Heh heh heh... ^_^;;; Happy Valentine's Day, guys.
Author: Lys ap Adin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Title: Of Wizards and Warriors
Warnings/Labels: Shounen ai, Fantasy AU, sap, sequel to The Stars Know All (under Lys ap Adin at http://www.gwaddiction.com), POV
Feedback ought to go offlist, since I'm still officially lurking.
Of Wizards and Warriors
By the time Duo Maxwell figured out that he was in serious trouble, it was too late for him to do anything to extricate himself. Realization came slowly, and he tried to keep it from bothering him for as long as possible, but in the end he had to face the truth and let the consequences be damned.
He loved Heero Yuy, his best friend since... well, since a very long time ago.
If that wasn't enough, Heero Yuy had been betrothed to Lady Relena Peacecraft for almost as long as Duo and Heero had known each other.
Like I said, Duo was in trouble, and he knew it. And very shortly after he knew it, I knew it, because he came to me to talk and maybe find a solution to his troubles. Being the good friend that I am, I couldn't say no to Duo. Besides, he has this ability to look so earnest and pleading that I couldn't have turned him down anyway.
I should have known from the start, of course, that all of this would lead to nothing but trouble for the rest of us.
Duo just seems to have that effect.
I suppose that, in a way, Duo's predicament was my fault. I was probably the one who introduced him and Heero. Let me explain. I first came to know Duo when he and I were both pupils of Lady Une, one of the ladies here at court responsible in part for my education. Duo was one of her students as well, and together we studied the arts and a little bit of the Art. He was always a much better student of the Art than I, and that was the beginning of his wizardly career.
I met Heero while I was studying self-defense with Lord Treize. Heero is the younger son of one of the greater houses at court, and consequentially isn't in line to inherit his father's title. So, as many younger sons do, he started a military career instead. Lord Treize was his (and my) fencing instructor. Again, I was the poorer student, but it was his job to be good with a sword, not mine, and even as an eight-year-old, he took himself very seriously.
Anyway, to round out our cast of characters, I'll tell you a little about Lady Relena. The Peacecrafts are one of the lesser families at court, but they own a lot of land. So, about the time we were all ten, Heero's father and Lady Relena's father put their heads together and talked, and had the stars consulted, and since they were both amenable to the idea and the stars predicted an amicable future for the union, Heero and Lady Relena were betrothed.
You'll note that they, of course, were not consulted.
So Heero was betrothed to Lady Relena, who, as these things go, was definitely not the worst person in the world to have been betrothed to. As court ladies go, she's really very nice. Heero never talked much about it either way; like I said, even when we were still children he took duty very seriously. Duo, who was an urchin despite being noble-born, spent a while teasing him, and when that got boring, forgot about it. I, who can't remember a time when I haven't been betrothed, took it as the natural course of events, and life moved on for all of us, until the day several years later when Duo walked into my study, flopped down in a chair, and announced, "Quatre, we have a problem."
That's the way Duo is; it wasn't, "Quatre, I have a problem," or "Quatre, there is a problem," but "Quatre, we have a problem." He's so generous that way.
I looked at him and asked him what "our" problem was.
"Quatre, I'm in love."
I'll confess that I stopped taking him seriously at this point. For the past several months he'd been flitting from lover to lover like a very erratic and unfaithful butterfly. "All right, Duo, congratulations. Who is it this week?"
He glared at me. "Stop it, Quatre, I'm serious."
"You always are." Then I stopped and looked at him a little more closely. He was smiling like normal, but he looked troubled. "Okay, so you're in love. What's the problem with that? Is there a jealous ex-lover or something?"
"No... not exactly." He fidgeted with his braid. "It has more to do... with who it is."
I still wasn't taking him very seriously. "What, they aren't interested?"
"I don't know. Probably not. It's hard to say with him." Duo continued to fidget, and I started to run out of patience.
"Well, the way I see it, you can either tell him how you feel, and hope for the best, or you can try to move on to another lover," I told him. Remember, I still thought this was another one of his passing interests and I wasn't feeling to sympathetic.
"It's not that simple, Quatre. Really, it's not." He looked down, and I was about to say something a little exasperated when he continued, very quietly. "I'm in love with Heero."
At that point I was about to laugh and say something that would have really irritated Duo, but fortunately I held my tongue and listened to what Duo had to say.
"I know you think this is just another fling," he muttered unhappily. "It's not. I've... well, we both know he's betrothed. I've been trying to talk myself out of loving him for the past nine and a half months."
Nine and a half months. That made me stop and think. Duo cultivates a flighty image. He likes for people to underestimate him; he says the advantage this gives him is worth the incidental damage to his reputation. Those who know him know to look past the continuous jokes and laughter. He's also scrupulously honest, so if he said he'd been trying to get Heero off his mind for that long, he probably had.
I got serious. "Duo, are you sure?"
He just looked at me.
"All right, you're serious. What am I supposed to do about it?"
"Kill Relena so I can have Heero?"
That's another thing about Duo: he never uses a person's title if he can help it, unless he's completely serious. Or really, really angry.
"Absolutely not, Duo."
"I was afraid you'd say that." He sighed. "I don't know, Quatre. They're betrothed, the stars have blessed them, and I'm left standing here wondering why me."
That's when I got worried. Duo always has a plan. Always.
"Unless..." He gave me a sly look from the corner of his eye.
Like I said, always.
"Unless you were to help me get Heero."
I decided to play along, for the moment. That was mistake number one. "And how am I supposed to do that?"
"Funny you should ask, Quatre, because I have a few ideas..."
I ended up vetoing most of his ideas, especially the ones that involved me using my authority to remove the obstacle Lady Relena presented. But then he gave me that pleading look I mentioned before, and I found myself agreeing to help him anyway, betrothals and the stars be damned.
Sometimes I think Duo should have been the one born into politics. He's a master of manipulation.
Privately, I decided that Duo's case was hopeless. Whether you believe that the stars know all or not, Heero was definitely attached to Lady Relena, or the idea that it was his duty to marry her. If you should happen to believe in the stars, there's the additional fact that on some level, they're compatible together anyway. Hopeless for Duo, but I had agreed to try for his sake.
The first thing I wanted to do was find out how Heero felt.
The three of us are busy people, and we don't move through the same circles, but I try to make a point of making time in my schedule every few days for the group of us to get together. They give me perspectives of court life that I don't normally get, they get the ear of the heir, and we all get to relax with our friends. It's a good arrangement.
If Duo hadn't told me how he felt, I never would have guessed it from his behavior toward Heero. He acted completely normal, talking rapidly and bouncing from topic to topic with characteristic impatience. He rambled briefly about the merits of his latest lover, then about the recent bout of extra-hot weather, then the rising price of spell ingredients, a little about an experiment his fellow wizards were conducting. He was finally interrupted while holding forth on the merits of a good classical education when Heero yanked on his braid and told him to hush.
I had never realized it, but no one else touches Duo's braid without hearing about it at great length. So maybe Duo did treat Heero a little differently than the rest of us.
Heero was even more of a mystery than Duo. He doesn't exactly tend to talk a lot in the first place, and usually limits himself to relevant facts. Getting him to volunteer his emotions is ... tricky.
Fortunately, I can be every bit as devious as Duo.
At that point, Heero's wedding was about a year away, and the extra-hot summer season that causes most of the aristocracy to leave the Eternal City in favor of the cooler areas by the sea was about to end. Lady Relena and her brother were due to return to the Eternal City very soon. When this happened, she and Heero would be expected to start the "courtship." So I teased Heero about it.
Did I say that Heero doesn't talk a lot? Let me rephrase that. I've known monks under vows of silence with more to say than him. Heero took my teasing with a snort. That's it.
Duo took over at that point. "What, don't you have any feelings for Relena?" he asked.
"We've barely even talked. How am I supposed to have feelings for her?" Heero retorted.
"So you're not even excited that she's going to come back soon?" Duo pressed.
"Not particularly," Heero said imperturbably.
"God help that poor girl," Duo said sadly.
Looking at the evil little glimmer in Duo's suddenly hopeful eyes, I was quite inclined to agree.
Duo took to dropping by my rooms in the evening to discuss his plots and plans for romantic conquest, and to just rant at me. That, I discovered, was really all he wanted from me: a listener. So I listened, and told him when his plans were really insane, and gave him one small piece of advice. "You know, Duo, Heero is never going to take you seriously if you keep sleeping with anyone who catches your eye."
"Hmm..." He thought about it for all of three seconds before nodding. "You're right."
And apparently that was that, because for a while the gossip at court centered on why Duo had suddenly given up his bachelor's life for one rather more celibate.
Lady Relena finally arrived.
I can think of several ladies at court that would have been a considerably worse match for Heero. Dorothy Catalonia springs to mind, but she's another story entirely. Lady Relena is a very nice girl. She's very dedicated to her family's traditional ideals, which are highly pacifistic and geared toward negotiation. Her brother and father before him are some of the best diplomats ever to have served the royal family. Don't ask me how a pacifist is supposed to get along with a warrior, though. I'm not the one who consulted the stars, after all.
What passes for autumn here in the south was just hitting full stride when Duo casually suggested to me that I ought to make an effort to include Lady Relena in the occasional little parties I like to have with my small circle of friends. His logic was shrewd: "Since Heero is probably going to be pretty prominent in your reign, unless he really messes up (and this is Heero we're talking about), you should get to know his future wife. I hear that a woman tends to change a man, you know?"
Duo is a very good actor. I never even realized there was more going on behind those helpful eyes than a sincere wish to smooth the future path.
Yes, I'll admit it. I can be naive at times.
So I made a point of including Lady Relena in my next tiny social gathering.
Since it was the proper thing to do, Heero escorted Lady Relena. He stayed at her elbow as any attentive suitor ought to have done, and even made something of an effort to converse with her. The effect was diminished by the stiffly formal expression on his face, but he tried.
To keep things from becoming awkward, I also invited Wufei and Meiran. He had just inherited the position of Prime Minister at the untimely death of his father, and the duties kept him busy, but even he needs to relax once in a while. Meiran was at his side to make sure he did take care of himself.
Duo came alone, but since I was also alone, the party was balanced.
My first real impression of Lady Relena was that she seemed rather... clumsy. Within a quarter of an hour, she nearly fell twice and spilled her wine over the skirt of her dress. It didn't occur to me that this might be unnatural until she'd somehow mistaken the extra-spicy meat rolls for the much milder bean pastries and I happened to catch a glimpse of Duo's vaguely smug expression.
That was the first indication of trouble.
Duo referred to her strictly as Lady Relena.
She accepted this graciously as only natural, but it made me worry. Heero also seemed vaguely puzzled.
Fortunately, she survived the evening without incurring too much incidental damage.
Duo later protested complete innocence regarding her misfortunes. Since it was Duo, I naturally didn't believe him. Lady Relena swiftly developed a reputation for a certain lack of grace, which seemed to puzzle her as much as anyone else. I, for one, would watch her trip on a smooth marble floor and shudder. Winter - and the season for balls - was arriving. I worried for the condition of Heero's toes.
"That was a disaster," Duo said gloomily.
Thinking back on the evening - not just any evening, but the evening of the Royal Gala - filled with one misfortune after another for Lady Relena, I was inclined to agree.
Duo continued. "I mean, did you see that? Even after she stepped on his feet eight time and knocked him into the punch bowl, he still kept dancing with her!"
He smiled at me. "Yes, Quatre?"
"Give it up. It's not her fault. All you're doing is hurting yourself."
So maybe that was the wrong thing to have said. Duo glared at me for a split second before smiling at me blandly. "Of course, Your Highness. I'll just let the man I love marry himself off to her because the way the stars sparkle say they should. Yeah. I'll do that."
"Look, I'm sorry. I just don't understand, okay? What makes you think you can even get Heero?"
He went quiet for a long moment. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There's just - I mean - I know it would be the most perfect thing if Heero and I - God, I can't explain it. I just know. And I have to try."
Duo has his serious moments, and this was one of them. "Fine. If you says so. But is that any reason to torment poor Lady Relena?"
"No... other than the personal satisfaction, it isn't doing me any good." He sighed. "What am I going to do?"
"I don't know."
It was about a week after that that Duo left court on an extended trip to the countryside. He talked cheerfully about going to visit an old mentor and refine a couple of his spells, or something to that effect.
He was trying to get away from Heero.
He told me about it the night before he left. He'd gone to visit Heero, with the idea of just telling him the truth. As I've reconstructed it, he visited the Yuy home and found Lady Relena there with Heero. Duo lingered for a while, and when she left, withdrew with Heero to talk.
Duo guided the conversation around to the betrothal, and how Heero felt about Lady Relena. Heero gave the expected, standard sorts of replies. Duo had just opened his mouth to confess it all when Heero added that she was "nice. I guess we'll do well together."
Duo told me that was when he gave up hope. Heero Yuy does not give out idle praise. So Duo decided to leave.
It was amazing how quickly Lady Relena's clumsiness vanished after Duo left. Heero seemed a little suspicious of this, but said nothing. She just seemed relieved.
Duo, as much as he talks, is not the most reliable of correspondents. For the next three months, I received a handful of letters that were brief, vague, and unsatisfying. I missed him, and our evening chats about Heero.
If Duo's absence affected Heero, I never could tell. I mentioned the letters to him whenever they arrived, but he'd just snort and mutter something about crazy wizards.
Things had really relaxed between him and Lady Relena. They both seemed content, if not happy, with each other. Truthfully, I was as interested in finding out how well things were going to work out between them as I was in seeing Duo happy. Call it professional curiosity.
Duo returned in the middle of spring, wearing his usual smile and as cheerful as ever. "The professor was starting to bore me," he explained cheerfully. "I decided that it was time to come home."
I allowed that this was nice, but had to ask if Duo thought it was a good idea.
He grinned at me. "This is about me and Heero, right? Don't worry, Quatre, I don't know what possessed me, really I don't, but I'm over it now."
Somehow I couldn't quite bring myself to believe him.
It took a few days for my suspicions to be justified, mostly because Duo made a modest effort not to encounter Heero on anything more than a casual basis. That effort lasted as long as it took me to put together a welcome-home party.
Duo took one look at Heero and Relena as they entered arm-in-arm and chatting amiably, went white, then red, then very quiet.
I remember thinking, ~Over it? Whatever you say, Duo,~ and waiting for a really spectacular catastrophe to strike Lady Relena. Now that I think about it, Heero was probably waiting for the same thing, because he seemed a little tense until Duo smiled, laughed, and toasted the happy couple.
Duo spent the rest of the evening getting very drunk.
He stopped visiting me to discuss Heero after that. He kept a lot to himself for the next two months, making sure to tease Heero relentlessly about the upcoming wedding, befriending Relena and offering her all sorts of advice and gossip about Heero, and generally making himself miserable. He can be a real masochist sometimes.
Exactly two weeks before the wedding, Duo and I were sitting and talking and deliberately avoiding the more sensitive issues as much as possible when Heero walked into my study. Duo winced slightly, smiled at Heero, and took his leave before fleeing.
Heero placed himself squarely in front of me, crossed his arms, and announced, "Quatre, I have a problem."
For a minute, I wanted to laugh, but even I don't dare laugh at Heero when he looks as grim as he did that afternoon. "Yes, Heero?"
"I'm in love."
Only Heero could announce something like that in a perfect nasal deadpan.
I waited. He stared at me. I waited some more. He continued to stare at me, and I decided that it must be my job to move the conversation forward. "All right... you have a problem and you're in love. I assume these are connected?"
"Yes. They are."
"How? You're getting married in two weeks. How could being in love be bad?"
"I love Duo Maxwell."
Really. Heero is the only person I know who can pull these kinds of announcements off with a perfectly straight face. And since he has a sense of humor much more subtle than this...
I'm sure I must have looked as flabbergasted as I felt, because he added, "Do you see the problem now?"
"But - how?" Words were failing me.
Heero deliberately misinterpreted my question. "I am marrying Relena. I love Duo. These two things are incompatible."
"Tell me something I don't know, Heero."
"There are three viable defenses to the Crescent attack -"
"Heero, be serious!"
"You asked." He went from Heero-the-soldier to Heero-the-confused-friend. "I don't know what to do, Quatre."
"You could, uh, tell him and see what happens," I suggested.
"No." Instantaneous, incontrovertible refusal. Heero shook his head. "I have to marry Relena. It is my duty. It's better for Duo that he doesn't know... He'll be happier that way."
Given the way Heero's mind works, this logic didn't surprise me. I sighed. "Then why in God's name did you tell me about it?"
Heero gave me this pitiful (well, for him, it was pitiful) look. "I've been in love with him for two years, Quatre. I had to tell someone, or I was going to lose my mind."
Two years of loving each other and not saying a word about it. My friends are insane, in case you haven't noticed. And a little bit too stubborn for their own good. And there am I, in the middle of it, trying to figure out a happy ending.
"I think you should tell him."
"Don't make me pull rank on you, Yuy."
He stared at me. "You wouldn't dare."
I smiled at him sweetly. "Just try me."
He glared at me. "You bastard."
"Why don't I just have someone go fetch Duo?"
No, I didn't insist that they tell each other in front of me. I retreated into the other room and let them have their say. I even managed not to eavesdrop.
No, I'm not a saint, but even I know what just isn't done.
I gave them a while to themselves, and then politely knocked on the door. I figured that since they didn't yell at me to leave them alone, this was as much an invitation as anything, and peeked in.
If I had ever had any doubts about Duo and Heero, they left me then. You know how there're some things that are just perfectly, impossibly right? That's the sense I got when I looked at the two of them standing there, just standing there, holding each other. It looked and felt Right, and I was so jealous for a moment that I couldn't see straight.
Well, I was. I couldn't help myself.
Anyway, Heero noticed me first, out of the corner of his eye. He looked at me - and you remember how I said Duo can give you this beseeching look that's so sad that you can't help but say yes to what he's asking? - Well, he's obviously been taking lessons from Heero.
I sighed. "All right, I'll help."
Well, what can I say? I'm a soft touch.
They relaxed into each other even more, if possible. It was almost indecent, really, so I shooed them out of my rooms so that they could go be soppy over each other elsewhere and I could get some work done. It's hard to concentrate with that much emotion in the air.
It turns out that my help wasn't needed to extricate Heero from his betrothal, because Lady Relena stumbled in on him and Duo within two days of their understanding. Duo gave it to me to understand that there was no doubt about what he and Heero were doing.
No, my part was damage control. Lady Relena went immediately to her brother, the baron of Peacecraft, who was torn between whether he should challenge Duo or Heero to a duel first. Honestly, I don't think Lady Relena was as upset as much as she was insulted, since Heero had given her no reason until then to doubt that his fidelity was to her.
Well, it's a good thing that I can talk fast when the situation calls for it, because I went to Milliardo and calmed him down enough to persuade him not to kill either Duo or Heero. Then I did the same thing for Heero's father, who nearly had an apoplectic fit over Heero's unexpected flouting of his betrothal. And then I went to Lady Relena.
Of the three, she was really the most reasonable about the situation. Naturally, she was very upset with Heero, but mostly because he hadn't been completely honest with her from the beginning. Like I said, she's a nice girl.
Actually, it was her idea to do a star reading for Heero and Duo, and base the dissolution of the betrothal on the outcome. After all, it's unthinkable to go against a match that the stars say is meant to be, right? It was something of a gamble, of course, because if the stars hadn't favored Duo and Heero, Heero would have gone through with the marriage to Lady Relena, and I think all three of them would have been miserable.
She talked her brother into the scheme, and Heero and I talked his father into it, and about five days before the wedding, the six of us went to have the stars read for Duo and Heero.
Two days after that, in a very quiet, private ceremony, Duo and Heero declared each other as lifebonds, since the stars don't lie. Lady Relena and I were the only attendants, and I suspect that she gave up any doubts she might have had at that point.
There's really not a lot more to the story after that. Heero's father, still very interested in the Peacecraft lands and an alliance with the family, talked it over with Milliardo, and since Heero's older brother Ralph was unattached and amenable to the idea, a new arrangement was made. She was also agreeable to the idea, and the stars predicted success, so a new betrothal was set. I understand that they're very happy with each other.
As a sort of epilogue to the story, I figured that Heero and Duo both owed me a favor. That was why, about a month and a half after the entire mess had blown over, I walked into Duo's study, smiled at him cheerfully, and announced, "Duo, we have a problem."
He looked at me suspiciously. "We do?"
I nodded. "Uh-huh, and you're just the wizard to help me fix it. You know how I'm betrothed to this guy, Trowa?..."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Feed the starving artist: give her C&C!
Ignore the muse.