Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 16
Fourth Circle - Answers

"... binding yourselves to finding solutions together, working together for the common goal, and never leaving the other with an unsolved problem."

Jay's voice was stolid as he read the sentences quickly and efficiently out of the book he held. Besides him, G was nodding off again. Heero couldn't blame him. The small sorcerer hadn't slept much in the last three days.

Heero glanced down at the traditional gifts on the pedestal beneath his and Duo's joined hands. The two crowns glinted in the hash desert sunlight breaking through the thin windows near the ceiling of the whitewashed room. Heero was glad that they had chosen Kespar for one of the wedding circles. It signified the importance the king of Lin and the prince of Sanq accorded the wizards of the order of Crossroads, a debt that they intended to never forget for the vigilant men and women who guarded the breaches to the circles of Hell with their lives.

Also, since Jay was de facto master of ceremony, there was a lot less crap to put up with. The procedure was short, sweet and sober, Heero found it soothing.

Heero and Duo were standing in a simple circle of white sand, and there were only a dozen people present. The meal afterwards would be unostentatious and probably more enjoyable than the last few occasions. The spouses would be sitting with Quatre, a recently recovered Trowa, Wufei, Sally and Zechs, as well as the two wizards, and only a few others. Heero found himself looking forward to it.

"... and so your are bound by this circle. Wake up, you senile old crow, your snoring is hardly part of the ceremony." Jay snapped, nudging G awake.

The small wizard opened a bleary eye and glared. "And yet I warrant it's more pleasant than hearing you rabbit on about this superstitious load of crap."

"I'm sorry you feel that way about this solemn ceremony." Jay hissed. "Particularly since it's your turn to read the next bit, you loudmouthed lunatic."

"Oh hell."

They shuffled their respective positions and G squinted at the words of the ancient ritual that Jay handed him.

"Damn this is written small." He muttered in what might have been a discreet whisper if the room wasn't so small. "Do I really have to-"

"Yes. Stop talking, start preaching." Jay hissed again.

"Well don't blame me if I only make sense one word out of three."

"Don't worry, we're used to it."

" 'By this covenant you both-' say what?"

"Read!"

Duo and Heero studiously avoided each others eyes to avoid spoiling the 'solemn ceremony' even further. Gold and jade glinted beneath joined hands, catching Heero's glance. Duo had stepped in and intercepted the gaudy designs for the crowns that both countries had thought appropriate. Instead, the crowns were two simple gold circlets. Heero's had a rectangular piece of upright jade inset into the gold, and Duo's had two thin pieces of slanted ebony. Heero grudgingly decided he might even be able to wear his.

G stumbled over the simple words and stifled a yawn. Duo grinned at him in sympathy. Heero remembered the conversation with the exhausted sorcerer a few hours before the ceremony...


* Flashback*


"Well, we've done our best." G grumbled, eyes small and red in a sallow, shrunken face, from which his nose seem to rear out as if trying to escape. He was standing at the center of Jay's rarely used lab, leaning bonelessly against a rough stone altar. On it lay a broken chain, the one that had first touched Duo. It was dark grey with black streaks of dried liquid on it.

"Good, tell us and get to bed." Duo ordered, looking at his mentor worriedly. Heero thought Duo looked just as exhausted, he'd been assisting the man almost continuously, but he had the energy of youth to allow him to bounce back. Heero was still going to insist he take a few hours nap before the circles...

"Bed? Oh yeah, that thing." G muttered. "So, Heero, you figured it out yet?"

"Treize is alive." Heero ground out. "I got that much."

"Well, 'alive' is a very relative term." G picked up the broken chain spattered with a dark substance. "If he were alive, this would be his dried blood on the links. As it is it's barely recognizable as human. He's apparently been through considerable... changes."

"But it's still effective in a blood spell." Heero glowered at the coils of chain. "That's how he's cutting off our power, by giving a blood spell talisman to his fiends. When we come into contact with it, it-... Shouldn't it only affect-" He caught himself quickly.

Jay glanced around. "I'm sorry, could I ask you to leave, Quatre? And the honourable shaman?" He added with a grin and a mock bow.

"Don't call me that!" Wufei snapped. "And I'm not leaving Duo! I was forced to agree to this 'picnic' insanity-"

"And you played your role very well." Duo said smoothly. "You screamed so loudly about it I'm sure they heard you all the way to Linheights. The spy certainly heard about our solitary midnightpicnic."

"So we went ahead and used you as bait, but we didn't even manage to capture a fiend, and we still haven't figured out who the spy is yet." Wufei ground out. "That means you're still in danger!"

"Well, as for the spy, we now know we need to check the wizards of Treize's acquaintance. Amon is compiling a list of Kushrenada's old allies, we just need to decide the best way to tackle them. Do you think you could check with Amon about that for me?" Duo smiled kindly as Wufei glared. "I'm perfectly safe here, Wuffee, don't worry."

"Wufei." Onyx eyes glared at him, then rested briefly on Heero as the oriental man spun and left. Heero felt that he'd been put in charge of security. Someone else would have laughed at the intent, but he took it seriously.

"Right." Jay closed the door after the pair. Quatre was already gone, eager to get back to his lover's bedside. Trowa was still resting after the reading into the future, which had exhausted and strained him without showing much as a result. Under the influence of Jay's magic he had said something strange, about a child's shield and the joining in darkness. But mainly, the result was just that something big and nasty was likely to occur in the near future.

They'd all guessed that much.

"So, Heero, your question was going to be, why is Duo affected by contact with the blood spell when you are Treize's son?" Two hard pieces of glass measured Heero, once the door was closed and the spouses and the two wizards were alone.

"Hn."

"We're not sure. But I find it hard to be surprised. Duo's dark magic is entirely inherited from Treize, through you. Granted, a blood spell shouldn't follow that kind of logic, by the books, but what you two share is outside of any book I've ever read so we're making it up as we go along anyway."

"Great. So there's no way to counter the effect."

"Not without getting rid of the source of the blood." G grinned ghoulishly.

"And what have you learned about that?" Heero's eyes flicked between the two mages and Duo, impatient for information. The prince of Sanq had taken over the search for the spy and finishing the preparation for the circles to let his husband work with G; he didn't have much to contribute to the arcane side of things anyway.

"Well... " G sighed, and suddenly looked his age. He'd known Treize, and though he'd not approved of the man's militarism, he'd admitted to grudgingly admiring his courage, his perseverance and his power. "It's not good, I'm afraid. And we still don't know just how bad it is. But in a nutshell... Thirteen years ago, when Treize tried to rip open the breach, and the spell backfired... it didn't just kill a lot of people, it apparently pulled Treize and anyone near him into the various circles of Hell."

"I thought nothing human could live there."

"We're still not sure about how they survived. If you can call it that. It's as if Treize and his fellow sorcerers became... integrated into the circles. But they remain partly human as well. Which allows them to survive in our world, and escape spells that can control fiends. And use human magic like teleportation, and blood spells and such. It's a pretty powerful package. I'm really not liking what we're up against."

G stared blankly at the bare stone wall, rich with dust that had crept in from the wastes around Jay's compound for the many decades he'd been there. It speckled the light coming in from the small windows high up the wall. The scene was too bright, too clean and simple for the subject they were discussing. In the corners shadows crawled.

"The thing is... " G continued, as if he didn't want to hear his own words. "There's something here we don't understand. For Treize and his followers to escape into our world, and survive with their fiendish powers intact, there has to be a breach open. Somewhere.

"I know you sent guards to double-check the Gap of Sevring, Heero, and it seems a very likely candidate, but I'm pretty sure it's not there." G's eyes were unfocused, and he was talking almost to himself. "I went there several times myself since we got rid of Septim's wards and sealed the breach, to check it and to honour Hess."

"Who?" Duo glanced up from the small stool he'd been occupying, to stop himself from pacing around like a cat looking for its kittens.

"Master Hess... He was the guardian of crossroads at the Gap of Sevring when Treize arrived there. The man Treize murdered to get to the breach and tear it open. He was... a friend of ours, as well as a colleague." Jay nodded minutely. "Several members of our order have visited the place he died in the past few months, to pay their respects. None of them reported any signs of activity of the breach, and they would have noticed. It's definitely sealed. Treize and the breach are somewhere else.

"I don't know where though. I don't know HOW, and why it's not allowing other fiends in, and how Treize is involved in all this. I'm afraid we came up a bit short." G showed his fatigue by the dull edge to his voice and the way his shoulders slumped.

"But we can guess why Treize wants us." Heero felt an ache in his shoulders, the tension of the last few days eating into him. His father, his father all along... As if living with the heritage alone wasn't bad enough. "Since the world hasn't gone to hell yet, we can assume something is wrong with the breach, it's not fully open or something. So Treize wants Duo -and me- for the same reason Septim did, to use our powers to rip it fully open. As the last fiend said, 'you will serve him and then you will be the first to die at the clutches of our masters'. Can... can Treize force our cooperation through the blood spell?"

"No." Jay's voice was categorical. "What a trip to hell has done to him is anyone's guess, but blood spells obey human laws. He can influence you subtly, he can block the power in your blood, he can bring you more bad luck than a sackfull of black cats, but he cannot rule your fully aware will. He can try to break it though... I don't need to go into details about that, do I?"

"Hn."

Which translated loosely as: We need to find that spy, we need to learn where Treize is, and we need to kill him. Badly.


* End Flashback *


" '... walk along the path, side by side, until fate itself ends'. Okay, let's go eat." G closed the book with a clap. Heero and Duo smiled at each other as they let their hands drop, and turned towards the exit where people were already starting to stream towards the dining hall.

Somebody caught Heero's arm. "A word, Yuy." Jay grunted.

Heero nodded and turned towards Duo to apologize, only to see his spouse being dragged away by G.

"Did something else come up?" Something to make it even worse, if that was imaginable?

"No, I just thought this would be a good occasion to have a chat." Jay ground out the last word and Heero glanced at him in surprise. Jay had been known to go for a whole week without saying a single word; a 'chat' was very unlike him.

"The runt has a theory." Jay's greying moustache twitched in direction of G. Heero saw him and Duo talking earnestly off to one corner, well, G was talking with a smirk on his tired face and Duo was listening with a look of... utter embarrassment, Heero realized with surprise.

"What theory?"

"He's been studying the bond between the two of you, trying to figure out why the blood spell affects Duo. He came up with something else instead. He could be wrong, and I don't care either way." Jay said with his usual charm, before getting to the point.

"He thinks the wedding circles might have some effect on you and Duo after all. It's not supposed to, but he thinks it's combining with the particular bond between you two. G thinks it might have a rather strange effect on the way your magic behaves. When you are using it together that is."

"We don't use it together. We haven't since that time at the Gap."

"Which, considering the level of force you unleashed, is a wise decision. G was thinking more along the lines of accidental leakage, slips of control. Not... entirely conscious, due to... the heat of the moment." Jay looked like he was chewing glass.

Heero realized what the Lin wizard might have been referring to. "Ah." He glanced back at G and Duo. The king of Lin's cheeks were still flaming but he was now listening attentively to the leering mage.

"If it's the wedding circles that are causing the problem, why is it not getting worse?" Heero decided not to deny or dodge the statement. Maybe the masters could help.

"It's not? Well that's a relief. The circles are only amplifying the problem."

"Yes, this bloody bond between myself and Duo." Heero ground out, thinking how many times his involuntary abuse of the link forced in their earliest childhood had cursed him and Duo.

"That's the motor of the problem, I grant you, but it's not actually the cause either." Jay was glaring at the graceful clepsydra against the far wall as if he could boil the water with a glance. "The root of the problem is in your two characters, part of which I am to- the cause of."

"Characters?" Heero stared at him uncertainly.

"The link between you doesn't have to be any more destructive than the bond between Quatre and Trowa. The extreme polarity of your characters is what's causing problems- and I'm not asking what kind of problems or in what circumstances, I'm not that interested! You see, Duo can barely control his magic at the best of times, as we both know. While you... you're very good at suppressing and controlling your emotions and instincts, including your magical ones. I'm... very proud of the work you put into that, Heero, and it allowed you to drag the world back from the brink of Hell. But now I think it may be harming you."

"Going insane will harm me a lot more." Heero said tightly. Why were they talking about this, about something that couldn't be changed...

"Agreed. But maybe that doesn't need to happen."

Jay stared at Duo through the thick glass of his specs, face unreadable. "He's got a strong soul and a stronger heart. I think he can help you, if you let him. Perfection is a cold thing, Heero, an image etched in glass, frozen in time. It's not meant for anything human. I thought you would die at the Gap so I made no effort to think of how it would affect you in the long term. Neither did you."

"I can keep it up." Heero said, glacially, though he feared the implications, particularly in his relations to Duo.

"You might be able to. Whether you should is another question." Jay's voice had dropped to barely a whisper. "You're a living, evolving human being and a young one at that. You are bound to run into situations that you cannot predict, that your control cannot anticipate. And when you let your control slip... that's when things happen. Your control fails completely, over your emotions but also your magic, and this crashes into Duo's natural lack of restraint, and sparks fly. Or worse.

"You need to learn to follow your emotions, get familiar with them, and let them run without losing the reins on them. Then your control over your power will remain. That should take care of the problem."

"But the madness-"

"Is mainly linked to the use of magic, so as long as you avoid that... trust Duo's strength for the rest. Trust your own for that matter. It's considerable."

"But... the risk... "

"Is part of what living is all about. Don't make us both regret you didn't die at the Gap, boy. You deserve better. Now come on, let's go get something to eat and then I am going to collapse and sleep until tomor-"

"Wait, what about the-... the accidental magic problem."

Jay glanced back at him, scowling. "No idea, not really my domain. G's not sure either. But... I'll say one thing. If it seems to be getting better, then maybe you're already adapting to these new emotions by yourself. Seems reasonable, you are a quick learner after all, and so is Duo. So the more you... ah, put yourselves in the circumstances where you can become familiar with the feelings, with the unexpected reactions, the better it will slowly get."

"Really?" Heero's mouth had gone dry and his heart rate had unexplainedly increased.

"That's the theory. Er, do me a favour and don't try it out around here? I don't want to have to rebuild my compound because you two decided to practice -whatever."

"... right."

Jay stomped off, muttering about 'sentimental hogwash' and 'consider that a wedding gift because I'm damned if it becomes a habit' under his breath, following G and a flame-faced Duo who'd already gone to the feast. Heero lagged behind.

Follow your emotions? Oh right, after years of suppressing them, that was going to be a breeze. Not. And what was that about... practice? Heero felt his own cheeks flush a bit. How the hell were they supposed to do that? He didn't know about Duo but personally having things blow up around him didn't put him in the mood for flirting.

Later. They'd have time to think about... experimenting these new feelings and sensations later, hopefully without destroying anything too important in the process. There were too many other things to worry about first.

And 'later' also went for him learn to follow his emotions. Because right now they were trying to tell him that in putting this off indefinitely, he was robbing Duo and himself of something so precious as to be unquantifiable, and his heart ached with feelings he couldn't explain or ignore.

*

The chaotic creature writhed and flailed, screams ripping from the various gaps and openings that served as mouths whenever they appeared in the constantly changing flesh. Anguish rang through the howls.

It's definite. Chain is gone. I'm sorry.

The voice of ice was as compassionate as it could be, which was very little indeed.

It seems we've underestimated them again. Your son is quite resourceful. Him and... Zechs' child. I still can't get over that. Fate has an irony worthy of the deepest circle of hell.

"NnnnNN:nnn... "

We can't send the tortured one, I can barely restrain him here. Hunger won't stand a chance. Decay can't do anything without a supply of corpses... If only we could have found the last two... or if Fire had survived. What do we do now?

"NnnNN!!Nnnn... we waiT."

Wait? What for?

"For my s0n and tHe other To f1nd Us."

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