Duo drew back against the far wall of the cave, trying to control his breathing, convinced the vaulted chamber would pick up and echo his racing heartbeat. Keep riding, keep going. Nothing to see here.
The hoofbeats slowed and stopped outside the cave's entrance. There was the sound of booted feet hitting the ground, crunching leaves and sticks, walking toward the cave with a determined noise. A flash of a lantern's light appeared in the inky darkness.
"Come out, come out, my little stallion. I know you're in there." Heero called. "I can smell your sweat and fear from here. You can't escape the wolf that easily." The lantern's light grew stronger and Heero rounded the small bend in the cave. Duo gazed up at him fearfully. The sleeveless tunic and short trousers he had stolen from the castle laundry did nothing to protect him from the cave's chill and his arms were lined with raised bumps of flesh.
Heero placed the lantern on a natural shelf in the cave and knelt down. Duo tried to draw back into the stone but there was nowhere to go.
"Sh...." Heero reached out a gloved hand and touched his cheek gently. "My poor little captive. This was very foolish of you. Did you think to escape me that simply? Did you think I would not follow if you ran? I would track you to the pits below and back before I'd let you get away from me." His eyes grew concerned. "You're shivering. Here." He removed his thick riding cloak and draped it around the other man's shoulders.
"Thank you." It was barely a whisper.
"Why did you run from me?" Heero sounded perplexed. "In these past few weeks, have I harmed you?"
"You've slept in the same fine bed I have. Shared the same good meals. Each morning you are permitted to share my bath. My personal library is yours to use as you wish to fill your days. Why did you flee me?" He cupped the pointed chin so he could look into those incredible violet eyes. "Tell me." He added. "It's okay, I'm not angry with you. Really, I'm not. I'm relieved to have found you before some cut-throat did."
"I had to try." Duo said shakily. "I had to get away before..."
"Before?" Heero prompted softly.
"Before there's nothing left... of the man I used to be."
"Oh, my poor stallion." Heero moved closer and his breath was warm on Duo's mouth. "The man you were was beautiful, and strong, and proud. You are still all those things."
"Not proud." Duo shook his head. "Not strong, not anymore."
"Oh? Why did you think that? I have not forced you into anything you did not desire."
"I wish you had." The voice grew bolder, more desperate. "If you had I could pretend that it was all right, that I didn't have a choice, that I didn't... "
"Do you like it when I touch you, Duo?"
"Yes." The voice had dropped low again.
"How about when I taste you? When you spill yourself into my mouth? Do you like that as well?"
Heero ran his tongue over Duo's lips and spoke against them. "What about when I take you? When we're joined together? Do you like... that?"
A choked sob. "Yes! Damn you, yes!"
"There is no shame in that. We give each other pleasure in the dark hours of the night. We harm no one. Sh, I know, it goes against what you've been taught to believe. Let me help you." He pulled the man into his arms and laid Duo's head against his shoulder. Duo hesitated for a moment, then relaxed into the embrace. A hand, now minus its leather glove, stroked his hair tenderly. Heero drew the riding cloak around both of them.
"Are you going to.... punish me?" Duo asked several minutes later, his voice catching.
Heero mused for moment. "I should. I was very worried when I couldn't find you. But I think this time we can forgo punishment. However, any future attempts will not be treated lightly."
"As long as I am your slave I will try and escape you." Duo's words were muffled against Heero's shoulder.
"I see. Are you a man of your word, Prince Duo?"
"I do not lie. If I make a vow I keep it."
"What if I were to grant you your freedom?" Heero asked suddenly. Duo sat upright. Heero held up a hand. "Allow me to finish. What if I allow you the freedom to go wherever you wish unescorted? To command my servants, to dine at the high table in the great hall? To wear your own clothing with pride. To rule my kingdom second only to myself?"
"For what price?"
"Your vow, your word of honor, that you will never try and escape me again. You will stay with me always. You will continue to share my bedchamber... and my bed. In all manners you will defer to me as your liege but you will not have to hang your head in shame before anyone else. If anyone dares mock you for it, they will meet a swift, sudden demise."
"Why? You already have what you want from me." Duo had to know. "You know I'll come to your bed. I can't help myself. Why would you reward me for running away with this?"
"Because I've fallen in love with you." Heero breathed softly. "And I love you far too much to see you unhappy, so unhappy you put yourself in danger to escape it."
"I... accept. I won't try and escape again."
"Your vows now." Heero rose to his feet with Duo still at them. "Kneel." The king commanded.
Duo rose up on his knees, head bowed forward.
"Do you vow that you will never again flee me? You will never again run away from my hearth and home?"
"Do you vow to give yourself to me freely, without questions of right or wrong? To come to my bed each night to satisfy your own cravings as well as mine?"
Heero knelt on the floor facing him. "Then, Prince Duo, you are a free man, with all rights restored to you."
Duo nodded. "I thank you." He made no move to get up.
"Shall we go home now, my wild stallion?" Heero asked. "There's a warm fire burning. You've probably eaten little today. I'll have hot bath and meal prepared for us. Then perhaps we'll lie together on the soft rug before the fire, you and I. I'll spread your hair out over your back like a cloak and brush it for you, the way I did the other night. Warm, well fed, safe from all harm. Would you like that?"
"Yes." Duo nodded, unable to control a small smile. "Very much."
"Come then, my horse is strong enough to carry both of us." He helped Duo to his feet. "Let us return home now."
In the past few weeks they had tried different scenarios in the VR environment, but there was something about "Wolf and Stallion", as they called it, that appealed to them more than any of the others. As it progressed, the king and his captive prince had developed an interesting collection of enhancements as well as becoming obsessed with each other. Duo had teased Heero that he should make a book of their adventures and Heero had retorted that only if his Stallion co-authored it.
Do had shrugged that he was game and now at least a few hours each day were spent to penning the love story between King Lucian and Prince Devin. (Heero had insisted that while their real names were fine for the VR environment, the characters should have their own identities for the book's purposes). He had also vetoed Duo's numerous suggestions of giving King Lucian an insane Chinese advisor who was constantly ordering attacks on small villages and accusing little children of high treason. Duo had even gone as far as to sneak various paragraphs into the story at various points to this effect, but Heero always discovered and deleted them. He had especially disapproved of the King discovering the advisor Wuchang hiding in his clothing trunk, stark naked, spying on the two lovers.
"If he ever reads that he'll behead you and I can't say I'd blame him!" Heero snorted.
"Heero, the day Wufei ever sits down to read a romance novel about two men, based on a twisted little VR fantasy we have going, is the day I get a haircut!"
"In that case I'll make sure he never sees it." Heero promised, stroking the long braid. "I wouldn't recognize my stallion without that wonderful tail."
Now Duo paced around the bedroom, and flopped back on the bed. "He... ero. Come ON already!"
"In a minute." Heero did not look up from the computer screen. "I want to finish this first."
"Just like the old days." Duo shook his head ruefully. "Well, almost. I don't think you were sending gay smut to Dr. J. Then again, maybe you should have. Might have made life interesting for the old boy."
Heero sputtered. "Thank you for that very disturbing mental image. Here, read this. What do you think?"
Duo rested his chin on Heero's shoulder, reading what his koi had typed. "I think... that we need to do some graphical research tonight." He said at last. "I have got to try that." He nuzzled Heero's neck. "Heero? Do you ever wonder about this?"
"If maybe this is who we were in a past life. Maybe these are memories." He mused.
"I've wondered about that." Heero tilted his head back against Duo's chest and gazed up at him. "I hope we had a happy ending if it did really happen."
"If not we can make sure we do this time around." Duo shrugged. "But it's a nice thought, that even after we grow old and die we'll find each other again someday." He grinned. "You're not such a spoiled brat this time around, anyway."
In the story, they had explained that Lucian was the youngest son, and had been pampered throughout his life. Upon the deaths of his two older brothers he had inherited the throne.
Devin had lost his parents at a young age. His uncle had ruled the kingdom until Devin was deemed ready to do so. Devin, hot-headed and quick-tempered, had not wanted the responsibility, had been more than content to let his uncle rule in his stead. He preferred the thrill of a wild hunt, the rush of a clean battle. Now, his uncle was in exile, his kingdom in the hands of his enemy. Himself literally in the hands of his enemy. Confused and overwhelmed, the young prince began to bond with his captor, and the young king reveled in having another ruler completely under his control. Right now their love was obsessive, unchecked. Devin, although technically free, was bound to the king with chains stronger than iron; his own words and heart kept him held fast.
Feelings that intense could not help but carry over into the real world. Their lovemaking had never been better, and Duo felt it had a lot to do with Heero no longer being afraid of hurting him or frightening him. He'd long suspected his koi of having a kinky side buried somewhere and he loved drawing it out into the open. So he had accepted Heero's shy requests eagerly. Although it was a little hard now to look at the tie of his Wolf's bathrobe and not blush. And that string of beads... Duo wasn't sure where Heero had found that but he wanted to know; he owned them a glowing letter of praise.
This line of thinking was getting dangerous. "Come on, we're going to be late for the picnic." Duo said regretfully.
Heero sighed, standing up from the computer chair. His eyes strayed downward and Duo shrugged helplessly. "Correction." Heero reached for his maclen. "We're going to be very late."
"You be careful on that thing." Duo called as his son whizzed by on his new hoverboard. "Not so fast!"
Heero tugged Duo back down to the blanket. "I doubt he can hear you."
"Oh, he heard me. He's just in 'ignore Pops' mode."
"Selective hearing." Wufei nodded. "A common malady among small children. And older ones."
"Sorry, did you say something?" Duo was stuffing a piece of fruit in Heero's mouth.
"Nice to have a day off, isn't it?" Marti was dangling Rosemary on his stomach while Sheld was engrossed in a new book. "Might as well enjoy the last of the warm days."
The main continent of Dera had six months of pleasant, spring-like weather, followed by six months of icy cold. Or what the pilots thought of as months, anyway. Dera, having no moon, had a different measuring system. However, a Deran year was roughly the same as an Earth one, and a day just about the same length, so it was easy to keep track. An actual year on Seta was equal to four on Earth, but the secondary world used the home world's calendar as a basis.
"Ummm?" Sheld did not look up.
"I said our daughter's horns are growing in nicely." Marti replied. "And her claws are nice and sharp too. Soon she'll have a spiky tail, just like her mother."
"Yes, love. Very soon." Sheld nodded absently.
Quatre snickered. He adored playing that game with Trowa, seeing what he could get his green-eyed mate to agree to. So far on his list of best things were an orgy with a pack of clowns, stealing Relena's mansion, and turning L3 into a gaudy theme park. To each request Trowa had nodded that it sounded like a good plan to him, and then returned to whatever he had been doing. One-track minds were such fun to play with. Quatre grinned. Just about everything else about Trowa was fun to play with as well. At Duo's urging they had been experimenting with the VR station in their apartment and discovering new depths to each other's inner desires.
Linra and Jazz were at the back of the park racing their hoverboards. Duo kept giving them nervous glances now and then, and Heero smiled to himself. "Are you going to tell them?" He asked his maclen.
"Tell us what?" Quatre asked, peeling himself away from Trowa. Wufei looked over. "Now what are the two of you up to?"
"We're thinking about adopting a child." Duo smiled. "Maybe getting Jazz a baby sister to tease."
"That's wonderful!" Quatre laughed. "Oh, I'm so happy for you both. Any baby would be lucky to have such great fathers."
"Another Maxwell." Wufei shook his head. "I may have to vanish on Seta, you know. No doubt the first thing you'll teach it to do is harass me."
"No, that's the second thing. First thing is teaching it that Quik-Glue and Daddy's hair are not a good combination." Duo muttered.
"He didn't... " Sheld looked up from her book.
"He glued my head to the sheets when he was three. I don't know why, HE didn't know why. But he thought it was pretty funny none the less."
Marti sat Rosemary down on the blanket next to him. "Linra once got our access code and ordered over 900 boxes of cookies. It shorted out the transporter AND our bank account. Not to mention our friends threatened to dismember us if we tried to palm one more box off on them. Remember that, Heero?"
"How could I forget? The sight of a Kam-Crunch Delight still makes me sick to my stomach. And her argument in her defense."
"Oh, EVERYONE likes cookies." Sheld and Marti said together.
"I bet they're telling the cookie story again." Linra grumbled, sitting down next to Jazz under a tree. "I SAID I was sorry. You'd think they'd get over it already."
"I hear ya." Jazz sympathized. "I don't think there's a person on L2 who doesn't know I glued my Pops to his bed once."
He leaned back against the tree trunk and yawned. "Sleepy." He muttered. "Ate too much."
"Go to sleep then." Linra shrugged. "I think I'll take a nap too. It'll be a long time before they finish embarrassing us over there." She lay down and put her arm around Jazz's waist.
"What are you doing?" He asked gruffly.
"I sleep better when I'm holding something warm and Lali isn't here." Linra explained.
"Okay." Jazz agreed. "I'll probably sleep better too." His eyes drifted shut.
"Look at that." Heero said softly as the adults stood over the sleeping children. "Makes you wish for a camera, doesn't it?"
"He looks so... innocent." Wufei replied. "Amazing."
"It's almost a shame to wake them, but we need to get home before it starts to pour." Sheld sighed. "Linra?" She shook her daughter's shoulder. "Time to go home now."
"Already?" The little girl sat up and blinked. She glanced down at Jazz. "I was right. She nodded. "He's very warm to cuddle with."
Sheld touched the boy's arm. "Jazz. Rise and shine." The boy did not respond. Sheld frowned and shook him harder. "Jazz? Wake up now."
Jazz sat upright suddenly, violet eyes wide, gasping for air. He looked at Sheld with no recognition on his face.