Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 22
Burned

Duo looked around as the teleport circle faded. Kelna had instinctively brought them back to her usual drop point, on Rao's side of camp, in front of his pavilion. They were surrounded by Rao's followers, some of them powerful mages. Fortunately Kelna collapsed before she could even think of capitalizing on the situation.

The people around them took one look at Duo's grim smile, the injured captain, and Kelna's still form, and realized that the confrontation of power had come and gone and their candidate had lost. Duo met gazes that were fearful, angry, curious or measuring, depending on character and degree of guilt. But he knew as they did that he would not openly move to punish any of them. He was now one corny ceremony away from being their new king, so they were not going to retaliate against him any more than he would waste valuable resources by killing them. That was the way of Lin.

Neither side had to like it, though. He'd have to watch his back.

Duo tugged Yuy back. The man was having trouble walking, but he was still taking determined steps towards their side of the camp, a quarter of a mile away.

"No need to push it, buddy. We'll use Rao's pad, he won't mind. He's in a better place now. Oh wait, no he's not!" Duo snickered manically at his own humour, the adrenaline and power rush still tingling in his veins. Yuy looked at him dubiously, then glanced at the people around them. A council observer, courtier to Septim, stared back among the hostile sorcerers. Another of Septim's men was hurrying away towards the lone pavilion in the centre of camp, to warn the head of council of the new shape of the political landscape. The die had been cast; no one was going to jump them now.

Duo pulled the wounded man into the pavilion and sat him down on a leather footrest so he could check out his injuries. He only spared a glance at the rich surroundings, to see if there was any water and a medical chest anywhere. He carefully examined the man sitting before him. The jerkin's leather had cracked and buckled and split wide open under the heat that had scorched it. Fortunately the high leather collar had protected Yuy's hair from catching. Duo felt himself shuddering at the closeness of the call. He peeled off the leather jerkin; the hide was so dried and scorched it felt like breaking a chick out of an eggshell. Yuy had stiffened -probably in some pain- but then slowly began pulling the remnants away by himself.

Duo went rooting around the tent for bandages. He'd heal what he could but he was exhausted, he would probably need to patch up the rest and leave it to Sally.

"Well, you won... " Yuy sounded dazed. Duo didn't blame him, he could hardly believe it himself. He suddenly remembered Wu Fei and the rest of his men who must be taking a useless mile-long jog to the scene of the battle. Oh well, it would be good for their health. They'd realize as soon as they got there and saw Rao's body that they were not needed. They'd figure out where he was soon enough. He gathered a jug of water, a clean cloth and a sheet he could cut for bandages and knelt down behind Yuy again.

"Did you see Rao's eyes when he realized what I'd done?" Duo's grin was almost wider than his face as he reached for Yuy's shirt, starting to lift it gently. "I thought- whoa buddy!"

Yuy had gasped and started off the stool as if Duo had drenched him with ice water. He spun and staggered, face quickly regaining composure. Duo was amazed, both at the move and the will that seemed to completely ignore the pain of a very nasty burn.

"I'm sorry, did I hurt you? Sit down, we've got to treat this."

"I'm ok!" Yuy said quickly.

This was so obviously a lie that Duo's jaw dropped. He stared at the pale face, marred by the blood-clotted gash on the left cheek, a bruise rising slowly up to the eye. He was practically swaying with pain and shock. Duo considered it amazing that he was standing at all. I wouldn't be, he thought, remembering the several hand spans of reddened and blackened flesh he'd glimpsed through the hole burned into the light cotton shirt under the jerkin.

"Yuy, just sit down, OK? I'll cut the shirt off, it won't-"

"No, don't bother. I'll be- I mean, I'll get the surgeon to look at it."

If it had been somebody else Duo might have let it go. But something in him prickled.

"Sally's probably staring down at Rao's body in confusion by now, and won't be back for some time. I can do a better job than her anyway. With a proper heal spell it won't scar too badly. Come on, captain, don't be a wimp about this."

The man didn't even react to that. Duo sighed and stood up, intending to drag him back to the chair. He didn't know what was up with the man, he certainly wasn't the kind to be afraid of any pain. Maybe he didn't want to be beholden to his lord that way. Maybe -this was the little bit that rankled- he didn't trust Duo, though that seemed ridiculous. He had relied on Trowa to bind his wounds last time he'd been hurt in battle... (this rankled a bit as well). But whatever the cause, Duo didn't feel like seeing a man who was about to get whipped or even killed for his sake, stay hurt and scarred if he could help it.

The weird memory of Yuy getting ready to draw on Rao rather than strip to the waist in front of Duo flashed through his mind then out again as confusion and anger took over. Yuy was actually staggering back, away from him, scowling but his eyes wide and watchful.

"Yuy! Circles of hell, what do you think you're-"

He winced in sympathetic pain as Yuy accidentally backed up against one of the thick supporting pillars of the pavilion. The man gasped and staggered and Duo leapt forward, thinking he was going to collapse.

The stoic captain didn't collapse; instead Duo found himself being shoved away by arms that would normally send him flying halfway across the tent if Yuy had been fitter. Duo stared at the man leaning painfully against the support, mouthing apologies to his lord and saying that he was OK, while his eyes were wide and hostile.

Blast it, he's more afraid of me then he was of Rao!

Duo could wait a long time for revenge, but in most things his patience was about as durable as a soap bubble, and he could feel it popping right about now. Snarling, he clicked his fingers, angrily wasting a few more mental resources in paralyzing his wayward servant. Yuy gasped and started fighting the air that was solidifying around him as if it were a matter of life or death; Duo's hold was strong enough to stop him moving too much though.

"You're the most stubborn ass of a man I've ever met, Yuy!" He snapped, tugging the man around through the resistance of the spell and shoving him against the tent's support. He gripped the thin cotton shirt at the back of the neck and ripped it easily, most of it was already gone. "You can't tell me you're shy about your body! It's pretty easy on the eyes - you - know -... "

He'd cast his eyes in concern over the burn marring the skin, and in appreciation over the rest of the muscular frame -

- and in complete confusion and growing hysteria at the ancient, upright burn mark, like a raised dagger, over Yuy's right shoulder, a match for the two slashes on his own...

The edges of his vision went white and wobbly as that mark filled his entire mind, his holding spell flickering out.

Something in his mind shattered.
"HEER-!"

He was grabbed, spun around and slammed against the tent support, a hard hand muffling the scream.

The two men stared at each other. Duo's eyes, huge in a white face, darted over Heero's scowling, tense expression. Duo finally blinked and started to struggle dazedly. Heero let his hand shift a bit, cautiously.

"Heero-it can't -how could -I killed you! I killed you! I saw you die! How did I not recognize you?! This is insane - !" Words tumbled from his mouth in a frantic whisper, rising slowly in volume. Heero's hand was back on his mouth, lighter this time, a warning. Duo suddenly realized where they were; he was with the heir of Sanq in the middle of a camp of Lin sorcerers who were hostile enough towards Duo, let alone - he's alive, he's-

The two young men faced each other over Heero's hand until Duo nodded convulsively. Heero let his hand drop with a warning look.

Duo took several deep breaths, which crumbled into a chocked hysterical giggle when Heero said, in his usual precise stuffy tone: "Yes, I'm alive."

"Uh. Yeah. Ho-How?"

"Father Maxwell. He raised a shield and protected me. Much as you did today." Heero's eyes softened a bit.

"F-Father Max? Did he also-" Duo swallowed as Heero shook his head slightly, a stab of pain coming from a wound he'd thought long scarred over.

Duo's eyes seared over Heero's features as if he were trying to burn them into memory. But it was in fact the opposite; how come-

"How in hell did I manage not to recognize you?" It was almost a whimper. "You- you're closer to me than my own reflection, how-"

Heero's eyes dropped, and his face closed. "Magic." He said shortly.

Finally, Duo ignited.

"Magic?!" He hissed. "What do you mean, magic? Damn it, I'm one dead body past becoming the heir of Lin, the most powerful sorcerer in the world! You have all the magical ability of a piece of soap! Don't make me believe- Damn you get your hand off of my mouth, Yu-Hee- whatever!"

"Duo, calm down. I-"

"Not until you tell me what the hell is going on!"

"It's simple, it- it is a spell. Sort of. It's one thing I'm good at, magically, well one of two things, and I had to study for years to be good enough to hide myself from-" He hesitated.

Duo's quick intuition filled in the blank.

"From me." He whispered. "You were hiding yourself from me."

"Not only from-"

"You were hiding from me! Gods, Heero I thought you were dead! How could you-"

Duo was striking out blindly at the hand that was trying to cover his mouth once more, his voice rising higher and higher. Finally Heero clasped his face with both hands, stopping him from shaking his head in furious denial over all the pain of the past few years.

"Duo, hush! I didn't know you thought I was dead! I wasn't sure. We only knew it for sure a couple of years ago-"

"Oh, well, took you long enough to pop up and reassure me, didn't it? No, wait, you were dragging it out even longer than that, since you show up disguised somehow! What were you waiting for, my birthday? That was quite a few months ago, you bastard!"

"We didn't know- Duo, bad things are about to happen, we couldn't take the risk of you recognizing me. Duo, please listen!"

"Oh, I'm listening!" Duo hissed. He was well aware that the walls of the pavilion couldn't muffle sound too well, that he had to keep his voice down, stay in control, but he was damned if he was going to wait another five years before he heard the end of this! "I'm listening 'cause this is the part where you tell me why you thought it was fun to let me think you were dead, let Septim take me to Lin, let me- oh wait, I forgot, I'm Treize's damn bastard! It's probably what I deserve-"

Heero's grip on his face tightened convulsively, shaking him. There was suddenly a look of such pain in his cousin's eyes that Duo almost sobbed.

"Heero, I-"

And suddenly his defences, still tattered as they were, registered a familiar tingle.

Duo had survived five years in the courts of Lin and had won the hardest game of all against all odds, and he hadn't done so by being slow-witted and easy to catch off guard. In a flash he'd grabbed a startled Heero by the waist with one hand, dragging him closer, while the other hand snaked up under his cousin's arm to grab his back- covering the identifying upright mark tattooed on his shoulder a mere second before Septim swept aside the curtains of the pavilion.

Septim paused with his 'Duo are you in here' on his lips, as he drew an erroneous -but fairly understandable- conclusion as he saw the two young men leaning against the tent's pillar, Duo's arms around a shirtless Heero, the captain's hands on Duo's face.

"Well, I'm glad to see you're not hurt from your battles, Lord Duo, and that you still have energy to spare." His gaze went up Heero's frame appreciatively - Duo felt a sudden repulsion for the man that had nothing to do with his usual hate for the murderous bastard- then flicked to the burn on his back. "I'd suggest however that your captain might be better off at the surgeons, just for now. That doesn't look good, it'll scar I'm afraid."

Duo swung Heero around before releasing him, so his cousin's back was not towards Septim as he stepped between them.

"Er yeah, good idea. What did you want, exactly?"

"I need to speak with you, Lord Duo. In private. There is something we have to discuss, something important." A thin tongue licked pale lips. "Now, if you please. In my tent."

Duo glanced back at Heero uncertainly, with some frustration. He caught the look of anxiety in Heero's eyes before he could hide it. Duo suddenly felt that Septim's request was expected and very unwelcome by his cousin. He felt a chill run down his spine as he realized just how lost he was in this new situation, how little he understood what was going on.

"I really need to take - Yuy here to the-"

"Lord Duo, I'll call a man to see to him if you're that worried." Septim's voice dripped irony, since he thought he knew how much Duo had been worried about Heero's injuries before he interrupted. "But please, now?"

Duo shook free the hand Heero had been clutching and took a hesitant step towards Septim. "Ok, ok, keep your robes on." The jester kidded automatically, his mind in a whirl.

"You." His voice hardened as he glared back at his half-cousin. "Stay here. I'll be back. We have things to talk about." He could almost feel Septim smirk in approval at the tone and the implications. Repulsive reptile.

He waited until Heero nodded convulsively, then turned to face the enemy.

"Ok, Septim, let's go."

"After you, Lord Duo."

"As if! You go first, uncle dearest."

Septim made a half bow and exited through the tent flaps. After one more glare in Heero's direction and a hand-gesture that said 'wait here!', Duo followed.

[chap. 21] [chap. 23] [back to Maldoror's fic]