+ Part 5
Wu Fei was not pleased. His dark brows were drawn down and his mouth was in a straight, tight line. "Warden J would not allow me to return to you until I had instructed all of the keep guards in ways to subdue and defend against a were lion. It took longer than I suspected to tell them all to pray to their ancestors, because there was no defense short of a suicidal frontal assault."
Heero blinked, stunned. He looked at where Duo was crouching by the fire, ears down and his _expression sullen. He didn't look like the killing creature that Wu Fei was describing. "Full grown lions-" Heero began in confusion, but Wu Fei snorted, cutting him off.
"You should know me well enough to realize that I do not indulge in hysterics," Wu Fei berated him. "The were lion is not a were wolf, fox, or cheetah. His claws are razor sharp and he has four sets of them. His teeth are daggers. His speed is far beyond anything you can imagine. If he were to pounce on your person, my Prince, not even your dagger would be able to save you. He would disembowel you before you could take in breath to scream."
Duo tucked his tail around himself. He looked small, too young, and his eyes were uncertain and almost fearful. The cheetahs had defeated him with cunning. Brute strength and sharp claws had not won him the day there. Heero had secured his own safety with a better weapon than edged steel or sharp teeth. He had used truth and honor.
"He isn't a wild lion," Heero replied angrily. "He does speak and he does understand the situation he is in."
Wu Fei scoffed as his one hand tightened on the hilt of his knife unconsciously. "I do doubt that, my Prince. I also doubt that you understand the grave situation that you find yourself in. You are in direct rebellion with Warden J. You made him lose face in front of your people. You are keeping a creature he considers an enemy."
"Will he will move against me?" Heero wondered sharply.
Wu Fei shook his head and the spines on his crest twitched in agitation. "He's trained you to be a warrior prince, but it was never his intention that you rule. If you show yourself unfit for that position, he is pleased. This, though," He gestured at Duo and Duo snarled. "Defying him is quite another thing entirely. He will seek to correct you, to put you back in your place. I don't doubt that he will make that attempt very public. Your humiliation will secure his power."
Heero balled his hands into fists, his ruff rising with his anger."I am no one's tool."
"Dog," Duo snorted and both were wolf and were lion glared at him. "I've seen the dogs the were cheetahs keep," he told them. "They come when they are called, eat thrown scraps, and protect when necessary. You are his dog, it seems."
Heero's anger sizzled along every hair, every nerve, but it was Wu Fei's next words that snuffed that raging fire out instantly, "Prince Heero is no one's dog. Warden J will discover that soon enough."
Duo huddled and looked away.
Wu Fei didn't let it drop. "You insult your savior. That isn't wise." He nodded to the collar and chain. "He has freed you against all wisdom. He defies his warden and his people for you. He has endangered his very life for you."
"It isn't insult," Duo replied quietly. "Simple truth. The savannah isn't so complicated. We are all free, we make our own decisions, and we lead our own lives. We fight. We mate. We hunt. We do not built cities and live where there isn't any fresh meat. We-"
"Perhaps that used to be true," Wu Fei cut him off. "But it isn't any longer. Your pride leader is gathering the other prides. He is making alliances and killing those who stand in his way. He will bring the prides into the forests to kill us and he will sweep the deserts clean to claim all of it for the were lions." His dark eyes narrowed at Duo. "That is truth. Perhaps you would like to tell us more truths and explain why he let you live, when he has killed so many others? Why would he kill the males from Lake Winago, who were sired by him and apposed him, and let a half maned lion cub, not related to him, live?"
Heero was astonished, "How do you know this?"
"We have our spies," Wu Fei explained., never taking his eyes from Duo. "Spies who saw Zechs drive this young one out when he decided to voice his unpopular political views to the wrong were lion."
"Solo," Duo muttered and his pain and anger were evident."I..." he choked and then tried again. "I didn't know that was why I was driven away. I did not think saying what I thought was a threat to a were lion like Zechs."
"So," Wu Fei said unsympathetically. "You see, cub, that things are very similar now, but for one exception, acting and saying the wrong things here will not result in your being chased out of our lands, but rather, it will cause you to be executed. I trust that there will not be any more 'displays' of your anger, poor choice of words, or your hunting prowess before Prince Heero's warden and his people again." He turned to Heero. "My Prince, now that you fully understand what the situation is, I urge you to get rid of this creature as quickly as you can. Warden J will not win the day if you do not give him weapons against you."
Duo rose and paced to the door, looking at them both expectantly. "I do want out," he said, tail twitching. "I can't sleep here. I can't stay here locked in these walls. I need the night air and open spaces. Let me go and I will hunt and care for myself until the desert fox journeys to my land."
Heero forgot anger, forgot the promise of danger, and felt trepidation claw at him. Why did he feel so strongly for a were lion? Why did the thought of Duo wandering the forest alone fill him with dread. "You won't be safe," he argued. "Warden J may send weres out to find you. The cheetahs, or other weres may hunt you and enslave you again. There are dangerous creatures in the forest that you don't know anything about."
Duo grinned suddenly, fierce and daring. "I am a shadow when I wish to be. I am silent, I am strong. I-"
"Have been in a cage for too long and you need food and sleep," Heero protested. "You are not strong."
Duo put back his ears and his eyes seemed to glow purple. "I could have killed you a dozen times in the forest, dog prince. My nose may not be able to find me home, but my claws and teeth are still sharp."
"Tomorrow, at least," Heero said and couldn't help a tone of pleading. "At morning light. Sleep tonight, eat well, and you will be better for it."
"Child," Wu Fei growled in warning. "You are in more danger than you know."
Heero glared. "I am not a child, Chang. You know what I am saying is reasonable."
"It is your reasons that make me fearful," Wu Fei admitted.
Heero laughed, short and sharp. "Not for the first time."
"Child," Wu Fei growled again.
Heero ignored him and turned to Duo. "Tonight," he begged. "Just tonight. I'll get more chickens from the cook. " His stomach went queasy as he added, "live ones."
Duo's ears came up and it was obvious that his hunger was stronger than his resolve to be free. He retreated back to the fire and crouched there. He glared at the too close walls and growled, "Just tonight."
Heero let out a breath of relief and couldn't help a smile. "I'll tell the cook." He turned and came face to face with a scowling Wu Fei. "Trust me," Heero begged him. "Stay loyal to me and my orders."
Wu Fei sighed. "Always, my Prince, whether for good or ill." The cook brought four live chickens in a wire cage. He tried to peer past his prince to the were lion, but Heero blocked his view. "This will do," Heero told him, an obvious dismissal.
"Anything my Prince wishes," the cook said obediently and then, daring, "If I may say so, though, some fresh, uncooked meat might be to the lion's liking, your Highness. A creature his size can't live on chickens."
"Thank you, cook," Heero replied, irritated at the man's mistake of calling Duo a lion and grateful for his suggestion about the food. "If you could prepare some meat for breakfast, we will see if it's to his taste."
"Yes, your Highness." The cook bowed low and left.
Heero took his flapping and squawking chickens into an eager Duo. Duo grabbed hold of the cage, but Heero dared sharp claws as he refused to let go.
"No, you are not a savage," Heero told him sternly. "You are not going to make my rooms into a butcher shop." He thought for a moment and then went to the tiled bathroom. He put the chickens on the floor and then turned to Duo, who's eyes were glowing eagerly.
"Hungry," Duo complained.
"I know," Heero replied, "But I expect you to follow rules of behavior. You will eat neatly and clean up the room, and yourself, afterward."
Duo glared. Heero glared back.
"We don't eat inside," Duo grumbled. "That's bad behavior."
"Where you're from," Heero. "Not here. I don't expect any blood when you come out of here. There's a container for garbage over there. If you have anything left over from the chickens, put it in there. I'll have a servant take it away."
Heero shut the door on the were lion and his meal. The door opened again almost immediately. The were lion looked anxious and embarrassed. "It's too small... leave the door open."
Claustrophobic. Heero grimaced and nodded. As he turned his back and he began to hear the cries of the chickens, he decided to go out onto the balcony. It was a simple wooden platform over looking a training area. Heero didn't usually venture out because he always became the center of attention. A prince's only private moments were in his rooms.
After a length of time leaning against the wall of the Keep, and trying not to be seen, Heero decided that the were lion had enough time to finish his meal. He went cautiously back into his rooms and found the were lion sprawled out over cushions on the floor in front of the fire. His entire body was lax, not even an ear twitching as Heero approached. Duo's stomach was round, as if he were pregnant. The mental image made Heero go hot and he turned to go into the bathroom.
A were lion could not eat chickens without making some mess. Still, the were had tried to be neat. Heero sighed as he picked up errant feathers and one half gnawed chicken leg, and tossed them into the garbage. He took it out of the bathroom and deposited it outside the door of his rooms for the servants to take.
Heero couldn't help approaching Duo again. The were lion was definitely deeply asleep; complete exhaustion having over taken him at last. Crouching down, Heero looked the creature over. Soft fur, smooth skin, supple muscles. Duo smelled a bit like chickens, but mostly of wild grasses and sunshine. His breath moved in and out of his throat with a very faint rumble, not a catlike purr, but a thrum of contentment that was unconscious.
Heero stretched out beside the were lion, weariness taking hold of him too and the warm fire making him drowsy. His pet cats liked to curl up to him for warmth and were wolves liked to sleep in groups, craving the social interaction. If Heero's family hadn't died, he would now be in a common room and sleeping with them and whatever siblings he might have had. His loneliness had always cut as keenly as any blade. No amount of pillows or warmth could replace the soft fur and pulse beat of companions. Sleeping even this close to someone else, even if Duo wasn't from the same species, was giving Heero an odd feeling. It was easy to pretend that it didn't matter when he hadn't known better. He had kept himself aloof, spurned the company of others, and wrapped himself in Wu Fei's self contained philosophy to trust no one and nothing but his skill.
Duo let out a delicate burp His ears flicked, soft, tawny ovals sticking out of his short cinnamon mane. Heero cushioned his head on a pillow and inched as close as he dared. He imagined Duo killing chickens, imagined Duo running through tall Savannah grass in sunlight, imagined Duo laughing and happy with an entire pride of 'family'. Now Duo was alone and, even when he returned to the Savanna, he would still be alone. They were kindred spirits now. Heero almost thought, 'brothers', but something inside of him balked at that.
The candles burned low and the fire sank into coals. The warmth and the low light was too irresistible. Heero fell asleep, listening to the rumble of Duo's breath and his strong heartbeat.
Heero opened his eyes when morning came and found himself nose to nose with Duo. The purple eyes were open and regarding him calmly. That stopped Heero's instant urge to recoil. He twitched, his tail bristled, and his ears lowered submissively.
"You won't... disembowel me, will you?" Heero asked softly, a bare whisper.
The were lion twitched an ear and actually smiled. "Not if you feed me, Prince," he replied, just as softly, as if they were sharing a secret. "Besides," he added, "You make a good sleeping rug."
Heero snorted, but then retorted, "So do you; a soft one."
Insults exchanged, Heero was the first to roll away and come to his feet. He stretched, shook himself, and then went to call for breakfast. When he'd sent a servant scurrying, he turned back and saw that the were lion hadn't moved. He looked as if he'd gone back to sleep, in fact. Heero returned to his warm spot, but not quite nose to nose. The were lion's tail flicked and Heero had a feeling it was a warning. "Are you well?" Heero wondered.
One eye opened again. The were lion made a delicate yawn and then rolled onto his back, furry legs splayed and hands stretched above his head. His ribs stuck out as he elongated his body and then relaxed. Heero found himself searching quickly between Duo's legs for proof that the long haired were was male. He could smell male musk, but something instinctive made him very curious about that place. "If you stick your nose there, I will take it off," Duo growled and rolled onto his stomach, claws raking the floor.
Heero blushed. "I was curious...." was all that he could find to say.
Duo looked him over. He frowned and Heero could see that he had questions as well. "Are you... like a dog?" Duo asked hesitantly.
Heero's ruff rose and he snarled, "No!"
Duo wasn't put off by his sharp reply. "You look like one..."
"Are you like a lion, because you look like one?" Heero demanded in revenge.
Duo flushed. "No."
They stared at each other below the waist. Very slowly, Heero rolled onto his side and raised his leg. After a moment's hesitation, Duo echoed his move. They both looked, and then they both lowered their legs at the same time and were suddenly moving to opposite ends of the room, embarrassed.
"Satisfied that I am NOT a dog?" Heero demanded in a choked voice.
A pause and then Duo replied, "Yes. Do you see that I'm not a lion?"
Heero thought of the very masculine parts that he had seen beneath the thick fur and nodded shakily, his face burning.
A servant knocked on the door. Heero scrambled to answer and to get them out of that difficult situation. What had possessed them, he wasn't sure, but decided to curse his instincts and the need it gave him to assess every male around him. It wasn't anything more than that, he told himself, but couldn't stop the heat from traveling from his face down to a very uncomfortable part of his anatomy.
The servant entered with a tray of food. There was one plate heaped with raw meat that looked sickeningly fresh. Duo was up at once and taking it from the frightened servant's tray. Duo retreated to a corner with it and began eating with more neatness than Heero believed possible with his very large, clawed hands. Heero took his own meal and dismissed the servant, who was happy to flee.
Heero had cooked pheasant, cooked eggs, and a mug of clean well water. He sat on a low divan and ate slowly, watching his companion from under his unruly bangs. Before he was a fourth of the way finished with his breakfast, Duo was done with his, burping, and curling up by the fire.
"Are you sleeping again?" Heero wondered incredulously.
Duo muttered something incoherent and then did fall asleep. It seemed, in that respect at least, he wasn't any different from a house cat. Eat and sleep. That wasn't fair, he corrected himself, the were lion was exhausted. Heero was a creature used to constant activity, though, and sleeping the day away wasn't in his nature. In fact, he needed to meet Wu Fei for practice. That left Heero with a dilemma. Duo needed a guard, for his own protection and for his people's protection against Duo.
Heero went to the door and ordered a servant. "Bring me Trowa, the mountain were wolf."
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