Demon of Justice + Chapter 5 (cont)
Many Forms of Cowardice

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Naiya tucked Wufei's clothes into a chest under a pile of blankets, then picked up the box and book and looked around, considering where to hide them. The small demon had pushed his belongings into her hands before he left with Terrin to hide Nataku, and she wanted them out of sight just in case the expected searchers checked houses.

Deciding on another chest, one holding winter clothes, she moved towards it... then changed her mind, and carried her burdens into the main room, setting them down on the table. After all... he'd just handed them to her. He wouldn't have done that if he wanted them kept secret, would he? And she'd glimpsed such beautiful colours as he flicked through the pages.

She pried carefully at the tiny catches on the box, nearly holding her breath as they clicked up and she gently raised the lid. A bewildering array of short coloured sticks met her eye; she touched them gingerly, then picked one up and peered at it. The one he'd used had been black; this one was red, but otherwise looked the same. She pressed the pointed tip gently against her finger, nearly squeaked at the bright mark it left behind, and hastily scrubbed it off on her skirt. Putting it back, she quickly closed the lid and refastened the catches.

Turning to the book, she opened the cover using just the tips of her fingers. The sheets within were finer than vellum and so white she was nearly afraid to touch them, for fear of leaving dirt behind. The first page had angular black markings on it, writing or a design, she didn't know; she turned to the next.

Several sketches of an unfamiliar bird covered the sheet; flying, perched on a twig with something in its beak, and sitting in a small round nest. Smaller sketches showed details of its head and feet. Every detail was meticulously drawn and coloured, to the point where Naiya was sure that if she ever saw the bird, she'd know it immediately.

The next few pages showed more birds, some plants, and a small cat curled up in the sun.

There are cats where he came from? Strange! The birds are all ones I've never seen before... well, I recognise them as birds anyway, so I suppose some things are the same in any world. She turned the page and gasped.

A young woman's face, remarkably similar to Wufei's, took up the whole page. This picture wasn't coloured, but it didn't need to be; there were the same slanted, dark eyes, the same fine black hair. Her expression was a strange mix of arrogance and sorrow.

Naiya was rather relieved when the next few pages were just birds and plants again; then the nature sketches abruptly stopped. The rest of the filled pages showed people... and demons.

The first few pictures were of demons like Nataku, using strange weapons to fight smaller demons. One had wings and a burning sword, another a flaming scythe; a third had two curved blades, and a fourth just seemed to be pointing something big and blurred as his opponents fell to pieces. Then there were more pictures of the giant demons, this time with young men drawn in front of them. A boy with messy brown hair glared from blue eyes as he pointed something threateningly; an absolutely beautiful violet-eyed boy, wearing black, with a long brown plait flicking out to the side; another beautiful boy, looking surprisingly like Rami, held out an empty hand and smiled sweetly; one stood with his hand on a large furry beast's fanged head, face half hidden by a smooth fall of hair.

It was the fifth of these drawings that really made Naiya stare. There was Nataku in the background, spinning a staff and lashing out with the fanged head on the end of his arm; but there were two figures in the foreground. Wufei stood back, shadowed, face almost blank, looking towards the girl from the earlier portrait. She was in an aggressive pose, almost mirroring Nataku, with her left fist clenched and a sword in her right, striking out with a shout. Her stance was dramatic, alive... but her skin, and the flowing clothes she wore were strangely drained of colour; the outlines of Nataku's leg and body could be faintly seen through her.

Who is she? A ghost?

Naiya shivered, and turned the page.

Almost all of the remaining pages showed the four strange boys who seemed to be paired with giant demons as Wufei was. There were a couple of exceptions -- a large black-bearded man looming protectively behind the beautiful blonde boy, and a smirking man with red-brown hair, tapping a sword in his palm as he stood in the wreckage of a richly decorated room. Naiya didn't much like his expression; somehow, she felt he was the kind of person who would decide what he thought other people needed, then do it -- even if it killed them.

As she slowly paged through the rest of the book, Naiya found fewer and fewer pictures of three of the boys (Boys? I suppose, if they're like Wufei, they're demons too?), and more and more pictures of the one with the long plait. He bounced across the pages with a wicked grin and sparkling eyes, braid whipping behind him in elegant arcs; once he was running down a burning corridor, laughing.

There were only three pictures where he wasn't smiling. In one, he stood watching the messy-haired boy walk away, with an expression of barely-contained sorrow and longing. In the next, almost the last picture in the book, he was asleep, sprawled on his back under a light blanket with one arm stretched above his head and the other clutching his plait to his chest.

On the last filled page, he sat on a cushioned bench under a window, overlooking a rain-streaked landscape. One leg was drawn up to his chest, with his folded arms resting on the knee; he gazed out wistfully, long hair loose and tumbling in damp waves over his unbuttoned white shirt.

Oh. Oh... how beautiful!

Naiya closed the book, blushing slightly, and hid it and the box in the clothes chest; then she stood at the window, staring out.

How can he draw such beautiful pictures when he sometimes seems so... closed off? Does he put in all the emotion he doesn't want to show on his face?

And what does he feel for that beautiful boy, to draw him so much... and like that?

* * * * *

Quatre settled into a chair with a tired sigh, breathing in the wisps of steam from his cup of tea. Two days with an unresponsive, depressed, quiet Duo -- two days where he'd had to coax Duo to eat, and had hardly dared sleep in case the braided boy did something final to himself -- had really taken it out of him. Today, Duo had decided to take a shower; Quatre hadn't known whether to be happy that he was doing something so normal, or afraid that he'd use the sound of the water to make it seem as if everything was okay until it was too late. In the end, he'd spent over half an hour standing tensely outside the bathroom door, straining to hear Duo's movements and prepared to kick the door down if anything sounded wrong.

Taking the first sip of tea, Quatre closed his eyes and tried to relax. Allah, I swear... if Duo gets back to his old self, I'll never wish for him to shut up again!

A crash of breaking glass and a soft *thud* came from upstairs; the fine porcelain teacup spun into the wall and shattered as Quatre catapulted out of his chair and ran for the door.

Skidding to a halt in Duo and Heero's room as the door slammed against the wall, Quatre looked around frantically. "DUO! Are you-- oh."

Duo was sitting cross-legged on his bed, head in his hands, tangled hair leaving wet blotches on his t-shirt. His hairbrush was lying on the floor under a shattered mirror.

Why did he do that? Quatre thought; then light dawned as Duo looked up and lowered his shaking hands into his lap. He wore himself out washing his hair, and now he can't brush it. Well... at least I can help with this. If he lets me.

Picking up the brush, Quatre carefully checked to make sure no slivers of glass were stuck in it, then turned to Duo.

"May I?"

Duo shrugged.

I'll take that as a 'yes'.

Settling carefully on the bed behind Duo, Quatre began working the brush carefully through the tangles. It didn't take long to get them out; with twenty-nine older sisters, he had had a lot of practice.

If Heero doesn't get his act together, this could become a regular occurrence.

Hm.

I could live with that.

Duo abruptly spoke. "Wufei did this for me a couple of times when I was injured; he likes my hair. Even said it was beautiful." Pause. "I asked Heero once, but he just glared at me like I'd said something crude and walked off."

Quatre steamed. Damn it, Yui--!* It was a struggle to speak in a normal voice, but he managed it. "Wufei was right; your hair is beautiful." Putting the brush down, he ran his fingers through the damp strands, spreading them over Duo's shoulders and his lap. "Heero's just-- just..." *What can I say? Focussed? Fixated? Braindead? FRIGID? "...an insensitive idiot."

Duo shrugged. "Not like it matters now."

"It matters!" Quatre clutched handfuls of Duo's hair. "He didn't have to hurt you. That was cowardly."

"Heero? A coward?" Duo snorted bitterly. "Mr I-can-set-my-own-broken-bones? Shyeah!"

"Physical courage is easy," Quatre sniffed disdainfully, starting to plait. Inwardly, he was bouncing up and down gleefully as Duo started sounding a little more like his usual self. "We've all got that; no physical coward could pilot a Gundam. Emotional courage... the bravery to admit what you feel and do something about it... that's much harder. Heero can't manage it -- not yet, anyway."

"Then... I guess I'm a coward too, huh?"

"We all are, to one degree or another."

"Oh?" One violet eye peered back at Quatre. "What about you? You grabbed Trowa pretty fast."

Quatre smiled. "What makes you think it was me who made the first move?" He tugged lightly at the finished braid, and stood up. "I'll fetch a broom and clean up the glass, okay? Don't cut your feet!"

"Ah, yeah. Sorry."

"It's not a problem."

Quatre made sure he was downstairs and well out of earshot before he punched the air in triumph. "Yesss! We have progress!"

After all the glass was swept up, Quatre stood with the dustpan in his hand and eyed Duo thoughtfully. "You look pretty tired; why not take a nap until dinnertime? What would you like, anyway? Your choice."

"Whatever." Duo shrugged. "I don't mind."

"Spaghetti, then. You like that." Quatre nodded decisively and marched out.

Duo flopped back on his bed, wincing as he jarred a bruise, and stared at the ceiling; then his eyes tracked slowly down to Heero's side of the room. He sat up again, and stared narrow-eyed at the neatly made bed.

Emotional cowardice... huh. Both of us. Him trying not to feel anything, and me... me hanging around hoping that someday he'd do something and I wouldn't have to risk it.

Well.

Time I stopped.

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Downstairs in the kitchen, Quatre looked up sharply at a series of thuds and bumps along the upstairs corridor.

What the...? Carefully, he leaned out the door and listened. Limping footsteps went the other way; there was a pause; then the bumping started again. Intensely curious (and a little worried), he sneaked upstairs and peeked into the corridor.

Muffled swearing came from Heero and Duo's room; then Duo backed into the corridor, dragging the wooden rack he kept his antique CDs in. Quatre ducked back into the stairwell as he went past, then peered out in time to see the rack disappearing into Wufei's room.

Quatre was smiling slightly as he sneaked back downstairs, relieved and thoughtful at the same time.

If anything can make Heero take action, this is it. And if he doesn't, Trowa and I will!

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Duo flopped onto the spare bed in Wufei's room, exhausted. His belongings were piled in one corner waiting to be put away, his knee was throbbing, and he could feel every single one of his bruises yelling for attention; but somehow, he felt better.

Wincing, he pulled himself into a slightly more comfortable position, curled on his side looking across at the other bed. Clutching his braid, he sighed and closed his eyes.

"I wish you were here to talk to, 'Fei."

[part 4] [cont] [part 6] [back to Mel and Christy's fic]