Warnings : Yaoi, sappy angst, OOC, Heero POV, language and some citrus
of the strange variety. This is a direct sequel to the 'Road Trip' series.
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 his eyes.
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 about.
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
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 doubted
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 too painful.
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
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
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
‘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
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 of money.’
‘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
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
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 room.
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... nurturing again.’
I quirked him a grin. ‘We’re on vacation. We’re supposed to be trying
‘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 it.’
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
‘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 at me.
‘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
‘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 near here?’
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 point.’
‘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 him.
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 yet.’
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
‘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 me alone.’
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 we’re apart.’
‘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
‘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
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
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
‘Don’t start, Maxwell,’ I warned him, leaning through the doorway to set
the cooler down. ‘You’re spoiling the mood.’
‘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 sigh.
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
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
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
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 him.
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 more.
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 charity.
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 beside me.
‘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
‘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’ that time!’
‘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 asked.
‘What do you mean?’ he said, tilting his head just a bit, to look up at
‘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 got quiet.
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
‘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
‘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 for dinner.
‘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
‘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.