The Vow

By Tzigane

Black gaze caressed the blue four-story Victorian that spiralled into an overcast sky, the excitement of a new home reflected in every inch of his face. "It's GORGEOUS!" Wufei shouted, whirling around to fling his arms about Zechs's waist. "I can't believe you bought it, Zechs! It's perfect! Just *perfect*!!"

To see his ordinarily restrained lover so excited made every moment of secret planning, plotting and house-shopping worth it to the tall blond man. "It's what you wanted?" he asked teasingly, smiling as the Chinese man buried a hand in the silken lengths of Zechs's waist-length hair and pulled him down to kiss him with an undeniable passion.

"It's PERFECT," Wufei husked, kissing him again. "How many rooms are there? Can we get a cat? Is there an attic full of *stuff*? Are there old ghost stories? When can we move in!!"

Laughing, Zechs pulled him off of his feet and swung him around, delighting in the laughter he heard. "We can move in tonight, if you want!" he said. "The place is furnished with the most *incredible* antiques. You wouldn't believe how cheap it was! There are twenty-eight rooms, Wufei! *TWENTY-EIGHT*." Zechs stopped to grin. "Can't wait to christen the place!"

As for ghost stories... well, he wasn't going to tell the overly-imaginative writer what he'd been told about the place, or why it had been so cheap. It would just give the slimly muscled Chinaman nightmares and there was no point in that. "Come on," Zechs said, setting him down. "Come look at it, and then we'll go back to the apartment and pack bags for the night!"

"And call Trowa and Quatre and invite them for the weekend!" Wufei said excitedly. The green-eyed man and his diminutive lover had been the witnesses at their very legal wedding -- the *real* reason they'd moved to Vermont. Even as they walked up the marble steps to the beautiful green onion-stone porch, Wufei was captured in admiring the golden band adorning his finger. A matching band was fit upon Zechs's left hand -- bevelled silver at the outer edges that clasped patterned gold ivy sprinkled with tiny red garnets that were as dark as blood.

"Right," Zechs agreed, keying open the large front door and pushing it wide.

The foyer practically gleamed as beams of bright sunshine spilled suddenly through the clouds and in through a window that the naked eye could not perceive, silver patterns on brocaded wallpaper that was surely a hundred and fifty years old sparkled brightly in the glittering sunshine. Impossibly beautiful rosewood accented the walls, the hardwood floors gleaming golden, huge archways on either side providing entrance to unimaginably beautiful rooms.

"Zechs," Wufei whispered reverently, momentarily ~afraid~ to speak any louder. "It's *incredible*..."

An arm stole around his shoulder. "Want to see the other three floors?" he asked, nuzzling at an ear covered by silken black strands of hair. "There's a bed upstairs. It's even got sheets..."

"I'll race you there!" Wufei cried, breaking free and heading for the door at the end of the floor that he could see led into another room where the stairs were.

With a laugh, the long-legged blond ran after him, catching up and hauling his lover over his shoulder as he moved quickly up the stairs. "We'll go get clothes later," he said.

"Later," Wufei agreed.

And it was much later, indeed, that they did.

Deep purple and sullen pink stained the evening sky, the sun's influence almost gone from the horizon. They'd turned on the lights to their car as it wound its way down the country road so far away from anywhere, and slowed down so that they wouldn't miss anything. "It's so FAR," Quatre said worriedly. "If something ever happens to one of them, they'll never reach a hospital in time. Why would they want to live so far out?"

"Not everybody can be city people," Trowa chided gently, slowing the ice-blue Taurus and taking a left through brick and marble gates that led another half mile down before they'd see the house, or so Zechs said. "You know Wufei was having a hard time living in that apartment after we moved from Atlanta to here."

"I know," Quatre replied, frowning as they drove up to the house. "It's just that I'm getting one of those feelings again, Trowa..."

That gave the green-eyed man a certain pause as he parked the car just behind Zechs's red Mustang convertible, Wufei's black Bronco parked where they could just see it around the edge of the house. "What kind of feeling?" he asked seriously.

"I don't want to go in the house, Trowa," he whispered, shivering. "There's something.... something just... Oh, I don't know. I think maybe we ought to bless the house. Call a priest or something..." His Catholic upbringing still clung to him, despite the fact that his mother had been a Moslem. "I really think maybe that's what it needs. I can stand it for tonight. It's all right."

"You're sure?" That question revealed the depth of faith that Trowa felt for Quatre's 'intuition'. The tiny blond he'd met during college had always had a knack for knowing what was going to happen and had a certain talent for hearing and seeing things that were not of the physical world.

The answer, when it came, was soft. "No."

Trowa paused, frowning. "Quatre..."

"Let's just go in," the other man said, climbing out of the car quickly, as if not doing so would destroy what nerve he had left.

Sighing, Trowa rose, pocketing the keys after he locked the car from force of habit. Coming around the car, he slid an arm around Quatre's shoulders and led him up the front steps. He could feel the resistance and tension in his lover, and it worried him. The only other time Quatre had reacted that way had been the afternoon they'd been taking the historical preservation tour of antebellum homes in Macon. One of the houses was rumored to have been haunted for years by who knew what, and a later talk with a friend who lived in the town had revealed a gruesome story concerning the house and its last occupants -- NOT a pleasant revelation, by any means, and not one which could be verified by research, their friend had said [1]. Quatre's reaction from the moment they'd walked up the steps had been remarkably similar, and when they'd gone to the upstairs bedrooms, he'd passed out cold. Afterwards, he had asked Trowa how anyone could have missed the sound of the baby's wails or the puddled blood, but Trowa had seen none of it.

THAT had been his first *real* hint that there was something truly special about Quatre, and his reaction now frightened the green-eyed man. "You're sure you'll be ok?" he asked, knocking at the door.

"Yeah," Quatre whispered. "Just let's not go upstairs, ok? I think... I think I *especially* don't want to go upstairs."

"All right," Trowa agreed. "We won't go upstairs, love. No problem."

"Thank you," came the quiet response as the door opened.

"Quatre! Trowa!" Zechs said. "Come in, come in! Wufei was just getting his computer set up in the study, so that his editors would stop screeching at him. They're already tired of this week's worth of moving," he said with a grin. "I've almost got dinner ready. Plum chicken, mandarin salad, fried rice, steamed broccoli and farina pudding with fresh fruit," Zechs announced.

Trowa gave a wry chuckle. "I can tell Wufei had a hand in planning the menu," he said.

"I was hungry!" came the frowned excuse from a room to their left.

There in a study lined with books, Wufei was setting up his computer on a large mahogany desk; printer, scanner, Macintosh....

Quatre groaned. "I can't believe you're STILL using that thing!"

"I LOVE my Macintosh!" Wufei protested, hitting the power button and watching everything come up. "Even Zechs agrees. He's buying one for himself, and..."

Two moans sounded at *THAT*. "You've let him convince you?" Trowa asked.

"Ahhh.... excuse me, I think I smell my... well, SOMETHING is burning, I'm sure of it," Zechs answered graciously, slipping out of the room accompanied by Wufei's teasing call of, "Coward!"

"So," Quatre said nervously after Zechs had left, edging closer towards Trowa, "this is your new house."

"Isn't it *gorgeous*? It's perfect. Well, all right, we haven't found anybody to do any cleaning yet, so it's not perfect, but it's CLOSE. For some reason, none of the cleaning services in the local village will agree to come out," Wufei said with a frown. "They must have something against gay men..."

Trowa shook his head. "I don't know. Quatre..."

"Don't TELL him!" the little blond said, flushing darkly.

The dark gaze on them narrowed slowly. "Tell me what?"

"Tell you," Zechs said from the doorway, giving the other two a dark look of his own, "that dinner is ready."

"Zechs," Wufei began, "if there's something that you haven't told me..."

Sighing, the tall blond moved into the room, shaking his head. "I didn't want to upset you," he finally said, frowning at their two friends and eyeing Quatre, especially. "How did you find out?"

"I felt it," Quatre murmured, shivering even with Trowa's arm about him. "And I don't really want to think about it."

"Would one of you tell me what in all that's holy we're talking about!?" Wufei snapped.

"Come on," Zechs answered. "Dinner's on the table and the wine is poured. I'll tell you there."

Fifteen minutes later, they had finally settled in and were looking at Zechs expectantly (with the exception of the nervous Quatre, who'd startled so badly as they passed the stairs that they'd almost never managed to calm him down), so he began.

"This is just what little I've learned in the village," he said, "and no one wanted to tell me even that much. Most of this, I've gotten from eavesdropping. It seems that, a couple of years ago, the owner of this house just... well, he more or less went crazy as a bedbug. He'd been a bit of a loner for years, self-imposed exile, you know, except for a friend of his and a lover. The man at the bookstore was the first to notice -- he'd become obsessive about a particular author, you know, read a book and then had to have all of them, scanned all of the newspapers and magazines he could get to find out more about him, her, whatever. I don't know which one, you understand -- nobody seems to know. There's a reason for that, but I'll get to it later. Apparently, he just kept getting crazier. He started to think that he could contact the author, was in love with him... OR her," Zechs said darkly, frowning. "I guess his friends thought that was pretty sick. Apparently, his friend, a woman who worked at a local law office, came to check on him. They must have argued, because he killed her, and stuffed her body in a trunk in the attic."

A little cry worked from Quatre as he began looking around the room nervously, eyes alighting on Trowa and then on Wufei. "I don't want to know any more," he pleaded. "Really! That's more than enough!"

"So somebody missed her?" Wufei asked, tilting his head to the side.

"Yeah. His lover was from the village, too -- the lawyer she worked for, in fact. They'd been having an affair, so maybe that's the reason he killed her. Well, the guy came out to check on her, because he knew she'd come to visit, and he ended up in the trunk beside hers. Nobody really missed 'em -- they figured the two of them had run off together so as not to upset the man, which doesn't make much sense if you ask *me*, but..."

"Please don't tell any more!" Quatre cried. He was terribly pale, face almost paper-white, eyes wide. "I have to go! It's time to go, Trowa! We have to go!"

Wufei looked at them with some surprise. "Quatre...?"

With care, Trowa gathered the slim blond in his arms, helping him up from his chair. He was obviously terrified, and that made Wufei *nervous*. "I'm sorry, Zechs, Wufei... I think maybe the strain of..."

"You MUST have the house blessed," Quatre said in a wash of frantic words. "You must. I'll call a priest, or a shaman, or anything you want, only *promise* me, Wufei!" he said, squirming slightly to get loose from Trowa's arms and moving around the table. "Promise me you'll have it blessed, and if anything happens..."

"NOTHING will happen," Zechs said firmly, frowning. He hadn't wanted Wufei to find out about any of it at all, but there'd been no way to get around it once Quatre had arrived and pushed the envelope. Wufei was, on occasion -- well, often, actually -- like a dog with a bone, and Zechs would have never heard the end of it until he'd told the entire tale.

At least he didn't know the rest of it.

"I promise," Wufei said solemnly, shivering. "Quatre..."

"I want to go home now," he told Trowa tearfully. "Let's go home now. I can't bear it anymore!"

Moments later, Wufei watched them drive out of the open gates, turning to look at Zechs. "What happened then?" he said, voice quiet.

Reaching for him, Zechs kissed his forehead. "Nothing," he lied simply. "The bookstore owner came to deliver some books and smelled everything and sent the police out and the man was arrested."

He wasn't about to tell Wufei the truth -- that the man *had* come out, and had been flayed open upon the stairs that they'd passed just before dinner had begun. *That* had been what had tipped off the police -- that the bookstore owner had never come back from his delivery. When they'd arrived, the lunatic had been carving open his own body, offering bits to the new novel that the bookstore man had brought -- a rather gruesome discovery. The crazy man had died before they'd gotten him to the hospital. "We'll do just what Quatre wants and that will be that, okay? No bad dreams, Wufei. It will be all right. I know you're still nervous..."

"I'm not," Wufei denied with a frown, shaking his head as they walked back into the house. "I just couldn't *sleep* in the city, Zechs. That's all. And I was right, wasn't I? There *was* somebody coming into the apartment, even if it was just the maintenance guy."

"Yeah," Zechs said softly. "Well, there's nothing to worry about here, okay?" His hands rubbed gently at Wufei's shoulders. "Let's go clean up the kitchen. We'll get somebody in and bless the house and maybe that will make Quatre happy."

"All right," Wufei replied, still frowning. "Let's do that."

A week later, Quatre's priest and a multitude of other spiritualists had come and gone, blessed the house, and assured them that there was nothing to worry about anymore, if, indeed, there ever had been.

Quatre still refused to come any closer than the front gates.

Exasperated, Zechs had lain it down to the other man's high-strung disposition, but Wufei remained worried. How could he not? He didn't believe there was anything in the house -- the mere thought was utterly preposterous - but that didn't mean that Quatre's anxiety hadn't rubbed off on him.

He'd been high-strung for a long time, though, ever since they'd moved from the outskirts of Atlanta to Vermont. In Atlanta, they'd lived in a small mill house that had been converted into two apartments [2]. Even so close to the city, there had been almost fifteen acres of trees and streams, carefully hidden away from the rush of people so nearby. Having been raised away from crowds and traffic, and having spent the first five years of his relationship with Zechs in that small house... Well. It had just been very different to move to the busyness of Montpelier and to be expected to function there. It had, in fact, been miserable, and he'd been *so* glad that Zechs had found this house, so far out. He wished that Quatre and Trowa lived with them here, the way they had in Atlanta, but... he had a feeling that was *definitely* out since Quatre had found out about the history of the house.

Sighing, he shut down the computer and rubbed his temples. There were days that he just HATED his editors, usually on the days that Zechs had to go into town to the local art gallery and pick up new supplies and to carefully crate up his latest works to send them on to the galleries in New York and Atlanta. They'd converted most of the third floor into a studio, with a little work, though he'd absolutely refused to help move anything into the attic, which had gained him a rather grumpy husband, for a day or two, but he simply WASN'T going up there. It gave him the creeps, priest or no priest.

To be perfectly honest, it gave him the creeps to be in the house alone, suddenly, and he sighed in exasperation. "I am NOT afraid," he declared to himself aloud, frowning. "It's weak to be afraid, Wufei! You are NOT weak!"



With a grimace, he headed up the stairs, hurrying down into the bedroom he and Zechs shared. It was a truly beautiful room, painted egg-shell white with the loveliest sapphire accents marking the plaster moldings around the edges of the ceilings that matched the damask curtains that covered each of the four windows in the room. The bed was remarkable, a four-poster that was carved with roses and vines, so old that Wufei could barely believe it existed, much less that it supported the sometimes rough-and-tumble play he and Zechs so enjoyed between them.

For some reason, he felt safe here -- the smell of Zechs was on the pillows, clean, a mixture of clean skin, sandalwood and vanilla that was all man, and so sweet, and Wufei loved it.

With a sigh, he slipped into the bed, pulling the quilt up from the bottom of the bed to cover himself. Fall in Vermont was a great deal colder than fall in Georgia, and his feet were *freezing*! Still, the old quilt was one of the wonderful things they'd picked up cheap from a flea market while they were still in the South, handmade and so warm, and it wasn't long before he was drowsing upon the bed, and half-dreaming.

He remained that way for a long time, dreaming strange dreams of mausoleums, of the old Rose Hill cemetery, of a man with a grin and vibrant purple eyes, of a woman with glasses like the ones he had by the computer downstairs and little braids like something out of Star Wars. They kept trying to warn him of something, and they scared him more than a little. He kept racing through the cemetery trying to find Zechs and escape, but everywhere he turned, there one of them was, and there was no exit until he slid into the small ravine between one hill and another to hide beneath the bridge that spanned it, allowing water from the small spring that welled there to trickle through without blocking visitors' paths from the opposite side.

Hands were on his bottom, stroking up his spine and he sighed, shifting back in the bed to rest against the warmth behind him. Lips caressed gently at his ear, brushing satiny strands of black hair aside from his neck as he murmured sleepily, half-turning. "Zechs..."

The sudden absence of pleasure was marked by a chill working its way through him as he opened his eyes. Purple hues were working their way into the room, and there was no one there.

No one but him.

His heart began to hammer quickly in his chest as he gave a low whine, shivering with the sudden coolness that he felt even as he slipped out of the bed in a hurry, turning on the light.

That didn't help. There wasn't anything there that he could *see*, but...

Terrified, he turned and began to run, determined, CERTAIN there was someone or something in that room, in the house. He could almost feel cold breath against the back of his neck, and he stifled a scream as he began to run down the stairs, utterly petrified as he raced through the darkening house and into the foyer, intent on running out of the house shoeless, keyless, when he ran abruptly into a solid wall just in front of the door and let out a shriek fit to wake the dead.

"Wufei!" Zechs gasped, looking at his lover in amazement. The other man's face was white as a sheet, tear-tracks beginning to work their way down his face even as Zechs reached out and flipped the switch to turn on the chandelier above, hands going to rest on Wufei's shoulders. "Wufei, what's wrong!?"

With a frantic sob, Wufei threw his arms around Zechs's waist, the 'threat' he'd felt dissipating with the other man's presence. "You left me alone!" he sobbed. "Please, Zechs, please don't leave me alone anymore! Especially after dark! I was so scared! I was napping and I felt someone touching me, and..."

"Shhhh," Zechs soothed him, hands stroking tenderly as he held his lover close, tight. "Shhh, it's all right. It's all right. It was only a dream, love. Just a dream, nothing to upset you or hurt you..."

"It was REAL!" Wufei insisted hysterically. "I felt someone touching me! Please, Zechs! *Please*," he begged, "*please* don't leave me alone after dark anymore!"

"All right." Agreement wasn't really all that difficult, in the end. It was more important to him, for the moment, that he calm down his hysterical Wufei than that he try to tell him that it was only a dream, as it had to be. The house had been blessed, after all. Even if there *had* been something there...

Well, he just didn't believe in that sort of thing. There hadn't been anything there, couldn't have been. Wufei's continued hysterics bothered him, though. It was reminiscent of his insistence that someone had been in their apartment in Montpelier every time they'd left it, moving things, eating things Wufei knew had been in the refrigerator, changing the settings on his computer. He'd been right about that, in the end, but there *wasn't* anyone coming to this house. They still hadn't found a maid service willing to come out so much as once a week to vacuum and dust, and even Trowa and Quatre wouldn't come. "I won't leave you alone, Wufei. Don't worry, love. I won't leave you. All right?" he asked, tipping up Wufei's chin and wiping away the frightened tears that had spilled loose from those eyes he so adored.

"A... all right," Wufei said finally, still trembling and clinging to him. "Please don't, Zechs. Please don't. I was so afraid. I've never been so scared in my entire life..."

"I know. Now, come on upstairs," Zechs told him. "I'll run a bath and we'll relax for a while and come downstairs and make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper. Okay? And I'll read to you, your favorite..."

"The Snow Queen?" Wufei asked tentatively. "It's really long..."

Zechs smiled at him, pulling him to his toes to kiss him. "At least until you get drowsy and I can't resist you anymore," he assured the now timidly smiling Wufei. "Come on."

All sense of menace now vanished, Wufei went with him willingly.

The sign on the door was fairly simple, dark blue on a white background. It read, "Heero Yuy, Ph.D., LCP". He was the only psychiatrist in town, but he was supposed to be a fairly good one, and Zechs really hoped that he could do something about the mess Wufei was becoming.

It had been a week since he'd come home to find his lover running through the dark, scared half to death, and it only seemed to be getting worse. Wufei had never been the *clingy* sort -- it was part of what Zechs loved best about him, that Wufei was not afraid to be independent and was not afraid to allow Zechs his autonomy, as well. Lately, though...

Lately, Wufei had been an absolute nervous *wreck*. He followed Zechs from room to room, insisted on going to town and to the art gallery with him, wouldn't drive his own vehicle, insisted that Zechs drive... It was simply *impossible*! He suspected that Wufei even stood outside of the room while he used the bathroom, and he wasn't sure *when* Wufei went, because they were never apart for longer than a minute or two.

It was *definitely* time to consult someone who was a professional in the matter.

He'd left Wufei sleeping, though he'd hated to do it. It was, after all, early afternoon, and nowhere near dark, so that was all right, sort of. He had promised to never leave Wufei alone after dark, and had said nothing at all about early afternoon.

It still felt like a rationalization to him.

Wrinkling his nose, he walked into the waiting room and signed in, sighing as he looked across the counter at the young woman there, her dark eyes gleaming at him and looking remarkably like Wufei's.

"Hi," she greeted. "You must be... Zechs Marquise. You've got a three-thirty appointment, right? I'm Meiran. Dr. Yuy ought to be back from lunch in about five minutes, if you'd like to have a seat. We're running late today and he hasn't had time for lunch until now. He ran down to Subway," she confided with a smile. "He's addicted."

"Thanks," Zechs said, sneaking another look at her before moving into the small waiting room with its black and white tiled floor and small black inside shutters. He folded himself down into one of the tiny chairs with a frown, wondering if *everyone* in that bloody town was no bigger than Wufei and the girl across the way and sighed. Probably not, but still, it was a peculiarity of waiting rooms everywhere -- either filled with hard plastic chairs, soft rubber ones that made one feel as though one would tumble out at any moment, or tiny chairs that he *might* have fit into comfortably when he was eleven.


"Mr. Marquise?"

Apparently, his brooding about the chairs had taken up whatever time had been required for the good doctor to return, he decided, rising and shoving his hands into his pockets as he walked back into the secretary's office.

"If you'll go down the runner there and take a left, his office is on the immediate left," she said. "The door will be open, so it won't be hard to figure it out. I hope you don't mind that he'll be eating lunch," she confessed.

"No problem," he said faintly, following her directions to the letter as he moved away from her, knocking on the doorjamb to alert the doctor that he had arrived.

Heero Yuy looked up, a huge bite of sandwich in his mouth as he did so. "Mmm!" he greeted, swallowing. "Come in, come in. Sorry about lunch. We're busy today."

"So I'm told," Zechs said wryly. "Look, doctor, I don't have much time, and I'm not actually here for myself, but..."

"Ah, you're one of the NEW people!" Dr. Yuy said, nodding. "You bought the Khushrenada estate."

"Yes," Zechs said, already uncertain. This doctor certainly wasn't like any he'd met before!

Heero nodded slowly. "Quite a tragedy, that. Beautiful house. I hope you're enjoying it..."

There was something unspoken there that was enough to lend shivers to Zechs, and he actually *did* shiver, goosebumps rising on his arms. "Actually, yes," he replied, frowning. "We've enjoyed it immensely, though we've only been living there for a little over three weeks. It's a beautiful house, and that was just what we wanted..."

"Wait. We?" Yuy asked, seemingly surprised. "And where is your wife?"

"Husband," Zechs corrected, frowning. "I'm not married to a woman."

"Hn," the good doctor replied, nodding. "I hope you haven't left him there alone..."

"Well, yes," Zechs replied, frowning. "Actually, I did."

"Ah. Well," Yuy said. "I suppose it can't hurt."

Zechs's frown deepened. "Wait. Wait, you're frightening me. That's not exactly doing a good job, Doctor, especially since I haven't even come to see you about *myself*. There's no problem with *me*, but with Wufei..."

"Wufei?" That seemed to startle him somewhat. "Chang Wufei? Writes those lovely mystery novels and the homosexual erotica?"

"Well..." Zechs said, looking at the doctor strangely. "Yes, actually. That's the one."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear," Heero said, blinking. It wasn't in his nature to say such a thing, but.... "Oh, DEAR."

Exasperated, Zechs demanded to know. "What!?" he snapped. "WHAT is 'oh, dear'!?"

"Well," Heero said with a frown, "I would have thought Dekim would have told you when he sold you the house. No one's told you, have they?"

"About the crazy man who killed his best friend and his lover and the bookstore owner? Well... they've told me most of it," Zechs said. "I don't see what that has to do with this!"

The doctor leaned across the desk. "You mean you don't know about his obsession."

"I know he was obsessed with..." Cerulean eyes became huge as Zechs paled and stood. "With an author. He was obsessed with an author. He was obsessed with..."

"Chang Wufei."

There was no pause between thought and action as the blond man stood and ran out, not even realizing that the doctor was close behind him until he got to the parking lot and saw...

...that all four of his tires had been slashed. "SHIT!" he said succinctly, turning around and almost running over the much smaller man behind him. "You," he said. "Have you got a vehicle here?"

"It's parked around back," Heero said.

"Let's go."

Waking from his nap was unpleasant. Wufei didn't want to wake up. There was something very very wrong, and he knew that if he woke up... he KNEW that if he woke up, it would only get worse.

Hands were stroking him again in his 'dreams', had been stroking him even with Zechs in the bed, tender hands, hands that scared him so badly that he wanted to die every single time he felt them, frigid, so icy, and he *stayed* cold, all the time now. He was terrified to be alone, even in the daylight, terrified to go anywhere or do anything if Zechs was not with him...

The soft sound of huffed laughter sounded in his ear, and he woke, eyes jerking open to realize that it was almost sunset. "Zechs?" he called unsteadily, sitting up. "Zechs?"

No answer.

"Zechs, please," he whispered, swallowing hard as the icy chills coursing through him intensified. "Please, Zechs. Please. You promised. You promised me..."

/Not after dark,/ the thought came unbidden. /He only promised you not after dark./

That laughter seemed to huff in his ear again and he screamed, unable to stop himself from making the girlish sound as he jerked up out of the bed, wide eyes noting the indention where no indention should have been. It shifted, and he knew that it was going to come after him even as he turned and ran, heading for the stairs once again.

Something, something, told him that was a *very* bad idea, and he stumbled to a halt at the top of them, terrified eyes taking in the puddle of blood that began at the top of them even as he screamed again. "ZECHS! ZEEEE~EEEEECHS!"

It wasn't Zechs that he saw, however; instead, there was a head of dark hair below him, wild and untamed, and he turned around, looking left and right frantically. It seemed, at first, that there was nowhere to go, but then he realized that the stairs to the third floor were clear, and he hurried to them, racing up even as laughter huffed again, below him, and he began to cry. He hated crying, he hated screaming, he hated this desperate feeling of being chased, and he slammed the door when he reached the top of the stairs, only to begin screaming again.

There was blood in the studio, as well, blood all over it, and a limp hand lay in a puddle of it. On the other side of the room was a foot, a braid in between them, his glasses, or some like them, in one of those pools, and he screamed again, noticing things he had never seen in Zechs's studio before. A telephone shrilled against a wall, rang and rang, surrounded by dozens of copies of his books, hardback, paperback, every imaginable form, in language after language, Chinese, German, Russian, English, half-printed letters scattered in the lagoons of vermilion liquid that spilled everywhere, epistles declaring adoration, love, sick desires of ripping him open and claiming him, his talent, his devotion, all of his passion...

As the door opened behind him, he couldn't stop screaming long enough to run any farther.

There was nowhere else to go.

"He's not answering!" Zechs groaned, continuing to let his cell phone ring. It was almost dark, and he was scared nearly to death. Only pink remained in the autumn sky, barely lighting the way. "I'm going to run ahead, all right?"

The good doctor's tires had been fine when they'd left the office. It had only been when they'd gotten a good mile from the house that two of them had blown, almost appearing to have been sliced as well. "I'm not sure you should go alone," Heero replied, frowning. "Here. I'll call 9-1-1 and come with you..."

It was then that the phone on the other end picked up.

"Wufei?" Zechs asked, a sudden cold shiver working its way down his spine.

A dark chuckle answered, loud enough to be heard by the doctor, who turned white as a voice spoke softly. "Hello, Doctor Yuy."

Screaming and sobs began in the background and Zechs cried out in horror as the voice continued on. "Have you checked on the children, my dear baby sitter? Perhaps you shouldn't have left them alone. The call is coming from inside the house, my dear."

The screaming sobs and the transmission cut off into dead silence.

Scrubbing his face, Zechs sat on the front porch steps, Heero Yuy beside him. EMTs and sheriff's officers moved all around him, busily working inside, all of them in groups of three or even more if they could manage it. They'd taken his statement, and Heero's as well, and that had been more than enough for them.

He wanted to die.

"I promised I wouldn't leave him alone," he moaned softly, one shaky hand still tinged with the sanguine color of Wufei's blood as he sat there, trembling. "I promised I wouldn't leave him alone."

The big man writing on the incident report stopped for a moment and looked at him. "Sir, nobody warned you 'bout this place? It ain't the sorta place you want to be alone at, ya know."

"I promised... I wouldn't..." Zechs whispered again.

"I promised."

"I promised."

"I promised."

It had been a good two months since Wufei's death; since the funeral, attended by so many, the press trying to work their way in despite the guards present, despite the fact that Zechs had requested that he and the few others who had come be left alone, in their grief.

Wufei had always hated the press. It was just like any other crowd. They had made him uncomfortable, and the only interest they had in his death was the gruesome manner in which it had taken place and their hope of laying the blame on the famous artist who'd been his lover, despite the fact that it had been conclusively proven that it could not possibly have been Zechs.

He hadn't wanted to go back to the house, but no one else could be convinced to go in and pack up his few belongings, Wufei's computer. It turned out that he had to do it himself, as much as it made him sick to his stomach...

As much as it made him afraid.

He had begun early in the morning, working only from mid-morning to mid afternoon, careful to always wear the blessed rosary that Quatre had given him. The little blond had been utterly traumatized and had spent some time after Wufei's death in a small hospital a few counties away from that wicked house.

Zechs knew because he had been in the room beside him.

Now, though, it was nearing mid-afternoon and it was time for him to go from the house again, time to leave before darkness came.

He always left before it got dark.

Looking out the window, he frowned. He'd worked a bit later than he'd intended on working, and now there was a storm coming up, black clouds gathering close to the house that made him shiver. Still... there was plenty of time to...


The sound of that voice behind him chilled him to the bone. He didn't want to turn... He didn't, but he slowly shut off Wufei's computer for the last time, and turned.

Nothing there.


"Nothing there," Zechs whispered to himself, palming his keys and hurrying to the foyer. "Nothing there."

But there was.

The glisten of eyes looked at him from the shadows, growing, shifting, *moving*, until he could see him.


"You promised, Zechs," came the soft whisper, madness dripping from every word.

"I saw you," Zechs said hysterically. "I saw you! You were dead! Oh, my GOD, Wufei!"

"You promised that you wouldn't leave me alone after dark," that voice hissed. "You promised me, Zechs. Never alone after dark. You left me alone with *him*, Zechs! You've left me alone with him for a long time now!"

"No!" Zechs cried. "NO!"

"You *PROMISED*, Zechs," the gleaming shadow said, and suddenly Zechs saw it, the sharp glisten of a blade. "You promised. 'Til death do we PART!"

And as the blade ripped into him, the hellish light in Wufei's ebony eyes shimmering with a glee that Zechs had never known existed, he saw it behind him -- the laughing creature with sapphire eyes and forked brows, blades in hand, a smirk on its demon face that said as clearly as words, "I have won."

As his screams died down, the pain from the knife dulling slowly, there was only one thing he could truly remember.

'Til death do we part.

[1] I confess that I stuck them in Atlanta just so I could have Quatre go to that house. The story, unlike a lot of ghost stories and urban legends, is actually something that I know to be true ~_^ Older people in the south never say things like this aloud; they're half-heard whispers that you only find out about after dark, when the kids are supposed to be asleep. I've always had a bad habit of eavesdropping, though *^_^* And when I finally became old enough, I asked about the things that my granny and her sisters whispered about some nights.

The year my Great--Great-Aunt turned twelve, her best friend was the same age. They lived three or four blocks apart, not very far, and occasionally spent the night with one another. One afternoon, she was getting ready to go and sleep at her friend's house when her aunt came to speak to her mother and tell her that she had a *horrible* feeling about something and not to let any of the children go anywhere for the evening. Needless to say, that put my Aunty into *quite* the fit as she was the second youngest child and rather accustomed to getting her way. Late that evening, someone crept into the home where she was supposed to be spending the night and killed all of the family members using an axe -- father, step-mother, and seven siblings. Now, there was another boy who was of an age for college (probably seventeen; Granny wasn't certain, as she was three or four years younger than Aunt Louise and couldn't quite recall his exact age, nor could Aunt Louise, but I suspect she didn't see him much as a result of his being older) and he had gone out drinking with friends that night. In fact, he'd gotten so drunk that when he came home, he passed out in the small carriage house back behind the house, rather lucky for him, considering. When he woke the next morning and found his murdered family, he called the police. Unfortunately, they didn't believe him, and he was hanged for the murder of his family on October 29, 1890. The family is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in unmarked graves (number 11 on the diagram) and the young man (Thomas A Woolfolk) is buried in Hawkinsville, Georgia. In later years, some doubt was cast on his guilt by a statement of a part time employee who was being lynched in South Carolina. He indicated that *he* had committed the crimes, and my grandmother said that he was being lynched for perpetrating a similar crime, so ^_^;;; [back]

[2] This actually exists! ^_^ We went picnicking there one afternoon -- several Wiccans live in the house, and there are lovely trails and a stream nearby ^_^ Kind of a weird thing -- I started dreaming and writing about the house and grounds when I was fifteen, which is about the same time my friend Lisa first went to it and also started dreaming about it ^_^;; [back]