Author: Maldoror
Disclaimer: The usual, Gundam Wing belongs to it's owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.
Rated R for language, lots of violence, sexual content
see chap. 1 for more notes

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 16
Drumbeats

The drums rang out, an almost palpable vibration bucking the air. Fire blazed and the dancers screamed, voices enslaved to the beat of the man-high drums, rolling like thunder from the four corners of the stone circle. The tramp of feet and wild ululations seemed to push the drummers, stripped to their waist and sweating and grinning like fiends, to greater efforts still.

"Are you sure?" Quatre read the movement of lips more than he heard the voice.

"No, Trowa, but you go ahead and dance. I'll stay here with Heero." He yelled.

A shake of the head and an arm gently pulling the healer against his hip was the only answer the shaman gave him. Quatre started to protest and the arm squeezed, tender and warm. He felt a bit guilty. He knew Trowa, quiet and retired though he seemed, enjoyed occasionally cutting loose and turning his body over to something other than his fine-tuned control. But Quatre also knew that Trowa didn't enjoy doing things for pleasure if it didn't include him. Quatre could insist all night, but Trowa would just smile and hold him closer. It did look fun... the healer wished he wasn't so... shy about moving like that. His eyes lingered on a gyrating figure at the centre of the ring.

"Duo seems to be having fun." He spoke loudly to be heard over the drums.

Trowa leaned his chin against Quatre' shoulder and snorted. "If he has any more fun he'll be causing a riot."

The slender black shape was... Quatre thought he knew what dancing was, and this wasn't it; it was more like taking the music and doing something highly intimate to it. And very alluring. Quatre could never in a million years do anything like that. Which, considering the number of people circling and staring at the writhing, swinging figure, was probably a good thing. Duo was already good enough at getting into a mess by himself, he didn't need the healer adding to the display. It was a good thing Trowa insisted Heero stay with them, because this might eventually turn into a fight.

Heero turned and glared at yet another person - a woman this time- who'd asked the sombre one for a dance. He wasn't getting into the spirit of things. It was a wonder he accepted to stay. But he rarely did things of his own volition if fighting wasn't involved, so he passively stayed where Trowa had parked him, leaning against a stone pillar. His eyes flickered across the packed ring full of dancers with sublime indifference. The woman hesitated, glanced at Quatre -who smiled weakly in embarrassed sympathy- and left with a shrug.

Quatre's eyes turned back to Duo. He was wearing his customary black leathers and boots, and a black velvet ribbon was knotted into his braid instead of the usual thong. He was grinning like a demon. As the healer watched, he flexed his knees, back straight and hips slightly forward, and started to sway, hands on his ass, in a swinging motion of legs and braid that made Quatre's face blaze and his eyes twitch away. Never in a million years... but then again, with Duo out there, no one would be looking at him, Quatre. And... well, he'd seen Trowa dance a few times before, and, well... damn, any amount of embarrassment would be worth seeing that again!

Quatre's eyes drifted from Trowa's strong profile, caught in flickering fire light, back to the ring. Duo was dancing pretty much as before but a bolder dancer had broken through the circle of curious or admiring watchers around him and was dancing with him. A tall light-haired man, fairly muscular, in a shimmering green shirt and riding leathers, one of the nomads who used this break in the tundra for rest and recreation in their long travels. He was grinding against Duo's backside, matching the black-clad one move for move - Quatre's eyes flinched away and he wondered if his hair was going to catch fire. But he found his eyes dragged back reluctantly to the scene. Duo had his hands on the front of his hips now as he let his knees flex lower then straighten again in a twisting move so graceful it seemed to embody the wild drumbeats and flickering flames. He was grinning at his companion over his shoulder, a feral smile matched by the other. Damn, there was really only one way that Quatre was going to get through the evening without looking at that any longer!

"Okay, let's try it." He shouted, and Trowa looked down at him with pleased surprise that made the healer grin. "I just need to go change my shoes." The tramp of beating feet was almost as loud as the drums; he would swap his thin sandals for his riding boots and avoid having to heal his own toes before the evening was out.

"That's okay, stay here." He added, as Trowa made to move with him. He let his eyes flit towards Heero, and Trowa nodded reluctantly. They didn't want to leave the unpredictable fighter alone. That was why they'd dragged him off with them when they decided to make sure Duo didn't get into any trouble during the night's festivities.

Quatre ran lightly up the steps of the stone ring that had been built generations before by the nomadic people of the tundra for their regular reunions and festivals. He glanced back. He could see Trowa smiling after him, body swaying ever so slightly, gracefully, to the wild drumbeats. Heero looked bored besides him. They'd have to keep an eye on him, even if they wanted to have some fun. Or maybe Duo could-... Quatre looked for their young friend who surely had to be getting tired after two straight hours of pounding the ground and flinging himself around like a maniac. He caught sight of him at the edge of the group of dancers, disappearing into the darkness followed by the young nomad he'd been dancing with. So much for keeping an eye on him! Or him keeping an eye on Heero. Quatre was surprised, but then he smiled gently. Oh well at least he'd be having some fun. It was high time Duo gave up on Heero and started meeting other, more approachable people.

Quatre took his light steps towards the vardo. The darkness was mapped out by torches lit at various points, road signs in the mutable huddle of caravans and tents that surrounded the festival ring.

They'd been travelling for two days now and would arrive tomorrow. Howard had made quite a fuss about their travel plans; it was true the planet hopper could deposit them at Fen's doorstep in less than an hour. But Heero wasn't the only one who didn't like technology. Quatre and Trowa preferred to take the vardo and follow the lines of the earth, on Centre it was still the safest mode of transportation. The arcane planet of sources was unpredictable at best, and its natural background magic frequently interfered with the working of technology. They could ill afford to be caught in a freak EM storm or whatever lethal surprise the planet might come up with, especially if they were carrying a very dangerous arcane device on the way back. It wasn't as if time was a major issue. Jusan wasn't going to arrive for months yet. They had time to get this 'zero system' the safe way, while letting Heero practice against the occasional monster or bandit they met on their road.

Quatre found their caravan and ran up the steps. He wasn't sure he liked the sound of this zero thing they were going to get. Howard had mentioned it a month ago, shortly after the fight Heero had had with that strange, dark-haired young man who had inexplicably landed right in front of the vardo. It sounded interesting; an arcane device that would allow Heero to use Wing a lot faster (that was what Quatre had taken from Howard's long, technical and downright boring explanation). Svale had been curious until she heard who owned the thing, and then she'd put her foot down. Quatre tugged absently at his bootlaces, remembering the argument.

* flashback*

"No! No way! Fen's a nice guy, we're not going to bug him for this! Especially if he's doing research on it!"

"But Svale!" It was, strangely enough, Duo who took up the fight as Howard hesitated, looking almost relieved at the objection. "If he's a friend of yours, why should he mind if we-"

"He's a very old friend. We go way back." Svale snapped.

" ...So?"

"So... he's very nice, and very good with arcane research, but... he can be a bit fuzzy about... details... "

"He's so senile he doesn't know which day of the week it is." Duo translated. That got him a rap of staff on the head.

"You'll respect your elders, boy! Fen's a good man, but he's very eccentric about his research. We're not going to bug him and that's final!"

"But Svale-... " Duo rubbed his head and glared at the crone who'd turned back towards the centre of the cirque. Svale had started reactivating the Jishin Sanctuary, and life was getting very interesting for its inhabitants. Walls and doors and windows had the strange habit of disappearing overnight. Floors too, on three memorable occasions. Hazy blue and green lights were starting to shine from the various stone circles and doorways, though they always disappeared as soon as someone went to investigate. The stones marking the ley lines around the Sanctuary would move like iron fillings following a magnet - once more, when no one was looking. You would turn around and they would look as solid and immobile and innocent as only stones can, despite having shifted ten feet away from their previous position. Trowa was getting massive headaches from the shifting lines around the buildings, and would glare at the stones until Quatre feared he would pass out. As soon as he distracted his lover, the blighted things would move again.

Svale would dodge any questions - either by bopping the speaker with her staff or groping him, depending on who it was - and let everyone assume she was in perfect control of the situation. They had their doubts. It was true that so far no one had gotten hurt, and nothing very menacing had happened. But the strain was telling on them; Duo in particular looked like he could use a good night's sleep. For some reason Quatre couldn't fathom the awakening of the Sanctuary was apparently stressing and exhausting him even more than Trowa. That was probably why he took the unusually aggressive step of standing between Svale and the cirque's hearthstone.

"Look, you old mummy, don't blow me off like that! I've got my word to say here!"

"And why is that, Maxie?" Svale's eyes could have cut diamonds. "Why are you still here and not twenty parsecs away and still running? You know who and what the Scourge is."

Duo blinked, caught off guard. Howard snorted though. "Svale, the kid may be young and flighty - " Duo glared "- but he's not dumb, he realizes that the effects of Jusan destroying Centre will be felt throughout the known Ether. Our whole civilisation is on the brink of destruction, or at least some massive restructuring. And if Jusan's the one in charge of the remodelling, I, for one, would look on with interest but only if I could find a cosy hole to hide in, preferably in the next galaxy."

"Yeah." Duo said, nodding sharply. "If this Fen guy has something that can help us against the Scourge we should go all out to get it, kill the bugger if we have to, and-"

"No!" Svale suddenly looked very dangerous, but it passed quickly, and she bopped Duo's head with her staff. "You're a poster child for mayhem, aren't you boy, and I'd loved to have that pinned to my wall - or the original pinned to my bed-" Duo suddenly looked ill "- but Fen is not the kind of person you can annoy with impudence, even if he is old. He has-... means... look, it just wouldn't be a good idea. He's much safer pottering around his ruins studying gods know what. And we're all safer too." She added in a mutter, and refused to be further drawn on the subject, even when Duo tried again two days later in cut-off shorts and a tank top.

*end flashback*

 
It had taken a month after that to talk Svale around and get Fen's location from her. Quatre didn't think she would give in at all, she was a stubborn old mule. But this Jusan thing was bigger than, well, anything. As the Scourge got nearer and the arcane readings and fortune casts started getting very perturbed and weird, Svale's resolve had crumbled.

Finally she'd made them promise that they would do nothing more than ask. Fen was a mage, he should be able to feel the disturbance in Centre as well as anybody. He would probably not mind helping them and give them a copy of zero. But if he did mind - Svale had drawn herself up to her full height, which was hardly worth the effort - if he said no they were to leave right away and leave it at that. She glared at Heero, then at Duo who had looked like he was about to protest. They'd had to agree.

Quatre smiled as he pulled on his second boot. He was very glad that they'd agreed. It would be nice to go somewhere with Trowa that didn't involve bloodshed at the end of it. In the past month they'd been offplanet once - Howard's ship could rip Ether if it had to - and to a techno exchange fair and both times it had ended in a fight. It hadn't been much of a challenge for Heero, who was beginning to scare Quatre just a little bit in his unrelenting ability to cause havoc. The challenge was to stop him before he killed the hopelessly outclassed bandits that had attacked them.

The vardo swayed and Quatre glanced up at the entrance in surprise. He was expecting Trowa, but his smile was just as warm for the black-clad figure who staggered in on the echoes of wild drumbeats from outside.

"I'm finally having some fun tagging after you guys!" Duo shouted, his vibrant presence filling the vardo to the wooden walls. He crashed into the small wooden chair near the window and grinned at Quatre.

"I'm surprised to see you." Quatre said, blushing slightly. "Where's your... friend?"

"Him? Good kisser, but I don't know, not really that interested." Duo leaned his chin in his hands and glanced out the window, eyes on the stars. "I think I've been spoiled, can't seem to settle for... well, that guy for one."

"Still thinking about Heero?"

" ...maybe." A curious look crossed Duo's face as he stared at the stars, then he shook his head violently, braid whipping across his back. "And maybe I should get my head examined. It seems I like them hard to get. Or impossible. Or not even worth getting in the first place."

Quatre stared at him uncertainly. Not worth getting? Duo was always drooling over Heero as if he was the last breath of air in a vacuum. There was... something strange about his young friend tonight. He was practically radiating heat from dancing like a fiend, yet the only thing Quatre could feel from him with his heart was... cold. It was surprising, yet somehow familiar, as if he'd always felt it in Duo, but could only now sense it clearly.

It was a harsh feeling. And it hurt. Not just Quatre, but Duo too. Except the cold had numbed him so badly he couldn't even feel it anymore. Quatre's thoughts made no sense... He found himself staring into blue eyes, bordering on violet, that were looking into his own as if they could read his thoughts scrolling across the back of his head. The perpetual cheeky grin had changed into something older and harder.

"I'm not a very nice person, you know. You shouldn't feel sorry for me."

But I do, thought Quatre, eyes fixed on the violet colour, tracking the pearls of blue and grey in the irises, drifting into the pupils as if pulled into a black hole. I do, Duo.

"You shouldn't. I've done some pretty bad things. Granted, I had a very good reason. But I doubt that's much of an excuse in your books."

Bad things? Quatre couldn't feel that in his friend, he could only feel the numbing, killing cold. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Duo's pupils and he couldn't say anything but he wanted to.

"You're too nice Quatre. You try to reach out to everybody. Like you're doing now. But you shouldn't."

I want to, I want to reach out, take away the ice from your heart, you shouldn't have to bear that alone... that was the feeling that screamed through Duo, gregarious, charming, affectionate Duo. A soul-tearing loneliness.

"You really shouldn't, because people can abuse that kind nature of yours so easily. They're some really bad people out there Quatre. They'd hurt you just because they can, just because you're so nice."

But you wouldn't, would you, Duo?

Duo?

"No. I'm going to hurt you because I have to. And because you're so nice you made it real easy for me. I couldn't get near Trowa, and I can't afford to use Heero, so... "

Quatre couldn't see anything but the dark pupils until he realized that no, he couldn't in fact see anything at all. The vardo's comforting interior had vanished and he was hanging suspended in darkness and staring at the world through two small holes the size of Duo's eyes. Through them he could make out a few images, small and warped; in the tiny vision the smiling young man leaned towards a golden-haired figure sitting, stunned, on the edge of the bed. He saw Duo put his hands on either side of that small figure, and whisper in his ear. Quatre strained to listen but all he could hear was a distant beat of drums, light and thready and very different than the wild percussions accompanying the dance only a few hundred feet away. He couldn't hear what Duo said, couldn't feel the touch of lips brushing his ear or the breath causing his hair to rustle. He could only watch as Duo's hand lifted gracefully to caress his cheek with the back of two fingers, carefully, like someone trying to calm a wild bird that he'd caught and wanted to capture and cage without harm. Then the fingers cupped his chin - he was still watching, helpless, even his thoughts and feelings gummed up in the muffling darkness - and Duo smiled at him, and there was sadness and slight regret behind the cruelty. A slender finger in the low-cut black gloves rose to Quatre's forehead and touched him there for a second. Then Duo grinned, something like his old smile, and rose, dropping a kiss on Quatre's forehead as he stood, before turning and walking away.

Quatre suddenly started screaming in the darkness and the vision cut out and all was gone.

+

It had been less than ten minutes since Quatre had left. Suddenly Trowa twitched and turned towards the stairs.

"Heero, stay- no, on second thought, come on, let's both go." Leaving Heero alone here was not an option.

Heero stared at him in the flickering firelight. Trowa glanced down at the dancers. He'd seen Duo pull his willing prey away, so there was no point staying here, if Heero was willing to come with him, and... there was no reason to feel worried, Quatre hadn't been gone that long, but he felt a sudden urge to-

"Here I am!"

Trowa spun away from the dancers to stare at the lithe young shape clattering down the stairs, out of breath from running from the vardo.

"Are you alright?"

The question escaped the shaman's lips before he could stop it and he couldn't for the world understand why-... Quatre was looking at him quizzically, and then he flashed the usual small tolerant smile he used when Trowa was caught fussing over him. Trowa knew that he and anybody else would find his worrying annoying but Quatre accepted it as the signs of love they were with the depth of understanding and intelligence that was his heart.

"I shouldn't have let you go by yourself." Trowa murmured, hand on Quatre's arm. He knew his lover could handle himself in a fight - and Quatre knew he knew this, Trowa had taught him after all- but Quatre didn't like confrontation.

Clear blue eyes looked at him in surprise as they caught his words through a momentary lull in the drumbeats. "The tundra tribes have always treated us like friends."

"Yes, but there's a lot of alcohol flowing tonight, and tempers are running-" he glanced at the ring where a few dancers took advantage of the changing of drummers to disappear off into the darkness in pairs "- running a bit hot."

Quatre grinned. "I didn't meet anyone intent of molesting my tender person. They're all too busy having fun." The drums were starting again.

Strangely enough, Trowa found himself tracking Quatre's chakra lines as the blonde said that, making sure he was alright. He couldn't do a very good job without Walking, entering a medidative trance, but he could at least see that Quatre was unharmed physically and mentally, his lines of energy were a bit shaken - possibly from the anticipated embarrassment of dancing soon - but no more. Why... why did he feel like looking deeper?

"Where's Duo?" Trowa asked, and he didn't know why that was the question that escaped his lips either.

Quatre smiled as he blushed and dropped his head. "Erm, well, I think he kinda left-" then the blonde was staring at something past Trowa's shoulder. The shaman glanced around. Heero, who hadn't moved at all from his position against the stone pillar, had lifted his arm to point.

Duo was in the act of snagging another dancer and insuring that every inch of their respective bodies were properly introduced.

Quatre gaped a bit, then turned in confusion to Trowa. "I thought I saw him leave with -"

"Mustn't have been his type." Trowa said. His eyes picked out the tall figure of the nomad who had followed Duo previously. The man was at the edge of the circle, having a drink and looking... dazed, but also happy. Surely not-... not in ten minutes-... the man wasn't looking at Duo, it was as if he'd forgotten his existence. He was too far for Trowa to read his lines... maybe he was drunk...?

Quatre coughed and blushed as he stared at Duo's display. The braided man ground his body against the shapely form; the healer caught sight of a few feminine curves, wild black spiky hair and pale skin, and the look of the devil in her eyes. "I- I thought Duo preferred men." Quatre said weakly.

"Love, Duo prefers them with a pulse and that's about as picky as he'll get." Trowa said into the pink ear beneath the blond hair. Quatre went very red.

Trowa frowned slightly down at the dancing braided figure. He was keeping a careful eye on the man, much more than he let on even to Quatre. Duo was constantly defying analysis. The shaman felt pretty sure Duo had no preferences when it came to desire. And he seemed to have the appetites of a normal young man, or at least that's how he acted. But the only person he'd seriously tried to seduce had been Heero, and he'd long since given up on the sombre, dangerous man. Although Duo seemed to admire and flirt with some of the people they'd met on their travels, like he was doing tonight, he'd never gone through with it. Trowa had the feeling it was something of a game for Duo... maybe even an act. Surely he couldn't be that hung up on Heero? Either he was very, very picky... or he had something else on his mind, something pretty important. Trowa had tried to draw the young man out about this before. Duo had joked and evaded and pretended to run after some hunk in the inn where they were staying at the time, only to return quickly and quietly when he assumed Trowa had forgotten about him, to go to sleep alone. It was... strange.

In the ring below, the braided man had grabbed another dancer, young and slender, dressed like a caravan driver from the eastern lands. Duo's hands rose to gather black hair out of oriental eyes as the man smiled at him and let his hands linger on leather-clad hips. Quatre blushed, and Trowa smiled. Well, well, whatever troubles hounded Duo they looked like they were taking a break tonight. The way Duo was dancing now, Trowa thought, the message was pretty clear. This one was a keeper; Duo was not going to go to sleep alone tonight.

Trowa looked down at Quatre to share his thoughts, and forgot the slight sense of wrongness he'd had about the healer, the mystery that was Duo and just about anything else; Quatre was swaying his hips ever so slightly to the new beat the drums were picking up, still soft but soon they would be crashing and beating like their hearts during love-making.

"Did you say you'd not met anybody intent on molesting you tonight?"

"Yes." Quatre answered, distracted as his wide eyes followed Duo's sensuous display.

"Well we'll have to fix that." He whispered into the delicate ear.

"What?!"

Trowa's rare smile brushed his lips as he dragged his lover into the ring. The night was young and the music made the blood pound, they could dance to start with. Later... maybe Heero could be persuaded to go and sit on a rock, his favourite hobby after fighting, and he and Quatre could put the vardo to good use. No reason why Duo should be the only one having fun tonight.

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