3-23-2000

Oh yes...and some people HAVE been asking for this. Blame them. Standard
disclaimers apply.

 

Pyractomena Borealis VII

 

"Excuse me, lady! Sorry! Sorry!" Taking my life into my hands, I ducked down and scooped bunches of bags and little boxes into my arms. "Here!" I thrust the armload of stuff at the little old lady that I'd almost knocked over in my haste to get through the crowd. She grabbed her packages away from me and quickly disappeared off into the crowd, probably worried that I was going to run her over again or something. I ducked quickly and fought my way up to a more vertical position when some guy that must have been a sumo wrestler in a previous life almost ran ME down. Low to the ground in the middle of a crowded walkway in downtown Tokyo's shopping district on a weekend was not a great place to be. And I'd managed to lose Heero. Again. Damnit. I pushed through the crowd, liberally elbowing people out of my way until I got to a small clear space right by the doorway of the store. And as luck would have it, there he was, waiting for me and somehow managing to look smug and impatient at the same time. "You know, you could try waiting up for me."

He looked at me like I'd suggested the sky was green. "You could move more quickly."

"We're shopping. You're not supposed to move quickly when you're shopping. It's not a freaking mission." I glared at him, moving a little bit closer so he could hear me over the dull roar of the crowd. "Chill out, will you? I've still got a headache."

Heero snorted, then turned and melted into the crowd again. Shit. You'd think that the only guy on earth with bad enough dress sense to wear nothing but green tanktops and black spandex shorts would stand out in the crowd. Not so. The idiot could vanish like a rabbit into the briar patch if he felt like it. I took a brief moment to think about the way his shorts looked on him...and how cool the tank top of his had to be in the melting heat as compared to my long sleeved (HOT) shirt. Maybe he wasn't the idiot in the scenario after all. I started pushing my way through the crowd after him.

Despite all of my internal bitching, I still was having fun. It was the weekend, and I loved weekends. It was during the day, so I didn't have to worry about vampires, which was a bonus. Also, we'd decided that we needed to take a break from trying to figure out how to deal with the new mess because the confrontation with the vampire and his buddies had ruined my last dress shirt, so I needed to buy a couple new ones if I wanted to show up in the classroom on Monday. This was Heero's big idea, not mine. I had absolutely no objection to not being able to go to class, but seemingly, he was subscribing to the "misery loves company" school of thought. Still, it meant being outside in the fresh air and sunlight, even if it was kind of hot, and it meant I got to have Heero to myself for a whole day. I hoped. Furtively, I glanced over my shoulder, half expecting Relena to jump out from the side of a building. I was getting too paranoid. Still, she was a lot more persistent then the vampires could ever hope to be...and unlike the vampires, if she pissed me off, I couldn't shoot her.

I squeezed between a man and his wife and somehow managed to catch up to Heero. I quickly grabbed the back of his shirt and held on. It wasn't a leash, but it would work. He glanced back at me, and for just a moment, I thought he smiled before he went back to cutting through the crowd, this time towing me in his wake. He must have spotted whatever store he was looking for, since he was moving with so much purpose that it was a wonder the crowd didn't part for us like the Red Sea had for Moses. Heero pulled an abrupt, almost ninety degree turn and I lost my grip on his shirt, then managed to trip on a non-existent crack in the sidewalk. I love it when that happens, really. For once, I didn't fall on my face. Instead, I just stumbled around for a second in my best spastic fashion before someone grabbed me by the arm and yanked me out of the heat and into the dim recesses of a department store entryway.

It was Heero of course. For once, he had the common courtesy to keep a hold of my arm until I managed to catch my balance. I glanced up at him, and he was smirking. Shit, I hate that smirk sometimes.

"Are you done?" he asked.

I glared at him. "Bite me."

One of Heero's eyebrows twitched, and he gave me a "don't-tempt-me-because-you-won't-like-it" look--the problem with that being that I probably would like it, a great deal--before he turned and went through the second set of glass doors that led into the store proper.

I managed to not trip over the tiles in the entryway and followed him before the doors shut. It was like we'd stepped into a different world from the street outside. It wasn't as bright, so I actually had to take off my sunglasses, and it was even cooler than the entryway had been. I could even hear the soft hum of chilled air being put through the ceiling vents over the soft, new-agey music that was being piped through the store. I've never understood why stores always have music like that playing. I guess it's meant to be soothing. Instead, I either feel like I'm trapped in an elevator, or depending on the new-agey music, like I'm watching "Invasion of the Pod People" without the benefit of Joel and the bots.[1] It's just...weird. Not exactly the shopping environment I'm looking for. Then again, I've been in a store where they play my kind of music, as in heavy metal.[2] That wasn't exactly my kind of shopping environment either.

Heero had paused for a minute when he got through the doors, and I managed to grab the back of his tank top again. He looked back at me. "What?"

I tried not to laugh in his face. "Somehow, I don't think we're in the right place to get me shirts." I pointed to the side, where several metal racks festooned with bright red and blue lingerie sat. The entire floor was a fest of bright colors garnished with flowing bits of silky pastel stuff that might have been shirts or might have been nightgowns...I really couldn't tell either way. "I mean, yeah, I guess one of those red things would look good on me, but I don't think it comes in my cup size." I wiggled my eyebrows at Heero.

"Baka." He commented, then surveyed the floor slowly. For once, he seemed at a loss for something to do. I guess his training hadn't covered the eventuality of ending up in the middle of the women's department.

"And you have to admit, the kinda gold lame type...er...whatever-the-hell-it-is over there would look great on you..." Sometimes, I really don't know when to quit. I was rewarded with a classic Yuy death glare. I grinned at him, grabbed his arm, and pulled him into the depths of the store, searching for a sales clerk.

It's kind of funny how the clerks always go on break at the same time. I mean, really, you'd think they wouldn't want to young men wandering around in the underwear department unsupervised. After about ten minutes of wandering aimlessly through isles of purses and shoes and god knows what else, we managed to find someone, or rather, someone managed to find us.

One minute I was walking along, minding my own business and trying to find a clerk or a floor plan or something, and the next I was viscously attacked from behind. Before I knew what hit me, I was engulfed in a cloud of sickly sweet flowery scent. I whipped around to confront my attacker, a short, mousy young woman that seemed to have a vapid smile permanently stuck on her face. She bowed politely at me, still smiling, completely ignoring the fact that we were now blocking the aisle, which appeared to be causing a pretty bad traffic jam.

"Good day, ma'am!" she chirruped. "That's our famous white lace lilly perfume. Lovely, isn't it?"

I just stared at her.

"Ma'am?" her smile faded a little, replaced with a look of genuine concern. "Are you alright?"

I sneezed violently, then went back to staring at her, this time with my eyes watering profusely. "...ma'am...?" I choked out. I heard a soft noise behind me that sounded suspiciously like a quiet laugh, but I must have been imagining it. Heero? Laugh at something other than mass destruction? Naw. I sneezed once more. Then again...

The girl was watching me like I'd just grown a second head, which I suppose I had, in a way. "I...I'm sorry, sir." she stuttered. "I just saw your hair...and...oh, I'm so sorry!"

I sneezed again. I don't know how women manage to wear perfume...god, it smells awful. "It's...ok." I managed to get out between sneezes.

Heero appeared from behind me. "It's alright." he said, a little more gently than I would have thought him capable of. "It happens to him all the time. I keep telling him that he needs to get a haircut."

"--hey!"

Heero firmly grabbed my upper arm and started pulling me away from the girl, cutting right through the crowd. I glanced at him, and he was wearing an expression that looked suspiciously like a smirk. "It's nice to see that SOMEONE'S amused." I said in my most snide tone, even putting on my most elegant of sneers just for him. The effect was ruined when I sneezed again. "God..." I moaned, "I smell like Relena now."

"To be perfectly fair to...her...she wears less perfume."

"Oh, that is hitting below the belt, man..." I tell you, some days it just isn't worth chewing through the restraints. I refrained from saying anything else, because I had a feeling that if I gave Heero the opportunity for another nasty jab, he'd take it. And then I'd have no choice but to kill him. Well...try to kill him. Or at least maim him. Well...TRY to maim him. Shit.

Eventually, we did manage to find our way up to the men/boy's department, which was on the second floor, right next to the girl's department, and we had to walk by the lingerie section again to get to it. Life's just not fair. The crowd on the second floor was pretty thin, a nice change from downstairs. I guess not too many guys go shopping on their days off. I know that if I'd had my way, I would have been sitting around in my underwear and reading, or even better, blowing shit up (well...I would have been fully dressed for that). I had managed to steal a copy of the chem lab's key yesterday...

We navigated our way through the boy's section of the floor, weaving in and out between racks of merrily colored shirts with various licensed cartoon characters on them, as well as miniature copies of the school uniform that I was subjected to every weekday and several variations thereof. It's amazing the amount people will pay and the lengths to which they will go to dress their kids in the most humiliating things imaginable. I guess that was one thing I managed to get out of by not having any relatives in the land of the living.

The men's section had a counter specifically for school uniforms, which was right next to the counter specifically for school uniforms for elementary school girls and boys. As soon as Heero spotted it, he dragged me over, narrowly missing running me into a big display of Sanrio products. He didn't let go of my arm until we were both standing in front of the counter, like he thought I was going to make a break for it or something. Geeze...and I was the one that normally had to drag him out to go shopping. Some people.

A little old lady popped out from under the counter and smiled at us both without really looking at us, her face turning into a mass of wrinkles. Considering that she looked like she was about 100, she didn't seem to be doing too bad for her age--her hair was still nice and thick even if it was pure white, and she was moving really well. "Good day, boys." her voice was also nice and strong, almost commanding. She'd probably been one kick ass lady when she was younger. "What do you need?"

Heero didn't say anything, so after a minute, I shrugged and decided to take over. Since I was here, I figured I might as well get what I came for. "I need three white dress shirts for a 78a style school uniform, please." I said as pleasantly as I could.

The minute I spoke, the smile disappeared off of the little old grandma-type's face. I've never seen someone change so completely before. One minute, she was the old lady from across the street, a little loopy but otherwise cool, and the next instant, she was a lioness--old, yeah, but sure as hell not something you wanted to mess with or even get to close to. "Duo Maxwell." she said quietly. All the friendliness had drained from her voice, leaving nothing but cold behind.

I shivered slightly. It wasn't the voice...my teachers used that one me all the time. No, it was something else. The old lady felt a lot bigger than she looked, and I had the feeling that she could reach out and squash me like a cockroach if I so much as looked at her wrong. This old woman had POWER. "Yes ma'am." I said quietly.

She nodded slightly. "I recognize you from the memories that have been shared with me. You have a great deal of explaining to do, young man."

The phrasing was just too perfect, but I didn't say anything. I knew better than to joke around with this, even if I had no idea what the hell was going on. I could feel Heero almost radiating tension beside me. "I don't know what you're talking about, ma'am." I said.

"I don't suppose you would, since you're obviously an amateur." she said. The room temperature felt like it dropped, and I glanced behind me, out of instinct more than anything else. A man was walking toward us. Suddenly, he stopped mid-step, then turned and headed the opposite direction, a faintly puzzled expression on his face. "I was going to come looking for you when I had a spare moment, but you've kindly taken care of that for me."

The hair on my arms stood up and did a little hula dance, and my world shifted ever so slightly. The woman blurred, then snapped back into focus, and she looked quite different. While she was still obviously old, she looked much more well preserved...her hair was pure black without a trace of white in it. A series of elaborate, blue ink tattoos crawled up her cheeks and into her hairline. That wasn't what I was really looking at, though. What had me was the fact that her eyes were pure white, sightless and milky, yet somehow, I knew she was looking right at me.

"What are you?" I said, a lot more steadily than I felt.

"You already know." she said.

And I did. "You're a witch."

"Very good." she said quietly.

Her power breathed over my skin, enveloping me in a cloud of unseen energy. "A very powerful witch." I said, "and very old."

"I am the highest of the high witches of the Tokyo coven, Duo Maxwell."

"What--" Heero started to say, his voice very dark.

"Be silent." The high witch gestured, and strangely enough, Heero shut up. I was really tempted to ask her how she's done it. I would come in handy next time Heero felt the need to rant at me about something or the other. "Maxwell, you killed one of my witches."

I let myself have a little taste of relief. "That's what this is about? Let me explain--"

"There are no explanations, Maxwell. I am well aware of the fact that she was the servant of one of the more odious vampires that dared to tread in our territory." The old woman's face showed just how distasteful she found that to be...I would have rated it somewhere between a dead rat floating in the pool and an infomercial marathon on channel 27.

It didn't make sense. "And you're mad at me for killing--"

"She was a witch, Maxwell. She belonged to me and the rest of the high witches. She was ours to judge and execute. Rest assured that she would have faced our wrath for her crimes, but your wrong does not make a right. You came perilously close to revealing our presence. Only Hara saved us from discovery, and that, too, you must answer for."

"Now wait a damn minute--" I started to say, but the witch interrupted me again.

"This is for our protection as well as yours. You don't seem to be terribly cautious about using what power you have, Maxwell. We aren't the only group that you have offended and angered, but we are the first." She straightened to her full height, which was, shockingly enough, taller than me. "You will face the council of our coven, Maxwell, and you will explain yourself."

I saw Heero clench his hands into fists out of the corner of my eye, and without thinking, I did the same thing. I was angry now. I wasn't a witch, I was doing my job, and I was damn sick of people pushing me around. As if pissy vampires weren't enough, I had to deal with a bunch of witches now too. "I don't have to--" I saw the witch open her mouth to interrupt me yet again, and my frustration level went through the roof.

Three things happened at once--the witch started to say something, pointing at me in a rather threatening manner...I took a step forward, intending to go toe to toe with her, since I was just that pissed...and I heard an all too familiar voice squeal, "HEERO!"

Then the Sanrio display behind us exploded, sending flaming Hello Kitty toys shooting in all directions like some kind of sick, too cute shrapnel, and I had other things to worry about.

 

 

[1] Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference.
[2] This is a reference back to Carmelita's, the little shop of horrors from Acherontia Atropos.