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

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 6
First Circle - The Circle Of Truth

Dead sorcerers were glowering at them. Duo would have preferred to have the circles ceremony anywhere but in the great council hall of Lin -even out in the rain if necessary- but he'd had no choice in the matter. The fact that this was one of the most important decisions he and Heero could make with their lives mattered not a wit. It was the politics of their union that counted, and to give it full force in the eyes of the people, things had to be done by the books. The master of ceremony -the new one, the previous one having suddenly retired a few days before- had refused to veil the portraits of former sorcerer-kings, whose serious faces, mad eyes and long black robes lent an air of festivity to the ceremony which was a bundle of fun already.

Duo and Heero stood in a circle of gold paint on the floor of the council chambers. Their hands were joined above a small pedestal bearing two big gold cups, heavily ornamented and incrusted with semi-precious stones. It was the traditional gifts for the circle of truth. Duo, who had long ceased to listen to the drone of the venerable relic who presided over what passed as Lin's religion, vaguely wondered at that. Why cups? What were cups to do with a circle that was meant to signify there were to be no more secrets between the two spouses? Were they supposed to get drunk at some point and spill their guts out to each other? Duo bit the inside of his cheek to keep the serious air required of him as he tried to imagine what Heero would be like in his cups. Actually, the reality probably wouldn't be so funny...

Duo shifted in his ceremonial clothes. He was dressed in black -of course!- but he'd had to compromise on some things with his council. No man alive was going to get him into a robe though! He was wearing a thick knee-length velvet black tunic, granted, but he still had his pants on underneath! He'd scoffed at jewelry and crowns and capes and such. He only wore the ring of the heir, and the simple gold band around his wrist that marked him as the sorcerer-king. It was actually welded on, a shackle that wouldn't come off through magic, force or even his death, for the next twenty five years.

Heero was dressed in green, a long dark brocaded tunic -it was nice of him to try to match Duo's knee-length outfit for moral support- over dark pants. No crowns for him either. He had Zechs' ring on one hand, jade and gold. Nobody had tried to dress him up like a circus animal, that was for sure. Duo noticed how the brocaded tunic hugged the toned chest and arms, quite different than his usual loose leather armor... He dropped his gaze.

The crackle of torches and the drone of the cleric became oppressive. Duo stared blankly at the big, calloused hands holding his own, so lightly considering what they were capable of, then glanced up. A frown was settling on Heero's bang-shrouded brow. He was apparently listening to the droning of the relic, so was probably developing a headache. Duo watched the face he knew as well as his own, from beneath his long bangs and lashes. No there was something else...

The dry and dusty words trickled through. A lot of rabbiting on about truth... ah, right. Probably still feeling a bit guilty about lying to Duo repeatedly and letting him rot in a hell of self-recrimination for five years. At least that shouldn't be happening again...

It wasn't exactly clear what the effect of the circles of bonds and blood would be; the marriage ceremony was so old only rumors and legends persisted about it. Jay had actually suggested it wouldn't have much effect at all. Most of the ceremony was shamanistic in nature, and that only really worked if you believed in it.

But the people of the two kingdoms believed in the legends. In their myths, the circles of bonds and blood linked the fates of the participants, and would brook no betrayal. Once the fifth ceremony was performed, they were officially an item. It didn't matter that no one knew what the 'consequence' of betrayal would be; immediate death, an eternity in hell, a madness of regret, or simply, for all they knew, a nasty rash. Didn't matter. The ceremonies would Make It All Work. They would insure the peace. And in theory, a good marriage as a bonus.

If only things were that simple...

The thing was, Duo found that he was glad that Heero was still in pain over the lies of the past year. He didn't like the feeling, it disturbed him. They were friends, they loved each other like brothers, and that wasn't a sentiment you should have within a family. You were supposed to forgive- well, he had forgiven Heero, he understood his actions, his decisions, and so on and so forth but when he thought of it something in his chest just seem to twist and ache and he couldn't even say why.

And what was worse, the fact that Heero was still suffering, still blaming himself for the scarred years in Duo's life, well, that also hurt even as it satisfied him. How smart was that...

Duo felt a bit of cold sweat run down his back. Whoa, was this the result of the ceremony? Self-knowledge was part of the truth package, he seemed to remember. Damn! He didn't want Heero to somehow become aware of all this! That would be... Wait. His finely tuned magic senses were telling him that the only ominous thing hanging over his head was boredom, and the stress of the past few days. He glanced up again at Heero. And noticed his eyes had glazed over and his head was drooping a bit.

Duo bit the inside of his cheek again, and gave the hands in his a gentle squeeze. Heero started ever so slightly and glanced up through the bangs. They shared a quick look, glanced at the cleric who was having trouble remembering which part of the ceremony this was, and rolled their eyes in unison.

*

"Knew I'd find you up here."

Duo started out of his reverie and stared at Heero, leaning against one of the slender, weather-beaten ornamental pillars. "What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here? And what is it with you and roofs?"

Duo stared out at the dusk gathering over Linheights. He was in his favorite rainy-day haunt, an old gazebo improbably stuck up and forgotten on one of the highest domes of the council building, an easy five minutes from his palace rooms. He went there when he needed a break from being King. Or wanted to play hooky. Being absent from his own wedding feast was probably pushing it a bit, but he'd stayed the obligatory hour, and he was sick of getting congratulated for putting his private life on display like an idiot. Besides, he liked it here. It was the real Lin, the old stone beauty, weather-beaten yet still tenacious.

"You got tired of it too?" He drawled, knowing that Heero had even less tolerance than he did for that sort of thing.

"Hn."

They shared a friendly silence, Duo sitting on the stone balustrade, lounging against a rain-spattered pillar, and Heero leaning against another, facing him arms crossed on his chest with his usual tense grace.

"I've got a gift for you."

The tone was abrupt, interrupting Duo's train of thoughts, which were pretty much idling in the station anyway. "Gifts? We already gave each other those bloody cups. Not that I'll ever use mine. Unlike you."

Heero gave him a sphinx look down his nose. "Whatever makes you think I'd use something that useless and gaudy?"

"Drinking out of those things will muscle up your sword arm better than sparring with Tro."

"Very funny."

"I thought so."

"Here."

Duo had forgotten the beginning of the conversation and so stared blankly at the small object for a few seconds before reaching for it. Heero dropped its chain into his hand.

Duo stared. "Wow, that brings back memories... " His mouth was moving automatically, trying to work around the obstruction in his throat and the multitude of raw feelings that suddenly hit him.

It was the divining sticks. He remembered it all as if he were five years old again, but with his adult knowledge still intact, caught within his emotions like a fly in amber. He remembered the old bitch ('her!' was all the child inside screamed) who'd nearly destroyed them in her quest for revenge against phantoms. Who'd forced them to merge together to survive her. Then ripped them apart. He remembered long-fingered hands, still elegant in old age, pointing towards the sticks on the table in a rundown hunting lodge. Pick them up. All of them. He'd grabbed two and became Duo... And now he remembered how father Maxwell had taken them from him and Heero on the way back home, and carefully kept them, separate like they were.

The small sticks, of finest ebony, etched in symbols of old wisdom and pagan truths, had been fitted together with gold filigree into the shape of a cross hanging from a golden chain. The wire looped and decorated the cross leaving the symbols clear in the center of the sticks. The child Duo had found the sticks fascinating. The Duo who had spent hours studying in the Library of Lin read the symbols, the shape of the cross allowing them both to be visible. The symbols were subtle and could hold several meanings.

"A flash of lightning, that's Truth, just punishment, and power. And the Heart. Emotional strength, and pain. Was... was that how they landed?"

"No, Father Maxwell took them from us- anyway, she's the one who threw them so who cares. I chose which symbols- you don't have to wear it if you don't like it."

Duo looked up slowly. "I... I didn't get you anything."

Heero was silent, looking down at the cross in Duo's hands. Then his hand drifted to the laces on his ceremonial tunic, which was heavy with rain, darkened curves clinging to his skin. "If you, well, if you want to wear it-" Duo stared at Heero, the short clipped tones sounded abrupt but were in fact uncertain "-well, I guess you can consider wearing it as giving me something, sharing something."

Duo's gaze dropped down to the firm chest that Heero had revealed. On a similar gold chain hung the matching single ebony stick. The filigree had been set to keep it upright and shaped at the top to outline a simple shape like the handguard of a dagger. Duo's eyes caught the symbol.

"The Circle. Imprisonment, perfection. Control."

Heero gave a half shrug, as if it didn't mean anything.

Duo slowly leaned forward and picked up the charm. He turned it. Stared. The filigree was twined the same in the back as in front and another symbol was left clear by the twisting gold wire. Duo got up, lifted the necklace from a startled Heero, turned it and placed it back again, leaving his hand on the firm chest for a moment, covering the charm. Then he leaned against the balustrade, staring out at the night.

Heero stared at the new symbol. "What's this mean? I had to look them up, I can't rememb-"

"The Oak. Integrity. Strength. Shelter."

Heero's words stuttered out into a silent Oh. He hesitated, lifting the charm.

"You wear it that way and I'll wear mine." Duo slipped the cross around his neck.

Heero still hesitated, then let it fall. "Okay." He said quietly, then gave a small half-smile, not entirely happy. "Looks like you did give me something. Don't catch a cold." The leave was abrupt.

Duo stared out into the night as if he could still see the towers around him, listening to the fading footsteps.

He fingered the cross. Truth. His palm still felt warm on the ebony, from the contact with Heero's chest.

Truth.

This was why the lies in the past hurt him so badly. This was why he could see through the ice that Jay had laid across Heero's soul to what was underneath. It was why Heero's gift rang in him straight to his own soul. Why this mattered so much to him. Why he could forgive and still hurt and hate and writhe and tremble and thrill inside with every look from dark blue eyes.

He didn't have to admit it to anyone but himself, but there it was. He loved Heero.

But not as a friend or brother.

*

The flickering light seemed to bore into rocks writhing like tortured things in the glow. The creature writhed as well. Flesh squirmed, erupted into twitching tentacles, which withered and broke off like dry twigs or curled and bit into muscle and bone...

"BoOTh? Nnnn." The last was a tortured rasp of pain.

The famished thing of skin and bones crouched before it, the russet dress still clinging to the wasted figure.

"Yes. Both."

"I... d0 NOt undeRSt@nd."

Maybe -

The voice was less than a whisper and completely drowned out by the screeches echoing from the back of the cavern.

Can someone make him shut up?

The voice that wasn't one managed to interject this between two screams.

"nO. Le@ave hIM. NnnaANnn." The thing writhed.

He's going to be a problem.

"YEssS/ yOU-" the hungry, tortured figure flinched before the majestic writhing obscenity "-l-leave us. wE musT th1-nK./-/ T@Ke the toRtuRed onE w1TH you."

The creature emitted an alarmed rattle.

"geT tHe deAd th1NGs to -Nn:nnNN:n- to h-hElp."

The creature bobbed and darted away.

I think I understand... If I'm right, we do need them both.

"hAahhh... "

As if getting the King wasn't going to be hard enough.

The obscenity writhed, something like blue flames scorching it and crackling up one side. A smell of burning rotten leaves filled the small space. Both creatures ignored it. In the distance, screams of inhuman agony faded as the tortured one was dragged away.

"we SHaLl s-sEnd thE 1nFernO."

... he's not reliable... can't you send...

"WhO? Nnn!nnn... WE nE-ed thE cHaiNed One hEre for p-paIn. AnD the de@D th1Ng caNnot-t do mUch unaIDed."

I have a bad feeling about this. If only either of us could leave this place...

"we cAnnOt."

I know, but using the others -especially fire- is so risky...

"TheY know We nnn-neED thEm @liVe."

Let's just hope the inferno can remember that... we can't use two lumps of charcoal...

"NnNNnnn."

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