InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Strangers ( Chapter 17 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter Seventeen~~

-OoOo OoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'I walk alone in the darkness of the city
'Got no place to call home
'I might be dyin'
'But you can't hear a sound
'Midnight rain is comin' down
'I'm just a stranger, a stranger in this town
'I mean no danger, I'm a stranger in this town …'

-'Stranger in this Town' by Richie Sambora.


Valerie stood in the bright and airy lobby outside the Grande Ballroom on the seventy-sixth floor of the Faaustin Garden Hotel, trying her best to seem nonchalant as she tried to find Marvin amidst the milling crowd.

It was worse than she'd first imagined, though if she had ever bothered to watch any of the entertainment news programs, she'd have realized that it would be akin to a three-ring circus.

She hadn't realized that most of the major news outlets would be covering the arrivals.  The convergence of flashbulbs was daunting, though most of those stopped when Valerie had stepped out of the taxi she'd called to deliver her.  After all, she wasn't a big name, and if that wasn't enough to daunt her, then the limo that pulled up behind her was.  It had apparently belonged to Sesshoumaru Inutaisho—easily the richest man on the planet.  Valerie had stood in complete and utter awe as the impossibly tall and absolutely intimidating great-grandson of the late 1900's high-tech mogul and founder of Inutaisho Corporation had stepped out of the jet black vehicle.  They'd barely spared Valerie a glance as he escorted his absolutely gorgeous wife past her on the red carpet that had been laid out for the occasion.

A few press boxes were set up inside the lobby, vying for the attention of the various celebrities arriving for the fundraiser.  Valerie lifted her chin a little higher and fought to tamp down the rising irritation—irrational irritation brought on by the feeling of being completely alone and wholly out of place.  Gritting her teeth, she cast around a surreptitious eye and stifled the urge to sigh.

"Valerie!  Valerie!"

She started and turned around, a surge of giddy relief shooting through her when she spotted Marvin.  A moment later, though, the rise of irritation was back, mostly because he looked entirely awe-struck, and she was still trying to deal with the feeling that she just didn't belong there . . .

He was so excited that he could barely contain himself, his face a happy flushed shade that spoke louder than words.  "Stargazing, Val?" he quipped as he grasped her arm and tried to look everywhere at once.  "Oh, wow!  There's Karyn Comstock!"

Valerie followed the direction of Marvin's gaze, glancing at the aging starlet, better known for her advocate work for autism awareness ever since her beloved nephew was diagnosed with the disorder a few years ago.

"I told you that you'd love this!" Marvin insisted.  He shot her a quick smile, only to hesitate as the smile faltered.  She arched an eyebrow.  "Something wrong?" she asked as pleasantly as she could.

Marvin quickly shook his head, forcing a much more exuberant laugh than was necessary.  "Oh, uh, n-nothing," he insisted.

She tugged her arm out of his grasp and leveled a rather cagey sort of expression at him.  "No, what is it?"

He looked distinctly nervous.  "Well, it's just . . . I mean, I thought you were going to wear that black dress; that's all."

She blinked a few times.  "I told you that I was going shopping," she replied a little too reasonably in the same tone she'd have used to cross-examine a witness.

"O-Oh, it's lovely," he hurried on to say.  "Just a little . . . flashier than I thought you were going to get."  He blinked and shook his head in confusion.  "Did you bleach your hair?  It looks different."

Valerie raised her other eyebrow in an expression of absolute incredulity.

"Not bad or anything.  Just really different," he explained with a little laugh.  "Anyway, come on!  I want to introduce you to Dane Candlor and his friends."

He took her hand and almost clumsily tugged her through the milling crowds toward a bunch of very uptight-looking men.

She stifled a sigh and let him pull her along.  She was blonde when they'd met, too, and while he'd mentioned once or twice after she'd started to use the brown rinse on her hair that he was "glad she went back to her natural color", she'd told him more than once, as well, that she actually was a natural blonde . . .

'Come on, Valerie . . . Think about something else or you're going to ruin tonight for Marvin . . .'

"Dane!  Hey!  This is my fiancée, Valerie Denning," Marvin said in the exhilarated tone that only Marvin could manage without sounding completely insincere.  Valerie smiled and shook the older man's hand—it was rather dry, like old paper.

Dane Candlor smiled cordially and inclined his head as he patted the back of her hand before letting go.  "Ah, a lawyer, right?  Marvin said that you were pretty, but he didn't mention that you were quite so stunning.  Very nice to meet you, m'dear."

"Likewise," she replied.

Marvin positively beamed at her.  "Sorry, Val.  I guess I was bragging on you," he murmured.

She laughed, wondering idly if it sounded as forced to them as it had to her.  It must not have, though, because the men only chuckled as Marvin fired off a round of names, pausing between each one to allow Valerie time to shake all their hands.

Dane's watery blue gaze narrowed as he tilted his head back slightly and regarded her thoroughly—so thoroughly that Valerie had to temper the urge to fidget.  "You're representing that reprobate rock star, aren't you?" he suddenly asked.

She stifled a sigh and gritted her teeth for a moment.  "Zel Roka, you mean?" she corrected gently.  "Yes, I am."

Marvin chuckled.  "If anyone can help him out, my Valerie can!" he insisted.

There was a series of polite chuckles, and every last one of them grated against Valerie's already raw nerves.  She forced a polite little smile and tried her best to look interested as the conversation shifted to politics.  Ordinarily, such a conversation would have interested her, especially since she had a few things that she didn't mind saying about the republican that had been elected in 2072.  At the moment, though, getting into a debate with men who thought that Robert Wentworth was doing a fantastic job, and Marvin's friends, at that, just wasn't exactly high on her list of priorities. She was working on one hell of a killer headache, among other things, and she murmured a few words to Marvin before excusing herself to scoot off to the nearby lavatory in hopes of downing a pain reliever or two before the festivities got underway.

It wasn't entirely surprising when the bathroom door slid back, seemingly of its own accord.  The Fauustin Garden was touted as being one of the most technologically advanced hotels in the world since it opened its doors less than a year ago.

Crossing the floor—the tiles lit up when one stepped on them—she dug in her purse to locate the small bottle of Advil she'd hurriedly stuffed into the small bag she'd chosen for the night.  It had been almost a second thought back then.  Now she was glad that she'd done it.

A very pretty woman in a very electric blue silk dress stepped into the bathroom.  She looked vaguely familiar, probably a model or something.  She spared Valerie a momentary smile: one of those perfunctory ones that seemed to become second nature to those constantly in the limelight.  Stepping over to the long counter to check her makeup in the mirror, she pulled a small compact from her purse and fiddled with the powder inside.

Valerie's hands were shaking as she fumbled with the child-resistant lid and popped it open.  She managed to dump two capsules out of the plastic jar and popped them into her mouth.  She took her time, swallowing the pills as she recapped the bottle and dropped it into her purse.  The bathroom door—there were individual, soundproofed rooms to reduce embarrassment, Valerie supposed—slid open, and Charo Gucciano slipped out of the stall.  "Ramona!  I thought you said you couldn't make it!" she said to the other woman in the room.

'Ramona?' Valerie thought with a frown.  'Oh, that's right . . . Ramona Consuela, the super-model-turned-actress . . .'

"Oh, I wasn't going to until I found out that Dave broke his leg," she replied with a bright smile.

"Hmm," Charo remarked with a censuring shake of her head.  "What that boy did to you was just wrong . . . Weren't you about to be married?"

Ramona nodded.  "Not exactly, but . . ." she shrugged, as though it were of no real consequence.  "Don't worry.  He'll get his," she predicted with a little shrug.  "That girl he's been seen out and about with?  She's nothing but a gold digger, anyway."

Charo giggled, rinsing her hands and dabbing at her eyes with the tips of her wet fingers.  "Did you see the new programs?" she went on, looking at Ramona in the mirror.

"No, I didn't."

"Well, it looks like they've found a stand-in," she remarked lightly.  "There's just a little snippet about him, so he has to be fairly interesting . . ."

"Interesting," Ramona echoed with a thoughtful frown though not one deep enough to cause untimely wrinkling.  "I don't know . . ."

"I'm telling you, though; I've heard another interesting rumor . . ."


Charo nodded and leaned toward Ramona.  "I heard that her son's here."

"Her son?"

"Yes!  Remember?  A couple years ago or so, he escorted her?  The songwriter . . .?" Rolling her eyes when Ramona shook her head in obvious confusion, Charo nudged her with her elbow.  "You know!  That sexy as hell one?  The one with those blue eyes . . .?"

Ramona's eyes flared wide.  Valerie nearly snorted out loud.  There were probably seventy-five men out there with blue eyes.  She fiddled with her lipstick, instead.

"Oh, my God!  You're kidding!"

Charo's smile turned downright nasty.  "Wouldn't ol' Dave be upset if you hooked up with him?"

Ramona laughed and smiled.  "Well, now, I think I'm glad I changed my mind about coming," she decided.

Valerie dropped her lipstick into her purse and headed out of the lavatory.  She just couldn't understand people like that: people who changed significant others kind of like real people changed their underpants.  Zel was one of those people, wasn't he?  The kind of guy who got fixated on one woman or another, only to change his mind in the morning with the rise of the sun . . . She'd met others like him, and she knew damn well that those types just didn't change.

Marvin was still standing with his group of new friends, laughing heartily at whatever they'd said, and for just a moment, she wondered if he'd find them as humorous if they weren't disgustingly rich.

'Stop that!' she scolded herself sternly, ashamed of her own catty thoughts regarding her fiancé.  Marvin was a good man; he really was, and he really hadn't meant to make her upset by changing their plans at the last moment, either.  It wasn't that he didn't care, and she knew that, too.  It was simply that Marvin tended to be a little absentminded about things that might distract him from his ultimate goal.

The immense, fifty-foot in diameter clock mounted above them on the ceiling struck the hour just as the looming doors, crafted of a very heavy marble and painstakingly etched, opened, inviting the guests inside.  Marvin gestured at her to follow them, and since she saw no other recourse, she did.

It was bright; it was light; it was beautiful.  There was a wide stage off to the right with an orchestra warming up in the smallish pit to the left of the stage, almost hidden in a slightly darkened alcove, and the obsidian dance floor was lined in gold trim with inlaid mother-of-pearl that shone iridescent in the light of a myriad of floating fiber optic lights that dangled from the vaulted ceiling, swaying like stars high above.  Tables were arranged in the runways on either side of the dance floor, covered in fine ivory silk cloths embroidered with 'ZF' in a shade darker thread with fresh ivory roses and Oriental lilies with sprays of greenery and baby's breath arranged as the centerpieces.  The flowers' petals were still dampened with dew.  The entire place was aglow with artificial candles and ambient lighting, and Valerie was so absorbed in taking in everything around her that she scarcely noticed whether or not Marvin was there.

"Valerie, honey, here you go."

Valerie blinked and dragged her eyes off the painting being displayed on an easel nearby.  Cordoned off by royal blue velvet ropes dangling between shiny brass poles, a single spotlight was trained on it.  The rear view of an indistinct woman holding a floppy straw hat in place as the wind blew her as she wandered along the beach with a small child running beside her; the picture was painstakingly rendered with a warmth that Valerie felt, just staring at it.  "Y-Yes?" she stammered, unable to recover from her momentary lapse.

Marvin chuckled.  "That's rumored to be a real Cain Zelig original that Mrs. Zelig's husband has decided to auction off tonight to benefit their foundation," he told her.  "Should bring in a small fortune."

"Oh," she said, smiling just a little.  "It's beautiful."

He laughed and nodded.  "Hey, I'm going to go see if I can find out who Mrs. Zelig is," he said.  "I'll be right back."

"Marvin, I—" Valerie gave up with a sigh and a shake of her head as she watched him weaving in and out of the gathering.

It was so like him, wasn't it?  Part of the exuberance that she'd first noticed about Marvin back in college . . . Back then, it had been endearing, and now?  She let out a deep breath, wandering toward the painting.  Now . . .?

She still loved that about him, of course.  She still enjoyed the fact that he was so enthusiastic, but sometimes . . . sometimes she wished that he'd stop and just listen to her every once in awhile.

"Evening, Ms. Denning."

Valerie's eyes flared wide at the sound of that voice, and she whipped around to face him, only to frown and shake her head at the man before her: a man she didn't recognize . . .

Or did she . . .?


"Wo-o-ow," Gin breathed as she let her golden gaze roam from the top of Evan's head to the toes of his immaculately polished black shoes.  She clapped her hands and gave a happy little squeal.  "I'm going to the gala with the most handsome boy in the world!"

Evan chuckled and shook his head.  "No way, Mama.  You're far hotter than I'll ever be," he assured her.  "I mean, look at you!  Has good ol' Cain seen you in that?"

She heaved a sigh and shook her head though her smile didn't diminish.  "Your father's been in meetings all day," she said simply.  "But he did tell me to have a good time tonight, and he gave me a handheld Taser gun in case you didn't behave.  I have no idea why."

Evan's chuckle escalated into a full-out laugh.  "Is that so?"

Gin rolled her eyes and nodded at the table near the door where the aforementioned Taser gun lay.  "Come on.  Give us a spin, will you?"

Gin giggled and held her hands out to her sides as she spun around to give Evan the full effect.  The slinky little silver satin dress hugged her curves nicely and was easily lower cut in the front than Gin's normal purchases, but the way it accentuated her lithe little body was enough to make any other man drool, Evan knew.  The dress was held up by spaghetti straps that hooked around the back of her neck.  Hell, he could see it, himself, even if she was his mother.  He caught her hand and held it up, twirling her around a couple more times.  She stared at him for another long minute then slowly frowned.  "Did you have to cut your hair off, sweetie?" she asked with a disapproving shake of her head.

"I wanted to look respectable," he told her with a wink.  "Don't worry, Mama.  It'll grow back."

"You always look respectable," she countered with a shake of her head.

He grinned and glanced at his watch.  "Not to rush you, but we should probably get going," he told her.  "You did want to make sure that everything's in order before you open the doors for your guests, right?"

She giggled and nodded and grabbed the small silver-threaded purse off the stand beside the discarded Taser gun then let Evan escort her out of the house and down the street to the silver stretch limo waiting for them.

"I feel like one of your women," she insisted as she settled into the vehicle, scooting over to let him sit beside her as the chauffer closed the door.

Evan leaned forward to pour Gin a glass of sparkling water.  "Like one of my women, eh?" she teased.  "You know, Mama, you really should go on tour with me sometime.  You'd like it."

She twittered happily and waved a hand.  "Your father wouldn't like that, I'm afraid," she said.

"That's because he's got that weird overprotective thing going on," Evan countered, offering her the glass.

Gin took it and carefully sipped.  "Could you check the painting when we get there?  Security said that they'd set up an unobtrusive barrier around it, and I really didn't want to post guards to watch it—I thought that'd look a little severe, given that it's there to be auctioned off, you know . . ."

He slipped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze.  "Don't worry, Mama," he told her.  "Nothing's going to happen to it."

She heaved a sigh and nodded.  "I know," she replied.  "All the same . . ."

"Don't worry.  I'll make sure that nothing happens to it," he told her.

It didn't take long to reach the back of the hotel where they would be able to enter the establishment without having to deal with the hubbub and madness that was already starting at the front entrance.  Evan whisked her out of the limousine and into the hotel without any incident where the concierge was waiting to escort them to the top floor of the facility where the gala was to be held.

The caterers were already there, arranging the champagne fountain and seeing to the service staff: inspecting uniforms, making sure that everyone had all the equipment they'd need for the duration of the evening.  The orchestra members were just arriving, and the head of the security team was checking the various alarms they'd set to assure that the guests felt safe enough to enjoy themselves.  Gin hurried off to speak with the florist who, apparently, was having some sort of crisis regarding the centerpieces for the tables.

Evan wandered over to the painting that had been set up off to the side.  Arranged on an antique easel that Evan recognized as one of the ones that Cain always used in the mansion back home, the lighting tech was fiddling with the spotlight that was trained on it, and while Evan knew that there were laser security wires in place, he wondered, as his mother had, if that really was enough.  After all, it was a heretofore 'undiscovered' Cain Zelig original, and while Evan knew that the painting was probably done in the last thirty or so years, the rest of the world thought that it was one of the heirloom pieces that the reclusive artist had created before his death years ago.

He smiled just a little.  It was a painting of Gin and Jillian, wandering along the shore near the mansion, but it was done in such a way that one couldn't rightly discern the subjects, hidden as Gin was under a huge and floppy straw hat, and it was from the rear, so their faces weren't showing anyway, but Evan knew.  Cain rarely considered giving up his work when it featured his wife or family, and that he was willing to part with this one in the name of charity spoke volumes about exactly how guilty he felt for ditching his wife tonight, in Evan's estimation . . .

He frowned.  He could hear the gathering people outside in the lobby though it was very faint, enough so that human ears would never have discerned it.  Sparing a moment to give the painting another once-over, Evan turned on his heel and headed toward his mother, who was busy giving last minute instructions to the orchestra's conductor.

"Oh, this is my son, Evan," she said happily, leaning to the side to slip her hand under Evan's elbow.

Evan nodded.  "Pleased to meet you," he said with an easy smile, extending his hand in welcome.

The conductor grinned and shook his hand.  "The pleasure is mine.  Your charming mother was just telling me that you're a songwriter."

He chuckled and shook his head. "Mama brags on me a little too much," he quipped.

The conductor laughed and nodded as he turned back to his orchestra to lead them through a few warm up drills.

"Gin?  Are we ready?"

Gin turned to smile at Haley Comstock, her secretary for the Zelig Foundation.  "Oh, I think so," she said, glancing quickly at Evan.

Evan gave his mother's hand a reassuring squeeze and shot Haley a lazy grin.  The woman blushed and giggled.  "You ready for the madness?" he asked.

She shrugged and smiled.  "Sure.  I hear you're our mysterious Eligible Bachelor Number Ten."

"Well . . ."

She winked as she turned to go.  "Flash 'em those baby blues of yours, and you might just break your brother's record."

Evan sighed and shook his head, shifting his gaze to meet his mother's as Haley hurried over to open the hulking doors.  "Ready, Mama?"

Gin laughed and scrunched up her shoulders.  "I have a good feeling about tonight," she told him.

He smiled.  "Do you?"

"Yes!  And you know, I don't think I'm wrong about this."

Evan chuckled and started to shake his head again, but stopped abruptly at the one scent that reached out to him through the tangled mass: the scent he'd know anywhere, no matter what, no matter when or how or why.

His chin snapped up as his gaze raked over the influx of arrivals.  Fast on the heels of the scent was the presence—her presence, and he frowned.  'She's here . . .? But . . .'

Closing his eyes for a moment, he focused on the scent of her.  It was unmistakable.  The warmth of her, the very proximity . . . 'Valerie Denning . . .'

His frown deepened as he opened his eyes once more.  Gin was busy talking to some men that Evan didn't recognize.  "Mama," he said, touching her hand.  "Excuse me a moment."

She smiled up at him and nodded.  "Don't forget that you promised you'd dance with me," she reminded him.

He chuckled and nodded.  "As if I'd forget that," he told her.

She kissed his cheek and laughed as he turned away.  Making his way through the crowd, his senses intent upon her, and unsure exactly why the hint of anxiety in her aura was enough to make him hasten his step, he let his gaze sweep over the crowd, ignoring the few greetings called his way as he continued to make his way through.

Why couldn't he see her?

As he moved through the throng of people, he frowned.  A rather small man was talking to a blonde in a red dress, and while he might have ordinarily ignored them since he didn't recognize either of them upon first glance, he stopped, eyes widening, as he slowly started to understand.

'V . . .'

"Valerie, honey, here you go."

The blonde stopped and quickly turned around, and Evan felt his heart lurch wildly, painfully.  It was her, wasn't it?  The dress that clung to her drop-dead gorgeous figure, the swell of her breasts rising provocatively above the low rise of the sleeveless slip of a garment . . . Blood red satin that clung to her in a perfect symmetry of motion, flowing around her body like the froth of waves  on the ocean . . . The color emphasized the light tan of her skin, the delicate shadows of her collarbones . . . the honey golden hair that was piled atop her head, only to cascade down from the pearl clips that secured the mass of loose curls in place, touching her skin in an intimate brush of softness, closer than any man would dare.  The delicate curve of her ankles, wrapped in the flirty straps of the blood red slippers with the four inch spike heels . . . That she could walk on them without any trouble at all was amazing enough, but the entire effect was almost more than Evan could take . . . Those hazel eyes, the vulnerability that she was fighting to hide, and maybe she could from someone else—anyone else—but Evan . . . he could feel it, couldn't he?  "Y-Yes?" she stammered.  Evan nearly groaned.

The small man beside her couldn't seem to contain his enthusiasm, and for the briefest of moments, Evan had to wonder if he was going to wet himself or something.   "That's rumored to be a real Cain Zelig original that Mrs. Zelig's husband has decided to auction off tonight to benefit their foundation.  Should bring in a small fortune."

Valerie shook her head and forced a little smile.  "Oh . . . It's beautiful."

The little man nodded vigorously.  "Hey, I'm going to go see if I can find out who Mrs. Zelig is," he said.  "I'll be right back."

"Marvin, I—"

Evan's eyes widened.  'Marvin?  That's Marvin . . .?'

'Oh, my God,' his youkai voice chimed in.

Evan nodded vaguely.  'Oh, your God,' he agreed.  'Oh, damn . . . Exactly why did I choose to be respectable now . . .?'

She turned away, staring at the painting with a very definite sense of longing in her gaze.  Evan stuffed his hands into his pockets, trying to get his raging senses back under control as he continued to gawk at her.  He wanted to touch her, damn it.  He wanted to touch her, to yank her into his arms and—

'Knock it off, you damned fool!' his youkai voice chided sternly.  'Remember, will you?  You're Evan Zelig, for God's sake!  And you're here for your mother!'

He winced at that reminder.  He'd almost forgotten, hadn't he?  It was enough to temper the emotions that were running through him unchecked.  Reaching over to snag a glass of champagne off the tray that the waiter hurrying past held, he took a moment to clear his throat, to move in just a little closer—close enough that he could feel the emotions that resonated within her.  "Evening, Ms. Denning," he said.

Her back stiffened upon hearing his voice, and she whirled around to face him, her eyes flaring wide as a gentle flush of color rose to stain her cheeks, and she slowly shook her head, her confusion evident despite the hint of recognition that lit her gaze from somewhere deep within . . .

~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~ =~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~
'Stranger in this Town' originally appeared on Richie Sambora's 1991 release, Stranger in this Town.  Song written by and copyrighted to Richie Sambora and David Bryan.
Advil and its trademark belong to Wyeth Heathcare.
Valerie is human, so she, as does the rest of the human world, believes that Sesshoumaru is his own great-grandson.
This chapter as well as the next few are the timeframe in which Potentate: A Purity Oneshot fits into the storyline.
== == == == == == == == == ==
Usagiseren05 ------malitiadixie ------ Sesshomaru4Kagura4ever ------ Jester08 ------ oblivion-bringr ------ Ryo5492 ------ sunshine161820 ------ AtamaHitoride ------ Sovereignty ------ 3427 ------ OROsan0677 ------ monkeyseemonkeynodo ------ Dark Inu Fan ------ PikMoon
malitiadixie ------ laura.beth
Thought from Valerie:
Zel …?
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.