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The Apparition

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Lydia had never really been sure if she believed in magic. Accepting the possibility of the existence of ghosts and the paranormal? Sure, no questions asked; but something about magic had always seemed too good to be true, in some winning-a-cash-prize-right-when-you-needed-it kind of way. Yet, against all odds, this was definitely as far away from too good to be true as one could get. The situation of which she was currently presented with was one of wearing about twenty-seven layers of red gauze and faux silk, facing an actual extra-terrestrial posing as a priest and, to top it all, marrying a self-proclaimed “ghost with the most.” Something told her, with uncanny subtlety, that this definitely was not an ideal position to be in.

Arm clamped to her side by the ghost's dusty maroon-velvet elbow, and her mouth magically shut by means she would rather not think about; Lydia was at her wedding, against her will. Resistance seemed marginally futile, standing there; her parent’s muffled wailing and pleading cries of pathetic mercy the only interlude to her currently racing mind. What had happened to the Maitlands? Why was this happening? And most importantly, how the fuck was she supposed to get herself out of this? She had very few options. The knowledge of an incredibly powerful being half-glued to her side ruled out the option of physical movement. Perhaps staging some sort of an intervention, a desperate bid for freedom by some intelligent design. But what if he could read minds? She blanched, horrified at the consideration.

“Then, by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Lydia's eyes widened. How had she been so stupid to forget time never seems to slow when you're desperately trying to avoid eternal matrimony? Of course, the ceremony had still been taking place, this wasn't like the movies. A spine-chilling gust of air swept the room, leaving Lydia little time to mentally curse herself for her stupidity. Before she even knew what was happening and gather her bearings, the spell gluing her lips together broke. Where there had once been an enchantment, restraining any hope of crying for help, the space was forcibly, and without any hint of a proposition, replaced by the ghost's tongue.

Bitter cold engulfed her entire being in a way the harshest winter days in New York never had. Disgust, confusion, and horror overcame her lasting senses of reason. Panic-stricken, she desperately began to attempt to break free of his tight embrace. No sooner had she thought this then the hand not wrapped around her waist began combing through her tangle of dark hair, which rivaled his grey-greenish-blonde tufts. He tugged and twisted, pulling at her roots with a force that demanded control. She gasped, writhing, tears stinging her eyes with bitter unforgivingness. It wasn't until now that some consciousness seemed to come flooding back, resulting in a sudden awareness that the hideous red gauze had gone from her frame, transformed into a thin, creamy-white satin nightgown.

Horrible images flashed before her mind and, with a sudden twisting motion, she attempted to unglue herself from the ghost’s cold lips. This was where she absolutely drew the line. She had agreed to a bond in order to save the Maitlands, but this was too damn far. Struggling against him, it seemed that his grip on her only tightened with every tug and pull. A coiling sensation surrounded her, squeezing the very breath out of her lungs so that she gagged, gasping for air. Limbs flailed, a sharp lashing out at him with her ankle hit him squarely in the shin. In a flash, she was miraculously swung upside down, her guilty ankle in the clutch of coiled scaled skin. bile soared up her throat as she heaved, thick, glutenous, tar-like liquid spilling out of her mouth, cascading over the floor. Gagging, her vision blurred; the silken nightdress slipping up to expose her thighs. The last, horrifying image she saw was a gigantic, terrifying distorted mass of saliva ridden fangs, putrid green scales, and poisonous yellow eyes, staring directly into her soul with a kind of animalistic hunger she had never seen.

Chapter Text

Lydia Deetz awoke with a start in a tangle of black sheets, her own hair stuck to the corners of her mouth. She sat up, rubbing the rather goey accumulation of sleep, tears and last night’s mascara out of the corner of her eyes, her head thumping. The visions of her nightmare raced through her mind; image after image playing like the film of one of her cameras. She’d had this dream before - or rather lived something like it before. Two years ago she had nearly been legally bonded with a paranormal phenomenon from beyond the grave, before a sandworm had come crashing through the roof of her parent's house, swallowing her fiendish fiance whole, and taking him to God knew where. Thus it had been this way, the same dream, nearly every night for the last two years. Something had to give, and it wasn't going to be Lydia.

Sunlight thieved its way in through charcoal curtains onto the floor, kissing the peculiar furnishings that orchestrated her bedroom. An abundance of strange shadows climbed the walls as she slid a pale leg out from under the covers, raising herself to a standing position. With a yawn and some awkward shuffling, she meandered over to the smudged mirror that leaned precariously against the wall. It was here that she examined her far from rested features. The bags under her eyes were the worst they’d been for years, and the skin underneath her eyes was blotchy from crying. Although, it was her hair that really stole the show. It was such a state that it was a wonder it didn't suddenly spring to life and make a bid for freedom. She was a total mess, no doubt about it.

A few coffees and a much-needed shower later, and Lydia was sat on her bedroom floor in a black robe, towel-drying her hair for all it was worth. Despite the vigorous cleaning, that had taken place minutes before in the shower, she still felt…what was the right word? Unclean. She wasn't entirely sure, but whatever it was, it wasn't a pleasant feeling. The dream had felt so real. More vivid and far more realistic than ever. Usually, they would be comprised of blurred outlines and inaudible muttering, not the level of clarity she'd just experienced. But what on earth was usual these days? A soft knock at the door pulled Lydia back to reality.

“Lydia, honey, are you okay?”
Barbara’s gentle voice (muffled slightly by the obscuring door) floated into the room. Lydia hesitated. As sweet as it was that Barbara would go out of her way to wish Lydia well every morning, this was nothing like the cheery, predictable: “morning sweetie” which Lydia had grown accustomed to. Wiggling herself into a kneeling position, she gifted Barbara a notably suspicious reply.

“Yeah…fine,” Lydia responded timidly, standing up and, with a slight trip, crossed to her door. She twisted the handle, allowing a startled looking Barbara Maitland a glimpse of her post-shower state. “Need anything, Mrs. Maitland?”

It was obvious that Barbara was equally suspicious. The woman couldn't lie to save her life; that was plainly obvious, given her deceased existence. Taking control, the ghost gently pushed the door further, allowing herself to enter Lydia’s room.
“Lydia, I don’t mean to pry but, are you sure you’re alright?” Barbara placed a hand on the silken shoulder of Lydia Deetz, giving it an encouraging squeeze. “You can talk to me if you want; you know I’m always here for you. Literally, I can’t leave this house”
Lydia couldn't help but giggle. It would be a discredit to disregard Barbara's improved sense of humor; although the sad reality was that it probably came down to the sheer lack of entertainment she and her husband Adam were presented with on a daily basis.

“Thanks, I appreciate it and all Mrs. Maitland, but I'm seriously fine!” Lydia knew she had failed to convince her ghostly counterpart. Biting her lip nervously, she tried to think of something to say, anything that would just make Barbara stop worrying so much. Above it all, she couldn't help but wonder how Barbara would even know something was on the precipice of her mind. Could she read minds now? Was she X-raying the ceiling to spy on Lydia's dreams? It wasn’t like her dream had been explicit, more borderline terrifying; but the worried look in Barbara’s eyes told her differently.

“I know what you’re thinking, Lydia” Barbara took a hold of both Lydia’s shoulders now, keeping her grip firm.

'Shit,' Lydia began to panic. If Barbara could read minds, some very questionable things were about to come up. Lydia braced herself for a bashing, screwing up her eyes like a child, praying to whatever powers were listening that Barbara was not about to say what she feared. 

“You were screaming last night, we were terrified.”

Lydia opened her eyes. Quite the contrary to what she had been expecting. 

“We tried to get in, oh, you know, to calm you down, but we couldn’t open the door.” Barbara sniffled, making direct eye contact with Lydia locking her sight on her mercilessly. “You know how we feel about that; your proneness to nightmares is usually motivation enough to leave it unlocked on your own. What changed?”

This had to be one of the weirdest mornings Lydia had had in a while, and it wasn't even nine. First snakes, then X-ray vision ghosts, now this? The horror at what Barbara had just told her seemed to sink in too little too late, as Lydia's heart plummeted. As far as she was concerned, that door had remained unlocked since the night of the very real, very unspoken of wedding. 

“Mrs. Maitland-” Lydia began, taking a steadying breath. “I kept the door unlocked, I swear!” She stared desperately into Barbara’s coffee-brown eyes, feeling them lock right onto her own Hazel ones. “I haven’t locked it since B-" she broke off, catching herself before she said something unforgivable. "-uh, since we moved in.” She knew Barbara didn’t believe her, the look on her face and miss-reading of her blunder told her all that she needed to know.


"Lydia, you don’t need to lie to me,” Barbara crouched slightly, reaching the teen’s height. “I’m on your side honey”

“I am not lying!” Lydia pleaded. “Seriously, Mrs. Maitland, I never locked that door!” She pulled herself out of Barbara’s clutches, feeling childishly misunderstood. Why was it the one time she neglected lying it landed her right in Barbra’s bad books? She wasn’t a little kid! She expected to be treated like an adult, just as they expected her to behave like one. She knew locking her own door was a right she should have, yet was it not her who insisted on leaving it open, just in case the nightmares scared her so badly she screamed and tore at thin air? It wasn’t like these dreams were petty fears, they had very nearly been her reality, and locking herself away with them would be an insult to her intelligence, a classic case of stupidity. “I get it.” Lydia bent down to retrieve her nightshirt from the floor. “You’re worried and I may seem like I’m being insensitive and all but, I swear, I didn’t do it.” She folded her arms, nightshirt and all as if that settled the matter. Barbara sighed.

“Okay, Lydia.” She walked towards her, holding her close to her chest and gently stroking her semi-dried hair. “I believe you.” 

'Liar,' Lydia thought. 

Once Barbara had left the room, Lydia slumped onto her bed. That had quite possibly been the strangest disagreement the two of them had ever had, and all over a lock? It was bizarre. Lydia closed her eyes, fatigue crawling at her eyelids despite the fact she’d woken up barely an hour previous. The sun continued to ease its way into her room as if nothing was wrong. She sniffed and sat up, deciding to put the morning’s affairs out of her mind for a while. There were bigger things to worry about; the feeling of unnameable dread for one thing. It had clung to the air above her all morning, a bad smell she couldn't get away from. 

Yawning widely, she pushed herself up off of her ebony covers and opened the closet.  An accumulation of black and dark colours greeted her, all of which linked to some kind of memory. The time she had aced her final English exam, the day Adam had quite literally lost his head over an arguably hilarious argument with her father and the day she was accepted into University. Somehow, there was the odd occasional hint of charcoal grey or red within her collection, all thanks to the notorious Delia, who repeatedly insisted that she did not mind Lydia’s fashion taste, (most days,) but insisted on some “brighter tones." Lydia couldn’t bring herself to be mad over this. It wasn't that she disliked colour - especially not now when she was more mentally positive - but nothing would ever beat her traditional dark blue, purple and iconic black. 

As terrified as she was when faced with dreams about the ghost she had almost married, his apparition (so to speak) had sparked a flame of confidence and control within her. She was no longer the "depressive freak" she had once been, back in New York. She was mentally mature, composed, a little more light-hearted, a little more at ease, but still in complete ownership of the quirks that made her herself. The obsessions with death and decay lingered significantly, yet they weren't as intrusive to her thoughts as they had been once before. She thrived in her new-found acceptance and while she wasn’t totally cured of anxiety (or didn’t occasionally slip back into sadness,) she was on the path to something much better. 

Finally, Lydia picked out an outfit. Slipping on a sleeveless black dress, tying the laces of some burgundy boots and topping it all with a small black bowler, she felt the morning's worries melt away. Life, despite nightmares and suspiciously locked doors, didn’t seem too bad at the moment.

Chapter Text

It had been weeks since Lydia had been able to spend an entire day down at the Cemetary. Snapping photos of headstones, sketching the dried and forgotten flowers that had been strewn across mounds of decaying history, all while sipping a large coffee was nothing less than therapeutic. As unconventional as it was (although not out of character), Lydia loved the cemetery; not just because of the atmospheric melancholic vibe, but because it was quiet. She could think here, away from the house, away from the bickering between her parents and ghostly residents and - perhaps most importantly - away from Delia and her many artistic endeavors.

A few more photos later and Lydia was satisfied with her collection. The idea of returning to the house wasn’t really a thrilling prospect but she didn’t have much choice. The summer sun was setting and a slight chill had started to creep about her bare arms and ankles. It had clearly been a mistake not to bring a jacket with her, even though there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky all day. Lydia shivered, wrapping pale arms around paler shoulders to protect herself. bowing her head with her hat slightly askew, she began to trample up the path, leaving the dead sleeping peacefully beneath sporadic patches of dried grass.

With a slight jolt in her stomach, she suddenly remembered that it was her 18th birthday tomorrow. It had come round so quickly, how could she have forgotten? Not like it mattered. Last year hadn’t exactly been festive. Lydia sighed, remembering the tumult of a row that had taken place on that particularly unceremonious occasion.

After leaving town, Charles Deetz had ordered a beautiful cake, filled with cream and topped with fondant flowers and candles. A box of new Polaroid films accompanied the spectacle, and all to celebrate her turning seventeen. This had been a surprising affair, to say the least, but it did not go unappreciated. Well, that was until the truth had been uncovered. As it so happened, Charles had not been the guilty purchaser of these gifts. The discovery that it was Lydia's birthday, and that the two fully-grown Deetz 's had left Winter River the night before for an impromptu holiday, the Maitland’s had quickly come up with a masterplan. Stealing Charles’ phone, Adam had managed to perfectly mimic the man’s nasally voice and, with the help of the household contact book, placed the orders under his name. Unable to pay for them face-to-face and remaining morally efficient (even in death), Barbara had left a wad of cash in an envelope under the mat at the front door. The gifts were placed on the dining room table that very evening with a forged note:

“Happy Birthday, Pumpkin!
Sorry, we couldn't be there, work business called us out to Hawaii.
With lots of love, always,
Daddy and Delia xxx”

Teary-eyed and delighted, Lydia had blown out the candles on her cake and accepted gifts of parlor-trick flowers and a Harry Belafonte record from the Maitlands. Yet, as fate had planned, the truth eventually came out once the emotional high faded. With detective-worthy credulence, Lydia realized that the notoriously anti-Lydia Delia would never give her love. Questioning and confronting the Maitland’s had been difficult enough without their constant apologies and explanations. She couldn’t be angry with them, she wasn’t. All she felt was bitter rejection; cold and unforgiving.

Charles and Delia had come home a few days later to an eerily silent house. The Maitlands were out of sight (just as Charles liked them) and Lydia was shut up in her room (just as Delia liked her.) Knocking twice and twisting the handle, Charles had entered her bedroom a little drunk and a little insensitive. Lydia seemed to have run out of tears, she could barely look at him. Before Delia, he would have never forgotten her birthday, especially not her last before adulthood. She had been on the precipice of forgiving him without conflict, unable to bear an argument, before the Maitlands (clearly listening through the floor) had come bursting into the room in a flurry of flowers and plaid. They ripped into Charles, shouting things Lydia could never have believed they would ever have been capable of. Then, with a shriek of rage, Delia stormed in; a whirlwind of ginger fury and bottle cap earrings. Lydia, caught in the middle of all this, had snuck out of her room and run to the cemetery with her camera and the new films. There she cried all evening, eventually dragging herself back to a silent house, her father’s car (along with Charles and Delia) gone from the driveway. The cake had been delicious; not that anyone had eaten it.

The memory of that toxic affair was enough to put her off birthdays for life, and something told her this one wouldn’t be any different, even if it was her eighteenth. By the time she arrived back at the house, the sky was an impressive blood-red; crimson and gold hues chased the shadows on the ground playfully, licking the white walls of her Winter River residence. She pushed open the door and kicked off her boots, hating to tread mud onto the floor Delia loved yet Mrs. Maitland took upon herself to clean. She climbed the granite stairs, dropping her camera onto the bed before silently foot-stepping back down the stairs to the room her father stored his liquor. If she was going to celebrate her eighteenth alone, it was going to be in style.

After a few seconds of scanning, Lydia selected a large, dusty bottle of red wine from 1985. She popped the cork, grabbing a lead crystal glass from the cupboard on the wall as she passed. Now Lydia wasn’t a great drinker, but she had snuck a glass every now and again in a spark of some teenage-rebellion. She had seen Charles drink his way through a bottle or two of whiskey before passing out at his desk only moments later, and figured the worst that could happen was a slight headache in the morning. If she had to spend her eighteenth popping aspirin, so be it. After successfully sneaking back up to her room she closed the door and, for the first time in two years, locked it. She giggled, feeling oddly rebellious.

Alcohol tolerance was something completely alien to her. The odd shot of whiskey was one thing, but an entire bottle of wine seemed particularly ambitious. Pouring herself a full glass she took a sip. A sudden burst of gentle bitterness and rich plum-like flavors met her tongue, leaving a pleasantly sweet aftertaste. She couldn't help but imagine a hot night in France. Taking an instant liking to the drink, she put the glass to rest on the floor, perching herself next to it, gazing out of the window. The room was slightly cooler than this morning, the summer night breeze slipping through her open window to gently kiss her creamy skin as she drank deeply from her glass. With a slight ache, Lydia realized she hadn’t eaten all day; too busy snapping shots of the Graveyard, her only sustenance had been cold coffee. As much as she was enjoying it, the wine was going straight to her head. Shrugging, Lydia poured another clumsy glass. Really, was there any point in celebrating your birthday if alcohol wasn't involved?

.............

At the rate she had been going, Lydia managed to down over three-quarters of the bottle in record timing. The girl in question was lying on her back in the pool of the pale moonlight that had started to edge in through the window. Somewhere through glass two, she had changed into her black silk night-dress, although she had no memory of this. Everything was hazy now and, altogether, equally hilarious. Time seemed to pass faster than usual, the clock ticking closer and closer to midnight with every sip she took. The remaining parts of her with common sense was regretting her choice of going wine-only, deciding Pizza would've been a great accompaniment to the alcoholic symphony that was beginning to ever so slightly burn her throat.

By five minutes to midnight, she was borderline hysterical. Raising a hand to shield her eyes from the moon’s brilliant glow, trying to count the sudden apparition of extra blurry fingers she couldn’t quite focus on. Apparently unable to sustain this incredibly strenuous position, her hand suddenly plummeted, hitting her squarely on the chin. Lydia tore into a tidal-wave of silent giggles, rolling gently from side to side, tears streaming from her scrunched up eyes, highly amused by her own arm’s betrayal. There was a rustle from the corner of her room. Lydia’s giggles subsided almost at once, her ears pricking up.

“W-who’sthere?” she slurred, pushing herself up onto her elbows, squinting into the darkness, her raven hair falling around her bare shoulders that were slowly developing goose bumps. “If anyonesthere…s’not funny.” She could feel her drunken state slowly slipping away as if it were being sucked out of her body. A low chuckle, sinister and cold erupted out of the darkness. The hairs on the back of Lydia's neck rose at the sound. Horror, the impossibility of it all. She knew that laugh. 

“Fancy sharin’ the joke? God knows I need a fucken’ laugh.”

Chapter Text

It was as if time itself had stopped. Suddenly, she was there again; the night of the wedding. The smell of smoke was thick and heavy, death fresh in her mind, forming beads of sweat that congealed with her hair, gently plastering it to her face. Lydia knew that voice. She also knew that it shouldn’t be there; couldn’t! Hardly daring to breathe, she lay frozen, praying it had just been a figment of her drunken imagination. She waited. Her ears were ringing in the silence; all she could hear was the pounding of her heart against her chest and the shallow, shaky intakes of breath. Surely, she had imagined it. Then, her worst fear came true as his grave voice broke the stillness in the air.

“Gotta’ admit, I’mma tad disappointed.” The tension in his voice could have been cut with a knife; practically dripping with sarcasm as he inevitably came closer. “Ya' die twice n' there ain’t even so much as a shittin’ eulogy.” Lydia could feel her whole body shaking but refused to grace him with a response. In a childishness - unlike her usual bitter maturity - she blindly assumed he would not know she was there if she remained quiet. Prey and predator, her eyes were wide and bulging, her mouth slightly ajar as a grimy, dust-covered shoe poked out of the darkest corner of her room into the puddle of moonlight seeping onto her floor.

“That said,” he took another step, “I much prefer a weddin’.” His silhouette was fully exposed now; a spectacle of maroon velvet, dirt, and only God knew what else covering his signature suite-and-tie look. Filthy, matted hair - the very image of monstrous, Betelgeuse leered down at Lydia, his eyes gleaming. “Ain't it jus' my luck that I've bagged myself a runaway bride?” Without so much as a warning look, he grabbed her by the arms, forcing her to stand. She came up a little shorter than him, though there wasn’t much in it. She cried out, feeling her hands begin to clam up. It was an understatement to say that a bucket of ice had cascaded into her stomach; this was fear like she had never experienced it.

"W-what are you doing here?" she stammered - the wine seriously making her head spin. "You shouldn't be-”


“A-alive?” The Poltergeist mocked, letting out a harsh laugh. “S'bit late for that ain't it, babes.” His grip on her tightened. “But ya' know what ain’t too late? A big, fat, juicy bit o’ clarity. Get talkin’ squirt.” He suddenly shifted, allowing moonlight to illuminate his complexion. For the first time in two years, Lydia was confronting the face that had repeatedly unapologetically haunted her nightmares. Through all the horror and confusion, she couldn't help but notice the diminishment of his features. The once loose jawline was sharper and, somehow, considerably more unkempt. The hollow of his cheekbones had deepened since last they had crossed paths. His wiry white-blond hair was as out-of-control as ever, but great tufts were missing like they if they had been ripped out. Lydia's eyes, wide and afraid, scanned his features, a mixture of revulsion and something like pity filling her chest.

“I-I don’t understand,” she breathed. Despite shaking worse than ever, she refused to let him have the upper hand. Summing up all of her courage, she looked him squarely in the eye, dealing him her very best quality teenage sarcasm. "Clarity? I thought the apparition of the sandworm made the end of our agreement perfectly clear." 

He seemed to whiten; the dark circles around his eyes narrowing dangerously at her insensitivity to his brutal re-death. “Now listen 'ere,” he growled, leaning further into her personal space, his grip on her tightening so much that he could have easily bruised her. “When I make a deal I make a fucken’ deal. Now, if I’m holdin’ up my end of the bargain, then I expect the other person ta’ follow through as well.” He was almost nose to nose with her. The proximity between them a horrible reminder of Lydia’s dream; his lips on hers, death engulfing her. She tried to take a step back but he caught her, ensnaring her with both of his arms. She squirmed violently, desperate to shake him off. A soft laugh escaped his lips; crude and sinister.

“Oh no, I don’t think so.” His voice was now so low that Lydia was struggling to hear. “Runnin’ off ta Babs and Adam? Fat chance" He was panting slightly with the effort of holding her, his strength not quite what it used to be. Still, Lydia refused to give up. Raising her free arm level to his face she smacked him squarely around the jaw. Totally caught off guard he staggered backwards, releasing her instantly. She rubbed her arm as he regained his balance, preparing herself for the explosion of anger that would surely follow. 

Contrary to her expectations there was silence; cold and heavy, broken only by their panting. He examined her, an expression more shocked than angry on his face. His lip curled into a slight smile. “Feisty ain’tcha,” he licked his bottom lip, rubbing the spot where she had hit him, studying her face, tutting incredulously. “Well well well…what a way to treat ya’ husband, babe.” He walked towards her bed and sat on the edge, lighting a cigarette, inhaling the fumes greedily. “Didn’t bank on ya’ havin’ balls now. Although-” he considered himself, chuckling darkly, “I’d be a bit surprised if ya’ did have balls; but whatever, we’re married n’ I guess I jus’ gotta accept whatever you-”

“Just stop!” Lydia cut him off, an angry flush dusting her cheeks. “What the hell is this anyway? One minute you’re plotting my death and the next-”

“What the? Whoa, whoa!” The ghost looked highly affronted, “Death? Who said shit ‘bout death?” He got up, striding across the room to where she stood. She flinched, expecting him to hurtle into her.- “I said I expect ya’ to hold up yer’ end o’ the bargain. Did I ever say I would kill ya’?” He glared at her, daring her to respond. When she didn’t he took a step closer, testing her further. “Point it babes" he spat, voice dripping with patronizing venom, "We're married whether I or you for that matter, like it; capiche?” He stomped back over to her bed and flung himself down upon the covers as if that settled the matter.

“No, we are not “capiche!”” Lydia followed, hot on his heel. She wasn’t really sure what capiche meant but sensed it’s mildly threatening undertones. “We’re married?!” She grabbed her bed covers and tugged, causing the ghost to hurtle across her bed to the floor on the other side with a thump. “I thought Barbara stopped you before we finished the ceremony! Tell me everything, now!” She stood there, hands on hips, a vision of domesticity and not even aware of it. Betelgeuse noted the silk robe she wore had slipped off her left shoulder to expose her warm, creamy flesh. His stare was so intense she felt is almost as clearly as she’d felt his hands on her arms just moments ago. With undisguised disgust, the rove was roughly tugged back into place.

“God, you’re just something else; you can’t even focus for two seconds!" She folded her arms angrily as if protecting herself. “If we really are married I’m gonna have to put up with you ogling me for the rest of my life and probably my afterlife too! I’m young, I have my whole future ahead of me and now I’m stuck with a psychotic killer who’ll p-probably…lock me up and force me to do his b-bidding-oh hell…” Her anger was breaking, ripped apart by her ragged breathing and dry sobs. She sank to the edge of the bed where he’d sat moments before. “I...I just want to know what happened.” her voice broke as fat tears rolled down her pale cheeks.

Betelgeuse was speechless. The only thing separating them was the bed. The bed he knew he would never be welcomed in. He had not felt sadness in little over six hundred years, yet here he was, full of remorse, for the first time in his afterlife. He just couldn’t control his anger; the betrayal he’d felt after making the deal with that desperate little teenager had all come flooding back, fogging up his mind with hateful comments she didn’t deserve. He knew that was no excuse, it wasn’t supposed to go like this. Was this really how he was going to spend his first day of freedom, tormenting his unwilling wife, taking away all of her youth and potential, and all because of his greed? At the time she’d fully accepted her fate, agreed to marry him, and all in order to save the shit-bags she called family. Her goodness was pure, absolute. He knew he didn’t deserve her.

"Squirt, I'm-" he rubbed his chin again, cigarette still between his teeth. Taking a steadying drag he juiced it away and made towards her. She jumped to her feet and backed into the corner beside the door.

“Stay away from me!” Her eyes were red from silent crying. He hated himself even more. “I’m not like you; I don’t hurt people just to get what I want!" She stared at the floor, hands clenched into fists. "I want you to leave." Her voice was low, steadier than before. "I want you to get out and never come back."

“I can’t.” It was his turn to stare at the floor as her eyes snapped up to stare at him, disbelieving. “I told ya’” he sighed, leaning against one of the four poles on her poster bed, “We’re hitched now, I can’t just go n’ leave ya’ like this. Otherwise - selfish bastard that I am - I would'a left a long time ago.” He looked up to find her gawking at him with disbelieving suspicion.

“Don’t play the self-deprecation game” she hissed, “I’m not gonna fall for it that easily.”

“I’m not.” He lurched off the pole and strode over to her. She didn’t move away this time, standing her ground bravely. “I’m a total dickbag; I don’t deserve ‘ya.” He knelt forward slightly, the same way Barbra had that very morning. “Lemme explain.”

Lydia considered him. His attitude was uncharacteristically thoughtful. He had a point, if he really wasn’t telling the truth why would he waste his time here when he could be out chasing dead whores? She let her cautious exterior drop, inviting him to tell her everything he wanted to. She had time. After all, the night was still young.

“Alright, fine.” She sniffed, taking a seat on her bed, wrapping herself in the duvet she’d snatched from underneath him earlier. “You’ve got until sunrise. Explain”

Betelgeuse grinned. “Alright Lyds” he juiced up two cigarettes, offering her one. She took it unapologetically. “I’ll tell ya’ exactly what went down.”

Chapter Text

Winter River: Summer of 1988  

If any of the residents of Winter River, Connecticut, had been passing by the Deetz’s isolated residence on one particular summer evening in 1988, they would’ve believed themselves to be going insane. A poisonous-green light was pouring out of every window and aperture as an ominous chill had settled around the house, blanketing the surrounding town. It was almost as if the dead had awoken.

Within the house was quite the spectacle. A table comprised of real estate big shots, an alleged “paranormal expert” turned interior designer, a fashionista with flaming-red hair, and a distraught goth standing just to the side of the action. Every member of the party’s eyes was locked on two spirits currently in the process of being exorcised. Adam and Barbara were dying…sort of…for the second time in four months.

“What’s happening to them?” Delia hissed. Once excited at the prospect of seeing the ghosts who apparently had been squatting in her newly refurbished house for weeks, the woman now sounded a little reserved.

“I don’t know,” Otho mumbled. While it was true that he had dabbled with the unknown beyond the veil in the past, he had never before been able to actually perform a spell with such dexterity. Hastily, he riffled through the pages of the handbook, desperate to answer with certified confidence. After a few seconds, the frantic search was broken with a horrified cry.

“They’re dying!” Lydia exclaimed, gazing into the once beautiful, now sunken face of Barbara Maitland. Panic clawed at her insides, inspiring both nausea and adrenaline.

“Don’t be ridiculous, they can’t feel a thing.” Maxie Dean’s barely audible mumbled left Lydia under the impression that he didn’t believe a word he said.

A rush of anger immediately consumed her. Maxie Dean had probably never cared for anyone else other than himself in his entire greed-ridden life. “That’s not true, look at them!” She was on the verge of tears, heartbroken that her father, Delia and their half-wit friends were going to cause her last thread of happiness to vanish.

“That’s enough now.” Charles snapped sweat beading on his forehead. “Can you stop this?” He asked, his eyes never leaving the writing bodies floating a few feet above the newly installed dining table. When Otho didn’t reply, Charles finally twisted his neck towards the interior designer. “Otho?”

“It’s too late Charles.” The man was far from his usual cool self, his face was a canvas of dread and incertitude. “I’m sorry.”

Lydia was at a complete loss. What could she do? She’d never been in any situation like this before and she seemed to be the only person at this table with a functioning brain. A dull feeling swept over her. She could hear him, laughing. He was in the model. Tearing herself away from the group she half ran to Adam’s beautifully created, small-scale version of Winter River that had somehow made its way downstairs. Searching frantically for him, muttering to herself, she prayed it wasn’t too late.

“Where are you?” Lydia groaned, fully aware that he would be having the time of his afterlife watching the people who hired him heading for a fate worse than death. That and her father covered in band-aids from his unceremonious drop down the stairs. Finally, she spotted him. Betelgeuse. “Help them, please,” she whispered.

He was sitting across two gravestones in a garish black and white striped suit, gaze fixed on an emery board, feverishly tearing his jagged nails into even sharper slants. He stopped the instant she spoke. His head turned at an agonizingly slow pace, wicked emerald eyes sliding to meet her frightened hazel ones, a twisted grin forming on dry, chapped lips. “Sure, I can help,” The poltergeist was all business, the sleaziest of salesmen, “but ya’ gotta help me.” He swung his body round to face her properly, fiddling with the nail file.

“W-what?” Confusion momentarily replaced excessive nausea within Lydia that was now threatening to reveal itself.

“Look, I’m what you might call an illegal alien, ok?” Betelgeuse swung his body round to face her properly. “I want out. For good. N’ in order for me to do that? Hey, I’ve gotta get married.” He spoke so fast that Lydia barely had enough time to process what he was saying.

“Marriage?” She muttered to herself, willing her ears to hear differently. Sensing her less than enthusiastic reaction the ghost rambled on.

“Hey, these aren’t my rules,” feigning defense he threw out his arms, “come to think of it, I don’t have any rules!” He snorted, causing Lydia to back away further, a look of disgust creeping across her porcelain features.  “Come on, come on,” he wined, “look, think of it as a marriage of inconvenience okay? We both get somethin’: I get out, you get the say you’re hitched with the most eligible bachelor since Valentino came over, we’re even babe!”

Lydia glanced over at the exorcism still in full swing. Her conscience was tugging at her heartstrings. She knew she had no choice. “Okay, just help them.” She blurted.

Betelgeuse was somewhat taken aback. Despite his need for her consent, this wasn’t some cheap subscription you could cancel any time. This was marriage and marriage with an immortal ghost, to say the least. Did she seriously not understand that any chances of her ideal future were obliterated? He shrugged it off, not wanting his millisecond of contemplation to spoil the mood. Whatever, this was his night as well as hers and he was selfish. If he was finally going to do it, settle down with a cute wife and tie the knot, he was going to do it well.

“Sure.” He sneered, pocketing the emery board, waiting for her to say the magic words. She seemed to be considering him, unsure of whether to trust him or not. To her credit, she had every reason not to, after all, he had almost killed her shit-bag of a father - not that Betelgeuse was particularly bothered by this teeny, tiny detail. The Maitlands would surely cease to exist if she didn’t submit to his terms, and something told Betelgeuse she’d happily trade her life to save theirs. Poor, weak little thing.

The girl squeezed her eyes tight shut. A shaky intake of breath escaped her pale lips as she whispered his cursed name into the surrounding air: “Beetlejuice…Beetlejuice…” She opened her eyes tentatively. He was leaning forward, eagerly. It was clear he knew full well she would do what needed to be done. Lydia swallowed, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. “Beetlejuice.”

He leapt up, full charisma returned, making his frightened fiancé to back away in alarm. His face twisted into a frightful grin, features stretching to accommodate the emphatic display of success. With a flash her father’s colleagues vanished as Delia, Charles and Otho were tied and gagged to decorative chairs with Delia’s handmade (and highly questionably designed) installation art. The Maitlands collapsed in a heap on the table they’d been suspended over just seconds before with a sickening crunching noise. They didn’t move. “Rigor mortis,” Betelgeuse chuckled, “ya’ know I love it.”

Lydia stared aghast. How could this creep joke at a time like this? She attempted to move towards him, an angry outburst forming on her lips, but a sudden change in clothing density shifted her gaze down to her outfit. She found herself in a fairy-tale white gown sumptuously decorated with elegant black lace, clutching a bouquet of black and white roses in hand. Her hair - now beautifully smooth and free of the hair gel she usually subjected it to - was styled into elegant curls that framed her pale face. Lydia was at the top of the stairs, now made of white marble instead of the textured granite they’d been seconds before. Catching her reflection in the mirror at the top of the stairs she noticed her lips were painted dark crimson. 

A gentle tap on her left shoulder caused her to turn around. There was nobody there. Looking around in confusion she spun around until her eyes fell on him: the man she’d sold her life to in order to save the Maitlands. Betelgeuse was standing halfway down the marble staircase, offering her his maroon velvet covered arm, free of dust and mold. “It’s Showtime,” he grinned.

A blast of organ music playing Wagner’s Bridal Chorus erupted, half defining Lydia and the mortal onlookers. Delia’s yelp of alarm was muffled slightly by the sculpture obscuring all but her eyes. Lydia felt herself descending the stairs by what she assumed were magical means, reaching out to take the dead man’s arm. The duo eventually reached the floor and a tidal wave of rapturous magical applause joined the already over-bearing music. Betelgeuse really was going all out.

Lydia looked around in awe at the living room. Once a prisoner of Delia’s unfiltered creativity, the space was alive with dancing fairy lights and beautiful dark tapestry embroidered with roses. The music eventually reached the famous melody as the soon to be newly-weds walked down the aisle. To Lydia’s right were Charles, Delia and Otho. Lydia grimaced at her father who seemed at a loss for words, his eyes staring back emptily. Finally, after what felt like forever, the ghost released her arm. The organ music and the applause died instantly. Lydia found herself unable to move, glued to a spot (undoubtedly by his magic) just in front of the fireplace.

There was an endless silence, with the exception of the persistent whimpering coming from Delia as she fought fruitlessly against her creative prison. “Ah, shit!” Betelgeuse cursed, smacking himself hard on the forehead. How could he have forgotten? It must’ve been all the wedding planning, it was just oh so stressful and his fiancé hadn’t even bothered to help with it all! With a snap of his fingers, the fireplace transformed into a beautifully carved wooden door. Delia screamed.

Stepping out of the doorframe and onto a rose embroidered rug - that hadn’t been there previous - was none other than Mary Shelley, a shawl draping her elegant shoulders and a look of befuddlement on her beautiful face. “Where am I?” she questioned the ghost with surprising confidence, adjusting her shawl.

“Winter River, Connecticut, 1988.” Betelgeuse informed her hastily, “at my weddin’ if ya’ must know.” He chucked her a book, which she caught unperturbed with both hands. “I need you ta’ marry me, n’ my blushin’ bride here,” Betelgeuse said with a nudge and a wink to Lydia. The teen blinked, clearly at a loss for words.

“Well I’d be delighted to,” Mary smiled, opening the book and scanning it quickly, “there’s just one slight complication…” she cleared her throat delicately. “I’m not ordained; in fact, women were forbidden to be ordained in my time.” She looked at Betelgeuse apologetically, “I’m terribly sorry.”

“No problem, I don’t need ya’ to be ordained.” Betelgeuse waved off her apology impatiently, “I’m not exactly the religious or traditional type if I’m honest. I jus’ need someone to say some fancy words so I can put a ring on this.” He jerked his head in Lydia’s direction and tapped at a page of the book Mary was holding, a silent instruction to start reading that passage aloud. She smiled, cleared her throat again and began to read:

“Dearly departed and yet to do so. We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of this ‘Ghost-With-the-Most’, greatest and most terrifying paranormal spectacle the world has ever witnessed -” Betelgeuse puffed out his chest importantly. Lydia rolled her eyes. No doubt he had written this pile of egotistical trash. Mary continued as if the speech was the work of Keats.

“- And this beautiful bride in unholy matrimony. Do you Betel-“

“Ah, ah, ah!” Betelgeuse interrupted her hurriedly, waving his arm around in a ‘shushing’ motion. “Nobody says the ‘B-word!’” He teased jokingly, popping his collar and nodding. “I do…take her that is…or rather I will. Later” he waggled his eyebrows at Lydia, who turned away, apparently disgusted, blushing angrily.

“And do you, Lydia, take this ghost to be your unlawfully wedded husband?” Mary looked up from the book. Lydia felt her hands begin to sweat inside the gloves.

She could say no; stand here with her mouth shut and refuse to say a word. Or she could run, head for the surrounding Connecticut hills and never look back. She might not get far in this dress, but it had to be better than just standing still and taking it. Besides, was this wedding even legitimate? Mary Shelley – if that really was her – wasn’t a valid person to marry them and seemed far too relaxed around Betelgeuse. If he was as powerful as he claimed he could easily free himself without her help. Running suddenly seemed more appealing than ever.

Lydia considered her options, eyes darting to the front door and back again, but a horrible feeling of guilt had taken settled in her chest. She was so stupid; even if he didn’t need to marry her what was going to stop him? They’d made a deal. Deals shouldn’t be broken, especially not when made with a being powerful enough to obliterate everything in front of them with a lazy flick of a decaying hand. She looked up into the face of a being that had tormented souls for over six hundred years. He looked right back at her, not a trace of malice in his expression. He knew exactly what was going through her frantic mind. He knew she would follow through.

Lydia squared her shoulders, willing all her anxiety to fade. “I do.” She’d accepted her fate, knew it was pointless to try and avoid it. This was what she’d signed up for, for better or worse. Mary Smiled warmly, closing the book and handing it back to Betelgeuse.

“I now pronounce you man and wife, congratulations!” She nodded to the ghost who, with a twirling motion of his hand, transported Mary and the door back to wherever they’d come from.

“Well then…” Betelgeuse turned to face his wife, something almost like a genuine smile on his face. Lydia was surprised. She had half expected him to fling her over his shoulder and march her off to his hole in the ground to trap her there forever, yet here he was gazing at her with something - was it affection – in his eyes. The illusion was short lived, however, in a flash he was on her, bending her gently towards the floor, lips millimeters away from hers.

“No, Lydia!” Barbara rushed forward, finally restored from the interrupted exorcism. She grabbed Lydia’s right arm, trying to turn the girl around into a protective embrace. “You didn’t have to do that, there has to be another way!” She began to cry, distraught that the child she loved so much was throwing her life away to protect people who didn’t even have one anymore.

Adam ran over. The usual upbeat flare that radiated from him was somewhat lacking. Putting his arms firmly around Barbara and Lydia he pulled them into an even tighter hold that completely smothered the Goth in a combination of lace and wool. Tears fell onto Lydia’s head as Barbara continued to sob silently. A sudden snap caused them to jump apart. “Juno!” Adam gasped, snapping his fingers again, the usual optimistic bounce returning to his voice like a lost puppy. “She can help us!”

Betelgeuse snorted, lighting a cigarette. “No chance four eyes.” He blew the greenish smoke straight into Adam’s face making him cough and splutter. Lydia darted out of his range of fire to stand closer to the fireplace. “Ya need an appointment for that bitch n’ I’m a free man so there’s no way she’d be able to track m-”

“Oh really?” Juno materialized, cigarette in hand and fire in her eyes. She was angrier than the Maitlands had ever seen her, angrier perhaps than even Betelgeuse had ever seen her. She strode over and grabbed him by the ear, wrenching him closer to her despite her obvious repulsion.

“Have you any idea what the hell you’ve done?” She spat, shaking slightly with rage. “Illegally marrying a mortal, violating the Handbook’s regulations, revealing yourself to no less than six people and to top it all off you’ve landed me with enough paperwork to keep me busy for a MILLENNIUM!” She released his ear with such force he stumbled slightly.

“Juno, is there any way at all you could help us?” Adam pleaded, placing an arm around Barbara.

“Help you? HELP YOU?” She shrieked. “That’s all I’ve been doing these last few months! You newbies keep landing yourself in shit and I’m the one who always has to deal with it.”  She closed her eyes, regaining her composure. “I’m sorry but my power over him,” she gestured over her shoulder to Betelgeuse who was now rubbing his ear, pouting, “isn’t what it used to be. He’s free and there’s nothing I can do.”

Betelgeuse’s pout turned instantly into a smirk. Releasing his ear he grabbed Lydia instead, striding forward with her glued to his arm. She was staring at the floor, unable to meet the eyes of the Maitlands and this new ghost. “Hate ta’ break up this little pow-wow but, if ya’ don’t mind, the wife ‘n I will be off on our honeymoon now.” Betelgeuse squeezed Lydia’s arm a little. “Places ta’ go, people to avoid,” he glared at Charles who was still staring dumbfounded at the scene before him despite the long-ago relinquishment of his artistic prison. “Havoc to wreak and a hot piece of newly-wed wife ta’ explore. Oh, and let’s not forget my hard-earned freedom; so, thank you very much but we best be on our way.”  He made to walk towards the door with Lydia.

“I might not have as much power over him as I used to,” Juno continued as if the ghost had never spoken. “But that doesn’t mean don’t have any power.”

Betelgeuse froze mid-step, whipping around to see a satisfied smile creeping over Juno’s aged face. “Scared now, aren’t you” she grinned, cigarette between teeth and triumph in every word. “I bet you didn’t even read the laws concerning marriage between the living and the dead, especially since you went ahead and did it in the first place.”

Betelgeuse was lost for words. There were laws on marriage between the living and the dead? How did he –Betelgeuse of all ghosts - not know about these laws? He shook his head soundlessly, shocked at the slowly unraveling truth. Juno took a step forward, tantalizing him and loving every second. 

“The living and dead are forbidden, in all cases, to be united. The only exception being couples separated by death if and only if one of them can see the other. That is to say, the remaining person who still lives can still see their beloved, even in death.” Juno continued walking towards Betelgeuse and Lydia. “If a deceased being attempts to marry a living person - who cannot see the dead - by immoral means, they will be exorcised immediately.” She stopped for a short puff on her cigarette before continuing. “However, should a living person – such as Lydia - be able to see the betrothed dead and then chooses to marry them…the situation is a little different.”

Betelgeuse’s ears - having recovered from Juno’s battering - perked up. “Whadda ya’ sayin’ Juno, there a chance I get to stay with my wife?”

“No.” She dropped the bomb without hesitation, disregarding Betelgeuse’s explosion of insults and continued over him as if she couldn’t hear. “Sadly I can’t exorcise you because you’re too powerful, but I can manipulate memories as if it never happened.”

“What about me then?” Betelgeuse sneered. “The curse is broken, I’m free ta’ go wherever I please; what’s to say I don’t drop in on my wife tomorrow mornin’ and replenish her memory?” He cackled, pleased with his discovery of a loophole.

“It’s quite simple really,” Juno continued, lazily. “You’re coming back with me. Back to the Neitherworld.” She snapped her fingers cause bright blue glowing chains to appear on Betelgeuse, wrapping him up so that only his head was visible. He let out a furious strangled scream, fighting against them to little prevail.

“What on earth is that?” Barbara walked swiftly to Juno’s side, hesitant of getting too close to the poltergeist.

“Restraints,” Juno informed her. “They’re extremely powerful and extremely difficult to make. One touch of those and you two would be a pile of ash. We tend to use them for our more difficultrule-breakers.” She gave the Maitlands a particularly annoyed look. “I can’t believe we’re wasting them on him.” She rolled her eyes angrily. “But I’m afraid this isn’t a be-all-end-all.” She turned to face the Maitlands. “I’ll manipulate the memory of this night for Lydia, and Lydia alone. Everything post making the deal with Betelgeuse will be altered. It won’t be anything like you just saw; in fact, it’ll be a completely different scenario. He’ll be taken to the Neitherworld by a Sandworm. The wedding won’t even have been completed.”

“Be-all-end-all,” Adam air quoted Juno, “What does that mean exactly?”

For the first time, Juno looked somewhat remorseful. “Once Lydia is eighteen I can no longer keep hold of Betelgeuse. Unfortunately, Lydia gave her consent to the marriage of her own volition. As an adult, she is legally obligated to deal with this, as she will. Divorce is not a service we offer in the underworld,” she said bitterly, “so Lydia will have to figure out another way of ridding herself of him. I wish I could help more but this is completely out of my control.” Betelgeuse had stopped screaming. His wicked eyes fixed on Juno’s back, hooked on her every word.

Despite the deep weight in Lydia’s chest she attempted to act unnerved. “Thank you,” her attempted smile looked more like a grimace, “I really appreciate it but, if you don’t mind my asking, why alter my memories in the first place?”

“You’re underage, little girl.” Cigarette smoke trailed through the deep cut on Juno’s neck. “It’s not great for you to be married at sixteen, let alone with a dead man.” She patted a wrinkled hand on Lydia’s lace covered shoulder. “It’s better this way.”

………….

An hour later Lydia was lying down on Delia’s red-leather sofa in her black nightshirt, eyes closed and sound asleep. All memory of the night’s true incidents had been obliterated from her mind and replaced instead with Juno’s fictional rendition, filling her mind with circus games, aliens in suits and cheap red gauze.

“What now?” Barbara looked down at Lydia, her eyes shining with maternal affection. “Do we just act like this never happened? Lie to her?”

“Exactly that.” Juno adjusted her pearl necklace and smoothed the cuffs of her blazer. “You mustn’t tell her the truth before she is of age, whatever you do.” She looked exhausted. “Now, I gotta go and attend to him.” She indicated towards Betelgeuse. “You two better not get into any more trouble; trust me, I won’t be pleased if I ever have to step foot back into this place.”

“What about them?” Adam asked, gesturing over his shoulder to where the Deetzs and the passed-out Otho sat, gagged and terrified. “Should we erase their memories too?”

“No.” Juno scowled. “It’s not in my interest to hold grudges against the living but they – of all people - don’t deserve to forget what happened tonight.” She walked over to where the Deetzs sat bound, a look of disgust forming on her aged features. “Call yourself parents,” she spat, “you didn’t even try to help her.” Her tone was so cold the room seemed to drop a few degrees in temperature. “This and your treatment of Lydia will go straight in your files and – mark my words – it will not work in your favor. I can’t wait to sort through that when you arrive in the afterlife.” She turned sharply on her heel. Doing so seemed to undo Betelgeuse’s magic, causing Otho and the condemned couple to collapse onto the floor in a heap.

Charles scrambled to his feet, sweating profusely. “N-now wait just a second.” He attempted to steady his quivering tone. “We couldn’t do anything! That thing-” he gestured at Betelgeuse who growled menacingly, “-it would have killed us on the spot!” His face reddened with every desperate gasp for air he took, looking imploringly at Juno. “Protect us.” He begged, “Delia and I, we’re powerless against him. He almost killed me the other night! Who knows what he’d do to us once he comes back for Lydia.” He bit his lip a little, considering his options. “How much do you want?” His voice was lower, quieter than before, “I can offer you money, more than you’ve ever had in life and death combined.” His eyes were alive, greedy with the possibility of buying his way out of eternal damnation. “So,” He rubbed his palms together, his upper lip shining, “Name your price.”

Juno had frozen in her tracks just in front of the model. She turned slowly to face Charles. His face had twisted into a grin but quickly turned the colour of sour milk once he saw her expression. If looks could kill, Juno would’ve turned him into a pile of quivering of flesh. He seemed to shrink under her gaze, clutching Delia’s arm, cowering.

“You are unworthy to call yourself Lydia’s father.” Barbara’s voice was shaking with anger. “She sacrificed herself to save you as much as us and all you can do is beg for protection once he comes back?” She made towards them but Adam grabbed her arm, shaking his head.

“They’re not worth it Barb,” he had to fight to keep his own voice steady. “Let’s go back to the attic, c’mon.”

“Wait.” Betelgeuse didn’t sound his usual self, so much so that even Juno turned around to see if it really was him speaking. The fairy lights in the room had started to go out one by one. “Chuck, lemme tell you a short story about me.” Betelgeuse’s eyes looked milky white in the reflection of the glowing chains. “When I make a deal, I make a fucken’ deal, n’ nowhere in this particular deal with Lydia does it say I’ll hurt her.” He looked over to where Lydia lay, sound asleep, completely unaware of what was happening around her. “You, on the other hand,” his eyes snapped back, unblinkingly, to Charles, “are not included in that deal. If you make Lydia cry so much as a single tear once I’m back, you’re a dead man.” He chuckled menacingly. “N’ dead men don’t make no profit from it.”

The quivering wreck that was now Charles Deetz couldn’t make eye contact with any of the deceased that outnumbered he and his wife. He staggered backward, reaching out behind him for any kind of support. Grabbing hold of a chair he attempted to sit himself down but missed the seat. He fell to the ground with a crash. Betelgeuse laughed - louder and colder than before.

“We’re leaving.” Juno spat, appearing at Betelgeuse’s side, her anger for him seemingly temporarily forgotten. She took the end of the glowing blue chains in hand, giving Charles one last disgusted look.

“See ya’ soon, dad.” Betelgeuse snarled. The last flickering fairy light blew out as he and Juno vanished, plunging the room into darkness.

Chapter Text

Lydia wasn’t a particularly vocal person in general. She kept herself to herself and didn’t pry in on other people’s business. This situation, however, could not have been more her business. She found herself at a loss for words, staring at the ghost - her husband - in absolute shock. He had to be lying. Didn’t his entire existence circulate around being a lying, cheating, crazed spirit anyway? She couldn’t trust his judgment of events. Her dad would never sit back and watch his daughter suffer, let alone attempt to pay his way out of it.

Betelgeuse seemed to sense her trepidation. He leaned forward until there was barely a foot between them. Both their eyes – emerald and hazel – met unblinkingly. “I know, I know,” he chuckled lightly, “I’m not exactly ta’ most reliable source. Hell, I wouldn’t trust me either.” His gaze fell to her hand resting lightly on the bed. In a flash, it was clutched in both his own; his touch – although a little cold - was much softer than Lydia would’ve pre-empted. “Look,” he sighed, “ya’ don’t deserve this shit. I’m sorry if I scared ya’.” He squeezed her hand a little. “I had to play along with the story Juno planted into ya’ head; woulda’ been weird if I turned up with roses n’ shit.” He chuckled at his own wild proposition.

Lydia didn’t know what to think. This whole situation was unorthodox, to say the least. The idea that she was married hadn’t quite sunk in, let alone the fact Betelgeuse was trying to get on her good side. That said, had he ever really done anything malicious to her? Now that she thought about it if the memories she held were false, the snake was probably the single closest thing he’d done to cause any real physical harm. The marriage had been of her volition. Lydia was struck by a moment of realization. “It was you,” she gasped, “you locked my bedroom door last night, didn’t you?”

The ghost tensed up, his hold on her tightening ever so slightly. “Whaddaya’ mean?” He was trying to keep his tone neutral, cool, but Lydia sensed the heightened defense, the sudden assertiveness.

“I haven’t locked my bedroom door in two years,” Lydia went on as if she hadn’t noticed his reaction. I got nightmares - following the fake wedding events - so often that the Maitlands decided it was best if I kept my door unlocked,” she indicated towards the door. “But, from what you said it sounds like Juno came up with the idea to erase my memories in front of you. That means you knew that two years later you would be able to return.” Lydia gasped, realization smacking her in the face like a tonne of bricks. “You must have been in my room last night. That was why my dream was so vivid, so much stranger than usual!” She stared open-mouthed at him, unsure of what she was feeling. “Am I wrong?” Her tone was laced with bitterness.

“So what?” Betelgeuse still hadn’t let go of her hand. “So what if I was here last night?”

“My question is how?” Lydia pushed him further, desperate to get the truth out of him. “How did you get here if you weren’t free until I turned eighteen?”

“You were whispering.” The ghost murmured, his voice low. He looked into her eyes, a wicked grin spreading across his features. “You were murmuring my name in your sleep, calling. I had no choice but to come. I locked to door to keep out Babs and four-eyes; ya’ happy now?”

Lydia was horrified. Of all reasons, this had not been what she was expecting. How had she said his name? The name that scared her so much she couldn’t even think it. The name that no one, in this house, alive or dead, dared mention. “I don’t believe you,” she breathed, terror radiating within her.

“It’s as true as the stripes on my suit, babes.” Betelgeuse sneered. “Seems like, deep down, you wanted me back. What can I say? I knew I was hot shit but this just takes the-”

“I can’t do this now,” she muttered, attempting to pull her hand away from his tightening grip. He clung on as if she were a lifeline.

“Ya' can’t do what now?” His tone was slowly becoming colder; a chill had even begun to settle in the room. Lydia slid her legs behind her in an attempt to climb off the bed, his grip on her so hard she had to lean forward in order not to lose her arm.

“Let go.” She hissed, tears forming in her eyes from the pain. “Let me go.”

“No.” He growled, squeezing her wrist even more. Lydia gasped out in pain, still determinedly attempting to free herself. “You gotta face facts Deetz, this ain’t no fantasy novel where you can stop reading where you please. This is real shit.” He tugged, trying to get her to sit back down and talk calmly again. “I’m trying to apologize for what I did n’ you’re not making it any easier.”

“Oh please,” Lydia sneered. “Is this really how you want to try and earn my forgiveness? Trying to convince me you’re a changed man, that you’ve seen the error of your cruel, cruel ways.” She was mocking him, unapologetically pushing all his buttons with a metaphorical sledgehammer. “Holding my hand, how sweet. Were you planning on giving me roses?” She pushed out her bottom lip; perfectly complimenting her adopted mock baby voice.

For the first time, the ghost’s grip slackened. Lydia seized her opportunity and wrenched herself away. She began massaging her wrist, glaring down at him. “What made you change your mind and let me keep my arm?” She hissed, inspecting the damage. He’d bruised it.

“Christ,” Betelgeuse muttered. His own hand had fallen into his lap, defeated. “Who woulda thought you’d learn how to piss people off. You’ve grown up, Deetz.” This didn’t sway Lydia. Hot, bubbling anger threatened to come pouring out of her mouth in a tidal wave of witty remarks.

“And you’re still the same old bastard with a one-track mind.” She let her wrist fall to her side. “Did you intend to hurt me or-?”

“Hurt?” The ghost was at her side in a flash, kneeling to face her wrist. His eyes widened at the damage he’d caused. “Oh shit.” He muttered. “Shit, shit, shit!” He looked up at her, desperately. “You gotta believe me, this was a total accident.” He stood up, rubbing his forehead. “I would never hurt ya’, I couldn’t.”

“Well, you did.” Lydia retorted, smartly. “Now I’m even less inclined to believe you than before.” She turned her back on him, bending down to retrieve the wine glass and bottle from the floor. “You can go.” She tucked the wine bottle into a gap between the floor and the bottom of her wardrobe. “I don’t want to see you here again,” she said, walking over to the sink in her en-suite, rinsing the glass out with unnecessary vigor.

Betelgeuse marched into her bathroom, shutting the door behind him. “Look,” he said, “if I wanted to hurt ya’ I would’ve done from the start.” Lydia sat on the edge of her bath, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes. “I’m a simple guy n’ it’s not in my interest to beat-about-the-bush.” He leaned against the mirror hanging opposite the bath. “If I’d really come all this way to murder you, trust me, you’d be dead. Deceased.”

Lydia laughed again, more coldly than ever. “I see now.” She drummed her fingers on the side of the bath. “What was it you said, a “marriage of convenience,” right? My guess is you can’t kill me. I’m your ticket to roaming the under and the living world as you please. Sucks for you I guess.”

“Congrats Sherlock.” the ghost spread his arms wide in mock celebration. “Ya’ got me. Your pretty little head is safe n’ sound so long so I’m here.” He jabbed his thumb into his chest. “Any damage that comes along ta’ way is not of my intent or interest. Got it?”

“Well, whatever it is that helps you sleep at night.” Lydia inclined her head to him. Against her better judgment she somewhat believed his story, but winding him up was proving to be a sport she was very good at. He was right, if he wanted her dead she wouldn’t be sitting here getting a cramp in her upper legs from sitting on the edge of the freezing bath. “So what now? Do you just move in and we play the happy couple?”

Betelgeuse sniggered. “D’ya think I wanna play house?” He squatted to her level, resting his weight on his heels. The artificial light of the bathroom harshly exposed his features. He looked exhausted, the bags under his eyes were darker than ever,  – if that was even possible. Lydia leaned in, resting her chin on her knuckles, a smile curling playfully on her lips.

“Well, you did live in a model town play-set for about six months.” She laughed, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.

Her bold confidence almost shocked the ghost. This was a completely different person to the little girl who’d come crying to him two years ago, tired of life and begging for a way out. She was confident, at ease with her quirks, intellectual and witty. He eyed her curiously. The darkness of the room earlier and his haste for forgiveness had completely obstructed his impression of her. Now that she was under soft yellow lighting, perched neatly on the edge of the porcelain bath, he could see her in her entirety.

She was neat, pretty average in build, curvier perhaps than last they’d met; a light layer of fat covered the majority of exposed flesh. Her hair was longer, a tangle of air-dried waves that fell neatly over her shoulders, ending a few inches below her collarbones. Her skin around her nose had a light pink tinge to it, and a few small blemishes scattered her cheeks here and there like stars, a constellation of natural imperfection. She looked tired, yet a gentle humming buzz seemed to pour out of her, bringing the room alive. She had the kind of suppressed energy that could turn the dullest place into a masterpiece of ridiculous abnormality; strange and enticing. ‘Beautiful’ was the wrong word for Lydia Deetz. It was far too simple, far too easy. She was complex, three-dimensional. Ironically perfect.

“Why are you staring?” Lydia giggled nervously, still allowing her head to lean on her hand. “Do I have something on my face?” She peered upwards, trying to see her reflection in the mirror hanging opposite.

“Nah, s’nothin’” Betelgeuse grunted, unceremoniously cracking his knuckles. “Jus’ wonderin’ when that scrawny goth chick I met two years ago grew into a witty woman.”

“Witty woman?” Lydia snorted, also cracking her knuckles in a clear demonstration of her immunity to the sound. “I, sir, am no woman.” She stood up, brushing the creases out of the back of her nightdress.

“Had enough already?” Betelgeuse asked, a little offended at her sudden loss of interest.

“I figured you were bored with me.” Lydia shrugged. “You were staring at me so long I thought maybe you’d gone to sleep with your eyes open.” She grabbed a spare hairband lying on the side of the sink, forcing her ebony waves into a messy bun halfway down her scalp.

“I doubt I could ever be bored of ya’.” Betelgeuse heaved himself back into a standing position to look over her shoulder into the mirror. His lack of reflection came as no surprise to Lydia. Her study of ‘The Handbook for the Recently Deceased’ and years of living with the Maitlands had taught her most of what she needed to know of ghostly customs. “You’re far too-”

“Abnormal?” Lydia’s voice turned sour. “Weird, strange, demonic, unusual?” She turned to face him, the sink pressing into the small of her back. “Any of those strike your fancy?”

“Where’d all that come from?”  

“School.” Lydia groaned. “I left earlier this year but the experience still leaves a nice little label for me to wear.” She opened the bathroom door, switched off the light and wandered back into her room. A faint pink glow had begun to creep in through her curtains, climbing the walls and falling unapologetically onto her hair, causing it to shine chocolate-brown. “I left early due to bullying. That and the fact a university had already accepted me. I only came back to sit the exams.” She sat down, facing away from him, on the side of her bed. Her gaze fixed instead on the light flooding in through a gap in the curtains. “Never seen Adam so happy before.”

In the hours they’d been talking Lydia had grown more and more relaxed. She felt at ease with him, comfortable in her own skin, however much she detested herself. Her confident demeanor was usually saved for necessary occasions, yet out it had come tonight, bounding like a deranged cocker spaniel. She looked over her shoulder at him, the sunlight now gently caressing half of her grinning face. “You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden. What’s up, Mr oh-so-powerful?”

It was the first time she’d genuinely smiled all evening. All of a sudden, Betelgeuse was incapable of speaking; waves of calm swept over him, causing a senses of peace for the first time in centuries. He could’ve listened to her ramble all night. He strode over, taking a seat diagonally to her on the bed. “I’m sorry.” His head was bowed.

“For what?” She asked, nervously.

“For this.” He took her arm as gently as possible, lightly stroking the bruise he’d left by accident in his selfish haste. “I didn’t mean to hurtcha’.”

“I know.” She patted his hand clumsily. “I guess I owe you an apology too.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, about tonight. I believe you. The story. The truth.” She rambled on, not making any sense whatsoever. “I guess what I’m trying to say – though pretty illiterately – is that I’m willing to take responsibility and officially uphold my end of the deal.”

Betelgeuse laughed. “You’re a weird one, kid.”

“Not even half as weird as you.”

He caught her hand in his own and brought it up to his lips, pressing a soft kiss on her knuckles. Once he pulled back he found her face an illustration of shock. “What, can’t I kiss my wife’s hand or summin’?”

“It’s not that,” Lydia mumbled, mentally thanking the rose glow of sunlight for disguising her now flushed cheeks. “It just caught me off guard.” She half smiled. ‘This is all moving so quickly.”

They couldn’t have been talking for more than five hours. Both had lost track of time in the vortex of emotion they’d been caught up in. The experience had left Lydia in a state of tranquillity. She’d been on the reaction rollercoaster for too long. This was where she got off.

“I understand.” The ghost hadn’t let go of Lydia’s hand since the kiss; his cool touch soothed the bruises. “I ain’t any prince charming. I couldn’t even apologize properly without fuckin’ up.” Stubble met skin as he kissed her wrist this time, lingering longer than before. “I ain’t perfect, I’m an asshole, I kill,” he ticked off each offense on a finger of his left hand. “I trick people into deals, I’m hot as hell– which is a sin in itself -, and now I’ve run outta’ fingers!” He put on quite a show of feigned frustration at the realization five fingers weren’t enough to cover many of his greatest qualities.

Lydia couldn’t help herself; he was ridiculous, totally insane. Her laughter rang through the room until tears filled her eyes. She wiped them on the back of her pale hand, the laughing fit subduing to light giggles as she caught her breath. “I got you wrong,” she breathed, smiling at the ghost with renewed calmness. “You’re not even half as bad as you make out to be.”

“Shit babes, I’m not a bad guy.” Betelgeuse lit himself a cigarette, inhaled and offered it to the girl. She took it without hesitation, mimicking his technique as if she knew what she was doing. The fumes hit the back of her throat, causing her to cough and wretch. “Smooth.” Betelgeuse chuckled, juicing up a glass of water. She gulped it down gratefully. “Trust me,” the ghost continued. “I’m really not all that evil. I jus’ got sick bein’ trapped underground, jobless n’ bored outta my goddamn mind. I saw an opportunity n’ took it.” He shrugged, retrieving the cigarette from between Lydia’s fingers and planting it between his teeth. “Lucky thing I did too,” he leaned forward, looking Lydia squarely in the eyes, “or else I never woulda met ya’.” He flicked her nose with a mossy finger, winking.

“Alright prince charming,” Lydia pushed his hand away, smiling in spite of her self. “I doubt you’ve really taken that much of a liking to me in the last few hours.” She lay down on her bed to bathe in the sunlight, her legs dangling delicately off the edge. “I’m really not worth your time, I’m not particularly interesting-”

“I’ve always found you interesting.” The ghost cut her off before she could finish her self-deprecating speech. “From the moment you came up to the attic with that suicide note, I knew there was more hiding behind that veil than just a cute face. You’re a weirdo Deetz, don’t let anybody tell you to be any different.”

“Thanks,” Lydia smiled weakly. “But this weirdo needs her sleep.” She stood up, slipping pale legs under the black duvet. The rush of different emotions had kept her wide-awake until resistance was futile. “If I go to bed now I could get a mean 3 hours of shut-eye.”

In all his years of death, it had been easy for Betelgeuse to forget how much the living needed sleep. He stood up, not wanting to distract her any longer. If she went and got ill on him that would really put a damper on his romancing attempts. “Alright, Allan Poe, I’ll leave ya’ to it.” He walked away from her bed towards to corner of her room somehow remained untouched by sunlight.

“Where’re you going?” Lydia asked sleepily, attempting to raise herself up on her elbows. The waves of exhaustion crashing over her were now so unnaturally intense it was a struggle to see clearly. She suspected his magic had something to do with it.

“Now that,” Betelgeuse turned back to face her, his eyes the only thing visible in the darkness, “would be telling.” And with that, he was gone, swallowed by the shadows chasing the ornate wallpaper of Lydia’s room. A few seconds later, Lydia had gently collapsed into her silken pillows; her dreams undisturbed for the first time in two years.

Chapter Text

“What should we do? Nothing’s working.”

“Have you tried tickling her nose? That might work!”

“Oh for God’s sake, why won’t the girl wake up? Lydia. Lydia!”

“Mnnn?” Lydia rolled over, bleary-eyed and confused. Someone was shaking her rather forcefully.

“Delia…”

“Stop that, you might be hurting her!”

“As if you’d know what hurt is, you’re the ones plaguing my house with your unwanted ghost-ness! Can you even feel when you’re dead or are you remaining silent because it’s true?”

“Delia!”

Lydia rubbed her eyes. Standing around her bed were Adam, Barbara, Charles, and the currently raging Delia. Barbara was supporting a small floral tray of poached eggs, toast and black coffee. Beside her stood Adam, wearing his usual smile and clutching a small bunch of flowers in a glass. The Deetz’s had come empty-handed. “Whatssgoin’ on?” Lydia slurred in her sleepy state, her head pounding.

“Happy Birthday, Lydia.” Barbara beamed, handing her a steaming mug of coffee, setting the tray down on her bedside table. “We thought you might like breakfast in bed.”

“Happy Birthday kiddo,” Adam handed her a large flat package. Inside was a ‘Belafonte 89’’ vinyl and a card signed from the Maitlands:

“To our dearest Lydia:
Happy 18thBirthday. 
We love you and can’t wait to celebrate your special day with you!
All our love,
Adam and Barbara xxx”

Beneath their signature was a tiny drawing of two sheets with eyeholes cut out.

“You guys,” Lydia giggled gently, touched by their generosity. “You shouldn’t have, really!” She shuffled to a kneeling position and hugged them. Delia cleared her throat.

“Well, Happy Birthday Lydia.” The woman said dryly, hardly bothering to smile. “Many happy returns and...all that.”

“Happy Birthday pumpkin.” Charles stepped forward, hugging his daughter. When he released her there was a crisp $50 bill pressed in her palm. “I didn’t know what to get you, thought you might like to treat yourself to a nice new…” he paused, struggling to think of what his daughter might buy. “Hat.” He decided, giving her the thumbs-up.

“Sorry to break up this little celebration,” Delia interrupted, blemishing the rare moment between Lydia and her father. "Charles and I really need to get going." She took Charles by the arm and marched him to the door. “It’s urgent. Otho needs us to fly up to New York right away.”

“New York?” Lydia’s face fell. “But daddy, I thought you’d cleared your schedule for my birthday this year.”

“Well…yes pumpkin, I did, but you know how these New Yorkers are, always busy, busy, busy.” Charles allowed himself a light laugh which reverberated awkwardly around the silent room. “I’ll make up for it,” he mumbled, and with that, Delia marched him right down the stairs and out of the house, closing the front door with a bang.

Lydia was still perched in her kneeling position, completely crushed. Tears stung her eyes but refused to let them have their way, taking such a large gulp of scorching coffee that her eyes watered from physical pain, disguising the emotional tears that now streamed down her face, perfectly camouflaged. “So,” she faked a smile, looking up at the Maitlands. “What have we got planned for today?”

“Well, we’ve baked a cake and managed to persuade Delia to buy some fish for dinner on her last grocery trip.” Barbra rambled, clearly pleased that Lydia wasn’t too affected by her parent’s abandonment for the second year in a row.

“We thought you’d like a slightly fancier meal than dialed-in pizza for a change,” Adam winked. “That and I’m a master when it comes to cooking.” He pulled a chefs hat out of thin air, putting it on his head and posing dramatically. Barbara groaned in embarrassment as Lydia giggled. She didn’t have the heart to tell them that pizza would’ve been fine by her but appreciated the lengths they were going to make up for her father leaving last minute.

“We’ll be downstairs,” Barbara took Adam by the hand and led him towards the hallway. “Come down whenever you’re ready.” She closed the door behind them.

Lydia slid off the bed, brushing the creases out of her nightdress. brushing a stray hair out of her eye she headed over to the ornate black closet that stood opposite her bed, throwing the doors wide in search of an outfit. A midnight blue dress caught her eye; she took it out, laying it to rest on the bed. After a quick rummage, she pulled some underwear out from the draw in the bottom of the closet. Just as she was about to remove her silk nightdress, a low whistle sleazed its way into the air. 

“Damn, ya’ would’ve thought it was my birthday.”

Lydia nearly jumped out of her skin. Whipping around she saw him in his monochromatic glory; a cigarette between grimy teeth and floating through the air on his back. “What do you think you’re doing?” Lydia marched furiously over to where he was defying the laws of physics.

“I thought I’d drop by to wish my wife a happy, happy birthday. Again.” Betelgeuse winked. “Didn’t think for a moment I’d get a show for my troubles.”

“Well, you thought correct.” Lydia folded her arms. “Do I look like a stripper to you? Go find another whore house to sleaze in.”

“Ooo,” the ghost mimicked offense, slapping a hand to his chest as if impaled. “That cut me real deep Deetz.” He glided on his back through the air to hang upside down in front of her. They were almost nose-to-nose. “What’s up buttercup?” He asked, his tone uncharacteristically serious. “Who hurt’cha?”

“No one.” Lydia shrugged, feigning indifference. “It’s nothing, I'm fine.”

“Stop lying.” Betelgeuse frowned, still hovering upside-down in front of her face. “I know there's somethin’ up. Spill.”

Lydia hesitated. Her apprehension manifested from the reasonably solid knowledge that Betelgeuse and her father weren't exactly bosom buddies. If he hadn’t dropped Charles down the stairs once upon a time, she might’ve felt differently.

“Well…” she began, tentatively. “Daddy and Delia were supposed to be here for my birthday but they left a few minutes ago to fly to New York." She lowered her gaze to the carpet. "Apparently it was 'urgent' business." She air quoted Delia. " 

“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me.” Betelgeuse wasn’t the least bit surprised. Afterall, Charles was an ignorant asshole and Delia was..well, Delia. Betelgeuse might have lived within the model, but he’d heard more than he would admit during the 3-month absence of the Maitlands. He knew for a fact that Delia saw Lydia as a burden, a punishment, an inconvenience sent from the powers that be, for no reason whatsoever. He knew that Charles was greedy, obsessed with money and his belief that it had unlimited power. He knew that both Charles and Delia were lying, twisted people who deserved each other and every bit of suffering he could inflict upon them. But he also knew that Lydia depended on them. She loved her father, tolerated Delia and wouldn’t forgive him for any hairs on their ignorant heads hurt, however much they deserved it.

“Yeah,” Lydia sighed, walking over to her mirror to apply some concealer to the pink skin that lived permanently beneath the dark circles under her eyes. “I’m used to them packing up and leaving at the drop of a hat,” she set the concealer with powder, “but I thought that maybe one time, just one time, they might put me first.” A quick swipe of mascara to her lashes and thick eyebrow hairs were applied more aggressively than usual.

“Ya’ know what babes,” Betelgeuse strolled over to sit on the bed, watching her apply the makeup with peaked curiosity. “I reckon, even if they had stayed here today, it wouldn't make much a' difference.” Lydia smiled as best she could while applying a deep plum lipstick.

“I guess you’re right.” She said, popping the lid back on the tube. “Is there any chance you could turn around for a bit? I kind of want to get dressed.”

“Oh sure, sure.” Betelgeuse twisted round to sit cross-legged on the bed, his back to Lydia. “Carry on talkin’ if ya’ want babes,” he said, exhaling some of the musky cigarette smoke. “I got ears in the back o’ my head.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how the saying goes…” Lydia giggled, slipping off her nightdress. “Anyway, the best part is the Maitlands put much more effort in than daddy and Delia have in the last ten years. They brought me breakfast in bed and a vinyl, isn’t that adorable?”

Now that he was facing it, Betelgeuse noticed the vinyl, flowers, and tray that rested precariously on the bedside cabinet. “Cute. I might puke from all the cliché,” He snorted, making an assortment of retching and gagging noises. Lydia chucked a balled-up pair of socks at his back in an attempt to shut him up. “Ah shit, that reminds me.” The ghost immediately began rummaging in his pockets. “I gotcha’ a little somethin’,” he said, waiting for her approval to turn around again. “Who woulda thought something the Maitlands did would jolt my memory.”

“Ok, I’m decent.” She said, finishing the bow on her ankle boots.

Betelgeuse raised a scraggly eyebrow; a half smile creeping at the corners of his mouth. “Ooo, lookin’ good, Deetz.” He swung his legs off the bed and stood in front of her. “Haaaappy Birthday. For real this time.” He said, handing her a box.

“What? You didn’t have to, really!” Lydia stared up at him, her heart pounding. She was always so awkward when people went out of their way for her; the lack of social confidence had always made it incredibly difficult to get the right words out.

“Well, I did.” He said, taking her hand as gently as he could, pressing the box into her palm.

Lydia began removing the black ribbon that held the box together. Inside she found a silver chain attached to a minute ornate black key encrusted with even smaller rubies; clearly to be worn around the neck. She felt tears sting her eyes again, but this time they were tears of gratitude.

“It’s not much,” Betelgeuse grunted. “I wanted to get ya’ something really special, but most shit back at my place is totally useless.” He stared at her, willing her to say something, anything. “D’ya like it?”

“Betel-“ Lydia caught herself just in time, tears trickling down her pale cheeks. “Sorry, I mean…it’s beautiful.” She took the chain out as gently as possible, examining it closely.

“Here, let me.” Betelgeuse took it from her, gently pushed her hair out of the way and hung it around her neck. It contrasted beautifully against her pale skin. “It suits ya’,” he said, “real goth-chic or whatever it is you call your fashion sense. Ya’ know, I was worried ya’ might not like it n I'd have to-” His ramblings were cut short. Lydia had practically thrown herself at him, her arms around his neck.

“Thank you.” She sobbed, tears bleeding through his grimy shirt. “Thank you so much.” She eventually let go, wiping her tears on the back of her hand. “I’m sorry, it’s just been a weird morning what with Dad leaving and all; I’m not usually this emotional.”

“Shit, Deetz,” Betelgeuse laughed, “I didn’t wanna make ya’ cry again.” He juiced up a black and white handkerchief, handing it to her in a gentlemanly fashion. She took it, laughing softly. An unprecedented knock at the door caused the pair to jump away from each other.

“Lydia?” It was Barbara. “Are you ready yet Hun?”

“Um, just coming, Barbara!” Lydia called back, wiping her eyes as fast as she could with one hand and fanning her face with the other.

“Well hurry up then kiddo, we’ve got a surprise for you!” Adam chimed in, gently rapping his knuckles on the door.

Hurry up kiddo, I’ve got a pole stuck up my ass,” Betelgeuse mumbled, attempting to mimic Adam’s voice; pulling a face that one would associate with constipation.

Lydia kicked Betelgeuse in the shin, causing him to curse under his breath. “I’ll be right there!” A few seconds later and the gentle pads of Adam and Barbara’s footsteps died away, leaving an eerie silence outside the bedroom door. “You’re incorrigible,” Lydia scolded, giving the ghost a look that lacked any real anger.

“Eh, I’m a creature of habit.” Betelgeuse flicked his cigarette butt out of the open window.

“Well, you know what they say, habits can be broken,” Lydia said, replacing the makeup that had bled away with her tears.

“Whoever said that steaming pile o’ horse-shit sounds like areal bundle o’ laughs,” Betelgeuse snorted, cracking his neck. “Better hurry up and get ya’ ass downstairs, kiddo,” Betelgeuse teased, “the Maitlands might have a fit and we wouldn’t want that.”

“Look at you trying to get rid of me all of a sudden,” Lydia picked up her camera bag, making her way over to the door. “Are you staying up here?”

“Do I look like I’m ready for my grand entrance yet?” The ghost was suddenly clad in the moldy bathrobe he’d been wearing when they first met; his hair wrapped up in a stained black bath towel. Lydia was surprised anything was capable of containing the crazed mane. “The makeup-team ain’t even here yet, I gotta look my absolute best.” He whipped out a nail file and began scraping at his yellowing talons.

"Jesus," Lydia giggled, rolling her eyes as she opened the door.

"Nah, just me," said Betelgeuse, inspecting the nails he was currently filing. "Run along now, I'll try to keep outta trouble."

………….

“Ah, Lydia, here you are!” Adam beamed, waving from the kitchen table where he and Barbara sat, mugs of tea in hand. Lydia walked over, taking a seat opposite the couple. A mug of sweet, black coffee slid across the table in her direction. “We just wanted to have a little chat, you know, make sure everything’s alright.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Lydia smiled, taking a sip of her second mug of coffee that morning. “Nothing new in the last few minutes.” The Maitlands looked at one another. It was incredibly difficult to read them; they’d mastered non-verbal communication.

“We have something to tell you, Lydia,” Adam took Barbara’s hand in his own.

Lydia’s heart started racing. Surely they didn’t mean the truth about the wedding. Not now, not on her birthday. “What is it?” She asked, the fake smile still glued to her face, tucking her hair behind her ears. The end of her sleeve slipped a little down her forearm in the process.

“Well, we don’t want to put you in a difficult situation Lydia, but we-” Barbara’s voice died away, her attention had turned, suddenly, to Lydia’s wrist. Her eyes widened as she leaned across the table to examine it. “Lydia, what is this?”

Shit,’ Lydia’s curse never left her lips. How was she supposed to tell the Maitlands that a poltergeist, thepoltergeist, who had tried to marry her – and succeeded– was in her room last night? Moreover, she wasn’t even supposed to know the truth about what happened on that summer night in 1988. “Oh, that…well, I fell over. When I was at the cemetery. Yesterday.” The lie would’ve been believable if it weren’t for her terrible delivery. “You know me, I'm really clumsy.” She laughed, a little to enthusiastically.

“Lydia, it’s running all around your wrist.” Barbara sounded more concerned than ever, the lie clearly not good enough. The morning light and airy kitchen enable Lydia to see the bruise in its entirety. It was a deep purple, much darker and much larger than she’d realized. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt much.  

“Yeah, well it was a long fall.” Lydia shifted in her seat. She was awful at lying to the Maitlands. It didn’t help that they were eyeing her with a mixture of worry and suspicion. “I rolled right down that hill that goes on for…well, it’s a long hill.” She clenched the hand currently resting in her lap, bracing herself for further interrogation.

“Okay, so long as you’re alright.” Barbara let go, sinking back down in her chair, casting Adam a nervous glance. Lydia felt a lump rise in her throat. This was it. She was going to have to lie and keep lying from here on out. There was no escape from them, they were - after all - permanent residents. “Adam and I have been talking to Juno-uh we mean, some people who have connections in the Afterlife,” Barbara began. Lydia noticed her slip up. The two evidently thought her memories hadn’t returned.

“It’s taken quite a while to get clearance on this but,” Adam was grinning, looking at Barbara. She grinned too. “We’ve been given permission to become your guardians, officially.”

Lydia felt light-headed. They had to be joking; this was too good to be true. “You’re serious?” She jumped to her feel, coffee mug spilling all over the table.

“We’re serious.” Barbara’s smile was wide, motherly. Lydia had never noticed just how warm of a face Barbara had; she was the embodiment of love and affection. Her heart ached on behalf of the Maitlands, had never been able to have biological children.

“So, what do you say, kiddo?” Adam placed an arm around Barbara. “We totally understand if you decide having ghosts as another set of parents is too much. We wanted to keep this a surprise either way.” He pushed his glasses up his nose, anxiously awaiting her response.

“Of course I...I've never been so...Yes. Yes of course!” Lydia couldn’t get her words out but knew they understood. She ran around the table to where they stood, throwing her arms around them. “I’m so happy, you have no idea.” She felt a tear run down her cheek but didn’t bother to wipe it. Nothing could spoil this moment for her. She'd never felt such a rush of happiness in her life. The vast majority of her life had been plagued with misfortune; now was the time for a change. They didn’t break apart for what felt like hours. When they finally did, Lydia saw that Barbara had a piece of paper in hand, Adam a fountain pen. “Do you want me to sign this?” She asked, taking the pen.

“Yes, even though you’re 18 now, they still need proof of an agreement - what with you being human and all.” Adam blotted his eyes on the sleeve of his plaid top. “Laws work a little differently down there.”

“How so?” Lydia asked, scrawling her name in navy blue ink.

“Well, we’re obviously not legal guardians to you in the living world,” Adam took the pen and paper from her, signing it for himself. “But we felt it was appropriate, given your father and mother’s habit of taking…well, ratherunprecedentedholidays. Think of it as a legal haunting.”  

Step-mother,” Lydia corrected him, “and I see your point. I really appreciate it, really I do.” It was Barbara’s turn to sign the paper.

“You’re 18 now, Lydia. We want to respect that and your freedom as an adult,” Barbara clicked the lid on the pen, handing it back to Adam. “But we do feel somewhat responsible for you. It sounds horribly selfish, but we wanted to be a part of your life.”

“It’s not selfish at all!” Lydia wouldn’t have even cared if their reason had been simply because they’d had nothing better to do. The Maitlands had been like the parents she’d never had; their care had meant more to her than they realized, even when Lydia was in one of her moods. “I love you guys,” she sniffed, pulling them into a tight embrace.

“Right, so what do you want to do today?” Barbara dusted off her floral dress, tucking her hands in its front pockets. “We could finish up decorating the darkroom later if you like?”

Lydia’s heart did a somersault. “Yeah, I’d love that!” Even though Charles had promised her a dark room since their first night in the new house, it was the Maitlands who’d helped her start building it. “I’ll run down to the hardware store for the bulb and chemicals we still need,” she said, gathering up her bag.

“Oh, could you grab some more sandpaper for me?” Adam rummaged in his pockets, pulling out a brand label. “It’s ‘Norton,’ pretty specific. I need to finish sanding down the model roof of that new house they're building in the town.” He handed the label and a $5 note to her.

“Red bulb, chemicals, sandpaper,” Lydia repeated. “Got it.” She was halfway to the door when an idea slid into her mind. “If it's alright with you, I was thinking I might stop at the cemetery on my way back up from town. There’s a new headstone I want to look at.”

“Okay, but don’t belong,” Barbara was gathering up the empty tea and cold coffee mugs from the table, wiping it down with a cloth.

………….

The day was hot. A pleasant breeze swept over Lydia’s shoulders, nipping at her ankles as she wandered down the hill from the Maitlands' house. Her father’s car was gone; the only remnant of Charles and Delia's haste to leave a mere hour ago were two long parallel tire tracks chasing down the dusty drive. As Lydia reached the bottom of the hill, the once pleasant breeze chilled to a fierce howling wind, though the surrounding trees remained perfectly stationary. “Alright, you can stop hiding now,” Lydia turned on the spot to find her husband standing a few steps in her wake.

“Now, where’s the fun in that?” Betelgeuse shoved his hands in his pockets, his wicked eyes scanning her. “Ya’ left without sayin’ goodbye, how very cold,” he chuckled, the wind now turning icy. Lydia shivered.

“Okay, I get the picture.” She wrapped her arms around herself in an attempt to shield her bare shoulders from the magical gale. “Any chance you could stop playing Zephyrus now and let the weather be?” The breeze instantly died down, returning to the previously calm state.

 “Into Greek mythology are ya’?” The odd couple continued their walk into town.

“Eh, I read a lot of books as a child,” Lydia fiddled with the strap on her bag. “It helped pass the time when dad was out.”

“Ol’ Chuck left ya’ alone that often?” Betelgeuse shifted his attention from the ground to her face. Just as he’d predicted - she was unreadable.  

“Something like that.” Lydia was kicking a stone down the steadily sloping hill. “What about you, what was your childhood like?” For a moment, she wasn’t sure of what was going on. Betelgeuse had stopped in his tracks, staring at her. Then he began to laugh. It was crazed, maniacal. “What’s so funny?” Lydia raised an eyebrow, folding her arms in defense.

“My family? Myfucken’ family?” Betelgeuse wiped a tear from a deep-set eye, his laughter dying away. “Jesus, that was a long time ago.” His hands returned to his pockets. “Don’t remember much about them other than they all probably died of the plague. Lemme tell ya’ the 14thcentury was wild.”  

“14thcentury?” Lydia whispered, stopping dead in her tracks. “Plague?” She grabbed the ghost’s arm; her eyes were alive and wide with excitement. “Tell me everything!”

“You wanna know about the fucken’ plague?” Betelgeuse gave her an amused look. “You’re definitely a weird one ain’tcha?” He held out his arm for her in a gentlemanly fashion. She took it, hiding her surprise at his manners. “Well, my memory’s a little fuzzy but it wasn’t exactly a party. I was in England-”

“You’re British?” Lydia interrupted him, her hold on his arm tightening with excitement.

“Well, yeah,” Betelgeuse chuckled. “America hadn’t been 'discovered,' let alone colonized back then.” They walked in silence for a few meters before he continued his story. “Anyway, so I was livin’ my sweet childhood in England, durin’ the ‘flyin’ forties,’ when the plague hit. 1347 or ’48 I think it was? Never knew if I’m honest; didn’t exactly have a calendar handy.” They’d reached the end of the road to town. The bridge Lydia knew to be the place Barbara and Adam died loomed into sight. “People would jus' drop dead everywhere ya’ went. No clue how I survived.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lydia whispered. “It was insensitive of me to ask so abruptly, I was just so intrigued.”

“Don’t be stupid, it was a long time ago.” He gave her arm a gentle squeeze with his elbow. “About 640 years ago, give or take.”

“What happened after everyone died?” Lydia asked, nervously, unsure if she was treading in dangerous waters. “You don’t have to say if you don’t want to, I understand if it’s a memory you’d rather not bring up.”

“Nah, it’s fine. I’ve never actually ever told anyone this I don’t think.” The ghost went silent for a moment as if contemplating what to say next. “Well, those of us who miraculously survived, in my community, went on to help bury dead.” He paused. “People caught plague from bodies. The smell was ungodly, almost made me an atheist.” Another pause. “I buried my mother.”

Guilt tore at Lydia’s chest as if it were trying to get to her heart and rip it to shreds. “Oh, God…I never should of-”

“I was 15 by the time everythin’ died down. I left town, not long after, heard there was a group formin’ that could-” He stopped. “Never mind, s'not important.” He grinned at her, pointing to something in the distance. “That where you hang out?” Lydia turned to look at where he was pointing.

“How did you know?” She laughed, glad for the change of subject.

“It’s a fucken' cemetery, where else would you of all people chill at?”

They’d finally reached the town. It was small, picturesque, something out of a modern fairy-tale. An elderly male couple now ran the Maitlands’ old hardware store. Lydia pushed open the door, the bell tinkling merrily.

“Mornin’ Lydia,” an old man shuffled out of the back storeroom, his carpet slippers squeaking slightly against the rubber floor. “What can I help you with?”

“Hi Steve,” Lydia smiled, placing the Sandpaper label down on the counter. “I need some more of the ‘Norton’ sandpaper, ‘Developer,’ ‘Stop Bath,’ and ‘Fixer,’ chemicals and,” she paused. “Oh yeah, and a red blub, please.”

“Lucky you, we just got a whole load of the ‘Norton’ in.” Steven shuffled to a shelf near the counter, taking a packet off the display rails. “Red bulbs are over there and photo chemicals through the doorway, to where Aaron is.” He pointed to an empty doorframe at the back of the shop labeled ‘Haberdashery.’ “Hey Aaron, Lydia’s here.”

Aaron and Steve, really?” Betelgeuse’s disembodied voice hissed in Lydia’s ear.

“Shut up.” Lydia’s voice was barely audible as she waved to Aaron.

Make me.”

Lydia ignored him, walking up to Aaron’s counter. “Hi Aaron, any chance you’ve got photo producing chemicals?”

“Ah, finally getting that dark room then are we?” He beamed, rubbing his hands together. “Right over here.” He walked her over to a high shelf, climbing the ladder to retrieve the bottles Lydia needed. Once he was back on the ground, he began handing the bottles back one by one. “Developer, Stop bath, fixer and,” he let out a short gasp, “what’s this we have here?” Aaron’s hand darted behind Lydia’s ear, pulling a small rose out of thin air. “Happy Birthday Lydia.” He smiled, handing it to her, along with a card. “Steve would’ve come up here too but you know how his hip gets.”

“Screw you,” Steve shouted from the front of the shop. Aaron and Lydia laughed heartily.

“Thank you, both of you, this is so sweet.” Lydia sniffed the rose, tucking it into the hook that held the straps onto her bag.

“Anytime,” Aaron beamed. “Now, what else was it you needed?”

“Oh yeah, a red bulb if you have one?”

“Just over here.” They walked over to another display shelf that housed bulbs of every description. “Red bulb…red bulb…” Aaron muttered, scanning with his index finger. Suddenly, the entire display of bulbs began to flash multi-colored at an alarming rate. Electrical whirring filled the air as several of the bulbs exploded, glass raining down to cover the floor. “What the hell?” Aaron nearly jumped out of his skin. “How is this possible?” Lydia had a horrible feeling she knew exactly how. She shifted away from Aaron while the latter was distracted by his possessed display.

“What are you doing?” She hissed, as loudly as she dared. “Stop this now!”

“I said ‘make me’ didn’t I?” The ghost laughed softly in her ear. “N’ I intend to keep my word.”  

“Do you want me to send you back?” Lydia snarled, “Three words and you’re gone.”

“I’d like to see ya’ try,” the ghost laughed. “You ain’t said my name in a long time, Deetz. Well, not while you’re consciousanyway.”

“Beetlejuice…” Lydia whispered, her heart thumping. Some of the lights died down a little. “Beetlejuice…” The whirring grew faster and louder. Lydia took a deep steadying breath, preparing herself for the third and final call. The lights stopped flashing at once.

“What was that?” Aaron dabbed at his sweating forehead with a spotted handkerchief. His thickly framed glasses had slipped down his nose. “H-how was that even possible?”

“You been on the whiskey again, Aaron?” Steve had appeared at the door, clutching his hip, laughing at his partner. “I told you, it does funny things to your head in particular.”

“No, Steve this was different!” Aaron insisted, looking at Lydia for help. “You saw it too didn’t you, Lydia?”

Lydia couldn’t believe she was lying for the second time that morning but knew admitting she’d seen anything would land her in more complications than she could handle. “Aaron, I think you should lie down,” She said gently, patting his shoulder. “You work too hard, have a rest.”

“Perhaps you’re right…” Aaron sounded unconvinced. “But I know what I saw!” Steve took his arm and led him through to the stairway hidden behind a red Art Nouveau curtain.

“I’m sorry about this Lydia,” Steve gave her a weak smile. “Leave the money for the chemicals and sandpaper on the counter. The bulbs on the house.”

………….

“You better have a good explanation for that.” Lydia had kept quiet until she was well out of earshot of the town. She marched up the hill to the cemetery, paper bag of chemicals, sandpaper and bulbs tucked safely under her right arm. “Start talking.”

“Whaaaaat?” The ghost wined, materializing for the first time since they’d entered the shop. “Can’t I have a little fun every once in a while? Ya' gotta let me live a little.”

“Fun? You call that fun?” Lydia looked at him, rolling her eyes. “Of course you think that’s fun, it’s you.” She slumped onto a bench at the center of the graveyard, taking out her camera. A couple of angry camera clicks later and Betelgeuse was at her side.

“I didn’t do anything to hurt them, just add a bit of spice into their boring lives.” He kicked his leather-clad feet up onto a headstone, throwing his arms behind his head in a relaxed position. “Thought you’d find it entertaining.”

“You scared Aaron though,” Lydia scolded, nudging his feet off the memorial with an angry swat of her hand. “Please don’t pull a stunt like that again, especially not around people you know nothing about.” Another few seconds of angry clicking followed. “You made me lie to them. They care about me, why would you do that?”

“You didn’t have ta’ lie.”

“You didn’t have to terrorize them!”

“At least I didn’t turn into a snake this time...might save that one for later.”

“You’re impossible!” Lydia got up, turning to face him, hands balled into fists. Her camera bag lay forgotten on the bench. “I can’t believe this, we keep going round in circles!” The ghost continued to stare up at her. “One minute you’re frightening, then you apologize,” she began pacing back and forth in front of the bench, fuming. “Then you try to peep on me, make me cry and then,” she stopped pacing, her fury paramount. “Then you mess with people – goodpeople – that you know nothing about!”

“Ya’ know, I’m not very good at opening up ta’ people.” Betelgeuse crossed one leg over the other, a cigarette between his right index and middle finger. “In all honesty, I felt weird after telling you about my childhood. I needed a laugh.”

“That’s no excuse to freak people out!” Lydia’s rage refused to subside. Her cheeks flushed as she continued yelling at the ghost. “You could’ve asked me to tell you a joke, or…I don’t know, asked me what stupid things Delia got up to in the last two years because let’s face it, she does something stupid every day, or-”

The rest of her rant was cut short. Betelgeuse had gotten to his feet, marched over and wrapped his arms around her. The force from the unexpected advance nearly knocked Lydia backward, yet she made no attempt to push him away. He smelt of ash and something faintly like burnt-caramel. When they broke apart Lydia stared at him, her eyes as wide as ever.

“Why did you do that?” She pressed a hand to her chest, her heart thumping, disbelieving of what had just happened.

“Dunno,” he shrugged. “Figured it was the only thing that might shut ya’ up.” His cigarette returned to its usual spot between his lips.

“Oh how romantic of you,” Lydia scowled, snatching up her camera bag. She didn’t pursue the matter, acting instead as if it had never happened. She continued taking pictures, eventually working her way towards the new headstones. After a few minutes silence, she turned to face the ghost again. “Why are you here?” She asked, bitterly.

“Ya’ talkin' to me?” Betelgeuse floated towards her. He reeked of smoke.

“No, I was talking to the dead,” Lydia snapped, sarcastically.

“Same difference,” Betelgeuse sat on the headstone she had been photographing previous. “I thought I told ya’ why I was here anyway.”

“I mean here,” Lydia gestured to the surrounding landfill graves. “You’re free now, why are you sticking around?” She suddenly became very interested in her fingernails, avoiding the ghosts gaze.

“What, do ya’ want me gone now or somethin’?” He didn’t sound angry. He was testing her, quizzing her emotions in an attempt to get an honest answer.

“It’s not that,” she was pulling at her cuticle skin absentmindedly, still avoiding eye contact. “I just don’t know what could be so interesting for you here. All we do is argue,” A tiny speck of blood appeared by her thumbnail. “If I were you I wouldn’t want to spend my eternal freedom stuck here, especially not with me.”

Betelgeuse watched her smear the blood away with her other hand. He knew how she worked, knew that she wouldn’t listen to him tell her she was worth more than she thought. She might’ve improved mentally over the last two years but he knew how hard it was to break a habit. Her anxiety was an addiction she didn’t know she had, something she depended on. Despite her cool demeanor she was most certainly suffering from deep-rooted self-loathing. He might be the “selfish bastard” with “a one track mind” she’d described him to be, but he’d taken a specific liking to the girl. He didn’t exactly make life any easier for her; his crazed nature was definitely a cause for complications.

“I’ll spend my eternal freedom wherever and however I want, thank you.” A plaster materialized out of thin air and wrapped itself around the thumb Lydia had accidentally mutilated. “Ya’ think I’m stickin’ around outta boredom? Nah, not my style.” He exhaled the last of his cigarette fumes, flicking the redundant remains of nicotine over a striped shoulder. “I’m stayin’ because I ruined ya’ life.”

“You didn’t ruin it,” she whispered, head bowed. “I gave my consent to the marriage, I had to save the Maitlands.”

“True,” he shrugged, shifting his attention to a crow a few feet away picking at a worm in the soil. “But that don’t mean I shouldn’t care about ya’ now does it?” The crow took off, wormless, in search of another form of sustenance. “I’m sorry for scarin’ them two back there. I should’a waited for Chuck n’ Delia to come back.”

Lydia giggled, finally looking him in the eyes again. “And I’m sorry for getting so mad at you.” She fiddled with the plaster on her thumb. “It can’t be easy trying to adjust to a havoc-free existence.”

“Ya’ tellin’ me,” Betelgeuse snorted. “But, in all honesty, I could’a tried harder.”

“What, tried harder to scare them?” Lydia teased. The two made their way down the sloping pathway to the back-road leading up to the Maitland’s house.  

“Ya’ took the words right outta’ my mouth.”

Chapter Text

“Ah, Lydia, you’re back.” It had been Adam who’d thrown open the front door, beaming with delight. Removing the ridiculous chef's hat, he gestured to Lydia to follow him into the house, chattering excitedly like a small child. “Did you get the things from the store?”

“Yeah, here you go. ”Lydia handed Adam the pack of Norton Sandpaper. “Turns out they were having a special discount sort-of-thing today... Lucky me I guess.” She faked a small smile, the memory of earlier still plaguing her memories. Not paying for the bulbs had only worsened her guilt.

“Ah, excellent,” he beamed, pushing his glasses up his nose, unaware of her less than enthusiastic aura. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said, popping the chef's hat back on his head. “I have salmon to rescue from the oven.” Lydia watched him hurry into the kitchen where Barbara was fishing cooked potatoes out of a pot of boiling water. He placed his hand on the small of her back, landing a short kiss on his cheek. Barbara giggled, wrapping her arms around his neck and returning the kiss on his cheek in response.

Lydia wasn’t aware of how long she watched them for. Their shameless display of domesticity and affection caused her stomach to lurch unpleasantly. Was it envy? That didn’t feel right for some reason, especially not now that these two lovebirds were her partial guardians. She scanned the room, wondering where the poltergeist had disappeared. The room was as ordinary and floral as ever; not a single doily was out of place. She sighed, lifting the weight of her camera bag off her shoulder, massaging it gently.

A wonderful smell of salmon filled the air as Adam opened the oven. He carried the dish out from the kitchen with his bare hands, his ability to feel intense pain having long since past.

“That smells amazing, Adam.” Lydia approached the table, taking her camera out of her bag to snap a photo of the meal.

“Wait till you try it,” Barbara joined them, passing around plates and a dish of boiled potatoes. “I’ve never met anyone who could cook like Adam.”

“Oh, stop it you,” Adam played coy, serving Lydia a piece of his signature salmon. “Although, I do sometimes wonder if that’s the only reason you married me.”  

“I’m not gracing that statement with a response,” Barbara giggled into her fork.

The three ate in comfortable silence broken only by the chink of a fork or the passing of sauce. The salmon was too delicious to be left alone in order for any conversation to flow. Once everyone had finished eating, Adam attempted to sneeze out salmon bones as a form of entertainment. The result was that he, Barbara and Lydia ended up in fits of raucous laughter that only doubled when Barbara mimicked the mixed expression of pride and shock on Adam’s face once he’d finally succeeded. 

The cake the Maitlands had made couldn’t have been any more perfect. The red velvet masterpiece smothered in grey icing with a black drizzle running down the smoothed sides had been topped with fondant ravens, black candles and delicate piping work on behalf of Barbara:

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness.”

Once the candles had been extinguished, Lydia drew the Maitlands into another tight hug. She couldn’t express in words just how much this all meant to her. She’d never had a proper family moment like this and certainly not on her birthday. Pushing previous birthday memories out of her mind she attempted to clean up her plate, only to have Barbara stop her.

“Don’t worry about that,” she beamed, taking it from her. “We’ll clean everything up; you go and have some time to yourself before we get to work on that dark room, alright?” She walked to where Adam was blaring ‘Man Smart’ in the kitchen, dancing as he cleaned the dinner plates. Lydia couldn’t help but watch them, grinning to herself at their adorable display of award-worthy dad dancing.

At that very moment, a familiar chill and a gentle tap on her shoulder broke her out of her trance. “Meet me upstairs,” Betelgeuse’s disembodied voice whispered.

………….

By the time she reached the top of the stairs, Lydia could hear faint music issuing from her room. A nervous smile appeared on her lips as she drew closer to her bedroom door, placing a soft knock on the mahogany.

“Who is it?” A faux, high-pitched feminine voice cooed from the other side. Lydia had to bite on her hand to stop herself practically screaming with laughter.

“Your husband, she said, pushing her chin back into her neck in an attempt to lower her voice as much as possible. “I’m back from a long day in the office.”

“Was it a long…hardday?” The voice fake-moaned from the other side of the door. Lydia snorted, adjusting her bag so it didn’t slip as her shoulders shook from silent laughter.

“Oh don’t you know it,” she giggled. “Can I come in now, honey?” The door swung open to reveal Betelgeuse in his signature suit, a black rose looped in his top buttonhole.

“Entre, babes,” he took her by the hand and led her into her room; the door magically swung shut behind them, locking itself for good measure.

A small gasp escaped Lydia’s lips once she’d set foot in the space. Fairy lights hung from every corner in the room, drowning the room in a warm golden glow. A large crystal chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling, casting rainbow reflections on every wall as crimson rose petals cascaded from thin air, circulating the ghost and Lydia. They landed in her hair and caught on the sleeves of her dress. A vinyl crackled on an old busted up record player that was balanced precariously on her bedside table in the exact same spot Barbara’s tray had perched that morning.

“Someday when I’m awfully low;
when the world is cold I will feel a glow just thinking of you
and the way you look tonight.”

“What’s all this?” Lydia giggled, placing her hand on the ghost’s shoulder as he spun her into a gentle waltz.

“Couldn’t have ol’ Babs n’ Adam showin’ me up now could I?” He rested his hand gently on her waist, continuing to spin her in time with the music. “Course, I could’ve gone more full out, but I gotta’ save somethin’ for our anniversary,” He said, winking at her.

“Anniversary?” Lydia was confused for a moment. Her thought process was somewhat slower than usual as she took in the spectacle around her.

“Well, only if ya’ wanna celebrate it.” He tucked her hair behind her left ear, revealing a few additional piercings to her standard lobes. “I’ll understand if it ain’t exactly on ya’ agenda.”

“No, I have nothing against it!” Lydia said quickly, not wanting to offend him. “I mean, we are married I suppose.” There was a moment’s silence. “I think I want to celebrate it, actually.”  

“Lovely…Never, never change;
keep that breathless charm, won’t you please arrange it
‘cos I love you,
and just the way you look tonight”

Betelgeuse stared at her with newly inspired curiosity. She’d been emotionally inconsistent all day; of course, he hadn’t been much help in that department, but she was beginning to understand him in more depth than ever. The fact that this girl - the girl he’d stolen so much from - wanted to celebrate the milestone that had, with catalytic effect, propelled them into whatever it was they were feeling made his head spin, almost literally. Time was a concept he’d lost decades ago - probably along with his sanity – but he felt as if he’d known her forever. His centuries of tormenting the living had mainly been failed attempts at achieving blissful euphoria, something he’d never experienced. But this very moment was the closest to happiness Betelgeuse had felt in all his existence. She’d lowered her gaze as they slow-danced, swaying carefully to the music. Despite what she thought of herself, all he could see, all that he knew of her was utter perfection.

“Hmm, hmm.
Just the way you look tonight.”

Lydia hadn’t been expecting the kiss. Neither one of them had instigated it as the vinyl continued to crackle, leaving the room in half silence. The hand once positioned on her waist had long since begun to roam her back, pulling her into a deeper kiss. Betelgeuse’s other was in her hair, combing the raven locks with adoring interest. He tasted of tobacco with the hint bittersweet burnt caramel she’d smelt on him earlier. Something electrical was running through every fiber in her body. Her heart was pounding, adrenaline coursing through her in dizzying spurts. She could no longer control it; impulsive and instinct had over-powered her brain. She wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing him closer to her hungry lips.

She’d never kissed before, let alone felt such a rush of intense desire. A small voice in the back of her head told her she must be awful, an embarrassment; but the ghost’s response swiftly crushed any doubt as easily as if it were a cockroach. Still locked together, the pair stumbled around until they slammed into a wall, causing a framed photo to come crashing down to the floor. The plaster cooled the section of Lydia’s back that remained bare, as the steadily increasing fire inside her burned even hotter, her cheeks flushing.

A smart knock on the door caused them to jump apart; Lydia’s hand shot up to her hair, attempting to smoothen it out as she panted for breath.

“Who is it?” She said, her voice – despite desperately trying to keep her voice as normal as possible – somewhat higher than usual.  

“Just me,” Adam chirruped, completely unaware of any changes in the vocal tone of Lydia Deetz. “Just came to ask if our favorite mortal resident was ready to work on the darkroom?” Lydia felt her heart sink. Her earlier enthusiasm to work on the darkroom earlier had vanished and replaced, instead, with a feeling of mild annoyance.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll be down in a few.”  

“Alrighty then.” Adam’s footsteps faded away as he descended back down the flight of stairs.

 Lydia turned back to the ghost, her heart still pounding. “I’m sorry,” she was avoiding eye contact. “I’ll be back later. Please don’t go anywhere.”

“Ya’ know ya’ don’t have to do everythin’ they say, right?” Betelgeuse sounded mildly bitter as he clicked his lighter. “Ya’ could stay here, with me.”

“I know,” she turned around, a small smile forming on her lips at the sound of his sulky tone, in spite of her embarrassment. “But I’ve got to save something for our anniversary.” Laughing to herself, she slipped out of the door, leaving the ghost in such a state of aroused shock that the cigarette never met his lips.

Chapter Text

“And there we have it,” said Adam, wiping his brow on his shirtsleeve. “One dark room in the basement.” The room had been completely transformed over the last few hours; despite the hazy June day the sun had almost set by the time all three of them had put together the final pieces of Lydia’s new haunt. The only source of natural light was the tiny window, propped open in order to protect the still breathing Lydia from asphyxiation.

“It’s wonderful,” Lydia’s eyes shone in the red light as she gazed around at her childhood dream brought to life. “This is amazing, you guys are seriously the best.”

“We’re glad we could help make it happen,” Barbara smiled, placing the developing chemicals carefully on an upper shelf. “Let’s just hope Delia doesn’t decide the rest of the house isn’t spacious enough for all her art sculptures.”

“Trust me, that woman could have the world and still want more,” Lydia smirked, pulling a large piece of dust out of Barbara’s voluminous hair as the trio made their way out of the basement.

“We’ll scare her off if she even tries to go anywhere near it,” Barbara giggled, pulling Lydia close to her as she placed a soft kiss on the raven hair. “I promise to make sure she – or anything else for that matter– doesn’t ruin anything for you ever again.” She patted Lydia clumsily on the upper back, turning to lock the basement door. Lydia appreciated the sentimentality of Barbara's words, but something long-since wedged in her chest was stirring unpleasantly. She'd felt this before, on occasion; a soft nagging pang towards the ice queen Delia Deetz. Lydia had, after all, walked unexpectedly into the picture right as Delia was on the brink of (mild) artistic success. It was understandable why she and her stepmother had never been particularly close. Lydia was torn rudely from her thoughts as Adam materialized next to her carrying three mugs of hot cocoa.

“A special treat before bed?” Lydia asked, raising an eyebrow, taking her mug, relishing the indulgently sweet fumes.

“I’d rather call it a toast,” Adam joked, raising his mug high. “A toast,” he bellowed, nearly spilling half his drink in his enthusiasm. “A toast to dark rooms, to ghostly family and,” he took a deep false breath, “to Lydiaaaaaa!” The last two words were shouted as loudly as possible. All three of them smashed their mugs together, laughing heartily.

………….

The cups lay forgotten in the kitchen sink as they all exchanged goodnights at the top of the stairs. After a few hugs and several final birthday wishes, they went their separate ways. Adam and Barbara to the attic and Lydia to her room, her heart pounding.

It was dark when she entered. The surrounding space looked as plain and regular as it had done prior to the events mere hours ago. There was no unnatural chill in the room, no telltale smell of smoke. She closed the door behind her with a soft click and crept silently to her bathroom. With a flick the lights illuminated her reflection, her eyes steadily adjusting to the soft yellow glow. With every stroke of makeup remover a familiar feature re-appeared. The tired eyes, the redness of her face, the occasional small blemish here and there. After a few minutes of deprecating her reflection, she switched on the shower and clambered into it, not wanting to be dragged into a familiar self-pity party.

A stream of hot water hit her skin, embracing her pale shoulders and further soothing her newly refreshed face. She squirted an unnecessarily large amount of shampoo into her hand and started massaging it lavishly onto her scalp, humming a soft jazzy-melody before a loud knock made her jump out of her state of bliss.

Lydia nearly slipped in her haste to grab a towel; her still shampoo-filled hair sent small soapy tears down her back. Her heart was beating against her chest. Had Betelgeuse come back? She threw the door open only to reveal a nervous and undeniably grave looking Barbara.

“Lydia, honey,” she said, handing her a pile of fresh clothes from her wardrobe. “I need you to get dressed and come upstairs as soon as possible. It’s urgent”

Lydia took the clothes, knowing better than to ask any questions. Barbara shut the door as Lydia speed-dried and – uncaring of her appearance – haphazardly threw on the mismatching clothes. Anxiety gnawed at her insides as she half-ran, barefoot, across the hallway towards the attic. It was unlike the Maitlands to behave like this. They’d always been so open, so honest. If this were a small issue, (the stolen alcohol sprung to Lydia’s frantic mind,) they’d usually deal with it in a calm, respectful manner. This had to be something disturbing.

Just as Lydia placed her foot on the bottom-most stair an explosion of sound burst through every crack of the attic door. A symphony of shouts and hisses met her ears, causing her to freeze in her tracks. Was it better to make an appearance now or wait and eavesdrop for a while? As quietly as possible and hardly daring to breathe, Lydia crept up the stairs and slid behind the dusty doorframe. She waited.

“I knew this would happen, it’s all too damn much!” A voice that sounded oddly like Delia’s – dulled by the distance between them – met her ears first. “Why didn’t you keep the maniac locked up? It could try to kill Charles again?”

“Who ya callin’ ‘it?’” Another, much more distinguishable voice snarled back. Betelgeuse! Lydia’s heart jumped into her throat as she leaned in closer to get a better understanding of the conversation. “Don’t categorize me like I’m a fuckin’ animal, or worse, one of ya’ shit sculptures.”

“You tried to kill me, you monster!” Charles’ voice somehow managed to drown out the abundance of insults Delia was hurtling at the poltergeist. It was evident he was shaking with fear, his voice trembling terribly despite his angered tone. “It could be me haunting this house for a thousand years, not them!” He’d obviously pointed at the Maitlands as gasps of offense and more shouting followed his insensitive comment.

The noise continued to build until an elderly female voice Lydia didn’t realize screamed so loudly that everyone fell silent immediately, clearly intimidated by the stranger. “Will you all just shut up already?” A large cloud of cigarette smoke floated in Lydia’s direction; she flapped her hands desperately in an attempt to diffuse it before she began coughing. “God, the shit I’ve had to put up with because of all of you. This is gonna be another 500 years of paperwork, at least!” An awkward silence followed these words. It was apparent no one had the nerve to disrespect whoever this woman was. “Where’s Lydia anyway?” The voice spat, impatiently. “How long does it take to walk up a few stairs?”

“I-I’ll go get her,” Barbara stammered, her footsteps hastening towards Lydia’s hiding place. Realising eavesdropping was not how she wanted to be found, least of all by Barbara; Lydia took this opportunity to make herself known. She walked into the room with as much confidence as she could muster, trying her best not to give away any signs she’d overheard anything. “What’s going on?” She scrunched the hem of her shirt in the palm of her hand, steadying it. Everyone looked up, staring at her with mixed reactions.

Charles and Delia, both with their arms folded, had found restless refuge by the edge of the model, Adam, and Barbara by the couch. The dead and alive, though divided, united by some conflict. A short, bony woman with ruby lips and an impressive amount of loosely curled grey hair stood between both parties. She held a cigarette between her teeth and a file in her hands, looking at Lydia with as much intensity as everyone else. It was difficult, (Lydia thought,) not to feel like a Zoo exhibition. 

“Lydia, this is Juno,” Barbara indicated at the elderly woman. Lydia noticed a trail of cigarette smoke seeping from a significant gash in the old woman’s throat. Something clicked in her brain. So this was Juno, the infamous woman who’d managed to entrap Betelgeuse after their true wedding. She was a fierce looking creature, with a great essence of mystery; dressed from head to toe in grey tweed. Juno turned to say something to Barbara, causing everybody’s attention to fly away from Lydia.

It was at that precise moment that Betelgeuse caught Lydia’s eye. He was lurking in the shadows behind Juno, arms folded, leaning against a low wooden rafter. He, alone, continued to stare right at her, his expression unreadable. He lifted a cigarette towards his lips, meeting its end with a lighter, momentarily illuminating his features. He seemed to be shaking his head, ever so slightly, from side to side, repeatedly mouthing the instruction 'no'.

“I can speak for myself thank you,” Juno, snapped, flicking cigarette ash onto the Maitland’s floor. “Lydia, I’m Juno.” She flashed Barbara an annoyed look. “I’m the caseworker of those two idiots,” she sighed, pointing at the Maitlands. “And I’m here, if you so wish it, to return your memories.”

It was like finding the last puzzle piece under your seat; something finally clicked in Lydia’s brain, Betelgeuse’s silently peculiar injunction now made sense. She had to play the fool. “My memories?” Lydia feigned uncertainty, looking from the Maitlands to Juno in disbelief. “What do you mean?” She felt a dramatic flare was in order. Staring at Betelgeuse in faux horror, her eyes wide, she pointed and began to scream. “What’s he doing here?” She cried, shaking her hand for good measure. “Is he going to try to make me marry him again? Why isn’t he locked up?” A ghost of a smile flickered across Betelgeuse’s face; he bit his lip, looking at his wife’s theatrical display with amusement.

“Everything will make sense soon enough.” Juno remained calm, evidently fooled by her display. “I need you to lie down.” The Maitlands gently held Lydia in their arms and half-dragged her, kicking and screaming, to a foldout bed. Barbara took Lydia’s hands as the latter continued to stare in fake horror at the poltergeist. “Close your eyes,” Juno placed her hands on either side of Lydia’s temples. “I’m going to count to three. One, two-”

If someone were to ask Lydia what happens when you die, something like this would have been her answer. Images flashed like a film reel through her mind, snippets of memories long since removed. She was holding the arm of Betelgeuse, wearing a beautiful white gown. Her father, Delia, and Otho were tied up, forced to watch the wedding take place. Adam and Barbara’s faces were a display of nerves and guilt, powerless, as the ceremony continued. Betelgeuse was holding her, dipping her low to the ground, lips almost touching.

The flashback ended nearly as soon as it had started. Lydia’s eyes snapped open and she sat up so fast that Adam and Barbara actually jumped in shock. Her eyes were wide, fixated on Betelgeuse; her lips slightly parted in a surprised fashion. “You didn’t lie,” she breathed. Her voice was so soft that even Barbara and Adam – despite being mere feet away - couldn’t hear her. Betelgeuse heard of course, how could he not listen to her; she was so enchanting. He nodded an infinitesimal amount.

“You’re probably wondering what’s going on here now, aren’t you?” Juno came back into Lydia’s line of vision, cigarette clutched in her right hand. “Now that you’re memories have returned there’s no point in me explaining the ceremony. It’s pretty straightforward what happened.” She took a long drag on the cancerous stick before continuing. “It’s up to you what happens from here on out. Unfortunately, now that you’re an adult, I can’t restrain Betelgeuse any longer.

“I understand that and all,” Lydia said, shifting her weight on the pull out bed so that her legs dangled childishly over the edge. “But, why is everyone here? What’s going on?”

“It’s a little complicated,” Juno sighed, folding her arms so that the hand holding her cigarette was balanced on the opposite elbow. “These two,” she indicated at the Maitlands, “had what you might call a guilty conscience. They wanted to return your memories early, let you make up your mind about the situation.” She gave the Maitlands a reproachful look. “Those of us with authority decided to wait a little longer and see if he would show up,” An indication towards Betelgeuse clarified her abrasive statement. “And it turns out he did.”

Lydia was more confused than ever. “What, so you camped out until he showed up? This makes no sense!”

A smile flitted across Betelgeuse’s face as he rolled his shoulders. “Don’t agonize over it, babes,” he popped his collar. “I gave myself in.” He began to walk forward and Lydia felt the Maitlands draw closer to her, ready to protect. “Woah, cool it, I ain’t gonna do nothin,” he grunted, shooting an exasperated look at Lydia’s new bodyguards. “Ya see, kid, I realized it’d be better to do the gentlemanly thing n’ let ya get your memories back before we proceeded with the honeymoonin.” He flicked a piece of dust off the sleeve of his suit. “Didn’t want everyone freakin out if they found us walkin around together too soon.” On the last two words, he gave Lydia such a poignant stare she felt as if she were being X-rayed.

Suddenly, everything finally made sense. The shaking of his head had been an indication to play the charade of naïve-little-Lydia; act as if she didn’t know anything, as if he’d never visited her before now. She complied, looking as innocent as ever, knowing, full well, he was spouting relentless bullshit.

“But,” Juno cut in, not bothering to hide the sourness in her voice. “Whatever he says, whatever persuasion he might give, the final decision is yours to make.” She took several steps towards Lydia, her voice lowering to a murmur only the raven-haired girl could hear. “Lydia, I employ you, make this decision wisely.” Her stare was so unrelentingly magnetic that it was physically impossible to look away. “The choice you make now is final. Agree to uphold your end of his deal and there’s no way of going back.”

Lydia’s insides squirmed in a sensation similar to missing a step down a flight of stairs. She’d already agreed to the deal last night, hell, she’d kissed him for Christ’s sake. “What would happen if I were to agree?” She tried her best to keep her voice indifferent; sugar-coated, but noticed the minute shake in it.

“It would guarantee his freedom.” Still, Juno refused to break eye contact. Lydia could feel her eyes watering. “He’d be free to come and go from the living world as he pleased and probably wreak some havoc while he’s at it.” She seemed relatively unperturbed by this idea, in fact, an imperceptible smile formed on her ruby lips. “But there’s a catch.”

“Catch?” Betelgeuse’s calm demeanor was broken in an instant. He was alert, his eyes raging with something almost electrical. It was the same electricity Lydia had felt earlier, a formidable surge of power. “What catch? Whatcha talkin ‘bout June-bug?”

“Your freedom is limited by only one thing,” Juno turned to face the poltergeist, a triumphant look in her steely grey eyes. “Lydia.”

The whole room seemed to freeze in an instant. Lydia didn’t dare breathe, her line of vision fixated downwards, eyeballing her knees. One bad thing seemed to happen after another. If part of Betelgeuse’s façade had been to feign shock at the so-called catch; she, Lydia, didn’t know or care. She’d had no idea. Not even a single inkling that she’d be the only one capable to stop any future disasters from happening. Slowly, Lydia raised her head. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on her once more.

“So, you mean to tell me,” Delia had been silent for such an impressive amount of time that Lydia had almost forgotten she was there. “That Lydia is the only thing that can control…that?”

“That’s certainly one way of putting it,” Juno raised an eyebrow at Delia. “She’s the only person who can summon or banish him. We - for example - could say his name three times or a million but nothing would happen.”

“Well, you can guarantee I won’t be saying that things name or…or label,” Delia guffawed, pointing a black-leather-gloved finger at the poltergeist in question. “I’ve had enough of this. Ghosts living in our attic, shrimp attacks, my career blown to smithereens over an apparition we never wanted or asked for!” Her face was almost as red as her hair; it wouldn’t have been a surprise if she’d actually started steaming. “And, if that wasn’t enough, pretending Lydia wasn’t married to a maniac has just been the cherry on the cake; the pièce de résistance!” She grabbed her husband by the tie and marched him to the door. “Charles and I are leaving. For good.”

“You better stop right there,” Barbara ran forward, grabbing onto Delia’s other hand clad in white leather. “We’ve all lived in this house quite peacefully for the last two years,” she said, eyes shining with indignation. “This is not about you, this is about a little girl who tried to save all of us and is now paying an unfair price.”

“Have you any idea how much stress this has put Charles under?” Delia shrieked, tearing her hand out of Barbara’s grasp to place it on her husband’s shoulder. “He couldn’t even bring himself to celebrate her last two birthdays!” Charles looked as if he was about to say something, but Delia’s tirade wasn’t over. “Have you got a clue it’s like to raise a child but have no power to protect them from harm?” For the first time in all the years she’d known her, Lydia heard Delia’s voice start to crack. “I may not be the most caring mother in the world and I am positive she resents me, but I tried my best for Lydia.”

“You could’ve tried harder!” Adam has somehow managed to raise his voice even louder than Delia’s. “You could’ve appreciated her, tried your best to enjoy whatever time you had before all of this!”

“I’m not talking about me!” Delia was half screaming, her voice so shrill that it hurt to listen. “This is about a helpless father needing emergency getaways so that he didn’t have a stroke from the sheer stress of all this crap!” She’d taken Charles’ hand in her own and opened the attic door. “So, you can all take your opinions of us needing some time away and shove it right up your-”

“SHUT UP!” It was a shock to everyone – especially Lydia – that she was capable of making such a sound. Everyone whipped around to face her. Lydia had jumped to her feet, her heart racing so fast it could’ve burst through her chest and hit Delia in the face. “I’m clearly the problem here, it’s better if I just leave and-”

“Yes, yes!” Delia began pointing at Lydia now, her gloved hand shaking excitedly. “This is what I was talking about! It’s all Lydia; she’s the one putting us through all this. I say she should leave with this maniac right now.”

Nobody spoke. As unceremonious and downright unpleasant all the comments had been, Delia wasn’t wrong. Whatever way anyone looked at it, Lydia was now tied, permanently; to something only she had the power to control. Asking her to remove him invariably was a favor no one was brave enough to suggest. Lydia might have power over Betelgeuse, but she didn’t have power over his magic and openly demanding his elimination was risky, to say the least. All eyes slid back to the raven-haired girl.

“For once, Delia, you might be right.” Lydia slid off the bed and began to pace the attic, a sly smile creeping upon her lips. After a few moments of contemplative silence, she stopped walking, turning around to beam at them all. “There’s nothing for it, I’m going to have to leave.”

“No, Lydia, this is ridiculous!” Barbara broke Adam’s side to grab Lydia’s upper arms in a firm grip. “You’re not going anywhere; I promised not to let anything ruin your happiness ever again!” Her voice broke, fresh tears streaming down her rosy cheeks into chestnut curls.

“Stop crying Barbara,” Lydia wiped the tears from her guardian’s face, smiling gently. “I don’t mean forever, I just think there’s more to this guy than meets the eye.” She turned to face the poltergeist who had chosen that precise moment to pick at a large piece of mold on his neck. “Don’t worry about me, we won’t be gone for long.”

“Oh no, please, take your time,” Delia mumbled from beside the door.

Lydia walked up to her ghostly husband, biting her lip nervously. He’d retreated back into the dark corner, eyes glowing in the semi-darkness like a hermit crab. He looked up as she edged towards him; his expression changing from neutral to surprised. “Whatcha want squirt?” He peered over her shoulder to the small crowd of onlookers, all of whom showcasing mixed emotions. “They stopped yellin at’cha now or what?”

Lydia didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. Her nausea was so bad she wasn’t sure if speaking was a wise option. She looked into his eyes imploringly, like a starved street cat. He understood her silent request at once. He took her arm and gave it a soft squeeze before turning to face the room at large.

“So folks, that’s it for tonight I think.” He took a couple of steps forward before continuing. “The wife n I will be on our way now; gotta make the most of the honeymoon while I’m still young and spritely.” He continued his way over to the small crowd, taking small steps until he was mere feet away from them all. “Just one more thing from me, uh,” he tapped his temples as if struggling to remember something important. “Oh yeah, here it is: fuck you all. To hell.”

Next thing Lydia knew, she was surrounded by darkness and empty beer bottles, utterly alone.

Chapter Text

June 11th, 1988

“Consent.” Miss Shannon whacked the word written in chalk on the blackboard with a long ruler. She squinted at the class, eyeing them up through her thick spectacles as if daring anyone to interrupt this evidently life-changing speech she was about to give. “Throughout your time on Earth, there are going to be things you'll have to give your permission for, such as somebody photographing you or borrowing a pen, or-”

“Sex?” Claire batted her eyelashes; her badly tanned hand half raised in mid-air. Immediately her clique of bleached-blonde girlfriends bursts into uncontrollable giggles.

“Well, yes Claire you are in fact correct,” Miss Shannon pushed her glasses up her nose, a light blush rising in her aged cheeks. “But sometimes, you’ve got to make it perfectly clear to a person that their advances are unwanted. Sometimes simply saying ‘no’ isn’t enough.”

“Yeah, remember Cathy Wrent?” One of Claire’s cronies hissed loudly enough for everyone to hear. “Her ex-boyfriend said she was like, totally just playing and that she, like, actually did want it. Boys are like, so in synch with girl’s minds.” She and Claire’s fellows nodded in agreement, marveling over the intuition of Cathy’s ex-boyfriend.

“What happened to Cathy anyway?” Another of them whispered.

“Pregnant.” Claire flexed her fingers, inspecting her perfectly manicured nails with mild interest. “Her parents like tried to like hush it up but we all like totally knew.”

Lydia rolled her eyes, irritation threatening to drive her insane. “Miss Shannon?” She raised her hand. The whole room stared at her; shocked that Lydia Deetz was actually speaking in class.

“Yes, Lydia Doot?”

“Um, Deetz,” Lydia corrected her. Miss Shannon didn’t reply, looking at Lydia expectantly. “I don’t think we should encourage the idea that ‘no’ can be a temperamental response. It’s not the girl’s fault if a boy - or anyone for that matter - can’t respect her enough to do what she asks. It’s an awful message to spread that things like rape should be blamed on the victim and not the rapist.”

“God, like, weren’t you like even listening, Deetz?” Claire snorted, giving Lydia a look of amusement. “He knew she wanted it, they were like in love love.”

“It sure doesn’t sound like she wanted it,” Lydia turned to face Claire, anger boiling inside her like molten lava.

“Just because you’re like gonna be like a virgin till you die, doesn’t mean we like all wanna be one,” Claire snorted. As if on cue her entire gang burst into raucous laughter, banging and rattling their desks to show their appreciation for Claire’s attempt at comedy.

“Ladies, ladies, please!” Miss Shannon smacked the desk with her ruler, glaring at the room at large. “Lydia, I appreciate what you’re saying, but you ladies can’t just walk around like you do and not expect men to stare! That's like offering the homeless money as if they're not just going to purchase drugs.”

"Yeah," Claire howled, laughing so hard that tears were rolling down her perfectly smooth cheeks. "Yeah, like, no offense Deetz but when you're homeless I'm not gonna like give you money to buy some like weird voodoo drug you like probably do." At this Claire's gang lost control completely. Their laughter was so shrill it wouldn't have been surprising if dogs had started barking along with them. 

Lydia gave up and sank further into her chair until her head was barely visible above her desk. It wasn’t Claire and her group of airheads that bothered her; It was the stupidity and stigma around controversial topics. How hard was it to understand simple right and wrong? It was disgusting.

“Now, please turn to page three hundred and eighty-one,” Miss Shannon turned to face the blackboard, erasing the word that had caused so much unnecessary controversy.

Lydia gazed out of the unopened window she sat two seats away from. The sky was a soft grey that threatened to darken with every passing minute. The thought of walking home in the rain lifted her spirits slightly. Although Delia would scream as her good-for-nothing-unwanted-stepdaughter dragged mud and dirty water through the house; Lydia could light candles and make her sweet black coffee in peace. She sighed, turning to page three hundred and eighty-one in her English textbook as instructed. 

Out of nowhere, an intense gust of wind swept throughout the entire room. Paper flew in all directions and the pages of Lydia’s book flipped wildly out of control. Claire began to scream, clinging to her hair as if her life depended on it. Lydia lept to her feet and slammed her hands down on the book, waiting for the wind to stop.

“Calm down now girls, calm down!” Miss Shannon and the worried murmuring of her fellow classmates sounded somewhat distant. Lydia’s attention was fixated on the page open under the palms of her hands, her eyes wide with astonishment. A single word was spread across the two pages beneath her hands. A word, that Lydia had ached to become reality for all her life. A word she had never been fortunate enough to receive.

Change.

This word seemed almost alien, unheard of. What sort of weird sign was this? She'd read through the entire book cover to cover in preparation for her new school but had never before seen this page. Lydia’s attention turned to the window she’d been gazing out of only moments before, only to find her astonishment transform into horror. After the intense wind that had swept the classroom into dramatic squeals; her expectation to find the window wide open and banging on its was rudely denied. It was as tightly locked as it ever had been.

Chapter Text

“Jesus, gross,” Lydia mumbled, stepping over a decaying rat as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Despite her alien surroundings, she had a pretty good idea where she was and wasn’t impressed with her husband’s choice of honeymoon destination. “Funny how a free man would choose to run to this dump,” Lydia sniffed, folding her arms and shivering. The room was freezing, unpleasantly damp and musky. An acidic smell - that burnt the back of her throat with every intake of breath - hung ominously in the air, accompanied by something that smelt horribly like blood. Lydia started to feel sick.

“Come on, there’s got to be some kind of light switch somewhere…” She grumbled, waving her arms about wildly, praying her palm would meet a cord or panel. Eventually, after what felt like decades, her fingers met something smooth and waxy. Her heart almost skipped a beat and held it tightly in her fist, feeling every millimeter of it to confirm her suspicion.

“Damn,” a voice croaked from behind her, “that candle’s gettin more action than I’ve had in years.”

Lydia whipped around, only to find the room as obsolete as ever. Thank God she wasn't easily fooled. An idea snuck into her head, the sheer inspiration of it curling a sly smile across her lips. The grip she had on the candle became so hard it nearly crumbled in her palm. She turned on her heel, presenting her back to the open space where the voice had issued from and began a pretend search for a matchbox.

“Playin’ hard to get?” he croaked in her ear, sending an unpleasant shiver down Lydia’s spine, the hairs on her arms standing upright. Yet again, she ignored him and changed direction to the small table in the center of the room - littered with what felt like hundreds of beer bottles and other candles of various sizes. Lydia knelt beside it, waving her arms around in what would’ve been a terrible impression of a blind man.  

“Lookin for these?” The voice hissed in her ear. The matches flew from the furthest edge of the table to dance in front of her face, rattling mockingly.

“Yes, oh how did you know?” Lydia purred, taking a deliberately pathetic swipe at the at the air, missing by several inches. The room grew even colder. 

“What’s my reward gonna be for the gift'a light?” The voice whispered, closer than ever. Lydia’s mouth twitched.

“What could I possibly do that would repay this immense favor?” Lydia whispered back, licking her bottom lip. She felt a hand push away the hair covering her neck, revealing pale flesh to the darkness.

“How 'bout’cha start by taking off those stupid pointless clothes.”

Lydia slowly rose to her feet, turning to address the space behind her. There he was, kneeling on the grimy carpet, reeking of smoke and accomplishment. He stood to meet her level in the deafening silence, brushing several stray hairs away from her cheek with deliberation. He looked utterly pleased with himself. Lydia took a step towards and wild emerald met bitter honey eyes.

“You absolute DICK,” Lydia swung with all her might, fist-planting him squarely in the jaw. A sickening crunch beneath her knuckles told her she had dislocated it. Betelgeuse staggered backward, clutching his chin as the realization of what just happened hit him nearly as hard as Lydia had.

“WHAT THE FUCK DEETZ?” He bellowed, cracking his jaw back into place without so much as a flinch. “What a way to kill the mood.” The room was instantly bathed in dim yellowing light, unapologetically exposing the rotting surroundings. The room itself was hardly big enough to fit the pair of them, let alone the dismal furnishings crammed into - what Lydia was now convinced was just - a poorly-dug hole in the ground. A cracked and heavily stained mirror hung crooked over a grimy sink stuck pathetically on the wall, the contents of which were suspiciously unidentifiable. In the darkest corner of the room, a tarnished mattress lying atop crushed wooden planks that looked as if they'd once assembled to form a bed. Whether broken accidentally or deliberately Lydia couldn't tell, although her suspicions hinted at the latter. The walls were plastered with rotting planks of broken wood and ugly portraits, consisting mainly of anatomically incorrect medieval babies. Crammed into the remaining space was the small circular table Lydia had blindly searched earlier and a red velvet sofa. Both furnishings were heavily damaged and coated in a thick layer of dust for good measure. If Lydia didn't feel capable of attempting impossible murder she might have felt quite sorry for Betelgeuse. They stood as far away from each other as possible on the uneven floor; Betelgeuse ready to defend and Lydia ready to attack.

“Mood?” Lydia spat, taking a significantly brave stride towards him. "That, of all things, is what you're worried about right now?" Betelgeuse took a small step back, fearful of receiving another face full. “So the fact you, oh I don't know, lied and pretended you’d never paid me an unwanted visit isn’t bothering you at all? Because it sure as hell is bothering me!" It seemed, for a moment, that Lydia had knocked (verbally and physically) sense into him. The ghost was silent for some time, eyeing her up, scowling; the undeniable facts obliterating his usually boisterous and cocky manner. Almost as soon as it had vanished, his trademark sleazy grin was back on his face, ready for his next attack.

“There’s somethin ya keep forgettin Deetz,” Betelgeuse growled dangerously, chuckling slightly in spite of himself. “It was you who called my name while ya slept, don’t forget that shit.”

Lydia blanched, her stomach twisting horribly. Not only did he have a very valid point, but he seemed to untastefully relish in her embarrassment. Fine; if he was going to play it that way then so was she. “What, and you have no control over yourself do you?” Lydia scoffed, glaring at him. “How convenient that it’s all my fault, you could’ve left and not spoken to me at all!” She was castling, playing the sarcasm card just the way he'd hate it.

“Oh baby, I have plenty o control, ya don't even know it," he sneered, inclining his head towards the furiously blushing Lydia. "But, I gotta ask, why's it such a problem that I fucken spoke to ya, huh?!” Betelgeuse took a bold step forward and was glad to see intimidation flicker in Lydia’s eyes. “All I did was tell ya the truth, what else do ya want from me?”

“Don’t you get it?” Lydia laughed coldly; exasperated that a man 600 years her senior couldn’t understand simple morality. “You tricked me! You made me agree to the deal before I had my memories returned. I’ve had reoccurring nightmares for two years because of you, and you still had the audacity to take advantage of that in order to return? You’re sick, you’re absolutely sick!” She was shaking with rage, disgusted that he was still looking at her like she was spouting nonsense. 

This was not how Betelgeuse had imagined their impromptu honeymoon to be. Sweeping his blushing bride off her cute plat-formed feet in some sunny resort and making her scream his ungodly name until she was an avid believer in all things utterly twisted had been his plan, but so far things were going south. He shook his head quickly; now wasn't the time to picture his wife like that when she was so angry, and he so unable to make it a reality.

“Yeah well, that’s what I do, innit,” the ghost spat. “I trick people, I take advantage, I repulse!” He wasn’t yelling anymore, but something in the softness of his voice scared Lydia more than his anger had ever done. He moved towards her, his eyes narrowing. “But here’s the thing sweet cheeks: ya stuck with me.” He spread his arms wide, a satisfied smirk spreading across his lips. “All that shit don’t matter anymore. Ya accepted the deal, ain’t nothin more to it. Suck it up, babes.” Both parties had taken care not to charge at one another too soon, but Betelgeuse had had enough. They were practically nose to nose in the cramped space, the ghost looking down furiously at the girl he knew he didn't deserve. She was avoiding his gaze, apparently stunned by what he'd just said.

Lydia swallowed the retort she'd been longing to hurl at him and sank instead into a dust-covered crimson couch. There was no point in arguing now; emptiness was beginning to hollow inside of her as if all hope had been scooped out with a giant ladle. Checkmate; she’d lost. Lydia didn’t believe in God, but if she had this would’ve turned her to atheism in a heartbeat. He was right, she was stuck with him and there was nothing she could do about it. She shivered; the chill in the room was slowly starting to become unbearable and the mismatching clothes Barbara had given her earlier were thin and unsuited to the deathly cold. “I wanted to trust you,” she whispered. Betelgeuse’s ears pricked up; the hairs on the back of his neck rose slowly at the barely audible whisper. That word again: - ‘trust.’  

“I wanted to trust you, more than anything.” Lydia blurted; shocked her brain was allowing this to spew out of her mouth like vomit. “I wanted to make good of a bad situation, try to make this all work out, somehow. Apparently, I was asking for a fucking miracle.” She took a deep shuddering breath before plowing on. “You’re a jerk, ok? A total egotistical maniac who’s giving me incredibly mixed signals here. One second you’re a sweetheart and the next you’re so intimidating I feel like I might die, which – considering the circumstances – I wouldn’t mind doing.”

He was on top of her before she could speak another word. Pinning her to the sofa like a bizarrely shaped paperweight. “Never say that shit again,” he growled. He was so close that Lydia's could smell his breath. “Never say ya wanna die, ever again. Ya hear?!" He looked livid.

“Why do you care?” Lydia retorted, trying to wriggle out from under him. He didn’t budge. “Why do you care so much whether I live or die?”

“Because there are alot’ta people who care about ya Deetz, n they wouldn’t want to find ya dead on any day o the week.”

“Oh please, no one cares that much,” Lydia spat. “Daddy and Delia don’t want me around anymore, I bring nothing but trouble for the Maitlands and you obviously hate me because why else would you be-”

 Betelgeuse would never know what Lydia was going to accuse him of, for at that moment he totally lost it. Her lips were colder than they’d been in her bedroom, chilled by the freezing conditions of his house. She didn’t resist him; perhaps it was out of shock. He closed his eyes and focused on putting the words he’d never be able to say into his actions. Who would’ve thought this girl could have such an effect on the most powerful spirit in existence.

Something popped into Lydia’s brain as she lay there; quite unable to grasp what the hell was happening. The memory was faint, something to do with a class, almost three years ago. She could see Miss Shannon hitting the board with a stick, pointing to a word. It was like a bomb had exploded in her brain. Lydia sat bolt upright, forcing the ghost off of her with surprising strength. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She yelled, furiously wiping her mouth on the back of her hand.

Betelgeuse looked shocked, slumped in a crease at the opposite end of the couch. He couldn’t answer Lydia; there was no acceptable explanation for kissing her. The space inside his chest where a heart had once resided felt somewhat alive again every time she was in his presence. Hell, every time he thought about her it was like dying all over again. Whether it was right or wrong to kiss her out of the blue, Betelgeuse didn’t care. He was dumbfounded that something as weak as a human, a living human, was capable of doing this to him.

“I’m waiting for an answer.” Lydia was sitting on her bare knees, glaring at the poltergeist with cold murder in her eyes. Betelgeuse continued staring wordlessly at her. He was searching Lydia’s face with awe as if he’d never seen it properly. The silence was so prolonged that Lydia started to feel uncomfortable. She shifted awkwardly, breaking eye contact with him to stare at the floor moldy instead.

“Has anybody ever told ya how fucken beautiful ya are?”

Lydia jumped at the sudden whisper; her entranced state broken in an instant. Minutes, maybe even hours could have passed they’d been quiet for so long. She looked up, shocked at his abrupt admission. “What?” She whispered, more disbelieving than flattered.

“Ya heard me,” he said, just as quietly as ever. “I said you’re beautiful.”

Lydia didn’t know what to think. Half exasperated, half frustrated she rested her face in the palms of her hands, avoiding his gaze altogether. “Now’s not the time to try to make me forgive you with false compliments.”

“S’not a compliment,” he shook his head, his voice low and uncharacteristically calm. “It’s a fact, n’ I’m also talkin ‘bout ya personality here. No matter what I’ve done, whatever fuck-ups I made ya still here, even when I don’t deserve ya. You’re too good for me Lydia.”

Lydia’s heart skipped a beat. Had she misheard him? She wanted to believe she hadn’t, but, more importantly, she wanted to hear him say it again. She tested the waters and remained silent, willing him to take that as indifference and ramble on. It worked.

“I can’t help myself, I just keep makin things go from bad to worse. I’m tryin Lydia, I fucken swear.”

He’d done it again. Lydia looked up so fast she nearly got whiplash. Her eyes were wide and met the ghost’s without hesitation. “You said my name,” she whispered. He looked at her, surprised that this was what she’d chosen to pick up on.

“Course I did, it’s yours.” He popped a fresh cigarette into his mouth, igniting it with lazily with a flick of his lighter. Lydia wondered if he really needed it; perhaps fire had his powers stumped. 

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Lydia breathed, hesitantly shuffling closer towards him. “I-I just think this is the first time you’ve called me by my name before.” She could feel her cheeks flushing violently and was suddenly incredibly grateful of their dingy surroundings. Her mind was racing. The anger she had felt towards Betelgeuse had melted and transformed into self-frustration at her inconsistency with him. She watched with newfound curiosity as Betelgeuse removed the cigarette from his chapped lips, watched as smoke escaped from the corners of his mouth, watched as he ran a moldy hand through grizzled hair. Something new was burning inside Lydia; a minute kindling fire, growing stronger with every look at someone she ought to hate. Oh, how she loathed herself for it.

“S’pose I haven’t,” he shrugged, flicking the cigarette away, evidently disappointed with it. “Look,” he took a very deep and unnecessary breath and exhaled a small mixture of dust and grime. Lydia had to suppress the urge to wrinkle her nose. “I totally get that yer pissed; ya have every right to be, n I’m sorry I keep fucken up so badly. So, all I’m askin is that ya let me make it up to ya.”

“How?” Lydia asked tentatively, giving him a skeptical look.

“I was thinkin ‘bout a trip,” Betelgeuse grinned, relaxing back into the couch, kicking one leg over the other. “How’s ‘bout a belated Honeymoon, sweetie?”

Chapter Text

The ocean view - seen from the pool edge of a remote mountain villa Lydia was currently leaning against - was bathed in evening sunlight. The distant laughter of playing children could be heard several hundred feet below at the seashore's edge, the sound reverberating around the most beautiful landscape Lydia had ever seen in her life. Having had such few chances to go abroad during her childhood (and the only recent escapes from Winter River having been University trips), this was utter bliss. She felt as if she could have happily rested there forever, breathing in the view so greedily it could have easily substituted for oxygen. She hadn’t questioned the disappearance of her husband, or, for that matter, the cost of the abnormally large Villa directly behind her. Lydia had a sneaking suspicion that he was using his immensely convenient powers to their full extent, weaselling around any disturbances that could, inevitably, affect the award-winning honeymoon he had promised her, only a few days ago.

………….

“A trip?” Lydia looked dumbfounded. “You want to go on...a trip?”

“Yup,” the ghost fiddled with a loose seam on the couch, unfazed by the shocked expression animating the face of Lydia Deetz. “Think of it as some sorta peace offerin'.” He gave the seam a violent tug, but it wouldn’t budge. “Ya get to relax n not worry ‘bout shit for a couple'a weeks or so, n meanwhile, I get to attend to some things that…well…need attendin' to.” And, with another tug, the seam was ripped away from the couch entirely, leaving a small gash in the worn velvet cushioning. “Basically I’ll be outta ya hair, whenever ya want me ta be.”

Lydia considered him. This was the exact opposite of what she had been expecting. There didn’t appear to be any loopholes, no unforeseen small print she would later regret. This seemed like a genuine attempt to do something – dare she say it – nice.

“Okay,” she said after a moment’s contemplation. “Sure, I don't see why not.” 

The ghost sprung to his feet, triumph burning brightly in his eyes. He looked elated, thoroughly pleased with himself for having struck gold so quickly. “Ya got yer’self a deal, Deetz!” Before Lydia knew what was happening, he had grabbed her, spinning her around so fast the room became a blur. Lydia would have screamed if she hadn't found the sudden thrill somewhat entertaining. “Where’d ya wanna go?" He asked excitedly, as soon as he had put Lydia back on her own two feet. "Ya name it, I'll claim it.”

“What?” Lydia gasped, her heart practically somersaulting in her chest. “I get to choose?”

“Course ya do, my treat.” He looked down at her, beaming. “Whether it’s Sweden or Africa or even Japan, say the word, baby, 'cos I’m yer man.” He looked pleased with his impromptu rhyming skills and stabbed a thumb into his chest for good measure, indicating that he was, indeed, the man.

“Well, what about Italy?” Lydia suggested. “I’ve always wanted to visit.”

“N' visit ya shall." Betelgeuse rubbed his hands together, several empty suitcases materializing at his feet. "Pack ya bags, Deetz, it’s showtime!”

………….

Lydia had done nothing all day except lounge inside and outside of the pool, reading, snacking and dreading the time when she'd have no choice but to return home. She sank further into the water with a deep sigh, trying to ease her nerves as best she could. The scorching Italian sun had been beating down mercilessly, prompting the waters to reach an optimum temperature for the exhausted girl to try to relax in. Before she got too comfortable, however, a gentle breeze rippled the gently lapping waves of chlorine behind her, announcing the unforeseen return of her husband.

“Not ta be modest or anything, Lyds,” Betelgeuse chuckled, pulling his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose to inspect the view properly, “but do I know how ta deliver or do I know how ta deliver?” Lydia didn’t bother looking at him, let alone acknowledge his arrival.  She chose, instead, to continue watching the setting sun as if he had never interrupted the only bit of peace she had found for the first time in two years. Her façade of anger towards her ghostly husband had been going strong for several days, and a comment of self-infatuated satisfaction wasn’t going to be the reason it broke. She rested her head on her arms resting on the poolside and, somehow, managed to sink even lower into the water; which was now considerably chillier now that Betelgeuse was in it.

“Still not enough, huh?” He sounded amused as if Lydia were a kitten refusing to cooperate with an expensive toy bought solely for her entertainment. “Maybe it’s time ta turn up the juice...”

Lydia’s heart sank. Her husband’s select few chosen catchphrases never meant good news and the last thing she deserved right now was more trouble. With a huge effort, she tore her eyes away from the view now bathed in crimson sunlight to face him, her arms folded. “It’s perfect,” she smiled, at last. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“No, no! I know an unhappy customer when I see one.” Betelgeuse rubbed his hands together, a wildfire dancing in his eyes. “Trust me, babes, I’m a professional.” He raised his hands.

“Stop!” Lydia shouted, standing upright, her arms outstretched. “Stop, please, it’s perfect here, don’t change anything!” A mental Rolodex of things he might’ve had in mind for their location was making her heart race much faster than she wanted it to. She felt a sudden surge of sympathy towards her father and his need to relax so regularly.

“Gotcha!” Betelgeuse winked, chuckling to himself. “I’m jus' fucken' wit’cha. I jus' wanted ya ta admit that it ain’t so shabby here.” Lydia flushed scarlet and splashed a significant amount of water at him. “So, am I forgiven?” He asked her, batting his eyelashes.

“I suppose so,” Lydia rested her elbows on the edge of the pool once more, grinning at him. "But watch it, alright?" He looked out of place in the clean chemical water, wearing nothing but a pair of black and white swimming shorts, suspiciously expensive looking sunglasses and a smug smile. It was oddly adorable. “I'm having a great time, but I’m still really upset at the way we had to leave things at home. How can I ever sort this out with them? It's hopeless.” Her gaze had fallen to the water lapping around her, tears welling in her eyes. She didn't cry particularly easily, but the situation she found herself in was nothing short of Déjà vu. The inability to communicate with others and the lack of interest from Charles and Delia had caused her to become isolated in her own head. Trapped, alone with nothing for company but obsessive thoughts about death. It had been excruciatingly dark, ending only when she had met the Maitlands, welcomed into their world as if she were a blessing. To find herself alone again, fearing resentment or worse was blinding.

Lydia felt a hand creep around her shoulder and looking up, found herself drowning in eyes as green as the sea below. Betelgeuse smiled, giving her a quick comforting squeeze. “I ain’t no counsellor," he said, "but I think they’ll be a'ight.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Lydia bit her lip, thinking hard. “Dad and Delia weren’t exactly open to my ignominious betrothment to a dead guy; let alone the Maitlands, even though I can tell they’re trying with them.”

“There ya go,” Betelgeuse grinned, splaying his hands as if to present the solution to Lydia. “They’re tryin. Even if they utterly fuck up sometimes n' neglect their parental duties. Can’t say fairer than that, can ya?” the comment about fucking up seemed somewhat reminiscent of his own mistreatments of Lydia, and it didn't go unnoticed. It was easy to see that he was, still, feeling something like guilt for tricking her again. But Lydia let it slide; not feeling up to - or even seeing the point in - yet another argument. 

“Yeah, I guess…” Lydia sounded thoroughly unconvinced. The sun had almost been completely submerged by the horizon, giving it the impression that it was bleeding into the sea, spilling lilac and gold all over the surrounding mountaintops. “God, It’s beautiful here,” Lydia turned to face the villa, arching her back as to hang off, slightly, from the edge of the infinity pool, watching the sea and sunset upside down. “I’d stay here forever if I didn't have to go back at some point.”

Betelgeuse suddenly grew suspiciously quiet, and Lydia had a nasty premonition that they couldn’t have stayed, even if she’d wanted to; not ethically anyway. Upon the first realization her husband had vanished, earlier that day, she had found several photo albums inside the villa, all of which containing happy image after happy image of a nuclear Italian family. After seeing their happy, comfortable faces, she had had no burning desire to question the means of which Betelgeuse obtained this house. Something told her she was better off not knowing. So, she settled, instead, with the significantly more comforting idea that the family were on holiday themselves.

“Ain’t no rule specifying how long a honeymoon’s gotta last,” Betelgeuse edged slightly closer to Lydia, testing the waters of her tolerance. “We can travel wherever, whenever. Ya want it? Ya got it; jus’ say the magic words.” He snapped his fingers and two mini pool-inflatable beetles appeared in the water, balancing small glasses of iced whiskey. “Madame,” he joked, pushing one of the beetles closer to Lydia, who took it, grinning in spite of herself. Seconds later and she had downed the glass in one.

“Woah, steady on there, kid!” Betelgeuse chuckled as Lydia placed her glass on the side of the pool, closing her eyes, again, allowing her head to tilt back slightly.

“Oh, is someone jealous?” Lydia teased, keeping her eyes closed as a sign of indifference. “Can’t handle your drink, huh?”

“Babes, I’m dead. Alcohol don’t do shit no more.”

“Nah, clearly you’re just a lightweight, admit it.” Lydia was playing with fire and boy was she prepared to get burned. Sudden recklessness had overtaken her, a feeling she was definitely used to and not about to subside. “You know what," she opened her eyes, a smile spreading across her face almost as fast as the sun was setting. "I challenge you to a drink-off.”

“Babes, I don’t think ya understood,” Betelgeuse snorted, turning his head to the right to look at her. “Alcohol don’t have no effect on me.”

“Alright, if you’re worried you’ll lose…”

With a flash, an even larger inflatable beetle appeared, laden with what looked like 50 whiskey shot glasses. Betelgeuse turned to face Lydia, grinning. He picked up two glasses, holding one out to her. “Challenge accepted, babes.” Lydia took it, looking him directly in the eyes.

“Bring it,” she smirked, clinking her glass against his.

Chapter Text

Lydia had always been pretty average at most things. It was common knowledge that her true passions lay in the arts and photography - all of which she’d always flourished at and exceeded every expectation. A lonesome and creative spirit, she’d been known to hide her light under a bushel, afraid of what other people might think, afraid of inadequacy – partly due to the insatiable bullying she faced at school and the wrath of Delia’s own ‘creativity.’ Despite this, her charms did indeed make themselves known, even against her restraint. Nothing could quench her need to express, to explore and connect with the strange any unusual, and the handbook – two years ago - had presented itself at the perfect time.

During his time in the attic, watching her every move as she studied the handbook the Maitlands had foolishly left behind in their absence; Betelgeuse knew of Lydia’s interests and hobbies – perhaps more than anyone else – alive or dead. Her talent for photography was undeniable, it was a wonder, no, a crime, that no one had commissioned her professionally yet. But Betelgeuse knew the extent of her secret aptitudes, besides photography. The girl could damn well sing. If heaven existed, angels didn’t stand a chance in Hell when Lydia finally made it up there. He used to picture it, laughing as he imagined Gabriel shitting bricks once the girl opened her mouth. ‘Saint Lydia’ had a pretty good ring to it.

Another talent of hers, unknown to either of them until this point, was drinking. Despite her false start and tipsiness during the early hours of her 18th birthday, she was making up for any disappointment at an impressive rate. Betelgeuse’s eyes practically fell out of his skull with every shot his wife took, never once showing a sign of weakness. The urge to switch the whiskey for juice had increased with every knock-back of glass, in fear of her contracting alcohol poisoning. The one thing that held him back was her radiance, how alive she looked at the prospect of danger and the sheer stupidity of her actions. Lydia sure was a wild card if ever Betelgeuse had met one. A quick jerk of his head brought the drooling Poltergeist back to earth, clearing his mind to address the rapidly progressing situation. The time to intervene (and kill the fun) had finally arrived. 

“Ah, shit,” his hand holding the shot glass shook dramatically, feigning the inability to bring the whiskey up to his lips. “Think I’m beat, Lyds. Time ta throw in the ol’ towel.” 

“Nice try Mr,” Lydia smirked, reaching for another shot glass, “but I know you can’t get drunk.” She raised the glass to her lips, ready to down yet another mouthful of burning liquid confidence when suddenly, without warning, the drinks vanished into thin air. “Oh, come oooon!” The outraged girl slapped the water angrily, her brows furrowed. “I was totally about to win!”

“What were ya winnings, a breathalyzer experience? Ooh! Or maybe a defibrillator?” Betelgeuse mocked her excitement with enough sarcasm to turn grapes sour, eyes rolling to the heavens as he began wading towards the edge of the pool and away from the distraught alcoholic.

“Aww,” Lydia tried her best to keep up his strides, swimming with one hand as the other rested over her heart as if deeply moved. The adoption of a mock baby voice, the pièce de résistance as she only irritated him further. “Was someone worried about me?” A few droplets of chlorinated water met moss-covered, rotted skin as she tormented him, giggling. “Were you worried I might end up dead, ooo, Were you gonna be really sad about it?” Somehow she had circled around him, flopping forward into his chest, laughing abrasively.

“Wait, are ya drunk?” Betelgeuse screwed up his eyes to study her face, sighed and took her gently by the shoulders, guiding her to the very edge of the pool. “C’mon, time for ya’ to sleep.” He attempted to help her get a leg up on the side of the pool, only to be pushed roughly aside in a fit of what he assumed to be intoxicated insistence.

“I can do it myself,” Lydia persevered, trying and failing to push-up out of the pool. After a few valiant attempts, she sighed and turned to him with a lofty expression of expectancy. “My lift, if you please.” She was smirking through an assumed-British accent, extending an arm into the evening air. Betelgeuse was utterly bemused by the entire situation. Drunken Lydia was oddly charming, her wet hair plastered over her face and neck, wearing a look of smug knowingness that he was wrapped around her little finger. He complied, placing a soft kiss on her knuckles and lifting her out of the pool with surprising strength. Lydia perched on the edge, feet dangling in the water, watching him with interest. “Goodness, you’re very strong,” she purred, as he pushed himself out with ease.

“Sure, n’ yer drunk as an ol’ lady at bingo night,” he grunted, offering his arm to her, miraculously dry and dressed in his usual monochromatic monstrosity.

“I am so not!” Lydia hung on his arm as they walked through the back doors of the villa. “I’m perfectly A-Okay, see, I can even walk in a straight line.” Shockingly, she did, strutting across the large backroom with expert precision. The ghost nodded, silently impressed.

“Never actually seen anyone pull that off before. How come yer so good?”

“Oh I had to learn quickly in order to fool Daddy and Delia,” Lydia perched herself against a large cream and gold baroque sofa taking up the center of the room, water slowly dripping from her dark locks onto the pristine marblewood floor. “I can sober up pretty fast.” Now that she mentioned it, it almost seemed as if she already had. If Betelgeuse hadn’t just seen her chug back significant units of alcohol, he might have actually believed it.

“Well, I gotta hand it to ya; ya sure as hell can handle alcohol, I’m impressed,” Betelgeuse clapped as the girl curtsied flamboyantly to the empty room. Raucous applause reverberated off the marble walls, the same invisible applause Betelgeuse had conjured up for their wedding.

“Thank you, thank you,” she pretended to sob, her hand, once again, over her heart. Music erupted into the air, clashing with the cheers and whoops from hands and faces Lydia could not see. “I’d like to dedicate this moment to a fucked up childhood, shitty stepmother and my, truly, one-of-a-kind husband.” She blew a kiss at the ghost in question, who caught it in his palm, keeling over in a dramatic display of love-struck appreciation.

“Bravo,” Betelgeuse cheered from the floor as Lydia twirled around the enormous room in an imaginary ball gown, sending flecks of chlorinated water flying. “Speech, speech!” He chanted, starting up a chorus of disembodied voices, all-clamoring for an oration from the nominee, and now, winner of the prestigious award.

Eventually, Lydia stopped spinning, laughing to herself as her vision steadied. With a great moan, she collapsed into the sofa, a spotlight landing on her before she met with plush silk cushions, plunging the surrounding room into darkness. The applause and music died out at once. All eyes, invisible and present, were glued on Lydia.

“Thank you, you’re all far too kind!” Lydia pretended to weep into her palms, her face screwed up with such dedication to her act she resembled a prune. “But I wasn’t always the fabulous, successful woman you all see before you.” Gasps and whispers and “we love you’s” broke the stillness, but Lydia held up her hand to silence them. “No, no! It’s all a lie! I’m a fake, a con artist!” She flung an arm over her head, dry-sobbing hysterically, only causing the disembodied declarations of love and support to increase. Betelgeuse was thoroughly enjoying himself. His wife’s deliberately terrible acting could rival that of any tantrum Delia Deetz had ever thrown, and, now that he thought about it, Delia was probably Lydia’s inspiration for this no-less-than eccentric display. Still, he was curious to see where this was going and faded out the audience noises at once.

Lydia opened her eyes slowly, reclining her hand away from her forehead. She was obviously having fun, playing pretend without a single fuck to give. She rolled onto her front, wriggling up the pristine couch so that she was draped over the back, looking down at her husband. “I used to be bullied,” Lydia shrugged, dropping her dramatic façade, “pretty badly, actually. ‘Freak,’ ‘loser’ and ‘witch’ were some of the lesser cutting insults I got used to. I didn’t care much though, I actually agreed with them.” She looked at Betelgeuse, who hadn’t so much as blinked since Lydia had begun talking. It was hard to tell if his expression was pitying or indignant.

“Two years ago,” Lydia continued, “my life changed forever. I was depressed, and, honestly, planning on killing myself. Then some really crazy shit went down in Winter River, Connecticut. “Some paranormal activity kind-of-shit. This guy shows up, made me marry him to save the exorcized-ghosts haunting my dad’s new house.” She indicated at Betelgeuse sprawled on the floor. “I thought the marriage was the worst thing to ever happen to me.” 

Betelgeuse squirmed uncomfortably, afraid to hear more of his betrayal to her. He could tell where this was going: an excruciating personal attack about his lies, his trickery. He didn’t blame her, knew he deserved it, but it didn’t make the prospect any less unpleasant. 

“Turns out my memories were erased so, for two years, I remembered the whole things as a hellish married-in-red-better-off-dead nightmare,” Lydia warbled on, unaware of Betelgeuse’s discomfort. “But it was actually a really beautiful ceremony, way better than anything any living jerk could do.” She plucked a loose hair out of her eye, smoothing it into the pool-soaked mop on top of her head. “The memories made me think I’d been to hell and back, and that nothing could top being forced to marry something that had tried to kill your dad. I got on with my new life, happier, confident. But I was wrong, so fucking wrong.”

Here it came. The tears, the rage and hurled, spitting insults that he would have to sit through. Nerves – alien and uncharacteristic – crawled disgustingly like live maggots in Betelgeuse’s stomach, abrasively nauseating. He scrambled to his feet, striding as fast as he could towards the door before Lydia could say another word. He was too late.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, Beetlejuice.”

As if colliding with a solid wall, Betelgeuse stopped in his tracks. If the use of his name hadn’t shocked him enough, the words preceding it sure as hell had done. The ghost’s parlour spells broke, returning the room to its un-juiced state, bathed in soft white light expelled from the moon slowly rising over the surrounding mountains. He whipped around to find Lydia much closer in proximity than he’d been expecting. They stared at one another. The girl and the ghost, the living and the dead united in a single moment of honesty.

For the first time in his afterlife, Betelgeuse had no idea what to say. No witty remark or pun - so cringe-worthy it made people want to end it all - sprung to mind. How the hell did someone respond to something like that? Lydia was out of her mind to think he’d drop to his knees and – what had she been expecting – cry? Fuck that, his response had to be genuine, from the heart; not some overrated, over the top bullshit one-liner. Trying, desperately, not to become the type to get worked up over simple communication, he broke eye contact with Lydia, pretending to pick a large piece of dirt off his sleeve. “Uh, thanks, I guess,” he mumbled. ‘Fucken’ idiot,’ he thought to himself, pinching the skin around his wrist. ‘That is all ya could say? Pathetic pig, ya don’t deserve her.’

He cleared his throat, changing his focus to a poker table to the far right of Lydia’s head. “Yer probably tired, right? I’ll let’cha get ta bed n’ see ya’ in the mornin’.” He made to move but felt a warm hand wrap around his wrist, rubbing a thumb delicately over where he’d pinched himself.

“I’m not tired,” Lydia whispered the words as if they were actually surrounded by people, her other hand playing lazily with the small black key he’d gifted her earlier, hanging tantalizingly around her neck. “Actually, I was sorta hoping we could stay up and watch the stars? Maybe sleep outside?” Her hands found his chest, smoothing out a crease of monochromatic cotton. “It’ll be nice to finally see the sky without all the artificial light we have back home.”

How could she test him like this? Her closeness made it a challenge for Betelgeuse not to reach out, grab and kiss her until she gasped for air. The alcohol seemed to have kindled a fire of pure confidence, the glow of which practically poured out of every finger, every hair on her head. The moon had been up in the sky for God knew how long; it’s light reaching in through the windows to kiss Lydia’s pale shoulders and bounce off her long dark hair. It gave her an ethereal appearance, beautiful, yet intimidating. Just looking at her now, Betelgeuse felt as if he could’ve died all over again.

“Yeah, we can do that,” he managed to choke out. 

………….

Lydia returned to the Villa’s garden fully washed, cradled in her black silk nightgown, the waist of which was fastened with a long piece of ribbon. Her camera was at the ready, eager to snap as many pictures as possible in the almost pitch black surrounding them. She’d been gone for at least half an hour and returned in a cloud of flowery sweetness, fresh out of the shower. Betelgeuse, meanwhile, had stretched himself out on one of the two recliners, dressed in his mouldy bathrobe, his hands behind his head. He was wearing an oddly calm smile, accessorized with a softly glowing cigarette and his signature stink of musk. Upon hearing the pads of her feet on the stone slabs he rolled onto his side to face her, grinning broadly. “Ready to be soppy n’ name constellations after each other n’ shit?” A large pizza materialized out of thin air, offering itself to the freshly washed girl. 

“You bet,” Lydia laughed, grabbing several slices, which were devoured within seconds. She had properly sobered up at an impressive rate. The last of the alcohol that remained in her system left her feeling warm and relaxed. She hoisted the camera up to perch against her cheek, screwing up her face to peer at him through the lens. Betelgeuse got to his feet, joining his wife in her aurora of vanilla, jasmine and (the latest addition) mozzarella. A single meteor shot across the midnight canvas, twinkling merrily, outshining the millions of orbs littering the heavens.

“Nearly forgot starts existed I haven’t seen ‘em in so long,” Betelgeuse muttered, more to himself than Lydia. His eyes were fixated on the night sky, drinking in the sight before him with something like greed. “600 years of imprisonment has done quite a number on any stargazing opportunities.” He fell into a suppressive silence, not wanting to kill the mood with ponderings of centuries of incarceration.

Lydia longed to ask him about his time in – what she suspected was - exile. He was fascinating, shrouded in mystery, just waiting to be uncovered. It was overwhelming tempting to ask him, knowing he would comply and spill his blackened heart onto the smooth patio beneath her feet. But she knew better. It was not her place to interrogate him and force any unwitting answers into the open. His fascination was closely followed by secrecy and she strongly suspected his mordantly crazed nature wasn’t just for show. If anyone knew anything about distractions from reality it was Lydia and Betelgeuse was a class ‘A’ case. A gentle nudge with her elbow brought the ghost crashing back down to earth, dissolving his momentary daydreaming or disturbed recollection.

“That’s the constellation Taurus up there, right?” Lydia rested her head on his arm; aching to absorb any suppressed pain he was experiencing. She knew what it was like, dishonesty to your own feelings.

“Yeah,” he grinned, surprised at her nuzzling, tracing the outline for her with his index finger. “N’ that’s Canis Minor, Canis Major, n’ Orion jus’ up the left.” He glanced down to find Lydia gazing up at him, her camera hanging uselessly around her neck. “Ya can see the winter triangle too,” he whispered, still staring at her. “Made up’a Procyn, n’ Sirius…” He couldn’t get his words out, lost in the stars reflected in Lydia’s large, beautiful eyes. 

“And Betelgeuse.”

“That too, I guess,” he murmured.

The funny thing about Lydia was her inconsistency. A mind such as hers, one of immense creativity that had been suppressed for so long, so needlessly, was complicated and vivid. Prone to overanalyzing, she paired well with Betelgeuse, who had never overthought anything, alive or dead, not until the arrival of Lydia in it anyway. For the second time that week they were conjoined, hands slowly running over unexplored skin, the juxtaposing rough and silky barricading material.

Once so nervous and unsure, Lydia held nothing back now. Pale hands tightened around the front of Betelgeuse’s robe, pulling him deeper towards her and the steady rhythm of their brushing lips. This, of all things, was the kind of hint he could take. One hand supporting Lydia’s lower back while the other swam through her soft dark hair, Betelgeuse lifted her a few inches off the ground, carrying her to a varnished oak recliner, situated at the edge of the moonlit pool. Her legs wrapped indistinctively around his waist, hoisting herself up even higher, never once breaking contact with his lips.

For the first time ever, Lydia’s heart was pounding with something other than anxiety. Adrenaline had replaced the blood that usually occupied her veins, coursing through her body like wildfire. Her silken back robe met smooth varnished wood as Betelgeuse set her down, parting with her lips long enough so that he could position himself over her, his bright green eyes darting all over her face, hardly blinking, as if fearful each glimpse would be his last.

He began to place kiss after kiss down her neck, covering every part of her he could reach. Sometimes, he would linger for longer amounts of time, caressing pale flesh with lips chapped like splintered wood. The sensation, Lydia noticed, was far from unpleasant. She writhed beneath him as his hand slid up the hem of her garment, gently rubbing unexposed thighs in time with his steadily, dangerously descending kisses. “Let me know if ya need ta’ stop,” he whispered, causing soft vibrations against Lydia’s neck. She could hardly respond but nodded silently to signal her consent to his actions. Words, it seemed, were incapable of cooperating with her in this state.

Suddenly, Lydia let out a gasp, her eyes snapping open, rolling up towards Heavens littered with stars. His hand has snuck up her leg, unnoticed as she’d bathed in the rain of kisses, and ignited a fire, burning fuchsia, kindling her insides and flooding her mind with sweet nothings. Sounds she had never made, had never dreamed would pass her lips came tumbling out, meeting the cool night air in hot bursts. Whatever he was doing, she had no intention of stopping him.

Her legs twisted beneath him, squirming as the fire burned brighter. His trail down her neck at stopped at one sop, for the longest time, somewhere just at the bottom of the left side of her neck. Lydia had little experience in intimacy but knew he had read her like a book, just like every book on this subject he had undoubtedly mastered. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Lydia lay, gasping for breath, sprawled beneath her husband on the recliner. Beads of sweat and small purple patterns covered her exposed chest and neck as she panted; her arms sprawled across her glowing face. A soft click and smell of musk told her Betelgeuse had lit a cigarette. She heard him shifting on the seat, although had no memory of him moving away from her; although, everything seemed blurry now.

She propped herself up onto her elbows, still breathing rather heavily, and watched his back for what felt like hours. He hadn’t noticed her recovery yet, instead, remained focused on the stars reflected in the pool, lost in thoughts she could not penetrate. Maybe it was the after effect that made her do it or some unknown instinct she had never discovered, but before she knew it, Lydia had crawled up behind him, wrapped her arms loosely around his shoulders and begun to kiss his neck, just as he had hers. Mimicking his technique, she explored the back of his neck, occasionally feeling her eyelashes brush against a patch of moss, or else, kiss the underside of his jawline.

Somehow, unnoticed by either of them, Lydia had pushed her husband onto his back and straddled his hips as if it was second nature. Before he could even protest, her lips were locked on his, kissing him as if her life depended on it, tasting the second-hand smoke as if it were her own. Pale fingertips trailed over his shoulders to locate the collar of his robe, tearing it away from his body with sheer desperation, aching to be closer to him. Her touch was soft at first; delicately raking her nails over his aged and blemished skin. He growled, running a large hand through her sweet smelling hair.

“What’s with ta change o scene?” He murmured, allowing Lydia to break away and catch her breath, panting. She was a sight to behold; her lips and cheeks flushed scarlet, hair tumbling over her shoulders. She was perched over him, her hands resting on either one of his shoulders. “Yer a competitive one, needin ta’ be on top.” His touch slipped down below soft hips, grabbing her behind with both hands. She moaned, holding the top of his robe so tightly it creased in her fists. “Someone’s been doin' her research.” His grip tightened.  

“Why do you always have to be on top, huh?” Lydia smirked, grinding against him as she slid down so that they were nose to nose. “Got a dominance complex?”

“Babes,” he growled, thrusting his hips upwards enough to make her cry out. “How d’ya think I got to be called the ghost with the most?”

Chapter Text

It was difficult to differentiate where the bed sheets ended and Lydia Deetz began. A tangle of white Egyptian cotton and sprawled limbs took up most of the enormous white bed in the master bedroom. The twisted mass of midnight locks that usually lay in gentle waves about her head was knotted so badly the damage looked irreversible. Still, she slept on, completely dead to the world; just a heap of sheets rising and falling in perfect time with her soft rhythmic breaths. It was a sight to behold.

She wasn’t alone. Across the marblewood room and through the glass veranda doors, leaning his back against the ornate railing was her husband. Her lover. He was utterly fixated with the tragic mess of sheets and wife - who would’ve insisted that love was blind if she could have seen the way he was gazing at her in that very moment. The corner of his mouth twitched as if amused by her state, knowing full well that he was the cause for this un-Lydia-like display of sloppiness. Smitten was an understatement. He was utterly, completely, and undeniably head over heels.

Lydia gave a loud snore and rolled over, exposing a large portion of her left leg. She snuggled into the sheets, the smell of the previous night filling her nose. As if on cue, Betelgeuse tore his gaze away from her, turning to face the view overlooking the sea. A deep sigh escaped him, his head sinking to rest in old hands overrun by moss. He wasn’t sure what had brought on this feeling of helplessness. It certainly wasn’t something he was accustomed to, and it frightened him to even consider feeling at all.

Death had stolen more than simple joys. Its cruel and unforgiving clutches had purloined the nauseating feeling of loss, alienating it from his existence. A blessing in disguise, it hadn’t bothered him until now. Not until Lydia. With every passing day, she took a step closer to death’s cold open arms, and there was nothing Betelgeuse could do about it. His power was impressive, undefeated and feared throughout all the Neitherworld. No soul – dead or alive – had ever managed to outplay him; yet he was weak in his inability to save Lydia from her inevitable fate. He had been proud for so long, called himself a Bio-exorcist – perhaps the best; yet here he was feeling the closest possible thing to heartbreak in centuries. Could it be possible that this was more than he had ever felt throughout his entire existence?

The balcony doors slammed shut. Betelgeuse jumped uncharacteristically, his head spinning round to look behind him. Resentment spiked the hurt he’d been feeling previous as his eyes locked onto the stone-cold gaze of Juno. “Whaddya want, ol’ bitch?” He snarled.

“Consummated the marriage I see,” Juno scowled, her arms folded so tightly she could’ve broken a rib. Somehow, without her usual cigarette half-glued between her fingers, she looked sterner than ever.

“No,” Betelgeuse mumbled, his head twisting back to sit the correct way on his neck. “We didn’t, n’ yer a sick perv for insinuatin’ that.”

“I’m not here to be called names,” Juno walked to rest on the balcony next to him, “or discuss your phallicism. No, I’m here to warn you about something.”

Betelgeuse was shocked. Juno was the last person he’d have expected to look out for him. Sure, they had history and he had, after all, been her assistant for little over 400 years; but there was no way his recklessness hadn’t already chucked any previous potential alliances out of the window. “Oh yeah?” He raised a thick eyebrow, eyeing her suspiciously. “If it’s aboutthatNeitherworld whore-house, trust me, I already know about the-”

“It’s Valkyrie.”

Betelgeuse froze, his eyes bulging in their sockets. “Juno, you better be fucken’ kiddin’ right now, n’ lemme tell ya, it ain’t funny.” His words came out hushed, eyes narrowing; he started running a hand through his grizzled hair.

“I wish it were,” Juno sighed, rubbing her eyelids. “Case 6018-VD is back open.” A large grey file was tossed at Betelgeuse, who flicked through, his eyebrow raised. “She’s been found.”

………….

The smell of fresh coffee and hot pastries was all that it took to wake Lydia from her slumber. Mascara-smudged eyelids fluttered open, revealing hazel eyes filled with sleep and love as she caught sight of her husband, resting in an armchair by her bedside. “Hey you,” he smiled, flicking her nose playfully as the coffee pot levitated, beginning to pour itself. “Welcome back ta’ reality. S’vanilla flavour,” he indicated to the coffee, “jus’ as ya like it.”

“Mmm,” she smiled, attempting to sit up without dislodging the sheets upholding her modesty. “How did you know?”

“Eh, thought ya might want a contrast ta’ last night,” he chuckled at the light blush that dusted Lydia’s cheeks at these words, handing her the mug to spare her embarrassment. “Look,” he murmured, as Lydia took a large gulp of coffee to hide her face. “I’ve got’a slight problem.” He felt oddly nervous, unsure of how to do this without betraying her again. He’d already lied to her way too many times and found himself unwilling to further this reputation unless he absolutely had to. Minimal information and careful footing seemed to be the best option. “Juno’s asked me to step into the office.”

“What is this, like a job or something?” Lydia’s brows furrowed. It was hard to believe that Juno wanted Betelgeuse, of all the ghosts that must be out there, to help her. “Why you?”

“Good question,” Betelgeuse shook his head, apparently just as confused as she was. “Well, I used ta’ work for her – Juno – n’ as shockin’ as it is, she needs me, so I’mma be gone for a bit.” He rubbed his chin, the sound of which reminded Lydia of sandpaper. “Wish I could take ya’ with me, but this ain’t somethin’ I want ya getting’ involved in.” Displeased, Lydia made to protest but he held up a hand to silence her. “I know we’re married, in this together n’ all, but this is serious. Livin’ humans ain’t exactly supposed ta' go to the Neitherworld n’ that’s exactly where I gotta be.”

“Okay.” Lydia looked anything but. “Please, don’t take long. I don’t want to feel like I’m playing housewife.”

“Ya know…I may be quicker knowin’ a certain someone might be in a skimpy housewife apron when I get back…” Betelgeuse sighed, casually kicking his feet onto the edge of the bed, leaning back in the armchair so that it teetered on the verge of collapse. “Dunno who, jus’…wishful thinkin’.” Almost instantaneously, a small black and white striped apron materialized on the bedroom doorknob.

“Watch it.” Despite her distaste at this ridiculous innuendo, Lydia gave him a soft playful on his arm. She wanted nothing more than to drag him under the covers, wrapped up so tightly they became infinite. It was like she’d known him all her life; everything about him was so inexplicitly familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. “Beej,” she inquired, tentatively, “can I talk to you about something?” 

Betelgeuse spat out the coffee he’d been drinking, spraying the pristine sheets with a shower of brown droplets. “Lydia, what in the ever-lovin' fuck is a Beej?” He spluttered, looking absolutely disgusted.

“Oh, come on, I need a name for you and BJ sounds horribly suggestive.”

Betelgeuse waggled an eyebrow, “not if ya wanna deliver every time ya say it.” Lydia hurled her pillow at him with as much strength as she could muster, hitting right on target. It collided with his face sending him crashing to the floor as the back legs of the chair were pushed to their limit. “Fine, fine, call me what’cha want,” he clambered to his feet, smoothing out the creases on his robe. “Although,” he leaned in, grinning sleazily, “daddy is a personal favourite.” 

The last thing Lydia had been expecting was the d-word. Other than the innuendo completely ruining any pure and innocent memories of her childhood, it threw her off guard so much she couldn’t think of a retort for several agonizing seconds, let alone remember what it was she had wanted to discuss with him. Realizing, too little too late, the opportunity to hurl back a witty remark had been missed; she folded her arms, scowling at him furiously. “No.” She said, flatly. “Never in a million years will I ever call you that.” She twisted around in the sheets a little awkwardly, a valiant attempt to turn her back on him.

“Aw, don’t be so hard on me, Lyds!” He reached forward, tickling her neck until she lapsed into light giggles. She pulled him down, rolling over onto her back until her laughter subsided. “I was jus’ pullin’ yer leg, I swear.” The hand not supporting his weight over her slipped under the covers to grasp an unexposed pale thigh, squeezing it playfully.  

“I know, I know,” she giggled, trying, rather half-heartedly, to wriggle free from his clutches. “So,” she said, curling a lock of hair around her index finger, “is Beej ok?” The hold he had on her leg softened, instead, dragging his fingers over it in slow, gentle strokes. How could he resist her?

“Course,” he placed a soft kiss on her forehead, lingering significantly longer than usual. She smelt warm and calm; maybe this was even the first time that she hadn’t reeked of defensive uncertainty. He couldn’t help but break a smile, smoothing the tangle of dark hair spilling over the crisp pillows. Despite this momentary paradise, a stab of annoyance blistered his mood. If it weren’t for Juno – ill-favoured, batty, caustic Juno – he’d be crawling right back into bed with Lydia, immersing himself in her sweet vanilla scent. With an effort that pained every fibre of his being, he pulled away from her, sitting upright on the bed, now sporting his iconic suit. He felt a tug on the sleeve.

“Don’t go,” she whispered, using his arm to pull herself up, nuzzling her head against it. “Stay here. Please? Who cares what Juno wants.” The sheet she had been so keen on covering herself up with fell to rest with the others, creased and warm. It seemed she no longer cared in her desperation to stay with him. 

“I gotta,” he grimaced. “It’s important. Besides, it might get me back in ‘er good books.” Heaving himself off the bed, he strode towards the door, turning the ornate handle. “I’ll be back before ya know it,” he winked, slipping away into the corridor, closing the door behind him with a snap.

Within seconds Lydia had darted out of bed stark naked and hurled herself at the white mahogany barrier separating herself and her husband. The door was thrown open in a heartbeat, exposing a long, dark, unbecoming corridor Lydia had yet to stumble across. Strange white door after strange white door greeted her, none of which fitting with the baroque décor blanketing the majority of the mansion. Lydia froze, a deer in the headlights. Her breath hitched in her throat. When the coast seemed clear and movement safe, she took a slow, daring step over the threshold.

The corridor seemed to extend on forever, twisting and turning, a tunnel of opportunity. Utterly tempted by the smell of adventure, Lydia took a deep breath and made to continue down the corridor, when a voice that sounded horribly like Barbara’s slipped uninvited into her mind. She couldn’t, shouldn’t go chasing this spirited crusade naked. Realizing she’d have to postpone her journey a little while longer, Lydia traipsed back through the door she’d just come out of, re-immersing herself in the warmly lit bedroom she’d been in only moments before. Before she could so much as take another step, a jolt of undiluted horror plunged throughout her body.

Her surroundings had completely altered; the light morning sky that had been spilling through the windows mere seconds previous had vanished, replaced by an orange evening glow as the sun dipped below the horizon. Time had raced ahead, unprepared to wait for no one. “Holy shit,” Lydia breathed, glancing back at the door she’d just come through, her amazement so profuse, any disturbance she should feel at the transfiguration of time was utterly obliterated. Unsurprisingly, nothing really shocked her anymore. In an attempt to calm her erratic heartbeat, she ran a hand through her hair, which only worsened her nerves. Lydia dashed into the ensuite, clutching the sink for support as she gazed, horror-struck at her reflection.

………….

“Fuck.” The hairbrush Lydia had been attempting to use as a taming device for the mane atop her head was slammed down on the bathroom sink in frustration. The state of her hair resembled something similar to black tumbleweed, and no amount of feverish pulling, brushing or ripping had managed to untangle the abundance of knots and return it to its natural state. The damage, no doubt, was irreversible. Rummaging through a slender cabinet situated in the corner of the bathroom, Lydia dug out a long, spindly pair of scissors. Her only choice gleamed back at her, rusty and ominous, unfazed by the challenge it would soon be undergoing. Lydia turned back to the mirror, her weapon of choice weighing heavily in her hand.

Nearly two hours later and Lydia was covered head to toe in luxurious lavender scented bubbles, the scissors lying abandoned on the edge of the bath. When it came to snipping and styling her own bangs in a pinch, Lydia had mastered the art; but this was a whole new level of belated teenage rebellion she’d had yet to discover. She pulled gently at the shoulder length strands, freeing them from soapy hitchhikers. Still, her time for mourning her long hair was short lived. She was so – dare she be so bold to say it – happy. It was unnerving accepting this feeling, almost as if believing that life was indeed a shade lighter would cause all of it to come crashing down before her very eyes.

With a few twists, the traditional brass taps halted their flow of warm, soothing water, and Lydia clambered out of the shower to face her reflection. A pale, average build, slightly blurry person covered – she noticed – in dark purple ovals, stared back. Lydia blinked, so did the image. Was this really what had been allowed happiness, this person, or rather, this thing? Surely, there were people out there, much more deserving of the life she’d been handed on a (rather unceremonious) platter. Sure, it hadn’t been what she wanted initially, but now that she had it she couldn’t, wouldn’t let go. Was she selfish for wanting this?

For what felt like the millionth time, panicked, irrational thoughts flooded Lydia’s mind. Her head started to throb and she closed her eyes in an attempt to momentarily escape the bright light of the large bathroom. Why did she have to analyse it, to question her happiness? This was stupid, just her anxiety playing tricks on her. But, something persisted; something wouldn’t stop beating her over the head with its brutal, invasive club. Something, what every that something may be, was waiting to go wrong.

A blinding white-hot pain suddenly erupted throughout Lydia’s skull, causing her to collapse on the tiled floor. Pain seared throughout her head and she cried out, grasping the pristine sink for support as her knees buckled. It was as if two giant hands were compressing either side of her head in an effort to squash it entirely. “W-what the hell?” she gasped, shaking as the sensation intensified. Helpless, she tried to think of a solution, but any attempt to gather her thoughts in a cohesive manner was futile. Tears began to stream from eyes screwed tightly shut before an ear-splitting, blood-curdling scream finally broke free of her lips. Lydia began to writhe on the floor, clutching her head as if fearing it would split apart, her screams echoing throughout the monstrous, desolate white mansion.

Suddenly, the door was rent off its hinges and thrown at the wall where it smashed. Great pieces of white wood came crashing to the floor as a figure stormed into the bathroom. Lydia barely registered with what was going on, she didn’t even know how much time had past. All she could feel was paralysing mind-numbing pain. Her eyes opened an infinitesimal amount but her vision was too blurred with tears to see anything. An odd floating sensation took over her, causing her lifeless body to begin hovering off the floor as if she were weightless. A hand met her forehead, smoothing back her bangs with careful strokes, as she was suspended in mid-air. “Be…Beetlejuice?” she breathed, too weak to look at her saviour. She was torn between boundaries of her physical and mental state, unable to move, unable to speak. All she could do was smell the sweet jasmine flowers bursting into life all around her.  

Chapter Text

“Fuckin’ ol’ bat, makin’ me work after I fuckin’ quit ‘bout twenty decades ago; havin’ to leave my wife no less, on our fuckin’ honeymoon too, fuckin’ bitch.” Betelgeuse’s hands were stuffed in his pockets, his shoulders hunched, grinding a cigarette between clenched teeth as he stormed down the endless Neitherworld corridor that led, inevitably, to Juno’s office. He was raging, grumbling to himself in a manner he knew only too well. Being alone for however many hundreds of years had sure left him thirsting for someone to talk to, even if it was just his own reflection. Leaving Lydia had been harder than he would have liked to admit, even to her. She floated into his mind as he imagined her, mourning his absence, alone in that big old bed by herself. A smirk of the highest-class sleaze curled his lips, the cigarette now resembling something more like stale pulp. A grotesque concoction of acidic saliva and ancient tobacco, Betelgeuse spat it onto the floor the janitor was condemned to clean for all eternity. Betelgeuse didn’t care for him. The guy was an ass.

After what seemed like another 600 years, the poltergeist stumbled through the rotating panels that barred off the waiting room, landing haphazardly on the floor in a heap. He jumped to his feet, dusting off his suit with filthy hands and nodded to the poor bastard he had dubbed ‘small head;’ that, he noticed, was still waiting. Betelgeuse strolled up to the metal security door and wrapped on the corrugated metal, which slid open instantly.

“Appointment?” Miss Argentina snapped, not even bothering to look up from her bone nail file.

“With the boss,” Betelgeuse sneered, snorting as grotesquely as he could. The effect was a success. Miss Argentina looked up, her eyes widening as recognition registered in her brain.

“You,” she gasped, fumbling with papers, in a foolish effort to feign work. “Yes, of course, Juno is expecting you.”

“I’m sure,” he growled, drumming his fingers on the sill of the door. “So where is the ol’ bitch anyway?”

“She’s right here, and that’s Ms Bitch to you.” Juno was stood in the doorway, her ancient frame leaning sarcastically on the white stone edge. “That’s for dropping by.”

“It was my absolute fuckin’ pleasure.” Betelgeuse snarled, through gritted teeth.

The pair walked the long way back to Juno’s office. It wasn’t as if Betelgeuse cared, time moved differently here than it did back on earth, back with Lydia. He could be gone for days, weeks or mere seconds. It was impossible to tell. He checked the watch on his wrist associated with Earth time, Italy. 3:45 pm. Lydia might even be making herself a snack now; probably finishing the cold pastries he had brought her that very morning. He felt an uncharacteristically fuzzy-warmth begin to spread in his stomach. She was so fucking cute; he couldn’t help it.

Snapping back to reality, this long walk with Juno, which, he suspected, was a snide way of giving him a tour and showing off just how much had changed since he’d left. He snorted to himself. Like he gave a shit, the old cow could re-shape the place until it rivalled Buckingham Palace and it would still be the same-old-same-old jacked-up system as it had been since the day he left. He was the missing cog in this machine and Juno knew it.

Finally, they arrived. Juno took out a large bundle of keys, sliding the biggest into the lock. Betelgeuse snickered. “Compensatin’ for something there, June-bug?”

“Jealous?” She bit back, opening the door with a click.

Touché.’

The office was just the same as he’d remembered it, not that he was particularly nostalgic. Paper files were scattered higgledy-piggledy all across the desk and stacked in mountains nearly twice the height of Juno. The green fanlight whirled sickeningly above them, casting a dismal glow similar to that of a club toilet. “S’good ta’ be home.” Betelgeuse sighed, his voice drowning in sarcasm.  “So, whaddya need me for so badly that ya’ pull me away from the hottest wife in the history of anythin’?”

“Case 6018-VD.” Juno tossed a file at him as she walked around her desk to sit in the large high-back leather chair situated opposite her office door. “I presume you remember the situation?”

“Eh, bits n’ pieces,” Betelgeuse muttered absentmindedly, squinting at the papers covered in scrawled inky writing in an attempt to jog his memory. “1942, 1968, 1972…”

The door banged open, revealing a tall figure, which hurried into the office without a moment of hesitation. “Juno! Gosh, so sorry I’m late!” The man’s pristine black patent shoes clicked as he placed the perfectly stacked papers upon her desk. “Emergency down in Accidental, absolutely awful mess.”

“That’s quite alright. Please, have a seat.” A chair materialised out of thin air, one for the newcomer and the other – presumably – for Betelgeuse. The latter took it, not once lifting his eyes from the document. He couldn’t help but notice a certain air around this particular file. Nothing supernatural or wrong about the formatting or the details, it was just the unpleasant inkling that something wasn’t quite right.

“This is Jaycob.” Juno’s cool voice snapped him back to reality. “He’s here to help me with this case, as my new assistant.”

“New assistant huh?” Betelgeuse was bemused, to say the least. This prim and proper guy was fitting with Juno’s uptight attitude, but she had always loved being top dog. This guy had to have some major baggage if someone like Juno had picked him to replace Betelgeuse, (something she hadn’t been able to do for well over 200 years.) He surveyed the so-called Jaycob with mild interest.

He was tall and slim, dressed in a crimson shit, the sleeves of which he had perfectly rolled up to expose vaguely muscular forearms, he was quite the picture. The dark grey pinstriped waistcoat was complete with matching trousers, perfectly fitting, perfectly ironed. His pitch-black hair was long and luxurious, stopping just at his shoulders with a gentle wave to rival any ocean. But, perhaps, the most charming factor of all was his face. Pale, perfectly chiselled, his cheekbones could’ve cut glass with masterful precision. His eyes were so black they almost looked like holes in creamy white spheres; it was a wonder they weren’t sucking in everything around them like a vortex. He was any goth’s wet-dream; hell, even Betelgeuse couldn’t deny he was turned on a bit. 

“Gosh, you must be Beetlejuice!” Jaycob looked highly impressed. He sat opposite, folding one long leg over the other, leaning forward to rest his elbow on a neat thigh. “I’ve heard lots about you. Is it true you were last set loose by a pair of baby-ghosts?”

Betelgeuse was taken aback at the use of his name so early into the introduction. Still, he didn’t let it show, as he rocked back in his seat, raising his hands in a false surrender. “Guilty as charged. Although, the dimwits really needed it spellin’ out for them before they so much as said the B-word. I hardly got any screen time!” He and Jaycob chuckled in amusement, much to the distaste of Juno.

“My, and funny too! Is there anything you can’t do?” Jaycob stared at him in amazement.

“Concentrate, apparently,” Juno spat, snapping her fingers so that the file in Betelgeuse’s hand shot into her own. “May we continue?”

“Sorry Juney,” Betelgeuse sighed, swinging his chair around to face her desk. “Jus’ had ta’ make time for a fan,” he gave Jaycob a wink.

“Now, we’ve recently traced Valkyrie’s whereabouts. They were last suspected to be on the outskirts of Arkansas. This record is from a few days ago.” Juno slid a photo across the desk. Betelgeuse and Jaycob leaned in to get a better look.

Black and white and incredibly blurry, it looked like some kind of conspiracy photo. It was difficult to differentiate the shadowy figure dashing through a thicket of trees, but the most frightening factor of all was the glowing white eyes reflecting off the camera light. Their face was blank, utterly expressionless.

“Jesus,” Betelgeuse breathed, slumping back in his chair. “Do we know for sure that it’s her?”

“We’re pretty much certain,” Juno sighed, a fresh cigarette perched between her crimson fingers. “The real problem is that we can’t get close to her. But, this is where you two come in.” She indicated between Jaycob and Betelgeuse.

“Us?” Jaycob looked shocked. “What can we do?”

“You said it yourself,” Juno smirked, pointing at Betelgeuse. “What can’t he do?”

“Aww, shucks June-bug,” Betelgeuse feigned bashfulness, batting his eyes at her, receiving nothing but an affronted look.

“Then, if you don’t mind my asking, what am I for?” Jaycob blinked, looking confused. Betelgeuse couldn’t help but amaze in the man’s innocence, despite his dashingly gothic attire.

“You’re to keep him in check,” Juno jabbed a thumb in the direction of the poltergeist in question. “I don’t doubt his ability to succeed. For once.” She scowled at the monochromatic monstrosity, who blew a sarcastic kiss in her direction. She shuddered. “However, I also don’t doubt his ability to cause absolute havoc. If he so much as strays from the task at hand, you are to handle it efficiently and report to me immediately. Do I make myself clear?” 

Jaycob looked a little uncomfortable. He ranked way below Juno and certainly wasn’t the level Betelgeuse had been before his abolishment in the Department of Paranormal Affairs. To be asked to watch over, practically babysit an expert S-level ghost was distressingly daunting. Eventually, he nodded. “I-I’ll do my best,” he gulped.

“Excellent.” Juno clapped her hands together, looking uncharacteristically happy. “This case will be a 0-hour contract, meaning we will simply call you when we need you.” She stood up, rummaging through her file cabinet, extracting two silver bracelets. “This takes top priority,” she said, handing one to each of the two men. “These wristbands will alert you. They’ll begin to burn slightly when you are called and get progressively hotter should you ignore their request.” She waited until Jaycob and Betelgeuse had slipped them on, where they locked themselves automatically. “I almost forgot,” Juno smirked, “once they’re on, they cannot be removed until the case is closed.”

Betelgeuse rolled his eyes. “N’ they say I’m the untrustworthy one.” An odd prickling sensation had begun to crawl up his neck. He flinched, looking over his shoulder, but there was nothing there.

“Is everything alright?” Juno asked, a mild drop of concern in her voice.

“Yeah…” Betelgeuse said, absentmindedly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Jus’ta breeze.” He felt nervous; a nasty sensation, which he hadn’t felt in centuries, began to pool in his gut. Then he heard it: a long, drawn-out scream. He leapt to his feet, waves of fear cascading over him. Screams usually would have been mere hilarity, an accomplishment and credit to his ghostly expertise. But when they were the screams of his wife, the screams of Lydia, it was quite a different story. “Sorry Juno, gotta run,” he blurted.

“What are you blabbering about, what’s going-“

 But he was gone, leaving Juno and Jaycob in stunned silence.

………….

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” He was bolting through the corridors of the complex, shoving the dead aside in his haste to get the hell out. “Fuckin’ Neitherworld rules, ‘course I can’t jus’ juice back to the livin’ world,” he cursed, shoving past a pair of skeletons. “Who came up with that stinkin’ pile-o’-shit rule?” The skeletons collided, their bones clattering to the floor with a sickening crunch as they cascaded across the monochrome tiles. Their cries of anguish and laughable insults echoed behind him, but he did not care. Nothing was funny now, not when negative images of Lydia consumed his thoughts like maggots on flesh. Lydia, who was in danger; Lydia, who he wasn’t there to help.

“Call my name babes, come on!” he took a left turning, pushing through a door marked ‘no entry.’ “Just once, come on!” Several agonizing minutes passed of utter silence, other than the occasional horrified splutter as he shoved corpse after corpse out of his way. Then, he heard it. He stopped in his tracks, listening, begging for her to say it again. Nothing. Betelgeuse cursed for the umpteenth time, crashing through another door, and at last found himself back in the waiting room.

“Back so soon?” Miss Argentina trilled. “Juno kick you out again did she, eh? Was about time.”

Betelgeuse didn’t so much as acknowledge her snide remarks, let alone her presence. He looked about wildly for the door he had come through. It had vanished, nowhere to be seen. “Where the fuck is the goddamn door?” He slammed his fist against the grimy stonewalls; receiving shocked and terrified looks from the waiting dead. All rationality had long since left him he was so distraught. This had to be some kind of sick, twisted joke, and whoever was pulling the marionette strings was sure as hell in for a solid kick to the balls.

“You take that attitude somewhere else, mister!” Miss Argentina looked horrified, a hand clasped to her chest as she stared at him. “What’s got your tombstone in a twist?”

“The DOOR!” He bellowed. “And don’t you DARE make me say that again!” In his raw, unfiltered anger, his face contorted – literally - with rage. A grotesque, sunken hole started replacing his features, collapsing inward, emanating with worms and dirt. Blood oozed from slowly developing cracks as flecks of mud and mucus dripped onto the floor. Shrieks, screams and retching told him he had lost control but he did not care. All he cared about was getting out, getting back to Lydia; Lydia who needed him, and so help him he would find a way to re-murder, kill or cremate everyone in this very room if they so much as tried to stop him. “Oh, would ya’ just listen,” he hissed. “Seems like there’s an echo in here. Now, one last time: WHERE. THE. FUCK. IS. THE. DOOR?!”

“Tell us where Lydia is first!”

Betelgeuse horrifying, nightmarish face twisted, with agonizingly sedate speed, around on his neck to confront his challenger. The gaping hole where his features had once been seemed to deepen as the sight before him. Adam and Barbara Maitland, clutching each other’s hands to steady themselves at his distorted appearance, had just emerged from the shadows.

“You fuckin’ dipshits,” Betelgeuse voice hissed from the sunken mass where his face used to be. “Never would’ve thought you’d have half the brains to figure out disillusionment tricks.” His body started walking itself round to meet the direction of his head, pointed directly at the Maitlands. 

“We will let you pass, but only if you bring us where she is.” Barbara took a bold step forward.

Betelgeuse started to laugh. It was mad, absolutely bat-shit crazy. “N’ what’s to stop me from just, I dunno, steppin’ through ya’?” He cackled, his face slowly returning to normal. “You two ain’t much of a challenge. Now lemme pass, it’s fuckin’ urgent”

“Where is she?” Barbara yelled.

“Feisty, ain’tcha Babs?” Betelgeuse leered at them, his hands stuffed in his pockets. “I can see who the ‘man’ of this sad excuse for a relationship is. Now, tell me, does Adam like a strap on or does he prefer your real thing?”

“Insults won’t get you anywhere.” Adam actually advanced forward a step, although he looked highly embarrassed. “Just tell us where she is!”

“Not an insult, just an observation,” Betelgeuse sneered at him, practically nose-to-nose with the plaid-shirted man. “I’ll tell ya where my wife is: prob’ly curled up in’a very large bed, in a very large mansion, recovering from a very gargantuan-”

Barbara actually gasped in horror, her hands flying to her mouth. “You disgusting pig!”

“Got a dirty mind, haven’tcha momsie.” Betelgeuse looked delighted as Barbara flushed darker than Adam. “Cool it, I was gunna say ‘large nap’ but, for once, I prefer your idea much, much more.” He stepped back, hands still wrist-deep in his pockets. “So, that it? Interrogation over?” For the first time, the Maitlands looked unreadable. They had exchanged worried looks, but Betelgeuse had a sneaking suspicion this wasn’t the real reason as to why they were here. “What?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.

“We…uh,” Barbara was fiddling with the hem of her floral dress, her eyes downcast to the floor. She looked incredibly uncomfortable. “We actually wanted to ask you something.”

Betelgeuse was taken aback. “What, all that yellin’ before was just a rehearsal? Fuck me, Babs, you sure know how to get a guy to talk. Shoot.” he said, indicating to her that she should speak.

“Does Lydia hate us?”

It was like being shot through the head. Betelgeuse nearly staggered back in alarm. What kind of piss-take was this? Marching all the way down to the Neitherworld, barbarically preventing his departure and hurling questions at him, only to then get upset themselves? The Maitlands sure didn’t make a lot of sense. But now wasn’t the time. Now was the time to ambush them and get back to Lydia. Shit, Lydia! He really could have shot himself in the head, even without Barbara’s stupid question.

“What? Nah, course not,” he rushed, pushing up the sleeve of his suit to examine the watch associated with what-he-now-called: Lydia time. 9:36 pm. “Shit!” He cursed. “Fuckin’ shit fuck, fuckin’ balls, load’a crap, holy pissin’ FUCK!” He shoved the two baby-ghosts out of the way towards the door, which had now re-presented itself at the dispense of the Maitland’s sudden mourning of Lydia’s affection. “To answer the question, she’s fine, she’s just grand, and she definitely loves ya,” he blurted, shoving his way through the slowly spinning barrier. “I may be dishonest, but never about her!” He yelled, his voice echoing around the waiting room, as he bolted down the endlessly twisting corridor that would lead, inevitably, to Lydia.

“Oh, Adam,” Barbara sniffed, her eyes brimming with tears, resting her head on her husband’s shoulder.

“I know, honey,” Adam sighed, allowing her to nuzzle into his neck; the green light of the waiting room reflecting off his rectangular spectacles. “It’ll all work out, just you wait.”

………….

“Did this thing get LONGER OR WHAT?” Betelgeuse was on the verge of insanity – if that was even possible. He had never run so fast in his life, or afterlife for that matter. His brain was on some weird-one dimensional cycle of Lydia, over and over again. A broken, spinning record of black silk, poolside kisses and star-strewn eyes. “Fuck!” He slammed his fist into a wall, panting. His requirement for oxygen may have long since passed, but his body wasn’t used to this kind of stress. He, of all people, stressed about anything. The sensation was similar to being eaten by the worms and maggots he had endured for his time underground, newly dead. He shuddered, pushing the memory out of his mind. He didn’t need to think of death, not now. He began to run again, head bowed and hair flying.

How could this have happened? How could he be so caught up in her like this? She was controlling his every thought, every action, and every mood. Hell, he couldn’t even enjoy his sweet recollections of death now that he was so conscious of her fragility. She was it; she was all he had ever needed. Like a drug that cured all cancers, she pulsed through his veins with a fire Hell could only dream of. He couldn’t help it. A grin spread across cracked lips as he started to laugh. It wasn’t hysterical or maddening but rang with a pang of sadness even Juno would have felt. This just wasn’t fair. It didn’t get better, it never did. Even the thing he loved most was in grave danger. Pun not intended.

Finally, the race was over. The door to the mansion grew closer and closer. With a final push, Betelgeuse forced his body to keep going, although the anxiety of what might lie behind that door prevented him from slowing down. He rammed himself through the door, slamming it shut behind him. “LYDIA?” He bellowed, rushing to the staircase. Despite having left through a portal in the master bedroom, the door seemed to have re-set its entrance, which meant someone – or something – had come through it since. Fuck.

It didn’t take long to receive a wave of fresh panic after he made it to the top of the spiral staircase. A mass of splintered wood and chipped paint lay over the threshold of the bathroom, dust covering the once pristine marble tiles. But it wasn’t the debris that immediately concerned him. He could smell blood. Then, he saw it; tiny droplets of crimson accumulating with the powdered paint and grime on the bathroom floor. Though there wasn’t much of it, it shouldn’t have even been there. This was his entire fault and he knew it.

Rationality had never been a strength of Betelgeuse’s, but this blew everything out of proportion. If he was sure his heart could still beat, this would have broken it for sure. ‘She’s dead,’ he thought.‘She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead.’ Somewhere, around the hundredth this phrase entered his mind did he eventually stumble into the master bedroom. And there she was. Lying, corpse-like, on the ivory sheets. Her hands by her sides, she looked like she was sleeping. He couldn’t move, too terrified to venture any closer, too cowardly to accept being alone once more. But time was of the essence; this was no time to play the fool. He shuffled his feet forward, which eventually lead to walking, which caused him to run. He hurled himself to the side of the bed, leaning over her delicate form. “Lydia?” he breathed, brushing a strand of hair off of her cheek. It was warm.

He could have cried. In fact, he did. His hand covered his mouth in a silent yelp, tears stinging the inner corners of emerald eyes. He hadn’t sobbed like this before, not in his memory anyway. Crouched over her body, he cried until tears fell to kiss the girl’s face below him. Her breathing was slow and steady, the most beautiful symphony he had ever heard. But he had to be sure. Collecting himself, he pushed back his sleeves, placing both hands on either side of her temples. “Ok babes,” he whispered. “It’s time to wake up.”

Chapter Text

It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. There were millions of songs about this day, books, plays, and films; yet here she was, caught up in the moment, feeling nothing but dizzying, paralysing nausea. Either all that crap was false advertising, or there was something very very wrong here. Not even her appearance was right; the however-many meters of red gauze unwelcomely entwining her body was horribly irritating, scratching her skin and grabbing the hair on her arms. Bitter tears pricked her wide, disbelieving eyes. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Even the rusted, cheap ring on her left hand was a misfit, stone cold and a fraction too small. It clung around the flesh of it’s designated finger as if it were attempting to squeeze the very life out of her. It’s significantly notable presence somehow made the whole thing seem, horribly, more realistic.

The shrieks of Delia continued, even in this, the closing of the ceremony; but Lydia could barely hear. Despite the horror of her situation, her thoughts were loud and wild, circulating and crashing around her brain so that it ached. This entire scenario was almost too ridiculous to be true. Had she really married a member of the dead? Wait, was that even allowed? Her head had begun to swim all the worse, a dull thumping within her skull threatened to dent a hole in it. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Barbara stumbling around the forms of Delia and her father, feverishly attempting to rip the bolted metallic-gag Betelgeuse himself had rammed to her lips. Adam, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. Lydia’s heart lurched rather nastily as images of where he could be flashed through her mind. It would be foolish of her to assume her ghostly-counterpart was kind enough to give Adam a forgiving sentence. All these thoughts circulated poor Lydia, poking and prodding her, their nasty little faces bearing down to laugh, grotesque and unforgivingly. This had to be a dream. It just had to be.

All too soon, the alien priest slammed the book it had been reading from with a snap. The text – which, Lydia had to note, most certainly wasn’t written under any traditional, orthodox or even moral wedding practice - was almost half the size of the creature. Without a backward glance, the minister vanished in a flash of golden flames, leaving nothing but a smell strangely like burnt hair. Despite his sudden absence, the fireplace he had appeared from remained in the same asymmetrical abomination Betelgeuse had transformed it into; a horribly visual reminder that life (and death) would never be the same again. With no recollection of turning her feet or adjusting her perspective as such Lydia found herself, rather abruptly, face-to-face with her previously deceased and now newlywed husband. Decked in a suit almost as decrepit as himself, the fat smile on his unforgivably dry lips could have made the desert look like a sea-world exhibit. This was him all right, the man of her dreams.

The echoing parting words: “you may kiss the bride” seemed to reverberate around the suddenly still room. There was an uncomfortable silence, broken only by the rapid beating of Lydia’s heart. Somehow, with a stupendous amount of effort, she managed to look up into his eyes. He must have been staring at her already, for as soon as she looked up, hazel met emerald. And so, the living and the dead were united in a solitary moment. For such a spectacle - most considerably that it was likely the first-time-in-history - there sure wasn’t much of an audience. But, as fate would have it, Lydia didn’t have much time to dwell on this less-than-comforting factor before she felt his hands slither either side of her waist, keeping her firmly where she stood. She couldn’t help but notice his surprising strength, despite being a dead man. Lydia was unsure of what he was going to do but had a very good idea of what he was capable of. Knowing what was coming, what would inevitably seal the deal, she screwed up her eyes; and, sure enough, her greatest fear was confirmed.

She couldn’t taste his lips the way she thought she would have been able to. Perhaps it was her desperation to be somewhere, no - anywhere that wasn’t here that had caused a disjunction between her skin and taste buds. She allowed it, allowed him to do whatever he wanted. Who was she to try and stop a somewhat omnipotent being from French-kissing a girl who had only been of age for a few months? Any earlier and she could have screwed him over before he’d even said ‘I do.’ Luck really did appear to be on his side. In fearing the safety of her parents and the Maitlands, she complied to his insistence. Her fists clenched in the ruffles of gauze as he continued, never seeming to quit, the walls closing in on her with rapid pace, making her feel horribly compressed. She couldn’t hear Delia anymore; couldn’t smell the brimstone that the alien priest – or whatever it was – had brought along with itself. She couldn’t even see. When had she closed her eyes? No memory sprang to mind. She dared herself to blink. Darkness.

Perhaps it was the hint of naivety she still fell victim to from time-to-time that had allowed this to happen; or, perhaps, the willingness for danger that she somewhat longed for. The idiocy of her own actions, to be so foolish and so easily manipulated; it drove her to madness with such regularity that it was incredibly impressive that she could still function properly. She had made it, the brink of madness. This had to be the real thing now. The crippling, crushing darkness joined the ring in a combined effort to contort her body beyond recognition. Everything was close and far away at once, hot but cold, terrifying yet uncomfortably solicitous A steady dripping of thick, strangely warm and musky smelling rain plastered her face and hair. Tightness, the likes of which no panic-attack had ever caused, planted itself in and around her chest. She gasped for air, arching her back into silken ropes. Wait, since when had there been ropes?

Her eyes had finally drawn accustomed to the blackness, her brain slowly registering with the monstrous form in front of her. The gasp became a scream, which became horrifying, rasping sobs as two poisonous yellow eyes glared directly into her soul. This was it, death itself. She knew death to be some strange entity, never documented and always speculated, yet this form, reptilian in nature was beyond anything she had ever previously imagined. Once so desperate for the presence of its company, to take it by the hand and exit to the next realm; Lydia, now horrified, was face-to-face with it on her wedding day.

Wrapped in coils of black and green, iridescent in appearance, Lydia struggled to break free. Every kick and scratch she made at the thick body of the serpent resulted in her body being squeezed only tighter. Gasping for breath, exhausted, her strength completely failed her. Like a rag doll, she went limp in the many wraps of deadly bandages. Her eyes rolled back into their sockets as her pale head lolled, resting on her upper back, her bangs smeared across her forehead from the mixture of sweat and saliva steadily trickling down her neck.

The snake’s ghastly head, so reminiscent of the face she feared most, leered down at her; it’s huge body wrapping itself tighter around her form. With a flash, a long tongue lashed out of parted emerald lips, making contact with her face.

“Take thisss kissssss upon the brow, and, in parting from you now, thusss much let me avow- you are not wrong, who deem…”

Whatever the snake was doing, Lydia didn’t care. It hadn’t killed her. Yet. But, surely, it planned to. This had to be some ritual, creating some display of pathetic helplessness to assist it getting-off or something repulsive of that nature. She felt her stomach jolt unpleasantly as the snake rolled her between its coils; slowly turning her upside down and the right way up over and over again, as if she were some frilly baton in a circus. Then, without so much as a warning movement, flung her up into the air. Body limp and unresponsive, Lydia felt her heart leap into her mouth. The cumbersome dress she had once work had vanished, leaving her wearing nothing but the black bralette and silk brief she had been wearing before the calamity of a wedding even occurred.

“Oh, God! Can I not grasssp them with a tighter classsp?” The snake cried out, reeling and shrieking in a high voice, spitting everywhere. “Oh, God! Can I not sssave one from the pitilesssssss wave?” Flecks of saliva doused Lydia once again, as she began to fall. It caught her once more, dangling her by the ankle with its tail. She felt herself moving, brought up to the snake’s face so that they were almost nose-to-nose. They looked at each other, neither one of them making so much as a sound. Clouded hazel eyes meet mad, glassy yellow. Lydia was looking death squarely in the face without so much as a flinch.

“Ssso young, ssso impresssssionable.” The snake squinted, taking in every inch of her. She felt like an exhibit in a dystopian zoo, where humans were the ones held captive. The leg currently suspending her between the iridescent scales was starting to grow sore from the unforgiving clutches of the serpent in question, but Lydia stood her ground – so to speak. She considered it’s alternative statement and, for the first time since she had met this snake in her dreams and nightmares, Lydia felt a fraction of her fear ebb away.

“Impressionable?” She laughed weakly, her body still aching from its torment. “Don’t flatter yourself. The only impression you’ll leave is that you’re fucking sick!” And she spat in the snake’s eye.

One would expect the snake to coil angrily, cry out in fury and kill Lydia then and there, squeeze out her very essence until it poured out of her like water. Yet it did quite the opposite. It’s ugly face twisted into an expression of the deepest sadness, snaking its head as if to rid its brain of what it had just heard.

“No,” it hushed, shutting its eyes tightly, brows furrowed. “You misssunderstand, Lydia.” It didn’t loosen its hold on her, but it did now, at least, correct her angle of captivity. Now that she was the right way up, Lydia’s head spun with sickening dizziness. She groaned, struggling to focus on the snake again. “You trussst easssily, hungry for that which you were starved of for ssso long.” It held her up closer to its face, staring her straight in the eyes. “But it isss your trussst that will kill and harm thossse which you love the mossst. Curiosssity killed the cat, after all.”

“I have no idea what you’re saying,” Lydia mumbled. The spinning worsened and she feared she might actually throw up. “Trust? Curiosity? I don’t know what you mean.” It was so warm, wrapped up in the coils. Strangely, it was like being back in her childhood bed, sleeping beside her mother. She could feel herself sinking steadily into sleep, unable to cling onto the present reality and interrogate the snake for all it was worth. It was unbearable; the desire to sleep now so strong that she could hardly keep her eyes open.

“Anssswer me thisss,” the snake purred, rocking Lydia ever so gently to keep her attention for the last few moments that it was interested in her. “Why? Why now are you ssso interesssted in him? You know hisss true nature, and, it ssseemsss that you are aware of thisss.”

Lydia smirked, laughing weakly as she felt her eyes rolled backwards in her head once more. “Really?” She sighed. “But why should it matter? After all, isn’t all that we see or sssseem but a dream within a dream?”

………….

“Lydia? Shit, fuck. Lyds, can ya hear me?”

The snake was still talking. How long had it been rattling onto itself for? It was warm, here, wrapped up in the silken coils, which were softer than last she had felt them graze her skin.

“Lyds, I need ya to wake up now. C’mon, don’t do this dammit!”

She didn’t feel constricted either, as if the serpent had relaxed its hold on her. To her surprise, she found that she could move more freely, her arms no longer clamped to her sides by scales and anger. Curiosity got the better of her as she, slowly, opened her eyes.

It was still dark; the only sound in the room was a gentle slithering, shuffling to her left. The skin on her face felt oddly wet as if the snake’s saliva still hadn’t dried. Perhaps she was still within its grotesque lair after all.

“Lydia?”

Lydia jumped at the unexpected utterance of her name. It didn’t lisp as the snake had done, but sounded concerned, terrified even.  Slowly, as if fearful of what she would find, she turned her head. There he was, the other face that consumed her dreams and nightmares. Her husband, kneeling on the floor with his hands pressed on the pristine duvet, peering down at her with an expression she had never seen on his greying skin before.

“Fuck,” he gasped, his voice breaking as a tear rolled down his cheek. Lydia snapped out of her trance at once, scrambling to a sitting position on the bed, clasping his hands within her own. The sudden movement left her head swimming like mad, but she did not care. He was crying. Him, Betelgeuse, the ghost-with-the-most was crying. She couldn’t quite believe it; this was beyond anything she had ever imagined. At the very least, it was an explanation for why her face was soaking wet.

“Beej?” She whispered, cupping his jaw with her right hand and stroking his gaunt, stubbly skin with her thumb. “Beej, what…I don’t-”

“I thought-” He choked, his own hand rose to join her, holding it close to his face. It seemed it was too difficult to translate what he had been thinking. He started to laugh softly, as tears continued to roll down his face. It was hopeless, he couldn’t help it; having been so disconnected from emotions or so long, this was too much. Holding her hand as tightly as he could without injuring it, he brought it up to his lips, kissing it over and over again. After several minutes of silence, he finally looked up at the bewildered girl, who was still kneeling on sheets that rivaled her pale complexion. In a matter of seconds, the sadness vanished and was replaced almost immediately with anger.

“What happened, Lydia?” He growled, shuffling his knees a little to get even closer to her. “Who was it? Who hurt ya?”

“What?” Lydia whispered, shocked at the abrupt transition in emotions. This was crazy; no, he was crazy. “Beej, I was just sleeping. What are you talking about?” It was then that Beetlejuice got a good look at her in the darkness. Blinded before by anxiety, the likes of which he had not experienced in God-knew how long, he studied her face, her neck, and her hair.

FUCK! He bellowed; standing up so quickly that Lydia almost fell off the bed. “W-who the?” He stammered, feeling her hair for himself. “What?” and then, finally: “I’ll kill ‘em!”

BEETLEJUICE !” Lydia screamed, dropping his hand and jumping to her feet. The name had slipped past her lips without thinking. She gasped, her hand flying to her mouth, her eyes wide. The man in question had an expression of utter shock on his face, taken-aback at her having raised her voice at him. She was usually so calm, controlled and reasonable. They looked at each other, confusion and panic filling the space like smoke. Lydia took a deep breath, rolling her shoulders. “Please, let's do this calmly, Beej. There’s no help getting angry.” She sat on the bed, patting it gently, indicating him to join her. He sat, rubbing the bridge of his nose in frustration.

He seemed to struggle to stay collected, but, eventually, he managed to mutter out the question once more. “What happened, Lyds?” He said, the expression of concern returning. “After I left, what did ya do?”

Lydia thought for a moment. Her memory was strangely fuzzy as if she were recalling vague memories from a past forgotten. After a few moments, she started piecing it together, the jigsaw pieces falling into place one by one. “I remember taking a bath,” she began, her tone somewhat questioning, as if requesting his approval on the series of events. “And then…” what had happened? Her hand rose to tug on the shortened strands of hair. “I cut my hair,” she whispered. “It was a mess, I couldn’t even brush it.” She paused, wanting to tell him as much as she could. “Pain.” She said, completely disconnected, staring at the other side of the room as if it would reveal everything. “My head, it was like it was splitting open.” She rubbed her temples, shaking her head gently as if it would clear the pathway for memories. “It’s strange,” she muttered, “I can’t remember much, it’s almost as if it never happened.” She looked at him, expecting to see his face contorted with frustration at the lack of information she could offer him, angry that someone might have hurt her. She was shocked, then, to find him chewing the skin around his nails, eyes glazed over, and an expression of confusion lining his mossy brow. “Beej?”

“Strange…” he contemplated, rubbing his hollowed eyes. “So, yer sayin' ya can’t remember what went down?”

“Maybe,” she said, the uncertainty of it all making her incredibly nervous. “I must’ve blacked out, I have no idea how I got back to the bed here.” She looked at him. “It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Me?”

“You brought me back here, right?”

They looked at each other again. He wanted to say confirm her question so badly, wanted to have all the answers to put them both at ease. One thing was for sure though; this wasn’t just poor memory loss. “Lydia, I-” He couldn’t do it. For once, he couldn’t lie. It was too much. “No.” He grunted, lighting a cigarette to distract himself, even for just a moment.

“No?”

He didn’t reply. He rose to his feet, shoving his hands in his pockets, sucking the cigarette as hard as he could.

‘There’s no fuckin’ way; she was in the middle of nowhere!’

‘Ya heard what she said, she ain’t got a clue.’

‘But that don’t mean-’

‘Oh really? Yer gunna go with denial, pal? Real cute.’

‘I’ll fuckin kill the bastard that did it.’

‘Yer can’t kill the dead, dumbass.’

‘No fuckin’ shit, Sherlock. Why don’tcha go wipe yer mouth from all the shit comin’ outta it?’

The voices in his head were so deafening he actually clamped his hands over his ears, groaning. He had to tell her, she deserved to know what he suspected. But what if this was too much for her to handle?

“Beej, what are you-”

He turned to face her so abruptly that he almost knocked her to the floor. He hadn’t noticed her creep up behind him, let alone feel the hand she had placed on his shoulder. He caught her before she fell, placing his hands either side of her waist, grounding her where she stood. “Lyds,” he said, his eyes glued to hers. “If I tell ya what actually happened to ya, do yer promise me that ya won’t freak out?”

“Beej, what the-”

“Lydia, I think ya were possessed.”