by Dyna Dee
"Heero." Rolf stood and went to the agitated young man and clasped his shoulders so his pacing would stop. "Tell me what's wrong." he said forcefully.
"We're not bonded." Heero said again as he looked up, face distraught, into his uncle's bewildered face.
"I've tried everything I can think of, taken him time and again until he's so sore that I know I'm causing him pain. But he doesn't say a word." the prince dragged his fingers through his messy hair. "I could go in there and take him now and he wouldn't refuse me. He'll just whisper that he loves me." His sorrowful eyes beseeched the taller man. "What am I doing wrong?"
Rolf tried to mask the look of worry from his face. He'd never heard of such a thing, at least not in his Four, nor in the Four before him. "Did any of your others have trouble bonding?" he asked.
Heero shook his head. "The others bonded our first time together." he answered.
"Then it must be something with Duo." Rolf suggested.
"No," Heero insisted, shaking his head in denial. "He's so giving. I would be able to tell if it wasn't genuine."
Several moments passed as Rolf wracked his brain for an answer to the Prince's dilemma. He moved to sit once again on the bench next to the table. "I don't know, Heero. Maybe your father will know what's wrong. We leave the day after tomorrow to return." he reminded the Prince. "You still have time."
"I know, and Duo knows." the dark hair boy sighed deeply. "I've tried to put him at ease, but he senses my worry and I see him beginning to worry also. I don't think that being anxious is going to help us."
"No, I wouldn't think so." Rolf agreed as he stood to put another piece of wood on the fire.
"What should I do, Uncle Rolf?" Heero sounded so lost to the older man.
Rolf let out a deep breath of air. "Let him rest today." he advised. "Hold him and make him feel secure. Then try again tonight, we'll even give him more of the Druid's wine, even though it really isn't necessary. But don't wear him out." he admonished. "He'll need to be able to ride in two days as we ride back to Bronwyn."
Heero nodded, accepting the advice. "Very well. But Rolf," he looked up worriedly. "what will happen if we don't bond?"
The King's Hands went through several possible scenarios in his mind before he answered honestly. "I don't know, Heero. We'll have to consult with your father if it comes to that. But let's hope it doesn't."
Quatre clung to Trowa's cloak as they waited in the courtyard. He was anxious to see Heero and Duo again. A week apart had seemed too long of a time, despite the good company. He smiled warmly at Trowa, who looked down and returned the gesture. Wufei stood to the side, seeming stiff, a frown forming on his face.
"What's wrong, Wufei?" Quatre asked, sensing the other boys unease.
"I don't know," he answered looking in the direction of opening in the castle's outer wall. "but I think Heero is blocking us."
"What?" Quatre paid more attention to his senses. They had all felt Heero approaching home, but now he realized that what Wufei said was true. He couldn't hear any warm reassurances of greetings from the Prince. Closing his eyes, the small blonde reached out his senses to Duo and gasped. Duo was very upset and fearful. The same, though muted feelings, came from Rolf.
"What's wrong?" Trowa asked becoming concerned.
I... don't know." Quatre replied now equally worried. "But something isn't right."
Seeing movement to their right, they turned to watch the King approach with Jens, Therrin, and Thad in tow. They came and stood behind them looking grave.
"Master Thad?" Quatre questioned his mentor.
The slender dark haired man softened his expression as he met the smaller boy's worried eyes. "We'll all know in a few moments, little one." he replied kindly.
True to his word, it was only a few moments before the three tired travelers, sitting atop their horses entered the courtyard, their faces strained and drawn as they approached the waiting group. The stable boy ran up to catch the reins, allowing Heero to jump down from his mount and move immediately to Duo's side. He reached up and pulled the smaller boy into his arms for a fierce hug.
Wufei alone approached the two on Heero's silent summons. The Prince turned to look at him, Duo still fiercely held in his arms as if he was afraid to let go.
"Take him to my chambers, Wufei. See that he's brought food and wine. I need to speak with my father."
The Prince's Hands nodded solemnly and waited for Heero to reluctantly release the braided boy. He heard soft murmured reassurances from the prince before he turned Duo over to his care. "Go now." Heero urged his Heart as he put him into Wufei's protective arms with a small, forced smile. "I'll join you as soon as I can."
A barrage of emotions and questions were silently communicated among the Prince's Three, but Heero turned un-answering and moved towards his father. The King nodded to Rolf's looming figure and taking his son under his arm, they walked together into the castle, the King's Four following.
The three were left behind with Duo who stood uncharacteristically still under Wufei's arm, his eyes focused on the ground at his feet, refusing to meet the gaze of the worried Three, and his shoulders were slumped in a dejected manner. The silence stretched as they stood awkwardly, not knowing what to say.
Quatre stepped forward and spoke softly to him. "Welcome home, Duo. We missed you."
The barely stifled sob was the only warning the blonde got before the braided boy flung his arms around the him and sobbed uncontrollably against his neck.
Quatre's eyes widened at the intense emotions emanating from Duo. His own empathetic tears joined those of the crying boy in his arms. With some effort and finally, with Wufei carrying him, the Three managed to get the distraught boy to Heero's chambers. Wufei sat in a chair in front of the unlit hearth and held Duo close as he stumbled through an explanation. Through his almost incoherent speech, he told them that the bonding had not happened. Without being asked, he related how they had attempted the bonding so many times that he could hardly move from his soreness. "What's wrong with me?" he cried into Wufei's shirt. "Is it because of Treize that I can't bond?"
The three other boys in the room shared shocked and worried glances as Duo continued to cry.
Heero's First bent his head to speak soothingly to the distraught boy, and brought his hand up to stroke his hair. "We still love and need you, Duo, regardless if you are bonded or not." he told him.
With a shift of his head, Duo turned his red-rimmed and wet eyes to search his, and sniffed back his tears. "Really, Wufei? You really feel that way?"
"We all do." Trowa answered for them all as he held Quatre in a comforting embrace.
With a trembling smile of gratitude, Duo let his head fall back to Wufei's shoulder and snuggled against him. "It's nice to be home." he said suddenly feeling drained and sleepy.
"I should get you the food and wine Heero said you were to have." Wufei suggested softly.
"I need this more." Duo yawned.
He was about to drift off to sleep when Wufei stiffened underneath him and Quatre gasped.
"No, it can't be." Trowa said in a horrified whisper that brought the braided boy immediately to alertness, he sat up and, with alarm, saw a look of shocked grief on the other three's faces.
"What? What's the matter? Is Heero alright?" he asked frantically, fear rising in him.
Quatre burst into tears and buried his face against Trowa. The taller boy's face registered shock and disbelief as his eyes turned mournfully to Duo's own.
Duo snapped his head around to look into Wufei's face. The same look that had appeared on Trowa's face was also on the First's.
"Heero's okay, isn't he?" Duo asked fearfully.
Wufei nodded. "He's coming... quickly."
The look of fear turned to realized horror. Somehow Duo managed to voice his worst fear. "I'm being sent away, aren't I?"
The look on Wufei's face answered the question for him. In a flash he was free of the other boy's arms and ran into the Prince's bedchamber, a place that had been his room for so many months, and slammed the door behind him.
Trowa buried his face in Quatre's pale hair and Wufei placed his in his hands. They could feel Heero's anguish as he approach. He was filled with a consuming grief. The door to the antechamber was flung open, and Heero took in the three grieving, tears marking his own face as his eyes wildly searched the room.
"Where is he?" he asked desperately.
"The bedchamber." Wufei choked out an answer. "He knows."
Without further pause, the Prince strode to the other door and opened it to see Duo stretched out on the bed, his body convulsing with heaving sobs. Leaving the door open, Heero moved to the bed and climbed onto it. He lay his body down directly on top of Duo's back as if his position could keep his Heart right where he was, his face rested against the soft, chestnut colored hair. There were no words to be said as he joined the boy he loved in their combined state of shock and grief.
The Prince became dimly aware that the others had joined them on the bed, and carefully moved him from off his Fourth to lay by his side. The Three gently touched the both of them, wordlessly trying to give comfort without knowing how. All five stayed together on the bed as the day, regardless of their pain, eased into night, the boy's holding each other, crying together, and trying to understand the King's decision that felt so wrong.
During the long, mournful hours , Heero managed at some point to tell them it had been the King's decision to send Duo away since the bonding failed. He stated his reason as being that the heir to the throne needed four bonded to him in order to rule in complete safety and to comply with the Druid Wisdom. For five hundred years their family had followed the directives of the wise Druids, who specifically decreed that four should be bonded to the king. This bonding would ensure the continuance of the royal line, but also in the continued reign of their royal line in Bronwyn. It was a decree that had never been ignored nor denied, and was followed to the letter of the ancient scrolls. The King said he had no choice but to send Duo away so that Heero would be free to find another Fourth. He declared that the oaths they had made to each other were nil and void when the bonding failed to take.
The King told his son that he also worried that with Duo not bonded, jealousy might become part of the Three and his Heart, which would ultimately destroy them. Heero said he'd argued that they all loved the Fourth, but the King was cruelly adamant, even to the shock of his own Four. Heero recalled the look on his Uncle Jens' face as the King passed his judgment. He had been as horrified at Duo's banishment as Heero was.
Therefore, by the King's order, Duo was to leave in the morning. Rolf would take him to an undisclosed destination where, for the rest of his life, he would be cared and provided for. Even that generous solution did nothing to ease the grief the Prince and his Four felt that night.
During the early hours of morning, Heero had Trowa carry Quatre to his room. He was overcome with the constant wave of emotional grief that coursed through the room and Heero worried for his well being. Closer to dawn, Wufei left, giving the two left in the bed time to bid each other a final farewell.
Having only dozed once or twice through the night, both boys fell exhausted into each other's arms. They studied each other's faces, memorizing every curve and angle, impressing on their minds the vision before them, knowing their moments together were coming to an end. Their love making was different this time. It was slow and tearful, desperate and consuming. Each boy giving and taking from the other, their hands never leaving the other's skin. Their completion ended with exhausted sobs as they clung desperately together, fearful at the prospect of having to live a life without the other.
They lay spooned together in a light sleep when Wufei's warning roused them. It was past sunrise and Rolf had been sent to see to Duo's packing.
Through Wufei, Heero insisted that a hot bath and breakfast be brought up to his chamber. He would put off Duo's leaving as long as possible.
His request did indeed stretch the morning hours out as the hot water was prepared and brought to the Prince's room. A slow, almost completely untouched meal also took a good deal of time. The Prince of Bronwyn bathed with his Heart and gently dried his long tresses, brushing through it gently and then braiding it. He then dressed the boy in his clothes, making sure he still wore the blue vest that marked him with his protection. It was only after all this was accomplished and the morning was more than half spent that Rolf was admitted into the bedchamber.
As the King's Hands gathered together the boy's clothing and possessions, he kept his eyes on his task, not wanting to see the hurt look on the faces of the two exhausted and emotionally drained boys. He took his time, but soon the satchel was filled and Rolf stood and, for the first time, looked at the two on the bed. Both were dressed, and Heero sat with Duo curled up on his lap, his arms wrapped protectively around him. "I've finished my task here." he announced softly. "I'll go prepare the horses now."
"No." Duo spoke up, not raising his head from it's resting place on Heero's shoulder. "I came here on my two feet, and that's the way I'll leave."
"The Queen is gifting you with her mare until your colt is ready to ride." Rolf informed the braided boy. "We'll send him to you after he's been broken."
"I won't be taking Shinni either." Duo said quietly.
"He was my gift to you, Duo. Why?" Heero asked dispiritedly.
"Because I won't be able to give him the care he deserves. Save him and give him to your new Heart." Duo answered and choked back his sorrow at the thought of Heero replacing him with another.
"There will be no other Heart." Heero stated as he turned Duo's face to look at his own. "I will never again love as I have love you."
"But the King said you must have a bonded Fourth." Duo said sadly.
"Heero nodded, his face void of anything but sorrow. "When it is time to take a wife, I will make her my Fourth, and though I hope to care for one in such a position, I will never have another Heart."
The tall dark man bowed out of the room. His heart constricting tightly in his chest at the unbearable heartbreak he had just witnessed. This all felt so wrong. 'How would Allaric feel to have Jens forced from him?' He wondered to himself. He didn't think either the King nor his Heart would survive it. So why was he commanding his son to do such a thing, to turn his Heart away?
The Prince's other Three sat silently in the antechamber with a look of utter despair.
"Why?" Quatre raised his exhausted face to ask the King's Hands as he re-entered the room. "Why is the King doing this cruel thing to Heero and Duo?" It's destroying us."
Emotions he'd been fighting all morning threatened to break through at the little blonde's words. An unaccustomed tear fell from the corner of the large man's eye and he hastily wiped it away. "I don't know." he answered. "But I'm to take him from here before the sun hits its zenith. It's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done as the King's Hands." he sniffed and fought to hold back the deluge threatening to come. He could feel Jens reaching out through the bond trying to comfort him. The redhead's confusion and sorrow were almost palatable through their bond. "I'll be taking him to a safe place where he'll be well taken care of for the rest of his life. I promise you, he'll never want for anything." he added trying to offer some kind of comfort.
"Except for Heero and us." Wufei said dispassionately, the tone of his voice was lifeless.
Rolf nodded, knowing it was the truth, and he turned to leave, sadly finishing the King's bidding.
Jens came a short while later to escort them down to the courtyard. Heero noted that his uncle's eyes were red and puffy just before he embraced he and Duo, murmuring his heartfelt sympathy and apologies.
They walked in a group as if in a death procession through the unusually hushed castle corridors. They passed many of the castle workers who worked silently and stopped what they were doing as they passed and bowed their heads with respect to the somber group. They were obviously aware of what was happening and also affected by the events transpiring on this dark day.
The courtyard was awash with the brilliant sunlight that Heero wanted to rail at. How dare the day be cheerful when his world was falling apart. As they approached the center of the courtyard, across from the open gate that Duo would walk through for the last time, Jens separated himself from them to join the King and his Three bonded brothers. The redhead stood by Rolf, his eyes not meeting those of his King as hurt and anger separated them by more than physical distance.
Heero moved to stand in front of his sire, Duo's hand held firmly in his. "Please, father." his voice pleaded. "Don't let this happen."
The King's eyes reflected his inner sorrow, but there was no sign of turmoil in their depths. The Prince knew there would be no changing his mind.
The King stepped forward and lifted Duo's chin so that their eyes might meet. "I'm sorry, son. I know this seems wrong and it's painful. But Heero needs to have Four bonded to him."
Duo nodded, unable to speak to the man shredding his heart.
The King raised his head to look at the sky. "The day is half spent already." he sighed and lowered his gaze to his son and his Four. "Take him to the gate and say your final farewells." With a glance to Rolf, the King's Hands took his horse's reins and led the Prince and his Four to the gate of the castle. Once there, he move forward to a discreet distance, not wanting nor desiring to hear the painful goodbyes.
They stopped directly under the gate, and Heero nodded to Wufei, who stepped forward and carefully embraced the braided boy he felt he had loved from the moment Heero asked him to be his Heart. He had brought such life to the Four. "I'll miss you forever." Wufei whispered adamantly before he released him enough to kiss him on the lips, putting his heart and soul into it.
"Take care of Heero." was all Duo could choke out.
Trowa was next, and he trembled as much as Duo as they held each other for the last time. "I'll never forget you." the tall, quiet boy whispered, his voice trembling.
Duo's unchecked tears spoke volumes for him.
Quatre fell upon him, his aching heart making words impossible, so he just cried and held on as long as he could. It was Heero who finally separated them, giving Quatre into Trowa's waiting arms.
The moment came for the Prince and his Heart's final goodbye. Both trembled as they embraced.
"I'll always keep my pledge to you, Heero." Duo whispered into his love's ear. "Even though your father said it was void without the bond, my word is my bond and my heart, and I leave it with you."
Heero put his Heart's hand over his heavy beating, and emotionally ruptured heart. "Here is my heavy and sad heart," his voice was a choked whisper. "always longing and yearning for you. Take it with you. I have no need for it with you gone from me."
Regardless that they were in public, or that half the court was watching them, the two joined together for their last kiss. Heero poured all of his love into their last intimate touch. Duo took what was offered, taking into his being all the love and memory of Heero that would have to last him this lifetime and until another life when he would keep his pledge to find him, then nothing and no one would ever again separate them.
The kiss ended as Rolf's hand took hold of Duo's elbow and supported his first steps away from his only happiness. The tall man had joined the rest of them in crying openly, unashamed of his emotions as they walked down the road, away from Bronwyn.
They walked about fifty feet when Duo turned his head for one last look behind him. Wufei held Heero as the prince looked over his First's shoulder and watched his leaving.
Heero's eyes followed his Heart's departure, watching the braid that lay against his back gleaming its rich hues under the noon day sun. Wufei held him tightly as he felt his heart constrict with unbearable pain. Then Duo turned for a last look, his eyes filled with longing and sorrow. //I'll love you forever.// Heero sent his heartfelt thoughts to the departing boy. //I'll find you one day, when I am King, and I'll come for you.// he promised with all his heart.
//I don't think I can survive this// Duo thought. //I don't think I can live without you, Heero.//
Heero grabbed hold of Wufei's arm and blinked. //Duo? Can you hear me?//
Duo suddenly stopped moving, and Rolf turned to sadly frown at him.
//Heero? I..... I think I can hear you. Is it real, or am I just wishing it's real?// Duo thought to himself, his heart thudding wildly in his chest.
"IT'S REAL!" Heero shouted out loud, startling his Three and Rolf.
Duo jerked his arm free of the astonished man and ran back to Heero. He leapt into his waiting arms, wrapping his legs around the Prince's waist as they kissed deeply, passionately, and joyfully.
The King's Hands walked back determinedly. "This isn't helping the situation any." he said firmly as he put his hand on Duo's shoulder.
"No!" Wufei moved to stop the larger man. Rolf looked at him perplexed. Wufei's face was wet with tears, but he had a tired yet beaming smile on his face. Indeed, as he searched the other faces, Trowa and Quatre had a look of joy on theirs as well.
"They've bonded." Wufei confirmed.
Rolf looked at the two still hungrily touching and kissing, then looked skeptically at Wufei. "Truly? This isn't a ploy to keep him here?"
Wufei nodded. "Truly." he answered.
"Thank The Maker of us all." Rolf sighed feeling quite exhausted by the emotions he'd felt this day. Relief filled him now. "I'll tell the others." he said and then as he walked toward the King and the other three, did just that.
He looked at Allaric's relieved expression and it all came together. //You took a large gamble, didn't you?// he silently asked his King.
The King sighed deeply. "Yes, I did." he answered out loud. "I took a chance that their desperation to stay together would help, though it tore me apart to do it, and nearly cost me my son."
Jens' red eyes looked up into his lover's face. "What made the difference?" he asked perplexed as he wiped the moisture from off his face.
The King's eyes softened as he watched his son and his now bonded Four holding tightly to each other. "I'm not sure, but when Heero said Duo gave everything to him continually, not seeking his own needs, but Heero's, I suspected that might be the problem." The King took his Heart's chin and turned it so they could look each other in the eye. "The bonding requires the desire to be one with the taker. Duo needed to not only give of himself, but to take Heero in, body and soul." Jens' eyes displayed his confusion. "It's hard to explain," the King smiled at his Heart. "Duo was giving and not taking. It needs to be equal for the bonding to be complete. Heero mentioned to me once before that it seemed to be a part of Duo to accept what was given, yet never asked for anything. He needed to want Heero for himself, and not only for Heero's sake. I suspected he couldn't change simply by my suggesting he desire his Prince, but by threatening to never be with him again. I thought the desperation would change his perceptions. Evidently, it did." he smiled gently and lightly kissed his Heart's lips gently. "I would have let them get out of sight before I was going to send you to fetch the boy back." he whispered against his lover's lips. "I couldn't deny my son his happiness any more than I could deny myself of you."
Soon after that, the King and his Four were followed into the castle by the Prince and his Four. The long agonizing night left most of the royals exhausted and in need of sleep. Heero lay in his bed, his skin bare in order to feel his Heart's warm skin against his own. Duo had almost immediately fallen into a deep, much needed sleep, nestled in his arms, and the Prince of Bronwyn held him tightly, knowing he would never let this boy out of his sight again. He closed his eyes, breathing in the scents he'd washed into Duo's hair on this woeful morning. He sighed deeply, letting those painful memories fall to the back of his mind to let his new thoughts come to the surface. He was now complete. He felt it within every fiber of his being. He had his Four bonded to him, and his Heart was his for all time. With that thought he drifted down into the comfort of a dark, dreamless sleep.