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

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 5
Hunger

Heero and Trowa's hands were untied only when they'd been shoved in a cell deep under the holt's main building. It was a small stone enclosure, windowless and dank. The only thing in it was a thick scarred wooden bench running along the back wall, and a small drain for calls of nature, it was to be supposed. The dusty smell in the air indicated the place had not been used in a long while. In fact, as they'd been pushed down into the cellars to reach the cell, they'd noticed most of the rooms underground were empty. This was only a temporary hideout; apparently the whole gang would be breaking camp and leaving with them, if the flurry of packing and sorting was to be believed.

Trowa and Heero settled down on the bench to wait. Trowa gathered up a long leg against his chest, glanced around at the cell, which was barely illuminated by light glimmering from torches burning on the other side of the thick oak door, then turned steady green eyes on Heero.

"So... what were we talking about before we were so rudely interrupted?"

Heero scowled. "Not that again!"

Trowa had been as companiably silent as Heero had come to expect for the morning ride out of Linheights, but when they'd turned towards home and taken a moment to let their horses rest, he'd begun doing something completely unexpected; asking questions. About Heero's marriage.

Specifically, what Heero thought of the marriage to Duo.

Specifically, what Heero thought about Duo.

Heero had been almost grateful for the ambush.

He didn't know what had come over Trowa. Heero had told him once, weeks ago, that he loved Duo as his best friend, like a brother really. Trowa had said nothing but had given him a look. Heero decided the laconic gipsy had been hanging around Quatre too much since their victory at the Gap. He was becoming addled-brained and romantic. He seemed somehow persuaded that Heero should be feeling even more towards the man he'd married - was in the process of marrying, seeing that the circles of bonds and blood would take several weeks to complete. Heero didn't know where Trowa had picked up this ridiculous notion, it wasn't as if-

"So... looks like someone is after Duo again."

This distracted Heero with some relief and he scowled.

"Hn. I wish we could find out who they were, and if it's the same people as the last attempt. Maybe we'll find out when they take us to 'the buyers', tonight?"

It was a question, and also a plan, but Trowa, with a glance at the door where guards were shifting outside, shook his head with the smallest movement.

"I think, once Duo finds out you've been taken, he'll react rather... hastily."

"A level-headed person by his side could try to restrain him and make him see the advantages of patience?"

Trowa'slips quirked. "I doubt it, and besides, I'm rather attached to that level-headed person, so I'd rather he didn't even try. He might get badly singed."

"Hn."

"... Strange they seem to want him alive."

Heero frowned. He'd been worrying about that. It was bad enough someone had teleported a fiend into his husband's bedroom -and that must have also required insider knowledge- this was even more daring and elaborate. This required organization, planning, and, he hoped, would have left them some clues to follow once the plan fell through.

But it was strange they wanted the most powerful of the new generation of sorcerers alive. That sounded ominous. Last time someone had wanted to use Duo's powers, it had been Septim, trying to rip open a hole in the world to let loose the demons of hell.

The breach at the Gap of Sevring was now sealed and well guarded. But there were many others, especially in Lin. Would someone other than Septim be mad enough to try this? Or were they after something else entirely?

"That raider will know who he's trying to sell me to." Heero murmured. Trowa nodded once. They'd have to get their hands on the man intact, well, fairly intact, and get to the bottom of this.

Silence fell between the two reserved men. In the dank cell deep underground, they couldn't see dusk gathering at the outskirts of the holt, but they did hear the distant jangle of gear as horses were made ready.

The quiet of the gathering evening, barely rippled by the sounds of their captors preparing to haul them off to their final destination, was suddenly ripped apart by a loud wham, followed by a small clatter of falling bricks.

Neither men stirred, though Trowa glanced at the ceiling.

Several loud hisses were followed by a thump of something exploding noisily into flames.

Trowastraightened.

"It sounds like your ridiculously overpowered husband has arrived."

"Hn."

Silence. In the cell that is. Outside, several people were screaming at the top of their lungs, and something was creaking alarmingly.

A huge bang caused several streams of dust and decade-old soot to cascade from the cell's ceiling.

Heero gave it a glance.

"Quatre is with him." Trowa said laconically. So Duo knew where they were.

The ground shook, a long slow rumble, and several loud pops echoed nearby.

Silence (between them).

"Of course this is Duo we're talking about... "

"Hn."

Something went whirring past the top of the building with a whikety-whikety-whikety noise, quickly followed by an earth-shattering blast that rocked the torches in their holders outside the cell. Debris clattered and pounded the roof far above their heads.

Heero and Trowa glanced at each other then crawled under the sturdy wooden bench, the only protection in the cell.

"You two are married."

"Hn."

"Can't you teach him some self-restraint?"

"He's just worried about-" There were several possible answers to Trowa's question, 'Hn' being the most obvious, but somehow that was the one that came out of his mouth and in an oddly protective tone. Heero scowled. It was particularly annoying because of course Trowa was right; as far as Duo was concerned, restraint had run for cover long ago.

Trowa let a small grin flit over his laconic features. Its meaning was clear.

You've got it bad, Yuy.

Heero's scowl deepened until it was almost as dangerous as the explosions which were starting to die down in amplitude, although they were getting nearer.

A clatter of feet echoed in the hallway and they saw the flickering shadows of men running past the cell door outside. Running away. Very fast.

Then a light scuffle of boots. "Heero?!"

"Here."

Heero prudently stayed beneath the bench.

Three seconds later the door had met its maker and had been reincarnated as a set of toothpicks. Heero and Trowa were showered with smoking sawdust, pelted with debris and momentarily chocked by fumes.

Heero glanced up, his heart in his throat. The cell's doorway seemed too small and mundane to hold the figure glowing there, he seemed to burst out of its confines (unless the building was starting to crumble... ). Claws of darkness chased feathers of bright flame around the young man in a slow roil of destruction, clothing Heero's husband in robes of fire and light and death. His face, almost too beautiful a gem for such a cruel bracket, shone in the reflected fire, eyes like amethyst set in ivory, framed by cascading brown silk - Heero shook himself sharply. Must be the fumes.

"Duo, could you power down a bit? We're safe."

"So far." Trowa muttered.

"Heero?!" Duo's gaze darted around him. The remains of the door started to smolder on the bent and twisted hinges. "Hee- what are you doing under there?" The flames and the fury started to die down a bit. Heero waited a few seconds and crawled out from under the bench.

"Well... " And Heero found himself unable to say anything snippy about self-restraint and Duo's lack of it. To his surprise he was immensely relieved to see the braided sorcerer, an unusual surge of emotion for him. He'd not liked the way the raider lord had mentioned that 'the buyers' would be 'ready for him', once they'd had their hands on Heero. His husband would have been walking right into a trap at that point.

"You... look okay." Duo sounded a bit uncertain, which, coming from someone who'd just blow away half a stone fort, was almost funny.

"Hn."

A short silence, highlighted by the crackling of burning wood and the crash of a collapsing building outside, was shattered by a shout as a lithe form barreled through the remains of Duo's magefire, and hurtled at Trowa as he crawled out from under the bench.

"Trowa! Thank the gods you're all right!"

"Quatre." Trowa's calm voice was rich with unspoken emotion as he gently hugged the young man in his arms. "Thank you for coming so quickly, love."

"Nothing in the world would have stopped me!"

"I know, little terror, I know." Trowa's voice and smile indicated he meant it. Love, joy, pride warmed the green eyes as Quatre swept the long bang from his forehead as he checked his lover for injury.

Heero suddenly wished he could grab the awkward silence that skulked between him and Duo and snap its neck. But then he refocused, forgetting the contrast between them and the pair of young lovers, to concentrate on the more important issue.

"Duo, on your way down, did you happen to see a man in a big dining hall with his face in a plate?"

Duo stared at him, eyes wide.

"I think the kitchen's closed, Yuy." Trowa said, moving forward with his arm around his lover. "Why don't we see if we can invite him to dinner at the palace in Lingheights."

"Hn. Duo, do you have a sword I can borrow?"

"Er, no."

"I guess I'll just have to use my fists, then. Come on. And don't blow anything up, we need him alive."

"Oh okay." Duo grumbled, glad for some action to banish the strange sense of awkwardness that had kindled between them. Damn Quatre and Trowa for being so, so... so demonstrative, anyway.

*

The raider lord was still in the dining hall, which, since it was above the prison, was fairly intact. Apparently his captain had come to get him when Duo had attacked.

What happened after that, however...

Duo muttered 'whoa' and Quatre gasped.

The lord had apparently attacked his captain while the man's back was turned, with his thin spidery hands and a dinner knife. And had then tried to eat him.

Heero, deep in the refuge of cold clarity that Jay had gifted him with, noted the tracks of bite marks running down the captain's exposed skin, the side of his face, his shoulder... One vicious rip had taken out the man's throat, and blood had spayed over the armor and the fallen halberd. The lord lay on the body of his captain, blood and flesh hanging from an open mouth. He was dead.

"This is the guy who-who-" Duo stuttered. He'd seen a lot in Lin, he wasn't overly upset by the grotesque tableau, but he didn't understand it. "Why's he- why's he like that?"

The lord was barely recognizable, and not because of the mask of blood and death he was wearing. The thing lying atop the captain's body was in fact barely describable as human; a dry withered object, like a scarecrow without the straw, skin tightened over bones as if ready to rip, the bones themselves like brittle sticks ready to break, not a muscle or lick of flesh left between the two.

"Duo, is your magic working?"

Duo started with surprise, tearing his eyes away from the obscenity. Power rushed to his fingertips in a pulse of his heart, clearing his mind in a rush of fire. "Where?"

"Over there." Heero nodded at the long table on the dais.

Over a few remaining plates of food, something was squatting like a spider. The woman in the russet dress was crouching on the table, hovering a few inches away from a spilled dish. Her skirt was carelessly hiked up to uncover long thin legs that were as fleshless as the lord's, but where his eyes were lifeless, hers were burning with hunger so intense it seemed to convulse her bony body to the breaking point. Her thin lips were parted over sharp white teeth, a pale white tongue flickered in and out, as if trying to lap up the smell of the food from the air. But she kept hovering, holding back, inching forward then jerking away, face contorted beyond humanity by- no, that thing had never been human in the first place.

"What in all the thirteen circles of hell is that?" Duo asked calmly, a hand slowly lifting towards the creature.

At the sound of his voice, and Heero's movement forward, the thing on the table twitched a fleshless face towards them. Huge eyes, pupils narrowed to pinpoints despite the darkness of the hall, flicked between the two of them.

It hissed. A prickle danced up and down Heero's spine. It was as if something was reaching out to him... a faint stirring of hunger, for something that could never be satisfied. The creature skittered around on all fours and perched on the edge of the table like a cat about to pounce, lips widening in a snarl.

"We need it alive. Or not too badly blown up." Heero muttered.

"Yeah, yeah." Duo's voice was tight but under control. Behind them, Trowa was prosaically picking up the halberd, and tossing an abandoned spear to Quatre. It went without saying that however this creature was stopped, it wasn't going to get within striking distance of any of them. They weren't going to take a chance of ending up like the hag-ridden former lord.

The creature didn't seem to notice, or care, about anybody but Duo, except... at the sound of Heero's voice, the eyes had flickered between them again. Now the figure took a careful step back, hunching upon itself like a leather bag of bones, nose sniffing the air, tongue flicking as if to taste...

"Both... "

The voice was a rattle of bone.

"Both... I don't understand... both... "

Suddenly the creature darted away, still on all fours, and made for the other end of the hall. Duo stepped forward and coolly sent a small stream of force smashing after it. The table and chairs were swept aside, the logs fell in the fireplace, the russet skirt started to snap-

The creature leapt sideways and landed, hands and bare feet first, against the wall. And skittered away, up towards the rafters, long bony extremities gasping and clicking over stone.

"Well that's something you don't see every day... " Duo muttered as he sent another stream of power to knock her off. But she leapt again, barely escaping the force that hit the wall next to her as she skittered still upwards.

"Don't hit the rafters!" Heero hissed. "You'll bring the place down!"

"Damn." Duo growled as the thing vanished in the darkness of the rafters above. Then he spun towards Trowa and Quatre who had their weapons pointed above their heads. "Q, get your guys to surround the place, and tell them to call me if they spot it! Don't let them get near-"

"I know." Quatre snapped, tossing his pike to Heero and darting outside.

Heero held the spear loosely, his eyes on the rafters, but without much hope. He dropped his gaze to the fleshless body of his former captor and his victim and shook his head.

He didn't think they'd find the creature again. They'd just lost their lead. And this time, it was almost certain another attack would occur, sooner or later.

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