by Dyna Dee
"He's very ill, your highness." Mistress Sally reported to the Prince and his Three as they stood in the corridor outside Duo's bedchamber.
"I'd like to see him." the prince said and moved towards the door.
Sally, the castle's healer, put her arm up baring his way. "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but you might become ill with his sickness if you come to near to him. We can't take that chance. You and the others must stay away from him.
Heero blinked in stunned surprise. "But.... he needs me." he stated simply.
Sally looked at him, her face soft with sympathy as she tried to explain. "People in the city and round about area have come down with the same sickness and.......many have died." she spoke sadly. "As the sole heir to the throne, you can't take the chance of becoming ill."
The Prince's stunned eyes moved from the healer's face to stare at the door forbidden him. His Heart lay in there desperately ill and he was not allowed to be by his side. He understood the reasons, but one's heart did not always accept reason. He pulled his hand through his hair and turned back to Sally with worry and anguish reflecting on his face. "Who will care for him?"
"Myself." she replied with a slight smile. 'I'll look for a volunteer or two to aid me in his care."
Wufei stepped forward. "My mother's father was an herbalist, a healer in my country. He taught me many remedies and I have some of his teachings on scrolls and some of the dried herbs from my country. If you would permit me, I would help to care for Duo."
Mistress Sally turned to Heero for his approval. The Prince turned to face his First and firmly clasped hold of his shoulders. He silently communicated his worry and fear to the black haired, black eyed boy. //I could lose him, Wufei.// Sadness reflected in his emotion-filled eyes. //I couldn't bear to lose two of you.//
Wufei's look of determination softened as he gazed upon his Prince. //Let me be your Hands, Heero// his thoughts whispered back. //I'll see that he's warm, fed, and comforted. I'll do what you would do for him if you could, but cannot.//
Heero reached for both of his First's hands and raised them to his lips. He gently kissed them, even as a fearful tear spilled from his right eye. //Very well.// his eyes sought the other's reassurance. //But, promise me you'll do all you can not to fall ill yourself.// Heero's unspoken words coursed into Wufei along with the emotion of fear the prince held for himself and Duo.
"I promise." Wufei said out loud, his face and voice resolute with his promise to his Pledge Lord.
Heero lowered his First's hands as he turned to the healer. She was a good five years older then he, yet young for a healer. She was the daughter of the castle's previous healer, trained at her father side as he cared for all those in the castle. She already had a reputation of her own for her extraordinary talent in the art of healing.
The prince knew that she was the best and only hope for saving his Heart. "Wufei will assist you." He told her. "Please, return them both back to me alive and well." he implored while still retaining his princely manner.
The section of the castle that housed the Prince and his Four became a constant state of hushed activity. Sally tried every technique and herb at her disposal to ease the fever and tortured cough of the lethargic and very ill boy.
Wufei insisted that Duo's bedding be changed daily as well as his night shirts. He personally saw to it that the Prince's Heart was kept as clean and dry as possible. He had heatedly argued with Sally when she insisted the fevered, sweating boy be under a mass of blankets at all times. Wufei adamantly stated that the boy needed to be cooled, not heated further. If Duo kicked off his covers, he allowed it to remain so until he became chilled. The Prince's First was a constant at the Fourth's side, his hand regularly placed on the fevered brow to check it's warmth for signs of improvement and with a hope it would break.
Days passed with little progress, and Duo became weaker and barely aware of his surroundings. He was propped up by many pillows to ease the frequency of the long, drawn-out coughs that seemed to completely drain the already weak boy.
Sally had tried herbs and poultices, steam, and sweating the sickness out, but to no avail. Duo was no better and maybe even worse.
"Duo, drink this." Wufei watched as Sally held yet another brewed concoction of herbs and mead to his parched lips as Wufei held the limp body up. The heart-shaped face slumped forward onto his chest. Wufei's eyes raised to meet Sally's, they were sad and revealed her surrender to the inevitable.
"Enough" Wufei said, feeling defeated himself but unwilling to give up completely. He carefully lay their charge back down against the raised pillows and arranging him comfortably, then began wringing out a cool damp cloth from the basin of herb laced water by the bed and he placed it on his friend's brow. His fingers gently stroked the unconscious boy's head, pulling stray strands of damp hair from his face. Bending over, he kissed the top of Duo's head. "Come back to us, Duo." he whispered. "For Heero's sake, please don't leave us."
After a moment, he stood and looked at Sally. "I'm going to look through my texts one last time to see if I can find something we haven't tried." he said tiredly, feeling exhaustion sapping what remained of his strength, body and soul.
She nodded, silently wishing him good luck, as he turned and left the room.
Wufei sat on his bed, several dozen sheets of parchment were strewn across the top cover and surrounding him when knock sounded on his door. He barked out an answer to it, and raising his head, was surprised to see Heero enter.
"Don't get up." the Prince said with a raise of his hand to forestall any movement. He approached the bed, concern in his eyes. "You look tired, Wufei. Are you well?"
The black haired boy nodded, dreading the question he knew was coming next.
"How's Duo? Any better?"
He hated to see the look of hope dashed as he shook his head. "I'm looking for something we haven't tried." he motioned his head to the papers surrounding him.
"It's been a week, Wufei." Worry laced Heero's voice. "How much longer can he hold out?"
"Not much longer." the First answered, seeing the look of anguish wash over the Prince's face. "He's not responding any longer."
Heero's face went white as he moved to sit in a chair by the bed and slowly bent over, resting his head on his folded arms, resting on his knees. The bond between them communicated Heero's deep sorrow and Wufei's guilt. With limbs shaking, Wufei came slowly off the bed and embraced his Prince, who in turn, reached out blindly for his First, clasping tightly to him for comfort as tears fell from both their eyes.
They held each other until the tears slowed and both parted as a knock sounded on the door. Trowa led an emotionally stunned Quatre into the room, both boys having felt the pain of the other two.
"Is he...?" Quatre choked, unable to finish the question.
"Not yet, but close." Wufei answered soberly.
"I want to see him, to touch him before he's gone." Heero said as he wiped the wetness from off his face.
"Your father and Sally will not allow it. There's far too great a risk." Wufei said sadly.
Sad blue eyes lifted, showing the anguish the prince felt within himself. "He's my Heart, Wufei, and we never had a chance to bond. I want to remember him, alive and warm.
"I know." his First commiserated with his grief and desire. "But,.."
"Shhh." Heero silenced him, his hand up in warning. "I want you to keep looking through your parchments for the herb or treatment that will break his fever. We mustn't give up hope until it is over." he admonished all three. "I'll be back." he announced, then stood from his chair and quickly left the room.
Going directly to Duo's room, he entered without pause and Sally, stunned at his appearance, stood to protest. He cut her off with a glare as he moved to the small, blanket covered figure on the bed. The Prince of Bronwyn silently stood for a long moment gazing down at the unnaturally still boy. Easing himself down, he sat on the edge of the bed and took up the overly warm hands and placed them on his own cool face. "Don't leave me, Duo. I need you." he said softly, but loud enough for the boy to hear him. "Fight this to stay with me." he ordered the unmoving boy below him.
Putting Duo's hands down, Heero removed the cloth that lay on his Heart's forehead, and kissed the warm, damp skin tenderly, then moved to whisper into his ear. "I love you, Duo. Come back to me." Duo's face turned just enough to press his hot cheek against Heero's. "I love you, Duo." he repeated, believing his Heart could hear him. "Fight this."
Heero turned to place the cloth into the basin of water and wrung out the excess moisture and began to gently bathe the flushed face with the cool water. He pulled back the covers and began to untie the front of the night shirt and refreshed the cloth. He brought it wet and dripping onto the boys chest and squeezed the moisture from it. A minute gasp came from Duo in response to the chilling sensation. Heero swabbed the heated torso with the cool liquid. Again and again the Prince applied the cool water to Duo's head, neck, and chest. His initial desire was to keep his Heart's mind on the here and now, to keep Duo from slipping away from him.
He didn't know how long he had been there, but sensed that quite a bit of time had passed when Wufei burst into the room, a steaming cup in front of him, and a smile of hope on his face.
"I've found one last remedy to try." he said excitedly. "My grandfather wrote that, when all else failed, he would mix a combination of several herbs with peppermint and steep it in hot water. He warned that there could be complication because of the potency of the mixture, but as a last resort, it was worth a try. This is our last resort, Heero, our last hope other than a miracle." he added.
Without a word, Heero agreed to giving his Heart the herbs by lifting Duo's limp body up, supporting his shoulders. Wufei and Sally worked together to slowly ease the very warm tea into the Fourth's slacked mouth and down his throat by using a hollow reed.
It was a slow and tedious task, and when the majority of the contents of the cup was emptied, the Prince's First stood and stretched his weary back. "Now we wait." he declared, a touch of renewed hope in his eyes.
Sally removed the cloth from the Prince's hand. "You should go now, Your Highness." she said gently but firmly. "I'll continue the cooling you started."
Heero nodded, the moved to gently embrace Duo's head, he leaned over and kissed his flushed cheek and whispered endearments into his ear before he stood. With a brief lingering glance back, he nodded to Sally and Wufei, returning Duo back to their care. For now, he would go to the others and they would try to comfort each other while they waited.
After a brief rest and sharing a sparsely eaten evening meal with the others, Heero reported to his father and received a measure of comfort from him and his uncle, Jens. He met his mother in the corridor and gratefully received her warm embrace and reassuring words. But his real comfort came from his Three, so he returned quickly to them. Quatre and Trowa sat in his ante chamber before the hearth. The taller boy held his Third in a comforting embrace. Quatre, whose eyes were red and puffy and his body exhausted from the torrents of emotions around him, clung to Trowa for reassurance, but managed to look up when he entered the room
"Come," Heero called to them. "Its been a long day, lets get some rest." He led them to his room and after each removed their boots, vests and tunics, the prince climbed to the middle of the bed, the other two followed, one on each side. Pulling up the covers, the three huddled together, no words were spoken as they held to each other seeking reassurance and comfort until one by one, sleep claimed them.
It was pre-dawn when Quatre sat up with a gasp, waking the other two slumberers. Before they could ascertain the cause, Wufei burst into the room, a candle and holder in his hand. "Heero!" he gasped.
The prince's heart tightened within his chest, preparing himself to receive the news. Wufei's exhaustion laden eyes were brimming with tears as he stood before the three on the bed. They watched, holding their breaths, as tears coursed down his face.