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 15
A Prince Among Men

Yawning, Karthan stretched, wincing as the cuts and bruises over his left lower back protested. Even without opening his eyes, he could tell that Wufei had woken and got up; his feet didn't bump into Wufei's when he stretched, and the link was closed again--

--And what the heck is going on outside? he thought, frowning. That doesn't sound right.

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Scowling, Wufei watched as Yithar slowly counted coins and weighed jewelry, and tried to understand what was going on.

Every time he weighs something, he looks more smug and Royce looks more worried, he thought. I think that's all the valuables in the village! I recognise that necklace, Rami wears it sometimes...

Uthmar pushed through the edge of the crowd of watching villagers and hurried across to him. "Stay here," he whispered, tentatively putting a restraining hand on Wufei's arm. "You can't help."

Well, at least I understood that! "What happen?" Wufei asked quietly. "What he do?"

The next sentence out of Uthmar's mouth was almost completely unintelligible, and Wufei sighed. "Not understand," he said tiredly. Damn it, I understood Karthan perfectly while we were linked! Why couldn't that have stayed?

There was a thump and some mild swearing as Karthan jumped down from the cupboard-bed, and Uthmar looked incredibly relieved. "Karthan! Come here and--" The rest of the sentence was lost on Wufei, except for his own name, 'Yithar' and 'explain'.

"Explain what?" Karthan asked, padding over to them; then he reached the doorway, glanced out, and blinked. "Ah. I see."

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"Sir Uthmar," Karthan said sweetly, "could you please explain to me how I'm supposed to explain quarterly rent to a demon who lacks most of the necessary vocabulary?"

"Did you have to put it like that?" Uthmar asked, wincing. "One Gunnar in the company is more than enough. Can't you use the link?"

"He's awake," Karthan said flatly, jerking one thumb at the bewildered-looking demon. "It's closed."

"Great," Uthmar muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. "That's so useful."

"I thought you didn't like me having a link to Wufei at all, let alone an open one."

"I don't," the Champion snapped, keeping his voice down, "but you've got it, and I don't know any way of closing it short of killing one of you, which I don't intend to do. Since we're stuck with it--"

"Nice use of 'we' there, sir," Karthan said sourly.

"--it might as well be useful," Uthmar finished. "Can't you at least try? If Wufei doesn't understand the situation, and this goes as badly as I think it could, he might do something we'll all end up regretting."

"Like killing Lord Yithar and getting the rest of the Purple Lords really angry, I suppose?" the shorter dwarf muttered, glancing a little nervously from Wufei's face to the scene outside. "I'll try. I don't know whether it'll do any good, but I'll try."

Taking a deep breath, he carefully put one hand on Wufei's arm and concentrated, 'feeling' for the link. It's a bit like feeling for a sore tooth with your tongue, he mused, eyes narrowing as his attention turned inwards. You can't see anything, but you've got an idea of where it is... "You might want to step back, sir," he said quietly to Uthmar. "If the power jumps out at me the way it did yesterday, it could pull you into the link too."

"Ah. Er. How far back?"

Karthan didn't answer. "Wufei?" he said, trying to project the words with his mind as well as his voice. "Wufei, can you understand me? Can you open the link?"

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"Not understand... word," Wufei said slowly, puzzled. "Open what?"

Karthan said something else, one hand going up to touch his forehead and gesture towards Wufei's, and something whispered in the back of the pilot's mind without him realising he'd heard it.

...link...

Frowning, he shook his head. "Shut. Gone."

"Not gone," the dwarf insisted, then closed his eyes and scowled in concentration.

...dreams...

...last night...

I shared your dreams last night, Karthan's voice said, suddenly clear and recognisable. You had a nightmare. I saw it. Your home died in a burst of fire. You were floating so high that the world looked like a ball--

Gasping, Wufei jerked away and the voice cut off.

"Ow," Karthan muttered, opening his eyes. "You heard me?"

"Yes," Wufei said quietly, swallowing. "I heard." Slowly, he held his hand out to Karthan. "Try again?"

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Uthmar combed his fingers nervously through his beard as he switched his gaze back and forth from Yithar, still weighing jewelry with insulting care, to Wufei and Karthan, standing perfectly still with their eyes closed, clasping each other's wrists.

When he finishes, I need to be over there to head him off in case he calls their inability to pay 'treason', the Champion thought, looking back at Yithar. He's nearly finished... but I need to be here, too, to keep an eye on these two--

There was a faint crackling noise as white energy sparked around Wufei's hands where they held Karthan, and the dwarf jerked slightly.

"He's got the idea," he said a little muzzily, opening unfocussed eyes. "That was quick... He wants to know what's so bad about rent, though. Why are the villagers so scared? I'd like to know myself..."

"The Purple Lords apparently don't call it rent," Uthmar explained in an undertone, sidling closer. "They call it tax. If you default on rent you get evicted, but you keep your property. If you default on tax it's treason; the Lord can confiscate all your goods and then have you executed--"

Wufei dropped Karthan's wrists and stalked off towards Nataku, glowering.

"Great explanation, sir," Karthan said, wobbling over to lean on the doorpost.

"Krahana's hells-- did you at least tell him he shouldn't kill Yithar?!" Uthmar somehow managed to keep his voice down to a sort of strangled squeak. "What's he doing?!"

"That was the first thing I told him," Karthan said, rubbing his eyes with the hand that wasn't holding on to the wall. "Well, I didn't exactly tell him... he sort of lifted everything I wanted him to know out of my mind in a lump. He's gone to get something, I don't know what. I was concentrating on telling him something, not finding things out!"

"Is the link--"

"Yes, it's still open, but it's..." He waved a hand vaguely near his temple, blinking. "It's just there at the moment, it's not actually doing anything. I keep seeing faint shadows of what Wufei is seeing, which is extremely distracting, but I can't tell what he's thinking. We're not... touching right now."

As Uthmar turned away from him to follow Wufei with his eyes, Karthan firmly closed his mouth and did not say that although he wasn't touching Wufei's mind, somehow he was sure the small demon was still touching his.

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Yithar noted the weight of the last piece of pathetically crude jewelry-- tawdry stuff, the lot of it; nothing more valuable than a moonstone-- calculated the price of the metal, added a rough estimate of the gem value, and wrote the total down at the bottom of his list of figures. As his pen travelled slowly down the columns, adding up, he could feel a bubble of vindictive pleasure swelling in his heart. It wasn't going to be enough. It wouldn't have been enough even if he hadn't been keeping his estimates low...

"You're short," he said acidly, laying his pen aside and looking up at the pale headman. "Eighteen silver, twelve copper short."

And the really wonderful thing, he thought gleefully, is that by Purple Lord law, this is perfectly legal. They've defaulted on their taxes, and their lives and property are now mine to dispose of as I see fit. There's nothing that peasant-stock 'Champion' can do to stop me, and if those filthy demons try to interfere, he has to protect me!

"M-m'lord Yithar," Royce stammered, "if- if you would grant us a little more time, or accept partial payment until quarter's end, I'm sure--"

"I'm sure you'd default again," Yithar sneered, "and I'd have lost two months in which I could have had productive tenants on my land. Denied! I want you all out of here by noon, leaving everything behind. No carts, no bundles, nothing in your pockets," he hissed, picking up the bag Gwent's ale money had been in and reaching to sweep the jumbled pile of coins and trinkets into it. "Be thankful I'm not going to report your treason to Bortalik and call soldiers in to execute--"

A golden-skinned hand contemptuously slapped his away from the pile, and he looked up into cold black eyes.

The half-elf leapt back from the table with a strangled yelp, nearly tripping over his overturned chair. "Champion!" he screeched, voice cracking as he looked around frantically. "Uthmar! Dwarf! Get this-- this thing away from me!" Another yelp escaped him as he saw Wufei calmly piling the village taxes into the bag. "That's mine! Thief! Give that-- make him give that back!"

"Sir, no," Royce said desperately, pushing the bag away as Wufei turned and held it out to him. "Please, don't-- you'll only make things worse!"

Ignoring his protests, Wufei simply dropped the bag at his feet, pulling a small paper-covered cylinder out of his pocket as he turned back to the table. Ripping the paper away from one end, he poured a stream of glittering coins onto the table, then flicked the paper away and folded his arms, staring challengingly at Yithar.

"I think you will find that this is more than enough," he said, in perfect, unaccented Spearman.

* * * * *

Sitting in the lounge room with a drink and a book, Quatre looked up as he heard the van pull in. For a moment, he was tempted to just stay where he was and ignore Heero's return, but then he sighed and set the book aside.

If I don't warn him, he might go upstairs to check on Duo, or apologise, and walk in to find Trowa with him, he thought, walking towards the front of the house. He'd definitely get the wrong idea. I don't particularly mind upsetting Heero, but it would also upset Duo... so, it's not going to happen...

Pushing open the front door, the blond paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow at the large-ish box in the back of the van, surrounded by shopping bags. Heero glanced quickly in his direction as he hauled a load of bags out of the van, then dropped his gaze and hunched his shoulders, continuing towards the door with grim determination.

He looks like he expects me to kick him, Quatre thought, mildly surprised. Have I been that nasty lately? Casting his mind back over the last few days, he blinked, a faint smirk twitching one corner of his mouth upwards. I suppose I have. Ah well... all in a good cause!

"Welcome back," he said calmly, passing Heero on his way to the van.

When the Japanese pilot came out of the house for another load, Quatre was standing by the van's tailgate, hands full of bags, gazing bemusedly at the box.

"You bought a bar fridge?"

Heero shrugged, not looking at him. "Easier for Duo than trying to get down the stairs or calling us."

"Looks like you bought a lot of things to go in it, too," Quatre continued, looking at the rest of the shopping.

"That's the whole idea," Heero pointed out shortly, grabbing another load of bags and turning back to the house. Quatre followed.

"You might as well leave the fridge in the van for now; you won't be able to put it in Duo's room for a while."

There was a slight hitch in Heero's stride. "...Is he still mad at me?" he asked very quietly.

"No. He's asleep. Trowa got him calmed down." Quatre eyed the shifting muscles in Heero's back, then took pity on him. "I don't think he was really mad at you to start with... just stressed and upset."

"He'd be less stressed if you'd stop telling him Wufei's dead," Heero growled, dumping the bags on the kitchen floor and turning to glare at the blond.

Quatre controlled his temper with an effort. "I have stopped," he said coldly. "I stopped when the Doctors contacted us and told us what happened to him. Did you really think I was going to keep upsetting Duo by trying to convince him of something I don't believe any more?"

"...No. No, I don't think you'd do that," Heero muttered, looking away. His jaw worked for a moment, then he almost spat out "Sorry."

Two apologies in one day, and one of them to me? Maybe Trowa's right, and he is making an effort..."Ahfwan[1]," Quatre said quietly. "That's okay. If I'm going to make allowances for Duo because he's stressed, I suppose I should give you some slack, too... but not much," he added sourly, dropping his bags and going out for more.

They unpacked and put away the rest of the groceries in silence. Afterwards, Quatre came out of the kitchen on his way back to his book, and almost bumped into Heero at the bottom of the stairs, looking up uncertainly.

"Go on," Quatre said sharply. "Go up! Just, for Allah's sake, be quiet! If the alternative is to have you standing around looking like the bottom's dropped out of your world..." Muttering, he stalked off towards the lounge.

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[cont]