"Hello, this is Treize -- is Zechs there?"
The boy holding the phone blinked, shaking his head into the receiver. "No, sorry -- there's no 'Zechs' here. This is the residence of Chang Wufei." And he held pride in that -- that he finally was living on his own, in a nice little apartment with reasonable rent.
To make it all the better, it was above a coffee-shop, where he'd gotten a job behind the counter, making and serving frappachinos and lattes, and little sticks of baked pastries. The customers were mostly friendly, and all looking forward to their caffeinated delights, so the job made it nearly enjoyable to work for the money to pay for his five hours a day, six days a week, of college.
And his cat, Acer. He loved that cat -- his sister had given it to him before she'd been hacked to pieces by that serial killer.
He shivered, sighing into the phone-receiver; he was still in therapy about *that*, and missed her dearly.
"I know," the tenor voice murmured deeply. "But let me know when Zechs comes back, okay? That's all I want. Thanks."
And then the caller hung up.
Sloe-black eyes were wide from the man's response, as he set the phone down gently on the receiver.
"This city is *still* weird, Acer!" he told his cat matter-of-factly, trying to shake off the shiver that seemed to have caught itself half-way down his spine. "Creepy."
Moments like that, he felt *too* alone in his apartment, so he crossed the living-room to the TV- set, turned it on, and then turned on the radio.
And thought nothing more of it that night.
"Acer...? Wha....?" Groggily, Wufei lifted his head from the pile of pillows he'd heaped beneath him, looking through the darkness towards where his cat was, at the foot of his bed.
Standing on his hind-legs, Acer was spitting and batting wildly at the air, pouncing and play-attacking something that wasn't there. It was strange, but not... too weird, considering Acer was hyperactive, but...
"Stop that," he spoke louder, at the cat, even as he buried himself deeper into the pillows and blankets that were atop him. The cat dropped back onto all of it's paws, but that didn't shake the feeling of not being alone that filled him, overwhelming him until he was shaking. /Just a nightmare, Wufei -- you're tired, it's three a.m., you're delusional./
Spoken in a rich baritone voice, the suddenness of which made Wufei open both eyes, now hysterical as he looked at his bed again.
Nothing, but that voice, making little 'clucking' noises at his cat.
/Hallucinating. Go to sleep, go to sleep, you're hallucinating./
The third time wasn't a hushed tone, or even a possibly indistinct noise -- clear words, loud and almost smiled, made the shiver worse, the urge to cry uncontrollable.
So he screamed.
Acer fell from the bed, startled and puffing up from tail to neck, but the *feeling* went away almost at once.
And even when Acer crawled back up onto the bed, curling up against his shivering owner, Wufei didn't go to sleep.
When dawn came, he'd had... enough, and it really hadn't been very much at all. But two such terribly creepy incidents at once was too much for him.
/I'll talk with my landlady -- there had to be a reasonable explanation. Like a fruit-cake in the apartment above mine, or someone talking into my air vents.
That was an even creepier prospect -- someone in those tight little tunnels, peering at him through the grates on the wall, with glowing, red beady eyes, waiting to hack him into bits...
/And maybe I'll stop by my therapist on the way back,/ he thought as he slipped into the bathroom, Acer hot at his heels the entire way.
The bathroom, at least, felt untouched as he stepped in and looking in the mirror, picking up his toothbrush.
And saw a flash of golden-blond hair whipping around the edge of the bath-room door, and then it was gone. The quick whirl of his head proved that *no-one* was there, coming or going down his hall.
Needless to say, Wufei brushed his teeth, used the bathroom, showered, and dressed, all in record time. Then he had his rent check in hand, and was out the door in record time, only regretting he couldn't take Acer with him.
But his cat would be fine.
"Oh, hello Wufei," the middle-aged woman smiled. She had short-cut blond hair, a pretty face, and an open smile -- just like every other time Wufei had seen her. "Come in, come in..."
"I've brought the rent," he said, trying for a similar smile as he sat down on the sofa like she'd gestured him to do.
"Good," she spoke absently, getting tea ready in the quaint little kitchen within view of the living-room. It was a brick nice ranch-style she lived in, with a sprawling floor-plan but still small enough to have that 'homey' feel. "How's the apartment...?"
"It... well, frankly, that's why I'm here," he half-stammered as he let his gaze drift around the room -- it was filled with pictures. Mrs Marquise and her husband, from the years before he'd died, pictures of a young man with long blond hair standing beside a young girl with the same type of hair. More pictures, with the young man older, linked arm in arm, draped over, smiling beside another man -- ginger-haired, who looked about thirty, grinning like it was the best day of his life in every picture. "I got this strange phone-call, and then heard a voice late last night, in my bedroom..."
"And the voice on the phone asked when Zechs was coming back, or if he was back yet?" The weary tone of her voice said she was familiar with it, and Wufei's head snapped up in shock.
"Yes -- how did you know that?!"
The woman's face suddenly seemed to gain years and years on it. "It happens every year for about a week. It's why I have such trouble keeping a renter in that apartment for more than a year.
"My son and daughter used to room there, Wufei. And Zechs -- my son -- worked downstairs from the apartment in the coffee shop. And so did my daughter, and both of them were working their way through college -- a lot like you are. Except that my son was a senior and my daughter was a freshman that year. There was a man who came in, every day, at the start of Zechs's shift, and ordered the same thing every time, and then sat in the corner, smiling at him.
"Eventually my son decided to talk to him, and well... by the time my son graduated from college, he was head over heels in love with Treize. Treize was a stock-broker, Wufei, and we were in the slump then -- this was all five years ago -- so he and Zechs started planning on how they could move in together when they had enough money. " He voice grew tighter as she crossed the room to pick up one of the pictures that had the two men in it. "My son was certified to be a theatre teacher, and he started in the local high-school -- the same one that you went to, Wufei, the same one that he went to himself. He would have gone to another school, or a small university, but he wanted to stay near Treize..."
She drew a shaky breath, and let it out. "They moved in together, but Zechs still spent a lot of time with Relena at the apartment. And on his sister's twentieth birthday, they went out to a party -- dressed up, him posing as her date to get all the guys jealous...
"They never came back. Do you remember that serial killer a few years ago, Wufei? He killed my son and daughter; he knew them from the high-school that he worked at as a janitor. When they found their bodies a week after they'd gone missing, Relena had been chopped into tiny cubes, and my son had been cut open from chest to groin; both of... of them showed signs of having been sexually assaulted first, like all of the others killed by him."
Listening to it, Wufei sat with his hands between his knees, eyes brimming with moisture. He'd known that Tsubarov had been a serial killer, but he'd never known or knew much more than names and basic dates of death for all the other victims he'd had. Those final closing days of the case flashed before his mind now: the violinist and flutist from the school orchestra who were killed; the Drama teacher; the PE teacher; the art teacher; a college sophomore; and his sister, head of the school's dance team. "My sister Meiran... Meiran Chang was killed by him, too," he eked out softly.
Mrs. Marquise's expression seemed to soften a little, as he moved to sit beside Wufei, still holding that photograph. The positions of their pose was almost like a wedding photograph ."I know. It hurts, doesn't it -- that feeling that it was somehow your fault..." She swallowed, showing him the picture she held. "This was from Zechs and Treize's commitment ceremony. They were so happy then... and I can't help thinking if they hadn't gone to that party that all three of them would be alive today. I told Relena about that party, because I wanted her to enjoy herself..."
"What happened to Treize?" Wufei asked softly.
"He... he came to the funeral -- I didn't think he'd be able to, since he'd been in pieces for all those days they were missing. He loved Relena like she was his own sister, too. But he came, and gave the most elegant eulogy for the both of them, telling about how greatly they loved each other, and everyone they'd ever knew... and when he finished the eulogy, he left the church. And shot himself in the head, standing in the middle of the parking-lot."
They'd cried and talked for hours after that, and by the time he got home, he felt better, *safer* about all of it.
So when he walked into his living room, to see a beautiful blond man sitting on his sofa, he was only mildly shaken, and didn't scream.
"You... you're Zechs?" He stammered aloud.
The blond man smiled, petting Acer, who was sitting beside him, and nodded. "Has Treize called?"
"Yeah." That word sounded dry from his throat, and he nodded to go with it. "Yeah, he did -- last night. Is he... going to come by?" There was nothing gruesome looking at all abut the ghost before him -- only a paleness, a sadness to him.
"He said he'd come by when I came back," Zechs smiled, standing up, "And he always *knows* inside when I've come back from the store or a party, or work."
"You... you're lucky," Wufei whispered tightly, moving to sit in a chair across from the sofa. "To love someone like that..." There was a light knock on the door, and the blond man, dressed in jeans and a sweat-shirt with 'OLHS Drama Department' emblazoned on it, stood up, walking around the sofa to get to the door. Acer meowed, and jumped up the perch himself on the back of the sofa, watching Zechs move and open the door.
"Oh, *god* I've missed you, Zechs!" came that exclamation of the same tenor voice that had called him the night before. "Are you ready to go at last, Zechs? Can we go...? It's so beautiful, Zechs, and I don't want to be there without you anymore..."
Zechs had slid his arms tight around the other man's waist, and pulled him back into Wufei's apartment, looking around. "I'm ready now. I can let go -- I wasn't ready at all before, Treize, to finally die..."
"I know," Treize whispered, kissing Zechs's temple. Then sapphire gaze fixed on Wufei, and the thirty-year-old smiled. "Thanks for letting me get through to here."
"Keep talking to my mother," Zechs half-ordered, laughing quietly as he tugged Treize close again, and they walked out of the door.
Wufei bolted to his feet and tried to see where they'd gone down that hall, but...
Nothing filled the hall but a gentle swell of warm air.
Wufei knew his life was never going to be the same.