Francis didn't remember dying.
And really, that's probably what kept him hanging around, that big gap in his memory. He'd always been wandering, always unseen by all but the mad and the dying, ever since the gap. He remembered when he was alive as well, the little town in the south of France that wasn't there any more, disappeared a few hundred years ago. He didn't have any regrets or worries about his life there. As far as he remembered he was a simple baker, content with his job, flirting with the ladies of the village as he was wont to do. Then there is the gap, and then he's dead.
Whatever was keeping him here was in that gap, but no matter how many times he visited the empty field where his village was, he couldn't remember. So he wandered about, not tied to anything on this earthly plane but the earth itself, it seemed. He learned about his powers, what he could and couldn't do. Amused himself by flipping up the skirts of passing girls and watching them squeak and blame the wind for it. Rattled the windows of naughty children who wouldn't go to bed. Learned how to possess people.
Ah, and that last one was the one he honed to a fine art. It wasn't difficult to find people laying about, depressed, bored with life, ready to just drop off for a long nap. Francis gave them that readily. And if they happened to wake up five weeks later in a gutter in Paris, well, that would just make their life interesting again, wouldn't it?
He didn't pick just anyone. You could accuse him of vanity all you wanted, but the things he did when he had a body were often more easily obtained when that body was at least moderately attractive.
Women and men, rich and poor, as long as they were beautiful, and empty, he would have them.
He found Phillipe in a back alley in Toulouse.
He was surrounded by empty bottles, dressed in clothes that hadn't been washed in weeks, eyes half-lidded and probably seeing things that weren't really there. He exuded such an aura of misery that even the rats avoided him.
But his long blonde hair hung in curls around his face, unshaven beard highlighting his high cheekbones, a proud nose and unmarked face. His hands, while dirty at the moment, were delicate but strong in the way they clutched at an empty bottle. And his eyes were the most fascinating shade of blue. An rich, well bred, possibly aristocratic ancestry, Francis decided, who fell out of favor, or became bankrupted.
The man's eyes followed him as he crouched in front of him. Well, if he was down and out enough to see spirits he must really be on the edge.
"Do you want to go with me?" Francis asked. The man's mouth worked silently for a moment.
"Are you an angel?" he muttered, and even his voice had a delicious tenor to it. Francis licked his lips.
"If you want me to be."
"A devil, then?" And with a sharp mind, drunk or not. That always made it easier for Francis to think clearly once he was in. My, this was certainly interesting.
"If you want me to be."
He chuckled, and Francis couldn't understand how someone so charming and beautiful and perfect could fall from grace. "Take it then. Take my soul and cart it off where you please. I don't care."
"It's not your soul I want." Francis explained, reaching out and brushing a little mud off the man's face. "Just your body."
Again the laugh, but it sounded so tired. Oh, Francis would give anything to hear that laugh in it's full glory. "Then take that. I don't know why you'd want it, but take it."
Francis smiled, and pushed. The initial resistance was like sticking his hands in tar, and he leaned his weight forward, forcing his way in. Then something slipped, and he fell the rest of the way. He opened his eyes and immediately realised why the man could see ghosts; he was both drunk and high as a kite. What the heck had he put into this beautiful body? Separating himself from the intoxication by way of willpower, Francis wiggled his new toes and hands, rolled his shoulders and flexed every muscle. Then he stood up. A perfect fit, everything about this body was a perfect fit.
"You like it then?"
The voice made him jump, whipping round to look at the man. Or rather, the soul of the man whose body he'd just possessed.
"How- you're meant to be asleep inside here!" Francis said, heart hammering. A sensation he'd not missed. "What are you doing out there!"
"If you want my body, you can have it. I've got no use for it any more." He chuckled, ethereal and echoing off nothing. "Ahh, it's bright. And so much warmer..." The man's face became younger, stress falling away, beard disappearing into a neatly trimmed goatee, clothes re-forming into a waistcoat befitting a noble. "It's nice..." And just like that, he was gone.
Francis stared at the empty alleyway, gaping.
Francis was right, at least. He did clean up spectacularly.
"Thanks again, Elizaveta." he called to the woman on the sofa who was painting her nails. Long brown hair fell over her shower when she turned to look at him.
"Oh, it's no problem, Francis." she chirped, blowing on her nail varnish. Her nurse's uniform shifted as she crossed her legs, getting comfortable. "But I wish you'd give me warning before turning up here. You're lucky Dr Roderich is on call, or he'd have a fit at the state this one was in." Red fingernails flicked through the air as she indicated his new body. A wicked smirk curved her lips up. "But you really do have an eye for hidden gems. You are smoking, if I do say so myself."
"Speaking of which, this one must smoke a packet a day because I am dying for a cigarette." Francis said, running a hand through his hair, still wet from the shower. The ends curled even more when wet, and he pulled on them experimentally to watch them bounce. A packet of Marlboro was tossed his way, and he caught it. Fast reflexes. Huh.
"Just one, those are Dr Roderich's." Elizaveta warned, shaking out her hand. France pulled one out and examined it.
"Got a light?" he asked. The brunette snapped her fingers, a small, candle-like flame hovering above her index digit. Francis bent down and lit up. "Merci, mon cher."
"So he's French like you?" she added, blowing out the supernatural flame. "You usually can't access your language centres when in a body that doesn't speak them. Fluent speaker or not, that body's tongue wouldn't be trained to make the correct sounds. The muscle memory would be off."
"Your medical knowledge is showing, Nurse Héderváry." Francis smirked at her, blowing a smoke ring. Seemed he knew how to do that, at least. She rolled her eyes at him, then blinked as her beeper went off. Checking it, she rose from the sofa.
"Ah, another one." she commented brightly, slipping the device back onto her belt and striding over to the door, picking up a slightly dirty shovel and resting it on her shoulder. "Well, I'll get going, and you have to be gone before Roderich comes home." Her smile turned sharp, and from under her hair, two dark horns grew up, and the air in the room started to thrum with a dark, eerie feeling. "Or it'll be you I'm burying."
Dead or not, Francis felt chills run down his spine. "Madame, it will be like I was never here."
She beamed. "Good! Bye for now!" And she was off.
Needless to say, Francis gathered his things quickly.
He'd never stayed in one body for so long, as far as he could remember. In fact, since he'd (somehow) lost his own body, his last record for staying in a body was six months.
This was now his second "birthday", and he'd still not changed.
On the one hand, he'd started accumulating enough wealth to travel comfortably, something he usually wasn't able to do unless he possessed someone rich. On the other hand, he seemed to be stuck.
His usual method for leaving a body was to just push the original owner's soul back into place, which in turn dislodged him with ease and simplicity. But this body had no soul but Francis'. He supposed the other way would be to kill himself, but he really didn't fancy it. He didn't even know how he died in the first place. Moreover, this body hadn't aged at all since he'd possessed it, not even the hair had grown, so he began to wonder if it was even possible.
The channel was it's usual gray colour, whipped up by the wind into a churning mess topped with white foam. The ferry he was currently leaning on the rails of steamed forwards towards the English coastline. He'd not been to England for a long time. He wondered if that old acquaintance was still there.
It was dark by the time the taxi pulled up to the end of the large and imposing gateway, rusting slightly on the hinges and surrounded by dense forest. The driver, bless his soul, refused to go any further into the woods, so Francis paid him and let him drive off at a considerably faster speed than was necessary. It wasn't needed; it was only 7pm, and Arthur wouldn't be out and about until at least 9, the predictable man he was.
The old mansion was just as imposing as the last time he'd been here, though then he had been possessing a woman's body. He'd had to return said woman to her family with bite marks and anemia, but otherwise no harm done. Francis was quite a bit more worried about his safety in a man's body; Arthur wasn't nearly so polite to men as he was women.
The path twisted through trees, the waxing moon the only source of light between the branches. The Autumn leaves kicked up when the wind brushed past them, but it wasn't too cold, and Francis' suitcase wasn't all that heavy. In all, it was quite inviting, at least to a person who didn't know what lay beyond the trees, there, in the house that had just come in to sight. To be honest, calling it a house was somewhat of an insult to the architect; it was a mansion, a fortress, built of black and gray stone four hundred years old. Three stories it rose up, in the middle of a wide clearing in the forest, with the pathway leading up to it. An ornate fountain stood out front, still in working order. Around the back, Francis could catch a glimpse of a hedge maze and a well tended to garden, swaying in the breeze. None of the lights were on in the house, though it was not late into the evening as of yet. Francis wasn't concerned; Arthur didn't really need lights to see by anyway.
The steps up to the mansion were worn at from use, and on one of them there seemed to be a dark stain of some kind. The Frenchman carefully avoided it. The door knocker was a snarling lion, but he paid it no attention as he knocked on the door with his own knuckles. There was silence for a long time, before the door swung open, seemingly of it's own accord.
"Enter." came a disembodied voice. Francis rolled his eyes. So dramatic.
"Arthur!" He called into the hallway, hung with the heads of many game animals as well as old portraits of various beautiful sunlit scenes, even if Arthur hadn't seen the sun in centuries. "It's me, Francis!"
A figure appeared at the top of the stairs. "I could smell you coming from a mile off, frog." Arthur said, pale in the moonlight that shone through the high windows, flaxen blonde hair sticking up like he had bed head even though Francis knew he brushed it. Green eyes surveyed him coldly, visible as they glowed dimly in the dark. "What do you want? And what's with that body, it stinks of tobacco."
"Just somewhere to stay for the night." Francis answered, hands in his pockets and eyebrows raised. "And, maybe, some of your expertise in the occult."
Arthur sniffed haughtily. Francis briefly enjoyed the two-inch height advantage this body gave him. Last time, Arthur had been able to look down on him. "Fine. Don't track mud on my carpet, I just cleaned it."
"Made a mess with dinner?" the Frenchman chuckled. He received a sharp look for his troubles. Arthur came down the stairs with the air of a prince who had been woken too early from his nap; grumpily and snobbishly. He swept into the dining room, not minding to put on the lights, so Francis put them on for him. The other man cringed and hissed like a snake, turning to squint hatefully at Francis.
"Don't do that without warning!" he growled, blinking his eyes further open. Red faded slowly from the irises, and he turned on his heel again to walk into the kitchen. Francis followed, flicking the lights on in there as well. This time his only reaction was a twitch, but still Arthur turned to him and said "I don't like you."
"Just so you're still aware."
"And you're not staying in my house for long."
Silence passed, and Arthur flicked the kettle on, leaning against the counter and folding his arms against his black shirt. Black trousers too. Well, at least it was a flattering colour, but on him it only made his skin look even paler, as if it needed the help.
"So what was it you wanted my help with?" the Englishman said finally, tapping his finger against his arm. "My knowledge on the occult is vast, so you'll have to be specific."
Francis made a helpless hand movement. "It's this body. I'm stuck."
A large, thick eyebrow raised. "Stuck."
"Oui, stuck. I usually hop from one body to the other without any issue, but with this one I can't leave."
Arthur frowned, an impressive gesture on it's own. "Explain how you got hold of this one."
Francis did, telling him all about Phillipe, as he'd learned the man's name was, where he'd found him, how he'd taken his body, the soul vanishing.
"Ah." the other interrupted him, pausing in pouring his tea. "There's your problem."
"Quoi?" Francis leaned forward, interested.
"The soul, it vanished didn't it?" The tea spoon dumped a little sugar into the teacup, and followed by Arthur uncorking a small vial full of red liquid and pouring that in too instead of milk. He stirred it, sipped it, sighed contentedly and continued, eyes now as vibrant a red as the vial. "That body is now yours. The soul gave it up to you. You can't leave because you're tethered to it as much as he was before you pushed him out." He gave him an amused look. "Of course, I could always kill you, that would get you out."
"I'll pass." Francis held up his hands, not touching his own teacup. "I don't think you'd like the taste of me anyway."
Arthur wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Oh heavens, no, I don't mean that. Your body is so you by this point that I would never get the taste of frog out of my mouth. Besides which it's cold and I hate it cold." he huffed. "There are plenty of other ways to kill a man."
At that moment, the front door slammed. Francis blinked, then frowned, confused. Arthur rarely had guests, much less anyone with keys to get into the house. Who...?
"Arthuuuuur~!" Yelled an extremely loud young man's voice. His accent was distinctly American, and it was ever so funny to watch Arthur's eye twitch. "Arthur, I got one for ya! Where do you want me to put it?"
"Basement!" the vampire called back, fangs exposed when he opened his mouth so wide. He unconsciously licked them, and immediately Francis knew what was going on.
"Oho~." he smirked. Arthur jerked to look at him, having apparently forgotten he was there for a moment. "You got yourself a new feeder, I see."
"Shut up." he grumbled, standing from the table. "It's just for convenience. He can travel further than I can and the locals were getting suspicious."
"By which you mean he can drive?"
"I thought I said shut up?" Arthur snapped, striding from the room. Francis got up and kept pace behind him, following him out of the kitchen, through the dining room, across the hall and behind the staircase to where the cellar door lead them down the dank stairs to the basement. The room was dimly lit by a single light hanging from the ceiling. It revealed a boy who couldn't be more than 19 standing with bloodied trousers over a brunette woman who seemed to be missing a foot. She sobbed into her gag, wide eyes gazing up at the two men who entered the room, seeking help.
She wouldn't get any.
Not pretty enough.
"Say, Arthur?" said the American boy, shouldering a massive chainsaw with the amount of effort it took Francis to pick up a pen. "Do I get to play with this one first?"
Red eyes glowed in the dark like a cat's, watching the woman where she bled from her missing appendage. "I don't mind, I ate yesterday so I'm not starving." he said after a pause. "But not too much. Remember I like it warm and not all over the ground."
The boy laughed, bright and cheerful and so innocent. Francis could hardly believe it. Was he going to... "You got it! One glass of A-Positive coming right up!"
Francis wasn't one for gore. Once the chainsaw's engine revved and plunged down, he turned his attention off to the side, ignoring the woman's screams as he read the titles of some of the old books on the wall. Well, it seemed that Arthur had even got his hands on a copy of the Necronomicon. Tough find these days. From the drawings on the wall, he hadn't given up his obsession with alternate dimensions either. But, Francis supposed, when one has all the time in the world they had to put it towards something didn't they?
The woman's screeches died when she did, with a gurgle of blood at the mouth before she stopped moving. The American's chainsaw kept going for another minute however, severing through bone and flesh until it juddered to a stop. Francis still didn't look over, but he did hear the teen's quiet giggling, interspersed with panting. Was it effort, or did he just enjoy it that much?
"Heheheh... that was great..." he breathed, sky blue eyes looking over square framed glasses at the vampire across the room. "Was it good for you too, Arthur?"
Francis snorted. So it was that kind of enjoyment. And the kid had a sense of humor. Unfortunately, Arthur didn't.
"Shut up, little brat. Out of my way." And that was all the warning the American got before Arthur pounced upon the body, savaging it at the neck and any open wound, of which there were many to chose from. The teen blonde danced around him, coming to stand next to Francis with a cheerful smile.
"Heh, he forgot to use the glass again." he chuckled, looking over at the Frenchman curiously. "Hi, I'm Alfred, Alfred F. Jones. Born in Jamestown, raised in Boston, 100% citizen of the U.S of A! Nice to meet ya!" He offered a bloody hand to shake. Francis stared at it until Alfred noticed and hastily wiped it on his also bloody shirt. "Sorry, I get a little messy when I do that."
"I see." To tell the truth, Francis didn't know what to think of the situation. "Francis Bonnefoy, born and raised in a town that doesn't exist anymore, used to be a citizen of France. Bonjour."
"Oh awesome, you're French?" Alfred said excitedly, still managing to come off like an excitable puppy even when covered in blood. "That's so cool! I have a half brother who was raised by a French father who then abandoned him to go back to France. I mean, he was a total douche, told my little brother he didn't love him any more and left, and poor Mattie ended up killing himself over it. So, you wouldn't happen to know this guy would you? Since you're French and all."
It took Francis a couple of seconds to realise that he'd just stepped into a very dangerous situation. The blade of that chainsaw was very sharp... "It would help if I had a name to go by, keeping in mind that I don't know everyone in France, as you do not know everyone in Texas."
Alfred looked contemplative. "Phillipe Fournier. Blonde hair, curled at the ends, douchey little goatee... kind of like you, actually."
Why hadn't he shaved the goatee, why, why, why? "Never met someone like that before." Francis lied, knowing he would surely get caught out and end this evening with a chainsaw shoved roughly through his torso. He waited for the inevitable buzz... None came.
"Oh." Alfred seemed quite disappointed. He was even pouting. Did he believe him? "That's too bad. Oh well, I'll keep looking then. He'll be out there somewhere."
"What are you two jabbering on about?" asked Arthur, wiping the mess from his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Nothin'." Alfred said innocently. The vampire gave him a suspicious look, which only intensified when he looked at Francis.
"It was nothing, mon cher, really."
"Don't call me that." Arthur glared, but on the whole seemed much less grumpy now that he'd eaten. "I'm going to go change. You two can go to bed. Francis, I'll try to find a different solution to your problem overnight."
"Problem?" Alfred blinked, looking Francis up and down. "Seems fine to me."
Francis shrugged helplessly. "This isn't my body. I was possessing it and got stuck. As a matter of fact, I'm a ghost."
Alfred went very pale under his tan. "G-g-g-ghost?"
"Oh no." Arthur groaned. "Alfred, don't start."
"Ghost!" he cried, running halfway up the stairs and brandishing his chainsaw more as a shield than as a weapon. "Stay away from me!" And with that, he fled upstairs.
Francis turned to Arthur with a bewildered expression. "What just happened?"
The vampire shrugged, exasperated. "He's terrified of ghosts. He fears what he can't kill, or something like that. That's all there is to it." he sighed. "You have no idea how long it took me to convince him this house wasn't haunted."
"It almost is, now." Francis said, bemusedly. Arthur twitched, and started up the stairs.
"Don't say that, it won't help. Just go to bed, and hopefully we can sort this out by morning when Alfred's got some sense back in him."
The semi-ghost followed upstairs after him. "Same room as last time?"
"Whatever, they're all free." Arthur muttered, sounding nearly bitter. "I've not touched any of them. Do as you please." Francis turned and began to ascend the stairs to the upper floor, and Arthur made for the library.
"Bonne nuit, mon ami."