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 9
Demon with Style

Ow. This has got to be the headache from hell. What happened this time?

...Since when does my pillow have a heartbeat? And when did it get this solid?

Carefully, wincing against the light, Duo opened his eyes.

Oh.

Shit.

How the hell did I get into bed with Heero?! Have I started sleepwalking?

Duo was lying half on top of the sleeping Japanese boy. Heero had both his arms wrapped around Duo's shoulders, one hand clutching the braid.

This is Wufei's room, so... is Heero sleepwalking? Whatever, who cares, I've just gotta get outta here before he wakes up! He'll kill me otherwise!

Slowly and painfully, Duo wiggled downwards until he was out of the circle of Heero's arms. Unfortunately, he couldn't see any way to get his braid out of Heero's death grip without waking him up.

I never thought I'd seriously consider cutting it, but...

Heero frowned and made a dissatisfied noise, one hand groping sideways along the bed; Duo quickly pushed the pillow into his arms, and he let go of the braid to clutch at it.

Phew. Now to make my escape!

Limping downstairs, Duo pressed one hand to the back of his head and winced. What time is it? It looks like mid-afternoon... why was I in bed? Did I get hit in the head again?! The last thing I remember is going into the hangar to check on 'Scythe...

Duo sighed in relief as he peered into the kitchen and saw Trowa and Quatre. "Guys? What hap--"

"Duo, sit down! Are you feeling all right? Should you be up?" Quatre almost teleported to Duo's side and helped him to a chair; Trowa just smiled and put a cup of coffee down in front of him.

"Where's Heero?" Quatre continued, glancing towards the door.

"Um... upstairs... guys, what's going on? What happened?!"

The other two pilots glanced at each other. "Well... Duo, what do you remember?" Trowa asked.

"I was going out to check on 'Scythe," Duo said, frowning. "I got the ladder out to take a look at his knee..."

Quatre and Trowa glanced upwards as they heard quick, light footsteps overhead; struggling to remember, Duo didn't notice.

"...I got up there and started checking it out..." I was talking to 'Scythe about Heero, but they don't need to know that. "...And..."

Heero came thundering down the stairs and skidded to a halt in the kitchen doorway, eyes wide and hair even messier than usual. "Quatre, have you seen-- Duo! There you are! Why didn't you wake me up? Don't scare me like that!"

The last piece clicked into place in Duo's memory.

"...what did you say?"

Heero blinked. "Uh... don't scare me?"

"No... earlier. In the hangar," Duo said with exaggerated patience, fingers whitening around his coffee mug. "When you came up behind me and scared me off the ladder. What did you say then?"

Quatre and Trowa exchanged glances and quietly sidled away to the other end of the kitchen -- far enough to be unobtrusive, but not so far away that they couldn't hear everything. Then they leaned on the wall and watched as Heero gulped and started turning white.

Finally, he managed to get his voice working. "I... uh... I said... I l--"

"Don't say that," Duo hissed venemously. "Don't ever say that. Not when you don't mean it!"

There was a long, painful pause.

"I love you," Heero said quietly. "I mean it."

"Well you sure have a weird way of showing it," Duo muttered, looking away.

"...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have treated you like that. I was..." Heero grimaced. "I was an idiot. I couldn't admit that I actually... that... that I cared about you, so I was getting angry with myself... and taking it out on you. Until Trowa threatened me," he finished sourly.

Everyone looked at Trowa.

He shrugged. "I told him we'd take you away from him for good if he didn't start treating you properly. It got his head out of his ass... part way, at least."

Quatre coughed, covering a grin with his hand; Duo blinked, surprised, then stared accusingly at the blond boy. "Take me away... is that what you were getting at three days ago, when you kissed me?"

"Well. Er... actually, at the time I was most interested in getting some sort of reaction out of you," Quatre confessed, blushing. "Any reaction, even if you decked me. I was worried! And... all right, yes, if you'd responded I would've been delighted. We... um... well, if you ever want to consider it..."

Heero glared.

Duo stared at Quatre and Trowa for a moment, then pushed his coffee mug away and dropped his head onto his arms. "I don't want to deal with this right now," he moaned. "I don't even want to think about it... my head hurts! I think I wanna go lie down..."

"I'll get you some painkillers," Quatre said quickly, escaping out the door.

"Do you want some help getting back upstairs?" Heero asked quietly.

Duo lifted his head and glared at him. "I hope you're not thinking that I'm going to squeal and throw myself into your arms, yelling 'all is forgiven', just because you've said you love me. All is not forgiven, you got that?"

"Yes."

"All right. Now you can help me up to bed."

* * * * *

"I won't take anyone with me," Uthmar told his second-in-command. "You stay here and keep an eye on things."

"Are you expecting trouble, sir?"

"Once Yithar wakes up, yes."

The other dwarf snickered, hiding a grin.

"And that's exactly why I'm expecting trouble," Uthmar pointed out, trying to keep his own face straight. "According to the way he and his relatives think, he was entirely within his rights to strike that child... and then Wufei made a fool out of him."

"Have I mentioned that I like that demon, sir? He -- heh! -- he has style."

"You can like him all you want, Gunnar, just please don't mention him to Yithar if you can help it. I especially want you to avoid references to broken swords, broken noses, and wet *cough* breeches. Yithar is a spoilt brat who's been swatted, and he'll be looking for someone to take it out on."

Gunnar snorted. "I'd like to see him try to touch us."

"If he gets angry enough, he'll take it out on the villagers," Uthmar said seriously, all humour gone. "He's afraid of Wufei, and he's got no power over the Order of Torframos -- unless he can convince his relatives in Bortalik to blockade us, which they won't do over a personal snit. The villagers are almost completely in his power, though, and they all saw him pass out and pee his pants. That's enough to make him vindictive, don't you think?"

"Er... yes, sir. No wet-pants jokes, and we'll try to keep a lid on anything he might start."

"Thank you, Gunnar. I'd also appreciate it if you'd have a quiet word with Goodman Royce... ask him to sit on any hotheads who might crack the wrong joke at the wrong time, that sort of thing. I doubt he needs the advice, but I'll feel better."

"Got it, sir. Have a nice walk!"

Uthmar snorted and turned away, walking over to where Terrin and Wufei were waiting for him. "All right, gentlemen; shall we go get your big friend?"

----------

Wufei set a fast pace as they started down the trail to Nataku's hiding place. Terrin winced inwardly as he thought about how his legs were going to feel -- again! -- but Uthmar settled into his stride without a problem.

"Er... milord Champion? D'you mind if I ask a question?" Terrin ventured after a few minutes.

"Not at all. What is it?"

"Well... I haven't met very many dwarves before today. Are you all, umm... really good walkers?" he finished in a hurry.

Uthmar chuckled. "No, not really. It depends on what you do in life. I do a lot of travelling, so I had to either get good at walking or ride. And can you imagine me on a horse?"

"Now that you mention it, sir... not really, no," Terrin said, grinning tentatively.

"In other words, you can imagine it, and it's a damn funny picture," Uthmar said dryly, gesturing down at his short legs that were taking two steps for every one of Terrin's. "Dwarves ride mules or donkeys. I usually wear armour, so I'd need a strong mule to bear the weight... and I've never yet met a mule that didn't hate me on sight."

Terrin blinked. "Any idea why?"

The dwarf snorted. "Mules are smart. I think they take one look at me, and decide to work for someone lighter. How long before we reach the cave?"

"At this rate? Maybe five hours."

"That far?! I thought you said we'd get back before dark!"

"If you're willing to let Nataku carry you, sir, we'll be back in the village half an hour after we reach the cave."

Wufei glanced back over his shoulder, then turned away as it became obvious they weren't addressing him.

"...It's that fast?"

"Yes, sir." Terrin grinned. "When he moves, he moves."

"Ah. Yes. He, not it." Uthmar grimaced. "Must remember that... I wouldn't want to offend him."

"I don't know if it would, sir... Nataku's... well, he's strange."

Uthmar rolled his eyes at Terrin. "Goodman, if you can explain to me how a giant metal demon can be anything but strange, I'd appreciate it. And you don't have to call me 'sir'; just 'Uthmar' is fine."

"So long as you call me 'Terrin' instead of 'Goodman'..."

He grinned, reaching up to lightly swat Terrin's shoulder. "Done! Now, what did you mean by 'strange'?"

"Well..." Terrin frowned. "I know Royce told you Nataku carries Wufei. Did he get to telling you how?"

"I don't believe he did, no..." Uthmar nodded to the demon in question as he shot another glance back at them.

"Inside. There's a hole in his chest, about here," Terrin marked off a space with his hands, "and Wufei gets in. The armour closes up over it."

"...That's strange, yes."

The hunter shook his head. "No, that's not it. The strange part is that I don't know if Nataku can do anything on his own. If Wufei's not in there, he just sleeps. That's what damaged the tree in the square; he was leaning on it. I've heard him speak once, and it might not've been him at all, because Wufei was in him at the time and it sounded like Wufei, only... um... bigger, if that makes any sense. It's like Wufei is Nataku's mind, or... well, maybe Nataku is an it!"

"Giant armour, you mean?" Uthmar raised an eyebrow, and Terrin shrugged.

"Maybe. All I can say for sure is that I haven't seen him do anything without Wufei."

"Well, it's certainly something to consider," the Champion replied. "It's very difficult to say anything for certain when you're dealing with demons, though." He fell silent, and Terrin -- who was beginning to need his breath for walking, not talking -- didn't try to start the conversation again.

Can you tell? Uthmar thought brusquely, flicking a quick glance upwards.

=*...are you talking to me again?*= Torframos replied; it sounded like he was trying to be casual, but there was an apologetic feel to the thought.

Are you going to answer the question or not?

=*I honestly don't know.*=

What?! You should be able to tell whether there's two demons in the area, or one demon and his gear!

=*Actually,*= the god said, sounding rather sheepish and a little annoyed, =*I can't see Wufei unless you're looking at him. I felt the summoning that brought him here, and I got a vague impression of what had come through, but I've felt almost nothing from him since. I got something from him when he used his power during the fight, but...*=

Uthmar got the impression that if Torframos had been visible at that moment, he would have shrugged.

Even though they say Nataku's in a cave right now? he thought incredulously.

=*That's what's really annoying,*= Torframos grumbled. =*Not to mention alarming! Earth and the underground are mine. The moment a demon -- any demon -- sets foot underground, I should know it... unless another god is working to hide it from me. Even then, I should know that something is wrong!*=

And that hasn't happened this time.

=*Exactly.*=

Another bit of evidence that you gods aren't as omniscient as you sometimes think.

He felt Torframos wince. =*Uthmar...*=

Yes?

=*...all right! I'm sorry! I shouldn't have done that.*=

You once told me that gods need their champions to exercise their free will, because you need warriors instead of sycophants or puppets, Uthmar went on mercilessly.

=*...yes...*=

That felt awfully like being a puppet, he finished with heavy sarcasm.

=*I won't do it again.*=

I hope not, Torframos, because if you do I'm going to give back your axe, and I don't want to have to do that.

=*...you're serious, aren't you?*=

Deadly serious. Uthmar glared upwards briefly. I became your Champion to help you, not to have you make decisions for me.

=*...I'm sorry. I won't do it again!*=

* * * * *

"Something wrong, brother?"

"Oh... *sigh* no, nothing serious." The voice turned wry. "I just acted without thinking things through and nearly lost my favourite Champion, that's all."

"Ouch!" A chuckle. "I'm surprised at you, Torframos... that sounds more like something I'd do."

"Oh, wonderful... my big brother is finally rubbing off on me. Thank you so much, Korthrala, I feel much better now."

* * * * *

[cont]