Duo left Heero's room early the next morning before anyone else was about. Heero protested, wanting Duo to stay with him as long as possible but Duo was adamant. Although Heero insisted that he didn't care what anyone else thought about their relationship, Duo didn't want to expose Heero to any gossip.
As he dressed in his room, Duo found himself daydreaming, remembering every exquisite moment of the previous night. A smile affixed itself to his lips and refused to leave.
A knock at his door interrupted his musings. Duo opened the door to find a servant standing there with a message for him from the king. Duo was to join the king and Heero for breakfast. Duo was taken by surprise at the request and asked Heero about it when he returned to Heero's chamber to perform his duties as valet.
Heero didn't know the purpose behind the request but he told Duo not to worry. Secretly, he was pleased that his father was showing Duo such consideration.
They entered the breakfast room to find the king already seated. He bade them to sit. After the attending servants had placed their food before them, the king spoke.
"I've already heard from Prince Millardo and Prince Treize. They completely agree with my decision to attack Dermail. They will arrive with their armies in a few days. Until then, I think Duo should keep in contact with the duke to keep him from becoming suspicious. Tell him that you're heading back towards Aku but are being cautious to avoid detection."
Duo nodded in agreement as the king continued.
"Now, Heero, I think you should find a new valet. Duo has been imposed upon quite enough, in my opinion. He should spend the rest of his time here as our guest rather than your servant."
Duo and Heero exchanged a brief but meaningful glance. If Duo was no longer Heero's valet, the time they could legitimately spend alone together would be severely curtailed.
"Your majesty," Duo said quickly, "I feel as though I owe you and the prince a huge debt, what with everything that's happened. I wouldn't feel comfortable accepting your charity, as it were. If it's all the same to you, sir, I would rather work off my debt to you and the prince by continuing to serve him."
The king regarded Duo for a moment then turned to Heero. "Do you agree with this?"
Heero shrugged with seeming indifference.
"Very well," the king replied, "Duo will remain your valet."
Duo and Heero struggled to hide satisfied smiles.
As breakfast concluded, the king made a final pronouncement. "There will be a reception for our allies from Sanq and Oz when they arrive. Duo, as an essential part of this operation, I would like you to be in attendance."
The king took note of Duo's surprised but affirmative reply and left the breakfast room. Heero turned to Duo and shot him a glance.
"Well, it seems we have several days to ourselves. How do you think we should spend them?"
Duo responded with a smile which told Heero exactly how Duo thought they should spend their time together. Heero felt his body tighten at the suggestive grin. He took a firm hold of Duo's hand and they quickly returned to Heero's chamber to begin enjoying their time together.
Over the next few days, Heero and Duo spent every possible moment together, glorying in each other's company and sharing the details of their pasts. Duo made sure he served Heero at every meal, whenever the king didn't insist he eat with them as a guest, and he accompanied Heero on every outing.
Heero learned how good a knife fighter Duo was one day when he was practicing with his sword and Duo asked if they could spar. Utterly impressed, Heero insisted they practice everyday. Especially since it made them both hot and sweaty and in need of an immediate bath, which they would take together.
Every night, Duo would help Heero prepare for bed and Heero would convince him to stay with passionate looks and hot kisses. Lacking any will power whatsoever when it came to his handsome prince, Duo would always relent.
However, Duo would always leave Heero to return to his own room early in the morning before the castle stirred. Heero would protest, insisting that he didn't care what anyone said and that his love for Duo couldn't be affected by any unkind words.
Duo believed him, but would leave any way. Deep down, he felt unworthy of Heero and was determined that no hint of scandal fall on his beloved.
However, since every word, every look, every gesture that passed between the two young lovers unconsciously bespoke their true feelings for each other, people were beginning to take notice. Particularly the king. Although he disapproved mightily, he resolved to hold his peace on the matter due to the dangerous situation the two would shortly face.
Duo and Heero were oblivious the notice others were taking of them.. They were simply content to spend every waking and non-waking moment together.
As per the king's suggestion, Duo would go to various spots in the woods daily and report to Duke Dermail and Heero would always accompany him. Duo would inevitably feel anger and guilt afterwards. Anger at Dermail's continued power over him through his threat to Hilde and guilt that he was so happy while his cousin was still in danger. Heero would always reassure him, usually with caresses and kisses, and tell him not to worry. Soon, Hilde would be back where she belonged, safe and sound with Duo.
Four days after Duo's confession, the armies from Oz and Sanq finally arrived. Prince Millardo and Prince Treize had agreed to coordinate the attack personally. So confident were they of victory that the princes had both brought members of their families with them to celebrate the imminent demise of Duke Dermail.
However, the battle plan was the first order of business so pleasantries were put on hold. Immediately upon his allies' arrivals, King Odin convened a war counsel. Heero, Quatre, Wufei, Trowa, and to his surprise, Duo, were all present representing Hane as well as the king's top advisors.
Prince Millardo, a tall, incredibly handsome man with piercing sky blue eyes and shoulder length platinum blond hair, had brought his war chief, Sir Howard. Prince Treize, also tall and very handsome with striking ginger-colored hair and dark eyes, had brought his top advisor as well, a severe woman named Lady Une. Her cold, straightforward gaze sent chills down Duo's spine.
King Odin called the meeting to order. He began by relating the events that had led up to Duo's arrival in Hane and ended with the deception they had perpetrated upon Dermail by faking Heero's death to save Hilde's life.
"So, our first priority is to make sure Duo's cousin, as well as the other prisoners, are safe before destroying the castle. My son, Prince Heero, has an idea of how this could be accomplished. Heero?"
Heero stood and relayed his plan. " A small force composed of myself, Quatre, Wufei, Trowa, and Duo will enter Aku precisely twenty minutes before the armies commence their attack. This should give us enough time to release the prisoners, since Duo knows the location of the dungeon. We will use the battle as cover for our escape."
Murmuring was heard throughout the room as the other discussed Heero's plan. Finally, Prince Treize stood.
"Speaking for Oz, it seems to be a sound plan. However, are you certain the five of you will be enough?"
Heero turned to answer him. "Given the swordsmanship of myself, Wufei, and Trowa, as well as with Quatre's magic, I have no doubts that we will succeed. Also, Duo is quite an accomplished fighter, as I can personally attest. We will be fine."
Treize nodded, well aware the fighting capabilities of the young men, save for Duo, and he trusted Heero's judgment on that score. He looked briefly at Lady Une, who nodded as well.
"In that case, Oz is agreed."
Prince Millardo stood next. "Sanq, as well, is agreed. But remember, your time will be severely limited. If you get trapped in the castle when the bombardment starts, we will be hard pressed to rescue you."
Heero nodded towards him, acknowledging the warning. "We'll make it out."
Prince Millardo nodded in final agreement, having complete faith that Heero would do exactly as he promised. He retook his seat as well.
"In that case," King Odin announced, "all that's left to do is coordinate the battle itself."
They spent the next three hours hammering out the details. Once everyone was satisfied, the council disbanded so that everyone could get ready for that evening's banquet.
Duo tugged nervously at the collar of his jacket as he stood outside of Heero's chamber door. It was on loan from Quatre since there were of a similar size. Heero's arms were longer and his shoulders were slightly broader or Duo would have borrowed a suit of clothing from him. Duo made one last tug and entered the sitting room. He'd dressed in his own room and wanted Heero's opinion on how he looked.
Duo opened his mouth to ask his question as he walked into Heero's bedchamber. Instead, he was left standing with his mouth agape as he saw Heero, all thoughts of speaking completely gone from his mind.
Heero was dressed in a dark blue dress jacket richly embroidered with gold thread. It brought out not only the color of his eyes but also the bronzed tone of his skin. He wore black leggings, which molded to his muscular legs, and highly shined black boots.
Heero turned at the sound of Duo's entrance and was likewise left speechless. All he'd ever seen Duo in was rough servant's clothing ... or nothing at all. Duo in dress clothes was truly a sight to behold.
Knowing Duo's preference in colors, or lack thereof, the jacket Quatre had loaned him was mostly black. However, it was shot through with embroidery of a color that exactly matched Duo's eyes. That along with the tight black leggings and mid-calf black leather boots, was enough to make Heero want nothing more than to get Duo out of those clothes and immediately into his bed.
They both continued to gape until they each realized that the other was staring. They smiled at each other as Heero walked over to Duo and kissed him gently.
"You, love, look incredible."
Duo smiled and replied, "As do you." The seductive hint of his smile made Heero groan as it renewed his desire to forget about the party entirely. Instead, he took Duo's arm.
"Shall we go?"
"If we must," Duo replied reluctantly, his thoughts of the present annoyance of clothing mirroring Heero's. Heero laughed and led Duo out of his room.
The ballroom went silent when Heero and Duo entered. Most of the people stopped to admire the two handsome young men although there were a few who whispered amongst themselves as to the nature of the relationship between the dashing prince and his beautiful valet.
Duo felt his face flame as he noticed the stares. He stepped back as if he were planning to flee the room. Heero placed a reassuring hand on his back. Duo looked at Heero and gained confidence from his lover's calm visage. He gave Heero a brave smile. They walked over to where Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei stood waiting.
Before they could exchange greetings, however, the heralds began announcing the arrival of the guests of honor.
"My lords and my ladies, his royal highness, Prince Treize of Oz."
Treize entered the room with an attractive young woman on his arm. Her ice-blue eyes took in the room at a glance, weighing everything she saw and finding it lacking. Her pale blond hair was even longer than Duo's and hung freely down her back.
Quatre groaned and Trowa smiled at him. Duo looked at them questioningly.
"The young lady is Prince Trieze's cousin, Lady Dorothy," Wufei explained. "She has a bit of a crush on our dear mage. Although Trowa thinks it very funny, Quatre doesn't quite share his amusement."
Duo smiled mischievously. He really liked Quatre and would greatly enjoy teasing the kind-hearted mage. He looked back towards the main entrance as the herald continued.
"My lords and my ladies, his royal highness, Prince Millardo of Sanq."
Millardo escorted two lovely ladies on his arm. The older, taller one had dark hair cut scandalously short. 'Almost as short as Hilde's,' Duo mused. The younger, shorter girl had honey blond hair about the same length as Duo's. Her hair also hung freely.
Heero turned to his friends. "Please, excuse me for a moment." He turned and walked towards Prince Millardo. Duo saw them exchange pleasantries. Heero bowed towards the older woman and then towards the younger. Something about the younger girl made Duo feel vaguely uneasy.
"Who are the women with Prince Millardo," Duo asked Wufei.
Before Wufei could answer, Lady Dorothy made her way to their group. She curtsied deeply before them and they returned her gestured with various degrees of unenthusiasm. She smiled and grabbed hold of Quatre's arm. Quatre gritted his teeth and Trowa smiled.
"My lord Quatre, how have you been," Dorothy simpered.
"Fine, my lady" Quatre replied through clenched teeth. He tried to extricate himself from her grip with little success. Wufei turned back to Duo. Duo had returned his gaze to Heero, who was now involved in an intimate, private conversation with the honey blond girl, increasing his unreasonable agitation.
"As I was saying, the older woman is Prince Millardo's fiancÚ, Countess Lucretia Noin. The younger woman is his highness's younger sister, Princess Relena."
Dorothy happened to overhear Wufei's explanation and added her two cents.
"Oh, Prince Heero and Princess Relena have been betrothed for simply forever. They should be announcing their wedding date any day now."
The young men fell silent. Quatre, Wufei, and Trowa all turned menacing gazes on the seemingly oblivious girl. Duo, however, turned astonished eyes back towards the couple. A vague buzzing had begun in Duo's head upon hearing Dorothy's words. However, he'd turned back towards Heero and Relena just in time to see Heero hug the young woman tightly and place an enthusiastic kiss on her cheek. Duo's stomach clenched and he felt an unbearable tightness in his chest.
Quatre felt a sudden wave of emotion come from Duo. He turned towards the braided boy and took in Duo's pale face and the slight trembling that went through him.
"Duo, are you alright," he asked with concern.
Duo struggled to breath. He felt the room closing around him and felt an overwhelming need to flee.
"Yes, Quatre, I'm fine. It's just that I'm unused to being around so many people at once. I think I'll just step out in the hall for a moment and take a breather."
The other young men followed Duo's exit with worried gazes. Quatre turned back to Dorothy and jerked his arm out of her hold.
"Dorothy," he grated harshly, "you know very well that Heero and Princess Relena are not going to marry."
Dorothy looked at him with falsely innocent eyes. "They're not? Well, that's news to me." Dorothy smiled. She'd heard the rumors about Heero and his valet and wanted to confirm them for herself, which she had just done most satisfactorily. As for hurting the valet's feelings, Dorothy could care less about the emotions of a mere servant.
Just then, Heero rejoined them. He nodded briskly towards Dorothy and looked around.
"Where is Duo," he asked.
Quatre looked angrily at Dorothy. "This one told Duo that you and Relena were engaged to be married. He left to 'take a breather' about five minutes ago."
Heero froze. He looked at Quatre in disbelief then turned furious eyes on Dorothy. She had the good grace and sense to look ashamed as she lowered her eyes to the floor.
Without a further word, Heero left the hall in search of his erstwhile lover.
Twenty minutes later, Heero sighed in frustration. He'd been unable to find Duo anywhere. Not in Duo's room, his own room, the kitchens, the garden, not even the practice field where he now stood.
Suddenly, Heero's head came up. 'Of course,' he thought. Duo had often told him that his favorite place in all of Hane was the clearing where they'd shared their first kiss. Heero ran towards the stables. When he reached them, he noticed with satisfaction that Duo's horse was gone. Heero quickly saddled his own horse, mounted, and took off for the woods.
When he reached the clearing, he found Duo sitting at the edge of the pond, his arms wrapped around his bent knees. Heero knew that Duo had to have heard his approach, but he had yet to turn around. Heero dismounted and, not even bothering to tether his horse, walked towards the seated young man. Before he got halfway to his goal, however, Duo finally spoke.
"Congratulations, Heero, on your upcoming marriage," Duo said calmly without standing or turning around. "I'm sure you and Princess Relena will be very happy together."
Heero started to speak but Duo stood and turned around, amethyst eyes flashing with anger and hurt.
"You know, you could have told me the truth, Heero. I mean, why not? If I'd risk the life of my cousin, my only family in the world, to save yours, what makes you think I would have thought anything of being your little whore on the side?"
"Duo!" Heero interrupted before Duo could speak again. "Relena and I are not engaged."
Duo looked at him in disgust. "There is no need to lie, Heero. Lady Dorothy told me herself." Duo hesitated a moment before he whispered, "Besides, I saw you kiss her."
Heero sighed in vexation. "Duo, Dorothy is a malicious bitch." He paused and then continued, "Yes, it is true that my father and Relena's father arranged for our marriage when we were children. But Relena and I are just friends. We've never wanted to marry each other. In fact, the reason I kissed Relena, on the *cheek*, was to congratulate her on her recent betrothal ... to Prince Treize."
Duo looked into Heero's eyes for a long moment. He saw the truth of Heero's words written there. He looked down, face flushed with acute embarrassment.
"I'm sorry I doubted you, Heero," he whispered.
Heero walked to him and placed his hands on Duo's shoulders. Duo forced himself to meet Heero's eyes.
"I told you before, Duo. I love you and nothing will ever change that."
Heero leaned in to kiss Duo with passionate promise. Duo felt all of his fears melt away under the power of that embrace. Heero gently broke the kiss. Looking at Duo with a smile, he took Duo's hand to lead him to where their horses stood waiting. He stopped, however, when he felt Duo resist and turned to him with puzzlement.
Duo smiled the seductive smile that Heero loved so much. Duo knew that this was the last night they would have alone together until after the attack. He wanted it to be special.
"You know," he said softly, "we've never made love out here." He smile grew. "Yet."
Heero only paused for a moment before turning to Duo and recapturing his lips. He realized that Duo was right and set about to correct the grievous oversight.
The peaceful sounds of the woods blended harmoniously with the sounds of their love as they enjoyed their last night together.