Disclaimer: As always, not mine. Well, except Gabriel.
A/N: Another free for all. Post-timeskip.
As usual the station was packed. People coming, people going, people waiting. A pre-Halloween individual would have been agog at the sheer variety of life on display. Hair, eye and skin colours that literally encompassed the whole of the rainbow, clothing that ranged from the mundane to garments verging on total impracticality and most likely worn solely because they looked good. Weapons (carried openly!) ranging from normal guns and knives to BFGs, BFSs and bizarre pieces who’s exactly use probably fell under ‘don’t know, don’t want to know’ for the majority of passers-by. The air was filled with the sound of the trains, intercom announcements and the babble of a million different conversations in the linguistic medley that was Maginese, spoken with a thousand different accents.
In the midst of all this semi-organized chaos, a man sits on a bench, observing the goings on around him with an observant almost wary eye. By current standards he’s practically mundane, an unremarkable looking human aged about thirty with slightly curly mousy coloured hair and green eyes, clad in a slightly anachronistic combination of rifle green cargo pants tucked into boots and worn with a grey shirt and black leather jerkin, with snug fitting gauntlets covering the hands and forearms. Like many others in the station he is armed. A plain looking cruciform arming sword in a scabbard made from vaguely reptilian looking green-black hide hangs from his right hip, while a kukri in a sheath made from the same rests at his left. A handgun is holstered at the small of his back, while at his side behind the sword is a dagger in a particularly secure and sturdy sheath with a clip down flap (just as well since the dagger just has the break the skin and the victim starts bleeding water). All the sheaths and holsters are made out of the same leather, a sort of practical trophy of a monster that he’d dispatched eleven years ago. The leather used to make the jerkin had a similar origin, the monster in question having been dispatched four years later. The hide turned out to be excellent for the purpose it had been used for; despite seven years of almost constant use (and a wearer who kept getting slashed, clubbed, thrown into walls and dragged across the ground) it shows very little in the way of wear and tear.
As for the man himself, he is normal. In fact he is normal in a way that by the standards of the New World he’s something of an oddity. An untransformed, largely unaltered human. Of course, he is not quite the same as he was before 31st October 1997, or even in the months that followed. The long term effects of the chaos energy left its mark on everyone, but in this man’s case it was particularly subtle. With the exception of moderate regenerative abilities (gradually acquired over the better part of a decade), the nearest things he had to powers were all related to him possessing an ungodly amount of willpower. To put it simply, he was a certified, card carrying Determinator, a trait which had led him to his current job.
Gabriel shifted in his seat and checked his watch. Still a few minutes until his train was due to arrive. Taking a deep breath, he tried to relax and, as usual, failed miserably. Even after twelve years the months he’d spent walking though the wilderness, constantly on guard for any sign of danger, had left their mark. As a friend of his had put it, he had three modes; High Alert, Alert and Asleep (with one ear open). The crowds weren’t helping matters, although truth be told he had mixed feelings about crowds. On one had they made him nervous; he was all too aware of the dangers that could lurk in such a large volume of people and how difficult escape would be if it became necessary. On the other hand, there was something about the noisy, chaotic teeming mass that he found oddly reassuring, it reminded him that despite everything that had happened life still went on and that he wasn’t alone. Gabriel wasn’t the most social of people but he hated the thought of being alone. Over three months solid was more than enough for anyone’s lifetime.
The last twelve years had been a mixed bag. After recovering from his injuries in Sunnydale Colony’s hospital, he’d made an attempt at tracking down his family, only to find that they were all either dead or buried under new personalities. For the first time in his life, Gabriel was glad that they hadn’t been particularly close; the emotional distance lessened the pain. A couple of the people who’d replaced them, the ones that remembered enough of who they used to be to recognize him and cared enough to act on it, had got in touch. Things had started out awkward and pretty much stayed that way, although he’d done his best to stay in contact. According to the most recent letters and e-mails, one of them was getting married in a few months, one had had an accident while Hunting and was currently under orders to take it easy for a while, and another was getting sick of the colony they were in and thinking of moving. Gabriel had yet to get around to replying.
His situation wasn’t an unusual one. Halloween had left countless families smashed to bits, with the survivors having no choice but to try and reassemble them as best they could. The results were often motley in the extreme. Gabriel personally knew of a family whose core group (i.e. the ones who’d been related pre-Halloween) consisted of a mix of ‘normals’ and characters from no less the five different works of fiction. Add in people who were related to the various characters, a few love interests, their families (which were almost as chaotic as the first one), plus several kids born in the last dozen years, and the result went beyond ‘extended’ and well into ‘stretched so far it’s a miracle nothing’s snapped yet’. Gabriel’s family arrangement was considerably simpler in that with the exception of the tenuously related senders of letters, he didn’t have a family so much as a nakama (one of many Japanese loan words to catch on due to a combination of large numbers of former anime characters and deficiencies in the English language). Said nakama consisted of a few people he’d regularly ended up fighting alongside during attacks and while he didn’t really get chance to see them as much as he’d like (or in some cases even get on them all that well), he knew that if things ever got rougher then they usually were he’d trust them with his life (and in the case of one who was a shinigami, his death), and fight tooth and nail in their defense. This went double for Vlad.
As far as Gabriel was concerned, Vlad was definitely one of the good things in his life. Watching each others backs for weeks on end tends to have that effect, but one of the most telling moments had occurred after his arrival at Sunnydale Colony, when he found out just who Vlad was, or rather who he’d grow up to be. A lot of people would have horrified, but Gabriel just thought about it for a moment then said in no uncertain terms that Vlad wasn’t the same person as his older self, and that just because that was how he turned out that time that didn’t mean that he was going to end up like that this time. He’d then set about making sure of this by every means at his disposal, approaching the challenge in his usual single minded fashion. Much to everyone’s surprise, it worked. The now adult (although for him aging was sort of an optional extra) Vlad still had a vicious streak but not to the same degree as his older self, not to mention being a lot saner and lacking his adult self’s taste for...theatrics. Gabriel had had the opportunity to meet the person Vlad had avoided becoming and had breathed a mental sigh of relief that he’d more or less succeeded in screwing destiny. Vlad’s ongoing efforts to get on his nerves were nothing in comparison.
One of Vlad’s favourite targets in the ‘annoy Gabriel as much as possible’ department was Gabriel’s job. After his release from hospital he’d resolved to make himself useful, only to find that there wasn’t much that he was actually suited for. He wasn’t strong or powerful enough to join the Hunters and mundane jobs had him climbing the walls. Then an opportunity had come up in the form of the Couriers.
Due to the disturbance from the Red Sky, any form of broadcasting or electronic communication was problematic. Add in the War and the need for a secure way for the colonies to share sensitive information and technology became increasingly pressing. One solution was the Couriers. The idea was both simple and complex. Whatever needed to be transported was secured inside a locked container, or if it was information, encrypted, with the intended recipient being informed how to unlock it by some other means unconnected with the Courier. The package was then either sealed into the Courier, leaving a ‘tattoo’ on the torso as the only visible sign (for the paranoid, the tattoo could then concealed with make-up or bandages), or fixed to their body by a particularly ingenious bit of magitech. The Courier then got themselves to their destination as fast as possible using the means available. Numerous safe-guards were built into the package. Firstly, it could only be removed if the Courier let it; secondly any attempt to interfere with it against the courier’s will would cause the package to self-destruct. In the case of the magitech method, there was also an additional precaution against the package falling into the wrong hands in that should the Courier be killed or suddenly loose consciousness, the package would be destroyed. The same applied if someone attempted to cut it out/off the Courier. As a more mundane safety measure the same Courier was never used on the same twice in a month to lessen the chance of them being identified. Of course, all this was useless if the Courier was disloyal or not strong enough to not give it up when threatened or tortured. Gabriel was an ideal recruit. As a Determinator, he had far more then his fair share of Heroic Willpower, and once he started something there was nothing short of death that would stop him finishing it. He also had a good set of nerves, was about as trustworthy as you could get and as a bonus had a high tolerance for pain. He’d had to put this to good use when he’d been captured on his twentieth trip and his captors had attempted to beat the package out of him. By the time he was rescued, he was very bloody and battered, they were very frustrated and the package was still where it should be. After two weeks in the hospital putting medical science to the test, and talking the then fourteen year old Vlad out of doing something unadvisable, Gabriel was back at work, ferrying the details of shield technology to a colony in the south-east.
Early on, the work had been difficult and very dangerous. Transport had been limited so Couriers had to either hitch rides on the Buses or if it was particularly short notice, make nerve wracking trips in smaller (and therefore more vulnerable) armoured vehicles, sometimes with a partner or two, sometimes alone. With the improved transport links in the form of the Boats, Dragon Trains and more Buses, the Couriers’ lives got a lot easier, if still rather pressurized since the package was their responsibility and the contents were usually very important, with the potential for terrible consequences should they fail. Despite this, and Vlad’s snide remarks about mules and carrier pigeons (amongst other things), Gabriel liked his job. It was well paid, the hours were good since they ended up getting a lot of time off, which in years gone by meant more time to devote to the campaign to keep Vlad sane, and he got to travel a lot, expenses paid, which for a man who could never quite get used to not being constantly moving was a very good thing, even without him getting to see the extraordinary variation between the colonies. When Vlad was younger he’d sometimes bring him along on the safer trips in an attempt to broaden his horizons a bit (since Vlad started out more or less mentally stuck in the fifteenth century there was quite a bit of broadening required, although given some of the developments since Halloween, even Gabriel, in his capacity as Vlad’s guide to the twentieth century, found himself out of his depth). These days though, Vlad was busy doing his own thing, which usually meant stomping all over the enemy as part of the Hunter’s Guild, so Gabriel travelled alone. Well, not really alone. After all there were always the other passengers and besides safety in numbers (which counted for a lot when a sizable chunk of that number could kick an ungodly amount of ass with one hand tied behind their back), Gabriel’s hobbies happened to include people watching.
Surveying the crowd around him, Gabriel gave some individuals more attention then others. A guy who’s appearance screamed ‘soldier’ and who looked a little younger than him stood being berated (and threatened with a paper fan) by a blue haired young woman about the same age. To Gabriel’s experienced eye they were obviously a couple and despite the dressing down the guy was getting were in no danger of breaking up any time soon. The argument had a practiced, well trodden quality that you only got with couples who’d been together for years and still had plenty of years left in them. Which was just as well since the woman was showing slightly around the middle.
A flash of colour drew his attention in time to see a man kitted out in Hunter’s gear head towards Animal Check-in, gravity mocking scarlet hair sticking out even when surrounded by anime characters. A few feet away a man with a stripy bucket hat and cane stood reading the departure signs, while near the entrance a extraordinarily bad street artist was having no luck what so ever at selling anything but didn’t seem to be all that down about it.
Gabriel was resisting the temptation to check his watch again when his ears pricked up at the sound of an announcement.
“Dragon Train Summers is now arriving. Will passengers please make their way to the security check-point.”