+ Part 8
Heero was pacing. Every third circuit of the living room, he stopped at a window and stared out at the darkness.
"You've tried five days now, Heero, " Quatre said. "In a short time, my caravan will be ready to return to the desert. I think you should try another approach."
Heero scowled, ruff raising. "I take him food. I leave. He eats it and leaves the pot for me to find and refill. I've become nothing but his servant."
Trowa snorted. "Because you allowed it, my Prince." That was daring and Heero gritted his teeth. For Quatre's sake, Heero had not said anything when the mountain were had chosen to stop acting like a guard and more like a noble guest, but there were lines he wasn't willing to let the were wolf cross.
"Trowa! Mind you manners or Heero will have you taken to the dungeons!" Quatre admonished, "and rightly so!"
Trowa made a small noise of temper, but then said more politely, "I didn't mean any disrespect, but, if you will allow me, I can give you good advice, my prince."
Mollified, Heero replied impatiently, "Tell me, then."
Quatre glared. "Trowa, you are truly an artist in some respects, but in romance, I doubt that you can give the advice that Heero needs."
"Sometimes, simple and direct wins the day, Quatre," Trowa argued.
"And, sometimes, it loses it," Quatre retorted.
There was a knock on the door. Heero answered it and found a timid servant. "Warden G wishes to see you, your Highness."
Heero looked up and down the corridor, his temper not improving. "Where is he, then? Does he think I am someone to come when he calls?"
"N-no, my Prince," the servant stammered in fear, "but he says that it is a delicate matter concerning his ward, Relena. He begs your time and indulgence."
"Not today," Heero growled and began to close the door.
The were wolf stammered quickly, "This meeting, I've been told to say, was sanctioned by Warden J."
"Then Warden J can go and discuss whatever Warden G desires," Heero snapped back and slammed the door closed. Glaring at nothing, he stood for a long time before he could trust himself to say, "Enough for tonight."
Quatre and Trowa rose, Trowa with unconcern and a sympathetic smile, and Quatre with a worried _expression. "Should you refuse to attend, Prince Heero?" Quatre wondered. "Relena and her Warden are very important to Warden J and to your kingdom. To risk breaking an alliance now, with a hasty-"
Quatre was right, but Heero didn't want to acknowledge that. He was tired of playing politics, tired of stepping over the eggshells of intrigue, and tired of pretending that he was interested in an alliance marriage with a female, any female. Heero knew why he was being called. Wu Fei never spoke idly, so when he had mentioned Relena's emerging maturity, it had been with a purpose. A warning of things to come.
"Not tonight," Heero almost begged and went to the window to stare out at the dark again. He thought that both Trowa and Quatre had left, but he sensed the were fox standing behind him.
"Prince, your heart is heavy," Quatre said softly, "but if you want to continue being a prince there are certain duties, certain concessions that you have to make. You know this. You can't follow your heart and chase after a were lion, when so many people are depending on you to protect them from the prides. That protection comes in the form of keeping peace with your allies... even if it means paying court to Relena."
"Are you asking me to give him up?" Heero demanded, fist pounding on the stone wall before he turned to confront Quatre.
Quatre was undaunted. He reached out and touched Heero's arm, looking up into his face. "I wouldn't ask you to do that," he replied. "I only ask that you don't forget about your people."
"And if that means the same thing?" Hero wondered bitterly.
Quatre looked pained. "I followed my heart and left duty behind. I can't tell you what decision you should make for yourself." He smiled gently. "Love often finds a way, my Prince, truly it does, even when it seems impossible."
"You are a dreamer," Heero told him as he pulled his arm away. "I don't have that luxury. If I don't sit my throne, then Warden J will."
"You've made your decision then.?" Quatre wondered, saddened.
"I don't have to, not yet," Heero replied as he walked towards the door.
Quatre was worried. "Where are you going?"
"To Warden G," Heero replied angrily, "and my duty, as much as I hate it."
It was much like Heero expected. Warden G was a thin were wolf with a thatch of ragged hair on his head that made a strange impression that a large mushroom was growing there. His eyes were piercing and his nose was rather long and hawk like. He looked down it fiercely at Heero even though his tone was pleasant and deferential.
"Thank you for coming, Prince Heero. I am honored. When Warden J informed me that you were of an age to chose a consort, and that my Relena was your first choice, I was very surprised."
There was an edge to that last sentence and Heero pricked his ears. It told him that G wasn't at all fooled and that he knew very well that Heero hadn't had anything to do with their meeting. Heero also noted a hint of disapproval and that had him perplexed. Why would the warden of an eligible female not be happy to see her married to a prince?
G led Heero into a well appointed reception area. Heero sat on a divan while G called for refreshments. Heero expected a servant to bring them in, not Relena herself. The pale, golden were wolf moved gracefully with a tray of food and drink, and bent low to offer it to Heero. Her blue eyes were hidden under long lashes and her cheeks were blushing pink. Gold flashed at her ears and trembled at her throat on a necklace. She smelled of flowers and...
Heero couldn't help snorting the scent back out again. It was cloying, strong and like... His nose wrinkled. Sandalwood? Sweet musk? He wasn't certain. He only knew that he didn't want to keep smelling it and he was glad when she left the room again.
G was apologetic. "As you can see..."
Smell, he meant, Heero thought sourly.
"...Relena is of age as well," G continued. "I am concerned, though."
Heero had taken a drink of a strong cider to get the smell out of his throat. He looked over the cup's brim, curious.
"Relena has a great deal of potential, my Prince," G told him. "She would make an excellent consort. However, I am concerned that she will be kept away from any real decision making. It would be a waste, and a grave mistake, to ignore what she has to offer."
Heero's short ruff raised and he growled. "I rule, warden G."
G bowed his head, "Of course, my Prince, but as a councilor, perhaps... She has some very interesting ideas about how our lands may be at peace, and remain that way."
Heero tried to school his temper. "She may speak with me as she wishes, but her concern as consort, would be to birth and raise the next heir."
"Very primeval," G replied dryly, "but how likely will it be that such a role will be created for her to play?"
Heero felt a chill. He tried not to let it show.
"She was attracted to you, Prince Heero," G pointed out. "But her scent only annoyed you. That is not the reaction I would have looked for in a young male. I think you have a secret you would rather not let Warden J share."
Heero was not an innocent when it came to politics. He said through his anger and fear, "and you wish me to buy your silence by allowing Relena to rule? How is that different from Warden J removing me as unfit?"
"Not rule," G corrected. "Share in the rule. You will not find it as terrible as you imagine. She will keep your secret and so will I, if you allow her plans for peace to be enacted into law."
"You believe in them that much?" Heero scoffed as he slammed down his mug of cider and stood up.
"Yes," Warden G told him seriously. "I'm willing to risk my life for them."
"I'm promising nothing at the moment," Heero spat back as he headed for the door, "and neither you nor Relena will have proof of anything until we marry... and I may yet have some say about that!"
Furious, Heero slipped from the Keep, ignoring danger and common sense as he ran into the forest and tried not to think about future wives, a childless marriage, and a scandal that might pull him from the throne and end his life. He reduced himself, instead, to pounding blood, aching lungs, and mindless exhaustion.
The roar took Heero by complete surprise. He crouched in terror and watched as the dappled moonlight picked out the form of Duo, claws outstretched and fangs bared, leaping right at him... No not at him, over him. Duo flew effortlessly over his crouched form and Heero picked out the scent that was all Duo's, a scent so welcome to his senses that his body responded instantly even in the grip of his utter fear. If he had doubted his attraction before, he didn't doubt it now.
Duo barreled into something behind Heero. It cried out, whatever it was, but it didn't live long to make any other noise. Heero was witness to the ferocity and strength in Duo that everyone had warned him about. Duo wrapped himself around the creature as if he were hugging it with arms and legs, only they ended in deadly ripping claws. Duo's jaws broke through the beast's neck with a snap and Duo's purple eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he jerked his head backwards and took out the throat completely. Heero felt blood splatter him.
Duo held on, lying on his side with the creature still in his embrace. Then, finally, he broke away and came to Heero's side. It was then that Heero saw the bear. It was large enough to do damage to a young were wolf, but it hadn't been a match for a were lion.
"Can I eat that?" Duo panted as he sat and tried to get some of the blood off of him.
Heero stared, said, "No.", and then he laughed. Duo grinned back.
"You have a nice laugh," Duo said. "You should do it more often."
Heero grew more serious then and sighed as he sat as well. "There's never been much to laugh about around here."
"I could see that," Duo agreed.
Heero studied him. Duo kept grinning. That _expression was as out of place as Heero's laugh.
"I was worried about you," Heero admitted.
Duo's grin turned into a frown. "I know. I had to... find my feet, though."
"Have you?" Heero wondered.
Duo looked around them. "This place is so full of green, but I managed to make a territory and make a kill. I can take care of myself. That's made all the difference."
"That's important to you?" Heero asked.
Duo nodded. "Yes. Wouldn't it be for you? Wouldn't you want to know that, if things went very wrong, you could survive on your own?"
"I've never had to think about it," Heero replied, wondering at Duo's sudden openness. Was it because of his new confidence and independence, or had he finally decided to trust Heero more? "You need to wash."
Duo blinked at the change of subject, but then he found his grin again. He rose stiffly, tail twitching with adrenalin, and said, "This way. There's a pool of water. I learned to sit in the trees and jump on the animals that came to drink"
"You can climb?" Heero wondered as he followed Duo.
"It's not easy, but yes," Duo replied.
It was then that Heero noticed that Duo was limping. "You're hurt?" Heero asked in alarm, his nose trying to catch the scent of the were lion's blood over the stench of bear.
"He was strong," Duo replied as he crouched near the water. The moonlight flickered over the surface and a light breeze rippled cattails and water reeds along the bank. "I think I pulled muscles in my back trying to hold him."
Duo washed without getting into the water. He didn't seem to like the feel of it on his fur or skin. He cleaned himself thoroughly, though and, when he was done, he stretched out on a patch of soft ferns. He winced and groaned.
Heero remembered Wu Fei's massages. The were dragon had been an expert at loosening his pupil's over worked muscles. The memory of the hapless bear kept Heero cautious, though, and he said, before he approached any closer, "I know a way to make your muscles feel better.... May I?"
Duo stared at him, considering the offer, and then stretched out further so that he was lying flat on his belly. "It hurts. If you can stop it..."
Heero kneeled beside Duo and felt heat gathering inside of him as he tentatively touched the were lion's back. Duo's skin was soft and smooth. His fur was a thick, soft covering over strong, rounded hips. The tail still twitched, flicking off to one side reflexively. Again Heero smelled the wondrous scent of sizzling vanilla as his hands began to kneed knotted muscle. His own scent joined it and mingled. Duo sighed and smiled, breathing in deeply and looking as if he were in a pleasant dream.
Heero's hands rubbed Duo's neck muscles cautiously. The heat increased. Instinct raged. Everything within Heero told him what to do and demanded that he do it immediately. Heero knew what he wanted... but was it what Duo wanted? What if Duo wanted to be... dominant? Trowa's words came back to Heero and his hands hovered at Duo's neck. Grab and a submissive will... submit. Heero's fingers flexed, poised, and then, he regained control. He forced himself to knead tight muscles along Duo's spine instead. He was not going to force himself on Duo. He would not find out Duo's preference in such a way that was demeaning for Duo.
Heero's hands slid lower, massaging, bringing pleasure to Duo. Duo's breath thrummed in his throat, a low, vibrating growl that was as close to a purr as a were lion could get. And then... Heero's hands massaged the small, flat plane of Duo's hips, right before it disappeared into fur, and was startled when Duo's hips suddenly rose up under the pressure. The were lion emitted a sensuous groan.
Heero licked lips nervously. His hands had jerked away, mindful of Duo's deadly claws and teeth, but they hesitantly strayed back as Duo settled again. Heero moved a little further up Duo's spine and then, once again, let his hands massage that small flat spot. Duo's hips shot up again, upper body still on the ground, but lower body bowed up into the touch of Heero's hands.
Duo's scent grew heavy on the air. It filled Heero's senses. He panted, tasting it on his tongue. The swollen, hot weight between his legs raged and wanted. Heero rubbed that flat spot and Duo seemed lost in his own need, his own sensations. He groaned and thrummed in his throat and then his tail flicked over his back and out of the way of....
Heero wasn't sure what happened next. The heat over took him. His hands captured soft fur and warm skin, his arms locked around a wiry waist, and he nuzzled cinnamon hair at the nape of a were lion who was pushing back against him and all too willing to let him go on. He felt Duo's hips fit perfectly into the curve of his pelvis and then Heero couldn't hold back any longer.
The rope closing around Heero's throat and then jerking him backwards, shocked Heero worse than a bucket of cold water. Bodies piled on top of him, pressing him down flat before he could react, and tied him hand and foot. He heard Duo roar. He heard screams and shouts, but then Duo was silent and there was only voices cursing.
Bodies shifted. Heero was finally able to see. Mountain weres were ranged around them, weapons out and ready, but it was the larger creature that Heero's gaze was drawn to. It was a huge creature with black stripes. If it wasn't a were lion, he thought, then it must be a close cousin. It was easily twice the size of the were wolves and it looked very deadly.
"This is the one," a were wolf said. "The were lion you were looking for." He nodded to Heero. "We'll take that one as part of our payment."
The striped creature sneered and a feminine voice said, "I'm not a fool, you know. I'm very well aware that the prince of this land was about to mount my target. That should make interesting news to a few people, I think, and well worth the extra money that I will be asking for. I'll take the were lion and the prince. You'll take your payment and go home."
The were wolves snarled. The leader demanded, "Why should we? We outnumber you. We can kill you and take everything that is yours."
The creature laughed and it wasn't a pleasant sound. "Have you seen what a were tiger leaves of it's targets, dog? My people are killers. We are perfectly deadly and we always get our targets."
"Not today!" Wu Fei's voice rang out and suddenly the clearing was full of slashing blades and attacking Keep guards.
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