"Sara!" Duo shouted excitedly before he nearly tackled her with a hug. "Oh, gods, I've missed you!"
She hugged him back just as hard. "I have missed you too!" she said in her delicately accented Latin.
"We keep her plenty busy over at the performing school!" Sara's companion piped up.
"Stella!" Duo exclaimed, moving to hug her next. "Wow, your hair!" After embracing her, he moved back to get a better look. It was dyed an auburn brown color, which was darker, but the red still showed in the highlights. It looked pretty, but Duo missed her copper hair.
"What do you think?" she laughed, shaking it.
"Gorgeous, as always!" Duo responded. "What are you two doing here?"
"We had a few hours of free time, and thought we'd come for a visit," Sara answered, "I have been wanting to see you, and Stella knew how to find the house."
"I thought maybe I could stay here in your place and Master Heero might let you go out with Sara so you two can catch up," Stella said. "You know he's a big push-over for you!" she added in a giggle.
"Stella!" Duo laughed. That might be true sometimes, but Duo didn't want to take advantage of it.
"Duo?" Heero asked as he looked in hesitantly from behind a pillar. He felt a little self-conscious being sweaty, shirtless, and having his hands wrapped like a boxer.
"Heero, look who it is!" Duo said joyfully. "Stella stopped by to say hi!"
"Sir," she said and bowed slightly. Heero moved a little farther into the room and nodded back.
"And she brought our friend, Saraswati! The one I told you about at the performing school," Duo announced.
Heero's gaze turned to the other woman, and his heart dropped into his stomach. She was probably one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen. She was shaped and dressed just like statues of eastern goddesses he'd seen. She could have been one. Her dress was deep green and gold, diaphanous, and wrapped differently than any Roman style. She wore make-up and was decorated with a nose piercing that held a small red stone. He barely heard Duo continue the introduction.
"Sara is a good friend, she taught me everything I know about... everything!" he hoped Heero didn't see how he blushed a little at that choice of words. He recovered quickly, "Dancing, singing, instruments - she's the best!"
"A true pleasure, General," she said and bowed gracefully at the waist. Heero recognized a very foreign accent to her voice. Duo's provincial accent had been rather obvious at first, but he'd nearly lost it now. Even so, it had been clear that Latin was Duo's native language, while it was definitely not Sara's.
"Likewise," Heero replied politely, regaining some composure.
Stella stepped forward. "Master Heero, sir, I came along to offer to stay here in Duo's stead if he can be allowed some time to visit with Sara," she said.
Duo gave him a very hopeful look.
"Of - of course," Heero agreed, "yes, Duo, we were just about finished, you can go ahead. Stella, you know your way around the house, I will probably just do some work anyway." He looked at Duo again, "Please be back by dinner."
"Yes, sir!" Duo said as he dashed to his room to change clothes and grab some money.
"It is nice to meet you," Heero said to Sara, "a friend of Duo's is always welcome here."
This brought a smile to her roughed lips. "I thank you, sir," she said, bowing her head, "and I truly thank you for the honorable way which you have treated my friends."
Heero just nodded and turned to go back in the house. Duo was just a blur as he rushed by and said, "See you at dinner, Heero!"
Stella bid them good-bye and followed Heero into the peristyle. "What can I do?" she asked him.
"I can clean up here by myself," he answered, "you could get a bath ready."
"Yes, sir," she said, but she didn't move. "Master Heero?"
He looked up from unwrapping his wrists.
"Um..." she had this all planned out, but his eyes... When that intense blue focused on her, her tongue tied up. Duo seemed able to blab on to him, but the General was so frightening to anyone else. It wasn't just his demeanor that was intimidating, it was also his looks. Standing here with him shirtless, it was like trying to talk to a statue of a god. She swallowed. "I wanted to thank you for all you did for me. You absolutely didn't have to help me. I will always be in your debt."
He nodded slightly, "It was no trouble, and I did make a profit after all."
"But you didn't keep it!" she reminded him passionately. He went still for a moment, giving the impression that she'd embarrassed him. She didn't understand him - any kind of praise made him uncomfortable.
He cleared his throat. "So, things are going well for you at the performing school, I take it?" he changed the subject.
"Yes, wonderfully," she beamed.
She really was pretty, he noticed, even with the change in hair color. He'd actually grown fond of the red. "Redhead" was something beyond hair color, it somehow encompassed attitude as well.
"It won't be long until I'm elevated to teacher," she told him.
"Yes," he agreed absent-mindedly as he wadded up the used cloth from his wrappings, "that's good."
She took that as her cue to leave and start the bath while he put a few more things away. When the water was hot, he excused her to go hang laundry with Mona and undressed when she'd left.
He got in the tub and dunked his head under until he absolutely needed air. Then he sat up and rested his head on a folded towel on the ledge, just staring at the ceiling. He couldn't believe how stupid he was. He felt like the biggest idiot in the world - pathetic, hopeless, and foolish. Entertaining fantasies about receiving Duo's love when Duo had so many beautiful and loving "friends." Why in hell would Duo be interested in him? He'd only seen two of the girls out of... Well, Duo had never really said how many there were -- which really wasn't helping his state of mind -- but there had to be quite a few given the time it had taken him to track them all down. Heero imagined they all had to be as beautiful as Stella and Sara to be dancing girls and handmaidens.
Duo had previously insinuated that he had slept with them. And who could blame him? He was a match for those women, and they adored him. He was handsome and kind, and very talented in his own right. He deserved someone as dynamic and vivacious as himself.
Heero angrily snatch up a cloth and scrubbed himself a little harder than was probably necessary. Who was he kidding? It was useless to even pretend anymore, he should just give it up. Duo and Sara were probably renting a room somewhere to "catch up" right now, and there was not a damn thing he could do about it.
Duo and Sara fought their way through the loud, crowded marketplace. Duo just couldn't wipe the moronic grin off his face. Sara had come to see him! She was his goddess of everything, and he had missed her the most. She had been his first friend and turned that awful place into heaven for him. He had been wild and angry, when he'd arrived, thinking of nothing except vengeance, but she'd tamed him gentleness and patience. Under her teachings, he found a life outside of hate and rage, he discovered his frozen heart and learned how to let other into it. He learned that life was more than pain and that there were more sides to himself than he'd ever imagined.
"I am so sorry I could not see you before, Duo," she said.
"It's ok," he replied, still smiling, "you're here now! How are things at the school?"
"The school is fine, I am head teacher of my section."
"That's great, Sara! You really are a great teacher," he grinned goofily again.
"And you are my star pupil, still," she smiled. "I heard all about you, even before you came to the school to find me. At first, no one would truly believe that I had taught the famous Duo, but after you came to visit and Stella came, they did! Did you know that the school is trying to get all of us together again? Stella says you know where everyone is."
This made Duo laugh. "Well, Thalia's been freed and is married, so that's probably not going to happen. Leona is practically married and very pregnant, so they wouldn't want her. Elisa is at the Caelii weaver's. She seems satisfied, but I guess it depends on how much the school would offer her owners. Lu is still at the brothel by the baths last time I checked, and I bet she'd want to go to the school. They can give up on me, though! You'd think people would get the idea by now, but they still make offers after I perform. It makes Heero a little edgy; it's a good thing his father doesn't allow him to wear even his decorative sword at parties!"
They got some food, but since they were slaves, they were not allowed to sit in the shop, so they decided to go up the road a bit to the Temple of Venus of Rome and sit on the steps. Duo picked up some honey sweets on the way to bring home. Heero didn't like them quite as much as Duo, but he did like them. He'd just never buy them for himself, so Duo bought them.
They sat and unwrapped the food. Sara decided to start the conversation in a rather direct manner.
"So, Stella tells me you are in love with Heero."
Duo choked on his pear, and it took Sara three slaps on his back before he finally spit it out. His horrified expression amused her. "Is this true?" she asked
"Sara!" he cried, further amusing her.
"Come on, Duo, you can tell me. I may be able to help you with this," she offered sympathetically.
Suddenly, Duo found himself growing angry. "What, help me get over it?" he demanded. "Help me stop thinking sexual thoughts about a man? I know it's unusual, but what I feel for him is real, Sara! It's like friendship, but deeper, better! I haven't even touched him, but I know this is the most honest and right thing I have ever felt!"
She blinked at him, unmoved. "Well, that answers my question," she said calmly, "and my next one. Duo, dear, I meant I wanted to help you get him."
"...oh..." Duo mumbled at his pear. So maybe he'd jumped to conclusions just a little.
This too amused Sara. Duo was such an emotional person, and virtually incapable of hiding how he felt. She smirked slightly. "Perhaps you were venting your own fears at me," she suggested.
Duo glowered at her. Did she have to be a mind-reader too?
"Duo, I understand that these feelings may be new and unsettling to you. Clearly, you struggle with yourself over this. My advice will always be the same: listen to your heart. It is the only way to happiness."
Duo sighed and looked at her with a weary expression. "I don't know what to do," he admitted, "and I'm... I'm... kinda nervous."
She smiled genuinely. "About the emotional aspects or the physical aspects of love?" she asked gently.
"Well... both," he replied. He knew he could tell Sara these things. She would never make fun and she would always try to help. She was, after all, a goddess.
"Well, the emotional part of love will always be a little frightening," she consoled. "When you fall in love, you open a very vulnerable part of yourself. But it is a beautiful thing, and I think you know Heero would not hurt you in purpose. I do not know him well, but I have the feeling he'd go out of his way not to hurt you."
"Yeah? Well, you should have seen him when we sparring before you showed up," Duo dead-panned.
Sara laughed. "So, you agree. The emotional will mostly be for you to figure out, but I may be able to help you with the physical part."
Duo fiercely willed himself not to blush, but failed miserably. He was nearly a grown man and plenty experienced, there was no need for him to get embarrassed like this.
Sara brought a napkin to her mouth to hide her smile. It was just like when she'd first taught him, he'd known absolutely nothing and had no experience. She'd had no idea he'd fancy men, so it was like learning all over again. Luckily, it was still something she could help him with.
"Sar, I think I know about men, ok?" he said a little defensively.
"Of course you do, Duo," she agreed, "but there are still a few things I can teach you. You see, there are...acts of love that we never discussed."
Duo winced and then looked up at her wearily. This was so embarrassing.
"You know what I'm talking about," she continued relentlessly, "and if you, as a man, truly love another man, then it is something you will do. It is not something you should be afraid of! It does not have to be painful, and there is a spot inside you that will feel very good when touched."
"Inside?" he asked.
"Yes, there is only one way to reach it," she hinted. Duo made a face. "Don't be so childish!" she laughed. "You have never been timid or a coward, Duo, I know you can do this. It is something I should have taught you about before. If you had experienced it before, it would not be so strange and difficult for you now."
"I'm not some trained dog!" Duo sputtered.
She laughed again. "Right, well, my first advice would be to do some experimenting on your own."
"Yes," she said with exasperation. "If you become comfortable with your body and with penetration, you will feel more confident about being with Heero."
"Probably," Duo agreed, "but it's not just that! I mean, he's technically master to me. He doesn't really act like it most of the time, but it's still there, you know? I just don't know if I can make a first move..."
She frowned, "That is not like you, Duo."
"I know," he said unhappily, "but it's Heero. It's gotta be special, it can't just be a â€˜sleeping with the master' thing. It's gotta be real. And what if I mess it up? What if I'm all wrong and I embarrass him? It's giving me a damned complex! I just don't know how to do this!"
Sara pulled him into her arms suddenly. "Oh, my Duo!" she sighed. "You really are in love! Listen to yourself!"
Duo groaned and felt himself blush again. Like he needed to be reminded. She released him and sat back a bit.
"Duo, I know you love us girls, but I always knew you didn't love any of us fully, to your utmost ability. If you have found that love, then I could not be more happy for you."
Duo thought a moment before speaking. "I know I love him that way, and I do think he might be attracted to me. It can be hard to tell with him. I know I like how he watches me when I perform," Duo said and warm feeling spread through his middle. "I don't think he knows much about love, but I want to help him learn. I want him any way I can get him, even if it isn't equal." He wanted to be for Heero all that Sara had been for him and more. Heero had a family that taught him about love just as Duo had his Girls, but there was still something missing in their lives. Together, Duo believed they could fulfill one another.
"If he is inexperienced, then just take it very slow," Sara advised. "Let things happen naturally, in their own time. I know you'll make sure he's comfortable with everything you do. The best relationships are built slowly."
Part of Duo pouted childishly. He didn't want slow. He felt like he'd already been going unbearably slow. On the other hand, he knew she was right. He himself needed slow, especially on the physical level, and Heero may need slow on the emotional level. Even the idea of sex would take some getting used to, although he'd been thinking about it more since Domiodes brought it up. He leaned over and hugged Sara.
"Thanks, Sar," he said into her shoulder. "Thanks for being so understanding. I wasn't sure what you girls would think about this."
"We just want you to be happy," she said, stroking his hair. "You told them to make the best of their new lives, and they have. And so have you. Stella said that you slept with her once while she was living with you, and she could tell there was something different about you. If Heero is your heart's home, then so be it."
Heero sat in his office under the pretext of some work, but couldn't force himself to even pretend to look at the tablet. He stared dejectedly across the room at nothing in particular. What exactly was Duo's relationship with all those women? Did he really have sex with them all? He knew he should not obsess so much about how Duo had behaved in the past. It didn't change how he felt about Duo, of course, but it was more difficult to even wish that anything could happen between them.
There was a knock at the door, and he mindlessly grunted, "Enter."
Stella opened the door carrying a glass of wine for him. He watched her move gracefully towards the desk. A spark flickered in his mind. She had lived with them for a week. It was only a second until his thoughts were consumed by the idea. She and Duo had lived closely for a week!
She set the glass down at his right and smiled, "Anything else, Sir?"
He grabbed her wrist suddenly, and she made a soft noise of alarm. His large hand clamped around her thin wrist, thumb and fingers overlapping on her soft flesh.
"Stella, did Duo sleep with you while you were here?" he asked, his grip tightening unconsciously. He was overcome with the need to know. She gasped in fright and pulled against his tight hold. "I will not punish you if you say yes," he promised, "it is not against any set rules. Just tell me the truth."
Her face flushed, and he could see the panic in her eyes and feel her tug frantically against him. She was still very afraid of men. Realizing what he was doing, he released her, and she jerked her arm away and let out a shaky breath.
"Answer the question," he pressed.
"Just once!" she blurted out. "The very last night! I asked him... I was so nervous..." She went mute as he stood.
"That will be all, Stella," he said quietly.
"Master Heero, wait!" she begged. "Please listen!"
Ignoring her, he threw a cloak over his shoulders, knocking over the wine glass in his haste to leave.
Duo and Sara returned to the house well before dinner. Duo was feeling a good kind of jittery. After his talk with Sara, he was feeling much more confident, and he had decided to take action. The house was silent, but he could hear a sobbing noise coming from the office. They hurried in there, and found Stella mopping the desk with a rag and crying.
"Stella! What happened?" Duo asked, rushing to her side. He didn't think Heero could have hurt her. Sara gently took the rag from her shaking fingers and finished cleaning up.
"Oh Duo!" Stella gulped. "I ruined everything! I'm so sorry!" She cried ever harder.
"No, Stel, what ever it is, it's ok," he assured her, pulling her into his arms and stroking her hair.
"No, it's not!" she cried, pushing him away. "He asked about you and me, Duo!" She sniffled loudly. "He asked if we slept together!"
"Shit!" Duo swore. Sara looked up in concern.
Stella started sobbing again. "I - I was too scared to lie! And then he just left! I tried to stop him! I'm so sorry, Duo!"
He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head briskly to clear it. "It's ok, Stella," he told her, "I would have had to tell him sometime." He put an arm around her. "Really, it'll be ok. He can be unpredictable like that, but I'm sure I can, uh, work around it."
"I'm so sorry, Duo," she said again, "if I'd known... I wouldn't have even asked you! Why didn't you just say no?!"
Duo smiled bittersweetly. "Because I love you, Stel, and you needed me," he answered.
"But not the way you love him!" she said furiously.
"Stel, don't worry. He'll get over it, especially with some of the tricks Sara taught me," he attempted to joke. "Do you know where he went?" Duo asked.
Stella rubbed her eyes. "No, I have no idea," she answered miserably.
"He will see you now," a well-dressed slave said, opening the large double doors. Heero marched into the throne room and stood before the Emperor.
"General Yuy," he greeted the young man serenely. "What a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Your Excellency," Heero said, bowing his head, "as much as I have appreciated my time off, I wish to be put back on active duty."
As for the "statue of a god", I was thinking specifically of the statue my icon is made from, view here. It is a Doryphorus statue that illustrated the male ideal. Heero might be a bit leaner, but I love the shoulders, arms, chest, and legs.
...and I love how this chapter ends. :3