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Sorry it's so short - blame it on my brother and his wife, who gave me Civilization IV for my birthday. I'll try to resist getting sucked in quite as badly as I did with the previous Civ games. At any rate, as a "Thank You" for all the "Happy Birthday" wishes sent my way, here's the next scene...


***

Duo leaned against the closed lower half of Scythe's stall door and spoke softly to the horse. "Hey there, boy." The horse flicked an ear in his direction but kept eating. Duo clicked his tongue sharply several times, and Scythe finally turned and came towards him, but not before grabbing a large mouthful of hay to bring with him. Chuckling quietly, Duo reached out and scratched beneath his forelock, right over the narrow crescent of white. Scythe bobbed his head, pressing into the contact.

Keeping his voice low, Heero murmured appreciatively, "He's a real beauty." He approached slowly and cautiously, joining Duo at the stall door.

"That he is," Duo agreed, drawing his hand back as Scythe's head went up and his nostrils flared at Yuy's approach. The black retreated to the far side of the box, watching them warily. "He's a prime bit o'blood - jumps like a deer, runs like the wind, loves the thrill of the hunt - but he can be a real devil, too. He was handled badly before I bought him, and it left its mark. Can't even *carry* a crop around him. He's better than he was, but still can't really be trusted, even in here." Duo shrugged matter-of-factly. "But, he can be a damn sweet goer, and I think his temper's learned, not bred. Mayhap we'll try him at stud, see what his get's like."

Heero propped his folded arms on top of the lower half of the stall door, his shoulder very close to Duo's. "You hunt him?"

"With the local Hunt? No." He hesitated, half-tempted to let Yuy make the obvious assumption. No, better to be honest, he decided, unfashionable though the truth might be. If Yuy couldn't accept it - well, that would be that. It wasn't a negotiable point for him. "I don't ride with the hunt. Spend a whole damn day racing neck-or-nothing across the countryside after a wretched fox, and for what? Just to watch the dogs tear it to shreds if and when it's caught?" He shook his head. "It's cruel and pointless. I don't need an excuse to ride."

Heero hadn't ridden with the Hunt in years. His father had forbade it after his grandfather had brought him home from his first hunt as a too-young boy, in shock from the sheer viciousness of the dogs as they tore apart the creature that had led them on such a merry chase and the casual callousness displayed by the old Earl as he'd ritually blooded him. He'd gone, years later, at the urging of schoolmates, and had failed to see the allure, but had continued to ride simply because it was expected of him. After he'd joined the army, there had been far fewer opportunities and he'd learned to be far less concerned with Society's expectations.

He'd also become far more familiar with blood and brutality.

"It's been years since I last rode with the Hunt, and I wasn't overfond of it then," Heero volunteered quietly. "After the war..." His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes against the memories of blood and pain, brutality and death, summoned by the very word. "...I think... I think, Winner, that it would stir up things best left undisturbed."

Duo wasn't about to say something trite like 'I know,' because he hadn't been there, so he obviously *didn't* know. He didn't think that anyone who hadn't fought in the war could really *know* what it had been like. But he had a pretty good imagination, and the dubious advantage of having spent months living on the streets of London, exposed to its shady underbelly. He'd seen and heard some very ugly things. And he remembered all too clearly how the hot gush of someone else's blood over his hands had felt, how it had turned thick and sticky as it cooled, how it had itched as it dried and flaked off of his skin.

But he couldn't talk about that, not without revealing secrets he'd sworn to keep, so he settled for simply shifting a mite to the side, so that his shoulder touched Heero's, and offering, "Duo, my lord. My friends and family call me Duo."

Heero smiled faintly and leaned into the shoulder pressed companionably against his own. "Heero. My friends call me Heero."

In comfortable silence, they leaned against the stall door and watched Scythe as he finally settled down enough to return to his manger and eat.

***



Well, that took a slightly different turn than expected. *blinks and eyes fic's innocent-looking fluff/romance bunny suspiciously*
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