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fic - the faithful and the brave : 16 [novella] - the turnip patch
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turnippatch
turnippatch
fic - the faithful and the brave : 16 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  16



The Faithful and the Brave
Part 16


They took work escorting a caravan to Zeklaus Desert.  The caravan master was really only looking for four men to guard his inventory, but with war making its way across the countryside, it was not overly difficult to convince him to take on the fifth.  Not that it mattered, really.  With or without pay, they would be heading out, but it would be odd if they had given over their services at a discount.

There was always a decent amount of traffic going to and from Zeklaus.  The place was a crossroads.  There was trade in the south in the city of Dorter.  To the east were the mines of Gorand, with the road past that leading on to the capital of Lesalia.  Northward lay the ducal capital of Fovoham, Riovanes Castle, and to the west stretched the Zeklaus Desert, almost all of the way to the duchy of Gallione.  Many preferred to skirt the dry, scrubby land, taking the well-travelled road through Dorter on their way into Gallione, but the trip was several days longer, and the trek across Zeklaus not so bad with an experienced guide.

Their client stopped at the first of several trading posts in the desert, and there the job was concluded.  After the accounts were settled, they took a meal in the tavern before withdrawing to make camp in the desert.  Quatre convinced them to enjoy a night in his homeland beneath the stars.  They would be heading east from here, and though it would not be much out of their way to drop in on some member of his family, he had declined the opportunity.  They would surely be invited to stay for a while, and Quatre didn't wish to dance around the reason for their trek to the capital.

"When was the last time you visited?" Duo asked.

"Oh, two years now, I think?" Quatre mused.  "Managed to drop in on one of my sisters between jobs.  We've passed Zeklaus a few times, but I was never assigned anything that took us into the desert itself."

"Yeah, hiring Bolts for escort duty through a mostly empty land would be a bit overkill...."  He frowned faintly before sighing.  "I wonder if they'll have heard of Odin's death.  I get the feeling his last job was a bit under the table, and, uh, his last employer's in no position to deliver the news.  Not that he would have cared to, I'm sure.  We probably should have reported back by now, though."

"Perhaps we should avoid Bervenia for a bit," Trowa suggested wryly.  "Avoid any awkward questions."

"Hey, we quit, fair and square.  He didn't even seem to have any hard feelings, next time we met.  I mean, nothing personal.  I'd say we're in the clear on that matter."

"Just one matter of many, unfortunately."

"So, Wufei," Duo said, changing the subject with gusto.  "You ever visit home?"

The mage answered with a shrug.  "Members of my family and extended family tend to travel where the work is.  I don't consider any one particular place 'home'."

"Yeah, scholars, mages, that sorta thing, right?  Guess you don't find that kind of work all over the place."

"Some of us just do our work while traveling."

"True.  How about you, Heero?  You've got a home.  Don't remember going out that way, though."

Heero's hand paused in the process of sharpening a knife, answering Duo's question with silence.

"...I guess I'll take that as a no.  Could just say so, though.  You know, using so many words.  Just saying."  Heero wasn't much of a conversationalist, but he usually responded in some fashion when addressed directly.  Duo waited for a response, but received none.  "Fine."

"No," Heero finally answered.  Softly, and almost drowned out by the sound of the whetstone that followed on its heels.

As a reward, Duo picked up the thread of the conversation without missing a beat.  "Yeah, I think we hit the edge of Gallione, if I recall correctly..."

"I do not think I know where home is," Heero murmured in completion to his thought.  He chased it with another swipe of the stone across the blade.

Duo's mouth opened, then closed.

"You haven't spoken to Treize since," Wufei pointed out quietly.  "And we are heading out to talk to him now.  How do things stand between you?"

Heero set the knife and the stone down carefully.  "There was peace between us when I left."

"And since?  By your own admission, he may have had something to do with the princess' abduction."

His lips thinned.  "That... is politics.  That is the game he must play.  I do not endorse his actions, if he was indeed involved, but nor do I condemn them."

"I doubt he will be as forgiving.  If, as you say, politics is a game he must play, then he will likely wish us harm.  We know of his plots.  We turned against them.  It is unlike Treize to leave loose threads to tangle and snare, even if it means turning his hand against his own blood."

"We are no threat to him.  We're not taking sides.  His alliance with the Bartons is already well-known.  We only bring word that all is not as it seems."

"We chose to help Princess Relena.  We may know in our hearts that we wanted simply to save an innocent lady and escort her to safety, but I don't doubt how it will look to men on Barton's side."

"We are not trying to speak to men on Barton's side," Heero retorted impatiently.  "We are trying to speak with my brother."

"A brother that you have not spoken to in several years.  A man can change much in several years."

Heero flinched with pain, or maybe his eyes simply narrowed in anger.  Perhaps his sharp intake of breath was surprise, but perhaps he was biting back a fierce response.  But there was fire in his glare, and something severely repressed in the tense silence that followed.  "Not nearly enough, it seems," he grit out before standing abruptly and quitting the campfire.

Wufei watched him stalk off into the desert before glancing over to Quatre.  "It had to be done.  Especially if we're marching off to see his brother."

Quatre sighed audibly, and shook his head to dismiss the need for an apology.  "You're not wrong, Wufei.  I only wish...  Well.  Perhaps this is a good thing, seeing his brother."

"Do you think we will?  See his brother?  By all accounts, Treize is Duke Barton's right-hand man now.  He likely has much to do, and fraternity will not gain us an audience, let alone sentimentality.  As I recall, he was not unduly moved by the death of his own father.  I doubt he will find the time to visit with his father's bastard son."

Duo couldn't help the soft huff of dry amusement.  "Shouldn't you have mentioned that before we took off?"

Quatre glanced at him briefly before turning his attention back to Wufei.  "Perhaps we can speak to Une."

"Right," Wufei responded blandly.  "He can pretend all he likes with Treize, but Une has no excuses.  Maybe I should have asked if there was peace between the two of them instead."

"Who's Une?" Duo asked innocently.

Quatre volunteered the answer after a moment.  "Une is Treize's second, as Zechs was meant to be Heero's."

"Ch', nobles can't be bothered to lift a finger even to wipe their own arses, can they?"

"'Tis no small task, being a Lord Commander to the Knights of Romefeller," Wufei said absently.  He concluded his thoughts with a sigh and looked off in the direction Heero had wandered.  "I shall give him a few minutes to himself.  Then I shall speak to him."

Quatre shook his head.  "No, not you.  Nor I.  We make it too easy for him, I think.  We know his story already.  He doesn't need to explain himself, to ask our opinion.  I think he needs to talk about it, though.  I think it will help bring clarity to his thoughts and feelings on the matter.  And help release the pain that lingers on inside of him."

"If not --"  The puzzlement on Wufei's brow turned into a twist of his lips.  "Truly?

"Don't be so sour, Wufei."  He turned an expectant look toward Duo.

There was a long pause before Duo blinked.  "What, seriously?  You're seriously encouraging me to go pester him about his past?"

"I expect you to do somewhat better than pestering, Duo," Quatre answered, somehow both mild and stern at the same time.

"Huh."  He mulled it over for a few seconds.  "Hmmmmm."

Trowa sidled over into a comfortable position next to Quatre.  "So.  Tell me of this land, this desert of yours."



Duo moseyed off in the direction that Heero had traveled, and found him sitting on the far side of a rock formation, staring glumly off into the distance.  Duo loitered for a few seconds, glancing back at their campfire to see Trowa holding Quatre's attention, Wufei seemingly ignoring them both.  "Wufei says he's sorry for upsetting you."

He was no stranger to patience.  He could hardly be successful in his chosen lines of work without it.  He just saved it for when it mattered.  Like now, when he needed to do somewhat better than pestering.  He waited several long, oddly nervewracking seconds before receiving an answer.  "I'm quite certain he said no such thing."

"Heh.  Well, he thought it, anyway."  He let the silence simmer, outwardly calm but with a strange breathlessness, and was rewarded.

"I'm not upset with Wufei."

"Oh?"

Heero picked up a pebble and threw it halfheartedly out into the darkness.  "I'm upset with myself."

"Why's that?"

Heero chose another small rock from the dirt at his feet, but held on to it instead, playing with it absently during his long, introspective pause.  "I swore to myself.  I swore that I would not be so naïve and stupid again.  I swore that I would not be so haplessly optimistic.  That I would make no more excuses for their actions.  And yet so easily I rose to Treize's defense."  The rock flew from his hand, swiftly and angrily, skipping across the dirt several times before hitting some obstruction that turned its course to the side.

Duo went over the words in his mind and picked out the useful tidbits for later before shrugging.  "So maybe you're not as cut out for cynicism as some of us are.  That's probably not a bad thing."

Heero turned a level look in his direction.  Duo wasn't quite sure what it meant and therefore wasn't quite sure how to respond, so he settled for a neutral and vaguely innocent look.  It was a look that had served him well many times in the past.  Finally, Heero released a soft huff of breath and looked away.  "It's not cynicism when... when you're right.  When that is the truth of things.  And everyone knows it but you."

A few flippant responses came to mind, but they didn't seem very helpful, so he prodded his brain until it came up with something more useful.  "I don't think you need to know just how much crappiness there is in this world before you can... do something to make the world just a little less crappy."

"You can do more."

"Maybe you can do less.  I mean... there's an awful lot of crappiness in this world.  Sometimes... it gets you down.  Maybe it's better if you're just too dumb to realize how hopeless it is.  Can't accomplish anything if you don't try.  Geez, just look at us now, trying to, you know, defy what sounds like some awful big nasties.  I'm pretty sure we're being pretty dumb."

Heero made a soft, soft sound that somewhat resembled a chuckle.  "But you're doing it anyway?"

"Yeah, well... it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it."

It could have been his imagination, but he was pretty sure one corner of Heero's mouth twitched upward.  "I had not thought my foolishness a virtue."  That faint tilt turned definitively south.  "I still don't."

"Can't accomplish anything if you don't try," he answered with a deliberate amount of cheer.  He had thought he was referring to his own efforts at encouragement, but maybe a little reference for Heero snuck in there as well, judging by the thoughtful look he received.

"I'm not going to go back to being the person I once was.  That person... too much has happened."

Duo shrugged carelessly.  "That's life."

"Hm.  I suppose it is.  Sometimes I feel the others..."

"I'm gonna put words in their mouths, but... I think they just want you to be happy again.  Or at least, you know, not so glum all the time, or, uh..."

"Lost."

"Hm?"

"Someone once asked me if I was lost."

"What did you say?"

"Yes."

"Short and to the point.  I like it."  But he could see Heero was hardly interested in his opinion at the moment.  He seemed caught up in a memory.  Duo gave him a bit of time before drawing him out again.  "Are you still lost?"

"I feel like I've been lost for a very long time."  He scrubbed wearily at his face.

"It doesn't agree with you."

"No, it does not."  A heavy sigh escaped him.  "I do not want this."

Duo examined that critically before nodding to himself.  "Well, then.  What can we do to get you unlost?"

Heero's hand paused in the act of raking through his hair.  He completed the action with a soft snort.  "If I knew the way, I wouldn't be lost, now would I?"

He had to concede that one.  "Well, where are you trying to go?"

Heero settled back into his seat among the rocks, crossing his arms across his chest.  Duo took the opportunity to sit down in the dry dirt next to him, also looking out to the desert in front of them.  He didn't want to do nothing but stare at Heero while waiting for the answer that took its time in coming.  "Where is any of us trying to go?"

It was a philosophical evasion that he took to mean Heero hadn't the slightest clue.  "Where would you be, if... whatever it was that happened... hadn't happened?"

If he'd perhaps wanted Heero to pick up on the none-too-subtle hint that maybe, just maybe now would be a great time to explain just what it was that happened, he was disappointed.  But every word he managed to coax out of Heero was a win, so it more than balanced out.  "I'd thought to serve in the military for a few years.  I don't think I thought to make a career of it, though.  What happened from there would depend on the opportunities."

"With Zechs by your side, I suppose?"

"Yes."  There was a hint of sadness there.

"Well, you traded him in for Quatre and Wufei instead, and, I dunno, I think you won out on that trade."

"But did they?  They could have done anything after graduation.  Pursued research, gone on to higher studies, gotten a good post... But instead, they're here.  Former mercenaries, and now assassins.  On the run.  With me.  If not for me..."  Heero thrust himself out of his seat with a grunt of dissatisfaction and stalked several paces into the night.

Duo took the data offered and reassessed his impression of the situation.  The mental image didn't align properly with Heero's words, and he took his time adjusting it accordingly.  "You really are upset with yourself, aren't you?"

His fist was clenched at his side.  He raised it up to look at it as if it belonged to somebody else, and then with a spasm of effort, uncurled his fingers.

Duo stared at his back for a minute before shrugging philosophically and just asking.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  "What happened?"




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11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: May 19th, 2015 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds so simple... like nothing ever is. O.o

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: May 19th, 2015 07:20 am (UTC) (Link)
'Simple' is a relative term.
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: May 21st, 2015 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I expect Heero and Duo have pretty different ideas about simple. Looking forward to more. ^___^
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: May 19th, 2015 03:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Duo's a lot better at talking to grumpy people than I am. But I think he realizes, maybe subconsciously, at this point, that Heero's story is crucial to starting to untangle some of the plots and politics they're steadily getting wound up in...
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: May 19th, 2015 07:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, it also helps that he's studied Heero for a while, and Heero's got a bit of a soft spot for him. =) Heero's not completely uncommunicative, but you have to be matter-of-fact and not raise a fuss about anything to keep him talking.
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: May 20th, 2015 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, guilty Heero...
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: May 22nd, 2015 05:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Well certainly.  We can't have him getting this torn up over something Zechs did to him, now can we? ^o^
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: May 28th, 2015 12:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Was that... a cliffhanger?? O_o .
I love when you write this sort of teeth-pulling, almost grumpy, digging around for information. You're just so *good* at it! And so is Duo.... :D
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: May 29th, 2015 07:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Not so much a cliffhanger as just all I've got written up to. -_-'

Duo knows how to dangle the conversation bait in front of Heero and wiggle it around a little.  Once you hook him, you've got to pull him in very carefully, otherwise you'll lose him, except now it'll be an even grumpier Heero with a hook in his mouth and good luck catching him a second time.
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: June 14th, 2015 12:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like seeing this side of Duo. He's intelligent and knows how to hold back when it's the right thing to do. He really is the perfect person to be having this conversation with Heero. I'm sure it'll be good for both of them.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: June 15th, 2015 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Duo hasn't become a master of his craft by impatiently rushing in to snatch at the prize.  And luckily, Heero is intelligent enough to let Duo in, too. ^_^
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