by Dyna Dee
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. "I love you, Duo." he whispered. "I'll never leave you again." Another tear fell from the bridge of the braided boy's nose.
"Are you hungry?" Heero asked, and smiled as Duo nodded, just slightly.
"Wufei?" Heero called out without taking his eyes or hand away from Duo. "Duo's hungry."
The Princes' Hands bolted from his chair and ran to the bed. "Duo?" he called out in relief.
The hand in Heero's gripped tighter as Duo curled up into himself. "Not too close, Wufei. Move very slowly around him." he cautioned watching Duo's responses carefully.
With tears tracks drying on his face, Wufei stood still, taking in Duo's hand resting in Heero's, his eyes still wide and fearful, but steady on Heero's face. "I'll be right back with some food and drink." He said softening his voice and turned, forcing himself to walk at a calm and sedate pace from the room.
Faster than Heero thought possible, Wufei came back with a tray bearing warm broth and mead. Again he walked cautiously through the room so as to not startle the braided boy. It looked to Wufei as if neither boy on the bed had moved in his absence.
"Can you sit up, Duo, or do you need my help?" Heero asked.
Duo's eyes turned warily, seeing Wufei's approach, tray in hand.
"It's just Wufei, Duo." Heero said calmly reassuring. "He'll never hurt you. He will always protect you."
Without a word, Duo eased his hand away from the Prince's and carefully pushed himself up. His movements were slow and stilted and were closely watched by the other two. The Prince mirrored his movements and rose to sit next to him as Wufei lowered the tray to the bed, then stepped back to watch what came next.
Heero reached for the bowl of broth, and with it cupped in both hands, he turned to Duo and held it out. When his Heart made no effort to move, he carefully raised it to his lips.
"Sip it slowly, Duo." he told him. Tilting it slightly, he was relieved to see Duo swallow, his eyes still bearing into his own. He righted the bowl and questioned, "More?"
Duo nodded and he repeated the same action again and again, each time Duo answered in the affirmative.
He finished the broth and then the warm cup of mead. When done, the braided boy moved to lay himself back down.
"Do you need to use the chamber pot?" Hero asked, setting the cup down on the tray. When he looked back, he saw Duo nod again, but there was fear once again in his eyes. "Can you do it yourself?" He asked.
Duo nodded again.
Wufei went to the screened corner and retrieved the chamber pot and brought it to the bed. Heero took it from him and placed it in front of Duo. "We'll leave for a few moments. Are you sure you can do this?" He questioned his Heart.
Again, the braided head nodded and, though his face was blank of emotion, Heero crawled off the large bed and followed Wufei to the door leading to his antechamber, but paused before exiting. "I'll be right outside this door if you need me." he reassured the boy, whose eyes had followed him, but he otherwise remained still. With another nod, the prince left the room.
Once outside the door, the prince found himself quickly embraced by his Third. "How is he? Can we see him?" Quatre asked in a rush.
Heero hugged the blonde tightly while Wufei answered. "He's awake and he drank all his broth and wine. It's a good sign." he added as his eyes strayed to Trowa who stood by the fireplace looking anywhere but at them, and very unsure of himself.
Heero, too, had seen his Second's distance and, after disentangling the blonde from off his body, he moved towards his Second. "Trowa?"
The taller raised his sad green eyes. "I'm glad, Heero." he whispered and once again averted his eyes.
Impulsively, Heero firmly embraced him. When at last he felt his Second move, his arms moving slowly around him in return, the prince whispered into his ear. "What's the matter, Trowa?"
The taller boy bowed over, placing his face into the crook of his prince's neck and began to gently weep. "It's my fault....all my fault." He whispered against the prince's skin. "I failed to protect him. Failed to stop them." his agonized voice revealed his inner torment.
"No, Trowa. It's not your fault." Heero said firmly. "We didn't realize Treize would act this dishonorably. If you are guilty, then so am I. Maybe Wufei and Quatre are guilty for not sensing the threat or for not being here. Maybe Duo is at fault because of his fear of horses or his illness prevented him from..."
"No!" The taller boy said firmly, wrenching himself from the Prince's grasp, his face a picture of confusion and doubt. "Duo is innocent. He looked to me for protection, as did you. I failed in my task."
"Trowa," Heero grabbed hold of his Eyes' face, forcing him to look directly into his own eyes. "No one here is to blame. I was just trying to make a point. You chased after them and found Duo, and brought him home. What would have happened to him if you hadn't found him?" He searched the other boy's eyes, hoping to see a measure of reason enter them. "You saved him. I....no, we will be forever grateful for that."
"You forgive me?" The auburn haired boy asked in stunned disbelief.
The Prince put his hand on the taller boy's cheek and brushed a tear away with his thumb. Trowa's features were delicate, he was quite beautiful, Heero thought. "There's nothing to forgive." he answered with a gentle smile, assuring the other that his words were true. "You did nothing wrong." he added.
"Does Duo blame me?" The worried look crept back into the lean face.
"Knowing Duo, I would say no, but he hasn't spoken yet." Heero answered, then his smile faltered. "Maybe you can talk to him soon, but right now, he's still too frightened."
Trowa nodded. "Please, tell him..... I'm sorry."
The Prince's hand moved from his cheek down and around to the back of his neck. He found himself being pushed forward and down until their lips met and he was warmly kissed by the dark haired prince. The kiss was both reassuring and comforting, though it lasted only a few moments. Once they broke away, they rested their foreheads together before Heero pulled back.
"I need to get back to Duo." he said. "But I need your help." he appealed to the boy in front of him.
Trowa nodded, ready for any task.
Heero turned and held his hand out to Quatre. The small blonde rushed to him, placing his hand in his. "Quatre, I'm sorry." Heero began. "Your bonding experience has not been as it should be. With Duo's illness and now this..." He was halted by two slim fingers pressed against his lips.
"I understand." Quatre answered with a gentle smile, his sincerity evident in his open expression.
Heero shook his head. "It isn't right." he continued. "You should have had the same amount of time and attention the other two had." His softened eyes looked directly into Quatre's begging for understanding. "But, Duo needs me now, and I don't believe for a moment that this is going to be easy. I'm going to need to give him all I can to bring him back to us." With a short huff of breath, he reluctantly continued, knowing what he had to say was necessary, but he was hesitant to take away from the giving boy before him. "I think our bonding time has come to an end. Forgive me, please, for cutting your time short."
"Heero." Quatre rushed to stop Heero from further apologies. His hand went to rub his chest. "I know, probably better than you can imagine. I've felt your love for him, your longing, and.....it's alright." He smiled again, hoping to reassure the Prince of his sincerity. "Your happiness is our happiness. I understood you well enough to come when you called for my help. I think it's going to be fine."
Grateful for the understanding and empathy of his Third, Heero tenderly cupped the angelic face with both hands and kissed him soundly, putting his heartfelt love for the sweet, gentle boy into the kiss.
"Love you, too." Quatre whispered as they parted, his blue eyes shining as a testimony of his words.
Heero smiled and turned back to Trowa. "Trowa, I'm going to charge you with Quatre's care. Wufei and I will be dealing with Duo, and I'll not always be able to be attentive to you. Please, see to it that neither of you is lonely or feel neglected."
Trowa nodded. "I'm honored by the trust you give me again." he said softly, the hint of a sparkle in his eyes reflected his happiness of receiving a sign of the Prince's confidence in him.
Heero then motioned Wufei over to join them. He put his arm around the black haired boy, and also kissed him before turning to motion the other two into a mutual embrace. As they huddled together, he addressed them again as a group. "These are difficult times for us, my friends." he began in all seriousness. "But I promise you, it will get better, and we will seek justice for what has happened to Duo....and to us."
They spent a few more moments embracing each other, reaffirming their deep bond, before Heero moved to return to Duo. "I think Duo and I will sleep for a while, Wufei. Why don't you rest, and I'll call you when needed."
The Prince's Hands nodded and the Three watched him re-enter his bedchamber.
For the next couple of weeks, the prince was seldom seen outside his rooms. Those who visited him were cautioned to speak softly, move slowly, and not to approach Duo.
Jens, the King's Heart, sat in the padded chair by the hearth in Heero's room and watched the scene before him with concern. Prince Heero spent most of his days lying or sitting next to the braided singer, just talking to him. He didn't reach out to touch the boy, but waited for Duo to reach for him, which he did quite often.
Jens studied the boy they had all been so worried about, and they had every reason to continue to worry. While his body had healed from the brutalizing ordeal, he hadn't spoken a word nor smiled since his recovery. His large eyes, often reflecting his wariness or of being frightened, were almost always focused on the Prince as he moved about the room or lay beside him on the bed.
The tall, slender redhead was amazed at the constant gentleness and patience the Prince displayed in caring for his Heart. He rarely left his bedchamber and was devoted to the smaller boy's comfort and contentment. When he had first entered the room, Heero had just finished warmly dressing the singer for the day. Duo now sat with seemingly infinite patience on the thick woven rug in front of the chamber's hearth, his amethyst eyes shifted from Heero to watching him warily. Heero moved about the chamber making the bed and folding their night clothes. A tray of empty dishes indicated that both boys had eaten breakfast.
"We miss you in the dinning hall, Heero." Jens spoke up at last, remembering to keep his voice soft and low so the traumatized boy wouldn't be frightened further. "Will you and Duo be joining us at mealtimes anytime in the near future?
Heero looked up after putting a pillow in place. "I don't think he's ready for that yet." he replied then turned his eyes to meet Duo's and smiled reassuringly to the boy in question. Duo's only response was a slight raise of his finely arched eyebrows.
"You need to leave this room once in a while, Heero." The King's Heart gently admonished the boy he had always looked upon as a son.
"I have plenty of company." Heero answered, dismissing the suggestion.
"Shouldn't you try to get Duo use to people again? Does he spend time with your other Three?" He was nothing if not persistent.
"They visit several times a day." Heero replied as he placed the folded nightshirts in the chest at the foot of his bed.
"You both need exercise." Jens countered stubbornly. "Maybe Duo needs stimulation to get him to...come out of...this." He made a motion to the silent, unmoving boy whose eyes still shifted between the two speaking. The King's Heart knew he was going into personal territory, but the King had asked him to speak to his son, see if he could help him see some reason.
Heero looked up, irritation written on his face. "My father has talked to you about this, hasn't he?" he asked sharply. Jens' words sounded suspiciously similar to what his father had spoken to him the evening before.
"He's concerned." Jens smiled apologetically, the dimple in his left cheek deepened as he pushed a long straight piece of red hair back behind his ear.
"He needn't be." Heero shook his head, tired of the arguments he'd had with his sire. He then looked to his Heart. "We're doing better, aren't we Duo?"
To Jens surprise, he saw the braided singer's head move up and down, answering Heero's question. "He understands you?" he asked surprised and without taking his eyes of the boy in question.
"I think so, though not all the time." Heero answered. "I'm grateful for the times he answers, though. It gives me hope that he's getting better, coming out of the place he's been hiding."
Jens brows furrowed in thought. "Does he move freely, or sit where you put him until you need him somewhere else?" he asked his curiosity peaked.
Heero looked to his "uncle", his mind going over the last few weeks. "He only moves if I move him. If he gets tired, he does lie down, but in the same spot.
"He's like a prisoner in his own body then, isn't he?" the redhead said thoughtfully. "He can't or won't talk or walk, shows little to no emotion, and seems to have no interest in life around him, other than you." he stated. His eyes followed the Prince as he walked over to his Fourth and lowered himself down to sit next to the boy, as close as possible without touching him. Heero gazed into the eyes that focused only on him, searching for the soul inside. "How long can the both of you live like this?" Jens asked his final question.
Heero took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I miss him." he said quietly with a touch of sadness in his voice and in his eyes. "I miss his smile and the laughter in his eyes. I miss his voice and his song. I miss touching him." His face and voice both reflected his sadness.
Duo returned the prince's gaze, and reaching up, touched a strand of the dark brown hair curiously, as if he'd never done it before.
"We need to find a way to free him from where he's hiding." Jens said softly, feeling sorrowful at the Prince's words of longing and seeing in his eye the naked need for his Heart to be whole.
Duo's hand trailed down to Heero's cheek, and he stroked it with the back of his finger tips. Heero leaned into the touch, closing his eyes.
"Come back to me, Duo." he whispered.
"Maybe we need to remind him of his life here." Jens suggested, his face brightening at the idea. "How about his colt, the pond, or the kitchen? Those are some of his favorite things, if I remember right."
Duo's hand traced along Heero's jaw, tilting his head in study of the strong jaw line
"Do you remember Shinni, Duo?" Heero asked, taking up his uncle's suggestion. "How about Netta, or Hilde, or the ducks. Marta has been making your favorite foods. They miss you in the kitchen. Would you like to go there?"
Duo's thumb moved to trace Heero's lower lip, his thumb paused as he looked back into the Princes' eyes. His nod was slight, but clearly an answer.
Heero's face brightened and Duo's thumb traced the line of his upturned lips.
"I'll get his cloak if you'll call your Three." Jens spoke up, mesmerize yet encouraged by the gentle, touching scene before him.
Cautiously, Heero stood, not losing contact with the amethyst eyes gazing into his. He extended his hand, palm up in invitation. He stood there for a moment, waiting. Hoping.
His smile returned again as Duo placed his hand on top of his, trusting him yet again, making the Prince's heart beat rapidly with renewed hope. "Let's go see some friends." he said warmly to his Fourth. A few moments later, the six of them were walking down the corridor of the castle. Jens and Wufei served as point, keeping anyone from approaching the Prince and his fragile Fourth. Trowa and Quatre followed behind at a slight distance with the same purpose.
Duo walked a step behind Heero, their hands still firmly clasped. His wide eyes were focused solely on Heero's head. He was startled several times from sudden noises or movement that had occurred as they walked, and his body would instinctively draw closer to the prince and his eyes would widen with fear. But those eyes never left Heero, his obvious protector and anchor.
Their first destination was the castle kitchen. At first, the sights, sounds, and aroma seemed to overwhelm Duo, and he pressed his body up against Heero side, hiding his face on his shoulder.
"Look, Duo." Heero's voice called out softly. "They're making bread. You like making bread, remember?" The braided head rose to look around. Jens was speaking softly to the women in the kitchen, instructing them how to behave around the traumatized boy. Heero pulled Duo closer to the table where the bread was being kneaded.
"How's my sweet boy?" Marta asked in a gentled voice, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Duo looked up at the woman with no visible sign of recognition on his face and no reaction to her words.
Netta, standing on the opposite side of the table from where the Prince and Duo stood, smiled sadly at her friend. "Look Duo, I have some dough for you to work." She motioned to the table and quickly floured the surface and placed a lump of semi-worked dough on it. "Do you remember how to do knead it?" she asked as she carefully watched his face for some response.
Taking a tentative step forward, Heero's hand still firmly clasped in his own, Duo looked down at the dough resting on the floured surface. He stood there mutely for a moment, just staring at the lump.
"Like this, Duo." Hilde, standing next to Netta, was working on her own dough and motioned with a floured hand to the well-kneaded mound. She showed him by her movements how to work the sticky dough, adding small handfuls of flour to it to make it smooth and pliable.
Duo's hand slowly reached out to the lump before him, and suddenly all sound in the kitchen ceased and all eyes watched the boy with hope as they held their collective breath. His finger tips brushed the top of the semi-sticky substance with his eyes focused on Hilde's hands. Slowly, his right hand freed itself from Heero's comforting hold to bring it to join the other. With unnecessary gentleness, he brought the heels of his palms together and pushed the dough down and forward, mimicking Hilde's hands as she worked through her own dough.
Heero exchanged a optimistic glance with the others in the room before returning his attention to the boy at his side. The kitchen sounds went back to normal after a few moments, and as Duo continued to work the dough, Rodette removed a pot from over the fire and with thick wadded material protecting her hands, upended the pot and emptied its contents onto the table top. A large round loaf of bread popped out. Marta quickly prepared the pot again and put Hilde's dough into it, covered it, and replaced it over the fire.
Netta moved over to the end of the table where the bread was starting to cool. She took a sharp knife from the table top and cut of several slices from the end. From an earthen bowl she scooped out fresh churned butter and slathered it on top of the soft, warm pieces then brought it over to where Duo silently worked. She approached him slowly, having been warned that sudden movements startled him, and held out her hand, offering the warm bread to her friend.
Duo had seen her approach and stopped his kneading to warily watch her. Apparently determining she was no threat, he looked at the bread, and then up to Heero.
"Feed me a piece." Heero commanded softly of the girl before him. Her eyes widened in surprise. Nevertheless, she obeyed his command and in an awkward movement, placed a small piece of bread in the Prince of Bronwyn's open mouth.
Heero smiled as he chewed, his eyes never leaving his Hearts. "It's good, Duo. Try some." he gently urged, and then watched to see what the braided boy would do.
Duo had watched the process carefully, and then turning to face Netta, he opened his mouth in an invitation for her to repeat the action.
Blushing, the girl tore off another piece and popped it into his mouth, after which he mimicked Heero by chewing the morsel. He didn't smile to show his appreciation of the treat, but he opened his mouth for more.
Encouraged with their visit to the kitchen, Heero decided to venture further and led Duo to the stables, their small entourage in tow. It seemed decidedly strange to have the braided boy walk calmly and unfazed through the stable lined with stalls on both sides with the creatures he'd had a deathly fear of. Heero knew that previously, he'd always needed to be accompanied and reassured in order to reach the stall they were now approaching, the one that held his colt.
Dermail appeared, looking surprised and pleased as he greeted the important visitors. He ducked into the tack room for a moment and returned with an apple and oats in a wide bowl. Jens spoke quietly to the stable master who nodded in understanding to his admonitions to go slow and speak softly.
The gate to the stall was opened, and Heero led Duo inside, followed by Dermail. Jens and the Prince's Three waited in the doorway to watch what would unfold.
The chestnut colt had grown considerably, yet is was still too small to be ridden or broken in. Heero turned to Duo, not too surprised to see the violet eyes focused on him.
"Remember Shinni?" he asked his. Seeing no reaction or movement on Duo's part, he took his hand, still clasped in his, and set it down high on the young colt's hindquarters and moved his hand downward, stroking the soft chestnut coat.
"Here, Duo" Dermail came up slowly from behind, the apple in his outstretched hand was now cut into quarters. "Do you want to feed him?" he asked. "You always liked to...before."
After looking for conformation from Heero, the silent boy put his hand out and the older man placed the apple slices into his open palm. Heero repositioned Duo to stand closer to the colts head. His smile warmed as Duo stuck his flat hand out beneath the soft muzzle of the colt and let him eat the pieces the offered. With his other hand, he traced his fingers down the colts face, seeming to be fascinated with the white diamond mark between the young horses eyes. After a few moments, the bowl of oats was placed into his hands and the colt feed happily while the Prince's Fourth studied the twitching ears. When the task was done, Heero took Duo's hand in his own again, feeling very satisfied with the progress they'd make on their first outing from his rooms.
"I have something of Duo's," Dermail stopped them as he moved in the opposite direction. "from the last time he was here." Heero's eyes followed the stable master as he went to the back corner of the large room where Charlie had rested on that fateful day over two months ago. From a chest, the old man pulled out a carefully folded bundle of cloth that look familiar.
The older man returned quickly holding the cloak Duo had used to keep the sick boy warm. He held the woolen cloak out to the watching, silent boy. "Charlie's ma said to thank you for your kindness to her son. She washed it thoroughly before she returned it to me. You were too ill at the time for her to give you her thanks in person."
Duo's hands moved forward and the stable master placed the article of clothing into his hands. Then slowly raising his head, the blue/violet orbs strayed to the place against the wall where Charlie had tossed and turned with fever. His only reaction was the slight drawing together of his eyebrows.
Heero watched his Heart closely to gauge his reaction to Dermail's words and actions. It looked as if Duo was trying to remember something. Then suddenly, Duo's eyes were back on him, and there seemed to be a question in them. He didn't know if Duo's hand gripping tightly to his was a reaction of fear, or a memory trying to come to mind. Deciding they had accomplished enough for one outing, the prince posed a question to the other.
"Do you want to go back to our room now?"
Duo gave a slight nod.
Heero took up his hand and led his Fourth through the stable, noting the strong, almost painful clutching of Duo's grip this time. Maybe his memories were returning, he thought with renewed hope.
As they exited through the stable doors, a clatter of many hooves of approaching horses caught their attention.
"Rolf!" Jens yelled in surprised welcome to the large, dark-hired man, whose horse came to a halt just outside the gate. Swinging his leg over the saddle, he jumped down from off his large steed.
The tall, thin redhead ran up to his friend and embraced him in welcome and abruptly stiffened as he saw over Rolf's shoulder what was behind him. Jens slowly released the other, not taking his eyes off the new arrivals.
"Where'd you find them?" he asked darkly.
"In one of the hunting lodges." Rolf's deep voice answered. As the guards behind the King's Hands dismounted, it became evident to Heero and his Four that Treize and his Three had been captured.