A constant stream of water trickled down the back of Heero's neck as he made
his way through a tired neighborhood. Worn old Victorian homes lined the
street, faded and peeling. Grass pushed up through the cracked sidewalk.
The rain washed the colors of chalk off the pavement and made broken, oily
puddles in driveways and on the shoulder of the road.
Duo hunkered dejectedly on his shoulder. Heero could almost hear his
complaints. "I can't believe you dragged us out in this. I know you think
you're going to find her, but it's not like we're just going to trip over
her or something. I don't understand you sometimes. All we're doing is
Heero wouldn't have been distracted by the complaints. It was just
something Duo did.
At least, that was how it was supposed to be.
"You don't have to come with me," Heero said aloud, halting the monologue in
his head. "You could go back to the van."
Duo shot him a scathing look. "Thanks, I didn't know I needed permission."
Heero frowned, head bowing a little. That wasn't how I meant it, and he
knows it. The crow had always come and gone as he pleased.
As though to prove that point, Heero felt the claws on his shoulder tighten,
weight shifting forward as Duo jumped off his shoulder. With a strong
downward stroke of his wings, he flew ahead to perch on a stop sign.
A woman out walking her Rottweiler spared Heero a second glance, her eyes
fixed on the crow that had been riding him. The bird stared back at her,
beak open. Heero knew the smile Duo would have worn if he could,
sharp-edged and aggressive, one corner of his mouth higher than the other.
When Heero caught her eye, she blushed and quickly turned away. Her dog
whimpered a question at him, tail tucked up to its belly. He offered it a
smile, and its ears shifted forward hopefully. The tawny spots over its
eyes quirked in a strange imitation of human brows. Then the woman tugged
on the Rottweiler's leash and they were both behind him.
Suddenly, the sidhe's surrounding crashed in on him. Whatever he was
looking for, he wouldn't find it here. He could feel her, like something he
couldn't quite remember tugging at the back of his brain. Something
He pulled his coat a little tighter and fished a cigarette and matchbook out
of the pocket. Duo tilted his head disapprovingly. "It's a bad habit."
"I've seen what you eat," Heero said and lit a match, cupping his hand
around the little flame protectively. "You have no room to judge."
The crow made an indignant squawk, refolding his wings, and pulled himself
up. Then, as though it had decided he wasn't worth paying attention to, the
bird began grooming his breast. Tufts of black down floated free with the
force of his preening.
"Are you coming?" he asked Duo as he started walking again.
Duo flipped a wing at him dismissively, still pretending to be engrossed in
arranging and smoothing his feathers. "You go on," Heero's mind supplied.
"I'll catch up later."
More small, downy feathers drifted to the ground as he worked at the
underside of one wing. Heero frowned, but he nodded as he passed. He
didn't know what the other did when he went off on his own, but Duo never
seemed to have a problem finding him again when he wanted to.
With nothing there to keep his attention, Heero soon moved out of the pocket
of suburb he'd wandered into. The air took on the smell of rubber and Thai
spice under the heavier scents of car exhaust and rain. There was more
magic here, in the casual spells laid in signs and graffiti. There were
more people here, too, shopping or loitering. He spotted a pair of elfs
waiting in line outside a rundown theater; the heat-shimmer of illusion was
around them both.
Since Treize defeated him and the others, the sidhe had as a rule ignored
him, looking through him with polite disdain. These two were no exception.
One's eyes flicked his direction with a spark of recognition, then away.
Heero knew his name. It was Laszlo. The other, a girl, was Danika.
Neither had been more than an acquaintance to him, but they had served the
Bright Court together before he pledged to Relena.
He treated them with the same indifference they showed him, practice having
made him better at it. Not slowing, it wasn't long before he had put them
behind him as well.
_____ _____ _____
Duo watched Heero go. He wondered, sometimes, if he ought to leave him
alone so often. He talked to himself more and more, which wouldn't have
worried the crow normally, but the fact that Heero used him as the voice for
one side of the conversation did.
He never talked to me that much when I could talk back, Duo thought
wryly, mantled against a gust of wind. Heero could take care of himself,
and madmen always had the best luck.
Besides, he had other things to do. Heero might stumble over their queen's
hiding place just wandering around aimlessly, but Duo doubted it. Even if
he did, what then?
Duo took off. It wasn't his favorite weather for flying -- he'd have
preferred a sunny day, with thermals to ride on instead of struggling for
lift with soggy plumage. Seagulls could have this shit. The tick of water
working through to his skin made him itch for a dust bath, distracting him
from his thoughts.
The city grew smaller below him, looking more and more haphazard as it
shrank, the angles and intersections of roads canting around hills or
diverging for no reason he could see. It was all grey and dull from rain.
As he gained altitude, he caught sight of the sinuous brown line of a river.
It was sneaking up on the high water mark.
Wheeling, he flew over the city.
His destination appeared as a plot of variegated green; regularly placed
stones and dark evergreens broke the carefully tended grass. Flowers made
occasional splashes of color on the lawn. As the white limestone markers
turned pocked and mossy, the flowers became fewer and farther between. The
particular magic of graveyards never changed. The veil that separated this
world from the Other thinned, darkening the atmosphere. There were no
banishments that could have held him out of a place this steeped in death.
He landed on an old headstone and knocked sharply.
"Ah, didn't think I'd see you ‘round today?" Howard said from behind him.
"Do you have anything for me?"
The leader of the Barrow Folk stood leaning against the trunk of a cedar,
wearing a Hawaiian shirt flamboyantly patterned with surfboards and panel
wagons. The sunglasses he wore were dark enough to block out the tropical
sun, but in this climate they mostly served to hide his eyes from scrutiny.
Winking at the old man Duo bobbed his head in a nod.
"You're a good kid," Howard told him, a smile splitting his face,
smile-lines peaking out from behind his glasses. "You want to show one of
my boys where you stashed it?"
Duo puffed himself up. After years like this, he was used to having to
pantomime in order to get his point across. He was ready to squawk about
it, if he had to.
"Hey, hey," the Barrow man said quickly, before Duo could start making
noise. "I didn't say right this minute. You just got here. What sort of
host would I be if I didn't offer you something to eat and catch up a bit?
No reason to get outta shape."
Duo shot him a sideways glance, flicking his tail.
Chuckling, Howard pushed himself away from the tree. "I'm offering now.
Come on. I don't think we have any eyeballs laying around, but I'm sure I
can find something rotten enough for you to eat."
He hopped into the air and flew the short distance to land on Howard's
"Shit on this shirt and I'm having crow for dinner. Consider yourself
warned," the old man said lightly. Duo ruffled primly and snorted, then
jabbed at Howard's earlobe.
A cigar appeared in the Howard's hand as he turned, plucked out of thin air,
and they made their way across the green toward a low hill. The waif-like
faces of the Barrow folk turned toward them now and then, half visible
through the thin barrier between worlds. Behind them, he could just make
out the hollows of their mounds and the glimmer of treasure looted from the
As they walked, Duo listened to Howard summarize Court gossip, sketching in
the air with his cigar as he spoke. "Don't know what Treize did, but the
UnSeelie have their panties in a bunch," he explained. "He's been stepping
on a lot toes lately, and the NicNiven is ready to spit nails. The Seelie
are with him at the moment, mostly because Her Majesty UnSeelie is so
Duo nodded in understanding. The Seelie and the UnSeelie hadn't stood
together in millennia. If one Court claimed the sky was blue, the other
would staunchly maintain that it wasn't -- the sky itself had no color, and
what appeared to be blue was merely an optical illusion. Then one or the
other would get offended and start a war.
Some things would never change. It was reassuring, in a way.
"The elfs in the Bright Court are doing the same thing they always do: as
long as it doesn't concern them directly, they just stand back and shake
their heads sadly. Pricks, the lot of them." The Barrow man stabbed the air
in emphasis, then added, "That crazy boy of yours excepted, of course."
Chortling, the bird hopped impatiently. Howard sat down on the wet grass
and clamped his cigar between his teeth. "Not much more to tell, really.
So far as I can see, it's mostly just the usual. The Small Folk are saying
there was a ban sidhe washing bloody clothes in the river, but I haven't
heard anything to confirm that one way or the other."
Duo perked. Ban sidhe meant someone was going to die.
"Nothing to get excited about," Howard told him reprovingly. "It's just a
rumor. Now, I promised you something to eat..." He looked around, reached
through the veil and caught one of the Barrow Folk.
"Shi -- Cold!" The startled mound faery said as it was pulled into the human
world, swearing when it suddenly found itself outside in the rain.
"Watch it," the leader warned the faery-- a pale creature, with stringy white
hair. "Now get my friend here something to eat. This is a graveyard; there
must be something dead laying around here somewhere."
_____ _____ _____
The window was cool against Wufei's forehead, a solid point in reality while
he let his mind roam. He's been in this apartment for three months, living
with her. Before that, it was another woman. There wasn't even a break
between; when the last kicked him out, this one had taken him in.
His thoughts drifted back in time, past the last woman and the woman before
her, and all the women who had come before them. Before his Queen had been
lost to Courtly machinations, when he had wrapped the girls in glamours so
thick they pined to death wanting him. There were only a sad few who had
the power to resist him, back then.
And the one who had the most power had chosen not to.
Drops of water slid past his eyes, leaving trails like tear-tracks on the
glass. Outside, the sky had turned the grey of gunmetal, the clouds rolling
visibly. The wind was picking up, bringing worse weather with it.
Hearing her fuss with her keys, he turned toward the door. A moment later,
it opened, and she stepped in, her bangs slicked against her face. She met
his eyes briefly, hopefully, but turned away from whatever she saw in him.
"I thought maybe..." she began, but trailed off. She was pale beneath the
natural creamed-coffee shade of her skin and the flesh under her eyes was
"You thought?" he prompted, turning back to the window.
"I thought maybe we'd go out to dinner tonight," she said then in a rush.
"I had a long day, and I don't want to cook right now." She paused, and he
let his eyes close, pushing down the swelling disgust that rose in him at
the note of eagerness which crept into her words. Why did she bother? Then
she was speaking again, "I thought it might be fun. You could wear that
black shirt I bought you, and I haven't gotten to wear my new shoes yet.
What do you say?"
"Where did you want to go?" he asked, distancing himself from the scene he
was in, from the way he could almost feel her desperation floating in the
air like ash.
"Misha says the French restaurant that just went in on 10th is good," she
answered and he nearly winced to hear the tentative smile in her voice. "I
thought we might try that. I have the money, so that's not a problem."
They met at a party, he remembered, something the last one had taken him to
when she was trying to save their relationship. She'd introduced herself
when he stepped outside for air; she was with a friend of hers who'd needed
"I'm going for a walk," he told her, opening his eyes and straightening.
"You're--" She blinked. "What about dinner?"
Shrugging, Wufei pushed past her, not bothering to grab his jacket. "Maybe
when I get back."
"But what?" he shot back sharply. But you're going to fix it? But you
had a plan? You knew if you gave me one more chance, I'd see?
Snorting, he repeated, "But what?"
"I'll see you when you get back," she said, surrendering. "Maybe then."
He shook his head, almost wanting to laugh, and stepped outside.
_____ _____ _____
It was starting to get dark, night spreading from the Eastern horizon like a
bad bruise. The clouds took the color, brown and purple fading into black
and blue. Heero walked back toward the Volkswagen, looking forward to the
Eurovan's cold, damp interior without enthusiasm.
He hadn't found what he was searching for today, but there was tomorrow. He
could still sense her, there but not. Eventually, he would find her.
Duo hadn't found him yet; Heero wondered if the crow would be gone all
night. He disappeared occasionally, sometimes for days at once, but he
always came back. Normally Heero would wake up to find him there, squatting
on the back of one of the van's seats or poking through the pockets of his
Cutting through a vacant lot between housing projects, he pulled his coat
tighter around his shoulders. Field grass whipped around his calves and
soaked his pant legs. The chill of iron mingled with that of the rain. It
was getting cold, and the rain was coming down harder, the wind blowing it
in his face with stinging force.
If I knew what he was searching for...If I knew where to look... Even if
I only knew what had happened to Relena in the first place...
There were many ifs.
If I had been with her when whatever happened, happened. If I could have
stopped it. If I could have seen it coming. If I still had my power. If
my heartstone weren't flawed and sealed. If Duo weren't trapped as a crow.
If Trowa's magic wasn't locked away in his flute. If Quatre still had his
Sight. If Wufei was free. If Milliardo had sided with his sister.
And none of them did him any good.
The streetlights were starting to flicker on, casting strange shadows
against abandoned garbage. Grey and black, and sere brown, mottled with the
red of dead leaves.
One shadow didn't move with the others, catching Heero's eye. He stopped,
looking closer at a figure on ground a few yards off.
The creature was easily lost in the tall grass where it crouched, long hair
sticking out at odd angles, obscuring most of its features. Gangly arms and
legs bent in on themselves. Heero could make out the sharp protrusion of a
nose, and the low, yellow glister of its eyes. Long hands traced idle
patterns on the ground as the goblin looked up at him, grinning toothily.
Half straightening, it matched his stare.
Heero felt a cold flare of anger. This thing should never have been so bold
with him. He could have killed it, once, with an off-hand gesture.
"What do you want?" Heero asked, eyes narrowing at it made a show of
"Want?" it repeated, then laughed; its voice was oddly childish. It moved
forward with the graceless agility of a monkey, padding on four limbs.
"What makes you think I want anything?"
Heero scowled. It thought it could tease him.
"Ask me what I'm doing here," it dared him as it circled. "Go on. Ask me."
Silence. Heero's hands knotted into fists, but he didn't respond.
The goblin huffed, a disappointed caricature on its face. "I won't tell you
if you don't ask."
"Then don't tell me."
It paused, drooping visibly. "Don't you want to know?" Even its hair
seemed to lose its energy, pressed down by the rain. The streetlights
caught the glint of metal around at its neck. It tensed -- Heero barely had
time to register the movement before it was on him. He caught it out of
reflex, saving his face from the broken claws that ended its fingers. Then
it was twisting and struggling against his grip; wiry muscles bunched and
flexed. "I doubt a pot pixy like you could tell me anything I'm interested
in hearing." Heero responded coolly.
"Fucking arrogant elf," It hissed through its teeth. Lunging, it bit his
hand hard enough to break the skin, but Heero held on determinedly. It
grinned at him when it pulled back, blood around its mouth. "You're nothing
but a has-been."
Heero snorted, not bothering to respond.
It lashed out with its feet next, and the air exploded from Heero's lungs
and it planted both firmly in his gut. The thing's long toes tangled in his
coat, scraping at his stomach as it looked for the leverage to wrench itself
free. His bitten hand throbbed in time with his heart, blood making his
grip slippery. Heero looked around, scanning the area for a weapon.
Scraps from the construction lay in haphazard piles, littered with bottles
and cans, plastic bags and pieces of piping that people had abandoned here
rather than transport to a dump. Left over fencing and rusty, broken ends
of rebar. Plenty of things that would serve his purposes.
Taking a chance, he let go of the goblin. Over balanced, it fell hard on
its back. Heero made a grab for a metal stake -- iron, burning and freezing
at once so he struggled not to throw it away immediately -- and brought it
down hard on the recovering creature.
It screamed, jaundiced eyes flying wide, as it clawed at the stake nailing
it to the ground. It was still screaming when Heero had to let go of the
bar. The sidhe staggered back a step, clutching his hand to his chest, and
sat down heavily on the ground. Slowly, the pain faded to a dull ache.
He was still standing over the body when Duo appeared. The crow landed on
the dead goblin, looking a question at Heero.
"You would show up now," he accused the bird wryly.
Duo preened innocently, and Heero almost heard him say, "I always liked to
make an entrance." Then his attention fell to the corpse. Heero turned
away, preferring not to watch his friend picking at the body of a goblin
which had just tried to kill him. The bird was studying something shiny
around the goblins throat with first one eye, then the other. Apparently,
as long as there was not competition, he was willing to take the time to
scavenge a bit of jewelry off of the dead goblin before he ate it.
Heero could hear Duo's voice as he said, "Oh, I love goblins. Nothing is
crunchy quite like goblins." That was nearly a century ago.
"It attacked me," Heero explained.
"Why did it do that?" Duo should have asked. He heard a pop from where the
UnSeelie crow was beginning to pick at his meal and preferred not to
consider what the sound might have been.
"I don't know," he said, answering the unvoiced question. "It wanted me to
"Why didn't you?"
Frowning, he answered, "I didn't like it playing games with me."
"Well, a goblin wouldn't have just decided to come after you," Duo's voice
pointed out reasonably. "Even they aren't that stupid."
He nodded. "Someone must have sent it."
But who, and why? Rubbing his injured hand gingerly, he considered. It had
been years since he was a threat to anyone. The Courts had all but
forgotten him. Without Relena, even if he'd had his powers still, he'd only
be one disenfranchised Knight. If he found her, maybe then he would be
something to fear again.
If he found her.
Suddenly, Heero smiled. For the first time in almost two decades, he was
close enough to finding Relena that someone was scared.