“Do you like dogs?”
Appearing a little surprised at the question, Trowa looked up at the newly-arrived Quatre. “I suppose so,” he said.
“Good. Come with me. You’ll need shoes this time.”
Today Trowa just smiled and stood from where he’d been sitting at his table with a book and some notes in front of him. He seemed actually to have been working, which was good; but Quatre liked the smile and the immediate compliance even better.
As Trowa went into the next room to don shoes and contact lenses, Quatre followed him and explained. “Usually I play with the dogs after work every day, but lately…”
Trowa made a noise of comprehension.
“My dad pointed out earlier that I’ve been neglecting them. It’s not exactly my responsibility to take care of them, but pretty much nobody else ever does since I always do. So now I feel really bad.” Because the dogs, unlike Heero, didn’t understand about very engrossing new relationships.
“So nobody’s been feeding them?” Trowa wondered, sounding a little startled.
“Oh, no! Darryl feeds them; they’ve always got food and water. Just nobody’s been paying much attention to them.”
As they made their way into Quatre’s house and thence outside, he explained further about the family dog tradition. “Each of us got a turn to choose one, usually for our tenth birthday. It could be any breed as long as it was an outdoor dog, and since we were all spoiled rotten it didn’t matter how expensive it was to get. Most of the time my sisters took theirs with them when they left, but not all of them are still alive. The dogs, I mean — the first one would have been about thirty years ago.”
When this house had been built, it was practically in the middle of nowhere, quite a few miles from the nearest town; evidently the original owner had been a bit of a recluse. The town had grown gradually into a city, and expanded so that its suburban edges were not far from this estate, and these days a few other large properties had come to surround the Winners’; but the area was still a county rather than a city zone, and nothing had ever forced the property lines inward — and therefore what some might call yards were by others still referred to as ‘the grounds.’ And despite having visited four floors of the house and seen its entry hall, small dining room, butler’s pantry, and kitchen, still Trowa glanced around in some surprise when they emerged through the back door and looked out over the yard.
“I used to attend parties at places like this,” he murmured, his eyes tracing the flagstone paths around the edges of the neat lawn and the long strips of garden that lined the tall iron fence surrounding the property.
“Does it bother you to remember?”
“Only a little.” And though his smile was wan, it was the second one Quatre had gotten from him that day. Quatre squeezed Trowa’s hand, then pulled him down the path between the sandbox and the kitchen garden and onto the lawn, where he whistled.
Cairo was a tired old Canaan dog that rarely hurried anywhere anymore and thus was outpaced and quickly overtaken in the race around the house by Scrat. The latter, a hyper little beagle, was a fairly recent acquisition, having been chosen less than a year before by Quatre’s nephew Cameron, who never played with her. Scrat didn’t seem to resent this, mostly because she didn’t seem to resent anything: she loved everyone and everything with an energetic impartiality that consistently annoyed the calmer and more selective Cairo.
Now Scrat came wiggling up to Quatre, whining and occasionally leaping into the air in her excitement. Quatre was able to scratch her all over, worry her ears, and tell her what a good girl she was before Cairo caught up. Then he turned his attention to the Canaan while Scrat turned hers toward Trowa.
Cairo had the dignity of a cat, and always greeted Quatre with a solemnity that seemed barely able to admit any pleasure. Only the fact that, by contrast, he was utterly aloof and indifferent to everyone besides Quatre kept his human from sadly believing that the pet he had personally chosen and named didn’t like him at all. Today Cairo’s look seemed to be one of reproof, too, as if demanding to know why Quatre had been absent from the back yard for so long.
“I’m sorry!” Quatre told him, rubbing his head and neck and back. He found as he did so that Scrat was jumping around him again, which was a little surprising as Quatre would have assumed she couldn’t possibly be finished getting acquainted with Trowa yet. Quatre turned to her and said, “Where’s your ball? Can you get your ball?” Excitedly Scrat ran off, while Cairo moved to investigate Trowa.
“This is Cairo,” Quatre introduced them. “He’s a Canaan dog. He’s usually not very friendly to most people…” Quatre had intended to end that sentence there, but Cairo, as his head and flank were petted, was unexpectedly leaning against Trowa in evident approval. So Quatre went on fairly smoothly, “But he’s got good taste. Good boy, Cairo!”
At this point Scrat came flying back with her ball, which Quatre had to wrestle from her mouth. Then he threw it overarm as far out as he could across the lawn, and he, Trowa, and Cairo stood still watching the beagle run after it. And as she raced off, bounding erratically across the grass, missed the ball, skidded, backtracked, got it half into her mouth and then dropped it, picked it up again, and returned at full speed, ears flopping like fuzzy wild wings, something very unusual happened.
The dogs and their concerns momentarily entirely forgotten, Quatre turned to stare at his boyfriend in wonder and delight. He’d never heard him laugh before. Not once. He realized now, in fact, that he hadn’t ever considered the idea of Trowa laughing, as if the two concepts were just too completely incompatible to have crossed his mind at the same time. Quatre was sure that the grin on his face was one of those silly-looking childish ones he just couldn’t help sometimes, because Trowa had a wonderful laugh. It made Quatre want to drag him inside and up to his room and do any number of things to him.
Scrat was whining and jumping, pushing her slobbery mouth and its slobbery burden against Quatre’s leg, so he eventually forced himself to tear his eyes from Trowa and throw the ball again. But he looked back at his companion immediately he could, feeling his gaze inexorably drawn.
Trowa was petting Cairo, who still seemed to be enjoying the attention more than he generally did. “Does this one play?”
“He’s got a rope he likes to wrestle with, but it’s hard to convince him to bring it to you anymore.” Quatre crouched down to Cairo’s level and scratched the dog’s ears. “Get your rope, Cairo,” he suggested. “Go get your rope!” Cairo looked at him thoughtfully, then stood slowly and wandered away — whether actually to find his rope or not Quatre couldn’t guess.
While Quatre was thus occupied, Trowa had been trying to get Scrat’s ball from her to throw it again, but for some reason she wouldn’t give it to him. She wasn’t being unpleasant, but she backed away whenever he reached for her; and the moment she noticed that Quatre’s attention had been freed up by Cairo’s exit, she bounded over and dropped the ball at his feet, wagging her tail furiously.
“That’s weird,” Quatre remarked as he picked the ball up and threw it again. “Usually Scrat likes everyone and Cairo likes no one.”
“I’m just backwards, I guess,” replied Trowa.
“You’re just adorable, I guess.”
Trowa looked over. “Am I?”
With a roll of eyes, Quatre sidled up to him and kissed him. He’d have hugged him too, but had been handling too much dog to want to put his hands on anyone until after some soapy water.
Trowa was stiff against him, and looked a little embarrassed when Quatre pulled away. Perhaps he was aware of the many windows through which they could potentially be seen. Quatre grinned and turned back to Scrat. At the same time he noticed Cairo returning with his rope.
As the beagle tore off again after the ball, Cairo came with great solemnity to sit beside Trowa, holding his rope in an aloof manner suggesting it was all the same to him whether or not he was played with. When Trowa took the other end of the rope, however, Cairo tugged and growled with his usual level of enjoyment.
Though Cairo quickly tired of wrestling and settled down in the grass nearby, Scrat would chase her ball until she was panting and stumbling. By then it was quite dark out, and there were sounds of a lot of movement inside the house. Assuming Trowa wasn’t ready for more familial introductions yet, Quatre hurried him quietly upstairs. They couldn’t avoid Darryl, the cook, and he would be sure to tell everyone in the house he happened to talk to about Quatre’s visitor — the way he watched them as they went through the kitchen attested to this — but at least he didn’t detain them with questions, and they encountered no one else.
Upstairs, Quatre ushered Trowa first into a bathroom, where they could wash their hands, and then into his bedroom, where he immediately turned upon him and immobilized him by sliding arms up over his shoulders and around his neck.
“Even my dog likes you,” he murmured.
“Only the one,” replied Trowa. “The other one wouldn’t even give me the ball to throw.”
“Yeah, well… Scrat’s an idiot, and she’s Cameron’s anyway.”
As Quatre then began to carry out his delayed reaction to Trowa’s earlier laugh, all Trowa could say in response to this was, “Mmm.”