Vince bundled the empty vessel of Howard Moon's body into the taxi, Howard's voice yelping in their mind to be careful as a hand was almost shut in the door. The Reaper grumbled about stalling and already making a grave exception, then paused to snicker and remark, "that's one of mine." Vince wasn't sure how it was possible, but he felt himself and Howard share a bemused glance.
Vince slid in next to Howard's vessel, buckling him first, then his own dual-souled body. Almost instantly he flung an arm out to protect the vessel as the car lurched forwards into a hazy, dark tunnel.
"What is this, I told you Bethnal Green?!"
The Reaper threw his faceless head back in rasping laughter at Vince's and Howard's panic.
"Weak stomach, eh dearie? Consider it a shortcut, you'll thank me when we get there!"
Vince and Howard slumped back.
*Some Christmas,* Howard said to Vince in their mind, sounding tired and more than a little bitter. His tone made Vince feel small, guilty. They were silent as the car raced through the Reaper's personal freeway. Surely they would be there in minutes.
*I'll never make this up to you,* Vince responded. At least it was easy to keep this conversation private. *Not even when we get you back in your body.*
*This isn't your fault, Little Man. I should never have trusted anything from my family, especially if they won't explain it. They want me to…*
He didn't need to say it. Vince felt his own thoughts like a ball of light flitting around, trying to find a tactile way to comfort Howard. Vince decided, even if Howard wasn't in his own body, he could at least see Vince take Howard's vessel's hand. They looked at Vince's stout fingers curling around Howard's long, smooth fingers. Vince felt the spark of pleasure, a flood of endorphins that wasn't quite his own. Staring at their interlaced fingers, Vince thought, in whispers,
*I would've said yes.*
Howard was quiet for a moment. There were really no secrets now. Howard had been shrunk down, wandered the halls and hollows to cure Vince's body, but it was a different thing to *be* him. Share him? Howard hadn't time to explore all the ideas and spaces he was privy to now that he was inside Vince's mind, but once Vince mentioned saying yes, he understood.
*Oh! I…see how you could think, from the, the size of the box and the, uh…
*…but, Vince. It's so soon.*
*I know! When I thought you were gonna propose, I got myself all ready and really serious. I didn't want to disappoint you. Even if it's fast, I *want* to say yes.*
He squeezed Howard's vessel's hand. By way of answer, Howard flexed Vince's hand into a squeeze, then lifted it to dash away threatening tears. The time for softness would come later. Outside, the blur of scenery was resolving back into the familiar images of what passed for reality to Howard and Vince. The Reaper climbed out and dusted off his robes.
"Alright, but we're keepin' this short. I ain't having you wandering 'round here alone with that vessel, makes me uneasy."
Vince nodded, not really paying attention. He craned his neck, looking for the Hitcher as well as anyone who could pose a threat to the ritual of getting Howard back in his own body. The crowd was impressive, albeit slightly terrifying.
The Reaper was already laughing and jostling the shoulders of an undead being who did not seem displeased to meet again. Wraiths swooped through the air, cavorting with shadowy birds and a few levitating magical humanoids. A weary servant in a hood served some kind of bubbling drink straight from an open, empty grave.
*Unoccupied, I hope…* Howard joked weakly, as Vince merely gagged at the rotting plant and gasoline smell of the concoction.
*Come on,* Howard insisted, verbally dragging Vince along. *Even in this crowd, shouldn't be difficult to find the Hitcher.*
*We could ask someone?*
*Ask who, Vince?*
*Look at all these ghosts, there's always a Cathy.*
Howard had to concede that there were usually three Cathys in every ten ghosts, anywhere in the world at any time, so Vince began waving wildly and shouting, "CATHYYYYY!" as if recognizing an old friend. One of the swirling wraiths finally approached. She floated before Howard's vessel's face, lifting her hand as if to touch it.
Cathy turned to Vince with a start, as if she hadn't even seen him.
"Ohhh. Have we met?"
"Yeah! Just, I was in a mask and a really cool purple cape, and you were…"
"…performing in the Highgate Cabaret!" It took the combined effort of Howard and Vince's will to speak in unison with Cathy as she finished.
"Oh! I never *did* get your name! How *are* you, darling?"
Vince was all loose shoulders and big smiles.
"Fantastic, out every night, you know how it is, except, I'm here to find someone…can you help us?"
"Who are you looking for?"
"Green old man, black coat, with a polo eye."
Cathy whirled in the air.
"Oh, he'll be here! I'm sure I don't need to tell you he likes to make an entrance, you'll know right away when he gets here."
"You're a diamond, Cathy! Cheers-"
Vince was cut off as Cathy grabbed his face with shockingly solid hands. It was like being gripped by dry ice that didn't burn, yet the vapor could be felt just below the skin. She stared deep into Vince's eyes, her translucent face changing expressions rapidly as a rush of emotion seemed to seize her.
"I knew you weren't alone," she muttered. "Heathcliff. You're in there, aren't you?"
Cathy's voice was rising in pitch, and she was gripping Vince's face far too tightly. Her pupilless stare jerked from Vince to Howard's vessel, then back to Vince.
"You can't hide from me," Cathy said, her voice shaking between tears and rage. "We belong together, Heathcliff! It's me, Cathy! YOU BELONG WITH ME!"
It was Howard who pulled Vince's body away from Cathy's grip. At that inconvenient moment, the voice of the Reaper, now slightly drunk, called out.
"You! Flirting's done, get the vessel, let's go!" He staggered purposefully towards them.
Vince and Howard grabbed Howard's vessel's arm and ran from the desperate ghost and drunken Reaper, zigzagging their way through the growing press of monsters, fae and sorcerors. Heart pounding, they risked a glance back, a frantic look in the air around them. They seemed to have shaken both of their pursuants.
*We need to hide out until the Hitcher gets here. No one's gonna be any help.*
They turned to slink quickly out of range of the guests' attentions. Instead, they ran into one of the last people they wanted or needed to see at the moment.