of Justice + Chapter 18 (cont)
"Whoa. That's big," Duo announced, leaning on his crutches and
looking up at the new acquisition. "Quatre, I thought you said you bought
a house, not a mansion!"
"It is a house," Quatre insisted plaintively. "It's only got five
"Q-man, you need to develop a sense of scale," Duo told him, starting
up the driveway.
"If it were a mansion, it would have servants' quarters," Trowa smirked.
"Exactly!" the blond nodded; then he saw the smirk. "Trowa! Whose side
are you on?"
"Okay, I've picked my bedroom!" Duo called cheerfully from somewhere inside
as they entered the front door. "I can wobble right out of the French
doors and fall into the pool."
"Duo!" Quatre yelled protestingly, seeing Heero wince.
"What? It'll be a controlled fall. It'll save me from having to
take a shower in the morning-- hey, cool! You didn't mention the
"We're never going to get him out of the water, are we?" Trowa muttered
"Judging by his behavior whenever he gets access to a decent size bathtub,
no," Heero muttered back. "At least it should be good for his knee."
"I could fit just about anything in here," Duo muttered, then raised
his voice. "Anyone have a pen and paper? I've got to make a shopping list.
We're not bringing all the furniture from the old place, are we?"
"No," Quatre told him, pulling out his notebook and a pen as he walked
into the room Duo had chosen. "Just our personal property, and things
like the coffee maker and TV and such."
"Cool." Lowering himself carefully to sit on the floor, Duo grinned up
at Quatre. "I've got just one question, then."
"We're supposed to be renting this place, right? How the hell are
we going to convince the neighbours that four seventeen-year-old boys
can afford a place like this?"
"Easy. We dress preppy, and tell them our parents are paying for it while
we take a year off before college to 'find ourselves'. You hurt your knee
in a skiing accident."
"Quatre... the God of Death does not do 'preppy'. I would hazard
a guess that Mister Silent and Mister 'Omae o Korosu' also do not
"Then you can do 'expensive Goth' or 'two thousand credit leather jacket',
or whatever you want," Quatre told him, oblivious to the two pilots standing
in the doorway behind him mouthing 'Preppy?' at each other. "Whatever
you want, so long as it's blatantly expensive. You wanted to go shopping
Five hours later, they dragged themselves back to the old safehouse, festooned
with bags and boxes from a dozen exclusive clothing stores. Quatre had
gone for 'preppy'-- as usual-- but the others had concentrated
mainly on designer jeans, expensive t-shirts, and the sort of shirts that
had no visible logo, but could be identified (and priced) by their exquisite
"And when I get out of the hospital, I'm going to take a pair of scissors
to some of those pairs of jeans," Duo told Heero as he was carried upstairs.
"It ought to convince the neighbours that we have rich parents, if I chop
the leg off of a hundred-credit pair of jeans so they'll fit over the
Heero snorted. "Either that, or they'll decide your injury is from being
kneecapped after a drug deal went wrong."
"Well, it would be a logical explanation for why four teenagers
can afford that sort of house."
"Yeah, whatever." Duo rolled his eyes as Heero carefully set him down
and hopped the short distance to his bed, flopping onto it with a groan.
"I was right, you know. Those crutches suck. I think my arms are
going to fall off."
"Does that mean you'll take your pain pills and have a nap without me
having to argue with you?" Heero said hopefully.
"Yeah... I am kinda tired," Duo admitted. "Hand 'em over."
Heero produced tablets and a glass of water, and Duo swallowed them, fixing
Heero with a glare as he handed the glass back. "You should have
a rest, too," he said sternly, pointing his finger like a gun. "You carried
all of my junk and half of Quatre's, as well as your own, and you walked
three times as far as the rest of us because you kept fetching stuff so
I didn't have to get up for anything. Don't think I didn't notice!"
"Ryoukai," Heero said, smiling faintly. "Yell if you need anything."
After he left, Duo rolled over onto his side, punching his pillow into
a more comfortable shape, and gazed moodily across at Wufei's empty bed.
Today would have been a hell of a lot more fun with Wufei here, ranting
about being told to do 'preppy'...
* * * * *
The column stopped for a rest and a meal just after midday.
We've made surprisingly good time, Wufei thought, checking the
distance on the map that was slowly building up in Nataku's computer memory.
Most of them are dwarves, but they all seem to be as good as Uthmar
at long-distance walking.
There were two small supply wagons with the column, but nobody had been
riding on them; they carried only food and what looked like a large tent.
Most of the soldiers were carrying their own personal gear on their backs,
not seeming to notice the weight. The five soldiers who weren't were the
only ones mounted-- two humans on horses, and three dwarves on
mules-- and they'd covered at least twice as much ground as the
rest, acting as scouts.
Nataku's sensors can probably spot most dangers much further away than
they can, Wufei told himself, watching on screen as one of the scouts
arrived back, dismounting with a flourish while his horse was still moving,
but there's no point in interfering with their routines. They know
what they're doing, and I might not recognise a threat, simply because
Well, let's see if there's anything I can help with.
Jumping down from Nataku's open hatch, Wufei scanned the temporary camp,
looking for someone who needed a hand. They definitely know
what they're doing, he noted, watching with approval as they set sentries
and checked weapons before settling down to rest and eat, occasionally
glancing curiously in his direction. They all have a job to do--
ah. I can help with that at least!
One of the humans was gathering fallen branches from underneath a dead
tree, breaking them into manageable lengths for a fire. The wood was well
seasoned, dry but definitely not brittle, and he was swearing under his
breath as he kicked at a length he'd wedged between the tall stump and
"Sure, if you think you'll have any better-- ah, um, sir! Didn't
realise it was you," the soldier said uncomfortably.
Wufei shrugged. "You find, I break?"
"Uh... sure," He stepped aside and waved at the wedged branch. "I already
found plenty, but it's--" The rest of the sentence wasn't words
that Wufei knew, but they sounded fairly rude.
Hiding a smirk, he leaned forward and tapped the branch, then put a little
pressure on it. "Good wood," he nodded.
There was plenty of firewood by the time the cook was ready to make tea.
Wufei was well aware that all of the newcomers were watching him as he
easily snapped branches as thick as his thigh, splitting the pieces lengthwise
by getting a good grip on the jagged ends and simply pulling them apart.
After all, it was what he would have done in their place-- what
he had been doing, come to think of it. Observe your allies and
learn their capabilities, so you know what they can and cannot be depended
upon to do in a fight. He nearly laughed out loud as it occurred to him
that it was a good thing the cook got the fire started quickly; the soldiers
might not have been unsettled by his demonstration of strength, but he
doubted they'd remain calm if he lit the fire with Nataku's flamethrower.
"That's fairly impressive," a calm voice behind Uthmar observed. "Does
he do things like that often?"
"Not really," Uthmar shrugged, grinning through his beard. "Unlike some
people I know, he doesn't do things just to show off."
"I only did it once," the human Champion said in a wounded voice, moving
up to stand next to the dwarf. "You're never going to let me forget it,
"Well, I might let the joke die eventually, Arwen," Uthmar chuckled,
"but Gunnar saw you summoning your axe to impress those girls, too, and
you know what he's like."
"It was three years ago!" Arwen protested. "I was still a teenager! I'd
been a champion for-- what, two months? Don't I get a little leniency
for youthful exuberance?"
"Nope. By dwarven standards, you humans are always babies. If we
gave you leeway on account of youth, we'd have to excuse everything."
"Whatever happened to the even-handed generosity, kindness and tolerance
that are supposed to be the hallmarks of a true Champion?"
"They take second place to ensuring that my fellow Champions also cultivate
the humility that is proper for their station."
"You weren't like this the last time I saw you," Arwen sighed, folding
his arms across his chest. "I think Gunnar's been a bad influence on you."
"Actually, I think it was having to deal with Yithar that did it," Uthmar
mused, scratching his chin. "I had to find some way of coping that
didn't involve punching his teeth out."
"He's gone home," Arwen pointed out. "You can stop now."
"No, I can't," the dwarf said quietly, inclining his head fractionally
towards a tall, golden-haired human in the uniform of a knight-probationer,
standing some distance away and watching Wufei intently. "You brought
Arwen winced. "Sir Terrian assigned him to me. I had to bring him."
"What in Torframos's name did you do to deserve that?!"
The other Champion's mouth twisted wryly. "In his infinite wisdom, our
honoured Knight-General has decided that serving under a Champion of...
how shall I put this... excruciatingly humble birth might open
Sir Vaijon's eyes and make him realise what's wrong with some of the attitudes
he was raised with. I couldn't exactly say no. Well, yes, I know I could
have said no," he corrected himself, shaking his head, "but 'I don't want
to' didn't seem like a good enough reason to refuse."
Uthmar grimaced sympathetically. "Ouch. Is it working?"
"No." Arwen blew out his breath heavily, scowling. "He's always very carefully
polite to me, but I can see him wondering 'Why him? Why is someone
so undeserving a Champion when Torframos could have picked me,
an Almerhas of Almerhas?'. And he's very quick to step in and deal with
nobles for me. I think he thinks he's doing me a favour."
Uthmar grimaced again. "Well... I can't think of anything that'll help.
"If he just meant to be insulting, we could throw him out of the
order," Arwen grumbled. "Unfortunately, he genuinely does want to do good
in the world. There's a decent person buried somewhere under all that
horseshit about ancestry and tradition and birthright."
"Actually... having Wufei around might be good for him," Uthmar said slowly.
"Oh? How so?"
"Wufei is a prince, better born than Vaijon, and his attitudes towards
rank and privilege couldn't be more different. Vaijon never forgets his
rank; Wufei didn't think his was important enough to mention, until I
asked. Vaijon automatically judges people by their birth first, and won't
break the rules about who outranks who; Wufei used superior-to-inferior
language on Lord Yithar, then turned around and used speaking-to-equals
mode to Goodman Royce. If Vaijon pays more attention to Wufei's birth
than the fact that he's a demon-- and he might, especially once
he finds out that Torframos confirmed Wufei's rank-- he'll automatically
give Wufei's opinions more weight than his own."
"And Wufei's opinion will be that he shouldn't...?" Arwen started
to grin. "They're really not going to get along, are they?"
"At least it should be fun to watch."
After marching on foot through the afternoon, they stopped for the night
in a shallow, bowl-shaped dip in the land, sheltered from the breeze (and
also concealing the light of their fires from any observers). This time,
Wufei insisted on getting firewood alone; with Karthan's help he managed
to explain that he was the only person who hadn't been walking or riding
all day, and therefore it was only fair for him to handle the heavier
camp chores. A couple of soldiers tried to argue, but the two Champions
just looked at each other, smirked slightly, and nodded.
There's something going on there, Wufei mused, walking back to
camp with a load of wood, but I can't work out what. They seemed pleased
that I'm willing to do my share, but it's only common sense! Dropping
the wood with the rest of the branches he'd gathered, he nodded to the
cook and picked up two buckets. On his way back out, he passed one of
the mounted scouts, nodding politely as the blond human stared at him.
Whatever it is, I doubt it's anything to worry about. Now, which direction
was that stream in?
A moment's concentration, and Nataku's map shimmered in front of him.
Little moving symbols indicated the soldiers in the camp, scouts further
out, and a few small animals in the forest to the west. A thin blue line
marked the location of a stream coming out of the Spinewall, and Wufei
headed in that direction.
That's incredibly useful, but I don't think I'm ever going to get used
The stream was clear and fresh, and surprisingly cold; Wufei filled his
buckets and then took the opportunity to wash his face and neck, gasping
as an icy trickle went down his back under his shirt. Wiping his face
dry on one arm, he turned back to pick up the buckets, smiling. Refreshing...
I think I will come back with a towel and bathe properly after I deliver
"Good evening, Chang Wufei," a deep voice said from behind him. In Chinese.
He dropped the buckets and spun around, automatically snatching his sword
from its sheath on his back. Standing across the stream where there had
been nothing an instant before was a man, a human with wavy brown hair
pulled back in a tail, handsome face slightly spoiled by his arrogant
--ten feet tall--
--and glowing faintly red.
Wufei backed up a few steps to get better footing, tightening his grip
on the sword. "Who the hell are you?!" he snarled.
The arrogant smile widened slightly. "Pleased to meet you, too. My name
[chap. 17] [back]
[chap. 19] [back to
Mel and Christy's fic]