Demon of Justice + Chapter 17 (cont)
All The World's A Stage

"Well, yes." Uthmar did a good job of looking mildly surprised. "I've spoken to him on the subject and although he's reluctant to claim the title, his rank, among his own people, does equate to prince. Torframos agrees," he added casually. "As I was saying, Prince Wufei will assist us in dealing with the temple, and then we will return to our Motherhouse. I'm sure there's some other area that needs us."

"He's-- but-- are you sure--?" Yithar whimpered, still stuck on 'Prince Wufei'; then the rest of what Uthmar had said registered, and he seemed to snap into focus. "When you say 'we', do you mean Pr-- ah-- he is also going to your Motherhouse with you?"

"Oh, yes. Until he learns more about this world and can decide what to do, he's going to remain with the Order."

"And he's going to take that with him?" The half-elf jerked his hand towards Nataku's looming form, not quite pointing.

"Definitely. Nataku goes where Prince Wufei goes," Uthmar told him, putting a little extra emphasis on the title. There's no harm in twisting the knife just a bit this time, he thought, watching Yithar's expression take on a tinge of smug anticipation. You needn't think I don't know why you want to be sure they won't be here. Arrogant, spiteful little--"Of course, we can't leave until our reinforcements arrive. And the permanent garrison, too. Luckily, they caught a favourable wind coming along the coast and up the Spear River... and they started out as soon as we found that summoning site in the canyon, of course, so they should arrive tomorrow." Uthmar smiled cheerfully at Yithar, who suddenly looked as if he'd just realised he'd bitten a mindanwe fruit.

"What permanent garrison?" he asked, flat-voiced.

Again, Uthmar proved he could fake a surprised expression. "Well, m'lord, this is a very thinly populated area, and this incident has proven that Sharna's servants have established a significant presence here in secret. Now that we know there's a temple in the southern end of the Spinewall, we can deal with it, but there may still be others we don't know about. Obviously this region requires a permanent guard, so... the Order of Torframos is going to set up a chapter house. Torframos tells me the Sisterhood of Lillinara are considering an outpost of their own, too." Uthmar's smile widened a fraction as he watched Yithar's expression curdle. "A site hasn't been decided on yet, but I think it'll be quite close to this village. They've already been attacked once, after all, so we'll be keeping them under observation. Just in case."

"That's... well, I don't see..." Yithar said weakly, visibly casting around for a logical objection and not finding one.

"Yes, m'lord?" You can't argue that it's not necessary; you already claimed this area is dangerous. 'Demons and things'! Uthmar nearly snorted, keeping his expression straight with an effort. And if the Order keep an eye on this place, you can't weasel their new gold out of them without getting caught. Stew in that, brown britches!

...Gunnar's right. This is fun.

=*Don't enjoy it too much,*= Torframos murmured, but the effect was somewhat spoiled by the chuckle in his 'voice'.

Define 'too much', Uthmar shot back.

"...well, yes, a chapter house would be a good thing," Yithar said reluctantly. "Temporarily, at least. Until the, ah, immediate problem has been handled... but I really don't think I can sell you any land for a site," he added quickly, brightening. "Er, I'm sure you can site it somewhere else... further away."

"We weren't planning to buy land," the dwarf replied. "The Spinewall is crown land; we're negotiating for a grant. Nearby." He spread his hands and grinned at Yithar as the lord abruptly slumped again, hopes dashed. "When you think of land, m'lord, you think of cropland and forests. We just need a defensible site to build on, and for that the Spinewall is perfect. Now if you'll excuse me...? I have preparations to make."

"Yes... very well," Yithar said sourly, waving him away.

Humming to himself, Uthmar sauntered back across the square to Cord's house. Well. That improved my mood...

----------

Wufei packed his duffel bag away in one of Nataku's compartments, swung down to the ground on the lift wire, and turned around--

--to be confronted with a pair of shimmering, tear-filled blue eyes, at extremely close range.

"Gah!" Startled, he jerked backwards and came up short against Nataku's leg, staring at Rami. She wasn't there when I climbed out of the cockpit! How'd she do that?!

"Is it true, Wufei?" she asked mournfully, voice throbbing with emotion. "You're leaving?"

Oh gods, not now! he thought, feeling a sinking sensation as he took in the full impact of her Say-It's-Not-So expression and posture, hands clasped over her heart. She looks like the tragic heroine out of that film Duo thought was 'so bad it's hilarious'. At least she hasn't got a Southern accent...

Salvation presented itself, in the form of Naiya.

"Yes, Rami, he's leaving," she said dryly, coming up behind the blonde girl with a couple of Wufei's shirts in her hand. "Why are you wearing your best dress?"

Wufei thankfully grasped at the offered escape and took the shirts, grabbing the lift wire again.

I can handle all sorts of battles, he thought sheepishly as he rose. I can even face demons, it seems, but I can't face her! At least when Quatre or Duo resort to using the 'big blue eyes' tactic, I can reason with them... or go on a mission!

I'm beginning to understand Heero's reaction to Relena.

----------

Naiya spared an amused glance for Wufei's retreating form, then looked Rami up and down. "You're wearing your necklace, too... and eardrops! What's the occasion?"

"He's leaving!"

"Yes, and?" The hradani girl tilted her ears back. "You didn't think he was going to stay here forever, did you?"

"He could," Rami insisted, pouting. "If he really wanted to."

"And what would he do?" Naiya considered steering the smaller girl away from Nataku so Wufei would have a clear escape, but gave up that idea when she saw how stubborn Rami's expression was becoming. "Grow crops? Chop wood? He's a p--warrior, not a peasant!"

"He and Nataku would defend us, of course!"

"From what? D'you really want us to be attacked by demons on a regular schedule, just so Wufei will have something to do?"

"No, but-- but there are brigands, and--"

Naiya rolled her eyes. "Almost never, Rami. And even then, they're a little beneath Wufei's abilities, don't you think? We usually manage to handle them ourselves!"

"But--"

"No 'buts', Rami. There's nothing to keep him here."

"Oh?" Rami tossed her head, looking at Naiya from underneath her long lashes. "What about you?"

"What about me, Rami?" Naiya's voice had gone completely expressionless, and Rami hastily reconsidered her next words.

"Well-- uh-- aren't you going to miss him?"

"I'm not in love with him, Rami," Naiya said pointedly, "and he's not in love with me."

"I never said that," Rami mumbled, not entirely truthfully, twisting a strand of hair around her fingers.

"Ha. Yes, I will miss him, I suppose," Naiya admitted, "but I'm not going to try to keep him here. Honestly, Rami, do you really think someone like him would be happy, living in a small village for the rest of his life?"

"...I suppose not." Rami sighed.

"So, why are you wearing your best dress and jewelry?" Naiya asked impishly, tucking her hand through Rami's arm and drawing her away.

"Naiya, you have no sense of drama!" The blond girl rolled her eyes. "You have to wear your best clothes for a tearful farewell!"

"Whatever you say, Rami. Want some tea?"

Rami giggled. "Well, since you spoiled my big scene..."

"'Scene'?" Naiya stopped short, staring at Rami with narrowed eyes. "You're not nearly as serious about this as everyone thinks, are you?"

"Well, I know Wufei's not in love with me," Rami said frankly. "And, well, he is very handsome, in a scary demonic sort of way, but... I can't imagine him settling down and having children in a comfortable little cottage, doing repairs and things. I want the cottage and the children and the sort of husband who'll fit in there, so there was no point falling in love with him." She smiled up at Naiya. "It was fun pretending, though. Just like a ballad!"

"Rami," Naiya said faintly, "sometimes you frighten me."

"Why?" Rami blinked at her, looking a little worried. "If it's about Wufei not being the domestic type of husband, I'm sure he'd be just fine for someone who's more, um, adventurous than I am."

"No, Rami, that's not... never mind."

"I'll make the tea," Rami declared, changing direction and tugging Naiya after her. "You're looking rather pale."

When Cord found them, a short while later, Naiya had recovered her equilibrium and was listening to Rami chatter with a faint smile on her face.

"There y'are, lass," he said, sounding relieved. "I've got a thing or two to be discussing wi' ye, if Rami doesn't mind the interruption..."

Naiya started to get up, but Rami waved her down again. "You've hardly touched your tea, and I've got a new fruit loaf fresh out of the oven. You two sit down and talk here! I have to get changed anyway, so you'll have privacy." She whisked another tea mug and a plate of spiced bread onto the table, smiled brilliantly at Cord, and left.

"Wait until I tell you what she's been up to," Naiya chuckled quietly. "What's the matter?"

"Nowt," Cord said, accent thicker than usual. He fidgeted uneasily with his mug for a while, then reached out and took his daughter's hand, clearing his throat. "Naiya, girl... with th' lad Wufei leaving and the Order wi' him, I've been thinking... well, ye know I never meant us to stay here forever. Never meant to stay as long as we have, either, only... ye were growin' up happy, wi' friends and all..." He trailed off, and Naiya squeezed his hand.

"Thinking of going home?" she asked softly.

"Aye, that I am," he sighed. "We could go with the Order all the way to Axe Hallow, make our way across to Horse Stealer lands on our own... th' Champion'd likely give us a safe-conduct pass, in case anyone got nervous 'bout a couple o' 'murderin' hradani' wandering loose," he snorted. "We could get back easy. But... well, I don't know if we rightly should. This place's been yer home most of yer life, girl. Might be you'd rather stay here, and if that's so, speak up an' don't be afraid. S'not a bad place, an' I wouldn't mind..."

Naiya peered into her mug, apparently fascinated by patterns in the glaze. "Aren't you going to be in trouble if we go back?"

"Might be," Cord shrugged, trying to sound casual. "Might have blown over by now. Hells, girl, we haven't heard anything from up north for so long, ever'one who cared might be dead an' forgotten!"

"Might be alive and with long memories, too," she said sharply, glaring at him briefly before returning to her examination of the mug.

"Aye, well... then we find somewhere else that needs a smithy."

"Hmph." She stayed silent for a while, then slowly smiled. "Well... I remember Hurgrum pretty well. Not a lot like here, is it?"

"No..." he said uncertainly.

"Any landlord who tried to tell his tenants that 'rent' equals 'tax' would find out differently quick smart," she mused, raising an eyebrow at her father. "If I never see another Purple Lord again, I won't miss 'em. Let's go home!"

---------------

Of course, they had to tell Rami when she came back...

"I knew it! I knew there was something between you and Wufei! Why else would you be leaving with him?!"

"RAMI!"

* * * * *

Quatre yawned hugely. "Ufff! Excuse me... I think it's time I went to bed."

Trowa stood up and stretched. "Good idea. 'Night Duo, Heero."

"G'night, guys," Duo said cheerfully, eyes glued to the TV screen.

"Hmph. There's a good thing about the TV being in here," Quatre smirked. "When you finish watching the late-late-late movie, you won't be trying to sneak upstairs in the dark and waking the rest of us up."

"I only woke you up once!" Duo protested indignantly. "And it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't tripped!"

"... over an invisible seam in the carpet," Trowa pointed out, straight-faced. "That takes talent."

Duo blew a raspberry at him. "Nyer. You're just jealous 'cause you can only do triple somersaults with twists, not half-gainer faceplants."

Trowa chuckled. "Goodnight, Duo."

"Don't stay up too late," Quatre said wryly.

"With Heero watching me like a hawk? Fat chance!"

"I wasn't going to say a word!" Heero insisted. "Really!"

"No, but I'm perfectly capable of guilt-tripping myself into behaving," Duo sighed. "See? This is me switching the TV off. This is me being good and not getting out of bed to go to the bathroom without help. Hint, hint."

Heero solemnly got up and offered his arm. "Would you like a hand there?"

"Why, thank you, Heero. How considerate of you..."

By the time Heero helped Duo back from the bathroom, there was no sign of Quatre and Trowa, apart from the closed door to their bedroom. Heero got his charge back to his room and settled on the edge of the bed, made sure that everything he might want during the night was within arm's reach, and started to leave.

"If you need a hand, just yell," he said, pausing at the door after turning off the main light. "I'll leave my door open, and this one, so--"

"Um..."

Startled by the uncertain tone of Duo's voice, Heero glanced back. The braided teen was sitting in the pool of light cast by the bedside lamp, pleating the edge of his sheet into numerous folds.

"You could sleep in Wufei's bed," Duo said, not looking up. "If you want. Just so I don't wake up Tro and Q if I need something during the night, I mean... that's all."

"... Sure," Heero got out. "I'll just, uh, get a clean t-shirt to sleep in..."

"'kay." Duo almost dove under the blankets, burying his blush in the pillows.

Maybe he wants company? Heero thought hopefully, heading for his room. He didn't ask the others... maybe he wants me there for him?

Whatever. At least he doesn't want me not there.

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