Disclaimers: No, I don't own them, and I'm not making any money.

Pairings: 1x2x1, 3x4x3, 5xS
Warnings: yaoi, au (roman empire), violence, angst, sap, annoying Relena, Duo in a dress (very VERY briefly), ex-Gladiator Trowa, scummyTrieze, out-of-control OOC Zechs, mild Duo Trauma, liberties with Heero's character (he might be ooc, but I like him so I'm keeping him), historical INaccuracy, excessive footnotes, Quatre and Heero are brothers (all will be explained!), more liberties with age and build (no 98 lb. 15-year-olds in this fic), eventual citrus. The beginning of this fic is from a more immature stage in my writing, and it shows, but I didn't have the energy to go and fix it ALL.

Special warnings: violence, blood, possible (non-sex) squick.

Thanks to Tanith for the encouragement and Lev for betaing! *hugs*

Really big thanks to Jana, for her endless 1x2x1 enthusiasm, for her patience with my dalliance in other fandoms, for putting up with my neurosis on an almost daily basis, and most of all for her continual love and support.

Summary: Set among the sex and politics of the Roman Empire. Heero Yuy, a Captain in the Roman Legion, acquires Sylvan bandit/mercenary Duo in an unusual manner. How will Duo cope with being a slave and moving to the biggest city in the world? Off the battlefield, Heero is a discontented aristocrat with mysterious origins. Duo shines with talents no one expected, and falls for the Captain with no heart to give him. In short, an epic romp through ancient Rome with the cast of Gundam Wing.

Chapter XXIX
by Granate

Heero woke on his own the next morning and put on some clothes for breakfast. He sat down at his place at the table, feeling just the tiniest bit awkward this morning after having thoughts like last night’s. He couldn’t help wondering if Duo would smile at him any differently over breakfast if they slept together at night. Duo joined him and chattered about his day’s plans. Together they came up with a list of chores for Duo to do to get the house ready for the coming winter.

After helping Mona clean up, Duo went about pulling items such as heavy blankets and braziers out of storage. He and Baltus hung all the blankets in the peristyle, beat them, and let them air. Baltus knew where all the extra braziers went throughout the house, so Duo put them out. He mended a few horse blankets and then went out to drop the summer linens and clothes at the fuller’s. On the way back, he was to order a shipment of firewood; Baltus told him what shop to go to and how much to order.

Heero was in his office looking over some business figures when Baltus announced a Quintus Flavius to see him. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Heero couldn’t remember from where. He asked Baltus to find out what he wanted.

"Says he has business with you, sir," Baltus told him. Heero agreed to see him. He didn’t recognize this Quintus Flavius, and he did not look like a bad man, but Heero got a suspicious feeling in his gut, the kind of feeling he got when someone was going to want something from him.

"General, sir, thank you for seeing me," the guest said as he sat down in the offered chair. "I am Quintus Flavius, owner of the Ilusian Dancing School."

Heero frowned deeply. "I have already heard the offer from your representative and the answer is no," Heero said flatly, cutting right to the quick.

"Ah, but you see I came in person with a new offer for you," the man said, undaunted. "We are trying to collect all of Saraswati’s group and it is very important to us to attain your slave."

He has a name, Heero bit back. "He is not for sale. I consider the matter closed, Quintus Flavius," he said.

The owner was obviously used to haggling. "I understand how profitable he must be to you, General," he said, "that’s why I’m offering you your pick of any two girls from my school and beyond that, well, name your price and we’ll see if we can’t agree on something."

Name his price? There was no way he could assign a price to Duo. There was no monetary equivalent for Duo’s friendship. He’d dealt with this before and was even more sure of that. Even if he ever had to sell Duo, the performing school would not be a safe place.

"How about three? Three girls and cash," Quintus offered when Heero did not respond. "We have some very beautiful and very... talented girls, General. I’m sure you will not be disappointed."

Heero stood up from his chair. "Quintus Flavius, I am going to say this once and then you are going to leave my house," he said. "There is no figure in the world that would be enough, no trade that could ever be equal. Duo is not for sale and that is my final decision. Good day."

Quintus gave a belabored sigh. "He’s that good, is he? Ah, if only things had been different and I’d been able to get my hands on him sooner," he said airily as he stood. "Good day to you, General, and you know where to find me should you change your mind."

He took his leave and Heero did not offer him another farewell.

Duo returned and they had a late lunch. He noticed that Heero seemed bothered or uptight about something, but Heero said it was nothing when he asked. After lunch, Heero wanted to go to the palestra and wouldn’t hear any of Duo’s arguments. They practiced lightly with swords and then Heero put him through a surprisingly rigorous set of boxing drills.

"Geez," Duo puffed when they took a break. "I thought you were just getting me ready for the Equus October!" He wiped his brow with the back of his wrist.

"You need to keep your skills in top shape," Heero told him.

After a few more rounds, Heero was eyeing the pool, so Duo dragged him home for a bath before he could insist on going for a swim. Heero could do laps like nobody’s business and his wounds would not benefit from the water.

Duo prepared the bath and then used it when Heero was done. He stripped off his clothes and stepped into the hot water. It felt divine. He was still nursing some nasty bruises and Heero had seemed to have a bee under his bonnet about that boxing session. Duo groaned and reclined back against the side of the tub. He noticed a book by the tub and picked it up. He was delighted to find that he could read some of the title even though it was in Greek. It was letters by someone, writings on philosophy, he was pretty sure. He smiled. Of course Heero wouldn’t be reading melodrama and romance like everyone else.

He washed and rinsed his hair and then scrubbed his skin clean. He had a foot in the air and was washing between his toes when the door opened. Heero stopped dead in the doorway when he saw Duo.

"I - I thought I heard you come out. I’m sorry," he stammered.

"That’s ok," Duo said quickly. "You forgot your book in here," he added with a smile.

"That’s what I came for, I’ll wait until you’re done. I’m sorry," Heero said and started to shut the door.

"No, no, it’s ok, you can come get it. I don’t mind," Duo tried to assure him. He really would not mind if Heero got in the damned tub, for that matter.

Heero looked unsure for a moment and then walked briskly in. He went right for the book and picked it up.

"Hey, how about teaching me some Greek from that book?" Duo asked.

"I don’t think you’d be interested in this one," Heero said.

"Sure I would! Come on! Let’s do it right now!" Duo said, splashing a little as he moved to the side of the tub.

"Duo... I can’t," Heero said abruptly and hurried out of the room.

"Damn," Duo cussed after the door was closed. No one corrected his language. He pouted to himself as he finished washing.

It was quiet at dinner so Duo started talking about a new idea he had for a song about a charioteer, and they discussed what was left to be done with house chores. Heero disappeared into his office for the evening and slipped up to bed when no one was looking.

Duo would not be coming to change his bandages, which was a big relief. The wounds were much better and he was glad about that. He wouldn’t even need to wrap them tonight. He wore his loincloth to bed to try and prevent an episode like last night’s. He had almost succeeded at keeping thoughts of Duo in the bath out of his mind when he heard footsteps in the hall, coming to his door.

"Heero, are you asleep?" Duo whispered so quietly Heero almost didn’t hear him. He wanted Duo to think he was, so he didn’t answer. Duo went away and Heero heard him get settled in the room next door.

He was fine now, there was no reason for Duo to sleep there. Heero knew he should excuse Duo to sleep in his own room - for his sanity’s sake if nothing else. They were so close at night. Too close. For the first couple of days, he had been so exhausted it hadn’t mattered. Now that he was feeling better, he was sleeping worse because he was too keenly aware of Duo’s proximity. Like last night. He rolled over again. This had to end. He would tell Duo he could sleep downstairs again tomorrow morning, he decided.

Just then, he heard the bed next door squeak. There were a few more noises followed by a thud like a knee lightly hitting the wall. The squeaking was faint, like someone consciously trying not to make it squeak. Probably every man in the world understood that kind of noise. It sounded to Heero like... He rolled over and covered his head with the pillow. No, Duo, don’t do that, he silently begged. Anything but that.

The bed next door would creak and then stop, and then start again when Duo forgot about the noise. Heero curled up, desperately trying not to listen. It was going to be impossible to sleep now. A cold glass of water might be good and maybe Duo would be done when he got back. He got out of bed but did not go to the stairs. Instead he found himself standing to the side of Duo’s open door, where he could hear the sheets rustling and muffled groans from inside. He turned and leaned back against the wall, letting his head fall back heavily. What was becoming of him? Was this what he was reduced to? Just standing here helplessly, listening? How far could this go? When would he reach his breaking point? There had to be one because he felt damned close.

He slid down until he was sitting on the floor. His mind was numbing over with so much pent up desire. The only thing that existed for him right now was the sounds coming from the other side of the door. His hand moved into his loincloth and he pressed his palm against the shaft of his hardening cock. Was he really going to do this here? Was he really this pathetic? He didn’t think he had the strength to stop himself, not with Duo’s panting getting louder and his voice distinctly clear.

"Hee... Heero."

It was the quietest of whispers, words just barely forced past the lips. Something he would never have heard if he hadn’t been sitting right here listening. Left up to his mind, he might have come up with a thousand ways to rationalize it away, but his body knew what it had heard and moved before there could be any analysis or second thoughts.

It was dark in the room, but there was enough light that Duo recognized Heero’s figure in the doorway.

"He - Heero?!" Duo choked, sitting up and frantically rearranging blankets. "I - Did I wake you? I - I’m sorry!"

Heero said not a word and crossed the room to the bed in three strides. Duo scrambled back up against the wall. Heero had that extremely intense air, the one that scared him so much. His heart pounded as he clutched the blankets.

"You said my name," Heero said between clenched teeth as he got onto his knees on the bed. "I heard you say my name." He was pawing through the covers, ripping them out of Duo’s grasp.

Duo’s mind spun, but he didn’t have time to come up with anything to say before Heero found what he was looking for. Duo gasped sharply as a strong hand closed around his cock.

"I want to hear you say it again. Say it like you did before," Heero whispered thickly, half begging. He’d never heard anyone say his name like that, and to hear it from Duo’s lips, in Duo’s voice, and not just in one of his fantasies. It was unlike anything else, it was a high he’d never imagined.

"Heero," Duo moaned shakily, still not sure he could believe what was going on. Heero's hand was stroking him and he was leaning so close that Duo could feel the heat of his breath.

"Yes," Heero hissed.

In his fantasies, Duo had always gone back and forth on whether Heero would be rough or gentle. He still thought Heero could be both, but right now Heero’s touch was rough and swift, and Duo was quickly overwhelmed. It was a lot rougher than he usually did to himself but it was so god damned erotic that Heero wanted to jerk him off fast and hard. "Heero," he gulped again as he reached out and gripped Heero’s shoulder.

At the sound of his name, Heero grunted and squeezed him tighter.

"Oh yes, Heero!" Duo keened. His body began to rock and jerk as he came. Heero continued to pump him as he panted and cried out, no longer trying to hold his voice in.

When he had spent himself, Duo slumped back against the wall and Heero reached to gather him against his chest. Duo huddled against him, thrilled by the warm arms that wrapped around his shoulders.

"Duo, I need you so much," he whispered, his lips grazing Duo’s neck. Duo sighed and huddled against him, thinking that he was going to get hard again fast if Heero kept that up. Even though it was slight, he had never heard Heero’s voice shake like it was right now.

"Let me take you to my room, Duo. Come with me," Heero pleaded with hitched breath.

Duo looked up into shining blue eyes. His answer was simple. He held Heero by the jaw and kissed him until they were both out of breath.

"Is this real?" Duo panted. "Or is this the best damned fantasy I’ve ever had?"

Heero just kissed him again and Duo kissed back with double the force. He tangled his fingers in Heero’s hair, the way he’d always wanted to do. He was about to use that thick and wiry hair as leverage to pull Heero on top of him, but thought of something better. He broke the kiss and stood up.

"Weren’t you going to take me to your room, Heero?" he asked. Heero stood then, took him by the hand, and led him to the other room.

He held tightly to Heero’s offered hand and wound his other arm around Heero’s, the way he always wanted to do when he was standing at Heero’s side at parties. Heero brought him to the bed but instead of getting on it, he kissed Heero again, bringing their hands to his chest and pressing his naked body against Heero. He had gotten a little sweaty and was now feeling a slight chill in the October night. Heero was warm and solid, and Duo could feel his obviously hard cock against his hip through the loincloth. His own cock twitched to life again. Heero was hard for him. Heero wanted him the same way he wanted Heero and they would both get what they longed for tonight.

Heero took him by the shoulders and sat him down on the bed. "I’ll be right back," he murmured and disappeared into an anteroom. Duo moved to lie back on the bed. He had been in this room many times, even sat and laid on this bed, but it could not have felt more different. Everything here smelled lightly of Heero. Duo nestled back onto the blankets, trying to surround himself with the smell. He wanted Heero to hurry and come back; he wanted more than Heero’s hands touching him; he wanted to feel that hard, heavy body against him. He wanted their bodies to move together. He was becoming so aroused that the prospect failed to frighten him at all.

He caught his breath when Heero reappeared, looking better than anybody should in just a scant loincloth and an altogether much too serious expression. Heero looked more incredible in real life than in any fantasy Duo had ever conjured up. Gods, that body and those eyes, Duo had thought of them a hundred times and never gotten the vision near as gorgeous as it was now. He was tempted to reach down and stroke himself, but he remained spread out so that Heero could look at him as he approached. And Heero was. His eyes raked Duo’s body as if he were trying to memorize the sight of Duo there, on his bed. That look made it obvious to Duo that Heero had wanted to see him on the bed like this for a long time.

Heero set as small jar on the table by the bed before leaning over to kiss him on the mouth. Duo responded immediately, pulling Heero down toward him by the back of his neck. He vaguely felt Heero’s fingers at his neck as the kissed but did not realize what he was doing. When Heero pulled away, he brought collar and key with him. Duo’e eyes went wide and his mouth gaped speechlessly. Heero looked down at him with both lust and uncertainty.

"Duo," he began, voice thick and low, "right now, you do not belong to me. There are no laws and no rules. It’s your choice, Duo. You can get up and walk away right now and we’ll never speak of it again. I want you here, but not because you think you have to be. It is your choice."

"Heero!" Duo groaned in frustration. He sat up and move to the edge of the bed, reaching out to sweep away the dark hair that always fell in Heero’s face. "I’m not going to walk away. Don’t you get it?" he asked desperately. "I do belong to you! Because I want to!"

"Duo," Heero breathed.

"That is my choice and I made it a long time ago, Heero, so please don’t make me wait any longer," Duo told him, recognizing a look of shock and disbelief on Heero’s face. "Please," he begged.

Heero fumbled to set the collar down, freeing his hands to seek Duo’s bare shoulders. He could scarcely believe such an admission. He touched Duo reverently this time, slower than he had just done in the room next door. There were nimble fingers on Heero’s cheeks and Duo guided him into another breath-stealing kiss. Duo was an immensely talented kisser. Heero had never experienced anything like it and he could only pray that he could keep up. In his entire life, he’d never felt as aroused as he did right now.

Duo broke the kiss so that he could admire Heero’s mostly naked body. He knew the chest, shoulders and stomach very well by now. He practically had them memorized - the shapes of the muscles and the placement of scars. Heero wore the loincloth low on his hips and Duo could see his circular tattoo. It was about three inches tall. The top half of the circle was made up of a bird. The tips of its wings met above its head and the detailed, intricate feathers of its wings created the sides of the circle. The bottom part was a fire, out of which the bird appeared to be flying. It was a beautiful tattoo, but it did not distract Duo from what he wanted for long.

Heero’s entire body seemed to tingle as hands slid firmly down his chest and stomach, and then Duo was pushing his loincloth down. It dropped to his ankles and Duo just stared at him for a moment. Heero was nervous, but he felt none of the anxiety he’d felt in the past when he was naked and in these situations, mostly because of the look on Duo’s face.

"Duo, you..." Heero gasped when Duo touched his cock. He still couldn’t believe Duo wanted to do this to him - with him. Duo’s touch felt like nothing else. His cock had been hard for what seemed like ages, leaving it aching for attention and staggeringly sensitive.

"Oh, fuck, Heero," Duo swallowed. He had seen Heero naked before, when he peeked in on Heero’s bath, and Heero had appeared to be of average size. Maybe it was a matter of being up close, or maybe his was the kind that got more than proportionately bigger when hard, but Heero was definitely larger than average. Duo would have liked to play with it some more and explore it with his fingertips, but Heero’s readiness was as obvious as the damp head that stretched the opening of the foreskin. He gently and expertly eased the skin back to fully expose the head, making Heero gasp. There was an ache deep inside him and, finally, he fully understood. He wanted to have this very private and guarded part of Heero. He wanted to accept it. He wanted it inside of him.

"Heero," he said after taking a breath, "we can have all the teasing and foreplay we want next time, but right now I just want you to fuck me. Is that ok?"

Heero’s answer was just a growl as he pushed Duo onto his back. Duo spread his legs and Heero settled between them on his knees. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself down. He wanted to make sure Duo came first and he had no idea how long that would take. He vowed that Duo would come before he did, even if it killed him.

Duo was squirming on the bed in front of him. "Is that oil?" he asked, eyeing the jar Heero had set on the table.

"Yes," Heero answered him.

"Can I put it on you?" Duo asked, propping up on his elbows.

"Next time," Heero told him. He thought it might be too much stimulus to have Duo doing it this time. He reached for the jar and dipped his fingers in.

Duo settled back onto the pillows with a feline smile. He bent his knees and propped his feet on Heero’s thighs. Heero spread the oil on his cock and Duo watched with obvious interest. He hummed and let his knees fall outward and Heero got a good look at his cock, which was nearly erect again. Heero’s own cock was now fully slick and he reached his oiled hand out to touch Duo’s. He slid his fingers up the underside, all the way to the tip. Duo made a noise and bucked his hips a little, and Heero grasped it and held on. It suited Duo perfectly, he thought. Duo was like a living statue of Apollo and seeing him naked only reinforced that - except his cock was definitely a size that any modern artist would disapprove of.

He wiped what was left of the oil on Duo’s cock and listened to the appreciative humming noises he made. He brought his hand down to cup Duo’s balls, making Duo moan and rock his hips. One still-slick finger explored Duo’s entrance, rubbing it with oil. It looked tiny to Heero.

"I’ve never done it with a man," Duo said suddenly.

"Me neither," Heero admitted. "I don’t want to hurt you, Duo, so please tell me if you want to stop."

"Heero, please do it now," Duo breathed.

Heero leaned over to kiss him and Duo buried his hands in his dark hair until Heero pulled away again to sit up and position himself. Duo bent legs up and Heero held the back sides of his thighs. He bumped the tip of his cock against Duo’s entrance and pushed against it. There was resistance, so he moved one hand to brace the tight hole and the head began to push in. There was enough oil to allow him to push the head through, stretching the tiny ring around his shaft. He stopped halfway to collect himself. The pressure and heat were more than he’d ever experienced and it was almost devastating how good it felt.

Duo closed his eyes struggled as he to keep his breathing even. It was painful. Heero’s cock was a lot bigger than the two fingers he’d fit in there before. The hole stretched uncomfortably and his passage already felt full even though Heero was only half way in.

"Should I stop?" Heero’s voice asked.

"No, keep going," Duo said, forcing himself to relax. He bit back a whimper as Heero inched further inside.

"Open your eyes, Duo," Heero said.

Duo did. He saw Heero. He saw Heero’s lust filled eyes, flushed face, and wild hair. He saw the sheen of sweat on Heero’s skin, put there by the effort to control himself. He had never seen anything more god damned sexy and Duo felt a gushing sensation in his gut.

The body under him relaxed, removing the force Heero had been fighting and he suddenly lurched forward, driving all the way inside with a strangled noise. He braced his hands on the bed, head bowed and panting. He had not been expecting that and it was all he could do not to come right there. He reminded himself sternly that he had to keep his control. Duo was so tight around him, he wondered if they should even be doing this.

"Heero!" Duo gulped and dug into Heero’s shoulders with his fingers. He felt like he had to fight for breath and panted heavily for air. It hurt but Heero was all the way inside him. He had taken all of Heero’s cock. It reached past his sensitive spot, so it would be a matter of striking it just right moving in and out.

Heero lowered himself down and kissed Duo’s mouth. Duo melted into the kiss and took a moment to tease Heero with his tongue. He wrapped his arms around Heero’s neck, encouraging Heero to lean his weight on him. Heero did and Duo gasped as it pushed Heero even a little deeper into him. Physically it hurt, but mentally it was erotic: Heero’s cock was inside him, and Heero was so overwhelmed he had to stop kissing and bury his face in Duo’s neck. It felt that good for Heero. He tightened one arm around Heero and wedged the other hand between their stomachs to give some attention to his cock.

"You can move," he whispered to Heero. He wanted Heero to take his pleasure; he wanted to learn how to give it from this position.

He grunted when Heero rocked inside him, just testing a little bit of movement. Heero leaned up again and slid out a little before pushing back in. Duo’s body was beginning to adjust and Heero’s delicious groan was worth the discomfort he still felt. Duo stroked himself as Heero experimented with his thrusting. Duo knew how strong he was and understood how much he must be holding himself back. He was establishing a rhythm and Duo was beginning to feel good with his gentle thrusts.

"Put pressure towards my stomach when you push in," Duo said and it came out as a moan.

"Is that where it feels good?" Heero asked.

Duo nodded. "There’s a spot... I’ll tell you when you hit it," he said, voice breathy.

Heero’s thrusting became stronger as Duo started to move with him. He put pressure up as he thrust in, just as Duo asked. Suddenly Duo’s entire body was arching and he shouted, "There! There!" Duo relaxed again, now moving with him more ardently. Strong legs wrapped around his waist. Heero didn’t know what he’d hit or how, but he tried to do it again.

Duo was feeling no pain now. There was still the abnormal full feeling but the muscles at the entrance were giving readily, worked open with oil and Heero’s thick shaft. He was beginning to really enjoy Heero’s rhythmic slide in and out, and how Heero pushed him a little on the bed when he was all the way in. Heero was pulling farther and farther out and the inward thrust becoming more powerful. Duo took it, rocking his body to accept Heero’s force.

"Ngh! Heero!" he cried again when Heero found that spot. It made his body go rigid and his vision blurry. It felt even more incredible when Heero’s cock struck it than when he found it with his own fingers during practice. It was like a mini orgasm all by itself. He felt close to coming, but he tried to keep his head straight. He wanted to feel everything. There would only be one first time like this. He wanted to enjoy this, he wanted to prolong it as long as possible. He didn’t want it to end now that it was finally feeling good.

When Duo tightened and shuddered like that, Heero had to fight the urge to pound harder. His body was becoming demanding. He could come in a second if he did it any harder, but he was resolutely refusing to let that happen. He had to make Duo come first, no matter how many more times it meant he had to hit that spot. Duo’s body was feeling willing and pliant, but still he couldn’t do anything but thrust and hope he found it. He could only guess. Wanting to do something to make Duo feel good for sure, he pulled Duo’s hand away and took over the job of stroking his cock

Duo moaned when Heero took hold of his cock. It was a new for him to be stimulated both inside and outside. He had been practicing, but he’d never made it feel this intense. He was barely able to answer when Heero spoke to him.

"Does it only feel good when I hit that spot?" Heero asked, slowing a bit.

"No," Duo panted, struggling to string words together. "It feels good every time you push in. It feels really good, Heero! I don’t want to come yet, but I might come next time you hit it."

Knowing that he was making Duo feel good made Heero more confident, and knowing that Duo was close to orgasm helped him let go. He drove in faster and went deeper. He rocked Duo into the bed and was rewarded with legs tightening around his waist. Duo had completely lost power over the noises spilling from his lips. It was this side of Heero he’d always wanted to see, this passionate, uncontrollable side. When Heero did hit that spot again, his body bucked and writhed. Heero thumbed the head of his cock and a cry tore from Duo as he flooded their stomachs with come. Heero would have liked to keep going, but he could only handle a couple more thrusts before he lost his control and came explosively inside Duo.

Duo cried out again when he felt Heero surge inside him. He rode out Heero’s powerful climax until Heero finally went still. Panting, he leaned heavily on Duo as if he hadn’t the strength to hold himself up anymore. Duo hugged him so hard his arms shook. "Heero," he whispered in his neck.

Heero’s arms pushed under him and he rolled them over. Duo caught his breath as Heero’s cock slid out of him. They settled so that Heero was on his back and Duo was lying half on him. He rested his cheek on Heero’s chest and large hands came to rest gently on his nape and hair. He would have liked to stay like that all night, but after a few moments, the sticky mess he’d left on both their stomachs was getting cold and started to drip off of them onto the bed. Duo reluctantly sat up and grabbed the opposite corner of the sheet to wipe them both off.

"Did I hurt you?" Heero asked, running his hands over Duo’s shoulders.

His voice was low and intimate, and Duo found it impossibly sexy. At the moment, his ass was numb, but he wasn’t about to complain or, worse, say anything that might discourage Heero. He smiled. "It hurt a little, but it felt good, Heero," he answered and then leaned down to kiss him on the lips.

He sat up again and traced a finger over Heero’s tattoo. "What is this?" he asked.

Heero glanced down. "Oh," he said flatly. "My swordsmaster made me get that, I didn’t want it."

"Why?" Duo pressed.

"It’s a protective symbol, some lore from his country," Heero said. "The bird dies in the flames, but comes back to life."

"I’ve heard that story, it’s called a Phoenix, right?" Duo mused, tracing the circle with his fingertip.

"Yes," Heero nodded. "He made me get the tattoo so that I would be like the Phoenix: that even beyond death, I should get up and keep fighting. When I think about it, it sounds more like a curse than protection. What kind of life is that? Always to rise again after death?"

Duo thought about this as his eyes traveled from Heero’s hip to his face. "It’s all on how you look at it," he said. "The Phoenix rises from the flames, but as a new bird. It reinvents itself, coming back from death as something better. That doesn’t sound like a curse at all."

Heero pulled him down for a long kiss.

"Anyway, it looks really cool. It’s a beautiful tattoo," Duo said when he broke away. "Trowa has some tattoos, doesn’t he?"

"Three of them," Heero nodded. "His Gallic symbol across his back, and the numeral three on both shoulders. My brother has a tattoo also."

"Quatre does?" Duo grinned.

"In the legion, his battalion was Leo - the lions. He and the Manguanac brothers all got matching tattoos of lions," Heero told him.

"That is so cool!" Duo exclaimed. "I want a tattoo!"

"No," Heero said emphatically, thinking of all that perfect skin.

"What should I get?" Duo asked.

"You’re not getting anything," Heero growled, "not while I can stop you." He wrestled Duo to the bed, and Duo laughed and hugged him.

They lay on their sides and Heero held Duo close, enjoying the way he was nuzzled into his chest. His hand stroked Duo’s head and found his braid, which was now loose and the strands fraying. He moved away from Duo a little and pulled the braid between them.

"May I?" he asked.

"You want to see my hair? Go ahead," Duo shrugged. Heero pulled off the tie and deftly unwound the locks. He smoothed them over Duo’s shoulder, admiring how the hair flowed over his chest and splayed over the sheets. He looked at Duo, who as still blinking at him like a contented cat.

"Do you know why I had you keep your hair long?" Heero asked.

"Because I wanted to cut it?" Duo answered. There was no animosity or accusation in his voice, it was merely an honest answer.

"No," Heero said, vaguely amused. "I didn’t let you cut it because I liked it."

"You like it long like this?" Duo asked.

Heero nodded. "I didn’t think much about it at the time, but you standing there in my tent with your face scrubbed clean, your clothes around your waist, and your hair down for the first time... You might have been the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen."

Duo arched his back and leaned forward to kiss Heero on the mouth very sweetly. "Then I’ll never cut it," he promised.

Heero swept the hair back over his shoulder and Duo snuggled against his chest again while Heero petted him. After a moment, Duo pushed away slightly. "Does this have anything to do with why you had me walking around this place half naked all the time?" he laughed.

"You’ll have to forgive me for refusing to answer that question," Heero said with a smirk. Duo just laughed again and kissed him.

on to chapter xxx

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