by Dyna Dee
Duo was on his best behavior the first week of his stay in Bronwyn Castle. Deep inside he was fearful that when the Prince and the other three really got to know how ordinary he was, they would send him away. He knew Quatre sensed his fear, but gratefully the small blonde never asked about it, only silently reassuring him with a spontaneous hug, a squeeze of his hand, and a warm smile of reassurance.
His first week was also a busy one as Heero and Trowa prepared for their journey north for the bonding to take place. The newest member of the Four was disappointed to learn the two would go with only the King's Hand as protection, to stay at a cottage for a weeks duration.
"Why do they have to leave?" Duo pouted as he sat with Wufei waiting in the prince's ante chamber for the other three.
"They need to be alone to bond." Wufei explained patiently.
Wufei sighed as he turned to the braided hair boy. Duo was very inquisitive, but sometimes he asked questions to things that were not to be openly discussed.
"The bonding is a very personal experience." The black eyed boy explained. "Trowa and Heero have been preparing mentally and physically for this time for months now. They need no distraction. Once the bonding has begun, they will need time to adjust to each other."
Duo's face drew together in a disconcerted way. "I still don't understand. What is the bonding? How is it done? Why is it done? Why can't we all do it together instead of one at a time?"
Wufei's face showed his exasperation with all the questions until the last one was spoken, then a sly smile crept into his face before it turned serious again.
"Duo." he put his hands on the other's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "I cannot answer all of your questions. Few people know what the bonding is. I am not allowed to talk freely about it. I can tell you it is an intimate experience between two people. It will bring you closer to Prince Heero than you can possibly imagine now. But don't worry." he allowed a small smile to reassure the frowning boy before him. "Heero will prepare you for it. That is why he will spend several months before hand with you. After the bonding, you will have several more months to strengthen the bond."
Duo still bore an unsatisfied look.
"You'll understand more as time goes by." Wufei reassured him. "You'll observe Heero and Trowa strengthing their bond, and then Quatre will begin his time of preparation for his bonding."
Duo bit his inner cheek thoughtfully, then looked up at the black haired boy. From the look on Wufei's face, he knew he was not going to get anymore from the usually quiet boy. He had gotten more answers from him, though, than anyone else had offered to his endless questioning. He nodded his head, signaling to the older boy that he understood at least part of what he said and that it was enough for now. The Prince's First released his shoulders and stepped back and returned to sharpening his large sword.
The next morning, Duo slowly woke to the sound of a persistent knock on his door. His sleeping chamber was grouped with the others, situated near the Prince's rooms, though much smaller than Heero's chambers, and the bed half the size. Still, Duo thought it luxurious, and wonderful, and unbelievably his. The bed itself, was high off the ground and the mattress thick and soft. The coverlets and many pillows only added to the comfort when he lay down on it. A thick rug lay in front of his bed and one in front of the small hearth that keep the chill at bay that always prevailed in the stone structure. At the end of his bed lay a large chest for clothing which daily had been added to as items of clothing were sewn by the castle's seamstresses. As he had in previous days, Duo woke up feeling warm, safe, and very much cosseted.
"Come in." he answered the knock sleepily, brushing his hair out of his eyes while staying almost completely hidden within his blanket's warmth.
Trowa entered his room fully dressed for the day. "Duo!" his voice had a hint of scolding to it. "Why aren't you dressed? Heero and I leave after breakfast. Don't you want to be there at our leaving?" he asked.
Reluctantly the braided boy inched out from his warm cocoon. "Do you really have to go Trowa?" his question sounded more like pleading. "I'll miss you and Heero, you know."
The taller boy smiled fondly as he followed the smaller boy to his ornate clothing chest. "We'll miss you, too, Duo." he answered. "But, yes, I have to go....and more importantly, I want to go. I've looked forward to this day for a long time."
Duo pulled out some fresh clothing and turned to see the other boy's face soften as he spoke. He wondered at the look as he placed the clothes on his bed.
"Off." Trowa motioned to the nightshirt he wore. Duo's shyness, though endearing, was slowly easing as nearly every morning one of them had to wake him up and help him dress in order to have their morning meal together. They were now all aware that Duo was a very reluctant riser.
In a short while they exited Duo's room, the braided boy dressed to Trowa's satisfaction. He clasped Duo's hand in his and led him to the dinning hall where they joined the other three.
The Prince's Heart ate his meal as Heero outlined the schedule for the three remaining behind for the upcoming week. Duo was to be included in the lessons Wufei was giving Quatre on his letters and numbers. The First was charged with their care and safety. He would also spend time each day teaching the two smaller and slightly younger boys how to defend themselves with a sword and knife. They were instructed to stay within the confines of the castle's outer walls.
After receiving their instructions for the week, and the prince had formally bid his parents and his father's Four goodbye, the five returned to the Prince's room to collect their cloaks. The time for parting had come. Hero approached Wufei and searched his eyes for a moment before he took the ebony eyed boy's face in his hands and kissed him soundly on the lips. Wufei's arms came up to encircle the prince during the kiss.
Duo's eye's widened in response to the scene playing before him. He slowly stepped backwards.
Heero then move to Quatre, who readily embraced the prince and accepted a slightly less intense kiss, even as Trowa moved to embrace Wufei.
Heero then turned to Duo and was surprised to see he had moved away from the place he had been. Turning his head, the prince saw the boy had backed himself against the wall and was watching them with owlishly-wide eyes. He moved towards him. "Duo, what's wrong?" he asked.
The boy blushed. "I... I... don't know how to do that." he stammered.
"Do what? Say goodbye?" the prince smiled.
"That." Duo replied and pointed to a place behind Heero. The prince turned to that he pointed to Trowa kissing Quatre.
"Have you never been kissed?" Heero asked, surprised the fey boy in front of him had somehow escaped being kissed.
Duo shook his head negatively. "Not like that. Just on the head or cheek by Irea."
"It's easy, though it takes some practice to become proficient." Heero assured him and couldn't help but smile at the innocent look on the boy's face. "Here," he stepped forward and put his hand under Duo's chin lifting his face and tilting his lips upward. "let me show you." The Bronwyn Prince lowered his head and pressed his lips gently to the other's and slowly moved them across the boy's soft but firmly pressed-shut lips. As he finished, he ran his tongue across them and then pulled back. "You taste good, Duo." he said softly as he ran his thumb over the boy's lower lip. The violet eyes looked up in confusion, displaying his complete innocence.
"Come," Heero smiled. "Give me your embrace and then say good bye to Trowa." he commanded gently as his fingers lingered over the boy's soft and blushing cheek.
Duo readily complied, wrapping his arms around the Prince's neck for a quick, firm hug.
The five walked together down to the stables where Rolf, the King's Hand, waited for them. Along side of him stood three massive and restless horses, eager to begin their journey.
"Duo!" Quatre gasped, and it was only Wufei's quick reflexes that prevented the boy from fleeing as the First caught hold of his braid as the turned to flee.
"Lemme go!" Duo yelled frantically as he drew both hands up to hold onto the base of his braid, yet continue to struggle to get away.
Wufei quickly grabbed hold of the frantic boy's shoulders. "What's the matter with you?" he demanded. With some force, he turned the Prince's Heart to face him and then saw what Quatre had sensed. Duo was terrified and desperately struggled to pull away from his grasp.
"What's the matter?" Heero asked, concerned as he came from behind Wufei. Seeing the look of terror on his Heart's face, he moved to take him from Wufei's grasp and held the frightened boy tightly against his chest, his arms wrapped comfortingly around him. "What's made you so fearful?" he asked.
"Th.... th.... those... beasts." he choked out.
Heero glanced around. "Do you mean the horses?" he asked perplexed.
Duo nodded , his eyes wide with fearfulness.
The prince had grown up with the magnificent animals and had ridden them since he could walk. He had to remind himself that those of lower rank in society did not have the same association or privilege with the powerful and majestic animals.
"There's nothing to be fearful of, Duo. They're just animals. Come, I"ll introduce you to my steed, Wing."
He was surprised that his Heart didn't easily acquiesce, but squirmed desperately to break free from his firm hold.
"No, please don't. Please, Heero.... don't make me." he pleaded with a stifled sob.
The Prince of Bronwyn had never seen anyone so fearful of an animal before. Duo's pleading and fear softened his heart.
"Alright, shhhh." he hushed the boy in his arms, gently rubbing his back in soothing circles. "I'll not make you. But I want you to stand behind the gate and watch us mount. The horses are just anxious for a run, but they have been trained well and can be trusted." He explained. "Will you stay?"
"Behind the gate?" Duo asked slowly calming a bit.
"Yes, it's safe behind the gate." Heero answered.
"V... v.. very well." he answered then added, "If Wufei and Quatre stay with me."
Heero slowly released him, silently pleased that in spite of his fear, Duo would compromise to order to adhere to his wishes. With his arm around the slender shoulders, the prince led the boy, whose still fear-filled eyes never left site of the horses who were pawing the ground. Quatre and Wufei followed closely behind and each stood at Duo's side once the said safety zone was reached.
"Remember, Wufei is in charge of you." Heero admonished the two smaller boys who stood with their hands clasped. "Mind what he says."
Both boy's nodded and Heero reached up and touched each of their cheeks with his hands, letting them linger for a moment before he smiled and turned to join Rolf and Trowa. He approached Wing and took his gloves from his belt and then made a show of patting his horse, and accepting an apple from Rolf, fed the treat to the magnificent white steed. He turned and exchanged a glance with Duo who was intensely watching his every move.
"We better go, Your Highness." Rolf said as he handed the leather reins to the prince.
All three mounted at the same time and held their anxious mounts back as they maneuvered them out through the gate. With a final word of farewell, they cantered out of the castle's yard.
A moment of silence passed before they three left behind moved or spoke. Then it was Quatre who spoke first.
"Why are you so fearful of the horses, Duo?"
The braided boy's painful grip on the blonde's hand lessened as the horses left the courtyard, yet his eyes still reflected his fear. Wufei turned to listen to his answer. Duo's violet eyes seemed dazed and distant as his eyes focused on something beyond the two before him. "My parent's were taking me to a festival," his voice was quiet and a bit shaky as he began to explain. "and I remember a sound like thunder that grew louder and didn't stop." He paused for a moment and his eyes widened as the scene he was describing replayed in his head. "My...my mother screamed as the sound grew closer." He swallowed with difficulty. "Large hands picked me up and tossed me forward. I remember falling and rolling around to see the faces of the beasts, their eyes wide, bulging, and mostly white. Their mouths were stretched back, baring their teeth, their nostrils flared. I can still hear the screams of my parents as they were crushed beneath the thundering hooves and wagon of the runaway team. They both lay lifeless and bleeding as I crawled over to them." He turned haunted eyes to Quatre. "I knew they were broken, but I kept crying for them to wake up."
During his tale, Quatre had moved closer for support and now threw his arms around the stricken boy. "Oh, Duo. No wonder." he empathized.
Wufei was not unaffected by Duo's tale. Stepping up to the boys he embraced them both, offering whatever comfort he could to them and thought to himself that this was not an auspicious start to the week ahead.
The two smaller and slightly younger of the Four settled into a routine as the days slowly passed. The three breakfasted in the hall together, followed by Wufei's instructing them in swordsmanship. After a short rest, they began their studies. The Prince's First patiently instructed them in their letters and numbers. During the noonday meal, one of the King's Four came to tell them of the history of Bronwyn and surrounding countries. Master Thad spent time in the afternoon with Quatre as he had similar abilities at being sensitive to other's emotions and he worked with the small blonde to hone his talent. Wufei told Duo that during the time that Quatre was occupied he could choose how he wanted to occupy himself for several hours. He chose to go to the kitchen to help, saying he felt most comfortable there.
Wufei walked him to the kitchen, a place he had rarely visited himself. He was surprised to see the workers turn to greet Duo warmly. The braided boy's face beamed with delight. It was quite evident he had been there before and Wufei wondered if Heero knew about it.
Their routine was set and was to continued for the remainder of the week. A couple of days later found Wufei smiling down from his chamber's window to the court below where his two charges practiced their swordplay with wooden sticks. Heero would be pleased with his report on the week, he thought. Then a bit wistfully he thought of Heero and Trowa. The full moon was four nights ago. The bonding would have been accomplished then, and the strengthening of the bond would continue for another six months. He reflected fondly on his own time of bonding with the Prince and sighed. He needed to be satisfied with the privilege that he had the Prince to himself for a while, something the others would not know. He refused to let jealousy, the great divider, become part of his thoughts. Jealousy would ruin the Four. There was no place for it in Prince Heero's life. He only hoped that the two younger boys could forge a relationship with the Prince of Bronwyn without jealousy seeping in.
Noting that the two in question had gone their separate way, his thoughts turned back to them as he moved about his room. They seemed so young and innocent and he wondered if he himself had looked that way on his arrival to Bronwyn. He knew Quatre, having been raised on a farm with sisters and sheep, had figured out the bonding process and was eagerly awaiting his turn. But Duo was obviously an innocent and completely without a clue. Duo had explained to them one evening that most of his days had been spent in the kitchen of the tavern, only venturing out to serve or help clean the rooms when the customers were gone. He had effectively been shut away from the world, never even being able to associate with other children his age, only Irea, who had been much older. If he did go out where people were to see him, the tavern keeper dirtied him up and put him in rags so no one would pay the boy any mind. Wufei snorted at the thought. The tavern keeper most likely hid the boy's beauty to keep him from lecherous hands. In doing that, he could almost forgive the man his roughness of the boy for that protection, almost.
He let his mind wander as he sorted through some of his scrolls, looking for readings he could show his pupils the next day. Time passed easily as he got caught up in reading several of them, until he heard a frantic cry.
"Wufei!" Quatre's voice called out with a ring of panic to it. As the door to his room had been left open, he grabbed hold of his sword and ran out into the corridor and saw the small blonde running towards him looking panic stricken.
"Come quickly!" The Prince's Third shouted as he snagged his arm as he ran by, pulling him along. "It's Duo."