[Christy is happily bouncing around the room, watched by all five G-boys, Mel, the muses, and the Innocent Hentai Dog Zac. The cats have sensibly absented themselves.]
DUO: *sigh* All right... what's got into C-chan now?
MEL: Apart from coffee? She's happy 'cause Peygan wants to enter 'Reunion' into a fic contest. Kinda appropriate, really, since 'Reunion' came about when we decided to write a prequel to our challenge fic.
HEERO: 'A' prequel?
MEL: All right, so there's gonna be more than one. We have plans. I'm happy about this too, but I haven't had as much caffeine as Christy.
QUATRE: Ano... why do I get the feeling that this is not good news for us?
MEL: Because you're mildly psychic. The contest is for finished fics. We have until the middle of April to finish it.
WUFEI: Oh shit. You two get worse when you're writing fast... the last time you tried to finish 'Reunion' in a hurry, YOU came up with 'The Young And The Hentai'!
MEL: *blush* Well... yeah.
[Trowa starts packing.]
MEL: You can't leave the house without our permission, bang-boy, and we can get you back any time we want, so don't bother.
TROWA: ... I'm moving into the garage. It's safer. [He points at the muses.] They stay in the lounge room.
[Redcap and Stormdancer grin, showing off What Big Teeth They Have, My Dears.]
MEL: ...okay. That's allowed.
HEERO/DUO/QUATRE/WUFEI: Me too!
CHRISTY (still bouncing): Not you, Wuffie.
WUFEI: What?! Why not?!
CHRISTY: Mel and Redcap need to chew-- er, work-- er, concentrate on you for this chapter. Like the warning says, we're getting violence back into this fic, and you're it. *boing*boing*boing*
MEL: Before Wu-chan gets his voice back and starts yelling... on with the fic!
DEMON OF JUSTICE
"Jarad," Wufei said clearly, never taking his eyes off the frozen lord in front of him, "to mother. Go."
There was a quiet sniffle from behind him. "B-b-but, Wufei..."
"*sniff* Yes, sir."
A scuffling sound told Wufei that he was being obeyed, and he relaxed slightly, pulling the end of his staff back from Yithar's throat. "Hit child," he said scathingly. "Big man. Very brave."
Yithar sputtered furiously, fear swiftly giving way to outrage, and snatched out his sword. He's only got a stick, he thought, slashing at Wufei's unprotected side. I can get-- eh?!
Without bothering to block, his target jumped contemptuously over the stroke. Staggering off-balance, the half-elf had a split second to gape at the almost-hovering figure before a foot lashed out at his face.
Halfway through his strike, Wufei's eyes widened as he realised exactly what could happen if he completed the kick using his new full strength.
Oh shit, he thought, visualising a very messy separation of Yithar's head and body. Pull it pull it pull it--!
The kick connected; Yithar staggered backwards for several paces, then collapsed onto his back.
Have I killed him? Wufei wondered nervously, landing in a defensive crouch. I wouldn't regret it, but it'll cause trouble if I have... I could have broken his neck. I haven't had enough practice to accurately judge the strength of my blows, I don't know how hard I hit him--
There was a strangled squawk of outrage as Yithar pushed himself up onto one elbow, clutching at his face, and started yelling. Wufei sighed, feeling a strange mix of relief and annoyed disappointment.
"By face! By dose!" Yithar howled, blood running down his face from his broken nose. "He kicked be! Whad are you wadig for? Kill him! Kill that basdid! He sdruck be!"
Three of his armsmen charged as the fourth ran for his bow, still slung behind his saddle. A couple of Uthmar's men automatically started forwards too, but the dwarf Champion held up a hand to stop them.
"Wait and see," he said curtly. I hope I'm right... Torframos? Is this what you meant by 'events are developing'?
There was no answer, but Uthmar could feel his god watching intently through his eyes.
The small figure almost danced his way through Yithar's men, and it was immediately obvious that they were completely outclassed. Precisely aimed strikes from staff, fist or feet staggered and dazed them, and the man - demon? - they were fighting hadn't taken a single wound.
"Sir?" one of the lay-brothers asked tentatively.
"He's got a three-foot sword on his back, and he hasn't touched it," Uthmar said quietly. "He's not striking to kill, or even to do much damage... look at the way he moves! He's not putting even a fraction of his strength into those blows. Yet he doesn't seem to be playing with them, either... what's he doing?"
"Trying not to kill them," a new voice broke in, sounding exasperated but resigned.
Uthmar shot a quick glance sideways at the speaker. "Would you care to explain that comment, Goodman Royce?" he asked, amiably enough. Well, he doesn't look scared any more!
Royce snorted, never taking his eyes off the one-sided fight. "That lad's not evil, sir Champion, and neither is his big friend. They've no wish to harm anyone who doesn't deserve it. We've only known them a few days, but..."
"I am so looking forward to hearing the real story of those days," the dwarf said dryly. "Assuming, of course, that you now feel you can tell it?"
The village headman had the good manners to look mildly embarrassed. "Well... we didn't think you'd believe us, m'lord, and we had no wish to see our friend killed. Or to be killed ourselves, for harbouring demons."
"We would have listened," Uthmar said, gently reproving.
"Lord Yithar wouldn't've," Royce said grimly. "Anyway, m'lord... Wufei's stronger here than he is in his own world, and he's not used to it yet. At least, that's what Cord and I think; the lad's surprised himself a time or two. I think he's holding right back so he doesn't chance killing anyone by accident. Not what you'd expect from a murdering demon, now is it, sir?" he added pointedly.
The dwarf grinned despite himself. "I am paying attention, Goodman."
=*Then pay closer attention, my Champion,*= a deep voice said abruptly within his head. =*You're about to miss something very important.*=
Uthmar's head snapped up as his full attention jumped back to the fight, just in time for him to see Wufei despatch the last armsman with a careful blow to the back of his neck.
But the fight's over, he thought confusedly as the small demon turned warily towards him, not even breathing hard. I can't see Yithar getting back into the fight, and all three armsmen are--
=*Three?*= Torframos asked pointedly.
A sudden movement across the square drew Uthmar's eye as the fourth armsman stepped out from behind his horse, arrow already on his bowstring.
That reckless idiot! He'll hit innocents - children-- He tried to lunge forwards, reaching for his axe, but discovered that he was held motionless, unable even to speak. Torframos!
The armsman loosed the arrow, a sharp snapping noise echoing across the square as the bowstring slapped against his leather bracer. It was a hurried shot, and sloppy. It seemed to Uthmar that he had all the time in the world to watch its flight, to see that it would never even come close to the intended target; instead, it was heading straight for a cluster of villagers. Most were women and children.
=*Watch,*= the deep voice said implacably. =*This is important.*=
So are their lives! Let me go!
The arrow vanished into the group with a dull -thwock-. A split second later, someone screamed.
Still held frozen, Uthmar saw every nuance of Wufei's reaction as the small demon spun to stare at the source of the scream. He saw the look of horror and outrage on the slightly alien features; he saw Lord Yithar get to his feet and run towards the seemingly oblivious demon, sword raised for a killing stroke; and he saw the armsman nock and draw another arrow.
* * * * *
Heero lay on top of the covers next to Duo's unconscious form, as close as he could get without actually touching him. His eyes were fixed on the braided boy's slack face, alert for any twitch or change.
Now that he'd admitted how he felt - hell, now that he'd realised that what he felt for Duo was love - it hurt. It hurt terribly, seeing Duo injured again and knowing that he was to blame. Before he'd known how he felt, he'd always been able to (eventually) dismiss any concern as concern for the mission, concern that a fellow Gundam pilot was incapacitated and that might affect the progress of the war... anything except concern for the pilot himself. Never concern for Duo. He wouldn't let it be concern for Duo. That would have meant that his missions, the focus of his life to date, were no longer the be-all and end-all of his existence, and that would have meant... what?
It would have meant that he could no longer run his life according to black and white standards of what must be done and what must not be permitted. He'd always had plenty of leeway concerning how and even if he would perform his missions, but always there was the overriding goal: to defeat OZ and keep the colonies safe. It was a framework he could live his life within, a set of standards and requirements he could judge all his actions by.
Loving Duo meant that there was now a very important aspect of his life that he couldn't keep within that framework. Quatre had made that quite clear.
It terrified him. For the first time in his life there was something he couldn't treat as a mission, or as support for his missions. He had nothing telling him what he should do about it.
...the only way he could avoid that, return to his mission-oriented outlook, was if he shut Duo out again and refused to allow his feelings any place in his life. And that idea terrified him even more.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, reaching out towards Duo's bruised face but not quite daring to make contact. "I'm an idiot. I've been lying to myself almost from the first time I met you, lying to you, lying to everyone... trying to pretend you mean nothing to me. And when I couldn't pretend to myself any more I got mad at you, like it was your fault somehow that I couldn't stop thinking about you. It was never your fault, it was my fault, but I still acted like you were to blame... like it was something someone should be blamed for. I hurt you, and I knew what I was doing and I felt like a complete asshole and I still kept doing it... Duo, I'm so sorry! Even when I finally worked it all out, and I tried to start fixing it, I screwed up and this happened. I keep hurting you whether I mean to or not! I wouldn't blame you if you just gave up on me and l-left..." Heero swallowed hard, voice thickening. "I-if you decide you don't w-want me any more, I... I won't fight, but... please, I just want one more chance. I have to make it up to you somehow for the way I've been treating you. And... I w-want to find some way to prove to you that I really do l-love you."
He squeezed his eyes shut as a tear trickled down and soaked into the pillow, whispering the words over and over again. Somehow repetition seemed to make it easier to admit; perhaps he'd even be able to say it again after Duo came to...
"I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you..."
"I love you too, Hee-chan, but could you shut up right now? I'm tryin' to sleep here," a slurred voice informed him. Duo rolled over and burrowed his face into Heero's shoulder, draped one arm over Heero's ribs and relaxed with a half-yawn, half-sigh. Ten seconds later he was snoring very quietly.
Heero lay there in the dimness, holding himself perfectly still, for what seemed like a very long time.
* * * * *
This time the arrow wouldn't miss. Unable to intervene, seeing everything as if events had slowed to a crawl, Uthmar watched as it was loosed and noted almost calmly that it was on target to strike the small dragon between the shoulderblades. If that wasn't enough to finish him - demons were notoriously hard to kill, after all - Lord Yithar would strike immediately afterwards.
Uthmar wasn't even sure who he wanted to win.
There was a small figure huddled on the ground in the centre of the group of frantic villagers, red blood swiftly soaking into the cloth around the arrow shaft.
Dena's sister, Wufei thought, frozen in shock. Dena's youngest sister. She's younger even than Jarad - can't be more than four or five years old--
The child's mother fell to her knees beside her, wailing, and Wufei turned to face the archer. Wisps of colour flicked into existence around him as he snarled, forming into the illusion of Nataku's armour, and he felt his link to the Gundam slam wide open.
The man was nearly thirty feet away, but Wufei never even considered that he might be out of reach; he simply lashed out with his right fist and a shadowy image of Nataku's dragon-arm shot forward, shattering the second arrow in flight and smashing the man backwards into a wall with a sickening thud.
A flicker of motion to one side, and he faced Lord Yithar. The half-elf was backpedalling frantically, trying to change directions now that his easy target had transformed into a terrifying monster; he desperately lifted his sword to parry as Wufei spun the staff over his head and struck, green energy sputtering from the end as the wood began to smoulder.
Yithar's sword clattered to the ground in two pieces as he landed on his butt in the dirt for the second time that day. A wisp of smoke curled up from the half-melted cut edges, and from the front of his tunic, too; his eyes slowly dropped to the neat line scorched into the embroidery, then rolled up into his head as he flopped backwards in a dead faint, a wet stain spreading across the front of his trousers.
Wufei shivered, heart pounding, as the power drained away from him and the shadowy armour faded. There was no longer any doubt where his new strength and abilities came from; as he'd lashed out, he'd felt the slight scrape in the third joint of Nataku's arm that he'd never been able to bring back up to 100%. The staff in his hand felt hot, but not unbearably so; when he lifted it for a better look he saw that it was charred and smoking, and when he flexed it experimentally it broke into several pieces.
It couldn't take the energy, I suppose, he thought dazedly. Perhaps I should experiment with metal?
A tiny part of his mind noted that the sensitive spots mapping Nataku's damaged armour on his own skin had started to fade.
Abruptly released from his paralysis, Uthmar staggered forwards half a step and then caught himself, glaring briefly upwards. I'm going to have to 'discuss' that with Torframos, he thought privately. Very seriously. But not right now.
The small demon dropped the last pieces of his destroyed staff and turned to face the dwarf, ignoring the limp half-elf lying in his self-made puddle. Now he was sweating and breathing heavily, Uthmar noted, as he crossed his arms arrogantly across his chest and glared.
"You want fight now?" he snapped. "I here."
"No no no no no!" Jarad yelled, running out of the crowd again to stand in front of Wufei, arms held out to the sides as he glared at the Champion. "Wufei's nice! You're not allowed to hurt him! You leave him alone or I'll hit you!" Looking around for a weapon, he snatched up the biggest piece of Wufei's staff and brandished it at Uthmar; then he yelped comically and juggled the hot stick in his hands, blowing on his fingers.
"Yeah!" "Leave 'im alone!" "Go 'way!" "Bad mans!" "Leggo, Ma, I wanna help!" More children ran into the square and stood ready to defend their friend, including one very small girl who crawled up behind Uthmar and started hitting him in the knee with her straw doll. He scooped her up and held her out at arms' length, looking at her rather helplessly; she glared at him as only a tiny child can glare, then stuck out her bottom lip and pouted, starting to sniffle. He was incredibly relieved when the child's mother ran up and took her from him with an embarrassed apology.
When Uthmar looked back at the demon, he was sputtering something at the children in an unfamiliar, musical language; they ignored him, jumping up and down and yelling at Uthmar's men. Rami ran out of the crowd and clutched at Wufei's arm, tugging ineffectually.
"Wufei, run away!" she begged hysterically. "Go get Nataku and run away! We'll keep them here until you get faar enough away to be safe. You've got to go, I couldn't stand it if you were killed!"
"Onna!" he yelped, then looked around for assistance. "Naiya~!"
Uthmar watched in disbelief as the formerly tense scene degenerated into utter chaos. Children were shrieking and running everywhere, parents grabbing frantically to pull them out of harm's way but afraid to step into the middle themselves. One man got hold of a boy but let go when he saw the child wasn't his; as the boy vanished back into the mess, his mother came up behind the man and smacked him across the back of the head. In the middle of it all, as Naiya pulled the weeping Rami away, the demon Wufei looked around in bewilderment, then looked over at Uthmar and held up a finger as if to say 'Wait, please'; then he started picking up children by their smocks and putting them behind him.
Torframos started chuckling in the back of Uthmar's head as the children just ran back to their previous positions while Wufei was distracted by his next handful. Even though he was seriously irritated with his god, Uthmar couldn't help joining in as Wufei picked Jarad up for the second time and did a double-take, then scowled at the unrepentant child. The boy grinned lopsidedly at him past the bruise forming on his cheek, dangling like a kitten.
"Your," Wufei said sourly, holding Jarad out at arms' length towards his parents.
After that, he had rather more success clearing the mess, handing children over to their parents as he caught them; Uthmar noted with interest that he matched them up without hesitation and didn't make a single mistake. None of the children seemed at all afraid of him, either... not that Uthmar had really expected them to, after the way they'd rushed in to defend him.
Once all the children were safely out of the way, Wufei shot one last suspicious look around, then turned back towards the dwarf Champion, blowing out an irritated breath.
"No, no," Uthmar said hurriedly, holding up empty hands. "'Now talk', I think."
Wufei eyed him for a second, then nodded. "Next, talk," he amended. "Now, girl hurt, help."
Thankfully, the girl wasn't as badly hurt as Uthmar had feared. It had been a weak shot as well as a sloppy one; the arrow had gashed her arm and become tangled in her sleeve, doing some muscle damage but not enough to harm her permanently. One of the village women cleaned, stitched and poulticed the wound with the help of one of Uthmar's men. The child woke up halfway through and began crying, but Wufei brought a compartmented metal box out of its hiding place and convinced her to swallow a tiny spoonful of something syrupy; soon afterwards, she was yawning sleepily in her mother's lap and feeling no pain.
Watching all this, Uthmar scowled. Torframos?
Just what in the name of Krahana's hells did you think you were doing?! That girl could have been killed, or crippled! As it is, she'll be scarred for life, and I can't heal her because I never met her before today. If you hadn't stopped me, I could have knocked the arrow out of the air!
=*We needed to know his true nature. How he would react.*=
And for that you were willing to risk the death of an innocent?!
=*No-one was killed, or even badly hurt. I would not have kept you from acting if it would have caused a death.*=
Uthmar stiffened. So... you knew no-one would be killed?
=*Yes,*= Torframos replied.
Then you knew she would be hurt.
Uthmar blocked his god out of his mind and stalked off to see how badly hurt Yithar's armsmen were.
Wufei closed the first-aid box and took a deep breath, then stood up and turned to Derrin.
Wufei gestured at Derrin's youngest daughter, falling asleep on her mother's lap as the morphine took effect. "I sorry. My..." He struggled to remember the word for 'fault', couldn't, and substituted. "Bad. I very sorry." He bowed deeply, switching to Chinese. "< I humbly apologise for the harm my carelessness has caused. >"
The dwarf who'd been helping treat the child's wound stared incredulously at him as Derrin sputtered denials. "No... wait... stand up! Please!" Reluctantly, Wufei straightened up, and Derrin grabbed his hand. "Not you. Him," he said emphatically, pointing at the armsman who had fired the arrow.
Wufei sighed and bowed again, abandoning the attempt to apologise. He still felt guilty. First this family's eldest child had been sacrificed to summon him into this world, and now they had nearly lost the youngest to an arrow aimed at him. True, he hadn't been in control of either event... but he had been centrally involved in both events, and that was enough.
Uthmar scowled down at the last of Yithar's armsmen, the one who'd used the bow. The other three were only bruised and shaken, and were already coming around; Yithar was still out cold, but his worst injury was a broken nose (and a severely damaged pride, no doubt). This one, on the other hand...
"Well?" he asked.
Cameron looked up and shook his head. "He'll live, if nothing goes badly wrong with his healing, but I doubt he'll use a bow again. Half the bones in his left hand and arm are shattered, his right shoulderblade and a few ribs are broken, and I think he's got a cracked skull. He's damn lucky his back's not broken!"
Eyeing the spiderweb of cracks radiating from where the man's shoulders had hit the wall, plaster flaking off to reveal the thick logs beneath, Uthmar nodded in agreement. "I can't say I feel sorry for him," he growled.
"You could argue both ways, Sir," Cameron said mildly as he started to straighten the broken arm. "He was shooting at a demon, after all, and on the orders of his lord... but I have to admit I agree with you."
"Exactly how big did you say this other demon is?" Uthmar said incredulously.
"See that tree over there?" Royce pointed to a tall pine that stood out from among the others at the forest's edge. "He's half a head taller than it."
"And it looks man-shaped? Wearing armour?"
There were nods all around the table. As many people as could fit had crowded around the table that stood outside Gwent's tavern, and more stood nearby, listening.
"For the fourth time, yes, m'lord Champion," Royce said dryly.
Uthmar flushed. "My apologies, Goodman. It's just that... well, all the demons I've ever seen or heard of are completely different from these two. They're not shaped like people - of whatever size - they don't wear armour, they don't use weapons, and to a Champion they positively reek of their own power and the power of whichever god helped summon them. Wufei here certainly has power, but I can't feel a thing from him. I hardly felt a tickle even when he was using it in the fight!" He thought for a second, combing his fingers through his beard. "At least that explains why I couldn't tell what power had burned the canyon clean... Also, from what I've heard, demons either can't talk at all or they arrive already knowing the language of their summoner. They don't have to learn it."
"I said I thought the priest got Wufei and Nataku by accident," Naiya muttered.
Jarad popped up beside Wufei and tugged at his elbow, grinning. His curly brown hair had been scraped back into a tail and he was wearing his black smock again, from which the sleeves had been raggedly removed. Once he was sure he had Wufei's attention, he stepped back and bowed. "Ni-hao-ma!"
Wufei raised an eyebrow. "Good day," he replied, bowing back solemnly.
"Jarad, what have you done to your smock?!" his mother exclaimed, swooping down upon him.
"Ma, it's s'posed to look like Wufei's! And look, I can do this too!" With the tip of his tongue sticking out as he frowned in concentration, Jarad carefully moved through the first one-and-a-half patterns of Wufei's morning Tai Chi exercises. "Did I get it right? Huh?"
Both of the demon's eyebrows shot up towards his hairline this time, but he controlled the look of surprise and nodded approvingly, clapping.
"How do you balance when you're doing that long stretchy bit?" Jarad asked eagerly. "I always wobble when I try--"
"Not now, Jarad," his mother said firmly, taking his hand and pulling him away. "You can ask Sir Wufei later, if he doesn't mind."
"'Sir' Wufei?" Uthmar asked when the chuckles had died down.
Royce shrugged. "We've no way yet to ask him if he's a knight or a lord. Some people figure that he acts like one or the other a lot of the time, so why not call him 'sir'?" He shot a sideways glance towards Rami and Naiya, then continued, "Not to mention that some of the lasses have been heard to say that someone so brave and chivalrous must be a knight. Saving innocent village maidens because he was smitten with love at the first sight of one lass's furry ears, things like that--"
"ROYCE!" Naiya shrieked, leaping to her feet. "Don't you dare - how could you - it's nothing like that!"
Uthmar hid a grin behind one hand as he watched Wufei blink confusedly at the sudden uproar.
"But, Naiya--" Rami started, voice rising over the howls of laughter.
"Don't you start! It was you who came up with that ridiculous story in the first place! Father, stop laughing! It's not funny!"
end chapter 8
CHRISTY: And now for our famous imitation of Uthmar and Torframos! *ahem* Ready, Mel?
MEL: Almost... here! [She hands Christy a sign that says 'TORFRAMOS' and holds up her own sign, which says 'UTHMAR'.] Right, now just imagine that I'm four feet tall and have a big beard--
WUFEI: < mutter > just move all the hair around to the front and kneel, onna.
MEL: --and try to picture Christy as about ten feet tall and glowing with *snigger* holy light. Heh.
CHRISTY: *snigger* If we were so darn holy, we wouldn't be writing this stuff.
MEL: That's why it takes imagination. *snigger* Okay, here we go!
[Christy starts knocking on Mel's head with her sign.]
CHRISTY: Oi! Uthmar! Let me in! I'm your god, you have to listen to me!
MEL: < hands over ears > LA LA LA LA LA I'm not LISTENING~!
[The watching G-boys all develop sweatdrops.]
DUO: Remind me again why we stay with them?
TROWA: Because we're trapped.
DUO: *sigh* Oh yeah, that was it.
CHRISTY: Damn Champions! How'd you like to be a pixie?
MEL: There aren't any pixies in this world.
CHRISTY: I'll invent them! You get to be the first one.
MEL: Ha, that's a good one - oops! LA LA LA LA LA still not listening LA LA LA--!
HEERO: CUT IT OUT, YOU TWO!
MEL & CHRISTY: *blink*blink*blink* What?
HEERO: What the hell do you think you're doing, cutting off my bit with Duo when you did?! Is he even going to remember what I said in the morning?!
MEL: < mutter > now he sounds like Uthmar. < out loud > Dunno, Hee-chan. Which would you prefer? Duo remembering, so you get all embarrassed remembering what you babbled, or Duo not remembering, so you have to get up the guts to say it again?
MEL: With any luck, that should keep him quiet for about an hour. The next chapter will have more stuff involving him, too.
CHRISTY: That won't help. He'll just bitch about what we make him do.
HEERO: I can't win. < stalks off >
CHRISTY: But Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeee~ro, don't you love us any more?
[Duo falls off his chair.]
HEERO: < in the distance > I never loved ANY of you crazy onnas!
WUFEI: That's my line.
CHRISTY: Ah well. Angst is a many-splendoured thing..