by Dyna Dee
As ridiculously funny as Duo's latest misadventure sounded, all laughter ended as the royals, the court, and the castle workers gathered at a safe distance from the ill-fragranced boy in the center of the courtyard. He was a pitiful sight to behold. Someone had braved getting near enough to provide him with a wooden bucket, which he leaned heavily on as he sat on the ground next to it. The braided boy, repulsed by the overpowering aromatic scent of several skunks, was dry-heaving into the bucket's wooden mouth. Hearing the prince call his name from a distance, he looked up. Tears were streaming down his cheeks from the exertion from the constant retching.
"I'm sorry, Your Highness." a forlorn looking and slightly ill-fragranced castle guard said as he sided up to the prince. Heero recognized him as one of the two who were in charge of Duo that afternoon. "He ran ahead of us and, as he rounded a bush at the bottom of the hill, he literally ran over a family of skunks." the young guard explained nervously. "He fell when trying to avoid stepping on them, and they sprayed him before he could get to his feet and run. He began emptying his stomach immediately and has been dry-heaving ever since. I'm sorry." he bowed his head humbly in admission of his failure of his duty. "The smell is so strong that we couldn't even get close enough to him to assist him back. He had to crawl up the hill to get into the castle outer walls."
"There wasn't much you could do to prevent this, Cale." The prince said in a way of absolving the guard of his obvious guilt while never taking his eyes off his Fourth. "I'm sure if it wasn't the skunks today it would have been an irrate porcupine, mad hares, or attacking pigeons." he sighed deeply once again at Duo's never ceasing ability to get into some trouble or another. Heero looked to his other three for suggestions.
"We have to get him out of those clothes and into a bath." Trowa volunteered looking just as anxious as they all did at Duo's dilemma.
The prince cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. "Duo, take off your clothes." His nose wrinkled unhappily at the strong smell coming from his Heart.
The unhappy boy lifted his head once again from the bucket and looked with disbelief at the prince. "No," he said adamantly. "No... way am I..... going to.... strip down out...... here." he gasped and began retching again and slumped further down to his side.
"He's about to lose consciousness." Wufei observed, his calm voice belying his concern.
Quatre, who was hanging onto Wufei's cloak looked to the other three. "One of us is going to have to help him undress." he stated determinedly.
"I will." Wufei said as his eyes stayed fixed on the gasping boy clutching weakly to the bucket as it his life depended on it. He reached up to unclasp his cloak when he felt a large hand on his shoulder, stopping his movements.
"I'll do it." said the deep voice of the King's Hand. He took off his own cloak and unsheathed his knife. Then pulling back his lips, he placed it in between his teeth. Most of the castle's population had gathered in the court yard to watch the unfolding drama. With admiration, all eyes watched as the brave man took a deep breath and ran towards the lone and foul smelling boy all but collapsed in the middle of the courtyard.
As his stomach clenched again, Duo put his face into the mostly empty bucket. He'd lost all the contents from that tortured organ on the way back to the castle. He could see from the faces around him that the others didn't know what to do about him, and he was too incapacitated to help himself.
The spasming seemed to ease a bit just as he found himself flung forcefully onto his back. Stunned surprise was reflected on his face for a moment, just before the look of panic took its place upon seeing the King's Hand kneeling over him, one hand grasping the front of his clothing, and the other reaching for the knife in him mouth. Rolf then quickly fisted the knife handle and aimed the sharp blade at his chest.
Duo screamed in reaction, and began to fight for all he was worth, though he knew his smaller frame had no chance of winning against the much larger man. In his panic, he didn't realize he felt no pain as the knife sliced downward from the neck of his blue vest, then ripped through the tunic underneath it. Even in his struggles, he couldn't stop his shirt underneath those articles of clothing from being cut away from his chest and pulled completely off of his body. After his chest was bared, he heard the dull thump as the knife was dropped and realized that the large man's hands were fumbling with the lacing at the front of his pants. With horror-filled eyes he fought harder, realizing that in moments he would be naked in front of the whole castle.
"Please Rolf, NO! I don't want others to see me." he pleaded with a panic cry, his hands furiously trying to fend off the other wrestling with his lacings. It was then he noticed, with a small degree of fascination, that the bearded man's face was turning a decidedly dark shade of red. He was holding his breath, Duo realized. Now the braided knew what to do to keep from being totally disgraced in public. He reached under the large man's arm and put his fingers to work. He tickled him. Rolf's eyes and cheeks bulged and he immediately stood and fled back, out of range of the permeating aroma of skunk.
Weakly, the braided boy raised himself up onto his elbows to see the large bearded man standing near the King, Prince, and their Fours. Rolf was taking in deep gasping breaths.
"Let him help you, Duo." Wufei shouted, his brows furrowed in vexation.
The boy on the ground shook his head, and then his eyes widened in alarm as Rolf looked at him with a gleam of determination in his eyes.
Scrambling back in order to get away, Duo stumbled onto his cut-up and discarded clothing and his body reacted to the horrendous smell as it had moments before, his stomach clenching tightly. That was all the larger man needed. He dove for the preoccupied boy and finished his job unlacing the britches and began to pull them off.
"NO!" Duo screamed horrified, and fought to pull them back up.
Suddenly a cloak was thrown over Rolf's shoulder. The King's Hands looked back to see the tight lipped prince backing up, now cloakless. Without hesitation, he wrapped the cloak around the struggling body below him and with several firm yanks, managed to pull off the offensive pants, socks, and boots. Two thin, white legs immediately pulled up and disappeared into the confines of the cloak as the boy curled up on the ground, completely covered by the Prince's cloak with the exception of the top of his head and his large expressive eyes.
Quickly standing as his face began to redden again, the King's Hands rushed to pick up the offensive clothing and dashed with them a safe distance before dropping them. He then immediately ran further away in order to take in a fresher breath of air. It was then he realized that he, too, had the stink of skunk on him.
With a look of distaste on his face, the large warrior turned and bellowed. "Nelda!" A middle aged and sturdy woman stepped forward. She was the head housekeeper for the castle. "A bath for me and the boy." he ordered, then added. "Make it a hot one......., perfumed."
With a faint, quivering smile on her lips, she bowed in compliance of the request and turned on her heels to accomplish the task.
Satisfied, Rolf turned and walked toward the group of royals and Fours. "You'd think the boy would rather retch all day than divest him self of the offending clothing." he said disgustedly as he approached them, but stopped several feet away knowing he stunk like a skunk.
"Can't say I blame him." the King spoke up in sympathy for the poor boy, then motioned at the group of people around them. "He did manage to attract quite a crowd."
The group around them murmured in agreement, then their eyes strayed back to the lumpy cloak on the ground.
"Thank you for helping him, Uncle Rolf." Heero said sincerely. The large man casually shrugged his acceptance of the prince's gratitude.
Jens, standing next to the King, looked from the boy on the ground to the prince. "What are you going to do with him now?" he asked Heero with a slight smile forming on his face.
Heero frowned. "What indeed?" he sighed heavily.
After spending an entire week in the guest servants' quarters situated well away from the other inhabitants of the castle and enduing quite well the ordered three hot, scented baths a day, the Prince's Heart was welcomed back to Heero's chambers.
Things settled down for a while as autumn turned into a cold harsh winter.
Master Rem returned for a mid-winter festival, whereupon he and Duo were ensconced with each other for hours catching up on each other's lives, renewing their friendship, and singing.
The snow lay thick and heavy on the ground that year making it difficult to enjoy the outdoors. The Prince's Fourth was not the only one having difficulty dealing with the freezing numbness that permeated the inner castle, but he most certainly was the worst at enduring it. He was most frequently seen huddled in front of a blazing hot fire in a hearth, wrapped in the fur-lined cloak the prince had gifted to each of his Four. If Duo braved the frigid corridors at all, it was to run to the warm kitchen where a hot hearth and warm broth were always available.
In early spring, as the Prince's seventeenth birthday approached, the days were decidedly cold and snow still lay on the ground, yet only in large patches. Quatre happily began his pre-bonding time with Heero and was constantly by his side. Being stuck indoors together all day, Duo easily observed the transition from Trowa to the blonde. Heero still gave the taller boy tender touches, hugs, and an occasional kiss, as he did with he and Wufei. But Quatre was a constant at Heero's side, gazing up adoringly at the prince. Duo watched the lingering caresses on the part of both boys, and the blonde's small frame made it easy for him to occasionally curl up on Heero's lap. Yet all this went on only in the privacy of the Prince's rooms. Duo began to understand that any physical touch was not done in public. At times, Trowa and/or Wufei would pull him away from Heero's room, and obviously kept him busy for an hour or so with no explanation. When he was allowed to return, both Heero and Quatre seemed pleasantly sleepy. His puzzlement was clearly written on his face and the other seemed very much amused by it.
It was a wet, blustery afternoon that found the five barricaded in Heero's warm ante room together. Quatre was snuggled on Heero's lap; Trowa sat behind the long haired boy, brushing out his long tresses; and Wufei was reading another scroll. Duo watched with interest as Wufei's head suddenly popped up as if he heard something. He nodded his head, and Duo turned to look at the boy behind him. To his bafflement, Trowa smiled as if amused by something. The Prince's First then requested Duo to accompany him to the weapons room. The braided boy would have questioned him why, but he was getting use to this routine of being taken from Heero's rooms. He did, however, complain about the cold corridors and how he didn't want to leave the warmth of the fire. Wufei simply handed him his cloak and told him to put it on, which he did slowly, pouting, and grudgingly. At the same time, Heero had eased Quatre to his feet, and taking his hand led him to his bed chamber. Duo watched their movements with a questioning look on his face.
Heero looked back over his shoulder and saw his Fourth still standing in the same spot watching he and Quatre go to his room. "Go with Wufei, Duo." Heero said as their eyes met. The braided boy nodded, fastening the clasp of his cloak. The prince watched him reluctantly leave the warm room completely before he followed Quatre into his bed chamber.
The weapon's room was empty of people when Wufei led Duo into it. He shut the door firmly behind him and moved to put the torch in its bracing. Duo observed the room he had been in before, whenever he needed a sword to practice with Wufei or the others.
He jumped back, startled as he realized that the ebony eyed boy was standing very closely in front of him. "Wufei?" he squeaked.
The Prince's Hands looked down on the surprised boy, appreciating the blush that crept into the smaller boy's cheeks. He put his hand under Duo's chin and searched the puzzled eyes. Leaning forward, his lips touched the other's, gently questing over them. As always, Duo leaned into his embrace as he always did with himself and the others when they embraced him. They were all puzzled that the singer seemed to enjoy the affection they gave him, but he never initiated it, despite their assurances that he could.
"Put your arms around my neck." Wufei spoke softly against his lips, his hands guiding Duo's hands upward. Pulling closer, Wufei's lips became more demanding. "Open your mouth to me." was his next simple, murmured command.
Not sure why Wufei would request such a thing, Duo hesitated, then slackened his jaw. He was surprised when the other's tongue slipped into his mouth. Tilting the braided boy's head up and slightly to the side, Wufei explored the delicious depths of his mouth and lips. Finally coming up for air, the Prince's First found himself a little breathless.
Through his long bangs that partially covered his eyes, the violet eyed boy looked up into the other's eyes. "That was nice." he said with a small, shy smile.
"Want to try it again?" Wufei's voice was low and tantalizing.
Duo hesitated. "What would Heero say?" he wondered out loud.
"We have his permission, as long as we both know that you belong to him." was the solemn answer.
Perplexed, the Fourth's brows crinkled together. "What does that mean? Does he own me? Do you belong to him, too?"
"No, and yes." Wufei smiled down at his confusion. "I wouldn't say he owns you, you are his chosen, as am I and the others. He is our protector, and we will unite as Four to protect him. It's a life bond were creating, all four of us. I belong to him because I choose to be by his side." he concluded hoping it was enough to explain it to the curious boy. "The time will come when you will pledge to be Heero's Heart and begin a bond that unites all five of us together." he added as he leaned forward and brushed another kiss across the tempting lips below him.
"What does the Heart do?" Duo's eyes were wide in anticipation of finally understanding his future place by the Prince's side.
Wufei's hand rose to caress the braided boy's soft cheek. Duo leaned into it, loving the gentle tough. "Heero feels differently about you than he does about the rest of us. He cares deeply for us,.....but you..." he paused.
Duo waited, almost breathless for the answer. "But what?" he urged the other to continue.
"You are Heero's Heart. You, if you accept what he's offering, will be the person who loves him and will be loved by him all his life. Even when he takes a wife to sire an heir. You are much like Jens is to the King. Have you noticed how the King and he act in each others' presence, different from the other of the King's Four?"
Duo's tilted his head to the side as he thought, looking, oh so appealing. "They stare at each other a lot." he replied honestly.
"But it's a warm, soft stare, isn't it?" Wufei coaxed Duo's observation memories.
Understanding lit the singer's face and he nodded, then suddenly, confusion again clouded his features. "But why would Heero choose me over any of you? I'm just ......troublesome and a peasant."
Wufei bent again and kissed him briefly before answering. The so called troublesome boy didn't realize that his beauty and innocense was almost unbearably tempting and breathtaking. "I believe he knew that he would love you, in his heart," he pointed to his chest "from the moment he saw you. We all rejoiced with him at his discovery of you, and at your acceptance to stay. You will truly complete him and the Four."
"But surely, I'm not worthy of such an honored place in his heart." Duo protested, seemingly unaffected by the attention Wufei's lips were giving his.
"Do you question the Prince's decision?" Wufei pulled back and gave the boy a serious look. "Doubt his heart in choosing you?"
Duo's eyes widened. "Oh, no. It's not my place to do such a thing." he said alarmed.
Wufei decided he didn't care for the beautiful face to look so troubled, and found he could not resist trying to kiss the look of wonderment back into the Fourth's violet eyes. The were both breathing a bit heavily when they pulled apart.
Taking Duo's face into his hands, he turned the boy's eyes up to meet his. "Never doubt your place at Heero's side. You will always be first in his heart."
"Truly?" Duo bore the look of amazement, not quite comprehending all that Wufei was saying.
"Yes." he assured him with a small smile. "Always his Heart."
As the day celebrating the Prince's birth drew near, each of the Four spent time preparing a gift to present to him during the feast. Though called a feast, it would be a smaller affair then the King's last birthday. Only family and nobles that were more intimately involved with the royal family would be invited this time.
Even then, on the day of celebration, the castle was bustling, and as the afternoon waned, the Five young men withdrew to the prince's bedchamber to rest for the evening's activities. They all huddled on the large bed like a litter of puppies. Heero was sided by Quatre and Duo with Trowa and Wufei spooned up next to them, respectively.
As usual, the braided bundle of energy had bounced around excitedly since being awakened. The other four were exhausted just keeping him out of mischief. Because of this, he was still deeply asleep when Trowa and Wufei had awakened and left to prepare themselves for the feast, Heero assuring them that he would keep an eye on him until they returned
Duo slowly became aware of an unusual sound that dragged his sleepy mind to consciousness. Laying perfectly still, his eyes fluttered open and slowly came into focus. The violet orbs widened in response to what he saw before him. Somehow, he was no longer curled up against Heero's side, but over an arm's length away. The prince lay on his back with the end of Duo's braid in his outstretched hand. Quatre lay fully clothed and directly on top of the prince, kissing him passionately. His hand moved under Heero's untucked shirt caressing his chest, his hips were thrusting up against the prince beneath him. Both boys quietly moaned.
Duo's eyes blinked, unsure of what he was seeing and taking it all in. He felt his heartbeat quicken and heat rise to his face as his body reacted naturally to the vision before him. Not understanding what he was seeing or feeling, he responded in the only way he could think of. In one fluid movement, he leapt from the bed and was out of the door in only a couple of heartbeats. Even as Heero called his name, he was sprinting down the corridor. He didn't precisely have a particular place in mind as his destination, he just wanted to find a quite corner to sort out his thoughts and feelings. Definitely not his room, he decided quickly as he sprinted past it. No doubt Wufei or Trowa would come looking for him there, wanting an explanation. He ran down the large stairway, feeling the cold seeping through his clothing, having left his cloak and boots behind. His Hair spilled out of its braid as the tie was, undoubtedly, still resting in Heero's hand. He knew he couldn't go outside because of his state of undress, so his mind frantically tried to remember a good thinking place within the castle walls. His eyes lit up as such a place came to mind. He ran in the direction he'd thought of, away from the servants' quarters and more towards the guests room, knowing of a large storage room there that would be perfect and solitary, allowing him to think things through.
Rounding a corner at full speed, he collided with a tall, firm body, from which he instantly bounced off of and fell backwards, landing hard on his behind on the stone floor.
"I'm so sorry." Duo gasped without looking up as he tried to gain his feet. A pair of strong and firm hands grabbed hold of his upper arms and hauled him up, lifting him bodily from off the floor, his feet dangling beneath him.
Startled, he looked up and into the face of Treize's Heart, Zechs, wearing a triumphant smirk on his face.