by Dyna Dee
Trowa bolted up in his bed, alarmed. He heard his name called out in fear and desperation, he was almost certain it wasn't a dream, though his ears straining, could hear nothing further. Jumping from his bed, he grabbed his sword and ran out into the corridor in his nightshirt and bare feet. What he found chilled his heart. In the dim flickering torchlight just outside Duo's door, stood Treize and his First, Zechs, who was holding Duo's body, limp and unconscious, against his chest.
"Treize! Have you lost your mind? You're taking Duo?" Trowa gasped, stunned with disbelief that a royal, Heero's cousin, would act so dishonorably.
"I'm in need of a Fourth." Treize stated simply, as if his need made this act right. "And this one has always been my choice."
"I can't let you take him, he belongs to Heero." Trowa stated firmly and raised his sword in challenge.
"I don't want to kill you, Trowa," Treize warned raising his own sword to meet the challenge, "but I will claim this boy as mine."
"He's Prince Heero's Heart." Trowa shouted indignantly.
"We'll see about that." Zechs drawled.
"You can't Treize." Trowa voice took a pleading tone as he was beginning to feel panic rise within him, knowing he was out numbered. "He's been very ill and we almost lost him." He had to think of some way to stop this from happening, and the truth might suffice here.
"Believe me," Treize replied, his voice soft as if trying to reassure the younger man. "I'm the last person in Bronwyn that wants any harm to come to the boy." his hand reached over to Duo and gently stroked his slack and bright red cheek with the back of his fingers.
Trowa's stomach churned, his sword rose in his hands. "If that's to be believed, then why is he unconscious and what is that mark on his face?" he challenged the other's words.
The sandy haired man shook his head sadly. "Zechs got a little carried away when the boy woke and called out for you. " he almost sounded apologetic.
"I won't let you take him." Trowa vowed resolutely and began to advance, his sword raised in readiness.
A crash, a crack, and a wave of darkness over took the Prince's Eyes as he fell unconscious to the cold stone floor.
Une stood above him with the remains of a broken water pitcher in her hand.
"Thank you Une." Treize nodded in appreciation to his Second. "You most likely just saved that boy's life."
The tall, trim brunette nodded and threw the handle of the broken pottery away from her. "I suggest we leave before the few guards left here discover us." She said looking dubiously at the unconscious boy in Zechs' arms. He was loosely wrapped in a blanket with his bare feet dangling beneath it's edge.
As silently as they had entered the castle of Bronwyn, they left in the same manner in the predawn light, walking quietly and unchallenged past the unconscious guards at the castle door and the gate to make their way down the hill to their tethered horses. With no one the wiser to their nefarious deed, they galloped towards the western road with the Prince's Fourth in their custody.
The cold of the stone floor beneath his scantily clad body seeped into Trowa's awareness and helped to rouse the unconscious boy. For a brief moment he wondered why he was on the floor in the corridor, when suddenly, the events that had transpired during the night flashed over him like a fire across a dry wheat field. "Duo!" he cried out in anguish and jumped to his feet, ignoring the dizziness and flare of pain and in his head. Clutching his bloody head, he ran into the Prince's chamber and threw up the bolt to the shuttered windows that looked over the courtyard. The dim light of the new crescent moon and the lightening of the horizon as dawn approached cast just enough illumination for Trowa to see in the distance and beyond the castle walls where a moving shadow that he thought could be the horses of Duo's kidnappers could barely be seen moving quickly on the far western road, leading towards the forest lands.
Running quickly back to his room, his throbbing head ignored, he frantically dressed and, after putting on his boots and cloak, he put a cloth to the back of his bleeding head to staunch the slowing flow of blood. Taking up his knives, he put them quickly into their places within the confines of his cloak and ran to raise an alarm.
By the time the sun had fully risen, the Prince of Bronwyn's Second was walking his horse slowly along the western road looking for any signs the four hours had taken another route. Treize's lands lay to the far North, so it made sense to him that sooner or later he would turn northward, off the west bearing road. He closed his eyes, willing his head to stop throbbing, and remembered the early morning's events. Pausing, he buried his face in his hands. How could he ever face the Prince again if Duo came to any harm. Earlier that morning he had used all his might and concentration to communicate with the Prince and the other two, hoping to alert them to what had happened. Almost immediately he felt a question forming in his mind, and feeling Heero's and Quatre's touch simultaneously, he sent his alarming message. Almost instantly, he felt the added presence Wufei in his mind. They had never tried to communicate at such a distance before and he was relieved to feel the other's thoughts with him. But his relief was short-lived when he felt waves of anguish and anger wash over him as the Prince and the other two communicated their emotional responses to the news he had relayed to them. Even the distance that separated them didn't dull the strength of their emotions. He was told briefly that they had been returning earlier than scheduled, and were not far away. They were now coming with great haste to his aid. Lifting his face from his hands, he focused on the task before him, though feeling relieved that soon the others would join him and he wouldn't feel so alone in his search.
After some time on foot, he discovered a trail of fresh horse tracks both going in and coming out from the forest. Trowa debated if he should go into the trees to investigate further. These tracks might not be from Treize's group, and he could waste valuable time if they led nowhere. Mounting his horse he chose to follow the track into the forest and if he found no further traces of Duo, he would return to the road. Following the tracks for a short while, he stopped his mount and hesitated thinking he'd heard something. Looking around at the dense growth of trees in the forest he frowned at not hearing anything. He was alone now as the few guards left at the castle and had eagerly accompanied him to reclaim the Princes Heart, had been sent ahead, to move quickly down the road in hopes of catching up with Treize, if indeed he'd stayed on it to make better time in escaping. Trowa opted to look closer along the road to scout for tracks into the forest. His tracking skills learned at the hands of Master Terrell were proving their worth today.
There is was again. A distant sound whipped his head around. He listened intently, peering into the darker recesses of the forest. It could be just an animal, he thought. Then he heard it again. He turned his horse to lead him further into the thick growth of trees, carefully following the tracks which took he and his mount around the many trees and undergrowth towards the sound. Every once in a while he stopped, his ears straining to hear the sound. The closer he got, the clearer the sound became. He urged his horse forward as quickly as he could, his heart racing with hope. The sound he now recognized had to be Duo's cough. He drew out his sword and felt his knives at the ready inside his cloak, knowing that he would have to fight to regain the Prince's Heart. But as he drew near to the sound, he wasn't prepared for what the trail of hoof prints on the forest floor and coughing led him to.
His eyes fell at last on the long haired boy, barefoot and barely standing as his left hand was braced against a tree for support, obviously trying to remain in an upright position. The other hand clutched a dirty blanket around his slim, tremulous body, not quite covering the fact that he was naked underneath.
"Duo!" Trowa shouted seeing his friend completely alone, apparently deserted. He quickly jumped down and ran the short distance, taking in more details of Duo's condition as he approached. His long hair was loose from his customary braid and in tangled disarray all around him, his body was trembling and Trowa could see streaks of blood trailing down his bare legs. Duo looked up and panic flooded his face just before he collapsed to the ground on his hands and knees. "Duo." Trowa spoke softly, seeing the boy's distress, and stopped short of embracing the obviously traumatized boy. He knelt down on the ground next to him. "Duo, it's me, Trowa. It's going to be alright." he said soothingly, hoping it was true. "I'm gong to take you home now." He cautiously put his hand on the blanketed and shaking shoulder. He felt the other violently flinch in reaction to his touch. "I'm Trowa, Duo. Trowa."
Duo raised his dirty, tear streaked face. His large amethyst eyes reflected his pain and terror, though no sign of recognition. Trowa noticed the deep red berry stain that encircled Duo's mouth, and knowing what it meant, he heart sank further. Yet somewhere inside the injured boy there must have been an instinctive need to trust, for Duo reached his hand up and held to out towards his would-be rescuer.
Trowa gently pulled him into his arms, being careful not to hold him too tightly. He murmured reassurances to the frightened boy while his mind plotted revenge. He felt Duo's body convulse in racking, silent sobs which turned immediately into a long coughing fit. Knowing he had to get the boy back to a warm bed and treat his wounds, Trowa lifted his friend up off the ground and walked to his horse. Mounting his steed was not easy with the burden in his arms, but out of dire necessity and determination not to set him down, he accomplished it. He wrapped the blanket more securely around the frail body that shivered in his arms, then unfastening his cloak, attempted to wrap it around him also. It was a massive struggle in maneuvering it around the limp body on his lap, but at last, it was wrapped securely around the trembling body, offering more warmth. Turning his horse around, the Prince's Second slowly led them out of the forest and back to the roadway that would take them home.
As he cleared the forest, Trowa looked up at the sky. The high morning fog had lifted its grey wet blanket from out of the sky to reveal the position of the sun. It was already late morning and drawing close to mid day he realized. He opened his thoughts to Heero, letting him know of his success and that he was returning to the castle. Then, setting his horse's pace to a mild canter, he looked down at his charge. Duo lay in his arms, now completely covered and altogether still. His stillness alarmed Trowa the most. He'd seen Duo's fear of horses, yet here he was on one, and not a word of protest had come from him. In fact, it dawned on him, that Duo hadn't spoken at all since he'd found him, just the occasional deep cough. His arms tightened gently but protectively around his friend. "Almost there, Duo." he said soothingly, hoping he could be heard.
As he neared Bronwyn, seeing the castle on the distant hill, he heard, then saw a group of riders approaching rapidly from the south. He stopped to wait, knowing who they were. Heero was in the lead, his face fiercely anxious, and he was followed closely by Quatre, Wufei, Jens, Rolf, and several guards. All the horses were heavily lathered, their sides heaving from the exhausted run. As they came to a halt, Heero flung himself off the side of Wing and ran to Trowa's side.
"He's alive, Heero. But,...... it's bad." Trowa said in warning, his eyes watering as he lowered his arms and put his charge into the Prince's open arms.
Heero took the bundle into his arms and slowly sank down to the ground, settling Duo onto his lap. He pulled back the cloak's hood to reveal Duo's face; slack, pale, and covered with dirt and trails where his tears had flowed, and the unmistakable stain of wine around his lips. His eyes were closed as he lay still in a deep and dreamless slumber. Heero buried his face into the sleeping boy's neck and gave way to the tears he'd held back since he'd first received Trowa's alarm. He rocked Duo back and forth in his arms as he tried to comfort the both of them.
"Heero, come. We must get him back home and then tend to him." Uncle Jens' calm voice somehow pushed aside his grief enough that he was able to look up, unashamed of his tears to his father's Heart, letting the anguish he felt show.
The redhead leaned over and taking the Prince's arms, helped him to stand. With a worried expression on his face, he gently recovered the sleeping boy's face with the cloak's hood and blanket.
"Take him home on Trowa's horse." Wufei suggested, his own face dark with anger and worry. "Our horses need to be walked, and his is still fresh in comparison."
Heero nodded numbly, and was aided in mounting the tall horse as Trowa had vacated his seat. With Duo secured tightly against his chest, he cantered away to cover the short distance to the castle.
As the castle was unprepared for their return, the warmest room was the kitchen, where the hearth was always ablaze. This was the room Heero carried his Heart, while Master Dermail, who had met them at the stables, now lead them, issuing orders to the few who were about. Heero sat numbly, in a daze on a stool in front of the fire, his Heart still in his arms, and vaguely knowing he should be doing something, but wasn't able to think clearly enough at the moment on how to proceed.
"Hilde, fetch the healer." the older man shouted out orders after seeing the Prince in a state of shock. "Marta, is that hot water on the fire?" he asked.
Heero could hear Dermail taking over and he was glad for it. His heart and mind were focused on the stillness of the boy in his arms.
"We need to clean and dress him, your highness." The stable master's voice broke through his stupor of thought. He looked up dazed at the older man who knelt in front of him.
"I've sent Netta up to his room for a night shirt and socks for his feet. If you'll lay him in front of the fire, we'll see to cleaning him up. He'll feel better if he's clean." he assured the Prince in a calm, gentle voice.
Heero nodded and set his precious bundle down on the blankets Dermail had set down just in front of the warm hearth and slowly began to unwrap the cloak and blanket to discover the damage done to the boy.
An agonized howl was heard by the Prince's Three and their companions as Heero's feelings of grief and anguish washed through them like a cold, enveloping chill as they entered the castle doors. They struggled with the overwhelming emotions and broke into a run in the direction it had come from, the kitchen, followed closely by Jens and Rolf.