For You I Suffer
It was as though I was an addict and my master's attention was my drug: I craved it unbearably when absent, but the merest hint of it left me aching with unspeakable joy and begging for more when it was taken away. Quatre led us quickly to join the new arrivals, smiling at Lord Zechs and bowing to the ladies. And all the while, Heero continued to wordlessly subjugate my will to his own. He did not speak to me or acknowledge my presence in any other way, but the weight of his gaze held me pinned, as helpless as a butterfly sacrificed to a young boy's thirst for knowledge. His gaze never strayed from mine, his eyes betraying no more emotion than if I were chattel for sale at market. But it felt as though he missed nothing, and a shiver came over me unbidden as his gaze seemed to touch each one of the bruises hidden beneath Helen's make-up.
I began to wonder just what he saw when he looked at me. Did he see a young man pledged in service to his lord? Did he still see any of the beauty that had supposedly so captured his fancy? Or did he see me as I truly was: someone who would, without shame, fulfill any whim if only he would confer even the slightest warmth of regard?
As Heero continued to look at me, his gaze so intent it seemed as though he were examining me for some hint of weakness or some unknown flaw, a niggling suspicion began to grow, twisting my stomach into a knot and spreading through my veins with icy tendrils of fear. Had Quatre revealed to him what I had begged be kept hidden? Did he know what Treize had done to me? Was he aware of the perversions that I had suffered in the name of duty and diplomacy?
Heero's gaze suddenly seemed to grow colder and I could not be certain whether the disgust I perceived there was real or nothing more than the product of my beset mind. I wanted to look toward my trainer, to see if any measure of guilt was apparent upon his normally guileless visage. But I was caught firmly in a deep, blue snare from which I could not escape. He knows! my heart cried. In an instant I was absolutely certain that he knew every degrading moment of my night with the accursed Slaburrian. I was sure he knew every detail of how the ambassador had treated me as the basest of whores and how I had moaned with perverted lust even as the very life was being choked from me.
Look away, I pleaded to him silently, unable to free myself from my master's piercing scrutiny. Please do not stare at me with such apathetic indifference, with such loathing and revulsion. I was undone. There was no beauty, no grace to be found in me now. Treize had stripped it all away, leaving me more exposed than ever a lack of clothing could engender. I had become that which I was named, a manzoku no dorei, yearning for nothing but submission and pleasure. My exposure was imminent, and soon all present would understand how vile a creature they harbored in their midst. I would be cast out a distasteful oddity, expelled from my lord's presence, left to bear my dishonor for all the remaining years of my wretched life. For any life without the man I loved could have no meaning.
At that moment I wanted nothing more than to admit the extent of my sins, to bear my soul and beg for clemency. Just when I was at the point of falling to my knees and tearfully confessing what I feared he had already learned, Heero looked away perforce when his aunt requested his attendance to lead them to their tables. He said nothing to me, pointed no accusing fingers, and sounded no alarm. Whatever disgust I had imagined in his gaze was nowhere to be found as he nodded at Lady Une and took her arm.
I exhaled sharply upon my release, my entire body shaking and my lungs burning as though I had run a mile over hot, shifting sand instead of crossing only a few feet over cool, dewed grass.
Trying to steady my uncertain steps, I followed my trainer as he guided me along by my golden chain. The small party made its way toward the seating area, the ladies greeting their less well-born female sycophants with gracious smiles while Lord Zechs made more than one lady blush by bestowing a courtly kiss upon their hands. Quatre was, of course, happy to see everyone, asking after the health of this one's father and the impending debut of that one's younger sister.
The baron spoke to no one beyond the most taciturn of greetings, which was little different than his usual reserved demeanor. There was nothing in his air to indicate any discontent. As we reached our designated seats, all present outside of our small group instantly began to jockey for neighboring positions - the baron's table being situated for the best possible viewing of all events and was, thus, a highly coveted location.
The servants moved skillfully among the well-dressed throng, completing the arrangements upon the tables with goblets hammered out of beautifully carved pewter. The whimsical designs on the goblet included scenes from minstrel lore: dragons and knights and fantastical vistas that existed nowhere outside of the artisans imagination. The tables were free of further dining accoutrements; the buffet table was situated with silver plates and matching knives and spoons at either end for those who chose to partake of the delicacies on offer.
Insensible to the toadying passersby and the general merrymaking hubbub of the gathering, my attention remained fixed on my master. My pulse, which had been racing with anxiety from my imagined ostracization, began to calm as minutes passed and the baron continued to ignore me. I began to believe that I had done my trainer a disservice in accusing him of perfidy. It seemed that my disgrace yet remained a secret from my master.
Such was the greatness of my relief that I dented the dirt beneath the grass with the violence of my fall as I sunk to my knees beside the baron's chair. I bent low, pressing my lips to his polished boot, uncaring as I marred the shine of the leather. Perhaps all was not lost. So long as my master never learned of my behavior, I felt that I might still attain some measure of worthiness in his estimation. I knelt before him, waiting for the weight of his hand to settle on my head, acknowledging my continued obedience and loyalty.
But no such recognition was forthcoming. Embarrassment warmed my cheeks as the length of time I held my pose changed the gesture from respectful to absurd. I raised my head and looked up at Heero from beneath my lashes. He glanced down at me, and for a brief moment my heart soared. But in the next instant he had dismissed me from his notice, looking toward a passing maid as he raised his hand to catch her attention. He raised his goblet as she came near and, after it had been filled, drained it so directly that the maid was forced to replenish it before she had taken even a step away.
Whatever joy had invaded my heart was fleeting, quickly dashed against my master's indifference. I tried to cover the pang of my heartbreak by sitting quietly with the diffidence expected of me. I tried to keep my agony from telling in my expression, hoping that my air of melancholy would be easily dismissed as demureness. I saw Quatre look my way a few times as the party settled in, but I avoided his gaze, thankful for the protocol that dictated that I keep my head bowed.
The afternoon passed in mild splendor, no hint of dark clouds daring to appear to damper the festive mood of the attendees. Colorful birds flitted amongst the gathered nobles, catching the insects that buzzed around the bright profusion of flowers. The talk was breezy, and laughter by turns affected and genuine rang out frequently. Some of the younger ladies, a few of whom I recognized from that torturous afternoon in Lady Relena's quarters, slipped out of their shoes and splashed in the creek with risqué exuberance. Their giggles and shrieks as they were hence reprimanded by the older women for wetting the hem of their fancy dresses was nearly painful in pitch, as was the volume that betrayed their enthusiasm for the trifling disobedience.
The chatter amongst the baron's immediate party passed over my head, as it thankfully did not require my participation. Though various people stopped by to exchange pleasantries, we were left largely to ourselves. None of the Slaburrians came over after briefly making their bows at the baron's arrival. I was beyond grateful that the ambassador similarly kept his distance, preferring it seemed to pass the time with his cousin and his countrymen.
Heero likewise allowed the discussion to continue without adding to it, though no one seemed particularly perturbed by his not unusual silence. In fact he did not interact with anyone, really, except to summon yet another refill for his swiftly emptied goblet.
At various times, one or another of the group had visited the buffet and now the two tables around which we were arranged were covered with plates containing the remains of cold meats, cheeses, decoratively cut pickles, and other savories. After an hour of such idyllic repose, when the number of stacked plates scattered with pastry crumbs was such that the entire arrangement threatened to slide to the grass, Lord Zechs rose abruptly from his seat. Patting his flat stomach, he smiled at his equally satisfied wife and declared himself sufficiently full. He looked around at the other idle nobles and shook his head.
"Just look at these layabouts," he rumbled. The memory of his deep voice murmuring scandalous commands engendered the first pleasant sensation I had felt all day. I looked up at him, marveling at his blond beauty and how the sun seemed to make him glow.
"My lord," he continued, sketching a perfunctory bow toward Heero, betraying their familiar relationship. "Might I suggest that we begin this afternoon's entertainments. I would not mind trying my hand at plucking the bow, I dare say. Calderash is, after all, known for producing the most skilled bowmen." His jocular challenge carried over the assembly and a hum of interested rose from other would-be archers.
"I will take you up on that, Minister. I had quite a mighty pull in my day," replied a Calderash nobleman of late-middle years. His paunch was prodigious but his back looked strong, giving credence to his boast.
"Aie, my lord, count me in!"
"Well," said one of the foreign delegates as he stood from his place amongst his party, "we can not let these Calderash dandies show us up. What say, boys?" Three of his fellows stood at his summons with a hearty, "Aie!"
Zechs smirked at the good natured challenge and glanced toward Heero, silently asking for his permission to begin the game. It was a perfunctory gesture as the baron was hardly likely to refuse, but in doing so the blond statesman subtly reinforced the supremacy of Heero's position to all present. In particular, his act was meant to discourage the Slaburry delegation from persisting in their opinion of Heero as being nothing more than a spoiled noble to early come to his position as had been their wont during the trade negotiations. The baron bestowed a minimal nod toward his Minister of Trade, disinterestedly acknowledging a game well played and giving the requested consent.
It took only a little while for servants to ready the already waiting targets and to set the full quivers on stands for the contestants. The eight men who were to participate crossed the bridge spanning the creek and were followed by over a third of the other party goers, who were eager for a spectacle. The archers tried each bow, Zechs going last in a benevolent show of deference to the others. Finally each man was satisfied that they had drawn the best bow and the competition was ready to begin.
Heero expressed little interest in watching the match so I had little hope of seeing it as the crowd of on-lookers blocked my view from where I sat. But Lady Noin approached the baron and boldly took hold of my tether.
"Heero, I beg you to let me borrow Duo for a while. You have been so dull today and it would be a shame for him to miss the show simply because you have no desire to watch." I looked up at her, basking in the kindly warmth of her smile, which grew as I nuzzled into her palm like a needy kitten as she petted my hair.
"As you wish," Heero replied, just getting out the words before he turned up his goblet and took another hearty swig of the excellent Calderash vintage. Lady Sally had offered me a cup early over Lady Une's disapproving glower, but the very smell of wine turned my stomach. The memory of my forced over-indulgence the night before was still too fresh to allow me any pleasure in the taste. I glanced at my master as I stood to follow Lady Noin, wondering at just how many cups he had emptied since the party had begun.
I allowed my gaze to linger on him for a moment, taking in the rough beauty of his features. He looked out over the seating area, which was rapidly emptying as people made their way across the creek, but I could tell he was seeing nothing of the bucolic scene stretched before him.
My beautiful chaperone led me to the edge of the creek where a group of chairs had been quickly set up for the spectators of a more delicate constitution. A blushing young servant boy ushered her into a seat, his cheeks growing even more pink when his solicitousness earned him a smile. I settled myself at her feet, the grass blissfully cool where it tickled my bare skin. Small tables were swiftly placed between the chairs and I marveled absently at the efficiency of the Windshire staff as the a light repast was set out upon each table before the archery contestants had even finished taking their places.
The contest began simply, each man taking a shot in turn with Zechs going last in his assumed role as host. Each round the one most off the mark was eliminated. Lady Noin fussed over me, removing stray bits of grass from my hair and smoothing it as she fed me choice morsels from her plate. She delighted as I licked at her fingers after each bits, submerging myself in my role as her pampered pet. But my concerns were not so easily abandoned and as the field of archers narrowed from eight to seven to six, my lady began to take notice of my melancholy.
"My sweet Duo," she murmured softly so as not to be overheard by out neighbors, "you are not enjoying this beautiful day as you should." I looked up at her, my eyes widening in surprise, for in truth I had overestimated my acting skills and was unaware that my disquiet could be so easily discerned. She smiled and shook her head, "Do not fret, my sweet. Your tears do not show for all to see. Perhaps it is just because you have captured my heart so that your distress makes itself known to my eyes so readily."
I colored and looked away from her keen blue gaze. My concerns were not so simply expressed. For surely my mistreatment the night before weighed heavily on my heart as did my fear that my ignominy would somehow be revealed, whether by a well-meaning soul or by the shame I felt emblazoned like a brand upon my skin. Deeper still lurked the irrefutable truth that I had surrendered my freedom, my very self, all for the love of a man that seemed to have less regard for me than he would for a favored curiosity kept only to allow others to gawk and marvel. And above every other anxiety was the relentless desire that burned unquenched in my deepest being that said man, my master, would love me even if it was only as one cares for an awkward pup, which arouses ones affection and pity in equal measure as it trips over its own feet in its shameless eagerness to please.
My lady's gaze left me to follow the tournament while I pondered my reply or whether I could even give one at all. She did not deserved to become burdened with my troubles. I understood that my role was only to provide her with a source of attractive amusement. Pretty baubles should not shed tears and bemoan their fate. I took a deep breath, trying gamely to ease the tightness in my chest. It would be best, I decided, to continue as I had been, a silent thing to be appreciated at the whim of my betters.
A shout rose from the crowd, drawing my troubled gaze to the field where the remaining archers had each made beautiful shots. But one of the Calderash nobles was just outside the center circle whereas his fellows had all hit well within that boundary, and so he made his departure with a bow and flourish to the jeers and applause of his countrymen.
"I trust you do understand, Duo," Noin said, making me look up at her in surprise at the non sequitur. I blinked at her in confusion, but she continued to watch the contest, her full lips curving upward as her husband set an arrow in the notch of his bow and effortlessly drew the string with a powerful hand. He let fly and the arrow flew straight and true, landing just off of the bulls eye and easily securing him a place in the next round.
"U-understand what, my lady?" I asked when it seemed as though she would not continue. Her lord no longer requiring her attention, she glanced down at me with a fond and somewhat bemused smile.
"Why that the baron adores you, of course." She laughed at the incredulity that took up residence on my face. She reached down and tapped at the furrows upon my brow before smoothing them away with a graceful finger. "But why do you doubt my words, my sweet? Surely it is obvious how taken he is with you. Why else would his esteemed aunt be in such a snit over you?"
I shook my head, careful not to dislodge her touch. I thought back to that distressing interview in Lady Une's chamber. She had assured me in no uncertain terms that her nephew's heart would forever remain closed to me. I remember being struck dumb with hurt that she was putting paid to all of my dreams before they had even had a chance to take root. But I had no reason to doubt her. If she did not know the truth of Heero's heart then who could possibly claim such insight? And yet, here was another person closer to the baron than most could boast, who was telling me the complete opposite of what I had previously been apprised. Yet how could I credit my lady's assurances in the face of Lady Une's pronouncement?
"Indeed you should believe me, Duo," Noin asserted, her beautiful lips firming in gentle consternation at my continued denial. She looked over her shoulder to where the baron continued to sit where we had left him, taking no notice of the activity surrounding him and seemingly concerned with nothing except the pewter cup held firmly in his grip. I followed her gaze perforce, unable to restrain my need to look at him whenever and wherever the opportunity presented. Even my lady's disgusted sigh could not divert my greedy regard.
"Look at him. Heero has never been one to be deep into his cups and yet he seems determined to drain the vineyards. His reluctance to be parted from you even when he knows he must threatens to deplete every wine merchant in the country." I watched him drink deeply as though to reinforce her observation. "Ever since your arrival he has been in such a state of heightened agitation as I have never seen in him before." That shocked me enough to glance up at her for never would I have applied such a condition to my ever stoic master. She cocked an eyebrow at me, daring me to voice my disbelief.
"How can I be so certain, you ask? Because I recall being in much a similar state of confusion upon meeting a certain blond nobleman. Why from the moment I first met Zechs at my debutant ball until he asked for my hand a year later I lived in such a constant tizzy as I can scarce now credit. I could find no sleep, I could barely eat. All I lived for was to see his face, to hear his voice, to feel the bold touch of his hand upon mine."
Until the last, I had begun to feel some measure of hope. For surely a woman in love was the cleverest of creatures when it came to espying the same condition in others. She clearly read the longing in my own heart. Why else would she take it upon herself to speak so candidly about her liege? But I had intimately painful knowledge of the fact that my master could indeed live quite well without desiring my presence. It had been an eternity since I had felt my lord's embrace. I had watched him sleep quite soundly with no thought or concern for whether I was beside him or not. And I could scarcely remember his cold dismissal of me the night before my decent into hell without sobbing.
"And then there is the baron's unaccountable solicitousness regarding his desire that you stay with him in his own chambers. Until his father's time, it was not at all habit that a dorei even be allowed to sleep with his or her master, let alone to be required to do so night after night. In truth, there are some that would have Heero hold to those older traditions." She looked askance toward Lady Une, who sat toward the back of the crowd watching the tournament, seemingly bored with the festivities but observing for appearance sake.
"Yet and still the baron dares to defy even such powerful influence as that. No, my sweet, there is no doubt in my mind that Heero holds you in the dearest of regards." She turned back toward me with a brilliant smile meant to comfort and reassure. "Take heart, Duo. Your fears are naught but folly."
I returned her grin with a pale version of my own, desperately wanting to believe her and yet unable to give credence to her certitude in light of the evidence that spoke so clearly to my own doubts.