Heero remained in Rome a couple more days, just to see his brother elected Military Tribune, and then packed up for his review assignment. He brought a uniform of sorts home for Duo, something between scribe and soldier. Duo received military-issue tunic, sandals, cape, and leather armor. He would carry a sword but he would also carry a messenger bag for supplies to take notes and dictation. The morning they left, Duo cinched his leather armor with the belt he always wore, the one with the Winner's crest on it.
They were saddling the horses when Heero noticed the belt. "Nice touch," he said in approval.
"Well, I'm not there to take dictation from just anyone," Duo said, putting on an exaggerated, haughty air. He paused for a moment to watch one of Rome's powerful generals saddle his own horse. Heero wore something similar to him but his bronze breastplate was sculpted with muscles and more fringe at the epaulettes. "You look magnificent, by the way," Duo said. He didn't know if the breastplate made the difference or if it was something else, but Heero certainly looked his title today.
"Don't," Heero grimaced. "The uniform is ridiculous. I'm required to wear it."
Duo didn't argue, he just continued to appreciate the sight without saying anything else.
They rode to the city gate, where a full military escort met them: fifteen soldiers on white horses with streaming banners and polished standards top with shining golden eagles. Their weapons and armor gleamed, their flowing scarlet capes were spotless. Heero looked like he had been expecting them, but he didn't look exactly happy about it, either.
"Guess we're going in style," Duo grinned.
"Gods forbid we should not draw attention to ourselves," Heero grumbled.
"But what would they think when you arrived at the camp?" Duo joked.
"That's exactly what Treize said," Heero groaned.
The captain of the guard trotted up and saluted smartly before handing Heero a shiny helmet with a long red crest on the top. "His Excellency said you forgot this piece at the palace, sir!" the captain said stiffly.
Duo stifled a laugh. Yeah, Heero "forgot" the helmet. Sure. He could read Heero's face too well to believe that!
Heero took the helmet and fastened it to his saddle instead of putting it on. Then he gave an order to move out, and the captain barked it to the rest of the guard.
The camp was half a day's ride from Rome and looked like its own little city of tents and storehouses. Heero was welcomed into the camp with a fanfare of horns and drums, and men lined up at the entrance. The General in charge, Calvinus, met him with an embrace and led him to the officers' mess tent for a hearty meal before getting started. Duo brought the horses to the stable master and got someone to help him lug the saddlebags to Heero's tent.
He had done a lot of mental preparation for this trip. This job was going to be more difficult than just following along, taking notes, and remembering not to seduce Heero when they were alone. Duo knew he had to be ready for some unpleasant reminders of what being a slave was really like - being slighted, ignored, ordered around, and sometimes worse. And he had to be ready for Heero to treat him like that every now and then, too, without getting upset about it. Duo had stubbornly decided that he was going to be so good at this that Heero would never want to leave him at home again. He was going to make himself indispensible.
"I'll show you back now, sir, if there's nothing else you need to do."
Duo was startled from his thoughts and turned around to face the door of the tent, where the slave who had shown him here was waiting.
"All right. Thanks, I don't know my way around yet," Duo nodded. "And you don't have to call me 'sir.'"
"Ok," the slave said with an uncertain look. "You'll probably be able to catch the end of the meal," he said as he led Duo to the mess tent.
"I'm not exactly invited," Duo said.
"All officers can use the mess," the slave assured him as they walked.
"I'm not an officer, I'm a slave," Duo said, giving the young man a little smile.
The stable hand looked confused. "Oh," he said, "but... you wear a uniform and you carry a sword."
"I'm damned good with it, too," Duo was quick to add.
Duo's bravado only confused him further. "Ok, then, I guess you should wait out here," he said when they reached the tent. He hesitated a moment before asking, "Can I go back now?"
"You don't need to ask me," Duo chuckled and the young man hurried off.
Duo stood and waited until Heero came out, trying not to look bored or lazy. A tour of the camp was next on the schedule after the meal, and Duo followed right behind Heero. Heero wasn't saying much and Duo figured that, given the Romans' love for order, these camps were probably all set up in a similar arrangement. After the tour, they observed some of the troops practicing sword training drills with wooden swords. Heero walked through the lines, looking decidedly unimpressed. Duo found himself wondering just how long these soldiers had been training. He recognized the block they were practicing but, well, they needed a lot of work.
"All wrong," Heero growled and then bellowed at them, "it's all wrong! I want to see speed and follow-through! This block is supposed to get you the upper hand, you must advance on your opponent even as you block!"
The men had stopped and were looking at him. Duo noticed that some of them were no more than teenagers.
"Watch this," Heero ordered them. "Duo!"
Duo looked just in time to see Heero draw his sword. He had only a fraction of a second to draw his own blade and block with the same move the new soldiers were learning. There was murmuring from the men.
"There!" Heero shouted, pointing to Duo's right foot, which had stepped forward as he parried. "Advance as you block! This is not just a block, but the prelude to an attack! You should always be thinking of your next move!"
Wooden swords clacked against one another as the men began trying it again. Heero sheathed his sword, so Duo did the same and then picked up the stylus he'd dropped. He caught the nod and slight smirk Heero threw his way, and answered it was a grin of his own.
"No resting! If you can't hold your sword up any more, change hands!" Heero barked.
There was groaning from the men and Duo chuckled to himself. With General Winner on the grounds, these poor guys were in for quite a wake-up call.
That evening, Heero was entertained with another big meal and then General Calvinus wanted all the news from Rome. Duo was sent to the kitchen to get some food for himself. The kitchen staff was accommodating and eager for gossip from the city. Duo eventually heard Heero excusing himself for the night and hurried around front to meet him. They walked silently to the tent and Duo tied the door flap behind them.
"Ahhh," Duo sighed, plopping down on Heero's bed. He bounced on it a few times. "A real bed instead of a cot," he said appreciatively. "You've moved up in the world!"
Heero didn't say anything as he unfastened his cape and breastplate.
Duo took out his tablet and stylus. "I didn't really write anything today," he said and looked at Heero. "Was I supposed to have written anything?"
"I will have some notes but let me get my thoughts together first," Heero said.
"Ok," Duo agreed and moved off the bed. He sat down at the writing desk and Heero paced a bit before giving Duo plenty of notes to write down.
"You don't want to mention how sloppy the men were with their blocking?" Duo joked as he wrote.
Heero shook his head wearily. "They weren't that bad for new recruits," he said.
"No? You sure gave 'em hell!" Duo laughed.
"Of course," Heero said, "these men are going to be fighting for their lives out there. Tough lessons now may keep them alive later. Scaring them is part of the job when an outside General comes for a review."
"I see," Duo said, "they get a little complacent with the usual routine?"
"Not just the foot soldiers, but everyone, including the centurions and the higher-ups. A review always shakes things up," Heero explained.
It sounded to Duo like Heero really did do these reviews thing all the time. Maybe it didn't mean anything after all. "How are you getting on with Calvinus? Do you know him?" he asked.
Heero nodded. "I've known him since I came through this camp myself," he said. "I've done reviews of his camp a few times before, too. I think we more or less know what to expect from one another. Tomorrow you and I will see some more advanced troops. I think I'll use you for more demonstrations. That went very well."
"Going to give me a little more warning next time?" Duo asked.
"Don't count on it," Heero smirked.
"Great," Duo griped. He'd have to pay close attention to what drills the men were practicing.
Heero began undressing, so Duo decided to do the same, making sure not to look over at Heero or do anything inadvertently sexy in case Heero looked over at him. He had terms to keep to, after all. Heero got into the bed and Duo unfolded a blanket on his pallet.
"Well, this feels awfully familiar, doesn't it?" Duo chuckled. "Gonna tie me up, Captain?"
"Tie you up? I untied you last time, if memory serves," Heero replied, sounding amused. "But I will tie you up if it seems like you're going to break our terms," he added lightly.
"Oh, stop, you're getting me excited!" Duo joked, lowering his voice. Now, that was something they hadn't tried yet, and he wondered if Heero would regret putting the idea in his head.
"That's enough out of you," Heero replied, suppressing chuckle. A hard ride and non-stop work had left him uninterested in shenanigans like that anyway. He blew out the lamp and settled into bed.
He was relieved that Duo had maintained a good attitude about the trip thus far. Duo had taken the news of this assignment even worse than he had anticipated. It reinforced to him the importance of keeping his combat status a secret, but he wondered how long he could avoid answering direct questions, and if he would be able to lie right to Duo's face if it came to that. It was not something he wanted to think about.
He had thought he was tired enough to fall right asleep, but being in the field again was having its usual effect on him. His mind was far too alert to sleep; it was a feeling he knew all too well. He was trained to go as long as he could with very little rest. He used to suffer insomnia like this for weeks after returning from a military campaign, but he was steadily becoming more adept at the transition between battlefield and city life. He knew of one thing he was quite confident could counteract his insomnia, and it was sleeping on the other side of the tent at the moment. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't have that right now.
That was another thing - he had gotten used to sleeping with Duo. Not just Duo giving him something else to think about before falling asleep, but actually having Duo there next to him. It shocked him just how easily he had gotten used to that. He'd never spent the night with anyone else in his bed before Duo, yet it had hardly taken any adjustment at all. It just felt natural somehow. And now he was alone again. Having Duo sleep apart was the right thing to do, even if he'd had to be harsh with Duo in insisting that there be no argument on the fact. Heero knew that if Duo got it in his head to be 'persuasive' one night, he might not be able to maintain his resolve. At least it would only be two nights, he thought defeatedly, and then immediately cursed himself when he realized how soft and self-indulgent he had become. Eventually, Treize would give the order and he would do his job on the battlefield just like he always had. It was better for him that Duo would not be there.
He tossed around for a while and then decided to get up and try to do something. He got out of bed and carefully made his way to the writing desk to review his notes. He groped for the tablet and accidentally knocked something over. Duo stirred on the floor.
"Can't sleep?" came a drowsy voice.
"No," Heero admitted.
"You weren't thinking of working, were you?"
Heero didn't reply but he began to retreat from the desk.
"Aw man," Duo muttered, and there were some rustling noises as he rolled over onto his stomach. "Ok, you want to know my secret?"
"Sure," Heero said.
"I conjugate Greek verbs."
Heero let a chuckle escape. "Really?" he asked.
"Yeah, bores me to sleep every time!" Duo said in the dark. "Are you back in bed?"
"Yes," Heero said as he got in and pulled the covers up.
"Ok, then how about you say them and I conjugate them?"
"All right," Heero said. He gave Duo verbs and listened to him conjugate them, and eventually found that Duo was right. It was just enough to keep his brain from thinking about anything else and the monotony was making him sleepy. He didn't notice when he began to nod off, but Duo did because he stopped correcting incorrect conjugations. When the verbs stopped coming altogether, Duo let himself fall asleep, too.
Heero woke long before dawn and let Duo sleep while he went on an unannounced stealth mission to observe the night watchmen. First of all, sneaking outside the front entrance was terribly easy with just a simple distraction. The guards were definitely going to hear about that one. Then, he walked the perimeter, looking for sleeping guards, stealing their weapons, and spooking them from nearby bushes. After that, he scaled the wall at an undefended point and easily snuck into Calvino's tent. He woke the General and then thoroughly enjoyed explaining to the guards exactly what they were doing wrong, point by point. He sauntered back to his own tent just as dawn broke, pleased with the state of alarm he'd already put the camp in. Inside the tent, he found Duo hopping about, trying to throw things in his bag and dress himself at the same time.
"Where did you go?" Duo blustered when he caught sight of Heero.
"I went to check on the guard," Heero answered. Duo gave him a displeased look and continued fighting with the straps on his leather armor. Heero came over and calmly stopped his hands. "You can relax, Duo, I would have woken you if I needed you," he said as he expertly buckled the straps.
Duo watched him and then looked up at his face. Heero looked serene, almost happy. "Wait a minute, you were having fun!" Duo accused. "No going off and having fun without me!"
Heero smirked, "Sorry, I didn't want to wake you," he said.
Duo bit his lip at the sight of that smirk. It was damned hard not kiss Heero right then, especially since Heero had finished with the straps but not bothered to move away. Heero was looking at him, too, and the look on his face clearly said he was thinking the same thing. Duo decided it would be worth a scolding. He leaned in and gave Heero a short but potent kiss. Heero kissed back but Duo still apologized as soon as he pulled away. "Sorry," he winced, "sorry, I know I'm not supposed to do that."
Heero didn't say anything for a moment. "Well, I suppose I wasn't helping matters," he admitted as he moved away.
The insanely sexy look he obviously didn't know he'd been giving Duo had also not helped matters in the least, but Duo didn't say anything. "Anyway," Duo cleared his throat, "I knew you couldn't have gone far because you left without this." He knocked on the hard bronze pecs of the breastplate Heero had left on the floor.
Heero looked at the breastplate with loathing, but picked it up and began to put it on.
"And don't forget these," Duo grinned, tossing the epaulettes on the bed.
Heero glared at the detested leather ornaments, but fastened them in place once the breastplate was on.
"And finally, this," Duo said. He was not able to keep a completely straight face as he presented Heero with the flamboyantly crested golden helmet that had been sitting unused in the corner.
"Absolutely not," Heero said emphatically.
Duo put the helmet back and they left the tent to get some breakfast. A team of men rushed past them on the way, and Duo head fearful voices discussing wolves at the south wall. Two hulking centurions crossed their path next, too caught up in trading rumors about bandits at the west wall to notice General Yuy and salute him properly. Duo looked at him suspiciously. "What exactly did you do?" he asked.
"It's just as you said, merely a little fun," Heero smirked.
During the morning, they were kept busy inspecting the armory, the infirmary, and the food stores. Duo scribbled down anything Heero said, and added a few of his own observations as well. Most of Heero's dictation didn't make sense to him, but he figured Heero would expand on it later in private. After a quick lunch, Heero spent the afternoon and early evening hollering at the more advanced troops. Duo helped in sword demonstrations, working together with Heero to get through the rows of soldiers as they practiced. It didn't occur to Duo to be impressed that men listened to his instructions and did exactly as he said.
It was well after dark by the time they cleaned up and headed to the mess tent for the evening meal. Duo waited until Heero had gone inside and then went around back to the kitchen. He was seated and bullshitting with one of the cooks when the kitchen door flap opened. A grizzled centurion in dented armor stooped to get in and then straightened up as he glared around the room. The cooks suddenly looked busy and the serving slaves scattered. The soldier's eyes finally came to rest on Duo.
"You," the man grunted, "you came with the General?"
"Yes, sir," Duo answered. He put his bowl down and stood up.
"Come with me."
Duo followed as the tall man exited the tent. Not far from the mess tent, four other centurions waited, arms folded and watching their approach. There was silence for a moment and Duo wondered if he was going to have to ask what they wanted from him.
"Some of our men finally got the Ursus attack right today," said the first centurion, the one with the grey beard, "it was the quickest we'd ever seen anyone learn it. Show us how the General taught it."
"We want to make sure they don't forget it," a second soldier added. The others gave nods and grunts of agreement.
"Oh, sure," Duo said and drew his sword.
It was night, but a few nearby braziers gave enough light to see what they were doing as Duo showed them Heero's three steps to a perfect Ursus. These men, of course, could perform the Ursus in their sleep, but apparently Heero had invented a good way to teach it. The Centurions had it down in no time and seemed pleased with themselves.
The bearded Centurion sheathed his sword and turned to Duo. "Does the General really have 15 torques?" he asked.
"I heard he had 26!" another jumped in.
"What?" Duo asked them. The Centurions crowded around him.
"Military decorations," the first Centurion clarified. "I heard General Winner had 15 torques."
"And 18 armillae."
"It's said that he could string all his phalerae together and wear them as scale armor!"
"Of course! He has every decoration except the corona graminae!"
"I've never seen a corona aurea up close, and he has two. What does it look like?"
"Military decorations?" Duo repeated as he tried to think if he'd seen any of them.
"He can't possibly wear all of them, but he must decorate his house with them, right?" one Centurion pressed.
Another Centurion shook his head at the others. He had a nose that looked like it had been broken at least eight times and an old, deep scar through his bottom lip. "No, no. The General don't like showing off. He's so good, he don't need to, see?"
Duo suddenly recalled finding a chest of golden arm bands and disks in the armory, doing little but collecting dust. "I've seen them in the armory," Duo told them, "in a big chest that was given to him by the Emperor himself." Duo hadn't made that last part up, there had been an inscription plate on the chest.
"I knew it! It's too bad you never counted them!" a Centurion despaired.
"I think he'll get that corona graminae, he's still young."
"Just get him in front of the next blockade!" someone guffawed. There was plenty of agreement.
"Hey, let's get something to eat," one of them suggested.
The bearded Centurion slapped a huge hand on Duo's shoulder. "Yeah. You can tell us about the time he killed a tiger single-handedly!"
"And you probably missed him in the October Horse this year!" Duo grinned at them.
Heero barely took notice of the group of centurions that entered the officer's mess tent and took seats in the far corner, not until about an hour later, when the bawdy laughter and drunken singing began.
"I say, Yuy, is that your man over there?" General Calvinus asked casually, pointing to the corner. Initially the group had been about five or six, but it had grown quite a lot.
"Yes," Heero said apologetically, "I'm afraid he knows enough in the way of dice games, tall tales, and dirty songs to keep your men entertained all week. I can have him leave if he's being too disruptive."
"No, no," Calvinus waved off the suggestion. "I do like to see the men in high spirits."
When Heero had had enough socializing for the night, got up to retire to his tent. At the mess tent door, he could hear the sound of disappointed protests, and he looked behind him to see Duo smiling and following him out.
"You can stay if you're having fun," Heero said.
"S'ok," Duo grinned at him drunkenly. "Who else is gonna conj'gate verbs for you?" he whispered loudly when they were outside the tent.
"I don't know, you seem pretty drunk," Heero goaded, "I don't think you're in any state for conjugation."
"Excuse me, sir," Duo said dramatically, "but I happen to be perfec'ly fine, thank you very much!" His eloquent rebuttal was ruined by his poor timing of tripping over a tent stake right then, and Heero snickered.
"Hey, the men were asking me how many torques you have," Duo said as they walked, or in his case, lurched.
"Torques? Hm," Heero thought, "I don't know off the top of my head."
"That many?" Duo grinned.
"No, not too great a number, I just can't remember how many," Heero shrugged.
"They idolize you, you know," Duo told him, "even the men who look more than twice your age."
"I've just been lucky," Heero said helplessly.
Duo didn't argue, but he was pretty damned sure that luck didn't have a lot to do with it.
As Heero predicted, Duo only made it through a meager six verbs that night before he fell fast asleep. Heero didn't mind all that much because at least it meant Duo wouldn't try to stop him from working. He seated himself at the writing desk and even got a small lamp lit without Duo waking up. He began to review the notes he'd given Duo and something on the tablet caught his attention right away. Duo had made a few sketches in the corner, most of them looked like the leaves of different trees, but there was one that was clearly Heero. In just a few simple strokes, Duo had created a lovely little portrait of him. Heero figured that Duo had probably romanticized the way he looked, with his hair blowing the wind and all, but it was a portrait on par with any professional artist. Duo really was one of the most talented people he'd ever met. He looked over at Duo for a long moment and wondered just how long he would continue to be this lucky.