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Something Furry Part 8

Duo frowned and reached out to zip Heero's coat up. "It's freezing," he scolded gently.

"I know, but we don't have that far to go." Heero stood still long enough to let Duo fix his coat, juggling the small case in his hands. "We need to get there early- this close to Christmas, the district is going to be packed- and I don't want to have to wait-"

"Don't look now, but there's already tons of people out," Duo laughed as he followed Heero down the street, dodging shoppers. "Sally said we'd be busy all day."

"I know- that's why she insisted on us doing this now." Heero sighed. "Plus the customer is paying double the normal fee-"

"Well, with the nightmares the thing is giving her, I'm not surprised. Sally's sure it's not haunted?"

"Positive. She tried talking to it repeatedly- not a damn thing."

"So what can this person we're going to see do?"

Heero smiled. "Just wait and see."

Duo held his tongue and kept pace with Heero, wishing he dared reach out and grab hold of his mate. Heero had been so distant lately, ever since that situation with the pack... Why was his mate pushing him away again? He'd hoped they'd be able to spend some of the holiday season together- but things had been so busy... and he still hadn't found a present for Heero. What did you get a magician that didn't seem to need anything?

Heero turned sharply, ducking into an alley and crossing another street, stopping in front of a small storefront. Duo squinted up at the sign. Old and faded, he couldn't make out the name- but the skull and crossed bones gleamed whitely against the dark wood.

Duo's nose revolted when Heero pushed the door open, the smell of salt and decaying seaweed washing over his senses. He blinked at the interior as he struggled to overcome the scent. Brass gleamed from the walls and dark flags hung from the ceiling. Shelves were filled with spyglasses, compasses, oars- and cheerful tourist junk emblazoned with cartoon pirates. It was quite a contrast.

"Aye! Welcome me hearties- Oh, it's you." The dark haired woman behind the counter smiled toothily as she looked up from a faded ledger. "Wasn't expecting anyone but the tourists today. How are you, Heero?"

"Well enough, Urse. This is Duo- I'm sure you've heard about him?"

The woman laughed heartily. "Of course. Nice to meet you at last, Duo." She winked at him and then turned her attention back to Heero. "What can I do for you?"

"We have a small problem." Heero lifted the bag up and dumped the contents on the counter in front of Urse. "This is giving one of our customers nightmares- and it's not haunted. No spirit activity that Sally can sense."

Urse blinked at the skull for a moment. "Ah, I see." She looked up and smiled at Duo, her eyes glowing greenly. "Go and lock the door for me, will you dearie?"

Duo did as he was bid, returning quickly. Urse settled the skull carefully on her ledger. "Well now, let's ask this fine fellow what he thinks he's doing." She looked up, catching the expression of surprise on Duo's face. "Ah- you're thinking that Sally already asked?"

He nodded and she smiled.

"I'm not a psychic, dear. The sea witch has other ways of asking." She reached under the counter and pulled out a small jar. "Have to say it's nice using the old skills. Since I gave up the bad stuff- brewing storms and sinking boats and stuff- there's not much call for sea magic. Just the fins to legs and that sort of thing." She put her fingers in the jar and pulled out a pinch of powder. Sprinkling it over the skull, she muttered something under her breath and asked:

"Who be you?"

"I be me," the skull answered.

"Not helpful. Why are ye sending nightmares to good folk?"

"Nightmares!" The skull snorted. It was a good trick considering that it didn't have a nose. "Nightmares! They be dreams that lead to a fortune!"

Heero groaned. "Treasure skull. Figures."

Urse sighed. "Give me a minute. I'll take him back to my map and see what he does. Will your customer want a copy?"

"I'll give it to her- but-"

"I know. It's only an idiot pirate that buries his treasure. Most likely it's just a ruse. Still-" Urse picked up the skull and carried it to the back.

"What is a treasure skull?" Duo asked.

"Instead of writing down the location of their treasure on a map, some pirates enchanted skulls to hold the location. Usually they only talk to their owners- or their descendants-"

"Thus the reason the old family heirloom was giving our customer nightmares."

"Exactly. She's probably the first sensitive in a few generations- but not strong enough to talk to the skull. Urse, being a sea witch, can talk to any bones."

"Useful skill."

"Definitely." Heero sighed and looked out the window. "The streets are already crowded. Look at that out there."

"Good for business," Duo pointed out, leaning into Heero's side.

"True," Heero leaned into Duo a little and Duo brushed a kiss over his shoulder. Relax, he thought at his mate. Please- don't pull away...

Heero smiled and tapped the glass under his finger. "See that?" He said in a soft tone.

Duo peered through the glass. A small ship leaned drunkenly on a stuffed pirate bear. "The ship or the bear?"

"The ship. I had one like that when I was a kid. It belonged to my dad..."

Leaning a little harder into Heero's shoulder, Duo had to bite his lip before he asked what happened to it. He could guess...

Urse returned, skull in hand, a rolled up piece of parchment in the other. "All finished," she said and handed the paper to Heero.

"What charge?" He asked.

"Let me keep the skull?" She grinned at him. "I think I can hang it over the door and enchant it to say something piratical- think the tourists would like that?"

"Like abandon all hope, ye who enter here?" Heero suggested.

"Dead men tell no tales?" Duo tried. Urse's grin widened.

"Oh, I like that one, laddie. I think it will do the trick!" She shooed them out of the store, unlocking the door and ushering a few customers in with a smile.

Duo followed Heero back down the street, mind whirling. Maybe he had an idea for Heero's present after all....

Sally wasn't surprised when he whispered his request to her later- in fact; she manufactured an errand for him.

Urse didn't seem surprised either when he slipped back into her shop and asked for the boat in the case.

"It's not cursed or anything?" He asked as she wrapped it up.

"No," she smiled. "Unless you want it to be? I can still do that too."

"Better not," he smiled back and slipped the package under his coat.

"Too bad. I could use the practice. I'd offer to brew you a love potion, but you don't need one, not a handsome lad like you."

He thought of Heero, of the distance that he was still trying so hard to close and lost his smile. "You might be surprised."

Urse shook her head. "No. You don't." She met his eyes. "Trust me, dearie. He's hooked. He just doesn't realize it yet."

"I hope you're right..."


Heero opened his eyes and blinked fuzzily at the light streaming in through the curtains. It was late- how come his alarm hadn't- ah right, day off. He yawned and blinked a few more times. The bed beside him was empty- where was Duo?

He'd been in bed when Heero had finally gone to sleep last night. Heero had insisted on it. Duo had done so much running around yesterday for the shop- the holiday season was their busiest time and everyone was tired. Heero had stayed up to look up a spell for a customer, but he'd sent Duo to bed right away.

They had today off, though tonight was Quatre's annual Holiday party. Heero mentally groaned. He usually never went to the damn thing, but this year Sally had roped Duo into her pleading- and Heero couldn't say no to him.

Closing his eyes, he sighed. It was rapidly becoming apparent to him that he couldn't refuse Duo anything- and he was becoming too attached to his mate. Duo had only been with him for less than two months and already Heero was acting like an idiot. He'd overreacted badly during that haunted house job- and then that thing with the Pride...

He pushed the memory to the side and got up. If Duo wasn't in bed, then he had to be up- and if he was awake then he might have had another nightmare. Heero didn't like Duo's nightmares- they seemed to be getting more frequent- and he wasn't sure how he could stop them. Maybe he needed to talk to Sally about them.

The welcoming aroma of coffee greeted his nose as he opened the bedroom door. Duo was curled up on the sofa, under a blanket, a book spread open in front of him. He looked up and smiled as Heero stumbled out of the bedroom.

"You okay?" Heero asked immediately. "Did you have another nightmare?"

Duo's smile warmed. "Not at all. I just woke up an hour ago and couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't want to wake you, so I came out here."

Duo threw back the blanket and got to his feet. Heero's brain woke up with a jolt. Duo hadn't bothered to find clothes this morning. "Come and sit down, I'll get you some coffee."

Biting back the comment that he really didn't need it now, Heero did as he was told, doing his best not to watch Duo walk into the kitchen. He flipped a few pages in the book Duo had left on the sofa. It was one Sally's mother had given him years ago. 'You risk tears if you let yourself be tamed,' he read silently, and wondered what the Pride would make of that statement.

"Coffee," said his mate, the cup appearing under Heero's nose.

"Thank you," Heero took the cup and Duo curled up beside him. He did his best to focus on the cup in his hands and not the warm body next to his. This would not be a good time to spill his coffee.

Duo's fingers traced patterns on Heero's knee, playing hell with his concentration. "Are you still tired? You exhausted yourself yesterday." Heero caught the worried glance that Duo gave him.

"Just fine," he reassured. "Sleeping always helps. Did you have breakfast?"

"Not yet," his mate admitted. "Do you want me to make you something?"

"Maybe in a bit. How are you feeling today? I know Sally was running you ragged yesterday."

"Fine," Duo's fingers wandered a little further up. Heero tried to shift away, but he was caught between his mate and the edge of the couch. "Heero?"

"Hm?" Heero sipped his coffee, trying to think of an excuse to get off the sofa.

"Nothing." Duo's fingers slid back down to his knee. "What time is Quatre's party?"

"Eight I think. It usually lasts well into the morning." Heero smiled. "Or so I have been told. Sally and Wufei usually drag themselves in late- I think there's been a few years that Wufei just didn't bother going to bed."

"Sounds like he should throw it the night before since everyone has today off."

"I think they tried, but last night is when the fae exchange their gifts and Quatre wouldn't reschedule around it."

"Makes sense. The Pride doesn't exchange gifts- or throw parties." Duo sighed. "Our big holiday is New Year's- when the contests start for leadership for the next year."


"Fights." Duo clarified.

"Just the lions I imagine?"

"Of course."

"Of course," Heero thought, his mind going back to a week ago, when Lady Une had decided to drop in to the shop...


Heero blinked at Une. Had he heard her correctly? Duo was standing beside him, radiating tension, his eyes fixed on the four people behind his grandmother.

"You want me to what?"

"Punish them. They've been unfaithful to their mate one too many times. Nothing we've done has worked to curb their behavior. If you can't come up with something, then we might have to outcast them." Une lifted an eyebrow. "You are part of the Pride- and this is an official request- are you refusing it?"

Duo tensed even more. Heero glanced at Sally, who gave him a grim nod. Damn it. What should he do?

"Duo," Sally said gently, putting one hand on Duo's shoulder. "Will you please take the jaguars to the workroom and wait for Heero there?"

Duo nodded and turned on his heel- at a word from Une, two of the people behind her- a male and a female- followed him.

"What exactly do you want me to do to them?" Heero asked once they were out of range.

"I don't know. Something appropriate. Something that will stop them from doing it again."

"Lady-" One of the men behind her said softly. "I wish you would let me-"

"I know they are your mates, Luel- but you haven't been able to keep them in line." She snapped and the man subsided. So their mate didn't want Heero to punish them. Interesting.

"I told you they were too much for my brother," the other man said snidely and Une frowned at him.

"No one asked for your opinion."

Heero looked at Sally again. She made a small gesture with her hand and he nodded. Time to go talk to the jaguars and find out the whole story.

"It might take a bit," Heero said. "If you will wait here?" Without waiting for an answer, he headed for the workroom.

Pausing at the door, he took a deep breath. What was he going to do? He pushed open the door to find Luel's jaguars curled up tight against his mate, like children sheltering against an older sibling, their faces miserable. Duo was cuddling them close, obviously trying to comfort them. He looked up at Heero pleadingly.

"It wasn't their fault!" He said as Heero closed the door behind him. "Please- don't hurt them too badly-"

It was as if Duo had punched him in the face. What cause had he ever given Duo to think he'd want to...?

His expression must've shown something, because Duo made a faint noise and reached out a hand to him.

"What happened?" Heero asked, ignoring Duo's hand, trying to get past his hurt. "No one said anything out there except that they had been unfaithful-"

The two jaguars cowered down in Duo's arms, silent. His mate answered for them. "I've told you how it is, Heero. The lions keep the jaguars chained... they can't fight back..."

Heero shook his head, sickened. "And then they get blamed."

"Luel doesn't blame us..." The female looked up, her eyes shadowed. "But he can't stand against his brother... and his brother waits for Luel to go..."

Why were they defending their mate's behavior? "Then why does he chain you?"

"They made him- after the first time- said we couldn't be trusted." The male snarled. "We fight- we do! But...the lions are stronger."

Heero frowned, fighting down the urge to go back out there and deal some punishment to the lions. "I'll go tell them I need longer to perform the spell. We'll call Quatre- he can offer them shelter- we can get them safely away-"

"We can't leave Luel!" The female protested. The male nodded and Heero looked at them in amazement.

"But he lets it happen! We can keep you safe-"

"We can't leave Luel! He's our mate!"

"Duo-" Heero appealed to his mate. Surely Duo would make them see?

"Luel is a good lion." Duo gave him a sad smile. "He's just not good at protecting his mates."

"Is that why you didn't choose him, Duo?" The male asked Heero's mate. "We were hoping you would- I know he asked- you seemed to like him- and us-"

Heero bit down on his lip hard and resisted the urge to pull the other two off of Duo. All the cuddling looked a lot less familial now...

"One of the reasons," said Duo, and Heero forced down his reaction to that comment. Later, he told himself. Right now he needed to figure something out before Une came back here... His fingernails dug into his palm, creating a sharp pain- and he had an idea.

"How well can you act?" He asked them.

They both blinked at him.

"Act?" The female repeated.

"Can you pretend to be in pain?" Heero tried.

The male's face darkened. "Of course. We've had plenty of practice."

"All right. Since you won't leave the damn lion and I don't have tons of time to convince you- come here."

They both shrank back against Duo. For a moment Heero couldn't see why. Then he sighed. "Please come here. I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."

"Lady Une will be angry if you don't!" The male protested.

"She won't know. Come here." Heero looked at Duo pleadingly. "I'm trying to help-"

Duo got to his feet, pulling the other two jaguars up with him. "It's okay," he said softly. "If Heero says he won't hurt you, then he won't."

"But if Lady Une finds out-!"

"No one is going to find out," Heero growled as Duo nudged the pair closer. "Just like no one is going to touch you unless you want them to. Here's how it's going to work..."

He watched Duo's face as he explained- saw the dawning comprehension- and the joy.

"No one will figure it out?" He asked when Heero finished.

"Not as long as they play their part." He looked at the jaguars then- and was taken aback by their feral expressions.

"So- you will tell them that we get 'punished' if anyone other than Luel touches us. But it won't hurt? They think they're giving us a shock- and instead they get the shock? Will it hurt them?" The female looked delighted.

"Oh yes- quite a bit. Like grabbing a live wire. It will hurt too much for them to do anything to you. But you have to pretend it hurts you as well."

"We can do that."

"And whatever you do- don't give the game away!"

"We won't." The male showed his teeth. "I swear it."

"Very well." Heero reached out and touched the male's palms with his fingertips. "Let's get started."


It had worked, Heero thought, sipping his coffee, his free hand idly playing with the end of Duo's braid. Une had wanted a demonstration, so Luel's brother had grabbed the female and tried to kiss her. They'd both howled in pain- though the female had given him a surreptitious wink after.

It wasn't a solution he was happy with though. If only he'd managed to convince them to leave- get them someplace safe. But they wouldn't leave their mate- even in that sort of situation.

He looked down at Duo. His mate had apologized to him afterwards- not that he really had anything to apologize for. Once it was over, Heero knew that Duo couldn't help that first reaction. He couldn't imagine anyone disobeying Une- couldn't think that Heero wouldn't.

Realizing what he was doing, he dropped the end of Duo's braid. Space, he reminded himself. Distance. The Pride were conditioned to stay with their mates- no matter how bad the situation. Any encouragement from him and Duo would be the same. He needed to let Duo feel free enough to choose his own path, to go if he wanted. Just because Heero was getting attached to Duo didn't mean the feeling was reciprocated- and the thought that Duo would stay with him, even if he was unhappy, made Heero stick to his resolve.

"So, what would you like to do for the day?" He asked Duo. "Once we have breakfast?"

"What do most people do?" Duo curled a little closer.

"I'm not really sure myself." Heero smiled. "I used to go over to Sally's mother's for presents and breakfast, but after she died Sally began going downtown to hand out presents to some of the shelters instead."

"Did you ever go with her?"

"A few times- until they found out I was a magician." Heero sighed. "I can't fix everything with magic, but people still want you to try."

Duo patted his knee comfortingly. Then he slid away with a smile. "Stay here then- I have something for you."

Thank goodness he'd listened to Sally yesterday, Heero thought as Duo went to the bedroom. He got up from the sofa and went to his coat. The package was still in the pocket. He returned to the sofa quickly, slipping the package under Duo's discarded blanket.

He smiled as he remembered Sally's surprise yesterday.

"You didn't get him anything?" She'd asked.

"I don't know what to get him," he'd retorted. "And it's not like I've had time to go shopping."

Sally had rolled her eyes and pointed to the small jewelry case at the end of the counter. "Pick something out of there and I'll take it out of your check," she'd told him. "I noticed all the Pride had bracelets on."

"More than one," Heero had agreed, remembering the ones on Une's wrists. Duo didn't wear anything like he'd seen on the Pride, other than his family's necklace, but Heero didn't argue. It was an idea and he needed one.

It was worth it when Duo came out of the bedroom, finally dressed in jeans and a red sweater, a package in his hands, Heero was able to give him one in exchange.

Duo's smile as Heero gave him the small package was a present in itself. "You first," he urged, dropping down beside Heero on the sofa.

Unwrapping the present carefully, Heero was surprised to find the model ship he'd pointed out to Duo from Urse's shop yesterday. He ran his fingers over it, tugging gently on the rigging, noting the way the small portholes swung open.

"Neat, isn't it son?" His father's voice echoed in his memory.

He looked up to find Duo watching him intently, a faint worry line between his eyebrows. "Thank you," he told his mate. "I... I love it. It's just like I remember..."

Because the words seemed to be stuck in his throat, and because Duo was still looking at him with that faint worry line, he reached out and pulled Duo close enough to drop a kiss on his cheek.

Distance, he reminded himself tardily, even as Duo's worry line smoothed out.

"I'm glad you like it." Duo smiled. "I didn't know what to get you. Urse offered to put a curse on it for me, but I said no."

"I'm glad you did." Heero smiled back. "It's really perfect just like this. Thank you."

Duo looked down at the package in his hands, his fingers sliding under the tape.

"It's not as good as yours," Heero warned him. "And if you don't like it, you don't have to wear it-" The paper came free and the bracelet rolled into Duo's hand.

Duo's fingers tightened around it. His head was bent and Heero couldn't see his expression. Was it bad? He'd made sure not to pick anything that looked like a chain...

"Duo-?" He tried. "I -"

Before he could finish speaking, Duo launched himself at his mate, his arms going around Heero in a tight embrace. Heero could feel the dampness of Duo's cheek against his and was filled with dismay.

What had he done?

"Of course I'm going to wear it!" Duo whispered fiercely in Heero's ear. "I love you too!"



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