Trowa sighed softly and
rolled over. After a moment of quiet reflection, he frowned.
There was something different about this morning. Blinking, he
opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings. The sight of the
canvas walls of the tent brought things into perspective.
With another sigh, he stretched and sat up. The mattress beneath him sifted slightly at his change it weight and then was still again. Trowa hadnt expected to sleep that well, he rarely did when not in his own bed, but to his surprise he hadnt woken once. The air mattress was as comfortable as Quatre had promised. In fact, for the first time in a long time his leg didnt ache so badly. It was just a small twinge, not the sharp pain he was used to.
Throwing back the covers, he looked down at the leg. From hip to ankle it was marked by long scars, some of them rather thick and heavy, others thin and barely noticeable. The doctors had constantly told him he was very lucky that he hadnt lost the leg, but sometime he wondered. The pain he lived with every day was a reminder of what had happened and what hed lost.
At that moment, he heard the sound of movement outside the tent. Who could be up this early?
Moving carefully, Trowa got to his feet. Grabbing the long robe that had been left on the chair, he headed out.
Blinking in surprise, Trowa took in the scene that met his eyes when he exited the tent. Quatre was scurring about the site, gathering wood and placing it in the fire pit. The blonde was dressed and looked disgustingly alert for so early in the morning.
What was more surprising, though, was the sight of Duo sitting on a log next to the fire. He was trying to untangle his long locks of hair and didnt seem to be having a good time of it. His eyes were still half closed and it was obvious he was not very awake.
Trowa also noted that, in the place of the smaller tent the two had slept in, there was a pile of packs.
After slipping on a pair of soft slippers left conviently by the entry, Trowa walked over to where Duo was siting. You should get Heero to help you with that, he commented as he sat down.
Duo blinked at him blearily. I though about it.
You are up awfully early.
Duo nodded towards Quatre, who was working on getting a fire started. Mister Energy there dragged me out of bed a little while ago, by starting to take down the damn tent. He said he wanted to do it early, so that it would be ready to go. Why does anyone have to be that awake at this time of the morning?
Living in the desert, they probably got moving early to take advantage of the cooler morning air.
Duo glared at Trowa through his hair. You dont have to be logical about it.
Trowa smiled slightly. And you think Heero is a bear in the morning.
At least I dont try and kill you, Duo grumbled under his breath, going back to disentangling his hair.
Trowa looked at Duo. When did Heero ever try that?
The first and only time I ever tried to wake him up before he was ready.
Yeah. He damn near choked me to death before he realized who I was. I couldnt talk for two days afterwards.
Trowa was stunned. He knew that Heeros early life had been hard, but what it the world could have happened to bring about a reaction like that.
Duo smiled slightly. He did spend the next two weeks apologizing for it. That was about how long it took for the bruises to fade. Every time he saw them hed wince and say he was sorry. I learned to make sure he knew it was me before I said anything to him.
Did he ever say why he did it?
No. I think its something he doesnt want to talk about. I figured someday, maybe he will.
Trowa slowly shook his head. I knew his father was a harsh man, but . I never imagined it was so bad that he felt he had to defend himself all the time.
Duo looked at Trowa. You know what his father was like?
Trowa nodded. I saw the scars. He was good at hiding them from most. Not that it was too hard. Most people simply turned a blind eye on the abuse. It was none of their business. Masan Yuy was a harsh man and how he raised his son was his business.
What about Heeros mother?
Nobody knows who she is. Masan just showed up at court on day with a baby boy. He never said where hed found him or anything about his parentage. No one is even sure if Masan was really Heeros father or not. If Heero knows hes never said. Masan made him his heir and thats all that anyone cared about. He glanced at Duo. Of course, hed be furious if he knew his son and heir was sleeping with another man, and a servant to boot.
Duo winced and lowered his head. Then maybe its a good thing hed dead.
Trowa? Duos voice was just a whisper.
Do you . Do you think hes just doing it because his father would have hated it?
Sleeping with me. Having sex with me.
Trowa was shocked by the question. He turned to look at Duo, about to berate him for such a question, when he really looked at him. He realized that he was getting a glimpse at the boy beneath the facade. The one who had been so badly hurt by the things that had happened to him. The one who couldnt believe that anyone could truly care about him. Duo, Heero never does anything he doesnt want to. Not anymore. I think you can safely say that Heero cares a great deal for you. How deep that goes is hard for me to say. Thats between you and him. If you are worried about his reasons why dont you talk to him? Its best to get them out and talked about then to let them fester beneath the surface.
Im afraid of what he will say, Duo admitted.
Isnt it best to know now than to wonder?
Duo sighed. I suppose. He rose to his feet. Im going to go see if hes awake yet.
Sound like a good idea. You might want to check on Wufei as well. Trowa glanced over at Quatre, who seemed oblvious as to what was happening around him. I think Quatre is intent on getting breakfast ready, whether we are or not.
Duo smiled. He is set on his own little track, isnt he? Duo headed across the clearing towards the tent.
Trowa shook his head. He had a feeling that this single mindedness of Quatres was just his way of coping with what was happening. By focusing on the small things, like getting breakfast ready, he didnt have to think about the overall situation.
Wufei sat on a log staring at the fire. He didnt want to admit it, but he had actually had a decent nights rest. He had been prepared to have a long list of complaints that morning, but so far hed found nothing to really complain about. Of course, he was ready for anything that might come his way. Like this breakfast that the little blonde was preparing.
Quatre smiled a little as he brought the plate to Wufei. Of the four, the foreign boy stuck Quatre as the most difficult to please. He had heard no complaints about the sleeping arrangements this morning, which was a good sign.
Wufei took the offered plate and glared at it. A mound of yellow something was sitting in the middle of it, surrounded by several pieces of brown colored bread. What is this?
Scrambled eggs and toast.
Wufei eyed the eggs. Hed never seen them made like this. What is in the eggs?
Eggs and a bit of cheese.
Trowa was also looking at his eggs. He noticed that even Duo had yet to get up the nerve to actually try them yet. Quatre?
Quatre turned to look at Trowa. Yes .
Trowa heard the cut off Master and looked at the boy for a minute. Where did you get the eggs?
I brought them with me.
Duo made a slight face. He didnt even want to think about what condition an egg might be in after being in a pack for at least a day and half.
Trowa looked at his plate. Quatre, eggs dont keep very well.
Not the way you keep them, no.
And you keep them differently?
Quatre nodded. He knew what everyones concern was. They are fine.
You had to have packed them the night before last.
Then how do you think they managed to remain edible for this amount of time?
Because I know a little trick. If you dip the eggs in paraffin they will keep much longer that if you leave them as they are. The paraffin seals off the little holes in the egg and prevents air from getting into the egg, which is what makes it go bad. (1)
Duo sighed. So far Quatre had been right about things. Picking up his fork, he bravely took a bite of his eggs. To his surprise, they were very good. Hey, theyre pretty good.
Quatre smiled slightly. He knew that if Duo was willing to eat it, the others would follow. Duo might seem like an indiscriminate eater, but he was actually very picky about what he ate. If Duo said something wasnt any good, the others would listen. Another hurdle crossed.
Trowa stood watching Quatre. Hed gone down to the stream to wash up and had come back to find Quatre busily loading the pack horses.
Quatre froze. Yes.
I thought I told you I wanted you to show the rest of us what to do about packing and unpacking the horses.
I meant it. You can wait for the others to return and then you can show us how to saddle our own horse. You have enough to do. I certainly think the rest of us are capable of helping.
Quatre lowered his head. He hadnt really thought Trowa had been serious. He was, after all, just a slave. Why would they want to help him.
Do you understand me? Trowas voice was soft, but firm.
Good. The others should be back in a few minutes. Show me what you are doing with that pack. Trowa walked up to stand next to Quatre.
With a silent sigh, Quatre began to show Trowa what he was doing. Why is he trying to be nice? Why is he making me like him?
When the others showed up a few minutes later, they were surprised to find Trowa standing in the clearing with all the tack for his horse in a pile in front of him. Tied to a stump to one side was the horse itself. The other horses and tack had been similarly arranged.
Trowa looked at the others. Get by your horse. Quatre is going to give us a lesson is saddling up.
Sure enough, Quatre was standing next to his own horse. But unlike the others, his horse wasnt tied up.
Wufei looked at Trowa with a youve got to be kidding look on his face, but walked over to wear his horse was patiently waiting.
Quatre smiled as he looked as his rather reluctant students. Hed make this as short and as simple as possible. Reaching down he picked up the bridle. I wont insult you by describing what each piece of tack is. Ill just show you how it is placed on the horse. Turning so that they could all see what he was doing, Quatre gently opened the horses mouth and slid the bit into place. A gentle tug had the rest of the bridle settled into place and he was buckling it on.
You want me to put that in its mouth? Duo demanded, watching Quatre.
Duo eyed his horse. It had a lot of very big teeth. I dont think so.
Quatre walked over to Duo. Its not that hard. Hes been trained to accept the bit. All you do is place your hand like this, Quatre demonstrated where he wanted Duo to place his hand. and give a light squeeze. Hell open his mouth and you can put the bit in. Then you take and place this behind his ears and that will make the rest of the bridle fall into position. You buckle it here and here. Thats all there is to it.
Duo frowned. Quatre might make it sound easy, but . I dont think I can do this.
Sure you can. He wont bite.
Did you tell him that?
Quatre laughed. Just try.
And if he bites me?
You can hit me for being wrong.
Oh, gee, thanks. With a great deal of reluctance, Duo picked up the bridle and followed Quatres example. Much to his surprise, he found it wasnt as hard as he thought it would be.
Quatre nodded. After checking make sure the others had managed on their own he returned to his own horse. The next thing you do is place the saddle blanket on his back. Make sure there are no wrinkles in it. A wrinkle in the blanket could rub his back raw if it is left. Laying the blanket on the horses back, he smoothed it out carefully.
The others followed his example. Quatre moved about, checking to make sure everything was all right. After he was satisfied that everyones blanket was smooth he picked up his saddle. Take the saddle and lay the one stirrup across it so that its out of the way. Then place the saddle on the horse and cinch it into place. With those words he proceeded to saddle the horse.
Trowa frowned as he lifted his own saddle. The way Quatre had picked it up he had thought it would be pretty light, but it wasnt.
He heard a choked off laugh and turned to look. Heero had taken his own saddle and proceeded to throw it right over the horse.
Not quite so hard, Quatre said quietly.
Heero grunted a reply as he went to retrieve his saddle.
Trowa cringed when he heard the string of curses coming from Wufei. Apparently he hadnt picked up hard enough. The saddle hadnt even made it onto the horses back.
Even Duo was having difficulties. He would get the saddle onto the horses back with no problem, but when he went to cinch it into place it would tilt and slide back off. He had carefully reset the blanket and saddle three times, but still had had no luck.
With a slight sigh, Trowa lifted his own saddle into place. Fortunately, it stayed where he put it. Moving carefully he took a hold of the cinch and slid it through the buckle. So far, so good. With another sigh, he stepped back. It had worked.
Quatre stepped up beside him. Always check the cinch to make sure its tight. Some horses with suck in a big breath of air when youre saddling them, so that the cinch winds up way too loose. Then, when you go to get on, the saddle will just slide around. Reaching out, Quatre pulled on the cinch. Sure enough, he was able to tighten it up quite a bit.
Trowa nodded. Ill remember that.
Quatre smiled slightly. Good. Moving on, he checked the others to make sure they were doing all right.
It took them a while, but finally everyone had theyre own horse geared up and ready to go.
Everyone was so busy with taking care of the last little things, they didnt notice that someone was watching them from the woods.
(1) I found this in a book on backpacking. Sounded like something Quatre would know.
Quatre sat on the bank of
the small pond they had found near the campsite, watching the
others as they played in the water. Though they had tried to coax
him into joining them, he had remained firmly planted on the
bank. Duo had even offered to teach him how to swim, but he had
refused the offer. He wasnt about to admit to anyone
exactly why he couldnt swim.
The past few days had been interesting, as the five young men had learned, not only about the others, but about themselves as well. Though Quatre had introduced many new things to the others, they had gamely tried each and every one. Even if there had been some grumbled comments and odd looks.
Quatre sighed. In two days they would reach Termal and Trowa would make his decision on whether or not they would continue the trip as they were going now or call for the servants to join them. Although the trip had brough back painful memories that Quatre would rather forget, he was still enjoying himself. He could pretend, at least for a little while, that he wasnt another mans property.
Hey, Quatre, Duo shouted as he swam up to the shore. You look awfully hot sitting there. Are you Sure you wouldnt like to come in and get cooled off?
Im fine right where I am, Quatre replied. In fact, I was getting ready to head back to the campsite. I should probably get supper started.
Duo pouted a little. You are supposed to relax, too. You dont have to do all the work, you know.
Quatre smiled. Duo certainly seemed to be enjoying himself. He was constantly looking at things, asking questions to the point where Heero would growl at him to be quiet. It was obvious to Quatre that much of what they saw and did was new to the braided boy. He felt sad that such a lively and energetic boy had never really been allowed to live the kind of life he deserved. Though he knew Heero was working hard at correcting that fact. He just hoped that Duo wasnt just a new toy for Heero to play with, to be discarded when something new came along. That would kill him, Quatre knew that for certain.
Do you know how to cook?
Do you think Heero, Trowa or Wufei can cook?
Duo frowned, knowing exactly where this was headed. No.
Then I guess that leaves me, doesnt it.
Itd still not right.
Quatre rose to his feet. Ill call you when its ready.
All right. Duo turned and looked around for Heero. A miscevious look crossed his face when he spotted Heero on the other side of the pond, his back to him. Without a sound, Duo slipped through the water, intent on catching Heero by surprise.
As Quatre turned to leave, he heard Heero, whose growled words carried across the water. Duo. Even think about dunking me and Ill make you regret it.
Quatre giggled softly when he heard Duos reply. Ah, Heero. Youre no fun.
Duo was floating lazily on his back, staring up at the sky through the covering of leaves, when he heard the sounds of someone coming towards the pond. The others had already left the water and wandered off in different directions to explore. One of them was probably coming to tell him it was time to get out.
Duo sighed. He enjoyed the water and it was nice to be able to swim when he wanted to. There were times when he really was torn between swimming and eating. Now was was of those times.
Duo! Quatres voice carried across the water. Its .
A sudden cry and the sound of a body hitting the water alerted Duo that something had happened to Quatre. Flipping over, he looked towards the bank. It only took him a moment to spot Quatre, who must have slipped on the slick bank and fallen into the pond. Without a moments hesitation, Duo was swimming towards the distrested boy.
It only took him a minute to reach Quatre. Reaching out, he tried to grasp the boy, but Quatre was thrashing about too much for him to accomplish it.
Quatre, calm down. Im here. Ill help. You have to relax. Its all right.
Quatre seemed to be oblivious as he struggled. Finally Duo managed to get a grip on the boy, but that did nothing to calm him down. Nooo!!! Quatre howled, the cry ending in a choking cough as he swallowed a large amount of water.
Duo struggled to keep both his and Quatres heads above water. He knew that if he didnt get Quatre calmed down and out of the water soon, they were both going to wind up drowning. Quatre, he snapped, trying to make the boy listen. Youve got to stop struggling so much. Youre only making it worse.
No! Quatre cried, struggling with memories that wouldnt let him hear what Duo was saying. Please, no!
Just when Duo felt his grip on the boy begin to slip, there was a loud splash behind him. Suddenly Heero was beside him, helping him to keep Quatre from slipping beneath the waters surface.
But even Heeros strong, sure grip did nothing to ease Quatres panic. He continued to struggle, against the water and the two trying to help.
Duo could not believe how panic stricken Quatre had become. His inexperince in the water still shouldnt have caused him to react so badly to falling in. There was obviously more to Quatres inability to swim then he had let on.
Heero grunted as a flailing foot landed dangerously near a part of his anatomy hed rather not have injured. It was becoming apparent that Quatre was not going to respond to Duos voice. It was time for more drastic actions. Shifting his grip, Heero pressed two fingers into the nape of Quatres neck.
Duo was a little surprised when Quatre suddenly quit struggling. What?
You head back to shore, Heero told him calmly. Ill follow with him. You can pull him out.
Duo managed to nodded before striking out for shore. Though Quatre had fallen in close to shore, his struggles had dragged them nearly to the middle of the pond. Suddenly, it seemed like a long way back.
Five minutes later they had Quatre on shore. By that time Wufei and Trowa had arrived, Trowa bringing along several blankets.
Trowa had just started to wrap Quatre up in one of the blankets when the boy suddenly shot straight up. Noooo! he cried, struggling against the enveloping blanket.
Quatre! Trowa called, trying to get through to the still panic stricken blonde. Its all right. Youre safe. Duo and Heero got you out of the water.
Qautre gasped, bending over as a hard racking cough shook his slight frame. Trowa held him until the spasm passed, making note of the tears that were streaming down Quatres face.
Slowly Quatre sank to his knees, struggling to regain his breath and to force back the memories. He moaned and buried his face in his hands as his body began to tremble uncontrollably.
Trowa felt the tremors that shook Quatres body and wrapped the blanket more tightly around the small blonde. Its all right, he spoke in a soft voice, trying to sooth the frightened boy. Youre safe now.
Although Quatres body continued to tremble violently, Trowa could tell that the boy was begin to relax.
Trowa damn near jumped out of his skin when a cold, wet hand was laid on his shoulder. He looked up to find Heero watching him. If youll help Duo, Ill carry him back to camp. We need to get him into some warm, dry clothes.
You as well, Trowa commented, noting Heeros decidedly damp look.
Heero shrugged. You dont stop to strip when theres trouble.
Thank god for small favors, Wufei mumbled under his breath.
Heero glared at the other boy, but didnt reply.
Trowa shook his head at the exchange. With a sigh of reluctance, he relinquished Quatre to Heero. He knew there was no way he was going to be able to carry the blonde boy back to camp, even as light as he was. His leg simply wouldnt let him.
Duo managed a weak smile as Trowa and Wufei helped him to stand. Although he really didnt want to admit it, his knees felt as if theyd been turned to water. If it wasnt for the two others he figured hed probably wind up kissing the ground.
Trowa, he said softly as they headed back to camp.
Trowa looked at Duo. Yes?
I think you need to get him to talk. There was a lot more to his reaction than could be explained by him not being able to swim. He was really scared.
Trowa nodded. He agreed with Duos assessment. He would talk to the other boy and find out just exactly what the problem was.
Quatre sighed and curled up into a tighter ball. He could sense that someone was near and he really didnt want to deal with anyone just yet. He had to get himself back under control first.
Quatre? Trowas voice was soft, barely above a whisper.
If I lay really still, maybe hell think Im still asleep and leave.
Luck, however, wasnt on his side. Quatre, I know youre awake. Please open your eyes and look at me.
Trowa had to fight back a smile as a scared blue eye peeked out from the blankets Quatre was curled up in. I wanted to be sure you were all right.
Im fine now. You didnt need to trouble yourself. Quatres voice was muffled and distant, from more than just the blanket.
Sometimes talking helps.
Quatre blinked. Talking?
About why you were so scared.
I fell in the water. I dont know how to swim and I fell in. I thought I was going to die.
Quatre, why dont you know how to swim?
Quatre was quiet for a minute. I grew up in the desert. Theres not much water and so not much need to know .
Theres more to it than that, Trowa interrupted. Quatres reason was perfectly plausible and yet Trowa knew it wasnt the whole truth. Even I know there are oasis in the desert with water. And you did say that you spent some time in the hills. Dont tell me you never came across water deep enough to swim in.
Quatre sighed and turned his head away. Something told him that Trowa would persist in this. Its nothing.
Please, tell me.
Quatre closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to bring the memories to the front of his mind. He had fought with them for so long. Its nothing really. Just something that happened a long time ago.
Trowa heard the pain in Quatres voice. It was pretty apparent that it was something. Something that Quatre had never discussed with anyone. Youre afraid of the water and you never said anything to anyone. Youll never get past it if you dont talk about it.
Quatre rolled over and glared angrily at Trowa. What do you care about how I feel?! Im just your slave, nothing else.
Trowa reared back at the outburst. Although he sort of expected it, a part of him was hurt by the angry words. Believe me or not, I do care. I want to help you.
Then go away and leave me alone. I dont like the water. Big deal. There are lots of people who dont know how to swim and dont care to learn. Why are you making such a big deal about it?
Because there is another reason for your fear and its eating away at you.
Quatre pulled himself into a sitting position and wrapped his arms around his knees. Burying his face in the hollow between his body and his legs, he struggled to hold back the tears that had welled up in his eyes. It was my fault, he choked out brokenly.
What was? Trowa asked gently.
My mother. It was my fault she died. Quatre looked up at Trowa, his eyes full of an old, haunting pain. I lied. I do know how to swim. My mother taught me when I was little. She always loved the water and would go swimming any chance she got. My dad always teased her about it, asking if she wasnt a misplace fish or something. She took me with her all the time, so I learned very early how to swim. I dont remember if I learned to walk, ride or swim first. I just always seemed to have done them. Quatre closed his eyes as the bittersweet feelings washed over him. He had been so hurt by the bad memory that hed blocked out all the good ones.
Trowa reached out and laid a gentle hand on Quatres shoulder, silently urging him to continue.
A shudder ran through Quatres slight form. One day we came across this small river. It was pretty swollen from the rains that had fallen higher in the mountains, but to a six year old they didnt seem that bad. I wanted to swim in it. It had been several weeks since wed come across enough water to enjoy. My mother told me no, that it was too dangerous for a little boy. I didnt believe her though and when I thought everyone was asleep I went back.
She must have heard me or known what I was going to do. I had barely gotten in the water when I realized that she had been right. The current was much stronger than I thought. She didnt hesitate to jump in and save me. She had just gotten me up on a rock near the shore when the current dragged her away. I just watched as she disappeared under the water. I was so numb I couldnt even cry.
After a while I got back on shore and ran back to the camp. By that time my father had discovered that Mother was missing and had gotten a group of men to go look for her. He knew how much she loved the water and figured she had decided to go for a swim after I was asleep, so that I wouldnt beg to go with her. Quatre choked back a sob as he remembered the horrible night and the following morning.
They found her body a little ways down stream. Quatre rocked his body as the sobs welled up in his throat. She wasnt strong enough to fight the current. It was my fault and I never told anyone. They never knew that she had died saving me. I couldnt face my father with that information. Quatre broke down then, sobbing with a thousand tears hed never shed.
Trowa gathered the sobbing boy into his arms. What a horrible burden for a small child to carry. Shhh, little one.
Dont tell me it will be all right, Quatre choked out. It will never be all right. I killed my mother. I could never go near the water again. I went from loving to swim to hating it. I cant stand to be in water any deeper than my knees anymore. No one knew why I suddenly stopped going to the water. They though it was the trauma of losing my mother it such a manner. They would have hated me if they had known the real reason.
Trowa said nothing, just continued to hold the blonde until he finally cried himself to sleep.
Oh, little one. I wish there was something I could do to help. Youre right though. The guilt never goes away, no matter what logic tells you.
Trowa wasnt certain how long he held the sleeping boy before Heero came in to check on them.
Is everything all right? Heero asked softly.
Trowa looked up at him. I dont know. I did find out why he wont go near the water, but I doubt if there is really anything we can do to make it better.
Heero nodded slightly. He knew Trowa would tell the others if he felt it was necessary.
Trowa sighed, grateful for Heeros silence. How is Duo?
Hes fine. He swallowed a bit more water than he would have liked, but I dont think its anything to worry about. Ill keep a watch him tonight though, just to make sure.
Trowa nodded. I think it might be a good idea to just stay here tomorrow and give them both time to recover. Were not on any real schedule.
Sound good to me. He was silent for a minute. Do you want anything to eat or drink? Ive got some water heating.
Trowa arched an eyebrow at that bit of information.
Heero glared back. Its not that hard. Especially since he already had the fire going.
I think some hot tea would be a good idea. If you think between the three of you, you can handle it.
Heero snorted. I think we can manage. Somehow. With that he turned and headed outside.
Trowa smiled faintly. There were times when Heero still managed to surprise him.
Duo looked up from his place in front of the fire when Heero approached. Is he okay?
He was sleeping. Trowa says he should be fine.
Heero nodded. Trowa wants us to attempt to make some tea.
Duo eyed the fire. We might be able to manage that. We did manage to heat the water without too much problem.
Wufei, who had just walked up, snorted his opinion of the statement. Its a damn good thing we didnt put the stupid fire out.
Duo sighed. Yeah.
Heero shook his head. It was a bit disconcerting to realize just how out of his element he was out here. Were going to stay here tomorrow instead of moving on. It will give Quatre a chance to get himself sorted out.
Duo nodded. He thought that sounded like a good idea. His chest still ached from the coughing spasm that had hit him earlier.
Wufei groaned but didnt argue, not that it would have done him any good.
Heero smirked as he headed for the pack that he hoped had the tea in it. Things were definitely beginning to become interesting around here.
PART EIGHTEEN a.
Trowa sat staring at the
mug that Heero had brought him. It was supposed to be tea, but
Trowa feared his life might just be forfeit if he actually drank
the brew. For one thing, there was enough things floating in it
to rest a spoon on. For another, what liquid he could see was a
strange color. Hed never seen tea in quite that shade of
He looked over at the sleeping blonde. I think were in trouble.
Quatre murmured something in his sleep and rolled onto his side.
Trowa smiled slightly. Sleep might me the safest idea, little one.
The morning air was cool and there were still patches of mist hugging the ground. The sun was still low in the sky and the clearing was still shadowed in large patches of dark. What light did break through the trees light up the mist and made it seem to dance.
Now and then the call of a bird would rent the air, but otherwise little stirred. Once, in the distance, the sound of a branch crashing down to the ground could be heard, probably jarred loose by a squirrel.
None of this gentle morning beauty registered on the long-haired boy. Duo sat at the makeshift table, staring at the items hed gotten together. He was so intent on trying to figure out what to do with them he wasnt paying any attention to what was going on around him.
Wufei ducked behind a tree, all the time watching the boy sitting at the table. It was a rare sight indeed, to see Duo not only quiet but still as well. There were some opportunities that just couldnt be missed. Moving silently, Wufei slipped from spot to spot, ducking behind any cover he could use. Hed been run over, tripped up and had the crap scared out of him by the wild child too many time not to want a bit of revenge.
After several minutes, Wufei reached what he considered optimum pouncing range. Pausing a moment to gather himself, he let a small smirk cross his face. Then he attacked.
HEY, MAWELL!!! WHATS HAPPENING?! he shouted as he jumped up behind the boy.
Duo let out what could only be termed as a shriek as he jumped a good two feet in the air. A part of Wufei had to admire the amazing agility of the boy as he not only did a complete one eighty in mid air, but also managed to not knock over the table or the chair.
WHAT THE BLOODY
HELL?!! Duo shouted, his hand pressed against his chest.
His heart was racing so damn fast he thought it was going to leap
right out of his chest.
Wufei was practically rolling on the ground, he was laughing so hard. The look on Duos face had been priceless.
Just then there was a crashing sound as Heero burst out of the tent. He heard the shout and had come to see what was wrong.
Wufei took one look at Heero and just laughed that much harder. Heero had been in such a hurry hed grabbed the first thing he could lay his hands on to wear. The style of the shirt wasnt what Wufei found so funny. It was the fact that it was so short that it barely covered the essentials. That and the fact that is was of a soft pink color.
Oh Wufei gasped. Heero that color <gasp> is you <gasp> but please <cough, gasp> dont lift your hands. With that he dissolved into a fresh peal of laughs.
Heero glared at the convulsing boy as he made his way over to Duo. Are you alright? he asked softly.
Just great, He, too, glared at the other boy. Damn near had a heart attack, but Im fine. He looked over at Heero and noticed the shirt he was wearing. Though he is right about the color.
Heero turned his glare on Duo. I thought something was wrong. I grabbed the first thing I could.
Duo studied the shirt. Not only was it very short, the sleeves barely hit mid-forearm on him and just about every seam was threatening to rip apart. I think youd best go get something of yours on. Id say by the size that is probably Quatres.
Heero glance down and began to blush. Gathering as much dignity as he could, he turned and walked back to the tent.
Duo glanced over at Wufei, who was apparently going to lay there for a while. Its not that funny, he muttered.
Wufei wiped the tears from his eyes as he looked back. Gotcha, he said, grinning stupidly.
The look on Duos face only set him off again. Oh, I think Im going to wet myself, he gasped, throwing himself back on the ground. That was perfect.
Duo only shook his head as he turned back to the items hed gathered. Man is weird.
PART EIGHTEEN b.
Quatre crinkled up his nose
and buried his head deeper into the pillow. A very odd smell had
finally penetrated his sleep fogged mind. He wasnt sure
exactly what it was and he really didnt think he wanted to
Finally, hunger and an urgent call of nature served to drag Quatre from his cocoon. He rolled relucutantly over and found Trowa sitting near his bed, eyeing the plate he held with a wary eye.
Trowa looked up at the sound of movement from the bed. Good morning, he said softly.
Quatre watched him without replying.
Trowa looked back down at the plate, which held Heeros and Duos version of breakfast. I hope youre feeling better this morning. Im afraid the rest of us might be joining you. With a sigh he placed the plate on the ground behind him. Food poisoning is becoming a distinct possibility.
Quatre blinked as he sat up. Why? he whispered.
Lets just say neither Heero nor Duo will ever be hired as a cook.
Quatre sighed. It sounded as if hed lain in bed long enough. Ill take care of it, he murmured as he went to walk past Trowa.
Trowa reached out and grabbed Quatres arm. That isnt necessary. Well muddle through. You need to rest.
Quatre pulled his arm free. I am fine. Let me take care of some personal needs and then I will get you something to eat.
You had a bad experience. It would be better if you took the day and rested.
I dont know what you mean. If you would excuse me, Master, I have things to do. I dont have time to be lying around. That is what you bought me for, is it?
Trowa winced at the bitterness in the other boys voice, but made no more move to stop him as he left the tent.
Duo looked up as Quatre approached. Feeling better?
Much. Quatre schooled his face to remain blank. I though you might need some help.
Duo glanced back at the mess spread across the table. That bad, huh?
I believe food poisoning was mentioned.
Duo sighed. Eating Im good at. Cooking is another story entirely.
I do have a book with recipes in it.
If it dont blow up in the end, Heero wont read it. And Wufei has tried three times this morning to make me piss my pants. Damn near succeeded the first time.
Quatre sighed. Then how about if you help me.
First thing, we need to clean up.
That I can do.
Quatre began picking up the table, hoping that they still had enough supplies to last until they reached Termal. Im surprised Heero has never taught you how to read.
He has. Im not very good at it and hes not all that patient. Duo shrugged. Most of the time its not a problem. Its just the way things are.
Quatre looked at Duo. Again he wondered just how civilized this place really was.
Dont you want to learn?
Its not at the top of my list of things to do. It would be nice, but its no big deal.
What is at the top?
Duo looked around. Maybe it should be learn to cook.
Quatre smiled. Maybe.
Duo laughed as he began to pick up the mess hed made that morning. He was glad that Quatre seemed to be all right.
Fortunately, the rest of that day, and the next two days, passed peacefully.
Quatre stood in the center of the clearing, looking around to make sure that nothing had been left behind. He really didnt want to have to come back for anything, as theyd had to do the day before.
They would be arriving in Termal late that afternoon. Quatre tried not to think about what that meant. He kept telling himself that it didnt matter what Trowa decided. He was simply a slave doing what he was told, nothing more.
But deep down inside, it did matter. For the past few days hed been able to pretend that he wasnt someone elses property. That he was somebody. Somebody important.
If Trowa insisted on calling up the other servants, he would just another on of the slaves following Lord Trowa.
Turning, he walked over to where the others were waiting. Duos horse was dancing around in a nervous fashion and that made Quatre frown slightly. What was bothering the big black horse? He was usually rather quiet.
Got everything? Duo asked.
Quatre nodded. Yes.
Good. I think this guy is getting a bit antsy this morning.
Quatre looked over at the horse. Something was definitely wrong. Duo .
But before Quatre could finish the sentence, Duo had put his foot in the stirrup and mounted the horse. A wild scream rent the air and before anyone had realized what was happening, the horse had bolted off down the path at a dead run.
Quatre didnt think, he reacted. Lunging forward he flung himself on his own horse and sent it after the runaway black. He knew that Duos inexperience riding could get him killed if he didnt catch him fast.
Leaning lower over his horses neck, he urged it onward, hoping that his experience and control would allow his horse to catch up with the other.
After another minute he caught sight of the black ahead of him. Fear and panic were working to Quatres advantage as the black was wearing himself down rapidly. If Duo could hold on for just a few more minutes, Quatre was confident that he could catch them.
With a deft touch of the reins, Quatre guided his horse next to the runaway. He tried to get Duos attention, but the boy was oblivious. He had his arms wrapped around the horses neck and his head buried in its mane. It was pretty obvious that it was taking all of his concentration to simply remain on the horses back.
Quatre realized that it would be up to him to bring the black under control. He would have to get a hold of the reins and force the horse to stop. It was a tricky maneuver to try, especially at a dead run, but it was the only thing he could do.
With a quick prayer to the Great One, he leaned out of his saddle, trying to grab something on the other horse.
It took several tries, but he finally managed to snag the reins that hung slack over the blacks neck. Using his weight and the weight of the horse he was riding, he finally managed to bring the black to a halt.
Sliding from his horses back, Quatre reached up and tried to get Duo to release his death grip. It took several tries, but finally he got the boy to let go.
Duo all but fell off the horse into Quatres arms. Wrapping his arms around Quatres neck he simply clung, shaking so hard Quatre was sure he was going to shake himself apart.
Rubbing his hands up and down the boys back, Quatre murmured soft words of reassurance. He could just imagine how terrified the long haired boy must have been.
After a few minutes, Quatre could feel his shoulder getting damp and realized that Duo was silently crying. Moving slowly, he guided Duo over to a fallen log and slowly sat them both down.
After another few minutes he heard the thud of approaching hoofbeats. Looking up, he saw Trowa and Heero ride into the clearing.
He honestly didnt think the horse had stopped before Heero had flung himself off and was across the clearing. Sinking to his knees next to the two boys, he reached for Duo.
A whispered word from Heero was all it took for Duo to release his hold on Quatre and fling himself into Heeros tight embrace.
Holding the boy as if hed never let him go, Heero began running his hands up and down the other boys body, as if to confirm to himself that Duo was alright.
Quatre slid off the log and moved away from the two. He knew that Heeros presence and reassurance was what Duo needed right now.
Looking around, he noticed that Trowa had moved over to where the horses were standing. The blacks sides were heaving as he pulled in great breaths of air. His coat was also covered with a sheen of sweat.
What happened? Trowa asked.
Quatre frowned as he moved
over to the horse. He hadnt seen or heard anything that
would make the horse bolt. In fact, hed chosen the horse
for its calm personality. It should take a lot to make him bolt.
Moving slowly, he slid his hand under the saddle blanket. After a
moment he found the source of the horses unusual behavior.
Trowa winced at the size of the burr Quatre pulled from under the horses saddle blanket. No wonder he bolted. That must have been very painful.
Quatre nodded. I would have thought Duo would have been more careful.
Trowa frowned. I dont think a burr that big would have gone unnoticed.
Quatre looked at Trowa. You dont think somebody else put it there?
Trowa shrugged. No. I just dont think he would have missed something that big.
If he was in a hurry he might not have been paying attention. I cant see anyone deliberately trying to hurt the horse.
Trowa looked at Quatre, but said nothing. Though he didnt believe anyone would want to hurt Duo, he still didnt think Duo would be that careless.
Ill ride back and get Wufei and the pack horses. You can stay here while Heero gets Duo calmed down. Without waiting for an answer, Trowa mounted his horse and headed back the way theyd come.
Quatre stood quietly, looking down at the burr he held in his hand. Why would anyone want to hurt Duo? With a sigh he flung the burr into the woods and proceeded to thoroughly check the horse to make sure there was no permanent injury done.
Heero wrapped his arms more tightly around the shaking body he held. Its all right, he murmured. Youre safe.
Heero had thought his heart would stop when hed seen the black bolt off down the trail with Duo clinging to his back. Hed never felt so scared in his entire life. The thought that something serious might happen before he could catch them had caused his heart to nearly stop.
Hed never mounted a horse that fast but, as fast as hed been, Quatre had been even faster. He honestly hadnt even seen the blonde move. One minute hed been standing there, the next he was on his horse and already after Duo.
Burying his face in the soft hair, Heero breathed in the essence that was Duo. He had not really thought that much about just what the boy meant to him, but now, after nearly losing him twice in just a few days, he knew that this boy held the key to his heart. There was no more need to pretend. He was never letting him go.
Youre mine, he whispered into Duos hair. Now and forever. And as soon as he could he was going to make it permanent, laws be damned.
This silent vow made, Heero held Duo that much closer.
Suddenly feeling someone watching them, he looked up to find Quatre staring at them. He narrowed his eyes and glared at the blonde, who suddenly turned red and looked away.
He was going to find out who or what had made the horse bolt and then there was going to be hell to pay.
It was two hours before Heero could calm Duo down enough to get him to agree to move on. But Duo refused to ride alone, so Heero allowed him to ride tandem with him.
Quatre frowned as he watched the two of them. He couldnt figure out how in the world that burr had gotten under Duos saddle blanket. It didnt seem possible for Duo to have missed it and he hadnt seen any plants with burrs on it near the campsite. That meant that it had to have been deliberately put there. But who would do such a thing? Duo could have easily been killed if he had fallen from the runaway horse. I dont believe anyone here would want to deliberately hurt Duo.
He glanced over at Wufei.
Although the two seemed to derive a great deal of fun out of
teasing each other, he didnt think Wufei was petty enough
to try such a stunt. To try and deliberately hurt someone in such
an underhanded manner would be, in Quatres opinion, beneath
Wufeis sense of honor and justice, the code by which the
foreign boy lived. And he was pretty sure Wufei knew what the
outcome of such a nasty trick would be.
Heero, he also crossed off his mental list. It was obvious to anyone who looked how deeply in love with his long-haired slave he was. Quatre believed that Heero would cut out his own heart before harming Duo in any way. He really felt sorry for whoever had done it. He had a feeling that when Heero got done with him, hes wished hed never even seen Duo, let alone tried to hurt him.
Now Trowa, he wasnt sure about. Hed certainly had the opportunity to place the burr. But then, so did everyone else. Was it possible that Trowa was not happy with the attention Heero now paid Duo? He had heard that Heero and Trowa had been very close for a very long time. Maybe Trowa was hoping to make the friendship into something more. But now Heeros interested in Duo and its obvious that no one else has any chance with him.
Then there was always the possibility that it had been Duo himself that had put the burr there. Maybe he hadnt realized just how badly the horse would react. Maybe he was trying to scare Heero into finally admitting out loud his feelings. It seemed like a silly idea, but then it was hard to say just how Duos mind worked.
Or perhaps Trowas cousin had instigated the incident. Quatre had heard that he had not been happy with Duos reaction to his attack on Quatre himself. Quatre knew that Michal had wanted Duo severely punished for his attack and had not been happy when that had not happened. Maybe he was trying to get Duo back for it now.
And a final scenario crossed Quatres thoughts. Maybe it hadnt been Duo that had been the target. Maybe the burr and accident had been meant for one of the others or even Quatre himself. He knew that Michal was just as angry at Heero as he had been with Duo. And Quatre knew there was no love lost between the two cousins. And hes probably not very happy with me either. Not only did I get away, with Duo and Heeros help, but I also told his father what had happened. The loss of face he must have suffered would not please him at all.
Quatre frowned again. He had grown fond of Duo himself and was determined to figure out how would try and hurt him and why. Then he would cheerfully hand that person over to Heero to take care of.
It was late afternoon before they reached Termal. Though not a large as the capitol, Termal was a large thriving trading city that was always bustling with the sights and sounds of trading.
Fortunately, Trowas name was recognized at the first inn they stopped at and they had no difficult in securing rooms for the time they planned on staying.
Seeing how badly shaken Duo was, Trowa suggested that they retire for the night and go out the next day to explore the city and resupply.
Trowa looked up at the knock on his door. Who is it?
Its me, Heeros voice came through the door. And Wufei. We need to talk.
Trowa had been expecting Heero, but he was a little surprised that Wufei had come as well. Come on in.
The door opened and Heero and Wufei stepped into the room. Both men had serious expressions on their faces.
Hows Duo? Trowa asked as Heero sat down.
Sleeping. I left Quatre with him.
Is that a good idea? Wufei asked, also taking a seat.
Heero shrugged. Didnt have much of a choice. I dont want Duo left alone tonight. He wont try anything, though. Not with anybody else around.
Trowa frowned. What are you talking about? Whats wrong with leaving Quatre with Duo? And who wouldnt try anything?
That burr was put there deliberately. Heeros voice was flat and cold.
You think Quatre did it.
He found it without any trouble.
He also has a lot of experience with horses. He probably knew what was wrong by how the horse reacted.
He says he knows horse. But how do we know if hes lying or not? You know how he feels about his situation.
But why take it out on Duo? Why not me?
He had plenty of opportunity to place that burr. Wufei pointed out.
So did the rest of us.
Wufei glanced at Heero. I told you he wouldnt listen to us.
Trowa looked at the two of them. You dont have any real evidence that Quatre tried to hurt Duo, just a few things that could be pinned just as easily on any one of us. Besides, Quatre seems to trust Duo more than any of us. Why would he hurt the one person he actually seems to like? There was a hint of sadness in the last statement. Trowa was beginning to think that he would never gain the blonde boys trust.
Which is the only reason why I havent wrung his neck, Heero informed him coldly. But if I find out it was Quatre, hes mine.
Trowa shook his head. If Quatre was behind the attack, I will deal with him.
Just then there was another knock on the door. Trowa frowned. Whos there?
It is me, Master, Quatres soft voice answered. I brought you something to eat.
Heeros eyebrow arched as Quatre came in carrying a tray with a selection of sandwiched and three mugs of some kind of drink.
Quatre placed the tray on the table. I saw Heero and Wufei come in and I thought perhaps you would like some snacks, Master.
Trowa frowned at the boys use of the word master, but said nothing.
Youre supposed to be watching Duo, Heero said in a cold voice.
Quatre blinked at him. He was sleeping when I left. I was going right back. He was already backing towards the door.
Thank you, Quatre, for the snacks. But you didnt have to go through the trouble. Trowas voice was calm.
Quatre nodded slightly. It was no trouble, Master. I knew you hadnt had a chance to get supper yet.
You had best be getting back to Duo.
Yes, Master. Quatre bowed slightly and then left.
Wufei glanced at the sandwiches and drink. Im not hungry, he announced, though he had not eaten and his stomach was beginning to complain.
Trowa glanced at Heero, who shook his head. Trowa could tell that neither of the men trusted Quatre enough to eat the food that hed brought, especially since it hadnt been asked for. Even he wondered how long Quatre had been standing there and how much he had heard. Could they be right?
So, do we continue the trip as we have been, do we send for the others, or do we go back?
I dont think we should involve anyone else, Heero answered. But if we go back, we may never find out what happened.
Wufei nodded his agreement. Justice must be served. It wont be if we dont find out who tried to hurt Duo. We just keep a very close eye on Quatre. If he is the guilty party, eventually he will reveal himself.
Then thats what we will do.
Heero looked at the other two. And I would recommend that we try and keep Quatre in sight at all times. I dont want him trying anything else against Duo.
The other two nodded their agreement. Between the three of them, they felt they could keep a close eye on Quatre.
After a few minutes planning what they would do the next day, Heero and Wufei left.
Trowa sighed as he leaned back in his chair. Since the blonde haired slave had entered his life, nothing had gone the way he intended. He was beginning to wonder if buying the boy had been such a good idea after all.
Duo moaned and buried his
head deeper into the pillow as the light coming in the window hit
him full in the face. He didnt remember very much of what
had transpired yesterday and was glad. He had a feeling hed
probably made a fool of himself, acting like a scared girl.
A soft chuckle from across the room made him roll over. He was surprised to see Heero sitting in a chair near the doorway. What ya doing way over there? Duo whispered.
You could watch me from over here.
I didnt want any unexpected guests last night.
Duo frowned a little. Why? What kind of guests?
Heero rose to his feet and walked slowly across the room. Someone tried to kill you yesterday. I wasnt taking any chances on them trying again.
Duo shook his head, a perplexed look crossing his face. Something just scared the horse and he bolted. No big deal.
Heero looked as his love for a moment. No. There was a burr under the saddle. The pain made the horse run. You could have been killed if youd fallen off.
Duo stared at him for another moment, disbelief very evident on his face. Suddenly he moaned and curled up into a small ball.
Heero was instantly in the bed and gathering the long haired boy to him. He could feel the tremors that were shaking Duos body. Its all right, he soothed. I wont let anyone take you from me.
Who? Duo moaned. Who would want to kill me?
Heero had decided earlier not to directly tell Duo his and Wufeis suspicions. He knew that Duo genuinely like the blond slave and wouldnt believe anything bad about him. Yet. I dont know. There was no real proof as to who could have planted that burr. Heero was quiet for a minute. I want you to be careful. Dont be alone with anyone but me. Understood?
Duo looked up and him. Why? You dont think one of the others did it. Thats ridiculous.
I wont take any chances of loosing you. Heero placed a hand on either side of Duos face. I love you. I would die if something were to happen to you.
Duo searched Heeros face and found the truth in those fiercely spoken words. Tears welled up in his eyes as he realized he had finally found the haven hed always dreamed of. The haven promised in Heeros deep blue eyes.
Slowly he reached up and ran his hand across Heeros cheek. I love you, too. With all my heart. The tears in his eyes spilled over and ran down his checks.
Heero brushed the tears away with his fingertips. I didnt mean to make you cry.
Duo sniffled and smiled. I know. Its just that Im happy. I never thought anyone would love me. Im just a useless whore and .
Heero placed a hand across Duos mouth, silencing him. Dont, he hissed. Dont ever talk about yourself like that again. You are not useless, not to me. And you will never have to sleep with anyone you dont want to, not ever again. Understand?
But Heero.. Duo mumbled around the hand.
Heero glared fiercely at him. Understand?
Duo slowly nodded. A devilish glint lit his eyes as he looked at Heero. Suddenly, he stuck his tongue out and ran it across Heeros hand.
Heero shuddered. Good. Heero removed his hand and stood up. You need to get dressed. Were going shopping.
All of us?
Duo pouted. Id rather stay here and enjoy the privacy.
Heero smirked, but was already walking towards the door. He knew if he stayed, Duo would get his way. And a whole lot more.
Ill meet you downstairs. Heero turned and looked back at Duo. The quicker you get moving the sooner we can get back.
Heero smirked. I guarantee it. With that he turned and left.
Fifteen minutes later Duo joined the others downstairs. Bounding happily up, he stopped before Heero. Ready, he announced, sounding much more like himself.
Heero looked Duo over and began to shake his head. The outfit Duo was wearing was typical clothing for slaves and was similar to the one Quatre was wearing. The specific coloring and embroidered pattern told everyone that he was a slave.
Duo frowned as Heero continued to shake his head. What? He looked down at himself. My fly open?
Heero looked over at Trowa. Well be right back. With that, he grabbed Duo and hauled him up the stairs.
Wufei sighed. We might as well get comfortable. You know well be lucky if they come back down in the next hour.
Trowa looked over at Wufei but said nothing. He knew there was really no need for him make a comment.
Much to both Trowa and Wufeis surprise, Duo and Heero returned in less than five minutes.
As shocking as the two boys quick return was the outfit Duo now wore. It consisted of a pair of dark blue, almost black pants made of soft leather that hugged every curve of Duos legs and a soft cream-colored shirt that clung lovingly to the body it covered. There was absolutely nothing on him that indicated his position as Heeros slave
Now were ready, Heero announced as he headed for the door.
Wufei shrugged and followed.
Trowa glanced over at Quatre. Stay with me at all times. Understand?
Quatre nodded. Yes, master.
Turning he headed out into the street, certain that Quatre would follow dutifully along. He had noticed that as soon as they had gotten to town, Quatre had reverted to calling him master, but for some reason he didnt feel inclined to correct it right now. He was still torn by uncertainty in the face of Heero and Wufeis accusations. He didnt want to think the little blonde was capable of such an act, and yet. He really didnt know him all that well.
The thoughts and doubts chased merrily around in his head with no sign of letting up. Hopefully the problem would soon resolve itself.
As Trowa stepped out into the street he was surprised at the number of people. There hadnt been nearly this many the day before. Whats going on?
Dont know. Heero replied, watching the crowd.
A passing stranger had heard the question and stopped to answer. Its the Feast of Treisama, on of the biggest feast days in the city. Youll want to watch your purses today. Theyll be a lot of pickpockets out hoping to lighten your load. Flipping his long blonde hair over his shoulder, the man nodded and head of down the street, waving to pretty dark haired girl that had just come out of a shop.
Heero looked at Duo. You stick with me. No wandering off.
Duo made a face at him. What are you going to do? Put me on a leash?
Heero paused for a moment, then his hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Duos braid. You already have one.
Duo frowned. Woof, woof. What you want me to do, get down on all fours?
Heero leaned in and leered at him. Later.
The others laughed as Duo turned bright red. He knew hed walked right into that one.
Suddenly he squawked as Heero, maintaining his iron grip on the long hank of hair, started down the street. Hey, Duo protested, being dragged along. That hurts. Dammit Yuy, let go of my hair. Its not a damn leash, contrary to what you say. Ow!
The others simply followed along, letting Duos voice tell them where they were when the crowd got to thick to see them.
The sun was beginning to set as Duo stood outside one of the small stalls, looking at the collection of knives on display. He was absently rubbing his hand on the back of his head, which still stung from Heero dragging him around earlier.
Hed been staring at the knives for the past five minutes. Slaves werent supposed to have or even touch dangerous items, such as these knives, even though many slaves were trained bodyguards. His first master had had a thing for knives and had taught Duo a lot about them, including how to know a fine one from one that was just pretty to look at.
Suddenly he remembered the way he was dressed. As far as the man in the shop was concerned he was just another buyer. Looking around to make sure no one was going to jump out and yell Slave! he reached over to pick up one of the knives.
Instantly the owner of the shop materialized in front of him. That is a very fine and beautiful knife, is it not?
Duo balanced the blade in his hand. A bit unbalanced.
Look at the craftsmanship. The detail in the carving and the way the jewels highlight it.
It was obvious to Duo that this man really wanted to sell this fancy, and probably very expensive, knife.
It is made of the finest metals, the man continued. Just feel that edge.
Duo shook his head and put it back. Fine for prettying a rich mans belt, but not much else. He looked over the display again. Just as he was beginning to think that maybe the man really didnt have anything he might be interested in he spotted it.
The blade was made of some gleaming black metal with symbols etched into it. The handle appeared to be carved of a dark wood stained even darker. The only color at all on the knife was the blood red jewel in its pommel.
Almost reluctantly Duo picked it up. He smiled as he weighed the blade in his hand. Who ever had made this knife had known what he was doing. The balance between the blade and the hand were perfect. Even the jewel enhanced that balance. Turning it, Duo looked carefully along the blade. He didnt have to touch it to know that it was honed to a razor sharpness.
With a deft twist of his wrist, Duo flipped the knife into the air, watching it flip end over end. Reaching out he snatched it out of the air, please by the way it had moved. This was any mans dream knife. Perfect for close in fighting or for throwing.
What does the etchings say? he asked.
The man looked at him strangely. Shinigami.
Duo almost moaned out loud. He was almost afraid to ask the next question. How much?
For you. Two thousand.
Duo swallowed. He didnt know if he could persuade Heero into letting him spend that much gold on something as simple as a knife. Reluctantly he put the knife back, allowing his fingers to brush almost reverently across it.
It takes an unusual man to appreciate such a fine blade. I can give it to you for say eighteen hundred
Duo sighed. Still more that I have, Im afraid. Maybe some other time. With one last glance at the knife, he turned and walked away, hoping to find Heero nearby.
Heero was standing outside another shop, glaring at anyone who dared cross his path. Where the hell is that braided idiot? I told him five minutes, not twenty.
Just as he was ready to pound something, Duo walked up, followed by Wufei, Trowa and Quatre. Its about damn time, he growled to Duo.
Heero suddenly grabbed Duos chin and forced him to look up. Whats wrong?
The odd look in Duos eyes disappeared replaced with his usual gleam. Nothing.
Dont lie to me. What is it?
Really its nothing. I just saw a nice knife. Too expensive though.
A couple shops down. Really, its no big deal.
Heero I said .
How much? There was a hint of iron in Heeros voice.
Duo looked down. Eighteen hundred.
Was it worth it?
Yeah. It was a really nice piece of work.
Heero nodded. Then lets go and get it.
Duo started to shake his head. It way to expensive. Its just a knife.
That you want. Thats all I need to know. He started to walk down the street, back the way Duo had come. You should know .
Duo looked up at the odd creaking sound that suddenly trickled through the sounds of the crowd. To his shock and dismay he realized that the small empty stall that Heero was passing had begun to sway ominously. Heero! Look out!
Heero looked up and realized the danger he was in. Without a second thought, Heero flung himself to one side, just as the walls of the stall collapsed into the space hed just been in.
Duo dashed over to where Heero had landed. Are you okay? he asked, running his hands over Heero as he checked for injuries.
Im fine, Heero reassured him. Though I wont be if you keep that up, he muttered under his breath.
Duo glanced down and blushed as he realized just what was happening. Sorry.
Are you all right? Trowas anxious voice came from one side. He and Wufei were pushing though the crowd to get to Heero.
Heero was already standing up and brushing himself off. Im fine.
Duo was looking at the remains of the stall. He shuddered to think about what could have happened if Heero hadnt managed to get out of the way in time. You could have been killed, he choked out in a tight voice.
Heero pulled Duo close, not caring what the crowd that had gathered thought. Im fine. No harm done.
Suddenly Wufei looked around. Wheres Quatre?
Trowa started. He was right here.
Just then Quatre pushed his way through the crowd. What happened?
Wufei glared at the blonde. As if you didnt know? he answered acidly, nodding to the dirt on Quatres hands.
Quatre looked down and blushed. I was looking at potatoes and they were rather dirty.
I told you to stay with me, Trowas voice was flat.
Quatre blinked. I thought you saw me, master.
Trowa only watched the boy, saying nothing. Is he telling the truth or did he just try and kill another one of us?
Onto Parts Twenty-one-?