For You I Suffer
Heero's departure marked the end of my going away ceremony. With a last round of hugs, tears, and promises that this was only a momentary parting from those closest to me, everyone drifted until only Quatre, Helen, Trowa and myself remained. I was grateful that those few I considered friends wanted to maintain our relations, especially now that I was their equal in consequence. But at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to forget I had ever known them at all.
Trowa turned away to saddle my new horse as Quatre and Helen helped me dress. His gesture reflected the politeness and respect for privacy that any person might expect of another, and it was only in that moment that I truly understood that my time as the baron's manzoku no dorei had come to an end. I was a man again, and one of considerable wealthy and status, whether I wanted to be or not.
"Now, I need to stay and help my daughter with her little one for a bit," Helen said as she laced up my shirt, "but you can expect to see me along with the first spring thaw."
"I will look forward to it," I replied. Interrupting her task, I took her warm, capable hands in mine and brought them to my lips. Helen blinked at me in bemusement as I kissed the backs of her hands. She seemed as surprised at my gesture as at the fact that she blushed because of it. I smiled as she cleared her throat and abandoned her moment of girlishness for her more usually matronly demeanor.
"Cheeky boy," she said gruffly as she finished doing up my shirt. She stepped back to look at me with a critical eye. "Clothes become you, my lad. They become you well, indeed." Sniffing slightly, she smoothed the linen over my shoulders before holding up my new brocade vest. "I supposed it’s too warm for you to be needing this. Why don’t I pack it for you in your saddle bag?"
"Yes, thank you, Helen." Quatre stood with me as I watched her walk toward Trowa and my as yet nameless horse.
"I will try to talk some sense into him, Duo," the blond said without looking at me. I sighed, feeling some irritation at his persistence. This episode of my life was over and I had to move on if I was to have any sort of life at all. I felt no little resentment towards Quatre for trying to hold me back by appealing to dreams that were better off abandoned.
"Leave it alone, please." I glanced at him and smiled, hoping it did not look as forced as it felt. "What is done is done. I...I just want to go home." With a final nod, I left him and walked toward the others.
"He loves you, Duo," Quatre called out from behind me. "He loved you when he made you his dorei, and he loves you now. I refuse to believe otherwise."
I did not bother to answer him. And if the pace at which I hugged Helen goodbye and mounted my horse suggested haste, I would never admit to it. Trowa likewise held his counsel, keeping pace with me on his own mount as I spurred my gelding to a sudden gallop and left the past behind me.
Late afternoon of our second day out of Windshire, Trowa and I reached the outskirts of a small farm. The land looked sorely neglected, as the usual planting and harvesting that would have kept the soil healthy had obviously not occurred. A modest farmhouse sat on a slight rise beyond the fields and the waters of a mid-sized pond sparkled in the distance. Trowa looked over the spread with subdued approval.
"This looks like a pleasant spot, though the fields could use some tending. I believe we are very near Fashel. Do you know the owners?" I was long and answering and did not speak until he turned to throw me a questioning glance.
"Yes," I responded at last. "I am the owner."
If the former gamekeeper was surprised that we had reached our destination, he kept it to himself. Instead, his expression reflected nothing but mild interest as he directed his horse to follow mine toward the house. Why Trowa had accompanied me this far, I did not know, but I was extremely grateful for his company. I had not tried to imagine how I would feel upon seeing my home again after so long. My only concern had been with reaching it and escaping the specter of the castle and its inhabitants. But now that I was here, I hardly knew how to feel.
Every blade of overgrown grass, every flash of the sun on the water of the pond, every bang of that one upper window shutter that had never bowed to nails, it was all so familiar. I was suddenly overcome with the powerful sense that I had never left at all. If not for my traveling companion, I could have sworn that I had been gone not even an hour let alone four months.
Yet at the same time, everything looked different. And I knew that it was not the farm that had been altered. Rather, I was the one who had changed. The past few months had profoundly shaped my outlook on the world. I was aware, as I could never have been as the sheltered child of a farmer and his wife, of what wonders and horrors existed in the world. But even more importantly, I now knew that I was capable of withstanding more than I could have ever thought possible. I knew now how deeply I could love someone and just how viciously my heart could be broken.
The stillness of the afternoon was disturbed only by the steady fall of horse shoes against the dirt road and the occasional call from the birds playing and hunting over the pond. The farmhouse looked deserted, and I certainly was not expecting anyone to be there since I was the sole resident. So I was considerably startled when the front door burst open and a slight figure came flying towards us.
The voice was girlish and breathless and squeezed my heart in a tight fist of longing. I was off of my horse in an instant, and the moment my boots touched the ground, I was running as fast as I could to close the rapidly shrinking distance between us. There was no restraint as the figure barreled into me. We had known each other for far too long to be anything other than completely honest in our feelings of relief at being reunited after so long.
"Oh, Duo, I feared you would never return. I missed you so terribly." Hilde’s entire body shook with the force of her tears. I buried my face in the dark hair on the crown of her head and inhaled deeply, taking in her scent as I wished I could take her into my heart.
"Hilde," I whispered, too overcome to say anything more than her name. But it was not merely happiness that stole my voice. This was the girl to whom I had given my innocence even as I had taken her. This was the woman who only a short time ago I had been determined to marry and spend my life with. Yet, as I held Hilde close to me, her womanly chest pressingly invitingly into me, her slender yet strong arms holding me tightly as though she never meant to let me go, I realized that I felt nothing save for the warm comfort of her friendship.
I began to weep as I realized just how completely the baron had claimed ownership over both my body and my heart. Pulling Hilde even tighter into my chest, I began to shake with fear as I came to realize with dreadful certainty that I would never ever be free of him.
Hilde’s innate practicality soon overcame her sentimentality and it was not long before she had Trowa and I ensconced at the table in the amazingly clean kitchen, digging into a delicious meal. Clearly, she had taken my request to look after the place while I was gone to heart. I had not kept my intentions for us any great secret, and Hilde clearly thought of my home rightfully as her own. My stomach knotted both from the delicious smells of dinner and the unpleasant contemplation of how I was doomed to dash all of her hopes. With my heart, body, and soul still belonging to my former master, I did not know how I could possibly follow through on my plans to marry her.
Trowa had been fairly quiet since our arrival, politely giving Hilde and I time to get reacquainted without the distraction of forcing us to entertain him. But my childhood friend was not one for shyness. She welcomed him warmly as she would any acquaintance of mine, no matter how casual. Of course, I would never tell her just how intimate the two of us had once been. I was content to share only the most superficial details of how Trowa had come to be with me.
But I could not help but notice, with no little surprise, just how often Hilde’s gaze tracked toward our silent guest. And I was certain I had never seen her blush quite so profusely, not even at the height of our teenaged flirtations. At that moment, however, I was far too exhausted from the journey and my emotional homecoming to ponder the strangeness of her behavior too deeply.
Hilde kept up a steady stream of chatter throughout dinner, telling us what she had been doing since I had been gone, explaining how she had been taking care of both her own home as well as my farmhouse. Although the drought had decimated both her parents’ fortunes as well as my own, her father had pulled together enough resources to hire a girl from the village to help Hilde with the chores. As I realized who I had to thank that my home was in such wonderful shape, I vowed to put some of my considerable new fortune to good use by sharing it with my loyal neighbor.
"Duo, what on earth happened to your face?" The question came so unexpectedly that I nearly choked on the meat I was chewing. Trowa stiffened and threw me a sideways glance. Heedless of the sudden tension from the two men at her table, Hilde continued on, her tone expressing nothing but proper concern for my injury. "What an awful scar! Did you get that while working for the baron? I have always told you that you must be careful, but you never listen," she chided.
Trowa fixed his gaze firmly on his plate, applying his fork methodically to his meal with far more deliberateness that the task required. I cursed him silently for leaving me to come up with some excuse to give Hilde all on my own.
"Um, I w-was...." I cleared my throat, trying to muster my thoughts as I stammered, but my brain refused to obey. I swore to myself right then that I would never again let Hilde see me shirtless. There was simply no way I could tell her about the horrible suffering I had experienced under Dorothy’s lash.
Hilde had no connection to the castle, and in that sense she was like a lodestone drawing me towards my old, mundane life. If she were to discover everything that had happened to me at Windshire, that barrier between my two lives would be forever destroyed. I could not let that happen. If those disparate worlds were ever to collide, I would never be able to find any peace. No matter how much I wanted to deny it, even now my heart ached because of my separation from the baron. But I had to accept that that part of my life was over, and I needed to be able to immerse myself back into my normal existence for that to happen.
"It was a large splinter of wood from a log I was chopping." Both Hilde and I blinked at the unexpected sound of Trowa’s voice. He looked up only briefly before returning his attention to his nearly empty plate. "The wood was very dry and nearly shattered from the force of the axe blow. Duo was helping me gather wood and was standing close by. It was an unfortunate accident for which I am very sorry."
Hilde made sympathetic, reassuring noises, obviously believing Trowa’s concocted story wholeheartedly. I was amazed to learn that the taciturn man was such an able liar, but at the same time I was immeasurably grateful to him for the diversion.
It was not long before I was nodding over my plate. I had recovered quite a bit from my myriad ordeals of late, but I was not yet at my peak. Fortunately, Hilde attributed my tiredness to the length of my journey and the full meal I had just eaten. She simply smiled at me fondly and chided me not to break the table with my face. Her teasing was like a balm to my heart. I was happy to let her fuss over me, and I followed as she showed Trowa to the guest room, which had been my room before my parents’ death. He wished her a good night and went to retrieve our belongings from the saddle bags, leaving Hilde and I alone.
It was our first time being together like this since I had gone off with the baron’s messengers. We stared at each other for a long, awkward moment, unaccountably shy with each other. She broke the tension first, her high-pitched laughter ring through the entire house. I smiled at her, thinking of how wonderfully innocent our discomfort had been. Any two people with history and attraction would have felt thusly. There was no need to expose myself to her, no need to subjugate myself to her in order to feel close to her. For the first time in a long time, I felt simply and ordinary; and I rather hated it.
I pulled her close, hugging her firmly though without the desperation that had overcome us earlier. This was just a comfortable exchange between two old and dear friends.
"I really did miss you, Duo," she said softly. Her arms crept around my waist a moment before she lifted herself onto her toes to press her lips to mine. I stood motionless as she kissed me, not dreaming of pulling away even though, physically, I remained completely unaffected by her show of affection. She pulled back after a long moment and I gave her a final squeeze before letting her go. I had thought, had hoped, that there had been nothing unusual in my behavior that could not be attributed to fatigue. But it is not so easy to fool someone who has known you your entire life.
"There’s something...different about you, Duo. You seem, oh, I don’t know, unsettled somehow." She peered at me closely until I began to grow nervous that she would be able to read something of my various experiences at Windshire from my face. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when she merely smiled. "Oh well, it’s late and I’m sure you and your friend would like to get a good night’s sleep."
"Yes," I replied. "We’ll see you in the morn’." I caught myself using the plain speech of my childhood and a weight lifted from my shoulders. Indeed, I had truly come home. I turned to open the door to my room.
"Oh, and Duo," Hilde said, pausing in the open doorway that separated the sleeping areas from the public part of the house. I glanced at her over my shoulder.
"What is it?" I stared at her in confusion as she blushed again and bit her lower lip.
"Your friend, he’s really handsome, isn’t he?"
With that she was gone and I was let standing there to ponder the mysterious vagaries of fate.