Chapter Twenty: Azrael Wept
by Casey Valhalla
"Like I said," Trowa was commenting as he followed Heero out of the main corridor and into the docking bay. "Grudge."
The assassin was walking with his helmet slung under his arm, absently sweeping the area ahead of him as though checking for obstacles. His flight suit was undone and tied around his waist, and a few of the younger female soldiers passing by ran into walls due to the distraction of the black undershirt that barely covered his chest.
Heero was completely oblivious to the attention, of course, which amused the elf to no end.
"It was an unfortunate necessity of our predicament," the assassin muttered, his back to Trowa as he shot a glance around the corner. "Tzumara could have escaped on several occasions. Or killed me, if she had really wanted to."
"Therein lies the question."
Heero turned slightly and gave the elf a sharp glare. Trowa stood calmly under the scrutiny, but was reigning in the need to smirk.
"I hate that look."
The elf raised his eyebrows innocently.
"I hate that one even more."
Trowa would have pushed it a bit more, but Heero's expression was dark, and his mouth was a few centimeters away from a full scowl. He settled for shrugging instead.
The assassin turned on his heel and strode through the docking bay, leaving Trowa hard pressed to keep up with him despite his long legs. The elf settled his features to cool neutrality and drew level with Heero once the press of the crowd thinned out. "I fail to see what I said to upset you."
Heero kept his eyes trained straight ahead. "You know too much." He frowned, almost to himself. "Or you pretend to, anyway."
"Thus the desire to lock yourself up with me in a room."
"I don't think our respective lovers would appreciate that."
Heero opened his mouth and took two more steps before he froze in mid-stride. A soldier walking behind him had to dodge to keep from colliding. His eyes had gone wide as saucers, and he gaped soundlessly at Trowa for a moment before sputtering, "L - lover? *What*?"
The elf smirked, but made it look condescending. "Yes, Heero, your *lover*, if you haven't forgotten already."
"I don't-" the assassin started, and tried again. "You're not - you don't mean *Duo*!"
Trowa cocked an eyebrow. He could swear the man's ears were turning red.
A moment later Heero had regained his composure and was striding off to their assigned fighter ships, a scowl plastered on his face. "I don't know what you're talking about, Barton."
The elf made a graceful turn and followed him, chuckling lightly to himself.
Quatre cleaned the blade of his left dagger on an enemy uniform and straightened, casting a weary gaze around the remains of the battle. He could see the dark figures of the Maganacs moving in the distance, picking through the fallen bodies for survivors. To his right, Sally was assembling the small battalion of Resistance troops that had joined the central forces, most of them mages. Of all the ranks they had suffered the least amount of loss.
The enemy's casualty count was far greater.
~*This is only the beginning yet, young one.*~
Quatre smiled softly and bent his head, closing his eyes with a sigh. ~*Yes, but for now, it is enough.*~
~*Look to your allies.*~
He turned his face into the gentle breeze, cool under the dark clouds Duo had conjured. He opened his eyes to see the demon himself not far off, a black statue amidst the carnage. ~*He's still angry with me.*~
Zero chuckled lightly in his mind. ~*Perhaps he's feeling more amicable now that he's taken out some frustration on those more worthy of receiving it.*~
Quatre laughed, a bright sound that echoed eerily over the emptiness of the battlefield. ~*Perhaps.*~
"Be careful of laughing alone," a soft voice said beside him. "Lest someone take it the wrong way."
Quatre turned sharply to see a young woman standing carelessly amid the carnage, examining the scene with clinical disinterest. She pushed a lock of blonde hair behind her ear and turned a glowing blue gaze on him, nodding deferentially. "Sandrock."
He blinked for a moment before nodding in return. "You're a Relic."
"I'm an operative." Her gaze traveled back over the mass of shifting sand and broken bodies, lingering on Duo, who still hadn't moved.
Quatre shrugged at his aching shoulders and resheathed his blades in the staff strapped to his back. "What shall I call you?"
He followed her look to the motionless black form not far away. "I should go talk to him. Would you like to come?"
She opened her mouth, then pursed her lips in a muffled chuckle. "I don't think so. Not just yet."
Quatre studied her for a moment, but like Duo, he couldn't get a fix on her emotional signature. He decided she looked tired, and smiled gently before turning away. "Come find me later then, if you like."
She didn't reply as he walked away, and he turned his attention to the demon ahead of him. Quatre had only caught a glimpse of Duo's weapon earlier, but apparently he had dismissed it. The Relic stood with both hands thrust in his pockets, head tilted back, watching the streaks and bursts of light in the planet's atmosphere. The air battle was still underway.
Duo never seemed to need to look at who was behind him, and spoke before Quatre had a chance to open his mouth. "You hurt at all, Q?"
"I'm fine, just a few bruises." The blond drew level with him, their shoulders barely touching, and took note of the fight taking place above, too far away to tell who was winning.
"You were talking to Naki." It was a statement, not a question.
The demon was silent for a moment. "How is she?"
"I couldn't tell."
"Figures." Duo shrugged a bit in his coat and finally dropped his face to look sideways at Quatre, his expression a bit drawn.
The Minister met his gaze evenly. "Don't you dare apologize."
He looked surprised for a moment, then smiled softly, a small gesture that grew to reach his eyes. "You know me, Q."
"Unfortunately," Quatre replied, the right side of his mouth twitching wryly.
Duo chuckled and withdrew his hands from his pockets, raising his arms to stretch languidly. "Well, I guess we oughta-"
The Relic froze. His head was cocked slightly, his ear to the wind, as though listening for a faint, far-off sound.
He exploded into motion without warning, throwing out an arm to shove Quatre behind him. The blond thought he heard a faint sound, a thunk, and then Duo was staggering back against him, clutching his stomach.
The demon slid to his knees, and Quatre caught him by the shoulders. "What-"
"Fuck," Duo hissed, scrabbling for something near his belt. Quatre looked down to see the hilt of a knife buried there, blood leaking out sluggishly around it.
"S'okay," Duo grunted, grasping the hilt gingerly. "It'll heal fast." He yanked the knife out quickly with a deep growl. He sucked air through his teeth, pressing his free hand against the wound as he tossed the weapon away.
No more than a few seconds had passed. Duo looked up from attending the wound, and Quatre followed his gaze.
The Minister frowned, his brows knitting together into a line. A few yards away a boy was standing, still poised after the act of throwing a knife, one arm stretched towards them, the other lifted slightly behind him for balance. He couldn't be more than fourteen years, the blond guessed, noting his thin frame, his pallor, his disheveled dark hair.
Glowing gray eyes stared at them, almost without seeing. Quatre shivered.
Duo's voice cracked. "Mishide."
Heero kept himself busy firing at targets. Reciting the names of all the toggles on the control panel and their uses. Cataloguing every hour of his life he'd spent in the cockpit of a fighter ship. Finding new and different ways to enact a tailspin or a controlled dive.
Anything to keep from thinking about what Trowa said.
That one word conjured every guilty image he kept locked in the recesses of his brain. Including the memory of dark dreams, a warm body, a cool mouth-
No, this would not do at all.
"You're falling behind, Wing." The elf's voice over the radio shook him back to reality. Heero shrugged against the seat harness and fired a pair of ion missiles at one of the demon fighters.
He flipped the toggle on the radio control. "Nineteen."
"Twenty-three. You'd better catch up."
Heero snorted to himself and pushed the ship forward, breaking through a line of ISG fighters even as he started up the machine guns, circling the group until the last erupted into a ball of flames.
He hit the toggle again. "Twenty-four. I hope you're keeping busy, Nanashi."
The assassin scowled. "How in hell did you manage that?"
"Cruisers count as five."
"I don't recall that being in the rules," he spat.
Heero glared at the radio receiver as though he could convey the expression to Trowa by will alone.
"You're glaring, aren't you?"
"How'd you guess?"
"It was that or scowling."
Quatre felt as though he were staggering under a heavy weight pressing on his shoulders. The air was perfectly still, almost thick, heavy with old blood and the tang of blasted metal. He shifted slightly, still holding Duo's shoulders where the demon was crouched on the ground.
The Relic's eyes were fixed on the boy he'd called Mishide, but his face was perfectly clear. No smile, no frown, no cruel grin. Nothing.
"You only get one warning, kid," Duo said finally. His voice was harsh and startling in the silence. "Get out of here, now."
It seemed for a moment that the boy looked sad, as he dropped his arms to his sides. "I can't."
Quatre barely felt the shudder run through Duo's shoulders. If they hadn't been touching it would have been imperceptible. The demon bowed his head, and Quatre barely made out a single whispered word.
"I *can't*, Duo!" the boy shrieked. Two tendrils of sand snaked out of the ground on either side of him and shot up towards the sky before they lost form. A light rain of falling particles pattered over the strewn battlefield.
The Relic stood slowly, a hand still covering the wound in his stomach. Quatre followed the movement and stepped back slightly, a look of confusion on his strained features.
He couldn't see Duo's face, but the demon's posture was rigid. His tone was cold when he spoke. "Go."
"I." The Minister's voice caught in his throat.
"Now," Duo said flatly. "Run."
Quatre opened his mouth, but words failed him and he ran, zig-zagging through the scattered bodies. Ahead of him Sally had broken off from the group of mages and was hurrying to meet him. She caught him by the shoulders as he staggered to a halt, gasping for breath.
Sally examined the scene, her expression puzzled. "What's going on?"
"I don't know," Quatre sobbed into her shoulder, lost as to why he suddenly felt so wretched. He grabbed her arms suddenly and jerked her back into motion. "We have to get out of here." When she paused uncertainly, he gave her a panicked, ungraceful shove. "Duo said to run, so *run*, dammit!"
Mishide tried to direct his magic at the fleeing blonde figure, but the power wouldn't obey his commands at the best of times. Duo was already countering the strike. The boy strained to stand up against the green-tinted wind suddenly buffering him on all sides.
The Eldest hadn't moved from his spot, standing perfectly still. His features were eerily serene, but his eyes were blazing, an inferno of violet. "If you want to kill him, you have to fight me first. That's how it works."
"I don't-" Mishide stuttered and fell silent, his arms unconsciously reaching up to wrap around themselves. He was losing what little control he had - felt it slipping away like water through his fingers. A ring of green and black flames shot up around him, dancing and flickering at the edges of his vision.
His eyes were fixed on Duo.
The Eldest stuffed his hands into his pockets and waited.
Mishide licked his lips, tasting sand and a drop of blood. "Do something," he whispered, his hands balling into fists against his arms. "Damn it, Duo, *do something*!"
The ring of fire exploded and crackled along the ground. It petered out into ash after only a few yards, leaving Mishide in a circle of charred black corpses and half-melted sand.
There was nothing but anger. Nothing else was left.
The ground trembled and bucked, a deep rumbling growing under the surface of the planet. Streaks of fire shot out of the sand, flaring in columns to the sky. Rubble and corpses flew in every direction. He kept screaming, his eyes nearly closed with the effort, until he had to stop and suck in a long breath.
Then his arms whipped out in front of him, and he focused all he had on Duo.
He didn't see the Eldest move. For a moment all he heard was the blood pounding in his ears, before he heard the resounding crack, like the sky splitting open.
The magic vanished. Mishide was stumbling backwards, falling to a crouch on the blackened sand.
Then there was pain.
Mishide found himself focusing on the shape of one of the dark clouds in the sky, how the fluffy curves at the edges made it look like the plumage of a large bird. Distantly, he was aware that his skin was tingling, not an unpleasant sensation, but a strange one after feeling numb for so long. Then a shadow intercepted his vision, and he was looking into a pair of warmly glowing violet eyes.
He smiled in delight. "Where have you been, love?"
"Waiting," a voice murmured, rich and velvety, like a soft blanket.
Arms were wrapping around him, and he relaxed into the embrace. He felt himself drifting, drowsy, but a nagging sensation somewhere in the dim recesses of memory kept him awake. There was something he was supposed to say-
"It's the Bond, you know," he heard himself mumbling, and reached up to touch the face lingering above him. The skin felt like silk under his fingers "That's what does it."
The face crinkled around the brows, purple eyes flickering in confusion. Mishide smiled again, sleepily, and arched up slightly to touch his lips against Shinigami's. One touch, a brief caress. "Goodnight, love."
Then there was darkness. And nothing else.
Quatre was trembling when he finally pulled out of Sally's embrace. He'd felt power, overwhelming power, directed straight at him only moments before, with his eyes squeezed shut against the woman's shoulder.
Then it had vanished.
He could see Duo's figure, a patch of black on the battlefield, kneeling with the boy who had attacked them cradled in his arms. A dark flower of blood was forming in the sand around them. He didn't need a closer look to know that the wound had been straight through the heart.
Someone was singing.
It took him a moment to realize the sound was coming from Duo, a sweet, haunting melody, a rolling beat that was almost a chant. Quatre frowned and strained his ears to hear it better, a nagging familiarity in the back of his mind-
Another voice joined in the song, and he turned to see Naki, standing where he'd left her earlier. Her head was bowed, her arms clasped around her waist, so he couldn't see her expression. Her posture was mournful.
"That's the old language," Sally whispered behind him, and he remembered.
It was the same chant he'd used to summon Zero. The cadence was slightly different, as was the language, but it was undoubtedly the same melody.
In his mind, Zero was silent.
"Yes, it is," he agreed, lifting his head to look at Sally.
"Do you know what they're saying?" She looked pale from the encounter, and her face was drawn, listening. "I never studied language," she shrugged after a moment, a bit sheepishly. "How about you?"
"Something about eternal darkness. walking towards the sun." Quatre shook his head, an irritated gesture. He'd paid more attention in some of his classes than in others. "I don't know enough to get a better translation."
Still listening, and almost entranced, Quatre took another step forward and stopped. The song was continuing, but now he thought he could make out other voices, just on the edges of his perception. A soft breeze buffeted at his ears, and he wondered if it was his imagination.
He felt a drop of water touch his face, and looked up. The dark clouds Duo had conjured over the battle were lightening to gray. A soft rain was beginning to fall.
A final, mournful note sounded, and the air fell silent, thickening with the smell of rain. Duo bowed his head where he knelt, clutching the thin body to him like a lifeline.
Quatre started forward again, but the demon stood, shifting his arms to carry the boy. He turned one quick glance at Quatre, dim and passionless in the half-light, then looked away. He strode off across the battlefield, his braid and the tails of his trenchcoat trailing behind.
"Let him be."
The soft comment came from Naki, now close by. She was looking intently at the Minister, and her face was tense. The trail of a single tear glimmered on her cheek.
Quatre sighed and let himself sag, his arms falling limply at his sides. He watched Duo walk away, stepping sure-footed through the ruins of the desert, ignoring the carnage around him. The blond continued watching until the Relic was only a blur in the distance.
Naki turned her face up, into the cool droplets of rain.
"Azrael is weeping."