Demon of Justice Chapter 24


                                                                                                                                                                                                      "Musical Angst"

‘Monsters’ is copyright Something for Kate, and ‘Everybody Knows’ is copyright Leonard Cohen.


[Spike, Legolas, and Ardeth are sitting on the sofa watching TV. Spike and Ardeth don’t seem to be particularly impressed with Legolas’s choice of viewing material -- he’s midway through watching the Saiyuki anime, for the third time -- but a couple of arrows sticking out of the sofa near Spike’s leg might go some way towards explaining why they aren’t trying to take the remote control away from him. It’s not keeping them quiet, though.]

ARDETH: Look, if he really parried a sword that way, it’d take his arm off!

LEGOLAS: Hakkei’s a youkai. He’s tough.

ARDETH: He still bleeds when he gets hit with a sword, though, or why would those other youkai bother trying to use blades on him?

LEGOLAS: They’re dumb.

SPIKE: No shit, Sherlock. How many of them have already died trying to stop these guys? You’d think they’d take up a safer hobby, like writing personal evaluations of just how painful it is getting shot at a cliff by a catapult.

LEGOLAS: That’s what cannon fodder are for, doing dumb things and getting in the heroes’ way. Now shut up!

SPIKE: No can do. Sneering at the TV’s traditional in this house, from what I’ve seen, and I’m a traditional sort of guy. (to Ardeth) Where’re the Godly Beings, anyway? They usually show up when this one’s on, to mock the Buddha types an’ threaten that Sanzo git...

ARDETH: Last time I saw them, they were talking to Duo. Something about it being too quiet around here lately.

[Spike and Legolas swivel around to stare at him.]

LEGOLAS: That’s... probably not good.

SPIKE: *snort* No, really? What tipped you off?

LEGOLAS: The last time Duo was complaining about being bored was several weeks ago, right before we got hit with the worst firestorm in this state’s history, and I’m not ruling out a causal relationship between those two facts. Where are they?

[There’s a loud thud and a surprised yelp from the direction of the back yard, then some loud swearing in a female voice. A very familiar female voice...]

ARDETH: Out there.


MEL (from outside): Damn it, Krashy, what the hell are you doing?!

[Three seconds later, everyone in the household who can stand in sunlight without combusting is outside watching the show.]

MEL: ...and you can’t just teleport me out of my dorm room like that! I was busy!

‘SCYTHE: You were clutching fifteen volumes of ‘Hikaru no Go’ and ‘Ayatsuri Sakon’ manga when you arrived. That’s not ‘busy’.

MEL: *erk* I was... rearranging my shelves! Anyway, what are you doing involved with this? I thought you were the responsible one!

‘SCYTHE: I am. That’s why I’m taking steps to make you face up to your responsibilities.

MEL: I am! I’ve finished my essays for my uni in Australia -- finally -- and I’m keeping up with my homework for Kanazawa Uni -- sort of -- and--

‘SCYTHE: You aren’t writing.

DUO: Yeah! You stopped all of your damn fics right before I was supposed to get some relationship progress! C-chan can’t keep going on them all by herself! And she’s been busy with work, anyway, so I can’t have fun with her around here either...

MEL: *pout* That’s not my fault!

LEGOLAS: (mutter) It is your problem, though, especially if you want to have a home left to come back to...

KRASHNARK: And then there’s the matter of the relationship progress that isn’t happening for me.

WUFEI: *erk!*

HEERO: And me.

QUATRE: (thoughtfully) I have to admit, I was wondering if Trowa and I were ever going to get some ‘quality time’ to ourselves...

[Trowa seems to be hiding a grin as he watches. Christy isn’t bothering to hide hers.]

WUFEI: Don’t pressure the woman! I don’t mind if she never writes another word!

SPIKE (from inside): Will you lot get in here so I can participate?!

[Some time later...]

WUFEI: Why did you want to get into the argument? They aren’t writing anything about you... lucky bastard.

SPIKE: Ah, it looked like it might turn into a free-for-all, and I was hopin’ I could get in on it. Haven’t had a good fight in ages. I know I can hit the Godly Beings and the pointy-eared guy without getting stuck with a migraine, an’ I was hoping to find out if I could hit the writer bints too. I mean, I can hit anything that ain’t human, and according to you guys they’re some sort of perverted demonesses, so...

WUFEI: Ah. Good luck.

KRASHNARK: Say it again. Louder this time!

MEL: *sigh* Do I have to?! I already promised--

‘SCYTHE: Yes, you have to. We’re rubbing your nose in it.

MEL: But--

KRASHNARK: We aren’t sending you back to Japan until you do it again!

MEL: I have exams, you know!

‘SCYTHE: Then you’d better do it quickly, hadn’t you?

[He and Krashnark settle back comfortably on the sofa and grin. Mel sighs again, adjusts the saucepan on her head, and hitches up the pink tutu she’s now wearing over her jeans and sweatshirt.]

MEL: I’m sorry. I suck. I deserve to be nibbled to death by ducks. In future I will pay more attention to writing than study or manga, and I will remember that I am not worthy to scrub the boots of other, more productive authors, who manage to keep churning out the chapters no matter where they are. I also promise to write lots of relationship progress into--

KRASHNARK: Try to sound more like you mean it!

Demon of Justice
Chapter 24
‘Musical Angst’

Relena saw Heero’s smile and knew she had made the right decision. The love and hope in that expression were clear... now that she was actually looking for it, not expecting to see it aimed at her.

Heero handed over her coffee and immediately turned to Duo, perching carefully on the edge of the bed. Momentarily ignored, she watched as Duo smiled up at his friend-- no, boyfriend, he said it and I can admit it now --watched as Heero’s hand lingered on Duo’s as the second cup was handed over, and nodded to herself.

This is right, she thought. It feels right. They belong together. Somehow I don’t think I would have been able to drive them apart, no matter what I did... and now I’ll do whatever I can to support them and be their friend. Duo is right. Real friends are hard to find, and you can never have too many. Maybe I can’t have the sort of ‘happily ever after’ I was trying for, but this sort of happiness might even be better--

A touch on her shoulder made her jump, and she looked up from her coffee to see Heero eyeing her curiously. “Are you all right, Relena?”

“I’m fine... now,” Relena replied, managing a smile of her own, feeling more hopeful than she had since the war started. “I was just thinking.”

“Oooh, deep thoughts from a pretty lady,” Duo chuckled. “Care to share?”

“I wouldn’t call them deep, exactly,” she said, trying for an airy tone of voice and almost making it. Telling the truth about what she’d been thinking would tell Heero entirely too much about what she’d confessed while he was out of the room, so she cast around for a quick distraction... Ah. “And I don’t really know if I should share them, Duo. Your scary boyfriend, here, might take offence if he knew I was contemplating stealing you away from him and locking you up in my castle--" She broke off, hiding her face behind her coffee mug and hoping she hadn’t gone too far.

Heero snorted, nearly spitting out his coffee, and Duo broke into peals of laughter, poking the Japanese teen in the ribs. “That was a good one, ‘Lena!” Duo sputtered, before catching sight of Heero’s expression and snickering again. “Heh... Off the cuff, quick, and funny as hell. There’s hope for you yet. Come to the Dark Side, Pretty!”

Recovering his composure, Heero lightly swatted Duo on the head. “I wouldn’t corrupt her too far if I were you. Remember, she bought all your furniture and still has the receipts. What if she decides to start playing pranks and replaces it all with pink stuff?” He smirked slightly at Relena, and she nearly wilted with relief.

It’s okay, I didn’t ruin it, she thought. They’re treating me like any other friend joking with them... Looking at Duo’s horrified expression, she broke into giggles of her own.

“You wouldn’t do that, would you, ‘Lena?” the braided teen begged desperately. “No pink, please... promise me?!”

“Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that! Leverage! Hmmm...” She paused, one finger on her bottom lip, feigning indecision. “Well, I suppose. No pink, I promise, on one condition.”

“Anything, I swear!” Duo said dramatically, hands clasped to his chest. The pose was rather spoilt by the mock glare he shot in Heero’s direction. “You had to bring up the P-word, didn’t you?”

“My condition is this,” Relena said regally, stifling a giggle at the equally fake innocent look Heero returned Duo’s glare with. “You follow the doctor’s orders. You take me wardrobe shopping as soon as you can get around, and you let me take you and Heero out to dinner, and you invite me to your house for dinner and a swim in your pool. How’s that?”

“That’s ‘one’ condition?” Duo asked sceptically.

“There are all sorts of shades of pink, you know,” Relena said sweetly. “Rose. Shell-pink. Baby pink. Blush. Fuschia...”

“Uncle!” he yelped, snatching a tissue out of the box by his bed and waving it like a flag of surrender. “I give! Total capitulation! I’ll meet your terms, just don’t torture your prisoners!” Grinning, he dropped the tissue and stretched. “They’re easy enough terms, anyway. I already said I’d take you shopping -- Trowa and Quatre say the furniture and stuff is good, so you’ve got colour sense, Pretty, you just don’t apply it to yourself -- and we’ll get Trowa to cook something different for dinner... I know! Something like tacos or mmfmphm...”

“You know, if OZ had worked out your secret weakness, Duo, Une could have taken you out any time with a mediaeval catapult and some pink paint bombs,” Heero said casually, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his hand had somehow found its way over Duo’s mouth. “Considering the number of times you threatened to repaint the rest of the Gundams -- and the two times you did -- I think that would have been poetic justice at work.”

Duo raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly down towards the offending hand, then looked directly into Relena’s eyes and winked. She stifled a giggle at the wicked gleam in the blue-violet eyes—

“OW! Duo! That hurt!” Heero yelped, snatching his hand back and rubbing at the bitten part of his palm, glaring impartially at the offender and the laughing girl.

“On that note,” Relena said, standing up, “I need to go. I have an early meeting tomorrow, and hours of research to get through first. Ah, Duo... may I come back tomorrow afternoon? I’m going to need some advice. If we manage to unify the nations, we’re going to need a single peacekeeping force. I’ll have more information then, and maybe you two can help me sort it out? Quatre and Trowa too, if they can be here?”

Duo nodded, ignoring Heero’s frown. “Sure, Pretty. You know when visiting hours are; just pop on in.”

“That would be wonderful, thank you. I’m free from two onwards, so if you could arrange things with the others...?”

“No problem, Relena,” Heero said. “I’ll call them in the morning and ask them to come here at three or so.”

“Perfect,” Relena sighed, walking towards the door. “I wish all my meetings were this easy to schedule.” She paused in the doorway, glancing back. “Duo... why do you keep calling me ‘Pretty’...?”

Duo grinned. “Because it suits you, Pretty. See you tomorrow!”


Heero tucked Duo in under the covers again, kissed his forehead, and was turning to move to his own cot when he felt a tug on his arm.

“What is it, Duo?” he asked quietly.

The braided teen hesitated for a moment, face serious. “I just wanted to say thanks,” he blurted out. “And sorry...”

Heero blinked. “Thanks and sorry for what?” he asked, honestly puzzled.

“Umm... thanks for how you acted with Relena. For going along with it... She’s really not a bad person. I think she can be a good friend, now that she’s over the whole obsession thing.” He sighed. “And sorry for forcing it on you without talking it over with you first. It’s fair enough if you don’t want to be friends with her just yet, since you’re the one she’s been stalking. And sorry for biting you... I didn’t mean for it to hurt that much. It was kind of-- well, I wanted to let her--"

Heero nodded, brushing Duo’s bangs back out of his eyes. “You wanted to make her feel comfortable. Included. Like she was a part of the group,” he said, a tiny smile appearing on his face when Duo’s eyes widened in surprise. “I recognised what you were doing; you did it to all of us at the beginning of the war, after all. As for the bite, it really didn’t hurt that much. Like you said, I was going along with it.” He frowned, sobering. “If you think things will work out this way -- Relena as a friend -- I'll back you up. But if she hurts you...”

Duo blushed, eyes glowing above a crooked smile. “I’m really glad you’re here, you know that?”

“I do now,” Heero replied softly. “Now, go to sleep. There’s a lot planned for tomorrow and you need your rest.”

“True,” Duo said ruefully, stifling a sudden yawn. “Damn the power of suggestion, anyway! I didn’t feel sleepy until you said that...” His arm snaked out again, stopping the Japanese teen as he turned away. “You can sleep here, you know. If you want to...”

“Duo... are you sure?”

The braided teen nodded, starting to shift over so there would be room on the bed for Heero next to him. “Maybe I’ll be able to sleep better if you’re here. Please, Heero?”

There was no way Heero could refuse after that. The nightmares must be getting worse, if he’s willing to mention them even obliquely... “If you turn on your side and curl up a bit,” he offered tentatively, “I can slide in behind you without bothering your knee, I think.”

A little more adjustment was required before Duo was comfortable, including placing the thin pillow from Heero’s cot between his knees so that the brace wouldn’t cause bruises, but it didn’t take long before Heero was carefully settling against Duo’s back and wrapping his arm around the thin waist. “Is this OK?”

“Yeah, s’good. ‘Night, Heero...”

“Goodnight, Duo,” Heero murmured, firmly telling his mental ‘alarm clock’ to wake him before the nurses made their rounds in the morning. He was just dozing off, more content than he could remember ever being before, when a sleep-slurred voice got his attention.

“Don’ think this means y’ c’n boss me ‘round an’ make m’ decisions f’r me, Heero. Y’ still got making up t’ do.”

“Mm-hm,” Heero sighed, tightening his arm and snuggling closer as he followed his boyfriend into slumber. “All my life, if you’ll let me...”

* * * * *

Once again, Wufei found himself in a foul mood, stalking through the bustle that attended setting up camp; but this time the reason behind his bad temper was different. True to his word, Krashnark had stopped nagging him... but he hadn’t stopped watching him, and whatever sense it was that let Wufei tell when the god was hovering over his shoulder had been working overtime all day. Several hours of piloting Nataku at a frustratingly slow pace, senses and sensors alert for any sign of an attack, unable to conveniently talk to anyone and with the skin on the back of his neck prickling at irregular intervals, had not been particularly restful.

Actually, the reason -- reasons -- are precisely the same as last time, he thought without any trace of humour. A variety of frustrations, including what I can only term homesickness, damn it, aggravated by Kr-- his behaviour... and this time I can’t even legitimately yell at him about it.

Not that I particularly want to yell at him, or talk to him at all, but it might be cathartic...

“Another bad day, Sir Wufei?” Uthmar asked from behind him.

And I HATE the fact that something as petty as this is making me lose my composure enough for it to show! Wufei thought viciously.

Several deep breaths later, he thought he had a reasonable chance of answering the question without anything... unfortunate... happening. To either of them.

“You could call it that, Sir Uthmar. It’s nothing you need to concern yourself over, however.”

“Ah.” The dwarf champion smiled sympathetically. “Problems with him?” he said, more a statement than a query, pointing upwards.

“Actually... not particularly,” Wufei admitted, suppressing his first impulse to snap back. “I can tell that he’s there, but he’s keeping to his promise and not actually bothering me.”

“Well, that’s something at least,” Uthmar grinned. “So, if you don’t mind me asking... what is bothering you, if it’s not him?”

I do mind. Wufei considered actually saying that out loud for a moment, and then discarded the idea. It would hardly be either polite or fair. And besides... what is really bothering me?

It didn’t take much thought to work it out.

“I have no way of telling what is happening to my... friends,” Wufei admitted quietly. “I didn’t come here deliberately, you know; I’m still not sure what happened, but I was somehow pulled out of the middle of a battle. A battle my side was in danger of losing. And since we were in trouble even with all five of us present and fighting...” He broke off, looking away, and Uthmar winced.

“You’re stuck here, wondering if your friends are even still alive,” he sighed. “I... see. My apologies, Sir Wufei; I didn’t realise--"

The Chinese pilot snorted. “You haven’t done anything that requires an apology. I’m the one who’s behaving like a bear with a sore head... as Duo would say.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. You haven’t bitten anyone yet, or even growled particularly loudly.”

A faint, breathy laugh escaped Wufei. “That’s also something Duo would say. Thank you.”

“I think I’d like meeting this Duo person, though we might regret it if he and Gunnar had the chance to conspire together. Are you hungry? Terrin caught several rabbits, so we have fresh meat, and Naiya said she was going to show our cook how to prepare them ‘properly’ -- I don’t think she’s been particularly impressed with the meals so far.”

“Judging by the few comments I’ve overheard her muttering to her plate, I think you’re right,” the Chinese pilot said dryly. “If it’s all right with you, I’ll eat later; now that we’re closer to the temple, I should make sure Nataku’s sensors are working properly.”

Uthmar shot a glance up at Wufei from under raised eyebrows, making it perfectly clear without words that he recognised the excuse for what it was, and then smiled. “Certainly... but if Naiya gets offended because you let her cooking get cold, you’ll have to do the explaining.”

“I thought Champions were supposed to be brave?”

“Brave, yes. Foolhardy, no.”


Of course, I could always have told Uthmar the truth; he certainly had no problem working it out for himself. It wouldn’t have sounded particularly good, though. Wufei told himself bitterly. ’Actually, I’d rather sit in Nataku’s cockpit and sulk than run the risk that people will ask me questions and I’ll reveal more of my feelings than I already have...’

The check of Nataku’s sensor systems had taken less than five minutes, as he’d known it would, and he was left with nothing to do except slouch in his chair and randomly switch views on the screens.

It’s debatable how useful the sensors will be, anyway. This whole area is dappled with that foul green energy, and I still haven’t found a way to get Nataku’s computers to do a detailed reading on it without them suffering a cybernetic nervous breakdown. Which means I can’t run a detailed scan on anything else in the same area without risking a software conflict. Whether it’s just left over from that blob demon passing through, or has been deliberately spread around, it’s acting like an annoyingly effective jamming screen...

He made a few more half-hearted attempts to find or design a scan mode that would look ‘through’ the interfering mess, but gave up in disgust when his best idea turned out to be unworkable. Programming his sensors to ignore any energy (whether infrared, ultraviolet, radiation or unidentified) that wasn’t actually moving had seemed to work for a little while, until he discovered that small patches of the sickly green whatever-it-was were randomly seeping and trickling from place to place, triggering his sensors to ‘look’ at them again... and sending his analysis programs back into fits of electronic hiccups. It took him several minutes just to break them out of the recursive loop that was making the main screen flash ‘ANALYSING -- UNKNOWN -- RESET -- ANALYSING -- UNKNOWN -- RESET' faster than a strobe light, and he was swearing under his breath as he shut the programs down at last.

If anyone on Earth ever comes up with a way to reproduce that effect, I don’t care who or what they’re going up against; they’ll probably win...

Well. That was a truly spectacular failure. Now what?

Almost without thinking about it, he reached to one side and opened one particular storage compartment, pulling out Duo’s bag of CDs. “If I’m going to sit here trying to give myself an ulcer by worrying about a situation I can’t get any information on and couldn’t affect even if I did,” he muttered, “I might as well really wallow in it.” About to start flicking through the jewel cases, he reconsidered; the last time he’d picked a song at random it had had good results, so why not do that again? One quick slap to the bottom of the padded cube shifted several of the CD cases upwards a centimetre or two, and he pulled out the one that was protruding the most, opening the case and feeding the disk into the right slot on his console without looking at the label. After a quick check to make sure the volume control had been returned to normal levels after the previous day’s ‘musical exorcism’, he hit the ‘play’ button and reached for a different set of controls, calling up a listing of all the video and image files stored in Nataku’s computer memory.

I was hanging upside-down from the overpass,
waiting to discover something about the world

Wufei blinked, looking back at the speakers next to the disk slot as if he expected to see the singer there. That’s a very ‘Duo’ sort of line, he thought, a slow smile spreading across his face. A very appropriate choice, I think.

Turning back to his screen, he listened to the music with half his attention as he began winnowing through the files, selecting some and queuing them to be displayed, dismissing others from the list on screen. His first cull was swift and decisive. Nothing that was dated before he joined forces with the other pilots; nothing from after he’d been pulled out of his own world; and nothing from battles that he remembered as being difficult, or where any of the Gundams had taken serious damage. He might be expecting to worry about his friends, but he didn’t intend to be completely masochistic; he wanted images of the other pilots that wouldn’t pull him further into the depressed state of mind he was hovering on the edge of.

I couldn't get with the program and I couldn't listen to them,
it was like trying to think in reverse

And I don't want to slide into apathy,
and I don't wanna die in captivity,
but these monsters follow me around,
hunting me down, try to wipe me out...
wipe me out... wipe me out... wipe me out...

His hands paused for a moment, hovering over the keyboard. “Too appropriate, perhaps,” he murmured softly, refusing to look at the speakers again. “I never did get around to asking Uthmar if this world has a god of Chance...”

Shaking his head, he forced his attention back to his self-imposed task, reading the note files attached to a series of videos. Just a coincidence, he told himself stubbornly, ignoring the hair lifting on the back of his neck.

Yeah, I was hiding away underwater,
waiting for distance and buying some time,
trying to be two hundred thousand years younger,
so I could excuse myself from humankind

'Cause I don't wanna be a container,
or a bastard with a ten-page disclaimer,
but these monsters spin me around,
get me down, just trying to shut me out...
shut me out... shut me out... shut me out...

It wasn’t a particularly long song, but he’d found a number of good video clips and pictures to look at by the time it ended. Most of them were marked as test files, taken while he was performing routine checks on Nataku’s cameras as part of her maintenance; if one of the other pilots was nearby, he’d usually film them instead of some random piece of wall, and then save the file instead of deleting it when the test cycle was finished.

I didn’t realise I had so many, though! he thought, feeling rather embarrassed as he looked at the list. The long list. I suppose I was using them to fend off loneliness even then... I hardly ever looked at these files, but I knew they were there if I wanted to. And I played some of them, when I was on missions that required a communications blackout...

Does everyone feel this way when they can’t contact people who are important-- all right, people who they care about, I admit it-- and they know they’re in danger?

Are they all right?!

The first song’s last chords died away, and there was a moment’s silence before the player changed tracks. His first thought about the new song was that it was a completely different style of music; he must have picked one of the CDs Duo had burned himself, a compilation of songs from different artists connected by some theme that might be obvious only to the braided pilot. Then a deep, cynical voice came from the speakers, launching into the first verse.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor--

The song cut off as Wufei’s hand lashed out at the control panel, connecting with the ‘pause’ button more by luck than aim. He stayed frozen in that position for several breaths, head down, arm trembling with tension as he pressed the heel of his hand onto the button hard enough to make the console creak. The light on the panel below the button flickered on and off several times as the continued pressure confused the signals; finally the player gave a sort of hiccup and started switching back and forth from ‘pause’ to ‘play’, burping out the same half-syllable over and over again until Wufei carefully drew his hand back and it fell silent.

“I don’t need to ask Uthmar about a god of Chance,” he whispered, slowly massaging away the red mark the edge of the button had left imprinted in his palm. Part of his mind calmly filed the information that his hands were trembling. “I need to ask him about a god of cruel jokes. Or possibly one called Cassandra...”

After a while, Wufei moved again, reaching down to pick up the CD’s case and look at it curiously. The handwritten label said ‘Depressing’, and he snorted with a sort of black amusement as he put it back down.

“Well,” he said, straightening up, his voice surprisingly loud in the silent cockpit. “I said I was going to wallow...” The wry smile on his face twisted as he reached out and tapped the ‘play’ button again.

As the player whirred quietly, spinning the disk back up to speed, he was bringing up the video files of the Gundams’ last, massively outnumbered fight.

--stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows...


He’s tearing himself apart, Krashnark thought worriedly, ‘hovering’ intangible behind Wufei’s chair. He’s not the sort of person who can just accept that there’s nothing he can do about a situation, and he’s already blaming himself for leaving his friends behind to fight without him. As if he had any choice in the matter! I could wish he had a less highly developed sense of personal responsibility...

Well. Perhaps not. It comes from his equally overdeveloped sense of personal honour, after all, and that’s what made him attractive to me in the first place... and made him refuse me. Hm. I may be just as masochistic as he’s acting right now,
the Dark god mused, watching as the video on the main screen ended in a burst of static and then returned to the beginning of the file.

If Sharna’s worshippers put up any sort of a fight tomorrow, while he’s in this state of mind, he could very easily be killed. There’s nothing ordinary mortals can do to him while he’s in here, but will he be sensible enough to stay in here? And I may have scared my worthless little brother out of intervening personally, but his priests aren’t completely powerless by themselves. I don't think Wufei would ever be suicidal, exactly... but he might be feeling guilty enough to do something stupid.

If he just knew, one way or another, what was happening to his friends, I think he could handle it. Even if the news was bad. Whatever he’s imagining inside his head is almost certainly worse than the truth.

There was a long pause as Krashnark considered his options. The video on screen ran through its fifteen minutes of intense violence and started again; then the god raised an invisible eyebrow.

That might work.

It’s not going to be particularly easy, of course, but I think I can do it. There seems to be more than enough of his world’s energy still clinging to him to give me a trail...

Now all I have to do is wait for him to fall asleep, and hope he doesn’t do anything stupid before then!


It had been full dark for some time when Nataku’s hatch finally opened again, and Uthmar looked up from where he was discussing tomorrow’s tactics with Arwen with a relieved smile. “I was beginning to wonder if he was going to stay in there all night,” he said softly, watching Wufei swing downwards on the lift wire, dimly visible in the firelight. “Judging by what Karthan said about the little room he sits in when he’s in Nataku, it wouldn’t be a comfortable place to sleep!”

“One seat and a metal floor with no room to stretch out?” Arwen nodded. “Unless he’s immune to cramped muscles, it’d be a very bad idea.”

“I doubt he’s--" Uthmar’s voice trailed off as he watched Wufei walking slowly towards them. “Damn. Whatever he was doing in there, it hasn’t cheered him up.”

It was obvious that the small human/demon was not, to put it mildly, happy. It was equally obvious that he was doing his best to hide it, but even though Uthmar had known him only a few days, he was learning to ‘read’ his moods... better, probably, than Wufei would have liked if he’d known. When he closes himself off like that, with a completely blank expression and stiff movements, he’s hiding strong negative emotion. I won’t be able to tell whether he’s angry or sad until I can see his eyes, but--

=*Krashnark is still shadowing him,*=
Torframos put in suddenly. =*He’s shielding himself enough to hide his presence from you, I think, but he doesn’t seem to be bothering to hide himself from me any more...*=

“Are you expecting trouble, Lord?” Arwen murmured, barely moving his lips as he glanced sharply in Wufei’s direction.

=*...No,*= Torframos replied thoughtfully. =*Just be aware that anything you discuss with Wufei tonight will be heard.*=

“Wonderful,” Uthmar sighed, then smiled and waved Wufei over to their fire as he paused. “Naiya’s gone to sleep,” he called quietly, keeping his voice down out of deference to the sleeping armsmen around neighbouring campfires, “but she saved you a helping of rabbit stew. It’s amazingly good.”

“I wouldn’t let her hear you say that if I were you,” Wufei said, equally softly. He was smiling as he sat down, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “She might be insulted -- after all, of course anything she cooks is going to be good, so there’s no reason for you to be amazed...”

“I don’t think she’s quite that... er... arrogant about her cooking skills,” Arwen protested mildly, hooking the small iron pot holding Wufei’s dinner out of the ashes at the edge of the fire with a stick. “Although quite frankly she’d be justified if she was.”

“I know, but if you spend more than a couple of months around Duo you soon find yourself jumping on any ambiguous phrasings, just so he can’t--" Wufei cut himself off, face carefully blank again as he looked away.

“You’re well equipped to deal with Gunnar, then,” Uthmar said cheerfully, pretending not to notice Wufei’s sudden silence. “Arwen and I were just discussing our plans for tomorrow, but we haven’t thought of anything that needs changing; do you have any thoughts on the matter?” I don’t see any reason to try to hide those plans from Krashnark, he thought hastily, glancing upwards. It’s not as if we’re going to be trying anything particularly devious, after all, and if he’s been watching Wufei he probably already knows. Besides, even if we were contemplating something sneaky, I doubt Krashnark would want to warn Sharna about it...

There was a chuckle of agreement in the back of Uthmar’s mind as Wufei accepted a bowl of stew and bread from Arwen and shook his head. “No... I’ve nothing useful to add.” He snorted quietly. “I studied mainly guerrilla and suit warfare, not small-group tactics, and what I do know assumes that your men will be armed with machine guns and grenade launchers, not swords, axes and the occasional crossbow.”

“But you use a sword,” Arwen objected, startled. “Very well, too. If it’s not a common weapon, then why--?”

“In my world, it’s an old weapon, Arwen,” Wufei said dryly, one hand lifting automatically to touch the sword hilt rearing above his shoulder. “My clan values -- valued -- the study of old weapon forms as a form of mental and physical discipline, that’s all; trying to use a sword on a ‘modern’ battlefield will just get you shot as a madman. Carrying it into battle was rather foolish of me, I suppose, though I did find one opponent who was willing to meet me on equal terms...” His voice trailed off for a second as he stared into the flames, caressing the hilt, then he shook his head and seemed to refocus. “I may not be able to contribute to tomorrow’s plans, but there is something I wanted to ask about.”


“Can you please tell me what the situation is here as regards the gods? Every time I’ve meant to ask before, something’s come up... Right now we seem to have some free time, I can understand your language, and hopefully we will not be interrupted by a screaming green blob or anything similar.”

Uthmar nearly choked trying to stifle his roar of laughter, and sputtered into his fist as Arwen pounded on his back, grinning. “Oh. Ah. Yes. *cough* Yes, I can see that you might be getting a bit frustrated, considering the number of times we’ve started to tell you something about the gods and gotten essentially nowhere... Well then. Where shall we start?”

=*With my father, of course,*= Torframos said in an amused voice. =*He is the beginning of everything, after all...*=


When Wufei finally said goodnight to Uthmar and Arwen and curled up in his sleeping bag, he expected it would take some time before he would be able to assimilate what he’d learned and get to sleep.

It’s not as if the information itself is particularly complicated, he thought wryly, staring up at the cloudless sky. As pantheons go, it’s surprisingly simple, actually; only two factions, no ambiguity about who belongs to which, and only one of the gods has a complicated nature. Compared to the Taoist, Buddhist, or Shinto pantheons, this almost seems like the ‘bare bones’ of a religious system, waiting to be elaborated on!

And then there’s the Vedic gods, where they all have multiple incarnations and manifestations... and voudoun... I’m very glad my tutors didn’t make me learn more than the absolute minimum about them. No, this is a simple pantheon. Nothing to lose sleep over.

But... they’re real. I’ve spoken to two of them -- yelled at one! That makes it all far more... significant.

Gazing up at the stars, Wufei wondered if the goddess Silendros was looking back... and if Norfram, the ‘Lord of Chance’, really had influenced his choice of CDs.

Or Hirahim Lightfoot, he thought, mouth twisting sourly. He’s the practical joker, apparently...

He fell asleep wondering what Duo would think of a pantheon that included a ‘Laughing God’, but no deity of Death.

* * * * *

He was dreaming.

It was perfectly obvious that he was dreaming; the real world did not usually consist of a void stretching on seemingly forever, with drifting banks of mist that occasionally flowed in and out of solid form.

This is undoubtedly one of those dreams that analysts would have you believe is immensely significant and symbolic of something, Wufei thought cynically, watching as a floating section of stone paving dissolved. They’d probably say something like ‘the lack of lasting concrete structures and secure footing represents the subject’s fear at being separated from his customary support networks and friendships...’ Feh. And I know what that’s symbolic of, he added, glaring at the huge, coldly handsome face forming a short distance away. My stalker.

Hmm. If I thought his name now, would he show up in my dream?

Before Wufei could follow that line of thought any further, there was a surprised yelp from behind him.

“Man, that was a sudden switch! Gotta say it’s an improvement over before, though... hmmm. The scenery for this dream is weird. When do the penguins turn up?”


End chapter 24

KRASHNARK: I’m still being a wimp.

CHRISTY: Oh hush. You’re getting progress, aren’t you?

KRASHNARK: You call this progress?!

CHRISTY: Wufei isn’t yelling at you. It’s progress.

WUFEI: And I got to be masochistic. Wonderful.

SPIKE: It’s not proper masochism until you have a hangover, that’s what I say. Want some vodka?

WUFEI: Since I am not being masochistic of my own free will, no.

TROWA: It seems to end well, at least...

WUFEI: Knowing those onnas, they’re just trying to lull me into a false sense of security. At least I’ll have a break from this for a while. They’ve got to write a chapter of each of the other three stories they’ve got going before they can come back to this one, and at the rate they’re writing now it’ll be next year before they manage it--

DUO: Ummm... I hate to burst your bubble, ‘Fei, but they’re going straight on to the next chapter of Demon of Justice. Apparently they have some more things they’re planning to inflict on you, and they don’t want to wait, so...

WUFEI: ...

QUATRE: Oh dear.

WUFEI: ...So essentially, I’m doomed.

SPIKE: Looks like it. Want that drink now?

WUFEI: *sigh* Yes. Just hand me the damn bottle.


Chapter 25

Gundam Wing


















This Web Page Created with PageBreeze Free HTML Editor / Web Hosting