|Warning: Some contents may be unsuitable for those who frighten easily.|
"Do you, Relena Peacecraft, take Heero Yuy to be your lawfully wedded husband, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?"
A swallow, to push back the lump in her throat, just long enough to whisper "I do." She beamed at her husband's face, at the same time nervous and stony, excited and worried. She didn't blame him for his doubts. After all, hadn't the same thoughts and fears flooded through her not a few hours ago, before the ceremony?
But now she took his hand and squeezed, her heart surging as he squeezed hers back, the only outward sign of affection he'd ever really shown being the subtle ones. She turned as the minister spoke, turned with Heero and looked out at their friends. It seemed as if the world was there, thronging for her wedding, even when he'd insisted that it be a small affair. Nonetheless, all of their friends had shown up, sitting in the front in place of the couple's dead families. Relena smiled as Hilde straightened Duo's bow tie, ignoring his embarrassed look and plaintively whispered protests, as Noin held on for dear life to Miliardeau's hand, his eyes shining in quiet pride, as Trowa leaned against the wall watching protectively over a tearful Quatre. She looked over at her husband, smiling, noting the subtle hints that made her know he wasn't simply staring, emotionless; the twinkle of his eye, the sweat on his upper lip, the way the corner of his mouth twitched slightly.
Duo cheered the loudest when the ceremony ended. Relena giggled, wondering if it was because he liked weddings or if it were more because the rumors about him and Heero would finally stop.
Heero paced the house as Relena chewed her lower lip. She knew she shouldn't have decided before Heero had, but she had fallen in love with the old Victorian style two story from the moment she'd first looked inside. The expansive living room had large windows on every wall, lighting the room in the daylight as brightly as outside, and she could imagine it glittering like a jewel from lights at night. The kitchen was made for a staff, but had the feel of welcoming a self made cook in it's own right. Relena had in mind to have both of those worlds, as soon as she'd learned to cook.
But if Heero didn't want to buy... no, she couldn't think that. Heero would love the house, and they would buy it, and fill it with memories of themselves to add to the memories from countless other families. It had to be that way. No other outcome even seemed possible.
The realtor seemed more anxious than even she, following Heero around (an act that would have gotten him killed in earlier, more stressful times) and spouting the features of the house, it's large rooms, two stories, dual fireplaces, upstairs and downstairs. As if to cap the deal, he quoted a price. Several million yen below the one Relena expected.
She nearly swooned at the thought.
Heero, however, stiffened, turned eyes narrowed to snakelike slits on the realtor, causing him to gasp and retreat a step. "Why is it so inexpensive? What's wrong?"
Relena had to choke down her frustration. She knew he'd won battle after battle from just such skepticism, weighing the options, the risks, and striking, at times where the enemy never thought to expect him, or never thought he'd dare. But couldn't he see that this was a perfect dream home?!
The realtor stammered and stuttered, all the while cowing under Heero's piercing glare. Finally, reluctantly, he breathed out, "The house is rumored... to be haunted."
Relena gasped. Heero narrowed his eyes further, pinning the man. "Explain."
The realtor literally stepped back to the wall, pressing a hand to his chest. "I-it... it has been said that the home was used to house psychotics in the past... and that one such person... was a mass murderer..."
Relena paled, putting a hand to her mouth. The house she had loved began to take on a colder, more sinister feel. She could imagine the house at night, thick curtains closed, but unable to shut out the screams of the damned, the mad. It must have been a peek into Hell itself.
Heero opened his eyes. "Nonsense." Turning toward Relena, he caught her gaze, eyes concerned, subtly over her pallor. "The house is perfect." He turned back, defying the realtor's story. "We'll take it."
Relena busied herself with the details, decorating the great room, the bedrooms, filling the kitchen first with people, then with equipment, then, to her delight, smells from her own cooking.
But she couldn't shake it. The feeling that something was there, something watching them. It was worst at night, as if a malevolent being was standing in their room, staring at them, into them with a hatred that surpassed any kind of mortal understanding.
She'd woken up several times with a start, waking Heero. He would hold her and tell her it was nothing, but her eyes told her differently. The shadowy form of a person glaring at her, eyes seeming to absorb light around them.
No... no, it couldn't be that. She simply had the jitters, post wedding nervousness, new house fears. That was all...
It was night now, and she lay in bed, snuggled next to Heero more for the sense of security than any warmth he provided. He lay on his back, one arm tucked behind her head, the hand of that arm on her shoulder, almost protectively.
She had almost fallen asleep, felt him sink into his own slumber, when the feeling over took her. Without stirring, she lifter her head, slightly, looking into the corner of the room behind Heero.
It was there.. she could see it, the shape, vaguely human, with eyes that seemed to absorb light. She could feel evil reeking from the corner, and her heart stopped, her mouth dried around the scream welling in her throat.
She jerked up, ready to run, her mind already descended into that blind panic state, when something grabbed her arm. She spun, screaming, lashing out, knowing that the scream would be her last.
Her gaze locked onto the slate grey eyes of her husband. Heero relaxed his grip as he realized her terror, but his voice was a soft whisper, barely audible through the pounding of terror in her ears.
"Don't leave, Relena... that's what it wants."
The fear was not as intense, but it was cold, like ice through her veins. "You've seen it too?"
Heero was silent, eyes closed, his breathing even, but catching ever so slightly. She slowly relaxed, and as she did, so did he. When he finally opened his eyes, he was calmer, the cool grey like a fresh breeze through her troubled thoughts. She looked into them as he spoke, suddenly feeling not only more secure, but protective as she saw the emotions coursing through his eyes, emotions he only let her see.
"I don't... actually see what you describe... but I hear it... A voice just on the edge of my consciousness, just as I'm falling asleep. It says all it has to do it get me alone... and that is the end. Almost every time, when you have awakened, so have I, and the voice stops then."
Relena shuddered and wrapped her arms around him, surprised when his arms snaked around her shoulders in response. "Don't worry, Heero... I won't leave you alone."
He made no response. It wasn't his way. But he squeezed her shoulder slightly when she whispered the next words.
Days passed into months. The trees began to change colors, and lose their leaves for the long winter ahead.
Relena loved the days, walking in the cool winds, bundled against them in sweater and stocking cap, arm in arm with her husband, or puttering through the old house, discovering its hidden joys, filling it with her own.
The nights... for a time, they had gotten better, during the brightness of spring and the heat of the summer. Now, with autumn growing heavy in the air, the nights became oppressive, especially on the days that Heero worked late.
A day like today.
"Heero... come home!" She said it softly, almost a whisper, but he couldn't possibly tell through the line how terrified she was, huddled on the stairs, clutching the phone so tightly he knuckles shone white from the strain. "Please, Heero, come home."
His voice was reluctant, soft and even. "I can't, Relena. I have to finish this. I promise I will be home soon..." The voice softened lower. "It's the cold, darling... the cold is bringing the old wariness back.. there's nothing to fear."
Relena swallowed. She knew he was right, but he wasn't HERE! It would be so much better if he were here. Still, she put on a brave voice, only slightly ruined by it's quiver. "Y-you're right... it's only the cold."
"That's my brave girl." The voice was flat, even, almost toneless, but she knew that in his eyes there was the shining love she sought. That was the entire reason she wanted him there. Because through the phone she couldn't see him, and she felt alone even though his voice was in her ear.
Still, something in the back of her mind felt relief that he wasn't there. Wasn't it he the... fear, for lack of better term, wanted? Wasn't it he that the fear wanted alone?
He was alone out there, wasn't he?
But the fear was here. Trapped, it seemed. And she was trapped with it.
No, it was like Heero said. It was the cold, the sound of the winds in the old house that brought the eerie feelings back. She could whether nerves. She was Relena Yuy.
It took her an hour to pry herself away from the phone and up the stairs to the bed.
She walked into the bathroom, hoping the bright lights dispel the oppressing force she could feel on her, weighing her down, making her nervous, jittery. The one mirror on this wall was in the medicine cabinet, but she didn't want to see her own face any way. She opened the cabinet and reached inside, taking a bottle of pills the doctor had given her a while ago to help her rest. She opened the cap and tapped out two pills, letting the mirrored door close.
Something in the mirror caught her eye, and she turned to the face in it.
The bottle of pills dropped when she realized it wasn't her face at all.
Relena stood, shivers turning to shakes as the face in the mirror grinned back at her, eyes absorbing light from under long tapered eyelashes. Long blonde hair tumbled in matted waves to her shoulders, framing her thin face and thinner, cruel lips. She sneered, and her slender shoulders shook with soundless cruel laughter. Relena's mouth opened, trying to release the scream that scrambled up her dry throat, unable to pass the lump there, when the woman in the mirror mouthed a single word.
The scream escaped then, and she bolted, running pell mell down the staircase to the doorway, anything to free herself of the wickedness in the house.
She collided with someone, screamed, and crawled backwards to get away. The figure rose, slowly, and turned toward her in the darkness.
The voice, his voice, freed her from the paralyzing terror in her throat, and she screamed loud and long, unable to hold it now that it was free.
Heero knelt beside her, worry evident on his face, more emotion than she'd ever seen, yet sanity slipped on the edge of her soul, threatening to pitch into the abyss. Heero pulled her to him and held her, and that alone pulled her sanity from oblivion.
She began to weep, shrieking against his chest as the image of the woman pulled at the edge of her fear, tugging it back to the black depths. She clung to him, a lifeline, until the image faded. Only then could she begin to slow her breathing.
Heero gently pushed her from his chest, looking down at her tear streaked face, brushing wild hair from around it. Her lip trembled, keeping her from peaking her fears, and she realized quickly that she didn't want to. His eyes questioned her, and she smiled softly, finding her voice.
"It was nothing darling... I let myself get too scared, and I panicked... I'm sorry, love..."
He didn't look convinced, but nodded after a short time. Together they rose and climbed up the staircase, Heero holding Relena protectively, so tightly that he didn't feel her cower against him when they passed the bathroom.
Relena sat up slowly, looking around the room, clutching the blanket to her throat... nothing was there... nothing that made itself apparent. No shadowy figure in the corner, no hideous woman coming from the bathroom... in fact, before she had awoken, she had slept more peacefully than she had in months.
But what woke her?
She tried to swallow, and her throat was on fire, dry as a desert. That had awakened her.
She stood, blearily wavering slightly, and looked down. Heero usually woke when she did, part of his training and experience as a warrior, but now he slept, breathing shallowly.
They had both had so much go wrong lately, so much worry... she didn't want to wake him. Besides, she was only going to get a drink.
An image of the mirror appeared in her mind, the hideous woman inside laughing, and Relena shuddered. Downstairs. She would go downstairs and get a drink.
Downstairs she felt almost comfortable. Free. Safer than upstairs. Had she grown so use to the fear that she didn't even notice it anymore? No, no... the night was just so nice, that was all it could be. She walked to the stairs and stepped on the first step.
It was almost as if it burned her, the sensation of terror rising up through her feet like a living flame, causing her to gasp and step back.
She stared up the darkened stairwell, trembling. She couldn't go up there. She couldn't make herself do it.
This is ridiculous, she scolded herself. There's nothing up there but Heero.
It says all it has to do is get me alone...
Don't worry, Heero... I won't leave you alone.
With a strangled cry she fought her terror, struggling to climb the stairs, at first staggering, then gripping the banister and pulling herself up by it. The terror rose inside of her, but she fought it, climbing as quickly as she could.
She couldn't dispel the sinking feeling that she was already too late.
She reached the door, panting from her Herculean effort, and touched the knob, twisting it frantically. Surely Heero could hear her by now. Why wasn't he answering? The panic surged, and she flung the door wide.
The sight before her was straight out of her nightmares, out of her most primal fears. The room was literally painted in streaks of red, darkening on the edges but vibrant in the center. On the bed, dyed in the same red, was the torn husk of a body, arms upraised at the elbows, fingers clawing the air as if still fighting for life. In the center of his hollowed out torso stuck a knife with a large blade, buried into the flesh like a conqueror's flag.
Only the head and face were undisturbed, the eyes wide with terror, his mouth stuck in a grim rictus as if he had used his last breath to fight instead scream.
Something touched her bare foot, and she looked down. A red rivulet had dripped from the soaked bed covers and run down the floor, touching her. It was surprisingly cold.
She screamed and bolted, nearly falling down the stairs, and flung herself out the door.
"Are you sure they won't mind, Duo?" Hilde stared out the window of the transport nervously as they passed through the trees.
"Ahhh, you worry too much, babe." Duo smirked, eyes on the road. "They've been secluded for almost an entire year in that house, and Heero only leaves for work. They need a little socializing."
Hilde smiled at him, leaning back in her seat. "I'll admit, I'm surprised Relena hasn't gone insane and killed her anti-social husband yet."
Neither of them laughed, a shudder rocking through them. They stared at each other, then Duo snorted. "Yeah, right!"
They both laughed, a little timidly, and Duo sped the car up a little bit.
They approached the house, and a sense of dread filled Duo. He bolted out the transport door, followed closely by Hilde.
The house looked empty from the outside. They had been there when Heero and Relena had first bought the place. It had seemed bright then, but now it was as if something had sucked the life right out of it.
Hilde stopped by the open front door, where Relena huddled against the frame, shivering in the cool autumn air. Her eyes were wide and red, and she clutched her knees to her chest, rocking softly. Hilde knelt next to her, hand on the frightened woman's shoulder, but got no response.
"Relena? Where's Heero." There was no answer, and Hilde looked up at Duo with a worried look on her face.
Duo knelt to, then spotted the red on her foot. Blood. He'd seen enough of it in his life. His heart seized.
"Oh my god... Relena, what happened... what did you do?" His panic mounted. "What did you do?!"
Relena raised her eyes dolefully, her voice low and haunted. "I left him alone..." She began to shake, her voice coming out in whimpers. "I left him alone, and that's what it wanted.. I promised I wouldn't leave him alone! I promised!!"
Duo bolted up the stairs, following the trail of blood that was too small to have come from a killer, running as much to escape her madness as to find out what happened. He stopped at the door, gasping.
He was still staring, trying to make sense of it, when he heard footsteps behind her. He knew who it was before she spoke.
"Don't look, Hilde... Oh, god, don't look..."
But he didn't move to stop her.
She turned away after seeing it, eyes shut tight. "Oh God, Duo..." She held her stomach, forcing her body's reaction to the horror. "Duo, what... what did this?"
Duo's reaction was vehement. "Relena." He moved, hesitantly at first, then more determined. Hilde rushed to stop him.
"Get outta my way, Hilde..."
"Duo, wait..." Hilde pulled him short, staring into his eyes. "She didn't do it."
"Who else is here?!" Duo's face was contorted with grief and rage.
Hilde leveled her gaze at him. "She's got one spot of blood on her, and there's a mark on the floor there... she has no blood anywhere else. She's cold and scared, Heero... does she look like she's in the condition to change clothes and wash up before coming downstairs and panicking?!"
Duo snarled, causing Hilde to step back. "She's acting." Even as he said it, he knew she wasn't capable of the deception. His rage gone, he was forced to deal with the situation. After a long pause, he looked back at the room. The reek assailed his nostrils again.
"You go make sure she's OK... I'll call the authorities."
Relena arched her back, rubbing tired eyes. The light from the single lamp in her office cast only a large enough pool to see her work, and little else. Still, she looked at the little chronometer on the desk and sighed.
It had been a rare night, lately, that she had gone to sleep anywhere before 11 anymore, often much much later. It was simply easier to work until she was exhausted and about to collapse rather than deal with the thoughts that had plauged her since a year ago.
A year... only a year. It seemed so long ago, and yet it seemed like yesterday. If she closed her eyes, she could still see-
No. She wasn't going to think about that. She'd promised herself.
She rubbed her eyes, which must have been red by now, felt raw enough to be less eyes than pieces of granite scraping against her lids.
But bedtime wasn't the same, was it? Not without him.
She dropped her pen onto the stack of papers and stood, stretching again, seeming older than she knew herself to be.
A year. Could she have changed so much in a year?
But of course, with all she'd been through. The horror of the weeks after that night still blurred in her mind, but everyting before it was crystal clear. Even though she'd managed to convince the doctors and Duo and Quatre that she wasn't insane, she still saw her. The woman in the mirror.
Each time the woman laughed, soundlessly, piercing Relena with her eyes, and each time Relena's heart stopped. But she knew what it was now. A figment of her imagination. Nothing else could possibly have the evil eyes that consumed light, or the mad look in those eyes.
And nothing else could possibly have eyebrows that long, she thought with a dark humor.
It chilled her, still, though, the way the evil vision mocked her, taunted her... she could still see it mouthing the word...
She climbed up the stairs slowly, bone weary. A timid form peeked out of a bedroom, then opened the door, poking her head out.
"Going to bed so soon, Relena-sama?"
Relena smiled. Marie, the little maid who had moved in after... a year ago, for support. Marie, who was so timid that the sound of a mouse would send her huddling into a corner, yet she braved the large, lonely house.
Relena smiled, sleepily. "Yes, Marie. I'm exhausted. Go to bed now..."
"Yes, ma'am." The little woman closed the door with a click. The click echoed through the house, and Relena had to suppress a shudder. Even with the maid in the house, she had never felt more alone.
She walked into the bedroom, looking through it. The bed was new, of course. She had done everything to cover up the memory of that night, taken doen the old wall paper, refinished and carpeted the floor, even replaced the furnishings. All by herself. But despite Marie, and Noin, and even Hilde, she couldn't bring herself to move out.
It was all she had left of Heero.
She turned to the closet, pulling out a nightgown, long and woolen to block out the autumn chill. Slipping it on, she turned
A gust blew past her, the wind chilling her, all the way to her bones.
The sight before her froze her very soul.
There was a large shape on the bed, beneath the cover, a bulge she knew hadn't been there before. Relena bit her lip, fighting back the urge to run.
Duo had done this. Yes, that was it! Duo had done this, he liked to play jokes.
Except that lately, Duo didn't play jokes.
Then Quatre. He must have left her another gift, without thinking of the night it was, of the fact that it would terrify her to get it this way.
Except Quatre's gifts were always delivered in person.
Relena crept to the bed, frightened, hands clenched to her chest, eyes plastered on the lump in the bedspread. Hadn't she turned it back before she had gotten her nightgown? Hadn't she let the pillow fall to the floor? No... she must not have done either.
Slowly her hand crept out, pulling the cover back... a black smoke billowed from the center of the bed, a writhing mist that slowly coalesced, forming into....
The name caught in her throat, but she forced it out, anyway. "H-Heero..."
But Heero was dead. He had died one year ago today...
He reached for her, but his eyes, eerie, no color, sucking in the bare light from the moon, caused her to step back, back, until she bumped into the wall. Her heart hammered, her knees weakened, yet she couldn't tear her eyes away from him.
Over his shoulder was the woman, grinning evilly, laughing silently.
His voice carried like a sibilant whisper on a soft breeze, cold, freezing her to the marrow. "You promised you wouldn,t leave me alone, Relena... you promised. You broke your promise, Relena..."
She shook her head, her throat too dry to speak. She sunk to the floor as the shape, Heero, floated toward her, something flashing in his right hand.
This isn't happening... it's only a nightmare.
"Didn't you say 'Until death do you part' Relena?" The voice was hard, cold. "I'm going to make you keep that promise.
Her eyes finally moved, from his eyes to his hand... to a knife too big to be real....
This isn't happening...
His hand flashed up, and this down, and the last thing she saw was the spray of her own blood. She screamed, tortured, frightened, greiving.
But it was too late.
"Tell me again, Marie..."
"I found her..." The little woman's voice shook, and she wrung her hands on her dress. The couch she rested on seemed to swallow her whole. "I found... what was left of her... the blood.. was everywhere, and she... she..." Marie closed her eyes. "Her eyes were still open... but there was nothing left of her chest..."
The doctor made a Hmming sound. "Is there anything else?"
Marie sunk into the couch. "I saw her... I saw them all..."
"I saw them before I left... Relena-sama, Yuy-san, and... another woman..."
"What did you see?"
"Their eyes... their eyes seemed to swallow the light!"