For You I Suffer
"Heero did not give me permission to take you to Trowa's."
We had ridden in silence for some time, with me being too afraid to be the first to break it. So Quatre's unsolicited explanation made me jump a bit in surprise. Even the medic, who had sensed the mood and recognized that it was best to hold his tongue, as well, glanced over at the blond questioningly. Quatre kept his attention on the road as though he was determined not to look in my direction.
"Honestly, I did not even think that he might object. Never before has he taken such interest in my choices of how you spend your days when he is otherwise occupied. But he was worried that you were still far too unwell for any strenuous activity. I assured him that you would be completely at your ease and that he need not be concerned. But for some reason he did not believe me and insisted that one of Sally's nurses come with us in case you needed immediate treatment."
The disappointment in Quatre's voice was almost as difficult to hear as learning that I made such a grave mistake at the very moment Heero had been consumed with concern for my well-being.
"I will not ask you why you have done this, Duo." He was silent for a few minutes as the walls of Windshire rose slowly in the distance. "I know you have been unhappy for some time. And I would be a liar if I said that I had not seen how Trowa looked at you every time I brought you to him."
I stared at him in surprise, amazed at both his revelation and his perceptiveness. Trowa was certainly not the easiest of men to read. In fact, I would say the only person who held his feelings closer to his chest was the baron.
"You knew how he felt about me?"
"I am not blind, Duo." Quatre's irritation manifested itself in an unnecessarily harsh tug on the reigns. The horse nickered in protest and the blond was instantly contrite. He seemed to shrink in his seat.
"I have known Trowa nearly all of our lives. My father had great respect for his father and we used to play together as children while they talked of livestock and land. He has always been rather guarded in his expressions, but I have come to be able to understand his character very well. I knew that he was falling in love with you, but I never imagined that he would let his heart override his sense of duty to this extent." Finally the blond glanced at me, his gaze full of disillusionment. I cringed and looked away, unable to withstand his scrutiny.
"Just like I knew that you have long felt a terrible need to be loved. But I thought you aware that you could come to me with any concerns or worries you might have. I am sorry that I did not impress this upon you clearly enough. And I am terribly sorry, and rather furious, that the baron has been so remiss in his attentions to you. But Heero is a difficult man to know, for he is not one to show his feelings readily. He takes much upon himself, and sometimes he listens to those he should not."
That last was said in a soft voice and I was not certain I was meant to hear it. It was just as well, for I could not imagine anyone who could force the baron into any action he did not wish to take.
"I admit, I had hoped that, since you and Trowa have much in common, you would develop a friendship, something that would sustain you during the remainder of your time here. But I see now that I was a fool to try and second-guess the human heart."
My trainer fell silent, once more, and the clop of the horse's hooves against the hard packed ground became the loudest sound. It was not long before we were passing through the gates of the castle proper and into the large stable yard. The medic nodded toward us, politely taking his leave of Quatre though the blond barely responded.
I had wrapped the cloak tightly about my shoulders for the trip back from the gamesman's cottage, both to seek protection from the rays of the setting sun and to hide the shame that was surely emblazoned across my skin. I stepped carefully as Quatre helped me from the carriage, not wanting to trip over the extra length of fabric dragging the ground about my feet. A stable hand came to retrieve the horse and the conveyance. He threw me a curious glance, no doubt wondering why I was not naked, but his inquisitiveness was doomed to remain unsatisfied.
Quatre led me directly to the baron's chamber, returning several greetings absently but not slowing our progress as we walked through the halls. I was extremely thankful for his uncharacteristic standoffishness. I felt as though hundreds of pairs of eyes were staring at me, fixating on the hideous mess of my back and on the marks Trowa's mouth and hands had left upon my body. It was strange, but not even when I had been completely unclothed had I ever felt so exposed.
I had never been so glad to see the heavy wooden doors emblazoned with the baron's sigil. The guards opened them at Quatre's command, and I rushed inside before him, uncaring that I was rudely forgetting my place. My relief at finally being away from public scrutiny, however, was short-lived. The room that had once been my refuge now seemed sterile, any trace of the baron's presence lessened by his long absence.
"Will he return soon, do you think?" I dropped my cloak and went to stand before the hearth, rubbing my arms against a sudden chill.
"Do you want him to?" Quatre sounded somewhat surprised at my question. "I should think you would want him to have some time to calm himself. I must say, Duo, walking in on the two of you like that was a quite a shock."
"I do," I replied, trying to ignore my gut as it clenched with nerves at his assessment. My own heart was still racing from being discovered by the baron in such an awful manner. I shuttered to think what he must have felt upon seeing me that way. But regardless of what awaited me upon his return, I was desperate to see him, even if it was only to receive my just punishment. Knowing that Heero had come seeking me out of worry for my wellbeing tore at me. Despair filled me thought that I had frittered away something I might never recover.
"Where would he have gone? Do you know?" I tried to swallow past the anxious lump in my throat as I turned to face the blond who sat tensely on the couch. "Do...Do you think he will reveal what I have done to anyone?" I grew even colder at the thought of those persons for whom I had come to care a great deal learning of my infamy. But Quatre shook his head vigorously at my halting query.
"No, he would never. He would have no reason to make this known to anyone. And I will certainly hold my tongue, as well, about this unfortunate episode. I know you would not wish to see Heero publicly dishonored, and your...behavior will undoubtedly reflect negatively upon him." I grew cold at the thought that my selfishness might yet bring harm to my master. "But I also worry about you, Duo."
"What do you mean?" I asked. His mouth pursed into a moue of consternation.
"There are those in Windshire who are not pleased by the position Heero has granted you. You have spent many months among us, and you have acquitted yourself most admirably until now." I grimaced at the unsubtle censure. "Indeed, even the old baron's favorite had not achieved half your fame, and Panella served him for far longer. Yet I fear you have enemies who would use their knowledge of these events to press their case for your swift removal."
His warning baffled me. I could not imagine anyone who even thought me important enough to hate. I was a pebble amongst a court full of glittering jewels. I readily admitted that I had, indeed, made several friends during my time here, and I treasured the solace of their camaraderie. But surely the majority of the nobles who spent their days trying to ingratiating themselves with the baron took little real notice of the naked slave who followed so meekly on his heels.
I sat heavily on the settee beside Quatre and leaned my head heavily against his shoulder. He tensed and I started to sit up, mortified that I had forgotten myself in my sudden exhaustion. But the awkwardness of the moment could not long survive the affection between us. I had hurt my trainer just as surely as I had angered my master and destroyed Trowa's life. I would do anything to return things to how they had been between us before I had sacrificed everything in a moment self-indulgent of weakness.
The affectionate touch of Quatre's fingers as they combed through my hair almost brought me to tears. I wrapped my arms around his slim waist and managed a tiny smile as he tilted his head against my own.
"My lovely, stupid Duo," he sighed. I almost laughed, for he spoke nothing but the unbridled truth. "Whatever am I to do with you?"
The gentle petting continued, and the gesture was so comforting and familiar, that I felt myself succumbing to the dim stillness of the room, which was broken only by the quiet crackling of the fire.
But no sooner had I began to drift off into the welcome oblivion of sleep, than a loud, insistent pounding returned me abruptly to wakefulness. I jerked upward with a startled gasp, wincing as my tender skin protested the hasty movement. The need to rest had slowed my mind, and I looked over at Quatre in bewilderment. It was only when I saw him blinking with surprise as he looked toward the door that I realized the pounding was coming from that direction.
The sounds of raised voices and scuffling feet quickly transformed my confusion to alarm. Who ever it was, the baron's guards did not resist them for long. Quatre had barely gained his feet before the door burst open. A half-dozen burly men stomped into the room, trampling all over the baron's fine carpet. I glanced at my trainer, expecting him to take umbrage and demand an explanation for this unprecedented intrusion. But instead, all traces of color drained from the blond's face, and when I looked back toward the doorway I understood the reason for his distress.
Just as I recognized the colors the uniformed men wore - a slightly modified version of the baron's own livery - they parted en masse to reveal a tall, slender figure. I blanched, if possible growing even paler than Quatre, as Heero's aunt, the austere yet graceful Lady Une, sailed into the room like a queen. Her dark gaze landed directly on my face, and I prayed that she could not see that I was trembling.
"Seize him," she said calmly, not moving as her guards filed past her and rushed towards me. I uttered a most unmanly squeak as they took hold of my arms roughly. Quatre recovered himself enough to sputter as they started to drag me toward the door.
"What in the world...? Lady Une, what is the meaning of this?!" He stumbled over his own feet in his haste to grab my hand, the only part of my upper body not covered by the guards' enormous paws. The men paused only out of respect for the blond's rank, for they could have easily overpowered him. Cheeks flushed with indignation, he glared at the dark-haired woman.
"Really, my lady. What could you possibly be thinking? Duo belongs to the baron. You have no right to just take him without Heero's permission."
"I have every right," she replied, her low voice even but sharp. "While my nephew is away, I have the highest position in this castle. Do you know where Heero is?" she asked, her gaze piercing as she dared Quatre to contradict her. He held his ground, but the corner of his eye twitched tellingly.
"No, my lady. I have not seen him for over an hour at least. But that does not mean...."
"As you see," Une interrupted as though Quatre had not spoken, "it is my duty to maintain order in the baron's absence."
"But Duo is not some servant you can order around at your whim. He is beholden only to the baron and myself." The older woman smiled as though she were a hunter that had scented blood on the wind.
"Is he now? Then would you care to explain to me why your precious slave allowed himself to be sullied by the unwarranted attentions of the gamekeeper?"
"No!" I gasped. Quatre's sharp glace ordered me to be quiet, but he was unable to hide his own astonishment.
"My lady, you will please explain yourself." His narrow shoulders shook as he struggled to control himself. She looked sublimely unconcerned in the face of his obvious distress.
"One hears the most amazing things when one is willing to entertain idle tongues." She assumed a casual pose, her right elbow supporting her left hand. A long, elegant finger tapped thoughtfully at her chin. "For instance, my youngest lady-in-waiting came rushing into to my sitting room just a little while ago with the most amazing story."
"Lady Une." Quatre shifted from foot to foot, his restlessness indicating his extreme agitation. "I insist that you...."
"It seems that she has been seeing Lady Dermail's youngest son, who has such a gift for treating the sick that Lady Sally has taken him under her wing. And he told her something absolutely incredible."
The medic, I realized, growing more and more nauseous with her every word. It was clear that she was enjoying my discomfort. Her gaze rarely left my face as she spoke. I knew then just who the enemy was that Quatre had warned me about.
"He said that he had been summoned, at the baron's personal request, to help tend to his pleasure slave. Oh, the boy was simply beside himself with the immensity of the honor. How he would enjoy bragging about seeing the naked dorei up close when none of his peers had managed such a feat."
My stomach threatened to crawl up my throat as she chuckled in amusement.
"So you can imagine how astounded he was when he saw that very same slave in flagrante with the baron's gamekeeper."
Quatre closed his eyes, his jaw clenched tightly in denial of Une's smugness.
"It seems he could barely contain himself as the three of you returned to Windshire. Immediately upon leaving you, he ran to tell my young attendant everything, and she ran to tell me, etcetera, etcetera." She paused to enjoy the green tinge of Quatre's complexion. "I trust you have heard enough."
She turned toward the door and her guards pulled me after her, wrenching my hand away from Quatre's grasp. He struggled to regain his composure enough to renew his protest.
"My lady, it may be as you say, but surely it is for the baron to deal with this himself."
Lady Une whirled around, any equanimity in her visage undone by the rage twisting the handsome features that so reminded me of my master.
"My nephew has become a fool!" she snarled. "Reduced to a blithering idiot by the beautiful face of a whore."
I shrank way from her glare, the ferocity of it cutting into me just as surely as Dorothy's whip.
"He fancies himself in love and listens only to that ridiculous lump of flesh dangling between his legs. He no longer has any concern for the honor of his family, for the dignity of the Yuy name. But I will not let it fall into disgrace for the sake of a slut."
She leaned forward until her face was inches from mine. I pressed into the large body of the guard standing behind me, desperate but unable to escape the promise of suffering in her eyes.
"I will not allow my nephew's good sense to be overcome by some worthless slave like his father's was."
She whirled away and glided from the room, her guards dragging me in her wake. Quatre shouted for us to stop, swearing that he would take his protest directly to the baron, but she had no interest in humoring his futile objections.
For my part, I was torn between several, decidedly contradictory states. A part of me trembled in fear of what was to become of me, for Lady Une had not been reticent in her hatred, and I had no idea how she might indulge her fury. At the same time, I wept with the knowledge that I had cast such a terrible stain on my master's name that it might be forever tarnished. Long ago Quatre had warned me that my actions would reflect on the baron, and in forgetting that admonishment, I had wrought nothing but misery and shame.
But there was one thing Lady Une had revealed that kept me from giving in completely to despair as I was led away. She fervently believed that Heero loved me. And even if her assumption proved to be nothing more than a manifestation of her abhorrence of me, I was determined to cling to that sliver of hope with all of my might no matter what lie ahead.