Author: girl_starfish.
Rating: PG 13 at present.
Warnings: Yaoi/Angst.
Genre: AU/Angst/Romance/Drama.
Pairings: 1x2x1/3x4x3/2+5/13x5/13x6x13.

Gentleman's Wager + Chapter One

Lazy tobacco smoke teased his sensitive nose. Along with it was the rich smell of roses, a fainter scent that he couldn't name, and the stronger, headier scent of the man.

He tensed slightly, but continued to gulp down the food in front of him. The man had promised him a full stomach after all, and he meant to see that the promise was kept.

"You don't mean to tell me that this... this is it?" The voice was cultured, confident, amused. It grated on the ears of the boy and he scowled. He didn't like this one already. "You may be in trouble, my dear Milliardo."

"I agree it will be a challenge... but then it would not be an interesting wager otherwise. And he has spirit... I believe that cleaned up he will do adequately." The man spoke assuredly.

"He will need more than cleaning."

This new voice was different from the other two. Softer, without the grating arrogance, but still somehow sure of itself. It sounded different too, the accent somehow wrong. He looked up to see a boy, leaning against the wall, watching him with a slight frown on his face. Even his disapproving expression could not hide the fact that he was extremely pleasing to look at--smooth skin the colour of warm honey, hair like black silk and intent dark eyes. For a moment, the boy's mouth ceased its work and he stared--

Oh, he'd seen Asians all right at the docks, burly sailors and shriveled opium addicts, but he hadn't seen anything like this boy.

"He eats like a pig."

That stung. The boy looked down, his long hair falling over his face to hide the colour that flooded his cheeks--whether out of anger or shame he wasn't exactly sure himself. But to have that... boy criticise him! It wasn't fair... not when he was already immeasurably greater than he could ever be...

"Can you blame him? This is, no doubt, his first decent meal in years." The man stepped forward, patting the top of the boy's head with one gloved hand. "Once he is no longer hungry, I'm sure he will be easily amenable."

"If he continues to eat that way," the Asian youth said. "He will be sick."

The other man laughed his arrogant, amused laugh. "Exposing him to such a rich selection of foods so soon might not be a good idea either. Still, I suppose it will soon work out. Join me for a glass of something in the salon, Milliard? I'm sure Wufei can manage from here. He is--" a gloved hand carressed the side of the boy's face-- "most capable."

Wufei didn't blink. "If I am to get him cleaned, then I would like the use of the lilac bathroom for the rest of the afternoon and a servant on hand to bring water. Two, if I am required to wash his hair... we would be better off cutting it all off."

The boy tensed. They couldn't--he would run, he would--

"You will not cut his hair," the Man said. "I am very particular on that point."

Wufei inclined his head. "My lord," he said.

The boy was pleased to see the back of his exquisitely tailored uniform, and even more pleased to see the back of his companion's maroon dressing gown. He picked up the chicken bone he'd been eating before and paused. His stomach did feel kind of queasy...

"Are you done?" the Asian boy asked.

In answer the other boy curled up and retched.

He heard a muttered curse then all else was lost in the contortions of his stomach.

He was startled, therefore, when a hand gently rubbed his back and a soft voice asked, "Are you done?"

"I think so," the boy answered, but was immediately proved wrong as the last contents of his stomach forced their way out.

"Easy," the voice cautioned, and a glass of water was held to his lips. The clear liquid took away the rancid taste in his mouth but when he tried to gulp it down the glass was removed.

"Slowly does it, unless you want a repeat of this," the voice said and a towel patted gently at his mouth and front. "Can you stand?"

It was not until now that the boy realised it was Wufei who was helping him. He hadn't expected someone as well groomed as the Asian youth to willingly touch him--especially now he smelled of vomit--and Wufei had clearly expressed his contempt for the boy. He stood somewhat dazedly at Wufei's bidding.

"Clean this up," Wufei ordered a servant crisply. "You," he spoke to the boy. "What was the last thing you ate?"

"What?"

"The last meal you ate and kept down. What was it?"

The boy frowned, shoving matted hair out of his face. "The father gave me some bread an' gruel--"

"Go to Sally," Wufei instructed the servant. "Ask her to send up some bread and some thin soup--nothing fancy."

The servant nodded and hurried away.

The boy was startled as Wufei linked his arm through the boys. "This way," he said.

Although the boy's first instinct was to pull away from the contact, he was awed enough by his surroundings and his companion to know he didn't want to cause offense. He merely stared as they walked through room upon elegantly decorated room, full of crystal, and colours and silks and--

They entered a soft room decorated from floor to ceiling with tiles of varying shades or purple. Some of them were of such rich shades that they almost seemed like gems. Soft scented steam drifted through the room, emanating from a deep tub that had been set in the floor and that was filled with sweetly scented water--The boy realised he was staring, but couldn't help it.

"Wh-what is this place?"

"The lilac bathroom," Wufei said. "You know what a bathroom is, I hope?"

They had more than one? "Of course I know," the boy snapped. "I'm not an idiot." And this was so different from the tub Sister Helen had wheeled out on a Saturday Evening...

"I'm glad to hear that," the Asian youth said dryly. "Hop in."

"What?"

"Get in the water." The Asian boy had pulled his overshirt off and now faced him bare chested. "Undress," he said slowly as the boy stared at him, unmoving.

"But--"

"You heard them tell me to get you cleaned up? I can't very well do that with your clothes on, can I?"

The boy reluctantly shrugged his jacket off, then fumbled with the piece of rope he used as a belt. He looked up to see that Wufei had removed the rest of his clothes and sat on the edge of the inset tub, waiting for him. Awkwardly Duo stepped out of his trousers and into the sweet smelling water.

"Duck your head under the water," the Asian boy instructed.

His manner was starting to get on the Boy's nerves but he obeyed. He came up spluttering--the water was hotter than he'd expected.

Cool fingers probed at his scalp as Wufei rubbed a scented lotion into his hair. "Relax," he said.

After initial awkwardness, the boy found himself lulled into a sense of peace by the heat of the water and the carefulness of Wufei's attentions to him. The fingers working through his hair were through and strangely soothing...

The servant came and left food, taking the boy's clothes with him.

"Burn them," Wufei instructed.

The boy was moved to protest but by then the servant had left. "They're my clothes, you know."

"They were lice-infested, and not fit to be worn by anyone."

Sulkily, the boy subsided. "What is going to happen to me?"

For the first time in his careful cleansing of the boy's hair, Wufei paused. "He didn't tell you?"

"He tol' me I'd have a roof over my head, decent clothes an' a full stomach."

Wufei continued his careful ministrations. "What's your name?"

"Duo."

Wufei was silent a while. "You'll be cleaned up, dressed, and introduced to society," he said. "Mr. Merquise wants to make a beauty out of you."

"Society?" Duo began to laugh. "What the hell?"

"Time to rinse," Wufei said sharply and the boy had barely time to register the words before cold water was dumped over his head. Spluttering, he had just enough time to gasp a breath before the process was repeated. "Such language is not seemly."

"Seemly?" Duo echoed as Wufei pulled a lever and the water that had been so clean and sweet and was now a murky brown began to drain. "Am I to be a gentleman?"

"You are to be the plaything of a gentleman," Wufei told him, bundling a towel around Duo and then lying him down on a low tiled bench beside the bath. Two servants had entered and were refilling the bath. "You will amuse him with your conversation and charm, serve him as a glorified housekeeper, entertain the guests at his dinner parties, and please him with your appearance. You may even share his bed." He was rubbing another lotion into Duo's skin, with a brush of what felt like nails.

"Me? Do that?" Duo knew there had to be some mistake. "Yer kidding. Me... amuse a gentleman? Who's brilliant idea was that?"

"Mr. Merquise made a wager... Lord Septem was of the opinion, which he did not trouble to hide, that the real reason behind Mr. Merquise's failure to acquire a companion was the expense involved in attaining one. Mr. Merquise argued that no great expenditure was necessary, that a streetrat could be transformed into a companion worthy of a lord with the right grooming... and here we are."

"Careful--I need that skin," Duo grumbled as Wufei continued his work. "So what--yer that great pansy's slut?"

There was a discordant clang. One of the servants had dropped the bucket they carried.

Wufei stood. "I think the bath is full enough. Go, I will send for you when we need you again."

Duo half sat as the servants scuttled out. They looked frightened--

"I'll tell you this once," Wufei said, his voice ice. "And once only. What goes on between myself and Lord Kushrenada is between us. If you ever speak of the matter again, you will regret it."

"Ya think I'm scared?" Duo scoffed. "I've never heard of a noble that could take their own blows--but yer not a real noble, are y--"

Wufei seized his arm and twisted it. Duo cried out in pain.

"I could break this if I wanted," the Asian youth said coolly, then released Duo. "I was a warrior once, believe me when I tell you I can hurt you."

Rubbing his arm, Duo decided not to argue.

Wufei tipped the last bucket of hot water into the tub. "That's deep enough. Get in."

They filled the tub twice more before Wufei was satisfied that Duo was clean. The streetrat blushed as Wufei slipped a dressing gown around him.

"Your skin is very fine--very pale under all that dirt. Its almost luminiscent... and remarkably free of blemishes... perhaps this won't be as hard as I thought," Wufei mused as he pulled another gown loosely around himself. "Well, follow me."

This time as they walked through the house Duo was alert enough to notice the many gilt edged picture frames and crystal vases that decorated the rooms. Any of which would make a nice enough haul for a thief--

There were servants too, who stood and bowed as they approached--but who whispered furiously to each other once they'd continued past.

Wufei stopped finally in a bedchamber relatively free of decoration. "Have a seat," he said ushering Duo towards the bed.

Duo sat gingerly on the bed, and looked at the vanity set laid out on the dressing table--tortoise-shell brush, comb and mirror--worth more money then he'd seen in his life. As Wufei picked up the brush and settled behind him, Duo mentally calculated the value of everything in the room--his eyes fell on a crudely built altar of the sort he'd seen above the door in opium dens and he stared. It had been given center place in the corner beside the window and--

"Ow!" Duo winced, putting a hand to his head. "What are you trying to do, pull my head off?"

"I'm trying to brush your hair," Wufei informed him crisply. "Sit back down again please--"

"Do you have to pull my hair out in the process?"

"Hardly. Sit down and stop whining," Wufei said. "This will take a while."

It took two hours.

Duo had to admit, his respect for Wufei had increased. Throughout the long struggle with Duo's matted locks, he had remained gentle, unravelling by hand those knots that could not be brought out by comb, cutting out those that were beyond repair with a pair of gold edged scissors.

He was rubbing a soft scented ointment into a sleepy Duo's skin when there was a knock at the door.

"The master wishes to know if you have made progress with Mr. Merquises 'find'," a curiously staring servant girl reported. "He and Mr. Merquise are in the salon. They're ready to discuss garments."

"Tell them we'll be with them shortly," Wufei said, standing. He pulled open a wardrobe, displaying a richer array of garments than most dressmakers shops of Duo's knowledge contained.

"It's impolite to stare like that," Wufei informed him, pushing a pair of black trousers into Duo's hands. He selected a pair of white trousers for himself and a red shirt, cut without sleeves.

"What about undergarments?" Duo asked.

Wufei gave him a look. It wasn't hard to define it--almost pitying? "You won't need them," he said.

"Don't I at least get a shirt?"

"Later," Wufei told him, adjusting the garment he was wearing. "They'll want to see you for now."

Feeling very weird, Duo followed the Asian youth back through the house. Quite apart from having his chest uncovered, his hair, free from years of grime, floated around him like a cloud. This time they did not have far to go. Wufei led him down one corridor and into a salon. A fire had been lit and Treize and the Man sat in armchairs, smoking. They both broke off their conversation and stared as Wufei and Duo entered.

[cont]