AUTHORS: Mel & Christy (and their muses)
WARNINGS: Language? Violence! 'They Might Be Giants' songs! Collateral Damage!
PAIRINGS: 1x2, 3x4, 5x?
DISCLAIMER: They still aren't ours. We tried theft, but the security systems were too good. Wufei was slightly injured during the making of this fic, and Duo got a concussion, but they got better. (And Trowa just brushed his bangs back into order.) No money is being made from this fic, and if there was we'd just spend it on more tapes, so that's OK.

Demon of Justice + Chapter 11
We Couldn't Be That Lucky

"I should really go," Relena said softly, smiling apologetically. "I can see that I haven't come at the best time!"

"Normally we'd all love to help you out, Relena," Quatre said, lying on Heero's behalf without a twitch, "but... well, yes, right now isn't good. With Duo hurt and Wufei... gone..." He stopped, blinking hard and trying not to look as miserable as he was feeling.

"I understand," she assured him. "Quatre, could you give me a contact number I can reach you on? I realise you couldn't before, but surely now that the war is over you can relax security just a little! And I am going to need all your advice."

"Er... I shouldn't think it would be a problem," he said, pulling a notebook out of his pocket and quickly scribbling a number. "I don't have a direct number to give you, but if you leave a message with these people it'll reach me." I'll have to e-mail Rashid and let him know she might be calling..."Just please don't give it to anyone else!" he added, tearing out the page and handing it over.

"I won't," she promised, tucking it away in her purse. "Give Heero and Duo my apologies, please."

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Sitting in the back seat of her pink limousine as Pargan drove her away, Relena spared a moment to be grateful she'd grown up in a politician's family. It meant that none of the turmoil in her mind showed on her face...

Heero and Duo.

Heero and Duo.

Heero and Duo... I thought it was going to be Heero and me.

It should be Heero and me.

A faint frown creased the skin between her brows.

He saved me so many times. He saved me even though he believed he should kill me. He must have feelings for me. If Duo left... or Heero sent him away...

Heero and me.

Still frowning, Relena reached out and picked up the car phone, dialing her personal secretary.

"...Good morning, Catriona. I'm sorry to call you so early, but I need a little research done. ...No, I know where they are. This time, I need a background check. I want every scrap of information you can get on a Duo Maxwell, seventeen years old, from L2..."

* * * * *

Without realising it, Heero had progressed from just holding Duo's hand to examining it, tracing the lines and old scars with gentle fingers. He'd sat down on the bed next to Duo after rebandaging his knee and packing ice around it, and tentatively picked up his hand again; and once again, he'd felt his spirits lift when Duo didn't pull away.

"How are you feeling?" he asked softly.

"Like shit," Duo admitted, grimacing. "Everything hurts."

"Want some painkillers?"

"Not really. They send me to sleep."

"You could probably do with some more sleep, you know."

"...All right. Um... you gonna stick around?" Duo asked.

Heero nodded. "Unless you want me to clear out?"

"Nah. Not right now," Duo muttered, looking away.

"Then I'll still be here when you wake up."

* * * * *

A couple of hours had passed with no sign of whatever attack Sharna was planning, and Lord Yithar had recovered from the near-panic he'd fallen into when Uthmar had given the alarm. Of course, this meant that he was now busily trying to regain face... and he couldn't think of any better way to do so than by denigrating and downgrading the situation. (Typical of him, really.)

"So where is this fearsome force we are to expect?" he sneered, waving one hand southward. "All I see tonight are stars, the moons, and torchbugs in the trees."

"The hills to the south are quite some distance away, my lord," Uthmar pointed out, resisting the urge to smack some sense into the idiot. "Two days' travel on horseback at least. Whatever force Sharna has mustered will have to cross that distance to reach us."

"Then why did you insist on raising the alarm now?!" the half-elf exclaimed. "Are we supposed to stay on guard for the next two days, jumping at shadows?!"

"If it's a demon instead of men on horseback, it may arrive considerably sooner than that!"

Yithar's expression wobbled for a moment, but settled back into his habitual sneer. "Feh! I don't believe anything is coming. The stress of your duties seems to have resulted in paranoia, dwarf." Spinning around, he strode off into the fields to the south.

"What the-- what does that idiot think he's doing?!" Uthmar hissed under his breth.

"You see?" the haughty voice drifted back out of the darkness. "Nothing's attacked me yet!"

"We couldn't be that lucky," Gunnar muttered. "You know, sir, for a coward, he certainly takes some stupid chances."

"I noticed," Uthmar growled. "Karthan! Cameron! Go and fetch his lordship back."

"Certainly, sir," Cameron said promptly. "What if he doesn't want to come?"

"You can drag him, for all I-- no. Don't do that." Uthmar squeezed his eyes shut and pinced the bridge of his nose, taking a couple of deep breaths. "If he won't come back, stay with him; if something happens, try to haul him out of harm's way. And if he tries to go into the woods, then you can drag him back."

"Two silver says he won't come back," Karthan muttered to his taller friend as they walked off.

"I'm not taking that bet. Five copper says he heads for the woods, though."

"You're on."

"This job is much more fun when the local landowner says 'let me know if you need anything' and then stays out of our way, isn't it?" Gunnar said sympathetically, patting Uthmar's shoulder.

The Champion just growled. He hadn't been able to pick up anything concrete since that one burst of power in the southern hills had been snuffed out, but ever since then his instincts had been nagging at him, insisting that something was going to happen. Two hours spent waiting for the other shoe to drop would be enough to fray anyone's temper.

He turned around and stalked back across the village square to where Wufei and Royce were standing, muttering under his breath. "Stupid stuck-up idiot with fluff where he should be keeping his common sense..." Coming to a halt, he sighed heavily, flexing his shoulders to try and get some of the tension out of them. "Goodman Royce, you have my sympathy... and my admiration. How many years have you had to deal with him?"

The village headman started to answer, then smothered a cough behind his fist as one of Yithar's guardsmen walked past them to peer into the darkness after his lord. The cough sounded suspiciously like 'Too many'. "Five years, almost, m'lord Champion; but we don't see him much. So long as we cut his share of the wood and send it downriver to his factors, and his foresters don't report us doing anything wrong, he's just as happy to stay in his manor and only come round at tax time." The guardsman had gone out of earshot; Royce glanced quickly around, then lowered his voice and went on. "I dare say he'd leave that to his factors, as well, but his relatives wouldn't look kindly on it."

"Tax time?" Uthmar asked, puzzled. "Does he collect taxes for the lords in Bortalik?"

"It's rent really, m'lord, but the Purple Lords all call it tax," Royce muttered; at an inquiring look, he continued. "Defaulting on rent gets you evicted, you see, but tax evasion is treason. If you plead poverty, and they're feeling lenient, they just evict you, confiscate all your property, and put a lien on your future wages. If they're not feeling lenient, well... treason is a capital crime. It makes their tenants work harder."

Uthmar drew in a deep breath and bared his teeth in a humourless grin. "Ah. I see. No wonder the Purple Lords haven't accepted the militant orders' legal system. It's very specific about the difference between various sorts of financial obligations... rent and tax most definitely included."

"Now, what's got you all in a bait, Champion sir?" a deep voice rumbled. Wufei looked up and nodded a greeting to Cord as the huge hradani strolled up, logging axe slung over his shoulder.

"Goodman Royce is being kind enough to enlighten my ignorance about the difference between 'rent' and 'tax' in Purple Lord lands," Uthmar said pleasantly, through gritted teeth.

"Oh aye... you mean that there is no difference, am I right?" Cord grinned dangerously, leaning on Nataku's giant metal foot. "Many's the time I've wanted to deflate Puff Guts yonder," he said softly, jerking his head towards where Yithar was, presumably, still tempting Fate and demons to come get him, "but it'd do the village no good in the end, so I've held my hand and kept my tongue between my teeth."

"I've been wondering what brought a couple of hradani to a human village, actually," the dwarf mused, discarding the 'tax' topic for the moment but not forgetting it. "Let alone a village here. You're Horse Stealers, aren't you? From up north?"

"Aye, that we are. Iron Axe clan, from Hurgrum," Cord said calmly. "But I'll tell you straight out, little man," (Royce winced slightly at that, but Uthmar didn't seem to be taking it as an insult) "if it happened that you were to go asking after news of me up north, you'd find nobody who knew a Horse Stealer by my name at all, at all."

"I rather thought I wouldn't," Uthmar nodded. "It's not a very hradani-sounding name, after all. Not a single Z or K in it."

Cord laughed. "We do tend to call our sons Gurchak, or Yurgazh, or such."

"I wasn't actually thinking of asking questions up north," the dwarf replied, starting to relax a little as the cheerful banter distracted him from the niggling sensation in the back of his head. "Why should I, when I've got you right here to talk to? I--"

He cut off abruptly as Wufei stiffened, eyes glowing green.

----------

Wufei had tuned out the others' conversations -- he couldn't understand more than one word in four, after all --preferring instead to peer out into the dark fields to the south, looking for any sign of movement.

Not that I am peering, he thought wryly, watching one of Yithar's guardsmen squinting blindly into the night. I don't think anyone else can see much beyond the torches and lanterns around the square, but to me it looks like early twilight. Those big gold fireflies... what did Naiya call them again? Torchbugs? There's so many of them in the forest, I think I could read a book by their light. He sighed quietly, leaning back on Nataku's leg. Yet another effect of my link to my Gundam?

At least I no longer have to resist panic every time something like this happens.

What does that idiot Yithar think he's doing? Wufei thought irritably, watching the half-elf lord stamp around in burnt stubble and pointedly ignore the two lay brothers who were patiently following him around. Perhaps he thinks he's proving a point?

The cold metal behind his back suddenly warmed, and Wufei stiffened as a flood of information and images poured into him from Nataku. It was like a strange form of double vision; there was the quiet scene in front of him, with trees and torchbugs and an idiot lord stumbling around in the dark, but there was also a second image, from a higher point of view-- From Nataku's main camera, Wufei thought, and then forced himself to stop thinking about how and concentrate on what he was seeing. There were data labels and targeting information overlaid on his vision, as if he was looking at one of the cockpit screens. He could see Yithar and the lay brothers, glowing bright in infrared, and a few spots in the trees that were probably nocturnal animals moving around...

...and a sickly green blob in the distance.

As he tried to focus on the glowing spot, the image centred on it and zoomed in. It was still miles away, shining through the trees from underneath; then a data label popped up next to it, and he swore.

UNIDENTIFIED ENERGY SOURCE
RANGE: 4.2 MILES
ESTIMATED SPEED: 5 - 350 MPH

That's the same sort of energy that pulled me out of the void-- what?! He blinked at the floating digits. How can it be travelling at somewhere between five and three hundred and fifty miles an hour?!

The distant image tracked slowly, keeping the blob of light centred as it seemed to flow through the trees; then the blob speared forwards into a long worm-shape, and the trees blurred past as the image kept tracking it.

Oh. That's how. Either five or-- it'll be here in less than a minute if it keeps that up!

Tearing his attention away from the translucent second image, Wufei blinked as he realised that Uthmar was standing in front of him, one hand on his arm; he said something that sounded like a question, but Wufei didn't have time to try to puzzle it out.

Gods damn it, what's the local word for 'demon' again? --Ah!

"Krechak," he snapped, pointing south. "Come now. Fast!"

Uthmar's eyes widened for an instant; then he spun around and began bellowing orders as Wufei bolted for Nataku's hatch.

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[cont]