Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Adventure, Humour, AU
Pairings: 3x4, 2x5, 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

Let me get my best Ritsu (Fruits Basket) impression out. GOMMMMEEEEEEEN!! Sorry for the delay in getting this out. 'The Arrangement' ate all my inspiration in a bun with ketchup and a side of fries. The next few chapters will be coming out slowly, I'm afraid, I've got some inspiration back now, but I'm still struggling with the 'transition' aspect of these chapters. Please bear with me.

And a huge thanks to all of you who encouraged me regarding Source (as well as pocked, prodded, nagged and generally whined)! It forced me to get my lazy rear in gear and get this chapter out. Special nod to Asuka who has those puppy dog eyes down to an art-form.

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 31
Try Non-Enemy as a Concept

Trowa's nose twitched. Half-asleep, he brushed his hair away from it.

"The source of all things."

Trowa's normal eye opened a slit; he glanced at Quatre who was curled up by his side. The healer's eyes were screwed shut and he was frowning slightly, the expression half-hidden by his pillow. His hand was gripping Trowa's biceps.

"Probability...trace...Centre's...proving ground...entropy..." Quatre muttered, most of his words inaudible mumbles.

Trowa woke up a bit further and began to scowl. Goddamn it, Zero, we've just repealed Jusan's attack against all odds, cast a magical shield that gives us a chance of beating him when he arrives, we're bruised and tired...can't you let him sleep in peace just this once?

"The universe is a pile of marbles..."

...Oh. Trowa's scowl dissolved into a rueful quirk of the eyebrows. Sounded like Quatre was, in actual fact, dreaming.

"We could lose some..." Quatre mumbled seriously, frowning even more, the gravity of the expression somewhat lessened by the pillow.

"I doubt we have to worry about that, love," Trowa whispered, pushing a blonde lock out of a tightly shut eye. "Go back to sleep."

Quatre huffed into his pillow, then the frown disappeared as he drifted off.

Trowa glanced at the light spilling through the cracks in the crude shutters to splash joyfully on the opposite wall. It looked to be late afternoon. They'd only slept a few hours. Trowa thought he would be happy to sleep until early tomorrow morning if he was allowed to. He was sore despite Quatre's healing, his body and spirit exhausted by the desperate against-the-odds fight that he'd managed to win this morning. Yes, sleep sounded good.

His eyes were closing when he felt someone stir in the room, someone other than Quatre.

Trowa stiffened, and then remembered. He gently disentangled his arm from Quatre's grip and sat up carefully.

"Heero?" he whispered. "How are you doing?"

He'd been reluctant to leave his friend alone in his room, helpless and unconscious. They'd laid him out on a pallet along the wall opposite Trowa's and Quatre's bed.

Heero was awake. He was sitting on the pallet, scrunched into a corner. He had his legs gathered up to his chin, arms tight around his knees. His eyes were open and focused, twitching towards Trowa several times as the shaman moved, but always returning to a spot a few feet before his face, as if he could find an answer to a puzzling problem, hiding behind the air's molecules. Trowa wasn't monstrously surprised when Heero remained silent.

Trowa hesitated. Man, he wanted to sleep. But there was something in Heero's stance, the way he was curled up in that corner...the shaman sighed and pulled himself away from the warm bedcovers without disturbing Quatre.

Heero glanced at him briefly then returned to his contemplation of nothing much that the shaman could see. Trowa crouched near him and glanced at Heero's lines.

Signs of stress, both physical and mental. But considering what Heero had been asked to do, accumulate so much of Centre's life-energy and channel it into a spell, his own life a speck easily lost in the flow...well, it was already a bloody miracle that he wasn't as dead as a rock. Or rather, Trowa corrected himself as he remembered the little stone critter fluttering around Duo, considerably deader than a rock.

Wait...That's interesting.

Heero's lines has always been very crude and focused, probably on this all-important mission that he seemed to be perpetually preparing for. Trowa had long ago consigned the mystery that was Heero Yuy to the bin marked ‘force of nature - don't try to explain, just stay out of its way'. Looking at Heero's lines for any length of time gave him a headache.

But now that he was looking closely, checking for damage, he noticed that the patterns of the mind were a bit...fuzzier than before. Less focused? Troubled? Trowa glanced at Heero's eyes - they were once more fixed on the air in front of his nose, ignoring the shaman. He wondered what it had felt like; the confrontation of Heero's iron belief - as subtle and as safe as a buzz saw - and Centre's great, big muddle of life, death, and everything in between. Looked like Heero had survived, but he had not escaped unscathed.

Trowa didn't bother saying anything. He just sat down on the pallet next to Heero and stared at the same space in silent support. He didn't know if Heero valued his friendship or his presence, but if he did, then Trowa would be here, until Heero lost that slightly bewildered look in his eyes.

He'd nearly dozed off - the molecules of oxygen Heero was staring at were doing nothing of particular note - when Heero stirred.

"Heero?" Trowa stood up gracefully as Heero suddenly surged to his feet. Ah, he was scowling again. Apparently, he'd decided to overlook whatever revelations had shaken him. Well, that's one way of doing it, Trowa thought without criticism. Humanity had evolved denial for a reason. Of course, the jury was still out on whether Heero was in fact human or not. But the shaman didn't mind if the puzzling warrior borrowed a trick or two from the mortals around him, if it helped him to cope while his mind and soul adapted to the truth.

He followed Heero towards the room's door, glancing longingly at Quatre. The healer was still curled up in the same position and just looking at him made Trowa's eyelids droop. But he should really stick with Heero; he had a couple of things to explain to his friend once they were out of the room and could talk without disturbing Quatre. Things like-

Heero opened the door and Chang Wufei stared back at him. Trowa barely registered the fact that the Dragon had his fist raised to hammer on the door before his mind ducked for cover waving a little red flag with ‘oh shit' emblazoned on it.

Heero and Chang stared tensely at each other, not moving a muscle. Trowa thought of two great cats suddenly confronted on the edge of each other's territories and wondering if a viable option would be to pretend they hadn't seen each other.

"Heero-" Trowa started. His voice was soft, carefully pitched to sound as calm as possible, but it still broke the tension like one of his crossbow bolts going through a clay pigeon.

Chang jumped back into the large common hall beyond the door, a fluid graceful movement ending in a defensive crouch, and Heero moved forward, two stiff, menacing steps.

Shit, Trowa thought, putting a stilling hand on Heero's shoulder. The only way this could get worse-

The door on one side of the hall banged open.

"Where the hell is everybo-" Duo stopped, widening eyes going from Heero to Wufei. Heero's head had snapped around, and the gaze he was giving Duo was, if anything, even deadlier than the one he'd given Chang.

Three way fight. I should have stayed in bed.

In Trowa's moon-touched eye, lines were crackling like live wires between the three, powerful individuals, tightening like a noose. Damn, there must be a way of cutting the knot between them- this was Quatre's thing; that bloody Zero had to be good for something-

Trowa glanced at the room behind him. Quatre was still curled up in the same position, his nose buried in the pillow.

The shaman hesitated. Then took another look at the lines twanging like a crossbow string all around him. Strangely enough...the very symmetry of the triangle gave it a sort of crazy stability. With a bit of careful management and a lot of diplomacy, maybe the tension could be lessened-

Trowa thought about the careful juggling he'd have to pull, like prodding three wild tigers through a series of very small hoops. And he thought about Quatre, curled up in bed behind him, visibly not being kicked awake by an alarmed Zero.

Screw this.

"Heero."

All three antagonists started slightly at Trowa's voice. Three pairs of narrowed eyes glanced his way.

"Chang and Maxwell are going to help us fight Jusan. Deal with it. Outside. You guys do what you want, just don't kill each other, or make too much noise."

Trowa turned around, closed the bedroom door behind him on a situation his gut instinct was telling him was tense but not, when it came to it, downright lethal, and went back to bed.

---

Duo watched the door close morosely. He'd caught a glimpse of a peacefully slumbering Quatre before Trowa left them to their own devices.

There goes a smart man...

He turned back towards Heero, who was glaring at him. Here goes...

Duo hadn't rested. Though he'd felt like it. Actually, after fighting Juusan tooth and nail on the mental plane, he felt like curling up with a blanket and a dozen aspirins and sleeping for a week. But there was no rest for the wicked, or for Shinigami either.

He'd spent the time reacquainting himself with his powers, trying to get used to the imposition of the planet-wide magic-dampening shield above his head. He could now teleport again without spreading himself around the ether accidentally. So he stared back at Heero coolly. Big Bad Yuy could put the glare away, Shinigami was not impressed. If he wanted a fight, Duo would port out, and let him cool down on his own.

But if Duo ported away, then that would leave Heero and Wufei face to face...Duo doubted that Trowa's casual 'don't kill each other' order was going to be obeyed by either of these neurotic homicidal brutes. Damn.

He gave Heero something of a less arrogant smirk, trying for conciliating. Cool, let's all be cool.

Heero moved towards him. Slowly and a bit more menacingly than Duo liked. In the background, Wufei crossed his arms over his chest and looked on with obvious interest and an evil smile. Jerk...

"Heero, buddy! So, all recuperated from being a conduit, heh? You're not still mad at me for-"

"Friend."

Duo's mouth continued to move on automatic but the words had gone to huddle into his throat to reflect on this turn of event.

"Say what?" he finally asked cautiously. He'd stopped believing in miracles over five years ago, if he ever had.

"I can beat Jusan," Heero said softly without the slightest hint of either doubt or pride. He'd stopped five feet from Duo, his face an unreadable mask.

"...good for you," Duo finally said, since it was apparently his turn to contribute to the, ah, conversation.

"He uses magic. He has an army. He uses tricks. Like you."

Calm. You need Heero. You cannot use him against Juusan if you flay him for comparing you to the Scourge. Duo made some kind of strangled noise in his throat. In the background, Wufei was grinning, apparently enjoying this.

"You fight with Jusan as an equal. Trowa said that I can add my friends' strength to my own."

"I think he meant allies," Duo corrected dryly. He was going to add that the Jishin didn't have friends, not among the lesser races anyway; the closest a Jishin got to the notion of 'friend' was somebody they could use that they hadn't yet screwed over.

He was going to add that, but Heero spoke again softly. "Friend."

There was a subtle nuance to the affirmation. It kinda implied that it was friend or foe.

Duo remembered rather vividly what Heero did to his foes.

"Friend," he confirmed weakly. If Heero had latched on to that concept, Duo wasn't going to try to take it away from him. Strangely enough, the oath of blood and stone did not stop the word from tumbling from his tongue. Even though it wasn't entirely true. Was it?

Heero glared at him some more, then turned the same look on Wufei.

The Dragon's grin became even more arrogant, and there was an ugly light in his eyes.

"Forget it, Yuy," he said softly before Heero even opened his mouth. "I'll concede that it's in my interest to put up with you. I might even be able to work with the Jishin without killing him. But we're not friends. We're barely allies."

Heero pivoted slowly on his heels, started to stalk towards his former enemy. The glare was an almost solid thing, crashing against Wufei's obvious disdain. Wufei stood his ground, eyes narrowed, radiating the will to fight at the slightest provocation.

Oh, that was diplomatic...Duo recognized the way Heero was moving. Trouble. Chang Wufei, Duo thought, and realized he was writing an obituary in his head: The valour of the Dragon, the arrogance of the tiger, the survival instincts of the lemming...

A few of the Jishin dead inside Duo's mind stirred. His company of departed souls were mostly silent these days, dreaming dreams of blood and revenge. But a few of those killed by Dragons a few decades ago were whispering like the wind through a crypt: 'good riddance'.

No, Duo snarled at them, moving forward to intervene. He may be a damn stupid Dragon but he's part of my plan. That makes him my stupid Dragon. Besides, Heero might injure his sword arm, trying to pound that thick head in.

"Look, Yuy! I know you feel like jumping up and down on Chang - trust me, I know exactly how you feel - but it's an unfortunate fact that we need him to defeat Juusan. His power is mechanical, from his armour, which means it's the one thing on the planet not affected by the dampening shield. And also, he can help you figure out how you use Wing better, and are either of you two even listening to me?!"

Duo stared in growing fury and some concern at the silent confrontation before him. Heero and Wufei were about a foot apart, staring at each other. Duo thought that if he had the time or inclination, he could roast a few links of sausages in the air between them. And having both those idiots ignoring him, Shinigami, was just a bit-

Heero nodded. It was a slow gesture, and his eyes were narrowed. Duo took a menacing step forward, magic sizzling along his fingers, ready to throw up a defensive barrier around Wufei- but Heero simply turned and walked away. Wufei stared at his back for a few seconds, but he did not seem surprised; he smiled slightly and headed towards the door.

"Er...what was that? Did you guys just measure your respective levels of testosterone and decide you're both pretty mean and so you'll let the other live?" Duo stared at the two retreating backs, Heero heading deeper into the sanctuary and Wufei already at the front door. The latter deigned to shoot a contemptuous angry glance Duo's way, but that was all.

"...grunt once if I'm right, willya?" Duo muttered. He felt oddly put out. He definitely didn't want a fight with either man, not now, and he didn't want them killing each other, but that silent communication made him feel...well, kinda excluded.

He glared at Heero's back as it disappeared into the inner cirque. Heero looked...different. There was something a bit more pliant about him now, more ready to understand the world instead of just beating up chunks of it. Duo hadn't seen him in a month; he wondered what had happened. He should investigate; Heero was his main, key player in the plan to defeat Juusan.

But Duo's feet were trailing after the stupid Dragon instead.

...the Heero puzzle needed to be addressed when Duo was refreshed and all his mental agility recovered, and that would take awhile. Might as well tail after Wufee. Make sure he was acclimatizing to the situation alright; Dragons were not renowned for their mental flexibility. He didn't want Fei getting despondent or anything that might affect his fighting abilities. Duo remembered that the young Dragon had been pretty down in the dumps a few months back, when Duo had hauled him back from the jaws of Heero-induced death (but that's okay, there wasn't any need to thank Duo, no, gratitude apparently wasn't in the Dragon dictionary...)

A single hot glare from black eyes and the hostile set of shoulders showed that Wufei knew Duo was following him, but he didn't say anything. He stomped up to the top of one of the sanctuary's mounds and paced around. The sanctuary might have become the heart of the resistance against Juusan, and the originator of one of the biggest spells in the last century, but it still didn't look all that impressive in the light of day; rolling green hills, antique grey stones that were tumbled and rounded by age and weather. A few low buildings that Svale had shored up to create living quarters for her and her friends. The ruins stretched several acres, of windswept grass and plover's nests, and nothing but the highlands around them.

The little light from Shenlong's small head-piece flickered before Wufei's left eye as he scanned the ruined buildings around him.

"Whole place is shielded...I need a reliable source of information!" Wufei snarled, apparently to empty air. At a prudent distance behind him, Duo grinned like a fox.

"Reliable information is in short supply at the moment, Dragon. The shaman did not look like he wanted to be bothered, and you won't wake Quatre up without going through Trowa. Heero...well, is Heero. Fen I saw about an hour ago. The shield has done a lot of damage to whatever control he had; he's sitting in a corner grumbling and glaring at nothing, trying to remember what aeon it is. We normally have a few old coots around - a techno-cabalist called Howard, and five crusty old wardens I've not met yet - but they all left a few days ago to evacuate civilian populations in case Juusan got through us, and set up some last-ditch defenses. So, that only leaves me, my Imp or-"

"Handsome!"

The Dragon staggered back a step as Svale bounced over a nearby rock like a particularly dishevelled goat and tried to grope him. Even Duo blinked; he'd not seen the old hag approach, and he had no clue how long she'd been here.

"I was looking for you! It occurred to me that we've not been formally introduced! My name is Svale! Wanna marry me?!"

Duo managed not to purr at the look on Wufei's face. He crossed his arms patiently and waited.

"You..." Armour clinked and rustled into fists, the dragon clamps at Chang's wrists reared up. Then he had to take another step back to dodge a second glomp from Svale. "You disrespectful-"

"Did I hear you say you had some questions, pretty boy? I have all the answers you need!"

Duo watched with interest the internal struggle before him. Wufei's face was twisted and a bit red. He glared at Svale - who'd plonked herself back on the rock in a pose that might have been seductive five hundred and fifty years ago. Then he glowered at Duo, who was grinning like a fiend.

Svale batted her eyelashes, which apparently made up Wufei's mind.

"You! Jishin!"

"Yes?" Duo asked nonchalantly.

"I have some questi-" Wufei stepped aside, but Svale wasn't aiming at him this time.

"Maxie! I didn't see you there!"

Oh really, Duo thought sarcastically as Svale glomped his leg.

"Hello, fossil," he smirked down at her, and stopped her hands from wandering any further upwards.

"Maxie! So nice to see you again! You've been a bad boy! Svale should spank you!"

"Another day, maybe," Duo snickered, relishing the stunned, horrified look from the nearby Dragon.

"I can't believe a Jishin was walking around under my nose this whole time and I didn't realize it!" Svale was poking his thigh for attention.

"Well, I learned to blend in." Duo shrugged, trying not to remember the first few painful months of leaving the magical realm of his birth to fight his way through Centre's criminal underbelly, knowing that if he used magic, he might warn Juusan that the Scourge had missed one last Jishin.

"You've gotten really good at it. You've had a few years to do it, I guess." Svale beamed at him with a toothless grin. "It's been what, nearly six years since Iwanohone was destroyed?"

"Yes." Duo kept the pleasant grin on his face by force of habit.

"That means you were quite young when it happened...barely past puberty...fourteen, fifteen...? Very young..."

Fuck. The old cow didn't miss a trick, did she...Duo stepped back sharply, shaking her loose, and knelt to glare into the rheumy old eyes. "Svale, mind your own business."

"But Maxie, this is my business!" Svale gave him a smile that had the wisdom of crows in it. Then she leaned forwards, her voice dropping to a whisper - a wash of old-lady smell and liquor bathed Duo's face for a second: "I'm making sure that you and the very pretty Dragon over there have a chat and get used to working together. Don't fight with him, and don't play with his head too badly either. Or I will spank you!"

Duo smiled sourly at her disappearing back as she scampered away. Svale as an ally was almost as scary as having her as an enemy. She'd picked up on the fact that he'd been very young when his race had been slaughtered, and he was sure she had an idea of what the consequences on his mind had been, just like Juusan had. But that didn't mean he had to confirm it. Just because he had sworn by blood and stone to tell the truth didn't mean he wasn't allowed to keep some of his secrets, did it?

"You'll learn to ignore her," he told the Dragon as he straightened up slowly, eyes on Svale's departing figure.

"I'm going to have to ignore a lot of things," Chang growled darkly.

"Probably!" Duo exclaimed cheerfully. "Coming?"

He left a perplexed and spluttering Dragon behind him as he headed towards the sanctuary's main cirque, the stage for all the drama of that morning.

As he was nearing the lip of the cirque, Duo glanced up at the sound of frantically flapping wings, coming from the eastern corner where the sanctuary's older buildings crumbled slowly into ruins.

"Master!" Imp was heading towards him at the highest speed its stone wings and magical powers could carry it, eyes wide. "There's a Dragon chasing you!" The little golem fastened itself to Duo's shoulder at the last word. Duo's armour had returned to its appearance of well-worn old leathers. He no longer had to hide his true nature; he could stomp around in 'mythical glass armour' or whatever all he wanted to and scare the locals, but this was the shape his armour had adopted as soon as he'd lost his focus on it. It made him realize how much that appearance had, in fact, become ingrained into his psyche, part of him now. He did twitch the armour mentally to form a deep breast pocket for his passenger, but Imp was too busy glaring suspiciously at the Dragon to notice.

"Relax, Imp, he's not chasing me. He's following me, and very reluctantly I might add. I left you watching Fen; is he finally making sense?"

"Er, no, master. Most of the time he couldn't see me, and when he could he asked me three times who I was. When he remembered, he threatened me a bit, but then he fell asleep. So I came to find you." Imp settled on Duo's shoulder, eyes still on Wufei coming up the side of the hill.

"Damn..." Fen was being affected by the shield far worse than he'd thought. It compounded the absence of his soul stone. Duo had dragged the Immortal into his schemes on a hunch. He didn't know his capabilities except that the Phoenix was strong, dangerous, and should be manipulable. Duo had been scrounging around for anything of power that could help him in the desperate fight ahead. But he wasn't sure Fen was going to cut it in his present state. He rubbed his eyes; something else to worry about.

He'd arrived at the top of the cirque, and the steps behind him had stopped. He glanced around, only to find Wufei off to one side and watching him with a strange look on his face, as if seeing Duo in a new light. He didn't look particularly happy about it. Duo grinned at him. And felt a rush of pleasure; the gesture hadn't been a lie, a counterfeit smile to go unnoticed, appear harmless. It was the true Shinigami grin that he'd so far only shown to enemies who were about to die. But Wufei had seen Duo's true self, the Jishin didn't have to hide from the man.

Neither did the Dragon look terribly impressed. But that was another matter.

"What questions did you have, Dragon?"

"Is it true you cannot lie?" Wufei asked abruptly.

By Nai No Kami's big bald stones, this guy is dumb, Duo sighed inwardly. "You're actually...asking me...if I can't-"

"Even I have heard of the Jishin oath of blood and stone, I know some of the legends." Wufei was scrutinizing him carefully with unconcealed hostility. "But how does it work? Will you drop dead if you tell a lie? Or can you just not say it? Can you say something that can be misinterpreted, knowing it will probably mislead people? That's also a lie, of sorts. Can you withhold the truth?"

"Er..." Duo tried to look both wise and contemptuous, while his mind whirled. He'd not actually thought of looking into the mechanics of the oath he'd sworn, he'd been too busy.

He poked his inherited knowledge, the mass of facts that he'd received from his dead ancestors. Unfortunately it was like a huge library where all the books had been jumbled up. It wasn't easy to get an answer out of it on the fly like this. No Jishin had taken the oath for ages; it was almost as much a legend to him as it was to the Dragon.

"Can you give me false information unknowingly?" Chang said slowly, as if guessing that Duo himself wasn't entirely sure of his facts.

"Probably," Duo admitted with a sigh. This annoying Dragon was his ally, so he had to be at least half way straight with him. The mechanized ape wasn't half as dumb as most of Dragons, apparently; this was reassuring for the purpose Duo had in mind for him. "The oath binds my mind to not tell a lie, but that doesn't mean it's some all-seeing force that will stop me from saying something I believe to be true if it isn't."

"Can you withhold the truth?"

"Yes," Duo answered, a bit reluctantly. On his shoulder Imp was quiet, it knew better than to disturb, but its wings were rustling like shaken fans, obviously displeased at having its master quizzed like this by a lesser being.

"So I'll just have to ask you direct questions that you cannot dodge," Wufei concluded, nodding grimly.

"You sure can," Duo snorted. "But if I don't want to answer your question, I'll just tell you to swivel on it. This isn't placing me under any obligation to allow you to pester me with anything irrelevant, Dragon."

Wufei's eyes blazed with the anger that had been simmering there, helpless, since Juusan had pulled a runner. "You'll answer the questions I ask, Jishin!"

"Yeah. With an exact description of what I assume your parentage to be," Duo agreed pleasantly. Imp made a little worried noise in its throat and slid down the back of Duo's shoulder to put its master between the mean looking Dragon and itself.

"Whoa! We can't fight!" Duo added as Wufei took a single menacing step forward.

"Why not?!" Wufei growled, taking another step.

"Because, and I am quite serious here, Svale will spank us both if we do."

Wufei looked like he'd walked into a wall for a second. "Why should I let that foul-mouthed harpy lay a- I mean, she wouldn't dare try!"

"Ah. Let's address this issue right away: Svale, you see, despite her appearance, is an avatar of Centre. Which means that as long as the planet is here, she is virtually indestructible, she has powers that she does not show but are probably quite impressive, and she is very, very persistent. Why do you think we all put up with her?"

You could almost see the annoyance sparking off the Dragon. After a few seconds, Duo realized he could, in fact, really see very small sparks around the Dragon's headpiece and wrist guards. Apparently Shenlong was picking up on some of its owner's helpless fury.

"Don't piss her off, Chang," Duo sighed. "She'll make your life a living hell. She keeps you on your toes at the best of times...a word of advise from a, well, no, not a friend, but an ally. If you wake up tomorrow morning and feel something small and smelling of liquor curled up against you in the blankets, do not look, just get out of bed and forget it ever happened."

"I am not staying here!" Wufei snarled, spinning around and glaring at the sanctuary. His armour geared up and Duo heard a faint hum as energy gathered to fling the cross Dragon away.

"You should. This is where Juusan will attack," Duo stated simply.

The hum vanished in an instant. A gentle breeze curled around the sanctuary. It was barren of bird call, all animals still under shock from the spell's casting a few hours ago.

Duo watched the struggle in the lines of Wufei's shoulders, and felt a touch of sympathy. In the past five years, Duo had done a lot he'd hated to get to this point in time, to give him a chance at Juusan. And he couldn't even afford the mental energy to regret it. All he could do was hurtle towards his goal, like a bullet aimed at the Scourge's heart, and hope he struck true, whatever lay in his path. Wufei really didn't have to put up with much by contrast, but still, Duo could relate.

"...you know this for a fact...?" Wufei asked quietly.

"Yes," Duo answered seriously. "While the shield is active, Juusan does not have access to his full power. Part of it will be locked into the shield. Did Juusan tell you why he is coming to Centre?"

"...Centre is a planet of magic. Jusan has always attacked them."

"And you Dragons merrily helped him," Duo bit out, then regretted it. It went against the grain, but old quarrels had to be buried. He made a half-apologetic gesture in Wufei's direction as the latter turned to glare. "Forget it. No, Juusan is not coming here to blow the crap out of some more magic users. He'd have done it ages ago if that was all. Juusan is coming here because he is a Power. I won't go into the technical explanation. Let's just say, he's a part of the living energy behind the magical sources on Centre, who's managed to rip himself out of it."

"That's possible?" Wufei sounded a bit dubious but at least he was listening.

"Yes, for Juusan. As I said, I won't go into the details. Now, Juusan's been around for a long time. Every so often, he has to go back into his Source, to replenish himself. But with the shield's harmony interfering with his power, he won't be able to. It'd be like trying to close a door while half of him is still outside. Won't work. Which is good, because if he can resource himself, he'll be even more powerful than he is now and that would be too much to handle, shield or not," Duo added in a mutter. He didn't want to admit it, but his entire being still ached from Juusan's earlier assault, and that had been through the small, tenuous conduit of Wufei's mind. He wasn't looking forward to the real thing.

"This place is where the shield is being cast from," Wufei said slowly. "So if he obliterates this place-"

"No more shield! So here is where he'll come. I knew you were smart as well as pretty!" That got him a rare glare, but Wufei still looked preoccupied.

"Is there a way of getting more power to the shield?" Wufei asked quietly, glancing up automatically to stare at the oil-spill shimmer in the sky.

"Ah, no. In fact, keeping it at this power level will be something of a struggle." Wufei gave him a sharp glance. "The power Heero fed into it will die eventually. Before Juusan will get here, I'm afraid. The other Wardens I mentioned are looking for a reliable, constant power source. Erm, we're sorta hoping they'll find it."

Wufei was staring at him; his jaw was slightly clenched as he asked: "And when Jusan arrives, what plans do you have for defending this place?"

"Oh, that's easy! I'll cast up a barrier over the sanctuary to resist any funny stuff Juusan will send our way - bit like I did today, when I saved your life, you know." No answer to that remark, just Wufei looking at him with that glowering intensity still. "And then...Heero, you and Fen go and beat up Juusan."

Silence.

"That's it...?" Wufei said quietly, face darkening.

"Er...yeah?"

"That's the plan...?"

Duo nodded hesitantly.

"I've seen dogs leave better plans in the gutter!"

Imp squealed and ducked into Duo's pocket.

"I didn't say it was perfect-"

"Perfect?! You're not even sure we'll have a shield for when the most powerful entity in the galaxy attacks us?! You'll throw up a barrier that you've demonstrated will not hold more than a minute?! Me, Yuy and some gibbering maniac will throw ourselves at Jusan?!"

"Er-"

"What about his army?! What about his remaining phalanx of Dragons?! What about his host of mentats?! He's got over two hundred of them! As a whole, they can easily match your power, for all they use their minds rather than magic! You don't have any better plan than that?!"

"Oh, I did," Duo answered mildly, fishing Imp out of his pocket and cupping it in his hands reassuringly. Dragons sure were noisy.

"And?! What plan was that?!"

"The plan where I hurled enough destructive energy at Juusan that it would be even odds it would blow up the planet. Unfortunately, I promised I wouldn't do that."

Wufei deflated abruptly. He looked like he wanted to swear. Duo found himself hoping that one day the Dragon would trust him enough to actually let his feelings show, that is, besides his anger and disgust at having to work with a Jishin. The feeling was odd, and Duo decided to look into it later.

The Dragon stared at the magical stone cirque around them, at the place where Heero had kneeled and cast the spell, at the spot where Juusan had appeared and tried to take over Wufei's mind.

"Maxwell-" he started.

Duo looked up in surprise. That had sounded strangely subdued. Wufei looked torn once more. He started to turn away, and Duo could almost see the violence it took to wrench him around and face Duo. The Dragon walked up to the Jishin, eyes to the ground. Duo straightened up, slipped Imp safely back inside his armour's breast pocket and got his spells ready, just in case.

Wufei stopped a couple of feet away, and dragged his gaze up from where it had been lingering on Duo's throat, making the latter nervous.

"Maxwell...I have to thank you."

"For which of the times I saved your life did you want to thank me for?" Duo's sarcasm was a reflex to the intense and unexpected words.

"Both of them," Wufei's mouth worked as if he was painfully chewing over each words. But he was holding Duo's gaze unflinchingly. "For the time you healed me after my fight with Yuy, and this morning, when you fought off Jusan. I know very well you did it for your own gain. And I know you would sacrifice me with just about as much feeling as you did when you saved me. But...because you did that, I now have a chance to avenge my people and my fam-"

For a breathless instant, Duo caught the hint, in a faltering black gaze turning inward, of a solitude and a loss that echoed eerily in his own empty soul - Wufei looked up at him with his old fire and Duo, relieved, tore himself away from that instant of recognition that had cut at his mind like his spirit armour sliced into his flesh when the memories overtook him.

"Jishin, because I owe you, I will try to come up with a better plan that will give us a chance at actually defeating Jusan, instead of making him laugh himself sick. And you will obey my orders!" The latter was said with a challenging snap.

"I'll listen attentively to your suggestions," Duo corrected with a smile like a razor's edge.

There was a little silence, and Imp dug itself further into Duo's pocket.

"I will listen, Wufei," Duo said softly, without any sign of backing down, "because it's been three thousand years since my people fought a real war, and you Dragons have been at it since your people re-discovered space flight. I don't doubt you're a better general than I am. But I have been studying Juusan-Sama for over five years, and my people studied him before that. There's a lot of power and a lot of hate in here, Fei." Duo tapped his forehead lightly. "You would be a fool to let the animosity between us discard an important source of knowledge and magic."

Wufei's lips curled. "I know my priorities; they are why you are still breathing. As for the information you have about Jusan: I'll...listen attentively to your suggestions, Jishin. Have no fear. But remember. This does not change anything between us. I still remember how you used me like your puppet, sent me to crawl before my enemy. I will not forget."

And he smiled.

It was something akin to the smile he'd given Heero. Its geometry traced the exact pattern of his antagonism...but it was also a sort of recognition. Duo wasn't beneath his contempt any more.

Great, I rank with a Dragon, Duo thought sarcastically. What next? Will the bugs bow to me? Will the worms declare me their king? My people were weaving spells to enchant entire planets while your ancestors were still flinging rocks in the air and wondering why they fell back down again, Dragon. I am smarter, more subtle and more powerful than you can ever comprehend, you brute, and I used you, not the other way around; I remember what the darkness and despair inside your mind tastes like, bittersweet as nectar, and you know it. So if you want to see how I measure up, feel free to try me anytime.

All that and more were probably etched into the smile Duo discovered on his own lips.

The Dragon snorted ever so softly -still not impressed, heh? Duo wondered idly what it would take, and felt dark magic tingle at his fingertips. Wufei spun on his heels and left, and Duo took the opportunity to admire a firm and rather attractive backside. He was seeing a lot of it, with Wufei's habit of sticking his nose in the air and walking away from him in a huff. Maybe he should mention this when the occasion was right. Like, the next time Wufei got that unbelievably annoying superior air about him and needed to be reminded of-

Imp popped its head out of Duo's pocket, took one look at its Master's dreamy smile that laid his feelings bare, and disappeared back into the protective folds with an ‘eep'. Duo fished it out again and stuck it on his shoulder.

"Storm's over, pebble. Don't worry. But...the Dragon and me are gonna have to sort some shit out, sooner or later."

"Aren't you supposed to be allies, master?" Imp asked hesitantly, staring after Chang's distant figure.

"Oh yes. We'll fight Juusan together. What we have to sort out...we'll do it in our spare time. What we have of it. I'm sure it will be very entertaining. We'll just have to remember to have our little arguments outside the sanctuary. I would hate to learn what Svale is really capable of..."

"You'll also have to be sure not to kill or injure the Dragon, master," Imp reminded him, though it didn't sound too convinced.

"Details, details," Duo muttered, gathering his teleport field around him to port back to his hideout. "Don't bother me with details. I'll only break a few of his bones, and none of those essential."

"Then I'm sure that will be alright, master," Imp said loyally, though the glance it shot at the Dragon's distant form, before the teleport field whisked it and its master away, was a bit worried.

[chap. 30] [chap. 32] [back to Maldoror's fic]