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 18
Preppy?

"Do you think Jarad is going to try to follow us?"

"I doubt it, lass," Cord rumbled, adjusting his massive pack. "His mother swears she won't let him out of her sight for a week--"

"-- which won't stop him if he's determined," Naiya pointed out.

"-- and His Highness in there made the lad promise not to," her father finished, jerking his thumb towards Nataku with a grin. "That'll stop him if anything will."

"Ah. You're right," she chuckled. "I certainly can't think of anything else that would keep him away from his hero!"

"Myself, I'm more worried about that Rami," he said uncomfortably, glancing over his shoulder as if he expected to see the glint of sun on yellow hair in the distance.

"Er... no," she said firmly. "She won't be doing that."

"Hm? What makes you so sure?"

"I'd like to know too, if you don't mind, since it'll be my responsibility to make sure she gets back safely if she comes after us," Uthmar said, moving up on her other side. "Did she, for example, nobly inform you that Wufei was all yours and she hoped you'd be happy together?"

Naiya snorted. "Not quite, m'lord Champion. I do have it on very good authority that she thinks Wufei is 'very handsome, in a scary demonic sort of way', but he's not the domestic type, so she doesn't want to marry him." She decided not to tell anyone the rest of what Rami had told her, amusing though it might be. Except perhaps Father, if he promises not to pass it on, she amended mentally, glancing sideways at the huge metal demon-machine easily keeping pace with them on the ground by the road. I don't really want to know how Wufei would take the news that Rami was acting out her favourite ballads, using him as a living prop...

"Aye! That sounds like Rami," Cord laughed, trading grins with Uthmar. "She acts like there's nothing in her head but air and fluff, and then she comes out with something dead practical."

"And then she goes back to air and fluff," Naiya said, smiling a little wistfully. I'm going to miss her...

As they approached a fork in the road-- one branch continuing southwest along the Spinewall, the other bending to the east, towards a pass through the rough hills-- Lord Yithar kicked his horse forwards, catching up.

"I'll be leaving you here," he snapped at the Champion, ignoring everyone else.

"I realise that, m'lord, and I wish you a good journey back to your estate," Uthmar said pleasantly, nodding.

Yithar didn't return the courtesy, glaring sidelong at Nataku instead. "You'd best see to it that those two don't return to Purple Lord lands," he said abruptly, jerking at the reins so that his horse tossed its head, snorting. "I've been very forbearing, after all, and some of my brother lords won't be as-- as understanding about a demon striking a lord, even if he was ignorant of my rank at the time. I won't invoke the full legal penalties for such an act, of course, but someone else could."

Uthmar worked his jaw slightly, considering possible replies, but Gunnar beat him to it. "Actually, m'lord, I believe Prince Wufei was acting within the law when he struck you. Purple Lord law does allow high-ranking nobles to strike their inferiors, after all, and he is a prince. In fact, if anyone was in the wrong, it would be you, m'lord, for drawing your sword on him and then ordering your armsmen to attack." Gunnar smiled at the open-mouthed half-elf, scratching his chin through his beard as he continued. "Of course, I haven't had the opportunity to ask His Highness, but I'm sure he'd take the position that the full penalties shouldn't be applied to you, since you were also unaware of his rank at the time--"

"Good day!" Yithar choked out, sinking in his spurs and sending his horse towards the pass at a dead run. His armsmen swore under their breath and urged their mounts after him; at the end of the line, the man who'd been injured in the fight with Wufei groaned and followed at a gentle canter, swaying in the saddle.

"Good day, m'lord prick," Gunnar said quietly, waving goodbye. "Don't wet your bed..."

----------

"Good riddance," Wufei muttered, watching the viewscreen as Yithar rode off into the hills. He felt he'd been very fortunate that Yithar had avoided him whenever possible; everybody who'd had to interact with the half-elf on his terms came away either pale or swearing.

Well, he was gone now, and Wufei had more productive things to think about.

His vocabulary was increasing with surprising speed, and Gunnar and Karthan were very good at sketching or pantomiming things he didn't have words for, so they'd been able to explain Uthmar's basic plan to him without resorting to his link with Karthan. Thanks to that, he hadn't been surprised when nearly sixty soldiers arrived at the village, dressed in the same colours as Uthmar and his men. They'd been surprised when they saw Nataku, of course, but... not as surprised as he would have expected. It was as if they'd known there would be something strange in the village, just not exactly what or how big. Wufei had a sneaking suspicion it had to do with the other Champion who'd arrived with them, a large human who had immediately taken Uthmar aside and started working out refinements to their plan of attack.

Just refinements, Wufei thought, watching the man in question amble along with a deceptively slow stride. He already knew Uthmar's basic plan without being told it. And if I understand Gunnar correctly, they started out from wherever they came from before Uthmar and his men got to the village... so how did they know where to go...?

Maybe Torframos told them.

Wufei squirmed slightly in his seat, swallowing. He got a cold feeling in his throat and stomach whenever he thought about how that deep, rich voice had spoken out of thin air...

It's not such a startling thing, really, he told himself determinedly. I've already accepted two moons, magic, non-human intelligent races, a link to Nataku, a link to Karthan... I have to admit, gods who actively interfere in their worshippers' lives fit into this setting quite nicely.

And I've got one of them out to kill me. Wonderful.

Well, if he could do anything directly to me, he would have hit me with a lightning bolt or something by now! Stop worrying about it!

Dragging his thoughts away from the subject of gods with an effort, Wufei went back to studying the new soldiers. Around twenty of them had stayed in the village, but that still left thirty-five to join the assault on the temple. Wufei had to admit, he was favourably surprised by what he saw.

They're disciplined. They seem professional. They move well-- I'll be able to tell more when I see them practice-- and they're certainly well armed!

He snorted to himself as he saw one stocky dwarf who had a double-bladed axe slung on his back. The axe looked like it weighed more than its wielder, but he'd seen the dwarf swing it easily into place with one hand.

I'd be happier if they had machine guns and rocket launchers, but they seem to have the best of what's available here and now. Cord approved of their weapons, anyway, and they seemed quite impressed by the quality of his metalwork, so I'd say that's a testimonial for both sides.

They also seem quite comfortable about what they're going into, he mused, watching them talk and joke among themselves as they marched. That isn't the sort of bravado I'd expect among soldiers who've never seen serious combat. They act like seasoned fighters who know what's coming and are confident they can deal with it. I don't think they'll be doing anything stupid.

Feeling a little better about the plan, which called for him to be (relatively) safe inside Nataku while the lay brothers fought on foot-- After all, it's my job to keep any demons that appear away from them. The risk isn't distributed as unevenly as it seems at first, he told himself-- he dialled up the magnification on one screen, zooming in on the small group at the head of the loose column. Cord and Naiya were there, carrying ridiculously large packs without visible strain, chatting to Uthmar and Terrin.

I wasn't expecting Terrin to come. Cord and Naiya weren't such a surprise-- they didn't exactly blend in with the human villagers, so I was already wondering where they come from-- but Terrin has family there. Derrin and his wife, nieces and nephews... I think he's lived in that village all his life, but he packed up his belongings and left on a day's notice. I still don't know why! Naiya said she and her father are going back 'home', but they still left friends behind...

At least they got a chance to say goodbye. If they change their minds, they can turn around and go back. I can't even pick a direction and say 'I come from there'!

Abruptly, the silence in the cockpit was too much for Wufei. No battle transmissions, no radio chatter, no surprise calls from a braided maniac to tell him 'You're looking way too serious, Wu-man!'. Yanking open the storage compartment beside his seat, he fumbled in Duo's CD bag, pulling out a random disk and sticking it in the slot.

< < She's Miss California, hottest thing in West L.A. > >

Are they even alive? They have to be. The battle was going badly when whatever happened to me happened, but... maybe my disappearance provided enough of a diversion for them to get away? If they could just get clear of that trap, I think-- I'm sure they'd be able to do all right without me.

I wonder what they're doing right now...

* * * * *

"Damn it, Heero, I am not going to be carried down to breakfast! I have crutches and I'm not afraid to use them!"

"On stairs?" Heero asked pointedly. "Steep, narrow stairs?"

"Steep, narrow stairs that you've already fallen down on twice?" Trowa put in from the doorway.

"Hmph." Duo tried to look stubborn, but was obviously thinking about it. "Well, good point. Er... taxi?" he said sheepishly, raising one finger in the universal taxi-hailing motion.

"Hn." Heero raised an eyebrow and carefully picked Duo up. "You get the crutches," he told Trowa, edging sideways out the door.

Heero carried Duo down the stairs as carefully as if he was made of spun glass. He hesitated at the bottom of the flight, eyeing the length of the hall leading to the kitchen as if he suspected it of harbouring tripwires, but put Duo down and supported him until Trowa handed over the crutches.

"Thanks, Heero," Duo said seriously, meaning more than just 'thanks for getting me downstairs'. Thanks for putting me down here instead of carrying me all the way to the table, he continued to himself, setting the crutches under his arms and swinging off towards breakfast. Thank you for not babying me more than you have to.

He had a little trouble turning the corner into the kitchen, swearing mildly as he caught the end of a crutch on the doorframe. Heero's fingers twitched as Duo wobbled, but he managed to restrain himself from lunging forward and grabbing the braided pilot. He also managed to refrain from breathing an audible sigh of relief when Duo made it safely to his chair and sat down, leaning the crutches on the wall behind him.

"I want a different set of crutches, guys," Duo announced, scowling at the offending objects. "I mean, these things may be made of the latest ultra-light alloys, blah blah etcetera etcetera, but they're still awkward as hell and they're gonna rub my armpits raw. I want a pair of those elbow crutches."

"That shouldn't be a problem," Trowa shrugged, setting out glasses and getting a bottle of juice out of the fridge.

"Hn." Heero nodded automatically, but his mind went into a brief tailspin. If Duo gets lighter crutches he'll be moving about more, and that's not good... but he's more likely to have an accident with the long crutches... I can catch him... not all the time, I can't... gah! For a moment, unable to work out which option was safer, he seriously considered hacking into hospital files to look for statistics on the number of accidents suffered by patients on long crutches versus elbow crutches.

No. That is stupid. Duo's right, they'll be more comfortable for him. He's a Gundam pilot, damn it, he can handle a pair of crutches without me following him around waiting to rescue him!

So long as I don't startle him off of them, that is.

Quatre triumphantly deposited a stack of pancakes on each plate, and Heero gratefully let himself be distracted by the ensuing competition for butter, syrup and lemon juice.

Putting down the syrup bottle (which promptly vanished and reappeared on Duo's side of the table minus a third of its contents), Quatre paused before picking up his fork. "Guys... I have some news."

"Yes?" Trowa raised an eyebrow; Duo looked up, chewing happily.

"I bought us a house. We're moving in tomorrow."

Duo nearly spat out his mouthful. "Mmf?!" Washing it down with juice, he repeated himself. "Tomorrow?! Quatre, I'm having the damn operation tomorrow, in case you forgot! And why are we moving, anyway?!"

"It's closer to the hospital, for when you start physical therapy, and it has two bedrooms on the ground floor."

Heero blinked at that idea.

"But tomorrow?!"

"I worked it out," Quatre insisted. "Heero will stay at the hospital with you, while Trowa and I move our things in. It's a really nice house, Duo; five bedrooms, three bathrooms, swimming pool, TV room, big garage, everything."

"Is it listed as part of the Winner Estate, so Relena can find us easily?" Trowa asked dryly.

"No, it's not," Quatre informed him, blushing slightly. "I bought it under an alias, through my agent. Officially, we'll be renting it from the 'real' owner."

"Well, can we go see it first?" Duo sighed. "I'd like to at least see it once before you guys move me in!"

"You're supposed to be resting today..." Heero objected weakly, trailing off when Duo gave him a 'Look'.

"Today is the last day before I am dragged, kicking and screaming, into surgery. Then they're going to lock me in a mediaeval torture implement, laughingly called a 'brace' by some, and throw away the key. I want to get out and about while I still can!"

"...Okay. When can you be ready?"

"Hell, I'm ready now -- well, I will be as soon as I finish eating breakfast," Duo corrected himself.

"You should also put on some pants," Trowa pointed out with a smirk.

Duo blinked, looking down at his fluorescent orange boxers. "Er, yeah... that too. And that reminds me, I need to go shopping! I've got to get some hospital clothes. I wouldn't wear one of those damn gown things when I went in for the checkup, and I'm not going to wear one when I go back. Gundam pilots and terrorists just don't do that."

Quatre laughed, and even Heero managed to crack a smile.

[cont]