With no medical appointment so early in the morning, Duo let Heero sleep in the next day. He hummed as he prepared a breakfast tray to bring upstairs. It was a crisp and sunny October morning. Heeroís wound had looked a lot better last night and his own head wound was looking a lot less angry. When everything was ready, he breezed through the peristyle on his way to the stairs and nearly dropped the tray when he caught sight of Heero sitting calmly at the table in the garden, wearing a robe and patiently awaiting his breakfast.
"Heero!" he exclaimed as he clamored over. "What are you doing out here! Youíre still on bedrest!" Heíd been preparing himself for a difficult day of trying to keep Heero in bed, but he didnít think he would lose before even making it upstairs!
"I vetoed that, didnít I tell you?" Heero said simply and took a glass of tea from the tray Duo held.
"Wha - You canít do that!"
"Yes I can," Heero said after taking a sip.
Duo could tell by the way Heero looked at him that the soldier wasnít going anywhere. He wasnít going to budge from this table, so Duo had no choice but to set the meal down and take a seat himself.
"Well, you need to go back to the bed when I change your dressing this morning," Duo huffed as he passed Heero a bowl.
"I can do that myself," Heero said quickly.
"Like hell you can!"
"Duo, language," Heero reminded him, infernally calm.
"Donít Ďlanguageí me!" Duo nearly snarled. He didnít like losing and he would pull the trump card if he had to.
"Then donít use such crude language," Heero said evenly as he took a bite of bread.
Duo thrust an index finger in his direction. "You are going to go back upstairs and I am going to change that bandage if I have to call Sally and have her knock you out to do it, are we clear?"
Heero stopped before taking another bite. "All right," he relented, "but I am not staying up there today."
Duo sighed in resignation. Sally had assumed he would pull this anyway, so what was the use of arguing? Heero dawdled over breakfast and read some recently delivered letters while Duo took care of the animals. Baltus brought him a letter of congratulations from the Emperor that had been delivered by Miss Dorothy the day before. After a bath, Duo managed to nag and cajole him upstairs to lie down while he changed the bandaging.
Even though Duo was still miffed at him and didnít say much, his hands where careful and firm. Heero mentally repeated his mantra and prayed it would go fast. After he was wrapped back up, Heero put some real clothes on over his tunic and followed Duo back downstairs. Duoís morning task was to pull all the annuals out of the garden, prepare the perennials for winter, and plant some autumn blooming plants. Mona had selected the plants and they had been delivered yesterday, but neither she nor Baltus felt up to the labor. Heero moved a comfy chair into the garden and seemed content to just watch, read, or make occasional conversation.
At least he was resting and not running off to the palestra with a sword in hand or saddling one of the horses, Duo thought. His stomach wound had looked astonishingly better, so Duo had no cause for complaint. He was alert and clear-eyed, not perpetually on the verge of falling asleep like he had been yesterday, so Duo safely presumed that the poison was out of his system. He congratulated himself for all the water heíd made Heero drink, but he knew a lot of it was just how damned fast Heero healed. Duo had never seen anything like it.
Somehow, word got out that Heero was up and around, and Quatre and Trowa came over for lunch. Wu Fei and Zechs stopped by in the afternoon to chat and compare bruises.
"Youíll be up for a trip to the races this week, wonít you?" Zechs asked hopefully.
"Of course," Heero answered.
"Races?" Duo asked, hoping that Heero would not be participating this time and that no horses would lose their lives.
"You havenít taken him to the Circus?" Zechs asked, appalled. "I knew you were a neglectful owner, but this is beyond comprehension. Duo, for your own good, Iím going to wrest you from this monster. Youíre coming home with me!"
"Do you mean the Circus Maximus?" Duo asked of the enormous racetrack by the Emperorís Palace.
"Yes, itís the middle of the fall chariot racing season," Wu Fei told him.
"You havenít lived until youíve been to the Circus!" Zechs announced. "Iím going to paint my face green!"
"Youíre always rooting for the Greens," Wu Fei chuckled. "Those commoners?"
"Until the day I DIE!" Zechs proclaimed.
"Well, the Reds are going to leave the Greens in the dust again!" Wu Fei taunted.
Duo was amused by their enthusiasm. "Who do you root for, Heero?" he asked.
"Iím not that into the races, but I mostly root for the Whites," Heero replied, "because the Greens are big cheaters and the Reds, well nobody roots for the Reds."
"The Reds have a great team of drivers and they have the best horses this season!" Wu Fei shot back.
Zechs didnít bother to defend the Greens against Heeroís accusations. "You could always root for the Blues, like your brother and father," he said.
"The Blues are all money and no personality," Wu Fei said disdainfully.
"You just like the underdogs," Zechs grinned at him.
"The Reds are not underdogs!" Wu Fei insisted. "Iím telling you, theyíre going to win! Youíll see! Besides, if anybodyís the underdog, itís the Whites."
Heero just shrugged. Duo was getting excited about this now. He had been out around town on race days before and seen people dressed in colors, with crazy hair and painted faces. It seemed the entire city went mad for the races. Not that the Romans didnít already have enough bizarre festivals and bloodsports to keep them entertained, Duo thought. Honestly, they ruled most of the known world, yet Duo had to wonder how they ever got any work done since they were partying all the time.
"Well, ready to go, Duo?" Zechs asked as he and Wu Fei stood to take their leave.
"Heíll be staying," Heero interjected.
"Apparently, he has veto power today," Duo grinned. "Besides, I promised Dr. Sally that I would look after this guy."
"Well, someone has to," Wu Fei sniffed and they left. Duo could hear the echo of Zechsís voice in the atrium, continuing to poke fun at the Reds.
There was about an hour of blessed peace in the house before Heero was nearly tackled out of his chair by Quaterine.
"Uncle Heero!" she cried, hugging his waist.
Iria came trotting through the hallway not a moment later, calling, "Quaterine, donít..." She trailed off in a sigh. "Sorry, Heero," she apologized with a smile.
"Sheís fine," Heero replied, tussling the girlís hair.
"Hello, Duo," Iria said when he came in from the kitchen.
His face lit up. "Miss Iria and Miss Quaterine! My favorite Ladies!" he exclaimed.
"Duo!" Quaterine shrieked and attached herself to his waist instead.
"Would you like something to drink, Miss Iria?" Duo asked.
"Anythingís fine," she answered.
Duo went to the kitchen, Quaterine happily dragging along behind him, and he let her pick drinks for her mother and herself. She insisted on bringing the tray out herself, so Duo brought a couple more chairs to the table where Iria was already seated. Quaterine, however, seemed determined not to use hers.
"Uncle Heero, youíre purple," she observed as she crawled into his lap.
Duo laughed. He had seen Heero every day, so he was used to how beat-up Heero looked. In fact, he was looking a hell of a lot better than he had been.
"What are you getting me for my birthday?" she asked giddily.
"Quaterine!" Iria scolded.
"Come on, tell me!"
"I canít, itís a surprise," Heero said.
"My party is in two days, you wonít forget, right?" she asked.
"How could I forget?" Heero replied.
Duo pried Quaterine off of Heero and took her to find the wooden swords so that brother and sister could have a pleasant conversation without interruptions.
When the ladies left, Heero was looking troubled. Duo came over to clear the glasses. "Duo," Heero said tightly.
"Yes?" Duo asked, alarmed.
"I have no idea what to get her for her birthday," Heero told him, sounding completely defeated.
Duo grinned at him. "Well thatís easy enough!"
"You have an idea?" Heero asked.
"Isnít it obvious?"
"A puppy!" Duo said emphatically. "Give her one of the puppies! They canít be weaned quite yet, but let her come over and pick one out! Sheíll love it!"
"Thatís perfect, Duo," Heero said, sounding relieved. "Iíll do that."
"Iím going to write her a song," Duo said. "Maybe a duet. Hilde has been teaching her to sing."
"That would be nice," Heero agreed.
Since the gardening was finished and all the bushels and piles were out of the way, Duo assembled his puppy fence in an unused part of the peristyle. The section had both grass and stone, so he covered the stone with a layer of sawdust. When he was done, he brought the puppies out to test it. The area was much larger than the small, unused stall they had been living in and they immediately began exploring it. Duo played with them as Heero relaxed in the garden.
Late in the afternoon, military figures and people that Duo did not know stopped by to congratulate and visit with Heero, and he met them in one of the more formal receiving rooms off the atrium. Heero told Duo to bring refreshments, so he and Mona prepared light food and drink. The visitors stayed into the evening and begged Heero to come to a party, but he politely declined. When they left, Heero said he wanted a late dinner and disappeared into his office. After dinner, Heero let Duo convince him to sit up in his room.
"Oh, thatís right, we didnít have any Greek lessons today," Heero remembered as they climbed the stairs.
"I practiced a little on my own," Duo said.
"Remind me tomorrow," Heero told him.
Duo agreed. He lit the lamps in Heeroís room and arranged the books by the bed as Heero put his clothes away.
"Letís change those bandages and then you can go to sleep whenever you want," Duo suggested.
Heero climbed into the bed and sat up against the pillows. He could have sat on top of the covers, but he was afraid he might need them.
He was right. Disturbingly, even just the smell of the medicine as Duo made it started to turn him on because he now associated it with Duo. He fidgeted with the ties on his tunic and finally laid it open. To get this over with sooner, he began unwrapped in the bandage himself. Duo finished making the paste and helped him unravel the long cotton strip.
"Itís looking really good," Duo said as he removed the last square over the wounds. Heero just nodded. Duo cleaned the area and began dabbing on the fresh poultice.
Heero shifted unhappily under the covers. Did Duo have to touch so much? He could have sworn that some of this touching was unnecessary. He could definitely do this himself, now. He should insist upon it, starting tomorrow. The more his body healed, the harder it was not to react to this.
"Are you sure this doesnít hurt? You look grumpy," Duo remarked, somewhat amused. "Here, Iíll be more gentle."
Anything but that, Heero groaned to himself. Duo continued to carefully apply the paste and Heero tried to nonchalantly gather the covers over his hips. When at last Duo was satisfied with his work, he backed off and Heero blew a sigh of relief.
"Geez, you really hate that, donít you?" Duo chuckled.
"No, itís just..." Heero began, but was at a loss to explain, so he gave up. He sat forward so Duo could mummify his middle.
"Well, itís almost over. Only a couple more days," Duo told him.
A couple more days of this? Heero thought in horror. "I can really do it myself," he said.
"Listen," Duo said and tugged at the bandage to get Heeroís attention. "Sally entrusted you to me and I donít want her wrath of anything goes wrong, so Iím going to take care of you whether you like it or not. Got it?"
"I can take care of myself," Heero said petulantly.
"Unfortunately for you, your poor track record has convinced anyone who cares about your well-being that you, in fact, canít take care of yourself," Duo teased as he tied off the bandage and eased Heero onto his back.
"I havenít the slightest idea what youíre talking about," Heero claimed, and Duo could have sworn that was supposed to be a joke. He smiled. This would be a nice moment to kiss Heero, he thought. However, the longer they went pretending it didnít happen, the more awkward it became to bring it up. He turned away to busy his hands balling up old bandages and cleaning the paste jar.
Heero had immediately buried his nose in some Greek book, so Duo said goodnight and left. He closed up the house and retired to his room as soon as he could to be alone with his thoughts of half naked Heero.
Not surprisingly, Heero was dead set on being out of the house the following day and announced his intentions before Duo even had a chance to say good morning. Duo didnít like it, but Heero had found the perfect excuse: a new comedy that Duo had been wanting to see. Duo reminded him of his promise of more Greek lessons and they negotiated over the morning torture session. Heero was thankful that at least it gave him something else to think about.
They stayed in for the morning learning Greek but Heero was more than ready to get out of the house after lunch.
"We donít have to leave for a while," Duo said.
"I wanted to go through the forum on the way," Heero told him.
Duo stopped what he was doing and just stared. Heero wanted to go to the forum? The forum was the main meeting place of the city and Heero usually avoided it at all cost because he didnít like to socialize or gossip. Duo didnít question him, he just followed him out the door.
The going was extremely slow because Heero couldnít walk ten feet without being accosted by a well-wisher or good-naturedly pushed in the direction of the nearest tavern. They finally made it to the forum where the thronging was even worse. Duo had rarely seen Heero so gracious or tolerant, but he knew that Heero could perform when family duties were at stake. He assumed that that was why Heero had wanted to come here in the first place - a little family publicity. It took them two hours to push their way through the crowded forum.
"I kept count," Duo said as they ducked down a corridor on the way out, "you got 46 compliments on your bruises, eight marriage offers, 53 people wanting to buy you a drink, 31 offers to come to dinner tonight, five suggestions that you should chariot race professionally, eleven women offering their services as your personal nurse, one person wanting to paint you, six people wanting you in their box at the play, ten people wanting you in their box at the Circus, and one person circulating a petition to put a statue of you somewhere along Via Sacra." He grinned at Heero.
"I shouldnít have gone there," Heero said, sounding dazed. "Now how am I going to put up with all the people at the theater? I think my sociability is maxed out."
"Uh, Heero, the theater is that way," Duo said when he noticed they had missed the street.
"One stop first," Heero said cryptically. Duo followed him into the courtyard of the temple of Mars Ultor. Duo had never been inside and quietly looked around as Heero found a priest. Heero purchased incense pressed into the form of a cow and approached the fire at the altar. He silently he held it over the flames for a moment before crumbling it in his hand and letting it fall into the fire. The flame rose and sparked a blue color.
Duo had never known Heero to make offerings at temples or specifically worship any of Romeís many gods. There were a few figurines in the Lararium altar carved into the wall of the peristyle, but Duo suspected those had come with the house or Mona had put them there. Heeroís offering to Mars was very mysterious indeed. Duo managed to maintain his quiet respect until they had left the courtyard.
"Donít see you do that very often," he remarked.
"I donít normally, but do you remember what the Flamen said before the race? He said that if I won again, then I had found favor with Mars and should not race again," Heero said as they walked.
"Oh, thatís right. Youíre off the hook then!"
"Well, I think he just made that up because having me race every year was getting ridiculous," Heero snorted.
"You never know!" Duo countered. It seemed right to him that Heero should have found favor with Mars. He figured the God must know Heero by name at this point, if stories of his battlefield accomplishments could be believed.
"Thatís why I came," Heero admitted. "I donít get superstitious about this kind of thing, but making an offering now and then is good."
Duo nodded silently as they continued on their way. He thought again about the knife hilt he was working on his room and swore to redouble his efforts.
"Or someone from Subura could have bribed the Flamen," he joked after a moment.
"Yes, or that," Heero agreed, knowing it was all too true.
They met Trowa and Quatre at the gates and all sat in the Winnerís private box. Heero was relieved that this meant socializing with less people. The play was as good as everyone was saying and Duo had to admit that it was a good reason to let Heero leave the house. It was just a good thing they never ran into Sally.
Heero did not want to admit he was tired, but he was hoping to make a clean break for his house after the play. However, the Manguanac brothers had tracked Quatre down and dragged the four of them into their favorite seedy tavern on the riverfront to toast Heero. They had been a part of Quatreís archer squad and were looking to celebrate the victory. There was a very well-endowed mermaid on the sign over the tavernís door and the barmaids werenít a far cry. A few other Via Sacrans in the place joined in their celebration. Quatre and the brothers emptied pitchers, but Trowa and Duo made sure Heero only had heavily watered wine, for which Heero was grateful. The last thing he needed was a relapse and another visit from Sally. Finally, the partiers were distracted enough with barmaids and drunken singing that he and Duo could sneak off.
"I wish I could help you get him home," Trowa said to Duo, "but that one is going to be a handful by himself." He jabbed a thumb across the table at Quatre, who was absolutely smashed and standing on a chair leading the singing of rowdy legion songs.
"Yeah, looks like it," Duo grinned.
"Iíll be fine," Heero said.
"Are you sure you donít need me?" Trowa asked Duo one more time. "I could probably go to your house and come all the way back and they would still be here."
"You guys, Iím fine," Heero said again.
"I think I got him," Duo said to Trowa. "But thanks."
"I said Iím fine!" Heero reiterated. "Are you two even listening to me?"
"See you later, Tro, take care of Quatre," Duo said and then realized that Heero was stomping out the door without him.
Heero led the way home and if he was thankful for one thing, it was that it was too late to be waylaid by very many people. He was rethinking the bedrest idea. Well, not bedrest really, but maybe it would be good to stay in tomorrow. He was exhausted when they finally got home and all but dragged himself up the stairs.
Duo reminded him that they needed to change the bandages and Heero was surprisingly docile about it. Duo figured he was too tired to get all grumpy like usual. He wiped old medicine off the wound and took a good look at it. His mind skipped back to their conversation earlier while leaving the temple of Mars. He had been making a joke about Subura had bribing the Flamen, but one way or another, they wanted Heero out of the race. Maybe Duo should make a small offering to Mars, too, in thanks that Heero would not have to race again. Since the poison attempt had failed, who knew what they would try next?
He glanced up to Heeroís face. He was looking back, blue eyes half closed. Duo could see that he was more drunk than heíd been letting on. Duo smiled a little. Maybe the alcohol would knock him out for while. He needed the rest, that was for sure. The blue eyes struggled to stay open but finally closed. Duo smiled as he started to apply the poultice, and thought again about making that offering. There had to be some God he could be grateful to that Heero was still alive.
There will be more on the Circus Maximus and chariot racing in the next chapter, but so far Iíve covered the basics of the four teams - Green, Blue, Red, and White. I think October was actually too late to be in the racing season, but Iím not 100% sure.
Mars Ultor - Mars the Avenger. Temple of Mars closest to the forum.
I invented the offering to Mars. A live animal was too much for a small sacrifice. I think they would probably buy some expensive fragrant wood or incense for a small sacrifice, but I thought that was boring. So I made up incense in animal form!
Lararium - a small altar for worship of protective household gods.
Quatre is so much trouble whenever he hangs with the Manguanc boys. :3