Title: Enemy of My Enemy part 06
Author: Em (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Warnings&Labels: AU, fantasy, OOC, weird, angst, shounen/shoujo ai, original minor characters, assorted death (no major characters... yet...)
Archive: www.gwaddiction.com, under Lys ap Adin, and others...
Enemy of My Enemy
[16 May 1243 Post Alliance]
The aide fidgeted and coughed nervously. "Your Grace..."
"Yes?" Dorothy replied absently, eyeing herself in the mirror with a critical eye.
With the air of a man determined to do his duty regardless of the cost, he plunged in. "Your Grace, are you certain it's entirely wise for you to take the field with the army?"
Dorothy flicked a speck of dust from the breastplate of her armor and gave her family crest a little buff. "By 'wise' I assume you mean 'safe' or appropriate.' Am I correct?"
"Er--well, yes," he said defiantly.
"Nothing in this life is safe, Andre, though I am impressed and touched by your concern for my personal welfare. As for the propriety of my actions, tell me if you think it's entire appropriate for me to invade Peacecraft."
Andre blanched. "Er... Whatever Your Grace deems appropriate is," he said hastily.
Dorothy smiled. "I'm glad that you feel that way. Now, go fetch my wizard. I'm ready to gate to the army's current position."
Zechs prodded his horse forward, to ride beside Treize at the head of the column. "Your Grace, the detachment I sent out yesterday morning has rendezvoused with the main force, although a small group remained behind to deal with my agent."
"Will that be enough?" Treize asked, raising one forked eyebrow curiously.
"Walker is in charge of that squad, and I am persuaded that my agent will push himself hard in order to reach his people in time," Zechs explained. "Even he wouldn't be able to defeat five men in such a state."
"I see." The duke seemed to have his doubts, but let the matter pass.
"What was that?" Duo lifted his head, expression suddenly much more wary and alert than it had been just moments ago.
Heero paused at this rapid, unexpected shift. "What?" he asked, automatically responding to the mood.
Duo carefully lifted Sister Helen's head from his lap. It seemed to Heero that the other man had suddenly come alive... but in a very feral, dark way. "Zechs probably left someone behind to take care of me," he hissed. "Very wise of him, I'm sure."
"The same ones responsible for this?" Heero asked, voice equally soft.
"No doubt." Something glittered in those blue-violet eyes that was much less pleasant than the fading starlight.
"Are you armed?" Heero asked grimly.
Duo smirked. "You'd be amazed."
Heero held up a hand, listening carefully. After a moment, he caught it--the faint crack of a foot crushing a twig. Catching Duo's attention, he mouthed, "I'll go left."
Duo nodded sharply, then stood, melting into the gloom as if he'd never been there. Letting righteous anger burn away the dulling edge of exhaustion, Heero pulled himself to his feet, burying himself in the shadows of a burnt-out chimney and waiting.
Conversation drifted through the air as light began to turn the sky in the east grey.
"Empty saddles... spread out. Someone's here. Find them."
Heero smirked. *Not if we find you first.* He stealthily loosened his sword in its scabbard, waiting...
He would have been surprised to learn just how much he resembled Shinigami in that instant.
The first soldier happened around the corner, looking grim. He had his own sword drawn, and he advanced at a snail's pace. Heero almost snorted as a breeze sent a leaf skittering through the man's path, causing him to jump back, muttering soft curse words.
"...all a bunch of bad business, if you ask me... kill a bunch of orphans and then wait around to ambush an assassin..."
"Hn. Idiot," Heero pronounced, springing forward. The man managed a wet croak before collapsing over Heero's sword. Heero kicked the body off the blade and returned to his post, waiting.
/'Rage is dangerous. It can give you an edge when you need it, but it can also get you killed. Fighting when you're upset is a surefire way to leave yourself vulnerable--anger makes you stupid, never forget that.'/
Duo repeated the words to himself silently, bending his own will to the wisdom his mentor had shared.
/'If you *must* fight when provoked, make the anger work for you. Be its master, make it serve *your* purposes. Channel it into your awareness, force it to make you move faster, see more, be stronger. Never allow it to narrow your focus so much that you forget to concentrate on the most important thing--staying alive.'/
He'd never had as good a reason to remember G's words as now. Prowling through the ruins of his home, stalking the monsters who had destroyed it, Duo wanted nothing more than to rush out, screaming his rage, to tear out their throats with his bare hands. He wanted revenge, wanted those men to suffer like he was suffering, and wanted them above all to know why they were dying.
The assassin took several deep breaths.
*Focus... focus... make the anger work for me...*
It would have been satisfying--intensely satisfying--and horribly foolish.
Duo watched the five men discuss the meanings implicit in the presence of the two horses. Then they fanned out, two staying together with the two worn-out horses, huddled close to the light spread by their torches. One went off to the right, alone, in the direction that death waited in the form of a cobalt-eyed warrior. The remaining two headed to the left.
Shinigami teased at his mind. ~Why don't you let *me* deal with them? It'll be so much easier that way.~
*No. I don't need you anymore.* Duo shoved the darkness aside vigorously.
~As long as you kill you'll need me. I am you.~
*No. Not anymore.* Duo shook his head in denial.
He heard the laughter, his own laughter, dark and mocking and bitter. ~And you claim you never lie.~
*Go away, and leave me alone.*
Blessedly, Shinigami retired for the time being, though Duo could feel him ready and waiting to take advantage of any lapse.
Duo stalked the two soldiers, who nervously stayed close to each other as they explored the killing field around the orphanage. He smiled, stooping once to remove the knife from his boot.
"This is damned creepy," one of the soldiers murmured. "I wish that assassin would show so we could just get this over w--urk."
"Huh? What the--" His companion turned and shouted as he watched the man fall forward into the dust, the hilt of a knife protruding from his back. Spooked, he backed away from the body, eyes darting back and forth rapidly.
"Looking for someone?" Duo asked dryly from behind him, lunging forward and landing a low, hard punch to the man's kidneys. As he staggered, Duo wrapped his hands around the soldier's head, jerking it sharply to the left.
As he dropped the body, Shinigami chuckled at him. ~I would never have given him the chance to scream.~
*That's why I didn't ask you to help.*
Heero winced at the cry of alarm. Deciding that any surviving men would probably go to investigate it, he headed through the shadows, endeavoring to stay as hidden as possible.
The commanding officer and the one soldier with him seemed to be having an animated conversation with each other. Apparently, the soldier was highly opposed to the idea of going to find out who had screamed and why. Heero shook his head, deeply amused.
He eyed the distance between himself and the two men, noting the lack of cover and the way the light was rapidly dispelling the darkness.
*Difficult... not impossible... but difficult.*
Duo considered it.
~You know *I* can get you across there without a problem,~ Shinigami purred.
~Why be so stubborn about this? You *do* want revenge, right?~
*Not at that cost.*
It wasn't going to get any darker, so Duo shoved aside the internal dialogue and pushed himself into action, padding into the cover of the trees surrounding the orphanage, the weight of a dead man's purloined sword comforting in his hand.
Movement. There. Furtive and slow. Heero smirked again. The two Khushrenadan soldiers were far too involved in their argument to notice the assassin slipping up on them.
Why not make that distraction all the more thorough?
Heero coaxed his exhausted body into a gentle trot, loping toward the pair with little regard for any disguise of his approach.
"Albric? That you?" The officer called, warily. "For the sake of the gods, would you hold Jonson's hand so he won't be so damned scared of his own shadow?"
Heero snorted. "Idiots."
The commander's eyes widened comically. "You're not--The assassin!" He cursed.
"Certainly took you long enough," Heero muttered. Then he considered the two men approaching him with their swords having been drawn, and entertained the notion that perhaps he should have given this plan a little more thought.
Duo froze at the cry of alarm, then sighed as he saw what Yuy was doing.
~If he dies... they'll report back to Zechs... you'll be free,~ Shinigami whispered.
~Then you'll be able to pursue revenge without having to worry,~ his private piece of darkness added.
~And he wants to kill you anyway... once he accomplishes his own goals and you have no more purpose, what makes you think he'll change his mind? You don't *really* want to die, do you?~
~Look at him, he's exhausted. He'll never last against those two--see how fresh they are? It's just a matter of time, really. And how stupid is he to charge them like that?~
*Dumber than I thought...*
~Then doesn't he *deserve* whatever happens?~
Panting, Heero stared down at the two bodies, then looked up at Duo, who had a faintly manic grin on his face. "That was... invigorating," he said wryly. "What took you so long?"
Duo's smile faltered briefly. "Waiting for the right moment, I guess... You shouldn't have done that, you know."
"I figured you'd need them good and distracted."
Duo turned away. "You shouldn't trust people you've just met so much," he said lightly. "Let's go find these bastards' camp and get some rest."
Heero nodded. "Sounds good."
Quatre looked incredulous. "You have got to be joking, Trowa."
Hirde raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you think I'm even willing to play this game of politics, anyway?"
Trowa shrugged. "It's better than your idea," he said, pointing at Quatre, "and you'll do it because it sounds dangerous, exciting, and rather lucrative."
The captive bounty hunter had to grin. "Okay, you've got me pegged, I have to admit."
"I don't care about them, Trowa. It doesn't matter to me what they do anymore," Quatre protested.
"You can't run away from your family forever, Quatre," Trowa told him. "Sooner or later you will have to face them."
Quatre sighed. "Yes, you're right, of course. Families are like curses, impossible to escape. Fine. It's a feasible plan, actually. If Miss Schbeiker is amenable...?"
"Sweetheart, if you pay half as well as your sister, I'm willing."
Quatre snorted. "Iria isn't throwing her dowry away, that's why she's so free with the purse strings. But, yes, I have the funds to pay you just as well--and I won't be bankrupting the duchy to do it."
Hirde wriggled. "Then will you untie me now, please?"
Trowa loosened the bonds, and she sat up, eagerly reaching for the jewelry Quatre had so casually dropped in the dust. She let out a low whistle. "Fancy."
"Mm. Just something I picked up a few weeks ago." Quatre said noncommittally. "It meets your standards?"
"Gods yes. I can retire comfortably on this little bauble... not that I would, of course." Hirde bounced to her feet, swiping the signet ring as she did. "Well, Mister Winner, Trowa, it's been fun, but I have business in Chanth... see you around, boys." She bounded away, still smiling.
"There goes a satisfied woman," Quatre laughed.
Trowa looked at him. "If you haven't gone home to your duchy, and you're just a wanderer..... how is it that you have that much disposable money?"
Quatre coughed. "I found it under a magic toadstool?"
Trowa just waited patiently.
Quatre coughed again. "Uh... let's just call it a creative view of the, ah, finer points of ownership."
"You're just a thief?"
Quatre was insulted. "I am not 'just a thief.' As it so happens, I am a very good thief." He buffed his fingernails on his shirt and eyed them critically. "You might say there's none better."
Quatre regarded him, amazed.
"Only you would be so proud of that," Trowa chuckled. "I should have known, though."
"Hn. I don't see what's so funny," Quatre sniffed. "I was merely trying to decide what would annoy my family the most and I realized that becoming a notorious thief would drive them insane. All that injured aristocratic pride, don't you see."
"Is everything you do aimed at them?" Trowa asked.
Quatre sobered. "Not everything. Just... most of it. All of us have our demons, my ranger friend, and we're lucky if we can ever face them down enough to live our own lives. For me, my family is my demon. But, this plan of yours might actually work. We'll see."
"Your faith in me is touching," Trowa muttered.
Quatre snickered. "Sorry. It's just that I was so impressed by your prowess in apprehending that bounty hunter that all civility left my head."
"Here we go again," Trowa sighed resignedly, not fooled by Quatre's return to his previous flamboyant seduction attempts. "Don't you ever give up?"
Quatre beamed at him. "No. Besides, I'm leaving tomorrow morning... don't you want to give me a proper goodbye?"
"You're positively incorrigible."
"That may be the sweetest thing you've said to me yet."
"We're lost, aren't we?" Meiran asked flatly.
Wufei glared at her. "We are not lost."
"Yes we are. We've passed that rock three times already this morning!" she contradicted.
"We aren't lost, woman! We're just... slightly spatially misplaced."
Meiran looked triumphant. "In other words, we're lost.
"Yes--NO! I know where we're going, I just have to figure out how to get there," Wufei snapped. "And you aren't helping, you know?"
"Well, I'm not the one chasing after legends--my suggestion was to head south and rally the other clans, but you had a better idea... Let's you wake the dragons, you said. That'll teach Her Grace, you said. It will be justice, you said. Hah! I'm hungry, I'm tired, and I marked that damn rock the last time we passed it!" Meiran pointed to the rock.
"Don't you two ever stop fighting?!" Sally demanded, tired after a morning of similar exchanges. "Gods! You're giving me a headache! I've half a mind to just leave the two of you and go home, damn it!"
Wufei looked at her blankly. "You don't have a home."
"The hell I don't! It may be hundreds of miles from these godforsaken mountains, but it exists! I swear, if it weren't for the fact that I'd hate to leave Cathrine with you two, I'd go now. You two are nothing but squabbling, immature children, and you're annoying the hell out of me."
Cathrine gaped, first at Sally, who had just scolded the two nobles, then at the aristocrats, who seemed as though they couldn't quiet believe they'd been equated with spoiled children. Finally, she laughed.
Sally smiled to hear it, then looked severely at Meiran and Wufei. "Would it kill you to be civil to one another?* she demanded. "You may be a lord and his lady, but I've known peasants with better manners."
Wufei sputtered. "Woman, you--"
Sally smacked him. "My name is Sally. Your wife's name is Meiran. Her name is Cathrine. Remember that, please."
Meiran giggled at the indignation on Wufei's face. Sally folded her arms across her chest stoically, waiting for Meiran to stop laughing. "I'm not done yet," she announced. Meiran looked at her quizzically. "As I recall, you didn't object that strenuously to this entire dragon idea. Stop being so damned bitchy about it just because he came up with the idea."
Cathrine touched Sally's shoulder gently. "I think that's enough... It looks like you've traumatized them both."
Sally snorted. "They needed it."
Wufei, making an obvious effort to keep his voice even, put forth a suggestion. "Why don't we stop for a quick meal while I, ah, reorient myself with the terrain?"
Sally smiled brightly. "I think that a picnic sounds lovely!"
Meiran and Cathrine just shook their heads.
Ralph rubbed his eyes. The days were much too full of things to be done, it seemed... The army, what there was of it, was mustering and drilling, as if a few days spent on a parade ground could prepare it for an invasion. The populace of Escand and the surrounding countryside was evacuating (To where? he wondered) or settling in for a siege... not that it could be a long siege. The city had long since outgrown its ancient defensive walls. The only comfort Ralph found was in knowing that the castle itself would withstand the two armies... at least for a little while.
"You should rest, you know."
"Mm? Yes, I suppose." Ralph smiled. "But so should you."
Relena smiled back. "But we aren't going to, are we?"
"No, I rather suspect not... It looks bad for us, love."
"I know... I know." She sighed. "I wish I could console myself that Milliard would never let his own duchy fall... the duchy he should be ruling, not me... but even I can't keep faith forever."
Ralph shook his head. "You've believed in him far longer than anyone else would have. No one will blame you for giving up on him."
"Do you thnk so?" Relena asked.
"I doubt even Zechs would fault you."
Relena closed her eyes. "Ah. Well. Enough talk. Back to preparing for the invasion... Merquise has us at a disadvantage by knowing our defenses as he does."
"Yes, he does," Ralph agreed, recognizing Relena's final acceptance of her brother's changed identity in her use of his new name.
Dorothy winced, but only internally. The disadvantage of traveling along magical routes was the draining effect it had on one's body. But such were the prices of inconvenience. Proud in her armor, the duchess moved forward, away from her gasping, drained wizard, to take the head of her army.
New stuff is on its way!