Demon of Justice + Chapter 6 (cont)
It's All Been Done

A slow grin spread over Cord's face. "Now, there's something I'd give a lot to see. Both of 'em -- Nataku flying, and a pack of lords, Champions and god-soldiers scratching their heads over those marks!"

After a couple more rounds and a lot of animated discussion, the subject of Nataku's flight was beginning to pall. It wasn't exhausted as a topic of conversation; it would be brought out and turned over again and again, but you can only discuss one thing for so long before you start repeating yourself. So, the subject changed slightly...

"And Wufei walked you off your feet? That's hard to believe," Manten sneered.

"What's so hard to believe?" Terrin asked, stretching back against the wall. "I've admitted it. I would've said there wasn't anyone in this village who could outwalk me except Cord, but Wufei did it today."

"But... he's short," Manten objected, waving his hands. (He was nearly six feet tall, and proud of it.) "Short legs. And, and... he's pretty. Short and pretty. He looks like a girl." He hiccupped.

"Good thing for you he didn't hear that," Derrin commented.

"Aw, he wouldn't understand..."

"Not yet, maybe, but he's got a very good memory. You're just jealous because Rami's been making eyes at him," he grinned.

Gwent sat up straight with a yelp. "My Rami?!"

"Know any other Ramis around here?" someone muttered; Gwent didn't notice.

"My Rami and that-- that-- well, I mean, he's a good man and all, but he's a demon!"

"Calm down, man," Cord said soothingly. "He doesn't seem to have any such intentions at all, at all. I don't think he's even noticed; it does no real harm to let the girls sigh a little. Last year it was that minstrel, and I'd say he was more of a danger!"

"At least they were sighing over his voice, not his looks and 'heroic actions'," one of the younger men grumbled.

"Wufei's got a good voice," Terrin said absent-mindedly, moving to take a sip; then he sputtered and nearly choked on his beer. It took him a while to clear his throat and stop coughing, because he was laughing so much.

"Oh! Oh, that's right, I meant to tell you... that's what got Wufei started walking my feet off!"

"What?"

"He was thinking hard about something as we started back -- you know how it happens, you end up nodding and shaking your head and muttering to yourself? He was doing that. And then he started singing to himself, absent-minded like."

"Singing? Singing what?" Royce asked.

"How would I know? It was in one of his languages. Anyway, he'd start one song and get some way through it, then trail off; a hundred paces later, he'd start a new one, all the time staring at the trail and frowning like his mind was miles away. He repeated himself a few times, and I got to know some of the tune of one song; it's pretty simple. 'Dah-- dah dah-- dada dada da daa...' So the next time he started it, I hummed along. And he gave me such a look! It started out confused, and then he realised, and it was like-- like--" He snickered. "Like, 'oh gods, WHAT have I been DOING?!' And he blushed bright red, put his head down, and took off down the trail. He was still walking, not running, but it's the fastest walking I've ever seen!"

"Wufei blushed?" Manten asked, blinking.

"So he's a good singer?" Royce mused. "Why would he be embarrassed about it?"

"Wufei blushed?"

"Maybe demons aren't supposed to sing?" Terrin shrugged.

"Wufei blushed?"

"Maybe where he comes from, he's not considered good," Derrin said. "Or he could just be upset he was doing something without realising it."

"Wufei blushed?"

"Yes, Manten, Wufei blushed! Why is that so startling?" Terrin snapped.

"Only girls blush! I told you so!"

"All right, lad, no more for you," Royce said firmly, moving Manten's mug well out of reach. He might have protested, but fortunately -- or unfortunately -- something across the square distracted him.

"Hey! Wufei! C'mon over and have a drink!"

"Oh no," Terrin moaned softly as the small demon paused, then walked towards the group. "I wish I hadn't mentioned that bit."

"Never mind," Derrin said, patting him on the shoulder. "Manten's had enough that he likely won't remember any of this in the morning."

"No, but he will!" Terrin hissed as Wufei joined them.

----------

Wufei eyed Terrin a little suspiciously as he approached, but the hunter didn't seem to be laughing; instead, he was watching one of the youngest men with a slightly worried expression. Perhaps he didn't think it was interesting enough to tell... hm. Manten seems to have had a bit too much.

The teenager was certainly acting drunk; he was babbling something incomprehensible, waving vaguely at his face and then grinning at Wufei as if he expected some sort of reaction.

Whatever he's trying to say, I have no idea. The other men were trying to shut him up; Wufei shrugged, accepted the large mug Royce offered him, and ignored the background noise.

That is, until he had to pay attention.

He was savouring his third mouthful and nodding approvingly to Gwent, who seemed to be asking if he liked it -- Of course he wants to know, he's the one selling it! It's rather like Chinese beer, actually; low alcohol but a good flavour and a little sour; -- when something hit him on the shoulder. Manten had slung himself halfway across the low table and was swatting drunkenly at him, trying to get his attention; when Wufei turned and glared, he slid back onto the bench, put his elbows on the table, raised his right hand and grinned.

Wufei raised an eyebrow and snorted, waving his hand negatively. "I don't arm-wrestle with drunken idiots," he said pleasantly in Japanese, and turned back towards Gwent.

Manten said something in a loud voice, and everyone froze.

That sounded like an insult. Wufei glanced at the other villagers and found most of them slowly setting down mugs and pushing back from the table, eyes flicking nervously between him and Manten. Royce, Cord and Terrin were glaring at Manten, who was grinning nastily. Yes, I think that was definitely an insult.

Keeping his face carefully blank, Wufei took one more swallow of his drink, put the mug down, and shifted along the bench slightly until he was directly opposite Manten.

He's not a weakling, but he's not a Gundam pilot either, he thought as he settled his elbow on the table and offered his hand. Besides which, he's drunk. If I can put him down quickly, he shouldn't want to try again--

Royce counted down from three, holding out fingers to make sure Wufei understood, then slapped the table.

*CRACK!*

Wufei blinked at the dent his knuckles had left in the table, then leaned forwards to watch Manten rolling on the ground, clutching his arm in pain. Raising his head, he looked into Royce and Cord's surprised faces.

"Oops."

----------

"Come on, Terrin, you give it a try!"

"Not even if you pay me. He's already walked me off my feet; I'm not giving him the chance to sprain my elbow!"

Wufei had broken at least one bone in Manten's hand, and wrenched his elbow; Cord had walked the teenager back to his parents' cottage to get bandaged up and sleep it off. When he returned, most of the village men seemed to be clustered around the table, lining up to have Wufei smash their hands into the wood. He hadn't sprained anyone's elbow yet, but Gwent had put down a couple of folded cloths to cushion the impacts a little.

Cord stood back slightly and watched, frowning. Wufei seemed... bemused by his success; in between bouts he frowned down at his hands, flexing them slightly, or looked around at his opponents, studying them with a puzzled expression.

He didn't think he'd win so easily, Cord thought, rubbing his chin. Did he expect humans to be stronger? No... he's seen some of the men working, lifting loads and such. I'm thinking he didn't expect himself to be so strong. But how could that be?

----------

This is far too easy.

Wufei frowned down at his hands, barely hearing the excited chatter around him. There's hardly any effort to it. They aren't weak! They're farmers and foresters, damn it, they work hard every day!

But... I'm not this strong! At least... I shouldn't be...

Is this because of my link to Nataku? And how the hell did I get a link to Nataku, anyway?!

A sudden commotion made him look up, to see Royce and Derrin pushing Cord towards the table, answering all his objections in cheerful tones. The man who'd just sat down stood up and jumped out of the way, and bets started to change hands.

Still protesting, Cord was pushed down onto the bench; then he shrugged, and gave Wufei a sheepish grin.

Well. This should be interesting.

Sitting back for a moment, Wufei studied his opponent. Nearly eight feet tall and heavily built, muscles bulging in his arms, the hradani blacksmith was definitely far stronger than any of the human villagers... but exactly how much stronger?

Smiling slightly, Wufei offered his hand.

They spent a few moments adjusting their grips, hampered by the vast difference in their hand sizes and lengths of arm; then both nodded to indicate they were ready, and Royce signalled for them to start. For the first few moments, their clenched hands didn't move; then Cord grunted with effort, sweat springing out on his forehead, and slowly began to force Wufei's hand down.

Wufei squeezed his eyes shut, breath hissing through clenched teeth, and heaved against the immense pressure that was pushing his hand back. It didn't matter any more that this was just an experiment of sorts, a contest he hadn't wanted to start and Cord had been pushed into finishing; it was a fight, and he wanted to win.

----------

Miles away, Nataku's eyes glowed.

----------

Head down and eyes closed, Cord was throwing his full strength against Wufei. The small demon was incredibly strong, but slowly losing ground--

"HaaaaaAAAAAAA--!"

--and then he was thrown back, knuckles slamming down onto a padded surface. Cord's eyes flew open in surprise, and he found himself staring directly at Wufei; he gasped, hearing it echoed by the other villagers. There was a faint haze of colour around Wufei, blue and white and red sketching out the outlines of massive armour, a spiked gold crest rising above his forehead; he opened his eyes, and they were glowing greenish white--

And then the illusion vanished, and he was just Wufei, dripping sweat and staring wide-eyed at Cord as he gasped for breath.

* * * * *

Trowa hadn't yet landed Heavyarms when Heero flung himself out of Wing's cockpit and stalked into the house, straight past Quatre and towards the stairs.

"Welcome back, Heero," Quatre muttered under his breath. "I'm fine, thank you; Duo's doing better; so nice of you to ask." Raising his voice, he called out, "Duo's probably asleep; I know he took a couple of pain pills after dinner. Don't wake him up."

Heero paused for a moment, hearing the cold steel in Quatre's voice; then he continued on up the stairs, walking more quietly. Outside his room, he stopped for a moment, glaring at the door; then he scrubbed his palms on his jeans, grasped the doorknob, and eased the door open gently.

Downstairs, Trowa was greeting Quatre.

"How's Duo?"

"A bit better. He--"

Footsteps thundered down the stairs, and Heero came into view, face set. "Where's Duo?!" he snarled, gripping the handrail so tightly his knuckles were white.

"Upstairs," Quatre said calmly. "What's wrong?"

"His bed's stripped and his stuff is gone. Where is he?"

Quatre blinked. "Upstairs, I told you. He didn't say anything about moving his things," he said truthfully.

Heero ran back upstairs; Trowa raised an eyebrow at Quatre, who smirked back at him. "Just a minute; I want to hear what he does when he finds Duo," he whispered.

Back upstairs, Heero stalked straight for Trowa and Quatre's room; Trowa's lecture was at the forefront of his mind. "We would be more than happy to take him away from you..." About to slam the door open, he stopped, struggling for control, and then silently turned the knob.

No Duo. The big double bed was empty.

"Didn't you ever wonder why Wufei always had a spare bed...?"

Duo was in Wufei's room, all his belongings in a pile in the corner, curled up into a ball under the covers of the spare bed. Heero stood next to him for what seemed like a very long time; then he reached out and gently smoothed his fingertips over Duo's hair.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'll make it up to you... somehow."

Duo sighed and shifted his weight, and Heero quickly backed away, shutting the door behind him and walking back to his own room. Quatre's right, he thought; I shouldn't wake him.

Besides, I need a mission plan.

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