by D.C. Logan
The dog stumbled up onto her narrow legs. She was old, her ribs stared at him, and as she felt his approach she turned her milky white stare in his general direction. "Easy Ro, give us a minute then..." And Heero stopped to give her a gentle stroke before moving on to the living room. Ro tracked his passage with eyes that couldn't see well and ears that could no longer hear much at all.
Heero turned to look back at her fondly. Rosinante, after Cervantes' old white mare. Duo had named her the very instant he'd sighted her in the shelter and had immediately declared her as theirs. Rosinante for the gawky half-starved, tall-legged white dog. And as she'd blossomed under their attention and diligent care, she'd turned into quite the beauty, and had become Rose. Now as ancient in her own way as they were, and well into her diligence, she was Ro. Just like them, she'd outlived all the expectations of the world at large. She was a fellow survivor.
He turned to the living room, "Duo? Are we going?" A stomp of a foot setting itself firmly into a booted heel was the only reply he needed. He walked back down the hall, past a puzzled Ro, and opened the closet. This she understood. The observance of routine was important for her as well. She stood patiently by as Heero pulled lightweight coats and a use-worn leash from behind the door.
Duo walked comfortably down the hall, keeping to the right to avoid Ro's favorite spot along the heating element. Dog greeted man halfway down the hall and they walked alongside each other to where Heero waited by the door. Even after all these years, Heero still thought his partner beautiful. With his braid of white hair (not as long as it had been in the past—but still an outrage for a man of his years) and silvered eyes, he looked like an elfin prince from a fairy tale of old. The tall elegant white dog, reduced by age to only her essentials, completed the effect. They were a striking pair.
"Ready?" asked Heero.
Duo responded to the smile in his voice and gave a low sweeping bow, arm extended. "At your pleasure, my dear sir." Ro shuffled closer to the door, less interested in the courting antics of her masters and more interested in her daily walk through the colony neighborhood. A coat exchanged hands, a leash clipped to collar, and they were off.
The three of them traveled as a single unit. Always. Neighbors remarked upon what a regular fixture they were in the colony. Two old men, one with his arm slipped through the other's, their old dog keeping even pace with them. Day in, day out. Their route never varied. Six blocks down, three over, a rest at the park with the fountain and the birds for company. And a repeat of the route on the return. Old Stella claimed you could set your watch by them, and that had been the case a few years earlier, but then Duo had lost most of his remaining vision, and the walks had become somewhat more irregular in duration, but no less frequent. Heero and Ro had seen to that.
Heero's own hair had gone and aged to a mixture of wiry gray and black hairs. He was uncomfortably aware that he wasn't aging as Duo was—and was even comforted some days by Duo's nearly nonexistent vision—it spared him the truth that faced Heero in the mirror every morning. Whatever Dr.J had done to forge him into a perfect weapon for the war, had repercussions he tried most desperately not to think about most days now. But it left him able-bodied and agile in a time when Duo was neither. And that was a comfort in itself.
The two men strode arm in arm, the gentle breeze from the circulation system upon their faces. Ro moving silently at their side. Everyday. Without fail. On some days, friends and acquaintances would hail them, and approach with a word or two for the pair of them and a soft pat for Ro's narrow skull. Ro was a favorite with the young children in the park. Unafraid of old things, and pulled by a young curiosity, they surrounded the trio as they rested on their regular bench near the edge of the fountain. Duo claimed the rest was for Ro's benefit, but Heero had noticed that he seemed to appreciate the respite more and more as the months passed quietly by.
The park was no different today than any other day. Comfortable in silence with each other, and restful in the usual routine, they relaxed on their usual bench and listened to the life of the colony go on about and without them. So this was peace.
The walk home, however, was more eventful than usual.
The leader, bolder or stupider than the others, reached out and threw a mock jab at Duo. Emboldened by the complete lack of response and look of mild confusion on Duo's face, he hauled back and threw a punch for real. It never landed. Heero deflected it to the side and used the boy's momentum to push the rest of his body to the sidewalk. He gained his feet quickly with the natural resilience of youth and the angry expression of someone outmatched and not having the sense to realize it yet. His two friends moved around, flanking the old men and cutting off easy escape. 'Queer' they'd shouted at them, among other things, and though Duo had cautioned for temperance, it had rankled—doing nothing. He briefly wondered if he'd brought this on himself—merely by wanting something to react to.
And Heero felt a moment of panic—Duo was exposed and there was little he could do. He felt a gentle squeeze on his arm and stole a glance at Duo's face. Dammit, the idiot was smiling! What the hell?! Then Ro, looking for attention and far too old and trusting for her own good, reached out her wedge-shaped head for an expected pat. And then there was an unexpected wailing scream that was abruptly silenced as one of the toughs smacked her head aside and then kicked Ro soundly in the ribs. And Duo's expression dimmed and went completely cold and blank. Even after all these years, even after seeing it many times, even with eyes that saw nothing, the effect was chilling. And seeing it now, Heero was frightened. He hadn't seen that look in a long, long time. It meant that any chance for a proportional response no longer existed. They had sealed their fate when they attacked an innocent.
The neighborhood talked about the fight for weeks. How Heero had laid two of the boys flat and staring at the sky, concussed and puzzled. How Duo had managed to take down the third, and send him to the clinic with not one, not two, but yes, three broken bones and two missing teeth. And how Rosinante had stood, puzzled and swaying amid all the mayhem for her knights to come to her defense. Yeah, they were a regular topic of conversation again. And if Ro walked a bit slower and approached strangers with a bit more caution, well, that couldn't be avoided. And as for Duo, well, it had been worth it to see that smile, and to know that the three of them would be a neighborhood fixture for a while to come. Anyone who could do that kind of damage to a boy twice his weight and one fourth his age. Well, that was the right kind of guy for him. Managing to inflict that kind of damage without the aid of his eyes, well, that was Duo for you.