Key:
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback or dream starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
thoughts (and the occasional sound effect): Tadah!
some more sound effects (little ones!): -tadah!-
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>

Demon of Justice + Chapter 22
SHUT UP!


"Now that I think of it, we're going to have to either get new transport, or come up with a very good explanation for why four spoiled rich teenagers are driving around in a junker," Quatre said suddenly.

Trowa glanced over at him from his position behind the steering wheel. "A junker with an impressively customised engine, too. Perhaps we can say that rebuilding abandoned cars is Heero's hobby, and this one is only half finished?"

"That should work," Quatre agreed, relaxing slightly. "I should have thought of that before now, though!"

"You have been slightly distracted," Trowa pointed out mildly, turning a corner.

"I can't afford to be distracted when it's something that could affect our cover. It's all very well for me to be worried about Duo, but that won't help him much if I end up getting him killed because I forgot something important!"

"It wasn't that serious, Quatre. It'll even give Heero something to do apart from hovering over Duo and checking his email."

"But what else have I forgotten?" Quatre fretted, refusing to be comforted.

"...Curtains?" Trowa suggested.

"What?"

Wordlessly, Trowa pointed at the truck driving across the intersection in front of them. 'THE CURTAIN SHOP' was painted in large red letters across its side.

"...Actually, I did forget curtains," Quatre admitted, watching the truck go past. "Um. And quite a few other things for the house. Like our furniture."

"Oops," Trowa chuckled. "Well, it's fixable. That truck's even turning into our street; if it stops, you can get their phone number off of it."

"It has to stop in our street," Quatre said absently, mentally working out a list of things the house would need, and wincing at its length. "It's a cul de sac."

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Heero won't like that. I'm not sure I like that."

"Oh, it doesn't limit our exit routes," Quatre assured him. "There's a small park down the road that we can cut through to reach another street, and if that fails, we've got a straight-line run from the driveway through the back fence to a three-way intersection. The fence isn't strong enough to stop a car; I checked."

"See?" Trowa teased gently. "You're not forgetting the important things."

"Remember that when you're sleeping on the floor tonight... please?"

Trowa opened his mouth to reply, then hesitated, frowning. "Are all those trucks outside our house?"

"...It looks that way," Quatre said slowly.

Three furniture delivery trucks were parked along the side of the road, and the curtain truck pulled up behind them as the pilots watched, blinking.

"Did I tell Relena to get curtains?" Quatre asked plaintively.

"No."

"And you didn't order them, right?"

"No."

"I know I didn't."

"Mm-hm."

"I really don't think Heero or Duo would have thought of it, either."

"Definitely not," Trowa agreed, pulling into the driveway and stopping.

"So why are they here?"

"Either it's a wrong address, or Relena's improvising. Since I don't think it would take three trucks to deliver just the things Duo asked for, I'd say she's improvising."

"Pink," Quatre muttered darkly under his breath, and got out of the car.

Before he could find out whether or not the furniture was in fact pink, something pink arrived. Pargan parked the limousine behind the delivery trucks and hurried up the driveway, looking mildly concerned.

"My apologies, Mister Winner, Mister Barton," he said, bowing slightly. "I had intended to arrive before the deliveries, but circumstances intervened."

"We just got here ourselves, so you're not late," Trowa pointed out. "I thought Relena had a meeting?"

"Three meetings, to be precise," Pargan said dryly. "Miss Relena did, however, manage to find a moment to write a note, explaining what she has bought and where the various items should go. She thought it might prove... ah..."

"Helpful?" Quatre suggested.

"Necessary?" Trowa muttered, watching as the deliverymen opened the back of one truck, revealing a lot of blanket-wrapped pieces of furniture.

"Instructive," Pargan finished, handing over an envelope with a slight smile.

Unfolding the single sheet of paper inside, Quatre started to read the handwritten note, Trowa looking over his shoulder.

'Quatre, Trowa,

I'm sorry I can't be there to supervise the deliveries, but at
least I managed to stay out of meetings long enough to finish the
shopping. And yes, I realise you didn't ask me to get all of those
things, but you probably haven't had the time to think of all the
things a house needs... so, I expanded the parameters of my mission
slightly.'

"'Mission'?" Trowa muttered quietly. "She's been following Heero for too long, I think."

'Besides, very few men can actually decorate!'

Quatre winced slightly at that line, envisioning what Relena's ideas of proper decorating might be; then read on, and his eyes widened.

'I made some (hopefully correct) assumptions about who would be
in which rooms: Duo in one of the ground-floor bedrooms, Heero in
the other, and you two in the master bedroom upstairs. Please direct
the deliverymen to put the dark wood ensemble in Duo's room, along
with the jewel-tone blue and purple linens and curtains. Heero's is
the pale wood ensemble with cream and blue accessories, and I chose
earth tones for yours. If any of it isn't suitable, I made the
manager of every single store swear on their mothers' graves it
could be exchanged without penalty.

There are also a coordinating set of dining and living room
furniture, bookshelves, entertainment center, kitchen necessities,
and so forth. After all, if your neighbors are friendly, you'll need
something appropriate for them to sit on when they visit. The
furniture at your last house was not appropriate, and it was in
such bad shape that sitting on it wouldn't do Duo's knee any good.
(Speaking of Duo's knee, I understand that swimming is good
exercise for that sort of injury, so I've organised a yard crew to
clean the leaves out of the pool and hot tub, and to check the water
quality. I didn't sign you up for a regular gardening or pool
maintenance schedule, though, since I thought you'd prefer to set
that up yourselves. Or not.)

Pargan knows the layout I planned for each of the rooms, and I've
asked him to stay and help direct the deliverymen. If I've forgotten
to tell you anything, I'm sure he'll remember.

Please, if there's anything else I can do to help, don't hesitate
to ask. I'm glad I could do something, and I genuinely would like to
do more.

Thank you,
Relena'

"That's a note?" Quatre muttered under his breath, looking over the neatly-written page. "Notes are short... and there wasn't any mention of pink or ruffles."

"Or Total Pacifism," Trowa murmured in his ear, and Quatre had to disguise a laugh as a cough.

"Trowa!" he hissed, struggling not to laugh again.

"She's worked it into conversations on almost every other topic before," Trowa pointed out, voice barely above a whisper. "Why not this topic?"

Pargan cleared his throat. "Sirs, if I might make a suggestion...? Perhaps if we were to move the furnishings into your room first, you could then make a start on unpacking your belongings, while I supervise the rest of the delivery."

"In other words, let's get started before the drivers start charging overtime," Trowa said dryly.

"If sir wishes to interpret it that way..."

Once things were explained to the deliverymen, the unloading got underway. Some of the items that were moved out of the trucks and temporarily placed on the lawn, awaiting their turn to be carried inside, got a slightly concerned glance from Quatre.

"Those bookshelves might be too tall," he said slowly, comparing them with his hazy recollection of the ceiling height.

"Everything will fit in its proper place, Mister Winner, I assure you," Pargan said calmly. "Miss Relena was most particular about the measurements."

"What did you do?" Trowa asked. "Look in through all the windows and make estimates?"

"No, sir. We went inside and made use of a tape measure," the elderly man replied. His tone of voice supplied the unspoken 'of course' at the end of the sentence.

"But... I didn't give Relena a key," Quatre said doubtfully.

Pargan's moustache twitched slightly, and he raised one eyebrow a fraction. "At the risk of sounding flippant, sir... since when has that made a difference?"

"You didn't!"

"Regardless of my employer's gender, Mister Winner, I am a gentleman's gentleman," Pargan said serenely. "My duties can be nicely summed up as 'whatever proves necessary'... including, sometimes, surreptitious entry into locked premises. Miss Relena was rather surprised, but not displeased."

"Pargan, I never knew you had it in you," Trowa chuckled.

"On a personal note, sirs..." Pargan paused, looking slightly uncomfortable, then cleared his throat and continued. "I would like to thank you for enlisting Miss Relena's assistance. She found a great deal of enjoyment in choosing furniture and fabrics to suit each of you, and I honestly don't think I've seen her that happy for quite some time."

"Er... really?" Quatre asked, surprised.

"Really, sir. Miss Relena is good at concealing her true feelings, but I have been aware for some time that she is not at ease. More recently, something happened which first angered, and then depressed her. Whatever the underlying problem may be hasn't gone away, but for a few hours yesterday she was able to forget it." He frowned, watching the deliverymen without really seeing them. "I wouldn't have mentioned this, sir, if I had any doubts at all about your discretion, or if I did not hope that you might be able to help in some way."

"Pargan... I'm flattered, but I honestly don't know how we can," Quatre said, exchanging glances with Trowa. This probably has something to do with Relena apologising and seeming worried about Duo, but we're no closer to finding out why!

"Perhaps, if there is anything else Miss Relena can assist you with...?" Pargan suggested hopefully. "Being able to help you did seem to help her, after all. This would also enable you to spend more time with Mister Maxwell... a topic which seems to concern Miss Relena at the moment." He cleared his throat again, carefully not looking at Quatre and Trowa. "Rather more than anything else seems to concern her, in fact."

Exchanging another startled, thoughtful glance with Quatre, Trowa nodded slowly. "We'll see what we can do."

Pargan's tense shoulders relaxed a fraction, and he smiled. "Thank you, sirs. I can't ask for more than that. ...Well. The furniture for your room seems to have been moved in now, so perhaps you would care to unpack while I continue to supervise out here?"

* * * * *

"Er... Sir Wufei--"

"What?"

Uthmar blinked in surprise at Wufei's tone of voice. It hadn't been angry, or rude. What it had been was cold and controlled, with a definite overtone of 'NOT NOW' about it.

"Is something... wrong?" he asked delicately.

For a moment, it seemed as if Wufei was about to go for the dwarf's throat, as he directed a seething glare in his direction; then, he took a deep breath and straightened up, visibly controlling himself.

Wrong? Yes, you could say that, he thought bitterly. I am frustrated because I have to keep Nataku down to the marching speed of a group of people with very short legs. I am not used to working with anyone other than another Gundam pilot. I miss the ability to call the other pilots... I miss them calling me just to say 'hi'.

I miss Duo calling me. Playing his music just makes it worse at times.

I would have liked to talk to someone during the day's march, perhaps find out some more about this world and what's going on in it... but I don't want to use the link to Karthan if it isn't absolutely necessary. I can't use the external speakers without scaring the horses and announcing our presence to the surrounding countryside, and I definitely don't want to let anyone into Nataku's cockpit in case that somehow forms another link to them...

...and all of that would have been bearable, if it wasn't for one other thing.

"Kr-- he," Wufei corrected himself, jabbing an accusing finger upwards, "has been... annoying me. All day."

"Oh?"

"He won't take 'no' for an answer," Wufei explained grimly. "At least, not for more than ten minutes at a time. He turns up every time I think his name, or think of a question he can answer, and if he's thought of a new reason why I should be his Champion since the last time I got him to shut up, he won't go away until I do the mental equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing at the top of my voice!"

"I can see how that would get on your nerves, yes," Uthmar said calmly. "If stuffing wax in your ears would be any help, I'd offer you a candle. Since it isn't, would you like to get drunk instead?"

The Chinese pilot looked at him incredulously for a moment, hovering between surprise and anger. Surprise won, and he laughed weakly, running one hand back over his hair. "Somehow, I don't think that will help either..."

"Well, it wouldn't stop him talking to you, but it might stop you from caring," Uthmar pointed out with a sympathetic smile.

Wufei sighed, managing a half-smile. "The thought is appreciated, Uthmar, but--"

"If he wasn't at least considering the offer, the god wouldn't keep pestering him," a voice muttered from behind Wufei, not quite quiet enough to go unheard. "I said we couldn't trust anyone a Dark god would want to recruit."

Wufei could feel his face freezing into a cold, blank mask as he slowly turned around to look behind him. The blond knight-probationer, Sir Vaijon, stiffened and glared back aggressively, refusing to back down.

"And just what would you know about it?" Wufei asked contemptuously.

Part of him was aware that, given his background and worldview, Sir Vaijon had a perfectly legitimate concern and shouldn't become a target for his temper just because he distrusted Wufei.

The rest of him had other ideas. He's-- supposedly-- a responsible adult. He's been told by people he should regard as competent authorities that my trustworthiness is not in question. He could have severely injured Karthan during his little temper tantrum yesterday, and he's been sulking ever since.

Besides, if he's going to make comments like that within earshot of the people he's talking about, he has to learn to expect repercussions.

"I know that if you just told him 'no' and meant it, he'd leave you alone!" Vaijon snapped back. "The gods aren't interested in unwilling Champions."

"Oh?" Wufei raised one eyebrow and eyed Vaijon skeptically. "Did they tell you that in person?"

"Everybody knows it!"

"Then I'd appreciate it if you would be so good as to tell K-- him," Wufei snorted. "He doesn't seem to have gotten the message. In fact, he told me that the only way I can get him to stop nagging me is to give in and say 'yes'. Since he is a god, and I am very unwilling, it looks to me as if 'everybody' is wrong."

"I think 'everybody', in this case, means 'minstrels who have no idea of the truth'," Arwen drawled, strolling over. "There are a lot of ballads out there where the hero either decides very early that he should be a Champion and goes out to prove his worthiness, or is approached by a god and leaps at the chance. I haven't heard even one song where the god has to argue with his chosen representative to get him to accept the position, but that seems to be far more common."

"Nobody would try to refuse such an honour!" Vaijon said incredulously. "Nobody would dare!"

"I did," Arwen said, smiling thinly.

Vaijon's jaw dropped. "You-- but-- how could--"

"Well, you see, I used to believe that only people who were already high ranking-- knights, nobles and so on-- could possibly be worthy of being Champions," the ex-peasant Champion said dryly. "I certainly didn't think I measured up to the proper standard. Torframos disagreed, but it took him three months to get me to stop arguing."

"It only took him two weeks to get me to say 'yes'," Uthmar put in, "but I kept asking him if he was sure he'd made the right choice for about a year afterwards."

"I did some research after I finally agreed," Arwen continued, smile widening as Vaijon continued to goggle at him. "I had full access to the Order's records then, so it wasn't hard. Every single Champion of Torframos, all the way back to when the archives were rebuilt after the Fall of Kontovar, has expressed doubt that they were 'good enough' to serve. Most have tried to refuse... and the occasional afternoon I've managed to spend in other Orders' archives suggests that the same is true for the other Light gods' Champions. It seems that reluctant Champions are exactly what they want!"

"Of course, the Dark gods are different," Uthmar said, moving up to stand next to Wufei. "We don't know very much about how they select their Champions, apart from the obvious requirements that they have to somehow 'match' with the god in question, and be strong-willed enough not to go mad--"

"--or, at least, they have to last long enough to be useful before they go mad," Gunnar added cheerfully, grinning at Wufei.

"--but what we do know seems to suggest that they usually choose the sort of person who will leap at the chance to get the sort of power that comes with being a Champion," Uthmar finished, glaring briefly at his second-in-command. "They also tend to be very nasty pieces of work. Sir Wufei is not typical. And perhaps, before we get into another argument about what he may or may not be concealing, I should point out that Torframos himself likes him!" he added quickly as Vaijon opened his mouth.

"Yes, Vaijon, I've been saying 'no' and meaning it," Wufei said sarcastically, starting to relax, but still wanting to slap the idiot down a bit. "Unfortunately, Krashnark doesn't seem to subscribe to the principal of 'Just Say No', and... oh, shit."

"You called?"

Slowly, Wufei lifted one hand to cover his eyes, shoulders slumping. "Speak of the god and he appears. Damn. He's standing right behind me, isn't he?"

"...Yep," Gunnar said, looking up at the faintly glowing figure looking hopefully down at Wufei.

The lay brothers and knights of the Order slowly began to back away as Wufei turned around to confront the god. "No. No! We are not going to start this again! I refuse! That's it! No 'maybe', no 'someday', no 'later', the answer is just NO!"

"But it's the wrong answer," Krashnark said gently.

"The only thing you are accomplishing here is to make me even more determined to keep saying NO!" Wufei shouted up at him. "Gods are usually supposed to have enough patience to wait thousands of years for something to happen! Why are you so determined to have me as your Champion now that you'll turn up ten times in one day to annoy me?!"

"Because I don't have thousands of years."

"...what?"

"You may be a demon, but you're also human," Krashnark said seriously, a faint crease appearing between his eyebrows as he-- almost-- looked worried. "Humans are... fragile. Ephemeral. Even if you live out your full lifetime, that's barely the blink of an eye by my standards... or you could die tomorrow, in some stupid accident, and there wouldn't be a thing I could do to prevent it. You're the first mortal being worth paying attention to I've seen in over three hundred years, and I don't want to lose whatever chance I may have because you trip and hit your head, or something equally pointless!"

Wufei blinked, momentarily speechless, and Krashnark leaned closer, voice shifting to a coaxing tone. "If you become my Champion, though, I can protect--"

"NO! Forget it!" Wufei yelled, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "Do not nag me! It will not work!"

"But--"

"I'm sorry I ever compared you to Relena! It was an insult to her! She at least has enough sense to go away when people are screaming at her!" Wufei spun on his heel and stalked away towards Nataku, glaring back over his shoulder to deliver one parting shot. "You are even more annoying than Duo at his worst, and he tries to get people angry!"

Krashnark watched him go until Nataku's hatch swung closed behind him; then he frowned, and directed an accusing glare at Sir Vaijon.

"He wouldn't be that upset if you hadn't been annoying him, you know," he said bitterly. And he vanished.

There was a long, stunned silence. Vaijon was staring wide-eyed at the spot where Krashnark had been, hyperventilating.

=...Well,= Torframos' voice said in the back of Uthmar's and Arwen's minds. =That was unexpected.=

----------

Wufei flung himself into the pilot's chair and slapped the control to close the hatch. Sitting back with his arms folded across his chest and his jaw clenched, he glanced upwards and started counting under his breath.

"Three... two... one..."

=I'm only trying to do what's best for you.=

"Right on time," he muttered sourly.

=I beg your pardon?=

"My idea of what's best for me is very different from yours," Wufei growled. "Go away and leave me alone!"

=I realise that you're annoyed at that arrogant blond idiot, but that's no reason to take it out on me.=

"...What?!" Wufei sputtered incoherently for a moment, and Krashnark's mental 'voice' went on obliviously.

=I can arrange for something to be done about him, if you want--=

"YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MIND!" For a moment, Wufei wished Krashnark was physically present and visible, just so he could try to beat a little self-doubt into him. "I am angry at you! At your nagging, at your refusal to admit that I might have a valid point of view, at your arrogance-- and you had the absolute blind gall to call Vaijon arrogant! Compared to you, he's positively modest and self-effacing! You've been coming up with dozens of reasons why I should become your Champion, and they all boil down to 'Because I Want You'. Well, you may be a god, but you are not my god, and I couldn't care less what you want! I will do what I want to do, according to my own values and within the limits set by my own honour, and that does not include becoming your Champion and leading a crusade for evil!"

Krashnark didn't answer immediately, but Wufei could feel that he hadn't left. He wasn't really surprised that it was taking the god a little while to formulate a reply; he rather suspected that he'd finally managed to come up with something Krashnark couldn't just brush off.

I think that's been building up all day, he thought, trying to bring his breathing back to normal. If I'm lucky, he'll have to go away and think about it. If I'm really lucky, he might actually pay attention to what I've said, instead of--

=You'd understand if you could just look at this situation from my point of view,= Krashnark told him.

--that, Wufei finished with an internal grimace. "No," he said out loud, flicking open a small storage compartment and reaching inside. "You've got that the wrong way around. You would understand if you took a few seconds to look at the situation from my point of view."

=But you don't realise that--=

"Do you know what I find most annoying?" Wufei said conversationally, pulling out the bag of CDs Duo had left him and opening it. "It's not the fact that you're treating me as if I'm incapable of making my own decisions. It's not the way you ignore my arguments because I'm not parroting back what you say and therefore I must be wrong. It's not even the way that you didn't realise I was angry until I literally screamed at you-- which made me look stupid-- and then you didn't even consider that I might be angry at you." Finding what he wanted, he pulled out the disk labelled 'LOUD!' and shoved the bag back into its compartment, reaching over with his other hand to switch on Nataku's internal speaker system.

"It's the annoying little smug undertone that's always in your voice," he continued, almost cheerfully. "The one that says 'I know I'm going to win this argument'."

=I don't have--=

"There it is again!" Wufei said brightly, feeding the CD into the proper slot and hitting a random number on a keypad. "I'm really sick of hearing it."

The first notes of the selected track played out of the speakers, and a slightly manic grin spread over Wufei's face as he recognised what song it was. I must remember to ask Uthmar if there's a god of Luck, or Chance. I think I may have just received some surreptitious help...

This is possibly one of the stupidest things I've ever done, and it's going to hurt. Dealing with Krashnark seems to inspire me to new heights of stupidity. It's worth a try, though... and I should at least heal quickly.

=...What are you doing?= Krashnark asked, a note of doubt finally creeping into his voice.

"Blocking my ears won't work, since you can talk inside my head," Wufei told him, reaching out for the volume control. "So I decided to see what happens if I can't hear myself think." And he turned it up as far as it would go.

I cannot take this any more
Saying everything I've said before
All these words they make no sense
I find bliss in ignorance
Less I hear the less you'll say
But you'll find that out anyway...

The music was loud enough to be felt as a physical blow, vibrating through Wufei's ribcage as he rocked in his seat. His eardrums seemed to be trying to meet in the middle of his head, but it was working; Krashnark was saying something, but Wufei couldn't make out any more than a few broken fragments of words. Grinning, he rocked harder and screamed along with the chorus.

Just like before...

Everything you say to me
Takes me one step closer to the edge
And I'm about to break!
I need a little room to breathe
'Cause I'm one step closer to the edge
And I'm about to break!

"I hope you're paying attention for once, Krashnark!" he shouted, laughing.

I find the answers aren't so clear...

Wufei sang through the next verse and chorus, straining his throat as he automatically tried to sing loud enough to hear himself. At some point his left eardrum burst; he didn't realise what had happened until he felt something warm dripping down his neck, looked down, and saw blood. Shrugging, he gave the volume control an extra nudge to make sure it was right up there, and kept singing.

Then there was a momentary lull in the song, and Krashnark could make himself heard again.

=--injuring yourself! This is insane! Wufei? WUFEI! Stop this! There's no need for you to do this to yourself!=

Wufei's grin widened slightly as he bobbed his head in time with the music, waiting for the next vocal line.

=Are you even paying attention to me?! I--=

SHUT UP!
SHUT UP!
SHUT UP!
SHUT UP WHILE I'M TALKING TO YOU!
SHUT UP!
SHUT UP!
SHUT UP!
SHUT UP WHILE I'M TALKING TO YOU!
I'M ABOUT TO BREAK!

Wufei sang along with the last chorus-- after all, why should he stop when he was having fun for the first time that day? --then shut the sound system down and ejected the disk, careful not to get blood on it. There was a hollow ringing tone echoing through his head, and when he dropped the CD case onto the floor, he didn't hear it.

I wonder how long it'll take for my hearing to come back? he thought mildly, swiping his hands over the sides of his neck and examining the bloody smears with detached interest. I suppose it doesn't really matter... Karthan can let me know what people are saying, and I can probably manage something with my link to Nataku and her sensors...

"Have I made my point clear?" he asked out loud, speaking slowly and carefully because he couldn't hear himself.

=...Yes,= Krashnark replied quietly into his mind.

"Good. Am I going to have to repeat this little musical exorcism, or--"

=No! No... I understand. I... won't nag you. I don't want you to harm yourself again.=

"I will, if I have to," Wufei said grimly.

=You won't have to.=

----------

All eyes in the camp were on Nataku as the hatch opened and Wufei climbed out, making his way unsteadily over to where the Champions had set up their bedrolls.

"Wufei, what happ-- he's bleeding!" Uthmar exclaimed, scrambling up. Karthan and Gunnar were immediately by the small demon's side, steadying him as he walked to his own bedroll and cautiously sat down.

"Are you all right?!" Naiya called, hurrying over. "Wufei?"

"I don't think he can hear you." Arwen took a quick look at Wufei's ears, then gently turned his head to face him. "Wufei? What happened?" he asked, speaking slowly and clearly.

He had to repeat the question before Wufei focussed on his mouth and understood it, but then the human/demon smiled.

"I finally found a way to make him shut up."

----------
TBC...
----------

[part 21] [part 23] [back to Mel and Christy's fic]