‘Please God, don’t let this happen. I love him . . . please God, don’t let this happen. I love him . . . Please God . . .’

Zechs’s mind held few thoughts as he stalked through the kitchen and into the study to settle his wet burden onto the chaise longue. Duo’s head lolled to the side as he struggled to breathe, one hand at his chest the other hanging limply over the side of the chaise.

Zechs watched in horror. Though his face betrayed only something akin to anger, the trembling in his hands and lips gave away his true fear. He winced as Duo coughed, a deep rattling noise that shook his slight frame for several long moments and Zechs finally gave in to Milliardo’s weakness and fell to his knees beside the other man. He lay his wet head in Duo’s lap, clutching at slim hips.

‘I won’t let go of him. Please God, don’t take him. Don’t let this happen. I love him . . .’

He had not seen how Shinigami had gotten out of his stall, had not seen the creature rushing toward the exit of the barn. But he had seen Duo, dashing to catch the great ebony animal, and instead, catching a set of rear hooves to the chest. Duo had flown several feet backward, caught solidly by the bulk of the barn wall. Shinigami had trotted antsily about the barn and Milliardo had been forced to stall the stud before he could tend to Duo. ‘If he dies,’ Milliardo though, ‘so does that horse!’

It was then that Netti entered the room with more than an armful of dry towels. Duo’s coughing spell finally subsided as they wrapped him in the warm cloth, and it seemed to Milliardo that the fit may have actually helped.

Finally able to control his breathing, Duo sucked in a great lungful of air, shuddering at its release, and did what he’d been wanting to since that damnable animal had nearly taken his life.

“Horse meat . . . for dinner . . .” He panted with more effort than he’d expected it to take.

At the sound of his lover’s voice, joking even in his state, all of Milliardo’s reserves broke. He was, in that instant, more happy and relieved and grateful than he could ever remember before. Something inside him hitched and he buried his face in the damp cloth of Duo’s pants, and cried.

He had not cried for more than fifteen years but his body had not forgotten the particulars of the task. His fingers clutched at Duo’s clothes and a small whine slipped his lips. Somewhere in the back of Milliardo’s mind he heard Netti thank the same God he’d been praying to, but the sounds were distant as he held the other man tightly. He shook with the force of his quiet sobs and his limbs became jelly as he knelt over, wet and shivering.

Duo touched his head.

“Zechs, . . . I’m fine,” his voice raspy, almost belying his words, “I was only winded . . . I’ve had worse from a mule . . . please . . . Zechs.

Milliardo could feel Netti’s stare on him. He must have looked ridiculous crying into another man’s lap, wet and pathetic and on his knees. Deep inside him Zechs was raging, screaming at him to get the hell off of the floor and stop making a spectacle. Milliardo, however, had other intentions.

Finding what little strength was left in his trembling muscles, Milliardo lifted his face from Duo’s lap. His eyes were red and teary and his face held the most miserable expression even as he reached for Duo and tugged him into a tight embrace, ignoring the tiny yelp of pain that Duo gave. He held him only for a moment though, pulling away from him a second later to find Duo’s face, his lips. And he kissed them.

Duo was shocked for a moment, and looked to where Netti had been standing in the doorway, only to find it swinging shut. He closed his eyes and concentrated on Milliardo’s lips.

Milliardo found himself drowning in his emotions. Duo was his life preserver and he kissed the other man frantically, pressing hard against his lips and holding him tight. He had been so frightened. So afraid he was going to lose him. So afraid of being alone again. He could taste his own tears as they intermingled with the kiss.

“Milliardo,” Duo pleaded after they had finally parted and the blond was hugging him again, “calm down, I’m fine . . . truly.” Indeed, he did sound better but Milliardo did not let go.

“I love you, you know,” he said to Duo’s shoulder. He was no longer crying but his face felt hot and Duo’s wet hair cooled his cheek.

“No,” Duo answered after some time, voice a little sad, “I didn’t . . .”

Milliardo pulled away to look in Duo’s face. He found nothing but utter sincerity.


“Oh Duo! Are you okay?” Relena rushed into the room. Netti had told her what had happened and she had run to check on her friend.

The couple was startled.

“Yes Relena, I’m fine.” Duo assured her, giving a weak smile.

“What’s going on?” Heero asked as he stuck his head into the door and he and Trowa joined the crowd gathering in the study.

“All of this for me?” Duo asked, “Next time I’m kicked I’ll send invitations.” His words were only lightly playful. Milliardo had pulled away at Relena’s entrance and sat on the edge of the chaise, back to the newcomers.

“You were kicked?!” Relena questioned, rushing to his side, “How badly? Is anything broken? Who was it?”

Duo was about to answer when Milliardo spoke up, he did not turn to face her, “Please, Relena, Duo needs his rest.”

The room grew silent and only Duo had the nerve to break it.

He breathed a little laugh, “I need my rest? . . . you should have seen my knight in shining armor here . . . he gave Shinigami what for.”

“Shinigami?” Trowa asked, obviously remembering the estate’s monstrous ebony stud.

“Yes,” Duo replied, “damned animal gave me a blow to the chest and our commander Zechs here, returned the favor with a punch to the nose.”

Milliardo could feel the eyes on him.

“Will you be alright?” Relena asked, still worried.

Duo sighed, “I’ll be fine. Just a bit wet and bruised. Thank you.”

The servant girl warily glanced at Milliardo’s back before leaning forward and giving Duo a slight kiss on the forehead, “Feel better,” she whispered and left the way she’d came.

Duo turned his attentions to the two boys. “Thank you for checking in on me Trowa,” he flitted his glance a bit to Trowa’s left, “ . . . Heero.” He could feel Milliardo tensing at that last word.

Silence descended heavily and Trowa did not miss the look passing between the two. He watched Duo for a second, his pale face red at the cheeks and painted with something Trowa couldn’t quite place . . . hatred? Fear?

He watched Heero. The boy seemed a little less arrogant than normal and for a half moment, perhaps even fearful himself. But just as Trowa suspected, the timidity lasted only a second and Heero turned his gaze to Milliardo’s back, a challenge to unseeing eyes, and spoke.

“Well,” he began, “good to see you’re not hurt . . .” Trowa was fixated as he watched a mysterious grin spread across Heero’s face, “ . . . Duo.”

The reaction was instantaneous. Milliardo, who had been tensely but quietly sitting on the chaise, rose swiftly, boots stomping heavily across the floor as he advanced upon Heero. Trowa stepped back so as to avoid any misdirected fury.

A wet, red-faced Zechs pushed Heero hard into the wall. It was only when his head hit with a resounding thud that the boy’s grin faded.

“Say it!” Zechs yelled, fisting the boy’s clothing and raising him to meet his angry gaze. Heero’s feet grazed the ground.

“Say it again, you little bastard!”

Heero was indignant, but not stupid. He kept his mouth shut.

“Milliardo, please . . .” Duo said from the chaise, not wanting the man to do something he’d regret.

“I told you once,” Zechs continued, his voice raw with emotion and anger, “that if you came near him again I would kill you.” He nudged a knuckle beneath the boy’s chin, digging into his throat, “that if you spoke to him and I would cut out your tongue.” Zechs pushed harder and Heero’s face began turning red, “And that if you touch him . . . I will divest you of that hairless, infant organ you so dearly love is that perfectly understandable Mr. Yuy.”

It was not a question.

“Now . . . say it again. Say his name.”

“Treize . . . would not . . . allow you--” Heero choked on his words. He could not breathe.


At that word from his lover, Zechs released the boy and Heero fell to the ground, coughing and sputtering as he attempted to catch his breath.

“Treize . . .” Zechs began, his face impassive as he watched Heero struggle at his feet, “ . . . is not here.”

“--eize . . . Massah Treize?”

Treize woke with a calm start at the sound of his name, his memories falling back into the distant territory of his mind with every coherent moment. He’d slept through the entire ride.

“We here massah,” his driver was telling him, a worried look on his dark face, “You a’right, Massah Treize?”

His master was brushing of the last of his memories, like so much dust from his lapel, when he finally answered, “Yes, Jahoshua, I’m fine.”

He chanced a look out the window at the house beside their carriage. Most of it was recently rebuilt, but some parts still bore the black soot and burnt-out walls that evidenced the war that had so recently scarred much of their country.

“Is the lady home?”

“Yessah. Her man done took yo’ bags, and they’s another waitin’ at th’ door.”

Treize crawled from the carriage, wondering minutely why the Lady had not greeted him personally.

“Thank you, Jahoshua.”

“Now you stop yo’ fussin’ boy, ‘fore I finish what Milliard’ done started!” Netti was, of course, worried about the boy sitting in the chair in the kitchen, choking on hot tea and refusing to keep the compress on his forehead, but at the same time, all too tempted to do as she threatened.

“I don’t want any . . . damned tea.” He was trying to yell but his voice came out barely a whisper.

He had been fighting her at every turn, but he couldn’t get up and leave. He had tried that, and managed to add a cut on his forehead to his list of injuries.

“Now you hush, boy,” she said as she slapped the compress back onto his head, “It’s that big mouth what got you in this mess from th’ start!” His head must have hurt from her shouting, or perhaps that was what it took to reach him, either way, he finally closed his eyes and stilled.

Netti sighed heavily. “Now, you gon’ sit still while I tend to Duo?” Her answer was a very slight nod and she carried the basin she had filled with water into the sitting room where Duo was asleep on the chaise. Beside him, Milliardo sat, as if defeated, head in his hands.

“He be a’right, mistah Milliard’. Don’t seem to me like nothin’ broke.” As she spoke she sat the basin beside the chaise and began the slow task of cleaning the stable hand. Milliardo’s back was to her.

“He’ll be staying in the main house for a while . . .” He said quietly without lifting his head.


“ . . . in my room.”

Netti didn’t falter, “Yessah.”

Silence passed as she tended Duo’s wounds until Milliardo asked impassively: “Is Heero okay?”

Netti shook her head despite the fact that he couldn’t see her, “He be fine too . . . but . . .”


“He was nearly done for, is all.”

His response was even quieter than before, “Serves him right.”

“Milliard’ . . .” the name was soft and accompanied by chubby fingers on his shoulder. He turned his head halfway to regard her, “. . . you know I ain’t one to tell a body what to do . . . but I brought a lot of boys up in my time, raised you and Massah Treize from pups . . . and I know you a good soul, mistah Milliard’ . . . you one of my boys . . .”


“And Heero . . . I know he seem wicked now, Lord knows I wanna chain him to the banister sometimes, but he a good soul underneath . . . no matter what he done.”

Milliardo had been watching Duo sleep as she spoke and didn’t look up when she’d finished, “Perhaps you’re right, Netti . . . I just have a difficult time seeing it.”

Netti smiled and resumed cleaning Duo, “Mebbe they’s somethin’ in your way . . . or you standing too far off . . .”

At that moment they heard the kitchen door squeak open and both turned to watch as, across the hall, Trowa went in to check on Heero.

“ . . . some folks,” Netti continued after she’d turn back to Milliardo, “ain’t quite so near-sighted.”

|Part 15|