"What are we doing this afternoon, again?" Heero asked as Duo walked him to the door. It had been a rushed breakfast and Heero was out the door before it was fully light outside. Family and military obligations were keeping him busy in the days after the wedding. His role in Quatre's campaign required a lot of being seen with his brother and father, which meant more social outings than he preferred. Duo, on the other hand, was thrilled because, unlike military business, he got to go along. Actually, Quatre had personally put him to the task of making sure that Heero showed up for the parties, the theater, the circus, the games, and all the other engagements where the Winners would be doing politics and seeking the votes of other important families.
"The rally," Duo reminded him.
Heero made a face usually reserved for eating something extremely bitter.
"It's only a few more days," Duo said sympathetically. "You prepared your speech, right?"
"No, but I'll make some time today," Heero said.
"Ok, see you there," Duo said. He gave Heero a kiss and sent him on his way.
In the afternoon, Duo left for the rally a little early. The forum was always crowded, but there was already a large crowd loitering around where Quatre's campaign rally was supposed to take place. Quatre, Master Winner, and Heero would all make speeches and then Quatre would answer questions from the crowd, from supporters and opposition alike. Quatre had explained that about twenty-four Military Tribunes would be elected, so he didn't expect to come up against any serious antagonism. Besides, he had a few years of military service already. After that, there would be schmoozing until it was time for a late dinner party at the Chang's.
Members of the Peacecraft family were already there, as were some of the Chang clan. Quatre's sisters and brothers-in-law and their families were there, too. Duo spotted one head above all the rest and started pushing in that direction. Trowa saw him coming and moved towards him. The crowd parted a lot more easily for the tall Gaul.
"So, is Quatre ready for this?" Duo asked.
"Quatre was born ready for this," Trowa said confidently. "Is Heero ready?"
"He didn't have a speech this morning when he left the house," Duo answered.
Trowa shook his head. Duo saw Wu Fei headed their way and waved to him.
"Please tell me Heero has a speech ready," he said to Duo when he joined them.
"Not as of this morning," Duo said with a chuckle.
Wu Fei sighed.
"I'm sure he's written one by now," Duo added optimistically.
"Well, he could get up there and recite the alphabet and people would love it," Wu Fei snorted, "so I suppose we don't have anything to worry about."
"Zechs was telling him to run, too," Duo told him.
"Zechs is nuts, you know that," Wu Fei snorted again. "With his rank, Heero would have no trouble getting elected to a higher office, but he's already a General. He's military for life, that much is obvious."
"So you don't think he'd ever give up that life to get into the political game?" Duo asked. He'd feel a lot better knowing that Heero was safe in Rome and not going to be sent anywhere dangerous.
Wu Fei gave him a funny look. "Do you even have to ask?"
"Is Heero being sent somewhere?" Trowa spoke up.
"Not that I know of," Duo frowned.
"Being a General should mean he does less of the actual fighting and more of the planning and organizing," Trowa said, sounding a little like he was trying to comfort Duo.
"But you know how he is," Wu Fei added. That wasn't comforting at all, because Duo did know how Heero was.
"Is Heero back on active duty?" Trowa asked Duo.
"He hasn't said he is, but..." Duo trailed off in frustration.
"Quatre is suspicious, too," Trowa said.
"Unfortunately, I wouldn't put it past him to not tell anyone he put himself back on active duty," Wu Fei said disapprovingly.
Duo couldn't argue with that, though he'd like to think that Heero would at least tell him. Wu Fei's father sent a slave to retrieve him, and he apologized before taking his leave.
Quatre and his father pulled off the rally without a hitch. Heero did not end up reciting the alphabet, he gave a speech that was short and to the point and then wisely stayed out of the way. Duo could tell that the post-rally socializing was a strain on Heero, and he still had the whole night of it ahead of him! To give him something to look forward to, Duo whispered a few things in his ear on the way to the party, ideas about what they could do together later when Heero had completed his duties for the night.
Heero was out of the house before dawn again the following day. The daily military meetings weren't helping Duo's growing suspicion that the legion was going to be on the move again soon - and Heero with it. The meetings didn't normally go all day, but that night Heero returned well after dark and summoned Duo to his office. The look on Heero's face immediately set Duo on edge. It was the kind of face Duo hadn't seen in a long time, the kind that used to intimidate the hell out of him when he first arrived here and didn't know Heero very well.
"You can sit down, Duo," Heero said.
Duo didn't want to sit down. Bad news was coming, he could feel it. "What? What is it?" he asked.
"I will be going on a military assignment to review - "
"They're sending you somewhere?" Duo broke in. "But you're not on active duty! Where are they sending you?"
"Duo, calm down," Heero ordered.
It angered Duo that Heero seemed all too prepared for this fight. "Are you back on active duty or not? Why are they sending you somewhere?" he demanded.
"They're not sending me anywhere," Heero told him. "All I will be doing is reviewing troops for a couple of days. It's perfectly routine and not far away. Just sit back down and I will explain it to you."
"I'm coming with you."
"That is a possibility. Now, sit down," Heero ordered.
Duo glowered at him for his tone but sat down in the chair in front of the desk. That damned General's Face, Duo thought furiously. Heero had had it on since the moment he walked in the door tonight, and it was pissing him the hell off. Duo already had the sickening feeling that any decisions made in this room tonight would have little do to with anything he had to say on the matter. He barely listened as Heero explained to him the details of the training camp and the review process. It was as if he was giving orders to his soldiers, not talking to someone close to him - someone who mattered. It sounded like Heero had rehearsed every goddamned thing he was gonna say and not bothered to factor in Duo's responses.
"I'm coming with you," Duo said again as soon as Heero had finished. "I'll play gopher, get your meals, take care of the horses, just follow you around and make you look important - I don't care, but I'm not staying here!"
"Duo," Heero said sharply. He took a moment to collect his thoughts before saying, "I don't normally curb you from freely expressing your opinions and making demands, but I don't think you understand that in this situation, you don't have a say."
Duo's anger flared hotly. How could Heero say that to him?
Heero continued calmly, "Now, I am seriously considering bringing you for clerical duties and errands, but only on two conditions."
Duo folded his arms, not trusting himself to open his mouth without outraged curse words tumbling out.
"First of all, you must be obedient at all times. You may not be argumentative, overly familiar, vulgar, or impertinent in any way," Heero said.
"I know, I know," Duo ground out.
"Secondly, you will not be sharing my bed for the duration of the trip. There won't be much privacy and I may be summoned at any time, day or night. There can be no argument on this situation or attempts at persuasion otherwise," Heero finished.
Duo didn't have to think long. "Terms accepted," he said unhappily. "I'll be a good little slave and I won't try to sleep with you, General."
"Duo," Heero warned.
"Are you going to put the collar back on now, or wait till we leave?" Duo asked cynically.
That one hit home. Heero's tightly controlled face slipped into a look of surprise and insult. "Duo!"
Duo knew that had been out of line but he didn't apologize. "May I be dismissed now? I have things to do," he said. Heero said yes and Duo hurried to the barn.
He had lied about having something to do, so he hid there and miserably picked through Ala's mane. Gods, he thought furiously, did Heero have to be so damned condescending? He could stay quiet and follow directions, he could understand the lack of privacy and deal with it, Heero didn't have to give him bullshit conditions. That hadn't been a conversation between partners, that had been Heero making up his mind and giving orders. But that was exactly the problem, wasn't it? Duo tended to think of them as partners and Heero clearly did not. As Duo had feared, not a word he'd said had made any kind of difference. Heero had even outright said his opinion didn't matter! Duo thought they had been doing so well together lately, but when you got right down to it, the truth was they were still playing by Heero's rules. He had to wonder if he'd made any progress with Heero at all.
Ala's mane was already well groomed and didn't present him with any particular difficulty, so he went to Diana's stall and sat down with her and the puppies. The puppies were sleeping already, but they didn't seem to mind being moved to his lap for petting.
Heero had pissed him off tonight, but the real problem was the same as it always was: he was a slave. He knew perfectly well that his relationship with Heero was more equal than most slaves could ever dream about. He knew that Heero was kind and good to him and cared a great deal about him. He knew all that, but the fact remained that they were still master and slave and there were going to be times when a slave would have no say in matters. He had gotten angry when Heero implied that any opportunity that he was allowed to voice his opinion was due to Heero's permissiveness, but that was the ugly truth, wasn't it? Even so, knowing that didn't make it any easier, damn it.
Yes, he'd been a slave for a few years now, so maybe he should be used to it, but before, in Madame Ocious' palace, it had only been about silly things like wearing a dress and being made to sing songs and dance around. Sure it was humiliating and awkward, but it was harmless it had saved home from the executioner at least. However, since he'd come to Rome, he'd had rights taken away that were more dear to him than just about anything else in life: defending himself, making his own decisions, being able to protect what was important to him. He had never gotten used to it and he never would. Didn't Heero understand what that those things meant to him? Not for the first time, he felt like things with Heero would be a lot simpler if they were on equal footing.
Eventually, Duo tucked the puppies back into the clean straw and gave Diana a kiss on the head before closing the barn for the night. After he put out all the lights in the house, he noticed the dull glow in the stairway. Heero was still up. Duo glanced only briefly at the dark hallway to his room before trudging up the stairs. He had begun to feel a little bad about mouthing off and being sarcastic with Heero, especially his last comment about the collar. He'd never been any good at controlling his mouth when he was pissed off. He hovered in the bedroom doorway and Heero looked up from a roll of papyrus.
"I didn't know if... you'd come up tonight," Heero said, the uncertainty was clear in his voice.
"Yeah, well someone had to make sure you stopped working," Duo grumbled. He forced himself to look directly at Heero then, and the slightly worried face made his anger ebb. It worked even better than puppies. Heero looked like he'd be more willing to listen now, so maybe the way to start smoothing things over was with an apology. "I'm sorry for being sarcastic with you. I'll keep to the terms," Duo said, meaning it.
His instinct had been correct. Heero put the sheaf of papyrus aside and offered an apology of his own. "I'm sorry, too. I'm sorry there have to be terms," he said.
Duo just nodded as he came into the room and shut the door behind him. The apology hadn't been for the right thing but he'd take it for what it was worth. He pulled off his tunic and laid it over a chair before getting into the bed.
"It's not the way I want it either," Heero told him, scooting over towards him a bit.
"I know," Duo said as he lay down.
"I'd rather carry on the way we normally do, but it just can't be that way," Heero continued.
"I know all that," Duo said, hearing the weariness in his own voice. Again Heero had missed the mark on why he was upset. He really just wanted to be spared the bullshit right now. He closed his eyes.
Heero didn't seem satisfied. "Saying all that to you wasn't easy for me either, Duo, but sometimes I have to draw that line. Trust me, it's not because I want to," he said.
"I know, Heero," Duo said, barely above a whisper. "I'm not mad at you, I'm just tired, ok?" He wasn't sure how true that was, but he wanted it to be.
"Ok," Heero said, though he didn't sound entirely convinced by Duo's words either. He put out the light and settled into bed next to Duo. They kept to their sides and Duo tried to sleep but it felt wrong. It was the first night their bed had ever felt cold.
The frost between them gradually melted over the next day. Breakfast was a little awkward, but it didn't have a chance to last before Heero was out the door to a meeting and Duo went out to the market with a list from Mona. They would meet later at the palestra and then go home to clean up for another fancy party. Heero clearly did not enjoy all the social outings he had to attend recently, but he was bound by family responsibility. It reminded Duo that Heero's life was so much bigger than him, and whatever disagreements they had.
Duo went to the market in Subura, of course. Mostly because it was the best one, but for some reason he got a certain amount of pleasure out of the fact that he knew Heero would disapprove. He first made a visit to the bakery his friend Leona ran and received fawning and free loaves of bread. She was looking obviously pregnant now and as happy as the last time Duo had seen her. He still had time after checking off Mona's entire list, so he stopped by the gigantic fortress Solo called a house and knocked on the door.
He hoped there were no hard feelings left over about Via Sacra's win at the October Horse festival. If Solo's greeting was indication, there weren't. Portia insisted Duo stay for lunch and he entertained the couple with funny limericks and stories. The lady's grey cat, Isabella, even graced them with her presence. When it came time for Duo to leave, Solo sent one of his thugs to accompany him home and carry his parcels back to the house. Duo wondered if maybe it was for his protection as well. Perhaps hard feelings did persist elsewhere in Subura.
"I heard he got poisoned," the thug said as they rounded a corner by the public baths.
Startled, Duo spun around and studied the taller man. He wished he could remember Heero's attacker better, but that fight was mostly a blur to him. The thug hadn't brought it up to gloat, Duo could tell that, and he looked puzzled by Duo's sudden, intense scrutiny, so Duo eased up.
"You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" Duo asked. "I'm sure there would be some money in it for you if you had any clues that could lead to a suspect."
"Naw," the thug shook his head, "Solo wouldn' hear of any of us playin' dirty like that. I just heard it later."
"Woulda been a shame for him to die like that," the thug continued unexpectedly.
"Well, yeah," Duo said, unable to curb his sarcasm completely.
"Poison is a coward's weapon," the thug philosophized, "and a legend like him shouldn't die like that, he should die on the battlefield. That's the only death befitting a hero."
The suggestion created a cold pit in Duo's stomach. "You read too much shitty epic poetry," he said dryly.
"You think I look like I can read?" the thug snorted and gave Duo a gap-toothed grin.
Duo laughed despite himself, but the dark feeling in his gut didn't go away. He helped Mona unpack the goods and then gathered Heero's equipment for the palestra.
They practiced with sword for a bit and then Heero made full use of having Dr. Sally's permission to swim again. Duo decided to practice with the javelin with Wu Fei and Zechs.
"Lovers' quarrel?" Zechs asked as soon as Heero had left.
Duo looked up from selecting his javelin. "What?" he asked.
"I was asking if you and Heero had a spat," Zechs said.
It was uncanny how he knew these things. Duo just shrugged. "Something like that," he answered.
"What about?" Zechs pressed.
Wu Fei whacked Zechs on the shoulder with a javelin, scolding him, "You mind your own business."
"He's going on an assignment to review troops," Duo told him.
"He does things like that all the time," Zechs replied with a shrug.
Duo considered trying to explain the problem to him, but it occurred to him that Zechs might not understand. The other man would probably see things more from Heero's perspective. He probably wouldn't have a lot of sympathy for a slave who didn't like being ordered around. "It was nothing," Duo said finally.
Heero was moving slower than usual on the way home from the palestra. It wasn't something that would be noticeable unless a person knew him as well as Duo did. Duo realized that he had been distracted by his javelin instructors and probably let Heero swim for too long.
"You just don't know when to quit, do you?" he sighed.
"What are you talking about?" Heero asked.
"You're exhausted! You shouldn't have been swimming for so long!" Duo admonished.
"I lost track of time," Heero said cryptically.
Mona had a hot bath ready when they arrived back at the house, but Heero instead followed Duo to the armory when he went to put the weapons away. "What is it?" Duo asked.
"I can't stop thinking about what you said yesterday, about the collar," Heero said.
"Oh," Duo gulped and set the bundle of swords on the ground with a clank. "Well, that might have been a little..."
Heero stepped up to him and took him firmly by the arm. "I never want to see you in that collar again," he said. "Sometimes I have to do things I know you won't like, but I'll never go that far. I'll never put it back on."
Duo let the bundle lean against the bench and threw his arms around Heero instead. "I know," he said, muffled into Heero's shoulder, "I know, I was just being a sarcastic asshole. I shouldn't have said that to you."
Heero just hugged him back without saying anything further.
"Come on," Duo said, pushing Heero in the direction of the door, "I can take care of this stuff later, let's get you into a hot bath."
Solo, Portia, and Isabella are introduced in ch 15
Leona appears in ch 16 (I think I made her obviously pregnant at that time, but in the timeline of the story, that wouldn't work. XD Oops.)