Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 18
Flawed Mirror

"What the hell is the matter, Maxwell?!"

Duo glanced in surprise at Wu Fei who was jerking the tent flaps shut with unnecessary force, making the rugged tarp twang. "What do you-"

"You look like you saw a ghost! You looked upset even before he gave you that death-glare and told you off for nearly blasting him from the surface of the mountain."

"It was a pretty good glare, you have to admit-"

"Maxwell, if dark looks were enough to throw you off, you'd have been dead the first day of the trials! What's up?"

Duo licked his lips, angry at himself. "Did anybody else see-... "

"I think Rao noticed too." Which explained Wu Fei's anger. He was worried about Duo. Duo was worried about Duo too. This was not the time to show any weakness to his rival, the man was still very dangerous.

"What was that, do you know this Yuy? Here, eat something. Heavenly ancestors, you look like you're about to collapse! Did you have to blow up the whole pass, after two days fighting on three hours sleep- " Wu Fei's voice dropped to an aggrieved mutter as he shoved Duo into a chair, grabbed some food from the table -this was baron Sansbury's command tent and his supper, but Wu Fei didn't give a damn- and jerked Duo's jacket off roughly. Nothing that really mattered needed to be said, after their years together; Wu Fei's brand of tough fussing was just what Duo needed to anchor him back to reality after one of his cathartic power releases and they both knew it. Duo didn't complain. He was having an even tougher time than usual finding his centre again.

"He reminded me of someone. A guy I- I was close to. Someone I accidentally killed a few years ago. It-... caught me a bit off guard."

Wu Fei paused in the act of pouring wine into glass. "Really? Who?" Duo had caused considerable harm to his enemies but had only killed a few of them, and wouldn't be particularly bothered by their reappearance. He'd just kill them again. And the people he was close to could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Wu Fei, Doctor G, Amon, Bull and Sally. Last time he checked they were all still alive.

Then a more distant memory kicked in. "... are we talking about your cousin? What was his name? Started with an E, I think. The one you-"

"Heero. The one Septim helped me murder. The one he's going to die for." Duo's voice had dropped to a dark whisper. This was between them only, and rarely discussed.

"I don't see it." Wu Fei's voice had dropped as well, but he kept his usual curt, precise tone. "You said you were identical when you were children but this man looks nothing like you."

"That's-... another story. He doesn't look much like Heero, I guess... And the look he gave me when he caught me staring, whoa! I-... I don't know why I thought-... " Duo knew he sounded confused and disliked it, but this was Wu Fei, the one person he didn't have to hide anything from. The only one now that Heero was dead.

"I couldn't see it myself, once I actually looked at him." He continued thoughtfully. "The eyes are similar, but all the rest-... Heero would die rather than have long messy bangs hanging in his face like that too." Duo's usual grin faltered a bit, becoming a ghost of a sad smile. Wu Fei pressed the glass into his hand and turned, embarrassed by this show of uncertainty from his usually manic friend. He moved to the tent flaps to make doubly sure no one was eaves-dropping on Duo in a moment of weakness. Both their lives depended on Duo's strength in the next few months.

Duo sipped the wine and shrugged, the moment passing. "I was probably just tired. You're right, I shouldn't have-"

"I'm glad you did." Wu Fei snapped, turning back now that Duo sounded normal again. "Rao is a dishonourable, unjust dog who wouldn't appreciate courage or a warrior's spirit if it came up and ran him through with a sword. Those men deserved better than to be ripped to shreds by the fiends."

"Captain Yuy kinda disagreed that that was going to be the case." Duo winced a bit, remembering the cold precise tones explaining what he, Duo, could do with his magic blasts next time he felt like blowing off steam while the mercs were in front of him. And that scowl... That was probably when Rao and the others had sensed something was wrong with Duo. He'd not taken anything like that from anybody since he'd entered the trials. But at the time he'd been nearly speechless, a rare occurrence in itself. Damn, no wonder Rao had picked something up. He'd managed to toss off one of his usual comebacks and leave with a swing of his braid and his dignity partially intact, but it had been a struggle to slip the mask back on for once. Considering he'd just saved the man's life and was getting told off for it, he should have done something a bit more drastic...

"Well, I guess... I guess you don't get on too well with that Captain." Wu Fei sounded slightly hesitant as he sank into the chair opposite Duo, shoving maps from the table to lean against it. He glared at his Lord. "Eat, Duo."

Duo's knife flickered into his hand and he started to slice bread and cheese. "I'd say it was the Captain who doesn't get along too well with me. Why?" He could feel a question hovering on his friend's lips.

"I was talking with Captain Barton on our way back to camp. Trowa Barton. The other one, the taller man." Wu Fei added.

"Oh." Duo hadn't even caught the man's name, damn he was off his game today.

"He was saying their contract with Sansbury ends next week. This was their last real engagement, they just have mop-up duty now. He was wondering,... " Wu Fei glanced at his friend. "He was wondering if we might want to hire them. There's only twenty of them once the week's up and they're paid off and disband. They're good fighters, and they'd be loyal to us." Wu Fei added quickly as Duo let the glass of wine slowly sink from his lips, untasted.

Duo's eyes were unfocused. Then he stood abruptly, put the wine down, rolled some bread around the cheese, grabbed his black jacket and left, an intrigued Wu Fei on his heels.

*

The mercs had settled down quickly. They'd been fighting more and more fiends in the last month, and were used to snatching sleep when and where they could between battles. Their captains -younger than almost any of the men they commanded, not that that meant anything anymore- passed among them, tallying wounds, making sure provisions were available, the surgeon on hand, the men cared for.

Now it was their turn to rest. Which meant Trowa was taking care of the dozen horses the company possessed, watering, grooming and feeding them, while Heero sharpened his swords and checked his armour.

"You OK?" Trowa finally asked, after a careful look around. They were alone.

"Hn." The flint rang out with monotonous regularity against the steel of the mage-blade. The rasp of Trowa's brush against the flanks of a roan charger was a gentler counterpoint. The horses ignored the both of them, used to their presence and habits.

"You recovered well." Trowa's voice was not accusatory, in fact there was a slight tinge of sympathy behind what was in fact a reprimand. Trowa knew that there should have been no need for recovery at all. He didn't pretend he could do what his friend was doing - the idea of having to pretend not to know Quatre, in Trowa's case, and being treated like a stranger in turn, was inconceivable- but both their lives and much more depended on this, and 'Yuy' couldn't allow himself a moment's weakness.

The ring of flint on steel grew louder as self-directed anger momentarily tightened the young man's shoulders, but in an instant the emotion was caught, tamed and dismissed. Trowa found himself shaking his head. He admitted to being laconic; but he couldn't do something like that either. He didn't want to be able to do that.

"So... I guess he didn't recognize you... "

Heero glared at him from below messy brown bangs. Of course he hadn't been recognized, they were still alive and free in the middle of a camp full of Lin soldiers, weren't they? It wasn't like Trowa to flap his lips needlessly, that was one reason they worked so well together.

The brush switched to the roan's shoulder. "... One of these days you'll have to tell me how you do that. Will it continue to work? Will he be able to recognize you in the future?"

Another scowl. "No."

"Good, 'cause he's heading our way now."

Rasp, rasp, sh-clang, sh-clang, neither Captains showed they'd spotted the pair approaching the mercenary camp. Heero kept his gaze on his work until a pair of black boots entered his hair-framed vision. He glanced up the lithe body into well-known violet eyes without any sign of recognition or the slightest flicker of emotion.

"Yes?" He didn't have to be polite though. Shortness would hide any slip he might make, and besides it was his character. He saw Duo's lips quirk in amusement, a gesture so familiar that he let his gaze drop back to his sword, just in case the slightest hint of feeling escaped his rigid control. None did. He felt the other dark-haired boy shift uncomfortably at the slight insult to the Lord of Lin. Wu Fei Chang, Trowa had informed him, one of Duo's only friends. His training automatically suppressed the feeling of curiosity at knowing what it was that Duo looked for in a friend these days; it left only the cold analysis of how he could find out more about the young man and use that knowledge to further their aims.

*

Duo looked down at the brown hair falling over handsome features and his smile widened. He glanced at the other man, Barton; at least he'd stopped grooming the horse and stood at attention. He was tall, good-looking behind that rather strange hairdo, and also surprisingly young. Duo put his age at seventeen or eighteen. He thought Yuy might be a year older than that, although his sour looks might be making him look older than his actual age. No, surely one of them had to be at least within spitting distance of twenty to command a troop of mercenaries. Duo was commanding as many men since he'd turned sixteen, but then he was a child of Lin; it was expected of him.

"Chang here informs me you would like to move out with my troops in a week or two. Is that right?"

The tall one, Trowa Barton, nodded slowly. Yuy -did he have a first name?- said nothing.

Duo felt a small weight leave his chest. That was why! Why this strange dark-haired blue-eyed stranger had reminded him so much of Heero. Yeah the looks matched a bit, but that hadn't been why. It was the attitude, that cold, stand-offish, serious attitude that Duo had always felt the need to tease a bit. And his cousin had let him, because beneath it he was warm and caring, and just didn't know how to show it. It had become something of a game, like their mock fights. Now that he was actually looking at the man, facing the memories, Duo felt himself relax.

He wouldn't have been able to hire the fighter, however good he was, if the man had-... always reminded him of Heero. But now that he actively confronted this man and his memories... Heero had been the other half of his soul, hiding the parts he wanted to protect behind a cold demeanour. This guy was nothing like that. The ice went all the way through and out the other side. The last flicker of what had seemed to be recognition died as he watched the man sharpen steel like an automaton.

He felt a tickle of amusement again. He liked people who didn't bow and fawn to him, and he felt the beginnings of interest, wondering what it would take to get this guy to drop the façade a bit, if it even was one. Yeah, he could see this working.

"OK, you're on. Do you guys want to work for hire, or on retinue?"

Trowa glanced at his partner then bowed slightly to Duo. "We've heard a lot about you, Lord Maxwell. And seen a lot today as well. I believe we would like to join your retinue, if you will have us."

No surprise there. Duo knew that Kespar had a very strict hierarchical society. These guys were obviously not nobility, and would never amount to anything in that rigid class system, however superb they were on a battlefield. If they joined him -and if he became the next heir- they could become citizens of Lin, and they would advance on merit alone. He thought they would go far.

"Well, welcome to Lin, gentlemen. My first order is, don't you both jump up and hug me at once, OK?" A manic grin greeted them as they both glanced up at him, startled. Behind him, he heard Wu Fei snort softly.

"Unlike what you may have heard, Captains, there's at least one lord of Lin who has a sense of humour. You'll learn to dodge it like my black magic blasts. Tidy things up here and keep in touch with Wu Fei, I'll tell you when we're pulling out." He turned with a wave of a hand and a sway of his braid, a grin on his face, mind already planning the end of the campaign and the return to Lin. And more immediately, some food and some sleep. He'd have to be ready for whatever Rao thought fit to throw at him next...

[chap. 17] [chap. 19] [back to Maldoror's fic]