Two weeks later, Duo had decided that he could get used to being a gentleman.
The former streetrat was eating breakfast in what was Wu Fei's drawing room. It had obviously been decorated by Wu Fei, the Asian youth's trademark elegance evident in the restrained décor as much as the obviously oriental furnishings. Two highly polished swords hung on one wall, next to a couple of bookcases. There was a desk in one corner, with a scroll that Wu Fei had explained contained the words of a renowned philosopher hanging over it, and a smaller wooden box, decorated with a gold dragon that doubled as a lock. Duo had decided that before he left the house, he would open that box. It would interest him to know what Wu Fei, who had everything, would consider important enough to lock away. Another wall was entirely taken up by four screen paintings, depicting each of the seasons. Before it had been set out a low table, on which a tea set, unlike any other Duo had seen, had been placed.
Duo sat on the window seat clad in a waistcoat of light blue silk, dark grey trousers, and a starched white shirt--all his clothes, according to the Man. His breakfast tray had been set out on the little mahogany table beside the window, along with a newspaper and an empty bowl of rice that had been Wu Fei's breakfast. The rice, that was, not the paper . . . Duo gave the sheets a curious glance but aside from the illustrations and comic sketches that were smattered in amongst the text they meant nothing to him.
Reading lessons weren't on the agenda so far, all Duo needed to pass in society was a surface knowledge of history and the latest fashionable trends. Wu Fei had offered to teach Duo later, should the opportunity arise. Meaning if he wasn't discarded like yesterday's fashions once his purpose had been served. Duo sighed. Sure he could manage to fool 'em for awhile, but he doubted any of them would be interested after the wager had been won . . . so what did that leave him? Going back to the streets? Duo felt a brief resentment for Wu Fei . . . as if he would ever be overlooked. Not only was he so refined he practically had class dripping from him, but he was smart too--he could read in two different languages, for heaven's sake! Compare that to Duo, who could barely make out his own name--
There was a knock at the door.
"What?" Duo demanded brusquely.
"There's a gentleman here to see Lord Kushrenada, uh . . . Mr. Maxwell." Damnit, he hated the way the servants hesitated that little bit before saying that title, just as though they were pointing out that he didn't belong there.
He realised the girl was still waiting. "What do you want me to do about it?" Lord Kushrenada was in Paris--had been for the last five days, and wasn't expected back until that afternoon.
"Should I show him up?"
Duo was expected to handle this. "But Wu Fei--"
"Mr. Chang has not yet emerged from his bath. He said that you would see Mr. Winner and entertain him until he can join you," the maid reported. "Should I show him here? Or to the Master's drawing room?"
Mr. Winner? That was not an acquaintance that he was familiar with. "Where does Wu Fei usually meet him?"
The maid gave him an odd look, almost sympathetic. "Most guests would be shown to the Master's room. But I believe Wu Fei would meet Mr. Winner himself."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Duo said, following the girl downstairs. He pushed open the door to the waiting room, not a little apprehensive. He hadn't expected his first test to be so soon! Still how hard could it be to pull out the charm on one of Treize's associates--
However, he did not get the well groomed and over oiled gentleman he was expecting. The two men stood as he entered--and he had no idea which was Mr. Winner.
Oh hell, thought Duo.
Wu Fei had not covered what to do when you had no idea who you were greeting, much less what you were supposed to do with them. Duo had a feeling that he would have been able to tell at a glance which one of the two well-dressed youths--either of which could not have been many, if indeed any, years older than himself--was Mr. Winner. Duo looked from one to the other. They both looked polished and well, somehow absurdly young to be in this sort of place--the blond in particular looked like he was hardly out of short trousers. And the other one--
Messy hair couldn't hide the intelligence and intensity in the crystal blue eyes. This had to be him--the Mr. Winner the maid spoke of with such obvious respect and that Wu Fei would greet personally--
Duo had just opened his mouth when the blond spoke.
"I hope we haven't put anyone out," he said. "The manservant who answered the door told me that Treize had not yet returned from Paris, but I was hoping I might be able to talk to Wu Fei."
"Not at all," Duo said smoothly. "Wu Fei asked me to meet you. I am Duo, Duo Maxwell--"
The blond shook his hand politely. "Quatre Raberba Winner," he said, surveying Duo with interest.
"Nice to meet you Mr. Winner, and . . . ?" Duo turned to his brown haired companion hoping his thoughts weren't legible on his face. What a narrow escape that had been!
The blue eyed man took his hand without taking his eyes away from Duo's face. "Heero Yuy," he said.
How did he manage to make something so simple as an introduction sound so-so--important? And he wasn't flouting himself like Treize or the others--he just said it as if that was all one needed to know.
"Heero," Duo breathed. "I'm delighted to make your acquaintance--"
"Likewise," the blond Mr. Winner said, bringing Duo back to reality suddenly. "But I do hope something isn't wrong. Wu Fei is well, I trust?"
He pronounced Wu Fei's name correctly? Duo was further intrigued by this Mr. Winner. He seemed very much at odds with Treize's set even though he called the Lord by his name, and very few indeed were permitted to do that--
"Of course, he will be joining us shortly," Duo said. Heero had let go of his hand and he felt oddly bereft. "Shall we wait for him somewhere more comfortable?"
"After you," Mr. Winner said, with a lazy smile. He linked his arm through Heero's and leaned against the other boy.
"This way," Duo said faintly.
Well what did you think he was? He berated himself as he led the way to the downstair's drawing room. Mr. Winner didn't introduce him, he hadn't given himself a title, hell, the servant hadn't even said there was any besides Mr. Winner present--so of course he had to be his--
Why did that bother him so much? After all, what was he?
"Excuse me, Duo. Are we the only ones home?"
Mr. Winner's question startled Duo. "Ah . . . I suppose so," he said. "Lord Kushrenada is arriving back later today but--"
"In that case, might I suggest we adjourn to Wu Fei's drawing room? I think it would be much more appropriate for the matter I need to discuss."
"O-of course," Duo agreed. Was he allowed to say no?
"Good," Mr. Winner said, leading the way upstairs.
Duo followed faintly. What had happened here? He thought he'd been in charge . . . but the blond had different ideas.
"You obviously know your way around the house," he found himself commenting, unable to help himself.
"Oh, I've been here once or twice," Winner said off-handedly. His companion sent an amused grin back at Duo and the boy found himself just about to walk into a priceless vase. He could see why Heero had attracted Mr. Winner's attention.
They reached Wu Fei's drawing room to find the maid that had informed Duo of the visitor's downstairs was clearing away the breakfast things.
"Would you care for any refreshment?" Duo asked, signalling the maid to wait. Now, he was in command again--
"Tell Sally that tea would be lovely," Mr. Winner said, making himself at home on the windowseat. "As would any of her delightful ginger kisses."
Duo gulped. "What?" he demanded.
Surely he'd heard wrong. He'd met Treize's cook and Sally was a pleasant enough woman, if displaying rather overwhelmingly maternal qualities. And being from the same country as Wu Fei her skin colour was decidedly not white but he could hardly imagine kissing her--
"I believe Mr. Winner is referring to a type of cake, Duo," Wu Fei intoned sotto voce behind him. "Not the pleasures of Miss. Po's lips."
"Wu Fei!" Duo had never been so glad to see him. "We have guests--"
"So I'd heard," Wu Fei bowed in Winner's direction. "Quatre, it is good to see you," he said, with the most genuine smile Duo had seen him offer in the whole two weeks of their acquaintance. That observation troubled him, even as he noted that Winner did not seem to mind Wu Fei's use of his name, and indeed, seemed equally pleased to see him.
"I know it was impolite of me to insist on staying even when I heard that Treize wouldn't be here, but I hope you don't mind," Winner said, making himself comfortable on the window seat, and patting the empty space beside him with a look in Heero's direction. "After all, its you I've come to see as much as Lord Kushrenada."
"I am honoured," Wu Fei said, kneeling beside the table. He nodded at Duo, and the former street rat was glad of the opportunity to sit down, choosing the chair beside the desk. He felt very aware that he was out of his depth here. The maid entered then and Wu Fei busied himself with pouring tea for everyone. "Milk, no sugar, Quatre?" he asked, indicating that Duo should carry the cup over.
"You remembered! Thank you," Winner accepted the tea graciously--a real gentleman, Duo thought bitterly. How he could have doubted it for a second--
"What will your companion have?"
Heero knelt at the table opposite Wu Fei. "I will serve myself," he said.
"As you wish," Wu Fei pushed the cup over to him, before adding a heaped teaspoon of sugar to a cup and holding it out for Duo.
"I'm sorry," Winner said. "Wu Fei, this is Heero Yuy, my companion. Heero, this is a good friend of mine, Chang Wu Fei."
"Not Lord Kushrenada's famous protégé?" There was a faint sneer apparent in Heero's voice.
"The same," Wu Fei answered coolly but with an edge of determined politeness. Winner did not miss the insult inherent in Heero's tone either, glaring at his companion.
"Heero! Wu Fei is a very close friend of mine," he said sternly. "You'd do well to remember that."
The tension was gone in a second as Quatre turned a sunny smile upon and Duo. "I trust we haven't put your schedule out, disturbing you so early. It was good of you to greet us."
"Not at all," Duo responded cheerily. "I was just eating my breakfast."
"Duo shares your sleeping habits," Wu Fei said to Quatre in an amused tone. "If he had his way we would not see him before eleven."
"Well, we can't all get up and beat up a gardener before breakfast, I suppose," the blond aristocrat replied with a grin.
"Beat up a gardener?" Duo echoed.
"It was a case of mistaken identity," Wu Fei explained. "But Quatre has never let me live it down--"
"Not when it was my gardener that you threw into the ornamental hedge," Mr. Winner snickered, sounding the boy he was. "That was worth getting up early for--"
Duo, of course, demanded a more complete explanation, and Winner did not mind obliging him in the slightest. Wu Fei listened and interjected his own version of events with an indulgent air, rather like an adult pandering to the wants of children, while Heero, behind his bored façade, didn't miss a thing. An hour was spent pleasantly in this pursuit, until Quatre put down his tea cup in a way that signalled the conversation was at an end.
"This has been most pleasant," he said. "But I had a matter to discuss with you Wu Fei, of some importance."
"Not too serious, I hope?" Wu Fei actually sounded concerned. Duo collected Winner's empty cup pondering that.
Winner snorted. "The situation is utterly intolerable--I mean, look at him!" He waved a hand at Heero. "He hasn't said a word for the last hour! And his posture! And the way he drinks!"
Duo blinked. Heero scowled to find himself the centre of attention and Wu Fei hid an amused smile.
"Can you imagine what it would be like taking him to a social dinner? Especially if he is as rude to everyone else as he was to you?" Quatre shook his blond head woefully. "My reputation will be ruined--"
"I agree the situation is serious," Wu Fei said. "But I fail to see why you cannot simply replace him with someone more suitable or leave him at home--"
"What does it matter if Heero's a little rough around the edges anyway?" Duo demanded. "So he rubs a few people the wrong way, so what--is that any reason to just get rid of the guy?"
Wu Fei was frowning at him and Duo shut up hastily, hoping he hadn't said too much. Thing is, their casual assumption that people's opinions were worth more than Heero had just made him mad--
"I'm not in a position, Mr. Maxwell, where I can easily disregard the opinions of others," Quatre said, softly.
Wu Fei explained. "Quatre is the only son of the Mr. Winner. Surely you've heard of him, Duo? Winner the trade magnate, Winner of the golden touch, Winner with a foot in every market--"
"You're that Mr. Winner's son?" Duo gulped before he could stop himself.
"I'm going to inherit the family business one day," Quatre said composedly. "If I am to continue to run it, it is necessary that I maintain good links with our shareholders and customers, of which a good deal of London's society is. It's not a matter of choice, it's a matter of necessity--and any companion I have will naturally be subjected to a great deal of interest and speculation. Frankly, Heero is a blemish on the Winner name--" Quatre turned to Wu Fei. "You see why I came to you."
"You wish me to instruct him in proper behaviour? Surely it would be easier to find another companion for social events--despite the numerous good qualities I'm sure Mr. Yuy possesses he does not appear comfortable in this setting nor willing to amend his behaviour--"
"We're not lovers, Wu Fei."
Duo was aware his mouth was hanging open and shut it. Wu Fei did not appear that surprised.
"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.