Author: Blue
Note: Long time between postings, I know. Sorry, but it's the end of the semester... we all know what that's like. *grumble grumble*
see Part 1 for warnings

Dance With the Demons + Part 7
Rules of Play

Duo was rummaging around in Quatre's closet, flinging clothes back over his head as he appraised and then dismissed each article. The heap in the middle of the room was growing quite large.

"Don't you have ANYTHING that doesn't try to bond itself with your skin?" Another article of clothing sailed across the room.

Quatre winced. "Duo . . . you could just borrow something of Wufei's . . . " he said in an attempt to rescue his wardrobe from Duo's attentions.

Duo turned around, looking critically at a pair of snakeskin pants. "Is this lamia skin? Tell me this is NOT lamia skin."

The blonde casually shrugged. "It was a gift, ask Heero." He narrowed his eyes. "Actually," he said, gazing at Duo's lean form, "those would look quite good on you."

Snorting, Duo moved to stuff the pants back into the closet, then thought better of it and added them with a negligent toss to his pile of rejects. "I don't see what Heero is all uptight about. All I need is a few things from my apartment, ten minutes there, tops." He went back to destroying Quatre's closet.

The vampire sighed. It was going to be one of those days. It was nearing dawn, perhaps only two hours before. By Quatre's logic, Duo should have been asleep at least thirty minutes ago; he was returning to Lucrezia's later that day. Duo had, however, stated that he wanted to return to his apartment with Wufei. THAT particular idea hadn't gone over well with anyone. In the end, Duo had reluctantly agreed to remain at Devil's Bliss. Or, more precisely, he had been bullied into it. Quatre snickered softly to himself at the memory. Now, however, Quatre's closet was paying the price as Duo tried to find what he deemed 'sensible' clothing.

"Shouldn't you be asleep, Duo?" Quatre finally asked, dodging a particularly badly - or well, depending on how you looked at it - aimed shirt.

"No, I shouldn't. I SHOULD be back at my apartment with Wufei, engaging in mindlessly lustful acts of sexual perversion."

"And just why can't you do that here?"

Duo's shoulders shook with barely contained mirth. "Because, Q," he drawled, "things have a tendency to get 'crowded' around here."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Stepping away from the now decimated closet, Duo let out an explosive breath. "Well, looks like I've exhausted all possibilities here." He looked at the rather large lump of clothes that decorated the middle of Quatre's room. Then, looking around eagerly, he said, "Next?"

+

The sun shone brightly in the mid-afternoon sky as Duo walked across the long, green expanse of an urban park. After being cooped up in the basement of Devil's Bliss, he was thoroughly enjoying the feel of the warm sun on his skin. Wufei and Trowa walked on either side of him, and Duo felt like they were hovering like overprotective mother hens. He didn't tell them that, though.

Trowa watched Duo pluck uncomfortably at the billowing black cotton pants Wufei had finally convinced him to wear. "These make me look ridiculous!" he said indignantly.

"You don't look ridiculous, Duo. You look . . . " Trowa glanced helplessly at Wufei.

"Like a cast off from a desert harem with a crappy tailor," Duo finished. At least the black shirt he wore over one of Wufei’s white tank tops was loose enough to hide the Glock. Heero had given it to Duo before he had disappeared for the day, saying that he retrieved it from Mary-Anne’s apartment.

Wufei grinned in spite of himself. "I thought they looked rather good."

"You're biased," Duo accused.

Trowa chuckled softly. "You keep saying that."

"Well, he IS biased."

"And your point is?"

"Do you even have a point, Duo?" Wufei asked, not even bothering to look at the braided man. Instead he was watching a kite soaring in the sky not far from them.

Duo sputtered to himself, mumbling something about the side effects of being a were and its effect on one's sense of decency.

"I don't think you're in a position to accuse anyone of being indecent, Duo," Trowa pointed out mildly.

"You're not helping, Tro."

Trowa's eyes widened in mock surprise. "I'm sorry, was I supposed to be helping?"

Duo's face assumed the long-suffering expression he had become so fond of lately, and he gazed questioningly at the as-of-yet unresponsive sky. "Why me?"

Wufei looked at him innocently. "Why not?"

"Have you been reading philosophy books again, Wu?" asked Duo sourly.

The innocent expression didn't change. "What a silly idea, wherever did you come up with THAT notion?"

"Okay, okay, we're almost there. Let's try to look somewhat serious." Trowa interceded.

Duo's eyes widened in horror. "TROWA! What a thing to suggest!"

"This is your fault, Wufei. Yours and Quatre's." Trowa gestured at the grinning Duo. "See what you've done?"

"I don't see how it's MY fault," Wufei replied.

Duo was still grinning as he slipped an arm around each of their waists. "Let's go visit the lovely Senora, yes?" With that, the three continued on their way, with Duo quietly humming 'We're off to See the Wizard' softly to himself.

+

"Why the fuck isn't she answering!?" Duo exclaimed loudly as he pounded on the door again, long ago abandoning the doorbell in favor of a more direct approach.

Wufei winced, watching the hinges on the door shudder under the force of Duo's fist. Duo's good mood had swiftly evaporated after ten minutes of waiting on the Senora's front porch.

"Maybe she went out for a little while?" Trowa ventured, eyeing Duo somewhat nervously.

"Out!?" Duo yelled, "OUT!?!?" He turned on his heel, staring straight at Wufei. "Wufei!" he snapped.

"Yes, master?" The Chinese shifter unconsciously slipped back into his old habits when faced with Duo's rage.

"What day is this?"

Wufei thought for a moment. "Saturday," he said finally.

"Then she should be here," Duo said, raising his fist to strike the door again.

Trowa reached out and caught Duo's hand before it made contact. Duo's eyes flared dangerously, the knuckles of his clenched fist white with pressure.

"Duo . . . " Trowa said softly, "we'll try the back, she could be busy with something. Didn't you say Saturday she devoted to her practice?" He wasn't referring to Lucrezia's career as a lawyer.

Wufei hesitatingly laid a hand on Duo's shoulder in mute agreement with Trowa's words. Duo's eyes narrowed dangerously, and he looked like he would strike one of them. Then the tension seeped out of his body, and he let his arm relax in Trowa's grip.

"Right. You're right. Sorry, I guess I'm just so . . . frustrated!" Duo smiled, his features easily returning to the familiar expression. He stepped down off the porch, heading towards the gate in the high fence that led to the back garden. "The door's back here," he called over his shoulder.

Wufei and Trowa exchanged a worried glance. The barely checked rage Duo had just displayed seemed very out of place for his character. Even when he and Heero had been fighting, Duo hadn't shown the sheer amount of rage as he did in that one moment on the priestess' porch. Perhaps it was because Duo had been inactive for the past week, or maybe Heero's suspicions about Lucrezia bothered the self-made killer more than he let on.

For all Wufei's banter, Duo still had power over him, power that Wufei had freely given up. And Trowa had done the same. They were both shifters, submissive to him by choice and not force, and that meant everything that went with it. And Duo . . . Duo was a man that killed. A man that killed shifters.

With that sobering thought in mind, Trowa and Wufei followed Duo through the gate and up to the basement door. Heero had invited Duo to play the game, but had anyone bothered to set out what was at stake? Or even make the rules?

+

Wufei peered into the dark hallway. The light from the open door barley pierced the darkness. He listened intently, but no sound reached his sensitive ears. He shot a questioning look at Trowa, who shook his head in the negative. He didn't hear anything either.

"Well . . ." Duo whispered, "we can sneak in, or saunter in like old friends." His voice was all but inaudible, but the two weres heard him clearly.

Wufei mouthed the word 'friends', and Trowa nodded his agreement. If anything was there, it probably already knew of their presence. Sneaking about at this point in time was merely foolishness.

"Knock, knock, Senora! You have visitors." Duo raised his voice, fumbling for the light switch as Wufei stepped into the hall. The werepanther felt something give slightly under his foot with a squishy slurping sound.

Duo chose that particular moment to find the light switch, and the basement hall flooded with light. "Ewww . . ." he said, looking down at Wufei's feet.

"Well, isn't that just WONDERFUL," Wufei said, lifting his foot and shaking it, trying to dislodge the piece of whatever that was clinging to it.

"That looks like . . ." Duo said thoughtfully and sniffing the air, "and smells like intestines. Ewww."

"Yes, yes," Wufei said, "you said ewww already, now get this thing off my foot!" He gave his leg a last violent shake, sending the trailing intestines smacking into a wall with a sick sounding slap.

"That was mildly disgusting," Trowa said conversationally. "Does Lucrezia usually have various innards lying around her house?"

Duo followed Wufei further into the house. "No, not that I'm aware of. Of course, I could be wrong," he paused. "I wonder who owns those?" he asked, nodding his head in the direction of the ropey organ.

"Whoever owns them doesn't need them now," Wufei said, glancing into a doorway. He flicked on the light. "Laundry room . . . no visible vital organs lying around in here."

"At least her laundry room is clean," Duo said, walking past Wufei as he flicked off the light. "Senora, are you home? Darling Lucrezia?"

". . . darling?" Wufei asked.

Duo shrugged, then he cursed when he turned the corner to look up the stairs. "I think I found the owner of our welcoming present."

Wufei sighed inwardly. Only since he met Duo had he developed the habit of walking in on slaughtered humans. He hoped it wasn't catching.

Trowa had walked past Wufei to stand beside Duo. "You know him?"

The Chinese shifter's disposition brightened. Well, at least the person was recognizable. He turned the corner and peered between the other two. Okay, yes, the person was recognizable, but it wasn't the whole person. In fact, it wasn't even a person anymore. It was the head of Lucrezia's zombie butler.

Duo made a 'tisk tisk' sound with his tongue. "And good slightly decomposed serving men are so hard to find these days," he said as he leaned down to take a closer look at the head.

The decapitated zombie opened its eyes, staring straight at Duo, who promptly shouted several choice curses and jumped back, landing in Trowa’s arms. "Is it supposed to do that?" Trowa asked, looking down at Duo.

"No, the damn thing shouldn't be able to do ANYTHING," Duo said, irritated. He hated being caught off guard.

The zombie was still looking at Duo, seemingly oblivious to the others. "Hello, Duo," it said pleasantly.

"Alright," Trowa said, "I know it's not supposed to be able to do that, it doesn't even have a throat anymore."

The zombie head was unconcerned with Trowa's statement. "I hope you're feeling better now, Duo, I heard you had a nasty encounter a while back," it continued in that same pleasant tone.

Duo weighed his options. One: he could run screaming from the house, and forget he ever met the Senora. Two: he could have a conversation with a decapitated talking zombie head.

"Ahh, yeah . . . . Well, I'm feeling much better now," he said, opting for the latter of the two choices. "I'd ask how you are, but . . ." he trailed off.

"Oh, don't concern yourself with that. Now, to business. I'm sure you're wondering where the Senora is."

"You could say I'm slightly curious, yes," Duo replied.

"Senora Lucrezia has decided that her interests would be best served elsewhere, so, much to her regret, the Senora is unable to see you again," the zombie head said.

"This is a permanent arrangement then?"

"Oh, yes, of course it is. I thought I had mentioned that. The Senora sends her utmost apologies for any inconvenience this may cause."

"I'm sure she does," Wufei muttered under his breath. From what he remembered of Lucrezia, the woman was unconcerned with 'inconveniencing' others.

Again, the zombie took no notice of anyone but Duo. "Now, if you'll be so kind as to excuse me, I've delivered my message, and I do believe it's time for me to go." With that, the decapitated zombie closed his eyes, and stopped moving completely.

"Just a DAMN minute here, I'm not finished yet, I want to ask you a few things," Duo raged at the now silent head.

"I don't think he's listening to you anymore, Duo," Wufei said.

"What do we do now?" Trowa asked. "Look around?"

"I guess so," Duo said, throwing a sour look at the head in the middle of the stairway and then back at Trowa. "I just hope that thing doesn't bite our ankles as we walk past."

"Uhh . . . I don't think that'll be a problem," the black-haired shifter said, pointing at the zombie's head.

Its message delivered, the head began to decompose, the magic used to animate it spent. The decomposition started slowly, then rapidly gained speed, until the head was a half-dusty, half-gooey puddle on the stairs.

"Eww," Wufei said, mimicking Duo's earlier expression.

Duo started up the stairs, giving the puddle a wide berth. "Let's get this over with, I'm sure Heero is just gnawing on his leather in frustration, waiting for us to get back."

+

[cont]