Betelgeuse hissed happily at her answer, sliding off her shoulders and popping back to his human form. He pulled Lydia up to her feet as best he could in the cramped stall. She was easy to drag out of there and towards the mirror, even easier to lift up bridal style and carry through. A mirror portal was simple enough to conjure, even with the binds on his powers, and he was breathing easy when they stepped foot in the Netherworld.
The poltergeist barely gave her a choice on where to go first, still carrying her when he popped through another portal. His feet met the boardwalk just before the gray beaches of Scarama and he set Lydia down a moment after.
"Welcome to the Netherworld's best beach, babes. Figured we could swim, have a few drinks, find a nice lil' place to tie the knot. Unless ya wanna do it back in Livin' People Land, that's dandy. But I figure we do it fast so's I don't end up gettin' snatched up by the fuzz while we're havin' a blast." His speech was quick, almost more than normal. Something in Betelgeuse was hurried to make her his official wife‒ more than likely the thought of being exorcised at any moment and leaving her here without protection.
Despite the simmering panic, he kept a calm demeanor even as he rattled off about everything under the sun the beach offered. Once they got to a little drink vendor, he shut up.
"Whatcha want, babe? Might as well celebrate the ol' fashioned way," he chuckled, gently elbowing her with a wink.
Without thinking, conditioned by his constant molestation most likely, she snuggled into his chest easily when he grabbed her up, finding momentary comfort in fisting the coarse material of his jacket. Mr. and Mrs. Maitland wouldn't tell her anything about the Netherworld when she asked, fearful of her suicidal tendencies. This could be… fun. Maybe.
Once they passed through the veil, all the stress lines smoothed on her face, eyes wide and jaw slack as she took in all the otherworldly sights and sounds. The sky was an unnatural color, everyone around them dead, decaying, or monstrous in some capacity‒ and yet, they paid her no mind. Some stared curiously for a moment or two but seemed too wary of her escort to indulge their interest further than that.
When he set her on her feet, she nearly wandered away from him, entranced by all that was laid before her. The sand at this beach was silver, like finely ground stardust. The sky was vivid orange bleeding into green on the horizon. Three moons shone down on them‒ but the beach was packed. Was it night? Day? Did such concepts even exist here? The gently breezing air was warm, and Lydia sweat a bit beneath her uniform, but there wasn't any sunlight to crisp her sensitive, milky skin.
The little barstand was run by a humanoid octopus man, each of his eight tentacles dedicated to creating multiple complicated drinks at once and satisfying his many customers. Hot as it was, he was busy.
"I don't know," she murmured, hanging back, not wishing to get in anyone's way or inconvenience the busy barkeep. "Is it alcohol? I've never…" Lydia had never heard of any of the options on the board, the ingredients the octopus handled behind the counter similarly foreign. "You pick. Something sweet and cold. Please."
If he were a different creature, something sweet and kind, he would have ordered her a virgin version of the drinks they had. But he was desperate to have a loose, fun-loving Lydia, and he ordered her the strongest drink they had. Something with corpse flower extract for himself, and a special blackberry concoction for her. He made sure it was made extra sweet and extra cold.
"There, babes. Taste it n' tell me how it is," he purred as he handed her the frosty glass. His hands moved over her shoulders as he eased her out of the uniform jacket, then snapped. Gone was the plaid, replaced with a crimson spiderweb-patterned sundress. It matched her aesthetics perfectly and helped her better blend into the macabre crowd, something he needed for both their securities.
When it seemed she liked the drink, he made sure to order another for them to get back to before he guided her down the beach. Betelgeuse enjoyed her wide-eyed staring, head on a swivel to see everything. The water was cold and inky black, swirling around their ankles.
"Don't go too deep, babygirl. Can't have the leeches get ya," he chuckled. One big hand rested on her lower back, fingertips teasing at the curve of her ass as he sipped his drink. She glowed in the light of the moons, looking like a star that Betelgeuse was happy to be burned and blinded by.
The dress was pretty, and her drink was sweet and cold, just like she asked.
"It's good," she'd conceded with the tiniest, barely-there smile and a polite thank you before allowing him to walk her down the beach. For a time, her troubles were forgotten.
"Don't go too deep, babygirl. Can't have the leeches get ya."
"I won't," she promised, but then drifted deeper anyway until the water was swishing closer to midcalf. If eaten by leeches in the land of the dead was how she was going to die, then that was how she was going to die.
"Is this… a date?"
What a silly question to ask prior to one's wedding.
"I've never been on a date before." Or drank alcohol for that matter, which was making her tongue loose and cheeks warm. "Boys don't like me because I'm ugly."
This wasn't a fish for compliments or ply for sympathy. Just a cold statement of fact that her muddled mind thought it necessary for him to know seeing as he was planning on marrying and fucking her shortly.
"I don't get why you wanted to marry me in the first place. I mean… I guess I was pretty convenient. Pretty convenient this time, too."
Whatever the future held in store for her, she found herself temporarily unafraid. Calm. At ease with whatever her fate, if only for the moment. Alcohol was amazing. The sharp edges of her anxiety were dulled enough to let her lull and lean against him as her short legs tired. How long had she been awake now? Her drink was almost gone, and the water sloshing near her knees was getting colder.
"My drink's gone." For the first time since arriving in the afterlife, she was frowning, lifting the empty glass upside down over the water. "May I please have another?"
He watched her every move, felt his gut turn warm and soft at her smile and her thanks. Fuck, he was getting soft. She was chipping away at his rough edges and molding him into a fucking mush. But then again he couldn't care that much, because it was Lydia that was doing this.
"First date, I'm a lucky ghoul," he hummed as he watched her. Sometime earlier he'd traded his suit for a striped one piece to fit into the beach atmosphere. When she said she was ugly, Betelgeuse frowned.
"Fuck you mean, Lyds? You're a smokin' babe. Hundred outta ten, baby. N' it ain't cause you're convenient‒" except, his mind supplied, it kinda was because of that. No other chick woulda married ya, Betel‒ "'s cause you're just my typa gal."
She looked colder the longer they were in the water and he draped his coat over her petite frame. Guiding her back to the bar stand, he got her second drink and traded it for her empty cup. He was still on his first, only finishing half of it.
"Real cute when you're polite, baby girl. Real cut. All them pleases n' thank you's… Gotta admit, it's a li'l hot," he hummed as he led her down the boardwalk. A few denizens of the land of the dead stared at her, confused at the breather under the arm of the one and only Betelgeuse. Their stares didn't bother him at all‒ if anything they made him puff up more, peacocking around and taking pride in his bride.
"Manners matter," she flushed dark, repeating the cutesy phrase uttered to the small children she sometimes babysat. He was charming like this, his lust more flattering than frightening. Nevertheless, her nerves couldn't be abated for long. Even this many drinks deep with zero food on her stomach, they managed to make a return once they approached a small, dirty chapel on the strip.
Its white paint was chipped, the hinges on the rusting gate surrounding the property ancient and groaning, but the stained glass windows the forgotten little building boasted were beautiful. Lydia thought she wouldn't mind getting married in a place like this. More than a little intoxicated now, she stopped walking, having spotted the building before he did, and tugged his cuff gently in that direction to force his attention. The butterflies in her gut were somersaulting again, but alcohol had given her courage enough to try and ignore them.
"Let's do it here. Now." Without waiting for his agreement, she stepped delicate bare feet onto the electric-blue grass surrounding the building, crushing it between her toes and admiring its softness.
"Might as well. I like the windows, and this grass is blue. I've never seen blue grass before."
It was probably commonplace to him. Still, Lydia had spiraled into an awed sort of daze ever since arriving here, holding onto him for guidance as he introduced her to the afterlife before her time.
"Unless you have somewhere else in mind… It doesn't really matter."
Betelgeuse smiled as he watched her, holding her shoes for her in his left hand ever since they left the beach. When she looked around the place he called his dwelling with such wide-eyed awe, it was so precious that his dead heart softened. When she pulled him into the chapel's ground, he hummed softly. She was eager, in a way, to be married to him. He was happy for that even if it was only because she was drunk.
"Nah, baby girl, it's perfect," he consented. With a snap of his fingers, her sundress was a wedding gown, the same blood-red color with a spider web veil covering her beautiful features. His striped suit returned, the white replaced with black, and he linked his arm in hers. Betelgeuse's grin was big and proud as they went into the chapel together. There was a service set up already‒ there were always dead couples that wanted to pledge their afterlives to one another.
It was a quick set up to get the certificate. Betelgeuse barely noticed the shaking of Lydia's hands as she signed her name next to his. Then came the ceremony. The softness he felt in his heart grew as he watched her walk down the aisle. Even if she swayed a bit, stumbling on the stairs up to where he waited, there wasn't another woman in his head.
Simple words, sweet vows. He promised himself to her for the rest of eternity, until the end of time, and flushed when he realized he meant what he was telling her. Everything was according to his plan, according to what he wanted‒ even when she passed out in his arms during their first kiss. One moment, she was cradled perfectly against him and sighing into his mouth, and then she was limp. At first, it stroked his ego; a true casanova he was, making his new wifey swoon with the power that came with their bond being solidified. But then he thought about it as she stayed limp in his arms at the altar, worrying him.
Had she eaten anything? He knew she skipped lunch, hadn't asked for anything in the Netherworld… All the time Lydia had been with him she'd been starving and had two strong cocktails in her empty belly. Plus the nerves, and how delicate humans were…
He fucked up. Big time.
All that fear and anxiety came rushing back in a dizzying bout when he magicked her clothes again, a heavy extravagant gown coming to replace her sundress. Her hair moved around her, dressing itself in soft waves, little roses weaving through an intricate knot of braids. Her face felt different, like she was wearing makeup now. Heavy layers of tulle and satin hung from her hips, unforgiving steel bones in the beautifully embroidered bodice choking her already tiny waist into submission.
She could hardly breathe, the apples of her cheeks and the tops of her small, squeezed together breasts flushing an icy pink that juxtaposed nicely with the bloody crimson of her dress and lips. How she managed to stumble down that impossibly long stretch of carpet without faceplanting again‒ or maybe stopping to keel over and vomit in the pews‒ showed a practiced level of poise and grace.
At least he was merciful enough not to put her in heels. As she approached the dais, she reached out to him for stability. Judging by the far too sweet, far too genuine way he proceeded to give his vows, Lydia surmised that he thought she was clinging to him like a lover.
"I do," was all she was willing to mutter when the time came, the priest never waiting for her to promise or reciprocate anything of the kind in response to her groom's vows. He was going to kiss her. He was going to hurt her. The pounding in her chest reached a crescendo as his lips descended and all at once, the world around her went dark.
When next she awoke, the room was dim as if lit by candlelight, and her gaze was hazy. Breathing was a chore, the constricting gown still holding her captive above a soft cushiony surface. When she didn't know where she was and didn't immediately see him, her heart rate spiked again, brows crinkling in confusion.
After the girl fainted, he carried her all the way back to his crypt, settling her in the coffin that his body had long since vacated. She was darling in the velvet casket, looking so… dead that he felt a bit of panic. He settled his ear atop one plush breast, listening for the heartbeat that he knew was in her chest. There it was, slow and steady thrumming in his ear in perfect rhythm.
He let her sleep as he made the crypt more presentable. A bed in the far back for when she disliked his coffin, a small closet with clothes he thought she would look stunning in, and foods filling the table next to them both. Betelgeuse sat near her for a while, then moved to his own closet when he got too anxious waiting for her. Gone was his wedding suit, replaced with a pair of striped pants and a dirty old wife beater. He doubted they would be consummating the marriage that night, so he was ready to crack open a beer and let his wife rest. Betelgeuse had just settled in his armchair and cracked open a cold bottle when Lydia woke. Her soft voice calling his name had him sprinting to her side, almost falling over himself when he got to her.
"Lyds! Babes, I'm so glad you're okay! Ya gave me a second heart attack, baby girl, droppin' like a stone. Was my breath that bad?"
His animated voice came out in a worried rasp. He worked open her dress without waiting for her to ask, loosening the corset's ties so she could actually breathe. Kissing gently along her wrist as he did so, a smile was spared up at her as he tugged off the last few layers. This was just for her to be comfortable, that's what he was telling himself. It wasn't because he was curious what lingerie she had on under the red satin and tulle, not at all. Once she was more comfortable, he pulled the tray of food close.
"Eat somethin', babes. Ya passed out after the I do's, wanna make sure yer okay," he offered. The tray was piled with high iron and protein meals, an assortment of both living and Netherworld dishes for her to pick and choose from. "Not gonna let ya get up till you've eaten somethin'. Even jus' a li'l bit o' sandwich."
He was prepared to be pushy with this, and didn't care if she got pissy with him. She was important. Her health was important.
"'M just glad ya didn't hit yer head… Woulda been a quick end to this jus' bein' a visit."
She was grateful for the liberation from her wedding gown, but suspicious of his motivations, especially when her stripping down was paired with presumptuous, intimate kisses along her arm and shoulder. Beneath the dress was a sheer fitted slip, thin and easy to rip, and beneath that were even more scraps of lace meant to be looked at then removed rather than worn for an extended period.
"How long was I out…? Where am I...?"
Her vision eventually settled, adjusting to the lowlight enough to see that she was in a house of some sort. It was filthy. Every surface was cluttered, crumpled newspapers and empty beer bottles and all manner of nick nacks and detritus littering the floor and tables. She didn't immediately reach for the food, appetite still completely absent. Even after he insisted, she kept her hands to herself, only vaguely skimming over the food items before moving on to more pressing matters.
"They're going to worry when I don't come home. I have to go back."
A little late for buyer's remorse, Lydia, she derided herself, eyeing the pretty silver shackle around her ring finger that dubbed her married.
"And I have to feed Percy. And I have homework. And‒ oh no, I promised Adam I would bring him photos of the new windmill."
Ever so conveniently, her fuzzy mind chose now to remind her of all the reasons why this was a terrible idea. Still, at the core of her reasoning, the truth remained that this was the right thing to do. She just wished she had a little more agency here.
"But… they're not going to come for you anymore, are they? They can't… right?"
"It was only a few hours. I think it's still only 'round seven in the livin' world, babes. But c'mon, get your food in‒ I'll force-feed ya if I gotta," he huffed. His fingers pushed at her mouth, the soft cream puff between them leaving flakes of puff pastry on her bottom lip that he was tempted to lick clean. "They'll all survive without ya, Lyds. This is my crypt. Ya like it? Didn't have lotsa time to clean up, but it's still home sweet home," he chuckled.
Betelgeuse didn't care too much about the state of his crypt. It fit him and who he was, and he didn't want to change the state of it for any reason. Well… Maybe one reason. If Lydia asked him to do some housekeeping, he would grow a few more arms and get the place sorted out for her. He let her have some space as long as she ate little bits of food for him, occasionally holding out his favorite treats for her to take a bite of. Lydia was precious in her little shift, and he was eagerly eyeing the scraps of lingerie he could see underneath the sheer white fabric. He shook his head as he continued talking, a smile on his face.
"Nah, they're not gonna come after me for a while. Not unless I fuck up n' ya divorce me for whatever reason," the poltergeist offered. One of the chocolate-covered beetles was cracked out of its sugary shell, the insect's exoskeleton crunching under his teeth. He loved these juicy treats, and sharing them with Lydia made them even sweeter. Betelgeuse slurped up one of the cherry wasps as well, licking his lips.
Truthfully, he had no idea if just signing the license was enough. Maybe it was, or maybe the longer they were in the Netherworld, the more of a target he was. He sure hoped and was assuming that they needed to consummate it for him to be completely safe, but she was too weak right then for him to seriously consider fucking her. Even if the thought of her passed out on his dick was delicious…
"Get some more food n' rest, baby girl. Then we can head back home," he hummed. A kiss was laid on her hair, leaving bits of beetle shell on the ebony fluff. After a moment he brushed them off with a sheepish grin, then patted the top of her head.
It had been a trying twenty-four hours. An emotional rollercoaster‒ for Lydia at least. Betelgeuse seemed cool as a cucumber through most of it, even a little giddy. Nerves kept her from eating, even up until the night before when she tossed and turned and couldn't find peace until storming out into the woods to save his soul. That ache was gone now, but a different kind had taken its place.
Under his gentle but pushy insistence, she ate. She tried to get away with only stomaching two creampuffs, but then he was back sticking his grubby claws around her lips and she had no choice but to partake more fully. A whole roast beef sandwich, several cherries, and a bottle of soda later, he was still trying to stuff food down her face and she had to put her foot down.
"Mmm!" She hummed in alarm, leaning back far out of reach from his arm until her head hit the pillow and her chest was pressed against the inner lining of the coffin, hidden from his leering gaze. "No more," she mumbled, half her face mushed into the cushion. "I'm full. Thank you."
All she had to do was rest and then he would take her back home? That sounded too easy. What about all those threats back in the forest? Given her state of dress and the nonstop physical affection he showed her, surely he meant to consummate their marriage. The thought kept her wound up tight, one eye always on him. Would he be joining her in that coffin? A full belly and cushy padding made for a comfortable mold as she reluctantly settled in, still internally debating if she should push harder, demand to go back home.
This wasn't so bad. She was so tired. Her eyes didn't want to close while he was still there, watching. Nevertheless, they lulled, deep and heavy.
"I do like it," she finally admitted on the verge of sleep, long lashes fluttering on her cheeks as she lost the battle. "You're crypt. It's creepy…"
He watched her the entire time she settled back in his coffin. Oh, he liked that sight. When she was full he sent the food away, puffing up like a peacock. He got her to eat, and now she was about to fall asleep in his coffin in his crypt. Betelgeuse felt like a solid husband, and it had only been a few hours.
He busied himself with a beer or two while he waited for Lydia to fall asleep. It didn't take long, the girl was running on fumes the entire time he fed her. He produced a blanket for her when he saw her small being wracked with shivers, tucking it around her to make sure she was warm. Once he knew she was asleep, Betelgeuse transformed. An enormous serpent slid into the coffin alongside her prone figure, pooling at her feet then curling coils loosely around her slim body.
"I love you, Lydia… My sssweet little wifey," he sighed against her inky hair, kissing her lips lightly before resting his cheek atop her delicate head. There, Betelgeuse fell asleep, content for the first time in what felt like millenia.