Ethan Rayne's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
A/N: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rurouni Kenshin, James Bond, Pet Shop of Horrors, Gundam Wing, Harry Potter, Star Wars, NightWalker, Bar Sinister, Pete's Evil Overlord List, the Lilin, bits from Velgarth, various Andre Norton creatures, and anything else you might recognize in passing, don't belong to me. The plot bunny, alas, does. Yes - this is yet another AU of the "Halloween" episode, in the spirit of "What if everyone went as someone else for Halloween?", with a little reincarnation mixed in. And one slight Buffy timeline alteration; the main events of "Ted" have already happened, so Joyce has already had the relationship from robotic Hell. Much thanks to AleXander Thompson for making a transcription of those eps available; they were so much fun!
"Evil tends to triumph over good... unless good is very, very sneaky."- Anonymous.
A few, faint screams still rang through Sunnydale's night; Ethan Rayne ignored them, swallowing as the chill edge of steel pressed against the skin of his neck. Not quite hard enough to draw blood... but the cool fury in amber eyes promised that could change in an instant.
I should've known better than to let that arrogant idiot Bengal use my spell to complete his, Ethan realized, trying to think his way out of this fiasco. I should have known... but he was raising a demon! What could have possibly gone wrong?
It wasn't as if he'd gone into this night unprepared, after all. He'd read his Evil Overlord List. He knew the Murphy's Laws of Malicious Magic. There are reasons heroes don't generally encounter more than one master of dark magic at a time, and it has nothing to do with any inherent sense of fair play in the universe. More like the old adage of too many cooks spoiling the brew; only in this case, the brew melts the floor, the devil's food frosting drags down the cake and any unwary mammoths quicker than the La Brea tar pits, and the meatloaf devours hapless diners toe by toe.
Not that meatloaf really needs an excuse. It's over-spiced, it knows it, and as far as it's concerned, it's All Your Fault.
But back to the very sharp steel... or something that looked like steel, though the sorcerer's senses twinged in a way that hinted it wasn't, quite. Something in the katana sang of magic, and darkness, and an essence not of Hell, but of someplace... quite different, indeed. Damn. That's how he got in.
Ethan was a chaos mage, not an idiot. He'd warded his shop and his workroom inside it against the creatures created by his own spell; hence Ripper and his nest of brats currently pounding against empty air at the doorway. And he'd known better than to even consider opening a shop on the Hellmouth without setting protections that should have held against any demon, vampire, or lawyer on the face of the planet.
Protections this amber-eyed menace had walked through with barely a twinge, heaven-touched blade flashing out to deflect the demon-wards before they could rouse to flaring life.
Which meant the "Demon of Kyoto" - wasn't. Gods, if he ever got out of here, he was going to summon that cretin Bengal's spirit back from Hell just so he could stomp it into necromancer's powder and stuff it in an ashtray.
If. Given the blood on that blade implied Kyoto's demon-who-wasn't had already dealt with Bengal, that was going to be a fairly large if.
But he'd paid attention! Ethan thought indignantly. His ventilation ducts were too small to crawl through, he didn't have any beautiful evil daughters (or, given he was dealing with a Slayer, sons) to betray him to the hero, he hadn't killed any messengers bringing bad news, he hadn't ordered anyone to take the hero alive at all costs. All he'd done was enchant his costumes, sit back, and wait for people's own unknowing choices to do them in...
"Evil Overlord List #186: I will not devise any scheme that consists of A) tricking the hero into unwittingly helping me and B) laughing at him and leaving him to his own devices."
Which his spell, in effect, had.
Bugger all. He was screwed.
And his plan had started out so well, too...
It's her, Ethan thought, watching the blonde put down the screaming pumpkin with a sense of unholy glee. The Slayer. Oh, this is just too good...
A shy redhead came over to the Slayer, and the blonde brightened. "What'd you get?"
"A time-honored classic!" The redhead held up one of his generic ghost costumes.
The Slayer's smile had an edge of sad patience. "Okay, Will, can I give you a little friendly advice?"
Oh, please do, Ethan thought, hovering just out of view. Ordinarily he'd be pleased enough to see any of his costumes chosen - it was, after all, their night - but this was far too good a chance to pass up. He'd already dealt with that idiot Ripper. Poor, tweedy Rupert Giles had walked in grumbling about being an adult supervisor, too distracted by his complaints of some idiot principal named Snyder and the charms of the lovely young Gypsy woman beside him to even notice the illusion masking Ethan's true features. Evidently Miss Calendar knew his old friend well; she didn't give Ripper time to talk himself out of anything, just headed straight for the cosplay rack, picking out a dark uniform that hinted of WWI Germany, pointed ears, a nape-length black wig, and a rather nice set of upper and lower snap-on fangs. Dreizhen, she'd said when Ethan asked if the costume represented anyone in specific. The hound who will protect his mistress, even in the depths of hell.
He'd literally had to stifle his laughter in his sleeve, ringing it up. Rupert Giles, the Ripper himself, a guardian hellhound. How perfectly fitting.
What a wondrous night this will be...
Not that Ripper would think so, given his lady friend had purchased the green tunic, silvery lightsaber, and other assorted gear of a Corellian Jedi.
Demon versus Jedi. That should be interesting,Ethan snickered. Short, but interesting.
Ah, the wondrous combinations his shop was spawning, bringing out the chaos hidden in every human soul. Werewolves, vampires, and leather-clad chainsaw maniacs had abounded, of course, but teens and no few adults had hit the racks of cosplay characters as well. Last he'd checked, one of almost every anime had been chosen, two dozen movie characters had joined the horde, Marvel and DC had been running neck and neck, and a few independent comic teams had been cleared out completely. He'd sold the last Bar Sinister costume to a youthful curly-blonde matron in a suit who'd discovered Signet's white outfit and black-tipped white wig squeezed into a corner like the ermine it was. The costume had lost a buckle in hiding; he'd offered to replace it, but she'd waved the damage off with a smile, saying that one of her daughter's old outfits would have an appropriate buckle she could purloin.
Theft for the thief. Appropriate indeed.
And the lovely list went on. A giggling redhead with braces had snatched up the lizard-touched costume of a movie Medusa. A football player trying too hard to be sneering and manly had taken the silken red bandana, sea-bleached clothes, and cutlass of a pirate; democratic, vicious - and notoriously tolerant of "nameless vices", as more prim and proper souls called homosexuality. A nose-in-the-air brunette had passed by the cosplay rack, heading for his sexiest Catwoman outfit - only to stop in her tracks and turn as if drawn by an iron chain, manicured fingers dancing over the tan trenchcoat, gray suit, and red ribbon cravat of one Detective Tatsuhiko Shido. And most memorably, a hapless, brown-haired geek of a lad by the name of Jonathan had screwed up his pitiful courage and purchased the dark, trick-laden suit and watch of England's most famous spy, complete with license to kill.
"Living's in the way we die," indeed.Ethan let a fond smile cross his face; Roger Moore had played the role well enough, but Pierce Brosnan had brought a certain deadly style back to the character.
And now the Slayer's friend, with all these wonderful possibilities, was only choosing to become an ordinary spirit? Pah!
The redhead looked even shyer, if that were possible. "It's not spooky enough?"
"It's just... you're never gonna get noticed if you keep hiding," the Slayer explained. "You're missing the whole point of Halloween."
The redhead smiled. "Free candy?"
"It's come as you aren't night!" the Slayer stated. "The perfect chance for a girl to get sexy and wild with no repercussions."
For a mind-dazzling instant, Ethan pictured the slender redhead in one of his modern succubus costumes. Wings, horns, a silken gold-embroidered bodice, tight black leather pants slit like tiger stripes... Janus, she'd be magnificent. And her evil would far outlast the night.
"Oh, I don't get wild," the redhead objected, shattering his pleasant fantasy. "Wild on me equals spaz."
"Don't underestimate yourself," the Slayer insisted. "You've got it in you."
The redhead glanced away, obviously wanting out of that too-uncomfortable contemplation. "Hey, Xander!"
A dark-haired teenage boy came over to them, eyes creased in a way that told Ethan he hadn't found quite what he was looking for. Pity. The chaos mage wanted satisfied customers. After all, they shouldn't have to live through this night - or not - with second-best...
"What'd you get?" the redhead asked.
Xander pulled a plastic handgun out of his bag and held it up, shrugging.
"That's not a costume," the Slayer objected.
Indeed not, Ethan thought distastefully. Another friend of the Slayer, choosing something so - so ordinary?
Xander gave her a Look, of the teenage male how-could-you-do-this-to-me kind, then turned to the redhead. "I got fatigues from an Army surplus at home. Last gun here, the grade-schoolers cleaned out everything else, but - this'll work. Call me the Two-Dollar Costume King, baby!"
Oh no, no, this will never do!Ethan straightened, ready and determined to step in. A Slayer's friend, going as a generic soldier on this Halloween, of all nights?
But the Slayer's eyes had caught on the gun, then followed Xander's gaze to the rack of wigs on the wall, lighting on a long chestnut beauty near the black ninja outfit hanging at the right edge of the cosplay costumes. Expensive, even after Ethan had discounted them. But so, so beautiful, full of the promise of magic and mayhem only Hollywood and the darkest depths of anime could deliver. "Xander," the Slayer said, not flinching as he pointed the handgun at her, "I'm... really sorry about this morning."
"Do you mind, Buffy? I'm trying to repress."
Buffy?Ethan thought, incredulous. Someone had the gall to name a Slayer-to-be... Buffy?
"Okay, then I promise, from now on I'll let you get pummeled." Buffy put her chin on Xander's shoulder, pouting attractively. "Think you could forgive me enough to consider a trade?"
"Depends," Xander said cautiously. "Does this trade involve Twinkies? 'Cause if so, sorry Buff, you're on your own."
"No - well - like I told Will, it's come as you aren't. One night I could not be... well, me. Not do what I have to do. A lot. To Mom, and school, and even Angel..." Buffy nodded toward the chestnut wig. "Didn't you tell me about that one guy with the cross, who never lies?"
"Duo?" The redhead's eyes went wide. "But... he's a guy..."
"So? Willow, this is the one night I have off - well, semi-off, thanks to Herr Snyder - and I want it to be a blast! And I want you two to have one, too. You know the character, right? Help me out, and I swear, I will chip in on anything in here."
Oh, thisis too good to miss. "Now, that's the promise of a true friend," Ethan smiled, stepping near their tight circle. "And given its generosity, I believe I can be equally generous. Fifteen percent off anything you need to assemble your three costumes. In honor of the night. But-" He held up a friendly, warning finger. "You must promise me you'll pick something interesting."
They blinked at him; wary, as anyone who'd dealt with the supernatural would be, but innocent. And because of that innocence, their eyes were already leaving his, searching the store for what they, deep in their hearts, wanted to be.
And then the three were a teenage whirlwind of gesturing and plucking hands, roaming the confines of his little shop in one tight knot of excited discussion. Two long wigs came down, silver and chestnut; a third for Willow was discussed but overruled with a claim by Buffy that she could tame real hair into the desired shape better. "Gryffindor!" Willow squeaked, snatching a set of gold-edged red robes. Xander grinned at her, and handed over an elegant wooden wand of polished oak with a Japanese bow. She curtsied in turn, offering a plastic katana to go with his red haori and hakama. Buffy handed over another set of snap-on fangs and a black-handled broom, receiving in their place a modified black priest's outfit, Xander's plastic gun, a plain black ball-cap, and a miniature scythe.
"Aren't you missing something?" Ethan said pleasantly, ringing them up. "I seem to recall overhearing something about a cross..."
"Got one already," Buffy admitted, shadows in green eyes.
"And I've got that nifty little heart locket of Will's, and she's got the brooch to pull off one wicked witch," Xander jumped in. "So we're set!"
"Animagus, not wicked witch," Willow corrected.
Ethan tuned out the rest of the argument, smirking to himself. Well. Here was a bonus he hadn't expected. They meant to complete his costumes with items of their own; pieces that held emotional and thus magical weight. The spell wasn't quite clear on what that might do to its effects - the incantation had originally been meant for organized worshippers, after all, who'd get their ritual outfits from one main priest - but it should allow his spell even greater hold than costumes alone.
But he had little time to dwell on the warm glow of satisfaction at the chaos-to-be. A certain tall, dark-haired sorcerer was stalking in just as the Slayer and her laughing friends skipped out the door, sneering at what he thought were ordinary teenagers. "Well?" the man only known as Bengal demanded.
I swear, I'm never getting plastered in a demon bar again. What good are wonderful ideas for chaos if killjoys like this overhear them?"Do you know how few people choose to dress as Japanese demons on this night?" Ethan said archly. "Oni, tengu, youkai - I have them all on the shelf, and barely any-"
"Kitsune," Bengal said darkly. "I told you, I need a kitsune. Or I go straight to the Mayor with your little plan. He's put a lot of effort into the dark order holding this town dumb and happy while demons prey on it. If he hears about your planned night of chaos, there won't be a scrap of you left when he's through."
"And if you did that, this would do you no good whatsoever." With a casual snap of fingers, Ethan flipped an index card with a name and address toward the arrogant sorcerer. "Try not to leave the little darling where she'll make a mess, hmm? She will be human again at sunrise. As will any - er - detached remnants."
"The summons needs fresh blood," Bengal snorted. "The kitsune has to stay alive until the ceremony succeeds, or Inari might step in."
"Not a good idea, annoying rice-goddesses," Ethan observed off-handedly. "If I might be so bold - how do you intend to hold a creature of illusion?"
"Snatch the twit while she's still human, of course." Bengal smirked.
Ethan's dark brows twitched upward. "Not very sporting."
"You're the only fool who wants sport in this town." Card vanishing into his sleeve, Bengal swirled out.
"Indeed I do," Ethan murmured later as the shadows of the hallowed evening lengthened, adorned and purified to cast Janus' transmuting spell. "And if you're fool enough to injure an innocent kitsune kit on a night full of demons and heroes..." He shrugged, and smiled. "Sayonara, Bengal-chan.
"Janus, evoco vestram animam..."
Awareness snapping into place, the swordsman breathed in, nerves on fire with the odd sliding sensation of muscle and bone coalescing out of air and elements and magic.
And blood, he knew, tasting it in the candle smoke. A fiery wick burned at each of the five points around him, guiding magic as it swept up the last bits of elements into twilight-blue gi and haori, gray hakama, and dark-hilted swords at his side. Purple-gray lightning crackled between him and five jade bowls, dissolving their contents: embers, white quartz, a small silver-and-copper ring of mokume gane, sea water, and a branch of windswept pine. Absorbing their very essence, linked by chalked kanji and a trail of still-wet blood.
Her blood, the swordsman realized, violet eyes blinking into focus on the tiny fox-child whimpering in the corner of this echoing basement, blood spotting her blue vest and hakama, fox ears torn and raw, red welling from slit wrists as she struggled weakly against spell-marked straw ropes. Lightning burned wet red to ash-black; he felt his first heartbeat, and knew the ritual was complete. Hold on, little one. Hold on...
"So that maniac Rayne wasn't lying. Even if she's only kitsune for one night... she truly is kitsune." A tall, dark-haired gaijin strode out of the smoke, black robes like a Jesuit's flapping around him, curled scroll in hand. "And with the blood of the demon fox, I gain the service of that fiercer demon whose name whispers fear on the winds of Yamato even to this day..." He stopped. Blinked. Looked up, across... and finally, down.
The swordsman didn't - quite - fume. I'm not that short!
Funny. He hadn't felt this sensitive about his height in a very long time. Not since he was a... teenager...
A quick glance at his hands was enough, even in the flickering candlelight. Smooth and pale under the leather arm-guards; just touched with callus, where sword-work took its toll. Not the weathered hands of the retired swordsman and healer who had died peacefully so long ago; not even the work-worn hands of the wandering rurouni. Hands he hadn't seen since before the battle of Toba Fushimi.
Suddenly panicked, he reached for the memory of those wandering years. Loss, victory, love and peaceful content... they were still there, but faded. He knew them, he could feel them; and yet, it was as if they'd happened to someone else.
K'so. Okita said returning would cost me, but I never expected this-
"You are the Demon of Kyoto?" the gaijin sorcerer said, voice flat with disbelief.
The redheaded swordsman didn't so much as twitch. "Hai." With those memories strongest... yes, he was Battousai once more.
One only hopes I'm a little wiser this time.
The sorcerer hmphed. "I am known as Bengal. And you will serve me."
A red brow went up.
"I said, you will... don't turn your back on me!"
Stalking to the edge of the kanji-marked circle, the swordsman tapped a finger against empty air. Frowned as purple sparks flew from that contact, repelling his finger as if it were the wrong end of a magnet. Well, that's never happened before... kami, I need more light! Something looked wrong, oddly wrong about his hands, and even a hitokiri's night-sight couldn't make it out by dying candlelight.
The kit whimpered, foxy yips that pierced his heart. :Hurts! Help!:
Coldly angry, he growled back. :Adult here. Kit quiet.: His breath caught in his throat. I... said what?
Kitsune blood. The little one's blood, woven into the spell that had given him back breath and form in this world. The spell that had been his only chance to escape the gentle prison that had held him, with the best of intentions, when he did not wish to be held...
It will cost you, Okita had warned him, in that mist beyond time. I know who you seek, and I know what form she was born in. She is not truly human anymore. And if you take this path, neither will you be...
"It's useless," the sorcerer's sneer broke into faded memory. "No demon can pass those wards without my permission - what are you doing?"
Steel rang out of the redhead's sheath, sweeping over the stained gray floor at ultrasonic speed. "Dou Ryuu Sen!"
Concrete shattered. Taking the sorcerer's binding kanji with it.
The next stroke took his head.
"As an ally of mine might yet say, aku soku zan." Shaking the blood from his blade, the swordsman waited a moment, uneasily aware that those who worked magic might have more than one life.
The kit whined. :Cold. Hurts...:
:Adult here.: He sheathed his sword, scooping the little girl's light form off the chill floor, cradling her against him as that odd, comforting rumble rose in his throat. He didn't try to fight it. Kitsune or not, she was a child. And he would never deny a child comfort. :Predator gone. Safe-:
He hissed as straw touched his skin, shifting quickly to put the arm-guards' leather between himself and that sudden heat. The ropes... burned me?
Enchanted ropes. Meant to hold demons. As that binding circle had held him, before he'd raised his ki through his sword to shatter the ground beneath it. Ki that felt - not tamed and trained, as it had been since his fourth year with Shishou, but... wild. Restless. Darkly playful, like a fox pouncing on mice under snow.
Oh. Dear. Gods.
Later. He'd worry on it later. Right now, he had a young one to look after. And there were stairs, leading up and out-
Don't leave the scroll!
Impulse; he listened to it. Snatched up the paper that had called him back into the world, tucked the kit more firmly into his arms, and bolted out of this hellhole.
"'Tousan," the little fox-girl murmured into his haori, snuggling close as he bounded up into a darkened gaijin house, following the draft of night air. "Hurts-"
"Shh." A mortal child might have died of the blood-loss. She was youkai; she should be healing. Yet her wrists still bled. He bent to sniff them, mindful of the perilous ropes. Human saliva... he licked the blade before he slashed her, the bastard. The spit carries his hate; and she's only a child. She won't heal. Unless...
Gingerly, wincing every time his face brushed straw, he licked the wounds clean. She yipped at the first touch of tongue, but endured it with flattened ears when he growled.
How do I know to do this? How did I know that scent... kami, there are somany scents...
That's just like you, baka deshi,his shishou's voice snorted out of memory. Always thinking with your heart instead of your head. Jump right into the fray, and never mind what you do to yourself in the process.
But Hiko hadn't been there, in that place of mist and gentleness. And Okita had - and both of them had friends in danger.
And it was worth it, it was; he felt the little girl's ki strengthening, drawing off his own to heal. There. He winced, face feeling distinctly sunburned. But the light from the street was strong enough that he could see her wounds clearly, blood fading to scabs fading to thin, red lines across her wrists.
As he could see the razor points on his white nails, as he gripped the little kit close. What have I become?
"You're not 'Tousan!" Her dark nose worked, blue eyes widening. "You're a hanyou!"
I suppose she would know, he thought dryly. "Himura Kenshin, that I am. I am-" A hitokiri. A swordsman. A widower twice over.
A lost soul, escaped from Heaven.
"-A rurouni," he finished.
"A wanderer? I'll bet! I didn't know there were any kitsune-hanyou!" Despite the ropes, she smiled at him, wide and happy and not a little cocky. "I'm Shippou! Where's Inuyasha? He's going to be looking for me, you know; it's a good thing you got to that enchanter first, or dog-boy would've flattened him-"
Kenshin stifled his first reaction - Isn't Shippou a boy's name? - and his second - Dog Forest Demon? Oh kami, I am in trouble - and settled on, "Shippou-kun?"
"How is it we are both speaking English?"
"Um..." The kit frowned, thinking fast.
Screams drew them both to the nearest window. Kenshin held up the girl so she could peer through cracked glass, and almost wished he hadn't.
Chaos reigned on foreign streets. Humans screamed and ran, while monsters and oddly-dressed foreigners roamed and fought, spilling blood, acid, and other fluids over asphalt and odd metal contraptions that some fragment of faded memory insisted were cars.
Horse-less carriages? I remember seeing them, before I left this earth, but nothing so oddly shaped... how long has it been?
"Damn it!" Shippou wrestled with straw, hissing. "If I could just get these ropes off-!"
"Language, young one," Kenshin said automatically, tucking her into his left arm so he could still fight. "Let's go find a helpful human."
More easily said than done. Most fled as soon as he headed for the fights; those that did not, usually needed the blunt side of his blade to put down. Their ki - it's like Shippou's, he realized, wishing the summoning spell had formed a sakabatou rather than daisho. Using mineuchi in the middle of a fight he didn't understand left him all too aware he might be leaving unconscious enemies at his back. They feel of youki - at least, I think that's youki - but even in most of the monsters, there seems to be human ki as well, deep in the darkness. "Only kitsune for one night"?
"They're humans!" Shippou said after a few sniffs. "This is some kind of spell!"
"So it would seem," Kenshin agreed, sighing as he realized he was once again standing in an empty street. Perhaps they could try gaining entrance to one of the odd, lighted dwellings lining the road; though from the fear of those within, the residents were very unlikely to open the doors. "Yet who could have cast it-"
"Hold it right there!" a young woman's voice snapped.
Feeling the grim intent behind her words, Kenshin gripped the kit tighter. She thinks I intend Shippou harm; she will shoot if she must. But from the feel of her ki, she'd prefer not to-
And he truly felt her ki... and stopped cold in his tracks.
"That's it. Put the kid down, nice and easy..."
He turned, and almost laughed.
A darkened street. That ki. Those eyes, touched with fear, but bright with determination. And a weapon, however strange, pointing straight at him.
Even with Battousai uppermost in his soul, Kenshin wanted to smile. Only one thing to do.
Oh god, the teenage girl with the chestnut braid thought, almost groaning. Not the Innocent Look. I can't stand the Innocent Look...
She hated the Innocent Look. Quatre had the Innocent Look down to an art, and Quatre was a Gundam pilot, for Shinigami's sake! And... this guy... was...
Blinking at her. Innocently. All violet eyes, and small frame, and long, tied-back mane of hair scarlet as maple leaves, flowing like flame from an antique ronin's topknot. Five-foot-two of pure, redheaded bish.
I am not drooling.
"Who are you?" a brash little girl's voice jumped in.
"Duo Maxwell," the older girl said, lowering her sidearm and sketching a half-bow. She considered freeing the miniature thermal scythe slung under her jacket; decided to leave that option in reserve, for now. "I run, I hide, but I never lie. And what are you?"
Even bound in rice-straw ropes, the little girl managed to look insulted, white-tipped tail twitching. "I'm a fox!" Dummy, her tone added.
"She truly is," redheaded Japanese cuteness said wryly, bowing in return. Making it look natural, even with those paired swords in his belt. "Kenshin... Himura, I believe is the way you say it here. Wherever 'here' may be."
Not one hundred percent cute, Duo realized, as street light caught on Himura's sunburned cheeks. Two blade-scars had left a rough cross on the redhead's left cheek, almost distracting unwitting observers from the depth in violet eyes.
But Duo Maxwell, Shinigami, pilot of the Gundam Deathscythe, had never been an unwitting observer.
Innocent, yes; but an innocence hard-won, held and treasured through the worst humans could do to each other. A pure, deep faith that had seen the blood and the tears and the depths of despair, and still believed life was worth it all.
And like Quatre, Himura moved with the easy grace of one who knew Death had moved into the small cubby next door just to cut down on his daily commute.
An assassin, Duo thought, relieved. Himura moved like a pro, and a pro would never linger in plain view, kid or no kid. Much less walk up to a knowing target.
Which means he wants a truce, 'cause he knows he's in just as much trouble as I am.
"Sunnydale, California," Duo said easily, nodding toward a nice patch of shadows off the side of the street. Standing in plain sight made the skin between her shoulder-blades itch, expecting a bullet. "At least, that's what the local lavender-haired weirdo in a trenchcoat said." She shrugged. "Maybe not the most straightforward girl I ever ran into, but hey, detectives are like that even when they aren't saying they're vampires. And her guesses tally with the photographic evidence. As far as that goes; OZ could fake it all, easy. But why the hell would they make half the town think they were monsters?"
"I have never heard of this OZ," Kenshin admitted, following her behind the slender cover of shrubbery lining this part of the street. Light still glanced off them here, but it was the flickering yellow of a candle in a carved pumpkin on the porch behind them, not the glaring actinic white of the street lamps. "A lavender-haired vampire?"
"Yeah. Golden slit eyes, fake fangs, sword of blood - whole Halloween gig."
"Halloween?" the fox-girl asked.
Duo smacked herself on the forehead. "Right, Japanese, Heero didn't know it either... autumn festival. You see it in the American area, and most of the L2 colonies. People carve pumpkins, get dressed up in costumes, go around begging for candy..." Her words trailed off.
A corner of her mind noted that Kenshin did not automatically follow her gaze, instead intensifying his scans of their surroundings while she focused on the bright wrappers scattered near the carved pumpkin, and felt immeasurably cheered. Backup. I have backup. "Candy."
"Candy?" Fox ears perked up; the girl wriggled free of Kenshin's arm. "Mine!" Tripped over her own fox paws, and eeped as the ground neared-
Kenshin's hand caught her shoulder. "Careful, Shippou."
"Chikuso ropes!" the fox kit growled.
"Your 'Kaasan's going to wash your mouth out, kid," Duo warned, bending to the rice straw knot. Funny; it didn't look that complicated. Why hadn't Kenshin untied it? Even if they'd been in one hell of a hurry, she would have thought he could've slashed the rope.
Hands on the braided strands, she paused. Something felt - off. Like a note of panic, from deep inside.
Something doesn't want me to do this.
Duo touched her cross, feeling its weight of memories push that something back and away. Scowled at the night. What the hell was that?
Well, whatever it was, it could just take a flying leap off the nearest cliff. Fox, little girl, whatever - nobody deserved to be tied up like this.
I'm going to die, Buffy Summers thought, trapped behind Duo Maxwell's personality. She could see the light burns on Kenshin's cheeks - magical burns, not sunburn, like the barest touch of her cross to Angel's vampire flesh - and she knew damn well why Kenshin hadn't untied Shippou. I'm going to go down in the Watcher's List of Incredibly Stupid Ways for a Slayer to Die - they've got to have a list, Giles has lists for everything. And I'm going to be the first entry for "Took Holy Seal Off Innocent-Looking Demon While Under Crazy Transformation Spell". Perfect. Oh, I could just hurl-
Rice straw fell free, and Shippou yipped in pure delight, pouncing on the candy like... well, a fox.
"Is that safe?" Kenshin asked in a low undertone. "Her nose is better than mine, but she is just a child."
"Halloween candy, and it's still wrapped," Duo answered, snatching a few bars herself. "Should be fine to eat." She waved a Kit-Kat under the redhead's nose. "Want some?"
"Er... arigatou." Looking slightly dubious, Kenshin tore open the package and bit in. Blinked. Chewed, very carefully. "...Different," he said at last.
"Nan demo nai,"Duo waved it off.
Oh, and add to that "Trusted Somebody I Knew Was An Assassin, BECAUSE I Knew He Was An Assassin",Buffy fumed. Damn it, Xander! You told me Duo was neat. You didn't say he was nuts!
Oh god, Xander. Willow. Cordelia. And who knew how many helpless kids, as trapped as she was. All of whom she'd left behind - for what Duo thought were good and valid reasons.
I shot Angel. Ishot Angel.
What the hell was I thinking?
But it hadn't been her. It'd been Duo, whose all too sane and lucid paranoia had added together her sudden displacement of location, inability to contact Deathscythe, apparent photographic deception showing ordinary versions of her, Willow, and Xander in the Summers house, and Angel's transformation in her kitchen from seeming human to obvious monster as he grappled with a costume-transformed vampire, and come up with run like hell.
Only "running" includes "shootboth monsters, just to be sure", Buffy groaned mentally, beating her intangible head against an imaginary wall. At least I've got regular bullets; both of them ought to be able to get up afterwards. But if the Scoobies cut loose-
Willow's young version of Professor McGonagall probably wouldn't use an Unforgivable Curse. Maybe. She hoped. The animagus had always seemed like a pretty level-headed character in the books, if a little blind to the dark magic sweeping through Hogwarts. She was more likely to leave little monsters wrapped up in magical sticky-tape than do anything really permanent.
Cordelia was probably safe too; if Buffy remembered those episodes of the Midnight Detective right, Shido wouldn't hurt a human. At least, if he had any other choice. Cordelia, playing the nice guy fighting to keep his humanity when he knows he's one bite away from being a monster? And she said I had issues.
Xander was another story.
I kind of wish those two hadn't talked me into watching the anime...
On the plus side, the fanged, clawed, half-demon creature Xander had become probably stood the best chance of all of them of surviving the chaos. It wasn't a new moon, and there was damn little that could take down Inuyasha any other night.
Unless somebody went as Sesshoumaru. Or Naraku... whoof, morbid much? Just because we've got a girl as Shippou over there, doesn't mean we've got the rest of the show scattered around somewhere.
Hang on. Wedo have a Shippou over there. Which means she'll be looking for Inuyasha - and I could get back to Xander! Suddenly hopeful, Buffy shoved at the overlying personality. If I could just - come on, come on-
"Your parents around here anywhere, kid?" Duo asked.
Fox feet shuffled. "Nah. They've been gone a long time." The kit brightened. "Kagome and Inuyasha take care of me now. Have you seen them? Kagome's about so high-" she stretched up as far as she could reach, "-and she wears this neat short kimono and carries a yellow backpack. Unless Inuyasha's grabbed it, so he can snatch the ramen-"
"Inuyasha?" Duo jumped in. "Long white hair, huge sword, fuzzy dog ears, claws, fangs, general bad attitude?"
Fox ears pricked up. "You met him!"
"Maybe." She glanced at Kenshin, trying to convey to a fellow shadow-walker her reluctant doubts about heading anywhere near the whole tangled mess. "It was... pretty confused back there."
No! No!Buffy slammed against the Gundam pilot's will, all but tearing out her mental hair in frustration. That's Xander! We've got to get back to Xander!
Kenshin cocked his head, studying her.
"What?" Duo asked. "Something in my braid? Man, I knew I should've been a few feet farther back when I shot- hey!"
Fluid as shadow, the assassin was suddenly there, one sword-callused hand gently cupping her cheek. Violet eyes peered into hers, deep and gentle as summer twilight.
Move. I should move.
But she and Duo were equally frozen, caught in that steely tenderness that felt so much like Quatre.
Safe, Buffy realized, as silk-clad arms whispered around her, drawing her close. She felt the hard lump of a hilt-guard against her hip, the softness of red hair nestled against her shoulder, the warm flutter of his breath along her neck. He feels... safe.
"Vanilla," Kenshin breathed into her ear, as if it were the most wonderful word in the world. "Gunpowder, sugared corn, the dust of the undead... none of those scents were yours before."
Vampire dust? I haven't staked anybody since last night - wait. He can smell that?
"Yet none of it matters. Your ki is the same. Your heart, your spirit - the same. Even in another life, you are still yourself..."
"Ewww!" Shippou's face scrunched up. "Get a room!"
Duo broke away, uneasily aware the redhead's strength was enough to have made a fight of it if he'd wanted. "You, are acting way too weird," she pointed out, breathing hard. "What the hell...?"
Another life, Buffy thought, equally shocked. Giles said something about... the dreams I have. Of being someone else. Lots of someone elses. A tavern girl. A slave in Virginia. All Slayers remember other lives. Other Slayers, who lived before. Died before.
No way. No. Way.
"Dark magic pervades this night, and I know you know not who to trust, that you do not. Yet know this." Kenshin knelt before her, swords placed carefully aside. "I came to aid you. If you will allow me."
Full-on formal samurai,Duo thought, wide-eyed. He's offering help. Straight-up. No strings attached.
Bowed red hair. Wistful violet eyes. The threat of danger, singing along her nerves.
"A sword is a weapon,"a faint dream whispered. "The art of swordsmanship is learning how to kill..."
His voice.Buffy felt her fingers clench, even with Duo controlling them. I know his voice.
"You two are weirding me out," Shippou observed, sing-song. "Can we go find Inuyasha? Please?"
"Okay, kid," Duo conceded. "But if he tries waving that Tetsuseiga near my braid again, I'm out of there."
Buffy let out a mental sigh of relief. Right! Find Xander. And if we're lucky, we'll find Willow, and Cordy - and Angel-
Oh god, Angel...
She shot me!Angel cast a wary glance at his three companions as they made their way through Sunnydale's chaotic streets, wondering when Cordelia would drop the "vampire with a human heart" act and lunge for somebody's throat. Willow as a determined British sorceress sticking child-demons to walls and trees with a wave of her wand, he could take; he just used his best manners and tried to avoid any hint of an Irish accent, and so far he was fine. Xander as an inu-hanyou was a lot more problematic; Angel had already seen the boy dig his claws into steel and casually tip a car over onto one persistent human-turned-monster, and he had a bad feeling he did not want to see Xander cut loose with that sword. Cordelia's blood-sword was bad enough, slashing through vampire and monstrous flesh like enchanted steel. If she suddenly decided she was thirsty, their uneasy alliance would tear like sun-rotted bandages.
And the one person he'd been counting on to hold it together had bolted like a scared ferret.
I can't believe she shot me!
"It's probably not her fault," Cordelia - who insisted her name was Shido, and I'm watching you, Breed, so don't twitch wrong - noted. "Whatever brought us here, or let us possess the people you say you know, or whatever's really going on - it seems to have hit us all with some kind of short-term amnesia. She certainly didn't recognize herself in those family pictures."
Well. Angel relaxed a hair. Maybe he had misjudged this girl when they'd met in the Bronze the other night. That was almost... nice.
"Though I'm not sure I'd admit to recognizing myself if it was me in those photos," Cordelia went on dryly. "After all, right now she's pulling off the urban guerilla look. Not exactly the type who wants people to know they once let themselves be caught on film with nice, normal kids..."
"Shut up, bitch," Xander snarled.
Green eyes glowed inhuman gold, as Cordelia gave him a look that the glamour queen of Sunnydale High must have kept locked in the freezer for special occasions. "Excuse me?"
The hanyou cracked his knuckles. "You need your ears reamed out? You've got to, 'cause if you didn't, even a weak human could hear those youkai and oni out there. I can't believe nothing's tried to eat you yet. No matter how you stink."
"He's likely referring to the vervain and rowan in your herbal bodywash, Detective Shido," Willow commented, wand gripped and ready. "I detected a hint of it mixed with your perfume when we were in the house. A rather primitive defense without the proper intermixed spells of ward and repulsion, but it would give a small degree of repellent effect against most creatures of demonic origin. At least," she amended thoughtfully, "so long as they had a choice of other prey."
Fangs gleamed in Xander's grin. "Like I said. She stinks."
"Huh. And me without time for a spa and shower." Cordelia smirked back. "Live with it, inu-chan."
Angel didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Are you sure Buffy came this way?"
The hanyou leapt a few paces ahead of them, dropping to his haunches to sniff at the sidewalk. "Think so."
"Hey, I saw that mess in the kitchen. She'll be okay," Cordelia said plainly.
"Buffy would be okay. Whoever she is now, she's helpless." At least as far as Sunnydale was concerned. Bullets didn't stop vampires. Bullets didn't stop a lot of things. "C'mon!"
"Do you hear that, my friends?" Spike grinned as he hid behind a tree upwind of the Slayer's merry crew. A pack of children turned monsters nodded and growled at him, salivating at the implications of Angel's words.
A helpless Slayer,the bleached-blond vampire thought gleefully. This night is beyond neat! He'd have to see if he could catch her, and bring her home to Dru. His beautiful, frail, insane Pet might need her sire's blood to be truly strong again, but Slayer blood couldn't hurt.
"Somewhere out there is the tenderest meat you've ever tasted... and all we have to do is find her first!"
"...find her first!"
Shido Tatsuhiko frowned, listening to the wind as she followed her strange companions. So someone else was looking for Duo - or Buffy, as Angel insisted her real name was. I should go after him... no, bad idea. Duo's human, not helpless; she can take that jackass if he catches up with her. And Mr. Vampire-With-Soul up there is just waiting for me to lose it and bite somebody.
Probably Inuyasha; or as Angel insisted, Xander. Shido almost rolled green eyes. As if she'd be so childish as to attack a kid, even a fanged, dog-eared kid, whose only problems were a foul mouth and a tendency to let his heart override his head when it came to his friends. If insulting her let the youngster blow off steam before he lost his head and started shredding the landscape, she could deal.
Besides, Angel's convinced he's areal vampire. He's never going to believe I heard something he didn't.
Real vampire, hell. Angel didn't have a pulse. Didn't have a heartbeat. Wasn't even breathing, except when he needed to talk. Had shifted, in a way Shido and Cain and all the other vampires Shido had ever met never could, face lumpy and monstrous when his fangs were set free.
Vampire? No way in hell. Nightbreed - that I'll believe.White scarf fluttering in the wind, Shido considered her options. If I hold out to sunrise... I'll be singed, but he ought to be toast.
A good backup plan. She hoped she didn't need it. Bizarre as his story was, Angel didn't seem to be lying.
It'd explain the pictures in Duo's house,the vampire detective thought. Cordelia Chase's driver's license - an American license, no less - in my pocket by my P.I. card. The sheer randomness of the monsters and people loose in the streets. The way none of us seems to know what happened between the last thing we remember and suddenly being here.
The last she remembered, she'd been leaning back in her office chair, discussing yet another Nightbreed attack with Yayoi, waving off Riho's refill, and listening to Guni's happy sigh as the little green fairy leaned back against Shido's steaming coffee mug. Just because blood was the only food that did Shido any good, didn't mean she didn't enjoy the taste of good, strong coffee. Besides, a detective's office just wouldn't seem right without a half-empty mug ensconced on the desk.
Atmosphere, Riho, she'd told the teen once, when the young girl tried to make the office too neat. Clients don't come here for a cleaning service.
They don't come here for the dust bunnies either, Mr. Shido!the little redhead had pointed out, exhibiting her rare temper.
Mr. Shido, the detective realized, stunned. Glanced down at what was under her plain white shirt and mustard vest. Nope, definitely not a Mister.
And she hadn't noticed until now. Just as she couldn't remember anything between the office and snapping back to consciousness on an American sidewalk. Which meant Angel's story had just made a quantum leap in credibility. Hell.
So... what? I'm possessing a high school girl?
"Dliw sdniw tfil em tfola!"
"Zatanna?" Angel blurted, shocked, staring up at a woman in blue and white belted tunic, fluttering white cape, and an odd red headdress as she soared into the night, hurling lightning at a giggling green goblin-creature in purple riding some kind of bat-winged rocket. "And... oh god, tell me we didn't have a comic book club dress up..."
The goblin hurled glowing pumpkins down, cackling madly as it swooped past and away. Shido reacted on instinct, nipping her thumb and forming a sword from blood and will. Leap, strike, block-
Green-glowing pumpkins exploded against razor-edged blood and a transformed fang of a sword, hung in the air in front of McGonagall's wand a few seconds more before imploding in flames.
"Nice," Angel said numbly from the midst of them, eyes wider than usual. "You know, when you get back to normal, Buffy's going to kill me."
"A fate I'd not think would concern you, sir," McGonagall noted. "Given that, by your very nature as one of the Undead, you have died once before."
"Say what?" Shido and Inuyasha said as one.
"It's how a vampire is made, is it not?" the arcane professor went on. "The master drains his victim, then forces the mortal to drink his blood before death occurs. The victim perishes, lies as dead for a day or three, depending on the mystical environment, then rises from its grave as a creature of the night."
"Pretty much," Angel started.
"Since when?" Inuyasha jumped in before Shido could. "K'so - you're saying your kyuuketsuki are earth and bones? That's sick!"
"Explains the demonic aspect, though," Shido noted dryly.
"That's... not how you were made?" Angel asked warily.
"Drained blood, yeah. Drank blood, yeah. Die?" Shido smiled wryly, letting her fangs show. "Death is the only sure way to stop the change. Your heart slows down while the vampire's taking over, sure, but it never stops."
Angel shut his jaw. "You don't have a demon inside you."
"Hells, no, she doesn't," Inuyasha snorted, loping back onto the trail. "Think I wouldn't smell her jyaki? Like I smell yours? Come on!"
So I was right. Angel is a Breed. Sort of.Stalking in Inuyasha's wake, the vampire eyed the blood-sword in her hand. This body feels like mine. Acts like mine. Reacts like mine.
...But that's what the Breed think about their hosts, too.
Kami. If she'd become what she'd fought for over a century-
No,Shido thought fiercely. I'd never take over a living soul. I swore I'd never take a human life again!
They'd become what they dressed as, Angel had said. What kind of idiot young woman would dress as a vampire?
Ah, wait. Reasoning ahead of your evidence, Shido told herself firmly. Stick to your facts. Fact, Angel knows Cordelia. Fact, since Mr. Souled and Angsty up there went fangy in front of her, Cordelia knows Angel as a vampire. Deduction - Cordelia has the brains not to dress up as that.
Several possible Cordelias vanished from her mental landscape. The brunette photo she'd glimpsed earlier softened, lost some of its ditzy edge.
Think of that photo. The girl was made up with style. High-class feminine to the hilt. But for tonight-Shido rubbed a finger over her lips, nodded. No makeup. She dressed as a guy. Okay; she's got nerve, and enough self-confidence to risk looking weird in a stylish fashion. At least on Halloween.
Specifically, she dressed as a private detective. The kind of person the silk suits would rather not remember exists, until they need us to spy on their lovers, spouses, employees, or random politicians. So... good guess her parents have cash, but not as much as they think they should. Likely they're grooming Miss Prep to flash her assets and marry up. And by assets, they definitely donot mean a bright, insightful mind.
Now the hint of wariness on the driver's license fell into place. Beautiful, sure. Trained to be. Probably even wanting to be, given her age; from the hints Riho dropped about her high school, kids were vicious to anyone who looked just a little off. Prettiness equaled protection. To a point.
Photos again, Shido thought. Or more accurately, a lack of photos; Cordelia wasn't in Buffy's pictures. But Angel and the others seemed to feel responsible for her. High class and fashionable, being looked out for by a "vampire" who dresses like a leather street tough and kids that have to be struggling just to stay socially acceptable, Shido thought bleakly. She's outside even the outsiders.
Gods, but Shido could empathize with that. She might remember only flashes of her life before Cain had turned her to the night, but she could still feel the aching hurt of being neither European nor Japanese, of trying to fit into a formal world of suits and ball gowns, of struggling to study and learn medicine in a country that saw her slanted eyes and odd-colored hair and whispered demon.
As if she were already a creature of the night. Doomed to become the murderer Cain had led her to be.
But I stopped,Shido thought fiercely. I stopped. I couldn't remember who I was - but I knew what I was doing was wrong.
Despite all Cain could do, I still have a human heart.
And so do you, Cordelia. I don't know if you can hear me, I don't know if you're here - but believe. Believe in yourself. Believe in your friends. Their hearts reach out to yours, and that will save you.
Slightly ahead, Inuyasha stopped. Jerked his head up, ears pricked forward, sniffing the night. "Demons!"
"Transformed kids-" Angel started.
A short woman in torn denim jeans and vest with spiky dreadlocks and a gold chain dangling from the stud in her left nostril to her ear sauntered out of the shadows, eyes expanding into mirrors of night. "Here they are, Skinner. The ones I've seen. The ones who'd keep us from summoning our Mother home." Black nails waved at the spiky creature that had patchwork flesh pasted over its bones; she cast a knowing, cruel smile over her shoulder, where red eyes glowed in the shadows. "Don't look like much, do they?"
"Lilin!" Skinner fisted his hands, blades of bone punching through the flesh of his forearms. "Take them!"
In the endless instant before the fight began, Shido's lips twitched into a wry smile. And if you are listening, Cordelia... it couldn't hurt if you try to believe in me, too.
If I get out of this in one piece, I swear, I'm going to hunt down Sunnydale's comic book freaks and barbecue their whole stash!Cordelia thought, huddling within herself as Shido threw her body into the fray. Who the hell decided to go as Nakota, demonic seer and daughter of Lilith, mother of demons?
She didn't recognize most of the Lilin attacking them, but that was no surprise; Lilith's children had ranged through half a dozen comic book lines, and she'd mostly stuck to the Nightstalkers. The others were all horror. Nightstalkers at least had dry humor, mostly courtesy of detective and reluctant vampire Hannibal King.
Which was why the combination of trenchcoat and slightly antique suit in Ethan's shop had caught her eye in the first place.
She'd meant to get a drop-dead-sexy, shut-your-mouth Catwoman costume - or as close as she could find, Partytown was closed with some kind of avian flu, which meant the costume her parents had paid for was just not an option. After all, if Mr. I'm-the-lead-singer-I'm-so-great-I-don't-have-to-show-up-for-my-date-or-even-call was going to be playing at the Shelter Club instead of trapped like the rest of them in Snyder's chains of volunteerism, she'd make sure he heard all the rumors of what he was missing. She'd seen leather and spandex, headed for it in a huff-
And stopped, drawn by impulse back to the coat that looked as if it'd stepped right out of Prohibition's mean streets.
Tatsuhiko Shido, the cosplay card had said. Turned by the vampire Cain while studying medicine in Europe, he remembered nothing of his human life and slaughtered dozens for their blood. Now, in Tokyo, Shido protects innocents from the demonic Nightbreed as a private detective, working with NOS detective Yayoi Matsunaga, trying to hold onto his humanity and atone for his dark past...
The anime character was slim for a guy, not much taller than his human partner. The suit was just about her size.
And it was Halloween. The one night you could dress like anything, even a doctor, and no one would care.
As long as her parents didn't catch her at it.
Lucky me, Cordelia thought now, watching from behind her own eyes as Shido slashed through a guy who seemed to be nothing but tentacles in human form. These freaks would have Catwoman for lunch.
Blood parted tentacles into four roughly-even wiggling lumps; Shido let her sword collapse into blood on top of them, sizzling demonic flesh.
"Tempus fugit alto! Cincula lumiere!"
Frozen by Willow's well-cast spell, Bad Timing yelped, then gagged on bonds of light.
"Look, we can talk-" Ripping a street sign out of the concrete, Angel stabbed the metal pole through the heart of something slithery and venomous. "Or not."
Bones cut through like kindling, Skinner fell away from Xander in a clattering, fleshy heap. Which stayed still a moment - then rattled, and stirred, and started slowly reassembling itself. "Why can't you just die!" the hanyou seethed, chopping and dicing bone into Lilin powder. More creatures were closing in on him and Willow; possibly Lilin, possibly just who-knew-what persuaded by the massive aura of evil that surrounded all of Lilith's children.
Sucking in breath, Shido nipped her thumb, drew another blade, and went after Nakota. You didn't need to have read the comics to spot the seer. As long as she was free, the others had forewarning of their moves.
I hate to even think it - but we need Buffy,Cordelia realized. Or Mr. Giles. Or somebody. Heck, I could even go for Mrs. Summers right now. From what I heard Buffy say - and she'd know! - she's way handy with an axe.
Angel had wondered out loud where she was just after he'd convinced the three transformed teens not to attack him, muttering something about having to get the vacuum out before he had to explain vampire dust on the floor to Buffy's mom.
Wish I could tell him she's okay. She didn't get kidnapped, she's just off throwing a party at the gallery for her best clients, showing off some mysterious hermit artist guy's pottery. A party my parents are probably sucking the joy out of as we speak-
A. Costume. Party.
Ohmigod. My parents. Are in costumes. At Mrs. Summers' gallery.
Oh, it can'tget any worse...
Mokume gane- "wood-eye metal". A specific 19th century and modern jewelry technique developed for precious metals from the folding-and-pounding techniques of sword-making.
Youkai- "demon", supernatural creature.
Kitsune- fox. Or fox-demon.
Dou Ryuu Sen- Earth Dragon Strike.
Aku soku zan. "Evil. Swift. Slay." Sometimes translated as, "Destroy evil, instantly."
Mineuchi- Using the blunt side of the sword to strike, instead of the edge.
Youki- demon energy.
K'so- "Damn", beastly.
Jyaki- aura of demon power.
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