Pargan sighed as he leafed through the sales receipts. Statues were selling fast, but Miss Relena had no idea of limiting expenditure.
"Let's see . . . we have just enough to pay back the loan she made against her kingdom, providing of course that she doesn't buy any more shoes--"
The door creaked quietly.
"Yes," Pargan called, not looking up.
A sword was slammed into desk in front of him.
Pargan gulped as he met the cold eyes of Heero Yuy.
"Where am I and what the hell was I doing on a pedestal with this attached?" Heero demanded, waving the 'Not for sale' sticker at Pargan. "And more importantly, where's Duo?"
"Look, I appreciate the gifts and everything, and your hospitality is wonderful, but I'm going to be late for my date so I'm afraid I really have to go, but if you're ever in the area, pop by and say hello, okay? Bye!"
Quatre ran out of the temple, hoping furiously that Trowa was still interested in that date.
The worshippers filed slowly out after him with stunned expressions.
Abdul tugged the robes of the High Priest. "What does this mean, O Interpreter of the God?"
"Is it not obvious?" Rashid addressed the surrounding crowd. "The God has come to us in human form."
"But he said he wasn't the god," the younger maguanac protested. "He apologised profusely and said there had been some mistake."
There were murmurs from the crowd. Indeed, the blond had seemed most apologetic.
"And he kept going on about some 'Trowa'," Abdul continued. "That doesn't seem very god-like--"
"He is testing our faith," Rashid said slowly. "That is the only explanation--yes, I'm sure of it."
"But the Trowa--"
"Is perhaps another god. We must follow him." Sensing another protest from the younger worshipper, Rashid put up a hand to forestall him. "Who are we to fathom the ways of the gods? We must follow and observe."
The followers nodded in agreement, the ways of the gods were indeed unfathomable. For what mortal could explain why a god would become a statue? Some of the more practical minded followers went home to pack. The rest started after the vanishing god.
Hilde struggled with errant branches. Really, making a stretcher was harder than it looked. Somehow she'd managed to get herself and Wufei tangled up in vines and sticks. "This is a mess!" she sighed, wondering whether she should just give up. Then she thought about the freaky girl getting her hands on Duo and decided that giving it one last shot couldn't hurt.
It was about then she heard a throat cleared.
"Onna," Wufei asked in tones of great suspicion. "Are you tying me up?"
Trowa approached the room that Duo had entered nervously. He had been gone a while--
Perhaps he needed time to come to terms with losing his chance at being, and Trowa sneered at the word, human. Possibly he was worried about Heero being angry, or maybe--
"Duo? Duo? Oh hell--how did this happen?" Trowa touched his still friend with something akin to shock. "Duo--but--this can't be happening!"
Duo's uncharacteristic silence argued that it was.
Trowa ran a hand over the frozen snakes, accepting at last that the unthinkable had happened. The gorgon was stone.
"Whoever did this--they'll pay for this, I swear!"
"Well, technically, I suppose he did it to himself so that will be rather interesting," Sally said, stepping out of the shadows at the back of the room.
"Who are you?" Trowa demanded. "Do you have anything to do with this?"
"I'm the Oracle," Sally said. "You must be Trowa."
"Turn him back!" Trowa demanded. "Please! I'll do anything!"
"Anything is not in your power to give, dryad," Sally said, picking up a previously unnoticed item from the table and turning it over in her hands. "Stone Duo is and stone he will remain . . ."
"No," Trowa whispered, tears running down his face.
Duo watched impassively.
". . . unless . . ."
Trowa stared up at Sally. "Unless?"
The Oracle grinned, handing him the object she held in her hands. "True love breaks the spell, of course."
"Oh," Trowa said. "Of course." He looked at the object curiously. "What is--"
"You will meet Wufei on your way out. Give this to him and tell him to take it to Heero, with instructions to come here. And tell him it's about time he went home. He's got a family that misses him and a wife who's ready to say sorry."
Trowa digested all this information with only a raised eyebrow. "And what will I be doing that prevents me from delivering this to Heero myself?"
"You've got a date," Sally said firmly. "You'll have to go north, a half days travel, to find him. By the way, acquire a horse if you can, you'll need it to get away from Quatre's fan club. And Hilde . . . tell her, if she goes south then follows the river, she'll find the rest of her family."
Sally sounded so positive, Trowa didn't question her. Instead he nodded, and saying a silent goodbye to his friend, took one last look at Duo and turned to leave.
"By the way," Sally said. "Something comfortable, and nice, but not too nice to climb in. I'd say your brown tunic with the green trimming."
"What?" Trowa demanded, turning around again.
The Oracle grinned. "Didn't you want to know what one should wear on a date to an oak-tree?"
Trowa blushed and fled.
It was almost half of the way through the morning.
Une frowned at the two poached eggs, sunny side up, yolk no more than 40% of the total egg, on top of toast that half an hour earlier had been golden brown and perfectly crisp, and was now soggy. It was not like Lord Treize to be late for breakfast.
Looking up, she met the anguished gaze of the Cook. She decided to release the hapless servant. "Clear the dishes. I will see what is keeping Lord Treize."
The Cook bowed and fled with the untouched breakfast, relieved at the prospect of not getting tortured.
Une walked crisply to Lord Treize's quarters. She knocked on the door, then entered. "Lord? Are you well?"
Une blushed a merry shade of red as Treize kissed her on the cheek. "I must say, my dear Lady, that you give the best presents."
"As I told my Lord, last night, I live only to serve--" Une frowned as she turned and noticed the pedestal on which the statue had been placed was empty. "But where is the--"
"That was amazing, I don't know how you managed it!" Treize said. "Turning a human into a statue for me--incredible! I expect you thought that if you introduced us outright, I'd refuse to meet him? Probably true," the megalomaniac acceded. "I hate blind dates. But Une--to think you'd go to such lengths to play matchmaker for me!"
Une wasn't listening. She'd noticed the unusually rumpled state of the bedclothes and was staring, in a state of shock, at the pale figure within. At the top of the bed, a few strands of golden blonde hair could just be seen.
"My dear Lady," Treize said warmly. "I had no idea of the depths of your regard for me. Forget about a country--I'm going to give you the known world!" He kissed her limp hand then squeezed it. "By the way, you wouldn't mind getting a breakfast in bed for two sent in?"
Une left the room in something of a daze. She was dimly aware of herself ordering the meal for Treize and then stumbling back to her room. Thoughts flashed through her head without sequence, her head felt alternately heavy and empty. It wasn't until she'd been staring at her mirror for a good fifteen minutes that she began to feel again.
Oh, she shed a few tears. But it was not long before she picked up the hairbrush and began to smile.
After all . . . being ruler of the entire known world did have possibilities.
Some time later.
Sally was just setting out to check the mail (one bill, two pamphlets, and an appeal envelope for the Society for the Protection of Aged Monsters) when a shadow fell across her path.
She looked up.
Two humans stood in front of her, outlined in profile by the midday sun. Light flashed from the boy's drawn sword.
"Take me to Duo, now," he said.
The girl's long hair was ruffled by the breeze. "I demand Relena be handed over to me!"
"Heero and Dorothy," Sally said. "Well. You weren't due until tomorrow."
The sword suddenly thrust at her throat indicated that Heero was somewhat less than amused.
"Right then," Sally said. "I'll just take you to them, okay?"
"I demand to be set free now! I'm a Queen! Hello!"
They heard Relena before they saw her, still in the cage that Duo and Trowa had locked her in. Her soldiers had more or less quit, and after lecturing them a while, Sally had decided that being locked in an enclosed place with Relena was punishment enough and had freed them.
"Here you go," Sally said. "Relena."
"No you don't," Dorothy put a hand on Heero's arm. "You promised I got Relena. You're here for Duo, remember?"
Heero put down the crossbow. "Hn."
"Heero!" Relena's eyes got all teary as she made a last ditch escape attempt. "You--you're not going to abandon me to that--that witch!"
"Sorceress," Dorothy corrected. "And yes he is, if he knows what's good for him."
Heero just shrugged. "After Wufei told me what you did, I couldn't care less what happens to you. So long as it's nasty--which Dorothy assures me it will be."
The sorceress grinned. "Taking my magic and then turning my own spells against me--you're going to regret the day our paths crossed, Relena!"
The former Queen appeared ready to faint in terror. Sally decided a short break was necessary in order to prolong her agony.
Sitting around steaming cups in the room in which she'd talked with Duo, Sally refilled cups, catching up with outside gossip.
"So Lady Une is now ruler of the known world?"
"Isn't the Oracle supposed to know stuff like this?" Heero asked.
"Hey, I see the future, I'm not omniscient," Sally snapped. "Foresight doesn't exactly come with a menu."
"She's a pretty fair ruler, on the whole," Dorothy mused. "She's designated a national rose day, and has instituted a thirteen month calendar in order to name a month Treize. But some of her decrees are just plain odd--"
"She's outlawed blondes," Heero said.
Sally blinked. "That is odd." Her eyes fell on Dorothy's corn white locks. "May I ask how you escaped?"
"I have weird eyebrows," Dorothy said. "I'm exempt."
Heero abruptly slammed his cup down on the table. "Enough idle chitchat! Where is Duo?"
"Do you have the sunglasses?" Sally asked. "Good. It might be a good idea if you put them on."
"Because I can't guarantee that we'll be able to turn you back from being a statue a second time," Sally said.
"Then I'm going to see Duo?" Heero questioned eagerly.
Sally sighed. "Possibly. If you make the right choice. Through that door there."
Heero followed Sally's directions and found himself in a garden--a garden filled with statues.
Heero stared. Perhaps he'd made a wrong turning.
"Very pretty," Dorothy said behind him, leaning in the doorway. "But I doubt Heero came all this way just to admire your roses, Sally."
"It's a test," the Oracle explained. "One of the statues is Duo. If he can find him, there's a chance Heero can bring him back to life."
"Right." Heero stepped into the garden. About five minutes later he realised he had a problem. After all, the statues got more similar the further into the garden he went. And he'd only gotten a five second look at Duo before he'd been turned into stone.
It was maddening really. He knew how Duo sounded by heart, could describe his scent at length, had a pretty good idea of what he was like by touch--but sight?
He paused in front of a statue. Snaky hair, check. But the eyes--
After a moment he moved on.
There were more and more statues with snakes now, looking more and more alike. Heero turned amongst them, looking from one to another with something approaching despair.
Finally Heero clenched his fists. He put the eye-armour over his eyes and shut them tightly, running his hand over the statue closest. It took him only a minute to decide that that was not Duo--the features were too rough.
Similarly the next three were abandoned.
The fourth one--
Running his hand along one side of a graceful face, Heero was reminded of a gentle Duo leaning against him in the dark, confiding his secrets trustingly to Heero. Impulsively he rubbed his cheek against the statue's. It did not feel wrong--
Nor did the rest of him. Heero thought back to that kiss in the dark, trying to match memory to the tactile information. Lips brushed marble even as Heero wrapped his arms around the stone form. Duo--
Heero broke away, a sudden pain in his heart.
He was just a monster hunter. He didn't know how to lift a spell--he didn't even know if he could. He leant his head against his love's chest, letting the gentle hissing in the background soothe him, as he wondered how he could possibly turn Duo back--
Wait a minute--
Heero's heart froze.
Duo took the opportunity of his love's distraction to kiss him soundly. "You know, Heero," he said. "I don't know how the hell this happened, but let's not waste the opportunity, huh? I mean, why waste time trying to work out why I'm not a statue when we could be making ou--oomph!"
Heero, apparently, agreed with him.
Sally and Dorothy watched from a safe distance.
"Well, they seem happy," the blonde sorceress said.
"Oh, they are," Sally said. "They're going to go at it like drunken centaurs for the next few hours. We should give them a little privacy."
Dorothy reluctantly complied.
"So what will you be doing with Relena?" Sally asked.
"Well, I need someone to test spells on," Dorothy shrugged. "I'm working on a new one at the moment, one that will turn snakes into hair--I think Duo deserves it. I'll practice on Relena."
"But Relena doesn't have hair-snakes," Sally said.
Dorothy grinned. "She will."
Three months later.
The blond looked up just in time to be glomped by an enthusiastic gorgon. "You came to our housewarming!"
Trowa smirked, raising an eyebrow. "You can give a cave a housewarming?"
"Trowa! You know what I mean!"
Quatre, grinning, disentangled himself from the gorgon's hug and that of the many snakes. "It's nice to see you, Duo. You look well."
The gorgon smiled, pushing his sunglasses back up his nose. "Never been better. You want to come inside? We've got all sorts of party food, Wufei even brought some weird Chinese stuff--"
"Wufei's here?" Quatre asked, eagerly accompanying Duo into the cave.
The warrior looked up at the new comers. "I am. And I was here on time, I might add."
Quatre blushed. "We got . . . distracted."
"It's hard getting away from Quatre's . . . followers," Trowa said blandly.
A tray was thrust towards him. "Snacks," Heero ordered. The monster hunter looked happy--but his arms and neck were covered in small bandages.
Wufei snorted. "Still no social skills."
He froze as something hissed in his ear.
"You weren't insulting my Heero were you?" Duo demanded.
Dorothy smirked, joining Quatre and Trowa. "Heero doesn't need social skills dating a gorgon."
"Hi Dorothy," Quatre said, turning to greet the sorceress. "I didn't know you were invited."
"I wasn't," Dorothy said. "But I had a feeling I'd be welcome." She whistled. "Relena?"
A figure detached itself from the shadows, stomped up to Dorothy, handed her a vial, and stomped back.
Quatre blinked. Trowa smirked.
"Um--what happened to her hair?"
Dorothy shrugged. "One of my potions had an unexpected side effect. She's become completely bald."
"Oh dear," Quatre said, but he was smiling.
"I've managed to refine the potion though," Dorothy continued, handing the vial to Heero. "Here. This should solve your problems."
"Um, problems?" Quatre asked. Okay so he was just being nosy--it's allowable.
Heero glared at him and went to talk to Duo.
"Well, you know Heero and Duo love each other despite Duo being a gorgon, and Heero appreciates him for who he is not what he looks like, although he happens to think he looks pretty good anyway, etc, etc, etc," Dorothy continued. "However, the sunglasses get in the way when they want to kiss and the snakes object to their, more, ah, strenuous activities--"
"And stopping every five minutes to apply anti-venom seriously kills the mood," Duo said regretfully, much to Heero's discomfort. "Thanks Dorothy, this should help a lot."
"Go and try it out," Dorothy suggested. "That way I can make any adjustments necessary."
"Sure." Duo grabbed Heero's hand. "Come on, Hee-chan."
Heero stayed put. "I don't think she intended it be tested that thoroughly."
"Aw, you're no fun." Duo paused. "My snakes, will they--"
"They'll be fine," Dorothy promised.
The snakes hissed dubiously.
"Stop that," Duo told them. "Dorothy's a frie--not totally evi--okay." He winked at his friends, toasting them with the vial. "See you on the other side!"
Quatre watched with a little disappointment as Duo headed into one of the interior caverns to try the potion out. He'd been hoping to see magic working up close, something he'd missed out on.
"So," he said, turning to Wufei. "When do we get to meet your wife?"
Wufei bristled. "When the silly onna lets me go home!"
"He's been thrown out of his house again," Heero said.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Quatre murmured. "What did you do?"
"Do?" Wufei glared. "I didn't do anything! It's not my fault she decided to get pregnant."
"Snakes get bad tempered when they get broody," Dorothy said.
Heero snorted, rubbing his bandaged arm. "Tell me about it."
A delighted squeal from the next room interrupted them. "I have hair!"
Quatre joined the rush, heading into the adjoining cavern to see a very happy Duo hugging a handful of snakes.
"Look!" he beamed. "I have hair and my snakes are okay!"
The snakes sat limply in the hug, looking less than impressed. The ones on the ground were sniffing each other interestedly, taking stock of their transformation.
Quatre stepped back to give the water snake room, then looked up to find Heero running a hand through Duo's hair.
"Beautiful," he whispered, making Duo blush.
Trowa tapped him on the shoulder. "I think this is a private moment."
Quatre took his hand and beamed at him. "I think you're right," he said, leading him out of the cavern.
"This is awesome, Dorothy," Duo said, later the next day. "I can't thank you enough."
"How many does that make it?" Wufei asked Trowa.
"That would be the ninety second time," the dryad replied. "I think she's aware of your gratitude, Duo."
Their friend stuck his tongue out at them, returning to thanking Dorothy. "Being able to hang around with you guys without accidentally turning you into to stone--you have no idea how much this means to me!"
"Actually I believe I started to get some idea--about the fiftieth time you thanked me," Dorothy said dryly.
"We should thank you too," Quatre said from Trowa's lap. "No more accidentally getting stoned--that's always a bonus."
Heero tugged on Duo's hair. "The snakes seem to like it as well," he said, looking to where the reptiles were stretched out, dozing in the sun next to the meadow where Wing grazed alongside Sandrock and Shenlong, the horses having been happily reunited with their owners.
"Yeah. It feels weird not having them around though," Duo said. "I don't know how I'm going to get used to all this hair. It's so difficult."
Everyone looked at him.
"Um, difficult?" Quatre said.
"Yeah. It's like it won't listen to me at all, and then it goes and gets tangled up in things. Trowa has had to pull me out of three bushes this morning--ow!" Duo protested as Heero tugged firmly at his hair. "What are you doing?"
"This is a hairbrush," Heero said, gathering Duo's hair on one hand. "This is how you use it."
"Ow! Watch it! Hey--actually that feels kind of nice."
Heero smirked. "Sit down and stop fidgeting."
Quatre cuddled Trowa as they watched Heero braid Duo's hair. "Isn't that sweet?" he said. "You know, if I grew my hair--"
Trowa kissed his forehead. "I think you're perfect the way you are."
"Ick," Wufei grimaced. "If you guys are going to get soppy, I'm going home."
Duo flashed his fangs at him, giving him a wide grin. "Then you better start walking Wufei, because I for one am feeling exceptionally soppy--"
"Oh, Duo, before I forget." Dorothy tossed him another vial. "Fang remover."
Duo threw the potion back. "Actually I think I'll be keeping these."
"Why?" Quatre asked.
Heero went pink. Duo grinned.
"It turns out Hee-chan find biting a turn on--ow!" Duo winced as Heero gave his braid a sharp tug.
"That's more than they need to know," the soldier said briskly.
It was too late for Wufei however. The Chinese warrior had already fled.