Prologue - The Long Kiss Goodnight
A/N: This fic is born of a plot bunny that has been running rampant in my head for YEARS. Disclaimer:
All things BTVS/ATS belong to Joss Whedon; All things Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X belong to the amazing Nobihiro Watsuki. I own nothing but the plot and a crappy dell running WinXP Pro that keeps crashing on me and you're welcome to it!
References all seasons Rurouni Kenshin and the Samurai X OVAS; BTVS/ATS up to and including Buffy Season Eight – The Wolves at the Gate arc. If you haven't read the BTVS Season 8 comics, go out, right now, to your nearest Borders (or comic shop) and buy them. Season 8 rocks!
There will be some canon!femslash in the beginning -- Buffy/Satsu for sure, and references to Willow/Kennedy. Deal. :)
Reviews are just... love :). Pairings TBA (sorry now - can't give them away... that'd be... telling ;) ).
~ ~ ~Prologue – The long kiss goodnight
The rank smell of death hung like a cloud over all of Shanghai. Once upon a time, when his name alone had been enough to strike fear into the hearts of men, he would have been the cause of it. But no longer.
He was committed to his self-appointed penance, striving for absolution, knowing that his efforts were for naught. The dead did not have the power to forgive. And as for the opinions of others – people, spirits, or even gods – he didn't care.
The siheyuan house he'd been staying in had long been converted into a hospital of sorts. The family who once owned it were suspected to be part of the i-ho ch'uan; a sect of political activists partially responsible for the Boxer rebellion. The family members were all summarily executed without trial; the siheyuan house placed in the care of foreign missionaries. Anyone who was ill or infirm or even just elderly was welcome, as long as they were willing to convert to Christianity.
And with death and destruction rampant in the streets of Shanghai, it was not surprising the number of people who were willing to forgo generations of traditions and beliefs for a hot meal and a warm bed and the illusion of safety in their convalescence.
Kenshin had been volunteering now for several months now, and yet the patients that he helped to treat hated him, because he was Japanese. Many of them spat in his face, more often than not. He suffered the demeaning acts of spite in silence, continuing to help any way that he could. Humility was a small price to pay for anonymity, and he'd had long experience with paying it.
He'd been in Shanghai this time for almost a full year. He had been here before as a military consultant, and during his short stay had contracted the sickness that was plaguing them all. Once he realized that he was sick, he returned to Japan in order to live out the rest of his days with the family that loved him despite his sins.
But things in Shanghai went from bad to worse during his brief return to Tokyo. Even knowing that he was sick, they asked him to come back; this time as an officer. They wanted him to take up his sword again.
The night that he'd received the letter, he'd been so distraught that he committed his last and worst sin. He took his precious young Kaoru to bed, knowing that by doing so he was condemning her to the same slow death that was eating him from the inside out.
He had essentially killed once more, even if she had yet to die.
How could he live with himself after that?
He had told Kaoru that he was going to accept the offer. What was one more lie when his whole life was built upon them? He was damned either way. He'd tried to be both husband and father, but it was not who he was – and it was far more than he deserved. And so he'd found himself running, hiding behind a facade, the rurouni once more.
Kenshin set a kettle of hot water on to boil in the small, crowded kitchen of the siheyuan and waited. In one corner of the room, a young Chinese girl was feeding rice to an old man. Tiny portions, slowly given. Small comforts in an attempt to stave off death for yet another day.
A small hand brushed his shoulder in an attempt to get his attention.
“Your water is boiling.”
Violet eyes shifted towards the petite girl who had spoken to him in heavily accented Mandarin. Pretty, and very young, he noted. Sixteen, maybe seventeen at most.
He nodded his head in acknowledgment and met her eyes with his own. She held his gaze for only a moment, but it was long enough. In the depths of her deep brown eyes, he recognized a kindred soul. The girl was aged well beyond her years, just like he had been. Briefly his eyes flashed amber in remembrance of his own youth.
The change did not go unnoticed by the young girl, whose posture subtly shifted from relaxed to defensive as she regarded him with a look he could only describe as predatory.
“Demon,” she whispered under her breath in Mandarin. 'Smart girl,'
Kenshin thought to himself.
Regarding him warily, she picked up the kettle and thrust it at him; her body tensed as if she were expecting him to attack at any moment.
“Take it and go,” she hissed, slowly backing away from him, A full minute or two passed before she turned away and crossed to other side of the room. And yet, he could tell that she was ever aware of where he was standing.
Kenshin added tea leaves to the kettle, surreptitiously watching her as they steeped. Two more minutes passed, other people entering and exiting the room, before she finally relaxed enough to return to her task. Bemused, Kenshin watched her as she nonchalantly lifted a large cast iron cauldron full of laundry water which had been sitting up against the wall. His eyes widened minutely in surprise as the petite Chinese teen effortlessly balanced the weight of the cauldron in one hand as she carried it over to the fireplace and hooked it over the open flame.
He turned his head and coughed, ignoring the harsh rattle in his chest. There was no possible way the slight young thing had been able to move a cauldron full of water that would have normally required the strength of two men. He was becoming convinced that the illness he had contracted was not only affecting his lungs and skin but his mind as well.
She glared at him for a moment more before leaving the kitchen. He waited a moment and then followed her out into the courtyard, where she was bending over the huddled form of an elderly foreign man. He was in the end stages of the sickness, very near death.
He watched the girl and the foreigner for a while, standing in the shadows. The girl appeared to be arguing with the man in harsh whispers, even as she wiped the sweat off of his brow with a soft linen cloth; tending to him as one would a family member.
That a young Chinese girl, a picture of youth and health, would take such care of an elderly foreigner, was odd in and of itself. That she would be shaking in emotion by whatever words were falling from his lips, almost incomprehensible. Kenshin almost wished that the courtyard weren't so crowded and noisy so that he could overhear what they were whispering.
Suddenly, the girl pulled away from the old man with a fierce and determined look on her face. She turned, tucking an odd piece of wood into the fabric of her clothes, her eyes hard and determined as she swiftly crossed the courtyard, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
“Xin Rong! Listen to me and go home to your brothers! You can't fight two wars all on your own. You can’t save me. You can't save us. You can only save yourself.”
The words were spoken loudly and in English by the elderly foreigner. His accent was a rich British, his voice thick and coarse from coughing.
The girl faltered for just a moment at the gate, before taking a deep breath and exiting the siheyuan without even a backwards glance.
Kenshin eyes flashed momentarily with annoyance and concern for the girl. A young, pretty girl like that, alone on the riotous streets of Shanghai was only asking for death, or worse. He had never been so cavalier in his youth - such an attitude would have gotten him killed.
For a moment, he considered following the foolish girl before reminding himself that a hero, he was not.
His attention wandered to the old Englishman, and out of curiosity Kenshin decided that the old Englishman would be the recipient of his care.
As he approached him, he saw better his condition and knew that whatever else his cryptic words had meant to the young girl, he had been telling the truth about his own condition. The man was dying. Weak, pale and gaunt, he was covered from head to toe with the red rash that would soon claim his life. Kenshin subconsciously rubbed his lower right arm in sympathy, as the feverish man turned his head and stared at him.
Kenshin smiled in an attempt to seem reassuring. He poured some tea for the man and held the cup up to his pale lips.
“Stupid girl... going to get herself killed, she is,” the man mumbled in English under his breath between sips.
The man’s bright blue eyes caught his meaningfully for a moment. A frail hand gripped his arm with a strength that he didn't suspect the old man could possess.
“You... you're the champion!”
The man was delirious.
“You should drink some more tea, that you should.”
“No! Listen – you must go after her. She... she will die tonight, I know it. The prophecy...”
The man was overcome by a paroxysm of coughing, and Kenshin found himself patting him on the back until the fit was over.
“Please sir, you must calm down. This will do you no good, that it won't.”
The old man shook his head vehemently and batted his hands away.
He shifted his weight until he was leaning up against the wall, and then procured a straight roman sword from where he had it hidden beneath his futon and placed the hilt into Kenshin's hand.
“This... is for you. Please. Save her from herself.”
Bemused, he took the sword, instinctively testing it's weight in his hand. It was not the right size, shape or weight. It was not his sakaba that he had carried for so many years. Wasn't even his katana, from his days as the Battousai. But in a pinch, it would do.
He met the man's hopeful blue eyes and nodded just once.
~ ~ ~
A half an hour later, he found her. All he had to do was follow the sound of her screams. He rounded a corner into an alleyway, just to see her being held in a mockery of an embrace with what had to be a demon.
Time began to slow, as if he were in the midst of a fierce sword fight. He was hyper aware of the two others in the alleyway... the face of the blond demon was distorted and his lips were bloody. He let the girl fall to the ground, her neck at an odd angle and covered in blood. Kenshin knew before she hit it that she was already dead.
“Oh, Spike, look at the wonderful mess you've made. That's a Slayer you've done in. Naughty... wicked... Spike.”
The female spoke in English, her words and her tone heavy with madness. Her face shifted until it was distorted and deformed, matching the other one.
“You ever hear them saying the blood of a Slayer is a powerful aphrodisiac? Here, now... have a taste.”
What followed was a horrific parody of human intimacy that Kenshin could barely bare to watch. He wanted to rage and kill and run and throw up and leave Shanghai and never return.
Not human. Those... creatures... things... they were not human.
Was that fear causing his heart to beat so fast? It was a foreign feeling, eating away at him from the inside, causing his stomach to tighten and his breathing to falter. He had to force himself to hold his ground and draw his sword when every instinct he had was screaming at him to flee. His rational mind receded, allowing the Battousai to come forward for the first time in years in order to deal with this strange and terrifying new threat.
“You shouldn't have touched her, demon,” He snarled. His hand gripped his sword so tightly that it bled.
“Look at the little birdie, Spike! Look at how he sings! A viscous little birdie, wants to fight instead of fly. Smells of tea and death and blood and lies. Miss Edith wants to put him in a cage, where she can make him sing, forever and ever.”
The blond demon spat blood onto the ground and smiled.
Kenshin charged the blond demon with all of his speed and strength, and thrust the point of his sword straight through where his heart should be.
The blond demon just looked at him incredulously, Kenshin's sword buried to the hilt in his chest. He stumbled backwards for a moment, and then proceeded to pull the sword out of his chest and toss it to the side.
“Fuck me! That hurt dammit! Bloody sword went right through my heart, it did!”
The demon glared at Kenshin for a moment, before punching him in the face with the force of ten men.
Kenshin was thrown several feet backwards. His head hit the ground with a loud crack. Pain like none he had ever felt filled his head as his vision began to dim.
“Spike, let me have him, hmm? Let me play with him, make him mine.”
“What? Of all the... he tried to kill me, and you want to make him a pet? Just kill him, luv, and be done with it. Bloody samurai is half dead, anyway.”
“I want him.”
“Fine. Do what you want – just leave me out of it.”
He heard, rather than saw, the male demon stomp off, and he found himself left alone with the mad one in a cold dark alley.
This was not how he had pictured his death.
Her cold, hard fingers brushed against his face in grotesque mockery of a caress as they traced both lines of his scar.
“One for duty... two for love.. Mummy's will make three.”
The last thing he felt before death claimed him were her lips briefly brushing against his own followed by a searing, ripping pain in his neck.
~ ~ ~