11-1-2003

Title: #8 Haunted Houses, Horrifying Hayrides, & Headless Horsemen
Series: The Holiday Series
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: October 31, 2003
Genre: Yaoi, Fluff, Sap, Romance, Holiday Fic
Pairing: 1x2x1
Rated: PG-13
Warnings: OOC, Swearing
Archives: At Lev's Lair http://www.gwaddiction.com/levlair/ and at http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Eighth in the Holiday Series (written for Halloween).

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Time passing or scene/POV change

Author's Notes: Feedback is appreciated.

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"Stop that, you're going to ruin your makeup," Heero scolded.

"Huh?"

"You're chewing on your lip again, Duo. Stop worrying. We've checked, double-checked, and triple-checked *everything*. If anything goes wrong, someone will let us know. Time for *you* to get in position, 'Charon'." Catching a glimpse of Chocolate trying yet again to grab hold of one of his extra "heads", Heero added, "But you'd better find something to occupy 'Cerberus' while he's in character or he's going to have one less head before the first visitors walk through the gate."

"Aw, shit. Choc, *NO*," Duo ordered, tapping the dog's muzzle gently but firmly in reprimand. "*Don't touch*."

Heero chuckled as the dog cocked his head and whined plaintively. The two fake heads shifted slightly with his movement, catching the lab's attention again. He tried to turn his head to reach his costume and failed as the head moved with him. Chocolate whined again and turned his pleading look on Heero. "Don't look at me," Heero told the dog. "I knew better than to let Duo pick out *my* costume."

"Which is why *we* have cool costumes and *yours* is *boring*," Duo retorted teasingly.

"Better boring than uncomfortable," Heero answered drily. "You'll be lucky if you don't break out from all that makeup. Just don't tip the damn boat with those robes on; you'll sink like a rock." He turned and rummaged through the bag of supplies that he'd brought along. After a moment, he found what he was looking for and handed it to Duo. "Here. I went to the butcher shop and got a real bone for Chocolate to chew on while he's 'working' tonight. It'll keep him occupied and add to the overall image at the same time."

"Good idea. Thanks, Ro. You're sure everyone's in place and everything's ready to go?"

Heero smirked, "Everyone except *you*." He turned Duo around and gave him a playful swat to get him moving. "So *go*! You do your part and let me take care of the rest."

"Alright, alright, I'm goin' already..." Duo grumbled as he signalled Chocolate to heel and headed for the door. He paused and looked back over his shoulder before exiting the room. "Have I told you lately what a great guy you are, Ro?"

"Hmm, no, not since this morning when I dragged myself out of bed well before sunup on my day off, just to come help finish setting up the haunted house..."

"Guess I'd better remedy that when we get home later on..." Duo murmured throatily, turning to fully face Heero. "Show you just *how* much I appreciate all your help..."

Face whitened, eyes and lips blackened, Duo was certainly not at his most attractive. But when he used that particular tone of voice... Heero caught himself in midstep and forced himself to a stop. "Go! *Now!*" he ordered, pointing towards the door. "We don't have time to redo your makeup and in about ten seconds we're going to have to..."

Duo eeped and hastily headed out of the room, Chocolate right at his heels.

***

Duo grinned all the way out to his station on the obstacle course. He felt a little bit bad about teasing Heero like that - he'd gotten a stronger reaction than he'd expected, especially considering that he looked like death warmed over at the moment - but it never failed to amaze him that he *could* make Heero, Mr. Control himself, *lose* control. It was a power - 'no, not a power, a gift, a gift from Heero,' he thought - that he was careful not to abuse.

"C'mon, Choc," he called, coaxing the dog into the small flat-bottomed boat that one of the other volunteers had donated the use of. He firmly ordered the lab to sit and stay while he poled the boat the few feet across to the small island in the obstacle course's water hazard. Once he had Chocolate out of the boat, he chained the dog in front of the tall "gates of hell" that the Theatre Arts students from the university had brought in as props and gave him the large bone that would hopefully keep him occupied most of the evening.

Checking his watch, Duo decided that he'd better get in position, so he climbed back in the boat and sat down to wait for the first group of visitors. While he waited, he couldn't help thinking about the other volunteers who would be waiting all over the training grounds and hoping that everything went smoothly. 'It will,' he reminded himself silently. 'Heero's coordinating everything; nothing would *dare* go wrong...'

Though there were certainly lots of things that *could*. Using the training grounds that the Preventers and city police shared as the location for the Halloween fundraiser had given them a really good starting point for the event but it had still required a lot of work. The popup targets in the buildings and along the "street" - cutouts of civilians and gunmen alike - had been temporarily replaced with cutouts of ghosts, skeletons, and monsters. But since it was virtually impossible to get the replacements to have the *exact* same weight as the original cutout, some of them would not consistently pop up when they were triggered.

And of course there were countless other things that could go wrong, either in very minor ways or very major ones. One of the reasons that Heero had opted for a very simple costume - a hangman, dressed in black with a noose draped over one shoulder and a hood jammed in a pocket instead of on his head - was that he wanted to be able to move quickly and without hindrance if he needed to take care of a problem. Duo had half expected him to refuse to wear a costume at all; it really wasn't Heero's kind of thing. But he fit in much better with the rest of the fundraiser "staff" by wearing one.

Thinking of Heero's role in all of this reminded Duo that he was needed to put on his earphone and mike before anyone came through. The hood of his robe would conceal it. All of the volunteers were wearing the lightweight units. Convincing Une to let them use the communications gear for this hadn't been quite as difficult as Duo had expected. Mentioning the fact that it would not only help in case of technical difficulties but would also be a major asset in terms of safety and security had been all that he'd needed to do. She'd immediately seen the benefits of being able to instantly call for assistance in case of unruly visitors or an accident of some sort.

Duo crossed his fingers and hoped that there would be no real need for the communications equipment. But from what he'd learned through conversations with other organizations that had run this sort of event, there probably would be. Apparently it was almost inevitable that someone would have to be removed from the premises due to unruly behaviour. There was a mobile first aid station on site as well, also due to the assurances that there would inevitably be some sort of accident, albeit a minor one. If not tonight, then tomorrow night or the one after that.

Most of the people that he'd spoken to had recommended running the fundraiser for two weekends prior to Halloween. After a great deal of discussion, their committee had decided to stick with just one, at least for this year. If the event was a success, they would reconsider the scheduling next year.

Before that, though, they had to get through *this* year. Which meant getting through the first night, hopefully incident-free and with a good visitor turnout.

The headset clicked and Heero's voice cautioned, "Doors just opened and the first group is on the way into the first building now. Showtime, everybody."

And with that, the evening began.

***

"Blacklight burnt out between Stations 7 and 8," a voice warned over the headset.

"Acknowledged. On my way," Heero replied. He slung his duffle full of tools, spare bulbs, wire, and other miscellaneous items over his shoulder and headed off to take care of the problem. There had been a fairly constant stream of minor issues for him to deal with over the past few hours. Burnt-out bulbs, pop-up monsters that wouldn't trigger, parents looking for kids that had wandered off... There was no shortage of things to keep him busy.

Slipping unobtrusively through the steady flow of guests, Heero headed off to change the lightbulb. He was enjoying being part of the fundraising effort but he was extremely glad that Duo had asked that he take care of the behind-the-scenes coordination rather than taking on one of the roles that would have required interacting with so many people all evening.

It only took a moment to change the bulb and replace the pitch darkness of the hallway with its former eerie lighting. Heero gave a quick wave to the witch stirring her cauldron at Station 8 as he passed. She flashed him a gap-toothed grin and cackled wildly for the benefit of the approaching group of visitors. He just shook his head in amusement and headed off to check on the pop-up ghost in the upstairs hallway that had been acting up all evening. 'I think Dorothy's getting into her role a little *too* much... Hard to believe that straggle-haired, crooked-nosed hag is usually a perfectly-coiffed, aristocratic young woman...' Heero smirked and decided that, regardless of how much of a nuisance carrying it around might be, tomorrow night, he was bringing his camera.

The headset crackled and a snickering voice informed Heero, "The Horned God needs a safety pin; the clasp on his cape broke."

Heero blinked in surprise. Okay, that was a new one. He dug through his supplies and confirmed that he did indeed have a package of safety pins before he answered, "Acknowledged. I'll meet the Hunt at the east end of the ridge."

Shaking his head, he exited the back of the building and headed towards the ridge. He glanced to the west and saw the Wild Hunt galloping along the ridge's peak towards him. The lead rider was indeed missing his cape, though at least his antlers were still in place, and the Hunt remained an impressive sight.

***

Duo snickered at the latest request given to Heero. 'A *safety pin*? For the leader of the Wild Hunt? Now *that's* an odd one...' He leaned cautiously on his barge pole - careful not to overbalance and tip the boat - and looked up at the ridge that the Hunt was riding along. He grinned as they went thundering across it. The Wild Hunt and the Headless Horseman stationed at the hayride's turnaround point were his favourite parts of the event.

Duo had been distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of having a lot of blood and gore at the fundraiser for the hospital's children's ward and hadn't hesitated to say so. Once he'd raised the subject, most of the other law enforcement and emergency personnel involved had agreed. They saw enough of the real thing that they didn't like trivializing and sensationalising it. The question had then become, what could they do *instead*.

He, of course, had had an answer ready. Instead of the blood and gore that most people were already so desensitized to, they'd opted to go back to the "classic" monsters. Frankenstein. Dracula. The Headless Horseman. Witches, werewolves, ghosts, spiders, and skeletons. And then they'd gone *way* back, to the mythological ones. Cerberus and Charon. Banshees and harpies. Assorted beings associated with death and the underworld in a dozen different cultures. Including, of course, the Wild Hunt and its leader - at least in Celtic mythology - the Horned God.

Hearing voices approaching, Duo shifted his attention back to his own role and began poling the boat slowly along the short, narrow strip of water. He whistled once, sharply, to get Chocolate's attention. The dog had stayed alert through the first couple of hours while they'd had an almost constant audience but he'd been dozing off since things had started to slow down a bit.

"Speak," Duo ordered firmly as he passed in front of "Cerberus". Obediently, the dog began to bark. Duo let him bark until the small group of teens reached them. "Enough," he said simply and Chocolate immediately fell silent. Duo tossed him a treat before angling the boat closer to the audience so that they could get a good look at him. He could hear a girl's voice reading the explanatory sign posted by the path and once again debated whether next year it might be better to use recordings. 'Either that or guides like we have on the hayride itself... Except then we'd need even *more* volunteers...'

Considering how many volunteers they already needed, that might be a problem. Oh well, it was something to consider anyway.

***

Watching the Hunt pull to a stop in front of him - under one of the many blacklights they had set up all over the grounds so that phosphorescent paint would have a chance to recharge its glow - Heero had to admit that they made a fearsome looking bunch. One of the Drama club kids from the high school had dragged along his older sister, who was in veterinary college, and they'd painted accurate phosphorescent skeletons on the horses and dogs portraying the hunt. Heero just hoped that the paint washed out as easily as it was supposed to or there were going to be some very odd looking horses on mounted patrol next week. 'Not to mention the police dogs, who not only have glowing skeletons but *teeth* as well...' Heero thought wryly. He wasn't sure what they'd used to get that effect but the vet student had assured them that it was safe.

Heero handed a couple of safety pins up to the Hunt's leader. "Thanks," the man said sheepishly. "Hold the reins for a minute, would you?" Heero nodded and gathered them in his hand near the bit. The rider lifted up in the stirrups and pulled the wadded-up cape out from under him. "Normally I'd just trust this fellow to stand still," he continued as he shook the cape out and swirled it into place, "but the night air and galloping has him pretty revved up."

"It's not getting too dark?" Heero asked curiously. The moon was fairly bright but it was getting increasingly cloudy. He was surprised that the Hunt could still gallop in such poor light.

"Nah. The horses probably see better in the dark than we can," came the reply. "They'll be fine right through till we close for the night."

As the rider gathered the reins back up again, Heero stepped back from the horse. He waited until the Hunt turned and trotted off along the ridge before heading back towards the front entrance to wait for the next request to come in. 'Tomorrow night, I am *definitely* bringing a camera...'

***

Stifling a yawn, Duo stole a quick glance at his watch. The entrance gate had closed almost an hour ago and he hadn't had anyone come by his station in at least fifteen minutes. 'Which should mean that the last load of passengers is on the haunted hayride. If that runs on schedule, they'll be back well before midnight and we'll be able to pack it in on time...'

"Stations 1 through 30, go ahead and shut down for the night," Heero announced over the headset. "All guests have departed on the last hayride."

Duo sighed in relief and stood to pole the boat across and retrieve Chocolate. The dog had been very well-behaved for the most part, though Duo had had to take a break to go make a fuss over him every half hour or so. "C'mon, buddy. All done for the night," he said as he let the dog loose. He knelt and removed the wide, spiked collar and harness that held the heads of "Cerberus" in place. Chocolate immediately sat and scratched his neck energetically.

Duo grinned in amusement. "Feels good to get that off, huh?"

Chocolate barked sharply and cocked his head, listening intently to Duo's voice. Duo tousled the dog's ears affectionately before standing up again. He snapped his fingers and ordered, "Heel," before heading back to the boat, Chocolate following obediently. He wanted to go get rid of his *own* costume. The makeup was starting to itch.

***

Heero waited while the last stragglers climbed down from the haywagon and headed for the exit. The team of grey Percherons stood patiently, just as they had all evening. The horses looked almost ghostly in the dim light from the lanterns mounted on the wagon.

"Good turnout," the driver observed to Heero.

"Yes," Heero agreed. "Hopefully the remaining nights will be as successful."

"If the weather stays this nice, they probably will be," the woman answered. She gathered up the lines and clucked sharply to the horses. "Good night," she called back to Heero as she headed the team towards their trailer. He could just barely make out the figures of the people loading up the other team. "See you tomorrow."

"Good night."

"Good night," a familiar voice echoed. A moment later, Duo was leaning against Heero's back and resting his chin on his shoulder. His chest was warm against Heero's shoulderblade and his chin dug into Heero's collarbone as he yawned sleepily. "The Hunt's loading up to leave," he said. He yawned again.

"Stop that," Heero protested, feeling a yawn pulling insistently at his own jaw. "It's..." he gave in and yawned, "...contagious."

"Sorry," Duo chuckled before another jaw-popping yawn caught him. Without shifting from his sleepy sprawl against Heero, he waved in acknowledgement of the "goodbye" called by a passing volunteer.

"So much for showing me how much you appreciate my help tonight," Heero said drily. He smiled faintly as he spoke, acknowledging to himself that the casual intimacy implied by their current position - a position initiated by Duo despite their rather public location - made an equally cherished reward. "Somehow, I don't think either of us is going to be doing anything other than sleeping when we get home." They'd been up before dawn and had spent all day getting ready for this evening. At least they'd be able to sleep late in the morning. They didn't need to be back onsite until midafternoon tomorrow.

"Mmm..." Duo mumbled. "Morning, then." He turned his head sideways against Heero's shoulder and smiled, slowly, up at Heero, the few faint traces of makeup still visible on his face and the weariness shadowing his eyes doing nothing to detract from the sensuality of his expression. "Promise."

Heero couldn't resist. He caught Duo's face in his hands, turned swiftly, and kissed him, brief but fierce and hungry. "I'll hold you to that..."