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
Warnings: AU, OOC, yaoi, language, violence, blood, mystical crap, annnnnnnd that about covers it.
Category: AU
Spoilers: Not really.

Note: Ohhh! Turning point! Still wondering what the hell Duo is? *snicker* I finally decided to do something about that. Curious?

Dance with the Demons: Shattered Minds
Part Ten
by Blue Soaring

Duo sat in the back of Howard’s van with Trowa, Wufei and Iria. Howard drove, following the directions the shifters had given him.

“Do you want the Beretta or the Derringer?” Iria asked Duo from where she knelt on the van’s floor.

Looking from the shotgun to the small, one inch wide gun, Duo shook his head, laughing to himself. “Big difference, don’t you think?”

The Beretta shotgun was a semi-auto, 89mm, somewhat shorter than the standard shotgun. And loaded with Iria’s preferred ammunition, which meant that whatever was in its line of fire was most likely to loose an appendage or two. The Derringer, on the other hand, was a small, double action Simmerling. Total capacity of five bullets, with one carried in the chamber. In Howard’s words, the Derringer was loaded with ‘only’ .410 Buckshot. Only, he says. Where in the name of Jesus did Howard manufacture his ammo? Legally manufacture it, that is.

“Besides, I’ve got the Glock and the Browning. You really think I need another gun?” Duo continued. The Glock was in its usual place, secure in the shoulder holster under Duo’s arm, hidden by a coat. The 9mm Browning was tucked in the small of his back in a specially made holster. Both were loaded with Luger scatter rounds, thirteen in the Glock and ten in the Browning. Twenty three bullets, plus the two spring-sheathed knives Duo always carried at his wrists. If that wasn’t enough, it was just as well to forget it.

“Damn, Duo,” Howard said from the front seat, “You’re walking straight into a vamp’s home. You should have an Uzi in each hand and a flamethrower for backup.”

Duo wisely neglected to mention that he had agreed to meet Heero armed with only three knives and the Glock.

“I think you should take the Derringer, and replace one of those knives, or maybe both, with the serrated blades I showed you,” Iria said, looking completely serious.

“What’s five more bullets gonna do, Iria?” Duo asked.

“What are five less?” she countered.

Duo sighed. “Fine, fine. Gimmie the Derringer, but forget the knives. Last thing I want to happen is to get a blade stuck in someone and not be able to get it out.” Helpless because your knife was stuck in someone’s ribs. Not a good idea.

Pleased, Iria handed him the little gun. “Tuck it in that empty sheath you have in your boot. At least you’ll have two well concealed weapons, since that jacket doesn’t hide the Glock much.”

“Four,” Duo said, settling the Derringer into his boot and moving it around until it was set for a somewhat easy draw. It dug into his leg, but what was life without a little discomfort?

“I’d hardly count those little stickpins on your wrists as weapons,” she said depreciatingly.

Duo flicked his wrist, palmed the knife hilt and threw it in one swift movement. The blade flew past Iria’s head, severing several stands of glossy hair before it thunked into the van’s carpeted floor. It stood there, quivering in mute testimony.

Iria let out a low whistle. “You’ve been practicing.” Her eyes had gone a little wider.

Duo grinned to himself. About time he surprised Iria. “If nothing else, it’ll be a painful distraction. Give me enough time to draw one of the guns if I need it.”

“Hmmm . . . .” Iria jerked the knife out of the floor and handed it back to Duo. “If someone’s stupid enough to laugh it off like I just did, you’d probably be able to take out an eye.”

Resheathing the knife, Duo nodded. “Those shark tooth blades of yours aren’t balanced right for throwing. These might not be true throwing knives, but they’re damn close to it.”

Wufei was watching Iria curiously, glancing occasionally at Howard in the front.

Iria noticed the look, and asked, “Yes?”

Wufei looked startled, then turned to Duo. “Who are these people, anyway?”

Duo laughed. “We never got around to introductions, did we? Now’s a good a time as any.” He shifted around in his seat, settling back against the van’s wall. “Your driver for this evening, and the owner of your current transportation, is Howard. A mechanic, arms expert and supplier, part time manufacturer, and general, all ’round tinker,” Duo said with a mock flourish.

Howard raised his hand in a little wave, wiggling his fingers.

Duo chuckled and rolled his eyes. “And this vision of loveliness is also a munitions expert. Though that, I think, was an accident. Her true calling seems to be the opposite. Wufei, Trowa, meet Dr. Iria, one of the best doctors I’ve ever met in an emergency room. And I’ve seen an awful lot of emergency rooms.”

“Odd combination,” Trowa pointed out, the first words he had spoken in the past hour or so.

Iria shot Trowa a bright smile. “We live in an odd world, Trowa.” Her smile faded at the corners. “The number of deaths caused by preternatural creatures is astronomical. I learned a long time ago that humans have little defense against some things.” She shook her head, as if she were trying to rid herself of an unwanted thought. “Most days, I’ve learned, it is better to kill a creature before I try to patch its victims back together.” Iria’s smile vanished completely, and her eyes once more managed to look world-weary and cold.

“Hey, little man,” Howard called back, interrupting. “You want me to just drive right up to the front door or what?”

Duo looked over at Wufei. “Well?”

“Doesn’t matter. She knows you’re coming anyway,” the shifter answered.

“Fair enough,” Duo said, not even bothering to ask exactly how Sally would know that. He had a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer. Big surprise there. Then, to Howard he said, “Pull up right by the front door, Howard, we might as well play nice. For now.”

Iria nodded, giving Duo a look of approval. “For now,” she echoed.

Howard brought the van to a stop just outside an old warehouse about thirty minutes from the city. Typical. They piled out of the van, Iria and Howard still dressed the same as when they had arrived at Duo’s apartment hours before, although Iria had added a red coat in the van. Iria still had the Ruger under her arm, but had added a long, jagged blade about a foot and a half in length to a sheath at her back. The only reason Duo knew it was there was because he had seen her strap on the sheath. She had taken the shotgun and placed it in an odd holster that hung at her side. A strap went over her shoulder and it just hung there, like you’d hang a purse over your shoulder. Didn’t make sense that she wasn’t making any attempt to hide it, since she had concealed the blade. Duo snorted to himself. Figuring out Iria was impossible. Then again, how do you hide a shotgun? Didn’t look very comfortable either . . . but, again, what’s life without a little discomfort? It also looked like a Howard custom job. Howard himself appeared unarmed, but Duo knew better than that. In fact, Howard looked like a misplaced tourist.

At both shifters’ insistence, Duo had changed into low, tight black pants, made out of some material Duo couldn’t even name. He flat out refused to wear the fishnet shirt Wufei held out for him, and settled instead on a matching black shirt that laced up the front. It was cut open at the waist, baring Duo’s stomach. The sleeves, hidden under his leather coat, also laced up, and were tied tightly to his arms. Duo’s main reason for accepting the shirt was that it was loose enough in the shoulders to give him a good measure of room to move. The leather coat hit him mid thigh. Duo buttoned only the center button of the coat, leaving the laces of the shirt and his stomach exposed.

Wufei and Trowa had, according to them, dressed as Duo’s pets. Both wore form fitting pants, in a color Duo called dark chocolate. The pants were made of the same material as Duo’s, but neither shifter wore any other clothing. They were even barefoot. Blood red chokers circled their necks, with matching cuffs at each wrist. Wufei left his hair loose, while Trowa’s fell softly over his face. When Duo inquired about the odd color; dark brown hardly seemed like a color Wufei would chose, the black haired shifter had said, quite matter-of-factly, that brown hid dried blood better. Duo had joked with them, calling them prelude-to-bondage bookends. Truthfully, Duo thought they looked perfect. And distracting. He found himself entertaining various indecent thoughts during the ride to Sally’s.

Duo stood looking up at the warehouse. The huge doors were locked, but the smaller entrance door cut into them looked unbarred. Iria had a hand wrapped around the shotgun, tapping the barrel with her nail. Howard had his hands shoved into the pockets of his shorts, whistling a happy little tune.

Turning to Wufei, Duo suddenly asked, “By the way, Wu, what the hell is an animi motus?”

The shifter looked surprised for a moment. “Animi motus . . .? Are you sure you’ve got that right? That can mean either - ”

“Passion or soul’s passion,” Trowa interrupted smoothly.

Duo raised an eyebrow. “Really, now? Isn’t that interesting . . . .” Overhead, a hoarse cry echoed. “What the hell is that?” Duo demanded, looking up as his hand twitched in the direction of the Glock.

“Raven,” Trowa said, nodding his head towards a sputtering lamppost. The black bird let out another sharp series of squawks.

“Huh,” Duo said, “idiotic bird.” Duo shook his head and flicked a stray hair out of his face. “Well, lets get this over with.” He walked up to the door, Iria and Howard a few steps ahead of him with Wufei and Trowa flanking him on either side. Duo cast one last, surly look at the bird as it fluttered its wings. “Poetic,” he mumbled, before stepping inside the door.

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

The inside of the warehouse was dimly lit and cold compared to the outside air. A musty smell assaulted Duo’s nose as he looked around, waiting for his eyes to adjust.

“Welcome,” came a deep voice from the shadows. The tall, bulky man that Quatre had beaten to a pulp at Devil’s Bliss stepped closer as he spoke. “We have been waiting for you. Trowa, Wufei,” he greeted, nodding at the two shifters. Then he turned to Duo. “Duo, and your two friends.” He had the oddest hair Duo had ever seen. Stuck off on the top sides like little horns. He would’ve looked really cute with a tail and a pitchfork.

“Rashid,” Wufei said, acknowledging the greeting. Trowa remained silent.

“Delighted, I’m sure. Now, if you don’t mind, Rashid, you can stop right where you are,” Duo said, shifting his weight forward. “We’ve only just met, you see. Wouldn’t want to get too close and cozy, huh?”

Rashid frowned, but he stopped moving forward. “Mistress Sally is waiting in the back,” he said, turning on his heel. “Follow me if you wish to see her.” He moved away from the small group, winding his way through the boxes and crates scattered around the warehouse.

“Do we wish to see her?” Howard asked, leaning negligently on a crate three times his height.

“Yeah,” Duo answered, “we do. C’mon.”

Duo trailed after Rashid, glancing back and forth in front of him, trying to penetrate the deep shadows between the crates. His skin was crawling, and for some reason the area between his shoulder blades started to itch. This probably wasn’t going to be pleasant. Maybe he should have invited Sally out for coffee instead. In the park. At noon.

They reached what looked to be the back of the warehouse. Rashid ran his hand down the wall, searching for something. Duo heard a soft ‘click’ and a portion of the wall was pulled aside, disappearing into the side of the warehouse. The light was brighter here, and Duo could see that Rashid was wearing casual dress slacks and a light coffee toned shirt. The big man stepped aside, waving Duo ahead.

“No, that’s okay. You go right on ahead,” Duo said, peering into the opening.

Rashid’s frown deepened, but he went inside first. Duo followed with Trowa and Wufei at his heels. Iria and Howard came last.

The back of the warehouse went far beyond what could be seen from the outside, and Duo realized that it was carved into the face of a mountain. Suddenly, the millions of tons of rock above him pressed down, and Duo felt a twinge of unease. A feeling of oppression. He quickly pushed it aside and surveyed the spacious room.

Cushioned couches were arranged in the middle of the room, around a table laden with a selection of cut fruits and wine. Sally lounged on one of the couches, a glass of dark red liquid in her hand. Hopefully wine. She was dressed in a green pantsuit; the jacket cut low enough in front that you could tell she wasn’t wearing a shirt under it. And look at that, she was a blonde. Catherine sat in a chair beside her, with two men at her feet. Probably her wolves. One was an older man, with odd, short curling dark hair and sharply chiseled features. It gave him a rough, angular appearance. The other was a young man, his face smooth and light brown hair cropped close to his head. He looked to be a few years older than Duo. Catherine wore some odd concoction of clothing that Duo tidily labeled an insane woman’s idea of a ball gown. The riot of colors clashed painfully with each other. The men at her feet were dressed much like Wufei and Trowa, only their pants were colored a burnt orange with black collars and wrist bands. They didn’t look too impressed with the color scheme either.

Rashid kept moving into the room, settling in a chair to the left of Sally. Duo stayed by the door, quirking an eyebrow when Sally shook her head disapprovingly.

“Duo, you come into my home and don’t even take a seat? After all the trouble I went to, preparing for your visit,” she said. “Sit. Drink with me. And we’ll talk.”

“If its all the same to you - ” Duo began.

“No. Its not. Sit, or you can consider this meeting over,” she snapped, her eyes hardening.

Well. Couldn’t argue with that logic. Duo made his way over to the couch with its back to one of the walls. He was well aware that the door was the only obvious way out, but he was pretty sure nothing was going to come through the mountain and kill him. The door was chancy. Wufei and Trowa followed him, settling at this feet. Iria also followed, but she leaned on the wall behind Duo’s couch. Howard stayed right where he was, hands still shoved deep in his pockets.

“I meant for all of you to sit,” Sally said, looking first at Howard, then Iria.

“Hemorrhoids,” Howard said with a perfectly straight face, shrugging his shoulders. “They’re a pain in the ass.”

Duo was quite proud of himself at that moment. He managed to not break out laughing in a fit. He didn’t even chuckle once. The younger man at Catherine’s feet smiled broadly, his eyes sparkling. No one else seemed to find it one bit funny. Pity, that.

“I see,” Sally said, not the least bit amused. Howard didn’t look like he cared. She turned to Iria. “And you?”

Iria smiled, that unfriendly little twist of her lips that she was so fond of. “I just don’t like to sit.”

“Humans,” Sally nearly spat, saying the word like a curse. Nice to know she was oh so fond of her primary food source. Then again, she could be snacking on Catherine’s wolves for all Duo knew.

“I’d take it as a personal favor if you left Iria alone and let her hold up the wall,” Duo said to Sally, knitting his fingers together over his stomach and getting comfy on the oversized couch.

Sally looked just a little incredulous at that. Just a little. Her eyes didn’t bug out nearly as far as they had when Duo had called her a bitch. Whoops, forgot about that. Sally probably wasn’t too happy about that little incident.

Duo shrugged. “I’m the one who’s going to have to listen to her moan and complain later if you make her sit now.”

A slow smile crept across Sally’s face, and she let out a peal of laughter. Duo could feel Iria’s icy gaze boring into the back of his head. Catherine looked from the laughing Sally, to Rashid, to Duo, and then back to Sally. She hesitantly grinned, then joined in Sally’s laughter. Great. Even the crazy woman was afraid of Sally. Or . . . she didn’t have a very good sense of humor.

Sally eventually calmed down, resting her chin in her palm. “Cute, Duo, very cute. Fine. Your little girlfriend can stand behind you and look menacing, since it means so much to her.”

“Thank you,” Duo said, pretty sure that he wasn’t that grateful at all.

“Now, to business,” Sally continued, nodding her head at Duo’s thanks. “Rashid, would you please get our guest a drink?”

Rashid got to his feet smoothly, despite his considerable bulk. He poured a glass half full of the same red drink Sally had, setting the decanter back onto the table and handing the glass to Duo. Duo looked down at the glass, uncertain. It had better be wine. Rashid sat back down, looking like he didn’t really enjoy being asked to be the serving man.

“Chianti,” Catherine said, her eyes still dancing with laughter.

Sally’s head whipped around, leveling a deadly glare at her. Oops again. Looks like the lackeys weren’t supposed to speak until spoken to. To Catherine’s credit, she didn’t spontaneously combust under that heated gaze. She just tried to make herself seem two inches tall. In the back of his mind, Duo seemed to recall hearing something about Chianti and liver . . . eating someone’s liver with a nice, red Chianti. That wasn’t a very helpful thought to have right about now. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if the drink hadn’t been wine after all.

Sally was looking at Duo again, Catherine forgotten. “What do you want from me?” she asked shortly. Well, thank you very much Catherine. The crazy woman’s interruption evaporated that good humor Duo had worked in.

“Information,” Duo said simply, tipping the glass to his mouth. He let the liquid touch his lips and made a swallowing movement. He didn’t really want to drink anything Sally gave him. Here’s to hoping she didn’t see through his little deception.

Sally looked curious. That could be a good sign. “Information,” she repeated. “About what?”

“The meaning of life?” Duo said, making it a question.

Sally narrowed her eyes, then she realized that Duo was joking again. “I’m beginning to see why Heero keeps you around,” she said, smiling at him with a hint of fang showing.

“Really? Why’s that?” he asked lightly.

“If nothing else, you’re amusing. Then again, Heero always did have a peculiar sense of humor.”

Duo almost choked. Heero had a sense of humor? Well, Duo thought, remembering last night. He might: deadpan sarcasm. “Hmm . . . thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment,” Duo said, tipping his glass at her.

“What is it you really want information about, Duo?” Sally had leaned back into the couch, resting her head on a pillow.

“Quite a few things, actually,” Duo answered. “First of all, Heero.”

Sally’s eyebrows shot up. “I don’t think I’m the right one to be asking about him.”

“No,” Duo disagreed, “I think you are. Everyone else available to me seems to be a bit . . . biased.” He felt Trowa tense at his feet, but Wufei’s demeanor didn’t change. Reaching down, Duo brushed his fingers through the soft hair at the nape of Trowa’s neck, trying to calm him without words. Duo was dealing with Sally now, and he had to appeal to her character. Duo wasn’t sure if Trowa understood that, but he did relax, leaning back against Duo’s legs and keeping their bodies in contact.

Sally seemed unconcerned with Trowa’s reaction, but Catherine was looking at Duo with startlingly sane and calculating eyes. It passed quickly, and once again her purplish-blue eyes were shining with insanity. Filing away that little bit of information for later, Duo shifted in his chair, curling one of his legs underneath him.

“Hmm,” Sally said, tracing little circles on the couch’s arm with her fingernail. “Alright, what did you want to know?”

“How old is he?” Duo asked.

“I don’t know.”

Fair enough. “Okay, how old would you say he is?” Duo rephrased his question.

Sally smiled again. “That’s a better question. But I still don’t know.” She dipped the tip her finger in her glass, then brought the finger to her lips and licked the wine away. Duo repressed a little shudder. “I could guess. Three, maybe four.”

“Hundred?” Duo said, thinking. That would give Heero more than enough time to have picked up a few tricks.

Rashid snorted. Sally glanced over at him. She seemed to echo his sentiments. “No, human, not three or four hundred. Three or four thousand.”

Duo let out a low whistle. Well then. That put him way before the Roman Empire. If Sally was right. Curiously, Duo looked at Sally. Right now, the next thing he wanted to ask her was how old she was, but he didn’t think she’d take that well. Mustn’t upset the hostess with the violent tendencies.

“How long has he been Erus?” Duo asked next. And here’s to hoping that didn’t get her all riled up.

“Only the last thousand years or so,” she replied, not looking particularly vengeful.

“Okay . . . does he have power over ALL the monsters? Besides you and yours, of course.”

Sally still looked composed. “No, not all.”

Duo waited, hoping she would go on.

“Only those who chose to accept him as Erus, for whatever reason, are his. There are several factions that don’t acknowledge his leadership,” she continued.

“Are we talking state, nation or worldwide?”

Sally took another sip of her drink. “I don’t think I want to answer that.”

“Who was Erus before Heero?” Duo said quickly to cover his confusion. Why wouldn’t Sally want to answer that question?

“You’re a very inquisitive little human, Duo,” Sally said after a moments hesitation, going very still.

Duo shrugged. “It’s a character flaw. So, who was it?”

“Heero didn’t displace me, if that’s the direction your thoughts are going,” Sally said, her lips thinning to a fine line.

Uh oh. Delicate line of questioning. That could mean one of several things. Duo dropped it, and moved on to a different area. “You have no interest in Wiccan magic, or any type of magic, do you?”

Sally didn’t appear to be breathing; she was completely motionless. Come to think of it, did vampires even need to breathe? Iria and Howard look for all the world like they were uninterested in the conversation. They were very interested, though. Or else they wouldn’t be there.

“Are you asking for your own interest or Heero’s?” Sally asked, her voice cold.

“Mine. I owe Heero nothing.” As soon as he said it, Duo thought it to be a lie. Didn’t he owe Heero his life? No. He didn’t. Somehow, getting involved with Heero had cost Mary-Anne hers. He owed Heero nothing.

Sally nodded, apparently believing him. “And them? What of your pets, Duo? Where do their loyalties lie?”

“They’re mine,” Duo said without thinking. Below him, both Wufei and Trowa seemed to melt, all the tension seeping out of their bodies. Something clicked in Duo’s head, and he felt a warmth brush through his mind. Startled, Duo fought to keep his expression the same.

“Yes, so they are,” Sally said, mostly to herself. She turned to Catherine. “You should be paying attention. He could own your wolves just as quickly and easily.”

Catherine looked like she was about to start frothing at the mouth. That’s never a good sign. Thank you very much, Mistress Sally. Another crazy with it in for Duo.

“I doubt I could control her wolves,” Duo said, trying to head off any potential bloodshed. Especially his. Amazingly, this seemed to placate the Tamer. Her ruffled feathers settled back into place and Duo turned back to Sally.

“I don’t need magic,” Sally stated.

Duo nodded. “I didn’t think you would.” Duo briefly toyed with the notion of asking her about Lucrezia. “You want to be Erus,” he said instead, not bothering to state it as a question.

The vampire nodded. “Are you going to try to talk me out of it?”

“No.” Duo was tapping his finger against his leg. “Should I?”

Sally looked confused. From what Duo knew of vampires, she let her thoughts show easily on her face. Trying to come up with a viable reason for that did nothing to comfort Duo. Either it was a ploy, or Sally really didn’t care what Duo knew. Not caring what he knew was the one Duo was worried about. Probably meant she intended to kill him.

“I don’t belong to Heero, Sally,” Duo said, using her name for the first time that night. “He means nothing to me.”

“Then why, human, would you help him for nothing?”

“Human life does mean something to me. If helping Heero means less loss of life, then I’ll help him.”

“Ahh,” Sally said, her eyes half closing. “That’s it then, is it. What if helping him will mean more loss?”

That would be an unpleasant result. “I’ve got a feeling NOT helping him will end up in a very big loss, from my point of view.”

“And what’s that?”

“I’m attached to living, Sally. Its kinda hard to live when someone’s already killed you,” Duo said, mentally cursing himself again for even becoming involved with the vampire Erus in the first place.

“You think he’ll kill you?” she asked.

“Without a fucking doubt.” But Duo wasn’t as sure of that as he sounded. Push Heero hard enough, and he might kill Duo. It wasn’t Heero killing him that had Duo so worried, and he wasn’t about to inform Sally of that little fact. No, it was Heero owning him that scared Duo shitless. Mind, body and soul. He’d much prefer dying.

“Heero should have killed you when he had the chance.”

Duo’s head snapped up.

Sally laughed, the sound stabbing into Duo’s brain. “Don’t look so worried, Duo. I’m only saying that he’s had the chance to kill you already. A better chance than he’s going to ever get again, in my opinion. The little Erus is going to find it hard to kill you now.”

“That’s the idea,” Duo mumbled. Let’s hear it for self-preservation and a lack of post-mortem status. At least for the next sixty years or so.

“And what if I wanted to kill you?” Sally was tapping her fingernails against the wine glass, filling the room with a tiny chiming rhythm.

Duo felt his skin start to crawl. This was rapidly going downhill. “Do you want to kill me, Sally?” he asked, his voice neutral.

“Oh, yes. I want to rip your annoying little heart out of your chest and feed it to you.”

Well, there’s a wonderful idea. “But,” Duo asked, not sure if he really wanted the answer, “are you going to kill me?”

Sally watched Duo with icy blue eyes. Duo felt the shifters at his feet tense, and the first stirrings of their power pushed up against him.

“Call off your pets, Duo. I’m not going to kill you,” Sally said, an amused glint in her eyes.

That didn’t really seem like a good idea to Duo. Sally had only said that she wasn’t going to kill him. That probably didn’t include her lackeys. Despite his misgivings, Duo looked down and said, “Well, you heard the lovely lady. She’s not going to kill me.” Whatever the reason, Trowa seemed the more jumpy of the two.

“Have you learned everything you needed to know, Duo?” Sally asked, sitting up on the couch and crossing her legs smoothly.

Not by far. Duo was piecing together what he had learned so far, and it left him with quite a few more questions. Not very many he would risk asking though.

“One last thing, Sally, and then I won’t bother you again,” Duo said, twirling the glass in his hand and sending the wine to swirling.

“No, you won’t,” the vampire woman agreed.

Riiight. Duo let that one go. “You probably aren’t too concerned with something like this, but do you remember a fire that happened a few years ago? In the suburbs . . . a small church went up in flames. No one survived.”

Sally nodded. “I remember it. Vaguely.”

Duo tipped his head back, looking up into the dark rafters of the warehouse, gauging Sally’s words and reactions. “Out of curiosity, there are many myths about vampires floating around, and there’s one little myth that doesn’t seem based on any fact, even a small, unsupported one.” Duo dug the gold cross out of his shirt, holding it up so it dangled from his fingers and sparkled in the light. “This means absolutely nothing to you, does it?”

“No,” Sally replied, looking neutrally at the cross. “That’s a superstition.”

Duo waited a beat, then said, “Thank you, Sally. For your time, and your answers,” and let the cross drop back down. He had what he wanted now. Sally had shown no reaction at all to the cross as far as Duo could tell, but he hadn’t been looking at her when he revealed the little piece of gold jewelry. Duo had been watching first Rashid, and then Catherine and her wolves. Rashid had looked hard at the cross, while Catherine glanced at it and then quickly averted her eyes. The young man’s eyes however, had widened in either shock or disbelief.

“Eternal life is monotonous, Duo,” Sally said, setting her glass down on the table and reclining back on the couch. “You provide a small distraction. A very small, amusing one.”

Duo rose from his seat, the two shifters rising with him. Iria pushed herself away from the wall, looking a little disappointed. In a way, so was Duo. He wanted a chance to kill Sally, but buried halfway into a mountain with only one little exit didn’t seem like the smartest way to go about it. There are other, better chances. Usually.

Nodding once at Rashid, then Catherine and the two unnamed men at her feet, Duo headed towards the door. He still had questions, but now didn’t seem like the best time to remind Sally of Lucrezia. Duo had already gotten most of the information he wanted.

“Duo,” Sally called, waiting for him to turn back around before she continued. “If you’re so interested in that church fire, ask Heero about it. He knows who set the fire. Maybe not who actually did it, but who ordered it done.”

Duo stared at her, stunned. Why hadn’t Heero said that? Had the vampire taken him so literally that he assumed Duo wanted revenge on the ones who set the blaze only? Duo wanted them all. Heero knew who had ordered the church to be destroyed. He might know why. He knew. Heero knew. And he said nothing. Not a fucking thing! The ones who where responsible for the fire . . . they were the same ones who had stuck him in that godforsaken graveyard. Put him at Heero’s mercy for days. They were the ones who were killing people off like flies. Maybe they were the ones that did it. Maybe; maybe they were the ones. Duo tried to think through the cloud of rage that was brewing in his mind. The cross had been in Heero’s possession. Duo didn’t really know for sure if it had been planted in the apartment or not. Did Duo really know anything for sure? All he had to go on was Heero’s word; even Wufei wasn’t aware of everything that had happened. No one was. Except Heero, and the ones who killed Mary-Anne. And now, Duo had Sally’s words to consider.

“Do you,” Duo grated out from between clenched teeth, placing emphasis on the word ‘you’, “know who set the fire, Sally?” Duo wasn’t even sure if he cared who it was right at this second. He wanted someone to kill. Anyone. Anything. Something had to die.

“I might,” Sally answered, looking smug.

“Tell me.”

“Why should I? I’ve answered all your questions. Given you the information you wanted. Why should I help you?”

The world slowed down then. Duo’s mind was raging, screaming at him. Heero knew. Sally knew. They knew. But Duo didn’t know. And it mattered to him. The vampires could care less about the lives of humans. Could care less about Duo. Duo felt a macabre smile on his lips, and the world sped back up. He flicked open his coat, drawing the Glock with his left hand and the Browning with the other. He trained the Glock on Sally, keeping the other pointed at the ceiling. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Iria sight the Beretta shotgun on Rashid. Wufei and Trowa were still beside Duo, their eyes fixed on Catherine and her crew. Howard was peering out the door almost nonchalantly.

“Simple,” Duo said, his voice empty and cold. “If you do know, and you don’t tell me, you won’t have to worry about finding something to break the monotony of eternity anymore. I’ll break it for you right now. Permanently.”

Sally had gone very still, her eyes hard as stone. “You can’t hurt me with that.”

“No? You know that for sure, do you? We could always find out. How fast can you move, Sally? How quickly can you dodge bullets?” Duo said to her, his voice calm and indifferent.

The vampire’s eyes showed a hint of fear. “You can’t kill me with that!” she half-shouted, insisting.

“Yes, I can. And I will. Tell me what I want to know.”

“You think you will leave here alive after this!?” Sally was screaming now, and Catherine was on her feet, speaking rapidly to the werewolves.

Duo heard nothing but Sally’s voice, his attention was focused firmly on her. “We’ll see. Do you know how many monsters I’ve killed, Sally? How many shifters I’ve had fall dead at my feet?” Duo’s finger tightened on the trigger; it made a tiny ‘click’ as it slid past the first notch. “I am Death, Sally. Your death, if you refuse to give me what I want.” Duo viewed the world with vision tinted black. His mind was still screaming at him, he heard it though the heat of his anger. He saw everything in excruciating detail, the tiny hairs that had worked loose from Sally’s twisted hair wavering from the minute shaking of her body; he heard the shallow beating of a heart, and knew it was Sally’s.

Duo realized then that he could feel Sally’s life pulse through her. He believed Heero now; vampires are not dead things. Sally wasn’t dead. Her blood moved through her veins to a different rhythm than a human’s. So slow. Sluggish. Imperceptible, it was so slow. But Duo saw it now. And he saw how easily he could end it. Two thousand years, he knew, Sally had walked the earth. Two thousand years of life. And Duo could end it with a thought. Not with metal, not with fire. A mere thought. Her life, and her death, was his to choose.

Almost lazily, Duo reached out with his mind. His vision doubled, and he saw the room where he stood now overlapping another room, one miles and miles away. One that Duo had never seen in his life. Seated at a small table, drinking coffee and laughing together, were Lucrezia and Mary-Anne. Mary-Anne was different, though. Her eyes were blue, not green. Her lustrous black hair was now a shimmering red. Duo looked at her, and knew that it was Mary-Anne. But Mary-Anne was not her real name. Lucrezia turned her head slowly, looking straight at Duo. Mary-Anne followed her gaze, her now blue eyes looking at Duo. “Mariemeia, Duo,” she said. “My name . . . is Mariemeia.”

Then the room was gone, and Duo saw Heero’s room in Devil’s Bliss. He saw Heero, leaning against the doorframe, talking with Quatre. Curiously, Duo brushed Quatre’s mind, watching as the blonde vampire’s eyes widened. Duo pushed harder, and Quatre fell to his knees with a choked cry. Turning to Heero, Duo touched the vampire’s mind, feeling the weight of four thousand years pressing down on him. Sorrow. Guilt. Joy. Contentment. Anger. Hate. Fear. Heero’s eyes were drowning blue, twin cobalt flames that pushed Duo back. Almost gently, Heero shook his head, and the double vision disappeared.

Duo blinked, bringing the warehouse back into focus. It was still tainted, still veiled in black. He straightened, letting his arms drop back to his sides. “Who?” he asked, his voice echoing in the vaults of his mind. He reached out and touched Sally’s mind, felt her try to push him back, fling him away. Duo snarled, forcing his way past her defenses. There. She knew. Sally had done it. Sally had burned the church to the ground. Catherine. Catherine had tried to kill Mary-Anne . . . no, tried to kill the woman Duo knew as Mary-Anne. Mariemeia. She had failed. Mariemeia lived. Lucrezia had her. Had her? Or was with her? Where did Lucrezia’s loyalties lie? Friend or enemy . . .?

Duo heard someone screaming. Sally was screaming, clutching her head with her hands. Rashid watched impassively, his human body overlapped with the great, hulking outline of a bear. Catherine’s eyes were no longer insane. She was watching Duo with interest, studying him. Iria and Howard were shadows at the edge of his vision. The air around Iria shimmered, while Howard stood on an island of calm; completely neutral. Trowa and Wufei crouched at Duo’s feet, still in human form, a low growling coming from their throats. Both pulsed with life, but there, under their life, was his mark. Duo’s mark. They were his.

Duo turned his attention back to Sally. Tears streaked her face, a thin trail of blood at the corner of her mouth where her fangs had pierced her own skin. Her pulse faltered as Duo drew her power from her, sucking away her life. He felt it build in him, the same feeling as when the shifters changed near him; a hot, heady rush of power that left him gasping. He took that power, made it his own, and pushed it out, away from him. It touched Wufei, then Trowa, forcing them to instantly shift, the tatters of their clothing scattering in the wind caused by the change. Wufei reared up, snarling and clawing at the air. Trowa bared his teeth, roaring.

Further away, in the middle of the city, the stolen power reached Heero and Quatre. The blonde took the power, letting it wash over him in a warm gust. The Erus let the power fill him, reveling in the feeling. It swirled around him, tousling his hair.

“Animi motus meus . . .” Heero whispered, lifting his hand as if to touch Duo. “Or animi mortus . . . or are you both, Duo?”

Breaking off the flow of power from Sally abruptly, with Heero’s whispered words echoing in his mind, Duo turned burning eyes to the shadows behind her, searching. She looked up at him from where she crouched on the floor, blood and tears mixing. She looked drawn and sallow, her skin yellowed and dark circles standing out in stark contrast under her eyes.

“You . . .” Duo hissed, leveling his gaze on the shaking woman. “You, I will let live. Every fucking beat of your heart, every step you take, is because I let you live. Your life - your death, is mine!” Duo growled.

Turning and walking back into the entrance of the warehouse, Duo was riding out the last waves of whatever power was stirring through him. Wufei trotted beside him, rolling his eyes up to look into Duo’s face.

“We’re going to see Heero. I want to know what the fuck is going on. And I want to know now,” Duo said to him, reaching the door and stepping back out into the night.

on to part eleven

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