A Murder of Crows: Part 10
"What are we going to do now?!" The way Duo was pacing back and forth, he should've worn a hole in the floor.
"Stay calm," Heero said. "Don't panic."
"Stay calm? Stay calm?! What do you mean 'stay calm?' We are totally screwed here, Heero! There is no way out of this room without passing through the Partridge Family out there!"
"If you stop your whining Maxwell, we can think of a solution. We've been in worse situations than this."
"Ch' right. There is a difference between stupid OZ soldiers and killer birds. I mean, shit! I shot the guy TWICE with a shotgun and he came back to kick my ass! There wasn't enough left of his head to put in a thimble, and I'm supposed to say calm?! Whatever. I'm throwing in the towel."
Duo threw his back against the wall and slid down into a squatting position. I wasn't sure which lump was who. The room was almost completely dark. The only light visible was that seeping through the keyhole and under the door, every few seconds blotted out by a feather. The orange glow crawled along the floor, gradually dying out a foot into the room.
I knew he was in here. I could feel his presence. He was watching me in the dark; the way I was sitting on the floor, the way I held my knees to my chest, arms wrapped tightly around, staring at nothing.
"How did she die?" I asked out loud.
"Quatre, who and what are you talking about?" Duo's tone fluctuated highly, indicating his anger and annoyance at everyone in general.
"She fell down the stairs," was his response. I could hear everyone's body stiffen. That mature voice slipped through the silence like a thief. The tension in the room was so great, it was almost suffocating.
But the way he sounded when he said that didn't seem...right.
"She fell down the stairs?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes. Head first."
Ah ha! That was what I was looking for. "By whom?"
A pause. "My father."
I didn't know why I wasn't surprised. In a way, it made sense. "But you weren't here, were you?"
"Then how do you know this?"
"A little bird told me."
Ha! Cute. I smiled even as I asked my next question. "Why did your father...do what he did?"
"She dishonored him."
I couldn't stand it when people spoke in puzzles. But I figured she probably cheated on him.
"My father found out about an 'encounter' and lashed out at her." Ah ha! Right again! "But he didn't mean to kill her."
"And you knew about it, but said nothing." My only answer to this was silence. But that didn't explain the corpse. "Is that him upstairs?" Again, no answer, but he didn't need to. "But why keep him in that...that thing?"
I heard him shift, as if he was anticipating that question. "I know you think it was stupid of me to leave him there, but who would believe that he was killed by a murder of crows?"
Ohhhh. This was not good. The crows killed him?
But my experience, however limited, taught me that the bad guys didn't explain all of their intentions or plans. This conversation was not necessarily making me feel better. I knew he was not stupid. He was holding back.
Apparently, I wasn't the only tactician in the room. Krahe knew exactly what I was thinking. "I am telling you this, Quatre, because I don't want there to be secrets between us." He paused. "It's time for you to come with me."
"Like hell he will!" Duo's voice held that 'You saw Deathscythe, now you're going to die' edge.
"Oh no? How can you stop me?"
Duo did not get the chance to reply. In a blink, we were back in my room. Everything was restored, but at the same time, I felt a cold breeze snake its way along my skin. Everyone was on their feet and alert. Krahe sat on my bed, smiling again, waiting for me to say something.
"What do you want?" Once again my voice was calm, but not for long. I have to admit that I was desperately trying to hide the shock of being transported from Heero's room to here.
He smirked. "You."
I never thought one word could harbor such...malice to it. "No."
"You might want to reconsider."
"You might want to take my answer."
"You'll be sorry," he said, and that was all the warning I got. That intense cold came back again, with a death grip. Literally. It snaked its fingers from the center of my back, around my shoulders, to my chest. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't stop shaking. I dropped to my knees and hugged myself, trying to find some solace in warmth.
"Quatre!" Duo and Trowa raced to my side, both trying to find some physical damage. Heero and Wufei held their ground. "Quatre, what's wrong?! What's he doing?!"
The only answer I was able to give him was the sound of my chattering teeth.
He snapped his head up, face boiling red with rage. "I'm going to kill you for this!"
Krahe looked him over like he was a pet in a pet shop, deciding whether or not to buy him. "Oh? And just how are you going to do that if you can't touch me?"
Duo leapt forward with his fist to drive through Krahe's head. The hit was dodged, and Krahe kneed Duo in the stomach. From there, Wufei jumped to land a roundhouse kick to the side of his face. It was blocked. Heero charged next, but I didn't see what he tried to do.
With Krahe distracted, the effects weren't as strong as before. Stumbling to my feet, I ran out of the room and down the stairs. I hustled outside to the 4-runner, throwing open the trunk. Duo always left the trunk open, in case we needed to get in for something.  I was glad he did. Rifling through the bags, I spotted a small gun secured tightly in one of the vinyl nets. Checking to make sure it was loaded, I shoved it into the waistband of my sweat pants and made a mad dash back to the house. I flew by Trowa, raced through the kitchen and up the stairs. My foot fell through a step, but that didn't stop me. At the door I paused, trying to collect myself.
/ Open the damn door! / I screamed at myself.
I barely twisted the knob when the door fell open. I dropped to my knees, and held my mouth closed. The smell was even worse than before.
Strong hands reached under my arms and pulled me to my feet. Turning, I could see Trowa's face slightly twisted from the smell.
"Quatre, what are you doing?"
"Trowa," I spit out, hopefully not in his face, "get the embalming fluid and take it downstairs. Wufei is right. We need to burn the house down."
Without argument, he complied. He released me, waiting a moment to make sure I wouldn't fall over. Then he went towards the back to get the fluid. I walked to the corner where Duo lost his lunch, to retrieve the almost keg-size bottle of kerosene. I dragged it over, and picked up the box of matches that Trowa used to light the candle earlier. Putting the box in my socks, and throwing the bottle over my shoulder, I carried it down the stairs, watching for the broken step as I ran the plan through my head. This had to work. Either we died trying, or I was serving flame a la crow for dinner.
I made my way up the stairs to the room, Trowa following behind me. There were only three bottles of embalming fluid, but I figured that would be more than enough. We poured one bottle in the attic, one over the kitchen, and the last all over the dining room.
Upon entering, Wufei, Duo and Heero were still attacking him, none of them realizing that Trowa and I even left. I cleared my throat to get Krahe's attention. He threw Heero over to the corner, tossed Wufei into the fireplace, and held Duo by the root of his hair, roughly jerking his head backwards.
Raising the kerosene above my head, I paused a moment to gather my strength, then smashed it on the floor. I wanted to boast the power I felt, as I watched the pieces of glass and liquid scatter across the floor like frightened mice. The bigger chunks skipped across the room, causing crows to fly on top of the bed or to the window.
Almost lazily, I took out the box of matches, lit one, and let it dangle at the end of my fingertips.
Any arrogance or confidence Krahe had, disappeared. He threw Duo into Heero's arms, and moved almost fluidly towards me. Trowa jumped in front of me, only to thrown into the wall. He wasn't even thrown: Krahe simply pushed him to the side and he went flying. Wufei ran over to him to make sure he was all right.
Krahe stood maybe six inches from me, slightly annoyed. I was pissed, so he knew where to go as far as I was concerned.
"It didn't have to be this way, Quatre."
"I know, but you're making it so."
"You can't escape me."
"So be it then." Sparing a second to pray, I let the match fall from my fingertips. I didn't know what the other guys were doing. All I was aware of was Krahe. Hell, all that existed was Krahe. What held me back all this time, was the fact that I understood his pain. He was lonely, and scared, and desperate.
Desperate above everything else.
But I couldn't let that stop me. The match fell from my hand, its orange flame perking up slightly as it hit the floor. Nothing happened. For a split second, I thought that it had only been water, and I imagined it was kerosene.
Then the world slowed down for me once again. Flame erupted to spread out in waves, starting practically at my feet. They were nearly white where I stood, turning ice blue, with the ends a sun orange. It flowed through Krahe's feet, emitting a cry from him that no human voice could make.
The waves continued to the corners of the room, burning the ends of the sheets, furniture and crows. Black feathers were balls of flame as they flew across the room. An almost-phantom arm shot out and went inside me, doing the impossible of squeezing my heart. I held on loosely to his wrist, with no real intention of stopping him. If it must end this way, then fine, as long as it was over and the other pilots were safe.
The world darkened, promising my death, when suddenly Krahe's hand was gone and my world went black. I began swinging wildly, but strong arms held me in place.
"Quatre, it's Trowa. Stop fighting."
I did as he asked. The pain in my heart increased, and I clutched at my chest, hopelessly trying to will it away. The room lightened, as Heero managed to set some sheets on fire with the box of matches I had. We were back in Heero's room!
"What the hell was that?! Weren't we...didn't he...oh, the hell with it! I don't know why I'm trying to understand this." Duo shook his head and looked to me. "Quatre, how did you get the matches and gas? Crowbreath looked pretty pissed when you...Quatre?"
The worry was evident in his voice. He gave up hiding his emotions from the others a long time ago. He ran to me, and knelt at my side. Trowa tightened his hold on me, possessively. I chuckled. My imagination was running away with me again. Trowa would only do something like that in my dreams.
"Quatre, you're in pain aren't you? That bastard!"
Duo jumped to his feet and put his fist through the wall. When he pulled it out, light came through the rectangular-shaped hole. He growled incoherently at the offending wall, creating a new hole. Squawking could be heard, and blood started to drip slightly from his hand.
"Trowa, stand him up," Duo ordered. Trowa stood me up. "Take his clothes off."
"What?!" All of us said in perfect unison. Has Duo lost his mind?!
"Take his clothes off," Duo repeated, as if he was saying what a nice day it was. No no, nothing strange going on here, just telling me to take my clothes off. Sorry, but sarcasm was starting to become my specialty. Really.
"Do as he says," Heero interrupted. "He has a plan." Duo started taking his own clothes off. Great. Now they both lost their minds.
Wufei padded over and held me up by my left arm. Trowa held the other as Heero started pulling my shoes and socks off. Clutching at my chest, I gritted my teeth from that pain, and the burning at my feet. My eyes were squeezed shut, but the tears fought to get past my lids. One escaped, feeling cold against my hot skin. A finger wiped it away, and I turned my head in the direction of that gentle touch.
"Open your eyes, Quatre." I would've never thought Wufei could be so gentle. I opened my eyes more in shock than because he asked me to. Through my blurry vision, I could see the worry in his face, and the anger dancing behind his eyes.
"Your skin is very hot. I think you have a fever, and you have second, maybe third degree burns on your feet and ankles. Might be some on your calves too."
"Shit," I heard someone say. Probably Duo.
Wufei continued. "We're going to get you out of here. Once at the carriers, let us take care of everything. You'll be on the verge of going into shock, okay?"
I nodded, weakly. I started to feel very, very tired, which was a very, very bad sign. Everything hurt: my chest, my legs, and the gun in my waistband kept digging into the small of my back. "Get the gun," I told Heero. He did.
A loud clanging against the floor caught my attention, where I could see something black against my red, swollen feet. Heero picked up the key and set it aside. Duo started to put on my clothes, as Heero worked Duo's black pants up my legs. Once the pants were on, he slipped the socks and shoes on, securing the key back between the laces. He stood upright, carefully removing the sweatshirt and placing the black smock on, complete with the white collar. Finishing buttoning me up, he stepped back to make sure nothing looked amiss.
"You look more like a priest than Duo does," Heero commented, slightly amused. One side of my lip quirked, trying to smile at Heero's attempt at humor, but it quickly died. It hurt too much.
"Trowa, help me lay him down. He's burning up." Wufei and Trowa carried me over to the bed, and laid me gently down on the sheetless mattress. Trowa placed the back of his hand against my forehead, then moved to my cheek. I didn't know if I was delirious, but I couldn't feel his hand against my skin.
"Shit. He's on fire." I very, very weakly chuckled at that. Usually, *I* was the mother hen.
"I'll get a wet washcloth to bring his temperature down," Wufei offered. "Before we leave, if we can grab some snow, that would be better."
He turned to leave when Duo grabbed his arm. He immediately let go when he saw the vicious look in Wufei's eyes.
"Wu, I know it's not even a ten second walk to the bathroom, but let someone go with you. That taco-queer is around here somewhere. He might try something--"
"The mood I'm in, I wish he would." With that, Wufei opened the door, but the crows were in his path. In a great deal of frustration, he kicked them all out of his way. They flocked to attack him but he retaliated, punching and knife-handing them all. It wasn't like Wufei to pick on animals, since he would consider them weaker than him. But at this point, I didn't think he cared.
Heero watched Wufei go to the bathroom to make sure he was all right. Trowa sat on the bed next to me, and Duo kneeled beside me. Once Wufei returned, he handed Duo the washcloth to be placed on my forehead. The cloth was cool against my skin, as small beads of water ran into my hair. I was feeling a little relief from that.
"Yeah, here bro, take this." He pulled something over his head to place around my neck. Picking it up, I saw silver sparkles glittering from the fire that was somehow being controlled in the corner. I gasped when I realized what Duo had given me.
"No, I can't. I don't need to. I look like a Father. The cross isn't necessary..."
"No, I want you to wear it for protection," he said, smiling sadly. "I want to save you in any way I can, and that cross has always saved me. Wear it for me. Please."
Reluctantly, I gave up arguing with him. He pulled off his hat and sat it snugly on my head, effectively hiding my hair and face. Still holding the cross, I felt something rough on the back of it. Turning it over, I read the carving.
"May God Protect You From Evil."
"Yeah. Father Maxwell had it engraved for me when he gave it to me for my anniversary there. I know that you believe in Moslem, or Muslim type stuff. But for now, I want you to keep it for me, until I get it back from you. You know, safekeeping type of thing."
I smiled, very gently, for my face felt like it would burn off. Then Duo did something totally unexpected. He removed the washcloth from my forehead, and lightly wiped my face before throwing it into the fire. Then he leaned forward, and kissed me on the forehead.
The tears seeped passed my lids. The feel of Duo's lips on my burning forehead made me feel very special for the first time in my life. None of them wanted something from me; the other pilots never asked for money, neither demanded that I oversee a project, or attend a meeting. They didn't even ask for my friendship. They needed me to fight with them, and from there it turned into the family that we were now. I would protect this family with my life, and they would protect me with theirs.
All too soon Duo sat up, and reached over to take my gun. "It's go time, Cat."
Duo slid my coat on him, while Trowa put Duo's on me. We formed a conga line at the door: Wufei was first, then Trowa carrying me, and Heero secured behind us. Duo was already in the hall with the gun poised, ready to kill anything that stood in our way. Since my room was directly in front of the staircase, Duo stood in the doorway to make sure that anything that came out would have to go through him first.
Looking back at us, he nodded. Wufei took off down the stairs, posture defensive. We followed behind him. Before it was too late, I peered into the bedroom. The fire was put out, but the damage done was still there: the sheets were burnt and frayed at the ends, the wood sizzled, dead birds laid everywhere, and a gray haze hung in the air.
The crows outside lined the path from the mansion to the vehicle, as if we were royalty on an invisible red carpet. They eyed us, waiting for us to make the wrong move.
We made it to the 4-runner without incident. I was placed in the back seat, where Trowa laid me across the seat with my head in his lap. Good thing I was already red from the fever! I could hear Heero and Duo talking, and Wufei brought some snow to me in a ziplock bag to put on my head. I heard the shuffle of material, and retreating footsteps grinding against the snow.
Heero closed the trunk door and got into the driver's seat, nodding to Wufei. Wufei nodded back, and they proceeded to drive off. I didn't think it was over. Any minute now, we would drive over ice and end up overturned, killing everyone except me. Some time passed before it finally hit me. We were short one. Duo wasn't in the car.
I looked up at Trowa, who was watching me intensely. Even as I blushed, I asked, "Trowa, where's Duo?"
Just then, a loud explosion rocked the 4-runner, causing it to slide. Heero got it back under control. I lunged against the window, to see the fire spread through the mansion. Crows flew from the bright orange flames to the black sky, their cawing absorbed in the wind.
"Duo? Duo, NOOO!" I felt all sanity leave me as I lurched out of Trowa's lap. Trowa and Wufei were trying to lay me back down before I made myself worse. I screamed, refusing to believe that Duo stayed behind to do this. How could he! He promised! We promised each other we would die together!
Finally, I surrendered to the fatigue. Trowa pinned my shoulders down while Wufei pinned my legs down, searching through the first aid kit for a tranquilizer. I had never cried so hard in my life. I sounded for all the world like a lost, frightened little boy. He promised me. Allah, please let Duo be all right.
The cold cross against my hot skin made me pull it out and hold it in my bandaged hand. I tried to pray for Duo, fingering my ring and using the cross as my source of strength. But I couldn't. I was too tired. Wufei injected me with Tylenol, but decided against the tranq since we would be at the train station soon. I held onto the cross, staring up at the uncaring ceiling, cursing the day I was born. The tears ran freely from my eyes, into Trowa's jeans.
I was a gundam pilot. I should be the savior.
Not the saved.
 My family used to have an old station wagon, and we would never lock the trunk door because I would leave stuff in the car all the time. Instead of getting keys from my parents to unlock the car doors, I would just open the trunk door and climb in to get what I needed.