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fic - kdtv 26 - the road to hell
Series:  Kyuuketsuki Duo
Arc:  TV Series
Title:  The Road to Hell



Kyuuketsuki Duo
Episode XXVI - The Road to Hell


As soon as Heero had dropped Trowa off outside and away from the property, Duo's control had collapsed and he was left terribly weary all over again.  His word to Trowa had hardly been forgotten, but even if there had been something wrong with Quatre, Duo was just in no mood and no condition to deal with it.  Heero had allowed him to languish once more in their bed and build up some energy again, but finally enough was enough.  Besides, much as he enjoyed spending a little lazy time with his partner, Heero was getting restless.  He had had much too much time that afternoon to have his limbs fall asleep as he pondered copious thoughts on matters of deep import.

"Come on, Duo," he coaxed.  "What you need is some fresh night air."

"Heeeero," Duo whined, very loath to get up.

"Come on," he repeated, and as soon as he had gotten the guardian to his feet, he whisked them away through the shadows and into the park.  It was Duo's favorite place to go in town, because of the peace and the nature, but mostly because of the duck pond.  The ripples of the lake were the closest he could conveniently get to the wavelets in the ocean he used to watch as a youth.

With a sigh, Duo let himself be led down the winding path, although he refused to walk completely upright and leaned his side and head entirely against Heero, entwining their fingers.  Heero bore it without comment and led the way.  It was only after they had meandered for a while that Duo came to a sudden and startling realization.

"Heero!"

"Hmmm?" the figure in question said complacently, prussian eyes turning downwards to meet violet.

"You're...."  He trailed off to look down at Heero's robes.  They weren't his normal set.  "You're looking... human!"  Indeed, except for the fact that they were both dressed entirely in black, Heero could easily be identified as 'normal', maskless in his loose pants and abbreviated robe.  It looked more like a long shirt, really, or a light jacket.  They'd taken moonlit strolls through the empty park before, but never on this level of humanity.

"Hn," Heero acknowledged slightly.

The sound caused Duo to dig his heels in and stop in his tracks, perforce halting Heero as well.  "No.  No, we've been over this.  You're not supposed to do this just because I'm having a bad--"

Heero rolled his eyes before laying a swift finger upon his lips.  Humans.  Such thick skulls, sometimes.  "I want," he started, then repeated.  "I.  Want."  The emphasis on each word was firm, signaling his understanding of the matter, and he placed a similar emphasis on those words each time he uttered them.  "To do this because I want to see you better.  I want you to get better.  I want to overcome my natural hesitance for doing this sort of thing because I love you--"  And the fact that it was so much more than those words alone was made quite clear by the way he echoed it with his thoughts and his emotions as he said it, sending it in a silent packet over to his partner that made Duo's heart and soul tingle and glow and shiver all at once.  "-- and I want to spend this time with you.  Admittedly, with you alone, and not surrounded by crowds of humans, but still.  This is just a little thing, and I offer it to you.  Now, seeing as how you've said that I shouldn't keep subjugating my own whims for yours, you are just going to have to live with that.  Alright?"

It was a long time before Duo managed to gather enough presence of mind to twitch his muscles into a nod, and Heero finally removed his finger.  "Good," he settled with a tiny smile that was just for Duo.  "Perhaps we can finally stop having this same conversation over and over again."

Duo wrapped himself around Heero's arm once more as they started moving again.  "Can I ask just once," he said in a small voice.  "Are you sure?"

"There's no one here to see but you, Duo, and there's no reason I should be reluctant to show myself to trees inside a city.  Now humans..."

"I know you don't like being among them.  And I don't ask that you do that for me."

"And I might never offer you that," Heero admitted.  "But this, this I can do.  This I should be able to do.  This, right now, this alone, I want to be able to do."

They finally arrived at the familiar duck pond, and Heero settled them down comfortably, Duo nestled snugly and securely in his arms.

"Mmmm," Duo sighed contently.  "Alright.  I can admit it.  Maybe you were right, and this is just what I needed."  He elbowed his lover lightly when he felt that faint and unspoken 'of course' coming from the other end of their link.

Heero gave him a small squeeze.  "Then perhaps you'll be willing to entertain some more of my brilliant ideas?"

"I can entertain them," the guardian answered saucily.  "But no guarantees."

"We need to get you back on your feet."  Heero paused and waited for the boy to relax again after that statement.  "And it seems to me that, despite your resolution to regain control over your power, we've been going about it the wrong way."

"You have a better way?" Duo said tersely.

"You've been going at it from the top down.  Perhaps you might try from the bottom up this time."

"You mean start at the basics again?"  He made a face.  "How tiresome.  But, unfortunately, it sounds like a good idea.  Have I been getting sloppy?"

"Not that I've noticed, but perhaps your power has a different idea.  Something must have slipped, your approach or even just your attitude, that made your power decide that it could separate itself from you."

"Do you think that's what it's been doing?" he asked, slightly worried.  He wasn't particularly in love with his guardian job, but he didn't fancy having a large part of himself forcibly secede from the rest of him either.

Heero shrugged.  "Perhaps not so strongly as the statement implies."

Duo chuckled ruefully.  "Maybe it thought I was taking it for granted and just wanted the attention again."

"Perhaps."

"Great.  Remind me never to have kids, love."  He sighed.  "So where do I start?"

"Take a deep breath and close your eyes," Heero began, speaking softly into the guardian's ear so as not to disturb him much.

Duo smiled, remembering the phrase from so long ago, when he first began his training.  He let the words flow over him, bring him down to the state of calm that was their intention, and reminded himself not to jump ahead even though he already knew where they were going.



"Where are we going, Wufei?," she asked as they paused at an intersection.  Meiran thought to herself that it was quite fortuitous that her father was out of town so often.  It would be difficult to explain these nighttime forays.

"We'll know when we get there."  He turned left and kept on going, heading away from the center of the city's night life.  It was fortunate that it was a quiet night since they were just wandering around, following Wufei's instincts.  He had sensed some suspicious overtones in the air when he had searched area, and now they were playing a game of hot and cold.

They reached another intersection.  Wufei fingered the hilt of the sword beneath his long coat, silently asking for a hint.  It warmed only briefly for him in recognition of his presence, but that was all.



Quatre tried not to fidget in his seat.  That was hardly professional.  Nevertheless, it made him nervous to be taken for a ride into a probably dangerous situation.  Penny assured him that he could change his mind and leave, although how that would work when they were currently in a car traveling away from the places he would feel comfortable in by himself was beyond him.  He had a passing ridiculous vision of himself jumping out of the moving vehicle as always happened in the movies.

The time for indecision was long since past.  He had made a choice, and now he had to stick with it.  Recent trends proved that he had to learn to follow his own course.  Duo's absences only pointed out that Quatre couldn't rely on him forever; he had his own duty and responsibilities to take care of that superceded by far any responsibility he may have felt for teaching a lost little spiritualist in need of direction.

The car stopped before he realized where they were.  He looked around, and saw nothing immediately recognizable before realizing that they were parked outside what was generally recognized as the back side of the central park of the area.  "It's here?" he asked unnecessarily.  A lot of people went in and out of the park on a regular basis.  He would have thought that a threat would have settled itself somewhere a little more out of the way.  On the other hand, perhaps it liked having the reliable stream of people available to it.

"This is where I tracked it down to," Penny affirmed.  "The power's been generalized, but just tonight I localized its signal to this area.  Something's happening."

"Something bad?" Quatre asked tentatively.

"You can still back out, you know," she offered, unlocking her door and getting out of the car.

He shook his head emphatically, scolding himself for sounding like such a little kid.  The last thing Penny needed going into this sort of situation was someone to babysit.  The last thing Quatre wanted was to be a burden on someone else.  "No," he said confidently, following her outside.  "I'm in."

"Good.  I don't know if it's bad or not, but it's all coming together.  The power is concentrating itself.  Maybe in preparation for something."

Sounds bad, Quatre thought to himself, but didn't voice aloud.  Instead, he tried to probe the energies of the park for himself, careful not to alert anything to his presence, but wanting to find out if there were any innocent humans in the area that might be in harm's way.  Unfortunately, he couldn't get a steady signal on anything.  By himself, he probably would have dismissed the phenomenon.  Now, although he could not discern the source of the interference, it must have been the result of the generalized blanket of power that lay over the area that Penny had described.  Being much more professional than he, Penny must have been able to extract more information from the cloud than he could.

Resigned to being the inferior for the moment, he went ahead and asked.  "Do you think there's anyone in there that we should warn or get out of the way?"

She shook her head.  "Not that I can tell, but where the disturbances seem to be localized, I can't tell much of anything."

"Let me guess," he murmured.  "That's precisely where we're heading, right?"

She grinned ferally.  "Precisely."



Fortunately, the sword decided to be a little more helpful and eventually guided them in front of the park near the center of town.  "Good," Wufei judged decisively.

"Good?" Meiran questioned.  "I was about to say bad, myself."

He raised an eyebrow at her.  "Why was that?"

"Because there's no one there at night.  While that's good because that means no one's likely to stumble in on something they really shouldn't, it also means that there's no one around to hear us scream."

The eyebrow remained raised.  "That is precisely why it's good."

She gave him a hard look, but he didn't fold.  "Great," she muttered.  "Just great."

"I do not intend to be the one screaming," Wufei offered graciously.

"Yeah, whatever."  She snorted impolitely and they went inside.

Wufei paused for a moment to test the ether, but found the energy bouncing haphazardly from all sides.  He heaved a sigh in irritation.  "Meiran," he said resignedly.  The park was a large place, and the night was wasting away.  "Can you tell where we need to be?"

She blinked in silent surprise that he had actually requested her assistance, but didn't make an issue of it.  Instead, she turned her attention to the matter at hand, and tested the power currents for herself.  She could see why the power could obfuscate the issue for Wufei, with the way it was interfering with itself, but she settled down to sort it out, and eventually, she produced an answer, and pointed in the proper direction.  "Over there.  I think."

He nodded, accepting the direction as good as any other, and headed down the path.



The two spiritualists followed the park paths inwards until Penny stopped, sniffed the air with her power, and took them down a jogger's trail.  She could sense it more clearly now: there were beings at the center of the disturbance, and their power whispered of the night.  She couldn't determine exactly how many might be present, but no more than a handful, surely.  She could take them, or at least make a dent in them and flee to fight another day.

She glanced over her shoulder at her young student.  He was tense and quite a bit anxious, but looked to be holding it together rather well, all things considered.  Excellent.  She didn't want to deal with anyone that couldn't keep level-headed in a high-stress situation, which was what this might become.

Quatre caught her looking at him, and gave her a small, tight smile in response.  She smirked to herself and turned her attention back to the front again.  Bright kid.  A little too bright, in terms of disposition.  It would be a sad day when he got the shiny rubbed off of him, but it would happen.  He was just lucky that she was the one that found him, because she was one of the good guys, and she wanted to help.  Even so, there was no way he could have been sure of that.  The boy was much too trusting and kind at times.  She could have been out to get him, to manipulate him.  She may have been teaching him only to infiltrate his good graces and then betray him and try to use him.  She knew all about that.  That tended to rub the shiny off of a person rather quickly.

The boy was a prime target for anyone.  With his nature, it probably wouldn't take much at all for something wicked to earn his compassion, and then corrupt him and turn him towards the darkness.  That would have been quite the shame.  Not only would the forces of good have lost a powerful soldier in their war against the darkness, but he also then would have become her enemy, and she might have had to meet him in unfriendly circumstances.  There would have been no quarter given for either side: it was unforgivable for a human, especially one with power, to turn his back on his fellow man.  There would be no return for him; he would have to have been destroyed, for everyone's sakes.  Power like his was too strong to let fall into the wrong hands.

She stopped again, and frowned with some annoyance at the way the power shifted.  The trail was beginning to lead away from the goal, so there was little choice but to leave the beaten path to fight their way through the bushes and trees.  With a gesture and a jerk of her head, she motioned to Quatre to follow her.

He looked skeptically at her, and then at the thick foliage, wondering if this was really necessary, but he followed without a word.  For a city boy, he wasn't moving too badly through the park, which was good.  They were very close now to their prey, and excessive noise might have given them away.  When he did manage to snag his jacket on a branch, he bit his lip and sat back calmly to untangle it.

Penny spared him only a brief look, and then continued on without him.  They were so close she could feel it tingling down the back of her neck.  Just a few more crawling steps, and she managed to maneuver herself into a prime position to observe a lakeside through the bushes and confirm her suspicions.

There, not one hundred yards away from them, stood two figures.  Human, she thought at first, but definitely not with the way the shorter of them seemed to glow and pulse with power.  And the sphere of crimson energy he held in one hand rather gave it away as well.  The second one, the darker of the two, revealed himself when he plucked a similar globe from the air and threw it in the direction of his companion, who caught it easily.

Penny's eyes narrowed.  Demons in human form, then, or humans that had sold themselves for that power.  She sneered in disgust at them.  It looked like it would be up to her to excise their taint from this earthly plane.  With a smooth, practiced motion, she unsheathed her knife from its place behind her back and drew it before her.  She did a brief routine check on its energy levels, and smiled grimly in satisfaction when she felt the power of the elementals ensnared within it reacting strongly to her probe.  This was how she could summon the elementals so much more quickly than Quatre could.  It wasn't just experience.  This was what the elementals were made for, not befriending, as Quatre would have it.  They were only power sources of a particular nature, and in this case, they were granting her access to a realm beyond her reach alone as a spiritualist.  A spiritualist's natural power lay mostly in the passive and defensive, not offensive.  When it came to situations like these, however, these head-on confrontations with the dark powers, a little firepower came in handy, and that was why she had begun to collect the elemental powers within her focus-blade.  They lay only a thought away from her.

It was these powers now that Penny grasped a hold of to confront the evil beings before her now.  With only a flicker of effort, she pulled the power of fire from her exposed knife and emerged calmly from the bushes.

Quatre had finally freed himself mostly from the greedy branches and popped up behind her.  He looked down the shore of the lake at the two figures half hidden in the shadows, saw the fire gathered in the palm of her hand, and with a startled whisper said, "Penny, no!"

She heard the call from the boy behind her, but dismissed it.  Likely he thought that they were humans, as she did herself at first, and so she didn't pause as she sent the burning package towards her opponents.



Duo released his hold on the shadows, letting them slide back into their native darkness.  "This is going a lot faster than it did the first time," he commented, watching as his ebony sculpture of a duck melted away.

"Don't get cocky," Heero advised.  "Or else we might end up right where we started again."

"Assuming, of course, that that's what got us into this situation in the first place," Duo was quick to point out.  "Anyway, this is really working.  It really feels like it's all coming back together."  He dragged a finger through a puddle of shadow and pulled a ribbon of it out after him, drawing a loose picture in the air with its trail.

"I should have thought of this sooner."  Heero reached out to grab a hold of the tail end of Duo's dark paint, giving it a tug and dropping it back into a shadow again.

"You thought of it at all," Duo reminded him with a small smile.  "You are the absolute bestest, and probably just what I can always use to pull myself out of any funk."  Holding his tongue lightly between his teeth in concentration, he spun out a light weave of starlight, and sent it over to curl lazily around his teacher's head, at one point brushing against his cheek in a fond gesture.

Heero blew at it in a tiny puff, and it shattered.  "You need to work on your focus."

"Hey," he said in his defense.  "Starlight is hard to work with."

"Nevertheless--"

"Alright already."  With a careful thought, he materialized a small sphere of power filled with a familiar crimson flame in the palm of his hand.  He tossed it lightly up and down with one hand, and each time it landed again, the flame flicked into a different color.  "Tada!"

With a dry look on his face for the sheer gratuity of that little act, Heero effortlessly gathered a sphere of his own into his hand and tossed it at his grinning companion.  Duo caught it with a smirk and started to juggle the two of them together.  "Ha!" the boy said.  "Gotcha that time."

Heero watched as the two balls left a ring of fire in the air.  Despite his goading, Duo was recollecting himself rather nicely.  Of course, he still wasn't anywhere near where he had been before this little episode took a hold of him, but in matters of power, self-confidence went a long way, and Duo was getting that back after a long spell without any.  Heero opened his mouth to make another comment, but he stopped halfway through his first syllable, suddenly sensing something off in the wind.  Half a second later, his senses went shrill in warning and he dived towards his partner and took him with him to the ground, shielding the boy's body with his own as a spout of flame rushed over them.  Their own little spheres of energy fell harmlessly to the ground and spilt out their contents, the power returning to the earth.  In the distance, the ducks squawked themselves awake and fled to the other side of the lake.

::What the--?:: Duo started, checking his partner over mentally for injuries, but finding none.  From the chest lying atop his, he could feel the rumble of a low growl building momentum in Heero, and he froze, caught by the fierce, blazing look that he hadn't seen in his partner's eye for quite a while.

Heero pushed himself off the ground and spun around to face their assailant, pulling a pitch black scythe from the shadows as he did so, the wicked edge of the weapon gleaming a dark arc in the night.  He had the stranger woman's position marked before he had even completed the action, and he stood tall and intimidating, glaring at her from across the distance with a promise of pain in his eyes.



Penny took in her adversaries with a cool, assessing look.  The one in front seemed to be her main opponent.  The one with the braid was one to keep an eye on, but seemed to represent less of a threat than the dark, menacing one brandishing his weapon with an easy, cold confidence.  Indeed, the figure in front seemed to be holding not only an aggressive pose, but also a defensive one.  She wondered briefly why he would want to protect the creature behind him, but dismissed the distraction of dwelling on demon loyalties for another time.  Perhaps she could use that against him.  Wasting no more time, she attacked.

Quatre watched with horror as she left the shelter of the bushes and made her move towards them.  As the power of an earth elemental left her fingers to dive into the ground at her opponent's feet, he unfroze and leapt out of the bushes himself, cursing as his jacket caught on the branches once again.  If she had only given him some warning of their activities tonight, then perhaps he could have dressed a little more appropriately, and he wouldn't be having this problem.  Not that he wasn't already having problems.  If there was one thing that Duo said, it was don't interfere with his work.  And what was Quatre doing right now?  Exactly that.  Well, technically, Penny was, flinging around her power like that, but Quatre was an unwitting accomplice here.  And it wasn't really her power, either.  Where was she getting power like that?

He recognized the signature with one more bolt of flung energy.  It was elemental.  And it was stored in her blade?  Lord, how many elementals had she... *sacrificed* to that thing to get such a concentration of power?  He realized he was making the knife out to sound like some sort of pagan god, but he didn't care.  Didn't she realize that she wasn't meant to wield that sort of power?  That couldn't be healthy, for her, or the elementals whose power she was abusing with her creative use of binding spells.  Despite her claims to the contrary, Quatre knew that the otherplanar beings had a decent level of consciousness and awareness.  They couldn't be happy, being held captive like that.  Once he thought about it, the buzz of their anger made itself known along his senses.  Perhaps she couldn't feel it -- his empathic senses were a lot stronger than hers.

He almost felt like smacking himself on the forehead.  This was *so* not his fault, and Duo had better see that, once this whole mess was cleared up.  Who knew what they had just interrupted, what with Duo talking to that other fellow, the one who had taken them both out of harm's way with his quick reflexes.  The one who was scowling darkly as he fought.  The one who had been hovering most protectively over Duo just moments ago.  The one whom Duo was watching intently.  Just who was... no.  It couldn't be.

"Heero!" he heard Duo say faintly.  "Stop this."

Well, darn.  No wonder he looked so pissed.



Heero caught the small incoming bolt of electricity on the edge of his scythe and dispersed it with a twist of his wrist.  He had never dealt much with elementals in his time -- after all, they were no match for him -- but he knew how to take care of them.  Given a little time, the elemental would be able to pull itself back together again, and most of the time, it would leave this plane for its own.  It was easy to destroy them, snuff out their little existences with a twist of his mind in the other direction, but he had never liked that option.  Despite his fury directed at the human in front of him, he would not grant her even the smallest victory of compromising his values.

He danced aside to avoid an incoming ice elemental, noting with a corner of his mind as it crashed into the ground beside him, skidded a ways, and then fled for its own realm, as if only too glad to get out of there.  What a horrible existence, to be called at the whim of some upstart human.  That was even more degrading than his own service to the Dark, which Duo had freed him from.  He decided to add that to her list of offenses.  And now this very same human was daring to attack his Duo, and he was far less than pleased.

A blonde head poked itself out of the bushes, and Heero's countenance darkened even further.  Quatre.  Was he working in league with this woman?  Had he betrayed them?  His rage split itself without loss of substance to accommodate for this new factor.  With only the one woman, things would have been simple.  He could have just beaten her down, excised the image of himself and the guardian from her mind with the business end of his weapon, and then tossed her body into the middle of the lake to play with the ducks, but two of them was a different story, especially when one of them was Quatre.  For some unfathomable reason, his lover seemed to have taken a shine to the beginner spiritualist, and harming the sunny fool would probably make Duo unhappy, and that was a very bad thing.

Denied any other recourse at the moment, he concentrated his efforts on harassing the woman.



The last stretch of their journey through the park had been easy as veritable signal flares went up in the vicinity of the lake.  Wufei and Meiran ran down the path and broke into the opening, stopping short as they saw the gathering of people further down the lakeshore, and the fire that stretched between them.

"Duo," Wufei half-sneered.  "I should have known."

Meiran whapped him on the arm.  "You don't know that it's his fault, whatever this is.  Quatre's over there, and he's got some spiritualist woman with him.  Maybe this is all just a misunderstanding."

He snorted.  "Somehow, I doubt it."  Sensing that the situation was under control, they walked the rest of the distance towards the others.  They were on Duo's side of the lakeshore.  Who was that stranger with him?  There was something familiar about the tall figure's movements and the flare of his power.

"Why not?  Spiritualist plus Shinma, even if he is a guardian.  Of course she's going to try to attack him if Quatre didn't warn her first.  A classic misunderstanding."

"No misunderstanding there," Wufei muttered darkly.  "That's exactly what she should do."  It was dishonorable to stand back and watch as a fight progressed, yet he wasn't quite sure which side he should be supporting.  The woman was attacking a member of the dark.  No disagreement there.  Unfortunately, he had fallen into the trap of thinking of Duo as, if not a good guy, then at least not a bad guy.  Spending time with the strange guardian had taught him that there weren't only two sides to the matter.

"Where is she getting all that power from?" Meiran whispered to herself.  "I've got a bad feeling about this."

Yes, indeed.  Always more than two sides.



Duo sighed to himself, trying mindspeech this time instead of spoken words.  ::Heero.  What are you doing?::

Although the warrior didn't formulate the thoughts aloud, there was a very clear 'isn't it obvious?' coming from his partner.

He picked himself off the floor and assessed the situation, absently brushing the dust off of his clothing.  ::Leave Quatre out of it,:: he said sharply, noticing the dark turn of Heero's thoughts towards the young spiritualist that had poked his head out of the bushes.

::You believe him to be innocent in this?:: Heero asked disdainfully, watching with cold pleasure as a few shards of obsidian shade were only barely turned away by a hastily thrown wind elemental.

Duo looked on as Quatre stumbled his way out of his hiding place and towards the woman, attempting to speak to her.  It appeared he knew her, and had come here with her, though for what purpose, Duo didn't know.  They couldn't have known that the two of them would be here by the lake tonight.  That had been an entirely spur of the moment thing, or as spontaneous as any of Heero's ideas got.  ::Look, I'll deal with Quatre.::

::Fine by me.::  There was a anticipatory edge to those simple words.  Quatre was just a side dish.  This woman was the main course.  He twirled his scythe in a preparatory manner, the curved blade making a sweet sound as it cut through the air.  He could have been beside the woman in a blink, sliding that microthin edge through her viscera, but that wouldn't have been as satisfying.

Duo was struck simultaneously by two things.  The first, how childish this all seemed.  The second, that Heero looked damned good as he moved.  Duo hadn't seen him in action -- well, this kind of action -- without his robes on for quite a while.  His normal shadowy trappings typically shrouded the finer details of his motions.  His actions were still graceful, flowing, but now they shone with a clean precision and efficiency that could leave no doubt that he was dangerous.  Very dangerous.

The guardian shook himself out of his brief reverie and took the time to remember that someone was in the way of that danger right now.  He removed his eyes from his partner and looked across the way to the two humans on the scene.  Quatre didn't seem to be in cahoots with the woman, who very obviously was a spiritualist of some sort.  This must have been the woman that Trowa had been referring to.

Duo sized her up with a measuring sweep of eyes that had not yet frozen to amethyst.  He was picking up snatches of images that flickered in and out around her.  If she was a practicing spiritualist, surely she was normally more in control of her aura.  The anger and hate coming off of her, the need to prove herself, the desire for vindication with a touch of vengeance, they all would have given her away to many a supernatural creature before she ever had a chance to face them.



Quatre had no such need to measure their opponents.  He was already well aware of them, and knew that their skills must surely surpass Penny's, who was working with borrowed power herself.  Thusly acquired energy could never be as powerful as it was when wielded by those from whom it was stolen.  It ran unnaturally through her, twisting her underlying power structures into something different.  Prolonged use could damage her energy flows.  Why wasn't Penny seeing what he was seeing?  He knew he disagreed with her on several philosophical issues, but this was ridiculous.

"Penny, they aren't the enemy," he attempted to reason with her.

She spared him only a sidelong glance before muttering a small incantation under her breath and sending out another gout of flame towards the two otherworldly creatures, this one reinforced by her own spiritualist power.  There was a moment of satisfaction as she saw it actually threaten her opponent's well-being this time.  Silly of her to rely so much upon external energy, especially when her own spiritualism had proven so effective against these sorts of creatures in the past.  She felt a thrill of something run up her spine, knowing that victory was easily possible, and it energized and inspired her.  "You're quite mistaken, Quatre."  She pulled out a set of paper wards from inside her coat.

He could be just as stubborn as she could be.  "Penny.  Listen to me.  They haven't done anything wrong.  They're just--"

She flung a ward at them before spinning to face him.  "No, you listen to me, Quatre.  They aren't your friends.  They're the bad guys here, and they've got to go.  Isn't that why you wanted to become a spiritualist?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Quatre could see that Heero had been about to take advantage of their distraction, but Duo had restrained him.  Apparently, the ward had been dealt with as efficiently as the rest of Penny's attacks.  Hopefully, Duo was trying to talk his companion down, just as he was.  Someone was going to end up hurt if this kept up.  "Yes, it is, but they're not the bad guys.  Not all beings from the darkness are bad, Penny."

"And what, then?" she sneered.  "You propose that I ask them first which side they're on?"  Her knife blazed with her anger, and with a flicker of thought she sent another bolt of power towards the other two.

Quatre winced, knowing that his friends would escape unscathed, but still, they had had a tiny ceasefire going there for a moment, and he could only hope that Duo would prevent any retaliation from flying their way.  The guardian had at least managed to convince his protector to put away that frightening scythe, not that he couldn't just pull it out from the shadows once more.  The very fact that the other boy was trying to stop, or at least slow, his companion's attacks, just reinforced to Quatre that they weren't evil, but that wasn't making itself plain to Penny, and he was running out of time.  It was possible that it was just the power high, the rush of adrenaline that was affecting her judgment; it was equally possible that it was something more sinister, perhaps even a combination of the two.  He grabbed her arm and went for the more direct approach.  "You don't have to ask, Penny, I already know.  They're my friends."

She froze in the act of hurling another elemental-enforced ward and turned on him, her wide eyes filled with something dark and unreadable.



Wufei had slowed his steps as much as he could without being obvious about it, but inevitably they got close enough to the conflict to become a part of it.  He still hadn't decided which side he wanted to be on, but at least the attacks had stopped for a moment, sparing him the decision.

That didn't last for long.  With a startled yell, the woman jerked her arm out of Quatre's grasp and pushed him away from her, sending the boy sprawling to the ground.  "You're on their side," she hissed at him, her words carrying clearly through the night.  "All this time... and you've been one of them!"

Wufei cursed as she stirred the very air against the boy, whipping up the leaves around him into a cutting dance.  Caught offguard, Quatre could do nothing more than shield his head with his arms and try to get away.  Wufei was too far from Quatre to do any good, but a shadow leapt out from its place of concealment in the woods behind Penny and hit her from the side and away from Quatre.  Her concentration was broken as she stumbled a few steps, and the newcomer resolved itself into Trowa, moving smoothly to Quatre's side to help him up and pull him away from the angered woman.

Penny recovered and looked up to see not only Trowa, but the two Chinese youths as well, who had joined them.  Her focus directed itself first to the boy that had struck her, and her eyes narrowed.  She saw the way he had been touched by the guardian's power, the way her own power slid harmlessly off the surface of his mind.  How powerful were these creatures, her first opponents, to have claimed the hearts and souls of so many youths?  She could see it in the way they looked at her; they were all loyal to that boy with the braid and his protector.

"What was your price, Quatre?" she whispered harshly.  "Was it power?  Knowledge?  Is that how you came to be as strong as you are?"

He looked back at her with bewildered blue eyes, a fraction of his attention on turning his right ankle around in a slow exercise to make sure it hadn't been twisted in the fall.  "What are you talking about, Penny?  I'm not one of anyone."

"They have you all fooled, don't they?  I can't believe I didn't see it earlier.  It should have been obvious, with your crazy ideas and all."

"See what?" he demanded, exasperated.  "I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding here."

"You're the one that doesn't understand."  She looked around, and all she saw surrounding her were enemies, humans that had betrayed their own kind.  "I trusted you.  I *helped* you.  And now you've shown your true colors!"  She tapped into the power at her disposal recklessly.  If she was going down, it wasn't going to be without a fight.  She'd bring these traitors back into the light, even if she had to burn it into them.



Crap.  Why was nothing ever easy?  One second, he was trying to convince Heero not to kill the woman, and the next moment, she was trying to kill Quatre.  Even Heero paused at this new development.  ::What's her problem?:: the warrior asked, taking a break from his outrage to be bemused.

::I don't think she likes being betrayed,:: Duo responded, some of Heero's light detachment spilling over into him.  ::I caught some definite hints of 'been betrayed before and didn't like it' coming from her earlier.::  Then he shook himself back into the moment, and focused.  There was a woman out for Quatre's blood, after all.  Now was not the time to be pondering motives.

This Penny woman's power flared wildly as she accessed energy not her own and merged it with her inborn skill, mixing it into a dangerous combination that was new and unpredictable.  It joined together with the strength of her emotions, her overflowing sense of betrayal, and reacted.

Quatre and Trowa were closest to ground zero; the green-eyed boy pulled Quatre aside in time to avoid the small firestorm heading their way.  The two Chinese teens, farther away, had time to scatter before it reached them.  As soon as it passed, Wufei had his sword drawn and was hovering protectively in front of Meiran.  She didn't argue.

::Okay, Heero,:: Duo conceded.  ::Now you can fight for real.::

Heero snorted in a delicate 'I told you so.'  A frown soon blossomed on his face when his globe of cold blue flame was brushed aside by a sweep of the woman's hand.  ::This could be a problem.::

::But only a small one,:: he answered lightly, trying to project more confidence than he actually felt.  He was pretty sure that between the six of them, they'd find some way to stop the rampant spiritualist.  He just wasn't sure what the cost would be.

"I had hopes for you, Quatre," Penny said in a low voice, black lightnings crackling between the fingers of one hand.  In her other hand, she still held on to her knife, the runes emblazoned in the metal pulsing in resonance with her anger.  As she reveled in the feeling of the strength of it sliding over her skin, Quatre, standing solidly on his feet once again, stared back at her and tried not to let her words get to him.  "You showed promise.  You had character.  You believed in the cause.  I didn't think that you'd turn out the same as all the rest of those weak-willed fools."  She curled her hand into a loose fist, and within her palm gathered a small ball of energy.

"I haven't given my soul to anyone or anything, Penny," Quatre denied vehemently.  "Is everything so black and white for you?  Not all of the beings not of this world are evil!  And just because I can see that, doesn't make me a bad guy!  If anything, you're the one here who's--"

"Enough!" she shouted, the power blasting forth with the sound of her voice in a concussive wave that drove him back a few steps.

Wufei grew tired of this flinging about of power, and decided to try a direct approach.  He was no longer hesitating to make a choice between the spiritualist and the guardian.  Matters of relative morality could be put aside when a comrade was in danger.  Making sure that Meiran was close enough to the others to be covered, he sped across the distance between himself and Penny and lunged at her, intent on knocking her out with the hilt of his sword.  Her senses and reactions enhanced by the power raging through her, she sidestepped the attack at the last moment and Wufei went crashing into the empty space left in her passing and into the dirt.  He rolled with the miss, coming smoothly to his feet on her other side, only to look up and face an outstretched palm.

"No!" Quatre cried, his reflexes kicking in as he automatically used what Penny had taught him and formed a shield around the other boy.  It glowed cleanly as it diverted the power of the attack.  It seemed that at least Quatre's power was still effective against hers, able to counter both the spiritualist element and the other.  His power was still untainted, however, and he had not the ability to launch the offensives that she could.  Even the wards and bindings would be useless here against her.  He prepared himself to shield anything she even looked at.

His defiance only roused Penny further.  "That was insulting, Quatre.  Was this why you asked me to teach you?  So that you could use what you learned against me?"

"No," he answered evenly.  "I asked so that I could use my power to help protect people, and that's what I'm doing."

"You're protecting the wrong people," she grated out through clenched teeth.  Wufei was closest to her, and he flipped himself out of the way as another burst of power went flying in his direction.

"You're going to burn yourself out at this rate, Penny," Quatre said, trying a slightly different approach.  Trowa's discreet hand on his elbow prevented him from moving towards her.  "You're going to hurt yourself, maybe permanently, especially by using the elementals the way you have."

She laughed, and it was a high, shrill sound.  "Are you still insisting that elementals are people, too?"  She tightened her grip on the power captured within the blade in her hand, and it screamed in outraged response.  She finally heard the voice of the ensnared, but it appealed to her.  It was the sound of the power that would enable her to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.  Using it, she could rid the world of these filthy humans and their corrupting forces.  "Even if they are, they still serve me.  And that would just put them in with the rest of the demons and the like.  And what more beautiful, poetic justice to turn their power against their own kind?"

"Just like you've turned your power against your kind?"  He risked making an analysis of her aura, thinking that perhaps he might be able to find some sort of weakness to be exploited, but instead, a single peek and he recoiled.  It was nothing like it had been just hours before.  The colors had all changed into darker, muddier shades, and they had mutated into strange, foreign patterns only loosely based on what had been there previously.  She was no longer herself.

Her expression darkened.  "You're the traitor here, Quatre.  You and all of your little friends.  I'm just doing my duty, bearing my responsibility.  I was the one who helped you.  Therefore it's my responsibility to deal with you."

Twin lances made of shadows slid through the air towards her and struck her in glancing blows, slicing through the flesh of her arm and her side.  The knife dropped to the ground from momentarily numbed fingers, but it did not seem to affect her power levels any.  The energy was already bonded to her too closely to be robbed by a mere loss of physical contact.  Without the touch of its master, the power illuminating the blade flickered and flared iridescently, as if trying to escape.

Duo stood nearly forgotten in all the talk, Heero standing slightly behind him.  Their arms outstretched in attack lowered in tandem.  "And it's my responsibility to deal with you," the guardian stated clearly.  "Whether you're possessed by Shinma, or demon, or just power in general, it's all the same.  You're upsetting the natural order of things."

"What would you know about responsibility, demonspawn?" she snarled at him before turning back to face the rest of the humans.  Her eyes were beginning to glow faintly with her unnatural power.  "Perhaps it would help if I took out your master?"  She returned fire against the guardian and his companion with an unrefined blast of light ruby that split itself over and over again as it approached its target, dividing into a storm of dangerous thin threads that spread out to attack from all sides.

As soon as Penny had started her threat, Quatre took that as a warning and had the time to put together a shield that he threw up before his beleaguered friends.  It proved effective against the spiritualist side of the attack, but Penny knew better than to throw any attack that was single-sided.  With the filtering out of most of the spiritualist energy, however, the otherworldly pair was left with an attack they could deal with more easily, and together they dispersed, diverted, and generally dealt with the rest of it.

"You will NOT use your power to protect him!" Penny cried at her former student, and again her power surged in response and overtook her, warping itself into a new form.  It fluctuated unstably, but that did not alter the effectiveness of the attack.  Beyond any formation of sophistication, she flung her power at the boy, and this time, Duo returned the favor.  He scooped out an obsidian globe from the shadows of the night, his powers thankfully cooperating with him, and sent it speeding towards the blast.  They struck with a silent boom, and the shadows swallowed the power whole and dispersed.

With the unverbalized agreement of his partner, Heero struck as well, chains of darkness emerging from the shadows around the woman to wrap around her and bind her.  The other ends of the fetters plunged into the black pools that were their sources, to emerge again as a single chain from the ebony puddles gathered at Heero's feet.  It was held in his hand, and he didn't let the bonds lie long enough for her to slip out of them, instead sending a precise pulse of energy down the lines of power that hit near her center.  It knocked her off balance, wringing a faint screech from her throat and weakening her control over the power.  He swiftly dissolved the threads tying them together to prevent any similar attack in the other direction.

Even before she had properly gathered herself, her base instincts guided the power to lash out almost of its own accord once again towards her original target.  Before any attack materialized, however, Quatre proved that he had not been spending the time bought him in vain.  A barrier flew into existence around her, lines glowing in a bright grid as each panel came together in flawless union and held.  A shriek accompanied the pounding of her power against the shield, and secure in her knowledge of all that she had taught Quatre, she tore it apart from the inside out and lobbed chunks of pure power at him, tearing up pieces of dirt when they landed at Quatre's feet as he lurched away from them.  Several of her attacks went wide and angled themselves at the two previously unassaulted teens.  Wufei inelegantly batted them away with his sword, the hilt of which housed an emerald jewel that warmed in response to the challenge.

With her arms raised over her head, and dark energy sparkles gathering within her upraised palms, they prepared themselves to meet what looked to be a final strike, when suddenly the black glimmering faded into nothingness, and she looked down in surprise at the tip of her own knife protruding from her belly.  She stumbled forward a few steps, revealing Trowa behind her, his face as expressionless as ever as he backed away.  With his unique talents, he had detached himself from Quatre's side without the boy noticing while the blonde had been preoccupied with the actions of their Shinma friends and managed to slip up undetected by anyone behind the woman.

The blade flashed, its inscriptions running red with the lifeblood of its master.  As blood made the bindings on the blade, so too did it unmake them.  Penny's control already weakened by the former Shinma hunter's earlier attack, the power within the blade rebelled and finally managed to escape from its prison.  Rage from being pent up made itself apparent as it turned on its former mistress and devoured her in a fierce whirlwind of elements.  The last of her strangled cries trailed off with the disappearance of the power to its own realm, and all that was left of her was a scorched and battered husk that soon collapsed in on itself, and even then a wind arrived to scatter the ashes that were left across the surface of the nearby lake.

There was a long silence as everyone caught their breath.  Quatre took a few steps towards the place she had fallen.  "She's dead," he whispered.

Duo raised an eyebrow at him, and tried to be gentle as he welcomed Quatre to the real world.  "Someone was going to get hurt tonight."  He had little in the way of pity in him tonight.  It'd been a long, tiring day that had seemed to be looking up, until one and a half spiritualists had stumbled in on his downtime and ruined everything.  He had finally gotten a grip on his powers again, that was good, but he had also gotten Heero to come a little bit further out of his shell, and look what happened.  That had taken months of gentle support, and it all went down the drain in less than an hour.  Good luck ever getting Heero to try anything again, he told himself dryly.  She had been a double insult to Heero, actually, with her attitude so lacking in respect for the otherrealms, her ruthless use of them as only mindless tools that was reminiscent of the thinking that had brought Heero into his existence in the first place.  Humans should learn not to mess with powers beyond their ability to fully understand.  It was fortunate for them all that he had managed to dispel the violent part of Heero's mood.  Heero hadn't really been angry so much as irritated.  He hated having decisions forced upon him, and here circumstances had demanded he be unmasked without consulting him first.

And really, he had thought that having an entire cult of people thinking that he was the scourge of all mankind was bad enough.  Then the Fates had to add another one to the list.  Surely he had expended his quota by now.  Wasn't he cute enough for people or something?  Was it that he wore all black?  Maybe he should try wearing white for the next decade, and sprinkle flower petals everywhere he went, see if he couldn't change his image.  Apparently bells were too sinister.

With a somewhat sour expression, he walked up to join the others, flanked closely by his everpresent guardian.  Heero remained bare to them all, pride dictating that he not slink back into hiding himself now that he had been revealed.  The only option left to him now was to glare them all into submission and silence.

Quatre listened numbly to the guardian's words before turning to another of his companions.  "You killed her."  He looked at Trowa with uncomprehending eyes.

Trowa met his gaze steadily, obviously standing by his decision.  She had been a threat to them all, and the answer had been clear to him.  That was Duo's gift to him.

"You killed her!" the stricken boy repeated.  He closed the small distance between himself and the taller boy, pounding on his chest without any real force behind it.  "There were other ways.  There had to have been another way to deal with this."

"She was trying to kill us, Quatre," Wufei pointed out.  "All of us.  Play with your own life if you must, but leave the rest of us out of it."  He said it as if the answer had been obvious, but in truth, he wasn't sure if he would have made the same cool decision that Trowa had made.  Not too long ago, he, too, had seen the supernatural in such a monochromatic light.  He had been the one to fight against Duo, blind to all the shades of gray that lay within the shadows.  Wufei had corrected his ways before something terrible had happened, but he had had a glimpse of the possibilities this night.  How far might he have gone, how far might he yet go, to obtain the power he needed to defeat his enemy?  It was a noble cause.  But from there, how far was he really from his cousin, who also had sold his soul and his family for power?

Even without the issue of power, there were more questions without answers.  He stated so confidently to Quatre that Penny was one of the enemy, that she had sold them out, yet would he really have killed her?  She had been a threat, and needed to be neutralized, that much was indisputable.  But she was human.  However, if she performed the same deeds that despicable non-humans did, why should he kill one without second thoughts and not the other?  What was the difference?  Or was it all the difference in the world?  And was he less of a human being for feeling relieved that she had gotten herself killed through her own devices and not forced the deed upon him?

"We were close," Quatre continued desperately, but whom was he trying to convince?  "We could have subdued her or something."

"And then what?" Duo asked scornfully.  "Convinced her she was wrong?  Maybe we all could have had a good laugh at the end of this, and walked away best friends."

"We could have done something!"  He emphasized the insistent statement with another light punch against Trowa's unyielding chest.  The silent youth laid his own hands over the distressed spiritualist's and held them down, both in restraint and comfort.  The move surprised Quatre a bit, and he glanced up to look Trowa in the eye.  The unflappable calm he saw there soothed him a little, but it did nothing to assuage his persistent feeling of guilt as he sought some sort of answer to an unformed question.  "After we got rid of the power, we could have... I don't know.  Dealt with the underlying causes or something.  I mean, maybe... maybe there was a Shinma influencing her or something, or--"

"No, Quatre," Duo cut in sharply.  "No Shinma here.  No demons, no cheap excuses.  There was nothing responsible for this except for pure humanity, in all its corrupt glory.  You're making the same mistake she did if you want to believe that otherworldly beings are responsible for all of the evil in this world.  They only work with what's already there, and believe me, there's plenty there to work with, otherwise there wouldn't be so many outsiders on this plane, and we wouldn't need people like you or me."

A small gasp to the side startled them from their intense exchange.  "Heero!" Meiran abruptly realized aloud.  The identity of the stranger had been put off in favor of more urgent matters and then forgotten, but the way in which the tall figure was hovering intimidatingly behind his charge was just too familiar to miss all of a sudden.

All eyes turned to the previously masked and robed one, who glared back at them all.  "You do realize," he said evenly to everyone, in what would be the only words he spoke aloud to them for a long, long time, "that there once was a time when any human that laid eyes on me had to die."  With a collective gulp, everyone hastily averted their eyes.

::Be nice,:: Duo chided him.

::Why?  You're not.::

Alright.  So maybe they both had reason to be irritable tonight.  He noted with a corner of his mind that the ducks were beginning to float this way again.

Quatre had already arrived at that great revelation, and so recovered more quickly than the others and put his mind back on its previous track, slipping his hands out from beneath Trowa's and taking a step back for breathing room now that the more rational side of his brain had kicked in again.  "Okay.  So maybe she brought this upon herself.  But nevertheless, she didn't need to die."

Duo shrugged.  He didn't know if he would have made the same decision as Trowa had either, but then again, it hadn't been Heero that had been threatened.  There weren't many other feasible options besides the one chosen.  Besides, he had killed out of necessity before, and not out of necessity.  He didn't particularly enjoy any of the instances when a death had been caused either directly or indirectly by his hands, and given a choice, he might wish that some of those deaths never have occurred.  On the other hand, some of them were the only way out, and he didn't regret them.  He didn't take the time to dwell too much on this death, however, and decide which side of the line it would have fallen for him.  The labor involved in the pondering would have gained him nothing.  He may not have made the same decision as Trowa, but he would support the boy's decision.

Quatre sighed.  "She was a human being.  She didn't deserve to--"

"No, Quatre," Duo interrupted again, hoping that the boy was just being careless with his phrasing and that it didn't outline some underlying philosophy that was with odds with his own, or more specifically, more in line with Penny's.  He was willing to grant the kid the benefit of the doubt for now.  "She was a living creature, and thus had a right to live, the same as you and me, the same as those elementals she was riding on.  That's it.  Get it straight.  Being human entitles you to *nothing* except perhaps the right to exist on this plane."

Quatre nodded slowly, conceding the point.  He hadn't realized how many of his ideas were so human-centric, not really from any human arrogance so much as the fact that he had never had to take otherworldly beings into consideration before.  Was it really that much different from taking into account people of different races or religions?  He did that naturally and automatically; he would have to learn to do the same with this new set of creatures in his worldview.

He sighed again.  Just as Penny had claimed that she should have seen her eventual conclusions in Quatre's ideas, so too should he have seen hints of this in Penny's behaviors.  Instead, he had dismissed them as tolerable.  He saw no problem with accepting the beliefs of others, yet he felt that he should have been better prepared for this.  It was just plain bad luck that she had come into town hunting Duo, or so he assumed, anyway.  He didn't know for sure that Duo had been responsible for the general disturbances in the power flows of the region, but now was not the time to ask.  He trusted that Duo wouldn't be doing anything harmful.  It was too bad that they hadn't been able to convince Penny of that.  "She was just trying to do what she thought was right."  It didn't absolve her, but it did redeem her from being malicious and evil to being merely misguided, and it made him feel a little better.  He was still not yet convinced that her death had been an inevitable conclusion, but he was willing to go with it for now.  He had the rest of his life to ponder the situation.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Duo quoted dryly.



------
it's unfortunate that wufei always ends up being ineffective with his sword, but that's because i don't really want him running anyone through.  that would be troublesome.

anyway, this is the new and improved version of the last episode here of kyuuketsuki duo.  i hope it packs a little more oomph, as well it should for a season finale.  heero's been unmasked, finally, and he is not a happy camper about it.  epyon will be tied up in a movie somewhere.  so will the freeing of the souls from the church, maybe.  but for now, we're going to let the guys stew for at least a few years and wait for them to become badass enough to deal with these things.

thanks for sticking around.  hopefully, you'll be back for the movie.



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anaknisatanas From: anaknisatanas Date: September 2nd, 2008 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I can not tell you how many times I have read and re-read this story. I like the layout too. Keep up the awesome stories Jei!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: September 2nd, 2008 04:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Whee, flashback!  It's been a long while since I read this story.  Heero was such a grumpy camper in this chapter, wasn't he?  ^o^  I normally despise descriptive paragraphs, but I kind of miss the chances to use creative vocabulary to describe the desire to disembowel someone.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this series.  May you find something else here that you enjoy just as much.  ^_^

anaknisatanas From: anaknisatanas Date: September 3rd, 2008 04:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure I will! I'm so glad that the old site was still accessible and that it had the link pointing to this one. And I noticed that there was a new in-progress series that I haven't started reading yet. Hopefully I'll have the time to start ti soon.
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