Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Adventure, Humour, AU
Pairings: 3x4, eventual 2x5, even more eventual 1x2x5
Rated:NC17 - for language, lots of violence, yaoi, sexual content
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to its 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

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 28
Sting

The flights of Trowa's bolts were shimmering threads of a spider's web, catching and snaring a few of his attackers, in the past, the present - thunk-thwap, the crossbow spat - and the future. Still too many of them. Too many. Six men left, and coming nearer. Now he had to turn violently to catch them as they darted between cover on all sides; it was making them bolder. The man he'd just taken down had paid the price of being too bold - the feathered bolt shivering as it stuck out from his ribs, in time with ragged, painful gasps of choked air into a pierced and collapsed lung. But still too many...Sweat rolled down Trowa's face as he plucked two more bolt from the ground, fitted them into the crossbow and fired in one smooth, sparse movement. The leader darted back - in Trowa's mind he was a solid block of murderous intent, like the rolling rocks on the cusp of an avalanche. He was surprisingly agile for a man his size. Trowa had known the bolt would miss as he fired it - the lines danced and warped in his blindfolded eyes - but it kept the big man pinned down. While two others advanced...

A lull in that threatening forward movement, while they glanced at each other, trying to figure out who would move next, who had a better chance of making it to new cover without getting killed, and who they would rather want to see dead other than themselves. Trowa gasped, relaxed his fingers quickly - they were cramping from pulling back on the crossbow's mechanism. Behind him, Heero had been silent for awhile now. Trowa desperately hoped he was alright, but couldn't spare the slightest hint of vision to check.

He did glance off to one side. All this would be for naught if the Dragon broke through. Trowa ignored the ache in his heart that indicated that there was even more at stake, for him, than his own battle and his life. The Dragon was still at the same distance as before, thank Centre. The line of defence against the stronger enemy was still standing, and the creature had not summoned Jusan. It was enough to make him believe...in...miracles...what the-...

The darting, dodging black form fighting the white-and-metal clad Dragon wasn't Fen. Blindfolded, Trowa couldn't see colours and materials, but he didn't need to. The Dragon was an iridescent shell of energy, his armour in turn shielding him and then darting out in murderous bursts of power. The figure dancing around, attack, parry, quick dodge and away, was not Fen's solid presence. It was a shimmering coil of potential and mostly-hidden intent, like a nest of black snakes coiling and turning in on themselves.

Duo.

A very stressed Duo, Trowa thought distractedly, as he loosed another bolt in the direction of someone who'd popped their head up above a grey weathered boulder half way across the cirque. Duo had an exquisite control over the appearance of his lines, the ultimate camouflage; which was why the shaman had not realized Shi No Kami was hiding behind that cheerful grin and brilliant blue eyes until it was too late. Apparently that control had now abandoned him. Trowa could see its ragged remnants clinging like a black fog around the man's aura. It was obviously not by choice that his mask had slipped. Fighting the Dragon must be taking up all his resources.

Why was Duo fighting the Dragon? Trowa hadn't believed him for a second when the little back-stabber had said he'd stay on the sidelines, but he couldn't see what Duo's game ultimately was. Well, no change there then.

Trowa longed to look at the unmasked Shinigami more closely; his instincts and his logic had been in a vicious deadlock over Duo since the latter had betrayed them. Logic said he could trust Duo considerably less than he could trust the sun to rise tonight. His instincts...normally Trowa trusted them, but they were the ones who'd stood idly by while Duo got Quatre embroiled with Zero. His instincts were in the dog-house as far as he was concerned. He wanted to examine Duo, the naked Shinigami, or as much as he was letting slip...and it wasn't all that much even now - the man was a master at hiding.

The leader roared, lunged forward - Trowa knew it was a distraction even as his bow twitched, then whipped back. The string slammed the bolt along a suddenly beckoning vector. Another of his attackers had thought to take advantage of his distraction; the man, who'd darted forward, squealed in fear, but the shot was off, only slicing into the skin of his shoulder before clattering, a suddenly harmless piece of wood, against a small stone wall behind him - the patterns had been clear, if Trowa hadn't fired right then, to miss, then he would have lost a second that would have allowed the leader and another attacker to move forward. He'd not killed the man, but he'd kept all of them pinned down still; it was more important. If they came nearer he might be able to kill most of them, but it would only take one to slip through his guard and attack a defenceless Heero. The leader growled; he'd started to move forward too, but had to fall back again as the double-crossbow swung his way, second bolt a deadly promise.

The mystery that was Duo faded from Trowa's mind as he sank himself back into the patterns again.

---

Quatre was leaning back against the rock where Duo had been sitting; his mind so full of the warping of the future, his body was trembling with the stress. Each blow and counter-blow, each momentary flick of decision from either fighter, was radically hauling the future in one direction or the other, from salvation to armageddon, and back again in a matter of seconds.

Quatre had a lot on his mind...and a rock on his shoulder, a fact which was trying to distract him. He didn't let it. The small...thing sat on his shoulder quietly - apparently, when Duo, pressed back by the Dragon's renewed attack, had snapped 'Go sit with Quatre', the little creature had understood it to mean, go sit ON Quatre. Svale and Fen were standing on either side of the healer - Svale perched on the rock itself - staring at the creature, but both Quatre and his unexpected passenger had their attention riveted on the fight.

He's not going to make it...like a set of scales vacillating wildly, the future fluctuated in his mind, but the oscillations were sending the needle hovering more and more on the side of 'armageddon'. The Dragon was...good. And Heero still had several minutes left before he could release the gaia energy into the sanctuary and trigger the shield spell...Duo was visibly getting to the limits of what he could do within the no-magic boundaries he'd imposed on himself, for whatever reason...They needed more time. Just a bit more time-

Quatre used every ounce of his will-power and abilities, throwing Zero out like a net, to snag any other element that could help them delay the inevitable. Zero was a tool; it was the healer who had to direct it, feed it other options, offer it other avenues to explore...A solution came to mind. He hated it instantly. It would increase the risk to Trowa and Heero, and the sanctuary itself had a higher chance of being destroyed. But Zero was pointing him to a nexus point in the near future, and it didn't look pretty...

Now how to put the plan in motion...?

Quatre glanced sideways; a close-up of his little passenger, beady black eyes and skin like, well, like rock.

"Can you get near Duo? Without getting crushed by the Dragon?"

The beady black eyes blinked rapidly, with a tiny tink-tink-tink noise of stone on stone. "Yes?" the creature said, not very assuredly. It had a voice like two pebbles being rubbed together.

"Good. Make sure you don't distract him, but get near him and give him this message. Make sure you repeat it word for word."

"Will it help my master?"

"...at this rate, it'll save his life."

The black eyes were riveted on his face as he gave the message.

---

This wasn't as fun as it had been with Fen. It wasn't because Wufei was a lot less nearer to winning than with the blonde. Winning was just the result of an mathematical formula; you measured your strength, tactics, luck and abilities against the opponent's, and the man still standing after the result computed and the blood had flown was the one fated for victory. But the enjoyment of a fight, the challenge, the deadly, beautiful dance...that went beyond winning and losing, beyond the cruel equation of life and death.

Not that his opponent wasn't good. The black form dodged, lithe and quick as a little black snake, and Wufei's fists bit air again. He'd stopped throwing energy bolts around; at this rate he'd exhaust himself before he had a chance of winging his fleet opponent.

And besides...Wufei was feeling an intense desire to get his hands on that braided bastard, actually constrict that evanescent form to a final - and indeed terminal - standstill.

That was what was annoying; the pest just kept on dodging. Oh, Duo had gotten a few blows in. But they'd been mere caresses compared to the strength he would need to fell a Dragon. Duo had a wiry strength to his sparse frame, Wufei judged, but that wasn't enough to get more than a tickle past Shenlong.

Is that all you have? A stab in the back, and if that fails, you're done for?

Somehow, he didn't think so. He'd noted that Duo had not used magic after Wufei had casually brushed the second mana blast aside with a shrug of Shenlong's energy fields. But magic wasn't only a question of raw power; it could be subtle. And Wufei had a feeling that Duo's magic was an echo of his true self; dark, potentially powerful, full of nasty surprises and very much still hidden to date. But why...?

//He's trying to delay you. This is all a distraction.//

That could be the case...it was true that the thought of getting his hands on that slender form and wiping that cruel, mocking gash of a grin away was very distracting indeed.

//I hope you know what you're doing, Dragon...//

Wufei merely smirked. Shenlong's glittering wings of energy shot out, blasting him forward. Wide blue eyes, caught in a moment of surprise - Wufei feinted, Duo dodged, the Dragon spun and finally connected, backhanded. Duo managed to save his skull from being caved by throwing up a forearm in parry and dart aside. Ahhh good move...so he was able of actually fighting, even if he lacked Wufei's physical strength and ability.

Duo was a few feet away again, rubbing his badly bruised forearm and glaring through the ever-present half-smile. There was a little fire in his eyes now, and for a second the grin went from mocking to savagely sincere and Wufei almost smiled back. Then the mask came down again and the fighters circled once more, warily, like two tigers pacing.

A little blur of grey - that damned creature again. Wufei's mood had lifted a bit - despite the burn and ripple of pain from his wounded back and shoulder - so he didn't knock it out of the sky with a quick blast. Besides, he wanted to keep all his energy for its master.

Duo started as he caught sight of the creature. It flitted up to him and latched onto his shoulder. Wufei found himself pausing, though this could have been an opportune distraction. Duo blinked and leaned his head towards the little homunculi, though he kept a careful watch on Wufei; his eyes - a weird shade of blue that defied definition - widened and flickered briefly towards the two men sitting on the sidelines.

Wufei kept a cautious eye on Fen and the other man at his back. Fen looked a whole letter better than he'd any rights to be; the other man might be a healer. But neither seemed inclined to jump into the fight. And he didn't think the little stone creature had any combat potential at all. So Duo was on his own...

The creature dropped from Duo's shoulder and flew back towards the other men, reluctance expressed in the heavy flap of its wings. Duo's eyes flickered away from Wufei, at the creature, making sure it could get away unmolested, then at the sanctuary - once more, the Dragon hesitated but didn't launch an attack during that moment of distraction; honour could be burdensome thing.

Wufei was still contemplating the lack of foresight of his ancestors, who hadn't added a dispensation clause regarding annoying, long-haired trash in their dictates on honour, when he realized he was staring at empty space. He gasped and spun, towards the Jishin ruins. There! The bastard had broken away from their fight! And he was running towards-

//He's going to attack the men I sent to get rid of Heero!// Jusan was suddenly an almost physical pressure in Wufei's mind.

"Then he's a fool!" Wufei snarled, sending a searing blast of energy at the back of that departing figure. A coward fleeing the fight deserved no consideration!

Duo dodged - did he have eyes in the back of his head?! - and dived forward to avoid a second blast. Wufei was already on his heels. Duo scrambled gracelessly to his feet. He appeared to have realized he'd made a tactical error; he was facing the advancing Dragon now, face pale and set, the grin finally removed. Wufei didn't let him gather himself, he attacked immediately. His foe dodged - again!- and weaved...but he was now in a field of stone blocks and ruins, at the edges of the sanctuary's buildings. Wufei couldn't get a straight shot at him, but Duo's field of evasion was considerably hampered.

And he finally made a mistake. It was pretty much inevitable, and what Wufei had been waiting for.

Wufei was several feet away from Duo but he heard the man's shocked gasp when, trying to put more space between them, he tripped over a low stone outcropping. The Dragon was on him in a second. Duo did his best - but found himself hemmed in by a formation of three huge stone pillars. He hesitated just that little second too long on which way to dodge-

Both of Wufei's fists crashed into the rock on either side of Duo's shoulders. Duo shouted in surprise at his foe's sudden appearance before him, his head jerked back to clonk amusingly against the rock - Wufei had put in an uncommon burst of speed to pin him there.

There was a moment of silence; both men panted, staring at each other; Wufei could feel the savage grin of victory twist his lips. Duo's eyes flickered left and right...then widened as he apparently noticed the flickering in the air around him. Wufei's smirk widened; it wasn't easy to control Shenlong's energy wings in this way, bringing them to sweep forward and embrace both fighters and the rock against which Duo was pinned, but the small trapped animal look this rewarded him with made it worth the effort. He wasn't letting the little rodent get away with a trick and a twist this time!

A trickle of sweat ran down Duo's face. He licked his lips and smiled. It was tight and feral, and Wufei felt a slight grudging admiration. It looked like his opponent could face death like a man, despite his back-stabbing ways.

"You're not going to put an end to it now, are you?" Duo asked lightly, interrupting Wufei's pleasant speculations about what horrible things he was going to do to the pest now that he had him.

Wufei snorted. "What do you think?"

"But we were having so much fun together!" Duo grinned toothily. There was even a slight suggestion of a leer.

"The amount of fun I was having dropped considerably when you stabbed me in the back, you little bastard." Wufei answered pleasantly. "I would have let you people live, with a few broken bones, if you'd have been willing to fight honourably. But now...well, I'm going to have a lot more fun taking you apart than I had fighting you; as a warrior, we are not of the same calibre at all."

Duo made a tiny vexed ‘huh' noise - sending a little puff of air tickling Wufei's face. A scent of clean water and rain on rocks, tugging at his memory-

"Well I'm sorry I wasn't fit entertainment." Duo snapped. "But tell you what-"

Wufei saw the tension in the lithe frame and he'd drawn back his fist and punched savagely before Duo could do more than twitch-

What the-...hell!?

Wufei stared at his fist, which had connected with...plain, bare rock. Instead of nailing Duo to the pillar.

//What-...just happened?//

The Dragon snarled and spun around. There! The snake was ten feet away, just beyond the three stone pillars, panting. How had he moved that fast?! And how had he gotten through Shenlong's energy field?!

//Wufei...I think...I think he teleported. But that's...impossible. He's not powerful enough for that. It's a forgotten art these days anyway...How...//

Wufei ignored Jusan's speculations. Teleporter, hm? That made things difficult, but not impossible. He snarled and launched himself at the man -

And crashed straight into an invisible barrier.

Wufei staggered back with a gasp, clutching the shoulder that had impacted with-...something.

"Tell you what..." Duo drawled, from a safe distance, looking at him, amused. "Since I was such a letdown, lemme make sure you don't die of boredom by giving you a little entertainment. You have fun now! You can think fond thoughts about me in the meantime." The cocky bastard actually blew him a kiss, then turned and sauntered away.

Wufei carefully felt out in front of him, while Shenlong started flashing information into his left eye. He was in a cage of some sort; a barrier had sprung up between each of the three stones, and rose and connected above them as well. And...Shenlong rang an alarm...and the barriers were slowly moving in. Very slowly but nonetheless, pressing against him, obviously intent on crushing him..

//Hmmm. It appears that by entering this triangle of stone, or by striking that rock, you triggered an ancient Jishin trap.//

Yes, thought Wufei. This was familiar. The Dragons and the Jishin had fought over many centuries; the new, ambitious race at the start of their expansion, facing off with the remnants of a decadent, dying people on their way out. It was possible that this trap had been set specifically to catch Dragons, though he thought the sanctuary looked a bit old for that. No, this was probably a trap set for anything mechanical - like Shenlong - that happened to launch an attack in proximity to the sanctuary. The Jishin had always been weary of techno enemies; the magical ones had never dared attack them.

//Can I hope this is where you summon me?// Jusan actually sounded resigned to the answer he was expecting.

Hell no. Wufei had never fought a Jishin; their race had dwindled and forsaken the battlegrounds before he was even born. But the Tricksters had been the greatest enemy of his race at one point, the only ones who could pose a real threat to Dragons, and so he and all his peers had been taught to fight anything magical and/or Jishin as savagely as they fought any enemy. Wufei flexed Shenlong's energy field, while he ran through the mental and spiritual mantras that prepared him to fight on a different level than physical. The barrier's progress slowed, faltered...Wufei hated magic, but he was far from helpless against it.

//Yes, I guess I should know now not to underestimate you...or your stubborn pride.// Jusan didn't sound particularly put out. //You'll be glad to know that I've calculated the rate this Heero is cumulating energy. Knowing your capacities, if you break this barrier as fast as I estimate you can, you will have a few minutes to finish this before he can cast the shielding spell. That's assuming those incompetents I sent haven't taken care of him already. If they haven't, you have my permission to terminate their miserable existence-//

Jusan?

//Yes?//

I'm trying to concentrate. Please, with all due respect, shut the fuck up.

//Yes, Wufei.// Jusan's voice was it's usual mixture of cold humour and condescension, as if a child had made a face at him. Wufei made a mental note to himself to be very annoyed about that later on, but for now he had to concentrate, break out of this trap and then kill everyone.

The mystical barrier creaked, and slowly, very slowly, started moving in the opposite direction, away from the irate Dragon.

---

There were only five uninjured men left when they finally rushed Trowa.

Two men died before reaching him, then-

Trowa threw his crossbow at a third, drew his hunting knife at the same time. He dodged; a halotech machete whistled where his neck had been. The man who'd come up behind him kicked him, hard, in the back. It hurt but he hadn't dodged - the move served him. He fell forward and rolled with the momentum. Up and thrust, knife in the first attacker's gut - one more down -

The choice was crystal clear, as if everything was frozen and painted on cold glass. There were two men left. The leader was following Jusan's orders, completely ignoring the shaman and the fate of his last men, and heading towards Heero. He had a foot on the dirt circle. The other man had taken the two steps separating him from Trowa and had a sword poised above the shaman's head, about to skewer his target to the ground.

His life or Heero's.

Trowa didn't hesitate. The knife flew out of his hand and sunk itself, with admirable precision, deep into the back of the leader's head, the soft juncture between spine and skull. The man crumpled two feet away from an oblivious Heero, dead in an instant-

The sword sliced down-

Trowa could have dodged but he didn't. His instincts were telling him that he could not move fast enough to avoid the man's weapon.

And the lines of fate were telling him he didn't need to anyway. The man was already dead.

His enemy staggered, and blood erupted from his mouth and chest as the mage blast went clear through him. Trowa realized - a second too late - that if dodging had not been a life-and-death matter, it would have saved him from a very unpleasant and bloody tackle on the part of the corpse.

Breathless, he heaved the body away from him, ripped off his blindfold, sat up and found himself bowled over again almost immediately.

"Stay down! Where are you injured?" Quatre gasped, hands feeling Trowa's chest, his back, ignoring the blood quickly griming them. Well, that explained where the mage blast had come from, Trowa realized, suddenly very tired.

"Nowhere, nowh-" Trowa gasped as Quatre's hands reminded him of the last man kicking him down to the ground. Oh, right; in the rush, he'd forgotten all about that.

"Nothing broken. Just badly bruised." Quatre murmured, prodding gently. Then he darted in, quick and light as a sparrow, and brushed a small feather-like kiss on Trowa's cheek just as his fingers felt the extent of the damage; the best distraction, in Trowa's opinion, better than anaesthetic.

For a precious moment, it was just Quatre again, his kind and gentle healer...Trowa tried to ignore any distraction, wanting to enjoy this short respite, but with the distraction right in front of his nose and staring at him, that was rather difficult.

"Quatre..." he whispered, "what do you have on your shoulder?"

A quick kiss trembled on his lips as an itching pain burned in the bruised muscles under Quatre's healing hands. "Don't worry about it."

"But-"

"Shhh-"

"But you have a- a- there's something made of stone with wings on your shoulder." Trowa said, a bit plaintively. The beady-eyed thing was examining the shaman with open curiosity, before turning its eyes back towards- Trowa followed its gaze, dismissing the minor mystery in favour of a more important problem.

Outside the cirque, at the edge of the sanctuary's inner circle, Duo and the Dragon were facing off. Trowa's eyes narrowed. No, there was something strange...as he watched, Duo made a gesture Trowa couldn't discern, and then carelessly turned his back on the Dragon, who appeared to be...blocked by something.

"What-"

"Those three pillars are an old defence mechanism." Quatre explained absently. He was frowning in concentration as he passed healing hands over Trowa's back; the pain had lessened already, and the shaman could feel his muscles move more freely as he straightened and sat up properly. "I studied several of the sanctuary's weapons after I obtained Zero. This was one of those still working, though its field is very limited now. It's a minor barrier. Zero doesn't think it will stop the Dragon for very long, but...any time gained..."

Duo had entered the cirque and walked up to them. Fen, who'd been checking the fallen foe who hadn't run away, making sure none of them were any danger, glanced up and then, eyes narrowed, went to stand next to Quatre. Trowa scrambled to his knees and looked around for his crossbow. He still wasn't sure where Duo stood in the scheme of things, even if he was fighting the Dragon, for reasons that were doubtlessly his own.

Duo leaned forward, hands on knees, and breathed deeply. "He's rather friskier than I thought he'd be." He commented mildly, straightening up again.

"Why were you toying with him?" Fen barked. Trowa studied Duo's face in some surprise. The braided man had not looked like he was toying with anybody during that fight.

"What do you mean?" Duo didn't look particularly surprised by the accusation though.

"I know your abilities. You could have caught him off guard by teleporting. I think you could have used a good deal more magic than you did. And to start with-" Fen's eyes narrowed, dangerously. "To start with, I know from first hand experience that when you stab someone in the back, you're not prone to miss."

Duo latched his fingers around the back of his neck and stuck his elbows in the air as if he hadn't a care in the world. "He's a good deal faster than you are, Fen," he drawled, insultingly.

"So are you." Fen bit back.

"Ah well, that's true. I wasn't really trying that hard to kill him." Duo shrugged, elbows jabbing upwards. The devil-may-care grin was back in full force. If he was worried about being sweaty and bruised and rather outclassed by the Dragon, he didn't look it.

"So? What were you playing at?" Fen snapped.

"I was slowing him down, obviously. And I didn't use magic because I was worried he might summon Jusan." Duo glanced back at the Dragon, who was glowering at the barrier - which sparkled with fine lines of force in Trowa's eyes. They seemed to be bowing outwards. "The teleporting was a bit of a gamble, he took me by surprise when he blocked me like that...but he's apparently decided to ignore that and fight on by himself anyway. He's as stubborn as the tide, that one. As for why I didn't actively try to kill him...There's something you don't know about the herald link, Fen. Actually, there are two things you don't know."

"Oh?" It was Quatre who prompted the grinning Duo for an answer. The healer patted Trowa on the back, a final gesture indicating he'd finished - the bruises were much better, Trowa noted thankfully, he'd regained his full mobility. They both turned their full attention on Duo.

"The first thing you don't know," Duo drawled, addressing the healer and not a simmering Fen, "is that, to protect his herald from being rubbed out before he can even be summoned, Jusan creates the link with a trigger. In case of death, it will immediately send a huge wave of destruction blasting out all around it. I'm talking a hole in the ground the size of several cities."

"Oh." Quatre didn't sound all that surprised, it seemed to confirm something he'd surmised.

"Yeah. Oh. I couldn't afford to have the sanctuary destroyed..."

"Glad to know you care so much about our health," Trowa muttered, not at all surprised by that either. "What's the second thing? That we don't know about the herald?"

Duo grinned. "That's for me to know and for you to never find out...if we're lucky."

Trowa didn't respond to that. Merely closed his eyes and watched the force-field imprisoning the Dragon warp further and further out. He tightened his grip on his crossbow and stood just as the field collapsed. Chang walked out of the pillar of stone and looked around. Spotted them and turned, intent clear even to those without Vision.

"There's nothing you can do, Trowa," Quatre said quickly, putting a hand on his lover's arm.

"I can slow him down a bit."

"The time it takes him to kill you, you mean," Fen enounced clearly, his eyes on the approaching figure. The Dragon wasn't flying. He was walking, slowly, deliberately, his body tense with fury.

"If that's what's needed." Trowa stated calmly.

"It won't be..."

The murmur caught all of them off-guard. They glanced back.

Trowa fingered his crossbow nervously, still not sure about Duo, and unhappy that the mysterious man had approached Heero. But the look on Duo's face...it...was indescribable. He looked older, infinitely weary, but also...relieved, with a bone-felt anticipation of one who had waited his whole life for this precise moment. His eyes - the shade even stranger and more indefinable under the influx of strong emotions which he'd always hid previously - were fixed on Heero.

"No one's going to die today..." Duo added softly. For once there was nothing hiding Duo's lines, and his intentions were clear to the shaman; he'd have sacrificed every one of them to get to this point. But he was infinitely glad that he hadn't needed to.

"....Just how were you going to stop Chang?" Quatre asked, a bit nervously as he glanced back at the approaching Dragon, who was nearly at the edge of the cirque. The fact he asked the question spoke volumes to Trowa. It confirmed what his vision of Centre's lines were telling him; they were at a nexus point, a tangled knot in the near future, and even the Zeros were now blind to what was going to happen. He just hoped Duo had some control over it; Trowa rather wished Duo would get out of Heero's circle and prove it, preferably by killing the Dragon, although how he could do that when he was obviously not up to Chang's level as a fighter...

Duo smiled. It was small but honest. He crouched before Heero, looking into the wide blue eyes which were struggling to focus on him.

"You did it, Heero..." He whispered. A black-gloved hand reached towards the tangle of bangs half-covering Heero's eyes - Trowa lifted his crossbow, his instincts telling him there was no danger to his friend while his common sense was telling him to plug Duo on principle. Duo smirked as Heero's eyes tried to focus on his hand and failed. "Wow, he's completely out of it, heh?"

"Don't distract him." Fen muttered, glancing back from the Dragon.

"Distract him? A bloody earthquake couldn't distract him." Duo chuckled as if he'd said something very witty, then the smile became almost tender and he leaned forward and kissed Heero's forehead. "Thank you, Heero." He whispered, so low Trowa could barely catch the words. "Don't you worry about a thing. Just make sure you don't lose any of the energy when you release it into the sanctuary. Svale will direct the spell and do the rest."

"...Maxwell?" Fen's voice was tight with worry. The Dragon was half way through the cirque and had lifted a hand; energy twisted like dust devils above his palm. Shenlong had writhed along his arm and formed some sort of cestus over his hand, ready to direct that energy where it would hurt the most.

"Coming!" Duo chirped, leaping away from Heero - who was still trying to focus where Duo's hand had been - and bounced out of the circle as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Trowa's crossbow - with a special, Dragon-armour-piercing bolt ready - was centred on Chang but he found his eyes drawn to that figure, radiating confidence as it took a stand a few feet before them, between them and the Dragon, who looked ready to fry them all on principle.

"Back for more, hm?" Duo chuckled.

The Dragon had stopped twenty feet away, his arm raised towards them menacingly. From that distance, Trowa could still see his jaw twitch in fury at Duo's irreverent tone. More energy gathered over the metal that had curled into a claw-shaped clamp. Trowa remembered the shattering pulse of energy that claw could deliver, and that had been months ago, when the Dragon had been exhausted and his armour half-broken.

"Oh, not gonna talk anymore." Duo sighed elaborately, but Trowa thought he caught...a glimpse of something in Duo's lines just then, something that wasn't mocking.

Chang sneered and the clamp clicked, the sound loud in the horrified silence of the circle. Then a rip of localized thunder as the Dragon fired.

Duo casually lifted a hand and made a swatting gesture.

The energy dissipated mid-air and the clamp fell to the ground, a suddenly unresponsive lump of metal.

Trowa had side-stepped to place himself between Heero and Quatre and the upcoming wave of lethal power, however useless that would be. Duo's move and sudden surge of magical power took him by surprise, but the Dragon didn't seem all that shocked. He leapt at Duo with a cruel sneer, ready to finish by hand what his claw had been unable to do.

Echoes of the shot were still ringing in the cirque and a strong wind - the result of the blast's kinetic energy being dissipated into the air - was sweeping the cirque but Trowa could have sworn he heard Duo mutter something just as the Dragon was about to hammer into him.

It sounded like 'I'm sorry'.

Everything stopped.

Chang was four feet away from Duo, fist cocked, ready to slam into the lithe, black-clad figure who had made no movement to dodge. The Dragon seemed frozen into the moment - then he blinked and a tremor went through him. Trowa watched, heart in his mouth, as he jerked once as if against some invisible restraint - and deep-black eyes widened, first in confusion, then in fury, then in ever-growing horror.

On his forehead, something was flickering, like an ember. A shape that looked like it was carved into his skin.

"A mark of control." Quatre breathed out, suddenly, as if he finally understood everything. Maybe he did, but the shaman was almost as confused as the Dragon. The mark of control was there, shining on Chang's forehead, but to cast it, Duo must have been in close proximity for quite some time, must have even-

"-been allowed into the Dragon's mind." Quatre concluded, his voice bitter, and Trowa realized he'd been uncharacteristically muttering his confusion aloud. "Yes, I know how it works."

"He didn't have the time to cast it during that fight...did he?" Trowa wasn't sure of Duo's powers but the Dragon looked extremely strong-willed, and wouldn't break easily. It couldn't have been done during the fight...

"I suspect that Chang's had that mark of control for quite awhile now." Quatre said slowly. "The only question is why. Why did Duo allow all this rigmarole to happen in the first place?"

The Dragon snarled, a deep, primal noise, and his fist, which was still raised, twitched, then jerked. The mark on his forehead sparked and shone brighter.

Duo's eyebrows arched. He'd stuck his hands behind his neck again, an arrogant pose speaking of complete insouciance. "My, you really are frisky...my pretty Dragon."

Trowa thought he saw something dart into Chang's eyes at that - behind the wave of perfectly justifiable fury at being called pretty, or indeed, Duo's Dragon.

"Don't try to fight it. It'll only hurt." Duo added, his voice softer now, almost sympathetic.

If the Dragon noticed - or cared - or indeed was in any pain at all - it wasn't apparent. That arrogant mouth tightened further and the fist jerked forward again, this time it was almost an abortive blow, before being brought up short, a foot in front of Duo's face.

The latter sighed dramatically. "I just knew you were going to make this hard on yourself. You just can't take the easy way out, can you. Very well. Stop!"

Wufei shuddered, and his hand dropped suddenly to his side. Black eyes widened in horror as he visibly realized just how little control he had over his body. The mark shone so brightly Trowa could make it out - an elegant assembly of strokes forming a symbol.

"Relax." Duo ordered, still in that same, hard, commanding voice.

This order had apparently no effect at all. Chang was still twanging with fury and about as relaxed as a rock.

"Oh, Nai-no Kami-..." Duo rolled his eyes, visibly irritated at the Dragon's stubborn resistance. And then...Trowa felt a brush of ice along his spine. Duo smiled. It was cold, cruel and very ancient, and imprinted with an almost casual malice.

"Kneel..." Duo whispered.

The Dragon hissed, and tottered. But a core of steel was suddenly revealed in those black eyes, fastened on Duo. Chang's body twisted, his knees trembled, and he staggered back another step, but he still glared. Two trickles of blood, from where he'd savagely bitten his lip, and from a burst vein in his nose, spoke of the price he was paying for his defiance. His knees trembled again and he almost sunk to them, but with a twist of his body - Trowa winced, almost tasting his pain at the effort - he turned the movement into a half-crouch, from which he looked ready to spring at his tormentor if given the slightest sliver of a chance...even if it cost him his life.

Next to the shaman, Quatre finally breathed again, a shivering sigh. Trowa glanced at his lover - his face was white and lined with pity and sympathetic pain.

Duo wasn't looking too happy either. The cold smile had slipped, replaced by a slight frown. He crossed his arms loosely over his chest and shook his head.

"I swear, Wufei, I've personally known mountains less stubborn than you are. I should warn you...there are a lot of voices in my head and many of them don't like Dragons much. You might want to be a good boy or they could start talking to me again-"

The look of feral hate that earned him was answer enough.

"It's okay, Dragon. You can stay standing if you like." Duo sighed dramatically and shrugged. Chang slowly straightened, eyes still furious. "The principal player is about to show up, and I'd rather torment him than you any day."

Principal player...? Trowa felt it. A slight shift in the air, a tremor in the lines, and...something extremely powerful, materializing a few feet behind Chang. The shape was faint and flickering at first, then-

Then there was a man standing there. Tall, urbane, dressed in something resembling a uniform, with high black boots and a sword at his side. He was staring at Duo, his face unreadable.

"Juusan-sama!" Duo smirked, a knife-like grin. "How nice of you to join us!"

[chap. 27] [chap. 29] [back to Maldoror's fic]