Demon of Justice + Chapter 12 (cont)
The Trousers of Time

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Wufei felt the link to Nataku open up inside his mind, and this time he tore it open further and dove through. The Gundam's systems unfolded around him like a glowing blueprint and white fire ran along the lines, jumping the gaps where damage had broken the connections, bringing darkened sections back to life-- and pulling along with it another presence, tumbling in the flow. Curious, Wufei reached out and touched it.

Karthan?

Wufei? What in the name of Krahana's Hells is this?!

I'm not sure. I've never done this before... but I seem to know what to do.

Well, that's comforting-- hey! I can understand you!

I noticed, Wufei thought dryly. Convenient. Be quiet for a moment; I need to concentrate. Part of him could feel Nataku's computer clock, ticking away the milliseconds like slow drops of water, so he knew everything was proceeding with astonishing speed... but another part of him nagged at him to get it done now, get out and finish the fight now, so he hurried.

Carefully, working on instinct, Wufei stretched himself out across Nataku's systems, sliding into the Gundam as if it were a suit of clothes. Where Nataku was damaged, white fire burned, using Wufei as a template for repairs; wires and ceramics and armour moved, joining together, and bits of demon tentacles that were in the way just vaporised. The process of repair sped up as he gained confidence, jumping from spot to spot until it reached the area where he was wounded too... and then it stopped. The schematic of Nataku's left leg remained stubbornly dark.

Wufei pushed at the white fire, nudging a little of it into the dark area, and watched in dismay as it sputtered out. It can't use me as a proper template any more, he realised, frustrated. It doesn't work where damaged areas overlap...

Karthan caught his next thought before it was more than half-formed, and pushed forwards. I'm not hurt, he thought. At least, not there. Use me as a template!

Wufei recoiled slightly. I don't know if it will work that way! he protested. The damage might transfer to you!

So? I'll take that chance, the dwarf persisted. It could work. If we don't at least try, you and Nataku are left half crippled and that damn squirming blob will eat us all for lunch. Do it!

He reached out and pulled himself into the meld.

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Uthmar hacked viciously at the multiplying tentacles, his god's energy blazing around him like gold fire, and felt the first touch of despair well up in his heart. It's too strong, Torframos, he thought, jumping away from a strike. I'm hurting it, but not enough! It pulled Nataku down so fast-- I can't even see him any more-- it keeps bringing more of itself up from underground, and sooner or later it's going to get in a solid blow. The thing had already managed to graze him a few times; the wounds were minor, but the fact that any damage had made it through the energy surrounding him was worrying.

=* If I'd had any idea this was going to turn up, I would have sent at least two more champions with you,*= Torframos said grimly. =*I would have asked my brother Semkirk for half a dozen of his magi, too!*=
*I don't suppose you could offer a quick promotion to a few of the men? Uthmar asked, half laughing, half serious.

=*I would if I could,*= the god returned; Uthmar could feel a quick smile in the back of his head. =*The situation is serious enough to warrant skipping over a few formalities! Unfortunately, it takes a rare sort of mortal to handle a god pouring energy through them without going mad. Gunnar and Karthan have possibilities, and so do those two hradani, but if they ever become champions, they won't be mine. They don't think quite the right way.*= Torframos sighed. =*You seem to be holding its attention, at least. The innocents in the village have time to run.*=

Run to where?! Uthmar growled, hacking through a tentacle and jumping backwards again. They can't run fast enough to get away if this thing decides to go after them once it's through with me!

=*If-- *=

The demon suddenly writhed and screeched, pulling all of its tentacles back into the main mass, shrivelling like a spider in a flame.

=*Do you feel that?! That energy?*=

It's like when Wufei hit the archer--

Nataku's fanged arm burst up out of the demon's body, belching white fire.

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Karthan held on to Wufei, hands knotted in his shirt, gritting his teeth as he felt blood beginning to trickle down his back. Wufei had an arm wrapped around Karthan's shoulders and the other hand glued to Nataku's controls with his own drying blood; short spits of white energy linked all three of them together.

"That's enough," Wufei thought/spoke along the link. You're starting to take damage.

"No, it's not," Karthan growled. He could feel the white fire still working in Nataku's and Wufei's wounds, and knew exactly how much damage remained to be fixed. You're not tossing me out until I'm satisfied.

Do you argue with Uthmar when he tells you to do something for your own good? Wufei thought, amused despite himself.

Sometimes. Gunnar usually handles it.

Wufei laughed out loud as he/they slashed into the demon.

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Now we have a chance, Uthmar grinned, tightening his grip on his axe. "TORFRAMOS!" he bellowed, and charged.

Nataku had gotten to its feet and was carving into the demon with it's staff, green and white energy crackling from the head of it. It was working; the cuts stayed open, leaking green energy and repulsive fluids, and when a tentacle was chopped off it didn't flow back into the body. It just lay on the ground, twitching and beginning to dissolve. Wailing, the thing started to pull itself back underground.

"Oh no you don't," Uthmar snarled, and slammed his axe into the earth, releasing the golden energy burning around him through the blade and forcing the demon back to the surface.

< < Thank you, > > Nataku rumbled, and rammed its fanged arm into the next mouth that opened, burning the thing to a crisp from the inside out.

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It wasn't quite as simple as that, of course. Bits of the demon's body continued to twitch and writhe for some time, and had to be hacked to pieces and burned into submission; but ordinary axes and fire would work on it now, and Uthmar's lay brothers were more than willing to take care of it. It was the middle of the night by the time they were finished, but none of the villagers complained that they wanted to be in bed instead of hauling wood for the bonfires. Nobody wanted to go to sleep and have some forgotten bit of the monster burrow up through their floor.

Yithar's three healthy armsmen wanted to help, too, but their hysterical lord ordered them to stay by his side.

"He's sitting on Royce's bed with his feet pulled up so that his knees are under his chin, watching the floor," Naiya reported when she brought Uthmar a drink. "His guards are creeping around on tiptoe, because if they step heavily the floor creaks and he screams."

"Has he changed his pants, yet?" Cameron asked curiously, limping up to take a drink out of Naiya's bucket.

"Oh, yes," she said demurely. "He didn't start quaking until after he'd had a bath... and complained about the size of the tub and the quality of the soap he was offered."

"Why am I not surprised?" Uthmar sighed.

"Because you're a man who can see past the end of his own nose, Champion sir," Cord said genially, dumping his load of wood and reaching for the bucket. "Ahhh... that's better. D'you think those lads will be coming out any time soon?" he asked, wiping his chin and nodding to where Nataku stood, watching over the proceedings.

"Wufei doesn't strike me as the sort to take a break until the job's finished." Uthmar mused, scratching his beard. "Karthan's the same. I'd guess they'll stay in there until we're finished, just in case the beast has any nasty surprises left. I don't think it does, though."

=*It doesn't,*= Torframos told him. =*The last bit with any life in it just went up in smoke. A job well done, I think...*=

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Wufei shifted slightly, wincing in pain as the link broke apart. He'd been aware of the damage to his body while he was linked to Karthan and Nataku, of course, but it had been a distant sort of knowledge, rather like reading a damage report. Now that he was completely inside his own head, however, the wound was getting personal.

Karthan sat back, grimacing as he flexed cramped fingers, and said something.

"I have no idea what you just said," Wufei said in Chinese, trying to unstick his hand from the controls without making Nataku sidestep.

Karthan blinked in confusion for a moment, then sighed as he realised their understanding had slipped away when the link ended. Reaching out, he carefully helped Wufei peel his fingers away from the dried blood, then clasped his wrist and looked into his face.

"Friends?"

"Friends," Wufei replied, smiling despite his exhaustion as he returned the grip.

Once Nataku was back in the village square and sitting down, they staggered out onto the armour 'drawbridge', supporting each other, and gazed down at the ground. "Down, how?" Karthan asked, looking dubiously at the drop.

Wufei grinned. "Jump." He didn't understand much of Karthan's reply, but gathered that he was being instructed to do something anatomically impossible with his sense of humour. Snickering, he pulled the drop wire out of its cache and activated it, lowering them both to the waiting hands below.

* * * * *

"Duo? Heero?" Quatre peeked around the door, carrying a laden tray. "We made lunch..."

"Thanks," Heero muttered, getting up to take the tray and put it on the bedside table. Duo moved a little, but otherwise remained an anonymous lump under the bedcover.

"Come on, Duo, sit up," Quatre coaxed, tugging at the top blanket. "Trowa helped, so it's better than my cooking usually is, I promise."

"I'm not hungry," Duo muttered.

"You have to eat something! Starving yourself isn't going to--"

"He ate a good breakfast," Heero interrupted, glaring. "Skipping lunch hardly qualifies as starving, Quatre. Leave him alone." He herded the blond boy out the door, dropping his voice to a whisper. "I'll try to get him to eat, but nagging is not going to work. Back off," he hissed and closed the door in Quatre's face.

"... thanks, Heero," Duo said quietly as he sat down again.

"Uh... no problem," Heero replied, flustered. "Do you mind if I eat? I'll take the tray downstairs if you'd prefer it."

"S'okay."

"Thanks. There'll be plenty left if you get hungry later." Heero quickly made his choices, taking mostly food that wouldn't taste as good once it got cold. As he ate, he thought about how he could persuade Duo to change his mind but couldn't come up with anything that seemed likely to work.

Nagging will just make him stubborn, he thought helplessly, chewing without tasting the mouthful. I suppose I could tell him Wufei wouldn't want him to stop eating... fuck, no. I am not going to try emotional blackmail!

To hell with it, he decided eventually, putting his empty plate back on the tray. Like I told Quatre, skipping lunch doesn't qualify as starving. If he says he's not hungry at dinnertime, I'll try to think of something then.

Duo stirred and sat up, sniffing and wiping at his face. "I guess I will eat something," he said. "Thanks for not nagging me, Heero. I don't think I could've handled that right now."

"Didn't think it would work, or I might have," Heero said truthfully, turning away slightly to hide his face as he started to fill Duo's plate. Well, at least I got that right...

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That night, after Duo had eaten dinner and drifted off to sleep, Heero sat by his bed and watched his face in the dimness.

He's not taking this well, at all," Heero thought. He hardly spoke today... just lay in bed and shut himself off. I can't tell what he's thinking. He grimaced. *Of course, I don't exactly have a good track record of telling what Duo's thinking.

I'm not sure how I feel about losing Wufei.

In a weird sort of way we were friends," he thought slowly. We saved each other's lives a few times... I was comfortable around him, even when I was focussed on 'the mission' above everything else, and it wasn't just because I knew he wouldn't bother me. I respected him.

It hurt when Trowa told me Wufei was angry at me for mistreating Duo. More than just jealousy. I hope, that wasn't entirely true...

This would be a lot easier if we knew he was dead, Heero decided, shifting in the chair. We could all mourn him and move on. Not being sure... hoping he's all right somewhere, and fearing he's not... this could drag on forever.

Duo's breath hitched in his throat and Heero leaned forwards; the sleeping boy's face crumpled as he began to sob quietly, and Heero slid onto the bed, gathering him into his arms.

"Shhh, Duo," he whispered, rubbing the braided boy's back. "Please don't cry..."

Duo curled against him, face pressed against his chest, and cried without ever waking up. By the time his silent sobs trailed off, the front of Heero's shirt was soaked.

"... thanks, 'Fei," he mumbled, pressing a kiss to Heero's collarbone and slipped into deeper sleep with his arms locked around the Japanese pilot's waist.

Heero stared down at the top of Duo's head, eyes wide. I've hardly ever seen Duo cry. And he won't cry if he knows he can be seen. If he's willing to cry on Wufei's chest... 'Thanks 'Fei'... this has happened before. And he kissed...

When Trowa said Wufei wanted to be Duo's lover... how close to the truth was he?!

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