Gentleman's Wager + Chapter Two (cont)

"No, I thought not," he murmured. "So then what is it? Blackmail?"

Heero shifted angrily but Quatre responded.

"I suppose I should have started at the beginning. I... went to the Donnargh's party and I... well, I did something rather unfortunate with consequences I regret now... and well, one of those consequences is Heero--I was found out you see--"

"Quatre," Heero said warningly.

"I know what I'm doing, Mr. Yuy," Quatre said with a flash of anger in his eyes. "Like I said, Wu Fei is a friend. I trust him--and his companion--"

Wu Fei inclined his head. "I have had no reason to complain of Duo's judgement," he said. "Please, continue."

Had Wu Fei just complimented him? It would have been inappropriate to smile, so Duo kept his face calm. Inside he was glowing.

"The end of it is that Mr. Yuy will accompany me wherever I go... if I break this arrangement well... My Father will not be happy."

"I see," Wu Fei considered this.

"You're the only one who can help me, Wu Fei. I heard that you'd agreed to instruct a companion for Mr. Merquise--surely giving Heero a few pointers wouldn't be that hard--"

"I refuse." Heero stood angrily. "There is no way I'm going along with anything so--so--demeaning."

"In that case," Quatre said softly, but with no hint of compromise. "Your services are no longer required."

Heero stared at him. "You can't say that," he said. "Your father--"

"I'll inform my father and take full responsibility for this," Quatre said. "Of course he won't be happy, but it is a lot better than the alternative--" he sipped his tea. "Unless you've changed your mind about accepting Wu Fei's help?"

Heero eyed him with immense dislike.

"No? A pity then. Wu Fei, can you send for someone to show him out--"

"I'll do it," Heero said sitting down.

Duo shut his mouth again. Quatre permitted himself a small, satisfied smile but Wu Fei was shaking his head.

"You know that if it was up to me I'd agree without question," Wu Fei said. "But as it is--I've already started teaching Mr. Merquise's pupil. I shall have to consult Lord Kushrenada as to his wishes--"

"I quite understand Wu Fei," Quatre nodded. "So, Mr. Maxwell--you must be Wu Fei's current pupil then?"

Duo nodded, suddenly abashed. Heero had given him the same look he'd turned on Wu Fei before--he felt lower than dirt.

"You're very brave," Winner said thoughtfully. "It must be hard leaving everything you know for this--"

"Hey, it beats sleeping in doorways," Duo said without thinking.

The maid turned up then, saving him from having to see the shock on Quatre and Heero's faces. "Lord Kushrenada and Mr. Merquise have just returned," she told Wu Fei. "They have retired to the garden for a drink--"

Wu Fei stood. "I must go," he said. "Quatre, I'd ask you to stay but--"

"It's quite all right," Winner also stood. "I'll come by later."

"Duo, would you mind showing Quatre and Mr. Yuy out?"

He led the way through the house in silence. Quatre thanked him again and said he hoped they'd meet again, but Heero didn't say another word--he didn't even shake Duo's hands as they left. Not entirely sure why he was so hurt by this, Duo walked slowly towards the patio overlooking Treize's rose garden. He was in no hurry to greet either Lord Kushrenada or his pale companion--it had been so nice just him and Wu Fei. The Chinese youth had seemed to think so to, relaxing enough to display a sardonic sense of humour.

Duo pushed the Venetian doors open and stepped out onto the Patio.

His arrival merited a nod of greeting from the Man--Mr. Merquise, Duo chided himself.

"Wufei was just telling us you've been working hard while we were gone. You've more than fulfilled your end of the bargain we made, I gather."

"Wu Fei is a very good teacher," Duo said as he took a seat. "I could hardly fail to make progress--even if I wished it otherwise."

"Oh?" Mr. Merquise raised a sardonic amused eyebrow. "And why is that?"

Duo stole a look at Wu Fei guiltily but the Asian youth was otherwise occupied. He was settled in one of the wicker chairs on the patio, making polite comments as appropriate while Lord Kushrenada told him about Paris. Treize himself was so busy keeping Wu Fei's wine glass full that he hadn't even noticed Duo's arrival.

"He--well, Wu's not the kind of person to take no for an answer, you know?"

"Am I to take it that there have been parts of your training that were unpleasant?" Zechs sounded cool, even bitter. "And here I thought he could do no wrong."

"It's not his fault," Duo said, before he could help it. "There's not many people who can take a razorblade to your privates an' it be enjoyable, you know? I just about pissed myself when he did--some warning might have been nice." He shrugged philosophically. "Guess when he said he was going to shave me all over he really meant shave me all over."

Zechs had been staring at him with open mouthed shock. As Duo snapped his mouth shut, afraid he'd really torn it this time, the aristocrat's shoulders began to shake and he started to laugh.

Duo watched with awkwardness and no small amount of fascination as Zechs continued. From what he knew, gentleman didn't laugh--didn't do anything that showed how they felt--

He was still laughing when Treize came to take his leave, the bottle of wine under one arm and Wu Fei's arm in the other.

"It's such a lovely day, I thought Wufei and I might take a turn about the garden--catch up on the last few days. I trust you two will manage on your own?"

That ended any humour Mr. Merquise felt. "Suit yourself," he said shortly. "I'm not going anywhere."

Duo looked at his friend. Wu Fei's cheek's were somewhat pink and he refused to meet Duo's eyes.

"We'll leave you to your own pursuits then," Lord Kushrenada said cheerfully. "Come on, Wufei, I am eager to see how my rose garden fared in my absence."

Zechs took up the newspaper beside him almost savagely. "Well," he snapped at Duo. "Don't you have something to do?"

"No." Duo hunched back into his armchair.

The gentleman eyed him with distaste. "You must have something to occupy yourself with. What do you usually do at this time of the day?"

"Well... Wu Fei usually reads the newspaper to me and I practice using a knife or fork or something like that," the former streetrat said, trying to sound as though he didn't care. Inwardly, he cared a lot. He'd thought they were friends... it hurt that Wu Fei could leave him and go off without a second glance--

"I suppose I could read to you," Mr. Merquise said. "I certainly have nothing better to do."

"Would you? Oh wow," Duo said getting out of the chair. "Wait here, I'll be right back."

Mr. Merquise raised an eyebrow as Duo returned with a picnic hamper. The eyebrow stayed raised as Duo set a place for himself at the table, complete with soup bowl and dessert fork, and finished the arrangement by emptying a bag or marbles onto the plate.

"You can start reading now," Duo said, as he carefully manouevered one marble at a time from the plate to the soup bowl using the soup spoon.

Mr. Merquise shuffled the paper and began to read.

He was a good reader, like Wu Fei selecting bits that he thought would benefit Duo. He touched politics only briefly and lingered over the Crime pages in response to Duo's request. He spent more time on the Society pages than Wu Fei did, and Duo was pleased when they came across a mention of a function that had been attended by the younger Mr. Winner and a mysterious companion of obviously Eastern origin. There followed much speculation.

Duo chuckled. "Mr. Winner and his 'darkly handsome friend' were here this morning, you know," he said companionably to Mr. Merquise. "Came to see Wu Fei."

"Really?" Merquise sounded more bored than really interested. "What did he want?"

"He figured that if Wu can get me behaving right then he wouldn't have any problem with two pupils," Duo said, concentrating on the marble he was currently balancing between knife and fork. "He's not happy with his showpiece."

Mr. Merquise sniffed. "Winner is a child," he said. "He should--"

"Winner is the heir to the greatest fortune in all of Europe," Treize said in a rebuking tone as he entered the patio. "If he wants something, we should give it to him. You don't mind another pupil, Wufei?"

Duo glanced at Wu Fei who was placing the now empty bottle of wine and their glasses on the table. His friend was decidedly flushed. "As you wish," he said shortly.

"It's settled then," Treize said, taking up his pipe. "Wufei send a man round to Winner's, extend an invitation for him and his companion to dine with us tonight."

"I don't see why you're so eager to pander to a child," Zechs said. "It's bad enough playing Romefeller's games without this."

"Ah, but you forget," Treize said, leaning over the back of Merquise's chair, and gathering a handful of his long silk blond hair. "My dear Milliard, think. With the financial backing of the Winners nothing could stop us. Your dream and mine could be fulfilled. We'll show the world, show everyone--that the greatest days of the British Empire are still ahead of her--"

The door slammed violently. A few second later the sound of broken glass reached them.

Duo stared. Wu Fei never slammed things--

"Oh dear," Treize said. "I do hope that wasn't the Doulton. Its getting awfully hard to replace those."

Zechs snorted. "I don't see why you tolerate that sort of behavior--"

Lord Kushrenada shrugged. "Well, you know--he's very sensitive about these things."

"You wouldn't allow a subordinate to ask in such a manner."

"On the contrary, Lieutenant Merquise, I happen to remember as certain new recruit being very willfull--"

"You were a soldier?" Duo blurted.

Mr. Merquise gave him an annoyed look but Lord Kushrenada laughed.

"He still is--even if he doesn't use the title."

"A lieutenant away from the field of battle is not a lieutenant," Zechs muttered, shaking the paper out.

"And you--are you a Lieutenant too?" Duo asked.

"He's a general."

Duo gaped. "What--General Kusherenada? You're like--you're a hero!"

Kushrenada coughed. "You've heard of my little accomplishments then."

"Man, who hasn't?" Duo was beside himself. "Everyone knows about you!"

The man who had planted the British flag in the innermost reaches of China. The man who had, in battle after battle, proved the gallantry of the British race no invention of poets. The man who had brought back the riches of China back to grace England, and brought the great infidel Empire to its knees.

Duo was still excited about it when he found Wu Fei curled up on the window seat in the library. "You could have told me that Lord Kushrenada was Kushrenada the general!"

"I assumed you knew," Wu Fei said, looking out the window.

"This is unbelievable! Who'd have ever thought I would meet someone like that, huh? And I'm staying in his house!"

"And have been for quite some time. Do you want something Duo? Or are you just here to fill the room with your joyous presence?"

Duo gave Wu Fei the newspaper. "Mr. Merquise read to me. We'd just finished the society pages."

"I see." Wu Fei took the newspaper. "Let's see... ah, here we go. 'British Army crushes peaceful protest with use of unnecessary force.'"

They'd read 'Yet another harmless village sacked and destroyed for the benefit of the British Nation,' 'Still more atrocities but its justified because they're all yellow heathens anyway' and Wu Fei was really getting into 'How the British Empire justifies its ceaseless expansion and subjugation of other races in the name of Progress.'

Duo was starting to think Wu Fei didn't like the British Army.

"What is your problem?" he snapped. "Lord Kushrenada is a great man! Everyone says so! Hell, we even had those ambassadors from the Prussian Empire here last week to talk to him--"

Wu Fei shoved the newspaper into Duo's hands and stood, dark eyes hard. "I suppose reading about the spoils of war is more fun than being a spoil of war."

The door slammed again.

Duo looked down at the paper he held, turning it over slowly. The words he didn't understand but the illustrations--crudely drawn and mocking--

"Hell," he said.

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