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In Any Other World, xxxHolic Side
By Memory Dragon
Warnings: Watanuki gets beat up quite a bit in this chapter. Though, since my beta enjoyed it, I'm not sure if I should really mention it in warning... Also, I apologize before hand for the Samurai armor. But more on that at the end of the chapter...
Disclaimer: I do not own Tsubasa or xxxHolic, nor do I make any claim to. Nor can I claim the lyrics from the song "Any Other World" by Mika. Just borrowing it, since it goes so well with the fic. Also, "The Lady of Shalott" is not mine... Though it is a beautiful poem. Look it up if you haven't read it already.

Tsubasa Side: Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4  
xxxHolic Side: Prologue Chapter 1  Chapter 2 Chapter 3

Chapter Four: Crow's Nest

“You’d think I could just find the jerk and get this over with! But no! I’m at the bottom of a building with no openings, no supplies and no clues of how to get in!”

The pipe fox nuzzled Watanuki’s cheek, but he was on a roll. He wasn’t about to be comforted now when his ranting was what made him able to keep trying. “We’ve been around the building five times now. Five times! And not a single entrance!”

The building in question looked ridiculous, standing over twenty stories high in the middle of a dark jungle. Nothing else was around it either, just this one building with reflective glass. Maybe it was just him. After all, who wouldn’t build a sky scraper in the middle of a forest?

The jungle gave Watanuki the creeps. Like it or not, he wouldn’t dare venture too far into without some kind of protection against what he could feel lying out there. He didn’t sense anything bad from the forest... but nothing particularly good either. What was it Yuuko had said? Human morality couldn’t be placed on creatures of nature.

Rundown and un-cared for, the building had many vines creeping up its sides. Watanuki could smell the evil intent that penetrated even from the outside. There were, however, no open windows or doors of any kind that Watanuki could reach. There were a few open windows, but they were above the tree tops and out of his reach. All that surrounded the base of the building were vines, vines, and more impossible to climb vines and a shiny reflective surface underneath.

The pipe fox couldn’t jump to the open windows. Watanuki had even tried (fruitlessly) climbing several trees in attempt to reach, but most of those efforts ended with him landing back on the ground with a rather painful thud. Between that and trying to climb the vines (which snapped and grew back before he could get too high), he had been trying to get in for four hours now.

It didn’t matter how many times he tried to get all the leaves and twigs out of his hair; there was always some small bit that he had missed. It was a fact that didn’t help his temper any. He didn’t even bother with the scrapes and scratches on his hands and knees since he didn’t have bandages.

So here he was, making a sixth round about the building, counting the number of reflective panels behind the vines. One of the first things he had tried upon arriving had been beating on one such panel, but no luck had come of that either.

Still, the rhyme of the poem Yuuko had repeated for him ran through his head. It couldn’t have just been Doumeki’s homework, not with the building lined with reflective surfaces. How did it go again?

Yuuko’s voice rang through his ears as the translation came to memory. ‘The mirror cracked from side to side...’ He could see no looms or webs, but there were plenty of ‘mirrors’ around, so he focused on that part. Unfortunately, none of them were cracked either.

The pipe fox squeaked, tightening its grip on Watanuki’s neck in a reassuring way. Slightly choking, but still oddly reassuring. Realizing he needed to stay calm, Watanuki pet the small triangle that he assumed was Mugetsu’s head. It was so hard to tell when Mugetsu was in it’s small form.... “You’re right. This isn’t getting me anywhere.”

The problem was finding a method that did get him somewhere. Walking up to the reflective surface, Watanuki studied the child who peered back at him through the vines. Doumeki’s golden eye glared back at him from behind a pair of glasses as if berating him for the pathetic look on his face. He shook his head, clearing his thoughts as several more twigs and leaves fell out. Why did those trees he climbed have to be so damned leafy?

Watanuki reached in-between the vines and out to a pane of glass with a small, child-like hand, ignoring the scratches on his palm. The coolness of the window didn’t reflect any of the foliage of the jungle. Not even the vines scaling the building where in the reflection, only Watanuki. “Why didn’t I notice that before?” he asked rhetorically in a soft voice.

Going on intuition, he started walking along the side of the building (sixth time, mind you), this time his fingers never leaving the reflective surface except when a vine got in the way. Watanuki made his way very slowly, tripping occasionally on the roots of the vine since his eyes were on the panels and not his feet. Mugetsu would squeak encouragingly when this happened and he would continue on.

One scrapped knee and several bruises later, Watanuki came to the panel he had first knocked on so wildly before when he had first arrived. The glass panel directly beyond that one was the one that gave him a shock however. The wall suddenly gave way, as if it hadn’t existed in the first place. Half of his arm disappeared in the mirror before he finally regained his balance after the lack of resistance.

The vines where the only thing that had kept him from falling in completely. Much to his own embarrassment, Watanuki’s terrified yell sounded more like a squeak. He pulled his hand back quickly, checking it over before glaring back at his small face in the reflective panel. It didn’t take him too long to realize how much time would have been saved if he had only knocked one panel over in the first place.

Mugetsu rubbed his cheek happily as Watanuki started pulling back the vines from the glass panel. He grumbled about the building being just as annoying as a certain archer, but shivered whenever he accidentally touched the glass in the process. The panel acted just like water, rippling away from any area that he touched, though he couldn’t feel anything when he touched it. An illusion?

The vines weren’t cooperating either. Watanuki yelled. Watanuki screamed. Watanuki pounded. The bloody vines grew back almost as soon as he could clear them! In the end, he could only clear a small space near the top of the panel that was large enough for him to crawl through. For once, he was glad of his current small size.

Watanuki stood there panting for a few seconds. He wiped away the sweat that had gathered on his brow and steeled himself for the next course of action. Scrambling up the vines as far as he dared without breaking them, the child closed his eyes and pushed himself through the panel.

Which was why he unceremoniously tumbled to the ground when he reached the other side. “Ow...” Watanuki rubbed his head and neck where the impact had the most effect. His glasses had fallen off in the transition and he looked around frantically for them.

A canine whine brought his attention to the now full bodied pipe fox. Mugetsu had his glasses in its mouth, which it dropped into Watanuki’s waiting hands. “Thanks, Mugetsu,” he said, as he placed them back on the ridge of his nose. The child put a hand on Mugetsu’s shoulder, both to steady and reassure himself.

Mugetsu was much bigger than Watanuki had remembered. Of course, he was also a little smaller than last time. Its nine tails swished gently from side to side as it helped the child stand.

The smell that penetrated through the building caused Watanuki to stay close to the pipe fox. The air was cleaner the closer he was to the pipe fox, which he assumed was due to its immense spiritual power. Since Mugetsu didn’t mind at all that its favorite human wanted to stay nearer to it, Watanuki didn’t remove his hand from its shoulder.

Once again, reflective panels covered the walls. This time, they surrounded him with a dizzying effect. It made him a little self conscious to see a wide eyed and dirty child staring at him from all directions.

“Welcome,” a high tenor voice said to his left. Watanuki turned to the sound, his free hand covering his mouth and nose from the stench. Mugetsu growled beside him, teeth bared at the stranger.

Before him was a man of mismatched and patched clothes. One side of his pants was white, the other side black. Entire sections of the man’s unbuttoned off-white shirt was missing and patched with an assortment of colors. The trousers were strapped to the man’s lanky frame by a pair of black suspenders. Curious of all was the man’s brown hair that was a literal crow’s nest. The front part stuck straight up and the rest of the long locks scattered every which way at his shoulders. Watanuki shuddered at the pure un-tidiness of it all. “Welcome to my home. It was quite amusing watching how you tried to get in.”

“Who are you?” Watanuki asked, glad that the hand covering his mouth also hid his blush. Someone had been watching his attempts... The pipe fox’s growls became louder and he went back on his guard. If this was the man’s home as he claimed, then this was the person that had taken Doumeki.

“I’m a collector of sorts. Call me Crowe if you like. I say, you wouldn’t happen to be able to make that animal go away, would you? My kind and his have never gotten along...” The man glared as Mugetsu barked its own feelings of animosity. He could feel that the pipe fox was smug about something, though he didn’t know what.

Watanuki shook his head to answer the inquiry, gaining courage from Mugetsu’s defiance. “Where is Doumeki?”

“Ah, that persistent one,” the man said thoughtfully. “He’s at the top of my nest, with the rest of my valuables. Would you like me to take you to him? You’re quite the catch yourself and I wouldn’t mind adding you to my collection.”

Mugetsu stepped in front of Watanuki, barring passage. The boy could barely see the oddly dressed man over the fox’s body. “I’ll take that as a no then. There’s some fun waiting for you if you find your own way up, anyway. Well, I’ve got other collectibles to attend to. Do be careful.”

“Wait!” Watanuki stood on his tip toes to see over the fox’s back as he yelled. He was just barely able to see the man bow mockingly before disappearing.

Anger boiled up, ready to burst. “Get back here!” he yelled, running around Mugetsu to the spot the man had been standing. He hit something, causing him to fall backwards as the nauseating smell reminded him of why he stayed close to the fox.

Clink, clink. He looked up, rubbing his bruised nose to find the last thing Watanuki had expected. A haunted suit of samurai armor standing over him with two swords drawn. A breathless scream escaped his lips as his arms flew up to protect his face.

Mugetsu was in front of him again, biting down on the armor’s leather hand. The fox tore one of the swords away from the possessed armor, taking the glove with it. Mugetsu held the sword by the hilt in its mouth and growled threateningly as two more suits of armor joined the first.

A collector, Crowe said. He could have mentioned that one of the things he collected homicidal spirits that resided in suits of armor! It would have been nice to know.

Watanuki moved closer to Mugetsu. Fear coursed through his small body as he saw the ghostly warriors. Mugetsu leapt at one of the armors, slashing with the sword in its mouth. The child saw how they were multiplying, but the pipe fox was too busy defending to be able to get safely get away. Watanuki had to find a way out and fast.

He gathered his courage and ran to one of the walls, pounding on the mirror panels. Nothing. He moved on to the next panel only to narrowly avoid a graceful arc of a katana. Mugetsu was between him and the armor before it could take another swing, however.

Scrambling to his feet, Watanuki kept moving to the next panel and the next, checking for any way out to avoid the clamor of the armors. They were quickly running out of panel, however, and Watanuki realized all he had done was back them into a corner. The dizzying effect of the mirrors were canceled out as the room filled with the possessed armors.

As Mugetsu slashed at one warrior, another’s sword nicked Watanuki in the leg. He cried out in pain, falling backwards. Instead of a solid reflective panel, he fell through the wall. Shocked by the discovery, Watanuki was even more surprised to find that there was a door on this side of the panel. “Mugetsu, though here!” He called out, wincing in pain as he stood, but preparing to shut the large metal door on their attackers.

The pipe fox jumped through and Watanuki closed the large door quickly. He had to put all his body weight behind it in order to close the door. Once it was shut, the child leaned up against it and sunk to the floor. Mugetsu whined softly, nudging his shoulder. It had somehow lost the sword it had been fighting with. “I know, we should get going...”

As he slowly caught his breath in the foul atmosphere, he realized that they were in a stair well. Watanuki slowly got to his feet again and started climbing. His leg stung, but he tried to ignore the pain the best he could. Mugetsu followed the child a few steps behind, making sure that Watanuki didn’t fall.

Unfortunately, Watanuki’s small legs made hard work of the task. Combined with the polluted air, the child was out of breath again by the third flight. He was forced to pause on the fourth flight, needing a break. Mugetsu was impatient to move on, but Watanuki couldn’t keep up with its pace. Sitting on one of the steps, the child looked downward with his head resting against one of Mugetsu’s legs.

His breaths came out hard and raspy. Watanuki closed his eyes, nearly swooning as the intrepid air tried to suffocate him. Without Doumeki here, could he survive the climb? When he went after Zashiki-Warashi, it had only been one flight of stairs. But this building had looked to be about twenty...

No. Yuuko wouldn’t have sent him here if he had no chance. Watanuki had to believe that, if anything. His wish had been to save Doumeki, so even if the worst happened... Well, he had learned that the worst wasn’t okay to let happen. But he trusted Yuuko. If she sent him with only the pipe fox, they should be able to manage somehow. Provided Watanuki didn’t screw things up, per usual.

He blinked wearily at the darkness in front of him. Something felt wrong. Did one of the steps just disappear? He got up and started to check it out, but Mugetsu bit on to the back of his shirt and held him back. Just in time, as the step in front of him disappeared into the darkness.

Watanuki didn’t need to be told twice. He started running up the steps, the pipe fox close behind him. It only took two flights this time before he was completely out of breath. To add to it, he had a cramp in his side that pierced through him. It was like someone put a candle to his abdomen and held it there.

The boy tripped over one of the steps, falling face forward. The steps at Watanuki’s feet disappeared as he scrambled to get back up. Mugetsu’s teeth sank into the back of his shirt again and the next thing Watanuki knew was that he was on the pipe fox’s back.

Mugetsu took off, bounding up the steps as Watanuki reflexively grabbed on for dear life. He could smell a mixture of alcohol and sakura petals from the pipe fox’s fur, which had a calming effect on his nerves and stomach. The sad thing was that he was more surprised about the scent of flowers than the scent of alcohol. Must be impossible to escape it in that shop.

His thoughts were interrupted as something cold and clammy moved over him. He cried out as whatever it was pricked his arms like thousands of little needles. He tightened his grip on the pipe fox and buried his face into Mugetsu’s fur. The spirit kept Mugetsu’s pace, never letting go of Watanuki.

The pipe fox stopped suddenly, though Watanuki didn’t so much as feel the stop as he noticed a lack of moment. He looked up and saw that the steps ahead of them were also disappearing. And that wasn’t their only problem. There was a big blob of a spirit with one eye that had it’s mouth wide open. It had been it’s teeth that Watanuki had felt on his arms, which now had blood trickling down them from all sides.

Fox fire soon engulfed the monster and Watanuki looked around frantically for an exit. A door was just below them, hanging open like an invitation. Light spilled forth from the door, lighting up the dark stairwell. “Mugetsu! Down there!”

The fox was already moving, but the steps had already disappeared by the door. Putting his head back down on Mugetsu’s back, he felt the fox leap from the final step. The sensation of falling was far from pleasant and Watanuki cried out as he held on to Mugetsu desperately.

Mugetsu cleared the doorway without a scratch. The fox took a few steps forward before turning back to nuzzle the still clinging Watanuki. “Ah! Sorry,” he said as he quickly got off from Mugetsu’s back. “Thank you for saving me.”

The child looked around, noticing that the miasma was much clearer up here. Still, he stayed close to Mugetsu. The room was scary enough to a person of his sensibilities that looking around just made him dizzy again.

The space looked like many mountains of trash with semi-valuable items strewn about even more haplessly than Yuuko’s treasure room. In his head, Watanuki tallied up the number of days it would take to even make a dent in the mess. He could already feel a headache coming on. Just looking at the mess should have been enough to send any sensible person into fits!

All thoughts of cleaning left Watanuki’s head when he saw who was standing in the center of the large room. Sitting on one of the large piles was the mismatched man, and sitting directly below him on the ground was Doumeki Shizuka, still in his school uniform.

“Doumeki!” Watanuki’s childish voice rang out through the large room, bouncing off the walls and echoing. The acoustics of the room were frighting. But Doumeki didn’t stir from his cross-legged meditation by the man’s feet. A bow lay by his right knee, unused.

Crowe smiled and walked over to the child. “He won’t hear you. I have him trapped in his own mind. How do you like my treasure trove, by the way?”

Watanuki glared, ignoring the mismatched man’s nonchalant jibs and made a dash for his rival, but Crowe was quicker. The child cried out in surprise and pain as a crow’s claw dug deep into his shoulder, holding him back.

Fox fire sprung up between him and Crowe. The mismatched man cursed as Watanuki fell back a few paces, holding his left arm in pain. The line of fire reflected on his glasses as they fell forward on his nose.

Crowe jumped back, his hand turning back into a normal hand. “Yes, foxes and crows haven’t gotten along since that incident with the cheese. They are far too tricky for our tastes.” Cheese? Watanuki didn’t get the reference, though Mugetsu seemed pleased.

Watanuki could feel the torn clothe from the claws and the indentations on his shoulder. He brought his hand back and found that it was covered in blood. Truthfully, he couldn’t tell if it was recent blood or from his earlier aching injuries. The cut was a little more than a deep scratch but it was very painful. The other cuts and bruises dulled in comparison. Mugetsu came to stand by him, whining softly.

Pushing up his glasses carefully, so as to not get the blood that was on his hand on his glasses, Watanuki glared defiantly at the man. Crowe chuckled softly, not imitated by a six year old. “Let Doumeki go!” he yelled, glad that his voice had a more adult tone when it was steady.

“Can’t do that. Sorry. But if you continue to decline my invitation, I’ll have to do something nasty.” Mugetsu growled next to Watanuki, nine tails flashing back and forth. “Oh, don’t worry, foxy. I don’t mean to try it personally again. See how you like this attack.” Crowe snapped his fingers and Doumeki’s eyes opened.

“Doume-” the spiritual arrow was loosed from the archer’s bow before Watanuki could blink. It grazed his cheek and dissipated as it hit the wall behind him. His already bloody hand went up to his cheek in shock. He could feel the blood trickled down his face like a tear. That woke him up from his thoughts. “HEY! Doumeki! You’re shooting the wrong person!” he yelled angrily, forgetting about the danger of the situation in his fury.

“I think not,” Crowe said, smiling wickedly. He twirled a real arrow in his hand that looked just like the Doumeki used. “I told you, he can’t hear you. The one you know as ‘Doumeki’ is long gone. All that’s left is the empty shell that’s under my control.”

A... shell? No, that couldn’t be right! That jerk wouldn’t go down so easily! Right? Watanuki’s throat tightened as the crow man draped his arm over Doumeki’s shoulder and grinned. “I told you, this treasure is mine. And soon, you will join him.”

-To Tsubasa Side

Memory: The last spoken phrase in this chapter won't match up with the first line in next chapter of Tsubasa side. -_-;;; It's the line right before this time. I was going through and editing and I added the "And soon, you will join him," without thinking. It was just such a good bad guy line, I couldn't take it out again. Either way, the Tsubasa chapter starts with the line about the treasure.

About the samurai armor... I'll admit, that was a moment of weakness for me. Originally, that scene had nothing to do with samurai. It was just Watanuki getting lost in the room with mirrors until Mugetsu pushed him into the stairwell.

But when I was typing the fic up from my original draft, I also happened to be watching my Ronin Warrior dvds that I had just bought with my fox plushie named Mugetsu in my lap. There's a part where the white tiger, Byakuen (White Blaze), takes one of the bad guy's weapons and totally kicks ass with it. I looked down Mugetsu in my lap and said, "Wouldn't it be cool if you could do that too?"

Flash of brilliance. Considering I had already compared Mugetsu to Byakuen in my mind when I was originally writing this (the picture of Watanuki riding Mugetsu reminded me so much of Jun on Byakuen) I had to add the samurai armor to let Mugetsu show off. Besides which, it makes the climax much more epic later on...

On to the quote of the chapter. It really has nothing to do with anything, but I'm in a Ronin Warrior mood. Ah, spreading the love of bad dubs...

"You could turn into a pack of rabid barracudas, but I ain't lettin' you go!"
-Kento, Ronin Warriors