Ch 16: The Tree

"Heero!" Relena cries out as the image disappears, seizing the ball and shaking it frantically. "What happened?? Where did he go?!"
Wufei calmly pulls the orb from her hands, and it dissolves instantly into black smoke, disappearing in mere seconds. "I couldn't keep it going much longer," he replies smoothly, and I barely hear him, my eyes still glued to his empty hands where the ball was a moment ago. "My powers are limited. I'm not old enough to sustain powerful spells so long."
"Daijabou ka, Wufei?" comes Quatre's anxious voice. "You look a little tired."
"Ii yo," he says brusquely, batting aside the blonde's worries. "I'll be fine."
"Duo what's *wrong* with you?!" Relena finally snaps me out of my trance by shaking my arm. "We have to save him! You saw him! He's in trouble! He could be dying!!"
"Let go of me," I say dully, pulling away and staring down at her numbly. Did she read Heero's lips as I did? Or is she choosing to ignore his warning?
'Don't let her look.'
He didn't want her to see him in the condition he was in...
I close my eyes tightly, swallowing thickly.
Heero.. You still care for her?
Then why kiss me??
I feel suddenly used, feeling the familiar feeling of hurt welling inside my chest once more. I shove it aside roughly, putting on an annoyed look instead, trying to act normal. "Didn't you hear him?" I say angrily. "He said don't go after him."
Quatre and Relena look equally shocked, and Wufei raises an eyebrow.
"Duo!" Quatre gasps at the same time Relena cries,
"You mean you're not going after him?!?!"
"Wrong." I poke my finger rudely at her collarbone. "*You're* not going, prissy. You'll get in the way, and besides, he said not to let you come."
"Why would he say that?! Are you making this up?" she cries incredulously.
"I'm not making up anything," I retort. "You'll be completely useless if you come with us! Do you want to slow us down? What if you get us caught? Huh? What use will we be to Heero *then*?"
"I won't slow you down, and I won't get in the way," she insists frantically on seeing the others nod slowly in agreement with my words. "I won't! You can't just *leave* me here when Heero's in that condition!"
"We can, and we will," I inform her, and snap my fingers without batting an eye. "Where do you think *you're* going?"
LaLa, who had been trying to creep away, freezes in place, grinning widely and sweatdropping. "Wh-who, me? Nowhere!"
"I thought not. C'mere, runt."
She plods reluctantly over to my side and stays there like a well-trained dog, face lowered. I don't even spare her a glance, my hard eyes still holding Relena in place. "Now listen, Miss Thang," I say firmly. "You are going to stay right here until we get back. You will *not* follow us, you will *not* go into the woods, and you will *not* go whining after Dorothy or your friggin' bodyguards or whatever. You got that??"
She opens her mouth to protest and I flick my fingers with a growl of impatience. Her mouth snaps shut, her throat freezing, allowing no sound to escape, and her eyes widen in surprise. "Will someone lock her in the house or something?" I ask wearily, rubbing my temples. "Trowa?"
The clown moves forward and takes her arm carefully but firmly, leading her towards the house. Wufei runs a hand through his hair, studying LaLa thoughtfully, not noticing how I watch him.
He really is attractive.
A pity my heart's already stolen.
I wince inwardly at the thought.
Yeah, it's stolen, all right.
By a man who is not interested in returning my feelings.
'Shinigami does not love,' I think to myself fiercely, finally turning my unwanted attention on the Mischief beside me. "All right, toots, lead the way. Take us to my cousin's lair or whatever, and make it snappy."
She makes a small noise of grief and long-suffering, and with extreme reluctance heads towards the woods, the rest of us trailing her. "Trowa will catch up," I say, seeing Quatre's backward glance. "Come on."
He obeys, walking beside Wufei and nibbling on a shed feather anxiously, keeping his thoughts to himself.
I'm coming for you.


"Shini, wait," Quatre says, relief tinging his voice. "He's coming."
I halt, snagging LaLa by the elbow and turning with the others to wait. We stand for a few moments amid the trees, and I glance around, a slight frown puckering my brow. "How far away is he?" I ask. "I don't hear him."
"Neither do I," Quatre admits. "I can sense him coming.. but...he isn't far, he's very close. We should hear him on the leaves--"
Just then Trowa materializes from the brush, jogging towards us in an easy lope. He comes to a stop before us, and I raise an eyebrow when I notice he isn't even breathing very hard, despite the fact he's had to jog for almost ten minutes to catch up with us. He's in better shape than I thought.
Quatre beams up at him radiantly, his smile bright enough to chase away storm clouds. "Trowa! You caught up."
The quiet pilot turns a calm gaze on him, though his eyes lose a bit of their impassiveness. "Hai." He reaches out and pulls the feather gently from Quatre's fingers, never taking his eyes from the blond angel's face. "Nervous habit, Quatre?"
The smaller pilot blushes slightly, lowering his eyes, and so doesn't notice when his friend slips the feather into his pocket. I feel a grin tug at my lips. Awwww, how sweet. ^__^
I turn away before Trowa realizes I've noticed and give LaLa a small shake to get her attention. "All right, chirpy, you said we were getting close before Trowa showed up. So where to?"
She points mutely, and I follow her finger with my eyes.
Wufei frowns. "A tree?"
"That's a pretty damn big tree," I mutter, eyes narrowing.
Not just big.
It's probably an oak or something-- I'm not exactly the nature type --but it's the largest I've ever seen, wider around than the five of us holding hands in a circle, its branches towering over us, almost blocking out the noon sunlight. Quatre draws in an awed breath, blue eyes widening reverently as he takes a step towards it.
"Sugoi.." he whispers breathlessly. "It's so old.."
Wufei walks boldly forward until he is right up to the huge trunk, reaching out and placing a hand almost gently against the bark, closing his eyes.
"Very old," he affirms in a strange, quiet voice.
I'd almost forgotten the connection dragons have with nature.
"How old?" I ask.
He opens his eyes, still gazing up at the giant, lids hooded. "Older than I," he murmurs, and I quirk an eyebrow. That doesn't really answer my question, but I'll assume Wufei is at least sixty, after his own confession of his youth. Not bad for a tree.
"Through there," LaLa says in a monotone, face pale as she points a trembling finger. "There's a knot or something in the wood that should let you in, but I'm not sure which. There are usually goblins skulking around that let me in."
"All righty then," I say, trying to break the tension by faking enthusiasm and cheerfulness as I rub my hands together briskly. "Doesn't sound too hard! Let's start searching!"
I pause and turn a questioning look on Wufei, who is staring at me intently. He is silent for a moment, as if choosing his words carefully, then finally asks,
"What happens.. if Irdarr kills you?"
All emotion falls from my face and I fix him with a calm look. "What do you mean?" I ask quietly. "If this body dies?"
He hesitates, then nods, watching me sharply.
I hold his gaze, my voice dead and without care. "I took over this body years ago. The Duo you know is a strange mix of both he and I. If Irdarr should mortally wound this body, then the soul that is Duo will die."
I hear Quatre draw in a sharp breath, even though he must have known what I say is true.
"Shinigami alone shall remain in the body until it is destroyed," I continue. "And then Shinigami either returns to his realm or finds a new, willing host that will allow him to live in the undercurrent of a mortal soul until such time as I am needed or feel the want to surface."
Wufei's eyes are hard. "Why do you take these bodies?" he demands. "Why don't you stay in your realm?"
I laugh, flicking my braid over my shoulder. "You sound so defensive. Don't be. If not for Shinigami, Duo would never have become a Gundam pilot, and he certainly wouldn't have survived after the incident at the Maxwell Church. It is Shinigami that made Duo who he is today. The Duo you knew is both his own original self and Shinigami's influence and personality." I shrug slightly, gazing up into the branches above. "Shinigami grew bored and lonely in his own realm, all to himself with no real friends or companions, only the occassional person to warm his bed or Diety to speak with in visitations. Never knowing love or real friendship..."
"And so you take it from a mortal?" he growls.
"You don't understand." I fix him with a patient look. "Shinigami only enters those who openly ask for and accept him. Duo believed in Shinigami, and after the Maxwell disaster practically begged for Shinigami's entrance. We are practically one, now."
"Why haven't you left him, yet?" Trowa asks, studying me. "Why not find some other body? Are you so attached to this one?"
Yes. But more than that...
I look away finally, deep in thought, and when I answer it is very quietly and with more truth than I am usually willing to spend on the subject.
"Shinigami keeps this body because... with it, he has finally aquired something he has never had before."
"And what is that?" Wufei demands.
I hug my elbows, closing my eyes and wrapping my wings partially around myself, feeling my heart cry out.

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