Heero had changed clothes and was just starting to think about dinner on Thursday evening when Quatre called. “Hey, Heero, I’m running some errands with Cairo in the car, and he’s already getting a little carsick… I’m going to let him walk around outside your apartment for a bit. Do you happen to have a bowl you could fill with water and bring out for him?”
“Sure. Are you already here?”
“I’m a block away.”
“OK, I’ll meet you down there.”
As Heero put his phone away Duo asked, “What’s up?”
“Quatre,” Heero replied briefly.
“Oh, is he actually going to pay attention to us today?” Duo grinned.
“Only because his dog’s getting carsick.” Heero also grinned, though he wasn’t entirely cheerful about the question and answer.
Duo probably thought Quatre hadn’t been around much lately because he was busy with work; Heero, on the other hand, was convinced that Quatre had a magic door of his own into Trowa’s house, where he’d been spending most of his extraprofessional waking time (and probably, if Heero knew Quatre, much of his sleeping time as well). It wasn’t a theory he wanted to relate to Duo, though. Unfortunately, it was a theory he needed to relate to Duo, and undoubtedly couldn’t. It fit with the fact that Quatre was currently running errands with his dog, too: he’d probably been neglecting the animal as well as his friends, and now was giving it the unusual treat of riding in the car with him as an apology.
With a Tupperware bowl full of water held carefully in both hands and Duo in his jeans pocket, Heero headed down to the parking lot, having a little trouble managing doors but eventually making it without spilling too much. Outside, Quatre had already let the dog out of the car and was fussing with something in the back seat — possibly simply adjusting the sheet he kept spread over it for Cairo to sit on, and possibly something less pleasant.
Cairo was a calm, pretty creature that didn’t think much of Heero; Quatre had assured him that Cairo was that way with everyone, and it didn’t bother Heero greatly as he’d never really been a dog person anyway. Now Cairo didn’t appear to mind him, however, as Heero set the water down on the sidewalk and called, for he came slowly over, sniffed at Heero’s hand briefly, and began to drink. Heero, not terribly fond of the smell of vomit and speculating it might be part of what Quatre was dealing with over there, sat down on the curb a couple of parking spaces away and set Duo beside him.
“He looks OK,” he said loudly enough for Quatre to hear him. In response, Quatre made a sardonic noise. Heero smirked. “How’s that other one? The hyper one?”
“How many dogs does he have?” Duo wondered.
“She’s fine,” Quatre replied at volume. “I had to have Darryl come out and distract her so I could get Cairo into the car without making her sad.”
“Hoooowwww many dogs?” Duo reiterated.
“You know, if Scrat didn’t have Cairo for company and such a big yard to run around in, I’d say we should get rid of her… Cameron never pays attention to her.” The guilt in Quatre’s tone told Heero he’d been right in speculating recent neglect of Cairo; the nephew’s offense must be pretty severe if Quatre was still mentioning it in the face of his own.
“Just two dogs?” Duo guessed. “And who’s Cameron?”
“Sorry… Quatre’s oldest nephew,” answered Heero. “And, yes, two dogs.”
“Well, this one is a mighty fiiine-lookin’ animal,” Duo drawled.
Heero laughed a little.
“What was that?” Quatre called.
“My voice is too goddamn quiet!” Duo yelled.
It seemed Quatre still didn’t hear him, so Heero replied, “Nothing.”
Duo sighed and turned his attention to Cairo, who was now sniffing about.
“Four more days,” Heero murmured reassuringly. With his little plastic hands, Duo patted appreciatively at the one of Heero’s that was half curled around him where he sat on the concrete; it was a strange sensation.
Meanwhile Quatre was saying, “I still need to go to Carquest and a grocery store; do you guys want to come with me?”
Heero had a secret love of auto parts stores, but was being perfectly honest when he replied, “Not in a car that smells like dog vomit.”
“We could take your car,” was Quatre’s teasing suggestion.
“That animal in my nice car?”
“Oh,” said Quatre in mock surprise, “did you get a nice car?”
Duo had been talking nonsense at the dog, to which Heero had been half listening in amusement as he held this distance conversation with Quatre; now, all at once, Duo’s tone changed, and his random noises abruptly became a good deal more intelligible: “Whoah! Hey! Hey, stop! Bad dog!” And at the same moment, Heero felt Cairo’s warm, wet, snuffling nose against the hand he’d had on Duo’s body.
It happened with dizzying quickness. At the sound of Duo’s supplicating but somewhat muffled, “Heero!” the latter looked down in time to see Cairo take the doll by the head, pick him right up, and start to turn away. Heero made a grab for Duo, but missed entirely as Cairo began trotting toward Quatre.
“Hey!” cried Heero in his turn, diving after the dog, missing again, and scrambling to his feet. He never actually did manage to get his hands on Duo, and it was a startled and confused Quatre that pulled the doll from Cairo’s mouth.
“What…” Quatre began.
Heero snatched Duo in a panic and began looking him over for damage, despite knowing that he was supposedly indestructible. As he did this, Duo was swearing continually, and only stopped when Heero’s eyes met his. Breathlessly he asked, “How far was that?”
“I don’t know,” replied Heero, his panic settling into horror. “I couldn’t– Quatre, did you see?”
Quatre’s eyes had gone wide as he’d realized what had just happened, and he shook his head. Then they all simply gazed at each other blankly. Cairo leaned complacently against his master, unaware that he’d caused any trouble.
“Shit,” Duo said again at last, sounding distraught.
“It may not have been too far,” said Heero quickly. However, as even he wasn’t sure how far the dog had gone before he’d caught up, his tone was none too certain.
Duo just stared up at him, painted eyes wide.
Heero held him tighter. “I’m sure it’s all right,” he said, though he wasn’t. “I’m sure I got to you in time.” Though he wasn’t.
“I’m so sorry,” Quatre breathed, one hand on the dog’s head rubbing almost absently at its ears. “I don’t know why he did that. Maybe… maybe he thought… I don’t know…”
Duo took what sounded like a deep breath and spoke in that disconcerting tone of false cheer Heero had heard from him a few times before: “I’ve never known what it is about me that dogs like so damn much. They’re pretty common familiar animals… maybe they sense the magic or something.”
“I guess we’ll find out on Monday.” Quatre clearly wasn’t referring to why dogs liked Duo so much. There was a distant, contemplative quality to his voice, which Heero attributed to his suddenly thinking of Trowa and how this might affect him.
Perhaps Duo was on the same wavelength, for he said, “Don’t anyone mention this to Trowa, OK? He shouldn’t have to worry about it before he has to. Especially if it turns out he doesn’t have to worry about it at all.”
Slowly Quatre nodded, though he didn’t look entirely convinced.
Heero also wasn’t sure what to think. If he were the one under a curse and approaching what he believed to be the end of a long period of suffering, he would want to have clear expectations about the day in question, know whether or not he could anticipate success. On the other hand, Trowa didn’t seem the type to get his hopes up — about anything, really — and Heero didn’t feel it was his place to make the decision when Duo and Quatre were both more familiar with Trowa and more concerned for his well-being. So finally he nodded too. Then they all just stared at each other again, bleak and pensive.
When somebody showed signs of wanting to pull into the parking space they were occupying, Quatre finally stirred. “I’ve got to go,” he said reluctantly, looking around as if he’d forgotten where he was. “I am so sorry about this.” Seeing his human moving again, Cairo climbed up through the car’s open back door without being urged.
Duo shook his head, dragging his somewhat slobbery braid back and forth across Heero’s hand. “Not your fault,” he said. “It’s not exactly something you can train your dog not to do.”
Quatre smiled weakly at Duo, then raised his eyes to Heero. There was in his face that thoughtful expression that suggested he wasn’t saying something he had on his mind. Heero remembered him wearing that look a few days before the email about Trowa; he wondered what Quatre was thinking now, and whether he wasn’t saying it because Duo was present or for some other reason. What Quatre did say eventually was, “Thanks for the water.”
Heero nodded. Their goodbyes were subdued, and then he stood on the curb holding Duo in both hands and watching Quatre drive away.
Duo was very quiet as they returned inside, even once the door was closed and they were alone and out of anyone’s earshot. Heero hadn’t put him back in his pocket, but continued to keep both hands possessively on him as he walked with the bowl under his arm dripping down his side, and now he gazed at the doll in similar silence.
Finally Duo said, “If that just ruined everything…”
“Then we start over,” Heero interrupted tensely. “We start a new month and try again. We try harder.”
Heero would not even hear the beginning of an objection. “We start over,” he reiterated.
For a long moment Duo stared at him, his eyes blinking away in their uncannily regular rhythm. And eventually he said, as quietly as before, “Thank you.”
Not trusting himself to answer verbally, Heero nodded.
“And now,” Duo announced next, clearly changing the subject, “I think I really do need a bath.”
Heero forced a smile. “Yes, I think so too.”
“So bring on the hot water! That’ll be my silver lining.”
Smile widening somewhat, if a little sadly, Heero hoped it could be his as well.
So what was going through Cairo’s head? Find out here.