Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 13
Barren

"Greetings! You must be one of the new boys? From Sanq?"

Heero looked the boy over carefully. He appeared to be a year or so younger than himself, though he behaved with the assurance of someone older. Not arrogant, on the contrary he seemed quite friendly, but he met Heero's eyes with open sincerity and mature appraisal.

"I'm from Sanq. My name is Yuy." Heero and Jay had agreed he should leave his name behind him. This would further throw any other Lin assassins off the track, as well as avoid any rumors in Sanq about his presence near Kespar. Jay had given him the name Yuy as if it were some kind of in-joke. He'd later admitted it was a word in the prince's mother's tongue that was close in meaning to 'Heero'. The boy didn't care either way.

"Thank you for honoring me." The other boy's hand gesture, bow and response were formal but his smile was warm. "I am Quatre Rebarba Winner, I am the son of the current sheik of Saoun, much further to the South."

Heero's eyes lingered on sunlit hair, eyes like the summer sky and pale skin. "You're kidding, right?"

Quatre's smile grew rueful. "I know, I get that reaction all the time. Let's just say that my mother was from the western isles and I take after her. A lot."

Heero cursed himself internally, remembering his manners. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean- thank you for honoring me." He tried to imitate the gestures the other had made.

Quatre's hand made a scrubbing movement in midair, wiping away the awkward moment. "No, that's ok, I've been here for two years now and I'm quite over formalities by now. Come on, I'll show you to your room, you must be tired. It's five days hard ride from Sanq, isn't it?"

"Hn." Heero didn't feel like talking. Five days ride he could handle, he wasn't Odin's best pupil for nothing. The training in mental control he'd received every evening along the way had been more taxing.

Fortunately the blonde didn't seem to mind his curtness, leading the way with quick light steps. He seemed out of place in the gloomy surroundings. The waste of Kespar was a small zone of desert between the two kingdoms. It was so barren and poisoned with heavy mineral deposits that not even a cactus could grow there, despite the presence of a crystal clear river running through the region. The only thing that seemed to thrive in the barren landscape was rocks. They reared out of the sand and dirt, twisted and ragged. Some seemed to slope forward as if partially melted, with planes of what appeared to be fractured glass along one side. It was as desolate as the face of the moon.

The buildings that Jay had lead him to seemed to be in battle with the scenery, in constant danger of being obliterated by the rocks rearing up from the desert floor. Several houses, of widely different construction -but all of stone of course, the nearest forest was two days' ride away- were scattered between rocky outcrops, crouching against the rasping sandy winds. A dozen buildings in all, to house Jay and his associates.

No one had come to greet them, the place looked deserted when they'd arrived. Jay had led the horses into a stable off of the biggest building, sunk so low into the ground that even the shorter Heero could see over the flat roof. Jay took care of the horses himself, Heero stabling his own when he realized no one was coming to assist the master.

Jay had told him to go into the main building, find a room, get unpacked and washed and then rest for the day, he would see him after the evening meal. This was the longest sentence he's used in their five days of travel. Heero had been grateful for the silence, it reminded him of the comfortable understanding he'd had with Odin.

Quatre, in comparison, was a fount of information. He led Heero through cool dark corridors until they reached one of the rooms at the back of the building. It had two long thin windows just above head height, and at ground level outside. They were covered in horn, not glass, bathing the room in opalescent light that was a relief from the strong crude sunshine outside. The room contained a brazero, pushed up against one wall, a bookcase, several shelves, a wooden dresser near the door and two long tables with a dozen chairs around them.

"This is the common room. We study together here." Quatre said, slightly out of breath. In the short trip through the corridors, Heero had learned that there was a bathhouse in the next building, that dinner was at six, that another building housed Quatre's retinue -he named them Maguanacs- that the weather was quite pleasant right now, though later in the season it would be scorching hot, that the nights could be cold, that Quatre had never been to Sanq though he heard it was a nice place, had Yuy ever visited Saoun?

Heero didn't answer. It didn't seem required, and all this burbling talk reminded him of the Duo-shaped hole in his heart that he'd managed to burry the last five days. He was more taciturn than ever when he put his bags in one of the small windowless cells that surrounded the common room, containing a bed and a chest of drawers and nothing else. He took ten minutes to put his few things away but after that there was really nothing else to do in the barren little room so he returned to the main one, dreading another avalanche of cheerful information.

The ebullient Quatre had been replaced by a tall boy who stood up politely from his chair when he saw Heero.

"Your highness." He said in a soft neutral voice, bowing slightly.

Heero's initial flash of irritation was immediately compounded when Quatre's voice rang from the door. "Oh, so you're a prince as well?"

"Yes." Said Heero shortly. Quatre, coming to the tall boy's side, didn't notice, but the other's eyes, almost hidden by thick bangs swept to one side of his face, narrowed ever so slightly at Heero's tone.

"And who might you be?" Heero bit off, glaring at the brown-haired boy. "Yet another prince? A grand noble of Kespar maybe?"

Quatre finally picked up on Heero's tone, his smile fading and his eyes widened in surprise. But the taller one didn't seem to mind having Heero's bluntness applied to himself. Or so Heero thought until a dagger appeared in his hand.

Heero grabbed the sword which hadn't left his belt since his departure. But instead of leaping across the table at him, the boy started tossing the dagger in the air, the blade twirling and flashing. A second dagger appeared in his other hand as suddenly as the first. Heero stared at him; he was dressed in simple brown pants and vest, both tight on his lanky body. Where the hell had he pulled those daggers from? His calm eyes still on Heero, the boy tossed the second dagger into the air as well. Then it glittered in the light as it arched over to the other hand, and both daggers were now being tossed up one after the other single-handedly. A third knife had appeared in the other hand by the time Heero had blinked away from the other two. The three daggers started spinning above the boy's head in a simple passing circle, hand to hand. The boy stepped back, his eyes now on what he was doing, and Heero slipped the two inches of sword he'd unsheathed back into the scabbard.

The youth put one foot on the chair he'd been sitting on when Heero had entered, then he stepped up on it in a fluid graceful gesture, the daggers still flashing like silver fish in front of him. Quatre, his face wreathed in smiles again, darted to a sideboard to grab some wrinkled winter apples from a bowl. At an unseen signal from the other boy -this had to be something they'd done many times before- Quatre tossed first one then another apple into the path of the shining daggers. The knives chased the apples around and around in complex patterns.

The boy put one foot on the backrest of the sturdy chair, and slowly shifted his weight. Heero felt his jaw drop involuntarily before he caught himself, as the chair tipped slowly and surely, until it rested on two legs only, the boy balancing perfectly with one foot on the seat's edge and one on the back. Amazingly, the green eyes flickered back at Heero.

"So, do you think I'm a noble of Kespar?" The voice was laconic, as if someone else was performing the juggling and he was merely a bored spectator.

Heero lifted an eyebrow. "I doubt it, you're more interesting than all the nobility I've met before. Today excluded." He added diplomatically, though Quatre hadn't caught the potential barb.

The green eyes judged him, found his response adequate. The daggers and apples suddenly vanished from his hands, a steely whisper tore the air and thunks behind him made Heero spin around. The two apples had been pinned to the old wooden dresser near the door, the third dagger buried two inches into the wood between them. The dresser had many other holes in the wood that had not been caused by termites.

"Much more interesting... " Heero murmured. Quatre burst into applause as the boy did a back flip off the chair. He landed lightly and bowed automatically and without conceit in Heero's direction, then with more warmth to Quatre.

"Yuy - " Quatre started, then corrected himself. "I'm sorry, your highness I mean!"

"No, just Yuy. I'm not a prince, now." Heero said quietly. Quatre looked momentarily puzzled but bounced back quickly.

"If you don't mind, I would like to introduce you to Trowa Barton. He's a member of the Romany nation. He's been here for -six years was it, Trowa?"

A gipsy, that explained the display. The fact he'd lived so long with Jay explained a lot about his laconic disposition as well. Heero held out a hand. "Yuy, from Sanq. Apparently you were expecting me?"

Trowa nodded slightly, shaking Heero's hand in return. "Master Jay asked me to get your rooms ready. Though he wasn't sure if you would be coming or not. So, where is your brother?"

Heero froze, his face suddenly blank.

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