Heero knocked politely and entered his father's study.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, come in, my boy."
Heero entered and closed the door behind him. He saw that the king was reading a letter. Heero walked over to his father's desk and stood before it, waiting patiently.
The king held out the letter to his son. "What do you make of this, Heero?"
Heero took the letter and read it quickly. A look of confusion came over his face and he replied, "It seems to be an offer of peace from Duke Dermail of Aku."
The king chuckled at his son's expression. "Yes, my boy. Indeed it is an offering of peace." Taking the letter back from his son, he continued, "It seems that Dermail has finally come to his senses and wants an end to the conflict that has raged between Aku and Hane for all these years. To that end, Dermail is offering us several tokens of his peaceful intentions."
"What kind of tokens," Heero asked curiously.
"The usual," the king replied. "You know, weapons, jewelry, fine crafts." The king paused a moment before saying, "But also, he's offering us a servant."
Heero was puzzled. "A servant?"
"Yes," the king confirmed, "a servant. According to Dermail, he has no small abilities as a dancer. So he's being sent as an offering of entertainment, I suppose."
The king didn't notice that Heero had gone quite still.
"He?" Heero echoed.
"Oh, I realized that it is unusual to see a male dancer, Heero," the king said, "but we must keep an open mind about such things. Who knows, maybe we'll at least have a decent show. The servant and the rest of the peace offerings are to arrive on the morrow. Therefore, we'll have the boy perform for the court after tomorrow's dinner."
The king leaned back in his chair and looked closely at his son. "What do you think, Heero? Is the duke's offer sincere?"
Heero answered with an air of bemusement. "Well, I suppose we should give the duke the benefit of the doubt." The king nodded at his answer and was about to speak when Heero suddenly asked, "Is that all, sir?" At the king's nod, Heero bowed politely and left the room, closing the door behind him. The king frowned at the closed door. He had noticed his son's strange expression and air of distraction. Rubbing his chin, he wondered at the cause of Heero's unsettled mood.
Deep in thought, Heero walked slowly towards his chamber. Gradually, his steps slowed until he was standing in a hallway, staring at nothing. Heero contemplated the cause of the shiver that had gone through him when he'd learned about the servant. He'd felt as though somehow his destiny was fast approaching and that the mysterious servant would somehow have a hand in it. Heero shook his head, disgusted at himself. "Pull yourself together, baka." Heero's agitation caused him to speak in the language of his mother's people. It was usually a bad sign.
Heero thought to himself, 'There is no way a mere servant could be at all important to my future. So just stop thinking about him.' Resolved to put the accursed servant from his mind, Heero resumed walking. Although he appeared outwardly calmly, he was still unable to completely shake the feeling that his life was about to be forever changed.
The next morning, Duo found himself riding towards Hane, ignoring the crude taunts that the guards threw his way. A week had passed since he and Hilde had been captured at Aku and now he was finally embarking upon his dreaded 'assignment'. Duo was surrounded by several guards who were escorting him to Hane, along with a wagon, which was full of Dermail's so-called peace offering.
The guard who'd brought Dermail to the cell that night was also part of Duo's entourage. "Just do your job, boy, and you'll get your cousin back safe and sound," the guard said gruffly. "And don't forget to use that mirror and check in regularly. You know what will happen to the girl if you don't."
Duo glanced towards his travel pack where he'd put the mirror. Dermail had charmed it so that Duo could use it to report to him at any time. Duo wasn't sure if the mirror would allow Dermail to spy on him in turn.
Duo turned his attention back to the road and thought about what awaited him at Hane. Dermail had told him that he would need a legitimate cover story to gain admittance into the palace. To that end, Dermail had asked him if he had any skills other than fighting. Reluctantly, Duo had told the duke that he could dance.
Of all the skills the gypsies had taught him, the ability to dance was the one Duo was the *least* grateful for. He had been trained from a young age and he could say with no false pride that he was very good at it. Hilde was supposed to be the one to learn, but when Duo discovered that she was being taught to dance in order to tempt travelers into paying to sleep with her, he protested strenuously. After much fighting, physically as well as with words, Duo had convinced the head of the band to let him learn to dance in her place.
Though Duo had hated being forced to sell himself to whatever disgusting traveler had had a penchant for pretty young boys and sufficient coin, he'd never complained. He'd promised Hilde when they'd found themselves orphaned at the age of four that he'd always take care of her, no matter what. And no matter how difficult, and no matter how much she beg him to not humiliate himself for her, he'd never shirked from his self-imposed duty.
However, the moment the opportunity had presented itself, Duo had taken Hilde and fled the gypsy camp. He'd vowed that he would never be used by anyone ever again for any reason. 'Now, look at me,' he thought in disgust. He was in nearly the same position as before, being used and being forced to do something against his will.
Angrily he told himself, 'Just kill the damn prince, get Hilde, and get as far away from the duke as possible.' Even as Duo firmed his resolve to perform the heinous task before him, he couldn't repress the unaccountable sense of anticipation that came over him as he got ever closer to Hane.
The court gathered in the great hall after dinner that evening. They'd been told that there would be entertainment and they were eager for a diversion. Without fanfare, the king and the crown prince entered the hall. Even without an announcement, the courtiers were very aware of their presence and all bowed respectfully.
The king and Heero took their usual places on the main dais. Quatre took up his customary position on the edge of the dais at Heero's side. Though he was not royalty, as a nobleman, Heero's advisor and close friend, and most importantly, as a mage, Quatre was afforded great respect. Trowa and Wufei stood nearby more out of habit than from any real concern that there would be danger.
"Well," the king said cheerfully, "I hope that the boy is good, for his sake. The courtiers can be a rather tough crowd." Quatre laughed and Heero gave a small smile. Just then a murmur went through the crowd. Turning his attention to the main floor, Heero saw a slight figure completely covered in a black cloak approach the center of the hall. The musicians began to play the opening strains of what was clearly a gypsy song.
Suddenly, the figure threw off the cloak, revealing the stunning sight of a beautiful young man wearing fitted black leggings that came only to the middle of the his sleek, muscular thighs and a black gypsy-styled vest that fastened only at the waist and covered only his back, leaving his toned chest, arms, and abdomen exposed.
The young man began to dance, moving his strong, lithe form to the passionate strains of the exotic music. Heero felt the world fall away. The dancer was a moving poem. Every step, every turn, every leap was the epitome of grace and seduction. His impossibly long braid moved in a perfect counterpoint to his movements. Heero's knuckles began to turn white as he tightened his grip on the arms of his chair.
Quatre could control his empathic abilities, turning them on and off at will. Currently, he wasn't employing his talents. Nevertheless, he felt a sudden surge of emotion coming from Heero's direction. Curious as to the strength and cause of an emotion that could penetrate his mental block, Quatre focused his attention on Heero and relaxed his control over his empathic gift.
Quatre gasped at the intensity of the sensations that bombarded him. At first, he thought that they were his own, they were so strong. His eyes reflexively sought out Trowa, as the feelings he was experiencing were akin to what he felt whenever he looked at his lover. Or, more precisely, when he looked at his lover lying naked and ready for him on his bed.
Longing, desire, and even love. This was what Quatre sensed. Then he realized that the emotions really were coming from Heero. Shocked, he turned back towards the prince, trying to determine what had caused such a powerful surge of emotion in the normally stoic young man.
Heero's intense cobalt gaze was focused solely on the dancer. Quatre noticed the slight flush suffusing Heero's cheeks, the white knuckles of his clenched hands, and his quickened breath. 'Well, well,' Quatre thought with surprise and great interest.
The music crescendoed into a climax and Duo struck his final pose. Silence fell over the hall as the music came to an end. Duo experienced a frission of concern at the lack of reaction from the crowd. 'Did they hate me that much?' Then one person began clapping and soon the entire hall was filled with thunderous applause. Breathing a sigh of relief, Duo straightened from his pose only to drop to one knee as he made a deep bow towards the dais.
Up to this point, Duo had refrained from looking at anyone in the hall. Dancing in public like this had brought back some very unpleasant memories of his time with the gypsies. However, Duo knew that the prince, his target, was sitting on the dais. Duo raised his head slightly and surreptitiously looked towards the platform.
A distinguished, richly dressed older man, 'the king,' Duo guessed, sat in the tallest chair. A handsome young blond wearing magician's robes sat to the extreme left side of the dais. And in between them sat the most extraordinary young man Duo had ever laid eyes on.
Duo felt pinned in place under the intensity of the dark blue gaze the well-dressed, dark haired young man had fixed upon him. Suddenly breathing harder than he had at any time through out the entire dance, he lowered his eyes back towards the floor. "You've got to be kidding me," Duo moaned under his breath. "*That* is the prince? *That* is who I'm supposed to kill?" Duo decided to make his exit, needing time to pull himself together and resettle his mind on the task at hand.
Heero followed the dancer with his eyes as the young man made a final bow and left the hall. He'd felt as though an arrow had pierced his heart when the young man's amazing amethyst eyes had briefly locked with his. Heero's gaze remained on the door through which the servant had left long after he'd disappeared from view.
"He wasn't half-bad at that was he, Heero," the king asked. "Dermail's offering of entertainment is certainly acceptable. However, the boy can't dance for us every night. He'll need some other duties to fill the rest of his time." The king looked at his son and saw that his attention was elsewhere. "Heero? Heero, are you listening to me?"
Heero jerked slightly, pulling himself back to the present as he realized that his father was addressing him. "May I be excused, sir," he asked abruptly. King Odin gave his son a curious look but nodded in assent. Heero rose, and after bowing to his father, motioned for Quatre to follow him and left the great hall.
Quatre followed Heero to the prince's private reading room. He shut the door behind them and turned to watch his friend. Quatre barely managed to hide his amusement as he watched Heero pace back and forth. He'd never seen the prince so agitated. Quatre was well aware of the reason for Heero's distracted state, but he decided to play dumb.
"Heero, are you alright," he asked, trying to hide the smile that threatened to break free.
Heero stopped pacing and turned to look at Quatre. In a voice full of barely contained excitement, he nearly shouted, "Did you *see* him, Quatre? My God! I've never seen anything so ..." Heero stopped and took a deep breath. "I have to see him again, Quatre. I have to *at least* learn his name." Heero clenched his hands in agitation and resumed his pacing.
Before Quatre could respond, Heero stopped again. He spun around and said, "Wait a minute. My father said that he would need some additional duties. That's it!"
In an instant, Heero had resumed his normal stoic demeanor. "Quatre," he said in his typical authoritative tone, "I've decided that I need a new personal valet. I think that the new servant will fill in nicely. Please take care of it for me." With that, Heero turned and left the reading room.
Quatre smiled at the retreating figure. "At long last," he said quietly, "Heero's finally fallen in love." Quatre's smile grew larger for a moment and then faded quickly. For some reason, he'd had the sudden impression that some horrible tragedy awaited the handsome young prince and his beautiful young dancer.