Part Four: House of Chrysanthemums
A dog is sleeping
Holding its head between the legs.
House of chrysanthemums.
--- Kyoshi Takahama
The sun was past the trees when Heero pulled up to the cabin. The Jeep's high beams caught the low-slung porch, and the overhanging roof. They could see double windows on either side of the door, and Trowa immediately noted that the porch was solid. It didn't appear to be leaning, although he could make out broken panes in the windows to the right of the door.
He stepped out of the car, turning immediately to open the door for Jade, who hopped out. Trowa was amused to note that while Jade stuck close to him, the longhaired man seemed curious and alert. Heero had the trunk opened, and was pulling out the luggage.
"Jade, carry your pillow," Trowa instructed.
Grabbing his own suitcase, the two men followed Heero to the front door. Fumbling slightly with the lock, Heero got the door open. The Jeep's headlights were still on, illuminating the shadowy interior. Trowa was surprised to see Jade move confidently into the dark house, and settle his pillow on the floor over by the fireplace. There was a flare of light, and Trowa turned to see that Heero had managed to light one of the hurricane lamps. He quickly lit the other two, setting them beside the first.
"I'll shut off the Jeep's lights while you look around," Heero suggested.
"Jade," Trowa called, as he lifted the lamp high to look around. "Stay close to me until we make sure it's all safe."
They were in the cabin's main living room, and Trowa wondered if the house were originally a hunting cabin. There were areas on the walls where the wood was lighter, over the built-in shelves on either side of the stone fireplace. Trowa thought the spaces looked about the size for plaques displaying stuffed animal heads, and frowned at the idea. Turning, the lamp threw their shadows across the wall as he took in the rest of the room. The ceiling went up to the rafters, and steep, narrow stairs on his right led to an overhead loft. The rails were suspiciously tilted at a few points, and some spindles missing.
There was a low couch in front of the fireplace, covered with a white sheet, and two more shapes on either side that were probably high-back chairs. A footstool was upside down in the seat of one of the chairs. A table, piled with pillows, blankets, and sheets, sat against the far wall between an archway and a single glass door. Trowa noticed three doors along the stairs wall, the first of which was half-height and tucked under the stairs. He opened it and promptly sneezed at the dust in the little closet. The lamp was taken from his hands, and Trowa smiled his gratitude at Jade for the quick thinking, even as he sneezed a second time.
Opening the second door revealed a small bedroom, and Trowa saw what Liddie had meant. The mattress was more mouse hole than stuffing, and he frowned. Closing that door, he tried the third, which turned out to be a small bathroom. The sink was along the wall, and a large claw-footed tub sat beyond it, with the toilet tucked in at the end. Behind the toilet was a small door in the wall, which Trowa presumed led to the water heater. Motioning to Jade to follow, Trowa turned on the tap, relieved to see water rushing out. Then he leaned over to look at the tub.
"I'll hose myself down in the front yard before I use that," he muttered, mostly to himself. The bottom of the tub was coated in grime and dust, with small footprints from rodents and insects. Water stains and rust ringed the tub, probably from water overflows that had sat, over the years.
Back out in the main room, Trowa took the lamp back and led them both through the open archway into what appeared to be a newer addition. Newer, Trowa thought, wasn't the proper word. If the house itself was nearly two hundred years old, the addition couldn't be less than seventy-five years. Swinging the lamp around, he saw a bright blue phone sitting on the countertop, and smiled to himself. Liddie had mentioned the house had phone service, but without electricity, the vid-phones wouldn't work.
"We're roughing it," Trowa told Jade. He was surprised to realize he was talking out loud, when normally he would say nothing. He presumed it was the discomfort he felt, being with Duo and not having to filter out Duo's constant chatter. Not, Trowa admitted, that Duo really chattered. He just always seemed to have something to say when Trowa would have preferred silence. The tall man sighed, and turned in a circle, taking in the kitchen.
There was a sink under the window, on the right, with countertops stretching along the wall. The refrigerator was to his right as he came through the archway, and it was rumbling at a low volume. Frowning, Trowa put his hand on it, feeling it vibrating, and then opened the door. The inside was rusted and filthy, but distinctly colder. He wondered if it ran on propane, and shrugged, closing the door. There was a stove next to the fridge, and a fireplace opposite the entryway. On the wall to his left were two French doors, leading outside. In the last dying light of the sun, he could barely make out the shape of a porch and steps leading down. Trowa recalled the single French door in the living room, to the left of the small table, and realized it probably also led onto the back porch.
"Trowa?" Heero stepped into the kitchen, and looked around with a scowl on his face. "I doubt anyone will deliver pizza out this far."
Trowa flashed him a smile, and set the lamp down on the round table in the middle of the room. One of the chairs creaked dangerously when he pulled it out, and he thought better of it. Pushing it back under the table, he set his hands on his hips and studied the room a second time. Jade was by the sink, his hands behind his back as he waited silently.
"We need groceries," Trowa said.
Slipping past Heero, he knelt by his luggage and dug around in his suitcase until he came up with his journal. It was an old-fashioned thing to use, but he'd taken to jotting down reminders in it, after the war ended. The original one had been a gift from Duo, and Trowa paused, suddenly heartsick. Steeling himself, he ripped out a blank page from the back, grabbed a pen, and returned to the kitchen.
"Jade, I want you to write a shopping list."
Heero didn't say anything, but the way he shifted his weight from one foot to the other spoke volumes. Trowa shook his head, and continued to hold out the list. There was a pause, and Jade slowly shuffled over, the hiking boots thumping against the wooden floor, hampering his normal cat-soft tread. His thin fingers grasped the paper and pen, and Trowa pulled out one of the sturdier looking chairs.
"Sit, Jade, and list everything you want us to buy that you think we'll need."
"Are you purposefully trying to kill us?" Heero's voice was a hiss in the kitchen's darkness. "I've eaten Du--Maxwell's cooking. I never want to experience that again."
"It said on the list that he cooks, and cleans... among other things." Trowa glanced up with a smile, listening to the scratch of pen on paper as Jade meticulously wrote out a list of items. "That little shopping center we passed, when we went through town. Can you find it again?"
Heero crossed his arms. "Yes," he replied sullenly. "And I'm adding something pre-cooked to that list. I lived through the war. I don't plan on dying a slow death from Maxwellian experiments at this point."
"I'll taste-test for you," Trowa said quietly, but his tone was teasing. Closing the distance between them, he placed his hands on Heero's hips and pulled the shorter man towards him, enveloping Heero in a gentle hug. "There's something else... I want you to get a ribbon, too."
"A ribbon," Heero repeated, dubious.
"To replace... " Trowa leaned away from Heero, turning to look at the strip of fabric still tied loosely around Jade's neck. "A simple ribbon will do."
The sound of the pen stopped, followed by a clatter as it was set down on the table. Trowa turned to see Duo slipping from the chair to sink into a kneel, holding the paper up. His right hand cradled the paper, and his left hand was behind his back. Trowa sighed, and stepped away from Heero, taking the list. He handed it to Heero without looking.
"There's household products on here, too," Heero whispered, surprised. He looked up at Trowa, a thin line between his brows.
"Jade," Trowa said suddenly. "Take one of the lamps and go see if the upstairs is habitable. If it is, start carrying the luggage up."
"God damn it," Heero spat, nearly crushing the list in his hand. "He's not a damn servant. Stop ordering him about!"
Jade cringed on the floor next to Trowa, and the tall man set his hand on Jade's head for a second before speaking. "Go on, Jade. I'll be down here." The silent man came to his feet, slipping past Heero without touching him, and Trowa watched Jade take one of the lamps and head up the stairs. Trowa sighed and stepped forward, sighing again as Heero stiffened at his touch. "Heero, you have to calm down. What would you have done if it was Maxwell here, instead?"
Heero's answer sounded reluctant. "Told him to find out if the upstairs... " His shoulders slumped.
Trowa nodded, and leaned forward, catching Heero's lips in a quick, chaste kiss. "I've wanted to do that all day," he whispered. Before he could pull away, Heero caught him by the shirt and pulled Trowa's head down for a longer kiss.
"And I've wanted to do that all day," Heero said with a shy smile. "I'll head to the store now."
"One other thing. Can you call Quatre and ask him to keep Iffy for a little longer?" Trowa cursed himself for not thinking of the kitten sooner, but figured it was just as well. Quatre's children adored the pest.
Heero nodded, and pulled out his keys, leaning up for one last quick kiss. "Be back soon," he said.
"We'll be here," Trowa told him, watching the slim Japanese man leave. Heero didn't look up to see Jade at the top of the stairs, nor did he say anything. Trowa ran a hand through his hair and went to help Jade take the luggage up the stairs.
Heero returned an hour and a half later, by Trowa's estimation. By that time, Jade had inventoried the full kitchen, and pots and pans were everywhere, along with a full set of china for eight. Trowa had taken over the loft, using the broom Jade had found in a corner of the kitchen. There had been a moment of tension, where Trowa suspected Jade was silently protesting not being allowed to do the work himself. Trowa calmly insisted, and Jade bowed a little before following Trowa's directive to investigate the kitchen thoroughly.
When the gravel crunched out front from the Jeep's wheels, Trowa was just laying down the last of the bedding Liddie had left for them. He came down the stairs to greet Heero, and grinned as Heero kicked the door open, his arms full of groceries.
"I hope that fridge works," the Japanese man growled.
"It seems to," Trowa replied, going out to the car to get the rest of the groceries.
Soon the kitchen floor was littered with plastic bags, full of groceries. Jade seemed perfectly happy unloading each and putting items in the fridge, placing others on the countertop. Trowa placed a second lamp on the kitchen table to illuminate the area, and left Jade to his own devices. Heero was in the living room, filling up the three empty hurricane lamps that Trowa had found, and replacing the wicks on one of them.
"Got this," Heero said, pulling a small box from his pocket. He placed it on the table and went back to threading the wick through the lamp's opening. "There's a jewelry store in the shopping center," he added quietly.
Trowa opened the box, curious, and pulled out a small necklace. It was a simple pendant of a silver bar, rectangular and about a half-inch long, with a hole through its back. It was threaded onto a short black silk cord, and Trowa did his best to hide a smile. Resting his hand gently on Heero's shoulder in silent thanks, he headed into the kitchen.
"Jade," he called softly. "I... we... have something for you."
Jade immediately set down what he was doing and scurried to kneel at Trowa's feet. His head was down, but his entire body radiated happiness. Trowa could see Jade's shoulders quivering, and he sighed as he knelt in front of Jade. He was too tired to remind Jade, one more time, to stop kneeling. Carefully he untied the strip of cloth from around Jade's neck.
"Lift up your hair," he whispered, moving around behind Jade. "This is for you, from both of us," he added, as he caught the necklace's latch with his thumbnail, leaning around Jade to place it around the man's neck. Once it was in place, he patted Jade on the shoulder and stood. "That's yours. If you ever are in doubt, that's to let you know... " Trowa's voice cracked, and he couldn't finish the sentence. Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself. "Go back to what you were doing. We'll be in the living room."
Heero was sitting on the sofa when Trowa entered the living room, and looked up from the magazine he'd bought.
"I think he likes it," Trowa said, seating himself next to Heero with a sigh. Heero raised his arm, pulling Trowa closer, and the taller man swung his legs around to lay with his head against Heero's chest. "But I don't know... "
"Don't know what?" Heero's breath was soft against Trowa's hair.
"Does he really like anything, now? Or does he like it, and respond... " Trowa closed his eyes, his voice dropping to a whisper. "When I told him I had something for him, I could tell he was... excited. Delighted, maybe. But is he really? Or is it just that this is the way he's supposed to act when his--" Trowa's voice took on a sarcastic note "--Master... gives him something? Could we have beaten him thoroughly, told him it was a reward, and he'd be just as happy?"
"I don't know." Heero shrugged. Trowa could feel the movement against his back. "Maxwell always loved gifts. Getting them, giving them."
They were silent for a moment, listening to the water running in the kitchen. Jade was splashing a little, and it sounded like he was cleaning up. Trowa stirred, turning his head to see into the kitchen. Jade's shadow moved against the far wall, and Trowa lowered his head, closing his eyes.
"Do you think it's safe to light a fire?" Heero's voice was subdued.
"I'd rather have someone come look at it, first." Trowa tilted his head to look at his lover. "You surprised me, buying that for Jade."
"I saw the jewelry store was open, so I stopped in there first."
"And?" Trowa caught the note in Heero's voice, which indicated Heero was trying to drop the subject. Naturally he wasn't going to let that happen. "What made you get that particular pendant?"
"I... " Heero's voice trailed off into a mumble. Trowa bumped him with a shoulder, and Heero looked abashed as he answered. "I called Relena."
Trowa raised an eyebrow.
"She always bought the gifts," his lover protested. "I figured she'd know which would look best. So I described the three that seemed most appropriate, and she told me which one." Heero paused, giving Trowa a puzzled look. "You aren't jealous, are you?"
Trowa considered that, and frowned to indicate his disagreement. "Not really. Did you tell her... who it was for?"
Heero sighed and leaned his head on the back of the sofa. "Yeah. The words were out of my mouth... I made her promise not to tell anyone. I only said he was found, and he needs time to recover from the mission."
"And then she helped you pick out a necklace?"
"I said it was a get-well gift."
"Sounds like she took it calmly." Trowa clasped his fingers on his chest, resting as he listened to Jade clattering pots and pans in the kitchen.
Heero snorted. "She informed me she'd go into hysterics once she was off the phone."
"You two were married too long, if she can pull a Yuy."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Heero lowered his head to glare at Trowa.
"Mission mode," Trowa explained equitably. "And deal with the details later."
His lover looked annoyed, but only mildly so. Trowa chuckled and nuzzled the back of his head against Heero's chest, comforted as Heero dropped his arm around Trowa's shoulders and pulled him closer. Heero sniffed, frowned, and sniffed again.
"Do you smell that?"
"Smell... " Trowa paused, and sniffed, then inhaled. "What did you buy? What was on the list, anyway?"
"Scrub brushes, shampoo, lamp oil, candles, red and white wine, among other things." Heero ticked off the list. "And fresh fish, vegetables, meat... along with milk, bread, eggs... "
"I didn't even know Maxwell knew there were four food groups."
"Sure he did." Heero smirked. "Chocolate, ramen, potato chips, and root-beer floats."
Trowa made a face. "Sounds pretty repulsive when you list it like that." Reluctantly he sat up, ignoring Heero's complaining sound. "I'm going to go see what he's--"
His words were cut short as Jade appeared in the doorway, his eyes downcast as he came around the sofa to kneel a few feet from the sofa. Heero gave Trowa a pointed look, and the taller man sighed.
"Jade, don't kneel on the floor like that." Trowa stood up. "Dinner's ready?"
Jade came to his feet in a single fluid move and led the way back to the dining room. Trowa was startled to see one hurricane lamp was now hanging over the middle of the kitchen table from a hook. Storm candles were set in saucers, casting a soft glow over the table. One bowl contained what Trowa suspected might be steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and a second bowl held saffron rice. A platter in the middle contained two rainbow trout, glistening in butter and laying on a bed of greens. A bottle of white wine sat on the side. The entire dinner smelled heavenly. Trowa turned to Heero with a grin.
"If you want that canned soup, you're welcome to it." He pulled out a chair, tested it for stability, and sat down. "I think I could eat the entire dinner, and the table too, if only it would also taste as good as this dinner smells." Trowa turned to compliment Jade, and frowned. "Jade?"
Heero stepped up to the table, puzzled. "There's only two place settings, Tro."
"Shit," Trowa muttered, finally looking down. Jade was settled next to him, kneeling at his side. There was a plate in front of Jade, but it was empty. Trowa leaned his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. "I can't fucking do this," he muttered.
"You're not doing this alone," Heero replied, quickly stepping forward to rest his hands on Trowa's shoulders. "Jade," he said, louder, looking down. "Put that plate on the table and sit in one of the chairs."
Jade didn't move.
"Trowa," Heero hissed. "Tell him."
"Jade, do it," Trowa ordered, his voice firm.
Jade cringed, but didn't move. His head remained down, his hands behind his back.
"Fuck this," Heero said. Angrily he reached down, catching Jade under the elbows and bodily hauling the silent man to his feet. He yelped as Jade twisted out of his grasp and dropped back down on his knees, huddling closer to Trowa's thigh. "What the fuck?" Heero pointed at the table, fully aware Jade's back was to him, but pushed beyond reason. "Sit!" He shouted, and his fists clenched. "At the table, Jade!"
Heero leaned forward, but froze as Trowa twisted in his seat. "Enough!"
Jade immediately went down into a low bow, his forehead pressed against the floor, his hands behind him. His entire body was shaking. Heero opened his mouth, but Trowa shot him a fierce look.
"Heero, sit down." Trowa sighed, trying to release the frustration before speaking again. Slowly he leaned over, resting his hand on the back of Jade's head, smoothing down the hair with a gentle touch. "Jade, it's okay. You did nothing wrong. Sit up, and have some dinner." He continued murmuring under his breath until Jade sat back up, sniffling a little. "Heero, please, take a seat."
The dark-haired man glowered for a second, then settled into the chair opposite and began serving them both. They were silent for a moment as Trowa took Jade's plate. Tasting each dish, he chose the steamed vegetables and rice, skipping the fish as too spicy for Jade's stomach. He ignored Heero's glare and set the plate back down on the floor in front of Jade, resting his hand on Jade's head for a second before filling his own plate.
"I can't believe--"
Trowa cut Heero off with a look. "Heero, listen to me. He was gone for six months. That's more than enough time to inflict some serious changes." He leaned forward and grabbed the wine bottle and the corkscrew. "In case you hadn't noticed," he nearly snarled, then set the bottle down, exhaling slowly. "I'm sorry. I'm just... as frustrated as you are."
"Then damn it, you shouldn't have--"
"We can't change everything in one day," Trowa snapped, but kept his voice low. He glanced down, watching as Duo carefully picked through the vegetables, eating delicately with his fingers. Trowa shook his head sadly and gave Heero a tight smile. "If we change too much, I think... I'm not sure, but it just seems... he's used to a routine. We've got to pick our battles. One thing at a time."
Heero was silent for a long time, staring at the glass doors, now reflecting the scene back at them. Trowa, filling their glasses with wine, and at his side, Jade, on his knees, carefully picking through the vegetables. Trowa glanced up as he set the bottle down.
"I know," the dark-haired man replied softly. "But I don't have to like it."
Trowa was silent for a second, busy letting the fish melt in his mouth. Swallowing, he took a sip of wine, and tossed Heero a small smile. "About that canned soup... the offer still stands. I'll make sure there're no leftovers. This is excellent, Jade." Trowa dropped his hand to brush his knuckles against Jade's cheek, and sighed a little as Jade promptly rubbed his face against Trowa's hand. "Eat all your vegetables," Trowa told the longhaired man. Sitting back up, he gave Heero a tired look. "I know this is upsetting you."
Heero stabbed at the rice with his fork, and took a bite. He set down his fork and rubbed his forehead for a minute before answering. When he dropped his hand, Trowa could tell Heero had reached a decision of some sort. That familiar glint was in Heero's eyes, indicating he'd settled on a course of action. The taller man wondered how long it would take, this time, before Heero thought to explain his decision.
Six years of marriage didn't teach him a great deal about communication, Trowa thought, bemused somehow. If anything, it taught Relena how to talk less. Trowa sipped his wine and waited for Heero to introduce the new topic.
"Have you had a chance to look around?" Heero stared around them, at the kitchen. "At least we know the stove works, and the plumbing."
"I think tomorrow we should start with cleaning," Trowa replied, helping himself to more fish. "The bathroom alone is going to be a half-day adventure, I think. And we've got to haul the bed out, too."
"And one of those chairs. It's rotted out." Heero pushed his empty plate away from him, and leaned his cheek on his fist, watching Trowa finish his meal. "I think two of these chairs are probably going to be firewood, too."
"I've counted six broken window panes. And I think the fridge needs work. It's running but it's not cooling too much." Trowa glanced down to make sure Jade had finished the vegetables, and was pleased to see Jade had cleaned his plate. "Jade? Want more?"
Jade leaned back, his hands behind his back.
"Hand me your plate, if you want more. If you're full, go sit on the sofa." Trowa hid a smile as Jade lifted his plate, and Trowa scraped the last of the vegetables and rice onto the plate. He set it back down in front of Jade and returned his attention to Heero, who was scowling at the exchange. Trowa chose to ignore it. "Tomorrow morning, you and I can haul out the furniture while Jade cleans the bathroom?"
"Sounds good," Heero said. "I'll go down to Liddie's and find out if she knows about trash hauling or the local dump."
"While you're at the bottom of the drive, call for a chimney sweep. We'll have them do both."
"We need an axe, general tools... " Heero leaned back in his chair. "That reminds me. I talked to Quatre. I didn't give him any details. I just told him we were on a joint mission. He said he's willing to keep that damn cat for a little longer, but his eldest gets back from summer camp next week."
Trowa nodded. Laylah was allergic, yet loved animals. Having Ifrit around the house was something Quatre would prefer to avoid. Trowa pushed his plate away, and looked down to see Jade still working at his own plate. Trowa sipped the rest of his wine as he thought.
"I think I should put my stuff in storage," he finally said. "I'll call Quatre tomorrow around lunch time. He's got keys to my place. If we get a generator, we can hook up a laptop and use the phone line to connect."
"Good idea. You think Quatre would deal with my place, too? He can get the spare keys from Relena."
"You don't have anything in your place. You never even bought a table to go with your chairs." Trowa smirked, finishing his wine and set the glass down on the table with thump. He gave Heero a lazy smile as he reviewed the empty dishes. "So much for leftovers."
Heero stood up, stretching a little, and Trowa stood up as well. Jade scrambled to his feet, and Trowa was pleased to see a little smile on Jade's face as he collected the cleaned plates, and the empty bowls and platter. The longhaired man busied himself setting the dishes in the sink, running the water as he took the glasses and the wine bottle out to the living room. He returned a minute later, blowing out the candles as Heero and Trowa left the kitchen.
"I think we were being dismissed," Heero whispered, but his mood seemed lighter. Trowa draped an arm over Heero's shoulder, and the shorter man yawned. "What are the sleeping arrangements?"
"Nothing with privacy... yet," Trowa promised. "But I'm working on it. Tonight, blankets on the floor."
"I'm too old for that." Heero yawned again. "I'm going to brush my teeth and head to bed, I think."
"I'll wait for Jade," the taller man replied. Seeing Heero's look, Trowa rolled his eyes. "I'm not sure what he'll do if we go to bed without him. I'm half worried he'd kneel in the kitchen waiting for his next order. We've got to get him into a routine."
Heero cocked his head, hearing the splashing in the kitchen, and shrugged. "Sounds like he's setting up his own, already."
"Yeah," Trowa said. "I wonder if... " I wonder if Jade is trying to get us to do what he expects, Trowa wondered, and set the thought aside for daytime contemplation. "Never mind. Just... I'll be up soon."
He was rewarded with a genuine smile, a sweet look that was Heero's alone, and the brush of knuckles against the back of his hand. Trowa replied with a crooked, tired smile, and watched as his lover took up a hurricane lamp and headed up the stairs. The tall man leaned against the back of the sofa, crossing his arms and dropping his chin as he waited for Jade to complete his self-appointed duties. There would be time, he decided, in the daylight, to figure out which routines to change first, and which battles to fight.
End Part 4
On to Chapter five
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