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

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 9
Second Circle- Protection

The temple was a harmony of slender white pillars and light streaming through opaline glass, cut and leaded into elegant figures. Rich red, green and blue tapestries and banners of former Peacecraft kings hung between the pillars, lending warmth to the aesthetics. The ceremony of the second circle was being held in the sacred heart of the white magic temple of Sanq, a very different venue from the dark and esoteric halls of Lin's inner council.

Zechs shifted to the other foot, as bored here as he had been in Lin on the previous occasion, and stared at his boys. The anger and fear raged in him again as he noted the small signs of recently healed burns on Heero's face and hands, and Duo's pallor. They had to find the bastard who was attacking them and soon, or the next attempt might actually succeed.

He'd had quite a fight yesterday, when the escort came rushing into the capital of Sanq, two sick and wounded young men in tow barely staying astride their horses. Heero had been taken care of immediately, despite dire protests that he was fine. Indeed, Duo had been the worst off, his lungs damaged. Zechs had summoned the greatest mage-priest of Sanq to his bedside only to find the man had some trifling little holdup about healing the Sorcerer-King of the black mages of Lin.

The priest was the same who was leading the ceremony and reading the words of the circle, and his hands on the big book trembled as he caught Zechs glaring at him. The king of Sanq was trying hard to become the gentle peace-loving ruler he'd been so long ago. But he was still Zechs Marquise, who could command armies and destroy fiends with the same icy fury as during the war. The priest hadn't lasted very long in the face of that kind of pressure. The offer to put his principles to the test of a couple of red-hot irons was probably still fresh in his mind.

Zechs glanced back at his boys, wishing the ceremony were over already. They were holding hands, same as the ceremony of the first circle. This time the pedestal bore two sticks, three hands-spans long, of ivory and gold, the traditional marriage gifts for the circle of protection, no one knew why. This bound the couple to mutually defend each other, as if they needed a stupid ceremony to do so, Zechs grumbled inwardly. No wonder Heero was scowling slightly.

He realized his heir was in fact scowling quite a lot, and glancing up occasionally, to fix Duo with a quick glance. Duo was standing quite still, head bent, eyes closed, as if listening to the words of the priest. Hardly likely, thought Zechs sarcastically. He's probably snoozing. Then he saw a wince flicker across Duo's face, and a slight frown of concentration.

'That's it, I'm calling a stop to this circus right now!' Zechs thought, shifting forward. Duo was still much too weak to stand for an hour listening to this claptrap - a hand on his shoulder stopped him from striding forward. He glanced around sharply, to meet Jay's cold pieces of glass, reflecting the opalescent light. The master wizard shook his head ever so slightly. No.

Zechs hesitated, then turned back with a silent growl, glaring at the priest to encourage the man to finish the ceremony and get out of his presence as quickly as possible.

Once it was done, Zechs rushed up to Duo, putting an arm around his.

"You okay, son?"

Duo nodded. He didn't look so bad, up close, though he was visibly tired.

"I'm fine, Zechs, though I'm glad it's- erk!"

Heero had grabbed him by the hand and was dragging him off.

"Whoa, son, the feast isn't going anywhere!" Zechs strode after them with his long legs.

"We're not going." Heero snapped. "Tell your dignitaries that we're too tired and sick." Zechs rather wished his heir hadn't said that while shoving vigorously through said dignitaries. He would really have to sit down with Heero some day and go through the whole prince thing with him.

"Well okay, son. Duo is looking a little peaked. You take him back to his rooms, and maybe you can show up for a few-"

"We're going riding."

"What?! You just said-"

"We need the fresh air."

"Erm-" Duo started but shrank away from a glare. He'd been a bit quiet and subdued since the attack yesterday, which Zechs thought was normal, though maybe not that normal considering Duo's usual character.

Wufei shot before them like an arrow. "Yuy, if you think-"

"Chang, please gather up a small guard, and ask Amon to join us. Trowa?"

The tall Romany nodded, leaving Quatre behind with a wave and heading towards the courtyard.

"But-" Zechs was soon alone, bar a hundred or so puzzled guests, the clatter of hooves echoing through an empty courtyard.

*

Duo was panting a bit, still tired from the attack the day before. He had a feeling he knew what was going on; Heero was going to have some things to discuss. He was looking forward to that conversation as much as he was looking forward to the next fiend's attack, but he knew he wouldn't get out of it. Better to follow Heero quietly and have this in private outside, rather than in the palace.

He hadn't realized Heero would be taking him so far away, though. They'd been riding for almost an hour. They didn't need to get this far from Sanq's capital for Heero to lay into him.

Duo didn't know what his cousin was going to say. What could he say? He was probably angry, offended, maybe horrified. Duo's heart tightened.

He had only a fuzzy recollection of yesterday, well, the bit that was now about to get him into trouble. He remembered his head spinning, his lungs aching. A bitter taste in his mouth. He remembered grasping his cross as if it could be an additional barrier against the death that was reaching out for them. Thinking about truth, and silence, and regret. The rest, well... And then, just as he thought Heero was responding, he'd found himself shoved away, violently, just as something exploded. He was still confused about that, he supposed Heero had managed a bigger blast then he'd given him credit for. Maybe the effects of anger. He'd been too woozy right then and there, but this explanation occurred to him later. When he realized that Heero was avoiding him, almost aggressively.

Duo swallowed painfully, his throat still raw from the smoke. He was fairly confident their friendship could survive this kind of, well, complication. Heero should surely realize that he wasn't going to throw himself at him just for the fun of it. He'd only done it yesterday because he'd been half unconscious from lack of air, and because they were likely going to die and he'd wanted... something... he didn't even know what himself... oh hells. But when they'd gotten to Sanq, Heero had seemed quite withdrawn, scowling frequently, and, well, avoiding him right until the instant they'd stepped into the circle.

Heero spun his horse in an abrupt turn, looking around. Then he twisted back towards their two guardians. The other soldiers and Amon were a little further back, in a loose semi-circle to guard against approach and leave them some privacy. They would be present in a minute if Wufei or Trowa called for them or blew their signal horns.

"Duo and I are going to walk on alone." Heero said abruptly. "We'll leave the horses here. I'll signal if we need help. We won't be more than a few minutes away."

"You weren't more than a few minutes away yesterday and-"

"It's okay, Wuffee, just stay here." Duo sighed, getting down from his horse stiffly and throwing the reins to Trowa.

"Duo!"

"We'll be back shortly." Duo hoped the conversation wouldn't be long, but he definitely didn't want witnesses.

He followed Heero as he walked forward with a quick step. They'd come to the edge of the King's forest, the tree line crumbling into bushes among dry rocks and ravines. Heero was climbing a granite outcropping that was rearing out of the edge of the woods. Duo frowned, puzzled, and followed.

They walked a good five minutes, and Duo was about to say something, not that he was in any hurry to start this, when Heero stopped and looked around carefully. Duo did so too. They would be able to see trouble come along from a good distance from here. They were above the woods, in a circle of bare stone on the outcropping, no cover for hundreds of feet around them. Since this trip was fairly impromptu it was likely that the spy who was keeping the enemy appraised of their movements would not have been able to warn whatever sorcerer was summoning the monsters to attack them. Duo, like most sorcerers of his class, was fairly hard to scry for, so they should be okay.

"Were you casting a black magic spell earlier, while we were holding hands?"

Heero had turned around and was glaring at Duo, who blinked. That wasn't the question he'd expected. Though it was also embarrassing.

"Well, er, yeah?"

"During our circles ceremony."

"Erm-"

"In Sanq, the capital of white magic."

"Well-"

"In front of its king, nobility and priests."

"Ah-"

"In the middle of its main temple dedicated to the arts of white magic."

Duo chuckled nervously and shrugged.

"Gods Duo do you even know the meaning of the words 'diplomatic incident'?"

"Was that what you wanted to talk to me about?" Duo stared.

"No, but we'll start with that before we get distracted." Heero snapped.

Oh Hells, Duo thought, then shrugged. Might as well be honest, he always was anyway.

"I did it discreetly, no one noticed. Might as well use all that wasted time for something."

"What were you doing?"

Duo stared at the rocks around them. "Trying something. An experiment. It's something I thought of a little while back, based on the way our powers work and, well... I build a ward for you. If you concentrate, you should be able to feel it."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Heero blink and glance around, feeling inexpertly with his mind. The ward was actually a masterpiece of applied magical theory and talent that he'd spent days designing, quite unique since it was based on the bond and harmony of power between them, not that those details would mean anything to Heero.

"What-"

"Call it a wedding present." His fingers automatically brushed the cross beneath his tunic, as he often did these days. "Seemed a good occasion. What with the circle of protection and all."

"Why?"

"You're welcome." Duo muttered. "It's just... apparently the enemy want us both now, and they're not afraid to use a lot of magic, so you better be protected. It's woven from your own black magic powers, so you don't need to have me close by to have it working." Which is good seeing how you've been avoiding me.

"Oh... "

Silence settled between them. Here it comes, thought Duo, as he saw Heero start to scowl, glaring at the rock beneath his feet.

"Duo, I told you a bit about how I was raised with Jay."

Duo nodded slowly.

"I can't express myself very well. There's two things here, and I don't know how to say them. There's something I have to tell you, and I think we have a problem." Duo straightened his back proudly, ready to take whatever his cousin would eventually spit out without a flinch. "And I don't know how to... " Heero's mouth twisted in frustration as he jerked at his own pendant. "Words just- I always have problems with words, emotions are hard enough to analyze without adding words to-"

"Just get it out, Yuy." Duo snapped.

Heero nodded sharply, spun towards the sorcerer, crossed the few feet of hostile space between them, grabbed Duo by the shoulders and kissed him.

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