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
AN: Thanks for the reviews. To answer some questions: Yes, Fen is Zechs,
I thought his (annoying) habit of blowing himself up and then reappearing
alive afterwards suited the Phoenix. And his stupid helmet does look like
a chicken mask (thanks Reb, I hadn't even thought of that!). I don't know
if any other GW character will show up, to be honest, I've not thought
that far ahead. It could happen.
And yes, I realize that the huge mystery that is Heero is starting to
drive people nuts. He is going to grow a bit of personality in the coming
chapters but not much. He becomes very important towards the end (very
far away still) and we'll finally see his POV at that point. Despite the
fact that Heero is very, very much in the centre of all this - more than
the other characters realize - this is not a Heero-centric fic because
he's pretty much machine-like for most of it. My apologies to Heero fans.
You can go read Whispers if you're feeling frustrated, I guess.
Thanks to the War Room, particularly Casey for vetting (and laughing at)
the Duo-ism, and Sol, who's poking me (I owe her anyway...)
UPDATE: Sorry I try very hard not to revise chapters already published
but in this case...big thanks to Sol for helping me out on this one! (Now
I really owe her)
Source Of All Things + Chapter 19
Shi No Kami
Duo trotted out of the shadows
of the road to find Heero's wrist-guard pointing at him menacingly.
"Whoah buddy! Just me!" Duo said quickly, trying to look harmless and
thinking back longingly to the days when someone pointing a clothing accessory
in his direction wasn't a death-threat. This Dragon scale nonsense was
certainly making life interesting.
Heero grunted and left his hand pointing at him for just a second longer
than Duo liked. Then he turned towards Trowa who was staring back up the
road to Fen's keep. They had travelled three hours from the fort, until
they'd reached a widening in the road that was backed by a cliff. The
vardo was up close against the rocky face, and a fire crackled nearby,
its weak light flickering over stone and the wood of the caravan. The
strange cry had echoed all the way to their campsite, making the defensible
location seem not so protected or safe in finality.
"Ye gods what was that horrible noise?" Duo asked innocently and was ignored.
Trowa frowned then rubbed his face. He was looking older and worn and
Duo felt...(/iee!/keikaku ni shuuchuu suru!/)-... No, he couldn't afford
that. Not now. He had to concentrate.
"I don't like this." Trowa muttered. "That's the direction of Fen's keep.
If it came from, it must have been very loud...There are just too
many weird things going on around here. Heero can you stay here and watch
Quatre and Duo? I'm going to go back up the road and see if I can find
out what that was. I think...I think we should have looked a bit closer
into Fen and why Quatre attacked him. Er- Heero?"
Heero had crouched next to Quatre. He was staring at the healer, at his
head. As they watched, he scowled and rubbed a trace of ochre paint from
Quatre's forehead. It smudged like dried blood.
"Heero. Stay here with Duo and Quatre-" Trowa started when the sombre
man stood up, still staring at the healer.
"It still won't come off." Heero said suddenly, scowling at Quatre.
Both Duo and Trowa glanced down at the pale young man in the bedroll.
"It's only ochre, Heero." Trowa said tiredly. "It'll come off with some
Trowa was talking to Heero's back as the warrior walked briskly up the
road, back to the keep.
Duo gave Trowa a grin as he hid his feeling of eagerness. "Looks like
ol' stony face wants to go with you. You guys be careful, okay? Don't
worry I can watch Quatre until you get back." He barely managed to refrain
from making a shooing gesture. Go!
Trowa's face creased with worry but he finally ran after Heero and disappeared
into the darkness. Duo could follow his reasoning; the shaman's Walk along
Quatre's lines had probably shown him nothing but weirdness. Investigating
Fen would be a smart move in light of that. Duo knew Trowa could run fast
and tirelessly and could be back there in less than an hour. At that point
he would discover that Duo had destroyed the drawbridge. This would be
an obstacle for the shaman. It might not slow down Heero though...Duo
didn't like the idea of Heero stumbling upon a recovering Phoenix, but
he also desperately needed to deal with Quatre, so this opportunity of
some alone time with the healer was too good to resist.
Quatre looked hopelessly young and small, lying on the makeshift bed near
the fire, a thin cover drawn up to his waist. Trowa had attempted to Walk
his lines under moonlight when his powers were at their peak. The shaman
had painted ochre lines and primitive symbols over Quatre's bare chest,
his forehead, the palms of his hands and on a circle on the ground around
him. Duo couldn't interpret the shamanistic figures, or read lines very
well, but he was willing to bet Trowa had seen nothing but a messy superposition
of the barest of Quatre's vital signals and the morass of zero's interference.
The braided man crouched on the edge of the bedroll, wishing he were better
at all this mental stuff. Knowledge was one thing. Ability was another.
He touched Quatre on the forehead with a tentative finger, closed his
eyes, plunged beneath the surface. And recoiled at the tangle of the spell
and the healer's mind. He groaned and retreated, reaching out as an after-thought
to double-check his shihai was still in place.
"Man, what a mess, Q." He muttered. "Why'd you go and do that for?"
What, use what you imposed on me to save my lover's life?
Duo started so badly he tangled his legs and landed on his butt with a
thump. "What the fuck!?"
Duo's eyes were wild as he stared at the still form. Quatre was still
deeply unconscious, looking young and helpless in the firelight patterning
his creamy skin in red and gold. For a fleeting instant Duo thought he'd
imagined those words, dripping with bitter amusement. But...no, he had
not imagined them. Duo had many, many voices in his head, and he knew
them all, better than his own. This had not been one of them.
"No way." He ground out, his face taking on a dangerous look as he felt
out with his mind once more. "No way you can turn my shihai."
You mean this mental control you have over me? You're unfortunately
right. I can't turn it or break it. It can't stop me from thinking though.
"Well it fucking well should! I put you under after you pulled that dumb
stunt with Fen! Damn it you should be in a coma!"
Well sorry to disappoint you, Duo.
The mental tone of the thoughts was cold, a bit remote, and seemed to
be contemplating Duo's words as if they were bugs pinned to a board.
"Disappoint-...This is for your own sake you- baka! The less you interact
with zero the better-...oh."
"Oh Quatre, don't. Don't even go there."
Too late, I'd say.
Duo savagely scrubbed his face with his hand. "Quatre, that thing is not
for you. You were only supposed to be the carrier, the passive
carrier. You're not supposed to use that shit! It's gonna kill you, man!"
That is one possible outcome, yes.
"Q...oh gods. Why did you go and do that..."
You sound sorry.
"Well...yeah...I never meant for-"
But you would have done it anyway.
Even if you'd known it would end like this you would have done it anyway.
"...N-no, I would have- iee. Zettai nai. Watashi-...Ha- hai-...demo- keikaku!
Keikaku ni shuuchuu suru! Iee-"
Huh...interesting...Do you always spout gibberish when you get angry?
"K'so! Katoru! Kiite kudasai! Zero-" Duo leapt from his position on the
ground, spun and slammed his fist into the bare rock. The fire crackled
Temper temper. The voice in his head sounded coldly amused.
Duo's snarl slowly eased. His eyes lost the wild look that had possessed
them when the Old words had started ripping through his control. He rose
slowly and looked down at Quatre.
"Yes. I wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice you if I needed to. But not in
this case." He said quietly. "If zero kills you, I lose you, I lose zero,
I lose Trowa. I might even lose Heero ‘cause I'm damned if I understand
how that weirdo is wired together." He added in a mutter.
Honesty? I'm reeling with shock. Oh no, I'm not, am I. Since you won't
allow me any control over my own body..
"...is this zero speaking?"
Zero is a spell. It can't speak.
"You...just don't sound like your normal self."
I just got screwed over by someone I considered a friend and I have
a good chance of going insane or dying. I'm entitled to a little bit of
But it was more than that, Duo thought. There was a coldness, a remove
in the healer's mental voice, and a good deal of steely, determined strength.
He thought it was zero's influence. He wanted it to be zero's influence.
But deep inside, in the small part of Duo that interacted with and cared
about people, a though occurred; that he'd always wondered if there wasn't
a bit more to the gentle healer than he, or even Trowa, knew about. Quatre
was compassionate, and kind, and loving, and disliked confrontation. But
Duo had never been able to dismiss him as meek...He'd never looked into
it though, Trowa, Svale and Heero were already as much as he could handle.
Maybe he should have-...He shook his head abruptly.
"Before you unleash the full force of your sarcasm on me, Q, I'll remind
you that you weren't supposed to merge with zero. My shihai should have
restricted you and protected you from it. At that point the only way of
getting zero from you and waking you up would have been to imprint it
into another carrier, and Wing would have been the only option. It would
have forced Svale and Heero to use it on Wing, to remove it from you.
Then you'd have been okay." Well, bar some massive confusion, a hole in
his memory, and a severe headache.
Nothing could stop zero coming into contact with part of my psyche
while it was imprinting itself on me, even your 'shihai'. And nothing
could stop me using it if the alternative was to watch Trowa die protecting
"Er, you, you weren't supposed to be, erm-"
Smart enough to use it? Ah, well you underestimated me, Duo. Zero is
a challenge but I managed to grasp enough of it to be able to let its
influence get past your restrictions. It allows me to still think despite
your ‘shutdown' command. It also showed me how to use your ‘shihai' to
talk to you.
"Oh man..." From what he knew of zero, that put Quatre's intelligence
and abilities at way above those of most people he knew. He'd never suspected...damn!
You took other risks as well. If you had been using zero yourself,
it could have given you an estimate of the probability of your plan blowing
up in your face. Did you want to know the odds?
You made a mistake, Duo.
Duo's eyes narrowed dangerously.
You made a mistake and you're about to make another.
"What do you-"
A distant clatter alerted him. Duo gave the recumbent form a glare uncertainty
mixed with exasperation and turned to face the darkness, his dagger
flicking into his hand.
Trowa and Heero came into sight, walking quickly, eyes on the night around
"That was quick..." Duo said weakly, trying to hide his unease. He couldn't
help glancing at Quatre again. The mental voice he'd heard was using the
shihai to communicate, but Duo's control mark locked down every other
one of the healer's functions. He could feel Quatre's frustration simmer
in the nearly quiescent mind; he wouldn't be able to warn Trowa.
"A planet hopper landed not far from here." Trowa said, quickly gathering
Quatre in his arms and heading towards the vardo. Duo felt a growl of
frustrated anger from the paralyzed healer's mind echo through the shihai.
"We saw it from the top of the hill."
"Oh?" Duo frowned. "Are we sure it's related to us?"
"Do you want to stay here and find out?"
"Not particularly. It could be some buddy of Fen's or something." Duo
shrugged, glad to avoid one more complication to his day. "How you gonna
drive the vardo though, it's too dark to -" Trowa turned towards him,
the moon-touched eye glinting. "Yeah. Never mind. Let's burn."
Heero was already kicking out the fire. Wing was murmuring and slithering
up and down his arms from the wrist-guards, and the head-piece was occasionally
sparkling. Trying to feed him information, Duo knew from Howard's work
on mechas. Heero had been leery of the headpiece from the start. Duo had
hoped that merging zero with Wing would force Heero to use the suit to
full capacity. Damn what a mess...He ran to get the horses, pausing to
listen a bit nervously to the sounds of Trowa carefully making Quatre
comfortable. If he extended his senses along the shihai, he could feel
Quatre's feelings as his mind beat helplessly at the barriers around it,
trying to warn Trowa and failing to even get near. Duo winced slightly
as the result of Quatre's frustration poured into his mind. He'd never
have guessed the gentle healer knew that kind of language.
He wanted another chance to tackle the zero issue. He had to force Quatre
under for good, away from zero and start untangling them. He didn't think
Quatre would be able to actually control -...no. No surely not.
The healer was hallucinating, he didn't understand zero at all, couldn't
control it. He was talking nonsense. Duo had to separate them. Leave Svale
to remove zero, and hope that it would remove this part of Quatre's memories
"Tro?" Duo led the horses over to the shaman as the later came out of
the vardo. "Want me to watch Q while you drive? Might as well, I'll just
stub my toes in the dark."
"Yes, I'd appreciate-" Trowa twisted, shoved Duo and threw him to the
Duo gasped and wrenched himself away, preparing for a follow-through.
Had Quatre managed to communicate after all? To his confusion, Trowa's
bow was unslung and ready in his hands but he was pointing it away from
Duo and at the swell of hills on the other side of the road. And then
Duo realized there was a small piece of metal stuck in the wood of the
vardo roughly where his chest had been. "What the-"
Heero was powering up Wing, and Trowa ghosted back two steps to shelter
in the angle of the caravan. The horses, still hobbled fortunately, were
whickering and trying to get away from the sudden tension in the air.
Duo quickly scrabbled to join Trowa. He glanced at the piece of metal
in passing. Taser bolt. Techno. High level. It would have expended most
of its energy into his armour but that would have led to some very
awkward questions from Trowa and Heero afterwards.
"Thanks, Tro." He whispered, quite honestly. "How did you-"
"It's hard to get the drop on a Nightwalker, especially when the moon
is shining. They have some kind of magic field dampener or I would have
felt them coming a mile away."
"A mana sink?" Duo asked weakly. "Here, on Centre?"
"They must be desperate."
"Or very, very stupid. Should we do anything? Or just wait for some arcane
disaster to blast them to smithereens." Centre reacted violently to many
pieces of technology. Mana sinks were the proverbial lighting rod in the
"We're pretty far from any source, here, and the night is calm. They might
get away with it. I wonder why they took the risk though. And I'm also
wondering why they shot at you."
Steps echoed, approaching the caravan from down the road, quite openly.
"Heero wait!" Trowa snapped as a man stepped out of the shadows and into
the silver light bathing the road. Heero's eyes narrowed and he kept his
wrist pointed at the intruder but he didn't fire.
The man was short and sturdy and walked like a sailor, bowed legs rolling
with long strides. He was dressed like a cabalist, in a lightweight pressure
suit that outlined the bulges of his round body. He was bald, like most
people who lived in space and didn't want to mess around with hair when
slamming on a helmet during catastrophic depressurisations. His features
were hard and grim, his brown eyes steady. He appeared to be in his forties.
He had a gun at his side, and he held a small globe in one fist. To Duo
and Trowa the object seemed to warp the air around them as it interfered
with their ability to tap into Centre's ambient magic field.
Trowa moved forward slowly until he was level with Heero. "Why did you
The man stared at him, then at Heero. He appeared to be weighing them.
"As I thought. He lied to you too, didn't he." The man smiled with savage
"Who lied to us? What do you want?" Trowa's voice was carefully neutral,
he almost sounded bored.
The man just smiled but his eyes darted towards Duo, who, senses muffled
by the sink, reacted a bit too late.
"Che!" Duo bucked and writhed to try to break the iron grip of the man
who had sneaked up on him on him! from around the vardo. "What the
"You two gentlemen have a choice." The man's voice was jubilant, with
a hard edge that spoke of impatience to deal with Trowa and Heero and
get on to the main business, which was bound to be unpleasant. His eyes
were on Duo. Another man had joined the first, running up past the vardo.
They had circled around the trio while the other man distracted them.
Trowa's eyes narrowed and his crossbow, held at chest heigh, pointed at
the leader menacingly but the bald man continued to talk regardless. "You
can either let us go about our business or you can die. There are two
snipers in the hills now, and they have you in their sights. But before
we get excited-" Heero had tensed and started to scowl "-let me just tell
you that you have no idea who you've been travelling with. You have no
reason to die for that creature. You'd best be on your way."
Trowa smiled slightly. "I'm sorry but I don't feel like leaving without
my friend, unless you -"
"Friend? Shinigami has no friends." The man snarled. "He only has puppets."
"Shinigami?" Trowa said slowly.
Shit...Duo glared at the man towering over him. They'd dragged him out
from the shadow of the vardo into the moonlight. The man behind him was
a cyborg, he could tell by the absolute immobility of the arms holding
him like steel shackles. The man leering down at him...Another techno
cabalist, younger, in his thirties, pressure suit stretched over hard
muscles, with a very square face, thick lips and shorn brown hair. Duo
didn't like the look in his fixed eyes. At all. Lunacy, cruelty and sick
desires seem to jostle for dominance.
"Trowa? Heero?" Duo licked his lips. "D-do something. Hey!"
The man had grabbed his chin, and brought his face closer.
"He's very pretty, isn't he..." he said to no one in particular. His voice
was bland. His eyes were not. The cyborg behind him grunted.
"Just a minute-" Trowa snapped, glaring at the sadist then at the leader.
"Stand down." The leader told him softly. "This is none of your business.
Shinigami owes us a lot of deaths, a lot of money, and a lot of pain and
grief. Ranke over there has a particular axe to grind." His mouth twisted
with slight distaste. "I'm in no mood to refuse him if he decides to take
his payback out in...in kind."
Ranke dropped his hand to Duo's leather vest and jerked. His smile broadened
as the leather, which looked worn and a bit tattered, didn't give in the
slightest. He lazily drew out a serrated knife, edges sparkling in the
moonlight. Duo tried to shove back against the cyborg but it was like
trying to topple a mountain. "Trowa!"
"If you have business with my friend, I would accept that you settle this
in a court of law." Trowa said tightly, eyes flicking towards the hills
around them. "But I'm not about to let you-...do this uncontested."
Besides him, Heero, eyes fierce, slowly put his hands together and cracked
his knuckles. Wing seemed to hum in agreement as well.
Duo's voice rang with relief. "Yeah, this is a stupid mistake! Honest!
Let's take this to an adjudicator, or hell, anybody! I've got references,
I've got friends! They'll tell you I'm not Shi No Kami! I'm just a hunter
from the Reg, I-"
His words faltered. Heero had spun around and was staring at him. Duo
felt his heart clench under the fierce scrutiny. "H-Heero...?"
"-killed our master, stole our most valued artefact-" the leader was talking
to Trowa with the intensity of a fanatic. Many techno cabalists took their
worship of machines to a degree that most religious fundamentalists would
balk at. "We'd take him back to our mothership for execution but we can't
risk transporting him. He's tricky as well as powerful. He hides himself
well too. It took us ages to find him. We've been following every trace
of major power signature around Centre for a year. He finally slipped
up tonight, threw a blast that showed up on our dials, allowed us to track
his mana residue to -"
"Duo's been with us, or just down the road, for the last twenty four hours."
Trowa said sharply. "He's not- hey, stop that!" Trowa turned as Ranke
stuck a big hand over Duo's shrieks and slowly slit the ties of his vest,
one by one. "Leave him or-" The crossbow leapt to his shoulder and he
sighted down the shaft.
Heero put out his hand and slowly lowered the bow's point.
Trowa stared at the silent man. So did Duo, over Ranke's stifling hand.
"Heero-" Trowa started.
Heero hooked a hand under his elbow and dragged the shaman a few steps
away. "Leave them."
Duo squirmed and twisted his mouth away from Ranke's hand. "Heero! You're
not gonna let them hurt me?! I swear I'm not this guy they think I am!
Heero turned towards him slowly. "No, you're not the man they think you
are. Shi No Kami."
Duo froze, staring at Heero. He didn't even flinch as Ranke cut the rest
of his vest and shirt open with one slice of the knife, exposing his pale
"Heero?" Trowa whispered tightly. "What's going on? We can't let them
Heero merely crossed his arms. His eyes on Duo were blank, uncaring. He
appeared to be waiting for something.
Duo slowly sunk his head and bit his lip. And, very faintly, along the
link of the shihai, he could hear Quatre laughing...
"Hear that, Ranke?" The leader smiled but he kept a careful eye on Trowa
and Heero. "Apparently you can go ahead. These two gentlemen won't mind.
And the dampener will keep him nice and quiet and in our grasp this time.
He won't slip away from us. Get him to tell you where he hid the sacred
"Then have fun killing him slowly."
"Heero-" Trowa hissed.
Two thuds, a meaty ripping sound, a gargled scream-
And a lazy drawl. "Couldn't go much slower than that with those two losers,
friend. But it was fun while it lasted."
The cyborg was flat on his back, his face smashed in leaving a mosaic
of flesh, blood and bone as a grim parody of features. Ranke was on his
knees, the gurgling scream dying as he grasped his slashed throat with
one hand and his ripped abdomen with the other, a sheen of gut glimmering
in the moonlight. He spasmed and fell over to his side, twitching like
a hare in a noose, blood splashing with each convulsion.
Duo straightened up. The hand that was still lifted from the blow that
had connected with Ranke's jugular was - Trowa made a sound in his throat
- empty but the short leather glove gleamed as if it were made of glass
and razor blades. Trowa blinked. No, it was only blood glinting on the
soiled leather. Which didn't explain how Duo had ripped the man's throat
out with his bare hands.
"Don't move!" The leader shouted and made an urgent gesture with his fist.
His eyes were wide and enraged in the moonlight.
Two small red dots appeared on Duo's slim chest. They danced a bit and
settled, trembling, over his heart.
"Oh yeah, the snipers." Duo said absently, looking down at the spots.
His eyebrow twitched.
The dots suddenly flared and light shot back up the sighting lasers' beams
like two bullets made of fire. The dots on Duo's chest winked out just
as a panicked shot echoed through the hills.
Something whined in the air and pinged off of a worn, leather jerkin as
if hitting tempered plate mail.
Trowa knew, without having to check any lines or anything, that no further
shots would be forthcoming.
Duo absently rubbed his chest - the bullet had impacted just above the
heart - and turned slowly towards the leader. The leather jerkin rustled,
and suddenly twisted under its own volition and started repairing the
slashes Ranke had left, knotting up its own ties. Its owner bestowed a
dangerous look at the man who had attacked him.
The leader had drawn his gun and was pointing it at Duo's head. His other
hand clutching the mana sink trembled as he realized that you could count
on it to reduce a mage's power down to almost nothing - but that 'almost
nothing' was a very relative concept when you were dealing with a particularly
powerful mage. "Stay where you are!"
"Hmm, no." Duo said, with a wide grin, and took a step closer.
The leader's hand trembled. "You won't get away with this." Duo's grin
broadened and he took two more slow steps. "Others will come. We will
hound you until we retrieve the sacred sphere of Ophed from -"
"Nai no- " Duo's eyebrows shot up as he stopped his slow move towards
the man. "Is that what this is about? Hell man, I fenced that piece of
junk for the price of a bad beer over a year ago! You really ran halfway
across the galaxy for-"
The leader's face twisted in a snarl of anger and fear. The report of
the gun cracked and echoed against the cliff behind the vardo.
Duo's hand was in front of his face, palm out. The bullet had ricochéd
off the short buttoned glove and off into the darkness.
The man's face tightened but before he could fire again, the violet eyes
dropped to the mana sink in the man's hand. Heero suddenly jerked Trowa
back and spun him around to place himself between the shaman and Duo's
attacker, Wing's energy shield rippling. The sink glowed briefly, overcharged
and exploded like a grenade.
Lines suddenly leapt and curled in Trowa's perceptions as the sink's effects
disappeared. The carcass hit the ground with a thud, no vectors left from
that fragment-ridden corpse. But there was a dangerous geometry in the
air as Heero shifted his position, standing between Trowa and Duo, and
slowly raised his hand. Wing clicked and rustled.
Duo smirked but his eyes were hard as they lighted on the bracer pointing
at him with deadly intent. "So that's how it's gonna be, is it, Heero?"
Heero said nothing. Power started to dance along the wrist guard.
Duo turned slightly, dropping into a defensive stance. But his expression
was thoughtful. "Heero...Yuy...Heero Yuy. The one and only. I can't believe
I missed that. Trowa told me your name but his accent stinks."
Trowa took a careful step sideways so that he could fire his crossbow
while still staying within Heero's area of defence. His mind was whirring.
Heero said nothing.
Duo's eyes blazed. "Anata wa dare desu ka!"
Heero showed no signs of comprehension.
"Kotaete! Answer! Dare desu ka!"
Duo's eyes narrowed dangerously at Heero's unbroken silence.
"Dare-...Goddammit I know you understand-....Who are you!?" Duo snarled,
glaring at the bracer threatening him. "And put that thing away if you
want to keep your arm!"
Heero snorted very softly. His voice, when he spoke, was as cold and unemotional
as always. "Release Quatre."
Duo's eyes narrowed. "What makes you think I'm responsible for his condition?"
Heero said nothing. But his arm slowly tensed as he sighted down it.
Duo smiled, a cold movement of the lips. "You know, I like a mystery as
well as the next guy but now you're getting annoying. I wasn't anywhere
near Quatre when he went haywire and attacked Fen so why should I be blamed
"The word on his forehead, ‘shirushi'. It's keeping him asleep." Heero's
voice dropped to a menacing whisper. "Take it off Shi No Kami."
Duo's mouth continued to move on automatic for a second but his voice
"...okay. I'm kinda intrigued now." He finally said. "When did you see
the mark? You were tied to the wall when I had to force him under." And
Quatre had been pre-programmed to attack Fen as soon as they were about
to leave, with or without zero. The mark was only briefly visible when
control was challenged or exerted...
In a blinding flash Duo remembered Heero rubbing at Quatre's forehead
earlier. Had he been rubbing at the shihai, and not the ochre? But...that
made no sense! Could he see it all the time? Why hadn't he said anything
before, then? Like, ‘Hey, Quatre, what's that thing you have scribbled
on your forehead?' Ah no, he never asked questions. Huh. So not only could
he see the mark, but he'd been able to read it; the symbol was shirushi,
‘control', in the Old Tongue. Heero had also associated it with someone
who bore a name in that same language.
Duo was more than intrigued. And reminded once more that Heero's short,
incomprehensible sentences were no indication that he was stupid.
"Trowa. Leave." Heero said quietly.
Duo eyes widened a bit. "Let's not be too hasty, 'Ro. I'll release blondie
if you tell me how you can see my mark."
Heero sneered and fired.
Duo cursed and dodged the nearly invisible wave of force with a speed
that left even Heero staggering to adjust his aim. Duo threw himself forward,
"Heero don't kill him! It might not free Quatre!" Trowa shouted, finally
recovering from the shock of the attack.
- Duo leapt like a cat dodging another low bolt aiming at his legs and
Trowa blinked and gasped. Duo had become a blur of motion, avoiding a
short blast and Heero's fist. He was suddenly behind Heero, slender arms
wrenching Heero's armoured ones up and back, one elbow bent inward and
pressing on Heero's spine. His hips were turned slightly and shoving Heero
forward, putting him just enough off balance where he couldn't use his
body weight to break free.
"Right!" Duo gasped. "Won't say that wasn't one of the best workouts I
had in awhile-" he was panting a bit, and his muscles tensed under the
jerkin as Heero snarled and tugged his arms forward "- but I can't afford
to get fried right now so just relax and-"
Duo was smart enough to let go and try to move back but even he wasn't
fast enough; the blast emanating like a wall of force from Heero's entire
body picked him up and shoved him back hard. Heero staggered forward as
Duo relinquished his hold but recovered quickly, twisting on himself to
level a bolt at the braided man on the ground behind him.
Trowa fell back a step, mouth open in protest. The explosion shook the
vardo besides him, sent the horses scurrying down the road on their hobbles.
But Duo wasn't blasted into small chunks. He'd been rolled a few feet
over the hard ground and he was shaking his head, stunned, but he was
mostly intact. For a few instants his black leather outfit seemed to ooze
and twitch, then it solidified again. It was like Dragon scale, a bit,
but even more organic, Trowa thought, stunned. It had apparently absorbed
Duo rose slowly, eyes incandescent. Heero stood still, waiting. And the
small smile on his face was familiar to his observers; he was pleased
with himself. And he was expecting a good fight from Duo. Before he killed
"Heero," Trowa hissed, "remember Quatre, Duo needs to-"
"He will." Heero's voice was soft as he let Wing rustle over his hands,
the smile lingering as he watched his prey.
Trowa looked back at Duo uncertainly. Too many questions...the biggest
one being, could Heero actually take the braided man down without killing
him? Trowa couldn't begin to interpret the lines he was now reading from
Duo, he thought they were being warped in some way. It made the reading
uncertain. But looking at him...
Duo was standing straight, arms at his side, face unreadable as he looked
at Heero. Blood trickled down from a deep gash high up on his arm where
he'd been dragged across a spur of rock by the blast, but he appeared
not to notice. As Trowa watched, the jerkin suddenly melted and flowed
again. It lanced up from the gloves, it curled around Duo's torso, trickled
down his legs repairing tears here and there. It solidified after a few
seconds. Duo was now wearing a tight sleeveless top that went higher up
his neck in a smooth material that looked like the finest calf's down
- but probably wasn't. The cloth seemed to swallow the moonlight, a patch
of darkness deeper than the night, a far cry from the much-patched, ragged
leathers he usually wore. His pants had also smoothed and adjusted, tight
on the leg with reinforced areas on hips and knees, with buckles tucking
the material in - not that that was needed, Trowa had by now realized.
The material would fit itself to Duo's form as much as it needed to. The
entire outfit looked like it was meant for stealth, quick movements and
hand-to-hand fighting. His gloves had lengthened up his arms until they
were only a few inches from the shoulders. The left one rose a little
higher to squirm over Duo's wound. When the dark material receded the
injury was partially healed.
"Ne, Heero...you look like you're having fun." Duo drawled, though his
eyes were still hard. The half smile on his lips was chilling.
"Hn." Heero dropped into a defensive stance, an invitation to Duo to do
"Unfortunately, I can't afford to fight you right now, Hee-kun." Duo smiled,
eyes like shards of glass in the moonlight. "You see, I don't want to
hurt you." He added solicitously and grinned as Heero snorted.
Duo lifted a graceful hand, flexing the fingers slowly. Trowa got a better
look at the gloves. The fingers were cut short halfway up the first digits.
Trowa felt a sinking feeling as he noticed that the palms had circles
cut out of them. Typical caster gloves. Damn, he wasn't only as fast and
deceitful as a weasel, he could cast magic as well. This day just couldn't
get any better...
A hum in the lines around him, shifting the nexus of the situation's control
from Heero towards Duo, accompanied by the echoes of an achingly familiar
pattern, informed Trowa that he'd probably just jinxed himself.
Quatre was standing at the entrance to the vardo, looking incuriously
at the scene before him. He seemed tired but otherwise fine. Trowa knew
- he could feel the lines strangling his lover's - but his body reacted
instinctively; he threw himself forward, intending to grab Quatre and
take refuge behind the vardo's pitiful shelter-
"Trowa!" Heero barked.
Quatre's face was placid as his hand leapt up and blasted Trowa full in
the chest just as the shaman reached for him.
Trowa didn't feel his back hit the ground, couldn't feel anything, couldn't
breathe...His last thoughts clung to the corrupted but still recognizable
pattern of his lover and his graceful steps as Quatre walked around him
to disappear from his faltering senses, heading in Duo's direction. Darkness
swamped him, illuminated by the agony of a sudden breath of air hauling
itself into his injured lungs - causing a flicker of surprise, he'd assumed
his chest would be a gaping hole by now. Weakened blast, he thought dimly.
Hurts too much for me to be dying...Duo, don't-...Quatre-...
The distance between Heero and Duo was fast becoming a no-man's land of
hostility and tension. Heero's fists flexed but his eyes flickered towards
Quatre, now standing at Duo's side, and Trowa's still form. See, if he
had zero, Duo thought lazily - ignoring Quatre's fury and horror pouring
back up the shihai - he'd know how to break this deadlock. Or he'd have
some idea on how to act. Now he's just standing there waiting for my move
like a lump of rock. Che, mimizu.
"Well that's left you with only a few options, Heero." Duo said with an
easy smile as he crossed his arms on his chest. "I can't begin to understand
how you think, sometimes. I don't know if you can learn something from
someone, or listen to advice, but here it is anyway. There's more to fighting
and winning a war than being the strongest. The important thing is knowledge.
Recognising the places to apply your strength, to the best effect. I am
not your enemy, Heero. I know you seem driven to perfect your fighting
skills. And you would learn a lot by fighting me, if I didn't kill
you. But we would be so much stronger together. Your strength is considerable
but it isn't yet enough for what's coming. Know how and where to apply
it. We'll be seeing each other again, Hee-kun."
Duo's smile became impish as he lifted his right hand and waved a cheeky
goodbye with a waggle of his fingers, then he spun, touched the hand to
Quatre's forehead for a second, and vanished as if the darkness had momentarily
vanquished the moonlight and spirited him away.
Heero blinked at the empty space, eyes widening.
Quatre choked, stumbled and fell to his knees. Then he was up like a shot,
staggering towards Trowa. He continued to squirm forwards, eyes on the
shaman's still form, even when Heero intercepted him.
"Wh- lemme- I have to-" Quatre's face was pale and twisted in panic.
Heero's hand gripped his chin firmly and tilted the healer's head left
and right under the moonlight, his eyes on Quatre's forehead. A puzzled
look crossed his features but he relinquished the healer who darted over
to Trowa and put trembling hands on his chest, healing the injuries. Heero
remained where he was, staring off into the darkness. He began to scowl
but someone who knew him would think the expression was a bit less confident
than it usually was.
[chap. 18] [chap. 20] [back
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