To Build a Fire by Cassima
Series: Part 2 in the "Survival" Trilogy; sequel to "Absolute Zero".
Disclaimer: If I owned them, I'd be much happier.
Warnings: Hello, yes, yaoi here. Also, a bit limey towards the end, depressing imagery, and an overuse of the word "cold". And, basically, the idea of it being "cold". This was going to be a lemon, but my muse said no.
Summary: Duo can't get warm.
Pairings: 1x5, 3x4, 3x4+2, 2+5, 1x2x5
Notes on the story itself: II. TO BUILD A FIRE: Before this was a fanfic by Cassima, it was the title of a story by Jack London, the author of Call of the Wild. A depressing story, the title nevertheless stuck in my mind. Thanks, Jack, and I mean no plagiarism.

I'm warning you,
Don't ever do
Those crazy, messed-up
Things that you do.
If you ever do,
I promise you
I'll be the first to crucify you.

-- "Call and Answer", Barenaked Ladies


To Build a Fire + Part 1

"Q, we're going to be here for two weeks?" Duo's incredulous voice broke the startled silence. "No offense, man, but are you insane?!?"

Quatre tried to stay on the bright side. "It's not so bad, Duo," he said. "It's, um, cozy. And Oz'll never find us here."

"It's a deathtrap," Duo protested. "It's, like, 30 below out here!"

"That's why we have the cabin, baka," Heero said with a glare.

"Don't be such an idiot, Maxwell," Wufei told him haughtily. "It has multiple rooms, electricity, and running water."

"And, look at the fireplace!" Quatre cheered. "Perfect for cuddling!"

Duo rolled his eyes. "I think I'm getting a touch of Quatre's Uchuu no kokoro; I can see exactly how much fun these two weeks are going to be."

"Quit whining, Maxwell, and help carry in the groceries." Heero handed him a few large sacks and pushed him towards the door to the cabin.

"Just make sure someone brings my bag in soon," Duo called back grumpily. His medication was in there, and if it froze, he was certain to have another relapse before it was time to leave. Murphy's Law demanded it. Great. Wonderful. Fuckin' terrific. Two weeks, locked up in an icy cabin with two pairs of lovers. God had most assuredly sent him to hell, where it snowed all the time and there was no fucking central heating.

Damn it.

Sure, yes, very romantic, Quatre. Thanks for the good sell. All Duo needed right now was for Heero and Wufei to get all gooey and mushy on him.

Their romance was strange enough without Heero reciting poetry, and Duo still wasn't quite sure how they'd gotten together. His memories of that time period were fuzzy at best; he remembered quite a lot of pain followed by some nice, black darkness, all overlaid by an overwhelming sense of cold. It was the cold he remembered best; it had filled him, consumed him until he couldn't think of anything but the ice in his lungs...

He shivered and busied himself with putting the groceries away. The cold outside made him cough, despite the thick scarf wrapped around his throat, mouth, and nose, and when the coughing started, the others always took great joy in fretting over him. It was like a competition of Olympic proportions: which of them could annoy Duo the most the fastest. So far, Quatre and his mother-hennish clucking was winning, though Heero's glaring as he tried to do anything came in a close second.

And then they always went off together and left him alone.

Trowa silently deposited a few more bags filled with food next to Duo, indicating that he should put them away, before slipping back out into the cold.

Ironically, Duo loved snow. He loved it dry and powdery, he loved it soft and wet, he even loved it when it was too hard to do anything with. He even loved how clean it looked, and how it sparkled, and how tiny snowflake patterns got frozen onto the windshield during the night. They hadn't had snow on L2; they'd had a lot of dirt, yes, but no snow. There hadn't been any snowmen, or snow forts, or snowball fights, or snow angels, and he supposed it was a good thing they hadn't had to dress for the elements--it made living on the street a heck of a lot easier in that respect.

As he stacked the large canister of oatmeal in the back of the cupboard next to the box of rice cereal--so many dehydrated foods, so little time!--he pulled his muffler a little tighter around his face and sighed. Even though Sally hadn't expressly forbidden it, she had put "playing in the snow" on his list of Stupid Things To Do. It could be years before he recovered enough to do anything like that.

He wondered what was taking everyone so long; Quatre'd been complaining about the cold, himself, earlier, and Wufei and Heero were always fond of getting things in order as quickly as possible. It seemed odd that no one else seemed to be in the house. As he left the kitchen and headed towards the front door, he could hear sounds of laughter coming from outside. Duo looked out from the doorway at the impromptu snowball fight and debated the pros and cons of joining in. He might get sick--but, then again, he might not.

"Having fun without me?" he called to them, leaning against the doorframe. "You're just lucky the Shinigami's feeling kindly today, and doesn't feel like coming out and whooping your ass!" It wouldn't do to push Lady Luck, not in this climate.

Quatre grinned at him. "Come out and join us, Duo!"

"Baka!" Heero snapped at that, shaking the snow out of his hair. "He can't, remember?"

"Heero's such a crab," Duo told Quatre archly with a wink, trying to dispel the disappointment on the blond's face. "Stuff some snow down his shorts for me, woncha?"

"Maxwell!" Heero protested.

"We need to bring some more wood in," Trowa said. "For the fireplace."

"Is there anything left in the car?" Duo asked Heero.

"Wufei and I can get the rest of it. Trowa'll get the wood; you and Quatre work on cleaning up the house a bit."

"Okay," Quatre agreed amiably, and joined Duo in the house. "I'm sorry," he said, now that they were alone. "I didn't mean--"

"Don't worry about it, Q," Duo replied with a warm glance. "I know you didn't."

"Are you feeling okay?" Quatre asked, really beginning to feel guilty. "You're not too cold, are you?"

"Quatre, it's fuckin' freezing! Of course I'm cold!" he rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine later. Don't worry about it."

"Are you sure?" Quatre asked worriedly.

"Would I lie to you?"

Quatre finally smiled. "Yes, you're right, Duo. Let's get rid of the dust covers!" They went around the room, pulling the sheets off the furniture carefully so the dust didn't fly everywhere.

+

"Hey, did you know there are only two bedrooms?" Duo casually asked the group.

Wufei blinked. "What?"

"One bed a piece," Duo said with a nod. "Guess it's a good thing this couch is so comfortable, ne? I wouldn't want to wake up with a stiff back."

Trowa added another log to the slowly-growing fire, but didn't say anything.

"I'm sorry," Quatre said, large-eyed. "I didn't realize--"

"Don't worry about it, Q," Duo said, trying to stop a new round of fussing and clucking. "Just don't wear out my couch."

"Hn. Thanks," Heero said from the desk where he'd set up his laptop. Duo hid a smile; trouble in paradise? For lovers, Heero and Wufei hardly spent any time together, and barely touched. It hardly seemed that their relationship had changed at all since they'd started sleeping together.

But then, maybe that was just the kind of people Wu and Heero were.

"I will start dinner," Wufei declared, setting his book aside.

"I'll help!" Duo cried, eager for something to do. Wufei sent him a leery look that had nothing to do with the state of Duo's health. "Oi!" he cried, as if stung. "I'll do only what you tell me! No improvising this time, I promise!"

"You better," the Chinese boy warned, and allowed Duo to follow him into the kitchen.

Duo liked to do things with Wufei; he rarely treated Duo like glass, and, although he crabbed and tended to expound on virtues and morals, he had an amazing patience. It seemed it was only when Duo slacked off that he got especially snappish, because he was willing to explain when Duo seemed sincerely confused or lost. "We have to cook the fresh vegetables as soon as possible," Wufei told Duo after they'd washed their hands."Get out the carrots. You know what those are, right?"

"Orange and pointy, right?" Duo brought out the bag. Yes, he knew what carrots were. He wasn't a complete doofus in the kitchen.

"That's right. I'll prepare the meat, you peel and wash the carrots. Don't peel them too thick, though."

"Yeah, yeah. What are we making?" Duo began to carefully slice off the outer skin, making sure not to take off too much.

"Vegetable beef stew." Wufei's hands moved quickly with the knife on the cut of meat, and Duo whistled his appreciation. "Maxwell! Eyes on the knife!"

"Right." Duo concentrated on not nicking himself with the sharp blade. Knives ordinarily posed no danger to him, but he didn't have a large amount of experience in peeling.

When he had finished three-quarters of his stack, Wufei told him, "That's good. Now cut off the tip and the top." He demonstrated for Duo. "Just like that."

Duo began to talk idly about the cabin and the way the wind sounded on the walls and roof. He finished with the carrots, and Wufei put him to work chopping tomatoes, still chatting away.

"Maxwell, do you ever stop talking?" Wufei asked him once when he paused for breath.

"Not usually," he cheerfully replied, and continued his rhetoric on the landscape.

When they had thrown everything into the pot and put the pot on the stove, Wufei insisted they clean up the kitchen ("You wanted to help, Maxwell, you stay and finish the job!").

Duo just hoped he hadn't somehow ruined dinner again. He remembered, back to the first time he'd tried to make food...

+

<flashback>

"I'm hungry..." he whined. In agreement, his stomach rumbled a bit.

The three pilots chose to ignore him.

"I'm hungry..." the boy looked around, searching for the target most likely to help him. "Wu, will you make me lunch?"

The Chinese pilot rolled his eyes. "Make it yourself, Maxwell. I'm not your servant."

"But, Wu..."

"We're busy, Maxwell," Heero said from the other side of the room, not looking up from his computer. "Make yourself your own damn food for once."

Duo frowned for a moment, biting his lip, before nodding once and turning to find the kitchen.

Half an hour later, Wufei had the urge for an apple. They'd picked them up the other day on the drive to this safe house Trowa'd found them; wind fallen, they were lying on the ground, and the boys could hardly turn down free food. Though slightly bruised, they were still crunchy and tart, and well worth eating, dispite the occasional brown spot. Putting his book aside for the moment, he left the cabin and headed for the kitchen next door, already imagining the sweet taste of the fruit.

When he entered the room, however, all thoughts of apples flew momentarily from his head. Smoke was trickling out of a pot on the stove. Measuring cups and spoons lay messily all over the counter, along with a half-used stick of butter, water slopped everywhere, and powdered cheese. Duo was rummaging through one of the drawers, looking for something.

"Maxwell, what the hell are you doing?" Wufei demanded, and marched over to the stove to turn it off. Daring to look inside the pot--what could the idiot have possibly been making?--he found the crispy, un-appetizing remains of noodles plastered to the bottom. "This is disgusting! Look at the mess you made!" He picked up the pot and showed it to Duo. "How stupid do you get?"

Duo frowned. "I followed the directions on the package..." At Wufei's skeptical look, he amended that statement. "Well, okay, so I was hungry! I just figured, 20 minutes on low heat, so that's, like, eight to ten at high, right?"

"Are you just an idiot, or do you have to work to be so inept?" Wufei asked coolly.

"Well, excuse me, Mr. Perfect, but I've never done this before!"

"You've never boiled water?" Wufei tossed the pot into the sink and crossed his arms.

"I've never even had a kitchen!" Duo yelled.

"What?"

"...never mind," Duo responded, whipping around and wiping cheese powder off his face with a cheese powder-covered hand.

"Maxwell..." Wufei warned.

"I ate out of garbage cans for most of my life," Duo responded sullenly, to mask the hurt. "And the rest of the time, at schools 'n' the orphanage 'n' at the bases, all I had to do was go to the cafeteria." He turned, angry and embarrassed. "So, excuse me if I can't do it right! It's not like I didn't ask for help!"

"You could have said you didn't know how," Wufei said quietly.

"Wouldya have believed me?" Duo asked. "Besides, I didn't think it was that hard. I mean, all you hafta do is follow the directions on the package, right? Even an idiot can do that, right?"

Wufei sighed. "Tell you what, Maxwell. I'll help you clean up the kitchen, and then you and I will find something for you to eat. Okay?"

"Really?" Duo looked at him hopefully for a moment before jumping on him and giving him a big hug. "You're the greatest, Wu!"

"Hn," Wufei replied, squirming a little. "Don't mangle my name, Maxwell. And, promise me one thing."

"What's that?" Duo asked, complying to Wufei's struggling and pulling back from the hug.

"You are not to cook without supervision."

<end flashback>

+

That night, while lying on the couch, Duo frowned and stared at the ceiling. Heero and Wufei had long since retired to their room, as well as Quatre and Trowa, leaving Duo all alone in the still-warming room on his lonely couch in front of the fire. It became evident to him in only twenty minutes lying there that there was no way in the heat of all that was hell that he was going to be warm enough to sleep that night.

He moved the couch closer to the fire and pulled the blankets up as far as he could without losing them over his feet. Unfortunately, now he was too cold on the side away from the fire, and too warm on the fire-side. He sighed. Sometimes it was hard living with four boys who were involved. He loved them all, even Trowa and Wufei; they were his family for now, and, though they might not always appreciate him, he liked them all as people. But, still, they weren't easy to live with. He saw their happiness and felt empty and isolated, and somehow strongly reminded of all he'd loved and lost.

His thoughts strayed to Heero. He'd thought, a few months ago, that maybe they had some chemistry, that maybe Heero might have been attracted to him. Hell, Duo'd fallen hard; why else would he have spent so many countless hours pulling and pushing against Captain Trigger Happy's locked shields and rather violent defense mechanisms? To say he'd been--surprised--to wake up from his sudden illness to find Heero and Wufei an obvious item would be an understatement of grandiose proportions. If he closed his eyes, he could almost feel Heero's hand on his cheek...

The Japanese boy seemed fairly happy with Wufei, though. Well, as happy as Heero could get. They apparently had good sex; the walls were thin, and the pillows Duo pulled over his head didn't dampen as much sound as he would have liked.

Quatre and Trowa didn't help much. They were just so--happy. It was disgusting. They never fought, never got tired of each other, never bothered each other. Trowa practically worshipped the ground Quatre deigned to trod, and Quatre wasn't much better.

His friends had so much happiness, and all he had was death.

That wasn't true. He had his chronic lung infections. Whoo-hoo, break out the piñata.

He glanced over to the bag sitting over on the desk, rather ominous to his eyes. Sally had given all the pilots lessons on how to take care of him in case he had a serious relapse and couldn't medicate himself, but so far only Quatre had needed to lend him a hand--for which he was sincerely grateful. He didn't need Wufei's cutting remarks when the cold came creeping over him, or Heero's haughty glare, or Trowa's mechanical sympathy. It always started in his hands and feet as a general coolness changing to numbness. His nose went next, cold like a dog's. When he felt it spreading through his back, he knew it would only be a short matter of time before the shaking and sweats started, before it became harder and harder to breathe.

With a sigh, he wrapped the blankets more tightly around him. He didn't need this crap. He really didn't. He wasn't going to think about it; he was going to close his eyes and relax all his muscles, and fall asleep. He wasn't going to think about the cold.

He wasn't going to think about the ice.

+

He managed to doze despite the cold, but couldn't quite fall into a restful sleep. When a door opened and Quatre came out, he sighed in reluctant acceptance.

"Duo," the quiet boy said softly. "Please come share the bed with Trowa and me. It'll keep you warm."

"I'm fine, Q," Duo mumbled, though his shivers hardly made his words convincing.

"Come on, Duo," Quatre said, pulling him up from the cushions. "It'll be like a slumber party."

Duo sighed and allowed himself to be pulled up, albeit reluctantly. He didn't want to get sick again, and didn't want to upset Quatre...

He followed the blond into the room he shared with Trowa, and Quatre pulled back the covers and slithered over to Trowa. "Climb in."

Duo did so rather uncomfortably. Exactly how many fantasies had he had involving sharing a bed with two people in love with each other? Exactly none, that's how many. Trowa and Quatre whispered to each other lovingly in the darkness, and Duo felt even more like an intruder.

Throughout the night, he lay there, listening to the gentle breathing of the two entwined lovers as they slept. He wasn't comfortable, despite their warmth--or maybe because of it. Their love only reiterated how alone he was... how lonely.

Did they remember what it was like to be alone?

He slept only fitfully that night, and slipped silently out of the room before daybreak, so they could have some private time together in the morning.

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