Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 13
Third Circle - Ties

The night was kept out of the amphitheatre by two blazing pyres on either side of the arena. Banners and flames shook and swayed in the stiff breeze that night had brought on its coattails as it chased away a long day of greeting nobles from all around the scattered kingdoms.

Heero and Duo were holding hands in a circle of white stones. The pedestal bore two gilded daggers. Which, for the ceremony of ties, was just a bit too strange, Heero reflected.

Duo shifted, catching Heero's attention. He looked bored, and his legs were probably sore. Heero could ride a horse or run all day, so he could stand around and look decorative for a few hours while simpering, scheming royalty paraded before them to give their calculating congratulations. As long as he could control the urge to punch them.

The Lin noble of small lineage in charge of Peaknought had been pressed into performing the ceremony. There were probably more appropriate choices, but the elderly sorceress had looked bored with the whole proceedings before they'd even really started, and they had a tacit agreement that she would do the honours as quickly as possible and with the less fuss manageable. Heero was quite grateful. At least this part of the long day wouldn't be too difficult.

The feast was just about what they expected. Too many rich foods being toyed with by chattering royalty. The spouses stayed the minimum time required -still way too long but Zechs had had a talk with them after their last stunt- and eclipsed themselves discreetly.

They walked in silence back to their rooms, a few feet apart, as was becoming usual. Way too usual. Heero tried to think of something to say. They should probably talk about it. They'd been so busy the last two weeks, preparing for the ceremony as well as researching the whole aspect of a potentially open breach; Heero thought the priorities were definitely out of synch with reality, but found himself carried along by Duo's energy, his husband seemed to have no problem handling both issues at once. Or maybe that wasn't true. There was a slight slump to the black-clad shoulders. He was probably exhausted.

Heero felt it again, that surge of annoying emotion that just wouldn't fall into any of the categories he was familiar with (pain, hunger, worry, if you want to know). Actually it was like a mixture of all his known emotions -yes, pain, hunger, worry- with a few more unknowns thrown in for good measure. It was a strangely contradictory feeling, and not entirely pleasant, yet somehow it felt like it was the only thing that kept his heart beating sometimes. Now that really made no sense...

"So, how long will you be in Sanq?"

Duo's voice sounded dull. A new spike of emotion twisted in Heero's chest, and he frowned, annoyed. Jay was right, it was ridiculous to be easy prey to such confusion...

"A few days, a week at most. I'll be in Kespar as soon as I can, we have-" Heero glanced around, "-something to take care of."

"Yeah, hope that works."

"Jay's schemes usually do."

"They usually involve someone getting killed, too. In fact that someone is usually you if I recall."

"Only the once."

Duo snorted, then stiffened, hands rising slightly. Heero had already spotted and identified the two figures waiting for them near Duo's bedroom door and waved.

"You guys lasted longer than we thought you would." Quatre grinned at them as Trowa straightened away from the wall. "We've been waiting for you almost an hour."

"Er, why?" Duo glanced at him, but Heero was as puzzled as his husband. He hadn't expected to see the pair before he and Trowa left tomorrow morning for Sanq.

"Let us in and we'll show you!" Quatre turned expectantly towards the door, which Duo had locked with a spell out of old habit, developed in the School of Lin where paranoia was part of the curriculum.

Heero followed the three into the room. Trowa was wearing a new set of leather armour that Zechs had insisted on getting him, tired that his son's man-at-arms looked like something dragged in from a battlefield. Heero had been able to intervene in the design, so the armour was a simple brown, practical and tough, pretty much like the Romany.

Next to him, Quatre was a startling vision; it was the first time Heero had seen him dressed like the Saoun royalty that he was, in deference to the envoys his country had sent to the wedding. Heero knew that Quatre's relation to his family was strained, to say the least, mainly because he refused to return and resume the duties of a prince, preferring to hang about with a gipsy and acting as if he were one of Jay's guards. Heero felt sympathetic, but if Quatre was uncomfortable in his finery and the role that went with it, he didn't show it. The green and blue silk robes floated as much as they could, trapped under the pinpoints of brocade, and the knotted golden rope, twined and looped about his fair head, could not compete with the soft locks it held and paled in comparison. Heero had caught several looks from Trowa during the long boring afternoon of greeting guests. He wasn't any better at reading emotions in others than identifying his own but it had been pretty obvious what the tall man was feeling... Whatever they wanted to say to him and Duo had to be pretty important if they were willing to wait around for an hour outside his room rather than disappear off to their own.

"So, what's up?" Duo tossed his heavy black cloak over a chair and loosened the velvet tunic with a jerk at the thongs. The council still hadn't had any luck getting him into a robe.

"We have a wedding gift for you. We thought we'd give it to you now, since we're all leaving in different directions tomorrow morning early." Quatre said, twisting the gold cord dangling from his head with a small finger.

"You didn't have to-" Duo started, then frowned. "I thought you guys were coming with me and Heero tomorrow. Tro was going back to Sanq and you were coming to Lin-"

"Change of plans." Quatre said, and something slipped through his tones, something like pain, as he glanced back at his lover. "I know you wanted us to be with each of you to relay messages in case of problems, but... Jay wants us to go with him to Kespar. Well, he wants Trowa, and I-... " Blue eyes dropped. Trowa was looking at the ground, and there was something slightly ominous in his usually unreadable expression.

Heero sighed. "Jay is going to try to scry the future again? With you?" He asked his tall friend. Slowly, Trowa nodded and Quatre ducked his head. "Of course you should go with him, Quatre." The blonde didn't look at anybody though. "Duo doesn't need his hand held," Heero said, brusquely, "and you're useless if Trowa isn't with me."

He saw Duo look at him with incomprehension and slight disapproval for his harsh tones. He'd explain to his husband later; explain the toll the scrying would take on Trowa, whose ability to see the future had dimmed more and more since adulthood, and why Quatre wanted to be with him, and ease the strain as much as possible. But the blond would always feel guilty about putting his own feelings before that of others. He just needed a shove. Heero caught a muted look of gratitude from Trowa.

Quatre looked up, eyes thankful, though he still seemed guilty. Then he shook himself, the golden cord ends swaying.

"Anyway, your present!" He walked up to Duo and extended his hands. Duo held his hands out expectantly and was surprised when the blonde merely took them in his own instead of putting anything in them. On the other side of the room, Trowa walked over to Heero and held out his hand for a shake. Heero, puzzled, returned the gesture firmly. Trowa didn't relinquish his hand, though, merely put his other hand over his.

"Thank you, Duo, for helping me get Trowa back from those bandits." Quatre said softly, blue eyes deep and sincere. "I haven't known you long but I think of you as a friend, and I'm glad to see that day that I was right, you came through like only the best friends would."

"Ah, well, thanks, short stuff, I, ah-" Duo glanced, embarrassed, at Heero. He and Trowa had merely exchanged a quiet look, the only thing they needed.

They stood there for a few more seconds, until Duo began to shift nervously, eyebrows arching, and tried to gently disengage his hand. After a few gentle tugs, Quatre let go. Trowa pressed Heero's hand and dropped it, and turned in silence to walk to the door.

"Er, thanks, Quatre. I mean, I think of you as a friend too. Er... thanks." Heero caught a puzzled glance in his direction but didn't know what to make of this either. He watched Quatre walk towards his lover in a rustle of silk. The blonde turned at the door, which Trowa held open, and grinned at them.

"I hope you enjoy your presents."

"Er, what was it exactly?" Duo asked.

"Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. It depends on you. On you both, I should say."

"Explain." Heero said, eyes narrowing suddenly, as he remembered that Trowa was not the only gifted one in Jay's entourage.

"I did some research with Jay on the Circles ceremony, while we were trying to figure out what effects the ceremonies actually have. We're still not sure, but one thing I do know. The circle of Ties is one of the most important, next to the circle of Bonds. They sound similar, but where the circle of Bonds links your fates, the circle of Ties is merely a promise. A promise to communicate, to keep in touch with your own feelings and those of the other person." Quatre's eyes rested heavily on Heero. "A promise to keep talking, and reaching out. It can be a lot harder than it sounds, especially for you two. Your duties will often keep you apart, in different countries, like it will this next week."

Quatre looked at them both solemnly, Trowa echoing the look over his head as he held the door.

"We gave you the seed of what Trowa and I share. The ability to communicate your feelings, even over a distance, even your thoughts if you can connect enough. You will only send what you want to." The blonde said quickly as both spouses stiffened in alarm. "It's not an invasion of privacy or anything, it's a gift to use, or not, as you wish. If you can use it."

Once more the eyes were direct as they met first one then the other gaze. "We gave you the seed but it can't grow unless you develop it yourselves. It takes time, patience, understanding... love, from the mind, the heart, even the body." Duo went red and gaped slightly at the young man. Whose solemn expression trembled on the edge of impish. "I don't know how far it will develop. But I hope it will be strong enough already to allow you to feel that the other is all right while you're apart. Make up for our absence."

Trowa put a gentle arm around his shoulder and nodded at them. Quatre waved. "Have a safe trip. We'll see you both in Kespar in a week or so." The door closed quietly behind them.

Heero and Duo glanced covertly at each other, which, since they did it at the same time, resulted in an embarrassed flinch away. Then they glanced at each other again, steadily this time.

"Talk about a two-edge gift! What am I going to have to do to thank the little pipsqueak, drag him over hot coals?" Duo said, obviously talking out of uncertainty. Heero's hand was caressing his charm under his heavy green tunic. He saw Duo's eyes catch his movement. Two-edged gift. He headed towards the door.

"I have to get up early tomorrow. I'll see you in Kespar in a week or less." He said over his shoulder.

"... Yeah, sure." Duo sounded distant, thoughtful, staring into a corner of the room without seeing it.

He started as Heero, breaking silently from his path to the door, lay a gentle hand on his and brushed his cheek with his lips, quickly.

"I wouldn't mind." He said gruffly, and left before Duo could ask him what he wouldn't mind, exactly. He wasn't sure himself.

*

Well we're fast running out of choices...

"YeS."

I think we'll have to manage the tortured one ourselves. We only have his keeper to use now. He's waiting outside.

"Nn! Have hiM coMe In."

Something rattled and clinked as it slithered forward, glinting in the trembling light.

Now you know what you have to do?

"Yes."

Good. You will be in the Wastes of Kespar. They'll have very few guards there, but you'll be in the domain of the Master of Crossroads, so be careful. We will warn you when you have a good opportunity. Do not fail us.

"I k!-know the price of failure."

... Yes... Can you try to come back alive, though? We're running out of minions.

"I will su-k!-cceed."

"ApProacH."

The slithering coils neared the writhing majestic thing at the far end of the grotto almost hesitantly, recognising something that was greater and more terrible than it was... and something further, an echo of a distant memory that made it flinch.

The frenzied thing's writhing suddenly amplified and it screamed as one of its dark twisted extrusions ruptured with a crack and belch of fluids, sprinkling the other's coils. A few harsh whispered words and it was done.

"... NnNnn:nnnn... "

Go. Return with them. You must not fail...

A clink and a slither and the thing was gone towards the flickering blue light of the portal.

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