Guardian Spirits (cont)

It was his turn to snort softly. ‘There’s just no accounting for taste. I don’t like his attitude toward you. He never hesitates to use you whenever he needs a babysitter or…’

‘Heero,’ I admonished softly and he quieted with a sigh, it was an old argument. ‘Besides,’ I grinned, ‘he did so hesitate,’ and I told him about the list of rules.

He laughed out loud then and I had to smirk. ‘I got him though; I gave her the bear tonight.’

‘What did she think?’ he asked, and I was pleased that his thoughts were on Carrie, and not Justin.

‘She loved it,’ I chuckled wryly. ‘She named it ‘Dirt’.’

That got me another hard laugh. ‘Children certainly know how to put things in perspective, don’t they?’

There was a small, companionable silence and then, ‘Duo… I love you.’

I smiled up at the ceiling and scratched Bernie behind the ear. ‘I love you too.’

‘Even if I’m an asshole?’

‘Maybe because you are such an asshole,’ I teased lightly.

‘I wish I was there,’ he said softly then.

‘Hey,’ I told him, ‘you’re the one who left me, remember?’

The next silence was strained.

‘Heero?’ I ventured into it. ‘Come on, Heero; I was teasing. I got over it, ok?’

‘I didn’t,’ he told me gently. ‘I feel awful. I don’t even really know why I didn’t tell you.’

‘Because,’ I informed him with a sigh, ‘you can’t stand to upset me or make me sad. And your going away always makes me sad.’

‘That…’ Did you know you could hear someone blush? ‘That pretty much covers it, I guess. Sounds pretty stupid when you put it that way.’

‘It sounds sweet,’ I smiled. ‘Damned annoying; but sweet all the same.’

‘I want you in my arms,’ he breathed softly, and I shivered; I could hear his need clear across the miles.

I closed my eyes. ‘I’m there, my love.’ We just sat for a bit and listened to nothing, just having that open line between us.

‘Hey, the roses were… a nice touch. Thank you,’ I told him and he made a small grunt that sounded pleased. There was more comfortable silence.

‘Where are you sleeping?’ he asked after a while.

‘On the couch,’ I said dryly. ‘I can’t stand the idea of sleeping in their bed; it’s just… weird.’

He chuckled. ‘Stay warm,’ he told me in a voice designed to raise the temperature.

‘No problem there,’ I purred. ‘I have Bernie.’

It took him almost two heartbeats. I thought I would choke to death.

‘The dog,’ he said when it finally clicked in his head.

‘Who did you think I meant?’ I asked innocently.

‘You are evil, Duo Maxwell.’ I could hear the grin.

‘Good night, love,’ I said gently.

‘Good night, my heart.’

And we hung up. Shit. I had missed the weather. So I sat up another hour only to find out it was probably going to rain.

I lay down on the couch to sleep and decided pretty quick that Bernie was going to be more of a liability than an asset. Warm he might have been, but he also drooled, he was getting damned heavy, and frankly… his breath smelled.

I woke the next morning feeling like I’d been beaten with a stick and decided that tonight Bernie was sleeping in the garage. On a strange whim, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Heero’s voice mail.

‘Get your damned assignment finished and get your butt home. As a bed partner, Bernie sucks.’ And I hung up.

I am not foolish enough to wake a sleeping child, especially on a Saturday, and managed a couple of peaceful hours before Carrie came wandering out yawning and dragging Dirt behind her.

Her eyes widened in remembrance when she saw me, ‘Unca Duo!’ and I was treated to another running tackle as though she hadn’t seen me in days.

We had cereal for breakfast and watched cartoons for an hour or so. I could not believe that coyote still after all these years hadn’t caught that stupid roadrunner. Go figure. I’d always had him pegged as the brighter of the two. I guess it just goes to show that dumb luck can take you a long way. I’d always had a certain affinity for the coyote. But I really think he should have just sued Acme and bought himself a good meal.

I aborted the trip to the zoo, because it was threatening rain, and we went to the museum instead. Hey, I’m not a complete waste as a Godfather; I occasionally do educational things too. We had a blast in the dinosaur exhibit, I got the pre-requisite picture taken of us in the mouth of the T-Rex, we got down in the sand pit and dug for fossils, I bought us ice cream. Then we wandered into the aerospace section and I thought somebody had punched me in the stomach.

As you round the curved wall that separates the dinosaur exhibit from the space section, you are greeted with a full size, floor to ceiling, artists rendering of Wing Gundam self-destructing. The artist had done a damned impressive job. I almost threw up. I stood and blinked up at it, turned to stone in the middle of the aisle; an obstacle in the flow of people.

It took Carrie tugging on my hand to bring me back to the here and now.

‘Unca Duo, come on!’ A happy, four-year-old, not all that interested in looking at murals when more interesting things beckoned from further on.

I let her drag we away, but had to find a bench after a couple of minutes because I thought my knees were going to give out.

A tiny bit of advice for you; don’t ever let one of the darkest moments of your life turn into a piece of history.

There was a mock up, cut-away model of a Leo in the middle of the room and I let Carrie go crawl around in it with the other kids while I tried to put my heart back in my chest. I couldn’t believe how the years had just melted away and hauled my ass back to the war. I looked around at the rest of the exhibit, and decided pretty quickly that we were going to have to leave there and get on to the botanical gardens. Soon.

But first, there was something I had to do. I felt extremely embarrassed about it, but I didn’t bloody well care. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Heero’s number. I knew he was probably in the middle of something, but I also knew he would never ignore my call.

‘Hello?’ I heard his voice, tinged faintly with concern and I felt the iron band around my chest loosen and I was able to breathe again.

‘Busy?’ I asked softly, and I knew my voice was a little unsteady. My eyes never left Carrie as she clambered around inside a replica of a death machine that had tried to kill me a hundred times over.

“Never,’ he said and I could hear him moving. I knew he was probably leaving a meeting or something and I felt vaguely bad about it.

After a few moments, his voice came again. ‘What’s wrong?’

I sighed. ‘Nothing really,’ I reassured him, and a slightly hysterical bubble of a laugh tried to force its way passed my lips. ‘Just needed to know what year it was.’

‘Duo?’ he questioned, his tone telling me I was scaring him.

I took a deep calming breath. ‘I’m sorry love… I’ll tell you all about it when you come home. I just… I had to hear your voice. That’s all.’

I could tell he was still concerned and I really did start to feel guilty for bothering him. Now that the shock of it was fading, I was starting to feel kind of stupid. Carrie chose that moment to run over.

‘Unca Duo! Who ya talkin’ to?’ she squealed. ‘Is it Mommy?’

‘No sweetie, it’s Uncle Heero,’ I told her. ‘Just a minute…’

‘Can I talk?’ She was reaching for the phone, bouncing up and down and I sighed heavily.

‘Not right now…’ I started to tell her, but Heero interrupted me.

‘It’s all right,’ I could hear the smile. ‘I have a minute.’

So I handed the phone to her and took that minute he was giving me to get myself back together. I was only half hearing what she was babbling at him.

‘I gots a new bear and his name is Dirt and we had pizza and we dug in the sand and found old bones and I gots strawberry ice c’eam and I got to climb on this big ‘bot called a lee-oh and…’

Kids don’t understand punctuation at all. She talked a blue streak; Wufei liked to say that it was pretty obvious that she was my Goddaughter. I was just thinking that I should probably take the phone away from her and rescue Heero when she got quiet and began nodding intently, then said, ‘ok. Bye,’ and handed the phone back to me right before she threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tight enough to make the air hiss out of my lungs.

‘That’s from Unca Heero,’ she told me solemnly and then ran back to play on the Lee-oh.

I raised the phone to my ear, and he must have heard me.

‘Duo?’

‘I’m here,’ I told him.

‘I love you,’ his voice was that soothing one that he uses when the nightmares come stalking.

‘I know,’ I told him around the lump in my throat. ‘I love you too.’

‘You going to be all right?’

I chuckled lightly. ‘Yeah… it’s a freaking museum, Heero. I’m fine. I just needed to… hear your voice.’

‘Museum?’ he questioned, but I knew he needed to go.

‘Later, my love,’ I told him gently. ‘Get back to work.’

‘I’ll call you tonight.’

‘Damn straight,’ I growled, and he chuckled lightly for me. We hung up.

Being a part of history… sucks.

It took the lure of another dish of ice cream to get Carrie out of that room full of ghosts and bad dreams. It took a half an hour of wandering around in the gardens watching Carrie chase butterflies before I could shake off that damned mental image. I took a bunch of pictures, managing to catch a large yellow butterfly sitting in her hair and then we went to the gift shop. I let her pick whatever she wanted, and was a little surprised when she came to the cash register lugging a stuffed black panther that rivaled Bernie in size.

‘Like on my blanky, Unca Duo,’ she proclaimed, and of course that touched my heart so much that she got the three picture books, the six beanbag tree frogs, and the coloring book she wanted as well. I couldn’t break up a family of tree frogs, now could I? I bought her a jacket too, because it was getting cold out and we hadn’t needed them that morning when we left the house.

I let her pick where we ate dinner, and ended up eating burgers and fries at this place with a guy wandering around the dining room in a giant blue bird suit. I’ve eaten worse; just not in a lot of years.

We stopped by the disc rental place and she picked out three movies and I bought one of those big bags of popcorn for later. It was starting to rain by the time we got back to the house.

Bernie was ecstatic to see us, thundering around us in circles, wagging his whole butt and barking in pure, puppy joy. When he calmed down enough, I put some of the popcorn out in a bowl, grabbed a soda for myself and a juice for Carrie, and the three of us settled on the couch to watch three hours of cartoon bliss.

I was exhausted. Gods, where do kids get their energy? My legs ached all the way up to the back of my neck. We were half way through the Charlie Brown Christmas special, don’t ask me; I didn’t pick it, when I noticed that Bernie was acting funny. His tail was tucked and he was kind of whiney, and wouldn’t get off my lap no matter what I did. We had just started Fraggle Rock when I heard the distant sound of sirens.

‘What’s that?’ Carrie wanted to know, and I had to pretend a certain nonchalance as I turned off the disc and switched on the news.

‘I’m not sure munchkin, let’s see if there’s something about it on TV.’

We had just enough time to hear the tornado warning before the power went out.

‘Unca Duo?’ Her voice was high-pitched and frightened.

‘It’s ok, Sweetie,’ I lied. ‘It’s just a power failure, I’ll get a flashlight.’

I had to get her to hold on to Bernie, because he wanted to follow me, and I was having enough trouble navigating the unfamiliar surroundings in the dark. There was a surreal, flashback kind of moment as I moved through the house with my arms sweeping my path, before I found a flashlight in the kitchen and flicked it on.

My mouth was babbling on to her about the grand adventure we were going to have, even as my hands were gathering things we might need. My brain had kicked into that ancient ‘soldier going to ground’ mode. I was a little shocked at how easy it came back. Necessities: water, food, warmth, shelter, light, weapons… Oooops; wrong reality.

I got the dog leash, a couple of bottles of water out of the fridge, and a handful of granola bars out of the cupboard.

I sent Carrie on a mission to get her jacket because it might be cold on our ‘quest’. She came back clutching Dirt and her quilt as well.

I made sure I had my cell phone and my own jacket, clipped Bernie’s leash on him and took us down to the basement.

It was the typical cluttered basement; boxes and tools and dirty clothes, the laundry room was down there. I looked around for the best place to take shelter, all too aware of the sound of the rising wind, and the sound of Bernie’s whimpers.

There was an old cast iron sink in the corner, Misty had told me it had been left in the house when they moved in five years ago. It was a large, deep, double sided thing, still there only because nobody cared enough to break their back trying to get it hauled up the stairs. It was completely disconnected.

‘Here, honey,’ I told Carrie, who was looking at my wide-eyed. Wondering, I imagined, when the adventure was supposed to start. ‘Hold the flashlight while I… look for the first portal.’

She giggled. ‘But Unca Duo, the bear has to find the first pothole,’ she corrected me, but held the flashlight in the right general direction.

I pulled the sink out from the wall, and wrestled it over on its side; I used my hands to brush it free of dust and cobwebs, and beckoned Carrie over.

‘Look, Princess!’ I exclaimed. ‘A secret cave!’

She giggled and ran over, Bernie at her heels. ‘That’s a sink!’ she exclaimed.

‘Work with me here a little, will ya Princess?’ I laughed, and took her quilt from her to fold and wrap around her like a cloak. ‘There; now you look like a Princess.’

She beamed. ‘Unca Duo, you’re silly!’ She giggled some more.

I took the flashlight back, and shined it into the ‘cave’.

‘In you go my brave, adventurous Princess!’ I urged her in, trying to keep my voice calm even as my heart was starting to pound. The wind was getting louder.

Finally, she consented to get down and crawl into the secret cave.

‘It’s not a very big cave,’ she observed after she got settled.

‘It’s gonna get smaller,’ I muttered, and gave Bernie a shove toward the shelter. He needed no urging, liking the looks of the little hidey-hole and crawling in with her. ‘The Princess has to have her brave and loyal guard dog!’ I smiled and then crouched down in front of the opening. I shoved the water and food in the other ‘cave’ and grabbed hold of the edge of the sink; turning the flashlight off and tucking in my jacket pocket.

‘Ok,’ I tried very hard to keep my voice light, but I had to raise it a little to be heard. ‘The Princess is going to stay in the cave with her brave guard dog no matter what, ok?’

It was starting to get through to her that this wasn’t a game any more, and she nodded hard. ‘Unca Duo?’

‘What, munchkin?’

‘I want my Mommy and Daddy.’ It came out sounding really scared.

‘I know, sweetie. I want Uncle Heero.’ I had to force it to come out not sounding scared.

That was about all we had time for. Bernie started to howl, and Carrie clutched Dirt to her face as hard as she could, and I just did my best to shelter the entrance to the secret cave like any good Guardian Spirit would do. It sounded like a freight train was headed right for us.

Hang on Toto; we’re not in Kansas anymore.

+

I hadn’t slept well; I never do when I’m away from Duo. I woke long before the alarm went off and just lay in the dark staring up at the ceiling thinking about what a total idiot I could be.

I will never understand how it is that he makes me do the things he makes me do. Not that I am saying for a minute that I thought the argument was his fault. I just would never have done what I had done to anybody else. I had known about this trip for a week, and had just kept putting off telling him about it. It’s not that he gives me a hard time about them, but he always gets this look on his face…I can’t take that look on his face. He tries not to show it, and I don’t suppose anybody else would see the shadow in his eyes that tells me how miserable it makes him. He hates to be apart from me as much as I hate to be apart from him. Gods; you’d think after all these years together we’d get over that. I think it’s something that has roots in those days of assignments ripping us apart, sometimes for months at a time. Living in constant fear, wondering where the other one was. Wondering what their missions were. Wondering when we’d manage to see each other again. Wondering if we’d manage to see each other again. It’s just something that gets into your bones and never really goes away.

I finally said the hell with it and just went ahead and got up, showered and got dressed. I sat and watched the early morning news until I thought that Wufei would be up and called his room to see if he wanted to get breakfast. I really didn’t feel like being alone.

I left the door unlocked for him and after he was dressed and ready, he came across the hall. We sat and finished watching the news together. We were several hundred miles from home and though the day here seemed to be clear, it looked like Duo and Carrie were in for some heavy rain before the day was out.


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