by girl starfish
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Beautiful + Part 3

The sunlight fell on the early morning forest, still and clear. The nightly dew had not quite faded, and sparkled brightly beneath the trees in which birds sang the morning chorus--to fall silent before a chorus of a different type.

Quatre grabbed Wufei's arm. "Do you hear that?"

"The gorgon," the black haired warrior replied impassively. "Singing to lure her victims to her. How typical."

"Isn't that sirens?" his blond companion asked.

Wufei shrugged. "They're monsters. Same difference." He drew his sword. "Come on, let's--"

"Wait--" Quatre put his hand on his companion's shoulder. "Listen, Wufei."

"What?" the black haired warrior demanded impatiently. "That's not human, and it's definitely not animal. We've established it's the gorgon--so let's get it!"

"Listen with your heart. See? Can't you feel that sadness?"

Wufei had to admit the song carried with it a mournfulness almost as striking as its unearthly quality. "Don't tell me you're starting to feel sorry for it, Winner!"

"Why not? We shouldn't be so ready to just jump in swords drawn--"

"Exactly."

They both jumped, neither having heard the dryad arrive. Quatre promptly turned pink. "Trowa! Fancy meeting you here!"

"Oh please," Wufei sighed, covering his face in his hands as his companion continued.

"I was just thinking how nice it would be if we happened to run into you--and we did!"

"Yes," the dryad replied in a bemused tone, not sure why Quatre was looking at him so expectantly. "You did."

Awkward silence.

"I take it," the dryad said eventually, looking at the sword in Wufei's hands, "you're not here to gather daisies."

Quatre hid a smile as Wufei lost his temper.

"You cannot stop us! We have a mission to fulfil--finding Heero and avenging him if necessary--"

"You know Heero?"

"Know?" Quatre said eagerly, relieved at the use of the present tense. "So, he's still alive?"

"That depends," the dryad said. "On how you define alive."

"You mean he is--the gorgon really--" Quatre's face was a picture of shock, even as Wufei clenched his fists.

"The she-monster will pay for this!"

"That's the first point on which you're wrong. And second, Heero getting turned to stone was an accident."

"An accident?" Wufei said dubiously.

"Yes."

"People do not get turned into statues accidentally! Injustice! It's sort of too late to say sorry to someone who's--" Wufei continued at length.

After the first few minutes of Wufei's rant, Trowa became aware that Quatre was staring at him. "Yes?"

Quatre blushed. "You know . . . green is my absolute favourite colour."

Trowa blinked. "It is?"

"Yes."

"Oh."

They looked at each other. Quatre's expression was still hopeful.

Various bits and pieces spun around and eventually went clink in Trowa's mind.

"You're hoping that I'm going to ask you out, aren't you?" the dryad said.

Quatre squealed. "Oh, Trowa, I'd love to! Where do you want to go?"

"Um . . ." The dryad was concerned. Somewhere along the way something had gone wrong. "Well actually I, uh, wasn't really--I didn't mean to--"

"Yes?" Quatre blinked at him.

"There's a really nice oak tree by here. We could watch the sunset from it, or something."

"Sounds wonderful!"

They looked at each other again and both blushed.

"So--"

"Uh--"

Awkward silence. It took them a few moments to work out something was wrong with that.

"Wait a minute," Trowa said, looking around the clearing. "Where's your companion?"

"Wufei?" Quatre said, also looking round. "I didn't notice him leave, I--oh no!"

The gorgon's song had abruptly halted, mid stanza.

"Duo!" Trowa took off into the trees immediately.

One determined blond knight followed him on foot.

+

Duo was, as usual, lost in song.

True, it was painful to walk among such concrete, if you will, evidence of his failures. But singing--it was as if the gods had thought, oh, there goes the gorgon Duo. Maybe we overdid the ugliness a little--I know, why don't we compensate the poor brat by giving him a voice that's gorgeous beyond belief? That was Duo's private theory. Trowa said Duo's voice was a reflection of his heart and soul and the beauty therein--but Trowa would say that.

However, singing to his . . . reluctant guests did bring him a measure of peace.

Duo sighed, cutting off the song.

"What's the use? I mean, if I could bring them back by singing, I'd have done so ages ago!"

The cobra hissed in his ear. Duo straightened. Someone there? He usually heard them before now--but his snakes wouldn't lie.

"Hello? Who's there?"

There was no answer. The rest of the snakes uncurled and began searching the surrounding clearing for any signs of the intruder.

"We know you're there," Duo said, as the water snake told him of a large heat signature behind the statue of the girl with weird eyebrows. "You can stop hiding behind Dorothy."

Wufei silently distanced himself from the stone onna with as much dignity as he could muster. "You're not what I expected the gorgon to be like."

The monster stayed where he was, back towards Wufei. "I'm sorry I can't turn around and say hi. That tends to have unfortunate consequences."

"Don't play games with me!" Wufei snapped. "I've come to finish your reign of terror."

When warriors said that they tended to mean just one thing. Perhaps--perhaps it was meant to be. After all, he couldn't turn more people to stone if he was dead, could he? Trowa wouldn't like it--but Trowa wasn't here.

"Fine. Get it over with."

Wufei paused. "What?"

"Get it over with. Kill me--I assume you do have a sword or something."

"Yes--"

"Well, they're not too hard to use, are they? In fact, I'll make this even easier for you--make sure you take my head off. Otherwise I tend to regenerate given time. It's something to do with having reptile blood."

"You want me to kill you?"

"Yes."

Wufei's eyes narrowed.

"Ow!" Duo yelped as he stumbled backwards, Wufei having grabbed a handful of his snakes. "Careful, those are attached, you know!" He gasped as he felt Wufei's sword against his throat.

"What's the trick?" the dark haired warrior demanded. "Tell me, monster!"

"No trick!" Duo protested, as his snakes hissed and tried to twist out of Wufei's grasp. "I happen to be as sick of this as you are--and I can't think of a better way to stop this!"

"You're giving up?" Wufei shoved Duo away so that he fell. "I must say, I'm disappointed. I never expected the monster responsible for Heero's undoing to be so weak."

He had to step back as five of the gorgon's snakes suddenly lunged at him, fangs out.

"Leave Heero out of this!"

Wufei blinked.

The gorgon stood, carefully keeping his back to Wufei. "Follow me. I don't want to be killed here." When his snakes continued to hiss at Wufei he pulled at them sharply. "You lot--behave! Come on."

Wufei wondered what he was doing following the gorgon through the stone statues. Then they turned a corner and--"Heero!"

Wufei stared. His friend was indeed a statue--part of him hadn't believed that this was possible. Not the infallible Heero Yuy--"You have just sealed your fate, gorgon. There is no way I'm letting you walk away from this."

"Good." The gorgon stretched out a hand to trace Heero's still cheek then sighed.

"Let's get this over with, shall we?"

Wufei watched as the gorgon knelt. She was taking this extremely well for an onna--"Wait a minute! You're a guy!"

"Why does everyone have to sound so surprised about it?"

"Well . . . it is kind of unexpected. I mean, aren't gorgons usually--"

"Okay, so we've established I'm a guy! That doesn't mean I'm not a monster! Just hurry up and kill me, okay, or I'll lose my temper!"

"Fine." Wufei drew his sword, muttering something about ungrateful monsters who thought he had nothing better to do than stand around all day to kill them--before realising what he was saying. He raised his sword.

"No! Duo!"

Wufei had only a moment of warning before a clump of vines descended on him, wrapping themselves around his sword arm. "Let me go!"

"Duo, are you okay?" Trowa knelt by his friend, anxiously scanning him for injury, and hugging him when none was immediately apparent. "Good. Let's get you out of here--"

"Trowa--I don't want to go."

"What?" Trowa stared at his friend, horrified. "But you can't mean--Duo, he'll kill you!"

"Yes." The snakes settled around Duo's shoulders patiently, tongues flicking in and out. Trowa measured the determination in his friend's face and was appalled.

"Duo--you can't--no, I won't let you throw your life away like this!"

"Better mine than theirs." Duo waved a hand at the statues.

"No. You can't show them so little courtesy, Duo--after all, would you dishonour their condition by just giving up?"

"I don't care! I'm sick of killing everything I care about! The moment I get close to anyone it's like they're living under a death sentence! Sooner or later, I'm going to slip and then--wham! Another statue to add to the collection! I'm sick of it, Trowa! Sick of it! I can't stand being this alone!" The gorgon's voice was tinged with hysteria.

"You're not alone!" the dryad protested, the snakes adding their agreement. "You've got me. I won't leave you."

"Trowa--a friend isn't enough anymore. I need--closeness. To be loved. Heero--"

The dryad held his friend as tears ran down his face.

Wufei struggled with the vines. "A little help here would be greatly appreciated!"

He was ignored.

"Trowa--please, let me do this. I've tried for so long, and there's just no point anymore--"

"Duo," the dryad whispered, running his hand through the gorgon's snakes. "Don't say that. It will be okay--everything will be fine--"

"No, Trowa! It's not fine, and it never will be and you know why? Because I'm a monster! Look at me! Monster!" Duo pulled away from his friend. "I'm hideous--death to those who look at me, a blight on my friends--not that I even deserve to have friends--"

"Enough of that sort of talk." A hand slipped around Duo's shoulders. "Heero did not think you were a monster--and while Heero would appreciate the strength and sincerity of your feelings, he would not approve of your choice. He wouldn't want you to give up--not when there's a chance the stone spell could be lifted."

Trowa stared at Quatre. The blond smiled at him as he calmly sat down beside Duo.

"Lifted?" the gorgon asked, carefully not looking at Quatre.

Quatre nodded. "My name's Quatre. I think we need to have a good long talk, Duo. Trowa, you wouldn't mind helping get Wufei out of the tangle that he's in?"

Trowa nodded, leaving them.

"How d'you know what Heero would think anyway?" Duo asked, scrubbing at his tear splotched face. "You empathic or something?"

"As a matter of fact, yes, in a very limited way. I can sense strong emotions--for example, I felt your sorrow while we were travelling and convinced Wufei we should seek out its source in order to help."

"Bet you weren't expecting to find this." The gorgon gestured around the clearing.

"No, not really," Quatre conceded. "But the more I think about it, the more I realise how hard your life has been. I mean, I thought Wufei had problems making friends--"

"But I turned your friend into stone. You should hate me."

"I don't. I know it wasn't your fault--as you would if you could manage to see past your sorrow."

Quatre was suddenly eye to eye with a handful of startled snakes. "What?"

"Empath, remember?" Quatre rubbed Duo's back. "From what I've seen in your thoughts and memories, you never intended to harm Heero--you and Trowa even helped heal him after he fell off Wing--"

"An accident I caused, by the way."

"Hey," Quatre said. "Did you wake up that morning and think, hmm, how shall I wreak chaos and confusion in the world today? I know, I'll just go and stand in the woods on the off chance that someone will go by that I can petrify, did you?"

"No," Duo conceded. "But it's still my fault."

"How is it your fault?"

"I should have been more careful. I could have worn a cloak or something, hell, I probably shouldn't even have left the cave--"

"Duo, no matter what precautions you take, you can't prepare for every eventuality," Quatre said. "But we can sit here and argue over whose fault it was, or we can concentrate on getting Heero turned back. I favour the latter, after all, you and Heero can argue over this all you like once he's himself again--"

"Turn him back? You really think that's possible?"

"It's worth a try. I bet you haven't really tried before."

"I guess not. When everyone who looks me in the eyes becomes a statue, you just tend to accept it after awhile." Duo sniffed. "So, how do we start this?"

"Well, I guess the Oracle is as good a place as any . . ." Quatre said.

"The Oracle? Well, okay then. I guess I should let Trowa know we'll be going on a trip."

"We'll come too," Quatre said, smiling at Duo. "After all, Heero is our friend and--" A sudden look of horror crossed his face. "Oh--"

"And?" Duo questioned before realising. "Oh no--Quatre? Quatre!"

+

"You told the vines to hold me back. Surely you must be able to tell them to stop it and let me go!" Wufei snapped at Trowa.

The dryad smiled. "Yes, but this way is more amusing. Besides, we need to talk."

"About what?" Wufei snarled, struggling with a particularly nasty vine wound around his leg.

"Well, your friend seems to have decided that the person you are here to help is Duo," Trowa observed, stepping back at the resulting temper tantrum.

"We are not going to help a monster! Particularly not a monster who turned Heero Yuy into stone! Even accidentally!"

"I think Quatre's decided otherwise," Trowa noted with a smirk. Wufei looked at his friend, sitting with his arm around the gorgon, and groaned.

"Just great--"

"Tell me," Trowa said suddenly. "When a human goes out on a date, say, hypothetically, to an oak tree, what do they wear? Just generally speaking."

Wufei thought about it. "Is that a trick question?"

Trowa shrugged. "I was just wondering--"

"Quatre? Quatre!" Duo's shout got both their attention. "Quatre!"

"Oh, hell--" Wufei pulled himself free of the vines and raced over to Quatre--well, the Quatre shaped statue. "No--"

"I didn't mean to--" the gorgon said miserably. "He smiled at me and I forgot--"

"Quatre," Wufei whispered running a hand down his friend's cold face. His hand tightened into a fist. "Okay, that is it!" Duo yelped as Wufei threw himself at him. "No-one turns Quatre into a statue and gets away with it! Eat my fist, snake-boy!"

"Ow! That hurt! And it was an accident, for crying out loud, you moronic knight! Take that!"

"Injustice! Take that!"

"Bite him, girls!"

"Ow, no fair! Snakes aren't allowed!"

"Then stop pulling on them! Take that!"

"Not the hair! Let go, monster!"

Trowa watched, concerned at first, but growing gradually more and more amused as the fight, if indeed anything mostly consisting of hair pulling could be called a fight, continued. Noting the large amount of bites Wufei was receiving, he headed back to the cave to retrieve the anti-venom.

When he came back, Duo and Wufei were still attempting to strangle each other.

"Hideous monster!"

"Speciesist jerk!"

"While I hate to interrupt such a witty repartee, I must insist you two stop brawling like three year olds, okay?" Trowa said, encouraging the vines to pull the two apart. "You can settle this afterwards."

"He started it," Duo sulked.

Wufei would have replied, if he'd been able to. "Suddenly I don't feel so good."

"That would be the venom. Duo, which snakes bit him?"

"I don't know. I haven't got any control over what they do."

Trowa sighed. "Okay, ladies--which of you bit Wufei?"

After a few seconds of flicking their tongues in and out, the grass snake, the rattle snake, and the little brown one no one had really been able to identify owned up to having bitten the warrior.

"That's easy. We have the antidotes to those bites right here. Duo, give me a hand, please."

Wufei sullenly let them treat him. He'd considered protesting but there didn't seem to be much point--after all, they had more experience with snake venom than he did.

"You're lucky the water snake didn't bite you," Duo said conversationally, as he tied off the bandages. "Trowa was sick for a week after that bite, even with anti-venom. Hell, even I had headaches after I sat on her and she bit me once, and I'm pretty resistant to poisons."

Wufei processed this information. "You get bitten by your own snakes?"

"Come on, it's not like they listen to me." Duo handed the anti-venom back to Trowa. "There. All done! Now you'll be fine providing you don't make any sudden movements for the next little bit."

Wufei sulked. "Thanks a lot."

"None of this would have happened," Trowa said, "if you hadn't attacked a snake-haired monster with the ability to turn people into stone."

He stressed those last words. There was a pause as Wufei and Duo considered what he'd said.

"Hey--wait a minute! He hasn't turned into a statue!"

"Injust--wait--"

"What's with that?" Duo stuck his hands on his hips. "The only things immune to my spell are monsters, and from the way you've been acting, you don't seem to be a monster. What gives?"

"How should I know? As far as I know--" Wufei groaned. "Oh, the curse."

"Curse?" Trowa asked.

"I'm cursed," Wufei said. "I suppose, the strength of the curse might be enough to negate the effects of a spell like the gorgon's. I don't think anything like this has been covered in the scrolls, but it is possible."

"A curse?" Duo asked. "What did you do?"

"I don't want to talk about it!" Wufei yelled. And then felt very ill. "Oh . . ."

"No sudden movements," Trowa reminded him. "Hang on. I think I--" the dryad disappeared into the undergrowth. Wufei and Duo waited silently for him to return.

"So, this curse of yours must be pretty strong to dispel a gorgon's spell, so I guess you must have really really irritated someone--"

"Shut up!"

It was fortunate that Trowa returned then.

"Stop it you two, we need to get in the trees quick. A big party of humans are coming this way--with Relena."

"Relena? Then what's the problem?" Duo said. "She's our friend."

"That would depend," Wufei said, as Duo and Trowa carefully lifted him up into the tree, "on your definition of friend."

"What do you mean?" Duo asked.

"If friend includes someone who leads a mob of people with pitchforks and torches into your woods, then yes, Relena is our friend," Trowa said. "Come on Duo--"

The gorgon allowed himself to be pulled into the tree, seemingly in shock at what he'd heard.

Trowa carefully instructed the leaves of the tree they were in to bunch around them, screening them from view. The tread of the crowd was already audible.

"Right, we're here. Now, no dawdling please. I want you all to start loading the statues into the wagons--as quickly as possible."

"What's she doing?" Wufei asked and got hissed at.

"Be quiet," Trowa told him. "I don't like the look of those pitchforks they're carrying."

Duo was silent, watching grimly as the statues were carried away. Wufei noted the knuckles of the hand holding onto the branch were white.

"Lady Relena--what about the gorgon? What if she shows up and we get turned to stone?"

"Oh, don't worry about the gorgon. Duo is more likely to be trying not to turn us into stone," Relena smirked. "Besides, he's no match for our force. After all, every warrior who has come into the woods to hunt him I enchanted with a bad luck charm. Duo wouldn't know how to face hardened warriors." Relena paused in front of the statue Wufei had concealed himself behind earlier. "A little sorcery is a wonderful thing. I really should have thanked Dorothy before I had her petrified."

"What do you think you're doing?" Trowa asked suddenly.

Wufei looked up and saw Duo tensed as if to jump.

"What do you think? I'm going to show my so-called friend what I think of being used!" Duo's snakes hissed, baring their fangs.

"Not likely!" Trowa said, grabbing his hand. "You'll be killed!"

"Yeah, well, I'm not letting her take Heero away!"

"I'm not about to let her do--whatever it is she is going to do--to Quatre either," Wufei said, drawing his sword. And immediately feeling ill.

"Neither of you two is in a position to fight!" Trowa snapped. "Look, I'm not exactly thrilled with this either, but you must see that this is no place for the pair of you!"

"So what do you propose we do?" Wufei snapped. "Sit back while they take our friends away for no doubt nefarious purposes?"

"No," Trowa said. "You two will go, see if you can't find some way to bring these two back from stone. In the mean time I'll make sure that Heero and Quatre do not leave this forest."

Duo and Wufei looked at each other. The thought 'I have to work with him?' was uppermost in both of their minds. Also present was the realisation, however reluctant, that they had no other choice.

"On the count of three, I'll get the tree to let us down. Then you two get out of the forest as quickly as possible while I handle things at this end."

Duo and Wufei nodded. "Take care, Trowa."

"Be well, Duo. One--two--three!"

The tree dumped them abruptly. Wufei, still not over the effects of the poison, stumbled, but Duo caught him round the waist. Without a word, they plunged into the forest. Behind them they heard shouts as the nearby bushes and plants began to attack Relena's party.

In the tree, Trowa allowed himself to smirk as Relena slipped into a patch of poison ivy. Well, someone had to pay for ruining his first date.

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