've already been through it-"

"Exactly why you don't need to do it again."

Sai had that hard set to his features that Rowen only argued with once. He rubbed his cheek absently, recalling a particularly nasty left hook.

"I'll carry Colin."

"Sai- You can't-"

"Rowen nearly went comatose last time, Kento. His body doesn't need that kind of stress twice in one night."

Kento fumed silently, unable to argue with that. Sai touched his cheek lightly. "Please love. It's for only a few hours at most. Think how you would feel, centuries and inches apart from me."

Kento's expression softened some; he nodded. "Alright."

"That leaves Ashe to me." Ryou was contemplating his cold cocoa.

"Ryou, it doesn't have to be you. I'll-"

Ryou gave Sage a strange smile and tsked lightly. "Doesn't it. You're the one always on about the pattern of things, Seiji. Hey, Rowen. What was that line from 'Last Unicorn'?" Ryou's brow furrowed as he tried to recall. "Something about heroes knowing the order of things. About beginnings and endings and how they work, wazzat it?"

The corner of Rowen's mouth twitched, trying to smile. Ryou didn't read much but Rowen had given Ryou a copy of "The Last Unicorn", and Ryou had been completely sucked into it, reading it even though at the time his English had been shaky. Multiple re-reads probably was what made his current grasp of the language so easy. "Something like that."

"This is what fits, guys." Ryou tapped the picture. "I dunno who's writing our story but the most we can do is do it right. This is how it works. Sai and me, Colin and Ashe." His eyes flicked to Sage. "How do we do it?"

An hour and a half later, Rowen, Kento, Sai and Sage re-emerged into the main hall, Ryou's unconscious form slung between them. The scent of candlesmoke, incense and hope still clung to their clothes.

"Uff-!" Rowen managed to get Ryou's butt into the nearest seat, the sofa near the fire. "Ya GOTTA lay off the BBQ Pringles, pal." Rowen straightened, looking worriedly down at Ryou's inert form. His face was drawn, even in his unnatural sleep. "Sage, are ya shu'a that mumbo-jumbo worked?" Rowen attempted to smooth Ryou's haphazard hair.

"Yes." Sage leaned wearily against the table. Being a medium for an agreeable sprit was enough to take it out of you, and even though Ashe was desperate he was a wary and stubborn entity. The coercing was draining as hell, and Sage hoped he had enough oomph to perform the same rite for Colin and Sai.

"That won't be necessary, Sage," Sai said suddenly, turning away from whatever distant planet he had been on for a moment.

Sage frowned puzzledly. For Sai to answer his thoughts was not uncommon, but he worried that the warrior might be coming down with a cold. His voice sounded odd. Then Sai flashed a quick smile at Kento, Sage, and Rowen, and even with the odd events of the evening the realization was enough to make the hair on Sage's neck stand on end.

"Yipe, willing transference," Sage muttered. No wards or anything. Brr.

"Sai?" Kento asked warily.

The look he was given in return was almost sympathetic. "Not at the moment, I'm afraid." The preternatural green in his eyes was not quite as unsettling as on Rowen, but it still made Kento wince. Sai touched his shoulder with an encouraging smile, ready to speak again, when his gaze drifted over Kento's shoulder to Ryou. Sai's entire expression became disarmed, the arrogant armor vanishing as if banished. His hand dropped to his side as he slowly drifted past Kento to stand over Ryou, still unconscious from the strain of accepting so powerful a soul.

Sai extended his fingers as though to touch Ryou's cheek, then curled them back, perhaps afraid Ryou would disperse to smoke if disturbed. He slowly sank to his knees next to Ryou's chair.

"God." His voice was naked with emotion, burning with disbelief and gratitude and grief. Finally he found the courage to cradle Ryou's face in his hands, watching with glassed eyes as the ebony hair slid through his trembling fingers. "Ashe."

Ryou shifted, a puzzled line between his brows and a querulous nose in his throat. He blinked once in confusion, as though trying to focus, until his eyes, too bright even for him, landed on Sai.

There was a monolithic pause. Then his lips curved in a slow, wary way, blue irises glinting. His voice was tonally different, as if all the vowels were delicacies to be savored.

"And just where the hell have YOU been?"

Sai's arms were flung around Ryou, his face buried in the lee of Ryou's shoulder. "Damn you," he sobbed, joyfully. Ryou slid to the floor until they were kneeling there together.

"Not anymore." Ryou's hand smoothed Sai's hair easily, as if it was a move of long practice.

Kento, Sage and Rowen, standing in a close knot, felt like intruders, or perhaps the audience to the play Ryou had thought himself part of earlier that evening. They knew that this was Sai and Ryou, but still it was not them, not their voices or motions. The image was like listening to one radio station on close frequency to another, both of them playing recognizable songs, the two of them intruding on one another until a new, eerily familiar yet alien tune took shape.

"I did warn you that loving me would be the death of you," Sai murmured in Colin's voice, his hands in love with Ryou's hair, weeping as if in years of being spirit he had lost the skill to hold back tears. "Forgive me."

"For what?" Ryou captured Sai's face in his hands, his body taut with intense, severe affection. "I lost my fool life and cost you yours. No. We haven't time for the formalities, you despise them anyway. I spent too much time--" He hesitated on the concept of time, as though unable to determine the difference between a minute and a millennium. "...angry- too much time then." For the first time Ashe seemed to take note of the others in the room. He smiled at them, distantly; eyes saying what Ryou's lips could not. Salvation from two centuries of anguish is hardly easy to articulate. Ashe seemed to have, like Ryou, a knack for physically expressive eloquence.

And he was understood.

Colin was still lost, nodding Sai's head into Ryou's cheek. "Before. Not enough now." He pulled back to stare at Ryou a long span of seconds, thumb running over the perfect curve of Ryou's lower lip.

The unnatural green eyes sought Sage's, the violet mundane by vivid comparison, and wordlessly asked permission. Sage inclined his head once. He did not think Ryou and Sai would mind.

Ryou's eyes shut almost reluctantly, as if wanting to keep Sai's image.

His lips parted to whisper, "I could never forget."

Sai's mouth closed tenderly over his.

There are very few oral joinings worthy of art and poetry, being as it is a rather unlikely act. But in seeing this, with tears dampening auburn and jet lashes, Kento realized what it meant to really kiss somebody. It was a treasure, the first and last before their souls fled.

He could find no jealousy in his heart as Sai's hands tightened on Ryou's shoulders, only a warm, painfully happy ache.

Dark arms folded Sai in tightly as two lost lovers welcomed back and said farewell to everything they had been.

Sage, out of habit, wanted to force down the knot in his throat. But in truth it was welcome, like a very good cry at the end of a wonderful book, the kind that made you want to read it again for the very first time. The moment was unspeakably perfect and transient. It was worthy of rarely shed tears. He glanced at Rowen out of the corner of his eye, and found himself surprised.

Rowen was crying freely, selflessly, not sobbing or loud with his emotion. Tears moved down his cheeks silent as starlight, and something about them and his expression made the archer look tragically, nobly beautiful.

At least, until he realized Sage was quietly watching him. He scrubbed guiltily at his cheeks with the cuff of his sweater, lowering his eyes.

"Shuttup," he mumbled roughly.

Sage shook his head with a faint smile, and wrapped his arm tightly around Rowen's waist, whispering fiercely in his ear.

"Never doubt that I love you."

The declaration was so rare Rowen completely forgot to cry, staring blankly at Sage even though the blond warrior was touching Kento's shoulder to make sure he was okay. Kento jumped, but smiled gratefully, placing his hand over Sage's.

Outside, the night wind howled in surly protest at the ruddy onslaught of dawn. The plate windows were slowly filling up with kitten gray and peach light.

Ryou and Sai, still locked in their kiss, shuddered in unison. For a second it was very cold, the banked fire cowed in fear, and the lights dimmed. But only for a second.

The wind died.

And Sai found himself kneeling on the floor, Ryou's lips less than a centimeter from his, a cramp in his left leg and a slowly filling hollow place in his breast.

"Are you going to cry?" Ryou whispered. Not, are you alright or Boy, wasn't that something but Are you going to cry?

Sai swallowed, and bit his lip. "Only if you laugh for me, because I think I would have to do both at the same time." They simultaneously seemed to realize that they were still clinging tightly to one another, and slowly, regretfully even, let go.

"Are- are they gone, Sai?" Kento took a wary step forward, wanting to reassure himself that this was his Sai still. Rowen had leaned his indigo head against Sage's golden one, the two of them lost in a moment of their own.

"Yes, Kento. They're gone." Sai stood with a wince as circulation returned to his leg, and looked around the room. "But part of me-"

"Will always hold him," Ryou echoed, staring at the embers of the fireplace.

Sai smiled softly at Ryou, who flushed a bit and turned wordlessly back to the fire. Kento was just grateful to have Sai back in his arms, with his eyes just right and the voice that said his name just so.

"I know they're gone but-" Sage gazed upwards as the peach light in the windows swirled to pink, "the place seems- emptier."

"Yeah," Rowen nodded in agreement. "Prob'ly always will. Ah well," He grinned. "Least nobody'll be knocking on ya door no more, huh Sai?"




"%$#@!!!" Rowen was so startled he practically climbed up Sage, who 'acked' in shock.

"G'off me, you psycho!"

"But-- but we," Kento stammered in alarm, his eyes round. "Aren't they GONE?"

"RYOU!! GUYS!!! anybody HOME? TOLDJA they wouldn't be awake, Mia."

"Well if they don't answer the phone then how could they know we got an earlier flight? "

There was a tiger-esque rowl of agreement.

"Yuli! Mia! Blaze!" Ryou zoomed over to the door and flung it wide.

"Y'know," Sai said, as Rowen clambered down off his lover, "he uses those three names in synch so often, I'm beginning to think they're one entity."

"DON'T SAY ENTITY!" Sage, Rowen, and Kento chorused.

"My," Mia was trying to recover from the passionate kiss she and Yuli had gotten as soon as Ryou opened the door. "Did you miss us or something?"

"Nah," Yuli strolled into the room like he owned it, whistling softly. "NICE place, Sai. I bet it's crawling with ghosts."

Five man wince.

"Or not," Yuli grinned, flopping down his duffelbag. "Tell ya what, you ever try to sneak a tiger through customs? They don't take the line, 'trust me, he's mystical' very well."

Ryou and Mia walked arm and arm into the house, the dawn now red and violet behind them, White Blaze reflecting the colors in his glossy striped coat. "You should have seen the spiel Yuli was giving them. He could sell ice to an Eskimo."

"You guys are either REALLY jet lagged, haven't gone to bed yet, or aliens because none of you except Sage oughta be up at this hour." Yuli had never lost his childlike ability to split himself like an amoeba and be five places at once. He darted into one room, then another, finally ducking into the adjoining study. "OH wow COOL!!!"

"What's he found now?" Mia sighed, contentedly nestled against Ryou's shoulder.

"Let's go see," Ryou said, having an odd prickle in the back of his throat.

"Guys this ROCKS!! Who did it?"

Rowen almost ran smack into Ryou's astonished back. "Hey, one side, willya? I wanna see what th' lil' punk's yellin... About..." His voice died, astonishment from his companions practically audible.

The painting was easily six feet tall, four across, and held a perfect portrait of all five of them, geared in ancient Samurai armor. It was accurate down to the colors and weapons and detailed to the last silk thread, a true masterwork. Each one of them, looking at their own visage, was surprised to think that anyone could see them so beautiful, and amazed that it could be transferred to paint. The signature was a scrawled paintstroke across the bottom:


"It is," Sai said at last, "a very LARGE thank you card."

"For what, saving somebody's soul?" Yuli circled the painting that most certainly had not been there last night. "Huh... dry. Been finished a while too... it's oils."

Kento managed to detach himself. "Yuli, what are you jabbering about?"

"Oil painting." Yuli rocked on his heels, glass beads chiming. "Takes months to dry. Years sometimes even. Ah well, it's really cool but we'll have a helluva time getting it home. Anyway I'm starved. C'mon, Blaze, let's check out the kitchen, huh?"


From the "Aimeston Weekly Herald"


Morwin Manor: The skeletal remains of a young man have been re-interred in a new location in the abbey churchyard. The bones, a long-time curiosity subject to much speculation and reported to be form the mid-17th century, were found in 1894 during the Manor's renovation. Now these bones have been moved from their former locale to a new spot in the churchyard, with only the name "Ashe" on the gravestone. When asked for information regarding the newly discovered identity of the remains, all associated parties refused to comment. The grave of Colin Blakeney, immediately adjacent to the new gravesite, also has been given a new stone. No other gravesites in this historic cemetery have been changed.

It would seem that in solving the mystery of the long anonymous bones, only more mysteries have arrived.


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