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


AN: For Dannee-san and anybody else who may be a bit lost, here's a little recap on the Circles business. For a proper explanation of what the Circles of Hell are in this fic, refer to the notes at the end of chapter 12. The circles of Hell are not the same as the marriage circles, there's no connection (unless you're having a really bad marriage...). Here's a recap of which fiend goes with which circle:

One: Limbo - The place where dead souls dwell.
Two: Sorrow - We saw this fiend on the 'morning after' chapter, he was the spy.
Three: Hunger - Second fiend we saw, in the fortress of the bandit who had captured Heero, looks like a skinny woman.
Four: Flesh - Grey fleshy demon in the very first chapter. Get your mitts off Duo, you bastard!
Five: Chains - The one who attacked the pair during the 'picnic'
Six: Void - This fiend never showed up, its masters decided they didn't want to participate in the effort to invade earth.
Seven: Darkness - ditto, a no show.
Nine: Decay - The master of the 'dead things' that attacked the party at Maseng and is defending Treize now.
Ten: Fire - The burning guy who attacked the pair at the lodge (and who involuntarily led to their first kiss so I guess I forgive him)
Eleven: Pain - We're about to meet him.
Twelve: Ice - Same thing.
Thirteen: Chaos - Treize himself...

Hope that clears things up! And now we return to your regular program...

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 20
Into The Noose

Duo's voice was barely a breath in the darkness. Heero didn't shush him, knowing his husband needed to break the hold of the cloying gloom around them.

"Remind me again why we're doing this, just the two of us, alone like a couple of idiots?"

"Surprise is our best weapon, if we can do this while the others distract -"

"Yes but why us?" Duo muttered, although he knew.

"Because I'm the only sorcerer who can close an open breach who's not over the age of sixty. Remind me why you're here with me?"

"Because I threatened you until you agreed."

"Hn."

"I wouldn't have let you go alone anyway. Closing the breach at the Gap of Sevring almost killed you, moron."

"This will hopefully be easier. For me, that is; my magic is in tune with Treize's. The breach should be much smaller than the one at the Gap."

"Yeah and Treize will be sitting on it. You need my help. This way, right?"

"Yes."

"Whoa."

They turned a sharp corner in the forgotten passageway, faintly outlined in grey. Beyond were the catacombs. Far up, cracks in the ceiling let in trickles of distant sunlight, subjugated to a muted pearl by the darkness unwilling to fully relinquish its domain. They could see ahead a bit, they were in a series of long vaulted corridors, with openings leading to shrines and ossuaries. Heero saw Duo glance away from the pitiful remains of living, breathing, laughing, crying men and women, all wearing the same mask of death, uniform now in row upon row of bones.

"This is just so appropriate to Treize you have to just-"

"Shh."

"How did we dare come this way when we were kids?" Duo whispered as he carefully skirted a half-broken skull that had rolled into the catacomb's corridor from a bulging ossuary.

"We didn't know what these were. Shh."

The few slashes of light were heavy and dull with the dust of centuries. Some of the vaulting of the ceiling had crumbled inward, and they glanced nervously above their heads. Heero could feel his senses prickle in the motionless air; a feeling he'd not had since the Gap. A faint stirring of evil, of malice beyond anything a human could achieve; something that hated their world, hated life itself and also longed for both with a passion that chilled him. There was definitely a breach around here somewhere. But it wasn't as bad as Sevring, so probably it wasn't too big, they'd have a chance to-

The faint scrabbling sound was loud in the dusty silence, but the echoes off the walls of the catacombs fooled Heero for that precious extra second-

"Duo-!"

Something dropped from the vaulted ceiling straight onto his husband. Heero's sword darted forward, stabbing, but only cut cloth as the thin form leapt from Duo, thrown to his knees by the impact. A scrabble of bony limbs and skittering rock and it darted away into darkness.

Duo, face white and furious, lifted his hand to blast. Nothing happened.

"Shit!"

Heero started to run after the thin form of the fiend Hunger but Duo caught him in passing.

"Let me- if I kill it-!" Heero tried to pull from the grasp.

"She's too fast! You'll never catch her!"

"But if I don't kill her you won't get your powers back!"

"Unless we get far enough away to-"

"No! We'll lose the advantage of surprise! You go back and I'll -"

"I'm not letting you go alone, Yuy!"

Duo's words smashed the darkness. Violet eyes blazed into Heero's.

Alone...Heero had been trained to throw away his life to close the breach of Sevring. He nearly had, but Duo hadn't let him. Now he had to do it again. The world was at stake. But...

Follow your feelings.

The world started with this man here. Because Heero loved him, and couldn't leave him alone, ever again.

"Okay." He said, and the eyes fastened on his widened in surprise, then relieved joy. Duo would probably have followed him anyway. For an instant, Heero contemplated a possible plan of action. Punch Duo out, leave him here, close the breach come what may...but his burgeoning feelings made Heero aware of just what it would feel like if it were the other way around. If he were the one to wake up, sucker-punched in a cold ossuary, to discover a gaping hole where his heart used to be, a part of his soul torn away with his lover's life...he couldn't do that to Duo. Even if he tried, the knowledge of what it would do to his other half would rob him of his control, and he'd surely fail.

"Okay." He repeated. "We go back, we regroup, we think up a new plan. A frontal attack I guess. It will be costly; magic and weapons don't seem effective against Decay's forces. But it should work and it's probably the best plan now that we've lost the element of surprise. Even if your powers weren't compromised, Hunger will warn the others...Treize has not ripped open the breach yet, that means he probably can't, so we -"

A clatter of rocks behind them, and a long bubbling moan.

"Yes." Duo said dully as he turned around. "That would have been a good plan."

"Damn..."

The thing staggered into the other end of the vaulted corridor they were in. For an instant Heero thought - hoped - it was a soldier from the battle in the grounds above, wounded...Then it raised its head.

Duo was used to fiends and Heero was hardened beyond human endurance but they both shuddered and took an instinctive step back.

The thing turned, still hunched over its inescapable pain, and stared at them with the single intact eye. The other one dangled obscenely from its socket, swaying slightly with the fiend's shuddering movements. It staggered forward, gaze fixed on them. The light gleamed stickily off of the muscles revealed by the flayed skin, coiling raw red, run through with blue veins seeping blood and fluids. The flesh was ruptured with broken bone, they could hear grinding noises as it walked. Duo made a sound in the back of his throat.

The creature's head jerked back in three painful movements. A jaw, ligaments long torn, hung open and shuddered with a bubbling howl.

The spouses turned as one and started to run down the corridor. Got to get away, find an exit, Heero thought, then his mind shattered in amazement and horror as he realized it was running after them. He could imagine the crushed legs bending unnaturally, bone working through meat as it pounded after them. Of course, it thinks it's a fiend and can't feel pain. Well, no, it is Pain, but it can still function anyway.

Duo dodged down a side-corridor and immediately leapt back, almost knocking Heero over. Ahead of them, four near-skeletal corpses staggered. Heero cursed, grabbed Duo's hand and ran away again. They had to find an exit, one that wasn't yet guarded by the dead! The catacombs were riddled with holes and passages, they couldn't be guarding them all!

"Test your powers!" He snapped. "We might get far enough away from Hunger for you to-"

"Not yet!" Duo gasped, glancing fearfully behind them. Pain was still following. Occasionally splatters of fluid and blood erupted from a broken vein on the flayed form, and the bubbling howl echoed again, drowning the repetitive crunch of bone, breaking, mending, breaking again, forever.

Heero swore as five dead creatures formed a barrier in the corridor ahead of him. His pitiful mage blasts would probably not be enough to shove them away, and his sword would be useless against that many. He knew perfectly well where they were being herded to, but he also knew that alone he couldn't get through the wall of corpses, or defeat Pain, and-

They staggered as they entered a room that tugged at a distant memory.

It had once been a wine cellar - they were probably close to one of the other buildings now - and it had been where Heero and Duo had hid from her Ladyship, too exhausted to run further, all those years ago. Where Heero had first used his powers to insure that she couldn't punish Duo, couldn't in fact tell which one Duo was, couldn't separate them.

The wine cellar had appeared big to the children, but it was bigger now. The wall against which they'd crouched had been torn down and a huge cavernous space ripped from the primal rock opened in darkness instead. Two fires near the far side of the huge space glittered off of-...something. Something that gleamed and slithered and writhed.

Duo groaned, and glanced desperately around for an exit. Heero hesitated then pulled him forward. There was a pillar near the center of the space, once part of the now-vanished wall, a buttress for the vaulted ceiling. If they had to make a fight of it, they should get their backs to that. Heero didn't bother to look at the figure between the two fires at the far side of the room. He'd deal with his father when he had the chance, assuming he was still alive. Right now the priority was getting out. He didn't know what chance he had against the fiends hemming them in but he no longer had a choice but to try.

Pain had halted just inside the door, flanked by several of the dead. Then Hunger squirmed in behind them, hanging back prudently. Heero put his back to the column, feeling Duo take a place at his side, long dagger drawn. The fiends at the door appeared to be in no hurry to advance, so Heero glanced behind them, assessing how much danger the last two hellspawn would be.

"Treize won't attack us." He whispered, a small glimmer of relief blossoming in his heart. Duo stared at him as if he'd gone mad, eyes flickering towards the writhing obscenity between the two fires. It was no longer even remotely human; it was a huge mass of bloated, mutating flesh, erupting with ichor, twitching tentacles, clattering chitinous insect legs that grew and broke off, or withered and plunged back into the seething, gaping flesh, cutting it open. The wounds suppurated black fluids, or opened wider to reveal a screaming mouth or a swimming eyeball -...it was beyond a nightmare.

"All his power and attention are on the breach." Heero explained in a whisper. His senses, more attuned to the holes in the world and his father's magic, could feel Treize's battle with the breach. It's so small, he must be constantly fighting to keep it open, Heero guessed, surprised at the massive effort it was costing him. Dreadful forces roiled and rippled the air and caused the fires to dance. The creature was aware of their presence, but none of the mismatched eyes swimming around the pulsating mass had fixed on them; they were huge and blank and focused inward on the struggle of mind against physics. Damn, if they'd not been found, Heero would have had a good chance of closing the breach without Treize's interference...Heero concentrated on the other fiends present.

"Keep an eye on the other one though, I don't know what he can do." Heero whispered. Duo nodded, tearing his eyes away from the obscene remains of the former king of Lin to watch the second fiend near him. One of the walls of the cavern was covered in ice, and in the grip of that extrusion from Tartarus the fiend from the twelfth circle of hell was barely visible. Humanoid, limbs twisted and broken by the ice that was probably shifting at the rate of glaciers, slowly grinding him over the years. Skin shredded by the flow. Nose, fingers, eyelids, toes eaten away by the ice. Heero didn't know what it could do, caught in ice like that, but remembering the Fire fiend, he was willing to bet it would be more dangerous than Pain. But it didn't seem to be in a hurry to attack.

Suddenly Pain screamed like someone getting his soul ripped out, and attacked.

Heero took two steps forward, sword swinging. And yelled in surprise as his muscles cramped and shuddered.

"Heero!" He could hear Duo scream behind him, as his blood started to roar in his ears. Agony ripped through him, but he still managed to bring his sword to bear, avoiding a vicious blow to his head.

Pain we need him alive! The voice echoed from the ice at the far side of the cavern, in a creak of glaciers and a tone long wrung of emotions by the continuous crush of cold.

"I...'ow..." the thing hacked, jaw flapping as it swung at Heero again.

The fight was brief, Heero could do little with his own body racked with pain, which seemed to get worse the closer the creature got to him. When it grabbed his wrist the agony was so strong he didn't even feel his sword drop from his hand. He could hear Duo scream his name behind him, trying to get near even as he fought against one of the corpses that had come up to grab him.

I'm sorry, love...Heero could feel darkness overwhelm him. The fiend was simply holding him. Apparently the creature realized that he was needed alive. Which meant that not only were he and Duo going to die, eventually, but if Treize and his hellspawn forced him to obey him - and he might, if Pain got his hands on Duo... - it was a mistake to bring him, the whole thing a mistake...the world was going to end, and, racked with agony as he was, Heero knew he couldn't stop it.

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