Warnings : Yaoi, sappy angst, OOC, Heero POV, language and
some citrus of the strange variety. This is a direct sequel to the 'Road
Thanks to Christy for the super beta job, to Kitana, my Equestrian
Consultant, and Kracken, for opinions rendered. Thanks guys!
Feed-back goes well with chocolate.
Standard ownership blah-blah stuff.
I think Duo was asleep before we ever got out of the city,
despite the fact that he’d been about as excited over this trip as
I’d seen him in a long time. At least, as excited as I’d seen
him since… the storm. Though, if I was honest with myself, I had to
admit that wasn’t saying much.
He still tired easily and I had suspected that all the fuss
of packing and getting ready to go was going to wear him out. If he’d
noticed that I’d reclined his seat just a hair before he ever got
near the car, he didn’t mention it. Though he hadn’t been in
the new one much yet, and he might honestly not have realized.
It was… oddly bitter-sweet to look across and see him
sleeping near at hand. While there was a part of me that was almost euphoric
that he was alive to even be there with me, there was another part that
saw how wan he looked. Knew how frayed he was feeling.
It was almost too late in the season to be making a trip of
this nature and I hoped I didn’t end up regretting pushing us into
it. But he needed it so desperately. Needed a change of scenery. Needed
to just get away for awhile. He hadn’t been the slightest bit deterred
by the fall weather when I’d broached the subject. I just hoped to
the Gods that it helped lift his spirits.
I had started considering a vacation and making plans back
before his cast had even come off. As soon as I’d gotten the news
that Commander Une had somehow managed to get Preventers insurance to pay
for the damages I’d caused to a ‘borrowed’ jet in the
course of getting home to Duo in the wake of that tornado. As soon as I’d
been assured that our savings weren’t going to be depleted by paying
for those repairs myself.
I’d had our destination all picked out before I’d
ever brought the subject up with Duo, and the reservations made within minutes
of seeing the tentative smile on his face in response. At that stage of
the game, I would not lose anything that brought any kind of light into
A long time ago, when we’d been young and first falling
in love, we’d talked about things that had seemed silly at the time;
futures and homes and things we wanted to do. It had all seemed… pointless,
in light of what we were. They seemed to be almost forbidden thoughts, and
the fact that they were secret dreams that neither of us had ever shared
with another human being, had made them all the more sweet. All the more…
ridiculous. Sometimes, we’d had to share the thoughts in jest, the
bitter reality of their pure unlikelihood being more than we could take.
We’d talked about living in the mountains one day. The
naivety of youth not caring for the reality of jobs and commutes, money
and bills. We’d only wanted to run away. Only wanted the quiet that
we’d seen there when we’d occasionally gone to ground in some
cabin or campsite in the woods. We’d only wanted some small part of
that touch of Mother Earth that was so alluring with its total unfamiliarity.
So I was taking Duo into the mountains. Not all that far,
not nearly far enough for the disappearance we’d once dreamed about.
Just a small rental place near a lake out in the woods. I was counting on
the slightly off season to grant us a bit of that solitude we’d dreamed
Living with Duo lately, with his tired smiles and his quiet
pain, was making my more cherished memories of him sharp in my mind. Making
me remember times when winning his true, bright laughter had still been
such a rare thing for me, that each incidence of it was carefully tucked
away in my heart.
And it ate at me, my uncertainty that part of his melancholy
might be coming from me. From the doubts I’d planted with my carelessness
right after he’d come home from the hospital. Oh, I know that most
of it was just pure, simple frustration with his injuries and the limitations
they placed on him. He’s never made a good patient. Has never been
able to cut his own body any slack. He asks too much of himself too fast,
then gets aggravated at his perceived ‘failures’.
But I worried that he still harbored fears about how I felt.
I worried that he still thought I found him unattractive, especially since
any kind of real physical activity between us had been thoroughly shelved
by his still healing body. I’d let him coerce me into trying, despite
my misgivings. Had let my own desires get fired by his needs and we’d
attempted to resume the… sexual side of our relationship. It had proved
too damn awkward. Too difficult. It was still too easy to hurt him, and
much as I wanted him… after a couple of tries that ended with him
panting in pain and fighting tears of frustration, I called a halt, and
refused to push it further until he’d healed.
I did my best to make it perfectly clear that it was about
his pain, and not my feelings for him, but sometimes I feared that he still
But then, I could hardly blame him if he did; my unintentional
abuse had been… staggering. I still couldn’t quite fathom how
my thinking had gotten that screwed up, sleep deprivation or not. I found
myself avoiding all thoughts of those days because the memories were just
Hearing Duo ask Wufei, in a voice thick with exhaustion, what
he had done wrong that had made me shut him out… is probably one of
the most sickening memories of my entire life.
I had done my best since then, since getting my head screwed
back on straight, to shower him with all the reassurances I could manage.
To the point of his getting almost irritated with me over it sometimes.
But I didn’t care; my love for him… my need for him, was as
strong and sure as it had ever been, and I’d do whatever it took to
erase any doubts he might have in that quarter.
He slept for most of the first two hours of the trip. I did
my damnedest not to wake him, careful on the turns and easy on the starts
and stops, but when we finally began to leave civilization behind, there
was nothing I could do about the rough roads.
Watching Duo wake is one of my more self-indulgent pleasures.
I love seeing that moment of drowsy openness as he finds his way back to
the real world. Especially at times like that where there’s just a
hint of confusion in him. He looks so… vulnerable for just a heartbeat.
I love that moment, because it didn’t used to exist. If there is a
thing on this Earth that defines the changes that we’ve gone through;
it’s that moment of waking. It used to be instant. It used to be all
about senses reaffirming the lay of the land. Senses that had never truly
shut down in the first place. It didn’t used to be uncommon for us
to wake with our hands already on weapons. We were usually up and moving
before we’d half finished opening our eyes.
So I loved to watch him wake now, to know I wasn’t watching
a soldier stir… but the man who was my lover.
‘Hey,’ I said softly and watched his eyes turn
my way. ‘How are you feeling?’
He shifted in the seat and groaned theatrically. ‘Stiff,’
he summarized. ‘Where are we?’
‘Almost there,’ I reassured. ‘Maybe another
half an hour. Do you want to stop somewhere for lunch or just go on up to
the cabin? The brochure said there’s a lodge with a restaurant within
a couple of miles of the place.’
‘Doesn’t matter to me,’ he said, truly waking
up and looking around, his eyes taking in the woods that had closed around
us while I’d been driving. As always, watching him look, made me see
what I hadn’t bothered to notice, and I realized that it was really
quite beautiful up here. Fall was just starting to make the nights colder
and the leaves were just beginning to turn. There was a sea of brilliant
color all around us and I almost chuckled, realizing that I had been thinking
about Duo so hard I almost hadn’t noticed.
I remembered more of what the brochure had promised and smiled.
‘Wouldn’t hurt to check out the lodge and see what it’s
like. That way, if we get sick of ‘roughing it’, we’ll
know if we have an alternative.’ Besides… there was supposed
to be a spectacular view of the lake from the restaurant balcony, and the
way that Duo was looking around led me to believe he might appreciate it.
‘Ok,’ he said simply and it made me look a little
closer. I repressed a sigh, seeing the way he was holding his body and understanding
that ‘stiff’ meant ‘hurting’. I opened my mouth
to ask him if he was all right, but I could see he wasn’t and let
it go. I kept my eyes open for the next scenic overlook and pointed it out
with some enthusiasm; he needed to get out of the car and move around.
He didn’t object, so I pulled off the road, fishing
the camera out of the backseat to complete my ‘cover story’
once we were parked. Trying to let him save face only went so far though;
I couldn’t stand and watch him struggle out of his seat without going
around and helping. He took my offered hand, but I could tell it bothered
him a little, so after seeing him on his feet and steady, I moved off to
take a few pictures of the view laid out below us.
There was a bit of a wind coming up the valley, and it blew
the occasional leaf past us in skirling dances. I saw a hawk hanging above
us, high in the sky, and turned to point it out to Duo, only to see that
he’d already spotted it. He has a certain affinity for the birds,
I’m not sure why, and seldom fails to notice when we happen to pass
them. Seeing him standing there, his face turned up to the sky, the wind
tugging at his shirt and his hair, his face pinked from the slight chill
in the air… I felt my breath catch. I was so caught up in watching
him, I almost didn’t think to raise the camera. I don’t even
think he noticed when I did. I hoped the picture came out… it would
be perfect if I managed it right, I’m hardly a professional photographer.
Taken with shivering remembrance, I was moved to go to him,
just suddenly needing to touch. There had been almost no traffic on the
road since I’d turned off the highway, and I felt safe in going to
stand behind him with my arms around his waist. ‘Beautiful, isn’t
it?’ I asked softly, looking out over the valley with him. I felt
him relax against me and he made a noise that sounded affirmative.
I held him loosely, ever mindful of places that wouldn’t
bear a lot of pressure, and wished he’d dressed warmer; his hands
where they rested on mine felt chilled.
‘You’re doing it again,’ Duo chided, and
I froze, trying to decide if I was holding too tight. He sighed heavily,
tugging my arms closer about him. ‘Not that. You’re thinking
about that damn storm again. I thought we came up here to get away…
to forget about it for a while.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I murmured, not bothering to
deny it. ‘I’ll try harder.’
He snorted, rubbing his head against my cheek. ‘You’d
better do more than try. You lured me up here with promises of distractions
and a real vacation. I don’t intend to do nothing but sleep the whole
time we’re here.’
I couldn’t help frowning, wondering just what in the
hell he thought he was up to handling. ‘Duo… I don’t…’
‘Look,’ he snapped, pulling away to turn and look
at me. ‘If I’m just trading one damn bedroom for another, we
might as well turn around and go home right now, and save ourselves a lot
‘I don’t mean to keep you cooped up the whole
week,’ I told him gently. ‘But I’m not about to let you
strain yourself either. Don’t expect me to.’
He planted his hands on his hips in that gesture that I recognized
as ‘meaning business’, and said, ‘I’m not about
to try a five mile up-hill hike through the woods… but I fully intend
on taking walks by the lake and… and maybe going swimming if it warms
up. Something, Heero! I didn’t come all this way to sit on the damn
porch and watch the leaves turn brown!’
I could tell he was set to truly get worked up over it, was
prepared to back his words up by turning around in the next moment and going
home if that’s what it took to prove his point. If I’ve learned
nothing else in all my years with Duo Maxwell, it’s when to back the
hell off. I ducked my head and gave him a sheepish look, ‘Well…
I did pack your sewing.’
It took him a second, but I got the laugh and then I got my
arm punched too. ‘You can be such an asshole sometimes.’
I grinned and reached for him. ‘I know.’
But then we heard a car on the road, so we ended the discussion,
moving apart. I took a few more pictures, while Duo walked around a bit,
then we got back on the road.
The lodge proved simple to find, and situated as advertised
to good effect overlooking the lake. The view was impressive enough that
Duo actually seemed to forget he was trying to be irritated with me.
I had been considering just ordering some sandwiches or something
to take on up to the cabin with us, but seeing the spark of interest on
Duo’s face was enough to convince me to eat in the lodge’s dining
The restaurant was almost deserted and I wondered how in the
world they could afford to keep the place open year round; they couldn’t
possibly make enough money through the off season to pay for the staff.
But the lack of patrons gave us our pick of seating, though I hardly had
to ask for a table by the window.
The menu proved to be simple but varied and I took the opportunity
to order several different items, hoping to entice Duo into trying something
new. His appetite had been slow in coming back, and I seriously wished we
could get some weight back on his frame. I sometimes feared that a bad cold
would be almost more than he could handle. He at least waited until the
waitress left the table before calling me on it.
‘Heero,’ he scolded, giving me a dark look. ‘You’re…
I quirked him a grin. ‘We’re on vacation. We’re
supposed to be trying new things.’
‘We’re supposed to be… hiking and swimming
and crap,’ he muttered, looking out the window instead of at me. ‘Rock
climbing maybe. We’re not on a taste tour of the continent.’
I think I managed to contain the horrified expression that
wanted to overtake me at the notion of him rock climbing at this stage of
his recovery fairly well, but then his sly little smirk let me know the
comment had been designed to horrify. ‘Who’s being the asshole
now?’ I grumbled.
‘I am,’ he told me amiably, ‘but you started
I snorted and we got quiet for a bit. He just sat watching
out the window and I sat watching him. He didn’t speak again until
after our drinks had been brought to the table. Then he straightened a little,
leaning toward the window. ‘Look, Heero,’ he said and pointed.
I turned to look where he indicted, and saw a string of horse-back riders
winding their way up a trail beside the lake. ‘That looks like fun,’
he ventured hesitantly, rather deliberately not looking at me.
I had to bite back the first thing that wanted to pop out
of my mouth, thinking about his recently healed broken leg, and wondering
what kind of strain riding a horse would put on it. But… there was
interest in his expression. Hopeful interest, and I found I couldn’t
just shoot him down. ‘Have you ever ridden before?’ I asked
instead, biding my time more than anything, while I thought about it.
‘No,’ he admitted, and dared to look across the
table at me. ‘What about you?’
‘It was part of my training,’ I shrugged.
He snorted. ‘Guess that means you’re some kind
of equestrian God, then?’
‘I can stay in the saddle,’ I conceded and gave
him a grin that probably looked a little cocky, but it made him smile back
‘You get a lot of use out of that training?’ he
teased. ‘Have to infiltrate the Oz cavalry?’
‘I actually did have to ride once, while I was undercover
at one of those high-brow schools,’ I replied. ‘They had equestrian
and fencing classes…’
He cut me off with a burst of smothered laughter. ‘Now
there’s a school that turned out a lot of kids prepared for dealing
with real life! Whatever happened to reading, writing, and arithmetic?’
I opened my mouth to respond to the barb, but our lunch arrived
and we dropped the topic.
He’d gotten himself a simple hamburger and I had to
repress a sigh, watching him nibble at it.
I’d ordered myself a turkey sandwich and extras of shrimp
cocktail, side salad, and a bowl of fresh fruit. I did my best to ply him
with whatever he seemed willing to eat. It still wasn’t much, and
when he stopped with barely half his sandwich consumed, I finally couldn’t
help scolding him. ‘Duo… can’t you do better than that?’
He gave me a scowl, dropping his napkin in the middle of his
plate as if to finalize it. ‘Heero,’ he grumbled. ‘I’m
not as active as normal. I’m not burning the calories… I’m
just not hungry.’
I swallowed the rest of it, already sorry that I hadn’t
managed to keep my mouth shut, and tried to turn it around a little. ‘Well,
at least now I know it’s not my cooking.’
He blinked in surprise and the frown cleared a little. ‘Thank
you,’ he told me and it was my turn to blink.
‘For what?’ I asked.
‘Dropping it,’ he grinned. ‘Didn’t
strain anything, did you?’
‘Don’t push it,’ I warned, giving him a
mock glare that only made him grin wider.
‘Oh, I’m scared,’ he teased and might have
said more, but the waitress returned with our bill then.
‘Miss?’ I asked as I pulled out my wallet. ‘We
couldn’t help notice the trail riders by the lake. Is there a stable
She was a tiny little thing, and stood on her toes to look
out the window and over the balcony, even though the riders were long gone.
Just as though she needed to see them for herself to confirm their existence.
Their absence didn’t seem to faze her though, as she dropped back
on her heels and smiled at me. ‘Rodney’s place,’ she confirmed.
‘If you saw riders, they’d have to be from Rodney’s; though
I’m surprised he’s still renting this late in the season. I’ll
get you his card with your change?’ she asked so hopefully that I
couldn’t help smiling at her in return.
‘You can keep the change,’ I assured her. ‘But
the card would be appreciated.’ She dimpled prettily and went off
to take care of it.
I turned back to find Duo grinning at me. ‘Flirting,
are we?’ he teased.
‘I’m not,’ I informed him. ‘It’s
hardly my fault if she is.’
‘You can’t blame her,’ he chuckled. ‘You
are the best looking guy in the room.’
I didn’t have to glance around to know that he and I
were the only two guys in the room. I snorted. ‘I’d argue that
‘Well she’s not flirting with me,’ he grinned,
but I could see in his eyes that he’d found himself on a conversational
path he hadn’t intended, and was regretting it. I repressed a sigh
and changed the subject.
‘So you really think you’d like to try trail-riding?’
I asked, still wondering about his leg. Wondering about the sanity of sticking
a totally inexperienced rider on horseback in this kind of terrain.
He looked a little relieved at the change of topic and was
just opening his mouth to reply to my question when the waitress returned
with not only a business card, but a small flyer as well.
We gave her our thanks and she went away.
I couldn’t help but notice how stiffly Duo rose from
his chair and I moved around the table to be close enough to offer support
if he needed it. ‘Do you want me to dig your pain medicine out of
the bags?’ I asked softly and got an almost unconscious frown and
a small shake of his head.
‘I’ll be alright,’ he said, heading for
the door. ‘Just been sitting still too much today. I’ll be ok
once we get there.’
‘We should do some of your stretches,’ I ventured,
hoping he hadn’t planned on blowing those off since, technically,
we were on vacation.
‘I know,’ he sighed and I could tell from the
sound of his voice that he wished he could, but knew better.
I opened the door to the lodge, waved as the waitress called
a cheery farewell, and followed Duo out before I told him, ‘I’ll
heat the oil and give you a massage afterward.’ I had meant the offer
as a treat… something to look forward too, but it brought a look into
his eyes that I had trouble identifying, beyond ‘not altogether good’.
The rest of the drive was fairly quiet, mostly because a full
stomach has a tendency lately to make Duo drowsy. Though, it bothered me
a bit to admit that half a hamburger constituted ‘full’ for
I followed the directions I’d been given and had no
more trouble finding the rental office than I’d had finding the lodge.
I left Duo in the car while I checked us in and picked up the keys, partially
so he could rest, and partially to avoid the looks two men would get checking
into a single bedroom cabin together. I don’t think I’ll ever
get used to those looks. I’d been making more of an effort to ignore
what other people thought, but it was hard for me. It makes us conspicuous
and that goes against every instinct I own. I was truly grateful for the
fact that Duo seemed to understand completely and never let it bother him.
At least… not as far as I could tell.
‘Almost there, love,’ I reassured him as I climbed
back in the car. ‘You going to be all right?’
He raised his head from where he’d had it leaned against
the headrest and gave me a disdainful look. ‘Heero,’ he grumbled.
‘I’m a little stiff and achy… I’m not in the throes
of a heart attack.’
‘Gods,’ I muttered. ‘Don’t joke about
that… I think that’s the one thing we haven’t been through
He choked on something that wanted to be indignant, but came
out as a laugh. ‘The hell,’ he retorted. ‘There’s
a million things we haven’t tried yet! Arthritis… bunions…
the heart-break of psoriasis…’
‘You want to stop tempting fate here?’ I groused,
sparing him a sideways glare as I took us the rest of the way up the mountain.
‘Ah,’ he grinned, letting his head drop back again.
‘Fate is a bitchy little lady and she likes to surprise you…
so if you think of it; it won’t happen.’
‘Interesting theory,’ I told him in a placating
tone. ‘Though hardly scientific.’
‘But I have research!’ he said huffily. ‘Tell
me you didn’t go off on that last assignment worrying about leaving
I turned my eyes from the road for the second it took to give
him the arched eyebrow look. ‘You know I always worry about you when
‘Exactly!’ he pounced. ‘But was a tornado
even in the running of things you thought might happen?’ he asked,
but didn’t wait for me to reply. ‘No! You thought about…
I dunno… car accidents and break-ins. Falls down the stairs or…’
‘Enough,’ I cut him off, a little unnerved that
he’d hit almost all my phobias right on the head. ‘I get the
point. I didn’t worry about a house falling on you, therefore…’
‘Precisely,’ he preened then lost interest in
the topic as I made the last turn and the cabin came into sight.
‘Heero,’ he said, and there was a bit of warning
in his tone. ‘I thought you said you rented a cabin… this looks
more like a… a chalet!’
‘Uhm… surprise?’ I tried, giving him a sheepish
grin that he wasn’t even seeing because he was staring at the cabin
I was parking next to.
‘We can’t afford this!’ he blurted as I
shut the car off, finally looking at me.
‘Yes we can,’ I told him gently, and reached out
to take hold of his hand. ‘This is the first real vacation we’ve
taken in our entire lives. I wanted…’ I shrugged, unsure of
just what I’d had in mind. ‘I just wanted us to enjoy it as
much as possible.’
‘Heero…’ he began, but I wouldn’t
let him finish.
‘Hush,’ I commanded. ‘This isn’t the
old days; we’re not scraping by eating nothing but rice and oatmeal.
We both have damn good jobs and we can afford this.’
His face clouded with that little frown he gets sometimes
when I know he’s thinking about yesterdays and things I don’t
think I’ll ever fully comprehend. ‘It just seems so…’
‘Let me do this for you,’ I said softly, squeezing
the cold fingers curled in my own. ‘It wasn’t that much more.
This isn’t even going to take all the money we saved for this vacation.
Let me do this for us.’
He sighed, but the frown cleared to something more like simple
exasperation instead of that other look that had bordered on pain. ‘Fine,
but don’t blame me when we’re eating canned spaghetti next month
trying to pay for this.’
I chuckled and gave him a last squeeze before letting go and
opening the car door. ‘I’ll go back to rice and oatmeal before
I eat canned pasta,’ I muttered under my breath as I got out.
Of course he heard me, and chuckled darkly. ‘You’ve
gotten so damn spoiled,’ he teased. ‘I can remember a day when
canned food would have been an improvement.’
‘That’s because you’re not trying hard enough
to forget,’ I shot back, going around to open the trunk to get our
things. ‘A couple more years and I think I’ll manage to completely
erase the terms ‘military rations’ and ‘safe houses’
from my vocabulary.’
He came to stand beside me and our eyes met for a second.
We smiled, but let the subject drop. We both knew that there were some things
we would never be able to forget, no matter how hard we tried. And some
things that we shouldn’t forget, no matter how bad we wanted to.
I knew from loading the car back home, that I wouldn’t
be able to keep him from helping me unload it, but I could see to it that
he didn’t get the truly heavy things, like the cooler that held our
perishable foodstuffs for the week.
I throttled down the urge to rush to get things hauled into
the cabin as fast as possible. While it might help me keep Duo from over-doing
it, it would also fuel his damn feelings of inadequacy. Which was the last
thing on Earth he needed.
He took several of the smaller bags, more than I wanted…
less than he did; a concession on both our parts. I held my pace to his,
and we climbed the front steps side by side. The porch was deep, looking
like it would be a nice place to sit in the summer, but I imagined it was
going to be a bit chilly for us to get much use out of it this late in the
year. I unlocked the front door and Duo reached around the doorframe, feeling
for the light switch. The place was every bit as impressive as I’d
hoped it would be.
‘Oh Gods,’ Duo chuckled from beside me. ‘There’s
a damn dead animal over the fireplace and everything!’
‘It’s part of the décor,’ I informed
him with mock indignation.
‘Décor?’ he snickered helplessly. ‘And
what would that be? Early taxidermist?’
‘Don’t start, Maxwell,’ I warned him, leaning
through the doorway to set the cooler down. ‘You’re spoiling
‘Mood?’ he questioned, still grinning like a loon,
even as I divested him of his bags and set them aside.
‘Yeah, asshole,’ I grumbled and scooped him up
in my arms before he could do more than yelp in horror.
‘What the bloody hell are you doing, Yuy?’ he
exclaimed, grabbing at my shoulders in a way I found pleasant.
‘This is the closest thing we’ve ever had to a
honeymoon,’ I informed him, totally dead-pan. ‘I am carrying
you over the threshold.’
‘You have got to fucking be kidding me!’ he yelped
as I stepped through the door thinking about how good he felt in my arms.
‘It’s tradition,’ I grinned. ‘You
don’t mess with tradition. It’s probably bad luck or something.’
‘Like we need more of that,’ he muttered, then
looked pointedly at the ground. ‘Ok, we’re past the damn threshold…
put me the hell down.’
‘Kiss me first,’ I informed him with all the seriousness
I could muster.
His expression, which had been dancing around between horrified
and amused, settled into something warm, and he murmured, ‘Tradition?’
‘I’m sure it is,’ I whispered, and tilted
my face up to meet his. He kissed me, just a tender brush of lips, so I
put him on his feet. But then I gathered him to me and kissed him in return,
not really satisfied with his almost chaste offering, letting go before
he got uncomfortable.
‘Why don’t you take that bag to the kitchen while
I get the rest of the stuff from the car?’ I prodded when we drew
apart and was pleased when he acquiesced with no more than an exasperated
I got the suitcase and another bag of supplies on the next
trip, climbing the steps and slipping sideways through the door we’d
left open… and found Duo standing halfway to the kitchen doorway in
a hunched stance I had become too damn familiar with in the past month.
The cooler, sitting by his feet, very obviously not where I’d left
it, was evidence of what had happened. I dumped what I was carrying right
there in the doorway and strode across the room to him.
His face was chalky, and already beaded with sweat, telling
me the attack was a bad one. He turned pain filled, sheepish eyes up to
me and managed a strained, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Damn it, love,’ I murmured and stepped in to
embrace him, holding him tight against me, my hands splayed wide across
his back. I could feel the muscles spasming and twitching, could feel Duo
trying to force them to relax, could feel the hitch of his panting breath
as he struggled to control it.
The support I gave his body would help, experience had taught
us that, so I held him as tight as I could manage and he clung to me, and
we rode it out together.
I didn’t bother scolding him. Didn’t bother whispering
reassurances to him. He needed his concentration, and the muscle spasms
were rebuke enough.
He pushes himself so damn hard.
It’s a strange quandary sometimes, feeling so frustrated
with his obstinance at the same time that I feel so damn proud of his determination.
It took a bit for the spell to pass, for his hold on me to
relax, changing from almost painful gripping, to more of an embrace. When
his breathing had steadied, I allowed my own hold to ease and just cradled
him to me.
‘Sorry,’ he whispered against my collarbone and
I felt him sigh.
‘It’s all right, love,’ I told him. ‘But
you know what comes next.’
He sighed again, and his voice when he delivered his dejected
‘I know’ was enough to break your heart.
Still healing muscles and bones could not handle a lot of
stress; it didn’t take much to cause these cramping attacks, and once
he’d brought one on, it took even less to cause them to return. He
had little choice after one of his spasms, but to lie down, doing some breathing
exercises, and just staying still until things had completely relaxed again.
There had been a floor-plan to the cabins on the resort’s
web-site, so I was able to steer him across the living room and lead him
unerringly up the open staircase to the loft bedroom. He even let me help
him out of his shoes, which told me how strong the spell had been.
I got him stripped out of jacket and shoes, and stretched
out flat as quickly as I could, then found an extra blanket in the chest
at the foot of the bed, to throw over him. The cabin’s heat had been
turned back for the season, and the whole place was rather chill. I sat
down on the edge of the bed and couldn’t resist stroking my hand down
the side of his face. ‘Better, my love?’ I asked gently.
‘Yeah,’ he murmured, and seemed to be looking
everywhere but at me, his face flushing darkly.
‘Duo…’ I began, but he cut me off with a
rather heavy sigh.
‘I know,’ he grumbled, sounding unhappy, his fingers
plucking at the edge of the blanket.
‘I know you do,’ I told him and I think it was
the open affection in my voice that made him finally look at me.
‘I’m sorry, Heero,’ he breathed, and he
really did look remorseful.
‘Third apology is the limit,’ I told him, tapping
the end of his nose. ‘You just rest for a bit, while I see if I can’t
get some heat in this place.’
He only nodded and I rose, taking a quick walk through of
the rest of the upstairs, before going down to recon the first floor as
well. Old habits, while a little less stringent than the old days, were
not entirely gone.
It took a bit of poking to find the thermostat, and once I
had the heat going, I finished unloading the car. I unpacked the kitchen
supplies first, putting the food away and deciding on what I would fix for
dinner while I was at it, giving Duo plenty of time to fall asleep before
I carried our luggage up to the loft.
As I’d hoped, when I went back up to the bedroom a good
half an hour later, he was sleeping peacefully and the faint pain lines
around his eyes had smoothed away. I only settled the suitcases in the corner
of the room, leaving the unpacking for later so that I wouldn’t disturb
I stood for a moment and watched him, just needing to see
him breathe. It bothered me just a touch, on some deep level, that I’d
come into the room with him and he’d slept through it. But that twinge
of unease was more than balanced by the realization that he’d been
able to set aside the soldier’s thinking after all these years. That
he had finally and truly managed to embrace his life as a civilian. He’d
hated the fighting… the killing. He’d hated that we’d
been so damn good at it.
I sometimes felt guilty for almost arranging his position
with the Preventers. For steering things so that he hadn’t ended up
with a field position. He’d had such a horribly rough time, right
after the war, making the adjustments to peaceful living. It had taken a
long time for him to… ‘lay down the sword’ as he called
it, and I had just wanted to keep him from having to pick it up again. Had
just wanted to keep him safe.
But in moments like this one, I felt nothing but a warm…
joy, to look at him and see only a man. A warm, loving, strong and incredible
man… but a man all the same. Not a soldier. Not a warrior. Not any
And it’s going to sound very self-centered, very damn
hypocritical; when I say I’m just a little bit proud of that. I’ll
never admit that to another living soul, because I really do know how it
sounds. But… I feel like I gave that to him.
It was an effort not to go crawl in the bed with him, but
I knew he wouldn’t sleep through that, so I went back downstairs.
The cabin… Gods, but it seemed almost stupid to call
it that; it was three times as big as our apartment and nicer than anything
I’d ever seen that didn’t have ‘Winner’ on the deed.
But it had been billed as a ‘cabin’ and a cabin is what it was.
The cabin was a massive place; you could have held one of
Quatre’s huge dinner parties in the living room alone. There was a
great stone fireplace that dominated the room, with a cozy, sunken sitting
area in front of it. The kitchen was fully appointed with appliances so
new and burnished looking, that it almost made me ashamed of our little
kitchen back home. There was a big deck out back and then the loft bedroom
upstairs. The bathroom was up there as well, and sported the hot tub that
had been a large part of what had sold me on the upgrade in accommodations.
Looking at the web site and seeing the descriptions of that
bathroom had made me realize just what those kinds of luxuries could do
for Duo’s still healing body. I had imagined him lying back in the
bubbling, steaming water with a contented smile on his face, and that had
been all it took. I’d not given the change another thought. Had upgraded
our vacation package before the image had faded from my mind.
Though, despite Duo’s doubts, we really could afford
this. We were a long time removed from our early days of living off Quatre’s
The place wasn’t warming up fast enough to suit me,
so I decided to start a fire in the fireplace to help move things along.
There was a fully-stocked firebox and I settled down to arranging the wood
on the hearth. I had just gotten a fire coaxed into life when I heard Duo
stirring, and he came down the stairs soon after, to find me.
‘Hey,’ he greeted, still looking chagrined, and
I held out my hand for him to come join me.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked gently as he settled
‘I’m ok,’ he muttered and I let it go. He
knew he’d done a less than intelligent thing, and nothing good would
come of my rubbing his nose in it any further.
So, ‘Did you notice,’ I said instead, slipping
an arm around him. ‘There’s another dead animal in the bedroom?’
He chuckled, eager enough to change the subject, and leaned
into me. ‘Yeah; I’m not sure which is worse, the deer staring
at us down here, or the fish upstairs.’
‘The fish,’ I told him decisively. ‘I don’t
know that I’ll be able to sleep with something staring at me all night.’
‘We can throw a shirt over it,’ he reassured me
and I snorted.
‘This is nice,’ he ventured after a little bit
and I decided we might be sitting there for a little while, so I shifted
back into the cushions to make sure he was stretched out enough to be comfortable.
‘It is,’ I murmured and smoothed my fingertips
over his tousled hair.
‘Reminds me of when we first moved into our apartment,’
he told me and there was a hint of warm remembrance in his voice.
It’s odd that those first days seemed to live in our
collective history as ‘good days’. We had been floundering so
badly; lost… scared… cut loose from everything we’d ever
known. Two boys-made-men by a war we’d never asked for. Didn’t
know how to let go of. But still, somehow, I would forever remember those
glorious nights, sleeping on the floor of our apartment in a double sleeping-bag
in front of the fireplace. Just the two of us, for the first time.
‘Our first honeymoon,’ I said, and though I’d
meant to tease, I couldn’t get my tone of voice past reminiscent.
He snorted and burrowed against me, seeking my body heat,
I think. ‘You didn’t carry me across the damn ‘threshold’
‘We’d have fallen down the stupid stairs,’
I informed him haughtily, and reached out to snag one of the afghans that
seemed to pepper the entire cabin, to throw across us. Made me wonder if
there were so many, because we were really going to need them that badly,
or if they were just part of the décor.
‘I don’t know about that, but it might have given
the neighbors something to talk about,’ he chuckled, his fingers almost
unconsciously playing with the fine hairs on my forearm.
I grunted, thinking about old Mr. Roberts gossiping about
us, trying not to think about how Duo’s touch was making me want to
shiver. ‘Do you ever wonder if they talk about us anyway?’ I
‘What do you mean?’ he said, tilting his head
just a bit, to look up at me.
‘Come on, Duo,’ I smiled ruefully. ‘Two
guys move into an apartment together with nothing more than they can carry
on their backs, and then don’t come out for three days? Don’t
you think somebody noticed?’
He laughed and gave my arm a more firm squeeze. ‘Maybe
they just thought we worked nights.’
I quirked a grin that spoke of my doubts, and couldn’t
help wrapping my arms around him. ‘Gods… I don’t think
we came out of the sleeping bag that whole first day.’
He chuckled softly, but it was oddly… strained, then
he got quiet. I could have kicked myself; lovemaking was not a pleasant
topic for him right then. I knew he was missing it, missing my touch. As
much as I was missing his.
Over the years, he’s become a little bolder in our love-play,
but even at the best of times, it was rare for him to take the lead. I’d
known how much he was feeling the strain of our abstinence when he’d
been the one to suggest trying something after the cast had come off. Though,
even then, the offer had been… tentative at best. Oddly… fearful.
I think he’d known his body wasn’t ready, even as he set about
trying to seduce me into the attempt. It had been an unmitigated disaster.
I worried sometimes that he’d pushed himself for my sake, and had
vowed that I would not put pressure on him over it, no matter how much I
ached for him.
‘I’m sorry, love,’ I apologized gently and
kissed his temple. ‘I didn’t mean anything by it.’
‘I know,’ he sighed, and there was a timbre to
his voice that spoke of a ‘but’. I waited for it; but he just
I knew better than to push him, and just sat holding on, letting
him come at it in his own time. I didn’t know just what was eating
at him, but I did know that prodding in the mood he was in would only make
him clam up tighter than a drum.
‘Heero?’ he ventured after a long bit of silence,
and I didn’t need the tone of his voice to tell me how tense he was;
I could feel it in his body.
‘What?’ I responded and did my best to sound …
understanding? Receptive? Encouraging? Whatever the hell it took to get
him to talk to me.
‘I…’ he began, but quickly stopped cold,
trying again. ‘Since…’ but that didn’t seem to work
either and he sighed. I could see him beginning to flush.
‘What is it, heart?’ I whispered, trying to draw
him out, but I suspect I only sent him running for cover.
‘Could we take a walk down by the lake?’ he suddenly
blurted, and sat up. I seriously didn’t think that had been what was
on his mind.
‘Duo?’ I questioned, but I could see the moment
was gone, though I hadn’t half understood it while we were in it.
‘I’d just like to do something today,’ he
said, looking at the floor and not at me. ‘I feel kind of like I…
like I spoiled things.’
I sighed; almost sure he was evading me, but not positive
enough to push the point. ‘You sure you feel up to it?’ I asked
instead, calculating the advertised distance to the lake against the time
of day, and deciding we could manage it and still be back at a decent time
‘I think so,’ he told me, surprising me with the
honest appraisal. ‘If we don’t jog or anything.’
I gave him a dry chuckle for the line and let it go. I was
fairly sure that I’d made a mistake when I’d given him that
little verbal nudge and any further pressure was only going to make it worse.
‘I’ll get our jackets then,’ I told him,
and he looked a little bit surprised at the acquiescence, but I’d
never meant to make him a prisoner of the cabin, no matter what he thought.
I wouldn’t let him hurt himself, but I’d brought him here to
try and lift him out of the funk he’d been in since the accident,
and that wouldn’t happen if I didn’t let him do anything.
I snagged the camera again, as we were heading out, and he
gave me a raised eyebrow look. ‘What is with you and the pictures
lately? I think you’ve taken more today than we’ve taken in
the last year.’
‘Hey,’ I grumbled at him with a mock glare. ‘This
is our first ever vacation. It should be recorded for posterity.’
That earned me a shake of his head, then we were on the path
that led down to the lake. It wasn’t really all that far, and I was
careful to let Duo set the pace. The path, while obviously not straight
and level, wasn’t particularly steep. ‘Maybe we’ll spot
a Nessie or something?’ he ventured after a bit of walking. Attempting,
I suspected, to keep me from prodding further on the abandoned topic.
‘Nessie?’ I asked, dutifully playing the straight
man and letting him tell me about the Loch Ness monster.
‘I don’t think we’re in the right country,’
I had to point out; though I had little doubt he cared. It was nothing but
verbal dancing, and listening to him engage in it told me without a doubt
that there had been something else on his mind. Something that he was going
to have to decide on his own he was ready to share. I knew he’d tell
me eventually; generally speaking, we don’t keep a whole lot of secrets
from each other. It’s just sometimes… not that easy for him.
I suppose, if I’m honest with myself, it isn’t always that easy
for me either.
If it was… the Gods know we’d have never gotten
ourselves into the mess we’d been in after he got out of the hospital.
Me, unable to confess to the nightmares. Him, unable to confess to the loneliness.
The path came out of the trees and we found ourselves by the
lake almost before we were aware of it. There was a little dock, though
nothing was tied up there of course. It was late afternoon, and the sun
was still high enough in the sky to be glinting off the water’s surface.
Duo stopped walking and just stood looking out across the lake.
‘It’s feels like we’re a million miles away
from anything,’ he sighed after a moment, and there was something
in him that seemed to relax as he gazed out over the water.
‘That was what I was shooting for,’ I told him
with the quirk of a grin.
‘I think you hit your mark,’ he teased, but then
his expression got more serious. ‘Thank you, it’s beautiful.’
I leaned and bumped my shoulder gently into his. ‘We’re
here for the both of us, love,’ I told him softly, and he smiled before
turning to watch a pair of ducks land on the water in the distance.
‘Too bad it’s so chilly today,’ he commented,
almost to himself. ‘The water looks nice.’
‘Maybe it’ll warm up before we leave,’ I
told him, though I doubted it would get warm enough to make the water bearable.
He grunted in acceptance of the comment, though I could tell
from his slightly regretful look, that he also knew it for the empty hope
that it probably was. He began moving again, and stepped out onto the dock,
his hands tucked into his jacket pockets for warmth. I watched him for a
moment, before following. The wind off the water was chill; it made me think
about taking his hand to warm him, made me remember something I’d
thought about while he was in the hospital. We didn’t speak while
we went the length of the little pier.
I shifted automatically to stand on his right, offering him
some shelter from the wind, and it won me a small, oddly sad smile. It made
me wonder. Made me remember. Made me wish.
I found myself scanning the area, though I knew we were likely
the only people around for miles. ‘Duo,’ I suddenly blurted,
before I completely lost my nerve. ‘I was… wondering…’
I hesitated, unsure of my wording, and glanced to see an encouraging look
on his face as he waited for me to get it spit out. ‘When we were…
waiting, while you were in surgery… Trowa and Quatre… they…’
I floundered again, not sure about what I was trying to get across. He turned
to face me more fully, giving me an affectionate smile.
‘What is it?’ he prodded gently.
I sighed and found my fingers running through my hair. ‘Do
you… you understand, don’t you, that my… difficulty with
public displays has nothing to do with you? I mean… you know…’
‘That you love me?’ he grinned, holding out his
hand and I took it without thought. ‘You’ve never refused anything
I’ve ever asked of you Heero. I understand.’
It was a little bit of a shock how relieved I felt to hear
him say that. How much it had been eating at me sub-consciously. ‘I
wish, sometimes, that I were more like Trowa,’ I found myself saying,
feeling my fingers clutching at his. ‘I wish I could… ignore
what other people think. I…’
‘Hey,’ he said, suddenly looking more serious;
almost concerned. ‘None of that is important to me, you know that.
I’ve always understood how uncomfortable it makes you feel. Why is
this bothering you so much all of a sudden?’
I ducked my head and sighed, not sure why in the hell I’d
brought this up. Wasn’t I trying to make him feel better? ‘I
guess… watching Trowa perfectly able to touch and comfort Quatre when
he needed it… no matter who in the hell was there, just made me start
The concern seemed to clear from his eyes and the affection
was back. ‘Hold me now?’ he asked gently and I tugged him in
against me. ‘You see?’ he whispered softly. ‘You never
deny me. All I have to do is ask.’
‘And you don’t mind that I… make you ask?’
I whispered back, surprised by the upwelling of emotion that was threatening
me. Surprised that that emotion was letting me stand out in plain sight,
and take him in my arms.
‘No, Heero,’ he told me firmly. ‘I’ve
always understood. I’ve never doubted you.’ He felt me stiffen
and pulled back to look at me. ‘Stop it,’ he commanded.
‘It’s all right,’ I soothed. ‘I gave
you every reason to doubt me. Gods, Duo… I couldn’t believe
that you even forgave me.’
‘Is that what this is all about?’ he questioned,
looking me hard in the eyes. ‘You know it was the drugs that had me…
in that place in my head. We’ve talked about this…’
‘I know,’ I grumbled, feeling my voice getting
thick despite me. ‘I know. But I just…’
‘You just can’t stop beating yourself up for something
that wasn’t your fault,’ he informed me with a small little
grin, then came back in close, pulling me tight against him. ‘You’ve
always been there to catch me, love. Always been right here when I needed
I was completely caught off guard by how much I needed his
reassurances. He’d been struggling for so long, to just get himself
through, dealing with the pain, dealing with the frustration, that I hadn’t
been willing to burden him with my own stupid needs. I was rather shocked
when they all came bubbling to the surface as though my damned defenses
didn’t exist. I couldn’t even reply to him without risking breaking
down completely. But he knew. Somehow… he knew.
‘I never blamed you,’ he whispered next to my
ear, holding me tight. ‘We just got in over our heads for a bit. It
didn’t damage us; you know that. I love you as much as I ever have…
nothing can change that. Ever.’
I nodded tightly and wished that the pull of healing muscles
would let him put his arms around my neck the way he used to. But his arms
around my waist were solid and real and I eventually got my breath back
and pushed down the tide of feeling that was trying to take me over. When
I thought I could let go without completely losing control, I drew back
to look at him. ‘I’m sorry…’ I began, but he cut
‘Enough of that,’ he chided. ‘I thought
we established a long time ago that it’s all right for you to need
‘Not…’ I told him quite despite the fact
that I knew it would probably make him angry. ‘Not right now…
Gods, not now. You don’t need to be dealing with me on top of everything
Instead of the glare I’d expected to get, he smiled
wryly and shook his head. ‘Maybe thinking about you would help me
not think about my own problems so much?’ he suggested, but then didn’t
wait for me to answer, slipping out of my arms to take a step back up the
dock. ‘Come on,’ he said, holding out his hand. ‘I thought
we came out here to go for a walk?’
I took his hand in mine, following where he led. His fingers
were cold, and I eased close enough that I could slip our linked hands into
my jacket pocket. He smiled across at me and headed us on down the path,
away from the cabin. We were quiet for a bit and I knew he was just letting
me calm down a little. Truth be told, I was somewhat appalled at my own
sudden loss of control. I had only meant to reassure him, I hadn’t
realized how much the subject matter was going to affect me. Had not thought
about how much it was going to remind me of that night… that awful
‘Walking,’ Duo scolded, and I realized I’d
shivered. ‘Sight-seeing. Communing with nature. Brooding is not on
our list of things to do today.’
‘How about deep introspection?’ I queried and
thought I would get smacked, but he rewarded my effort with a small smile.
‘Nope,’ he informed me firmly. ‘Somebody
told me we were out here to ‘record for posterity’ or some such
I snorted, and he squeezed my fingers inside my pocket. ‘So,
you’ll let me take your picture in front of the lake?’
‘Can’t you find anything better to take pictures
of?’ he teased, but something odd crossed his face and I pulled us
to a stop.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked gently and could
tell he hadn’t meant to let me see that hint of… unhappiness.
He ducked his head and looked away, his shoulders giving a
dismissive shrug. ‘Nothing really… just thinking that we don’t
have any pictures of… you know; us.’
I thought about it and realized he was probably right. We
didn’t have a hell of a lot of snap-shots, and the few that we did
have, either he or I had taken them. So one of us was in the picture but
not the other. ‘We should fix that,’ I told him, seriously not
liking the idea for some odd reason.
He made a derisive noise and actually blushed. ‘Heero,
somehow I can not see us walking into Sears and…’
‘We don’t need to,’ I said and looked around
until I found what I was looking for. ‘Come here.’
He went where I led him, rolling his eyes in exasperation
as I plotted my range and angles and placed him just so, with his back to
the lake. ‘Don’t move,’ I commanded and walked back up
the path to the stump I had noticed.
‘Yuy,’ he huffed after a moment. ‘What the
bloody hell are you doing?’
‘Camera has a timer,’ I informed him smugly as
I bent to check my focus and frame. ‘Now, hold still.’
He didn’t have a reply, just watching me as I set the
timer and strode back to join him. I stepped quickly in behind him, sliding
my arms around his waist, his arms automatically rose to join mine and he
leaned into me almost unconsciously. At the last moment, he tilted his head
to look at me and whispered, ‘I love you… so damn much.’
I couldn’t help turning toward him. The picture would
later prove to be perfect… though it wasn’t one we shared with
anyone else. It’s one of our most treasured possessions, and would
end up framed and sitting on our dresser, right in the middle of that stupid
doily I’d given Duo as a joke.
We didn’t go too much farther; the path in that direction
rather petered out and while the going didn’t become impossible, it
would have required a bit of clambering about on the rocks. Duo did let
me take his picture in front of the lake, though I knew when I snapped it,
that it wouldn’t be one of those shots I would care for all that much.
His smile, when he’s conscious of the photographer, is completely
different from the one he wears when I manage to take him unaware. And of
course, I had to let him take my picture as well, just for fairness sake.
The walk back took a little longer. Partly because after almost
an hour, Duo was slowing down, and partly because he got side-tracked by
something we heard rustling in the leaves that proved to be some kind of
ground squirrel. He was captivated by the little thing and spent five minutes
trying to snap a picture of it before it completely disappeared into the
underbrush. Watching him stalk the animal, odd grin on his face and his
cheeks flushed with the rapidly cooling air, made me wish we had a second
When we got back to the cabin, I tried to get him to settle
by the fireplace and rest while I fixed dinner, but he insisted on coming
into the kitchen with me to help. He whistled appreciatively as he saw the
room for the first time and spent several minutes just poking at the appliances.
‘Bloody hell, Heero,’ he grinned, his head stuck
in the refrigerator as he hunted up the package I’d asked for. ‘We
could fit half our kitchen into this thing!’ I chose that moment to
fire up the stove top grill just for the effect. He didn’t disappoint
me; laughing out loud at the ‘epitome of domestic extravagance’.
Though his mood seemed good, I couldn’t help noticing
the faint fatigue tremble in his hands as he brought me the packet of salmon,
so I mentally altered the menu and settled him on a stool at the island
counter to prepare salads while I grilled the salmon and warmed the bread.
If he realized that I’d been planning stir-fried vegetables, he didn’t
speak of the last minute substitute, only dutifully tearing lettuce and
chopping carrots while he kept me company.
Bread in the oven, I had only to oil the fish grate and do
the actual grilling; the fish had been marinating all afternoon. I found
myself watching Duo work as he carefully trimmed and cut vegetables and
I was surprised by the urge to go get the camera and capture the image of
him sitting there. I wondered about it; wondered about this sudden desire
to preserve moments… to capture memories. It seemed like something
I shouldn’t think about too hard.
‘What?’ Duo asked, noticing my scrutiny, I guess,
and looking a little embarrassed.
‘I… don’t know,’ I had to confess.
‘Just… I don’t really know.’
He quirked me a grin, pausing in his work. ‘You’re
in a weird mood today.’
I snorted and turned away to put the salmon on the grill,
at something of a loss to explain my own thoughts.
Salmon is one of Duo’s favorite foods; couple his bit
of exercise with that fact, and he managed to eat most of what I put in
front of him, though I thought he was going to fall asleep before he swallowed
his last bite. I’d suspected how the full stomach would affect him,
and had arranged a cozy dinner by the fireplace, incidentally curled up
in the cushions together. So I was positioned not only to catch his plate
as it slipped from nerveless fingers, but to end up with him pillowed against
I’d meant to clean up the dishes while he napped, and
then take us both to bed, but I found myself too damn content with him resting
against me, and ended up just sitting there watching the fire and feeling
his breath against my skin. Sometimes… since that night, listening
to him breathe makes it hard for me to catch my own breath.
He woke a bit later, yawning and stretching and looking chagrined.
‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured.
‘Don’t be,’ I soothed. ‘It was nice.’
‘We should clean this mess up,’ he said, still
I caught his hand as he reached for the dirty dishes. ‘Leave
them… we’re on vacation.’
‘What?’ he gasped in mock surprise. ‘Are
you serious, Mr. Clean?’
‘Why not?’ I grinned at him. ‘We’ll
take a walk on the wild side and leave them until morning.’
He actually laughed, sitting up to give me an appraising look.
‘You know they’re going to be really gross to wake up to?’
‘Maybe the place has a maid that will come in the night
and take care of it,’ I deadpanned, making him shake his head.
‘Never thought I’d live to see the day you turned
into a slacker,’ he grinned. ‘Wufei will be shocked.’
I rose and pulled him to his feet. ‘I just want to…’
I began, changing it at the last minute from take you to bed, to ‘go
to bed,’ smoothly enough that he didn’t notice the hesitation.
‘Ok,’ he agreed with a show of disapproval. ‘But
you’re cleaning that grill after it’s set all night.’
He started to lead me up the stairs, but hesitated, tossing
a look toward the front door. He didn’t have to speak for me to know
what he was thinking, and we made a quick walk through of the place, checking
the latches and locks before heading up the stairs. Old habits.
He took his turn in the bathroom while I quickly unpacked
the majority of our things. He came out with another of those odd grins,
shaking his head over ‘decadence and opulence’. Then he turned
back the covers and undressed while I made use of the facilities. They were
everything I’d hoped for, and I found myself rather looking forward
to using the hot tub the next evening. I made a mental note to be sure to
allow plenty of time to really enjoy it.
The room was dark when I came out of the bathroom, and I undressed
in the dim starlight. All the window glass was rather disconcerting, despite
knowing that there was nothing on the backside of the cabin but a hill and
a lot of trees. I crawled into bed next to Duo, feeling very… exposed.
He came into my arms with a dark chuckle, deliberately misreading my discomfiture.
‘Relax, Heero; I covered the fish.’
I chuckled in return, feeling myself relax a bit, more from
the familiar weight of his head on my shoulder than his teasing words. It
had taken a long time before he’d healed enough to allow us to lie
together the way we had since our first days of sleeping in the same bed.
I’d been more than a little surprised at how much I needed him curled
against me to be able to fall asleep at night. It had been so frustrating
when he’d first returned to our bed, to have him so close, but totally
unable to hold me or be held. When he’d finally mended enough that
he could do more than lie flat on his back, I couldn’t have told you
which of us was the more ecstatic.
Feeling the weight of his arm across my chest, the warmth
of his body against mine, I was suddenly over-come with a surge of desire.
It was all I could do not to reach for him. I was glad for the underwear
we’d both taken to wearing to bed, not that they disguised much, but
it made me feel a little less… obvious. I found myself wondering about
the habit, trying to remember which of us had first started coming to bed
without completely undressing, but I couldn’t really recall. It was
just something that we’d started doing after Duo had come home from
I realized that Duo had grown very quiet and I turned to gently
kiss his forehead. ‘You know I love you, don’t you?’ I
whispered, fearful that he’d felt my… craving and was feeling
guilty. ‘More than anything.’
‘I know,’ he murmured. ‘Heart and soul.’
‘Heart and soul,’ I echoed that ages old ritual
and felt him sigh. I think he fell asleep first, but I’m not entirely
I don’t think anybody sleeps all that well the first
few nights in a strange place. Houses are individual and they each have
sounds they make that are unique. I was used to the noises of our apartment
building. The comings and goings of other people, traffic on the road out
front, the odd thumping the furnace makes as it turns on and off that echoes
faintly through the vents. None of those sounds were present there in the
woods, but there were other sounds, unfamiliar noises that would sometimes
take me several minutes of lying awake to identify. The crack and pop of
the fireplace downstairs didn’t take a moment’s thought, but
the sound of an owl in the woods nearby left me staring into the near dark
for long minutes. Duo seemed unbothered by the surroundings, sleeping peacefully
in the curl of my arm. Though, when I thought about it, perhaps he wasn’t
completely unaffected by them, as he usually rolls away from me after he’s
fallen asleep, but that night he stayed nestled close. I drowsed more than
slept through most of the night.
So it was more than just a little bit disconcerting to wake
up with Duo straddling my hips. I moaned quite despite myself, caught completely
off guard by his sudden move. It flitted through my mind to wonder how in
the hell he’d gotten my shorts off, but then he was reaching to position
my cock and I forgot about it.
‘Duo?’ I groaned, fearful as hell, but consumed
with need, knowing I should be stopping him, but not able to. His leg should
not have been bearing his weight in that position. He had to be in considerable
pain. I knew that. I… knew that.
But then he was settling over me, his body hot and slick,
and I wondered how in the hell he’d gotten up to get the lube without
waking me. How in the hell he’d managed to prepare himself so well
that the penetration was so easy after so damn long. I should have been
stopping him… but I couldn’t. All I could do was arch my back
and cry out as he impaled himself. I tried to reach for him, confused about
why I couldn’t seem to raise my left arm, wanting to hold his hips,
wanting to feel him move, but he didn’t need my guidance, he began
to ride me, hard and fast. He threw back his head, shaking his hair out
all around us, and let a deep-throated moan escape his lips… letting
me hear those sounds I loved, the sounds of his pleasure. I was still tangled
somehow and only able to reach for him with my right hand, It was somehow
difficult for me to find purchase on his slick skin, was hard for me to
feel the things I wanted to; the flex of his hips under my hand as he drove
me into his body. The play of muscle, the heat of his body, the smooth feel
of his… skin. Of his… scars…
‘Oh Gods, Duo,’ I whimpered, on the edge already
after so damn, damn long. ‘What are you doing? You’re going
But it was too late, I couldn’t care as I snapped my
hips up to meet his almost harsh downward plunges and I was coming, filling
him with my seed, thrusting as deep as I could manage into… into…
‘Heero?’ Duo murmured, voice drowsy and confused
and not at all where I expected it to be coming from.
The dream dissipated on the next heartbeat, vanquished by
the reality of Duo lying next to me. By the reality of my shorts very much,
thank the Gods, where they belonged, but suddenly damn wet and uncomfortable.
I let out a shuddering sigh and Duo elbowed himself up to
look down at me. ‘Hey… are you ok?’
‘Y… yeah,’ I managed, voice coming out sounding
husky and unsteady.
His look of concern deepened for a moment, then something
made comprehension dawn in his eyes. Perhaps he caught the sharp scent of
semen, perhaps he could just tell from looking at me. A hundred emotions
danced behind his eyes then… amusement for a flash of a second, then
an almost bitter envy, regret, fear, need… I couldn’t begin
to catalog it all… backed with a well of dark depression that frightened
I opened my mouth to apologize, but he swept it all away for
me, grinning widely and laying his head back on my shoulder. ‘Well,
at least one of us is gettin’ some.’
I didn’t know how to tell him that it had only made
things worse, stirred awake desires that I’d been pushing aside for
months. Reminded me rather pointedly of how much I wanted what I just couldn’t
have right now. While Duo had offered more than once to help… alleviate
my frustration in whatever way he could, it just didn’t seem right
to me. I didn’t see how he could manage, without becoming aroused
himself, and that just didn’t seem fair. The movements the body made
during any kind of sexual act were just beyond him right now. Besides…
there was a certain perverse stubbornness that made me want to endure what
he had to endure. A certain guilt in being able to do what he couldn’t.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered. ‘For waking
He chuckled. ‘You were panting pretty hard… must
have been a hell of a dream.’
‘You…’ I had to tell him, ‘played
a fairly predominant part.’ I dared stroke a hand up and down his
arm, though I was the one who shivered.
He was quiet for a moment, just long enough for me to regret
saying it, then he snickered. ‘Yeah, but now you have to get out of
this nice warm bed to go clean up and I can stay right where I’m at.’
‘Asshole,’ I grumbled, playing his game with him,
letting him make light of the situation, because there was nothing we could
do to make things better anyway.
I left the bed, and his assessment of the trip being unpleasant
was accurate; the bedroom air was quite chill. Once in the bathroom, I hurried
through the clean-up, not wanting to leave him alone too long; I knew he’d
only start brooding.
I was surprised to come back and find him up and digging for
‘What happened to not having to get out of bed?’
I queried, a little sorry to not be able to crawl back in with him.
A pair of my jeans came sailing across the room at me and
I snatched them out of the air. ‘If we hurry,’ he grinned at
me, ‘we can get down to the lake before the sun comes up!’
‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ I grunted, eyeing
him dubiously even as I pulled my pants on.
‘Nope,’ he replied, sounding as though he were
taking some perverse pleasure in the revelation. ‘Isn’t that
what vacations are all about? Sunrises and sunsets?’
‘I thought it was about sleeping in and eating out,’
I said, ever his straight man.
‘That’s a good idea!’ he blurted, stopping
with his shirt half pulled on to look at me. ‘I’ll bet the sunrise
would be great from the deck at the lodge; how about going down there for
I found myself wondering if his somewhat uncharacteristic
exuberance for the dawn was for real, or trying to divert me from something
else. Had my… dream bothered him that much? Or was there something
more? ‘Do you even think they’re open this early?’ I asked
somewhat distractedly and had to reach to catch my knit sweater as it took
its trip across the room at me.
‘Only one way to find out,’ he grinned and was
heading for the bathroom before I had a chance to answer. I knew he was
doing his hair and would be a few minutes, so I finished dressing and took
a moment to make a half-assed effort at making the bed before going on downstairs
to wait for him.
There was actually more than one way to find out the hours
of the lodge restaurant and I looked them up on the pamphlet they always
have laying around in places like that. I wasn’t sure if I was pleased
or not when I found they did indeed open fairly early. We’d be able
to go down, watch the sunrise from the outside deck and then eat breakfast
without having to wait too long.
I was just thinking about taking the previous evening’s
dishes to the kitchen, when I heard Duo stirring above me and looked to
see him coming down the stairs. He was wearing jeans and his red flannel
shirt, but still managed to look cold. I couldn’t help assessing him
as he made the climb down. He’s usually in decent shape in the morning
pain-wise, but the leg in particular has a tendency to stiffen up overnight.
I could tell from his gait, from the way he was favoring it, that was the
‘We really should do your exercises,’ I told him
gently and steeled myself for the look of irritation I was expecting. What
he gave me bordered more on pleading.
‘Can’t we leave them until later?’ he asked,
and I could not have denied his tone of voice anything. I sighed.
‘We can’t let them go completely,’ I chided.
‘We skipped them entirely yesterday. Your therapist will kill us.’
He grinned at me, seeming unrepentant about the matter and
I had to chuckle. I reached out to brush my fingers over his cheek, meaning
to tease him, but was stopped by the chill feeling of his skin. ‘You
didn’t dress warm enough,’ I frowned, thinking about how much
we were probably going to be outside.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation, but waited dutifully while
I went and fetched his sweat-shirt. I’d given in on the stretching
exercises, but I would stand firm on this. Getting chilled would make him
shiver. Shivering made muscles tighten and could lead to another spam. I
wouldn’t risk it.
‘It doesn’t even go with the shirt,’ he
groused, once it was on him and we were leaving the cabin.
‘Not my fault,’ I informed him unsympathetically.
‘It was the only sweat shirt you packed.’
‘I wasn’t planning on wearing them together,’
he grumbled, but there wasn’t much effort behind the banter, so I
knew it didn’t really bother him. I think, once we were outside in
the damp, chill early morning air, he was actually grateful for the extra
warmth, but wouldn’t have admitted it in a million years.
The drive down to the lodge was strange in the near dark of
pre-dawn, and I wondered again what had possessed him. I couldn’t
help surmising that there was some connection between his behavior and the
previous day’s… almost talk. Not for the first time, and I’m
sure not for the last, I found myself wishing I could read his mind. Could
tell what it was he was brooding over. I felt a little bit like I was walking
a mine field; I knew the triggers were there all around me, but was at a
total loss as to just what was going to set them off.
I would have given almost anything to have been able to take
his injuries onto myself. Far easier to bear any amount of physical pain,
than to have to watch helplessly while he suffered. Though I knew better
than to voice that wish out loud.
There were a small handful of other cars in the lot when we
got to the lodge, parked near the back and judging from the plates, I suspected
they all belonged to employees. The place was still dark and locked up and
I imagined them all in the kitchen preparing for another day of little or
no business. Duo led me around the side of the building, our footsteps sounding
horribly loud on the wood decking, and took us to stand at the back rail.
We probably weren’t far from the table we’d eaten at the day
before and I looked down toward the water’s edge, but saw no riders
at that hour. It was light enough that I could see the sky was relatively
clear, and I could tell the sunrise truly should end up being worth the
trip. With the added bonus, I suppose, of not having to cook.
Duo leaned on the rail and looked out across the lake; we
could hear the sounds of birds beginning to stir and somewhere out on the
water a fish jumped and the splash sounded almost eerie as it echoed against
‘Was this ok?’ Duo suddenly asked, voice pitched
low as though afraid to disturb the quiet.
‘Of course,’ I assured him, stepping up to stand
at the rail beside him so that he could see the smile I gave him.
The smile he gave me in return was little more than the curve
of his lips. ‘I…’ he began, then hesitated. This time
I held my tongue and just waited. ‘I’m sorry I can’t…’
he floundered again, and when he glanced side-ways at me, I could see the
blush and knew what he was thinking about.
‘Don’t,’ I commanded. ‘You know that’s
the last damn thing on my mind right now…’ It was my turn to
blush when he chuckled out right.
‘Seemed pretty much on your mind about an hour ago,’
he teased, though there was something else underneath the humor in his voice.
I turned toward him, ignoring the first hints of the sun that
we had come down here for, and told him firmly, ‘I’m not going
to try denying that I want you. I won’t tell you that I don’t
miss making love with you… but that is not what’s important
He frowned, looking out at the lake and not at me, then he
sighed rather gustily. ‘You’re missing the sunrise,’ he
I snorted and turned away, since my watching him was obviously
bothering him. The sun had appeared while I’d been otherwise occupied,
and was painting the lake in vibrant shades of gold and orange. As the light
crept across us, I could actually feel the heat of it on my skin and beside
me heard Duo sigh softly. I glanced at him, and found him with his eyes
closed, almost seeming to drink the warmth of it in through his skin. Gods,
he was so beautiful… so handsome. With a pang, I realized I had not
remembered to bring the camera and could only stare at him, trying to keep
the image in memory since I couldn’t commit it to film. I wished in
that moment that we’d stayed at the cabin and just gone down to the
pier. The sunrise would not have been as spectacular, but I would have been
able to put my arms around my lover the way I was aching to do in that moment.
When the need to touch him was almost more than I could bear,
I turned away and we watched as the sun climbed up into the sky.
‘Heero,’ he almost whispered after a long while,
when the last of the fiery globe had cleared land. ‘What if I don’t
I turned sharply his way, shocked as hell by the question.
I bit down on the almost harsh exclamation that wanted to pass my lips first,
taking a breath and trying for something a little calmer. ‘Duo, there’s
no reason to think that you aren’t going to make a full recovery.
You just have to allow your body the time to heal.’
A frown of consternation creased his brow, and I knew he was
irritated with me for what I’m sure he saw as my ‘optimistic
view’. ‘Sometimes,’ he sighed, ‘I wonder just how
much healing I’ve got left in me.’
‘Duo?’ I breathed and turned his way completely,
was actually reaching for him when a loud rattle behind us made us both
jump and turn around. The waitress from the day before was opening the patio
doors and smiling at us widely. The restaurant was obviously open.
‘Good morning!’ she called cheerily and I pushed
down on the urge to tell her to go the fuck away, but when I glanced back
at Duo, I could see the moment was already gone.
He followed her into the lodge and I followed him, wishing
we hadn’t come. I longed for the privacy to finish the conversation
he’d started. But I highly doubted I could retrieve the mood now that
we’d been interrupted.
My suspicions were pretty much confirmed once we’d been
seated and had placed our orders, when Duo completely changed the subject.
‘We should get all the guys together one of these days and come up
here and go fishing or something.’
I opened my mouth to argue with him, to attempt to turn him
back to what he’d started, but thought better of it. He obviously
didn’t want to talk about it there in the restaurant and it wouldn’t
do me any good to push him. It would only guarantee that I wouldn’t
be able to get him to talk to me later either. I sighed, rather heavily
I’m afraid, and just closed my mouth again.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, voice so soft I almost
didn’t hear him. ‘I shouldn’t have said that. Please…
just forget it; I don’t know why I can’t shake this damn bad
It rather surprised me, his acknowledging it, after I’d
made it so plain that I would drop the subject if that’s what he wanted.
I lay my hand on the table and let my fingertips brush over his. ‘I’d
rather you talked to me,’ I told him gently. ‘But if you want
me to forget it… it’s forgotten.’
For the space of a heartbeat, I saw something in his eyes
that made me think of a little boy, lost and hurting, but then it was gone
and he was smiling brightly. ‘You know, it looks like it’s going
to be a nice day, what do you think of finding that riding stable this morning?’
‘If you’re sure you wouldn’t rather go back
to the cabin and scrub the grill,’ I teased, doing my best for him.
He rewarded me with a smile that had a little more true humor
in it, but then our breakfast came and he refrained from replying until
the perky waitress was gone. If anything, she was even gigglier than she
had been the day before.
Duo had gotten a simple omelet, and I watched him rather carefully
as he ate it; he’s somewhat proficient at moving food around his plate
without actually eating much of it. I plied him with extra strips of bacon
as well, and I wasn’t sure, but I had the impression that he made
more of an effort to eat, perhaps attempting to please me to make up for
what he termed his ‘bad mood’.
As we ate, I dredged up the details of what I’d read
in the flyer for ‘Rodney’s Stables’. Duo obviously needed
things to distract him. He was brooding too much… thinking about things
too much. As much as I wasn’t convinced that riding was a great idea,
I wasn’t about to dismiss something he’d shown enough interest
in to ask about twice. ‘I think the stable is open in a half an hour,’
I told him. ‘We could go straight there from here… if you’d
He gave me a gauging look, chewing thoughtfully on a bite
of omelet. ‘Are you sure you want to?’ he asked quietly.
‘We’re on vacation,’ I quipped. ‘We
should do something, and I’m sure as hell not taking you rock climbing.’
‘Water skiing?’ he asked innocently, and managed
to grin and chew omelet at the same time.
I snorted. ‘Not on your life. Or mine either, for that
matter. We’ll find you a nice, sway-backed, fifty year old mare with
the temperament of a saint, and see if you can manage to stay on her. We’ll
He actually chuckled, sparing me that quirky little grin he
has that tells me he appreciates my efforts. Tells me that we both know
we’re just playing a game. ‘What’s sway-backed?’
he wanted to know, and I couldn’t tell if it was part of the game,
or if he really was that ‘horse illiterate’.
I sighed theatrically and shook my head. ‘Gods, you’re
hopeless. Maybe I can get you a pony on a lead-rope instead.’
‘Funny, Yuy,’ he drawled. ‘Just because
your training included fluffy stuff like horse back riding while mine was
more… practical, doesn’t make you Roy Rogers.’
‘Doesn’t make me who?’ I blinked across
at him, missing the joke. It was his turn to shake his head.
‘Shit, Heero,’ he said in mock disgust. ‘Learn
a little history! Roy Rogers? Cowboy actor? Had his horse stuffed for posterity?’
I had to stop eating to look up at him, not sure if he was
serious or not. ‘He what?’
The full-throated laugh I won was worth the confusion of feeling
like we were conversing in another language, but then an almost wicked smile
spread across his face and he leaned forward a little. ‘Wait a minute…
we’re not talking Roy Rogers here, are we? You would have been at
one of those hoity-toity European schools. We’re talking… britches
and tweed coats, aren’t we?’
He managed a passable upper crust British accent on that last,
and I felt myself blushing, to his open delight. ‘There were certain
standards,’ I grumbled, spearing a piece of fruit.
He repressed a snicker and leaned in a little closer, his
voice dropping a bit. ‘Come on… what was it? Those cool knee
high boots and the whole thing?’
I chewed slowly on my piece of grape fruit and looked him
in the eye, finding that I liked him looking at me that way. It had been
a while since he’d looked at me… that way. ‘Right down
to the little hat and the crop,’ I finally confirmed and got to see
a spark of… something in his eyes.
‘I always liked you in red,’ he said, and his
tone of voice was much like a caress.
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ I managed and
we just sat staring at each other for a second, not at all sure how we’d
gotten to where we suddenly found ourselves.
‘Would either of you gentlemen like some coffee?’
the perky waitress was abruptly right there by the table, and damned if
we both didn’t jump.
‘No thanks,’ Duo replied smoothly, and if he felt
as flustered as I did, you couldn’t tell.
We asked her for the check while she was there and finished
not long after. While the strange mood was gone, in its wake Duo seemed
more at ease, for which I was grateful. Perhaps a diversion really was all
We took our time driving over to the stable, making sure we
didn’t arrive before they even opened. It wasn’t all that far
from the lodge, and before long we were seeing white washed fencing on the
left side of the road and soon after that we began to see horses in the
fields. I noticed Duo sitting forward a bit, eyes taking in everything.
I wondered about his interest; I’d never known he had a thing for
horses. Though, I suppose when I though about it, he’d always had
a bit of an interest in animals in general. Colony brats didn’t grow
up with the opportunity to see a lot of them. Particularly not the ones
from the less… affluent colonies.
As we pulled into the stable yard, I had to wonder if the
place wasn’t closed for the season after all; there wasn’t a
soul or vehicle in sight. I parked the car and we got out, I immediately
began looking for some sort of office while Duo wandered over to the nearest
fence to look at the horses grazing in the field, leaving the technicalities
There was a regular sized door at the far end of the barn
and further investigation turned up signs indicating I’d found the
right place, but the door proved to be locked. I glanced back at Duo, feeling
unsettled that I was going to have to disappoint him, just in time to see
a black and white pinto make its unerring way toward him. The animal was
obviously used to getting treats from people standing at the fence, and
was coming to investigate my partner. I watched as Duo took an almost involuntary
step back, caught by surprise, I think, by the forwardness of the beast.
But when the animal only stopped at the barrier, leaning its head over the
rail and patiently looking at him, Duo retook his ground and reached out
a tentative hand to stroke down the horse’s nose. The touch must have
been light, perhaps too light for the horse’s liking, and it shook
its head, snorting abruptly. Duo jerked back and turned to find me, looking
for guidance I suppose in uncharted territory. The lunatic grin he found
me wearing must have been reassurance enough, for he turned back and tried
I walked over to join him.
‘Try scratching around his ears,’ I said and Duo
immediately took the suggestion. The horse lowered its head a little, seeming
to enjoy the attention, and Duo grinned widely.
‘They’re damn big, up close,’ he said after
a moment, his voice unconsciously subdued, as though he feared scaring the
horse away. ‘Makes you wonder why they put up with people sitting
I chuckled and shook my head; Duo’s thinking never ceases
to make me look at things differently. ‘I guess they’re just
not that bright,’ I told him.
‘Well, it sure looks like this one could tromp the crap
out of a person if he decided he didn’t want to go along with the
whole saddle ‘em up plan,’ he said, though most of his attention
was on fondling the horse’s ears. He seemed captivated by the creature
and it made that pang of regret over disappointing him sting all the more.
‘Duo…’ I began, but was interrupted by the
somewhat distant sound of a door slamming. We both turned, a little surprised
to hear someone stirring as long as we’d been there thinking no one
There was a farm house further up the stable yard, probably
fifty yards away and we saw a man trotting toward us, still pulling a pair
of suspenders up over his shoulders as he came. Judging from the state of
his hair, he’d just gotten out of bed. Beside me, Duo couldn’t
contain a quiet chuckle. ‘I think we woke the poor guy up, Heero,’
he muttered and I couldn’t help laughing in return.
‘It would appear so.’
‘Good morning!’ the guy was hollering before he
was half way down the path from the house. ‘Sorry about the place
not being open yet! We don’t get a lot of visitors this time of year
and I’m afraid I was bein’ lazy this morning!’
I assumed we were looking at the ‘Rodney’ whose
stable yard we were purported to be standing in the middle of, and I had
that suspicion confirmed when the guy finally came abreast of us and stuck
his hand out. ‘Hi! I’m Rodney; what can I do for you gentlemen
this fine day?’
Duo was quick to jump in, taking the man’s hand and
getting his arm pumped vigorously for his trouble. He’s always been
somewhat… protective of me when it comes to social situations. I had
a difficult time right after the war, learning the finer points of interacting
with outsiders. For a long time, Duo had run interference for me, throwing
himself into conversations with abandon to keep me from having to. He’s
very skilled at that sort of deflection, managing to take the brunt of the
social duties without people even being aware that he is simply making them
keep their distance from me. Years of working for the Preventers had forced
me to learn to deal, and Duo hadn’t felt the need to ‘guard’
me in quite a while. I wondered, as I watched him steer Rodney where he
wanted him, just what had ruffled his defensive feathers. Though I have
to admit that it left me feeling… warmed somehow.
Rodney found himself moving toward his own office, as unerringly
as a lamb before a sheep dog, but he seemed to take it in stride, managing
to keep a running monologue going about the weather, the ‘Missus’,
horses, and the strangeness of having tourists so late in the season.
The door was quickly unlocked and lights flicked on, and we
followed Rodney into his inner sanctum, an office that looked like it could
use the services of both a good maid and a file clerk. There were horse
posters everywhere, along with the pre-requisite horse-shoe décor,
and evidence that a cat might live there part of the time.
Our host was still filling the air with small talk, obviously
buying himself a minute while he got the office opened up, and it took me
a moment to realize that Duo had dropped out of the conversation, leaving
me the point man. I glanced his way, and found him standing in front of
the stable’s advertising poster.
‘So what were you gentlemen interested in?’ Rodney
finally got down to business, settling behind his desk. ‘We have several
different tours depending on how long you’d like to be out.’
‘Actually,’ I interrupted, before the man could
launch into what sounded like a very well rehearsed spiel. ‘We’d
like to do a little exploring on our own. I was hoping to just rent two
horses for a couple of hours.’
The stable master didn’t quite frown, he was too much
of a businessman for that, but a look crossed his face that told me this
was an unusual request. I suppose one of their packaged tours would do if
we had no other choices, but I honestly wasn’t looking forward to
the idea of wandering around the woods with some virtual stranger for the
afternoon. But then there was a small sound behind me and I turned to see
Duo giving me a slightly flabbergasted look.
‘Uh, Heero,’ he ventured. ‘I don’t
think we can afford this…’ He trailed off, obviously embarrassed
to be discussing Rodney’s pricing system with the man sitting right
there, so I stepped over to look at the poster and Duo hissed softly. ‘It’s
going to be over a hundred credits an hour for the both of us!’
I scanned the pricing and saw he was right, no matter which
tour was listed, the average cost was in the neighborhood of fifty credits
per horse per hour. Which I didn’t see as a problem, but Duo obviously
did. ‘It will fit in the budget,’ I assured him and got a faint
frown for the effort.
‘Look,’ he muttered. ‘I’ve lived this
long without riding a horse… it certainly isn’t going to kill
me not to do it now.’
I was opening my mouth to argue with him further, but was
interrupted by Rodney clearing his throat. ‘You boys have never ridden
before?’ We turned to face him, finding that his business demeanor
had slipped and he’d given in to that frown. ‘I certainly can’t
just let two inexperienced riders take off on their own.’
I could see Duo getting ready to do his, so sorry, thank you
for your time routine, so I stepped in first. ‘Of course not,’
I agreed. ‘I wouldn’t think much of your stable if you would.
But I’m not inexperienced and I…’
‘Heero,’ Duo growled softly, still intent on the
cost of the endeavor, and not at all concerned with the other technicalities.
I sighed softly, caught between Duo’s desire to go and his trepidation
about the money.
‘How about,’ I blurted, before either of them
could voice any further objections. ‘We just rent one horse and ride
Duo hesitated, telling me just how much he wanted to do this,
and I decided in that moment that I wouldn’t back down from either
of them. What Duo wants, Duo gets, as long as it’s within my power
to give it to him.
Rodney waffled a bit more, finally agreeing after taking my
driver’s license to hold until we returned. I don’t think it
hurt that I allowed my Preventer’s id badge to remain visible for
a minute while I fished the license out. We received a quick lecture on
the local area, were given a map of the trail grounds and had the stable’s
marker system explained to us. Then it was finally time to go out and prove
I knew the front end of a horse from the back.
Rodney led us through the office and out the back door into
a corral, where we were bade to wait while he went for the horse. As soon
as the man disappeared into the barn across from us, Duo sighed heavily.
‘Heero, are you sure about this? It’s such a frivolous thing…’
I couldn’t help the cautious brush of fingers over the
back of his hand. ‘Nothing that makes you smile is frivolous.’
He snorted and shook his head. ‘Gods… you’re
not going to get all poetic on me today are you?’
‘Maybe,’ I smiled. ‘Guess it’s all
this nature stuff.’
He shook his head again, but I could see the faint flush across
his cheeks. I thought I might have pleased him. Then a grin tugged at the
corner of his lips and he turned to walk over to the fence. I followed,
wondering what he was up to.
‘Well,’ he quipped, gamely attempting to put aside
his doubts. ‘If I’m living out my childhood cowboy fantasies,
I’m going to do them all.’ Before I could do more than draw
a breath in protest, he was climbing the fence to sit on the top rail. I
managed not to grab for him, but seeing him move so stiffly was almost painful
‘Your childhood dream was to sit on a fence?’
I managed after he’d settled himself, obviously not completely comfortable,
but not in any serious pain either.
He gave me a scornful look. ‘Hey! It’s my dream…
don’t mock it. In all of Sister Helen’s books, the kids were
always sitting on the paddock fence and…’
He stopped talking and was suddenly staring past me, a very
odd look on his face, so I turned to see that Rodney was back, leading a
big black horse.
‘Duo?’ I questioned, not at all sure what that
look had been, but when I glanced up at him again, he was grinning like
‘It’s black!’ he informed me, just as though
that explained everything. It was my turn to shake my head, so I did and
walked over to join Rodney.
He’d bridled the horse, and that was all. He saw me
notice and shrugged apologetically. ‘I don’t have a saddle around
here that you could ride double with… unless your friend there wants
a serious case of… uhm… chafing.’ The quirky little grin
he got then suggested that there was another phrase for the condition he
was talking about that was… less polite.
‘This will be fine,’ I told him, and stroked a
hand over the horse’s neck to see how he reacted to me. The beast
merely turned his head to give me a look, managing to project a somewhat
bored attitude. He was a good sixteen hands, and for the first time, I wondered
how in the hell we were going to get Duo on the creature.
Rodney had been talking, though I’d let most of it wash
over me, an obviously canned speech about riding in general and he wasn’t
telling me anything I didn’t already know. ‘He’s not a
skittish horse, is he?’ I asked when the man paused to draw breath,
mostly just to break the flow of words.
‘Tizzy?’ Rodney grinned, patting the horse affectionately
on the neck. ‘Nah… not really, though he doesn’t like
loud noises much.’
‘He should do then,’ I proclaimed, and plucked
the reins deftly out of the man’s hands. Wrapping my fingers in the
mane and bracing with the other hand, I vaulted up onto the horse’s
back, pleased that he only shifted a bit under the weight. I heard Rodney
say something about a mounting block, but realized that Duo would die of
embarrassment having to use one after watching me climb on. In retrospect,
I wish I’d used one of the damn things myself, but it was too late
at that point.
I glanced toward Duo, finding him still perched on the fence,
his expression suddenly pensive, and I knew he was thinking along the same
lines I was. There was no way in hell he could pull himself up without bringing
on one of his attacks. ‘Wait there a minute,’ I called, and
moved Tizzy passed Rodney, taking him around the corral once to get a feel
for how the horse handled. He was very responsive to knee pressure and by
the time I got back around to where Duo sat, I felt comfortable in trying
what I’d planned.
It didn’t take much to get the beast angling toward
the fence, and I brought him to a halt right in front of Duo, putting a
foot out to brace against the rail, making sure Tizzy didn’t get so
close that he caught Duo’s legs against the fence.
‘Your ride, good sir,’ I quipped, and watched
Duo grin at me in delight.
‘Well,’ he said in turn. ‘It’s not
as flashy as that little leaping on thing you did, but beats the hell out
of using the kiddy steps.’
I kept a tight rein on the horse as Duo came across, having
to exert my control a little as Duo got settled behind me and Tizzy tried
to interpret the new signals he was getting from the double load. ‘Try
not to shift around too much,’ I told Duo once he was seated and had
a good hold on me. ‘The horse takes his instructions from leg pressure.’
I felt Duo nod and then chuckle softly as he realized I couldn’t
see him. ‘Got it, Roy,’ he confirmed and I could hear the hint
of excitement in his voice.
I walked the horse back over to where Rodney was still watching.
He grinned ruefully and scratched at the back of his head, looking up at
us. ‘Guess you pretty much know what the hell you’re doing,’
he grinned, and waved me to follow him as he made his way to the paddock
gate. ‘Don’t run him,’ he gave us his last warnings as
he swung the gate open. ‘And keep in mind that dark comes a lot sooner
under the trees than you’d think.’ Behind me, Duo laughed.
‘We can’t afford to stay out that long!’
he called and Rodney laughed with him. I felt Duo wave as we started down
the first obvious trail. I could fairly feel his enthusiasm vibrating through
him, and couldn’t have told him how damn happy it made me. Though
the horse seemed to feel it too, and gave out with an odd little dance.
Duo burst out with a bark of laughter, clutching at me for a moment. The
sudden sound made horse ears lay back.
‘Watch it,’ I teased him. ‘Tizzy doesn’t
like loud, sudden noises.’
‘Tizzy?’ Duo scoffed. ‘The horse’s
name is… Tizzy?’
‘That’s what I was told,’ I said dryly.
‘Don’t blame me… I didn’t name him.’
‘That is so... undignified,’ he replied, and again
I was struck with how happy he sounded. We were far enough away that I doubted
Rodney could still see us, and I was moved to lay my hand over Duo’s
fingers where they were laced across my stomach.
‘Hang on,’ I told him and urged Tizzy into a faster
gait. Nothing that would qualify as Rodney’s forbidden ‘run’,
but faster than the sedate walk we’d been engaging in. I wouldn’t
be able to keep it up long, not once we were in under the trees, but Duo’s
gasp of delight was worth it.
It took him a minute to catch the feel of how I was moving
with the horse and to match me, and then the ride evened out. He laughed
again, though careful not to be as abrupt about it. Tizzy’s ears swiveled
our way, but he didn’t start; perhaps he was getting used to Duo’s
‘Can we go faster?’ Duo prompted, and I had to
laugh at him.
‘You heard the man,’ I chided. ‘Against
There might have been a sigh, I wasn’t sure, but then
Duo’s hands were slipping out from under mine, and before I could
figure out what he was about, he had his arms stretched wide, flapping like
wings, and he was snickering hysterically.
‘What in the world are you doing?’ I asked, a
little glad he couldn’t see the amused grin on my face.
‘Fantasizing?’ he offered sheepishly, but then
Tizzy took a slight rise in the path and Duo’s arms were back around
‘Told you to hang on,’ I mock growled at him,
but he only laughed.
We were leaving the open meadow and coming into the woods,
so I pulled Tizzy back to a walk. The air had been a little crisp, but overall
pleasant, until we got into the shadow of the trees where it was much cooler
without the heat of the sun. I’m not sure if it was the slight chill,
or merely being completely out of sight of the stable yard that prompted
it, but Duo shifted closer to me and wrapped his arms tight around my waist.
‘Thank you,’ he breathed next to my ear and I
smiled tenderly where he couldn’t see it anyway.
‘You’re entirely welcome,’ I told him, doing
my best to put the warmth into my voice.
We just followed the trail for a bit, I let Tizzy set his
own pace and we didn’t talk a lot, just looking around at the woods
with their fall colors overtaking them, still early enough in the season
that most of the trees still held their leaves.
‘It’s so peaceful,’ Duo whispered after
a while, voice almost reverent. ‘You can imagine that these trees
have been here forever.’
‘One of these days, love,’ I teased gently. ‘When
we’re old and retired… we’ll live someplace like this.’
‘Does that mean I can have my own horse?’ he chuckled
and I squeezed his fingers.
‘I thought you wanted a dog?’ I asked wryly and
was surprised when I felt him go kind of still for a second.
‘You… you remembered that?’ he asked, tone
trying for light, but I could tell how surprised he was.
I snorted. ‘I remember everything you’ve ever
told me you wanted,’ I informed him. ‘It’s not like you’ll
ask me for so very much.’
He didn’t reply, only laid his head against my shoulder
and hugged me tight for a minute. When his grasp relaxed a little, I lifted
one of his hands up and kissed his palm, before returning our joined hands
to my waist.
‘The path splits up here,’ I told him before the
mood got too intense. ‘You want to go on up into the hills, or down
by the lake?’
He hesitated for a moment, then asked, ‘where do you
want to go?’
‘Doesn’t matter to me,’ I said off-handedly.
‘Why don’t we let the horse decide?’
He chuckled, agreeing with the idea, more, I think, out of
curiosity to see if the horse would actually show a preference than anything.
When we approached the fork, I held myself absolutely still
and let Duo’s unconscious body signals lead the horse where he wanted
to go. I wasn’t surprised when Tizzy went without hesitation down
the path that led to the lakeside.
‘Damn!’ Duo exclaimed. ‘He really had an
‘Maybe he’s just lazy,’ I conjectured. ‘And
downhill is easier.’
‘Don’t disparage our horse, Heero,’ Duo
said, his tone indignant. ‘He has feelings too, you know!’
‘I apologize to the horse,’ I relented.
‘That’s better,’ he huffed in mock indignation.
‘Bad enough that the poor thing has to live with a name like that
to begin with.’
‘Maybe it’s short for something more impressive?’
He snorted and got quiet while he thought about it. After
a minute he chuckled, ‘I can’t think of a damn thing that isn’t
‘So what would you have named him?’ I asked, just
wanting to hear his voice, sounding so… unburdened. So much lighter
than it had in so damn long.
It took him a second to reply, and when he did, he sounded
sheepish. ‘Uhm… Black?’
‘Blacky?’ I asked in bemusement.
‘No… just Black,’ he replied and I hadn’t
been mistaken, there was a note of embarrassment in his voice.
‘Well, that’s original,’ I teased and there
was a soft snort from behind me.
‘Not really,’ he muttered and since I wasn’t
sure where his odd tone was coming from, I dropped the subject.
The path had finally come out of the trees and we found ourselves
within sight of the lake. ‘We should be able to see the lodge soon,’
I said and felt him nod.
‘I think I can see the edge of the…’ he
began, and suddenly there was a rustle of leaves just to the side of the
trail. Tizzy stopped dead and snorted in obvious consternation, ears laid
back. At the sudden sound from the horse, a rabbit burst from hiding and
darting across the path heading for the trees as though the devil himself
were behind him. Tizzy danced in place, tossing his head and pulling at
the bit. I brought him quickly to rights, feeling Duo’s hands tighten
convulsively, and vaguely aware that he was making sure not to tighten his
legs. He’d remembered what I’d told him and was making sure
not to interfere with the orders I was passing to our mount.
‘It’s ok,’ I said, not sure to which of
them I was speaking. The horse settled as soon as the rabbit was away from
his general vicinity and it didn’t take much urging to get him on
his way again.
‘Well,’ Duo chuckled after we’d regained
the path. ‘Jumpy sucker; maybe that’s where he gets his name?’
I chuckled with him at the odd notion. ‘Best theory
we’ve come up with so far.’
The trail wound through the tall grass, passing right beside
the lake at a couple of points, so close I wondered if they ever had to
cancel rides on this route because of high water. We were following the
same path that we’d seen the riders on our first day, and we did manage
to catch a rather impressive view of the lodge. It made me suddenly feel
twitchy; wondering if there was anyone sitting up there in the restaurant
watching us, as we’d watched those other people. The light glinting
off the windows made it impossible to tell. I was more than happy when we
reached a stretch of ground that brought us under the cover of a copse of
evergreen trees that were growing closer to the water.
While we’d been visible to possible prying eyes, Duo
had eased subtly away from me, but as soon as we were swallowed up by the
forest again, he was pressed tightly against my back, and on a sudden notion,
I asked, ‘Cold?’
‘A little,’ he admitted, albeit grudgingly, from
the sound of his voice.
‘Maybe we’ll find some sunshine here in a bit,’
I offered, as the trail was on the rise, and I thought the trees looked
like they might thin out ahead of us.
He grunted something that might have been agreement, or might
have been simple acceptance of the statement. His head was resting against
my shoulder again, and for some long minutes, all I could do was just…
feel. I was rather overwhelmed with how damn good he felt molded against
me. How good it felt to have him seeking warmth from me. How good it felt
knowing how much he trusted me to keep him supported and safe.
How damn good it felt that he was with me. Just that he was
still with me.
‘Heero,’ he asked gently. ‘What’s
‘Nothing, love,’ I told him, a little appalled
at how thick my voice sounded.
‘Then why are you trying to permanently imbed my fingers
into your stomach?’ he said, his own voice somewhere between amused
I eased off the death-grip I’d unconsciously placed
on the only part of him I could reach and muttered an apology.
‘I’m here,’ he said simply, letting me know
he truly did understand.
‘Love you,’ I rasped out, then had to just shut
up for a minute while emotions settled and calmed a bit. Sometimes lately,
it felt like there was a boiling pot somewhere inside me, and I kept being
surprised by the things that churned to the surface.
‘I know,’ Duo soothed. ‘Heart and soul.’
He gave me a squeeze and let me have a minute before venturing, ‘Did
you pack any soup? That sounds awfully good right now… maybe for lunch?’
‘Yes, I think I did,’ I replied, letting him lead
me to safer ground. ‘We can heat it with some sandwiches; that does
‘And frugal,’ Duo chuckled. ‘We should probably
do our own cooking for the rest of the trip to help offset this ride.’
I turned my head a bit, in an effort to give him a glare,
but it didn’t come off without the eye contact. ‘You worry about
money too much. We’re fine.’
‘One of us has to worry about money,’ he grumbled,
poking me in the ribs. ‘Because you sure as hell don’t.’
‘Why should I worry about it when you worry enough for
five people?’ I rejoined and got poked again.
Then Tizzy brought us out of the trees and we realized just
how much of an incline we’d been on without really feeling it. The
view out over the lake was spectacular. ‘Of all the damn days to forget
the camera,’ I muttered and Duo chuckled at me.
‘It is impressive, isn’t it?’ he said softly
and I felt him shifting behind me. ‘Are you doing all right?’
There was a slight hesitation before he reluctantly said,
‘Just… a little stiff.’
I automatically took the little out of the statement and substituted
the word pain for stiff , and figured I had a better assessment. I’d
feared that the unaccustomed strain on his thigh would cause him problems,
but had been hoping it wasn’t too bad since he’d been showing
no signs of discomfort. I should have known he would just ignore it until
it got too bad to do so anymore.
But Gods, I didn’t want to spoil the afternoon; it had
been so long since he’d had a day like today had been so far.
‘Well,’ I offered cautiously. ‘We could
get down and walk around for a bit, if you’d like.’
He sighed softly. ‘But… how will we get me back
I looked around at the terrain. ‘I think there’s
enough rocks around that we should be able to find something to work with.’
‘O…ok,’ he agreed in a tone of voice that
told me how badly he needed to get off the horse for a while.
I pulled Tizzy to a stop right there, and after getting Duo
to shift back a bit, was able to swing my leg over the horse’s neck
and drop to the ground. I made Duo wait while I led the horse off the path
and found a tree to tie the reins to, before I went around to help him down.
It felt awkward getting him off the horse from what amounted to the ‘wrong’
side, but I didn’t think his bad leg needed the added strain of him
trying to swing it over the horse. When we had him perched precariously
sideways on Tizzy’s back, I reached up and took him by the waist as
he slid to the ground, keeping him from putting too much weight on his leg
as he landed.
‘Damn!’ he laughed as he found his balance again.
‘I understand the bowlegged cowboy jokes now!’
I kept a hand under his elbow while we walked up the trail
for a few yards; until we were both sure he was steady. Then we left Tizzy
contentedly cropping grass and walked out to the edge of the crag over-looking
It wasn’t quite noon yet, but getting close, and we
were finally out where the sun could do us some good. Duo turned his face
up to it, as though soaking in the warmth, and smiled slightly. We found
a big rock not far from the single tree growing that close to the cliff
edge and sat down to sun ourselves. It was a beautiful spot, and again I
wished I’d brought the camera. It crossed my mind that we probably
weren’t all that damn far from our cabin if I wanted to go get it,
but then decided against it. We’d have to take the horse off the prescribed
trail and I was sure that would be frowned upon.
Duo seemed to be thinking along those same lines, because
sitting there leaning against my shoulder he suddenly said, ‘Gods,
Heero; will you look at that tree? The way it leans out over the edge? It’s
like it’s been here a million years and the land has been changing
around it. Do you think it would be too far for me to walk back up here
from the cabin to get some pictures?’
I thought about it, trying to estimate the distance, but I
couldn’t even begin to guess the lay of the land and what kind of
terrain we’d have to walk through. ‘I don’t know love,’
I told him honestly. ‘We can give it a try tomorrow, if you think
you’re up to it.’
‘I’d like that,’ he said simply and graced
me with a pleased smile that I understood was because I hadn’t dismissed
the idea out of hand. But I’d be damned if I would do or say anything
that would spoil this day. Not if I could help it.
On a sudden impulse, I leaned in, cupped his chin and kissed
him. He responded without hesitation, relaxing into my touch, meeting my
languid exploration with his own gentle responses. There was more to it
of comfort than of passion. Warmth, rather than heat.
‘What was that for, Yuy?’ he smiled when I drew
‘Because I needed to?’ I told him and watched
the smile grow a little wicked.
‘You’ve gotten so bold in your old age,’
‘You inspire boldness, heart,’ I told him, nuzzling
his ear to hide the grin.
He snorted. ‘I knew the poet in you was going to come
out today; you’ve been showing all the signs.’
I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to hear him tell me just
what those signs were, so I refused to rise to the bait and he quirked a
grin, acknowledging the point in his favor.
‘Sun warming you up?’ I asked instead, by way
of subject change, and he turned his face back toward the light, his eyes
closing, and his grin fading to a soft smile. He hummed an affirmative,
putting me in mind of a cat lazing in a warm spot. It took some restraint
not to tell him how damn beautiful he looked, washed golden by the light.
But he was… a little touchy about those sorts of comments lately,
and I let it go. I wished, not for the first time, that I could make him
understand how I saw him, and that no damn scar was ever going to change
that. Nothing was ever going to change that.
Heart and soul. It had become our anchor, that thing we said
to each other. Such a well-used phrase that sometimes the words blurred
together, becoming almost a single sound. Becoming… something else;
something more. But I never said it without thought. I never said it without
understanding the truth of it. Heart and soul, body and mind. He owned me
and always would.
I snorted softly, thinking that his notion about my poetic
side coming out had obviously had merit. Duo opened his eyes and looked
at me. ‘What?’ he queried.
‘Nothing really,’ I hedged. ‘This is just…
He smiled, nudging gently against my shoulder, and looking
around. ‘It is,’ he confirmed in an almost solemn tone of voice.
‘It feels so… private up here.’ But then he was suddenly
grinning and he pushed himself up to walk toward the gnarled old oak tree.
‘Though I suppose this pretty much proves that it’s not!’
I rose to follow him, attention more on his slight limp than
on his discovery, and it took me a second to register the rope he was suddenly
‘What the hell is that?’ I asked, several somewhat
morbid explanations for the presence of the thing leaping to mind. Duo laughed
out right at me.
‘Calm down, Rambo,’ he chuckled, flipping the
length of rope through his hands. ‘I don’t think this is a crime
scene… looks more like somebody’s idea of fun.’
I couldn’t help raising an eyebrow. ‘Sometimes
people’s ideas of fun can lead to crime scenes, but I don’t…’
‘Yuck, Heero!’ he blurted, not disappointing me.
‘What the hell is that? Preventers’ humor? We’ve stumbled
on the local swimming hole… not some kinky bondage murder scene!’
He figured out I was teasing him from the grin, and swatted at me with the
end of the knotted rope. ‘Asshole,’ he grumbled, but there was
affection in it.
It clicked then, what he was saying, and I looked at him askance.
‘You’ve got to be kidding; from this height?’
He moved a little closer to the edge of the overhang, looking
down. ‘It’s not really all that high,’ he opined, and
gave the rope a bit of a tug. ‘And the water looks deep down there.
That has to be what this is. Look… there’s even stuff carved
in the tree!’
I moved in next to him, not liking how close he was standing
to the edge, using the carvings as an excuse. ‘Scott plus Jean…
Johnny was here…’ I quoted. ‘That’s evidence of
Duo snorted in exasperation. ‘No, Mr. oblivious,’
he informed me. ‘It’s evidence that kids come up here. If kids
have tied a rope to a tree overhanging a lake… it’s not because
they were making pot holders!’
‘Pot holders?’ I blurted, tearing my gaze away
from the blocky notation that R.R loves S.S. and blinking at Duo, caught
off-guard by the sudden change in direction.
He laughed in delight, and a sudden gleam came into his eyes.
‘Let’s jump,’ he blurted, and horrified does not begin
to describe what washed through me.
‘What?’ I yelped and had him by the wrist before
I had a chance to even think about it.
‘Oh come on, you stick in the mud!’ he grinned,
tugging on the rope and looking up at where it was tied. ‘It would
‘Have you lost your mind?’ I exclaimed and had
to restrain myself from hauling him bodily away from the edge. ‘You
don’t know what in the hell’s down in that water!’
‘Can’t be anything if kids are coming up here,’
he cajoled; his eyes alight with a fire that scared the hell out of me.
‘If anybody’d ever been hurt, they’d have come and cut
the rope down.’
I did everything but sputter at him, caught so off-balance
by this sudden urge of his that I was left floundering, trying not to yell
at him. I wanted to just tell him No! and be done with it, dragging him
back to the horse and getting him back down to the stable as fast as I could
move. No way in the seven hells was I letting my lover throw himself off
a cliff just for the sheer fun of it. But… he was so animated…
‘What… what would we do with the horse?’
I stalled, trying for reasonable, trying for logic. ‘We can’t
exactly convince Tizzy to swing out on a rope and jump in the lake.’
And just like that, I watched the light in his expression
dim and fade and go out, and I was left feeling sick, like I’d done
something bad. Like I’d just denied him something fundamental. ‘Yeah…
you’re right,’ he said, voice somewhere between sheepish and
defeated, and he looped the rope back up where he’d found it.
‘I just… I mean…’ I stammered, feeling
vaguely queasy and not really understanding what had just happened.
But Duo gave me a smile that struggled its way past wan and
managed to attain rueful. ‘Hush, love… it was a stupid idea.
I don’t know what made me think of it. Now come on… I’m
supposed to be walking around and stretching, not sitting on a rock.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I felt compelled to tell him,
following as he stepped away from the tree.
He snorted. ‘Forget it, Heero, it was an asinine notion.
Just… never mind, ok?’
There wasn’t much to be said to that; I’d gotten
my way, hadn’t I? I certainly didn’t want to talk him back into
it, did I? So why did I feel so damn guilty?
We walked along the cliff edge for a bit, turning back before
we lost sight of Tizzy. Duo’s limp evened out some, enough that he
was almost able to hide it from me, and I let him think he had, because
it just seemed to be the right thing in that moment.
We decided to walk the horse for just a bit, and Duo got a
little of his humor back, when he took the reins and Tizzy followed us like
a dog at heel. But there was still something in the back of his eyes that
made me feel bad. Made the day seem… a little less bright.
The trail turned away from the crag and went back into the
woods, and according to the map, circled around for a couple miles, winding
through the trees before it would bring us back to the stable. I realized
after a few minutes, that the ground was changing enough that we needed
to get Duo back on the horse before we didn’t have the help of the
boulders that had been so prevalent by the cliff.
He seemed to notice about the same time I did, and I saw him
glancing around, his steps slowing, ‘Uh… Heero…?’
‘I know,’ I reassured, and was just thinking that
we might have to turn around and go back down the trail, when I spotted
something even better than a rock. ‘Look there,’ I told him
and he grinned.
‘How convenient!’ he chuckled, with just a touch
of self-deprecation in it, and led the horse toward the tree stump we’d
spotted. When I thought about it, I remembered seeing others, and realized
that someone would have had to have done some clearing to make the trail
we were on. While it wasn’t going to get him as high as the fence
had, the flat surface would be much steadier for him to work with than a
rock would have been. Especially since the guy in front pretty much had
to get on first, which meant I couldn’t help him a whole lot. I decided
to use the stump myself, just so that Tizzy would have some idea what was
going on before Duo tried it, and the horse did seem disconcerted by the
process, dipping his ears back and trying to side-step.
I regretted the decision when I had to watch Duo laboriously
climb up on the stump on his own, lip caught in teeth and looking like he
might well have strained something in his good leg, trying to protect the
The odd… delicacy of his mood, made me bite my tongue
on the curse that wanted to pass my lips, as I watched him grimace and force
himself up. Though the grin of triumph he wore when he attained the flat
top of the stump and turned to me, almost made it worth it. Almost.
‘Ready?’ I asked, pushing all the rest of it aside
and grinning for him.
‘Yeah,’ he smiled back, and I’m not sure
if he thought I hadn’t seen how much trouble the climb up had given
him, or if he was only pleased that I wasn’t going to harp on it.
It took us two tries, and I seriously debated getting down
and punching the horse when he shied the first time and almost made Duo
fall. Duo laughed at me for the things I said about the animal’s lineage,
and Tizzy himself seemed rather skittish after that. I suspect that he was
simply picking up on my fear for Duo, though Duo insisted that the beast
was insulted. I had to apologize again.
We were quiet as we resumed riding, though somehow the tension
had eased and it was more companionable than I would have thought. I had
feared that we had spoiled things, ruined the mood of the day. But when
Duo was settled on horse-back behind me once more, he didn’t hesitate
to wrap his arms around my waist, and his body pressed against mine was
relaxed and pliant. I laid my hand over his, rubbing gently when I felt
the chill of his fingers. He rested his cheek against my shoulder and gave
me a little squeeze, trying to let me know, I think, that we were still
The trail wound back through the trees, and the air felt instantly
cooler when we lost the heat of the sun. I barely had to guide Tizzy, I
think he knew he was on his way back to his stall and would soon have his
burden off-loaded and was anxious to be rid of us. Though Duo did a great
deal more fidgeting behind me, and I understood that his leg was bothering
him. Not that he would complain in a million years, but he couldn’t
seem to help the slight shifting of his weight, attempting to ease the strain.
His spirits did bounce back a little when the path dipped
and we crossed through a stream, seeming to take delight in the water splashing
around Tizzy’s hooves. Though when the horse had to make the climb
up the opposite bank, I think the sudden jerking movement hurt him. I squeezed
his fingers hard in support, afraid to mention it out loud.
‘I’ll make it,’ he chuckled, answering my
‘We can stop again, if you… want to,’ I
ventured, substituting the word want for need at the last minute.
‘I’m fine,’ he assured me and I let it go.
The spot where we’d stopped had been not quite half-way
on the circuit, but I pushed the return trip just a bit for speed, and the
stables came into view about an hour later. I think I felt Duo sigh with
relief, but I wasn’t sure. The trail came down from a different spot
into the same open meadow, and I considered increasing our speed to a canter
again, because Duo had enjoyed it so much the first time, but I decided
he didn’t need the extra jolting. Rodney had left the paddock gate
open for us, and Tizzy headed for it like a homing pigeon.
‘I think he’s in a hurry to get back,’ I
told Duo, and only got a distracted chuckle. I repressed a sigh and comforted
myself with the knowledge that Duo’s pain-pills were in the car.
As we got closer to the stable-yard, Duo did that subtle shifting
thing, his hands unwinding from around me and pulling back to settle only
on my hips. My back was suddenly cooler as he eased away from me. I looked
toward the gate and saw Rodney standing there, ready to close it behind
us, smiling broadly, and it might have been my imagination, but he seemed
just a bit relieved to see us return in one piece.
I should have foreseen what happened next, but I didn’t.
I should have realized how much Duo’s pride was up, how much he wanted
to not look like some kind of invalid in front of this stranger. But I didn’t.
I pulled the horse to a stop near the fence, once we were
inside the paddock, fully intending to climb off and hand Duo down the way
I had up at the crag, or else use the fence again. But Duo moved before
I had a chance to, his hands held tight for a minute and I felt him swinging
his leg over the horse’s rump, and I knew he wasn’t intending
to let me help him here in front of a witness. Distantly, I was aware of
the sound of the gate swinging closed. I’ll never know if my own sudden
flash of apprehension contributed to what happened then or not, but Tizzy
chose that moment to shift, snorting loudly and stamping a hoof in agitation,
I think it caused Duo to put more weight on his bad leg than he’d
intended. I’m not sure. All I know is he was suddenly crying out and
falling to the ground. I leaned, grabbing for his wrist, but he was already
out of my reach. He went down hard.
Tizzy did not react to this sudden turn of events well; Duo’s
sharp cry, my own answering curse, my leaning, Duo’s falling…
horse ears were laid back and horse hoofs were suddenly churning up dust.
I bit back on any further outcry, and heart in my throat,
threw myself off the horse’s back, landing splay-legged over Duo’s
curled up form, keeping myself between him and the stamping horse.
Duo wasn’t making much effort to get up, only balling
up as best he could and wrapping his arms protectively around his head.
I knew he probably just couldn’t manage it.
‘Damn it!’ I snarled to no one in particular,
and digging my heels in, planted my back firmly against Tizzy’s flank
and pushed for all I was worth. The beast snorted in consternation, caught
between me and the fence. I fell on my ass when he suddenly decided that
my encouraging him to find someplace else to be, was obviously an excellent
idea, and he bolted forward and away. I didn’t care where in the hell
he went, as long as it was away from Duo. I barely registered the sound
of his hoof beats as he moved off, more concerned with scrambling to my
‘Duo!’ I was surprised at how panicked my own
voice sounded and I couldn’t get hold of him fast enough. ‘Oh
Gods… are you all right? Did you get stepped on?’ He was uncurling
under my hands, getting his breath and his bearings back.
‘I… I don’t think so,’ he managed
after a second, and while there was obviously some pain, he mostly just
seemed to be a little dazed.
My hands were moving over him in an automatic status verification
that was almost as old as I was. He had managed not to bring on an attack,
and didn’t seem to have been hurt by the horse at all. My biggest
concern, once I’d ascertained that he hadn’t been trampled,
was whether the fall had damaged his still healing leg. I was almost light-headed
with relief when probing fingers found the bone still intact. Thank the
Gods, he hadn’t rebroken it.
‘I’m ok,’ he muttered and I could tell from
his tone, that he was getting his wits about him again.
‘Just take it easy a minute,’ I soothed, my heart
starting to settle a little as I found him to be relatively unharmed. ‘It’s
all right… I’ve got you.’
I slid an arm behind him, supporting him as we got him shifted
into a sitting position, and again he told me, ‘I’m all right,’
only his voice was taking on an odd, irritated tone.
‘Don’t try to get up so fast,’ I scolded,
and pressed my hand to his ribs to make sure he wasn’t in danger of
lapsing into a muscle spasm.
‘Heero,’ he hissed then, the irritation tumbling
over into trepidation, and I finally registered the warning in it. Glancing
up, I found Rodney standing over us, his face a blotchy red and his eyes
looking everywhere but at us.
It was not a good time for him to make me feel… defensive.
Not a good time at all. ‘Don’t you have a fucking horse to catch?’
I snapped and would probably have said more, if I hadn’t felt Duo
‘Is…I mean…’ Rodney stammered, looking
rather stricken. ‘Is your… friend all right?’
‘I’m fine,’ Duo blurted, before I had a
chance to say anything, his own face flushed dark red. He got serious about
getting up then, practically forcing me to help him, or get the hell out
of his way.
‘Be careful!’ I grumbled, suddenly feeling very
out of control and not liking it one bit.
Rodney still wasn’t quite able to look at us, rubbing
the back of his neck and staring at his boots. He mumbled something that
I didn’t care to catch, but Duo tried on a grin that was so fake,
it made me cringe.
‘Sorry about that… didn’t mean to scare
your horse,’ he chuckled, doing his best to straighten away from me,
though I wasn’t quite ready to let go.
‘No harm done,’ Rodney muttered. ‘You…
ah… sure you’re all right?’
‘Fine,’ Duo told him brightly. ‘Bum leg,
Rodney nodded, his hand still rubbing almost unconsciously
at his neck. ‘Well… I guess we should… you know…
go back to the office.’
‘Yeah,’ Duo agreed amiably. ‘I’m more
than ready to head out for lunch. All that riding makes you hungry, doesn’t
it?’ he didn’t wait for Rodney to answer, which was just as
well, because the man didn’t look like he could string two damn words
together. He was making me uncomfortable, which was pissing me off, and
on top of all the rest of it… it just wasn’t a good combination.
Somehow, Duo seemed to understand that I wasn’t going to be able to
manage anything that might set the stable-owner at ease again, and he completely
took over the conversation.
I was still fighting with the overwhelming urge to just sweep
him up into my arms and carry him the hell away from that place. But while
over-protective is something that I will freely admit to having issues with…
I’m not stupid.
He only tolerated my hand under his elbow because his leg
was absolutely threatening to give out completely, and the limp was so bad
it was almost a stagger.
I barely registered the walk back to the office; head wrapped
up in the conflicting urges that felt like they were tugging me in a dozen
directions. If we’d only had a few minutes of privacy, I don’t
think I would have been so wound up, but the mask Duo had thrown in place
for Rodney’s sake was shielding him just as much from me. It stung…
even while a part of me wanted that distance. Wanted to slip into whatever
role would make the stable-master stop stuttering and looking like he wanted
to start his day over again, so that he could never leave his safe little
While my head… my common sense, told me that Duo was
fine and to just back the hell off, my heart was aching at seeing him in
pain, seeing him so embarrassed. And while my gut was anticipating the end
of the mood, was mourning the loss of Duo’s smile, there was that
other voice that was more concerned with the stranger so close to us, who
so obviously had a problem with what we were. That voice, that soldier’s
sense, was stuck half-way between wanting to duck and cover and wanting
to go on the offensive.
So I was a bit edgy, and knew that Duo was probably right
in ‘taking point’. But even that got to me, making me feel guilty
that he had to. He should have been leaning on me… should have been
able to concentrate on himself, while I handled the situation. It made me
feel like I’d failed him yet again.
Somewhere between corral and office, Duo had eased things
with his running monologue enough that the businessman in Rodney started
coming out. He graciously insisted that Duo sit down while we finished up
our business, even dragging a chair over from one of the other desks himself.
‘You sure you didn’t get stepped on?’ the
man asked, finally thinking past his discomfort, as he dug my driver’s
license out of his desk drawer. ‘It all kinda… happened so fast,
I didn’t really see it.’
Duo gave him a rueful little chuckle, rubbing almost absently
at his thigh. ‘Good!’ he grinned. ‘The fewer witnesses
to my pratfall, the better!’
Rodney dutifully laughed with him, but it was strained. I
checked the time, did the math and while I had my wallet out to put my license
away, I went ahead and paid the man. I assume I got the amount right, because
he just accepted it with a vague nod, barely giving the bills a glance.
I stepped away from the desk, taking a stance next to Duo’s
chair, an offer of assistance if he wanted it, but not reaching. I wasn’t
surprised when he levered himself up on his own.
‘Well, thanks,’ he said as we headed for the door.
‘Really great place you’ve got here… we had fun.’
It helped that he actually sounded like he meant it.
I was thankful that the car was parked very near the office,
though Duo gave me a warning growl when I started to open his door to help
him in. ‘Heero… please,’ he grumbled and I just let it
go. Turned my back and just let it the hell go.
He has never understood what it does to me to see him struggle.
He was in and settled by the time I got around the car to
the driver’s side. I didn’t speak, but fished his pain pills
out of the glove box and set them where he could reach them. Not insisting…
not forcing… just making them available. I couldn’t think of
a thing to say that would make things any better. So I just drove and ached
with the loss of Duo’s good mood.
After a minute, I heard him pick up the bottle of pills and
shake a few into the palm of his hand. He had to swallow them dry, but that
was something we’d both learned to do eons ago. I heard the bottle
resettled into the little change holder in the dash, then Duo reached across
and took my hand.
‘Guess I should have waited for you, huh?’ he
quipped and I finally glanced across at him. His smile seemed… hopeful.
I squeezed his fingers, feeling their slight chill, and gave
him the warmest smile I could muster, reaching out to meet his efforts at
least half way. A little more able to set aside the upset without the prying
eyes of a stranger pressing on my protective instincts. ‘You always
have been the impatient one,’ I replied and he managed a chuckle.
I dared hope that we hadn’t completely ruined things.
The drive back to the cabin wasn’t so long that Duo
slept, though he was looking decidedly sloe-eyed by the time we got there.
‘You still feel like that soup?’ I asked, as I
pulled in and parked next to the cabin.
He hummed an affirmative. ‘Sounds nice,’ he agreed.
I was surprised that he let me settle him on the couch by
the fireplace while I went to make lunch, but there really wasn’t
much he could have helped with anyway, in the preparation of simple soup
I found him tucked up into the corner of the couch when I
returned with our meal, wrapped in one of the many afghans and looking like
he was struggling to stay awake. He smiled at me as he accepted his plate.
‘Be careful, it’s hot,’ I told him, and
sat down by his feet.
‘Hot would be good,’ he grinned and picked up
his mug of tomato soup to cradle for a moment in his hands, blowing on it
gently. I sat my own plate aside and took a moment to put a log on the banked
fire, stirring the embers back to life. Duo had kicked his shoes off before
curling up, and when I sat back down, I pulled his feet into my lap. His
hands and feet always get cold when he’s under stress. He quirked
an impish little grin and wriggled a bit for maximum contact with my warmth.
I picked up my plate with the mug balanced on it once he was settled, and
began to eat.
I glanced across at Duo in time to see him take that first
sip of his soup and was surprised as something… almost pensive crossed
‘Is it… all right?’ I ventured, not sure
what that fleeting look had been.
He smiled and nodded, the expression banished with an almost
shiver. ‘Fine,’ he told me. ‘Just been a long time since
we’ve had tomato soup. What made you think to buy some?’
‘I don’t know,’ I shrugged, sipping at my
own. ‘It just seemed like something you should take camping.’
‘Camping?’ Duo snickered. ‘Yuy, if this
is your idea of camping, we really need to have a talk!’
I continued to feed him straight-lines, letting him tease
me until all trace of that strange melancholy was gone, along with everything
I’d put in front of him to eat. The fresh-air or the exercise had
done wonders for his appetite; and for the first time in a very long time,
I was satisfied with what he managed to put away.
But then that exercise and his full-stomach mated with the
pain-pills and he drifted off to sleep, right there on the couch.
I just sat with him for awhile, holding his feet in my lap
and gently rubbing my thumb along his instep, feeling him beginning to warm.
Feeling him completely relaxed.
Then I quietly got up and gathered the dishes, both the ones
from lunch and the ones from the night before, and went to clean up the
mess. And Duo’d been right; the grill took a nightmarish amount of
I sat with him afterward, there in front of the fire, the
heat making me a little drowsy myself. I thought about the day, remembered
those moments of Duo’s open delight, wondered about what memories
had been conjured up for him. He gets a look about him, when he’s
remembering something that I don’t share… something from before
our time together, and it always makes me want to ask. Always makes me want
to understand. But the memories aren’t often good ones, and probing
for information just to satisfy my undying curiosity concerning him, sometimes
leads him to think about things he might not have otherwise. While I love
gaining pieces to the puzzle that is my Duo… I know better than to
go searching for them; they have to be freely given.
He woke some time later, I was vaguely aware that afternoon
had turned to evening, but was too content to care about the time.
‘Hey,’ I smiled, and stroked my hand up and down
his foot, waiting for him to come fully awake.
‘Hey,’ he rumbled, voice thick from sleep, and
his gaze sought me out. A tiny little smile flitted across his lips and
he asked, ‘Have I ever told you that you’re a nice sight to
wake up to?’
I snorted and let my hand wrap around his ankle. ‘How
are you feeling?’
He shifted a bit, stretching experimentally and he grimaced.
‘A little stiff,’ he conceded. ‘But not too bad.’
I sighed. ‘Maybe we shouldn’t have…’
I began, but he cut me off.
‘Please, Heero,’ he said, eyes pleading with me.
‘It was worth it. It really was.’
I couldn’t help smiling at him. ‘I’m glad,’
I said simply and he seemed relieved.
We were quiet for a few moments, while he finished waking
up. My thumb found the ball of his foot and massaged absently while I watched
him orient himself. He gave me a faint disapproving look.
‘You should have waited to do the dishes,’ he
scolded. ‘I’d have helped.’
‘Didn’t want to waste a moment of our evening
together,’ he replied loftily, refusing to let him feel guilty about
He snorted and rolled his eyes, shifting to push himself upright.
I lost the warmth of his legs in my lap then. ‘The poet’s back,
I see,’ he accused as he found his way out of the afghan. I held my
breath while he gained his feet, but his leg bore his weight. He turned
a rather smug look my way, though when he stepped away from the couch, the
limp was more than he could hide.
‘Will you let me heat the lotion?’ I asked quietly.
He met my eyes and there was an odd moment before he acquiesced
with a tight nod. ‘I need to go to the bathroom first.’
‘Meet you in the bedroom then,’ I smiled, trying
to keep my tone light.
It was a difficult thing to stay away while he made his way
up the stairs.
Massage, mutual or otherwise. It truly bothered me that his
injuries had turned something we used to enjoy doing together, into something
that he feared I only did out of obligation. Out of necessity.
Lotion, if you are very careful, can be heated to an almost
sinful temperature in the microwave. The trick is in the timing, and you
have to be sure to thoroughly shake the bottle before using it. It takes
such a short amount of time, I was upstairs and ready before Duo came out
of the bathroom.
I take my cues from him in situations like that anymore, much
more aware of things like nudity and lighting. He was having one of his
more self-conscious days, probably brought on by the embarrassment of his
fall, and he came out of the bathroom still in his underwear. I turned away
and found the dimmer switch on the bedroom lights while he climbed onto
the bed. I left my own jeans on when I joined him.
I probably know enough about medical massage to qualify for
a license. During one of Duo’s visits to therapy, his therapist had
worked over his leg in a manner I’d never seen before, and had reduced
my partner to a quivering mass that I could only describe as ‘relaxed’.
I’d inquired and gotten a rather exuberant lecture on scar-tissue,
increasing circulation to damaged tissues, and the prevention of adhesions.
The man had been delighted to show me some of the simpler techniques, and
it didn’t take a medical degree to understand the benefits to Duo
receiving a truly deep massage daily instead of just a couple of times a
week as his therapist had the time.
Though at first it had been a little awkward, attempting to
distance ourselves from a thing that had once almost constituted foreplay.
I managed it by thinking in purely medical terms. I’m not sure how
Duo handled it, but it never seemed to arouse him, for which I was grateful.
He started out lying on his stomach and when I set to work,
he seemed more tense than usual, so I eased into it with a more general
massage before moving to my ‘target’ areas. The massage usually
follows his stretching exercises, but he didn’t seem interested in
doing them, and after a bit of consideration I decided not to push the point.
Our time on the trail was probably enough to compensate for the loss of
the more disciplined routine, so I let it go. His mood was tenuous enough,
I wasn’t about to start an argument over his therapy.
Under my hands, he slowly began to unwind and I was able to
identify problem spots by the knots of tense muscle. I’d been right;
he’d strained his good leg making the climb back up to horseback while
we were out on the trail, and I spent a bit of time on that before I even
got to his weak spots.
It took some work to get past the almost-painful part, before
he was sighing softly in contentment. That’s the part that makes it
all worthwhile for me; a full-body massage is not the easiest thing in the
world to do, but once he relaxes enough to start enjoying it… starts
making those tiny sounds of pleasure, that’s enough for me. I would
work all night as long as he made those soft little sounds.
When I had him rolled over, while I was working on his torso,
he frowned slightly and I sat up, afraid I’d hurt. ‘What is
it, love?’ I asked gently.
His eyes focused on me and I realized he’d been looking
over my shoulder. ‘How long did I sleep?’ he asked, looking
a little confused.
‘Not all that long,’ I soothed and bent back to
work. ‘Why? What’s wrong?’
‘It just seems later than it ought to be,’ he
said, the sound of a shrug in his voice.
‘I think there are clouds moving in, is all,’
I told him, remembering a weather report I’d heard earlier on the
He made a small sound of understanding and grew quiet again.
A million things crossed my mind as I smoothed the warm lotion
over his skin. How wonderful he looked, how wonderful he felt, how I loved
doing this for him… but nothing I dared share with him that didn’t
run the risk of bringing that haunted look back to his eyes. I stopped when
he started to show signs of feeling guilty… of getting anxious.
I reached out and tossed a corner of the bedspread he was
lying on, over him and smiled. ‘Wait here.’
Then I took myself off to the bathroom to figure out just
how a hot tub worked.
It wasn’t one of the huge ones designed for parties
or whatever the hell you do with a hot tub that seats six. Was almost more
of an extravagantly fancy bath tub. I started the water running and laid
out everything I thought we might need, towels and washcloths, our own toiletries
from home. When the tub was full, I started the jets and dimmed the lights.
Stepping back into the bedroom I called teasingly, ‘You
The husky sound of his affirmation made me wonder.
‘Care to join me?’ I asked and watched just long
enough to see him lever himself up on an elbow to look at me. I smiled and
stepped back into the bathroom, shucking the last of my clothes and settling
myself in the hot water. It really was the most decadent damn thing.
Duo appeared in the doorway a minute later, seeming caught
somewhere between discomfort and curiosity. ‘What?’ he quipped.
‘No wine and cheese? No candles?’
‘I did dim the lights for the right atmosphere,’
I informed him loftily. ‘Now, get in here.’
‘So bossy,’ he sighed, but dropped his own underwear
and ventured to the side of the tub, looking hesitant.
‘Here,’ I gestured, pointing out where he could
step and where there was a place to sit. He stepped gingerly down into the
water, taking the hand I raised for support as he found his way into the
curve of the seat.
‘Shit,’ he muttered as he sank down into the water
until it was damn near lapping at his chin. ‘Think we could talk the
landlord into installing one of these?’
‘Somehow, I doubt it,’ I chuckled, inordinately
pleased with his reaction.
‘Think this is what it feels like to be a lobster?’
he grinned, experimenting with positions until he suddenly let out with
a deep-throated groan.
‘Feel good?’ I murmured, and was rather proud
of the fact that there wasn’t a trace of smugness in it.
‘I’m sleeping in here tonight,’ he informed
me, a rueful little grin on his face.
I snorted and shook my head at him, though he didn’t
see it since his eyes were already closed. If I’d had any doubts about
the decision to upgrade to the larger cabin… I lost them in that moment.
We soaked. We washed each others hair. We soaked some more.
We looked like prunes, but I didn’t care. By the time we finally climbed
out, Duo truly did look like he could have fallen asleep right there in
the water. He was mellow and agreeable, taking a pain pill without protest
and sitting contentedly as I combed and braided his hair.
It was a very companionable end to the day. When we climbed
into bed together and he settled against me, all I got was a distracted
‘uh-huh’ when I told him I loved him. He was asleep almost before
I had the blankets settled around us. I fell asleep with the scent of his
sandalwood shampoo teasing at my senses, and wondering about the possibilities
of finding a new apartment that actually did have a hot tub.
I should probably have paid more attention to the weather
report; the storm might not have gotten to me quite so much if I’d
realized it was coming. It blew in around midnight and we’d been in
bed long enough that I was rather soundly asleep.
The noises got inside my head before they truly woke me, messing
with my dreams, messing with my fears. We hadn’t been through any
major bad weather since… that night. I suppose that somewhere inside
I’d known that those sounds, when they finally came, were going to
wreck havoc with my nightmares, but I’d never really wanted to think
When I started awake to the sound of thunder, it was with
a lightening strobed image of Duo beside me in the cockpit of a Leer jet,
impaled by the pilot’s yoke, and Wufei’s voice echoing in my
ears… ‘What the hell is going on here?’
I managed not to cry out. I managed not to throw the covers
off and run my hands all over Duo’s body to assure myself that he
was whole and alive. I managed not to gather him to me and weep.
Outside, the rain poured down and the thunder grumbled. The
eyes of the fish on the wall flared in the sporadic light and it made me
Beside me, Duo slept like a baby. He’d rolled away in
his sleep, and was curled on his side of the bed, completely undisturbed
by either my nightmare or the storm.
I thanked the Gods at the same time that I ached for him to
roll over and wrap me in his arms. I contented myself with just sitting
there, in the middle of the bed, and listening to him breathe.
While the rain sounded steady enough, the storm itself seemed
to have passed over us. I could still hear the thunder, and see the occasional
flash of lightening, but it was distant, and I marveled that Duo had slept
through the damn thing.
I was glad.
By the time the undeniable reality of Duo’s safety finally
made the nightmare images fade a little, it was obvious as hell that I wasn’t
going back to sleep. I decided that there really wasn’t much point
in trying. If I stayed in bed, I was only going to end up tossing and turning
until I woke Duo up too. He was sleeping the deepest sleep I’d seen
him manage in a long damn time, and I would not disturb him if I could keep
from it. He needed that sleep.
So somewhere around one in the morning, I slipped from bed
and padded down the wide stairway, guided by the glow of the tiny safety
lights in the treads. I snagged one of the many afghans as I walked through
the living room, wrapping myself in it, and went to the kitchen to fetch
a bottle of water. Then I took myself back to the living room to settle
on the couch to wait for morning.
The fire had long since died down, and while I would have
more than welcomed its light and heat, I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t
wake Duo while trying to get it going again, so I forgot it.
I would have wondered about the nightmare if I hadn’t
been trying so hard not to think about it. It had been weeks since I’d
had a really bad night. I did wonder, almost idly, if the storm had brought
it on… or if it had been seeing Duo fall.
Over my head, the dead eyes of the deer glinted eerily in
the dim light. Glass eyes, I had to remind myself. Not dead… glass.
I shivered and wished Duo awake.
I sighed, and had to shake my head at my own damn neediness.
I sipped at the water and reminded myself that Duo needed his rest. It had
only been a stupid dream after all, and I had already shaken it off. As
long as I didn’t sit with my eyes closed too long. As long as I didn’t…
think about it.
Duo couldn’t do a damn thing about a nightmare that
was already over. No sense both of us being up all night.
It had been a good day. Maybe not completely perfect, maybe
not without its bad moments… but it had been a good day all the same.
I thought back over it, making it a shield against the images that wouldn’t
quite completely leave me alone. In the distance, thunder rumbled low and
hollow sounding. I shivered and pulled the afghan higher on my shoulders,
concentrating on the memory of Duo’s laughter… of the feel of
his arms tight around my waist.
In the distance, there was a flash of lightening so bright
that I saw it before my eyes for long minutes after it was gone. Its after-image
glowing a dark purple against the blink of my eyelids. Within a heartbeat,
the cabin was plunged into total darkness and I understood that somewhere
out in those mountains, a transformer had been struck.
Without thinking, I counted as I waited for the thunder that
would follow, and wasn’t too surprised when I made it all the way
to eight. It was one of those great waves of thunder, not one of the sudden
claps. It seemed to build as it rolled over the cabin, and it rattled the
windows before it faded away.
It seemed the last gasp of the storm, a final act of defiance,
and then it grew quiet.
I blinked for several long moments, seeing that fork of light
before my eyes and not much else. It was… unbelievably dark. It was
rather disconcerting just how pitch black it was. I guess I’d grown
rather used to city life, where you were never truly without light at any
time of the day or night. I could not see my own hand in front of my face.
I had to smile to myself, thinking that I wished I’d not foregone
the fire after all.
There was a sound in the darkness, faint and distant. So slight
a sound that I held my breath trying to hear it. I thought of wounded animals.
I thought of something lost in that total darkness. It came again, a quavering,
hesitant sound that sent a chill up my spine. I tilted my head, trying to
catch where it was coming from, and it grew a bit bolder. A bit more panicked.
‘H… Heero?’ Duo’s voice was such a
thin sounding thing that I’m afraid I was up and moving before I even
thought to call out to him. Ages old training took me unerringly across
the room and up the stairs, memory guiding my feet, and instinct making
‘Here!’ I called finally, from half-way up the
stairs. ‘I’m coming.’ I could hear him almost gasping
for breath before I even made it to the loft.
‘Heero!’ he called again, his voice stronger,
but his panic escalating and I cursed myself for leaving him alone. If the
sound of thunder brought nightmares for me… what in the hell would
it have brought for him?
‘I’m here,’ I called to him, finding my
way across the bedroom to his side. ‘It’s ok, love… I’m
I almost didn’t have to reach out for him; he found
the sound of my voice when I drew near enough, and had hold of me instantly.
‘Oh Gods, Heero…’ he panted, and I dropped
to the bed beside him, taking him into my arms as best I could.
‘It’s ok,’ I soothed. ‘Just a nightmare…’
‘No!’ he choked out. ‘I… shit, Heero…
He was shaking and obviously disorientated as hell, probably
having trouble pulling himself out of the nightmare, and I tried again,
bringing his head to rest against my shoulder and stoking my hand over his
hair. ‘You’re ok, baby, the storm…’
He wasn’t even listening to me, and I wondered idly
if there would be bruises on my arms from where he was holding on to me
so tightly. ‘Damn it,’ he said, cutting across my reassurances
in a voice that was nothing more than a croaked whisper. ‘It’s
not that… Heero… I can’t… I can’t see!’
Sometimes I amaze myself with how damn dense I can be.
‘No, love,’ I blurted. ‘It’s not you;
it’s all right. There’s been a power failure, that’s all.
It’s not you.’
He went very still then, except for the ragged sound of his
breathing. ‘Power failure?’ he finally managed to ask.
‘Yes,’ I told him gently. ‘You’re
all right. I can’t see either. There was a storm and it knocked out
‘Storm?’ he ventured, and it was this strange
thready sound of hope in his voice that made me turn to sit cross-legged
beside him, and pull him completely into my lap.
‘Storm,’ I said firmly, making sure his leg was
straight. ‘And it’s over and gone now and I’m here and
everything is just fine.’
Slowly, he began to relax, though he didn’t argue his
position, only resting his head on my shoulder. It was enough to tell me
how disconcerted he still felt. I reached out and found the blanket when
I felt the goose-flesh on his arms, and wrapped it around us. After a long
few minutes, he made a sound that was aiming for self-deprecating mirth…
and not really making it.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered sheepishly after another
few moments, and it made me turn until I could find him in the darkness,
and I kissed his forehead.
‘My fault,’ I reassured. ‘I shouldn’t
have left you alone.’
There was this moment then, when I saw the mistake of my words,
but it was too late to take them back.
I wanted to fight him, when he sat up. Wanted to keep him
wrapped up in my arms, wanted to continue to feel him seeking my warmth
and taking comfort in my presence, but I could already feel the loss of
‘Why didn’t you wake me?’ he asked softly,
tone tinged with accusation, understanding too damn much.
‘You were sleeping so well,’ I said, and felt
for his hand. He squeezed my fingers when I found it and sighed softly.
‘Heero…’ he admonished, and I wished I could
‘It was nothing,’ I hedged. ‘It was mostly
the noise that woke me. You sleep so restlessly lately… I didn’t
want to bother you.’
I heard him draw breath to speak, but then he simply let it
out in a long sigh and gave my hand another little squeeze. If I could have
seen him, I would have known if he truly believed me, or if he had merely
decided to drop the subject. ‘How about we go down and see if we can
get a fire going,’ he finally suggested. ‘It’s going to
get cold if the power stays off long.’
‘All right,’ I agreed, though I knew we were doing
it for the light, and not so much the heat. Not that I would have said that
out loud for anything. He was still suffering the pangs of memory; I could
hear it in his voice, but my inadvertent slip of the tongue had made him
feel awkward about it.
I didn’t try to guide him as we made our way down, he’s
much better at finding his way in the dark than I am, for the obvious reason.
But it surprised me how much it took me back. Surprised me the chill it
sent down my spine.
I remembered where the lighter for the fireplace had been
left, and Duo remembered that he’d seen a candle sitting on a side
table. It took just a bit of effort to get the thing lit, then I laid the
fire in the fireplace by the light of the candle as Duo held it for me.
The relief in him was a palpable thing, though he wouldn’t have spoken
of it for anything. I think there was some part of him that couldn’t
believe his sight was intact until he actually regained the light. I think
it was only that disconcertion… that fear, that kept him from pushing
me about what had really woken me. I wasn’t going to question it.
We started to settle in the place where I’d been sitting
when the power went out, until we discovered that I’d spilled my bottle
of water there when I’d leaped up to run to answer Duo’s call.
He teased me about it unmercifully as we shifted to the other end to a dry
spot and made ourselves comfortable. There was really no reason we couldn’t
have returned to the bed, but it was another one of those times when I followed
Duo’s lead, and he seemed to want to stay close by the fire, so I
indulged him. The couch was deep enough, and plush enough, that it wasn’t
much of a trial. And the cheerful firelight helped chase away some of my
own demons. Or maybe it was just having Duo in my arms again.
It took him a long time to fall asleep, and me even longer.
I was actually rather surprised that I managed it at all, though it was
more dozing than actual sleeping. Being on the couch, mostly pillowed on
me, Duo wasn’t moving as much as he needed to, and I woke more than
once to make him shift so that he wouldn’t wake up stiff in the morning.
Each time, he rolled at my prodding, but didn’t really wake, his brow
wrinkling with a faint frown of irritation. Oddly enough, it was that look
on his face, annoyed but not enough to do anything about it, that lifted
my own mood and allowed me to rest as much as I did.
Morning broke some hours later, clear and bright, seeming
washed clean by the storm. The power had returned at some point in the night,
though we hadn’t noticed it.
I woke first, and just lay with Duo pillowed on my stomach,
watching the sky lighten and listening to the birds sing. That’s always
such an odd sound after a storm; the birds act just like any other morning,
as though they’ve already forgotten what they just came through. It
wasn’t long before Duo woke as well, and I just lay stroking my fingers
over his arm and waiting while he figured it out. Remembered where we were
and how we’d come to be there.
‘Well this has been an interesting vacation so far,’
he quipped and I chuckled softly because he wanted me to.
‘Interesting?’ I replied. ‘Not romantic?
Not fun? The best we’ve managed is interesting?’
‘At least I didn’t say it was a disaster,’
he returned, rather gamely, I thought.
Daring to risk the mood, I ventured, ‘I enjoyed yesterday
He looked at me, a little startled, I think, but then told
me earnestly, ‘I did too, Heero. I’m sorry I…’
I cut him off with the brush of my fingers over his lips.
‘Hush. No apologies. It was a good day… let’s leave it
He smiled but there was a touch of melancholy about it. ‘Why
do you put up with my crap?’ he asked bluntly.
‘Ask me why I put up with my own right arm,’ I
told him without having to think about it. ‘Now what do you want for
He grinned, the line making some of that sadness leave his
eyes. Sometimes I do manage to get it right.
‘Nothing special,’ he told me. ‘Did you
pack anything as mundane as cereal?’
I sighed rather theatrically and gave him my disdainful look.
‘Cereal? We’re on vacation… we are not eating cereal.’
He sighed in his turn, just as theatrically. ‘Oh no…
we’re on vacation, so of course you only brought stuff that requires
slaving over a hot stove for hours. That makes perfect sense.’
Almost, I told him that I hadn’t planned on cooking,
that I’d planned on eating out more, but somehow that didn’t
seem the best line to deliver. He’d only start feeling guilty again
about what we’d spent at the stable. ‘Maybe I was planning on
making you forage for your breakfast?’ I said instead.
He laughed out right, and rolled his eyes. ‘Sure, Mama
Yuy… like I’m buying that. Somehow I don’t think roots
and pine cone seeds are going to live up to your nutritional standards.’
‘I was hoping for some fish or maybe a quail…
but if that’s the best you can do, I guess I’d better go cook
us something,’ I shifted and he rolled up to let me slide off the
couch. I gave him a light smack on the ass, as I rose. ‘Some great
white hunter you turned out to be.’
He laughed, making a half hearted grab for my hand. ‘Watch
it, Yuy!’ he called, and I went up the stairs with that image of him
in my mind. Smiling. Teasing. Laughing.
Maybe we could manage another good day.
I dressed quickly and went back down to start breakfast. I
heard Duo going up the stairs only after I was in the kitchen, and knew
he was still feeling a bit self-conscious. I sighed as I pulled out the
ingredients for omelets, but I wouldn’t speak of it. It would take
time… I knew that. Time would fade the scars, would heal the wounds,
and I hoped that time would ease this strange awkwardness between us as
well. He was still my Duo, would always be my Duo, and I just needed to
wait while he figured that out. Figured out that nothing was changed between
He came into the kitchen, face freshly scrubbed, hair done,
and dressed, just as I was putting our breakfast on the table, he poured
our juice while I dished it up. I covertly watched him move around the kitchen
and was pleased that his limp was barely visible. I’d been afraid
the night on the couch was going to leave him stiff and sore.
‘So,’ I asked, as we sat down to eat. ‘What
do you want to do today?’
He didn’t answer immediately, taking a bite of his eggs
and chewing thoughtfully. He didn’t look right at me when he finally
replied. ‘Do you think we could try walking up to the ridge? It didn’t
seem like it was all that far.’
The question was asked in a hesitant tone and I knew he was
half expecting me to shoot him down. I glanced toward the window, it seemed
like the day was going to be pleasant enough despite the night’s storm,
and I smiled. ‘We can try. We can always come back if it turns out
to be too much.’
He nodded, smiling in return and we finished breakfast. He
insisted on helping me clean up and I let him. Then we got our jackets and
the camera and set out.
It was mid-morning by then and the warmth of the day took
us by surprise. The bad weather had apparently blown in some warmer temperatures
and it wasn’t long before I had to take my jacket off, tying it around
my waist so I didn’t have to carry it. Duo left his on, still a bit
more sensitive to chill than I was.
I could see him, as we walked; looking around with an intensity
to his gaze that I understood was a product of his scare the night before.
He’d had that look on his face for weeks after he’d regained
his sight from that accident during the war. An… appreciation, a look,
almost, of awe in things. It comes back to him sometimes, when something
makes him think about it. When something reminds him of those long days
of living in the dark. The last time I remembered seeing it was after we’d
passed a blind man on the street. Duo had shivered convulsively and for
some reason turned to look right at me, his eyes so intent on me that for
a moment I’d been afraid he meant to kiss me right there in the middle
of the sidewalk. Of all the things he’s endured throughout his life,
nothing has shaken him in quite the way losing his sight had.
It had been one of the hardest things I’d ever dealt
with myself… until the night of the tornado.
The walk wasn’t bad at all, the rise of the land was
steady but not overly steep, and there was actually a path that the local
kids obviously used to go precisely where we wanted to. We stopped once
to rest, and it was even at Duo’s call, I didn’t have to use
the camera as an excuse to stop and take pictures. His mistake of the day
before was making him more cautious. While I was pleased that he was taking
more care, I wished it could have been for a different reason.
When we got to the top of the hill, Duo took the camera from
me and took several pictures of the big old oak tree, seeming fascinated
with the thing. I went and settled on the rock we’d sat on the day
before, looking out over the lake while Duo finished what he was doing.
I wanted to make sure that we sat and rested for a bit before we started
back down the hill. The air moving off the water was pleasantly cool, drawing
to my attention again just how warm the day was. I wouldn’t have believed
it possible after the chill of the past few days.
I heard the click of the camera, suddenly much closer than
it had been, and turned to find Duo grinning at me unrepentantly. I hadn’t
heard him move up on me. ‘Hey,’ he shrugged. ‘You’ve
been taking pictures of me all week. Don’t want it to look like I
came up here by myself.’
I just shook my head and held my hand out for him to come
and join me. ‘So,’ I said, when he was sitting beside me. ‘What
is this sudden interest you have in trees?’
He looked a little sheepish and ducked his head. ‘I
dunno,’ he hedged. ‘There’s just something about the age
of the things.’
‘Age?’ I prompted, looking past him at the tree
that had lured us up the ridge.
He shrugged, seeming to pick at his words, like he wasn’t
even sure what he was trying to say. ‘I guess it’s not just
trees… there’s something about the Earth. It makes the colonies
seem so… new.’
‘Well, relatively speaking…’ I began, but
he snorted at me.
‘Screw relatively,’ he laughed, poking at my arm.
‘It’s about feeling , not thinking!’ He looked out over
the lake, somehow seeming to see the whole planet with the brush of his
gaze. ‘Don’t you feel the age of this place? If our great-great-great
grandfathers ever walked the Earth, and happened to come up here, it probably
looked pretty much just like this.’
I grunted, feeling something in the air that I didn’t
want to disturb, and just let him talk.
‘There was no place in the colonies that ever felt like
this,’ he told me, eyes a little unfocused, and I wondered what he
was remembering. ‘That tree over there has probably seen a hundred
generations. It was probably growing there when the first crews launched
to build those first space stations. There were a few parks on L2 and we
used to sneak into them sometimes after dark; it was like an alien landscape
to us. But there was nothing like this. The weather… the elements…
shape things. Time shapes things.’
I leaned back a bit and put my hand down on the rock behind
him, and he leaned into me without even seeming to realize he was doing
‘Solo would have loved it here,’ he said then,
so softly that the slight wind almost pulled the words away before I heard
them. I held absolutely still, afraid of breaking a moment that had let
that name slip past his lips. ‘He was always the one who wanted to
sneak into the parks. Most of the other kids wouldn’t go with him,
but I knew he would go even if he had to do it alone. It was… never
a good idea to go out alone.’
That line, one I’d heard before, a very long time ago,
seemed to slip out despite him. He sat and blinked for a minute, almost
as though the sound of it had crept up on him unawares. As though he hadn’t
realized what he was saying until the words were there in front of us. I
couldn’t help letting my arm slid on around him while we both sat
and thought about just why it had never been a good idea. He shivered, and
pretended it was because his jacket needed zipped up a little more. I held
him in the curve of my arm and let him pretend. I wasn’t surprised
when his fingers automatically sought out the scar on the palm of his hand.
He found his topic again, with an almost palpable feel of
reaching for it past something else. ‘We weren’t supposed to
be in the parks. Those were for the rich… the kind of people who didn’t
want their day spoiled by having to see the orphans playing next to their
own kids. But Solo loved the stupid places. Loved to swing. He’d swing
so high I was afraid he’d fall and break his damn neck, but he just
laughed and said it made him feel like he could fly. Could fly away.’
He got very quiet then. For a long time. Lost in memory, and
I felt a pang of something odd, deep down in my gut. Something that wanted
to be jealousy, but couldn’t quite coalesce. Something that wanted
to be hatred for that person who had failed to protect my Duo all those
years ago… but that wouldn’t quite come clear either.
I didn’t know much about this Solo… but I knew
enough to know that he’d been no more than a boy himself. Struggling
to do the best he could in a world that sneered at the word ‘harsh’.
How could I be jealous of a boy Duo thought of as a brother?
How could I hate someone who had done nothing more than I’d done myself?
Suddenly, Duo turned his face to mine, and I was shocked to
find his eyes shimmering brightly. ‘Solo… would have liked you,’
he blurted, and his voice wobbled a bit on the line. He was up and away
before I could even think what to say. He stopped a dozen paces away and
I saw his hand rise almost angrily to his face but then his shoulders seemed
to square, and when he turned around to me, he was grinning widely.
‘Hey!’ he said. ‘You know what? It’s
warm enough to go swimming!’
I did not want to let the moment go so easily, but knew I
had to. So I let his other remark pass, and grinned for him because that
was what he needed me to do.
He’ll give me emotional whiplash one of these days.
‘The air may be warm,’ I teased him. ‘But
I’ll bet that water isn’t.’
‘Oh come on,’ he grumbled, planting his hands
on his hips and glaring at me. ‘You promised if it warmed up we could
I cocked my head and gave him the sardonic smirk. ‘That
was when I thought there was no way in hell it would ever warm up.’
The laugh I got was almost enough to drive away the last of
his ghosts. ‘I knew it!’ he crowed. ‘You are such a conniving
‘Me?’ I deadpanned. ‘Who was it that kept
using his broken leg to get Quatre to fetch bottles of soda he wasn’t
supposed to be drinking?’
‘Is it my fault the guy’s a soft touch?’
Duo grinned, and there was no repentance in it at all.
I stood, since he was obviously done resting, and we started
the walk back down. ‘Well don’t blame me when our balls retract
and never come back down,’ I quipped, but didn’t get the laugh
I was aiming for. Perhaps he was having second thoughts.
The trip back went a little quicker, since it was downhill,
though I held our pace to something Duo would have called ‘sedate’.
He seemed to be doing fine, so when we passed the spot where we’d
rested on the way up without stopping, I didn’t speak of it, letting
him make the decision. He’d been doing better at pacing himself since
the fall, and I wanted to reward that in the only way I knew how.
I had packed our swim trunks only at Duo’s insistence
in the first place, and I was surprised as hell that it looked like we were
actually going to get to use them. The day had gotten progressively warmer
as the sun climbed in the sky, and by the time we reached the cabin, Duo’d
had to shuck his own jacket.
I debated insisting on a break before we went down to the
docks, but the sun was at its height by the time we finished our walk, and
I didn’t want to lose that heat. The day would only chill the closer
it got to afternoon, and I was sure the water was not exactly bathwater
temperature as it was. And he truly didn’t seem as though he’d
taxed himself, so we changed right away and made the short walk down to
I had thought I might have to hold him back from just leaping
in, but he sat on the edge of the pier first, dangling his feet in the water
and grinning up at me. ‘Shit, that’s cold!’ he laughed
but didn’t seem to be the least bit deterred, because he began pulling
off his t-shirt even as he spoke.
I sat down beside him and tested the water myself, turning
a somewhat disbelieving look his way. While it wasn’t ice water, it
wasn’t what I would have called ideal either. ‘Are you sure
about this?’ I had to ask.
He chuckled and nudged me with an elbow. ‘You getting
There was an awkward moment while I discarded the first few
things that sprang to mind, before I just told him, ‘I’ve come
to appreciate the little things in life is all… like hot tubs.’
I could tell from his expression that he understood that I’d
edited my thoughts, but I didn’t know how to apologize without making
things worse. Six months ago, I’d have probably shoved him off the
dock for a line like that, but that was out of the question right now. As
was the brand of teasing that would have challenged him until he jumped
He chose to ignore the slip, and dug his elbow into my ribs
again. ‘Yep; soft and lazy,’ he quipped, then stood to walk
down the dock to the ladder. I watched warily as he climbed down one rung
at a time, pausing at each rise of the water until he got used to it, before
stepping down again. I didn’t remember to breathe until he was floating
free in the water; afraid that the cold would bring on a spasm. He grinned
up at me, and there was a touch of triumph in it.
I grinned back and went to join him, climbing down the same
way he had, and bitching theatrically about the cold. He mocked me with
I had barely left the ladder, when he took his first tentative
stroke and moved slowly out into the lake a bit. I moved beside him, keeping
pace as he almost drifted along, He rolled gently in the water as he went,
testing the pull of different strokes, I think. He seemed to like being
on his back, but the back-stroke required too much stretch and he would
inevitably turn over again.
Swimming was something neither of us had known how to do until
pilot training. Not a lot of opportunity for it in either of our upbringing.
While it wasn’t something I would go out of my way to do on my own,
Duo seemed to love the water and I certainly didn’t mind going with
him. I loved to watch him swim; when he’s at his peak, he’s
damn fast. He has the lithe build for it; I can’t keep up with him.
He swims like a damn seal, something I’ve told him many times.
Beside me, Duo slowed, treading water and grinning. Somehow
he seemed to be reading my mind. ‘I think I’m more like a manatee
than a seal today.’
I snorted and reached for his good hand, swimming backward
and pulling him with me. ‘My beautiful sea cow,’ I proclaimed.
‘Hey!’ he objected, though he didn’t let
go of me, letting me move us through the water at a faster pace than he’d
been managing. ‘I think I resent that!’
‘Well,’ I informed him. ‘They say that manatees
are what spawned the original mermaid legends.’
‘So now I’m a mermaid?’ he asked with a
raised eyebrow, his free hand playing through the water as we went. I had
a sudden vision of him with his hair loose and floating around us like a
cloud. He would very much look the part of some fey sea creature. I stopped
swimming and let his momentum bring him into my arms.
‘Merman,’ I corrected. ‘And a damn sexy
one.’ I kissed him then, quite taking myself by surprise, but it was
like I couldn’t help myself. He was just so… Duo, in that moment.
Teasing with me. Smiling at me. Eyes watching me. Hand in mine.
It seemed such a small daring, out there in the middle of
Gods above but I wanted him.
Things might have gotten… a bit more than we should
have been doing, if Duo hadn’t suddenly jerked away, eyes wide as
saucers, and making a tiny little gasping sound.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, afraid I’d
hurt him. Alarmed by the look on his face. ‘What is it?’
‘I…’ he began, then flinched again, wide-eyed
gaze dropping to the water. ‘Something just…’
Then I felt it too and damned if I didn’t jerk despite
the vague warning I’d had from Duo. I grinned at him and watched his
trepidation change to simple confusion. ‘What…?’ he asked,
blinking at me owlishly.
‘It’s a fish,’ I told him, and watched his
bewilderment vanish in a wide grin.
‘No shit?’ he blurted, and just like that, ducked
under water, I didn’t have time to object. He popped back to the surface
a few seconds later, snorting and wiping water from his eyes, grin still
intact. ‘There’s a bunch of them!’ he crowed, holding
his hands a good foot apart. ‘This damn big!’
There was the brush of another inquisitive snout on my calf
and I wondered that the things weren’t afraid of us. Surely the lake
saw fishermen in the right season.
‘What kind do you think they are?’ Duo asked,
watching the surface of the water intently, though the fish were deeper,
and the light on the surface made it fairly impossible to see them.
I chuckled. ‘Aquatic ones?’ I suggested and he
was so distracted that it took him a heartbeat to blink and look up at me.
Then I got the grin I’d been looking for.
‘That’s good, Yuy,’ he snickered, but then
kicked lightly and began moving again. I felt a bit of regret at the loss
of the moment, but understood that things had gotten a bit too intense for
him. That he was looking for a little distance. I followed after, pacing
his languid journey but letting him have his space. I think we lost the
We didn’t venture far from the pier, and I noticed that
Duo stayed out of the shadows of the trees, keeping us in the sun. It did
make a little difference, but not much. It would take days of temperatures
that warm, to take the chill out of the lake. We were headed into fall,
and weren’t likely to get more than a day or two of this ‘Indian
summer’. This was as good as it was going to get, and I suppose I
should have been grateful we’d gotten even the day; it was more than
I had expected.
‘You know,’ Duo suddenly blurted. ‘With
the way my luck has been running lately, we’re liable to run into
the world’s only lake shark out here.’
I was supposed to laugh, though I had to work at it; somehow…
it wasn’t all that damn funny. ‘Don’t even joke,’
I grumbled at him, and that made him laugh.
‘Come on, Heero,’ he chuckled, rolling in the
water again to look at me. ‘I’m kidding; there’s nothing
out here but trout… or catfish, or whatever those things are.’
‘Piranha,’ I deadpanned. ‘You’re challenging
the power of worse again.’
He grinned and sluiced water at me, making me flinch. ‘Piranha?
I think I saw that movie!’
I tried to roll my eyes, but was too busy wiping the water
from them. ‘Why is there a movie for everything?’ I sighed.
‘And why have you always seen it?’
He laughed that laugh he has that there’re no fetters
on. The one that makes the bridge of his nose wrinkle up and his eyes crinkle.
I hadn’t heard that laugh in a long time. ‘Because there isn’t
an original idea left in the universe. Because somebody, somewhere, has
thought of everything. It’s all been written. There have been piranha
in the lake movies, and giant crocodiles, and mutant bears,’ he stopped
swimming, treading water while he ticking predators off on his fingers.
‘Giant pythons, killer beavers…’
‘Ok,’ I cut him off with his own face full of
water. ‘You’re just making shit up now!’
‘Am not!’ he shot back, flailing blindly to splash
me in his turn, even as he was wiping his eyes. I ducked beneath the surface
while he was disoriented and swam quickly under him, grabbing the ankle
on his good leg and giving it a firm tug. His bright laughter sounded distorted
through the water. I bobbed to the surface behind him and gave his braid
a yank just for good measure.
‘Careful,’ I growled. ‘I might be a lake
He was grinning and sputtering and turned to find me, reaching
to shove me down, ducking me in the water again. I went down rather than
fight him, swimming around to come up behind him again. I reached out just
as I broke the surface of the water and pinched his ass.
‘Hey!’ he yelped, spinning in the water to follow
‘Piranha,’ I intoned and got that laugh again.
Gods, it felt so good to hear it, so completely free and open. It had been
so damn long.
It was to be short lived.
It was horse-play, and I should have known better. But I was
so damn blinded with seeing him happy that I forgot. For the first time
in months… I forgot.
He lunged after me, reaching to return the favor, slicing
through the water as I retreated from him. We were laughing; later I would
feel guilty about that.
I saw it in his eyes, a split second too late to do anything
about it, and a split second later, his face twisted in pain and he just
vanished. It was so damn much like something really had grabbed him and
pulled him under, that I actually remember wondering what it was.
I was after him in no less time than it took me to draw breath,
but I couldn’t believe how far under he was, just that fast. He was
sinking like a stone, the muscle spasm making it impossible for him to remain
I reached for him, some part of my mind counting off the seconds,
some part of myself on total autopilot. When I caught his arm, he did not
grab for me, didn’t even react, and I felt a thrill of fear even as
I was kicking us to the surface.
It was all less than a minute. My internal clock told me so,
but it felt like he’d been under forever. I was sobbingly relieved
to hear him coughing and gasping the minute we found the air.
But that wasn’t the end of it. He was in full ‘seizure’;
helpless to do any of the things that might have eased it, out in the middle
of the damn water. It was taking everything I had just to keep us afloat;
I couldn’t do a thing to help him except keep us from drowning. We
were probably a good ten yards from the pier, which doesn’t sound
like much, until you’re trying to swim with a writhing ball of muscle
spasm in your arms.
‘I’ve got you,’ I told him, trying to reassure
as best I could. I didn’t get anything back from him; he might not
have known I was there. I tried to move us, but needed an arm free. I was
already kicking as hard as I could, just keeping us on the surface. ‘Duo,’
I prodded. ‘I need you to hang on to me.’
There was an almost guttural groan, and he managed, in a voice
twisted up with pain, ‘Won’t… drag you down…’
It… angered me somehow, though I suppose I should have
been expecting it from him. I can’t tell you how in the hell the phrase
pissed me off so much, at the same time that it filled me with warmth. ‘Well
I’m sure as hell not letting you go under alone again,’ I snapped.
‘So I guess you better start working with me here!’
I swear to the Gods, I think he laughed. I’ll never
be sure, but he did finally, reach out and wrap an arm around my shoulder,
and I was able to get us moving.
I thought we would never get to the damn dock. I did my best
to keep him up, but I think he took a couple of mouth’s full of water
despite my best efforts. He felt like nothing but a bundle of twitching,
shaking muscles pressed against me. I think I was murmuring things to him,
but later I would not be able to tell what I said. I’m not sure he
was hearing me anyway. All his concentration seemed to be on the arm he
had grudgingly wrapped around me; I could feel him not letting himself hang
on too tight. Knew that if I lost my grip on him, he’d let himself
go under before he would grab at me.
Do you know what a basic human instinct he was fighting? Do
you have any idea what it takes to let go? Drowning victims have been known
to drown their own rescuers trying to save themselves.
It’s a damn strange feeling sometimes, when my irritation
with him gets so tangled up with my pride in him.
At last, I got us to where I could get a hand on the ladder.
‘Ok,’ I told him. ‘I’m anchored now. We can’t
go down… you hear me?’
There was a tight nod against my chest; words seemed to be
beyond him. Or, at the very least, too difficult to waste on unnecessary
ones. I took a second to just hang there, looking the situation over and
trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to get us out of the water.
We were not, thank the Gods, terribly far from the deck, but those bare
few feet seemed like a mile when I thought about trying to get Duo up that
ladder. He tried to unwind and reach for a rung, and I could see that he
meant to try climbing out on his own, but I honestly didn’t think
it was going to happen; I had never seen him in the throes of an attack
‘Hang on,’ I soothed when he faltered; afraid
he would try too hard and make things worse. ‘Let me help.’
We ended up with him between me and the ladder, climbing in
tandem. I had an arm locked around his waist, as low as I could manage,
trying not to hurt him while still bearing most of his weight. He was gasping
for breath and his face, when I caught glimpses of it, was a mask of pain
and dark determination. I had to bodily haul him the last bit, up and over
the edge, and I think I hurt him, but there was no help for it. I could
have crowed with victory when I finally got him laid down on the dock.
But then the air hit us, clear of the water as we were, and
it seemed an artic blast. He began to shiver uncontrollably. It took the
last of whatever he’d been hanging onto, away, and he just balled
up there on the planks and gave in to it.
I scrambled down the dock to where we’d left our t-shirts
and the towels we’d brought out with us, returning with them as fast
as I could move. I had thought to dry him and get one of the shirts on him,
but the glassy look in his eyes when I knelt at his side again washed away
all plans I’d been making. I just wrapped him as best I could, and
caught him up in my arms; he needed to be inside out of the chill air and
he didn’t need to wait when I was perfectly capable of getting him
It was his total lack of protest that lent me the strength
I needed to carry him off the pier and up the hill to the cabin. His muscles
were corded so tight, it felt like I was carrying a stone. A shuddering,
I don’t remember getting the front door open, and later
I would have to look to verify for myself that I’d closed it. I barely
remember the climb up the stairs to the bedroom. I have only a vague recollection
of the burn in my legs as I pushed past my own limits. If Duo had not lost
so much weight after the accident… I’m not sure I’d have
‘Hang on, baby,’ I can recall telling him, and
left him balled up on the end of the bed for the few minutes it took me
to get the hot water running in the tub.
I took us in, trunks and towels, t-shirts and all. Not unwrapping
him until the water was high enough to replace whatever protection they
might have been giving him.
There was nothing else to do after that, but hold him against
me until it passed. It took… a while. The longest we’d ever
‘Ooops,’ he tried, after the tremors had eased
enough that he could get enough breath to speak.
I thought I would cry, and couldn’t do anything more
than kiss him on the temple. I opened my mouth to reply, couldn’t
manage it, and so just kissed him again instead. He sighed softly and we
were quiet some more.
‘Love you,’ I told him, when the attack had faded
to the point that he was starting to relax.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered, his face almost
hidden against my neck.
‘Don’t,’ I said gently. ‘Not your
He didn’t answer, relaxing further, and I realized that
he was absolutely so exhausted that if I left things alone, he would fall
asleep right there in the tub. I thought about that, and decided that there
was nothing wrong with that happening. The water was warming him more than
any blanket could. The jets of the spa would help strained muscles loosen
up. He seemed… content to stay where he was, and I was more than content
to have him there. I smoothed my hand over his hair, dropping a kiss on
the top of his head where he nestled against me.
‘Rest, love,’ I told him softly and he seemed
to let go that last little bit.
‘So tired,’ he murmured and I almost held my breath,
hearing the utter openness in his tone of voice.
‘I know,’ I told him, feeling guilt well up inside
me. ‘It was my fault… I shouldn’t have…’
‘It was nice,’ he said, effectively cutting me
off while I blinked at the far wall and tried to make sense of what he was
saying. ‘That was you, for the first time in so long.’
‘What?’ I blurted, completely confused. ‘Duo?’
But all he said was, ‘I’ve missed you so much,’
and then he was gone; faded into sleep.
And just what in the hell was that supposed to mean?
I cradled him in my arms, careful enough that I wasn’t
pressuring his ribs, but tight enough that he wouldn’t wake to the
feeling of buoyancy. I didn’t think that would be a good idea right
then. I just held him… and thought.
He slept there like that for a good hour; I think it was the
constraint of my arms that finally roused him, as he tried to move and found
He blinked his eyes open, looking vaguely confused at first.
I took advantage, tilting his head back and kissing him gently. ‘What…?’
he mumbled, the hint of a frown creasing his forehead.
‘Lake shark got you,’ I informed him, and I was
pleased to see the frown fade.
‘Damn nasty beasts apparently,’ he said with a
rueful grin, eager enough to take the lighter tone. ‘What’d
he do, take us back to his place to boil for dinner?’
I snorted, tenderly brushing his bangs away from his forehead.
‘Yeah, he just left to get the onions and potatoes… if we hurry;
I think we can escape his clutches.’
Duo chuckled, as much for me as for the joke, and eased himself
carefully upright. He moved so slowly, so cautiously, that I found my lip
caught in my teeth, almost holding my breath. I feared we’d truly
done some damage, but after a bit of experimental shifting, he gave me a
reassuring smile. He seemed as surprised as I was.
‘All right?’ I couldn’t help asking.
‘Kinda sore,’ he admitted. ‘But not as bad
as I thought it would be.’
‘Thank the Gods,’ I murmured, quite before I knew
I was going to, and he leaned forward to rest his forehead against mine.
‘I’m ok, love,’ he told me firmly.
I sighed, knowing that he didn’t want to see me worrying
so much. ‘I know… I just hate feeling that helpless.’
He drew away and snorted derisively. ‘You? You’re
not the one who…’ he stopped then, and looked at me hard. I
could see him puzzling something through. ‘Heero; did you… how
the hell did I get back to the cabin? You didn’t fucking carry me
all the way up from the damn lake, did you?’
I went for the flippant answer, because there really wasn’t
much denying the truth. Though his focus had been turned inward, he hadn’t
exactly been unconscious. ‘Damned if I know,’ I quipped. ‘I
think we teleported.’
‘Heero…’ he began in that warning tone,
but I cut him off with a finger to the lips.
‘Hush,’ I told him, dropping the teasing because
it wasn’t working anyway. ‘I’d have carried you twice
as far if I’d needed to… you know that.’
Something strange passed across his face then, I couldn’t
quite place it… it twisted his lips in something that wanted to be
a grin even while his eyes welled with a deep sadness. ‘I know,’
was all he said. He leaned in to kiss me softly, then stood to climb out
of the hot tub.
We dried and dressed, and it didn’t escape my notice
that he took his pain pills all on his own. I bumped ‘kinda sore’
up a notch in my estimation, but didn’t comment.
I watched him move and found his motions to be… hesitant.
I was careful as hell not to let him see any hint of my own
Lunch was long past, so even though it was a bit early for
dinner, we were hungry enough that we decided to go ahead and fix it.
And if nothing else so far had told me just how much the attack
had taken out of him, the fact that he simply came and sat at the island,
keeping me company in the kitchen while I cooked, would have.
I was pleased that I had put out the makings for liver and
onions the night before. Duo has few comfort foods, and somehow that dish
had become one of them. Not to mention that, despite my own lack of enthusiasm
for it, it was good for him.
He pulled one of his bottles of soda out of the fridge while
I worked, daring me to reprimand him for it, but I wouldn’t rise to
that bait. It was almost the first bottle he’d had since we’d
arrived, and I wasn’t going to fight such a small thing. I got a tiny
little salute and a grin for my trouble.
Duo was fairly quiet, watching me work, and there was something
oddly calculating in his gaze. It was disquieting at the same time that
I found it… comfortable. Something familiar.
He wanted to eat by the fireplace again, and I went to throw
a log on, while dinner finished, so that there would be something to sit
in front of. There were still hot coals from the morning, and it didn’t
take long before the fire was burning cheerfully. As the day was waning,
the unseasonable warmth was fading with it, making the fire a pleasant thing.
I didn’t bother fixing anything other than the liver
and onions; I knew he’d not likely eat much more than that anyway.
When it was finished, I dished it up and carried it to the living room.
Duo brought the drinks and we settled in the corner where we’d slept
that morning. Duo grinned at me as he tossed aside the afghan we’d
‘Do you realize that all the afghans in this place have
gravitated down here?’ he chuckled, trading me my glass of water for
his plate of dinner.
‘We do seem to be spending a lot of time here,’
I agreed and debated tucking one of the things around him, but he’d
put on his sweatshirt when we’d gotten out of the tub and seemed warm
He took a bite and chewed absently for a moment, looking into
the flames. ‘Why don’t we ever use the fireplace at home anymore?’
he suddenly asked.
I looked up from my dinner and regarded his profile for a
second before answering. ‘I suppose because nobody supplies the wood
for us?’ I ventured and he did smile, though he didn’t turn
‘We should get some wood for the winter,’ he said,
taking another bite. ‘It would be nice… every now and again.’
‘We can do that,’ I agreed, then grinned. ‘You
can pose for me by firelight.’
He snorted, and did finally look over at me. ‘I don’t
do kinky, Yuy,’ he quipped.
I chuckled lightly, but couldn’t help studying him for
a moment. I’d only been teasing, but it made me really look at him.
‘Not kinky,’ I told him. ‘But I like what the firelight
does to your hair… to your skin.’
I chuckled again, as his skin took on an even deeper glow,
coming entirely from within. ‘Knock it off,’ he grumbled, but
his next bite was covering a tiny, pleased little smile.
Compliments to Duo sometimes have to be delivered… the
long way around.
I couldn’t help notice that he stole a couple of glances
my way after that. Oddly circumspect, and it came as something of a shock
to me to realize that he was seeing me in the same light. Seemed to like
what he saw. I felt myself blushing as well and gave my dinner my full attention.
How very strange to be sitting with the man who had been my
lover through all the years since the war, and feeling like a damn teenager
on a first date. It was a disconcerting, and somewhat melancholy, sensation.
The rest of the meal was rather quiet.
He managed most of what I’d put on his plate, before
swearing he couldn’t eat another bite, and I was surprised that he
handed me his dirty dishes when he was done without complaint. Simply asking,
‘Leave the cleanup until later, and come back?’
I readily agreed, and ended up with Duo curled against me,
lying between my legs, with his head pillowed on my stomach. I played idly
with his braid, while he settled himself until he was comfortable. While
he’s miles past the point of only being able to lie flat, it takes
a bit of adjusting sometimes before he can relax.
Between the full stomach, and the gentle warmth of the fire,
I fully expected him to fall asleep. Especially after the afternoon he’d
had, and the pain pill he’d taken afterward. His attacks always leave
him feeling drained, and this last one was by far one of the worst ones
he’d ever had.
It was sometimes hard to believe in the reassurances of Duo’s
doctor when he said this would fade.
I felt Duo sigh, and wasn’t sure if it was in contentment…
or something else.
‘All right?’ I whispered, somehow not wanting
to disturb the quiet.
‘You’re thinking again,’ he complained,
though there wasn’t any real heat in it.
‘So now I’m not allowed to think?’ I asked,
theatrically put upon.
He snorted. ‘You know what I mean.’
I echoed his earlier sigh without even meaning to. ‘You
can’t honestly expect me not to worry.’
‘I suppose not,’ he conceded. ‘But I just
‘What?’ I prodded, when he just trailed off.
‘Just wish that you made a better pillow,’ he
quipped, doing a complete one eighty on me. ‘You don’t fluff
It was so obviously not what he had been going to say, that
it threw me. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to such a pointed
change of subject. But then he chuckled and dug his fingers into my ribs.
‘Maybe I just need to fluff harder?’
I squirmed and caught at his fingers. ‘Watch it, Maxwell,’
I grumbled automatically.
He chuckled again and somehow escaped my grasp. Then his touch
changed, his hand settling on my stomach and smoothing up my chest. ‘You
know… I’ve always loved you in this sweater.’
It was a caress that was… suggestive, and it caught
me completely off guard. My defenses, my resolve, slipped. I couldn’t
help a shiver as his fingers traced their way over my chest, hunting for,
and finding my nipple through the weave of the sweater.
‘Duo, what are you doing?’ I hissed, feeling my
damn cock twitching to life despite my best efforts.
He chuckled throatily, and those deft fingers wandered back
down, hunting for the hem of the sweater and worming their way underneath.
I gasped at the feel of his palm smoothing over my skin. ‘You seem
to have a problem here, lover,’ he teased, as he drew his hand down
my belly, and then lower, tracing the outline of my obviously swelling erection.
My damn traitorous voice wavered as I told him, ‘Stop,
I had the warning of cool air as he pushed the sweater up,
then soft, warm lips brushed over my stomach. ‘Why stop?’ he
breathed on my skin. ‘I can do this… let me do this…’
and his nimble fingers were tugging at the button on my jeans.
I am ashamed to have to admit that almost, I let him. Almost…
I gave in. I was so hard, and trapped inside my pants, that it was painful.
Just that damn fast. It was the sound of my own voice groaning erotically,
that shook me back into control.
‘Don’t,’ I said, in a firmer voice, and
this time caught his hand and held it.
He gave me a look that would have gotten him the moon, had
he been asking for something that simple. ‘Please, Heero? he pleaded
‘No,’ I told him again, with a little more conviction.
‘I don’t want it like this; I want it for the both of us...
when the time is right.’
His eyes clouded and he sighed softly. Somehow, there was
distance between us without him ever moving.
‘Duo,’ I said earnestly. ‘It just doesn’t
seem right this way. I can wait for you… it isn’t that important…’
Something came over him then that spoke of anger, though I
couldn’t understand, and I was far from sure of it. But he was suddenly
sitting up, pulling away from me physically, as he had already pulled away
I let go of his hand and sat watching him use it to scrub
over his face. ‘That’s a hell of a thing to say,’ he muttered,
almost to himself.
‘I didn’t mean it that way,’ I frowned,
wondering where in the hell this had come from all of a sudden. What had
I done to push him into trying this? ‘It’s just not as important
as your health.’
His hand dropped away from his face and he gave me a pained
look. ‘It won’t hurt me to… to… touch you. I don’t
like that you’re… that you’re…’ He blew out
a frustrated breath, looking irritated with his hunt for words.
I reached for his hand, and though he let me hold it, it felt
like I was holding a bird that wanted to fly free. ‘Damn it, Duo,
we’ve talked about this. I don’t feel right about it. When you’re
able to enjoy it... when you’ve healed…’
‘And if I don’t?’ he snapped, that anger
blossoming. I lost his hand then, as he threw himself to his feet and paced
away to the other end of the hearth. I just stared after him, speechless,
remembering him saying the same thing the day before. ‘What if this
is as good as it gets, Yuy?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I scolded, not understanding
what was fueling his obvious frustration. ‘Your doctor and your therapist
both have told us this will pass. You’re going to get better; you
just can’t expect it to happen overnight.’
‘It’s been a little fucking longer than ‘overnight’,’
he grumbled, his back to me and his hand scrubbing over his face again.
‘And look how far you’ve come,’ I said,
not letting myself rise to go after him. ‘You’re pushing yourself
too hard again…’
He snorted, and that hand found its way around to rub at the
back of his neck for a minute before dropping all together. He glanced at
me over his shoulder, before turning away again. ‘What is so wrong
with my wanting to… make things easier for you?’
I heaved a sigh, wishing he’d get the hell off the damn
sex topic. ‘Because it’s too Gods damn much like my using you!’
I growled, a little more harshly than I’d intended. ‘Why can’t
you understand that when the time comes… I want to be able to make
love with you, not just…’ I trailed off, all the phrases I could
think of, seeming too blunt. Too crude.
‘And what the hell, if I never can, Heero?’ he
asked, whirling around to face me. I couldn’t identify what all was
fighting for control of his expression. ‘Are you going to just take
a bloody vow of celibacy?’
I found my feet under me, his aggression making me need to
be on the same level with him. ‘What the hell is driving this?’
I snapped. ‘Why are you so damn…’
His fists were planted firmly on his hips and I could see
the muscles in his jaw tensing. ‘I haven’t had a damn erection
since before the stupid accident!’ he yelled, and suddenly looked
stricken; I don’t think he’d meant to impart that information
in quite that way. He flushed to the roots of his hair in the next heartbeat
and suddenly couldn’t look at me.
‘Is that…?’ I began, and stopped, unsure
of just what reassurances he needed. I took a step toward him, but stopped
when he almost unconsciously retreated. ‘Duo?’ I called softly,
and held out my hand.
‘Oh bloody hell,’ he muttered, and scrubbed a
hand over his eyes again.
‘Duo… love…’ I began, trying for soothing.
‘You know that isn’t what’s important…’
That spark of irritation flared in his eyes again, and he
glared. ‘Oh thanks a lot!’ he snapped, voice fairly dripping
‘Damn it, Duo!’ I rebuked. ‘Stop twisting
my meaning! You know damn well that isn’t what I meant! I’m
just saying that what’s between us isn’t fucking…’
‘That’s for damn sure!’ he growled, and
suddenly was storming toward the front door. I think my mouth dropped open.
‘Where the hell are you going?’ I yelled after
him, completely incapable of achieving the reasonable tone my head told
me I needed.
‘For a damn walk!’ he barked, and he already had
the door flung open.
I darted after him, my heart in my throat as I watched him
stomp his way down the front steps. He was limping before the third step,
but refused to acknowledge it.
I hit the front porch and stopped; chasing him was only going
to make matters worse. Way worse. I took a breath and called after him,
He slowed. Then he stopped. I could see him heave the sigh
from where I was standing. It took a very long minute before he finally
called without turning, ‘I just need some space, Heero. I’ll
be back in a little bit. I’m just going to walk for a while.’
He started moving again without waiting to see if I would
acknowledge him. But his pace was more self-controlled, slower and not an
accident looking for a place to happen. After a few yards, he jammed his
hands in his pockets and seemed to pick a direction; angling toward the
path through the woods.
It was a very damn hard thing to stand there and watch him
This was a pattern that we’d followed almost from the
first day we’d confessed our feelings for one another. We are neither
one of us anything less than volatile personalities, and there had been
more than one argument in our past. Would most assuredly be more than one
in our future. And somebody storming off was usually how the yelling part
always ended. The one of us with enough sense left to admit that it was
time to but some space between us until we’d cooled down, would usually
take off. Standing on the porch of that cabin, watching him limp into the
forest, I remember wondering just what it said that it was usually Duo who
did the running off.
Did it mean I was the more stubborn?
Or he was more avoidant?
Knowing that something is the right thing to do, and actually
doing it, are two entirely different things.
I watched the place where he disappeared for a long time,
mind whirling with thoughts. It was starting to truly sink in, what he’d
just confessed to me. It was something of a shock at first, when I let myself
really think about it. But the more I worried at it, the more it put certain
things into perspective. His sudden body-shyness might not entirely have
to do with scars.
I had not lied to him. Not there in that cabin, and not in
a shared room a life-time ago, during a war. Our relationship was not based
on sex. I loved Duo, and I wanted to be with Duo, and that was not contingent
on his ability to perform in the bedroom.
Though I would not be stupid enough again, to try saying that
it wasn’t important. I stood there for awhile, listening to the sounds
of the woods, and thinking… wishing. I wished he’d taken his
jacket. I wished he hadn’t gone. I wished I’d had a better reply
for him. I wished I’d known about this aspect of things sooner. Hell…
might as well wish the tornado had never happened. Or… a lot of other
‘Damn it to hell,’ I muttered to no one in particular
and went back in the cabin.
Doing a search on the internet for ‘erectile dysfunction’
was a decidedly uncomfortable task. I was surprised at how many porn sites
came up; it seemed somehow… rude. Like rubbing salt in the wound.
I felt stupid as hell, sitting in a strange place, reading
such clinical things that suddenly pertained to my Duo… and blushing.
I had to fight the urge to look over my shoulder, like a little kid sneaking
peeks at his daddy’s Playboys.
Somewhere in there, I started to understand why he’d
had so much trouble talking to me about it. Why it had taken him so long
to bring it out in the open.
When I’d gleaned everything I felt I could from what
was available to me, I shut the system down and went to clean up the kitchen.
Idleness only chaffed at me; Duo’d already been gone over an hour.
It took a depressingly short amount of time to wash two plates,
two forks and a frying pan.
While I was not quite ready to say that the vacation had been
a bad idea, I did think we’d lost some stability with the loss of
the routines we’d established at home. Our days had been more structured,
and while I still contended that on some level this distraction had been
good for him, on another I think it was allowing too much time for introspection.
Too much time to worry at fears like a dog with a bone.
I shouldn’t have allowed him to completely blow off
his exercises and massages. Back at the apartment, they had become a major
part of our day. I think they had granted us some small physical connection,
even if Duo did sometimes seem to feel guilty about them. For the space
of those few hours, we were working together toward a common goal, and I
think we’d been taking more away from that than either of us had realized.
I decided as I worked to clean up the kitchen, wiping down
countertops and surfaces we’d never even used, that it was as good
a time as any to remedy that lack. We used the coffee table at home for
his personal ‘therapy’ sessions, though it was an awkward height
for me. It dawned on me as I dried the solid butcher block kitchen table,
that it was a bit higher than the standard, and would be perfect for the
I went to fetch the supplies I would need, not intending on
taking no for an answer. Duo’d had a damn physically rough day, and
I refused to let his pride keep him from accepting the things that would
As soon as he came back.
I went upstairs and remade the bed.
I went downstairs and stoked the fire.
Folded the afghans.
And still managed to end up back out on the front steps, watching
for him, though I’d had every intention not to. I realized, sitting
there, that it was the first time we’d really been apart since he’d
gotten out of the hospital.
It was almost dusk when I saw him making his way slowly up
from the lake shore. I did manage to keep myself from leaping to my feet
and going to meet him, just staying on the steps as he made his way up the
path. His pace was measured, his hands jammed in his jeans pockets, eyes
on the ground.
I stood when he was almost to the steps. ‘Hey,’
I called, and he stopped walking to look up at me.
‘Hey,’ he responded, looking like a little lost
puppy out in the cold.
‘C’mere,’ I said, opening my arms, and he
took the last few steps to me.
‘I’m sorry,’ he breathed, as I folded him
into my arms.
‘Me too,’ I replied and nuzzled my face into his
hair. His… damp hair.
I won’t say I froze, because my body went right on holding
him, but some part of my mind went very still. His hair had been wet from
the swim, and then the hot tub, but it had been hours… surely it couldn’t
still be damp after all that time? My brain made several sporadic leaps,
piecing together the possibilities. He had walked off up the hill into the
woods, but had returned from the lake. Granted, I had not stayed outside
to verify that he’d come back down the hill and then on down to the
lake, but I couldn’t help thinking that there was another way he could
have gotten from point A to point B.
Had he gone back up to the ridge and jumped? My mind ran in
frantic little circles, playing it out, remembering his strange glee the
day before, wanting to make that leap. His clothes weren’t wet…
but he could have shed them and tossed them down to the shore to retrieve
later. They would have still been damp… unless he’d waited until
he’d air dried before putting them on. He had just almost drowned…
but wasn’t it just like Duo to want to take the bull by the horns?
Poking at a thing that had tried to best him?
I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake the crap out
I wanted to wrap him up in cotton and bubble-wrap and keep
him safe forever.
I wanted to demand that he tell me what he’d done.
Then it just sort of came to me that it didn’t matter;
he was back… he was safe… he wasn’t yelling at me anymore.
I just couldn’t let it matter.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Let’s go inside
where it’s warm.’
He nodded wearily, and let me lead him up the steps and I
locked the door behind us. I had meant to steer him to the couch, to warm
up by the fire for a bit, but he noticed the strange light coming from the
kitchen and went that way instead. I resisted the urge to sigh; I’d
meant to talk to him first.
The corner of the kitchen where the table sat was bathed in
gentle candlelight. I’d scoured the cabin from one end to the other,
finding that there was a large variety of the things, presumably for ‘atmosphere’,
and I’d brought them all into the room. I needed light to see, but
sometimes things are easier without the harshness of strong lighting.
Our first time together had been by candlelight.
‘What’s all this?’ he asked, giving me a
raised eyebrow look, and I was relieved that he didn’t sound irritated.
‘I was thinking that the table was just the right height
for your exercises,’ I ventured. ‘We’ve been… slacking.’
I felt a little bad for the tiny reprimand, but knew him well
enough to know that if anything was going to get him on that table, it was
a hint that I thought he was being lazy. And I wanted him on that table,
working with me, no matter how I had to get him there.
Something like resignation crossed his features, and I felt
a little worse, so I took his hand and gave it a tug leading him closer
to the table. ‘Just let me help, ok?’ I asked gently.
I suspect it was his desire not to discuss what he’d
revealed before he’d stormed out of the cabin, as much as anything
else, that made him follow me.
I’d padded the table with a folded up blanket and there
was a pile of towels and other things waiting there for us. He looked dubiously
at the setup, then glanced sidelong at me, trying gamely to meet my expectations.
‘Thought of everything, huh?’
‘I hope so,’ I told him and reached for the hem
of his sweatshirt, tugging at it until I got a kind of half-hearted sigh.
‘Ok, Yuy,’ he grumbled. ‘You win.’
And he began undressing. I took the lotion to warm while he did.
When I came back, he was standing there in nothing but his
shorts, his arms crossed awkwardly across his chest, so I tossed my own
shirt aside. Sometimes it helped if I wasn’t completely clothed while
he was not. But he just avoided looking at me, dubiously eyeing the table
instead. I reached out and hooked the waistband of his underwear. ‘Forget
something?’ I teased, and watched him frown. I don’t usually
make a big deal out of it, but I’d decided it was time to stop letting
it be a big deal. ‘Come on,’ I prodded gently. ‘It makes
it easier to work.’ I could tell he knew damn well that wasn’t
the point, but he let it go, dropping the shorts with an almost angry gesture,
his cheeks flushing lightly.
I pulled a chair over and helped him climb up and get settled.
I took pity on him then, and unfolded a towel to toss across his hips. He
gave me a kind of pained apologetic look and I guess he was thinking about…
before. When it wouldn’t have bothered him. When it wouldn’t
even have been an issue.
‘So,’ I asked, trying to ease the tension in the
air. ‘Where all did you walk?’
But he took it as prodding for information, not just idle
talk, and he sighed. ‘Nowhere we hadn’t already been,’
I took hold of his leg and he automatically drew it up to
begin the first of his stretching exercises. ‘I’m sorry,’
I sighed. ‘I didn’t mean anything. You’re just so quiet.’
His eyes flicked my way as I leaned into his push, and he
looked regretful all of a sudden. He blew out a breath. ‘Just a lot
to think about, I guess.’
‘I know,’ I soothed, and our eyes met for a minute.
Gods, he was so wound up. I eased off and we straightened his leg, before
beginning another curl. ‘I did a lot of thinking too.’
He flushed a deep red and broke eye contact. I took one hand
off his shin and reached out to touch his cheek. ‘There’s never
been anything we couldn’t talk about,’ I told him. ‘You’re
not going to start now, are you?’
If anything, the blush got darker. ‘It’s just
freakin’ weird, Heero!’ he blurted, fingers picking at the blanket
I let his leg straighten and went around the table to do the
other side. He frowned slightly; we hadn’t done a half a dozen reps,
but this wasn’t really about exercise.
‘Duo,’ I said firmly, as I took hold of his other
leg. ‘If you think for two damn seconds that we’re only together
because of the sex, I’m going to have to be seriously pissed off.’
There was a moment of almost stunned silence, then he gave
me a tiny, desperate little grin. ‘You mean you love me for my mind?’
‘I love the whole package, Maxwell,’ I growled,
pressing a little harder since we were working his good leg. ‘And
I’m a little tired of you acting like I’m so shallow that…’
His fledgling grin was gone in a heartbeat and he was suddenly
frowning at me fiercely. ‘Ok, could you just fucking stop that?’
he snapped, and I froze. He rolled his eyes in exasperation. ‘Not
the stretches, asshole! The belittling something that’s been eating
me alive for months!’
I’m afraid I blinking at him like a moron for a full
three seconds, turning it around and around in my mind. I could feel from
the tension in him that we were on the verge of another argument. I resumed
manipulating his leg and gave him a small smile. ‘I’m trying
to be reassuring here.’
I watched his temper deflate a little, and breathed an internal
‘It’s just…’ he muttered, his hands
finding their way up to cover his face. ‘I mean… Gods! This
isn’t exactly something a guy likes to think about, you know?’
I kissed his knee just before straightening his leg again.
‘Yeah, love… I know.’
He dropped his hands and looked at me, his fears in his eyes.
‘Heero, I just… I just don’t like the idea of this…
depriving both of us. I mean… there’s nothing wrong with you!’
I laid his leg back down flat and picked up the lotion bottle.
‘Duo, there’s nothing wrong with you.’
He just stared at me blankly while I started the massage,
his surprise keeping him from even mentioning my cutting his normal half
hour of stretches to less than ten minutes. ‘What the heck is that
supposed to mean?’ he asked, and only sounded curious… not pissed.
‘Think about it,’ I said calmly, working on the
tight muscles of his calf. ‘Think about your injuries; there’s
nothing that should have affected you… that way.’
‘Then you want to explain the total lack of… you
know?’ he muttered, looking embarrassed again.
‘Negative reinforcement,’ I replied, feeling how
his body had reacted to all the extra exercise with knots and sore spots
that were making him wince as I worked on them. ‘The body is quick
to learn what causes pain, and is even quicker to put a stop to it.’
He looked doubtful, but fell quiet while I just continued
to work, letting him digest it. It took him most of the time I spent on
‘You’ve been reading, haven’t you?’
he finally said, somewhat suspiciously, and I wasn’t sure if that
was irritation in his voice or not, so I only smiled benignly.
‘Of course,’ I informed him haughtily. ‘Isn’t
that the first thing I do when presented with a problem?’
He snorted, and I wondered that he hadn’t done the research
himself. I think he saw the question in my eyes and he looked away. ‘It
was… easier to hope it would just… I mean, if I didn’t…’
‘I understand,’ I soothed, just so I didn’t
have to hear him struggle with the words. He looked grateful
‘So,’ he said, with an artificial nonchalance.
‘What’d you find?’
‘That it isn’t uncommon to have a loss of function
after a major trauma,’ I said matter-of-factly.
He was quiet and I moved around the table to begin working
on his torso. He looked up at me, and there was so much need in his eyes
for guidance that I had to lean down and kiss him. ‘Really?’
he asked, and I was swept back a half a dozen years by the sudden vulnerability
in his voice.
‘Really,’ I whispered against his lips and decided
in that moment to move ahead with the thing I’d been contemplating
all afternoon. I took his mouth with mine again, but not so gently…
not so chastely. He surrendered to me instantly, and I was finally sure
that his temper and his bluster were all just to cover up this uncertainty…
this fear of a need for a thing that his mind told him would bring pain.
‘Trust me?’ I asked, when I drew away, and got
a small smile.
‘I always have,’ he replied in a voice that made
my heart do something odd in my chest.
I kissed the end of his nose. ‘You have only one job
here,’ I told him then, more sure of myself as we went. ‘To
keep yourself completely relaxed no matter what.’
He looked confused for a second, before his eyes went a little
wide. ‘What are you saying?’ he asked, breathless.
‘That you’re not on this table for a massage,’
I grinned, and stroked my thumb over his bottom lip while I watched him
process the height of the table and the mechanics of the thing. ‘If,’
I had to ask. ‘You’ll let me try.’
I couldn’t have told you which was the stronger emotion
running through him… hope or fear. But he nodded after a moment, so
I bent to press my lips to the side of his neck. ‘Just remember to
stay relaxed,’ I breathed into his ear. ‘And let me do everything.’
I could feel him swallow convulsively, and nibbled my way
around the shell of his ear, making him shiver. I settled a hand gently
over his ribs, making sure he didn’t forget himself. Making sure we
were being careful. He loves it when I nuzzle against his throat and I did
so with abandon, enjoying beyond measure the kinds of touches that had been
off-limits for so long. I was hard before I worked my way down to suckle
at his nipple, was aching before I wrung the first gasp from his lips.
I wondered at my own ability to handle this. I’d been
deprived of his touch every bit as much as he’d been deprived of mine.
I raised my head and looked down at him, his eyes were wide
and he was watching me like a thirsty man looking at an oasis. I stepped
away from the table and finished stripping, letting him see me, then moved
around to stand at the end of the table, by his feet. Taking hold of the
blanket, I slid him bodily toward me, until his legs were hanging off the
edge. I positioned the chair under his bad leg for support and leaned over
to press a kiss to the center of his chest, feeling the trip-hammer beat
of his heart.
His eyes followed my every move, his expression a cross between
openness and trepidation. ‘Remember,’ I told him softly. ‘Just
It was... damned electrifying to be standing there, my body
between his spread thighs after all that time. I was so hard, I ached. I
kissed my way down his belly, peeling the towel away as I went and finally
found his cock, resting flaccid against his thigh. I had a momentary pang
of worry that I didn’t know what in the hell I was doing, then, before
I had a chance to falter, I took him into my mouth.
Above me, he hissed in surprise and I slid my hand up over
his stomach to rest on his ribs again, keeping watch on him.
It was very strange, to feel him like that… we’d
never gotten this far before without us both being fully aroused. I’d
never felt him, soft against my tongue. It was so familiar and unfamiliar
at the same time. The scent was Duo, the hip under my hand was Duo…
but the rest was strange. The sounds he was making were so shaky and unsure,
the feel of him in my mouth was so strange… for a moment I despaired
that I’d been wrong about the whole thing.
But, damn it, I was sure there was nothing physically wrong
with him. I was sure of it.
I stopped for a moment, releasing him long enough to nibble
at the inside of his thigh; a thing that he loves. ‘Stop thinking,’
I ordered, before returning to my original target, renewing my efforts.
I suckled and worked him, nibbling and licking and listening
to the sounds of his ragged breath. I was just so sure…
And then he began to swell under my ministrations. His cock
twitching and responding to me, and by the Gods above, but feeling him pulse
and harden within my mouth has got to be the most erotic thing I’ve
There was a great, sobbing moan from Duo; his breath going
out in a rush as though someone had just punched him hard in the stomach.
Like he hadn’t properly been able to exhale in months.
I felt his body tensing, and I gave him a gentle touch over
his ribs to remind him, because I couldn’t have stopped what I was
doing to speak. Couldn’t draw away until he was fully erect and that
sweet feeling of him swelling and filling my mouth was complete.
I looked up the length of his body to find him staring at
me so wide eyed that I couldn’t help grinning at him. ‘You ok?’
‘Oh Gods, Heero,’ he groaned, then had to close
his eyes with the intensity of it. I just waited, gently stroking his hip,
and watching as his whole being seemed to shiver in relief. When he had
himself under control, he sought out my gaze and breathed, ‘how far
can we go?’
‘All the way, if you can just do your part,’ I
told him, and saw hope spark to life behind his shell of apprehension.
I hadn’t been sure about what I’d planned. Had
not been sure at all. But in that moment, seeing the raw relief in his eyes,
I knew it had been worth the risk, and I was glad I’d worked up the
He watched me while I moved the towel that I’d used
to cover up the rest of my ‘preparations’, and gave me a shaky
little smirk when he saw the lube and condom. ‘So you were planning
to seduce me from the beginning?’ he quipped.
‘Always be prepared for every eventuality, remember?’
I responded, and gave him a warm smile of encouragement.
‘You’re such a boy scout,’ he said with
a theatrically exasperated sigh, but the hungry look he gave me put the
lie to his flippancy.
He was quiet for a moment, while I arranged things to my liking,
his eyes flicking about, following the movements of my hands. ‘I can’t
believe it was that easy,’ he finally muttered, his cheeks a little
‘You were just worrying at it too much,’ I soothed,
running a hand up and down his thigh. ‘Tonight is about feeling…
But then I was opening the tube of lubricant and he couldn’t
think of an answer.
I shivered at the mere thought of what I was preparing to
do and had to stop to lick at dry lips. It had been so long. So very damn
Automatically, he started to shift his leg as I moved in,
and I gave him a light tap on the hip. ‘Totally relaxed, remember?’
I chided, then hooked his good leg in the crook of my elbow and leaned in.
It was his turn to shiver.
When my fingers found their way under him, searching for his
entrance, he let out with a tremulous, ‘Oh Gods…’
I watched his erection twitch with the first brush of my fingers
and smiled up at him. ‘I think things still work.’
He let out an unsteady sound that was supposed to be a chuckle,
but didn’t try to tease back. It was taking all his concentration
not to tense up.
It wasn’t about foreplay this time. It wasn’t
about teasing my partner until he was begging for release. Neither of us
needed to be aroused any more than we already were. I didn’t leave
As gently as I could, mindful that it had been a very long
time since we’d come together like this, I began to press into his
Duo hissed, but remembered to bear down to help ease the passage.
I had to bite back on a groan as my finger sank into him.
I worked him, and stretched him, only having to remind him
once to relax, when I accidentally thrust in too far, hitting that spot
that usually drives him to bucking motion. He held himself still, but couldn’t
help tensing, and he let out with a desperate cry.
I stilled my hands until he’d settled, and he looked
up at me, wild-eyed. ‘I don’t think I can do this,’ he
told me bluntly.
‘Yes, you can,’ I soothed.
‘Heero… Gods… I need to move! I need to…’
‘No,’ I corrected, deciding that he was prepared
enough, and sliding out of him. ‘You want to move. There’s a
difference.’ He couldn’t contain a strangled little sound of
almost disappointment as he felt me leaving his body and I grinned at him.
‘Besides… do you really want me to stop?’
‘You’re a sadist,’ he growled, but I couldn’t
ignore the nervousness he was trying to mask.
‘You know I’ll stop the minute you tell me to,’
I said quietly and he gave me a nod to acknowledge he was listening, even
though his attention seemed to be completely on my hands as they opened
the condom and I began to put it on.
We don’t always bother with the things, but I would
not have him dealing with the… mess afterward. He didn’t need
that extra bit of stress.
He tried to find some level from which to tease with me. Tried
for that safe point, but the moment was just too intense, and even though
I saw him open his mouth to speak more than once, the words kept dying on
I leaned down and kissed him in that concave where hip joins
to body. ‘Love…it’s all in your head, you know that,’
I told him, breathing the words against his skin. ‘Things like wet-dreams
wouldn’t be possible, otherwise.’
I raised my head to smile reassuringly at him and thought
I would fall into his gaze. There was nothing in his expression beyond his
absolute belief in me… something I hadn’t seen there in a long
time; not like this. He wasn’t hiding anything from me. Trusting me
‘Please, Heero,’ he sighed, reaching to touch
my arm. ‘Take me now… just in case I can’t manage. I want
to feel you inside me… even if I can’t…’
I couldn’t speak for a moment around the lump in my
throat, and covered it with the last of my preparations. I draped a towel
pointedly over his stomach, there to catch his completion, just as though
there was no doubt we would need it. Then I spread the lube over my erection
and slid him into position. ‘Ready?’ I asked one last time and
got a sharp nod. I wanted to laugh at how serious we were being over something
we’d done a million times, but the mood would not have borne it.
Then I was sinking into that unbelievable tightness, forcing
my way into his heat, into his core, and I thought for a brief moment that
I would come right then and there.
He cried out, a desperate, exultant, unsteady sound, and I
heard my voice join his in incoherent counter-point.
Why do we need this so much? I don’t know. Maybe just
that when we come together in body, we can’t hide what’s in
the heart. Maybe because, for us, there just can’t be any walls when
we’re joined like this. It seems impossible for us to be anything
but completely open with each other. I just don’t know.
But we do need it. Desperately, sometimes. I need it, anyway…
I need him. And I think he feels the same.
I made that first penetration as slowly as I could manage,
careful as hell; the last thing on Earth I wanted to do was hurt him. But
watching his face, all I saw was a gentle kind of… joy. A look of
near relief, that let me almost believe that he really would be content
if we managed nothing more than that.
Feeling his body opening to me, clamping around me spasmodically
as he tried to relax, I didn’t think I could achieve that same contentment.
I had told him I would stop if he told me to, but in that moment I doubted
Desire was a heady, intoxicating thing at best. So long denied…
I felt like it would overwhelm me.
‘Damn,’ I groaned, voice harsh and twisted tight.
‘Duo… you’re so damn tight. Almost like our first time.’
He shivered at my words, sending a vibration through us that
had me seated fully in a sudden surge forward. I froze, but he gave me a
smile of encouragement.
‘You feel so good,’ he whispered, and I saw his
hands twitch, wanting to reach for me. If we’d been in our normal
position, he’d have long since grabbed my hips, pulling his body up
to meet mine. Deep inside him, my cock twitched at the memory.
I held very still then, and he might have thought I was waiting
for him to tell me he was ready, but it was as much for me to regain control
‘Heero,’ he called, voice bordering on pleading.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked though I hardly had to,
everything about him spoke to me of need, of hunger, of desire.
‘Yes,’ he replied… implored.
I could barely hear him over the sound of the blood pounding
in my ears.
I began a slow, almost languid roll of my hips, and he met
me with voice since he couldn’t meet me with his body. ‘Yes,’
he hissed, eyes falling closed and his head lolling to the side. ‘Don’t
stop… no matter what.’
‘You just… do your part,’ I told him, having
to struggle to maintain my watch over him. I let my hand slid up to caress
his ribs, guarding him.
I wondered where my control was coming from, because my own
body was on fire.
‘Oh Gods…’ he moaned. ‘More! Heero…
please!’ and it really was pleading this time.
‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ I growled, trying
to be gentle.
He thrashed his head back and forth, body needing motion…
needing action, but he did as I bade. Only moaning, deep-throated and erotic
sounding as hell.
It set my blood on fire. Seeing him spread out under me…
seeing his surrender… seeing his trust… his faith… his
need; my command over myself began to slip.
Slow and easy became something more.
‘It’s been so long,’ I think I told him,
feeling it cresting in me already. ‘Oh Gods, Duo…’
I was afraid of the passion that was flooding through me,
afraid and helpless before it. I knew I was long past being able to keep
an eye on Duo, and looked down to beg him in a voice not my own, ‘Baby…
don’t let me… please don’t…’
But his voice cut across mine and I knew I wasn’t leaving
him behind, ‘That’s it, Heero! Let go… Gods, yes!’
Then his words were just cries and I had to trust him to remember his part,
because I got lost in mine.
We came at almost the same time, the Gods only know how, voices
a primal chorus of screams and it was as intense as I’ve ever felt,
no matter how quickly it had ended. I swore I’d been turned wrong-side
out, and it was only knowing how badly I’d hurt Duo if I fell, that
kept me on my feet.
On the table, he was gasping and panting, but only looked
surprised… not in pain.
Not hurting. Not. I hadn’t…
His semen lay thick and starkly white on the dark colored
towel. I found myself mesmerized by it, as I almost absently folded the
towel in on itself, making sure he was clean. I wasn’t even aware
I was trembling until Duo reached for my hand as I lay the mess aside, calling
my name softly.
I met his finger tips with my own, touching gently, marveling
at him. At the things he could make me feel.
All through the years of our partnership, if there has been
one thing that has granted Duo the ability to give in to his emotions, it’s
been our love making.
It had been in the back of my mind all afternoon that he needed
that kind of release as much as he needed the physical kind. I’d been
anticipating breaking through to that hidden place he has where all the
I’d been anticipating tears.
But when the storm finally broke, when the walls cracked and
all the grief and fear and pain came bubbling out, the tears… were
There was a look on Duo’s face for a moment that was
pure shock, but it was quickly gone, replaced with something that was sharp
and focused and not to be identified in the shape I was in. ‘Up.’
he said, holding out his hand towards me, and when I was slow to comply,
he demanded, ‘Up!’
I got my hands under him, helping him sit up, and though I’d
had some vague thought of cradling him to me… instead, was quickly
buried against him. Sitting on the table, he had just enough height that
he got his arms around my neck and I found myself sobbing brokenly in the
shelter of his embrace.
‘That’s it,’ he breathed, raining kisses
on the side of my face as he rocked us gently to and fro. ‘Let it
go. Let it all out. I’ve got you…. I’m here. Gods, I knew
you were in there somewhere… It’s ok… it’s all ok…’
I couldn’t get words out, didn’t even know what
in the hell to say to him. Could do nothing but tremble and weep for all
the pain that I hadn’t been able to stop… for all the suffering
I hadn’t been able to bear for him… for all the struggling I
had only been able to watch.
For how near I had come to losing him.
‘I’m right here, love,’ Duo whispered between
those desperate kisses, somehow understanding even more than I did. ‘I’m
here and I’ve got you and I’m not going anywhere.’
Somewhere deep down inside, I was appalled at my inability
to do more than cling to him. But he held me strong and fast and all the
needs I’d been pushing aside for so long, just wouldn’t be denied
any more. I was helpless in the grip of it; and for a very long while there
was nothing in my world but the heartache, and the solid feel of Duo sheltering
me from it.
I became aware of Duo’s legs, trembling with fatigue
and I tried to pull away, to get myself under control. ‘I’m
so sorry…’ I murmured, the first words I’d managed in
a while, and it got me growled at.
‘Don’t you dare, Yuy,’ he snapped. ‘Don’t
you shut yourself away from me.’
‘You’re shaking,’ I pointed out, though
I doubt he needed me to.
‘So what?’ he replied. ‘You just blew every
neural circuit I own. So I’m shaky, it doesn’t mean I’m
not right here for you.’
I laughed, or I tried to; it only bubbled up for a second
before exploding in another round of helpless sobs. ‘I love you so
much,’ I had to tell him.
‘Can you pick me up?’ he suddenly asked, and I
nodded. ‘Then take us to bed.’
I don’t remember him cleaning me up. Hell; I can’t
even remember when I pulled out of him. Or where the damn condom wound up.
I was just aware of the feel of him in my arms; his weight and the way his
arms felt around my neck.
I don’t really even remember the climb up the stairs.
I just remember being tucked into the warmth of the bed, where
we curled up together, and then just the sound of Duo’s voice whispering
me to sleep. I just let go. I couldn’t recall the last time I had
slept so deeply without drugs being involved.
It was the first glow of dawn that woke me, and I blinked
my eyes open to find my head pillowed on Duo’s shoulder, his arm curled
around me. There was a moment of utter contentment before senses and memory
engaged and I tensed, meaning to get the hell off him, terrified that I’d
‘Move and die, Yuy,’ a gravely voice told me.
‘It took me twenty minutes to get us settled so nothing hurts.’
I froze. ‘You sure?’
‘Positive,’ he said firmly and I dared a glance
to find him lying with his free arm thrown wide, and a slightly pleased
look on his face.
There was nothing about him that looked uncomfortable, so
I laid my head back down and let myself relax back against him.
‘Good boy,’ he mumbled, voice drifting somewhere
between sleepy and teasing.
‘Duo…’ I began and got hushed almost immediately.
‘Do not apologize,’ he instructed, as calmly as
if he were reading off the grocery list. ‘Do not tell me you are remorseful.
Do not tell me you are sorry. Do not ask me if I am ok. Do not ask if you
hurt me. Do not tell me to rest or to eat or to sit down.’
I blinked and thought about it; he hadn’t left me a
lot of options. So I ventured, ‘Is it ok to tell you I love you?’
He lay as though pondering it. ‘I suppose that fits
the criteria. Assuming you can do it without moving.’
A glance up told me he still hadn’t opened his eyes.
‘Are you sure you’re… comfortable?’ I asked and
saw his lips twitch just a bit.
‘Perfectly,’ he replied.
I shifted a tiny bit closer and breathed, ‘Me too.’
‘Then just rest, love,’ he told me softly, the
teasing tone gone. ‘It’s your turn.’
‘What?’ I asked, and this time when I looked up,
his eyes were open and he was watching me.
‘You’ve been on point for months, Heero,’
he said, sounding wistful. ‘It’s ok to stand down.’
‘I haven’t…’ I said, but he cut me
‘You have,’ he chided, voice a little sad. ‘All
I have to do is sigh at night to bring you out of a sound sleep. You’ve
been on a hair trigger since… that night, and this can’t go
on. I thought you’d get over it when the cast came off. I thought…’
‘I don’t think I can ever get over this,’
I blurted, taken aback at how much my voice wavered. We were both quiet
then, and I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised by my words.
Duo’s free hand came to stroke over my hair and I closed my eyes.
‘That night… when we finally found what was left of Misty’s
house… when I thought that you… when…’
Duo turned, gently kissing my forehead, and I took a breath
while he waited for me.
‘My whole world turned to glass,’ I told him then.
‘I thought… I would shatter.’
‘I know,’ he sighed, and just kept running his
fingers through my hair. ‘I know, love… I know.’
I thought about standing in the middle of that emergency room
while they wheeled him away from me and when my mouth opened next, it seemed
someone else was speaking. ‘You… promised me we’d always
He completely ignored the hint of accusation in it, the note
of hysteria, only hooking his hand behind my neck and holding me tight against
him. ‘And I’m here, aren’t I?’
It was a stupid thing for me to have said. Childish. Just…
stupid. So don’t ask me why his calm answer made the tears threaten
to well up in my eyes again.
‘You’ll always be here?’ I whispered, feeling
the utter fool, but sometimes I just have to hear it.
‘Until all the world’s oceans are dried and gone,’
he said, and though the words were ridiculous, the tone was full of love.
‘And there’s no one left but you and me, and we’ll build
sand castles out of what’s left.’
I snorted softly because anything more than that would have
turned into something else entirely. Something I was ready to be done with.
‘You’ll forget the damn shovel and then where will we be?’
I tried, and though it fell a little flat in my own ears, Duo chuckled for
‘There’s my Heero,’ he whispered against
my hair, and we got quiet for a bit. Long enough that listening to the sound
of his steady heartbeat under my ear started making me drowsy. I roused
up when he spoke again. ‘Do you remember how we used to lay around
in bed together in the mornings, after we first moved into our apartment?’
I hummed an affirmative and couldn’t help smiling at
‘This reminds me of those times,’ he sighed, and
I wasn’t sure if it was a wistful sound or an amused one.
‘Why don’t we do that any more?’ I asked.
‘Guess we grew into responsible adults,’ he chuckled.
‘It seemed so… self-indulgent.’
I twisted to look up at him. ‘Sometimes indulgent is
ok… don’t you think?’
‘Sometimes,’ he agreed and there was something
in his voice that was just so assured… so strong, that I was taken
back in time, and I shivered at the memories.
‘You know,’ I ventured. ‘I don’t suppose
it would kill me to skip getting up and running one day a week… if
‘I would like that very much,’ he replied, and
smiling, kissed my forehead again.
I lifted my head to meet his gaze, letting the teasing slide
away. ‘Duo, I…’ I began, but hesitated, thinking about
his list of forbidden subjects.
He gave me a mock-glare for a moment, before relenting and
telling me, ‘It’s ok… go ahead.’
‘I just feel like a total idiot,’ I blurted out,
needing to get it said. ‘I’m just so sorry; I don’t know
what came over me…’
He cupped my face in his hand, and rubbed his thumb across
my cheek. ‘Heero, you’ve been shoving your own needs away for
too long. You’ve been putting me first… and you haven’t
given yourself the time to heal…’
‘I’m not the one who was hurt!’ I said,
frowning up at him.
His smile then held more sadness then mirth. ‘Yes you
were, love, and don’t try to tell me otherwise. Every wound on my
body, was a wound on your heart… I know how you are.’
I couldn’t have denied it without breaking down again,
so I just shut up and laid my head back on his shoulder, closing my eyes
and trying not to think about much of anything.
‘It’s time you stopped worrying about me,’
Duo scolded gently. ‘And started taking care of yourself.’
‘You… needed me,’ I said stubbornly.
‘I did… I do… and I always will,’
he agreed, then quite suddenly, ‘We’re going back to work when
we get home, Heero.’
‘I don’t know…’ I objected, but he
stopped me with a sigh.
‘I do know,’ I was informed. ‘It was completely
unnecessary for you to take off too, Heero; you could have gone back a month
‘I… couldn’t leave you,’ I said flatly,
feeling something in my chest drawing up tight.
‘I was capable of taking care of myself,’ he told
me, though his voice was a little tired sounding. Like he was weary of the
‘You don’t understand,’ I whispered. ‘I
couldn’t leave you.’
He got very still then… not just quiet, but absolutely
still. When I chanced a look up at him, there was this bastard mix of joy
and pain in his eyes that made me rise up to look down at him.
‘What is it, love?’ I questioned gently.
He swallowed and reached to trace a finger along my jaw. ‘Just…’
he began, and faltered on the words for a moment. ‘Sometimes…
sometimes it’s just nice to hear that you need me too.’
‘Always have,’ I echoed. ‘Always will.’
It made him smile.
‘Lay back down,’ he commanded gruffly. ‘I’m
It made me think, and I curled an arm around his hips, daring
quietly, ‘You were cold when you came back from your walk last night.’
I could hear the puzzled frown in his voice as he replied,
‘It got cold when the sun started to go down.’
‘It wasn’t because… you were wet?’
I tried again, but I wasn’t hearing anything in his voice that made
me think he was evading me.
‘I suppose that was part of it,’ he said, sounding
a little confused. ‘My hair was still wet when I went out.’
I picked over words, not wanting to accuse, but suddenly needing
to know just what he’d done while he’d been out of my sight.
I took so long choosing my approach that he prodded at me.
‘You’re getting all introspective, Yuy,’
he grumbled. ‘What’s going on in that head of yours?’
I sighed. ‘I just… I was a little surprised that
your hair was still that damp is all.’
Sometimes when Duo thinks, it’s almost a physical process.
I felt him let out a heavy breath and knew he was getting exasperated with
me. For a moment, there was nothing but the steady play of his fingertips
over my back, but then he stilled and I felt him tense a little. ‘What
in the hell do you think I did?’ he asked then, voice dancing right
on the edge of pissed off.
‘Please don’t be angry with me,’ I implored,
feeling like I just couldn’t handle that right then. ‘I just
wasn’t sure… You were so upset with me, I thought maybe…’
‘You thought I went up to the ridge and jumped off the
damn cliff,’ he finished for me and suddenly, it sounded kind of…
‘You just seemed so… depressed about it when I
wouldn’t go along with the idea,’ I said and hoped it didn’t
come out as defensive as it sounded in my own ears.
There was a bit of a pause and then he snorted. ‘I think
I resent that you take me for a moron.’
It finally made me raise my head and look at him. I was relieved
to find an odd little quirk of a grin on his face. ‘Never,’
I told him vehemently, and it made that grin soften.
‘I didn’t, Heero,’ he told me, brushing
my hair aside and meeting my gaze head on. ‘I swear it. I’ll
admit to having the urge the other day, but I’m not stupid enough
to go out alone and do something that reckless.’
I have no idea what possessed me to say what I did next, but
when my mouth opened, ‘Do you want to go up there together?’
was what popped out.
I don’t know which was the better reward; the shocked
look that overtook him first, or the pleased one that quickly replaced it.
‘Nah,’ he said dismissively, letting his fingers trail over
my face. ‘I really just don’t feel the need to anymore.’
I laid my head back down, nuzzling gently into his shoulder,
and hoped he hadn’t caught the relief on my face. His chuckle let
me know he had.
‘Hey,’ he said after a moment. ‘Are you
about ready to go home?’
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Are you?’
‘I think so,’ he said, sounding a bit sheepish.
‘I think I’m a little home sick.’
I tilted my head and our gazes locked for a moment. I smiled
and he smiled back and neither of us had to say a word about the days when
we hadn’t known what home sick was.
‘When do you want to leave?’ I asked carefully,
mindful of the mood, but his sheepish look turned into a bit of a grin.
‘How about tomorrow morning?’ he suggested, and
there was a hint of something… indulgent, in his voice.
‘We could still leave today, if you’d like,’
I replied, not sure of what he was thinking.
He leaned in to kiss the end of my nose and grinned wider.
‘I want another go at that hot tub first.’
‘Oh, you do, do you?’ I teased and twisted to
look up at him.
But then his tone changed and his voice was suddenly a husky
purr near my ear. ‘Yeah… and maybe that table too.’
‘Not a problem,’ I agreed, and rose up so that
I could lean down to kiss him.
Like I meant it. Very much like I meant it.
And for the first time in a very long time, there was no hesitation
in his response.
‘Or,’ he whispered, when I drew away. ‘Maybe
the day after…’
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