Knight & Novice part 4.

**By the way, I must say I'm impressed by how many people commented that this seemed kind of anti-climatic, or the actions eemed to be missing. This is actually written as one strand of a bigger story. I've been confusing people with it, so thought I'd post the two streams separately here. Now that Knight and Novice seems to be finished, I'll be posting what I have of Ill Wind. Thanks very much for your comments--it's such a buzz to know I have such astute readers! You guys rock!**


"This is the room," Duo said. "It was cheaper to get the double bed and I thought--" he trailed off, fidgeting with the edge of his braid.

I had to hold myself in check. From his flushed cheeks it was pretty obvious what he thought--and the fact that he was not protesting it made my own blood heat. Still--I would take this slowly and I would take it right.
"It's a good room," I replied. "I'll go and settle this with the innkeeper. Why not get ready for bed?"

He nodded.

I found the innkeeper and he took my money without comment. I could detect disapproval--that and his attitude to Duo earlier combined to change my resolution about dealing with him in the morning.

"You must be pretty well off," I remarked to the innkeeper.

"Well, I manage, sir," he said, taken back.

"It seems like you can manage without our patronage." My voice was cool.

"I saw the way you looked at my companion before. Funny that. You know next to nothing about him, yet you feel you can look down upon him."

The innkeeper looked caught. "Well, you know what they say about monks. It isn't natural, them living like they do, up in their abbeys, no women--Hardly surprising a pretty lad like him got to be a novice--"

It took all the self control I possessed not to slam him into the wall there and then. Instead I casually drew my sword, playing with the edge of it idly, as I looked at the innkeeper.

"You didn't just insult him in my presence, did you? Because you do realise that if you did, I would be forced to exact vengeance--" I paused meaningfully.

The innkeeper gulped. "I would do no such thing! I meant no offence, sir, truly, I wasn't thinking--"

I snorted. "I'm sure you weren't. I trust there will not be a repeat of this?"

The innkeeper was most vehement in assuring me there would not be.

I smirked as I climbed the stairs. Perhaps I'd gone easy on him, scaring him out of his tiny mind rather than beating him into unconsciousness. But I had to admit it had been satisfying, making the man squirm for insulting Duo--

Speaking of whom--I took the next steps two at a time.

"I'm back," I started to say as I reached our room, kicking my shoes off at the door. "Duo, are you--" I looked up and caught my breath.

He'd undressed and was just climbing beneath the covers. The cover had slipped to expose one milky white shoulder, over which his hair spilled. I was enchanted.

"Duo," I whispered, noting absently that my body had transported me to the bedside entirely of its own volition. "You're beautiful--"

Hope and apprehension and maybe even joy looked up at me from his violet eyes. "Ya think so? Truly?"

"On my honour as a soldier," I said, hesitantly running my fingers through the shining chestnut strands.

"You're not just saying that to get me in the sack--you really think that?"

"You doubt my word?" I asked, not hurt, but serious.

"No--but--I don't see why you would waste time on me."

"Waste time?" I laughed. "Duo, every moment I've spent with you has been a revelation! I thought my life as a soldier was fulfilling--then I met you and saw the life you exude at every instant--Duo, you make me feel! For the first time in my life, I'm alive and it's because of you--your goodness, your vitality--why are you crying?"

He wiped his eyes clumsily with the back of his hand. "You're wrong! I'm not good or any of those things. Look at me--I'm a charity kid from Galloway who was lucky enough to be taken as a novice--an' even then I wasn't that good a novice. I'm nothing special, Heero--an' one day you're going to see that and leave."

"Duo," I gently cupped his face in my hands. "Your birth doesn't matter to me--I'm an orphan too. I never knew my parents--"

Duo still refused to smile. "Even in a country place like this we heard the rumours. The Prince's famous general and the beautiful maiden princess--"

"Nothing but rumours," I told him.

"Are they? Heero, I've read of the things you've done. There is no one else like you anywhere--you're a hero! An' if there's one thing I know, it's that heroes marry princesses. I'm serious--it's all there. You could marry well--you could make your own empire, your own country—Heero, you could be a king! So why would you tie your fortunes to a foolish novice? It doesn't make any sense."

"You're wrong," I whispered. "About me, about that--the things I've done are not noble or heroic. I'm a soldier, not a hero. Duo--come with me."

He blushed as I drew him out of the blankets, an adorable shade of pink.

"Stand here," I said, placing him in front of the mirror. "Tell me what you see."

Duo stuck his tongue out at his reflection. "Me," he said. "Bare as the day I was born."

"That's one way of putting it," I said admiringly. The monks had not done a bad job of raising him, that was for sure--Duo more than fulfilled the expectations the glimpses of his body had raised. "Shall I tell you what I see?" I said, embracing him from behind and looking over his shoulder to catch his eyes in the mirror. "I see beauty, intelligence, warmth, a good soul, youth--a little inexperience sure, and a bit of recklessness too--but there is spirit to temper one, and compassion to soothe the other." I turned my nose into his neck. "All in all, I'd say you're something special."

He snorted but I fancied he was pleased. "I feel like a colt on display. You'll be examining my teeth next."

I kissed him soundly. "I believe I already have."

He blushed. "Oh."

"Now, Duo--" This was going to be the hardest part of all. "Undress me."

"What?" He blinked into my face, startled.

I met his eyes calmly. "Undress me. I want you to see me."

He obediently bent his fingers to my uniform. The catch for my metal chest plate gave him a bit of trouble but I did not help him with it. I wanted him to do this by himself, to learn me--

Chest plates removed he tugged at my tunic. It was something of a shock to find myself standing next to him, with no cloth between either of us, and knowing that by reaching out a single arm I could feel his skin on mine--I shivered deliciously.

Duo was flushed as he undid my belt buckle, allowing my trousers to fall. I stepped out of them, and the shorts I wore beneath them, leaving myself fully exposed before him.

"Go on," I told him. "Look at me. This is me, Duo. This is who I am."

"Heero--" he stretched out a hand slowly to touch the thick scar on my shoulder. "You're hurt--"

"An old wound," I said. "I have many like it."

Duo traced a knife wound down the side of my chest. "Do they pain you?"

I laughed harshly. "Not them. The memories, now--they hurt."

Duo looked up quickly at that. I answered the question in his face.

"I've been in battle since I was thirteen or fourteen--I've nearly been killed more times then I can count. I've seen many good men die--and many things I hope I never have to see again. That's changed me, Duo--I'm not as ordinary people. I don't smile much, I don't know how to be gentle--I'm just a soldier who's tired of death." Forestalling Duo's protests I held up my worn, callused hands. "Do these look to you like the hands of some aristocratic charmer? No pampered noble woman could love these hands--but I'm willing to bet my future a foolish novice might."

"That's a lot at stake," Duo's fingers clasped about mine gently, even as a saucy challenge twinkled in his eyes. "Ya think you'll be able to find a novice foolish enough to take you?"

He stood so close to me his breath trembled on my neck.

"You'd be surprised at the silliness of some novices," I said. "As it happens, I do know one that foolish--" I scooped Duo up in my arms and carried him towards the bed.

"You'll have to point him out to me," Duo continued the charade. "I'll have to warn him of your utter heartlessness--"

"Cheek," I said fondly and dropped him on the bed. "You'll pay for that!"
"Will I?" His tone was daring.

I climbed onto the bed, wrestling him into an attitude of compliance then kissing him hungrily. "Absolutely," I breathed, drawing away--"Impudence must be encouraged at all costs."

He laughed. "Hell, Heero--I'm willing to wager I'll be in love with you before the next new moon."

His words sent a thrill throughout my entire soul. I wanted to cry, to sweep him into my arms and cover him with kisses, to sing, to do a million things--in the end all I did was wrap a strand of his hair around my finger and smile. "Nice language for a monk."

"I'm not a monk, in fact," Duo said, "I'm not even a novice anymore."

"Is that so?" I raised an eyebrow. "Want to do something about that?"

His burgeoning erection twitched at my touch.

"I might--" Although his tone was teasing, he suddenly sounded less sure. I withdrew my hand and kissed him chastely.

"I would not harm you, Duo," I said. "If this does not feel right to you we can leave it for tonight."

"Trowa told me it would hurt if I was not prepared," Duo said. "I am nervous--but I want to--that is--"

I kissed his throat. "We'll go only as far as you want," I told him. "Tell me to stop at any time and you have my word that I will." I already knew the difficulty of keeping that promise. So close--and I wanted him so badly.

"You promise," Duo repeated. "Heero--why do I believe you? I trust you--I want you and I hardly know why."

I drew back reluctantly. "I'll stop. We'll go no further tonight."

I turned to pull the covers over us, and was suddenly pounced. I moaned as Duo's body rubbed against mine.

"Stop, will you?" he demanded, breath hot against my ear. "I believe I have a few words to say about that."

He could be very persuasive.

The sunshine was creeping across the ceiling as I woke, late in the morning. I was instantly disgruntled--what Milliardo would say when he discovered his head of the army had slept in would not bear thinking about--

A soft sigh against my shoulder recalled to me my current situation and location. Very carefully, I shifted my head slightly to be treated to one of the more treasured memories of my life. Duo's head rested on my chest, his sleeping features calm and bathed in the sunlight. As I watched he stirred, eyelids fluttering open. I held my breath as he looked up at me suddenly, violet eyes warm with a sense of wonder that froze my heart--

He smiled, stroking the side of my face as he propped himself up on one elbow. "Good morning."

"It certainly is," I said, drawing him down to me for a kiss.

He responded in kind--and we were well amused until a loud whinny sounded from the stable yard.

I sighed. "Wing gets grumpy whenever he thinks he's being neglected. I'll go and see to him."

"I'll get breakfast organised," Duo said. "Or maybe lunch."

I watched as he slipped out of the sheets in search of clothes. His hair, gleaming with the sun's rays, lay loose and tangled across his back.

Duo started a little as my hand crept across his shoulders, gathering up those wayward strands. "Would you mind if I brushed this for you?"

Wordlessly Duo handed me a brush.

I can't describe the sensations that simple act evoked. I ran the brush through Duo's long hair, his body leaning against me, his eyes half closed, an expression of quiet calm over his face and in doing so felt as though I were allowed a piece of his soul. Doubtless it sounds foolish, but I cannot remember the closeness and tenderness of that moment without my heart growing warm.

Wing whinnied again, and Duo pulled away from me with a sigh. "Thank-you, Heero."

I held the hairbrush out to him, twining my fingers in his hair with a sigh. "No one must brush your hair but me."

I pulled my hands away to find Duo staring at me, the hairbrush held to his chest like a bible. Had I gone too far? But Duo's amazed expression faded to one of happiness. "No one shall."

Doubtless we would have got Duo's hair all mussed up again then had not shouts come from the stables.

"I should go before Wing attacks someone," I said.

Duo laughed. "From the sounds of things you're a little too late for that."

The innkeeper did not cross my path as I made my way to the stables. It would not have mattered if he had, I was in such a good mood I believe I might have shaken his hand.

Wing nickered resentfully as I entered his stall.

"What's the matter?" I asked him. "You've been well fed and looked after here--and I don't remember complaining the last time you met a nice filly--"

Wing continued to sulk as I saddled him and saw to it that he received fresh oats--there was no need to renew his water. It appeared my talk with the innkeeper had had run on consequences (there was, however, a pronounced lack of stable hands).

I sighed as I saw what my mount had done to the saddlebags. "Wing!"

The horse pretended to be engrossed with the oats. Grumbling to myself I picked them up. Lucky our few belongings were not of the breakable sort. They appeared to have been well trampled on and kicked about by Wing.

"Duo's books don't appear to be any better for this experience," I chided my mount. "Look, this one's lost its cover--" I frowned as I drew the paper from the bag. It did not feel like the rest of Duo's books--

It did not feel like the rest of Duo's library for the very good reason that it wasn't.

I stared in shock at what I held in my hands--how could one of the accursed scrolls get in to our saddlebags?

Voices outside the stables recalled me to the moment.

I stood, shoving the scroll inside my shirt. Trying to remain calm, I patted Wing then returned to the Inn, trying not to walk as if I was carrying an object many men had died for, and many more would risk their lives to gain.

Duo sat at one of the tables, surrounded by steaming plates.

"You won't believe this, Heero, but the innkeeper insisted on giving us all this food an' not charging us for it! Talk about generosity--" his smile faded as I approached. "Heero, is something the matter with Wing? You look rather, I dunno, worried--"

I forced a smile. "Wing is fine. Tell me, Duo, there isn't anything you brought with you that I should know about?"

"What do you mean? I've got my clothes, my bow, my books, an' the cross Brother Maxwell carved me--that's about it."

"I take it then that you didn't put the scroll into our saddle bags."

"Scroll?" Duo paused, mouth full of breakfast.

I looked around. The innkeeper had quit the room upon my arrival, and no-one else was dining so late--or was it early? "This scroll," I said, displaying a corner of it.

Duo choked. "Shit!"

I hid the scroll again as Duo recovered himself. "Are you all right?"

"No! What are you doing with that--that trice cursed--thing?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," I said coolly. To tell the truth I was rather relieved--Duo's reaction convinced me he had not acted in this.

"Well I don't know, I never wanted to see any of those ever again!" Duo sounded alarmingly distressed. "But how could they--" His face cleared. "Trowa--"

"Of course! He was hanging round you and Wing--I knew we couldn't trust him." I growled, angry that I had not foreseen this. Yet--why would the performer do such a thing?

"We've got to return it to the Prince," Duo said.

"Hold," I said, putting a hand on his arm as he rose to go do exactly that. "I'm sure that Milliardo will be regretting letting me go--if we return the scroll, he may not let me go again."

"So, I'll return it." Duo's reply sounded less certain.

"No," I said. "My prince is noble, but he's capable of acting like a spoilt brat--and I wouldn't put him above holding you to ensure I returned."

"No! Don't look like that!" Duo waved his hands in the air above his head. "We are not keeping it! We're not!"

Duo continued in this vein for several minutes while I admired the fluidness of his movements. He did everything so intently--I blinked as I realised he was winding up.

"So there," he finished, hands on slender hips.

"We can't go back now," I repeated. "But consider, Duo--Trowa must have had reason to put the scroll where he did. Most people don't know where we're going, and the Ever Winter is fairly remote--not to mention few people would be looking to a couple of farmers to find anything of such value."

Duo sighed unhappily, sensing where this was going. "I refuse to have it in the house."

"Fine," I said. "We'll hide it in our stables to be guarded by Wing."

Duo cheered up. "Knowing Wing he'll probably eat it."

I nodded. "Well, that would be one solution to our problem.'

"Heero, why don't we just destroy it now? I mean, Treize's sorcerers won't be able to use it."

"But neither will anyone else. Remember what Howard said--they might doom the world or save it."

"That's an awfully big chance to take," Duo sighed. "I'm still not happy about this."

I kissed his cheek. "I'll make it up to you."

Duo raised an eyebrow. "How will ya do that?"

"I'll think of something. New clothes for a start--now you're no longer a novice there's no reason you should wear the habit."

"New clothes? Really?" Duo tried to suppress his excitement. "I guess that's a start."

I smiled. "Well, then, let's fetch Wing and go."


end--for the moment, only.