see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer
Halves + Chapter 19
Cat on a hot tiled roof
"Fancy meeting you here." Duo
Captain Yuy made no sign of recognition, didn't even twitch. As if sitting
on a roof examining a map was normal leisure activity. As if finding your
employer strolling along that roof's apex was just as normal.
Duo did love a challenge. In the five months Captain Yuy had served him
-excellently at that- he'd not been able to get more than a shadow of
a raise out of him. Even Trowa had plied a little to the Lord of Lin's
well-known charm. Yuy was as pliable as stone, though not quite as friendly.
Duo's grin widened as that oh-so firm and muscled back twitched a bit
after all... when Duo spun and sat with cat-like grace to lean his own
lithe back against the captain's. Yuy didn't do or say anything else though.
After a few minutes he lay down the map and documents, picked up his sword
and flint and continued with what had to be his favourite leisure activity.
That sword should cut sunlight into prismatic colours by now...
Duo, still leaning against his back, looked out over the rooftops. His
highways, even now. As one of the two remaining candidates, Duo was allowed
free access to any parts of the council complex he wished. In practice,
though, Duo had found that his ability to sneak around and break into
places was still very useful when trying to catch people off guard or
learning what they didn't want you to know.
He'd spotted Yuy out here before. The captain was looking for solitude,
not excitement or a discreet route around the council complex, like Duo
was. The child of Lin had never disturbed the solitary captain before.
But now they were both relaxed -well Duo was relaxed, Yuy probably didn't
know the meaning of the word- after a week of Rao and his men being sent
out into the boondocks to flush out some more fiends. Duo's troops had
been given the day off after a week of rigorous training. The Lord of
Lin was getting slightly bored, and, wanting to keep his wits sharp while
waiting for Rao's return, decided to indulge in one of his own favourite
leisure activities. Baiting the dour captain. A little fun never hurt.
Duo and his men had also been sent out several times to protect Lin, this
last week's respite had been much needed. Lin had been hard-hit by the
creatures, who were, like most monsters, attracted to the spoiled pools
of raw magic that coiled about the mountains and valleys of the harsh
country. But they'd not found it easy living; the smallest village of
Lin, the weakest child, possessed defences of magic and steel and would
fight to the death to hold on to the little they could scrape from the
Duo shifted on the tiles beneath him. They were rough and pitted with
age, but durable, like all of Linheights, the capital of Lin. He glanced
around them, sheltering his eyes from the sun which was warming the grey
slate despite the chill of mountain air. They had been lodged in the council
complex since they'd returned from Sansbury. The place was huge, a sprawl
of interconnecting stone buildings and towers, like a net thrown across
the pass between two tall peaks from which it clung. The council complex
held the school, the Library of Lin, the council hall, and all the halls
and living quarters of the Houses of Lin. The rest of Linheights, the
houses of servants, merchants and the family of soldiers, hung off the
web of the complex wherever it could, between cliffs and crags and ravines
cutting the mountain faces like scars.
The only thing moving in the afternoon sun was a couple of old crows on
a roof nearby. Duo brought his attention back to the man behind him, whose
back muscles shifted rhythmically beneath his as he ran the flint along
"So, how'd you like it here in Lin? We do have the best roofs, you gotta
admit. Much pointier than in Kespar. But with these neat flat stone gulleys
on top you can sit on comfortably. Plus all these great gargoyles. Whopping
big crows too... "
The flint rang on the steel as if its owner were deaf to the babble of
Duo was thinking how he could bait the man next when Yuy unexpectedly
"It's a rough country. But it presents opportunity. How do you like it?"
It was Duo's turn to stiffen. As much in surprise that Yuy had asked a
question that was not mission-related - that man was just too obsessed
with his job- as at the question itself. On reflection, it was a very
"What do you mean, how do I like my own country?"
Ring, ring... Pause to test the blade with a thumb... Ring... "Sergeant
Bull told me you had not been raised in Lin."
The ringing punctuated the silence that fell over them. Duo found his
eyes wandering over the sturdy, venerable towers of the council complex,
the lower houses beyond hanging stubbornly to the mountain face, the mountains
themselves rearing like fists shaken at the sky... The houses were grey
and rugged like the peaks that cradled them. Rough and built for a purpose.
And inside, you would find a small library, or a pulpit of rare wood,
or a stained glass window, or a garden water-fall with three alpine plants
arranged in simple harmony around it...
"I like it here."
The ringing was ever so slightly off tone. "Really?"
"What do you mean by that?" Duo snapped. That 'really' had sounded like
it'd slipped out involuntarily, but to his knowledge Yuy had no spontaneity
whatsoever. And why would he be surprised that Duo would love his own
The ring of flint on steel was his only answer for a minute, then: "I
just wanted to know if that's what you really thought. It's a hard country,
and you have had to fight here every day since you arrived. But of course
as a candidate to the throne you'd have to say that
"I don't lie!" It was a snarl. "The first twelve years of my life
were one big lie! I never lie, Yuy!"
The ringing stopped abruptly, a slight hiss behind him and the back under
his moved forward. Duo glanced, frowning, over his shoulder.
"What, surprised I'm not a lying conniving snake like- hmm, so you actually
do bleed. I was beginning to wonder."
Yuy's eyes were hidden by his long bangs as he bowed his head over the
small cut in his hand, clasped around the flint. He said nothing as Duo
moved around him to sit facing him.
"Here, give me your hand. I'm not mad at you, buddy." He added as Yuy
made no move. Duo was regretting his lapse. This man had now heard more
about his inner feelings than anyone apart from Wu Fei.
This wasn't the first time he'd let slip more than he'd intended with
the captain, and since this was one of the rare times they'd been alone,
he'd said even more than usual... Duo was always left slightly reeling
as the mile-thick defences he kept between himself and others were suddenly
inexplicably missing when he was around those dark-blue eyes. It was probably
because talking to Yuy was a lot like talking to yourself. Or a wall.
Duo settled gracefully, cross-legged, on the sun-warmed tiles and reached
out to grab the hand gently. There was no resistance, it was as if it
belonged to someone who wasn't anywhere near the roof. Duo covered the
hand with his free one and concentrated. He saw Yuy's eyes widen slightly
as the small sword wound on the side of his hand started knitting together.
"Bet you didn't know a Lord of Lin could do that, either."
"... no, I didn't."
"I can't heal anything much bigger than that." Mainly because his white
magic was out of practice, but he wasn't going to admit that much about
himself or his past. "I use it to get rid of Wu Fei's burns when he hasn't
moved away from me quick enough."
This time the words were deliberate. A reminder to himself that people
he got near to got hurt. You didn't walk side by side with death without
feeling it brush you from time to time. Wu Fei had nothing to lose but
Yuy had a future ahead of him...
"You like Chang a lot." Once more, Duo thought this sounded less premeditated
than most of Yuy's crisp, factual statements.
"Yeah, well, I'm not going to marry the man, OK?" Duo
The hand in his went rigid as Yuy's head flew up. "What?" he blurted,
momentarily off guard. Duo blinked in surprise. He'd never asked Yuy his
age -or any other personal detail, despite his teasing; the man just looked
like he didn't have a life and never had had one- he'd always assumed
the captain was a few years older than he was, but in that one unguarded
moment he looked as young as Duo.
"Don't worry, it's a joke between us." A joke that would be deadly serious
if Duo lost the race against Rao. Wu Fei's life was the sick punch line
to that joke. "If I become the next heir of Lin, I'll let Wu Fei go, I
won't force him into an 'alliance'. I like the guy but not that much."
He added in a mutter.
Yuy nodded slightly. Apparently he was aware of Chang's situation. Though
he seemed to have the curiosity of a cat - a cat that had died three weeks
ago and had been buried under a pile of rocks, that is- he'd visibly been
inquiring about Duo and Chang and the others around him. Probably the
wise move of a tactician who wanted to know the details of those he needed
to deal with, Duo thought sourly, not any personal curiosity. He admitted
that Yuy's single-mindedness was a quality, one that he was beginning
to slowly rely on little by little, but it was not something he could
relate to at all.
He realized, with some embarrassment, that he was still holding Yuy's
hand, though the cut was now completely healed. He dropped the hand as
casually as he could manage and turned a bit, looking out across the view
as Yuy tested the mended skin with a rough thumb.
"I do like it here." Duo didn't know why he was still talking. Yuy wasn't
someone you could reach, whatever you said, however much you revealed.
But his question about Lin had touched something in Duo. Something that
had taken a lot of time to come out from behind the fury and the madness
that had buried him for so long.
"I know what everybody thinks of Lin. I... thought the same for a long
time. Some of it is true. People here are hard. Cruel even. But when you
see where they live, all the raw natural magic that can obliterate villages,
or produces monsters bigger than houses, or-... Still, there's something
about this place, the mountains, the sheer raw power... Besides... Well
you come from Kespar, right? So you should appreciate this.
"I know there's the Lords of Lin, but that's nothing like the nobility
in Kespar or - or Sanq or elsewhere. Their nobility is pretty useless
for the most part, their only accomplishment is to have been born. Big
deal. I was born. Hell I bet even you were born, Yuy, though that stretches
"The current batch of Lords in the council are, I grant you, kinda rotten.
But that can change radically in just one generation! If you ever developed
the ability to cast magic, Yuy, or if your children did, then their children
would become the next generation of Lords of Lin, if they were strong
enough. One of them could even be the next king! Lin won't look down on
you because you're some low-born Kespar mercenary. You'll be treated like
scum anyway, as I'm sure you've noticed." Duo grinned as Yuy snorted.
"But it's because you're assumed to be weak until you've proved otherwise.
But when you've proved otherwise... you'll be a citizen of this country
on equal footing with someone who has ten generations behind him. You'll
be respected here for your merits alone." Duo recalled ragged little street
urchins in the streets of Sanq who, smart, precocious and talented as
they were, would never amount to anything and would probably end up in
a galley or a whorehouse by the time they were adults.
"But a lot less if I'm not a sorcerer." The words were quiet, without
emotional content. But Duo winced a bit anyway.
"OK, I didn't say it was perfect." He muttered. And it certainly wasn't.
He wasn't lying about his feelings though. Because he didn't lie anymore,
and yes, he did believe in Lin now. It had crept up on him slowly, and
it had been quite undesired. The first year, in the hothouse of the school
of Lin, had done little to change his hatred for the country that had
ravaged Sanq. But afterwards, when he finally came into contact with what
he thought of as the 'real' people of Lin, his hatred had started to fade.
Even in school, Amon and a few others who'd rejoined his faction that
first hard year had almost reconciled him with the children of Lin themselves.
Most of them were inbred over-powered half-insane maniacs -actually, he
could relate to that, but not the arrogance, intolerance and cruelty that
had been bred into them. But Amon was what Duo had been telling Yuy about,
a second generation Lord of Lin, his family only recently accorded a House
because of their mastery of sorcery. Amon had been refreshingly real,
both in his support and his behaviour, and he was now one of Duo's rare
Then when he'd mingled with the troops he'd been given -and Duo did mingle,
it was the only way he knew how to relate to people- he'd met Bull and
Sally and others, soldiers and warriors of Lin, and as tough and straightforward
as the mountains that had spawned them. They accepted their lot in life;
the interminable struggle against man and nature, the overrule of sorcerers,
the way they would be called to sacrifice themselves for the good of their
country at the bidding of the man who was strong enough to win their kingship
and trust. Duo had found a reluctant respect growing in him ever since.
It had been hard to start with, because he thought this was isolating
him from the only real close friend he had; he couldn't imagine Wu Fei
ever feeling anything but absolute hatred for the country that had wiped
out his wife's clan and enslaved him. But that was a miscalculation. Wu
Fei hated Septim and the degenerate vermin who ruled the country and had
ordered the cowardly massacre of a clan that couldn't defend itself against
such odds. But Wu Fei also admired strength and rectitude, and the ordinary
men -and women- of Lin had those in spades.
Duo had realized he might have misjudged his friend's attitude when he'd
figured out just how much time Wu Fei was spending with Lieutenant Sally
Po, teaching her more and more about the advanced medicine from the orient.
Wu Fei had been downright cagey about that, Duo recalled with a delighted
grin, saying it was important for one of the officers that had been assigned
to the potential heir to have good knowledge of field medicine, to care
for their soldiers. Duo hadn't bought it. Judging by Sally's gentle smile,
he didn't think she'd bought it either. He snickered, and caught a small
glance from beneath dark brown bangs.
"Duo." The curt voice echoed from the tower that jutted above their rooftop,
interrupting Duo's thoughts. He twisted and spotted the scarred face of
Dr G in the window of the tower.
"Hey, you lookin' for me?" Duo stood with his usual lithe grace.
"If you don't mind. I have put together a warding cantrip you might find
useful. You know, for when your archrival gets back in a few days and
tries to kill you again. But if you'd rather spend time sitting on a roof-"
"Gods, OK, OK, I'm coming!" Duo's grin was good-natured. When he was heir
of Lin, he hoped Dr G would not change his attitude, would always be there
to remind Duo to get off his high horse and cope a dose of reality.
Dr G was a first-generation foreigner in Lin, his last name was too complicated
to pronounce and had been conveniently shortened. He had been Duo's personal
tutor in the arts for nearly four years now.
The second year of schooling in Lin saw students choose mentors in the
higher ranks of sorcery to teach them their craft firsthand. If Septim
had hoped Duo would come to him -well, no, the old buzzard probably didn't
expect that. He wasn't stupid.
Duo had hesitated; the best and brightest of the sorcerers of Lin had
died with Treize near the Gap of Sevring, eight years previously. The
ones that were left were cowardly, verminous maniacs like Septim, and
he'd wanted nothing to do with them. He'd broken out of the school on
numerous opportunities, taking to the roofs and windows to spy on them,
pinch their magical books, study them and their craft in secret, hoping
to be able to do without a mentor. The fools hadn't even known a thirteen
year old was having them all for a ride.
Except Dr G who'd caught Duo with almost disarming ease. Although the
old man had later admitted that the thought of anyone, much less a skinny
half-trained monkey, breaking through his wards, into his study and trying
to make off with some of his manuscripts had impressed him.
Duo and Dr G had realized that they would make a good team. Duo was quick-witted,
powerful and refreshingly different from the rest of the children of Lin.
And Dr G, on his side, hated Septim and the ruling clique with a passion.
The small, scarred man -Duo always described him as a walking nose in
a sorcerer's robe- had been isolated from the corridors of power before
Treize had even attacked Sanq, because he was powerful but not Lin born
and bred. Lin would have accepted his children as one of their own, if
he'd had any, but considered him to still be suspicious, and as he had
the tact and diplomacy of a landslide, this had not improved over the
years. He was still very much respected as a sorcerer, and the council
occasionally unbent enough to ask him for help on some matter or other,
but he didn't have any direct input in the running of the country. He
didn't seem to mind his role of political outcast; his studies seemed
to consume him. But in the years, Duo had realized the man did have a
strong sense of ethics and plans for the future, and they'd grown close
enough that he counted as one of Duo's rare friends. Although this wouldn't
be obvious to the casual observer of one of their conversations.
"Well, have fun, Yuy! Don't lop off any fingers, you might need to count
to ten one day. I want to see you, Trowa and Sally tomorrow night, we'll
have a lil' talk around a jug of wine and see what we can do to get ready
for Rao's return. Bye!"
Heero sat as still as the stone statuary hanging from the eaves. One hand
covered the other where Duo had healed the small cut.
So gentle. So dangerous. A great big grin. A manic smile. Death and the
jester rolled into one. Duo had always been the more complex of the two
boys, and now he was a bigger puzzle than ever, a puzzle to which Heero
no longer possessed a key.
He couldn't say how Duo would react to the truth. He'd dared to ask out
loud the question that had been gnawing at him these past few months,
seeing Duo fight with his troops, study in the council library, talk with
sorcerers and soldiers, apparently well integrated into the society of
Lin. He'd never quite understood why Duo had made a try for the throne
in the first place. The simple will to survive? There had to be easier
ways. The wish to take revenge on Lin? Well that was not it, Duo himself
had confirmed it. Revenge on Septim? That was the only hope Heero had
to cling to.
Heero was afraid. It was an emotion he'd grown very unfamiliar with in
the past few years, like most emotions. Trust Duo to unravel several years'
work in a few months.
He was afraid he might have to trust Duo with his life and the fate of
all the kingdoms.
He was afraid he couldn't do that and might have to kill Duo instead.
He was afraid he might not be able do either.
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