Author: Sunhawk

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.

Getting Away

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 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 doubted me.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

‘Ok Mama-Yuy.’

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 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 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’ 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 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 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 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 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 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.

[cont]