Dark Cloud Rising
The morning after the grim and shocking discovery that Duo had been stolen from them, Trowa woke up to find Heero missing from the bed and room. Even though they were all upset over Duo’s abduction, it was obvious that Heero had been beside himself. He knew Relena’s rider had cultivated a friendship with Duo, but he’d had no idea that Heero had become so emotionally attached to the fledgling. From all signs, it appeared as if the stoic rider had become fast and close friends with the braided boy.
He lay in his warm bed a while longer. It was early yet, and the room was still dark. Trowa’s thoughts lingered on the missing fledgling and the events of the day before. He wondered what he would be feeling if it had been Quatre who had been taken instead of Duo. It was no wonder that Heero had tossed and turned for most of the night, unable to find comfort in slumber. There was no doubt that the night had been a long one for everyone in the Halls of Dornan as they worried about the fate of the fledgling and his black dragon. Despite his weariness, he got out of bed with the idea of finding Heero, determined to be a comforting presence to the upset rider if nothing else.
Having lit a candle, he quickly washed and dressed before leaving his room in search of his friend. He didn’t find Heero in the dining hall, nor in the training or bathing room. He knew a moment’s fear when the thought came to him that perhaps Heero had been taken by the northern riders as well. Hoping to ease his growing fear, he asked Midia to consult with Relena. His anxiety grew when dragon’s reply was delayed. When at last Midia came back to him, she said that Relena had informed her that her rider was upset and not speaking to her at the moment. He was nearby, in the Halls, but she didn’t know his exact location.
Relieved that Heero was safe, Trowa concluded his search of the floor. At the end of his search, his friend’s whereabouts remained a mystery. He concluded that unless his friend was purposely hiding, they might have crossed paths, that Heero might have returned to the room while he searched for him. With that in mind he turned back towards the direction of his room, hoping to find the missing rider there.
Upon his approach, Ze’an opened the door to what had been Heero’s room, looking anxious. He reached out and grabbed Trowa’s shirt and pulled him through the open doorway. Trowa’s first thought was that Quatre was absent, then his eyes fell on the boy bent over the clothing chest at the end of the bed. Heero was fully dressed and shoving his clothing into a large satchel. The dark haired boy’s movements suggested that he wasn’t just collecting his clothes to move them next door.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I’m going after Duo," Heero answered without pausing from his task. The tone of conviction in Heero’s voice gave Trowa no doubt that the other boy meant to carry out Duo’s rescue on his own.
Trowa immediately acted on his need to keep Heero safe. //Midia, tell Rayer that Heero has his mind set on following Duo. Ask Garron to come down to Heero’s room as quickly as possible.//
"Heero." Trowa pulled at his friend’s arm until the dark-haired boy turned to look at him, revealing dark-circled and stricken eyes on a pale face. It was obvious that Heero was tormented and hadn’t slept at all the night before. "You’re tired and overwrought. Sit down and we’ll talk about this."
"What can you say that Sims didn’t say yesterday?" Heero challenged. "Duo is a captive of the North and they will make him and his dragon take a mate against their will. I can’t allow that to happen."
"Then you would join the North against us?"
"No!" Heero looked horrified at the suggestion. "I would join Duo to ensure he’s not alone and has someone to protect him." Heero put his clenched fist to his stomach and his face looked pained as he added, "I just have a feeling he’s in grave danger."
Aware that Ze’an was still in the room, Trowa turned to him. "Why don’t you go to the dining hall and eat your breakfast? And please, don’t speak to anyone of this."
"All right. If you’re sure," the dark skin and haired boy answered hesitantly, his dark eyes shifting back and forth from Trowa to Heero. Getting no response from either boy, he then turned and quickly left the room.
Turning his attention back to Heero, Trowa softened his voice and put his arm around his friend’s shoulders. "You can’t do this, Heero. I don’t think Duo would want you to do this. What about your family? How will they react after hearing you’ve taken your dragon to the North with the possibility that you might never come back?"
Heero’s head bowed low. "They’ll be devastated, thinking I’ve betrayed our kingdom."
"Can you really do that to them?"
Slowly, the dark haired head rose and anguished blue eyes met his own. "Then what am I to do, Trowa?"
Taken aback by the unusual display of emotions and uncertainty coming from his normally self-confident friend, Trowa wondered out loud, "Why are you so troubled, Heero? I know you and Duo became friends recently, but you seem even more upset than Quatre, and he’s known Duo longer than anyone here in the Halls, other than Garron."
Heero’s jaw tightened, a sign that a battle to contain his emotions was being waged. He brought his hands up to cover his face and said something into them, but Trowa couldn’t understand the muffled words, even though he was standing next to him. "I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you properly," he said, feeling the shoulders under his arm begin to tremble.
The hands shifted from off Heero’s face, but the boy kept his head down as he repeated his statement. "I think I’m in love with him."
"Yes," Heero replied in a subdued voice
At that sudden announcement, Trowa said with concern on his face, "This is rather sudden. Are you sure?"
Heero quickly turned his head, and by the look in his eyes Trowa could see his friend was angered by his question. "How can you ask me that? Are you sure you want Quatre as your mate? And if so, how do you know for sure?"
Removing his arm from Heero’s shoulders the other boy took a step back from him. He thought seriously about Heero’s questions for a moment before he met his friend’s angry eyes and noted the pain reflected in the blue depths. "My heart tells me that what I feel for Quatre is different from how I’ve ever felt about anyone else. I want to spend time with him, and I feel an intense need to see and touch him. His smile and happiness make me happy, and when he’s sad, I want to do whatever it will take to make what’s wrong right again. I love him, Heero. I count myself fortunate that he feels the same for me."
Heero’s eyes never left his while he spoke, but they narrowed slightly when he replied, "You feel so strongly about Quatre and yet question me about my feelings for Duo?" He shook his head and looked to the door, his eyes glazing over as if he was picturing something in his mind. "From the first day he came to the Halls I found myself entranced by him. Then as each day passed and his strength and determination became more apparent I found myself more and more intrigued, even though he was angry with me. He was different from anyone else and so determined. It was hard to keep myself from staring at him whenever he was around.
"The day we found Quatre kissing him, I was angry, thinking how foolish I had been to think I even had a chance with him. But he bravely put aside his embarrassment and came to seek you out to explain the situation, for his friend’s sake. Grudgingly, my admiration for him increased. Then after Quatre began to ignore him for your sake, I couldn’t bear to see the hurt in his eyes, so I did what I’d been too timid to do before; I opened myself to him, befriended him, and each time we talked I lost a little bit more of my heart to him."
Pausing to sniffle, Heero kept his face turned away as he continued. "The night of the celebration I went to his room before going up to the palace. I kissed him. And with that brief touch of our lips I knew there was no one else in Amulah that I would ever want more than I want Duo."
Trowa bit his lip, holding back the grief he felt for Heero, for finding love and then losing it so unexpectedly. Putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder he gave it a reassuring squeeze. "I understand, Heero, and I’m so sorry. But even if Duo had never been taken from here, he and Wu Fei aren’t eligible for mating for another year."
Heero nodded. "I know. I was hoping to speak with Relena, to convince her to wait until the next mating cycle to take Wu Fei as a mate. She’s told me that she finds him acceptable for a mate, so I hoped it would not be asking too much of her to delay taking a mate until Wu Fei and Duo are eligible."
Both boys were startled and looked up as the door to the room burst open. Garron, dressed in his riding leathers, looked to be out of breath as he planted both fists on his hips and demanded, "What’s this foolishness about you going after Duo alone?"
Trowa, Quatre, Ze’an and several other boys hovered near Heero’s bedroom door. Garron, Osh and Jan had been secreted behind that solid wood door with their stubborn and distraught friend for most of the morning. Sims came to drag them to the training room for a dispirited session, and after a quick cleansing, Osh changed places with him, watching over the young riders as he took them to the dining hall and gave them their history lesson for the day. Yet everyone appeared too preoccupied by the unsettling events of Duo’s kidnaping to pay attention. Osh dismissed them early, telling them to go to their dragons, to give as well as receive comfort from each other.
The small group standing outside Heero’s door stopped conversing in hushed tones the moment the door creaked open. The young, dark-haired rider came out first, dressed in his usual attire, looking pale and tired. Oddly, there was a small yet tired smile on his face when he greeted his concerned friends. Immediately behind him came Jan, Garron and Sims, looking calm and serious.
"Off to your mid-day meal, young riders," Jan waved them away. "And see to it that Heero eats something and is kept occupied for the remainder of the afternoon."
The group of friends quickly surrounded the dark-haired lad, warmly greeting him. Yet over his shoulder and behind his back, they exchanged curious glances, wondering what the other riders had said to convince Heero from going after Duo. When questioned by Quatre, Heero simply stated, "We’ve got a plan. Everything is going to be all right." Though he appeared calmer than he had been since Duo’s disappearance, he adamantly refused to say anything further, citing the spy in the palace could harm their chances of rescuing Duo if word of their plan was overheard by the traitor. Heero proved to be very good at keeping any word of this plan to himself, for even his best friend could not pry it out of him during the long winter days that followed.
Duo awoke later that day with his arms aching and his back sore, reminding him in that first moment of waking of what had happened earlier. He realized that Dorothy was no longer in front of him, lending her warmth to his once chilled body. Yet as he lay still, listening to the other small sounds within the room, he could not mistake the smacking of lips nor the deep moan that came from behind him. He recognized those sounds from when he and Quatre had practiced together.
"Shh," Dorothy’s voice, combined with the sounds of pleasure, surprised him. At first he’d attributed the moaning coming from behind him as Alec giving himself release. Dorothy’s voice coming from the same direction as was... disturbing.
He was tempted to turn his head, but knew it wasn’t right to intrude on their privacy. His face began to heat up along with the rest of his body as the soft moans continued.
Against his better judgment he gave into temptation. Lying on his stomach, it only took the slightest amount of effort for him to turn his head in their direction. In the soft glow of the flickering light of a single candle, he saw Alec lying next to him and on his back. His pale chest was bare and glistening with a thin sheen of sweat. His eyes were closed and his breathing more rapid than usual as he repeatedly thrust his hips up and then down again. Above him, straddling his lower hips, was Dorothy. She too was lacking clothing, her small round breasts were fully exposed to his view. His eyes focused on her darker nipples, which appeared pinched and puckered. She too was moving her hips, meeting Alec as he thrust upward. Her white hair was free of its binding, covering her bare back and the ends pooling over Alec’s exposed thighs.
Duo felt his face flush with embarrassment yet found himself unable to look away as he followed the movement of Alec’s right hand as it snaked up from the girl’s thigh to her hip and then to her waist. It continued upward until it completely covered and massaged the Dorothy’s pale breast. She moaned, then lowered her body to capture the blond boy’s lips.
Duo’s conscience rebuked him for watching such a private moment. He turned his head as unobtrusively as possible and tried unsuccessfully to block out the sounds of the copulating couple behind him.
It wasn’t long before the gasps and a long moan of pleasure were followed by the sound of contented sighs, telling him the two had finished. A soft feminine chuckle was heard a moment before Dorothy asked, "Did you like what you saw, rider of Wu Fei?"
Duo winced at having been caught and his face burned with embarrassment. "It’s none of my business," he mumbled in reply, not turning to look at his bed mates. "But I’m surprised that the riders of two female dragons would allow themselves this intimacy. Were you not advised to wait before coupling until you are mated?"
"Is that what they teach you in Amulah?"
"Yes. Physical intimacy is frowned upon for riders who have dragons of the same sex. When they are mated, one or both of them are sure to be hurt."
"The rules of Amulah are strange," Dorothy said with slight disdain in her tone. "Here in Cordith we sleep with another rider to keep warm in our winter beds. I was given the choice of sleeping with one of the unattached men or Alec. It wasn’t a difficult choice," she said with a grin in her voice. "Once our bodies began to change from our childhood forms into that of a man and woman, Alec and I began to explore the changes and physical desires we were feeling and quickly found a way to be much warmer."
"Get dressed," Duo said, uncomfortable talking about this subject knowing what the other two naked youths had just been doing.
A feminine sigh was heard a moment before Alec said, "All right."
The sounds of the rustling of bedding and clothing followed, and after several moments Duo felt a tap on his shoulder. Warily, he turned his head once again to look at the two blonds who were sitting on the bed looking down on him. Dorothy wore a grin of satisfaction and smugness, obviously pleased at having flustered him while Alec’s face was flushed. Whether or not his cheeks were pink from embarrassment or as a result of having just having had sex, Duo didn’t know.
Knowing they needed to talk, Duo cautiously eased himself up to sit and be at eye level with the other two. "So what happens if I’m forced into taking one of you as my mate?"
Dorothy smirked. "Why you’ll get the both of us. After all, it wouldn’t be right to leave one of us out in the cold, would it?"
Duo swallowed. "I’m not sure I can do that," he answered. "I really don’t want either of you. No offense," he quickly added.
"If you’re not trying to offend us, then tell us why you don’t want us," Alec said, a look of hurt on his handsome face. Dorothy, on the other hand, looked like she was ready to rip his eyes out.
Duo didn’t think it was any of their business to know why he didn’t want them, but from the reaction on their faces, he thought that maybe he should try to explain. "It’s just that... there’s someone else, and he’s the one I want for my mate."
Dorothy gave Alec a cunning smile. "I told you," she said cryptically, leaving Duo to guess at what she meant. Then turning her gaze back to the braided rider, she said, "You can forget about the other rider. He’s far away and out of reach. Amulah will never come this deep into the North for one rider."
"I might not be important enough to attempt a rescue," Duo admitted with a sinking heart, "but Wu Fei is."
Alec shook his head. "To ride this far north in the winter, when the freezing winds of winter sweep over the plains of Grannal, would risk both dragon and rider."
Dorothy cut in. "And by the time the wind and weather breaks, it will be Spring and you’ll be mated to one of us and Wu Fei to our dragon. You’ll both be bound to this place by his need to stay with his mate. It’s inevitable, so why not enjoy yourself and join us under the blankets?"
"No!" Duo replied firmly. "I intend to follow the advice of my mentor and save myself for my mate. Despite what you say, I’m holding onto the hope that I will either escape or be rescued from here."
A loud knock sounded on the room’s lone door and Dorothy sighed, irritated by the interruption. "Time for me to fix the evening meal." She moved off the bed and put her furred cloak over her clothing. Before leaving she turned to the two still in the bed, her eyes on the newcomer. "I assume that you wish to stay in here," she said, then waited for Duo to nob his head. "I’ll bring you food. Just remember, when you do venture out of this room, stay away from the other riders as much as possible. When they talk to you, simply answer with a yes or no. It will save you many beatings if you’re wise enough to follow my advice." She opened the door and over her shoulder said. "I’ll be back as soon as I’m able."
Several moments of awkward silence passed before Duo slowly eased himself back down to his side of the bed and pulled the thick pile of blankets up to his chin.
"I apologize," Alec said suddenly and looking ashamed. "I didn’t want to do that with you lying next to me, but Dorothy can be persuasive and insisted that you were going to find out sooner or later. I couldn’t dissuade her."
Duo couldn’t look at the other boy yet, the memory of what he and Dorothy had been doing was still too clear in his mind. "I wish you wouldn’t do that when I’m in bed with you. Maybe I should move to another room."
"No!" Alec gasped, obviously alarmed. "Believe me, you don’t want the unattached riders in the same bed with you. Winter is hard on all of us, and it tends to bring out the worst in some of them. Sooner or later you’ll be forced into an intimate act, regardless if you’re an innocent or even destined to take a mate in the Spring."
Duo felt sick to his stomach. He hated this place with each passing moment and new turn of events. "Then what am I to do?" he asked in a voice fraught with all the misery he felt.
Alec thought for a moment then said, "I could bring some straw and extra blankets into our room and you could rest there while Dorothy and I... you know." Duo was sure the blond’s blush was deeper than his own at the moment. "When we’re done," he continued, "you can come back to sharing the bed with us."
Duo’s mind frantically searched for an alternative to Alec’s suggestion, but he couldn’t think of anywhere else he could go that might be safe. He tried to console himself that at least Dorothy and Alec weren’t going to force him to do anything he didn’t want to. He looked from under the fringe of hair over his forehead at the other boy. "Do you do that very often?"
"And she’s not with child yet?" Duo knew from Howard’s bumbling attempts to teach him about male and female intimacy that a child was usually the result of laying with a woman in such a way.
"No," Alec replied in a tight voice. "Maybe she’s too young to conceive or overburdened with work. I don’t know a lot about women and their ways, but she told me her womanly cycles are very irregular."
Duo thought that if Dorothy was too young to conceive a child then she was probably too young to be engaged in the most intimate of acts. "Get the straw and blankets as soon as you can," he said, agreeing to the other’s suggestion. "And try not to be too obvious about doing... that, all right?"
Alec nodded, though he muttered under his breath that telling Dorothy to be quiet might cause trouble.
After the simple evening meal had been served and the common room cleaned, Dorothy was allowed to return to the room she shared with the two young male riders. She’d been there earlier to deliver two bowls of stew, and Alec had returned them to her after they were emptied, giving her a compliment on the herbs she’d used to get rid of the strong taste of wild game.
Upon her entry, she observed their new rider as he rested on his side, almost at the very edge of the bed. Alec sat at the other side, dressed for bed in an overly large shirt and beaming a smile at her reappearance. She returned it easily as she went to the wooden box at the end of the bed and pulled up the lid. She spent a moment looking through the meager contents before selecting a night shirt for herself, one that was identical to the ones the two boys had changed into. She undressed quickly to avoid the cold of the room from seeping too deeply under her skin and rushed to slip the sleeping garment over her head. With a grin Dorothy noticed that the newest rider kept his eyes closed the entire time while Alec’s gazed watched her every move. He raised his side of the blanket, inviting her to lie next to him. She scurried up, eager to share his warmth.
Nestling in Alec’s arms, Dorothy listened as he spoke in a quiet voice, explaining the arrangement he and the other boy had made in her absence. Dorothy sighed, disappointed at the new rider’s stubbornness. She was certain he would give in and join them after the show they’d put on earlier.
"I’ll acquire the straw and blankets tomorrow," Alec said loud enough for the new rider to hear. Receiving no reply, he leaned over the girl in his arms and blew out the candle.
Excused from chopping wood the next morning because of his injured back, Duo still dressed warmly and accompanied the other boy outside. Heeding the warnings of the other two, he decided to stay as far away from the other riders as much as possible. It was freezing outside, especially since it was a grey and cloudy day and because he wasn’t moving very much. Duo didn’t think he’d ever been as cold in his entire life as he was that morning. Even though the large stack of stripped tree trunks sheltered them somewhat from the icy wind from the North, it couldn’t block it completely. In a short while he was chilled to the bone despite the protective animal furs he was wearing. Several times he took shelter behind the protective covering over the wooden dwelling’s door to ease the trembling of his body, limbs and chattering teeth.
While Alec worked, Duo spoke to the other boy, learning as much as possible about the foreign land he’d been brought to and people who lived there. The grovelers, that Alec had spoken of before, were the valley’s original inhabitants. They had lived in the shadows of the twin mountains when the first riders who had fled Amulah arrived to claim this territory for their own. These half savage, untamed and animal-skin clothed people had been easily persuaded by the presence of fierce dragons to take on the menial work for the riders and dragons, becoming their servants and their land forces in battle. These seemingly wild men and women rode strange and fierce animals into battle during the many years that the northern riders fought the kings of Amulah. Each time they were beaten back by the greater number of dragons and men from their former land their numbers decreased. Tales of heir fearsome appearance and fighting had outlived hundreds, even thousands of those wild men.
Alec told him that when the winters turned harsh and food became scarce, the dragons began eating the groveler’s beasts, down to the last one. Then, as wars are prone to do, the number of the valley’s original inhabitants diminished, until now there were only several hundred left living in the shadow of Cordith. The once fierce allies now provided the riders with clothing, mead and vegetables in the summer months in exchange for the dragons providing them with meat and skins from animals they hunted in the surrounding hills for.
This was surprising news to Duo. Fear of the northern riders and their vicious allies as well as tales of their ferociousness were still present in even the smallest of villages in Amulah. They were ignorant of the fact that the fearsome fighters and their beasts were all but gone. It was no wonder the northern riders had not openly attacked Amulah since Howard’s dragon had fallen in battle; their ground forces were depleted. It seemed to Duo that the forbidding northern country had slowly yet surely been killing the conquered and conqueror, both of whom were trying to eke out a life in the nearly intolerable climate.
Shivering and huddled into himself from the cold, Duo was greatly relieved when Alec came to the wood box to deliver what he hoped was the last armful of firewood. Setting his burden down for a moment, Alec stretched out the tired muscles of his arms and back and announced that he was finished for the day. The fledgling’s relief was short lived, however, when he realized that they were about to go inside where trouble was no doubt brewing. Accepting an armful of wood from the blond, he waited for Alec to gather more in his own arms and then followed the taller boy inside. Together they walked the length of the building with Duo keeping his eyes down and purposely staying to Alec’s right, attempting to keep as far away from the other riders as possible.
After setting the wood next to the stone fireplace, Duo sat next to Alec on the stone hearth and, after taking off his mitts, accepted a bowl of hot broth from Dorothy. He continued to keep his eyes cast down as he sipped the drink, concentrating on the steaming liquid that warmed his chilled body. When a large hand came down on his shoulder and gripped it firmly, Duo jumped with alarm and spilled some the hot contents on his hands. It stung, but he ignored it as he looked up to see Deikum staring down at him.
"Keep your outer garments on," the older rider said. "After you’ve finished your drink, I’ll take you to your dragon."
Wu Fei had spoken to him several times that morning, concerned for his welfare and craving his presence. Duo felt the same ache of longing for his dragon. They’d never been separated for any great length of time before and both of them were feeling the discomfort this forced separation brought.
Despite the heat of the liquid in his cup, Duo quickly swallowed its contents, burning his tongue and throat in the process. He handed his empty bowl to Alec and stood, saying to the older rider, "I’m ready."
Deikum offered him something akin to a smile before leading the fledgling to the back door of the dwelling where they paused in order for the older rider to dress in the heavy fur raiment. They walked outside together, back into the frigid cold that seemed even colder now to Duo than it had been earlier. He followed Deikum as they moved towards the wall of wood and then around the end of it to an open flat space. There Duo saw a magnificent gray dragon with jeweled green eyes sitting there, patiently watching their approach. He paused before the majestic beast and bowed his head as a sign of respect. The dragon lowered its large head to sniff the boy, then rubbed his snout against his body as a sign of acceptance.
Deikum pulled at the boy’s sleeve and gestured for him to follow as he climbed up the dragon’s worn straps to straddle its neck. As directed, Duo sat in front of the other man and once he was secured in his grasp, the large gray took to the sky. He experienced his first, dragon’s- eye view of the country that was supposedly his new home. Everywhere he looked: the valley, the mountains and the rolling hills to the east and west, all appeared as austere and forbidding as the tales he’d been told as a child. With a shuddering breath, he looked to Muir for the remainder of the flight and focused his thoughts on his forthcoming reunion with his dragon.