1963-09-26 - Hijacked
Summary: Liv accompanies Jack into Hell's Kitchen to keep her safe. And fails.
Related: Once Upon A Hellmouth plot
Theme Song: None
jack laura liv duke 


*

The Hellmouth has made things difficult for Duke of late. The demons have strayed as far as the junkyard, tracking his trails about the city, and he found Coz chewing on a minor hellsprite this morning. After throwing the thing in the incinerator, Duke sets out for Hell's Kitchen, in spite of the dangers, in order to get the supplies to make a masking powder. Tobacco and holy water aren't doing the trick anymore.

He's stalking down the a side street, an odd figure in a suede vacquero's jacket, jeans, and boots, with a bow and quiver slung across his back and some other bulky items in a leather sack. If it weren't for the sunglasses, he'd look like he stepped off the cover of an old Western novel. He's eccentric enough, and things are in enough chaos that — so far, no one's stopped him.

Hell's Kitchen has had a few days of respite, as though whatever was causing so much trouble was sleeping. Since morning, though, the fog has not cleared from some alleys and there's an odd chill in certain shadowed corners. The sky is cloudy, or it seems that way until one looks up and then, it's as though it was all in the mind. The older, wiser residents have brought in the cat, pulled down the blinds, and locked the doors. Some have salted their doorsteps and windowsills, in case it does them any good. The greengrocer is out of garlic. Someone has made off with the stakes from a construction site. People are learning, and fast.

*

"He wanted to hear about the insurance business and how I decided on my own coverage," Jack states as she pads around the car in the alley and scribbles some notes on her clipboard. "Which was weirdly refreshing." Jack's eyebrows lift at her roommate. "Seriously though, I was pretty sure I didn't have a leg to stand on after he rescued the train from an armed gunman."

Jack writes a few more things down on her piece of paper. "Captain Rogers was kind of painfully normal. And not at all like I'd expected." She taps her nose, "But I recognized him immediately, even without the uniform." Her lips hitch up on one side, "Police know criminals. Insurance people know damagers."

*

'Painfully normal' does not describe Jack's roommate even when Liv is not decked out in her armor to play bodyguard. With her hand loosely grasping the hilt of the sword at her hip, the tall blonde trails along behind Jack, paying far more attention to their surroundings than to the other woman's story.

Though she is listening. Or trying to. "I don't know if I'd publicly classify Captain America as a 'damager,' Jack," Liv says with a quiet laugh, giving her a brief look. "What were you expecting, though? He seems very… I don't know. Stand-up." She sets her jaw and brow, squaring her shoulders. "Proper."

*

Laura is also learning quickly, but in a markedly different fashion than the residents. She is learning that there's something more than the programming and orders that drove her on assignments. Because in the absence of orders, a deeper perogative has been pulling at her. A need to hunt, pursue… a kill is ideal but the chase suffices.

Fortunately, there's a hellmouth and all manner of completely acceptable targets around the last week or so. Hell's Kitchen is as target-rich as ever. Perhaps moreso, and aside from the area around the park, it's been Laura's favorite hunting grounds.

Like now, she courses smoothly through back-alleys. Over fences, around that corner, snake through a pile of garbage cans, roll over this low wall. Did you know vampires have a very particular scent? It's like old and moldy death. Not a fresh kill, like something gross and dry that's been out in the cold too long to be worth anything eating. It does make them SUPER simple to pick out of cluttered city air, though. Laura came across this one a few minutes ago, and now she lopes right across Jack and Liv's track like a whisper of a wolf going by in the night, if a wolf was a tiny girl with short dark hair dressed all in black combat gear.

*

Duke stops to check a small piece of paper that was in his pocket. He still doesn't have the hang of streets. This jumble of capitalism and social engineering that passes for city planning doesn't hold a lot of meaning for him. None of it is particularly useful or sensible. Once, things made more sense, he's sure of that. Addresses are just babble, but he can match things up with an effort.

The dark comes up so quickly, it's almost as though someone turned out the lights. Black fog surges out out the narrow spaces between buildings, belches out of the sewers. It comes with a chill and an electric crackle in the air. Sometimes, the fogs move in like a storm but now it simply coalesces out of what feels like nowhere at all. There's a numbing feel to it that saps the senses and that numbness grows as the darkness becomes more and more dense.

*

"Right, except we all acknowledge it's true. There's such little regard for the financial cost of — " The tiny girl dressed in black combat gear causes Jack to stand upright and back into the car she's been inspecting. "What the heck i that?! A person is likely to get the heebie jeebies out here! They don't pay me enough for this," she mutters softly.

The fog that accumulates around the buildings and its accompanying chill only cause her climb atop the vehicle, backing herself up further towards it as if it offers some sense of respite or shelter. "What. I want to go home," she finally asserts. "I think we should go home," she amends.

*

Liv isn't so distracted by her roommate that she doesn't whip her head up just in time to see the small black blur go whipping by, her free hand already reaching protectively for Jack's shoulder — but she relaxes as soon as she gets a glimpse. "It's okay. She's a good one," she asides to Jack, smiling to herself.

…and then things start to feel wrong. Liv draws her sword from its scabbard with a sharp metallic whisper, making a grab for Jack's hand as the other woman climbs up onto the vehicle. "I think you're right," she says lowly, blinking hard to try and clear the fog from her vision. That's odd. "You shouldn't be here."

*

The fog causes Laura to ddecelerate to an eventual halt. Okay, that's certainly not a normal thing. She tilts her head and… huh. Silent. Things are not usually silent. Even weird fog has its subtle little rustles of leaves and the like, considering the amount of wind usually involved in moving like that… She decides maybe descretion and further intel is the better part of valor just in time to be unable to avoid getting swept up in the stuff. Annnnd it's pitch black inside the fog bank. Greeeeeat.

*

When the silence falls, Duke freezes. He tilts his head this way and that, to no avail. Sound has stopped. Static creeps into his hair, crackles against his skin, gives him a strange sort of halo. He takes out his bow and readies it, slinging his bag across his back instead. He nocks an arrow and proceeds ahead. Maybe he should have brought Coz. He has to learn not to argue with the dog so much.

The darkness comes and goes in the heart of the Hellstorm as it settles in—not in waves, but in ribbons swirling through the fog. It's a dim halflight through the rest of the fog, like the greyest twilight on the shortest day of the year. The fog still numbs the senses, a cloudbank high above crackles with energy, a few large raindrops fall like bullets dropped from a great height and hit cars with metallic pings and twangs that resonate.

That cold, dead thing Laura was smelling is closer now. Not because of her, but because it is on the move. A cellar door bangs open, a window slides up, something hits the ground. Something heavy, like a man. Shadowy figures flit in and out of the fog and something, somewhere laughs.

*

Jack grasps Liv's hand tightly. "A person can't even go outside in this town anymore," she mumbles. It seems like every time she sets foot on the street, her life turns into an unmitigated disaster around here.

And then as the darkness enters the fog, her mind dulls. The sharpness in her thoughts become lulled almost as one asleep, and her eyes seem to go out. She can still feelLiv, but something about this space kills the very sense of place and presence she's come to wrest on.

She begins to mumble to herself — a nearly disoriented sound. Those within earshot can hear, "…chances of going inexplicably blind with no family history, diabetes, history of glaucoma, are about a million to one…"

*

The good news is, whatever's happening does not appear to have affected Liv's hearing. All she needs to hear is Jack's mumbling before she immediately gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. Without releasing her, Liv turns to put her back towards Jack and backs herself up to the edge of the vehicle, giving a tug to draw the other woman's arm around her neck. An offer of a piggy-back ride.

A silent offer of a piggy-back ride.

If Liv could find her voice, she might swear, so it's probably best for Jack's peace of mind that she can't. She keeps a grip on her sword and keeps her eyes moving over their surroundings.

And once she has a passenger, Liv starts to move. She has no particular destination in mind other than out of Hell's Kitchen. That seems like the safest bet under the circumstances.

*

Laura nosewrinkles, as X-23 takes stock of things. Silence. Total silence. Something has affected her hearing. She scuffs a boot, coughs, extends and retracts a claw. Nothing but the tactile vibration. Not ideal. Eyesight… functional but imapired— the fog is reducing her visibility harshly. Scent and taste appear to be unaffected, judging by the fact that her quarry is still in her nose and getting stronger.

Acceptable, X-23 decides. Combat-capable if necessary, but seeking out a conflict is no longer the best course. There were people back the way she came. Numbers would be best, either for safety or as a lure. Descision made, she pivots on her heel and jogs back towards Jack and Liv. Catching up is simple.

*

From a distance, in the fog, they look like a pack of slouching teenagers — troublesome at the worst of times. Predatory and lazy at once, they swagger down the centre of the street, laughing and slapping each other on the back, smoking, whistling the latest pop tune. One leaps up onto a car, sniffing the air, and they confer among themselves — the fresh meat or the bait, which one would the boss prefer — before one of them decides for the rest: FRESH MEAT.

The pack moves with more purpose now, homing in on Liz and Jack. One of the pack abandons walking upright for loping awkardly but agilely, fangs flashing as he grins.

Duke can't hear but he does have an odd sense for where trouble might lie. He makes for the middle of the largest street and begins looking for enemies or allies. He catches sight of a small creature, moving quickly, and deems it not-trouble, at least not yet. It doesn't have that weird soulless feeling that the undead do.

*

The tug is enough. Jack tightly wraps her arms around Liv's back. "Th-th-thanks," her voice can't find its strength as goosebumps begin to form along all of her limbs. She frowns, holding tighter still and allowing her eyes — that aren't working anyways — to clamp shut. It's better to expect to see nothing than to anticipate it and see… nothing.

"Move fast, Liv… I don't get paid enough for this…" her limbs cling hard to her much stronger and daring roommate.

*

Liv gives Jack's arm a light pat before she reaches that arm back to hook under the other woman's leg, concerned less with propriety than making sure she stays put against her back. 'Move fast' is not something she needs much encouragement to do. That is the plan. Leant forward, she takes long strides down the street, eyes attentively scanning for threats on the way. Laura's approach is noted and she offers her a tight smile and a bob of her head.

And then she sees the pack. Liv doesn't stop moving, just grits her teeth and adjusts her grip on both her sword and on Jack as she continues forward. Normally, she'd say something to prepare her roommate, but the way her body tenses in anticipation will have to be communication enough.

As soon as one of the pack is close enough, Liv's sword flashes out to separate its head from its shoulders. There is a time for non-lethality and this is not it.

*

Laura taps her ear as she catches up with Liv to indicate her lack of audotry faculties, and sort of waves her hand in front of her eyes. Since she does lock her gaze once she's close enough, che can clearly see, just not far.

It's Liv's readying that calls her attention to the pack, picking up their scent shortly afterward. She gives a little skip in her step to accelerate ahead of the pair, boot tread digging against the ground with a crunch that… someone else can probably hear? Whatever.

*

The loss of one one their crew — temporary loss — only elicits hooting and mockery from the pack. A flicker overhead, illuminated in a white flash of lightning, is something or someone passing between buildings high above the street. Thunder deep enough to feel in the bones rolls on the heels of the flash, cold rain hammers down and dilutes the sluggish, old vampire blood spilled in the gutter.

The pack seem to be hearing something that might not be audible even if the senses of those here weren't affected by the fog. They charge, whooping, throwing stones and bottles scooped up from the street, swirling around the trio of women. That thing overhead can be felt, the wind of its passing as it dives to snatch Jack from Liv's back, moving as fast as a car driven with the gas pedal to the floor. For a moment, its face — red eyes and huge white fangs — is visible, and then it is gone and so is Jack.

A block away, Duke can see the tableau playing out, the huge shadowy thing circling, the pack numbers bolstered by vampires sliding down fire escapes and creeping out of windows. He counts ten now. Then, the thing dives and he fires one arrow after another at it, unwilling to take a centre shot for fear of striking the victim — he can usually make that kind of shot but the fog makes aiming difficult, distorts everything. The shriek of the ancient vampire rakes the nerves even if it can't be heard with the ears. At least now he has the pack's attention — too late.

*

Between the thunder, the pack's hollaring and her need to prevent any of the stones or bottles thrown from actually striking her roommate, Liv is simply too distracted to see the thing overhead before it's too late. Too late to move out of the way and unable to shout out to Laura for assistance, all she can do is whip around with her eyes wide in horror as Jack is ripped from her back and carried away.

It isn't until the shriek pierces the air that Liv is shaken from her fugue and, very slowly, she turns to settle her eyes on the members of the pack and draws the sword up into both hands.

The Asgardian is angry, and until she can get her hands on the true target of her wrath, these children will suffice.

*

Laura can't hear a thing, so… she doesn't even realize it's happened right away. Because she introduces herself to the pack with a flying roundhouse kick, claw out, that sends a second head flying, as if competing for distance. She uses the momentum when she lands to do a quarter-turn and smashes her fist into the next available face. Which would probably not be a big deal if she didn't also put two claws through her victim's head in the process.

*

Emboldened, the pack surges forward, laughing and taunting the remaining women. They whoop, posture, swagger, never standing still. When Laura kicks one headless and knifes the next through the face, they only hoot with glee. The presence of Lord of the Damned One in their hunting grounds has made them arrogant and drunk with his power. They swerve and duck to avoid Liv's blows, raking at her with claws and teeth.

One of the vampires gets punched backward as though a fist goes through its chest, then it puffs into fire that burns it to ashes from the inside out and, just like that, it's gone for good. Arrow's as good as a stake. Duke fires another arrow through a vampire leaping from a balcony railing onto Liv. The arrow passes through it just under the arm and between the ribs, hitting the heart before passing out the other side. The embers of the vampire shower down, they sting, but it's better than the vampire itself.

*

If Liv wasn't so busy being abjectly furious, she might pause to seek out the source of the arrows and signal some gratitude. But it's going to have to wait. The only indication that she's even noticed them comes in the adjustment — her sword is no longer being swung for the neck, but thrust directly towards her attackers' sternums with a kind of speed and precision one does not commonly see on Earth. Laura's own brand of precision and brutality comes close.

Close.

Vampires are a special sort of beast. Normally, claws and teeth would simply glance off of Liv's armor and flesh, but vampires' claws and teeth have a great deal more success. She'd be roaring if she had any voice, and the fact that she can't only seems to infuriate her further. But getting close enough to cut her leaves them close enough for her to dispatch.

*

It helps Laura's case in the comparison that she gives literally no thought to the damage done to her. Claws, fangs… everything heals nearly as fast as the damage is incurred in the first place. The same… can probably not be said for the absolutely ruinous damage her claws do. And on at least one occassion she's more than happy to let one of them get a good, solid hit or bite on her so she can get close enough to rake her knuckles down their chest with complete emotional detachment.

*

The last members of the pack catch wind of something and break off from fighting the two women. Their attention is down the block now, whence came the arrows. The glee has faded — if there is a thing to blame for their losses, it is that thing in the middle of the street.

The rain is coming in sheets now, laced with lightning. The inaudible thunder still shakes the bones and rattles hearts in their chests, the wind howls and drags the black ribbons of fog back and forth across the street, weaving streaks of blindness into the scene. A fire springs up in a building on the next block when a lightning strike blasts a surge through the electrical system. The air smells of bakelite and rubber and ozone. Something heavy shambles down an alleyway, scraping against the brick like nails on a chalkboard so that the air shivers, headed to whatever ugly purpose it has in mind.

Duke makes a face at the vagaries of firing off a wet bowstring, the buffeting of the rain and wind on his arrows, and the realisation that he should have brought more arrows. Still. It's been a long time since he had to fight vampires. That he knows how to fight them says that he's fought them before, whether he remembers or not. He aims, carefully, waits for a wave of blindness to pass, and one of the last four vampires explodes in ash and fire.

*

When the remaining members of the pack break off, Liv doesn't even think before she's moving after them at a dead sprint. On Asgard, she is unremarkable, but on Midgard, her speed is something to behold — one of the retreating vampires has their retreat cut short when the blade of her sword erupts from its chest, and as it bursts into flame, Liv plows on through the ashes after the rest.

Liv is aware of the fire. She is also finding it difficult to care, or to see in anything other than fury-tinged red. She needs to find the thing that took Jack and go get her back, but without a voice, one cannot ask questions.

*

The vampires might be in their element but they had the misfortune to run into things that aren't quite human, either. The Lord of the Damned has noted their failure. The Hellstorm still rages, the rain stifles the fire but people are still huddled, terrified and senseless, in their homes.

Duke picks off the last two vampires, then squints up at the sky as if gauging the temper of the sky. He's considering where the flying thing might have gone, something in the back of his head knows what it is and that he's fought it before but it has no name. He should get out of here but there are vampire pieces to set alight and what passes for his conscience pricks at him. There's work to be done here, so long as his presence doesn't draw any more demons.

*

The fire is on its way out and the vampires are gone. Part of Liv recognizes this as an improvement. She finally comes to a halt and forces herself to just breathe. She casts her gaze around, looking for some kind of sign of the monster that stole Jack away. Instead, she finally spots Duke.

Drenched and bloody, Liv stares towards Duke and gradually lowers her sword until the blade lightly tinks against the pavement at her feet. With a quick glance over her shoulder to check on Laura, she starts trudging in Duke's direction instead, keeping her sword in-hand (but lowered) until she's certain she no longer needs it.

*

Laura is bloody but— of course— unhurt. By now. She peers at Liv, eyes flicking to her empty back and falls into step, scenting at the air. Unfortunately… there is way too much falling out of the sky to track an air scent. Annoying.

*

Duke unstrings his bow and slides it away across his back. He casts about, trying to feel for the edge of the storm, or at least to get a sense of its movements. Maybe back the way he came. First, though, the vampires that might come back, the ones that aren't dust. He gives Liv a nod but is headed for one of his arrows lodged in a telephone pole. Can't go wrong with ramming a piece of wood through the heart of the ones that are only mostly-dead. He seems remarkably unphased, unhurried.

*

That's fine. It gives Liv the opportunity to catch up with him. Oddly, perhaps, the fact that he's stowed his bow is enough to prompt her to return her sword to its scabbard. She leans forward enough to try and get a look at Duke's face, searching it for signs of recognition (or a lack thereof) with a slight twist of her lips. Mrm. The closest thing to a sound she can make is a quiet huff of frustration, but that does not stop her from offering a weak smile and a hand towards Laura when she falls in.

*

Laura seems very comfortable communicating only in expressions and vague gestures. She quirks an eyebrow as if asking a question, eyes Duke, then shrugs, makes another questioning expression of a slightly different sort, and uses both hands in a sort of palm-down pushing gesture to indicate leaving.

*

Duke knows that look, even if he doesn't recognize the person. It means he's missing something he shouldn't be missing. He diligently ashes the last few vampires corpses by running them through with the arrow. As he straightens after the last one, he catches Laura's gesture and points to where he thinks the edge of the storm should be. It doesn't feel as strong as others — not that he remembers others, but that's what he knows. If they get out of here, they'll be free of the magic. He has nothing to stop it, so staying is only going to endanger people if demons come hunting him.

*

Good enough for her. Liv lets one hand come to rest between Laura's shoulders and starts walking in the direction Duke's indicated, her eyes still flicking alertly to the sky. Not that there's anything to see, nothing useful. But there could be, and she can't be responsible for missing it. She's responsible for enough as it is.

*

Laura doesn't need more prompting than that to get going. She doesn't like this fog business. In fact, despite having MUCH longer legs, Liv might have a little trouble keeping up. This did not go to her plan. Mostly because of the missing lady that was with Liv.

*

Parting the edge of the fog is unpleasant — in fact, it might do serious harm to a normal person. Duke shrugs it off and waits there, on the verge, for Liv and Laura to pass. He makes a decent shortcut for the energy built up here, wreathed in lightning. It stings but he can bear it for enough time that the other two can dart past him.

*

Normally, Liv wouldn't bother to dart through — she doesn't need to — but in this case, she gives Laura a nudge to preceed through ahead of her and then quickly ducks past herself.

Immediately, she brings a hand up to her throat and turns in place, giving Duke an almost plaintive look that seems completely alien to her face. "Tell me you saw where it went," Liv says quickly. "Please tell me you saw where it went."

*

Laura gives a disgruntled, irrtated noise as she makes the transition and, as the normal noise of the world floods back in, stumbles and falls to her knees, Hands to her ears with a stifled snarling noise. Nnnnnngh, it's as bad as it ever was coming out of an isolation tank.

*

"Toward the center," Duke says, a bit indifferently. "Doesn't mean anything," he adds, unhelpfully. "Could go anywhere from there. Big, though. Things that big need to eat. Food means a trail."

Duke shakes the water out of his ears, wrings out his long hair. The brief pause lets him assess both women. Laura is healing already, Liv is still bloodied. Laura isn't all right but he's not sure how to treat her — yet.

"That'll fester," he says, pointing at Liv's injuries. "Can't get your friend back if you're sick. I have something for it." He shifts his bag around to dig into it for a little jar.

*

Without taking her eyes off of Duke, Liv drops to a knee at Laura's side and reaches out to lay a hand against her shoulder. "I have to find her," she says up to Duke, the words softer but no less vehement. "She's helpless, it's — she's my responsibility." Tellingly, she doesn't so much as bat an eyelash when he goes digging in his bag — she just immediately yanks her sleeves up to expose the cuts on her arms and presents them to him without question.

*

Laura immediately swats Liv's hand away. NO STIMULUS PLEASE. After a few moment. "M'fine. Too much noise at once. Happens." She takes a little bit more time before she stands, a little wobbly and a little green around the gills, so to speak. But otherwise fine.

*

"Sensory overload," Duke says without much concern. He, not ungently, salves Liv's injuries and the redness around them fades almost immediately. Whatever it is, it smells like green and yellow and cleanliness. "I have something for that but it might make you sleepy." He ponders Laura while he works, able to split his attention without losing focus in either place. "You'd hate it," he decides. Sometimes people need the things that make them troubled more than they need to have them relieved.

"Your friend can be found," he says to Liv, as he's closing up the jar again. "Maybe that…" He hasn't talked to the person he's thinking of in a long time. "Tall. Short hair. Silver…" He holds up a finger and digs in his jacket pocket with one hand while tucking the salve away with the other.

*

Liv doesn't seem bothered when Laura swats her hand away, just takes it back and gives her a quick, apologetic look. Once she's back to her feet, Liv rises back to hers, watching with as much patience as she can muster as Duke applies the salve to her arms. "…thank you. It's — " She bites her tongue when he holds up his finger, rolling her eyes skyward while Duke goes digging in his jacket. Patience. Patience.

*

Duke comes out with a small notebook to which he refers with practiced speed. The text in it is hand-written, crawling, and not any language recognizable. "Strange. If he lives." It's been a while. It's impressive that Duke remembers that much. "Liv," he says to Liv, acknowledging that, at some point in the past, they met. He doesn't apologize for not knowing her. "There was a vampire hunter here once…but that was some time ago."

*

"I don't need a vampire hunter," Liv replies in a tight voice, rolling her sleeves back down and trying very hard to keep her temper on an even keel. But she is soaking wet in Hell's Kitchen, and she lost one of her friends. Her fault. 'Even' is a bit of a challenge. "I will handle it. I just need to find it, and then I will go there, and I will fix it."

*

"That thing was a vampire," Duke says, sounding a litle curious. "Haven't seen one like that in…" He trails off. He has. It was just so long ago that he has no idea how to put words to it. "Rain and flight will make it hard to trace. We should catch one of them. Or one of their people. Make it tell us where the thing sleeps." He pulls out a slightly damp pack of cigarettes and lights one, pondering something only he can see. "I think I have something for that."

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