Heero ran his own errands for a week and made sure rumor got out that Tsuberov had abused a Winner slave as guest in their home. All of the merchants and artisans Duo regularly did business with asked where he was. Heero told them Duo had work at home to do. Even though no one ever found out exactly which slave it had been, most people guessed it had been Duo and his fans were especially appalled. Tsuberov's reputation was completely ruined. He was invited to no parties and snubbed in the street, which was really the best that could be done with someone as rich as he was. Heero was satisfied with this, though he still would have liked to tear the man apart himself.
One morning, toward the end of Duo's time off, Heero sat down for breakfast in the garden, and it was brought by Duo.
"Duo!" he exclaimed in surprise, "you're not supposed to be serving, you're supposed to be having time off!"
"That's ok, I don't mind doing this!" Duo smiled as he poured juice, "I sort of missed our one-sided morning conversations!" That got a small smile out of Heero. "And besides, I was getting kind of bored."
Duo was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute before continuing, "And, um, I wanted to thank you for being so nice to me. I've been around for a little while now, I know how it is for most slaves, and I wanted to tell you how great you and your family are. Most everyone's been really great to me, especially you. So, thanks."
Heero felt a twinge when Duo thanked him. Duo shouldn't be thanking him! After all the trouble being a slave here had brought him? "Please don't thank me Duo," Heero said, putting his glass down. He continued without thinking about it. "I'm sure you've noticed this, but I was adopted by my parents. They took me in before they knew they were going to have Quatre. He and I are only six months apart in age. I've never told anyone this, but I believe my real parents were slaves. Fate is the only thing that brought me into this family. I was born a slave, and you were born free, but it is you who serves me. I can't just set slaves free, so I do my best to treat them with dignity."
Duo didn't know what to say. He was taken aback by Heero's confession and his unusual openness. Heero felt uncomfortable having said all that, and now having it hang in the air. He changed the subject.
"Did you say you were getting bored? Well, good, because I have a surprise for you," he said, standing up.
"A surprise? Really?" Duo asked, his curiosity piqued.
"Yes, follow me," Heero said, leading Duo to the armory. Most large houses had two or three dining or entertaining rooms, but Heero stored his extensive weapons collection in one since he did not entertain often, if ever. He had beautiful wooden racks and shelves custom made for storage. He opened a chest and pulled out a breastplate and two gauntlets.
"I had these made for you. Try them on to make sure they fit," Heero said.
Duo stared at the armor in shock. "You had these made for me?" he asked in disbelief. They looked very expensive. "Why?" he finally managed to say coherently.
"I'm going to train you so I can practice here at home," he secured the leather straps around Duo's arms and chest. Duo seemed more surprised than he had expected. "You said you were a soldier."
"Well, yeah, but I've lived with women for two years!" Duo exclaimed.
"I'm sure it'll all come back to you soon enough," Heero said. He surveyed the racks. "Now, which ones do you know how to use?" he asked.
Memories were already coming back to Duo. "The long blade there, the cross bow, and the axe."
"Cross bow? Hn," Heero nodded, impressed. He handed Duo a blade and took one for himself. He led Duo to the peristyle. Duo got used to the feeling of the sword in his hand again. It had been a while.
"Hey, aren't you going to wear armor?" Duo asked.
"Hn! I'll wear armor when you make me think I might need it!" he smirked.
"Hey!" Duo shouted indignantly.
"I want to see what you can do," Heero said. "Attack. Don't stop until you draw blood - if you think you can!" Heero challenged him.
Heero barely had to try to block every attack Duo tried. It was so effortless for him, it was almost funny. But Duo was diligent and determined. He attacked again and again. Getting bored, Heero started fighting back. It took Duo by surprise, but he tried to defend himself. Time after time, Heero's sword clanged into his breastplate or stopped at his neck. He'd have been dead no less than nine times before Heero stopped. Duo leaned on a pillar and tried to catch his breath.
Heero had gotten a pretty good idea of Duo's capabilities. He had been good once, that was evident, but he needed a lot of practice. To keep up with Heero he needed to increase both strength and stamina. This was going to be a lot of work, but Heero had nothing better to do for the time being.
"Ok, not too bad," Heero lied, "I think I've got a pretty good idea. That'll be all for today. How did the armor fit?"
"Fine, but a little big," Duo puffed.
"Good, room to grow - and you will," the captain promised. Duo naturally had a very nice physique, but Heero would like to see him a little more muscular. "Please put everything away in the armory and then you can use the bath when I'm through. Take as long as you need," Heero handed Duo his sword.
Heero soaked in the hot bath and thought. He had already decided he wouldn't make Duo pay for his entire worth, he was just too valuable. It would take him forever to get enough money, especially since he wasn't allowed to perform outside of the house. Heero had decided a long time ago that he was going to give all the money Duo earned back to him as a gift when he was set free. Every cent - and Heero was keeping close track. He certainly didn't need the money, and Duo had earned it anyway. It would be more than an adequate set up for living on his own, Duo would never have to be a servant again. Heero already knew he would miss Duo boy terribly, but Duo shouldn't have to be a slave. In fact, he wasn't even a very good one. Heero had noticed Duo never called him Master or Sir, but it didn't really bother him
Duo polished the weapons and his new armor. He knew he was faced with another decision. He would count fighting as one of the skills he didn't want Heero to find out about. If he became as good as he used to be, it would drive price up even further. He could pretend to be terrible or tell Heero he didn't want to be trained. He looked at his reflection in the new breastplate. He didn't want to disappoint Heero, but how could he get out of this?
"Your right side is open again," Heero said before taking advantage of it. With an easy thrust, the tip of his sword met Duo's ribs. Again.
Duo grumbled in frustration and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
"Attack," Heero instructed and Duo did.
Duo's training was supposed to have started in earnest today. They were only going over the basics, but Duo wasn't learning very quickly. Nor was he following directions or listening to suggestions. His blocks were weak, his swings had no follow-through. There was just nothing behind his arms. He lacked even the fire he'd had yesterday. It was obvious to Heero that he was doing it on purpose. He realized that Duo must have figured out that his worth might go up. It was time to set this straight.
"Duo, lets talk for a minute," Heero said, stopping him. "Listen, I can tell you're doing poorly on purpose."
Duo ducked his head a bit and scraped his sword on the stone, not sure what to say.
"Trust me, your worth won't go up any more," Heero said. "I promise."
"Oh, ok," Duo replied, a little embarrassed that Heero had seen through his act so easily.
Heero rolled the hilt in his hand a few times. "And to inspire you," he continued, "I'm taking you to the Games next week."
"The Games?" Duo asked excitedly. Of course he had heard the Peacecrafts were putting on gladiatorial Games for an entire week, and he was hoping to be able to see some of the spectacle, but nothing could beat sitting in the Winner box!
"Yes, but I want you to train hard between then and now, ok?" Heero said.
"You got it!" Duo exclaimed.
All of the Winners would be in attendance on the opening day of the Games to support their allies, the Peacecrafts. Trowa would of course join them. Zechs and Wu Fei would be seated in their own families' boxes.
Duo couldn't help his feeling of awe as they entered the amphitheater, it was huge and the arches and statues encircling it were commanding. As usual, Heero took it all in stride and didn't even seem to notice the splendor around him. He did notice Duo's response though, and it made him smile just a little to see Duo try to walk and take everything in at the same time. He stuck close to Heero.
Heero heard Duo's short gasp of awe as the arena came into view. The Games were a grand affair, and these were extra lavish since they were thrown by the rich and powerful Peacecrafts. Gala music blared from inside as the audience entered. The walls were hung with flower garlands and brightly-colored banners. The Winner box was also nicely decorated with flowers and a majestic banner displaying the Winner insignia. The women sat behind the men, and Duo was allowed to sit in the front next to Heero.
The Emperor's booth was ready for his occupation, sumptuously decorated with purple and gold fabrics, flowers, and beautiful servants. Heero leaned over to Duo and explained that it was his custom to be the last to arrive and the games would start when he sat down. Heero also explained that throwing games was the best way to show off power, wealth and status. The Peacecrafts threw a week of games every year and sometimes a day or two here and there to publicly celebrate weddings, childbirths and other holidays. During the games, the rich family paid for the gladiators, the animals, the musicians, the orator, and everything else that went into the spectacle. The Peacecrafts were very generous with their spending and allowed free entrance. This brought them immense popularity amongst the people.
All the seats were filled and the crowd eagerly awaited the emperor. The music blared and everyone stood as he entered. Duo had never seen him before, save on the minted coins. He was young, and quite dashing. He wore beautiful fabrics in deep blue and gold, and a cape thrown over one shoulder. He was adorned in a golden laurel crown and many rings. His wife entered behind him, she was equally beautiful, wearing a jeweled crown over her long shining hair. She wore deep red and much gold jewelry. The emperor raised his hand to the people and they cheered deafeningly. His booth was strategically placed to allow him the benefit of the acoustics for his speeches. He gave a short, eloquent speech about the beauty of battle and the valor of the human spirit and then he and his wife and entourage sat. The audience cheered again.
An orator from the Peacecraft booth began to speak, welcoming everyone to the games and thanking them for their support. Then the music started again and the gladiators marched in. Duo was surprised by their exaggerated armor and weapons. They fought in teams of five, then three, then one on one. The audience cheered and booed passionately. Duo was riveted the whole time, sitting on the edge of his chair.
"I can't believe you used to do this!" he leaned across Heero and whispered to Trowa. Trowa just peered at him with one cool green eye.
"There's a statue of him in one of the arches on the outside," Heero bragged for Trowa. Duo looked duly impressed.
The opening day of the games concluded and Duo was ready to practice with Heero again as soon as they got home. Heero had to chuckle, he really didn't feel like it, but he didn't want to squelch Duo's enthusiasm. Duo talked non-stop about the games as he put on his armor, and Heero noted he was truly inspired, his fighting had improved just by watching. He was still no match for Heero, but Heero noted he did have to try a little harder.
"Hey, tomorrow is the Hunt, isn't it?" Duo puffed when they stopped.
"Yes," Heero said, glad he was getting a little practice today. Not that he needed it.
"Are you nervous?" Duo asked. The Hunt was an event in which the Peacecrafts invited the best warriors to come and hunt wild animals for the audience. All the posters advertised Heero's name, much to his chagrin, as well as Zechs' and Trowa's.
"No," Heero answered in monotone, "Duo, would you like to help me get ready tomorrow? All you have to do is carry my things, and you'd get to go into the sublevels with me - "
"Would I!" Duo exclaimed. He couldn't imagine anything more exciting!
"Good," Heero said, nodding, "Why don't we go get the things ready now, I have a little time before the party." The Winners would be attending the Peacecrafts huge party tonight. Zechs had begged and begged Heero to allow Duo to perform, but Heero stood his ground.
The two young men went into Heero's armory and Heero chose his weapons. He decided to wear a brown leather breastplate, burned with the Winner crest, and a strip leather skirt with bronze gauntlets and no helmet. He was going to look very handsome.
"Heero, I never knew you were so style-conscious!" Duo teased. Heero shot him a dry look. Duo's glanced over the selections again and thought more practically. "But are you sure you don't want to wear more substantial armor?" he asked.
Heero just shook his head as he picked a sword and shield. "No, it's not that dangerous," he answered, handing the weapons to Duo. "Please have those things polished for tomorrow."
Heero turned to go to the bath, but stopped at the door. He looked back at Duo. After a moment's deliberation, he asked, "Duo, would you like to accompany me to party? Do you think you'll have enough time to do all that and bathe?"
Duo just stared for a second before stuttering an answer. "Yes! I - I would love to! Yeah, I can have all that done, no problem! I promise! Do I really get to go?"
"Now, Duo," he tried to calm him, "you're going as my servant, please remember the rules."
"Yeah, ok, I will!" Duo assured him, but Heero knew he would inevitably break them. It made him smile a little.
"All right then," Heero said, "please wear the new dark blue skirt." Heero had decided on plain white for everyday, red for performances, and dark blue for other public appearances. Maybe the party wouldn't be so dreadful if Duo were with him.
Duo nodded vigorously, and quickly got to work on cleaning the leather.
Duo combed his hair excitedly and replaited it very neatly. Heero had bought the dark blue outfit a while ago, but he hadn't gotten to wear it yet. It was a very nice fabric with the same thin gold trim. Duo liked how it highlighted his eyes. He was used to being bare-chested now, and he liked the tan color his skin was taking on from his outside work. He put on his nice sandals and went to wait for Heero in the atrium.
Heero met him wearing his usual drab colors, and his hair was in its normal, very unstylish tangle of spikes, but not even that could disguise how attractive he was. The dark hair playing in his eyes drew attention to their striking ice blue color, and his clothes always inadvertently accentuated his sculpted body. Duo had noticed how people, especially women, looked at Heero. He had also noticed that Heero usually didn't notice, and when he did, he didn't seem to know why.
"Ready to go?" Heero asked, looking Duo over. Duo got his definite approval.
"Ready!" Duo exclaimed with a grin.
They joined the rest of the Winners and the family arrived together. Trowa was of course a permanent adjunct to the group. Everyone had put on their best for this important occasion. The party was huge and even more lavish than the games. Rumor had it the Emperor himself would make an appearance. Duo knew his job and tried not to let his excitement show too much. He followed Heero around, got him drinks, looked pleasant, and didn't speak unless someone addressed him directly. However, the popular performer got nearly as much attention as his master did. Almost everyone recognized him from his performances at Winner parties, and wanted to chat with him. When asked whether he was to perform, he politely said he was not.
The next day's Hunt was the hot topic of the night and it seemed everyone wanted to talk to Heero about it. Especially Relena Peacecraft. Luckily, she wasn't able to corner him until later in the night. Duo was immediately irked by her very presence. Remembering what she's said about him, he suddenly became very self-conscious about the collar. The whole time she was around, Heero did not send him away to go get drinks or find someone. She held Heero's arm possessively and led him around, completely ignoring Duo. He followed a little numbly.
Duo couldn't really see Heero's face, but the captain seemed to tolerate her all right. He had heard they would probably marry. And why not? She was very pretty, rich, well-educated, and came from a powerful family. He didn't know why that made him kind of sad. He'd never thought about what it would be like to have a woman, besides Mona, in the house, and of course children in a few years. He kind of hoped he was free by then, although the sudden mental image of little Heeros running around with little swords was irresistibly cute.
Zechs came over and joined the three of them, much to his sister's annoyance. He had heard Duo had come with Heero and had escaped political duty as soon as he could to see them both. He was surprised that Heero had brought Duo with him. It was not uncommon for people of their status to have slaves with them at parties and out around town, but that wasn't like Heero. But in another way, he wasn't really that surprised. If Duo were his, he'd certainly be showing him off.
He greeted his friends and his sister, who gave him a dirty look. He noticed Duo was looking a little despondent, so he engaged the young man in a conversation about the Hunt the next day, and was delighted to hear he was going to be Heero's attendant.
"Please make sure he wears armor this year," Zechs whispered. Before Duo could ask him what he meant, Heero announced that they were leaving. Relena begged him to stay, but he politely declined
Heero left hurriedly without saying customary good-byes. Everyone expected that kind of behavior from the reserved captain, no one thought it was rude when he did it. Heero finally slowed the pace a few blocks from the house. He sat heftily on a bench outside a bakery and sighed heavily.
"Are you ok?" Duo asked with concern, sitting down next to him.
"Relena..." Heero shook his head.
Duo looked down at the bench. Obviously Heero was very affected by her and didn't know what to do when she was around. He fidgeted with his skirt silently. Heero seemed like a rather unromantic person, he wondered if he should help him woo the woman he wanted. Before he could suggest anything, Heero got up and started home again. Duo stood and quickly followed.
The amphitheater in Rome is known as the Coliseum. It is truly magnificent, I highly recommend visiting. Some people are very underwhelmed by it, like "Oh it was so disappointing, it as just a pile of old rocks". Well, as a person with immense appreciation for old piles of rocks, I was very impressed. The structure itself is just amazing, the engineering of it: the sublevels, the stadium seating, the huge shade. Incredible.
Women would have sat in the upper tiers of the amphitheater for the Games, since they weren't exactly supposed to go (though they did), and slaves would have sat in the upper, upper nosebleed section. Lucky Duo!
The Hunt - yes, they did this. Young men from town would hunt wild animals for the audience's viewing pleasure.
Yes, there was the possibility that a slave baby could be adopted and raised by a rich family (they just took it from the slaves). Especially if they wanted one sex or the other. Boys were good because they were heirs, but girls were good political bartering tools and alliances could be formed over marriages. Heero's suspicions could be true, but no one will tell him.
(Sorry about Relena, guys. *shows off Reformed Basher badge*)