SEE ALL WARNINGS AND DISCLAIMERS IN PREVIOUS CHAPTERS.
A/N: Thanks for sticking with me so long. I'm going to try and finish my other two stories now.
"Hilde! Lands, where are you girl? Aren't you done yet?"
Giggling softly, a girl with black hair and eyes nearly as dark pulled the remaining two pieces of laundry off the line. "Coming, Mother!" she called back. Really, all this technology and her mother still hung her laundry out to dry.
"It makes it smell so sweet and fresh!" her mother had explained many times. "And nothing beats the crispness of laundry dried on the line!"
Folding the tablecloth and linen, Hilde balanced the laundry basket on her hip and went back inside the modest farmhouse. Her mother, a plump woman with apple-pink cheeks and a honey smile, was in the kitchen kneading dough. The holonet chattered in the background, flapping about news in Endina.
"The truce between the Maxwells and Yuys, contrary to popular belief, does seem to be holding," the news lady said. "Since the deaths of the family heirs five months ago, talks have gone on in Parliament almost non-stop. Damia Maxwell and Phylia Yuy have taken center stage in the discussions on behalf of their mothers, Ladies Avalon Maxwell and Hauhna Yuy. It is believed these four have spearheaded the efforts to bring peace after the youngest members of the families took their own lives—"
"What are you watching that for?" Hilde scolded, flicking the projector off.
"Oh, I wasn't really," her mother said. "Just a little background noise until you came back in."
"You could have picked a better frequency," Hilde pointed out, setting the basket down to extract the linens for the kitchen. "Endina is a thousand miles from here. What kind of bread are you making?"
"Cinnamon raisin," her mother replied. "It's Thanksgiving Holiday tomorrow, so I'm making a special loaf. We have so much to be thankful for, this year!"
Stashing the towels and cloths in their drawers, Hilde nodded. "We certainly do. What else are you making tomorrow? Can I make dessert?"
"Yes, as long as it's nothing with strawberries."
Hilde grinned. "What is it with you and strawberries?"
"Raspberries are much better for you."
"Yeah, yeah. The laundry is done."
"Excellent! Then take the dogs and bring the sheep in for the weekend. They've been out in those fields for days."
"Sure." Back out into the warm sun she went. "Nova! Lady! Silence!"
Three herding dogs came running toward her from the stables. Strong of stance and colored in varying patters of black and white, they fell into step beside her as she headed for the open fields where her family grazed about one-hundred head of sheep. Farming in Endina was unheard of, but out here in the open country the folk were simpler, content to work the land and make their own way.
The sheep grazed peacefully in the field, starting to push up into the foothills. The three dogs watched Hilde for her first commands, and she made a sweeping gesture with her hand. All three bolted out toward the flock. Smiling, Hilde watched. She would be content to do this all day. She loved watching the dogs do what they did best. These three were especially good. Their grandsire had been a champion herder.
Silence and Nova, brother and sister, had a different mother than Lady, but all three were excellent herders. Altogether she and her mother had nine dogs, and these three were best for these long-distance runs.
The three masters rounded up the sheep in no time and drove them into the fenced corral by the barns for them.
"Good girls!" Hilde praised. "And boy." Kneeling, she let them cluster around her to give them all some well-earned affection. "Now go round up the more difficult quarry. Away!"
All three went haring back toward the stables. Giggling, Hilde waited on the back porch until a few minutes later two boys came out toward the house. Both wore expressions lost between annoyance and amusement. The taller, with dark and messy hair raised an eyebrow when they reached her side.
"We're not sheep, Hilde."
"No, but only the dogs can bring you in once you get to wandering. Come in for lunch, my poor lost lambs."
The shorter, who had hair the color of a cinnamon-chestnut waterfall and wore it in a long braid, burst into cackling laughter. "Lamb! That's what I'm going to call you from now on Hee-ro!"
Cobalt eyes that often reminded Hilde of molten glass leveled the shorter boy with a Look. "Like hell you will." Very matter of fact.
"All right all right, don't kill each other until after lunch. Go wash up," Hilde ordered, pushing them both into the farmhouse.
They went, but not without a fair bit of grumbling.
As they walked up the stairs to the bathroom adjoining their bedroom, Heero slapped Duo's cute ass. The boy jumped, throwing a glare over his shoulder—it was a weak one.
"What do you think we'll be having for dinner tomorrow?" he asked.
Heero shrugged. "Dunno. But it's bound to be good." He closed the bathroom door and locked it. Pushing Duo against the counter he trapped him between his arms and kissed him.
It lingered, sweet and deep, until Duo broke away, gasping. "I don't know why you bother locking the doors. How many times have Hilde and her mother walked in on us? It's not like they don't know."
Heero snorted. "I know. I try to learn from my mistakes."
Duo made a face. "And I don't?"
"Every time they've found us in compromising positions it's because you neglected to throw a bolt somewhere."
"Whatever!" Duo cried out around laughter, slapping Heero's chest.
Capturing both Duo's slim hands in his own, Heero pulled him into a tight embrace, resting his cheek against the boy's silken hair. Duo wriggled a little, burying his face in Heero's neck.
"What?" he mumbled.
"Nothing," Heero whispered. "I just love it here. It's so peaceful. I love you."
He felt the sudden intake of air as Duo breathed. "I love you, too."
Five months ago, Heero had awakened in a strange place with Duo still 'dead' beside him and King Zechs Marquise looking down at him. The king, only about six years older than the two boys, gave Heero a soft—and slightly sad—smile.
Heero blinked, completely caught off guard. "Your . . . Your Majesty?" His throat was incredibly dry. "Where . . ."
"I brought you here," the king explained. "This is the country Shorr. About a thousand miles from Endina. Your families still think you're dead. I thought you two could use some time together away from all that for awhile."
Heero stared at him, mind still feeling heavy and slow.
"Your mothers forced your fathers into peace talks," Zechs went on. "Hopefully this will be the wake-up call they need. I leave it up to you whether you ever return or not."
Now, Heero wasn't sure he ever planned to. Hilde and her mother had taken the pair in, and now they worked on the farmhouse tending the horses they bred and helping out in the vegetable gardens. It was a very different lifestyle, for sure. But so far from the conflicts of Endina, it was exactly what the pair needed.
No one out here even knew who they were. Probably no one would have cared. So their days were filled with enjoyable work, and their nights were filled with good company. And then they went to bed where they could kiss and touch and make love if they wished. The names Maxwell and Yuy vanished. The troubles didn't exist. They were just two boys in love, part of a loving family living quiet, simple lives.
Duo shifted in Heero's arms. "I'm hungry," he said, voice muffled and amused.
Sighing faintly, Heero finally released him. "Me, too."
Tomorrow was a holiday Endina didn't celebrate. A harvest holiday to give thanks for the bounty of summer. Tomorrow was the first day of Fall when the harvest officially began. As Heero washed up and walked downstairs with Duo, holding his hand, he couldn't help a smile.
Maybe someday, in a few years, he would feel ready to take Duo back to Endina and assume the roles of heirs to their families. Right now, though, this was all he wanted. Right now this was home and where they belonged.
He had a lot to be thankful for.