Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing, its characters or its story line. But I do enjoy writing about them!

Pairings: 1+2
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: AU, Shonen Ai, language, angst, mild Heero OOC

A/N: A little something I threw together to try and enter in a blanket fic contest, but I didn't finish it in time. Ah well, such is life, and deadlines are deadlines. In actually, I didn't really start to write this story to enter the contest as much as to prove a point - a blanket fic can be written without resorting to making your characters have wild monkey sex in the cold. Though you will find some pretty sensual stuff in here, it's all fairly clean.

Thanks and all that: Of course this wouldn't have been possible without the help of my friend Alba - Thanks hon, I wooove you! And a very special thanks to Arithion for the last minute beta and suggestions. Also, a nudge to CaseyValhalla for letting me bounce a couple of things off her.

Solitude in White
Part I
By Merith

Solitude was all I had wanted. Why did it seem to be too much to ask for? How could such a simple thing be so hard to achieve?

I let out a slow breath, no longer noticing how the moisture hung in the air as I shifted minutely on my skis. Through the still falling snow, I could make out a black vehicle resting about twenty feet from the road, tail end broadside against the tree. A half-hour on skis, in the cold, and the knowledge no one else had heard the crash drove home the certainty my solitude had come to an abrupt end. The once permanent glare, so well known to those who knew me, settled itself in place while I stared at the scene.

Of all the roads in this God forsaken country, why did some idiot have to crash on mine? A quick glance at the sky told me I needed to get moving, else the car's occupants and me to become icicles.

The ski poles planted, I shoved off and allowed the skis to glide over the field's uneven surface, coming to a stop by the car's passenger side. I couldn't tell its make or model, only that it was black and seemed to be some sort of older car. Brushing away the snow and frost from the window, I peered inside, trying to find anyone. With the snow nearly a foot thick on the window surfaces, the car's interior was too dim to see. But I was able to make out one occupant. That would make my next move easier.

The door proved to be locked, causing me to ski around the wreck to the driver's side.

Upon closer inspection, the only explanation I could find capable of causing such an accident would be a patch of ice on the road. This part of the road was flat and narrow, and if it spun out on a patch of ice, it was possible that it could have crashed. It really was ironic though. The idiotic driver managed to hit the only tree along a good ten-mile stretch of road. I could only hope the damage to the Elm would be minimal, enabling it to survive the winter.

Pausing at the other door, I bit off a curse. The spin had caused the car to skim down the driver's side against the tree, thereby sealing the door shut. I'd have to go in through the passenger's side after all. I scrapped away the snow and ice from the window, and made out the top of a head resting against it. Taking a chance, I rapped on the window hoping I could wake the driver and have him? her? unlock the door. The head moved, but the person didn't wake. I tried again using the end of a ski pole.

The head rolled back, and I could just make out a pair of eyes opening. Icy daggers stabbed somewhere deep as I spotted blood smeared over the face. There appeared to be a lot of it and, though knowing from experience head wounds bled a lot, it did little to relieve my fear. Pulling myself together, I shouted, "Unlock the other door so I can get you out." And gestured to the other side of the car. The eyes closed and I thought I saw a nod.

Hurrying around the car, I didn't watch the driver's attempt at fulfilling my request. But when I was once again on the passenger's side, the door was unlocked. Standing the poles out of the way, I unlatched my boots and kicked them out of their couplings, unbuckling the waist restraint to my backpack as I went. My hope was the driver would be coherent; I wasn't relishing carrying anyone through the snow.

The driver was no longer awake. The head injury had reopened with blood running thickly from the brow cut. Working automatically as my training kicked in, I pulled the firstaid kit from my bag, and set out what I'd need. Cleanup wasn't my major concern; stanching the blood was. Absently I noted the driver was male, and his injury needed stitches. Only I didn't have the tools in this kit, and exposed as we were, I knew this wasn't the place even if sutures were available.

"Hey," I spoke gently, but loud. "Can you hear me? Can you wake up?" My hands busied themselves with the gauze and tape. The driver didn't stir. A quick visual assessment didn't show any obvious injuries, and by now my hands had begun to tingle. I had removed my gloves and in these temps, frostbite didn't take long.

A snort of resignation, I stood and closed the car door, keeping the driver protected from the wind. As though I knew, somehow, it would be needed, I pulled the compact sleeping bag and length of rope from the pack. My movements were quick and efficient; the bag lay open with the rope uncoiled nearby, waiting for its use.

Less than fifteen minutes had passed from when I'd spotted the wreck, and I was already heading back to the farmhouse, dragging my patient cum passenger behind. The driver lay safely trussed up in the bag, the rope in tight loops at his feet, his chest and his head with its ends tied to the links on the pack's waist strap.

Other than occasional pleasure jaunts, I hadn't cross-country skied in a long time. And in the four months I'd been living on the South Dakota farmhouse, I hadn't had the need to venture out on skis until this morning. Years of regimented physical conditioning gave me the strength to get us both to my temporary residence. The slender appearance of the driver was deceptive, his weight made itself known, and the sleeping bag was not conducive to a smooth tow over the snow. Several times on the return trip I had to stop and clear a small pile off the bag; if the man ensconced inside was aware, he never made a sound.

Once at the farmhouse, I released the catch to my pack, dropping it to the ground. Entering the back-porch, I kicked off my skis, and leaned them with their poles against the far wall. Legs feeling like lead, I stumbled back to the makeshift travois, and, after untying the rope, I took a deep breath, preparing to lift my patient. Interesting how he didn't seem as heavy carrying his deadweight in my arms as he had while carting him over the snow. Pushing aside thoughts on physics and mass displacement, I went quickly through the house to the room I'd been using during my stay.

Any other time and no one would have gained entry to my personal room; I never allowed it. But the other two bedrooms had been closed off, winterized, and I knew the beds weren't even made. As soon as the driver was taken care of, I would prepare one of the others for his use, and reclaim my own. Though my privacy was paramount to me, I do value life more.

It took fourteen stitches to close the gash through his brow and I pondered on adding another but worried it was too close to his eye; while I was more than adequate in the field, I lacked the experience needed for more delicate work. I decided to wait and see if the butterflies would keep it closed enough to heal. After clearing away the bloodied bandages, I sat back to stare at my unexpected guest.

He didn't wake the entire time I worked on him, first stripping him of his boots and then his outer garments. He stirred briefly when I bathed the blood from his face and neck, verifying my initial thought he carried no other wounds. His hair did surprise me. No male of my acquaintance had hair as long or in the careful plait he wore his. And while I didn't remove any other clothing, I had to push his shirt out of the way to do a quick abdominal check; there didn't appear to be any internal injuries that I could tell, just some mild bruising from the seatbelt.

I'd changed into more comfortable clothing and exchanged my boots for moccasins, and now was perched on the edge of my bed. The driver looked familiar, I just couldn't place from where. It frustrated me and I wished once again the phone lines hadn't gone down the day before. In the remote locations of South Dakota, during heavy snows, the phone lines were the first to die; then the electricity. The house was equipped to handle loss of modernization with the exception of communication lines. Right now I wanted my internet resources more than I had during my entire isolation.

Suddenly I thought of something, and carefully I rolled the driver on one side to slip a free hand into his back pocket. Normally not a snoop, in my line of work, suspicion demanded action and knowing who he was required identification. The thin wallet contained little; a driver's license, one Visa card, an address scribbled in pen on notebook paper and a little over two hundred in assorted bills. I was only interested in the license.

It was issued out of North Carolina in a small town close to Raleigh, if my geography wasn't mistaken. After reading his name, I could feel my eyebrows rise in surprise and looked once again at my guest. He would have to confirm what I deduced, and if true, my patient was somewhat of a minor celebrity. If true, it created additional questions as to what he was doing so far north at this time of year.

Pulling the blankets up and tucking them around him, I left secure in the knowledge he wasn't going to die, bleed all over my pillow, or slip into shock.

My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn't eaten since just after waking to my guest's car striking the tree. The hour had still been dark, with daylight hours off; I had debated setting out immediately or waiting for light. While I had a rough idea of where the accident might have taken place, I didn't relish the idea of traipsing through a half dozen fields covered in three feet or more of snow in the dark. I had settled on making myself ready with a decent breakfast and packing my backpack.

Certain my guest would wake hungry, I pulled out the pot of soup I'd made the day before and set it on the stove to heat. Mentally I ran through a task list: lunch, fix room, check patient, check generator, start dinner. It was only noon and my body was tired; I would have liked to add a nap to the list, but didn't think I'd get one.

Lunch out of the way, I stopped in briefly to see if the man had woken or seemed in distress in any way. It didn't appear so. In fact, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say distress was the last thing he was in; sprawled as he was over my bed. The blankets he'd kicked mostly off, and his untucked shirt rode high up one side. One leg jutted out of the tangle of covers, its foot dangled over the edge and one arm draped over his face, covering his eyes. I felt my lips twist into an uncomfortable smile but instead of thinking on its meaning, I pulled down the blinds and turned out the bedside light, casting the room in darkness before leaving.

The second bedroom took longer than anticipated to clean and prepare. Though in truth it had taken me nearly as long to decide which room to let him use. Making decisions instantly was usually as automatic as breathing, but since the incident, I found myself weighing options I never would have before. In this case, efficiency and practicality offset my need for privacy. As stated, the farmhouse contained three bedrooms; two were in the main house, side by side down a short hallway from the living room. The third room was off to the side of the back porch, a late addition to the original farmhouse. I dreaded even thinking about heating that room, let alone keeping it habitable. But the other room… it was so close, too close.

Practicality won. The man had already invaded my privacy and sundered my solitude; another day or two wouldn't hurt. Besides, I reasoned with myself, he might want his peace and quiet as well.

I left the door open to assist in heating, and went to wash up in the bathroom. Staring at the mirror, I almost forgot who I was; this stranger in the reflection was not the man I used to see but some weak facsimile. The features were the same, high narrow cheekbones, strong jaw line even the wide brow and deep-set eyes, but instead of the determined ambitious man I once was, a reflective almost hesitant shell of him glared back at me.

Somewhere the faint tinkle of laughter sounded.

~ "You're always so serious, Agent Yuy. How come you never laugh? Why don't you smile more?"

"My job is a serious one. Laughter and smiles are not part of fulfilling that duty."

"Oh foo. Duty be damned, Agent Yuy. You're still a person, and as such laughter and smiles are a part of life."

"Some other time, Miss Relena. I believe if you don't hurry, you'll be late. Congress convenes in forty-five minutes."

"You are my new mission, agent. I will make you laugh and smile more, I swear it." ~

I found myself breathing hard, clutching the edge of the sink, my head swirling in a gray fog with black dots dancing before my eyes. Forcing my respiration to slow, I slid to the floor to wait until the attack passed. It had been several weeks since the last one; I could only credit the arrival of my guest for its return.

As if my thoughts were the catalyst, I heard movement across the hall coming from the room he occupied, and rose quickly. Opening the door, I could see the man had sat up and seemed to be looking around, trying to see in the dark.

"Let me lift a blind, and you'll be able to see," I commented padding over the floor to the window. He let out a sharp cry as the near blinding sunlight poured into the room and I hurried to his side. His hands were over his eyes, and his knees drawn up to his chest. "Are you all right? You need me to close the blind?"

He shuddered and shook his head slightly. "No. No, it'll be okay," he said with a shaky breath. "Just a little sudden, ya'no." His voice was smooth, soft and low, almost a baritone and I cocked my head puzzled wondering how that slight body could produce such a deep voice. His appearance was deceiving. He sighed and dropped his hands slowly. "If you don't mind, where the hell am I? And how'd I get here?" He peered at me, his expression confused and questioning.

I lowered myself into a squat, keeping at eye level before replying. "Here. That's a good question. Geographically, you are in north central South Dakota, about twenty miles from the border. Physically, you are in my bed, in a farmhouse in the middle of the badland prairie – roughly ten miles from Grennell." He nodded slowly, trying to follow my words. "As for how, well, I brought you." I looked at him closely, wondering if he remembered. "You were in an accident earlier this morning."

He blinked and dropped his gaze to his hands in his lap. "South Dakota, huh." It seemed more a statement than question and I let it pass.

When he didn't say anything for a couple of minutes, I rose saying, "I'll bring you some soup and something to drink. You've had a shock and a nasty blow to the head, so don't try to think too much." He raised his head and gave me a grateful look. At the door, I paused. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes. Don't try to move until I return, all right? I don't know what other injuries you might have sustained."

"I-I'll wait here," he mumbled, already sliding back down under the blankets.

I watched him another minute more; he had seemed dazed though not overly so. More tired than I would have expected, but then, people handled stress and shock differently and sleep was one of the body's natural defenses to fight off both. Even with a head injury, I figured he could use the sleep, and if there had been a danger from a concussion, he would have succumbed long before I found him. I left the door open.

The man appeared a little more aware when I returned with a tray of soup, bread, water and orange juice. His eyes lit up seeing the food and I had to smile. "Hungry?" I asked, setting down the tray to turn on the bedside lamp.

His laugh, though short, was rich and again I wondered how such deep sounds could come from such a small person. "Hunger and I are well aquatinted friends, and he's decided to make his presence well known today." The man had already sat up, propping himself against the headboard, watching the tray as I shifted it around to set on his lap. "It looks good. Did your wife make this?" His eyes never left the bowl.

"I'm not married," I said in reply.

He paused with the juice glass to his lips to look at me over its rim. Swallowing, he lowered the glass and smiled ruefully. "I'm being pretty rude here, and I apologize." He rubbed his hand on the bedspread and held it out to me. "Duo Maxwell, and you are?" he asked, with his expression inquisitive and his eyes bright.

I gave him an almost perfunctory handshake, keeping the touch brief, before introducing myself. "Heero Yuy."

A grin replaced the smile as his eyes traveled over my appearance. "Well, Heero Yuy, I thank you, for this meal, the help, and for sharing your bed." Alarm and surprise warmed my face and he gave a short laugh. "I don't remember much of the accident, but it must have been a bitch. So, thanks a bunch, pal, for digging me out and bringing me here." His eyes went back to the tray and he shoved half the slice of bread in his mouth. His eyes slid closed and he smiled around the bite.

I could only shake my head. The chair I'd used earlier was far away enough to not be imposing, yet close enough to the bed for me to perch on and watch him. I settled myself on the edge. His manner of eating was as variant and lively as his facial expressions. Other than a "this is great!", he hadn't said a word, and his lunch disappeared. Seeing he had drunk the last of the soup, I asked with some amusement, "Are you still hungry? Do you want more?"

Another short laugh. "Ah, no, man. I was full a bit ago, but it was so good I couldn't put it down." He peered at his bowl as though more soup would have manifested itself before looking up at me. "You made it? ‘Cause I gotta tell ya, that's the best damned soup I've ever had."

"Yes, I did. I don't like canned foods generally."

He gave me a startled look before a slow smile slid over his face. "You'll have to give me lessons or the recipe then, Heero Yuy, ‘cause I don't think I'll be able to eat canned soup again."

"I'll write it down for you," I said quietly, and he laughed again. I think I could get used to hearing that laugh; its richness and sincerity filled the room and created its own warmth.

"You are something, Heero Yuy." His eyes tracked me as I rose and crossed the room to the dresser. I picked up his wallet and keys and turned back to him.

"I put your personal things here, and your coat and boots are in the living room." I moved back to the bedside, and sat his things on the end table. "You're welcome to stay as long as you need to." My eyes locked with his. "In fact, you'll be here for a couple of days at least. With all the snow and more to come, the roads won't be cleared until Thursday or Friday. And if they get the phone lines working before then, you wouldn't be able to get a truck out here to pull out your car anyway." I'd said the last with a little regretful smile, trying to soften whatever blow my words might have given.

He sat thoughtful for a moment before giving a little shake. "Guess there's no sense crying about it, then." He turned away from me, staring off into middle distance. Not looking at me, he asked quietly, "I take it cell phones are useless as well?"

"This time of year, in this weather, I'm expecting the electricity to drop soon."

My guest drew in a deep breath and let it out. "Well, shit. Out of the frying pan and into the fire." He tugged on his braid reflexively and I eyed his action closely. Blinking, he seemed pull himself out of his thoughts. The smile he aimed at me didn't carry the same genuine feel as those before. "I'm being rude again, Heero Yuy. I'm positive me being around imposing on you isn't what you wanted either. I'll try to stay out of your way."

"Heero," I said, keeping my voice low.

His eyes met mine. "Huh?"

I shifted and sat on the chair again as I answered, "You keep referring to me with both my first and last names. I am either Heero, or Mr. Yuy. I do not care for your use of Heero Yuy."

At least his grin was sincerely chagrined. "Alright, pal, it's a deal. I'll call you Heero, and you call me Duo."

I arched an eyebrow at him, and tapped his wallet thoughtfully. "David Ulysses Oscar Maxwell?"

He looked away, cheeks flushing in embarrassment. "Yeah, Duo for short."

"What kind of parents would encumber a child with a mouthful like that?"

"Sadistic ones, let me tell you," he grinned, good humor restored.

His comment startled a laugh out of me, and I hesitated a moment before asking, "Why those names? Pardon me for sounding rude, but ... they're rather ... odd, aren't they?"

Duo's laugh broke off into a fit of coughing. He winced, stifling the pain as he answered, "Well, David is after David in the Bible, ya' know, as in David and Goliath." Grinning ruefully, he tossed in, "Mom and dad thought I'd do great things in this world." I gave him a nod in return. "Ulysses ‘cause Dad was a history buff and loved the Civil War era, and Oscar for Oscar Wilde - Mom was crazy about his plays." Shrugging deprecatingly, he added, "A lot to live up to, but shit, someone has to do it."

If the story of his given names was true, it was a lot to burden a child with, and I wondered for a moment what his childhood had been like. Brushing the thought off, I asked solicitously, "How do you feel? Are you in any pain?"

He gave the question serious thought, and I could see movement as he rolled his shoulders, and tested muscles. Pursing his lips, he turned to me with a faint frown, and touched his brow lightly. "Other than some bruising on my chest and one heck of a headache, I can't say I'm in any pain. Not really." He shrugged nonchalantly. "Hell, it's not even as bad as some of the clips I've taken in practice runs."

"Ah!" I cried out softly. "I thought so."

"What?" He'd jumped in surprise at my exclamation.

"You are Duo Maxwell, the Nascar car driver," I announced in more normal tones.

Duo blinked at me and gave another short laugh. "Yeah, I guess I am him." His hand was still at his brow, fingering the sutures carefully. "Hey listen, do you have a mirror or something? I'd like to check this out."

I stood, and moved the tray to the end of the bed. "I'll help you up and to the restroom across the hall. I'd feel a lot better if you checked yourself out to make sure you weren't injured elsewhere." I couldn't help the slight quiver.

"All right, sure man. I could use the john." He didn't seem to notice my unease, and gingerly moved his legs off the bed. I hovered, ready to lend a hand, but knew from my own experiences I would rather try on my own without assistance than have help thrust upon me. He steadied himself on the edge of the mattress, his hands to either side, and rose slowly, testing his weight on his legs. As he straightened, he let out a hissing breath. "Damn, must have knocked my knee hard." He leaned over, one hand on the nightstand, holding part of his weight off the leg.

"Here," I offered, coming to stand on the weakened side and bending slightly to catch him under his shoulder. "Let me take most of the weight, and we'll work on relaxing the knee later."

His arm clung to my shoulder and he flashed me a thankful grin. "Thanks again, pal." We had taken a couple slow measuring steps, both of us adjusting to our height difference. I could tell he continued to test his leg, but I didn't say anything. It seemed he didn't care for being dependent either. "So, you some kind of doctor, Heero Yuy?"

"No," I replied shortly.

We'd reached the bathroom, and I was in the process of transferring my support to the sink counter when he looked in the mirror. "Shit! Will you look at that!" he exclaimed. I looked at his reflection, wondering what upset him. His fingers ghosted over the stitches and the puffy, darkening skin under his eye. "I look like Frankenstein!"

Standing close without touching, I turned from his reflection to look at his face. Narrowing my eyes critically, I inspected the injury. "No," I said thoughtfully, "Not exactly Frankenstein. I left out the bolts."

He let out a startled bark of laughter and smiled at me. "So, Heero, what are you that you can sew me up better than my own doc?"

I shook my head. "Not a doctor. Just someone who knows something about field first aid." Now that he was in more light, I could see splotches of blood in his hair, and the places on his skin I had missed. He would need a shower.

"A man of mystery, Heero?" The timbre of his voice changed, deep and soft, it now held an almost seductive tone. I felt one of Duo's hands rest lightly on my shoulder, and I suddenly realized how close we were, how close I'd drawn to him while inspecting his eye. I noticed he was watching my face - my expression and I closed it off. I hadn't lost all of my training.

"No mystery," I replied easily, taking a step back while keeping a hand on his waist in case he needed the support. "You should probably take a shower and change clothes. There's blood in your hair. I couldn't clean all of it earlier." At the door, I gestured to the small cupboard over the toilet. "There are plenty of towels and washcloths in there, and feel free to use the soap and shampoo." My words were coming out disjointed, as though I was nervous. "I'll find you something to change into." My eyes ran over his frame again. "Shirts shouldn't be a problem. But I think sweatpants will have to work. I don't think I've a pair of jeans that will fit you."

"Yeah, sure, man," he said in that same seductive tone. I took one last look at him before closing the door, and he gave me a crooked grin. Somehow he knew, his the knowledge defined in his expression. I leaned my forehead against the closed door and drew a steadying breath. Just as I moved away, I heard him say, "Be prepared, Heero Yuy. I intend to know you."

My heart hammered in my chest and I was annoyed. Words, arrogant words at that, from a stranger no less, and I started acting like a schoolboy. Irritated, I entered my room and cleared away his lunch things. I'd listened to the shower as I straightened the bed and searched for clothing to fit him, and wasn't surprised to hear him singing. Since he'd awakened, I'd come to the realization this man was not the peace and quiet kind. And while I sort of expected singing in the shower, the song caused me to pause in the hallway to listen. His song was an old, Irish ballad.

~ "Dance with me, Agent Yuy."

"I cannot, Miss Relena. I have to keep watch."

"Silly, nothing's going to happen. You need to relax and enjoy life."

"I have a duty, Miss Relena. A party is a good place for dissidents to cause mayhem. Dancing with you will take my focus from my duty."

"Is that why you never look at me? Do I distract you?"

"Yes, and rarely."

"You make me laugh, Agent Yuy. But I still want you to dance with me. Please? The song is almost over, so you won't be pulled away from your duty for long."

"For a minute then, Miss Relena, and no more."

"You dance perfectly, Agent Yuy. *…the road is long, and I am weary. You have gone, gone away. So, rest now my sweet darling, I will join you one day. *"

"You sing well, Miss Relena."

"Thank you for the dance, agent. I think I'll sit the next one out." ~

Damn. Two in one day. I was regressing. Standing in the hallway, clutching the shirt, sweatpants and sweater I'd picked out, I felt an inexplicable rage wash over me. Rationally I knew none of this was the man's fault. But with his coming, with his destroying my solitude, the barriers I had erected to keep those memories at bay were crumbling fast.

I didn't want this. I didn't want to remember. I wanted it out of my mind and out of my heart. I'd resigned myself to not be the man I had been, and was quietly working on who I would be once my solitude was over. I didn't need distractions in any form, and my unexpected guest was proving to be more than just a mild distraction. I was still attempting to gain control over my wanton emotions when Duo walked out of the bathroom.

My eyes drifted over his wet form, a towel knotted about his hips. His hair twisted in another towel made a strange turban of terrycloth and chestnut silk. He had stopped when he spotted me, one hand braced on the doorframe, the other holding his dirty clothes. An easy smile came, genuine and friendly, and he took an unsteady step forward.

"I've moved your things to this room," I said harshly, turning away from him. His step faltered and his eyes grew wide. I reminded myself again that it wasn't his fault. "I'll wash your clothes while the electricity still runs," I added in a softer tone, moving forward.

He remained silent while I exchanged clothing bundles and only nodded as I showed him where'd I'd placed his personal items. He didn't move until after I'd left, heading for the washer on the back porch. I had a few odds and ends needing to be washed and stayed out in the cold for as long as I dared. I called upon my lost control and tied it in place once again, hoping it would stay put. I wished once more the phone lines hadn't gone down, and I could call Wufei. I needed a friend, and he understood me more than anyone else did.

Duo stood in the doorway to his room, watching for me to make an appearance. Seeing those vibrant eyes now wary and cautious, I felt the brush of guilt before I dismissed it. While I owed this man nothing, neither did he deserve my anger; I vowed I would not snap out at him again unless he did deserve it.

Stopping a short distance from him, I asked, "Would you rather lay down and rest some more, or sit in the living room? I need to check the generator and start dinner, but want to make sure you're settled first."

He gave me a tentative smile. "I'm not particularly tired, so the living room?" He made it sound more as a question than a statement.

"Living room it is," I replied softly. "Do you think you can manage on your own?"

Nodding, he answered more assuredly, "As long as there's something to hold onto. The leg's a little weak and the knee wants to collapse on me in open spaces."

I winced knowing he would have to have crossed from the door to the bed, or even the dresser, without anything to hold onto. I didn't even want to think about how he could have gotten himself dressed. When he required it, I helped him to the couch, and brought a pillow to put under his wrenched knee. It didn't look swollen, but I thought since I was outside anyway, I'd put together a bag of packed snow to ice it down. I left him to settle and brought back a small bottle of pain relievers and a glass of water.

He gave me a grateful smile and swallowed two immediately. Handing him an afghan from off the back of the recliner I usually used, I saw the thin white line from around his lips dissipate. I should have given him aspirin during lunch. I added being more considerate to my guest to the list in my head.

"I'm going outside now. Is there anything I can bring you? Anything you need?"

Duo's glance swept the room and he turned to me with a puzzled look. "You don't have a television?"

"No," I replied looking around as though one might spring up out of no where. "I've never been in the habit of watching, and as I understand it, the reception here is terrible, so it isn't worth bothering." At his look of disappointment, I threw in, "There are many books, and you're welcome to use the stereo."

With his eyes closed, he bit his lower lip and I could only imagine what he was thinking. "Could you bring me something to read? I don't care what. I have a feeling I might fall asleep before I get too far into it anyway."

I nodded and went to the bookcase. Most of the books were of my own personal collection; from the classics to modern fiction, it held all manner and nature of the written word. Keeping in mind the man's occupation and what I'd gathered from his personality, I pulled out four or five volumes for him to decide. If the books surprised him, he didn't show it, but after he looked them over, his gaze held mine – his expression blank and eyes thoughtful.

on to part ii

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