I wasn’t sure if I should be angry at Wufei, or thankful to him. That admission from Duo had hurt. A hell of a damn lot. I remembered my thoughts that he seemed like he was fading. I remembered my resolve to pull him back from the edge, and it hurt to realize that a moment of misunderstanding had come that close to taking him away from me. But at the same time, it was such a relief to have it out in the open. To know that my vague suspicions weren’t groundless.
And to hear Duo admit it, not just to us, but to himself… it was a sign that he was ready to accept that there was more of a problem than just an ugly encounter with Quatre Winner. A sign that he was ready to let us in.
A sign that he was ready to come home.
I was more than prepared to make that happen no matter what I had to do.
Duo was released that afternoon with all manner of instructions that seemed to boil down to not exerting himself. With the three of us around to watch out for him, that wasn’t likely to be a problem.
Trowa and Wufei came out to the house, as much from morbid curiosity, I think, than anything. Though they were more than happy to hear about the bed and breakfast in town, once they’d seen the place, and opted to spend their nights there.
That first day, I was just relieved to get Duo back to someplace familiar, even if it wasn’t my first choice of locations. It’s where he’d been living for the last eight months and I felt like he could relax there more than he could in a hospital bed.
If Trowa and Wufei were as appalled as I had been by Duo’s living arrangements, they didn’t show it. Once the dogs had ‘cleared’ them, they waded right in and dealt with whatever needed to be dealt with, leaving me to take care of Duo.
I was surprised and thankful to discover that the both of them knew way more about animals than I did, and they took over dealing with things that needed doing that I hadn’t even known about. Grooming things and exercise things that went way beyond the simple ‘feed them’ part I’d been doing.
All the animals seemed happy to see Duo, though none of them as much as Reason. We were forced to let the damn dog stay in the house that first day, because trying to separate him from Duo’s side had resulted in the beast sitting outside the front door and howling mournfully until he was let in.
Though there was something about Duo’s scent that made all of them cautious around him. As though the smells of the hospital told them that he wasn’t well. It was a relief, because I’d worried that the rambunctious dogs in particular, might hurt him accidentally.
Reason was stand-offish with Wufei and Trowa, not especially hostile, but less than welcoming, but oddly… he seemed to accept me as some kind of pack mate. It made me wonder if he somehow remembered that I’d helped Duo when he was hurt. Though it was probably something much more fundamental… like Duo’s scent lingering on me. Or maybe I’d just won points for brushing him.
There had been so much to worry about when we’d first gotten to the house; I hadn’t even been sure where to start. I’d been afraid of letting the fire burn in the stove while I’d been gone, and the house had been almost as cold as being outside. Last damn thing I needed was to let Duo get chilled. And of course there had been the mess the dog had made, and the things I’d bought that were still packed in my rental car.
The food, of course, had been a total loss, but most of the blankets had still been clean and I’d settled Duo on the couch, wrapped up in them with Reason trying to lie across his legs while I’d gotten the fire going. I’d been hauling in extra wood when Trowa came to find me, taking the logs from my hands with a sigh that had sounded exasperated. ‘You know, dumb-ass,’ he said genially. ‘Shared body heat is a perfectly valid way to warm the human body.’
‘What?’ I asked, blinking at him in confusion and he rolled his eyes at me, poking me in the arm with one of the pieces of firewood.
‘Let Wufei and I take care of the mundane crap,’ he ordered. ‘From us, Duo gets food and heat and chores. From you… he gets what he really needs. Now get the hell in there.’
It only took me a moment to realize what he was saying and I couldn’t help the heavy sigh, kind of disgusted with myself and kind of embarrassed. ‘God,’ I muttered. ‘This is going to be hard to get used to.’
He chuckled, adding more wood to the pile in his arms. ‘It’ll get easier.’
Not like I was going to object about not having to clean up the dog shit anyway.
Duo was more than happy to make room for me on the couch, though Reason seemed disgruntled about being rousted out of my way. I settled with Duo reclining against my chest, with the blankets wrapped around the both of us.
‘Where did these come from?’ he asked me, the tips of his bound fingers brushing over the thick pile.
‘One of the things I went after that day,’ I told him gently. ‘I about froze my ass off that first night.’
He gave a dry little chuckle while we watched Reason get frustrated when he couldn’t get himself back up onto the couch with us. ‘You’re just soft,’ he ventured, but there was a hint of guilt in his voice and I knew he was thinking about cold in another context.
‘I just wanted to give you some comforts,’ I told him softly, mindful of Trowa across the room as he added wood to the fire and put water on to boil.
‘You didn’t have to…’ Duo began, but I cut him off.
‘I wanted to,’ I soothed, and he subsided. The feelings stirring around inside me were so very odd, considering what we’d done together, but being allowed to just sit with him in my arms was such a new and wonderful thing. It made me realize once again how fast we were moving. How odd was it that our first kiss had been five minutes before making love? How strange that I knew every inch of his skin, but didn’t even know if he had a job he should have been calling in sick for? ‘I want to give you everything,’ I blurted, emotions tumbling over each other in a sudden need to get out. ‘I want to be here for you.’
I’d half expected him to mock my sudden outburst, but he just tilted his head to look up at me and asked, ‘Are you sure? After… all this?’
‘Absolutely,’ I whispered against his hair and at the other end of the couch, Reason settled for sitting on the floor with his head resting on Duo’s blanket wrapped shins. I swear the animal sighed in frustration.
‘Stop whining, brat,’ Duo scolded affectionately. ‘You’re not even supposed to be in here.’ There was a soft thump as the dog’s tail wagged at being addressed, and Duo snorted.
Trowa came out of the kitchen to join us then, carrying a steaming mug that he handed to us. Duo tried to wrap his hands around it, and while he could manage it long enough to sip at the tea, it was too awkward for him to actually hold it. I held it for him, but it seemed to embarrass him.
‘Tea?’ he asked Trowa as he was sitting down in the chair, stretching his long legs out and eyeing Reason where he sprawled as far onto the couch as he could get. ‘I didn’t have any tea. Heero, just how much stuff did you buy?’
‘Not enough,’ Trowa drawled, before I could respond. ‘There’s not a single damn beer in the place.’
It made it into a joke, and somehow made it all right again. Made it acceptable. I could almost feel Duo relax, and it made a thrill of something odd run through my gut. It was a strange feeling that was a whole lot of possessive and a little bit… God… jealous. I sat and looked at Trowa, understanding that he knew Duo a hell of a lot better than I did. That he understood where and how to push, and when to ease off. I wondered if it had just been Duo and me, if we’d have ended up fighting over it.
It was a feeling I quashed mercilessly. It made me think too sharply of Quatre Winner, and I would be damned if I allowed myself to walk down that path. Perhaps Trowa and Duo were close. Perhaps Trowa did know Duo well. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t grow to know him just as well. Or better.
Duo had given himself to me, and maybe it was a gift I should have waited to accept, but we were bound now, and I would not lose him.
Especially not… the way Quatre had lost Trowa. Not from doubts that had no basis.
Duo touched the mug and I helped him sip, and then I took a sip myself, making a point of the sharing. It made him smile in a soft sort of way, though he didn’t need to look at me to do it.
‘God, Reason,’ Duo grumbled then, shifting to push on the monster. ‘My legs are falling asleep; go lay down.’ The dog gave out with another of those sighs of displeasure, but went to lie by the door. I saw Trowa give the beast a measuring look as he heard it called by name for the first time, but he didn’t ask.
‘You going to be warm enough without him?’ I teased and it made Duo quirk a little grin that I could see the hint of even from where I sat.
‘Probably better off with the blood circulation,’ he returned and Trowa chuckled.
‘How on earth did you end up with what looks like a pure bred damn mountain dog out here in the middle of nowhere?’ he asked and Duo gave a little shake of his head.
‘Damned if I know,’ he muttered. ‘Apparently, there’s a ‘sucker’ sign that came with this place that nobody told me about.’
‘Or the local vet is taking advantage of your good nature,’ I tossed in, and that was about when the subject of our conversation suddenly raised his head and gave the door an odd little grump of a bark.
‘It’s ok, boy,’ Duo told him. ‘Let him in.’
Wufei seemed surprised to find the dog right on the other side of the door, but with Duo’s reassurances, Reason gave ground and let him pass, settling back in his place once the door was closed again.
Trowa gestured toward the stove with his tea mug and Wufei went to get his own before joining us. Settling cross-legged on the floor for lack of other seating arrangements.
I recognized the studied look that my partner gave Duo’s position and was a bit surprised to detect what felt like disapproval from him. I gave him a level stare, all but daring him to speak, but he only gave me a quiet sigh and then looked away.
Duo’s attention, thankfully, was completely caught by the skittish cat as it twined around Trowa’s outstretched legs, sniffing curiously at pant cuffs, and he completely missed the look.
‘Damn,’ Duo breathed, as though afraid he’d spook the cat himself. ‘What’d you do… find some catnip to roll in?’
Trowa stretched a hand out, holding his fingers for the cat to sniff. ‘Nope,’ he replied and didn’t look all that surprised when the cat… Gus, I recalled, jumped up into his lap.
‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ Duo murmured and there was a bemused tone to his voice. ‘Stupid cat hates everybody; what makes you so special?’
‘It’s my natural charm,’ Trowa smirked, and gave the cat a one fingered rub under its chin, which it encouraged with a stretch of its neck.
Duo couldn’t seem to stop staring as Gus made himself comfortable, apparently not sure if he should be amused or slighted. The second cat joined the first and Trowa seemed surprised; I’m not sure he realized there were two of them.
‘Is that the last of the animals,’ Wufei chuckled over the rim of his tea mug. ‘Or do you have a herd of goats hiding around here somewhere?’
‘No goats,’ Duo shot back, letting his head roll to the side to look Wufei’s way. ‘Though we had a pig for awhile.’
Wufei sipped at his tea, letting his attention settle on the contents of his cup. I suspected he was simply avoiding looking at the way Duo’s head had ended up tucked rather comfortably under my chin. I brought our own mug of tea up and offered it to Duo, making sure he didn’t have time to register Wufei’s… attitude.
‘Think you’re up to giving Trowa some pointers on cooking over an open flame?’ I asked Duo, continuing to guide his attention. ‘It’s getting close to dinner time.’
‘I think I can handle standing over the stove, Yuy,’ Duo scoffed, and I was thankful that Trowa simply went along with me, rather than argue the point. I knew damn well the man could cook over a camp fire, and if Duo had been thinking clearly, he would have known it too. Hell, maybe Trowa knew exactly what I was doing, because he was quick to take Duo in hand and settle him on one of the kitchen chairs by the stove. The last I heard, they were having a discussion about green wood and heat distribution.
‘Care to help me unpack the rest of the stuff out of the car?’ I asked Wufei, and he only sighed before following me outside, probably just as aware as Trowa.
The dogs had grown used to us and didn’t so much as bark, though the black one brought a disgusting looking rubber ball over and offered it to Wufei with a hesitant wag of his tail. Wufei took it and tossed it into the brush while I opened the trunk and stared at the rest of the sacks of supplies.
‘Want to tell me what your problem is?’ I asked at length, unable to come up with a less confrontational way of asking.
He gave out with one of those sighs again, leaning down to accept the ball from the dog to toss again. ‘I think…’ he said slowly, watching the dog bound away across the yard. ‘that Duo has more than enough on his plate right now, and I can’t help questioning the… good sense of starting a relationship in the middle of… all this.’
‘Question all you want,’ I snapped, not quite able to completely quell the anger. ‘But stop radiating your damn disapproval all over the damn place before Duo notices.’
He looked at me and managed to stifle another one of those sighs, taking a moment to lob the ball again before speaking. ‘I… apologize if I was being that obvious, but you have to know what a supremely bad idea this is?’
Chang Wufei and I have been partners for a long time, and part of why we work together so well is that we’ve always been able to speak plainly to each other. So I took a breath and managed to set the anger aside. ‘Yeah. I’m not a total moron, just…’
‘Just?’ he prodded, and we both watched the dog rooting around in the yard rather than look at each other.
‘Well,’ I finally grumbled. ‘It’s not like I can turn back the clock now.’
He glanced at me and I’m sure my blush told him everything he might have been in doubt about. He couldn’t contain the sigh that time. ‘Heero,’ he began almost gently, pausing again as the dog pranced proudly back with the ball, as though he didn’t want to discuss it in front of the animal. ‘he is so damn brittle right now. You have to see that? You have to understand that he didn’t end up… here, because Quatre Winner hurt his feelings, for God sake? There is so much more wrong, and just taking him home isn’t going to fix everything.’
I forgot about the shampoo and toilet paper and the rest of the crap in the trunk and just let myself fall back against the car with my own heavy sigh. ‘I know,’ I told him, rubbing a hand over my face. ‘I… know.’
He stopped watching the dog then, and looked at me hard. ‘You be damn sure about this,’ he warned suddenly. ‘And understand that it isn’t going to be easy. If you aren’t going to be able to handle it… figure that out now, because he’s going to need you in ways you can’t even imagine yet.’
‘I have every intention of being here for him,’ I said, and refused to let him stare me down.
Wufei’s gaze softened, and he reached to let Nash drop the ball into his hand without looking, giving it one last hard toss before telling me, ‘We’ll all be here for him, Heero, but you’re the one that can finish breaking him if you aren’t very careful.’
He reached past me then and gathered up some of the sacks to take inside. It took me a long couple of minutes to follow.