Dark Cloud Rising
by Dyna Dee
Having shared a bed with two other riders all winter long, Duo had no difficulty sleeping well and deeply with Heero's body pressed against his own. He woke the next morning in a most pleasant manner, with the feeling of warm lips moving gently against his own. Once he was well and truly awake, Heero opened the jar of oil that rested on the table next to the bed and proceeded to instruct him by example the proper way to prepare a male partner before joining their bodies together. At first he found the sensation of having his body invaded uncomfortable, but following Heero's advice to relax he soon became used to the oiled fingers stretching him. He lay on his stomach a short while later, moaning with pleasure from having Heero's weight pressed against his back, his lips and warm breath teasing the back of his neck while his mate moved in a slow and steady rhythm within his body. They both managed to last a bit longer than the first time they'd shared their bodies, and with each other's names on their lips they found their release together.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, Heero rolled off his back to rest on his side. "Are you all right?" he asked, pulling his sated mate against his chest and into his arms once more.
Duo nodded, then gave a small moan as his posterior began to ache. "I'm a bit sore, that's all." He then added, "It felt odd at first, being penetrated like that, but once I got used to it I enjoyed having you moving inside me." He stilled as a thought came to him. "Did you like it when I took you? I didn't hurt you when we mated, did I?"
"I enjoyed it very much," Heero answered, sounding amused. "And rest assured that you didn't harm me. Remember, I was prepared ahead of time to receive you. Still, as enjoyable as our first joining was, I liked what we did this morning just as much." There was a pause before Heero asked. "Perhaps it would be wise if we took turns being the receiver. That is, if you agree."
"I do," Duo replied, then placed a kiss to the moist and warm chest under his cheek. "Hum... this is nice," Heero hummed contentedly.
"I liked waking up to your kiss," Duo admitted shyly.
"Then I'll wake you everyday with a kiss."
Duo raised himself up and with a teasing grin on his face he asked, "Only with a kiss?"
The darker haired rider grinned back. "Making love to you is certainly an invigorating way to start the day. I'm sure it could easily become a habit."
"Yeah," Duo agreed with a satisfied sigh. "But tomorrow it's my turn."
"I think the first to wake should have the privilege of choosing."
Duo looked worried for a moment. "That might not be such a good idea. I tend to be a reluctant riser, Heero. What if I never wake up first?"
"Then you will have the choice when we retire for the night."
The worry eased from the handsome rider's face. "That seems fair," he decided, then leaned up to soundly kiss his mate.
They reluctantly rose from their bed to begin the day and were nearly dressed when the servers knocked at their door and they promptly removed the water and then the bath from the room. No sooner had that chore been taken care of, their breakfast was brought to them and they immediately broke their fast. Their early morning activities had earned them both a hearty appetite, and they ate their meal with a good deal of exuberance. Their platters were cleared away by the attentive servers and then they were left alone once more... but only until a rapid knock sounded on the door. Heero, having taken upon himself to tidy up his mate's hair, handed Duo the partially finished braid before turning to answer the door. Upon its opening, Quatre, looking wide-eyed and anxious, pushed past him and flung himself into the room. "Duo!" he cried out after spotting his newly returned friend. He then launched himself at the smiling rider and tightly embraced him.
"Oh, Duo, I was so afraid for you, so afraid we'd lost you for good. I'm so glad you're back. Are you all right?"
Duo returned his friend's enthusiastic embrace while looking over the blond's shoulder to study the reaction of Heero and Trowa as the two greeted each other. When they turned to see he and Quatre embracing each other, he was relieved to not see any evidence of jealousy or animosity on either of their faces.
"I'm fine, Quatre, and glad to be back. I missed you and everyone else," he told his friend, patting him on the back in a comforting manner.
When the blond loosened his near-choking hold, he stepped back, his blue eyes brimming with unshed tears of happiness and a shaky smile tugging at his lips as he stated the obvious. "So you and Heero have taken each other as mates along with Wu Fei and Relena." Duo felt the heat rising in his face as he gave Quatre a confirming nod. The blond's eyes sparkled with excitement. "Trowa and I are mated too, Duo. Isn't it wonderful?"
"Yeah," the braided rider smiled at his friend then cast a glance at Trowa, whose eyes were fixed on the blond with such tenderness that Duo had no doubt they would be very happy together. His gaze shifted to Heero only to find his mate looking at him in a similar manner. He smiled warmly in return, hoping Heero could see that his feelings were fully reciprocated. "Everything is wonderful."
Just as Quatre began to speak again, more riders rushed unannounced into the room, anxious to see the rescued teen. The noise level in the room quickly grew as excited voices of young men declared their happiness at Duo's return and offered felicitations to the new life mates.
A loud whistle coming from the doorway instantly halted all sound and everyone's head turned to see Howard, Garron and Jan standing together with expressions of disappointment on their faces.
Jan, standing in the forefront, addressed the gathering in a chastising tone. "Your excitement to greet Duo home is certainly understandable, however, these next five days are a time for the newly mated to become better acquainted. In order to do that, they need time alone together. This is not alone. All of you return to your rooms or to whatever place you're required to be at this time of day."
Murmured apologies came from the other riders as they shuffled from the room one by one past the three older men. Quatre hovered by Duo's side for as long as possible, excited to share the latest news. "Sandrock told me our riders brought two northern female dragons back to Amulah last night, along with their riders," the blond said, excitement dancing in his eyes. "It's rumored that they've been mated with two of our own riders. I can't wait to meet them but I guess it will be a couple of days before they're presented. Do you know them very well?"
Duo's eyes grew wide at the news, and they immediately sought out Garron, knowing the older rider would tell him whether or not Alec and Dorothy had truly been brought out of Cordith or if what Quatre had just told him was only a rumor. If it was true, he couldn't begin to imagine which riders from the Halls had been mated to the two blonds.
Now that the room had cleared but for Trowa and Quatre, a hand motion from Jan had the taller of the two hooking his arm around his mate's shoulders and guiding him towards the door. Quatre frowned, unhappy at having his conversation interrupted. Looking over his shoulder just before he was pulled out of the room, he called out, "I'll see you both later."
As the door closed behind them the three older riders turned their attention to the two younger ones, just as Wu Fei and Relena told their riders that they were going to hunt for a meal of wolderbeasts. The excitement that leaked through their links told their riders that the dragons might not merely be hunting for their breakfast that morning. For the next five days Relena would remain in season, and it was natural for the dragons to mate frequently during that time. As with the initial urge to mate, their riders would also feel the necessity to be intimate, thus the required need for more privacy.
"All is well?" Garron asked, searching both faces for any signs that the sudden bonding of the two riders had been a mistake.
"Yes, we're well," Heero replied confidently as he put his arm over Duo's shoulder and pulled him close as if to prove the truth of his words to the three older men.
Jan cleared his throat, preparing to speak and gaining everyone's attention. "If you're up to it, I would like you to tell me all that you learned about the northern riders. I need to know if we can expect any retaliation."
Duo nodded, eager to speak with the older riders about what he'd observed. He began telling them of the low number of riders and dragons of the north as well as the dwindling number of wild men and complete absence of the beasts that had plagued Amulah in the past. He recited Quinze's explanation for his being taken from the Halls, that he'd been a lure for Wu Fei, their last hope of reviving the dwindling number dragons due to inbreeding. Once he was mated to one of their riders, they planned on using him as the catalyst for attacking the palace and taking back the kingship of Amulah.
"Did you see the face of the man who took you?" Jan asked with a grim expression on his wrinkled face.
"No, not that night, anyway. I think the food that was brought to me during the celebration must have been drugged because I had no idea what had happened until I work up in a room on Cordith. Yet earlier that day I was visited in my bedchamber by a man who hid his face. He questioned me about my mother and father. I'm almost certain he was one of the men Quatre and I stumbled on when we snuck into the lower palace halls."
"You what?" Garron gasped, looking appalled by the idea that Duo's hidden identity was foiled by a boy's simple prank of sneaking around where he wasn't supposed to.
"Do you think you would know this man were you to see him again?" Jan interjected before they got off the subject. "We need to identify him and bring him before the king to answer the charge of treason."
"Yes. I'm certain I can remember his face."
The serious expression on the older rider's face softened and a look of wonder began to blossom it's place "Once he is found, I think our fears of the north will have finally come to an end. With their numbers even more greatly diminished than we previously believed, the north no longer poses the threat they once were. It appears that having taken you back as well as claiming their last two breeding female dragons, we've destroyed any aspirations they had for a return to Amulah, unless they surrender themselves to us and live by our terms."
There was silence in the room for a moment as each of the riders contemplated the importance of Jan's statement. "Peace," Howard whispered as if it the idea was too much to hope for. His two friends nodded their agreement as they exchanged jubilant grins.
"If the north is truly undone, will there be a need for us any longer?" Heero asked, looking concerned.
Garron nodded and patted the younger rider's shoulder. "Of course. We and our dragons will always be needed, though now we can focus on serving the kingdom in ways other than as a defense in the event of an attack from the north. We can spend more time and effort on strengthening our dragons bloodlines so that they will forever be a part of our land. Gentleman," he beamed a smile at all those present, "we are about to enter a time of peace that hasn't been seen for hundreds of years, where we as riders can live more ordinary lives. Well," he chuckled and he amended his statement, "as ordinary as possible when you've got a dragon for a best friend."
The good humor in the room lasted only until Howard stepped forward and approached Duo. "I believe there are some things that need to be said between us," he said solemnly.
Duo nodded, knowing it was true. He had both hoped for and dreaded the coming conversation with the one man he'd once respected above all others. Would they even speak to each other once he had his answers from his former mentor? He couldn't falter now, not when the opportunity that he'd hoped for since the moment Quinze told him about his heritage had come. "Is what I was told by the northern riders true, that I've royal blood in my veins?"
"What?" Heero gasped, completely surprised by the question. He let go of his mate in order to turn and look at him as if he were seeking evidence of such a claim.
"Yes," Howard replied. "Your father was Prince Elia."
There was a long pause as Duo digested this information, his eyes fixed on the lacing on Howard's vest, unable to meet the older man's eyes nor those of anyone else in the room. Without displaying the tumult of emotions raging inside of him, he asked in an even-toned voice, "And you knew my lineage all along? Even while I lived as a dark cloud in Ha'ber?"
Howard's shoulders slumped slightly, but his eyes remained focused on the braided teen as he softly answered, "Yes."
That simple answer caused an immediate reaction from the braided rider. The barely held in anger and resentment suddenly flared within the boy's eyes as he lifted them to glare heatedly at the first man he'd once trusted implicitly. "Why?" he cried out in an anguished voice. "Why didn't you tell anyone? How could you allow me to be treated like I was, named a dark cloud, shunned and looked down on by the everyone in Ha'ber?"
"I don't expect you to understand, Duo, but I was trying to protect you. Even now your father's killer is still unnamed and your kidnaper remains unidentified. I honestly believed you would be in danger and your life threatened if anyone knew of your existence."
The anger and hurt Duo felt were made evident by the dark expression on his face as the older man continued. "Your mother came to me with a broken heart and weeping as she told her tale of being violated by our charming and persuasive prince. When she learned she was with child and knowing the prince had moved on to another conquest, I encouraged her to leave Rydell. I knew the prince well enough to know he would not willingly marry her, even though she carried his child. Of course the king might have persuaded him to do the right thing had he learned of his brother's deed, but Elia would have resented LaLinna and her baby if forced to take her as his wife. He was an uncommonly handsome man with a talent for luring innocents as well as mated women into his bed. He was also a feckless man, spoiled by indulgent parents when he was young and happy with his irresponsible life and unrepentant of his wrongs. I knew full well that he would not publically acknowledge LaLinna as anything other than a young, gullible lady to the Queen who had been besotted by him. I thought to hide her, to protect the both of you until you were born and then bring the both of you back to Rydell to show the king proof of his brother's deed in order to provide the life you deserved as a Prince of Amulah; but it wasn't to be. Your mother left here with enough coin to provide for travel and care until I could join her in the place of my birth, the city of Villone. After I received word that she failed to arrive at the dwelling of which I'd sent her, I began my search, asking in every village and inn I entered if they'd seen a lone woman traveling through. I took great care to hide my own identity and path so that no one would follow me. Unfortunately, I didn't find LaLinna until well after you were born. She told me later, after I came upon her in Ha'ber, that she chose of her own free will to disappear completely, taking an altogether different direction than what I had arraigned for her, hoping to start a new life for herself and her baby."
Howard's face softened and his older eyes were bright with emotions he struggled against showing. "Your mother was so weak and ill, Duo, and by the time I arrived in Ha'ber she was being taken care of by the kind people there. I knew I couldn't bring her back to Rydell until she was in better health, so to keep her identity secret and your heritage as well I kept the guise of a hermit and was accepted into Ha'ber as such.
"Unfortunately, your mother never regained her strength. She begged me not to take you away, not to return you to Rydell, to the scandal you would face, and to become a spoiled prince like your father. Even on her deathbed she made me promise to let you live your life in Ha'ber until there came some sign that you should be brought back to your heritage."
"Did she keep me hidden to spite the prince, even though he never knew of me?" Duo asked sourly, clearly upset by what he was learning.
"No," the older man answered softly. "You mother was young, innocent and beautiful. She also had a gentle heart. She was more concerned for your welfare than anything else. Her parents had died several years earlier so leaving Rydell was easier than it might have otherwise been, and she feared having you raised as a bastard in the palace, not wanting you to be shunned or to chance the possibility that you would turn out like your father. Ha'ber was good to her. She found kindness and caring from those simple folks and she truly believed you could have a good life there. At her passing, you were adopted and loved by the kindly old couple that took care of your mother. It was her death and then later unfortunate fire that killed your new guardians that had you named as a dark cloud. Even at the downturn of your good fortune, I was bound by my promise to her to let you stay there until I saw a sign that we should return to Rydell. Wu Fei was that sign."
Anguished blue-violet eyes rose. "You let me suffer needlessly, Howard. I lived my childhood as a beggar when you could have offered me a home and shelter. How can you say you were protecting me when I had to live like that?"
"If I was wrong in not bringing you back to Rydell, away from your mother who was too weak to travel, then I humbly beg your forgiveness. And if it was wrong of me to keep the oath she bound me to in the event of her death, then I also apologize for that with all that is in me."
"I don't understand," Duo said with a voice trembling with emotion. "How could you stand by while I was named a dark cloud, treated like a diseased animal and taunted by the village bullies? I had nothing and no one, Howard, and you did that to me!" He was shouting by the time he finished, and in his anger and anguish he shrugged off Heero's hands as his mate tried to calm him.
Howard looked at the tormented young man, his heart aching at the pain he'd unintentionally caused him. In a soft voice, filled with sorrow and regret, he answered. "My hovel and circumstances were nearly as humble as your own. I spoke to the village speaker in your defense, offered you what shelter, food and comfort I had anytime you needed it."
Duo couldn't hold back the tears escaping his eyes, though he valiantly fought to contain himself from striking the man before him for the injustice of his past. Forcing his hands to remain at his side he asked his former mentor through gritted teeth, "What right did you have, Howard, to tell my mother to flee Rydell? Why did she come to you and why would you follow her and act the part of the village hermit, watching me from a distance? Was it loyalty to the crown that guided your actions? Were you protecting someone? The prince? Or did you get some twisted pleasure at watching an unknown member of the royal family treated like the lowliest of peasants, groveling for food and shelter?"
Garron stepped up to place himself at Howard's side, putting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "Howard is your mother's uncle, Lalinna's mother's brother."
"I wanted to tell you, Duo," Howard said, earnestly appealing to the younger rider for understanding. "So many times I almost revealed myself, but I was fearful of either one of us being found. I was convinced that if I was found and you were by my side, another rider or former acquaintance would have taken one look at your eyes and they'd have guessed your parentage. Keeping my distance from you in Ha'ber was one way I could watch over you and protect you at the same time.
"After you were chosen by Wu Fei to be his rider, I told Garron of your heritage, and upon your arrival to the Halls he shared the secret with a few of our closest friends: Jan, Osh and Sims, who agreed to teach you all that a prince of the realm should know. They also agreed to keep your identity to themselves to ensure your safety." Howard used both hands to roughly scrub his haggard face. "Perhaps that was a mistake as well," he mumbled, "regardless of our good intentions you were taken from the Halls." His hands fell limply to his side as he added, "If we had told the king about your existence, perhaps you might have been spared your ordeal in the north. If I erred, I once more ask for your forgiveness."
After all that he'd suffered through during his young life, Duo didn't think he'd ever felt so great a pain in his heart as he had when Howard revealed all his secrets. The man before him was his great uncle, family by blood, and yet he had stood back and watched him become the dark cloud of the superstitious village of Ha'ber, living in a state of filthiness and rags and unwanted. It all seemed so unnecessary to him now, especially in light of what he'd learned. Though a bastard, he was the son of Prince Elia, nephew to the king and his great uncle had been a renowned rider. His lineage alone should have guaranteed him a home and family. With eyes that couldn't help but show the depth of his hurt, he looked to the one person he felt he could trust and found that Heero's concerned gaze had never left him.
"You've got a right to feel angry, Duo," his mate told him, keeping his voice low and even while placing a comforting hand on the distressed boy's shoulder. "I'm certain Howard tried to do his best by you, but it doesn't matter anymore, does it?"
Duo tilted his head and blinked with confusion. "Doesn't matter?"
"Just as you said yesterday, the past is behind you. Your childhood, your hardships, your village and even Cordith are all in the past now." Warm hands came up to cup Duo's face as blue eyes fixed on royal blue-violet. "I'm your future, Duo." The certainty of Heero's voice and expression of confidence reassured the braided rider of the truth of his mate's words. "You and I will make our own way in this life... together. I don't care about your past other than the fact that it forged the person you are now. Who your father or mother were is not the reason I wanted you for my mate. From what I've heard, Howard did the best he could for you. In time, I hope you can forgive him so that you can rebuild your friendship with him. You have my pledge that I will do all I can to help you put the past behind you so that you can look forward to a life with me."
Regardless of the fact that there were three elder riders present and within arm's length, Duo threw his arms around Heero's neck and held him in a desperate embrace, the warm and strong arms that encircled him in return gave him all the reassurance he needed. "I do look forward to a life with you, Heero," he whispered into his mate's ear. "It's just that since yesterday morning everything has happened so quickly, and bringing the past up now, remembering the pain, the loneliness and the way I was treated as a child and knowing now that it didn't have to be that way..." He paused to squeeze Heero a little tighter then admitted, "It hurts."
Duo closed his eyes as hands, strong and sure, moved over his back, seeking a way to ease the braided rider's inner torment. Heero's gaze rose to study Howard's face, and saw within the lines there expressions of remorse and sorrow. Since the lost, former rider had abruptly returned to the halls, Heero had asked countless questions concerning the man who'd known Duo before his arrival to the Halls of Dornan. He, as well as everyone else in the Halls, knew that Howard had suffered the worst loss of all, the death of his dragon. The lines on the man's weathered face and the perpetual sadness that was ever present in his eyes told him that Howard had suffered throughout his life. He recalled a lessening of that sadness just the day before, after Duo had been rescued, which told him that Howard truly did care for his mate, possibly as much as he would love and care for a son of his own.
Keeping Duo close, Heero consoled him with words that came from his heart. "In order to move past this, Duo, you need to forgive Howard and anyone else who has wronged you: your father and mother, the people of your village, and even those in Cordith. Howard did his best to protect you and no doubt suffered alongside you. He could have come back here and lived in the comfort of the halls and returned to Ha'ber when you were grown, but he didn't. He chose to live a lowly life, to share in your miserable state in order keep an eye on you, helping when he could. It seems that he was justified in his concerns for your safety, for even with only the elder riders knowing about your heritage, you were still stolen away from under their protection. You must eventually let go of the anger and hurt caused by your past, because no matter what happened before, you can't change it. We have our whole future together, Duo, and here and now you need to decide whether you're going to hold onto the past and it's anger or move forward into the future with the promise of happiness that I know I can give you."
Duo held tightly to the other rider for another long moment, gaining strength from his mate's words and touch. Then taking a deep breath he stepped back and let his arms slip from around Heero's neck. He quickly grasped one of Heero's hands, needing the contact to do what was necessary. He gave his mate a shaky smile before turning to the other three men, singling out Howard. "I forgive you," he told the older man. "Heero's right, the past is behind me and I have no desire to begin my life with him being angry about something I can't change."
Howard managed a small smile of gratitude while hoping that the relationship he once shared with the braided teen could be better repaired given time. Before he could speak, Jan cleared his throat, gaining everyone's attention once more. "That's a wise decision, Duo, one that Howard would do well in practicing." Turning to his old friend, he continued, "Let old sorrows go, Howard. Even though your dragon is gone, you're one of us and always will be. Your part in rescuing Duo sure has proven that your usefulness is still of great worth."
Then taking a deep breath, Jan moved onto another pressing matter. "Now that the air had been cleared, there is something more that needs addressing today." Again directing his next comments to the youngest in the room, he said in a formal tone of voice, "The king desires to meet with you, Duo. He extends his hand to you, and when he sees for himself that you have the Haldash eyes all royal privileges will be extended to you also. You will become third in line to the throne, after the king's two daughters and until the time that they have children of their own. It's His Majesty's wish that you be known as Prince Duo Elia Haldash."
Duo's hand tightly gripped his mate's at Jan's announcement. Turning to study Duo's face, Heero could see a look of panic growing in the large, beautiful eyes. Taking charge, he spoke in his lover's stead. "I think Duo needs a little time to adjust to having taken a mate and returning from Cordith before meeting the king. We are going to be allowed our five days, right?"
"Of course," the senior rider assured them with a look of understanding on his face. "I'll explain to the king that the meeting will take place after Duo has had a few day to re-adjusts to his life here."
"Duo," Garron spoke up next, gaining the braided rider's attention. "I have some other news to tell you."
Duo wondered what else was coming his way and whether it was good or bad. Then Quatre's words from before came to him. "Is it about the riders that came with you from Cordith?" Garron nodded, a nervous smile on his face showed he didn't know how he was going to take the news. "Alec and Dorothy?"
"We received word from the north that there were two dragons who were going into season and that Wu Fei was to chose one of them. Learning that they intended to mate with your dragon, and that they might possibly try to take another young rider in the future for the same purpose, we brought two of our own riders and their male dragons. These stalwart lads willingly volunteered for this task, knowing the importance of luring away the only two breeding dragons in Cordith."
"So Alec and Dorothy are here and have taken mates?" Duo asked with some disbelief. Garron nod was his confirmation. "Who?"
"Alex and Shadow were mated with Ze'an and his brown, Tallon. Dorothy and Romma were mated with Zechs and Epyon."
Duo gasped, surprised and somewhat shocked by the news. "What happened to Hilde? Zean was hoping to be amongst the hopefuls for her mate?"
Jan answered, "Hilde has been promised to a prince from across the sea, from the land where Wu Fei was spawned. She was sent south during this time of mating, and she'll soon have to sail to meet her prince."
Duo would have spent some time feeling sorry for his friend, but he had liked Alec and hoped he would try to become the kink of mate his dark-skinned friend deserved. His thoughts then turned to Dorothy and a slow, amused grin spread across his face. Despite the sober mood in the room, laughter bubbled out of him. "That's perfect," he declared, highly amused.
"Care to share with what is so amusing?" Heero asked in response to his mate's change of mood.
Duo wiped the moisture from his eyes and composed himself enough to speak. "When you come to know Dorothy, you'll understand," was his cryptic reply. Inwardly, however, he was thinking that Zechs was only getting what he deserved. Who knew but that the two strong willed riders might just do very well together.
The smiles on the older riders' faces slipped. Jan addressed Duo with the obvious question. "Is there something regarding Dorothy we should be concerned about?"
Duo shook his head. "No, not really. She isn't the type of rider I would want for a mate, but I think she might be just what Zechs needs." No matter how much the others pressed him to elaborate on that statement, Duo would say no more. He felt it was important for the other riders to form their own opinions regarding the two new riders and not let his feelings for the girl prejudice them in any way.
"Did you know both Dorothy and Alec are from Amulah, that they were taken from their homes and families by trickery?" he asked.
Garron frowned. "No, we didn't know. After the riders of Cordith climbed upon the backs of their dragons to engage in battle with our own, Jan and several other riders crept into their dwelling unnoticed and took the two youths from their unguarded rooms - in a manner similar of how Howard came for you. Though they were confused, they were given a choice at being brought here, and both of them agreed, even knowing they were to be paired with riders they'd never met. Once they were away from the mountain, their dragons, still in the air and confused by what had happened to Wu Fei, were approached by our two male dragons. After only a moment of hesitation, they eagerly began the mating flight with Tallon and Epyon. After the females made their choice for a mate, Alec and Dorothy were taken to the riders of the dragon chosen and they were mated."
Duo recalled how he'd felt under the influence of Wu Fei's need to mate and wondered if Alex and Dorothy agreed to take Amulah's riders as their mates only because of their dragons' lust or their desire to return to Amulah and escape their captors. At this point it really didn't matter what their reasons might have been. They were here in the Halls and would live here, bound now to Amulah by having taken its riders as their mates. Knowing that they would find their lives here in the halls to be vastly different from that in Cordith, it would take time for them to become accustomed to their new surroundings and routine. He decided to do what ever he could to help them adjust to their new lives. After all, they'd helped him in Cordith, had befriended and sheltered him whenever they could despite his stubbornness in not accepting his life there. He could do no less for them in return. He wondered if they had learned his name, or if they cared any longer now that they had mates of their own.
He was brought out of his thoughts by a touch to his elbow and the sound of Heero's voice. "If there are no objections, I'd like to take Duo to my home in Wishburn."
"Today?" Howard asked, looking surprised.
"Tomorrow," Heero replied. "After Relena and Wu Fei have rested from yesterday's long journey. My family will be anxious to meet and welcome him to his new home."
Duo looked to Heero with confusion written upon his face. "Aren't we going to live here with the other riders?"
"Because of your new title as Prince of Amulah, I suppose that decision will ultimately depend on King Vourdan," the messy haired rider replied. "But my father is also a king, though a minor one. I will one day succeed him in ruling Wishburn, our small part of eastern Amulah. As my mate, you will be my royal prince consort, just as I am now yours. If you'd really rather, we can live here until the time comes for me to take my father's place at the unfortunate event of his death. At that time I must return to my home to take up my duties there."
At this bit of news, Duo's mouth opened and closed several times. He didn't know what to say about this latest revelation. A deep chuckle turned both young riders' attention to Howard. With an amused grin he said, "An auspicious rise in status from being a dark cloud, don't you think? Duo, formally of Ha'ber, is now a prince twice over."
"You're not a dark cloud," Heero said quietly to his mate and pulled Duo to his side, sheltering him under his arm. "You never were. Will you come with me to Wishburn and meet your new family?"
Duo had so many questions begging to be asked but he couldn't seem to settle on which one to begin with. It seemed that he had much to learn about his mate. Yet as Heero looked into his eyes, with love and hope shining in those wondrous blue orbs, he knew he'd go anywhere and do anything Heero wanted him to. He'd never known what love was, other than the faded memory of his mother, but the overwhelming and warm emotions welling inside him, coupled with the strong desire to remain by Heero's side for always, wanting nothing but happiness for his mate, could only be labeled as love. He suddenly wanted to tell Heero how he felt, yet he held back only because the three older men were watching them. He conveyed his newfound love for his mate in another way. "I'll go anywhere you want, Heero, just as long as you're by my side." Duo heard Heero's breath catch and his eyes widen, then he was crushed to his mate's chest.
"I'll clear your journey with His Highness," Jan said, clamping a hand on Howard's shoulder in a silent gesture that it was time to withdraw from the room. "Take until the new moon before you return to your training, and expect to be presented to the king at that time."
"Be well," Garron said, his eyes shining with happiness.
"Safe journey," Howard said sincerely. "I hope that when you return we can sit and talk, Duo, and become friends once again. That is, if you're willing."
Duo looked to the man he'd trusted and looked to as a friend and mentor. He could see sadness and hope lingering in his eyes. "I think when I return that I will be ready to put the past behind us, Howard. You're my uncle, right? Please, be here when I come back."
A true smile lit the older man's face. "Yes, I'll be here, Duo." With that said, the three men began to retreat from the room, and as Howard turned to close the door behind him, Duo could see he was still wearing his smile. His former mentor paused for just a moment to peer around the edge of the door to give them both a playful wink, then shut the it silently behind him.
Heero sighed. Even though his mind was spinning with all that had been revealed during the last conversation, he had a feeling that everything would work out, given time. Duo was going home with him and he had no doubt that his parents would adore him. It had hurt his heart to hear Duo's anguish when he heard Howard's confession. Though he'd known something of his mate's past, Duo's description of his younger years in Ha'ber had horrified him. "I'll make a good life for us, Duo, and I'll give you everything you desire," he promised his mate.
The braided head on his shoulder leaned back in order for Duo to look at his mate's face as he replied, "I don't need things, Heero," he said sincerely, searching the handsome face so close to his own. "I just need someone to want and need me. Someone to be a constant in my life that I can trust. Someone I can love without fear of being lied to or left behind. All I need, other than Wu Fei, is you."
Tenderly caressing the braided youth's cheek, Heero whispered, "I do love you , Duo, and I promise to be all that you need."
A smile grew on Duo's lips. "You'll live up to that promise," he stated with confidence, his sense of rightness telling him his mate's vow was both honest and true.
Heero chuckled as his fingers brushed back some of the long strands of hair hanging over his mate's eyes. "Tell me how you know this?"
Duo tilted his head, wondering how to explain the feeling of rightness that he felt. "I think it's a gift from bonding with Wu Fei. I just... know," he answered. Then with a quirky grin he added, "Though I kind of realized your depth of feelings for me when you came all the way to Cordith to become my mate. I don't think you'd do that if you only liked me a little."
"You're right," Heero replied, stealing a quick kiss from the tempting lips. "Several times after we discovered you'd been taken, I tried to come for you. I was determined not to leave you there because I'd already fallen in love with you."
Duo brought his hands up to frame Heero's handsome face, finding only love and acceptance in the eyes gazing back. "I love you too, Heero."
Their smiles disappeared beneath the tender kiss that promised a lifetime of similar touches, of gentle proclamations of love and so much more.
The distinctive flapping sounds of large wings outside the door to their lair was heard, signaling the return of the black and blue dragons. Wu Fei and Relena settled together on their bed of straw, their necks entwined, content to rest a short while after sharing a large meal before taking to the air once more, the need to mate growing stronger now that they had food in their bellies. Meanwhile, their riders lay upon their own bed, clothing loosened and limbs gently entwined, faces only a breath apart as they spoke endearing words in soft whispers. For the moment all else was forgotten, the past as well as the bright future that lay before them, their contentment and growing passion for each other matching and possibly even surpassing that of their happy dragons.
All across Amulah and many years and generations, tales would be told and songs sung of the dark cloud of Ha'ber. Bards and minstrels would tell of the lowly boy, a dark cloud to his village who became the rider of the black dragon, of his being stolen from the legendary Halls of Dornan by the north, rescued and mated within the same hour, of his learning that he was a prince of Amulah and a consort to a most worthy prince of the eastern kingdom of Wishburn. Yet those tales and songs would not attribute his rise from a dark cloud to those circumstances alone, but principally to the love he'd shared with his mate, the honored Prince of Wishburn. Theirs was a love worthy of laud, a love that lasted a life time and perhaps even beyond the mortal realm.