Title: Ever Winter: Ill Wind part 2/?
Author: girl_starfish
Pairings: undecided
Rating: pg13
Warnings: yaoi
Category: AU, drama/adventure/romance/fantasy
Disclaimer: Don't own GW characters, don't make a profit.

Ever Winter: An Ill Wind + Part 2

Quatre:

"Oops!" I scramble for the pot. I should have been watching it more closely -- not watching Duo's face as he looked at Heero. I just remember to use the glove this time, to pick up the pot.

"I think that's just about done it," Duo says over my shoulder as I tip it into the washtub. "Well Heero?"

Heero snorts softly and goes to fetch the jug. This is my cue to go and gather dry furs. When I return, Duo has undressed and climbed into the tub. He always washes first because his hair takes longest to dry. I sit at the top of the ladder just out of seeing distance and watch as Heero gently undoes Duo's plait.

Duo smiles thank-you before ducking himself under the water -- the tub is just big enough for that. When I think of the baths in my Father's palace -- twice as wide, and twice as deep, full of cool scented water poured by lithe girls in dark veils. Everything around shone with polished marble, everything gleamed -- but that's gone now. Duo has not surfaced. I fidget worriedly. Should I say something? Heero is there but --

Hair all in disarray Duo finally breaks the surface. "Did I scare you?" he asks.

Heero gives his hair a tug and with a sigh Duo settles down to soaping his body, leaving Heero to wash his hair.

I sigh too, alone in my vantage point. His shoulders are smooth and creamy, yet somehow strong. Arms like that will not let you fall. He leans back, eyes half closed as Heero's fingers knead his skull. I catch something -- a low murmur between them, and Duo's lazy, satisfied smile.

Now Heero turns to washing out Duo's hair, using the jug to tip the water over Duo's head.

He does his job well. Duo does not complain once of getting soap in his eyes -- believe me, if that happens, you hear all about it. They'll be finished soon, so I go down, laying the furs by the fire. I am just in time. Heero pronounces Duo's hair clean, and he instantly wants to get out of the tub. Heero wraps him in a fur as he climbs out, then fetches another for his hair, Duo stands by the fire to watch as Heero gets into the tub.

He's not as slender as Duo is, his skin is slightly darker too, although it's a nice shade, like honey. But while Duo's skin is smooth, Heero's is marked in a few places, by thin scars. I think he must have been a soldier once, he has that bearing. Somehow, I can't picture Duo as a soldier, he is much too kind.

Duo hums softly as he tips the jug over Heero's head then washes his hair. I helped Duo make the lotion we use, as I helped him make the soap -- I wonder how many other princes can say that?

That's right, prince. I don't look it, do I, wearing trousers of Duo's that fit me, and a tunic of Heero's that doesn't? I lost all of my jewels when I fled, and the rest of my clothes were taken by the people that brought me here. I don't remember much of what happened, all I knew was my home and the people I loved were gone. I'd tried to run away, but not knowing where to go, and not really concentrating on what I was doing, it wasn't long till I was found. Duo says I must have been mazed with grief and shock. The man who found me was one of the lesser court officials. He thought he could use me, wait until the situation settled, then use my name to raise an army and put me back on the throne as his puppet. He drugged me, and sent me off to one of his friends in the North, where I would not be found. We travelled so far I could hardly walk by the end of it, not that I ever got a chance to rest. I was cold too, as well as miserable, my thin clothes were not made for the country we walked through and I was either shivering or drenched and shivering.

By the time we reached the end of our journey I was ill with cold and fatigue.

We were staying in the Inn at Hillsford, then. I was sitting by the fire, almost too weak to enjoy the first warmth I'd had in weeks, and much too tired to take much notice of anything going on around me.

One of the men I was with had gone to find the friend of my kidnapper, the other had ordered himself a meal and was eating at the bar.

Another traveller came in to warm his hands at the fire. He may have spoken to me, but like I said, I wasn't conscious of much. I was aware, however, of when he knelt down and put his hand across my forehead.

"Oi!" the second of guards shouted. "What do you think you're doing near that boy!"

"I'm doing no harm," the traveller said, standing. I noticed dully, that as he stood a long braid fell down his back. "He's got a fever, he should be lying down."

"He can lie down once we end our journey," the man shrugged. "What do you want now?"

"Well aren't you going to feed him?"

"He won't eat," my kidnapper dismissed me. "You want to try and get some food into him, be welcome, but do it at your expense. I'm not wasting anymore good food on him."

To tell the truth I was starving, but I could not stomach the food they bought for me -- half cooked meat, dripping with grease --

The traveller moved away. I heard his voice at the bar, and was surprised when he returned to sit by me, a tray with two steaming bowls beside him.

"You'll take some stew, won't you?" he asked. "It's good. You look like you could do with a good meal."

It smelt heavenly. I looked anxiously at him, not sure if this was for real or not, but he nodded, smiling encouragingly at me. "Go on. It won't bite ya."

The stew was perfect for my condition. I could not have digested whole food, but the stew was just right, not too rich but warm, and smooth on my throat. It took me close to an hour but I finished the bowl. In this time the traveller had finished his and returned to talk to my guard. I caught little of their conversation, but it seemed to be about me.

"I thank you for your time," my guard said, eventually, ending the conversation. "But the boy is our concern, not yours."

"Suit yourself," the traveller shrugged. "But I know my healing. Ask anyone here and they'll tell ya."

"The kid's right," the barman said. "He was raised at an Abbey, he knows his illnesses."

The man shrugged but I fancied he looked uneasy.

My benefactor left then, and I was again alone with my kidnapper. His mate returned soon, with bad news. The man they'd arranged to leave me with had died and their journey was in vain.

"What do we do now?"

"Take the kid back, of course. We might be able to use him ourselves."

My heart sank at the thought of returning the way we'd come. Luckily, the man who'd remained behind at the Inn shook his head.

"We can't do that. There was a monk in here before, who said the kid was like to die if he didn't rest soon."

The first man was skeptical. "What's a monk got to do with this?"

"Monk's are important hereabouts. They don't lie, they spend their lives doing good works. He bought the kid a bowl of stew and didn't ask anything in return."

That clinched it, I think. Neither of them could imagine an ordinary person doing something like that, and my demise was as certain as if there'd been a knife poking through my ribs. The question then was what was the best way to rid themselves of me.

"We could sell him -- people up here live all spread out, and in the winter months especially, they get cut off from all other people. I reckon they'll be someone who would pay for a bit of -- you know."

I couldn't imagine what they were talking about, and watched, puzzled as the second kidnapper looked horrified.

"But that's illegal! Ain't no one who'd buy him."

"You'd be surprised. There ain't so many womenfolk up this ways, and from the stories they tell, I've heard that if the priest wasn't so poor sighted, there'd be half the number of married couples there are now. And," the first man leaned closer, warming to his topic. "There are men so desperate they'd sleep with their own mothers here. Compared to half the things that go on, sodomy's relatively respectful."

I shivered. They weren't serious -- they'd do that to me?

The second man was equally horrified. "I won't do it! It's wrong, you know it is."

"Well how do you suggest we recap our losses? Rashid won't pay us, not without proof he was delivered."

"We could sell his clothes," the second kidnapper suggested. "From the sounds of things he won't need them much longer."

In the end, they decided not to wait for my demise and took me out to the stables where they undressed me and left me, without a stitch. I hid myself among the straw. I was freezing cold, but I could not look for clothes or ask for help stark naked -- moreover I was terrified of meeting a sodomite. I huddled in the straw, knowing I would very likely die soon and trying my hardest not to cry.

A soft voice saved me. "There you go. I've been looking all over for you."

I looked up to see the traveller -- the monk -- who had fed me, smiling kindly at me.

"I noticed those two men you were with hawking your clothes and I thought you might be in need of some, so I did some shopping. Put them on, we'll see if they fit."

I could have cared less whether they fit or not, I was so relieved not to be naked anymore. It was not until I had them on that I remembered I had no money.

"Don't worry about it," the monk -- if monk he was, he was so young -- shrugged. "There's a lot more important things in life. Rest for example. You look like you could do with some."

I was tired, I realised, yawning at his words. But I was not going to sleep until I was sure I was safe. "If I sleep here, will you guard me from the sodomites?"

He laughed, though why that was funny I had no idea. "Sleep. You'll be fine."

I trusted him, and fell asleep in the straw. It had been so long since I'd be warm and able to lie down in comfort --

"So what you're saying is you don't have enough money to buy the seed because you spent it buying clothes for that chit over there?"

"Bear in mind that he was buck naked, Heero, and he's sick."

I opened my eyes to see my rescuer talking to another young man, Heero, who did not look altogether pleased. "I see. And did you decide to help before or after you saw him buck naked?"

My rescuer laughed again -- a beautiful sound. "Oh, Heero! You couldn't be more wrong about this. First thing he said to me after I gave him the clothes was would I protect him from sodomites!"

"What's a sodomite?" Heero asked still not amused.

My rescuer put his arms around Heero's neck and drew him in tight, rubbing their bodies together. "We are," he said, in a silky, sultry voice. "An' what we do at nights -- that's a sodomy Heero. And that makes us very wicked people," he pulled Heero's lips to his.

I stared as they kissed. I did not know what to make of the situation. None of what I saw fit what my teachers had taught me -- surely someone so depraved could not be so kind? Or so beautiful?

Heero released the kiss with a sigh. "And did they teach you that at that Abbey of yours?"

"Heero! I was the very picture of innocence until you came along and corrupted me!" The braided youth pouted as his companion laughed.

"There are others who'd argue it was the other way round."

"We corrupted each other then," my rescuer shrugged. But Heero disagreed.

"Nothing so pure could ever corrupt anything."

Violet eyes filled with -- I could not deny it -- love. "Heero -- "

"We've got company," Heero said shortly. He'd noticed me at last.

"Feeling better for your nap?" The braided youth asked.

I nodded. "I'm sorry for before," I said. "I didn't mean to offend you. This is all so strange -- "

He shrugged. "Don't fret on it. You can't help being raised ignorant."

I began to laugh then. I who could discuss literature and history on a par with any of the scholars in my father's kingdom, who was educated by the finest tutors money could buy, who had at my disposal the greatest library in the South, he called me ignorant?

"There, there, don't take on so," he patted my back and I was surprised to realise I was in fact crying. "It's okay -- Heero, what say we bring him home with us?"

Heero sighed, I think he'd been expecting this. "I'll bring the cart," He said resignedly.

"Thank-you!" I was still too upset to properly thank my unexpected benefactors, but my rescuer made up for it, kissing Heero soundly. I wiped away my tears wondering just what I was getting into. I'm still not entirely sure.

"Quatre?" Duo calls me. "Your turn."

Heero has climbed out of the tub and is dressed, heading out to the yard to chop wood. Duo has dressed too, but has kept the fur wrapped around his hair. He plays idly with the soap as he waits for me. I could bathe at home in front of four or so girls without blushing, but can I do this in front of Duo? It's stupid -- no beyond stupid, but as I climb into the tub I feel both nervous and almost guiltily pleased. Because I now have Duo all to myself.

"Do I see some muscle?" Duo rests his hand on my shoulder. "We may make a Northener of you yet, Quatre."

I can't help but smile at the thought of how my distinguished family and well-bred friends would react to that. We're taught that Northerners are the worst type of barbarians.

"Heads up!" Duo tips the first jug of water over my head. He hums busily as he lathers my hair, exclaiming again at the colour of my hair.

"I can think of a good few girls who would kill for gold hair like yours. How did someone from the South wind up with hair so light?"

"My mother was from the North," I said. It's been ages since I've thought of her -- she died in my youth, I never knew her, just the stories of her.

"She's be from Chester then -- you've never seen gold hair like a trueborn Chesterton. Like a corn-field, or so Brother Morris said. Course you have to take everything Brother Morris says with a grain of salt -- "

Duo dunks me with another jug of water to start rinsing my hair. When I get the water out of my ears, I realise he's singing. An old ballad, one I've heard him sing before, about a willow tree and a girl and a ribbon. I shut my eyes, and lean back, enjoying the warmth of the bath, the soft sound of Duo's voice, and the intimacy of his touch as he gently soaps my back.

Too soon he hands me the soap. "All done," he observes, and leaves me to finish the rest of me while he gathers the wringer, the pegs and our laundry.

I finish my bath, shivering as the water suddenly turns cold, and am only to ready to step into warm clothes. Duo has placed mine by the fire to warm them for me. He's thoughtful like that.

Northeners don't waste anything, not even bath water. Duo and I wash our clothes in the water, or at least I wash them, and Duo wrings them and then pegs them up on the line before the fire. We discuss the merits of a pie for lunch over bread and cheese and then Duo tells me about the chicks in the barn that I absolutely must see.

The back door opens, and Heero enters, arms full of wood and face flushed from the exercise. He stacks them by the fire while Duo continues to tease me at my reluctance to go outside. He doesn't say a word to us, and yet its all different -- Duo's no longer mine.

"Oops," Duo has to pause in his work to untangle himself from the wringer. It's a difficult task -- not bound in its usual braid, his hair has a tendency to get itself caught in the wringer. Biting my tongue, I abandon my task to try and free him. Heero joins in too -- the three of us employed in a common task, punctuated by the occasional snicker Heero and I can't repress, and Duo's exclamation's of pain and annoyance.

"Dratted hair -- ow! Heero, that is attached you know."

"Sorry."

"I guess this is what I get for tying my fortunes to a soldier," Duo says, confirming my suspicions of Heero's past. "Be a bit more gentle, like Quatre -- he hasn't hurt me at all."

I glowed. "All done, Duo."

"Thanks Quatre!" Duo is eager to be up but Heero prevents him from leaving.

"Want me to brush this out for you?" he asks, gently running fingers through the mess of strands.

Duo smiles at him, a warm, intimate smile, and goes to fetch the brush.

I observe them as I finish the washing. There's no need to be secretive about it, they won't notice, no matter how long I stare. And even though I've seen the scene in front of me a million times before, I can't take my eyes away.

You don't have to be around Duo for very long to realise how important his hair is to him. Not that he fusses over it or anything, but for him to keep it despite the maintenance it takes . . . well, you know it has to be special. Heero's the only person, besides himself, who can play with it. And when he brushes it like now -- they both have this expression to their faces. Heero's countenance is that of gentle concentration, Duo is content, eyes half-closed, leaning against Heero. Yet, there is a sameness to them -- It's almost mysterious, like some hidden secret.

I asked if I could brush Duo's hair once. Heero was away overnight, helping out at one of the local farms, and Duo was brushing it out himself. It lay soft and shining over his shoulders.

I risked a touch. "I could brush it for you -- if you like," I'd said, rubbing a strand between my fingers.

Duo had shifted so that the strand was pulled away from me. "Thanks, Quatre, but the only one who brushes my hair for me is Heero."

"Oh," I said, trying to pretend I wasn't stung. "I see."

It rankles even now.

I'm just as gentle as Heero -- probably more so. So why doesn't he see me?

Heero's finished now and he lays down the brush. The two of them rest in the moment, seemingly reluctant to leave it.

Perhaps it's childish but I fairly slap the next shirt into the tub. "Last one!" I announce cheerfully. "We're almost finished."

Duo returns to help me, while Heero sees about getting lunch. We are quickly finished and start hanging the clothes up in front of the fire.

"You're going to find our winters very tiresome, pet," Duo says, climbing above the fireplace to fix the line to a nail there. "The three of us, stuck in this house -- lucky we can both read."

I agree, standing on the lift ladder to tie the other end of line.

Duo is inordinately proud of his heritage from the Abbey he was raised in -- a shelf full of battered books. Often at night for entertainment, he and I will take turns in reading one aloud. He and Heero know them backwards and forwards by now, but they still enjoy them. I think wistfully of my father's library, and how little I used it. How much do I wish to make a present of just one of those books to Duo!

Heero sniffs from the kitchen. Reading is something Duo and I alone share. "What do you say to toast and soup for lunch?"

Duo jumps down from the fireplace heedless of safety. "Sounds great!" "I hope you have enough for a fourth."

I almost fall off the ladder at the unexpected voice. Duo and Heero are just as surprised, spinning round to the figure leaning against the backdoor with shock written all over their faces.

"Trowa?" Heero's face slips into a guarded expression, even as Duo's registers happiness. "What's with the dramatic entrance, don't you know how to use the front door?"

"Your front door is buried," Trowa observed. "Greetings, Duo, Heero."

"What do you want?" Heero asked.

"A chance to sit and get warm before I head out again. I'm on the most tiresome errand." Trowa shrugged. "I thought I might stop in and see how my dear friends were getting on -- and I know that Duo is always good for a free meal."

Duo returned, carrying four bowls, and the soup in a saucepan which he placed over the fire. "I hope that's not all I'm good for."

"I'll let your other half answer that," Trowa said with a wicked grin. "I can't reply without standing to loose at least one major body part."

Heero smirked. "Sit down," he said. "I suppose you have news?"

"A lot of news," Trowa said, slipping out of his coat. While Duo hung it up for him, he eyed me. "My news can wait till I've heard yours. Who is this?"

"This is Quatre," Duo said. "He's staying with us. And this is Trowa. Quatre, pet, don't be afraid of him. He's a dreadful show off and he tells tall tales like no one's business, but he's not that bad."

"Pleased to meet you," I said shyly, Duo's introduction not doing much to dispel my nervousness. Only one eye was visible beneath his fringe, but -- what green! I felt like it looked right through me, that he knew all of my secret thoughts.

In response to my salutation, our unexpected guest looked straight at me. "Not many people say that -- I hope you continue to feel the same way, Quatre."

I'm sure it was foreboding that made me shiver then.

[part 1] [part 3] [back to girl_starfish's fic]