Wager + Chapter One (cont)
"Wufei!" Treize said at last.
"You have out done yourself...!" He held out a hand and Wufei went to
Duo watched him go with an odd sensation. He wouldn't say that he liked
Wufei. But the Asian youth had at least been gentle with him, and now
he'd left Duo alone in the centre of the room--alone too in the penetrating
gaze of the Man.
"A diamond in the rough--wouldn't you agree Milliard?"
The Man inclined his silvery blond head. "He's cleaned up even better
than I expected," he said. "You've done well, Wufei."
"I did nothing," the Asian youth replied. He'd been half pulled onto Kushrenada's
lap and sat there, seemingly heedless of the caresses currently being
lavished upon him. "Duo has numerous natural advantages."
Treize stirred interestedly. "He has a name? You didn't mention that,
"I didn't know," the Man said, not interrupting his leisurely examination
of Duo. Something in his unhurried stare angered the youth.
"You didn't ask," he said. "Maybe its time to rectify that, huh?" He stuck
out a hand. "My name's Duo, Duo Maxwell." No need to tell them he only
knew what rectify meant because Wufei had used it--
The Man's eyes considered him and then he nodded, taking Duo's hand and
shaking it. "I have been remiss. I am Zechs Merquise, you may call me
Mr. Merquise." He waved an elegant hand. "This is my associate, Lord.
Kushrenada and his... protégé."
"Spirit... Zechs, you lucky fellow." Treize took Duo's hand and kissed
it. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Maxwell," he purred.
"And of course, you've already met Wufei--"
The Asian youth had taken advantage of the introductions to free himself
from Kushrenada's hold. He bowed, formally. "Chang Wu Fei," he said.
Duo bowed back. "Nice ta meetcha." He concentrated. "Wu Fei."
He saw the Asian youth's mouth curl up briefly and knew he'd gotten the
pronunciation right. The gentlemen hadn't even noticed.
"A toast!" Treize was proclaiming. "Wufei, the champagne glasses. Duo
is going to take London by storm!" He patted Zechs's shoulder. "I can't
wait to see Septem's face when--"
"We have a long way to go yet," Zechs cautioned but accepted the champagne
He'd never even tasted alcohol before in his life and he was going to
try champagne. Duo's head spun with the excitement of it all.
"Go slowly," Wu Fei cautioned him. "It affects you more than you'll think
It was bitter but danced on the tip of his tongue like nothing else. Duo
sipped happily at his glass, listening to the discussion around him.
"Have you thought about outfitting him yet?"
"I'll have a tailor come by tomorrow. What colours do you think would
"Well, a rich blue might be nice... something with gold..."
"Gold would overwhelm him. With his colouring you'll want to stick to
silver," Wu Fei draped a swath of gold fabric over Duo, then one of silver.
"I suppose you're right... any other comments, Wufei?"
"You'll want black to accentuate the colour of his skin--and purples to
bring out the colour of his eyes... " Wu Fei studied him carefully. "I've
never seen a colour like it--"
"A truly rare find," Treize murmured, studying Duo from the corner where
he sat. "You are a fortunate man, Merquise... to be taking a creature
such as this to your bed--"
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
But Zechs had already replied. "I assure you, I have no intention of sharing
my bed with a boy we picked up off the streets. Unlike you, I find no
pleasure in owning my own private whore--"
Duo stared at Wu Fei. He had gone a deathly pale. The fingers that held
his champagne flute trembled with rage.
Zechs and Treize glared at each other, a red mark standing out boldly
on Zechs's pale as ivory cheek.
"Such a comment is unworthy of you," Treize said coolly.
Milliard sneered. "You can delude yourself all you want," he said. "But
that boy does not love you--"
Wu Fei tugged urgently at Duo's shoulder. "We're leaving," he said in
an abrupt whisper. "Come on."
"But--" Duo looked at the two men still arguing fiercely. "Shouldn't we
"It's not our place to interfere in quarrels between gentlemen," the Asian
youth said as he pulled Duo out into the hallway. "Come on--"
Wu Fei once again led the way through the house in silence but this time
it was different. His anger could be read in the terseness of his movements.
A vase that caught on his arm was casually thrust against a wall. Duo
winced as it smashed but Wu Fei didn't even spare it a second glance.
It wasn't until they'd reached the room they'd occupied before that he
"I'm sorry you had to witness that regrettable lack of self control on
my part just then," he said. "I apologise."
"It's all right," Duo said. "If anyone had said that about me... well,
I wouldn't have smashed just one vase, you know what I mean?"
Wu Fei sat down at the chair and looked out the window. Duo said down
awkwardly at the bed.
"I'm sorry about what I said before," he said. "I didn't know... how'd
"I've had worse," Wu Fei sighed. "I will live. Now, you must be hungry,
A servant was sent with instructions to bring back something sensible
to eat. This proved to be a bowl each of something Wu Fei called rice
that had to be eaten with a spoon, and a hearty beef stew.
Duo told him about how he and Solo had managed to pass themselves off
as the Mayor of London's nephews and snuck inside an official dinner to
get the best free meal of their lives.
Wu Fei told him of the first time he'd seen people in the London streets
selling 'hot dogs' and how it was impossible for the English to cook rice
"Yer eating this," Duo pointed out, his mouth full.
"Talk or eat but don't do both at once," Wu Fei told him. "And that's
because Sally isn't English."
They were still eating when Treize came by.
"My dear Wufei!" he said. "I am more wounded than I can express--and how
you must feel--"
"You need not concern yourself for my sake," Wu Fei said. "I am fine."
Duo, blushing, turned his back to give them privacy. It wasn't that he
was a prude--he'd seen worse in fact--but there was something about the
way Treize and Wu Fei interacted that made him feel very uncomfortable.
When he was through kissing Wu Fei, Treize informed them that Zechs had
left. "It was not a serious quarrel," he said. "But we both recognised
that we needed space to clear our heads and that if we continued--things
might be said that could not be unsaid."
"I am sorry to hear that," Wu Fei said. "But what of Duo?"
Duo shivered at the speculative look in Treize's eyes. "Duo... well, Duo
will stay with you," Treize decided. "After all, he was going to come
back here tomorrow for the tailor to outfit him and so that you could
instruct him in his duties--"
Wu Fei nodded.
Duo felt a twinge of resentment that things were decided without him even
being consulted, but the maid arriving then with a tray of fruit pie and
something called sorbét was enough to change his mind. He'd tolerate
this as long as the food kept up--and the moment they tried anything funny
he was out of there--along with the silverware, the crystal and all the
gold he could carry.
"If Duo is to stay the night," Wu Fei said. "Then could you have a servant
send up a basin of water and some sandpaper? I'm going to try and clean
"What's wrong with my teeth?" Duo demanded.
Wu Fei and Treize sighed.
"You have a busy night ahead of you, my love," Treize said, kissing Wu
Fei's forehead. "I shall leave you to it. I have the engagement with the
Donnargh's you know."
By the time he'd had his teeth cleaned Duo was almost ready to leave the
house, food or no food.
"Trust me," Wu Fei told him. "It's an improvement."
Duo put down the mirror wincing. His mouth felt like it had been scrubbed
raw--and everything tasted of soap. "Says you. I can't make out a blasted
thing in this ditzy little mirror."
"Would you like to see yourself in a better mirror?" Wu Fei said. "Come
He pushed back a full length wall hanging to reveal a corridor behind
it. Duo followed him curiously.
"What the hell is this?"
"I am so sorry, noble sir. What the fuc--"
"That will do. It's a hidden passageway," Wu Fei said as he pulled open
the door at the other end.
Wu Fei did not offer any explanation of the room but from the heavy scented
roses and the lingering traces of tobacco, Duo thought he had a pretty
fair idea of who it belonged too.
"Here you go," Wu Fei said, drawing open the wardrobe to reveal a full
length looking glass attached to the inside. "What do you think?"
Duo stared. He'd caught glimpses of himself in the little mirror but he
hadn't somehow connected them with him--"Wow--that can't be me! I look--"
he moved a little and the reflection moved with him. "I look like some
"At least until you open your mouth" Wufei murmured leaning against the
wall to watch.
Duo spun around, noting the way his hair fell. "Man this is weird... It's
like a whole nother person--who'd a thought I had this in me, huh?"
"It's a surprise to us all."
"Solo'd piss himself laughing," Duo said, still staring at himself. He
was still sharp-eyed enough to catch the yawn that Wu Fei hid behind one
elegant hand. "Sorry--you want to go?"
"It's been a long day," Wu Fei admitted. "And it will be a long day tomorrow--I
would like the rest."
Duo followed Wu Fei back through the corridor. "What are we doing tomorrow?"
"How to walk, how to dress, how to eat properly, how to talk and then
we're going to work on your background knowledge. Fashionable artists,
composers and plays, we may even," Wu Fei said, as he slid the wall hanging
back into place over the door, "take a carriage around to the Museum."
"Fun," Duo said.
"Silent, you," Wu Fei had gathered Duo's hair up into a plait and now
tied it off. "That'll keep it tidy while you sleep," he said. "Now let's
find you a bed of your own."
"What's wrong with me bunkin' with you?" Duo asked, surprised. "It used
to be five to a bed this size at the Church--"
"Well--if you don't mind, then I'd welcome the company," Wu Fei said.
"Get changed into these."
Who'd a known nobles had separate clothes just for sleeping in? Duo snuggled
happily in Wu Fei's silk nightshirt. He'd never been in a bed so comfortable
in his life. "What are you doing?" he asked.
Wu Fei didn't answer immediately. He was sitting before the altar in the
corner, his eyes closed and his lips moving slightly. Praying? Duo shifted
uncomfortably, he didn't get that God stuff. But Wu Fei opened his eyes
and set two thin sticks in a holder on the altar, and then lit them both
with a match.
"Incense," Wu Fei replied, climbing into bed beside Duo. "It is an offering
to the spirits of my ancestors."
"Oh yeah?" Duo said. "What did you ask them for?"
"I ask them to watch over my family and our farm while I am away. I ask
them to keep them safe and that I might return to them soon."
Now he knew what the faint smell that had puzzled him when he had first
met Wu Fei was: the Asian boy smelt of smoky, spicy incense. "What Zechs
said before is true, then, isn't it? You don't love Treize." Duo bit his
tongue too late, remembering Wu Fei's words of that afternoon. "I'm sorry--"
"I do not. Now, never speak of it again."
Wu Fei's tone made it clear the discussion was over. Duo frowned, but
turned over onto his side to sleep. Just that morning he'd thought that
having food and a roof over your head was enough to mean you didn't have
any worries--now--he wasn't so sure.
[chap. 2] [back to