Duo flew back through the borderlands toward the Unseleigh city as fast as his wings could carry him. His heart ached at the thought of leaving Heero behind. His mind was screaming at him, asking him why he felt so strongly toward a Seleigh warrior he'd only just met. It was an irrational, foolish thing to do. But he couldn't deny what he was feeling. Since he'd met Heero, he could think of nothing else. His heart did little flip-flops whenever he thought about the handsome warrior. He knew without a doubt that he was falling in love with Heero.
He shook his head as he zipped under a tree branch. How could he be falling in love with Heero? Was the Seleigh warrior right? Were they under a spell? He hoped they could figure out what was going on before it was too late. He didn't want Heero to get hurt...
He was so lost in thought that he didn't see the movement off to his left until it was too late. A bright orange ball of magic hit him in the side, stunning him. With a wordless cry, he fell to the ground.
The Unseleigh prince lay on the ground, blinking hazily at the air. He heard voices shouting orders as several winged bodies converged on him. One tall, long-haired sidhe leaned over him, eyes widening in recognition.
"It's the prince!" he shouted to the others as he helped Duo to his feet.
"Are you well?"
"How did you escape?"
"Were you pursued?"
The Unseleigh soldiers all spoke at once. Duo winced as head his began to ache from the stun bolt. He held up his hand for silence.
"I'm fine. And I don't think anyone is following me."
Their leader, a man named Rashid, stepped forward. "We feared the worst when Lord Quatre and Lady Hilde came back and told us what happened."
Duo let out a sigh of relief. His friends were all right. "I need to get back to the palace, Rashid. I have to let my brother know that I'm safe now."
"King Khushrenada is not at the palace, your Highness," one of the men said. "He's preparing the soldiers to invade the Seleigh sidhe's lands to rescue you."
Duo's eyes grew wide in fear. "No! We have to stop this." He turned to Rashid. "Take me to him."
"As you wish, your Highness. Abdul! Keep watching this area."
"Yes, sir!" one of the other men replied as the others fanned out.
Rashid fluttered his red and brown wings and rose into the air. Duo flew behind him, praying to the Great Mother that he wasn't too late. He had to stop his brother from attacking the Seleigh clan. He didn't want to be the cause of another war.
The flight was short. They zipped around trees, under bushes, and over stones. Finally they emerged in a small clearing. Duo sucked in his breath as he saw what appeared to be the entire Unseleigh army gathered in one place, all clutching swords and looking ready to kill. The thought that all these men and women were ready to go to war, fight, and die for him made him feel slightly ill.
Those sidhe nearest them caught sight of the newcomers. Their eyes grew round as they recognized him.
"The prince! The prince has returned!" The news spread across the crowd like wildfire.
Duo craned his neck, searching for his brother, when a flying bundle of dark hair and blue wings threw itself into his arms.
"Duo! You're all right! You're all right!" Hilde sobbed in relief as she buried her head in his chest.
Duo wrapped his arms around the sobbing girl and patted her on the back. "There, there, Hilde. I'm all right. I'm fine." He looked up to see Quatre and Treize standing nearby watching him, both looking really relieved to see him. Hilde sniffed, hugged him once more, then moved away to lean against Quatre.
Treize stalked over to him and wrapped his long arms around him. "Praise Danu. I thought perhaps I'd lost you."
"I'm fine, Treize," Duo replied, surprised at his brother's rare display of affection. "But you've got to stand down the army."
Treize looked at him, a puzzled expression on his face. He reached up and brushed Duo's chestnut bangs away from his face. The young prince winced as his brother's fingers brushed against the bruising knot on his temple that he'd received when the tree branched had crashed into him.
"Those bastards hurt you," the Unseleigh king growled. "We cannot let them go unpunished."
"No!" Duo cried, clinging to his brother's arm. "Please, think about what you'll be doing. Do you really want to have deaths on your hand because of a bruise? That's what will happen if you send them to fight! Sidhe on both sides will die needlessly if you do. Please. Please think about both our peoples."
Treize looked at him for a long, long moment before sighing. "You're right. I don't care about them, but I do care about our people. Rashid."
The tall soldier stepped forward. "Your Majesty?"
The king swept his arm toward the waiting army. "Tell them what has happened. Then send them home. We will not attack the Seleigh court today."
Rashid nodded and turned away to give out orders. Treize turned back to Duo. "Let's go home."
Duo let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding. It was over. The weariness he'd been holding back suddenly caught up with him as he slumped forward. Quatre cried out and caught him just before he hit the ground.
The Unseleigh prince waved his hand. "I'm fine. I'm just... tired. I've been shot at, knocked unconscious, stunned, and my wings ache. I'd really like to sleep for a week."
Treize stepped forward and lifted his brother into his arms. "Let's go home and get you looked at by a healer. Then you can tell me what happened."
Duo nodded wearily as Treize took off for the palace, followed closely by Quatre and Hilde. He must have nodded off during the flight because the next thing he knew, they were nearing the palace.
The Unseleigh palace was built inside of a very large, very old oak tree. A master mage generations back had carved the tree out with magic and sculpted beautiful rooms inside. Holes had been cut out of the bark and filled in with fairy-glass which served as windows. From the branches of the tree hung ribbons and banners of the Royal Family. A large, elaborately carved door at the base served as the main entrance to the palace.
Treize carried Duo through the door and up the stairs to the prince's rooms. Word must have spread of his return, because a healer was waiting for them when they arrived. The wizened old man looked Duo over and reduced the bump on his head with a spell.
"He'll be alright in a few days, Your Majesty," he told the king as Quatre and Hilde helped Duo out of his torn and dirty clothing and into bed. "He just needs rest. He's exhausted from flying top speed all the way home."
"Thank you, Gee," Treize said, seeing the man out. As the door closed behind him, he turned back to his brother.
"Quatre and Hilde told me what happened. What were you doing in the borderlands?"
Duo looked guilty. "It's my fault. I found that little cove weeks ago. I just wanted to get out of here and have some fun."
"No!" Hilde piped up, jumping to Duo's defense. "It was Quatre's idea and mine. We... we 'kidnapped' him and took him there."
Treize held up his hand before anyone else could take the blame. "Alright. I get it. You were having fun. Why did the Seleigh attack you?"
"Um, well... they thought we were on their land," Duo answered sheepishly.
"Their land?" Treize said, outraged. "Quatre and Hilde showed me on the maps where you were. That area is part of the borderlands." The Unseleigh king began pacing back and forth. "They mean to encroach upon our land one little bit at a time," he muttered to himself.
Duo swallowed. This was not good. "Treize. It was one tiny peace of land. Barely bigger than from here to the outskirts of the city, and most of it was water. Are you going to push us into war because of one tiny sliver of land?"
"Tensions between our people have been brewing for a long time, Duo," Treize said as he stopped pacing. "There have been no major skirmishes in two summers but there are have been minors ones. War may be inevitable. Little incidents like this one will eventually lead to bigger ones."
"You don't know that."
"I do know that. That's the way it's been for generations." He sat down on the bed. "Let's not talk about this now. You need rest."
"I'll be fine," Duo insisted. "What are you going to do?"
"For now, nothing. But we're going to be watching the Seleigh very closely. If you hadn't gotten away..." he trailed off, shuddering slightly at the thought.
"How did you get away, Duo?" Quatre asked, sitting on the bed.
"Not all the Seleigh are like the stories we've heard," Duo explained defensively. "They don't want war either. They let me go when they saw the Royal mark."
"They saw the mark and just let you go?" his brother asked incredulously. "I don't believe it. An Unseleigh prince in their hands and they let you go."
"I don't lie, Treize," Duo said evenly.
"Cowards!" Treize spat. "They let you go because they were afraid of us. They knew we would crush them!"
"Would you rather they have kept me?" Duo muttered, looking extremely put out.
Treize smiled at him. "I'm very relieved to have you home, as are our people. We need to give them something to celebrate." His eyes wandered over to Hilde. "We will announce your betrothal to Lady Hilde tomorrow. That should give them something to be happy about."
Both Quatre and Hilde looked horrified.
"Treize..." Duo began but was interrupted.
"I know we were going to wait until your birthing day, Duo, but we can move it up a few moons."
"Treize, no." Duo glanced at his friends, giving them a silent signal. Quatre stood and ushered Hilde outside. When the door had closed, Duo continued. "Treize, there's something I've been meaning to tell you."
"What is it?"
"I don't want to marry Hilde. I can't. I... I don't like girls that way." He looked away, suddenly ashamed.
Treize looked at him for a long moment. "But... you have to."
"No. Hilde loves Quatre. I won't do that to them."
Treize sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I never considered..." He looked back up at his brother and gave him a weak smile. "I was depending on you to carry on the line. I... don't like women either."
Duo's eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
"Are you sure you won't marry Hilde?"
Duo shook his head, too stunned at his brother's revelation to say anything.
"You're as stubborn as Mother was," Treize replied, ruffling his brother's hair. "Very well. We'll... figure something out later. But we still need to give the people something to celebrate." He stood up and walked to the door. Opening it, he beckoned for Hilde and Quatre to come back inside. "Tomorrow we will celebrate the betrothal of Lord Quatre and Lady Hilde."
Hilde gasped and Quatre's eyes grew wide. She flung herself into her lover's arms, laughing. Treize smiled at them before excusing himself.
"Congratulations," Duo said, as he watched his two closest friends.
"We're getting married!" Hilde exclaimed, jumping up and down excitedly.
"Duo, I... thank you," Quatre said softly, tears of joy forming at the corners of his eyes.
Duo smiled, then turned toward the window to give the two lovers a little privacy while they kissed. He sighed and thought of his own kiss with Heero. If only he could find happiness like his friends had.
The Unseleigh prince smiled as he realized it was only three days until the full moon.
Heero walked through the streets of the Seleigh city. As usual, the streets were impeccably clean. The houses stood in neat little rows, looking very nearly identical to one another. Every street has the same number of buildings. Other sidhe walked or flew by, dressed in similar clothing, wearing similar colors. Heero blinked. He'd never really taken any notice of how... plain everything looked. It wasn't as if there were laws governing how people should dress or live. Everyone here was happy. Living as they did was tradition, and no one was willing to break with tradition.
Heero shook his head. He'd begun to notice a lot of things since meeting the little bundle of colorful energy named Duo. The people, the city, even the reasons for this silly rivalry between their clans... Heero had begun to question everything he'd ever known. And all because of Duo. He needed to figure out what was happening between the two of them as soon as possible before he let his whole world crumble down around him.
He was about to walk around a corner when he heard voices ahead mention his name.
"Did you hear about Captain Yuy," a male voice said tauntingly. "He let a scrap of an Unseleigh boy get the best of him. Froze him in place and escaped."
"No!" another voice answered, shocked. "But he's the best warrior we have!"
The first man snorted. "If that's the best we have, I worry for the future of our clan..."
The voices died away as their owners walked off. Heero frowned as he continued towards the palace. So people were talking about him as if he was some kind of failure? 'Well let them,' he mused as he hurried on his way. 'If it means sparing everyone a war I don't care what they say about me.'
As he entered the courtyard of the palace - a large building meticulously carved from a huge boulder by master mages hundreds of summers ago - a voice called out to him.
"Hey Yuy! Heard you got whacked over the head by an Unseleigh child!"
Heero's eyes narrowed as he turned toward the approaching sidhe. The man's name was Mueller and he was one of King Merquise's bodyguards. He was a slimy man, and one Heero never cared much for.
"Reports of my incompetence have been greatly exaggerated," Heero said dryly, walking past the man.
"Yuy, have you gone deaf as well as addled? I'm talking to you!"
Heero was about to turn around and pop the other sidhe in the mouth when a regal voice rang out across the courtyard. "Heero!"
Both men stopped and bowed their heads respectfully as a pretty blonde woman walked across the yard.
"Princess Relena," Mueller said, reaching for her hand.
Relena pretended not to notice. "Return to your post, Mueller. I have something to discuss with Captain Yuy."
Mueller's eyes narrowed, but nodded his head in agreement. "As you wish, princess." He shot a glare toward Heero then left the two of them alone.
"I don't know about you, Heero, but that man makes me feel slimy," Relena said, shuddering. She threaded her arm with Heero's and began to pull him toward the palace. "I was worried about you, Heero. Rumors are flying fast and furious about what happened."
"So I've noticed," he replied, giving her arm a quick squeeze. "Has your brother said anything?"
"Not yet. But he's heard the rumors too. How you and your men managed to capture an Unseleigh prince on our lands... how you are returning without the prisoner." She glanced at him. "How did he get away?"
"I'm sure you've heard the official version of the story?"
Relena snorted as they entered the palace. "The Heero Yuy I know would never let a mere slip of a boy hit him with a freeze spell unawares. What's the unofficial version?"
"Wait until I've talked to your brother, then I'll tell you."
The blonde-haired princess sighed dramatically. "Sometimes I think you love my brother more than me," she pouted with a twinkle in her eye.
It was Heero's turn to snort. "Not likely. But he is your brother and my king. My duty first and foremost is to him."
"I know, I know," Relena replied as they came to the doors of the throne room. "How about you tell us both together, that way you won't have to repeat yourself."
The throne room was by far the most beautiful room in the palace. Mother-of-pearl chips had been magically inlaid in the floor, casting eerie reflections around the room. Banners of past kings hung primly from the ceiling. The throne itself was a masterpiece, carved from a single piece of ivory and made to look like a flowering tree. As beautiful as it was, however, it was still empty. Heero glanced around the room, searching for his king.
King Merquise looked up as they entered the hall. He made a gesture with his hand, signaling for everyone else in the throne room to leave. When the last of the courtiers and advisors had left, Heero hurried over to his king and bowed to him.
"Heero. I've been hearing some rather interesting rumors about what's been going on near the borderlands. They say you captured an Unseleigh prince. Is this true?"
"My liege, we spied three Unseleigh sidhe on Seleigh lands near the borderlands. We managed to catch one. He bore the Royal mark," Heero explained.
"And where is he now?"
"He... escaped. Somehow he cut through his bonds and hit me with a freeze spell before taking off toward his own lands."
King Merquise looked at him for a long moment. "Hn. So that's the official version of the story. Tell me the unofficial version before I decide to buy it or not."
Heero's eyebrow twitched and Relena covered a smile with her hand. "I let him go. I didn't want to see our clan torn apart by another long and bloody war." He bowed his head in supplication. "You have a right to punish me if you feel I have not served the best interests of the clan."
The king smirked. "Nice choice of words there, Heero. You left men to patrol the borders?"
"Then they will inform us if the Unseleigh clan decides to retaliate. We should make preparations in that event."
"Your Majesty, forgive me, but I do not think that will be necessary."
"Oh? And why not?"
Heero hesitated. "Duo... the prince said he would stop their army from attacking."
King Merquise looked at him, eyebrow raised. "Duo? Tell me, how are you on a first name basis with an Unseleigh prince?"
"I... talked to him, Majesty. He said he and his friends meant no harm, that they didn't know they were on our lands."
"And you took his word for it?"
"He allowed me to place a truth spell on him."
Both Relena and the king sucked in their breath. "What kind of information did you get out of him?" the king asked eagerly. "How do their forces number? What kinds of defenses..."
"I didn't ask him any of those things, Majesty," Heero interrupted, drawing himself up straighter. "All I wanted to do was find out what they were doing on our lands. Turns out he and his friends were just having fun. No harm was meant."
Relena cocked her head to the side. "Why would an Unseleigh prince allow you to place him under a truth spell?"
Heero looked down. "I... I've met him before. He saved my life." He hesitated, not wanting to tell them of the strange things happening between him and the boy-prince. "I... owed him a life debt. I could not betray that trust. I questioned him of his motives and let him go."
King Merquise was silent for a long while. Finally, he turned to Heero and placed a hand on the warrior's arm. "While I don't approve of your methods, I understand your motives. You did the honorable thing. And you have saved us from a needless war. I may have done the same thing, letting him go like that, if I had been in your shoes." He leaned in closer. "But the next time someone allows you to put a truth spell on him, you question him thoroughly. Do I make myself clear?"
Heero nodded once. "As crystal, Majesty."
"Very well. The official version stands. Though I don't envy you, Heero. Your reputation will suffer for it."
"As long as our people are safe, I care naught what happens to me," Heero said calmly.
King Merquise looked at him with an appreciative eye. "You'd make a good king, Heero." He glanced at his sister. "Perhaps I should marry you off to Relena."
Heero and Relena glanced at each other, horrified at the thought. "Forgive me, Majesty, Relena, but I'd rather not. I have no ambition for the throne, and Relena is more of a sister to me than anything."
"Don't you even think of it, Zechs," Relena all but hissed, using her childhood nickname for him. "I love Heero, but if we were married, we'd kill each other within the first three days."
King Merquise laughed. "Very well. We will find someone... less incline to make you commit murder, sister dear. Now if you both will excuse me, I have some things I need to take care of and some advisors to convince that going to war would be a bad thing."
Relena and Heero bowed, then left the throne room. They walked in silence towards Heero's rooms for a few minutes before Relena spoke again.
"Heero, I know you too well. You weren't telling us everything back there."
Heero stopped and sighed, leaning against the wall. He knew she wouldn't let up on him until he told her everything. Fortunately, Relena was one of the few people he trusted absolutely.
"Princess... there's something strange going on between Duo... between the Unseleigh prince and I." He looked her in the eye. "When we first... met, he kissed me." Relena gasped in shock as he continued. "Since that day, I haven't been able to think of anything but him. When we caught him today, I accused him of putting a spell on me. That accusation hurt him deeply. He let me put the truth spell on him to prove his innocence."
"And he was innocent?" Relena asked, wringing her hands.
"Completely. And he's been... obsessing about me as much as I have about him. And then... I kissed him again."
"Heero," the princess warned.
"Please don't tell anyone, 'Lena, but I'm meeting him again. Something's going on and we have to figure out what it is before..."
"Before he gets hurt," Heero replied softly. "I... I don't want him to get hurt."
"Heero, don't be careless. Don't lose your heart to someone you can never be with."
Heero gave her a small smile. "You know I'm never careless, princess. I'll be careful. I promise."
"When are you meeting him?"
"On the night of the full moon. I'll need you to cover for me."
Relena smiled. "Just like when we were children. Very well. I just hope you know what you're doing."
"So do I, Relena. So do I."
A figure stepped from the shadows as the sidhe captain and the princess continued walking down the hall.
'So the proud warrior is going to meet his little Unseleigh whore,' Mueller thought as he watched their retreating forms. 'Well, we'll see who gets proclaimed a conquering hero when I bring back an Unseleigh prince and a traitor to our clan. Your time has come, Yuy. You've been the favorite for too long. It's time someone put you in your place. Maybe then the princess will turn away from you and notice me.'
He left the hall and went to sharpen his sword. He had to be ready. The full moon was only three days away.