"And you're not going to the palestra?"
"And you're not going to the forum?"
"And you're not going to the races?"
"Are you sure you're not hung over?"
"For the last time, no!" Heero said, looking up from the scroll he was reading to pin Duo with a surly look. "I'm not going to go anywhere while you're gone, ok? Stop being so bothersome about it."
"Well all right then. See you at lunch," Duo said, finally satisfied. He took his lyre and went next door to meet Quaterine. This morning, he was going to teach her the birthday duet he'd written so they could sing it later at her party, and he wasn't going to be around to make sure Heero stayed out of trouble.
Even without him, Heero stayed well out of trouble. At lunchtime, Duo found him exactly where he'd left him. He was scribbling on a tablet and held up lunch just a little while because he wanted to finish before the table was cleared. When he was done, they had lunch and Duo filled him in on the music lesson. In the afternoon, a messenger arrived for the tablet Heero had been composing. Duo busied himself cleaning the horse stalls, giving Diana a bath, and brushing the puppies. For Quaterine's party, he put a bow around each one's neck.
For himself, Duo wore the deep blue tunic. Heero noticed right away and a warm feeling stirred in this stomach. Duo was going to the party with him. As much as it felt right treating Duo as an equal, there was still something thrilling about having Duo at his side. All these months he'd been trying to squash this feeling, but he could never manage to conquer it completely. He watched Duo run around trying to catch puppies, too amused to help him.
"Puppy fence failure?" he smirked.
"The little bastard with the white on the end of his tail chewed through it!" Duo complained.
"Duo... pink bows?" Heero asked with a smile.
"Heero, she is turning six," Duo reminded him as he nabbed the last puppy. Diana followed the puppy basket as it was carried next door.
Duo soon discovered that this gathering was just as much a six year old's birthday party as it was a chance for the adults to congregate, gossip, do business, and talk politics. Most of the Winners were in attendance, along with nieces and nephews of Heero's that Duo had never seen before. There were also the families of Quaterine's friends, all equally as rich and influential as the Winners. The children played in one of the main house's enormous peristyles, watched by Hilde and a few other household slaves. The puppies were a huge hit, of course. Hilde and the others were thankful for something to keep the children occupied. She tried to rope Duo into some babysitting, and he was glad he had an excuse to be elsewhere
There was no formal sit down dinner, but there was a buffet of food out in one of the gardens. Duo went and picked out some things he thought Heero might like and brought the plate back. Heero always got this look on his face when they were at parties and he was eating and Duo was not, so Duo just smiled at him. Duo knew it was very unusual that he got to eat with Heero as much as he did and he always made sure to eat before they left for a party anyway. Heero nibbled at the food and Duo snagged a glass of wine from a passing slave. Heero grimaced at it and Duo laughed.
"Come on, it's from your father's cellar! It's way better than what they had you drinking last night," he joked. Heero took the glass and Duo felt the warmth of his fingers when they touched his on the cool glass. He busied that hand by running it through his bangs and looked at the floor.
Heero mingled with cousins and family friends until everyone was gathered together while Quaterine opened her gifts. After that they were seated in front of a make shift stage for the performance of the duet Duo had written. The adults sat in chairs and the children on the ground directly in front. Duo and Quaterine came on stage wearing hats that looked like lilypads and sang a song about frogs as they hopped and danced around the stage. Quaterine was very into it and they had the entire audience laughing and clapping as they performed. To end it, Duo led all the kids in the chorus.
"That frog song was so cute!" a cousin complimented Heero afterwards. "Does he do kids' parties a lot? I'd love to have him for my son's next month!" Heero followed her gaze to where Duo was fastening his hat onto one of the boys and the kids were shrieking and singing and hopping around the peristyle.
"Sorry, it was just a one time thing," Heero said kindly to her. He thought Duo might like to perform for kids, but it would be less special for Quaterine if Duo started doing kids' parties. He did feel a little bad for turning down a way for Duo to make money without asking him.
Duo caught him looking over and gave him an apologetic look as children hung from his every limb and tried to tackle him. Heero just shook his head and smiled back. Since Duo was apparently indisposed, he went to find his brother or Trowa. The kids eventually tired out and Duo ended up sitting in the garden with them, telling stories. Heero had to give his apologies to four other people who also wanted Duo for their kids' parties.
"I think they're all asleep, does that mean the party's over?"
Heero turned to find Duo approaching from the peristyle. "It means we can sneak out," Heero replied. They found the basket and went to collect the puppies, who were sleeping on couches and cushions with the children. The pink bows were either chewed to bits or decorating girls' hair.
"Thanks, both of you," Iria said softly as passed by with Qauterine in her arms.
"Wait, mamma, I want Uncle Heero and Duo to put me to bed, too," Quaterine said in the whiny voice that only sleepy little kids could get away with.
They left the puppy basket with Diana and followed Iria upstairs. Iria changed her into her pajamas and Heero and Duo tucked her in.
"Did you pick a puppy?" Heero asked as Duo smoothed the blankets
"Yeah, the one with the white at the end of his tail," Quaterine said sleepily.
"As soon as he's ready to leave his mommy, we'll bring him over," Duo promised. "You can come visit him anytime. Good night, Lilypad Princess."
"Good night Lilypad Prince, good night Uncle Heero," she yawned.
Iria saw them to the door where she unexpectedly hugged Heero. "Thank you, Heero," she whispered. "She's... never had a father, not like the other kids. She's always been so attached to you. You don't know how much this means to her. And to me."
"Yes I do," Heero said and hugged her back.
"Thanks for making it special, both of you," she said as she released him. He and Duo went to the door and held it open for her.
"I'm going to sit up here a while longer," she said with a faintly melancholy smile.
They nodded and shut the door quietly on the way out.
"Father says she sleeps in there more often than not," Heero confided as they made their way back to the stairs. "She was one of the only of my sisters who was lucky enough to marry for love. She refuses to remarry. Quaterine is her world."
Duo just nodded in understanding. He thought that was kind of sad because she was such a wonderful woman and a terrific mother. She seemed like the kind of woman who would have liked to have a lot more kids than just one. Not to mention she was still young and beautiful. Duo thought there had to be some man out there who could make her happy. It was also sad because she had lost the man she loved so much. He wondered at that kind of love, that devotion. To love someone so much you are convinced that there is no one else out there for you.
His hand brushed Heero as they descended the stairs and he jerked a way a little, embarrassed.
"Ah, sorry," he said.
Heero just looked away and made a mumbling noise.
Duo picked up the puppy basket and Diana escorted them back to Heero's house. The silence was comfortable. Heero followed Duo to the barn where he put the sleeping puppies back on their blanket.
"All these little guys are spoken for, now," Heero said.
"That's great!" Duo said, but then turned. "Hey, wait, what about me?"
"You don't get one," Heero chuckled. "Besides, there will be more. She's been a good mom, so after a season of rest, I think I'll breed her again."
"That's a good idea," Duo said, petting Diana as she lay down next to her brood. He could sense that Heero was mulling on something.
"Everyone loved the performance," Heero said finally.
Duo stood up and let himself out of the stall. "I know what you're going to say and don't you dare," he said firmly. "I did that because I love that kid and I won't hear of accepting any money for it, ok?"
"Then you'll be happy to know that I turned down all the offers you got for doing more kids' parties," Heero told him as the left the stable.
"Oh, thank the gods!" Duo laughed. "No more kids!"
"I thought you liked kids."
"Oh, kids are great - in small doses between long intervals!"
Heero agreed. They reached the stairs and Heero thought how natural it felt to be climbing the stairs to his room with Duo. He knew it was because Duo was going to change his bandages and not because Duo was coming to bed with him, but it still felt better than it had any right to feel. He did very much wish that Duo was coming to bed with him. Duo had kissed him, after all. Shouldn't he be able to expect - Heero stopped those thoughts before they went any further. He couldn't 'expect' anything. He would just have to endure until Duo made it clear what he wanted.
After the wound dressing, Heero lay in bed half hard and refusing to do anything about it. This was stupid. He was tired. He just wanted to go to sleep. He didn't want the thoughts of Duo's hands, or Duo leaning over him in this very bed. He didn't want the reactions those thoughts caused in his body. His body was still healing and more sore than he would admit. Any straining on his abdominal muscles would be bad for them. He didn't want to have to get into a panting, sweaty fit just to get to sleep tonight. He absolutely refused to give in and finally managed to kill his arousal with thoughts of work.
Duo frowned at the herbs the next morning as he measured them out to make the medicine for Heero's wound. This was the last of it. After this morning, he would no longer have an excuse to stare at Heero's chiseled body. No more stinky paste would make Heero happy, at least.
"Sally said the treatment could stop when we ran out of herbs, so this will be the last time you have to put up it," Duo told him.
This was good news for Heero. He just had to get through this one more time. He could have sworn it took longer, but maybe that was because he wanted it to be over so badly. Heero chose to linger in bed while Duo went to prepare breakfast.
When Heero came downstairs, Duo was seated at the table and had breakfast waiting. There was also something else on the table that Heero noticed when he sat down.
"What is this?" he asked, picking up the knife hilt. The handle was bare bone, but the finial and neck of it were wrapped in a braid of coarse black hair, accented with copper wire.
"That's the piece of forelock you had in your hand after the Equus October race," Duo told him.
"I did?" Heero asked as turned the hilt in his hand to admire it.
"Yeah, they had to rip the head out of your hands at the palace," Duo chuckled. "You were still holding that hair in the litter on the way home."
"You made this?" Heero asked, looking up at Duo.
"Well, I didn't carve the bone," Duo told him. "I bought the hilt, but I carved grooves to inset the hair and added those thin copper wires for strength. It's only a hilt because I figured you probably had a favorite blade or something. You can put whatever you want on it."
"You made this for me?"
"Yeah, to commemorate your third and final victory in the Equus October," Duo grinned.
"You... made this for me," Heero said, still in disbelief. Slaves didn't give gifts to their masters. Any other slave who worked this hard on something probably would have been making it for himself. And Duo said he had bought the hilt. Duo had bought him something with his own money. It reminded Heero yet again what an unusual person Duo was.
"And it's a commemoration to the horse," Duo added sheepishly. "He was a good horse, right? He gave all he had in that race. I still don't like the practice, but I think I get it now: it wouldn't have been a 'sacrifice' if he wasn't such a good horse. I thought he deserved remembering, too."
A truly unusual person, Heero thought again, speechlessly looking at Duo over the breakfast table. "Thank you," he finally managed to say.
After chores, they sat in the garden for Greek lessons and then went to the races in the afternoon. Heero decided he would prefer to meet his friends at the Circus, especially with Zechs's threat to paint his face green, so he and Duo set off on their own after lunch. Master Winner and Quatre had turned the Winner's private box into a Blue Clubhouse of sorts and were entertaining, and the Peacecrafts were probably doing the same since they were also devotees of the Blues. Zechs had his own box and invited all his friends to sit there, even if they all cheered for different teams.
Just like entering the amphitheater, Duo was astonished by the structure of the Circus Maximus. It was a long, oval structure as wide as the amphitheater, but maybe as long as three of them end to end. It had the same archways all around the exterior, allowing for easy entry and exit. Inside the archway, in a corridor that ran around the entire building, were shops and food stands. Heero led him to Zechs's box, which was of course in the first tier and covered with a shade.
"Man, up in the nosebleed section again!" Duo commented sarcastically.
Zechs was already there, face painted green as promised, and already arguing with Wu Fei. Lucrezia and Sally were chatting and ignoring them. Trowa arrived only moments after Duo and Heero.
"Not a Blue fan?" Duo asked him.
"It's the Reds this season," Trowa answered.
"See, now here's a man who knows horseflesh," Wu Fei interjected, slapping Trowa on the shoulder. He passed Duo and Heero programs. Duo had seen the programs circulating all week and recognized some of the names from conversations. He was surprised to learn that some of the names he'd been hearing were actually the names of horses. There was no sanctioned public gambling on the races, but private betting was practically a way of life, so the programs were distributed days before the actual races. There were to be fifteen races in total, often with more than one team from a faction in a given race. There would be both two-horse and four-horse races.
Like every public spectacle, it began with a procession and announcements. In the middle of the enormous oval trackway was a long divider decorated with statues and obelisks. Duo could see that the turns at the short ends of the track were going to be extremely tight. It was similar to when Heero had raced, but would require even more skill.
"How many people can the stands hold?" Duo asked.
"Enough to get into hundreds of fights all over the city after the races are over," Heero put in.
"About 150,000 people," Wu Fei answered.
Duo had never seen so many people in one place before, it was even bigger than the amphitheater and utterly dwarfed the theater. In the crowd, he could spot large pockets of fans wearing specific colors and waving flags. After the procession, The Emperor dropped the white starting flag, signifying that the races could begin. The crowd cheered wildly. Duo saw horses being led into the starting gates at the corner of the Circus that faced the Tiber.
"There are twelve starting gates, but they will not always be filled." Heero said, suddenly very close to his ear. "It depends on how many teams are in the race. They have specific lanes until the reach the first straight away - then it's anything goes. There's really no rules, just the first driver to complete seven laps wins."
The gates sprang open and the horses burst out. Duo felt the excitement of the crowd spike and the cheering began. The first race was for two-horse teams, and there were two teams from each faction racing.
"The first few races are for less experienced or less famous drivers and horses," Wu Fei said, glancing at the program again. "They save the popular figures for the end. It's not as exciting, but it's a good chance to scope out the new talent."
"See the structure with the pillars in the middle?" Heero asked, pointing. "They put dolphin statuettes up there to mark the laps."
Duo nodded, not taking his eyes from the track. The chariots were racing towards the first turn and vying for the inside track. Duo could see how dangerous this was. The chariots were merely frames, with the driver balancing on the axel and he didn't wear anything but a light helmet.
"They wrap the reins around their waists?" Duo asked Heero.
Heero nodded. "They steer with their weight," he explained.
"But what if they crash?" Duo asked.
"They carry knives to cut themselves free, but it still is very dangerous. Many charioteers don't live very long," Heero said.
"But if they're any good, the live like kings!" Zechs added. "There have been statues and monuments built to honor the most famous of them."
A driver for the Blues won the first race and there was much cheering and flag waving. The Greens came in second, the Whites third, and another Blue in fourth. Zechs immediately started giving Wu Fei shit since the Reds hadn't place in the top four. Duo was almost more entertained by the two of them than the races themselves.
There was a short ceremony for the winning team involving music, a palm branch, and a victory lap, and then the track was cleared for the next race. The next was for novices of the four-horse teams. Wu Fei and Trowa were talking horses and Zechs was standing up and cheering because the Greens were in the lead. When they won, Zechs was intolerable. Duo was definitely entertained.
Many venders carrying drinks and snacks worked the private boxes, and a few tried making their way through general seating. At one point during the third race, Heero nearly jumped out of his seat. He stood at the back of the box and waved a vendor over. He paid and received a drink which he brought back and handed to Duo.
"Here, you'll like this," he said, obviously pleased with himself.
Duo took it and drank. "Mm! It's sweet!" he exclaimed.
"It's wine with honey and fruit juices," Heero told him.
"It's really good! Thank you," Duo said, taking another drink. He smiled to himself. Shouldn't he be the one getting Heero drinks? Since the quality of the wine for sale was low, most of the others had brought their own.
After the fifth race, there was a break so the dirt track could be raked. Music played as twelve two-horse teams pulled rakes behind them at an easy lope. The drivers were dressed exaggeratedly as different god and goddesses, simulating a race between the gods. There was Jupiter and his lightening bolts, Diana with her bow, Venus with a chariot shaped like a swan, and all the others. Bacchus won, even though he was nearly falling out of his chariot acting drunk, because all of the other gods got caught up in quarrels with one another.
During the break, Heero had to buy everyone snacks since the Whites were in last place overall. He brought Duo along to help carry everything back. When they returned, they handed out the food and took their seats again. Duo noticed a marked improvement in the horses and drivers as the races continued. The races got faster and more dangerous. In the ninth race, there was a crash and a lot of shouting from the audience. It had looked to Duo like two of the Green drivers had ganged up to cause a Blue driver to crash into the divider. There was lots of shouting back and forth between the Green fans and Blue fans, but the race continued.
After the tenth race there was another break to rake the track and Heero got up to buy snacks again because the Whites were still in last. They had won one race and placed in the top four a few other times, but they were last over all.
"Really, with your driving experience, one would think you'd be capable of picking a better team," Wu Fei shook his head at Heero.
"It's not something I like doing," Heero grumbled as he and Duo left the box.
The rakers came out again, this time dressed as figures from the long history of the Roman Empire and Republic, both heroes and villains. Duo could only recognize two or three of them, but the audience was apparently getting a huge kick out of who ganged up on who and who finally won the race. They returned with snacks and the last racing segment began.
"Oh, this is the six-horse teams!" Wu Fei announced after another look at the program. There were only eight six-horse teams, but Duo could see how it got even more dangerous with more horses to control. Another near-crash had the audience gasping, but the driver got out of and it ended with a win for the Whites.
Heero jumped up again during the next race when a honey wine vendor came around again.
"I could get used to this," Duo grinned as he took the glass.
Lucrezia leaned over to her husband. "Gods, don't you wish they would just screw already?" she whispered in his ear.
"Tell me about it! Have you ever seen anything so painfully drawn out?" he whispered back.
"I think I see the next betting pool..." she grinned.
"Are you kidding? I already lost!" Zechs hissed. "I sorely underestimated Heero's self-restraint. Any longer and I'm going to have to wonder if there isn't something wrong with him."
"There he is!" Wu Fei announced excitedly, pointing to the track. "Titanus!"
Duo looked for a driver large enough to live up to that name.
"The right hand horse for the Red team in lane two, right?" Trowa asked, scrutinizing the field.
"Yes, the chestnut," Wu Fei replied and conversation turned to horses again.
The final race was the wildest, both on the track and in the stands, because the Greens and the Blues were tied for second place. The Reds were in first and the Whites were firmly last. The thunder of horse hooves and the din of chariot wheels were completely drowned out by the roar of the crowd. Zechs and Wu Fei were both out of the seats. In an upset, one of the White teams won the race. However, a Blue team came in second, which edged them ahead of the Greens overall.
When it was all over the six friends settled up their bets. It sounded like everyone else was going to party and Heero reluctantly agreed to go.
Despite his team coming in last, Heero didn't look particularly disappointed.
"You didn't bet much?" Duo asked as they walked behind the group.
"Oh, here and there," Heero shrugged. He pulled a handful of papers out of his tunic and waved them at Duo with a suspicious little smile. One fluttered away and landed on the ground. Duo immediately stooped to pick it up, and so did Heero. His hand nearly closed around Duo's and he instantly pulled it away. Duo straightened up, paper in hand. Heero looked embarrassed. Duo dropped his eyes and fiddled with the paper for a moment.
"Wait a minute, you bet on the REDS?!" he nearly shrieked when he read the betting slip.
Heero snickered at his reaction. "I may root for the Whites, but I never bet against Wu Fei when it comes to horses," he said with a smirk. "I always bet White with my friends, just to keep things interesting, but I bet for who I think is going to win with other people."
Duo looked at him, wondering when he had time to place bets while preparing for the Equus October, being chased through the streets by half the city, and then laid up in bed beaten and poisoned.
They managed to party at a bar by the Circus and mostly stay out of trouble. There were fights aplenty being that the Blues and Greens had had such a close race, but they managed to avoid them. Heero was feeling a lot better and able to have a good time without the exhaustion he'd been suffering the last few days.
Then they finally got home, Duo went to check on the animals and close up the house, and Heero trudged up the stairs alone. There would be no more bandage changings and stinky medicines, for which he was mostly grateful. Duo had never seemed to notice that he got aroused from it, so that was a relief. He put his clothes away and unrolled the bandage Duo had put on this morning. He wiped off the medicine then wrapped his middle in just a lighter, looser bandage to keep anything from chafing the healing cuts. He went to bed naked because he didn't have to worry about being disturbed or woken up in the morning.
He had just settled into bed when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs and down the hall. There were some faint noises from the room next door and then the bed creaked a couple times. He hadn't told Duo to go back to sleeping in his own room, so he must be sleeping there still. Heero didn't feel so comfortable anymore. His body was healthy again and it seemed to want revenge on him for all the times he'd denied it recently. He rolled over, still pretending he could ignore it.
Heero tried to think about something else instead, like the races. He thought about horses and chariots, and tried to total up the money he'd made - minus what he lost to friends and what he spent on snacks. Duo had been so happy about that honey wine. Heero loved seeing him so happy, the way he smiled. Their hands had touched when they'd both reached for that ticket. He felt a warmth in his groin when he thought about that and all the other little times their fingers touched or their shoulders brushed. His cock started to feel heavy and stiff. He couldn't stop it tonight.
Duo had kissed him and he wanted more of that, more of that contact, more of those lips. He had never been kissed like that, never allowed someone's tongue in his mouth. He wanted to explore Duo's mouth with his tongue; he wanted to feel Duo give underneath him. His cock was standing up now, demanding attention. He wrapped his hand around it and just held it, stunned by how good it felt to do just that much. He forced out the breath he was holding and squeezed it. It throbbed in his hand as more blood rushed to it and hardened it. He squeezed it again and stroked it a little, letting his mind be overwhelmed by the feeling.
How many different ways had he thought of to bed Duo? He couldn't seem pick one tonight, but it wouldn't matter. It was all the same, he just wanted Duo here, under him, legs spread for him willingly and with some look of bliss on his face. He was still holding his cock, squeezing it as if that could stop it from getting any harder, as if he could hold onto his mind and overcome this sensation. However, it was far too late and he was well aware of that. His mind was flooded with pleasure and any inhibitions or guilt were dismissed. All that was left were thoughts of Duo and this very basic instinct.
Heero tried to imagine that blissful look on Duo's face as he flipped over. He got to his knees and leaned forward on one hand as he began to stroke his cock with the other. He wanted to fuck Duo. Just like this. And he wanted to make Duo to gasp out his name. He wanted to hear his name called out in Duo's voice. The tip of his cock was seeping now and he pulled the foreskin back to spread the running precome over the head and down as much of the shaft as he could. He pushed into his hand, groaning that the difference the lubrication made. Closing his eyes, he both stroked and thrust his hips. His body felt good - alive. He grunted and snapped his hips faster, imagining that he could make it feel every bit as good for Duo as it did for him.
He continued as long as he could, enjoying the plateau instead of rushing through it. He just wanted to keep doing this forever. If he were really with Duo he would probably never want to stop. He changed up the rhythm so he could keep going when he felt like he was getting closer to orgasm and then he stopped altogether as he reached lower to fondle his balls. He groaned at the feeling, squeezing his eyes shut. His cock ached to finish and he grabbed it again roughly, intending to do exactly that. It felt hot in his fist and the skin was extremely tight. His hips jerked and his hand could barely keep up. His mind blanked and he bit back a groan as the first stream of come erupted from him. He worked the head and shot again a few seconds later but it still did not stop feeling good. He cried out softly as he coaxed out another jet of come, this time dribbling down his hand instead of landing on the sheets under him.
He collapsed on his side, struggling to breathe and unable to hear anything but the pounding of his own heart. He rolled onto his back and covered his eyes with his clean hand. At that moment, all he wanted in the entire world was for Duo to be there when he opened his eyes again. Duo would not be there, though, it was just another pointless fantasy. It felt good at the time but empty afterward. He was used to this pattern and that was why he hated indulging in those fantasies. He hated being reminded that this was all he could do.
How long could he go on like this, he wondered. It was only getting worse. Fantasy was far from action, but the last thing he wanted was to become one of those lecherous people who took advantage of slaves, one of the people he wanted to protect Duo from. He had to consider Duo's position. He swore for the hundredth time that if he ever felt he was getting to that point, he would consider selling Duo - IF he could think of anywhere that would be completely safe for him. So far, Heero knew of no such place.