It was surprisingly more difficult to liquidate my life the second time
around. Mostly because of the animals, I suppose, though that wasn’t
all of it, and I found that it was something I didn’t want to think
about too hard. About what a simple thing it had been the first time, to
pull up stakes, and what that said about how I’d been living.
Thinking too much made me start wondering if I’d maybe
managed to lose myself a long damn time before I thought I had. Made me
look at those marks on the paddock fence and think that maybe there should
be more of them. Made me realize that some changes didn’t come with
those defining moments, but more like the slow spread of infection. Made
me wonder if it was something I had the strength to fight off when I couldn’t
even look back and find the beginning.
Like I said… it wasn’t something I much wanted
to think about.
The first few days were a chaos of things happening around
me while I still drifted in a strange cocoon of exhaustion, not able to
do much more than take pills when directed, eat, sleep and stare at the
guys, just feeling confused.
They made things happen that were welcome and needed and strange
all at the same time. There was power in the house for the first time in
half a year. Which meant running water. Hot water without the application
of buckets. Food that wasn’t soup. Drinks that were cold even when
it wasn’t cold outside. Heat in the house without being huddled by
It was surreal in the part that all of those things felt strange.
How could something as fundamental as running damn water feel so…
It was just more of that stuff that didn’t bear thinking
about too hard.
I would have complained that it was a waste of time and money
since we were just going to be shutting it all down again, but… well…
Heero was staying with me, and it didn’t seem right to ask him to
live the way I had been. And yeah; just another bit of the weird. Another
bit to be set aside and not examined too closely.
It took weeks, and the guys stayed the whole time without
question, though Trowa and Wufei went back to town each night, not all that
thrilled with sleeping on the floor. It made things awkward between me and
Heero the first few nights, until we’d admitted to the awkwardness
and then we’d talked a bit about the whole ‘moving too fast’
thing. It was kind of a relief to know he felt the same way, but we sort
of decided it was kind of stupid to close the barn door after the horse
was in the next county, and he’d made love to me the third night like
it was our first time. It had let something inside me find steady footing,
and I’d been surprised to realize that some part of me had been afraid
he’d changed his mind and was sorry for what we’d done.
And it made it so much easier to accept the fact that he had
to help me with everything from dressing to eating, and all manner of stuff
Buckshot was the first to find a new home, and I suspect that
Heero had simply explained to Miss Deirdre the way things would be, during
one of his trips to town. The guy couldn’t quite seem to shake his
dislike of the woman and it seemed to be fueled by his outlook that she’d
been taking advantage of me for months. I didn’t quite know how to
tell him that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d have been getting out
of bed in the mornings if I hadn’t had the animals to look after.
I’m not sure it would have mattered; there was just something about
the vet that rubbed him the wrong way. But she had shown up with a horse
trailer after one of Heero’s supply runs, and told me that she’d
found a home for the horse where there would be kids to ride and baby him,
and plenty of room to graze.
It had been both a sad thing and a relief to watch the trailer
pulling out of my drive and knowing that the big fellow wasn’t going
to be my responsibility any more. I hoped, as I always did, that I’d
sent him off to a good life.
Nash was next, gone to a friend of the sheriff’s and
I wasn’t sure if it was my suggestion of a search and rescue career,
or just that the guy wanted a dog.
Bo went to Dutch’s cousin because his kid had been bugging
him for one, and in an odd little side deal, bought his truck back when
it had been mentioned that I wouldn’t be needing it any more.
I had just started to worry about Gus and Duncan, though I
hadn’t said anything to anybody, when Trowa arrived from town one
morning with a cat carrier in tow and informed me that they’d be going
home with him. Wufei had laughed at him, but he’d only smiled and
who could argue with the man that could get Gus to accept tummy rubs?
And then there was just Reason and me and I really just didn’t
know how to ask what the plan was.
It was a Friday morning when Trowa and Wufei packed it in
and headed home. I know that because I’d been making a conscious effort
to remember things like days of the week, and months of the year. Things
were winding down, and Heero and I were almost ready to follow, there were
just a few things to finalize and I’d be heading back to the place
I’d started from.
Just wished I’d been a little clearer on those ‘few
things’. Questioning had seemed too much like asking, and I just hadn’t
been ready to do that. Hadn’t been ready to risk it.
There had not been room in Heero’s little rental car
for all of us and the bags too, and I hadn’t been all that sure about
leaving Reason at the house by himself anyway. Not without the other dogs
to keep him company. So it just made sense that I waited at the house while
Heero drove the guys up to Twin Forks to the airport.
Perfect sense. Perfect ulcer-inducing sense.
Wufei was the one who hunted me up first, choosing a quiet
moment while Heero and Trowa wrestled with the cat carrier and the car.
I’d opted for staying in the house while they did that part, because
I’d found it a bit disconcerting hearing Duncan meow piteously, as
though asking me what they’d done wrong. I knew it was for the best;
knew without a doubt that Trowa would give them the best home possible,
but… hell, I thought we’d already established what a soft touch
‘Do you need anything before we leave?’ Wufei
opened, giving me a look that spoke of more than ham sandwiches and tea.
‘I’m good,’ I assured him, nodding to the
newly functioning refrigerator with a wry smile. ‘I think Heero has
things set up in there so easy that Reason ought to be able to feed us if
it comes down to it.’
He chuckled at the joke, but then gave me a cocked head look
that I knew meant he was thinking beyond the obvious. ‘You know he
over does because…’
I cut him off with a snort. ‘He over does because he
can’t fix what really needs fixed,’ I told him bluntly and was
surprised when he smiled in what looked like relief.
‘I’m… glad you understand that,’ he
told me in that strange tone I wasn’t used to hearing from Chang Wufei.
He made me feel like he was a dozen years my senior. ‘He’ll
do whatever is in his power, but…’
‘It’s me,’ I said, ducking me head. ‘I
know that. Some things I just have to… have to handle myself.’
‘Not completely, my friend,’ he said gently, taking
my arm in a firm grip for a moment. ‘We’ll be here, but we can’t…’
‘I know,’ I repeated, and he subsided with a last
squeeze of his hand.
‘We’ll see you in a few days then,’ he told
me with a smile, and we’d have shook hands on it if I’d been
When Trowa came for his own good-byes, he was very much his
usual blunt self, catching me up in one of his bear hugs and speaking low
next to my ear. ‘Whatever happens between me and Quatre is between
me and Quatre,’ he told me firmly. ‘It doesn’t have a
thing to do with you, and you damn well better not forget that.’
‘Yes sir,’ I mumbled, trying to believe in it.
‘Your bike is still at my place,’ he informed
me, something I had completely forgotten about. ‘And when you’ve
healed, we’re going riding.’
I hesitated on the agreement and he growled my name, squeezing
until I gasped out an ‘Uncle!’
‘I have no intentions of losing my best friend to this,’
he said then. ‘And I’d like to think that I mean enough to you
that you won’t do something this stupid again.’
‘That was a cheap shot,’ I groused, feeling the
heat rise to my face, but I relented and hugged him back.
‘I’m not above taking cheap shots if it gets my
point across,’ he chuckled and let me go, looking at me hard.
‘Point delivered,’ I had to concede, but then
decided to take my own shot. ‘But Trowa… this thing with Quatre;
maybe… maybe you should…’
He sighed softly and cuffed at me to get me to stop. ‘It’s
in his court, Duo,’ he told me. ‘I’ve given him my terms
and my terms include him accepting my family as is.’
I didn’t quite know how to answer that and just looked
down at the floor. He made a little noise of exasperation and hooked me
back into a one-armed hug.
‘I’ll… talk to him,’ he finally agreed,
and I looked back up in time to catch a glimpse past the gruff anger that
had been about all I’d seen from him concerning Quatre Winner.
‘I’m so sorry,’ that look made me say, and
he gave me a little shake, ignoring the whole thing.
‘I will see you when you guys catch up with us,’
he said. ‘And if you decide you can’t deal with Yuy, you know
there’s room at my place.’
I just snorted and saw him to the door, the conversation plainly
over. Heero met us coming in, and Trowa forfeited his place, giving me a
last wave as he went to join Wufei by the car, and I heard them begin an
argument over the shot-gun position.
‘Are you sure you’ll be alright for a few hours?’
Heero had to ask and it made me chuckle.
‘I doubt I’ll starve to death in the time it takes
you to drive to Twin Forks and back,’ I assured him and he had to
‘Anything you want me to pick up while I’m there?’
he asked, a casual reassurance that I didn’t miss, but I let him think
he was being subtle.
‘Pizza?’ I quipped, but instead of laughing, he
‘I can do that,’ he agreed and I let that go too.
The utter quiet after the car had cleared the drive and disappeared
down the road was… a thing to be reckoned with.
Reason and I walked the property for a bit, partly because
I knew on some level it was goodbye, and partly because I wasn’t real
keen about going in the house and just… waiting.
Contrary to what the last eight months of my life might testify,
I’m really not a stupid man. I knew that Heero was coming back. I
knew the guys would be waiting for us when we finally got back home. In
my head, those things were clear and obvious and had been fairly well proven
So don’t ask my why there was some small shard of doubt
deep in my heart somewhere. And maybe it wasn’t even doubt that Heero
would come back for me. Maybe it was just doubt that he wouldn’t end
up changing his mind. Doubt that he wouldn’t eventually get tired
of dealing with the nut case I seemed to have become.
I mean… there were days I wasn’t sure who in the
heck I was, what if I finally figured it out, and that person ended up being
something other than what Heero thought?
Assuming, of course, that I did end up figuring it out.
Figured out who I was. Figured out where it all went wrong.
Figured out where the flaw was that let some part of me crack. Hell…
figured out how to fix it again.
I’d been thinking about that a lot, obviously, and while
I didn’t have a shrink… yet… there were some things I
probably didn’t need one for. I mean, you really didn’t need
a degree to look at my past and make a couple of judgments. Not a lot of
kids going around claiming kinship with Death itself at the tender age of…
hell; whatever it was. Somewhere between diapers and losing that last baby
I’d spent most of my childhood thinking I was cursed,
I suppose it isn’t much of a stretch to think I’d carried that
with me into adulthood on some level. I’d spent my life always waiting
for the other shoe to drop. Expecting to come up snake eyes at any moment.
Kind of like the little runt kid on the playground always
getting his lunch money taken and just coming to expect it.
It was a little hard to admit that I might have done what
I did just because… because I’d come to expect loss. Come to
expect getting smacked by life.
And very hard to accept that I’d even had myself fooled.
And scary as hell to realize how completely logical my reasoning
had seemed to me. Looking back…
My God… looking back, I seemed like a basket case. Even
There were so many ‘whys’ in my head that I just
didn’t have the answers to. And days that I wondered if I ever would.
Heero and Wufei especially, insisted on talking to me about counseling,
and while I knew they were right, I couldn’t help wondering if anybody
was ever going to be able to make sense of my thinking. Was ever going to
be able to trace my logic backward and help me find the place where it had
all gone wrong.
Or maybe that was the key… maybe I needed to stop looking
for those defining moments. I’d spent so much time thinking that argument
with Quatre was the trigger, but now I wasn’t so sure. Had I run that
night because I’d always believed somewhere inside, that the friendship
of the guys was not something I was going to be allowed to keep?
Or maybe… maybe I just ran before it all had a chance
to fall apart? Maybe I ran because I just couldn’t handle the idea
of being hurt again.
Sitting on Nash’s now vacant dog house, watching for
Heero’s car, I had a thought that made me laugh right the hell out
loud; had I run off to be alone before I’d had alone thrust upon me?
Was I that fucking screwed up? I’d been so damn afraid of losing everything…
again… that I’d thrown it all away before it could be taken
Hearing me laugh, Reason came and gave me a woof of a bark,
wagging his tail and asking to be let in on the joke. When he settled his
head against my knee, I rubbed his nose the best I could with an unsplinted
finger tip, and the near hysterical mirth was suddenly gone. I couldn’t
laugh in the face of those trusting brown eyes, not knowing in my heart
the truth I hadn’t been able to face yet.
‘I’m sorry, boy,’ I whispered to him and
he woofed again, soft to match my tone. I hoped it was an understanding
sound. I hoped it was a forgiving sound. ‘I can’t lose him.
I can’t… no matter what. You understand, fella?’
He only nosed against my hand, trying for an ear scratch,
and if he got what I was trying to tell us both… he didn’t say.
Shards of doubt. Pieces of fear. Bound around with a desperation
that I couldn’t admit to out loud.
Wufei had said, in the hospital, that my admitting that I
might have sub-consciously been trying to kill myself was half the battle.
And it hadn’t been an easy thing to admit, much less accept. But I
had accepted it, and come to face it. And understand it. Understand that
one way or the other, I couldn’t keep going on the way I had been.
I… was not capable of it. And if there was a price for what I was
reaching for with Heero… it was a price I couldn’t not pay.
No matter the cost.
It was a long afternoon, sitting there on that dog house.
If Nash had still been around, I’d have used his chase the ball trick
for distraction, but Reason had never been one for chasing anything. So
when the strange SUV slowed on the road and actually pulled into my drive,
I was half way annoyed, and half way relieved at the prospect of something
to do. Even if it was just giving somebody directions, or running off a
door to door evangelical type.
Reason started barking the minute the van rounded the curve
and I let him, not that I was worried about whoever it was, but it never
hurt to have strangers start off with a little respect for the big scary
Then the thing pulled into the yard and parked next to the
house right where my truck had always sat, and Reason suddenly left off
with his territorial rant and began to wag his tail. I’m rather ashamed
to admit my dog figured out it was Heero before I did.
And further ashamed to admit to the rush of weak-in-the-knees
relief I felt at seeing him.
Heero got out of the new vehicle and walked across the yard
to where I sat with a look of faint concern on his face. ‘Duo, you
really shouldn’t let yourself get chilled; what are you doing out
I accepted his hello kiss with a wry smile. ‘Was just…
sort of taking a last look around, I guess,’ I told him, and he pulled
me down from my perch to walk back across the yard with him.
‘You’re not having any regrets, are you?’
he asked, that look of concern morphing into a different flavor of unease.
‘About leaving?’ I asked. ‘No. Just…
saying goodbye, I suppose.’
He walked us over to the SUV and raised the hatch on the back
with an oddly calculating look on his face. ‘How well do you think
Reason is going to travel?’ he asked me, looking from my dog to the
back of the van. ‘They had animal crates you could rent, but he seemed
used to riding in your truck, so I didn’t bother with one. But if
you think we need one, we’ll be going through Twin Forks on the way
to the highway anyway…’
If I had thought the relief of him coming back for me was
knee-weakening, it was nothing next to the sudden, unasked for reassurance
that he was going to let me keep my dog. He sort of petered out, watching
the look on my face, I guess, and must have been waiting for me to reply,
but all I could manage was a nod.
‘Duo?’ he asked softly, turning away from the
open hatch, catching me by the upper arms. I watched Reason sniffing around
the open door to keep from making eye contact, but couldn’t manage
to explain. If I’d opened my mouth, I had the vague fear I’d
have done something stupid, like burst into tears.
He must have gotten it anyway, because he pulled me the rest
of the way into a hug and gently asked, ‘Why didn’t you say
I shrugged and he sighed, pushing me back to force me to meet
his gaze. ‘I don’t want you doing that,’ he told me firmly.
‘If there are things you want; you tell me. You have to know by now…
I’m here for the long haul.’
There was an uncomfortable feeling in my chest that made me
draw a step away, turning to urge Reason into the van, just to see if he’d
climb in on his own. Just to give me something to do while that tight pain
in my throat eased.
Heero was quiet for a moment, watching me, and then he stepped
up to stand beside me, watching Reason nose around the carpet of the van.
‘I’d have taken all of them… and the damn horse too. What
ever you want. What ever you need.’
I shook my head in denial of having wanted that, and cast
a glance his way. He looked kind of unhappy… like he was afraid he’d
done something wrong. I shifted over to lean against him and he easily slipped
an arm around my waist. Reason stopped snuffling and turned to look at us,
wagging his tail as if to give his approval of the spiffy new car.
‘I’m sorry,’ I told them both. ‘I
guess I was just afraid of the answer.’
Heero sighed, a sound that wasn’t as aggravated as it
could have been, and he took a moment to think over what he was going to
say before telling me, ‘What we’re building here is a partnership,
Duo. Some things you don’t have to ask, but you do have to tell me
what you want.’
I leaned my head to rest on his shoulder and drew in a breath
that only shuddered a tiny bit there at the end. ‘I just don’t
want to… to…’ I tried to tell him, but the word lose didn’t
want to pass my lips.
‘You’re not going to,’ he comforted, somehow
getting it anyway, and he turned toward me to wrap me up in his arms. ‘Not
going to happen.’
I nodded and couldn’t help a smile that was hidden against
the side of his neck. ‘Guess I’ve got more than one reason now.’
He stilled for a moment before pressing his lips to my temple.
‘I’ll always be here… but someday, you’ll be your
own reason again.’
I wasn’t sure if I should feel reprimanded or reassured,
or maybe just a little shocked to not have seen the truth of it before he
said it. One should, perhaps, not number the things that made one get out
of bed in the morning. ‘Such faith,’ I murmured, attempting
‘Absolute,’ he replied, a hint of fierceness in
I didn’t know what to say to that, not in the face of
my own somewhat shaky faith in much of anything. ‘Heero…’
I ventured after a moment, not really wanting to offer it, but still feeling
like maybe I ought to. ‘Should we…’
‘No,’ he said, cutting me off and how in the hell
he’d suddenly developed the ability to read my mind, I don’t
know. ‘I know maybe our timing wasn’t the best, but don’t
ask me to back off now… I don’t think I could.’
It was a relief to hear him say it, and I was quiet, just
drinking in the reassurance that he really wasn’t sorry he’d
‘You don’t… want me to, do you?’ he
asked quietly after a long moment and I couldn’t help squeezing him
‘God, no!’ I told him and he took me by the arms
to push me back where he could meet my eyes again.
‘Duo,’ he said, looking at me intently. ‘I
didn’t think I needed to say it, but, you do know I’m here because…
I love you, right?’
I just stared at him, probably rather wide-eyed for a long
moment, letting that sink down into my head. I think I was smiling, but
I’m not real sure. It probably would have ended up being one of those
sappy, Hollywood moments with the kiss, and the birdsong, and the whole
nine yards, if Reason hadn’t chosen that moment to discover the pizza
box in the front seat. My return I love you turned into ‘Bad dog!’
and the moment went in a slightly different Hollywood direction as we scrambled
to save our dinner.
But you know, looking back… I think it was one of those
defining moments anyway. Prophetic, at least, as it seemed to set the tone
for the rest of our lives. Wonderful and frustrating, sweet and irritating…
covered with a liberal amount of dog hair. And somehow we wouldn’t
have it any other way.
back to chapter eighteen
On to Chapter twenty
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