Ryou hadn't known what to expect when he received the invitation to Collinwood, the great estate on the hill overlooking the town of Collinsport. It was clear that the Collins family had played a big part in the history of this part of Maine -- their name was everywhere, though the family itself was apparently in decline, its remaining members reclusive and aloof. He was twenty-one years old, and this note (handwritten on thick, expensive stationary and left for him at the front desk) was the first contact he'd had with any member of his mother's family.
Turning the cream colored paper over in his hands, he unfolded the note and read it for the fifth time in the last ten minutes. It was a few simple sentences requesting his attendance for luncheon (and seeing that word rather than the more casual "lunch" still made his mouth twist in an expression that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a smirk or a frown) today at 1 p.m., at the grand estate. It was signed simply "Quentin Collins."
The note had arrived an hour ago, shortly after Ryou had dragged himself from his bed at the Collinsport Inn, and he still hadn't made up his mind whether he was going to accept the invitation.
On the one hand, his curiosity was piqued and he was interested in seeing the house where his mother had spent a part of her childhood. The other hand held his reservations: he literally knew no one in this place and would be walking cold into a situation where he didn't know what was expected of him or what might happen. He was probably being too paranoid for the circumstances, but if life in Domino City had taught him anything, it was that you should never take things at face value. If a children's card game could nearly kill you, who knew what might happen at a "luncheon" in an isolated house with perfect strangers?
He sighed, turning the note over again. There were no instructions for getting to Collinwood; Quentin probably presumed that anyone in town could give Ryou directions to the estate. No doubt he was right. Ryou could ask at the front desk or at the diner... or most likely any random passerby on the street could tell him how to get there. If he decided to go. Which he hadn't, not yet.
Rising to his feet, he stuffed the note into his pocket and reached for his lightweight jacket. He would go and find something for breakfast first. Maybe by the time he had finished his second cup of tea he would have made up his mind if he was going to ask someone how to get to Collinwood.
Leaving the inn, Ryou strolled around town and took in the sights that Collinsport had to offer. It was built right on the water and its history as a port town was obvious. Down by the docks, he could see fishing boats heading out to sea beneath a brightening sky. There was a cannery in the distance (it, too, bore the name "Collins" on the side of the massive building that housed the factory). The air was sharp and crisp, and smelled faintly of the sea.
The inn-keeper had given Ryou directions to a nearby diner, within easy walking distance. He turned his steps in that direction and some came upon a quaint, low building with white painted walls and cheerily painted flowerboxes that now held only straggly weeds. He went inside.
He wouldn't have called the diner crowded, but there were a surprising number of people sitting at the counter and at a few of the tables for such an early hour. Most of the heads turned to watch the stranger walk up to the counter.
A dark-haired woman greeted him with the kind of smile all good waitresses seemed to know. "Good morning. Would you like to see a menu?"
"Yes, thank you. And a cup of tea, if you have it."
"Sure." She placed a menu on the counter and then bustled off to fuss with the hot water and tea bags. When she returned, she set a steaming white mug in front of him. "Sugar and sweetener's in the caddy. Anything else? We don't get a lot of call for hot tea."
"Oh, um. Some milk?" He went back to reading the menu. By the time she returned with a small carton of milk, he had decided on pancakes and a side of bacon.
The breakfast turned out to be quite good, and he thanked the waitress with a smile when she stopped to offer him more tea. "No problem, hun. Can I get you anything else?"
"Directions to Collinwood?"
The smile slid off her face. "Why would you want to go up there?"
"Oh, um." He cast around for an excuse, not having expected the veiled hostility. "Just curious. I hear the house is very impressive."
"Sure, if you like that sort of thing." Her tone implied that she didn't, and didn't understand anyone who did. "It's big, anyway. Kind of creepy, if you ask me."
"Nobody asked ya, Darla." The gray-haired man two stools down from Ryou's waggled his coffee cup at her. "How 'bout ya quit bumpin' yer gums and gimme a refill?"
Darla rolled her eyes, but retrieved the coffee pot and refilled his cup. "You ever been up to Collinwood, Marty?"
"Nah, got no call to be goin' up there." He stirred creamer into his coffee. "Never wanted to, neither."
"Do you know the Collins family?" Ryou asked, directing the question to the room at large and hoping someone would answer.
"Seen 'em around town, like anybody else," Marty said, waving one wrinkled hand dismissively. "My sister used to know someone who worked for 'em, was their housekeeper for years."
Darla frowned. "You never told me that."
"Was you wantin' to know?" Marty slurped his coffee. "Don't see as it matters, she passed on awhile back."
"Oh, you mean Mrs. Johnson!" Darla nodded. "Yeah, I remember my mom saying she used to talk to her sometimes. Not much, though. I think she must've been real secretive about the Collinses."
"The kinda things they supposedly get up to, wouldn't surprise me."
That piqued Ryou's interest. "What sort of things?"
Marty squinted at him. "You new in town, son?"
"Yes." He leaned toward the older man, trying to project innocent curiosity. "What sort of things were you talking about?"
"Oh, the usual things rich folk with too much time on their hands and not enough sense get up to."
Darla snickered. "Cheating on their spouses, the occasional love-child, arsenic in the morning coffee."
"You think you're jokin'," Marty said, shaking his head. "Don't suppose you remember the time ol' Roger Collins drove his car off the damn cliff. Sure, the man liked to drink, but there were rumors someone cut his brake-line."
Both Darla and Ryou gaped at him. Darla recovered first. "Are you saying someone tried to murder Roger Collins?"
Marty shrugged, and made an elaborately casual show of drinking his coffee. Assured he had their full attention, he said, "That wasn't the only time somebody nearly died -- or full-out did die! -- at Collinwood."
"Now you're the one whose joking!" Darla said.
"Nope. The stories I could tell ya..." Marty glanced at the clock above the beverage station behind her and slugged back the last of his coffee. "Some other time, though. I gotta hit the road. See ya tomorrow, Darla."
Ryou watched the old man leave. When he looked around, he saw that most of the other diner patrons had finished their meals and left, leaving him alone with Darla and one other, a well-dressed woman seated in a booth by the window. The woman looked up from the book she was reading and favored him with a raised eyebrow. Ryou looked hurriedly away.
Darla smirked at him. "You here alone? In town, I mean."
"Yes. I'm, um... I came to visit my mother's grave. She's buried in Eagle Hill Cemetery."
"Oh! I'm so sorry--"
"It's all right." Ryou pretended his tea needed more milk. "It's been years since she died. I just... never got the chance to visit until now."
"Here, let me get you some more tea." Darla bustled off to the beverage station and came back in a few minutes with a fresh mug. "Here you go, hun."
"Thank you." He took it just to be polite. "Can you give me directions to Collinwood? I really would love to see it. My mother told me a bit about it when I was younger."
"She was from Collinsport?"
"She lived here for a time, when she was a girl."
Humming a bit under her breath, Darla picked up a cloth and wiped the counter. "I guess it won't hurt anything. Just don't expect the family to take you in for a tour. The Collinses keep to themselves."
He smiled. "Of course."
Armed with the map that Darla had drawn for him on a paper napkin, Ryou stepped back out into the sunshine. The cool air had warmed a bit while he was in the diner, but was still brisk enough to make him glad for his jacket and the knitted scarf that he wrapped around his neck. He let his touch linger on the scarf, feeling the uneven stitches and remembering when Amane had given it to him. It was her first knitting project and she had been extremely proud of her accomplishment. His heart ached whenever he thought about the sweater she had been working on when she died, a far more complex project that now would never be finished.
He had made it only as far as the shop next door to the diner when he heard someone calling out behind him. Turning, he saw that it was the woman from the diner, her book tucked under one arm as she waved to him.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
She smiled as she caught up to him. "I believe it is I who may be able to assist you, young man."
His eyebrows shot up. "Oh?"
"I couldn't help overhearing your conversation before." Her pale eyes were considering as she studied him. "You're interested in the Collins family?"
"I might be."
"Then, I might be able to tell you about them." She gestured for him to follow as she resumed walking and, after a slight hesitation, he did.
"Do you know the family well?"
"You could say that," she said, with a subtle laugh. The sunlight caught the edges of her blonde hair, framing her face in a golden halo. "I've known them for many years. But I don't know you at all, Mister--?"
"Oh, how rude of me for not introducing myself. I'm Ryou Bakura."
"I think we shall become great friends, Ryou." She smiled again, bright and sharp. "You may call me Angelique."
Ryou meets some of the current inhabitants of Collinwood.
Just a reminder that this is AU for both Dark Shadows and Yu-Gi-Oh.
After spending an informative half an hour with Angelique, who seemed only too eager to answer his questions about the Collins family (though with a sly coyness that set off a few alarm bells in the back of his head), Ryou had returned to the inn for his rented car. Following the directions Darla had given him, he had no problems finding Collinwood.
Now, he stood before the sprawling old mansion (forty rooms, according to Angelique) and wondered if he was going to regret having come here. His curiosity was piqued, however, and he knew he would never be content if he left it unsatisfied. He would always wonder about this part of his family, his heritage. His mind had been made up long ago, when he first decided to come to Collinsport.
He had to know.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the imposing double doors and waited. Just as he was beginning to wonder if anyone had heard the door knocker, one of the doors swung open to reveal a middle-aged woman with her mousy brown hair pulled back in a severe bun. She eyed him like he was something smelly she'd found on the bottom of her shoe.
"Yes? Can I help you?" The curl of her upper lip suggested that the correct answer was "no, thank you."
Ryou steeled his resolve. "I'm expected for lunch...eon with Mr. Quentin Collins."
She grimaced. "I suppose you'd better come in then. I'll let Mr. Collins know his guest has arrived."
Shaking her head, she pivoted on her heel and stalked off without another word. Ryou supposed he was lucky she hadn't left him standing on the doorstep. Left to his own devices, he peered around the foyer, taking everything in.
Dark wood paneling and a flagstone floor made the room seem formal and not very welcoming. Tall iron torchiers stood on each side of the wide front doors. Opposite them, a second set of double doors guarded the entry into the house proper. On Ryou's right, a wooden staircase led up to a narrow landing beneath stained glass windows that, despite the bright sunlight outside, somehow contrived to barely lighten the gloomy atmosphere. There was a large portrait of a stern looking man, probably a Collins ancestor on one wall. With nothing better to do, Ryou wandered over to give it a closer look.
The man in the portrait had a sallow complexion, as if drained of blood, piercing dark eyes, and dark hair. His clothing was old-fashioned in the extreme, lending credence to Ryou's conjecture that this was a Collins ancestor. The ruffled cuffs, fancy cravat, and silver-headed cane made him think 18th-century or earlier (Ryou wasn't exactly an expert on historical clothing, but he had seen a few costume dramas in his day; Amane had been a big fan of the genre). A distinctive signet ring graced the man's forefinger, where his hand rested on the curve of the wolf's head that formed the handle of the cane.
"I see you've found Barnabas," said a feminine voice from behind him.
Ryou started, not having heard anyone approaching. Turning, he saw an older woman, her blonde hair fading gracefully to white and her slim body straight and tall despite her age, standing at the foot of the stairs. She was dressed in an expensive looking silk pantsuit and tasteful gold jewelry. She gave him a tight-lipped smile as she moved to join him before the portrait.
"Barnabas Collins," she said, with a gesture at the painting. "A distinguished ancestor and the son of the man who built this moldy old pile."
"Thank you for telling me." His genuiness seemed to catch her off-guard. He extended his hand. "I'm Ryou Bakura."
As if on auto-pilot, she shook his hand. "Carolyn Stoddard." Then she appeared to make a connection from his name to his presence in her house, and she added, "You're the guest Cousin Quentin is expecting!"
"I suppose I am." He ducked his head, feeling a bit embarrassed and not entirely sure why.
Carolyn nodded and her smile held a hint more warmth. "Well, then we should let him know you're here."
"I think someone's already gone to do so..."
"Mrs. Garrett?" She wrinkled her nose, for a moment the mischievous expression making her look like a much younger woman. "We'll be lucky if she actually finds him to tell him, then. Come, we'll get you settled in the drawing room and then I'll find Quentin myself."
"Oh, I shouldn't want to be a bother--"
"Don't be silly." Her hand on his elbow steered him toward the second set of double doors. "Just through here..."
A moment later and Ryou found himself seated before a large fireplace in which a cozy fire burned, staring wide-eyed at the doors through which Carolyn Stoddard had vanished on her self-appointed mission to locate Quentin Collins. The woman was clearly a force of nature; he barely remembered consenting to follow her before she had had him seated on one of the sofas, offered him a drink (which he declined), and swept back out the doors, closing them behind her.
Left to his own devices once more, he shifted uncomfortably on the sofa and dared to take a look around at his new surroundings. If the foyer had been impressive, it was nothing compared to the drawing room. Barnabas' father had apparently subscribed to the 'large and oppressive' school of architecture.
The theme of dark wood and soaring ceilings had been carried over into the drawing room. One wall was dominated by the fireplace, a marble monstrosity capped by a heavy wooden mantle which held silver candlesticks and other colonial looking bric-a-brac. A large oil landscape painting in somber tones completed the picture. On the short wall to the left of the double doors sat a heavy wooden writing desk, definitely antique, which held a few thick and dusty books, an ancient telephone (it had a cord!), and more bric-a-brac. The remaining furniture echoed the desk: all dark, heavy pieces that looked as if they had been fashionable about a century ago, which was possibly when they had been brought into the room. On the wall opposite the fireplace, a tall console held a tray of crystal decanters and glasses. Behind the sofa he was perched on, a piano sat in front of tall windows that reached nearly to the ceiling on either side of a pair of French doors. From his seat, he could just make out a hint of stone terrace and dreary winter garden peeping through between the heavy drapes.
Just as he was trying to decide if he were brave enough to get up and have a look outside, the double doors opened with a faint creak of unoiled hinges and an elderly man with a cane stepped into the room. He fixed Ryou with a distracted, and rather irritated, glare from light-colored eyes.
"And who might you be?" he asked without preamble in a clipped, patrician accent.
Ryou, who had risen automatically out of the politeness drilled into him as a child, took an involuntary step back at the vitriol in the other man's voice.
"Erm, Ryou, sir," he managed to stammer out. "Ryou Bakura."
"What sort of name is that?" the man snapped, his gimlet glare intensifying. The hand holding the cane tightened so much that the knuckles turned white from his grip.
"I... erm, I..." Ryou floundered, wondering if the man was going to take a swipe at him with the cane. He certainly seemed to be considering it, if his thunderous expression were any indicator.
"Come on, boy, speak up!" He stalked toward Ryou, managing to look quite threatening despite his advanced age. "Who are you and what're you doing in my drawing room?"
"Uncle Roger!" Carolyn swept back into the room through the open doors, one hand coming up to rest on the man's arm and steer him gently away from Ryou. "Is that any way to speak to a guest?"
"Guest?" Roger sounded revolted by the very suggestion. "I certainly didn't invite him."
"No, but Cousin Quentin did."
Some of the tension bleeding out of his posture, Roger snorted. "Well, that explains it."
Carolyn patted his arm. "Now, Uncle Roger, there's no need to be rude." She glanced at Ryou, that tight smile re-appearing on her lips. "Mr. Bakura, I see that you've met my uncle, Roger Collins. You'll have to forgive his manners, or lack of them. He's in a bit of a mood, it seems."
The old man swatted at her with his free hand. "Don't scold me! I remember when you were a moody teenager, Kitten. Your mother used to despair of your manners on a daily basis."
Ryou nearly boggled at the idea of anyone daring to call Carolyn Stoddard "kitten," but she took it in stride. Maybe she was accustomed to the nickname.
Ignoring Roger, she focused her attention on Ryou. "Mrs. Garrett has informed Cousin Quentin of your arrival. He'll be joining us, shortly."
Roger snorted again and wandered toward the bar set up that Ryou had noticed earlier. Carolyn pursed her lips at him but said nothing as Roger poured himself a few fingers of dark liquid from one of the decanters. He sipped at it before fixing Ryou with a judgmental gaze.
"Exactly how do you know our cousin, Mr. Bakura?"
"Oh, I... erm, I don't, actually." He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling incredibly foolish and out of his depth. "I received a note from him this morning, asking me to have lunch with him."
Now, both Roger and Carolyn were watching him with narrowed eyes.
"Are you in the habit of accepting luncheon invitations from perfect strangers, Mr. Bakura?" Roger asked sourly.
I am when I want an excuse to visit the house where my mother spent part of her childhood, Ryou thought, but managed just not to say. Aloud, he said, "It seemed quite kind of him. And I admit that I was hoping to speak to some of the family."
"Oh?" Carolyn arched one perfectly plucked eyebrow at him. "And why is that?"
Taking a deep breath, Ryou steeled himself for the confession he was about to make. He never got the chance, however, as another voice stole the words from his lips.
"He's Amy's son."
Luncheon at Collinwood -- and talk about family.
Everyone turned to stare at the young man standing in the doorway. Roger was the first to break the silence.
"What do you mean, Amy's son?" he demanded, slamming his highball glass down on the console hard enough to rattle the decanters on their mirrored tray. "Explain yourself at once, Quentin."
So, this was Quentin Collins. Ryou had been expecting someone older, not this man who looked barely a handful of years older than himself. Quentin looked nothing like his cousins, with a thick mane of brown hair, hipster sideburns, and intense eyes. His attire, though casual spoke of quality; Ryou was glad he had given in to the impulse to wear one of his better outfits today. He still felt out of place, but far less than if he were attired in worn Converse and jeans.
Quentin merely smirked at Roger before turning his attention fully on Ryou. His gaze swept over Ryou in obvious judgment. "You must favor your father," was the verdict. "Though I do detect a hint of your mother in your eyes."
"Amy's son..." Carolyn's voice was soft and filled with something Ryou couldn't quite decipher. She pressed her hand to her mouth, eyes wide as she took him in anew. "Oh, my."
Grumbling, Roger wandered over to one of the chairs facing the sofa and sat down heavily, as if his legs had lost the will to hold him up any longer. He gestured expansively with his glass. "I suppose you're here to see if you can insinuate yourself into the family, all in the name of money."
The sneered words pierced Ryou's heart like a blade. "No, sir. I just..." He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. "I only recently found out that my mother was from around here and I..."
"Don't listen to him, Mr. Bakura," Carolyn said, interrupting Ryou's stumbling explanation. "Uncle Roger was born a cynic. He believes the worst of absolutely everyone."
"And people rarely disappoint my low expectations of them." Roger emptied the last of his drink and gazed mournfully into the glass.
Carolyn plucked it from his hand and set it on the table beside his chair. "That's enough of that." She turned to face the newcomer. "Cousin Quentin, we'll leave you to your guest."
With firm but clearly affectionate prodding, she managed to herd Roger out of the drawing room with her, Roger grumbling all the way. Quentin watched them go and then smiled at Ryou. "I've asked Mrs. Garrett to serve our luncheon in the breakfast room. If you'll follow me?"
Finding himself at a loss for something to say, Ryou just nodded and followed Quentin Collins deeper into the gloomy mansion.
The "breakfast room" turned out to be an informal dining room with large windows overlooking a well-tended lawn. Like the rest of the house that Ryou had seen so far, it was filled with antique furniture and paintings and other home decor flotsam. The furniture here was lighter than what he'd seen in the drawing room, painted rather than stained wood, and of a more delicate looking construction.
Quentin waved him to a seat at the round table, where places had been laid for two diners. Ryou sat with his back to the windows, leaving the other place for Quentin.
"Thank you for the invitation to Collinwood," Ryou said. "I have to admit it caught me by surprise."
Quentin looked up from where he had been fidgeting with his elaborately folded napkin and met Ryou's questioning gaze. There was a complicated expression on his face, one that Ryou found impossible to read.
"You caught me by surprise as well," Quentin said. "I had thought I would have to search for you, and then you turned up practically on my doorstep. Of course I had to invite you to Collinwood."
Suspicion and foreboding stretched icy fingers along Ryou's spine. "You were looking for me? Why?"
"You're Amy's son." The words seemed to hold more weight than their simplicity would suggest. "How old are you, Ryou?"
The question caught Ryou off-guard, so much so that he didn't even think to object to this stranger's use of his given name. He blurted out the answer without stopping to consider if he should. "I'm twenty-one today, actually."
"Then I wish you a happy birthday." Something like pain flickered across Quentin's face. He lowered his gaze to his hands, which had clenched into fists around his napkin, twisting it into a crumpled mess. "I knew your mother, you know. When she was a child here at Collinwood."
"You knew her?" Anticipation swept other concerns from Ryou's head. This was what he had come here for, what he had hoped for when he drove all the way to this isolated part of Maine's coast: to learn more about his mother.
"I knew her -- and your uncle Chris, as well."
Chris? Ryou had been vaguely aware of his mother's brothers -- twins, Tom and Chris Jennings -- though she rarely spoke of them. His anticipation increased; here was a chance to discover information about the parts of his family that he had never known.
Before he could frame one of the many questions clamoring for his attention, the housekeeper stalked into the room with a serving cart and began to set food on the table.
"Thank you, Mrs. Garrett," Quentin said, after she almost dripped soup in his lap while setting the bowl in front of him. "Just leave the cart. We'll serve ourselves."
"Hmph." She fixed him with a disapproving look, but backed away from the table. "If that's what you want, Mr. Collins."
Quentin waited until she had stomped back out of the room before turning an apologetic glance on Ryou. "Sorry about her. Frankly, I sometimes wonder why my cousins keep her on."
"Tell me about my mother. Please." Ryou didn't care about Mrs. Garrett -- or the food. The hunger he felt had nothing to do with his stomach and everything to do with the aching emptiness in his heart where his family should be.
Ryou knew that he ate, because the food that Quentin set before him dwindled on his plate, but he couldn't have said how any of it tasted. He was too absorbed in drinking up every word that Quentin spoke to him -- about Amy, about his uncles. Every anecdote was fascinating, no matter how small, as was every fact, no matter how trivial.
Finally, the food was gone and Quentin was watching him with a somber, thoughtful look on his face that seemed at odds with their conversation. He seemed to come to a decision, after a moment of silence, and said, "I know you have a room at the Collinsport Inn, but I'd like for you to spend the remainder of your stay here at Collinwood."
Ryou's eyes widened. "Oh, I couldn't impose--"
"No, no. I won't here any excuses." Quentin tossed his napkin aside as he rose. "It's no imposition, we've plenty of room. And I insist. There's still a great deal I have to tell you about your family, Ryou."
"But... You don't even know me."
"A circumstance that I would like to correct." Quentin offered him a small smile. "We are family, Ryou, no matter how distant."
Ryou started, not having arrived at that conclusion, despite the obvious clues. He gaped at Quentin. "Family..."
"Yes." For a second, that strange look of pain shadowed Quentin's eyes again. "We... share a common Collins ancestor. I, uh, I would very much like the opportunity to tell you more -- about that and other things -- if you'll give me the chance."
"I would like that."
The shadows cleared from Quentin's expression. "Then stay here, at Collinwood. I'll have Mrs. Garrett prepare a room for you."
Ryou hesitated. "Are you certain that Mr. Collins won't mind? He didn't seem to like me very much."
"Roger doesn't like anyone." Quentin grinned. "Don't worry. I'll handle Cousin Roger. And I can assure you that Carolyn won't mind. In fact, I think she'd be rather cross with me if I let you return to the Inn without offering you a place here."
"Ryou." Quentin placed a hand on Ryou's shoulder. "This is where you belong."
Warmth settled in Ryou's stomach. It had been a long time since he truly felt as if he had a place to belong. He didn't know if this could be that place, but even just the offer of it felt good. He wanted to accept. "If you're sure?"
"I am." With a final, gentle squeeze, Quentin let his hand fall back to his side. "Go and get your things from the Inn. When you return, I'll give you a tour of the old place."
"Thank you," Ryou said, meaning for far more than just the lunch or even the offer of a room.
Quentin seemed to understand. The welcome in his parting smile warmed Ryou all the way back into town.