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Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Shadowed Suspicion Volume VI

Chapter Text

          Eileen Goodwill, 62.

          She’s sitting in a park staring listlessly at the moving trees.  She’s thinking of her adopted child.  It’s cold, and she shivers a little.  She probably should get back to her flat, get something warm on, but the thought of moving at this moment is unbearable.

          Teresa Goodwill.  Died when she was 11.  To be more specific, she had committed suicide.

          There are probably birds chirping, but she can’t hear them.  Or maybe the sound of the world is just muted.

          Eileen had been young, full of optimism.  She could handle her burgeoning career and do a good deed by giving an orphan a good life.

          No one had bothered to tell her that Teresa had severe depression.  No one had given her the money needed to help treat her young daughter, and she was already overwhelmed because her belief in her ability to take what life threw at her didn’t match reality.  No one, not even Teresa’s teacher, warned her that she’d talked about suicide.

          Even the light seems dimmer.

          She got called in to work unexpectedly, an ‘emergency’, and couldn’t find anyone to look after Teresa on short notice.  She returned home to find her daughter on the floor.  They’d gotten her to hospital as quickly as possible, but she’d ended up dying later from complications.

          The air is biting. Cold.

          She went to jail for child neglect. 10 years.  She’s not sure if it’s better or worse than she deserves.  Because on one hand a troubled little girl is gone from the world, but she hadn’t been prepared no matter what she’d thought, and nobody had bothered to take that into account, to help her.

          Like the world is continually judging her.

          When she got out, she got the best job she could.  It’s not the life she imagined when she was small.  And she gives to charity, but it will never erase her sins…

          She’s just tired.  She’s spent her entire existence trying to make up for what she’s done—

          “Excuse me, Miss?”  There’s a small tug at her skirt.  She blinks, trying to pull herself back into the present.

          She glances down to see a girl, tears in her eyes but otherwise keeping herself together.  She’s being terribly brave.

          “What’s wrong, little girl?” she asks, and another thought occurs to her.  “Where are your parents?”

          “My sister told me to stay put,” she answers, her lip quivering.

          “Your sister’s probably looking for you, frantic.  You probably shouldn’t have disobeyed her,” Eileen informs her gently.  It’s not a problem that the little girl decided to talk to her, considering her motives are good, but if she’d chosen the wrong person…the parks were safer than they used to be, but it’s far too dangerous for a small girl to be wandering around on her own.

          “I always listen to what she tells me,” the girl states proudly, before pouting.  “But Murr ran away.  She jumped out of my arms and she’s lost and she’s more in danger than I am!  Sis wouldn’t want me to just abandon Murr.  She got her for me after all.”

          Eileen smiles, the burden lifting off of her shoulders.  She might have failed Teresa, but she’s not going to fail this little girl, no matter how cold it is, or the fact that she has a weird feeling—all the better than she stays with the girl and helps her.

          “Well, let’s find Murr and your sister, all right?” She stands, a little slowly—her joints aren’t what they used to be—but she smiles down at the little girl.  “I’m Eileen.  What’s your name?”

          “I’m Pixie.  It’s nice to meet you, Eileen!” Pixie states brightly.  She reaches up and takes Eileen’s hand, and her small hand is warm and shy.

          “So, what kind of animal is Murr?”  It’s a strange name, but she’d named her dog Floppy when she was four, so it’s not like she can talk.

          “Murr is my fluffy bunny.  She knows who the bad people are and she keeps me safe.”  Pixie starts dragging Goodwill through the park.

          “That’s good,” the older woman states, even as she’s not sure if that’s actually true.  She’s never heard of a runaway rabbit and isn’t sure if they’ll even be able to find this Murr, but she’ll at the least try.  Of course this Murr ran away in the most secluded area of the park, where hedges are cut in a small maze.  They look neglected, like no one has bothered to trim them and keep them in good condition.  They’re overgrown and uninviting.  “Has Murr ever run away before?”

          “She likes to run away when we go to the park.  I think she thinks it’s a game.  She’ll come with the clicker, though.”  Pixie holds up what looks like a dog clicker proudly and starts using it. The clicking is actually slightly ominous, but if it helps them find the wayward rabbit, it’s worth the effort.

          It’s actually slightly anticlimactic when the rabbit emerges from a shrubbery as they pass it not two minutes into the maze.  It looks at them apparently entirely innocently, like it hadn’t run off and scared a little girl.  Fluffy and adorable.

          Eileen blinks.  If she didn’t know better, she’d say that the rabbit has…three eyes.  But that’s absurd.

          Pixie kneels down, letting Eileen’s hand go, arms open wide.  “There you are, Murr.  I was worried.”  The rabbit jumps directly in her arms, as if it had been waiting.  Something in her voice sounds wrong—and don’t rabbits usually dislike being picked up?  She vaguely remembers that from somewhere…

          It happens quickly, too quick to properly catalogue in her mind.  One moment, she’s fine.  The next, there’s something cold pressing into her back, a sudden wetness spreading.  It takes a moment for her to even comprehend what’s going on, and honestly she doesn’t realize until there’s a second instance of the cold and the pain hits her.

          “Pixie, run…” Eileen manages, gasping out the words as she falls to her knees, coughing up blood with the force of the blows.

          She blinks in utter confusion as the girl smiles angelically at her, seemingly unworried about the presence of a killer.  She strokes the fur of the rabbit in her hands.  “Daddy always told me that I wouldn’t amount to anything.  I had to show him how wrong he was.”  She smiles calmly.  “Miss Murder says you’re a bad person.  You’re the reason your daughter’s dead, Miss Eileen.  Isn’t it lucky that your sins always come back to haunt you?”

          Eileen opens her mouth to ask a question, deny it, ask Pixie what’s wrong, but all that comes out is a scream as the blows come again and again.  Her last sight in this world is the pure, smiling expression of the child as she strokes the rabbit.

Chapter Text

Case Number XXXXXXX

Date: 00 Month, 2004

Location: XXXXX

Reporting Officers: Astrid Green, Jasper Davidson

Incident Type: Homicide

 

Witnesses:

Dr. Arabella Hall: marine biologist, coworker. Female, 24, English.

 

Evidence: A blood-covered harpoon, decorative

Record of keycard usage
Blood recovered from the shark pool

Bodies of sharks

 

On date, at approximately 10:54 AM, Dr. Arabella Hall reported to work as per her work schedule for that week. When she arrived, she saw that her coworker (Dr. Robert Ackerman)’s locker was slightly open and proceeded to open the locker. She discovered the remains of Dr. Ackerman inside the locker and proceeded to the women’s restroom to vomit before calling the police.

Officer Jasper Davidson arrived at the scene and cordoned off the scene. The owner of the zoo, Theodore “Teddie” James, was on scene by this point and distraught more by the possibility of portions of the zoo being shut down than by his employee’s death. Officer Green had to mention obstruction of justice before he allowed us full access.

Blood was found in the pool, and the analysts are trying to extract DNA from the blood to determine whether the blood came from Dr. Ackerman, the sharks, or the perpetrator. I also found blood traces with application of luminol in the shower area. It had been cleaned with bleach. Given the amount of blood present there, I suspect that the shower area is at least where the body was cut up, particularly since drops were found between the shower area and the lockers where his body was found. The shower area would also serve as a much easier location to cut up the body than in the pool.

The analysts are also examining the bodies of sharks found within the shark pool. They had also been cut up. Preliminary results suggest that a different instrument was used to cut up the sharks and Dr. Ackerman, and the techs even briefly mentioned that they’d never seen anything like what had been used on the sharks.

Practically everything was wiped down, and I wasn’t able to find any useful fingerprints.

Officer Eduard Romero from the Gang Unit added that the victim had met with members of the Ogre Street Gang on occasion and is checking out that lead. In general neither the Ogre Street Gang nor their rivals are known for homicide, particularly in such a brutal fashion, but it’s worth the investigation.

There were a number of visitors still in the zoo.The electronic equipment experienced some sort of power fluctuation all day.None of the staff questioned noted any visitors approaching the back, and even if they did, they would have needed a keycard to get into the area.No keycards had been reported stolen.The owner, Dr. Patrick Robertson, Dr. Timothy Hawkins, and Dr. Arabella Hall were the only recorded entries into the area, leading to questions of when and why Dr. Ackerman entered the restricted area.Dr. Hall entered the area at the time she stated, and this was later than the presumed time of death (likely between 9AM and 10:30AM, as neither the center nor the system was open before 9AM and there was at least some cooling before the discovery of the body).

Dr. Ackerman hadn’t been scheduled to report into work until the same time as Dr. Hall. None of the zoo staff remembered seeing Dr. Ackerman arrive, and why he would have reported to work early or how he’d entered the area is unknown. They weren’t certain, but believed only actual employees had entered the back, especially during the estimated time of death. It’s possible that if the power out anyone could have gotten in, though the owner claims that the system was designed as to lock if the power went out. Officer Green is going to question the company that installed the system to determine if it is certain that the system locks when the power goes out. If this is true, then it is likely one of the three who used their keycards, escorting him into the back and then killing him.

It is believed that some of Dr. Ackerman’s research notes were stolen, but since he didn’t discuss his work with his colleagues it is unclear what if any papers were missing from his locker (the same one he had been stuffed in).

No obvious clues were found in Dr. Ackerman’s flat. There were no copies of the research notes or indications what might have been contained in those notes. There were no notes on the calendar or notepad as to meetings or reasons for going in early. There are no obvious signs of a disturbance.

A decorative harpoon ended up in pieces in the pool. It is not the right size to be the murder weapon. Nothing was found that could match the cuts of the murder weapon. The victim was cut into pieces alive. Apparently, the cuts were sloppy, meaning that the culprit has probably at least not killed in this way before and does not have previous experience such as with someone who had previously killed, or a doctor or butcher. The mortician believes that the cause of death was blood loss. ......

 

Case Number XXXXXXX

Date: 00 Month, 2004

Location: XXXXX

Reporting Officers: Astrid Green, Jasper Davidson, Nicholas Gibbons, and Mohammed Khan

Incident Type: Double Homicide

 

Witnesses:

XXXXXX

Neighbor Jasmine Lane

Neighbors Mr. Archer Moss and Mrs. Margaret Moss

 

Evidence: (3) broken chairs

(1) broken vase

XXXXXX

XXXXXX

XXXXXX

XXXXXX

 

At approximately 0000, we received two 999 phone calls about a fight in a residence, XXXXXX. We have had to report to this residence before for similar calls, but this time smoke was also mentioned. Paramedics Julius Fisher and Olivia Flint and firefighters John Hoyle and Peter Hearne also reported to the house as neither call indicated whether anyone was hurt and whether a fire was present that could spread.

Upon entering the residence it was discovered that Gloria and Julius Violetta were deceased.A number of the items within including the furniture were broken, and other items, and other items, such as jewelry boasted about to neighbor Jasmine Lane, were missing.

Officer Khan needed a minute, as the signs of burglary and the multiple stab wounds to the stomach reminded him of the infamous XXXXX case he worked. Since the criminals are still in prison, the possibility of a copycat has been raised. Cause of death in both cases was pronounced to be blood loss, between 0000-0000, and the coroner has assured me that the deaths would have been long, slow, and painful.

The adoptive daughter, Darling Violetta, is still missing. Officer reports that he spoke to a girl approximately fitting that description, but had not been informed of the fact that the Violettas had a daughter at the time—

Chapter Text

          “I don’t have time to watch you read all of the case files, as much as I enjoy the view,” the police officer interrupts, and Andrew jumps.  He’s never gotten to read things like this except in books and it’s fascinating seeing the real thing in person.

          “Are you...supposed to be giving me these things?” he asks, fidgeting a little, because this Officer Davidson is handsome and he doesn’t want to get the guy in trouble even if police reports could be kinda useful (honestly, if they needed copies they could always just get Willow to hack the server; she’d been rusty to start with but she’d gotten a lot better once she got back into the swing of things)…

          “Those are copies, and don’t worry, I wasn’t as blatant as photocopying all of these,” Officer Davidson (he can’t think of the guy as Jasper, he needs to retain that professional distance) responds with a smile.  “Though I’m flattered by the fact that you’re worried about me.”

          “Why are you giving these to me, then?” Andrew’s gotten a lot better about not being flustered but this officer is definitely getting to him.  It might be the uniform.

          The copper reaches out and taps his fingers on the files, as if to prove a point.  “It’s the nature of the incidents.  I didn’t mention it in the first report, but I’m almost certain that the case is a locked room mystery.  Green won’t say it but she suspects the owner, though I wonder if that isn’t half his attitude.  If not for the sharks, I might have agreed, but they almost appear like their stomachs exploded, and this isn’t some cartoon.  Someone didn’t just stuff dynamite down their jaws.”

          That does kind of sound like a spell, or maybe a demon, but that might just be because that’s Andrew’s area of expertise.  He doesn’t say anything in response, which the officer takes as an invitation to continue.

          “Unfortunately, the blood in the pool was found to be a mix of shark blood and that of a young man called Alexander Harris.”  Andrew starts, eyes wide, and if the cop had come here to gather information he’s unfortunately getting more of it than planned.  “This Harris from what I could find has ties to the Council, so I thought that I would warn you he’s wanted at the very least as a witness.  I can also tell you that the research stolen was not to do with marine biology, but in fact had to do with his side job.  Dr. Ackerman worked with me to build a list on a new group of magic-users calling themselves Stand Users.  I suspect he wanted to share his results with someone not me, but I didn’t ask about that directly, as I have to be careful myself.  Sharing information like this could get me in a lot of trouble if I wasn’t careful.”

          Andrew opens his mouth only to be met by another smile.  “I’m careful.”  He shrugs and continues.  “There’s more.  The ashes and blood in that circle are being pushed as a satanic ritual angle by the media.  I’m aware that amount of ash probably indicates a horde of vampires, but that much blood is too much to have come from a single Slayer, and the Council I knew wasn’t in the habit of taking matters into their own hands.  You’ll be glad to hear that the DNA concealing spell worked.  Similarly, the media seems to have convinced the public that the stunt with the statues is just that: a stunt.  We both know better.”

          “This isn’t Dr. Who.  The world’s tech isn’t good enough we’ve got flying robots yet,” Andrew agrees, earning a brilliant smile before Davidson gets back to the serious conversation. 

          “There are several other copycat killings.  The means of death are all different—a few are even being treated as suicides—but I put together the pattern of copycat deaths and a common thread between the victims.  All had tried to adopt children, though it’s not probably a case of the adoptive children being fae or something as in some cases the adoptive children weren’t even alive at the time of death.  Again, sounds like the Council’s sort of case.  There’s someone who threw themselves in front of a lorry, but that might’ve just been an actual case of suicide as they weren’t an adoptive parent.  I’ve found the bodies of known witches and demons, dead with no cause of death.  The last one is more of an oddity than anything, but I thought I’d include it while I was at it—the death of artist Courtney Love.  She wasn’t an adoptive parent like the others. She leapt to her death, and the fall killed her, but there was water in her lungs the first time the body was examined, and no sign of the water upon re-examination.  It’s being treated as a mistake, but McLaren isn’t the type to make that kind of mistake.  Love had just had a physical, and I’m informed the doctor found no sign of pneumonia then.” 

          Andrew blinks, confused.

          “I wouldn’t have even have included it if my instincts hadn’t said there was more to this case than meets the eye…and if six bodies of young women hadn’t been found missing their eyes and with symptoms of drowning without a drop in their lungs at the old Council mansion.”  The officer leans forward, eyes hard.  “The last time this many Council bodies showed up, I was told the world was ending and I needed to stay away for my own safety.  How bad is this going to get?”

          Watcher Wells takes a moment to process, because that’s a lot to be told all at once and he really has to think through what he says next—“Lawyers also started a gang war in Italy,” he blurts accidentally and then finds himself blushing, because foot-in-mouth syndrome seems to be catching.

          Officer Davidson stifles a snort, eyes crinkling up at the smile.

          “Ah, Officer Davidson.  I’m pleased you managed to avoid the attentions of the First,” Giles adds, and Andrew starts a little, sitting up straighter and brushing imaginary wrinkles out of his suit.  He’s not sure if Giles doesn’t notice, or if Giles is just pretending not to notice to spare him embarrassment.

          “Sir Giles.  I remember you.  Thanks for the warning.  Am I allowed to know what happened with all that?”  Officer Davidson rises a little from his seat, offering a hand for a handshake, which Giles accepts.  Andrew is both pleased and a little embarrassed that Davidson is friendly and respectful but not flirty with Giles.

          “Fortunately, the world didn’t end, and we were able to rebuild.  There’s more than one Slayer in the world now, as you might have guessed.  Unfortunately, someone managed to turn some of those Slayers into vampires, and in addition, the Wolfram & Hart lawyers seem to have made an enemy of a water demon—probably the same one that attacked the mansion.  I believe it was looking for answers, as we did have research on Wolfram & Hart in the mansion.”

          Davidson nods thoughtfully.  “I have noticed more activity on their front as well, but Watcher Butterworth warned me it was better to not get involved there.”

          “I’m sorry to inform you that Audrey is dead, though it is true, as someone without powers it’s better not to get involved with their firm.”  Giles attempts a smile.  “You’ll be glad to hear that we are most likely not on the verge of another apocalypse.  We appreciate the information, as it brought to light a number of incidents we were not aware of.  The only information we can really give you in return is that there is a new power akin to that of a witch that is highly dangerous, and a special arrow artifact unlocks that ability.  Other than that, I can only promise you that we will look into and attempt to solve those incidents, and ask you to take care.”

          Officer Davidson sighs but nods.  “I would ask the both of you do the same, particularly you, Andrew, was it?”  He stands, and smiles, and Andrew stammers.

          “I’ll l-lead you out!”  He almost knocks the chair over in his haste, and yet Officer Davidson doesn’t act like he’s a klutz or a burden.

          “With such enthusiasm, how could I say no?”

Chapter Text

       Buffy’s so very done with arguing with her friends.  She’s not good with being told that she can’t do something, and while they’re right that Council resources almost overnight became something a lot smaller, they can spare, say, a day to check some of these threats out, because one threat less is another threat that’s not going to come to kill them later.  It was nice having a short break teasing Andrew about the cute police officer flirting with him, but it didn’t provide enough of a distraction. 

       She walks into her room, exhausted, and freezes, as if time itself has stopped.  There’s a young blond man posing in the nice fluffy armchair she’d hauled down to her new room in their new base.  From the way he’s sitting, it’s like a throne, and he’s the king.  “Excuse me, can I help you?”  It’s her idea of banter before she has to attack the intruder, but he treats it seriously, as if it was an actual question.

       “I was hoping we could help each other.”  The voice is familiar, but she can’t quite place it.  It’s quiet, polite, gentle almost, but there’s something underneath the careful enunciation and slight accent.  “I’m afraid I made a move without asking about your own plans, but the situation is a dynamic one, and I’m sure you would not begrudge us acting on our own interests.”

       Buffy doesn’t think he’s one of the new Watchers, partly because she doesn’t recognize him and partly because the way he’s talking suggests he’s not part of the new Slayer’s and Watcher’s Council.  “Uh.  Who are you?”

       He coughs politely, looking for but a fraction of a second embarrassed.  “Of course, my apologies.  I should have realized that expecting Dr. Kujo to explain is a futile effort.”  He holds out a hand languidly for her to shake.  “My name is Giorno Giovanna, Signorina Summers.  I called about the theft of the Stand Arrow before.”

       She breathes out carefully.  “That got the love of my life killed.”

       He blinks, and actually takes a moment or two to respond.  “That reinforces my resolve to act against Wolfram and Hart.  I’m not sure your people could be called ‘innocent’ any more than mine, but they have gone too far.”

       That’s…not exactly an apology, but it’s acceptable.  From one warrior to another, it’s a focus on what really matters.  It’s better than false sympathy—well, not that this person would give her that; it sounds like he honestly would be sorry, because he’s seen and experienced the same sorts of tragedy, but the apologies aren’t productive, and it’s not like he’s sorry for actually warning them about the Arrow since apparently that’s a big deal.

       “You feel weird,” she realizes, eyeing him carefully.

       There’s a spark in his eyes—amusement, excitement, something else.  “Interesting.  My research called you a Vampire Slayer, but the exact abilities were not detailed.  What you probably sense…is my father.”  He produces an ornate golden cross from somewhere, twirling it between his fingers.  If it wasn’t such an elaborate production, it would be showing off.  “My father was a vampire named DIO.  I believe his name was mentioned during the phone call.  I have been working to undo the damage he caused.”

       “You’re…the son of a vampire?”  She’s trying to remember whether she’s actually heard of anything along those lines before.  Is she supposed to attack him on principle, or—wait, is she supposed to treat him like…like Spike and others like that, if he’s actually working to protect people?  Was the dad one of those new vampires they hadn’t encountered before?

       “Yes.  He stole padre Jonathan’s body, which is why I share the birthmark, according to Polnareff.  I do not believe most vampires are capable of reproduction.”  He shrugs elaborately.  “I explain this to you so you can trust me to be honest with you.”

       He says that, but she senses his resolve.  He’s ready for a fight, should she start one.

       “…You realize how all of this sounds, right?” she responds, finally sitting down on the bed and letting herself relax a little.

       That’s the slightest sign of a smile.  “Oh, I’m aware.  My best advisor is a ghost trapped in the soul room of a turtle.”  He lets the cross hang from his hand casually.  “I am aware that such things also need verification.  It would be irresponsible not to check your facts, after all.”

       She snorts.  “Is that what you do?”

       “Of course.”  He’s still amused.  “I’d be a poor leader of the Passione if I did otherwise.”

       Of course, he’s not the only one, either.  He looks a bit bemused as she bursts into a fit of full-body laughter.  “…Okay, that sounds like either a strip club or a boy band.”

       He coughs, and for the first time looks not entirely in control of the situation.  He hadn’t been expecting that, apparently.  “It’s a gang,” he corrects softly, once he gets his voice back.  “I believe it would be comparable to the Mafia, if you are inclined to think of it in such a way.  Naturally, the traditional Mafia doesn’t have Stands.”  Well, that explains the whole Italy comment Jotaro had made earlier.  A whole country full of mobsters with powers (whose boss was related to Xander, how weird was that) would definitely be a deterrent. 

       “Naturally,” she echoes.  “So, assuming I believe you are who you say—why would you be here expecting my help and vice versa?”

       He nods, pulling—is that a mouse?—out of one of his pockets.  He pets it.  “Relax,” he reassures her, before making a complicated gesture with his hands that she suspects isn’t entirely necessary, and it’s—

       It’s a bunch of papers?  Does he know magic, or?

       “It’s the power of Gold Experience.”  He’s definitely smug about it, but then, she’d be smug if she could, say, create spider webs as tough as Kevlar with a ghostly representation of her soul.  “Research, though naturally I didn’t copy everything.  Wolfram & Hart has involved itself in places it should not have been, only they pose more danger than the vampires that established themselves on the island.  Fugo volunteered to deal with them and with his Stand the cleanup was relatively easy.”  The smile turns slightly nasty. 

       That’s the sign of a killer.  It’s taken her forever to accept her own predatory nature, the nature of a Slayer.  “Sorry about our mess.  We’d meant to clean it up.”

       He waves it off casually, as if it really was the spilt milk that required a few towels she’d treated it as.  “On the other hand, Wolfram & Hart is not so isolated, and therefore unleashing Purple Haze among a civilian populace would be highly irresponsible.  I dispatched a few of my Stand Users, ones good at assassination, to deal with the representatives of Wolfram & Hart they could, but I feel neither our forces nor yours could stop them entirely on our own.  Joining our power to deal with this threat is the best way.”  He nods at the now-inanimate files sitting on his lap.  “From what I can tell, Wolfram & Hart is recruiting already existing Stand Users, making themselves a clear and present threat, particularly when they don’t know their place and seek mastery of the Stand Arrows.”

       “Recruiting?”  That doesn’t sound good.

       “The test to join appears to be successful elimination of a name on a list.  Cugino Johan’s name is one of these targets.”  The wrath in those blue eyes promises danger to any idiot going that far.

       Well.  That’s definitely not good.  “Come with me.  Giles needs to hear this.”

       He inclines his head and gestures for her to lead on.

Chapter Text

          Giorno might be a little uncomfortable walking through their base filled with Slayers, who might also sense his not-entirely-human status, but to his credit he shows absolutely no signs of this.  If he was entirely human, he wouldn’t ‘ping’ at all.  Instead, he feels like this odd mix between the wrongness of a vampire or demon and the reassuring feeling of another Slayer that screams ‘ally’, and it’s vaguely disconcerting.  When she returns to the central hub, she’s surprised to see Jotaro, who’d disappeared for a while after learning about the deaths on the train.  If Willow and Giles hadn’t wanted her input (to ignore it, really), she might have joined him.  A few scuffles with living ststues isn’t enough.

          “Good to see you, Dr. Kujo,” the blond states warmly, and only earns a grunt in response.

          Kakyoin smiles at his friend.  “Ever since meeting Buffy you seem a lot calmer.”

          “Hmm.”  Jotaro fiddles with his hat.  Buffy’s touched by the statement, and pretty sure he’s still mad that he didn’t go on the train.  That others died.  It’s a sentiment Buffy can understand, mostly because she’s that angry herself.  Despite his rivalry and seemingly downright dislike of Angel, Spike slipped out to find some violence, and if they hadn’t been keeping such an eye on her, she might’ve come with, or at least followed his example.

          “I appreciate the number of allies we have gained, but I would prefer if you all actually used the front door.  You’re wrecking havoc on our magical security systems.”  Giles is annoyed.  It’s easy enough to read why.  He certainly doesn’t feel the same about Angel’s death as she does, but it’s still the death of someone they’d known, someone who was a good fighter.  No one was safe.  They don’t want to lose her.  They’re just acting out of fear, same as with the First, and while it’s understandable, just like last time they won’t get anywhere just acting in fear.

          “My apologies.  Bad habits, of course.  I’m not used to dealing with civilians.”  From Jotaro’s reaction (an amused snort) it’s not meant to be annoyingly arrogant.  That’s just how it turns out.

          Giles huffs, feathers ruffled.  “Civilians?  I assure you, sir, the Council has been at this far longer than…”

          “I did not mean to imply that you were terrible at your jobs.  Rather, I’m referring to the distinction between your world and mine.”  At Giles’ raised eyebrow, with a slight smile he explains, “I did not mention my full title, did I?  Giorno Giovanna, Don of Passione.  Essentially, Mafia Boss, though the analogy is slightly inaccurate.”  The room falls silent.  At Giles’ shocked stare, he continues, “I like to think I’ve behaved myself so far.”

          Jotaro laughs at that.  “Don’t even bother to claim the zoo thing wasn’t you.  Bunch of lawyers got beat up on the tarmac though they probably deserved a beating.  Read some maniac stole a car and turned a lady cop’s baton into a snake, too.  And there was something about an elephant running through the streets?”

          Giorno gets a little more still.  “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.  It was, what’s the English phrase…Desperate times call for desperate measures, maybe?  I didn’t manage to find the Stand User, but I did cut off one of the Hydra’s heads.  As for Wolfram & Hart, maybe they should consider their options more carefully before ambushing myself and my pilot the instant we landed.”

          Jotaro’s still laid back.  “Figured as much.  Still, if the old man’s stories mean anything, our bloodline attracts trouble like blood in the water.  Not much you can do about that.”

          “It helps when you don’t go around looking for trouble,” Kakyoin states, a hint of fondness warring with the annoyance in his tone.

          “Tch.”  Jotaro pulls his hat down a little.  “Well, the lawyers got their hands on an Arrow.  You still got yours?”

          “Sì, Dottoressa di Ricerca Kujo.” Giorno states confidently.

          Buffy interrupts, feeling her stomach drop out.  “You’ve…you’ve been carrying one of the Arrows around with you this entire time.”

          “Problem?”  The way he asks, thickening his accent…he knows exactly why she’s worried and is acting clueless on purpose.

          “You think maybe that’s why you got jumped at the airport?” Buffy asks incredulously, and Giorno frowns, accent instantly dropping.

          “The fact that I have it is a closely guarded secret, even among Passione…”  He plays with his hair tie, absently turning it into a butterfly and back without seemingly even noticing.  “If someone has learned that, that’s a worrying prospect.”

          “Well, Don Giovanna, why are you here?”  Giles is still annoyed.

          “Fugo took care of the Slayer-Vampires, huh?” Jotaro asks knowingly and gets a smug look in response. 

          “When I say the situation has been dealt with it is no exaggeration.  Signor Giles, I have multiple objectives that may benefit both our organizations, as I already discussed with Signora Summers.”  Buffy realizes with a start that Giorno is treating her as the leader, not Giles.  He’s appeasing Giles’ offended ego, offering a superfluous choice—but if push comes to shove he’ll defer to her.  “The most prominent of these is that Wolfram & Hart pose difficulties for both our organizations, including hunting my cousin, a member of your organization, with Stand Users they have recruited or created.  It would make sense to ally ourselves, particularly now that they have gotten their hands on an Arrow.  Also, aiding famiglia and their famiglia elettiva is always a worthwhile endeavor.” 

          “Did you retrieve an artifact called a Stone Mask?” she asks, and Jotaro stiffens.  Interesting.  He trusts Giorno—up to a point.  Enough to tease him.  But there’s still something holding him back, some wariness.

          Giorno frowns.  “Fugo didn’t mention such a discovery, no.  I assume this artifact is dangerous like the Arrow.”

          “Without Miss Doffler and her followers, the Mask can easily be acquired by this Mr. Fugo,” Giles states dismissively.

          “If we don’t secure the Mask, we can’t be sure.  Xander warned us about it, and we ignored him, and look what happened.” Buffy argues, only it feels like she’s been arguing with a wall.

          “As we’ve discussed, we can’t spare the resources, and it’s not as if they’re a threat any longer.”  Giles cleans his glasses.

          Buffy sighs at the short-sightedness.  “That’s what we thought about the Trio, and we were majorly wrong.”

          “We hadn’t been taking them seriously from the first.  In this case, they are defeated, by a power Dr. Kujo assures us is impossible to survive.  Instead, we are tracing Simone’s steps, to discover if there’s anything else we should know.”  Giles is just repeating himself and it’s getting annoying at this point.  She’s not getting anywhere.

          “Perhaps we should leave those efforts to you and coordinate our approach against W&H,” Giorno suggests with a smile, and stands as Giles nods.

Chapter Text

          There’s been rumors.  Ripples through the demonic underworld.  There’s one of the Old Ones on Earth again, but it has not been making itself known, acting to conquer the world in the ancient ways of worship and blood.  The Siphon, prophesied for aeons, is on the prowl, on the hunt.  Its motives are unknown, but the bodies left motionless, with no animating power, the results are there for all to see.  It’s rumored that the Siphon is more dangerous than the Slayer, even the Slayer, Defier of Prophecy.  A new type of vampire, one that is immune to staking, one with strange new powers over its own body, has appeared and begins destroying everything that will not cooperate with it with the powers of a New Slayer.  They chose to taunt the Passione in their choice of base, though, leading to a large number of them dying by humans with strange powers of the soul.  Memories of these Humans with Fighting Souls are (probably) inserted memories, but the truth of their presence is undeniable.  The fear is palpable on the air, leading to slaughter.  Leading to blood.

          The Siphon himself doesn’t listen to the rumors, except to smirk.  It feels almost as if he can subsist on fear as much as he subsists on the power.

          He’d just arrived by boat.  An old style of travel, he’s sure, but they’re not wrong about the Hunt.  It’s the only thing that matters, the redemption of a bloodline tainted by decades of failure.

          “…participating in the blood-hunt….” he hears from a nearby table and strides over quickly with a predatory grace, smoothly burying a knife in the table mere inches from hands human to lesser eyes before any of them have even seen him or registered him as a threat.

          “I will join in.”  He refuses to show them the proper respect, that it is technically their choice whether he participates.  Demons respect strength, and he has no intention of showing them anything else.

          “Who the hell are you?” one asks in shock and a little fear.

          He’s just fed, of course he’s more powerful.  But he doesn’t explain anything, either.  It implies they’re owed an explanation.  “Obsidian,” he answers, because it’s a name he’d used, once, when he’d been young and blind, before he’d been thrust into the war.  That name earns a little respect, because he’d used that name before, as well, once he’d begun.

          “There’s a beginner’s trial,” a creature he recognizes as a courtesan demon wearing a human face looks him over with approval, sensing the power he holds within.  He’ll have to be careful, since her powers work vaguely the same as his, albeit at the level of child’s play.  Still, the easiest way to blind her would be to keep her close.  Just like humans, demons tended to frame things in terms of what they knew, and if he acts like an incubus, well…

          “Try me,” he challenges, holding her gaze with heat and power, and feels rather than hears her purr from where she’s draped herself over one of the two demons appearing like sailors.

          “There’s a demon nest that refuses to pay tribute, at this address in the northeast of town.  Wipe them out,” one tells him, pressing a dirty paper into his hands.  The other laughs harshly.

          “Sounds like fun,” he agrees and easily enough disappears from their site.

          He enjoys making them fall.  He doesn’t even obviously use his Siphon powers, because he can’t know if they’re monitoring him in some way.  He’s already full, so he uses the power to just tear them apart instead, light and power twining to destroy.

          When he returns, only a little blood of his own on his cheek and the rest from the carnage, the courtesan comes to his side immediately, licking the blood from his face in a gesture he’s sure is meant to seduce.  He won’t mind using her before she and the rest die when they fail to tell him what he needs to know or when they cease to amuse.  One of the sailors twitches, and soon enough is charging, ready to kill.

          He merely puts a fist through the demon’s chest, grasping the organ passing for a heart and forcing it up through its throat.  It chokes.

          There’s a theatrical clapping, and a dapper demon pretending to be a human steps out of the shadows, a cane tucked under his shoulder.  “Well done.”  He categorizes this demon as The Peacock, fluttering his plumage.  The Siphon isn’t impressed, but only a little challenges his power by smearing three fingers worth of blood onto the demon’s cheek.  He’ll kill him later.

          “I pay tribute,” he states, and it’s enough, even as he ruffles Peacock’s feathers.

          Time and time again he’s sent to kill more, meant to die himself, an irreverent interloper.  Time and time again he dispatches the targets with a maximum of violence.  It doesn’t hurt to learn more about the different breeds of demons, to better rid the world of their stain, to choose his power based on their own. 

          His bloodthirst draws attention from the others—Mouthless, though it’s difficult to understand what he thinks of the world or if he even understands any of it, Bonehead, Burn Victim, Shadow Crow, two vampires.  And, of course, the courtesan demon, who’s attached herself to his side almost constantly, lapping the blood off his face much like a loyal bitch when he returns.  She doesn’t make much of a dog in other respects, though.  He does his best to not siphon too much of her magic just yet, though it seems as if she senses his hunger.  The draining of her power seems to excite her, spurring her to greater heights.  He alternates between amused appreciation, for he’s never had anything quite so much like a partner in crime, and the bittersweet transience only makes it that much more delicious, in the end, and sneering disgust at how she hasn’t realized, yet, what he is, that she should run should she desire to live.  He wouldn’t track her down and leave her screaming and bleeding out pinned in some public place.  Probably.  The danger merely draws her closer, a helpless moth with him, the flame.  He is, clearly, getting better at hiding his true nature, particularly in places where his ruthless nature is seen as a bonus.  He’s never had so much fun holding back.  Peacock alternates, at least, between annoyance (at least his lack of fear is due to arrogance, not necessarily ignorance of the level of his power even if the fact that he’s the Siphon is not known) and a preening pride to have such savagery at his disposal.

          The time of the blood-hunt comes.  It turns out all participating get their names put in a hat, and those drawn must either fight or be executed.  As usual, he turns toward the event with indifference.  Those shown to be stronger are more likely to be hunters or executioners.

          Some, the cowards, watch, without participating.  He’d love to start with gutting them, but alas.  He’ll play by the rules, at least for a little while.  He plans to kill them all, today, an unmatched bloodbath, the kind of risk that sets even his heart pumping, and get what they know about the Old One, his true prey.

          Some of the executions are painless.  He shows his contempt by becoming even more ferocious in his own strategy, leaving them to die slowly, bleeding out in agony.

          At some point, Bonehead realizes that he’s planning on leaving none alive.  While he’s sitting in the gallery, he’s tackled.  Peacock yelps something about rules and civilization, and he grins and unleashes the beast within.  He smashes the skull into the ground again and again until it crumbles, all the while using his Siphon powers without careful regulation.  A vampire rushes him and without even looking back, he drives his elbow back through the demon’s skull, dusting it effortlessly.  It’s no harder to catch the cane Peacock sends toward his own unprotected head.  The demon attempts to pull away the cane, but he’s pretty sure he’s reached a new level of strength.  It doesn’t move a centimeter.

          “Who are you?” the courtesan asks, voice afraid but still interested, too.  He understands now.  She’d been waiting to see what he would do.  She’d known the truth, as much as she could.  She was just destined for a tragedy.

          “The Siphon,” he responds, and feels the rush at the fear that accompanies his true name.  The two vampires and Burn Victim try to take him all at once, but they’re unprepared for his true speed.  He leaves them coughing in their own blood, bent bodies at his feet.  “I want to know about the Old One walking the Mortal Plane.  You might as well tell me.  I could ease your passing.”

          None answer him, not in the stands, not in the playing field, not when he starts systematically dismembering them, not when he begins to drain them.  He’s brimming with power at the end, so he just obliterates a few vampires outright, just to prevent his body from overload.  At last, it’s only the trembling courtesan, afraid but brave.  She hasn’t run but is still in the same place as when this started, covered in the blood and viscera of nearby kills.

          “Why did you leave me for last?” she wonders, hope in her eyes, and for once, he disregards the impulse to shred and maim.  She’s earned the truth, at least.

          “A courtesy, my dear.  Destruction is easy enough to come by, but a poisoned withering rose?  You are a rarity.”  He caresses her cheek.

          She smiles against the coming oblivion.  “I’m glad I meant something to you as you meant something to me.  I will tell you the whispers of mortal men in their death-throes.  You have heard of Wolfram & Hart?”

          He nods, reaching into a pocket to find a handkerchief and cleaning the blood from her face.

          “Sometimes I will take their lawyers.  It is not as if they do not serve even in death, of course.  A former Watcher of the Shadows was drawn into their web.  He said that an Old One or one of the First Generation was caught by the Shadow Men and infused into the girl called the Slayer.  He himself seeks to become Ascended,” she explains, gently holding his hand.

          He smiles.  At last, a lead, and one she would have given freely.  “Don’t worry.  You will live on in my power.”  He means it mockingly, but fails.

          “The kiss of death?” she clarifies—begs, and far be it for a gentleman to ignore a lady’s request on the eve of death.  He pulls her in, and kisses her gently, desperately, until all life has left her body.  He picks her up, takes her to her bed, and arranges her to his satisfaction.  He leaves a black rose, a token of his regard, changes into more suitable clothing, and bids his final farewell to his lady.

Chapter Text

          “What does this Mask do?” Giorno asks as they stroll through the garden (the closest thing any of them can get to being alone).  While he’d been on edge the entire time while in the building (not like walking into a fight; more like walking into Sunnydale High knowing that while there are allies there trouble could also happen anytime), out here he finally relaxes.  True, he’d carried himself casually but she hadn’t missed the watchful look in his eyes.

          “Why doesn’t Jotaro want you to know about the Mask?” Buffy counters, enjoying herself because just like with Josephine she doesn’t have to hold back (and he doesn’t have the whole awkward Xander’s Mom thing going on).  She’s kinda curious about how the two would interact, but with Josephine haunting all the restaurants (in an attempt to run into Xander or a trait mother and son share, Buffy can’t entirely tell) it’s hard to tell when that will happen.

          Giorno nods approvingly, holding out a hand, awe in his eyes, as a butterfly lands on his hand.  It’s hard to reconcile the killer with the wide-eyed wonder on his face, suddenly making him look young.  It flies off, and Giorno collects his thoughts.  “I believe I can guess the answer to both of our questions.  DIO might have fathered me as a vampire, but apparently he was not always that way.  I have proven myself to those such as Jotaro who have suffered at the hands of my father, but old fears linger.  I would never choose to become a vampire, but, as I said, it is hard to discard such fears.”

          Buffy nods.  He’s good.  “Well, you can see why I don’t want it to fall into the hands of demon lawyers.”

          “This is true, but Fugo is capable of retrieving the mask, and we would, of course, as a show of good faith, turn the artifact back over to you,” Giorno offers, and Buffy still hesitates.

          “Would you trust the results if one of your people had been the one to solve the issue in Italy?” Giorno asks.  His tone is light, but there’s an air of attentiveness about him that says he’s actually interested in the answer.

          She hesitates, then answers, “It isn’t a matter of trust.  I’d still want to confirm it.”

          Giorno just hums in response, which she finds irritating.

          “What?” she asks, stopping in place, and Giorno does, too, gracefully as if he’d intended it all along.

          “I didn’t mean to offend,” Giorno is quick to point out, still completely serene.  “It’s just that as a leader you have much to learn, but I cannot take the credit for my growth either.”

          And that just brings back memories of all the doubts, her being kicked out as leader from the fight against the First.  Before she can say anything, Giorno continues as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

          “It’s difficult to be a leader when all you try to do is take care of your problems yourself.  I used to be the same way, since I had no one to rely on but myself when I joined Passione.  A man named Bruno Bucciarati showed me that a team is no use if you do not utilize it, and a thorough knowledge of your teammates’ abilities and trust in their competence are the strongest assets a leader has.  Without trust, there is no teamwork.”  He’s half talking to himself.  “I’m still learning, myself.”  His tone isn’t judgmental, just compassionate.  Of course, with a man with as much self-control as Giorno seems to have, he could be carefully composing the emotions he projects, but he’s not faking the respect, and while he might conceal information, particularly from Giles, she doesn’t think he’d be dishonest with her, even if it’s just emotions.

          “Well, perhaps you can practice by working with your allies,” Giorno suggests.  That look on his face, while milder, is the I Have a Terrible Plan look.

          Despite what he says, though, it’s easier.  It’s easier with Jotaro and his friend and Josephine and now Giorno, because they don’t have decades of expectations for her, including the expectations for The Slayer.  And she’s always been more of an action gal anyway.  She starts walking again, and Giorno smoothly joins her.  “What did you have in mind?”

          “I don’t believe I’ve paid my respects to the local Wolfram & Hart.”  He is essentially proposing that they go raid them, which is probably a terrible idea.  On the other hand, she’s tired of sitting around waiting for them to make the first move.  Watchers might be good at Watching, but that’s not her and never has been.  Wandering around in the dark while her opponents have all the cards just isn’t her style.  “I believe I have a means of making us go undetected, if you’re up for it.”  It’s a little disappointing, but then, it’s not like they can just get information between Giles’ encyclopedic knowledge and beating up Willy.  “It’s not my preferred method of dealing with them, either,” Giorno agrees to her silent protest, “…but unfortunately they’re not likely to get the message.  They’re rather stupid that way.”

          Buffy stifles a chuckle and nods.  “Angel did mention a few things, before he…”  She trails off, and the mafia boss looks away, admiring the bird flitting through the trees over there.  “They have a department called the Special Projects Division.  While it was important long-term, it wasn’t that must-have pair of boots.” 

          While that would get an annoyed look from Giles, Giorno merely nods as if that’s perfectly normal.  Which, well, he’s from Italy, being fashion-conscious might just be a thing.  “They changed their approach.”

          “He’d joined them to attack the leadership and struck a major blow against them.”  Giorno doesn’t judge that, either, stride not pausing as they walk.

          “So they’re attempting to regain lost glories,” he states quietly, and…well, it’s as likely a reason as any.

          “Let’s make sure they don’t get there,” Buffy suggests, and gets a decisive nod in return.

Chapter Text

       Josuke can’t help the pleased grin as hands cover his eyes playfully.  He doesn’t even have to look to guess who it is.  After all, it brings back memories of barefoot breakfasts in the kitchen.

       “Next time you flee into another dimension, could you warn me first?” he asks, and his daughter shakes her head gently.

       “Hey Jojo-chan!  You’re okay!” Okuyasu exclaims, grinning widely.

       Jojo spares a smile for her uncle.  “So are you,” she responds softly before putting a little more of her usual energy in her tone—even if it’s rare for her to show her anger like this.  “I didn’t have enough time.  I don’t remember what was chasing us, and it wasn’t just Sarde.”  She spits the name out like it’s poison, and Josuke retrieves the comb from his jacket to ensure his hair remains presentable.  True, he’d barely met the man, as he wasn’t as involved in Speedwagon Foundation affairs as his daughter or Koichi, but Josephine had, on multiple occasions, indicated how creepy she’d found the guy, which always has his hackles up.

       “And you don’t remember after I undid Enigma,” Josuke clarifies hopefully and gets a shake of the head in return.  Of course not; that would be too easy.

       “I went to look for food and my son and only found one of those things, but I’ve been thinking,” Josephine explains.  “Johan in the hands of a Speedwagon should be okay, and while I’d really like to have our little reunion sooner rather than later, I really want to deal with the ‘Sarde is a bastard’ problem sooner rather than later.”  She sighs and plops herself down on the bench next to them.  “We have a few big problems.  The first is that several of the Standsassins Sarde was supposed to have dealt with are still alive.  I got attacked by that fractal guy with all the eyes…”

       “The User of Lateralus?” Josuke frowns.

       “That’s the one.”  She perks up before simmering back down again.  “If that guy’s still around then Sarde didn’t betray us recently.  He’d been planning that for a while.”

       “I’m not sure how he could have managed fooling them all, unless…”  There’s a thought.  An unwelcome one, to be sure, but it’s better to know than be in the ignorant dark.  “Enigma probably has powers we don’t know.”

       “If he was planning on betraying us all, why should he tell us everything he was capable of?” Josephine grumbles.  She kicks her feet childishly, ignoring the stares from passersby.  “Second, with guys of that caliber around I really don’t want our little hunt to include Johan, a guy not born with a Stand.  According to that story Uncle Kakyoin tells, it took Cous fifty days for him to even figure out he could stop time.  I’m not waiting that long, and I’m not possibly putting my little boy against assassins who’ve been doing this fifty years, even if he is strong and a Joestar.  That being said, Cous needs to hurry up and find them because I don’t like the sound of this Stand User murderer either.”

       Josuke sighs.  “I get your point, but Stand Users attract other Stand Users.  I’m not sure we’ll be that lucky.”

       “Well, we gotta hope that attraction includes my nephew.”  No matter how often he says that he’ll still feel weird saying it.  “And probably Hol Horse and Koichi.”

       Okuyasu finally speaks up again.  He’s been thinking.  “Sarde was also following you, right?”  He doesn’t wait for a response but keeps talking slowly.  “That means that he shoulda seen whatever else was following you, so all we gotta do is find and beat the shit outta Sarde until he talks.”

       “That’s the plan,” Josephine agrees cheerfully.

Chapter Text

          They agree to meet outside—Giorno has a person to contact, and Buffy has to pack a few things—specifically, her magic stealth knife and some food in her belly considering she has no idea how long this’ll take.  It’s a little awkward, him wanting to do something without her after the comment about teamwork, but it’s probably hard for mob bosses to break their inclinations to secrecy.  She’s got her super strength and other than the whole ‘son of vampire’ thing Giorno probably has a Stand.  Which is probably called Gold Experience, and has something to do with bringing things to life.  They might be set, but she really, really doesn’t like these Wolfram & Hart characters and would prefer to have some kind of extra something along, like a security blanket.  She’d go for Mr. Pointy, but that only works on vampires and she’s pretty sure W&H isn’t all vamps.  And it’d probably be in character for clients of Wolfram & Hart to just be carrying around weapons, right?

          …Buffy has to be honest, her sense of reality is probably skewed.  Carrying around some kind of medieval weapon is normal to her and her fifteen year old self would’ve seen her as one of those loser kids.

          On one hand, there are probably measures to keep an eye on her if she leaves.  If it wasn’t working in her favor, she’d suggest the witches put up some kind of surveillance spells or security spells or something.  On the other hand, she’s been sneaking out since she was fifteen.  It’s part of why she’s so good at catching Dawn—she knows all the tricks.

          “Where are you going?”  That’s…some timing.  Apparently the same works in reverse.

          “All this sitting around isn’t my style, Dawnie.  I’m gonna go actually do something.  I would appreciate if you wouldn’t tell on me—and yeah, I’ll have people watching my back.”  This is a whole lot of nostalgia right here, isn’t it?

          “The hot blond dude?  You sure it’ll be your back he’s watching?” Dawn asks, grinning, and Buffy finds herself getting flustered—just like what Dawn’s going for.  Just like when they were kids.

          “He’s related to Xander, and he’s younger than me, I’m pretty sure.  I mean, he acts all mature and stuff but it’s kind of an act, you know?”  Never mind the fact that he’s part vamp and she can feel it.  At this point, dating a vampire would be easier because she’s gotten used to her skin crawling, but her senses can tell her that this isn’t something she’s used to and it’s not background noise.

          “Oh yeah, that first one still bothers you huh?”  Her sister’s grinning really widely at that.  “Well, all the better.  I can seduce the powerful ally for once.”

          Buffy sighs.  It’s about equal parts serious and just to bug her, which is why it’s even worse.  “Sis, if you promise not to flirt too much with the half-vampire crime lord, I can bribe you with something when I get back.  Just like old times.”

          The younger Summers pretends to consider before she smiles sweetly.  “That sounds acceptable.  Off with you.”

          It’s just about as easy to get out as she expected, even if she did kind of have to crawl out that window. 

          She’s merely walking down the street when another falls in line with her.  Fortunately, she manages to avoid from punching him because she recognizes that familiar feeling of not-vampire. 

          “For future reference, scaring a Slayer isn’t recommended,” she tells him, because even if she’s figured it out doesn’t mean others won’t break a rib on instinct alone.

          Giorno hums in response.  “Noted.”  The amusement in his voice says that he doesn’t find it very frightening, but is humoring her all the same.  “Tell me, is there a good way to tell Vampire Slayers apart?”

          “Usually vampires can feel us, if they’re smart and pay attention, but I’m not sure how it would work for you.  I’ve never met the son of a vampire before.”  She shrugs.  “It’s pretty easy to tell a Slayer from the fact that she’s got super strength, but you’d either have to get into a fight with her or watch her fight.”

          “I probably haven’t met a Vampire Slayer either, then.”  Giorno sounds confident, but there’s a hint of uncertainty that his ego won’t let him really show.  “I’ll tell you a little about the subordinate we’re meeting, but first I have a request.  Don’t tell the others about him.”

          That puts her on edge.  It could just be a Mafia Boss thing, but she can’t imagine keeping something like this from Jotaro.  She likes his no-nonsense, get things done attitude, in contrast to Giles and Willow, who are still wringing their hands and urging caution.  Plus, Jotaro isn’t looking at her like she’s totally incompetent.  “Did they uninvite him to their houses, then?”

          That quick glance shows that he gets some sort of reference, even if his information may not be as thorough as he’d like, if he doesn’t even fully know how Slayers work.  “There’s nothing wrong with him specifically, but he had…chosen the wrong side, before.  Hol Horse is another such Stand User, and he’s known to the Foundation.”

          She’s thinking about it, and maybe it’s reading guys like Giles and Jotaro, but there’s something almost…distasteful about his tone?  “Don’t like him?”

          Giorno breathes out deeply.  “In my line of work, I don’t often have the luxury of liking the people I work with.”  That honesty hits her, because it’s the least vague, most straightforward thing he’s probably been.  Even when he was being honest to get her to trust him, he’d been carefully choosing what to tell her, how to get the outcome he wanted.  Allowing himself to be honest like this might be calculated, but this feels genuine.  Then he smiles, warm and sunny and maybe a little mischievous.  “Of course, this time I’m lucky.  You’re Cugino Johan’s famiglia elettiva, so I might actually enjoy this time.”

          “Well, you’ve got the charm down,” Buffy responds, hoping that this third person is at least tolerable, no matter how little Giorno’s looking forward to working with him.

Chapter Text

         “You know, it’s not nice talking about people behind their back,” a voice scolds them as if it had been part of the conversation all along.  “Do you think it’s worth a little extra?”

         Giorno doesn’t verbally respond, at least not immediately, but the open body language instantly disappears with what feels like a snap, like a mussel closing its shell.

         She turns a little to see a really tall guy has joined them, matching their pace exactly.  He’s as tall as Jotaro, and the outfit isn’t dissimilar, either—a hat entirely sideways, a long coat—even if it is a brighter color than white—similar pants…she’s pretty sure Jotaro would never wear a t-shirt, though.  The man isn’t Japanese, either…probably Middle Eastern judging by his looks.

         “This is Oingo.  He already knows the answer to his question due to the power of his brother, Boingo, which can within a limited scope predict the future.”  Yes, she’s pretty sure Giorno’s annoyed, even if it’s barely showing in his voice.  “Oingo, this is Signorina Summers.  She’s the one we’ll be working with that I mentioned.”

         She doesn’t like the smirk, either, and knows exactly why.  “Thoth was right.  She’s pretty enough Hol Horse is probably jealous.”

         “If you’re merely going to disrespect our ally like this, perhaps you don’t deserve that apology.”  The usually gentle-toned voice is ice-cold, and for the first time Buffy senses she’s seeing clearly the ruthless crime lord. 

         Oingo laughs.  “All right, all right!  Maybe this will help change your mind, then.  I have some information that you might find useful if you’re going to be allying yourselves with the Joestars.”  He pauses for effect, and that icy aura doesn’t change.  “I’ve heard the Users of Sobek and Apophis are active again.”

         Giorno stops walking entirely, still.  “I was under the impression that there were only nine Egyptian Gods.”

         “There were only nine in Egypt.  DIO had a few Stand Users doing work for him all around the world.  I don’t know much about their powers, but I have heard they always work together.”

         “Are they working for Wolfram & Hart?” Giorno asks, the tone gone.  The thoughtful look on his face probably means he’s attempting to determine a strategy.

         “The rumors didn’t mention that, but with Khnum, even if they are they won’t bother us.”  That’s practically jinxing them, but maybe the rules are different in the world of the Stands?

         “I would appreciate it if you would largely remain silent.  Despite your ability, I don’t believe your strength is subtlety.”  He continues sternly, and despite the words she gets the feeling it’s actually a command.

         “Okay, Boss,” Oingo agrees.

         Giorno seems to consider that a definitive end to the conversation and resumes his pace, addressing his next words to Buffy.  “We will have to change outfits, as Khnum does not change those.  I have a few approved by Trish.  A suit is probably the best choice.” 

         “Girlfriend?” Buffy responds, curious about how human this man acts, and the man shakes his head.

         “Just a friend.  A singer.”  The voice is fond but not in that way.

         “I will have to act in ways I don’t mean.  I apologize in advance.”  Oingo’s walk falters a little, so apparently ‘Don Giovanna’ apologizing is unusual.  Then again, he hadn’t done so when she’d told him about Angel, so perhaps that was easy to see, after all.

         “I am going to act as the Capo Capperi.  The two of you are my bodyguards.  Capperi would easily betray me if he thought he could get rid of me.  Struffoli is most likely his lover, his personal assistant, and also his fixer.  It is unknown whether she has a Stand, given that the one who gave many Passione members Stands died and didn’t leave much in the way of records.  All we have observed is her using a weapon and her fists, so you should be all right on that front.”  At least he’s being thorough but not condescending. 

         “Does she mostly use a gun?” Buffy asks, concerned, and blue eyes glance over to stare at her, evaluate her body language and determine what she’s thinking.

         “You have had a bad experience with a gun.  True, she largely does use guns, but she’s been known to use a knife, so you’ll be fine,” Giorno replies, reassuring, and turns toward a building.

         Two of the rooms have clothing in them (which look relatively new, which is a good thing because she wouldn’t like to wear clothes as old as the building even for undercover work), and at least Giorno pulls Oingo away to let her change on her own.

         She does end up going for the suit, because while some of the other outfits are pretty (and others are downright strange), most aren’t as practical for fighting.  It takes a little while to find one that fits, and it’s not perfect.

         “Are you ready?” a voice calls politely.  Giorno.

         “Yes, I’m dressed,” she calls back, and the mob boss enters, and…

         Honestly, he looks really weird in normal clothes.  He’s also wearing shoes with a bit of height, which is good because the lack of height just might give him away.  Even if he might be in his late teens by the looks of it, he still hasn’t had the same growth spurt as the rest of his family.  The expression is similar, though, as he looks her over, frowning.  Eventually he sighs.  “It’d be better if we could do this in Italy.  The fact that the suit isn’t tailored might be suspicious, but there’s little we can do about it now.  I don’t know any discreet tailors in England, though I might have to look into it after this…”

         “I can always just say I skinned the guy who did this atrocity if anyone asks,” Buffy responds brightly.

         Giorno blinks twice, then nods, a slight smirk on his face.  “True.  I’m curious what the real Struffoli would do should the rumor reach her ears.”  He gets serious again.  “The last step in this process involves Khnum disguising us.  It will involve a lot of touching of your face.  If there was another way, I’d take it, but I don’t know of a Stand User who could accomplish the same thing.”

         “I know several witches, but they’d probably not agree to help and/or would tell on us, so…” the Slayer shrugs.  “It’s okay.”

         They rejoin Oingo, who is also wearing a suit and also looks kind of ridiculous pretending to be a normal-ish person.  “Here are the pictures of Capperi and Struffoli.  It doesn’t much matter who you disguise yourself as, and in fact it would probably be better if you just change your appearance to something innocuous, since you’re not supposed to be very talkative.”  Giorno produces two sleepy baby snakes from the pocket of his usual clothes, which turn into photographs.  He hands them over to Oingo, who without saying anything reaches out and starts stretching her face.  It feels…weird.  Rubbery.  Like he’s working with clay, or pizza dough.  Eventually he lets go and it snaps into place, and that definitely feels weird.  She reaches up to feel her face, and it’s definitely not her face—a sharper face, maybe, with a longer nose and pointier chin and…it’s weird.

         Oingo moves on to Giorno, who also ends up almost unrecognizable.  It even changes his hair to a short black style.  Giorno gives a goofy little nervous wave once Oingo moves on to himself, and Buffy stifles the giggle as she waves back.

Chapter Text

        Giorno pulls out a ring and a necklace from the striped suit and offers the necklace casually to her.  After she accepts it, he slips the finger on his own hand.  Buffy feels a shiver up her spine.  It shouldn’t be all that odd.  He might’ve just bought it, just like he’d obviously bought the clothes, but it still feels…

        “Are these actually Capperi’s and Struffoli’s?” she asks, slightly nervous, and not even her voice is her own, which startles her.  Khnum does work but it’s so much stranger than any of the other Stands she’s dealt with.  She hasn’t even seen it, partially seethrough or not, and if they hadn’t insisted it was a Stand she’d wonder if it wasn’t some other power but they just see everything in terms of Stands.  (Maybe it is.  It’s really hard to be sure, here.)  The expression he turns on her in response is carefully blank.

        “Yes.  It pays to have insurance, so to speak.”  His tone is also blank, and the shiver remains.  It’s not his own voice, either, but she can still tell it’s him—something about the deliberate way he speaks, maybe.  Okay, she can see the scary mob boss from all those movies Dawn was obsessed with.

        Oingo has made his face look vaguely look like Karloff’s rendition of Frankenstein’s monster (she would’ve said Frankenstein if not for Giles’ long lecture about it the one time they’d made that mistake) and he’s tall enough it works for him.  He looks close enough to human that he can walk down the street and not be stopped, but he’d fit right in with the Wolfram & Hart crowd too.  Probably.

        Giorno—no, Capperi—tilts his head slightly to the side, standing easily on one foot.  “I think you look like a Guanciale.  I’ll introduce you as such.”

        Oingo, or Guanciale, grunts, and Giorno—‘Capperi’—nods approvingly.  “That will do.”  He turns back to Buffy—Struffoli—again.

        “Given that no one has confirmed their status, if she is his lover they are not demonstrative, so you aren’t required to treat me as anything other than your boss.  Struffoli is certainly prone to violence, as you guessed, but she also acts entirely as a gentildonna.  A femme fatale, in other words.  That’s easy enough to keep yourself in character.  As for Capperi, there are rumors that he employs the undead or has some sort of Stand involving the undead.  He is a capo—ah, that’s right, I mentioned it before, but did not explain the term—lieutenant, I suppose—in charge of activities in Tuscany.”  Giorno’s more expressive, at least with his hands.  He’s usually fairly still, but not here.

        “You said that Capperi would betray—er, Don Giovanna.  But what does he have to offer to Wolfram & Hart?” she asks, trying to mimic the hand gestures a little, and he nods approvingly.

        “You’ll see,” he responds, and—yeah, that’s definitely smug.  “Is there anything else you wish to know at this time?”

        “It probably would make sense if I’d insisted on a shopping spree to celebrate the deal you’re about to make, wouldn’t it?” Buffy—no, she needs to know and remember the name ‘Struffoli’, if she’s going to answer to it.

        Giorno—no, ‘Capperi’—inclines his head, appearing pleased, and waits to see if she has anything else to say.  When she does not, he states firmly, “It is time to go make our introductions.”

        He walks slightly slower, probably trying to fit his middle-aged image, and ‘Struffoli’ and ‘Guanciale’ fall in line behind him.

        The building itself appears like an average fancy attorney’s office (according to what she knows from watching shows anyway).  Fancy columns, fancy materials, fancy everything.  Buffy—‘Struffoli’—doesn’t stare.  She—the other she, her character—has seen these things a thousand times and isn’t easily impressed by such things.  They walk in with confidence and directly to the reception desk, ignoring the waiting chairs entirely.  “My name is Capperi.  If you tell your higher-ups, I’m sure that they will see the importance of a meeting.”  Rather than sitting, ‘Capperi’ waits, standing, by the desk.

        The receptionist looks distinctly uncomfortable, but goes ahead and makes the call anyway.  The rest of the people waiting glare and mumble in their direction until ‘Guanciale’ giggles menacingly, at which point they all quiet and do their best to not even glance in their direction.

        “Signor Capperi, sorry for the wait,” a voice smoothly joins them.  “I am Sawyers; this is Francis.  We would’ve prepared for your coming had we known you were planning to visit.”

        “Any communication to warn you of the possibility could have been intercepted,” ‘Capperi’ responds haughtily.  “I suggest any further talk wait until we are alone.”

        “Very good, sir,” Francis agrees.  “Follow us to our office.”

        They do; ‘Struffoli’ and ‘Guanciale’ trailing after ‘Capperi’ as if they’ve been doing it all their lives.  ‘Capperi’ makes himself comfortable in the chair as if it belongs to him.  As if all of this belongs to him.  Buffy—‘Struffoli’—makes an executive decision and also sits.  ‘Guanciale’ stands behind ‘Capperi’s’ chair, laughing creepily to himself.  ‘Capperi’ pokes ‘Guanciale’ with an elbow, and he quiets.

        Francis settles behind the desk, while Sawyer stands, twitchy and awkward.  (Maybe he’s ready to grab whatever paperwork might be needed, or maybe he’s just nervous?)  “I would like to make it known that it is a great honor to have you in our office, Signor Capperi, but I have to ask—is there a particular reason you’ve come to one of our England offices?”

        ‘Capperi’ responds instantly.  “All of your known offices in Italy are being watched, and Struffoli wanted to compare the shopping experience in London and Roma.”

        “It doesn’t match the experience in Italy, of course, and these…” ‘Struffoli’ raises one thin, dark eyebrow at her jacket sleeve, “…are subpar.  Your tailors don’t even know how to do a proper fitting,” she adds with a smirk, channeling her inner Queen Cordy as much as possible.  “Perhaps you might have a few suggestions?”

        Sawyers pales a little.  “Of—of course, Signora Struffoli.”

        “The proposal I bring is clear enough, but I want to be very explicit, as I know you care about such things.  I’m sick of serving under a little shit.  I want my due, and I know we can make a mutually beneficial arrangement.  I want Wolfram & Hart to help me take over Passione, and in return I can bring work and end the harassment of your employees in Italy.”  ‘Capperi’…sounds vicious and power-hungry and is even more expressive with his hands.

        Sawyer smiles, still twitchy.  “It will be a relief for our Italian offices to be able to operate again.  You might not be aware, but your previous Boss had an arrangement with Wolfram & Hart.”

        “Previous Boss?” ‘Capperi’ asks, sounding surprised, and Francis looks sympathetic.

        “Oh, yeah, that’s right.  Giovanna claimed he had been the Boss the entire time, but if he’s human he’s too young, and Passione started operating very differently.  Changing our contact is one thing, but changing the entire way they do business…that’s something different.”

        “Used to be a shy, squirrely little dude.  Wasn’t assertive until one of us made a crack about him failing his Boss.  Cracked McNamara’s head wide open.  Haven’t seen him in a while, though.  Pretty much the same time as the operation changed.”  Sawyer’s one to be talking about ‘squirrely’, but given his words, maybe shy doesn’t work as a descriptor for him.

        “So you don’t think that girl is his daughter,” ‘Capperi’ states thoughtfully.

        “They look absolutely nothing alike,” Francis curls a lip in scorn.

        ‘Capperi’ hums and doesn’t respond.

        “You know something,” Sawyer suggests, and ‘Capperi’ just smiles.

Chapter Text

          “You may be right about a new Don.  I’d certainly like to think I haven’t been taking orders from a brat that young all this time,” ‘Capperi’ sneers.  It’s honestly a little odd to be hearing this, because Giorno is talking about himself.  From the point of view of one of his subordinates, and no one’s batting an eye at him talking like this about his boss.  The guy really doesn’t like or respect him, does he?

          “But you have reason to believe otherwise,” Francis suggests.

          “Stories of the Fountain of Youth began, at least in writing, around the fifth century BC in the writings of Herodotus.  It was said to be located in the land of Macrobians.”  They all stare at ‘Capperi’.  Where is he going with this?  “Alexander the Great likewise traveled in search of this Water of Life.  In 1513, during the Age of Exploration, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León traveled to the New World following a charter suggesting he look for a specific part of the world, and spent some time searching for a mythical island said to contain the Fountain of Youth or a river with similar attributes.  Other than just transforming various items into gold, the alchemical focus called the Philosopher’s Stone was thought to also have this property.  The Holy Grail is believed to have healing abilities and confer immortality, and many quests over the years including, supposedly, by King Arthur’s knights, have also sought to find this holy object.  In July 1890, the story The Picture of Dorian Grey, written by Oscar Wilde, was published.  The story depicts an aristocrat whose portrait ages while he does not.”  The story is interesting and accompanied by many gestures.  When ‘Capperi’ finally finishes, he sits back, appearing pleased with himself, and the rest just stare, unsure of what he’s talking about.  ‘Struffoli’ does her best to try to appear unimpressed with this, too, like she knows where it’s going.

          “That’s a fascinating story, Signor Capperi, but what does it have to do with Passione’s Boss?” Sawyer finally asks, voicing everyone’s thoughts.  It’s emphasized by ‘Guanciale’ laughing again ominously.

          “I can tell you what the Don’s Stand does,” ‘Capperi’ states smugly, enjoying the shock in the room.

          ‘Guanciale’s’ laugh trails off, leaving only an ominous silence.  Francis and Sawyer lean forward, fascinated.  “I thought you weren’t a Stand User,” Sawyer replies eventually, stunned.

          “My spies know their work,” ‘Capperi’ replies proudly.  It’s clever, because he doesn’t say either way what he is, specifically.  “They could not entirely confirm the news, given that they are not Stand Users, but, assuming that it is the same Don it’s very likely.  They reported that the Don, Giovanni’s, Stand steals life, and that’s why he seems so young.  Several of his enemies have been found dead, seemingly of old age, and it’s likely but unconfirmed he was there.  It’s difficult to prove the power of a Stand without fighting it, of course, especially for one desiring to keep their power secret like the Don.”

          “That’s an interesting theory, but if so, why would he plant hints otherwise?” Francis asks.

          “That’s where this gets interesting,” ‘Capperi’ laces his fingers together briefly.  “Pretending that he’s new at this was a trap for his enemies, just like the appearance of Trish Una.  The girl likely isn’t even his daughter.  At the first sign of weakness, his enemies, what is the expression, crawled out of the woodwork.”

          Francis and Sawyer exchange a glance, and Buffy—sorry, ‘Struffoli’ is pretty sure that that’s the moment they actually start to believe. “We haven’t heard anything about this.”

          “Perhaps it wasn’t well known outside Passione, but we all heard about what happened to the Hitman Team,” ‘Capperi’s’ voice is solemn.  “They crossed the Don once and only lost two of their members; a reprieve based on the idea that they’d never try again.”

          “Sorbet Affini and Gelato Mazza.  Yes, we’d heard, and suspected we knew who was responsible.  Their work had been seen before,” Francis is thoughtful now, flipping through a few files with interest. 

          “But they tried again, flushed out by the promise of the so-called daughter of the Don, and the result?  Not a single member of the squad emerged alive.  Cioccolata Fausti and Secco Guttoso also attempted to seize power, and look what happened to them.”

          “Your theory makes sense,” Francis agrees quietly, glancing at something on the desk.  “Apparently the doctor, Fausti, was it?, was put on trial for malpractice and the prosecution kept trying to bump that to murder.  We weren’t able to save his reputation, but…”

          “…One of the Italian branches managed to make sure he wasn’t in prison for it, merely disbarred,” ‘Capperi’ finishes understandingly.  “I did wonder how that was managed, even if the courts were bribed.  The notoriety alone made the case a difficult one, I’m sure, and the elderly being involved made public sympathies get involved.”

          “You weren’t aware of any of this?” ‘Struffoli’ asks judgingly, channeling Cordy completely.

          “Our knowledge of recent events in Italy is a trifle haphazard, given both Passione and a new variety of  vampires that slaughtered one of our offices.  Of course, the vampires are no longer a threat—probably had gotten on the wrong side of another of the groups operating in the area,” Francis explains, looking embarrassed—as is right.

          “I see.”  The words are neutral, but the tone is criticizing.  ‘Capperi’ reaches over to squeeze her shoulder proudly.

          “I can’t predict the Don’s thoughts, but the changes have led to different relations with the Speedwagon Foundation and the Watcher’s Council.  Though perhaps the changes are also to determine the loyal from the so-called ‘traitors’.”  Clever, using something that is completely factual.

          “If this is all true…then it means you’re falling into the trap.”  Sawyer points out, frowning.

          “I know it’s there,” ‘Capperi’ replies simply.  “And rumor has it that you are capable of much and gained something useful from an auction in Napoli.”

          The two exchange glances.  “Yes.  We have a number of weapons that we can put at your disposal for the right price.”

          ‘Struffoli’ leans forward, interest piqued.  “Weapons, you say.”

Chapter Text

        “Yes, weapons.  We’d be happy to show you what we have available—we are proud of our extra services available to our clients, and for those of our clients who are alive we’d be happy to help you remain so (though we don’t discriminate and should you die we will be happy to continue to offer you our services),” Sawyer smiles.  “If you’d care to follow me.”

        “I have some calls to make,” Francis states ominously.  Hopefully the phone call isn’t to the real ‘Capperi’…or either of them have telepathy.  That would be of the bad.

        ‘Capperi’ stands imperiously, and this time ‘Struffoli’ moves to his side.  She earns a small, if creepy, smile.  At least if she meets this real ‘Capperi’ he can beat him up, and everything she’s learned about Giorno says that he won’t try anything, unlike ‘Guanciale’, who’s constrained by the nature of his role.  Of course, he’s probably just a creep, not like Warren, but still, it’s genius.  ‘Capperi’ thinks of everything, doesn’t he?  And she doesn’t have to fake the impressed smile.  That’s real.

        They follow the quiet lawyer down the hallway.  It starts as your average office hallway and, as they get to the parts of the building that the normal clients don’t get to see, morphs into claustrophobic, creepy corridors.

        “I know why you’re really here,” Sawyer remarks, just in time for maximum spookage, and fortunately Buffy has great Slayer reflexes or she would’ve flinched at that one.  ‘Capperi’ merely raises a single eyebrow, cool as anything.  “You learned of the fact that we’ve obtained an Arrow.  I won’t tell you how many Stand Users we’ve created loyal to our interests (and yours, given your offer of alliance), but we have enough to, at the very least, make Passione think twice about their current trajectory.  Those who already exist have also been given very generous offers.”

        “True, I’d heard of the failure of one of Giovanna’s agents, on his very doorstep, no less.  We opened a special-edition grappa in her honor.”  There’s a special maliciousness in ‘Capperi’s’ eyes now.  ‘Struffoli’ matches it with a smirk, and ‘Guanciale’ gives his best cackle.

        “Well, we don’t stop at mere ancient weaponry,” the lawyer continues—so he might not put them within grab reach of the Arrow.  Probably a wise precaution.  “For our most discerning clientele, we have gathered a weapons inventory from around the world, as well as the best designers.  In this laboratory—” he waves to a room with glassware and cubbies with glass in the front and a few people in lab coats and a few people who are probably guards.  He’s falling completely into the tour guide role now.

        “Oh, hullo, Sawyer.  Inspection time again?”  A kind-looking older gentleman straightens, sweating a little.  Buffy’s instincts indicate he’s not here willingly.  There’s another guy, younger, babbling about chemistry things she doesn’t understand—here because the challenge interests, probably, and the woman holds her hand up, cutting him off—greed for power, pay.  Both of which, Angel, she thinks with a small pang, had assured her Wolfram & Hart had in spades.  As befits a deal with a devil, they’re incredible at offering just what they’d need to draw you in.

        “Don’t be stupid.  He’s not near high enough in the hierarchy for that, chill.”  One of the guards is probably from California, and he’s far too amused by this.

        “You’ve still got time,” his London counterpart agrees, hanging off him.

        “Well, this lady has questions about your work, and specifically your results,” Sawyer smiles smugly, introducing her.  “Struffoli.”

        “Ah, well, we’re working on new compounds that catch fire,” the kind man explains, mopping at his brow.  He opens his mouth to say something else, but doesn’t get the chance. 

        “What are you doing?” the female scientist asks suspiciously, interrupting.  ‘Struffoli’s’ heart can’t take all these near-discoveries, but it turns out she’s not addressing them at all.

        The guards have begun fighting.  “They’re going to fire someone, and if they do, it should be you,” the London one says with all seriousness, as if something had actually led to this.

        “I saw you steal my paycheck!” the probable Californian accuses, like they’ve been having this argument for several minutes, despite having gotten along less than a minute ago.  This isn’t normal; this is Hellmouthy, but question is, is it the kind of Hellmouthy thing ‘Struffoli’ can fight?  ‘Capperi’s’ stance has grown more tense, so he’s probably getting ready to fight, too.  Sawyer, meanwhile, is glancing between the two cautiously, as if this is a tennis match he can’t quite get.

        “Yeah, but that was for a birthday surprise!  But you never appreciate—”  The British guard trails off, as the American turns away from him.  “Don’t you walk away from me!”  He throws out a hand and breaks one of the glass vials on his sleeve.  It starts burning and he shrieks.

        “If you’ve got to have your lover’s spat, take it elsewhere,” the female scientist sniffs.

        “No, not water, smothering.  This is a compound that is flammable on contact with oxygen,” the older man starts explaining, while the curious one starts quickly taking off his lab coat—to help with the smothering of the fire, maybe?

        Simultaneously, Sawyer swears under his breath.  “Bollocks, it’s another possession case.”  He moves toward a button on the wall, but shuffles backward to avoid touching the skin of the body lurching awkwardly toward him.  Given the behavior involved, ‘Struffoli’ has to agree—the resemblance is uncanny if it isn’t a possession case.

        The Californian guard has started shuffling past, face blank.  His eyes are slightly clouded, misty.

        And he pulls the dangling lever.  The pressure drenches him, but he doesn’t let go.  It’s certainly coming down in more of a deluge than she’d expect from a shower.

        “Let go!  You could flood the laboratory!  It doesn’t help with this fire!” she yells at him and tries to pry his hand open.  He doesn’t even budge.

        And then all of the building’s sprinklers go off too, and that’s when ‘Struffoli’s’ vague danger sense rather than just bugging her a little about it start screaming.

Chapter Text

        “Graham, get our guests and the scientists to safety—all but the woman; we don’t know if it’s touch-contagious,” at which point she looks outraged and probably scared.  “I’ll try to do what I can, or at least seal off the research wing,” the lawyer orders.

        That’s probably not good—or maybe, like Andrew, this guy is better in a crisis than when interacting with people.  Still, he’s suddenly both competent and aware and it might be a good thing they’re splitting up, unless his earlier reactions were a bluff to put them at ease, maybe get them to reveal something.

        “Follow me,” the London guard whose name they now know to be Graham tells them.  The two remaining scientists do so without question, probably part of their training.

        ‘Guanciale’ grunts, but if it had been meant as a warning, they already knew.  They’ve lost control of the situation, and if they do end up following the guard, who knows where they’ll end up, or whether they’ll be able to get out when they get there…

        There’s a shuddering sound in the ceiling a normal human probably wouldn’t have heard, and she instantly tackles ‘Capperi’.  It’s lucky that her reflexes are as fast as they are, because she moves just in time.  One of the pipes in the ceiling bursts, letting out a torrent of water that carries them down the hall.  ‘Guanciale’, the guard, and the scientists aren’t with them.  Buffy blinks as she sees an eyeball float past her and stifles hysterical laughter.  The absurd thought popped into her head that someone needed to ‘keep an eye on things’.  She fights off the sudden wish for Xander, Johan, whatever he’s calling himself, to have been here, to make that joke.  Maybe Dawn—the two always shared a sense of humor, after all, or maybe that’d been her sister trying to get her crush to notice her.  Buffy herself would only voice that thought if she could get Giles to clean his glasses because of it…  Clearly she’s a little bit in shock.  She needs to concentrate on the important things—such as, for example, the sudden suspicion that had caused the argument between the two guards.  This might, in fact, be proof that the spell had been Wolfram & Hart’s, but why would they use it on their own?  What did they gain by such an action?  If the source had really been the chalice, then how was it acting now?  And if it hadn’t been that stupid chalice, why would Giles bother lying to her about it?  He could’ve just said he hadn’t found the source yet, and had an easier lie to believe?  Or perhaps, since its domain seems to be deception, perhaps the spell had managed to pull one even over such an expert on magic as her ex-Watcher?  She’s fairly certain she’s not wrong, now that she knows what she’s looking for.  The sudden paranoia is a little obvious of a tell, once you’re finally looking for it.

        And then she sees a ghostly figure covering ‘Capperi’s’ skin, even as he clings to a doorway.  “I would generally dislike using my power in such an environment but I can think of no other way to discuss the situation with some possibility of remaining unheard.  We must retrieve dear ‘Guanciale’ or we will never retrieve our faces.”

        Buffy nods a little, treading water as best she can, to indicate she’s heard and understood.  The fact that she could vaguely see Stands without having one herself is a concept that Kakyoin found fascinating, though as far as she knows no one’s asked the other Slayers if they’ve experienced that too.  It’s been really busy.

        And then ‘Capperi’ smiles faintly at her.  “It is said that dolphins commonly save drowning victims.  If our luck holds, the same will prove to be the case now.”  He finishes speaking through his Stand and has it disappear—but not before turning the doorway into a dolphin.  It chirps at him and propels itself with a powerful tail-flip back further into the corridor.

        Unfortunately, when it returns, it’s bringing the guard.  It chirps and then leaves again, presumably to get the others.  ‘Capperi’ glances at him dismissively and sighs.  Then he reaches out and touches the man’s shoe as he tries to scramble upright, and he screams and falls.

        “Perhaps your American colleague relayed this sentiment from the pre-revolutionary American days: ‘don’t tread on me’.”  ‘Struffoli’ glances down and sees that the shoe had turned into a coral-like organism, just as he’d attempted to stand.  She glances over at ‘Capperi’ and raises one perfectly sculpted eyebrow (sure, ‘Stroffoli’ was prettier, but like a Barbie; she preferred being herself though this wasn’t bad to try out for the time being).  He smiles just slightly.  “Toxopneustes pileolus.  Also known as the Flower Urchin, a rather beautiful name for a rather terrifying creature.  The toxins cause comas and the formation of clots.  Very painful, or so I’m told, but presuming he gets the correct treatment, he will live.”  The sea urchin slowly turns back into a shoe.

        “You are terrifying,” she tells him, and casually reaches over to choke the curious scientist into unconsciousness rather than hitting him on the head (apparently head injuries can be a whole lot worse for normal humans without the Slayer healing, who knew).  Usually, she’d be a little more conflicted about attacking a person who is, ostensibly, human, even if they are working for a firm like Wolfram & Hart.  She still has some rage about what they’d tricked Angel into, of course, and if she thinks about it she’s saving this guy from an attack by a very venomous sea creature, so when thought about along those lines, really, she’s doing him a favor.

        That gets a definite grin in return.  “Thank you for your kind words.  I believe the same could be said about you.”

        Finally, finally, the dolphin returns with the correct person, and both ‘Capperi’ and ‘Struffoli’ turn to ‘Guanciale’.

        It’s ‘Struffoli’ who voices what they’re both thinking.  “Took you long enough.”

Chapter Text

         Buffy doesn’t want to jinx their escape by saying it was easy, but she’ll go as far as to say it was easier than expected.  Giorno can summon a baffling array of dangerous animals from boa constrictors to komodo dragons (apparently they have a very dangerous bite—“scientists argue whether sepsis, venom, or just large jaws and blood loss are the cause, but for my purposes I just know that they’re extremely effective”, he explains as they run).  The thought that he could be a demented version of a Disney Princess flashes through her head, and she does her best to keep the hysterical laughter in, because that sort of thing makes it easy to mess up when fighting.  Interestingly, he also suggests that they also stay out of the way of his creatures as make their way to a different entrance than the one they came in.

         “You don’t have control?” Buffy asks, a little surprised, and if she’s not wrong the twitch of the lips into a small smile is…sheepish?

         “I would have to have them summoned for a lot longer than this for me to earn any loyalty.  They’re merely acting in their own interests, as life is known to do.”  That’s a weakness, but then, of course, his power had to have some type of weakness.  He’s speaking quietly from his summoned Stand again, probably wanting to prevent others from overhearing things like that, which makes sense.

         Oingo’s Stand isn’t much help in combat, but the guy himself is strong.  He punches out a few of the guards on the way out, and Buffy has to admit, for everything else that’s wrong with him, at least he’s useful in a fight.

         She stabs a few guards, the ones she’s sure aren’t human, and carefully uses her Slayer strength on the others.  Oingo sticks closer to her, worried about her restraint maybe, until she threatens to trip him and he finally starts to keep his distance.

         They return to the place they’d stashed their clothes, and Oingo gets his own face fixed first, then hers.  “Both faces are pretty, but this one suits you better, I think,” he states, and—well, it’s a little weird, but it’s a lot less creepy than other things he’d said in the past.  Even her clothes are untouched, in perfect condition.

         When she joins Giorno, whose face is back to the late teens or early twenties she’d gotten to know, she looks wistfully at ‘Struffoli’s’ clothes.  “I would advise you not wear this one again, to avoid drawing attention to our mission but I can arrange for a replacement, or at least get the money to you.  Or, if you prefer, Trish or I could accompany you.”

         There’s a couple of things to unpack from that invitation.  One, that he’d even noticed.  His suit, this time, is an almost exact duplication of his old one, only orange, and he’d been fiddling with his green ladybug brooches, fixing them almost fussily, not even looking at her.  She picks the one that stands out the most.  Xander was alternatively either too interested (eww) or bored out of his skull (literally, once).  “You wouldn’t mind shopping for clothes?”

         Giorno shrugs, but there’s a hint of pride in his voice as he replies.  The hand gestures she’d gotten used to have disappeared entirely.  “Italy is the land of Gucci, Versace, Armani…and that’s only a few.  Anyone can care about fashion and looking good—and there’s a statement, power, in looking your best.  It would be my honor to aid you in this.”

         “You keep using the term famiglia elettiva.  What does it mean?” she asks, and then notices she doesn’t notice Oingo anymore.  Apparently he’d left—or been ordered elsewhere.

         “In English, it would be…chosen family?  Cugino Johan views you as his family, as does Signor Kujo, and he’s difficult to impress.  So am I, for that matter.” 

         Buffy finds herself blushing, just a little.  She’s not used to straightforward compliments like this.  Of course, it’s still a little roundabout, but it’s still bluntly honest.  Jotaro is like that too, a little, but on the order of a very rare comment here and there.  And, well, especially after what’s been happening recently, it’s nice to hear.  “You’re not telling me I suck, right?” she teases, just to be sure, though there’s a hint of insecurity bubbling up inside.

         Giorno shakes his head, amused.  “Would I offer to go shopping with such a person?”

         She thinks, long and hard, taking a good look at him.  “You would if it would be advantageous for you,” she suggests.

         That actually earns a laugh.  “You are not wrong, but I also previously suggested that I would enjoy your company.”  She’s fairly certain he’s just being charismatic, not flirting.

         “Actually, you said you might.”  But she’s definitely feeling a little better.

         “True, true.  Well, I did enjoy it generally, and apologize again for Oingo.”  He gestures generously for her to go first, and she does.  “Well, at least we know now that it is probable the Wolfram & Hart learned of the Arrow from Diavolo.  I had wondered about that.”

         “Who is ‘Diavolo’?” she asks, and the expression he gets reminds her of the look Jotaro had when DIO had been mentioned.

         “Those lawyers weren’t wrong.  He was the previous Boss.  He also attempted to kill his own daughter, and we stopped him.”  He sounds a little troubled as he continues.  “Given your mentor’s attitude, however, it’s possible he’ll be annoyed at you.  I have to follow up with Fugo to see what occurred with that mask you were concerned with, but I can accompany you back to your headquarters if you would wish.”

         “We’re partners in crime, here.  I’d be mad if you bailed on me.”  Not that she would; she’d understand, and it is an important thing to ask about, but she also appreciates the backup when so many of her interactions with the others lately have gone so very wrong.

         “Of course.”  He pauses to bow, and she laughs at that.

Chapter Text

          “Is there a particular reason behind Signor Giles’ distrust of your leadership?” Giorno asks idly as they make their way to the operations room, where Giles will be.

          “Apparently there’s a chalice Wolfram & Hart used a spell on to make us all suspicious of each other.”  If that’s true, though, why had he been so dismissive the last time they visited?  And if they hadn’t figured out how to get rid of the spell, why hadn’t Giles mentioned that?

          The mob boss hums thoughtfully.  “Either the spell is very powerful, or he wasn’t that confident in your abilities in the first place…”  He starts a little, as if he’d been speaking his thoughts out loud.  “My apologies; I’m probably just playing right into their hands.”

          Is he doing this on purpose to isolate her?  But no, she has to shrug that off.  It’s probably the spell again.  “How do you deal with it?”  He’s had experience dealing with those who don’t trust him, it sounds like.

          “You may have noticed Dr. Kujo’s reaction to me, due to my father, DIO.”  That…makes perfect sense, actually.  “We were able to overcome our differences by being brutally honest with each other—that, and bonding over his knowledge of marine life.  Life in all its forms is truly fascinating.”

          “You’re so weird,” she remarks, and gets the hint of a smile in return.

          “True.  There was another, Abbacchio.”  There’s…sadness, not regret, in Giorno’s tone.  “He guessed, correctly, that I had my own agenda upon joining Bucciarati’s team.  I never earned his trust, but, perhaps, his respect.”  He pauses and continues.  “I put my own life in danger to force him to act, because his hesitation due to his distrust may have cost us everything.  I trusted him to save all of us, and he did, even if he hated me more because of that.  Trust your dreams and fears in another and they must act.  In the end, he trusted me to carry on, even if I…” He pauses, clenching his fist, before he continues.  “Even if we were too late.”

          Despite this man’s reaction, there’s no answering dislike in Giorno’s tone or voice, only a deep sadness.  She was right; this is a warrior who, like her, has tasted loss.  And—wait.  “Was that the reason you were being so honest with me when we met?”

          The young man smiles, proud.  “Of course.  I had heard about Slayers, and of course there was the fact that I am probably not entirely human.  I was unsure what your reaction would be, so I chose the approach with the best chance of success.”

          ‘Don Giovanna’ is equal parts selfish and altruistic, Buffy’s come to realize, but there’s no point in stalling, so she opens the door instead.  The moment she sees Giles, she gets her words out, rather than waiting for him to start in on a lecture, because of the Moods of Giles this one is Not Happy.  “You signed off on us dealing with the lawyers.”

          Giles is pinching his nose, the step before cleaning his glasses.  “That’s because I didn’t think you’d go off and do something so reckless.  Did you really have to flood the entire building?  Practically all the branches of Wolfram & Hart, I’m told, are in an uproar.”

          “That wasn’t the point, obviously, but maybe they’ll stop it with the subtle things and we’ll have drawn them into the open.  We might not have the forces on our own, but Don Giovanna here will lend help, as W&H are a problem for them, as well.”  She could say ‘might’, but it might also be a case of ‘act confident and people will believe in you’—she’d learned that during the fight with the First, too.  She gets a slight nod in confirmation from Giorno.

          “Did you even have a plan when you went in?” Giles asks, and she’s had it.  Enough of the distrust, enough of the second guessing, enough of being told she just isn’t good enough.

          “Do you?  I wouldn’t know, because you haven’t bothered to tell me.  I’m not good at research but I’d gladly help with that if you’d let me.  Instead you keep me in the dark, like Johan, and expect me to be happy with being treated like a good little doll in a dollhouse.”  That warrants the glasses cleaning.  “You gave me the title of Leader when we started all this, but am I just supposed to be a figurehead?  What, exactly has changed from the last Council?”  Giles opens his mouth, and she fixes him with a glare.  “And don’t you dare say you’ll trust me when I earn it.  I can’t earn your trust if you don’t let me do anything.”

          Giles is silent, and the silence stretches.  He’s not going to say anything—or he can’t?

          And then Giorno interrupts.  “Is this the chalice you were referring to, Signora Summers?”  He’s casually holding it in his hands, like it’s not dangerous at all, and this time as they stare they’re speechless for a completely different reason.

          “Should you be touching it?” Buffy asks cautiously, then turns to Giles.  “Did you get rid of the spell?  Do you know if that’s safe?”

          “As far as I know, we did, though the magic was different than anything we’ve seen before…” the Watcher explains reluctantly.

          Giovanna’s just standing there, eyes closed.  Is he being possessed or something?  “You didn’t,” he states abruptly, voice and everything else still the same—or is it?  “But then, you don’t have the right perspective to understand this one.  Like my Stand, whatever did this imbued this chalice with some sort of life energy.  It feels like it did when those guards started fighting.  Furthermore, it only affects your feelings toward those closest to you, those whom you trust.  Even recent acquaintances whom you trust are affected, while strangers are not.”  He sets it down carefully, in contrast to his casual attitude.  “Fascinating.  But if this is the case, why would they unleash such a weapon on themselves?”

          “Infighting.  Angel destroyed the leadership, so there might be some squabbling about the position of successor or trying to gain whatever power they can,” Buffy realizes.  From what Angel had said, the members of Wolfram & Hart were only held in check by their contracts and power.  The minute they could, they would devour each other.

          “We experienced something similar in Passione, yes,” Giorno agrees.

Chapter Text

          When she turns back to Giles, he’s sunk down into the desk, head in his hands.

          “Well, last chance.  Are you going to stop ordering me around like I’m still a kid, or do I need to try to act on my own?  We can’t just keep researching forever—we have to do something eventually, and just ‘cause we can’t see a clock ticking down doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”  There are probably better, more mature ways of dealing with this but she just can’t deal with this anymore.

          “We’re not prepared for war, and I don’t want to lose anyone else.  We’ve been trying to determine what Wesley’s aim is.  All I’m asking for is a little more time.”  He seems defeated, resigned to the inevitable.  Does he really believe this, or is his thinking still being influenced by that spell?

          “Like it or not, war has come.  I’m not going to just stand aside and let them do whatever they wish.”  Buffy walks to the doorway and pauses.  “You better not get killed while I’m gone.  Giorno, you’ll still help out when I’m gone, right?”

          Giorno nods.  He probably wouldn’t agree so easily if they hadn’t learned, to some extent, to trust each other.  Fighting alongside each other is generally the best way to do so, she’s found.  “Of course, and whatever help you want is yours.  You merely have to ask.”

          He’s offering to help, to come with her if she but asks, but is leaving the choice up to her, unlike some people.  He respects her.  It’s a nice feeling.  “Sorry, but this is something I need to do myself.”  She might like him and trust him, but he is a crime boss, with an agenda of his own.  She needs to prove to herself she doesn’t need a handicap like other people to keep herself out of danger.

          He nods, as if he’d been expecting that.  “Find your resolve, and with that you can overcome anything.”  And she finally leaves.

          “Are you satisfied?” Giles asks brokenly, and Giorno shakes his head, resting himself against one of the stone columns like he’s a Roman statue.

          “It brings me no pleasure to watch this, Signor Giles.  It brings back terrible memories, in fact.  But I also cannot stand by and watch as the two of you try to pretend that nothing’s wrong and attempt to fix nothing.  You don’t wish to watch another die, a sentiment I can fully understand and agree with.  If you continue down this path, you will already have lost her.”

          “And I suppose you’re going to tell me how to fix it,” Giles suggests sarcastically, anger seeking a target, fight coming back into his body.

          “I am not Signor Higashikata.  I have no easy ways to solve problems.  Even my healing is painful, but then, I have reason to believe life is glory and pain in equal measure, and it is our resolve that allows us to move past obstacles to achieve our objectives.”  He smiles then, gentle as a summer rain.  “I can suggest that you see things from her perspective.  Understanding is a valuable tool, as a librarian should know.”

          Which probably, Giles thinks, darkly amused, explains exactly why the Don of Passione made such a study of understanding other people so very easily. 

          “A friend once described fate as a sleeping slave.  The metaphor is apt for a Slayer.  Their fates are chosen for them, and they have no control over their own fate.  With the act that woke all the Potential Slayers, they have been set free, but even so, young or old they are warriors.  They have resolve and dreams of their own.  They don’t need constant orders, but a guiding hand and support, because they must be free to make their own mistakes.  Constantly questioning Signora Summers’ decisions and undermining her authority does nothing to destroy her feelings that her life is not her own to command.”

          “And if that ends in her death?” the Watcher asks, fight bleeding back out of him once more.

          “Then you carry on her will and don’t forget her sacrifice.”  The mob boss’s voice is sad at the prospect, but he doesn’t shy away from it.  “You cannot live your life in fear, for that is no life at all.”

          Giles sighs and takes a deep breath to try to ward away the tears.  “While you have a point, Don Giovanna, do you think you could give me some time to pull myself together?  I regret I am in no position to make useful decisions on behalf of us both.”

          “Of course.  I can get in contact with Fugo in the meantime, and discover if he has found your missing Mask or order him to find it if he has not done so.  I would suggest perhaps it is not the best idea to take your rest with the chalice in your office.”  Gracefully, Giovanna goes to the same door and goes through it, disappearing into the hallways beyond and probably wrecking havoc with the magical security systems.  Again.

 

          When Buffy reaches the exit to the little alley, the exit from their new headquarters, she finds her way is blocked by a tall shape she recognizes.  It’s associated with reassurance, but there’s something ominous and unmoving about it now.

          “Are you going to try to tell me I’m not allowed to leave?  You’re not my father; you can’t ground me.”  Oddly enough, Jotaro flinches when she says that, but he still doesn’t move out of the way, pulling his hat down a little.  “I’m not going to stop you, Buffy.”

          Her eyes narrow as he continues to stand there.  “If that’s true, why are you standing in my way?”

          “You can see Stands.  But if you’re going to go out there on your own, without a Stand User to back you up, I want to make sure you can fight them.”

          He continues not to move, and Buffy swallows, moving into a fighting stance.  “You’re going to try to see that with your own eyes, aren’t you?”

          Jotaro smiles slightly, hand on his hat, and summons Star Platinum.