The week passed quickly, Duo and Heero trained everyday at sword fighting. Duo ran his usual errands and took care of the animals, but was exempt from any other duties so that he could work on some new songs. The red and gold sash to be worn by all Guests of Honor arrived for Heero. Duo's red skirt was cleaned and his instruments polished.
The morning of the celebration, Duo had finished his usual errands, but had one more stop to make. He had come up with an ingenious plan to help Heero get together with Relena. He bought a gorgeous white lily and brought it to the Peacecraft House. A servant he recognized let him in and he asked for Relena.
"My Lady Relena," Duo said with a deep bow when she appeared. She looked annoyed at having been summoned by a slave. Duo held the lily out to her. "Please wear this on your dress tonight," he said.
She took it slowly. "I-is this from Heero?" she asked in disbelief. Duo didn't answer, just turned to leave.
"You, wait!" she commanded. "Is this from your master?"
He ignored her and slipped into the streets. He smiled to himself all the way home. He may dislike her and not be looking forward to having her around the house, but he felt good to be doing something nice for Heero. Maybe this would jump start things a little.
Duo returned home to prepare himself. He bathed and brushed his hair till it shone. His skin was tan and his hair infused with natural coppery highlights. He fastened the red skirt at his hips as he went over his mental concert order. He had sent his instruments ahead that afternoon, so all he had to bring with him was Heero.
He found the man waiting for him in the peristyle. He looked very much a decorated captain in a shining gold breastplate with the Winner crest over a crisp white tunic and a deep red cape decorated with his rank. He even had a sword hilted at his belt. All he needed was a plumed helmet.
"Well, Captain, you're all dressed up!" Duo observed with a smile.
Heero whirled around and Duo saw his scowl. "His Excellency ordered me to wear this," he grumbled.
Duo laughed. "Wait, where's your sash?" he asked, noticing that something was missing.
Heero looked away and didn't say anything. Duo cleared his throat and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at Heero expectantly. Heero revealed it wadded up in the hand he was hiding under his cape.
"Heero!" Duo chided with a smile. The soldier was so much like a little boy sometimes. "You have to wear it. Here, let me put it on you," Duo said, taking it. He smoothed it out and fastened it across Heero's metalled chest. "There," he said approving and taking a step back. "Hey, we match," he added with a grin. "Or should I have worn the blue?"
"No, red is for performing," Heero reminded him.
"So, you don't want me to follow you around all night?" Duo asked almost disappointed. He liked the parties more than Heero did.
"You are an honored guest too."
"Hardly," Duo replied wryly.
"I am not sure what His Excellency will have you do, but if you would like to accompany me..." Heero trailed off but Duo knew he was saying he'd like Duo's company.
"Yes, sir!" Duo said with a roman salute. Heero made a little amused smile and suggested they go wait in the main house for the rest of the family. A ceremony honoring Heero was a major family affair for the Winners. Only Quaterine was staying home. She played with Heero's cape as she complained about it.
"I want to go too! I'm part of the family!" she pouted, pulling his sword from the sheath. She wasn't tall enough and couldn't pull it all the way out. He did it for her and offered her the handle. She took it with both hands. "I -oof!" she chirped as the blade clanged to the floor.
"Heero!" Iria exclaimed, breezing in and still fastening an earring. "We agreed no real swords! Gods, she could kill herself!"
"She can't even lift it," Heero motioned to Quaterine, who was heaving with all her might but not able to raise the blade from the floor. "Besides, it's only an ornamental sword."
Duo relieved Quaterine of the sword and poked Heero in the metal stomach with the sharp end. "Don't upset your sister," he said as if he were talking to a small child.
"Thank you, Duo," Iria said straightening her necklace and checking her hair one more time.
Heero snatched the sword from Duo and gave him a dirty look as he resheathed it. Duo smirked back in a "she likes me better" way.
"Don't worry, mama, you look beautiful," Quaterine said touching the sheer sea green fabric of her mother's dress reverently. Iria bent down and kissed her. "Doesn't mama look beautiful Duo?" Quaterine chirped.
"She looks stunning, Kat," he agreed. "Uncle Heero may need that sword to fend off all the men!"
"You!" Iria tsked at him and blushed.
Trowa and Quatre joined them, Quatre in very stately and dignified robes, and Trowa dressed very handsomely. His belt was engraved with the same Gallic symbol he usually wore.
Master Winner entered the room with a small box. "Heero," he said calling his son to him. Heero obeyed immediately. "To honor you, I had this made."
"We are so proud of you, brother," Quatre said.
"Open it!" Iria said, clasping her hands at her chest.
Heero opened the box and found inside a gold ring with his family crest and two jewels on the side. His name and the date were engraved inside the band. He hugged his father and thanked them all. He put it on. It felt heavy on his finger.
Quaterine was left with Hilde and the Winners embarked for the Imperial Palace on the hill. The rest of the family would be meeting them there.
They were greeted at the entrance and Duo was immediately recognized and led away.
"This is your dressing room," the slave told him after leading him through a series of hallways. He opened a door and let Duo into a sumptuous sitting room. All his instruments were inside.
"His Excellency requests that you wear this," the servant motioned to garments hanging over the back of a chair. "Make yourself at home and relax, take a little time to warm up. Your dinner will be brought shortly. Please stay here until you are called to perform."
The palace slave left then, and Duo didn't really know what to do. There was a pitcher of water and a glass on the table, so he helped himself.
"I'm supposed to just stay here?" he asked out loud. It was going to be one boring night. "I'd rather be out there at the party with Heero," he huffed as he flopped down on the couch.
Other guests began to arrive at the gala. Guests of Honor were stationed at the door to be venerated as everyone entered. Heero would have been completely unwilling if Zechs hadn't been there to humor him into it. Zechs was a good friend whom he would do just about anything for, but he still wished Duo were there too. Nothing was so bad when Duo was with him.
The party was huge, and the guests included the most prestigious citizens as well as visiting dignitaries. Heero recognized just about everyone. Wu Fei and Sally were there with the Chang clan. The Peacecrafts had come with Zechs. Heero groaned when he saw Relena approaching.
"Hello, Heero," she practically purred, "I'm so happy for you. You deserve this honor so much!"
Heero tried to ignore her, but she went on and on. And she kept touching the flower pinned to her dress. He wondered if Duo was coming back. Luckily, Zechs noticed Heero glowering.
"Dear sister, I think the captain has other guests to greet," he said, taking her gently by the shoulders and leading her away.
"Don't be so rude to my sister, I'll have to beat you," Zechs joked in a whisper when returned to Heero's side again.
"Zechs..." Heero tried to explain.
"I know, I know," Zechs sighed. There would be no Peacecrafts for Heero Yuy Winner. Relena was going to take it hard.
The party dragged on for Heero. When most everyone had arrived, the Guests of Honor mingled. Heero tried to stay mainly with his family. He liked most of his brother-in-laws and didn't mind talking with them. Many people wanted to congratulate him and he tried his best to be polite. Duo never came back.
Relena caught him as he was trying to find Wu Fei. "Heero," she said in a slightly pouting tone.
"Relena," he said wearily.
"Why are you acting so strange?" she demanded.
He just looked at her, confused. He didn't think he was acting any different than he normally did.
"You send me this beautiful lily, and then ignore me all night!"
"What?" he asked, still confused.
"You've been ignoring me!" she pined. Well, he'd been trying to anyway.
"I - I didn't send you that," he stuttered.
"Yes, you did," she insisted.
"Relena, I really didn't," he replied.
"Your slave delivered it this afternoon!" she exclaimed. "The one with the long hair."
"Duo?" Heero wondered. "Did he say it was from me?"
"Well, no, but I assumed - " she faltered.
"Well, I did not tell him to give it to you, there's been some kind of misunderstanding. I'm sorry, Relena," he said, quickly leaving her.
He wondered why Duo would be giving Relena flowers. He had to find Duo. Now. He grabbed the first slave he saw. "Where is Duo?" he asked.
"Excuse me, sir?" the slave asked.
"The performer, where is he?" he asked a little more forcefully.
"I don't know, sir," the slave answered timidly.
"Find me someone who does," Heero ordered without his customary politeness. He did make a habit of intimidating others on purpose, but he was making an exception. The slave rushed off and another approached him in a moment.
"Captain Winner," he said respectfully.
"Where is Duo?" he asked again, now getting impatient.
"In his dressing room, sir."
"Where?" Heero nearly growled. "I need to see him."
"I'm not supposed to - " the slave stammered, torn between the Emperor's orders and the terrifying captain.
"Show me to him," Heero commanded.
"This way, sir," the slave relented. Heero followed him through a series of corridors to the dressing room. He glared at the slave, and the poor man hurried off down the hall. Heero knocked.
"Decent!" Duo sang. Heero turned the handle.
"Heero!" the young man exclaimed when Heero poked his head around the door. A huge smile appeared on his face and he got up from the couch.
"Man, I was getting so bored!" he complained. "I can't believe they've got me cooped up in here."
"What's this?" Heero asked, frowning at Duo's clothes. He had on a very short purple skirt with jeweled trim, no belt, two shining gold wrist cuffs, and a large gold necklace that covered the collar. Even his sandals were not his own. They were also bright gold.
"Yeah, can you believe this get-up? Apparently, this is what the Emperor wants me to wear for the performance. I hate this gaudy necklace," Duo complained. "I want to wear my normal outfit."
Heero looked him over again. The skirt was shorter than Heero was really comfortable with. It left little of his legs or middle to the imagination. Heero felt anger ignite inside him. Duo was not the Emperor's to show off! Treize had no right!
"You should wear whatever you feel most comfortable in," Heero told him, checking his anger.
"Thanks!" Duo breathed in relief. He removed the necklace and cuffs quickly and then sat down to put his own shoes on.
"Duo," Heero said, remembering why he had come, "did you bring Relena a flower?"
Duo looked up from lacing his sandal. "Nope, YOU did, lover boy!" he winked.
Heero's eyes bugged. "Are you trying to encourage her?" he asked in a strangled voice.
"Well, yeah, since you're so shy!" Duo said with mock exasperation.
"Duo!" Heero said in despair. "Not only am I shy, I can't stand her! Did you not realize that?"
Duo burst out laughing. "Oh shit! I really made a mess of things then, didn't I?"
Relieved, Heero fell onto the couch next to Duo and elbowed him in the ribs. "Don't ever do that again!" he said wearily. "And watch your language!"
Duo tried to stifle the rest of his chuckles. "I won't do anything like that again, I promise!" he said. He started laughing again, "I don't like her either!"
Duo's mirth was infectious and for a little while, Heero forgot about having an upset Relena Peacecraft on his hands. He chuckled with Duo and shook his head.
Duo saw Heero laugh and smile, and for a second, his heart fluttered and he felt it ache with happiness. He'd never seen Heero smile like that. It was a beautiful smile. Beautiful in the way anything in nature could be beautiful. A sunset, a field of wheat in the breeze, waves on the shore. A sight that the mind and heart remember for all time.
Heero caught Duo looking at him, and Duo's smile widened. "So, is she mad?" he asked.
"She might be. I told her it was a misunderstanding," Heero shrugged. He paused and then admitted, "Honestly, a little break from her wouldn't be bad."
"Can I tell you that I really didn't want you to marry her?" Duo ventured, feeling bold, "I mean, not that it's any of my business..."
Heero made a disgusted face. "Marry her? That's the last thing I want!" He sighed, "I don't think I'll ever get married."
"Really?" Duo cocked his head.
Heero shook his head. "What about you?" he asked.
Duo shrugged. "A lot of things are up in the air right now," he said, "I guess I don't give it a lot of thought."
Heero nodded. Perhaps Duo was waiting until he was free, that would make the most sense. "Duo," Heero said, "the Emperor is not paying you for this. He considers it an honor for you, but I will add money to your fund for performing tonight."
"Thank you," Duo stammered, blinking at him.
"Well, I'll let you warm-up now," Heero said, standing.
"You're leaving?" Duo asked disappointedly.
"Yes, dinner is soon," Heero told him. "Are you getting dinner?"
"Yeah, they're bringing it here," Duo said flatly.
Heero looked at him. He would much rather stay here and eat with Duo. It seemed like Duo wanted company. He could easily order more food to be brought in. He must have been thinking about it too long because Duo started pushing him towards the door. "You can't miss your own dinner, Guest of Honor!" he said, jovial again.
"Duo, I - " Heero started. What did he want to say? That he wanted to stay and listen to Duo warm up. He wanted to eat with Duo here alone and not with everyone else. He wanted Duo to wear the clothes he had provided. He didn't care about this party. He didn't care about the ceremony.
"Go back to the party, Heero, you deserve this," Duo said earnestly.
"All right," Heero conceded. His brain had snapped back from his impractical thoughts and he was thinking about duty again. "Good luck, then. Don't be nervous."
"I'm not," Duo promised.
Anyone ever been to the Imperial Palace (The Palatine)? It's right near the Forum in Rome. Oh my god, it's huge! Only low walls and stones on the ground are left, but it really is like a maze! They attempted to replant some of the gardens, though, they are lovely.