For You I Suffer
Since the dining hall the night before, the only eyes that had been upon me were those of the three people I had come to trust the most in this place. But now, I was once again subjected to the fleeting glances of servants scurrying about their business and the caressing stares of idle nobles. In the privacy of the baron's chamber, I had begun to feel natural in my state of nakedness. Now, once again, strange eyes assaulted me mercilessly, bringing accursed color back into my cheeks.
Quatre greeted everyone, noble and servant alike, with a kind word and a friendly nod, tugging me along behind him with a sure hand on my golden tether. As I followed obediently, I felt like some dumb beast being led to market, unable to articulate the torments of my heart. I felt ashamed, watching the unfettered movements of true human beings from under the shielding fringe of my hair. What I wouldn't give to be them for just a moment, to feel the security of cloth against my skin, to be able to look at them in the eye and proclaim myself a person, someone worthy of respect!
But I was condemned to my station. And as such, which would be the true torment? To be guided by my trainer's kind hand, secure in the knowledge that he would protect me from harm? Or to walk freely, able to depend on nothing but my own weak will to steer me along the proper path? No, certainly it was better to be made to endure these humiliations rather than to admit that I had fallen so far from reason as to have invited these disasters and, in truth, to have accepted them wholeheartedly.
So deep was I in the contemplation of my situation that I didn't realize that Quatre had stopped until I nearly walked into him. The question that furrowed my brow was answered when I heard a pleasant young voice response to the handler's proffered 'hello'. Dread filled my mind as my memory put a name to the breathy, female tones.
"Good morning, Quatre!" Relena enthused. "And good morning to you too, Duo!"
She remembered my name, as well, it seemed and I cursed our mutual mnemonic capacities. 'No!' I screamed silently. 'Don't know me,' I pleaded. How could I survive standing bare-assed in front of this wide-eyed girl without the comfort of anonymity? An exchange of names was too intimate. It made us as equals when, clearly, that was the one thing we definitely were not. My reply to her greeting was a down-cast gaze and a blush that was no longer content to be limited to my face.
My self-effacing posture was meant to deflect her attentions, but what could possible distract a young maiden from the sight of a naked man standing before her in chains? And another feature had caught her eye, as well. A swift inhalation and a gasped 'Oh, my!' were my only alert. Small, delicate fingers were suddenly sifting through my unbound mane, caressing the chestnut strands with fascination. My jaw clenched and I forced myself to remain still though I could barely withstand the unwanted contact. Helen and Quatre, their touch was surely to be expected. And the sensation of my baron combing gently through my hair was a pleasure I prayed to have repeated.
But this girl! Her presumption galled me. I would rather it be the old manservant of yesterday rifling through my hair with his frail, work-worn hands, than this pampered noblewoman. The old man's eyes had looked upon me with artless admiration. What her motivations were I dared not guess.
"So pretty," she whispered, giving my head a final caress before turning back to the blond trainer. I glanced up briefly at his face and my shoulders slumped with defeat as I berated myself for my foolishness. What had I expected? For him to rebuke her for fondling the baron's possessions without permission? To censure her for her cheek? An eyebrow raised in disapproval would have suited me just fine. But, after Heero's careless consent to Jay the day before, how could really I be surprised at Quatre's approving smile? The appreciation of others, their affirmation of the baron's choice in slaves, only improved my worth. It was a hard lesson, but one I had to understand if I was to keep my sanity.
"Where are you taking him, Quatre? Is Heero going to show him off again today?" I winced at the pitch of Relena's voice. Even in the midst of her teens, Hilde had spoken with a throaty, womanly tone with which I'd found most pleasant. Thankfully, she had never acquired the girlish squeak that made Relena seem much younger than her sixteen years.
"No, my lady. I'm afraid his lordship will be spending the day locked in his study, working on the final terms of the trade treaty with Slaburry. Duo is to join him there."
"Oh no!" Her mouth turned down in an almost becoming pout. "Trapped all with a boring, old treaty? How tedious! And poor Duo with nothing to do?"
She went quiet, causing me to look up at her. I wished I'd kept my eyes properly towards the floor-stones when her pout promptly turned into a sly grin. Her gaze shifted towards me, her expression proclaiming that some crafty scheme had formed in her head. Certain that I wanted no part of whatever designs she was concocting, I looked down again, hoping that we would soon reach the sanctity of the baron's study.
"Well," Relena finally said, her innocent manner not at all convincing, "I suppose I'll be off, then. Good day to you!"
She moved off with a purposeful air, the skirt of her gown brushing my skin as she went past me. I resisted the urge to shudder, grateful beyond measure to feel Quatre's hand tug on my chain.
Finally, we stopped before the doors of Heero's study and Quatre asked the guards to admit us. I found myself staring at the doors, watching the guards pulling on the iron rings, struggling with the heavy wood. 'So this is déjà vu,' I mused, observing the scene with a sense of detached awareness. Glimpses of images flitted through my mind. A young man stood before these same doors, ignorant and unknowing, clothed in the rough garments befitting a peasant. A satchel was slung over his shoulder, holding the meager belongs he'd brought along for his trip. They'd been packed by some loving girl from his home, who'd sent him off with a kiss and a smile.
As I saw the young man step through the doors, I realized that it was myself I was seeing. How could I have known that my life would forever change the moment those doors closed behind me? The boy I'd been was gone, never to been seen again. Was it only yesterday that I'd been the innocent farmer's son, excited at the chance to see a famous castle, drawn by some vague notion of puppy love for a distant figure?
I shook my head as Quatre led me into the study. When I'd first seen Heero a year ago, gracing my humble home with his blinding presence, I could scarcely understand the feelings that had plagued me. But those turbulent emotions paled next to the overwhelming truth that had been bestowed upon me. The love I felt for my baron left me weak and as I saw him, sitting studiously at his desk, I fell to my knees easily, pulled down by the fullness of my heart.
Heero looked up absently, barely acknowledging our presence. Quatre directed me to my velvet pillow, the hard floor digging into my flesh, and I sank down beside my master's desk. The white dog, Wing, was also back in his spot on the other side of the desk, but, after the wonders of last night, I found it within myself to be tolerant.
"Have a good day, my lord. Send for me if you find you have need of me."
The baron answered with a nod, his entire attention fixed upon the several scrolls of parchment that lay scattered across the tabletop. I positioned myself so that I could look at him. The remains of his breakfast sat on the edge of the desk and a full plate and a bowl of water rested beside my pillow. Lazily, I picked at the food, lapping at the water to relieve my thirst. I glanced up, hoping that my behavior had met with his approval. Alas, I was doomed to be jealous of the documents that kept his gaze from me. Sighing quietly, both amused and disgusted with my melancholy at his disregard, I prepared to while away the day.
A knock on the door roused me from a doze. The position of the sunlight hitting the smooth stones of the floor told me that it was just about time for lunch. A brisk "Enter" from Heero drew my attention towards him. His eyes had not lifted from his desk and I was both amazed at his dedication and ashamed at my own slothfulness. Just then, he tilted his head from side to side, obviously trying to relieve the tension that knotted the muscles in his neck. My fingers twitched, eager to sooth away his discomfort. But before I could even contemplate acting on that desire, the voice I seemingly could not escape filled the room.
"Heeeeero," Relena drawled in an annoying sing-song.
I winced, angry at her for disrupting our pleasant solitude. The baron was clearly busy with important matters of state and had no time for her childish foolishness. Impatiently, I waited for the summary dismissal the baron would shortly deliver to the clueless chit.
To my everlasting chagrin, Heero finally looked up from his work, bestowing a fond smile on the young lady. I was in agony! All day I'd lain meekly at his side, wishing for nothing more than an occasional glance; something that would tell me he knew I existed! In vain I'd waited and now this *girl* was receiving the attention that should have been mine. In that moment, I hated her. I hated her more than I hated that thrice-damned merchant who'd killed my parents and then had had the audacity to proposition me. I hated her with everything that was in me. And the intensity of that dark emotion astonished me.
When had I become so needy, so desperate for this man's attention that I had the urge to kill anyone who deflected it away from me? Realizing the true depths of my dependency on the baron filled me with fear and a vicious self-loathing. How pathetic I had become! I was nothing more than a mere plaything to be ogled and torture at will. I was no more important to the baron than his dog! I wanted to flee from this place, even if it meant breaking the vow I'd made. I would accept that dishonor rather than loose any more of myself; any more of the proud young man I'd once been.
This was it! Before things went any further, I would rise up and remove these bindings and debasing artifacts that had been imposed on me. I would rid myself of the offending object that occupied my body - oh, how could I have ever allowed such an indignity! I would thank Relena for opening my eyes to the truth and my goodbye to the baron would be bittersweet but determined.
Now, I think back on that moment and can only laugh at the absurdity of my thoughts. I'd honestly believed I could just walk away; that I could return to my humble pastoral existence and pretend that I had never left the Maxwell homestead. I even got as far as gathering my legs beneath me, my muscles preparing to propel me back into a life of excruciating normalcy.
Of course, the baron halted my rebellion in its infancy. How did he do it? Did he catch me by my chain as I ran for the door? Did he call his guards, letting them take on the task of restraining my frantic struggles? Was I forced to suffer his wrath and disappointment over my attempted mutiny?
Alas, there was nothing so dramatic as that. My sedition was put down with an ease that would have appalled me had I still been able to call my soul my own. Heero rose from his desk to greet his visitor and as he passed me, he reached underneath my hair and ran his fingers across the back of my neck. The gesture was intimate, loving, and soft; and it placed me firmly back under his spell.
Leave him? Never! My body sang at his light touch. My heart clenched with love and I felt tears well up in my eyes as I could express the strength of my passion in no other way. Leave him? In a few short hours he had become my entire world. He was the air that I breathed. He was the sunlight upon my face. He was everything, and without him, I was less than nothing.
Neither Heero nor Relena were aware of my inner struggles, of course. He reached the girl and bestowed a brotherly kiss upon her cheek. She was careful not to acknowledge me with so much as a glance, but I suspected that she was not here simply to visit her friend. I remembered clearly the cunning look she'd given me in the hall earlier that morning. Still reeling from my recent mental conflict, I wondered at her intent with trepidation.
"Heero," she whimpered, her lips pursing once again in that rather alluring pout. "Are you really going to keep Duo cooped up in here with you all day?" I manfully resisted a sudden urge to hide behind Heero's desk. Instead, I waited anxiously for the baron's response to the ominous question.
He turned to look at me, raking over my defenseless form with deep-blue intensity. I felt his longed for gaze like a physical caress.
"Hn," he mused while I shivered with pleasure. "I suppose I am being a bit selfish. Being an only child, I've never learned to gracefully share my toys."(1)
I knew very well that *I* was the 'toy' in question. So, would he 'share' me with this girl?
"What do you propose?" he asked.
Relena's victorious grin would have done a cat proud, provided that the cat had recently dined on a plump canary.
"Well, I was wondering if I could, say, 'borrow' him for the afternoon. Just until you're finished with your work, of course!"
Perhaps if I'd remained silent, Relena's wishes would have remained only that. Instead, two heads turned towards me on the tail end of the gasp I'd been helpless to repress. Heero looked at me and I'm certain it was the frantic plea in my eyes, begging him to refuse her, that sealed my fate. His narrowed gaze spoke to me before the words left his lips.
"Yes, my dear Relena. He's all yours."
If words could slay, I'd have lain on the floor in a pool of blood. His acquiescence was a cruel betrayal and I wanted to scream and plead for him to reconsider. But, to be fair, I had been forewarned against just such an occurrence as this. Just last night, Quatre had kindly explained the rules, even if I'd been unwilling to accept them.
"No one is to touch you without Heero's express consent ... and he may give you to whomever he wishes."
That was the directive that was to govern my fate and now, Heero's express consent had been given. I belonged to Relena for the entire afternoon. The question that plagued me was, what would she do with me?
I should have been flattered, I supposed, at her response. She squealed at a pitch that threatened every piece of glass in the room and even made the baron flinch. He submitted docilely to the choking pressure of her arms around his neck before taking her hand in his and leading her over to me.
Fatalistic acceptance was a more accurate description of my state of mind, however. It was like when my mother had forced her vile spring tonics upon me. There was no point in trying to resist. The only thing to do was to say 'Cheers!' and drain the glass. I raised my head meekly as a small hand placed gentle pressure under my chin.
"Oh, Duo! What fun we shall have!"
At least one of us was excited. My only consolation, as she promptly took hold of my chain and led me from the study, was that the baron's eyes never wavered from me until the door was closed between us. Perhaps he would miss me a little, I mused. I was becoming accustomed to my wretched obsession with the baron. Any time spent away from him seemed interminable and I was finding his absence increasingly unbearable.
In some ways, our progress through the castle's corridors were similar to my earlier journey with my handler. Relena greeted every one we met and the weight of roaming eyes was heavy upon me. However, unlike Quatre's dignified pace, I nearly had to run to keep up with the fleet-footed girl. It was clear that she eager to reach her destination, wherever that might be. And I was equally certain that I was in no hurry for us to get there.
However, the laws of the universe being what they are, our travels soon ended and I found myself standing outside of yet another set of guarded, closed doors. Resignation had dampened both curiosity and anxiety and I wondered almost idly what lay behind this oaken portal. But my complaisance was short-lived, indeed.
As the guards pushed on the hinged wood, I caught a glimpse of the room beyond. My first brief impression was that I'd somehow been whisked back in time and was looking into the miraculous contraption that spun the delicious cotton candy I'd loved as a child. I would consume the pink, sticky treat with gusto while my mother fretted at how she would ever remove the melted sugar from my hair.
I may be forgiven for my moment of nostalgia when I describe what prompted it. The room, Relena's chambers I rightly assumed, was decorated so completely in the color pink that I wondered if perhaps her eyes were incapable of seeing any other hue. From the painted walls, to the carpeted floor, every inch of the place was dominated by the frothy shade. I felt my jaw drop in disbelief, but fortunately, she mistook my horrified awe for stunned admiration.
"Isn't it lovely, Duo? Heero let me decorate it entirely by myself. Although, he doesn't come to visit me terribly often."
'I wonder why,' I thought ungraciously. A tug on my tether prompted me fully into the room and the doors closed behind us. The design of the space was similar to Heero's chamber. Two doors led off of the main room, presumably to a bedroom and a wash chamber. The sitting room was fitted with a brick fireplace - try to image pink brick, if you will - a couch, and several chairs. The pink drapery was pulled back, allowing the afternoon sun to flood into the room.
I could almost smell my favorite treat and was trying to calm my cotton candy cravings when a knock sounded on the door.
"Oh, they're here," she gushed.
'They?' I conjectured, still experiencing the calming influences of the disassociation my mind was using as a most satisfactory coping mechanism. She dropped my chain and walked to the chamber's entrance. I dropped to my knees; the submissive posture was quickly becoming an ingrained habit and the floor cover was most comfortable.
I was looking down at the pink carpet, unconsciously tracing Heero's name into the plush pile with my finger, so the first thing I noticed about Relena's visitors were their voices. The similarities of their tones to those of my temporary mistress filled me with instant dismay. I looked up, my eyes widening as no less than a dozen teenage girls filed into the room. They were of varying sizes and colorings. Some were nearer to their majority than others. Some chattered incessantly while others were silent.
But they all had one, terrifying trait in common. They were all staring with unwavering attention at the naked, long-haired man kneeling in the center of the room.
(1) Just so you know, I'm an only child and the whole 'spoiled rotten' thing is a vicious myth! ^_^