For You I Suffer
I remained under Lady Sally's care for another three weeks. During that time I had many visitors. Quatre and Helen were almost daily fixtures, and Relena remained my most faithful caretaker. I found that I did not mind her companionship. She had unexpectedly matured after discovering the world's capacity for cruelty and had become someone I considered a friend. Lady Noin and Lord Zechs came to visit several times, the lady expressing her concern for my well-being with tears and soft kisses, and the gentleman trying to hide his anger as he expressed sincere hopes for my speedy recovery.
But, of course, it was the one person who I did not see that caused me the most pain. I put on a brave face, especially in front of Quatre, but it was draining trying to pretend that my heart was not being crushed beneath the daily weight of Heero's continued absence.
Slowly but steadily, my injuries healed and my strength returned. The scar tissue forming over my back required daily massages by one of Lady Sally's helpers to enable the skin to maintain its suppleness. I could not see most of the marks Dorothy had so maliciously etched upon my body and my face, but the looks on the faces of others, which ranged from outright pity to abject horror, revealed the inescapable truth. Never again would I be that pretty creature that had so enraptured the most powerful man in the land. I was damaged, disfigured for all time. Perhaps, I mused, it was simple disgust that kept my master away.
The day after the splint holding the mending bones of my wrist were removed, Lady Sally pronounced me fit enough to be discharged from her care. The wrappings about my ribs had been removed nearly a week before, and the doctor was pleased that my knee had returned to almost full motility. Indeed, she said that it was the quickest recovery that she had ever had the privilege to witness.
"I suppose there is something to be said for clean living and honest physical labor, my dear gentleman farmer."
I smiled at the friendly tease, the effort to emote despite the constant ache in my heart becoming easier with practice. Quatre had come at her bidding to collect me, so I took care to maintain the deceit as she performed her final examination.
"Is it true what I hear about Dorothy?" Sally asked as she check to make sure that my wrist could withstand being out of its cast. I gasped softly in surprise at her abrupt question. Quatre stiffened, and after a quick glance in my direction, sent her a sharp look.
"What do you mean?" His tone betrayed his wariness at the subject of the doctor's query.
"Lady Noin told me that she has been sent to Slaburry after her parents, never again to return to Calderash." I stared at my trainer, silently willing him to tell me if what Sally has said was true.
"Yes," he replied dismissively, though his hands clenched into tense fists. "She is gone."
"Humph," Sally exclaimed. "Personally, I am shocked that the baron let her off with such a lenient penalty. I was sure that we would be treated to the sight of her swinging from the hangman's noose."
"But why, my lord?" I asked Quatre, desperately trying to distract him from the doctor's innocent callousness. Quatre had gone pale at Sally's statement, but he somehow found the strength to smile as he looked at me.
"Because of you, Duo?" His smile grew as my eyes widened in confusion.
"Me?" He nodded.
"I told the baron of your wish that she be spared. He was reluctant at first, but eventually he came to see the wisdom of your call for mercy." He sighed, his expression suddenly becoming downcast. "I went to see her, shortly after it was clear that you would recover. You were right, Duo. She was nearly incoherent, ranting nonsense regaining her honor." His cheeks flushed with emotion. "She even commanded me to marry her, saying that it was the least I owed to her for my part in Treize's banishment."
"What unbelievable gall," Sally remarked, shaking her head at such incomprehensible behavior.
"When I told the baron that you were clearly correct in your assessment of her mental state, he relented."
Clinging to the knowledge that Heero had heeded my wishes, my body shook as relief that Dorothy's life would be spared poured through me. The uncontrolled tremors renewed my aches, and I moaned at the dull streaks of pain.
"Is he truly well enough to leave you, my lady?" my trainer asked as he witnessed my discomfort, his concern apparent in his anxious expression.
"He will do," she replied. I winced as she manipulated my hand and wrist, but the soreness was due more to the stiffness caused by having it immobile for so long rather than any lingering damage. Truly, she knew her business. Quatre had noticed my twinge and sent me an uncertain glance. I forced the smile to reappear over the pain.
"Very well, then." The blond moved to my side and offered his arm as I attempted to stand unaided for the first time in weeks. I managed, needing to catch his arm only for a moment to regain my balance. My knee was still slightly tender, but it bore my weight well enough. I turned toward Sally, a swell of gratitude momentarily filling the emptiness in my heart.
"My lady, how can I ever thank you?"
"Nonsense." She waved away words with a graceful hand. "I am a doctor, Duo. I merely did my duty, though looking after you was a rare pleasure, indeed." Her hand fell softly against my cheek as she gazed at me fondly. But the show of emotion was fleeting. I had barely registered the feel of her touch before she spun away in a swirl of sensible skirts.
"Now, away with the both of you," she said brusquely. "There are other people in this castle that need my services. I have no time for the healthy."
Quatre laughed and helped me wrap a cloak around my shoulders to deter prying eyes. In other circumstances, I would have been amused that it took something as drastic as this to gain me the comfort of clothing for the first time in so many months. My trainer led me away with a hand low on the narrow strip of unmarred flesh along my back. I was indeed grateful for Lady Sally's skill and care, but I heartily hoped that I would never see her again except at a vast distance. I allowed my trainer to lead me away without a single backward glance toward the bed that had been mine for far too long.
I do not know why I expected the baron's suite to look different when I stepped through the door. I suppose that with everything that had happened I wanted something else to be altered besides myself. The room did not heed my wishes, of course, and I glanced around at the familiar sights of tasteful furniture and dark, cozy carpet with more than a slight feeling of resentment.
The distance between the baron's rooms and the doctor's quarters not great, but in my weakened state, the walk had left me winded. Dropping the cloak on the couch as I passed by it, I went straight into the bedroom, sorely in need of sleep. But there was one thing I wanted more, and it deviled my thoughts, refusing to let me rest until I had indulged my shameful longing. I paused and waited for Quatre, who had followed me into the bedchamber.
"When will the baron return?" I asked, hating myself for asking even as the question left my lips. He did not answer right away, so I turned to look at him. To his credit, Quatre tried to keep his vexation from showing on his face, but I knew him too well to be fooled. I gazed at him steadily, and after a few seconds of equivocation, he sighed.
"The baron has decided that you should be given every opportunity to rest and heal, so he is allowing you the exclusive use of his suite."
"And where will he be?" I would have cringed at my flat, emotionless tone, but even caring that much was suddenly quite beyond me.
"The baron has had another room prepared for his use. You will not be disturbed until you are completely recovered."
Quatre's stubborn use of Heero's title rather than his more informal habit of using the baron's name was not lost on me. He knew as well as I did that, what I really needed more than anything, was for him to hold me in his arms and tell me that I was not diminished in his eyes. I wanted to feel grateful to the blond for his anger at my master's misplaced solicitude. I wanted to feel anything at all. But that ability had abandoned me as surely as had the man who was causing me a pain greater than anything Dorothy could have devised.
"Duo," Quatre called out to me as I turned away and went to stand by the bed. He trailed after me, his brow furrowed with worry. "Duo, say something," he tried again.
"I am tired," I said without facing him. I moved over to what was now my bed and leaned against the edge of the mattress. "The walk from Lady's Sally's was more trying than I expected."
"Of course," Quatre replied, moving to my side to help me onto the tall bed. "You should rest. Take all of the time you need. I will remain here, in the sitting room. If you require anything, just call for me and I will come."
I forced myself not to tune out his nervous chatter as I settled stiffly onto the bed. I was lying in Heero's accustomed spot, but the realization brought me no comfort. Quatre leaned over me and pressed a kiss to my temple. I closed my eyes, too exhausted to smile and well aware that it was not physical exertion that had drained me of all energy.
Pulling the cloak more securely around my shoulders, I closed my eyes as I rocked with the sway of the carriage. The sun was warm on my face, and a soft breeze blew strands of my hair about my head. It was decidedly odd riding in the horse-drawn conveyance when I had become so accustom to filling that role myself.
After being released by Lady Sally, I had slept for another two days entire. My mending body had needed the rest to be sure, but my lack of vigor was in no small part due to the fact that I slept alone. When I finally felt well enough to stay awake longer than an hour at a time, Quatre had suggested that a day of fresh air and relaxation would do me a world of good. So here I sat at my trainer's side as he guided the carriage towards the gamekeeper's cottage, trying as hard as he could to avoid any ruts in the road.
"I sent a message to Trowa some time ago, telling him of your...well, of the incident. When I suggested to him yesterday that you could use some time away from the castle, he readily agreed that you come visit. You will not be expected to do any work, of course," he added quickly. "In fact, I suspect that you will be quite bored by the end of the day, what with nothing to do but sit and watch the grass grow or some such thing."
He laughed, but fortunately, he expected no response to the forced sound. Instead, I thought about how very pleasant a day spent doing absolutely nothing sounded. And even more agreeable was the contemplation of spending hours with no thought more pressing that what I wanted to eat for lunch. I was tired of thinking, for it caused my mind to spin in hopeless circles. I was tired of feeling because the only sensation I experienced these days was pain. I was not even anxious over the fact that I was to spend a day with the ever tempting gamesman while my defenses were at their lowest.
The carriage rolled on as the wind caressed my scarred body like a lover.
The yard fronting the cottage was empty when we first came within sight of the modest structure. But Trowa must have heard us coming. He emerged from his work shed and was waiting for us before we were close enough for Quatre to pull on the reigns and urge the horse to a halt.
"Good afternoon," the blond called out, greeting the taller man with his customary friendliness. The gamesman mumbled a response, but his gazed locked on to me and did not waiver.
Emerald eyes looked me over from head to toe, delving beneath my protective cloak and refusing to allow me any secrets. Even though I was effectively shielded from his sight, it was as though I stood under the glow of a thousand candles. My scars throbbed with renewed agony as my suddenly racing heart sent blood rushing beneath them. They felt swollen, growing ever larger and more grotesque beneath his scrutiny until I felt like a sideshow freak. I wanted to scream, to tell him to stop looking at me. I began to ache all over, and feared that I had somehow been injured all over again. But when I realized that the pain was caused by the sudden tremors running through my entire body, I finally understood that this quiet man had managed to break through the walls I had carefully built around my heart without uttering a single word.
After Quatre departed, I spent the day avoiding Trowa as best I could though it was difficult since there was no where to go. Not that I could have run away in any event. Though I was growing stronger, in my current state Trowa was a thoroughbred to my spindly mule.
He let me have what privacy he could, setting me up on an old rocking chair in the yard. It was covered with a quilt so as to provide my tender flesh with some cushion, and the cloak covered my nakedness from chin to toes. My position afforded me a prime view of the partially harvested fields and the spectacle of lumbering cows as they cleared away the last of the summer grass, calves in tow. A few horses had been added to the paddock, brought to the gamekeeper for shoeing. And beyond it all, the vast forest of Furuiki stretched into the distance.
It was a beautiful sight, yet I could not enjoy it. My ears strained for hints of Trowa's location and activities, though every time I actually heard him, I shrunk further into my chair in an effort to escape his notice. He did not ask why I sat huddled in the chair when he brought me a light lunch of ale, bread, and cheese. And I offered no explanation lest speaking to him further erode my deceptively serene demeanor.
Although I kept the cloak securely about me both as a shield and as protection from the surprising strength of the early-Autumn sun, the heat and the dry air eventually striped all the moisture from my skin. Normally I would have barely noticed, but my still-healing scars caused the damaged skin to tighten and pull painfully with every breath. By late afternoon, my situation had grown most uncomfortable and was verging on the edge of true agony. I tried to find a better position to ease the strain, but moving about just made it hurt all the more.
"Your back is sore?" The unexpected sound of Trowa's voice startled me. I jumped slightly, the sudden jerk causing me to hiss with discomfort. I glanced up at him with shy caution and nodded.
His gaze had lost none of its intensity quality, and I did not trust myself to elaborate further. He held out a hand to me, his lips quirking in amusement when I just stared at it.
"Come with me, then. I have some ointment that will help." When I blinked at him questioningly, he added, "Working with animals day in and day out leaves behind its fair share of scars."
I acknowledged the truth of his statement, remembering how often my mother had had to bandage up me or my father after some mishap that went with the territory of working the land. Gingerly, he pulled me to my feet, mindful of my injuries. I followed him into the cottage, my mind dwelling anxiously on fact that it was my first time entering his home far more than I was willing to admit. I admonished myself to maintain my façade of calm indifference, but despite myself I could not help but wonder what sort of home a man like Trowa would make for himself.
The cottage's undecorated interior was unassuming as might have been expected. It consisted of a single room, convention rather than walls separating the space into its functional parts. The roof was gently sloped, so no section of the ceiling was too low for the tall gamesman. One side of the cottage contained a modest potbelly stove, a stack of firewood placed conveniently to one side of it. A large metal basin rested against the far wall, likely for any washing he might need to do. And against the opposite wall, next to a tall cupboard, sat a small table holding a bowl of fruit and, a loaf of the same bread he had offered me for lunch.
The center of the cottage, however, was dominated by a large sofa, sumptuously upholstered with a rich brocade in a beautiful shade of hunter green. As though it were far too refined to countenance the bare, though well-swept wooden planks that made up the floor, a finely embroidered throw rug protected it from any irreverent dirt or dust. It was an incongruous sight in the otherwise humble abode. Trowa chuckled when he caught sight of my bemused expression.
"It was a gift from a noblewoman." He cleared his throat as I glanced at him with a quirked eyebrow. "I helped her breed her favorite mare with a prized stallion. She was grateful."
When Trowa scratched uncomfortably at the back of his neck, I wondered just how grateful she had been. But that was certainly not a line of thought I felt any desire to pursue. In fact, I was trying my hardest to ignore the sight of the bed situated at the opposite end of the cottage from the kitchen. I took note of the cherry wood bureau and the small framed sheet of beaten metal resting atop it behind a clay-fired bowl and a shaving kit. But I refused to let my gaze stray over to the place where Trowa slept.
Of course, my avoidance begged the question of just where he expected me to lie while he applied the salve. I was relieved, though surprised, when he gestured towards the sofa.
"But, won't it be ruined from the ointment?"
"You can lie on a sheet."
He left me to retrieve the proposed covering and a stoppered bottle from the cupboard in the kitchen. Bowing to the inevitable, I dropped the cloak from around my shoulders, determined to think nothing more of the fact that, now, I was alone with the gamesman in his home and naked. After all, I had not felt any shyness with Lady Sally, and surely she had gained a far more intimate knowledge of my body that this would entail. Trowa returned with the bottle, and I maintained my sangfroid only with considerable effort as his gaze fell directly to my chest. A muscle twitched along his jaw.
"What happened to your nipple?" I refused to blush at the bold plainness of his question.
"The flog caught on one of the clamps." I had not allowed myself to dwell on the particulars of what Dorothy had done to me before that moment. Anger and despair came together in a strange mix of emotions as I realized that something that had been meant to make me beautiful had instead contributed to my permanent disfigurement. The flesh of the ripped nub had healed, more or less, but what remained was ragged and ill-formed.
"I see," Trowa replied. His voice was steady, the slight narrowing of his eyes his only visible reaction to learning something specific of the horror I had experienced. I was thankful for his nonchalance, no matter how artificial it was, as I had no desire to deal with a well-meant outpouring of sympathy and pity.
"And the rest?" It took me a moment to discern his meaning. The moment I did, however, was signaled by the rise of color to my cheeks.
"Quatre tells me that I am excused from my...duties for the foreseeable future. He said that it would be quite some time before I would be expected to wear any of my accoutrements again."
I had been relieved when Quatre informed me that I would also no longer have to wear the cockring or even my furred leather collar. Standing exposed before Trowa's knowing gaze, however, I would have welcomed even the wooden dildo I so hated and adored by turns just to provide some barrier between myself and the unwavering attention I found so discomfiting.
Without further comment, Trowa moved over to the sofa and spread a clean sheet over the entire piece of furniture, covering even the carved wood that functioned as a decorative trim. He motioned his chin toward the sofa, silently indicating that I should lie down. The stiffness along my back made it difficult for me to maneuver, and I was grateful for Trowa's help.
I stretched out on my stomach, wincing as I raised my arms so that I could pillow my head upon them. I turned my gaze toward the back of the couch, deciding that the featureless view of the sheet was safer than looking at the gamekeeper as he knelt on the floor alongside the sofa.
The scent of the salve hit my nose, filling it with the pleasant aroma of eucalyptus, lanolin, and something with a spicy note I could not place. I braced myself for an initial shock of coolness from the ointment's first touch on my skin. But Trowa's hands were broad and warm against my back. I hastily bit back the throaty sigh that slipped past my lips, hoping that he had not heard it.
If he had, he gave no indication. I tried to relax as he smoothed the liniment over my skin, but it was difficult to pretend that his touch did not send tiny thrills down my spine. He was gentle, taking great care not to hurt me, but he still took the time to massage the salve into every line of scar tissue. Eventually the pain and tightness was but a memory, and I melted into the cushions as every bit of tension bled away.
I had taken great comfort in the fact that my body's penchant for wantonly displaying my desire was hampered by the gravity of my injuries. But when Trowa's hands unexpectedly drifted from my back to trace heavily over the curve of my ass and down the backs of my thighs, my theory proved to be horribly naïve. I gasped as the subtle thrill his touch engendered became a shock of heat that caused my cock to stiffen beneath me. Twisting my upper body around with all of my new found limberness, I stared at him with profound shock.
"What are you...?"
Before I could finish my frantic inquiry, my lips were suddenly captured in a desperate kiss. His tongue pushed forcefully into my mouth, stealing my breath and my senses. I retained just enough presence of mind to twist around and sit up so I could raise my hands to his shoulders and push him away.
"Are you mad?" I said breathlessly. Trowa's stare was intent, his emerald eyes bright like it was lit from behind with some hidden light. His gaze bore into mine as though he intended to make he listen through sheer force of will.
"Duo, seeing you like this, seeing what she did to you...." His teeth were clenched so tightly I feared they might shatter beneath the force of his quiet rage. "I would kill that bitch with my bear hands if I could."
His face was more animated that I could ever recall seeing it before. I had always thought him unbearably handsome, but with his cheeks flushing warmly with heightened emotion and his eyes sparking with emerald fire, he was utterly magnificent. So stunned was I by the change in him that I did not even think to avoid the large, capable hands that suddenly raised up to trap my face between them.
"I love you, Duo," he whispered hoarsely, a calloused thumb delicately caressing the faint line of white that scarred my cheek. "Haven't you realized that by now?"
He leaned in slowly as though I was a skittish colt he was trying not to frighten. Even though I was expecting it, my chest ached at the gentle pressure of his lips. I closed my eyes as the heavy thud of my racing heart threatened to break my ribs anew.
I told myself that I should pull away from him again. But it would be a lie to say that my arms were acting on their own as they rose to wrap around Trowa's neck. He groaned deep in his throat, and pulled me tighter against his firm chest as my lips parted before the gentle pressure of his tongue. I moaned helplessly as he took sweet ownership of my mouth and slowly lowered us both to the sofa.
In some small, rapidly shrinking corner of rationality, I realized the horrible wrongness of what I was allowing to happen. I was violating my vow to the baron that I had gone to such incredible lengths to preserve. Every second I allowed this to continue was an utter betrayal, not only of the fastness of my word, but of the feelings that had become so firmly rooted in my heart that I knew I would forever suffer them.
But I had waited for so long to hear those three, precious words that just the sound of them undid me completely. So I surrendered to my neediness with desperate shame and clung to Trowa with all the fervor of a drowning man with a lifeline. And in that moment, as the brand on the back of my neck seemed to burn with disapproval, I did not care that the words I craved had been spoken by the wrong person.