Heero groaned, opening his eyes. Darkness greeted him.
"Where am I?" he wondered aloud.
"Shush," a gentle voice said. "Just relax." A hand brushed his forehead, followed a moment later by a warm cloth. "You had a nasty fall," the voice continued, and Heero allowed himself to be soothed by it. "But you're okay now. Rest."
Trusting that voice implicitly, Heero did as he was told.
The next time Heero opened his eyes it was to gentle candlelight and the sound of laughter. He lay where he was, taking stock of his situation. He was horizontal, lying on what appeared to be a nest of rough blankets. The wall beside him was rough rock, the light playing over it showed it to be a cave wall, rather than that of a constructed object. He attempted to sit up and instantly regretted it.
The laughter broke off. "Trowa—"
"I've got it."
Two arms suddenly encircled Heero.
"Lie back down," he was commanded. "You were thrown from your horse, we fear you've broken at least one rib. You must be still."
Heero didn't argue, letting himself be pushed back down. "Wing?"
"Trowa, I think he means the horse—" Heero didn't recognise the voice from his first waking immediately, the worried tone altered it completely.
"That's right," Heero said, slightly alarmed by the hesitant tone. "Has something happened to him?"
"Uh, well… you might say that."
Heero was held down roughly as he attempted to sit again. "Is he hurt?"
At the edge of the extent of the dim candlelight, Heero caught sight of a dim figure, twisting the edge of his black tunic. "Not really, no. In fact, you could say he'll never hurt again—"
"Wing," Heero shook his head. "No."
"I'm really sorry—"
"No!" Heero yelled. "Not Wing—"
"It'll be all right," Trowa said, struggling to hold back down on the bed. "You'll find another horse."
Heero fought against the youth furiously. There seemed to be something almost inhuman in those green eyes, almost obscured by the thick fringe. "You don't understand! Wing was my friend!"
He'd said was.
Heero gave up the fight, falling limply back onto the blankets. "No—"
"These things happen," the brown haired boy calmly pulled the blankets up around him. "You'll be fine."
"Leave me," Heero ordered cursorily. When the boy hesitated he glared at him. "I said leave!"
"Come on, Trowa. Let's give him some space," the figure by the wall said.
The green eyed boy nodded, Heero's eyes following him as he crossed the space illuminated by the candle, apparently quitting the cave by stepping through another passage. The figure by the door leaned over and blew out the candle, leaving Heero in darkness.
Heero waited until he heard the footsteps of the second person grow fainter. Only when he was sure no sound could be heard did he allow himself to cry.
Heero lay there.
He'd cried himself out a long time ago. Truthfully, that hadn't taken long. Although Wing had been his most trusted companion and he grieved his loss sorely, J had done simply too good a job at training the youth in the ways of the warrior. He'd resigned himself to his loss. That didn't make the dull ache in his heart go away any more.
A soft rustle of fabric alerted him to the fact that he had a visitor.
Heero grunted in reply. He felt a weight near his feet as his guest sat down.
"So, how are you doing?"
His guest gave a shaky laugh. "That bad, huh? Look—I'm really sorry about this."
"Huh?" The surprise in that voice was evident.
"You didn't know Wing," Heero said coolly. "You don't hurt that he's gone. Why be sorry?"
"I hurt more than you know," the voice replied evenly. "Man, I—" A sigh. "Why don't you tell me about him?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's obvious he was more than a horse to you."
Heero laughed coldly. "He was my friend. Perhaps my only friend—"
"He wasn't just a horse, you see. He was my partner—"
"—if it hadn't been for Wing, that Siren would have got me. But we got her in the end. The townsfolk thought I was nuts when I asked for half the reward in oats—but Wing deserved it. He was worth every bit of it."
"You two sound like you made an incredible team," the voice said wistfully. "It must be nice to go off and have adventures like that—"
Heero considered that. Was it nice?
"I can't help but notice though, you and Wing fought an awful lot of monsters," Heero's unseen visitor remarked. "Does that make you monster-hunters?"
"J prefers the term 'extreme pest control.' He thinks it gives us a more professional sound."
Heero considered that. Those last few words didn't sound… happy.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I just… What do you consider a monster?"
It was an unexpected question. Suddenly Heero put two and two together. The dimly lit room, Trowa's vividly green eyes, and the concern in his companion's voice. "You fear that I will eliminate your friend?"
The sharp intake of breath was all the confirmation he needed.
"I noticed before. Trowa's eyes are too green to be human. Is he a wood spirit?"
"Dryad," the voice acknowledged. "But he wouldn't hurt anyone. He's gentle, he'll only fight to protect the wildlife, or an animal in trouble—"
"Provided he does not make a practice of harming humans, he need fear nothing from me," Heero said.
"Phew! I tell ya, that's a weight off," Heero felt himself smile at the relief in the voice. "Trowa's my best friend—hell, my only friend," the voice acknowledged, confidentially. "Without him, I'd go nuts. You wouldn't believe it, but I have a hard time keeping friends—"
Heero let himself been drawn into the other's story. It felt relaxing, peaceful, just to drift—
"—and then the Harpy said, 'But this is my evening dress!'"
"That was a joke, Heero. You're supposed to laugh."
"I don't understand. What did it matter if the Harpy's feathers were soiled or not?"
"You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you? When I told that one to Trowa, he just about split his sides laughing."
"Don't be. Maybe I just need to work on that one some more."
Heero smiled. Duo never seemed to give up on anything. It was one of his friend's—yes, his friend's--more endearing traits. Trowa, too. During the days since the accident he'd been closely tended by the two of them. Trowa had tended his wounds by candlelight; Duo had kept him company in the darkness.
Heero sought out Duo's hand by touch.
"Sing that song for me," he requested.
"Sure thing." Heero sighed wistfully as Duo cleared his throat and began to sing. He had an amazing voice—he'd used it to lull Heero to sleep on many occasions. In fact, and Heero blushed as he remembered, that voice had been the source of not a little embarrassment.
It was so sweet that he'd naturally assumed the voice belonged to a female and had addressed Duo as such. His friend had howled with laughter. Trowa eventually had had to explain. When Heero, horrified at his mistake had tired to explain, Duo waived all apologies.
"Don't be sorry," he'd said. "I've never been called a fair maid before—definitely not to my face at least. I'm taking it as a compliment."
"How are you feeling?" Trowa asked, entering the cave.
"Not bad," Duo said. "And you?"
"Idiot." There was a scuffling sound, as Trowa felt his way over to the bed. "Heero?"
"I'm fine," Heero said.
"Good. I'll take a look at your wounds. Hang on…"
A light was struck. Although Heero looked up as quickly as he could, all he could catch of Duo was the edge of a black robe disappearing down the passage. He sighed at another missed chance to see Duo. Although the two of them had spent hours discussing their respective lives, Duo had not allowed Heero to see his face at all. When pressed, he just refused point blank to talk about it, telling Heero he had very good reasons for not showing himself.
It disappointed Heero. Duo was so kind and funny and full of life that he'd become quickly infatuated with him, when he thought he was a girl. Even now that he knew different, he sometimes caught himself thinking wistfully of—
"Your ribs are healing nicely. I think you may be ready to leave us soon," Trowa reported.
Leave? Heero had not thought of that possibility. Of course it was inevitable, but to leave now—without having even overcome Duo's strange reluctance to show his face?
"But I can't leave."
"You'll be fine. I can guide you safely through the forest. There's a town nearby, they can help you find your friends."
But—you're my friends, Heero wanted to say. But—perhaps, they didn't want him? Was that why—
"Trowa. Is Duo… ugly?"
"Ugly?" The gaze Trowa threw on him was alarmed. "He didn't say that, did he?"
Trowa's grip around Heero's arm tightened uncomfortably. "You better not have said anything. If you knew how hard it was to convince him that he was not hideous—"
"I didn't. I just wondered. He never shows his face to me and I thought that maybe he was ashamed—"
"Duo has nothing to be ashamed of," Trowa answered promptly.
"He's not ugly then?"
"Not at all. He's not got typical looks but to some tastes… I'd go so far as to say he's downright beautiful."
"Is he cursed?"
"Not as such. He was just born into the wrong family," Trowa sighed as he tied off a bandage. "All done!"
Heero frowned as he tested that bandage. "Is it me then?"
"Heero… I can't explain. But trust me, Duo has a very good reason for not showing you his face. Please, whatever you do—respect that."
Trowa rarely said anything he didn't mean. Heero nodded solemnly, he would take that advice.
The dryad smiled, then left Heero.
The candle remained, small light flickering as Heero considered what he'd learned. He would leave soon. Duo was not ugly.
After a moment's thought he reached over and carefully extinguished the candle.
A few minutes later, he heard the slight noise of Duo's return.
"Heero—Trowa tells me you're almost better. Guess you'll be leaving us soon?"
"I'd rather stay," Heero said.
"I know. I wish you could but—it'd never work."
Heero didn't know why Duo sounded so sure but it hurt. Still… "Duo? Could you come over here please?"
If Duo thought the request strange, he didn't show it. Heero put a hand out to grip his tunic and carefully felt for Duo's face.
"Uh, Heero? What are you doing?"
Heero decided to answer the question by showing Duo exactly what he was doing. Once his hands had found Duo's mouth, Heero bent his lips to them. It was awkward—he wasn't what you'd call experienced in kissing, and the fact there was no light made it worse. However, the results were very worth it. Duo seemed to enjoy it too—at least, he didn't pull away, until Heero had finished.
"Um, Heero? You haven't forgotten the whole not a girl thing?" Duo asked hesitantly as they stood, trying to sort out their reactions to that kiss.
Heero snorted. "No."
Heero yelped as he was suddenly and enthusiastically jumped, thrown back onto the bed. He had no time for protest, as Duo's lips effectively claimed his—Heero moaned, letting Duo deepen the kiss. He wrapped his arms around Duo, even as his tongue explored Duo's mouth. Heero winced as his tongue caught on something sharp. What—There was a matching protrusion the other side of Duo's mouth. Fangs then—which led to another explanation of why he wouldn't show his face. Fear of Heero. The monster hunter pulled Duo closer—when they had finished the kiss, they could have a chat about this—
Duo ran his fingers through Heero's hair, pulling out of the kiss to murmur, "So soft," against Heero's cheek. Heero smiled, taking the opportunity to explore Duo's face with his fingers. The skin that met his was smooth, the features, as far as he could judge, evenly formed—it would appear his hypothesis was correct, that it was fear of Heero not shame—
Duo hissed and fell off the bed.
Heero sat up worriedly. "Duo, are you all right? Did I do something wrong?"
"Ow…" Heero could hear Duo picking himself up slowly. "I'm okay. My butt's a little sore but I can deal."
"What happened?" Heero asked.
"You just surprised me. I should have warned ya. Head and shoulders are off limits, okay?"
'You don't have to be afraid of me, Duo."
Heero reached for Duo again, but this time the boy didn't respond. "I felt your fangs when we kissed. I know you're a monster. But you've been good and kind to me… I'd never hurt you."
"If only it were that simple," Duo sighed. "Heero, I'm afraid… once you leave, it would best if you don't return."
"Don't you want me to?"
"I'm doing us both a favor here. Trust me, it's best this way. We may not like it, but—"
"Duo, what are you?"
There was silence after Heero's sudden question, then Duo sighed and answered.
Heero heard his footsteps fade away.
Although he spent the next few hours lying in complete darkness, he remained alone until Trowa returned to guide him out of the tunnels and back to the human village.
"Pardon me, sir, but I couldn't help but notice your sword—"
Heero grunted, scarcely looking up at the blonde girl standing beside him his table.
"Are you a warrior?"
"On occasion. Mostly I'm a monster hunter."
"Even better." The girl sat down. "Are you currently on a quest?"
Heero grunted in the negative. He really wanted to be left alone. First Wing, and then Duo—he hadn't even said goodbye—
"My name is Relena. I'm the ruler of this city."
It was really more like a town than a city, but Heero didn't point this out to her. "You have a job for me?"
"Yes. Tell me… have you heard of the gorgon Medusa?"
It was creepy to say the least. Wandering through a forest that seemed to consist of equal parts of trees and statues. From the drawn swords that a lot of the statues carried, Heero realized he wasn't the first soldier Relena had employed on this quest. That didn't bother him overmuch—he was used to doing things that other people couldn't.
There were not just statues of people, Heero noted. A fair few woodland creatures stood petrified. And over there, that looked like a—horse?
Heero hesitantly approached, not wanting to see his fears confirmed but unable to turn away. "Wing—"
His companion stood on his hind legs, shying at the sight of something. Frozen. Heero reached out his hand to the horse that was so much more than that—drawing it away quickly at the cold feel.
Turning away quickly he drew his sword. The gorgon would pay for this—she would pay dearly indeed.
It was not long after that he began to find recent marks of someone walking through the forest. Since most people were too afraid to come near the woods because of the gorgon, that left only one option—
Using the back of his highly polished shield to scour the surrounding area, Heero approached with caution. A faint noise from ahead told him that his prey was indeed close—finally he caught sight of his target in his shield. The gorgon knelt by a pond, her back to him as she stared at something within the water. In place of hair, several snakes wound their way back and forth, eyes flicking across the clearing, although they did not seem too interested in keeping watch.
Heero approached carefully. However, he had not fully anticipated how hard it was to approach the Gorgon without looking at her directly. Concentrating on her image in the shield he completely forgot to keep his eyes on the path—and immediately stumbled over a large rock.
Heero cursed as he fell, knowing the noise would alert the Gorgon to his presence. He scrambled up right, hurrying to get his shield back in the right position—
He whipped his head up incredulously at that voice. "Duo?"
Stricken violet eyes met his. "Oh no! I'm so sorry—"
For what? Heero wondered until a growing stiffness in his limbs told him. "Duo—"
"I'm so unbelievably sorry, Heero—Believe me, I never meant for this to happen," Duo wrapped his arms around Heero and sobbed. Heero felt a tear of Duo's run down his cheek.
"Trowa was right," he said, pulling Duo away from him to look at him. "You are beautiful."
"Heero," Duo whispered, bending to his lips.
A brief moment of warmth and then…
Heero knew no more.
end part one. Tbc.