Despite having previously been discreetly informed by a servant that Duo had returned safely, Quatre was relieved to see him entering the salon, apparently sound in limb. Politely disengaging from a political discussion with the Marquess of Peacecraft, Quatre crossed the room to meet him. "Duo..."
Reassuringly, Duo murmured, "No harm done, Quat; Scythe just had a bit more of the Old Nick in him than usual." Pitching his voice to a more natural volume, he asked, "Anyone else left to arrive? It's coming up rain again; looks like it might turn to snow by tomorrow morning."
"Everyone's arrived," Quatre answered. "The ladies went off with Iria, so I'll have to introduce you to them later. But the gentlemen are all here." Lowering his voice and leaning towards Duo, he confided happily, "Including Trowa."
Duo teased quietly, "Changed your mind about letting Iria get you leg-shackled, have you?"
Quatre coloured slightly but grinned in response, not deigning to answer the question. "Come meet our guests."
Most of those present were already familiar to Duo. Of the three unfamiliar guests, The Marquess of Peacecraft was of necessity the first introduction, since his rank was highest. Other than noting that the man's white-blond hair was nearly as unfashionably long as his own, Duo found him completely unremarkable and was glad to leave him to his political debates and move on.
Leading Duo across the room, Quatre halted in front of the other two unfamiliar guests, and Duo abruptly realized that he didn't know which of the two was Quatre's hopeful parti. He had been at Oxford during the Little Season last year and had never met the man. Quatre's descriptions had been rather short on practical details such as eye colour and height, and long on the details of Barton's musical skills and other interests.
"Duo, this is Odin Heero Lowe, The Earl of Yuy," Quatre introduced. "Lord Yuy, my brother, Mr. Duo Maxwell Winner."
Duo breathed a silent sigh of relief. The Greek god was *not* Quatre's Trowa. And his fashionably-tousled dark brown hair, cool blue eyes, and well-muscled physique were even more impressive up close. "Lord Yuy." He extended his hand. Yuy clasped it warmly and held on just a fraction longer than the usual socially-acceptable handshake would last.
"Mr. Winner. That was a fine display of horsemanship earlier." Heero gave Trowa a warning glare, not that he truly expected it to have any effect.
It was Quatre, however, who couldn't resist adding blandly, "Lord Yuy was very impressed by your... seat."
His brother had a truly wicked sense of humour, Duo decided, torn between embarrassment at the none-too-subtle innuendo and jubilation at having confirmation of Yuy's interest. He settled for ignoring Quatre and responding to Yuy. "My thanks for your kind words, my lord, but the incident should not have occurred. I'm afraid that I allowed myself to become... distracted, never a good idea when handling a prime bit o'blood like Scythe. No matter how pleasant the distraction might be."
Heero allowed the corners of his mouth to lift into a small but genuine smile. So. Interest noted, accepted, and returned. Time for the dance of courtship to begin. "Perhaps we could discuss riding and other pleasant distractions after you've greeted your other guests," he suggested.
"I would like that very much, my lord," Duo agreed readily.
Quatre smiled with satisfaction. Duo and Yuy would get along splendidly; he was sure of it. He could already see that same *connection* between them as he and Trowa had experienced from the very beginning. They would have an added advantage in that the informal setting of a house party would offer far more opportunities to get to know each other than had the formal social whirl of Town. Considering that many marriages were contracted based on nothing more than half-a-dozen dances, a handful of morning calls, and perhaps a few drives in the Park, the party should allow more than enough time both for Duo and Lord Yuy to reach an agreement, and for Trowa and himself to become reacquainted and make a formal declaration of their own.
Touching Duo's arm lightly to claim his attention, Quatre made the final and most personally-significant introduction. "Duo, may I present Trowa Bloom, The Viscount Barton?"
Giving the Viscount a measuring look, Duo was well satisfied with what he saw. Despite the heavy fall of bangs covering one eye, the other man met his gaze steadily. Uneven skin was barely visible beneath the concealing hair, the hint of a scar providing a reminder that he'd been a soldier. This was no Town dandy, dressed to the nines but lacking the sense God gave geese, like so many of the Quality who'd been at Oxford with him. This was a man of action, tried and proven on the battlefield. Someone capable of matching Quatre's wit and intelligence, but with the solid grounding in reality needed to temper his kind-hearted impulses with common sense before he ran his estate into the ground trying to single-handedly right all the wrongs of the less privileged.
Trowa couldn't help but feel a bit anxious. Quatre was certainly free to make his own choices, regardless of his family's approval, but Trowa knew that it was still important to Quatre. He had to admit that he, too, would feel far better if Quatre's family approved the match. Lady Iria had already made her approval clear, but he knew that Quatre adored his brother and would take it to heart should he and Trowa not hit it off. "Mr. Winner," he said respectfully, reaching out to shake hands.
You could learn a lot about a man from his handshake. A great many men - particularly those with more muscle than wit - turned it into a contest to see who could squeeze hardest. Some shook hands limply, as weak in body as they were in moral fibre. Barton's handshake, however, was solid, firm without attempting to overpower, reinforcing Duo's first impression of the man. "Lord Barton," Duo acknowledged. "Quatre has told me much about you." Teasing Quatre gently and offering his approval at the same time, he added, "So much, in fact, that you almost seem like one of the family. Please, call me Duo, as the rest of the family does."
A relieved smile spread slowly across Trowa's face. "Then I must insist that you call me Trowa."
Duo nodded. "As you wish, Trowa." Reluctantly aware that, introductions complete, he needed to make the rounds and greet his sisters' husbands, he prepared to temporarily take his leave of their most interesting guests. Before he could do so, however, Iria bustled into the room, the other women following close behind her.
Heero hastily stepped behind Trowa as the Darlian chit began to look around the room. Trowa had temerity to chuckle. Heero instantly forgave him, however, as he suggested, "Duo, may I suggest that now would be a good time for you to have that discussion with Lord Yuy? I believe that he would like to visit the stables and see your mount."
Duo hesitated, well aware of his duty to the other guests.
Very quietly, Trowa explained, "The Lady Relena has set her cap at him and she is a very... persistent... young lady. I would not have persuaded him to attend with me had I known that she would also be in attendance."
Not liking the implication that Yuy would perhaps choose not to stay should the young lady become too much of a nuisance, Duo decided that his needs outweighed those of the other guests, who appeared quite content to socialize amongst themselves. His presence would most likely not be missed. "I really should make sure that Scythe is fine after such a long, hard ride. Lord Yuy, would you like to join me? We can slip quietly out this way." Duo gestured towards the connecting door between the salon and dining room. By taking that exit, they wouldn't need to go past the women.
"With pleasure," Heero agreed promptly. Not only would he evade the Darlian chit, he would also get to spend time alone with Duo. And this favour from Duo might even provide reason enough to put them on a first name basis without appearing to be rushing his fences. Clapping Trowa on the back, he murmured a heartfelt, "My thanks," before following Duo out of the room.
"She wasn't on the guest list because she came with her brother. But... is she really that bad?" Quatre asked Trowa.
"Worse," Trowa assured him morosely, bracing himself as Lady Relena finally took notice of him and headed his way. "Much, much worse."