Sometimes, Haruka noted dully, there didn't seem to be much difference between Amaterasu and the Usagi she'd been coming to know. Yes, she hadn't gotten to know the blonde goddess all the well before her... replacement, but in some ways, Amaterasu acted a bit like her. When she was happy or pleased with something, she smiled a bit (not so broadly as Usagi had though) and hummed some kind of upbeat song. Michiru thought it was an encouraging sign, that even if she wasn't in it, Usagi's body continued to display some of her most basic characteristics. To Michiru, it meant Usagi was still in there someplace and hadn't been completely disposed by Amaterasu. Haruka was inclined to agree, not in the least because it meant the girl hadn't died on her watch.
And Amaterasu was humming now as she arranged a set of roses in one of the lead crystal vases in Quatre's library. The cheerful song and the small smile on her face was... reassuring, yet a bit scary at the same time. No one else seemed too terribly eager to go near the woman normally, and they were even more reluctant when she was in a mood like this, so she nominated herself to step forward and ask, "So what's the good news?"
"We are soon to have visitors," the blonde replied, singsonging the words.
Alarm shot through her. Visitors? Could they be demons? Someone coming to attack them? How could Amaterasu be so calm - unless she already knew who and what were coming? "What kind of visitors?"
Ticking off fingers on her left hand, she counted, "One, two, three, four - four gods are coming to assist us in these, our final days."
Haruka's hand twitched as she fought down the urge to hit Amaterasu till she talked normally. "There're more gods?" she made herself ask. "More gods coming here?"
The smiling face turned to her, beaming brilliantly and suddenly Haruka understood why Heero had to keep holding Duo back from trying to kill the goddess or beat her out of Usagi's body. "They'll be here at any moment."
"Any moment?" she repeated, turning and heading towards the door. "Then I should go welcome them." And maybe escape Amaterasu-sitting duty..., she finished to herself.
She ignored the way Amaterasu's smile grew as if she'd heard Haruka's private thoughts, slipped out the door, closed it tightly, and leaned heavily against it. Only then did she relax enough to count to ten and release a deep sigh of relief.
Heero smirked faintly at her discomfort. She took another deep breath and looked up to meet his eyes across the wide hallway. "Sorry," she intoned simply. That... that... Well, Amaterasu had made herself welcome and completely at home in the body of Heero's lover - one of Heero's lovers, she mentally corrected herself. If the all-powerful pain-in-her-ass was getting on Haruka's nerves... Well, it just made her all the more relieved that it wasn't Michiru who'd been possessed, and that thought made the guilt swamp her all over again.
"She's enough to try the patience of a saint," he stated. She nearly jumped; the man usually didn't just volunteer information, especially not personal information.
Still... She paused, considering his words. "She's getting on your nerves too?"
The smirk turned into an even fainter wince. "Long since." He glanced back at the door he stood before, leading into the room she knew Duo had barricaded himself in to be away from the supreme goddess-bitch. "I'm trying not to let her get to me."
Unlike Duo, she realized he meant. The American god had frequently made his displeasure known quite well since the goddess' appearance among them. Then again, Duo was also the only one who had really seen what happened to Selene to allow Amaterasu's possession.
And, in spite of all of this, she could still see the love in both men's eyes when they looked at what used to be their Usagi. Somehow they both seemed to have hope that she would be returned to them. She was glad she did not have to measure her will against either of theirs.
A knocking resounded through the hallway, and Haruka started at the sudden sound of it. Heero rolled his eyes and sent a faint glare at the door. "I guess the new gods are finally here," he muttered sullenly, pushing off the spot he'd been leaning on.
"I guess we should go welcome them," returned Haruka with equal fervor.
On nearly silent feet, they both slipped away from their respective doorways and down the hallway. Haruka reached the door first and pulled it open - then paused in confusion. Four men stood on the other side - one with hair so light a shade of blond she at first mistook it for white, one with chocolate hair who couldn't be any older than sixteen, and two redheads, one of which she recognized. And while she was glad to see the Elder God return, Heero didn't seem much too pleased.
"I thought you'd be dead by now," he growled, not bothering to censor his speech for the strangers' presence.
Aed didn't bother with a response, Haruka noticed, not that that was much of a surprise. The other redhead, however, smirked in reply. "Wow, it's nice to see that social skills are still held in high regard. That, or Abyssinian still hasn't figured out how to win friends and influence pe- OW! Damn it, Farfie!"
The blond simply smacked Schuldig a second time. "Mouth shut," he said before turning to Heero and Haruka again. "Sorry, he's not housebroken yet."
The teenager looked annoyed. "Someone invite us in or come outside or something. I doubt that Aya-chan wannabe would attack us again so soon after rearranging a wall with her body, but I'm not willing to take chances." Without another word, he pushed past Heero and stopped just past him and Haruka. "Naoe Nagi," he said by way of introduction. "You know Aya, the blond is Jei-nikun, and the dork is Schuldig."
Haruka frowned, barely hearing a door down the hall click open over the boy's speaking. Since everyone else was upstairs or out, there were only two options of who it could be left. Given the relative silence and lack of overenthusiastic greeting, she was going to assume it was her least favorite of the pair. She glanced over Naoe's shoulder. Yep, it was the godly pain in the posterior. Just what they needed, she thought to herself, holding back rolling her eyes.
Amaterasu smiled, and this time Haruka gave into the urge. "I am pleased you were able to make it, Aed," she stated.
She saw, out of the corner of her eye, Aed staring strangely at the blonde goddess. Not that even this was unusual as of late either. "Usagi?"
She heard a faint disgusted-sounding sigh come from Heero. "Definitely not," the Japanese war god muttered. He started to stalk past the blonde, who merely grabbed his arm to hold him in place. A faint growl echoed (and was it just her imagination or were Heero's eyes really glowing red?) as he ground out, "What?"
"You're being rude to our guests, Hachiman," Amaterasu scolded. "It's rude. Stop it."
"Am I correct in assuming that you are Amaterasu?" a voice interrupted. He almost, almost sounded like Jei, Haruka noted. She was startled to see that the blond's hair had grown past his waist in the few seconds she'd turned to watch Heero stalk off. Heero likewise appeared startled enough that his eyes had returned to normal.
Amaterasu smiled at the trio. "And you are Camulos. I trust you had no further distractions during your journey."
It was not a question, but Camulos answered anyway. "Unfortunately, no. And I was hoping for a few more demons to practice on."
Haruka noticed the redhead called Schuldig (and what kind of a name was 'guilty' anyway?) roll his eyes. "I take it back, Farfie; you're still crazier than Sakura!"
Amaterasu laughed quietly. "That wasn't polite, Surt. Although I know your bondmate chooses to ignore it, it is still rude." She seemed amused when the redhead swore at her in German, then turned to smile at Nagi. "Welcome, Tsukiyomi." She tilted her head innocently and asked, "Or should it be Morrigan? Either is appropriate for you, isn't it?"
"What?!?" Oh, so now Aed decided to speak up.
"Morrigan is in there," Amaterasu confirmed, "along with Tsukiyomi." A wry smile touched her lips. "Think of it as... a two-for-one deal."
* ~ * ~ *
The tension in the room was nearly palatable, Quatre noted, glancing around him at the other people in the room. Duo and Heero were occupying an oversized chair, the American half-sitting on the Japanese man's lap. It was no coincidence, he knew, that they were on the opposite side of the room from Amaterasu. As always, the blonde goddess seemed oblivious to this.
Or maybe she was just completely unconcerned. He couldn't quite be sure, not with this goddess. If it were truly Usagi, as it appeared to be, he'd know beyond a shadow of a doubt, probably because Usagi had confided the information in him, but with this goddess, this supreme being inhabiting Usagi's body, he couldn't be sure.
He almost wanted to draw Duo and Heero out of the room and scold them for acting like children. He could understand their feelings. To some point, his Uchuu no Kokoro - and perhaps a bit of his powers as a god - forced him to empathize with them, but there had to come a point for stopping, and if there was such a point, he was pretty sure the two men had long since past it.
Before he could even finish that thought to himself, the blonde goddess climbed to her feet and, giving everyone a brief glance in turn, addressed the room. "The time of the final battle is drawing near." She gave a nod in Aed and his companions' direction. "Already, you have seen that the demons are growing steadily more bold since the advent of their master. I fear it shall only continue to grow worse the longer Vritra is allowed to exist." She glanced around once more. "So obviously, I'm proposing we rid ourselves of the creature," she finished.
"I suppose you have a theory on how, of course." This came from the corner Wufei was occupying. "Because, from where I sit, it looks like Thanatos - Vritra - whatever - is pretty much invincible."
A sly smile crossed the woman's face. "As am I, Ryujin. That is why I must face him."
"I assume you have something for the rest of us to be doing during your fight," Naoe said. It was less a question and more a derisive statement. "I'd hate for us to have to sit here on our asses."
"While she gets to have all the fun," Camulos finished for the younger man.
"Yes, I do have a mission for you. It's quite simple: Aed, I would like you and the third generation here - Surt, Tsukiyomi, and Camulos - to keep Tomoe Sakura busy and off our backs. Can you handle that?"
"Can we kill her?" Camulos cut in before Aed could speak. Amaterasu nodded. "Demons too?" Another nod. "Then we can handle it."
"And the rest of us?" asked Trowa.
"Vritra will have surrounded himself with demons. I will need you all to help me reach him, as well as to keep the demons busy long enough for me to vanquish him."
Quatre almost started counting down the seconds before Wufei let loose with "So we're your cannon fodder?!"
She had at least had the good grace to look a bit abashed. "Not in so many words." She glanced at Wufei a moment then turned her eyes to the couple in the chair then back to Wufei. "Believe it or not, I desire the deaths of none of the gods. I am very similar to you all in many ways, and in some ways, our powers might even be related." She laughed self-deprecatingly as she sank back down in the chair she had previously occupied, and she muttered to herself, apparently forgetting how well her voice traveled, "And I seem to be stuck in a body that will not allow me to contemplate the deaths of any of you."
At last, Quatre thought, a breakthrough. A frown was marring the normal impassiveness of Heero's face. Next to him, Duo looked... well, less angry and more confused. That, at least, could be considered a small step forward. At the minimum, it was better than the cold shoulder the American had been perfecting lately.
Amaterasu hopped to her feet, cutting into whatever Duo had been about to ask. "Never mind. I shall be in my rooms, should anyone require me." She was out the door so quickly it looked like she had vanished.
Heero was already on his feet, apparently determined to follow the woman and found out what she meant, Duo hard on his heels. As they started past, though, Quatre grabbed Heero's arm, bringing him to a halt. "I need to tell you something," he stated softly.
"What?" Heero ground out.
He shook his head. "Outside, please. It's for the two of you alone to hear."
Duo nodded once. "Make it quick."
Once he had the two of them outside the door, he took a deep breath, suddenly at a loss of how to break his news to them. "Well?" Heero prompted, impatience Quatre once wouldn't believe he'd have ever heard in his voice. "What's so important?"
"It's about Amaterasu," he floundered.
Again, Duo nodded. "Yeah?"
"I wasn't sure till just now, but... But..." He took another deep breath and spilt his news as quickly as he could. "Usagi's still in there. I can feel her still inside Amaterasu."
13 June 2004
Well, another chapter done. Finally they're getting some length on them again. Most of my writing blocks are solved, so I guess I have no real reason not to finish this by my deadline: August 31, 2004. Yes, I want to have it done by my sister's 19th birthday. Why that date, you might ask? August 2004 will mark the 4 year mark that I've been working on this story. Yes, there is a year hiatus in there, but I'm counting that because I did scribble a bit with Chapter 30 but never finished it. I guess it's a good thing that I have one of the epilogues part of the way done already, isn't it?
I'm estimating there will be about 5-6 more chapters, excluding the epilogues. I'm pretty sure the only people who are reading this anymore are the people who I've either begged or forced to read it, so... Why am I bothering with author's notes? *shrugs* Oh well...