A gentle breeze rustled Duo's carefully-coifed hair, sending small
shivers down the young man's back. The light ceremonial robe he'd
been given whisped around his legs, offering no protection from the
breeze. But the day was warm and it was not a cold wind. He gazed up
at the clear, seemingly endless blue sky, a sad smile on his face. It
was a beautiful day to die.
He was among the last in the procession of the late emperor's slaves,
marching solemnly toward the elaborate tomb the late emperor's father
had begun construction on when his son had been born. The tomb was
not complete, as the outside sculpting was only half done, needing
perhaps another decade before it could be called truly complete. But
no one had expected the emperor would die so young, before reaching
his thirty-fifth year. Least of all, his favorite concubine.
Duo sighed and rubbed his eyes. He could barely remember his life in
the brothel as a small child, before the young prince had been taken
by his beauty and stolen him away in the night, to be raised first as
a servant, and later, as a lover. Duo would be forever grateful to
Treize for saving him from what was sure to be a miserable and
pitiful existence, but he'd never been truly happy in the emperor's
seraglio. And while he'd been Treize's lover and he'd always
considered the emperor a dear friend, his heart had long ago gone to
another... someone as unattainable as he himself had been.
He'd met Heero, commander of the emperor's elite Honor Guard and a
warrior from a distant land, at one of Treize's many state functions
in which the concubines provided entertainment -- dancing, singing,
providing companionship to the emperor's guests, but never more than
that, as the emperor's concubines were untouchable. After that first
meeting, Heero found excuses to be in the public rooms seraglio as
much as possible, and Duo came up with as many excuses as possible to
spend time with the soldier. And though they'd never done anything
more than talk and share a few lingering, forbidden touches, Duo had
lost his heart. And he'd thought Heero might have felt the same...
but now, it was too late to explore what might have been.
Duo had hoped that someday Treize would give him his freedom or gift
him to Heero. The emperor had known about his young concubine's
feelings for his Honor Guard commander. He'd known about it before
Duo had even admitted it to himself. Treize was not an unkind ruler,
but he hadn't wanted to lose one of his closest companions, not yet,
and had been reluctant to let Duo go. Duo had understood, and was
content simply to spend as much time with Heero as possible.
But no one had predicted the young emperor would be thrown from his
horse during a freak, sudden spring storm. He hadn't died instantly,
and in many ways that might have been more merciful. Duo, at least,
had had a chance to say goodbye to his friend and lover before the
gods had taken him at last. He only wished he could say goodbye to
Tears stung his eyes and he stumbled a little. Soft hands caught him
and steadied him, and Duo looked up into the soft brown eyes of
Treize's other favorite concubine and Duo's closest friend in the
seraglio, the Lady Une.
"Duo? Are you all right?" she asked, concerned.
Duo smiled at her ruefully. "Does it matter if I'm not? It won't
matter any more, soon."
Une wrapped her arm carefully around his smaller frame. "Are you
Duo nodded. "A little. Not of dying, but..."
Une nodded, lifting a hand to wipe away her own tears. "You must be
brave, for his sake. He would never want you to show fear."
"I know, Lady," Duo replied, trying hard to be strong. "Are... are
Une smiled softly and shook her head. "No. I am eager to be with him
again, in the afterlife. He was my whole world. When he died, so did
I. Now I merely wait for this shell to release me, so I can be with
Duo wrapped his arms around her too-thin body. She'd barely eaten
during the 40-day mourning period, and Duo knew she was only hanging
on for this. The rituals had to be observed. Une would take no
chances with her soul's fate. She loved Treize as much as he loved
Heero. She would do anything to guarantee her spot beside her beloved
for all eternity.
Their procession through the city streets was a somber affair.
Nothing like the elaborate state parades Treize used to hold when
he'd been alive. There were no rose petals tossed at their feet or
children holding garlands for the royal household staff to accept.
The crowds were eerily silent; some weeping silently, others bowing
their heads in respect as they passed. They knew what was to happen
to the royal slaves. To ensure their emperor's comfort in the
afterlife, the royal household slaves would be sacrificed and
entombed next to their master, in a large pit next to the great
mausoleum. Their throats would be cut, as quick and merciful a death
as any, their blood mixing with the mausoleum's foundation, a blood
sacrifice to ensure it stood for all eternity.
But for the concubines, a different fate awaited them. They were
untouchable. Even in death. Their bodies would be burned, their ashes
placed in golden jars to be placed in the sarcophagus itself. Had
the emperor a wife when he died, she too would be burned to accompany
her husband to the afterlife. Treize had never married, though he did
have a daughter by one of the other concubines. The girl, as the only
heir, would likely be married off to a cousin of the council's
choosing, and he would become the next emperor.
Duo sighed, silently asking the gods why such a good man had been
taken from the world so soon. Not because he wanted to live, though
he didn't want to die, but because Treize had been a good man.
Eventually he would have given Duo to Heero, he was sure of it. But
with the emperor's death, the few dreams he'd had had been shattered.
If only he'd been able to see Heero one last time.
The procession came to a halt outside the massive mausoleum which
housed the late emperor's body. The concubines were separated from
the household slaves, surrounded on all sides by the royal guard. Duo
was both glad and disappointed that Heero was not among them. While
he'd give anything to see Heero one final time, he did not want Heero
to watch him burn. He wanted Heero to remember him as he was, not
writhing in the flames, a burning husk.
The other concubines huddled together, holding on to one another.
Only he and Une stood apart; Une with her eyes fixed eagerly on the
pyres that had been built in front of the tomb, and Duo watching the
ceremony of the household slaves' sacrifice. He couldn't hear the
words the priests chanted over the men and women who stood at the
edge of the pit, dressed in white muslin. In the distance could be
heard the solemn beating of a drum. The crowd that had gathered was
deathly silent. Duo watched, his body trembling, as the priests
raised their hands and members of the guard stepped up behind the
The drumming stopped. The crowd drew a collected breath. The high
priest gave the order, and the blood began to flow.
The soldiers were efficient. And to their credit, the slaves made
little noise as one by one, their throats were slashed, spilling dark
crimson blood down the front of their lily-white robes. Most fell
forward into the pit almost instantly. A few fell to their knees,
hands grasping at the gushing wound at their neck. These, the
soldiers had to push into the pit. The crowd murmured softly and Duo
sent a quick prayer to their gods and to Treize to look after the
souls of the newly departed.
The entire ceremony had only taken but a few minutes. The priests
turned their attention to the concubines then, as did the crowd, who
pushed eagerly to see them. The royal concubines were never allowed
to leave the palace, and these few brief minutes of freedom from the
seraglio before the burning would be their only chance to gaze upon
those whom their emperor had loved.
One by one the concubines were led by the priests, up a small
platform, to be tied to a post, hands above their heads. Treize had
only kept five concubines at any one time. The other three had to be
help up the platform by the priests, the only people besides the
emperor and the seraglio eunuch slaves who were allowed to touch
them. Une needed no assistance, holding her head proudly high as she
climbed onto the platform. She held her own hands in place over her
head to be tied.
Duo tried to do the same, but his legs were shaking. The priest
beside him offered his help, but Duo shook his head. He could do
this. For Treize's sake, and for Heero's, he would be strong.
He positioned himself in front of the post and lifted his arms. The
young priest, golden hair glittering in the sun, smiled at him sadly
as he tied Duo's hands in place. "Have courage," he said to Duo. "It
will be over soon."
"I am trying," Duo replied, wanting to close his eyes, but determined
to meet his fate with bravery. His eyes kept looking out toward the
crowd. Would he be able to spot those achingly familiar dark blue
eyes watching him? Did he even want to?
The blond priest took a vial from his robes and held it to Duo's
lips. "Drink," he said, tilting it as Duo obeyed. "You will feel no
pain. May your soul fly swiftly to the heavens."
Duo swallowed hard. His tongue was already numb from whatever had
been in the elixir, and he could feel a drowsy warmth spreading
through his body. He glanced over at Une, who was staring at the sky,
the expression on her face one of unadulterated joy. He could not see
the other three concubines, but their weeping had died down, so he
assumed they had also been given the same elixir.
He turned his own gaze to the sky, letting his body relax against his
bonds as the elixir quickly went to work. The high priest began his
chanting, but Duo couldn't follow what he was saying, his mind
beginning to fog over. He wasn't even aware of when the guards lit
the pyre on fire until he felt the heat on his bare feet. He looked
down and saw smoke curling up from the wood beneath his feet. He
sighed and let his eyes finally close. There was no pain, only a
pleasant warmth. The world had stopped. There was no sound, no sight,
no smell. He could feel himself preparing to let go. He called up
Heero's image in his head and said a final goodbye. He thought he
could hear Treize calling his name.
Not Treize... no. His emperor was dead. That voice, he knew that
voice. He fought the fog -- no, smoke. The fog was a thick blanket of
smoke, surrounding him, smothering him.
"Duo! Hold on!"
Duo struggled to open his eyes. Sound came rushing back to his ears.
The fire underneath him was roaring... no, that was the crowd.
Something was happening in the crowd. People were shouting. Duo could
hear the clanging of metal, swords clashing. A horse screamed and
something leaped through the smoke and the flames onto the pyre.
"Duo! Duo, wake up!" the figure shouted. A hand smacked him hard
across the face and Duo blinked, startled to see dark blue eyes
staring worriedly at him.
"Heero," he slurred, smiling the man he loved. "I got to see you..."
"Hold on. I'm getting you out of here." Duo watched as Heero raised
his sword, and then he was falling. Heero caught him and swore, Duo
hanging limply from his arms.
"Heero, your boots are on fire."
The commander swore again, pulling Duo from the flames, cradling
Duo's limp form in his arms as he managed to somehow get them both
onto the back of his horse.
Someone shouted, and Duo clung to Heero as the man turned the horse
around, shouting, sword clashing against someone's shield. Time
seemed to slow again, and through the commotion and the smoke, Duo
looked up to see Une smiling at him, her hair mostly gone but the
serene smile on her face still present. Her lips moved, and though
Duo should not have been able to hear her, her voice caressed his ear
like a gentle breeze.
"Go with Heero," he thought he heard her say. "Treize said to be
The flames leaped up at that moment, obscuring Duo's vision of Une.
The horse beneath him reared, and time seemed to right itself. He
could feel himself falling, slipping, and he clutched at Heero with
"I've got you," his warrior said, arm strengthening around him. "I'll
never let go."
And with Heero's promise in his ears, Duo let himself go,
surrendering to the fog, and finally, the darkness.
Pain was the first thing he became aware of when the black fog began
to clear. He could hear someone whispering softly to him, as a pair
of strong hands touched him gently. He gasped, his eyes fluttering
open to see a canopy of green over his head. A pungent, medicinal
odor filled his nostrils as his sense of smell returned. Pain
radiated from his feet, and in a surge of panic, he pushed himself
up... only to see Heero wrapping his burned, blistered feet with a
"They look worse than they are, or so the apothecary who sold me the
burn salve told me," Heero said, securing the bandage in place. "You
can't walk for several weeks, but you should recover the use of your
"Heero?" His voice felt scratchy and rough. "What...?"
Heero moved, faster than he could react, and before he could protest,
Heero's lips were on his and Duo was drowning in the touch, pain
momentarily forgotten, lost in the tumultuous sea of their first
kiss. Heero tasted like smoke, but Duo couldn't pull away. Strong
arms wrapped around his waist, and a wet, delicious tongue wound
around his own. Hands buried themselves into Duo's hair, destroying
what remained of the carefully braided mass. Duo's own arms wrapped
themselves around Heero's neck of their own volition and he moaned
softly into Heero's mouth. He'd waited for this taste, for so long,
and he was ready and willing to surrender the rest of himself, when
the pain returned, forcing Duo's mouth from Heero's with a pained
"I'm sorry, love," Heero said, stroking Duo's hair, but otherwise not
letting go. "I couldn't hold back any longer. I've wanted to do that
for so long."
Duo raised his hand and placed it against Heero's cheek, something
he'd never done before. Heero's strong jaw moved under his hand and
Duo closed his eyes, wondering if he'd died and had attained paradise
after all. But... surely there wouldn't be pain in paradise?
He opened his eyes and looked at Heero questioningly. "Why are you
here?" He looked around him and noticed their meager surroundings, so
very different from the opulent splendor of the seraglio. He looked
back at Heero. "Oh, Heero. What have you done?"
Heero's eyes took on a desperate gaze. "I... I couldn't leave you
there. I couldn't watch you die." Heero's eyes wandered down the
length of Duo's body to his bandaged feet. "I was almost too late. I
"I was supposed to die. Heero, what you've done..." Duo felt his
chest tighten. There was nowhere he'd rather be than in Heero's arms,
but what he'd done... it would have consequences. He'd condemned them
both to a horrific death, should they be caught. Their bodies would
be ripped apart, while they were still alive, and they would be left
out in the desert for the animals to consume and their bodies and
souls to wander the earth for eternity. The afterlife would be denied
to them. It was a punishment worse than death. And Heero had
condemned himself to that, for his sake.
"I did what I had to do," Heero said, clutching Duo closer. "You are
mine. Treize agreed to gift you to me the night before his death. I
had nothing to prove it. But you are mine and I wasn't about to let
you die." He cupped Duo's face in his hands. "I love you, so very
much, Duo. I want to be with you. Forever."
Duo's heart soared, but reality couldn't be ignored. "We'll be
hunted. For the rest of our lives. The elite guard will never let us
"They will if they can't reach us," Heero said, smoothing away a
stray lock of Duo's hair. "I have secured passage on a ship out of
the 'Geld. They will see us safely to my homeland. My country does
not like outsiders. My ancestral home lies deep within the heart of
my country. We will be safe there. I promise you. I'll protect you
with my last dying breath."
Duo felt himself trembling, scarcely daring to believe it. "Can we
truly? Live together? Love? I am... yours?"
Heero shook his head. "No. You are free. The gifting was not
official. Your master is dead. You are a fugitive, but you are free.
I love you and wish you to stay with me. But if that is not your
"It is!" Duo flung himself at Heero, curling as much of himself
around the soldier as possible without harming his burned feet. "I've
loved you from the moment we met. Treize knew this. He..." He half-
swallowed a sob. "He was a good man. And I think he wanted me to be
happy." He pulled away to look into Heero's eyes. "You make me happy.
I want to be with you. I don't care where we go, as long as I am with
"Then you will always be with me," Heero said, taking Duo's hand in
his. "I pledge my life to you."
"And mine to you. We are bound now, together," Duo replied, smiling
shyly. "We are fugitives, and should we be caught and you are killed,
I will follow thereafter." Boldly he reached up to bring Heero's face
down to his. "And if I am now a free man, then what I want... is you.
Kiss me again?"
"You never have to ask," Heero said, joining his lips to Duo's. The
second tasting was no less miraculous than the first, but it was a
much longer time before they pulled away.
"Are we safe here tonight?" Duo asked, pulling Heero down to lie next
Heero, mindful of Duo's feet, slid as close to Duo as he dared. "Yes.
The apothecary is a good man. He will hide us until nightfall. Then
we will ride under the cloak of darkness to Rivengeld. The ship will
be waiting and will sail with the morning tide. By the time we reach
my country, your feet should be healed enough for you to walk again."
They lay in silence for a moment before Duo spoke again. "Heero, are
you really here? I did not die on that pyre?"
"You are here with me, my love. You are as alive as I am."
Duo sighed and rested his head against Heero's chest, listening to
the man's heart. "I am glad. I don't want to live without you. I was
not afraid to die today. And I will not be afraid to die tomorrow. As
long as I am with you, here in this world or in the next, that is all
"We will be together in the next, but not for years to come," Heero
promised. "But you should sleep now, and rest for the journey ahead."
"Will you stay with me?" Duo asked, feeling his body relax.
"Always, my love. Always."
And Duo fell asleep, content and safe in Heero's arms, with Treize
and Une's voices whispering in his ear.
"Live long and happy lives. We will wait for you."