by Dyna Dee
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.
Bursting into the warm and brightly lit room, they found the Prince being held tightly in the arms of Marta, one of the cooks, as he openly grieved. She looked over his shoulder as they entered with a look of horrified dismay on her face followed instantly by relief at their entrance.
Alarmed, Rolf and Jens pushed through and saw the cause of the Prince's distress. The Stable Master was kneeling beside the prone, naked boy as he lay on his stomach, the cloak and blanket under him. His long hair had been pushed away from his back to reveal bruises, strap marks, and bite wounds on his shoulders, back and buttocks. Dried blood and other now crusted fluids gave evidence to the vile acts inflicted upon the Prince's Heart.
"I'll kill them all." Rolf pledged venomously as Jens knelt next to the stable master whose aged hands trembled and sorrowful eyes watered at the site before him. Together they began to silently and tenderly clean the battered body.
"Only after I'm done with them." Wufei's icy tone declared solemnly in response to the King's Hands words.
Rolf turned to look at the tight lipped boy standing rigidly beside him, his eyes fixed on the injuries on the singer's back. "It is your right to meet out justice for the Prince and his Heart." he acknowledged, and Wufei nodded his acceptance, then turned away from the gut-wrenching scene before him to face Trowa and Quatre who hovered near Heero.
"Take Quatre from out of here." he told Trowa as both distraught boys looked to him for guidance.
"Heero?" Quatre, who's pinched face reflected the pain and anger he felt that was radiating off the others in the room, clutched one hand to his chest and reached a out to their Prince with the other.
"I'll bring him up soon." Wufei assured them. "Go start a fire in Heero's rooms. We'll bring Duo up once he's been cleaned up and the rooms are warm."
Trowa nodded, seeing the logic in Wufei's request. Inwardly, he was grateful to not have to look at Duo's abused body. He knew he'd been injured by the blood trail on his legs, but he didn't feel ready to know the true extent of his injuries, which must be bad given the reaction of the others. Guilt assailed him as he felt that he should have somehow been able to prevent Duo from being taken. Turning Quatre into his arms, he led him from the room, hoping to spare the younger boy from seeing the damage done to their Fourth.
Seeing them leave, Wufei turned once again. He felt the bile rise in his throat and swallowed it down, willing his strength not to give out. He turned to see the Prince still held in Marta's arms and approached them. Meeting the woman's mournful eyes, she relinquished her hold on the Prince and Wufei turned him into his arms.
Heero buried his face into his First's neck, trying to block out the memory and knowledge of what had been done to his Heart. "Why, Wufei?" He choked out. "Why?"
"I don't know, Heero." the Prince's First held the other close to him for comfort. "But I do know that they will not escape justice. They will pay for what they've done to him, to you, and to us." he replied, his voice fierce with determination and anger.
Netta entered the kitchen with clothing in her hands and was quickly intercepted by Marta who immediately shooed her out again so she would not witness the damage done to her friend. She brought the clothing to the men on the floor and in a short while, Duo was dressed in his nightshirt and socks, and was once again bundled up warmly in Trowa's cloak. Jens picked him up from the floor and approached the Prince and his First. Duo's long hair fell loose and tangled down the tall redhead's arm, nearly reaching the floor.
"Shall I carry him up?" he asked Heero.
"No." the prince answered weakly, brushing aside his tears and held his arms out to receive the cloaked bundle. "I'll take him. Thank you for caring for him."
Together Heero and Wufei walked from the room. Only then did Jens turn to Rolf and wrapped his arms around the larger man for comfort, resting his forehead against the taller man's neck.
"The King is on his way." the large, dark man patted the redhead's back in an effort to comfort him as he held him close.
"It doesn't make sense, Rolf." Jens said, still holding onto him tightly, needing the King's Hand's strength. "Why would Treize abuse the boy if he wanted to bond with him? Bonding can't be forced."
"I don't know, Jens." the taller man answered feeling as confused as his bonded brother. "But we will find the bastard and his Three and find out."
Mistress Sally came through the door of the Prince's sleeping chamber looking somber, followed by a frowning Wufei. She approached the three boys sitting on the long padded seat and knelt down in front of the Prince, her eyes registering the red-rimmed eyes on the faces of the three.
"I've cleaned and treated the welts and bites on his back." She reported, and Quatre and Trowa gasped, horrified at the brief description of Duo's wounds. "And the damage from the rape is uncertain, though the bleeding has stopped. I think, in time, he will recover if the fever or the cough doesn't return fully and kill him."
The healer felt badly about giving the prince and his other Three such a negative report, but she felt they should be prepared in case the worst happened.
"Why is he still asleep?" Heero asked, his eyes and voice dull and lifeless.
Sally sighed. "Sometimes, when someone has been hurt this badly, they withdraw into themselves until they can feel safe or can face the reality of what's happened to them."
"How can we help him?" Trowa asked, his voice as soft as a misting rain.
Sally stood and looked at Wufei. "Wufei and I will tend to his wounds twice a day. He will be given only broth or soft food until he's healed. For your part, you need to talk to him, reassure him, and make him feel safe again."
Taking a deep breath, Sally looked up into the Prince's pained eyes. "Your Highness," she began, carefully selecting her words. "Has what's happened to Duo changed your feelings or intentions towards him?"
Heero raised his eyes, displaying his shock at her words. "No!" He said firmly. "Duo is, and will always be my Heart, no matter what has happened." he declared. He then paused as he ran his hand through his messy brown hair. "I don't know if Treize managed to bond with him or not." A look of sorrow crossed his face. "If he did, than bonding with me will not be possible. Still, I will keep him by my side." a tear escaped out of his eyes to slide down his cheek unheeded. "I love him." he declared softly.
Sally smiled sadly at his declaration. The Prince and his Four had been through so much already, and Duo's recovery from his horrific experience would most likely prove to be difficult as well, that is if he did indeed survive. "Then you must tell him. Show him, in any way you can, how you feel. He will be filled with feelings of doubt and be insecure and maybe even afraid for a long while. Reassure him this was not his fault, that he will remain by your side no matter what has happened to him."
Heero nodded his understanding.
"Don't be surprised if he's hesitant about being touched," she continued. "he's been severely and brutally traumatized." She stood and stretched. It had been a long day and her stomach was growling for her supper despite what she had witnessed that day. "I'll return tomorrow, mid morning." She assured them all. "Wufei has my instructions and if Duo should worsen, send for me."
"Thank you, mistress." Wufei said as he escorted her to the chamber door.
She turned in the open doorway and from out of her cloak drew out a cloth pouch and slipped it into Wufei's hands and held his hand as they closed around it, keeping the movement from the others sight. "A sleeping potion for the other three." she explained in a soft voice.
The Prince's First nodded, understanding her concern. The Prince and his Three were all overwrought at Duo's kidnaping and abuse. Sleep would be hard to come by tonight for any of them.
The healer made bold by lifting her hand and touching the black-eyed boy's cheek. They had become friends while tending Duo during his sickness. "You rest also." she gently admonished. "They will all need your strength in the days to come."
His uncertain eyes met hers. "I just hope my strength and courage are enough. This....hurts all of us." his whisper was agonized.
Sally then realized that this was as close to an admission from Wufei that he, too, was suffering, but was valiantly holding it in to be strong for the others.
"I understand." she let go of his hand and clasped his shoulders in a gesture of support. "But don't take this on yourself. Share your grief with them. Don't let your need to be strong for them separate you from being part of the Four's shared pain. You need each other now for comfort and support." she advised.
Wufei bowed his head and nodded. Satisfied that he would heed her words, the healer turned and left them for the night.
Long past sunset, the Prince lay on his side next to his Heart. The fire in the hearth crackled and popped as it burned, and the soft candle light on the bed stand allowed him a dim view of Duo's face. He had been placed on his side to avoid the wounds on his back from hurting him further and Heero lay parallel to him, face to face.
In a soft voice, Heero spoke to the unresponsive boy. His hand traced the delicate jaw line, now darkly bruised by the blow that must have been the first to render him unconscious. He felt the heat on his skin from the fever as his hand ghosted over Duo's forehead, noting with relief that it wasn't as bad as when he had previously been ill.
"Come back to me, Duo. I'll never leave you again. I promise." he whispered as he eased himself forward, his hand snaking under the sleeping boy's neck to pull him forward to rest his head on his shoulder and his unresisting body lay flush against his side. Heero moved his hands through the now brushed hair, loosely gathered in a ponytail. "They will pay for what they've done, my Heart. They will pay." were the prince's last words before he, too, fell to sleep, unknowingly from the warm brew Wufei had given them all just before retiring to their rooms.
Time moved slowly in the prince's chambers and, as morning moved into the afternoon, the King came to his son's bedchamber. The Prince's Three discretely left them to allow the father and son to converse privately. As the door closed, the King sat on the edge of the bed. Heero had spent the day at his Heart's side, waiting for the sleeping boy to awaken. He raised his tired eyes up to meet his father's face. Seeing the anguish in their depths, the King opened his arms in invitation and warmly embraced his son as Heero raised up from Duo's side and clasped tightly onto his father. The prince's grief was silent with the exception of an occasional sniffle as tears fell against the King's chest. Though he made no sound, the older man could feel the trembling of his son as he grieved.
Several moments passed with the King whispering reassurances to his son as he stroked his back, and Heero, having drawn what comfort that he could from his sire, soon drew back looking a bit embarrassed. "I'm sorry, father." he said quietly. "I know you would want me to be stronger, but this is.....so difficult. It was senseless and heinous on Treize's part. Duo did nothing to warrant this treatment."
"How is he?" the King asked as his eyes strayed to the boy still resting unaware on the bed.
Heero sighed and looked wistfully over his shoulder. "His fever has stayed down and his cough seems more infrequent." he reported. "Mistress Sally feels it's a good sign. She and Wufei treat the wounds on his back, but he doesn't wake." he shrugged slightly. "She believes he's hiding from what's happened to him."
The King nodded. When they had arrived late that morning, having traveled more slowly with all the game they'd hunted during the past week, his own distraught Heart informed him at length of the boy's wounds and the condition in which they found him. It was obvious to all that he had been brutally raped and abused. The King's Heart had been much distressed by what had happened and by Heero's reaction, and the King had lovingly held his lover for part of the early afternoon to calm him before coming to his son's side.
"It will be difficult for all of you when he does awaken." the King said, thinking out loud. "His mind may not recover quickly from this."
Heero nodded sadly. "Sally has said as much to us." Then suddenly, the prince's shoulders slumped and he brought his hands up to cover his face. "It's a mess, father. It's all gone horribly wrong." he said in quiet despair.
"What has, son." the King asked softly as his hand reached out and combed though his son perpetually messy hair, easing his hand through it.
"Everything." Heero whispered back. "Duo's been forcibly taken from me by me cousin, maybe even bonded to him. Wufei is about to break down from the strain of pushing his emotions down enough to be the strong one. Trowa's withdrawn into himself with feelings of guilt, and Quatre's bonding has been constantly interrupted by Duo's illness and now this." He looked up from his hands with a tired and beseeching look on his face. "Things were so good, Father. How and why did it all turn so badly?"
The King drew his heartbroken son into his arms again and stroked his back with his hand. "I don't know, son." he answered thoughtfully. "But if there is something I've learned in my life, it's that anything worth having is not gotten easily. If you and your Four can come through this, you will all be the stronger for it."
"We have to come through this." Heero replied softly. "I can't lose a one of them. They are my life."
"I know, son." the King smiled despite the gravity of the situation. "I feel the same way about my Four, you, and your mother. And truthfully," he continued as he gazed at Duo. "if someone had abused Jens or my others the way Treize did your Heart, I don't know that I could have been strong either. He is to me what your Duo is to you."
"I know, father." Heero eased out of the comforting embrace. "I see it in your eyes when you and Jens look at each other."
"That obvious, huh?" the King smiled and Heero attempted to return a weak one himself.
"Yes, that obvious."
Taking a breath, the King stood to prepare to leave. "Tomorrow I'll send Terrell and Thad to help with Quatre and Trowa. Rolf has gone, leading a troop of guards to find Treize and this Three. Jens will come during the day to see if he can help." He smiled sadly at his son. "Let him, if there's a need. He's quite distressed by the situation, as we all are."
"Thank you, father." Heero replied, not rising from his place on the bed, but relief showed on his face in getting help for the others. He couldn't do much to help them and be by Duo's side.
"I'll check back tomorrow night to see how the day went." his father reassured him as he stepped out the door.
Mid-afternoon the next day, Duo showed signs of waking, much to the relief and trepidation of the others. On his own, he rolled to his side and curled up with a slight moan of discomfort.
Wufei entered the room moments later at Heero's mental summons. The Prince stroked the hair on Duo's head, now pulled into it customary braid. "Wake up, Duo. It's alright, your safe, back in the castle." Heero gently assured him.
The boy's sable-like eyelashes fluttered on his cheeks .
"Open your eyes, Duo." Heero gently urged. "Let me see your beautiful eyes."
His words seemed to bring about the action he desired, but the results were the opposite of what he'd hoped. Duo's eyes did indeed open, wide and in horror. With a whimper he pushed himself away from Heero's hands.
"Duo, it's alright... it's just me." Heero reached out, but the braided boy let out an anguished cry and pushed further away. Unsure about how to proceed, Heero cast an uncertain glance back to Wufei, who cautiously moved forward. His own eyes widened as he saw Duo looking at both he and Heero with a terrible fear in his eyes.
"Quatre." Wufei suggested.
Within moments the blonde entered the room at a run. "What's the matter?" he asked, almost frantic with worry.
Wufei led him to the bed and the blonde's eyes opened wide, his hand pressed against his chest. "Oh..., Duo." he whispered.
"Can you tell us what's the matter with him?" Wufei asked.
Quatre closed his eyes to concentrate. There were so many strong emotions in the room. He tired to single Duo's out. Suddenly, he gasped. "He's terrified." he whispered, his voice shaky. "I can feel his pain and terror, but I don't think he realizes we're here. Our presence doesn't seem to give him any measure of comfort."
"Duo, it's me, Heero." the Prince once again put out his hand only to have Duo recoiled back from it with a whimper.
"Don't reach out to him, Heero." Quatre advised. "It frightens him even more. Just talk to him."
Easing himself down on the bed to lay parallel to the wide-eyed and frightened boy, the Prince of Bronwyn began to speak soft and soothing words to his Fourth. "Duo, my Heart, it's me, Heero." he began, and talked on continuously with soft reassurances and then began to recount their first days together and some of Duo's misadventures. Heero was only vaguely aware that Quatre had left the room and Wufei had moved to sit by the door out of hearing range. At some point during his speaking, Duo had relaxed enough to lay still, his wide eyes bore into the Prince's with a vacant cast to them.
"I promised to take care of you." Heero whispered sadly. "Forgive me, Duo. Please, forgive me. I didn't keep my promise, did I? I shouldn't have left you. I knew I shouldn't have gone. If you can ever believe me again, I promise to never leave you ever again."
The need to reach out and touch Duo was so strong. Heero clutched the covers in front of him to halt himself. "Duo." his voice pleaded. "Please forgive me. Come back to me." He said desperately, then turned his head away from the other and buried his face into his pillow to give in to his feelings of guilt and grief. He made no sound, but his shoulders shook as he cried.
Wufei buried his face in his hands and, for the first time since they had come back to this tragedy, he joined the prince in his grief and frustration.
Overtaken by his emotions once again, Heero was unaware of how much time had passed, but he slowly became aware of a tentative touch on his shoulder. He turned his face up expecting to see Wufei's concerned face. Instead, his tired eyes widened as he saw it was Duo's hand on his shoulder, though he quickly retracted it as Heero's eyes met the violet orbs. The prince forced himself not to move, but to just look. He slowly brought his hand out to rest halfway between the two of them, palm up.
"Duo?" he asked tentatively, his voice thick and shaky.
The wide eyes blinked and welled with unshed tears.
"It's okay, Duo. We're home. You're safe. I'll never leave you again." he reiterated softly but firmly to his Heart.
Duo's hand moved again, this time to hesitantly brush away a tear from off of Heero's face while one fell from his own. He then slowly drew his hand away and cautiously placed it on top of Heero's open palm, letting it rest there.
Slowly and gently, Heero let his fingers close to hold the offered hand. He was careful not to startle his Heart, who was beginning to trust again.