Demon of Justice Chapter 25


                                                                                                                                                                                                          "In Dreams"


CHRISTY *brightly*: Do you remember the last time we were doing babble? It seems like only yesterday!

DUO: Gee, maybe that’s because it was only yesterday...

MEL *brightly*: So it was! Maybe that’s why Wufei seems to have a hangover?

WUFEI: ...shut up, onnas.

SPIKE: Leave the man alone, ladies, he’s a bit fragile today.

CHRISTY: Oh come on... it’s not like we get the chance to do this often!

HEERO: Do what? Torture Wufei? You do that all the time!

TROWA: You have to admit, he has a point.

CHRISTY: Awwww...

MEL: Oh, we can leave him alone for now, I suppose.

QUATRE: That’s very nice of you, Mel-san!

WUFEI *muttering*: There’s a catch. I know it.

MEL: After all, we’re going to be torturing him far worse in this chapter than just being cheerful at him while he’s got a hangover.

QUATRE: Mel-san!

WUFEI *muttering*: I knew it.

CHRISTY: True! Let’s get to it, then! On with the fic!

Demon of Justice
Chapter 25
‘In Dreams’

Duo settled into sleep with Heero’s arm snug around his waist, hoping that maybe, this time, he wouldn’t dream. Maybe tonight he wouldn’t see Wufei attacking the strange energy gun again... being shot again... being lost again.

He found out very quickly that he wasn’t going to be so lucky.


“WAAAHAHAHAHAHA! It’s time to meet your maker!”

He was in Deathscythe, back to back with Sandrock, hacking his way through Leos and Aries like there was no tomorrow -- and there wouldn’t be, if he screwed up now. Wing was up above, Heero doing his best to trash Zechs and Tallgeese, and Duo spared half a second to glance at the tiny window he’d allowed himself to dedicate to the camera that was tracking that battle. Really, he knew he shouldn’t do it, he shouldn’t let himself get distracted that way, but surely just a glance once in a while wouldn’t hurt--

Time slowed down. The window showing Wing seemed to expand, taking up more and more of his screen. He couldn’t see the rest of the fight properly around it, but he couldn’t seem to find the key that would close it...

< < Trowa, Wufei, there’s some sort of energy weapon on that southern hill, > > Quatre transmitted. < < It looks like they’re aiming at Wing-- > >

Shoot it, he tried to say, but now he couldn’t find the control for the radio and his voice wasn’t making any noise. He couldn’t see the weapon either, the window showing Wing was covering everything, but he knew what it was. Don’t go near it.

< < On it, > > Trowa replied.

Yeah, Tro, you can get it from a distance-- use your rockets--

< < No, I’ve got it, > > said Wufei. < < You’ve got a clearer path to help 2 and 4. > >

No! NO! We’re fine, there’s nobody really threatening us, we can take care of it!

His hand found the radio control at last, but what came out of his mouth wasn’t what he meant to say. “Ah, yeah, Tro-man, not that we need a hand really -- but I’m sure you’d hate it if we trashed them all by ourselves!”

< < Right. Coming. > >

Forget about us, SHOOT THE FUCKING ZAPGUN! Duo howled mentally, but nothing came out. He could see now, see Nataku arrowing towards the new weapon on thrusters, thermal staff swinging around with Wufei’s usual speed and economy of motion, but the damn Buck Rogers ripoff still had all the time in the world to swivel around and take aim and Duo knew exactly what was going to happen to his best friend but he couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it--

--and all of a sudden he had his voice back and yelped in surprise as he found himself somewhere else.

...Whoa. Mental whiplash. What’s going on?

He could feel his heart still hammering in his chest and took a few deep breaths, forcing himself to relax as he stared at his strange new surroundings. And that’s not all that’s strange -- since when do I notice my heartbeat and breathing in dreams? Okay, take stock... no Gundam. No fight. Hell, no ground, either, just these floating bits of stone and buildings and fog... Toto, this ain’t Kansas.

“Man, that was a sudden switch!” he muttered, more to hear himself speak than because he thought talking out loud would do any good. “Gotta say it’s an improvement over before, though... hmmm. The scenery for this dream is weird. When do the penguins turn up?”

A shocked voice came from behind him. “Duo?!”



Wufei barely had time to wonder how someone could spin around in midair with no leverage before Duo had flung himself upon him, babbling hysterically.

“Oh my GOD, Wu-man, are you okay? Where the fuck have you been?! I’ve missed you like hell! Are you really here or is this just a dream?! Oh hell, who cares--" Duo’s voice was suddenly muffled as he pressed his face into Wufei’s shoulder, arms putting serious pressure on the Chinese pilot’s ribs, and he sobbed once or twice before getting control of himself.

“You’re not dead?” he asked in a tiny voice, turning his face a little to one side to get his mouth clear. “You’re really not dead?”

“That’s my line,” Wufei said shakily, carefully wrapping his arms around Duo’s shoulders to return the hug. He felt real, more solid than any dream should be; thin shoulders under the white slogan t-shirt, wisps of hair escaping from his braid to tickle Wufei’s wrist, the edge of his brace bumping back against what was probably going to be a serious bruise on Wufei’s knee--


“Since when do you wear a leg brace?” he asked, puzzled.

Duo sniffed and pulled back far enough to see Wufei’s face, hands releasing just enough of their death grip to let him pat carefully at his friend, testing to make sure that yes, he was there along with all the normal appendages present and accounted for. “Since I munged up my knee and Sally made me hold still for an operation on it,” he said, annoyance showing even through his distraction. “It’s a pain -- sometimes literally -- but it’s not gonna drop off or anything. Man, ‘Fei, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Even if this is just a dream, it’s a hell of a lot better than instant replay of you getting blown out of our dimension into God knows where!”

“I’m not so sure this is a dream,” Wufei said uncertainly, holding the other pilot’s shoulders and looking him searchingly up and down. “At least, not an ordinary one. Even with the decidedly odd surroundings, this feels far too... concrete. And why would I dream you with a brace on your leg? For that matter, why would I dream of you wearing a t-shirt I’ve never seen?” he asked, mouth quirking into a smile as he read the slogan ‘Patient gown? We don’t NEED no @#~%ing patient gown!’ that was proudly blazoned across the front of Duo’s oversized top. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful example of a ‘Duo shirt’, but I’m sure it’s one I’ve never seen you wear!”

“Yeah, it’s new,” Duo shrugged, glancing down at it. “I got it the day before I went in for the op-- oh.”

“Exactly,” Wufei said grimly, twisting to look suspiciously back at the floating stone image of Krashnark’s face. “If this is my dream, why would I invent a leg brace and a new t-shirt for you? If this is your dream, why would I -- a figment of your imagination -- be surprised by them? Either one of us is dreaming far more imaginatively than normal, or--"

The eyes of the stone mask opened, and Krashnark’s mental ‘voice’ whispered into their heads. =*This isn’t a dream. Or to put it another way, it is a dream... a true dream, that you are both sharing. Make the most of it; this is taking rather a lot of power to maintain, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do it again.*=

“Oh-kayyyy,” Duo murmured, fingers tightening on Wufei’s biceps. “I take it that’s the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz? Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain...”

Wufei’s scowl deepened, and he turned to face Krashnark fully, pushing Duo behind him without thinking. “If this is supposed to be some sort of bribe, I--"

=*It is not a bribe,*= Krashnark insisted, sounding slightly impatient. =*I promised not to nag you, and a bribe could be considered a form of nagging; it’s certainly a form of pressure. Besides, I’m not foolish enough to think that you’d allow a bribe to sway your opinion.*= Humour leaked into his ‘voice’. =*In any direction except away from what I was trying to get you to do, that is! I merely thought that you might be better prepared for tomorrow’s fight if you weren’t occupied by worrying about your friends. As long as there’s the slightest chance that you might someday agree to become my Champion, it’s in my best interests for you to survive, after all...*=

=*In any case, I can hold this for only a limited time. May I suggest that you take advantage of the opportunity to talk to your friend now, and yell at me later?*=
The huge stone face smiled past Wufei at Duo, bobbed slightly -- a nod? -- and evaporated into mist.

Wufei let out his breath in an annoyed snort and glared at the dissipating cloud, seriously considering calling Krashnark back and giving him a piece of his mind right then and there, but was distracted by Duo’s voice.

“Um, ‘Fei?” he asked, voice carefully nonchalant. “You’ve heard of Easter Island, right? How did we end up there, and when did the stone faces start talking to people? Come to think of it, much as I hate to say this, a talking stone face is probably a good sign that this is just a dream...”

“Actually,” Wufei sighed, turning back to him, “while I would normally agree with you, in this case it means just the opposite. That was Krashnark.”

“Uh-huh,” Duo said sceptically, quirking an eyebrow at him. “And who’s he when he’s not imitating an evaporating Mount Rushmore?”

“My penance for ever sneering at Heero’s fear of Relena,” Wufei muttered, then cleared his throat. “This isn’t going to convince you that this is real, I’m sure, but... he’s a god.”

Duo just stared at him for a moment... then stared some more. “Riiiiiight,” he drawled eventually. “Now I know the dancing penguins are going to turn up. Any minute now...”

Wufei laughed helplessly, pulling Duo back into a hug. “Gods, I’ve missed you,” he whispered, burying his face in the curve of Duo’s neck and taking a deep breath, drawing in the familiar scent of clean skin and lemongrass shampoo. There was a faint medicinal tinge as well, presumably from the hospital, and although he couldn’t imagine how Krashnark had managed to arrange things so that they could smell each other, it gave him an idea.

“Duo,” he said abruptly, tugging the other boy closer, “smell me.”


“I’m serious, just smell me.”

Duo leaned forward and sniffed tentatively at Wufei’s hair, frowning. “You smell a bit like woodsmoke,” he muttered. “And grass.”

“Have you ever been able to smell something in a dream before?” Duo’s eyes widened, and Wufei pressed on. “You can see and hear things in dreams, and sometimes feel things a bit, but I at least have never smelled a figment of my imagination. So...”

“...So maybe this is real,” Duo whispered hopefully.

“Seems like it,” Wufei agreed, drawing in a shaky breath. “Which means you’re alive. Are you all-- is everyone okay? Losing me didn’t cause any,” he nearly said ‘deaths’, “any problems? The battle wasn’t going well...”

“Problems?” Duo laughed. “Wu-man, losing you the way we did saved us! Not that I wouldn’t rather have kept you with us and had to fight a bit harder, but... You remember that energy gun thingy?”

“I should hope I do, since the cursed thing shot me,” Wufei said sourly.

“It did more than shoot you, it blew up. Impressively. When the dust cleared, there wasn’t a hill there any more, most of the Ozzie suits were trashed, and Tallgeese had taken a header into the dirt. The Gundams took it a lot better; we got some bumps and bruises, and Zechs survived OK according to what I heard, but the death toll on the OZ side was pretty horrific. They’ve surrendered, ‘Fei. We won.”

“Surrendered...?” Wufei nearly choked as that one word destroyed all the possible scenarios he’d thought of. He’d imagined his friends dead, defeated, scattered and trapped... but triumphant? “So... what’s happening now? Has OZ disbanded? Is--"

“Ohhh no you don’t, Wu,” Duo said firmly, taking a firm grip on Wufei’s hands and settling into a seated position in midair, braced leg sticking out in front of him. “First, you tell me what the hell happened to you after that thing burped or hiccupped or whatever it is the Doctors think it did, and you got pulled out of our universe! If this dream is real, that means that god was real, too, and I want to know what the fuck is up with that!”

“It’s not just gods! It’s like a fantasy novel, elves and dwarves and magic and demons... you know, I keep thinking ‘Duo would love it here’. At the very least, you’d have a better idea than me of how to get Krashnark off your back!”

“You have a god on your back?” Duo asked incredulously.

“Two gods, technically, though I haven’t actually met the other one,” Wufei sighed, running one hand back over his hair and tugging distractedly at his ponytail. “At least Sharna only wants to kill me...”


“So despite being very definitely not a pacifist in any way whatsoever, this Krashnark god is a lot like Relena at her worst?” Duo asked eventually, grinning.

“I certainly think so, though he was rather offended by the comparison,” Wufei snorted. “It got him to shut up for a while, at least. How is the pursuit going, by the way? I’m feeling rather guilty about all the times I considered Yui to be a coward for avoiding her.”

“Actually, she’s backed off.”

“She’s what?”

“Backed off. Given up on Heero. She’s actually being nice to me, now, and it seems to be for real... not a ploy to get brownie points or anything.”

“Duo,” Wufei said slowly, “quite frankly, I find that less plausible than anything that’s happened to me since I got dragged into this world.”

“What, less plausible than being headhunted metaphorically by one god, and headhunted literally by his twin brother? ‘Lena isn’t that bad!”

“I seem to remember you having a different opinion, that time she turned up unexpectedly and forced you to abandon your favourite pair of boots when we left the safehouse,” Wufei teased. “’Living embodiment of Murphy’s fucking Law’ was the politest thing you called her.”

“All right, so maybe she comes across as an annoying force of nature sometimes, but still, she’s not supernatural!”

“True. Actually, that reminds me of something I was thinking about today. What’s your opinion of a pantheon that has a god of thieves and seductions, and a goddess of stars who doesn’t actually seem to do much, but no god of Death?”

There was a long pause as Duo stared at him, apparently stunned. “...Say what? No god of Death? Wu, that is seriously screwed up, you know. Every damn pantheon has a god of Death, it’s a union requirement or something!”

“I thought you’d think it was odd.”

“Odd? It’s just about impossible! If you take the view that deities are imaginary constructs invented by humans to fill the psychological need for explanation and ‘control’ of natural forces and events,” Duo said earnestly, “Death is right up there with Life as something that needs explaining, right? And if the gods are real, which they sure as hell seem to be where you are, then Death is an incredibly important process that’s just begging to have someone in charge of it! Are you sure there isn’t a god of Death? Maybe as a secondary function of whatever god is the head honcho?”

“Um... no, Orr seems to be purely a god of creation,” Wufei said slowly, thinking back to what Uthmar and Arwen had told him.

“Life, right,” Duo nodded. “Who’s in charge of birth? A lot of the time the same god is also in charge of Death, sort of taking care of both ends of the life cycle.”

“You seem to know a lot about this!”

“Comparative Religions class at Lamar High,” the braided teen said shortly. “It’s the only time I ever liked doing homework, and I kept the textbooks when we booked it out of there. Well?”

“Hm. Kontifrio and Lillinara, I think... and Lillinara does comfort the dying, sometimes, but I got the impression that that was more to do with assuring murdered women that they would be avenged than as a general thing.” Wufei shrugged helplessly. “There’s a dark goddess who holds power over undead creatures, but that’s all.”

“Screwed,” Duo said firmly, shaking his head. “Definitely screwed. There should be a light deity of death to balance that dark goddess, if nothing else! Either you didn’t get full information or there’s something badly out of whack over there, ‘Fei. Maybe the next time Krashy tries to wheedle you into being his general or whatever, you can distract him by asking about this?”

“Maybe,” Wufei said doubtfully. “I think he-- Krashy?!”

“Hey, sorry, but the guy’s name sounds like a car accident in a ‘Pinky and the Brain’ cartoon,” Duo grinned, not looking at all repentant. “It’s just begging to be made fun of!”

“He’s got a temper, you know. If he shows up again before we wake up, please don’t call him that to his face... Okay, it’s your turn now. How in the world did Kushrenada manage to get Lady Une to go along with a surrender?”

“Ah. Well. Actually...”


When Duo had finished explaining what had happened to OZ, it was Wufei’s turn to look at him disbelievingly.

“Say something, Wu,” Duo said uncomfortably, leaning forward to get a closer look at his eyes. “I know you don’t like talking unless you have something worthwhile to say, but really, you don’t have to take it to Trowa’s lengths...”

“Kushrenada suicided?” the other teen whispered, ignoring that last comment. “I can’t believe... It’s not the sort of thing he’d do!”

“Yeah, well, I was kind of out of it at the time,” Duo admitted, “so when I got my act together enough to pay attention we were dealing with the results, not the fact, but... I have to admit, he always struck me as the sort of person who’d go and pick a fight he couldn’t win if he ever wanted to die, instead of pushing a self-destruct or swallowing some pills. Go out with glory, or whatever... Still, he did it. Left a note wishing us luck building the future and everything. And since Une apparently only ever wanted to win for his sake, without him there to fight for she just... folded.”

“I see,” Wufei said numbly, and then shook himself. “’Out of it’?” he asked sharply, putting the matter of Kushrenada’s suicide aside for later thought. “I thought you said you weren’t hurt?”

“Bumps and bruises, like I said,” Duo said evasively, and then wilted as Wufei raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Plus a minor concussion. That wasn’t the problem, though; I, um... Heero was being a prick at the time so I was kind of depressed, okay? But he stopped!” he added quickly, waving his hands in a sort of ‘calm down’ gesture as Wufei bristled.

“If he was being enough of a ‘prick’ to get you depressed, it must have been bad,” Wufei growled, looking ready to march out of the dream and confront Wing’s pilot face-to-face.

Duo grimaced. “I think Quatre threatened him with grievous bodily harm a time or two, and you know the sort of provocation Q-man needs before he’ll consider anything of the sort! For a while there he was being damn snarky. Still, he’s sorry now, and he’s trying really hard to make up for it... which is just as annoying sometimes, when he overdoes it, but... um... we actually seem to be getting things sorted out. Boyfriend-type things, I mean,” he muttered, fiddling with the end of his braid. “He says he loves me...”

Wufei reached over and plucked the tuft out of Duo’s hands, rescuing it from imminent destruction. “I can always tell when you’re really nervous, you know,” he said gently, capturing the other teen’s hands in his when they reached for the braid again. “You start actually picking at your hair instead of just waving it around... So,” he went on, only half joking, “how do you feel about this? I know it’s what you’ve wanted, but do you think he’s genuine or am I going to have to find a way to get back home and dispense some justice?”

Duo looked down at their clasped hands with a watery giggle. “I can just see you tying him to a chair and lecturing him for a few hours straight--"

“Lecture, hell, if he hurt you I’d kick his sorry ass!” Wufei insisted, ducking down to look at Duo’s face. “First. Then I’d lecture him, after I’d broken his legs so he couldn’t get away. And you haven’t answered my question.”

“I think he’s for real,” Duo said, voice barely above a whisper.

“So what’s the problem?” Concerned, Wufei abandoned his efforts to look past Duo’s bangs and reached out, gently nudging his chin up with one hand. “You’re acting like this is a bad development. Is it?”

“No! No, it’s good, it’s just...” Duo’s face crumpled and he drew in a deep, shaky breath, tears welling up in his eyes. “Hell, this was easier to discuss with Relena, damn it... I feel like I’m betraying you, somehow. Like I got him by losing you, and if I let myself be happy with him I’ll lose any chance to ever get you back!”

“So I’m the sacrifice on the altar of your relationship, is that it?” Wufei wiped carefully at the first tear trickling down Duo’s cheek. “Don’t you dare blame yourself for my situation, Duo! You had nothing to do with causing it, and I don’t see how anything you do or don’t do could possibly affect it now. All you’d accomplish by pushing Heero away would be to make yourself and him miserable, and that’s the last thing you should do!” He sighed, pulling the other boy into another hug. “As for getting me back... well, unless the Doctors come up with something damn impressive, I don’t think it’s going to happen. We might be able to talk again, like this, but I seem to have been ‘summoned’ into this world like one of their demons -- technically, I am a demon -- and there was nothing in what Uthmar and Arwen told me about any demons being ‘un-summoned’ back to where they came from. Once they’re here, they’re here to stay.” Until some Champion kills them, he carefully didn’t add.

“The Doctors said they couldn’t do anything,” Duo sniffed miserably into his shoulder. “Well, they said they could probably blow us out of our universe by recreating what happened to you, but they couldn’t arrange for us to end up in the same place.”

“Not something you should try, then,” Wufei said dryly, rubbing his back. “Believe me, Duo, finding happiness with Heero would not be a betrayal of me. I want you to be happy, and if he can make you happy, more power to you both! I’m your friend, after all, not your boyfriend.”

There was a faint, hiccupping laugh from the general region of Wufei’s collarbone. “Yeah, well, if I hadn’t been so stuck on Heero I might have tried to change that.”

“If you hadn’t been so obviously stuck on Heero, I might have tried to change that,” Wufei admitted wryly. “But you were, so it never came up... and I can’t help feeling a little glad. I miss you badly enough as a friend; I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I was missing you as a lover.”

“Sucky,” Duo sighed, sniffing. “It’s pretty damn sucky missing you anyway, but I guess there are degrees of suckiness.”

“Your riveting insights into the human condition never fail to amaze me, Duo,” Wufei drawled in his best supercilious tone of voice. He blocked the finger jabbing for the sensitive spot under his ribs because he was expecting it, but he missed the yank at his ponytail and yelped as Duo blew a wet raspberry on the side of his neck. “Ugh! That’s disgusting, you know. Feeling better?” he muttered, wiping the spit away.

“I know it’s disgusting, that’s why I did it. You deserved it,” Duo muttered back, sitting up again in midair. “...Yeah, I’m feeling better. Thanks.”

“You’ve cheered me up countless times in the past; it’s only fair for me to return the favour once in a while.” Especially since I may never have the chance to do so again!

“And you’ve cheered me up more times than anyone else in my life, so you’re doing just fine,” Duo retorted, scrubbing the back of one hand over his face. “Even when it was just by being there, letting me know you were there to talk to when I needed to, or letting me flop in your room and listen to you read out loud when I didn’t want to talk to anyone... anyway. Did you say that technically you’re a demon?! Do they have some really weird prejudices about the ‘Yellow Peril’ over where you are now, or something?”

“They don’t seem to have Asians at all, Duo, so no. Anything and anyone from outside their world is either a ‘demon’ or a ‘devil’ to these people,” Wufei began, accepting the change of subject. “You’d be a demon too, if you’d been caught in that explosion along with me.”

“’Maxwell the Demon’ instead of ‘Maxwell’s Demon’,” Duo grinned, red eyes and the occasional slight hitch in his breathing the only sign that he’d been crying a moment ago. “I like it! So they’re not disappointed that you don’t have horns and flame breath? Though I guess Nataku supplies the flame breath, in a way. Don’t they think it’s odd that you don’t have any supernatural powers, or does being able to pilot a Gundam count?”

“The people who’ve made friends with me are actually quite glad I don’t have horns and flame breath,” Wufei retorted, “since it’ll make it much easier for everyone else to accept me. My appearance is apparently already strange enough to be frightening to some people! From what they’ve--"

“They’ve got elves and dwarves and fuzzy-eared giants and you’re strange?!”

“I told you, they don’t have Asians. Nobody on this world, whether they’re elves or hradani or human or whatever, has exactly my skin tone, straight black hair is incredibly rare, and apparently black eyes are impossible. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen very many of the local inhabitants yet, but they look like a mostly western European mix, with a heavy dose of Scandinavian genes. The darkest hair I’ve seen here is around the same shade as Yui’s.” Wufei sighed and grinned a little sheepishly, smoothing his hair back. “At least the response to my appearance so far has been that I’m ‘exotic’, not ‘ugly’. Demons are normally repulsive, from what I’ve been told, and since the only one I’ve seen was a sort of luminous green amoeba that screamed like fingernails on a blackboard, I’m willing to believe it; if my looks aren’t considered disgusting, people’s first reaction to me is likely to be ‘strange, where’s HE from?!’ rather than ‘demon! kill it!’”

Duo snickered. “So your first demon was basically a giant snotmonster? Eww!”

“Duo, if you ever produce mucus of that colour, you will not only be on the point of death, you will have to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, because you will be radioactive,” the Chinese pilot told him acidly. “And as for lacking supernatural powers, I--"

He was cut off as a sudden ‘ripple’ passed through the void around them, dissolving all the floating stone sculptures and bits of architecture into mist as it passed. Another ripple, and the expanding billows of fog thickened noticeably, sending vaporous fingers between the two teens and blurring their outlines.

“I think our vid call just ran out of coins, or something,” Duo said, glancing around nervously. “Either that, or the monitor needs to be degaussed; we’re getting a lot of static all of a sudden...”

“Krashnark did say he wouldn’t be able to hold it for long,” Wufei said numbly, watching as the colour began to leach out of his own fingers. He swallowed a lump in his throat at the prospect of losing touch with Duo again -- perhaps for good -- and reached out to grasp the braided teen’s hand. “Look after yourself, Duo. And don’t throw away any chance at happiness you may get! You’ve got a chance to build a life where you don’t have to be a soldier any more, don’t have to fight for people who don't appreciate you any more, a life where you can settle down and do what you want to do. Don’t waste it. Especially not because you feel guilty about me, all right?!”

“I won’t,” Duo swore, clinging to his friend’s hand as the mist thickened and they lost sight of each other. “And you look after yourself, too! Don’t you dare make me worry about you! I know you can’t promise me that you’ll always be okay, nobody can promise that, but you can damn well promise me that any fucking snotmonster that takes you down is going to have indigestion by the time you’re through, all right?”

“I promise,” Wufei said, laughing and crying at the same time. “I’ll kick it in the tonsils on the way down!”

Wufei’s hand seemed to melt and slide out of his, and Duo groped through the darkening fog, trying to find him again. “I miss you,” he called desperately, trying for one last word. “We all miss you...”


Heero woke abruptly as he felt Duo moving restlessly beside him. Snuggling closer to the braided teen’s back, he gently rubbed his hand up and down the other boy’s arm, enough to soothe, but not awaken.

I don’t think this is a nightmare, he thought, raising himself up on one elbow until he could see Duo’s face. In the dim light from the hospital’s courtyard lamps shining through the window, he could make out his boyfriend’s features. Rapid eye movement, restlessness, muscle twitches, quickened breathing -- all signs of a nightmare, or at least intensive dreaming... but... he’s smiling?

Heero continued visually monitoring Duo as he dreamed, noting various frowns, fists clenching briefly, a few sighs, a giggle... Once his breathing stuttered, almost sobbing, but it smoothed out again after just a few seconds.

Definitely not a nightmare, thank heaven--

Duo gasped, twisting, and reached out with both hands as if he was grabbing at someone in his dream. “I miss you,” he mumbled, voice blurred by sleep but still desperate. “We all miss you...” Then his eyes snapped open and he lunged upright.

“Duo! Duo, it’s all right, I’m here!” Heero grabbed his shoulders, trying to give him an anchor point, and the braided teen wrapped his arms around him, resting his head on his shoulder.

“Heero! he gasped, happiness mixed with pain in his voice. “He’s alive, Heero! He’s okay! Wufei’s alive!”


“I almost hate to wake th’ lad up,” Cord chuckled, deep voice barely above a whisper. “Whatever he’s dreaming, I’d say it’s good...”

Wufei was lying limp in his sleeping bag, on his back, face turned to one side and one arm stretched upwards, hand loose and open above his head. His normal closed, slightly wary expression was nowhere to be seen; instead, there was a faint, happy smile on his lips.

“For once, I have no idea,” Karthan yawned, stretching. “I didn’t share his dreams last night, and the link is firmly closed-- well now, look at that. He looks a lot older when he’s scowling, doesn’t he?”

“Aye, he does.” Cord frowned in thought for a moment. “How old is he, anyway? I’ve been thinking of him as about the same age as Arwen, here,” he jerked his thumb at the human Champion, “but it occurs to me I’ve nowt to base that on at all, at all, save for the thought that he acts like a belted knight...”

It was Karthan’s turn to frown. “I can’t just lift the answer out of his memories right now, but... I think I already know, sort of, it’s just that it’s never come to the front of my mind... uh... seventeen?” he finished, tentatively.

Seventeen?!” Cord snorted incredulously. “Ah, now, I know humans grow fast, but tha’s ridiculous! Manten’s nowhere near his age in th’ head, an’ he’s twenty!”

“I can believe it,” Arwen said softly, walking over to peer past Cord’s shoulder as the giant hradani crouched down next to Wufei. “There are times and places -- especially in human lands -- where children have to grow up fast, and it sounds like his home is one of them.” There was a quiet, thoughtful pause, and then he thumped the hradani’s shoulder companionably. “So, were you planning to wake up His Demonic Highness any time soon, or were you just going to look at his sweetly dreaming face and sigh?”

“I’d watch it if I were you, laddie,” Cord said dangerously, slanting his ears back and glaring. “One Gunnar is more than enough in this group, I’m thinking.”

“Yes, but I can run faster than him,” Arwen grinned.

“Not faster than a Horse Stealer hradani, you can’t,” Cord muttered, reaching for Wufei’s shoulder. “There’s a reason why we eat ‘em instead of riding ‘em, you know, an’ we have to catch ‘em first... Come on, lad, time to get up and moving! We’ve a few scorpions to stamp on today, an’ they won’t wait around for you to finish your beauty sleep!”

Wufei drew in a sharp breath and jerked before Cord’s hand touched him, though, eyes snapping open. They were vague and unfocussed for barely a heartbeat before he registered that someone was leaning over him, silhouetted against the pre-dawn glow and firelight, reaching out--

One quick flurry of movement later, Cord was blinking up from his new position, flat on his back on the ground with Wufei rearing over him, one hand coming down to strike at his unprotected throat-- then the hand redirected slightly, stabbing into the ground next to his head, and the human/demon was yawning as he sat back.

“Good morning,” he said sleepily, rubbing at his eyes.

“Good morning,” Karthan replied politely, suppressing a snicker as Cord coughed and tried to pull some air back into his lungs. Arwen wasn’t quite so controlled, sniggering helplessly behind one hand.

“An’ a good morning t’you, Wufei lad,” Cord wheezed, pushing himself up into a sitting position with a rather grumpy expression on his face. “You’ve a nasty way of treating people who disturb good dreams!”

“Hm? --Oh,” Wufei said vaguely, only now seeming to realise what he’d done. “Ah. My apologies. It’s safer to wake me up from a distance, actually... standing back and calling my name is probably the best idea.”

“Aye, well, that’s as may be, but the only other time I’ve tried waking you up, nothing like this happened!”

“The only other time you’ve tried waking him up, he didn’t actually wake up,” Karthan pointed out dryly. “Breakfast is nearly ready, Wufei. Did you sleep well?”

“Um. Yes. I think so,” Wufei replied distractedly. “Do we need more water, or did somebody already fetch some?”

“The cook got a double load of water and wood last night, so nobody had to leave the camp to fetch any before dawn, but I think they need more for washing up,” Arwen told him, stifling his last chuckles. “Uthmar’s given orders that nobody is to go outside our sentry line alone, though, so you’ll have to take a group... hmm. I know just who to assign to you, too!”


“If we attack now, my lord, we will have the advantage of surprise,” the assassin whispered impatiently. Showing impatience towards a high priest of the Scorpion was always dangerous, of course, but letting the Order of Torframos meet their attack on equal terms, awake and ready to march, would be even more likely to kill him. Less painfully, perhaps, but--

“Patience,” the priest whispered back, studying the awakening camp through narrowed eyes. “Patience and stealth, those are the virtues of the Scorpion...”

“And they have served us well, my lord, bringing us close enough to attack our enemies before they are prepared,” the assassin pressed on. “We must not lose the opportunity our lord Sharna has given us!”

“Be silent,” the priest snapped, tensing. They were too far away from the camp and it was still too dim for him to make out individual forms easily, but he could feel the thing he held coiled in his hands awaken, yearning towards its target. “The one we seek is moving... there!” A small group was moving towards the woods to their left, and steel hooks bit into his hands as his grip tightened eagerly.

This is the true opportunity lord Sharna has sent us!” he hissed, twisting around to bare his teeth at the assassin in an expression that had nothing to do with a smile. “The one He seeks is leaving the main group and is coming to us, with only a small escort. This is what patience brings!”

“Your pardon, my lord!” the assassin muttered, bowing his head. “I spoke too soon. Your orders?”

“You, and all of your dog brothers, are to come with me,” the priest whispered, crawling back from the edge of the forest. “Send the regular infantry to strike the camp; I want them cut off, unable to aid our target. We will take the demon. And remember!” he said sharply, glaring at the assassin again. “Our lord Sharna will want them alive!”


“Arwen’s going to assign him as one of my guards?” Wufei muttered darkly. “Did I do something nasty to him lately and forget about it?”

Karthan shrugged his weapons harness straight and picked up his axe. “It’s not what you’ve done, Wufei; it’s what Vaijon is. Think of it as a compliment! Arwen’s hoping you’ll be a good example for the brat.”

“Oh?” Wufei turned away from watching Arwen give instructions to the small group of armsmen clustered around Sir Vaijon, and looked sharply at the dwarf next to him. “An example how? He certainly doesn’t seem to need a martial mentor...”

“Common sense and proper knightly behaviour,” Karthan grinned, hooking the axe into place on his back. “The little things, like not discounting people just because their birth rank is low, and not regarding ‘menial’ tasks as ‘beneath’ him; that sort of thing.”

“Oh, really?” Wufei lifted an eyebrow, and then began to smile... rather nastily. “In that case, I need two more buckets.”

He’d hoped to spend a few minutes alone while getting the water -- a few minutes he could have used to good effect, talking to Krashnark. He still wasn’t sure whether he was going to thank the dark god, yell at him, or both, but he would have gotten something out of his system! It was bad enough having any sort of audience for this trip, but Vaijon?

I’ll just have to wait until I’m in Nataku’s cockpit, he told himself, taking the buckets a grinning dwarf was holding out to him with a polite nod. In the meantime, if I’m stuck with Vaijon and supposed to be an ‘influence’ on him, I may as well work at being an influence...

The look on Vaijon’s face when Wufei dumped a pair of buckets at his feet was almost worth it.

“...Sir Wufei?” he asked tentatively, looking at the buckets rather as if he suspected they were poisonous. The honorific had to struggle to make it out past his teeth, but it was there, and Wufei was very careful not to smirk as he nodded and held up his own pair of buckets.

“We need to get water,” he said calmly.

“I am aware of that,” the golden-haired knight-probationer said carefully, “but I was under the impression that we were to guard you.”

And do you think that you’re guarding me from attack, or guarding the group from possible betrayal by me? Wufei thought sourly. “Dahan says he needs four buckets’ worth,” he shrugged. “Either you get water too, or we make two trips. I know what seems more sensible to me.”

“I see,” Vaijon nodded, looking around. Picking one of the men-at-arms, a human, he stepped back and waved towards the buckets on the ground. “Jens, if you would--"

Sir Vaijon.” Wufei’s voice was flat. “I didn’t give Jens the buckets. I gave you the buckets. Jens is armed with a crossbow and needs to be able to carry it in his hands, or it won’t be ready if and when we need him to shoot.”

“And what am I supposed to do if we are attacked?!” Vaijon shot back indignantly, drawing himself up to his full six-foot-four. “Run like a, a peasant farmwife?!”

“You’ll do exactly what I intend to do,” Wufei snapped. “Throw the buckets at your first opponent and draw your sword while he’s distracted. This is a job, Vaijon, it needs to be done and there is no loss of honour in doing it -- and no honour in shirking it!”

Without waiting for an answer, he turned and headed towards the woods, aiming for where Nataku’s map told him there was a small stream. Karthan and the other lay brothers followed, hiding grins with various degrees of success, and Vaijon was left behind, mouth hanging open.

“Well, Sir Vaijon?” Arwen said gently. “What are you waiting for?”

The knight-probationer flushed angrily, but (visibly) resisted the temptation to answer back; instead, he scooped up the buckets and stalked after the small group, silken cloak swirling behind him.

“And it’s such a fine figure of a farmwife he makes, too,” Cord’s deep voice mused from behind Arwen, and the champion nearly choked trying to stifle his laugh so Vaijon wouldn’t hear it.


“I don’t mind telling you, Sir Wufei, I get a creepy feeling walking through these woods,” Jens muttered under his breath, glancing around as they reached the stream. “Am I jumping at shadows, or is there summat here?”

“You’re not jumping at shadows,” Wufei said grimly, looking around. Not that there are too many dark shadows for us to jump at, he mused.

The area of woods they were moving through -- called the Shipwood, Uthmar had told him -- was mostly made up of tall, straight trees that let a fair amount of light through their branches, and seemingly their roots secreted something that kept the underbrush to a minimum, so the tangled ground cover and bushes that Wufei would have expected in a similar forest on Earth wasn’t a problem. Even though the sun was only just peeking over the horizon, he could see clearly, and he thought that the humans and dwarves with him could probably see well enough to shoot if necessary...

...and if he concentrated on looking at the scenery in a slightly different way, he could see smears and puddles of sickly green light everywhere.

“Sharna’s energy is all over this area,” he continued, pitching his voice to carry to every member of the group without being too loud. “I can see it, and you can probably feel it, a little... but the water seems clean. Stay alert.”

“Oh, there’s no way I’m relaxing after hearin’ that, sir,” Jens growled, snugging the butt of his crossbow up against his shoulder. “Let’s get that water and get back out of here, huh?”

“Sounds good to me,” Karthan said, hefting his axe. “Perimeter, lads, everyone faced out and watching!”

Wufei and Vaijon filled the buckets quickly, sliding down the stream bank to a convenient shelf of rock that let them reach the free-flowing water in the centre, away from the weeds and mud at the edge. Getting back up was a little trickier, but Vaijon managed by lifting his buckets up to the edge to free his hands for the climb, swearing under his breath at the mud staining his gloves.

Taking one last look around as he waited for Vaijon to get out of the way, Wufei stiffened as he saw/felt a dense clot of green energy moving closer. He’d seen patches of energy trickling from place to place the night before, seemingly at random, but something was different... It’s not flowing smoothly, he realised. It’s bobbing, moving from side to side and up and down, like a light that someone’s carrying-- “Something’s coming,” he snapped, dropping his buckets and jumping lightly to the top of the bank. “Get ready!”

Vaijon was scrambling to get up, and Wufei reached down and yanked him to his feet without thinking, eyes fixed in the direction the light/energy was approaching from. Nataku, he thought, focussing hard. Disengage energy scan mode. Scan these coordinates, motion detection only--

A map sprang to life in his mind, crawling with little moving dots, and he swore. “We’re surrounded!” he snarled. “Head back now and watch our rear, we may be able to break out before they can bring up their full forces!”

“How many?!” Karthan asked urgently, spinning to run back the way they’d come. “What about the camp?”

“About thirty,” Wufei said grimly. “We can’t expect reinforcements, the camp’s about to be hit too.”

“And how do you know?!” Vaijon snarled.

Wufei turned his head to look at him, and the blond human swallowed, steps faltering as he saw the small demon’s eyes glowing green. “Nataku just told me,” he said, almost conversationally. “Just like she’s telling me that you should look out to your left.”

“Wha--?” Vaijon swivelled automatically to look left, and brought his sword up just in time to block a blow from a dark-clad man who burst up out of the underbrush. Sudden clangs and shouts told him they were being attacked from the other side of the trail as well, and then he was facing three swordsmen at once and had no attention to spare for anything else.

“Thirty against seven?!” Karthan panted, blocking a cut and chopping low, taking his opponent’s legs out from under him. “I hate to tell you this, Wufei, but I don’t think we’re going to break out of this one!”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Wufei grunted, swatting an axe away with the flat of his sword and punching its wielder, sending him flying. “As Duo would say, ‘think of it as a target-rich environment’!” Shadowy red and blue armour was flickering into view around him, and he had no doubts about his ability to handle the mundane opposition they were facing, but that sickly green whatever-it-was was coming closer by the moment and he didn’t really want to stick around to find out what it would do--

Backing up as two of his opponents coordinated their attacks and a third circled around to approach from the side, Vaijon brought his boot heel down on a rock and skidded, staggering backwards. Arms windmilling for balance, wide open to a strike, all he could do was watch as the men facing him grinned nastily, swords coming around to spit him like a rabbit--

--and then there was another sword, blade glowing white, that arced over his shoulder to chop through one of the assassins’ weapons, then twisted to stab the other man through the heart. It wrenched free as Vaijon landed flat on his back, and the demon Wufei was standing over him, twisting around to punch the third man away before he could strike the knight-probationer. His arm seemed to lengthen as he struck, driving the assassin out of sight, but that blow left him off balance and there were more men running around the corner of the trail--


=*Now!*= Sharna’s voice snarled in his priest’s head, and he threw the barbed chain before he even saw the small demon clearly. It knew its target, though, twisting through the air as its length uncoiled, steel hooks gleaming new-forged through the flaking dried blood left from its dedication sacrifice, and snapped securely around his neck and torso, barbs digging deep.


--and Wufei screamed as something coiled around him, cutting through his link to Nataku as if it had never existed. It burned, cold green fire cutting into him wherever it touched his skin, and sharp hooks cut through his clothes into his flesh as he fought it.

“Sir Wufei?!” Vaijon’s face was hovering over him, and he realised he’d collapsed. The thing seemed to coil tighter, choking him, and he tugged weakly at the length around his throat.

“Can’t breathe...” he wheezed, struggling to focus as his vision blurred. Another hand joined his on the chain, then jerked away as the cold fire flared higher. He heard a muttered swear word, then a shout and a clang of weapons, and somebody stumbled over him--

“Bind them and bring them,” a cold, satisfied voice said clearly. “Our Lord is hungry, and waiting...”

End chapter 25

WUFEI: Let me guess. The ‘torture worse than a hangover’ is first on your agenda for next chapter.

MEL: You got it! The dream went on longer than we thought it would, so things got rescheduled.

CHRISTY: Aren’t you glad you got to have a nice long talk to Duo? (pointedly) Wasn’t that nice of Krashnark? Hmmmm?

WUFEI: Ha. He had an ulterior motive.

MEL: What, he’s not allowed to just do something nice without you getting suspicious?

WUFEI: Not when he keeps making comments about ‘future rewards’ and wanting to get into my pants, he’s not.

[Krashnark is lying on the sofa with his legs hanging over the end, looking remarkably limp and pale for a ten-foot-tall handsome god. He isn’t even glowing much.]

KRASHNARK: You’re perfectly safe at the moment, believe me. *wheeze* The way I’m feeling now, you could strip to the skin and wiggle at me and all I’d be able to raise would be an eyebrow. *wheeze* And even that would be an effort...

WUFEI: Ha. As if I’d ever do something like that.

DUO: Oh, give him a break for a day or two, ‘Fei! Now that he’s done that, the evil onnas can’t write you into a depressed funk over everyone else’s fate, can they?

WUFEI: ...They’ll just find something else to depress me about. But I suppose you have a point.

MEL: Well, you might be pretty depressed about the fact that Sharna’s priest plans to torture you to death, I suppose.


DUO: Hey, they won’t kill you off! (glares at Mel and Christy) WILL you?!

CHRISTY: Oh, goodness no.

DUO: Good!

CHRISTY: Not yet, anyway.

DUO: What?!

MEL: Though he may wish we did.

DUO: *sputter!*

WUFEI: It’s futile to argue with them, Duo. Have some vodka. (glares at Krashnark) What I want to know is, where were you when you could have been doing something useful for once? Whatever happened to “Oh, I threatened my little brother so he won’t do anything to you”?!

KRASHNARK (grimly): Oh, believe me, we’re going to be discussing that! *wheeze* Once I get my strength back, that is...


Chapter 26

Gundam Wing


















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