7-24-2001

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
Warnings: shonen ai
Author: Arigatomina
Email: arigatoumina@hotmail.com

Bonds of Love

Part 7

It was so cold when Duo peeked out from beneath the covers that his immediate reaction was to duck back under them again. His brief glance had revealed that the sun was rising, and he knew it was time to get up. But the fire had burned down and his nose twitched at the thought of his bare feet touching the cold floor. He'd removed his dress since the room had been plenty warm when he'd gone to sleep, but now he wished he hadn't as the thin slip was of no comfort to him. For a moment, he entertained the thought of simply going back to sleep, but he knew he wouldn't be able to. Rising early was a habit he'd gotten into and he finally sat up with an aggrieved sigh, clutching the blanket to him as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

The floor was as freezing as he'd expected and he groaned as his toes curled, forcing his legs to hold still as they tried to get away from it. Eventually, he'd grown accustomed to the temperature and despite his shivers, he finally stood. Taking the blanket with him, he crossed to the antique dresser, scowling when he realized he'd have to wear the dress. While his disguise was obviously useless, it was the only clothing he had so there wasn't much choice in the matter. Huddling beneath the blanket, he dressed within the warm shield before setting the cloth back on the bed. A glance at the window showed that the sun was, indeed, rising, and he let out another sigh as he moved to the bucket of water. Trowa had been kind enough to bring it up to his room before locking him in, but he could tell by the frost on the metal surface that the water was much too cold to wash in.

Glaring at the water, he blinked slowly as he listened to the silence that filled the castle, a slow smile coming to his lips. He knew from the time they'd spent that Trowa and Quatre didn't rise very early and he wondered if the same could be said about Heero. There wasn't any stirring coming from above and he suddenly realized where the man had no doubt bedded down. There was only one other room in the castle that had a bed, and it was the one he'd noticed when they'd first arrived. The one with the broken door and the hole in the roof. Duo smirked as he wondered if his captor wasn't miserable with his room, knowing the man had to be colder than he was. His eyes were drawn again to the bucket of water and his heart raced as an idea formed.

The door to the room upstairs had been completely off its hinges and there was no way the two could have repaired it overnight. There was nothing to stop an aggrieved prisoner from gaining entrance, provided, of course, that Heero was still asleep. But he thought he would be, considering the distance the man had traveled and the conditions of the snow-covered terrain. //And it would be so very fitting.// Mind made up, he slipped his feet into the thin slippers he'd left near his bed and grasped the cold handle of the bucket, his violet eyes shining. //Revenge is so sweet.//

He made a tiny detour before climbing the stairs, and he was reassured that there was no one awake below. While he'd never had reason for stealth as a child, he was good at it now as he breathed as quietly as he could, his eyes wide as nervous energy rushed through him. Without incidence, he reached his destination and he paused in the hall as he watched the door that lay against the wall, doorway to the room open. A cold breeze tingled about his feet and he grinned at the thought of the man sleeping as he hoped he'd catch pneumonia. It was with tiny steps that he crept to the doorway, and he peeked inside quickly, snapping his head back out as he leaned against the wall and thought about what he'd seen. The hole in the roof hadn't been covered, but a large tub had been placed beneath it to catch whatever snow fell in. The large bed had been surrounded by a thick canopy of blankets and Duo sneered as he realized the man probably wasn't as cold as he'd hoped. //But he will be,// Duo thought, his eyes narrowing as he looked down at the water. The bucket was almost painfully cold to the touch and he could just imagine what the water would feel like. His quick glance had found his target sleeping and he took a deep breath before slipping into the room.

His feet made no sound as he stepped to the bed, and he smiled as he looked at the sleeping man. Then his smile slowly faded as he looked closer. He looked younger than he'd thought, his face relaxed as he slept and Duo found his eyes drawn to Heero's features. While he was covered to the chin in blankets, a golden arm had slipped out and the man seemed vulnerable somehow. //He's completely off guard now.// It was obvious that the man had needed sleep as his deep breathing was heavy and his brows were relaxed, his face seeming smoother than Duo had remembered. For the first time, Duo found himself actually looking at the man, and his mouth twitched as he eyed the unruly brown hair that hung over his face.

He was hesitating. It took nearly a minute before he realized it, but he knew it was true as his arms had dropped, the bucket he'd held high in preparation now lowered. It seemed wrong somehow, taking advantage of the man's sleep and Duo gritted his teeth as he reminded himself of the atrocity that had been committed against him. //He kidnapped me. It doesn't matter if it was a mistake, he knows it was and he still won't let me go. I told him I'd make him miserable and I never lie. Besides, he's a traitor.// Before his determination could diminish, he took a small step back, his muscles taut as he swung the bucket. The water arced through the air and Duo followed it, watching as it landed square in the sleeping man's face.

Never had he imagined someone could wake so quickly and he was stunned as blazing cobalt eyes flew open. Heero let out a snarl as he sat up, staring around him before locating the boy standing beside his bed. Duo had taken a few steps back when those eyes had opened, but he froze now, his muscles ignoring him as his mind panicked. The man had leapt to his feet, fists clenched as his head lowered and he stared at the boy as if the heat of his fury could catch him on fire. And it did in a way, as Duo no longer felt the cold, his eyes impossibly wide in his face as he stared at the figure standing before him. He was completely naked and Duo's eyes were burning as much as his face. Then Heero moved and Duo's instinct kicked in and he was running for the door.

The man was obviously intent on murder and Duo knew he was gaining as he reached the hall. Turning in mid-flight, he swung the bucket and let go, the pained grunt telling him he'd hit his target as he ran faster, pelting down the stairs. The loud thump and muttered curse would have been music to his ears if he hadn't heard steps coming fast as the man resumed his chase. By now, though, Duo had reached the second floor and he skidded as he threw himself into his room, shoving the heavy door shut behind him and barring it. His heart raced, pounding in his ears and he sagged against the wood, resting his forehead on the smooth surface as he relished in his safety.

When the door shook suddenly, he jerked back, his eyes widening as he recognized the sound as Heero hitting it with the palm of his hand. Wondering if the hinges would hold, he stopped breathing as he stared at the door in absolute terror.

"You..." The voice was so low Duo barely heard it, but the growling tone sent a shiver down his back as he took another step away from the door. "If you ever...do that again...I'll tear down this door and kill you," Heero said, his voice dangerously cold. "Slowly."

* * *

The sun had reached the middle of the sky by the time Duo got up the nerve to venture from the questionable safety of his room. Mostly, it was hunger that drove him to risk his life, and as bad as the cooking was, he didn't want to die of starvation. His steps were carefully silent as he crept down the curved staircase, and he froze as he spotted Heero seated at the table before the fire. The man was looking at him, cobalt eyes so intense Duo's muscles clenched. He was turning to run back to his room when the man spoke.

"Come down," Heero said, his voice toneless as he stared at the long-haired boy. He hadn't really gotten over his fury, but he knew killing the boy was taking it too far. Duo obviously wouldn't stand a chance against him and as much as he would have liked to beat him, he wasn't one to resort to such methods. "I have business to attend to in town and we will straighten this out before I go." The boy hadn't moved, and his eyes narrowed as his anger threatened to rise again. Then Duo gave a slow nod and moved down the steps.

If it hadn't been so cowardly, Duo would have refused, but his pride had jumped up as he imagined the pleasure the man would no doubt have in knowing he'd frightened him. "Fine, I was hungry anyway." He crossed to the fireplace and filled a bowl with the odd-looking substance the large kettle contained, focusing his attention on the prospect of eating the slop as he stirred up his courage. When he was certain he could hold out, he turned with a careless statement and took the seat across from Heero. "Well," he said, his tone coated in dislike, "Talk."

"Hn." The boy's manner had him on edge and he still wanted to hit him, but he also admired the boldness. "Even if I had a mind to take you back to England, or send you back, there is no way I could do so," he said slowly, watching as those violet eyes narrowed. "The sea is frozen, no ships will be going out. You have no choice but to remain here until spring comes." Duo looked as if he was about to argue and Heero glared at him, rising suddenly. It would have satisfied him if the boy had flinched, but instead, he simply looked at him, anger evident in his bright eyes. "As it is, we are forced to share this castle. You will cease your attack against me. Or suffer the consequences. Do you understand?"

"Look," Duo said, suddenly filled with a foreign need to be reasonable. As much as he would have liked to give a smart retort, his sense of self-preservation told him it was a bad idea. "It's not like you have to see me back. Just give me a ride to town and I'll do it myself. I'm sure I can find someone who'd be willing to go. There's no way every single ship is going to stay here all winter."

"No."

There was no give in the man's answer and Duo gnashed his teeth as he wanted nothing more than to throw something at him. He would have hit him, but he'd seen the man's build and he knew better. //I've seen more than just his build.// Flushing at his thoughts, Duo centered his mind quickly. "You're not being reasonable about this. Why would you keep me here? There's no reason to. You said you were going to town anyway, just take me with you and once we're there, I'll be out of your hair."

"I said no," Heero rumbled, glaring at the seated boy. "The discussion is over."

"You jerk, stop talking to me like that!" Duo's sensible side winced as he'd just thrown caution out the window, but he was furious.

"Do not anger me. Or I won't be held responsible for my actions." With that, Heero turned, throwing on his coat as he strode to the door, not looking back. He'd had enough, with the boy and his tongue. If he'd thought it would do any good, he would have simply explained his reasoning to him, but he knew Duo would never believe him. He knew from their discussion while he'd been in the guise of a servant that the boy thought him to be a murderer and a traitor. There was no way he'd believe Heero was actually protecting him by keeping him away from England. While the search for the boy's father had been low-profile before, it had escalated since he'd left the country. He'd even heard of rewards while he was on board the ship.

It seemed everyone was looking for Ramsey Maxwell...and his son. Heero hadn't thought too much about it when he'd overheard one of the conversations while on the ship, but then, he hadn't known either of the two people that were being hunted. It was common knowledge that Ramsey had disappeared some months ago and while no one seemed to know who had him, the rumor of his hidden treasure had brought out head-hunters all over the place. And, it seemed that someone had let out the news of Duo's disappearance as well. Since he hadn't known who the boy was, Heero never made the connection until he discovered the boy's name, but he was now convinced it was Edward who had leaked the information. From his knowledge of the man, he no doubt hoped to find the boy so he could have the treasure for himself.

A return to England would mean certain death for the boy now, and as much as Heero was angry with him, his sense of honor was still active. It had been he who'd taken the boy away from his hiding place and the disguise that had obviously been able to fool many. He simply couldn't send the boy back now that people would be looking for him. No, he was stuck with the boy, whether he liked it or not.

Clearing his mind as he crossed the courtyard to the stable, he nodded to Quatre as the blonde man paused. "Get him out of that dress," he muttered, swinging onto his horse as the pale man had readied it for him. "I'm going to take care of this castle. If he charged you extra, despite faltering in his part of the deal, then by rights we not only own this castle but the surrounding lands as well." He was speaking of the man he'd rented the manor house from, and he knew that he would get his demands. "I'll be gone till nightfall, have my door fixed by then. With a bolt for it," he added, remembering his awakening. "Or next time, you'll be cleaning up blood."

Quatre winced as he nodded quickly. He'd heard of the confrontation and as much as he sympathized with the boy in question, he understood Heero's fury. No one stood up to the man, and he wasn't eager to see Duo hurt. He still felt guilty for having done his part in the boy's kidnapping and as soon as Heero left the courtyard, he hurried to follow his orders, catching Trowa quickly. The last thing he wanted was for the oddly brave boy to try that stunt again as he was certain Heero would carry out his threats.

* * *

"Heero, you don't look well at all." Sitting as the cobalt-eyed man joined him, Wufei raised an eyebrow as he took in the intense scowl. "I would have thought your homecoming would be a joyous one. Your betrothed is quite the lady."

Snorting, Heero waved to one of the men serving as he ordered quickly before turning to his friend. "My betrothed is currently married to another," he said bitingly, scowling at his glass as he leaned over the table. "She is lost to me."

"What? I just saw her not three weeks ago, what has happened?" His eyes narrowed as he wondered if the girl had escaped somehow and he cursed. "She ran away, didn't she."

"No, she never left England." The black-haired man's confusion was apparent and Heero slowly forced himself to see the irony. "They took the wrong person."

"No. I don't believe it! How could they? Then...who is she? Who did they take?" Wufei's mind flew and his eyes glinted as he realized what his friend's news meant. English wasn't engaged to him, therefore, she was fair game.

"Duo Maxwell," Heero murmured, his own eyes glinting as he took perverse pleasure in his friend's shock. "The son of Ramsey Maxwell."

"What?! But she--" Wufei choked suddenly, coughing as he bent forward over the table. It was a moment before he recovered, and his eyes bored into Heero's. "Are you saying she is a boy?"

The slow way he said it made Heero smirk and he gave a nod. "That's right. And not just any boy, he's a Maxwell."

"Max..." He knew the name, of course he did. Everyone did who had ties with the underground and that included himself. "A boy...I can't believe he's a boy..."

"Yes, well, he is." Glaring at the table, Heero shook his head. "And I'm stuck with him. I can't send him back to England, so I'm stuck."

"How could he be a boy?"

The man was starting to get on his nerves, and Heero sent him a fierce glare. "Get over it. He's a boy. Why are you having such a hard time accepting that?"

"But...he's so...beautiful." Wufei was gazing at the table, so he missed the way Heero's eyes nearly fell out of his head, they were so wide with disbelief. //A boy. I guess...it makes sense. I've never met a woman like that, one with such sense, such spirit. I...I should have known.// When he glanced up, he blinked at his friend's stunned statement, frowning. "What?"

"You think he's beautiful?! He's a menace! Infuriating, the epitome of a child that hasn't been taught respect."

"He's not a child," Wufei said, his mind still flying. "And he is beautiful. Didn't you look at him? I don't care if he isn't a girl, he's..."

"Wufei. Tell me you aren't actually thinking of--"

"Can I call on him?"

Heero nearly swallowed his tongue as he grasped the table harshly to keep himself from falling over. "What?! Are you insane?"

"Well," Wufei said, raising an eyebrow, "You obviously have no liking for him. I wouldn't mind finding out what sort of person he is. After all, it isn't often you meet a boy who makes such a lovely woman. And I find his spirit alluring."

"You...have gone insane." Shaking his head, Heero stared at the black-eyed man, unable to understand what he was hearing. //Alluring?! Lovely?!// Finally, he couldn't do more than wait for himself to calm. "You want to call on him. As a suitor? Duo Maxwell?"

"Well, I know it may come as a surprise to you, Heero, but I'm not getting any younger. I happen to appreciate the boy's distinct charms. You obviously are far too caught up with your beloved to see them, but that is understandable. Just give me leave and maybe, I can relieve you of your burden."

"Not by force." Heero blinked at his own sharp command, and scowled for a moment as he was the recipient of well deserved outrage. "I apologize. That was uncalled for. He's just gotten my nerve up and I'm on edge. If you truly want me to go along with your insane wish, then I will."

"Good, tell him I'll call on him in a week," Wufei said, eyes glinting as he suddenly wanted to smirk. He couldn't imagine how the boy would react, but he knew it would be a sight. Still, he had been honest in what he'd told his friend, he was intrigued and his attraction wasn't the least bit diminished by the knowledge that 'English' was a boy. "I'm sure he'll be happy to hear it."

"You're being sarcastic, aren't you?" Frowning, Heero wasn't sure if the man was, but he shook his head. "I'll tell him, but I don't think he'll accept the news well."

"Hm." Wufei wasn't paying too much attention as he realized the boy would be glad to see him. If for no other reason than to check on the money he'd given him to invest. While he didn't like having to use such a method to get on the boy's good side, he took openings where he found them. "I look forward to this."

"You're insane..."

* * *

The castle was quiet when he entered it, and Heero moved through the front hall and up the stairs with a troubled mind. He'd known Wufei for years, and he'd thought the man had good taste when it came to women, or men, but now he doubted that taste. It was obvious to him that his friend had either been bewitched somehow, or he'd seen something Heero hadn't. Pausing as he saw Duo's door, his eyes glinted suddenly and he stepped to it, pressing lightly. Sure enough, the door was securely barred and he knew the boy wasn't taking any chances with him. //Maybe he took my warning to heart,// Heero thought, as he moved up to his own room. His door was strong and he bolted it with satisfaction as he knew there would be no way the boy could get through it. Thinking of what Duo had done to him, he felt a tiny glimmer of humor as he had to admit it had taken courage. Still, he wasn't going to let anything like that happen again.

Crossing the room, he glared at the still open hole in the ceiling for a moment before starting a fire. It would do little good, but he still did it. Despite the cold, he took off his coat and hung it on the odd dragon that stood at the corner of the mantle. Then his eyes widened as his coat promptly dipped and the wall beside his bed slid back with a dull grating sound. He'd been in castles before, and he was acquainted with the habit of building escape tunnels into the walls. With his curiosity peaked, he grasped the candle from the dresser and lit it, stepping into the dark passageway.

It obviously hadn't been used in ages and he held an arm out in front of him to keep the thick cobwebs from hitting his face. The tunnel curved briefly and he found himself moving down some stone stairs before his way was abruptly blocked. With his experience, he quickly found the release for the door, and he frowned as he found himself looking at the back of some sort of thick cloth. Touching it, he pushed forward, his eyes narrowing when dim light reached him. It was with distinct satisfaction that he viewed the room he'd accessed and he smirked as he looked to the occupied bed, letting the large tapestry fall silently behind him.

The room was much nicer than his, and he felt irritation as he stepped to the bed, eyeing the sleeping boy. If he'd felt a need for revenge, he could have taken it with ease. But he remembered his own words and simply looked at the boy, not wanting to start anything. Leaning forward so the boy was illuminated by the candle, Heero made a startling discovery and he blinked. He was lovely. Without a scowl, the boy's features were smooth and Heero stared at the way those long lashes stood out against his cheeks. His hair had come partly undone and it was as if he noticed it for the first time, his eyes moving to the golden glints before slipping to the boy's exposed chest. Lying on his back, Duo had an arm curved over his head, and the blankets had slipped down a bit to just below his shoulders.

//How could I have missed this? Was I that distracted?// Staring, Heero understood completely why Wufei had been eager to seek the boy and he nodded slowly. His friend had obviously seen a side of the boy that he hadn't and it was with very slow movements that Heero tore his eyes away when Duo sighed and shivered slightly, his arm moving beneath the blanket as he pulled them up a bit in his sleep. He hadn't really noticed, but he turned as he looked to the fireplace, seeing the dying embers. Without thinking about what he was doing, he added a few logs to the fire, watching till it caught. Looking to the boy once more, he shook his head at the thought of having failed to notice the boy's beauty. It wasn't until he lifted the tapestry that he was reminded why he didn't like the boy and his lips twitched. The lock on the outside of the hidden door had been removed.

He left the room silently as he gave himself a mental reminder to be nicer to Trowa and Quatre as they had shown great sense in removing the lock. It was obvious that the two had noticed the passageway and weren't about to keep him from having access to the boy's room. //That's why they put a bolt on the inside of his door. So he'd think he has a safe place to hide. Clever.// He returned to his room, taking a long board from the broken ceiling, and levered it against Duo's door. That way, the boy wouldn't be able to get into the passageway. Heero still intended to put a lock on his own door just in case, but he could imagine how irritated the boy would be when he tried the door and found that it wouldn't open. If, of course, he'd even noticed it. //He probably did, though. Yes, I'll bet he did.// It was with a light heart that Heero moved back to his room, and he slept surprisingly well.

* * *

Part 8

The sound of hammering woke him, and Heero gave a grateful scowl as he got out of his bed, the cold not effecting him much as he dressed. It wasn't like him to sleep in, but he'd had very little sleep during his flight from England, and his body was still struggling to catch up. Once dressed, his eyes moved to the window and he sidestepped the large tub that was filled with partially melting snow. He reminded himself to have Trowa work on the roof after he finished repairs on the pitiful excuse for a stable. That was obviously what had woken him, and he nodded in satisfaction as he looked down to where the two men were at work. They were trusted allies of his, and they'd helped in his escape, following him even into seclusion.

It was as he looked down, that he saw movement at the window below him, shutters being pushed outward. //I don't have shutters. He obviously made sure his own room was repaired with no thought to mine.// Despite his thoughts, he didn't really feel angry as he was given a nice view of the boy's bare back and loose hair. //I guess he isn't as scrawny as I thought...// Duo was pouring out some water, and he didn't notice his watcher at all as he finished quickly and disappeared from view. Nodding to himself, although he wasn't sure why, Heero slowly moved back from the window, crossing the room with rapid steps as he started his day.

* * *

The sound of soft steps brought his gaze up as the long-haired boy made his way downstairs. He'd dropped his female disguise, and Heero found himself frowning at the way the boy looked. The clothing he wore was obviously something of Quatre's, and since the blonde hadn't had much to offer, they were rather pathetic. Still, the boy didn't seem too bothered by his tawdry appearance, his long hair combed back into a neat braid and his head held high as his violet eyes met Heero evenly. He didn't speak as he moved to the fire, and Heero smirked at the way the boy sniffed at the awful fare. Since he was being ignored, he decided to remind his guest of his presence, remembering the message Wufei had asked him to give.

Duo didn't react as he felt and heard the man come to stand beside him, and it wasn't until Heero leaned against the small table he was at that he glanced over. He had been cutting some of the thick bread so he could eat that rather than the slop, and he paused. Raising an eyebrow, he kept himself from glaring as he waited.

"You know, I'm surprised. Those clothes seem fitting on you. Does this mean you're going to play the servant now? I did so well enough to fool you." He wasn't sure why he felt the need to irritate the boy, but Heero guessed it was the haughty way Duo was staring at him. Then his breath caught as the boy moved suddenly and he jerked his hand back with very wide eyes. The long knife had nearly sliced off two of his fingers and he couldn't believe the boy as Duo continued to cut, mindless of his presence.

"It's easy for you to talk," Duo muttered, glaring down at the cutting board as he took some bread and picked up a plate. He moved to the table and stood as he knew his appetite was gone, the sound of himself being followed irritating him. It wasn't that he really minded being dressed in rags, but it infuriated him that Heero would mock him. After all, it was his fault. He was certain that if it had been Relena the man would have decked her out in the finest of clothing. "I'm sure your clothes cost at least two sovereigns. Gold even." Met with silence, he looked up slowly, his eyes narrowing at the way Heero was staring at him. Then he glared suddenly as he saw those cobalt eyes sweep over his form. "Are you looking for a replacement for your beloved Relena?" he demanded, his tone dripping with sarcasm.

"That would be impossible for you," Heero returned, placing his back to the boy. There was no way he'd admit that he'd been seriously looking at the boy, and the suggestion had a certain merit. But the boy's words also had his eyes narrowing as he remembered his former betrothed. They'd only been engaged for a month, but he'd found the girl to be quiet and sweet, unobtrusive in her passive nature. She was absolutely nothing like the spit-fire boy. A few minutes passed as he stared into the fire, and then the sound of bristles brushing the floor had him turning. At first he was doubtful as he watched the boy sweep, but then he smirked. "It's good to know you're keeping busy," he commented, his smirk widening when those violet eyes glared, but Duo didn't look up.

//Jerk.// While he refused to grace that snide comment with a response, Duo's eyes narrowed more as he sped up his movements. It wasn't long before he brought up a cloud of dust that had even him blinking, but he continued when he noticed Heero's statement. The man coughed roughly, glaring at him as he waved a hand in front of his face.

"Enough," Heero growled, clearing his throat as the boy stopped and turned to face him. "I really have no idea what Wufei sees in you. I should have told him not to bother, you're intolerable."

"What are you talking about?" Duo demanded. He crossed his arms over his chest as he stared at the man with suspicion, having set the broom aside.

"The fool wants to call on you. Though for the life of me, I can't figure out what he'd want with a boy like you." He'd intended to irritate him, and he thought he'd succeeded when those violet eyes glared suddenly. Then the boy's statement cleared and he took on a thoughtful appearance as his eyes dropped to the floor.

"Does he? Wow, that's something I definitely wasn't expecting. But..." Duo continued to stared down at the floor, then a small glint rose in his eyes. //He's probably using this as an excuse to give me my money. After all, it's been a month and he did say he'd come in a month. I'll have to congratulate him on his methods, he has Heero baffled.//

The long-haired boy smirked suddenly and Heero felt himself growing wary and curious. "I take it you don't have a problem with that?" He tried not to let his surprise filter through, but he had fully expected the boy to get furious at the news. Instead, Duo was actually smiling and he blinked at how nice he looked with a happy statement.

"Not at all, Heero," Duo said cheerfully. "When's he coming?"

"Today..." the man said slowly, taken back by the boy's seeming excitement.

"Oh, I'd better hurry then." Still smiling, Duo turned abruptly as he headed for his room, pausing when the door opened. He caught sight of Trowa and nodded to the tall man, ignoring his wary green eyes. "Would you do me a favor, Trowa? I'd like to try out that brass tub in my room. Could you bring up some water for me? Please?"

"Of course," Trowa said, his tone void of the surprise he felt. It was the first time the boy had asked him to do something for him, and the 'please' almost threw him off guard. "I'll have Quatre help."

"Thanks a lot," Duo grinned, turning to move up the stairs with quick steps. "You guys are so sweet. It almost makes me regret the hell I put you through."

Trowa blinked as he heard a snort from Heero, but his dark-haired friend had his back turned and he couldn't see his face. Wondering what he'd missed, he stepped outside to find the blonde.

* * *

When the captain arrived, he didn't come alone, a large man seated in the back of the wagon near some trunks. Spotting Heero, Wufei gave a sharp nod and a disapproving frown when his friend snorted and shook his head. "What?"

"You," Heero murmured, not hiding his mirth. The black-haired boy was dressed very nicely, his white shirt accentuating his form beneath the long white coat he wore. It was obvious he was serious about courting the boy and Heero couldn't help but be amused by the sight of the man's chef in the wagon. Still, it would be nice to have a break from the food they'd been living on, and he waved Wufei inside. "Did you really have to dress up for him? I mean, it's not like it'll make a difference."

"What do you mean?" Wufei frowned, stepping in to stand next to the table as he looked around. "Didn't you tell him I was coming? Where is he?"

"I told him. He's upstairs. But don't be too surprised if he comes down equipped with something dangerous. I've never seen anyone more spiteful and unreasonable."

"I am sure he isn't as bad as you put on," Wufei said, his eyes shining as he watched the stairs, waiting eagerly. "Put yourself in his shoes. I see no reason for him to be courteous to you."

"And you aren't also to blame?" Heero muttered, raising an eyebrow. "You brought him here. All I did was attempt to save my betrothed from that man...Roland."

"I have been thinking of that." His voice softened as if he was thinking aloud, and Wufei kept his gaze off his friend as he wondered if he could tell him without angering the man. "I wonder if you didn't go to get her out of a need for revenge rather than love. After all, she did marry another, and so soon after your departure. She didn't even mourn you for more than a week."

Heero glared as he shook his head, denying the accusation. "It was Edward, I'm sure of it. She never would have agreed if he hadn't forced her to."

"If you..." Wufei's voice trailed off as he caught movement at the top of the stairs and he turned quickly, his black eyes glinting as he caught sight of Duo. While he didn't approve of the boy's clothing, he appreciated the sparkle in those wide, violet eyes. He stepped forward, having followed the boy's progress, and took Duo's hand. Raising it to his lips, he smiled as Duo blinked and brushed the smooth skin before relinquishing it. "I admit, you had me completely fooled with your disguise, but you are still the most beautiful creature I have ever seen."

//He's taking it to the extreme,// Duo thought, his eyes widening at the sincere quality in the man's voice. But he had to admit, it was slightly flattering to imagine he was speaking the truth and he decided to get into the game as he spotted Heero's intense glare. "You don't seem upset by my trickery," he said softly, managing to look tentative despite the snort from the man who stood near the table.

"Not at all. It is intriguing to meet such a ingenious young man, such as yourself. I never even suspected, but I am not the least bit bothered. Your beauty remains no matter what you dress as."

//I'm going to be sick.// Heero didn't speak as he turned abruptly, and he grabbed his coat, marching toward the door. There was no way he was going to stick around and watch his previously wise friend falling all over the boy.

"Are you leaving, Heero?" It was hard not to smile as the man flinched and walked faster, but Duo managed when Wufei looked glad.

"Do not fear, Heero. I promise to take good care of him in your absence." Smirking, Wufei watched as the man left, then blinked when Duo laughed suddenly. The boy's voice made him smile. "He didn't look happy, did he."

"Forget about him," Duo said, gesturing toward the table. "I congratulate you on your marvelous ruse. I almost believed you were seriously calling on me for a minute there."

"But Duo, I am." The boy stopped abruptly and stared at him, and Wufei shook his head. "I find myself drawn to you. I am serious in my intent. I wish to call upon you."

"I..."

"Here." Stepping around the boy, he pulled out a chair. "I'm sure you wish to know how your investment is going, I'd be more than happy to tell you now that Heero is away."

"Wufei..." Duo blinked slowly as he was gently pushed down into the chair, and he couldn't think of how he should react as the black-haired man sat down across from him. "You...don't really..."

"Yes, I do." He wouldn't let himself smirk at the boy's shock, but only because he looked so lovely with his wide eyes filled with confusion. "Now, then, about your investment..."

* * *

It was very late by the time he returned to the castle, and Heero put away his stallion before entering. Since he'd purposely waited until it had grown late, he was surprised to spot a form standing near the fire, the glints from the person's hair making him recognize Duo. The boy had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and he turned slowly as Heero shut the door. The man paused when he saw the dull look in those normally expressive eyes, and he frowned as he wondered what had happened during his absence. "What's wrong? Why are you up?"

"I had a nightmare," Duo said, his voice quiet as he shook his head and pulled the blanket closer to him. "I dreamt that my father was held prisoner somewhere and he was being tortured...with...." Shaking his head again, he closed his mouth, the horrible visions skirting behind his eyes as he stared at the fire. He didn't want to see those things again. Never had he considered himself weak, but the dream had shaken him badly, it had seemed so real.

"It was a dream." This comment didn't seem to help as the boy glared at him, but Heero was satisfied that those violet eyes were shining again. "You shouldn't get upset over a dream."

"Well," Duo muttered, his eyes narrowing as he looked at the man. "I'm sure you're used to seeing people suffer, a murderer wouldn't be bothered by nightmares."

"I didn't kill him."

He blinked at Heero's calmness, surprised that there wasn't any defensiveness to be heard, just simple honesty. "Then why were you named a traitor?"

"Edward lied. I told you before, I'm not a traitor. I had already left when the queen's guard died. My only crime was forgetting to get my gloves before I left."

"You're telling the truth." Duo was certain of it, and he blinked sharply as he felt a rush of guilt at how his uncle had sentenced the man to death. "But why would Edward lie like that...? I can't believe he'd do that."

"He did." Heero's eyes dropped suddenly as he noticed the rich carpet the boy was pacing over, and he glared as he realized where it must have come from. "I see Wufei gave you a gift, how kind of him."

The snide comment made Duo's back stiffen, and he abruptly tossed away any regrets he had over condemning the man in his mind. "Yes, it was kind of him."

"And you were forced to meet him dressed in rags," Heero continued, ignoring the boy as he remembered the way Wufei had kissed his hand. "I suppose I'll have to do something about that. I'll take you to the clothier's tomorrow."

Not sure if the man was mocking him or not, Duo stared at him with uncertainty. "Thank you. I should tell you, I've hired Wufei's chef. The food here is atrocious, and he is an excellent cook."

Turning, Heero glared suddenly as he realized the boy hadn't access to his funds. "And what did you pay him with?" he asked, his tone insulting. "Favors?"

"You're just worried about your precious money," Duo glared, stepping forward as he tried to express his anger at the accusation. "It was very kind of him to let us have use of his personal chef."

"You fool. He didn't do it out of kindness." Glaring, Heero closed the distance between himself and the boy, his cobalt eyes blazing as Duo didn't so much as flinch. "Can't you see he means to make you his lover?"

"As his husband!" Duo cried, his face reddening. "He would never insult me like that!" Forgetting the blanket, his hand curled into a fist and he suddenly launched himself forward, mindless of any danger as he was consumed by fury. To have the man insult Wufei, who'd been nothing by the epitome of politeness was too much.

The sudden attack nearly got to him, but Heero managed to catch the enraged boy's wrists, holding them tight as he stared into those furious eyes. Then he looked down, his own fury rising when he saw the boy's unclothed state. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and his long hair was free as it trailed down his back, slight waves pronounced in the firelight. The boy didn't seem to care if he was covered or not as he struggled to hit him, and Heero gnashed his teeth at the thought of Duo's displaying such a sight. //And I bet he showed much more to Wufei.// Jerking the boy's wrists, Heero drew him close, his eyes blazing into Duo's. "Cover yourself," he snarled, giving the boy a shake when those violet eyes widened suddenly and the boy ceased his struggles. "Do you want me to take you? I went to England for a bride." His voice had lowered, and he nearly hissed the words as Duo's eyes seemed to fill his pale face. "But instead, I got you. Now I have needs that can easily be satisfied and if you insist on playing the whore, I'll treat you as such!"

Duo stumbled as he was suddenly released, and he grabbed his blanked quickly, holding it in front of him. Heero had turned, and was already half-way up the stairs by the time his horrified mind got over the man's words. Then it hit him that he'd just been threatened with rape and his fury warred with his fear, the slight shiver making him even angrier. //How dare he?! The bastard!// His gaze didn't shift until Heero was lost from sight, and he slowly tried to calm his rapid heart as he wrapped the blanket around him again, his movements stilted. The sound of a heavy door being slammed echoed and he suddenly bolted for his room, barring the door behind him. While he was furious, he couldn't forget the way Heero had looked and he propped a chair against the door for added protection. It was hours before he slept.

* * *

Part 9

It wasn't working, his lame attempt to distract himself. Just glancing at the sky had him imagining bright violet eyes and Heero gritted his teeth as he again tried to focus on hunting. So far, he'd yet to spot anything, and he'd been out for hours, having woken long before dawn. In fact, he'd barely slept and by the time the sun rose he was fully convinced of his own idiocy. There really wasn't an excuse for his behavior the night before, and he didn't know why he'd reacted so badly. While it was true that his lengthy abstinence was getting to him, he'd never before threatened to harm someone the way he had Duo. And even his harsh words to the boy had been a lie, it wasn't rape he'd had in mind.

If truth be told, he'd been about four seconds away from sweeping the boy into his arms and carrying him off to his bed. His own rush of lust hadn't been unheard of as he was young, but the pure strength of it made him glare down at the ground. He'd been consumed, pure and simple, and his mind hadn't even thought of what his actions would have meant if he'd done as he'd wanted to. As hard as he'd worked, taking such risks to sneak back into England, and here he was forgetting the one he had gone for. Until he'd found out his mistake, Relena had been the only one he'd thought of, and it was confusing that he would be so eager to replace her with the infuriating boy. It was true that Duo was attractive, but Heero had thought himself fully dedicated to his betrothed.

Wufei's words now came back to him with a vengeance and as much as he hated it, he was seeing that they had a certain merit. He'd said he was going for the girl out of love, but now he wondered, he really did. They hadn't known each other that long, and while the girl had been the epitome of the obedient bride-to-be, he couldn't really think of anything about her that he loved. She was beautiful, but his traitorous mind was quick to bring up images of a certain long-haired boy who's beauty rivaled hers. She was intelligent, but Duo's wits were evidently sharp and this too didn't help him any. No, he couldn't say why he loved her, and that in itself told him that it wasn't really love at all. Instead, he was growing certain that his motives had, indeed, been revenge.

Sine he'd known the man, Edward had spoken of his wonderful daughter and Heero hadn't found fault with him when he'd finally met the girl. But he'd noticed that her father did everything for her, bending to her every whim if it was possible. He knew this, because he'd been amazed that she wasn't spoiled by the treatment. This knowledge, however, told him that if Relena had truly mourned his death then there was no way Edward would have even tried to force her into another marriage. Even if the man had convinced her that Heero was indeed a murderer and a traitor, he didn't think the girl he knew would have thought to marry again so soon. Which meant, he didn't know her as well as he'd thought. Turning his black stallion back in the direction of the castle, Heero's statement was dark as he realized he'd always known.

It had been at the back of his mind, the possibility that the girl had betrayed him as much as her father. Somehow, he'd managed to keep this knowledge from himself, reminding himself of her vows of love. No, he didn't love her, and last night had proved it without a doubt. Even months of abstinence wasn't an excuse for what he'd done, and he grudgingly admitted that he was drawn to the boy. While he wouldn't say it was fondness, since he wanted to strangle him more than hug him, he knew his feelings for Duo were more than any he had for Relena. And he'd threatened the boy with bodily violence.

Determined to somehow set things right with the long-haired spit-fire, Heero reminded himself of his promise to the boy. It wasn't too late in the morning, and if he headed straight back, they could be to the town by noon. Hopefully, a shopping excursion would help to heal the rift, even if it couldn't take away what he'd said. Heero smirked at the patheticness of the thought, but it was really the only thing he could think of. He couldn't appologize, it just wasn't in him. Besides, he'd meant the warning. If Duo offered, he'd happily take.

* * *

Blood and knives and needles were blazing their way through Duo's mind, but his thoughts had nothing to do with the man who'd angered him the night before. No, he was thinking about the dream as he'd had it again before waking up. While he didn't believe dreams actually foretold the future, the horrible images were so realistic he found himself shivering and moving closer to the fire. He'd woken as the sun had risen, and he now found himself alone in the castle. Oh, Wufei's chef was somewhere, but Duo didn't want to bother him, and Quatre and Trowa had disappeared. They'd been working so diligently lately, that Duo hadn't had the heart to ask them to stay and keep him company as he waited for Heero to come back. Before he'd left, Trowa had told him that the man had ridden out hours before, and Duo was convinced it would be a long time before he returned.

He'd tried to hold himself on the threat Heero had given him, rather than focusing on his father, but for some reason, he couldn't do it. Actually, he thought he knew the reason and this revolved around an odd conviction he had that Heero wouldn't really hurt him. This was stupid, since he knew the man had fought for the Queen in the past and that violence was no stranger to him. Add to that the fact that he'd threatened to rape him and Duo found himself wondering where his certainty came from. But whether or not he knew why, he was sure Heero had spoken out of anger and that he didn't really mean what he'd said.

Duo smiled suddenly as he realized his mind had managed to divert itself, and he stretched slowly. Pondering his odd captor was a much better way to pass the time, and it was with a sigh that he walked the length of the hall and paused at the door. It wasn't snowing, and the air wasn't accompanied by the usual biting wind. Throwing on the rough cloak Trowa had lent him, he decided to go for a quick walk. The cold reminded him of Heero's promise, and he found himself wondering if the boy would still be willing to take him to town. He really wanted some better clothing. Also, if he could, he wanted to try and find Wufei. The black-haired man hadn't brought his money when he'd visited, but Duo knew he had it on his ship. The thought of Heero's not returning for the excursion made him frown, and he left the castle so he could walk through the surrounding brush.

Duo still didn't know what he'd done to set the man off, and that bothered him as he liked to know such things. It was helpful in predicting future reactions. But as far as he could tell, he hadn't done anything wrong. They'd been arguing, yes, but no more than they'd done since they'd met so that didn't explain it. Sighing, Duo pushed his way through some brown bushes, then he stopped abruptly with a grimace. He raised his hand and glared at the small spot on his finger before looking down. They were thistles, so many that he was amazed he hadn't managed to hurt himself pushing through them so thoughtlessly.

As it was, inspection revealed that his dark cloak had managed to catch a number of the nuisances and he picked them off with a distasteful face. Then his statement changed, a slow smile rising as he suddenly let out a sharp laugh. While he'd already gotten over his fright from the night before, he reminded himself that Heero hadn't had cause for his words and the man did deserve some sort of retaliation. //And I'm so ingenious when it comes to retaliation.// Duo snickered again as he pulled off the cloak, and he was very glad that the castle was deserted at the moment. Luck was definitely on his side, and he ran the rough cloth over the bushes, watching with bright eyes as the little burs caught and stuck to it. As he worked, his thirst for revenge grew and it was with a light step that he made his way back to the castle, the precious bundle wrapped in his cloak. Even the cold couldn't put a damper on his spirits.

Trowa and Quatre still weren't in sight when he got back to the castle, and Duo ran up the stairs quietly. It took him less than a minute to reach Heero's room, and his grin nearly split his face as he took the time to sit down on the man's bed. For a rude person, Heero was rather neat, and it was made well, no wrinkles evident. Still, Duo knew how to make beds, and he didn't worry about unmaking it as he pulled the covers back so that the mattress was revealed. It wasn't until he started to pick the burs off the cloak that he found a problem as it was difficult to keep from getting pricked by the sharp things. Then his eyes moved around the room and halted on the comb that sat on the dresser. Sure enough, the burs combed off easily and Duo made certain the mattress was evenly coated before he remade the bed. His smirk bordered on evil when he left the room, but he was convinced his actions were deserved.

* * *

The horse was ancient, and Heero frowned as he slowed his stallion even more, not wanting the boy to get too far behind. Duo had yet to complain about the steed, but the man wondered if that were because he didn't mind, or because he didn't want to speak to him. He'd yet to say a word, and while he'd moved quickly to join Heero on the trip to town, Duo hadn't so much as looked at him. Well, he had once, but that had been because Heero'd laughed at him. He hadn't meant to, but the boy's statement had been hilarious when Duo had seen the horse Quatre brought out to him.

It was obvious that the blonde man thought to either please Duo or cheer him up, because the old white horse's mane and tail had been decorated in small ribbons, the braids very cute despite the animal's looks. Personally, Heero thought Quatre had done it in an attempt to make Duo laugh, but it didn't really matter as the boy had thanked him for the effort. He didn't know if the boy had meant the soft comment to be sarcastic, but it had sounded honest enough. Glancing over again, he met Duo's eyes for a moment before the boy looked away again and Heero faced forward as they neared the town.

He was embarrassed to be riding the ridiculous looking horse, but Duo really didn't know what to do about it. Quatre's statement had seemed hopeful when the blonde had led out the gelding and Duo didn't want to risk hurting his feelings. Also, he was sure that Heero got a kick out of his riding the creature and he wasn't willing to let the man know how uncomfortable it made him. If Quatre had gone to the trouble to try and make the horse look better than it had when they'd bought it, then Duo wasn't going to complain. He'd just have to remember to take the man aside sometime in the future and explain to him about males riding horses with ribbons. Actually, Duo smiled a bit as he imagined telling the man that, and he suddenly wasn't bothered by the odd looks he and Heero were drawing from the people they passed.

The town was as small seeming as ever, and Duo kept his eyes alert as he watched for the dock he'd found before. Unfortunately, Heero seemed to know exactly where he was going and there wasn't time to do any exploring before the man stopped before a small shop. It was with a carefully masked wince that Duo looked down at the snow-trodden ground and the mud that had been mixed. He was very glad he'd be getting new clothes, and boots would be the first thing on his list.

Heero noticed Duo's look as he dismounted, waving a boy over to take the horses. His own boots were high enough so he didn't have to worry about the thick mud, but he could see why Duo would be hesitant to walk in it. The boy's shoes were more than inappropriate. Stepping to him, Heero barely kept himself from smirking when the boy looked up with a wary statement. "Here, I'll help you to the walkway. The mud is thick."

He didn't move as the man's hands touched his waist, and Duo was ready to say no. Unfortunately, he doubted he'd be able to get new shoes that day, and he really didn't want to walk around in muddy ones. Besides the fact that his pants would also get ruined. Instead of arguing, he sighed and placed his hands on Heero's shoulders as the man pulled him out of the saddle, catching him against his chest. Then Duo gasped as Heero took an unsteady step and he closed his eyes tightly, waiting for the man to fall.

With a smirk, Heero watched the boy's closed eyes, noting the strong grip on his neck as Duo's face was a portrait of expectation. Nearly a minute passed before those violet eyes opened a bit, and the boy's confusion made him want to laugh. Then a light blush reached his cheeks, and Duo turned his head, his grip loosening a bit. Still smirking, Heero carried him to the wooden walkway and set him on his feet, noting that the long-haired boy had yet to glance at him.

Duo cursed himself as the man stepped by him and opened the door to the shop, then he quickly cleared his face and followed him. The woman inside smiled brightly, and it was obvious she'd met with Heero before as she seemed honestly happy to see him. //This is probably where he buys his clothes. I'll bet she just loves the fortune he spends here.// Then his thoughts were shoved aside as he focused on what the cobalt-eyed man was saying.

"I'll be back in about an hour," Heero murmured, glancing at Duo's frown. "I'm sure you'll find plenty to keep him occupied. It would be better if he didn't wonder around alone, so I will come back to pick him up after I've taken care of my business." The woman nodded quickly, and Heero knew she wouldn't let the boy out of her sight. Duo obviously thought the same thing, and Heero's eyes glinted as he turned to face the boy. "Here," he said, handing him a small sack of money. "I'm sure this should be plenty. I'll see you in an hour."

Duo's eyes nearly filled his face as the man suddenly kissed his cheek, and he flushed furiously when the woman smiled, no doubt thinking it was cute. Obviously, she thought he was a younger relation of Heero's, and the way the man practically patted his head before leaving made Duo feel as if he were a child. Then he saw him riding his horse off, and he shoved his anger aside, turning to the woman sharply. "I'm afraid I must ask a favor of you. I need you to send someone to fetch a Captain Chang Wufei for me. He'd be in the shipyard, I'm sure."

The woman looked wary, and she shook her head quickly. "But Lord Yuy didn't say anything about that."

"No, he didn't. But you see," Duo gave her a light smile, knowing the airs he was assuming had her cowed. "I'm afraid I intend to spend a great deal more than this," he hefted the bag with glinting eyes. "And at the moment the Captain has my funds. So I really must ask you to send someone for him. I will, of course wait here. I wouldn't want to be walking around alone." This seemed to reassure the woman as he wasn't planning to go against Heero's words, and she finally nodded. Duo watched as she called a boy over, and he smirked at how quickly his orders were followed.

* * *

Wufei was more than happy to assist him, and Duo was actually seeing benefits to the man's liking him. Of course, he didn't think he'd asked for anything a friend wouldn't have done, but the black-haired man was more than happy to help. Since he didn't want to be indebted to Heero, Duo had given the Captain the man's money to invest, and he spent his own instead. It was actually a good thing he had his own money because, as he'd truthfully told the woman, he planned to spend a great deal more than Heero had given him. Whether he ended up staying until spring, he knew his eventual return to England would be better if he had appropriate clothing. Besides, he was eager to dress better than he'd been doing, especially since he could wear men's clothing. It had been a while since he'd had the pleasure of shopping for himself, and unlike some men, he did have pride when it came to his appearance. Wufei evidently approved as he was quick to tell him if his choices were good or not.

In the end, the woman was unable to keep him in the shop, and Wufei reassured her, saying to simply tell Heero that he and Duo would be in the nearby inn at the end of the hour. With that, he escorted the boy out of the shop and to the next one where he could put in an order for new foot-wear. He'd never considered himself a fancy dresser, but Wufei had a good eye when it came to what looked good and what was worth buying, so he saw to it that the boy wasn't cheated. Of course, Duo had a way of haggling that made him smirk, and he doubted if his help was really needed.

He was pleased that the boy had sought him out, even if it was only because he had his wealth. The fact that Duo had felt comfortable seeking him was, to him, a step forward. The smile on the boy's face was also a step, and he took pleasure from it, knowing that had he not been there, Duo wouldn't have been so happy. He didn't even seem to mind resting his hand on Wufei's arm, and the black-haired man was careful not to push the boy. The contact was enough for the moment, and the ease with which the boy addressed him was satisfying. Duo was comfortable with him, and that was something Wufei didn't intend to take for granted.

* * *

Part 10

To say that Heero was angry was an understatement, and his intense glare caused more than one person to step quickly out of his way. As he'd said, he'd returned to the shop after an hour's time. The woman had been righteously nervous when she'd explained Duo's absence, and Heero hadn't bothered to reassure her. He was more focused on finding Wufei and breaking his neck. Of course, Duo was also the focus of his anger, and the search to find the two males did nothing to calm him. It seemed the long-haired boy had enjoyed his shopping trip, and shop after shop complimented the boy on his taste. The fact that he'd purchased so many things told Heero that the boy had spent nearly three times the amount he'd given him, and the dark-haired man was furious.

It was evident to him, that the boy had done it out of spite, hoping to ruin Heero's credit within the town. He'd hoped the trip would help to heal the tear between them, but it was obvious that the boy wanted nothing of the sort. Still, Heero tried to calm himself as he approached the inn the woman had directed him to. His calm side telling him that the two were no doubt eating there, rather than taking advantage of the building's other offerings. As much as his mind tried to envision Wufei and Duo in a room, he knew the black-haired man would do no such thing. //No. He'd take him back to his ship instead.//

His eyes narrowed as he spotted them, and he sneered a bit at the happy way Duo laughed, his gaze centering on the boy's hand as it was held by both of Wufei's. Then they noticed him, and the violet-eyed boy's smile wavered a bit as he pulled away.

"Heero, I see you've managed to find us," Wufei said easily. He could see that his friend didn't look happy, but he shrugged that aside as it was seldom that the man did look happy. "I'm afraid we've just finished our meal. Of course, we can call the serving woman over if you wish to dine?"

"No," Heero said coldly, his eyes sparking a bit as he tried to hide his anger. There was no way he'd admit to Wufei that he was jealous, he didn't even want to admit it to himself. Instead, he centered his attention on the boy seated at the table, noting that Duo met him without any wariness. "I hear you've finished your shopping."

"Yes. I must thank you," Duo smiled, "Hopefully it won't be too long before they finish the clothing. And I did manage to get a few items they already had made."

"How nice. Let's go."

Duo blinked at the man's coldness, shooting a confused glance to Wufei when Heero abruptly turned his back on them. He couldn't figure out what had the dark-haired man angry, but it was obvious that he was. Wufei shrugged his shoulders lightly, then stood, pulling back Duo's chair for him. Smirking, the long-haired boy shook his head at the man's chivalrous action, fighting his light laughter when his hand was kissed.

"I shall call on you again, soon," Wufei promised, not so much as glancing at Heero who'd turned to glare at him. He was staring into sparkling violet eyes. "Until then, Duo."

"Thank you for your assistance," Duo remarked, his playful spirit bounding at the treatment. He knew the man was serious in his attentions, and while he really couldn't see himself marrying him, he was willing to play along. It was wonderful for his pride. "I'll be looking forward to your visit." Heero snorted, and Duo raised an eyebrow at him as he moved away from Wufei, following the man to the door. "Is something wrong, Heero?"

Not answering, Heero moved quicker until they were out of the building, and he walked to his black horse, swinging himself into the saddle in a sharp move. He was only grateful that Wufei hadn't followed them out, as he realized the man would have helped Duo mount. The boy wasn't weak, and Heero couldn't see how he would need such assistance. Then he frowned a bit, noticing that the long-haired boy in question was standing outside the inn's door, looking around in blatant confusion. "This is your horse."

//No way...// Duo frowned for a moment as he stared at the man, then his eyes turned to the white stallion that stood a few feet away. In comparison, the gelding he'd rode in on was a pack horse, and he suddenly felt a twinge of guilt as he realized what Heero had done during his absence. //He bought me a horse? Why?// Cobalt eyes gave no hint as to the man's thoughts aside from visible impatience, and Duo spurred himself into movement, nodding his head slowly. "Thank you, Heero."

"Hn." He still wanted to yell at the boy for having squandered his money, and for the display he'd put on with Wufei. Unfortunately, his anger was quickly draining away as he stared at the boy's happy statement. Duo was circling the animal, and Heero could tell he knew about horses from the way those fine hands touched it carefully.

"You made a wonderful choice," Duo said softly, marveling at the steed. "Why, he's almost as fine as Shinigami."

Heero's eyes narrowed sharply, hearing how easily the boy said his horse's name. Then he realized Duo must have seen the animal before. //After all, Edward had him.// Violet eyes were watching him, and he raised an eyebrow when the boy gave a slow smile. "What?"

"Does he have a name?" Duo asked. He was suddenly determined to be nice to the man, and he felt a need to rid Heero of his intense scowl.

"Wing."

"That's nice." Mounting, the boy gave another smile as the horse held beneath him, its ears twitching back. "Well, shall we?"

"Hn."

* * *

It wasn't that late when they reached the castle again, but the sky was dark with clouds, making the white of the snow seem eerie. The snow was still soft, and the steps of their horses were silenced as the entered the courtyard. This, no doubt, was why their abrupt appearance managed to startle the young man who'd been standing guard. Actually, he hadn't been paying too much attention to the gate, and he jumped and reeled away from the tall man when Trowa's head snapped up. The white horse seemed to shimmer in the dark, and Quatre's foot slipped on the icy patch he stood on, letting out a gasp of both fright and surprise.

Duo's eyes had widened when he'd spotted the two men, and he'd smiled at their embrace. As a result, he was completely caught off guard when the blonde turned toward he and Heero, slipping abruptly. Trowa caught him, but the staff that had been leaning against the wall was knocked away as the shorter man's hand hit it and it spun across the ice striking Wing's front legs. The horse reared suddenly, and Duo let out a sharp cry as he was pitched back.

The disaster was averted as Heero reacted quickly, spurring his own steed forward as he grabbed the boy and pulled him from the saddle. The white horse was still bucking, but he turned his eyes from it when Trowa rushed in its direction. His attention was brought to the boy in his arms, and he could feel Duo's heart racing as the boy pressed against him, his face hidden near his neck. Those strong arms were wrapped around his waist, and Heero's eyes softened at the way the boy clutched him. Lowering his head, he inhaled the scent of Duo's soft hair, letting it touch his cheek before turning so he could whisper in his ear. "You're all right," he said softly, noting how shaken the boy was.

Duo opened his eyes at the whisper, blinking when he found himself holding tight to Heero, and he blushed furiously. His arms didn't seem to want to obey him when he loosened his grip, and he had trouble looking at the man. "Thanks," he said, wanting to get of the man's lap and blushing even darker as he was afraid to move. Heero was holding him, his hands touching his back and the warmth was nicer than he cared to admit. "I'm fine." Glancing up, he was surprised at how warm those cobalt blue eyes were, and he forgot his embarrassment. "Heero...?"

"I'm going to dream of you tonight," Heero promised, not hiding his lust as those wide eyes stared into his. Then Quatre's voice broke the moment as the man hurried to appologize for his clumsiness.

* * *

In a trance-like state, Duo had moved to his room, still stunned by the way Heero had looked at him. It wasn't until he'd slid beneath his covers that he'd sat up with a horrified gasp, his eyes widening. For a moment, he couldn't move, then he slowly tilted his head back so he could look up at the ceiling. //Oh no...// In the light of Heero's gift of the horse, and then the shock upon their arrival at the castle, he'd completely forgotten about what he'd done, and his heart sank down into his stomach as he remembered the thistles he'd placed in the man's bed. //And he was so nice! He was so nice to me! Damnit...this isn't fair...//

He lay down with a soft moan, curling up and resigning himself to the angry cry he knew he'd hear once Heero turned to his own bed. They had made such progress, the man had been kind, and he repaid him by a stupid prank. It was simply too much.

* * *

Heero leaned against the wall, letting the light shadow mask his presence as he stared at the boy seated at the table. He looked nervous, and the man smirked as he knew why. He'd been in such an odd mood when he'd retired the night before, but he'd sat up sharply as he found that his soft bed wasn't so soft. Still, the discovery of the small burs hadn't bothered him as much as the boy obviously expected, and he shook his head. Duo was leaning forward over the table, and he could tell from the way his hands moved that the boy expected him to come down angry. //He probably stayed up all night waiting for me to yell at him. He doesn't know what to expect.//

The long-haired boy jumped a bit when he spotted movement on the stairs, and his wary gaze swept over Heero. The man's face didn't seem to harbor any anger, and Duo fought the need to bite his lip in confusion. Then Heero had reached him, and he waited, wondering what the man would say.

"Did you sleep well?"

That wasn't what he'd expected, but Duo managed not to show his worry as he gave a sharp nod. "Yes..."

"I didn't," Heero said smoothly, sinking into a chair across from him. "I admit, I ended up falling asleep in the chair in my room, not at all comfortable. I couldn't sleep, too busy thinking about you." Duo's eyes widened at the statement, and Heero couldn't help but smirk. "I was wondering what I would have to sell to make up for your spendings yesterday."

He'd just been about to sag with relief that the man hadn't slept in his bed, but Duo straightened at his words. "You won't have to worry about it," he said quickly. "I made up the extra myself. You see, I had my own money."

"Really." Heero's eyes narrowed as he thought about this revelation, and he would have nodded, but he'd heard from the shopkeepers how much the boy had spent. While it was possible that Duo might have indeed had money when he'd been taken, there wasn't a likelihood that he'd had as much as he'd obviously spent. "You had that much when you were taken? It's an exuberant amount."

Duo gritted his teeth a bit at the man's question. He would have liked to simply say yes, but he didn't lie. "I had some help," he admitted, looking away. A glance at the man's face wasn't necessary, as he could imagine the way Heero would twist that statement.

//Wufei. And what did you sell, Duo?// Heero didn't speak, his gaze dark as he stared at the boy's profile. He really wanted to yell, but he knew he had no place complaining. Careful thought had revealed that the he'd been wrong to think of his friend in such bad light, and he knew Wufei wouldn't dishonor the boy by taking him out of wedlock. Still, the thought of Duo being married to the black-haired man rankled him badly. "I don't think you would be happy married to him."

Frowning, Duo looked up and was surprised by Heero's straightforward gaze. For once, the man didn't seem to be mocking him. "Why not? He's nice, he has many redeeming qualities. And I like him well enough."

"He's also a captain of a ship," Heero said, nodding at the boy's confusion. "He is a runner during wartime, and I doubt he would take the risk of bringing you with him. Marriage to him would be a lonely thing."

"I don't need constant attention," Duo said, frowning when the man in front of him raised an eyebrow. "If I married him--and I'm not saying I will--but if I did, I'm sure he'd make my time alone reasonable, it's not like he would abandon me."

"If marriage is what you're after," Heero said, his eyes narrowing as his mind screamed at him to shut up, "You should marry someone who will be there for you. Someone who won't leave you by yourself."

"Like you?" Duo nearly bit his tongue off, but the words escaped first, and he gritted his teeth as he waited for the man's reaction. As it was, Heero snorted and smirked at him, making him flush at his bold retort. "Just leave me alone," he muttered, turning his head so he wouldn't have to look at him. "Whether I marry or not, it's not your concern."

* * *

Part 11

Since Trowa and Quatre had elected to spend the day fixing the hole in the roof over Heero's room, Duo found himself at a loss as to what he should do to pass the time. He'd wanted to get in there so he could remove the thistles before Heero slept, but it seemed that fate was determined to conspire against him. As a result, he found himself wandering around and he eventually went to his room. He absolutely despised being bored, and he'd just made up his mind to make his room more comfortable when he noticed a draft. It wasn't that bad, but he followed it, and he found himself facing the large tapestry that hung over his wall.

He hadn't tried the hidden passageway, having discovered that it no longer opened, and he was certain he had Trowa to blame. The man had noticed it, after all, and it wasn't surprising that he'd blocked it off. Still, Duo pushed the tapestry aside, fingering the place where his lock had been as he wondered why the man had bothered removing it. If he couldn't get inside the passage anyway, he really didn't see a point in taking off the lock. But he couldn't think of a reason, and he slowly let the tapestry go. Then he let out a curse as the heavy cloth promptly fell onto him, knocking him to the floor.

Coughing from the dust that remained on the underside of the thing, Duo shoved it off him, brushing his bangs out of his face as he looked upwards. The hinges that had held the heavy cloth had come loose, and he could see the holes where they'd been inserted into the wall. Pulling the thick tapestry off the floor, he searched for them, and muttered as he found that they were hooks rather than hinges. It didn't really matter though, and he stood on his tiptoes as he quickly screwed them back into the wall. They held rather well, and while he wondered if they would come loose again, none of his pulls ended with him on the ground, so he figured they would. It wasn't until he tried to put the tapestry back up that he met a problem.

"Ugh! Damn thing..."

Heero halted sharply at the muttered curse, and he raised an eyebrow at the boy's language. Then he glanced through the open doorway and his eyes widened at the sight. Duo was leaning against the wall, the tapestry held up over his head, and he almost managed to hook one of the two rings when he suddenly overbalanced and stumbled back, nearly falling over. It was too much, and Heero couldn't help himself.

Blinking at the bark of laughter, Duo turned and glared when he saw the man, not the least bit amused. Still, those cobalt blue eyes sparkled in a way he'd never seen, and he wasn't that angry. "Why don't you help me instead of laughing? This thing's heavy."

Smirking, Heero moved forward, pausing a bit when Duo again shoved the thick cloth against the wall. He stepped behind the boy, reaching over him to hook one of the rings as the tapestry was held for him. It was as he was doing the same to the second one that he found himself stilling, his body very aware of the lithe form he was pressed against. His arm moved slowly as he let his hand fall, and his fingers brushed the boy's hip as his breath sped up.

Duo froze abruptly, his eyes widening as he felt that muscled body moving closer and he leapt away before he could be pinned against the wall. "You cad!" he accused, his outrage tangling his tongue as he knew there were worse things he should be calling the man. Those eyes were intense as they turned to him, and he swallowed at Heero's statement, taking another step back. "You do need a wife," he said quickly, managing to glare at the man. "You're like a...a...rutting stag or something!"

"Are you proposing yourself?" Heero asked smoothly. His blood was still burning from the contact, and he longed to pull the boy back to him, Duo's flushed cheeks making him lick his lips. "Are you, Duo?" The boy turned red and sputtered, seeming to choke at his question and Heero stepped a bit closer to him, his eyes dark. "I would be a better husband than Wufei, I can assure you. You'd never go un...satisfied." If anything, the boy choked even more, and Heero smirked when Duo suddenly turned his back on him.

"You're impossible," Duo muttered, grateful his tongue was working again. "I have better things to do than stand here and listen to your nonsense." Silence met him, and he turned warily, frowning when he found the man gone. He looked around, but the room was empty, and he folded his arms over his chest, scowling at the doorway. The man's behavior confused him. While he was certain Heero was mocking him, he had a lingering doubt, especially since the man obviously was attracted to him. He'd felt that much, and he blushed as he remembered, cursing as he stalked to the door and shut it firmly.

Lunch time found him still in his room, and Duo didn't so much as get up from where he sat, cross-legged on his bed. Calling through the door, he told Quatre that he didn't feel like eating, using a head ache as an excuse. It was true, his head was aching, but this was mostly because he'd managed to humiliate himself earlier. Living with Relena had taught him the excuse, and he was relieved when Quatre left quickly, the man not prodding him. He really didn't want to see Heero, not when the man would undoubtedly make fun of him. It wasn't that he thought he was the one who'd acted out of order, as Heero had been the one pushing the lines of proper conduct, but he still wanted to slap himself. //God, I practically did offer myself up. Saying he needed a wife. But not me. No way in hell.//

He glared at the door, glad he'd put the bolt on it as a heavy knocking sounded. "Go away," he muttered, wondering what would lead the man to return. He'd thought Quatre was more understanding than that.

"Are you sick?"

Blinking sharply, Duo was caught off guard by the tone as Heero seemed both worried and angry, then he glared again. "I just have a headache, I want to be left alone."

"Open the door."

Duo sneered at the order, getting off the bed as he crossed the room. "What about alone don't you understand? Don't you have anything better to do than to bother me? Just go away, Heero."

"I'm not leaving until you open this door," Heero said coldly, his low voice not holding any room for compromise. "Unless you want me to break it."

"God!"

Heero raised an eyebrow as Duo threw the bolt back and the door was yanked open. Then he looked over the boy carefully, taking in every angry inch of him as the long-haired boy glared. "Here." Handing him a tray, Heero turned and walked down the hall without another word. He hadn't really been worried, but Quatre's message that Duo was too sick to eat had struck a nerve, and he'd been compelled to check. As little time as he'd know the boy, he had noticed that Duo had a great appreciation for food.

"Uh..." Duo stared down at the tray, blinking quickly as he leaned into the hall and looked after Heero's retreating form. "Thanks!" he called, his confusion making him a bit slow. Then he couldn't help but give a small smile as he moved back into his room, shutting the door but not bothering to bar it. Obviously, he didn't need to worry about facing Heero, the man hadn't said anything about their confrontation. //And he brought me my lunch...// It was with a wide smile that Duo sat on his bed again, and his head didn't seem to hurt at all when he quickly began eating. //I don't know what to make of him...but sometimes...he's sweet...//

* * *

Heero smirked when Duo came down the stairs the next morning, noting that the boy was once again nervous. //I wonder how long it will be before he just asks me about the bed.// The boy glanced at him, and he stood, not sitting until Duo had taken a chair across from him. "I see your headache is gone," he murmured, smirking when he received a disgruntled look. "I'm afraid I'm the one who has one now, along with a crook in my neck. This storm is bad." Duo nodded, and Heero quickly rid himself of his smirk when he saw the boy's hopeful statement. "With the repairs on my roof, the room was much too hot to sleep in."

//How long can this keep happening?// Duo wondered, hiding his smile. He was relieved that Heero still hadn't found the burs in his bed, but he couldn't help but wonder at his luck. It wasn't natural for him to be so lucky. "The storm is pretty bad," he commented, smiling when he took a bite of the breakfast the cook set before him. The man was truly wonderful at his job. "It's snowing hard out there."

"Yes. I suppose it will take Wufei a while to get here in this weather." Heero's eyes glinted when the boy looked surprised.

"That would be stupid," Duo said, frowning at the man. "He wouldn't risk coming all the way out here in this storm. There's no way he'd do something like that. No, we won't be seeing him today."

The boy seemed convinced, and Heero raised an eyebrow, leaning forward slowly. "Oh really? Would you like to make a wager on that?" Duo blinked sharply, and he smirked at him. "Well?"

"What kind of wager?" Duo asked. He was convinced he was right, but the man's tone sounded odd to him, and it wasn't like the Heero he thought he knew to play games.

"I'll bet...a night in my bed."

"You're probably right."

Heero let out a sharp laugh as the boy quickly agreed with him, enjoying the flush that passed over Duo's cheeks. He'd known the boy would back down from his taunt, but it was still nice to envision what would have resulted if Duo had taken the wager. He was certain Wufei would be coming, and his lips curled into a small smile at the thought. "I knew you'd see it my way."

"Whatever," Duo said quickly, focusing his entire attention on clearing his plate as quickly as he could without being rude. When he was finished, he quickly thought of an excuse to leave the table. "So Wufei is coming, is he? Well, I suppose I might as well prepare for his visit. After all, if he goes to the trouble to brave this storm, the least I can do is greet him when he gets here." Heero's statement darkened a bit, and Duo gave him a sweet smile. "I think I'll just ask Trowa to bring me some water for a bath. I wouldn't want Wufei disappointed."

Glaring as the boy quickly escaped to his room, Heero stood. Then his eyes caught on the two men as Quatre and Trowa brought the water up. He waited, leaning against the wall, until they'd finished and he heard the sound of Duo's door being shut. The loud thud of the bar falling into place made him smirk, but even he was surprised to hear a scraping sound and he fought the need to laugh as he realized Duo must have placed a chair against the door for added protection. Obviously the boy hadn't taken his threat to break the door lightly. //But I don't need to go through that door if I want in...// Heero's eyes glinted suddenly, and he stopped Quatre as the man was carrying an empty pail. "I need that," he said sharply, not explaining as the blonde stared at him in confusion.

* * *

The hot bath was a luxury he'd never get enough of, and Duo sighed as he sank lower until his shoulders were beneath the water. His long hair was tied around his head as he didn't want it to get wet, and he made a pleased sound, closing his eyes. It was the feel of something cold hitting his nose that made his eyes snap open, and he let out a cry as he spotted a pail of water held over his head. Leaning forward, he threw his arms up, freezing as he waited for the icy downpour.

"I threw the thistles into the fire two nights ago."

Duo blinked at the low voice, and he slowly peeked up at the man, confused when Heero simply stood there. Then he realized the man wasn't looking at his face, and he turned red, drawing his knees up to his chest as he glared furiously at the water. "If you're going to do it just do it!" he cried, "Hurry up and get the hell out of here!"

Heero didn't move, his eyes hot from the sight he'd seen. The boy had a body that he knew would haunt him for the rest of his life, and his own body was so tense he felt a physical pain. Still, he let his gaze sweep over the curve of the boy's smooth back, dipping down to his bent legs and marveling at the clearness of the water as it failed to hide anything at all. "Duo..." The boy didn't speak, but he did look at him, and the absolute fury in those violet eyes made him smirk. "I'll spare you the full pail, feel free to use it if your bath gets...too hot..." Holding the boy's gaze, he set the pail beside the bed, his eyes dropping again as his lips curled into a lustful smile.

"You lech!" Grabbing the bar of soap, Duo flung it at the man, furious when Heero ducked and it missed him by a good foot. Then the chair was flung to the side, and Heero pushed the bar away, jerking the door open and disappearing through it. Duo glared after him, his chest heaving with his angry breaths as he picked up a jar of lotion, just in case. And it came in handy, as the door was pushed open again.

"Thanks for the view," Heero said quickly, jerking his head back out and laughing as glass broke against the door, the jar flung at him.

Duo cursed for a good minute before he grabbed the towel he'd set a foot or so from the tub and wrapped it around himself quickly. He crossed the room and shoved the bar back down, unwilling to let the man have a chance for another shot at him. It wasn't until his eyes fell on the chair that he realized Heero had shoved it aside on his way out of the room. His back straightened, and he slowly turned, his eyes blazing as they fell on the tapestry. "That bastard!"

* * *
Part 12

"I would be honored if you would accompany me then," Wufei said, his dark eyes taking in the boy before him.

"You want me to meet your mother?" He tried not to let his uncertainty show, but the invitation was pushing things a bit too fast. "I'm not sure that would be...appropriate," Duo murmured.

"Not at all. Heero and I often visit her. And I am certain she would enjoy meeting you."

Duo gave a slight smile, glancing to where Heero sat at the head of the table. The man was staring at him, and he looked away quickly, the perplexing statement bothering him. As he'd predicted, Wufei had indeed shown up despite the storm, and the man had stayed for a few days until the weather had cleared some. Now, he was preparing for his departure, and Duo realized he'd be stuck with Heero for company. With the black-haired man, he'd been able to ignore Heero for the most part, to pretend he didn't feel that intense gaze following him around.

Wufei was speaking again, and Duo concentrated on him, being extremely attentive as he tried to turn his mind from the other man. But it was so hard, especially since every time he glanced at him, those cobalt eyes were on him. Sometimes Heero seemed puzzled, or thoughtful, even questioning when he glance at the man, but he was always watching him. Duo simply couldn't ignore him, although he acted as if he didn't notice, and it was with low spirits that he saw Wufei to the door.

"I should be back in about a week," Wufei said softly, raising Duo's hand to his lips. He smirked at the fact that this still managed to embarrass the boy, even though he'd made it a habit. "I look forward to our trip. Heero." Nodding to his friend, he took his leave.

Duo stared at the closed door for nearly a minute, his back straight as that gaze continued to bore into him. The silence that filled the large room was grating on his ears, and his eyes lit up when the door moved as Trowa and Quatre entered. He rarely saw the two of them anymore, and he was grateful that they'd chosen to come in. "Trowa," he said brightly, smiling at the tall man and ignoring the surprise on his face. "I'm so glad to see you. I have a favor to ask."

Aware of Heero's presence a foot or so behind him, Duo's eyes narrowed a bit. Neither of them had spoken of the incident on the day of Wufei's arrival, but he remembered it now. "I hope it isn't any trouble, but I need a lock for that door behind my tapestry." Trowa looked over his shoulder, an eyebrow raised, and Duo followed his gaze, staring at Heero. It was infuriating, but the tall boy didn't agree until his friend gave a sharp nod. "Thank you."

* * *

The room was so empty, and Heero's eyes traveled to the empty chair at his right as he'd returned to the table. It took a minute or so before he recognized the feeling, and he stood slowly. He'd grown accustomed to the boy's presence, and he admitted to being a bit lonely without him there. True, Duo hadn't spoken to him in days, too caught up in their visitor, but the boy's voice had been enough. The fact that he could watch him had also kept him occupied. But now, his absence seemed wrong, and he slowly crossed the room to the stairs as he made up his mind to seek the boy out.

Leaning in the open doorway, Heero's eyes glinted as he watched Duo, the boy seated in the chair before the dresser. The long fall of hair was pulled over one shoulder as he combed it and Heero admired it, taking in the coppery tints from the fire. Trowa turned, noticing him, and he nodded to the man, grateful when both he and Quatre stepped toward him. The lock was in place, he saw, and the fire had been stirred well.

Nothing would have pleased him more than to throw the man out, but Duo bit his tongue, his hand rough as he combed his hair quickly. He reminded himself that it was Heero's home and not his, and he didn't so much as glance up when the man entered the room, the door left open behind him. While he was careful not to make eye contact, he saw Heero cross the room, and he nearly sneered when the man sat down in the soft chair Trowa had placed before the fire. Obviously, he planned to continue the staring until he talked to him. But Duo had no intention of doing that, and he kept his silence stubbornly, ignoring the man.

He hadn't forgiven him. It was evident, but Heero wasn't bothered too much. To him, it had been lenient of him to spare the boy the entire pail of icy water, and his mind didn't quite take in the fact that he might owe the boy for having invaded his privacy. Yes, he'd been in his bath, but Heero had been sleeping. The angry silence was actually easy to take, and he closed his eyes, images of the boy seated across from him flying through his mind. While he didn't particularly want the boy angry with him, he was content, especially since he was in Duo's room and he'd yet to be yelled at.

It was infuriating, and Duo simply couldn't believe the man had actually fallen asleep in his room. Being dismissed was bad enough, but the thought that Heero took him so lightly he felt comfortable sleeping there was maddening. There was also the problem that with him in the room, he couldn't exactly go to sleep himself. Instead, he was stuck waiting for Heero to wake up, and he crossed the room angrily, snatching the fire poker as he shoved the logs around in hopes that the noise would rouse the intruder. The man didn't so much as flinch, and it was spite that made him sweep the man's feet away from where he'd stretched them close to the fire. It proved to wake him quickly.

He was on his feet immediately, and Heero's hand moved to his waist, clenching when he found that he didn't have his sword. Then he took in his location, and his eyes narrowed at the violet ones sparking at him. "Did you need something?" he asked, his voice emotionless. It was pure luck that he hadn't worn his sword, and he was cold at the thought of what might have happened if he had worn it. "You should take more care. It is obvious you need discipline in your life."

"A firm hand...is that what you're saying?" Duo's voice dropped, and his eyes narrowed for a moment before his face smoothed suddenly. Stepping forward, he laid a light hand on the man's chest, blinking his lashes as he looked down. "You sound angry with me, Heero. I need discipline? Is that what you want? To hit me?" He schooled his features, wariness shining when he looked up.

The husky voice sent tingles down his spine, but Heero flinched at the boy's question, shaking his head. "Duo...I...wouldn't. I'd never hurt you." He blinked in shock when a surprisingly strong fist buried itself in his stomach and he stumbled back a step.

"No?!" Duo cried, all pretenses dropped as he let his fury blaze forward. "You think I'm not hurt? I'm not some unfeeling thing you can play with, Heero." All of the humiliation he'd suffered rose to clench in his chest, and he gritted his teeth. "I've been kidnapped, thrown in a trunk--a trunk Heero! You drag me out to this God-forsaken place and keep me here for no reason. Do you have any idea what will happen when I go back to England? You've ruined my name. My father's name!" He gasped suddenly, biting back the burn that tried to close his throat. "I...should be looking for him," he said slowly, his voice dropping as his anger left him. "Not trapped here."

Heero was staring at him, eye wide, and he sighed. "Would you please leave, now? I," Duo sighed, rubbing a hand over his eyes as he turned his back on the man. "I just want to sleep. I'm so sick of these games." He could hear light steps, and he glanced back when silence came. The doorway was empty, and his own steps drug when he went to it, shutting the door with another sigh.

* * *

It was strange, but by the time Heero returned, Duo actually felt worse about his explosion the night before than he had about any of his pranks. He'd had plenty of time to think about it, as sleep had eluded him despite his exhaustion, and he'd decided that while his anger was justified, it wasn't aimed at the right person. Yes, Heero had been behind his kidnapping, and when people heard who had taken him, he would be considered ruined, but the man hadn't done it on purpose. He had a right to be angry, he just couldn't point fingers. It had been a mistake. The only think Heero had done was to keep him in the castle after learning who he was and while this still made him mad, he was beginning to believe the man. From what Wufei had told him, the ocean really did have large quantities of ice that made voyages extremely deadly.

He nearly ran down the stairs when he heard the sound of horses, and he couldn't help the smile that graced his lips. Heero had been gone when he'd woken, and Duo was coming to terms with the fact that he felt lonely without him there. While he was worried that Heero might be angry, the fear couldn't keep his steps from being rapid. Then he opened the door, and he halted abruptly, suddenly understanding why he'd heard multiple horses. The man was there, his tall black horse standing near the stable, but there was also a cart drawn by two other horses, and Duo blinked at the three men and the woman who slowly climbed down.

"You won't have to worry about that," Heero was saying to Trowa, "the two of you deserve some free time. The carpenters should be able to finish all of the repairs, and since I own this castle now, it may as well be fixed up."

"But a new stable, isn't that a bit much?" Quatre shook his head, frowning at the thought of how much it would cost. "Heero, do you have the funds for this?"

"Don't worry." Heero dismounted, nodding as Trowa immediately took the horse. His eyes were on the boy who stood in the doorway, and he stopped suddenly, turning a bit as he looked back. "And Trowa? The first thing they're going to do is fix the room on the third floor. I don't like you two staying out here."

"Thank you," Trowa smirked. If truth be told, he hadn't minded that much since they had more privacy in the room adjourning the stable. But it was a kind gesture.

"Duo."

"What is this?" Duo asked when Heero reached him. He was confused by the easy statement on the man's face.

"Carpenters," Heero said, taking in those wide eyes. The boy didn't seem to be holding any of his anger from before, and he nodded as the woman climbed out of the cart and walked toward them. "Duo, this is Darla, she's going to be doing the cleaning now."

The woman nodded, her brown eyes moving between them. "Sirs."

Duo blinked in surprise and he barely noticed the strong arm that prodded him into the castle. Heero stepped a few feet from the woman, and Duo leaned towards him quickly, his statement worried. "Heero, how did you afford this?"

"Wufei gave me an advance," Heero replied. "He seems to have faith that I will be reinstated in the Queen's good graces, despite my current status as a traitor. Don't worry, Duo, I have faith myself."

"Pardon me, Lord," Une said swiftly, her demeanor respectful as she remained a polite step away. "I would like to start my duties immediately." Heero nodded, and she turned to Duo, her eyes sweeping over him quickly. "When will you and Mister Yuy require your dinner?"

"Duo Maxwell," Heero said sharply. The back he had his hand touching had stiffened at the mistake, and he nodded to the woman. "And we generally eat at four. You may room near the kitchen, you'll see the Chef in there and he can explain things to you."

"Yes Lord," Une said. Her eyes moved to Duo, and she smirked suddenly. She understood very well, and the boy's wide eyes told her she'd guessed correctly. He was the man's mistress, despite his male gender, and her smirk widened as she eyed him with contempt. "I'll go now."

Heero blinked in surprise when Duo suddenly turned, and the boy was half-way up the stairs before caught up. He stopped when his hand touched his shoulder, but he had to turn him forcibly. "Duo?" He could see the hurt visible in those expressive eyes, and he frowned in confusion. "What's wrong?"

"You don't know?" Duo asked, his voice dropping as he glared at the man. Then his anger evaporated. "Don't you know what she thinks of me, Heero? She thinks I'm your whore...and I don't blame her." His fingers curved around the edge of his shirt, despondent. "Look at me. I can't stand these rags. There's no way I can go on that trip with you and Wufei. I do have pride, Heero..."

He was worried about what the black-haired man thought of him, Heero was certain of it, and his eyes narrowed. The boy's hurt bothered him, but not as much as it would have if it had been only about the woman's behavior. "You bought clothing, that much shouldn't be a problem. And I'll speak to Une."

"No," Duo said quickly, flushing as he shook his head. "That'll just make it worse. Don't worry about it, Heero."

"Well, this should cheer you up, your clothing has been finished." The boy's face lit up, and Heero gave a slight smile. "It should be here in an hour."

"Oh. Thank you!" Duo grinned, turning suddenly and he had almost run up the stairs before he remembered his manners. "I'm going to get my room ready. This is great."

* * *

He wasn't thinking clearly, that much was obvious. For some reason, he seemed to think Heero's having hired so much help was an attempt to make him feel better, and Duo couldn't help but feel warm towards the man. The fact that they hadn't spoken a single harsh word made it difficult to remember why he wasn't supposed to like the man. And he found himself involving in a dangerous habit, for reasons he didn't really understand. Still, for the second night in a row, he found himself standing in front of the tapestry, and his fingers trailed down a dark blue swirl, feeling the thick cloth.

For minutes, he hesitated, then his hand moved the tapestry aside, undoing the lock with habitual ease. Then he walked down the dark corridor, no candle needed as he didn't want to announce his presence, and he had the turns memorized already. It wasn't long before he was opening the door on the other side, and once again he gave a silent thanks that Heero didn't lock his side.

The man's room looked considerably better than it had so few weeks before, and Duo gave a slow smile as he ran his hand over the silk curtains surrounding Heero's bed. It never ceased to amaze him, how luxurious the man's room and bed was, and his eyes moved over the sleeping man. Heero's dark hair looked soft on the pillow and his fingers tingled with a need to touch it, his eyes moving over those dark eyelashes. He was so pretty, and Duo couldn't seem to help the pull, the need to take him in. The first night, he'd come out of curiosity, but now, he knew he came because he couldn't resist the opportunity to study the man who confused him so often. It was with a long, yet silent sigh that he turned away. Then a strong hand gripped his wrist and he jumped with a gasp.

"What...no ice water this time?" Heero murmured, his lashes parting a bit so his dark eyes glinted up at the boy. Duo was staring at him, and he suddenly jerked on the wrist he held, pulling him down as his arms moved around the boy's waist. "Sneaking into my room at night..."

"Heero...I..." Flushing furiously, Duo moved fitfully against the
man, his body very aware of the one under him. Then his breath caught as Heero's arms tightened until their faces were inches apart and his eyes closed when soft lips touched his.

Hands smoothing over Duo's back, he buried one in the thick hair as he pulled the boy until he lay on him. Heero didn't really bother to think as the mouth opened to him and his tongue swept inside, brushing Duo's. The boy's hands were on his chest, and Heero moved his lips to the side slowly, kissing the soft cheek before tilting his head as he tasted Duo's neck. One hand curved so his fingers could touch the buttoned shirt and he undid the first ones, his tongue rubbing the exposed skin as a thick sigh reached his ear. His body surged as Duo licked his ear and he was spurred on by the boy's passion as he wasn't being fought at all.

Sensations ran through him, and Duo gasped again as the man was kissing his chest, his teeth tugging lightly on Heero's earlobe. It was the sound of wood falling in the fire so close to the bed that made his eyes open and he froze suddenly. His shirt was half undone, and he was laying on top of Heero. He didn't want to stop, didn't want to care what would happen if he stayed, but his body was tensing on its own.

Heero's eyes snapped open when Duo pulled back abruptly, and he didn't move for a minute as the boy stood beside his bed. Then he saw the horror in the boy's violet eyes and he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, getting to his feet as Duo suddenly turned and bolted for the secret pathway. "Duo."

He ran, stumbling over the stairs in the dark, and his heart was racing in his chest, his breath ragged. Hitting the door to his room, Duo shoved through, shutting it behind him and leaning against it as he cursed himself. There was no excuse he could think of, and he knew much better than to try and blame his own actions on Heero. He'd been the one to come into the man's room, and he hadn't argued with what they'd almost done. His hands shook as he buttoned his shirt, and he gasped when a light sound brushed the door behind him.

"Duo, let me in." Heero's voice was soft, and he ran his hand over the door, not wanting to push it open. He wanted the boy to open it for him. "Duo?"

"Go away," Duo said roughly, his own shame surging through him. "I'm sorry."

"You can't do that," Heero cursed, his body still aching from the fleeting moment. "I need you, Duo."

The blunt words made his body react, and Duo flushed, leaning his forehead against the door. "Heero...I can't."

"What would you have me do?" Heero asked, his voice low as he slowly backed away. "Find someone else?" Even as the words left his mouth, he knew it would be impossible. But he was so frustrated, and his hands curled into fists as he turned away.

"No," Duo whispered, closing his eyes. "I just can't do that. I can't shame myself like this." There wasn't an answer, and he ducked his head, turning away as he moved to his solitary bed.

 

TBC