by Dyna Dee
As the days passed, the five fell back into their daily pattern as Duo healed from his unfortunate incident with the men by the pond. Who they were and why they attacked the two teens remained a mystery. Most of the castle's occupants speculated they were just desperate wanderers who spied something tempting and went after it Whatever the reason, it was silenced forever by Wufei and Jens. The Prince's Heart excelled in his studies with Wufei. He and Quatre were soon at the same level of reading and writing. Numbers seemed to come easier to the blonde, and Duo was enthralled by letters and words.
During this time, Duo heeded Wufei's earlier advice, watching Heero with the other three, trying to understand. He recognized that they were all very affectionate in private quarters. But in public, they were more circumspect. It seemed to him that Wufei or Trowa always seemed to be by the Prince's side. Yet he noted the special attention that was given to Trowa. He knew it was because the bonding was being strengthened. He still didn't understand it, the bonding that is, but he observed times when Trowa or Wufei would suddenly sit up and appear to be listening, then excuse themselves from whatever they were doing. There were also times when they would suddenly appear, relaying the Prince's message, summons, or just checking on his whereabouts. That had happened a lot recently, he realized, and not without good reason. It had become apparent to everyone in the castle that the new addition to the Prince's Four had a propensity for getting into mischief.
The first week he was allowed out of the castle, his bruises no longer marring his pale skin, Duo ran out into the courtyard and took a deep breath of fresh air, relishing his freedom and the feel of the sun on his face and the light breeze on his skin. On his third day of freedom, Netta invited him to help her catch one of the pigs in the pen that was to be taken to Janra, the grounds keeper, for slaughter. She told him it was a vexing job to do alone, but fun with two people chasing after the little swine.
It did turn out to be a playful romp that ended, not only having both the boy and girl covered in mud, but with the large number of penned up pigs managing to escape their confinement as the two teens struggled with their slippery catch at the open gate to the pen. Netta ran ahead of the squealing mass of crazed creatures, agitated from having the two of them chasing them wildly around the muddy area. She squealed herself as she ran for the safety of the castle door. The timorous, wiggly creature Duo struggled to hold in his arms, slipped from his muddy embrace and quickly followed after his fellows with the boy taking up the chase yelling at the pigs to stop and for Netta to close the door. Now frenzied, the pigs followed the girl into the castle hallways, the boy's yelling pushed them further and further into the castle dwelling.
The cooks and housekeepers were, to say the least, greatly displeased with the two very apologetic and contrite young people. Duo was hauled bodily, that is with a painful pinch on his ear, by a furious Housekeeper up to Prince Heero's chambers. The four boy's in the ante room blinked incredulously at the muddied apparition before them as the red faced woman, her hand still grasping his pained ear, stuttered in anger as she related the misdeeds of Heero's Fourth. As the woman went on and on, the four all seemed entranced at the large clumps of dark brown mud covering Duo's body, and how, at regular intervals, they dropped in splattering clumps onto the stone floor.
That incident was followed a week later by the stored apples fiasco. And following shortly after that, the wine incident, the laundry disaster, the bread dough debacle, only to be topped off the next week when Duo, balancing on the top edge of the high castle wall, slipped, and ended up hanging momentarily from the ledge by his fingertips until a hovering and shaken castle guard pulled him up. The braided bundle of curiosity inadvertently unraveled the Queen's favorite shawl, tripped the King and accidently spilled the King's own cup of wine into his royal lap. He got his hair caught on Uncle Rolf's clasp on his cloak, and then roused the whole castle with his screams of protest as the King's Hands reached for his knife to free the hair from his cloak, which was still on his person. He accidently set his bedding on fire, and the worst offense of all was when he used Wufei's sword to chop kindling in his room. Almost from the moment the fey boy came into their lives, life at Castle Bronwyn was never the same.
After enjoying an early afternoon ride through the lush green hills behind the castle with three of his Four, the prince was surprised, on their return to the stable, to be greeted warmly by his father who asked him if they could chat in his chambers.
Heero dismissed his three and sent them to find Duo who had earlier announced he would go for a walk during their ride. Two castle guards were assigned to dog the boy's steps after the mishaps over the last few weeks. The prince chuckled to himself thinking the guards were probably in need of a break by now.
With his father's arm affectionately draped across his shoulders, they made their way to the royal chambers, passing each of his father's Four as the navigated the twists and turns of the corridors. Uncle Jens winked happily at both the father and son as they passed him by. Along the way they chatted amiably about inconsequential things until the reached the Kings rooms and the door was shut behind them.
Heero flopped in an unprincely-like fashion into a large padded armchair and sighed deeply. "Is there something in particular you wished to talk to me about, Father?" he asked casually, but his left eyebrow raised suspiciously.
"As a matter of fact," the King smiled warmly at him. "there is." He paused for a moment as the both of them unfastened the clasp of their cloaks, yet left them on as the fire in the hearth was low, and the room's chill was still present. The King relaxed back into his chair. "I was just wondering how you're doing. How are the Four and your Fourth doing?"
Heero's left eyebrow raised higher, realizing what his father was after. Feeling a bit irritated with the topic he knew was coming, he answered shortly. "Everything is fine, Father. So are the Four."
"And the Fourth?"
"He's fine." he stated simply but firmly.
As his father sat back in his chair, calmly folding his hands in his lap, clearly unfazed by his sons brusque manner, Heero's brows drew together in thought. "Well, at least I think he's fine.....I hope." his voice trailed off in a tone of worry.
The King's smile couldn't seem to be tempered. "He does seem to keep company with trouble, doesn't he?" he chuckled, his eyes displaying his good humor.
Heero relaxed somewhat now that the mood seemed to lighten. "He doesn't mean to cause problems or get into trouble." He rushed to explain. "He's just so.....lively and inquisitive."
"So I've heard." The King's smile grew at a new thought. "At least we know the horses are safe."
Heero returned the smile for a moment and then sighed as he looked at his father. He realized once again, how much he didn't resemble his father. The King was much taller, with golden brown hair. He was handsome in a regal and aristocratic way. He and his twin brother, Dallin, born ten minutes after him, were identical in appearance, though quite different in their temperaments. His cousin, Treize, looked more like his father than he did. Heero resembled his mother. Her ancestors had come from a far off kingdom and he had inherited her darker skin and hair, though his blue eyes were definitely from his father. Heero also lamented that he was smaller in stature than his sire, the top of his head only reached to his father's chin.
He realized suddenly that his father had spoken to him and he'd not been listening. "I'm sorry?" he apologized.
"I asked if you punished the boy for his mischief or have found a way to any deter future mishaps." the king replied, repeating himself calmly.
Heero drew a hesitant hand through his shock of hair.
"Well?" the King prompted.
Heero looked apologetically at his father. "I haven't." he answered
"You haven't found the right punishment?"" the King tried to clarify.
"I haven't punished him." the prince corrected.
His father sat back again into his chair and waited for his son to continue.
"As I said before," Heero began. "he doesn't purposely set out to get into mischief. Then, when he is brought before me, he stands looking so uncertain of his place here and that my love and affection will be withdrawn." Heero looked up with a look of helplessness. "Then he gazes at me with those incredible eyes....., eyes I could get lost in, and so pitifully contrite. I never have the heart to even scold him. He's so innocent and dear to me that it's all I can do to keep my hands off of him, claiming him as mine to reassure him."
Though his son looked confused by the wash of feelings for his Heart, the king smiled wistfully at him. "I understand well, son." he replied, his voice soft and smooth. "He sounds very much like Jens around that age. His red hair seemed to be a beacon for misdeeds...though not quite as frequently as your Heart, nor was he as innocent." The King paused as his mind and chuckled. "He was quite a handful then." he reflected on his memories of his Heart who was a full five years younger then he and the other Three, not too much had changed in Jens' appearance from the man he now was, except that he had mellowed and was tamed by his love and devotion to his King and the Four. "But I too, could not discipline him." he continued, coming out of his reverie. "I just tried to impress on him his duty not to cause work or trouble to those who had enough to do already." He signed again. "He was so tightly wrapped around my heart that I could not say nay to him in anything. I still can't."
Heero watched as a soft glow of love reflected in the older man's eyes. The same look the prince had seen many times in his uncle Jens' eyes when he looked at his father. The king blinked from his train of thought and came back to the subject at hand.
"I know the pull to the boy is a strong one for you, Heero." he began again, taking on a more serious tone. "But you must bond with Quatre first, as he is your Third. Do not cheat him of your affection nor his proper rights in bonding because you have found your heart's desire. They are all your devoted servants and friends, and they deserve equally to have your devotion and attention until they choose how they will live beside you."
Heero nodded his understanding. "I know, and it's just as well. Duo is not ready for that aspect of our lives yet." He looked into his father's eyes. "He really is quite naive and innocent, and he's confused by our affection. He accepts it, but never initiates it, not with any of us."
The king nodded. "Then it's well he will have time to observe and learn. Perhaps the other three can help to teach him to be more comfortable. Do they seem to like the boy?" he asked.
"Yes," Heero replied. "They seem to be genuinely affectionate and fond of him. He can be quite endearing." he added.
"Then if you feel comfortable with it, they might be able to introduce him to a little more personal, physical contact. But remind them of their limits. He is yours." the King's tone was serious. "It is only with your permission when and how they touch him."
Heero nodded thoughtfully, considering his father's words.
"The bonding goes well with Trowa?" the King changed the subject.
"Yes, it's as strong now as it is with Wufei." he replied with a measure satisfaction.
"No." Heero reported happily.
"And Quatre?" the King venture on. "Does he understand the bonding? Does he look forward to it?"
Heero chuckled as he answered. "Yes, he understands well. My little blond one is anxiously biding his time. He is well aware of what the intimacy of the bonding means. Must be all the years spent watching a herd of sheep." the prince chuckled. "I fear I will have to have him peeled off of me."
The King likewise chuckled. "He'll be a good predecessor for Duo to observe." he reasoned.
Their conversation was stopped abruptly by a frantic rapping on the door.
"Enter." the King called out.
The boy they had moments ago been speaking about popped his blonde head into the open door. He was breathless and his eyes were wide in panic. Heero was becoming accustomed to this expression over the weeks.
"Heero, come quickly." Quatre gasped. "D.. Duo ran into a family of skunks."
The prince buried his head into his hands as the King rudely broke into a raucous laugh.