Hopefully, I don't re-read this later and decide that it sucks, since I'm posting more-or-less "hot off the press" (only one pass on the self-beta this time). But it's late, and I'm tired, and I kind of promised you all a little GW or TS by today, so here goes nothing:
Much as it chafed, Quatre performed his duty as host impeccably, dividing his time amongst his guests rather than concentrating solely on Trowa. He knew that there would be more appropriate opportunities for the two of them to converse, but it was difficult to be patient now that they were finally together again, this time with no disapproving parent to interfere. There were so many things that he wanted to ask Trowa, so many things that he wanted to tell him. He wanted to know about the 'actions at Waterloo' that had earned Trowa his title, wanted to know what Trowa had been doing during the months since the war had ended. Wanted to tell Trowa about the shock of his father's unexpected death mere weeks after their parting, and about how tremendously difficult it had been to step up and take on his duties as Earl, years earlier than he'd ever anticipated.
And, of course, he wanted to know all about Trowa's friend, Lord Yuy. He wanted to know whether Lady Relena had any real grounds for her expectations, whether Yuy's intentions towards Duo were likely to be serious, whether Yuy had family and money or naught but a title and a mouldering old country pile to his name. Not that money itself was significant - Duo had a comfortable portion, and Quatre would happily provide a generous marriage settlement of both land and funds if need be - but the most desperate of fortune hunters tended to be those with both title and estate yet no funds to support them. Yuy did not strike him as being of that ilk, but Duo's future happiness was too important to rely on his first impression alone.
And the very length of time that the two men had been absent from the gathering was enough to tell Quatre that Yuy's suitability was going to be a fairly immediate concern. The rules of propriety were far less strict for male couples than for those of opposite gender, and Duo was sufficiently aware of them to ensure that he and Yuy were not unchaperoned for an extended period of time, but a two hour absence would not go unremarked. Particularly if dinner was announced prior to their return.
Even as the potential problem occurred to Quatre, his sister's voice rose above the chatter, announcing that dinner was ready to be served. Quatre suppressed a sigh of relief as he spotted Duo and Lord Yuy slipping quietly into the drawing room through the hall doorway while everyone's attention was on Lady Iria, standing in front of the newly-opened dining room doors. He made his way to Iria's side as she requested, "Lady Relena, if you would please lead us in to dinner?"
Graciously accepting her duty as the highest ranking female guest, Relena smiled prettily. "Of course, Lady Iria." Stepping out from the group, she rested her hand lightly on Quatre's extended arm.
"Lady Relena," Quatre acknowledged with a polite nod before leading her through the entryway and towards her seat at the table. The other guests followed them in; Iria, as acting hostess, brought up the rear.
Quatre caught Relena's brief moue of displeasure as she noted Lord Yuy taking a seat too far away for polite conversation. He smothered a smile as Duo seated himself beside Yuy. Evidently their sister had also noted that developing interest, and had arranged the seating accordingly. Tonight's meal would not last the full three or four hours averaged by a more formal Town dinner but, even with the inevitable restriction to appropriate topics and the need for polite discourse with other adjacent guests, two hours should provide adequate conversational opportunities.
Turning his attention to his own preferred conversational partner, Quatre smiled. He certainly intended to take full advantage of his own chance to converse with Trowa.
The removal of the tablecloth and placement of wine decanters was a clear signal that dinner was over. Heero was slightly startled by the realization; he had been so caught up in conversation that he hadn't paid much attention to the courses placed in front of him. Seated between Duo and Lady Iria, with Alia, Lady Walkerton, another of Duo's sisters, across the table from him, it had quickly become clear that his interest had been noted. And, seeing their obvious fondness for their brother, Heero had volunteered personal details that even the cagiest of chits and their matchmaking mamas had been unable to wheedle out of him. Duo was entitled to the information, unlike those women, and as for Duo's sisters... Well, Heero wanted to change that 'interest noted' to 'interest noted and approved'.
An afternoon of intelligent conversation that had, by turns, been both serious and witty had confirmed that he found Duo's personality and mind just as attractive as his lean, well-muscled frame and unfashionably long hair. There were enough differences between them to keep life interesting, but enough common background to ensure that Duo could fulfill the social and societal duties of an Earl's spouse.
Without being made utterly miserable in the attempt, as the mother that Heero barely remembered had been. Recalled home to England after the death of the heir, his elder brother, Odin Lowe had presented wife and infant son to the old Earl as a fait accompli. Cho's dainty, exotic beauty, demure behaviour, and hesitant English had done nothing to earn her acceptance amongst the Ton, especially in the face of the old Earl's obvious disapproval. In Heero's memories, his mother was a sad, silent shadow, not the pretty, vivacious butterfly that was her namesake. She had possessed neither the necessary skills nor the strength of spirit for life in the Ton, let alone in the old Earl's household.
Duo had both, along with a warmth and generosity of spirit that drew Heero like the warm light of an ally's campfire on a cold, dark night.
As the ladies finally rose and departed for the drawing room, leaving the men to drink and converse, Heero turned in response to a light touch on his arm.
"My apologies," Duo offered, embarrassed by the way his sisters had questioned Heero during dinner. "They aren't usually quite so..."
"Talkative?" Heero suggested, quirking an eyebrow in amused tolerance.
Relieved that Heero didn't seem to have been too badly put off, Duo managed a weak smile. "You're too kind, my lord. I really don't know what possessed them."
Heero sobered at the realization that Duo was genuinely worried about his reaction to the veritable inquisition. "Concern for their brother's future, perhaps?" He placed his own hand over the one still resting warmly on his arm. "Your family is very close, Duo; I find that admirable, not something at which to take offense."
Face heating at the implication that his family had both reason and right to question Heero, Duo met his eyes squarely and smiled sincerely, despite the colour that was undoubtedly flooding his face. "Thank you, Heero." Both for the tolerance and acceptance of his family, and for the unspoken confirmation that Heero's intentions were serious.
As he squeezed Duo's hand lightly before - reluctantly - releasing it, Heero acknowledged to himself that, unless something went very drastically awry over the next few days, it was less a matter of deciding whether to make an offer and more a matter of deciding when. Duo's warm, vibrant presence was already something that he would be very reluctant to give up.
Y'know, this is really ending up a lot longer than originally expected. *sweatdrops*
Will try to work on catching up on LJ and email responses during lunch today... *crosses fingers* Assuming nothing melts down at work, that is... *gives temperamental DNS server the evil eye*