Disclaimers: Nope, don't own it.

Pairing: 1+2, past 13x2, 13x11
Rating: R
Warnings: Blood, death (but not Heero or Duo), a little gory, AU. This is darker than I intended.

Notes: For Sunhawk. Her request was for hurt/comfort. I'm not sure if this is what she was looking for, but I got inspired, by of all things, an episode of "Get Backers" and a book called "The Witch of Cologne." So... I hope she likes this.

by Caroline

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 Heero...

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 scared?"

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 you afraid?"

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 him."

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 slaves.

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 happy."

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 numb fingers.

"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 bandage.

"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 feet."

"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 gasp.

"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 am sorry."

"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 go."

"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 wish..."

"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 you."

"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 to him.

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 I want."

"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."


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