Rose Hill

By Tzigane


Hi. My name's Marquise -- Duo Marquise.

He. I always have wanted to say that! Sounds kind of Bond-ish, you know? And that man kicks ass!

That's not really what I'm here to say, though, is it? It's that time of year again -- time for goblins and ghosties, ghouls and gremlins. Comes every October. It's my favorite time of year, yanno. Funny that, because it gives my mom the creeps. She looks at me with those purple eyes of hers and damn near shivers the minute the word 'ghost' comes out of your mouth.

Maybe I should start from the beginning.

My family has what you could call 'talent'. It's a weird sort of thing, the kind of thing most other folks don't believe in, I guess, and it... I guess you could say *manifests* differently in all of us. Take my dad, for example. He doesn't dream, never has, but about fifteen years ago, he *started* to; only it wasn't like most people's dreams. It was only sometimes, and it wakes him at the same time, *every* time -- 3:33 a.m., every time. It's like clockwork. It's not that he's suddenly dreaming that's so weird.

*It's that the dreams come true*.

Oh, I know what you're saying, deja vu, he just doesn't remember his other dreams, blah, blah. You don't know much, probably. Or at least, don't believe in what isn't right under the tip of your nose. That's ok. Most folks are like that, you know. They can't see... or maybe they just don't *want* to see.

Don't worry. I don't blame you. I don't really wanna see, either, just sometimes you don't have much in the way of a choice, if you know what I mean.

Mom's talent is different. It's funny, 'cause she comes from practical people, the kind of people who don't believe bullshit stories or in ghosts or anything that can't be explained rationally. It's from her, I guess, that I get part of mine. We hear things. You know, people calling our names when there's nobody home but us, conversations in the next room when you're alone that are just too low to hear, wailing, crying, pleading... THINGS. They don't always make any whole lot of sense, but....

And I see things, too, some. Went to visit an old house with a friend of mine, once, one of those historical places, you know? I like old things, especially Victorian houses. Love 'em. Edwardian's not as nice, but American Victoriana can be gorgeous, and Italian Renaissance, too. This one in particular was what they called a naturalist style, if I remember right. See, none of the corners were at a ninety degree angle. Nothing in the house had four walls, the windows weren't centered, nothing. It was all just a shade *off*. Now, that would ordinarily make somebody nervous, I guess, but I'd seen a couple of other houses a lot like it, and I just thought it was cool...

At first.

Heero loved it, you know, he's like me that way, except he's got a preference for the *weird*. That might actually be why he likes me so much, I confess. He took a lot of delight in pointing out the upside down 'demon' in the natural wood that made up one of the bed's headboards (looked more like an owl seeping out of a prick, to me, when I looked at it. Shee. 'DEMON'.), but beyond that, there was nothing... well, until we headed for the attic.

I know, I know, it's cliched, but this was more of a third floor than an attic. There's attic space off to either side, but the upper floor was supposedly designed to be a men's game room or something like that. The stairs are really narrow, not so much of a problem, and really short, like they're made for people with short feet -- not men feet, I'd say now, but maybe men feet were a lot smaller a hundred and fifty years ago. What do I know? Point being, we were heading up the stairs and I got this *CHILL*. Cold as hell, and I heard it not three feet behind me; the distinct sound of a door latching and the bolt being firmly locked. It creeped me out, so I looked back, but there wasn't a door *there*, so I went on up with the tour guide like the idiot that I am.

Heero, of course, hadn't noticed anything at all. I wish I was so luckily oblivious.

The woman kept talking, blah, blah, blah, something about cigars and pool tables and entertaining guests, but I'll be honest. The other sound was distracting the hell out of me. This, obviously, is where you ask me what sound, and I tell you that it was the sound of a man prayin'. There were steps, sort of, that led up to a dais which then led out onto the roof -- the man who built the house was in the Great Chicago Fire, and he was scared to death of it so that there were exits from every level of the house, and rope ladders so you could get out. Even the windows could be walked out of, but that's neither here nor there. It's got nothing to do with the *voices*, a man prayin' and the sound of children, male and female, repeating after him. Nor do those ropes have anything to do with what I *saw* -- a grown man standing over two kids, a girl who might've been almost a teenager in this pink-ish dress that looked like it was from about 1880, I guess, and a boy in one of those sailor-looking suits that mothers like to put on their kids to embarrass them. He mighta been eight, I guess, but I only saw him and the girl from the back.

She had a bow in her hair. I'll always remember that.

The man, though, he was creepy. Prayin', tellin' 'em about their sins and standin' over both of 'em with a belt in his hand, and when he turned around, it felt like he was looking straight through me with eyes that were nothing but black holes, not even a glisten or glow in the depths of them.

Needless to say, I told Heero and that lady goodbye and took my scrawny ass back down to the first floor and would've gone right out onto the porch and back to the car if I hadn't calmed down and realized that I felt *safe* down there; like maybe what I'd seen was limited just to that floor.

I tell you one thing, though. I'm damned sure never going back up to that third floor again, hell or high water.

That wasn't the point, though. That's not the story that I want to tell you. It's just a way to say, hey, I see shit that isn't there. Think I'm crazy, whatever you want, but don't invite me to supposedly 'haunted' houses. I'm not dragging my bony butt off to go see ghosties and wee beasties just to amuse a bunch of other people. I don't play with that stuff, because it can be downright dangerous.... which is why I'm gonna tell you this story I want to tell you.

I'm not a stupid guy -- a lot of people make that assumption. They listen to me talk, hear a Southern drawl start comin' out of my mouth like it's pure cane syrup and then they make a whole lot of assumptions about who and what I am without actually *knowing* anything about me. I've got a BS from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia -- dual majors, physics and engineering -- and I'm attending Georgia Tech for my graduate work currently. Now, that's not so important, but the location's important.

See, the South is a place close to death. Oh, I don't mean it's dying, though the REAL South maybe is, taken over by customs and bad attitudes that come from other places, Yankees moving in 'cause it's warmer, that kind of thing. Some of that's not necessarily *bad*, some of it... eh. I can take it or leave it. But the dead are still respected here, and the religion of the Lost Cause is a primary topic. Love it, hate it, agree with it, don't, the War Between the States didn't end with the treaty signed at Appomattox. It's got nothing to do with color, slavery, none of that stuff. What it's got to do with is *memory*, and respecting the dead.

Respecting those that walk still, spirits or otherwise.

The South is one of the most beautiful -- and most haunted! -- places in the world. It's populated with ancient houses, older cemeteries, Native American burial grounds, slave chains, shotgun houses, you name it, and one of the best cemeteries I've ever seen is Rose Hill Cemetery. It's about seven blocks down from Mercer, I guess, and a little ways down Riverside Drive, just before it meets Spring Street, which runs down to the Hay House, the most gorgeous Italian Renaissance anywhere, if you ask me. It's full of hills and old graves, and it's a GREAT place to go study in the daylight. It's not so nice at night -- most folks think that gangs meet down there and have Satanic rituals, but it's more like a bunch of kids sneak in and head down to the Allman Brothers' graves to smoke pot and drink a little, leave their offerings to some of the greatest Southern rock guitarists in the world. In the seventies, they decided I-75 was gonna need to go through there, so they designed everything carefully, so they would only have to move a few of the graves, and Rose Hill got split into Rose Hill and Riverside Cemeteries, with all of the older graves staying by the river to the west of the interstate.

Don't worry. There's a point to all this.

Down by the river, there are some of the really old graves, dug into the side of the hill. On one side of a ravine, they're really old, and bricked over to form something of a 'house' for the dead buried in the hillside there. It keeps 'em from floating away when the river floods, like it did in '94. On the other side, lower down, it's built sort of similarly -- the folks who built the Hay House, a family named Johnston, had the hill on that side made to look like two stone mausoleums, with steps running up between them that lead to the land above, where they're actually buried. It's pretty cool, surrounded by spiked wrought iron fences, 'cause if you fell from way up there... well, let's just say you'd break something.

Probably your neck.

The ravine itself is beautiful, in daylight, filled with sun-dappled shadows. There's a little spring that flows down from there. I've never found the source, but it runs through and forms a pool that's held back by moss-slick stones. The pool trickles over, water spilling to run underneath a bridge down to the river. See, the steps between the stone houses let you down to the little ravine, and there's a stone bench down there to sit on before you go up the other side, if you want. The other side is a lot harder. The going is steeper, with stones interspersed to help you along your way, so long as you're at least six feet tall. It's a hell of a lot harder for somebody shorter, and almost impossible, no matter how agile you are. There's another way down, but it leads almost to the little pool, and you have to go through the trees to get to it.

Not my idea of a good time, for a lot of reasons.

Even though my father had forbidden me to ever go there (which was kind of weird for him), Heero and I used to go down, sometimes, and meet up with a few of the girls from Wesleyan. They liked the place a lot better than the Mercer girls, but those chicks are kind of weird, anyway. I mean, they *are* going to a school full of nothing but girls. I guess it just figures. Mostly, the cemetery never bothered me in any way, after the first couple of visits. One of the mausoleums, as you first drive in, always gave me the feeling of being *watched*, but it was a sense more of curiosity than of wickedness. I guess whoever was buried there doesn't sleep well, so to speak. I mean, what with the traffic and all. And there's a marble statue of a little girl who always has fresh flowers in her hand. All I know for sure is that I've never seen anybody put the flowers there, and nobody ever admits to it, so I don't know how they get there, but she doesn't bother me, either. There's just that same sense of curiosity, not even half as strong.

The hardest place to go, though, is the Confederate cemetery.

Laugh all you like, Southerners take care of their dead.

Row after row of tiny stone markers are side by side facing the river and the railroad that runs by it, names and ranks and dates of death printed on each one of them. They cover an entire hillside, and there's a sense of desperation there, desperation and sadness that seems like it fills the whole world when you're there on one of those dingy-gray days that sometimes seem like they'll never end.

It's a great place to explore, that side of the cemetery. Most of the graves are old, and neat, like one lady who was buried with her horse and dog, and a few of them aren't quite so old. I guess me and Heero have been all over that side of the cemetery four or five times, just looking at things, conjecturing on what might or might not have happened to the people there. Some of the graves over there, a few, anyway, are newer, not so old.

This one was like that. This special one.

I only saw it there the once -- though I saw it again later, but I'll get to that -- and I called Heero over, because it was unusual. It was just to the left of the road that turns right to separate the Confederate cemetery from the rest of the graves there, directly across from it and down near the thin fringe of woods that separates the cemetery from the commercial stuff over on Spring Street. There was just the one tombstone; just the one grave.

But there were two names on it; two names, and two dates.

Wufei & Meiran Chang
Born February 14, 1951
Died March 17, 1967
Together in Life, Together in Death

Freaky, right? Even Heero thought so. I swear, I could see the hair standing up on the back of that boy's neck! And nothing *ever* freaks him out.

"How do you think they died?" I asked him. It was a morbid question, but like I said, we like that kind of thing. "The anniversary is only about a week and a half away!"

"Dunno," he answered succinctly. "Look, it's getting dark. I've got physics lab at six. Let's go get something to eat before we go back."

It was about four-thirty and he was right; it was getting dark, the way it does in early March, before the time changes. And I'd never had much of an urge to be in a cemetery after dark, so, we left and that was that.

When I went back, it was gone.

The grave. The stone. All of it.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Ah, stupid hick. You just forgot where it was!" What I'm telling *you* is that it's impossible for me to have forgotten where it was. If you followed a straight line across the hill from the road passing the Confederate cemetery, you'd stumble right over it, the last grave before you met the woods, and it was *GONE* like it had never existed, nothing but grass all around the area. I made Heero spend the entire day looking for it again, even got a couple of other friends in on the deal. It made Dotty's hair stand on end, and Lord knows that woman's got balls made out of the best brass I've ever run into.

We didn't find it anywhere on that hill. It was just gone.

That freaked me out, literally. I couldn't believe the damn thing had just disappeared. Things DON'T just disappear. I still know that cemetery like the back of my hand. I was a senior, I'd been there time and time again. My dad grew up in a house not three blocks from Mercer, and when the area started turning bad, he moved Grandma Marquise out to Lizella after Grandpa died. Even though I'd grown up two hours further south, that whole *town* was mine. I could tell you where to find the best barbecue over at old Fincher's, I could show you the house that was haunted by a betrayed-in-love servant girl, and the one where a whole family'd been slaughtered eighty years before. I knew things about that town most of the rest of it *didn't*.

I could tell you that grave had been there, but it wasn't anymore.

Needless to say, it creeped the hell out of me and Heero, even Hilde and Dotty, and we all took off to get some of that famous barbecue and calm down from the weirdness.

So what if you think I'm a chicken? You don't believe in things that go bump in the night, so they don't come looking for you. If they did, maybe you wouldn't think about it quite that way.

Still, that little scare didn't stop the *draw* of the place. One weird happening, you can kind of talk yourself out of, you know? So, that Saturday, I went back, to do a little art, write a little, maybe work on some organic chemistry -- well, ok, so I was going to *pretend* to work on organic. So what? You've never goofed off on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon?

The cherry trees were in bloom, the way they always are in early to mid-March, and the cherry blossom festival was coming up, which was always fun because of the hot-air balloon races. Since everything was so pretty, I decided to head on over to the edge of the ravine, passing by the once-pristine-white pyramid headstone that had been so carefully placed to overlook the river, the one that had turned a dusty black the day after it was put down as though it had been there for years, and parking the car carefully on the tiny stretch of ground at the edge of the curve that lay between the small road and the edge of the drop-off to the river. From there, it was a short walk the rest of the way around the curve and down to the older side of the ravine.

Somebody had beaten me to my chosen spot.

I was sort of surprised to see him, sitting there on the shaped stone that made up the rooftop of one of those old 'houses'. He had on blue jeans, the dark retro kind that were actually *blue*, and a white t-shirt that was carefully tucked into the waist. His legs were dangling off the edge, so I didn't want to frighten him. I walked up behind him being loud enough to get his attention, dropping my books on the grass nearby before I said, "Hi!"

For a minute, I didn't think he was going to turn and look at me, but he did. His face was almost pretty, in a that crazy way Oriental men sometimes are, and he had the most gorgeous black silk hair, so black it almost seemed to gleam blue in the mid-afternoon sunlight. "Hi," he replied in a voice that shook me all the way down to my toes with joy.

There were days when I thanked God that I was a gay man!

"So, you like the cemetery, huh?" I asked, moving to sit beside him, my own legs dangling over the side. They were a good bit longer than his, and I was taller sitting beside him, proving him to be of the short variety. That was even better!

"Not so much," he answered shyly, "but I like the river, and I like the cherry blossoms a bit. My friend on the other side, he used to like it a lot, but not so much anymore."

I looked over to the land on the other side of the ravine and, sure enough, there was somebody there! I couldn't see him that well over the distance, but his hair was shining, a bright gingery-gold sort of color, and a pale face gleamed back at me. "So, why doesn't he like it anymore?" I asked curiously, noting the white tennis shoes the boy wore -- kids' shoes, really, Keds.

"Oh," the boy said, "our friend doesn't come anymore, and I can't get to the other side without him."

Now THAT was kind of weird, and it gave me shivers. "Sure you can!" I told him. "It's not that hard. I'll help you get down the stones. I know it's tough, but there's a way to go through the trees, down to the little pool..." Even if I *didn't* like it.

He obviously liked it even less than me because he paled violently and shook his head, standing up quickly. "No, thank you!" he said. "I'm sorry to have taken your time and your place! I only wanted to see to the other side for a little while!" That said, he hurried off in the direction of the little girl with the flowers, away from the pyramid tombstone, and quickly disappeared.


His friend disappeared, too, not long after that. I guessed they must have met over in the part of the cemetery that was mostly Jewish -- past the place where the ravine closed itself up -- so I went on studying for a while, just sort of messing around, headphones on for a long time.

I guess *that's* the reason Heero scared the shit out of me when he leaned over and touched my shoulder. I damned near fell right off the ledge I was sitting on to the ground twelve feet below!

"SHIT!" I bellowed, headphones falling off as I grabbed my heart and rolled back onto the grass where he stood, right next to my ledge. "You nearly gave me a HEART attack!"

There was some suspicion in his face as he looked at me. "You were *late*, Marquise, so I came to get you. I smell patchouli all over you. Have you been seeing Ricki again?" Ricki was a particular friend of mine, half Chinese, half Spanish, *all* sex-pot, and he always wore patchouli.

I sniffed at the air, frowning. "No. Hadn't even noticed it. It doesn't smell quite right, though..."

"Patchouli and coconut," Heero said matter-of-factly. "Put your shit in the car and let's go down to the bridge. I've gotta pee."

That was my Hee-baby. Whip it out any old place.

With a sigh, I tossed books and cd-player in the car and locked it up tight. "Hey, you know, there was a guy here earlier, sitting where I was. Maybe he was wearing it..." Even though I hadn't noticed it when I walked up...

"Yeah," Heero said impatiently, already heading down the stone steps.

He was such a mountain goat sometimes!

It took me a little longer, as I didn't particularly feel like breaking any bones that day, and the scent only seemed to grow stronger as we moved down. I didn't mention it, though, that or the feeling of being watched by distinctly unfriendly gaze, either. "Hey, hurry up, all right? I wanna go up to the other side and look around. Maybe walk down to the iron monuments, ok?" Those had been Schells, and they had the coolest monuments, going all to rust and hell and back, now, but they were mostly dead or moved away. Just like everybody else in this god-forsaken place.

"Those are way past here. Why do you want to go up the other side to get to them when we can just go back up to the car?" Heero asked, whizzing over the side of the bridge, aiming for a Pepsi can and a condom draped one over the other.

Some people are *such* assholes. Places like Rose Hill should never be desecrated.

"I wanna see the Johnstons, too," I told him. That wasn't exactly a *lie*... Damn, right then, I REALLY wanted to see the Johnstons, desperately, anything that would get me out of that fuckin' ravine *quick*, and the feel of those eyes and something closing in on me, fast and hard.

"Yare, yare," he answered, zipping it up. I grabbed his hand, then, and started to run, heading over the grass and around the stone edge lickety split, tearing up the hill and the stairs like they weren't even there. When we got to the top, his hair was standing even more on end than it usually did and we were both trying to catch our breath -- it was a pretty challenging run, even for someone in shape, what with the way the hill curved 'round and the stairs were so treacherous. "What was that all about?"

I moved quickly into the wrought-iron bound graves of the Johnstons, shivering frantically as I looked down into the ravine. There wasn't anything *there* -- nothing I could *see*, anyway... but that didn't mean that there wasn't anything offering a threat. "Let's walk all the way around on our way back," I said softly.

From the way Heero answered, I must have been white as a sheet and shaking like I'd seen a ghost. "O Divine Eternal Father, in union with your Divine Son and the Holy Spirit, and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg You to destroy the Power of your greatest enemy -- the evil spirits. Cast them into the deepest recesses of hell and chain them there forever! Take possession of your Kingdom which You have created and which is rightfully yours. Heavenly Father, give us the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I repeat this prayer out of pure love for You with every beat of my heart and with every breath I take.... Amen."[1]

Funny. I never knew Heero was Catholic.

For a minute, the smell from the other side wafted past us, but then it drew back again, and once it was gone, I was almost limp from pure terror. "Oh, saints above preserve us," I finally said, almost in tears.

"What was that?" Heero asked softly.

"Don't ask," I answered. "Let's just go."

So, we did.

Now I understood why the little guy couldn't make it to the other side. As short as he was, he never would've been able to make that run in time...

There were funny thoughts in my head for the next couple of days, over the Ides on Wednesday and sneaking up on St. Patrick's. I dreamed crazy shit, stuff that scared me half to death, to be honest. Heero stopped objecting to leaving a light on after I woke him up for the third time screaming my bloody head off.

I just couldn't get the *smell* of her off of me.

Did I say her? ...yeah. I guess I did. Don't ask me how I knew that overpowering cloying scent belonged to a woman -- well, a female of some variety, anyway, if not a woman. I could tell that much, and in my dreams, she was a fierce scaled demon, singing and dancing and offering the blood of lambs to atone for her sins.

I told you I'm weird sometimes, okay? So back off.

Point being, I was scared to death. I sure as hell wasn't ever going back to the cemetery, broad daylight or no broad daylight. Nuh-uh. Hell would have to freeze over and the devil'd have to come and offer me *ice-skates*, bubba.

Not that it turned out that way, but it sounded nice, right?

As things *did* come about, the seventeenth was Hilde's birthday. And where else would she want to have a party but the friggin' cemetery.

I'll never understand dykes. She must have had all the spiritual sensitivity of... well.. Dorothy was just as bad, so I figured maybe all of that obliviousness would make it okay.

I can be such a *dumb* fuck for a man so smart!.

So, Heero and I went, accompanied by his friend Trowa (Quatre refused to come; he's an even worse chicken than me!), the dykes, and the date they'd brought for our unibanged friend -- a chick in a Masquerade t-shirt who was so myopic it was a miracle she could *see* Trowa, skinny as he is.

A little dancing and some drinking later and everybody was mellow but me. I was just as wired up as hell, air dancing all around me with voices, just as clear as a bell and they all more or less pointed out the same thing to me -- that it was time to get my sorry rear end in gear and *out* of that place because dusk was getting closer and closer, dark taking over the entire place.

I would have, too, except...

"Hey, I'm going... back... to... the..."

Except that was when I saw him.

He was hurrying through the stones, looked scared half to death, and as he ran past, I caught his arm. He turned on me, with these eyes so terrified that I thought he'd die right then and there. "Let me go!" he sobbed. "Let me go, let me go! I have to get to the other side!"

That was starting to become an eerie refrain with him. "Can't I help you?" I asked.

I guess I never even noticed the others looking like I'd lost my mind, even Heero.

"I have to get to the other side!" he wept, shaking his head. "Oh, she's coming, she's coming!"

And that's when I got a good whiff of it, patchouli and coconut applied with a heavy hand, and I knew it was time to get my ass out of there!"Fuck ME," I whispered, knees shaking. I could hear Heero cry out beside me, and I knew *he* smelled it, too. That was when we started to run, flying like bats out of hell right past Trowa and the girls, who looked at us like we'd lost our minds, past the little girl and her flowers, now putting off a wave of fear like nothing I'd ever felt from her, and around the curve that led to the river.

"I can't go down there!" the slim Oriental boy cried out in desperate fear. "I can't go down there!"

I had him in my arms before I knew it, and he was light as a feather, hardly weighed anything at all, which was good, considering the way down. "It's the only way away from her," I told him grimly as Heero pushed me to the left and we started down those terrible stones.

That was when I saw her for the first time.

She looked a lot like him, I guess, except she had two pigtails, and I thought then that was really weird. She was stalking up out of the cherry blossoms that led down to the little pool, a big-ass knife of some kind in her hand.


The sound of her voice was ice in the air and damned near froze the corpuscles of my blood, I swear it!

"Wufei, Mother wouldn't be happy with you..."

"Momma is DEAD, Mei!" he cried, shaking in my arms so that I could hardly hold him. Even Heero was stopped dead behind me, and I could hear the screams of Trowa and the girls above us, somewhere, distant. "Momma is *dead*! It doesn't matter anymore, Mei, please, Mei, PLEASE!!!!"

She moved fast as the wind, coming towards us. I could hear Heero scrambling back up even as I bounded down the last set of rough rocks and headed over the bridge, running like all the demons in hell were on my trail, and maybe... maybe, in a way, they were. Lord knows, when I say I felt her icy breath on me, I mean it! You just don't understand. You CAN'T understand, any more than you could understand the stock-still terror of the boy in my arms, the boy who was obviously her brother.

I was definitely feeling the burn of running with somebody else in my arms, no matter how light he was or how fast *I* was. I thought about taking off up the hillside, but I knew, somehow, that way wouldn't work; that we'd fall to our death there with HER, or we'd somehow show her a way to the top that she didn't know. I don't know HOW I knew it... self-preservation, probably. It's as good an explanation as any.

Instead, I ran around the way Heero and I had run before; past the bench of rocks, around the bend and up the hill that led to the two stone mausoleums. I took the stairs between the mausoleum walls three at a time, panting sharply with each one, struggling, praying that I wouldn't trip on the lip of one of them, and she was on my tail 'til the very last. A cold swipe of air and a stinging pain against the back of my calf was proof of that as I tumbled over the top step with that black-haired boy still clasped tight, landing heavily on the ground before I scrambled farther back, screaming.

She'd turned into the most awful sight you ever *did* see, screaming, yowling, slithering on that last step, unable to cross over it, more serpent than human, and I was letting loose some of the most god-awful hollers you could ever have imagined! From across the ravine, I could hear Heero leading the others in prayers of all sorts, I don't know what kind, but it seemed to scare the very life out of her, for she scrambled back down into the ravine faster than you could say 'Rumplestilskin' and was gone.

Just... gone.

That scared me almost worse than anything else, because I couldn't *see* her, even if I *was* safe on 'the other side'.

"Well. Hello, there."

The sound of that elegant sort of purr, nothing like my own drawl, made me sit up and stop my girlish screeching.

Maybe this was what scared me worst of all.

Standing with his back against the stone that was centered in the Johnston's little plot was a man with ginger-gold hair, the color I'd seen shining in the sunlight not a week before!


The sound of that cry was deliriously happy, and the boy I'd saved was up in a flash, arms clasped tight around him, absolutely weeping with joy. "I thought I'd never make it over! She stayed and stayed and stayed, and chased me all over, for so long! I thought I'd never make it over!" He kept repeating it and repeating it, even as the other man seemed to soothe him.

"You made it. You made it, little dragon, thanks to our Marquise here..."

"Marquise..." There seemed to be some wonder in that as the boy, Wufei, his name was Wufei, turned and looked at me, astonished. Even as he said it, they had begun to glow in the soft evening light gathering round. "You're a Marquise?"

"D...D..Duo Marquise," I stuttered out, swallowing hard.

They both seemed satisfied with that, that lovely tear-stained Oriental face almost beaming at me as they faded out of sight, right there in front of me.

Heero said that when they found me on the other side, I was sitting there bleeding like hell from a ragged cut on my leg and laughing a little hysterically, surrounded entirely by the scent of the rambling roses that guarded the tops of the mausoleums so close by.

It took a while, before I told my parents *why* we'd been out in the cemetery at dusk, drinking wine and laughing and dancing. The cemetery closed at sunset, so it wasn't exactly legal for us to be there, though none of us got into any trouble, thankfully. My father, in particular, was upset with me for being there -- strangely disturbed, *I* thought, considering that none of the Marquise family had ever been buried there that I was aware of, so it wasn't like I was disturbing *their* rest! Even if he *had* forbidden the place to me from the time I was a child... Even if I *had* needed to go to the hospital and get that cut stitched up. Man, fifty-six of those suckers... Yuck! It made me wonder, you know, what he might *know*. If maybe there was a *reason* he'd always told me never to go there...

I finally got the balls together to ask him, though, and his answer chilled me straight down to the bone.

"In 1966," he began, "I had just turned nineteen. Do remember, Duo, that the sixties were... well..."

"A time of experimentation, Dad," I prompted, grinning at him. Well... I had to get it from *somewhere*, didn't I?

His answer paused for a moment as he looked at me with those shining azure eyes of his. "Ahhh..." He drew in a deep breath. "Most of my time, I spent with my best friend and....yes, more than that... Treize Khushrenada. That summer, though, something else was introduced to us. Some*one* else, I should say. One Wufei Chang. It was the South," he noted, "and the sixties. We were young and rebellious, and he was Chinese. Sound familiar?"

I could only nod at him, white as a sheet, and keep listening.

"He was different, and that meant that we were flouting custom to be his friends, not an easy thing in the South of that time. You wouldn't know how hard it was -- in some ways, it might have even been easier if he'd been black or anything except Oriental. World War II was twenty years distant, but the Vietnam War had been going on and most folks couldn't tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese and Vietnamese. They all got the same amount of disgust, even then, and the nasty names. His family had just moved, there were no other people like them... It was hard. And then," Zechs said darkly, "his mother got sick and died. Now, Wufei had a twin sister, possessive of him, but when their mother died, she became fanatical. She dressed him just the way she dressed herself, would say the most terrible things..."

"Mother would not approve," I told him softly, watching him start.

"Just so," he agreed. "'Mother wouldn't approve of you carrying on like that, not with *boys*, Wufei!' Over the course of winter, it only got worse and worse, culminating on their birthday -- Valentine's Day -- or so I thought. After that, she seemed to calm down, almost like she was going to be normal again, a sweet young girl..." I could sense the sheer darkness in him. "At the time, they lived down on Riverside, in one of the smaller Victorians. A nice neighborhood, can't imagine how they bought it, not because they didn't have the money, but..." He looked at me, somewhat chagrined. "But because the realtors wouldn't have shown them that house, ordinarily, you understand."

What was there to say? "I understand, Daddy," I said softly. I didn't call him that much anymore, but now seemed like a good time.

"We used to meet down in the cemetery, in the ravine there, so that no one would know what we did," and that gave me the most god-awful shivers imaginable. "We didn't tell anybody that we met there, or what passed. It was none of their business, though they'd have made it their business if they'd known, in that day and age. But *she* knew, and..." He took a deep breath. "I was terribly ill the evening of March 17. You know your grandmother -- she'd come to the apartment Treize and I were sharing with three other boys, put me in bed, and watched over me like some sort of HAWK. There was no way I could make the meeting for the evening, and Treize was even somewhat late in leaving. Maybe..."

There, he paused. I'd never seen my father weep before, and the suspicious glistening sent an absolute chill to the depths of my soul. "Maybes don't do much good, though. By the time Treize arrived, his sister, her name was Meiran, had slit his wrists for him and drowned him in the little pool there when he tried to fight her. It was far too late, and Treize should have run, truly, but..."

"But he had to be a knight in shining armor, and he didn't," I said, cold chills chasing all over me.

The little smile that crept over my father's face said it all. "Treize always *did* have to be the gallant one," he said faintly. "He bled to death on the top step between the stone mausoleums facing the river. She joined her brother in the pool. If you look, he's buried on that hill where the stone mausoleums are. They're buried together, on the other side of the cemetery..."

"Where the Confederates rest," I whispered. "Together in life, together in death, but not any longer, Daddy."

"Not any longer," he said slowly, looking at me with that strange gleam in his eye, a gleam somehow of longing and hope, a depth of emotion that was almost weird, coming from one's father.

Hey, I might be a bit peculiar, but I've still got all the usual familial hang ups!

"Daddy?" I said quietly. "If... that hadn't happened, would you have married Mom?"

He reached out, ruffled my bangs and smiled in a way I hadn't seen since I was a kid and he'd promised me there was nothing there in the dark that wasn't there in the light. "Come on inside, Tiger. Sounds like your mom's got dinner ready."

And that was more or less that.

Oh! Yeah! I told you I'd seen the grave twice! Well, Heero and I went back one morning, broad daylight, after I'd had a talk with my dad. We took Holy Water, rosaries and a whole lot of junk that we ended up not needing.

The initial stop was on the side of the cemetery where Khushrenada rested. It was the first time I'd ever seen it, so I can't tell you anything but how it was in that moment, beautifully clean marble with an angel inscribed on it and the words, "Love, Even Beyond Death" neatly chiseled beneath his date of death.

There wasn't even the vaguest sense of a threat from the ravine. Maybe Wufei's release had given the crazy woman her own release, of whatever kind.

I can hope, can't I?

We crossed the cemetery then, driving all the way around the ravine with the doors locked. The flower-girl made of marble showed a happiness that I'd never noticed from her before, and I was pleased with that as we drove towards the outer gates and down past the Allman Brothers' graves to park near the Confederate cemetery and walk in a straight line down to the forest. There rested a tombstone, just the one tombstone; just the one grave.

But there were two names on it; two names, and two dates.

Wufei & Meiran Chang
Born February 14, 1951
Died March 17, 1967
Together in Life, Together in Death

It was split beautifully and gracefully in half, head and tombstone both, as clean as if a mason-worker had done it, and nestled there in the center of the broken headstone were beautiful slips of paper that smelled faintly of roses.

Of COURSE I picked them up! Do you actually think I could resist?

One was addressed to my father -- Zechs Marquise. That one, I didn't open, only handed to Heero for safe-keeping. The second was addressed to *me*.

My fingers shook as I opened it, violent and barely able to fumble my way inside. The paper was the expensive kind, textured because they'd used cotton in it, and the handwriting that printed neatly across it was written in bold black, English followed by Chinese -- I got a friend to tell me what the squiggles meant.

"Thank you." And then again in Chinese.

I never did find out what my father's said. I don't want to know, even though he floated around like some kind of giddy *woman* for weeks before he finally came down from whatever high he was on. Never did find out.

Never have gone back there.

And I don't suggest you do, either.

Just in case.

[1] Okay, so I'm totally unoriginal. So what? ~_^ That's the 'Prayer to Defeat the Work of Satan' as quoted at in the Catholic prayers section ^_^ What can I say? Methodists don't have a lot of prayers against demons ^_^;;; The Lord's Prayer is about as close as we come!