see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer
Halves + Chapter 24
Duo had been approaching the stables with the automatic stealth he always adopted when going into tense situations. He froze, hand still raised towards the flap of canvas that sheltered one side of the corral.
"- but he's not stupid enough to be dragging Septim into this without knowing more about what's going on." It was Trowa's voice.
"Hn." That speaker was even easier to recognize.
There was a moment of silence. Duo listened attentively, whishing he could see within the stable area picketed off by canvas sheets and two wagons.
"This might be all for the best." Trowa continued. Duo could hear him moving around, opening something and rummaging inside. Further away, a horse nickered quietly and stomped.
"It will all be a lot easier with Duo's help."
"We would have managed without it." Yuy - Heero's voice was monotonous, as if he wasn't even listening to his own words.
"I know why you weren't going to tell him the truth."
Duo almost bit through his braid. Here he was trying to get hold of vital information... by eaves-dropping on the two greatest non-communicators of all times.
"You really were hoping you could-... I don't know, cold-cock him while no one was watching, drag him out of harm's way and leave him out of it? He's the heir of Lin, Yuy. He's going to be at the very centre of it all when it goes down." Trowa's voice trembled on the edge of exasperation, which was the equivalent of a full blown rant for a normal person.
"Without him, Septim won't have the power to open it all the way." Yuy's voice was still calm.
"Maybe. You know we can't be sure of that. And anyway if that were true then the obvious solution would have been to kill him." Duo felt a prickle run up his spine.
"That's what I thought."
"It will be hard enough to kill Septim. And we need to reach the place before we can do anything, anyway." Yuy sounded very reasonable.
"Agreed. But Duo was a loose canon. Now that he's found out, we'll at least know which side of the debate he falls on. In case you had any doubts."
"I have none. Duo is not crazy."
"... Are we talking about the same person?"
"He can be a loose canon. But he would not help Septim if the man was on fire. Why would he help him destroy the world?"
Destroy the - ... Duo's jaw dropped to ground level.
"So we're back to, why all the lies? Why didn't you tell him the truth months ago?"
"... He's been lied to all his life... "
"So you thought, what's one more?" Trowa asked a bit acidly, taking the words right out of Duo's mouth.
"No. This is my business." Heero's voice sounded mulish but there was another emotion cracking the shell from within. "I just wanted him to... not know... certain things. He loves Lin now. He will make a good leader, I think. This country will need that in the future. He doesn't need more pain, more doubt, he doesn't need to know how many more lies..." The voice trailed off. Deep within the cold monotones lurked the same pain that Duo had seen in his cousin's eyes back in Rao's tent.
Something inside Duo felt itself slowly unfurl. Still tentative, flinching from any possibility of further blows, but with a flutter of hope.
"Yuy, if you don't tell him, you're doing him the greatest injury you can. I know it's painful to make a choice, but it's worse to not make it and always wonder later what you would have done. I know you're afraid of screwing up. I know that thanks to your training you can't communicate, can't reach him on an emotional level. Well you'll just have to tell him the truth and hope his own good sense makes him realize why you had to do it. I know that Duo will not actually oppose us, or you would have killed him. I know what the mission means to you, that you will go all the way if you really thought it was in danger. No, that's not the problem, is it? You're just afraid that he'll hate you when he realizes what you kept from him. Well, that's a risk, but you-"
"You talk too much."
"There's a first time for everything."
"But I guess you're right. Besides, at this point, he won't stand for anything less than the entire truth."
"The entire truth?"
"I see how he looks at you, Yuy. There's one bit you don't want to tell him." Duo shifted nearer the canvas, Trowa's voice had lowered in something like sympathy, even a bit of sorrow. "I don't know...how he'll react to that part of the plan, and that could really compromise the situation. Yuy?" The voice sounded puzzled.
"I'll tell him the truth and what he needs to know." Heero's voice was suddenly back to hard, firm and uncompromising. "Then he can decide what he wants to do, and he'll do it regardless of anything I say. Isn't that right, your lordship?"
Duo snarled silently, then composed his trade-mark grin on his face and lifted the canvas.
Trowa was behind Heero, staring at Duo, blinking, with -sure enough- a pot of horse ointment in his hands. Heero was sitting on an empty box, bare-chested. He looked a bit better than before, his face wasn't quite so pale.
"Trowa, would you be so kind as to leave me alone with my cousin, here?" Duo's voice was like silk sliding over a knife. He was still angry. He wasn't sure why. By the sound of it, Heero had a major good reason to have tried to hide things from him, had in fact been trying to avoid him getting into a mess. The anger was as much a shield against feeling too much, as it was a reaction to the lies and for taking him and his pain so lightly.
Trowa's eyes narrowed and he looked like he was going to argue when Heero glanced over his shoulder and said: "Go."
Trowa glanced at them, shrugged, tossed Duo the ointment and left in silence.
Duo gave the ointment a sour glance. "Please tell me he hasn't actually put any of this stuff on your back yet."
"No, he'd just gotten it out. He was cleaning out the burn when you arrived."
Duo hmmphed and stepped behind Heero, tossing the ointment aside. The burn looked even worse now, out in daylight, reddened and cracked, with beads of water from Trowa's ministrations glistening on charred flesh. Heero showed no signs of the agony he must be in.
"Why'd you not wait where I told you? It must have hurt like a bitch walking back-"
"Did Septim tell you what he's doing at the Gap of Sevring?"
"Er no." It slipped out in surprise. Before Duo could snap 'Are you trying to pump me for information', Heero spoke again.
"Then I'll tell you. You will have to be careful around him, though, he must not trust you entirely."
"Oh and you do?"
"I don't have a choice anymore." The voice had hesitated just a second, but was still unemotional. Duo stepped in front of him, to look at his face. Cobalt blue eyes fixed on his.
"I'll make it short. When Treize died twelve years ago, he was trying to cast a spell, a big one. But not some big mage blast like Zechs always thought. The spell was very different, and it had to be cast at the Gap.
"The Gap of Sevring is a dangerous place. It is very much like the wastes of Kespar. There is a school of sorcerers throughout the world that guard these kinds of places. I have been living with Jay who guards the Kespar breach for the last five years, so I know a lot about it."
"Places where the walls of the world are thin and fragile. Treize murdered the man who was guarding the breach of Sevring, and tried to collapse the walls. Only an enormous amount of magic could do this. He failed to control it, it killed him.
"But the breach was weakened badly. Septim managed to place people around the breach several years ago, shortly before he tried to kill- us, at the lodge. Septim's men have been working on opening the breach. They have already succeeded to an extent. The breaches are a connection to one of the circles of Hell. I think. I've never been all that interested in the arcane details." A slight grimace crossed his face.
Duo's mind was spinning like a wheel and his intuition shot off of it on a right angle. A circle of Hell slowly gaping wider and wider these last few years... "The fiends?"
"Yes. They are escaping from that breach, more and more of them. Septim's sorcerers have placed very strong wards around the entire area, a maze that even Jay cannot enter. They have a very strong teleporter in there as well, who moves the fiends out of the area before they can get too dangerous to the men guarding the breach. He cares little where he drops them, and they've been running around loose in the world, as we both know from first hand experience.
"That's not good, but what will happen when the breach is fully open is a whole lot worse."
Duo felt a very strong urge to sit down. His braid was clasped in both hands like a security blanket.
"Um, but the fiends have been attacking Lin too! "
"That will be nothing to what is to come, and Lin won't be spared."
"But that's crazy! "
"No, not in Septim's mind."
Duo stared at him. Heero looked like he'd bit into something rotten.
"I didn't understand it until I met him again, and lived in Lin for awhile. Even Jay wasn't sure what Septim was trying to accomplish. We thought he might be mad. I think he is a little, it... runs in the blood. But it's not madness that's pushing him on.
"He believes in the strength of Lin, and that strength comes from conflict, in his view. I believe, now that I've studied him, and heard you and Chang talk about him, that he knows what will happen. When he opens the gates to that place, and terrible demons come rampaging out, all the kingdoms will collapse and get run down fighting them. A lot of people will die, in Lin as well. But the strongest will survive. And since he thinks the strongest are in Lin... He thinks Lin will be able to conquer the demons they set loose, when all the other kingdoms will fall helpless. Then Lin will be the only thing left.
"You know him well. Much better than I ever could. Does that make sense?"
"Yes." Duo could hardly feel his lips, he was so numb with horror. "Yes it does. Man, how many times am I going to have to kill that bastard to give him what he deserves?!"
"Only once will be enough for me." Heero said in what might have been humour but probably wasn't.
Duo grunted. "I'll start with that anyway. What exactly were you planning on doing? Can you tell me that?"
Heero stared at him as if judging his mood. Then he nodded.
"Soon, Septim will take you to the Gap of Sevring, to the breach. He does not have enough power there to open it properly, despite all the work of weakening it that his cronies have been doing over the years. The heir of Lin should have enough raw power to rip it wide open. I think he sees it as an initiation rite as well, something that should be the heir's responsibility. And honour."
"Once more, sounds dead on the money. Uncle dearest. Man, what a family!"
"Trowa and I were going to infiltrate the troops that were accompanying the heir to the Gap. We succeeded beyond expectation for that part at least. Only Septim and a couple of others on the council know their way through the ward maze around the breach, we need him to lead us in. Once we get to the breach... " "Yes?"
"Septim and his sorcerers are going to have to die. They are the key to the ward maze around the place, and we need Jay and his people in there to take care of the breach, like he's been caring for the one in Kespar."
Duo frowned. "Is that it? That sounds easy enough. Well, no, not easy! I had to become the bloody heir of Lin to give me half a chance at a shot at Septim, he's as hard to kill as a fungal infection. But... " His mind was running. "Why didn't you just try to kill Septim outside the wards, like, any time these past few months? Why will you have a better chance inside the wards than outside? Why wait till the last bloody minute?"
"We need to be in place to take care of the breach." Heero said slowly. "If Septim is murdered, the sorcerers he has placed around it will sense it, and react; they will probably try to jam the breach open, maybe even rip it fully apart. If they have nothing left to lose, they might even succeed, with or without the powers of the heir of Lin. We can't take that chance. We have to get to the breach, and kill them all together and...well, get Jay in there to control the mess."
Duo sensed a slight hedging in that part of the plan, but wasn't sure he wanted to dig any deeper. His head was overstuffed with information as it was. Damn, night was falling, they had to leave really early in the morning, he was exhausted but couldn't afford to be anything less than a hundred percent tomorrow... and there was still one important question he had to ask.
"Heero, look me in the eyes." His half-cousin lifted his face. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Heero stared at him, his eyes unreadable. "Didn't you hear earlier?"
"I heard bits of it, I think. But I want you to look me in the eyes and give me the whole thing. Now. P-please." He cursed himself for that last, but it had come out. His anger couldn't quite shield the depth of his hurt.
Heero was silent for awhile. Then he sighed. His eyes were suddenly softer than before, though there was still a good deal of darkness within them.
"Duo, I have been training hard these last five years to stop this. To have a chance, I have had to become... very single-minded about it. There was no halfway measures. My own feelings in the matter were never a consideration. I had to learn absolute control over my emotions, my... abilities, to allow me to hide myself from Septim and... and from you, if necessary, hide myself from anyone who might look at me and recognize me as prince Heero of Sanq. Any slip of emotions could shatter the mask I was casting in other people's minds. Like the first time we met, in Sansbury. I was so surprised to see you again after so many years... you almost recognized me there, and I couldn't allow that because we weren't sure what you would do if you knew the truth.
"Five years ago, when we realized you were making a real try for the throne of Lin... no one was sure what was going on. We didn't know what Septim had told you, what he'd done to you. We didn't know if he'd corrupted you.
"The years passed and you didn't drop out of the trials, in fact you became one of the final candidates. That made you, potentially, one of the enemy."
That cold unemotional voice took some of the sting out of the words. Duo found himself nodding glumly, imagining what Heero must have thought of the reports from Lin.
"Once I got here... you hide yourself well too, Duo. I couldn't tell for awhile what you were thinking, how badly Septim might have influenced you. Even when I realized that you would probably not support Septim, I couldn't be sure you would keep quiet and follow our plan, or if maybe you would loose your temper with him or- or with me... " Suddenly the eyes dropped and the voice was a whisper, a confession. "I wasn't sure what you would do and I didn't think I could rely on my own judgement when it came to you. And the stakes were too high. I couldn't risk it. I was hoping to just keep you out of the whole thing so I wouldn't have to worry about it.
"We don't have much time, I'm afraid, and we cannot afford... distractions. I know, Duo, that you are going to try to help us. I can see it in your eyes. Whether you are doing it to protect Sanq, or Lin, or the rest of the world, doesn't matter. Whether you forgive me one day for all those years alone doesn't matter either. We need to concentrate on what is to come. After... " A small sad smile suddenly flickered on the chiselled features. "Afterwards it will sort itself out."
Duo was silent. There was too much to deal with right then and there. He slowly walked around to Heero's back again. He could feel him stiffen, then relax as Duo put a gentle hand on his injury. Healing energy started to make a foray against the burn. He lifted the other hand and slipped it against a firm cheekbone, covering the awful gash there. He felt Heero flinch from the touch, and not from pain. But Duo kept his hands firmly against the warm skin and put as much as he could into both injuries, until he felt light-headed. The brown head before him was bowed in the silence full of lingering pain and unsaid words.
Duo let both hands fall on the strong shoulders before him. He felt them quake beneath the touch. He leaned his chin against the bowed head, slipping his arms over Heero's shoulders in a loose hug, and closed his eyes. After a second he felt Heero's hands clasping his own, lightly, hesitantly. The slight shaking in his cousin's shoulders subsided. Duo squeezed one of the hands covering his.
"Heero, right now my head's gonna explode. So I can't tell you just how mad I still am at you, or how mad I'm gonna be once I've had time to think it all over. I'll let you know, OK? But one thing you've got right. I'm not going to let Septim do this. Uncle dearest is going down, hard. And we don't have the time to sort out what we're feeling, because I'm afraid it's all going down tomorrow."
The strong shoulders under his arms jerked. Heero staggered to his feet and spun around.
"Yes. Septim wants to take me to the Gap tomorrow before dawn and I'm thinking now it's not to leave a wreathe on my father's last resting place."
Heero started to swear. Then he leapt to the entrance of the corral. "Trowa!"
The tall warrior was inside the canvas in an instant. Duo wondered sourly if he'd been eavesdropping, but decided it didn't matter. His head still in a whirl, he heard Heero pour out instructions. He heard the words 'tomorrow', 'Quatre', 'Jay', and 'get ready'.
"You guys can include me in your preparations." Duo finally sighed, straightening up and walking over. "I think I can be of some small help when it comes to crushing evil insane uncles. It's what I've been preparing for these last five years as well!"
The two captains looked at him, then at each other, and nodded. "Very well. I need to get this information to Quatre, then we will sit down and decide how to do this." Trowa was all business.
Heero grunted. "I'll go see if our 'friend' is aware of all this and can manage to come with Septim, or if he needs an escort to the breach tomorrow." Heero glanced at Duo, hesitating as he realized his words must be confusing. "You see, we have a spy here, he-"
"That's ok, go, go, Hee- Yuy. Better still call you that, avoid any slips. We don't have time to go into all the ins and outs of your 'mission' here, I trust you."
His hand shot up, catching his cousin's chin when he saw the look of relief and gratitude dawning in his eyes. "Correction, I trust you for now! We kick Septim into the Gap, get rid of the fiends, then have a bloody big party to celebrate. And after that, 'Yuy', we're going to have a real long talk about trust and such stuff and I may end up punching your lights out, before I let myself get all happy about the fact you're still alive. Ok?"
Heero's eyes suddenly went cold and flat, which meant that Duo had been shut off. He also caught a strange look from Trowa before the tall captain left to contact the Quatre person they'd mentioned. There was something here they didn't want him to know about and it chilled Duo, he felt suddenly that there were too many unknowns in this little mission. But he knew that he didn't have the time to go into this in too much detail. He could get some answers from his cousin the day after tomorrow.
Assuming the world hadn't become the fourteenth circle of hell by then.