I hadn’t needed to be a detective that morning to know
just what I was seeing as I stood in the doorway of the house and watched
Duo make his mark on that old fence post. I’d not slept all that well,
listening to the sounds most of the night of Duo tossing and turning and
sighing in the dark. I’d risen from bed as soon as I’d heard
him leave the house and had watched him through the window as he’d
The day had been, perhaps prophetically, over-cast and gray.
The sky threatening rain.
The animals came first, I realized, as he fed and watered
them. He hadn’t so much as bothered to snag a slice of cold pizza
for himself on the way outside. I watched him as he dished up food and refilled
water dishes. As he went in to the barn and presumably fed and watered the
horse as well, turning it out into the yard when he was done. He went and
tossed a ball that the black dog chased after with tail-wagging enthusiasm,
all the while with Reason glued to his side, almost like there was something
Duo needed to be protected from. I wondered if it was me.
I’d opened the door to the house when he’d gone
to the corner of the lot with his knife in his hand, unsure of what he was
about. I watched him, feeling like I was watching some rite, as he scored
the wood. But then he just kept standing there and I ventured outside to
see what was going on. I was surprised that the dogs didn’t pay me
It became obvious as I drew near, that he was counting the
marks and I heard him mutter something; I couldn’t catch the words,
but there was no mistaking the sheer desolation of his tone. I hadn’t
tried to be particularly quiet in my approach, but I could tell I surprised
him when I took the knife from his hand. The first drops of rain fell, kicking
up dust as they hit the ground, and I knew in my heart somehow that he couldn’t
stay there any more. It felt like the man I was standing so close to was
fading from the world, and I meant to stop it before I lost him altogether.
I used the knife to cut off the days; marking a final slash
to underscore all the others. ‘It ends here, Duo,’ I told him
gently. ‘No more hiding… no more running. Come home… please?’
He just stood for a long time, watching me make my own mark
on that old post, finding the thing harder than I would have imagined. Reason
was looking up at him, and I wondered how a dog could manage to look worried.
Even he knew that there was something to fear here.
When I was done, I stepped back a pace to let Duo turn around,
not wanting to make him feel trapped. He still didn’t speak, just
looking at me like he could draw answers out of me with his gaze.
In that moment, I was seeing the Duo I’d found at the
diner the day before. Hopeful and vulnerable and… scared. I folded
up the knife in my hand and he just stood and let me slip it back into his
pocket. God… there were so many questions dancing across his expression,
and he was staring at me like I held the answers to all of them.
It made it impossible to fight it anymore and I just reached
out and pulled him to me. He came almost faster than the tug of my hands
and I’m not sure if I’d started out intending to kiss him, but
it was there in the tilt of his head when he fell into me and… it
just happened. The moan that escaped him was need and panic all rolled into
a single sound, and I held him tight, afraid that he would run after all,
but his arms around my neck were firm when nothing else about him was.
The kiss was total surrender, and I only broke it to answer
the trembling that wouldn’t let go of him. ‘Shh,’ I whispered
against his hair. ‘It’s all right. I came to take you home again.
It’s over, it’s all over.’
There was no rhythm to his breath. No grace in the way his
mouth sought mine again. No gentleness to the clutch of his hands, and God…
I couldn’t resist him, even though some part of me knew it was too
soon. Way too soon, and probably for more wrong reasons than I could name.
But we were beyond caring and I took him back into the house
and straight the hell to bed, ditching clothes as we went, and slamming
the bedroom door in the faces of two rather shocked looking cats.
He was all muscle and sinew and there was nothing about him
that was spare. His life those past long months seeming to have worn him
down until there was nothing left to be taken. It felt like I’d come
just in time… just before the damn place asked more from him than
he had left. It made that protectiveness flare up behind my desire, and
I answered the need in him with everything I could give. Making love to
him over and over until I wasn’t sure if he’d fallen asleep
or passed the hell out.
I watched him sleep for a time, stroking a hand over his hair
and listening to the rain on the roof. I vowed silently to him that there
would be changes in his life. Immediate ones. He was mine now, and I would
take care of him until he’d regained his footing and saw his way to
take care of himself again. I would not let him continue to fade away.
Go to Chapter Eleven:
back to chapter nine
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