by Dyna Dee
With the braided boy's hand firmly clasped in his own, Quatre led him through the castle toward the Prince's chambers. "Come on, Duo. It's not much farther," he said encouragingly, feeling the other boy's nervousness.
"Quatre!" Duo's feet planted, and stopped their progress. "Stop for a moment," he pleaded.
The blonde stopped and turned to the other boy. "There's nothing to be afraid of, Duo," Quatre said soothingly and smiled warmly to ease the other boy's trepidation. "Heero just wants to talk with you, become better acquainted."
"Why?" Duo not only felt scared, but he looked it. "Why would he want to know me? I'm a peasant, a nobody."
"I was also a peasant," Quatre replied unashamed. "A shepherd, to be exact, when Heero found me in the fields." Duo's eyes lit with curiosity, so the blonde continued. "He told me he had a feeling, a connection with me from within his heart that I was to be one of his Four, a life long companion. Trowa," he went on, "was a performer with a traveling show. Only Wufei has any royal background, and he's from a far-off land."
"A connection?" Duo's eyebrows arched in question.
Quatre nodded. "I can't explain it, though I, too, feel things with my heart, people's emotions. I was born that way, and I guess Heero was too. It seems all the royals recognize this connection with those who should be their Four Guardians. Have you ever heard of the Four?"
Duo nodded. "Master Rem told me this morning that the Four are bonded life companions to the King. That only those of royal blood are capable of bonding his chosen Four to them."
Quatre nodded. "Heero has begun the process of finding and bonding to his chosen Four, and as of yesterday, he has only the three of us."
Duo's eyes widened. "I felt something in me when I met him last evening. Is that a connection? D...d...does he feel that w...w...way about me? A connection?" The braided boy's voice hitched as he spoke.
Quatre shrugged one shoulder. "I can't speak for Heero, but I know you affect him in a way I've never sensed from him before."
The large violet-blue eyes blinked, as the boy tried to comprehend what the other was saying to him.
Quatre smiled at the endearing look of confusion on the cherubic face. He reached out his hand and ruffled the long brown bangs. "Just give us a chance, Duo," he chuckled, then took up the other's hand to once again lead the singer to the Prince's chambers. He looked back as they walked. "We're all really quite likeable, given the opportunity," he added with a smile.
Unannounced the two entered the antechamber of the Prince's rooms, and the singer was once again taken aback, but this time by what he observed. On the floor, in front of the hearth, were the three boys he had met the night before. The dark haired boy who lent him the vest he was presently wearing, sat with his back leaning against the seat of a chair, a scroll in his hands. Sitting directly in front of him and leaning against his chest was Prince Heero. The third boy, who was the tallest of them all, lay on the rug perpendicular to them with his head resting on the Prince's lap. Heero was absentmindedly running his fingers through the boy's reddish brown hair. At their entrance, Wufei stopped his reading and the other two turned their heads to welcome them. It took a little maneuvering, but the three managed to gain their feet to approach the two arrivals.
As Heero drew closer, he smiled at the bard's apprentice. Duo realized he had forgotten to breathe and he could feel a heat building in his body that he was unaccustomed to. He quickly bowed to the prince, grateful to take his eyes off the source of his breathless nervousness.
"Welcome, Duo." The prince greeted him enthusiastically. "Come, sit with me," he entreated him, taking the singer's hand from Quatre and turned to lead him back to the settee by the hearth.
After sitting, the Prince once again looked into the other boy's eyes with a smile. "Did you sleep well?" He asked.
Duo blinked, distantly aware the question was being directed to him, but he couldn't take his eyes or thoughts from the dark haired boy in front of him. He forced himself to nod.
"I'm glad," the prince replied, and the soft tone of his voice and gentle gaze seemed to melt the braided boy's insides.
Heero looked up to see Quatre behind Duo's back gesturing his hands to get his attention. The small blond's face was beaming, his head nodded towards Duo's and pressed his hands against his heart. Heero gratefully nodded and turned back to the boy in front of him.
"Would you sing for me, Duo?" he asked.
The singer came back to his full senses. 'A song?' he thought to himself. He could to that, he reasoned with himself.
"I... I'll sing you the first song Master Rem taught me," he replied, then stood, taking a few steps away from the other boys. He turned and positioned himself as his master had taught; his back straight, legs slightly apart, and his head face forward. Taking a deep breath, he began the sweet, lilting lullaby that would always be his favorite song.
Three short songs later, Duo bowed to the small but very appreciative audience. He began to feel much more at ease than when he had first entered the room.
Quatre approached him with a goblet of wine and he gratefully sipped at it, happy to have something occupying his nervous hands.
"Tell me of your life, Duo," the prince asked as he waved off the goblet Trowa was offering him.
"There's not much to tell." The singer replied with a shrug. But as Heero led him back to his seat, the silence of the other four boys in the room signaled that he would have to continue. "Well," he began as he tried to order his thoughts. "I was orphaned around my fourth year." He looked up through his long bangs to see the others waiting for him to continue. "I don't remember much about my parents before they died, just my mother's long braid."
He pulled his own braided mass forward and held onto it, something he always did when he was nervous, distraught, or scared. Right now he was just plain nervous. Why do these people want to know about me anyway? he thought to himself before he continued.
"I was taken in by the local tavern keeper and his wife, Horace and Gert." He stopped to chuckle then looked at Heero. "I privately called them Horse and Big Girth, because it pretty much described their appearances." The other's smiled at this. "My life there was...difficult," he went on. "I can't say they were cruel," Duo looked up to make a point with his next statement, "but I can't say they were kind either. Girth saw that I had enough food, clothing, a bed of clean straw by the kitchen hearth and a warm blanket. Horse made sure I had more work and beatings than a child should have to bear." He paused to calm the bitterness he felt well up inside him. Feelings such as those always made him feel ill inside.
"The best thing there was their daughter, Irea. She was older than I by five years and is the only person I can remember showing me..." He paused to think of an apt description. His amazing blue-violet eyes lit up as it came to him. "Affection and comfort. She would hold and rock me after a beating, or if I was ill." His face saddened a bit. "They married her off at 15 to a man in another village. I didn't see her after that."
With a sigh, he looked around at the faces of the others he'd just told his sorry tale to. What he found were expressions of sadness and pity. "Told you there wasn't much to tell." He murmured as he stared down into his goblet of wine.
"Duo." Heero's hands reached out and gently took the goblet from his hands and passed it to Quatre. He then clasped both of the singer's cold, delicate hands between his. "I would like you to consider staying here at Bronwyn Castle," he said gently. "I know you're devoted to Master Rem, but if he agrees, and if you feel any affection for me, I would like you to be my Fourth, for I feel," he raised Duo's encased hands to his chest, "that you are my Heart."
As the Prince made his request, the color rose in Duo's cheeks. Whether it was from the words and touch of the handsome prince, or the embarrassment of such words spoken in front of the others, he didn't know.
"I... I know very little of the ways of a royal court, your highness, and I'm not clear on what the Four are or what they do." His forehead wrinkled in thought. "I have no skills to be worthy of such an honor." Then his eyes widened. "You don't even know me," he said in amazed bewilderment.
Heero nodded and gently squeezed his hands, still held in place on his chest, over his heart. "I know what I feel in here." He answered quietly but with confidence. "And I know that you are the final piece that will make me complete, along with my other three. They need you as well."
Startled by the prince's words, Duo turned his head to look upon the other three boys to see they all wore the same expression of hope on their faces. "Do you really want me?" he asked them, still disbelieving as the three nodded their heads. "B...but I...I don't always behave properly. I find humor in almost everything, and laugh at inappropriate times." He began to list his faults. "Mischief follows me around like a shadow, part of the reason for my frequent beatings. And I...I..." he began to stammer as he tried to speak faster to give them the reasons they would regret asking him to stay.
"Duo." Heero's voice stopped his self-deprecating thoughts immediately and he tilted his head to the side questioningly.
"No one expects you to be perfect." Heero continued with a crooked smile. He was enjoying the braided boy's speech, and the appealing movements of his face and head. Beautiful and charming were the words that came to the prince's mind as he observed the boy. "There will be some rules you will need to live by, some common courtesies to observe." He warned the braided boy. "But I promise you," the prince's features and voice became serious. "No one will ever beat you again. You will be safe here with us, and we will never reject you. We will be your home and your family."
Duo swallowed hard to hold back the unexpected swell of emotion that threatened to escape his throat at the prince's words. Never in his life could he remember anyone saying such words of hope to him. A promise of a better tomorrow, of a future. A traitorous tear escaped from the corner of his right eye and slid down his smooth, perfect cheek. He couldn't talk for fear of losing his composure completely.
Quatre, sensing his emotional state, placed a hand on Heero's shoulder. "He's a bit overwhelmed, Heero. Maybe we should give him some time to consider your offer." He suggested.
Heero nodded at the small blonde's suggestion. He knew Quatre's senses were rarely ever wrong, and he'd learn to trust him implicitly. He reached his hand out to Duo's smooth cheek and captured the teardrop as it slid down towards his jaw. "I'd like you to stay here with Quatre and Trowa," he said quietly to the emotional boy. "I need to meet with someone. Will you wait here for my return?"
Duo nodded, his eyes wide and watery.
The prince smiled, and squeezed the boy's hand reassuringly and stood. Shadowed by Wufei, he quickly left the chamber.
Duo turned his eyes to the other two who drew closer to him now that the prince had gone. Trowa sat in the place Heero vacated, and Quatre sat on the thick rug at his feet. With the heels of his hands, he roughly wiped away the excess and embarrassing moisture from his eyes and took a deep breath. Looking up into Trowa's green eyes he finally managed to speak. "Tell me of the Four," he said.
Heero returned shortly after his meeting with Master Rem. The bard was delighted, though somewhat sorrowful, that the Prince wanted his apprentice as his Fourth. The master singer agreed to a sum of gold to compensate him for his loss, and accepted it with a wistful sigh.
"I have come to be overly fond of the boy." He told the prince and his First. "And though the gold is always welcome, it is not as important as his happiness." He looked up with concern clouding his eyes. "If he chooses not to stay, I will return your gold and happily take him with me," he stated, then smiled warmly at the prince. "But I hope he will stay. I believe his happiness and safety will be better achieved in your hands than in mine."
With a sure and steady look in his eye, the prince answered the bard. "I want him to stay, more than I've ever wanted anything before," said Heero, then shook his head in confusion. "I can't explain it, but I believe my own happiness lies with him. He is destined to be my Heart," he said with determination. "In fact, I think he already is," he added softly.
Master Rem made bold as he moved closer to the prince and took a firm hold of his arm. "Then I hope for your sake that he chooses to stay."
Wufei opened the outer chamber door to find only Trowa, casually holding Quatre in his arms. Heero, at his side, glanced about the room. "Where...?"
"He's in your chamber." Trowa answered. "He asked, and we told him what we could about the Four. He just wanted some time alone to think."
The prince moved to the double doors that led to his sleeping chamber and quietly opening them and entered the room. He found the braided boy curled up in the middle of his bed, the bedcovers pulled up around him to ease the ever present chill of the castle. Cautiously, he approached the bed.
He paused a moment, taking in the delicate features of the boy. Duo's eyes were closed and his face peaceful in sleep. His long black lashes lay gently against his pale skin. Gazing down at the braided singer, Heero's heart seemed to constrict and beat faster at the same time. Never had he felt such an overwhelming feeling of emotion for anyone before. He sat on the edge of his bed and reached out to brush the long, stray strands of hair from Duo's eyes.
"Duo." He called out gently.
The sleeping boy's eyes blinked open and slowly focused on the Bronwyn Prince's face. He smiled but remained silent.
"I've just come from Master Rem." Heero began, aware that his other Three were behind him in the doorway listening. "He is very fond of you and somewhat reluctant to part company with you. But he believes your best interest would be here with me. I can give you a home, family, and see that you have those things you desire. But most of all..." he paused, almost fearful to say the words to express his own feelings, "I can offer you companionship and love. You are my Heart, Duo," he said reverently. "I never expected to feel so deeply for another on such short acquaintance. Please," his hand cupped the boy's rounded cheek, his voice was softly imploring. "Please say you'll stay."
Duo sat up, bringing himself closer to the prince. "I don't have a need for many things," he answered shyly. "But I've always wanted a home... a family... and most of all to love and be loved. To have someone who really cared about me." He looked up through his long bangs. "Could you really love a nobody like me?" he asked, his voice tentative and a glimmer of hope shone in his eyes.
The Prince of Bronwyn reached forward and pulled the slight boy into his arm and against his chest. "I think I love you already," he whispered into his ear.
The emotions that the braided boy fought to keep into check earlier suddenly burst through. His body shook as he silently cried on the shoulder of the prince who continued to hold him close and stroked his back comfortingly.
"Will you stay?" Heero asked then held his breath.
"Yes," Duo answered in a whisper as he nodded his head against the other boy's chest. A moment later he felt more arms surrounding him, and looking up and through his tears, he saw the other three had joined them and embraced each other as a group. He felt a sense of belonging and peace that he had never felt before in his young life. A feeling of rightness. And, if the prince could be believed, he would know those feelings for the rest of his life.
That evening, as the meal was being served to the much smaller, more intimate family group that had lingered on after the celebration the night before, the Prince stood before them to make an announcement. "I've chosen Duo as my Fourth, my Heart," he said with a smile on his face.
"Uncle, I protest!" Treize shouted as he shot to his feet, his face red with anger, his body rigid with righteous indignation. "I was interested in the boy as a replacement for my recently deceased Fourth." His voice was loud in declaration and he raised his hand, pointing his finger at accusingly at the King's heir. "Yet Heero has monopolized the singer since he performed last night. I sent Une to inquire of Master Rem, only to have my cousin out maneuver me. I say my suit takes precedence to his. I'm older and need a Fourth. I believe the boy should be mine!" He demanded firmly, obviously completely assured of the rightness of his claims.
Duo had been sitting in the traditional Fourth's place, next the Quatre, the Prince's Third. The blond reached out during Treize's shouts of complaint and placed his hand over the other boy's whose hand was trembling and his eyes were wide with alarm. Quatre knew what his new friend was feeling, not only because of his special talent, but because he remembered only too well his meeting Treize the first time and being also frightened by his temper.
"This is the second boy he's taken from me," Treize continued on. "And I insist he be turned over to me."
The king seemed calm in his appearance, but his hands gripped the arms of his chair at the actions of his nephew. Yet in fairness, he turned calmly to question his son. "Is any of this true, Heero?" he asked.
"No, father." Heero stood to address the King formally. "I did, indeed, find Quatre on his lands, but Treize had his Four already, and I knew the little shepherd was to be one of my Four. The same is true with Duo." Heero turned his head to give the braided boy staring worriedly at him a reassuring smile. He continued. "I could see that Treize was taken with him, but I knew," he placed his hand on his heart knowing all assembled would know he "felt" a connection with the singer, "that he was my Heart. I talked with him, and asked him. He has freely agreed to be my Fourth. I did everything properly and with decorum."
"If I had been given a chance to meet with him," Treize interrupted, "I'm sure he would have agreed to be my Fourth, but I was never given the chance."
The king raised his hand to silence his nephew. He hated these open, public arguments his nephew always seem to initiate and enjoy, it bought back harsh memories of his brother, and he knew he often gave into Treize to make up for the fact that his father had been banished from the court and exiled to the north for treason against the King. His eyes turned to the timid looking boy sitting near the end of Heero's table. "Duo." He called out to the boy gently, seeing he was already shaken by Treize's vehemence. "Given a choice, would you choose to be part of Heero's Four, his Heart, or of Treize's Four, his Ears?"
"Stand up to address the King." Quatre whispered urgently to the startled boy, yet held tightly to his hand as Duo struggled to rise on wobbly knees. His eyes strayed from the king to his son, and the words and feelings the prince had spoken that morning were still clear in his mind.
"I choose Prince Heero," he replied with a shaky smile to the prince. Heero gave him a relieved smile in return, and the matter was closed by the King's final word on the matter.
Two days later, the Bard departed from the castle. Out in the open courtyard, he held the clinging boy that had been his apprentice in his arms as he bid him farewell.
"Will I ever see you again?" The boy sniffed against his bard's cloak.
"Yes, of course." The older man smiled indulgently as he ruffled the boy's long bangs. "Tis the end of summer, and I'll be back midwinter to check on you," said the bard to reassure the boy even as he pushed him away from his chest so he could look in earnest at the young man's face. "If you find, by that time, that you no longer desire to stay here, I'll gladly take you away with me when I leave."
Duo nodded, grateful that Master Rem cared that much about him. "Thank you for everything," he said in a whispered voice and flung himself once again against the Bard's chest for a quick, fierce hug. Then, just a quickly, the boy released him and ran off towards the entrance of the castle. The older man could see the Prince's Second and Third waiting for the boy at a discreet distance within the shadows of the castle entry. The small blonde embraced Duo briefly as he reached them, and the two boy's led his former apprentice away.
With a deep sigh, the musician hefted his pack over his shoulder with a slight grunt. "I'm going to miss that boy," he mused sadly as he began his journey, alone once more.