1-27-2002

Pyractomena Borealis Part 18

Things hadn't improved a whole lot when I woke up the next morning. My headache hadn't gone away, my uniform shirt hadn't spontaneously repaired and cleaned itself overnight, and I had an itchy trigger finger like you wouldn't believe. Even worse, I was still pissed at Heero. Really pissed. As in "rip-off-your-head-and-whizz-down-your-throat" pissed. A night of bad sleep hadn't improved my attitude any, considering that I still blamed it all on him.

As many nasty things as I can say about Heero when I'm mad or annoyed, he's still not stupid. He was conspicuously absent from the room when I woke up, despite the fact that it wasn't even time for breakfast yet. His laptop was closed and pushed all the way to the far end of his desk. Not that I cared -- it would just take a little more effort to hunt him down and kill him later.

Was I kidding? Not sure.

A nasty thought hit me as I was scrubbing the morning yech off my tongue--I'd run out of grace days. Tonight, Johannes was going to come looking for me with interrogation on his evil little mind. I hadn't thought it possible, but that realization actually managed to put me in an even blacker mood. I scowled at my reflection, noting the lovely bruise I was developing on one of my cheeks, and the large scab on my chin. Saying that I looked more like shit every day wasn't much of an exaggeration anymore.

There wasn't much I could do about the situation, though. All I could do was wait for Johannes to come to me. I hated waiting. All that could be said for it was that I'd at least have some time to mentally prepare myself. I wasn't getting caught with my pants down again.

Speaking of clothes...done with my teeth, I went back out into the room and found my pants in a crumpled pile under my bed. They'd gotten through the last night relatively unscathed, surprisingly enough. There was just some dirt on the knees, and a little drop of blood that no one would notice unless they were looking for it. At least I only had to borrow a shirt.

Five minutes later, I was banging on Quatre's door. He was the only one that wore even close to my size, so I'd have to borrow from him. The door opened a crack as Quatre checked who was trying to get a hold of him at some ungodly morning hour, then all the way when he saw it was just me, albeit a half-naked just me.

"Duo," he said, "it's not time for breakfast yet. What's going on?"

I grimaced. "I need to borrow another shirt."

He blinked. "Again? Didn't you just get more?"

"Yeah." I said. "I guess Heero didn't give you a situational update, huh?"

"No, he didn't. I haven't seen him since dinner last night."

"Peachy. Very nice of him." I curled my lip. "Relena showed up while we were out last night, and he ran out on me. Shortly after, of course, we got attacked by vampires. To make a long story short, my shirt is history."

"Ah." He blinked a few times. "What--"

"Look, man, I really don't want to talk about it." I interrupted. "So can I just borrow a shirt, please?"

He disappeared out of the doorway for a minute, into the closet. When he came back, he handed a neatly ironed shirt to me. "Just be careful with this one, please." He said. "I don't have that many left, either."

"No worries, man." I said, slipping the shirt on and buttoning it up quickly. "I'll take care of it like it's my own."

"That's what I'm afraid of." I heard Quatre mutter as I walked away.

* * *

It was a pretty normal day at school. Nothing got blown up, and no one died. Heero avoided being in my line of sight at and I avoided noticing his presence. I had a lovely nameless feeling of dread hanging over me the entire day, which did nothing at all to improve my mood. By the time we hit dinner I was such a thoroughly unpleasant person to be around that Quatre and Wufei both abandoned me to my of meatloaf and hightailed it back to their rooms to study.

I didn't care. I stared at the lumpy piece of meat on my yellow plastic tray and fumed, repeatedly stabbing it with a fork. I imagined it had blue eyes.

"You mind if I sit here?"

I glanced up long enough to make certain that the intrusion on my bad mood was, in fact, Trowa, before I aimed a non-committal grunt in his direction and went back to perforating my meal.

It was apparently enough of an invitation for him. He sat down across from me and neatly laid his silverware out. "You're giving me a headache." he said. The scary thing about Trowa is that you can never tell if he's speaking figuratively or not.

"Oh." I shrugged. "Sorry. We all have a pain, I guess. The name of my pain is Heero."[1] Stab, stab, stab. I couldn't figure out why Trowa was sitting with me. Out of all the guys, he was the one I was the least close to. We didn't dislike each other by any stretch of the imagination, but we'd always just avoided each other for whatever reason.

"Heh." Trowa raised an eyebrow at me. "Do you think you might be taking it a little too hard?"

I slammed my fork down on my tray. Of course Trowa knew what had happened. Heero would at least talk to him. "Yeah, you're damn straight I am. Up until now, I worked alone. Now I'm used to having backup, and what happens? The guy who's supposed to watch my back turns tail and scampers because he can't take some girl having a crush on him." I rested my head on my hands for a moment. "I'm pissed at Heero for deserting me, because I know for a fact that I wouldn't desert him like that. Even worse, I almost got myself dead because I was stupid, and it scared me. I don't like being scared."

I shut up after that and just sat, waiting for a lecture on why I should calm down and apologize, since I was being such an unreasonable ass. Instead, Trowa said nothing. When I finally chanced a glance up, he was munching his way through a dinner roll, a meditative look on his face.

"I think," he said, once he swallowed the bite in his mouth, "that you're both wrong." A very small smile crept onto his lips. "You're more alike than you'd think."

I couldn't help but snort at that. "No wonder I want to kill him half the time."

Trowa chuckled softly before going back to picking through his food. "You'll need to resolve this soon. We can't afford for you two to be bickering."

"I know." I leaned back in my seat so I could glare at the spitwad speckled ceiling. "And I know I can't just kill him either, so I'm going to have to get over it and patch things up. Sometimes he's too damn stupid to figure it out on his own. That doesn't mean I have to like it, though."

"No," he agreed, "you don't have to, as long as you do it."

"Shit." I muttered, looking back at him. Or at least I was intending to--something in one of the cafeteria windows caught my eye. "Oh fuck."

"What?" Trowa stiffened, raising his eyebrows. A telltale twitch of his right hand told me that he was carrying, even though we were on school grounds. I wasn't the only jumpy one.

"Remember all the crap with the Johannes guy, a week ago?" I asked, getting up from my seat and grabbing my tray.

Trowa followed my example unquestioningly. "Yes."

"Time's up today--he's going to want my answer for what he asked. Take a quick peep at the window."

"I see." He took a casual glance at the window. There was a large man standing outside of it, looking in. It was either Tony or Angelo. I couldn't quite tell from the distance, but either way, I knew he was playing my waltz. "I take it you know him?"

"He's one of the flunkies."

Trowa nodded. "I'll go with you."

* * *

"You have to wait here." Tony crossed his arms over his chest, looking stonily at Trowa.

I glanced at Trowa. "I'd be a lot more cooperative if you let me bring him along."

"The boss said I was only supposed to bring Duo Maxwell, and I'm not supposed to let him bring any friends." Tony shook his head, his weird eyes catching the glow of the neon around us. He hadn't spoken a word until now or even really acknowledged that we were there; he'd just led us down to the theater district.

Trowa shrugged after a long moment. "I suppose I don't have a choice, then." I could tell he didn't like it. Neither did I.

Tony smiled, revealing his pointy teeth. There was a disconcertingly child-like quality to it. "Also, the boss said that you're not supposed to have weapons with you. So you can leave them here."

That got a grimace out of me. I really did not like the idea of being separated from my weapons, but then again, I had a feeling that I didn't have much of a choice. It was either willingly disarm myself or get Tony's help. No thanks. I pulled the Browning out of my shoulder rig, double-checked it to make sure the safety was on, and handed it to Trowa. "I'll be back to get this."

Tony cocked his head to one side. "And your cross and your knives, too."

I kept my face neutral. "What makes you think I'm carrying those?"

"'Cause I'm the one that disarmed you last time." His smile turned into a full-blown grin.

Damn. I blew out a frustrated sigh before I slipped my cross over my head and tossed that to Trowa. One look at Tony told me that I really didn't want to play it innocent and pretend I had no knives, so Trowa was soon in possession of three more weapons.

"Ok, disarmed and ready to go." I managed a flat smile. "Take me to your leader."

Tony grinned back at me. "Follow me, then." he said, before walking off into an alley between two wooden-walled theaters.

I waved to Trowa before I lost sight of him completely. "Don't wait up, honey!" The remark got a snort out of Tony, which was fine with me. I knew Trowa had understood...I'd just told him to go back and gather the rest of the guys if I didn't return in what he deemed to be a reasonable amount of time.

The muscle man and I wound our way through a labyrinth of back alleys. It took a lot more effort than I'd want to admit to keep from breaking out in a cold sweat. Yeah, I knew that alleys were, by definition, pretty narrow, but the ones in Japan...well...let's just say that I wasn't quite sure how Tony was managing to not get his shoulders wedged between the walls. Maybe he'd criscoed himself or something.

Greasy muscle guy. Ew.

A large, dirty puddle and a vent belching steam later, we came to a ramp, leading up to the back of a brick building. Tony led me up the ramp without slowing down. When I grabbed the railing to swing myself on behind him, it flaked beneath my fingers, leaving streaks of red-brown rust behind. I grimaced; rust looks like dried-up blood to me. It's not a color I like.

Tony held the door open for me, then crowded me down the hall to everyone's favorite not-a-storage room. I managed to grab the doorknob a split second before he got to it. Point for me. I can open my own damn doors.

"Good evening, Mr. Maxwell."

I stopped in the doorway. Only a hand on my back prompted me to move forward enough to let Tony in. Johannes was sitting at his desk, and Angelo was in his usual place by him, but there was a small, mousy vampire sandwiched between them. On Johannes' other side, there was a vampire who had short brown hair and looked like he should have been the field goal kicker for some all-star football team. Next to him was a shorter, paler guy with carroty red hair, who wasn't a vampire but had to be something pretty darn similar, and another generic, black-haired vampire. They were all looking at me expectantly.

I really hadn't been planning on an audience.

"Introductions are due, I suppose," Johannes smiled politely. He was looking perfectly groomed, as normal. Today he was wearing a blue shirt with lace on the cuffs. "since we shall be working together." He pointed to the mousy vampire. It took me a moment to recognize him as the one that had tossed me head first into a wall a week ago. He'd looked big and bad then; right now, he just looked like a little yappy dog that had just piddled on the carpet; shaky, guilty, and waiting for the rolled-up newspaper to descend. "This is Tomas, who I am sure you still remember. He has seen the error of his ways, and is ready to apologize for his bad behavior, I believe."

Tomas winced; if he'd been human, I would have expected him to break out in a cold sweat. "Yes." he said, "I apologize. I was wrong to attack you. Please forgive me." His words didn't reach his eyes; I hadn't seen a look of hatred so clear since...well...last night. Yessiree, it's Duo Maxwell on 'How to make friends and influence people.'

"Yeah, sure, no problem. Just a misunderstanding. Apology accepted." I muttered.

"Very good." Johannes gave me a paternal smile before indicating the dynamic duo on his right. "This is Master Harris, and his servant Feld. They have kindly joined us from America." No one made a move to introduce the vampire next to Feld. I was guessing that he was a flunky.

"Hi...nice to...meet you." I did my best to keep my face neutral. Johannes hadn't so much as blinked when he'd introduced them, but I got the distinct impression he wasn't happy about them; his voice had gone from neutral to downright chilly. I really didn't need things to get more complicated.

"The pleasure is all ours." Harris said.

"Now that we are all so nicely acquainted," Johannes leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk, "let us get down to business. Mr. Maxwell, I have been patient for a week. Now I would like my answer. Who is the Master of Tokyo?"

My lips suddenly felt very dry. I really didn't want to help these guys, but on the other hand, helping Treize out was not high on my happy list. There wasn't a lot of hope for neutrality. I'd been attacked by vampires that claimed Johannes was not their master already. Oh yeah, and then there was that whole school leveling thing. "If I tell you, you'll leave us out of it, right?"

"Correct."

"And the school, too."

"Correct."

"And you'll just go off and fight amongst yourselves, right?"

"Mr. Maxwell, I do not have all night. Either tell me or accept the consequences of your inaction."

"I hear you. Calm down." I blew out a sigh. "The Master of Tokyo is Treize Khushrenada."

He sat up quickly, scattering the cloisonné pens that had been lined up neatly next to his blotter. I watched one of them roll across the desk and fall over the edge. "Khushrenada." Johannes said quietly, "Do you think to toy with me?"

I stared at him dumbly for a long moment. The only way his reaction could have been any weirder was if he'd suddenly transformed himself into a singing potted plant. "What?" I finally managed.

Johannes almost visibly relaxed, throwing the conversation back on track. "You said that it is Khushrenada?"

"Yeah." I scratched my arm. I wasn't sure if it was all the vampires in one place or the fact that Johannes had his panties in a twist about something, but I felt like I had the world's worst case of static cling.

"Very interesting." he leaned back in his chair, resting his hands on his stomach. The lace on his cuffs covered everything but the tips of his fingers in a snowy pile. "Do you know where he is?"

"Not for sure." I said, feeling very uncomfortable, "but he's Oz's head honcho. How many places could he be?"

Johannes nodded. "Indeed." He lifted himself bonelessly from his chair and walked around the desk, which revealed that he was wearing skin tight black leather pants. He had pretty nice legs for a guy that had been dead for 800 years. "Thank you for your help, Mr. Maxwell. Your school is now safe." He stopped moving when he was about a foot away from me.

"Great. What about the rest of the world?" I did my best to edge back without appearing to edge back.

Johannes laughed. It was a warm, surprising sound. "That remains to be seen." he said. "I think you will agree that no battle is certain, or necessarily with end."

I nodded.

"I suppose I could always ask for further assistance." Johannes smiled. "But I think you are far more trouble than you are worth."

"So I've been told."

There was that laugh again. "You'd be best served to stay clear from us from now on if you don't wish to be involved." Johannes' hand shot out faster than I could really see; before I had a chance to react, he had pulled me toward him, his fingers worked into my hair. I started to push him away, as ineffectual as I knew that was, right when he leaned down and planted a very gentle kiss on my forehead. "Go home, Mr. Maxwell, and enjoy your vaunted neutrality." He released me so quickly that I lost my balance for a second and stumbled back, almost running into Tony.

Things were taking a sudden dive into the Twilight Zone, and I knew a dismissal when I heard one. "Thanks." I said, not sure how I meant it. Tony didn't even have to push me out the door; I was more than ready to go.

As I made my way back toward the outside, I couldn't help but think. I'd done it. I'd saved the guys and everyone in the school. All I'd had to do was rat out my worst enemy. Bonus, right?

Right?

The metal door out seemed very heavy as I pushed it open, and it left more spots of rust on my palms. All I knew, as it slammed shut behind me, was that I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd just made a very, very big mistake.

 

 

[1] Yep, shameless Batman (original movie, not horrid sequels) homage.