Disclaimer: Love 'em, but don't own 'em.

Pairings: 13x2 (Treize/Duo), 3x4 (Trowa/Quatre), 13x5 (Treize/Wufei), 1x2 (Heero/Duo)
Rating: NC-17
Genre: Alternate reality, adventure, romance, angst, hurt/comfort

Summary: In Medieval France, Knight Heero Yuy discovers he has more than just a warrior's heart.

The Double-Edged Sword
Chapter Twenty-One - A Ragged Colt May Make a Good Horse
by Artemis

Heero woke to the cockle doodle-doo of a rooster in a nearby yard. In the shelter of the loft, the dawn light was not yet visible, but in the darkness he could see the shape of the man in his arms. Duo was curled at his side, naked and partially covered by his cloak. The night had been gloriously long for the new lovers to affirm their deep affection and love again and again.

So, this is love, Heero thought, as he caressed Duo's arm.

He had not realized how greedy love could be. He had been ready to wait for the right time to bed Duo, but when Duo declared his willingness, Heero could not help feasting upon him. There had been so many moments in the past that he had restrained himself from touching even a strand of Duo's chestnut hair.

This new state of being, lovers, was unexpected and not something Heero thought he would experience or want. For years he had looked down on his fellow knights for the time they spent in their dalliances with maidens, whores and squires. There was nothing chivalrous about their boastful and licentious ways. However, true love, the kind of purity of heart he had found with Duo, made Heero wish he had discovered a way to make Duo his much sooner.

Duo stirred and stretched his slim legs along Heero's. "Mmm..."

"Good morrow."

Large blue eyes blinked sleepily at him. "Our first together."

"As lovers." Heero grinned.

Duo kissed Heero's cheek. "The first of many as lovers."

Heero was reminded of the night at the inn when he had watched Duo slip his linen shirt off, revealing a slender, sinewy and very male body. He had been ashamed of stealing a glance of the beautiful young man he had been sent to escort to his master. Now it was one more reminder of how quickly he had fallen for the shopkeeper's son.

"We should hurry to meet Quatre and Trowa."

"But the cock just crowed," Duo said as he lazily drew a line up and down Heero's stomach.

Heero swallowed hard, his skin tingling at Duo's hand sliding across his belly, and then down to grasp him. "Ahh," Heero said, excited by the touch. "But we will be late... You were always slow to rise."

"Yea, but it is good to see that you are not," Duo said with a laugh. "Let us start our day as we shared our night."

Heero's sex hardened quickly in Duo's hand, and he found himself agreeing with his lover's proposal. He pulled Duo on top of him, and Duo's thighs felt warm straddling his own. It soon became apparent that Duo intended to satisfy them both while not making them late for their rendezvous. He spit in his hands and stroked Heero, before positioning himself above his lover's cock, and impaling himself.

Heero's eyes fluttered with the pressure and warmth around him. Duo was so beautiful, and with the morning light beginning to filter through the cracks in the wood slats, Heero could see all that was being offered to him. He thrust his hips gently as they woke to their pleasures, his eyes fixed on Duo riding him with nipples hard, lips parted, and cock erect. Duo's braid was unraveled, having come undone with their nighttime exertions. Long chestnut wisps covered his shoulders and pieces of straw clung to his hair, giving him a thoroughly rumpled and well-fucked appearance.

As much as Heero wanted to be in control, he appreciated the savory quality of this sleepy, slow lovemaking. It was as good or better as the hard, sweaty sex they had shared the night before.

The sound of the livery door opening downstairs, surprised the lovers. Heero thrust hard to hurry them along, but Duo shook his head. He took Heero's hand, and sucked one finger into his mouth as he continued to move up and down on the knight's sex. The sensual vision nearly made Heero moan aloud, and he bit his lip to prevent giving them away.

No doubt it was the liveryman's young helper who had come to feed the horses. He would be aware of the renter in the loft, but not disturb him. Still, the thought of someone close by as they coupled in forbidden love excited Heero more, and hurried him to the finish. His orgasm exploded inside Duo, and euphoria washed over him. He bit down harder on his lip to stop from crying out. A moment later, Duo arched and came with the smallest mewl escaping his lips.

Duo slumped over Heero and took his mouth in a fierce kiss. Their bodies stilled, though their breathing was heavy as they held each other tightly.

"It would be best," Duo said in a whisper. "If you were not seen."

Heero did not answer, his mind still numb from the sex.

"They will charge me double or accuse me of whoring."

A part of Heero wanted the stable boy to see him and think whatever he liked. No one would dare question a knight with a sword at his side. He would say, "Fine, I will pay twice the rent," but Duo's honor was more important than making a claim.

When Duo moved to get up, Heero took his hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it. "I love you," he whispered.

Duo smiled, and it was the sweetest most contented smile that Heero had ever seen on his lips. "And I love you, Heero."

Heero felt well satisfied and ready to begin the day. They dressed quickly and quietly, and Heero stepped through the loft's access door and went down the ladder unseen. It was several minutes before Duo met him on the street with his horse. With only one horse, it was acceptable to share it, and so Heero sat behind Duo in the saddle.

It was blissful to be able to touch in public, though not as intimately as he would have liked. Heero wished to take Duo's hand and kiss each finger. His body thrummed, joyously sated, but eagerly wanting more. He felt stronger and happier than he had ever been. Each time Duo looked over his shoulder at him, Duo's smile was like a good strong rope tethering them together.

At the inn, they stabled Duo's horse and went inside the dining hall in search of Lord Winner. The nobleman was already seated at a table near the hearth.

"Good morrow," Quatre said, smiling at his friends. "You look... refreshed."

Heero nodded, and took a seat on the bench next to Duo.

"Where is Trowa?" Duo asked.

"We decided the most secure way to get word to our friends was for Trowa to take the message himself."

Duo's eyes widened. "You sent him to Lyon last night!"

"Shh," Lord Winner said, looking around them. "It was not a happy decision, but a necessary one."

"Thank you," Heero said.

Quatre blinked. "Is that sympathy I hear in your voice?"

"Perhaps." But indeed it was. Heero was suddenly aware of the sacrifice it took to spend just one night away from a lover's embrace.

The three men shared a hearty breakfast of sausage, bread, beans and ale, but there was little conversation, at least for Heero. His mind was working the problem of the rogues and how and when it was best to confront them. He wanted to wait until the Duke and his entourage arrived, but that would be one or two days at best. Quatre was a fine swordsman, but was opposed to drawing his weapon, preferring to strategize and negotiate his way out of confrontations. That would hardly suffice for dealing with lawless men. And Duo, well, he was like a wild colt-frisky and full of himself. He was a long ways from holding his own in a fight, a weakness the rogues would easily detect and prey upon.

The odds were not good.

"I want to take advantage of the jousting tournament," Heero said.

"You wish to compete?" Quatre asked.

"Nay, it is the best place to find what we seek."

"Do you think my dear cousin will arrive in good time?"

Heero made a silent prayer. "If he rides at a gallop, and changes horses frequently."

"Perhaps we should make ourselves known to the Duke of Nevers. He may have useful information or be inclined to join our endeavor."

It seemed late to bring another player into their plan. However, they might lose their best chance to apprehend the rogues if they waited for the Duke Treize. The resources of another duke and his knights would certainly buoy their chances of success.

"Can you get us an audience?" Heero asked.

Quatre gave a firm nod. "I am sure he will not have forgotten me. I stepped on his toes once."

"What?" Duo asked with a chuckle.

"He tried to teach me the traditional folk dance of his people, but at the time I was quite young and not so well accomplished."

"I am sure he will be eager to renew your acquaintance," Heero said, with a laugh.

"Oh, he will, but my cousin may not be pleased. They have not spoken in years."

"Then perhaps we should not re-open that wound," Duo said.

"Under the circumstances we do not have much choice, and my cousin's displeasure is usually short lived."

They looked at each other, wary of the problem, but then nodded in agreement. Quatre sent the message and they returned their focus to their meals. To lighten the mood, Quatre spoke of matters of less import, making Duo laugh and in turn nudge Heero to get him to join in. Heero wanted to feel as carefree as his companions seemed, but with their task before them, he was beginning to wish that Duo had gone back to Lyon with Trowa. If he had known that Quatre would send his lover away, he might have done the same.

His eyes drifted to the sword at Duo's side. Duo's swordsmanship had improved, and Heero was impressed by the increased strength in his sword arm, but Duo was not ready for the ruthless battle to come. The rogues would rather die than surrender, and would happily take their foes with them into the Other World.

Duo caught him staring, and placed his hand on Heero's knee under the table. "You trusted me with your heart," Duo said. "Now I need you to trust me at your side."

They had spoken about this before, and Heero had made it clear many times that he did not want Duo playing at being a knight. Obviously, those concerns had been brushed aside, which left Heero wondering how he could make Duo understand the danger they might face. Or worse yet, the heartache Heero would suffer if anything happened to Duo.

"Perhaps I can ease your mind," Duo said.

Heero's brow furrowed, unsure of what Duo could say to calm his anxiety.

"I will heed your commands."

"What?" Heero asked. "You will take orders from me?"

"You sound surprised." Duo chuckled. "As well you should be."

Heero opened his mouth to admonish Duo's lightheartedness, but he could not. Whether he liked it or not, his beloved was in danger.

"What a difference a tumble makes," Quatre said, laughing. "I have never seen you so eager to agree."

Heero frowned. "The test will be if he obeys me."

Duo pretended to be offended, and then laughed off the remark.

Does he appreciate my dilemma? Heero wondered.

It was not an easy thing to accept one's lover as a comrade-in-arms when so much was at stake. But Heero knew that sooner or later Duo would no longer be satisfied walking two steps behind him. He would demand to stand at Heero's side as an equal. It was Duo's way to discard centuries of tradition to get what he wanted. At first that rebellious nature had enraged Heero, and then intrigued him. He despised commoners living above their station, yet Duo's struggle to do that very thing had softened Heero's position to some degree. He had not seen that kind of passion to achieve an objective since the Crusades.

~ ~ ~

Late that afternoon, they received a reply from the Ducal palace.

"The Duke is very pleased to enjoy our company this eventide," Quatre said, reading the letter in hand.

Heero was apprehensive about involving outsiders. However, the Duke of Nevers was the most powerful nobleman within a hundred miles, and the only man with the means to aid them.

Quatre insisted on buying Duo a new tunic and hose for the occasion. While Heero remained at the market looking for signs of the men they were tracking, the two went off in search of a tailor. Duo was exuberant with the notion of being raised from the status of tailor's apprentice to tailor's customer. Thankfully, they were gone but two hours, any longer and Heero would have gone searching for them. When the pair returned, Duo was dressed in a rich azure blue tunic trimmed at the hem and sleeves in black embroidery, and new black hose. The color did wonders in bringing out his handsomeness, and the intensity of his eyes.

They mounted their horses and rode to the palace located along the Loire River at the edge of the village. Duo remarked that he had not entered Nevers by this road, and had missed the grand sight of the palace. He had taken a secondary road, following the rogues, who it seemed had avoided any chance of drawing the attention of the Duke and his castle guard.

Castle Peacecraft was by any standard beautiful with its turrets and placement next to the river. Red and white pennants flew from atop each turret, representing the Duke of Nevers' heraldic banner. There was an abundance of guards at the gate, which may have been the norm, but Heero suspected it was to keep the great numbers of people gathering for the jousting tournament in check.

Lord Winner handed their invitation to the captain of the guard, and they were let into the stone-laid courtyard forthwith. For so late in the day, there was still a goodly amount of merchants peddling their wares and unloading carts of produce.

Two stable boys ran out to greet them and to take their horses. They were also immediately met by a young, rosy cheeked page. "His Grace is expecting you," the boy said.

All the servants wore matching black tunics, hose and leather shoes. The only adornment a brightly colored embroidered patch over their hearts of a white horse rearing on its hind legs, the symbol of this noble house.

"Please follow me, good sirs," the boy said and headed off at a fast pace into the castle.

Heero was reminded of his arrival at Castle Khushrenada when he had brought Duo to be the Duke Treize's lover. His heart sank with the memory of how he had buried his desires, and how that act had soured him. He wished to take Duo's hand, to grasp it firmly and remind Duo of his love, but he had to settle for a quick glance and a shared smile.

At the Great Hall, they were immediately announced by a chamberlain. They stepped inside to find the room festive with richly dressed nobles, a trio of musicians playing a cheerful tune, and the hall lighted brightly by torchlight, candles and a fire in the hearth. The celebratory mood was to be expected with the tournament having commenced that day.

To their great surprise, the Duke got up from his chair and walked halfway across the hall to greet them personally. "Friends, welcome."

The Duke Milliardo Peacecraft was tall and handsome, and wore his long, white blond hair straight down his back. He was dressed in a floor-length sky blue colored tunic, embellished with a silver and gold belt, silver embroidery on his sleeves, and a gold filigree earring dangling from his right ear.

"Lord Winner," he said, grasping Quatre's hands. "It has been far too long."

"I am most pleased to see you again, Your Grace."

"How long has it been? Five years?"

"Six, I believe."

The Duke smiled and took a long look at Quatre. "You have grown into a fine young nobleman."

"Thank you, but you are still taller than me."

Duke Milliardo smiled. "Then we are still the finest of dance partners."

Quatre giggled, and his cheeks blushed pink. It seemed as a boy, Quatre may have been a little lovesick for Milliardo. He was certainly acting like it, though he quickly recovered his composure. "May I introduce my friends?"

The Duke turned inquisitive, clear blue eyes on Heero and Duo. "Please."

Heero took a step forward to introduce himself and bowed. "I am Sir Heero Yuy, Lord of Strasbourg." He then gestured to Duo. "This is my companion, Duo Maxwell of Valence."


Heero nodded, and watched the Duke turn his full attention on Duo.

"I entered a jousting match there when I was but sixteen. Sir Tsubarov never walked the same again," Duke Milliardo said with a wink.

Duo laughed. "You were victorious?"

"At the time I thought so, but I should have killed him when I had the chance."

"Is he your enemy?" Duo asked with a wide, serious gaze.

"So it would seem."

The Duke gestured for them to follow him to the head table. There were already nobles seated, but he waved them aside to one of the smaller tables in the hall to make way for the newcomers. The Duke sat at the head of the table on a large, fur-lined armchair, Quatre and Duo were seated first to his right and left, and Heero was seated next to Duo. The arrangement reminded Heero of the Duke Treize's habit of placing special guests-regardless of their status-closest to the silver salt cellar. The similarity irritated Heero, more so when he noted the Duke's attention turning repeatedly to Duo.

"Is Valence lovely this time of year?" the Duke asked.

"It is, Your Grace, but I have not been home in several months."

"Your family must miss you terribly."

"Only my youngest sister."

"Is she much like you? With such remarkable eyes and lustrous hair?"

"He is the fairest," Heero said, not wanting to be outdone.

The Duke turned his eyes to Heero briefly and then back to Duo. "Indeed."

By now servants had poured wine for the guests, and brought a fresh platter of roasted quail and carrots. Quatre and Duo tucked into the fare immediately, but Heero had been stuck on the name Tsubarov mentioned earlier. He was certain he had heard it before.

"Your Grace, you said that you and Sir Tsubarov are now enemies. Was it because of the joust?" Heero asked.

"It was more a symptom of a spreading poison. Tsubarov is descended from a noble house connected to the Czars of Russia. His ancestors played their hand poorly and for nearly a century have been scrambling to cling to their titles and lands. Scraps of what they once held."

"How very sad," Quatre said.

"Why does that make you enemies?" Heero asked.

Duke Milliardo shrugged. "I have many enemies. What is one more?"

"Or one less?" Quatre asked.

"Hmm?" The Duke turned to Quatre.

"There is one who should not be your enemy. He is a cousin of mine..."

The Duke raised an eyebrow, looking almost perturbed, and then laughed. "You mean that dog, Treize Khushrenada?"

Heero was surprised that Quatre deliberately mentioned the Duke Treize, but the Duke of Nevers seemed amused.

"I have not seen Treize since we jousted some five years ago. Our friendship ended that day..."

"Did you best him?" Duo asked.

Duke Milliardo grinned, but shook his head. "There is no defeating Treize, though I was fond of trying." The Duke took a long drink of his wine and set the pewter cup down on the table and stared at it as though he was lost in some memory. At last, he raised his eyes to his guests, looking at each of them in turn and then settling on Heero. "You are his knight."

Heero raised his chin. "I am."

"How does a Knight of Strasbourg come to serve a Lord of Lyon?"

"We fought together in the Crusades."

"Ah, comrades." The Duke nodded, but sounded sarcastic. "And you were so enamored by Treize's charms that you followed him from the Holy Land to Lyon?"

It seemed that Milliardo Peacecraft had shared a youthful indiscretion with Treize Khushrenada. Thanks to Heero's recent study of matters of the heart, he understood what this Duke was telling him-in not so many words.

"After the fighting, I returned to my ancestral home in Strasbourg, where I remained until the Duke summoned me."

"A summons? How very Treize."

"He requested my assistance with the terror that had befallen the countryside. Knights who had fought the Saracens had turned against villagers and travelers."

The Duke leaned forward. "You mean to say that Treize has been battling rogues?"

Heero nodded.

"We always were like minded."

"Then you are battling rogues, too?" Quatre asked.

"Yea. It is my fervent wish that this tournament will draw them into my snare."

"Your wish has been granted, Your Grace," Duo said with a cocky grin. "I tracked them here."

"Indeed?" The Duke leaned towards Duo, and his eyes narrowed on him. "You carry a sword, but were not introduced with a title. Why is that?"

"I am not a nobleman, sire."

"That does not explain the sword."

"I am in training to be a knight."

The Duke smiled, seeming quite interested. "Then you are Sir Yuy's squire?"

"Nay," Duo said.

"Yea," Heero countered.

The Duke looked between the pair, and appeared more amused. "Which is it?"

"It is a long story," Quatre said.

"Wonderful. Do tell me."

The three companions stared at one another, not sure of how to begin or even if any of them should begin the tale, but the nobleman's interest was already piqued. Rather than having Quatre relay the events-second hand-or Duo telling the tale and revealing too many details, Heero quickly jumped in as the storyteller, leaving out the lusty bits and lying where necessary.

Unfortunately, even the scaled down version had the affect of making the Duke all the more interested in Duo.

"What skills did you exhibit that made Treize see your potential?"

"Horsemanship," Duo said, promptly.

"Is it customary for Duke Treize to raise knights from the ranks of his servants?"

"It is not," Heero said. "Duo is the exception."

The Duke's eyes brightened. "In more ways than one, it would seem."

Heero shot Quatre a glare, hoping that his friend would use his empathic sense to move this conversation in another direction.

"Your Grace," Quatre said. "We have identified a group of dangerous rogues here in Nevers. They will no doubt take advantage of the crowds to fill their purses."

"You must be very committed to their capture to follow them all the way from Lyon."

"Actually, it was from Salaise-sur-Sanne," Duo said.

"That is a goodly distance."

"They were not difficult to track, once I encountered them in that village. They carry Germanic swords."

The Duke leaned back in his armchair and thrummed his fingers on the table. "Germanic? Perhaps Tsubarov is involved in this."

"You told us he has ties to Russia," Heero said, in a slightly accusatory tone.

"Yea, his ancestors, but much of Tsubarov's land holdings are German." The Duke's hand curled into a fist. "All this time I thought his threats idle."

"What kind of threats?" Quatre asked.

"Tsubarov fancies himself a man exiled from his homeland, and thought to win the sympathy of myself and noblemen like me, including Treize. It was all so tiresome, and he was insulted by our disinterest in his cause."

"Then the rogues are not after putting the English king on the throne of France?" Quatre asked.

"Probably not, if they are taking orders from Tsubarov."

"If what you say is correct, then Tsubarov is likely in Nevers as well," Heero said.

"I know he is," the Duke said. "He sent me a note, informing me of his presence. He is a bothersome man, but it would be impossible to know if he is leading the rogues."

The coincidence seemed too great to ignore. Tsubarov had a grudge against the Duke of Nevers and the Duke of Lyon, the band of rogues had been attacking towns in both their kingdoms, and it had long been thought that they were not acting on their own.

"Can you describe him to us?" Heero asked.

"There is nothing remarkable about him. In fact, his appearance is quite distasteful. He has a rather large nose and small eyes. And the last I saw him he was wearing his gray hair shoulder length."

Heero looked to Duo, but Duo only shrugged. Obviously, he had not seen anyone fitting that description, or perhaps he had seen a dozen men like him.

"Now that your intentions in Nevers are clear," the Duke said. "Should I expect Treize to come knocking at my door?"

Quatre smiled tentatively. "He has been informed that the rogues have settled here."

"You mean to say that you sent for him." The Duke held up his hand to stop Quatre from commenting. "Our reunion was inevitable."

"Then we can work together?" Quatre asked.

"'Tis better than letting you loose on my subjects."

"Thank you, Your Grace," Quatre said with a bow of his head.

"I will be presiding over the tournament tomorrow, and will have a contingent of knights with me. If you can lure the rogues to the tournament grounds, we will apprehend them."

"The Duke Khushrenada may not arrive until two days hence," Heero said. He was not pleased that the Duke Milliardo was asking them to accept the majority of risk, but take the glory for himself. "His Grace has worked tirelessly to defeat them."

"Then he will arrive in time for the celebration," the Duke Milliardo said with a smile. He waved for a servant to pour more wine, and asked her to inform the chamber maid to ready more rooms for his guests.

"That will not be necessary. We have engaged rooms in the village," Heero said.

Duo shot him a look that spoke volumes of his desire to spend the night on a feather mattress instead of a mound of straw. Heero thought it better to stay closer to their prey.

The Duke turned a narrowed gaze on the knight. "Of course, you are free to choose a lice-infested inn over a private chamber in my palace, but I think your companion might enjoy otherwise."

"Yea-" Duo started to agree, but Heero kicked his foot.

The Duke smiled at Duo, and once again leaned towards him. "You are welcome to remain at Castle Peacecraft as my special guest."

Jealousy and rage ignited inside Heero, and he shot up from his chair, toppling it backward. "Duo will not be staying."

The Duke feigned confusion at the knight's outrage, and then chuckled. "Please, sir knight, be seated."

"We have stayed long enough for your intentions to be clear."

"Intentions?" The Duke chuckled again.

"We are not here for your entertainment and glory."

"Dear knight, you have quite the imagination, though I am glad to finally see evidence of your passion."

Heero blinked.

"Your tale of Duo's journey from tailor's apprentice to knight in training simmered with unspoken desire, and when you introduced him as your companion, you meant lover. Did you not? I merely wished to confirm that."

"You might have asked," Heero said, barely containing a snarl.

"Heero," Duo said, giving the knight's sleeve a tug.

Heero's eyes never left the Duke's. He did not like these games. "We withdraw our request for your assistance in the matter of the rogues."

"Heero!" Quatre said.

The Duke leaned back, and looked remarkably calm, as any man with the upper hand should. "You do not have the authority to make an arrest or engage in battle without my consent. But surely you knew that."

Quatre stood and bowed. "Please, Your Grace. We do not wish to offend you."

Heero took several steps away from the table before his training took hold of him. He turned and bowed to the Duke, and then headed for the door.

He heard Quatre continue with his apology, and then the Duke called for his chamberlain to provide them with a notice authorizing them to move about the city freely. Heero gritted his teeth and went into the corridor to wait. Duo was immediately behind him. They did not speak while they waited several minutes more before Quatre joined them.

"You nearly ruined everything," Quatre said, as a page escorted them from the castle proper.

"He wanted Duo from the moment we stepped into the hall," Heero said, his face flushed with anger.

"Duo is very charming," Quatre said, nonchalantly.

"I do not mean to be," Duo said.

Heero glared at them both.

By now the page had pointed them in the direction of the stable, and left them on their own.

"This was a supreme waste of time," Heero said, angrily. He walked ahead of them. His entire body was coiled in tension. "We could have spent the evening keeping an eye on the rogues, instead we came here to be insulted and ridiculed."

At the stables, the horses were brought out quickly. Before they mounted, Duo walked over to Heero and placed his hand on his arm. Heero turned to him, but could not meet his gaze.

"Heero," Duo said, softly. "Why are you so angry?"

"He is afraid of losing you," Quatre said.

"Is that true?" Duo asked, closing the distance between them until his body pressed against Heero's.

Quatre quietly took his horse by the reins, and walked away to give them some needed privacy. When they were alone at last, Heero looked into Duo's eyes.

"Sometimes Quatre says too much," Heero said.

"But not tonight. He understood that the Duke saw a challenge in you. He was drawing you out."

"He wanted you. I could see it in the way he looked at you."

Duo shrugged. "So, let him look, but I would not have stayed."

"Duo," Heero said, gripping Duo's arms and looking him in the eyes. "There was nothing to stop him."

"You still think me helpless?" Duo's lips pursed, and he seemed close to meeting Heero's anger with his own, but then he calmed and leaned his forehead against Heero's. It was as close as they could get standing in public view next to the stables, though no one was standing close enough to overhear them. "Heero, you have no rivals. I am yours... alone."

Heero nodded, though the jealous feelings the Duke had ignited lingered. He was afraid of losing Duo. After all the struggle and heartache, he could not live without him at his side. He had to protect this love at all cost, but he was beginning to see that he could not do that alone. There would be no love in his life if not for Duo. He was the bright guiding force that had lured Heero into the glories of love like a moth to the flame from their first moments together.

"Quatre was right. You are far too charming," Heero said.

"And you are far too eager to be baited by the first man that dares give me a second look."

Heero trusted Duo implicitly, but a powerful nobleman, such as the Duke of Nevers, was accustomed to getting what he wanted. The fact that he had let them take their leave meant that the Duke had a strong sense of honor.

"Next time," Duo said, stepping back slightly. "You should simply introduce me as your lover."

Heero smiled, even though they both knew such a proclamation was impossible. "Perhaps I should say you are my squire, and then everyone will assume I am bedding you."

Duo laughed. "Make me your squire, and you can bed me tonight."

The last thing he wanted was Duo carrying a sword, but Duo saw knighthood as a stepping stone to a better life. More than any other accessory, a sword drew attention and usually the wrong kind. Every moment that Duo wore that sword strapped to his side, he invited Death to come calling.

The debate was endless in Heero's mind, but if he took Duo as his squire again, it would fortify their bond and Duo's promise to obey him.

"Very well," Heero said, placing a hand on Duo's shoulder. "Squire Maxwell."

Duo's face lighted with a bright smile. He impulsively leaned forward to kiss Heero, but at the very last moment pulled back. "Tonight," he said in a whisper and winked. Duo turned on his heel to his horse, and pulled himself into the saddle.

Heero followed suit, all the while struggling with the uneasy patience and blossoming respect he felt for the tailor's son.

on to chapter twenty two

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