Duo lit a hand-held lamp from the wall sconce before carefully snuffing it out. Couldn't be too careful in the barn. He had finished checking on the animals for the night, and the only animal he wasn't sure was all tucked in was Heero. They had played with the puppies, Heero had been out all afternoon and then returned for a quiet dinner. Heero had been so cute with the puppies; it made Duo smile all over again to think about it. For one thing, he could still hardly believe he'd gotten General Heero Winner Yuy to play with puppies. Small as they were, at first, he didn't want to handle them too much.
Duo could understand that from someone who'd been trained the way Heero had, but he really needed to have more faith in himself. Small, delicate things like puppies and children seemed to make him a little nervous, but he always did fine. He managed perfectly well to soften his sword technique in order to teach Quaterine. He'd never hurt her, not even by accident, and she'd been sneaking over to his house since she learned to walk. Heero had told him about the first time his niece had snuck away from her nanny and into his house. Duo could easily imagine Captain Heero, just back from whatever battle, faced with a terrible two-year-old and having absolutely NO idea how to vanquish this new foe. Not knowing just how poorly two-year-olds mind, Heero had simply told her to go home, and then found her in the armory fifteen minutes later, wearing one of his helmets. This time, he escorted her back to Iria's quarters, where they were frantically searching for her.
Regardless, nothing had stopped her from escaping her nannies now and then, but at least they knew where to look for her. Iria had eventually allowed her to visit, feeling they'd be good for each other, the little girl without a father, and Heero still feeling like an outsider in his own family. He'd made them both wooden swords to practice with, but lately she'd been pushing for metal, especially after watching Heero and Duo practice with steel so often. Duo didn't mind sharing a few practice sessions with her, it made him smile. She was so determined, and she was going to be quite a handful when she got older. Not that she wasn't now!
Duo hoped he could help foster an interest in music in Quaterine, or something more suitable for a young woman of nobility. Hilde was teaching her to sing, so sometimes he taught her songs. She was the only person he'd sing for on command. Well, besides Heero, but he had only asked twice the whole time Duo had lived with him. Once, the morning after he'd performed for Quatre's friends, and not again until last night.
Duo groaned mentally. The song! He still couldn't believe he'd been so stupid. Heero hadn't said anything about it, which was a big relief. But maybe, in some ways, he wanted Heero to ask about it. No, no, he decided, he absolutely DID NOT want to have to explain his feelings to Heero. Dinner had been quiet; he supposed Heero was still thinking about family things. Heero had left right after he was finished and disappeared into his office for the evening. Duo was tempted to just rip the door out one morning and throw it in the Tiber. What mysterious things did Heero do in there? Duo knew he had shelf after shelf of books in there, and plenty of business with the military, checking and rechecking losses and gains from his campaign. He had household business as well, including expenses and the businesses his father had given to him when he returned. But Duo knew that Heero really went in there to avoid things - usually people.
Duo knocked softly on the door and frowned when he did not receive a response. He quietly pushed the wooden door open and peeked his head in. What he found made him grin. Heero was asleep, slouched in the large cushioned chair near the bookshelf, with his feet up on a footrest. The lamp at his left burned brightly, his head lolled to one shoulder and rested on the backrest, and his hands pressed an open book to his stomach. On the table next to his chair was the wine decanter Duo made sure to keep full, and an empty wine glass.
Everything looked so warm in the flickering lamplight, the deep red wine, the polished table, the dark green book, the rich brown of Heero's hair, his bronze skin. Duo just looked at him for a moment. Sleeping with him could have been so wonderful. Instead, it had not been wonderful at all because he had not been allowed to touch. It had been a very unrestful night of controlling his instinct to cuddle, snuggle, grab, squeeze, and lay all over the person in bed with him. Tangled up with the girls had been a great way to wake up, and he desperately wanted to experience the same with Heero.
He went to Heero's chair and said his name before touching him, trying not to startle him too much.
Heero blinked awake, groggy from dozing off. Duo's face registered before his surroundings, and he smiled a little.
"Duo," he croaked. He blinked a few times and lifted his head. The office. "I fell asleep?"
Duo grinned again, he had seen that smile. "That's what it looks like," he said. "I've closed up the rest of the house, want me to just come back for this room?"
"No, I'm going to bed," Heero said, closing the book and placing it on the table. Duo glanced at it, but it was in Greek, so he couldn't read it. He was aware that Heero was fluent in Greek, and he had a few other languages in this library as well. Duo himself was lucky he could even read and write Latin. The girls had taught him. It was basically the same as the Latin spoken in Rome, so he had little trouble adjusting.
"There's really not much to straighten up in here, Duo, so don't worry about it," Heero observed as he stood. "Why don't you go to bed, too." He lit his own small lamp and moved toward the door.
"Ok, then," Duo shrugged, dousing out the main lamp. "Good night, Heero."
"Good night, and..." Heero paused in the doorway, placing his hand on the frame briefly, "thank you for staying with me last night."
Duo looked over to the doorway, ready to say it was no trouble, but Heero was already gone.
Heero doggedly climbed the stairs and went to his room. He removed his clothes and left them in a heap instead of putting them away neatly as he usually did. He felt exhausted, although he had slept fine last night. Duo had stayed with him, and that had felt safe. He'd never had such a bad fight with his family, but even after that, Duo's presence could calm him. He'd felt cared for and secure, and fallen asleep without trouble. Now, if he hadn't had so much on his mind, Duo's presence in his bed would certainly have been less "calming."
He recalled the song Duo had sung as he crawled into bed, about a soldier and a boy. He recognized parallels between the song, and the situation with him and Duo, but he didn't dare to think they were real, that Duo had actually been singing about loving him. It was just a made-up story. It wasn't even finished yet.
Heero sighed and rolled onto the side of the bed where Duo had slept. It was disappointingly empty, not just of Duo's body, but of his smell, or even his hair or an impression. There was nothing. He grabbed the pillow anyway and hugged it to his chest. Duo had kissed him, he would never forget that. It had been so unexpected, his eyes had been closed; he hadn't even seen it coming. He'd just suddenly felt Duo's lips on his cheek and his breath on his skin as Duo promised to stay with him. Heero began to feel slightly aroused at the thought of Duo leaning over him and kissing him right here in this bed.
He buried his face in the pillow and told himself to stop. It had been a friendly kiss. Iria kissed him like that sometimes. Perhaps it meant Duo cared about him, but it didn't mean Duo loved or desired him, not like the boy in Duo's song. Heero felt irrationally jealous of the fictitious soldier, with a beautiful youth to love him and make him whole. Sometimes he thought Duo could help him like that, but Duo had helped him so much already. How could he ask something like that? It would be wrong to ask for more. He would never want to Duo to feel like he HAD to.
Heero quickly changed his thoughts to the book he'd been reading. He'd picked something of the Stoic philosophy to remind him how admirable qualities like self-restraint and discipline were. He would not force or abuse his slaves the way Stella's previous owner had. He would not reach his hand up Duo's skirt like Tsubarov had done, the disgusting bastard. He would not do anything that made Duo feel scared or forced or violated. Duo had said that the worst thing about what Tsubarov had done was that he had been afraid to defend himself. Such a feeling would only be worse if an owner were to do something of that sort. Heero was always careful not to abuse their relationship. Duo was only legally a slave. He obviously didn't think of himself as one and didn't act like one unless absolutely necessary. Heero was glad Duo had preserved the identity he arrived with. This pride made others treat and think of him as an equal as well. Sometimes, Heero was surprised he didn't just walk out of the house and not come back.
He had an incredible amount of respect for Duo. He would not do anything that would make Duo uncomfortable to be around him. He would not even think bad thoughts about him when he wasn't around! And he certainly wouldn't indulge in that fantasy where they bathed together. Or the one where he took Duo on the kitchen counter. Or the one where he laid Duo on the clean straw in the barn and made love to him there. Or the one where they threw down their swords and did it with all their armor on against one of the pillars in the peristyle. Or the one... So there were more of those fantasies than he'd realized, but he wouldn't think about any of them! Self-control was a good thing to have. It was honorable to have control over one's thoughts and actions. It was strong to not allow sexual desire to dictate one's life. Duo was a valued friend, one he wouldn't lose for anything.
Duo woke before dawn the next day. Mornings were cool now, and his will to get out of bed was at an all time low. He groaned and pulled the blanket up to his chin as he rolled over. It was only a few minutes until he managed to talk himself out of bed, however begrudgingly. He pulled up his skirt and shoved his feet into his sandals before throwing on an old cloak. He tossed both corners over his shoulders so it hung on him and he could use his arms freely. With a yawn, he went to the barn.
Heero woke and dressed, and then took his seat at the breakfast table. He ran a hand through his hair as he waited for Duo. He was a little earlier than usual, so he just waited patiently. He glanced into the kitchen and found himself watching Duo. The youth placed a few dishes on a tray and shrugged off the cloak he was wearing before picking up the tray and bringing it out.
"Morning!" he said with a smile as he set the tray down and sat across from Heero.
Heero could have smacked himself in the face for being so inattentive. "Duo, you should have said something!" he exclaimed.
Duo paused from shelling an egg and blinked up at Heero.
"We're going to get you some new clothes right after breakfast," Heero promised.
"Oh! Ok," Duo said happily.
Heero had Baltus clean up, and took Duo to a clothier. It was a little high-end for slave garments, but he wanted Duo to have a few nice things. He let Duo pick some fabrics and selected a few himself. He spoke to the Greek tailor in Greek, much to Duo's annoyance. Duo had to stand very still as they hovered around him, gestured, and spoke in Greek, presumably talking about how the garments should fit. Duo rolled his eyes and held his arms straight out so the tailor could measure his waist, chest, and shoulders.
"I'm thinking the tunics should fit like the black one we had made for your performance with Stella," Heero spoke to him in Latin.
"That'll do," Duo agreed. He liked that tunic very much.
"I'm having one made in red for performances," Heero continued absent-mindedly as he watched the tailor, "but you can decide whether you'd rather wear just the skirt. There will be a blue one for parties as well. I'll make sure it can be ready for Lucrezia's party tomorrow."
The new blue tunic was done as promised, and Duo put it on for the first time after combing and rebraiding his hair. It was short like the skirt, but had long sleeves and a wide neck. The gold trim was eye-catching and matched the Winner belt fastened around his waist. He had wrapped Lucrezia's gift in some colorful fabric and put a decorative ribbon around it. She had plenty of jewelry, but they had found these earrings in the foreign marketplace, and the seller had assured them they were from Sicily. The earrings were a deep red stone set in gold. Duo retrieved them from the peristyle and met Heero in the atrium. He was dressed down, as usual, but Duo was noticing more than ever how striking he looked anyway. He knew he was smiling.
Heero smiled back a little. "Do you have the present?" he asked.
"Of course!" Duo said happily, holding it out.
Heero ducked his head to hide another smile and turned toward the door. Duo looked so good, even in the long-sleeved tunic. He did miss the simple little skirt and all that bare skin, but in the tunic, it was somehow even more evident how he'd broadened out.
Zechs noticed too. "So, I see Heero's decided not to let you freeze, after all!" he joked with Duo as Heero greeted his wife and kissed her cheek. "He's rather negligent, that one," Zechs continued conspiratorially to Duo, "you'd have been much better off with me." Duo laughed, and Lucrezia and Heero just rolled their eyes together.
They presented their gift, which Lucrezia loved. She even removed the earrings she wore and put the new ones in, even though they didn't really match her dress. Heero and Duo moved into the room towards the peristyle garden and Trowa and Wu Fei came up to them shortly.
"So, you've agreed to represent Via Sacra again this year in the Equus October, Heero?" Wu Fei asked.
"Yes," Heero answered simply.
"Perfect!" Wu Fei said excitedly. "Another year of kicking the Subura's ass!"
"I don't know," Trowa spoke up, "they're probably getting sick of losing."
"I agree with Trowa," Heero said, "I'm sure they'll have even more dirty tricks up their sleeves than ever. I wouldn't put anything passed them."
Duo listened in complete cluelessness. What was this competition between Via Sacra and Subura? He hadn't heard about any more games being held, but there was supposed to be some festival coming up. They discussed it a little longer before Trowa and Wu Fei both made hasty excuses and disappeared. Heero and Duo shot each other puzzled looks until Heero heard his name.
"Heero!" It was Relena. They turned to find her approaching with a man in tow.
"Relena," Heero said politely, nodding to her.
"Congratulations on being nominated to represent us for a third year in a row!" she said.
"Thank you. I am honored. I will do my best," he promised.
There was a silence as Relena made sure they had seen her man, which of course, they had.
"Oh! How could I be so rude?" she exclaimed, "Heero Winner Yuy, this is Marcus Metellus Vespianus, my fiancée."
"Congratulations!" Heero said, offering his hand to the other man. He was probably a good ten years older then Relena, but that wasn't uncommon.
"Thank you," Marcus said, shaking Heero's hand. "It's a true pleasure to meet you, General."
"Please, call me Heero," the General insisted
"If there's any way I can be of assistance on Equus October, let me know," Marcus offered.
Heero laughed shortly. "Clobber anyone from Subura," he kidded, "actually, I'm sure my brother Quatre Raberba Winner and my friend Wu Fei Chang have been forming a strategy since LAST year, so you should report to them, soldier."
Marcus laughed and Relena beamed at him. She looked thoroughly smitten. She made some polite excuses, claiming other people she just had to see, and led her future husband away.
Duo moved closer to Heero and hissed in his ear, "She's engaged! How wonderful for everyone!"
"Duo!" Heero stifled a laugh.
"Do you think she's just trying to make you jealous?" Duo asked more seriously.
"No, I think she really does like him," Heero decided, "but I'm sure she's mighty proud of him. I recognized the name, he's from an old, old family, with plenty of old, old money and political clout. I'm glad she's found someone ambitious and," he cleared his throat, "attentive enough for her."
Duo snickered and whispered, "Right, but you're still glad it's not you!" He elbowed Heero in the ribs.
"Stop," Heero tried to say sternly, but it came out obvious he was begging Duo to stop or he'd start laughing too. He felt like he'd had too much to drink, even though it was only his first glass. There was something about having Duo near enough to whisper in his ear.
"Care to share what's so funny?" Zechs asked, approaching the other two, who were standing awfully close with heads bowed.
Heero straightened and returned to a more serious state. "Your sister just introduced her fiancée. Why didn't anyone tell me she was engaged?"
Zechs sighed hopelessly. "Heero..." he said, "I didn't really think you'd care."
"What? Of course I'd care!" Heero said offendedly. "She is a friend and the sister of a good friend. I'm very happy for her!" Duo elbowed him again, and Heero glared out of the corner of his eye and gave Duo a little shove with his shoulder.
Zechs watched what looked suspiciously like flirting for a moment, and then replied, "You're just happy it's not you."
Duo's elbow jabbed again. "That's what I said!" he grinned at Zechs.
"Honestly, you two!" Heero scolded. "Just because I didn't want to marry her doesn't mean I don't want her to be happy."
"Right, right, we'll invite you to the wedding," Zechs said flippantly, "but more immediately, I wanted to tell you that you can count on me for Equus October this year."
"Oh, did my brother and Wu Fei rope you in too?" Heero asked.
"There was no rope involved," Zechs winked. "Of course I want to help you. I regret being gone last year."
"The war in Asia could hardly be helped," Heero said dryly, "but no killing during the festival, Milliardo."
"I know," he replied in an exaggerated pout.
As the conversation continued, Zechs wondered if the other two were sleeping together yet. Heero seemed to be in quite a good mood. But, of course, there was the impending marriage of his sister, so that could be it.
They were joined by Quatre and Trowa, and all night, people kept coming up and promising Heero help at the festival. Duo was nearly bursting with curiosity, but it wasn't until they were walking home that he got a chance to ask about it.
"So, what is this Equus October thing everyone keeps talking about?" Duo asked on their way home.
"It is part of the festival for Mars during the Ides of October. The part I will be participating in is the competition between representatives from Via Sacra and Subura to bring a year of prosperity to their district," Heero explained.
"Ok, I get it. You are the representative for the third year in a row. But where does the horse come in?"
"Well, it starts with a horse race," Heero started, and then explained what happened after the race.
Duo made a face of pure disgust and revulsion. "That's - That's cruel! And barbaric! And - And GROSS!" he exclaimed.
Heero had seen the festival since he was a boy and had no such notions. "No, it's not," he argued, "it is a very celebrated tradition."
Duo made another face. "You Romans think you're so civilized, but you have this disgusting ritual of running through the city streets with a - "
"Of course we're the only truly civilized people!" Heero laughed, cutting into Duo's tirade. Honestly, who would think otherwise? Only barbarians!
Duo just rolled his eyes. "It's still gross," he maintained.
"But you'll still help me, right?" Heero implored with the sexy eyebrow, "I'll need it."
Duo grinned at him. "Of course," he said, "maybe it will teach me to be as civilized as you!" Heero shook his head, but smiled back.
Over the next few days, Heero coached Duo on fist-fighting techniques. He was practically professional level since he had an acquaintance from his days in the lower legion ranks who had been a boxer and a wrestler.
"Just how wild does this get?" Duo asked, flexing his fist in the cloth wrapping.
"Pretty rough," Heero answered. "It's way beyond just a tradition, it's an all out rivalry between Via Sacra and Subura. I don't think anyone has died in the last couple years, but it is entirely possible. You know, people being trampled or beaten. Subura has a lot of dangerous gangs."
"Subura isn't that bad," Duo argued, "I go there all the time."
"I know," Heero said disapprovingly.
"They have the best markets. I got those peaches you liked so much all summer at a farmer's market there," Duo told him.
"But the people..." Heero frowned.
"The people there are great!" Duo said. "I guess that's just the kind of people I'm from."
Heero observed him. That was probably true. And perhaps himself, too, if he hadn't been adopted. He took a deep breath and turned his attention to wrapping his left wrist.
"And the gangs aren't so bad," Duo continued, "you just never promise allegiance to any of them and you can get along pretty well with everyone."
Heero stopped what he was doing and closed his eyes. "Duo, do not remind me that you are associating with gangs in Subura," he pleaded.
Duo laughed. "Associating is a bit of a strong word. And I wouldn't worry General, I'm sure you can take them. From the sound of things, you've got all of Via Sacra and its money behind you. There was even talk about hiring mercenaries!"
Heero made a face. "How unsporting. I hope no one does that."
"You won't even need to!" Duo said. "You happen to be friends with only the best soldiers in the city!"
Heero nodded. "That's true. Between Quatre's brain, Wu Fei's cunning, and Zechs and Trowa's skill, we'll be formidable."
"And me!" Duo spoke up.
"Yes, and you too," Heero agreed. It wasn't that he forgot how good Duo was, it was just that he was so used to having the same close friends since he was young.
"And don't forget Lucrezia and Sally, I think they both want in on the action," Duo added. Heero chuckled a little. It figured those two would refuse to be left out.
"Plus you're like a god to the boys of this entire city," Duo continued, "I'm sure they'll be falling all over themselves to help you."
Heero gave him an incredulous look. "A god?"
Duo grinned. "Heero, I get out a lot more than you do, and I talk to a lot more people."
Heero cringed. Things like that made him never want to leave the house again. He did not really think he was a person others should look up to.
Duo read him like an open book. "Hey, don't get all self-conscious," he said, "I was just tryin' to say you've got a lot more people behind you than you know."
Heero nodded wordlessly, and then spun around and caught Duo's fist still inches from his jaw.
"Damn," Duo grinned, "thought I could catch you off guard."
"Watch your language," Heero countered, pushing Duo's fist away, "and you should know that I am never off guard." He threw a few punches of his own, which Duo dodged.
"Maybe that's one of your problems!" Duo taunted, faking a left and throwing a right elbow at Heero's face. Heero blocked and attacked. Duo rarely had to block, he was quick enough to dodge and smart enough to predict moves. Plus he had that maddening and carefully schooled smirk that could make opponents furious that they couldn't hit him.
Later, their sparring was interrupted by Baltus.
"Sir," he addressed Heero, "Duo has a couple of callers, should I send them away?"
Duo tried again when Heero's attention was diverted for a moment, but Heero blocked with a casual and well-placed forearm. He turned and looked at Duo questioningly. Duo just shrugged. He wasn't expecting anyone.
"I think we can take a break," Heero said, wiping his wrist across his forehead. "Go see who it is, Duo. Just make it quick and no gang members in the house."
"Ha ha," Duo retorted, landing a light backhanded smack on Heero's shoulder as he went to the door.
"I let you have that one," Heero called after him. He picked up the glass of water Baltus brought and took a drink. He nearly spit it out when there was a loud shout from the atrium.
-If you've forgotten who Sara is, you'll have to reread! =P And it's pronounced Sah-rah.
-I don't recall if I've specified, but Quaterine is supposed to be about 5-6 yrs old.
-Subura and Via Sacra are two districts of Rome. Via Sacra was rich and most of the wealthy and influential people lived there. Subura had the reputation for being dirty, dangerous, and a lot more fun.
-No way I'm telling what Equus October is. You could always go look it up... but you don't want to spoil it, do you? No telling if you know!
-To Roman sensibilities, Not Roman = barbarian. DUH! It was common for educated Romans to be fluent in Greek, and knowledgeable in other languages, even though they looked down on everyone else. Is that really funny to anyone else?
-Is anyone surprised Heero owns volumes of Stoic philosophy? lol All the virtues I mentioned were very admired by Stoics. Duo might be a bit more of an Epicurean, though... ~_^