Title: Pin-Striped
Author: Gryphonrhi
Written: March 2010
Disclaimers: Not mine, drat it. Well. Okay. One of 'em is, and the monster is definitely mine. No one else would claim it. 1013 timeshares the Gunmen with Morgan & Wong; Mutant Enemy controls all things Buffy (thank goodness and Gods bless!); one line is from Lethal Weapon and not mine, though I don't know whose it is; Esmerelda Weatherwax is Terry Pratchett's, although if I can get her on my side in a fight, I want to! I think that's everyone. Oh! Charles deLint is, one, not mine, and two, an excellent writer. And if there were a were-raven in Toronto, he might well be the likely suspect. Quote provided by Ursula and found at the bottom.
Rated: PG-13 for language.

Summary: Werewolves, sure. Werebears? Okay, Norse myth, sure. Only the Lone Gunmen would investigate a were-skunk.

The chain spilled onto the glass with a chiming, near-musical clatter that ended up muffled when the t-shirt dropped on top of it. White, with blue and white framework in the center, the only words visible on the shirt were 'Kansas' and 'the dog.' The jeans that followed would be almost insultingly baggy, and they crowned the pile with a leafy herb wreath that the dark-clad, pale-skinned girl clearly wasn't going to touch.

If there'd been room behind the counter to back up, she probably would have, and Frohike spared a moment to hope she didn't have mace anywhere, or pepper spray. He was getting too old for that shit, although he'd have died before he'd admit it to Langly. Of course, watching the wanna-be Goth ignore their warning was making him think he was too old for this shit, too.

Her face twisted with an interesting mix of suspicion, loathing, and paranoia, finally settling into a sneer. But first she said, "I am so not wearing that!"

Frohike sighed and drew breath to explain, again, but Langly groaned first.

"Oh, come on, lady, we're missing Buffy for this!" The blond's exasperation held a plaintive tinge; he loved that show. Hot babes, great one-liners, and opportunities to critique monster-slaying techniques, all in one place. Langly tried not to glare at her, but even through thick glasses, it was obvious he thought she was wasting their time. "Just do it, okay?"

"You've got to be kidding." Her frown drew her brows together, crinkling her makeup and betraying the pimple on her forehead before 'Esme' went on in the same flat, disbelieving voice, "You want me to wear that." The vitriol dripping from the last word should have melted the video in front of her to an oddly shaped plastic and magnetic tape blob.

Frohike ignored it and looked her over again, carefully. His gaze tracked downwards from the purple and pink streaked black hair to the titanium ring piercing her left eyebrow on to the (fake) diamond stud through one nostril and finally stopped at the black-painted lips since he'd already decided that the body behind the black t-shirt and black jeans wasn't really worth staring at. Too skinny, too flat-chested, lousy posture, and jail bait besides. "No one will even notice," he promised her, deliberately deadpan.

The Goth wanna-be gave them her best world-weary, disgusted, 'I've seen everything and you don't impress me,' glare, the one that only teenagers and Krycek could manage convincingly. "Let me get this straight. I have to run around in this Dorothy outfit why?"

Byers had his hands clasped behind his back. Frohike knew perfectly well that his associate thought it was that or rumple his hair, or his suit, in sheer frustration with this stubborn young girl. "Miss Markham--"

"Esme," she said coldly, leaning against the store counter in a way that simply screamed 'Bored now.' Frohike had to agree with Langly; they were missing Buffy for this?

Byers sighed and didn't bother pointing out that her birth certificate said Jane Markham, and that the real Esmerelda Weatherwax wouldn't need either a warning or help. "Esme. It's the night of the full moon--"

"And all the loons are out. Obviously." She was picking nervously at one cuticle, though, in a way that made Frohike think she couldn't ignore reality for too much longer.

"Miss. Will you please, as a favor to the deranged souls you think we are, just promise to wear something other than black tonight?" Frustration finally cut through Byers' usual courtesy and Frohike stifled a quick grin. And here Byers kept insisting there were better things to watch on television....

Langly snorted and hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his favorite jeans, the ones that Byers was constantly threatening to throw away because they were entirely too old, too faded, and too threadbare. "Forget it. Look, kid, wear black tonight and you're gonna be in black and white once a month for the rest of your life. Come on, guys, let's go. We can't make the horse think."

Byers asked curiously, "Don't you mean 'drink'?" He showed no signs of leaving just yet, despite his frustration.

The girl pursed her lips, a curiously adult gesture that looked like it must have come from some disapproving great aunt. Definitely too old-fashioned for her face, anyway. "Nice insult. And here I thought I was arguing with the half-armed."

Frohike commented, "Nah. The half-armed guy would just tell you to change clothes or be shot, if he bothered at all." He paused, then his eyes widened a little. "Hey, did we ever check to see if Krycek's disappearances can be plotted on a lunar cycle?"

Byers looked startled for a moment, then frowned. "No, we didn't. Now, we did check it against sunspot cycles, but not lunar. How did we miss that?"

Langly just grinned, and Frohike could almost see him wondering if this was his chance to get them back in time to see Buffy before they started the night's hacking. "Hell if I know. Let's go check."

"Not so fast, blondie," Jane/Esme snapped. "You don't seriously believe in werewolves do you?"

Frohike yanked his mind back to the problem at hand and gave her a pitying look. "Of course not. That would be like believing in gravity, sweetie." His voice shifted to an exasperated growl as he asked, "How many people have to be attacked on the full moon in this podunk town before you get it through your head that there's a were in town?"

"Oh, right. So why aren't we seeing dead bodies and hearing howls every full moon?" One hand strayed up to play nervously with her necklace.

Probably wishing it was a silver cross, Frohike thought snidely and pressed on. "Because it's not a werewolf. You live here. Don't you read the newspapers?"

Esme paused, clearly worrying at their logic, then her eyes narrowed. "That does it. You guys are certifiable. Get out of the shop if you're not renting. And take your damn Dorothy outfit with you. What did you do, go looking for the first Goth in town that you thought would buy this crap?"

Byers tried, one last time, to be reasonable, although Frohike could have told him it was a wasted effort. "Miss. We're just--"

"Leaving. Now. Or I call the cops. Out." She glared at them as they left, her contempt a tangible heat between their shoulder blades, and as the Lone Gunmen opened the door, she added a final insulting, "Weirdo pervs."

Langly snorted, the unwanted white and blue t-shirt hanging from one hand. "Right, honey. Some of us don't need to run metal detectors over our partners, either." Outside, Langly frowned at Byers as they walked down the sidewalk to their van. "Talk to her, you said. She'll see reason, you said."

Byers sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets, frustrated and resigned both. "Well, we had to try."

Frohike shrugged and pointed out, "We tried. We told her. It's her problem now. Besides, I left the silver bracelet for her."

Byers nodded, a little happier. "And I left her the wolfsbane corsage. It might help."

"Yeah, yeah. Want to bet she strolls straight through the park to prove us wrong?" Langly asked, exasperated, and unlocked the door, then opened it with an unnecessarily forceful jerk. "Come on. Let's go see if Buffy taped and start running that check on Krycek. What, Frohike, you think he's really a were-rat?"

That got a quick chuckle. "Hey, you never know. Mulder's been right about weirder things. Must be some reason he keeps calling Krycek a rat?"

Langly grinned, pulling long blond hair back into a ponytail before he started the van. The wind through the windows always tangled it if he didn't. "Yeah, well, Mulder just gets annoyed that Krycek vanishes into some hole every time he tries to put some moves on him."

Byers said reasonably, "Well, he is better at profiling than hand to hand, Langly." He settled back into his seat and prepared to ignore Langly's driving, as always. Commenting only made it worse, after all.

Frohike waggled his eyebrows and said cheerfully, "Wrong kind of moves, Byers," and waited for the inevitable, reflexive protest.

They squabbled over whether Mulder was really attracted to Krycek all the way back to D.C.

/\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\

Behind them, Esme waited for nine o'clock so she could close up the video store. "And what kind of one horse town closes a video store this early? Man, this place folds up the sidewalks at night, damn near," she groused to the empty room, disregarding the fact that if they stayed open later she'd have to stay even later when all she wanted was a paycheck anyway. At eight thirty she ran the vacuum across the institutional blue carpet that looked like just like the cheap carpet in the school library and tried not to remember that she had a history paper due in two weeks.

At eight forty-five, she started closing out the register; any customers who came would just have to go away without their night's dose of Hollywood bullshit. She flipped the sign to 'Closed' at five 'til nine and did the quickest job of dusting the shelves that would pass muster in the morning, and almost snarled when she found the silver bracelet they'd left behind. "Oh, great. Just great." After a moment's debate, Esme pulled out an envelope and scribbled on it, 'The Three Stooges -- ginger redhead in a suit; shorter brown haired guy with stubble; tall skinny blond with long hair and an attitude.' She dropped the bracelet in, licked the glue on the envelope, and stuck it under the counter. "I'm not getting framed for petty theft," she muttered to herself, irritated, and groaned when she saw the herbs, too.

Those she finally stuck in her pocket -- she wasn't leaving it in the store waste can. The manager would just assume it was dope and fire her without checking. She could toss it when she got outside.

Ten minutes later, free at last, she got her coat and the keys from the back room and headed for the party that had started two hours ago, damn it. Esme locked the door behind her and took a deep breath of the fresh air. "Oh man. I have got to get out of this town," she muttered, then betrayed her age by actually skipping a few steps for sheer glee in the cool, moonlit night. Self-assumed maturity beckoned and she settled back into the slouching stride appropriate for a young creature of the night.

Halfway across the park -- the quickest route to Scott's house and the party -- she heard an unfamiliar noise. The high-pitched chitter took a moment to register as a threat and Esme was still trying to figure out what the problem was when the skunk waddled out of the shadows, turned its back on her and lifted its tail. After that, there was only the choking reek of skunk and a single betrayed thought: Fuck! The weirdos may have been right!

/\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\

Esme woke up the next morning reeking of skunk and ended up hosing off in her backyard, burning her clothes -- and blaming the three strangers, regardless of the logic -- and sneaking in early in the morning wearing an old towel that her dad kept in the garage as a makeshift tarp. A long hot shower helped greatly in the whole process of 'please, let's forget that ever happened.' So did the neglected history paper, and her impending SATs. Four weeks later, she'd forgotten the full moon might even be a problem.

/\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\

The tall tales started in that town the first full moon. As Jane (who tried not to remember that she'd called herself Esme for a few embarrassing months) moved first to college, and eventually to Canada, the stories spread and slowly took on an almost mythical quality. To her relief, however, no one ever associated her with the tales of the raven with the repertoire of romantic poetry, obscene limericks, and obscure myths. If anything, living in Ottawa, eventually Charles deLint got the credit (and occasionally the blame).

But she checked the meanings of her pen name carefully anyway. Just to be sure it couldn't be associated with any kind of dark bird.

/\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\ \/ /\

The Gunmen kept an eye on the papers for years, looking for any other were-skunks. They never found any. Years later, though, when they asked Krycek if he really was a were-rat, he laughed himself half-sick. After he caught his breath -- and cadged some whisky -- he tried to explain about the traveling curse invented by something that claimed to be a very irate, teetotaler leprechaun: the curse of the 'were-what you are.'

The Gunmen believed him.

Mulder never did.

Krycek only shrugged, grinned, and told them all he didn't give a rat's ass.

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~


Comments, Commentary, and Miscellanea:

The 'were-what you are' is either my fault or should be attributed to my lack of caffeine. Suit yourself.

The t-shirt, by the way, is one I saw years ago. White t-shirt, blue and white check frame in the center, and a letter: "Aunt Em. Hate you. Hate Kansas. Taking the dog. Dorothy." It just seemed like something they'd bring....

This fic brought to you courtesy of Urusla's quote and a demented ICQ conversation with Shrewreader.

The quote Ursula provided is from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and runs as follows:


WHEN it began to grow dark, the Rat, with an air of excitement and mystery, summoned them back into the parlour, stood each of them up alongside of his little heap, and proceeded to dress them up for the coming expedition. He was very earnest and thoroughgoing about it, and the affair took quite a long time. First, there was a belt to go round each animal, and then a sword to be stuck into each belt, and then a cutlass on the other side to balance it. Then a pair of pistols, a policeman's truncheon, several sets of handcuffs, some bandages and sticking-plaster, and a flask and a sandwich-case.

The Badger laughed good-humouredly and said, 'All right, Ratty! It amuses you and it doesn't hurt me. I'm going to do all I've got to do with this here stick.'

But the Rat only said, 'Please, Badger.'

The End

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