Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 27
The Crucible

Just when he thought he had to be running out of energy, new reserves kept surfacing. I wonder if I'm dying too, Duo thought dreamily. If I am, it's not too bad. Lot less painful than I imagined...

The power pulsed like a heartbeat. It had started out fast and frantic, with fear for Heero's life. And then-

It was like two cords beating in harmony. His power hadn't just come alongside Heero's -which was good because Duo didn't have a clue what he was supposed to be doing. Instead it seemed to feed Heero's, each beat of the pulse ringing with his cousin's energy and then back again. Like it was all one and the same power, just coming from two different directions, melding in the heat of despair.

The breach was closing, but so slowly. The noise level seemed to have dropped a bit, he could now hear Heero's painful gasps besides him. Duo, more knowledgeable about these things, cut back just a bit of the energy he was feeding into the Gap to start weaving a ward. It was a quick and dirty job but it only had a simple purpose. Not protection, they were way beyond that. It was a ward that was meant to isolate and mask their energy patterns. It was what had allowed Septim to get so far within Sanq territory without warning the white mage watchers, five years ago. The purpose here was not to hide them however, but to limit the amount of black magic that was chaotically tearing at the fabric of the gash they were trying to fix.

Heero gasped, then relaxed a fraction as he realized what Duo was doing. Duo grinned. It was easier now, faster. The tear was closing like stitched cloth, nothing ripping it apart on one end while they were fixing the other.

Except-

Just when he was starting to relax and make plans for the future (that being, for now, the next five minutes), Duo felt something poke at the breach from the other side. It was big, ugly, and it wanted out! It was ripping at the closing gap, it had intelligence, power and more malice than he could imagine. A whimper escaped Duo's throat and was throttled by the heaving air.

Heero grunted. And then the power level just went through the roof.

Duo's shout of protest -he knew what this might cost his friend- was ripped from him as he was bowled over and flung from Heero's side. A huge gasp echoed through the entire Gap making it ring like a bell, sending wind billowing up until the clouds above them roiled and writhed like wounded animals.

Then there was an almighty crash.



***



Duo was staring at the shattered sky, blinking. The silence was roaring in his ears like surf hitting the beach. He blinked again, trying to remember how to move.

He sat up with difficulty. Near the gap, a small figure lay crumpled.

His throat closing over a panicked shout, Duo scrabbled forward.

The figure stirred just as he ran up, and the heir of Lin collapsed to his knees in relief at his cousin's side.

Heero groaned. His nose was bleeding and he'd bitten through his lip, but he looked otherwise unharmed. Well, nearly. If he felt as drained as Duo did, that probably felt bad enough...

Duo saw his half-cousin shake his head and push himself up to his knees. Prussian blue eyes stared without comprehension at the Gap, quiet in a small drop of sunshine leaking through the ripped clouds.

"I'm alive." Heero muttered. "How inconvenient."

A small breeze tossed some dust into the Gap, the only movement now.

Heero gasped and fell over on his side, more in surprise than from the strength of Duo's punch; the heir of Lin was as weak as a kitten and hadn't leaned into it. Heero rubbed the small red mark on his cheek and stared at his cousin.

"What the hell are you talking about?! What kind of stunt was that, uh? You- you bastard! You almost left me alone again!" Duo realized with some embarrassment that tears were running down his cheeks. For once, his anger felt hollow and weak. There was only hurt and confusion.

"Duo... " Heero started.

"Shut up! Or I'll punch you again! Why didn't you tell me you were going to do that? Why were you going to do that?! Do you want to die?"

Heero said nothing. Duo felt a chill running through his soul.

"Don't be an ass, Heero! You're not allowed to die! I won't allow you to die. I nee-... Zechs needs you. You're his son. And his heir. Don't think I didn't notice what you were wearing this morning."

Heero smoothed a hand over the green vest Zechs had given him so long ago; it finally fit. It was the first time he'd worn it, and he'd intended it to be the last time. He sighed and glanced out over the Gap, not able to look at Duo.

"Well? What is it?" There was something wrong, Duo could feel it. There certainly was a lack of 'yay, we're alive' feeling in the air.

"Duo... I was going to let Jay tell you the truth. I... didn't know... I didn't want to tell you to your face. I thought I'd be allowed just that little bit of, well, weakness, but apparently I was wrong." His voice was small and hollow as he slowly turned towards Duo.

"Boy, this is going to be good-" Duo started.

"Duo, Zechs needs a son and heir, that's true. But I'm not it. You are. I'm the son of Treize of Lin."

Duo just stared at his cousin for a full minute. Then his hand reached for his braid. It was trembling as he tugged it.

"I think one of us hit his head during that final blast, I could have sworn you just said-"

"It's the truth, Duo."

"No it's not!" Duo snapped. "Are you crazy? I'm the one who's got Treize's power, not- oh gods..."

"Couldn't you feel it while we were closing the breach? Duo, we have the same power. I mean, really the same. That's because it bled into you when we were small children, when we- ... still shared a bond between our minds. Well, actually the families of Zechs and Treize were very close, you might have had abilities by yourself, but the amount of power you -"

"Nu-uh! This doesn't make sense! I- I have so much power I- I almost killed you when it erupted five years ago, I'm constantly setting stuff on fire, I-"

"You've always been good at magic, Duo. White magic. The son of Treize doesn't have that ability. I don't have that ability. On the other hand, since you leeched the black power from me, you can't control it too well. I-... I have always been able to control it. I've always been afraid not to... So afraid... of hurting you again."

Heero sighed, then lifted dark eyes to Duo's. What he saw there caused Duo's heart to quiver. It was the pain his cousin had been hiding from him all along.

"Listen to me, Duo. When we were children. Really young children. We were alone. Isolated. We only had one thing and that was each other. It was everything to us. I used my powers then, Duo. I didn't know it, it wasn't conscious. I wanted to protect us from- from her. Make us inseparable. I blended us together, slowly, day by day, making us indistinguishable. If we were one, we could not be separated, even by her!

"But once Zechs took us in, when we were safe... It was too late, I couldn't break off the link between us anymore. I- I knew it was wrong, to deny you your own personality, to-to hang off of you like some parasite. But I didn't know how to stop. And then I hurt you. When I fell in the garden, remember? I - I forced you to bruise yourself, to-"

"It was my own hand on my arm!" Duo snapped, hugging himself. Memory was flooding back, from a time that had been obliterated from his mind by the happiness of the family life that had followed.

"But you did it because of me, because of what I was doing to you... " Heero's hand drifted towards Duo but he caught it back and squeezed it into a fist.

"Heero, whatever happened, we both wanted it! We both wanted to survive her, with each other. And anyway how do you know it wasn't the other way around? Uh? Maybe I'm the one forcing this bond thing, the one with the magic. Uh?"

Heero shook his head slowly. "Do you remember the nightmares we had? Before she gave us our names?"

Duo shuddered. They were so deep in his mind that he would normally not be able to recall them, but his brush with the thing in the Gap brought them back as much as Heero's words.

"Those nightmares were mine. Like the power. I know you stopped having them after she marked us. I didn't. I've always had them. I've always felt the thing behind my mind clawing at it. It's why I was so... controlled even as a child. I... could feel the power and the madness in my blood, and I didn't want you - I didn't want anybody to see it. I pushed it down, never touched it, or the power that went with it. I avoided any form of magic in fact. I... I'd almost forgotten about it... Until Septim attacked us.

"I could feel it when you blasted us by mistake, Duo. It was my power that was at work, killing Father Maxwell, burning me... I realized then what it meant. I felt a link too, something you never felt; a touch of my father's dead hand, pointing me to this, to here, to this hole in the world where all his power had gone to widen the breach. I didn't know what it was but I was linked to it. I knew somehow that I had the power to close it, if I could use it. I had to close it.

"My... power was turned in on me, on us, for so long, it took me years to be able to use it where I could destroy the breach without it destroying me first. I also had to disguise myself from Septim, and you. That was something like the spell I used when we were children, but turned around, breaking links to the memory of me, instead of creating links between us. That and the spell to close the breach, was the only magic I could ever learn, without risking my sanity."

Duo took a couple of deep breaths through his nose, trying to stop his head from spinning.

"It doesn't matter." He finally ground out. Then he corrected himself: "Well, I guess I am relieved I won't be going insane now, if it's not in fact running in my family. Er- H-Heero, I didn't mean-"

"It's OK." Heero grimaced. "That was the other reason Jay wanted to train me so badly. The madness is there, I guess; I'm not exactly the most normal seventeen year old in the kingdoms. But as long as I don't use the magic, it shouldn't devour me. And Jay provided me training to limit the damage when I do cast spells. He said he didn't want me to become part of the problem. A new Treize. Neither do I for that matter."

Duo let his eyes drift down his cousin's face, bent under the weight of too many big secrets, to the fists clenched on his knees. He sighed.

"Well you're not, are you." Duo said prosaically. "You're the heir of Sanq."

Heero blinked, finally lifting his face. "No, Duo, you are-"

"No! I am the heir of Lin! I don't care where I got my powers from, Heero, because they are mine now, they shaped me, and I used them to fight for myself and the people of Lin. Now I am their king, and it has nothing to do with who my father is."

"But- but Zechs-"

"Deserves a son. And that has to be you, Heero Yuy." Duo snapped. His usual resilient spirit was once more rising to chase away the hurt and the shock. "You know I'm right, so stop arguing. I'm a king now, anyway, and you're still just a prince, and a delinquent one at that, so just shut up already!"

Heero sighed and rubbed his face with a grubby hand. "That's why it is so inconvenient that I'm-" He whispered.

"What was that?" Heero's eyes shot open as Duo grabbed him by the front of the green vest. "I think I'll pretend I didn't hear that, buddy, or I might just clock you one again!"

"It would... have been neater." Heero scowled, gradually returning to his usual controlled self, to Duo's relief. "I thought... our countries have been at each other's throats for a long time now, this can't go on, it would have been practical to have only one heir to both the kingdoms. I thought-"

"Look Yuy, you do the fighting and I'll do the thinking, ok? I'm obviously better at it! If you're the king of Sanq and I'm the king of Lin, we're at least OK for the next twenty five years. So stop arguing-" Heero hadn't said anything, but Duo shook him by the shoulder anyway "-and let's get out of this creepy place while we still can. I need to get back to the council and get coronated before the slimy creeps can find a reason not to, and you need to go see-"

"No!"

Duo paused in the act of helping his half-cousin to his feet. Heero had gripped his upper arm in a bruising hold, a flash of panic in his eyes.

"Don't- I- I - don't want to leave- to go to Sanq. Y-you might need my help." He added, uncertainly.

"Heero, you're not my captain anymore. You're the heir of Sanq. I mean-" Duo squeezed the other youth's arm as pain flared in Heero's eyes "-well, you can't stay here. But... I guess you can visit for awhile. Yeah!" He grinned. "It'd only be diplomatic for the prince of Sanq to be present at my coronation. It shouldn't take long, we don't stand on ceremony in Lin. It'll take even less time to boot the old bastards out and put my people in government, that's the way it works here. That should give me some leeway to take a bit of well-deserved vacation. Maybe a quick state visit to Sanq." He smiled, as Heero's face began to relax a bit, back to its usual serious look. "Just to be sure Zechs recuperates his wayward heir. Sound good?"

"I guess... I... don't know what I'll tell him though."

Good question. "Well we'll have a few weeks to think about it. And by the ninth circle of hell, what is that old geezer doing here?"

"That's Jay. Oh you mean the other one? Hm, Duo, I've got a confession to make."

"Oh man, this is going to be good... Let me guess, Dr G's been working for you all along, hasn't he." It wasn't a question.

"More the other way around.Doctor G and Jay belong to the same school of sorcery, the guardians of breaches. He's the one who's been keeping us informed of what was going on here, though. Um, spying on you, essentially. You're not mad, are you?"

"You just saved the world, I'll give you some credit for that. Anything else you feel like telling me while we're on it? Anything else to confess?"

Heero blinked. "Er- no, I don't think so... "

"Good. Lie to me from now on and I'll show you why they call me the God of Death in the court of Lin. Let's get out of here."

The two heirs trudged wearily, supporting each other, to the waiting group of people. Duo's irrepressible grin grew as it finally penetrated that they'd won, and that they were going to live. Wu Fei was talking to G and shaking his head, looking as overwhelmed with the amount of unexpected information he was receiving as Duo was -man, not Treize's son, that was going to take some getting used to.

The man called Jay was giving Heero a careful, measuring look. Finally the man turned with a shrug and Duo felt Heero relax against him. Swell, another great communicator. Apparently Heero had done OK and didn't look like he was going to go crazy on the spot. Jay was trudging off without a word, taking a detour to go and yank Trowa and a pretty blonde guy from a very close embrace -whoa, something going on there apparently. The bunch of toughs grinning around the pair started putting away scimitars and fell into ranks behind Jay.

I think we'll take the scenic route to Sanq... maybe if we take a couple of weeks on the trip, Heero will be able to help me fit all the pieces of this crazy day together and fill in all the blanks...

G sighed, scratching his ugly head, glaring at the Gap with a sour look. "Damn, another sealed breach to watch over... What a headache. Duo my lad, when you're crowned, can you order me to take a vacation?"

"I'll think about it." Duo muttered, wishing the distance back to the horses was a good deal shorter than it was.

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