++Chapter 19++
"A Sacrifice of Love"

Duo leapt to his feet, adrenaline surging as he snagged Trinity by the arm and shoved him roughly behind him. "Watch Quatre!" he shouted, raising his fists warningly as the cloaked figures advanced. "I'm warnin' ya," he threatened them, "don't make me mad!"
The first person got within grabbing range and reached for him with black fingernails. Duo dodged the grasping arms and smashed his fist into the side of the man's head, ignoring his howl of pain and driving his knee into his stomach. Shoving him aside, he went quickly for the next one, twisting and bringing up his elbow sharply, landing a blow to the man's face, resulting in a sickening crunch and a gurgled scream.
Davarius was practically dancing with rage, blood soaking his blond hair from where he had struck the boulder. "Get him, get him!" he roared. "Bring him down!"
They surged forward all at once, then, and Duo found himself fighting desperately for his life, lashing out with fists and feet, twisting whenever hands grabbed at him. He pushed himself at them, bowling some of them backwards in an attempt to keep them from the two boys he was protecting, but there were too many of them. Dimmly he could hear Trinity shouting, but he didn't heed the boy's frightened cries. He simply fought, as viciously and as dirty as he could.
A fist caught him in the abdomen out of nowhere and he doubled up, trying to gasp for air. Someone's arm hooked around his neck, and he was down, stumbling for balance and losing the fight against gravity. His back connected solidly and painfully with the ground, but he had no time to curse his ill luck. There were robes everywhere, surrounding him, and one of them was straddling him, large hands wrapping around his throat in a vice-like grip. He wheezed helplessly, desperately clawing at the ground and at the figure over him as the air seeping into his lungs became less and less.
'I'm going to die,' he thought dazedly. The corners of his vision were getting dark, and bursts of light danced before his eyes.
Something cracked loudly, echoing off the sides of the barren hill. Above him, Duo's attacker lurched backwards as his head seemed to explode. Duo gasped in deep, frantic gasps of air, eyes wide as blood splattered on his face. Still panting, he twisted his head, hands shooting up instinctively to prevent the dead weight from falling atop him. All eyes had turned, and a momentary hush had fallen.
Heero Yuy lowered his gun, eyes flashing as he stared them all down fearlessly. Dimmly Duo thought he heard Davarius murmur, "Oh fuck."
Then the perfect soldier wrecked havoc.
He was among them in a flash, shooting down half a dozen more men as he advanced; then he was on them with fists and feet, his skills more honed and deadly than Duo's. They fell back hastily, but he followed them, fists shattering jaws and noses, feet and knees snapping ribs and even a couple necks.
Duo scrambled into a sitting position, watching in something like horrified awe. Never had he seen Heero go up against so many at once- it was frightening and awesome to see. Heero's skills did not lie in explosives and weapons alone. He was quick as a cat, and when he struck, his blows landed hard and fatal. He heard more shouting, and turned quickly to look.
Wufei, Atreusio, Neo, and Trowa arrived, followed by an entire group of men and women, all of them looking ready for a fight. Duo laughed loudly with relief, pushing himself to his feet.
The rescue party had arrived at last.

Atreusio glanced sideways at Neo, his own body tensed for battle. His partner had his butterfly knife out already, and was tugging his gloves off with his teeth, dark eyes flashing with fierce eagerness. "Where's Davarius?" he demanded even as Ma'at, Raven, and the others surged past to pull the cloaked figures away from Quatre and Trinity.
Atreusio spotted Davarius out of the corner of his eye but didn't point him out. "Later," he said shortly. "We have to get Quatre and Duo out of here."
Neo made a face, and looked ready to argue, but just then one of the cloaked men leapt at them with a roar. Atreusio cried out in shock, stumbling back, but Neo was fast as a striking snake. His arm snapped out, and he tightened his bare fingers ruthlessly around the man's throat, the hood falling back to reveal his startled, grizzled face. "Die," he hissed right in the man's face.
The man gave a jolt, eyes widening suddenly at the surge that went through him at the dark-eyed boy's touch. He tried to scream, but it came out as a gurgle. Neo's grip was tight and unyielding as he held the violently shuddering man at arm's length. In just a few moments he released the body, letting the dead man slump to the ground with a look of distaste. "Red Crystal," he said, sounding unsurprised. Atreusio peeped over his shoulder nervously at the dead man. "I knew it."
"So Red Crystal has become Davarius's coven," Atreusio said sadly. "I wish we didn't have to kill them."
"Well we do," Neo snapped, pushing him back. "Just stick with Silverwolf and try not to get your ass into trouble."
"What about Earthfire?" Atreusio asked quickly.
"Silverwolf said they're coming as fast as they can. Now stay back," Neo shouted over his shoulder before rushing into the melee.

Trowa reached Quatre first.
He fell to his knees hastily beside the prone boy, lifting him by the shoulders and cradling the golden head carefully against his chest, arms wrapped protectively around the limp, slender form. "Quatre," he murmured, trying to force back the fear that rose in his chest. "Quatre."
"He's alive." Trinity crouched by him, looking pale as he rubbed at the dried blood on his face. "He came after Davarius and the others and threw them by just *looking* at them." His tone was incredulous. "It was amazing. Then he just sort of..passed out."
"Trowa." It was Wufei, breathing hard from the fight and glancing around warily as he leaned over to brush fingers in a tentative caress over Quatre's pale face. He swallowed hard. "Is he.."
"He's fine," Trowa said sharply, glancing up at him. "Just unconscious."
Wufei breathed a quiet sigh of relief before giving Trowa a meaningful look. "Get him out of here," he said quietly. I'll cover you."
"Wufei.." Trowa frowned, even as he rose to his feet, Quatre's smaller form held carefully in his strong arms. "Demo..."
"Go." Wufei avoided looking at him, and steel rang on the air as he drew his sword from his belt. He pointed. "Get him to Silverwolf and Atreusio. They'll make sure he's safe."
"What about Duo?" Trowa asked suddenly, glancing around.
Trinity pointed quickly. "There!" he cried in his excitement.
The self-proclaimed God of Death was back on his feet already, laughing maniacally as he threw himself into the fight almost recklessly.
Wufei couldn't help but grin dryly as the boy's triumphant voice rose above the sounds of fighting. "You mess with Shinigami and you die! I'll teach you bastards to fuck with me and my friends! Hey, where you goin'? C'mere!"
"He's fine," Wufei drawled, shaking his head. "It looks like Neo's going towards him. He'll get him out of here. Now *go*."
Trowa nodded, nudging Trinity with a foot. "Come on. Stay close."
Trinity got to his feet quickly, but hesitated, glancing back towards Duo, obviously torn between getting to safety and aiding his old friend.
"Move," Wufei said firmly, giving him a little push. "Duo doesn't need to be distracted by worrying about you."
Trinity nodded reluctantly and hurried alongside Trowa as Wufei strode before them, slashing his blade at any cloaked men that got too close. Ahead, Atreusio spotted them and left Silverwolf's side, running towards them.
"Get Quatre to Silverwolf," he shouted as he neared them. "Earthfire is on it's w-"
Trowa's shouted warning was too late.
Atreusio went down to a blow from behind, and Davarius stood over his still form, holding a large dagger, the blade in his hand from striking the seer with the handle. Wufei halted, holding forth his sword warningly, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a snarl of hate. "You lying snake," he growled. "I've been waiting to kill you."

Neo reached Duo at last and grabbed his sleeve, turning him to face him. "Time to go, cowboy," he shouted above the howls and shouts of battle. "Get with Silverwolf- she'll get you and Quatre out of here."
"Let go," Duo protested, jerking free. He was panting with exertion. "I'm not going anywhere until I find Lucias and split his face open!"
Neo curled his lip at the name. "Lucias- Davarius's sick little lap dog? Forget him- you can have your revenge later. Right now we need to get you the fuck out of here."
Duo shook his head adamently, and just then Heero arrived, hand falling on Duo's arm as he glared around him at Neo. "Leave him alone," he ordered coldly.
Duo blinked, glancing at both of them. They stood rigid, glaring at each other over his head, each daring the other to try his luck.
"I'm getting him out of here," Neo said with thinning patience. "Silverwolf will get him and golden boy back there to safety. Now you either chill the fuck out and trust me for two minutes, or we stand here arguing until someone jumps us and we get killed."
Heero scowled, but his hand fell reluctantly from Duo's arm. "Fine," he snarled. "Duo, go with Neo."
"What?" Duo squawked indignantly. "No way! I've got to find Lucias!"
Heero neither knew nor cared what the braided baka was talking about. He gave him an impatient push, aiming him towards Neo. "Just get going," he snapped.
Neo jumped back as if Duo had burned him, snatching his hands away and holding them over his head, brief panic flitting over his face, quickly replaced with anger as Heero stared at him in surprise. "Idiot!" he shouted. "Are you out of your damn mind?? I almost touched him! Never pull that shit when I'm not wearing my gloves!" He pulled one out of his pocket as he was speaking, jerking it onto his left hand and grabbing Duo's wrist with it.
"Atreusio-" Duo gasped suddenly, eyes widening as he gazed over Neo's shoulder. Neo twisted around quickly, not liking the panicked tone.
Atreusio was standing unsteadily between Davarius and Wufei, arms outstretched as he barred the way, shouting at the frustrated Chinese warrior to get Trowa and the others to safety. Davarius was snarling at him, dagger flashing as he spat threats and curses at the boy before him.
Neo's heart gave a sickening thud. His body was moving in an instant.
He released Duo's wrist and sprinted towards Davarius as fast as he could, shouldering people out of his way, stumbling once. His breath hitched in his throat, and something in him was twisting coldly. Davarius was lifting the knife, and Atreusio had stepped back tremulously, still blocking Wufei, his dark eyes wide with fear. Wufei shouted at him suddenly to move, reaching out and grabbing his shoulder to throw him out of the way- but the knife was already raised.
Neo dove forward, reaching out as he did so instinctively with his left hand, pushing the slender, yielding body roughly out of the way.

Atreusio gasped as someone flashed before him, pushing him quickly backwards, blocking his path.
Hot blood landed in his mouth even as he opened his mouth to scream.
Neo grunted with pain, flinching violently as Davarius's blade dug deeply into his stomach. Pain rushed up in red and black waves, almost obscuring his view of Davarius's startled face.
Relief whirled faintly inside of him. Just in time... Just in time... to save him....
Atreusio's panicked scream split through his thoughts like jagged ice.

Then the hard, cold ground was rushing up to meet his face.

Atreusio's agonized scream rent the air, and everything seemed to screech to a halt.
Everywhere heads were turning to stare in surprise at the scene, silence descending like a heavy cloak.
Duo gave a strange noise and pushed past Heero, running towards his friends. Nobody thought to stop him.

Atreusio just barely managed to catch his friend as he fell, the other boy's weight pulling him down to land heavily on his knees. "Neo- Neo, no," he gasped helplessly, blinking furiously to clear unwanted tears from his eyes. "Neo.."
The other boy winced as Atreusio carefully rolled him over, breathing harshly as he offered a weak imitation of his usual arrogant grin. "Quit cryin' all over me," he muttered. "You're pathetic."
"Neo.." Atreusio whimpered, hands fluttering over his friend's face. He seemed to have forgotten everyone around him, even Davarius, who was watching them dumbly, not quite over his surprise at Neo's sudden rescue. "Neo," Atreusio breathed, "why did you do it?"
Neo scowled lightly, turning his head away, his breathing raspy. "I told you, wimp. We're in this together..whether we like it or not."
"You're always protecting me," Atreusio's voice was pained. "You pig-headed ass. Why did you have to do that? You're going to die! I'm not worth it, you idiot- you hate me!"
Neo laughed hoarsely, face strained with agony. His hand wavered near the handle of the blade buried in his gut, but he didn't dare pull it out. "Hate you..." his voice was laced with regret. "You and I...understand each other." He stared up at Atreusio with hooded eyes. "Two people who understand each other....can't hate each other."
Atreusio felt his breath catch as Neo reached up with his gloved hand to brush trembling fingers weakly against his jaw. For an instant he saw a flash of the old Neo- the boy who had turned those dark, understanding eyes on him so many years ago... Had taken him under his wing and been like a brother to him before things had turned so dark and horrible. Before Davarius had appeared in their lives.

'Neo-kun, why are we different?'
'Who cares?' Even then, he had been arrogant. 'We're better than them. *You're* better than them. As long as you got me, you're fine, kid.'
'Why do you put up with me..?'

"Neo.. I don't want you to die," Atreusio murmured, clasping the hand desperately. "Please..."
A brief look of pain that wasn't physical flitted across the older boy's ashen face. "I thought..it would make it easier when this happened...If I made you hate me.."
Atreusio stared at him in disbelief. "You knew this was going to happen?" his voice was barely audible.
Neo's breathing was getting more shallow, and his laugh was airy. "Juniper...the bitch told me that I would die young. Sucks, huh?" He tried to laugh again and started coughing violently.
Atreusio bent over him as if he could ward off death with his mere precense, his grip on Neo's hand crushing. "Don't go," he whimpered. "Don't.. Why...?"
"You are...such a twit," Neo teased quietly, offering a small smile that lacked its usual scorn. His fingers twitched in Atreusio's grasp, one finger reaching up again to touch his mouth. "I could never let..*him*....hurt you. Not again.."
Atreusio shook his head furiously to clear his vision, eyes still blurred. "Why?" he asked desperately.
"Just 'cause..." Neo's eyes were fluttering, and he smiled faintly again. "'Cause..you're an idiot...and I love you..anyway..."
Atreusio's lungs refused to work.
Neo laughed harshly, smirking slightly up at the other dark-eyed boy. "Ja," he offered, voice not much more than a breath of air.
His eyes fluttered shut and he let out a rattling breath.
The hand in Atreusio's tight grip went limp.
Atreusio was screaming before he could stop himself. "IYAAAAAAA!!" He shook the boneless body in his lap frantically, dropping the hand. "Neo! NEO!!"

Duo grabbed the seer's shoulders, swallowing hard and feeling sick to his stomach at the boy's outburst of agonizing pain. His voice was hoarse. "Atreusio..." He had to get him up... had to snap him out of it before Davarius shook himself out of his own surprise at Neo's sacrifice and killed them both. "Atreusio, I'm sorry... but..."
Atreusio didn't seem to hear him. He was huddled over Neo's body, curved over him in a fiercely protective posture, body shaking violently with sobs. Duo tried to speak again and couldn't. He turned to look back at Wufei and the others, to try to get them to help him...
His voice died in his throat, his eyes widening in absolute shock.
The boy behind him curved his lips in a dangerous smile, eyes flashing with pure undulated hatred. When he spoke it was in a voice Duo didn't recognize. At his feet, Atreusio stiffened at the words.
"The price for killing an Old Soul is death."
Duo stared at his friend numbly.
"So," Davarius said, speaking at last, his voice tinged with surprise he could not hide. "You are the night."

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