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

AN: Thanks to Casey for the sanity check! And to the rest of the War Room for encouragements and random insanity. Slight warning; you might want to be well rested before you read this chapter; I'm exploring some of the concepts of my version of Zero a bit more deeply.

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 24
Epyon, Wing and the Matter Of Choice

"I'm looking for my murderer." The stranger said.

There was a moment of complete silence. The bizarre statement hung in the air as if surprised at being uttered in the prosaic light of day.

Then Svale's staff came smashing down on to the rocky ground and light flared - a much more interesting, exciting light than sunshine could ever provide - rushing together in three arcs to imprison the blonde in a cage of golden flickers.

Even Quatre was impressed by Svale's speed. But of course he knew that a lot - well some - of her lechery was an act to throw people off. Five hundred plus years of existence had given her a nose for trouble and she'd approached the intruder prepared for it (though of course if it had turned out he'd simply been a lost traveller inquiring for directions she'd have taken the opportunity to grope such a good-looking specimen as a matter of course).

"Sorry sweetheart!" She cackled, voice canting above the crackle of the containment field she'd cast. "It's a pity to put something so pretty behind a no-touch barrier but I have the nasty feeling -"

"Svale, get back!" Quatre gasped, surprised she was still standing there despite the danger that was obvious to his eyes.

Behind the barrier, energy was gathering, rippling along the man's limbs.

Quatre hooked a hand beneath Trowa's elbow a second before the shaman would have leapt forward to go and help Svale with the doomed containment field.

"Stay here." He ordered without noticing the imperious tone in his voice until Trowa's eyebrows shot up. "Svale, get away from him. I don't think he recognizes you."

"Recognizes me?" Svale was smart; she was taking several cautious steps back, following Quatre's advice. The lanky blonde had crossed his arms over his chest, a picture of relaxation, but the barrier was starting to spark and crackle alarmingly.

"I'm not sure he knows who any of us are." Quatre said slowly. "But his Zero is telling him Heero and I were involved in his death, so-"

"What?!" Trowa spun to stare at him. Svale was suddenly before him, staff planted into the dirt supporting her weight as she scrambled up it to stare straight into his eyes.

"Talk to me, Rabbit. Who is this and what do you know and don't tell me how, I don't need another headache."

Quatre was momentarily speechless. In his distracted mind the barrier was shattering over and over again, each scenario playing out, the first lines of attack - against Heero, who would be the one to step forward - each probability dancing - no, that was the future. Concentrate on the now, the present. Svale...Svale didn't know-...?

"Don't you know?"

"Know what, Rabbit."

"But-" Quatre's head suddenly ached, it often did. The man's aura, his attitude, the armour he wore, the curls of Zero around him - how could they not recognize him -...

It came as a bit of a shock to Quatre to realize that only he could 'see' the armour beneath the leathers and jacket, or the way the man’s Zero spell was analysing and probing the barriers to find a crack, or the lines and vectors that made up an identity much more surely than a face that changed with age...it shocked him that he'd forgotten that other people couldn't see this. It seemed so natural to him, like being able to see the colour blue, or distinguishing shape from shadow. How could they not see? He couldn't even remember their limitations...

"Don't you recognize him? He's your friend. Fen."

Svale's jaw dropped.

"Fen?" Trowa look slowly from Quatre to the - temporarily - imprisoned man. Eyes narrowed then widened in a confused surprise. "I- I think he's right! There are similarities in the lifelines, and in the aura. But-"

"You're sure? I'm not delusional again, am I?" Quatre muttered before he could stop himself. His Zero-enhanced mind berated him, showing him the likely consequences of the slip. Quatre winced. His mind lashed out like a whip, herding the future along one line rather than another ­ in the real world, he let his eyes widen as he stared at Fen, encouraging everybody to follow his glance, a distraction while he attenuated the import of his words from their minds by tweaking the strands of the future, the sway of their thoughts. It shouldn’t be hard. Trowa was a practical man; more intrigued by the dead walking than a snip from his lover.

"How is this possible." Trowa's voice was flat as he finally turned from Fen back to Quatre. "He was old, senile and very, very dead last time we saw him. And we'll talk about the rest of what you said later." Green eyes tried to catch and drill into his own.

Quatre did not take his eyes off of Fen to avoid giving Trowa an opening to talk about it now. His lover was still the hardest to manipulate. Trowa’s eyes were distracting him, the trickles of hurt and anger and love coming from the well-known mind were muddying his own feelings, he couldn’t afford-

He used one of the control programs; Ephemeral Schism . Zero didn't care what its programs were called but the Jishin who had created it were a playful and oddly poetic people, and the spell had some very strangely named subroutines as a result. Schism was one of the emotional and mental control programs; stronger than Basic Padding and Buckets, which allowed him to keep the Zero I/O separate from his mind and emotions, so he could at least have a chance of telling the difference between the two. Schism allowed him to put up a glass wall between himself and his feelings until a crisis was past. They were still there and he could keep an eye on them - guilt/pain/anger/love - he thinks I'm mad - in a way I am -but I have to do this- and he won't understand-…he could still see them roiling and tearing at him but he was temporarily unable to feel the damage, and they couldn't interfere. For a time. Then the glass would shatter and they would come roaring out again.

There’s an easier way…the tempting whisper came from Zero or maybe from a part of Quatre that was tired of being torn and torn again. But he still resisted the total redesign of his mental and emotional pattern that Zero kept trying to push on him - Stone Rose, Zero had termed it, where the glass wall would become opaque and permanent, severing him forever from his own ‘weaker feelings’. Despite the pain, he feared that severance much more than the emotional backlash that would occur once Schism had elapsed and his emotions hit him with their full power, increased by guilt and his delay in dealing with them, like waters from a breaking dam sweeping him away.

Which they’d been doing frequently; hardly a day had gone by without him having to use one or the other of the lesser control programs, and paying the price for it later.

"Fen?!"

Quatre's mental turmoil had erupted and smoothed in the few seconds it took Svale's jaw to slot back in place and turn to stare at her captive - captive minus 10 seconds, Quatre estimated coolly.

"Heero." The icy grip of Schism had set his priorities right. "Kick him out of the cirque."

Everyone around him was still reacting - "Who the hollering Hades is Fen?!" G was shouting in the background - but Heero was half way to Fen already. The blonde had a legitimate complaint - Quatre felt a curl of laughter rise in his chest again and crushed it - but the bearer of Epyon could not be allowed to wreck the cirque and the sanctuary, and destroy their one chance to cast a shielding spell that would stale-mate Jusan and his herald.

"Heero go right." Quatre added quickly. Heero once more obeyed him without question. A whole section of Zero - Oddities Analysis was the prosaic name - was permanently running in the back of his mind, dedicated to trying to figure out who Heero was and why he seemed to listen to Quatre and Trowa’s advice when he ignored almost everyone else. So far Zero had come up a blank.

Fen’s version of Zero found the flaw - the right side of the barrier had not set flush against its two counterparts - and something rustled along Fen's arm, darting out to smash at the exact break. Fen's arm lifted quickly as the barrier faded. A crossbow bolt shattered on his suddenly armoured forearm. Next to Quatre an impassive Trowa grabbed another bolt from his belt and reloaded his small crossbow. Quatre wasn’t surprised that Trowa had shot Fen before the barrier had even fully dissipated; Trowa's visions of battle lines were not as complete or as foreseeing as the healer’s but he could pinpoint a weak spot in a shield with the ease of a shaman with a lot of battle experience, Quatre thought with a sudden absurd flush of pride which he immediately locked behind the same glass wall as the rest.

Fen’s hand curled into a fist and, still on the same arcing move that had caught the bolt, swung at Heero as well. The warrior, forewarned where the barrier would break, dodged it almost lazily and hammered into his foe, sending him stumbling from the cirque.

Everyone went rushing to the lip of the slight bowl-like area to keep an eye on the fight. Quatre followed more slowly - at this point Zero was feeding him so much information on Fen and his abilities, visual stimulus would be almost hard to bear; he had to trust Heero to figure out a way of stopping Fen from killing them all until Quatre figured out how best to deal with this.

They were still at the stand off stage when Quatre drew next to Trowa. Fen was fully armoured now and a cold little silence had fallen among the wardens who had been garrulously asking for explanations about 'the weird blonde' up till now. Epyon had covered Fen in plates of solid armour and energy, rippling up and down his lean frame, ionizing the air around him. Sunshine gleamed on metal the colour of blood. It was obvious he wasn’t just some wandering madman.

Wing had also deployed. Less impressive than Epyon's full coverage, the wrist guards rose to the forearms, the anklets had risen to form greaves to protect the front of the leg and the back of the knees, and there was a thin plate covering his chest and abs. It didn't look like much but Quatre could see the dance of energy as Wing created an invisible barrier to protect its carrier.

Fen and Heero were eyeing each other like a couple of cats. Very big cats. Insanely strong cats armed with energy weapons. Quatre cast a worried eye behind him, automatically calculating the risk of the sanctuary being damaged during the confrontation, even if they were several meters away from it now. Hopefully this wouldn’t get out of hand.

"I don't know who you are, boy. I can see you're no average punk." Fen started to say slowly. "I'm not necessarily here to fight you..."

Ah, that sounds promising, Quatre thought.

"...but I will rip you and every one of those present to shreds if you do not give me my soul back."

Not so promising…

"Soul?! What did you guys do to him?!" Svale gasped.

"Nothing." Trowa bit back. "Well, we killed him, but nothing more. I don't know-...Unless..."

"Duo. He must have done something." Quatre sighed, he barely needed Zero to figure out that once more Shinigami had landed them into hot water.

Heero hadn't answered Fen's threat or shown any sign of curiosity. He simply waited.

Fen stared at him, then at Quatre. The healer could feel it. Outwardly the man looked relaxed, almost uncaring. Inside he was a howling pit of anguish. What did Duo do to him, Quatre thought anxiously. He's not going to listen to reason, he's going to-

"Heero look out!"

It was stupid to shout! Zero cracked across his mind like a whip. Fortunately Heero had not needed the warning and was not distracted by it. He went from completely passive and waiting to a deadly bullet of intent in a fraction, as soon as Fen moved.

He curled himself below Epyon's whip that had materialized even as it snaked towards his head. Running in a crouch, he darted one way, then another. The whip licked the air over his head, missing him again. The crack scorched the air around the watchers. Heero reached Fen and punched, but Epyon/Zero had analyzed the attack and Fen was both dodging and retaliating. The blonde spun, backhanding Heero - who caught the blow on his wrist-guard - and then continuing the spin to hit him with the whips hilt.

Heero took the blow on his shoulder armour, ready to follow through - but the whip curled like a live tentacle! It wrapped itself around his body -

Heero threw himself forward, knocking Fen down and then slipping out of the tightening coil. He reached in, tore the whip from the armoured hand.

Another one was forming even as Heero took a step forward to hammer the form scrambling away from him.

Zero spat and sparkled like neon behind Quatre's eyes. He groaned - maybe aloud - trying to subdue the input. He triggered a few programs - Information Mining, Broad Outlines and Aspirin Please - in an attempt to control what he was seeing, and not let it drive him insane. Heero...strangely enough, it was Heero that was the problem. He'd only met Fen once, the man had an unknown Dragon armour and Zero, yet the statistics and probabilities he generated were behaving themselves. It was Heero...always Heero the biggest headache. Even after all their months together, even after unleashing the full might of the Zero calculations, well, as full as Quatre would let it, he still didn't know entirely what Heero was capable of or what he would do, and that made the dance of probabilities completely insane and on the verge of making him so too...

Quatre rode and controlled the input, with the skill, power and rugged determination with which he controlled the beat of lifeblood through a dying man's veins. Forget Heero, forget the fight, he needed the broader picture...

Fen rolled over his shoulder in a backward somersault and got to his feet, whip cracking to give him space. Heero glared at it, then at the whip he had in his hands, as if wondering how many more he had to tear away before Epyon was no longer capable of generating them. His eyes narrowed menacingly as he looked back at Fen. The empty sword hilt that usually dangled at his side suddenly detached itself and hurtled into his hand.

Trowa gasped and Quatre bit his lip as Zero went wild again, trying to predict the broader outlines of the fight - he'd never see Heero use the sword before.

Light burst from the hilt like a single, leashed lick of flame. Heero smiled - a cold movement of lips that spoke of blood - and attacked, batting the whip aside and causing sparks to ignite as light touched the dark energy running through Epyon's metal.

Fen parried with the whip's hilt. His other gloved hand flickered and another sword appeared, a hissing fury of flame, swinging towards Heero's head. Heero dodged, his sword came up to block while his other hand swung and hammered into Fen's mailed fist and made him drop the whip again.

"I don't believe it...who the hell is this kid..." It was J's voice. It sounded...very thoughtful. Zero flashed a few warning signs in Quatre's mind - he set aside a subroutine to watch that development, while he concentrated on where the lines were taking him.

He almost had it - Heero was an unknown quantity even for Quatre but he could still 'see' some of his effects on the future and-

The two swords clashed in a hiss of battling flames. Heero spun in towards his opponent, his sword sliding along Fen's, and crashed his shoulder into the taller man. Fen staggered back and Heero continued to spin to strike him with his sword from the other side but Fen managed to twist out of the way-

Quatre bit his lip, tasted blood. Zero catalogued it as a minor wound as its conclusions started to dart through the healer's mind:

- Herald, Jusan, Centre, sanctuary, Duo, Zero muttered -

- we already killed him once, he has reason to see us as enemies, a gentler Quatre suddenly cried.

Heero followed through, his free hand grabbing Fen's sword hand at the wrist and bringing his own weapon back-

- and we can't hurt him again it's just not right! -

- Heero, Fen, death, soul, rebirth, blackmail, ally, Zero concluded -

"Heero don't kill him we need him!"

For once the healer and the bearer of Zero came to the same conclusion at the same time.

Heero couldn't stop the blow but twisted his wrist so the 'blade' scored Epyon's side instead of stabbing through his opponent, then he released Fen and stepped back.

Fen's eyes were wide as he felt at his side, the hand i deep gash that went through his armour, the leather underneath and had cut the skin below.

Heero ignored him. He turned towards Quatre. The healer stared back, unable to put the whole concept that had come to him in words, not in time.

"Please Heero." He said, too weakly for the other to hear.

Heero stared at him. Then the sword flared and died and he dropped it to have it leap back towards his side.

"Nimru ryoukai." He said in a flat tone.

Fen stared wildly at him, at the healer, then back at Heero again. For an instant Quatre thought he'd step down and ask for an explanation but there was something wrong with him, with his mind. Whatever Duo had done to him had left him confused, he seemed unable to follow through. He snarled and attacked Heero, sword swinging up, a whip materializing in his hands again, shorter but still deadly.

Heero turned away from Quatre almost lazily, lifted a hand and fired an energy blast almost point blank just as Fen was about to slice him in two lengthwise.

Behind Quatre, J gasped. Zero’s subroutine integrated the feelings and the vectors of fate and intent streaming from the warden and presented the beginnings of an ugly picture to Quatre but the healer, mind throbbing, set it side for now. The old man would not be able to force Heero into anything, whatever was going through J’s cold, calculating mind.

What mattered now was -

"Stay here!" Quatre snapped at Trowa, trying to remove one variable from the equation as he ran towards Heero and a fallen Fen. Epyon had absorbed most of the blast but it had still knocked the blonde from his feet. As he struggled to rise, Heero stepped, almost casually, behind him, grabbed his arms and pinned him in the same block Duo had used on Heero a couple of weeks ago.

Quatre was half-way to Fen before he realized that both Trowa and Svale had come a little nearer, close enough to hear what would be said, but were staying back, far enough so they wouldn't be in danger if Fen broke away from Heero. Quatre could feel the worry pouring from his lover's mind, the way his hand clenched on the small crossbow pointing at Fen, he knew that Trowa wanted Quatre to stay back too...but the shaman said nothing and obeyed the order without voicing a protest. A little twist of guilt/surprise/misery/love joined the other emotions coiling behind Schism’s glass wall in the healer's mind, waiting for release. Later...later...

Fen was snarling behind his mask, and fighting against Heero's hold. The enigmatic warrior was holding him as if he could do it all day and fall asleep in that position if he had to. Quatre gave Heero one look of utter thankfulness for following his request, and then concentrated on Fen.

"We don't have it. Whatever it is you're looking for. We took nothing from you. There was another with us. Duo Maxwell. Shinigami. Shi No Kami, I mean." He could feel Fen's attention suddenly rivet on him. "I have to tell you about Shi No Kami..."

---

"Ah-tchoo!!"

Imp fell off the upturned beer mug he'd been sitting on.

"Ah-TCHOO!"

"Ma-"

Duo sneezed a third time. The hardened metal cup in his hand crumpled as if it were made of cardboard.

"Damn..." Duo sniffed, rubbing his nose.

"Master 're y'allirght?" Imp said, then its tiny brow wrinkled. "Mister are y'right?"

Duo grinned. Operation 'Get A Stone Drunk' successful. He'd not been able to get Imp to try any liquor to start with, but after several days of drinking, the alcohol content in Duo's bloodstream was enough to make Imp completely sloshed after the third thimble-full. He hadn't thought Imp's silicate composites could be affected by ethanol...maybe Duo's blood and the spell that had created Imp were setting up a sympathetic resonance of the master's state in the little golem. Which would mean that Imp would eventually become the first stone to ever experience a hangover. Either way, it was quite funny. He watched with considerable amusement as the tiny creature tried to scramble back up the beer mug, apparently forgetting it could fly. That was probably just as well. In its condition it would plaster itself to the wall, or maybe the ceiling.

"You falling cold Master? Er, you catching a sick? I mean-"

"No, just some dust I think." Duo's voice was steady, only a certain slowness indicating his inebriety. It was deliberate. Oh, he wanted to talk. Like quicksilver, like a fountain! He wanted to tell the barmaid who had stopped trying to flirt with him just how many threads and plans were coming to fruition now, and how this would save her, this miserable little dive and the lovely rows of bottles behind her if it worked, and what were the huge chances it could still fail...Fortunately discretion - running and hiding he snorted softly - were more than second nature to him now. Even if she would be completely unable to understand him, someone else might. Someone might recognize the fluid, dripping accent that was trying to take over his voice as his words accelerated. The tripping tempo of words, like a melody...Duo grimaced. He was homesick. This was such a constant state of being for him he would almost miss it if he weren't. Come on, now, Maxwell. Let's not become a sad drunk.

He noted from far away the continuing commotion near the bar, it had been going on for some time. He'd isolated himself in one of the darker booths so that Imp wouldn't draw too much attention. Leaving the tiny little creature behind hadn't even crossed his mind much. For some reason the thought of returning to his solitude had been...well…he chuckled as Imp reached the pinnacle of the upturned mug and gently tumbled down the other side with a rocky thump, staring at the crude wooden table in surprise.

What was going on over there? He turned towards the bar. The waitress had a radio blaring something out. Nice techno gadget, if it could cut through the interference Centre placed on most broadband and lowband. He was surprised to see it in such a dive. The hand-made look clued him in; the owner of the bar was probably a techno fan, a ham radio fiend. What on earth had everybody so interested? The whole bar was clustered around it.

//...this announcement by the Sweeper Cabal has put the whole of Centre in a panic.// The radio announcer was saying. //Most estimates of the power levels of the being known as the Scourge indicates it has enough power to decimate the entire planet. The spokesperson for the Cabal announced during a press conference an hour ago that plans to counter Jusan were being made, but refused to elaborate. Instead, the spokesperson asked the population not to panic, and indicated that steps were being taken to evacuate Centre, starting with the bigger population centres and -//

"Whaaat?" Imp was grasping the top of the beer mug and scrambling to get up on it, but was paying some drunken attention to the broadcast.

Duo sighed and scooped Imp up, put it on his shoulder. Then he caught it as Imp tumbled backwards. He glanced around carefully but everybody was riveted by the broadcast. No one was paying him any attention. His worn leathers rippled and suddenly the grubby jacket bore a deep breast pocket where none had been before. He poured Imp into it. With a hiccup of surprise the little creature righted itself and stuck a nose and a bleary black eye out again.

"Time to leave, pebble." Duo muttered.

"You're not shurprised, Mestar Duo?" Imp muttered.

"No. Howard contacted me a few hours ago to warn me." Duo sighed. He looked longingly at the remains in the bottle on the table. Oh well..."Let's get out of here before panic spreads."

He stood and staggered slightly, fetching up against the stone wall crusted with soot and less mentionable substances. Damn, that wouldn’t do. He sighed and glanced around but no-one was paying any attention to the slight figure at the back of the bar. The radio was blaring the headlines out again. The waitress had her ear practically glued to it despite the volume, her hands twisting in her apron, her face pale. The other patrons were muttering amongst themselves. One of them broke away from the others and ran out of the bar.

Duo closed his eyes. For the past few days now his armour had been fussing at the back of his mind like a mother hen, trying to get at his bloodstream. Go ahead then, he muttered mentally. Immediately he felt prongs pierce his veins in his wrist and ankles - Duo smiled harshly at the pain, as it jarred him from his anaesthetized state. He relished the feel of the pull along his veins as the armour started to suck his blood from them, and inject it back, cleansed from the alcohol and the poisons seeping from Duo's intoxicated liver. The pain increased as Duo prompted it silently, daring himself to go faster, feel more ­ it reminded him he was alive, despite the cost...the alcohol left his veins, slowly clearing his head. It would take an hour or so to fully dissipate the effects of a few days of solid drinking but now he could walk straight. He sighed and looked at his pocket.

"You better not puke in there, pebble."

"I won't if you stop moving Master." Imp had disappeared deeper into the pocket.

"I'm still leaning against the wall."

"...You are?"

"Forget it. Let's go."

The darkness and loneliness waited for him outside of the liquor’s warm fuzzy cloud. They were his old companions, like the sentient stone hiccupping in his pocket, and his armour trying to clean him up and fussing over him like a maiden aunt. The feelings circled him like wolves in winter. He hated them and he loved them; they connected him to what had been lost. He fled them by becoming the laughing God of Death. He sacrificed his soul and body to them time and again. He gripped them like a lifeline whenever the impossibility of what he was trying to do buried him in despair. They were his joy and his pain and he was getting a little too used to combining both to drown out the voices in his head - this liquor binge being a case in point - but it would really not matter much in six month's time.

As he passed the bar, he overheard threads of conversation.

“It’s been all over the news for hours-"

"...only a matter of time, the Scourge hates magic.”

"...I heard the Sweepers are forming a defence line. Someone is sowing mines in orbit."

"...the nomads in Goldsands are making a mandala that is kilometres."

"Will it do any good?"

"Who knows. I'm gonna head into space, near the moon. See what the Cabals have in mind."

"I thought they're just evacuating?"

"- I know how to launch a missile, and my brother can-"

"Oh please, they'll have some plan-"

"-heard the planet’s mystic soul has been preparing for this. My boyfriend's got connections to the Priests of Gaia, something big's been brewing for -"

"I don't care! Jusan wants a fight he'll get it!"

Duo paused in the door. Humans...Damn...he kept underestimating them.

He watched two of the women coo around the tearful waitress. He watched the men arm themselves with liquor and courage, fear and determination blending in their eyes. He watched hands clap shoulders, fists pump the air in shared spirit, people hug and talk about family and homes and things to defend...

The darkness and the loneliness pounced.

Welcome back, my old friends...

"Come on, Imp. Let's go kick some powerful ass. We'll put the fear of Shi No Kami into the Scourge."

"Yesh - hic - Mashter."

---

"Shi No Kami..."

Emotions flashed across Fen's face, through his eyes. They were jumbled and confused, like shattered pieces belonging to several different pictures all crammed together. But at least he'd listened to Quatre's hurried explanations. And given some of his own in return.

"So he keeps his soul in a marble?!" Svale repeated for the second time.

Fen snarled, giving small tugs, testing Heero's grip. He glared at Svale, who had approached cautiously with Trowa when they saw Fen willing to listen to Quatre.

"It's a - it was my Soul Stone. A small round stone on the end of a chain. I had it on me when I died. It's where I keep-...I need it! I need to know who I am!" Fen hissed.

"He's not human." Quatre said slowly, letting Zero analyze what Fen had said and what the healer could sense from the fractured mind before him. "I think he gets reborn every time he dies. That's so many lifetimes he can't remember them all, keep them all straight-"

"My memory, my self, my cohesion, it’s in the stone!" Fen gave a sharp heave forward. Heero didn't even blink. His arms holding Fen didn't move a fraction either. "Let me go, you bastard! If this Shi No Kami has it I'll go get it off him!"

"Can you find him?" Quatre asked dryly and then said immediately: "No you can't. Or you'd have gone after Duo. You followed the psychic trail I left with Zero, didn't you."

"You will tell me where he is!"

"Fen, if we knew where he was..." Quatre sighed. Fen's eyes were on him. His own version of Zero would be showing him Quatre’s lines, so the healer let his thoughts and conclusions ripple briefly across his mind for the other to see. He also allowed Fen to see Quatre's understanding of the situation, in a dance of probability and circumstance. The tendrils of the trap strewn around them, Duo's web snaring them both.

Fen suddenly slumped forward against Heero's hold. "Bastard..." He murmured but it sounded defeated.

"I'm sorry." Quatre whispered. Schism was starting to fade and he was getting emotional again. Fen's fractured mind and torn, bleeding soul were an almost physical pain. "I wish I could...I know it makes you angry - trust me, I know - but I'm afraid you have no other choice but to go along with it for now."

"Go along with what?" Trowa asked him quietly. The shaman's eyes were narrowed, he was also picking up the lines twisting around in the conversation, the decisions being made as he tried to follow. "You want him to join us?"

"I don't." Quatre said, rubbing his forehead. "I mean, we can do with the help, but this is coercion and we know it; it's Duo's plan. He's holding on to this man's soul, his memories, so that he can force Fen to fight Jusan when he gets here."

"Duo..." Trowa muttered darkly.

"I....don't want-" Fen was shaking his head as if hoping to slip out of the chains he could feel settling around him. "Why should I help you?"

"Well you don't have to." Quatre sighed. "You can just wait around in the sanctuary until Duo shows up. We're still not entirely certain what or who he is and what he wants but a lot of his plans and attention seem to centre around Heero."

"Heero?"

"The man holding you down. Er, Heero, you can let go of him now."

"So he'll come here." Fen said slowly, not noticing that Heero hadn't budged.

"Yes. We're not entirely sure but we think he's trying to get us to fight Jusan. In which case he might make your help the price of giving you your Soul back. Heero, let him go."

"I'll kill him..." Fen murmured.

"I'm afraid that won't be an option. Duo...we don't know much about him but I think he's powerful. Very powerful." Quatre let his knowledge and speculations flash across his mind's lines and saw Fen's eyes widen in response. "You see it...the way he affects the lines of the future? He's like a black hole in coming events, everything is spinning and falling towards him, he's a central figure. Duo is- Heero, let Fen go. He's on our side, well, sort of."

There was a small silence. The wind rustled the grass and whispered amongst the stones of the cirque behind them.

"...Heero?"

"He attacked us." Heero's voice was cold and set.

"But...but that was because he thought we had his Soul Stone - it was a mistake, Heero." Quatre's eyes widened as he saw the curls of lines and the vectors of the immediate future. Fen sensed them as well and stiffened in Heero's steel hold. "Heero don't - he's not our enemy!"

"He is powerful." Heero said quietly. "Finish talking to him. Then go away."

Quatre's mouth moved as if trying to shape the words that would stop what was coming. He could see it, understand it in a way. Heero didn't care why Fen had attacked them, he only cared that the blonde seemed to be an excellent fighter, a superb challenge, someone to hone his skills against. He was holding Fen because Quatre had asked him to. But the healer could see it, sense it, with his own empathy and Zero's foresight; Heero's directive of testing himself and building himself into a better warrior was very strong, as strong as whatever it was that was binding him to Quatre's will. Quatre had stopped him from killing the bandit shortly after they met, but that was because Heero had already defeated the man and was just cleaning up. Now the healer was fighting against something much more fundamental to Heero's...to Heero's very existence, Quatre realized, suddenly chilled to the bone.

"Now look here, bub-" Svale started menacingly but Quatre stopped her. Arguments and commands wouldn’t reach Heero on this, he had his own logic, his own drive. Quatre wasn't sure he could order or talk Heero down. But someone had to reach him!

"Trowa." He said softly, knowing who had the best chance of communicating with Heero now.

Trowa was silent for a few seconds. He was staring blindly at Fen, who was very, very still in Heero's grip as the clash of wills around him decided his fate. The shaman slowly lifted his head to stare straight at the enigmatic warrior he'd found at the end of his line a few months back.

"Fen is strong. You'd learn a lot fighting him. You would become even stronger." He told Heero matter-of-factly.

"Tro-" Quatre bit down his protest. No, he could see it, Trowa knew what he was doing. He had to- he had to trust his lover. Hopefully the shaman had a better plan than egging Heero on!

Heero's blue eyes fastened on green.

"It won’t do you much good though." Trowa's voice was neutral, almost uncaring, as if he hadn't actually noticed Heero was holding Fen in a grip that could easily become deadly if he said the wrong words. "Duo and I both told you...strength isn't always enough."

Heero started to scowl, a deadly look. Svale swallowed loudly but no one else said anything.

"There's another way of becoming stronger." Trowa's voice was like flat ice covering deep dark pools and currents. "You can defeat Fen and add the very little that will teach you to your growing strength...or you can use his strength to complement your own, and increase it considerably."

Heero's eyes widened and he flinched. It was one of the strongest reactions Quatre had ever seen in him. "I- no."

"Why not?" Then Trowa seemed to catch himself, and continued on in the cold, neutral tones, ignoring his own question. "That's the way it works, Heero. I-..." The green eyes narrowed as if sensing another opening. "You use me and Quatre to make your way easier."

Quatre blinked at the statement. The whole 'conversation' sounded strange and disjointed, one affirmation following another with only tenuous logic, but he could feel it, Zero was showing the astounding effects of Trowa's simple words on Heero's psyche, the lines of Heero's mind quivering away from a concept that seemed abhorrent to him. Quatre felt a slight pity he could barely explain at his shiver of confusion...while Zero packed away yet more information about the mysterious man.

"I...you found me." Heero said as if this was a conclusive argument. It was apparent to Quatre that even Trowa didn't understand what Heero meant by that but the shaman didn't press the point.

"You listen to us. You let us help you." Trowa continued relentlessly. "We are your friends, Heero. We stand by you and we cover for you. Quatre and I fought Fen when he pinned you to the wall. We helped kill him while you were helpless."

"Don't mind me." Fen muttered, eyes narrowing to slits. But he didn't add anything. He must have felt Heero flinch behind him.

"You...are simply guides, in a fight you- you are a weakness." Heero said, but he sounded unsure of himself.

"True." Trowa said bluntly. "Duo used us to stalemate you. Quatre and I aren't very strong. Fen is much stronger. You can add that strength to your own. It's your choice."

"I...can't...I..." Heero ducked his head and muttered something. It sounded like 'Heero Yuy'. The emotions roiling from him were hitting Quatre in the head like iron mallets. Frustration, confusion, an almost physical need for something, to achieve something, to become -...Quatre bit down a groan, knowing that the next few seconds were crucial. The feelings overwhelming him and Zero's furious analyses were ripping him apart. He barely felt a hand, calloused from drawing back crossbow strings, slip into his, squeeze tightly. He drew some small comfort from it but he couldn't allow himself to rely on- to lean on- he had to shy away from those emotions as well or they'd overwhelm him in his present state. This was too important. He freed his hand with a jerk and stared at Heero, willing the internal battle to go their way. It wasn't only Fen's life on the line, he felt. It was much more.

Come on, Heero. Get the concept. You may be strong...but you still need others. You can't-

He didn't know if it was Zero or sheer intuition that put the words in his mouth.

"You're the One and Only but you still need us, Heero. You'll need others too before the end. Other friends. Let us help. Let us in."

Heero flinched. Then he released Fen and turned away abruptly.

The blonde slowly got to his feet, rubbing his shoulders. Epyon rustled and started to slip back under his jacket like liquid metal.

"I think I might be called a temporary ally rather than a friend." He muttered.

"Don't...confuse the issue." Quatre told him with a tight smile that indicated that it would be unwise to stress Heero further at this point. Fen glanced back at Heero, who was a few feet away with his back turned. Trowa was standing near him, a hand on his shoulder, saying a few words, nothing much but then Trowa didn't have to talk a lot to make his point, to make things clearer.

"You may be right.” Fen muttered. “Why don't we go somewhere away from your interesting...friend and you can tell me a lot more about what the hell is going on here. I want to know everything there is to know about this Duo, as well as all of you people, and-"

"Later." Quatre said. He could barely feel his feet. He turned slowly, trying not to stumble. It came to him in a flash that he wouldn't mind Trowa’s comforting hand on his own shoulder. Pain ripped through him as he remembered shaking Trowa's hand away from his own a few minutes ago. It added to the growing pile of torment that was starting to stir, freed from Zero's chains. Zero itself, too busy calculating and analyzing what it had sensed from Heero, was not being any help.

"Later." Quatre said quietly, to avoid distracting Trowa. "I...need to go lie down for awhile. Talk to Svale, she can start to fill you in."

"Er-"

"If she tries to grope you, hit her. She'll generally take that as a no."

"Hey! Way to spoil my fun, Rabbit!"

Quatre stumbled down the hill, towards the sanctuary of his room. He was going to pay for that little display this afternoon. He wanted to do it alone. Anything else might torment him past bearing.

[chap. 23] [chap. 25] [back to Maldoror's fic]