Chapter 59: "When Past and Present Collide"
Wufei shouted until he was hoarse, but still the strange lady did not appear. Gritting his teeth in helpless frustration, he stared down at his fallen lover, fists shaking from where he was holding the wadded-up shirt hard against the wound. Blood had slowly soaked through the cloth, and Heero's face was ashen, his breaths shallow. Over and over again Wufei debated the pros and cons of trying to haul the boy to the infirmary. Moving him might make things worse, and what if there was no one to tend to him when he finally got there? If he ran into opposition on the way, he would have his hands full, and there was no way to fight and keep an eye on the other boy at the same time. But if he stayed where he was, he had a sinking feeling he was going to watch the boy bleed to death in front of his very eyes. At the moment, Treize, Duo, and the entire takeover of Yeong were in the far corners of his mind. His entire world had narrowed down to the labored breaths of his Primary Guardian.
Wufei jumped, barely remembering to keep pressure on the wound until the last second. He craned his head around to find the strange beautiful woman standing just behind him, head tilted to the side as she gazed down at Heero with vague interest.
~Looks like you didn't heed my warnings, after all,~ she noted.
"Nezha," Wufei gasped in relief. He looked quickly back at Heero. "He's going to die. He's wounded. Can you-- can you do something?"
~Do something?~ she repeated, sounding oddly amused. ~And what do you propose I do?~
"I don't know!" Wufei snapped. "Just help him! You're a--" his tongue tripped over the word. Every part of common sense and education that had been drilled into him balked at the thought, but he bulled on anyway. "You're some kind of god, aren't you? Save him!"
She lifted one thin eyebrow at him. ~I thought we decided we were through doing 'favors' for each other.~ She held up a hand when he opened his mouth. ~Besides, I cannot do this thing you ask. I do not guard the gates of death. If he dies, he dies. I told you before that if you lost him again, that would be the end of it.~
"What do you mean again?" Wufei demanded.
She gave a huff of impatience, moving to stand on Heero's other side. Her feet made no sound on the ground. ~This again. You really are dense. Or perhaps you simply refuse to accept the truth.~ Her eyes bore into his, making his skin crawl with the weight of her timeless gaze. ~Your lover was stolen from you once before. In your grief, you asked for me to return him to you. I could not. All I could do was ensure you would find him again... provided you brought me that which was stolen from me.~
Wufei swallowed hard. "That's not possible," he insisted hoarsely.
~Neither is holding a conversation with a god, I assume,~ she noted dryly. She dropped gracefully down into a crouch, studying Heero dispassionately. Abruptly she reached out and placed one cool fingertip against Wufei's brow. He gasped at the sensation, and a rush of images flickered through his mind. Over and over one face stood out: the face of the scarred man from his vision in the hall.
~Both of you have lived countless times before, but never crossed paths. Until this lifetime.~
"Because ruyi is here," Wufei said quietly.
~Yes. I kept my side of the bargain. Our deal is done. When he passes, he passes. He will not live again. Neither will you, after you die.~
"That's not fair!" Wufei shouted furiously. "I don't even remember those past lives! And this isn't a natural death! Someone did this to him!"
Her eyes flickered towards Shen's corpse. ~It matters not that you were unable to protect your lover. Again. It is somewhat ironic that he passes once again in the same manner that he left you the first time.~ She gazed back down at Heero in contemplation.
Wufei swallowed hard, feeling sick to his stomach. "Again?" he repeated. "The first time, he... he died protecting me?"
~He was your closest advisor in your first life. He foolishly took a blow meant for you. Your clan was very warlike in those days before they took to the stars.~ Her mouth twitched into a frown. ~Humans are strange in that way. I do not understand why something with such a short lifespan would throw it away for another. It's another odd but fascinating trait about you mortals.~
"I don't care if this is the last time we're reborn," Wufei said fiercely. "But what the hell is the point in living and dying over and over if you're just going to take him away from me for good?!"
~I am not the one taking him from you, little lord,~ she reminded him calmly. ~A deal is a deal, and ours is done with.~ She got to her feet and turned to face the door. ~Forget your lover, Chang. He is dying. There is little you can do for him anymore. You have bigger problems at the moment. He is coming.~
~I have summoned that accursed monkey. He is coming to steal ruyi from me. I will deal with him once and for all. Do not let him get his hands on it.~
Wufei stared up at her, swallowing his denial at the last instant. She didn't know. She thought Heero still had it. He forced himself to remove his hands from the makeshift bandage and climbed slowly to his feet. "You don't have ruyi yet," he said softly. "Our deal's not done."
~It's done, Chang,~ she said over her shoulder. ~Do not try to weasel out of it.~
"Our deal was that I would return ruyi to you, and you would give me Heero," Wufei said hotly. "Our deal's not done!"
She turned finally, frowning in impatience. She stared at him for a moment, then suddenly her expression shifted into suspicion. She held out a hand demandingly. ~Give me what is mine.~
"You first," Wufei growled.
~Don't be tiresome.~
"I don't have it," Wufei interrupted. "Neither does Heero."
She blinked, uncomprehending. When her eyes narrowed, Wufei thought for an instant that she might kill him there on the spot, and his hair stood on end. He talked quickly before she could decide to become violent. "The man who stole it is the same one who's caused all this chaos." He shook his head when she glanced towards Shen again. "Not him. He was just a pawn. The man who has it knows what it is. I don't know if he knows how to use it, but that doesn't matter. He's planning on taking it with him. Back to earth."
She gave an eerily snake-like hiss, her hands curling into fists. It took all of Wufei's self-control to stand tall and not back away. ~You stupid little boy!~
"I'll get it back for you," Wufei said firmly. "But why should I bother if you aren't keeping up your end of the bargain?"
She glared at him for a moment, then abruptly her expression became nonchalant again. She folded her arms over her stomach and offered him a thin smile. ~That is not the deal, and you know it,~ she pointed out. ~You brought ruyi here. Your lover was injured afterwards.~
"Then feel free to go and fetch it yourself." Wufei lifted his chin defiantly. "You can't, can you? Otherwise you never would have struck a deal with me in the first place."
Her mouth never opened, but her laughter curled around Wufei like silk. ~Crafty little boy,~ she purred. ~As cunning and slippery as all your kind.~ She shrugged one shoulder. ~Very well, little lord. I will keep your one love alive for now. Bring me ruyi, and our deal will be done. And I mean finished. This is the last life either of you will have.~ She smirked. ~And since I will be dealing with Sun Wukong myself, that will also negate our other deal. I will no longer protect your people, Chang Fei.~
"Done," Wufei said without hesitation.
~You are such a strange species,~ she noted with amusement. But she strode over, brushing Wufei aside, and crouched down to remove the bundled-up cloth from Heero's abdomen. The amount of blood was ghastly, and for a moment Wufei was afraid it was too late. But no-- Heero's chest moved slightly with breath, though he was unbelievably pale.
Nezha ran her fingertips over the wound almost curiously, then lifted her hand and touched Heero's mouth briefly. ~Such a strange thing,~ she murmured, her faint voice barely audible. ~That a body so frail as this can contain the one thing that people will willingly die for... the thing that makes such pitiful creatures so strong...~ Her lips curved in a smile that was just this side of self-mocking. ~Something not even the gods can touch.~ She laid her hand over his wound, then leaned over and placed her lips to Heero's in a light but lingering touch.
Wufei opened his mouth to protest automatically, then took a startled step back when a strange light surrounded them both, too muted to cast shadows but ethereal enough to force his eyes shut.
~Whoa, now.~ Nezha rocked back on her heels as a fist lashed out at her and passed harmlessly through as if she were made out of air.
"Heero!" Wufei dodged past her and dropped into a squat on Heero's other side, heart pounding in his ears.
Heero's instinctive strike seemed to have used up what little strength he had left, for he didn't try to get up; but he was breathing, and his eyes were open, and that was enough. He turned his gaze towards Wufei, confused but alert. "What's going on?" he demanded, voice thick with exhaustion.
Wufei quickly checked his wound, fingers shaking with immense relief. The wound was simply not there; it was as if it had never existed in the first place. The blood was the only sign that he had had one foot in death's door mere moments ago. "Nothing, everything's fine," he heard himself saying. "We need to get out of here. Duo's coming, and I still have to catch up to Kushrenada. If he manages to get off-colony, there's no way we can stand up to his whole armada. I'm surprised they haven't completely invaded, yet."
Heero allowed the other boy to help him slowly to his feet. He swayed a bit at first, still looking a little dazed, but when his gaze landed on Shen's still form, his expression sharpened. He looked towards Wufei, who was very carefully not looking at the body. "He's...?"
"Dead," Wufei said shortly. "He tried to kill both of us. I didn't have a choice." He took in a deep breath. "He was a traitor, and now he's paid for it. Can you walk?"
Heero nodded, looking more alert every second. "I thought he got me..." his hand unconsciously pressed against his abdomen, and he frowned. "I could have sworn--" Then he seemed to notice Nezha for the first time, and stiffened warily.
"It's all right," Wufei said quickly. "She's, uh, a friend. We need to go. Duo's--"
"That's not..." Heero hesitated, as if not trusting his own suspicions. "I don't think that's Duo anymore."
"It's Sun Wukong," Wufei admitted quietly. "Sometimes I wonder if there ever was a Duo."
~He's been sealed in a mortal body for centuries,~ Nezha remarked. Heero jumped at the sound of her strange voice whispering in the air, staring in disbelief at her unmoving lips. ~He was supposed to be trapped in the body of a child forever. A part of him is very much human. That part is lost now.~ She cocked her head thoughtfully to the side. ~It seems he began to age when he came in contact with you. You must have weakened the seal with your very presence somehow.~
"What?" Wufei stared, uncomprehending. "You mean until I found him, he'd been six years old for hundreds of years?" He winced at the thought. "I guess I can understand a bit of his bitterness." A flash of insight brought a startled gasp to his lips. "The Maxwell Church," he blurted. "Then he really was there when it was--"
Heero was frowning again, eyes lost and faraway. "With Father Maxwell," he muttered.
Wufei looked at him curiously.
Heero looked around as if lost, brow creasing in confusion. "That woman in the hall..."
"What? You're mumbling. What are you talking about?"
~You're almost out of time, little lord,~ Nezha interrupted. ~If you do not present ruyi to me, his wound will reopen, and he will die.~
Heero's hand went automatically to his abdomen.
Wufei was already nodding when a sideways glance towards Shen jogged his memory. "Wait--" He reached around to place his fingertips against his bare back, just above his Mark. "Shen mentioned something about... some kind of 'power'. Something that I could use to defend my people. Was there any truth to that, or was it just another lie?"
Nezha looked at him steadily from under hooded lids, expression impossible to decipher. ~That Mark connects you to me, in a way. And it marks you as one of mine, hence the name.~ She paused, debating. ~But yes,~ she admitted at last. ~It is capable of channeling some of my power. Is that what you're asking me to do?~
"NO," Heero said firmly, glaring at Wufei in warning. "If Shen wasn't lying about that, then what if he's right about the rest of it? He said it was dangerous; that it had destroyed other men in the past."
~It has destroyed better men,~ Nezha agreed, sounding amused. ~There's no guarantee you'll survive if you attempt it. Such power was not meant for mortals, and even with the Mark's protection, it can become deadly if it isn't controlled properly.~
"I think it's a risk I have to take," Wufei said quietly. "Enough people have died today... and there's still Treize's armada to worry about."
"What? No!" Heero put himself between them. "Wufei--"
"Heero, we're out of time, and we need all the firepower we can get," Wufei snapped. "I'll be careful, all right? I won't use it unless I have to."
Heero looked like he was about to argue, but his words got strangled on a startled gasp as Nezha simply reached through him as if her arm were made of nothing but air. Sliding an icy-cold hand around Wufei's side, she pressed her finger to the Mark.
Wufei blinked hard, trying to figure out what the hell had happened and why the room was spinning. A moment later Heero's face appeared overhead, traces of panic in the backs of his eyes.
Wufei blinked again. "What happened?" Why the hell was lying down? He lifted his head to see Nezha several yards away.
"You went flying." Heero helped him to his feet, shooting a venemous look Nezha's way. "You shouldn't have let her do that."
Wufei frowned, reaching around to touch his Mark. "I don't feel any different."
~It's done,~ Nezha assured him, glancing towards the door. ~You've wasted enough time already. If you're going to catch up to the man who has stolen ruyi, you need to leave now.~
Wufei snatched up their swords and hastily pushed Heero's into his hand. "We're going. Come on, Yuy."
They were actually heading for the door when it was blown off of its hinges.
"DOWN!" Heero barked, yanking Wufei's arm. They both hit the ground a split second before the heavy door sailed overhead and crashed into the far wall. The force of the blow pounded a good-sized hole in the wall, and false sunlight trickled in, lifting some of the room's darkness.
Wufei lifted his head, coughing a bit as the dust settled. Duo stood in the ruined doorway, hands on his hips, loose hair spilling down his back as he offered them all a wolfish grin.
"There you are." Wufei shuddered as the odd weight of his voice raked across his skin like fingernails. "I believe you have something of mine."
Wufei glanced up as the hem of Nezha's gown moved past his sights. She stood facing down Duo, face composed. ~You'll find it a bit more difficult to rob me when I am not asleep, little monkey.~
Wufei tensed as her voice whispered right in his ear, ~If he uses ruyi in his current state, the rest of the seal will be broken, and his mortal cage will be destroyed. He will tear this colony apart in his true form. I will keep him busy. You get back what is mine.~
Wufei scrambled to his feet, pulling Heero with him, and began edging towards the statue.
Duo's strange eyes followed them. "Where are you going, Wufei?" he called mockingly. "Don't you want to stay for the fun?"
"Thanks anyway," Wufei replied with a grim smile. "I'll just let you two duke it out."
"That's no fun," Duo complained. Then he shrugged as if it didn't matter one way or the other. "Suit yourself. I'll come after you once I'm done with lizard-breath here. I have a score to settle with you." His eyes settled on Heero almost thoughtfully. "I might let you live," he mused. "Maybe. You helped Duo once before. Or I could at least offer you a quick death. We'll see what my mood's like later." And he smiled again eerily.
"Helped..." Heero repeated blankly, backing away slowly with Wufei.
Duo made an impatient noise. "It must be truly annoying able to only recall one life at a time. I think I liked you better in your last one. You were definitely a lot less moody, Solo."
Heero's eyes widened, and he froze in place.
Wufei glanced from him to Duo in confusion. "What's he talking about?" he muttered, trying to tug his lover in the right direction. "Heero--"
"Oh~" Duo's eyebrows lifted. "So you do remember a bit, do you? Like before, in the hall. That's what gave you away, you know. I should have sensed it earlier." He smirked at Wufei. "I had him long before you did, Chang. He remembers his life with me on the streets. And his death at the Maxwell Church. He doesn't remember you at all. What do you think that says about your sad little relationship?"
Wufei stared at Heero, who was still looking at Duo with a blank mask of surprise stamped on his face.
~Enough of your twisted games, Sun Wukong,~ Nezha interrupted coolly. ~Your business, for the time being, is with me.~
Duo shifted his gaze to her, eyes narrowing. "You're not even coporeal," he scoffed. "How do you possibly expect to keep me from taking ruyi from you again?"
In answer, Nezha lifted one graceful hand.
Duo gave a strangled noise, eyes bulging as his body gave a strange violent jerk. He stumbled, barely managing to keep himself standing. Panting, he turned a glare on the calm woman that could have peeled the paint off the walls.
"Time to go," Wufei said sharply. Practically dragging his lover, he jogged around to the back of the statue and gave the boy's arm a shake. "Heero, snap out of it. I don't remember how to open it."
Heero shook his head as if to clear it and reached out, hand hesitating an inch from the marble base. "What do you expect to do with this?" he asked. "You've never--"
"I don't have much of a choice," Wufei pointed out bluntly. "Treize has to be on the grounds by now, and one of his men is piloting Deathscythe. There's no way I'm going to catch up to him without it. Now open it!"
Heero pressed against the seamless marble, and was rewarded with a faint click. The stone made a low grinding sound as a doorway opened, revealing a flight of stairs. An explosion rocked the ground under their feet, but Wufei didn't chance a look towards the two demi-gods fighting. He ducked inside the low doorway and took off down the stairs at a run, Heero right on his heels.
Treize shot a quick glance over his shoulder, mouth tightening. Gasping for breath at his side, Mariemaia made a little whimper of fear, clutching ruyi to her chest. "It seems we have acquired a tail," he noted. "Deal with it."
Phillips nodded, coming to a stop and turning quickly. He lifted his gun and fired three quick shots as Treize and his daughter hurried off. Their pursuer ducked hastily, throwing himself behind an ancient suit of Chinese armor.
"Come out and die like a man," Phillips called mockingly.
"Why don't you fight like one?" came the retort.
Phillips sneered, lowering his gun a fraction. "Another fool with a sword. I don't have time to play honorably, boy. Now come out and die quietly so I can be on my way."
"Thanks, I'll pass."
Phillips bared his teeth in a fierce grin and tossed the gun aside almost carelessly. "Very well." He held up his hands, moving his fingers in a beckoning gesture. "We'll do this your way."
Zhao appeared from behind the armor, eyes narrowed in distrust. He hesitated on seeing the other man unarmed, then set his sword slowly on the ground.
Phillips bobbed lightly on the balls of his feet, fingers curling into fists. "Come on, then, I haven't got all day. If you wish to die this way, no one's stopping you."
Zhao's lips curled in a smirk. "It's a mistake to go up against Mao Zhao in bare-handed combat," he promised, and leapt for the other man.
Phillips waited until the last instant, then ducked, jumping forward at the same time to slam his shoulder into the younger man's chest. Hands clamped around his skull, tensing in preparation for a fatal move, then froze.
Zhao stared into cold gray eyes, mouth dropping open in shock. Slowly he lowered his head to stare at the blade that had slipped out of the man's sleeve and was currently imbedded in his stomach.
"Tsk tsk," Phillips murmured. "What a nasty way to go. It seems you're the fool here. No glorious death for you." And he twisted the blade ruthlessly.
Zhao managed to bite back his scream, muffling it into a grunt. With one last powerful wrench, he twisted the head caught in his grasp.
Phillips didn't even have time to make a sound. He crumpled to the ground, pale eyes gazing unseeing at the ceiling above.
Zhao stumbled back, hissing air through his teeth, hand trembling by the hilt of the knife. Pulling it out would make the wound worse, but moving with the blade still in him would only tear him open more. With a strained cry of agony, he jerked the knife out and threw it at Phillips' body in contempt. Staggering back to the armor, he picked up his sword with numb fingers and stumbled down the hallway after Treize, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
Author's Notes: aaaaa there's only a few more chapters left @_@ *has a mini panic attack*
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