Disclaimer: Disclaimer: I don't own nor profit from GW or its characters.

Warnings: angst

//used instead of quotation mark denoting the characters speaking telepathically.

Heero's Fourth
Part 11
by Dyna Dee

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.

"His fever's broken. He's still alive!" Wufei announced, his voice quiet in relief as the single candle in his hand reflected his weak smile as well as the exhaustion lining his face and the tears that ran down his face. The two others in the bed were quick to embrace the obviously stunned Prince, and soon all four young men were on the bed crying and holding onto each other with shared relief.

As the news spread throughout the castle, the somber atmosphere that had permeated its walls slowly lifted. Even though the Prince's Heart was still very ill, the chances for his survival had greatly increased with his lowered fever.

It was several days before the Duo could hold his eyes open enough to communicate with Wufei. He was given bread soaked in broth and gruel to eat along with the herbal tea from Wufei's faraway land that seemed to control his fever. His cough, though, lingered on. It was a painful one that seemed to come from the depths of his lungs and drained the boy physically with each bout.

Five days later, Heero was allowed another visit. He sat in a chair by the blazing hearth and held the slight, blanketed boy in his arms. He whispered assurances and promises to his Heart who lay nestled easily against his chest, his face tucked into his neck.

Strength slowly returned as the cough lessened and more varieties of food were tolerated, but it was weeks before Duo was able to stand or walk unassisted.

Late autumn brought a day of bright sunshine welcomed by all in the land of Bronwyn. Duo was wrapped snugly in his blanket as Heero carried him to the top southern wall of the castle. He sat the bundled boy on the top of the wall so that his thin legs, covered only by woolen socks and his long nightshirt, dangled over the side. Heero stood behind him, his arms encircling him to insure that he didn't fall off.

Thrilled to be out of doors and into the fresh air and sunlight, Duo flung his arms out and raised his face into the warmth of the sunshine. He took in a deep breath of the autumn air, only to start begin coughing fit. The prince held him fast against his chest until it eased, then amethyst eyes turned up to look into the worried blue one's apologetically. "Guess I need to learn not to do that for a while." he said a little breathlessly.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea and we should go in." Heero suggested dubiously.

"No,.... please. The sun feels sooo good." Duo pleaded and turned on his most heart melting smile. "Please, just for a little while?"

A small smile formed on the prince's lips. "Very well. But only for a little while longer."

The braided boy pouted for a moment, but decided not to let it linger as he was enjoying being outdoor too much. As he turned his head from Heero's direction, he saw Wufei off to the side behind them. He had accompanied them in case he was needed, and now stood back conversing with a palace guard, allowing the Prince and his Heart some time alone.

Talking seemed unnecessary between the two as Heero held onto the other. Both were content to be together, enjoying the warmth each drew from other where their bodies touched.

After a long while, Duo finally spoke. "So, how is the bonding with Quatre going?" he asked, not overly curious, just wanting to connect with Heero.

The Prince's chin rested on the mass of chestnut hair on the top of Duo's head. "It's slowed a bit as your illness had us all too worried to think of anything else. And now, after almost losing you, I just want to be with you. It's really not fair to Quatre, though."

"I'm sorry." Duo said sadly.

"It's not your fault." The prince whispered as he kissed the top of his head, then lay his cheek on top of his Heart's head as the continued. "I thought to make it up to him by taking him on the hunt next week, but I'm not sure I should leave you yet."

Duo fought to get his arms out of the blanket and then he lay them on top of the one's encircling him. "I'm not sure I'm ready for you to go away either, but maybe you should consider it."

"I don't know." the prince's voice was full of concern and doubt.

Duo snuggled into him. "The sooner the bond is completed, the sooner we can spend more time together, begin our bonding." he rationalized. Heero's silence seemed to indicate he was thinking it over. "I'll be fine, I promise." Duo turned to look up into Heero's face. "I'm getting stronger every day. I'm walking and eating more too." he reminded him. "If it wasn't for this damn cough, I'd be running around." Then a thought came to the braided boy's mind. "Hey, can we go to the stables tomorrow? I want to see Shinni. How is he? I'll bet Charlie and Dermail have missed me." During the course of his request, he felt Heero stiffen and sensed something was wrong.

"What's the matter, Heero? Is Shinni alright?" he asked

"Yes," the prince smiled indulgently. "you're colt is fine."

"Turn me around." Duo demanded as he tried to maneuver himself. Heero held him tight around his waist as he helped swing his Fourth's legs around to the inside of the castle wall. Duo was now facing him within the circle of Heero's arms and staring intently into his eyes. "What's wrong?" he demanded.

"It's time to go in." Heero said firmly and moved to lift him.

"No. I want to know what's wrong." Duo stiffened in his arms and tried to evade being lifted.

Wufei, having overheard their conversation, came up behind Heero. "You're not strong enough yet." he stated.

Duo blinked at him wondering what they had been hiding from his. If Shinni was alright....who....? "Is it Charlie?" he asked and was quick to see a look of sadness flash on their faces.

"It is, isn't it?" he asked already knowing the answer.

"Time to go in." Wufei said quickly and moved to lift him.

"What happened to him? Did he die?" Duo asked, pushing away the First's hands and searching both boy's eyes now filled with sadness.

"Oh... no." he said weakly as his eyes filled with moisture. He shook his head as he grabbed hold of Heero's cloak. "He's just a little kid, so kind to me." he whispered and slumped his head forward to rest on Heero's chest.

The Prince grabbed him under his knees and lifted him up into his arms. Wufei tenderly tucked the blanket back around his body, then brushed the strands of loose hair away from his face. "The illness you had became wide spread to those who worked in the fields during harvest rains." Wufei explained to the now quiet, motionless boy. "Half of Charlie's family died as did many others. We were fortunate we didn't lose you." he added, then took a deep breath as they began to walk back to their rooms. They had all dreaded telling Duo about his young stable friend knowing the news would upset him. He had become quite attached to the boy who led him into the stable each time he visited and who treated him with respect and kindness, never teasing him for his fear of horses.

"Poor Charlie." Duo sniffed and tightened his hold on Heero's neck. It was then that a long, drawn out cough seized the thin body again, and the two young men rushed to get the recovering boy back to his bed.

on to part 12

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