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

A little reminder, for those of you who don't want to reread previous chapters to remember these details that were dropped ages ago. Duo's been revealed as a Jishin, also known as Tricksters, or Elsire. Their home planet was Iwanohone (Iwa no Hone if you use the proper Jishin pronunciation). The mark that Duo put on Wufei (and previously on Quatre) to control him is a shihai no shirushi, or mark of control.

There's a tough piece of sci-fi concept that starts off this chapter - I'm a child of Harry Seldon, what can I say...if you don't understand all that's going on, that's perfectly normal, neither does Quatre. Just squirrel it away in the back of your minds, it'll be important later, and explained more fully...

Finally, HUGE thanks for all of you who dropped me a line; apparently the pace is okay, for the most (and no, I'm afraid I can't write faster ) and I will be dealing with those questions sent to me in the upcoming chapters. Except the one dealing with Heero. Sorry folks, that one's gonna keep till near 4/5s end of the fic!

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 30
Truth

Quatre closed his eyes. That only made it worse; he no longer knew who was listing: him or Centre.

When Heero had released the energy he'd accumulated, a part of that power had surged through Zero. The shield had covered the planet the next moment, dampening all magic; Quatre had momentarily lost a good part of his control over Zero as a result. The double blow had caused a severe disruption in the delicate balance between the spell and its owner. Zero was threading through his brain like cracks lancing through a sheet of glass under stress. Everywhere he looked it had splintered, changed or destroyed parts of his pattern and mental functions.

Zero had been programmed to not overly disrupt its host's mind. So it was now holding most of Quatre together in something resembling his previous mental setup, and using up most of its resources - and his - trying to repair the damage. The part of Quatre that was Quatre was slowly coming back online. It was...frightening. To think his mind and essence were so easily broken and recomposed by Zero; that a spell/program could slot bits of him in and out of his head and he'd still be whole.

Even more frightening was the thought that Zero might not get it all right. That it might not put him back the way he was before. If that were the case...would he even know?

Well, it should have been a frightening thought...but Quatre was completely and clinically removed from all this - his emotional reactions had had to be shut down, to avoid pain and panic interfering with Zero's reconstitutions. Detached, he scanned Zero's work, its attempts to glue back the pieces. It looked like he wasn't going to go insane just yet. Zero was doing its best, and seemed to be making headway. But it was, for lack of a better word, distracted...

Zero was trying to tell him something. If a spell could wave its arms around and scream hysterically, that was what Zero was doing. It was pointing to a subroutine that Quatre had set up weeks ago to read the lines of fate. It was one of several that were running constantly in his mind, trying to predict the damage to Centre after Jusan was defeated, integrating every new variable as they appeared. These results were input into the greater set of calculations that went to figuring out how to defeat the Scourge in the first place. The idea was that if there were ever a choice between methods to beat the bastard, Zero could tell him instantly which plan would cause the least collateral damage.

Apparently, one of those subroutines, a long-term consequence calculator, had been accidentally boosted by the massive power surge just as the shield started to be cast. It had jolted Zero down a strange avenue and given it an insight into some future danger. Zero was ringing several alarm bells about its findings.

Quatre heard his own voice reassure Trowa, distantly. In his mind - time had slowed to a crawl - he was tracking the damage's repairs. When it seemed that most of his normal functions would recuperate, eventually, he turned towards the subroutine's calculations, to see what were these results that had sent Zero into a twitter.

Computation DamageControl04: Alarm - 9.73. Probably rating - high (94.6%). Result of Computation: The universe will end in 10 billion years.

A second passed - a huge lapse of time in the mental space in which Quatre conversed with Zero.

He looked at the result.

Another second passed.

He looked at it again.

It hadn't changed.

...ten billion years....riiiiiiight...

Apparently the power surge had sent Zero a little further into the future than he was used to setting it. The most he'd been able to predict before -and had ever been interested in - had been a few months.

Zero was very concerned about this coming event. Quatre supposed that a spell had no concept of practicality. Zero rated dangers according to their probability, gravity and how soon they were likely to happen. Ten billion years was a bloody long time but then again the end of the universe was probably sufficiently certain and serious that it had upped the priority.

Quatre triggered the reset program on the subroutine - the poetically named Dump That And Try Again; such lyricists, those Jishin. Jusan should be their first priority, and he'd worry about the end of the universe in the extremely unlikely event he was still around in ten billion years' time.

Reset aborted due to alarm level + links to parent computations.

What?

Analysis: Routines involving [Jusan] part of the calculations. Link confirmed.

A link? Between Jusan and the end of the universe in ten billion years?

Zero was very affirmative about this.

...Oh brother. Quatre sighed internally and triggered another override to get rid of the alarms. Jusan is immortal, he reasoned. Which means that, theoretically speaking, he will be around at the end of the universe...in ten billion years time. That's not very hopeful for our endeavour but I really don't think that it needs to concern us-

A blur of probability went up in his head like fireworks blossoming. Quatre took one look at the calculation, and realized there was no way he'd ever be able to integrate the full conclusions that Zero had arrived at under that power surge. Hell, it would give even a Jishin mystic a massive aneurysm. Quatre didn't stand a chance. He winced as Zero raised a few more alarms. The spell tried to break it down into chunks that it hoped Quatre could understand.

Quatre winced again, and triggered a few more analysis and pain response programs. The conclusions were no clearer. Somehow, Jusan, the end of the universe in ten billion years, the Source of all things and a threat to humanity were all linked together, and Zero was going bananas over it. But he was no closer to understanding what-

The healer paused and checked the results again. The...Source of all things? What was that? That wasn't any parametrical object he was familiar with.

In a series of blurs and flashes, Zero tried to stuff a lot of information into a mere human brain. During the power surge, at that nexus of probabilities where the entire future had been spinning like a bottle, Zero had put two and two together and ended up with a couple of trillion, and this ‘Source of all things' was apparently part of it.

Look, this is getting us nowhere, Quatre snapped mentally - another few seconds had trickled by, and he was listening half-attentively to Duo saying they'd all just had a close call. Zero! Reset the calculation, retrace it slowly. Then maybe I can follow you this time.

Zero sparkled and stuttered in his thoughts, then admitted that that was no longer possible. Its ability to read and manipulate the lines of the future had dwindled, due to the planetary shield; the calculation had been the result of a freak occurrence anyway. It couldn't begin to retrace its own equations.

This Source of all things - maybe Zero meant Centre, Quatre hazarded. She was the planet of Sources. Centre had been part of the alarm that Zero had tried to raise in his mind, he'd figured out that much. Well, Centre was certainly in mortal danger, and it was going to come to a head a lot sooner than ten billion years - more like five months, the time for Jusan to arrive. As for the rest of the weird result... maybe Zero had gotten its mystical wires crossed. No matter.

Quatre isolated a few more subroutines, ruthlessly shunted the odd calculation into memory storage for later analysis - or deletion - and concentrated again on the here and now, or what passed for such when you had Zero squatting in your head. That meant that the 'here and now' was a muddy mixture of past, present and future, composed of the knowledge of Jusan fuming back on Libra, of Trowa's aching pain and concern and the argument he and Quatre would soon have that would rip them apart, of Wufei's chillingly free laugh and the fact he was going to try to kill Duo in the next 5.16 seconds, and the headache that was trying to nibble away at Quatre's sanity.

The healer wondered briefly how painful it would be to blow your brains out, then concentrated once more on the action, in time to watch the beautiful punch Chang landed on Duo, who'd turned just as it was coming. Quatre winced and grinned at the same time, still pretty confused himself about his feelings towards the braided man.

Duo landed on the ground with an 'oof!' and stared up at Chang with a dazed look. It transformed quickly into alarm as the Dragon reached for him, hauled him up by the scruff of his whatever-it-was-he-was-wearing, and lifted his other fist back.

"I am going to enjoy this-" the Dragon hissed, with considerable lack of foresight in Quatre's opinion. A second later, Chang shouted in pain and fell back, scrabbling at the red-hot glow of the shihai on his forehead. Quatre sighed; in the past ten minutes, Chang had been kicked around by some of the strongest powers in the known galaxy, you couldn't blame him for having lost sight of small details like a mark of control on his forehead.

Faint flickering lines of thought-feeling-emotions-intent made Quatre frown slowly...made him wonder if the Dragon had forgotten about the mark. Or if-

Lines snared the two men in the healer's eyes, tightening like a noose.

Shit.

Quatre, mind in the present and the future, bit his lip as Chang straightened, shook his head once, then attacked with just about the same dogged stubbornness.

"Hey!" Duo snapped, dodging - and then dodging again, as Wufei spun and tried to backhand him. "Wh- what do you think - " he leaned away from a blow, and fell back a couple of feet.

"Stop that, you stupid brute!" He snarled, and his hand shot up, palm out. Wufei stopped as if he'd walked into a wall. The mark on his forehead smouldered.

"What do you think you're playing at?! The shihai has an inbuilt trigger! Every time you hit me, it punches back! Or are you too dumb to notice!" Duo felt gingerly at a welt on the side of his cheek, near his ear, that was starting to swell.

"I noticed," Chang ground out. And took a step forward.

Duo's eyes widened, his fingers dropping from his jaw. The thong in his hair twitched and curled down to cover the forming bruise; Quatre watched, with his eyes and Zero's analytical lens, as the armour, a materialisation of Duo's magic and spirit, started repairing the minor damage to his body. So that's what the Jishin's mythical glass armour was all about...

Chang took another step. He looked like he was fighting against slowly snapping restraints, struggling towards Duo. The Jishin took a half-step back and glared.

"Fei, what do you think you're doing?" he ground out, voice dangerous.

"I'm trying to kill you...guess you aren't as smart as you think you are if you haven't figured that out yet," Wufei's lips twisted with effort, his voice strained but without hesitation.

"I can't believe it! Rocks are smarter than you! No offence, imp." The tiny creature, which'd stayed on Quatre's shoulder, shuddering from the aftershock of the spell, gade a small, dismissive ‘meep'. "Let me spell it - no, let me draw it out for you! I - control - you!'

"Let me hammer it into your skull," Wufei countered grimly. And leapt the last few feet towards his prey. "No-one -"

- a punch towards Duo's face, Duo dodged -

"-controls -"

- backhand whipping back towards Duo's skull, blocked by a black-clad forearm-

"-me!"

Wufei's fist darted forward again so quickly Quatre blinked. The punch landed this time, on Duo's shoulder, causing him to stumble back a few steps, while Wufei fell to the ground on the blow's momentum, momentarily stunned by the counter-reaction from the mark of control. But he was staggering back to his feet again in a few seconds.

Duo was standing still. But his armour was moving. It coiled, not as frightening as when he faced Jusan, but plating Duo's usual sleek battle-suit with what looked to be slabs of black glass. His long gloves became hard and taloned, a breastplate solidified over his chest, dipped down over his abdomen, and the ragged leather thong around his head slithered and stretched and hardened into something like Trowa's headband, but with the smooth sheen of glass.

"You...primitive..." Duo's eyes were narrowed and the ever-present one-sided grin was a curved blade. "Even if you didn't have the mark of control, I would have nothing to fear from you. It took over a dozen Dragons to defeat just one of my kind-"

"-back in the good old days when our armours were a lot less sophisticated, you mean," Wufei interrupted with a trickle of that dangerous laughter again. He held up a hand before his chest and a spark of energy danced. He watched it glow for a few seconds then looked up, arrogance and deadly challenge in every line of his face. "Shenlong is ten times better than those old prototypes we were using fifty years ago...when we slaughtered the tail-ends of your kin fleeing back to their lair on the planet of bones."

From his spot half-way across the cirque, Quatre could still see the muscles clench in Duo's jaw.

"And here's an additional thought..." Wufei sprung to the attack, sending the little blade of energy slicing towards Duo, and following through immediately.

"I can't help noticing- " Wufei sent another little blaze Duo's way, to keep the man dodging- " - that you're not teleporting out of danger this time!"

"If you think I'm running from you-" Duo swatted the blast out of the air with his gloved hand, then dodged the blow - "you're fucking delusional."

"Is that so?" Wufei spun, twisted, crouched and sent one leg scything out into Duo's. With a curse in the old tongue that would have cracked stone back in the days of Power, Duo fell to the ground with a thump. Wufei lifted his fist then staggered back, the mark of control blazing like a red-hot iron on his forehead. Duo scrambled up and stepped back, scowling. Wufei stayed bent over, hands on his forehead and blood pouring from his nose again. But when he lifted his head, he was grinning through the pain. He crooked a thumb upwards, towards the sky swimming with faint rainbows.

"You sure that doesn't have anything to do with the fact you aren't teleporting?"

Duo's face gave nothing away. "A minor hindrance."

"Oh really?" Wufei laughed, it was that creepy one again. "You don't mind if I put that to the test, do you?" He moved forward once more.

"Bakayarou! This is going to kill you!" Duo shouted, flushing with fury.

"So be it," Wufei replied philosophically. "I'd rather die than live a slave, and if I can take you with me, I'll be dying with honour." A clawed clamp whistled towards Duo's head, and Wufei followed after it.

"Wheee! That made me feel like I was four hundred again!" Svale popped up besides Quatre as if she'd sprung out of the ground. Quatre couldn't remember now when she'd left, he'd been too busy concentrating on Duos' fight with the Dragon - their first fight, that is, when Chang was attacking the sanctuary. He knew that Svale would go - despite the risk - to the heart of the sanctuary, to be ready to cast the shield spell once Heero had fed the power into the cirque. Which meant she'd been at ground zero of the reverberation; Quatre looked at her, assessing. Her hair was standing on end, her eyes were slightly crossed, she was staggering, and she was shouting as if she'd become quite deaf, but she seemed otherwise undamaged. "Hey guys! What's going on? Why's the Dragon still alive? Did I really feel Jusan's presence here just a moment ago? Aren't you happy I was ready with that shield and stopped the big guy from appearing? And incidentally what's a supposedly extinct Jishin in spirit armour doing here - fuck me, it's Maxie!"

"Your powers of summation are fantastic as always, Svale," Quatre murmured sardonically. "As to what Duo is doing...he's trying not to get killed by Chang, I'd say."

"Why's that pretty Dragon staggering about like he's drunk? Did he get into my stash? Dammit Rabbit, I left you in charge up here, I expected you to defend the sanctuary and all its contents!"

Quatre rubbed at his temples - strangely enough, the headache didn't go away - and decided not to go into any more explanations. He distantly heard Trowa crouch next to Svale and outline the situation hurriedly, and was remotely thankful for it. Zero was drawing many ugly futures before his eyes; the fate of Centre and a lot more hinged on this confrontation between the last High Dragon and the last Jishin, and what Quatre would say or do to manipulate the outcome...

Wufei, his face white with strain, trapped Duo briefly in an arm wrenching hold. Duo broke away and struck back, a swift blow that left deep scratch marks across Shenlong's chest plate. Wufei spun from the blow and kicked, driving him back again. The Dragon was visibly less hindered by the pain now; he was overcoming it, even as it slowly killed him.

Quatre caught the blur of grey by a hind leg before it could get out of arm's reach.

"No, stay here."

"But he's attacking my master!"

Quatre glanced at the lines and patterns of the simple but loyal creature he was firmly holding. "I know you want to help Duo but you'd be better off staying away. You'd only distract him and you can't do anything against the Dragon."

"But someone has to help him!"

Quatre glanced up at the fight wearily. Duo was back to dodging, and swearing like a sailor. With the mark of control, he could probably kill Chang pretty damn easily; the thought was cold and analytical in Quatre's mind. Zero was shuffling through the lines of the future, showing the various ways out of this new dilemma. As well as the consequences...Quatre sighed and looked down at the golem.

"I'll see what I can do. Here, Trowa-" he held the little creature out to the shaman, "- watch him, make sure he doesn't interfere."

The creature looked at Trowa. Trowa looked at the creature. They both showed a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for the idea, but Trowa, with a shrug, cupped his hands and the golem, grimacing atrociously, hopped into them.

"I'll hold on to him - it, but I'm coming with you," Trowa added in a voice that brooked no dissension. "Fen?"

"I...am...really...going to have to...kill that bastard..."

"You with us?" Trowa asked, his eyes deepening to forest green with sympathy. Quatre could see the damage to the Phoenix's mind much better than the shaman could, but what sympathy he felt was distant, and overlain with plans on how to use Fen despite the injury...

"...I'm with you." Fen grunted. He still looked dazed. "About several million lifetimes' worth."

"Not getting any better, is it?"

"Oh it is. I am no longer firmly persuaded we are several thousand years in the past. I think I remember yesterday, too. I sort of remember Juusan. I definitely remember that bastard Shi No Kami. What's going on?"

"I guess we're going to find out," Trowa answered laconically and turned towards Quatre. The healer noted absently the way his mate entrusted their next move to him without hesitation, something Zero had felt would be improbable...Quatre shoved the ‘Trowa' question away for now, but he knew it was going to be an issue soon.

He had changed. Zero had instituted more mutations while reconstructing Quatre's mind, to allow him to handle Zero with less power and more finesse than previously, and compensate for the effects of the shield. The new programs were actually helping with the pain behind his eyes, and his hold on the lines of the future had returned. What else they'd done - and what else they might have taken away from the healer - remained to be seen...later. He seemed to be...more lucid, and his emotions were still there, not locked up but colder, more detached. That was good in a way. The breaking point of the future, that would cement them into a force to defeat Jusan or rip them apart, was nearly upon them and Quatre had to be clear-headed, unimpeded by emotions and ready to say what had to be said. He walked towards Duo and Wufei, with Trowa, Fen and Svale behind him.

Wufei's face was pale and tight with pain. He was suffering, but he was definitely pushing Duo back. Quatre waited a few seconds - Duo's next move would be useful to calm them both down a bit.

Duo snarled, dodged a blow by ducking down to one knee, and slammed his hands on the ground.

There was a tremendous crack and the cirque shook, sending the watchers staggering. Two slabs of rock shot up from the ground, and curved roughly around Wufei, two prongs holding him like pinchers.

"This is your wake-up call, buddy," Duo snapped as he stood up again. "Don't let my little show of fighting you earlier fool you! I was seriously holding back to avoid having you summon Juusan. I couldn't use magic because the power signature of my race is pretty damn unmistakable, and I didn't want to alert the Scourge. But now!" Duo fingers twitched and the rock groaned. Wufei, who'd been struggling to free his torso from the slabs of rock holding him, froze. "Now the gloves are off! The shield takes a bit out of me but what's left is pretty fucking powerful and not something you should be messing with!"

"Oh?" Wufei looked remarkably unimpressed. "Tell me...do you qualify as the Lord of a Trickster house now?"

Duo's eyebrows shot up, visibly startled by the question, as well as the novelty of that thought. "Ah well, yes, I guess. I mean, yes! House Maxwell! One of the oldest of the Elsire court!"

"Oh good..." Wufei murmured. "I'd always regretted that Jusan had exterminated you all without affording me the chance of measuring myself against a Jishin Lord."

Duo's furious response was interrupted by another crack of stone - one that was not caused by his Jishin magic over earth and rock, if the look of surprise on his face was any indication.

A noise like a lightning strike, a smell of burnt tin and hot rock. Quatre lowered the protective arm he'd had over his eyes for the last few seconds in anticipation, before Chang had flexed Shenlong's shield and blown his stone prison to bits.

"You really are stubborn..." Duo muttered, glaring at the figure sparkling with energy whose boots crunched over rubble as he approached.

"You have no idea."

"I'm going to do something really stupid and appeal to your common sense," Duo snapped. "Don't you realize that you need my help to defeat Juusan when he arrives?"

"I'll defeat him when he arrives, or die trying...of my own volition, not as your puppet, and certainly not with your help," Wufei replied in a soft voice. Crunch. A pebble split under his armoured foot.

Duo took a languid step back, keeping some distance between them, though his lazily crossed arms indicated that he was only doing so to be able to talk for a few more seconds, not out of fear. "You can't get through your thick skull that we need to fight together to defeat the Scourge?"

"That will never happen..." Wufei murmured.

"Oh, k'so! I give up! Quatre! You tell him!"

"He's right," Quatre sighed, placing himself at a prudent distance from the two.

"There! See?" Duo turned back to Wufei with a triumphant smile. "This guy's a seer-"

"I was talking to you, Duo," Quatre interrupted coldly. "The Dragon is right."

He finally had their attention. Wufei stopped his slow, murderous advance - and swayed with pain as the momentum of his fury abated. Duo boggled at the healer. Before exploding.

"Nani?! What are you- has your Zero run out of batteries or something?! Do you think you fools have a chance against Juusan without me?!"

Quatre stuck his hands on his hips, and waited 4.2 seconds; the exact length of silence needed to catch Duo's attention without giving him the chance to marshal more arguments. Zero was a monstrous pain in the ass but it did give you some good conversational tools.

"Maybe we can defeat Jusan without you, Duo, and maybe not. There are too many variables for even Zero to determine; but we both know one thing: we can't trust you. You only care about defeating the Scourge."

"Damn right!"

"That means you'll sacrifice any of us to achieve this," Quatre pursued relentlessly. "And, more importantly, you'd turn the entire planet into a deathtrap if you could, blow up Centre herself and damn the consequences, if it gave you half a chance at your goal."

Fleeting feelings passed over Duo's face, but his words sounded unhesitant. "Damn right again! I want justice, to borrow a phrase. Actually, that's not right. I want bloody revenge! The bloodier the better!"

"At whatever the cost?"

"I paid a high price already." Duo's short words dropped like dead bones at the bottom of a well. "I killed many, I stole, I lied, I paid with my body and my blood, and I'll keep on paying for as long as it takes."

"Let me rephrase that," Quatre continued patiently. "At whatever the cost to others?"

"...I'm ready to sacrifice anybody I need to." Duo's eyes narrowed.

"We were willing to die to stop Jusan, so we could have accepted that. But are you willing to sacrifice what my friends and I are fighting for? How far will you go? How many people will have to die to avenge the fallen Jishin, Duo? Will you be willing to sacrifice the whole of Centre? Our entire civilisation?" Quatre's words were carefully measured strikes.

Duo looked terribly torn, as if a part of him wanted to say no, and another part wanted to say damn right! "I-...I wouldn't-"

Quatre hardly needed Zero's help to guess the origin of the conflict that was cleaving the Jishin apart. "The dead don't have any pity for the living, do they," he said, softly, and suddenly Quatre realized he wasn't angry with Duo anymore, not even for what had almost happened to Trowa. The man had used Quatre and hurt them, but he used and hurt himself so much more severely. "I think...I think you do have limits, Duo Maxwell, to what you're willing to do - not to yourself, maybe, but to others at least. Actually, I think you'd even prefer to take the fighting and bleeding upon yourself, so others don't have to pay for your revenge. Part of you might even regret having used us so far, even Chang." The Dragon, who'd been staring at Duo like a dog stares at a rat, glanced at Quatre in surprise, immediately followed by a snort of irritation at the healer's presumption.

"But...the problem is, we can't trust you, Duo," Quatre continued, quietly but firmly. "You've actually told us you're willing to sacrifice what we're willing to die to protect. Even if you negotiate, even if you tell us that you will join our cause to ensure our cooperation...We can't know that it's you talking, the man who has some heart, some compassion - maybe more than he needs - or the vengeful dead, who wouldn't hesitate to lie, manipulate us and sacrifice anything and anybody to get satisfaction."

Duo stared at him, then licked his lips.

"I speak only for myself." His voice was hoarse, and edged with bitterness. "Now that the plan has matured, and Juusan is coming, they've pretty much stopped talking to me."

His mouth twisted, and Quatre could follow some of the lines snaking through his soul. That multitude of voices must have been hard to bear-...almost as hard as the loneliness that had been amplified by their recent silence.

"Quatre...I need-...we need to-..." he trailed off and his jaws clenched in frustration.

"You see our problem?" Quatre looked at him searchingly. "What can you say, Duo. What can you say to us now that could make us trust you?"

"Nothing. You lied," Wufei whispered. His eyes were once more fixed on the braided man, and he was talking to him as if they were alone on the planet. "You said...you promised you'd help me when I was injured, you offered-...and you lied and you used me."

Duo shrugged carelessly but Quatre noticed a small scrawl of regret cross the patterns of a mind coloured with both cruelty and compassion, as paradoxical as its owner.

"I know how slim the chances are of defeating Jusan without you," Quatre continued. "I know you won't be able to beat him either, alone."

"So you'd rather gamble that you can take on Juusan by yourself, than trust me? Are you insane?" Duo merely sounded weary.

"In the heat of battle, if you can't count on your allies, they are worse than useless," Wufei pointed out coldly.

Duo glared at him, clearly frustrated. Then he stared once more at Quatre, waiting for support.

"Think carefully, Winner. You can probably calculate to the tenth percentile exactly how stupid this idea of us not joining forces is. Is this what Zero tells you? Does it have any arguments I could use to convince you guys not to commit suicide?"

Quatre ignored the brash tone, knowing what Duo was asking; what does Zero suggest I do.

"Zero is an abacus. It's a spell built like a computer." Quatre's voice became cold and hard. "It's not up to making moral decisions. You have to take those on your own."

He turned away. Zero was telling him he was being stupid; the Jishin was a powerful ally, one he should definitely get on his side. There were ways to ensure that Duo would do what they said, and would not betray them. Zero was giving him several options, in a hopeful manner, and Quatre ignored it. Because the healer didn't want Zero to suggest something to Duo that the Jishin would accept out of desperation.

Quatre was - despite everything - still Quatre; he believed, deeply and fundamentally, in people. He wanted to think that, deep under Duo's thirst for revenge, his ruthless manipulations, his careless cruelty, there was still someone worth taking a risk for; someone who could make the right choice, for the right reasons. He wanted to give Duo a chance to come to them and meet them on equal terms, if possible. Not force him to fight like he'd tried to force them. What could Duo say or do to gain their trust...? That remained to be seen. But if it was his choice, his decision and his achievement, Quatre thought it would be better all around.

Of course, the healer wasn't stupid, either. If Duo couldn't figure it out, or decided to try to use them again, well, Quatre would use Zero, and all his friends and allies, to force the Jishin to obey them, and ensure he could not betray them or manipulate them. But he'd much rather not...He'd give Duo a day or two to figure things out on his own. Then...they'd see.

"Chang." Quatre glanced over his shoulder at the Dragon. "You and I have a common enemy."

"Which one are we talking about," Wufei murmured in a murderous voice, still staring at Duo.

"Jusan." Quatre rubbed his temples again - and it still didn't magically cure his headache. Useless gesture. "I know you won't let Duo force you to fight - that you can't trust him-"

"Hell, no one here blames you," Fen muttered.

"-but don't throw away your life by attacking him. You can resist Duo's control, you've proven it. Don't try to kill him as well. If you force him into a corner, he'll trigger the shihai to its maximum power and fry your brain."

Wufei stared at Duo for a few long seconds. Then he walked towards him slowly. The Jishin was standing with one hand on his hip, the other hanging loose at his side, his head turned towards the spot where Jusan's image had been. His eyes were wide and unseeing, gazing inward. If he noticed the Dragon approach him, he gave no indication. Wufei drew up well within striking distance, a few inches flaunting how little he feared the man who had claws sunk into his mind.

"You Tricksters were renown for your cunning and your double-edged words." Wufei's voice was soft yet scornful. "You claimed you never conquered anyone, but entire races were your playthings, your puppets, your lab rats."

"True." Duo's expression and stance did not change at all as he agreed, eyes still fixed on the spot where Jusan had stood.

"But you never controlled my people, and you are not going to control me. If Jusan wasn't my first priority, I'd-"

Duo snorted and moved so fast even Chang was caught off guard. A black-gloved hand darted towards the Dragon's face and fingers flicked brazenly against his forehead.

Wufei's reaction was immediate and probably entirely instinctive: the punch knocked the mocking Trickster to the dirt several feet away.

Duo sat up slowly, and rubbed his jaw - the blow had landed an inch from where his armour had worked to reduce the swelling from Wufei's previous strike. He looked up at the Dragon who was staring at his own fist and blinking in confusion. Wufei was not racked with pain, and the mark of control hadn't even twinkled. He looked at Duo in shock as the latter rose slowly to his feet.

"That one..." Duo rubbed his jaw again, "...I'll give you for free. I wouldn't try it again if I were you."

"What-...why didn't I-"

"Why aren't you rolling around the ground screeching in agony? I removed the shihai, Chang. Do try to keep up."

Wufei's jaw dropped. "What?! Why?!"

"Oh, don't sound so disappointed," Duo purred mockingly, fingers tracing the nasty bruise on his jaw. "I can still make you my pet if you want me to."

The Dragon just stared at him, confused. Duo rolled his eyes. "Get a grip, Chang. As you so blatantly pointed out, you'd rather die than submit to the shihai. So what's the point of keeping it? I can't use it to make you fight Juusan, and you might lose your rag and try to kill me at some point, and then you'd be dead, and I have very few uses for a corpse, even a good-looking one."

Wufei's eyes narrowed, then he looked quickly towards Quatre. "Seer! Is what he saying true?"

Quatre blinked, distracted by the event he was half-seeing in the future. "What?"

"Did he remove the mark?!"

"I honestly couldn't tell you." Quatre used his vision but didn't bother to look very far. "He was able to sink it deep enough in your mind so that even the Scourge couldn't find it. I don't stand a chance if he's just done that again."

Wufei growled and turned back towards Duo. "I guess we'll find out when I rend him limb from limb."

"The only thing we'll be finding out is if there really is rock in that pretty head of yours," Duo countered with a cruel grin, taking a few steps sideways. His armour gleamed, black glass that seemed to obliterate the light from the mottled sky. "I did remove the shihai, Ryu. But that doesn't mean I'm easy game."

"I would be disappointed if you were," Wufei murmured, moving forward. Duo had placed a fallen slab of stone between them, but the Dragon could leap that without even trying. "Do you think that because you freed me - or pretended to - that I will forget what you did to me? Or that I will trust you now?"

"Hell no, the Jishin never bothered worshiping our Gods, so we tend not to believe in miracles," Duo snorted. He leaned forward against the waist-high slab of stone, an arrogant pose, oblivious to the danger of the approaching Dragon.

"Then I'm curious, Elsire. What possible lie, what little trick can you use, to stop me from killing you?" Wufei drew up on the other side of the stone, within striking range. Shenlong crackled.

"No lies, no tricks...no more..." Duo whispered, and Quatre was maybe the only one to catch the faint flicker of relief that crossed the Jishin's face and mind.

A hiss of metal on metal as Duo drew one of his knives in a movement so swift that Wufei could only fall back a step, ready to dodge-

The dagger screamed as it pierced flesh then stone...pinning Duo's left hand to the rock against which it had been resting. The magical knife slid into the slab of granite half way to the hilt.

Everyone stared, shocked, even Wufei. Quatre was the only one not caught off guard; he breathed a sigh of relief. Zero could predict the most likely eventuality, but nothing was decided until the person at the center of the lines took the actual decision, chose one path rather than another.

Duo gasped, eyes wide and luminous, staring almost in fascination at the knife impaling his hand.

"Chi, ishi, itami, hone. Blood, stone, pain, bone. My name is Duo Maxwell, Shi No Kami. As long as the earth keeps my blood, I will never tell a lie. Chi, ishi, itami, hone..."

In the silence that followed, the only sounds were Duo's deep, shaky breaths and a few screeches as the birds around the sanctuary slowly recovered from the shield spell's deafening deployment.

"That oath..." Svale's voice was soft, but in the stunned silence it could not be ignored. "That is inviolable. It is totally binding for a Jishin. From now on, he can only tell us the truth."

The Dragon made a choking sound in his throat. He looked like he wanted to be furious but he couldn't tear his eyes away; they went from Duo's crucified hand to his eyes, weirdly luminescent and almost at peace as they stayed fixed on the dagger.

Quatre moved forward slowly. Everyone was still stunned, but nevertheless Trowa moved forward behind him, as if they were joined by a thread that would not stretch.

Duo smiled - it was slightly twisted, and his eyes widened even more. He reached for the dagger and jerked it from the stone and his hand. Blood pooled against rough granite, trickled from the black glove. The armour twitched and withdrew suddenly, inching away from the wound, leaving the hand bare, pale, and looking small and vulnerable. Duo stared at it as if fascinated; his face was pale and his eyes dilated with pain, but he was still smiling slightly.

"Duo Maxwell..." Duo finally glanced away from his hand as Quatre spoke softly. "I think we need each other's help against a common enemy. If we swear to help you kill Jusan...will you help us defend our home?"

Duo's crooked smile melted. His right hand circled his left wrist, applying a bit of pressure to staunch the flow of blood. When he looked up again, the small smile that appeared was a bit rueful but the most honest Quatre had yet seen on him. "Yes, I'll help you. Worrying about Centre's well-being might make it harder for me to kick Juusan's ass...but without you guys, my chances are non-existent anyway. Besides...I won't see him destroy another planet if I can help it."

"Good."

"Good?!" Wufei finally snapped out of his stupor. "Are you saying you're going to fight alongside him?"

"Yes." Quatre turned to face the Dragon. "Svale knows about the Jishin. If she says that oath is binding, then it is. I might not have been so quick to trust him if he'd sworn to help us - as you said, the Jishin are known for using words with many meanings. But if he can't lie...ask him what you want that will convince you that you can trust him, Chang. He can only tell you the truth."

"The only thing I want to hear from his throat is a death-rattle," Wufei whispered, taking a step to move around the stone. Duo opened his mouth to probably say something about stubborn Dragons, but Quatre beat him to it.

"Really? I thought you said Justice was more important than your personal satisfaction."

Wufei stopped as if he'd hit a wall. The glare he turned on Quatre made Trowa step forward protectively.

"I can understand why you attacked him when you thought he might make you his puppet. Trust me, I know exactly how you felt. But he's not controlling you now...and he can no longer lie to you...what else do you want?" Quatre sounded infinitely reasonable.

"Blood!" Wufei snapped, not sounding reasonable in the least and obviously not concerned about it.

Duo grinned and gestured towards the trickle of red running down the rock to stain the earth. "Help yourself!" He chuckled.

"Chang-" Quatre started but an abrupt, annoyed gesture from Wufei shushed him.

Wufei stared at Duo for a long minute, and even the Jishin was wise enough to keep quiet. Then the Dragon walked around the slab of stone slowly, menacingly. Duo turned to face him fully, resignation on his face. "So...you really want us to duke it out, Dragon? Just say the word-"

"Shut up." Wufei stopped a foot from his former opponent. His eyes were cold and hard.

"I don't like this," he announced, rather unnecessarily. "But the seer is right; Jusan is my first priority. I'll be watching you closely, Jishin. That oath of yours is about to be put to the test, repeatedly. You are not an ally; you are a necessary evil." Duo's grin twisted a bit. "But I will not kill you. Not until we defeat Jusan. Then..."

Wufei stepped nearer, until his shoulder brushed Duo's. "Then, Jishin, your life is mine."

"...you're welcome to it," Duo murmured, apparently amused. He watched Chang stomp away out of the corner of his eye, then turned towards Quatre. "Right. Now that that's sorted-"

"Here." Quatre gestured towards Duo's hand with both of his. Duo stared at him, then glanced down at his injury.

"No can do, Q. It's got to heal by itself."

"Does it? Does that affect the quality of your oath?" Quatre asked ironically.

"Well, no, but it's traditional to-"

"You Jishin liked your traditions painful, I see. Screw that, Duo, just give me the hand."

Duo tentatively stretched out the injured limb over the stone into which his blood had soaked, binding him to his word. Quatre took the hand gently in both of his, and, with some relief, let go of Zero, probabilities and careful plans, and concentrated on the cleansing task of stitching together flesh and bone.

"Thanks..." Duo mumbled. He was possibly referring to Quatre healing the injury...

Quatre glanced up at him as the skin slowly closed beneath his fingers. "You're welcome," he whispered, not talking about the wound at all.

Duo's eyes flickered over Quatre's shoulder where the healer knew that Trowa was looking at Duo with considerably less acceptance. The violet-blue eyes dropped back towards Quatre's hands as they patted the knitted skin, bearing only a faint bruise and scar.

"There. It'll hurt for a few days, but you can use it and it won't get infected. Now we should all go rest; I'm sure we can spare twenty four hours to crash before we start figuring out what to do next. And I'm sure we all need it." Quatre dropped Duo's hand. "Chang?"

The Dragon had stopped at the spot where Jusan had disappeared, glaring at it as if he could rip his way back up the mystical path of the mental projection and force himself onto Libra. He glanced up in surprise at Quatre's hail.

"What?"

"You don't know us...and you attacked us twice." Quatre smiled slightly. "But we have a common enemy -"

"He's talking about Juusan this time," Duo put in as if lecturing a child. The Dragon gave him one contemptuous sneer.

"I know what you're going to suggest, love." Trowa leaned forward and whispered into Quatre's ears. "Are you sure it's a good idea?"

"We're all fighting Jusan," Quatre countered.

"Yes, but until he shows up, these guys will only be fighting each other. The Jishin and the Dragons were enemies long before those two got off on a very bad footing."

"Well..." Quatre hesitated, slightly bemused. Yes, there was a lot of conflict in the lines binding the last Jishin and the last High Dragon, but some of them nonetheless went off on a strange tangent...very strange...maybe Zero wasn't quite as fixed as it claimed to be. "Don't worry about it. We'll just have to keep the peace between them."

"...I was afraid you were going to say that." Trowa sighed, but stepped back.

"Chang, if you want, there is room in this sanctuary for you. If we want to plan a united line of defence against Jusan-"

"Is the Jishin staying here?" Chang asked nastily.

"Hey, who says you can invite a stupid Dragon into the sanctuary of my people, Quatre?" Duo drawled, almost at the same time.

"Good luck with that, Quatre," Trowa murmured and walked away, after tossing the stone creature into the air in Duo's general direction. It shot off and fastened onto Duo's shoulder, and then started shaking its tiny fist at the Dragon.

Quatre hesitated, then turned away with a shrug. It didn't really matter where Wufei stayed, at least right away. Sooner or later he'd see the necessity of working together, even with Duo. Quatre followed Trowa, leaving the backbiting behind him; a little puzzled smile curled on the edge of his lips. If Zero was right, there might be some interesting patterns in store for those two...well, as long as they didn't kill each other before Jusan's arrival, he'd leave well enough alone...

His smile disappeared as he saw Trowa stop in front of Heero. Their friend was still lying where he'd fallen. He looked smaller and much younger than usual, tousled dark hair falling over a pale face, eyes wide open and glazed. Quatre could see every strange line that made up Heero's future, at least for the next few months, and he could see Heero's spirit slowly recovering, and his chest fluttering, but the look on his face and the energy that had ripped from his slender frame were so frightening, the healer still knelt quickly and felt for a pulse out of instinct. Heero didn't react. His heart beat fluttered against Quatre's fingertips, slow and unsteady.

Trowa crouched on Heero's other side and put a finger on his forehead, over his crown chakra Quatre absently noted.

"He's..." Quatre swallowed. Zero had outlined the necessities of using Heero, and Jusan's appearance and show of power had confirmed that it had been a necessary sacrifice, but he still felt guilty. "He's so drained...I can't even tell how badly he's damaged-"

"He's not."

Quatre glanced up at Trowa quickly. At first he wondered if that had been wishful thinking on his mate's part, but the shaman didn't indulge in that. Quatre looked down at Heero again. "But...his pattern is...there's been major disruptions-"

"Or maybe revelations," Trowa corrected gently. His finger drew a line from the chakra to Heero's nose and tapped it. Heero didn't even blink, it wasn't all that certain he was conscious. "He channelled Centre...the spirit of the earth. For maybe the first time in his life, Heero knew what it felt like to be unconditionally accepted...and loved. The thunder rings loudest in utter silence, as my old teacher S would probably say at this point."

Quatre looked from Trowa to Heero and back again. He could only see destruction. On some level, his instincts were telling him Trowa was right, but...how could the shaman, limited to the natural pulse and patterns of the earth, see more in this than Quatre could with Zero? He caught Trowa's gentle smile as the shaman shook Heero, then ruffled the tousled hair affectionately when that failed to raise him. Something twisted inside the healer's chest; Zero informed him it was a slight surge of insecurity and jealousy, and immediately suggested three different programs that could curb such distracting weaknesses. Quatre told Zero to go to hell.

"Well, don't just let him lie there. Let's get Fen to carry him back to his room," he muttered, looking around for the tall man.

"I can carry him. He's not that heavy."

"...Right." Quatre managed not to ask how Trowa knew that.

Heero blinked once as Trowa hoisted him up. He was still pretty out of it. Quatre frowned; when Heero was back in the game, they'd have to worry about his reaction to Duo. And to the Dragon for that matter. The healer winced at the thought of the three-way fight that might entail if he didn't keep things properly in hand. Zero had finished its first line of repairs and was now working on details. Emotions were pulsing through the healer again - worry the first among them. He was going to have to rely heavily on Zero in the coming months. The spell was the only tool he had that could help them all weather the coming storm.

Trowa took a step out of the circle and glanced around.

"Quatre...do we really stand a chance?"

The healer followed Trowa's gaze. On one side of the cirque, Chang and Duo were facing off - well, the Dragon was facing off, Duo was leaning with insulting casualness against a stone, laughing in his face. They appeared to be arguing about some event that had occurred fifty years ago during the Jishin's Twilight retreat. Nearby, Fen was stumbling, eyes still a bit dazed as he tried to use his own Zero, reduced by the flickering dampening shield over their heads, to sort through his memories of previous lifetimes. It would be hard for him, but Zero informed Quatre coldly that the Phoenix wasn't human, despite his appearance. If Duo gave him back his soul-stone, there would be absolutely no guarantee he would side with them against Jusan. No, no guarantee at all. Svale was by Fen's side, suggesting that a good dose of liquor would help; she was guiding him towards the main building with a hand on his butt. The fact that Fen wasn't reacting to this was proof enough of how confused he was.

Quatre turned and caught the shaman looking at him. Ah right, he'd promised they'd talk once the immediate danger was past...they should really concentrate on the coming of Jusan, avoid an argument that could rip them apart when they should be united, but he doubted he could get Trowa to wait much longer.

"Well...there's always a chance." Quatre tried to smile. "And it's probably better than it looks."

Trowa lifted an eyebrow as he glanced around one last time before hoisting Heero more firmly in his arms and turning away. "That's really not saying much."


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