Disclaimer: How many disclaimers do you think you've read by now? I won't insult you by repeating it, and if you don't know it by now, you never will.

Pairings: 2x5, 2x3, 4x3, 4x5, 1x2 ^_~
Rating: NC-17
Category: AU
Warnings: OOC, yaoi, language, limeish, five G-boys in a bed, and horrible abuse of both the English and Latin languages.
Spoilers: Nope, but you'll be spoiled for any other fic! Yeah. Riiight. Wishful thinking on my part.

Note: Okie doke then. Hopefully this part will clarify some of those loose plotlines I have dangling. I like tying up plotlines almost as much as I like creating them. Almost.

Dance with the Demons: Glass Souls
Part Nine
by Blue Soaring

Duo sat cross-legged amid blood red sheets and silken curtains black enough to rival the darkest night. Wufei sat behind him, slowly drawing a brush through Duo's unbound hair. The shifter wore only crimson pants made of silk, and every time he moved Duo heard the soft sigh of silk on silk. Trowa lay on his back, resting his head in Quatre's lap. All of them had changed into something that wasn’t spattered with blood. The blonde sat not far from Duo, talking in hushed tones with Heero. There was no need to whisper; the only reason Duo could come up with was that they were discussing something that Duo didn’t need to know about, at least in their opinion. He was of mixed feelings about that. As far as Duo could tell, it was still early, perhaps only quarter past ten. But he felt exhausted.

The currently unbraided man had been right; the other three had trickled in shortly after Heero had bathed. Wufei had arrived first, walking quietly across the white carpet. He had gathered up the discarded clothing and towels, dumping it somewhere outside Heero's chambers. When he returned he held a large brush in his hand, looking questioningly at Duo. Duo had managed a small smile, and Wufei had settled behind him, running the brush through Duo's damp, tangled hair.

Trowa and Quatre had entered at the same time, shortly after Wufei. They had immediately went for the bed; Quatre leaning against the black cushions and Trowa curling up beside him. When Heero had sat on the bed Trowa had moved, making room for him to recline beside him. Duo faced them, closer to the foot of the bed.

Lost in his own thoughts, Duo was only partly aware of the others. Logic be damned; his mind was a storm of unanswered questions and suspicions, but right now, all he wanted to do was sleep.

Behind him, Wufei made a small sound. Duo roused himself from his thoughts and looked over his shoulder.

"Do you want it braided, Duo?" The shifter just caught himself short of saying 'master'.

Duo smiled. "Thanks, Wu."

Wufei returned the smile, deftly braiding Duo's long chestnut hair. Then he crawled up beside Duo, curving his body around him. He rested his cheek on folded hands, looking expectantly at the others.

Duo followed his gaze. "Is everyone alright and accounted for?" he asked, absently running his hand through Wufei's soft hair. Duo wasn’t sure why he asked, possibly just to talk. He wasn’t even really sure if he cared one bit about Heero’s cronies.

Quatre nodded. "Zechs healed them as much as he could manage. They're recovering quickly and will be perfectly fine in a few hours, although I doubt they will wake up for quite some time."

"And Devil's Bliss?"

When Duo didn't elaborate further, Quatre simply said, "All consequences of Sally's actions have been dealt with."

Duo didn't prod any more, partly because he didn't want to know. The deaths of several people certainly had to have legal repercussions. Not to mention complications. It wasn't any of Duo's business really anyway. They were the ones who had to deal with the consequences. Duo was merely passing through. The only interest Duo had right now was in Sally. She was a vamp, and she had killed people. That was enough for Duo; if an opportunity presented itself in the near future, he’d kill her. If not, he’d make an opportunity.

Heero's voice cut through the silence following Quatre's statement. "We'll discuss this later, there's nothing we can do right now. I suggest you three sleep while you can."

Heero's words startled Duo slightly. His last sentence had a distinctly ominous ring to it. "What about you and Q?" he asked, fighting the urge to yawn.

The blonde looked slightly amused. "Sleep is not something we find necessary, Duo. It's more of a convenience than anything."

"You're just going to sit there and watch us sleep?" Duo wasn't sure he liked that. He didn’t like a lot of things lately.

Quatre nodded, rousing Trowa from his semi-sleep on his lap. Trowa blinked several times, then moved to sit next to Duo as the two vampires slid off the bed. Wufei and Trowa crawled into the vacated area, looking back at Duo.

Duo stared, mouth open. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he flopped down between them. Instantly, Trowa wrapped his legs around Duo's, flinging an arm across his chest. Duo was grateful at that moment that he had hauled on the pajama top that went with the pants he had borrowed from Trowa. The last thing he needed was bare skin touching his. Wufei burrowed under Duo's arm, using his chest as a pillow. For once, the sexual overtones were muted. But not by much.

Quatre appeared next to Trowa, brushing the shifter's hair away from his face even as his green eyes closed in sleep. Heero mirrored the blonde, reclining next to Wufei. Duo looked up and met his eyes; saw the blue depths swim with unnamed emotion. Then Heero blinked, and it was gone. Duo sighed to himself. He would have laughed at the absurdity of it all, had he thought about it.

"Go to sleep, Duo," Heero said softly.

A calm overtook Duo then, and he felt the edges of sleep nipping at his mind. He briefly thought about fighting it. Then he realized he just didn't care.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Three o'clock that morning found Duo up and wandering around the mostly deserted building, his mind once again troubled by the sharp turn his life had taken in so short a time. Even more so than that, he was having a hard time coming to terms with the way his mind was working lately. Agreeing to help stop whatever it was that was killing recklessly was one thing. Living with the various creatures was another. Wanting to stay with them was even worse. He came to a conclusion then; he had to get out of Devil’s Bliss, away from Heero, and back to his apartment. Duo needed space to think.

He stopped and looked around. In his aimless wandering, he had found his way to the main floor of the bar. No trace of the short and dirty fight was left. Heero had one damn fine cleanup crew. Duo’s eyes fell on the dark stage. Was it really only a little more than a week ago when he had been sitting in that corner, waiting for Quatre to show up? It seemed so much longer than that.

Duo picked his way around the tables and empty dance floor. Reaching the stage, he hopped up and sat on the edge for a moment before falling backwards to lie on the stage floor, staring up at the ceiling. What in the name of Jesus had possessed him to take a bath in Heero’s room? Naked, unarmed, in Heero’s own bathtub for fucks sake! Groaning, Duo threw an arm over his eyes. He had to concentrate, having his thoughts run around in his head biting each other in the ass was getting him nowhere.

Okay, first things first. Heero wanted to meet him with a specific purpose in mind: stop killing monsters. Duo had come away from that little encounter with a new pet. That much he had come to terms with. Wufei is the pet, the pet is submissive, and thus, Wufei is submissive. Easy. Wufei wanted a master, and Duo had perhaps a bit unwittingly become that master. No problem, he could deal with that. Maybe.

Moving on. Heero invites him to another little get together, this time to ask him for his help. Duo had a little bit more trouble swallowing that one. It reeked of suspicion. But try as he might, Duo couldn’t put his finger on what exactly it was that he didn’t trust about it. Besides Heero, that is. He didn’t trust Heero to tie his shoes. Maybe that was it. Something else nagged at the back of Duo’s mind, slipping just out of his reach when he tried to pinpoint it. Sighing in frustration, he let it go and thought on.

Next: you agree to the request for help, find out that according to a ghost you don’t exist – what a comforting thought – Lucrezia the voodoo lawyer refuses to help, Mary-Anne gets killed, you get strung up in a graveyard like Christmas lights, Heero gets cozy, crazy relations of Trowa’s show up and then disappear just as quickly; the aforementioned voodoo lady skips town, you have an uncontrollable urge to bathe in Heero’s room, more crazy people show up and wreak havoc. That just about summed up the last week of Duo’s life. And not one bit of it made any sense.

Duo sighed again. This would be easier if he had someone to talk to. Normally, he’d talk to Mary-Anne . . . but that wasn’t happening. Not unless Duo wanted to have a Mary-Anne zombie, and that thought really didn’t thrill him. What about Wufei . . .? He could talk to him. The shifter was nowhere to been seen though. When Duo crawled out of the bed, Trowa had been the only one there. Where was Wufei, anyway? Duo toyed briefly with the idea of going to look for him, but dismissed it just as quickly.

His thoughts turned in upon themselves, coming back to Heero. Heero Heero Heero. Everything led back to him. There had to be something Duo was missing, some point that he just couldn’t see. Where was Wufei when you needed him?

In answer to his unspoken question, Duo heard the soft click of nails on the stage floor. Glancing in the direction of the noise, Duo saw the black shadow of a panther walk towards him. Looking at the large cat’s face confirmed what Duo suspected; it was Wufei.

A smile touched Duo’s lips despite his unsettling thoughts. He lifted an arm lazily and patted his side, motioning for the panther to settle down beside him. Wufei walked with unhurried grace, then, lying down next to Duo, folded his paws underneath himself and rested his head on Duo’s chest. Duo reached up and scratched Wufei’s ears, chuckling a little when his eyes closed to little slits.

“Hey, Wu, where you been?” Duo asked, smoothing down the silky fur upset by his scratching. “I was just thinking about you. Thinking about a lot of things, really.”

Wufei cocked his head to the side, letting his dark eyes settle on Duo’s face.

“What are you doing all dressed up in your fur, anyway?”

The panther’s tongue flicked out, licking his whiskers before disappearing back inside his mouth. Then he yawned, jaws wide and teeth flashing. The air wavered around the cat, drinking the heat from the room, and the now familiar white glow shimmered then consolidated with a warm rush of air. Duo blinked, caught by surprise by Wufei’s sudden shifting. His skin prickled with power; it felt like Duo would burst from the force of it. He released a breath he didn’t know he was holding, and the power drained away, leaving only a faint tingle in its wake. Duo’s eyes slid closed. He lay on the cool floor of the stage, basking in the afterglow of Wufei’s power.

“Duo?” Wufei’s voice came tentatively.

“Yeah, Wu?” Duo said, not bothering to open his eyes. A warm, languid feeling in his body lingered even as the tingling sensation drifted away. He felt sated, maybe even a little happy. A small corner of his mind was shouting at him, telling him that it really wasn’t a good idea to become so attached to the rush of power that accompanied shapechanging. Too bad it wasn’t shouting loud enough.

A small chuckle reached Duo’s ears. “Are you going to fall asleep, Duo? You look like you just had the best sex of your life,” Wufei said.

Duo grinned, his eyes still closed. “Now there’s something I HAVEN’T had.”

“The best sex of your life?” Wufei snorted. “I think I was just insulted.”

Finally, Duo’s eyes eased open. He briefly considered explaining what he had meant, but tossed the idea aside. He was having too much fun watching Wufei look indignant. Maybe he’d explain it later.

Wufei was quiet then, the only sound a single, contented sigh in the muted light of the room. Curiosity eventually overcame him, and he lifted his head to look at Duo. “Are you going to tell me what you were thinking about?”

“Are you going to tell me why you were all furry?”

Wufei smiled. Trust Duo to turn a question around. “No reason. I simply wanted to.”

It was Duo’s turn to snort now. “Just because you wanted to. Yeah, that sounds like you,” Duo said. “Who is Sally, anyway?” he asked suddenly.

Wufei looked surprised for a moment before his eyes narrowed. “Sally? Why?”

“Don’t sound so suspicious, Wu, think about it. She comes in here, all high and mighty, making a damn mess over Lucrezia, and you ask me why?”

The shifter’s eyes still held a glimmer of suspicion, but he let it slide. “Sally Po, a vampire.”

“That’s not really helpful. The bitch took a scatter shot in the leg and lugged that bear of a man out of here like he was a baby. Not to mention the fangs. I think I figured out she was a vamp,” Duo said after Wufei didn’t elaborate.

Wufei was looking away from Duo, his eyes focusing on something that only he could see. “Sally is powerful, ambitious. She wants to be Erus.”

Duo whistled. That little goal must annoy Heero.

“She is only slightly weaker than Quatre, but that may not be true. Older vampires can hide their powers from each other,” he continued, laying his head back down on Duo’s stomach. “If she IS weaker than him, than I don’t see how she can think it possible to become Erus. The Master could destroy her, if he wanted.”

Duo mulled that over for a brief second before a puzzled look crossed his features. “If she has plans to kick Heero out, then why the fuck did he let her leave?”

“Because he could. Treating her as something less than a threat would annoy her; show how little respect Heero holds for her.”

“Vampire politics . . . Jesus. It’s worse than human politics. Vamps have more time to fuck around,” Duo said, rolling his eyes.

“Sally’s wanted to be master for a long time. At least thirty years openly, maybe longer than that.”

Duo sucked in a sharp breath. Thirty fucking years! Duo had only been alive for a little more than half that length of time. “Can she do it if she gets the right support?”

“What kind of support, Duo?”

“The kind that stands around until you tell them to go rip someone’s throat out. Looks like she’d never be able to get Heero head on, but what if she’s got numbers on her side?” Duo said, sitting up a little. “How about more than numbers? Magic? Or better yet, a small army that kept fighting long after it was ripped to pieces?”

Wufei sat up quickly, eyes alight. “If you’re talking about what I think you are, we have to tell Heero.”

“Don’t you think this has already occurred to him, Wu? He’s the Erus, he’s only stupid eighty percent of the time,” Duo said with a grin. “Question is, why would Lucrezia be interested in helping Sally seize control? Why would be in it for her?”

“Power, maybe? Everyone always wants to be stronger. But how does Mary-Anne fit into all this?”

Duo felt a sharp stab of sorrow. Mary-Anne. Someone had to pay for Mary-Anne’s death. Had to pay in spades. Anger quickly replaced Duo’s sadness. Anger was much better. Duo didn’t have many he would call friend; he was not that free with his trust. But Mary-Anne . . . she was innocent.

When Duo spoke, his rage clouded his voice. “With Mary-Anne gone, I would never been able to question her about the killings, and anything incriminating would never surface. She was probably killed on the off chance that she’d come across something someone didn’t want us to know.”

“So Lucrezia’s helping Sally to eliminate Heero, Mary-Anne was killed to slow us down, and Cathy was probably the one to kill her.” Wufei looked to Duo, who nodded, confirming the shifter’s suspicions. Mary-Anne had been killed by a shifter, Duo could tell that much by his own experience. The throat and stomach were the first places a shifter would strike. “What about the graveyard sacrifice?”

“The what?

“You in the graveyard. Zechs said it looked a lot like a sacrifice of some kind,” Wufei replied.

Duo grunted. “I still don’t see why Lucrezia’s taking orders from Sally. What’s in it for the voodoo lady?”

“Don’t ask me, Duo.” Wufei paused, thinking. Finally, he said, “Can’t you just find someone to raise Mary-Anne as a zombie? You could ask her then.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Wu. She answered my questions through some kind of magic or ritual before. Zombies aren’t that good at magic, especially Wicca. Dead people don’t work well with life magic.”

Wufei sighed, then rolled over so that he lay alongside Duo. “Where did you pick up everything you know?”

“About the supernatural?”


Raising himself to a sitting position, Duo scratched his head before answering. “I’ve hunted for years, Wu. You pick up things along the way.” He smiled ruefully. “Most times when whatever I’m researching has just mopped the floor with my ass.”

The shifter couldn’t help but grin. “Sally was with us until about twenty years ago. She challenged Heero for leadership, but it fell through.”

“She lost, huh?”

“No, it didn’t even get that far. No one would support her. Heero is the best master I’ve ever seen . . . he’s never unnecessarily cruel. I think Sally would have to be, she’s not strong enough to control the others through power alone, she’d have to use fear and cruelty.”

Never ‘unnecessarily’ cruel. Depends on what your definition of necessary was. Duo had a strong suspicion that his definition and Heero’s would differ just a little.

“You saying that Heero’s not feared? Be serious. I saw the way the others look at him. They fear him,” Duo said, his disbelief evident in his voice.

“I didn’t say he wasn’t feared. He’s just feared for different reasons than you’d fear Sally.”

Duo stared at Wufei, letting his eyes show his doubt. Fear was fear as far as he was concerned.

The shifter sighed, then got to his feet slowly. The movement was fluid and smooth. Duo used to think he moved well, years of practice and fighting had given him a warrior’s grace; but compared to Wufei, Duo stumbled around like a drunk. And then it finally registered on Duo’s mind that Wufei was decidedly naked. No, nude. Naked implies embarrassment, and the shifter was definitely not embarrassed. If anything, Wufei seemed more comfortable out of his clothing than in it.

“Cross Heero, and he will kill you. Cross Sally, and she’ll torture you until you beg to die. But she won’t kill you.” Wufei looked down at Duo, his black hair sliding forward to shadow his face. “Forever is a long time to suffer, Duo, and Sally is very patient. She shared the position of second to Heero with Quatre while she was with us.”

The weight in Wufei’s gaze told Duo all he wanted to know. Wufei spoke from experience. “If you’re more afraid of Sally than Heero, why isn’t she the master?”

“Being Erus is more than being in control. I’d fight to protect Heero, everyone would. But I wouldn’t fight nearly as hard for Sally as I would for Heero. She doesn’t have the power or the support to be master.”

Duo stood, shaking his head slowly. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but I think I understand. For the most part, anyway. Seems like the easiest thing to do would be to just kill Sally. End of Sally, end of problem.” Duo made a sharp horizontal cutting motion with one hand.

The look Wufei gave Duo then was half incredulous, half delighted. “If only Heero saw if that way.”

“Yeah? How does the esteemed fanged one see it?”

Wufei jumped off the stage, turning slightly to look at Duo over one shoulder. “He sees Sally as something to toy with to pass the time. Life would be boring without some small inconveniences.”

Duo watched as Wufei walked away, heading for the door leading downstairs. He hopped down from the stage, trailing after the werepanther. “Everyone needs a hobby,” he muttered, shaking his head again.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I still say this is a bad idea.”

“You’ve been saying that for the past hour or so, Wu,” Duo said, flinging back the sheets of his bed. After their little chat, Duo had decided that it was time to go home, period. Wufei had gathered up a few more things and they had gotten a taxi back to Duo’s apartment. The shifter had stated that Heero would be somewhat less than pleased, but Duo really didn’t care. Duo needed to get away from the vampire.

“And you’ve been ignoring me for just as long.”

“Yep,” Duo agreed, crawling into the bed with a sigh. “Are you going to stand there and protest for the rest of the morning, or are you coming to bed? You could always sleep on the couch.”

A flicker of alarm passed behind Wufei’s eyes, and he quickly slid into the bed beside Duo. “Sorry, Duo.”

Duo smiled, spooning Wufei’s body against his own and wrapping his arm around him. “Let me worry about Heero, Wu. You’re mine now, remember? Leave fang-face to me.”

Wufei made a noncommittal noise, and burrowed deeper under the blankets, getting as close to Duo as possible. A few silent minutes passed, then Wufei said, “Can I ask a question?”

“Don’t be silly, Wu, ‘course you can,” Duo mumbled into the pillow.

“Why did you leave the keys to your apartment hidden in the car? With the car unlocked?”

The visible side of Duo’s mouth curved up into half of a smile. “I’ve gotten into the nasty habit of dropping things when I’m in the middle of a hunt. Check that, when I’m trying to kill what I’m hunting.” He lifted his head up from the pillow, leaning over Wufei and looking down at him. “Can you imagine the number of keys I’ve lost because my clothes have been ripped to shreds?”

The shifter laughed quietly. “That explains it then.”

“Naturally. Night, Wu.”

“Goodnight, Duo,” Wufei replied. Eventually, the shifter’s breathing evened out and his body relaxed, signaling that he had fallen asleep. Duo buried his head in Wufei’s hair, wrapping the scent of it around him. Sleep, however, escaped him. His thoughts were back to chasing their tails again.

Talking with Wufei had answered his questions, but given him a hundred more. Away from Heero, Duo began to think again of what the vampire had said. Did Duo really believe it? The closeness that the four of them, vampires and shifters, shared? Not really. In a way he did, and in a way he didn’t. All he had to go on was Heero’s word. The vamp had said he was protecting Wufei, and Duo had believed him, at the time. Now he wasn’t so sure. To Duo, protection didn’t mean turning someone over to a sadistic bitch to be tortured. Odd definition of ‘protection’.

Duo wanted more information. Heero and Wufei were one source, but it was only one side. Time to pay a visit to the other side. Only problem now was how to get Sally to talk him. More specifically, how to get Sally to talk to him and not kill him at the same time.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“This is an even WORSE idea,” Wufei said irritably.

“Did I ask if you thought it was a good idea?” Duo shot back, angrily stirring his second cup of coffee of the morning.

The black haired man stared into his plate, speaking quickly. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea, I KNOW it’s a bad idea. Getting in to see Sally isn’t the hard part, its the getting back out again that’ll be impossible!”

Duo sat back down at the table, watching Wufei with steady eyes as the shifter rushed on.

“Even if you only took Quatre with you, at least it would be another vampire. The two of us alone don’t stand a chance!” Wufei lifted his eyes as he said the last, willing Duo to understand.

Sighing, Duo said, “Its not just the two of us, Wu.”

Wufei’s brow furrowed. “Who else?”

“Friends,” Duo said with a smirk.


This time Duo snorted. “Close enough,” he said.

“How many?”

Duo held up two fingers.

Wufei’s chair clattered to the floor as the shifter stood up angrily. “You think that three humans and a shifter stand any chance of survival in Sally’s own HOME? You’re crazy!”

Duo looked up, eyes flashing. “Sit down, Wufei.”

“I will not sit down! You’re going to get yourself killed! Sally - ”

“God DAMN it, Wufei, sit the fuck down and shut up! NOW!” Duo shouted.

Wufei snapped his mouth shut and was kneeling on the floor in an instant. Duo stood slowly and walked around the table, standing over the shifter. Deadly quiet, he said, “Wufei, we are going to see Sally, and we’re going tonight at sundown. I’m taking two people with me, and you’re going to take us right to her. You WILL NOT tell Heero, or Quatre, or anyone, and I do mean ANYONE, what we’re doing. Got that?”

A small whimper reached Duo’s ears, and when Wufei looked up at him, all the anger had faded from the were’s face. “Why do you have to see Sally?”

Duo’s eyes softened. He leaned down, balancing on the balls of his feet. “I have questions . . . things I need to find out.” He tucked a strand of hair behind Wufei’s ear. “And I can’t have Heero or Quatre around when I get my answers.”

Wufei still looked wary, but he nodded. “Alright . . . I shouldn’t have argued with you.”

Standing, Duo waved that away. “It doesn’t matter now, anyway.” Suddenly, he grinned. “By the way, Wu, when I said sit, I meant on a chair.”

Wufei shrugged.

A knock came on Duo’s door then. “And there they are now,” Duo said, heading over to the door and checking the peephole. Surprise showed on Duo’s face as he stepped back and opened the door to his visitors.

A woman, tall and slender, entered first. Her chin length auburn hair was left loose, framing a triangle shaped face. Her eyes were dark, almost black. And oddly empty. She wore blue jeans and a red tank; a cross shoulder holster over that. Duo looked at the gun and whistled. A Ruger, .45 caliber. The magazine carried eight bullets, but if someone was still standing after the first three, you were in trouble. An awful lot of power for a simple visit. The fireworks shouldn’t start until AFTER they get to Sally’s.

“Expecting trouble, Iria?” Duo asked, nodding at the gun.

“No. But that doesn’t mean I won’t get any,” she replied in a voice that matched her body, but not the gun. She smiled, but her eyes betrayed the emotion. Iria’s eyes said that she had seen more than she cared to talk about, and none of it was good.

“Riiiight,” Duo said, waving her in. “Have a seat anywhere you like.”

Iria’s eyes glanced around the room, and she moved in to sit easily on the couch. Her gaze paused briefly on Wufei, then she looked back to the door. An older man in an outrageous Hawaiian shirt and shorts followed her so far into the room, and Trowa was the last to enter. Duo looked at him then back to Trowa, frowning slightly, before the man flopped easily onto the couch next to the woman.

“How ya been, Duo?” the man asked loudly. “Up to your ass in shit again, huh?” He had stark gray hair, sticking off at the sides, and was balding on top. A gray mustache and sharply pointed beard adorned his angular face. He carried himself like a man much too young for gray hair. He was not large, and slender was too kind a word and suggested a sort of flowing quality. This man was made of sharp lines and angles. Reflective sunglasses obscured his eyes.

Duo locked the door and looked back to his guests, ignoring Trowa. “Up to my fucking neck this time, Howard. What else would have me calling in you and Iria?”

Howard guffawed loudly, and Duo winced. Howard wasn’t always this loud, was he?

“Howard, would you shut up and let Duo tell us what is going on that he’s got a shifter sitting in his kitchen instead of buried in his backyard?” Iria said, leveling a glare at him.

“Duo doesn’t have a backyard, girl!” Howard laughed.

Iria looked at the man silently, then back to Duo. “Well?” she said shortly.

“Hold up a sec, Iria.” Duo turned to Trowa. “What are you doing here?”

Trowa bowed his head, refusing to meet Duo’s eyes. “You left.”

“No shit,” Duo said, crossing his arms.

“The Erus sent me to guard you when you go to Sally’s.”

“What?” Duo blinked, unable to hide the shock on his face. How the fuck had Heero come to that conclusion?

Trowa said nothing.

Duo walked slowly over to Trowa, body tense with rage. He stopped a hairsbreadth away from him. “What in Jesus’ name are you talking about?”

Wufei spoke up. “The Erus probably assumed what you would do, Duo. Trowa’s here to help.”

“Yeah. Right. Help who, exactly? Us or your wonderful Erus?” Duo said, not looking away from Trowa.

The green-eyed shifter sighed. “I’m just doing what I was told to.”

“I’m dominant to you, Tro. Or had you forgotten? What if I sent your ass packing back to him?” Duo asked.

Howard and Iria sat on the couch, watching the exchange silently. Iria finally spoke up. “Are you talking about the vampire Erus?”

Duo had almost forgotten about them. “Yeah,” he answered. “How’d you know about him?”

“Word’s been floatin’ around, Duo.” Howard said easily. “If you’d kept your ears open, and you’d have heard about it.” He waited a beat, then said, “You in the middle of some kinda vampire power struggle, or did I hear ya wrong when you said Erus and Sally in the same breath?”

“Fuck,” Duo said, pacing the floor. “Fucking Jesus!” He stormed over to the chair in the living room and flopped into it, legs straightened out in front of him. “Trowa, Wufei, here, now,” he said, pointing at the floor beside the chair.

Trowa sat down immediately, still looking at the floor. Wufei crawled across the floor like an animal that expected to be hit.

Howard mumbled something under his breath, while Iria merely raised an eyebrow.

“Shut up and listen, Howard,” Duo grumbled, then told them an edited version of the past week or so, telling them of Heero’s request for Duo’s help and why. He left out as many names as he could, giving only facts. When he was done, both of Iria’s eyebrows were up, and Howard was shaking his head slowly.

“You’ve been busy, Duo,” Iria said finally.

“I was wrong, Duo. You’re not up to your ass, or your neck, you’re in over your damn fool head . . . and then some.” Howard said, stretching the kinks out of his leg. “So, you gonna tell us exactly why you have to see this Sally chick, or do we get to find out later?”

“Later,” replied Duo. “I’m going to ride this out, see how it goes. I don’t know how this is going to work.”

“And you need us because the last time you saw Sally, you shot her?” Iria asked.

Duo nodded. “She’ll probably hold a grudge for that, and I’m a bit rusty at politics. I need your to help there, Howard. Iria’s my firecracker for the night.”

Howard grinned. “You want someone dead, Iria’s your girl. Even better, you want someone scared shitless, Iria’s still your girl.”

“Fucking right,” Duo said, mirroring Howard’s grin. Hell, Iria scared Duo shitless half the time. So did Howard for that matter. Howard’s easy attitude concealed more than a sharp mind. Both of them seemed to be behaving in front of the extra company. That reminded Duo of the werepanthers at his feet. They had been completely still and silent since they had sat down.

“Here’s the deal, Trowa. I won’t send you back to the Erus,” he said. No one had mentioned Heero’s name, so for now, he was just the Erus. “In fact, we could use the extra help. But,” Duo paused for emphasis, “don’t you fucking DARE interrupt anything I say or I ask Sally, got that?”

Trowa nodded, still not speaking.

Duo frowned. “What the fuck is his problem?” he asked Wufei.

“You’re angry at him. And me,” came the quiet response.

“Yeah, so how come you’re not keeping quiet?”

“It’d just piss you off more.”

Duo realized that it was true; silence would make him angrier. It was surprising how well Wufei knew him after such a short time. Duo sighed. “It’s alright, Tro, I’m not angry at you.” That much was true, Duo was pissed at Heero, not Trowa. “Or Wufei,” Duo added. “Okay?”

Trowa looked up, his eyes vibrantly green. He raised his hand as if to touch Duo, then stopped, hand hovering near Duo’s leg. “I’m forgiven?”

“There’s nothing to forgive - ”, Duo started. He stopped, sighing. “Yes, Tro, you’re forgiven. You and Wufei both.”

Trowa’s characteristic smile, which really wasn’t much of a smile, more of a slight impish upturning of his lips, returned. He closed the distance between him and Duo, resting the top half of his body against Duo’s legs. Wufei mirrored the action on the opposite side. Duo reached down, laying one hand on Wufei’s shoulder and the other behind Trowa’s head. Everything felt alright between them again.

Duo looked up to see twin expressions on Howard’s and Iria’s faces. A mixture of incredulity and confusion. Duo sighed again. That was exactly how he felt about the entire mess.

Duo stood. Wufei and Trowa followed him in perfect unison, flanking him on both sides. “So,” he said to the two on the couch, “you with me or not?”

Howard nodded right away. “You bet, little man! No way I’m letting you go in there with only two shifters for backup.”

Duo nodded, then looked to Iria. The woman stood, flicking her hair away from her face. “I’m in. From the look of things, it seems like something will need killing before the night is over.”

Duo grinned. “Great.” Glancing out the window, Duo said, “We’ve got about two hours until sunset. And even though Iria’s got that snazzy new toy,” he looked pointedly at the Ruger resting in her holster, “we’ll need more.” Duo’s gaze transferred from the gun to Iria’s face. “What new toys do you have that we can play with?” he asked, smiling.

Iria smiled back, and Duo felt a chill travel down his spine. Her eyes stayed dark, the smile only reaching as far as her lips. “Nothing half as interesting as your new toys.”

Duo felt the warm presence of the shifters at his back. Oddly enough, he agreed with her.

on to part ten

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