The Quilt (cont)

He blinked down at me, his eyes shining and he bit his lip.

"Heero... " his voice came faint through a constricted throat, but I could see the need lying naked in his eyes and I rolled him over and made gentle love to him there on the floor. Using the joining of our bodies to bring him the release he couldn't ever quite seem to grant himself. He lay in my arms after and wept softly for our stillborn daughter.

We went to bed later, but I woke in the small hours of the morning to a cold bed and slipped to the bedroom door to find him sitting by the coffee table in the living room, sketching something that I could see even from that distance was far more complete than anything he had done so far. I think he found his message. I left him alone.

That weekend saw the first pieces of fabric cut. I only thought he had been obsessed before.

I saw tools used that I would not have been able to guess the purpose of. Taped up more of his damned knuckles while he developed skill with an unbelievably lethal weapon called a rotary cutter. We had to replace the iron after it became so gummed up with something referred to as fusible webbing that it was no longer suitable for use on clothing.

After the second week, I made a trip to the quilt store alone, in search of a thimble large enough for him to use, because he had worn a hole in his finger. I had to special order it. I ended up buying him a sewing basket while I was there, with one of those magnetic pin holders because I was tired of getting my ass perforated from sitting on the damned things when he lost them in the couch. I thought I managed the whole uncomfortable trip with a certain amount of dignity. Until I got in the car and looked back to see the whole store full of clerks hanging on each other, giggling like loons.

I presented Duo with the basket after dinner that night and was graced with the most splendid open-mouthed look of pure, unadulterated surprise. I decided that the clerks at the 'Silver Threads' were just going to have to get used to me.

The quilt became a fixture of our evenings, sometimes I read while he worked. Sometimes we watched television. Mostly, it just seemed to me that he was practicing. As much stuff ended up in the trash can as found its way into the sewing basket. But one evening, he seemed to start cutting with some seriousness. Scraps of blue and white and silver began to appear in little piles on the table and I was moved to go sit with him on the floor. They were all precise little shapes, diamonds and triangles. There was a lot of a deep blue fabric printed with a faint swirl of silvery, metallic stars. Some white with a silver print, and some silver with a white print. He was marking around a set of metal templates and then cutting out the shapes. I found myself playing with them, amazed at how many patterns you could make, and I soon had them spread across the tabletop. Duo smiled softly at me.

"That's the part I used to like doing with Sister Helen."

I grunted, captivated with the strangeness of the way the color was affecting my depth perception. Duo just grinned. I arranged some more and looked up at him, puzzled.

"Look," I pointed out. "If you alternate the white and the silver... it looks three dimensional."

He looked oddly pleased. "It's an actual technique. I forget the name."

I fiddled some more, while he tirelessly marked and cut. Then, on a sudden thought,

"I could cut those out while you mark... if you want."

He fairly glowed. "That would be... nice." I got a quick lesson on the difference between the 'cutting' line and the 'sewing' line, and we bent to work together. It pleased me in a strange way, to be included. But then, I suppose this was supposed to be my Godchild too. It came to me then that he had been wanting us to do this together for some time, but hadn't wanted to ask for my help if I wasn't interested. It seemed suddenly to be a right thing. And for the first time, I really wondered about this child yet to be.

"Did you have a quilt?" I blurted, instantly sorry I had said it.

But he just grinned. "Yeah. Sister Helen made one quilt just for me, she let me pick all the material myself and the pattern, but she did all the sewing." He sat and smiled for a minute, lost in memory, then chuckled, "It was the ugliest thing! You had to take whatever rag or worn out piece of clothing you could get. I started out intending to make it all blue and green and black, but there wasn't enough material and we filled in with this horrid piss yellow." He laughed with remembered delight. "It was hideous! It was the log cabin pattern." He stopped marking fabric for a moment to sketch the pattern for me. "The little square in the middle is traditionally red to represent the fire in the hearth of a home. Then you build around the center square with the logs. Mine wound up with those awful yellow squares in the center. I kept calling the material piss yellow and Sister Helen got mad. But Father Maxwell named the quilt 'Duo's Log Outhouse', and she couldn't say anything else about it."

He was quiet after that, though he chuckled softly to himself every now and again. I continued to cut little diamonds and marveled at the wealth of puzzle pieces I had accumulated since this quilt had begun.

I wasn't foolish enough to ask what happened to that quilt.

Work interfered a week or so after that, when Duo had to go out of town for a couple of days to a conference on network security and firewalls. Being the Network Administrator for the entire Preventer's computer network took him off to those things several times a year. Not near as often as my assignments kept me away from home, but we had learned to cope with it.

I typically cleaned. Duo said I cleaned obsessively. I had trouble sleeping when he was gone, and it gave me something to do. Besides, it was a practical outlet for my agitation.

I'm not sure what Duo did when I was gone, I never found any evidence of anything quite as compulsive as my scrubbing and cleaning. But when he had been gone, he always came home as though he had been away for months. I could usually count on lengthy bouts of love making almost the instant he got through the front door. Not that I ever complained, but sometimes... sometimes it felt like there was something more going on than just his missing me.

I was kind of surprised that he didn't take his sewing with him; my limited experience with those kinds of conferences told me that he would have idle time in the evenings. But he never seemed to bother taking anything to fill the time, I always supposed that he had a circle of acquaintances, fellow computer geeks that he had come to know over the years and they probably got together after the expo closed.

So in the fourth week, in his absence, I was able to find the top of the coffee table and clean it for the first time in a month. I managed to eradicate all the stray bits of thread from the living room as well, though I knew as soon as he came back, it would be coated again. I really didn't care; this project had given me so many facets of the jewel that was my Duo, I didn't begrudge a single minute of it.

He came home on a Friday afternoon, and I left work early to meet him, thinking we might go out. But I found him napping on the couch; traveling always seemed to wear him out, so I decided to let him sleep and cooked dinner instead.

He wandered into the kitchen, yawning and stretching, not long before it was ready.

"Welcome home, love." I greeted him, and he came to kiss me, that familiar shiver of need running through him at my touch, "You still look tired," I frowned, "Bad trip?"

He moved to stand behind me, wrapping his arms around me and laying his cheek against my shoulder while I worked, "Ah, you know I never sleep well away from you," he murmured.

"Same here," I chuckled softly. "Want to just go on to bed after we eat."

He hummed an affirmative against my back, but his body, pressed against mine, told me we wouldn't be sleeping.

We ate. We talked. We wound up in bed for the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening. He seemed... raw edged somehow; quick to laugh, quick to tears, and starved for my touch. Full of the need to be held and caressed, I did my best to meet his every want, his every desire.

The weekend found him suddenly possessed with creative energy and I saw the beginnings of the quilt start to take shape. The sewing, apparently, took less attention than the marking and cutting had, and one evening as I sat down with a new book, he asked me to read aloud. I felt a little silly at first, but it was oddly warming; having his rapt, quiet attention. It turned into an evening ritual, one we both came to enjoy.

One evening, after I had finished reading and laid the book aside, we just sat for a bit, in the quiet. He was curled in the chair, surrounded by small white and silver stars, needle moving in a hypnotic rhythm. I was stretched out on the couch, and I think that had I lain there long watching the flash of the needle and the dance of his hands, I might have dozed off right there. But his voice broke the quiet, soft and reflective.

"Do you ever think about us... the five of us... as a group?" No question, of course, who he was talking about.

"I don't understand what you mean... as a group." I rolled over to look at him more directly.

He quirked that grin at me. "Well, we're certainly a diverse little band of rogues. Ever wonder why we stayed together?"

Together. There had even been a brief period right after the war that we had all lived in the same house together, until we had gotten our heads cleared enough to decide what we were going to do with ourselves.

"I think... " I said slowly, and yes this was something I had put a lot of thought into. "It's partly because we are so completely unique. We are not like anyone else in the whole bloody universe. I think it's only natural that we cling together."

"Because of what we went through... because of the war." It wasn't a question.

"Because there isn't anyone else who could ever possibly understand us." I smiled over at him, but his face was very serious.

"Do you ever think about us... as a whole?" His brow was furrowed in thought, and the needle had stilled.

I sat up and moved to the end of the couch to sit closer to him.

"I used to think," I told him softly. "That we were an entity formed from the five of us into a single... something new," I floundered.

But he brightened. "Each of us bringing something to the whole?"

"Exactly!" I couldn't help grinning, I had never told anyone about my odd thoughts and was pleased that maybe I hadn't thought them alone.

"How do you see Trowa, Quatre and Wufei?" he asked then and I ducked my head, a little embarrassed.

"I guess I thought of us forming a single person. I always saw Trowa as our frame. The strength that we were grounded on, that supported the rest of us."

He nodded slightly, almost unconsciously, "Our great bear," he murmured. "Our gentle giant. Always there... always so steady."

I smiled at the thought, amused at the different way we thought of the same basic concept. "Quatre is our heart, deceptively strong and constant."

Duo grinned fondly, "our little hawk; sunshine bright and always soaring... rising above it all."

I grunted in surprise and glanced up at him, but he was looking at his sewing again, needle moving slowly. "Wufei?" he prompted after a moment.

I couldn't help but chuckle. "Our freaking iron nerve."

He laughed; delighted. "Our great, fierce dragon." He looked up at me, affection plain in his eyes. "Ever protective."

I snorted softly, and remembered what I had thought all those years ago; perhaps you can't name your own part in the bigger whole.

I didn't make him ask. "And you are our bright and shining spirit. Our hope and our joy." I thought for a minute and applied his own theory to it, "Our clever, elusive, panther."

He froze and blinked at me, face flushing slightly and eyes wide. He made a surprised little 'oh' of sound and then looked at me hard. He understood, and didn't make me ask either.

"You have always been our mind; our driving force, keeping us balanced and on course." He had applied my own perspective on things first, and grew wistful as he got to his own. "Our great wolf. Striving so hard to be the lone wolf, but ever the leader of the pack."

It was my turn to blink and flush. Wolf? Wolfling? I snorted softly and then met those bottomless pools of living amethyst. He was grinning at me; at my embarrassed reaction. I growled deep in my throat and surprised a yelp of a laugh from him. The quilt was forgotten for the night while we explored the meanings behind each other's definition of ourselves.

Not long after that, he became secretive about the quilt. There was something he didn't want me to see until it was finished. I teased him, but respected his desires and didn't pry, sometimes making a point of going out for an evening to give him the space to work. He grew more excited and oddly, more pensive as the bundle in the sewing basket grew larger. I would never have let him know it, but I really was dying to see it.

When the quilt was, at long last, nearing completion, he surprised me with plans of a dinner get together. We hadn't gone out or even had anyone in much since he had become obsessed with this project. So, I was a little surprised when he announced that he wanted to have the guys over and fix dinner. He planned the whole thing himself, right down to the menu, though I had to tone it down some. He was acting rather like a teen-ager about to have his first date. He even brought home a rather expensive bottle of wine, flushing slightly when I raised an eyebrow; we really didn't drink much.

"Duo," I finally had to ask, when I had wracked my brain to no avail. "Have I missed some kind of anniversary?"

He laughed at me, delighted. "Nope," he kissed me in reassurance, but refused to explain further.

So, Saturday night found me in the kitchen preparing lasagna and grilled salmon while Duo cleaned and polished and set the table just so. Even making a trip out to get flowers for the table. All I could do was shake my head and wait to see where he would lead me.

He changed clothes twice, finally settling on black denim; the hint of a white t-shirt peeking out at the open collar of the button down shirt. It took me back to the war years with a start. He brushed his hair until it shone like liquid amber and braided it tight and neat.

I finally caught him on his third trip into the kitchen to re-arrange the place settings, and pinned him to the doorframe.

"Duo, what the hell is going on?"

He flushed and lowered his eyes, his lips dancing in the strangest, nervous smile.

"You'll see," he finally told me.

I kissed him gently, feeling the excitement running through him. "Love," I told him softly. "You are as uptight as a virgin schoolmarm in a saloon full of drunken cowboys."

He threw back his head and laughed out loud, eyes alive with mischief, then wrapped his arms around my neck.

"Have I told you today that I love you?" he whispered in my ear.

"No," I told him in mock severity. "You have not; but if you start telling me now, the salmon is going to burn."

He let go with a yelp and took himself off to the living room to put on some music while I rescued the fish.

The music, when it began to play, was that ages old McKinnett CD, the one I had bought him during the war and had to replace. I had to wonder if all the reminders were on purpose. The knock on the front door kept me from bringing it up.

The apartment was suddenly alive with their voices. Duo had told me once that whenever all five of us were together, he felt like he had come home. I knew just how he felt, hearing them come in, their familiar sounds and voices washing around me. Duo was already goading Wufei, and my partner was sparring easily with my mate, their bantering coming to me from the living room. Quatre's bright laughter mingling with Duo's, Trowa's deep rumble coming toward me; he could always be counted on for help in the kitchen.

Duo had made a salad, something he had managed to master over the years, and I had Trowa set it out and we called the group to the table. I noticed that Duo had saved the wine for after dinner.

I endured the usual round of teasing about my cooking, about why it was I never took my turn during the safe-house years, as Duo called them. I deftly managed to turn the barbs in Duo's direction, and they were soon joking with him about his lack of culinary skills.

"You would have lived off peanut butter and raisins, if we had let you!" Wufei grinned, waving a fork full of salmon for emphasis.

"Hey!" Duo defended, "Protein and iron and you didn't have to cook it; what could be better?"

"Heero's lasagna." Quatre smirked, taking a bite of the gooey stuff.

"The salmon's better." Duo grinned back. Despite lasagna being one of Trowa and Quatre's favorites, Duo and Wufei had never been all that fond of it. Hence the two main courses.

Duo had settled down a little, was not quite so wound-like-a-cheap-watch excited, but still radiated a glow of anticipation. I couldn't help but wonder again what he was up to.

We finished the meal, and the group of us started to clean up the mess, just as we always did, but Duo waved us out of the kitchen. "Later. I'll get it later. Come on."

No one could argue with his oddly nervous smile, and we adjourned to the living room without dispute. The music was still playing softly, and the wine and wine glasses were sitting on the coffee table.

Trowa quirked a small smile at us. "What's the occasion?"

"Damned if I know," I muttered and claimed my corner of the couch before someone else took it.

Duo grinned at me and opened the bottle of wine, filling the five glasses and setting the bottle back in the ice bucket. He nervously cleared his throat, looking around at us with a strange uncertainty in his eyes.

"Hmmm... " he finally began. "I suppose you all know about Misty asking us to be Godparents?"

Quatre couldn't contain a burst of delighted laughter. "Of course we do, Duo! It's all you've talked about for months!"

Duo flushed and ducked his head, taking a small sip of his wine.

"Well," he seemed to be floundering a little, searching for words. "I don't figure that there's going to be... a whole lot of kids in our lives."

I saw his eyes flick toward Wufei, but he didn't start the teasing, and I detected a hint of relief on Wufei's face.

"Not bloody likely," Trowa murmured, a strange smirk on his face, glancing at his lover. Quatre blushed bright red.

Duo struggled gamely on and I watched him, not understanding where this was going at all.

"So I thought... that Misty's kid was going to probably be the closest I ever come to being involved ... " he hesitated and then began again. "Almost like being... an uncle." He was looking more into his wine glass than he was at us. "And you guys are like... the only family I have... and... "

We were all silent, waiting for him to get it spit out, but the words just stopped flowing. He finally looked up, meeting our eyes one after the other.

"Ah, hell... just let me show you." He sat his glass down and went into the bedroom and when he returned, I recognized the bundle in his arms. I hadn't realized it was finished. He brought the quilt around and spread it out over the chair, displaying it for all to see, stepping aside without a word to get our reactions.

I rose to look closer. It was not at all what I had expected. It was made in two pieces, the bottom two thirds, a traditional quilt. Silver and white stars sprinkled across a field of the dark, silver-shot blue. I repressed a smile. The stars were arrayed as I had laid them out that first night on the coffee table; he had sewed them together in my pattern. But the top third... it was made to look like a row of strange animals were tucked under the quilt formed by the bottom part. In the center was a great green, gold, and white dragon, wings spread wide across the width of the quilt. Curling protectively around the other animals nestled in on either side of it, its onyx eyes glittering fiercely. On it's right, there curled a great, brown bear, its head turned toward the form next to it so that only one of its emerald eyes was visible. Beside him, tucked inside the embrace of the bear, was a golden, blue-eyed hawk, feathers made of a dozen shades of gold and brown and amber. On the left side of the dragon there was a gray wolf and a black panther. Facing each other, but on a level, their fore paws touching, gazing into each others eyes. The wolf had piercing eyes of cobalt blue, and the panther, surprising eyes of amethyst. I had not known you could paint with fabric.

"Duo... " I heard Quatre gasp. "It's beautiful!"

I was still looking. I had just noticed the delicate Chinese character for 'honor' stitched into the crest of the dragon. The small gold cross embroidered around the neck of the panther. There was not so much as a sliver of red anywhere in the entire quilt. I thought somehow that might mean something. I thought that I could gaze at it all night and not find all of the messages it held.

"It... it's... us!" I heard Wufei stutter, and was glad I had not had to point that out.

I turned to look at Duo, and he was beaming, trying to hide his happy grin behind the wine glass, flushing faintly. I moved to stand behind him, watching the others with him, my hands resting lightly on his hips.

"It's incredible," I whispered to him, pleased to see his blush deepen.

Trowa was leaning in to look closely at the field of stars and suddenly exclaimed, "Look! The Gundams are in here!" I had to go look; I had missed it.

On closer inspection, we found that there was a subtle secondary design that Duo called the 'quilting'. It was an outline of stitches that ran a broken path all over the quilt. Duo said it was necessary to hold the layers together. All five Gundams were hidden in the field of midnight blue, dancing between the silver stars. The hidden designs were everywhere, and I could have stood there all night and searched for them.

A child, curling in the middle of it would have lain under the protective sweep of the dragon's wings, snuggled safe with the wolf and panther on the one side, the bear and the hawk on the other. The animals did not sleep, but were there... ever watchful.

I was enthralled. I was enchanted. I looked over at my lover, heart swelling with pride, amazed once again at the depth of the man I was in love with.

Trowa was glancing between Duo and the quilt, an odd grin on his face.

"This is truly beautiful work, Duo," he told him, sounding no little astounded.

Wufei had been silent since pointing out who the quilt's subjects were, and I looked at him now. He looked dazed. I think he understood what I was beginning to see, and he confirmed it when he suddenly set his wine glass down and walked up to stand in front of Duo, eyes strangely bright.

"Of course," he said to Duo, as though answering a direct question. "Whatever is yours to protect is mine as well."

I thought for a strange moment that both of them were going to cry, but Duo settled for throwing his arms around Wufei's neck in a spontaneous tight hug that my partner returned in full. I heard a muttered, "Thank you," from Duo.

Quatre and Trowa understood the message the quilt was meant to deliver then, and came to give their own reassurance of their support of that message and got their own heart-felt embraces.

The rest of the evening went in a blur. We sprawled around the living room, laughing together as we reminisced and finished our wine. We were able, somehow, to remember only the good things and set the crap aside for a golden evening together. It was truly like coming home. They stayed until the small hours of the morning.

Sunday, I went out alone to the 'Silver Threads'. I spent an hour going through quilt books until I found the pattern I wanted. I then exacted revenge on the clerks, by making them figure yardages for me and I picked out my fabrics and had them cut the right amounts. When I took my purchases to the car and glanced back, I didn't see any giggling. Maybe they were starting to get used to me. Good. I suspected we were going to become regular customers here, Duo and I.

I found him fussing with wrapping the quilt. Just so, with tissue paper and ribbons and the whole thing. He looked up when I walked in, his face growing puzzled as he recognized the sack. He didn't ask, but waited for me to speak. I went around the couch and put the package with the book and fabric in it down on the table beside him and pulled him to his feet. I kissed him, long and deep, my hands on his back, pressing his chest to mine. A perplexed smile played about his lips as I drew back, and I whispered softly into his ear, "I don't want any more blankets on our bed."

He blinked at me in surprise.

"I want to sleep under something that you made with your own hands." I smiled at him tenderly. I'm slow about these things sometimes, but I usually get it eventually, "I want my own message."

And, as important, I wanted more of the puzzle pieces that made up my Duo.

End of 'The Quilt'

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