For You I Suffer
Life settled slowly into a routine, though it was not a life I could have possibly envisioned for myself while growing up on this very farm. Rather than spending my days in the pursuit of survival and simple joys as had my parents before me, I found myself a man of wealth and title. I had no need to remain at my old home. Even before the remainder of my reward arrived as promised, I had the means to buy the entire town of Fashel several times over. But what use are riches to a man whose soul is dead?
Hilde's father had been grateful and astonished by the generous gift I bestowed upon him - nearly all of my initial payment from the baron. But that surprise was by far eclipsed when he learned that I was not to become his son-in-law as he had long expected.
And it was not I who so altered his expectations. I had locked away my heart for fear that, as it withered from the grief of a love never realized, I might be ripped apart. But even though I knew that I would never again be truly able to share of myself, I still loved Hilde for everything she had always meant to me. I loved her for how she tried so hard to drag me out of my depression, even as I refused to reveal the reason for it. She was aware, of course, that I had gained in wealth and consequence, but it hardly matter to her. To Hilde, I would always be the boy-next-door, the childhood friend who she could bully when she was feeling saucy, or cry to when something caused her pain.
Although I did not know how I could be a husband to her, scarred and damaged as I was in both mind and body, if she had asked it of me, I would have married her. But that unexpected comment that she made about Trowa on the evening of my return turned out not to be merely some idle observation. I was taken utterly by surprise one morning nearly two months after my return when Hilde revealed to me her true feelings.
My guilt over the part I had played in ruining the gamesman's life had continued unabated. Although he had protested, after much cajoling, I had managed to convince Trowa that he was welcome to stay at the farm for as long as he desired to do so. There was never any question of renewed passion between us. We did not speak of what had happened between us, but Trowa understood that Quatre had spoken the truth that awful day. I had never belonged to him. I never could. And to my eternal gratitude he seemed completely content to be my friend and nothing more.
One morning, shortly after the former gameskeeper had gone off to Fashel to spend some of my newfound fortune on feed for my recently augmented number of livestock, Hilde came by to bring me breakfast as she had gotten in the habit of doing every morning. She found me in the stable, mucking out the stall of my new horse, which I still had not been able to name. I smiled as she tsked at me for performing such a menial task.
"You know, Duo, a lord should not act thusly." I laughed her overly lofty speech. She smiled over the scarf wrapped around her neck as she walked toward me, gracefully picking up her skirts as she stepped over a barrel of hay. "What would your peers saw if they could see you getting manure all over your fine boots?"
I took advantage of the interruption to take a break, blowing through the tight weave of the mittens she had made for me to warm my hands. Autumn was well advanced, and the weather had begun to turn cold in earnest.
"Since I doubt I will ever see any of them to ask, I hardly know." If anything, I was more than willing to forget both my wealth and my station. I was quite content to just live quietly on my farm rather than put on any airs to which I felt completely unentitled. In fact, other than the money I used to implement the various improvements that Trowa had suggested I put in place, I probably spent more on my poor, nameless horse than on myself. Hilde had often remarked how she was quite certain that she had never seen such a well-appointed stable and had been completely unaware that there was even such a thing as velvet horse blankets and gourmet feed.
"Well, peasant or lord, you still have to eat." I heard a slight note of exasperation in her tone. It was true that my appetite was not what it once had been and I had lost weight. Hilde had made it her mission to fatten me up, and she took every spoonful of food that I left on my plate as a personal affront. I dutifully took the steaming platter of bread, meat, and cheese that she held out to me and settled on a bale of hay before taking the mug of coffee, as well. I nodded my head to the side, indicating that she should sit with me.
"Where is Trowa?" she asked as she tucked her skirts around her legs for warmth. "I fixed him something, as well. It's in the kitchen."
"He went into town to buy some supplies." I bit off a hunk of bread, and smiled at the disapproving glare Hilde gave me as I spoke again with my mouth full. "My father wasn't much into husbandry. He was far more proficient at growing crops than he was at raising livestock. Trowa has truly done wonders around here." As though in acknowledgment of the tall man's skill, a chorus of oinks and lows sounded from the pigs and cattle rooting and grazing in the outdoor paddock.
"Um-hmm!" Hilde voiced her agreement with my characterization of my housemate, her feet kicking at the hay as she turned toward me. "Trowa took me with him the other day while he was looking at horses. Seems he's interested in buying some breeding stock for you." Hilde's father was no slouch when it came to horses and he had passed his passion onto his daughter. "We saw some promising looking mares, or so I thought, but Trowa took one look at them and told the trader that they wouldn't do. When I asked him why - I mean, they looked just fine to me - he said that one of them had a gamy leg and the other had a bad case of mites. When he called the trader on it, the man was forced to reveal that he was, indeed, trying to pass off the poor beasts. He has such an incredible eye, I could hardly believe it!"
The flush in Hilde's cheek might have been attributed to the cold, but surely the brisk air had not caused her eyes to gleam so brightly. As she continued to wax rhapsodically about how wonderful the gamesman was, I found myself gaping at her, my breakfast completely forgotten.
"Hilde," I said, interrupting her as she praised the clever plan Trowa had suggested for adding on an addition to the farm house. "Do you...well, do you like Trowa?"
She stared at me with her mouth open as though she was still planning to talk but had suddenly forgotten how. Her large, dark eyes were round, making her look like an adorable, startled owl. I watched in amazement as the color in her cheeks abruptly bloomed over her entire face. She looked away and began to fiddle nervously with her skirt. I set my plate and mug aside and turned to so I could face her squarely.
"I do, Duo." Even before she looked up at me, I could see her lips turn up in a gentle smile. When she finally raised her head, it seemed the smile had spread over her entire face. I found myself gasping at how pretty she looked. When had my dear friend blossomed into this beautiful woman?
"I didn't even know what to think at first," she said. "When you first came home, I was so happy, I could barely contain myself. I had missed you so much. All those months that you were gone, the only thing I wanted was for you to return so that we could go back to how things were before." Her cheek dimpled as she glanced at me teasingly. "I knew that you had intended to propose to me before the baron's offer came. And I had planned to surprise you when you came back by asking you before you could ask me." She chuckled and shook her head. "But after the shock of you arriving so suddenly weeks before I was expecting you, all my plans were dashed by my joy at seeing you. And then I was too surprised and ashamed to say anything when I saw who you had brought back with you."
"Ashamed?" I asked.
"Yes. Ashamed that when I should have been thinking of nothing but you and how I had wanted so badly to become your wife, the moment you finally came home, all I could think about was some stranger I had never before seen in my life!"
"He is very handsome." She blinked at me, my stern expression at odds with the complement.
"Yes, he is," she replied.
"And does he love you?" She must not have expected me to ask the question in such bald terms, for even the tips of her ears suddenly turned pink. I did my best to radiate a disapproving aura, enjoying her embarrassed confusion. It was obvious that she anticipated some resistance to her confession, but she visibly steeled herself, taking a deep breath before meeting my gaze.
"I-I don't know. I hope he does."
"If he doesn't, then he's a damned fool." She gaped at me when I lost my composure and broke into the biggest grin I had managed in a very long time. But when she finally convinced herself that my approval was genuine, she matched my expression measure for measure. She punched me in the arm to pay me back for my teasing before throwing herself against my chest. I laughed and hugged her as tightly as I dared, feeling an immense weight lift from my shoulders.
The very notion that Hilde might have fallen for Trowa had never once entered my most fanciful imaginings, but once the thought took hold, I finally felt able to breathe for the first time since coming home. Here I had been trying to convince myself that I could do right by Hilde even though I knew I could not give myself to her as she deserved, when under my very nose, the script of my expectations had been completely rewritten. I held Trowa in the highest esteem, and was thrilled that my friend had chosen to offer her heart to such a wonderful man. Yet at the same time, I was riddled with guilt at how relieved I was that Hilde's happiness was no longer dependent on me.
"I was so afraid that you would be angry with me." Her words were muffled against the front of my overcoat. "But somehow, I knew that you no longer wanted me." She leaned back far enough to see my startled expression. My mouth worked silently for several moments before I managed to find my voice.
"What do you...?" I stiffened with foreboding, but I swallowed past the dryness in my throat and tried again. "What do you mean?" Hilde sighed and shook her head at me.
"Duo, when have you ever been able to hide anything from me? I knew almost from the moment I saw you again that something awful had happened to you. But it was only later that I realized the truth." She laid her head against my shoulder and tightened her arms where the held me about my waist. "You've had your heart broken, haven't you?"
I didn't even realize that I was crying until I felt her mittened hand wipe away my tears. I had tried so hard to forget everything about my life at Windshire and the man about whom my entire world had revolved. And if my dreams remained haunted and my body ached with desire in the night, I was determined to ignore my helpless yearnings in the light of day. But though I had tried to deceive myself, Hilde had always been able to see through me. Our positions became reverse as my strength failed, and soon it was she who held me as I wept against her neck.
"Who did this to you? What happened to make you so wretched?" I could only shake my head.
"Please, do not ask me." She sighed and held me tighter.
"Alright," she whispered. "I won't ask. But whenever you're ready to tell me, I promise to listen."
The winter proved to be harsh, burying the town of Fashel and my small farm with feet of blanketing snow. Only the constant presence of my neighbors and my new business partner made the slow passage of time bearable. My housemate was not one for spontaneous conversation, and thus proved to be a very restful person to be around. His quiet personally allowed me to relax and recuperate in both body and spirit. Our attraction for each other, as intense as it had once been, showed no signs of reigniting. I was very glad for his lack of interest, for it was a friend I needed, not a lover. My heart needed rest to heal and greatly welcomed the respite.
But the hearts of my two dearest friends were another matter entirely. After long hours spent observing the two of them together, I was fairly convinced that Hilde was not alone in her admiration. As solicitous and kind as Trowa had once been towards me, he was twice as considerate of her. He humored her by taking her with him whenever he went searching for livestock and took pains to ask her opinion about every improvement we planned for the farm. And it was not merely courteousness on his part. I was not oblivious of the way his eyes followed her when she was not looking, and it was impossible not to see how his entire demeanor seemed to lighten whenever she laughed. And whenever she was around him, Hilde seemed to become the shy young girl she had been for about two weeks during our fifteenth year when she first decided she liked me.
The diversion they provided by dancing around each other all winter turned out to be just the distraction I needed to draw me out of my depression. Their awkward flirtations gave me something else to think about other than my memories of the baron that refused all my attempts to bury them. For that alone, I would always love them.
But after months spent watching Trowa and Hilde interact with shy glances at each other and fumbling embarrassment in each others' presence, I was determined to put a stop to their cautious hesitation. Hilde forbade me upon pain of death from approaching him directly, but as even Trowa thought better of spending too much time outdoors during the worst of the season, I decided to take advantage of the forbidding weather that kept Trowa housebound to make him admit to his feelings for her. But despite all of my surreptitious prodding, as much as the tall man had once felt no compunction in letting me know what he thought of me, he was a stone when it came to our fair neighbor.
I employed no small amount of effort and every bit of cleverness I could muster, but the status of the former gamesman's heart remained unacknowledged. By the time the snows began to melt, I had had enough. I tricked them into the stable one afternoon and locked them in with my as yet unnamed horse and the heavily pregnant sow. They spent a few minutes violently rattling the door, Hilde swearing loud and long that she would unman me when she got free. But eventually they quieted down, and sure enough, by the time I let them out at dusk, I ended up interrupting a scene that kept me blushing for days afterward even though I could not stop smiling at the memory of their mortified blushes as they had fumbled hastily to restore their clothing to order.
With the arrival of spring came new buds on the trees, fresh fruit from the garden Hilde had planted sometime that past summer, and over a dozen new additions to my growing menagerie of animals. The warmth of the breeze, the profusion of wildflower covering the low hills, and the grunts of young, nursing piglets provided the perfect pastoral backdrop as I suddenly found myself helping to plan a wedding. I would be lying if I said that the fact that I was not to be the groom did not cause me a moment of sadness, but I was far too happy for Hilde and Trowa for the feeling to linger overlong.
I should have expected that the peaceful idyll of my new life would not last. If the past year had taught me anything, it was that simple fact, and I had no one to blame but myself for forgetting the lesson.
Hilde was in the yard early one day feeding my new contingent of chickens when I heard the sound of an approaching horse. Trowa, ever on the hunt for improvements to my expanding holdings, had gone on some mission or other shortly after dawn, and at first I thought he had simply returned earlier than expected. But when the newcomer spoke, although I could not hear him clearly from inside the house, the tenor voice clearly belonged to someone other than the green-eyed man.
"Mrs. Maxwell?!" I heard Hilde exclaim as I stepped from the house to see who had come to visit. Her laugher rang out in the crisp morning air. "Wherever did you get such a notion?" I, too, wondered who could have made such a mistake as to think she was my mother. But when the stranger spoke again, my heart rose into my throat, the lack of a door between us rendering his identity painfully obvious.
"Then you are not Duo's wife?"
"Quatre?" My voice wavered as I interrupted whatever reply Hilde had intended to give. Why I posed it as a question I cannot say, for the gleam of the man's blond hair in the sunlight was unmistakable. He turned towards me immediately upon hearing his name. Having dismounted, he stood incongruously in the yard in front of my house, holding the reigns of his horse. Quatre was dressed fashionably as usual, but he looked tired and a bit haggard. His shoulders sagged with relief, however, as he smiled at me.
"Duo, it is wonderful to see you again."
I blinked at him, unable to make sense of his presence. So much time had passed since I left the castle that my experiences there had begun to take on a surreal, dreamlike quality. Some days, I was almost able to convince myself that I had dreamed the entire thing, that I had never actually traveled to Windshire at all. Of course, the fact that Trowa was here at the farm was enough to reminded me that it had not all merely been a figment of my imagination, but seeing Quatre so suddenly brought back all of those memories I had worked too hard to forget.
I noticed Hilde glancing suspiciously between the two of us. I knew her well enough to guess that she was trying to discern the relationship between myself and our unexpected visitor. She watched my face closely, waiting to see if I would give away some hint of the effect that the small blond had on me. In any other circumstances, I might have been shocked at the thought that Hilde would ever suspect that my perturbed demeanor could possibly have been caused by anyone other than a woman. But Quatre's arrival stole even my ability to wonder at her reaction. I remained frozen where I stood as Hilde glanced back toward the small blond and smiled.
"I will leave you to your business. My lord." She nodded toward Quatre and with a final lingering stare in my direction, she disappeared into the house, leaving us in privacy.
"Duo, it has been too long." Quatre walked toward me leading his horse. "I meant to visit before now, but this past winter proved to be truly beastly. The roads were simply impassible before now."
The sound of his nervous chatter took me back so thoroughly that I swore I could feel cobbled stone floors against my bare feet rather than the sole of my boots. My stomach clenched as memories came flooding back in a merciless onslaught. In truth, I was almost angry at him for disturbing my hard won peace. But my manners were too firmly ingrained to beset aside, and it was not really Quatre who was the proper target for my ire.
"It is good to see you, too, my lord." I took the reigns of his horse. "I hope you have been well."
Quatre's face fell, his aquamarine gaze telegraphing his emotions as easily as always.
"Duo, must we be so formal? After all, we are peers now, you and I. And I hope...." He clasped his hands tightly in front of him, knuckles white. "I hope that we are still friends."
My irritation faded in an instant. I reached out and took his hands, pulling them apart and holding them each in one of my own. The blond blinked up at me hopefully as I squeezed them tightly.
"I apologize. Old habits die hard, I suppose." I smiled at him and his tension lifted away as he beamed at me in return. "It really is good to see you. It's just...."
"I understand," he interrupted. "Not all the memories we share are pleasant ones." His smile faltered for a moment, but he soon regained it and tightened his grip on my hands in acknowledgment of all that remained unspoken between us. The manners my mother had drilled into me rose to the fore, and releasing one of his hands, I gestured toward the house.
"Please, come inside. Hilde always makes too much food, so there is still plenty of breakfast left." I turned toward the house, trusting that Quatre would follow. "Are you staying in town?"
"Yes. I arrived so late last night that I felt it best to wait until morning to visit." He fell silent for a moment, but he hesitated just inside the door, stopping me as I went to close it behind him. "But, Duo, who is that young woman? You say she cooks for you, and I assumed when I saw her that she lived here."
"She is my neighbor. Her parents own the land just over the hill." I could have stopped there, but decided that Quatre deserved the full truth. "I was going to propose to her before I went to...serve in the castle. But circumstances have changed. In fact, Hilde is to marry Trowa in a few months time." Quatre blinked at me in shock.
"Trowa? However on earth did that come about?" I laughed.
"I am still bemused myself by how things have worked out, but they fell in love rather quickly after I came back with Trowa. They are both very dear to me, and I am thrilled for them both." Quatre shook his head, his eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline.
"Well, that is most unexpected, but that is wonderful news. If anyone deserves to be happy, Trowa does. So he is living here with you then? I am glad to hear that. I was very worried about what had become of him." Quatre paused and looked at me searchingly for a long moment before seeming to come to a decision.
"To be perfectly honest, Duo, when I saw her and thought you were married, my heart sank." My face must have reflected my confusion because he rushed on. "Not that I was upset at the thought that you were happy, Duo. Of course not!" He paused to collect himself. "It's just that, well, I hoped that you might still have some feelings for Heero."
I could feel my face grow hot as the blood rushed toward it. It was as if Quatre had stripped me, leaving me just as naked and vulnerable as I had been at Windshire. Just the mention of his name brought the baron's image to the forefront of my mind, but I ruthlessly tamped down my wayward feelings before they could take hold.
"I will not lie to you, Quatre. One of the reasons I am so pleased that Hilde and Trowa are to marry is that I knew I could not give my heart to her the way she deserves. But that is as far as I allow myself to think of it. I do not yet hate myself so much as to entertain myself with useless dreams. I fear I will never be rid of my feelings for the baron, but that part of my life is over. It is past time I moved on." I was almost proud of how convincing I sounded, and I prayed that at least Quatre would be fooled by my feigned certainty.
"Heero is not well." The bald statement shook me out of my self-congratulation. I stared at the smaller man blankly, trying to comprehend his meaning, but Quatre did not indulge me. "He put on a good show for a while after you left, but his prevarication did not last. He became more and more reclusive, rarely leaving his room or his study unless business demanded it. Heero has never been the most gregarious of men, so at first I thought little of it. I avoided him for some time after you left as I was bitterly angry at him for sending you away. But eventually, even I noticed how odd his behavior had become.
"He would not entertain his aunt and he stopped spending any time with Relena - I certainly heard an earful about that from her. But it soon went beyond personal slights or simply failing to dine with the other nobles as had been his want. When Heero began to neglect state business or to attend official functions, Zechs came to me to express his concern. Worry got the best of my irritation with him, and I finally went to see Heero for myself. I found him passed out in his sitting room, empty bottles lying on the floor at his feet and the air simply reeking with the odor of spilled wine. But it was clear that most of it had found its way down his throat. I tried to wake him, but he was completely insensible. In all the years that I have known him, that is first time I have ever seen him like that. That is when I decided I had to come see you."
"See me?" I echoed his words, trying to give myself space to process the impossible picture Quatre had painted. I remembered the garden party when Heero had fought with Treize after drinking heavily, but he had certainly not gone so far as to forget himself in the manner Quatre described. I struggled to make sense of what the blond was telling me.
"Heero misses you, Duo, and the power of his longing is driving him mad. Indeed I speak the truth," he insisted, reading my skepticism. But I could not accept such an improbable conclusion. I shook my head, my braid whipping across my back from the jerky motion of my head.
"You're wrong." My agitation caused me to slip back into the speech of my youth. The memories of all of those moments of loneliness and neglect came flooding back, and I began to shake from the force of them. My trembling increased, but the anger that drove them felt almost cleansing. All of the resentment I had repressed for so many months suddenly bubbled to the surface and spilled forth.
"You weren't there, Quatre, when Heero turned his back on me night after night, when I would have done anything for a kind word from him, for nothing but the gentle touch of his hand. But he couldn't be bothered to treat me even as well as he treated his dog." My voice cracked, and my throat ached from the tears that stung my eyes, but I took a deep breath and held them back with sheer force of will.
"No Quatre, you're wrong. If he wanted me as much as you say, then he would have never let me go."