Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 25
The Gap

"So... How's your back doing?" Duo draped an apparently affectionate arm around Heero's shoulders and tugged him close, leering.

They'd had little time or information to prepare much of a plan the night before, and they'd headed towards the Gap before first light. They were improvising a lot, so communication on the fly was important. As a means to that end, Duo was playing up his apparent 'relation' with the dour captain to Septim and the two council observers with him so that the cousins could talk as privately as possible while walking a few feet behind the enemy.

Duo quelled any lingering thought that he was not minding this ruse as much as he probably should. If he was enjoying this, it was just that he was glad to see his cousin again after all these years, despite... everything, that's all. The fact that he'd wanted to do this with Yuy on occasion before the ball dropped was just because... well, he'd probably recognized Heero on some deeper level underneath all the magic and misdirection and yeah, ok, concentrate. End of the world. And all that.

Heero didn't seem to mind the closeness either, though he was in all likelihood doing it entirely for Septim's benefit. Duo didn't care though, as Heero slipped an arm around his waist and hugged him somewhat awkwardly. The first time they'd done that Wu Fei had walked straight into a rock, so there really was no way he couldn't enjoy this.

Duo had wanted to leave Wu Fei behind, as this was going to be very dangerous, and he couldn't bear the thought of him getting hurt just as he'd gained his freedom. Heero had pointed out though that Wu Fei was his right hand and that Septim might get suspicious if he wasn't with them for no good reason. Duo had tried to get Wu Fei to play sick before they left, so that he'd have a good excuse to leave him behind without Septim smelling a rat. But the oriental youth had immediately sensed something was up and had raised a stink.

Duo couldn't blame him. Wu Fei was slowly getting to a place where he might be able to move on from the events that had scarred his childhood. Move on with a gentle, smiling lieutenant with soothing, healer's hands, Duo was betting. But before he could be completely free, Septim was going to have to die, and Duo had always promised that Wu Fei would be with him the day it would happen. He kept his promise. Wu Fei was now walking a few paces behind Duo and Heero, staring at their display of affection and occasionally tripping over small stones. Trowa was walking besides him with a kind hand near his elbow to stop him from taking too bad a fall.

Duo leaned over Heero's -oddly attractive- ear and, in tones of endearment, whispered: "This place really is the arse-end of the world."

Heero smiled a bit. "You should see-... " he glanced at Septim's back a few paces away "-the place I spent the last few years in."

"It couldn't be worse than this." Duo muttered.

"Well, it wasn't quite as lively." Heero admitted, his eyes tracking something fist-sized and pus-white as it skittered quickly under a rock.

There was no wind over the blasted twisted landscape, the spell wards around the breach were blocking even that. But the scenery still seemed to roil and scamper and twitch out of the corner of the eye. Despite the clear crisp cold of the dawn air -which had seemed pure and refreshing until they'd arrived here- there seemed to be heat-waves rippling just out of line of sight. The whole place was heaving with dark malice. Duo's magic-sensitive nerves were crawling as much as the countryside.

Heero suddenly squeezed the waist he was holding as if he felt what his friend was going through. He'd warned Duo the night before that as a magic user he would be perturbed. Even a calmed and controlled breach like Kespar could be disturbing; the first time Jay had taken him to the Kespar breach not far from the compound, he'd been violently sick. Duo had wisely skipped breakfast that morning or he might have done the same.

The spells around the place were invisible to the naked eye but the wards could turn away or burn any intruder. Septim walked through the maze with assurance, he'd apparently traced the path through the unseen hazard many times. The entrance of the ward maze was indicated by nothing more than a plain stone marker and a hitching post where they'd left the horses. No animal would get near this place unless trussed up like a chicken and dragged forward on its back. Humans were apparently much dumber, Duo thought glumly as he trudged through thick dust, speckled grey with old ash and shattered twisted bits of stone. It crunched like old dry bones beneath his black boots.

The first bad surprise of the day -hopefully the last- was Septim insisting they leave their troops with the horses. They had been there to protect them against fiends and enemy raids until the edges of the maze, but were no longer needed, and Septim was behaving with his usual paranoia. Duo had managed to talk Septim into letting him have his two captains and Chang as escort. His uncle had not needed too much persuasion, though he'd cast a suspicious eye at Wu Fei. The way skitters and rasps followed the small group on their way through the maze to the heart of the breach, Duo now understood why his uncle had allowed the modest escort.

When they arrived, the actual breach turned out to be as invisible and unmarked as the maze. Well, the Gap of Sevring was a bit of a clue that they had arrived; it stretched before them for miles, a ragged wide chasm barring their way. But the breach itself was a very small area mid-air above the gorge, a hundred feet wide or so, and wasn't delimited in any way. Even Wu Fei could sense it though, and his magical abilities were null. Duo was shivering, and he felt Heero slip a supporting hand around his shoulder and squeeze before falling to the side a bit.

"Unpleasant, isn't it?" Septim's voice sounded small and tinny in the heaving air. Strangely human too. Duo looked at him with something like pity. How mad was he to think a small bitter little man like himself could control this -this ugliness. Anybody in their sane mind would be running for the hills and pulling them in after him by now. And he'd been feeding this for five years instead!

Heero was glancing around, calculating eyes scanning the area. Whatever Jay had done to him, it was apparently effective. He seemed even more composed than Septim. He exchanged a glance with Trowa, who was sweating but showed little other sign of stress.

Duo realized their eyes were flicking over small huts built at regular intervals around them, in a loose semi-circle around the breach. They were open towards the Gap, dark small eaved houses like temples to domestic gods at crossroads. He thought he could see a hunched figure crouching in the one closest to them. These were probably the sorcerers who had been slowly weakening the Gap these last few years, and also giving Septim the power to weave a permanent ward maze around it. Duo put his feelings of crawling horror aside with the strength he'd found within himself in the halls of Lin. They were here for a purpose.

He frowned. Now that they actually were here, he realized he had some blanks as to the sequence of events. He'd volunteered to take on Septim and the others had agreed with relief. It had sounded like Heero and Trowa were going to take out the sorcerers near the Gap, and whatever guard or escort they had nearby, though they had stayed very fuzzy on details...

Why did he feel he was missing something?

Heero kept looking at him, he could feel it, though he would never be doing it when Duo glanced back... There was something here, but it was being overwhelmed by the stench of evil in the air. He... trusted Heero. He did, whatever he said, whatever had happened. Why did he feel something big was being hidden from him?

He saw Trowa draw near Heero, the one green eye fixed on the nearest hut, hands on swords. The tall captain glanced at Heero in passing and his hand reached out and squeezed Heero's wrist convulsively. The green eyes, suddenly not so blank, brushed Duo's cousin with some unreadable but intense emotion and an unhappy droop to the mouth. Heero gave him a warm smile, the first Duo had seen, freeing his wrist from the hold to gently pat Trowa's hand. Well, they were nervous, they were probably outnumbered and overpowered by the sorcerers and their guards, that's probably why... right...

Septim cleared his throat. Duo turned and caught the look of contempt on his uncle's face. Apparently Duo wasn't supposed to be so concerned with his 'recreation' out here.

"Now, nephew, if I can have your attention, we are on the eve of a glorious-"

Things were tense enough without having to listen to the whole 'I'll conquer the world now, bwaaahahaha!' speech. Duo checked his wards, gave a small flick of the fingers to Trowa and Heero and attacked his uncle before he could finish his sentence.

Septim was caught in an avalanche of pulsing, ripping flames. They coursed around his wards, flicking and testing and searching. Duo scowled as he focused himself into his task.

He'd discussed this with Heero last night. Septim had the best wards in the world, that was his specialty. He was so good he could even sustain a magical ward phased with a weapon's ward, making him impervious to Duo's dagger as much as his blasts. There was only one way through the wall, and that was to beat it into submission. Not very subtle, but Duo was finally through with subtle.

But this was going to take some time. Duo ignored his uncle's screams of anger and protest. There was nothing the little maniac could say now that was going to change anything. He didn't even care to let the man know for which of several reasons he was going to kill him. Let him pick his favourite.

He barely noticed Trowa darting across the blasted landscape towards the first of the sorcerers. Wu Fei, having sensed something all along, had been prudently hanging back out of blast radius. Heero-

Heero was way to near him, considering that Septim or one of his cronies could retaliate!

"What do you think you're doing." Duo ground out. "Go help Trowa!"

"He can manage alone. He's been training for this too." Heero's voice was its usual monotone, as if he weren't standing near a swirling mass of black magic ripping the air apart and burning chunks of it away in pure fury. In fact, he was so close he was actually inside Duo's wards, less than an inch from his back, and so protected from the fallout of the spell. Duo remembered pegging Rao with his dagger through his magical wards, and realized that Heero, mage-blade drawn, was watching his back in case Septim had a less arcane approach -and a couple of big burly armed guards- ready to retaliate with.

Duo was so concentrated on the burning waves of unleashed power it took him a minute to realize something was happening. Was... was the ground shaking?

Septim snarled, hauling his wards in on himself. Suddenly Duo's blasts were curling over a smooth dense barrier of wards. Septim had dropped any ability to cast from that position, which was a strange move seeing that Trowa had already killed six guards and two sorcerers and was moving on steadily. His uncle had all to lose in relying on defence alone - what the hell?

"Why's the ground shaking? What's going on?!"

"The power you are unleashing is combining with the last-ditch efforts of the remaining sorcerers. All this energy is tearing open the breach." Heero sounded like he was commenting on the weather. His hand was resting on Duo's shoulder, tugging him slightly towards him.

"What?! You didn't say this could happen! I have to stay here and keep Septim pinned down or he'll burn us to hell and back! What are we going to do about-"

Septim was well and truly pinned down for now so Duo reigned in a bit of power, hoping to delay the inevitable -he could feel it, claws of malice rendering the air in the Gap behind him, the evil outside of the world sensing the growing weakness of the barrier and trying to rip its way in. He half turned towards his cousin with a hiss of angry panic.

The fact he turned his head was probably why the kiss landed where it did. It was probably meant for his cheek. Duo nearly lost control of his magical blasts and his knees when he felt the lips on his. Just a caress, a warm tender touch.

"Wh-wh-"

Heero smiled. It was the smile he'd given Trowa, only warmer and deeper.

"Good luck, Duo. Kill the rat. Don't worry about the rest. Just... I can't ask you to promise me anything, I don't deserve it, but talk to Jay when this is over, and then go see Zechs, please, and please... try to forgive me. I love you."

Duo still had his mouth open, his blasts frittering out. Heero ran through the trailing blazes, arms raised to protect his face, and headed towards the gap.

What the hell?! Duo's mind rippled like the dancing flames he still maintained around Septim, though it was more a status quo than an attack at present. He could see the air of the Gap twist and bend into ugly mind-ripping shapes. A few fiends skittered out from the canyon, took one look at the magical flames curling around, and darted away as quickly as their mismatched chitinous legs could carry them.

Duo cursed. He didn't know what Heero had planned, there was no way his magically inert half-cousin would be able to do anything about the nightmare taking shape over the Gap. He had to finish Septim quickly and then, well, he didn't know what he'd do, but throwing something hot and nasty at whatever poked its nose out of the breach first would be a good start.

Septim was grinning like a skull from the safety of his wards. Words were lost in the hurricane of Duo's power blasting his shell; Duo had the nasty feeling he was gloating. Telling Duo that nothing could stop what was about to happen. Duo's own powers had been twisted and bent to evil purpose again and this time it wouldn't just be Duo's friends who would pay the price... Dammit Heero what were you thinking?

Duo was so concentrated on his uncle that it was this one's face that warned him something was happening behind him, rather than the massive power surge at his back. Duo blinked, not daring to turn around, afraid to see- but Septim's face was twisting into a look of disbelieving fury and madness that made him wonder what the hell was upsetting his crazy uncle right at the moment of victory.

"That's impossible!" It was a screech that managed to get through the walls of black magic pounding Septim's wards. "He can't have that power! That is not possible! No!"

Duo finally glanced over his shoulder.

Heero was standing on the lip of the gap.

Black energies, easily rivalling Duo's blaze, were streaming from him and blanketing the Gap of Sevring with crushing force.

Duo's mind froze, refusing to process what he was seeing. Heero- black magic- massive power- didn't make sense. It was Septim's scream that snapped him out of it.

"NO! You can't! You can't do that, I forbid it!"

What was Heero doing? Duo dropped some of his intense bombardment of Septim and eased a tentacle of power out to the Gap, ignoring the sick feeling as it touched the chaos and evil from the tear.

This time it was his heart that froze. Four facts pounded into it, crushing it mercilessly.

......... -Heero was exerting a tremendous amount of black power.

...... -He was using it to drag the breach shut by sheer force, despite the fact that his and Duo's black magic was at the same time widening the tear.

... -He was going to have enough power to do this. If he went all the way, burning up even his body and mind in the process, all the way to death.

-His Heero was going all the way.

"No... " it was a whisper echoing Septim's screams. Duo shook to his soul.

"No, you can't do this to me again...

"I won't let you... "

Duo felt his mind come back from a long distance, parts of it were strangers to him, unseen for the past five years. He glanced at Septim. It was a look of pity, and of dismissal. To hell with the pitiful bastard.

Duo dropped his blasts, dropped even his wards, gathering every ounce of energy he could as he raced to Heero's side, towards the unfolding chaos...

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