The Rolls Royce moved majestically over the driveway, the silver colored car moving at a slow pace, driving up to the large mansion basking in the early morning sunlight. It was half past seven; only the sounds of a few birds were heard, as well as the continuous motion of water. It cascaded from the large fountain in the middle of the driveway - a magnificent sculpture of seven nymphs carrying large urns, bathing at the edge of the basin. The rest was silence as the car pulled up, engine nothing but a whisper, grinding to a halt in front of the wide stairs leading up to the large front door.
“I must say, Maxwell Manor certainly trumps everything I have ever seen before,” the chauffeur said out loud, tone of voice casual, but respectful. “Except for your real estate, of course, Master Winner.”
“It certainly looks impressive,” one of the two passengers on the plush backseat agreed, a young man with blond hair and striking blue eyes.
“The pictures I saw of it certainly failed to bring out the splendor that is the Manor as we see it here now… What do you think, Trowa?”
The other passenger stared out the window, his fingers resting on the keyboard of a laptop perched on a foldable table. His eyes, partially covered by his chestnut bangs, were unreadable.
“Very impressive, indeed,” he said. It looks like late 16th, early 17th century to me. The architect really had an almost megalomaniac notion of grandeur in mind, judging from the dimensions and proportions of the house. It looks remarkably well renovated and maintained, though.”
The blond shifted a little, adjusting the thick, dark blue scarf around his neck even though it wasn’t particularly cold in the car. Quatre Raberba Winner, a son of the Arabic desert, was notorious for feeling cold. He was used to heat and sun, not the temperatures of a rainy, British autumn. He shivered.
Trowa Barton, simply wearing a light coat and seemingly unaffected by the chilly weather, focused his attention on the laptop, information scrolling over the screen.
“I was quite correct,” he said, without sounding smug. “The earliest written records of Maxwell Manor have been traced back to 1674. The first bricks were laid after the Third Anglo-Dutch War, when the Maxwells played a great part in England’s defense during the naval conflict. A recommendation letter concerning a Solomon Maxwell is the first reference to the family- he had the Manor built and expanded during his rise in the army.”
“Yes, the first of a grand family of entrepreneurs, adventurers and governors,” Quatre said, a smile tugging at his lips. “They participated in revolts, wars and strikes, but also knew how and where to see opportunities and take their chances- a family history many are jealous of.”
“According to the layouts and designs available, the Manor has been maintained in its original state throughout the centuries, despite the later documented additions, damages and renovations,” Trowa added. “All in all, it is one of the last intact remaining monuments of British architecture.”
He shut down the laptop and pocketed it into a briefcase, watching the other attentively.
“… and to live there all alone,” Quatre heaved a sigh, shaking his head. His fingers clenched nervously at the fabric of his pants.
“I doubt Duo Maxwell is all alone,” Trowa snorted, reaching for Quatre’s fingers to unwind them. “After all, even the tabloids can’t keep up with his pace of visiting every trendy night club, party or rave known to mankind.”
“You know what I mean,” Quatre interjected, throwing him a slightly scolding look, but not letting go of his fingers yet. Trowa snorted again, less loudly this time, and snapped the briefcase closed with his other hand.
“Shall we go?”
“I will be here until you request me again, master Winner,” the chauffeur said before stepping out of the car to hold the door open for him.
“Thank you, Pagan.” Quatre nodded to him as he stepped out himself, inhaling the fresh morning air as he huddled in his scarf.
Trowa walked around the Rolls Royce and came to stand next to Quatre, keeping a close eye to him as he was taking in the Manor, its dark rooftops strangely clashing with the tender colors of the early morning light.
“Let’s get this over with,” the blond gritted through his teeth.
“Are you… are you sure you want to go through with this?” Trowa asked, lowering his voice. “I know why you want to do this, Quatre…” a surprisingly gentle tone was added, “… but maybe, maybe you should better let this rest.”
“I can’t,” Quatre all but snapped irritably. “I have to do this. I can deal with business mergers in my sleep, I can hold myself up against boards of directors. I deal with the stress and the tension of the corporate world. I have developed Winner Enterprises International into what it is today. I’m not afraid of taking the last step. I’m obligated to do this- for myself, for my family, and most of all, for my father.”
Trowa muttered something inaudible under his breath. He knew about the other’s deepest wish of restoring his father’s name - Winner Sr. having left his mark on far more things than the old man could ever have dreamed of. It was slowly turning into an obsession for Quatre; the only reason why he had agreed to travel with the blond CEO all the way to England to talk to a certain Duo Maxwell was his promise that this was the last step they would take. Winner Sr. or not, the man already had more influence on his son’s life than he was willing to admit. Trowa certainly didn’t deny the importance of it all to Quatre- but there was a healthy line between passion and obsession.
“I want to do this,” Quatre suddenly said out loud and was already up the stairs before Trowa realized he was moving. Hurrying after him, he took the stairs two at the same time, reaching Quatre as he loudly rang the bell. The massive brass bell, fit for a ship and a not-so-subtle reference to the family’s naval connections, covered up a rather modest - and old-fashioned - sign with “Maxwell Manor” engraved on it. The echo of the bell resonated throughout the whole mansion.
Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his woolen coat, Quatre stared intently at the large oak doors carved with an intricate Greco-Roman pattern. This whole mansion was breathing and living history- from every brick to every tile, it spoke of ancient traditions and rituals, lives coming and going, generation after generation. It would be a privilege to live here, going back into time with every step in the large corridors, but with the comfort and facilities of the modern, present day. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice the door opening at first- but as soon as Trowa stiffened next to him, Quatre straightened as well.
A butler, impeccably dressed in black and white, gazed at the two standing in front of him.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he spoke, his voice neutral but warm. “Welcome to Maxwell Manor. Guided tours are on Tuesdays and Thursdays only from ten to twelve and two to four. Groups only, for individuals on appointment only. What can I do for you?”
“We’re here to visit Mister Maxwell on behalf of mister Quatre Raberba Winner of Winner Enterprises International,” Trowa was quick to reply. He whipped out a business card so fast that the butler couldn’t follow the movement; with a nod of his head, he took the small, white card with golden lettering and studied it. Winner, and especially Winner Enterprises International, was a widely renowned name, of course. Everyone knew about the young, charismatic businessman who successfully had made the switch from the heavy mining industry to the electronics and computer branch. W. E. I.’s core business had always been asteroid mining and the processing of natural resources at the space colonies, at L4 in particular. The company slowly became discredited when rumors of collaboration with the enemy started during the infamous Eve Wars a few decades earlier. Earth and the colonies were at war with each other in a turbulent time when factions and unities were formed and broken faster than one could blink, and the lines between enemy and friend were thin, confusing and easily discarded.
The Winner family fell out of grace when scandal after scandal hit them: severe audits proved that the bookkeeping showed holes to pilot a mobile suit through, several family members openly took a stand against each other – something that had been extremely satisfying for the running tabloids, and they’d latched onto it with a ferocity that reminded Quatre of vultures - and the colonists themselves revolted against working in the Winner mines. When one of the satellites of the colony exploded with fatal results, the whole family’s future looked bleak. It had taken all of Quatre’s diplomatic skills to keep at least one part of the family together throughout the years, especially after dismissing his father as head of the family. It had been an incredibly tough time for the young heir, but assuming his father’s position was the best thing he could have done.
Quatre had no ties to the wars, as he’d been a toddler when the last one ended, and he’d grown up on Earth, outside of the colonies. With this ‘blank’ record and his youthful enthusiasm and good spirits, he tried to lift the negativity that surrounded the Winner name. Establishing contacts and building up and maintaining new and existing relationships had been time-consuming, but Quatre finally managed to succeed in his goal. W.E.I. was a force to be reckoned with on the international markets, and was a good hit on the stock markets. Quatre’s best decision to date was making the switch from the heavy mining industry, which was unavoidably connected to the wars, to computers and electronics, the booming business after the end of the very same wars.
“Mister Winner, did you have an appointment?” the butler asked.
Trowa sported a baffled look for a moment, but quickly pulled up a neutral expression.
“I’m very sure mister Maxwell will make some time for him, if he’s not too busy with his hangover from one of his parties, that is..?”
“Trowa..!” Quatre immediately reprimanded him, but couldn’t keep from chuckling softly. “Mister Maxwell’s late night’s escapades are none of our business.”
“Mister Winner wants to see him,” Trowa addressed the butler again, not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Besides, no one ever refused to receive Quatre Raberba Winner and survived for another week in society; especially if they already had a fickle reputation like Duo Maxwell.
The butler studied the business card again, obviously torn between his master’s wishes and the fact that it was Quatre Winner standing in front of him - he knew about the consequences when slamming the door shut in the CEO’s face. He finally nodded again and put the business card into a pocket of his vest, bowing slightly.
“Very well, gentlemen, I will see what I can do for you. Master Maxwell usually is at the gym at this hour.”
“Thank you,” Quatre said, inwardly amused at the surprised look on Trowa’s face when hearing the butler’s words. He stepped inside, his Berluti’s sounding hollow in the immensely large hall. Trowa mumbled a similar response and fell back, walking behind Quatre as he kept a close eye on their surroundings.
“This is magnificent,” Quatre breathed as they followed the butler, craning his neck to take in everything that there was to see. Polished Italian marble adorned the floor, the large stairs showing up in front of them carved from the same material, the banisters sporting a similar Greco-Roman pattern as the door. The crystal chandeliers were Titanic-sized, the millions of lights a nightmare for every cleaner. The walls were furnished, the tapestry thick and mostly woven in dark colors, representing hunting scenes and mythological events.
“The birth of Aphrodite,” Trowa said as he studied one of the large panels. He didn’t touch the fabric, respecting it far too much to ruin it, but his sharp eyes took in every detail of the handcrafted work.
“The kidnapping of Persephone…”
“The Gorgons.” Quatre was standing in front of a rather gruesome panel. “Medusa’s head with the snakes for hair... I don’t think I would want this to hang in my hallway.”
“Master Maxwell is carrying on the tradition of his father and his father before him,” the butler interjected. “To respect the architecture and layout of the Manor and to change as little as possible. This work has hung here since the late 1880’s. Besides, many of the art and objects here are better protected and preserved than any museum could possibly do.”
The man was obviously used to visitors wandering around to admire the tapestries, as he waited patiently for Quatre and Trowa before making a movement with his arm to indicate they could continue their walk. They didn’t go upstairs, but went to the right instead, directly into the east wing. Quatre wondered briefly who would be doing all the housekeeping here - there were no servants or any other personnel but the butler in sight, yet there wasn’t a speck of dust anywhere, and the large windows were spotless.
“It is like a museum in here,” Trowa commented, noticing the displayed suits of armor with interest. Carefully modeled around faceless mannequins, they represented several centuries of warfare, and he recognized the eras of the Spanish Armada, the French Revolution, and the American Civil War in the uniforms and armor, lined up evenly spaced.
“There’s even a samurai here,” Quatre pointed out, admiring a tall doll outfitted in an 18th century’s armor, the fabric embroidered with dragons and the breast plate shining enough to reflect his mirror image.
“Complete with tachi,” he added, seeing the long sword firmly attached to the doll’s right hand. “Is this all authentic?”
The butler shook his head. “No, these are exact replicas,” he said. “Displaying originals like this in a hallway, vulnerable to dust and clumsy visitors, would be quite risky. The authenticity of every object in the mansion is certified by renowned doctors and professionals from various museums and institutions, all widely or internationally acknowledged as experts in their respective fields. Master Maxwell, of course, chose to show replicas around here as the originals need specific conditions for storage and preservation.”
Quatre whistled, impressed. As an art and history lover himself - though he preferred Art Deco to ancient artifacts - he mentally tallied the possible value of all the displayed costumes and armor, and if these detailed works were only the replicas… he really didn’t fancy paying the insurance bill.
“This way, gentlemen, please,” the butler said, guiding them further down the hall. After the armor and other military uniforms – leaving Trowa to wonder if the Maxwell collection restricted itself to specific eras, excluding the recently ended Wars - female mannequins were showing robes and dresses, once again reflecting the development throughout the centuries. Amused, Quatre said out loud that his sisters would have more fun with the 18th century dresses in particular- richly embroidered, made from the finest fabrics and materials available. The mannequin showed a light green Sack dress, one of the most popular styles of gown worn at that time, decorated with trimmings applied to the bodice and stomacher, pleated, ruched and beaded all into one. Conveniently bypassing the notion of the uncomfortably tight corset a woman had to put on first to be able to even fit in one of the dresses, Quatre was in awe about the costumes and the decoration of the east wing.
Meanwhile, Trowa had long noticed the high-tech security system - hard to see, but it was there - the tiny eyes of cameras, undoubtedly connected to a video circuit; the barely visible magnetic strips on the costumes; the even harder to notice small wires connecting every object to an ingenious alarm. If anyone thought to rob the Manor of its treasures, it would be more of a sport to get in and out unnoticed than stealing the actual treasure itself. Trowa was sure there had to be more security measures - cameras, magnetic strips, and wires wouldn’t keep the professional burglar from trying. He couldn’t recall, however, if there’d been any public reports about someone breaking and entering the Manor; either no one had tried before, or it had been kept silent.
“We’re here,” the butler announced and opened the plain wooden doors to a large room which completely felt out of place with the rest of the mansion. It was a state of the art fitness center - the colors were hellishly light and bright, the floors covered with dust free linoleum, and the amount of equipment was more than enough to turn even the flabbiest, laziest bum into a slim and well-toned person.
Quatre squinted a little; after the rather dark hallway, the intense light of the fitness room was hard on the eyes. After a few moments, his eyes were adjusted enough to make out that there was someone in the back, working out on the rings.
The butler moved forward, apparently not expecting the others to follow him here. His footsteps were brisk and fierce, walking over to the man doing inverted crosses on the apparatus dangling from the ceiling.
“Master Maxwell… Master Maxwell!”
“This looks like a torture room, not an exercise room,” Quatre whispered to Trowa, mentally thanking his metabolism for his slim figure, as pulling weights wasn’t exactly his idea of a good time. “I prefer a sauna or a hot tub instead…”
“You don’t stay in shape with saunas and hot tubs only,” Trowa whispered in return, a scarce smile tugging at his lips.
“It’s a good thing I always go for a walk after lunch then, isn’t it?” Quatre replied dryly as the butler was increasing the volume of his voice to get the other’s attention.
“There are other ways to stay in shape… and is he deaf or something?”
“I don’t know,” Quatre said, focusing his attention on the butler again. “He could be so deeply concentrated on his routine that he simply doesn’t hear us.”
He’d barely finished his sentence when suddenly the other man let go of the rings after a few forceful swings to gain speed, dismounting from the apparatus as he moved in mid-air.
“Double somersault with a double twist. Nice,” Trowa remarked dryly when he landed on the mat, arms stretched out to keep a perfect balance.
“Master Maxwell, please,” the butler said, slight annoyance in his voice. “How often have I told you…”
“…not to listen to music while I’m training,” the other finished his sentence, calmly but certainly amused. He removed the small earpieces of his audio player. “Really, Hillary, nothing can happen.”
“You could not hear me,” the butler objected.
“I saw you long before you were even crossing the room,” he retorted, making a dismissive movement with his hand. “You don’t ever bring guests in here, though. What’s up?”
“Master Maxwell, Mister Winner is here to see you,” Hillary said, not bothering to introduce Trowa as he hadn’t asked for his name earlier. “He does not have an appointment, but Mister Winner is well…”
“...known, yes, I know,” he finished the man’s sentence again. He picked up a towel from a stack on the floor, wiping his hand dry and clean before offering it to Quatre.
“Duo Maxwell,” he said curtly.
“Quatre Raberba Winner, and this is my associate, Trowa Barton,” Quatre said before Trowa had any chance to, as they shook hands. Duo nodded, withdrawing his hand to reach behind his head to snap a tie, freeing a large braid from its confinement.
Quatre’s eyes widened when he saw the amount of thick, chestnut hair dangling over Duo’s shoulders, reaching his waistline. The tuft tickled Duo’s bare skin as the scanty tank top he was wearing had ridden up halfway across his midriff, revealing a six pack that a lot of people would kill for. Stretching unabashedly, Duo didn’t look at his guests again as he dumped the used towel unceremoniously on the floor and said: “Very well, do give me some minutes to freshen up. Bring them to my office, all right?”
“As you wish,” Hillary turned towards Quatre and Trowa again. “If you would like to follow me again, gentlemen…?”
Quatre stared, wondering about the man’s lack of manners, and could do nothing but to stammer an affirmative answer in response. In all his years as a businessman – and even though he was still young, he had quite the experience - Quatre Raberba Winner had never come across someone as… indecent and ill-mannered as this Duo Maxwell! Coming from a rich culture that valued the proper way of introducing oneself and cultivating a social image into perfection, Quatre bristled inwardly. It must be because he’s an American. Americans are always that rude. Stealing a glance at Trowa, he wasn’t sure if the other was thinking the same - Trowa appreciated good manners and proper introductions as well, so he probably felt offended. There was no time to ask about it now, as the butler was leading them through another hallway yet again - this one far more modern, with simple oak floors and fairly common patterns in the carpet, the walls richly decorated with paintings from modern and contemporary artists. No ancient objects here; it was empty and hollow compared to the rich entrance and hall, as if someone had done his best to make this decoration as contrasting as possible.
Duo Maxwell’s office was an extension to this more modern part of the mansion, different from what they’d seen before. Wherever the mansion was majestic and proudly displaying its rich past, this office was trendily styled and decorated with chrome and plastic. The walls were plastered with framed posters of touring schedules and pictures of bands Quatre wasn’t really sure he wanted to hear the music of. No plants or anything really personal lightened up this office, rather small in comparison to the rest they’d seen of the mansion. No pictures, only a few novelty statuettes and a large collection of phrases and sentences that would make a great bumper sticker collection - if one appreciated that kind of humor. A large vault-like cupboard was in the corner, a small table placed next to it, supporting a wireless printer and a scanner. The large center piece, the desk itself, was clean and empty, be it from a laptop and three plastic briefcases, every one of them filled with paperwork. Quatre and Trowa installed themselves into the two chairs in front of the desk, waiting for their host to return, while Hillary left them to take care of the catering.
“My apologies to keep you waiting,” Duo said the moment he barged through the door, immediately walking over to the desk and plopping into the large, comfortable chair behind it. He had showered extremely briefly, Quatre noticed; the braid was still wet, and his large bangs were plastered to his face. The intensity of his violet, blue, no, purplish eyes struck him - despite the rude exterior, this man wasn’t as superficial as he appeared to be.
“It’s an honor for me to receive the Winner heir and CEO of Winner Enterprises International,” he continued, voice deep and rich in timbre. He almost looked genuinely serious - but Quatre wasn’t so sure of it. It was difficult to read this Duo Maxwell. Due to his experience in the corporate world, Quatre knew how to judge people and how to place them - the slacker, the braggart, the coward, the one-trying-too-hard-to-be-an-enigma, the tough guy… but aside from his earlier impression that Duo was simply rude, he couldn’t make anything of the other man, except for the feeling that everything was… raw about him. The way he’d been standing in the gym, sweaty, shirt sticking to his skin, radiated nothing but unadulterated sexuality, and the way he was sitting behind his desk, even as nonchalant as he appeared, was pure… power. Not in terms of corporate power, not in terms of wealth or money… just simply power, a personality that stood out, raw and edgy and… maybe uncontrollable.
Quatre refrained from losing himself too much in thoughts. He had promised himself, his family and his father, to do this, and he would continue to do so - even if he couldn’t get along with the other. He had faced ordeals ten times tougher than this. After all, it wasn’t that he needed to be friends forever with Duo Maxwell - he just wanted him to get the job done.
“It’s an honor for me to be received at Maxwell Manor,” he answered smoothly, ignoring Trowa’s grim look. He knew what the other had been thinking about. “I must compliment you on your collection - the art, the decorations, the objects…”
“It’s a bitch to do the dusting around here,” Duo grinned. “My ancestors did a good job of building up the collection, leaving the preservation and maintenance of it to their offspring. I decided to continue their will of keeping them safe and in one place here.”
“Such modesty,” Trowa muttered under his breath, resulting into Duo looking quizzically at him.
“Ah, Duo,” Quatre said soothingly, “your expeditions to remote countries and continents has been documented rather excessively. You have mapped shipwrecks, you have discovered tombs and retrieved artifacts from places everyone held impossible to even reach. Until a few years, when you…”
“I’m not much of a traveler anymore,” Duo interrupted him. “I’m mostly occupying myself with the cultural heritage of the Manor and maintaining the Maxwell collection, as I said before. I’m discussing several exhibitions with museums right now.”
“Yes, I know - your butler was kind enough to point out to us that Maxwell Manor is open for limited guided tours. Your artifact exchange with several museums is lively, and your doors are always open for graduates in the history field.”
Quatre laced his fingers together. At his orders, an extremely thorough research on Duo Maxwell’s background had been conducted in preparation for this meeting. It was a public secret that since the last few decades, the family’s finances were torn and shot. Liquid funds were as good as nil and the real wealth was confined in the impressive collection, impossible to sell. Bound to the stipulations and rules of the foundation Maxwell Sr. had installed to keep the collection together, Duo was unable to sell off any objects anyway - art swaps and lending out artifacts for temporary exhibitions were allowed, but selling was out of the question. It was the only leverage Quatre had in the upcoming conversation, but it should be more than enough.
“It really is a shame that your… career ended so abruptly,” the CEO continued. “Not only did it grind the expansion of your own collection to a halt, the archeological world lost a very distinctive member. Was it because of your brother’s unfortunate death, or because of your previous partn…”
“Sometimes people part for other reasons than simply business,” Duo interrupted him again, and the sharp undertone was very audible. Quatre straightened himself in his seat. Raw. Passion. Power. Nobody crosses this man’s path twice without remembering him… and not many will cross his path twice to begin with.
“State the nature of your visit, Mister Winner. We have dealt with enough pleasantries.”
Though Duo’s voice was less then pleasant at that very moment, Hillary entered the room again with a silver tray, handing out coffee and tea as requested, movements calm and composed. He bowed slightly to Duo before leaving the room, the tension still tangible.
Quatre nodded at Trowa, who opened the briefcase and took out the laptop, proceeding to boot it up in silence.
“Are you familiar with the Never-Ending Circle, Duo?” he suddenly spoke, even though he hadn’t received permission from Duo to call him by his first name.
Duo shrugged, a carefully neutral expression on his face. “Every circle is never ending. It goes round and round and round…”
Trowa tapped at the laptop screen. “Not a never-ending circle, but the Never-Ending Circle. A very unique artifact, representing the circle of life and death in several legends and myths. It’s believed to be able to decide over life and death, its wielder being the responsible one for bringing - or denying - death onto the world.”
“Interesting,” Duo said, “yes, I’ve heard of this Never-Ending Circle before. Not much is known about it, people aren’t even sure what it’s supposed to look like. A few mentions here and there in myths and legends, varying of it being a ring with powers, or a scythe, representing the God of Death. Unfortunately, as you said yourself, my career ended very abruptly. I have no intention of picking up where I left off. If you came all the way out here to ask me to hunt down this particular artifact, you’re at the wrong address, sorry.”
Quatre tapped at his armrest. He already suspected Duo being reluctant - now he had to bring his only leverage in.
“That’s really quite a shame, Duo. This mansion looks extremely well-kept and cared for, but I can imagine such an estate must demand much out of you. The time and money that is involved…”
“Excuse me, is that some kind of threat?” Duo was quick to ask. “Because if it is, Mister Winner, then rest assured that I don’t respond kindly to threats. I’m sure you have reports on my financial situation, so you know to the penny what’s going on here. I have no interest in putting my life at stake to retrieve some kind of artifact that’s supposed to ‘rule over life and death’. I have a mansion to maintain.”
“You haven’t been on any expedition since your departure with Heero Yuy,” Quatre continued. “The both of you were responsible for quite the spectacular discoveries. The tomb of Qualopec, if I’m not mistaken, the retrieval of the Iris, the dagger of Xian…”
“Sometimes people part for other reasons than strictly business,” Duo repeated, his voice hitting even a lower tone. “My endeavor with mister Yuy ended with mutual consent.”
Quatre exchanged a quick look with Trowa, before Duo straightened himself, turning around his chair a little.
“Do tell me why my break-up with my earlier companion… bothers you as much?”
“Two simply have more chances to succeed at this particular retrieval than only one,” Trowa replied without skipping a beat. “We have reasons to believe that the Never-Ending Circle is an… adventure that could grow above one’s head.”
“Why did you come to me and not to Heero, then?” Duo asked. A familiar and a hard to forget feeling was nesting in the pit of his stomach. For all the times that he said he didn’t have any interest in picking up where he left off, there were these feelings of regret and longing, the adrenalin already slowly building up, the curiosity running through his veins, his interest piqued.
“Mister Yuy was indisposed at the moment,” Quatre answered. “We located him at a terribly inconvenient place, and we believe you have the best papers for this kind of job, next to him. We know you hunt for sport, not for the money, Mister Maxwell...Duo. I’m prepared to pay a substantial amount of money to your foundation or any other fund of your choice, if you’re prepared to retrieve the Never-Ending Circle for me.”
“That’s quite the proposition,” Duo said. Mimicking Quatre, he laced his fingers together, elbows propped on the tabletop of his large desk. He looked sternly at the two in front of him, his mind racing. He’d been offered similar propositions before; large sums of cash for the retrieval for this or that artifact. He could’ve used the money, put it towards the maintenance of the mansion and the collection, but Duo Maxwell never sold himself for a job to simply retrieve an artifact that ‘would be looking so nice on the mantel piece.” His reputation as an adventurer who traveled all around the world to discover the most exotic of objects was solid, even until this day - though it had all ended abruptly with the death of Solo, followed by the break-up with Heero. Everything they discovered, everything they lifted from ancient temples, shrines and ruins, was in service of history or science - never for wads of cash. What the Maxwell collection had to offer was gathered by ancestors, purchased at auctions, obtained by heritage or marriage, not by selling out the most prized pieces. The Maxwell brothers, and later Duo and Heero, had profited from the revenues of the mansion and their sponsored trips.
However, it had been a while since anyone had offered him something like this - what was going on in Winner’s mind? The Never-Ending Circle wasn’t a piece of cake to find - not even for him. He’d have to do extensive research on it, as there was so little known… he narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t going to consider this, money or not.
Quatre suddenly turned towards Trowa and nodded, to which he promptly turned the laptop around, showing the screen to Duo.
“The Never-Ending Circle holds the interest of many, but few actually know more about it than what can be regularly found on the Internet or in libraries. Those who do know about it however, are quite… fanatic in their research.”
“You want me to track down a barely documented artifact?”
“That is, if you agree with us?”
“I haven’t agreed to anything yet.” Duo shook his head, resorting to drumming with his fingers on the armrest. “I don’t agree to a ghost hunt for an object that no one even knows what it looks like.”
“You’ve hunted less than similar ghosts,” Quatre said, “or did you dive in the Bermuda Triangle for a fun holiday? Skiing on Swiss glaciers is your idea of having a good time?”
When Duo didn’t respond, he went on: “You used less than flimsy hints or vague scriptures on shards and pieces of artifacts to hunt for other relics. Until now, you managed to find even the most obscure and most hidden of objects. I’ll provide you with all the information and funds I can give you.”
“I’m not into this line of work anymore,” Duo said, albeit reluctantly. He wasn’t exactly uncomfortable discussing this, his interest piquing with every spoken sentence, but this was just simply…something he didn’t do anymore.
“I understand the problems,” Quatre said. “Losing your brother and your partner isn’t something to be taken lightly, and it’s logical for you to not want to return to...ah, the field so soon again. However, searching for this artifact can bring you back to where you belong, where your interests lie, make you return into a world that’s fitting you like a glove…”
“You don’t know a thing about me,” Duo interrupted brusquely, voice turning icy. “Look, I don’t care how much this artifact means to you. I have one of the world’s most unique and largest private collections to maintain, and I have many requests and offers to deal with…”
“I can’t imagine that you prefer staying cooped up in the mansion, despite its splendor, to the thrill and excitement of a real adventure,” Quatre pressed. “I can provide you with anything, even with enough funds to keep the collection and manor out of any financial predicament for a long time to come. You can set your own price.”
Duo frowned, narrowing his eyes again. “I’m not that poor or desperate, Mister Winner, unlike you,” he snarled.
Trowa shot upright in his seat. “We can sit here and discuss this normally or we can leave and you can dream all about your bands and follow them around the world like a groupie and not as a respected adventurer,” he blurted out.
“You should leave,” Duo said, voice nothing but a growl. “Right. Now.”