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Hunker Down

Chapter Text

December 2014

The man slips in through the door with a few flakes of snow. Dusts some off his grey head - buzzed short and neat like some fresh recruit. Not quite, though. He's far too old and, going by the limp slope of his shoulders, surely not military.

Each stamp he makes to clear the snow off his boots trembles his entire body, hidden as it may be beneath a worn sheepskin coat. One sleeve dangles empty, but the lone trucker at the counter sees nothing more than another man in the middle of a long haul. Grey hair, grey eyes, grey pallor to his skin. Could have been shaped from the heavy clouds outside that cluster in with a promise of even more snow.

The owner of the diner is a sturdy man, long hair tied loosely back who wears sunglasses even at night. Not blind yet, but he doesn't spare a glance for the newest customer as he trudges to the counter and collapses in a seat. When the owner finally sees him he still doesn't say a word, only slides a menu and a unasked for coffee across the counter. There's a certain kind of customer that comes to the diner across from the truck stop at night, and the owner is well used to them.

But the grey man doesn't drink. Doesn't look at the menu. The owner disappears into the kitchen, comes out with a burger. The grey man looks through it, right down to the speckled Formica counter.

The lone trucker finishes his meal. Raises two fingers and is quickly taken care of. He heads back to the long haul through the territories without a backwards look.

The owner leans on the counter before the grey man, frowning.

“Ocelot.”

The grey man looks up.

The owner says a few words in some other language. Could be Japanese.

“Miller?” Ocelot’s voice is barely a scrape.

Miller smiles. “You made it back.”

“Miller,” he says again. Tired. Perhaps a little clearer, though.

“Eat up. Your food’s getting cold.”

“I’m not hungry,” Ocelot says. “I ate -”

“No, you didn’t. Have a coffee, too. Unless - you’d rather sleep soon.”

Ocelot picks up his burger. The tomato slips out and falls. He stares at it while Miller goes around the counter. Turns the sign and locks the door. Two hours before he typically locks up at midnight, but it’s a slow night anyways. By the time Miller’s back Ocelot has set down the burger and picked up the tomato.

Miller watches the tomato tremble between Ocelot’s pale fingers. Carefully he brings it to his lips and takes a bite. Chews thoroughly. When Ocelot swallows Miller sighs, leans back.

The clock ticks off an hour. Ocelot looks vaguely queasy, but he’s eaten half a burger. It must be enough for Miller, who runs a hand over his shorn head. Drags it down his cheek, until he brings Ocelot’s head in between both hands and bows it towards him to kiss his skull.

“You kept the mustache,” Miller tells him. “Good.”

“Do you have -”

“Of course.”

Miller disappears behind the counter again. Goes far into the back, jingling his keys. When he returns the spurs are jingling now, attached to a pair of old leather cowboy boots that have been kept well oiled. Almost pristine.

Ocelot wants to put them on himself, but he can’t quite undo the laces. Miller huffs, bats his hand away.

“You got rid of it, hmm?”

Ocelot nods. He’s still getting used to one-handed living. Something Miller understands too well.

Miller tugs off the plain black shoes and slips the cowboy boots on. Tucks in the khakis.

“There you go,” Miller says, straightening. Ocelot flexes one foot and watches his spurs spin. “Come on, cowboy. Let’s get you to bed.”

“I’ve still got to drink this.”

“Nope. Too late.” Miller grabs the mug and takes a gulp. It’s long gone cold, and he smirks at the taste of it. “On your feet, Ocelot.”

Ocelot smiles. It takes a moment for his legs to realize they must go down. Miller hovers, but Ocelot makes it to his feet and manages to stagger after him. While Miller drains his dish sink and turns off his ovens, Ocelot leans against a steel table and blinks.

“How long?”

“The diner? Almost six years now. Business is slow as ever.”

“I’ve been here before.”

“Yeah. You had a burger.”

“I remember.”

“You always do.”

“Miller,” Ocelot sighs, and Miller comes back to him. Holds his shoulders and rubs circles with both hands. The right one is silver-smooth, and Ocelot’s eyes slide over it.

“You didn’t throw yours in the sea, did you?” Miller asks.

“They were the same.”

“You were a little too excited about that. Chopped off your entire arm just so they could match like some kind of lunatic.”

“I had to -” Ocelot starts. Stops.

“It’s okay. We can get you a new one.”

“No. I need to feel it.”

“Ocelot…” Miller says, low. “You can’t do that.”

“I took it off when he was finished. We threw it into the sea. We're finished. I don’t need -”

“Hold your horses there. We’re going outside now.”

They leave out the back kitchen door, Miller giving one last sweep with his eyes before shutting out the lights. A green Wrangler is parked near the dumpster. Ocelot stares at where his feet will need to go in order to hop in while Miller starts the engine and waits for it to warm up.

Ocelot’s almost got it. He’s shivering in the cold, though. Miller gets out and goes to the other side. Hefts him up and buckles his seat belt for him.

“Miller?” Ocelot asks.

Miller turns up the collar of his coat. “It’s me, Ocelot.”

“It’s cold.”

“Hey now, back in your glorious motherland -”

Ocelot laughs, shaky. It’s the loudest sound he’s made yet. “When we meet in sweet Siberia…”

“Far from Bolshevik hysteria…?”

“You really can’t sing.”

“Never been able to carry a tune in my life.” Miller smiles. Closes the door softly and goes around to the driver’s side. He turns up the heat as high as it’ll go.

The cabin isn’t so far off the beaten track they have to drive long, but still quite a ways into the woods. The gravel road through the pines is packed tight with snow, the deep ruts already dusted with power. Once they reach the clearing a dog raises its head from the deck of the cabin. Some sort of spitz mix, double-coated and well suited to a life up north. His tail starts thumping on the boards, and when his master jumps down from the Jeep he comes running.

“DD?” Ocelot asks.

Miller calms the dog before helping Ocelot down. “No, this is Toto. Puppy, last time you saw him.”

“Toto. I miss the rains...”

“Bless the rains.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Don’t you mess with me,” Miller says, nudging Ocelot. “We had a huge fight about that once. Back then you said it was bless, I said it was miss. Back and forth for hours, no. Days. Can’t even listen to that song anymore.”

Ocelot holds out a hand for Toto to lick. Scratches behind his ears. The dog sniffs cautiously at first, but he remembers Ocelot too. When Ocelot squats down to wrap his arm around Toto’s neck Miller goes inside. Soon smoke is rising from the stovepipe chimney, and he tromps back out to fetch Ocelot where he’s gone quite still with his forehead pressed in fur.

Ocelot makes it up the steps on his own.

The cabin has two rooms, sparsely furnished but cozy. A bear pelt is stretched before the fire burning in a pot bellied stove.There’s plenty of chairs - two wooden ones at the table, two overstuffed with quilts tossed over, but Ocelot chooses the pelt, crossing his legs like a child. Toto lies down beside him, head down on his paws.

In the small kitchen Miller pours two glasses of amber. Frowns at them before leaving them on the table. He pulls up one of the softer chairs behind Ocelot and watches him stare into the fire.

“Almost forgot,” Miller says, snapping a finger, and goes into the bedroom. When he comes back with a worn red glove Ocelot holds out his hand to him, and Miller fits it over his fingers. “There you go.”

He takes a seat behind Ocelot again. Reaches for his head, rubbing his temples.

“You want to take off your coat? I’ll give you a backrub.”

Ocelot’s eyes are closed, but he nods. Shrugs it off himself and lets it fall behind him. Miller winces when his back cracks under his hands.

“Miller…”

“Yeah, Ocelot?”

Ocelot hums. Leans back, against Miller’s knees, and tilts his head up. Miller bows to kiss him. Ocelot huffs against his lips. “I’m tired,” he admits.

“Let’s get you to bed, then.”

Ocelot isn’t a small man by any means, but luckily Miller doesn’t have to carry him. The back bedroom is half the size of the main room and mostly devoted to the bed. Ocelot crawls under the quilts and hides with his boots still on. It’s all right. They’re clean.

Miller goes to his knees. Folds his arms on the bed and drops his chin, watching Ocelot.

Ocelot smiles. Reaches out and cups his cheek. “I lost,” he tells Miller, whispering like it’s his most confidential secret.

“Yeah, you sure did. I'm proud of you.”

“I should sleep now.”

“I’ll be with you a minute. Gotta give Toto his dinner.”

Ocelot nods and closes his eyes. Miller doesn’t move until he’s asleep. He treads softly, avoiding where the floorboards creak, and pours the dog food slowly to avoid any rattling. There’s day old biscuits on the counter, cooked bacon in the fridge, and he makes a quick sandwich for himself he washes down with the poured drinks at the table. He glances at where the bottle is kept, as if he might be debating another, but doesn't go for it.

The fire is smoldering. He adds another log. Takes off his glasses to rub a fist in his eyes.

There’s a long slender pipe on a shelf, still half-stuffed with tobacco. He sits down and smokes, Toto coming to sit before him. The dog whines, puts a paw on his knee Miller doesn’t notice for a long time.

“Good boy,” he says finally, and his voice doesn't even crack.

Miller unlaces his boots and puts them by the door. Hangs up Ocelot’s coat and his own side by side on the pegs. Puts his glasses on the shelf beside his pipe and rubs his eyes one more time before going to the bedroom.

Ocelot doesn’t wake up when he tugs off his sweater, unstraps his other arm, changes from denim to flannel. He mumbles something when Miller climbs into bed beside him, when Toto jumps up on the other side.

Miller wraps his arm around his husband. Lies there while the snow starts falling in earnest above, while the sky starts to lighten, just watching him sleep.