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by Edmondia Dantes and Nemi-chan
Disclaimer: Not ours. Loosely inspired by this fanart by Christine Leonova.
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David Xanatos loved Halloween. Granted, this time last year his fiancee-now-wife had been a slavering were-beast, but things had changed since then, and he was in high spirits as he strolled through his castle, leaving electric pumpkins in amusing places in his wake. He heard a distinctly familiar chuckle as he replaced the helmet on a suit of armor after having given it a pumpkin head, but when he looked around, no one was nearby.
He straightened up, tucked his last pumpkin under his arm, and followed the faint scent of thunder and wildflowers. He knew when he was being called, and it would be bad manners to turn down an invitation to chat, especially on a night like this.
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His travels took him downstairs, past the gargoyles and into the atrium - he'd had it artfully decorated for the fall, and it smelled of rich damp earth and burning leaves. He didn't bother to turn on the lights, he just followed the glow into a copse of trees so thick it felt like wilderness. A faint smile curved his lips as he caught a glimpse of long pale hair, shining golden in the muted light.
"You called?" he drawled, and bright, clear eyes fixed on him, alight with mischief.
"You answered," Puck said lazily, and beckoned him closer with a slim finger.
He went, eyebrows raising as he caught better glimpse of the jack-o-lantern he lounged upon. He'd always privately suspected that Puck had a demented sense of humor, and this only confirmed it.
Soft lips curled up into a smirk. "Here's my Samhain decoration, David."
He looked at the knife, the glowing pumpkin, and the blood oozing down its sides and splattered on the leaf-covered ground. "...you frighten me." He wasn't ashamed to admit it - very few things could scare him, but then very few people lived the way he did. And once a fear was known, and named, it could be conquered, but for now he dropped to a comfortable crouch and met those unsettling eyes squarely.
"It's Samhain, David." The smirk curled into an angelic smile. "And I am a hobgoblin."
So that was one truthful legend, but what of the others? "You're not going to turn green, or whatever traditional color it is," he paused and watched the glow of inner light on outer, too-precious liquid that scientifically speaking should not be there, "in addition to making bleeding jack-o-lanterns - are you?"
"Green is tacky." And it certainly wouldn't be a good color for a night like this, not when the moon was half-hidden in clouds and his atrium was far spookier than the design specs should have allowed. "Guess where I put the innards."
There was a disturbing thought. "Does, or rather did it have normal pumpkin innards or not?"
The angelic smile grew much too wide to be angelic, and he watched as Puck petted his glowing pumpkin, smearing blood down the sides and over his hands. "Jack is bleeding, David. Someone ripped his guts out."
"...It's in the gargoyles' section of the castle at least?" Bronx would probably eat it, right? He didn't think the cleaning staff would appreciate finding unidentified insides stashed away in some forgotten corner and left to rot. Or in the chandelier, which was a much more likely place for them, now that he thought about it.
"Hmn." Puck tapped slim fingers thoughtfully against his lips. "It could be."
"You are a singularly disturbing individual." He glanced at the pumpkin again and shuddered faintly. The streaks oozing from its eyes made it look as if it were crying.
Puck raised a skeptical eyebrow. "How so? I merely artistically expressed the plight of poor dear Jack on this most holy of nights. Why, just think how many poor pumpkins have been slaughtered through the ages to appease the wandering mortal dead. Are they not worthy of artistic representation?"
It was some very odd logic, but then, it wasn't as if he was human. "Quite so, in a wholly horrific manner."
He leaned on his pumpkin and chuckled darkly. "I didn't invent this barbaric custom, David." Then he tilted his head and blinked at him. "You don't find it amusing?"
He could understand it, but his sense of humor tended to the sarcastic, not the sadistic. "The blood is a touch disturbing."
A slow, lazy smile curved his mouth, revealing a row of razor-sharp teeth. "What else do you expect from me, David?"
Expect? From a trickster? "And there's the heart of the problem."
"Oh?" A tilt of the head, a waterfall of pale hair that gleamed golden in the light. "What problem would that be?"
He just barely held back the smirk. "I know better than to expect anything from you."
Puck gazed at him through thick lashes, slow and appraising. "Clever boy, David. Far cleverer than many have been." Slim fingers idly dipped into the pooled blood, and he doodled a smiley face onto the side of the pumpkin, beneath the knife wound.
He refrained from shifting uncomfortably only because Puck would notice and laugh. "A-ah? Not the first deal you cut?"
Bright blue eyes glimmered as he offered him a lazy grin. "What do you think?"
He shrugged. "There's a first time for everything but you've lived for a very very long time."
Puck hummed softly under his breath, doodling again, this time a peace sign. David privately thought it a bit morbid, or perhaps a form of social commentary, or maybe he was just quietly, peacefully insane. "There's always somebody who wants something, dear David. You know that."
He did know that. He made his billions off of that. "But we're not all the same. We don't always want the same things."
"Exactly." Puck tapped Jack on the nose. "That's why the game is always entertaining."
So nice to be thought of as a toy. It was somewhat refreshing, after having been the game master for so long. "Most people go for the wish, huh?"
"Uh-huh." He propped his chin in his hands and offered him a sweet smile. "They're willing to trade anything for their heart's desire."
He chuckled. "What's that say about me, then?"
A silvery chuckle echoed his own. "That you wanted to attain your heart's desire on your own." A very dark smile curled his lips. "Clever little boy."
On the other hand it could also mean that Owen, and/or Puck, was his heart's desire. He thought in knots too much if his brain spat that out. Not to mention Fox would kill him. "Well I always did appreciate a hard day's work."
Puck grinned at him. "I seem to recall you and your father having some very snippy conversations about being a 'self-made man'?"
He shoved his hands in his pockets and offered him his patent-pending 'totally innocent' smile. "Not my fault that my hard work involves more brains than brawn. And was done in the future-past at the time."
"That's a clever boy." The grin slid wider. "And rather a wise decision on your part."
"I had an excellent advisior," he smirked and smiled at the same time, turning and leaning against a nearby tree to glance at him without seeming like he was staring. Puck (even as Owen) had the unsettling habit of staring back, and he didn't ever blink.
Puck's lips curled into a smirk. "And that is why you get away with it."
Was he being spoiled? There were worse things. "We make an excellent team."
Chuckle. "Impertinent little human."
"I'm bigger than you," he pointed out indulgently. But there was an edge. To test himself against this one, sharper than any, with real danger, and real safety. "And we're stuck together, not that I mind."
He gave an airy little sigh. "What is it with you mortals and your ridiculous obsession with physical size?" A delicate blink. "Also, your phrasing makes it seem as though your son has welded us together with crazy glue, which is a mental image that I could do without."
"Then I believe we are even as the conversation about poor Jack, which I'm grateful to get away from, was perhaps equally disturbing. And please do be careful about saying such things around him, he might take it into his head to do that when you are Owen again." That would be a perfect nightmare, trying to run his company while welded to his majordomo. They'd kill each other within the week, or at least Fox would.
His eyes widened in mock-innocence. "Why, David, whatever would give you the idea that I would spread such terribly disturbing thoughts on to your dear little child? You'd think I was a bad influence or something." He held his gaze steadily while he leaned over the pumpkin and licked up a falling droplet of blood.
"If child services came by, if they could, and didn't blow their minds by trying to wrap them around reality, they'd say so." He folded his arms and settled more comfortably back against his tree, careful not to squish his pumpkin. "But who are we mortals to judge you? No matter how crazy you seem."
Another silver-strung laugh rang through the atrium. "That's my clever David." He tilted his head and grinned at him. "Immortality does strange things to the mind, even if you're born to it. Why, Demona and Macbeth have barely lived, and just look what's happened to them."
He grinned. "Old age getting to you finally, Puck?"
Puck gave a delicate little snort. "I thought you'd read your classics, David. Apparently I've always been slightly mad."
He shrugged, leaning back and watching him contemplatively. "According to the times, perhaps."
"Oh?" He gazed through his lashes at him, sprawled out over the ground, arms folded, and grinned at him in a strange parody of the jack-o-lantern sitting beside him. "And by your times?"
"Who knows? Maybe a hundred years ago that," he pointed at the bleeding orange parody, "was normal, and maybe in a hundred more it will be again."
"Are you suggesting that it isn't normal now?" His slow grin quickly widened to disturbing proportions. "But what if it's normal for me?"
"Madness is measured by society. And this society is quite human."
"Are you so sure of that, darling David? Just look at your lovely wife." Smirk. "And let's not forget Peter Maza's... closeness... to my dear cousin."
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well yes, a thousand years is quite long enough time to bugger enough humans to alter the gene pool. Do I have to worry terribly about some daughter of yours coming by some time in the next two decades to win my son's heart?"
"Buggery doesn't make babies, not even for us, David." He laughed, long and hard and silvery. "And unlike my brethren, I make sure I don't leave any little mistakes in my wake."
"You have relieved me of worry." He shook his finger at him, "But you should start worrying, and being a bit safer, with reproductive technology advancing as it is."
Puck arched an eyebrow, and looked as if he was seriously considering getting up for the sole purpose of biting his finger. "I'm not the one going around fathering interspecies babies around here, David."
He raised an eyebrow in return. "I don't belive it's interspecies on my side. And in any case, I meant to, as did she. There was no one going around using semen from a condom in desperation."
"Just because Alexander's mostly human doesn't mean he's all human." His delicate nose wrinkled. "And why anyone would want to reproduce that badly is completely beyond me." He gave a faint shudder of disgust, and Xanatos had to wonder how often Oberon's Children actually procreated. Judging from Puck's response, not very often.
"To trap the husband or erstwile boyfriend into marriage," he offered, then paused to consider it. "Or at least child support."
Another nose-wrinkle. It made him look disturbingly young. "...that seems rather an odd way to go about choosing a lifemate."
He shrugged. "I don't think it's so much about choice so much as catching them."
Puck snickered and propped his chin on his arms, heedless of the blood dripping into his hair. "Tranquilizer guns and nets work wonders."
He nodded and played along - just because he didn't really know the game was no reason not to give it his best. "Then of course, drag them to Vegas."
"Naturally." He smirked. "Or just hire a wandering preacher."
"That too could work." Share the smirk - that was rather how his own wedding had gone, although the preacher in question hadn't so much wandered as been bought.
"Mortals are so terribly inventive when they've got their minds set on something." The smirk split into a grin. "So tell me, darling David, what is your mind set on?"
He flashed him his most charming smile. "Winning the bet with my dearest wife, of course."
"And what bet would that be?" He was doodling again - improving his art was more like it, tapping his fingernails to the pumpkin and causing new blood to well up and slide down Jack's sides.
"They say this is the most magical night of the year, or at least the time when the divide between the worlds is the thinnest. The bet is on whether or not anything magically out of our ordinary is going to happen tonight. Demona attacking or causing trouble is normal."
"Mmm." Bright blue eyes were unfocused, lazy, as slim hands added too pretty-swirls and jagged lines to his design. "It will be a quiet time. All my kin are back on Avalon - hmn." His lips quirked in a sudden smile. "Unless the king decides to Hunt tonight." His grin widened. "That would be a fitting end to the Gathering celebration, don't you think?"
His eyes widened, and though he heard nothing, he was certain that Puck was laughing at the expression on his face. "The Wild Hunt?" He composed himself, bringing his voice down to a normal level. "So tell me, which legend is true about that?"
"My darling David, what other Hunt is there?" He grinned fiercely at him, baring too-sharp teeth. "And what do you think?"
He settled back farther, setting his pumpkin on the ground and stroking his beard thoughtfully. "I'm not sure. There's a couple of variations." He started ticking them off on his fingers. "Roaming the country side looking for a gypsy child to run down. Dead warriors wandering the world. There's the ones about your fate if you stand and fight, or turn and be run down." He frowned slightly, glancing at him carefully. "And it's usually the Unseelie that do it, or Herne."
Puck laughed, and there was something eerie in the tone. "Oberon's the one who declared humans off-limits, why would he hunt for a mortal child? And David..." his lips curled into a very dark smile. "What do you think Oberon is?"
David was uncomfortable, tense, but he hid it and continued the banter. "He rather defies description as a giant smurf, you know. On one hand he's a bastard, on the other hand he declared humans off limits." Laugh at something and it becomes less frightening, but even with everyone on their side they still hadn't won.
Puck chuckled, and he was relieved that the sound was much earthier than before. "Leftovers from the time when he was the most considerate among us." His eyes glinted strangely in the low light. "Besides, no human is worthy enough prey."
That was even more of a relief. "I'm a touch insulted, but grateful. Ah, is it true they use iron weapons for a challenge?"
"Mmm." He pillowed his head on his arms and grinned, eyes gleaming just a little too brightly for it to be only the steady glow of bleeding Jack. "Only the eldest amoung us are able and willing to Hunt."
He considered this - and wasn't sure if he liked it or not. "Ah, if Lady Titania does venture out my family's safety is rather assured. And if she does not... well, I heard there is an iron bell now on Avalon, I am certain she can... 'get creative' with it." But there were other concerns, and other people he'd just as soon not meet without being prepared for it. "And if it's someone else? I've matured, but not that much."
He chuckled again, low and velvet. "If there is a Hunt, Titania and Oberon will lead. It's their honeymoon, after all, and Hunts are very rare."
"Wish you were there?" Curiosity, and perhaps a wish to try to upset him bubbled up irrepressibly. "What would your role be? Some sort of gopher?" He didn't want to accuse him of being one of the hounds to his face directly.
"Mmm, it would be nice." He bared his teeth in something that was both more of and less than a smile. "I like Hunting, David. It's one of the few times we're allowed to really play." Then those beautiful eyes narrowed. "And just what do you mean by gopher, my darling little mortal?"
He shrugged disarmingly, not wanting to face a fey whose temper he'd piqued. "You don't seem the hunting type, more the 'scare them into killing themselves' type. As to the gopher, well like Owen. But shorter and flying around, as you are now." Smile, charm him, and smooth any ruffled feathers. You didn't survive in business unless you knew how to calm volatile souls, and there were no creatures more mercurial than Avalon's Children. "Oberon doesn't seem the sort to share the glory, more like hog it. How else could you get close to the top and the front?"
He flashed him a truly evil grin. "Be the prey."
His eyebrows shot up. Puck was still amused, but he didn't like the implications for his friend. "Halfbloods not intresting enough for you?"
"Halfbloods aren't powerful enough to fight back." His eyes gleamed. "If it takes the eldest among us to play the Hunters, who do you think is capable of being the quarry?"
Flattery worked, and he would never be fool enough to underestimate him. "The scariest smartest bastard on the island?"
"Exactly." A fierce, bright grin split his pretty features into something that was still beautiful, but in a way that made something inside him restless and tense. "It's quite the honor to be chosen as the prey - and provides an excellent way to take any vengeance you want on your brethren."
He hesitated. It might be rude, but he had to know. "...What happens if you're caught?"
"That depends on who does the catching." From the smirk, he could tell that he hadn't offended him, and exhaled slowly through his teeth in quiet relief. "I seem to recall Oberon catching Titania one Hunt, and the end result of that particular incident was the birth of the Three. Take that as good or ill as you will."
He grimaced. "You one-upped me on the bad mental images, my friend." He took a moment for his features to recover, then swallowed. "Were you ever caught?" He rather doubted it.
A peal of silvery laughter was the answer. "I do believe I've just been insulted!"
"Perhaps." He felt... floaty. He wiggled his feet, but they were still on the ground, and took him a long moment to shake off the unintended spell. When he looked back up again, his eyes were clear, even if his body felt unusually light.
"Mind your manners, little mortal, or I'll set Jack on your Ichabod Crane." He was grinning despite the insult, and appeared to have started doodling on the ground as well, splattering blood like a Pollock from hell.
He shrugged, a grin tugging at his lips. "You didn't answer. And did Loki ever get in by being ridden?"
"I don't answer questions whose answers should be obvious," he drawled in reply. "And please, the mental images pain me."
"So we are equal once more. But, my better judgement says you must have been caught at least once. But it also says you're too good to be caught." He spread his hands and shrugged. "I face a conundrum."
"It it is good that you recognize it as such." He propped his chin in his bloodstained hands, pretty and childlike. "Pray tell, who would have caught me, little human?"
His answer was instantaneous, "Titania. If anyone, if fairly, then she."
"I always knew you were bright." His eyes gleamed with more than the light.
He tilted his head, considering him. "But that doesn't mean you wouldn't have let Oberon catch you if there were something to be gained for it."
Puck grinned, just wolfishly enough to be unsettling. "Very bright." His grin widened farther. "Perhaps I'll give you some roasted pumpkin seeds in place of a cookie."
He blinked. "Why would I prefer pumpkin seeds instead of a cookie?"
That was not a nice smile. "I don't make cookies." He petted the pumpkin lightly. "And what's the sense of mutilating poor Jack unless we eat him? That would be a horrible waste, don't you think?"
His stomach did an uncomfortable flip-flop. "Bloody seeds?"
There was something very sly in his eyes. "Among other things."
That was too disturbing even to contemplate. "How about we buy some cookies and call it even?"
"Cookies are boring, David." He tilted his head, eyes narrowing. "You wouldn't want to bore me on tonight of all nights... would you?"
He blinked at him, a little unsettled. "Feel the need to go running around with dogs nipping at your heels tonight?"
He stretched, graceful and luxurious, all gleaming eyes and moon-bright hair and glinting gold. "My magic is bound to Alexander, David. He's a very small child, and I am not." He absentmindedly licked a trail of blood off his fingers. "Even I grow restless in my game," he all but purred, and Xanatos resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably.
"Unless Oberon decideds to go out for a run and finds that the best prey is missing." Better to let him have a free night than have him trapped at home in a mood like this.
"There are other Children my age," he drawled lazily. "In which case I wouldn't mind heckling from the sidelines."
He raised an eyebrow. "But none as clever."
"Very good boy, David." He patted his pumpkin. "Just for that, I won't reenact Sleepy Hollow in the hallways."
Laughter, human laughter but he hoped it pleased him none the less. "Thank you."
"Although it would have been fun to have Lexington play the Headless Horseman," Puck mumured a bit wistfully. "That child makes such an entertaining little villain."
Xanatos grinned. "Perhaps you and Alexander could chase one of them about. Lexington would gladly join you for Alex's sake. I think the Gargoyles are far too used to being the terrors of the night."
"Bah." His eyes gleamed, magic-bright for a moment, deeply unsettling against the warmer glow of the bloody pumpkin and the shadows that surrounded them. "Those children know nothing of true night terrors."
He chuckled. Not even Puck, it seemed, escaped the characteristic vanity of his race. "Care to teach? Just don't give the gargoyles any more bad PR."
Puck sat up for the first time, leaning forward over his pumpkin and grinning at him. "Do you really think that's wise?" He couldn't pretend to ignore the disturbing image he made, blood-spattered, wild-eyed, with teeth far too sharp to belong to anything human. "I've been known to mislead hapless mortals in times past."
He drew in a long slow breath and released it the same way, lifting his hand to begin ticking off his points. "One, I know you won't hurt Alexander, or allow him to come to mental harm, so no trauma. Two, I know you're not allowed to kill humans. Three, I don't want you being edgy at everyone all night and I want Jack out of here--you deserve a vacation. Four, better them than us."
"But David," a face that sweet shouldn't be able to curl into a grin that demonic, "I like playing with you best."
He couldn't control his mouth, "Ah, you need Fox's permission for that."
Puck laughed, bright-edged and silvery gold. "Why David, I had no idea you thought that way."
Neither his skin tone nor his nature allowed him to blush, but he felt a bit heated around the ears all the same. "Alex was conceived though natural means. I do think like that."
"Well, you are a human male." He snickered, leaning back, elbow propped on bloody Jack. "Though I thought you liked girls."
He shrugged gracefully. "I try to be egalitarian about most things."
"Do you now." His eyes gleamed with mischief. "I suppose that's true, seeing as how you've already demonstrated your willingness to mate with halflings."
"Why should I care about Fox's heritage? She's intelligent, like-minded, and beautiful, with all the things that entails." He paused for a moment to consider the matter. "Like walking on two legs."
"Aren't you sweet." He flicked a pulpy mass in his general direction. "Here, charm your lady."
He dodged out of the way, it looked far too disgusting to catch.
It landed on a root of the tree with a sickening splatter of what had to be blood. "Oh David, you broke Jack's heart!" Puck exclaimed, tilting his head back and chortling like it was the most amusing thing he'd seen in years. It was an eerie sight.
"...Is this a mood or Halloween?"
"Both." He drew his legs up like a child, knees to his chest and grinning brightly, idly toying with the knife buried in Jack's side. "I enjoy Samhain, David." A gleam of buttery light flashed molten on too-sharp eyeteeth. "And I am what I am, after all."
"Aren't we all?" He blinked, struck by a sudden thought. "I'm the only human in our little group, aren't I?"
"Yup." He flicked his fingers, crimson splattering on age-darkened wood.
Xanatos watched him, a little wary, a little intrigued. "Is Fox going to be in a Samhain mood?"
Puck shrugged, eyes on his new game. "You're the one who's been dating her for this long. Has she ever acted differently before?" He paused for a moment and blinked. "Excluding the werefox bit."
He frowned thoughtfully. "She's had contact with more magic than before."
"Maybe if you're lucky your lady wife will want to play." Puck leered at him. "Hopefully she won't want to literally eat you this time."
He rolled his eyes. "...I'm going to go buy those cookies now."
Puck stretched gracefully, and he watched crimson spill down slim hands and streak on gold. "Don't bother. Broadway's baking tonight."
One option shot down, but there were always alternatives, and if he were to meet with his darling Fox tonight, he certainly wanted it to be a private affair. "Ah. I'm going to just hide then."
Puck vaulted off of the ground and into the air, zipping forward in a dizzying swirl of silver and scarlet and gold to tap him on the nose with one dainty bloodstained fingertip. "Not a good idea, David darling."
He blinked, a little disconcerted, and recoiled slightly. "Right, prey behavior?"
"Exaaaaactly." He patted his cheek, then paused, fingers pressed thoughtfully to his lips. "Well... unless you want Fox to hunt you. But I warn you, I won't be nice if I have to deal with you on crutches while you're healing."
He snorted. "Thanks for the tip, how about hiding behind Broadway?"
"Broadway versus Fox, hmn." He perched delicately on nothing and nibbled on a fingertip, considering the matter. "He's got the obvious physical advantage, but she's far the sneakier."
"Ah, but he can cushion me if she tries to attack me."
One slim brow raised. "Do you really want to be mauled by Titania's half-mortal daughter... on top of a gargoyle?"
Xanatos shrugged. "I'm hoping she won't."
"Well, I can't guarantee her behavior." He flitted back to his pumpkin, dropping lightly to the ground and absentmindedly skewering Jack again. "She might as well be human."
He watched him closely. Was there something more than just this? "Sometimes you can't win." Best to cut your losses and make a clean break, but there was nothing clean about this, and the stakes in this game were eternal.
"I've noticed that," he said lightly, but his tone was just a little too harsh as more blood began to pour down his fingertips.
He frowned and watched him for a long moment, before pushing off the tree and straightening up. "In the Hunt, can the prey turn the tables? Turn the hunters into the Hunted?"
"Yesssssss." It was a deep, throaty purr, a tone he'd only heard once or twice before, and was glad that he couldn't see the look on his face from this angle, just a silken waterfall of crimson-stained hair.
"It's a good thing to keep in mind," he said as he turned to go seek his wife. "I think."
Puck's laughter floated after him, soft and golden and dark, and he left him in the dark, to the blood and the wilderness and whatever would come with midnight.
David rather thought he had cheered him up. It would be a good start for the new year.
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