Heero watched in secret from the barn door as Duo fed the horses. He was still surprised by how much the animals liked Duo. The horses nickered at him and Diana followed him around the house, and even in her very-pregnant state, around town. Duo had laughed and said he needed her to fend off the prostitutes that tried to pull him in if he went near enough to the brothel district. Duo rubbed Ala's forehead, and she nudged him with her nose. He smiled and spoke softly to her as he patted her shoulder.
Duo was running several errands a day now for Heero. He was well-known from his performance and was very popular around town. Many of the craftsmen and shopkeepers Heero had Duo doing business with frequently told Heero they even looked forward to Duo's visits. Heero was very pleased. This is exactly the way he wanted things, and Duo's entertainment abilities were equally impressive. But Duo hadn't acted the same towards him in the few days since he had refused to remove the collar. Duo apparently enjoyed chatting with Quatre, Hilde, Lucious, Mona, and well, everyone except him. At first he had found Duo's chattering bothersome and distracting from work, but now he missed it in some odd way. Duo still finished all his tasks and did everything he was told, but he had stopped being as friendly as Heero had become accustomed. Heero would not remove the collar, but he wondered what he could do instead.
"Duo," Heero broke the silence at lunch, "a new play opens this evening at the theater. You will accompany me."
"Really?" Duo blinked. "Ok!" he said excitedly.
"It will be a bit of a social event before and after, so get ready to learn some more names," Heero warned him. Duo nodded.
Trowa and Quatre came to get Heero and were delighted to have Duo's company too. Duo's spirits had brightened again and he eagerly met many of the Winners' business partners and allies. Many of them recognized him from the party several days before and talked with him about the performance.
"Awww, couldn't we sit anywhere closer?" Duo asked sarcastically when he and Heero found their seats. Of course, the Winners had a box in the closest section. Heero glanced at him, but gave no other response.
Duo reacted to everything going on on stage, following perfectly even though it was a myth he didn't know. The new play was a tragedy, and Duo was quite affected by it.
"Remind me to take you to comedies from now on," Heero observed, cocking an eyebrow. He had chatted with about as many people as he could stand for the night, and they were heading home.
"That was so sad!" Duo wailed. "I really liked it! I think I want to be an actor!"
"No you don't," Heero coughed. "That's only one up from a prostitute."
Duo shrugged, "Still better than what I am now."
Heero frowned and looked at the road. They walked in silence for a while.
"Have you thought about what you want to do when you're free?" Heero asked. "Maybe you'll go home?" He wasn't sure why he was asking, it was a long time into the future. He was secretly hoping that, when the time came, Duo would stick around Rome at least.
"Nah, I don't really have much of a home anymore..." Duo responded, eyes downcast.
"Oh, no, they're rebuilding your town," Heero assured him. "It's supposed to be better than ever."
"Umm, that wasn't really my home," Duo hinted.
"Oh, right," Heero said, remembering Duo had been a slave there too. He also recalled the painting Duo had made. "So... where do you come from?" he asked. He was really curious, but didn't want to pry too much.
Duo took a deep breath. "I was born in a tiny village in the woods near that town - the one you sacked. My parents died when I was really little, I barely remember them. After that, the town kind of adopted me. Left food and clothes for me, offered me work, let me sleep in the barn and all. But the bigger town raided the village and killed most of the people when I was 10."
"Hn," Heero contemplated. "What did you do then?"
"I wanted to become a soldier and get revenge. I wandered east, stealing supplies and money as I went. Eventually, I hooked up with a mercenary band." He laughed, remembering something, "They thought I was a joke at first because I was so young and small, but they taught me to fight, and I traveled and fought with them." Duo's face looked serious again, "All my time with them, all I could think about was that town, and my rage. When I was 17, I finally convinced them to raid it. Really, we were no match for their huge army. They totally decimated us. Since I also had the reputation as a thief, I was going to get extra punishment. But Madame Ocious saw me, and wanted me. She's the one who made me be a hand maiden."
"Right. And you lived there for two years," Heero finished, "and would be free pretty soon if my army and I hadn't come through?"
It got a rueful smile out of Duo. "Yup, that's right!" he replied agreeably, remembering that he had told Heero that on the first night they met. Duo did wish that Heero wouldn't bring up the fact that he was a slave, though. He didn't mind working for someone, it was just that he wasn't free. Although he was trying hard to accept it for the time being, he hated being reminded of it. He was dying to turn the tables and find out about Heero's past, but he didn't feel right asking.
Heero was thinking more and more about training Duo in swordsmanship. He was pleased to hear that Duo really was trained as a soldier, but he still wasn't sure if he trusted him enough.
Duo donned his dark red outfit and combed his hair before rebraiding it. For several days, he had been preparing new songs and stories for another Winner party tonight. It wasn't quite as big as the last few, so he didn't have to serve. The last performance had made him quite well-known, and the audience was eagerly awaiting him as he entered the room. The new songs and stories were a hit, and as usual, he closed the show with dancing.
Afterwards, he served wine and mingled with the guests. They talked eagerly with him, gushing about how much they loved the performance. The party was wrapping up, and he was returning his pitcher to the kitchen when he heard a voice calling him. He stopped and turned, recognizing the man from the last party and the play. Engineer Tsuberov was following him drunkenly down the dim, narrow servant corridor. This felt weird to Duo, guests did not use these passageways.
"Young man," the older man slurred when he reached Duo, "that was another very nice performance..." He put his hand on Duo's chest and pushed him against the wall. Duo was too stunned to move. "Yes," he continued lustily, looking him up and down.
Duo was frozen. He didn't know what to do. His instinct was of course to shove the lecherous man off, maybe kick him in the head a few times for good measure, and get the hell away, but he didn't know if he'd get in trouble for it or not. He just stood there in absolute revulsion.
The older man ran his hand down Duo's chest and leaned into him, "Yes, Captain Yuy is very lucky indeed to own you. It'd be quite a shame if he didn't put you to good use! I can think of a few things," he sneered. He encircled Duo's neck with one hand and groped through the folds of Duo's thin skirt with the other. Duo held his breath and he felt sick like he was going to throw up. He bit his lip and closed his eyes. "Hm! Very lucky indeed!" Tsuberov grunted in appreciation.
The old man sensed someone approaching and backed off.
"Duo, is that you?" a female voice called from the main room. A woman entered the corridor and Tsuberov snuck off in the other direction.
It was Lucrezia. "Duo? Lucius is looking for you. What was going on in here? Are you ok?" she asked, trying to see his face as he turned away.
"I'm fine," he mumbled as he picked up the pitcher he'd dropped and hurried to the kitchen.
Noin was deeply troubled by what she was sure she had seen. That disgusting Tsuberov had had Duo up against the wall. He was a retired engineer. Emperor Trieze did not like his inventions, but his previous service to the state had not been forgotten. Although widely unpopular, he still traveled in the highest social circle. She hadn't seen exactly what had happened, but Duo had seemed upset. She did not tell anyone, not even her husband, but she did visit Heero first thing in the morning.
"Lucrezia, always a pleasure," Heero greeted her in surprise. "Is there something on your mind?" he asked, noticing her expression.
"Heero, did Duo seem upset at all last night when he came home?" she asked.
Heero thought a moment. He had not attended the party, but had asked Duo how it had gone when he returned. "Come to think of it, he was acting a little strange. I asked him how it went and just mumbled something and went to his room. Did something happen? Did it go badly?" he asked, now concerned.
"No, the performance was terrific, but I think it brought him a little unwanted attention," she said carefully. She already knew what Heero's reaction was going to be. "I saw Tsuberov cornering him in a hallway. The old pervert ran off, but Duo seemed upset - "
"Tsuberov was touching Duo?" Heero demanded, his voice instant hard and cold.
"Now, I don't actually know what was going on," Noin tried to calm him, "I was just wondering if Duo had said anything to you, that's all."
"No, he didn't say anything to me," Heero said through clenched teeth. He turned to Noin. "Thank you for telling me, Lucrezia, I will get to the bottom of this." She left and Heero summoned Duo.
"Good morning!" he said cheerfully. "You missed a great show last night - "
"Lucrezia Noin was just here," Heero interrupted him.
"Miss Noin was here?" Duo asked, his eyes getting wide and voice getting quiet.
"Yes, she said she saw Tsuberov corner you in a hallway. What happened?" he asked angrily.
Duo remembered how enraged Heero could get. "N - Nothing! Nothing really..."
"Duo, if something happened to you, it is my right as your owner to know about it. Tell me the truth," Heero pressured him.
Duo's lip trembled and Heero knew something bad had happened. "If he abused you in any way, he can be legally punished. I demand you tell me what happened!" Heero said, raising his voice slightly.
"He followed me after the performance," Duo started, trying to overcome the shame he felt and the lump in his throat, "and he pushed me against the wall... and then he... He put his hands on me and g-groped under my clothes." His voice hitched then and he blinked back tears.
Heero looked furious. "He did that to you, and you didn't tell me? You belong to me, and no one else has the right to touch you in any way! You should have told me about this immediately!" Heero yelled.
Duo took a step back as Heero stood.
"Take the rest of the day off," Heero barked as he stormed out the door.
Heero charged past the servants and found Tsuberov still in bed.
"Wake up, you disgusting drunk!" Heero snarled at him as he threw the blinds open.
"Captain Yuy?" Tsuberov blinked, obviously hung over.
"Miss Noin visited me this morning," Heero said, voice with an edge sharp as any blade.
"Hmph!" Tsuberov snorted, "such a title is unfit for that barbarian woman."
Heero jumped onto the bed, taking the older man completely by surprise, and stomped up to him. He put his foot firmly on the man's chest. "She said she caught you molesting one of my slaves last night. You were abusing MY property as a guest in my father's house?" the young man seethed.
"He's just a slave - " Tsuberov swallowed as Heero's foot inched up over his throat.
"But he's MY slave," Heero hissed. "I'll make sure this ruins you, Tsuberov, mark my words. And if you ever come near him again," Heero drew his sword and placed the tip next to his foot, "I'll take you to court."
For the sake of his family's reputation and status, Heero couldn't just go about making threats on people's lives, but his tone of voice really said I'll rip you apart with my bare hands,' and Tsuberov knew that he could. Tsuberov could barely manage to nod and sigh in relief when the dark-haired youth sheathed his sword and marched out of his house.
Heero returned to his house and looked for Duo. He wasn't in the kitchen, or the garden, or the barn, or any of the places he could usually be found. Heero wouldn't usually disturb his servants in their rooms, but he had some important things to tell Duo. Sure enough, his door was shut. Heero knocked softly.
"Heero gave me the day off, please go away," Duo answered, barely audible.
Heero opened the door silently and peered in. Duo was sitting on his bed, wrapped in a blanket with Diana's head in his lap. He scratched her ears and fingered his own collar as he stared out the small window. Heero cleared his throat.
Both boy and dog jumped to their feet. "Oh!" Duo exclaimed, "I didn't know it was you!"
"I brought you your favorite," Heero said, holding out a small bag of honey flavored sweets.
"Oh, uh, thanks," Duo said, taking them with surprise. Heero seemed a lot calmer. Almost alarmingly so. "You didn't kill anyone did you?" Duo asked.
"No," Heero replied, amused at the suspicion written all over Duo's face. "Duo, there are a few things I want to say, may I come in?" He knew it was unfair to do this because it wasn't like Duo could say no.
"Yeah, sure," Duo answered unsteadily. Heero entered and shut the door behind him.
"Duo, when I got angry before, it wasn't at you. And it wasn't just because you're 'my property.' It was because nobody should have the right to touch you without your permission." This was honestly how Heero felt about it, and he knew it was the right thing to say, although he also knew it ruined any chance of him bringing Duo to his own bed. He couldn't deny that, for the first time, it had crossed his mind to use a slave in that manner. He was disgusted with himself for it, and would never allow himself to do it.
"How can I make it up to you, Duo? What can I do? Would you like some time off? No errands or parties? You can just stick around the house for a little while," he offered. He remembered the blanket Duo had pulled over his shoulders, "Maybe some better clothes? A haircut? Anything?" He silently hoped that Duo would not ask for the collar to be removed. The collar was staying on
"Nah," Duo said with the faintest smile, "the clothes and hair have kind of become trademark now. I don't really care about that." He looked up at Heero with pained blue eyes. "It's not so much what that guy did to me, I can handle a little rough treatment. It's that... I couldn't fight back. I mean, I could have, but I was afraid. Afraid of the consequences if I did. That's what's so demeaning. I was afraid to defend myself! You have no idea how that feels."
Heero was silent for a moment. "You're right," he told Duo seriously, "but please just tell me something I can do. Please?"
Duo thought about asking him to remove the collar, but now he kind of considered it like a shield. Heero would clearly protect him if anyone tried to mess with him again. Even though he'd rather fight his own battles, it gave him at least a little comfort. He was flattered that Heero wanted to do something for him, and he had to say something. "I dunno, a little time off would be nice I guess," he shrugged.
"It's yours!" Heero granted. He opened the door to leave, but turned back. "And Duo, quit spoiling my war dog."
-Acting was not a well-respected profession, even though everyone went to plays. Same with gladiators. Individuals could become popular as entertainers, but overall, they were not well respected.
Tsuberov - serious faux pas. One could be legally punished for abusing or damaging the property of another, and that included slaves.