General Notes: I've received criticism recently for starting too many
multi-part fics without finishing the old ones. Well, it's true and I'd
like to warn people that I intend to continue this tradition. The simple
fact is that writing helps me get past writer's block which plagues me frequently.
You see, when I am stuck on a story, I have to work on something else before
I can return and work on the first one again. Unfortunately, I find that
sometimes I get a block altogether and can't work on any of my fics. It's
then that I start a new one. I completely understand how this can be irritating
to the reader and that's why I want to explain before I post yet another
multi-part fic. As I said, I understand, but if it really bothers a reader,
I'd ask that they avoid me until the see that the multi-part fic they want
to read is finished. Then they can read it as if it were a single fic and
they wouldn't be irritated by my continuous delays. Of course, I won't
stop posting my multi-parters since they tend to be long and my reviews
help me write more. Okay, I've explained enough, I think, and I've addressed
those complaints I've received. Now, onto the fic which, I think, is going
to be one of *my* favorites. ^__^
Author's Notes: This is a fusion with the book: So Worthy My Love by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. While there will be no text reproduced here, the story line will follow the book's almost exactly, any changes made not too drastic.
Category: Yaoi, AU, Gundam Wing, fusion with a book
Pairings: will be 1x2, vague hints at 3x4/3+4
Bonds of Love
Wind swept through the grass, lifting the blades and making the small boy giggle as he raised his hands. His long, golden brown hair whipped around him and his happy laughter made the man's heart heavier as he stared down at his son. Not much more than two years old, the child had no idea the loss he'd suffered and the man knew he only remembered the happiness he'd had in the place. He was no doubt waiting for a smiling woman with shining eyes to come and lift him into the air.
Gazing at the soft clouds that moved across the sky, Ramsey hid his sigh as he thought of her, his eyes burning suddenly. He'd come to the place for the sake of his boy since he knew there would be no happiness found in their home. It was empty without her and while he couldn't fight his grief, he wanted to keep it from the sweet boy. His eyes closed as he saw her in his mind, and tears trailed down his cheeks to be caught by his thick mustache and beard. She was so young he'd never thought such a thing would be possible, yet now she was gone and his life was empty.
The feel of a small hand on his thigh made him blink suddenly, and he was caught by large violet eyes. On his knees, the boy stared up at him, his statement so solemn as his small fingers brushed the wetness on the man's face. Staring at his son, he knew he'd been mistaken, his life wasn't empty at all. Neither moved as the moment seemed to stretch, timeless as their eyes held and in that moment a bond was formed between them. When the boy blinked, he took him into his arms, holding him close as he knew they would keep each other whole despite their loss. Somehow they would overcome the part of them that was now missing and their bond would hold, stretching over any distance as it was woven with love.
Nov 7, 1585
The large manor was filled with festivities as minstrels played a lively tune, the guests talking amongst themselves. And there was much to talk about as the wedding had actually taken place earlier that day. Relena Dorlain was finally married and it was a brave man who had risked being her suitor. It was not just rumors, but facts that all of her previous suitors had met with untimely ends and the lovely girl was said to be cursed.
In fact, the last suitor to whom she'd been engaged had not only died but had been branded a traitor to the crown. While no one dared to speak of him, many remembered as it was his house they were gathered in.
It hadn't been more than a month since the man's death, yet no one felt that the bride was wrong to forget him so soon. After all, he'd attempted to assassinate the queen and only the girl's father had prevented his evil schemes from coming to fruition. Edward Dorlain had taken a great risk, telling the queen that one of her most favored men had betrayed her. Had it not been for a witness who'd found one of the man's gloves on the scene, he would have gained much trouble. As it was, the queen had been forced to accept the betrayal and she'd stripped Heero Yuy of both his title and his properties. Justice was served and few saw anything amiss when Edward was given the man's properties, especially since he'd also been betrayed. Had he not found out the man, he might have lost his only daughter to a murderer and a traitor.
The people remembered this, as they mingled in the large hall of what had once been the Yuy manor, but they were comforted with the knowledge that the man had met with justice. Although his scheduled hanging had not occurred, he had been dispatched. Shot during an attempted escape from his prison, he'd fallen into the ocean and thereby ended the curse that had followed Relena for so long. It was obvious that the bride and groom were happy to be free of this string of luck, as they conversed with their guests and celebrated the joyous occasion with the party Relena's father had thrown for them.
Watching the large multitude that filled his home, Edward was again reminded of the benefits to being a hospitable and generous man. It may have pained him to see so much money spent on the greedy lot enjoying his kindness, but he was well aware that he would be rewarded. With her new husband, his daughter had made a splendid match and he knew the effort would not go unrewarded. He wasn't wrong often, and when he was forced to act as a benefactor, he made certain the rewards were great. It was such thinking that had led him to taking in the child of his foster sister, despite the fact that he was also taking a risk to his own safety.
His eyes moved to where the long-haired figure moved along the walls, gesturing to servants and making certain his goods were not wasted. Yes, he had taken a risk letting the boy hide in his home, but with the guise he was in, there was little chance of anyone recognizing him. Since his father had disappeared, the boy had been forced to flee his home and Edward had welcomed him with open arms. It was the least he could do since the boy was the only one who might know the whereabouts of the treasure his father had hidden. That was the reason he'd needed a place to hide, and since the boy's features were feminine, Edward had devised an excellent plan to keep him hidden. It was true he would be ostracized if anyone found out who the young servant girl really was, but again, his gain was greater than any loss he would suffer.
The boy looked perfectly female in the clothing he wore and Edward was satisfied with the way he took care of the estate. While he hadn't intended to give charity to the boy, he'd been relieved of the necessity of telling him that as Duo had informed him upon his arrival that he would pay for his own lodgings. Renting a wing in the manor, he also worked to make certain the servants were obedient, a job that Edward had been completely unable to do. Of course, the fact that they were loyal to the late Heero Yuy explained why they hated the man who'd turned their lord in, but they were still his employees and he expected obedience from him. With Duo, he was ensured that and the boy had proven very useful indeed.
Taking lady-like steps in the dark dress he wore, Duo's eyes moved around the room. He was avoiding the groom's best man and checking on the servants gave him a chance to do so without being rude. It wasn't easy to maintain control over the people, but Duo had spent years getting used to it as he'd been the head of his own home before his flight. Until his father had disappeared, he'd been in charge of seeing to the household and he'd done so with swift and reasonable control. Servants were hired to do a job and it wasn't unreasonable to expect them to do that task without complaints. And for him, they had, willingly going about their duties. But it was different in his uncle's home, much different.
When the queen had given the manor to Edward, the servants had come with it and as tight-fisted as the man was with his money, he had been unwilling to hire new help. This was the reason Duo's work was hard as the men and women despised their new lord. But the boy understood their loyalty to a point and when he'd first arrived, he'd tried to be lenient with them. Now he no longer tried, as he'd learned what sort of person they were loyal to. A murderer was not someone who deserved such respect and Duo had no patience for the servants any longer. Instead, he often grew angry with them and he longed to drop his disguise that he might better intimidate them into obeying.
It wasn't that he was cruel or domineering, but they tended to ignore threats given by a woman and as that was what they thought him to be, they often ignored *him*. Glancing around again, his eyes caught on a man who was leaning over one of the barrels of ale that had yet to be brought to the guests. He wasn't surprised that the man would take the risk of imbibing in his lord's property, but he moved to stop the action. As often as such a thing happened, he still grew angry and he wondered if it was one of the servants he'd caught doing the exact act before. They often repeated their liberties without regard to his warnings as they knew Edward wouldn't dream of firing them. Then he'd have to replace them and he'd never spend his money on such a thing.
As he grew closer to the man, Duo frowned a bit at the brown cloak that covered the figure's head and face and he was surprised to note that he didn't recognize him. He had all of the trouble-makers pegged, and he came to the conclusion that this must be one of the temporary people brought in for the party. Still, that was no excuse for theft and his back straightened as he came to stand behind the man, his eyes boring into that bent back. "Is the wine to your liking?" he asked, his voice light and curious.
Turning slowly, the man's eyes glinted from the covering of his hood, part of the cloth held so it hid half of his face and the other shadowed. "That it be," the man nodded, his voice thick. "I been told to make sure it be to the master's stand'rds and it is, all right."
"And who told you to sample it?" Duo asked, folding his arms over his chest as he eyed the man. He hadn't heard anything about such an order and he seriously doubted the man was speaking the truth.
"Don't know 'is name, but I did just like he told me." The man nodded again, his movements exaggerated by the cloth over his head and he turned back to the barrel.
Certain he had just been dismissed, Duo's back straightened in anger and his violet eyes narrowed. "I am still talking to you," he said scathingly, determined to be given proper respect. "Unless you can name this *person*, I will not believe you. There will be no stealing in this household and you would do well to learn that now."
"Well, no need to get in a huff, lil' lady. If'n there's somethin' else you want me to do, I'd be right happy to. I just follow the orders I'm given. 'Tho I have to say, the orders were much nicer when Lord Yuy was here instead of that fellow."
"Oh, not that again." Rolling his eyes, Duo shook his head. "I cannot understand why you people are so determined to proclaim that man a saint. Have you forgotten that the Queen herself marked him as a traitor? She chose the better man when she named Lord Dorlain the master of this estate."
"You don't say," the man said, his voice not hiding his humor as he faced the boy. "Well, you might think a bit diff'rntly if you'd actually known 'im."
"And what makes you think I never met him?" Duo asked, raising an eyebrow. "How would you know?"
"Well, I guess I wouldn't, but I don't think you have or you wouldn't be nam'in 'im as a trait'r." The man's eyes sparked from beneath the hood and he nodded suddenly.
"Actually, I haven't met him, but that doesn't bother me at all as I have no wish to be acquainted with a murderer." The man didn't move and Duo suddenly realized he was having an argument with the hired help. He reminded himself why he'd come over to the man and his eyes narrowed as he looked at the barrel standing next to the wall. "None of that matters now, there is plenty of work to be done and that does not include *sampling* the wine.
"Like I said, I'll do whate'va you tell me to, I don't have no problem followin me orders." He nodded yet again and glanced around. "What'cha be wantin me to do?"
Gesturing to where servants were carrying out more food, Duo's eyes glinted. "Help them, of course. You are here to serve the guests, do so."
"Right, I'll do that."
The man turned toward the kitchen and Duo frowned as he stared at the cloak. "Why do you wear that?" he asked, not realizing it didn't matter until the question was already out.
"Had me an accident when I was a babe," the man's voice said as he moved toward the kitchen. "It ain't somethin' a lady wants to see."
Duo winced as his creative mind gave pictures of what could be wrong with the man and he suddenly felt bad for having treated him with disdain. Yet, there hadn't been an alternative as any leniency he'd shown in the house had only resulted in the servants acting even more unruly than before. He stood still as his eyes followed the man, making certain he entered the kitchen. Sighing as the man was soon gone, Duo was about to turn back to the room when an arm was moved around his waist and he stiffened.
"How precious...sweet violet," a low voice said softly, warm breath touching the boy's ear, "Would that I might pluck you and carry you away from here."
Duo's eyes widened in fury and his hands curled into fists as he jerked away. He turned on the man, fully expecting to find the man who'd harassed him earlier. Whether it would be ladylike or not, he had every intention of punching the man. But it didn't happen as his wrists were caught and his blazing eyes met upon a familiar and laughing face. "Treiz? What are you *doing* here?"
His brown eyes glinted, and the man inclined his head as he brought Duo's hand up to his lips and brushed a kiss over them. "At the moment, dear cousin, I'm enjoying the view. I must say, you look positively radiant in a dress. I almost didn't recognize you."
With a warm flush, Duo glared for a moment before shaking his head. "Yeah, well, it's not like I have a choice. Edward said if I'm going to take refuge here then he doesn't want anyone knowing it's me."
"I see. Duo, why--" Treiz stopped suddenly and his split eyebrows dropped as he frowned at the long-haired boy. "What name are you going by?"
It was obvious that the boy wasn't very happy with his alias, and Treiz smirked, tilting his head to the side as he eyed the boy's dress. "You don't look much like a Diane, but it'll do. As I was saying, I am sorry you were driven out of my house. I assure you, I had no idea my family would seek you out there or I never would have left."
Glancing away from the man, Duo wasn't sure if he should tell him what had happened before he'd decided to go. He'd spent the last year in his father's home, but when his father had disappeared, his uncle's wife had moved herself and her sons in with him. Treiz and he had gotten along well until the man had decided to get his own place, but Duo had despised his other kin since the first time they met. Obsessed with the treasure his father was supposed to have hidden, they had spent their time plaguing Duo and generally tormenting him. They seemed certain that he knew where the treasure was hidden and they'd been determined to get the location from him. As it was, Duo had no idea where the treasure was and he wasn't even sure if it existed as his father had never spoken of such a thing. It had been their presence that had driven him from his own home and he'd been grateful when Treiz had taken him in.
He'd been content living with his cousin. Since Duo's uncle had died, Triez had fallen out with his mother and brothers and he'd been only too happy to have the boy stay with him. But the first time he'd had to go away to attend to his affairs, his family had shown up on his doorstep and they'd taken over the house. He'd tried to wait until Treiz returned, but Duo had become worried for his very life and he'd had no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere. Looking up at his tall cousin, Duo sighed as he knew he couldn't tell the man the things his brothers had done. While Treiz wasn't as close to them as he might have been, they were still his brothers and Duo didn't want to hurt him with his accusations.
"It's not your fault," Duo said finally, shrugging as if it didn't matter. "They were just so...tenacious. I couldn't stay there."
"Well, you could have at least let me know where you were going," the man smiled, running a hand through his thick reddish-brown hair as he glanced around. "If it hadn't been for Relena's finally getting married, I might never have found you. Although," his eyes glinted as they moved over the boy again, "It's worth it to see you decked out like this."
With a laugh, Duo fought the urge to shove the man. "You would make fun, but it isn't so bad, not really. I'm doing all right." He glanced around the room and his eyes caught on his uncle Edward's frown. "So you came to see Relena's new husband. It's quite a spectacle, people have come from all around to see it."
"I may have come for her, but the hope that I might find you was also on my mind. I was lost without your lovely presence gracing my home."
Duo smirked, but didn't pay the man's compliments much attention as his eyes again moved to his uncle and he gritted his teeth when the man gestured to him. "I'd better go, Edward's getting anxious and you know he'll be furious that you're here. He still doesn't approve of you."
"Of any of my family," Treiz smirked, but he nodded. "That's all right. I think I'll go pay my compliments to the bride."
Leaving the man, Duo threaded his way through the people as he made his way to where his uncle sat against the wall. He could tell from the way the man's brows were lowered that he wasn't happy, but it didn't faze him since the man was rarely happy. When he was standing before the man, he folded his hands in front of him and gave a light smile. "Did you need something?"
"Why on earth do you waste your time conversing with that no-account?" Edward demanded, frowning as he stared at the boy. "He'll never make anything of himself, and besides, don't you realize people are going to wonder who you are if they see you talking to him? I thought you wanted to hide from your cousins."
"Not from Treiz," Duo said slowly. It was hard not to take offense at the way the man spoke of his friend, but he knew nothing he might say would change Edward. He was too set in his ways. "It's Une and her other sons that I'm hiding from." The man had already been told this, but it seemed he needed constant reminding.
"Well, don't you think Une will find out when her son tells her where you are? Really, Diane, you're so simple sometimes." Edward scowled as he could see the boy's left eyelid twitching and he knew anger was eminent, but he didn't care. "If I'm going to hide you here, you must hold to your act. As Relena's attendant, your job here is to serve her and...when she isn't requiring your help, to take care of the servants. You have no place to be speaking with riff-raff like that Treiz."
"Yes, well, I'm sure Treiz has no intention of telling his mother where I am," Duo said, his voice strained as he kept a patient smile on his face. "And as for my 'earning my keep', I'll ask you to remember that I'm *paying* you for my room and board. The rest of the work you've given me as part of my 'role', is done merely as an added benefit to you. I therefor see no reason for you're being angry that I might take time out to speak with my cousin. As I told you, he is not the one I'm hiding from."
"Treiz aside," the man said, his eyes narrowing at the boy's manner, "There are other people who would be glad to find out where you are. I am taking a great risk by sheltering you here."
Duo stared at him for a minute before he was calm enough to speak rationally, but his cold tone gave evidence to his anger. "I *can* go elsewhere," he said slowly, "if my presence is a bother to you. I have the money my father gave to me and there are other places I could hide that would be much less obvious."
"Now, now," Edward said quickly, "there's no need to talk like that. You know you're welcome here. I simply worry that you'll give yourself away, that's all. And as for your associating with Treiz, well, it's your own good that I fear for. You realize that man has quite a reputation with the ladies." The boy's violet eyes narrowed, but Edward nodded firmly. "Yes he does. In fact, I here he makes the rounds quite often. I worry that you might be taking a fancy to him and I fear you don't realize his interest is only in your money."
"Put away such fears," Duo murmured, his words heavy with sarcastic sweetness, "Treiz is my cousin and my friend and that is all. As for his wanting my money, well, there's no truth to that as I can tell you, he has plenty of money of his own. There's no reason he'd need mine." His patience had been sorely strained, and he decided the discussion had gone on for long enough. "I believe the guests need more ale, I had better see to it that the servants are doing their job, now hadn't I." Giving the man a quick and flat smile, he took his leave.
* * *
The party was going very well and the people seemed to be enjoying themselves. Watching as they chose food from the tables and had their glasses refilled, Edward's throat grew dry. He could practically see his wealth diminishing before his eyes and he cursed the masses for taking advantage of his love for his daughter. While he'd invited many of them, there was a number of faces that he didn't so much as recognize and he was convinced they had come to deplete his offerings. Their greed was plainly obvious to him and he longed for the night to be over so he could send them all on their way and take stock of what little he had left.
His mouth had grown dry with his worry and his eyes widened as he caught sight of a servant refilling a glass for one of the guests. Gesturing to the man, he held up his own glass. "Bring me some of that ale, I've grown parched."
"M'lord." A glint shone from the shadows of the man's hood and he looked down at the wine-sack he held before shaking his head. "I'm afraid I've just run out, I'll be quick to get you some, m'lord." Turning, he didn't seem to notice Edward's scowl as he disappeared toward the kitchen.
Edward followed the man with his eyes, then he was diverted as he caught a sight that had him standing. He recognized the man speaking to Duo and he winced as he spotted the boy's narrowed eyes, knowing he was turning down the man. Related to the groom, the man wasn't someone Edward could allow to be insulted and he hurried to intervene before the boy could anger him. As he grew closer, he knew his guess had been right by the way the man was holding Duo's wrist, the boy's violet eyes blazing.
"Truly, sir, I fear I don't know the steps for this dance. I'm afraid I must decline." He was trying to be polite, he had been since the man had found him again. Unfortunately, the man seemed very determined and Duo was fast becoming impatient with him.
"Diane, William is the brother of Roland." Staring at the boy, Edward tried to express his disapproval without being too obvious. "I'm sure you would love to dance with the brother of Relena's husband."
"No," Duo smiled, glaring at his uncle with deadly cheer. "I really must decline. You see, I am very busy at the moment. If you would rather that I spend my time dancing, I shall of course agree, but the servants would no doubt eat you out of house and home if I were to do so. I'm sure you don't want that."
Edward's stomach clenched at the thought and his eyes glowed as he took hold of the man's arm. "Come, William, I know a young lady who would be ecstatic to dance with you. She just recently lost her young husband and I'm sure you would be gratified to be introduced." Taking the man, he drew him away from Duo as he quickly left him with the young widow in question. It didn't take long for the man to latch on to the lovely woman and Edward let out a relieved sigh before returning to where Duo watched, arms folded over his chest as he smirked. "Well, I see you're determined to be unreasonable tonight."
"Not at all, uncle, I'm merely following your directives. It would be difficult to do my job if I were diverted by dancing." Duo wasn't at all bothered by the man's irritated gaze and he straightened his dark skirt as he waited to see if Edward had anything else to say.
"Oh, I'm too tired to play games with you," the man sighed, his eyes touching over his guests again. "This evening is wearing on me. Duo--Diane, why don't you escort Relena to her room and help her ready herself. I shall see to it that Roland is brought up directly whether he's up to it or not. I've seen enough of these people and they won't leave until the evening has been closed." He didn't wait to see if the boy was going to do as he'd asked, making a bee-line for where the groom stood, drinking what must be his fifteenth glass.
It didn't take him long to locate the girl, as Relena was surrounded by women, all of whom were hanging on her every word. Duo was well acquainted with the effect his cousin had on people, and he waited until the girl had finished what she was saying before sidling forward. He gave a polite and regretful smile to the woman as he pulled Relena away from them and quietly told the girl what Edward had said. She didn't seem unduly upset as she bid good-evening to the ladies and she moved across the floor with grace, her long skirts rustling. Duo followed, noting the way she held her head. He was certain she was excited at finally having been wed and he assumed she was also proud. After all, Roland was a very good match and much wealthier than her other suitors had been.
As soon as they reached her chambers, Relena's calm demeanor seemed to crumble and Duo took a step back as she turned to him. Her blue eyes were very wide and they shimmered suspiciously. "Oh, what am I to do?"
"What...what's wrong?" Duo asked, feeling uncomfortable with her sudden sadness. He expected her to be nervous since it *was* her wedding night, but he'd assumed she was comfortable with what was to happen. Why else would her father have sent *him*, rather than a married woman who could calm a newly-wed's fears. "Relena?"
"Oh, Duo, my life is cursed. How can I possible bear this night, knowing something horrible is going to happen?" Shaking her head, the girl gazed at him, gripping a hand to the neck of her white gown as she sniffed back tears.
"Something horrible...Relena, I'm sure everything will be fine." He didn't know what to say to her when she was like this, and he only hoped her self-pity wouldn't last too long. Edward would be up soon with Roland and Duo could imagine how badly Relena's wedding night would go if she was crying when her husband came into the room. "Please, calm down."
"How could it be fine?!" the girl demanded, turning away as she bowed her head, the silver sparkling in her bound hair. "Every man I've been betrothed to has died. Yes, I did manage to get married, but Duo," she turned, her bright eyes begging for understanding, "that won't last! I just know something will happen to ruin this night, oh, I can't take this."
Duo watched as she stepped to the bed, sitting on the edge of it and hiding her face in her hands. "What...is there anything I can do?"
"No, I just...yes." Looking up suddenly, she bit her lip as she glanced at the boy. "Please, stall them? Just a little while. I...I have to calm myself before Roland gets here. I can't...let him see me like this..."
"Of course," Duo said quickly, backing out the door. "I'll do whatever I can." He left the room as fast as he could, cursing his hindering skirts as he decided to take the back stairs. He could imagine how furious Edward was going to be, but he had every intention of carrying out Relena's wishes. It was only a matter of getting to the man without everyone noticing and telling him what Relena had said. Duo was certain the girl's father would stall the groom as long as he could if he was just made aware of his daughter's plight. Stepping quickly, he gasped as one of his feet missed the step, the slippers he was wearing completely without traction and his balance was lost. He was imagining the pain to come when his panicked mind slowly realized something was pressed to him.
Actually, he was pressed against someone and relief flooded through him as he realized he'd been caught. Stepping away from the person he found himself leaning on, he smiled and looked up. "Thank you, I wasn't watching my step." His smile faltered as he recognized the servant from earlier and his eyes widened as he saw the man's hood had fallen back to reveal his face. There were no scars, no markings marring it, but Duo's heart clenched as he recognized the features from a painting he'd stowed in the attic no more than a week ago. "You...you're *him*!"
The man let out a soft curse as he grabbed Duo quickly, a hand moving to cover the boy's mouth in case he decided to scream. "And you're no lady," he muttered, his low voice hitting Duo's ear and making the boy flinch. "As for your statement, yes, I am *him*. And you've ruined my plans." His cobalt blue eyes glanced up the stairs and he gave a silent apology as he realized he wouldn't have a chance to reassure Relena. "I'll just have to move a bit early, is all." He held the boy tight to his chest as he moved down the stairs, Duo too shocked to struggle as he remained still. Surprisingly few people looked up as he crossed to the nearest table and he pressed the boy down in a chair. "Be glad I'm not the villain you think I am," he said softly as he glared into wide violet eyes.
People jerked and turned in startlement when he ripped the tablecloth off the long table, dishes crashing to the floor. With their attention on him, he leapt onto the table and threw off the long cloak, his eyes boring into Edward as that man recognized him. "Revenge is at hand!"
"It's him..." Edward's throat closed on him for a moment, then his eyes bulged as he turned on the few guards and the men in the crowd. "It's Yuy! Get him!"
Heero let out a laugh as he pulled the long sword that hung from his side and his eyes moved over the people's faces, daring them to advance. "Come forward then, if you wish to end your lives." Few moved and those who did, did so sluggishly.
"What are you waiting for?!" Edward cried, confusion reigning as he saw the guards still seated, their eyes closed. Then he realized many of the guests were seated and others were leaning heavily on each other. "What is wrong with you people?!"
"That would be me," Heero said smoothly, his eyes boring into the man. "Don't worry, it isn't poison, just something to let you all rest."
Edward's eyes widened as he stared down at the glass he'd been drinking out of and he took a step back. Turning to Roland who stood near him, he glared. "Roland, will you let him threaten you?! This traitor to the crown?!"
The man's eyes widened and he gave a cry, jerking his sword from its scabbard. With a long step forward, he shook his head. "No! I'll kill him." It would have been more dramatic, but he only managed a few steps before he suddenly wavered, swaying for a moment before falling forward on the floor. Luckily, some of his men hadn't imbibed in the wine as much and they *did* advance, met by Heero's sword as a fight commenced.
Duo jerked as a body fell near him and he was out of his chair quickly. His mind had been slow to comprehend the arrival of Heero Yuy, who was supposed to be dead, but he forced himself into action as it was obvious who would win this battle. There was only one person he could think of who might stand a chance of calming it before Edward was killed and he ran towards the stairs, intent on finding Relena. He reached the top of the stairs without incidence, but when he pushed open the door to the girl's room, he ground to a sudden halt. The candle's that had previously lit the room had been extinguished, and as far as he could tell, Relena was not there. Still, he had to check and he moved to the canopied bed, bending and looking in quickly as he wondered where she could have gone. After all, she was supposed to be waiting for her husband to come up.
He soon gave up, and it was as he was moving toward the door to search elsewhere that he felt a presence behind him. There was just enough time to turn before two dark figures erupted from the shadows and he jerked back as one of them grabbed his arms. The other was reaching for him when he ducked suddenly and elbowed the first in what he thought to be the man's stomach. Still crouched, he tried to get past the man, and he reeled a bit as his necklace was caught and the chain broken as it fell to the floor. It had been his mother's, and as worried as he was, there was still time for fury and he swung his arm at the hand that had ripped it, making a blow before turning to run again.
His escape was halted as he saw the tall figure blocking the hall and he glanced back, dodging the first as he searched for something to use against them. Unfortunately, the skirts he wore hindered him and he let out a shocked cry as he fell against the thick curtains that hung over the window. The two pursuers rushed together and he was quickly wrapped in the cloth, his movements muffled. Duo let out a furious cry as he was lifted, but the one carrying him gave him a rough squeeze that told him it would be wise not to repeat the move and he racked his brain as he wondered what was going on.
Although it was impossible to tell where he was being taken, he listened as well as he could for signs of fighting and knew by the lack that he hadn't been carried through the main hall. But then, that would have been crazy since a battle was going on there. Still, he could hear the sounds of the outdoors and he knew when a muffled horse's whinny reached him that they were, indeed, outside of the manor. Then his thoughts left him as he felt himself falling suddenly and he closed his eyes, letting out a groan as he hit not the hard surface he was expecting but something softer. He didn't know he'd been tossed into the back of a cart full of hay, but when the men urged the horses, the rocking motion told him he was being taken away.
* * *
The sound of a whistle rang through the silence as the people watched the young man who had dispatched five fighters and was challenging a sixth one. Heero was the only one who noticed the noise, and his eyes glinted as he recognized the signal. Jumping into a crowd that sluggishly made way for him, he ran to the door, turning as he reached it. "Are you cowards?!" he cried, taunting them as he stared at Edward, "Catch me if you dare!" His movements were made slower as he didn't want to lose them, and he made a detour at the stables as he stole back his favorite horse. It, too, had been given to Edward, and he now used it as he led the guards in the direction opposite the one his men would be taking.
* * *
It was hard to breathe, wrapped up in the curtains, and Duo had no excess air to let out any complaints. Not that he didn't want to, as the softness beneath him had given way to an unyielding hardness as the cart rocked over the trail the men were taking. Each bump made his body ache and his anger scream at him as he was consumed with a need for revenge. It was all he could do not to move, but he knew it would do him no good to anger his captors as he was completely helpless at the moment. Instead, he tried to content himself with the knowledge that sooner or later they would have to unwrap him. Then, he was determined to see that they paid.
The muffled sounds of rapid hoof-beats broke the quiet as the cart was slowed to a halt and Duo felt a rush of excitement as he wondered if his uncle had actually come to save him. While he hadn't even dreamt of such a thing, he was still consumed with hope as the sounds grew closer. Even if the approaching men weren't looking for him, they were still possible rescuers and he had just made up his mind to try and attract their attention when a heavy foot hit the hay near his head. The warning was clear to him, and he bit back his need to moan in anger as he realized he didn't dare risk it. Still, he held his breath as the riders continued to near them, not letting it out until he heard the sound suddenly begin to diminish again. While he couldn't see it, he was correct when he hopelessly guessed they'd taken a different path from the one his kidnappers had chosen.
Fighting back the hotness that tried to reach his eyes, he glared at the black surface so close to his face. It was obvious that help wouldn't be coming from those people and he wondered who it was that had taken him. His first thought had been someone hired by Heero Yuy, but this had quickly been discarded as there was no reason for the man to want him. No, it was more likely his cousins and this realization made his blood run cold as he was suddenly sure of it. They were a cowardly lot, and it would be just like them to use the distraction Heero had made to pull off the kidnapping. This was not a comforting thought and he wondered sadly if Treiz really *had* betrayed him as Edward had warned he would. But it didn't really matter as he was still captured, and his heart sank low as the cart began to move again.
* * *
When they finally unwrapped him, Duo found that not only were his limbs a bit too frozen for a sudden retaliation, but even the dim light from the moon above hurt his eyes. As a result, he lay still for a moment as his eyes adjusted then slowly looked at the one's who'd captured him. His first thought was that they were much younger than he'd expected and he stared at the taller one, taking in his evenly muscled form as he knew that one would be the one to watch out for. The other was shorter, pale blonde hair gracing his head and pale blue-green eyes watched him without a hint of malice. Still, he wasn't about to let down his guard and he made it to his feet slowly, hiding his grimace as pins and needles ran through his muscles.
Since neither of the two made a step towards him, Duo let himself take in their location, his muscles tensing as he saw how deserted the forest seemed. There was a river nearby, the bank not far from him, but other than that, all he could see were trees and shrubbery, no lights that signified people. Looking again to the two watching him, he grew cold as he could only think of two reasons for them to bring him to such a place. His not recognizing them meant his cousins hadn't been behind this, since they didn't' have the funds to hire kidnappers. That meant the two had either brought him there to kill him, or to use him for their pleasure. Either way, he wasn't eager to find out and he sidled back a bit as his eyes flitted towards a nearby tree. There was a long branch caught on one of the lower limbs and he marked it as a weapon as he moved within grabbing distance.
The taller man had stepped towards him, his green eyes wide as he seemed about to speak, when Duo grabbed the branch. He didn't bother to give any warning as he lunged forward and swung the thick wood, striking the young man in the side before he high-tailed it for the woods. While he wanted to hurt them more, he knew they probably had guns on them and it was better to escape without immediate revenge than to have a bit of revenge and die for it. Duo hadn't gone far at all when he heard the two chasing him and he was suddenly grateful to his soft slippers as they made his progress nearly silent. Holding his cumbersome skirts so he wouldn't be slowed, he dodged trees, bending at the waist so he wouldn't be seen over some of the higher bushes. Not that it was easy to see anything with the leaves blocking most of the light, but he wasn't taking any chances.
He kept running until he was cut off abruptly, his mouth falling open in disbelief as he stared at the nature-made wall that blocked his escape. Fate was obviously unhappy with him as the thicket was impenetrable, the long thorns more than he was willing to go up against. Instead, he turned back the way he'd come, running to the side as he tried not to meet his pursuers. His steps were still quiet and he could hear them passing him as he headed back to where he'd been released. The river and clearing came into sight as the tree cover was broken, and he ran faster as he hoped to find escape with whatever route they'd used when they'd brought him there. It was his skirt that betrayed him as he tripped suddenly and he'd no more than pushed himself off the grass when a weight dropped onto his back, pinning him down.
Groaning as he was practically ground into the grass, Duo let out an angry cry. "Get off me!" Nothing surpassed his surprise when the order was promptly followed and he turned slowly to stare at the blonde who'd managed to catch him. Those pale eyes were wide and the young man was breathing quickly, but again, he saw no evil intentions on his face.
"I'm sorry, my lady. I didn't mean to harm you," the blonde said quickly, glancing over his shoulder as the tall man made an appearance. "I've found her, Trowa."
His reddish-brown bangs moving as he nodded, Trowa looked down at Duo, his green eyes narrowing as he caught sight of the slender legs showing beneath the raised skirt. Duo followed his gaze and flushed as he realized they must think he was bold since he was still dressed as a girl. //Well,// he decided, //they can think of me as a girl, that's fine. At least until I find out what they intend to do with me.// Glaring, he started to rise when a belt of pain sprang through his ankle and he realized he'd twisted it in the fall.
The blonde's eyes widened when Duo let out a soft groan and he knelt on the grass. "Are you injured, lady?"
"Stay away from me," Duo ground out, wary of the man though he didn't look too much older than himself. "Who are you?"
"Quatre," the blonde said quickly, nodding. "And that's Trowa. You don't have need to fear, we won't harm you."
"Sure," Duo muttered, keeping his voice light. "Who hired you?"
"We can't tell you that," Trowa said, his voice monotone as he knelt beside Duo. "Is your ankle injured?"
"I twisted it." The young man immediately lifted him and Duo fought the need to struggle as he realized he wouldn't be walking far at the moment. Running was obviously out of the question. "What are you going to do with me?"
"Our orders are to take you to our lord," Quatre said, following as Trowa carried the boy to the bank. "We can't say more than that."
And they didn't, despite Duo's irritation. Neither seemed dishonest in their intentions as they gave him blankets to bed down on and, having given him some food, bid him to rest for the night. It would have reassured him that they didn't tie him up, but Duo was sure the only reason they didn't was because his ankle was a bit swollen. No doubt, they knew he wouldn't get far if he tried to escape. With nothing better to do, Duo wrapped himself in the blanket and closed his eyes as he tried to get some sleep. His only hope was that he'd find himself in better condition to escape after a bit of rest and he eventually dozed off.
* * *
The fire had burnt down to red cinders when he slowly woke again, and he remained still as he looked to his captors through his eyelashes. They were asleep on the side of the fire bordering the forest, cutting off that direction of escape. Duo was infinitely careful as he sat up, making certain he was quiet so he wouldn't wake them. Luckily, he'd always been graceful, as much as his recent clumsiness begged the contrary, and he made it to his feet without gaining notice. While still too sore to last through any running, his ankle felt better and he looked to the river as he found the reason he'd woken. He hadn't noticed before, but there was a small boat near the camp, the sails obviously having aided the wind. It had been blown away from the stump it had probably been tied to, and Duo traced the rope as he followed it to a branch not too far from him. As he'd thought, the rope had been torn, but it was now caught in the tree and it was the soft tapping of the boat's hull against a log that had woken him.
It didn't take long for him to realize that the boat was his obvious means of escape and he wondered how difficult it would be to get on it and release the hindering rope without waking the two, who were still sleeping. With careful steps, he made his way to the log the boat was tapping against, and he paused as he found it coated with slick moss. Still, he couldn't hesitate and he inched forward till his hands gripped the side of the boat, his head turning so he could look to the rope. It was then that he noticed a second rope tied to the boat and he crushed his groan as he saw this rope was tied to the foot of the tall man, Trowa. Obviously, he'd been prepared just in case his prisoner tried to escape during the night. Since he didn't have so much as a knife, Duo had just made up his mind to untie the second rope from the boat when the wind suddenly picked up again.
Blowing hard against the sail, the wind shoved the boat out towards the river and Duo gave a sharp cry as he tilted forward. He barely kept his hold on the edge of the boat, and he fell against its side, knocking loose the rope that had been caught in the tree. Whether it was Duo's cry that had awakened them mattered little as Trowa was suddenly jerked toward the river, the rope tied to his ankle dragging him forcefully. Quatre had no more than sat up when the tall man was suddenly jerked into the water and the boat was blown away from shore, Duo holding tightly to the side of it. The blonde stared for a moment in complete stupefaction, then he took off, running along the shore as he kept pace with the speeding boat.
Duo drug himself upwards, grateful to the height of the boat as he hadn't been immersed in the dark water. After what seemed an eternity, he finally managed to pitch himself onto the floor of the boat and his heart sang as he saw he was being blown farther and farther away from the camp as both the river's current and the wind took him downstream. Then his excitement dwindled as he heard harsh splashing behind him. His shock was great when he saw Trowa being drug behind the speeding boat and it wasn't until he realized the man was pulling himself up with the rope that Duo moved. Within a minute, he had one of the oars that was lying in the boat and he rushed to the back as he tried to knock the tall man back into the water. At best, he merely slowed Trowa's progress and he suddenly straightened again as a loud splash sounded from the front of the boat.
Having followed the runaway vessel's progress, Quatre had found himself on a small bluff that overlooked the river. It had taken only a moment before he'd jumped in, landing in the water directly in front of the boat's path. Duo had run toward the front when he'd heard the blonde's landing and he found himself caught in the middle as both began to climb onto the boat. The rocking as the boat tipped first one direction and then the other, sent Duo off balance and he waved his arms for a moment before falling against the edge of the boat. He tumbled back and over with a long scream which was cut off by icy black water. Shaking and wet, the two men stared as the long-haired girl, as they thought him to be, broke the surface.
It was so cold, Duo didn't immediately understand why he couldn't move. Then he tried to lift a foot and he grimaced as he realized the thickness around his ankles was the sludge that covered the bottom of the river. Luckily, the water was only waist high and he was vaguely grateful that he hadn't fallen on his face as he imagined a mouth full of the thick stuff. He looked up when the boat moved closer to him and he glared with hatred at the two men's shocked expressions. If he could have caught Trowa's extended hand on fire, he would have, but he turned instead and made his pain-staking way to the shore, one slow step at a time.
Dinner was a poor thing, but the blonde had backtracked to where the supplies had been left and Duo was vaguely guilty, despite his reminding himself that *they* were the bad guys. Still, they did give him dry clothing, rags or not, and neither attempted to invade his privacy as he dressed. For this, he was glad as he had decided to uphold his pretense at being a female. Obviously, they expected less opposition out of the fairer sex and Duo meant to take advantage of that. Also, it was easier to hide his purse under the skirt of the old dress he was given. He was very grateful that his distrust of Edward had led him to carrying his life-savings under his skirts as he was sure the money would come in very handy later, during his next escape attempt. After they'd dried and eaten, the two men decided there was no reason not to set sail and Duo gave no complaints as he was escorted to the boat. As surprising as it was to him, Duo was happy when the blonde made a very warm place for him in the back of the boat and he retired there with a lighter heart as he fell asleep thinking of his next escape attempt.
* * *
Even if Trowa hadn't threatened to gag and carry him, Duo wouldn't have tried to get too far away from them as he found himself moving through a very dangerous district. Although he'd never been there personally, he knew of places like these and that law had stopped going into them. As a result, all low-lives and criminals used them as hide-outs, shelters from which to make their plans. No, Duo wasn't looking forward to escaping into *this* area as freedom would probably end worse than captivity. Instead, he gave little resistance as he was drawn down twisted and winding alleys, his eyes worried as the men stopped before a wooden door in the back of a building.
A young woman answered the door and after a few whispered words from Trowa, she let them inside. As far as Duo could tell, the building had a lower level and he was led down some stairs before the three halted before a door. The red-haired woman unlocked this and Duo was gently pushed inside, Quatre giving him a regretful smile as he was told to wait. Not that he had much choice, as the door was immediately closed and locked behind him. For a moment, he stared at it, then he turned so he could view his new prison.
The room looked more like a closet than a room and as far as Duo could tell the cot, the only thing in the room, had just been brought in recently. Even it was dirty and he scuffed his old slippers over the dusty floor, staring at the cleaned spot in disgust. He didn't care *how* poor the people were, there was no excuse for such disgusting laziness. With a loud sigh, he settled on the cot, grimacing as he was certain the brown skirt he wore was as dark as the blanket despite the fact that the covering had once been white. Still, the stains on it made him wince and it wasn't until he looked at the closed door that he understood why the filth irritated him so. Obviously, his mind was trying to divert him from the real problem. He'd been placed in a room with nothing but a bed. Not a good thing.
When the door opened again, Duo let out a silent sigh as he saw it was the woman from before. His relief was short lived, however, as he spotted definite malice and distaste in her gaze. Bearing a tray, she set it on the floor at the foot of the bed and stood, staring at him.
"Well, I can't say I'm not surprised to see something like you here. I'd have thought he'd have better taste than that."
He knew he looked bad with his hair falling out of it's braid and his dress very poor, but he was taken back by the blatant distaste on the woman's face. "Do I offend you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow when she let out a harsh laugh.
"Offend me?!" she laughed, staring down at where he sat. "How high and mighty you talk, I'd say you're a might drubby looking to be talking like that."
He wasn't hurt by her snide comment, but then, it didn't matter what she thought of him as he reminded himself that he needed to escape. The woman turned and bent over the tray and Duo's mouth fell open as he saw that she'd left the door wide open. Obviously, she *wanted* him to escape and he didn't pause to wonder why as he was on his feet quickly. Without so much as a glance at the woman, he bolted through the door and shut it quickly, grinning as he found she'd left the key in the lock. It was an easy thing to lock her in and he left the key as he turned to view the darkened hallway.
Again, he thought of what might happen to him in the area they were in, but possible risks were better than taking his chances in that room. Throwing his fears aside, he ran for the stairs, nearly stumbling as he heard a door open beneath him and he threw a glance over his shoulder as he saw Quatre and Trowa looking up at him in surprise. They were joined by a third man and Duo shoved himself up as he ran, holding his skirt out of his way and practically flying up the stairs. He hit the door running, and he groaned when he found it locked, closing his eyes in the agony of defeat as strong arms wrapped around his waist and he was held against a man's chest.
Unwilling to be carried back to the room without a fight, Duo kicked at the man holding him and let out a sharp scream. Then a hand was clamped over his mouth and he was brought back downstairs, the man not seeming to mind his kicks. But then, it wasn't as if he could do much damage with the thin slippers Trowa had given him earlier and he eventually stilled his struggles, vaguely aware that the man might notice his lack of breasts if he moved too much. Still, he glared when Quatre unlocked the door and the woman turned with a disappointed statement.
Dropping Duo with a sharp gasp, the man stared at the tooth-marks on his hand before looking back to him. Since he didn't know who'd ordered his kidnapping, Duo was expecting to find it was this new stranger as the black-haired man stared at him in shock. Then the man gave a small smirk, black eyes seeming to warm as he again glanced from his hand to Duo.
"Well, that was quite the greeting, I must say," he said smoothly, shaking his head when Duo glared daggers at him. "I am Chang Wufei, at your service, my lady."
Duo blinked when the man gave a slow bow and he glanced back as he heard what sounded like a growl. The woman was glaring at him, and he gave her a glare of his own before making a face at yet another ruined escape attempt.
"Is she always so difficult?" Wufei asked, raising an eyebrow as he glanced at Quatre's unhappy statement.
"Well..." the blonde boy seemed hesitant, and Trowa stepped forward, giving Duo a sharp gaze.
"Yes," Trowa said, his response saying wonders.
"I see. And how did you manage to escape?" He turned to Duo, but looked past him as he stared at the woman who was currently scowling.
"He caught me with my back turned," she said quickly, making it sound as if Duo had done something horrible that she'd never expected.
"Yeah, and you obviously didn't mind," Duo returned, scoffing as he gestured to her, "She left the door wide open. She was begging for me to escape."
"Why I never!" Enraged, the woman took a step forward, her hand raising as if she meant to slap Duo and Wufei caught her quickly, his dark gaze making her flush.
Staring at the woman in disapproval, he drew her to the door, giving her a small push. "I'd say your services are done here, wouldn't you?" He waited until she'd left before turning to smile at Duo. "Well, no harm done. Trowa, why don't you go get the chest, there really isn't any time to waste." The tall one nodded and left, returning almost immediately with a large trunk held on his shoulder.
As soon as he spotted it, Duo had a horrible suspicion and he took a step back when Wufei turned to look at him. "Tell me you're not thinking of putting *me* in that thing," he said slowly, his eyes impossibly wide. "No way!"
"Don't be afraid," Wufei said, his voice calm, "We simply can't have anyone spotting you as we take you to the ship. Also, you've proven that you're determined to escape and we can't have that either." Since his reassurances didn't seem to help, he nodded his head toward the trunk. "I will make a deal with you. If you give me your word that you won't try to scream or make any move that will draw attention to yourself, I won't tie and gag you."
"What?!" Letting out a frustrated groan, Duo rubbed his palms over his face before bowing his head in defeat. "Why can't you just let me go?"
"It won't take long," Wufei said, not liking the hopeless tone Duo spoke with. "If there was another way, I assure you, we'd use it. But there isn't."
In the end, Duo climbed into the trunk on his own, and he kept his muscles taut as the lid was slowly shut and he was surrounded by darkness. If he'd ever had fears of his death, this beat them all and he felt as if he'd been placed in a coffin that was much too small. As it was, he'd had to curl into a near ball in order to fit into the thing and had it not been for the padding that lined the inside, he was sure he'd have been bruised all over. Mostly because Trowa accidentally dropped the trunk as he was carrying it up the stairs and while the boy had given a heart-felt apology, Duo promised to hurt him later, badly. Still, the ride really didn't take *that* long, no more than an eternity.
When the lid was finally thrown back, Duo was again assaulted by light after blackness and he winced painfully. Then he winced again as he found himself unable to move at all, barely getting into a sitting position as his legs were completely numb. Had Wufei not lifted him, he might have stayed in the trunk inevitably and he was grateful to the man. At least, he was grateful until he was set on his feet and he nearly crumpled to the carpet. Then, his mind shut down as his legs screamed at him and he closed his eyes until the last of his muscles had finally awakened. It was then that he realized he was still being supported by the black-haired man and his pain-fogged mind pinpointed the man's hand on his stomach and the muscled chest pressed close to his back.
Fear sprang to mind unhampered and he lunged away, turning to glare at the man as Wufei looked to him in surprise. He didn't care if the man had been helping him and Duo could still feel fingers touching his side and the way the warm breath had reached his ear. The danger he was in once again became apparent and he grabbed the oak staff that was leaning in the corner of what he found to be a cabin. It may not have been meant as a weapon, but he intended to use it as such as he watched the three men warily, spotting Trowa and Quatre behind the black-haired man. Wufei took a small step forward and Duo swung the staff in a fast arc, warning him to stay back.
"The first one of you who tries *anything* is going to seriously regret it," he ground out, hoping his fear wasn't apparent in his voice. Again, he was convinced they had guns but as he couldn't see any, he left room for a bit of hope that he might be able to fend them off at least for a while.
"Please, English," Wufei said softly, his eyes glowing as he stared at Duo. There was something attractive in a girl with spirit and he found himself captivated by those sparking violet eyes. Most women he'd met were much too passive and he gave a mental compliment to Heero for having chosen such a spirited bride. "No one will hurt you." With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the pair standing behind him, humored by their uncertainty as they seemed wary to leave him alone. Once they were gone, he turned back to Duo. "In truth, you are my guest. You see, this is my ship and as it is the only cabin suitable for a lady, I give you leave to mine."
"Is that supposed to *comfort* me?" Duo asked, his incredulous tone not hidden. "So you'll keep me in *your* cabin, that's a real relief."
Wufei smirked again. "Well, as I was saying, I *will* find it necessary to come in every once in a while as this is where I keep my charts." Directing Duo's attention to one of such papers, he inclined is head. "But other than that, the room is yours. Once we set sail, you will, of course, have leave to the deck of the ship, but I can't risk it just yet. I can't have you jumping and trying to swim to shore, now can I?"
He'd never had much chance to swim, and Duo didn't really care if he missed that opportunity to escape as he knew he wouldn't make it to shore unless it was *very* close nearby. Still, he was irritated that the man thought he'd be reassured by the knowledge that he'd only be intruding occasionally. "You're so very kind," he said sarcastically, glaring at the man.
"I will announce my arrival with a loud knock," Wufei said. He almost laughed at the anger heating the room, but he wasn't prone to laughter and he resisted the temptation. "I'll see you again once we've set sail. Till then, English."
Duo didn't move until the man had left the cabin and he sighed as he heard a lock turn. He wasn't reassured, but at least he hadn't been attacked. //Maybe they really *are* taking me to someone else. But who?// He sat down on the soft bed that was bolted to the floor at the side of the room and rested his head in his hands. //He called me English. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to tell them I'm a boy. But then...that might make things worse. I don't know, though. If they were sent to find a girl, then I'm not the one they're after. They *might* release me. But then...they might also decide to kill me for witnessing their attempts at kidnapping. I don't know what to do...//
* * *
Wufei frowned at the table as he resisted the need to look up at the one eating across from him. It had been weeks since the beginning of the voyage and he could not deny the feelings he had for his friend's betrothed. His feelings had grown beyond simple lust and he was beginning to actually *like* the spirited girl, only his loyalty to Heero preventing him from letting those feelings out into the open. But he'd given his word to bring her to Heero and he had every intention of keeping his word. Still, a glance to where the girl sat had his eyes glowing and he knew he had the patience of a saint. He must, otherwise he'd never have been able to hold out against such temptation, friendship or not.
Taking a bite of the delicious food Wufei's cook had prepared for him, Duo's mind flew over what he'd learned so far. It seemed that the story Trowa and Quatre had given him had been true as the black-haired captain had confirmed it. While he wouldn't say *who* they were taking him to, Duo had been told that it was a man who was 'smitten' with him and the man said it as if the news would reassure him. Rather than doing that, it only served to confuse him as Duo was convinced they had the wrong person. There was no one he could think of who would go to such an extent to get him unless it was someone who'd noticed him while he'd lived at Edward's home. This was becoming more reasonable to him as time passed and it wasn't long before he was convinced they *did* have the right person. Only *he* wasn't what they thought him to be and he grew more and more worried as to what sort of reaction their boss would have when he learned that Duo wasn't Diane.
"What are you thinking about, English?"
Duo looked up as the man's voice broke the silence and he shook his head. With his new thoughts, he had also determined that the men didn't know his name, this would explain why Wufei kept calling him English. Obviously, it was a reference to the fact that he had lived in England and Duo had decided the man paying them didn't know his name either. "I was thinking that I want to go home," he said honestly, giving the man a pointed stare.
Wufei sighed and glanced down for a moment before letting Duo see his sincere statement. "I know you are fearful of the future, but I am convinced you will be very happy when you learn who is responsible for this. However, if you are not, I give you my word that you may have me flogged. If, of course, you regret this journey." Those violet eyes sparked and he knew the girl meant to hold him to his promise, yet he was certain she'd be ecstatic when she learned it was Heero who'd instigated her kidnapping. Heero had made a wonderful match and Wufei understood why the man would risk death to return to England for her. Yes, he understood very well. Duo had dropped his gaze and Wufei had to do the same as he felt the need to comfort her, hold her, and most especially touch her. It was a good thing their journey would end before the week was out or he might lose his control.
* * *
When they left the ship, Quatre stayed with Duo as Trowa went about finding the manor house Heero had rented for himself and his betrothed. Unfortunately, the tall man soon learned that the man who'd taken the money had decided to give the house to someone else while they had been on the sea. Now, he not only claimed he had no more houses, but he refused to return the sum that had been paid him, claiming that Heero owed him that amount anyway. In the end, the best thing Trowa could get was a castle far from the city where they'd docked and this he had to pay extra for. It was with an angry and heavy heart that he returned to the two who awaited him and departed the news.
As their destination was in the country, they had to purchase horses and supplies, but they were soon on their way. Without the funds for better steeds, they were left with older horses and their ride dragged out longer than it would have, the snowy climate and cold weather also slowing them. But they eventually made it and all three were taken in by the large, yet ancient castle that rose before them.
Upon reaching the courtyard, however, Duo's heart dropped as he saw the wooden gate was a broken rubble of boards and aside from the dilapidated stable that sat to the side, the castle was in ruins. The shutters were falling off or nonexistent and the roof was in sore need of repair as he could actually see a gaping hole in one spot. He moved inside as Trowa took his horse, and his spirits dropped lower as he saw that the inside looked worse than the out. The layer of dust that coated the floor was at least an centimeter thick and ropey gray cobwebs hung in the corners, no doubt home to large inhabitants. Spying a large iron kettle hanging in the soot- blackened hearth and the pots and utensils that lined the mantle, Duo gave a sigh, turning to Quatre who stepped in beside him.
"I guess this place will serve as camp for the night," he said with reluctance.
"Actually," Quatre said softly, dropping his eyes, "this is it. This is where we'll be staying, Faulder Castle."
"Oh no, tell me you're kidding?!" The man nodded slowly and Duo let out a low groan, his eyes moving over the filth again. He made a face at the blonde and moved a bit further into the room. "Great. Well, I might as well see what the rest of this pigsty looks like." Quatre nodded and Duo moved to the stairs, his eyes pausing for a moment on the tall candelabra that stood in the corner of the staircase. Obviously, the castle was too hard to reach for looters to have come to call, and the piece was coated in dust, evidence that no one had lived there for years. Still, he forced himself to keep going until he reached the second floor.
After searching for a while, Duo paused on a room that looked a little better than the others and he eyed the old tapestry that hung on one wall, picking at the dirt that clung to it as he wondered at the crest. He lifted the edge to see if anything was behind it and a small smile came to his face as he realized what he was looking at. It was a door, no doubt a hidden passageway that would come in handy if he had need to hide in the house. Then his hopes crashed down as he saw Trowa standing in the doorway and he dropped the tapestry quickly, even though there was little chance the man hadn't noticed what he'd been looking at. Ignoring the man, Duo moved to look at the upstairs. The best room it had to offer, however, was marred as that gaping hole he'd seen earlier was above the back of the room. While it didn't hover over the bed, the drafts that blew in and the snow that piled on the floor eliminated it as a choice.
It was by unanimous decision that Duo would get the room downstairs and the boy was again grateful to his feminine role. He doubted if he would have been treated so chivelrously if they'd known he was a boy and as it was the only habitable room, he was glad to have it. Still, it, along with the rest of the castle, was in dire need of a harsh cleaning and the three of them set to it immediately. They had no idea the task they had set out to do, but ignorance was bliss as if they'd known they no doubt would have given up before ever starting.
* * *
It became apparent quickly, that none of them knew how to cook and Duo soon came to regret the fact that he'd only supervised the servants. Unfortunately, he'd never watched the cooks too carefully and he was as bad a cook as the other two. It was hunger as much as anything, that drove them to return to the town for supplies and after a quick meal, they were ready to start shopping. As sad as it was, their funds were nearly depleted and Duo was soon bored as Trowa and Quatre argued as to where they might get the best deals. It was as he was staring around him that the boy noticed how close they were to a harbor and his eyes widened as he stared at the tall ships. Neither man noticed as he slipped off silently and it was with a light step that Duo searched for a ship that might be returning to England.
"Why, English! What are you doing here?"
Halting suddenly, Duo almost cried as he recognized the voice and he made a miserable face before turning to watch as Wufei moved toward him. "What do you think I was doing?" he muttered before shaking his head at his horrible luck.
"No doubt you sought to escape onto one of these ships," Wufei said, black eyes warm as he stared at the boy. "But you are mistaken. You see, it is winter now and no one will risk such danger at this time."
"Well, that's too bad," Duo said, anger hardening his voice. "Because if I stay here, I'll end up starving to death before spring *ever* comes. They don't even have money for food..."
"Oh, well, you know I'm here to help. I'm sure I will be reimbursed. Fear not, English, I'll not let you starve."
"Actually," Duo said slowly, wondering if the man were sincere in his kindness. "I was thinking that you might be able to invest something for me. You see," he pulled out his purse from where he'd hung it beneath his coat, "I have my own money with me."
"And you want to invest it?" Wufei asked in surprise, liking the girl even more. It wasn't often that he heard of a woman who had such sense when it came to money. "I shall be happy to do so for you. And, English?" He took a step closer, not hiding his bright eyes as he looked at Duo. "If you still wish to return to England when spring comes, I promise to deliver you there myself."
"Really?" The man nodded sharply and Duo felt a flicker of warmth towards him. Then he heard running steps approaching and let out a groan as he spotted Trowa and Quatre's angered expressions.
"You found her!" Coming to a halt, Quatre gave Duo a disapproving scowl before looking to Wufei in gratitude. "Thank you, captain."
"I assure you," Wufei said, still gazing at Duo's violet eyes. "It was my pleasure. Until we meet again, English. One month."
Watching him go, Duo again wondered if these people didn't truly think they were doing a good thing by bringing him here. His curiosity regarding his *true* captor was growing and his nervousness slowly settling as he didn't think they'd bring him to a person who meant him harm. Still, as he turned slowly to meet the two glaring eyes that stared at him, he wasn't exactly on their best side at the moment and he sighed as Quatre yelled at him.
* * *
Snow poured in around him as he had to lean hard to shut the door, and it wasn't until Heero pushed back his hood that the two men lowered their firearms. Rushing to him, their relief was obvious and had it not been for the castle, Heero wouldn't have kept his smile back. "It's good to be here, but why are you in this castle? What happened to the manor I rented?"
"He gave it to his sister," Trowa said, taking the man's coat. "He said this was all he had to offer and he made us pay extra for it."
"I'll take care of him later," Heero promised, his cobalt blue eyes narrowing for a moment before he brushed away his anger. "But where is Relena?" He didn't see her anywhere and he noticed, for the first time, the bruises that both men sported, his eyes narrowing. "What's happened to you?"
"She's in her room." Trowa looked away, embarrassed by the bruise that marred his cheek.
"I'm afraid we had to lock her in," Quatre added, staring at the floor. "She tried to escape in town and we couldn't take another risk. She wasn't at all happy with us and...she threw things when we brought her dinner."
"Threw things? Relena?!" He stared at the two for a moment in utter disbelief, then marched up the stairs, "Which room?"
"The only one on the second floor with a door."
This almost made him pause, but Heero shrugged it aside, eager to see his betrothed. It had been so long since he'd seen her and while he was certain the men had exaggerated, he worried that Relena might be frightened at having been kidnapped. He found the room easily, but the sight of the large bar that was in place made him glare in disbelief. There was no way it was necessary and he couldn't understand why the men had needed such a big restraint when Relena was so sweet and gentle. Promising to have a talk with them, he lifted the bar and set it aside before rapping lightly on the door. With no answer, he pushed it open and stepped in.
"Are you here?"
Heero barely had time to turn to face the furious form before he jumped back, barely avoiding the stool Duo swung at him as the boy's eyes blazed in fury. Still shocked, he recognized the boy from Edward's party and he grabbed the stool, jerking it away as he wondered briefly why the boy was still dressed as a girl. "What are *you* doing here?"
"Why don't you ask your flunkies!" Duo cried, his fury knowing no bounds as he realized all of his torment had been because of the traitor standing before him. "They're the ones who kidnapped me! On *your* orders!"
Heero blinked in rising confusion as he set the stool aside absentmindedly. "What are you talking about? Where's Relena?"
"Oh, so they were supposed to take *her*, then?" Duo let out a laugh as he realized how ridiculous it all was, then glared at the confused man. "Well, I guess she's where any good wife would be. With her husband in *England*." Although he'd intended to infuriate the man, Duo was caught off guard by the vicious curse Heero uttered and took a sharp step back.
"I'll kill them!" Rounding on his heel, Heero was downstairs in record time, his fury nearly sending the two men into hiding as they stared at him in shock. "Do you have any idea what you've done?!" he demanded. "How could you have made such a stupid mistake?!"
"What?" Glancing at Trowa, Quatre's breath caught as he resisted the urge to step away from his lord's wrath.
Heero turned as he spotted Duo on the stairs and his eyes blazed. "Tell them who you are."
"Duo Maxwell," Duo said, holding his head as the two men's eyes widened. "Only *son*...of Lord Ramsey Maxwell."
The two men looked about to expire from disbelief and Heero took a threatening step towards them. "How could you think he was my betrothed?"
"Well...she...that is he..." Quatre swallowed roughly as he forced his tongue to work. "We waited in your lady's room and when we saw a girl who matched the description we thought..."
"Matched the description?!" Heero's eyes widened and he ground his teeth together. "Are you blind?"
"You said she had long brown hair," Trowa said slowly, putting a hand on Quatre's back as the blonde seemed to need the support.
"Yes!" Heero agreed, nodding. "I said *light* brown hair, not golden brown."
"She...he has blue eyes."
"I said light blue, not violet. And how could you think *he* was a girl?! For the love of God, he's a boy!" Heero's snarl finally made the two step back.
"Well, since this was all a mistake," Duo said softly, not wincing when the furious man turned to him, "Can I go now? I mean, it's not like I'll tell anyone where you are."
Heero would have loved nothing more than to see the boy gone, but he knew there was no way he could do it. Even if it hadn't been the wrong season for a boat to go to England, the boy's name had caught his attention. He hadn't realized who the boy was when he'd seen him at the party, but knowing he was the son of Ramsey Maxwell had dispelled any chance the boy had of returning to England. Since he was well aware of the rumors regarding Ramsey's being missing, he knew the boy's very life would be in danger if he were to return. No, Heero found that not only was he stuck in the castle without Relena, but he was also forced to hold the boy as well.
"No, you'll have to stay. At least until spring." He missed the way Duo's eyes narrowed as he stared at the floor, his mind realizing that his betrothed was lost to him.
"You can't keep me here!" Duo cried, "Why would you?"
"Don't argue with me," Heero glared, again turning away. "You're staying."
"I'm telling you to let me go or you'll regret it." The man didn't so much as glance at him and Duo moved towards the fire as his fury grew. "If you keep me here, I'll see to it that you're every waking hour is as miserable as I am, bet on it!"
"Shut up, you're pushing my last nerve." The warning should have been enough, and Heero gave the boy a degrading look before turning to Trowa and Quatre. What he'd been about to say to them, however, was put on hold as their eyes widened suddenly. He turned back to the long-haired boy and he ducked suddenly as Duo swung a long- handled pan at his head. His reaction was well timed, but he hadn't counted on the boy letting go and he groaned as it rang against the side of his head.
Knowing he didn't have much time, Duo barely paused to enjoy the impact before bolting to his room. The man was fast and he could hear him gaining on him as he was slowed by the stairs, his heart pounding furiously in his chest. Pausing for a split second, Duo shoved the standing candelabra into his pursuer, gratified as he heard a muffled thump and a loud curse. Unfortunately, he didn't think looking back would be a good idea and he flew to his room.
Heero stared upward and he caught sight of the corner of the boy's skirt as he disappeared around the corner, the sound of his door slamming shut echoing in the castle. It was a moment before his anger calmed enough for him to get to his feet and he turned on the stairs as he pinned the two stricken men, who stood watching him.
"I'm going to bed," he said tightly, his eyes narrowed.
"But," Quatre flinched as the man turned on him, but continued. "We've been so busy fixing the place and we didn't know when you'd be back so..."
"Spit it out."
"We haven't touched any of the rooms besides the one...Duo....has," Trowa said evenly, taking his lord's anger easily.
"Then get busy," Heero muttered, sinking down on the steps as he shot a glare at the candelabra laying beside him. "Surely you can make it livable for *one* night."
"Of course." Glancing at Trowa, Quatre nodded as both hurried to do so.
Heero glanced upstairs again as he thought of the boy and he gave a slow sigh, realizing that as much as it infuriated him, the boy had a right to be angry. Still, he couldn't simply release him to his death, and he had no intention of living with a harridan till spring. He'd have to talk some sense into the boy before his temper got the best of him and he beat him to a pulp.
* * *