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The Sun of Avalon


From the moment he had laid eyes on the young Roman soldier, he felt some part of him start with recognition. Perhaps they had met in some other lifetime. The life of the God flowed through his veins, heating his face as those brilliant eyes, hard and intelligent, swept over him, over the small horde of priests crowded around him.

Rellis, his light-haired foster brother, had pushed his way to the front to get a better look at the lost boy. "I have come from Rome in search of my Legion from the battlefields slick with blood on the Rhine," the soldier said softly, rhythmically, every word pulsing through his body. His dark slanted eyes were beautiful. He must have been one of the God's chosen, to have been blessed with such comeliness.

Mirialdo, the Archdruid, pushed through the throng, the young initiates bowing and scraping before him. Only Duo, the priest of the Oracle, dared stand before him, his violet eyes glowing. "Where have you come from, boy?" The soldier flushed, but it was plain to everyone, even Duo, who knew little of such things, that he looked no older than the yew tree planted in the gardens upon Duo's birth. Fifteen seasons of death and destruction.

"Come with me, boy." The Roman flushed, his eyes blazing, but he followed the priest. As he walked by, Duo could smell the faint air of blood and something else sweet, like lilies on a breezy day. It sent shivers down his back; beneath the loose black robes, he trembled slightly.

He nodded to Rellis; separating out from the other initiates and younger priests, they huddled at the wicker door, listening as Mirialdo interrogated the Roman soldier. His voice was slow and smooth, like a languid, hazy journey down a river at midnight.

"What is your name, boy? Or shall I keep calling you 'boy'?"

"...Heero. My name is Heero."

"Your mother was a priestess."

"She was."

"Your father was a soldier."

"...He was an assassin."

"They are the same."


"You intend harm towards us?"


"You lie."


"...We will allow you to seek shelter within these walls for two days. Then you must go, for the Beltane fires burn in two nights. These are sacred to our people."

"They are also sacred to me."

"You are Roman."

"My father is Roman; my mother..." Here he paused, and somehow Duo knew he was making the sign of respect for those passed on. "...Was a priestess of Avalon." Mirialdo drew in a sharp breath. Avalon; that forbidden place of magic and death and the Goddess. Twisted, beautiful Erin, her long red hair flowing over her back, declaring the end would come through the sun of Avalon.

"Very well. You should stay for the Beltane fires, to honor her memory. You should stay with Duo; his housemate has recently been given over to the God." Now he paused and made the sign of respect. Duo and Rellis made faces silently. Everyone knew Mirialdo had been pleased to see his rival, Chang, pass on.

"Fine." The two priests skittered off to the side, fearing discovery, but Heero paused, probably at Mirialdo's bidding.

"A word. Duo has been given over to the God as the Beltane sacrifice." Duo winced; it sounded so primal, so barbaric when put that way. Like an animal in heat.

"Don't worry. I won't lay on finger on his chastity belt." His voice oozed sarcasm. "Unless you want me too." Duo's mind was suddenly flooded with visions of naked, sweaty flesh intertwined, and his nose gushed blood.

"Shit!" he swore, using his black robes to soak up the blood. "Shit shit shit..." Rellis giggled. "Take him to my cottage, okay? I have to go get cleaned up..." The other boy's face suddenly became grave and he waggled a finger under his nose. In a burst of intuition, Duo knew that the boy's time as his confidante had come to an end.

" know you can't do anything with this soldier. He's a Roman, for crying out loud. And you've given yourself over to the Year King at Beltane, and I swear, if you do anything to--"

"What? You'll turn me over to Mirialdo? I thought we were friends." They glared at each other for a long moment, their angry confrontation interrupted by Heero's sudden emergence from Mirialdo's cottage.

"Here, I'll take you to the place you'll be staying--"

"No need. Duo can show me." His voice was softly challenging, and the God knew Duo did not back down from a challenge. "If he's here."

"I'm here." Hoping his nose wouldn't start to bleed again, he jerked his head sharply towards a darkened path leading to the priests' homes. "Let's get going, then." They walked in silence for a while, until Heero suddenly spoke.

"How is it one so young came to be the Priest of the Oracle?" Duo sputtered for a moment, then remembered the tattoo of the sun between his light brows.

"I predicted a massacre on a band of Jesuits, ones that would have come to our aid when we were attacked and our priests kidnapped and sacrificed to the Roman gods. The old Oracle did not believe me and was...deposed." The word had an ominous ring to it. "There was a bloody struggle for the position, and when consulted, the all- mighty God chose me in a sacred rite of fire." He stopped, and Heero had the feeling he had revealed some arcane secret of the priesthood.

"I see." Heero did not, but he wasn't about to admit that to anyone, especially not the person he would be imposing on for a few days. Best to fake understanding.

They arrived at the cottage, and Duo pushed the wooden door open, smiling as a cat leapt out with lazy grace and began to rub against his legs. "This is Shinigami, named after one of the aspects of the God. It is through the God of Death that I receive the prophecies and will of the God."

"Well," Duo said after a moment of pregnant silence, "to sleep then? I hope you're a sound sleeper; I have many things to oversee for Beltane and--" Heero cut him off with a gentle smile, and, to Duo's horror, began to unbuckle his belt. He blushed as he realized that he was simply removing his sword; no doubt it would be unpleasant to sleep with that pressing into one's side.

"You are the Priest of the Oracle," he said seriously, the little crinkle of his brow like a gull's wings. The braided priest wasn't sure if he was mocking him or not. "I do not expect you to devote your life to watching me." He started on the buttons of his jacket, tossing it onto the dirt floor and Duo left quickly, before thoughts that had no business entering his mind flocked to the source of temptation.

Duo, ever the self-sacrificing masochist, let Heero have the bed. Yet in the morning, he found Heero sleeping on a pile of his clothes and himself back in the bed, snuggled into the blanket. Had he...? No, it must have been Heero, then. He snorted. If he was trying to work himself into Duo's good graces, it was a fine way to start.

He had to prepare special herbs for the trance he would go into when receiving the God's blessing. The morning dew was still heavy, glistening on the fine blades of green grass. Sighing, he shed his sandals and left them on the front porch, wading through the tiny jungle. His bare feet sank into the moist earth, leaving prints of where he had been.

The small white roots seemed like weeds, and the priests of Shinigami alone knew that they could induce visions and hallucinations, if taken in too large a dosage. He added those to the large pocket sewn into his pants absentmindedly.

The God seemed in a fine mood that lovely spring morning, the light of the sun just barely peeking over the canopy of lush leaves shading them from prying eyes. Sighing, Duo sat down for a moment to rest, and then he would head back.

A moment turned into a few hours. His violet eyes snapped open as a hand, rough and callused, came to rest on his shoulder. "Wha--?" Heero's eyes, mirthful and brimming with laughter, met his. "I fell asleep," he said to himself.

"That you did. Mirialdo especially is worried." His soft, lilting voice turned hard at the mention of the Archdruid. "Gathering roots for Beltane?" Duo nodded, swallowing hard as Heero turned into the sun, the light giving gold highlights to his dark head. "My mother used to send me on gathering trips a few days before. You have to dry them, right?"

"Right," he answered, a little too quickly. Heero sent him a curious look, but Duo was already off, not quite running down the path. A few minutes later, Heero caught up to him, his steps light enough so Duo never heard him.

"You are afraid of me." Duo spun around on one heel, intending to give the egotistic Roman a good piece of his mind when he slipped on the dew and went flying, his face hovering an inch from the ground. He could feel Heero's hands on his body, cupped around his waist, and his cheeks burned. Best not to think of those things, Duo, he told himself.

"I'm not afraid of you," he said with as much dignity as he could muster up. "Why should I consort with the enemy?"

One heavy eyebrow arched over the bluest eyes. "I'm the enemy, now? You weren't so hostile last night." Duo's eyes flew open as he saw Rellis, retreating down the path, probably off to tell the Archdruid that Duo had been engaged in a sin against the Year King.

"Lower you eyes and voice, boy!" he ordered. "You have now just given another priest the impression that we are--are--" He reddened exponentially, stuttering until Heero took mercy on him.


"Yes," he said relieved. "That." Looking into those eyes again, at the sensual mouth and scar below his right eye, his expression softened unwittingly. "You should not wander around without one of the priests. Rome has never been friendly to us, and some may vent their anger upon you." Heero patted the hilt of his sword reassuringly.

"No one will harm me. Mirialdo has offered shelter and to harm one's own guest is a sin against the God." Heero shrugged and nodded at one of the younger initiates. The boy, a tall young man with brown hair that fell over one dark, emerald eye, nodded back. "You should not speak of such things. Are you not preparing for Beltane, the joyous festival?" he asked with a teasing tone in his husky voice.

Duo smiled. "I should be, instead of blathering on about politics. Good day. I shall see you at nightfall?" Heero gave a little half-smile tentatively. He had the feeling he didn't do it very often.

"Nightfall, then." There they parted ways again until the darkness fell over the land, dipping into the cracks between the trees and the hills.

Duo sat up eagerly as the door flew open. He had thought about the young Roman all day. But it was a mortal sin to go any further, they all knew that and so did Heero. Hopefully, the God would not see fit to test him with temptation.

"Duo," said Mirialdo, his cloak shrouding his tall form. "You were expecting someone else?" He hadn't realized he wore an expression of disappointment and quickly smiled. "The Roman soldier, perhaps?"

"I--he said he would return at nightfall." Mirialdo nodded slowly. "But he has not, sir."

"He has been moved to Rellis' cottage, Duo. Your thoughts have been straying from the task Shinigami has handed you. You must keep your mind and body pure for the Beltane fires." Resting one hand in the curve of his cheek, he added, "But after the last fire has been lit, your Year King will come to you." He gasped--Mirialdo was to be the Year King? A soft, chaste kiss on his lips, moving away before Duo could breathe. "A year is a long time; in so many dreams I have seen you the way you were at Beltane seasons past, your hair flying about your face, a ghost in white robes. I can give you so much; you will not want for anything."

The braided boy hissed. "I shall want for pride and dignity," he snapped. "I am not your whore."

"I never asked you to whore yourself. A creature as beautiful as yourself should not need to lift a single finger, save to do the God's bidding." He smiled; his fingers on Duo's face were doing things to his body, things that he'd heard the older priests talking about as they bathed in the lake, but he'd never thought... It felt good to have someone's body close, when for the past year he had been forbidden from physical contact.

"You should go," said Duo feebly. "I mean it, Mirialdo." The blonde man acquiesced reluctantly, shutting the door with a soft click behind him.

That night, he had a dream that he was flying above the green earth, looking down as the Beltane fires burned, sending smoke signals to the God and Goddess. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned.

"Heero," he said a little breathlessly, smiling as the Roman soldier reached out his hands and pulled Duo in tight, crushing him to his chest. They stayed like that for a long time before the fires from the skies rained down and consumed them in a holy storm of immense proportions.

*I love you.*

*I love you.*

Duo woke at dawn on Beltane shivering, the sun streaming through one wobbly glass window. Something, he knew, was going to happen to day. His blood thrilled to the prospect of seeing the Roman soldier of whom he had dreamed. He had to use all of his self control to keep his mind on the task at hand; taking the God into his body.

He walked out of his little cottage, and tugged on his sandals. It was eerily quiet; even the birds were silent. The significance of the day was slowly beginning to seep in; as a few of the bald-headed initiates in their orange robes passed, they bowed lower to him than to Mirialdo as he passed on his daily inspection of robes and work stations. "Duo," another murmured, his voice a prayer on a light tongue, kneeling against the hard stones.

He entered the wooden hut where the Oracle ceremonially meditated on all festivals and built up the fire, mere red and orange glowing coals, higher than his head. Shedding his robes, he laid them outside quickly, the cold air slashing at his bare skin. Then he sat down on the small bench and closed his eyes, the smoke stinging his eyes.

So hot... He could feel sweat trickling from every pore of his body, cleansing his mind and purifying his soul. The wetness trailed down the bumpy curve of his spine and pooled in the small of his back. He was beginning to feel light-headed. Good; he was entering the trance. "Shinigami guide me," he whispered, bowing his head. He felt his body go limp and his spirit leave his body.

Without hesitating, his soul plunged into the fires, down into the core of the orange and red and then into a glassy world. He had never gone this deep before, always straying at the edges, afraid of the truths he might find at the very heart of the flames.

A heart lay pulsing on a table, the blood soaking into the ground, into the roots of the trees, the leaves, the sky, the sun. The flames flared higher and when they at last retreated, he was treated to an image of Heero, crucified on a wooden cross, head hanging limply, one of the more terrible truth devices they used on prisoner Romans hanging from his chest. Dead.

He clawed at his eyes, not wanting to see, and the flames again consumed the picture, clearing only to reveal one last vision, clearer than all the others. Lightning and fire consuming the druids, their homes, their lives' work. The vengeance of the God was at hand.

Abruptly, his soul was shoved back into his body. He looked around questioningly and saw he was standing outside the hut, his clothes back on, the fire still roaring ominously. The image of Heero dead came to mind, and he raced across the meadow, panic rising inside him.

There were armed priests standing guard at a tent in front of Rellis' cottage. "It is forbidden to lay hand on scythe or sword on Beltane," he snapped, feeling his face drain of color as Mirialdo stepped out of the tent, unable to look him in the eye.

"This lying, scheming *Roman*,"--he paused to spit the word out onto the ground--"attempted last night to force Rellis into a mortal sin with him. His lust must be consumed in the fires of Beltane. The Roman denies it, of course." He looked around for his foster brother, and when he did not see him, his rage grew.

"The accused is granted a meeting with the accuser." The blonde man's eyebrows raised incredulously. Truly, Duo thought, the man had been coddled and sheltered from the hard truths of life for too long, Treize's doing. The old Archdruid had always had a soft spot for the younger initiate.

"You would take the word of our enemy over your own brother, a priest who has sworn never to tell a lie?" He sighed. "Perhaps this Roman has clouded your vision. He'll be dead by sundown, and then things can go back to the way they were, Duo." He smiled. "I'm only trying to protect you."

"Terrible," the braided boy cried angrily, "I fear I shall need protection against my protector." The Archdruid's face turned purple with the force of his ire.

"Watch where you tread on this holy day, young Duo." He sighed. "If he truly means that much to you, you can see him. Try and get information out of him."

Duo shook his head. About what? he wondered. He'd been separated from the army, that much everyone knew. What use would week old battle plans and formations be? Still, he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, and saying a short prayer of thanks to the God, he pushed aside the flap.

"Heero!" he cried, kneeling by the tied and gagged Japanese man. "Shinigami help us..." He rolled up the soldier's uniform sleeves and saw long red, infected scratches running along his forearms and face. "Did he do this to you?" Heero nodded. "Why?" Heero's eyebrows darkened and he tried to speak, his words muffled behind the gag. "You didn't do it." He shook his head emphatically and tried to speak again. Looking under the edge of the tent, he saw two pairs of immobile feet and quickly ripped the gag away. The guards seemed slow-witted; if they spoke lowly, they would never know...

"By the Gods," Heero whispered hoarsely, "I thought I should never see you again." Never one for thinking before acting, Duo leaned forward and hugged him tentatively, sinking into the strength and hard muscle of his body. He was so warm.

"I have to get you out of here," Duo whispered. "Wait until a count of ten, then make a run for the woods. Do you know where the old stone ruins are on the hill beyond the pond?" Heero nodded. "Meet me there at sundown," he whispered, knowing that it was wrong, knowing it was a weakness and, the God strike him down, he was about to give his body to one who was not the Year King.

He untied his hands and feet, and emerged, looking tired. "The prisoner will die before sundown if I do not treat his infected wounds. You must run to my cottage and retrieve my healer's bag. The other must go to the meadows and pick five large white mushrooms and make a soup from the stems." They nodded reluctantly; Duo went with the one sent to retrieve his bag and hit him over the head with a chair. He went down hard, but the dirt absorbed the sound. As for the other, white mushrooms were out of season. Hopefully it would be a long time before either was missed.

Still alive; Duo released his wrist and went to follow Heero, every fiber of his being coming alive as he saw the young Roman looking down at him from just beyond the peak of the hill. He wore nothing more than his leather pants and boots, exposing the fine lines of his chest. Around his neck hung a pentacle.

"My mother's," Heero said by way of explanation. "I must leave now, but my soul cries out at the thought of being parted from you. Truly," he laughed, "the God is so cruel, and yet so kind." They came together slowly, Duo's arms sliding around Heero's neck as he yielded to his delicate kiss, their lips moving softly. "No," Heero gasped, drawing away, "Beltane...that is all it is."

Duo shook his head, sending his braid flying. "Even if Beltane is all that it is, Mirialdo means to make me his as soon as the fires have died down. For once in my lifetime," whispered the violet-eyed priest, tracing the angular jaw of the soldier standing in front of him, "I want to know what it means to be loved." He kissed Heero, pushing his lips apart, tongue probing the deepest recesses of his mouth, tasting his saliva, hands working at their clothes. Together, loath to part, they slid to the ground.

Once Duo had broken past his initial resolve, Heero took over, his hands sliding over his flat belly, kindling a fire that burned low and sweetly in his groin. Up higher, pushing the fabric up until Duo lay panting on the grass. They were both naked, and Duo could feel his need pressing against Heero's.

If the God meant to kill him for experiencing such pleasures, he would gladly take the punishment. "Heero," Duo whispered, beckoning to his Roman lover, "now." Even as Heero sank into him, claiming him, Duo took him, holding the secrets of his body. That fire raced through him, building higher and higher until he thought his body would burst into white hot flames. Their cries twined with the soft shouts of those below and the smoky scent of the cedar wood being lit.

They were flying, racing towards a finish full of fire and sweet torment, and then Duo realized there were people coming up the hill, and he didn't even care. All he knew was that his body had melted into Heero's and his Year King was taking him by the way of desire and love, not of proscribed ritual.

His back arched and his lips parted in a soundless cry, even as he saw the blonde-haired Archdruid appear over the crest of the hill. Gasping, his legs spread wide to either side of Heero's slender hips, he looked defiantly at Mirialdo.

"You are a disgrace, you dirty dirty whore!" the blonde shouted, throwing Heero off him, revealing evidence of their spent passion. Several priests descended on his lover, tying his arms behind his back. "We will have not one, but two Beltane sacrifices, in the old way by the fire. Come, and let us reap the harvest." Cheers rose into the air.

Strong hands lifted him into the air, his naked body paraded around for all to see his shame. Yet all he could see was Heero's face, all he could feel were his fingertips on his face, expressing his love. The group of priests stopped right before the large fire.

"You have shamelessly lowered yourself to lie with a Roman." His eyes gleamed as they passed over Heero's exposed sex. "You have betrayed your clan. You have abandoned the faith of the God, have given freely what was his to take." He pointed towards the flames. "And such will be your ending. If I were you, I would be praying for mercy."

"I pray for mercy on your soul," said Duo simply, trying to catch Heero's eye. As he stared into the flames, he laughed. A vision that stretched thousands of years, through hundreds of bloodlines unfolded before his eyes. "Fools," he cried, his voice carrying over the bloodthirsty growls of his fellow priests. "Ten years ago, the Oracle stood here and prophesized that the sun of Avalon destroy you. It is not the sun of Avalon but the son who will be your end. And you have fulfilled your own destiny." As he spoke, several priests began to back away, murmuring to themselves.

"That changes nothing," Mirialdo said, and signaled for them to be given to the fire.

"Oh my love," Duo whispered as he felt his face near the flames, the heat burning his eyes, "no mortal flames could sear my soul as much as not loving you." No regrets. He had said what the God intended for him, and what was on his heart. Heero smiled, and he knew he felt the same way.

Then they were both shoved into the offering pyre, the raging flames consuming their bodies. Perhaps it was the will of the God that the wind blew the highest of the flames into the trees, setting the entire forest afire, cleansing and burning until only a single cherry tree under which they had consummated their love was left.

Years later, a young woman big with child would stop beneath this tree to rest, though she knew she had no time to. She was going to Avalon. As soon as she had passed through, the cherry tree withered and died, sinking back into the earth, its purpose served. As she left, she could smell the faint acrid scent of smoke and charcoal tickling her noise, a hint of something so sorrowful it moved her to tears.

And many decades after that, as she lay dying, her eyes closing slowly, falling into darkness, the scent of smoke and charcoal moved her across the mists and home, at last.

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