‘Here,’ I gestured, pointing
out where he could step and where there was a place to sit. He stepped
gingerly down into the water, taking the hand I raised for support as
he found his way into the curve of the seat.
‘Shit,’ he muttered as he sank down into the water until it was damn near
lapping at his chin. ‘Think we could talk the landlord into installing
one of these?’
‘Somehow, I doubt it,’ I chuckled, inordinately pleased with his reaction.
‘Think this is what it feels like to be a lobster?’ he grinned, experimenting
with positions until he suddenly let out with a deep-throated groan.
‘Feel good?’ I murmured, and was rather proud of the fact that there wasn’t
a trace of smugness in it.
‘I’m sleeping in here tonight,’ he informed me, a rueful little grin on
I snorted and shook my head at him, though he didn’t see it since his
eyes were already closed. If I’d had any doubts about the decision to
upgrade to the larger cabin... I lost them in that moment.
We soaked. We washed each others hair. We soaked some more. We looked
like prunes, but I didn’t care. By the time we finally climbed out, Duo
truly did look like he could have fallen asleep right there in the water.
He was mellow and agreeable, taking a pain pill without protest and sitting
contentedly as I combed and braided his hair.
It was a very companionable end to the day. When we climbed into bed together
and he settled against me, all I got was a distracted ‘uh-huh’ when I
told him I loved him. He was asleep almost before I had the blankets settled
around us. I fell asleep with the scent of his sandalwood shampoo teasing
at my senses, and wondering about the possibilities of finding a new apartment
that actually did have a hot tub.
I should probably have paid more attention to the weather report; the
storm might not have gotten to me quite so much if I’d realized it was
coming. It blew in around midnight and we’d been in bed long enough that
I was rather soundly asleep.
The noises got inside my head before they truly woke me, messing with
my dreams, messing with my fears. We hadn’t been through any major bad
weather since... that night. I suppose that somewhere inside I’d known
that those sounds, when they finally came, were going to wreck havoc with
my nightmares, but I’d never really wanted to think about it.
When I started awake to the sound of thunder, it was with a lightening
strobed image of Duo beside me in the cockpit of a Leer jet, impaled by
the pilot’s yoke, and Wufei’s voice echoing in my ears... ‘What the
hell is going on here?’
I managed not to cry out. I managed not to throw the covers off and run
my hands all over Duo’s body to assure myself that he was whole and alive.
I managed not to gather him to me and weep.
Outside, the rain poured down and the thunder grumbled. The eyes of the
fish on the wall flared in the sporadic light and it made me shiver.
Beside me, Duo slept like a baby. He’d rolled away in his sleep, and was
curled on his side of the bed, completely undisturbed by either my nightmare
or the storm.
I thanked the Gods at the same time that I ached for him to roll over
and wrap me in his arms. I contented myself with just sitting there, in
the middle of the bed, and listening to him breathe.
While the rain sounded steady enough, the storm itself seemed to have
passed over us. I could still hear the thunder, and see the occasional
flash of lightening, but it was distant, and I marveled that Duo had slept
through the damn thing.
I was glad.
By the time the undeniable reality of Duo’s safety finally made the nightmare
images fade a little, it was obvious as hell that I wasn’t going back
to sleep. I decided that there really wasn’t much point in trying. If
I stayed in bed, I was only going to end up tossing and turning until
I woke Duo up too. He was sleeping the deepest sleep I’d seen him manage
in a long damn time, and I would not disturb him if I could keep from
it. He needed that sleep.
So somewhere around one in the morning, I slipped from bed and padded
down the wide stairway, guided by the glow of the tiny safety lights in
the treads. I snagged one of the many afghans as I walked through the
living room, wrapping myself in it, and went to the kitchen to fetch a
bottle of water. Then I took myself back to the living room to settle
on the couch to wait for morning.
The fire had long since died down, and while I would have more than welcomed
its light and heat, I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t wake Duo while trying
to get it going again, so I forgot it.
I would have wondered about the nightmare if I hadn’t been trying so hard
not to think about it. It had been weeks since I’d had a really bad night.
I did wonder, almost idly, if the storm had brought it on... or if it
had been seeing Duo fall.
Over my head, the dead eyes of the deer glinted eerily in the dim light.
Glass eyes, I had to remind myself. Not dead... glass. I shivered
and wished Duo awake.
I sighed, and had to shake my head at my own damn neediness. I sipped
at the water and reminded myself that Duo needed his rest. It had only
been a stupid dream after all, and I had already shaken it off. As long
as I didn’t sit with my eyes closed too long. As long as I didn’t... think
Duo couldn’t do a damn thing about a nightmare that was already over.
No sense both of us being up all night.
It had been a good day. Maybe not completely perfect, maybe not without
its bad moments... but it had been a good day all the same. I thought
back over it, making it a shield against the images that wouldn’t quite
completely leave me alone. In the distance, thunder rumbled low and hollow
sounding. I shivered and pulled the afghan higher on my shoulders, concentrating
on the memory of Duo’s laughter... of the feel of his arms tight around
In the distance, there was a flash of lightening so bright that I saw
it before my eyes for long minutes after it was gone. Its after-image
glowing a dark purple against the blink of my eyelids. Within a heartbeat,
the cabin was plunged into total darkness and I understood that somewhere
out in those mountains, a transformer had been struck.
Without thinking, I counted as I waited for the thunder that would follow,
and wasn’t too surprised when I made it all the way to eight. It was one
of those great waves of thunder, not one of the sudden claps. It seemed
to build as it rolled over the cabin, and it rattled the windows before
it faded away.
It seemed the last gasp of the storm, a final act of defiance, and then
it grew quiet.
I blinked for several long moments, seeing that fork of light before my
eyes and not much else. It was... unbelievably dark. It was rather disconcerting
just how pitch black it was. I guess I’d grown rather used to city life,
where you were never truly without light at any time of the day or night.
I could not see my own hand in front of my face. I had to smile to myself,
thinking that I wished I’d not foregone the fire after all.
There was a sound in the darkness, faint and distant. So slight a sound
that I held my breath trying to hear it. I thought of wounded animals.
I thought of something lost in that total darkness. It came again, a quavering,
hesitant sound that sent a chill up my spine. I tilted my head, trying
to catch where it was coming from, and it grew a bit bolder. A bit more
‘H... Heero?’ Duo’s voice was such a thin sounding thing that I’m afraid
I was up and moving before I even thought to call out to him. Ages old
training took me unerringly across the room and up the stairs, memory
guiding my feet, and instinct making me run.
‘Here!’ I called finally, from half-way up the stairs. ‘I’m coming.’ I
could hear him almost gasping for breath before I even made it to the
‘Heero!’ he called again, his voice stronger, but his panic escalating
and I cursed myself for leaving him alone. If the sound of thunder brought
nightmares for me... what in the hell would it have brought for him?
‘I’m here,’ I called to him, finding my way across the bedroom to his
side. ‘It’s ok, love... I’m here.’
I almost didn’t have to reach out for him; he found the sound of my voice
when I drew near enough, and had hold of me instantly.
‘Oh Gods, Heero...’ he panted, and I dropped to the bed beside him, taking
him into my arms as best I could.
‘It’s ok,’ I soothed. ‘Just a nightmare...’
‘No!’ he choked out. ‘I... shit, Heero... I...’
He was shaking and obviously disorientated as hell, probably having trouble
pulling himself out of the nightmare, and I tried again, bringing his
head to rest against my shoulder and stoking my hand over his hair. ‘You’re
ok, baby, the storm...’
He wasn’t even listening to me, and I wondered idly if there would be
bruises on my arms from where he was holding on to me so tightly. ‘Damn
it,’ he said, cutting across my reassurances in a voice that was nothing
more than a croaked whisper. ‘It’s not that... Heero... I can’t... I can’t
Sometimes I amaze myself with how damn dense I can be.
‘No, love,’ I blurted. ‘It’s not you; it’s all right. There’s been a power
failure, that’s all. It’s not you.’
He went very still then, except for the ragged sound of his breathing.
‘Power failure?’ he finally managed to ask.
‘Yes,’ I told him gently. ‘You’re all right. I can’t see either. There
was a storm and it knocked out the power.’
‘Storm?’ he ventured, and it was this strange thready sound of hope in
his voice that made me turn to sit cross-legged beside him, and pull him
completely into my lap.
‘Storm,’ I said firmly, making sure his leg was straight. ‘And it’s over
and gone now and I’m here and everything is just fine.’
Slowly, he began to relax, though he didn’t argue his position, only resting
his head on my shoulder. It was enough to tell me how disconcerted he
still felt. I reached out and found the blanket when I felt the goose-flesh
on his arms, and wrapped it around us. After a long few minutes, he made
a sound that was aiming for self-deprecating mirth... and not really making
‘Sorry,’ he muttered sheepishly after another few moments, and it made
me turn until I could find him in the darkness, and I kissed his forehead.
‘My fault,’ I reassured. ‘I shouldn’t have left you alone.’
There was this moment then, when I saw the mistake of my words, but it
was too late to take them back.
I wanted to fight him, when he sat up. Wanted to keep him wrapped up in
my arms, wanted to continue to feel him seeking my warmth and taking comfort
in my presence, but I could already feel the loss of the moment.
‘Why didn’t you wake me?’ he asked softly, tone tinged with accusation,
understanding too damn much.
‘You were sleeping so well,’ I said, and felt for his hand. He squeezed
my fingers when I found it and sighed softly.
‘Heero...’ he admonished, and I wished I could see him.
‘It was nothing,’ I hedged. ‘It was mostly the noise that woke me. You
sleep so restlessly lately... I didn’t want to bother you.’
I heard him draw breath to speak, but then he simply let it out in a long
sigh and gave my hand another little squeeze. If I could have seen him,
I would have known if he truly believed me, or if he had merely decided
to drop the subject. ‘How about we go down and see if we can get a fire
going,’ he finally suggested. ‘It’s going to get cold if the power stays
‘All right,’ I agreed, though I knew we were doing it for the light, and
not so much the heat. Not that I would have said that out loud for anything.
He was still suffering the pangs of memory; I could hear it in his voice,
but my inadvertent slip of the tongue had made him feel awkward about
I didn’t try to guide him as we made our way down, he’s much better at
finding his way in the dark than I am, for the obvious reason. But it
surprised me how much it took me back. Surprised me the chill it sent
down my spine.
I remembered where the lighter for the fireplace had been left, and Duo
remembered that he’d seen a candle sitting on a side table. It took just
a bit of effort to get the thing lit, then I laid the fire in the fireplace
by the light of the candle as Duo held it for me. The relief in him was
a palpable thing, though he wouldn’t have spoken of it for anything. I
think there was some part of him that couldn’t believe his sight was intact
until he actually regained the light. I think it was only that disconcertion...
that fear, that kept him from pushing me about what had really woken me.
I wasn’t going to question it.
We started to settle in the place where I’d been sitting when the power
went out, until we discovered that I’d spilled my bottle of water there
when I’d leaped up to run to answer Duo’s call. He teased me about it
unmercifully as we shifted to the other end to a dry spot and made ourselves
comfortable. There was really no reason we couldn’t have returned to the
bed, but it was another one of those times when I followed Duo’s lead,
and he seemed to want to stay close by the fire, so I indulged him. The
couch was deep enough, and plush enough, that it wasn’t much of a trial.
And the cheerful firelight helped chase away some of my own demons. Or
maybe it was just having Duo in my arms again.
It took him a long time to fall asleep, and me even longer. I was actually
rather surprised that I managed it at all, though it was more dozing than
actual sleeping. Being on the couch, mostly pillowed on me, Duo wasn’t
moving as much as he needed to, and I woke more than once to make him
shift so that he wouldn’t wake up stiff in the morning. Each time, he
rolled at my prodding, but didn’t really wake, his brow wrinkling with
a faint frown of irritation. Oddly enough, it was that look on his face,
annoyed but not enough to do anything about it, that lifted my own mood
and allowed me to rest as much as I did.
Morning broke some hours later, clear and bright, seeming washed clean
by the storm. The power had returned at some point in the night, though
we hadn’t noticed it.
I woke first, and just lay with Duo pillowed on my stomach, watching the
sky lighten and listening to the birds sing. That’s always such an odd
sound after a storm; the birds act just like any other morning, as though
they’ve already forgotten what they just came through. It wasn’t long
before Duo woke as well, and I just lay stroking my fingers over his arm
and waiting while he figured it out. Remembered where we were and how
we’d come to be there.
‘Well this has been an interesting vacation so far,’ he quipped and I
chuckled softly because he wanted me to.
‘Interesting?’ I replied. ‘Not romantic? Not fun? The best we’ve managed
‘At least I didn’t say it was a disaster,’ he returned, rather gamely,
Daring to risk the mood, I ventured, ‘I enjoyed yesterday very much.’
He looked at me, a little startled, I think, but then told me earnestly,
‘I did too, Heero. I’m sorry I...’
I cut him off with the brush of my fingers over his lips. ‘Hush. No apologies.
It was a good day... let’s leave it at that.’
He smiled but there was a touch of melancholy about it. ‘Why do you put
up with my crap?’ he asked bluntly.
‘Ask me why I put up with my own right arm,’ I told him without having
to think about it. ‘Now what do you want for breakfast?’
He grinned, the line making some of that sadness leave his eyes. Sometimes
I do manage to get it right.
‘Nothing special,’ he told me. ‘Did you pack anything as mundane as cereal?’
I sighed rather theatrically and gave him my disdainful look. ‘Cereal?
We’re on vacation... we are not eating cereal.’
He sighed in his turn, just as theatrically. ‘Oh no... we’re on vacation,
so of course you only brought stuff that requires slaving over a hot stove
for hours. That makes perfect sense.’
Almost, I told him that I hadn’t planned on cooking, that I’d planned
on eating out more, but somehow that didn’t seem the best line to deliver.
He’d only start feeling guilty again about what we’d spent at the stable.
‘Maybe I was planning on making you forage for your breakfast?’ I said
He laughed out right, and rolled his eyes. ‘Sure, Mama Yuy... like I’m
buying that. Somehow I don’t think roots and pine cone seeds are going
to live up to your nutritional standards.’
‘I was hoping for some fish or maybe a quail... but if that’s the best
you can do, I guess I’d better go cook us something,’ I shifted and he
rolled up to let me slide off the couch. I gave him a light smack on the
ass, as I rose. ‘Some great white hunter you turned out to be.’
He laughed, making a half hearted grab for my hand. ‘Watch it, Yuy!’ he
called, and I went up the stairs with that image of him in my mind. Smiling.
Maybe we could manage another good day.
I dressed quickly and went back down to start breakfast. I heard Duo going
up the stairs only after I was in the kitchen, and knew he was still feeling
a bit self-conscious. I sighed as I pulled out the ingredients for omelets,
but I wouldn’t speak of it. It would take time... I knew that. Time would
fade the scars, would heal the wounds, and I hoped that time would ease
this strange awkwardness between us as well. He was still my Duo, would
always be my Duo, and I just needed to wait while he figured that out.
Figured out that nothing was changed between us.
He came into the kitchen, face freshly scrubbed, hair done, and dressed,
just as I was putting our breakfast on the table, he poured our juice
while I dished it up. I covertly watched him move around the kitchen and
was pleased that his limp was barely visible. I’d been afraid the night
on the couch was going to leave him stiff and sore.
‘So,’ I asked, as we sat down to eat. ‘What do you want to do today?’
He didn’t answer immediately, taking a bite of his eggs and chewing thoughtfully.
He didn’t look right at me when he finally replied. ‘Do you think we could
try walking up to the ridge? It didn’t seem like it was all that far.’
The question was asked in a hesitant tone and I knew he was half expecting
me to shoot him down. I glanced toward the window, it seemed like the
day was going to be pleasant enough despite the night’s storm, and I smiled.
‘We can try. We can always come back if it turns out to be too much.’
He nodded, smiling in return and we finished breakfast. He insisted on
helping me clean up and I let him. Then we got our jackets and the camera
and set out.
It was mid-morning by then and the warmth of the day took us by surprise.
The bad weather had apparently blown in some warmer temperatures and it
wasn’t long before I had to take my jacket off, tying it around my waist
so I didn’t have to carry it. Duo left his on, still a bit more sensitive
to chill than I was.
I could see him, as we walked; looking around with an intensity to his
gaze that I understood was a product of his scare the night before. He’d
had that look on his face for weeks after he’d regained his sight from
that accident during the war. An... appreciation, a look, almost, of awe
in things. It comes back to him sometimes, when something makes him think
about it. When something reminds him of those long days of living in the
dark. The last time I remembered seeing it was after we’d passed a blind
man on the street. Duo had shivered convulsively and for some reason turned
to look right at me, his eyes so intent on me that for a moment I’d been
afraid he meant to kiss me right there in the middle of the sidewalk.
Of all the things he’s endured throughout his life, nothing has shaken
him in quite the way losing his sight had.
It had been one of the hardest things I’d ever dealt with myself... until
the night of the tornado.
The walk wasn’t bad at all, the rise of the land was steady but not overly
steep, and there was actually a path that the local kids obviously used
to go precisely where we wanted to. We stopped once to rest, and it was
even at Duo’s call, I didn’t have to use the camera as an excuse to stop
and take pictures. His mistake of the day before was making him more cautious.
While I was pleased that he was taking more care, I wished it could have
been for a different reason.
When we got to the top of the hill, Duo took the camera from me and took
several pictures of the big old oak tree, seeming fascinated with the
thing. I went and settled on the rock we’d sat on the day before, looking
out over the lake while Duo finished what he was doing. I wanted to make
sure that we sat and rested for a bit before we started back down the
hill. The air moving off the water was pleasantly cool, drawing to my
attention again just how warm the day was. I wouldn’t have believed it
possible after the chill of the past few days.
I heard the click of the camera, suddenly much closer than it had been,
and turned to find Duo grinning at me unrepentantly. I hadn’t heard him
move up on me. ‘Hey,’ he shrugged. ‘You’ve been taking pictures of me
all week. Don’t want it to look like I came up here by myself.’
I just shook my head and held my hand out for him to come and join me.
‘So,’ I said, when he was sitting beside me. ‘What is this sudden interest
you have in trees?’
He looked a little sheepish and ducked his head. ‘I dunno,’ he hedged.
‘There’s just something about the age of the things.’
‘Age?’ I prompted, looking past him at the tree that had lured us up the
He shrugged, seeming to pick at his words, like he wasn’t even sure what
he was trying to say. ‘I guess it’s not just trees... there’s something
about the Earth. It makes the colonies seem so... new.’
‘Well, relatively speaking...’ I began, but he snorted at me.
‘Screw relatively,’ he laughed, poking at my arm. ‘It’s about feeling,
not thinking!’ He looked out over the lake, somehow seeming to see the
whole planet with the brush of his gaze. ‘Don’t you feel the age of
this place? If our great-great-great grandfathers ever walked the Earth,
and happened to come up here, it probably looked pretty much just like
I grunted, feeling something in the air that I didn’t want to disturb,
and just let him talk.
‘There was no place in the colonies that ever felt like this,’ he told
me, eyes a little unfocused, and I wondered what he was remembering. ‘That
tree over there has probably seen a hundred generations. It was probably
growing there when the first crews launched to build those first space
stations. There were a few parks on L2 and we used to sneak into them
sometimes after dark; it was like an alien landscape to us. But there
was nothing like this. The weather... the elements... shape things. Time
I leaned back a bit and put my hand down on the rock behind him, and he
leaned into me without even seeming to realize he was doing it.
‘Solo would have loved it here,’ he said then, so softly that the slight
wind almost pulled the words away before I heard them. I held absolutely
still, afraid of breaking a moment that had let that name slip past his
lips. ‘He was always the one who wanted to sneak into the parks. Most
of the other kids wouldn’t go with him, but I knew he would go even if
he had to do it alone. It was... never a good idea to go out alone.’
That line, one I’d heard before, a very long time ago, seemed to slip
out despite him. He sat and blinked for a minute, almost as though the
sound of it had crept up on him unawares. As though he hadn’t realized
what he was saying until the words were there in front of us. I couldn’t
help letting my arm slid on around him while we both sat and thought about
just why it had never been a good idea. He shivered, and pretended it
was because his jacket needed zipped up a little more. I held him in the
curve of my arm and let him pretend. I wasn’t surprised when his fingers
automatically sought out the scar on the palm of his hand.
He found his topic again, with an almost palpable feel of reaching for
it past something else. ‘We weren’t supposed to be in the parks. Those
were for the rich... the kind of people who didn’t want their day spoiled
by having to see the orphans playing next to their own kids. But Solo
loved the stupid places. Loved to swing. He’d swing so high I was afraid
he’d fall and break his damn neck, but he just laughed and said it made
him feel like he could fly. Could fly away.’
He got very quiet then. For a long time. Lost in memory, and I felt a
pang of something odd, deep down in my gut. Something that wanted to be
jealousy, but couldn’t quite coalesce. Something that wanted to be hatred
for that person who had failed to protect my Duo all those years ago...
but that wouldn’t quite come clear either.
I didn’t know much about this Solo... but I knew enough to know that he’d
been no more than a boy himself. Struggling to do the best he could in
a world that sneered at the word ‘harsh’.
How could I be jealous of a boy Duo thought of as a brother? How could
I hate someone who had done nothing more than I’d done myself?
Suddenly, Duo turned his face to mine, and I was shocked to find his eyes
shimmering brightly. ‘Solo... would have liked you,’ he blurted, and his
voice wobbled a bit on the line. He was up and away before I could even
think what to say. He stopped a dozen paces away and I saw his hand rise
almost angrily to his face but then his shoulders seemed to square, and
when he turned around to me, he was grinning widely.
‘Hey!’ he said. ‘You know what? It’s warm enough to go swimming!’
I did not want to let the moment go so easily, but knew I had to. So I
let his other remark pass, and grinned for him because that was what he
needed me to do.
He’ll give me emotional whiplash one of these days.
‘The air may be warm,’ I teased him. ‘But I’ll bet that water isn’t.’
‘Oh come on,’ he grumbled, planting his hands on his hips and glaring
at me. ‘You promised if it warmed up we could go swimming.’
I cocked my head and gave him the sardonic smirk. ‘That was when I thought
there was no way in hell it would ever warm up.’
The laugh I got was almost enough to drive away the last of his ghosts.
‘I knew it!’ he crowed. ‘You are such a conniving bastard sometimes!’
‘Me?’ I deadpanned. ‘Who was it that kept using his broken leg to get
Quatre to fetch bottles of soda he wasn’t supposed to be drinking?’
‘Is it my fault the guy’s a soft touch?’ Duo grinned, and there was no
repentance in it at all.
I stood, since he was obviously done resting, and we started the walk
back down. ‘Well don’t blame me when our balls retract and never come
back down,’ I quipped, but didn’t get the laugh I was aiming for. Perhaps
he was having second thoughts.
The trip back went a little quicker, since it was downhill, though I held
our pace to something Duo would have called ‘sedate’. He seemed to be
doing fine, so when we passed the spot where we’d rested on the way up
without stopping, I didn’t speak of it, letting him make the decision.
He’d been doing better at pacing himself since the fall, and I wanted
to reward that in the only way I knew how.
I had packed our swim trunks only at Duo’s insistence in the first place,
and I was surprised as hell that it looked like we were actually going
to get to use them. The day had gotten progressively warmer as the sun
climbed in the sky, and by the time we reached the cabin, Duo’d had to
shuck his own jacket.
I debated insisting on a break before we went down to the docks, but the
sun was at its height by the time we finished our walk, and I didn’t want
to lose that heat. The day would only chill the closer it got to afternoon,
and I was sure the water was not exactly bathwater temperature as it was.
And he truly didn’t seem as though he’d taxed himself, so we changed right
away and made the short walk down to the lake.
I had thought I might have to hold him back from just leaping in, but
he sat on the edge of the pier first, dangling his feet in the water and
grinning up at me. ‘Shit, that’s cold!’ he laughed but didn’t seem to
be the least bit deterred, because he began pulling off his t-shirt even
as he spoke.
I sat down beside him and tested the water myself, turning a somewhat
disbelieving look his way. While it wasn’t ice water, it wasn’t what I
would have called ideal either. ‘Are you sure about this?’ I had to ask.
He chuckled and nudged me with an elbow. ‘You getting soft, Yuy?’
There was an awkward moment while I discarded the first few things that
sprang to mind, before I just told him, ‘I’ve come to appreciate the little
things in life is all... like hot tubs.’
I could tell from his expression that he understood that I’d edited my
thoughts, but I didn’t know how to apologize without making things worse.
Six months ago, I’d have probably shoved him off the dock for a line like
that, but that was out of the question right now. As was the brand of
teasing that would have challenged him until he jumped in.
He chose to ignore the slip, and dug his elbow into my ribs again. ‘Yep;
soft and lazy,’ he quipped, then stood to walk down the dock to the ladder.
I watched warily as he climbed down one rung at a time, pausing at each
rise of the water until he got used to it, before stepping down again.
I didn’t remember to breathe until he was floating free in the water;
afraid that the cold would bring on a spasm. He grinned up at me, and
there was a touch of triumph in it.
I grinned back and went to join him, climbing down the same way he had,
and bitching theatrically about the cold. He mocked me with delight.
I had barely left the ladder, when he took his first tentative stroke
and moved slowly out into the lake a bit. I moved beside him, keeping
pace as he almost drifted along, He rolled gently in the water as he went,
testing the pull of different strokes, I think. He seemed to like being
on his back, but the back-stroke required too much stretch and he would
inevitably turn over again.
Swimming was something neither of us had known how to do until pilot training.
Not a lot of opportunity for it in either of our upbringing. While it
wasn’t something I would go out of my way to do on my own, Duo seemed
to love the water and I certainly didn’t mind going with him. I loved
to watch him swim; when he’s at his peak, he’s damn fast. He has the lithe
build for it; I can’t keep up with him. He swims like a damn seal, something
I’ve told him many times.
Beside me, Duo slowed, treading water and grinning. Somehow he seemed
to be reading my mind. ‘I think I’m more like a manatee than a seal today.’
I snorted and reached for his good hand, swimming backward and pulling
him with me. ‘My beautiful sea cow,’ I proclaimed.
‘Hey!’ he objected, though he didn’t let go of me, letting me move us
through the water at a faster pace than he’d been managing. ‘I think I
‘Well,’ I informed him. ‘They say that manatees are what spawned the original
‘So now I’m a mermaid?’ he asked with a raised eyebrow, his free hand
playing through the water as we went. I had a sudden vision of him with
his hair loose and floating around us like a cloud. He would very much
look the part of some fey sea creature. I stopped swimming and let his
momentum bring him into my arms.
‘Merman,’ I corrected. ‘And a damn sexy one.’ I kissed him then,
quite taking myself by surprise, but it was like I couldn’t help myself.
He was just so... Duo, in that moment. Teasing with me. Smiling
at me. Eyes watching me. Hand in mine.
It seemed such a small daring, out there in the middle of nowhere.
Gods above but I wanted him.
Things might have gotten... a bit more than we should have been doing,
if Duo hadn’t suddenly jerked away, eyes wide as saucers, and making a
tiny little gasping sound.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, afraid I’d hurt him. Alarmed by the look on his
face. ‘What is it?’
‘I...’ he began, then flinched again, wide-eyed gaze dropping to the water.
Then I felt it too and damned if I didn’t jerk despite the vague warning
I’d had from Duo. I grinned at him and watched his trepidation change
to simple confusion. ‘What...?’ he asked, blinking at me owlishly.
‘It’s a fish,’ I told him, and watched his bewilderment vanish in a wide
‘No shit?’ he blurted, and just like that, ducked under water, I didn’t
have time to object. He popped back to the surface a few seconds later,
snorting and wiping water from his eyes, grin still intact. ‘There’s a
bunch of them!’ he crowed, holding his hands a good foot apart. ‘This
There was the brush of another inquisitive snout on my calf and I wondered
that the things weren’t afraid of us. Surely the lake saw fishermen in
the right season.
‘What kind do you think they are?’ Duo asked, watching the surface of
the water intently, though the fish were deeper, and the light on the
surface made it fairly impossible to see them.
I chuckled. ‘Aquatic ones?’ I suggested and he was so distracted that
it took him a heartbeat to blink and look up at me. Then I got the grin
I’d been looking for.
‘That’s good, Yuy,’ he snickered, but then kicked lightly and began moving
again. I felt a bit of regret at the loss of the moment, but understood
that things had gotten a bit too intense for him. That he was looking
for a little distance. I followed after, pacing his languid journey but
letting him have his space. I think we lost the fish.
We didn’t venture far from the pier, and I noticed that Duo stayed out
of the shadows of the trees, keeping us in the sun. It did make a little
difference, but not much. It would take days of temperatures that warm,
to take the chill out of the lake. We were headed into fall, and weren’t
likely to get more than a day or two of this ‘Indian summer’. This was
as good as it was going to get, and I suppose I should have been grateful
we’d gotten even the day; it was more than I had expected.
‘You know,’ Duo suddenly blurted. ‘With the way my luck has been running
lately, we’re liable to run into the world’s only lake shark out here.’
I was supposed to laugh, though I had to work at it; somehow... it wasn’t
all that damn funny. ‘Don’t even joke,’ I grumbled at him, and that made
‘Come on, Heero,’ he chuckled, rolling in the water again to look at me.
‘I’m kidding; there’s nothing out here but trout... or catfish, or whatever
those things are.’
‘Piranha,’ I deadpanned. ‘You’re challenging the power of worse
He grinned and sluiced water at me, making me flinch. ‘Piranha? I think
I saw that movie!’
I tried to roll my eyes, but was too busy wiping the water from them.
‘Why is there a movie for everything?’ I sighed. ‘And why have you always
He laughed that laugh he has that there’re no fetters on. The one that
makes the bridge of his nose wrinkle up and his eyes crinkle. I hadn’t
heard that laugh in a long time. ‘Because there isn’t an original idea
left in the universe. Because somebody, somewhere, has thought of everything.
It’s all been written. There have been piranha in the lake movies, and
giant crocodiles, and mutant bears,’ he stopped swimming, treading water
while he ticking predators off on his fingers. ‘Giant pythons, killer
‘Ok,’ I cut him off with his own face full of water. ‘You’re just making
shit up now!’
‘Am not!’ he shot back, flailing blindly to splash me in his turn, even
as he was wiping his eyes. I ducked beneath the surface while he was disoriented
and swam quickly under him, grabbing the ankle on his good leg and giving
it a firm tug. His bright laughter sounded distorted through the water.
I bobbed to the surface behind him and gave his braid a yank just for
‘Careful,’ I growled. ‘I might be a lake shark.’
He was grinning and sputtering and turned to find me, reaching to shove
me down, ducking me in the water again. I went down rather than fight
him, swimming around to come up behind him again. I reached out just as
I broke the surface of the water and pinched his ass.
‘Hey!’ he yelped, spinning in the water to follow me.
‘Piranha,’ I intoned and got that laugh again. Gods, it felt so good to
hear it, so completely free and open. It had been so damn long.
It was to be short lived.
It was horse-play, and I should have known better. But I was so damn blinded
with seeing him happy that I forgot. For the first time in months... I
He lunged after me, reaching to return the favor, slicing through the
water as I retreated from him. We were laughing; later I would feel guilty
I saw it in his eyes, a split second too late to do anything about it,
and a split second later, his face twisted in pain and he just vanished.
It was so damn much like something really had grabbed him and pulled
him under, that I actually remember wondering what it was.
I was after him in no less time than it took me to draw breath, but I
couldn’t believe how far under he was, just that fast. He was sinking
like a stone, the muscle spasm making it impossible for him to remain
I reached for him, some part of my mind counting off the seconds, some
part of myself on total autopilot. When I caught his arm, he did not grab
for me, didn’t even react, and I felt a thrill of fear even as I was kicking
us to the surface.
It was all less than a minute. My internal clock told me so, but it felt
like he’d been under forever. I was sobbingly relieved to hear him coughing
and gasping the minute we found the air.
But that wasn’t the end of it. He was in full ‘seizure’; helpless to do
any of the things that might have eased it, out in the middle of the damn
water. It was taking everything I had just to keep us afloat; I couldn’t
do a thing to help him except keep us from drowning. We were probably
a good ten yards from the pier, which doesn’t sound like much, until you’re
trying to swim with a writhing ball of muscle spasm in your arms.
‘I’ve got you,’ I told him, trying to reassure as best I could. I didn’t
get anything back from him; he might not have known I was there. I tried
to move us, but needed an arm free. I was already kicking as hard as I
could, just keeping us on the surface. ‘Duo,’ I prodded. ‘I need you to
hang on to me.’
There was an almost guttural groan, and he managed, in a voice twisted
up with pain, ‘Won’t... drag you down...’
It... angered me somehow, though I suppose I should have been expecting
it from him. I can’t tell you how in the hell the phrase pissed me off
so much, at the same time that it filled me with warmth. ‘Well I’m sure
as hell not letting you go under alone again,’ I snapped. ‘So I guess
you better start working with me here!’
I swear to the Gods, I think he laughed. I’ll never be sure, but he did
finally, reach out and wrap an arm around my shoulder, and I was able
to get us moving.
I thought we would never get to the damn dock. I did my best to keep him
up, but I think he took a couple of mouth’s full of water despite my best
efforts. He felt like nothing but a bundle of twitching, shaking muscles
pressed against me. I think I was murmuring things to him, but later I
would not be able to tell what I said. I’m not sure he was hearing me
anyway. All his concentration seemed to be on the arm he had grudgingly
wrapped around me; I could feel him not letting himself hang on too tight.
Knew that if I lost my grip on him, he’d let himself go under before he
would grab at me.
Do you know what a basic human instinct he was fighting? Do you have any
idea what it takes to let go? Drowning victims have been known to drown
their own rescuers trying to save themselves.
It’s a damn strange feeling sometimes, when my irritation with him gets
so tangled up with my pride in him.
At last, I got us to where I could get a hand on the ladder. ‘Ok,’ I told
him. ‘I’m anchored now. We can’t go down... you hear me?’
There was a tight nod against my chest; words seemed to be beyond him.
Or, at the very least, too difficult to waste on unnecessary ones. I took
a second to just hang there, looking the situation over and trying to
figure out how in the hell I was going to get us out of the water. We
were not, thank the Gods, terribly far from the deck, but those bare few
feet seemed like a mile when I thought about trying to get Duo up that
ladder. He tried to unwind and reach for a rung, and I could see that
he meant to try climbing out on his own, but I honestly didn’t think it
was going to happen; I had never seen him in the throes of an attack this
‘Hang on,’ I soothed when he faltered; afraid he would try too hard and
make things worse. ‘Let me help.’
We ended up with him between me and the ladder, climbing in tandem. I
had an arm locked around his waist, as low as I could manage, trying not
to hurt him while still bearing most of his weight. He was gasping for
breath and his face, when I caught glimpses of it, was a mask of pain
and dark determination. I had to bodily haul him the last bit, up and
over the edge, and I think I hurt him, but there was no help for it. I
could have crowed with victory when I finally got him laid down on the
But then the air hit us, clear of the water as we were, and it seemed
an artic blast. He began to shiver uncontrollably. It took the last of
whatever he’d been hanging onto, away, and he just balled up there on
the planks and gave in to it.
I scrambled down the dock to where we’d left our t-shirts and the towels
we’d brought out with us, returning with them as fast as I could move.
I had thought to dry him and get one of the shirts on him, but the glassy
look in his eyes when I knelt at his side again washed away all plans
I’d been making. I just wrapped him as best I could, and caught him up
in my arms; he needed to be inside out of the chill air and he didn’t
need to wait when I was perfectly capable of getting him there.
It was his total lack of protest that lent me the strength I needed to
carry him off the pier and up the hill to the cabin. His muscles were
corded so tight, it felt like I was carrying a stone. A shuddering, spasming
I don’t remember getting the front door open, and later I would have to
look to verify for myself that I’d closed it. I barely remember the climb
up the stairs to the bedroom. I have only a vague recollection of the
burn in my legs as I pushed past my own limits. If Duo had not lost so
much weight after the accident... I’m not sure I’d have made it.
‘Hang on, baby,’ I can recall telling him, and left him balled up on the
end of the bed for the few minutes it took me to get the hot water running
in the tub.
I took us in, trunks and towels, t-shirts and all. Not unwrapping him
until the water was high enough to replace whatever protection they might
have been giving him.
There was nothing else to do after that, but hold him against me until
it passed. It took... a while. The longest we’d ever been through.
‘Ooops,’ he tried, after the tremors had eased enough that he could get
enough breath to speak.
I thought I would cry, and couldn’t do anything more than kiss him on
the temple. I opened my mouth to reply, couldn’t manage it, and so just
kissed him again instead. He sighed softly and we were quiet some more.
‘Love you,’ I told him, when the attack had faded to the point that he
was starting to relax.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered, his face almost hidden against my neck.
‘Don’t,’ I said gently. ‘Not your fault.’
He didn’t answer, relaxing further, and I realized that he was absolutely
so exhausted that if I left things alone, he would fall asleep right there
in the tub. I thought about that, and decided that there was nothing wrong
with that happening. The water was warming him more than any blanket could.
The jets of the spa would help strained muscles loosen up. He seemed...
content to stay where he was, and I was more than content to have him
there. I smoothed my hand over his hair, dropping a kiss on the top of
his head where he nestled against me.
‘Rest, love,’ I told him softly and he seemed to let go that last little
‘So tired,’ he murmured and I almost held my breath, hearing the utter
openness in his tone of voice.
‘I know,’ I told him, feeling guilt well up inside me. ‘It was my fault...
I shouldn’t have...’
‘It was nice,’ he said, effectively cutting me off while I blinked at
the far wall and tried to make sense of what he was saying. ‘That was
you, for the first time in so long.’
‘What?’ I blurted, completely confused. ‘Duo?’
But all he said was, ‘I’ve missed you so much,’ and then he was gone;
faded into sleep.
And just what in the hell was that supposed to mean?
I cradled him in my arms, careful enough that I wasn’t pressuring his
ribs, but tight enough that he wouldn’t wake to the feeling of buoyancy.
I didn’t think that would be a good idea right then. I just held him...
He slept there like that for a good hour; I think it was the constraint
of my arms that finally roused him, as he tried to move and found he couldn’t.
He blinked his eyes open, looking vaguely confused at first. I took advantage,
tilting his head back and kissing him gently. ‘What...?’ he mumbled, the
hint of a frown creasing his forehead.
‘Lake shark got you,’ I informed him, and I was pleased to see the frown
‘Damn nasty beasts apparently,’ he said with a rueful grin, eager enough
to take the lighter tone. ‘What’d he do, take us back to his place to
boil for dinner?’
I snorted, tenderly brushing his bangs away from his forehead. ‘Yeah,
he just left to get the onions and potatoes... if we hurry; I think we
can escape his clutches.’
Duo chuckled, as much for me as for the joke, and eased himself carefully
upright. He moved so slowly, so cautiously, that I found my lip caught
in my teeth, almost holding my breath. I feared we’d truly done some damage,
but after a bit of experimental shifting, he gave me a reassuring smile.
He seemed as surprised as I was.
‘All right?’ I couldn’t help asking.
‘Kinda sore,’ he admitted. ‘But not as bad as I thought it would be.’
‘Thank the Gods,’ I murmured, quite before I knew I was going to, and
he leaned forward to rest his forehead against mine.
‘I’m ok, love,’ he told me firmly.
I sighed, knowing that he didn’t want to see me worrying so much. ‘I know...
I just hate feeling that helpless.’
He drew away and snorted derisively. ‘You? You’re not the one who...’
he stopped then, and looked at me hard. I could see him puzzling something
through. ‘Heero; did you... how the hell did I get back to the cabin?
You didn’t fucking carry me all the way up from the damn lake,
I went for the flippant answer, because there really wasn’t much denying
the truth. Though his focus had been turned inward, he hadn’t exactly
been unconscious. ‘Damned if I know,’ I quipped. ‘I think we teleported.’
‘Heero...’ he began in that warning tone, but I cut him off with
a finger to the lips.
‘Hush,’ I told him, dropping the teasing because it wasn’t working anyway.
‘I’d have carried you twice as far if I’d needed to... you know that.’
Something strange passed across his face then, I couldn’t quite place
it... it twisted his lips in something that wanted to be a grin even while
his eyes welled with a deep sadness. ‘I know,’ was all he said. He leaned
in to kiss me softly, then stood to climb out of the hot tub.
We dried and dressed, and it didn’t escape my notice that he took his
pain pills all on his own. I bumped ‘kinda sore’ up a notch in my estimation,
but didn’t comment.