Dance With the Demons + Part 17 (cont)
Brightest Nights

The vampire regarded the choker quietly. "It does."

"And this will get them off both of our backs?"

Another nod.

There was more to this than Heero was telling him. Not that Duo found that particularly surprising. Placing that little piece of jewelry around his neck should have been nothing more than just a ruse to placate some collection of overly nosy busybody monsters in another country. But for some reason, Duo stared at the black and silver threads, debating whether or not simply donning it would alter his life forever.

As if his life could be more radically altered than it already had been. Duo felt the eyes of Quatre and the two shifters like a tangible force at his back, but he forced them to the back his mind and concentrated only on Heero. The vampire was watching him with that familiar burning gaze, something like hope and anticipation swimming in the blue depths. This was a vampire, a supernatural force to be reckoned with; a killer beyond anything humans could ever aspire to. This was his lover.

Resolute, Duo nodded. "Put it on."

Heero stepped forward, bringing his arms around Duo and leaning over his shoulder to clasp the choker around his neck. It fastened with a quiet click at the same moment as the vampire's lips touched his.

Amazingly soft and gentle, Heero kissed him, and it was anything but chaste. Sealing his lips over Duo's, Heero invaded his mouth, tasting every corner. His tongue stroked along Duo's, bringing heat and fire running through the braided man. Duo couldn't stop the moan that echoed deep in his throat as he tangled his hand in Heero's shirt, balling the webbing in his fist.

The presence that always lingered in the back of Duo's mind surged to the forefront, accompanied by the feather-light brush of the connection he seemed to share with Wufei and Trowa. Only this time, the ice-fire touch of Heero came with it, along with something strange but familiar. Something warm and sexual, something purely Quatre.

But the world didn't shatter, the ground didn't shake beneath his feet. It was almost disappointing.

Duo blinked, clearing his suddenly blurry eyes. Maybe it was a good thing that the earth hadn't opened up under him.

"Mine and yours, yours and mine," Heero said softly, pulling away from him.

Reaching up hesitantly, Duo fingered the stone that rested in the center of his throat. He glanced back at the other three, surprised to notice happiness and . . . approval in their eyes.

"Let's go meet the peanut gallery," Duo said, letting his hand drop from his neck.

+

Catherine looked . . . normal. She was dressed in a short blue skirt, a simple tee and had her hair pulled back into a complicated twist. The two shifters that always seemed to accompany her were also dressed in street clothes, the younger in jeans and a shirt, the older in slacks and a men's semi-casual shirt. The three stood just inside the entryway coming from the main part of Bliss.

Treize, looking tired but otherwise fine, sat on the couch facing them. His clothes were slightly rumpled, which made Duo frown. Treize was usually perfection in a bottle. He stayed quiet though, as Heero had 'advised' him to do. He was to follow the Erus' lead, and not stomp ahead on his own. That had worked really well in the encounter with Odin.

Turning his gaze to the only new face in the room, Duo assumed it must be Nichol. He sat calmly in a plush chair, his back ramrod straight and his light brown hair neatly cropped. Old military. When Heero entered, he nodded curtly, his gaze darting from vampire to Duo. Recognition flared in his brown eyes.

"Hello again, Heero," he said smoothly, "it's been quite a long time."

Everyone seemed to be saying it had been a while since they'd seen Heero. Must be a trend.

"Nichol," the vampire replied in greeting, slipping gracefully into one of the red chairs. "I assume you're here on business of the Assembly."

That was Heero, cut right to the chase. Duo took his place beside the Erus, while Quatre stood a little to the left and behind the chair. Trowa and Wufei, as usual, sank to the floor on either side of Heero's legs.

"If you'll excuse me a moment," he continued, pausing for a moment to acknowledge Nichol's nod. Turning to Catherine, he said, "And what brings you here again?"

"I wish to speak with you privately," the woman answered shortly.

"No business is private from the Assembly," Heero countered.

Catherine looked indecisive, then firmed her shoulders. "No, it isn't. Yet I will speak with only you."

Even though Catherine and her wolves had the advantage of height and Heero was forced to look up at them, it did nothing to diminish the aura of authority that the vampire exuded. If anything, the trio looked almost ridiculous standing there while Heero reclined comfortably in a chair. It gave them an air of triviality.

"Very well," Heero agreed, dismissing her and turning his attention back to Nichol. "And what matter brings the Assembly to me?"

"It has been brought to the attention of the Assembly that a person of moderate interest has recently come under your power. A human known as Duo Maxwell now serves you."

Duo almost choked on that.

"He does," Heero confirmed. "And what of him?"

"He has been slated for execution by the Assembly."

Duo felt his face go carefully blank, devoid of emotion. Inside, he was seething. Execution, huh? Wonder how much the Assembly would appreciate their little messenger boy being sent home in a Ziploc baggie.

"The human is mine, impervious to such edicts," Heero stated simply, as if it wasn't Duo they were discussing, but an inanimate object.

"It had been passed before the human committed himself to you."

"Regardless," Heero replied, sitting very still, "he is mine. The edict is nullified, unless I wish him killed."

A smile quirked at the corners of Nichol's mouth. "I doubt you will do so."

"Perceptive of you," Heero agreed.

"There are some who doubt the strength of your bond."

Duo was starting to feel almost dizzy, watching the conversation bounce back and forth between the two.

"There are some who covet that bond."

Touché.

A genuine smile covered Nichol's face. "And there are still others who would see that bond broken."

Heero's eyes grew dark. Duo could have reached out and touched the menace that started to roll out from the vampire like a desert wind. "I pity those that would dare to try."

"Then there are many who deserve your pity."

Heero remained quiet, silently agreeing with Nichol's statement.

"The Assembly wants proof, Heero," Nichol said finally.

"And they send you here to witness this proof."

Another curt nod. "They want him marked."

Duo didn't have to see Heero's smile to know it was there. "He is marked."

Nichol looked taken aback. He quickly covered his surprise, saying, "None of the old ones felt you mark him."

"I am one of the old ones," Heero said simply. Duo felt the weight of his voice fall over him, the pressure of it dulling his hearing momentarily.

"True," Nichol said, accepting the vampire's small display of power.

Jesus, you'd think that it'd be proof enough that Duo was sitting here putting up with all this arcane vampire shit.

"Show me the mark," Nichol said.

This guy comes halfway around the world to see a little bite mark? Oh, hell, did vampires ever have time to waste!

The shifters at Heero's feet moved, slipping to sit on either side of the back of Heero's chair. That must be Duo's cue.

Settling on the floor in front of Heero, but facing Nichol, Duo obediently tipped his head to the side and turned as the vampire slipped the choker up, baring the shiny scar at his neck.

Brushing his hand over the soft skin, Heero's voice echoed in Duo's mind, /Release some of your power, Duo. Show him the marks./

Confused, Duo closed his eyes. The marks? What was Heero talking about? Then, with a mind of its own, the energy coiled inside Duo rose up like a great beast waking itself from a long slumber. It curled and twisted within him, reaching out towards the four beings gathered behind him. It stretched and wound between them, touching both vampires and shifters in turn.

As quickly as it had come, it folded back in upon itself, lingering on the cool flames of Heero's touch. And then it quieted, lying just below the surface and waiting for Duo to call it forward once more.

Duo swayed, suddenly very happy that he was sitting on the floor. That must be what Heero had meant by the marks. He remembered doing that same thing before, when he was lost in the rage caused by Sally and her games.

The question was, who had marked whom?

Across from them, Duo heard Nichol suck in a sharp breath. Heero slipped the choker back down, leaving his hand resting on Duo's neck, a sardonic smile gracing his lips.

"Will this proof satisfy them?" Heero asked.

Nichol shook his head. "If it doesn't . . . nothing will. You needn't have gone that far, Heero."

"I want the Assembly to leave us be," Heero replied. "Go back. Tell your masters that Duo Maxwell is no threat to us or them. Leave him alone."

"Very well." Nichol stood in one fluid motion, then turned to Heero with a calculating eye. "Truth be told, I agree with the old ones. Duo Maxwell should die. That much power in one human is dangerous to us all. And you should not be allowed to run free as you do."

"You are entitled to an opinion," Heero said coldly. "I think you're finished here."

"Yes . . . yes, I am," Nichol said, "I've seen all I need to see."

"Hope that we never cross paths again, Nichol."

Nichol smiled indulgently. "I sincerely hope we never do. Watch yourself with that one, Heero. I'm not entirely sure he is human."

"Goodbye, Nichol," was all Heero said in reply.

Finally accepting his crisp dismissal, Nichol nodded to the room, then walked towards the exit. Catherine and her wolves, forgotten in the exchange, parted to let him pass. The door clicked shut with a note of finality.

"Now," Heero said, turning to Catherine, "what do you want?"

Duo turned, focusing his gaze squarely on the Tamer and the two shifters with her. If Heero thought for one second that he was going to be quiet during this little conversation, the vampire was in for a nasty surprise.

"Just what the hell happened to you?" Duo demanded.

Catherine actually smiled. "A very good thing, Duo, depending on your point of view. I'm wondering what happened to you."

"I think my story's a lot less interesting compared to yours," he snorted. Heero gave Duo a wry look. "You couldn't be quiet a moment longer, could you?"

"Not one more fucking second."

"I knew it was too good to last," Wufei mumbled.

"Odin wants to see you," Catherine said abruptly, steering all attention back to her.

"What?" Duo said, blinking. That was a little unexpected.

"You're very slow these days, Heero," she continued, a mocking tone in her voice. "Sally has been working towards Odin's goals for a long time. Associating with so many humans is dulling your senses."

Heero merely fixed a chilling glare on the woman. "You're at a very large disadvantage right now, Catherine."

"Not really. You see, he has Dorothy. Treize here was returned to provide confirmation of my story," she said, turning to Treize, "weren't you?"

Treize looked righteously disgusted. "I fear it's the truth, Erus."

"He'll be heading back with me, too." Catherine's eyes were sparkling like a child's on Christmas morning.

"How the hell do you figure we'll let you waltz out of here with him again?" Duo ground out, rising to his feet.

"Because if I don't return with him in the next hour, Dorothy dies. And don't get any ideas about just killing me here. That won't do you any good."

"It'll make me feel a hell of a lot better," Duo said.

"Whatever," Catherine replied with a wave of her hand.

"What makes Odin so certain I will agree to meet with him?" Heero asked. "Dorothy might not mean that much to me."

"Oh, Odin thinks she does. Consequently," she added with a smirk, "so do I. You're such a bleeding heart, Heero. Always looking out for your people." Was the woman on crack!? Heero was as far from being a bleeding heart as Bambi was from being a serial murderer.

"You don't have much choice, Heero. Bring Duo and meet with Odin tonight."

"Do you think I'm an idiot?" Heero asked. "Odin is too intelligent to believe I'd agree to meet him with only Duo."

"Odin is many things, but he's not stupid," Catherine said. "Bring your werepanthers and your second. Treize goes with me. Aside from that, choose three more of your people. That's it."

Heero seemed to consider this. "I will meet him. But in a place of my choosing."

Catherine nodded, expecting this.

"Tell Odin that I will contact Sally in one hour to tell her where we will meet."

"You can simply tell me now. I play messenger girl very well," Catherine ventured.

"No. One hour."

"Fine."

"And you will leave Walker with me."

Catherine's eyes flashed. "I don't think so, Heero."

"You're right, Catherine, you DON'T think," Duo put in. "If you take Treize back with you to the polite psycho, then one of your wolves stays with us."

"Call it a gesture of good faith on your part," Quatre added.

"No deal," Catherine said.

"Then kill Dorothy and tell Odin to stop bothering me with his childish games."

WHAT!?

"You can't be serious, Heero. You would abandon the lamia for this . . . this human?" Catherine spat.

"Oh, I am serious," Heero said, rising to his feet in one fluid motion. He took a step towards Catherine threateningly. "Odin is a fool to think that one lamia is worth all our lives. Agree to my terms or return and tell him of your failure."

Ouch. Catherine visibly winced at that prospect. "Take Otto."

"Walker, or fail Odin," Quatre said, his tone cold and dispassionate.

"Agreed," Catherine said after a short pause, "but you won't be so confidant when your human fawns at Odin's feet while he drains the life from your worthless carcass, Heero Yuy!!" she screeched. "Give me Treize!"

Treize glanced at Heero, then rose smoothly to his feet. He looked at Catherine with obvious distaste. The younger of the wolves, Walker, moved to the side as the Tamer turned and stomped out of the room. Treize sighed comically loud, then trudged after her, Otto following close on his heels.

"Was that a good idea?" Duo asked no one in particular.

"Odin won't harm them until we arrive," Heero said. "He wouldn't waste the chance to kill me."

"That's really comforting, Heero. Really fucking comforting."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Heero: I don't think that was meant to be comforting.
Blue: Nope, not in the least. Statement of fact only.
Duo: You are evil and cruel.
Blue: *grin* So they tell me.
Quatre: They?
Blue: *nods*
Wufei: I believe he is asking who 'they' are.
Blue: Them. People.
Duo: *blank look*
Blue: *sigh* Have you ever heard the phrase 'that's what THEY say'?
Quatre: Yes . . .
Blue: That's them.
Duo: But WHO are they?
Blue: They're them.
Quatre: Please, forget that I asked.
Duo: ARGH!
Wufei: I agree with Duo. Argh.
Blue: *huge grin*

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