I cursed myself the whole damn way out to Duo’s place; I couldn’t
believe I’d pulled such a bone-head move as flashing my damn badge.
I had just wanted so badly for that man to go the hell away before I lost
my chance to really speak with Duo. We’d just gotten out from under
the watchful eye of that woman I suspected was ‘Applepie’ and
then run smack into the local-yocal.
Whole damn town was nothing but a bunch of meddling busy-bodies.
Duo probably paid no attention to the speed-limits on the
drive out to his place. I suspected it normally took him more than the ten
minutes it took us that day. But then… I suppose we’d just left
the only person likely to give a shit, back in town.
I was floundering and I knew it. Somehow, in all my planning
and plotting for that moment, I had never expected to see so many changes
in Duo. It had thrown me. Where the hell was our vibrant, cocky partner?
Hell… he didn’t even look entirely healthy. And that truck he
was driving; I was surprised pieces of it weren’t falling off as he
bounced it over the rutted dirt road.
I really just don’t know why I had never thought of
him as… I don’t know… suffering?
I had run scenarios through my head where he’d yelled
and hit me. Scenarios where he threw himself into my arms. Ones where he
had just stood in shock at the sight of me. But I had never thought of him…
hiding from me? Running away?
I suppose with his recent track record, I should have, but
it just hadn’t occurred. And now I couldn’t help fearing that
he’d disappear on me given half the chance, and I’d have to
start the search all over again. And maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky
I decided right there, as I struggled to keep sight of Duo’s
truck through the cloud of dust, that I wasn’t leaving him until we
got something worked out.
I had to slow down when we left the road and started up his
driveway, as the way became more winding and I couldn’t see where
in the hell I was going through all the damn dust. So Duo was already parked
and out of his truck before I was half way up to the… ‘house’
is probably an unfair term.
I got a good look at the monster he called a dog then, and
when it started barking at my car, two more came running out of the barn,
eager to join in on the chorus. There was a horse in a fenced in area, that
stopped foraging and looked to see what the fuss was about.
Duo was just standing there with his dogs around him, arms
crossed over his chest and watching me pull in like he was watching the
arrival of the tax man.
It was not the mental image I’d had of his life.
I parked, and when I ventured out of the car, the big white
dog redoubled his barking, like he was going to come and eat me. I had no
doubt he could. Duo just watched it for a moment before snapping his fingers
and calling sharply. ‘That’s enough.’
They shut up then, kind of like throwing a switch, somehow
accepting from Duo that I was on the formal guest list after all. Though
the big dog moved back to his side and looked like he wasn’t planning
on leaving. I couldn’t help a glance toward the tiny house, thinking
that it was going to be damn crowded if we all went inside.
I walked closer, moving slowly and keeping one eye on the
dogs, and Duo just watched me come; his face totally unreadable. I think
he’d used the drive out to do some thinking, and all those hints of
vulnerability I’d thought I’d seen, were gone. I had thought
I’d seen a bit of hope. I hoped I’d seen a bit of happiness.
But all that, there or not, was safely tucked away behind a mask that was
‘It’s good to see you,’ I finally ventured,
when he didn’t seem inclined to speak.
He snorted and turned toward the house with a suddenness that
made me think he didn’t want to deal with the statement. ‘If
you still want lunch, come on.’
As I’d feared, the dog made the trip into the house
with us, and just to add variety, we were met by a pair of cats. I was surprised
that they didn’t seem frightened of the dog. One of them, in fact,
came right up and twined around the beasts legs.
‘You want soup, or do you want soup?’ Duo prompted,
his back to me as he pulled down a pair of cans from the cabinet and began
opening them with a handheld opener.
‘Soup is fine,’ I replied absently, though it
was plain it didn’t matter. Looking around, I realized that he was
preparing to heat the soup over what had to be a wood-burning stove. I blinked
at it, and then looked around again, realizing that there didn’t seem
to be any sign of working electricity.
‘Tomato or tomato,’ he asked, still not looking
at me, and I was sure at that point he was only talking so I wouldn’t.
‘Tomato I think,’ I quipped. ‘But don’t
go out of your way if you’re having tomato. Either is fine.’
It made him chuckle, though it was a tight little sound and
I noticed him pause, as though he’d surprised himself.
The dog seemed to be settling itself wherever it needed to
be to stay between me and Duo. It made me… extremely uncomfortable.
I really don’t know that much about dogs, so I’ll admit my experience
is limited, but the monster was easily the biggest animal I’d ever
seen outside a zoo. If it seriously decided to attack me, I wasn’t
sure there was a damn thing I could do.
I felt awkward just standing in the middle of the room, watching
him stir up the fire and put the pot on, so I wandered a bit around the
place. It was little more than a shack. The living room and the kitchen
were really just one big room, sort of separated by not much more than a
difference in floor covering. The living room had carpet that wasn’t
the wall to wall variety, but the kitchen had a linoleum that polite company
would have called ‘quaint’ but was really probably just older
than either of us. I could see that there was a bedroom off the living room
and another door that, I hoped to God, was a bathroom. Looking at the rest
of the place, it would not have been too surprising if I’d found out
there was an outhouse somewhere. The suspicion was reinforced when I turned
back to find Duo dipping water out of a bucket that sat next to the stove,
to mix the condensed soup with. I almost groaned. Though, I suppose, logically
if there was no power, there was no way to run any sort of water pump.
‘Make yourself at home,’ he grumbled, a tiny reprimand
for my wandering.
‘Sorry,’ I muttered, and went back to stand in
the kitchen area, trying to contain my curiosity. ‘It’s just…
a lot of this stuff doesn’t really seem like you.’
He glanced around, as though he just didn’t bother to
notice his surroundings all that much. ‘Old man Fogerty left most
of it when he sold me the place,’ he shrugged, slowly stirring the
soup and seeming to keep an overly careful eye on it. ‘Didn’t
seem much point in packing it up or anything. Wasn’t hurting anything
If he had meant to tell me just how little he had tried to
turn the place into a home, he showed no sign of it. I think that was the
moment that I really made up my mind that he’d been… less than
happy for the last eight months, and I decided that no matter what he did…
I wasn’t going to let him drive me off. I wasn’t going home
He set the pot off the stove then and fetched a pair of mismatched
bowls from above the sink. I had to resist the temptation to urge him to
take the lion’s share as he carefully divided the soup into equal
portions. He stepped around me and swung the side up on a folding table,
adjusting the movable support, and settling two straight back chairs so
that we would be sitting across from each other.
I took the liberty of bringing the bowls of soup from the
counter, not wanting to feel quite so much like a guest, and sat them down.
Duo glanced at me, seeming a bit more awkward than he had while cooking,
and I wondered if he wasn’t anticipating the part where we were actually
going to have to talk. He went to get spoons and we sat down, the table
so small we almost bumped knees. The cramped feeling wasn’t helped
when the damn dog tried to crawl under the table to lie down on Duo’s
Duo finally seemed to have had enough and blurted out, ‘Damn
it, Reason! Go lay down!’ in an exasperated tone. I suspected from
the way the dog was acting, that getting to be in the house was not an everyday
occurrence. I started to ask about the odd name, but a moment’s reflection
gave me several somewhat… unsettling notions, and I opted to leave
The dog slunk off to lie by the door, managing to look like
a pouty child. I couldn’t help but chuckle, it was an entirely different
picture from the somewhat blood-thirsty mental images I’d had up until
then. ‘He seems well behaved,’ I ventured, not wanting Duo to
think I was laughing at him.
‘You have to train them pretty well when they’re
going to out weigh you some day,’ he muttered, staring down into his
soup so he didn’t have to look at me. I didn’t have the same
problem, and took the opportunity to really study him up close.
I’m not going to say he looked like he was wasting away
or anything, but there was definitely a… worn quality to him. I’d
bet money he didn’t weigh as much as he had, though he hardly looked
like skin and bones. Just… like a man who was living on the edge of
not having enough.
‘God, I’ve missed you,’ I heard myself say,
and quickly turned my own attention to my soup. I hadn’t really meant
to say it… not that it wasn’t true, but I wasn’t sure
if it was something he’d welcome hearing. There was a stillness on
the other side of the table from me and I could feel him looking at me,
but he didn’t answer the comment.
‘What kind of dog is he?’ I asked after a couple
of swallows of soup that tasted… a tiny bit scorched. The animals
seemed the safer topic. The one more likely to get Duo to actually talk
‘Pyrenees,’ he told me, though I’d already
seen it on the vet’s blog. ‘He’s not full grown yet. Just
a pup still, really; not even a year old.’
Turning around to look at the damn dog, sprawled out in front
of the door, I couldn’t help saying, ‘You’ve got to be
kidding me; he’s going to get bigger than that?’
Duo gave out with a dry little sound that might have been
meant as amusement. ‘Probably; he’s not even quite a hundred
pounds yet.’ he confirmed, and sipped carefully at his soup. I recognized
the tricks of stretching a meal to make yourself feel like you ate more
than you did. It damn near broke my resolve, but I knew he’d take
it badly if I tried to say anything about it. If he’d have left the
table for five damn seconds, I’d have poured half my soup into his
bowl while he wasn’t looking. I felt guilty as hell even eating his
‘He must eat more than the horse,’ I smiled, having
food on my mind, and Duo quirked a wry little smile.
‘Hardly; Buckshot’s been… an education,’
he said, eyes still watching his soup more than anything else. ‘Reason
eats his fair share, but no more than Bo and Nash. There are days…’
he let that thought trail off and I let him, not sure I wanted to know.
‘Are they… all yours?’ I had to ask and
it made him snort softly.
‘Nope, just my walking white carpet and me, but we somehow
seem to have a standing invitation to every stray in the county.’
‘Three counties from the sounds of it,’ I teased
without thinking and I winced when he caught the slip and glanced up at
me. I decided to come clean, just to get it out of the way. ‘That’s
how I found you. Your local vet has a blog and she had a picture of a rescued
dog she was talking about, and you… were in the background.’
He just sat blinking; trying to process that, and I hoped
suddenly that he didn’t want to actually look at the thing, because
I could only imagine his reaction to being referred to as ‘Mr. Tightjeans’.
But he was thinking along other lines.
‘How in the hell did you find something like that?’
he asked, voice incredulous and I had to chuckle.
‘Would you believe it was a total accident?’ I
confessed. ‘Sally’s niece was using the office printer for a
school project on vets. I couldn’t believe it… after all these
months of searching and hacking and following leads all over the damn country
and…’ I petered out when I realized that he was blushing fit
to catch fire. That might, perhaps, have been a bit more information than
I should have imparted.
Or maybe not, damn it. Maybe he needed to know that we’d
cared. That we’d hunted for him. That I’d hunted for him.
If we’d been eating something other than soup, I’d
have probably stabbed at it in frustration. ‘I wouldn’t have
ever stopped looking,’ I told him abruptly, and that pretty much ended
the conversation until we’d finished lunch.
I tried to help him clean up, but we were awkward around each
other and he finally sent me to sit down in the living room. One of the
cats, skittish but curious, crept up to sniff at me. I held out a hand and
it ran away.
‘Don’t mind Gus,’ Duo told me, and I looked
up to find him standing next to the couch. ‘His previous owner had
a thing for throwing beer bottles at him. He’s a little… jumpy.’
‘Ah,’ I said, watching the cat watch me from under
a chair. It crossed my mind that the cat wasn’t the only skittish
thing in the room, but I didn’t voice the thought.
Duo took a deep breath and sat down on the couch, as far from
me as he could get. I think while he’d been rinsing the dishes, he’d
gotten resolved to the notion that sooner or later we were going to have
to stop dancing around the issue. ‘So… what are you doing here,
I gave him a wan little smile for the effort of taking the
bull by the horns. ‘I told you… I’m looking for you. I’ve
been looking for you.’ I debating telling him that I’d come
to take him home, but decided it was too soon for that.
‘Why,’ he asked quietly and so many things leaped
to mind that I wasn’t sure I could say. Because I needed you back.
Because you scared me witless. Because there’s been a hallow place
since you left.
‘You are one of us, Duo,’ I chided. ‘You
scared us when you just up and disappeared like that. We still don’t
really understand what made you run away.’
The look he gave me then made me wonder if my first thoughts
wouldn’t have been a better option. ‘You don’t understand?’
he asked incredulously. ‘What wasn’t to understand? My friends
were accusing me of… of… some damn terrible things. What was
there to stay for?’
‘Quatre made a mistake,’ I cut in before he could
get really wound up. ‘But that doesn’t mean that all of us…’
‘Doesn’t it, Heero?’ he cut me off, eyes
narrowing. ‘I didn’t see anybody leaping to my defense. Wasn’t
anybody in that room who wasn’t buying into Quatre’s little
hissy-fit except Trowa.’
‘I didn’t,’ I told him calmly, but I could
see he wasn’t really willing to hear it. The less skittish cat came
and jumped up into Duo’s lap, butting its head against Duo’s
chin until Duo scratched it behind an ear. ‘I didn’t,’
I said again, making it forceful, willing him to believe.
He was quiet a long time, rubbing at the cat’s ear.
Long enough that the second one crept out, casting side-long glances at
me, but joined them anyway.
‘Didn’t you?’ he finally asked, voice deceptively
quiet. ‘Wufei did. And you never said a damn word Heero.’
I blew out a breath, thinking back through all the months
to that night. I’d gone over it in my head a million times. ‘I
should have,’ I confessed. ‘I understand that now. At the time,
I just thought that the whole damn thing should have been between Trowa
and Quatre. The rest of us should have just left.’
‘I was at the heart of it,’ he told me, his voice
flat and cold. ‘Quatre saw to it that I could hardly not be.’
‘But you weren’t,’ I reasoned. ‘He
thought you were… but you weren’t.’
‘Didn’t matter in the end, now did it?’
he snorted, his attention seemingly completely on the two cats squirming
for equal lap space, but his eyes… were a million miles away. ‘He
took everything from me with his damn lies.’
‘He didn’t think he was lying,’ I told him
gently, not wanting to defend Quatre’s actions, but not quite able
to accept that word. ‘He honestly believed what he was saying. He
really thought he saw you two…’ I didn’t know how to finish,
so I just didn’t. Not like we both didn’t know what we were
talking about anyway.
There was another one of those moments of quiet before he
said, ‘I suppose that’s why he was so damn convincing.’
‘He was hurting too,’ I ventured. ‘He handled
the whole thing in the worst possible way, but he really was in pain.’
I hesitated a moment and then said it anyway. ‘He regrets it deeply.’
It made him pause, scratching and rubbing and adjusting cats
until they both found a way to lie down that suited them. ‘I feel
for him,’ he said tonelessly. ‘I really do.’
I sighed and wanted to rub at my eyes, but didn’t. ‘I’m
not defending him, Duo. I’m just saying that he’s not exactly
come out of this unaffected…’
‘He’s not the one who lost his whole damn family,’
he growled and it made the jumpy cat look up at him uncertainly. Duo rubbed
little circles on the top of its head with a fingertip until it laid back
‘Duo, you didn’t lose us,’ I tried to reassure.
‘You’re the one who left us, not the other way around. We would…’
‘Didn’t I?’ he snapped. ‘You tell
me how the hell anything was ever going to be the same again? Trowa was
like a brother to me, but I never would have been able to so much as send
him a Christmas card again without Quatre getting suspicious! Even if Trowa
did manage to get through that thick head of his, I was… tainted.
What choice did I have but to get out of the way so they could work it out?
Quatre means the world to Trowa, but they weren’t going to get past
that as long as I was around.’
The raised voice made the cats nervous and they jumped down,
trotting off toward the bedroom and Duo looked faintly guilty, watching
them go. By the door, Reason lifted his head and watched us for a moment,
before deciding everything was all right, and lying back down.
I sighed and ran a hand over my face, realizing that he didn’t
exactly know how things had been after he’d left. I wasn’t at
all sure if telling him was a good idea or not. ‘Duo,’ I began
as gently as I could. ‘Trowa and Quatre… they didn’t exactly
work things out…’
‘What?’ he asked, blinking at me and looking totally
shocked. It was obviously not something he had ever stopped to consider.
‘You under estimated your own importance,’ I said
softly, somehow feeling that it would soften the blow as well. ‘Trowa
was… very upset when he realized you’d left because of what
He just stared at me, and I swear I saw the damn color drain
from his face. I’d never really seen somebody so shocked that they
went pale. I’d thought it was something only from stories.
And then he blurted, ‘I have work to do,’ leaped
to his feet, and stormed out a back door I hadn’t even noticed was
Apparently, it had not been a good idea at all.
Go to Chapter seven:
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