[personal profile] psifi872


Lydia helped Mrs. Allen finish packing the last of her bags. The aged seamstress was taking two of her sewing projects with her on her week-long trip to visit her sister, Mrs. Jacobs. Lydia was pleased that Mrs. Allen trusted her to pack away the fine silks and delicate laces that would be needed.

"Now, don't forget to practice the lace stitching that I showed you. We'll add that to your project, when I return," Mrs. Allen instructed.

"Of course, Mrs. Allen," Lydia promised her mentor, smiling fondly.

"Good girl," Mrs. Allen praised, patting Lydia's shoulder. She hesitated then, studying Lydia pensively. "You will be all right, rattling around this huge, old place by yourself?"

"I'll be fine," Lydia assured her, calmly. "I'll spend most of my time in the sewing room, anyways."

"Yes, well, don't make yourself dull by working too hard. Regular breaks are a good thing, especially for your eyes."

"I'll be careful," Lydia promised again.

"You're a good girl," Mrs. Allen repeated. "Very sensible, for nineteen, too."

"Thank you."

"I only want you...what I mean to say is this house is very old. It can be a bit, well, noisy, at times. I know you're not the nervous sort, but it can be a bit intimidating, being alone in a large, empty place, when things start creaking."

"I'll be fine, Mrs. Allen. Weird noises don't bother me, at all," Lydia said, hiding her amusement. "Our house is like that, too, and I've been alone there plenty of times."

"Yes. Yes, of course, you have," Mrs. Allen agreed, gathering her things with renewed energy. She smiled warmly at her protege. "Well, then, I'm off. Enjoy your stay, Lydia darling."

"I will. Have fun on your visit!"

Once Mrs. Allen was gone, Lydia settled easily, nestled comfortably in the sewing room. She positioned her large, over-stuffed chair to look out the huge picture window, so she could watch the sunset. Lydia had never been in the house after dark and hoped the window would allow her to see the moon. She wondered a bit about Mrs. Allen's parting warning. She knew the old lady didn't particularly believe in the paranormal, dismissing most of it as "romanticized rubbish." Lydia knew better.

Lydia's godparents were ghosts.

Lydia had always been fascinated by the paranormal, with things dark and strange. She wasn't afraid of anything that might be in the house with her. Ghosts had rules and keeping their existence hidden from the living was the main one. Most living people over-looked ghosts, ignoring what they couldn't explain or understand. In turn, Lydia knew, ghosts mostly ignored the living, rarely interacting. So, Lydia wasn't surprised, when the child spirit ran across the sewing room, chasing a small, red ball and ignoring Lydia completely.

The ball bounced off a wall and came to rest at Lydia's feet. The child, a girl dressed in a long, lacy blue dress, hesitated, looking from Lydia to the ball. The child had dark brown hair that had been cut to her shoulders, parted down one side. Dark brown eyes stared at Lydia uncertainly. Smiling, Lydia picked the ball up and held it out to the girl. The ghost didn't move, her lips trembling.

"It's okay," Lydia said softly. "I'm used to seeing ghosts. I'm Lydia."

"No, no, no, no," the child whimpered, lowly, clutching at her skirts.

"Hey, don't be scared," Lydia cajoled. "I'm a friend, I promise."

"No! He mustn't know you can see us. You should go," the girl whispered, drawing closer.

"I can't," Lydia said, frowning. "I'm house sitting for a friend. Why don't you want him to know I can see you?"

"He'll be angry," the child whispered. "He's so mean and he hates the living."

"Who is he?"

"I can't tell you!" the child squeaked, near to tears.

"Okay!" Lydia assured her, forcing herself to smile. "Can you tell me your name?"

"He says we don't have names, anymore, but I was Anna Simmons."

Lydia got out of her chair and knelt down in front of Anna, placing her hands on her shoulders.

"He's wrong. You are still Anna and he has no right to try and take that from you. He does sound mean, but I might be able to help."

Anna shook her head wildly.

"No. You don't understand. He isn't weak, like most ghosts are, like us. He can hurt the living!"

"This ghost...is he really pale, with wild, blond hair, a bunch of mold on him, and dressed in a white and black striped suit?"

Anna blinked, shaking her head.

"Um. No. He's tall and plump. He's strong, with long, gray hair and black eyes. He wears a long robe and cloak. You mustn't see him!"

"Anna, he can't hurt you. I've read the Handbook for the Recently Deceased. There are rules."

Anna cried out, her hands going to her head.

"Anna! What's wrong?" Lydia asked, horrified.

Anna shook her head, disappearing.

Lydia stood and gazed out the window, weighing her options. The dead were not invulnerable. There were things that could harm and even destroy them. Decision made, Lydia grabbed her purse and headed for home.

Home for Lydia would always be her parents' house, particularly the attic. Running up the stairs, Lydia entered the upper reaches of the house with relief. Barbara was sitting on the couch up there, flipping through a home decor magazine. Seeing Lydia, Barbara looked both confused and welcoming.

"Lydia, hi! What are you doing home? Did you forget something?"

"No, but I need to talk to you and Adam. There's a ghost at Mrs. Allen's, but she's just a kid and something or someone has her scared," Lydia explained, sitting next to Barbara.

Barbara listened with growing dismay, as Lydia told of her encounter with Anna. Adam came in towards the beginning, sitting on the arm of the couch, next to Lydia. He rested a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"We'll ask, of course," he told her. "Are you sure you want to go back there?"

"I have to," Lydia said, firmly. "If nothing else, Mrs. Allen is relying on me."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I need to know who that man she mentioned is."

"All right. We'll see what we can find out, but be careful."

"I will. I need to get back. Mrs. Allen might have something in her library on the house. I'm going to see, if they can tell me anything."

Lydia made her farewells and headed back. Once there, she closed and locked the door. She made herself a quick dinner, taking it into the library. She was disappointed at what she found. Most of the books that mentioned the mansion only gave brief outlines of it's history, speaking of it's construction, listing the previous owners, and telling how they came into possession. There was nothing about Anna Simmons or a tall, dark man in a long cloak.

Lydia spent time the next morning, wandering the house, looking in small, rarely used rooms. She hoped Anna would appear to her or maybe someone else. Anna had spoken in the plural, more than once, when cautioning Lydia about the dark man. Unfortunately, if anyone was around, they were hiding. Shrugging, Lydia went back to the library, examining the bookshelves.

"You won't find anything," a smooth voice whispered in her ear.

Lydia jumped, spinning around, her eyes wide. In front of her stood the tall man Anna had described. His long, gray hair hung close to his face in greasy lanks. His dark robe hung tight around his shoulders. It was an ancient garment and Lydia decided it was a simple traveling cloak, as opposed to a mark of some office. Lydia forced herself to stop cowering, taking a small step forward.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"My name, for all the good it does you, is Keegan. But, how delicious. It has been decades, since I found a living woman that could see me."

"Why is Anna afraid of you? What have you done to her?"

"The occupants of this house, if you can call them that, are mine. I possess them. They are not your concern," Keegan snarled, leaning closer.

"She's a child!" Lydia protested.

"She is nothing. The dead, the truly dead, are nothing, Lydia. Once life is done, the dead are no longer people, merely shadows and magic."

"That's not true," Lydia said, disgusted. "Two of my best friends are ghosts."

"Yes, I know. Do you think they can help you, trapped in their home?"

"They can get me information...or talk to Juno," Lydia told him, firmly.

Keegan's hand shot out, grabbing Lydia's jaw. His sharp nails scraped across her cheek. Lydia flinched, as a burning cold seeped into her skin.

"I am not a mere ghost, subject to that bitch's paperwork! I am more than alive, more than dead. I am magic and strong! I am on the threshold, feeding."

"Yeah? Thanks for the information," Lydia taunted, hiding her fear.

Keegan pulled away, his nose wrinkling, but his thin lips pulling into a slight smile.

"Why do you care? They are not your children. You've met what was Anna, but once."

Lydia scoffed, shaking her head.

"What kind of question is that? They're children, ghosts or not! Of course I care."

"You want to protect them, Lydia, take care of them?" Keegan asked, almost purring.

"I want to protect them from you," Lydia clarified, warily.

Keegan laughed, the sound high, thin, and irritating.

"You can't, but I can let you be their friend and helper. Yes. I think they could use a new friend."

Keegan disappeared. Lydia retreated to the brightly lit sewing room, moving her chair closer to the window. She took out her sewing, hoping the soothing act would be enough to settle her nerves. She managed to enjoy an hour's peace, before the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Lydia, honey, it's Delia. Can you come home? Right now?"

"Sure, but what's wrong?"

"Nothing! Nothing. It's just there's...we have a visitor, who insists on talking to you here," Delia explained.

"I'll be right there," Lydia promised.

Lydia was greeted at home by Barbara. The ghost wrung her hands, her eyes wide with remorse.

"Lydia, I am so sorry. We did as you asked, but I don't think you're going to like it."

"Never mind that!" a raspy voice snapped.

Lydia turned to see an unfamiliar ghost, an older woman with a slit throat, spewing smoke.

"Who are you?"

"I'm Juno, the Maitland's caseworker. I'm the person who has to deal with all the paperwork you keep generating! As if almost marrying that poltergeist wasn't enough, now you've got Keegan's attention!"

"Yeah? Let's talk about Keegan. Who is he? What hold does he have on Anna Simmons? You're just letting him run loose!"

"Keegan is not entirely a ghost, so is not under my jurisdiction," Juno said, angrily.

"Then, what is he?"

"We don't know," Juno sighed. "He's, well, undead, you could say. We hear rumors about him, but we can't track him. He's managed to stay hidden from us for centuries. If you go against him, we won't be able to help you, understand? For your own sake, leave it alone."

"I can't," Lydia said helplessly.

"Well, at least promise me that you won't get him involved."

"Him?"

"Yes, him, your former fiancee!" Juno clarified sarcastically.

"But, he got eaten by a sandworm. I thought he was...gone."

"If there's one thing he's good at, other than being trouble, it's surviving. He wound up in the waiting room."

"I'm not that desperate. Isn't there anything else you can tell me?"

"No. If you know Keegan is dangerous, even to you, then you know as much as we do. I doubt it will be enough."

"Well, someone has to know more!"

Juno shook her head, fading away in silence. Barbara stepped forward, pulling Lydia into a hug. Lydia hugged back, grateful for the support.

"Lydia, are you sure about this?"

"You didn't see that child's eyes," Lydia said, frustrated. "She's terrified. If I don't help her, who will?"

"Be careful and call us. Let us know how you are," Barbara told her, nodding in understanding.

Lydia spent a few more moments consoling and reassuring her family, before returning to Mrs. Allen's. Once there, she spent the remainder of the day practicing her sewing. She brooded on how little she knew, wondering how she could learn more. Lydia half expected Keegan to appear to taunt her, but no. The house seemed empty, except for her. Lydia's dreams, however, were full.

Lydia walked down the halls of Mrs. Allen's house, listening to the sounds of children laughing and playing. There was a note of distress to the laughter that made Lydia shiver.

"Lydia!" a voice called from the sewing room.

Lydia found the ghost of another, older child waiting for her, standing in the middle of sewing debris. Her long, blond hair was plaited in two braids behind each ear. She wore a yellow dress that reached halfway down her calves, the skirt full and clearly ironed to neatness. The child was smiling, but her eyes were weary and frightened.

"Hi. Were you calling me?" Lydia asked.

"Yes. I was Helen. Are you really going to help us?"

"I want to. I'm going to try. Can you tell me anything about Keegan?"

"A little. We only know a very little. I don't know where he comes from. I just know what he does to us."

"What does he do?"

"He feeds on us. He eats our magic, our ghost abilities, and makes them his."

"And you can't escape? Run to the afterlife?"

"No. Somehow, we've become bound to him. He says we're his by right. Some have tried to flee, but they always come back."

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" a female voice screamed.


Lydia sat up, giving a short scream, though more shocked than afraid. Standing over her bed was the figure of a young woman, who looked to be in her mid-twenties, only a few years older than Lydia herself. Her brown hair was done up in a tight bun. Lydia thought she looked like a school teacher from the forties.

"Who are you?"

"Who am I? Who are you? Do you have any idea what you're doing?"

"I'm trying to help."

"I give the children all the help they need!" the woman snapped. "I'm Miss Jennifer, their guardian."

"They seem to think they belong to Keegan."

Jennifer grimaced.

"I do what I can."

"Well it isn't enough! Diana said he feeds on them!"

"It's better than death, better than the lost souls' room!" Jennifer cried, wrapping her arms around her torso.

"You help him," Lydia accused, disgusted.

"Yes! I keep them hidden, keep him from prying eyes," Jennifer admitted, miserably. "I have to. If they capture him, exorcise him, the children will go with him! They're so bound to him, that they would share his fate."

"How are they bound to him? How does he capture them?"

"I don't know!" Jennifer pleaded. "He did the same to me, so many centuries ago, but I don't know how! I've spent my entire afterlife in servitude to him."

"Who are you? When did you die? If I can find out how you died, I might know how he captured you."

"My name was Jennifer Taylor, but I died in 1361! There'll be no records of me. I was ordinary. I died of sickness, a sudden fever."

"Are you sure he didn't kill you?"

"Fairly sure, yes."

"Did you meet Keegan, before you died?"

"No, how could I? He's a ghost or, at least, not really alive."

"You're a ghost and we're talking," Lydia reminded her.

"I never met him," Jennifer repeated, rolling her eyes. "I don't remember anything unusual happening, before I died."

"Fine. So, I'll just tell Juno what I've found."

"You can't!" Jennifer pleaded. "If the authorities find out so much, they might find him and the children will be in danger!"

"If you don't want me to go to Juno, you better start thinking of a way to help me get those kids away from Keegan!" Lydia warned.

Jennifer glared sulkily, then sighed.

"I can only think of one thing. I can do for you what I do for him...I can send you to another point in time. It's part of my ghost magic. I can send you, roughly, to the time before my death. If anything unusual or of note happened, maybe you can discover what it was."

Lydia stared, stunned, as the idea and all its implications dawned on her. She nodded, slowly.

"All right. I'll do it," she agreed, beginning to feel excited. This was certainly a step away from the humdrum world that had always seemed so oppressive.

"I can magic your clothes, but I won't be able to give you any money," Jennifer warned.

"I can sew. I'll find work," Lydia defended. "Stop stalling."

Jennifer stepped forward and blew air into Lydia's face. Lydia felt the blown air invade her mouth and nose, spreading to her ears.

"Now, you'll be able to speak and understand the language of the time," she explained, grabbing hold of Lydia's shoulders.

Lydia felt a chill wind surround her. She felt herself stagger as all of her senses fell into confusion. Lydia thought she heard voices from the past and future, while shadows and colors leapt before her. When things made sense again, Lydia saw she was standing beside a river. The area was heavily wooded, but Lydia saw a dirt path nearby. The weather was cool, but not cold, though the leaves on the tree had changed to reds, golds, and browns.

"Where is this?"

"We're three miles from London, but don't worry. It's still morning. You can be there well before dark. The walk will give you time to make up a history for yourself. I can't stay. I'll return for you after my death."

"When will that be?"

"I don't really remember. It could be weeks yet. I wanted to give you time to settle. Seek me out in the merchant district. Good luck."

Jennifer faded away, leaving Lydia on her own. Lydia sighed and headed for the path. She wondered, if Jennifer wanted her to succeed. Still, there was nothing to do, except try. At worse, if this was Jennifer's way of stranding her, Lydia would have to contact a ghost and hope someone in the afterlife could help her.

Lydia had to admit, though, that she needed the time to adjust. As promised, Jennifer had magicked Lydia's clothing. She was now wearing a cream colored kirtle, with an emerald green gown in the style of the times Jennifer had promised to send Lydia. The shoes were simple and not very comfortable. Still, things could be worse. Lydia just hoped she found a job quickly.

Lydia's thoughts were cut short by a sudden cry from her left. Turning, Lydia saw more trees, but could just make out where the path reappeared on the other side. Gathering her skirts close, she cut through the patch of forest, finding and picking up a heavy stick on the way. On the other side, she found a man standing over a young woman about Lydia's age on her knees. His hands were wrapped around the woman's throat.

Wielding the stick as a club, Lydia charged the man, hitting him hard in the side of the head. He toppled over, but didn't stay down. Snarling, he tackled Lydia, sending her backward towards the river's steep bank. Lydia struggled to her feet, but the man caught hold of her arm, backhanding her sharply. The blow made Lydia woozy, but she kept upright.

Still struggling to free herself, Lydia caught a glimpse of the other young lady over their attacker's shoulder. She rushed at him, with a dagger, but he saw Lydia's eyes widen and twisted away in time. Lydia took the opportunity to bring her knee up into the man's groin, but they were too close to the river. The man pitched forward, sending both himself and Lydia into the water.

Even in the water, the man continued his assault, trying to shove Lydia's head under the water. Lydia flailed, trying to shove away from the man, taking deep breaths, whenever she was able to break the surface of the river. Her attacker had just shoved Lydia back under the water, when he slumped onto her, his weight dragging her further beneath the surface. Lydia pounded against the man's body, her lungs aching and burning.

Lydia found herself released from the man's weight and felt something strong and hard wrap under her arm and across her chest, pulling her backward. She lost control and opened her mouth, swallowing a wave of water, just before her head broke the surface. Coughing and choking, she felt herself shoved upward, hands grabbing and pulling on her arm. Lydia lay across the river bank, coughing up water and struggling to get her breath back.

"Are you all right?" a gravelly voice asked.

Lydia nodded, managing to sit up right.

"Yes, thank you. I'm fine."

Lydia looked up at the man, pushing her hair away from her face. She found a handsome man of medium height. His arms, shoulders, and chest seemed lean and muscular, though he had a bit of a stomach. He had curly brown hair with blond highlights that was cut fairly short, ending at the bottom of his neck, though shorter on the sides. His blue eyes examined Lydia intently. Despite the circumstances, his finely arched eyebrows conveyed humor at the situation.

Lydia thought he looked familiar, but reminded herself that she was several centuries in her past.

"Of course she isn't fine! She must be freezing!" the young woman scolded, bringing a cloak over and wrapping it around Lydia's shoulders. "My name is Gwen Edwards and this is my cousin, Betelgeuse."

"Betelgeuse?" Lydia repeated numbly.

Neither Gwen nor Betelgeuse seemed to find her reaction odd. He merely shrugged, turning to tend to his and his cousin's horses. Fortunately, Gwen's mount hadn't bolted, during the attack. Lydia looked questioningly at her, trying to absorb what was happening.

"It's an unusual name," Gwen agreed, using the cloak to dab at the water on Lydia's face and making light conversation in order to give Lydia a chance to recover. "He's named after a star in the constellation of Orion. Do you know the constellations? His mother thought it sounded fancy, I suppose."

Lydia nodded, dumbly, attempting to smile.

"Betelgeuse Edwards is a ridiculous name, even I admit that," Betelgeuse declared, coming to stand over them. "I found the scoundrel's horse. This must be yours."

He tossed a leather purse onto Lydia's lap, making her jump. She looked up at him with wide eyes. Betelgeuse stared down at her, a slight, sly smile playing on his lips.

"Wh-who is..."

"Was. Unless he can survive two crossbow bolts in the chest, he's dead," Betelgeuse answered indifferently. "I don't know his name, but I've seen him on some wanted posters."

"Betelgeuse, we need to get to London. She'll catch a chill," Gwen urged.

Betelgeuse shrugged.

"Her horse is gone, but she can always use the highwayman's. Can you stand, girl?"

"My name is Lydia Deetz," she said, grateful that Delia, in an attempt at family bonding, had decided they would all take horse back riding lessons together. Charles, as always, had gone along with his wife's whims, though he had hated the experience. Lydia had enjoyed the riding itself, though at the time she hadn't gotten along well with her step-mother.

"Can you stand, yet, Mistress Deetz?" Betelgeuse asked again, pointedly.

"Yes," Lydia said, standing and trying not to sway.

Lydia clasped the highwayman's purse, awkwardly, wondering what to do with it. Betelgeuse took it and placed it back in the horse's saddlebag. Lydia followed him to the horse and he helped her to mount. Gwen came up beside her, smiling kindly.

"Don't worry. Whatever you've been through, it's over now and I'm sure my parents will help you."

Lydia nodded, unsure what to say. Fortunately, she wasn't pressed for answers. They reached London shortly. Betelgeuse led them to a townhouse in the wealthy district. In a daze, Lydia found herself greeted and fussed over, as Betelgeuse gave a short explanation of how they had found her. She was given a bath and clothes, presumably borrowed from Gwen, to wear. Once she was clothed and fed, Lydia was shown into a study, where an old gentleman of about fifty sat behind a desk.

"Ah, Miss Deetz, please come in. My name is Martin Edwards. My nephew was telling me about your little adventure this afternoon. I know you've been through a terrible ordeal. Were you on your way to London, child?"

"Yes," Lydia told him, deciding to answer as simply as she could.

"Yes, of course. Do you know what happened to your escort?"

"I think we can make a good guess," Betelgeuse answered for her. "If they don't turn up in a day or two, I doubt they ever will, Uncle Martin."

"Sadly, yes," Martin Edwards agreed. "Have you any place to stay? Any family or friends in London?"

"No, sir. I'm supposed to meet friends here, but they're traveling and I don't know when, exactly, to expect them," Lydia improvised.

"My nephew has told me that the scum who attacked my niece attacked you first, taking your purse and driving away your horse. I'm very glad that you managed to get it back. Is there anyone we can contact for you? If there is, I'll be glad to send messengers, to anywhere you care to name."

Lydia looked at her lap, feeling a bit ashamed at the need to lie, even by omission. She shook her head silently. Fortunately, it had only been ten years since London was ravaged by plague and it was easy for the old gentleman to make assumptions. He reached over and patted her hand.

"Never mind. Miss Lydia, I can't repay you enough for saving my daughter. Betelgeuse assures me he wouldn't have been in time, if you hadn't helped her. I'd be honored, if you would accept the hospitality of my house."

"Thank you. I don't know how long I'll be in London and I don't want to be a bother," Lydia said, unsure of herself.

"You are very far from a bother," Edwards assured her. "You are welcome to stay as long as you are in London. I'll make sure your money is handled wisely...for the rest of your life, if God wills it."

Lydia gazed steadily at Martin Edwards. His expression was kind and earnest. She might have been suspicious of his offer for her money, except the money wasn't actually hers, she reminded herself. Also, it was the custom for men to be in charge. She was unsure of how she felt about being in the care of Betelgeuse's uncle, but she recalled that Betelgeuse himself hadn't been good at hiding his selfish intentions. Smiling, she nodded.

"Thank you. I'll be glad to stay, if you'd like."

"Done!" Edwards cried, smiling brightly. "I'll have Lucinda and the servants prepare you a room. We'll be eating supper fairly soon. I believe Gwen is in the sitting room. You can join her there and rest a bit, until then."

"Thank you. I really do appreciate everything."

"No, thank you. Perhaps I'm a sentimental fool, but only two of my children have survived and it would devastate me to lose either of them. You've spared me that, for now at least."

"Welcome to London, Miss Deetz," Betelgeuse told her, visibly amused.

"Thank you," Lydia responded, uncertainly.

Edwards shook his head.

"Don't worry about my nephew, Miss Deetz. He's rarely as somber as he should be, but he means well enough for all that."

"You don't have to spread that around, Uncle," Betelgeuse protested, smirking. "You'll ruin my reputation."

"I'm sure you'll get the reputation you deserve," Lydia said, unable to resist, seeing the ghost in the living man.

Edwards and Betelgeuse both stared at her in amazement. Betelgeuse gave a lazy grin, his eyes filling with challenge. Lydia stared steadily back, refusing to back down to him. The exchange was interrupted by a burst of laughter from Edwards.

"Well said, Miss Lydia. Nephew, it's not like you to keep quiet. What do you think of her prediction?"

Betelgeuse shrugged.

"Oh, I'm sure she's right," he said, cheerfully.

Edwards stood, coming out from behind his desk.

"Very well, you two, very well. We'll have to work at making you friends. Miss Lydia, will you allow my nephew to show you to the sitting room? I must speak with Lucinda."

"Yes, of course," Lydia agreed obediently.

"Excellent, excellent," Edwards gushed, leaving the other two behind.

Betelgeuse stood and motioned for Lydia to follow him. He led her back to the first floor, ushering her into a room in the back. The fireplace was giving off a welcome heat. Gwen sat on a cushioned stool, near the fire, working on some embroidery. Betelgeuse stopped at the doorway and motioned Lydia inside.

"Here you are, Miss Lydia. You'll have to manage without me. I have things to do."

"We'll be fine, thank you," Lydia responded, dryly.

Betelgeuse grinned provocatively at her, looking her over in a way that made her itch to slap him. Gwen cleared her throat.

"Well, don't let us keep you, cousin. We know you're a busy man."

"Yes, I am," Betelgeuse agreed, smirking.

Lydia watched him leave, relieved and a bit ashamed. She hadn't been very gracious, considering he had saved her life. Lydia pulled a stool up next to Gwen, sighing tiredly. Gwen smiled kindly at her.

"I'm sorry. That was rude. I'll apologize to him, later."

Gwen laughed.

"Oh, no, please don't! I love my cousin, but he can be very provoking. It's good to see him set down, occasionally. He'll respect you more for standing your ground."

"I suppose. He hinted that his reputation..."

"It isn't the best. In fact, it's probably worse than he deserves," Gwen sighed, then shrugged. "Well, you may as well know from the start. Goodness knows, the other families will be eager enough to gossip about him. Betelgeuse is my Uncle John's illegitimate son. When Uncle John died, Father brought my cousin to live here."

"He can't help his birth."

"Well, no, but...Betelgeuse doesn't have the best manners," Gwen tried to explain, shrugging. "You saw how he looked at you. He's a bit too free with women...with everything."

Lydia bit her lip, already planning ways to avoid Betelgeuse as best she could. Unfortunately, this proved almost impossible. She was living in the same house as he was, a fact she could barely fathom. She saw him at least twice a day, at meals, and generally far more often. Lydia couldn't help feeling that he was haunting her while alive, when she was continually running into him on the stairs and sharing space with him in the sitting room.

Lydia sat staring pensively at Betelgeuse, comparing the living man to the ghost he would become. She was surprised at how dark his hair was, given the straggly, blond locks he had after death. Without the dark rings around them, Betelgeuse's eyes were a bright blue, generally glinting with good, if rude, humor, though Lydia had, once or twice, seen them darkened with rage. His body, in both forms, was strong, despite his beer belly. Of course, Lydia now realized that Betelgeuse drank ale and wine almost exclusively, because the water was frequently dirty and a health risk.

The living Betelgeuse was, naturally, far cleaner than his ghost. He was generally well-groomed, for the standards of the time, which were more scrupulous than many people in the future believed. His hair was combed and his clothing neat. Today, Betelgeuse was wearing dark gray hose, with a dark red tunic. He wore a belt, purse, and a scabbard with a dagger in it. Lydia tried to imagine him in a cleaner version of his ghost's striped suit with black tie and found it distressingly easy.

"Your undivided attention would be flattering, if you didn't look like you expect me to grow a snake's head and jump out at you," Betelgeuse observed, amused.

"Is that something I should worry about?" Lydia retorted, a bit grimly.

To her relief, Betelgeuse burst into startled, but delighted, laughter. Gwen and her mother exchanged glances. They were following the interactions between Betelgeuse and Lydia with avid interest. Though their manner towards each other seemed indifferent, something told the ladies that there was something else simmering beneath the surface. They sneaked glances at Betelgeuse, who had sat forward on his bench to study Lydia.

"Well, I haven't quite mastered the snake's head, yet," Betelgeuse told her, with mock regret.

What have you mastered?, Lydia thought.

"That 'yet' isn't comforting," she observed dryly.

"Don't swell his head, Lydia," Lucinda warned. "My nephew is many things, but he's no heretic or sorcerer."

Lydia couldn't help laughing, a bit bashfully. Betelgeuse just grinned, going back to playing with his cards. Lydia gazed out the window, watching the snow falling. Gwen leaned closer to Lydia, to share her view.

"Beautiful isn't it? We should buy you some ice skates tomorrow. The lakes and ponds in Hampstead Heath will be frozen over very soon."

"You'll have to teach me how to skate, then," Lydia warned.

"Of course, I will!" Gwen promised cheerfully.

Gwen kept her word. A few days later, a favorite lake in the parks of Hampstead was deemed solid enough for safe skating. Lydia and Gwen went right after the morning meal. Lydia was surprised to find that Betelgeuse, at Lucinda's insistence, would be escorting them. The lady of the house had errands to run and felt her nephew's business could be postponed for a few hours. Betelgeuse agreed readily enough, bringing along his own skates.

Lydia regretted Betelgeuse's presence, at first. Gwen was more willing than skilled as a teacher, a fact Betelgeuse found endlessly amusing. The more he laughed at them, as they stumbled and fell about, the more his laughter seemed, to Lydia, to take on the cackling quality of his ghostly self.

Betelgeuse stood out on the ice, watching as Lydia and Gwen once again fell over. Glaring, Lydia made a firm snowball and threw it directly at him, hitting him solidly in the chest, knocking him over. Gwen gasped, trying not to laugh, unsure how her cousin would react. Grinning, Betelgeuse regained his feet, skating over to the girls. He held his hand out to Lydia.

"Why don't you let me try?" he asked, challenging her.

Lydia hesitated, still not trusting him, though she knew she was safe enough. Alive, Betelgeuse wanted nothing from her, seeing her only as a source of amusement. The challenge he offered was too much to resist, however. She placed her hand in his. He pulled firmly but steadily, helping her to remain upright.

"Don't move," he ordered, kneeling down.

"What are you doing?" Lydia asked, trying to sound confused, rather than suspicious.

"Tightening your skates," Betelgeuse answered, matching actions to words.

Lydia couldn't help wincing a bit, as he tightened them past what she was used to. He shrugged.

"You'll get used to it. You need them tight to help support your ankles. Now, bend your knees a bit and keep your weight forward. Bending backward won't do anything, but put you on your arse."

"So, I'm going to land on my chin, instead, if I fall."

"You're not gonna fall," Betelgeuse assured her, "not until I let go of you anyway and that won't be until you learn to balance yourself, at least somewhat."

Lydia nodded, taking hold of his arm in a tight grip. She had to admit that Betelgeuse was a better instructor than his cousin, carefully correcting her posture and movements as he escorted her around the lake. Lydia made sure his hands stayed away from her rump and chest, though that was simple enough. For whatever reason, he was behaving with her, possibly to avoid trouble with his uncle.

"You're wearing that look again."

"What look?" Lydia asked, starting a bit, which made her lean more heavily on him.

"That look that says you're wondering what I'm up to."

"Are you up to anything?" Lydia asked with exaggerated innocence.

"Usually," Betelgeuse confirmed, grinning. "Not at the moment, though, unless you'd like me to be."

"No, but thanks for offering," Lydia told him, then said in a friendlier voice, "and thank you for teaching me how to skate."

"You're..." Betelgeuse began, before pitching forward.

Lydia felt something small and hard hit her in the small of her back, sending her plummeting with Betelgeuse to the ice. When she stopped sliding, she looked back and saw a small boy of about seven sprawled nearby. He was dressed poorly in tattered clothing that was a bit too big, the probable castoffs of an older brother.

The boy looked at Betelgeuse, in his rich clothing, with horror. Lydia bit her lip. She'd been in the past long enough for the realities of this society and it's classes to be clear. She knew, if he wanted, Betelgeuse could beat, even half kill, the boy and no one would protest. Looking around, Lydia saw that many of the skaters had stopped and were watching eagerly to see what happened next. Betelgeuse, though, just shook his head, chuckling lightly.

"That, my little man, is why you keep your eyes ahead of you, not on your skates," he told the boy, who nodded silently. "Apologize to the lady."

"'m sorry, Mistress," the boy said, his voice trembling.

Lydia smiled gently at him, dragging herself to her feet.

"It's all right. No one's hurt," she assured him.

Betelgeuse stood, looking around at the watching crowd.

"What are you idiots gawking at? Haven't you ever seen a boy before?" he demanded roughly, spitting in their direction.

The crowd dispersed, some of them glaring at Betelgeuse, others at the boy. Lydia touched Betelgeuse's arm to distract him. He turned back to her and the boy, ruffling the child's hair.

"Go on, then, boy. Try to keep your feet," Betelgeuse advised, his humor restored.

Grinning, the boy skated off, wobbling, but looking ahead of him. Lydia let herself relax, turning back to her companion.

"Thank you for taking it easy on him."

Betelgeuse shrugged.

"He's just a boy," Betelgeuse said, then grinned. "Not much to make a fuss about. It was like an acorn hitting an oak tree."

"That acorn knocked us both over," Lydia pointed out, smiling.

"Well, yeah...it was actually kinda fun," Betelgeuse admitted, chuckling, holding out his arm for her to take.

Lydia laughed, taking his arm. They glided back onto the ice, joining Gwen.

"You're doing splendidly, Lydia," Gwen encouraged. "Well done, cousin."

"Thank goodness," Lydia said, smiling. "It's getting too cold to be laying on the ice."

"In fact, we should go soon," Betelgeuse declared. "I do have to speak with some people today."

"Can't it wait?" Gwen protested. "I want to stop and buy some fabric and laces!"

"Is that necessary?" Betelgeuse asked, annoyed.

"I'd appreciate it, too," Lydia told him. "I haven't been able to do much, except assist Gwen and I'd like to start some sewing of my own."

Betelgeuse rolled his eyes.

"Fine, but I'm going to leave you there and run my own errands," he warned.

"We don't care," Gwen assured him, hastily.

"All right, once more around, then we'll go," Betelgeuse sighed, pulling away from them.

Lydia and Gwen linked arms, following at a more sedate pace.

"He can be so rude," Gwen sighed.

"What sort of business is he in?" Lydia asked, making Gwen snort and giggle.

"Who knows? Betelgeuse is a member of the same guild as Father, the Guild of Mercers. When Betelgeuse came to live with us, Father had him apprenticed to a wealthy friend. Father is an alderman and even served as a sheriff of London, when he was younger."

"Betelgeuse's business sounds very respectable," Lydia said, slyly.

"I doubt it!" Gwen laughed. "I'm usually too far away to hear, but I've seen my cousin make other men very, very angry."

"Ah, that must be a perk of his position," Lydia speculated, laughing lightly.

"Most likely," Gwen agreed, giggling.

Laughing and chatting, the girls put on a burst of speed, towards the end of the lap, catching up with Betelgeuse, who was waiting by the side of the lake. He gave their skates to a servant, who had come along to attend them, keeping track of their shoes and goods. Once the girls were in shoes suitable for town, Betelgeuse dismissed the servant, while Betelgeuse and the girls headed back into town.

As promised, Betelgeuse left the girls in Threadneedle Street to do their shopping. Lydia watched him go with some amusement, before Gwen tugged her by the arm into a nearby shop. Lydia grinned, looking around at the colorful fabrics and sewing items laid out to attract customers. Fortunately, Martin Edwards did a good job of managing Lydia's finances and she had enough money to buy a good set of sewing equipment and fabrics.

She headed into the back of the shop, then stopped abruptly, seeing a young worker, sweeping the floor. Lydia struggled to control her breathing as she encountered the second living person, whose ghost she had already met. Jennifer Taylor looked up and gave her a polite smile.

"G'day, miss," she said softly, her blue eyes going meekly to the floor.

"Good day," Lydia returned, forcing a smile. "You have some lovely fabrics and laces."

"Thank you, miss. I'll be glad to show you some of our finer items."

"Thank you. I need some good woolen fabrics for this winter."

"Of course, miss," Jennifer said mildly.

Jennifer brought over some rich fabrics, laying the out on a low bench for Lydia to examine them. As she bent forward, a lovely cross came into view. The cross had a brassy look to it and was covered in bright enamels. Jennifer noticed Lydia's gaze on it and covered it nervously with her hand.

"It's only copper and enamel, miss. It was my mum's and came to me, when she died," Jennifer explained.

Lydia smiled, warmly.

"It's very lovely," she said. "Is it very old?"

"Not so very much. My papa made it for her as a gift, when they were wed. That was about twenty-five years ago, I think."

Lydia nodded, forcing her mind back on business. She bought enough fabric and accessories to provide her with many hours of work. Speaking and haggling with Jennifer, Lydia tried not to speculate on how the young woman would die. Winter was coming and Lydia knew that would be a dangerous time for rich and poor alike. Lydia reminded herself that she was playing a waiting game. Fortunately, Lydia's interest in sewing would allow her to spend plenty of time here, keeping an eye on Jennifer's health and watching for any sign of Keegan.

As the weeks passed, Lydia had to remind herself that she was merely visiting this time. The Edwards' townhouse was beginning to feel like home to her, as her days settled into an easy pattern of sewing and socializing. She spent the brightest hours of the day making trips into town to visit Gwen's friends. The last hours of daylight were always spent in this sitting room, usually sewing, though also taking part in parlor games with the rest of the family. Betelgeuse generally had a pack of playing cards nearby and had started teaching her various games.

Lydia sat with Betelgeuse at opposite ends of a bench, as he showed her how to play piquet. Lydia smiled and laughed, as he tried to cover his attempts at cheating by regaling her with amusing stories of people he knew in the city.

"...I'm trying to do business and this beautiful and I do mean beautiful girl asks Jacques to dance. He tells her no, that he has a girl at home, in France. I ask him when he became engaged, because I know damn well he isn't! He admits as much and the girl--Anna, Hanna, Helen, whatever--she asks if he and his love--her words, not mine--have an understanding. Again, he says no! The girl points out that he wouldn't be breaching faith by dancing with her, right? The idiot tells her that he's made vows in his heart, even if his love has no idea of his affection for her!" Betelgeuse laughed.

"I suppose you stepped in to keep the poor girl company?" Lydia asked, amused.

"Damn right, I did," Betelgeuse agreed, grinning wickedly.

Lydia rolled her eyes, but couldn't help smiling. She tossed him the card deck.

"It's your deal," she said pointedly.

"Yes, mistress," Betelgeuse agreed drolly.

"I was right," Lydia laughed. "You do deserve your reputation."

"I don't see why," Betelgeuse protested. "I'm a man. I like women. How is that wrong?"

"No one objects to you liking women," Lydia assured him dryly. "We just want you to respect us, too. Women are people."

Betelgeuse wrinkled his nose.

"Well, sure, but it's not exactly a point in their favor."

"Oh, so you're a misanthrope!" Lydia declared, smiling smugly, but Betelgeuse shook his head.

"Wrong again, Miss Lydia," he corrected. "I love people. They amuse me endlessly. There's not much I wouldn't do to help someone, if I can and they ask me."

"For a price?" Lydia asked, dryly.

"Maybe, if they had something I needed or wanted. If not, hell, I'd probably do it anyways. You never know when you might need a favor."

"Your lack of rules isn't comforting either," she told him.

"I just don't see the point to them."

"Betelgeuse!" Lydia protested, unwillingly laughing, both amused and annoyed.

"Would you like an example?"

Lydia hesitated for a moment, then nodded.

"Sure, give me an example."

"'Thou shalt not kill.' Good rule, right? Hell, I like it! Don't go around ending lives, live and let live, don't let hate rule you. Sounds great to me."

Lydia stared warily at him.

"I'm worried about where you're going with this, but I'm glad you're generally in favor of letting people live."

"I generally am," Betelgeuse agreed, slyly, but then his smile became cold, his mood shifting abruptly, "until I come across some pignut trying to drown a young woman in a river, after assaulting my own cousin. Then, Miss Lydia, I'm going to put a couple of crossbows bolts in him and let God deal with the maggot-pie."

"Okay, but that doesn't change the fact that killing, in most cases, is wrong," Lydia said meekly.

Betelgeuse shrugged.

"No, but there are always exceptions to rules. Always. What's the point of a rule that's destined to be broken? A rule is something you obey, that you modify your behavior around. If there's an exception, then it's not a rule. It's a guideline."

"Okay, fine, you don't have rules, you have guidelines," Lydia conceded, smiling.

"I don't have very many of those either, actually. I pretty much just make it up as I go along," Betelgeuse admitted, grinning again.

"Betelgeuse..." Lydia began, her tone stern.

Betelgeuse threw his hands over his face dramatically.

"Betelgeuse, you horrible, horrible man!" he cried, snickering.

Lydia couldn't help laughing. Reaching over, she tapped him on the shoulder.

"Betelgeuse," she repeated, waiting for him to take his hands away from his face. When he had, she continued, smiling, "I don't think you're horrible. Also, I never did thank you for saving my life that day, so thank you."

"You're very welcome," he told her, smiling more naturally.

"That doesn't mean I agree with you, though."

"No, no, no. I wouldn't expect you to," he assured her. "I mean, just because I'm right..."

"It's your turn," Lydia interrupted.

Betelgeuse gave a mocking little bow. She realized, with a start, that she and Betelgeuse had, at some point, become friends. Lydia hadn't forgotten the ghost Betelgeuse would become, but knowing him as a man had softened her memories of him. He was still crude--a rough, sly man, with lewd manners-- but he helped her, when she needed it. Cards and ice-skating were only some of the things Betelgeuse had taught Lydia.

Lydia was grateful to have such a patient teacher. Betelgeuse and Gwen had both insisted early on that Lydia learn how to dance, a skill she needed now. Friends of Martin Edwards, the Mercer family, were giving a grand ball for certain families of high rank in London social circles. Lydia found herself decked out in silks, wearing a jeweled hair net. She shivered inside the Edwards' carriage. The weather had turned rough a couple of hours ago and rain was pelting down, making it dark early.

Lydia wrapped her cloak tighter against her, as she stepped out into the rain. Betelgeuse landed rather heavily beside her, grimacing a bit as the rain hit his face.

"Go on inside and wait in the foyer!" he instructed Lydia and Gwen, raising his voice a bit to be heard over the wind. "I'll take care of the carriage and horses and meet you there!"

The girls both nodded, lifting their hems to keep them out of the rain and dirt on the ground. They ran for the door, but Lydia felt a hand grab her wrist and was pulled into the neighboring alley. By the dim light of some nearby torches, Lydia saw a woman about Betelgeuse's age, still pretty, though a bit coarse in her features. She released Lydia and pushed brown, straggly hair away from her eyes. Lydia shivered, stepping under the overhanging thatch of the nearest roof, trying to keep out of the rain.

"Hello," Lydia offered, a bit confused. "May I help you?"

The woman gave a sly grin, tugging a bit at her plain wool gown, not seeming to mind the weather. She shrugged with artful carelessness.

"Not much you can do for me, miss, but maybe there is something I can do for you?"

"What do you mean?"

The girl looked around, still smiling, before turning back to Lydia.

"I know things, miss. I can see stuff most others can't, y'see? I can tell you things you might want to know about."

Lydia tilted her head, intrigued now.

"You tell fortunes?"

"That's right, miss," the woman told her, grinning. "I can see something special about you, you know. You're kinda lost, but not, too. A long way from home and looking for something."

"Something like that, yeah," Lydia agreed. "Can you tell what I'll find?"

"For a coin, miss. Cross my palm with silver and I'll read yours," the woman bartered, holding out her hand. "Gotta earn my bread, y'see."

Lydia hesitated, but then reached into her purse, looking for a small coin. Another hand grabbed her wrist though, this one larger and stronger. Lydia gasped, looking up, fearing she had been led into a trap. Lightning flared across the sky, casting odd lights and shadows. For just a second or two, Lydia swore she saw Betelgeuse with dark circles around his eyes and a wild mane of blond hair. Lydia instinctively looked to see if the fortune teller had noticed anything and was a bit repulsed at the sudden hunger on the woman's face.

"Betelgeuse," the woman crooned, breaking whatever spell there had been.

Betelgeuse, his living self, gave the woman a mocking bow, pulling Lydia just a bit closer.

"Good evening, Effie," he said. "Bad night to be out in."

"A woman has to earn a living," Effie retorted, stepping closer to him. "You interrupted. I was about to tell the young miss her fortune."

"She doesn't need to hear your predictions," Betelgeuse sneered.

"Oh! Now, what's wrong?" Effie mocked. "Tell me, Betelgeuse, what worries you more? That I might be right or that I might be wrong? Just give me your palm, miss!"

She made to grab Lydia's hand, but Betelgeuse released Lydia and grabbed Effie's wrist harshly.

"Keep your hands to yourself, witch," he warned.

"My, my, you're in a forceful mood!" Effie teased. "Does she know?"

"I know as much as I need to," Lydia interrupted, sharply, making Effie laugh.

Reaching up, Effie placed a hand intimately on Betelgeuse's chest. He grabbed that hand as well, twisting both of her hands away from him.

"Oh, so blind, the people around you," she purred. "You can't see his inner strength...such a strong soul."

"If you want someone strong to twist your arms for you, I can recommend a few blacksmiths and stable boys," Betelgeuse told her.

"I don't want strength. I want power! I want that little extra something that shines so darkly from you!" she huffed. "You know the Germans have a word for you--poltergeist!"

"I don't give a damn what anyone calls me."

"What about you, pretty miss? Do you care what sort of soul he has?" Effie mocked. "Does he make you feel safe? Or is there a place in the back of your mind that shivers, whenever a shadow falls over him? Do you like it?"

"Stay out of my mind," Lydia commanded, taking a step forward.

"Or what?" Effie snapped.

Betelgeuse pulled a dagger and placed it firmly at Effie's throat.

"That's enough, witch. I won't tolerate threats against anyone in my uncle's household."

"Threat? I made no threat," Effie protested, still smiling.

Betelgeuse released Effie, then placed his knife back in it's scabbard.

"We've wasted enough time on you. I suggest you leave, before my cousin realizes you are here."

"Gwen?" Effie asked, incredulously.

"No, Father Steven. I think he's attending with the bishop."

Effie glowered, making Betelgeuse smirk in triumph. Taking Lydia's arm, Betelgeuse escorted her back into the dance. Lydia stared at him in amazement and with a bit of disapproval.

"Who was that and what was that about?" Lydia demanded.

"Her name is Euphemina. She's a fortune-teller and a witch...and, yes, I bedded her. Only once though. She wants power, magic, and thinks, for some odd reason, that I can give it to her."

"She told you your fortune?"

"In a way, yes. She told me I would have a great magic...once I was dead. I rather got the impression that she thought dying would be the best thing for me and maybe her as well."

"Oh," Lydia breathed, grimacing a bit.

"Yeah, that was about how I felt about it," Betelgeuse agreed, chuckling.

"Betelgeuse," a voice called.

Turning, Lydia saw a man dressed in the clerical robes. He was a bit taller than Betelgeuse and his head was shaved, but he had the same bright, blue eyes. Lydia gave a smile in greeting, curtsying slightly. Betelgeuse plastered on a fake smile, turning to his cousin.

"Why, Father Steven, fancy meeting you here!" Betelgeuse declared insincerely.

"You knew I would be here, cousin," the clergyman scolded, unsmiling. "Please, introduce me to the young lady."

"Lydia, Cousin 'Father Steven' Edwards. Father, this is Lydia Deetz, the heroine that rescued our fair cousin."

"It's a pleasure to meet you at last," Steven declared, smiling slightly. "I regret my duties haven't allowed me to make your acquaintance earlier."

"That's all right. It's nice to meet you," Lydia assured him.

"I hope my cousin has been appropriately attentive," Steven said.

"I haven't tried bedding her, if that's what you mean," Betelgeuse sneered.

"Betelgeuse!" Steven snapped. "That is not the sort of comment an innocent maid needs to hear!"

"They why did you ask?" Betelgeuse challenged, real anger in his voice.

"Gentlemen!" Lydia interrupted. She frowned at them both, but a bit more severely at Steven. "I suppose you meant well, Father Steven, but Betelgeuse didn't deserve that comment. He's been very kind and hasn't wronged me in any way!"

Lydia was proud of herself for keeping a straight face, but she reasoned that, technically, it was true. Betelgeuse hadn't wronged her and wouldn't for another six hundred years. She was pleased, when Father Steven looked a bit ashamed, sighing slightly.

"Forgive me. Sometimes, my zeal overrides my charity. I know my cousin is capable of good behavior. I merely wish he was more eager to embrace certain forms of self-control."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm a misguided wretch," Betelgeuse groused, rolling his eyes.

"As are we all!" Steven agreed, a bit sharply. "Still, I didn't come over here to be a scold, cousin. I merely wanted to make the acquaintance of Miss Lydia, who, from what I've heard, has practically become a member of our family."

"Well, there she is. Acquaint yourself," Betelgeuse offered. "Dance with her. She's had a good teacher."

Lydia laughed, shaking her head.

"We don't know that, Betelgeuse. I haven't actually danced in public, yet."

"You wound me," Betelgeuse mourned, placing his hand over his heart.

"Betelgeuse, you know it is against my vows to dance," Steven sighed.

"So, it is," Betelgeuse agreed, smirking. "Enjoy your chat. I'm going to do the dancing my cousin is not allowed."

He sauntered off, leaving Lydia and Steven alone. Steven made a scoffing noise, drawing a look of sympathy from Lydia.

"You're just encouraging him, you know," she warned him.

"Yes, my cousin can be rather perverse, I'm afraid."

"When he wants to be," Lydia agreed, lightly. "Do you know why?"

"Do you?" Steven asked skeptically.

"I might. I think he enjoys provoking people, especially people who are easily provoked. He knows he's judged, so he gives them something to judge him for. It's his way of laughing at them."

"You can't condone that," Steven asserted.

"No, not really, but he's my friend. Anyway, what can I do?"

"What, indeed?" Steven asked, his attention drawn to the party.

Lydia followed his gaze and saw Betelgeuse standing next to a group of women, some guests and some servants. Smirking, he was leaning into the space of the prettiest servant and running a hand down her backside. The servant pulled away, but she was laughing, even as she hit him in the arm. The nearest guest sniffed haughtily and Betelgeuse made an exaggerated, and blatantly fake, expression of remorse. He offered his arm to the lady, who smiled smugly, allowing Betelgeuse to lead her out onto the floor.

Lydia looked around, wondering how the rest of the party were reacting to Betelgeuse's antics. She saw Martin shaking his head wearily, while Lucinda pretended not to notice anything. Most of the men were looking at Betelgeuse with various levels of disapproval and disdain, a few with outright contempt. The women were more divided, some sneering, while others seemed fondly amused. Lydia found herself amused, when she noticed Betelgeuse sneaking glances at the crowd, observing their reactions.

"He'll never make a good marriage, not so long as he acts the fool in this way," Steven sighed.

"It is an act, though," Lydia told him. "If he ever decides to marry, he'll..."

"He'll what?" Steven prompted, making Lydia laugh, trying to conceal her embarrassment.

"Honestly, I don't want to think about it," Lydia admitted, unwillingly recalling her own aborted wedding to him. "But, you said yourself, he can behave, when he chooses."

"You think he'd do so for a wife?" Steven asked.

"I don't know," Lydia said, honestly. "Maybe someday we'll find out. Please, excuse me."

Lydia walked into the party, where Betelgeuse had released one partner and was trying to cajole another out onto the dance floor. Lydia greeted the ladies and Steven watched as she commandeered Betelgeuse's attention, drawing him to the dance floor.

Steven watched them, working his way around the edge of the dance floor, greeting the dancers and onlookers. To his surprise, Betelgeuse behaved during his dance with his young friend, leading her respectably around the dance area. He was even more surprised, when Betelgeuse led Lydia back to Steven, after their dance.

"I'm glad you came back. I forgot to mention something. A group, including the Duchess Elena and her daughter, are going horseback riding tomorrow. She wanted me to invite my uncle's household."

"That sounds wonderful," Lydia agreed, as Betelgeuse shrugged his acceptance.

The next day was bright and cold. Lydia was surprised to see Effie working as a servant for the Duchess, handing out meat pies and goblets of wine, in a clearing where everyone had gathered. Despite the merry company, Lydia couldn't help dwelling on her encounter with Effie in the alleyway. Effie seemed to know about Betelgeuse, the ghost he would become. Lydia wondered if the witch could tell her something about Keegan. She walked over and accepted a goblet of wine.

"I wanted to ask you about something," Lydia told Effie, handing her a coin, "but, not about Betelgeuse. I'll ask him, if I want to know something. I want to ask you about someone named Keegan."

"Is that the tall, gray man? This may seem odd, from me, but maybe you should see a priest about him."

"If you can recommend one that will believe me, I might."

"No," Effie admitted, "I can't. I can only tell you that Keegan is evil and not to be trifled with."

"So everyone keeps telling me," Lydia said bitterly.

"Whatever it is you're looking for? You've already seen it. You just haven't recognized it yet," Effie said, staring hard at Lydia, as if trying to solve a puzzle.

"Can you see what it is?"

"No, not yet. Maybe once you get closer to it," Effie said, apologetically. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about Betelgeuse?"

"Why? What do you know about him that you think I need to know?"

"I don't think you need to know. I'm just surprised you aren't more curious. For instance, I know you met him, when you were younger, but the first time he met was you was on the riverbank."

"What do you want from him, really?" Lydia asked, a bit annoyed.

"I don't know. When I first met him, I thought he and I could create magic together, do amazing things! Now...maybe I just want him to admit I'm right."

"That's not how he does things. Are you in love with him?"

"Oh, Heaven has spared me that much!" Effie laughed. "No. I like him and sometimes I lust for him, but...we bring out the worst in each other and I'm not such a fool."

"Am I in danger? Is someone going to...trap me?"

"Yes, but who isn't? Keegan wants to trap you, but you have something up your sleeve...a hidden protection."

"I really don't, though," Lydia protested, making Effie laugh.

"Oh, you do, my innocent miss. Don't worry. You'll figure it out."

"Thank you," Lydia told her, softly, walking away.

"Be careful riding today," Effie called out suddenly, frowning.

Lydia turned back, then nodded gravely. She mounted her horse, Amber, riding to the edge of a circle of others, watching a race. The day was filled with races and people wandering along paths together, in pairs or groups. Lydia had made a few friends among the people present, but she tended to stay close to either Gwen or Betelgeuse.

As a small group, including Lydia and Betelgeuse, headed back to the clearing, a branch, heavy with snow and ice, cracked loudly and fell onto Amber's rump. The poor animal felt the falling branch like a lash and bolted ahead, driven by surprise and Lydia's startled scream. Lydia clung to Amber's neck, trying to pull on the reins, to get the horse to stop. Unfortunately, the reins fell and Lydia had to use both hands to cling to her horse's neck or risk falling off. She kept her head down against Amber's neck, to avoid the surrounding tree branches.

The only good news was that Amber kept to the beaten path, instead of plunging deep into the surrounding woods. Clinging, Lydia heard her name being called and managed to look back over her shoulder to see Betelgeuse pursuing. He was trying to catch up, but only managed to come up halfway behind her.

"Throw me the reins, Lydia," he shouted.

Trembling, Lydia forced herself to let go on one side, trying to toss the reins backwards, while maintaining her balance. She threw the reins, but only weakly and they missed Betelgeuse's hand by inches. Gasping, Lydia tried again, but threw her balance off, almost sliding off of her horse. She heard Betelgeuse swearing profusely, as she righted herself and once more clung to her horse's neck, breathing in the heavy scent of animal and sweat.

Looking back, she could see Betelgeuse had managed to gain a few more inches. He was stretching forward, trying to grab the reins, which fluttered a mere inch or two away from his hand. Others were also following, but none were close enough. Lydia felt her arms tiring. Looking once more over her shoulder, she saw Betelgeuse grimace, his expression fierce and almost snarling, as he held out his hand again. This time, the reins leaped towards him, almost as if summoned. Grinning in triumph, Betelgeuse yanked fiercely on both sets of reins, using his own horse's weight to drag on Amber's.

There were cheers from the following crowd, as Amber skidded to a stop. Betelgeuse hastily dismounted and rushed to Lydia's side, helping her down from Amber's back. Lydia clung to Betelgeuse's shoulders, as he held her in his arms, bridal style. He stared at her in horrified wonder, waiting for her to catch her breath.

"Is she well?" a few of the others called out.

Lydia looked up at the surrounding faces and was dismayed to see that some of them seemed more suspicious than relieved. She wondered how many had seen the reins fall too conveniently into Betelgeuse's hands. She nodded, forcing herself to answer the inquiries.

"I'm fine," she said, as strongly as she could, before turning back to Betelgeuse. "I'm not hurt. Thank you."

Betelgeuse nodded, his frame becoming loose with the absence of tension. Gently, he set Lydia back on her feet, though he kept a hand on her back.

"She's all right. We can go back now," Betelgeuse assured everyone.

Most of the others left, though one or two stayed behind, waiting patiently as Lydia checked Amber for any injuries, then walked her around for a few moments. Betelgeuse stayed close, as Lydia remounted Amber, leading them slowly back to the clearing. They stayed only long enough to reunite with Gwen and make the proper good-byes, then headed back to the townhouse.

At home, Aunt Lucinda and Uncle Martin fussed warmly over Lydia, who had to turn down an offer for a physician. Instead, she accepted a glass of wine and let herself be settled on a bench in the sitting room, very close to the fire. Lydia spent the time in deep thought, responding only when necessary. The others took her silence for shock, but her thoughts were flying fast. She kept sneaking glances at Betelgeuse, who only smiled encouragingly at her, looking a bit wan himself, which helped nothing.

Finally settled, Lydia watched Betelgeuse once again playing a solitary game of cards, though looking more distracted than amused. Lydia leaned forward, feeling an odd mix of fondness and confusion towards him. She reluctantly decided that Effie was right. There was something about Betelgeuse, man and ghost, that was different than most people. She knew he hadn't meant to move the reins, but something deep in him had pulled them to his hand. Betelgeuse looked up, interrupting her musings with a quirked eyebrow.

"Yes?" he drawled, wryly.

"Who are you?" Lydia wondered, studying him, smiling.

"I'm an ordinary man--at least until I die, if you believe Effie."

"You are not ordinary," Lydia scoffed.

"I think I should ask who you are," Betelgeuse said, turning towards her, smirking. "You're the one with all the secrets."

"I'm more ordinary than you!" Lydia protested, laughing.

"Oh, I don't think so," Betelgeuse said, shaking his head and smirking. "You are a mystery. Not to mention, you seem to know something about me that I don't."

Lydia looked away, feeling a bit embarrassed and caught. She shrugged, shaking her head.

"I'm not like Effie. I can't read people or futures."

"Are you sure?" Betelgeuse asked, skeptically.

"Yes, I'm sure," Lydia retorted, rolling her eyes.

"I'm just saying you seemed to know a lot about me, awfully fast," Betelgeuse told her, shrugging carelessly.

"I was just being cautious," Lydia claimed, then softly admitted, "I didn't know you."

"No, how could you have?" Betelgeuse asked, but there was a falseness to the comment. Lydia chose to ignore it.

"In any case, I owe you my life again. Thank you," Lydia said.

"You're very welcome," Betelgeuse assured her. "Actually, I have something for you."

"What is it?" Lydia asked, puzzled.

"A present...a little something I had made. It wasn't ready in time for Christmas. You don't seem to like wearing a dagger, but you should have something to defend yourself with," Betelgeuse said, handing her something wrapped in a pretty piece of cloth.

Lydia unwrapped her gift and gave a soft gasp. Lying on the fabric was a hair pin...though the metal part was wide, flat, and appeared sharp. The piece was topped with a stylized, dark feather done in blue, black, and purple gemstones. She smiled, delighted.

"Thank you, it's gorgeous!"

Lydia slipped the pin into her hair, touched at the thoughtful gift. Of course, the one real danger to her would probably not be impressed much by the bit of metal, no matter how sharp. Lydia reminded herself every day to be wary of Keegan and to keep alert for news of Jennifer. Fortunately, Lydia and Gwen made frequent visits to Jennifer's little shop for sewing supplies and to speak with other women shoppers.

Lydia felt a thrill of unease soon after, when she and Gwen went shopping, only to find Jennifer's shop was closed. An older woman, Mrs. Turner, sitting on the curb and selling muffins, shook her head, as they approached.

"You won't have any luck today, my girls. You'll have to come back."

"What's wrong?" Gwen asked.

"She's too ill to run the shop today," Mrs. Turner explained. "Closed up almost before she got properly opened."

Lydia eyed the front of the shop, feeling a frisson of unease. She handed a small coin to Mrs. Turner, in exchange for a few of the muffins.

"I'm going to give a couple of these to Jennifer. Maybe she'll feel better, with something warm in her," Lydia explained, smiling.

"I don't know...what if she's contagious?" Gwen questioned, uneasy.

"I won't go in all the way and I won't be long," Lydia promised. "I'll leave them where she can see them."

"All right, but don't be long. Papa will be here soon," Gwen reminded her.

"Yes, I know," Lydia agreed, walking into the shop. She went past the public parts of the store and entered Jennifer's private quarters.

Some instinct told Lydia to go quietly. She peeked into the room and saw Jennifer sitting at her table. Standing over her was an average man, with red hair. He was staring hard at Jennifer.

"You owe money, miss," he scolded. "Give me the cross in payment and you can buy it back later, when you get the money you say is owed to you."

"Can't you simply wait?" Jennifer begged. "It will only be a day or two, at most, and probably not that long. Please, I'm ill and the cross was my mother's!"

"No. It can not wait. We must have our payment now, today!"

"There has never been a problem before. Mr. Jenkins knows me, knows I am good for the money!"

"There is a problem now. You are being stubborn to no good end. Give me the cross! If Jenkins knows you are good, he will keep it for you. I must have it."

Jennifer gave a coughing sob, looking up into the man's implacable gaze. Sighing sadly, she nodded, removing the cross and handing it to him. The man gave a mean chuckle, sticking the jewelry into a pocket. With a tired sob, Jennifer fainted, overwhelmed by sickness and sorrow.

Lydia almost rushed into the room in indignation, but stopped just in time. The red haired man, once Jennifer was unconscious, began to shift. Soon, it was Keegan standing in front of Jennifer, gloating. With a chuckle, he picked her up and placed her in her bed. Patting the pocket with the cross, Keegan disappeared.

As soon as Keegan was gone, Lydia rushed into the room, kneeling in front of Jennifer. The girl's face had gone waxy. Lydia touched her cheek, then tried to find a pulse. Jennifer never stirred and Lydia realized she had died. Shaking, Lydia stood and rushed back out.

"Lydia, are you all right?" Gwen asked, alarmed. "You're pale as death!"

"Jennifer is dead," Lydia told her, unconsciously hugging the muffins close.

"Oh, dear Heavens," Mrs. Turner sighed. "Why don't you two head for home? I'll tell Master Edwards where you've gone, when he shows up. I'll get someone to help with the poor girl, too. She has a cousin not too far from here."

"Thank you, Mrs. Turner, we will," Gwen decided, taking Lydia's arm. "Come on, now, Lydia. You need to rest a bit."

"I'm all right," Lydia protested, but Gwen ignored her, pulling her in the direction of home.

Lydia walked home, home, trying to process that her wait was over, her time in the past was done. She had found out what she needed and Jennifer was dead. Her ghost could arrive at any moment, to take Lydia back to the twentieth century. She missed the Maitlands and her parents, but it would be hard to leave the Edwards family behind. Lydia realized, for the first time, just how much it would hurt to part with them. She was torn between wishing for time to say good-bye and hoping Jennifer would show up quickly and get the parting over with.

The first wish was the one granted. Day after day passed, with no sign of Jennifer's ghost. Lydia kept her routines, even close to a week later. She took her sewing into the sitting room, as usual. Aunt Lucinda was there, knitting, while Betelgeuse sat nearby, writing and reading letters of business. Gwen sat on a stool near the window, studying her Bible. Lydia sat near Aunt Lucinda, smiling wanly at her.

"You look pale, Lydia darling," Aunt Lucinda observed, concerned.

"I'm fine, just a bit restless. I think I'll take a walk later. That might help."

"That would do Gwen good, too," Lucinda approved, smiling gently at her girls. "Betelgeuse, can you take them for a walk later?"

"I doubt it. I'm working," Betelgeuse said shortly, not turning away from his papers.

"Oh, come. You can spare a little time for them, surely," Aunt Lucinda cajoled. "What are you up to that's so important?"

"Blackmail," Betelgeuse answered, sardonically, his mouth twisting with perverse humor.

"Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse," Lydia intoned, her voice humorous with mock scolding.

"What?" Betelgeuse asked sharply, his head turning towards her abruptly, his full attention on her.

Lydia stared at him, frozen, realizing what she had said. Betelgeuse's entire body was tight with tension and a wild light had appeared in his eyes. Lucinda and Gwen stared at them both in amazement.

"Well, goodness, cousin, she only said your name," Gwen told him. "Betel..."

"Don't!" he commanded sharply, displeased.

"Calm yourself," Aunt Lucinda soothed. "My goodness, whatever's the matter?"

"It's like someone walking over my bloody grave," Betelgeuse snarled, getting up to stand near the fire.

Lydia put aside her sewing and walked over to him, standing near. He gazed at her almost warily. Smiling a bit ruefully, Lydia placed a hand on Betelgeuse's arm.

"I'm sorry. I was only teasing," she said contritely.

"You shouldn't apologize, simply because my nephew is in a bad temper, Lydia," Aunt Lucinda advised, shaking her head. "We don't need to be talking about graves, either."

Lydia let herself smile, laughing silently as she gazed up at Betelgeuse. He didn't bother to hide his laughter, but chuckled openly, the tension draining off of him like water.

"Sure, Auntie," he agreed rudely. "I'll just go back to my blackmail, shall I?"

"I do hope that is a joke, Master Betelgeuse," a somber voice announced from the door.

Everyone looked up abruptly, startled. Standing in the doorway with Uncle Martin was a humble monk in simple robes. He and Uncle Martin both stared gravely at the others. Lydia looked towards Betelgeuse, wondering how he would respond. Betelgeuse simply shrugged.

"To what do we owe the honor of your visit, Brother Daniel?" he asked with biting smoothness.

"Rumors and troubling talk have reached your cousin's ears," Daniel announced. "Father Steven wishes to speak with you at the cathedral. At once."

Betelgeuse grimaced, his gaze cold, but he nodded. Standing, he handed the letters he'd been working on to his uncle.

"I'll get my cloak. I wouldn't keep my dear cousin waiting."

"Your cousin is concerned for your immortal soul, which, if half the rumors about you are true, is at considerable risk," Daniel said stiffly.

"The rumors are not true, though," Uncle Martin said, with great disgust. "They're absurd stories made up by people who are bored, vindictive, or both."

"That is not for me to decide," Daniel stated, dismissively. "All such matters are in Father Steven's hands...and God's, of course."

"Of course," Betelgeuse agreed, a bit wearily, showing back up with his cloak over his arm. "Come on, then. Let's get this done."

"Good-bye," Lydia said abruptly, uneasy at the grave nature of the encounter.

Betelgeuse turned and gave her a wry smile.

"I'll probably see you later this afternoon or evening," he said, then chuckled. "Probably."

When he was gone, Lydia turned to the rest of the Edward family for comfort. She wasn't reassured by their faces, which displayed various degrees of anger, worry, and discomfort.

"Uncle Martin? What will happen?" Lydia asked.

Uncle Martin took a deep sigh, then plastered on a reassuring smile, trying to seem comforting.

"Oh, nothing much, I'm sure. He'll ask Betelgeuse some questions, lecture him a bit, maybe say some prayers over him. He might even set him a mild penance or two, but nothing harsh. He'll be fine!" Martin declared, but he sounded as if he were convincing himself, too.

"If Steven doesn't carry out his threats and exorcise the poor man," Aunt Lucinda sniffed, angrily.

"Exorcise him?" Lydia repeated faintly, images of the Maitlands withering and decayed, filling her mind.

"Father Steven wouldn't do that," Gwen said, trying to be firm, but her voice held a slight hesitance. "I mean, Betelgeuse is just...Betelgeuse. He's not evil. Crude, yes, but not...evil."

"Of course, he isn't," Lucinda agreed, exasperated. "Too many idle tongues have wagged, when they shouldn't have. Still, it was improper, in my opinion, for your cousin to have even suggested such a thing. It's only added fuel to the fire of rumor and innuendo."

"What rumor and innuendo, though?" Lydia asked, frustrated.

"Well, I did hear some talk, about the day we went riding with the Duchess," Gwen admitted. "They say the rein jumped into his hand, like magic."

Lydia shifted, covering discomfort with anger.

"Amber was bouncing like mad. He was just lucky! He saved my life."

"Well, yes, of course we know that, Lydia, but you have to understand. Betelgeuse is lucky, well, rather often," Uncle Martin admitted reluctantly.

Lydia sighed, shaking her head, saying, "It's not fair to him."

"Remember I told you his reputation is worse than he deserves?" Gwen said. "This is part of that."

"Well, there's nothing to be done, but to wait, at this point," Lucinda declared, giving an odd look to Martin and Gwen. "I have to consult with the housekeeper."

"Uh, yes, I'd better see these letters get delivered. He'll be in a bad enough mood, once Steven is done with him," Martin agreed. "I'll be back later and escort you on a walk, girls."

"Thank you, Papa," Gwen sighed.

Lydia waited until Lucinda and Martin were gone, then turned to Gwen. She arched an eyebrow at her friend.

"Is there a reason we've been left alone?"

"Mama wanted me to talk with you," Gwen admitted. "Lydia, you really do need to either encourage or discourage Betelgeuse. It's your choice of course, but you can't be completely oblivious and it's really not fair to him."

"I guess I am oblivious, as you say. I don't understand."

Gwen stared at her in disbelief, then surprise.

"Oh, Lydia, for goodness' sake, you really don't know!" Gwen exclaimed. "Lydia, Betelgeuse loves you."

Lydia's mouth dropped open.

"We...we're friends, Gwen. What makes you think he loves me?"

"Well, you have to admit, he's very attentive towards you. You two are thick as thieves. Do you really think that's mere friendship? He's a man, by our Lord!"

"Well, we talk with each other a lot and he helps me, when I need it," Lydia admitted dubiously. "Still, I mean, it's just talk! He's never given any sort of sign..."

"He talks to you, Lydia! That's sign enough, believe me!" Gwen assured her. "Betelgeuse doesn't talk to people. Ever. I've never known him to show so much of his mind and feelings, even his philosophies, to anyone, not even us! He's always been somewhat withdrawn."

"Withdrawn? That doesn't sound like him at all," Lydia denied.

"Oh, I'm not saying he was ever silent," Gwen explained. "He'd joke and tease, certainly, but that's different from talking about himself--how he views things, what's going on with him, that sort of thing."

Lydia hesitated, considering the matter. She supposed it wasn't impossible. Despite their friendship, Lydia had to concede that Gwen and her parents probably knew Betelgeuse better than she did. She studied Gwen a moment, but her friend only looked earnest and a bit worried.

"Lydia, can you love him? You needn't conceal it. Everyone here would be delighted to have you become an official member of our family."

"I don't know. I need to think. Honestly, I'd never considered the idea. I'm just grateful to have him as a friend..."

"It's all right," Gwen soothed. "Mama just wanted me to tell you, so you could figure out what you want. No one will pressure you, one way or another."

"Thank you. I'll think about it," Lydia promised.

Lydia kept her word. She couldn't deny to herself that Betelgeuse was important to her. Knowing him in the past had changed everything about the way she thought of him. She'd forgiven him entirely for haunting her family and trying to marry her. She wondered, now, what he had thought, seeing a younger version of her. Love, though? Time wasn't on Lydia's side, in many ways. Loving Betelgeuse would probably mean loving the ghost, not the man.

Lydia wasn't sure how to define her feelings for either one, now. She wished Betelgeuse would come home, so she could see and talk to him. Lydia felt she stood a better chance of sorting her feelings in his presence, than by merely thinking of him. Fortunately, she didn't have too long a wait. Aunt Lucinda greeted them, when they came home from walking, with news of Betelgeuse's return.

"You might keep to your bedrooms, girls," Aunt Lucinda sighed. "He's in the sitting room, in a foul mood, and drinking steadily."

Martin, shaking his head, disappeared into his office. He knew his nephew's temper and preferred to avoid any confrontation. Lydia went to her room, assuming Gwen would do the same. She sat on her bed, considering. Finally, Lydia decided she needed to see Betelgeuse, whether he was drinking or not. She needed to settle her mind and knew only seeing him would start that for her.

Lydia walked quietly into the sitting room. Betelgeuse was on his usual bench, though his tunic was gone and his undershirt was half open. He held a wine cup loosely in his hand, as he slouched, half-reclined, against the cushions. Worried, Lydia went over to him, sitting next to him on the floor. He smiled ironically down at her and Lydia touched his wrist.

"You're drunk," she said softly.

"Yes, I am," Betelgeuse agreed. "It's a reasonable response to one of my little sessions with Steven."

"Are you all right?" she asked, letting her concern show.

"Yeah, of course!" Betelgeuse boasted, chuckling. "Steven wouldn't hurt family, not even for the Church."

"Gwen said there'd been talk...of his exorcising you," Lydia said, a note of real fear in her voice, but Betelgeuse shook his head.

"He'll never do it. Oh, part of him thinks he should, in the best interests of my immortal soul and in accordance with the Church. The larger part of him, though, realizes that I'm just me. I might be a lewd, vulgar man with bad habits, but I'm not possessed."

"No, but you aren't ordinary, either."

Betelgeuse took Lydia's hand and placed a couple of soft kisses on her fingers, gazing steadily at her eyes for a few moments. He kept her hand in his, as he began talking.

"When I was ten years old, still living with my mother, I decided one fine, summer evening to run away from home. I wasn't unhappy there. There was nothing wrong. I just decided I wanted to leave, to find a different life."

"Weren't you afraid? How were you going to live?"

"I was too young and stupid to be afraid. I think I had some vague idea of finding the sea and becoming a sailor or something. Foolish, I was nowhere near the sea, much less a proper port! So, I took a loaf of bread and a couple of apples and headed off into the woods. I thought they would hide me, until I got out of reach of my mother and step-father."

"What was he like?"

"A hard-working, God-fearing, horribly boring man who treated everyone, including me, very decently," Betelgeuse assured her, stroking his thumb across her palm. "So, I was out in the woods, under a bright moon, and I stumbled across a fairy circle of mushrooms. Being an idiot, I told myself I had outgrown those sorts of tales, so I tromped right into the middle of them and sat down to eat some of my bread."

"Are you sure you weren't trying to make someone angry?" Lydia teased, making Betelgeuse laugh.

"I don't remember thinking that, but, sure, that's possible," Betelgeuse admitted, pouring himself some more wine. "Anyway, a couple of, well, people, showed up. They almost looked human, but they were lovely and they...well, they didn't glow, but there was a light about them. Their eyes were so bright. I knew what they were, that I had trespassed, so I offered the younger one, a boy a bit younger in appearance than you, some of my bread."

"Were they angry?"

"Not really, but they weren't friendly either, even after I gave the boy the bread. Of course, then, he seemed a man to me. He took the bread and offered some to the lady with him. They didn't say anything though. We just sat there, eating bread. When we were done, I stood up and thanked them for sharing my meal and I turned to leave. The boy spoke then, saying, 'Think what he could be, if I woke him up.' I admit, that annoyed me. I told him a bit sharply that I was already awake."

"It's not good to offend the Fay," Lydia said, thinking of the stories the people of this time told and often believed.

"I'm not sure I did offend them. The girl just shrugged and the boy stood up and grabbed my wrist. I was afraid then, because I thought he wanted to fight. I didn't know much about that, just the stuff boys do when they rough house. He didn't attack me, though. He started dancing with me. Somehow, I was able to follow him, though I'd never danced a step in my life, at that point."

"He still didn't say anything? Explain what he meant?"

"No, the little puttock never did say anything useful," Betelgeuse sighed, shrugging. "He never explained, but something happened as we danced. It really did feel like something in me woke up. There was this clarity to things, something that's never really gone away. I don't know. They faded away, when the dance was over. That was it. I went home."

"Does Steven know this?"

"Yeah, well, he is family and families do tend to talk to each other," Betelgeuse chuckled. "People are such idiots."

Lydia didn't know what to say, so she squeezed his hand, resting her cheek against the bench, next to his shoulder.

"She's right, you know," Betelgeuse announced.

"Effie?" Lydia asked, unsure what he meant.

"No!" Betelgeuse laughed, shaking his head. "Drunk person's prerogative--I changed the subject."

He slouched down, until they were at eye level to each other.

"I meant Gwen. She told me what she said to you and she's right," he explained, his voice both rough and tender. "I do love you, Lydia."

Lydia stared at him, feeling a tremulous, surprised joy. She could feel her past and her future rushing towards each other, but she wasn't afraid, anymore, especially of him. She reached up and touched his cheek, letting a sense of wonder settle over her. Ghost and man, Lydia loved him. She smiled, realizing she hadn't actually spoken.

"I love you, Betelgeuse."

Betelgeuse cupped her cheek in one hand, pulling her lips hungrily to his. Lydia kissed him back, guiltily thrilled by his warmth and the sweet tang of wine on his lips. She felt his arm slide around her shoulders, pulling her just a bit closer. Betelgeuse's tongue touched her lower lip and Lydia made a small noise, opening her mouth slightly. Rather than pressing on, Betelgeuse pulled away completely, sitting up a bit and leaning away from her.

"You should go. We both should get some sleep."

"What's wrong?"

"Wrong? Nothing. Lydia, honey, I love you, I want you, and I'm drunk. Frankly, a lot of probably bad ideas are seeming really good right now."

Lydia laughed, standing, then sitting next to him on the bench.

"I love you and want you, too, but I'm sober, at least. It's okay," she assured him.

"Good, then maybe you can show a bit of common sense, for once," Juno told her appearing near the door. "Tell him good night and come away. We need to talk, young lady!"

To Juno's dismay, Lydia and Betelgeuse both turned to her, surprised. Betelgeuse gave a disbelieving chortle.

"Who's the demon granny?" Betelgeuse asked, astounded.

"I'm not a demon!" Juno snapped.

"You've got a slit throat, with smoke coming out of it," Betelgeuse pointed out in a reasonable voice.

"Oh, it was just too much to hope that you wouldn't be able to see me, wasn't it?" Juno asked, angrily. "Always a thorn in my side."

"She knows me!" Betelgeuse declared, delighted, then laughed. "I'm sorry. I'm just too drunk to take this seriously."

Lydia knew she should take this seriously, that Juno wouldn't be here lightly. She couldn't though. She almost felt like she had lied to Betelgeuse, claiming to be sober. She was drunk with being in love, with the sensation of her first real kiss still tingling on her lips. She watched as Juno pulled out a cigarette, lighting it with a flame between her finger and thumb, before taking a long drag.

"What is that?" Betelgeuse asked, nimbly plucking the cigarette from Juno's fingers. "Huh. It's real enough."

"Do you mind?" Juno yelled, frustrated.

Betelgeuse shrugged, putting the cigarette to his own mouth and drawing in a lungful of smoke. Lydia giggled, watching him choke on the first mouthful, then have better luck with the second. He grinned.

"Hey, that's not bad!"

"Betelgeuse, give that thing back," Lydia scolded, laughing. "You have enough bad habits."

To the ladies' surprise, Betelgeuse obeyed, giving the cigarette back with a bow. Juno took it with ill grace, taking another puff, before making it disappear.

"If you two will stop acting so giddy, I'm here on business. I have news for Miss Deetz. The party she is expecting won't be showing up!"

"So? She has a home here," Betelgeuse challenged.

"She can't stay here, you ridiculous..."

"Why can't I? I can give you the information I found," Lydia pleaded, her euphoric mood gone, replaced by panic. "You can't just take me away!"

"No, she can't," Betelgeuse agreed coldly.

"If I could get her where she belongs, I would've done so already, instead of standing here trying to reason with you children!" Juno said wearily. "Unfortunately, just appearing here takes more magic than I have. I had to call in favors for this, so listen up! Keegan won't show up for Jennifer for another twenty-four hours, understand? You have to leave tomorrow. You can not stay here, Miss Deetz. If you want to know why, watch a damn Star Trek episode."

"What's Star Trek?" Betelgeuse asked warily.

"A series of stories," Lydia told him. "Why is my party not coming?"

"We can talk about that once you leave," Juno insisted, disappearing.

Lydia slumped in the bench, wishing she had blurted out the information about Jennifer's cross. That settled it. She had to go back. She looked up, as Betelgeuse sat close to her. He stared at her for a minute, then grimaced.

"Jennifer...that shopkeeper you knew that died?"

"Yes."

"You have to go," Betelgeuse stated, not bothering to make it a question.

Lydia bit her lip, nodding.

"Yes. I wish I could explain more, but..."

"Hey. I haven't pried into your secrets so far and I'm not gonna start now. I just want to make sure you're going to be all right."

Of course, I will. You'll be there. You'll be a ghost, but you'll be there, Lydia thought, smiling sadly. "I will be. I wish I could stay."

"I have a feeling we'll meet again. I've made a few guesses, you know. I could be wrong, but it doesn't really matter."

Lydia swallowed hard, then threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his shoulder. They would meet again. She fully intended to call him to her as soon as she could. For him, though, this was the last time they'd meet in his lifetime. It wasn't fair to him! Lydia swallowed a wave of guilt. She felt reckless and destructive, making decisions that affected others without knowing or considering the consequences.

Lydia's bitter reflections were interrupted by Betelgeuse's strong hands. One tenderly brushed at her hair, while the other made soothing circles across her back. She felt him nuzzle gently at her temple, trailing kisses across her cheek. Lydia took a shaky breath, tilting her face up to kiss Betelgeuse's mouth. He moaned softly, pulling her close.

"Lydia, I wish..."

"I love you," she said, firmly.

"Will you trust me, then? Let me make love to you?"

"Yes. I do trust you," Lydia answered, looking into his eyes. "I do want you."

Betelgeuse kissed her again, his mouth heavy and hot on hers, licking and sucking on her lips, until she felt dizzy from passion and, possibly, lack of air. She returned his heat, stroking her hand over his chest, through his open tunic. Making a noise somewhere between a growl and a groan, Betelgeuse broke away, grabbing her hand. Silently, he led her upstairs to his bedroom.

Lydia glanced around, noting that there really wasn't much to identify the room as his, other than a general messiness and the presence of some of his clothes. Betelgeuse led her to the side of his bed, then pulled her into another kiss. This time, he let his hands roam more freely over her body. Lydia made a soft sound of approval as her body became warm, tingling from his touch.

Betelgeuse reached up and released Lydia's hair from its hat and netting. He tossed them to the floor, then ran his fingers through the soft waves of her hair. Lydia turned her head, kissing his palm and rubbing her cheek against his fingers. Betelgeuse gently tilted her chin up, staring intently into her eyes.

"You're sure?" he rasped, sounding more like his ghost than ever.

Lydia shivered, but not from revulsion or fear. She stepped closer, until their bodies were ever so lightly touching from hip to chest. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

"I'm very sure," she promised, reaching up to lick and kiss at his throat, sucking lightly where his jaw met the top of his neck. Betelgeuse shuddered hard, pulling her tight against him. He reached between their bodies to unfasten her over-gown, leaving her standing only in her woolen kirtle. Lydia reciprocated, drawing Betelgeuse's tunic over his head, leaving him bare chested in only his hose and shoes.

They finished undressing and Betelgeuse swept her up into his arms, carrying her to his bed. He made love to her slowly, holding her close to him. Lydia moaned with pleasure, kissing his cheeks, his jaw, his shoulders, anywhere she could reach. Betelgeuse struggled to control himself under the tender assault of her mouth. Sex and heat he was used to, but he'd rarely, if ever, felt this connection, this intimacy, the warm rush of feelings that was almost stronger than the physical pleasure of their joining.

"Lydia," he groaned, almost undone by her soft cries.

Without meaning to, she said his name three times again. Rather than irritating him, the words left him feeling exulted, even as he shuddered from them. Betelgeuse ran his fingers into her hair, dragging her mouth to his and kissing her fiercely.

"Lydia," he said, the word a vow, his gaze electric, as he stared into her eyes, silently commanding her attention. "Mine, yes?"

Lydia nodded, urgently, her fingers digging into his shoulders as she sent a silent apology to her fifteen year old self.

"Yours," she agreed. "I love you."

"I love you. My only bride. Yours," Betelgeuse swore fiercely.

Lydia buried her face between his shoulder and neck, giving a soft cry of mingled joy and sorrow, as they both finished. She remained silent as Betelgeuse rolled them onto their sides, cradling her close to him. He kissed her hair, keeping his arms tight around her. Lydia rested against him. Despite her emotional turmoil, she found herself drifting to sleep, warm and safe in his arms.

Betelgeuse let her rest for awhile, as he gathered the resolve to do what was necessary. Finally, he shook her shoulder, his expression somber.

"Lydia, get dressed," he told her, standing and beginning to dress himself.

Lydia reluctantly obeyed, first cleaning herself carefully in his water basin. She couldn't get caught in his rooms, if only for his sake. Dressing carefully, Lydia made sure all of her clothing was in place.

"Why are you dressing?"

"I'm taking you to that shop. Now, tonight."

Lydia stared, watching him finish pulling on his tunic. She shook her head.

"Why?"

Betelgeuse touched her cheek.

"If I don't let you go now, I won't be able to later. I'm really not a good man."

"More than good enough for me," Lydia whispered, but then nodded. "You're right. I should go now. I have no idea what I would say to everyone."

"I'll tell them something, make something up. Don't worry about that."

Lydia nodded, gratefully, then sighed.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

Betelgeuse swallowed hard, nodding. He took her hand silently, leading her downstairs and into the night. They walked quietly, side by side, through the almost empty streets of London. When they reached the shop door, Lydia faltered, turning to Betelgeuse with a stricken expression. Smiling, he pulled her close, kissing her deeply.

Releasing her abruptly, he whispered harshly, "Go!"

"I'll see you again," Lydia promised, then turned and ran into the shop. She was grateful that, owner-less, it was unlocked. She made her way to the back, but everything seemed silent.

"Jennifer? I need to speak with you," Lydia called quietly, but no one answered. "I can see ghosts, Jennifer. I know you're here. Please."

"They said you would come, but I didn't think it'd be in the middle of the night," Jennifer answered, stepping into view. "No one will tell me much, only that I'm to send you to the future."

"Aw, give the gal a break," a new voice protested. "It's not her fault, much."

Lydia turned to the second ghost, confused. A pretty young woman in a dancer's outfit stood leaning against a wall.

"I'm sorry. Who are you?" Lydia asked.

"My name's Ginger, sugar. Juno sent me, y'know."

"You can travel in time, too?"

"Oh, gosh, no. So far as I know, Jenny's the only ghost that can do that. We all have our little gifts. Me, I've got a great sense of direction and awesome legs!"

Giggling, Ginger began tap dancing, her legs multiplying and creating more and more intricate dance steps. Lydia applauded softly, smiling.

"That's great! I really need to get home, though. Um, did Juno tell you why...the person I expected didn't show up?"

"Thanks! I'm afraid not. Juno just sent me to make sure you get home safe is all."

Lydia hesitated.

"Are you all right?" Jennifer asked, kindly.

"There are people here I care about," Lydia said. "I'm leaving them."

"They won't remember you much," Jennifer told her, hoping it would help. "You are from 1993? Until you left your own time, your presence in the past was only something that was going to happen, not something that had happened. Once you get back to your own time, time will catch up to itself and your presence here will be something that has taken place. Then, they will remember."

"How do you know?" Lydia asked, but Jennifer just shrugged.

"It's part of my magic."

"We really need to go, sugar," Ginger urged, gently.

Lydia nodded, taking a deep breath.

"I'm ready."

Jennifer let loose her magic, while Ginger held onto Lydia, concentrating on time and place. As her senses blurred, Lydia felt a shift in the time she left, as if something had sealed shut. She wondered if she only imagined the seam of light that flared, then closed. The journey was over quickly, just as Lydia remembered.

Opening her eyes, Lydia found herself in the attic of her home, standing close to Adam's model of Winter River. She gave a small sigh of relief, until she saw Jennifer, the older version, huddling in a corner, shivering. Seeing the other ghost, Ginger ran over to Jennifer, putting an arm around her.

"Jennifer?" Lydia asked, confused.

"I'm sorry," Jennifer whispered. "I tried to go back for you, but he caught me."

"Now, she's being punished," Keegan snarled, appearing close to Jennifer, but ignoring Ginger. "She betrayed me, by helping you. The silly wench thought I wouldn't know. ME! Her master!"

"You're not her master," Lydia scoffed, angrily. "You're nothing but a thief!"

"You call it theft. I call it survival of the fittest!" Keegan taunted. "Look, Lydia. See the power I have amassed! Look on the wall behind you."

Lydia turned and saw a large mirror, in an ornate frame. Inside the mirror, Lydia could see not only the Maitlands, but her father and Delia. All four were staring out with expressions of fear and worry. Barbara banged on the glass, trying to shout something to Lydia.

"Let them outta there!" Ginger demanded, indignantly.

"I might, if Lydia pleases me," Keegan said, smugly, stalking towards her. "Tell me about your trip to the past. What did you learn?"

"Nothing," Lydia told him, shaking her head. "I wasn't able to find out anything."

Keegan grabbed her arm, yanking her close to him.

"Don't lie to me, you little bitch! I know my Jenny sent you back to when she died. You'll tell me everything or your family will stay right where they are. Forever!"

"You want to know what I did in the past, Keegan, you coward?" Lydia spat. "I got to know a lovely family named Edwards. Would you like to meet one of them? Let me introduce you. Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse!"

Keegan snarled, backhanding Lydia sharply, knocking her backward and to the ground. A rumble filled the attic. Ginger used the distraction to release Keegan's prisoners from the mirror. Lydia's family watched, stunned, as Betelgeuse appeared between Lydia and Keegan, knocking the other man back a pace or two. Barbara started to dart forward to confront both men, but Adam caught her arm.

Betelgeuse took a slow look around the room, his eyes narrowed and wary. He smirked at Barbara and Adam, then started a bit, when he saw Jennifer and Ginger.

"Oh, hi, Ging. What're you doing here?"

"I was helping Lydia get back home."

Betelgeuse turned to Lydia, his eyebrows raising questioningly. When his gaze fell on her, a bright flash of light ignited between them, making Lydia cry out. Betelgeuse flung a hand up in front of his eyes, wincing.

"What the hell was that?" Charles yelped.

"That was time reasserting itself," Betelgeuse declared, still grimacing.

Time seemed to stop for a few moments, as Betelgeuse and Lydia stared at each other. Almost in awe, Betelgeuse took in the long, green silk dress that had been fashionable, when he was still alive. He let his memories of Lydia in that dress surface, as he ran his eyes from her feet to her bound hair, where the feathered hairpin he had given her rested. Lydia studied him in return, taking in the white and black striped suit, the small, black buttons running down his tie, his messy, blond hair, and the dark circles that stood out so clearly against dead white skin. Lydia smiled softly. Betelgeuse took an involuntary step forward, before his attention was drawn back to Keegan.

"Do you think this creature can help you?" the thief sneered. "No ghost can defeat me! They are too bound by rules to do anything."

Betelgeuse blinked, then slid over to Keegan, throwing an arm around his shoulders in a manner that was more aggressive than friendly.

"Well, here's the thing, pal," Betelgeuse drawled, smirking, his voice lowering to a stage whisper that could be heard perfectly by everyone. "I don't give a fuck about rules. Why don't you go away for a bit, so I can get caught up."

With a flick of his fingers, Betelgeuse sent Keegan away, disappearing into nothing with a howl of rage. Looking around at his audience, Betelgeuse pointed to the now-empty space where Keegan had been.

"That is only temporary," he warned, before walking forward to squat down next to Lydia. "Tell me this is the part where you explain why you ended up six hundred years in the past?"

"This is that part," Lydia assured him. She looked ruefully at her family, who were all staring warily at Betelgeuse. "I think I owe a lot of explanations, don't I?"

"Well, yeah, but on the other hand, a lot of our stranger conversations make sense now," Betelgeuse retorted, making Lydia giggle.

Betelgeuse stared at her, standing, his head tilted to one side, then held his hand out to her. The hand was bloodless, covered with mold, and had long, pointed nails that were almost claws. Delia shivered, seeing that dead, dangerous hand extended in invitation to her step-daughter. Barbara pulled away from Adam in alarm. Lydia, though, serenely placed her hand in Betelgeuse's, his sharp nails brushing lightly against her wrist. With a firm tug, Betelgeuse helped Lydia to her feet, pulling her close to him.

"Well, let's not do explanations here," Delia decided, breaking the moment. "I think we could all use something to drink, so we'll go sit at the table, like civilized people."

"I really hope, by drink, she doesn't mean coffee," Betelgeuse said, chortling.

"Betel..." Lydia began, before cutting herself off, biting her lower lip.

"Not the most convenient thing is it?" Betelgeuse said, cheerfully.

"No," Lydia agreed. "I need to give you a nickname. BJ might work."

"Technically, it should be BG, Lyds," Betelgeuse corrected, amused, as they followed Delia to the dining room.

"I am not calling you BeeGee," Lydia protested, laughing. "That band sucked! Anyway, it's not like spelling was standardized, when you were named."

"Suit yourself, babes," Betelgeuse agreed, with a loud laugh.

Lydia grinned at him, leading him into the dining room. She was mildly surprised, when, as everyone settled at the table, Delia poured out glasses of good, strong wine. Betelgeuse sat next to Lydia, with a smirk.

"I think I'm upsetting her," he whispered loudly.

"We're wondering why you're here," Barbara told him sharply. "Juno told us that Jennifer sent Lydia back in time to find out information on Keegan, but no one mentioned anything about you."

"Well, that's our Juno-bug for ya," Betelgeuse told her, shrugging.

"When I went back in time, I lived with Betelgeuse and his family, the Edwards," Lydia explained. "Betelgeuse is here, because I want him to be."

"The problem is his help comes with a high price," Adam reminded her. "How do you know he won't try to force you to marry him again?"

"She's already reneged on that deal," Betelgeuse reminded them, rolling his eyes.

"I was fifteen. I'm giving myself a pass on breaking that particular promise," Lydia told him, smirking. "On the other hand, given fourteenth century customs and that you did save the Maitlands from exorcism, I'll give you a pass on it, too. Let's just move on."

"Works for me, babes."

"Are we just going to ignore that he almost killed your father, too?" Adam asked, exasperated.

"If I'd wanted Chuck dead, I would've wrapped my coils around him and snapped his neck," Betelgeuse said, smiling meanly.

Delia gasped, while the others glared at Betelgeuse. Lydia winced, realizing it wasn't going to be easy to make peace between Betelgeuse and her family.

"Betelgeuse, you can be such a jerk!" Ginger scolded indignantly.

"Yeah?" Betelgeuse sneered.

"Yeah," Lydia agreed dryly, before pleading, "Can we all please forgive and forget? It was four years ago and everyone is fine. It's not like he didn't pay for what he did."

"All right, pumpkin," Charles said. "If you want us to trust this guy, we'll try, especially since you're determined to fight this Keegan."

"Fine," Barbara agreed, reluctantly. "Did you find out anything? Lydia, going into the past like that was dangerous!"

"She has a point there, Lyds," Betelgeuse interrupted. "I mean, you missed the Black Death by less than a decade."

"I know, but what choice did I have? No one seemed to know anything about Keegan or was willing to do anything!"

"Keegan...that the guy I sent away? I've heard that name before."

"Yeah. He's been stealing the magic of other ghosts and forced Jennifer to be his servant. He keeps them prisoner somehow."

"Lydia, what did you find out?" Delia stressed.

"Yes. You know we can't do anything against Keegan until the children are safe!" Jennifer pleaded.

"Do I know you?" Betelgeuse asked Jennifer, his eyes narrowed.

"Your cousin and Lydia did. I sold sewing supplies."

"That doesn't tell me much," Betelgeuse chuckled.

"You tried to fondle her bottom and she smacked you with a very wet mop, saying you needed cleaning," Lydia reminded him.

"Oh, sure, sure," Betelgeuse said, recognition dawning, making him smirk. "I remember now."

"Of course you do. Jennifer, the man who took your mother's cross, right before you died? That was Keegan, disguised."

"Would that be enough to enslave her?" Delia asked, looking around and seeing the others were equally confused, except Betelgeuse, who shrugged.

"Sure. People get attached to things, pour emotions into them. Could be a cross, a set of clothes, anything. You get hold of something personal like that and you can turn a person's strength and emotions against them."

"How can we defeat him, if all he has to do is steal something from us to control us?" Barbara asked, angry at the thought.

Betelgeuse shook his head, though.

"It's not that simple. Look, all ghosts have magic and all of us have limits on us, like that bullshit about my name. I think, for Keegan, it's that he can't just take stuff. People gotta choose to hand stuff to him."

"What I don't get is why does no one know about this guy?" Charles protested. "He goes around capturing ghosts and using their magic up...I thought you people had regulations!"

"That's why he uses kids," Betelgeuse said, grimacing.

"He does that, because he's a coward," Lydia retorted.

"No, because he's smart," Betelgeuse corrected, adding hastily, "Evil, yeah, yeah, but, smart. See, child ghosts are kinda fragile. A lot of the time, they pass right on, without becoming ghosts. When they do that, there aren't even any records on them. So, by keeping to kids, he avoids the authorities."

"Pass on?" Lydia asked.

"The afterlife, what we see of it...well, it co-exists with the living world and isn't permanent, at least, no one thinks it is. But, some ghosts pass on to a more permanent afterlife, heaven, hell, those places..." Ginger began.

"It's where everyone is supposed to end up at the end of time, depending on your religion of choice. Man, you think living people fight about that stuff? You got nothing on ghosts. You should see Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle get into it," Betelgeuse cackled. "It's pretty funny."

"So, can we free the children by taking back their personal items?" Barbara asked, pointedly.

"How are we supposed to do that? He could have them scattered all over the world!" Delia protested.

"Nah, they'll all be in one place and time," Betelgeuse said confidently.

"Well, how do you know that?" Adam asked skeptically.

"'Cause no one knows much about Keegan," Betelgeuse said. "If he'd kept his items spread out, even hidden, odds are someone would've stumbled on one or two of them. If they had, the kid would get free and we'd know more about the guy."

"No child's ever gotten free. That much is true," Jennifer agreed.

"So, how do we find where he hides things?" Charles asked, dubiously.

"That's the hard part," Betelgeuse admitted.

Lydia tried and failed to stifle a yawn, rubbing at her eyes. She'd taken a swallow of wine and it was creating a pleasant warmth in her stomach, but it was adding to her drowsiness. Betelgeuse studied her, his expression fond.

"WELL," he announced loudly, making everyone but Lydia jump. "Let's say we brainstorm on it and discuss it more tomorrow."

"Are you bored?" Jennifer asked spitefully.

"No," Betelgeuse answered coldly. "But it was already late at night, before Juno showed up in the past and Lydia still hasn't slept."

"I'm sorry, but he's right. I'm not much use right now, though I really should go back to Mrs. Allen's."

"Oh, honey, nothing will happen to her house in one night," Delia protested. "Besides, do you feel up to driving?"

"Ginger can keep an eye on it for you," Betelgeuse suggested.

"HEY," she protested, glaring.

"Aw, c'mon, Ging," Betelgeuse coaxed. "Do a neighbor a favor!"

"Fine, but you owe me, Betel-jerk!" Ginger huffed, disappearing.

"Some people are so grouchy," Betelgeuse mused, unrepentant.

"Usually people having to deal with you," Barbara retorted.

"True, but you're not exactly a barrel of laughs, Babs," Betelgeuse said, grinning smugly.

"Okay, have fun bickering at each other," Lydia sighed, standing.

Betelgeuse stood, wrapping her arm around is.

"I'll escort you out. I need some space for thinking."

Lydia rolled her eyes, letting him see she wasn't fooled, but turned to the others and smiled ruefully.

"Good night, everyone. I'll see you in the morning," Lydia assured them.

"Good night. Sleep well, sweetheart," the others told her.

"Come on, you," Lydia said to Betelgeuse, tugging on his arm.

Lydia led him into the living room, stopping by one of the windows.

"You should be able to do your thinking in here," she offered, smiling a bit shyly.

"Thanks, babes. You gonna be okay?"

Lydia hesitated, then shrugged, feeling awkward.

"I wish this was over, but yeah. As long as we get those kids free, I'll be fine."

"Aw, don't worry so much. Once we figure out where he stashes stuff, Keegan'll be easy to take care of."

"Do you have a plan on how to find that out?"

"I will by the time you wake up," Betelgeuse promised.

Lydia didn't answer, but reached up and placed her hand on Betelgeuse's cheek. Lydia knew from her friendship with the Maitlands that a ghost's appearance was mainly an illusion. They were solid, sure, but the scarier aspects of their appearances were simply reflections of their deaths or personalities.

The mold that appeared on Betelgeuse's face wasn't real, but simply a part of his spirit form, like weird stubble. His ghost form didn't accumulate dirt, the way an actual, animated corpse would. Betelgeuse's skin felt soft against Lydia's hand, giving off a strange blend of hot and cold, as if his magic was made of competing storm fronts. As close as Lydia was to Betelgeuse, she could detect only a faint scent of burning wood and leaves coming from him. She caressed his cheek, studying the planes of his face, soothed by how familiar they were, despite the deathly pallor and sunken eyes.

Betelgeuse took Lydia's touch for an invitation, leaning down and kissing her deeply. He wrapped his arms around her torso, pulling her closer. He tasted like a thunderstorm. Lydia leaned into him eagerly, placing her arms around him. After a few moments, he pulled away, chuckling a bit.

"This isn't you going to bed, babes."

"No, I know," Lydia said, laughing a bit helplessly. Reluctantly, she pulled away, smiling. "I do need to sleep. Good night."

"Yeah, git out!" Betelgeuse ordered, smirking. "I'll be right here."

Lydia had started to walk away, when he said git, still smiling in amusement. At his last words, however, she turned back, her expression grave.

"If I didn't know that, I wouldn't have come back," Lydia told him softly.

"Yeah, I love you too, babes," Betelgeuse said, winking. "G'night."

"Good night," Lydia repeated, heading for the stairs. She was half way up them, when Betelgeuse called her name. Leaning over the railing, she stared down at him, questioningly. He grimaced a bit, gesturing helplessly with one hand. Betelgeuse stared hard at her, looking faintly worried.

"Um. About that marriage thing, babes. Okay, it was an under-handed thing to do, but...I wouldn't have hurt you."

"I know," Lydia said, smiling softly at him. Coming from Betelgeuse, it was an abject apology and she accepted it, forgiving him again.

"Sweet dreams, babes."

"You too," Lydia said, then laughed. "Good night."

"That's three, babes," he teased, fading into the shadows.

Lydia went upstairs, leaving Betelgeuse to his thoughts. Exhausted as she was, she couldn't resist showering first, luxuriating in modern plumbing and hair care products. She let herself stay in the shower, until the hot water ran out, then quickly dried off and got into her pajamas. She crawled into bed and fell swiftly asleep.

Lydia slept soundly, in the warmth of her soft bed. She woke up fairly early, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle Keegan. Getting up, she dressed in black jeans and a black poet's shirt. She braided her hair, using her feather hairpin as an accessory. Once dressed, she headed downstairs and found Delia standing just outside the kitchen, looking horrified and intrigued.

"Good morning. What's up?" Lydia asked, hearing a series of bangs from the kitchen.

"He's in there, that ghost!" Delia said in a low voice. "He's trying to make pancakes!"

"Wh-why is Betel--BJ making pancakes?" Lydia asked, incredulously.

"I didn't ask. I just gave him a cookbook and got out," Delia admitted. "It might have something to do with the person with him...some boy!"

"I better find out what's going on," Lydia said, laughing slightly and heading into the kitchen.

It wasn't as bad as Lydia had expected. There was quite a bit of flour covering the counter-top and the boy sitting on top of it. The boy was still a small child, looking about seven or eight, with big, brown eyes, and straight brown hair. He had enough flour on his face and front that Lydia was pretty sure Betelgeuse had thrown some on him. However, there were only two bowls and a few utensils, laying around. Betelgeuse was wearing an apron and peering down at one of Delia's cookbooks, frowning slightly. He had a little bit of flour on his front too, though his face appeared no dirtier than usual.

"Good morning," Lydia greeted, unable to hide her grin.

"Hey, babes, good morning!" Betelgeuse returned, grinning back.

"What are you doing? Have you ever cooked anything before?"

"I roasted a few rabbits over campfires, when I was alive."

"You roasted bunnies??" the boy squawked, his eyes wide with horror.

"Oh, hush. It was a long time ago and supermarkets weren't a thing, yet," Betelgeuse told him, rolling his eyes.

"Who's your young friend?" Lydia asked.

"Ah. Lydia, meet little Davey. Davey, this is Lydia."

"Hi," Davey said, reaching his fingers towards the pancake batter.

"Stop that!" Betelgeuse complained, moving the bowl away. "You're not supposed to eat the batter."

"It's nice to meet you, Davey. Why pancakes?"

"Why not? Kid deserves something for helping us out," Betelgeuse said, casually.

"I know where Keegan the creep takes stuff to," Davey boasted.

"Yup, took me longer than it should've to realize there had to be a couple of little sneaks among all those kids," Betelgeuse admitted.

"Betelgeuse, that's rude," Lydia scolded.

"Oh, it's okay, Miss Lydia. I like being a sneak," Davey assured her, grinning, innocence lighting his face.

"Oh! Well, all right then," she agreed, grinning, elbowing Betelgeuse, when he guffawed.

"Pancakes first, then we'll all go on a little trip," Betelgeuse said.

"Through the mirrors, right?" Davey asked eagerly.

"Yup, through the looking glass, just like Alice," Betelgeuse promised. "Hey, Lyds, you think you can talk the squares upstairs into coming along?"

"I'm sure Barbara and Adam will help, yes," Lydia said sharply.

"Huh, guess I better lay off the in-laws," Betelgeuse whispered loudly to Davey, who nodded, his eyes wide.

"I would appreciate that," Lydia agreed, pouring more batter into the waiting skillet. "Come on, let's finish breakfast, so we can get to work finishing Keegan."

"I love this blood-thirsty streak of yours, babes," Betelgeuse told her, leering.

"Great," Lydia laughed, grabbing a spatula and turning back to the burner. "Exactly what I want to be loved for."

"Hey! I love ya for all kinds of reasons," Betelgeuse protested, wrapping his arms around her waist and pressing close. "That's just one."

"I love you too," Lydia said, leaning back into him.

Lydia twisted halfway around, so they could kiss. Barbara walked in to the disturbing sight of Betelgeuse sticking out his tongue to lick across Lydia's lower lip. She looked from them to Davey, who was giggling, with his hands placed over his eyes.

"Sorry to interrupt," Barbara lied, annoyed.

"BABS!" Betelgeuse shouted with fake enthusiasm. "You're just in time for breakfast!"

Betelgeuse snatched a huge beetle out from one of his pockets and bit it in half, munching hungrily.

"Care for some?" he offered sweetly.

"He is so gross," Davey said admiringly.

"Not to mention a bad influence," Lydia agreed, ruffling the boy's head. "Good morning, Barbara. Breakfast really is almost ready. We're making pancakes."

"Good morning. That sounds great," Barbara said, looking at Betelgeuse, with his floured apron, dubiously.

"Hey, so I'm a messy cook!" Betelgeuse said, defensively. "Get over it."

"Are they done yet?" Davey complained.

"Yeah, hold your horses, ya bottomless pit," Betelgeuse assured him.

"Betelgeuse!" Barbara snapped.

"HEY! Lay off the B-word!"

"BJ," Lydia corrected, calmly. "Why don't you and Davey set the table, while Barbara and I finish cooking?"

"Huh. Subtle, you are not, babes, but okay," Betelgeuse grumbled, getting down the plates and handing some silverware to the boy. "Come on, Davey. Let's give them some girl time."

Lydia just smirked, waving good-bye with her fingers, as they left the room. When they were gone, she turned to Barbara, who stared at Lydia with an uneasy expression of apology and defiance. Lydia smiled gently, taking a deep breath.

"He's not as bad as you think," Lydia told her, turning and pouring the pancake batter.

"He's perverted, untrustworthy, and...mercenary!" Barbara objected.

"Okay, fair enough, he is those things. It's just...that's not all he is," Lydia explained. "He's also strong, clever, funny, wise, and, in his own way, loyal to his friends and family."

Barbara shook her head, smiling in defeat.

"Wow. You really are in love with him, huh?"

"Give him a second chance and you might get to see why," Lydia hoped. "Antagonize him and he'll deliberately show you only his worst side."

"Lydia, that's childish."

"Yeah, he's that too," Lydia admitted, turning and handing Barbara the full platter of pancakes. "Also, he wants you and Adam to come with us. Davey is going to show us where Keegan hides things."

"How are we supposed to do that? We can't leave the house!"

"I don't know, but Betelgeuse must. He wouldn't ask, if it weren't possible. He and Davey were talking about traveling through mirrors."

"Mirrors? Well, if he can find a way, we'll go and help," Barbara agreed, puzzled.

"Thank you, Barbara," Lydia said, hugging her.

Barbara hugged her back, smiling ruefully.

"You're welcome, hon."

They went to the dining room, finding Betelgeuse and Davey sitting on the table at opposite ends, facing each other. The two ghosts were building an enormous card castle. Betelgeuse had used his magic on the cards. Some were spinning and others were glowing in multiple colors. Fire spewed out of a couple of the windows.

"Betelgeuse!" Lydia interrupted, laughing. "Did you forget something?"

"What??" Betelgeuse asked defensively, then looked where Lydia was pointing, seeing the plates and dishes stacked haphazardly on a chair. "Oh. Yeah, that."

"Yeah, that. Sorry, but you're going to have to clear the table."

"Sure, babes, yeah, no problem at all," Betelgeuse rambled, sweeping the card castle into his hands, where it became an ordinary-seeming deck of cards. He climbed off the table and helped Davey get down, smiling in an attempt at innocence.

Davey grabbed the plates and Betelgeuse caught the silverware. Once the table was set, everyone sat down and began eating. Charles and Delia had left to run some errands, not sticking around to sample Betelgeuse's cooking. Barbara sighed, turning to Betelgeuse, once she saw him swallow.

"Lydia says you want Adam and I to go with you, when you go get the kids' stuff. How are we going to be able to leave the house?"

"Mirrors," Betelgeuse said simply, shrugging.

"What about mirrors?" Adam asked, puzzled.

Betelgeuse sighed, then explained, "Mirrors, well all reflective surfaces really, are all connected and ghosts can enter them. Mirrors contain everywhere, all at once. So you can be in a mirror and still be here, see what I mean? You guys gotta start working this stuff out, come on! There's no rule that doesn't have a loophole."

"But, won't we still have to stay inside the mirror, then?" Barbara asked.

"Well, yeah, sure, but you'll be able to see what's happening and you can use magic, same as if you were using it on something in the next room. We can hand stuff to you, too."

"All right, of course we want to help," Adam agreed, while Barbara nodded.

"Good, good! We'll go as soon as the pit there is done scarfing down pancakes," Betelgeuse said, earning a scowl from Barbara.

"You took as many as me," the boy pointed out. "It's just my mouth is smaller."

Everyone jumped a bit, when Betelgeuse began cackling loudly, reaching over and ruffling Davey's hair.

"Ya got me there, kid," Betelgeuse admitted, grinning. "I do have kind of a big mouth on me."

"But, the sooner you eat, the sooner we get to go through the mirrors," Lydia reminded Davey kindly.

"OOOoo, YES!" he shouted, shoveling in a huge mouthful of pancakes.

"I messed up," Lydia laughed, ruefully.

"Yeah, way to be a good influence, babes," Betelgeuse teased.

"You should talk," Lydia scoffed.

"I'm done now!" Davey announced, licking syrup off of his fingers.

"Good job. So, we all ready?"

"We can use the mirror in the attic. It should be big enough," Barbara suggested.

Everyone filed up the stairs to the attic, following Davey, who raced ahead. Once there, they stood huddled around the mirror, hesitating. Betelgeuse chuckled at the others.

"Well, we going or not?" he asked sarcastically.

"We're going as soon as you tell us how, oh Ghostly One," Lydia mocked, lightly.

Betelgeuse waggled his eyebrows at her, taking her hand and laying it on the glass of the mirror. Immediately, the cool of the glass warmed and the mirror lost its solidity. Lydia gave a slight gasp, awed despite knowing what ghosts could do. Betelgeuse turned to Davey, gesturing him through.

"Go on, kid. You, Babs, and Adam go first."

"All right!" Davey crowed, hopping inside the mirror, followed closely by Barbara and Adam.

"Well, someone's having fun," Lydia pointed out ruefully.

"He's got good reason to be excited. Even I'm impressed with this bit," Betelgeuse admitted, leading her into the mirror.

As soon as they were on the other side, Lydia understood the boy's excitement. She had expected a gray or white emptiness. What she found instead was a dream-like world that shifted and changed around her. She saw doors and staircases, standing free and leading both to rooms and to grassy fields. Betelgeuse stood, grinning, surrounded by a nimbus of sunlight.

The area wasn't empty of people, either. Lydia supposed most of them had to be ghosts. Still, an impressive number of men, women, and children flowed by, some lingering and others speeding through. There was plenty of talking and chattering, some people greeting each other, as if meeting on a city street.

"Okay, kid, you're up," Betelgeuse told Davey.

Davey nodded, grabbing Betelgeuse's wrist and pulling him along. The child ghost led Betelgeuse up a set of stairs to a closed door. Lydia tried to keep track of their direction, but was soon lost. She found herself going up staircases, down escalators, through tunnels, and even over a river! Betelgeuse alone took their journey in stride, patiently waiting as Davey chose their path.

After about twenty minutes, Davey stopped in front of a huge, iron door, nodding decisively. The door stood by itself, unattached, underneath a projection of rock, in shadow. Davey pushed, but the heavy door didn't budge. Betelgeuse examined the door, walking around it and humming thoughtfully. Coming back around, he pointed out large brown stalks than ran from the door into the ground. Reaching into his pocket, Betelgeuse pulled out a large flashlight, shining it on the door, which slowly blossomed open, turning into a portal of wrought iron flowers. Betelgeuse grinned in triumph, putting the flashlight away.

Everyone but Betelgeuse gasped, eyes wide. The portal was open, but the area on the other side was completely dark. Betelgeuse frowned, taking Davey's hand and leading him inside. Lydia followed them, while Barbara and Adam stayed just inside the portal, keeping it open. Lydia found herself in almost total darkness.

"Betelgeuse, I can't see," she told him.

"Hell, babes, I can barely see," he told her, handing Davey over to her by touch. "Just a sec."

Betelgeuse turned the flashlight back on and shown it around. The light revealed a medium cavern, about the size of a large bedroom. Betelgeuse shown the light all around, turning in a complete circle. There was no exit to the cavern, except for the full length mirror, where they had come through the portal. The light also revealed a few spare pieces of furniture, including a mattress and a table. Five, large, wooden chests sat against one wall. Betelgeuse looked at them grimly.

"Will the children's things be in there? Which one do we take?" Barbara asked.

"All of them," Betelgeuse rasped, angrily.

"Can I find my baseball glove, now?" Davey asked eagerly.

"Not yet, kid," Betelgeuse said.

"Let the kid have his glove!" Barbara demanded.

"We're not ready for that, yet," Betelgeuse said impatiently, waving her off.

"You're not ready, but you're not the one being used and abused by that monster. We came here in order to get those things for them. You might think it's funny to dangle his freedom in front of him, but I don't!" Barbara snapped.

"You wouldn't know a joke, if it bit your pert, prissy ass," Betelgeuse snarled. "I said NOT NOW and, if you had half a brain, you'd be able to figure out why! But, oh no! You FUCKING LOSERS can't even figure out HOW TO GET INTO A MIRROR ON YOUR OWN!!"

"I-it's okay," Davey said, in a small, frightened voice. "I can wait."

Betelgeuse closed his eyes, making a whining, strangled sound in the back of his throat, twitching. He whirled in Davey's direction, then dropped down, squatting on his ankles. He held up an index finger and motioned the boy forward.

"C'mere," Betelgeuse coaxed, but saw the boy hesitate. "Come on, Davey. It's okay. Just c'mere a sec."

Davey reluctantly approached, his lips trembling. He liked Betelgeuse, when the older ghost was being funny. Angered, Betelgeuse terrified him. When Davey was close enough, Betelgeuse reached out and brushed the hair back from the boy's forehead.

"Look, kid, I get it. And I'm not stringing you along for kicks, no matter what Babs says. The second any of you kids get something back, Keegan's going to know, right? That's when the real fight starts and I don't want that to happen here, you see? This is his territory and not a good place to pick a fight. SO. You gimme two more hours, okay? Two hours and you can take your mitt, no matter what's going on. Deal?"

"Yeah, deal," Davey agreed, sounding happier.

"She's a pill, but she's a pill that likes kids," Betelgeuse said, smirking. "Why don't you go wait with Barbara and Adam, okay?"

"Okay," Davey said, going back into the portal, then smiling up at Barbara, who hugged him gently around his shoulders.

Betelgeuse went over to one of the chests and tried to lift it, using ordinary, human levels of strength. It didn't budge. He glared at it. Lydia laughed and came over.

"Come on. One of us on each end should work," she told him.

Betelgeuse gave her a lazy smirk.

"Yeah, we could do that," he said brusquely, then grinned. "Or, I could just do this."

He clapped his hands and the chests began crawling across the cavern floor, towards the portal, moving like snakes, becoming longer and shorter. Lydia rolled her eyes, laughing lightly.

"Well, I guess you didn't need me," she said, mock pouting.

"Hey, you're having fun, aren't you?"

"Despite how serious our goal is, yes, I am having fun," Lydia admitted.

"Nothing says you can't do something important and have fun at the same time. Frankly, I think sticking Keegan where it hurts is a lot of fun," Betelgeuse said, as they went through the portal.

"I'm sorry," Barbara told Beetlejuice as he passed. He stopped, eyebrows raising in surprise. He shook his head, smiling a bit ruefully.

"Don't lose sleep over it, Babs," he assured her, with wry humor.

"Where are we going now?" Davey asked.

Betelgeuse made a long, clearing his throat noise, showing he was thinking.

"Hate to say this, Lyds, but your attic might be the best place. Your sewing teacher's house is too much his territory, too, and, well, there's really no other place in Winter River that I'm attached to."

"How about the dining room? It's pretty large, if we get the furniture out of the way," Adam suggested.

Everyone agreed and they headed back the way they came. It only took half an hour to get home and to get a large space in the dining room cleared. Betelgeuse left the wooden chests against one wall and surveyed everything with satisfaction.

"Okay, what now?" Lydia asked. "Are we ready for the children?"

"Not quite," Juno said, appearing next to Betelgeuse. "I have news and there's one other thing he needs, before he goes through with this madness."

"Hey, Granny," Betelgeuse greeted her with surprisingly sincere affection.

"Will you stop calling me that?" Juno asked tiredly, clearing not expecting him to agree. "Keegan has the Lost Souls' sword. Before you do anything else, you damn well better have a weapon that can kill him!"

"Can't BJ just use his magic?" Adam asked, puzzled.

"That was the original plan, but not if he has that damn sword," Betelgeuse said, grumbling. "Damn the luck."

"Wait, wait, what is the Lost Souls' sword?" Lydia asked.

"It's a magic sword, forged by a sorcerer priest many, many centuries ago. It was specifically created to exorcise ghosts!"

"Betelgeuse," Lydia said, worriedly, frowning.

"HEY! I do know how to sword fight," Betelgeuse said, annoyed.

"Except, even if you have one, an ordinary sword won't work on Keegan and I don't have anything I can give you!" Juno retorted.

"Yeah, yeah. Let's think about this, right? He gets his magic by stealing it, based on items of emotional attachment. I can't use the kids' stuff, cause that would put them in even more danger...I gotta find a way to turn his magic on him..."

"What about your emotional attachments? Couldn't you fight him using a weapon made from something you care about?" Adam asked.

"Yeah, maybe, but I've been dead six hundred years and I don't got a lot of attachments to speak of..." Betelgeuse began, then stopped, turning and staring hard at Lydia.

"What?" Lydia asked, as a smug smirk lit up Betelgeuse's face. "I don't have a sword."

"Actually, babes, ya kinda do."

"I'm pretty sure I don't!"

Betelgeuse walked over to her and neatly plucked her hairpin from her, dangling it in front of her eyes. Lydia bit her lip, shaking her head.

"Oh, no, you've got to be kidding!"

"It's a weapon that has sentimental meaning to me, babes."

"It's a hairpin. You can't go up against a sword with a hairpin!" Lydia protested. "You'd have to get so close."

"Aw, babes, don't be so worried," Betelgeuse assured her. "It just needs a little juice, is all!"

Betelgeuse twirled the hairpin between his fingers and it began to grow, glowing with a greenish light. When Betelgeuse stopped, he held a long, two-edged sword. The feather had transformed into a practical hilt and now existed only as a light, decorative etching along the hilt and down the blade. Barbara whistled softly.

"Okay, I'll stop underestimating you now," Lydia conceded.

"No, you won't," Betelgeuse said, chuckling.

"Now, all you have to do is win the duel," Juno said dryly, puffing on a cigarette.

"Aw, June-buggy, you're such a pessimist. Cheer up! I'm about to create more paperwork for ya," Betelgeuse told her, kissing her forehead. "Okay, we're ready as we're gonna be. Davey, go get Jennifer and the other kids."

"Yippeeee!" Davey crowed, hopping back into the mirror.

While they waited, Betelgeuse dumped the contents of the chests on the floor. He pulled Lydia to one side of the mess, while the others settled near the furniture on the other side. Soon, Jennifer and the children, over two dozen of them, came in through the mirror. They looked at the items and gave cries of joy. The children all rushed forward, claiming their toys, clothes, and books. Jennifer knelt down on one side and reverently picked up her mother's cross.

"Good God, you really did it!" she whispered.

"It'll cost him what's left of himself," Keegan snarled, appearing in the middle of the room.

"Back in the mirror. EVERYONE!" Betelgeuse commanded, stepping forward.

Betelgeuse stood between Keegan and the others, as the adults herded the children into the mirror. Lydia went through, then turned, needing to watch and be sure her lover was safe. She watched as Keegan drew his own sword, brandishing it at Betelgeuse.

"You damn idiot. What did you do this for? You think I don't have ways to find stuff out? I know all about your attempted marriage and how that girl betrayed you. She left you high and dry and you ride to her rescue?!"

"Huh, well, I guess that is one way of looking at things," Betelgeuse said, pretending to consider that. He turned briefly to the mirror, smiling and winking at Lydia. Turning back, he spread his hands in a helpless gesture, shrugging and smirking. "Aw, hell, what can I say? I love the gal!"

"Then, you can die for her, as much as a shadow can die," Keegan snarled.

"Or, I can kill you for her," Betelgeuse countered, cackling and winking. "I like that much better!"

"Are they going to fight or just talk?" Jennifer complained.

"They're sizing each other up," Juno explained, her worry lines deeper than ever. "That ghost wouldn't fight, if he didn't think he could win, and he's arrogant, but not a fool."

"BJ'll win. He has to," Lydia said, firmly, her eyes never leaving him.

"Of course he will," Barbara agreed, standing behind Lydia and placing her hands on her shoulders.

Watching the men fight, it was apparent that neither were experts with a sword. Betelgeuse might have had more training, but he was a bit clumsy and out of practice. Keegan compensated for his lack of skill with ferocity and strength. Betelgeuse did the same with trickery and clowning, trying to distract his opponent.

Betelgeuse's strategy was the most effective, playing to his strengths. Keegan lunged powerfully, his sword aimed at Betelgeuse's belly. Betelgeuse staggered, his manner exaggerated, to one side and did a perfect prat fall. When he landed, a large number of bugs, snakes and worms exploded out from his pockets, rolling and slithering across the floor. Keegan gave a choked gasp of disgust, reeling back. Betelgeuse hopped nimbly to his feet, chortling.

Juno scoffed.

"Dammit, he needs to stop playing games! I've never understood why he does things like that!"

"It's who he is," Lydia tried to explain, "his nature and all it's aspects."

"His nature?" Barbara asked skeptically.

"Mmhmmm. He's so many things. Clown. Monster," Lydia admitted, as Betelgeuse's upper body split in to two snakes, each with one arm and a semi-human head, with needle sharp teeth. Keegan's sword flew clumsily between the two snake forms. The left snake hissed and backhanded Keegan sending him flying backwards. Lydia smiled sweetly, continuing softly. "Lover."

As if he had heard her, Betelgeuse returned to his normal form and stared into the mirror, directly at Lydia. He winked, blowing her a kiss. Lydia placed her hand on the mirror, as if touching his cheek.

Keegan took advantage of the distraction to tackle Betelgeuse, knocking the feathered sword out of his hand. Lydia gasped, but Betelgeuse just grinned, turning into a giant snake. He surged forward, sinking razor sharp teeth into Keegan's right shoulder. Keegan howled, dropping his sword from suddenly nerveless fingers. Betelgeuse changed back and picked up the Lost Souls sword. He stood over Keegan, who had sank to his knees, unaccustomed to pain. Betelgeuse looked to the mirror, giving Juno a challenging stare.

Pursing her lips, Juno nodded, grimly.

Raising the sword, Betelgeuse swiftly and efficiently cut off Keegan's head, letting loose an intense spray of blood that coated Betelgeuse's face and chest. Everyone froze, watching as Keegan's corpse shriveled and decayed into nothing. There was a moment of silence, then the children burst into song and laughter, dancing around each other. Lydia gave a quiet sigh of relief.

"Does anyone have a clean handkerchief?" she asked wryly.

Adam gave her his handkerchief, using magic to give it a bit of soap and water. Lydia took it gratefully, heading back into the attic and joining Betelgeuse. She crooked her finger and he leaned closer to her, eyebrows raised. Silently, she washed his face and neck, then reached up and kissed him. Betelgeuse kept still, amused, until she was finished, returning the kiss.

"They're kissing again," Davey announced, annoyed, leaning halfway out of the mirror.

"So? That's no excuse for hiding in the mirror all day," Betelgeuse said, with mock annoyance. "HEY, YOU PEOPLE! Come on and git out here. In case you weren't paying attention, I won."

The children ran out of the mirror, surrounding Betelgeuse and Lydia, running and dancing around them, shouting and laughing.

"Oh, great. Now I'm a maypole," Betelgeuse complained.

"It's a phallic symbol. I would think you'd approve," Lydia teased, as Anna Simons threw herself into Lydia's arms, hugging tightly. Betelgeuse smirked and picked the boy up, when Davey similarly threw himself at the poltergeist.

"We won!" Davey crowed. "That was scary, but I liked it when you fell and bugs went everywhere. He made the greatest face! So gross. Will I be able to become a snake someday, too? Can you teach me?"

"Uh, sure. Glad you enjoyed it," Betelgeuse said, chuckling.

"I think one troublesome bio-exorcist is enough," Juno said sternly. "Most of you will be joining your parents."

"My parents are still alive," Davey argued. "I mean, they're super old, but alive."

"Well, you're not staying here," Betelgeuse said, chuckling. "This house is a bit full, know what I mean? You can visit, though."

"Oh, all right. But, will you teach me the snake thing? Pleeeaasse?" the boy coaxed, pouting.

"You gotta learn more basic magic first, but sure. You develop enough mojo to pull it off and I'll show you the ropes."

"I don't deserve this," Juno sighed.

Betelgeuse handed her the Lost Souls' sword. She took it reluctantly, looking disturbed.

"Hey, it could be worse. They'll owe you for turning that in. Maybe they'll get you a new assistant."

"As a reward or a punishment?" she asked, shaking her head and disappearing.

Jennifer appeared next to them, taking Davey from Betelgeuse.

"Thank you, both. I'll make sure they all find proper homes," Jennifer assured them.

"Good, good, nice to see all the little details getting cleaned up," Betelgeuse said, ruffling Davey's hair.

Jennifer ignored him, giving Lydia a hug, then herding the children back into the mirror.

"I hope they do visit," Lydia said.

"Eh, they'll be around," Betelgeuse promised, grinning. "Who else is gonna teach them basic mischief making?"

Lydia laughed, looking forward to the promised mischief. Betelgeuse certainly provided it, as he became a fixture in the Deetz-Maitland household. He abandoned Adam's model, in favor of hanging out in Lydia's bedroom mirror. It made a convenient portal for Lydia and Betelgeuse to go back and forth between the living world and the afterlife.

Lydia and Betelgeuse were together as often as they could manage it. Lydia still visited Mrs. Allen and had started college. She enjoyed coming home, never knowing what she was going to find. Betelgeuse had slowly, but surely, began forging friendships with the rest of the household, but he also entertained himself, and sometimes others, freely and with great exuberance.

Lydia herself was not immune to his pranks and jokes. Coming home from school one day, she opened her bedroom door to be greeted by a hissing snake's head rearing over her. Lydia instinctively, but clumsily, tried to push the thing away, but got tangled up. She and the snake-headed man ended up in a messy pile in the middle of the hallway, where the snake transformed back into Betelgeuse, who lay on the floor, cackling with laughter.

"Aw, babes, you should've seen your face," he crowed, chortling.

"BJ!" Lydia said, annoyed.

Barbara came up behind them, having heard them falling. She shook her head indulgently.

"Can you two not play like this in the hallway? For heaven's sake, BJ, you could at least let her get her books put away."

"Hey, she's been waiting over six centuries for me to pull that joke on her!" Betelgeuse claimed, smugly.

"I...WHAT?" Lydia said, astonished, before the memory surfaced of Betelgeuse saying she looked like she expected him to grow a snake's head and jump out at her. "Betelgeuse...you JERK!"

Betelgeuse just lay there, snickering complacently, as Lydia rested her forehead on his shoulder, laughing helplessly. Barbara stepped around them, shrugging, not getting the joke.

"Well, don't forget Davey and a few of the other kids will be here soon."

"Davey's coming over?" Lydia asked, surprised.

"Yeah, I promised a bunch of the kids that I'd create some more cartoons for them," Betelgeuse said. "I didn't mention that?"

"Cartoons?" Barbara asked dubiously. "Uh, just remember to keep it rated G, okay?"

"Barbara, babes, I'm from the fourteenth century. You'll have to tell me what the hell G stands for."

"It means general audiences," she explained firmly. "Nothing more violent than what you would see in a Looney Tunes cartoon, no profanity, and no sex, beyond kissing, hugging, and some innuendo, as long as the kids don't get it."

"AH. Thanks," Betelgeuse said. "I'll keep that in mind."

Lydia stood up and Betelgeuse floated to his feet.

"Well, come on, then," she said. "Knowing them, they'll be waiting impatiently.

Sure enough, the children were waiting in the living room, the television already on and blaring. Davey, Anna, Helen and Alex chased each other around the room. Betelgeuse caught Davey and Helen up, dumping them gently on one end of the couch. Anna and Alex quickly settled in the middle, leaving the other end for Betelgeuse and Lydia.

"SO. What are you in the mood for?" Betelgeuse asked. "A fairy tale? Crime drama?"

"HALLOWEEN!" the children cried, eagerly.

"Good choice," Betelgeuse praised.

"You can use that party I told you about...the one Delia had for me, when I was ten?" Lydia suggested.

Betelgeuse laughed, using his juice to conjure up an image on the television. The children and Lydia watched, laughing, as they saw cartoon images of Betelgeuse and Lydia preparing for Halloween. Davey bounced over and gave Lydia a hug, when Delia dressed her as a pink bunny. Betelgeuse chortled, allowing the cartoon Lydia to change the bunny into a werewolf, earning a quick kiss.

"Remind me to never let you meet any of my classmates," Lydia said.

"I don't need to meet them. I've heard you talk about them!"

"That party people in a can thing sounds fun though," she said, ignoring him. "I'll keep that in mind, if we ever do throw a Halloween party."

"You do that, babes, but I'm telling you now--I'm not running all over Winter River with a blow dryer, hunting down party animals," Betelgeuse warned her, getting in the last word.

Author's note: The cartoon Betelgeuse creates at the end of the story is, of course, from the actual Beetlejuice cartoon. The episode described, Laugh of the Party, was written by Patsy Cameron and Ted Anasti.

















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