"When is that jerk going to get here?!" Buffy asked in frustration as she peeked one more time out the library window.
"Well you know Buff' he's probably making sure that all his affairs are in order before coming to get us. You know, things like bequeathing his weapons, things that assassins do when they know they're gonna get their butts kicked." He said trying to dispel the blonde Slayer's growing impatience with humor, "I'm sure he'll be here just as soon as he decides whether he wants his body buried or cremated."
Everyone had a bit of a good chuckle at that including Giles, even though he tried his British best to hide it under a cough or something. The best part though was that it seemed to take some of the frustration out of Buffy's sails causing her to walk back to her seat and sit down to fume internally rather than externally. Not exactly the response he was hoping for but it would have to do. He had to admit that he was getting a little anxious where the final assassin of the set of three was concerned. It had been hours since he'd slayed the last one and now after just about everyone of them had gone home for the night there was no sign that the final assassin was about to make his move or was even in the area. Everyone knew that the guy would probably come at them immediately to salvage things but as the minutes ticked by there was a bit of doubt creeping into their minds. What if this last one was smarter than the others? What if he actually came up with a plan besides the whole 'locate target, kill target' approach that the others had used?
Not a good thing no matter how you looked at it.
From what Buffy had described from her encounter with the assassin at the skating rink, the guy had used a two sword approach with short swords. She had been able to dodge most of his attacks and even incorporated the blades on her skates into a few attacks that seemed to take the assassin by surprise. While she wasn't particularly forwarding with the details he got the idea that she thought the guy had been purposefully holding back. Not in the 'I am going to play with my prey' way but more like 'this is an act and I do not really intend to kill you' way which of course made the kind of sense that didn't. Why would three assassins come to town to kill the Slayer and then hold back during their battles with them? The two he'd faced definitely were going for the kill when they fought him and he had the wounds to prove it. He tried to figure out the last assassin's game and how the short sword wielding man would come at them but the only thing he managed to get was a headache.
Getting up from his chair, he decided to take a walk around the library to try and clear his head by getting the blood flowing. Round and round he went but on the third rotation a sudden sensation of being watched sprang into existence in his mind, causing him to stop in his tracks. Instantly on guard he looked about quickly but covertly trying to figure out what might be causing that feeling but no matter where he looked there was nothing suspicious. Yet despite the evidence to the contrary he could not shake the feeling that there was someone watching him and that person did NOT have benign feelings towards him. Searching for where the feeling was strongest he was drawn to the window that Buffy had been looking out of minutes before and when he peeked outside he saw the source of the malevolent watching feeling.
Standing beneath one of the trees in the courtyard, his form all but hidden by shadow, was a man wielding two shortswords. He was just standing there with arms to the side and weapons in hand as though he was delivering an open challenge to whoever had the courage to confront him.
"Well Buff' it looks like your waiting if over 'cause unless some other big bad has come to Sunnyhell with a thing for short swords our guy is waiting right outside." He said half turning towards the blonde Slayer.
"What!?" the blonde Slayer exclaimed as she leapt out of her chair and ran over to his side with the others not far behind.
"He ees issuin' a challenge." Kendra said professionally before heading for the weapon's cage to get something sharp and pointy.
"Then I say we accept the challenge." He stated as he went over to where his cardboard tube was and began pulling out his swords.
"What do you think you're doing Xander? You're still hurt from fighting the last assassin!" Willow exclaimed clearly not liking the idea of her friend going out to fight before his wounds have had a chance to heal.
"Don't worry Will' I'm just going out there as backup for Buffy and Kendra." He said trying to reassure his bestest bud, "I promise I won't dive into the fight unless I have to alright."
"Still Xander, I should think that Buffy and Kendra together will be able to handle one lone assassin by themselves." Giles said looking at him for only the briefest of moments before returning his gaze to the killer outside, "Perhaps it would be best if you stayed inside."
"No Giles, I'm not going to stay on the sidelines 'cause of a few scratches that've already stopped hurting." He stated firmly giving the others no room to form a counter argument, "Each assassin I've fought has been a step above the last one in terms of skill. Considering that the last one managed to give me these mementos before I finished him off, I think Buffy and Kendra are going to need support one way or the other even if they're Slayers."
No one had anything to say to that, so without waiting for anyone to take point on their little procession he walked up to and through the library doors to confront the final assassin of the set of three that had been sent to Sunnydale. It took him and the others, who had quickly caught up to him after his little statement, less than a minute to arrive in lush green area where the tree the assassin was standing in front of was located. However as the reincarnation of the Battousai got closer, he got the uncomfortable itch one feels when something is not quite right. The killer for hire was standing unusually still and had not moved an inch since the Scoobies began their approach. No movement in the hands to show a readying for battle or any movement from the head to show that he had turned to look at them.
It's almost like… he thought before the truth clicked into place for him.
"Everyone stop right where you are!!" he commanded adding a glare in their direction to make sure they actually obeyed him, "Don't take another step!"
"Xander! What's wrong?" Willow asked with a start at the sudden change in her best friend's demeanor.
"I think this guy's dead. You stay there while I check it out." He said in a more objective tone of voice.
Not waiting for a response he began to carefully approach the form next to the tree while keeping both hands near his katana in case he had to draw it in a hurry. However as he got closer to the form he became more and more sure that he had nothing to fear from this person and he was proven right when his proximity to the body confirmed what he had suspected just moments ago.
This guy was dead.
Whether or not this was the assassin or not didn't really matter because the fact that someone went to the trouble of standing the corpse up like this to make it look like the person was alive made the motive only one of two things. Either this guy was meant as a warning of some kind or he was bait and that meant the one who had killed the guy was still nearby somewhere.
Well seeing as how the Scooby gang's luck always seems to suck I think I'll bet on the latter rather than the former! He thought before turning around to face said gang.
"Guys, we gotta get out of here! This guy's just the bait! We gotta get out of here before whatever sicko put him up there springs the trap!" he said urgently to his friends knowing that they likely had only seconds before it'd be too late to make a break for it.
However, he immediately knew something was wrong when no one, from Willow to Kendra to Giles, moved so much as an inch at all. They were like statues and the only sign he could see that they were still alive was the occasional eyeblink along with some minimal eye movement. Starting towards them, he thought that maybe it was just the shock of seeing someone set up like a scarecrow that had them immobile or maybe the idea that they'd walked into a trap but as he got closer he knew that was not the case. He could tell from the movements their eyes made that they were straining to move but that for some reason their bodies were not responding to their commands. A feeling of dread began to chill inside of his chest as a sensation of approaching evil began to grow in his mind. For reasons that escaped him he felt as though he knew who was behind this but every time he tried to put a name or face to the perpetrator all he got was a blank.
"You needn't worry about your friends Battousai! They are merely under a weaker form of my Shin no Ippō technique which prevents them from moving." Came a familiar voice from behind him, "I just wanted to get you out here and keep them from interfering in our little rematch."
Rotating around towards the source of the voice he was surprised to see Mr. Udo from the Meiji Revolution exhibit at the museum from weeks ago. He had never really thought much about that day aside from the moments of weirdness associated with it and certainly hadn't given the swordsman any serious thought. Now to find out that he was not only crazier than he'd seemed back at the museum but also apparently a killer, left the Xan-man feeling distinctly uneasy. The guy was dressed much as he had been during that encounter at the Meiji exhibit with a well tailored suit and duster jacket which no doubt contained his katana. When the reincarnation of Hitokiri Battousai finally took in the man's face he started at the bloodlust he saw within the man's eyes. This man, this monster, lived for the kill! He reveled in the bloodshed and the deaths of his victims! It was his reason for being and his presence here made his intentions clear.
"Who are you? Name yourself and explain what you want here." He said while using his left hand to loosen his katana from its sheathe.
"You mean to say that even after weeks of having memories from your past life float to the surface and had some shoved into place by Rayne's spell you don't remember me?" the man asked doing a poor imitation of the wounded friend, "That hurts Battousai! After all, we had such fun together back during the early days of the Meiji era I'd hoped that I'd left more of an impression on you."
He said nothing in the hopes that the man would volunteer the information he sought as well as perhaps a little something extra.
"Perhaps this will jog your memory then." Mr. Udo said before his eyes turned pitch black with only a pinprick of green to show where the pupil was positioned.
Without warning a powerful wind blew through the area and seemed to converge on the man from the Meiji exhibit. With a funnel of air circling the insane man an ink black cloud of smoke rose from the ground enshrouding the mystery man until he was almost completely obscured. For a moment he thought that the guy might be attempting to flee, but with an audible implosion of air the smoke dispersed and standing in his place was the same man but he was wearing different clothes. On his head he wore what looked like a Japanese straw hat but it was made of something considerably darker and shiny than that. Next came some sort of black bodysuit that frame his face like the kind worn by the comic book character Gambit. Most of the body suit was covered by what looked like a green yukata and he had a black scarf wrapped around his neck. Topping it all were a pair of black boots that fit seamlessly with the bodysuit, making it extremely difficult to see where they ended and the bodysuit began. Put it all together and like a lightning bolt hitting him from above memories were jolted into existence within his mind. Memories of another time and place where a situation much like this one right now were played out under the light of a full moon.
Memories of assassinations being carried out on important political figures with the perpetrator announcing who his next target would be days before in the local newspaper.
Memories of facing that assassin and finding out that he was a manslayer as well left over from the Meiji Revolution and unable apparently to put down his sword or suppress his bloodlust.
Memories of a woman whose face he couldn't quite remember being abducted by the assassin to be used as bait to ensure one final confrontation.
Then in a blink it was all over and he knew who stood across from him and just what this killing machine was capable of when he became 'interested' in someone.
"So someone decided to bring you back from the dead, Udō Jin-e?" he asked finally drawing his katana from its sheathe.
"What makes you think I didn't escape hell on my own?" Udo asked conversationally as he drew his own katana.
"Well, I somehow doubt you'd leave all the comforts of hell, what with all the people you could fight and kill to your heart's content, to come back to the boring old land of the living." He replied just as conversationally as he tried to position himself in the most advantageous spot strategically speaking, "Besides someone's obviously been holding your leash, otherwise news of your 'entertainment' would have made it into the news sooner or later."
"Well I can't argue with that. Fortunately for me, I recently handed in my resignation from my former employer so I could focus all my attention on our little rematch." Jin-e stated moving along with the Xan-man, thus preventing the reincarnated Battousai from gaining superior positioning, "So what do you say we get started? After all, this little reunion has been over a century in the making."
"Fine by me. Let's go!" he said with determination before going on the offensive.
In less than a second the air became filled with the sounds of blade hitting blade along with the noise of feet moving briskly through carefully maintained grass. In the first ten seconds alone he knew that this fight would be unlike anything he'd been involved in previously and that included the intense fight he'd had with the assassin in the gym. Each block became decisively harder to make in time and so he pushed his body to move faster and make each attack he executed stronger in the hopes of overpowering his enemy. However, this proved to be a mistake when he put a little too much force into a blow which Jin-e used to his advantage by letting the katana slide off his thust, providing the man with a vulnerable spot to attack. A streak of hot pain was drawn across his side, forcing him to leap a short distance away before stopping to judge the severity of the wound. From what he could tell both from the sensations in the skin around the wound and from his own light touches with his fingers, it wasn't too deep but continuing the fight would only cause the blood to flow faster from the wound. He knew he could probably last until the end of the fight but then it'd be all up to Buffy and the others to get him to a hospital before it was too late.
Can't let myself get caught napping like that again! He thought as he returned the hand he'd been using to probe the wound to the hilt of his katana, I have to remember that Hiten Mitsurugi's main advantage is superior speed with strength being added only as a secondary benefit. If I want to beat Udo I must move faster!
With that in mind, he charged once more but this time instead of trying to rely on the slashes and other attacks common to just about every style employing a katana, he performed a Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryū: Ryūkansen hoping to capitalize on its feint and strike movements to bypass the man's defenses. This was met with noticeably more success, even though Jin-e still managed to block it, the movement of the killer's arm was more deliberate and serious rather than the lazy blocks of before. Still, he could feel in the man's ki that he still wasn't even close to going all out. That worried him because he knew that this rogue hitokiri lived for life and death struggles where he was pushed to his limits. If the battle went on much longer without any sort of pressure being applied to the bodysuit wearing fiend, Udo might get annoyed enough to do something to one of the Scoobies to 'motivate' him. To apply that pressure, he chose the Ryūsōsen Garami technique in the hopes that by performing so many lightning fast slashes to the man's head it would provide enough 'amusement' to keep the monster from creating his own brand of stress to the fight. This seemed to work for a while, since it actually forced Jin-e to back away from his attacks rather than just stand there and block them. Keeping up that technique for a time he tried to lull the man into thinking that that was all there was going to be for a while before pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
"Hiten Mitsurugi style: Ryūshōsen!" he yelled before jumping forward to deliver a horizontal slash aimed at the rogue hitokiri's neck.
"Not quite fast enough, Battousai!" Jin-e said blocking the slash and diverting the bulk of the technique off to the left.
Landing on the ground, he allowed himself to slide along the grass to let his momentum play itself out, as well as give himself some breathing room. Cursing himself, he began to wonder if he could really win this battle or if he was just condemning himself to a slow and painful defeat. Unlike Jin-e, he had been going all out since he first got a taste of the man's skill and strength but it was already ten minutes later with him having little to show for it. Looking down at the black blood that was dripping down his sword however was something he did take some satisfaction in, since as far as he was concerned 'if it can bleed, it can die'.
"Fast enough to draw your demon blood Jin-e!" he said raising his katana to show the merciless killer the results of that Ryushosen.
With a bit of surprise, the man reached up with one hand to feel his throat and once he pulled it away he did indeed find blood on his hand. While the technique hadn't been enough to sever the man's head or even cut very deeply it had been enough to draw blood and that was something of an improvement. However, seeing the maniacal smile on Udo's face the reincarnation of Battousai the Manslayer knew that he had only fueled Jin-e's lust for battle.
"So it was Battousai!" Udo exclaimed joyously before licking his own blood off his hand, "However you're still slower than I'd hoped for, even if I take into account my demonic host body's superhuman capabilities. After all, thanks to that fool Rayne's meddling, you have the blood of a ryu-youkai flowing through your veins making you much stronger than before."
"Ryu-youkai blood?" he asked in shock as this was the first he'd heard of this since the Halloween spell was broken.
"Hahahahaha! You mean you didn't know?!" Udo asked incredulously as he laughed, "How do you think you've been able to keep up with me until now? While you may have reclaimed some of your memories from your time as Kenshin Himura, memories alone are not enough to make you into the manslayer you once were! Surely you must recall that it took you years to achieve the god-like speed at which Hiten Mitsurugi is performed! No matter what training you might have undertaken since Halloween, there is no way you could have achieved the same results in so short a period of time."
That logic hit him like a ton of bricks and for the first time. He felt a genuine drop in confidence as memories of his training with Seijūrō Hiko flittered into his mind. The months that gradually turned into years, training at the foot of the waterfall near the shack along with the hours of swinging a branch the length of a sword against a knarred tree entered his mind. In that moment, he realized that Udo was right and that he had been a fool to become so confident in his skills just because he could slice vamps into ribbons with ease. Even his victories against the two members of the Order of Teraka meant little, since those two had been cocky from the beginning and never once took him seriously. This was the first time he was facing someone who seemed to be taking the fight like a true professional, rather than someone playing with an amateur. Seeing as how he wasn't doing so good and his adversary wasn't even going all out that didn't speak well for his chances at all. Could he even hope to be able to beat this guy?
"Oh don't get discouraged Battousai! While I'll admit that you're not quite as good as you were the last time we fought the fact that you've managed to cut me means you do have the potential." Udo said with false encouragement, "Perhaps all you need is a little more encouragement to meet your maximum potential."
In the blink of an eye, the rogue hitokiri vanished from where he had been only to reappear in front of the gang with his katana held in such a way that practically screamed that something was going to be done with it. Xander charged forward, determined to drive the man away from his friends and comrades, to keep them safe no matter the cost to himself. However, in the end he just wasn't quick enough and with a single thrust Jin-e's sword cut into the flesh of Kendra the Jamaican Slayer. What surprised him into coming to a halt though was that the blade had barely gone a millimeter or two deep, barely enough to draw blood actually, and he could see no sign that Udo was going to plunge it deeper. However when the madman withdrew his sword and the blood began to pour down the Slayer's still paralyzed body, his mind caught a glimmer of what the murderer intended.
"Well that should do nicely. The cut itself isn't very deep, but it's close enough to a major artery that her own heart will bleed her dry in a short while." Jin-e said with satisfaction watching the blood flow down the teenage girl's neck, "I give her three minutes, maybe four if she somehow manages to slow her heart rate down a bit, but after that, she'll be little more than a paralyzed sack of flesh. Much more inventive than what I did to your woman the last time we fought, right Battousai?"
"Jin-e!" he growled knowing that if the sadistic madman didn't get what he wanted in the next exchange he would do the same to Buffy and the others.
He'd even do it to Willow!
That is NOT going to HAPPEN!He thought to himself as a fiery rage began to build within him.
"Good! GOOD! I can feel the anger building within you. Use it! Let it flow through you! Use it to bring out your long buries instincts as a Manslayer and fight me!" Udo said as though he saw something that pleased him greatly, "Let your desire to kill me consume your very being because you know that the only way you're going to be able to get the girl to the hospital in time is to free your friends from the Shin no Ippō. So come, Himura the Battousai, and let me relive the days of the Revolution once more!"
The fury building within the newest member of the Summers family needed no further prodding and with a burst of speed that was dramatically higher than anything he had used beforehand, he crossed the distance between himself and his target. Like a wraith, he moved about his prey, striking at each and every weak spot his eyes could perceive, seeking the man's death. Gone were any restraints of morality and honor, a mere whisper the only thing left to hear of his conscience, leaving only a cold and frozen heart as well as a soul of death visible through his eyes. With every exchange he ignored the cuts he received on his own body, especially if a favorable target showed, and placing his entire focus on his objective. The DEATH of Jin-E Udo!
In the back of his mind a part of him could see that the rogue manslayer was pleased with this change in attitude, a maniacal smile plastered across his face, and every exchange of blows that followed only increased his pleasure. It didn't matter to this monster that cuts were beginning to blossom on his body with greater and greater regularity. It was clear that all that mattered to this murderer was the battle itself and all else could go to hell as far as he was concerned. Like angels of death, the two of them battled, appearing and disappearing in blurs of speed, but never once did they stray far from where the Scooby gang stood frozen. Whether it was mere chance or something done by the design of one of the combatants or not, one thing for certain was that all those present would bear witness to this clash of swordsmen.
On and on they went, blade against blade, with cuts appearing on their bodies as though by magic since the weapons used to make them were moving too fast to be seen by normal human eyes. However, as it tends to be, fighting at such a high level where a person's body is pushed to its limits and beyond inevitably takes its toll on that person. In the case of Xander Summers, a.k.a the reincarnated Hitokiri Battousai, the signs of this cost of high-speed combat began to rear its ugly head as he was forced to stop for a moment to catch his breath. Deep breaths of air were taken into his lungs but never once did his eyes stray from his enemy, nor for a moment did his desire to kill that man waver. Sadly, his body was another story. Without the sheer concentration of fighting Jin-e to distract it, the wounds that covered his form did their best to become known. Some cuts were small and no worse than something you would need a light bandage for, while others were definitely going to require some stitches before it was all said and done. His clothes were in tatters with one sleeve almost completely torn off while the rest most people would write off as being beyond repair. Blood stains were apparent with the dark blotches on his clothes only growing with every moment that passed. Most telling of was the slight tremor in the hand that wielded the katana. For while it was barely perceivable it was indeed there for those who knew to look for it. Whether it was simple fatigue or the result of losing ever increasing amounts of blood, he didn't know but one thing that was clear was that he was slowly losing the battle.
While I believe I have come closer to his level of speed and strength the difference in battle damage between the too of us is clear. He thought with a cool and analytical eye, If this battle continues as it has I will lose. I must end this now before I am too weak to do so.
To that end he decided to take a chance and enact a plan that stood the best chance of ending the fight sooner rather than later, possibly in his favor. Taking a single step forward he pretended to stumble a bit and fell to one knee with his sheathe becoming obstructed from view. With jerking motions he sheathed his katana and pretended to have the mother of all coughing fits while clutching his chest in pain. While the pain he was emulating wasn't too far from the truth, he had to make it look as though he was on his last legs in order to look like inviting prey. Rasping breaths were added to the mix, but he kept them rare so as to make sure he didn't overdo his little act and tip off the rogue hitokiri to his plan.
"It appears that you cannot go on any further Battousai! Do not feel too bad about it, for you fought well and truly showed for all to see the strength of Hitokiri Battousai." Jin-e said sounding as though his victory was at hand, "Now though, as all battles must, it is time to bring our little match to an end once and for all. With your death, I will become known as the man who defeated the strongest swordsman of the Revolution and even my former employer will not be able to take that away from me!"
"As for your friends here, take some comfort in knowing that I will not slay them. They're far too weak to be worth my time and attention." Udo declared sparing a moment to look contemptuously at the immobilized Scoobies, "No, I think it will be far more enjoyable to free them from my spell just as your lifeless body hits the ground so that I can revel in the grief stricken screams and see the sadness pouring from their eyes. Yes, that will be quite entertaining indeed!"
"This is the END, BATTOUSAI!" Jin-e Udo yelled as he charged forward to deliver the final blow.
From the first step that the rogue hitokiri took, time did seem to slow with everything appearing to take forever to move even a short distance. However this was just a trick of his mind because the moment his enemy began to attack he pooled all his focus, all his strength, into this last attempt to end this battle. He blocked out the wind that blew through the trees, he removed the sounds of Sunnydale from his mind, and all that his eyes could perceive ceased to exist as far as he was concerned. All that existed for him right now was his approaching target and the preparations within him to perform his trump card flawlessly and successfully. Even as drops of blood began to drop from the cut above his eye partially obscuring his vision he ignored it in favor of maintaining the strength of his focus. Like those corny cartoons where the entire screen is black save for the two golden spotlights on the fighters and a path of light connecting them nothing else existed for him. Nothing else could exist for him if he wanted to pull off this gambit successfully and so he allowed no distractions to enter his mind or his perceptions.
Almost… just a little further… just a little more… NOW!He thought and with all the speed and power he could muster he began to execute the perfect Battojutsu Soryūsen.
It was in the half second after he began to draw his sword from its sheathe that a red and rainbowish form began to obstruct his line of sight to Udo. However he did not pause in his attack, figuring that it was just a leaf or perhaps a momentary reflection of light or something that would pass quickly. It was not until his eyes seemed to clear the obstruction that he began to perceive that something was amiss since he could now see a look of surprise on Jin-e's face. At first he thought that it might be because the madman was shocked at such an unexpected attack, but the expression on Udo's face didn't quite fit that scenario. It was only as his sword began to cut through flesh and bone in two places on the blade, from what he could perceive, that the first inkling of the truth began to hit him. That bit of the truth was hit home when rogue hitokiri's blade came towards his face but off to the side, as though its path had been altered somehow. It cut through his left cheek just deep enough to create a laceration that would leave a scar as he completed his Battoujutsu by following up the sword strike with his katana's sheathe. Again, it felt as though his sword hit two targets instead of one but the force and speed behind his attack kept him from doing anything but wait until his momentum played out. As it did though the supreme focus and discipline he'd enforced on himself in order to ensure his strategy's success dispersed inundating him with all that he had blocked out.
In less than two seconds he wished that he could never see, hear, smell or feeling emotions again.
It was in those first few moments of sensory restoration that he was shown the one sight that would cause him unbearable pain for the rest of his days. Both in front of him and a few feet to his right lay the form of one of the people he had cut through with his katana. However, Jin-e Udo was not the only one who had been the only recipient of his Battoujutsu Soryusen, but also the one person he would give up his life for in an instant. Cut clean in two with everything from the upper stomach down before him and the rest spread out for about five feet or so to the right of him was his bestest bud in the whole world:
In a moment of perfect clarity he now knew what the red and rainbowish thing had been that had obscured his sight as he performed his technique. He also now had an explanation for the deviation in the path of Udo's sword that caused his left cheek to be cut. Willow must have somehow freed herself from Jin-e's spell and tried to protect him, thinking he was unable to defend himself. His acting had been so good that it had fooled his most precious friend into leaping into harm's way to save him! She must have used some sort of mojo she'd practiced when she thought no one was looking to redirect the blade.
Not that that really mattered to him now.
All at once, his world was overcome in a storm of emotion, causing him to drop to his knees in pain no mere wound to the body could even come close to matching. Again and again, the replay of what he had done repeated itself in his mind's eye and each time before it started over again, he was tormented with an image of the redheaded genius during better times. Faster and faster the images came until suddenly a new sequence of events played out for him inside of his mind, featuring a snow covered clearing in the middle of some woods with only a broken down looking Japanese shrine standing at the far end of it. Step by step he was brought closer to it and with each step a growing sense of familiarity manifested within him about this place. Ten steps before he would have reached the bottom of the steps in front of the shrine its doors began to open of their own volition. Eight steps before the steps at the bottom of the shrine the doors finished opening and a form began to emerge from the darkness within. At seven steps a voice of the past that he recognized as his own began to grow louder in his mind until it was as if his past self was right next to him.
I killed so many in order to protect the defenseless.
In doing so, I took your happiness from you.
Without thinking, I took the most important thing away from you.
All this time that I have been falling in love with you, I have been unworthy of that gift.
Even though I… I…
By the time that the voice stopped, he was no more than five steps away from the bottom of the shrine. By then, the form emerging from the shrine was clearly perceivable to his eyes. It was a woman of Japanese descent, wearing a white kimono with a dark blue obi around her waist with red cloth sticking out of the top that was either wrapped around the kimono with the obi or was actually a part of the kimono. If one were to look at her, it would be easy to describe her as one of the nobility. She had a beauty uncommon to the middle class and her clothes spoke well of her station. However, it was the stream of red down her right side almost to the waist, the color of blood, that caught his attention and when she fully came into the sunlight a name echoed through his mind.
All at once, a fierce feeling of sadness, grief and guilt washed over him to the point in which he was virtually drowning in it. So overwhelmed, he that he could not move and so did not move when she walked up to him and wrapped her arms around him, like a wife welcoming home her husband.
You could have lived like this if you hadn't picked up a sword. You'd be happy with some land and seeds to plant now that we have the time.
It was then that the world around him, shifting back to the Sunnydale High School library. Also, it was no longer Tomoe that was hugging him lovingly, but his bestest bud Willow, looking as though it was just another day for the two of them.
Well, you know, I have a choice. I can spend my life waiting for Xander to go out with every other girl in the world until he notices me, or I can just get on with my life.
Willow had feelings for…? He thought in shock as all the little signs that he had glossed over as mere friendship or the acts of a growing young woman experimenting came to light.
Then, before he could fully come to terms with this revelation, the world returned to being the nightmare he had left it in, where the cheerful intelligent redhead he had known since pre-school had been cut in two by his own sword. It was all laid out for him now, both his memories of Tomoe during the days of the Meiji revolution and his life with Willow, both women had loved him dearly and he too cherished them albeit in different ways.
Tomoe existed as the first true love of Kenshin Himura, who helped him find an identity separate from his duties as a Hitokiri, nurturing the boy once called Shinta until his manslayer personae lost its dominant position over him. Willow was his shining light in the darkness created by the abusive behavior of his parents. It was because of her, he believed, that he had not slipped into the same way of thinking as his father. Both women had done him a great service and kept him from going down a path that would have ultimately destroyed him in one way or another. Both women ruled over a crucial part of his heart and as he got to know them he pledged that there was nothing he would not do for them in return for their kindness and love. The two of them became the most precious people in his respective lives, Kenshin Himura and Xander Harris, and now they shared another similarity with each other because of their connection to him.
Both had been slain by a sword wielded by him.
He had killed them both.
With unbearable agony, he dropped to his knees and voiced his grief for the world to hear in the most pain filled cry ever heard in the town of Sunnydale. Yet no matter how man times he cried out, whether it was two or three times, the pain within his chest only grew rather than lessen with the venting of his emotions into the air. Over and over again the deaths of Yukishiro Tomoe and Willow Rosenberg replayed in unbearable detail in his mind with each successive showing causing him more and more pain. Tears streamed down his cheeks even as the cut made by the rerouted sword of Jin-e bled away in a trickle down his left cheek. So severe was the pain, he though he would die from it at any moment but that release never came. He suffered for what felt like an eternity. So terrible was the pain that he almost didn't hear the approach of another and it wasn't until a katana blade was placed beneath his chin that he looked up to the person wielding it. Standing over him was Jin-e with one hand pressed to a series slash wound across his stomach while the other held the katana. The lust for the fighting and the killing had dimmed somewhat in the man's eyes but it still looked as though he would resume the duel sometime soon.
I don't care. I welcome the death he can bestow upon me. He thought no longer wanting to live and welcoming the release that oblivion offered.
"It would appear that no matter how much stronger I have become since we last fought during the early days of the Meiji era, I still cannot keep a foolish girl from getting in the way of our duel." Udo said with disdain but surprisingly little disrespect, "As you are now, I could kill you in an instant before you even managed to bring your sword to bear on me. I could finally claim victory over the strongest swordsman of the Revolution."
"Then why don't you?" he asked with a lifeless voice.
"I will not kill you because this is not the way I wished for our duel to end, with you on your knees and defenseless, so I will let you live." Jin-e replied as he sheathed his sword with only a moment of difficulty, "The pain you feel now is more than enough to satisfy me. Besides, now you are beyond my former employer's grasp like never before. It was he that sent these assassins after you and your friends in order to test you against truly skilled opponents. The attacks on the others were merely to conceal the fact that you were the primary target, not the Slayer."
This caused a jolt of realization to shoot through him as he remembered the group of bandits he'd killed, the death of his parents and the Battousai costume finding its way into his hands at Ethan's shop. Looking up at the rogue Hitokiri, he asked with his eyes for the madman to tell him who was that was ordering such things to happen in his life.
"I would tell you his name but I have no doubt that he has one of his lackeys watching us right now with a sniper rifle, waiting for me to say too much before firing." Udo said as a semblance of sanity and rational thinking came over him, "So instead I will merely say that history is beginning to repeat itsel—"
A single gunshot echoed through the night. With a shower of black blood, the head of the rogue hitokiri Udo Jin-e exploded as a bullet from a hidden sniper went through it. The body's descent to the ground was accompanied by gasps of air as the Shin no Ippō was broken and those Scoobies that had been unable to break free as Willow had were returned to normal. However, with their movements and actions no longer restrained none of them believed that things would ever be normal again. How could they be now that one of their founding members lay dead and another was so traumatized by what he had done. Even now, the question of whether or not he mind would remain whole remained unanswerable. Buffy collapsed into the arms of her Watcher, tears flowing from the corner of her eyes as the pain of losing one of her sources of strength and knowing that fate had forever changed another. Rupert Giles did his best to console his charge, but he himself could scarcely keep himself from falling apart as well, for he had seen in the redhead the signs of a protégé as well as a surrogate daughter. All he could do was hold the blonde Slayer in his arms and utter a comforting word every now and again. As for Kendra, she stood alone for while. She felt sorry for the katana wielding demon hunter as well as her sister Slayer, but she was not a part of their group. She knew so little about them that she might as well be a stranger to them and so had no right to join them in their moment of grief. All she could do was stand there and decide that she had found the rising darkness she had been sent here to stop and knew that it was more widespread than had been originally thought.
For Xander Summers though, the seconds that followed were filled with a war within his mind as he tried to decipher his slain enemy's last words before he had been killed. He knew the man had been trying to say that history was beginning to repeat itself, but that could mean almost anything since history was no small thing. However, when he took into account that the rogue hitokiri might have been implying that it was his past that was about to repeat itself his amount of searching he had to do was greatly reduced. Looking through his mind, he tried to find the answer to who could have so carefully planned so many events without slipping up. Who was it from the past of Kenshin Himura that could be this cunning?
It was then he realized that Jin-e's words took on a double meaning because after a more thorough examination of the rogue hitokiri's words a blue flame of realization blossomed inside his mind. That flame burned brightly but then withdrew only to leave a man behind dressed in a light blue kimono and covered from head to toe in bandages. Looking into the man's eyes, one could not see the soul of a man but that of an animal, a hell beast, one that saw others as nothing more than meals for his own benefit. It was not until the man began to laugh in an evil, cruel and sadistic manner that the monster's name appeared in the reincarnated Kenshin's mind.
With that name, he knew that this would not be the end of his struggles. While the details of his encounters with Shishio remained shrouded in mist he knew enough that he was certain the man had some grand scheme in the works. A scheme that Makoto wanted to include him in but thanks to Jin-e's actions, were made impossible. What the scheme could have been, he did not know. What he did know was that the burnt man would not let anything or anyone get in his way. When recruiting one Xander Summers was no longer an option, he had become an obstacle to Shishio rather than a potential asset. To this man, obstacles were to be obliterated without mercy and it didn't matter who got hurt in the process so long as the problem was eliminated. Hearing Buffy's sobs, he looked up and realized that if Shishio was going to come after, him his friends would be caught in the crossfire.
Images of Giles, Joyce, Cordelia and Buffy being killed in various ways for no other reason than because they were close to him bombarded his mind. Makoto Shishio would have no problems whatsoever killing them if it meant that his old enemy the Battousai was taken out in the process.
NO! I won't let that happen! I… he thought fiercely before his current failure surfaced in his mind once again, But how can I possibly protect them when I killed…
A shot of sadness, grief and pain stopped that thought in its tracks and it took a few moments for him to be able to think clearly again. When he could, he knew there was only one course of action he could take that would both ensure the safety of his friends and possibly provide him with the strength and skill to oppose Shishio. He knew he would have to oppose that man or else the world would be infected with the man's evil and more innocent people would be killed to suit his desires. Besides, if there was one thing he had learned since the Scooby gang had been founded, it was that evil had to be opposed. To stand by and do nothing would be an even worse than trying to stop it and failing.
With that in mind and his decision made, he knew what he had to do.
Forcing himself back to his feet he suppressed the pain he was feeling from his various wounds, he gave one final look to those that meant so much to him. Memorizing their faces in all their intricate detail, he gave them one final lopsided smile before turning and running away from them towards the streets of Sunnydale. He could hear both Giles and Buffy calling out to him, begging him to come back, but he blocked them out with all the strength he could muster. The pain he felt with each step he took was great, but he knew that this was what he had to do if there was to be any chance of them being reunited one day. So with a shaky, stone cold visage, he continued to run towards his first stop on the path he had chosen for himself.
He would see them all again one day.
He hoped he would at least.
&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&Back at the Battlefield, From the Point of View of the Survivors
"XANDER! Come back! PLEASE!" Buffy yelled desperately as she watched her closed male friend disappear into the night.
If he heard her he gave no indication of it in his movements. Before she could cry out again, he was gone, leaving Giles, Kendra and herself alone on the school lawn. Tears still trickled down her cheeks, but she didn't care because compared to the pain she was feeling right now looking like a strong battle hardened Slayer was irrelevant to her. The events of the past half hour had been burned into her soul and like all burns, even the slightest movement was enough to cause her pain. It seemed to unreal, like it couldn't possibly have happened, but the truth of the matter was that it was real and now she would have to deal with what came next. Willow was dead and now Xander was gone, leaving her with only Giles for support. Peripherally, she knew that in the coming days her mother would do her best to comfort her, but the Summers matriarch would not be able to understand the depth of the pain she felt or the hurting that was going on inside of Xander. She trembled when she tried to imagine the kind of suffering her best guy friend had to be going through right now. He, more than anyone, would be affected by Willow's death. They were childhood friends, and while the connection between the two might never have crossed into girlfriend boyfriend territory it was indeed close.
I have to go after him! I can't let him go through this alone! She thought as she began to disentangle herself from Giles.
"No Buffy. This is something that Xander has to deal with himself." Came a voice from behind them that sounded just as sad as the blonde Slayer felt, "We'd only make it harder for him if we went after him now."
Turning in the direction of the voice, Buffy was surprised to see her mother walking towards the trio and judging from the bruise that was on the right side of the seasoned woman's head, someone had hit her pretty hard. However, what caught the blonde Slayer's attention was the look in her mother's eyes that left no doubt that the elder Summers woman knew exactly what had happened and meant what she had said.
"But the pain he must be going through…!" Buffy countered not willing to give up on going after Xander just yet, "If we don't go after him he might…"
"No he won't kill himself . Right now, he thinks that getting away from us is the only way he can protect us." Joyce said finally reaching her daughter.
"Protect us from what?" Buffy asked wondering how her mother knew what Xander was thinking.
"Himself. He believes that by being near us, he is putting us in danger from the man that has been orchestrating events from behind the scenes. The bandits the night of the student exchange program dance, the Halloween spell and the assassins from the Order of Teraka were all this man's doing." Joyce said her voice turning to anger when she spoke of this unknown villain, "They were all tests meant to prepare Xander for a possible position in this man's organization!"
"H-how do you know all this?" Giles asked catching on to the way Joyce was speaking as being somewhat odd.
"I know this because I read his mind and learned of it first hand. I felt his determination as he fought Jin-e, I felt his desperation when he tried to end the fight in one blow and I couldn't help but feel his anguish when he realized what he'd done." Joyce replied in a serious tone making no one doubt that she was being completely honest, "Xander wasn't the only one who kept something from Halloween. I inherited a few things from the person I went dressed as, including telepathy, so trust me when I say that going after Xander will do more harm than good."
"Who did you go as?" Buffy asked almost wanting to take back her question the moment she asked it.
"Emma Frost, C.E.O of Frost International and former headmistress of the Massachusetts branch of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters." Joyce replied with a certain tone that had to have come from her costumed personae, "So trust me when I say that I know more about what is going on inside of Xander's head than you do."
"Oh." Was all Buffy could say in response before the events of the past twenty-four hours took their toll causing her to faint dead away.
&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&Ten Days Later, Crestview Cemetery
Standing before the grave that marked the resting place of the one that had been the source of his greatest joy, but also his greatest sorrow he wondered for a moment what he was supposed to do next.
After leaving the school grounds that night, he had stopped by Buffy's house to bandage his own wounds and pack what he would need for his journey. Using knowledge both old and new, he did a pretty competent job of dealing with his wounds. Once finished there, he had grabbed the biggest bag he could from the house that would still be easy for him to carry long distances. Several changes of clothes were put inside, along with a few other outfits he felt might be of use where he was planning on going. Adding some standard traveling stuff from the bathroom to the mix, he had been pretty much done before he looked at the two objects that would forever remind him of his arrogance and failure. Looking at his katana and wakizashi he could still see her blood on them even though he had cleaned them thoroughly the moment he got upstairs. There was a part of him want to throw them in the nearest furnace and watch them melt down to nothing before his eyes but he had known that the act would not rid him of the memories.
The memories would serve as reminders of his foolishness and he knew he would need the weapons again because Shishio would be coming after him sooner or later. Now that he had become an enemy rather than a potential tool to Makoto, it was inevitable that he would dispatch members of his forces to kill the one that had stood in his way before. He knew he would not be able to avoid killing again, no doubt it would take nothing short of that to defeat some of Shishio's agents, but he swore that he would look for other solutions first before drawing his sword again.
With the things he needed packed and his wounds for the most part patched up, he slipped out of the Summers home no more than two hours after he had entered it. He knew that Buffy, Giles and Mrs. Summers would be looking for him soon enough and while a part of him longed to receive some comfort for his pain, he knew he could not linger. Every second he stayed in Sunnydale was a second Shishio was no doubt spending trying to find and eliminate him. Therefore, he had looked about town for a place to dwell where no one who knew him or his past self would think to look for and hid from the rest of the world. Sleep hadn't been a plentiful thing for him the past ten days, nightmares of death and grief woke him repeatedly each night, but he did his best to get what rest he could. One might ask why he didn't leave town right away and the answer was right in front of him in all its cold stony indifference.
It was painful for him to stand where was, looking down at the gravestone of his closest friend, and he'd be lying if he said there wasn't a part of him that wanted to run away as fast as he could right then. However, he could not bring himself to leave town without paying his respects and saying goodbye to the one person he owed the most to.
"Hey Will'! I know I… I know I should have come sooner but I wanted to see you alone rather than when everyone else was around." He said, fighting to keep his voice steady, "After all, I can't let it get around that Xander Harris turns into a blubbering idiot at funerals right?"
Silence was the only thing that responded to his statement even though he could imagine how the redhead probably would have reacted.
"I… I just want to say I-I'm so sorry!" he said sadly as tears began to trickle down his cheeks, "I was such an idiot! How could I have thought that having the memories of Hitokiri Battousai would make me as good a swordsman as he was?! It took Kenshin years to become the legendary Battousai and I thought I could match him just because of what I gained at Halloween! I was a fool and now my cockiness has cost me the single most important person in my LIFE!"
Despite his efforts, he couldn't help it when a sob left his mouth and he dropped to his knees in front of the grave. Feelings of grief and self-loathing ran strong throughout him, but despite how easy it'd be to let them sweep him away he knew he had to finish what he came here to do.
"I'm going to be leaving Sunnydale today. If what Jin-e said was true, then it is only a matter of time before Shishio sends someone after me to finish what Udo started. That monster will not care what has to be done to bring me down and as I am now, I wouldn't stand a chance against his goons, much less him." He said as he managed to bring himself up to one knee, "There's only one way I can become strong enough to even stand a chance at defeating him and I can't do that here. I must regain my mastery over Hiten Mitsurugi and perhaps even go a few steps beyond that if I want to be able to stand against Shishio and his people."
As the moment of his departure from Sunnydale drew closer, he found himself delaying the end of his conversation with his departed friend. Leaving his hometown behind was going to be hard but he knew that it was something he had to do and so with a repression of his emotions, he continued with his goodbye.
"I d-don't know when I'll be back. I know that the majority of my memories as Kenshin Himura are still buried in my mind. Training with the current Hiten Mitsurugi master will likely be able to bring them back to the surface and with a little intense training, I should be able to bring my body to where it needs to be. Maybe then, when both my mind and my body are ready, I can come back here knowing that I'll be ready to face Shishio." He said uncertainty creeping into his voice here and there, "Until then, please look out for the others for me will ya? Give those angels in heaven a good shot with your resolve face if they don't get off their puffy clouds and help Buff'!"
A shaky chuckle left his mouth as he imagined Willow Rosenberg staring down an angel or two, forcing them to intervene to help Buffy. It didn't last long since just picturing the young woman who broke the yellow crayon back in pre-school brought the grief back something fierce. Riding out the worst of it, he soon regained his composure and decided to do one last thing before he left the cemetery. Reaching into his jacket he pulled out a single red rose before kneeling down and putting it on Willow's gravestone as gently as he could.
"Goodbye my little Willow the wisp." He said as he tenderly stroked the gravestone before standing up.
With more willpower than most people would expect, he turned from the headstone and began to make his way to the cemetery's exit. Each step he took caused the pain to throb within him as acceptance finally took hold of him and the realization that Willow was gone from his life for good. It was a fact that caused him to hold a hand over his heart as the organ spasnmed in pain so real that he figured that a heart attack would probably be less painful. Nevertheless, he continued onward down the path he had chosen for himself and he could only pray that when he returned he'd have the means to make sure he never had to bury another friend like this again.
For if he did, it would most certainly destroy him.
Okay folks! As of now this part of my Rurouni Kenshin/BtVS saga is complete and sadly I will be putting this idea on the shelf for a while. As some of you no doubt know I have quite a few works in progress to finish up and those fanfics have fans just as important as the ones for this fic wanting more. Do not think that this is the end of this fanfic crossover universe but rather think of this as the end of the beginning. I do plan on continuing with it but I want to complete a few of my other fanfics in progress before returning to do work on this universe. So all I can ask is for you to be patient and try to satisfy yourself on the other in progress fanfics as best you can until I feel the time has come to write the next book/episode/chapter/part of what I hope will become an epic saga respected by BtVS fanfic fans for at least a decade before it's forgotten. Thanks for all the great reviews since I started this and I hope you will stick around until the next episode comes out. I have even come out with a tentative title:
Rurouni Xander: Tales of a Wandering Zeppo
What do you think?