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

Beautiful + Part 5

"Idiot!" Wufei yelled over the screams of the surrounding townsfolk.

"You could have told me," Duo yelled back, hands firmly clamped over his eyes.

The snakes hissed, alarmed at the large amounts of noise and movement coming from the surrounding people--all save two.

Wufei groaned, pulling off his shirt. "Here," he said roughly rolling it into a blindfold. "This will fix that--"

The people still screamed.

Wufei sighed. Although they had reason to be alarmed--waking up to find a gorgon in your midst does tend to do that--he wished they could be a little bit more orderly in their panic. "Will you all kindly stop that!"

From shock more than anything else, they did.

"Way to go, Wufei," Duo whispered quietly behind him.

Ignoring his companion, Wufei bowed to the startled villagers. "It may seem hard to believe this, but my companion and I are sorry for the harm we've done. We meant you no harm."

"That thing turned my husband into stone!" a lady accused.

"I'm sorry--really I am," Duo said. "I have no control over this--believe me, I would not choose to hurt anybody. As useless as my words are, I'm sorry . . . and Wufei and I are on a quest to find the Oracle."

"We hope to find a way to reverse this spell," Wufei said. "As you can see Duo's eyes are covered. He is no threat to you."

"No threat?"

"None."

The snakes looked affronted.

The townspeople seemed to be entirely too pleased with that. Wufei watched in concern as a few burly men stepped closer. "What are you doing?"

"Oi! Ow--" Duo was abruptly seized by his snakes and pulled back by one of the men. "Not the snakes, not the snakes, not the snakes--"

"Let him go!" Wufei yelled, outraged. "We mean you no harm--what are you doing?"

"He's a monster isn't he? We're doing what any good citizen would do," the man holding Duo sneered.

Another one hefted a blade, grinning. "How much do you think a gorgon's head is worth on the market, hmm?"

"Let him go!" Wufei tried to free Duo and was roughly swatted aside by the man holding him.

"Hey, kid, why don't you come back in a couple of years, huh?" the man asked rudely.

Wufei growled. "No one calls me a kid!"

The man never knew what hit him.

"Wow--Wufei? What just happened?"

Duo, newly freed, tried to work out the situation. He'd been held, about to be killed--then they'd been a couple of grunts, a scream--and then a rather loud thud as the guy holding him had presumably keeled over. There had been a few shocked gasps at that too. Not to mention one of his snakes whistling in appreciation.

"Silence," Wufei cautioned him, adopting a fighting stance. They were not out of the woods yet and the villagers would not be so easily taken by surprise again. A couple of men were picking up weapons, building their nerve to attack.

"Come on," he challenged them. "Anyone else want to challenge a kid?"

The men exchanged glances and stepped forward cautiously.

"Is that all?" Wufei said scornfully. "I should not have expected better from a bunch of weaklings like yourselves." He switched his stance to one more suitable for a swift attack. "I am Chang Wufei of the Dragon clan. I never lose a fight--and I never run from one either! Face me, and be defeated, you cowards!"

Finally he had goaded them into an attack. Wufei calmly eyed the men rushing towards him weapons drawn--then grabbed Duo and pulled the gorgon in front of him, pulling away the makeshift blindfold in one movement.

+

Lady Une sighed as she walked down the crowded street. At times like this she was too well aware that a position of responsibility such as hers was a double-edged sword. While she had the role of making sure that Treize was perfectly happy, and knowing that he was happy because of something she'd done was enough to make her life fulfilled, such a job came with some arduous tasks. Such as birthday shopping. The lady looked around the many shops in something approaching despair, for what did you get the megalomaniac that had everything?

He already had antique swords and fine robes in plenty. He had enough private rose gardens to start a small nation state, and there wasn't a fine vintage he didn't already have at least three amphora of. He wasn't too fussed on jewelry, although the worth of what he owned would have kept a medium sized standing army for a year--he had plenty of those as well.

Maybe she should be thinking of getting something for his artistic side. After all, Treize was as much an admirer of beauty as he was of war--and she had seen a shop that specialised in mosaics back there . . .

As she retraced her steps, Lady Une found her way blocked.

A wagon lay across the street, effectively cutting off her path, as workmen unloaded several marble statues. There was no way she could get round them, and from the looks of things, they weren't going to be finished any time soon. Une sighed, drumming her fingers on her arm. She would just have to wait. Idly she studied the works in the cart.

And stared.

Working with Treize she had become a fair connoisseur of artistic goods. She knew enough to know that these statues were of the highest quality. Such realism! She fingered the minute folds in the tunic of one of the statues, as she examined the careful craftsmanship. Surely such work could only come from a master--and yet, she could not put a name to the style.

Stepping back a bit she looked up at the name painted above the storefront hoping to receive a clue as to the sculptor. The still wet paint read 'Peacecraft's.' Intrigued, Une went inside.

An hour later she emerged, well pleased with herself.

Not only had she found the perfect present for Treize, it was going to be gift wrapped and home delivered for no extra charge.

Treize was going to be very happy, the Lady thought smiling as she picked up the overlord's rose petals on the way back to his palace.

+

"You know," Duo said as they ran. "I kind of expected more from you, Wu."

"It's Wufei," Wufei yelled back, as he tried to concentrate on running and dodging thrown projectiles at the same time.

"Running, sure," the gorgon continued unabashed, jumping a low log. "Done that plenty of times. Hiding, yeah, I'm okay with that."

Wufei just grunted.

"But lying! Wu, how could you?"

"When did I lie?" The warrior was not so outraged he forgot to keep moving.

Duo adopted a righteous tone. "I am Chang Wufei from the Dragon clan! I never run from a battle!"

"I do not talk like that!" Wufei yelled, dropping back to run alongside the gorgon. "And," he continued, scowling at Duo, "this is not running from a battle."

"What is it, then?" Duo asked.

"Running from an enraged mob!"

+

Relena smiled happily as she counted the gold coins. "Financial security, here I come!"

Trowa winced from his secure metal cage. Just what sort of creature was this? "I can't believe you sold your own brother to that . . . scary woman!"

Relena shrugged, still engrossed in her counting. "Ah, Milliardo can take care of himself."

"Have you no conscience? How can you do such things?" Trowa demanded.

"You're just upset because I sold the little blond warrior to the freaky Arabian guy who wanted a new statue for his cult."

Trowa glared at her. This was setting his date with the aforementioned blond back ages--"You evil twisted malevolent--"

"Shush, please," Relena sighed. "It's not nice to use such language around a lady."

"Well you are!"

"I couldn't just stand there and let them repossess my kingdom!" Relena snapped. "Now hush! I happen to be trying to run a business here!"

There was knock at the door.

"Yes?" Relena called.

"Miss Relena? We've found the gorgon's trail."

"Do tell." Relena opened the door.

Trowa strained against his cage, hoping to catch the conversation although he knew he could not hope to help Duo.

"Ten villagers? Oh dear," Relena exclaimed.

"And that's not all, miss--"

Trowa groaned. It didn't sound as though Duo was having luck on his quest.

"And now a mob is pursuing him. Just great," Relena sighed. "Have Pargan take over the shop. I see I'm going to have to bring our wayward gorgon back before he gets killed. And bring the dryad with you when you come! I'm going to change into my travelling clothes--" Relena left the room but returned. "One more thing."

"Yes, Miss Relena?"

"Tell Pargan that under no circumstances is he to sell Heero, got that? No matter what price he's offered." Relena smirked in Trowa's direction. "With that and the knowledge that we have you prisoner, I have no doubt that Duo will be perfectly amenable to helping us out."

+

The mob looked angry.

That was putting in mildly.

"Man, do they look pissed," Duo said conversationally. "I'd hate to be whoever they're looking for."

Wufei rolled his eyes.

"Oh--hey, wait. That would be us."

"Yes, gorgon. And if you are not quiet, they will find us even quicker."

"Well, excuse me for trying to make conversation."

Wufei repressed a sigh. "Duo, do you really think making conversation is the best thing to be doing given that we have an enraged mob searching for us bare metres away?"

Duo shrugged. "They're pretty dumb. I bet they don't find this cave--especially not with those branches we pulled over the entrance."

"Even so, perhaps you could be either silent or move further back in the cave?"

"Fine." The gorgon got up. "Sheesh, can you believe this guy? He'll save my life but he won't talk to me. Noooooo, that would be asking a bit to much for Chang Wufei of the Dragon clan to talk to a monster like me--"

Wufei scowled.

"I didn't save your life. Getting you out of that predicament was necessary for the success of this quest and Quatre and Heero's recovery--"

"Yes, all right! We don't need to go over this again! You don't care about me in the slightest--in fact, I bet as soon as we've seen this Oracle and got Heero fixed, you'll be joining the queue to take off my head!"

Wufei was surprised at the bitterness in the gorgon's tone.

"Duo--"

"No! Look--don't even pretend to like me, okay? Don't talk to me--"

"But Duo--"

"Just don't!"

Wufei watched as the gorgon retreated further into the cave.

It would be pointless to go after him--so why did he feel at once a strange compulsion to--as well as an equally strong fear of doing so?

This is ridiculous, Wufei thought, turning his attention back to the mob futilely searching outside the cave. They seemed to be growing more dejected in their searching now. Wufei waited until he heard one of the men call off the search, then turned to head back further into the cave.

"Gorgon?"

No answer.

Then again, he did have a name . . .

"Duo?"

Still nothing. Growing worried, Wufei quickened his pace. He spun around a corner, to find Duo leaning against the wall opposite, his back towards him. Wufei's angry exclamation died as he took in the gorgon's dejected posture. He faltered, a rare thing for him.

Duo broke the silence first.

"Stupid," he muttered. "Stupid, stupid, stupid! Death has no friends--"

Wufei, still frozen in the shadows, realised Duo was unaware of his presence.

His snakes curled around him, the viper flicking out a thin tongue to dab at a trace of water on his cheek in an attempt to comfort--

"Who's there?"

Both Wufei and Duo were taken unawares by the voice--and the light that accompanied it. Wufei hissed as it stung his eyes.

Duo was apparently less affected. "Wow--where did you come from?"

This time the voice had a ring to it that was definitely flirtatious. "I should be asking you that--handsome."

Handsome? Wufei nearly squawked. An onna of all their luck--and a strangely suicidal and snake-fixated onna at that! He opened his mouth to say something--then realised the situation was much worse than that.

"Aren't you going to introduce yourselves?" the girl said, shuffling her feet coyly--all four of them.

"You--you're a centaur aren't you?" Duo asked, snakes nearly choking each other as they all wound about in excitement, trying to get a better view. "I've never met a centaur before. I'm Duo, pleased to meet you."

"Hilde, absolutely delighted to meet you." She giggled as she gave Duo her hand. "I've met gorgons before--but never one as cute as yourself--"

"Okay, break it up, you two. We're on a quest, remember?" Wufei said, stepping forward--and blinking as he found himself on the wrong end of a drawn bow.

"Don't take another step, human scum," Hilde threatened.

"Hey--wait a minute!" Duo protested. "You can't shoot Wufei!"

"Don't tell me he's a friend of yours," the centaur said, looking at Duo in surprise. "You can't trust humans, everyone knows that."

"Not all humans hate us," Duo said. "There are some good humans out there--I accidentally turned them to stone, and Wufei's here to help me find a way to turn them back."

Hilde looked from Duo to Wufei and back again. "How come he's not a statue?"

Wufei gritted his teeth. This situation was infuriating. Not only was he dependent on a monster to talk her out of lowering the bow, but they were talking about him as if he wasn't even present.

"I don't think it's my place to say. It's kind of personal," Duo crossed to Wufei. "Anyway, be a doll, and put that bow away, huh? I need him to take me to the Oracle."

"The Oracle?" the centaur repeated. "Of Delphi? Can I go with you? I've never visited the Oracle and there's a question she could help me with."

"Hey, the more the merrier!" Duo said happily. "I hardly ever get to meet fellow monsters--and Wufei doesn't mind, do you Wu?"

Wufei looked at the arrow still pointed at him. "Not at all," he said.

"He's okay, a little grumpy, but okay," Duo said, as Hilde reluctantly returned her bow to her shoulder. "Shall we get going?"

"I'd rather you two wait here a little longer--I have a troop of human hunters after me. I'll just go take a look round and check that the coast is clear," Hilde said, leaving the two guys alone in the cave.

"An onna," Wufei sighed. "Just what we need."

Duo leaned back against the wall. "You know what, Wufei? I think I've figured out why you don't like women so much."

"Do tell," Wufei said grimly, leaning against the wall.

"Well the Furies are female, right? And they pursue justice on behalf of wronged females, so--"

"I did not wrong Meiran! She betrayed me!"

Duo's snakes hissed in surprise as Wufei whirled on them suddenly.

"Hey, take it easy! I didn't mean to upset you." Duo held up his hands in appeasement.

Wufei looked at him and sighed and bowed. "Forgive me, Duo. I have done you yet another disservice."

"Huh?"

The snake's flicked their tongues out, indicating their own confusion.

"You protected me from Hilde just then--even though you didn't have to. You have helped me, tried to make friends with me, overlooked my temper, even when I have been only ungrateful in return. You are a better man than I."

"Wufei--"

"Please, allow me to finish," Wufei said, straightening from his bow. "If it is not too late to change my mind, then I would be honored to call you friend."

Duo wiped his eyes. "Thanks, Wufei, that means a lot to me."

Wufei smiled in return. "Friends?"

"Friends," Duo repeated squeezing his hand.

"The coast is clear," Hilde said from the cave entrance where she'd watched the exchange. "Let's go." As they joined her, she grinned. "If you guys are nice to me, I might even let you ride me."

Duo snickered. "That sounds so wrong!"

+

"How long till we get to the Oracle?"

"You only asked that question five minutes ago!"

"Oh," Duo sounded surprised. "I'm sure it was longer than that."

Wufei opened his mouth to say something, then noticed a marker by the side of the road. "Delphi, one hour. We're almost there!"

"Duo-chan, how's my hair look?" Hilde asked the gorgon who was being carried on her back. "I don't want to look untidy for the Oracle, you know."

"Good. I should do something to fix up mine," Duo said.

Wufei snorted skeptically. "Is that even possible?"

"Watch this!" Duo addressed his snakes. "Okay ladies, you know the drill--plait please."

The snakes flicked their tongues out at him and then surprisingly, sorted themselves into three groups and wound themselves around each other in an equal pattern. They hung docilely at Duo's back, flicking their tongues in and out--apparently, they did not enjoy this.

"I'll let you guys out later--for now we want to make a good impression," Duo said.

"Oh, don't worry," Hilde said. "I'm sure you'll make a very good impression."

She frowned. "I really wish I'd straightened my mane before we left--you guys don't mind I take a moment to freshen up do you? There's a pond over there--"

"Go ahead, Hilde," Duo slid off her back.

"Thanks guys!" the pretty centaur trotted away.

Wufei leaned against a tree impatiently. More delays--

"Hilde's nice, isn't she?" Duo said chirpily. "I'm glad we met her. I don't get to meet many people who don't freak out at my appearance or you know--"

"Yes," Wufei admitted. So maybe she wasn't as bad as he'd thought. Duo was enjoying having someone to talk to--and the centaur and gorgon talked a lot. Hang on--this was the second monster he was considering not killing. What had come over him?

"Any idea why those humans were pursuing her?"

Duo shrugged. "Didn't ask. This area used to be home to a lot of centaurs though--in fact, I'm surprised to see humans here at all. It's like centaur only country, has been for centuries." He wrapped a finger round the little brown snake, tickling its chin, thoughtfully. "My mother taught me that . . . she was funny, didn't matter that we lived alone on an island with no chance of interaction with others, she wanted all her kids to have a decent education."

"A worthy lady," Wufei said. He was just noticing how each of Duo's snakes were interesting in their own way. Apart from the stark black and white stripes of the water snake, they were mottled brown, specks of light and dark brown blending to create patterns and waves. It was, in a weird way, quite striking.

It reminded him oddly of Meiran.

"Duo," he asked. "You and Heero are friends, right?" At the gorgon's nod, he asked, "How did that happen?"

"He was thrown from Wing, hurt, Trowa and I took care of him. In a darkened cave, of course," Duo said. "We talked, got to know each other, and, yeah, became friends." He sighed wistfully.

"Did you ever tell him what you were?" Wufei asked intently.

"No."

"Why, Duo?"

The gorgon sighed. "Fear. Fear and this selfish desire to keep his good opinion of . . . I told him to go, told him not to come back, but I didn't tell him what I was. Funny though, I didn't fear death--although I knew he was a monster killer and would kill me. I'm not an innocent like Trowa, I've killed humans--not that you can really call Trowa innocent, at least I don't think so. Possibly on a good day when--am I rambling? Sorry--"

"What did you fear?" Wufei asked. "You said it wasn't death--"

The gorgon looked at him. "Heero's hate. I couldn't bear it, if he hated me." He gave Wufei a rueful grin. "I kinda wish that I hadn't said anything when I saw him in that glade that day--then he wouldn't have known it was me. He'd have slain the gorgon like he was supposed to, and he'd still think of me as a friend--"

Duo sighed. "Man, I'm getting gloomy. Hey, tell you what, I'm going to climb a tree, see if I can see the Oracle from here, huh?"

Wufei nodded. Duo had given him a lot to consider.

Perhaps he was . . . wrong?

"Metal?"

"Duo? What do you see?" Wufei stepped back to look up at his companion.

"I'm not sure. Something just glinted off something in those trees there, it looked like metal. Yeah, there's more, going towards the lake."

The lake--Hilde.

"Hurry!" Wufei yelled to Duo scrambling towards the centaur. "Hilde's in trouble."

He was correct.

The centaur was surprised and outnumbered, caught under a net and unable to defend herself. Cursing at the weakness of an opponent who would use such low tactics against a non aggressive combatant, Wufei launched into battle, taking out one opponent and putting himself between the centaur and her attackers.

"Leave her alone!"

"And give up the bonus?" One of the men snorted, raising a bow. "We're employed to rid this district of centaurs so the farmers can move in--and that's what we're going to do. Fire!"

Wufei could deflect the first arrow, and the second, but he hadn't a hope of getting the third and fourth--the archers had decided to co-ordinate their efforts. Noting their ready arrows, and their lethal destinations he shut his eyes and stepped in front of the centaur.

"Um, excuse me?"

"What now?"

Wufei cautiously opened his eyes again. Six statues, bows still at the ready, stood turned towards the gorgon who had his hands on his hips.

"That's better," Duo said with a smirk. "Oi, Wufei, you okay?"

"Fine," Wufei said. "Hilde?"

"Get me out of this net and I'll be just peachy," the centaur said quietly. "I'll have to redo my hair."

"Onna's," Wufei sighed.

It was easy to free Hilde from the net. The centaur fidgeted, finally taking Wufei's hand.

"Wufei, thank-you," she said. "I take back what I said about humans. You saved my life."

Wufei's mouth dropped open in surprise. He had--

"Yeah! Way to go Wufei!" Duo hugged him. "You did it! The curse is lifted!"

The curse--lifted? Wufei began to laugh, and then cry simultaneously. "I'm not cursed!" He pulled back to grin at Duo. "Thank-you--"

"For what? I didn't do anything--oops--"

Wufei became aware of the growing stiffness in his limbs the moment Duo did.

"I'm sorry Wu--I didn't--"

"Quiet," Wufei said. "I know you didn't. Just make sure you find the Oracle, okay--" He hesitated and smiled. "Friend."

"Thank-you, Wufei," Duo said to the statue. "I will." He turned to Hilde. "If I go ahead to the Oracle, will you stay and guard him?"

"No problem, after all, I owe him for getting rid of those hunters," the centaur nodded to him. "Good luck, Duo-chan."

"Thanks Hilde. Let's hope I don't need it."

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