Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Heero returned from walking Koi and buying an overpriced camera from the store in the hotel, as Duo had requested, and was prepared to be annoyed if Duo was still not ready when he opened the door. Heero swiped his key at the lock and then pushed the door open. Duo rose from leaning over the bed, "Did you get the camera?"
Heero automatically offered the bag as he stared. Duo was in another of his ethnically inspired outfits and this one seemed to be American. Heero was not sure that if he had been asked before that moment he could have said what Americans wore. He might have guessed blue jeans and baseball caps, but Duo's outfit, high fashion as it seemed, could only have been American.
Heero did not know much about fashion. He knew that some people looked good whatever they wore. He knew that some clothing could make anyone look more attractive. He grasped that if he kept his wardrobe restricted to classic cuts and cool and neutral tones he would not embarrass himself by wearing the wrong top with a pair of pants.
Heero did not know how Duo could put garments together into ensembles and look good. Heero doubted most people could wear that same outfit and not look ridiculous.
The boots were of the style worn by men who swung into saddles and carried guns or who wanted to seem as rugged; they were black and convincingly like snakeskin if not real. The pants were...impressive. They were bluejeans that were coated in a layer of shiny metallic black plastic that seemed painted on with brushstrokes just loose enough to reveal faded blue denim about the crotch, knees, and seems. There was no gunbelt across Duo's hips, but there was a bondage belt worn in just the same manner. His white tuxedo shirt looked casual. The jacket was black and fell to Duo's knees, it's collar seemed vaguely Asian to Heero and only partially concealed a choker of many bright beads lain in geometric pattern. There was turquoise and silver on his ears and fingers. A rather ornate silver cross hung on a leather cord over the crisp shirt. When Duo moved, Heero saw feathers hanging from Duo's braid.
"Take a picture, it'll last longer!" Duo chirped.
"Yosh'" Heero said absently, studying Duo's pants again. He wondered what they felt like. He thought he might like to have a pair. Heero's hands took the camera from bag and box. He tore his eyes from Duo to study the buttons on the small device.
"That good?" Duo asked loudly, "Arigato a lot! You know you're my fashionplate, whatever you wear. If the security stuff doesn't work out you can try doing runway in Tokyo!"
Modeling? Duo seemed to mean it. Heero doubted he ever could be a model but he believed that it was a sincere complement from Duo. It felt good, knowing Duo thought him attractive.
Heero looked through the viewfinder and framed Duo. "American? I do like the pants."
"Yeah." Duo looked up and smiled and Heero captured the image. "They're Haten."
"Fause Haten," Heero heard himself say. He had heard that name somewhere.
"Heero? You know House of Haten?" Duo tried to stifle laughter.
Heero lowered the camera. "I do not think so. Maybe Trowa said it to me. Yes... he uses it like an adjective? 'Very Fause Haten.'"
"Oh. He is Brazilian."
Duo laughed softly. "Well, Tro's a li'l bit of everything. By nature and nurturing. Eh? The Haten design house is based in Brazil. Very Carnival most of it, but I love these pants, they are so nice!" Lots of emphasis on 'love' and 'nice.' "I kinda like the jacket too," Duo said levelly, "It's Calvin Klein."
"It does seem functional and elegant. Perhaps I will grow into it and steal it from you." Heero smirked, not really believing he would grow that much.
"That's the good thing about growing up! When you stop growing you can buy expensive clothes and they'll fit years later!" Duo suddenly frowned and turned his eyes downward. "You don't think I'll be one of those guys that turns twenty-five and sorta... bloats?"
Heero rarely considered turning twenty-five, but he knew enough about biology to understand that hormonal and metabolic changes at certain periods in life effected growth. Some men of that age did seem to get rather stocky. Heero shook his head. "If your metabolism is altered then you just have to alter your routines of exercise and eating."
"Right," Duo sighed. He glanced at Heero, chewing at his lip. "You think if I live... I mean if I was older or fat or..." He shuddered, "didn't have my hair...?" Duo stopped then and laughed loudly, lifting a hand to scratch the back of his head.
"You still have a few good years in you before I drop you in favor of a new schoolboy," Heero deadpanned.
Silence. Duo then crossed his arms and huffed. "That was a terrible joke, Yuy!"
Heero smirked. "Come on, Cowboy. Time to make obvious tourists of ourselves... take pictures... buy souvenirs."
Duo bounded the few steps between them and took Heero's left hand. "Where should we go next?"
Heero put the camera in the pocket of his racing jacket then led Koi and Duo from the hotel room. "I know some bazaars, in the tourist areas, they are very J Street, but you will find most anything you would want to take home and I do not think the prices are very bad."
"I meant, what city should we plan to visit together in the future, but while we are on the subject, shouldn't we shop where locals would shop? You're from the Quarter and you wouldn't buy things for yourself until you got to L or M Street, even I know better than that. If I was going to New York I wouldn't come back with some pewter towers or Liberty mug, I'd go straight to the boutiques and galleries in SoHo, ya know?"
"Do you know of any particular Russian designer or artist or shop that you like?" Heero asked.
"No," Duo admitted.
"And you were the one who said I should get us a camera so you could have pictures of yourself 'near the funny domes'?"
"Yeah," Duo admitted, his tone apologetic.
"Then we are stuck being tourists. We are tourists."
"It's just not very kewl," Duo complained.
Heero rolled his eyes. "We are tourists," he said as kindly as he could, "I could have blended if I tried, but I did not try, Duo. I did not plan this trip for either of us to run or hide. I wanted to see this place with you. That is not... lame."
Duo snickered at the slang. "Your outfit does scream Tokyo prêt-a-porter."
"Japanese clothing fits me best."
"Understandable," Duo said.
"Why do you know about... fashion?"
Duo shrugged and squeezed Heero's hand. "It was very class conscious where I grew up, where I live. It's an old Colony and I'm still pretty poor, but there is a decidedly upper class population there as well. Can't forget that."
True. Heero knew this. Though Duo had explained in the past that things were overall peaceful there now, during the war period many of the wealthy there had also been Alliance sympathizers and had sometimes benefited from the war and had generally been better taken care of by the Alliance. The wealthy had not died in the plagues, but for a scandalized few who were assumed to have consorted with sick prostitutes or drug dealers, whether that was true or not.
"And it's like the New York of Space. It's much more New York than LA, you know." That was true, at least of the older American Colonies. "Designer clothes were... are an important status symbol there. And, the truth is, the less money you had, the more you seemed to fixate on fashion and appearance. I mean, you know designers really get their ideas from poor club kids and club kids spend all they have on clubbing and clothes, even before they'll eat. That's just how it is. It's how you socialize and get what you want. You have to look like you do not need money in order to get a job to earn money, even if your job is a scam. And if you have a job, then you need to spend a lot of what you earn on looking professional, so that people will do business with you."
"I understand. I think some people were like that at the schools I went to, though I did not pay much attention to what they said. Perhaps I am the one who is odd."
"No. You always had some money. People with money just know the nice stores they shop at, they do not really understand the industry of fashion. When you have no money and you need to look good, that's when you have to learn about fashion to survive. You have to be able to make stuff from thrift stores look like haute couture. Ya know? You know who the designers are and what they are doing that year. You know how to invest in one special designer piece and match it up with a collection of old classic pieces to create as many different outfits with that one piece as possible. And, you have a whole set of clothes you only wear clubbing, because clubbing is a way to network and get away from work and the way you look is your own personal art exhibit, fashion show and resume in one. And you might just find someone who will offer a drink or a meal or a place to stay. You might find someone who will buy you clothes."
Duo was smiling and Heero guessed that was thanks for the Utsugi Ai kimono Heero had given him.
"Then why did you dress as a priest for so long?"
"Didn't expect to live, Heero," Duo said seriously, "Anything I'd managed to collect for myself before them was given away to people even less fortunate, then I took Deathscythe and... you know the rest. What I have now I collected since I move back to the Colonies. Started off doing the delivery stuff and working with Hilde, took a few other jobs as I found them, sometimes for Howard. Trying to get the mobile suit thing off the ground..."
"You will. You are very good at that. Then you can buy all the Cheong Leen, Utsugi Ai, Fause Haten or Calvin Klein you want."
"To visit together sometime. Paris. Or... maybe somewhere in the Isles. I kinda want to go to Ireland or Scotland, though I guess I'd end up buying touristy stuff there!" Duo laughed.
"You have a kilt," Heero said as they exited the Metropol.
Duo sighed at the old buildings about them; the Bolshoi was in view among others. "Ah, I do, but just the one. And I should like to see Ireland. They still have quite a lot of grass. I've seen pictures. Somehow the thought of visiting a ruined church or abbey doesn't sound so bad when you think of going there. Their violence is long past and some of the buildings are just ancient."
"Maybe you're Irish. You look like an elf."
Duo laughed and drew a pair of sunglasses from his jacket to shield his eyes. "Don't know about that, but I was Catholic, so I know a bit about being Irish, it's one and the same for a great many people."
"Is Maxwell an Irish name?"
Duo laughed. "It's Scots. The name suits me I think. It was the name of the Church, but the Church was on Maxwell Street. There's a lot of American and Brit Maxwells. It's a measure of magnetic flux, ya know? The Maxwell. Named after the guy who thought up the demon."
"James Clerk Maxwell. He was a Victorian Era Scots scientist who studied electro-magnetism."
"It is a fitting name," Heero observed.
"I do seem to have a chaotic effect on electronics. It's a brand of coffee too!"
"And you are perky."
"My name is a good name for me. I'm glad I picked it," Duo said seriously. "I think your name suits you too. You can read a lot into it."
Heero smirked slightly. "Will I be your one and only?"
"Hmmn, guess you could be my only something," Duo mused.
"You can be my both, Duo," Heero said flatly.
Duo laughed loudly. It had not been a very good joke, but Duo got it. Heero doubted anyone else could have understood. Duo leaned in toward Heero and whispered as they walked. "Your friends will say I'm not good for you, Heero, they'll say I'm bound to cheat."
That could be true, but if they got past this trial, maybe Heero could make Duo never want to leave him. He forced the doubt to the back of his mind and smirked. "Guess I'll have to wear a skirt to keep you interested."
"Oh shit!" Duo's knees bent and Heero had to slow his steps until Duo sprang up and returned to his side. His eyes were glazed. "I never would have thought... you're so... oh shit!" Duo giggled then stopped walking, lifted Heero's hand and gave him a pleading look. "I would never ask you to do it in public. I would never tell anyone. If you would wear one of those little schoolgirl skirts..."
"You would what?"
Duo bit at his lower lip and his eyes rolled. "Oh, I would beg you to leave it on while you fuck my ass and then just come so hard!" Duo moaned and chewed at his lip again.
"You are really turned on by this skirt idea," Heero observed coolly.
Duo squeezed his hand. His knees turned inward. His eyes fixed on Heero's briefly. "A boy like me likes a bit of androgyny," he whispered.
"A boy like you is a bit androgynous," Heero said, with much amusement. "Well, not today, this outfit is all man, but that number with the striped stockings was a bit femme as I recall."
Koi whined impatiently as Duo leaned in even closer to Heero. "You liked the striped stockings... a lot. And you insisting that you think me so butch, Heero?"
Heero shook his head and laughed softly. "But it was you in stockings and a skirt, Duo, and you are all man, ne?" Heero teased, patting Duo's erection with his hand. The plastic and denim textures did feel nice together.
Duo cleared his throat and took both his hands from Heero to button his jacket. "Aaah, I thought you didn't like that sort of PDA! Talk about something else, please."
"Let's sit and get something to eat at this café," Heero said, pointing out the nearby establishment. "May I order some tea for you?"
They got seats outside the café. It was cool, but the weather was good. And having Koi, it was better to be outdoors. He had never been to Earth before and Heero thought he seemed to like it. "Smells different than home, ne?" Heero asked the dog as he petted his head.
"It is nice here. Bet it gets cold in winter."
"So I read," Heero said, "I was thinking we should have thought to come here last week. May Day."
"Ah... you know what Tuesday is?"
"The ninth," Heero wondered allowed. "Probably something historical. May Ninth sounds familiar."
"I might not have known except I've been studying."
"You study?" Heero teased.
"Victory in Europe. After Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied Nations."
"Aa. I imagine every day of the year must be the anniversary of someone declaring independence or victory from or over some other nation." Heero laughed. "How kind it was of Barton to stage a coup on the anniversary of the Eve Wars. Now we can celebrate the ending of two wars along with Christmas every year."
"Yeah, it's nice in a way, gives us a real excuse to have the holiday blues."
"'Blues' made me think of a porn movie just then."
Duo shook his head sadly then sipped from his glass of tea. "Well, Christmas was way too over-exposed and commercial anyway, good thing we have the wars to remember."
"That is very positive of you," Heero laughed.
"I try," Duo sighed.
"Did you celebrate Christmas before? Before the War?"
Duo gave a nod. "I always knew what it was. I mean, when I was really small I was aware that it was a holiday that involved gifts and that people got kind around that time. They had better food at the soup kitchens, ya know."
Heero nodded gravely.
"Then I sort of understood it was this pagan-Christian festival that got very commercialized so that anyone could celebrate it. I didn't read so much then, I mean, I could read, I took advantage of charitable programs, I just never stayed with one long, before I was at the church. And public libraries had computers. I could read and use a computer really young. What was I saying? Oh, didn't read very much except for what one needs to, but I talked a lot. I was big on late night philosophical discussion." Duo smiled. "The kids that use get some of the strangest ideas."
"There really were that many war orphans that were not taken in?"
Duo nodded. "It's not me that's the freak with the dark past. This happened to a whole lot of people my age where I come from. Dads, Moms, and older siblings got killed or shipped out or arrested and there were just too many kids for those who were left to mind. I mean, some kids I knew had a grandmother, but she'd be some old lady with twelve grandchildren and she couldn't care for them all, so even the kids with homes were often on the street trying to get money or food somehow."
"The wars were hard for everyone."
"Yeah, in different ways, but just as bad. I mean, Quatre had money and all, but I wouldn't want the mental anguish of having to deal with heavy political issues at such a young age! Should you be a pacifist? Should you fight to defend yourself? Which side do you choose? Can you aid the freedom fighters and be a pacifist yourself? Or what about you and Trowa?" Duo lowered his voice. "You actually killed people when you were really young."
Heero winced. "I did not really want to. It was just what I was taught to do."
"Sorry!" Duo hissed. "I was just trying to say, I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't want you to feel bad for me. Everyone had troubles, and sure, there were days filled with death, but most days... mostly I was OK, Heero. I learned useful skills, I acquired what I needed to survive, I survived. And I didn't get completely strung out or sell my body doing it, and that's totally positive!"
Heero smiled slightly. "If Christmas had not been commercial I wouldn't have known about it. No one I lived with was religious, but I remember being in places where there were trees or wreaths. I remember wanting some candy. I remember this sort of... glee when I unwrapped a box and found I had been given a new video game."
"Develops hand-eye coordination," Duo said wearily.
"I liked the games!" Heero said defensively. "I did not hate my training. It was just my life. I felt that it was challenging moving around, remembering names, hiding, and learning how weapons worked... and the physical training and combat and strategy lessons were difficult, but I did not really hate it. I only regret very much that I did have to kill so much..." Heero smiled again, "And that my diet was so restricted."
"You're going to get fat!"
"I will not!" Heero protested, "I introduce snacks into my diet in moderation."
Duo beamed a smile.
"I think we had Christmas on a different day," Heero said thoughtfully. "Dr. J did not celebrate Christmas, at least not outwardly, but then I was allowed out when I wanted to and I knew others were celebrating Christmas. And then, Dr. J would give me something new, but pretend that he did not know it was Christmas, because it was frivolous and not Japanese and such. But I remember Lowe gave me gifts, but it was after some other children already had theirs."
"Well, maybe they weren't Christmas Presents. I mean, Chanukah is around the same time and sometimes the end of Ramadan is also and there's Solstice for Pagans and there's Kwanzaa. And some people have peculiar regional manners of celebrating, like Germans don't have Halloween but they dress in costumes and get candy on New Years and the Chinese celebrate New Years at a completely other time of year. And if you are Catholic but you belong to one of the Eastern Churches then you don't give gifts on Christmas, you give them on Epiphany."
"It's another holy day, if you are Catholic. Sometimes that call it Little Christmas. See, Christmas is like the birthday of Jesus, but Epiphany is when the Magi visited Jesus and brought him gifts to symbolize his kingliness. That's basically where they get the whole gift thing from."
"Oh, like when you see the little figures in some yards and houses? The stable and there's three kings holding gold or something?"
"Yeah. Except if you really believe the Gospels then the Magi, the astronomer-priest-kings from the East, they never visited the manger, they arrived when Christ was already somewhat older and lived in a house. Following stars isn't like email. It took a while for them to travel and then have their talk with Herod and all that. That's why when Herod ordered the boys killed he gave them a range, like all boys under the age of three or something, because he didn't actually know how old this child was."
"Who? Killed little boys?"
Duo shrugged. "Well, yeah. You never read the Bible? It's pretty interesting, even if you don't follow the religion. I mean, you can just take it as a story if you like. It's fairly action packed as stories go."
"I heard of killing girl babies. Some cultures did not value women. But I thought all valued boys."
"Look, it's just a story, but the story is that these Magi visited with the local king, and told him that they had read signs in the sky... you know how ancient people were big in astronomy? They saw a conjunction of planets or something... and had prophesied that a new king was born among this guy's people. Of course, this king freaks because he thinks someone is going to grow up and overthrow his kingdom, so, what does he do?"
"Had all boys beneath a certain age killed in order to prevent the prophesy from coming true and in doing so insured that his rule would be cruel enough to be overthrown?"
"Guess you see those self-fulfilling prophesies in Science-Fiction too. 'Bring balance to the force' and all?"
"Aa, if you wipe everyone out, there's balance, there's no light and no dark." Heero smiled. "Epyon was good at that... balance."
"Yeah," Duo groaned. "Um, ya know, the Old Testament is kinda like Science Fiction. There are people getting whisked away into fiery chariots left and right. Voices broadcast from inanimate objects, glowing devices, weapons of mass destruction. Ya know, Moses also narrowly escaped a death warrant on male children. He floated down a river. I don't know, maybe it's history and maybe it's all plot device to make the villains seem villainous and the heroes seem more heroic."
"I do not think anyone prophesied me."
Duo laughed, "No? Well, there's probably a bogus Nostradamus verse wasting bandwidth out there about metal giants from the sky."
"I think I killfiled 'Nostradamus.'"
"Wise decision, but, you're still my personal savior." Duo lowered his sunglasses to look over them at Heero as he grinned.
"Let's go shopping. I think I should buy Relena a nice souvenir."
Duo stood as Heero picked up a last bit of smoked salmon and fed it to Koi. "I got to find something for 'Lena and Hilde and... what do you think is a Russian thing that you can't find in the Colonies but they have here? Adin would want that."
"Let's see what we can find," Heero suggested.
They made their way to the street Bazaar Heero had planned to visit. They were later than Heero had anticipated and the area was already crowded with tourists and locals trading in souvenirs, gift items, clothing and assorted second hand goods.
So many social and financial interactions. Heero was often wary of street vendors in general. In any part of the Sphere they often left him feeling he'd paid the worst price, even when he had the money to spend. He was more accustomed to buying things he needed online or in large stores, whether the prices were better or not, he felt better shopping that way.
Duo pulled Heero toward some stalls. They had jewelry on their tables and various small accessories hanging overhead. He scanned the table and then pulled Heero away. "How much cash do you have on ya?"
"I'll split all our cash with you."
"It's... already split."
"Evenly. Just show me all your cash."
Heero frowned. He took a fold of bills from his jacket and offered it to Duo.
"All of it."
Heero took the rest of his cash from the pockets in his satchel.
Duo smiled, holding Heero's money in one hand and reaching beneath his own jacket to take his money with the other hand. "This will do nicely, several different currencies, lots of small bills."
"Nicely for what? Just because they are street vendors does not mean they do not take cards."
Duo raised a brow over his glasses. "Baby, you do remember making illegal arms purchases?"
"Only a few. I stole the expensive things from enemies."
"Often a good strategy. Heero, cash is better. Cash will always be better. If they try to phase out cash people will barter on the black market. You know a vender in any store has to pay a processing fee and regular charges to accept any kind of cred or deb. Small volume vendors with small ticket items hate those processing fees, they add them into the prices. If you pay cash, they can afford to give you a better price. It's less traceable."
"Yes, but everything here is likely legal."
"You are really missing my point." Duo sighed. "Did you ever buy a new computer system and think that you could have gotten it cheaper somehow?"
"No. I know a lot about computer systems. I know the value of components. I do not buy from sellers who overcharge me. Actually, if possible I pay for the components I want rather than order a premade system."
"Ah, and did you ever tell a seller their price was too high? Then got it for cheaper?"
"You can haggle for anything, you don't always have to know a lot about the thing you are buying, it just helps. You just have to seem like you are not ignorant enough to pay too much. The thing is, in big stores, you can only haggle if you find a high level manager or store owner. Most often street vendors are in business for themselves. That means, if they sell it, they are in a position to alter the asking price. So...?"
"You can persuade them to alter their asking price if you seem like you know it is too high. They will haggle with you."
"Right. They might be good at it. They might sell you your own shirt."
Heero thought that made no sense, then decided it was not meant to. "I am just going to look for a few gifts. I do not need to haggle. I have money."
Duo sighed quite melodramatically. "You take no joy in shopping!"
"I like choosing new things and acquiring them. I like the choosing."
"It's not better to get what you choose at a cheaper price?"
"It might be better for the economy to pay more and these people seem like they do a lot of work, they should be given a fair amount."
"You saved the world already Heero, don't worry about the economy. You'll give them a fair amount. You haggle to be sure the amount is fair. Mostly the prices might be fair, but people always take advantage of tourists. Everywhere."
"Which is not logical. One should treat visitors well. It's just good manners."
"Now you are just messing with me," Duo sighed.
Heero smiled. Only a little. Duo liked explaining haggling to him and he liked Heero a little argumentative. "We should split up. If I see something I think you would like, I will find you."
"Leaving me all alone in a foreign country? I thought you were the perfect boyfriend."
"You wouldn't want them to play us against each other? 'I think your boyfriend really likes that watch.' I will watch you go to work on these poor venders from a safe distance."
Duo laughed. "I was just going to haggle. No scams. No five finger discount. You think the American works for or against?"
"Here? Haggling with venders? Against."
Duo shrugged. "I like a challenge." He handed Heero a billfold, small money on the outside.
"I know. Do not show large bills. Show interest, but not need. Be polite."
"I love you," Duo said, smiling.
Duo gave Heero a playful shove. "Oh, here." He removed a ring from his right ring finger and pressed it into Heero's hand. "Just in case anyone wants to trade. That one is real silver and turquoise. You can trade it if you find something you really like."
"You don't want it?"
"I like it, but it's not personally valuable to me. I've got scads of silver jewelry. I'll give you something else." Duo reached into a pocket and drew out a choker similar to the one he was wearing. "no, wait, that's the good one." He laughed, returning to his pocket and producing a third beaded necklace. "You can trade this if you like. Cost of materials is dirt cheap so it's value is all based on how long it takes to make. Feel free to talk up cost of labor as much as you like but I put it together while sitting on my couch watching movies."
"You made this?"
"Yeah." Duo lifted the other chocker again, the one he had called nice. "Quatre made this one. It has glass beads, not plastic, and there's no noticeable knots in the thread. Quatre showed me how to make them. I thought, it's always good to know another craft. He learned from his sisters when he was little. He makes stuff with knots too. I mean, that stuff made from decorative knots and big beads."
"That's cobalt glass?" Heero asked. It was a very pretty piece of jewelry made of many deep blue beads, in a solid field, not a pattern as in the one Duo wore.
"Yeah. Really nice, like I said. I'm not trading this. I just threw a bunch of stuff in my pockets since you said we'd go to a bazaar. Quatre took me to a very interesting bazaar once. He's quite good at haggling, for someone so rich."
Heero noted Duo's saddened tone. "He has excellent negotiating skills. I will talk to Trowa."
Duo smiled. "Thanks. I would hate for Quatre to be really miserable."
"Let me know if you find anything I would like."
Duo smiled then strode away from Heero. He looked rich, eccentric and American in that outfit; Heero did not know how he would convince anyone to give him a deal.
"Alone at last?" Heero asked Koi. He scratched Koi's head, just behind his ear.
He wandered closer to the tables, looking over their wares from a short distance. Moscow was in the West of Russia and more moderate in climate than smaller cities in the East, but it was still Northern and European and winters were longer than summers and summers were not very hot. So, Heero was not surprised to see hats and scarves of varying styles sold on the tables, even in May. He figured that tourists wanted to take them home for colder days. Maybe they were thinking of the stories about armies freezing to death trying to take Moscow, but Heero knew that had been long ago, before mobile suits or synthetic fabrics. Moscow would not be hard to invade, though, the Kremlin might hold out. It was centuries old, but quite heavily fortified.
He was thinking like a soldier again. Heero told himself that the ancient fort was rather like an Imperial City, being palaces and such behind a study wall. It had been an Imperial city actually, though Saint Petersburg had last been the Imperial city to the Russians. Dr. J had educated Heero on military and political history, but Lowe had told him stories about Russia in general. Heero had visited Saint Petersburg, briefly; he thought Duo would like to visit the art museum there.
Heero wondered what it had been like to live in a time when there were Emperors. There were no Emperors any more, just a President and Ministers and Representatives and then some various regional officials such as Governors or Mayors. Perhaps it had not been pleasant for everyone. In history books Japanese people had always seemed rather willing to follow the Emperor, but the history books could not adequately explain the motivation behind that willingness. It could have been love or fear or many things in between.
Heero paused, looking down at the jewelry he was holding. Duo was stalking vendors at least twenty meters away. Heero slipped the ring onto his left thumb and then lifted the choker to study it more closely. It was made only of dark blue and green beads and did not have any regular pattern but suggested, to Heero, lengths of grass or seaweed in motion, in the way the colored beads were placed.
Heero did not usually wear jewelry. Sometimes he had used a watch, but he could not recall ever owning jewelry. He knew that some people looked weighed down and awkward in jewelry while others looked very good. Heero thought the function of jewelry was to draw attention to an attractive feature. And drawing attention to one's good features was just a basic human function that came with the urge to procreate.
Heero wondered if his neck was more or less attractive than average. Maybe if he wore the choker Duo would want to kiss his throat. Heero did not like that as much as Duo did, but he did not mind it, and he certainly liked that Duo had to get in close to do it. If Duo was close then Heero could taste his lips. He might get Duo to whisper and nibble at his ear. Heero thought he liked that.
Heero did not think he would like to wear earrings, maybe there was some sort of clasp or band for the ear. Heero thought there might be.
He shook the images of Duo's tongue and fastened the choker about his neck.
Heero looked for Duo again. He seemed to be talking animatedly to a woman at a distant stall. Heero thought he should find some gifts. He walked closer to a nearby table. There were all kinds of jewelry in trays, some covered in acrylic to prevent thievery. Three school age girls were looking at brooches and taking up a lot of room, so Heero stood near one end of the surface, scanning visually.
The young woman behind the table was explaining the assets of each brooch, saying that it was antique or that it was hand made or that it came from another part of the Sphere. She was speaking in English and sounded British, Heero thought. Heero gathered that the jewelry was all second hand, and though some of it might genuinely be antique and made of more precious stones and metals a lot of it was silver and copper and in shapes that had been trendy over the last few decades.
Heero looked at the many rings near his place as the girls wavered in deciding to buy brooches and began inquiring about the charms on the necklaces. "That is Hebrew. Do any of you know Hebrew letters?"
None of them indicated they did.
"It means 'haim.' That is life. You can wear it for luck." Heero supposed that was true, he did not know otherwise.
"Pardon, are the rings arranged by size at all?" Heero asked, deciding to speak the same language the others were.
The woman quickly paused in explaining the meaning of Chinese characters stamped in dangling earrings to tell Heero that in each tray the smaller rings were to the left and larger to the right. That did not really tell Heero what he wished to know. He slipped Duo's ring from his thumb.
"But, how would I know which rings might be this size?"
"Shopping for a gift?" Heero seemed to have her full attention, not that he especially wanted it yet.
The vender held out a hand and Heero offered the ring, watching her hands closely. She kept it held clearly between her fingers while she reached beneath the table with one hand and brought out a device to measure the ring's size. She then slipped Duo's ring over the cone-shaped instrument and read off a number. "Generally the rings in the second and third rows from the right will match this size."
"Thank you," Heero said.
"Is that your dog?" one of the girls asked.
"Isn't he cute?" asked another of her friends.
"Is it a boy?"
Heero held out his hand to take the ring back. He returned it to his thumb then shifted his gaze the girls who were already petting Koi. The dog seemed to enjoy the attention. "He is a male dog," Heero said simply. "His name is Koi."
"Is he Japanese?" a girl asked.
Heero had to think about that. "His name is Japanese."
"Are you looking for amber?" the vender asked.
"Amber is very popular among visitors to Moscow."
Heero shrugged one shoulder and returned to looking at the rings. There were so many different stones and shapes. He thought that he wanted to buy Duo a ring, even though Duo had more than enough, but he wasn't sure what sort Duo would like.
"Ohayo, Koi-chan!" The girls baby-talked.
Heero was guessing that was learned from anime. Besides schools the way most people picked up languages was from watching a lot of television. Most parts of the sphere were equipped to send satellite or fiber into every home and it was common to receive programs made in various parts of the Sphere now. It had been different during the war. A lot of communications satellites had been disrupted, most particularly in the Colonies, so not quite as many people had access to foreign programming then.
Heero found that very often foreigners learned Japanese because they were addicted to anime or to Japanese dramas. It was not like English. English was taught in schools all over the Sphere, Japanese only in some schools. Russian was spoken only by a small percentage of people on Earth, excepting those who were of Russian descent, but in the Colonies it was a very common second language to have. That had to do with the history of the Colonies. There it was common to speak Japanese or Russian besides English. In that way Heero was typical among Colonials.
Heero tried on some rings, but he did not like any very much. He suspected his fingers might be very slender, as the rings that fit seemed rather feminine to him. In any case, Heero was unsure if he could type wearing rings. When he tried on a ring and mimed the motion of typing at a keyboard his hand just did not feel right.
He focused on the rows of rings that might fit Duo. He thought that if he was to buy a ring here, it should be silver. It was not as precious as gold or platinum of course, but it was nice and Duo wore jewelry of that metal often. Heero supposed he could have gone to a proper jewelry store, but that would not necessarily make any ring he found more special, only more expensive.
Maybe a black or red stone, if Heero chose a stone. Heero did not know the difference between many jewels and gemstones. It seemed there were some that were black or red beneath the acrylic pane. Heero wanted to see them, but the vender was occupied with giving prices on brooches to the girls.
"May I see these ones?" Heero asked finally.
The woman looked at the girls and then at Heero again. She opened the tray and pushed it forward, watching Heero closely. Heero saw something red and black and picked it up. The red stone was cut in a heart shape, but the ring did not seem very feminine. It had a rather substantial band; Heero realized then the blackness was badly tarnished silver.
"Oh, let me polish that up for you. I only put it out when I sold the last ring."
Heero handed the ring to the vender. She must have more rings hidden elsewhere as there were no place markers in the trays. She might have better-suited rings hidden, or then, she might not.
"Are you going to buy it?" Heero heard a girl ask her friend.
"It would be my whole week's allowance."
"You couldn't buy any snacks," the other friend teased.
The vender passed the ring back to Heero. He could see now that it was silver and that it was engraved with a sort of scrollwork. Also, he could see more clearly that the band the red stone was set in took the shape of two gloved hands and a crown. Heero wondered if Duo would like it.
"It's Irish," the woman told Heero.
"The pattern originated in Ireland. They give rings like that to their sweethearts."
Assuming that was true, Heero thought he might like to buy this ring for Duo. "What sort of stone do you think this is?" Heero asked.
"I know it's a ruby."
"Ruby," Heero said. He had thought it was a simulated emerald, but he was confusing the red and green stones at the moment, most likely. He remembered that red and ruby began with 'r' and that was a good way to remember the stone. "How do you know it is a ruby?"
The vender gave a nod and smiled smugly as she drew a mobile computer and unfamiliar input devices from beneath her table. She went into an automatic speech about known stones separating light differently or having known color and pattern ranges and there existing formulas for gauging karat weight based on the size of a stone give it's type and cut and how the devices could prove with a finite degree of error what sort of stone was set in a particular piece of jewelry. "That ring is sterling silver set with a heart cut 3 karat ruby."
Couldn't very well haggle with that. There must be a clear book value based on the materials and size. If it age or maker influenced price that would likely only work against Heero. "Oh." Heero compared the ring to the turquoise one for size and they matched. "How much do you want for it?"
"Four hundred Dollars, Sphere."
Heero kept his face straight and set the ring down. "I am interested, but that sounds too expensive to me," Heero said, "My sweetheart is not even Irish."
"I couldn't sell it for less than 375."
Heero narrowed his eyes slightly, staring at the woman. He wished he could read minds, but it seemed to only work with Duo. Heero did not really know how much rubies were worth. He fingered the ring Duo had given him then showed it. "What if I gave you this?"
"Trade that ring?"
"It's the same size and the band is also silver, it's even more substantial. It also has engraving. I think rubies would be more than turquoise, but then I should only expect to pay you the difference between turquoise and rubies, not the price of overhead or a ring or the silver. And... you have no turquoise on your table."
She was thinking about it. It depended on how important each ring seemed to her. Heero wondered why the ring had been so tarnished. Maybe it was hard to sell here. Maybe she wanted Heero to trade her the other ring. "If you trade in that ring, I will sell you the one here for 200 Esdees."
Heero considered. That sounded like a lot for a ring, or rather, it sounded like a lot for the sort of ring he would have expected to find at this bazaar. It was less than he would expect to pay for a very nice ring in a retail jeweler. He did think Duo would like the ring. He definitely had the money. Two hundred Sphere Dollars was about what one could make in a week or two weeks working a fairly low-level job.
"I will trade you this ring and give you 1750 Yen for that ring," Heero said, hoping he had not pressed too far. Presently, with many currencies yet to be phased out in favor of Sphere Dollars and bases and exchange rates being what they were, Heero's offer was pretty much equivalent to the previous one, though slightly lower. However, she might understand that the 1750 Yen were potentially worth more than the 200 Esdees, because of the money selling, fluctuating exchange rates and value in the black market.
If she took it she would be trading less now for potentially more later, risking that she might also lose some money. It was not wise, but it might be the smart move, Heero thought. "Accepted."
Heero bowed slightly and then counted out the money from his billfold as discreetly as he could manage. He thought then that the vender did not know how much he had. Perhaps she believed he was not carrying 200 Esdees. They traded rings.
The woman smiled and then scanned for her next customer. Heero turned and looked at the ring. It really was pretty. The ruby had an almost purple color, it was a very deep red, but clear. It was set so that light could pass through the heart from front to back when the ring was not worn and the stone was transparent. Heero had a sudden sense of dread. He had not actually seen the vender use her computer to evaluate the stone. He had only seen that she had the equipment.
It was done. Heero pushed the ring into his jeans pocket and then scanned the crowd for Duo. He soon found Duo walking toward him with a box. Duo grinned and set the box down in the street as Heero approached. Heero stooped down and looked into the box; he saw, among a few other things, a lot of old console and handheld video game systems.
Heero caught the movement of Duo flipping his glasses into his hair. "Just tell me, is this stuff potentially worth anything at all to you?"
Heero looked again. Some of the devices were obviously broken and there were many unmatched parts. "Does any of it work?"
Duo lifted one of the consoles. "This one probably does. I didn't sense the guy was lying. In fact, he was pretty nice. It's only a couple of years old and I can get you games for it. I didn't notice you owned any of the console systems, though you like games."
"Thanks," Heero said, "I do have some games for my computer, but mostly..." Heero stopped. Now that Duo had moved one console Heero saw the items under it and that derailed his train of thought. "Ay, Kamisama..." Heero whispered as he lifted a device from the bottom of the box.
"Kamisama?" Duo warbled.
"The four switch console, not as rare as the six, but it has the more desirable logos..." Heero observed reverently.
"Eh? That's good then? It was in the box the guy gave me, probably doesn't work he said, but then he said he didn't know how that was supposed to work it looks so old. Looks pretty kewl I think, black and all... and what's that? Antique faux wood trim?"
"It's not meant to simulate wood, it's just plastic with a wood grain pattern on it as decoration," Heero answered automatically. "Duo, do you know what this is?"
"This is over 200 years old! It is one of the first home game consoles, one of the most highly collectable."
Duo laughed. "You are the only person I know of that collects old game machines, Heero. Mostly people just give them away or junk them."
Heero looked over the console in his hands. "Looks like a device sold on the American market permanently rigged to take 220 volts, it was the standard here previously. Duo, how did you find this?"
"Like I said, I was at a stall over there and this guy is practically giving stuff away, He speaks English better than I do..."
Heero noticed the drop in Duo's tone and looked up. "That surprises you?"
"It's just... weird. I'm American and Russians speak better English than I do."
"Aa, people often speak very formally and properly if it is their second language, but I doubt a native Russian would speak English as creatively as you or have as large a vocabulary. You could read Shakespeare as well as a William Gibson novel and figure it out, because you have a sense of all the different shades of meaning an English word may have, but I would have a hard time with Shakespeare or poetry in English. I do. I have to read the footnotes constantly."
Duo blinked slowly and Heero cringed mentally that he had mentioned the name 'Gibson' at all. Duo recovered quickly and grinned. It was a little forced, Heero thought. "Yeah, anyway, this guy said that the stuff at his stall was all donated to him and that the profit he makes at the bazaar all goes to Little Basil's. That's a Russian Catholic church, not to be confused with the cathedral, I gather. Well, I thought it was a scam at first. I mean, sometimes people say they are gathering for charities when they aren't... but it didn't really feel like a scam. He was just selling stuff at really fair prices to begin with and not trying to haggle at all. So, I saw this console first and then I pretty much gathered up everything he had that looked like a game machine, thinking you'd like it. Then he asks me if I'm interested in that stuff and I told him it was for a friend who had some interest. Then he brings this box from under the table and tells me that it's all stuff that was donated but he doesn't feel right selling it because they can't figure out how to even test this old stuff. He guessed some of it could be broken. He let me have the stuff in the box for free! So, is it worth anything really?"
"If it works and if it is sold to a collector, then some of these pieces could be worth a lot, but otherwise, they really are junk to most people. Even if they do not work, I would have fun taking them apart to see if I could fix them."
"Well I got this stuff for you."
"Arigato, Duo." Heero smiled. "I am... stunned that you found me an Atari 2600 without even trying, and here of all places."
"Do itashimashite," Duo said politely. "Oh, the reason I came looking for you was to ask if I could borrow Koi."
"You want Koi?"
Duo laughed. "I saw this guy selling incense had the bloodshot eyes and I thought if I could borrow Koi and kinda suggest that his littermate is a narc hound and that he's in training..."
"Aa, the vender showed signs of drug use," Heero said aloud, as he understood Duo's meaning.
"I was just going to imply a threat to see if he'd give me a good price. It seemed like good quality stick incense."
"All right," Heero said. "I traded your ring to get something for you, but I would like to keep it a while, if that is OK?"
"Sure!" Duo smiled, "I said you could trade the ring. If you have something for me, you can give it to me when you are ready."
"Good." Heero put the devices back into the box then passed Koi's leash to Duo. "I still have to find a gift for Relena. Have you noticed any matryóshku?"
"How do you say that? Matrjoshku? What are those?"
"What do you call them...? They look like wooden dolls on the outside. Like round dolls or figures made of wood and painted. They are considered a very Russian thing, so I thought that would be a safe choice as a souvenir."
"Yeah, I did see some kind of toys or figures like that on a lot of the tables. I don't know which stall has the best value."
Heero nodded. "I will carry the box and look for some gifts while you take Koi to get incense. You will meet me then?"
"Khorosho!" Duo chirped in very American sounding Russian, and winked. He stood up as Heero did then spoke to Koi. "Come on, Dog, you know Heero wouldn't abandon the both of us, so just stick to me and you'll see him soon enough."
Heero shook his head as he watched Duo pull Koi away. He would not abandon either of them.