Dances with Wizards
by girl starfish and Aphrael
"That is unacceptable!"
"It's called hunting, chuckles. I need it to eat."
"It will delay our journey!"
"Tough luck - that's the price you pay for the pleasure of my
"I don't even want the horror of your company. Get lost, and take your wolf with you!"
Beside me, Solo snarls.
They've been like this ever since Duo and Solo started traveling with us. It's not that they don't like each other - I know that they do. But they have to fight over every stupid little detail - like the world will come to an end if they actually - gods forbid - agree on something.
"Don't worry about that," I tell the wolf. "He isn't trying to insult you - he's only caught up in the argument. Right now his attention is entirely focussed on Duo."
Solo hides his teeth again and turns his golden-eyed gaze on me. There's a surprising intelligence in that look. He understands me - I know that for certain. I'm not really sure if all wolves can understand, or if Solo is unique. It interests me.
To the other side, Duo and Wufei continue to bicker.
I really wish they'd just stop. What is that they feel they have to fight about, anyway? Maybe it's their personalities. Duo's got this devil-may-care attitude, and I'm starting to think Wufei was born prickly. A healthy sneeze would set him off. Unfortunately, if that's his problem, then I think Duo's is chronic sneezing.
Whatever it is, though, it's starting to get on my nerves.
"When are they going to stop?" I mutter, with a pained sigh to go along with it.
That's all it takes to set off my furry new friend. I probably should've kept my mouth shut.
Solo bounds over from where he sits next to me and leaps into the middle of their fight, snarling, back arched and ready to attack the next person who annoys him. Duo and Wufei both immediately back off.
"Quatre! Can't you call him off?" Wufei demands.
Solo growls at him.
"Uh…" Duo tentatively adds himself to the new conversation. "I wouldn't be making any demands from Quatre right about now, Wuffers."
"Wufei," the wizard corrects, through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, I know." Duo grins.
I'm starting to think they're going to start fighting again, but Solo is still crouched menacingly between them, so apparently they decide that it's not a good idea.
"Come over here, Solo," I say, and the wolf lopes over to my side. "I don't think they're going to start arguing again right now."
He wags his tail at me.
Solo must be a strange wolf. I don't think that others would be quite so intelligent - or so perceptive. I did touch on his mind, after all, so I'm in a position to know. There's a great deal in there that was odd - as I'd pretty much expected, seeing as he's a wolf. But it wasn't so strange that it was really different from a human mind - except in the way Solo thinks. He understands a lot more than I think we even suspect right now.
I'm starting to think that when I'm promoted to full sorcerer, I'll have to devote some time to studying animals in the wild. It's a really fascinating subject, and I'd like to know if all creatures have this same potential.
It's something to think about, anyway.
"Thanks for getting the wolf turned on us," Wufei mutters.
"Me?" Duo shakes his head. "Not my fault he doesn't like you."
"It's your fault he's here in the first place!"
"I didn't tell him to come with us."
"Yeah, but - "
"You know," I interrupt, watching them. "You guys fight like an old married couple. Are you sure you really don't like each other?"
The way they jump away from each other is priceless.
Solo's tongue lolls out, in a way that suggests he's laughing.
That pretty much puts an end to the fighting, for tonight anyway. I pretend to be oblivious and set up the camp while a blessed silence falls over us.
And to think, I used to hate silence!
With Duo and Wufei along, I've really gained an appreciation for it.
It's not easy being the peacemaker. Sometimes, like tonight, it's amusing. Especially when I have Solo to back me up. You wouldn't believe how well people will listen to you when you've got a snarling wolf beside you. He's been a great help.
It still gets irritating sometimes, though - I can't really help that. We're a strangely assorted group, for certain.
Something cracks nearby.
Immediately, all three of us are on our feet, and Solo is growling a warning. "Who's there?" Wufei calls out, suspiciously.
"I'm not trying to attack." Seconds later, a stranger steps out of the trees and into our line of vision. "I'm just a traveler, like you."
"Oh." I manage a smile. He's very strange-looking - dark hair, cold blue eyes, and a look about him that suggests he's all business. "Well… you can join us if you want."
Duo, Wufei, and Solo all turn their heads at practically the same time to look at me. I see an incredulous stare on Wufei's. Duo just shrugs, and Solo appears to accept my word as law.
I could get used to that.
"Thanks." The stranger comes over to sit near the fire. He doesn't offer any more information. "Which way are you traveling?"
"East," Duo supplies, earning him a murderous look from Wufei. The braided druid spreads his hands out innocently, as if to say 'What? Why not?'
"I happen to be going that way myself," the newcomer says. "I'll travel with you, if you don't mind."
"Not at all." I manage to speak up before Wufei can. "We'd be happy for your company."
The look I get from Wufei tells me that 'happy' was not the first on his list of words to describe how he'd feel about the stranger's company.
"I'm Quatre," I say, ignoring the wizard. "My friends are Duo, Wufei, and Solo." I indicate them each in turn. "We're magic-users - one of each type, actually. What's your name?"
Not the talkative sort, I guess.
"Well," I continue, determined to get some conversation. "If you don't mind my asking, where are you from and where are you headed?"
"I'm on business," he tells me, voice flat. "I work as a mercenary - what business I'm on is open to no one besides myself and the one who pays me. If you meant to ask where I'm from originally, I can't tell you that. I travel around - but there's no place I would honestly call mine."
I'm a little taken aback by that abrupt answer, but I recover quickly enough. There's something telling me that I shouldn't exactly trust this Heero fellow… but that I should, at the very least, allow him into our mismatched little group.
"That's all right," I say, to answer him. "We all have secrets of some kind. At least you haven't lied to us."
He turns that intense gaze away from me. "True."
I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. He's very strange.
Still… I don't mind. I have a feeling that adding Heero to the group will be a decision that I'll live to be thankful for.
And when you're dealing with magic, those kinds of feelings mean
I love the woods. Even with all this snow about right now there is so much to see and look at. Like this.
In a sheltered valley, in a patch of sunlight, snow has thawed and a few delicate snowdrops blossomed. The flowers don't look anything like snowdrops to me, but that's their name, I guess. I run my finger along one delicate edge and puzzle over how something so beautiful and delicate can appear amidst so much harsh weather.
Solo snorts softly behind me, and strolls over to poke his cold nose down my neck. Wasting time?
"A good druid never shuts his mind of to any knowledge. Even a snowdrop might have something to teach us. 'Sides, its pretty."
Solo snorts again and sits down beside me.
"You're not happy, are you?" I said, sitting up. "What's the matter? Your new pack getting you down?"
Solo growled softly. I don't like him.
"Who? Not Wufei again. Geez, if you two would just leave off pestering each other--"
Solo laughed and swatted me with a paw. As if you can talk, you foolish cubling. The way you two carry on--
He's cheered up some. That's a good sign. "Well, if its not Wufei, I doubt it'll be Quatre-- what's up with that? You follow him around like he's in rut."
That got me a sharp nip.
One should not talk about the pack-leader with such disrespect. Solo was disapproving. Quatre is a good and fair leader. He deserves our obedience and our respect.
"Okay, okay, sheesh. I think we've established its not Quatre that's the problem. So, you're mad at me?"
No. It's the other one. Solo growled again. He smells wrong.
"Heero?" I pondered this. "But-- he's only been here, what, an hour?"
Too long. Solo's tail drooped. I don't like the way he's acting towards Quatre. He's being friendly and everything but the words don't match his scent.
"Really?" I was interested now. If anyone could pick up on that, then Solo could. "You think he's lying to us?"
I don't know that word.
I switched to mind speech. //Lying is when you say something that you don't mean. The opposite of truth.//
//I think I see," the wolf said. //Why do you have a name for it?//
I shrug. //Humans are pretty good at it? I don't know.//
//I have a lot to learn about my new pack.//
I ruffled his ears. //You're doing fine,// I told him.
His tail wagged briefly but there was still something bothering him. //Duo-- I can understand you when you talk human, but--//
//That's nothing to worry about//I told him. //It's curious, but its not unheard of for an affinity with my personality and the use of my magic on you to allow you to understand me better--//
//That doesn't extend to the rest of your packmates, though, does it? And I can understand them.//
//You're kidding me// I said. //Maybe you're reading their body language--//
//No, I hear them as clearly as we are speaking now.//
I released Solo, perplexed. Only one thing I could do-- find someway to test this. "Wufei?" I called back to the camp. "Would you mind saying something to me? Anything you like?"
A minute and nothing.
With Solo at my heels I tracked down Wufei deep in some sort of meditation.
"Oi, Wuffers! Wufei-- speak to me, Wufei." I tapped him on the head. "Anyone home?"
Solo and I took refuge in flight as Wufei with rather bad grace informed us of what he thought of my behaviour at volume and quite considerable length.
"Well," I said, as we regained our breath. "What did you hear him say?"
//He disliked being pulled from the serious contemplation of the universe for one of your idiotic stunts and would advise you to keep your moronic ideas to yourself in future. Moreover, he is not called 'Wuffers', as he believes he has already informed you, and requests that you only address him by his given name, that is Wufei. Furthermore, he suggests you get a haircut, interest yourself in some real magic or give up the pretence of practicing it altogether and--what was the last thing? Oh, that's it, he suggests you get off your behind and instead of wasting time cooing like an onna over the wildflowers, go and do your share of the jobs around here, namely the hunting you said you would// Solo reported smugly.
I stared at him.
Silence is a good look on you, the wolf reflected, beginning to groom himself sedately. You ought to adopt it more often.
With a smile I sat down beside him. //Mind if I take a look at your mind?// I asked.
After a quick shake, Solo assented.
It's hard to explain how the life and soul of someone or something feels. Solo's thoughts were loud as thunder in my head, his heart almost deafening. And under those lay subtler currents, his feelings, the sensations he picked up from the world around him, and, entwined with all the rest, running in his blood, yet connecting him to something bigger--
"Magic," I said. "Well."
Magic? Solo looked at with an air cocked. Does this make me like you?
"Not exactly. You don't have enough of it-- or rather the right kind. You're kind of like a carrier rather than a user, more susceptible to others magic-- but there are some magics you can wield in your own right. It's difficult to explain."
And it is this that allows me to understand the others?
"Yes-- I guess my magic must have awoken that. It would be interesting to know what else you can do with it, but I'm afraid this is out of my expertise."
This is interesting, Solo said. I will think on this. About to leave, he paused. Duo?
I saw a good sized rabbit by the stream before, if you ever planning on doing your hunting. He smirked and left.
I took up my bow and sought the stream. The rabbit had moved on but I caught a decent-sized pigeon.
"Thanks for your sacrifice, sister," I said as I retrieved my kill. "We are grateful."
There was a soft snort behind me.
"You must be the druid."
I turned around.
Heero faced me, his own weapons out. His eyes were cool and hidden, his face expressionless.
Somewhat disconcerted by his comment, I sought for something-- anything-- to say.
"You look to have had better luck them me," I said, with a laugh, motioning to the pair of ducks he held. "We'll eat well tonight."
"You could have had better luck if you'd tried," he commented blandly. "I saw at least two birds that you could have brought down that you let go."
He'd been watching me? How long? "I try to kill as cleanly as possible, with the least amount of suffering," I hurried my words nervously. "If I don't think the kill will be swift, I don't shoot."
"A very sentimental policy. I wonder more people don't adopt it."
He was mocking me? I shrugged. "Each to his own. You're a soldier, aren't you?"
"A mercenary," he corrects.
"What's the difference? Oh, that's right-- soldiers have honour." I saw something flicker in his eyes then but he let no trace of emotion show. "I find honour a much overrated principle."
"Is that so?" I knew it was a bad idea but some part of me wanted to draw him out further. "Perhaps," I drawled, infusing the words with just a hint of mockery, "you would do me the honour of walking with me back to the camp, Mr.-- what was your last name?"
"Yuy," he said, holding out his hand to me with just a hint of humour.
I rose to his charade, accepting his arm with the grace of a noble-woman. "So, tell me, what is your view of honour, Mr. Yuy?"
"Simply a tool employed when all other methods fail," he said. "It's used as currency by the nobility, I've seen men suffer deprivations they would not submit to for any price for it, and too many die for its empty promises--honour-- don't make me laugh! A good meal and a full purse are worth more, any day."
"I see," I said. "So expediency is your line, then."
"I am a man of business," Heero said. His voice, even in his cool sentences was compelling-- imbued with an under the surface danger that fairly took my breath away. I could see the source of Solo's discomfort readily-- and yet I was fascinated. "I act in whichever way will best serve my interests." He sneered. "Unlike others, I do not quaver at a little bloodshed."
I bristled. "Nor do I-- in good cause. But death cannot be undone, nor can any magic bring life-- it is not a gift to be taken away lightly."
"To survive. Everything goes full circle. The beasts and birds prey on each other, and we on them until the day we ourselves are food for the earth."
"And what part does honour play in all of this?"
"It binds us all and ensures the circle does not fail. Respect for the other members of the circle, honouring the lives we take, avoiding excess and waste--" I stopped, letting his arm go. Heero's face was still distant. My words meant nothing to him. In that moment I realised he had no idea of life, none at all. "Honour can't be explained, Heero. It can only be understood."
Heero laughed. "A typical philosopher's answer. You seem to have been well trained to do nothing useful. You can keep your honour, druid. I have no need of it." He stalked off in the direction of the campsite.
I watched him leave, frowning. "You wouldn't say that if you knew--"
"Well," Wufei's voice broke into my thoughts. "It appears we agree on something."
I looked up, eventually spotting him, sitting on a branch in the tree above my head. "And what would that be?" I asked.
"The warrior is a problem," Wufei slid off the branch, landing delicately on the ground beside me. "A man without honour is a man who is lost."
"He has no idea," I grumbled. "Business-- I wonder what business brings him here?"
The Chinese wizard nodded. "It is most unusual for him to be so eager to travel with us-- usually magic-users and those of the sword do not get on well. Quatre is too trusting. I shall be on my guard--and I advise you to do the same."