Demon of Justice Chapter 31
room, in which Mel and Christy do almost all of their writing. It’s changed
quite a bit since last we saw it, though; the fish tanks seem to be, er,
multiplying, taking up all the wall space that isn’t occupied by the TV and
sofa, and half-covering the coffee table. Christy is crouched down in front of
the biggest tank, staring in at the fish, and Duo’s standing in the middle of
the room, counting.]
DUO: Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen... no way. I
must’ve counted the ones on the coffee table twice or something. One, two,
QUATRE: What are you doing, Duo?
DUO: Trying to calculate
how long it’ll be before the fish tanks crowd us out of the house. Eight, nine,
QUATRE: Ah. And what is Christy doing?
DUO: Training the
clown barbs to attack on command, I think.
CHRISTY: Okay, kids, let’s try this
again. Hmm... perhaps a training aid would help...
[She drops a food
pellet into the tank and watches as the massed fish dive at it.]
Jaffa! Kree! See, it works!
DUO: Great. Now all you need is enemies that
smell like fish food and jump into your tank.
CHRISTY: I’m sure I could
DUO: Damn it, I’ve lost count. Christy? How many tanks do you
CHRISTY: Hm? Oh, seventeen.
Um, unless you want to count the little plastic thing one of the male bettas is
in, which would make it eighteen.
QUATRE: Oh my.
CHRISTY: And then
there’s the two tanks full of medakas outside, plus the big plastic tub and the
converted flowerpot with the waterlily in it, and the half wine barrel.
DUO: I’m scared now.
CHRISTY: Then there’s the
three-foot tank and stand we have on lay-by. And of course there’s the fish
QUATRE: Oh dear.
DUO: You said it,
Q. Uh... C-chan, that was a very evil snicker. More evil than I think a simple
mention of a fish pond deserves. What’s going on?
CHRISTY: Ohhhh, nothing
much. The crew of the Black Pearl should be being terrorized by giant koi about
now, that’s all.
QUATRE: Ah. Heero said something about
that, but I don’t think he really expected you to pull it off.
(grinning evilly): He should know us better than that by now.
have you done?
CHRISTY: Oh, Mel just twisted space-time a bit. The pond’s
still only six feet long, but now it’s also the size of Lake Burley
Griffin. Big enough for a three-masted pirate ship, with a little voyaging room.
Of course, the fish got, er, ‘stretched’ along with it...
[Down on the
WILL: What the hell is that?!
MR COTTON’S PARROT:
Rawk! Dead men tell no tales!
GIBBS: That’s not a whale... is
ANAMARIA: Whales aren’t bright orange, you fool!
mind what the hell it is, just get it away from my bloody
Demon of Justice
Vaijon flexed his
right hand again, still feeling fading tingles from the energy that had blasted
into him when Sir Uthmar had healed his burns. It hadn’t felt at all like he’d
thought a God-assisted healing would be like; he’d thought it would be more...
well... more spiritual, somehow. More obviously holy. Champion and
wounded man praying together in a gentle haze of the God’s power and light,
The reality had been a far cry from his rather romanticised
imaginings. The dwarven Champion had simply knelt beside him, holding his axe,
laid his free hand on Vaijon’s wrist, told him to hold still, and -- well, he
wasn’t really sure what had happened then. Sir Uthmar had closed his eyes,
frowning slightly, and then all of a sudden his axe had flamed golden and
something had flashed down his arm and into Vaijon, shocking the two of
them apart. Ashamed of having moved when he’d been told not to, Vaijon had
straightened up, about to apologise and ready to try again.
realised that it was over. He was healed. Well, his hand was still slightly
reddened and tender, and Sir Uthmar had warned him that it would take a few days
for his full strength to return to that arm, but his hand worked! It was
a functional hand, not a seared-white claw.
Not at all the way I’d
expected it would be, he thought wryly, sliding down the earthen slope into
the temple’s sacrificial chamber. But then, I’ve turned out to be wrong about
a few things, haven’t I?
He gave the altar a wide berth, feeling
slightly queasy as a waft of rotten-meat smell reached him, mixed with the
coppery scent of fresh blood. Ugh! How that priest could stand over that
altar, in the thick of that stink, I don’t know... well, to a sick-minded
torturer like him, it probably seemed like ‘the smell of power’, or something
equally warped. Good riddance to him.
Reaching the dim corner
where Wufei’s clothing and weapons had been thrown, he started gathering them
up, wrinkling his nose at the dark stains across the back of the pants and
shirt. That doesn’t look like it would wash out easily. It’s a moot point, in
any case, he mused, picking the pants up by their waistband and eyeing the
long, ragged cuts that opened them up all the way down each leg. He’s never
going to be wearing these clothes again...
Wufei’s short black
sleeveless tunic was in a similar state, both shoulders and one side slashed
open, and Vaijon was about to bundle it up with the pants to be burned when a
fold of the silky material slid through his fingers, revealing bright
Spreading the cloth out between his hands, Vaijon squinted at
the strange beast embroidered on it, turning slightly to let it catch the light
coming from behind him. He spent a few puzzled moments working out which bit of
the stylised image was which, and the white swirls had him very confused until
he realised they were meant to depict small clouds or something similar, not
actual body parts, but eventually he managed to decipher it. Something like a
long, snake-like lizard, with impressively taloned feet and a whiskered, fanged
This is a picture of what Sir Wufei’s spirit turned into! he
realised, eyes widening. Sir Wufei was white and this is red and gold, but
it’s the same creature! It looks something like a dragon... is it a family totem
“Did you find them, Sir Vaijon?” came Jens’s voice from behind
him, and he snatched the scrap of cloth out of sight, stuffing it into his
“Ah-- yes, his weapons are here,” Vaijon called back, hurriedly
grabbing up Wufei’s sword and knife. He bundled the shredded pants into the
crook of his arm on top of the weapons, added the black leather wrist bracers
and low slippers to the pile, and was about to stand up when he heard something
metallic clatter onto the stone floor.
“Eh? What’s this?” he muttered,
reaching for the glint of metal and
“Sir Vaijon? What is it?!”
Jens shouted, drawing his sword as he scrambled down the slope into the temple.
Vaijon was sprawled half on his back in a litter of clothes
scraps and weapons, pointing at something in the corner. “It
“It moved!” Vaijon insisted, obviously
resisting the urge to back away across the floor.
“What is it?” Jens
repeated, edging closer and debating whether or not to sheathe his sword again.
Sir Vaijon didn’t seem to think the whatever-it-was rated a physical assault,
but you could never tell with things you found in Dark temples.
know. It was in Sir Wufei’s clothes, and when I picked it up it
“Yeah, I got that part,” Jens muttered, putting his sword
Stepping forward cautiously, he peered into the dim corner.
There was something there all right, something like a tiny belt, about an inch
wide and barely long enough to go around a woman’s wrist. Or Sir Wufei’s
wrist, he corrected himself, thinking of the demon’s deceptively slender
form. He’s got muscles all right, they just don’t show that
“It don’t look like anythin’ the priests would have,” he
muttered, nudging it with his foot; then he shrugged and crouched down, picking
it up. “Funny little thing,” he mused, turning it around to look at the flat
plate of metal and glass set into the middle of it. “I wonder what--”
buzzed in his hand.
“Whoah!” he yelped, flinging it away from him as he
jumped backwards. “Th’ bastard moved!”
“I told you
“I wish I could heal him,” Uthmar said
quietly, eyes on Wufei’s still figure. Karthan and Naiya were cleaning the small
demon’s wounds, with Terrin standing by holding bandages, but he barely seemed
to notice; he’d swallowed something out of his cross-marked metal box, and now
seemed to be almost asleep. He was certainly feeling no pain... which was a
great improvement on the way he had been when they brought him out of the little
room in Nataku’s chest, white-faced and silent, catching his breath whenever
they had to touch or move him.
“Has my Naiya been at you again, then?”
Cord’s deep voice rumbled from behind the dwarf, and he turned to see the
hradani and Arwen.
“No, she seems to have gotten the idea,” Uthmar
snorted. “A lot faster than some people do. There are people in my home mines
who’ve known me for years, and still seem to think that all I have to do to fix
anything and anyone is wave my hand. A few of them, at least, concede that I
would have to ask Torframos nicely, but none of them understand that they’re
better off finding a mage with the right talent or a priest of the right god.
The thing is, I can heal some of them, which is why they don’t want to
hear that I can’t heal their sanitharlahnahk who’s visiting from Mountain Heart
and just happens to have this old wound that nags him on cold nights. As for
Wufei’s case, five days of knowing someone, no matter how eventful those
five days have been, just isn’t enough.”
“It has been a trifle hectic, to
be sure,” Cord grinned.
Arwen frowned slightly. “How long is long
“It’s more a measure of how well you know someone, than how long
it’s been. Thinking of trying for yourself?”
The human Champion nodded
uncomfortably, flushing slightly. “I’ve never felt confident that I
could, and none of the men under my command have ever suffered a wound
that couldn’t be healed normally except when another, more experienced, Champion
was around, so... I’ve never tried. I think I should, though, even if it’s just
to find out whether or not I have the ability. Better to find out now, than to
try it on a battlefield and then find out that I can’t.”
sensible enough idea, Arwen, but it doesn’t really work that way,” Uthmar said
ruefully. “If I don’t have to heal someone, then most of the time I
can’t. Like Gunnar’s side... it’s a fairly serious wound, and it’ll be some time
before he’s fit to fight again, but he will eventually heal. I tried to heal it
myself, and I couldn’t. If he had wound-fever, though, or if we were expecting
to have to fight again tomorrow and needed every man on his feet, I’d bet fifty
copper kormaks to a dried bean that it would have worked.”
blinked. “And Vaijon’s hand...?”
“Was never going to heal by itself.”
Uthmar shrugged. “There are a few Champions who can heal just about anything,
life-threatening or not, but most of us are either like me, or can’t heal at
all. Torframos hasn’t talked to you about it?”
“Um, no, he
“Then I wouldn’t worry about it; when you need to, you’ll be
able to. If you didn’t have the ability, he would have warned you not to count
Arwen grinned, visibly relaxing. “That’s a relief. You know, I
think I’ve read almost everything the Order has written down about Champions,
and what you’ve just told me was more information than I’ve found in any of the
“Well, those records tend to be written by non-Champions,” Uthmar
pointed out. “We don’t tend to have enough time to settle down in a Chapterhouse
with a quill and a pile of parchment.”
“And would it happen to be that
the people who do write the books are too much in awe of your eminence to
trap you in a quiet corner and start asking questions?” Cord asked
“I wasn’t going to put it quite that way, but you’re not too
far off the mark.”
Arwen coughed a few times, then got his face mostly
straight and went on. “So... even if you did know Wufei well enough to heal him,
you probably wouldn’t be able to because he’ll heal by himself?”
it.” Uthmar scowled. “Even though he’s being stubborn about it.”
oh. Th’ lad won’t use Karthan as a, whadday’call it, template?”
his wounds might transfer over, yes. I can’t even tell him that I’ll heal
Karthan if that happens, because I probably wouldn’t be able to -- unlike last
time. Deafness is a longer-term problem than a bunch of deep cuts.
Unfortunately, Wufei also won’t open his link to Nataku to speed up his
healing, because he doesn’t trust himself not to get trapped again.” Uthmar
sighed, blowing air through his moustache. “I think it’ll be a while before he
stops being a bit nervous about that.”
“’A bit nervous’?” Cord’s ears
tilted at a comical angle. “I’d be a wee bit more than nervous if I thought
there was any chance my mind could get sucked out of my body and stuck in a big
suit of metal armour, or whatever Nataku is!”
“Even without opening his
link he’ll still heal fast, though, won’t he?” Arwen said anxiously.
certainly. Far faster than anyone else would,” Uthmar reassured him. “He’s just
not going to enjoy the next several days at all--”
“Sir Uthmar? Sir
“Jens?” The mismatched trio turned around to see the armsman
hurrying up behind them, an expression of mixed worry and relief on his
“I know that look,” Uthmar muttered under his breath. “’Oh good,
someone I can toss this hot potato to...’ What is it?”
“Sir Vaijon was
getting Sir Wufei’s clothes and weapons out of the temple, sir-- sirs--” Jens
began, nodding his head in an abbreviated courtesy to Arwen and Cord. “--and he
found something else with the clothes. We don’t know what it is, but it’s, uh,
“Yessir. Sir Vaijon’s bringing
it now, sir.”
“You must be worried if you’re being that formal,”
Uthmar snorted, moving past him to peer towards the temple. “I haven’t heard you
say ‘sir’ that many times in one conversation since the time you got caught
sneaking your ‘cousin’ into the barracks.”
Jens looked offended. “She
was my cousin, sir!”
“Of course she was. Your kissing
“Don’t tease the armsmen when they’re
under stress, Uthmar,” Arwen said absently, looking off towards the
newly-excavated temple entrance. “It’s not nice. --What is he
Vaijon was picking his way over towards them, a bundle of
clothes and weapons held awkwardly in one arm, and his other arm held out
stiffly from his body. Something was dangling from his outstretched hand,
pinched between two fingertips as if he wanted as little contact with it as
possible, and just after Arwen first saw him he flinched violently, almost
“I told you, sir,” Jens said wearily. “It keeps
“Y’look like a maiden with a dead mouse by th’ tail, lad,” Cord
called to Vaijon, barely suppressing a snicker.
“I don’t mind admitting
that it’s extremely unsettling,” Vaijon said emphatically as he came up, for
once not taking offence.
“Like t’see you hold it wi’out jumpin’,
big ‘un,” Jens muttered under his breath.
Tufted ears twitched. “Oh,
y’would, would you? Give that over here for a moment, if y’don’t
Vaijon almost dropped the little belt-thing in his eagerness to
hand it over; Arwen opened his mouth to object, then shrugged and just leaned
closer to examine it in Cord’s hand.
“A little lower, if you two
beanpoles would be so kind?” Uthmar said through gritted teeth. “I’m not about
to jump up and down like a dog at a treat!”
“My apologies, little man,”
Cord said genially, leaning over and stretching his hand downwards. “It’s a neat
little thing, whatever it is-- hey!”
The little black-and-silver
object went flying as he jumped, ears flattening.
“I warned you.” “Told
y’ so.” Vaijon and Jens spoke simultaneously.
“Damn thing tickles!” Cord
said incredulously, shaking his hand to rid it of the lingering
“If you’re all quite finished playing with the
potentially dangerous object?!” Uthmar stomped across to where it had landed and
picked it up, feeling for any trace of unhealthy energy. Torframos? Is it
safe, or can I start chopping people’s hands off to limit
=*Now, now, just because they’re acting like idiots is no
reason to maim them...*=
Can you think of a better one? Uthmar hefted
the little thing in his hand, turning it to look at the flat crystal surface.
I can’t feel Sharna’s energy in this, so it’s probably Wufei’s--
agree,*= the god told him, heaving a semi-humorous mental sigh. =*I can’t
feel it at all.*=
“Eh? This thing’s a clock!”
“A what?” Cord
crowded up behind Uthmar, peering down over his head. “A clock? Are you
“Look at it! Look at how tiny it is!” The dwarf blinked at it,
eyebrows vanishing into his hairline. “My cousin’s husband makes pocket clocks,
but the smallest one he’s ever made would come close to filling the palm
of your hand. This thing’s the size of my thumbnail!”
“Does your cousin’s
husband make clocks that buzz?”
“He makes clocks that cuckoo,” Uthmar
said absently, running one thick finger over the side of the metal part. “Hmm...
there’s a little knob on the side here, but I don’t see how you’d ever get a
grip on the damn thing to-- hnk!”
His arm jerked, nearly elbowing Cord in
the groin as the tiny clock demonstrated its ability to vibrate yet again, but
he managed to not throw it away.
“...Rrrriiight,” he said slowly,
bringing it back in front of his face and looking at it with renewed caution. “I
think we’ll just put this somewhere safe and ask Wufei what in Krahana’s hells
it is once he’s awake enough to answer questions, shall we?”
* * * *
Heero opened his eyes at the sound of water flushing nearby, blinking
in the early-morning light filtering in through his curtains. The blue and white
tones Relena had furnished his room in turned any colour of sunrise into a cool
snow-and-ice glow, and he found himself smiling as he stretched. It had only
been a couple of days since Duo had come ‘home’ from the hospital, but they’d
already settled into the house as if it had been theirs for months.
never paid any attention to the idea that colour can affect your mood, he
thought, but I have to admit that this is very... soothing. I don’t think I’d
feel nearly as comfortable in Quatre and Trowa’s room. Duo’s is nice,
Of course, the colour isn’t the only reason I find this
The mattress beneath him was firm, but still almost
sinfully soft from his point of view, and he felt slightly guilty as he wriggled
deeper under the covers to snatch another five minutes of relaxation. I’m
even staying in bed until seven! I shouldn’t get used to this, but... Duo
needs his rest, and we’re leaving the doors open so I can hear him if he needs
anything in the night, so if I get up he’ll hear me, and... hm.
I’m getting pretty good at rationalising laziness, too.
sounds from the bathroom that lay between the two downstairs bedrooms reached
his ears, and he forgot about lecturing himself as he mentally followed Duo’s
progress. There was splashing water and the creak of a tap as Duo washed his
hands, then a faint squeak of rubber tips on tile as he swung around on his
crutches to dry his hands. Another squeak as he started to leave the bathroom; a
faint curse and rustle of cloth as he paused to dry the handgrips; two more
squeaks before he reached the door into his room, and then the sound was lost as
he moved onto the carpet. Heero counted three slow breaths before there was a
series of clicks as Duo unlocked the glass door leading onto the
Looks like he’s serious about sticking with his morning hot tub
sessions, Heero thought, sitting up and swinging his legs out of bed. He
may not be allowed to start physical therapy on his leg yet, but he got Dr. Modi
to agree that soaking in a hot tub with the jets going was something close to
mild hydrotherapy and allowed, and now he’s determined to get a head
start. I’d have to laugh if he wasn’t so serious about it.
‘As if you’d
be any less serious about it if you were in his place,’ a quiet, critical
voice at the back of his head put in. ‘In fact, you can bet you’d be worse.
Do you honestly think you’d actually restrict yourself to doing only what the
doctor told you was permissible?’
Shut up, Heero told the little
voice, and got up to make breakfast.
Heero was halfway
through reading the mission plan-- er, the instructions for making french toast,
rather doubtful about whether a fried mixture of bread, milk and eggs could
really be as good as Quatre insisted it would be, when the vidphone rang. He
eyed it suspiciously for a moment, then shrugged and accepted the call, sound
“Hello?” he said flatly, turning back to his recipe book. If
that’s an early telemarketer, they’re going to regret--
They said yes! > > an excited voice
< < Yes, it’s me, it’s me, > >
she confirmed, still sounding unusually hyper. < < Didn’t you hear me?
They said yes! After only one session! Aren’t you excited?! > >
thoroughly puzzled, Heero twisted around to stare at the dark screen as if he
could somehow work out what had the ex-princess so worked up. “Who said yes to
< < The cabinet! Lady Une! They-- oh, would you just turn
your screen on, Heero?! > >
Giving way to the inevitable, Heero
turned his chair around to face the vidphone and hit the ‘accept video’ button.
Relena’s image sprang into view, neatly groomed and perfectly presented as
usual, yet somehow more... animated? Is she actually bouncing up and
“So... the interim cabinet has accepted Lady Une as the head of
the peacekeepers?” he half-guessed.
< < Yes! After only one
discussion session! Well, we did go overtime by a few hours-- >
Try about nine, if you just got out of the legislative
chambers, Heero corrected her mentally, eyeing the clock. The late-night
cabinet meetings were supposed to finish at around ten PM, and it was almost
half past seven.
< < --but I was expecting the conservatives, the
pacifists, and the hardboiled anti-OZ factions to drag things out for at
least four sessions between them. Half of the conservative group were
actually supporting me right from the start, and I hadn’t even warned them who I
was planning to nominate! Of course I warned everyone I could depend on to
support me, so they could get their arguments lined up in advance, but I was
sure the conservative alliance were going to oppose whoever I put forward just
on principle! Lady Une herself was harder to convince! > > Relena seemed
to sober slightly. < < I think she had herself convinced that as soon as
we got around to it, she was going to be either shot or locked up for life.
She’s been... um... well, sort of under house arrest, protective custody really,
and... she’s been awfully quiet. > >
“Resigned to her fate?”
Trowa’s quiet voice came from behind Heero, and Relena glanced up and
< < Good morning, Trowa, Quatre. Yes... I think that’s a
good description. Plus depressed. It took her a while to really understand what
I was offering her, and then she started bringing up all the objections I’d
expected to hear from the cabinet members. Actually, arguing with her was good
practice! > >
“What finally convinced her?”
< < Well.
> > Relena squirmed slightly, looking uncomfortable. < < I was, ah,
a bit reluctant to use Duo’s argument... you know, that heading up the
Preventers and working for world peace would be the same as working towards
Treize’s goals, just by a different route. --Oh, and that is the official name
now! The cabinet agreed about that too. So although I didn’t actually mention
Treize as such, I did point out that world peace was OZ’s official
goal, so that really she was going to be doing essentially the same job as
before, and-- > >
“--you let her draw her own conclusions.” Trowa
smirked. “Nice hair-splitting.”
Relena actually giggled. < <
Please! That wasn’t hair-splitting, that was sophistry. And at least it did the
job! > >
“Hn.” Heero felt his mouth quirking up into an unwilling
smirk of his own as Quatre leaned forwards over his shoulder, looking
“Relena... how much coffee did you drink to get through the
< < Um. I’m not sure. > > She blinked and
gazed off into space, apparently counting under her breath. < < Er... they
kept bringing fresh jugs... > >
“Oh dear.” Quatre turned stricken
eyes towards Heero and Trowa. “The future of the world is being decided by a
group of people who all have coffee jitters.”
< < Hey! We are not
all coffee addicts! > > Relena mock-frowned at him, visibly restraining
another giggle. < < Most of the L3 representatives drink ginseng and
guarana, and everyone from your colony goes through enough tea to float a
battleship! > >
“That’s just as bad!”
She stuck her tongue
out at him.
“...You realise that proves my point.”
Anyway! > > She flapped her hands at him. < < The
important thing is that Lady Une agreed to accept the position if the
interim cabinet accepted her -- hmm, maybe she was assuming that the cabinet
would say ‘no’ and only agreed because it was easier than refusing? -- and the
cabinet agreed, and we got the best person for the job, which is what we wanted.
Now all I have to do is fight to make sure that the Preventers are actually set
up as an effective force, and funded properly, and keep an eye on the
legislative committees so they don’t perpetrate something awful in the name of
law, and sign a ridiculous amount of paperwork -- oh, and wonder why, exactly,
the conservatives did support me. Wonderful. Now that I’m over being
flabbergasted by their attitude, I’m starting to wonder about their motives.
Hmmm. I suppose I should start my staff looking for bear traps in the political
bushes. I’ll talk to you all later, okay? I’m going to need more advice! ‘Bye!
“Goodb--” Quatre began, only to stop and sigh as the screen
blanked. “Well. That was a new experience.”
“And an interesting one,”
“Hn.” Heero stood up and thrust the cookbook into Trowa’s
hands. “I’m going to go tell Duo his idea worked. You make Quatre’s
Heero paused just inside the glass
doors, looking out over the patio to the hot tub. Duo was sitting side-on to
him, scrunched down until his chin was barely above the water surface, head
He’s having a hard time, he thought, feeling guilty. And
so much of what’s bothering him is my fault...
Duo might be good at
hiding his true feelings when he wanted to, but Heero was getting better at
seeing through the masks. I’m pretty sure he isn’t having nightmares about
Wufei any more, but he still worries... he still misses him. I still don’t know
exactly what sort of relationship he and Wufei had-- have, but I do know
they’re important to each other. And his leg hurts, and he almost never takes
his painkillers, and he hates having to wear the brace, and being at less than
full ability for so long has to be driving him crazy,
Heero sighed unhappily, then straightened his shoulders and
put on his own mask -- the nearly expressionless ‘I’m not going to do anything
so undisciplined as to actually laugh, but I am amused’ Perfect Soldier
look -- and opened the sliding door noisily, head tilted down and slightly away
from Duo as he ‘concentrated’ on the latch. By the time he had the door open and
stepped through, Duo was looking up at him with a grin.
“Hey, Heero!” he
called, waving. “Water’s great, as usual. Are you coming in, or is it breakfast
“I came to commiserate with you on missing the opportunity of a
lifetime,” Heero said calmly, allowing his not-quite-smile to widen a
“Oh? What did I miss?”
“Relena on a caffeine
“What?!” Duo sat up straighter in the swirling water,
looking as if he wanted to leap out then and there. “Where is she? What did she
do? Damn it, why didn’t you tape her?! Talk about blackmail
“She ‘phoned -- from her office, I think -- she was burbling
and hyper, we were so surprised that none of us thought to record the call until
it was too late, and you’re quite right; we could have sold copies of it for a
lot of money.” Heero swung himself down to sit on the edge of the tub,
careful not to knock Duo’s crutches out of his reach. “Apparently those
late-night cabinet meetings are fuelled by coffee, tea, and
“Wow.” Duo blinked for a moment, considering, and then grinned
again. “Okay, the next time we know she’s in a late session, we leave a message
with her office for her to call us as soon as she gets out, and then we sit up
and wait, okay?”
“Sounds like a plan. Are you planning to get out any
time soon, or would you like breakfast in bath?”
“Ahh, I’ll come inside
to eat.” Duo shrugged casually, but Heero caught the nearly invisible wince as
he shifted his leg. “Don’t want to get too pruny -- I have to think of my
“Your ‘public’?” Heero twisted around to eye the (empty)
back yard ostentatiously. “Since when do you have a ‘public’?”
all have small but vocal fan clubs as well as hate groups, y’know,” Duo shot
back. “In this case, however, I was referring to the nice old ladies across the
street who think I’m a ‘poor boy’ who needs to be mothered. Haven’t you met them
He frowned slightly, considering. “The ones in the red brick house
with all the cats on the porch?”
“That’s them,” Duo confirmed. “I can’t
take a single step onto the sidewalk without one of them just happening
to pass by and inquire after my health, your health, Q and Tro’s health, our
plans for the day, our families, our pasts, our hopes and dreams, and what we
had for breakfast. They’d make great intelligence operatives.”
frown deepened. “I’m not sure I like that.”
“Actually, I think they could
come in handy,” Duo disagreed, starting to lever himself up to his feet. “Sure,
we’re going to have to be careful not to slip out of character in front of them
because if we do, they will notice, but we were going to have to watch
that anyway. The thing is, they stick their noses into everyone’s
business, and happily gossip about what they find out, and everyone else in the
neighbourhood is so used to it that they’ve worked out elaborate excuses and
strategies to avoid having to listen to them. If we talk to them once in a
while, we’ll know the minute someone suspicious moves into the neighbourhood,
starts asking questions, or just drives through.”
“And anyone else who
talks to these women will find out everything they know about us,” Heero pointed
“Sure!” Duo grinned, getting his crutches adjusted and
carefully hopping himself up out of the hot tub. “They’ll find out all about
four nice, polite, wealthy boys who are not at all secretive or standoffish,
not--” his smile slipped a little “--five nasty, skulking Gundam pilots who keep
to themselves and refuse to talk to anyone. They should go look somewhere else
“Well...” Heero shrugged as he stood up, conceding the
point. “You’re the people skills specialist, so if you say so I’m not going to
argue. It’ll have to be you and Quatre who do the talking to them,
“I kind of guessed that. So, what’s the plan for
“Nothing fixed, yet. What would you like to do?”
hummed thoughtfully under his breath, swinging into his bedroom through the
still-open door. “Actually, I kinda feel like being lazy. What say I beat the
pants off all of you guys on some of those board games ‘Lena supplied us
“Oh, man!” Duo groaned,
throwing himself back in his chair as he clutched his hair dramatically. “Q, I
don’t believe you’re doing this to me!”
“It’s got a hotel,” Quatre
pointed out, minutely straightening one of his many property deeds and smiling
pleasantly. “That makes the rent five hundred and eighty credits.”
idea was it to play Monopoly, anyway?” Duo grumbled, starting to count the
required amount out from his dwindling funds.
Don’t spoil my complaints with the facts, man.”
Duo handed over the money
and glared at the board as he rattled the dice, about to roll again. His
previous throw had been a double two, putting him smack into the middle of some
of Quatre’s best properties, and once his little motor car rounded the next
corner and passed ‘Go’ he was going to be on Trowa’s side of the board. Somehow
the unibanged pilot had managed to buy every single property on the side closest
to himself, and his income from that stretch was nicely compensating for the few
times he missed ‘Free Parking’ and ‘Community Chest’ to land on Quatre’s hotels.
Quatre owned practically all the rest of the properties, plus all the railroads
and utilities, leaving Heero and Duo hanging on by their fingernails with three
and four properties respectively.
Counting the spaces to the next
relatively safe square, Duo crossed his fingers and tossed the dice. “Come on,
six--! Woohoo!” Hopping his token along to the ‘Chance’ square, he reached
across to pick up the top card. “’Get Out of Jail Free’. Well, I guess it’s
simpler than lockpicks...”
“That was a double too,” Trowa pointed out,
passing the dice back. “One more, and you’re going to need that
Duo shrugged, counting again. “Eh, easy come, easy go. A three
would be good here...”
He threw. Two single pips stared up at him
Trowa helpfully moved Duo’s token to
‘Just Visiting’ as Heero took the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card out of his limp
hand and returned it to the stack.
“Like you said,” Quatre said
cheerfully, picking the dice up for his turn. “Easy come, easy go!”
I missed getting my two hundred creds again! At least I didn’t have to
pay the fine to get out this time.”
“You have been spending rather a lot
of time in jail,” Heero agreed, watching as Quatre’s top hat stopped safely on
one of his own squares.
“Never happens in real life,” Duo groused,
scrunching down in his chair. “Well, okay, it happens, but I’ve never had to pay
to get out yet!”
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘Shoot Your Way Out Of
Trouble’ card in this game,” Heero muttered, picking the dice up and eyeing his
situation. His boot was sitting on one of Duo’s properties -- in fact, the only
reason Duo had had enough money to pay rent to Quatre was because he’d just
received some from Heero. Unfortunately, this left Heero with almost no cash,
and a long stretch of Quatre’s houses and hotels looming ahead of him. He
“One, two, three, f-- kuso!”
“I believe that’s one of my
railroads,” Quatre informed him. “That’ll
“--eh?” Blinking, Quatre turned to look at
“I object!” Duo repeated, drawing himself up. “In fact, I do more
than object, I’m calling for an investigation by the Consumer Protection Agency,
and it’s my belief that they’ll find you guilty of price-fixing and having an
illegal monopoly on essential goods and services. You’re in trouble
“Duo, what are you talking about?!” Quatre protested, laughing.
“This game is called Monopoly, for goodness’ sake!”
“Not any more
it’s not! That’s an outmoded capitalist concept, that is, totally inappropriate
in today’s enlightened society. You’re a bloated plutocrat grinding the faces of
the proletariat, you are! I insist that you divest yourself of some of your
holdings. In fact, just to be safe, you should divest yourself of most of
‘em.” Duo grinned. “New house rule. The person who spends the most time in jail
at the start of the game is therefore proven to be a politician, and gets to
mold society. That would be me... so we’re communist now, we are. Welcome to the
New Era, comrades!”
“Sounds good to me,” Heero grinned back, noting the
renewed sparkle in Duo’s eyes. “Got a red flag I can raise?”
“Don’t I get
any say in this?” the blond asked plaintively.
“No! Be grateful you’re
not facing a firing squad!”
“Does that make me a capitalist running dog
lackey of the system too?” Trowa enquired. “I am using the scottie dog,
“Oh, you’re only a minor parasite,” Duo informed him as he
started ‘confiscating’ Quatre’s properties and returning them to the bank. “You
can probably repay your debt to society by turning some of your lands over to
the People to be converted into low-rent housing for underprivileged families.
Of course, that’ll lower property values in the neighbourhood -- pity all the
rest of your land is in the same place, isn’t it? Still, it’s not as if anyone
really needs to make a profit here in the United Gundam Socialist
* * * * *
“Is he awake yet?”
Wufei didn’t move
as the half-whispered question roused him from vague dreams. Pain plus
Person nearby attempting stealth equaled Potential threat
situation! to his well-trained instincts, so he found himself immediately
alert and reaching out with all his senses to analyse the situation. He felt
weak and heavy, and there was a dull throbbing pain down his chest, stomach and
thighs, a sharper pain in his right hand, the feel of bandages and a rough
blanket covering him... he didn’t seem to be restrained, which was good, but the
quality of the blanket balanced that out, implying cell
Scent and sound came next, telling him of cool fresh air and
woodsmoke, something cooking nearby, the quiet sounds of a large group of men at
ease all around him. The sounds were a little muffled, but not as much as they
would have been by solid walls. Not a cell, then, he thought, and the
environment suggests a camp... the Manguanacs? Or Sally Po’s resistance
The whisper came again. “Naiya, is he--”
“No he is
not awake!” hissed a female voice, quieter but closer. “Now go away and
wait, before you wake him up yourself!”
“Sneakin’ around and
whisperin’ is more likely to wake him up than not, y’know,” a deep voice
rumbled, sounding faintly amused.
...Ah. “He’s right, actually,” Wufei said, opening
his eyes. His voice rasped, and speaking made it obvious that his throat was
painfully dry, but otherwise everything seemed to be in working order. Though
I don’t think I’ll try moving much else just now.
managed to roll his head to one side, enough to see Naiya kneeling by his low
pallet, with Terrin and Cord peering in through the tent flap. Past them, he
could see the Order of Torframos going about the usual camp
“Thank goodness!” Naiya burst out, hands hovering near Wufei as
if she wanted to hug him but wasn’t sure where was safe to touch. “Wufei, you’ve
been asleep for over a day!”
“How do you feel?” Terrin put
“Um.” Wufei frowned, considering. In pain, weak, slightly lightheaded
-- in fact, he rather suspected he wasn’t tracking properly -- and with a tired,
hollow feeling in his head and chest that somehow bothered him more than
anything else. “Like about five miles of bad road... which is actually better
than I expected.” Certainly better than I’d be feeling now if that damned
priest had had a few more minutes in which to work!
Judging by what
he’d learned about the theological side of life in this world, ‘damned’ was
probably exactly the right adjective, too.
“Bad road...?” Naiya echoed,
Wufei grimaced, starting to wave one hand dismissively and
then abruptly deciding that it was a bad idea and he was going to stay
still now, thank you. “It’s something Duo says when he’s, um, moderately banged
up,” he explained, closing his eyes against a fresh wave of pain. Or when
he’s been trashed, to put it bluntly, and doesn’t want to admit it. And make
that ten miles. “...Could I have something to drink, please?”
course!” Naiya scrambled up to her feet and dove out the tent flap, pushing
between her father and Terrin; Cord just swayed slightly, but Terrin staggered
to one side, nearly knocked over by the force of her passage. “I’ll be right
“Tell Uthmar and the others th’ lad’s awake, too!” Cord called
after her. “They’ll be wanting to talk t’him ‘bout that little
“She won’t tell them if she thinks Wufei needs more rest,” Terrin
pointed out, rubbing his shoulder ruefully.
“I know.” Cord grinned. “But
they’ll’ve heard me, now won’t they?”
“You are a cunning man,
Cord, and I’m proud to know you.” The human hunter carefully edged inside the
tent and sat down next to Wufei’s pallet, peering at him worriedly. “Damn,
Wufei, you look-- um. Er. Ah, Cord, why did you say whispering was more likely
to wake him up?”
Cord’s ears tilted to comical angles at Terrin’s
ludicrously clumsy attempt to change the subject, but he responded politely
enough as he folded his bulk into the limited space available. “’Cause
whisperin’ and sneakin’ will wake any good warrior up faster than a tree fallin’
on his tent. If someone’s sneakin’ around him, what’s to say they’re not
sneakin’ up on him?”
“Oh.” Terrin blinked. “I guess that makes
The corner of Wufei’s mouth quirked up in a faint smile. “Perfect
sense,” he confirmed. “I can sleep through almost anything, if the voices
and sounds around me are ones I know, and know are safe. Someone being stealthy,
on the other hand, will wake me up immediately. --And so will Duo snickering,”
he added thoughtfully. “That’s a very dangerous noise. It usually means he’s
either plotting something, or he’s finished plotting and is now doing
something that I’m not going to like when I find out about it.”
as?” Cord grinned.
“Um... drawing on my face as I sleep. Dyeing my
underwear strange colours. Tying my pants legs in knots. Rigging my computer to
play the Marseillaise at top volume next time I open an e-mail.
“Rigging your what to play what when you
“Um... never mind. It was annoying, that’s all you need to
Before Cord and Terrin could ask any more questions, Uthmar and
Arwen were at the tent flap, closely followed by a fuming Naiya clutching a cup
and jug. “There’s not enough room in there for you all!” she snapped, pushing
Arwen out of the way and glaring pointedly at her father. “If the Champions need
to talk to Wufei, fine, but you two are leaving first, and any more
talking can wait until after he’s had a drink!”
“Yes, ma’am,” the
Champions chorused, straight-faced, and Cord laughed.
“Looks like we’ve
got our marching orders, lad,” he said, patting Wufei carefully on one shoulder.
“We’ll talk some more when you’ve had a rest, eh?”
“I will look forward
to it,” Wufei whispered, closing his eyes for a moment. Yes... very
After Wufei had had his drink and been resettled comfortably
on his pallet, Naiya twitched his pillow into place, smoothed his blanket, and
left -- not without a parting glare at the two Champions and a promise to come
“Is it just me, or did that sound like a threat?” Arwen asked
nervously, looking after her.
“I think it was definitely a threat,”
Uthmar nodded, scratching his beard. “Something along the lines of, ‘if you’re
still keeping Wufei awake when I get back, you’ll regret it’. We’d better keep
this short. Not to put too fine a point on it, Wufei, you’re not looking very
“Better than when you were out of your body,” Arwen hastened to
“I’ll be fine,” Wufei insisted, dragging his eyes fully open.
“What did you need to talk to me about? Cord said something about a
“This,” Uthmar said, reaching into his belt pouch. “What
is this, and why is it buzzing?!”
“Buzzing--? Oh!” Wufei managed a
short, breathy laugh, carefully taking the watch in his left hand. “It’s just my
watch. It’s got an alarm...” His voice trailed off as he held it for a moment,
waiting; then it vibrated quietly, a quick string of long and short pulses. “Ah.
That’s the code that tells me somebody’s got into Nataku.”
Arwen let out
his breath in a groan, slumping backwards and raising his eyes to heaven (or at
least the tent roof). “That’s all?!”
“Well, it can be fairly
important, you know.”
“Oh, I realise that, but-- you have no idea how
much of a fuss that thing caused! People squawking and dropping it and throwing
it around and looking at it like it was a snake. Myself included,” Arwen
“Heh. I suppose it would be fairly upsetting
if you weren’t expecting it.” Come to think of it, there was that time Duo
got hold of an antique joy buzzer...
“Well, now that we know what it
is, we can stop fussing and let you get some more rest,” Uthmar told him,
heaving himself to his feet. “--Um, you can turn it off, can’t
“Oh yes. Already did it.”
“Good. Don’t worry about taking a
while to recover,” the dwarf told him firmly, patting him on the same shoulder
as Cord. “We’re camped, we’re safe, we’re guarded, and we’re in no hurry to go
anywhere, all right? I shudder to think what Krashnark would say to us if we let
you exert yourself before you’re well!”
“Remind us to tell you about what
he did, later,” Arwen added, following the senior Champion out.
the moment, Wufei dropped the watch next to his pillow and relaxed, lying limp.
“I’m surrounded by mother hens,” he muttered, eyeing one particular corner of
the tent roof a little sourly. “And you’re the worst of them.”
How did you know I was here?*= Krashnark asked
“Quantum physics, for all I know,” Wufei told him, closing
his eyes. “’Night.”
DUO: I do not. Frickin’. Believe
[He’s standing in the combined fish & writing room in the
onnas’ house, as usual. In the time it’s taken to write this chapter, the fish
tanks have... er...]
DUO: Since when do you have twenty-seven
Goddamned fish tanks?!
MEL: Thirty-three, if you count the little plastic
DUO: I’m trying not to!
CHRISTY: And you’re ignoring the
DUO: On purpose! Never mind the ones outside or the little
plastic thingies, why the heck do you have so many fish tanks in this
QUATRE: I’d like to know how you fit them all in,
MEL: Skill. And sheer bloody-minded refusal to admit that there
CHRISTY: We needed them. We keep finding horribly abused fish
that we have to rescue.
WUFEI: You mean the local pet shop owners are
taking advantage of the fact that if a fish is all alone in a tank, or slightly
odd, you’ll feel sorry for it.
CHRISTY: Oi! That mollie was
MEL: And some evil person might have bought Sammy to use
him as live food!
[She points at a large, bright red, one-eyed goldfish
that’s lazing happily around in one of the tanks.]
HEERO: Isn’t Sammy the
one that ate most of your neon tetras?
I don’t think he had anything to worry about.
TROWA: And I thought you
weren’t planning to buy any more bettas?
MEL: Hey! We needed them for our
DUO: You mean you’re breeding
CHRISTY: They’re deltas! And double-tails! It’s only
veiltails we aren’t buying now. And you can’t keep bettas together, so we
had to buy more multi-compartment tanks.
[In one of the tanks, a
bright red double-tailed betta pauses to fluff up his fins and
KOUGAIJI: *i’m the prettiest!*
LEGOLAS: No you
aren’t. I am.
MEL: Eh? What was that,
LEGOLAS: Nothing. On the subject of fish, however... weren’t the
pirates in enough trouble before you put the four fourteen-inch-long goldfish in
LEGOLAS: There’s a pirate ship on the
pond. They shrunk it, or stretched the pond, or something, which means the
goldfish are almost big enough to swallow it whole.
CHRISTY: Eh. Jack’s
resourceful. They’ll be fine.
[Down on the pond:]
it comes again!
MR. COTTON’S PARROT: RAWWWWWK!
WILL: My sentiments
GIBBS: Cannons ready! Fire on the downroll!
the bloody dramatics and find me a port to steer for, already!
(unnaturally calm): I thought your compass could point you
JACK: It’s not working!
ANAMARIA: Oh great. Now we
really are sunk.
JACK: Look, just because the compass isn’t
working doesn’t mean I can’t--
ANAMARIA: No, I mean we’re sinking. That
last bump burst a plank.
MR. COTTON’S PARROT: Rawk.
GIBBS: I agree
with the bird.
[Back in the house:]
MEL: Yeah. They’ll be
WUFEI: I trust your reassurances about them about as much as I
trust you when you say things like “It’ll be easy to kidnap that manga
character; go get him”. Perhaps we should check--
[Wufei is interrupted
by a shower of Official Pseudo-Biblical Chroniclerereth Sparkly Dust, and
Dogmatix appears, teleporting in about six inches off the floor. She drops to
the floor and staggers sideways, bumping into Wufei.]
Have you been working outeth, Wufei?
WUFEI: I never stopped. ...Don’t
tell me. You’re here for that ‘eth’ nonsense.
DOGMATIX: But of courseth!
And I’m Mel’s Official Muse, too-eth!
[She points proudly to a new sign
around her neck, hanging slightly crooked on the Official Chroniclerereth
HEERO: Great. Does this mean the eth-ing is going to creep into
the main stories?
DOGMATIX: Of courseth not. I’m a Muse, not a
HEERO: ...I’m sure that makes sense to someone. Fine. If you’re
determined to persecute us, get it over with.
DOGMATIX: I’m hurt-eth,
Hee-chan. *sniffle* Oh well. Anywayeth!
[She clears her throat and
starts patting her pockets, then reaches into hammerspace and yanks out a
DOGMATIX: I knoweth I haveth it around here
somewhere... [She digs through a mess of papers and books.] Aha! [Holds a
be-coffee-ringed notebook triumphantly aloft and fluffs up happily.]
*ahem* Hear ye hear ye! Here beginneth the Sixth Book of
WUFEI: Abandon all hope, all ye who listen here.
(ignoring him): Lo, all hail-eth and praise to the Demon Prince, who hath
defeated-eth the Foes of Light! Unfortunately this didst also resulteth in said
Demon Prince being knocked out and in the next best-eth thing to traction. Upon
this eve of victory, then--
DUO: Isn’t the eve of victory the night
DOGMATIX: Er. Upon this day of victory, Sir Vaijon
madeth a most vexing discovery, for he foundeth a thing of metal and magick that
didst shuddereth and hisseth.
HEERO: Don’t you mean ‘buzzeth’? Not that I
really care, of course.
DOGMATIX: Details. Sir Vaijon calleth then about
him all the Champions of the Gods, and tooketh council with them, but to no
avail. And yea, verily, the chaos grow-eth, for the Queen of the World calleth
upon the Psychotic Bitch from He-- er, I mean-eth, Lady Une, to be-eth her right
hand man. Woman. Thus a great wail went-eth up and Lo! Death brought forth the
United Gundam Socialist Republics! Run! Flee-eth! The end of the world be-eth
nigh! 'Ware the Penguins! Eth!
[Dogmatix pauses for breath as everyone
else looks at each other.]
HEERO: I didn’t see
any penguins. Did you?
QUATRE: A penguin would make a
cute Monopoly token, though.
MEL: Shush. It’s just a Matix thing. I mean,
she does the Evil Happy Penguin Dance when I tort-- er, plot stuff involving you
DOGMATIX: The Champions spake
unto the Demon Prince, and didst pleadeth for his aid. Lord Wufei then didst
stir-eth from his deep slumber and rose-eth up in valiant defense of his
friends-eth. Forsooth, he slew-eth the monstrous magick set-eth against them
with one slash of his mighty claws; great praise be-eth unto Wufei, slayer of
the vile buzzer. And thus endeth the Sixth Book of Eth! Eth!
vanishes in another cloud of sparkly dust, and there’s a little fanfare that
sounds like it was played on an off-key kazoo.]
WUFEI: ...You know, it
wasn’t nearly that dramatic.
HEERO: We worked that out.
Nothing’s ever as dramatic as she makes it sound.
[Back on the
ANAMARIA: Two feet of water in the hold and rising!
Find me a port! Hell, find me a shore!
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