Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, lemon, OOC, language, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading once again faster than the speed of light, and Em who is my new technical consultant. Thanks guys!
Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
In the end, it was the stupid closet that sold the house, though I’d certainly never let the Realtor know that. Or Heero either, for that matter, it sounded kind of nuts.
It’s on the first floor, under the stairs. It’s like the builder just put up walls around the bottom of the staircase and put a door into the end. The inside of the closet is like… reverse stairs. Made me think of an Escher painting. Made me think of some of the places we’d hidden in when I was a kid. Made me think… secure, as stupid as that sounds.
When you first stepped into it, of course, it was well over your head but as you moved forward you soon had to squat. If you wanted to get to anything in the very back of the closet, under what would be the first step, you practically had to lie down to reach it.
I was… enchanted. It was like finding a hidden room. I could envision throwing a pile of blankets down way in the back and curling up with Solo and the other kids. It would have been like a cave. Dark and close and all the things that spoke to some ancient part of me of safety. Not that Solo would ever have let us sleep there, since there was only one way in and out, but somehow it was just the feel of the thing.
The upstairs had proven not to be a disaster, even having the added bonus of a second bathroom right next to the master bedroom. There wasn’t a doubt which room we would take for our own, nor was there any question that nothing else would happen before we painted over the horrendous ‘rose-blush’ walls in it.
The day we had looked at the house again, poor Miss Montoya in tow, Heero and I had gone our separate ways, looking at different aspects of the place. Ok… I was exploring, he was looking for signs of termites; that’s what I call different aspects. After about a half an hour, Heero had come hunting for me and found me dangling from the bedroom ceiling, head stuck up into the attic. He had demanded I climb down before I fell. I had complied, grinning like a loon, and proffered a handful of walnut hulls, exclaiming ‘Squirrels!’ in utter delight. He just stood and stared at me for a moment, then shook his head and went to get Miss Montoya.
Heero is very much the hard-ass negotiator that I had imagined he would be. Poor woman never stood a chance. By the time Heero was done with her, I thought she was going to agree to come and move us in herself. We were going to have enough leeway left in our finances to actually furnish the place, which was a good thing because Heero’s apartment came with the furniture… almost none of it was his.
And yeah, I figured out much later that squirrels in your attic are not necessarily a good thing. There were a lot of things I didn’t know in the beginning. Like the ‘domino effect’. A term I had never heard before, but quickly learned. Every homeowner in the world will learn it sooner or later and we opted, quite unknowingly, for sooner.
Before we could paint, we had to pull nails and patch the holes. The former owner must have had a picture fetish, because there had been a couple dozen nails in the walls, some of them in the oddest places. While pulling said nails, we discovered that there had been a leak at some point in time, from a pipe in the wall. Examining the bathroom, on the other side of that wall, had shown us were the repairs had been made, but the water had soaked the plaster in the bedroom and no one had noticed. It had probably been sitting there for years, just waiting for some poor sucker to come along and innocently touch it. I was the sucker. The end result was a great chunk of crumbling plaster all over the floor when I had set nail puller to stubborn nail. And that, children, is an example of the domino effect.
That had led us on a journey into the depths of a thing called a ‘home improvement depot’. We walked through the doors of that place and I am almost certain that I heard angels singing a carol of welcome. Or maybe that was just the sound of Heero’s heavy sigh. Don’t laugh at me; I’d never been in one before. Never had a home to improve before.
My God… those places can sell you anything, and tell you how to use it. Or sell you books that tell you how to use it. And there’s samples! It took Heero three hours to get me pried out of there. We went in for a couple of gallons of paint and the stuff to plaster over the massive defect in our bedroom wall, and left with a load of lumber, three different colors of paint, four kinds of paint brushes, and a brand new plan.
Once we were far enough away that I stopped hearing the siren call of tools and gadgets, appliances and lumber, I started worrying that Heero was irritated with me, but every time I’d looked at him, he’d been giving me one of those gentle little, pleased smiles. So I bulled forward with mastering the art of sponge painting, and the ‘quick coat of paint’ that we’d intended to slap on the bedroom in an afternoon, turned into a three week delay in our moving in.
Instead of plastering over the hole and trying to blend the patch in, I opted to panel the bedroom all around the bottom half and paint the top. A thing called the ‘chair rail’ gave us more trouble than anything. Damn complicated thing this home improvement. We already had a small stack of ‘How-to’ books and we weren’t even moved in yet.
But the bedroom was finally finished, the one thing that we’d wanted done before we’d moved in, and I had to grin to myself as I cleaned out the last of the paint brushes, thinking that we’d probably be sleeping in the house by next weekend.
It was late on a Monday afternoon, and I’d been working all day, doing the paint job in the bedroom. Heero had worked with me on the carpentry, cutting, fitting and nailing up the tongue and groove wainscot, but had adamantly insisted that he wasn’t any good with paint. I’d worked a Saturday to get that Monday off; so that I’d be there when the delivery guys came with the furniture we’d ordered. Heero’d had to work, but was supposed to be bringing the guys afterward, each with a carload from the apartment. The plan was for them to get another round of boxes moved, be there to help us manhandle the furniture into place, and have a pizza dinner with us before going home.
I’d left for the house at the crack of dawn, beating Heero out of the apartment by a good hour, and worked like a mad man all day to get the paint job finished before the guys got there. I was exhausted, fighting a paint-fume headache, but otherwise feeling fairly pleased. The job was done, it looked pretty damn good, even if I did have to say so myself, and we would have enough furniture by the end of the day to get serious about moving out of the apartment for good.
I had just finished with the brushes, and was reaching for the cup on the back of the sink to get a drink when I heard the knock at the front door. Forgetting about the water, I made my way to the living room, running a hand through my sweaty bangs as I went. Who would have thought you could get so damned hot as cold as it was outside?
I could see a big man standing on the front porch… our front porch, through the door glass. Sure looked like a delivery guy to me; he was holding a clipboard and looking a little disgruntled. I imagined this was their last stop for the day and they had a shit-load of stuff to cart up my front steps. I did my best not to grin at him like a loon.
There were four guys all told, three big, burly ones that towered over me and a fourth who wasn’t any bigger than I was. Of course, he was the one who did most of the damn work. It was comical as all hell to watch. I did my best not to laugh, as the guy made two trips for every one the other three managed. It took them a surprisingly short amount of time to dump a truckload of furniture into my living room, get my signature and high tail it off into the sunset. Well, a figurative sunset, it wasn’t that late yet by a long shot. In fact, it would probably be another hour before Heero and the guys showed up, so I started distributing the pieces of furniture I could move on my own. Might as well get as much done as I could, I reasoned, there was no sense in just sitting around waiting. I thought about that drink of water again and promised it to myself as a reward when I was done.
We had a brand new dining room table with a set of six chairs. The chairs were simple enough and I moved them all to the little… you couldn’t call it a dining room, it wasn’t big enough. Breakfast nook? Eating room? Kitchen annex? Whatever. I put the chairs there, against the wall and out of the way, until we got the table moved, and stripped the little bit of token packing material off them. I kind of wanted to get the table in there, but a couple of experimental shoves told me I’d only end up tearing the floor up trying to move it by myself, best to leave it until I had help.
The couch too, was going to have to wait, but I managed the coffee table and matching end tables with no problem. The armchair was a massive thing, but I found I could just reach across the seat, catching the two arms and managed to waddle across the room with it. I set it in place with a massive groan of effort and straightened, rather pleased with myself… and almost fell down. The room tilted dangerously, and I had to reach out for support, my questing fingers finding purchase on the chair I’d just moved. What the hell?
I locked my knees because they were feeling kind of saggy, and just bent over at the waist, supported by my arms on the chair. Ok… this was… unexpected. I won’t try to say that it wasn’t a damn familiar feeling, but one I hadn’t had in months.
That part of my brain that recognized the sensation was quick to supply me with a catalog of my blunders. Paint fumes; no ventilation. Too hot; no water breaks. No breakfast, no lunch.
And then I heard footsteps on the front porch. Well… crap. I straightened, but the room tilted again and I had to clutch at the chair, knowing damn good and well I was swaying on my feet. Fuck.
‘Duo?’ I heard called from outside and I managed to turn myself around and dump my ass into the seat of the chair.
‘Come on in, Qat,’ I called and winced when my voice came out sounding kind of strained.
The door opened and both Quatre and Trowa came hesitantly in, their eyes sweeping the room until they spotted me. I could tell the instant they saw me, they knew something was up. I sighed. They didn’t run across the room, ok? But they didn’t waste any time getting to me either.
‘Duo?’ Quatre asked fearfully. ‘What’s wrong? You look…’ he fumbled for an appropriate word and glanced at Trowa.
Trowa snorted softly. ‘White as a ghost,’ he supplied and his hand brushed across my forehead. ‘And sweat soaked.’
Somewhere in the back of my head, it was in me to try to cover this up. I guess it’s a habit ingrained as deep as my need for independence. At least… that’s what Dr. Webster, my one time therapist, had told me. My upbringing had taught me that signs of weakness were a very bad thing. Therefore all signs of weakness had to be hidden away as fast as possible.
I looked up at my two friends, hovering over me with concern on their faces, sighed again, took a deep breath and made myself say, ‘I… I’m sorry, but I don’t feel so good.’
The admission was almost worth the pole-axed look on their faces.
Quatre knelt in front of me, reaching for my hand. He’d been doing that a lot lately, ever since that stupid disaster of a cookout, forcing himself to touch my hands. I didn’t much care for it, but sometimes there was just no way to avoid it, that didn’t amount to ‘damn rude’.
‘What’s wrong?’ he repeated, his voice gentling, and I flushed. Or I tried to flush. Ok, I didn’t exactly try, but my face seemed to want to without permission and… ah hell; you know what I mean.
Maybe this embarrassment factor had something to do with my normally hiding stupid shit like this?
‘Just a little dizzy,’ I muttered, suddenly not able to look either of them in the eye. The pattern of paint spatters on my jeans was suddenly very damn interesting.
Then Trowa had me by the arm and was pulling me to my feet. ‘Come on,’ he said rather congenially. ‘We need to get you out of these paint fumes.’
‘But,’ I stuttered. ‘Its just water-based latex…’
He cut me off with a chuckle, wrapping an arm around me to steady me as the three of us made our way toward the front door. ‘Duo… it reeks in here. How long have you been working in it?’
‘Since this morning?’ I evaded and evoked a matching set of heavy sighs. ‘I had to get done before the furniture got here!’ I blurted, feeling defensive, and already kind of sorry that I’d opened my mouth.
‘Where’s your coat, Duo?’ Quatre asked, and the tone of his voice made me look up at him. The somewhat… amused affection in his eyes was enough to make the blush happen despite me.
‘In the kitchen,’ I mumbled grudgingly. He and Trowa shared one of those looks, the kind I hate, that passes large amounts of data in some form unreadable by anyone outside the couple involved. The couple’s look. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before.
The end result was Quatre went off to fetch the afore-mentioned article of clothing while Trowa finished the job of maneuvering me out of the house where he settled us on the steps.
I had to admit that the fresh air made me more aware of the cloying taste in my mouth that had been coming from the paint. I took a couple of deep breaths of the stuff and shivered convulsively. My headache settled to a dull throb between my eyes and I was just suddenly very… damn tired.
I slumped forward a little bit and propped my elbows on my knees, wishing that I had someplace I could just go lie down for a few minutes.
‘It’s nice here, Duo,’ Trowa said genially and it rather surprised me.
I snorted softly. ‘It doesn’t seem too… rustic, next to your place?’
He gave me a little grin, leaning back on his elbows and stretching his long legs out in front of us. ‘I think that’s what I like,’ he mused. ‘It’s… peaceful here. Simple.’
I twisted to look over at him, and found him with his head dropped back, looking up at the sky. ‘Peaceful,’ I echoed, and turned away from the sight of him, looking so fit and strong. I looked out across my narrow front yard, watching the black birds hop around the dried grass, looking for whatever the hell it is black birds eat. ‘You know,’ I told him. ‘I’m not sure I’d have this place now, if it weren’t for you. Did I ever thank you?’
I thought I heard a sigh, but he chuckled lightly right on top of it, so I wasn’t sure. ‘Several times, Duo.’
I grinned across at him. ‘Driving it in the ground, am I?
‘Just a little,’ he told me amiably, and grinned back at me to make sure the words didn’t sting.
‘Can’t help it,’ I told him softly. ‘I love this place, it’s full of…’ I started to say ghosts, but stopped myself. ‘History.’
‘I didn’t do anything but nudge the two of you in the right conversational direction,’ he said, voice holding a hint of the amusement he’d gleefully exhibited that night.
I just laughed and shook my head, not really wanting to start an exchange that had anything to do with communication. But the action made my head feel funny again, so I stopped. In the lull, I heard the front screen door open behind us.
Quatre reappeared and I took my coat from him before he could start trying to put it on me. I wondered what had taken him so long as he settled on the step on my other side, but then he held out a glass of water. His expression showing just a hint of trepidation, as though he were afraid I would be angry with him for bringing it. ‘You looked… hot,’ he told me, and almost made me laugh.
I took the glass with a rueful little smirk. ‘Fetch the coat ‘cause it’s too cold… bring water ‘cause it’s too hot…’ I mumbled and he grinned at me.
The water was a damn balm though, and after the first swallow I couldn’t seem to stop until the glass was completely drained. When I lowered the cup again, I found two pairs of eyes watching me suspiciously.
‘Duo…’ Quatre began in a warning tone and I couldn’t help sighing.
‘It was hot working upstairs all day,’ I grumbled.
‘Exactly how long have you been here?’ Trowa asked, a hint of something unnamable coloring his tone.
‘I came out first thing this morning,’ I hedged, glancing from one to the other.
‘Duo,’ Quatre suddenly sounded suspicious. ‘Have you stopped to eat at all today?’
I felt my face warming as I realized how damn predictable I apparently was. ‘I had to get the bedroom painted before the furniture got here.’ I said, feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, hadn’t I explained this once? Quatre gave me a look of mild reproach, but on my other side, Trowa chuckled dryly.
‘So let me summarize briefly,’ he grinned at me. ‘You’ve been working since… what? Seven? Eight this morning? Without a break, without food, without water, in an unventilated, hot room?’
I refrained from mentioning that it had actually been five in the morning, not seven or eight. ‘Well, when you put it that way,’ I muttered, turning the water glass in my hands. ‘It does sound kind of…’
‘Stupid?’ Quatre suggested helpfully and I mock glared at him.
‘Let’s just call it less than bright, all right?’ I finished and endured another round of chuckles at my expense.
Before I knew what was happening, or could decide whether I wanted to object or not, Trowa had pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and punched a button. Watching him hold the thing up to his ear, knowing who he was probably calling, I damn near reached out and grabbed the thing from him.
It was a combination of Francis, my repress hamster, and knowing just how stupid I’d look, wrestling Trowa for his cell phone that kept me from doing it. Hell, I figured I probably already looked stupid enough. And I wasn’t in any kind of shape to win a tussle with Trowa anyway.
‘Hey, Wufei… it’s Trowa,’ he said after a suitable pause and the call was answered. ‘You guys on your way yet?’ Another pause, not as long, and then, ‘No… that’s fine. Quatre and I had an early lunch today and we’re pretty hungry, could you two go ahead and stop for the pizza on your way?’ It took long enough for Wufei to answer, that I suspect he was conferring with Heero. When he came back to the line, the answer must have been yes, because Trowa closed with, ‘Great… see you when you get here.’
I might very well have breathed a sigh of relief when he finally terminated the call. I looked down at the glass that I found rolling between my hands, not really sure I wanted to look at either of them and blurted, ‘You’re going to help me cover this up?’
There was a rather heavy sigh from my left, where Quatre sat, but Trowa only reached out and put his hand on my shoulder for a moment. ‘I didn’t cover up anything,’ he told me in that bland tone he has. ‘What you tell Heero is your business. But understand… I won’t sit by and let you work yourself until you pass out.’
It made me look up at him and the obvious tenderness in his eyes made my face flame and I went back to looking into the empty depths of the water glass.
‘Now we are going to unload our car,’ he informed me in a voice that would brook no argument. ‘And you are going to sit and rest until dinner gets here.’
‘Come on, man,’ I groaned. ‘It was a simple little dizzy spell, it’s not like I even fell!’
‘And we’d like to keep it that way,’ Quatre muttered under his breath.
I grudgingly gave in, because I honestly didn’t have much of a choice. But I felt like a flaming idiot sitting on my ass while they carted box after box past me. I finally had to leave the steps, going around the house to sit on the back stoop before I fiddled the damn end right off my braid. I was feeling completely humiliated, and a little bit angry with myself. I guess it had been kind of a stupid thing to do, but sometimes it’s so easy to forget that physically I’m not quite up to Gundam pilot standards anymore. I’d had to watch myself, and be so damn careful, for so long after that accident. I was so far removed from those first days, that sometimes I could almost forget that I still needed to make allowances, needed to remember that my body wasn’t quite that of a seventeen year old who’d just come off some of the most extreme training known to man.
Hell… sometimes I wondered if I could manage that training now, if I were to have to do it all over again. I consoled my wounded ego with the promise of an elusive ‘someday’ and tried to distract myself with watching the blackbirds hop around the backyard. Someday wouldn’t cure everything, but it truly should eventually cure my physical condition. The doctors had all told me so, that I’d done no permanent damage. So I held out for someday and tried not to let myself wonder when it was going to get here.
Blackbirds are just weird things. They walk with this ridiculous head-bobbing thing going on that usually makes me grin. Like they’re doing some stupid dance that nobody else can hear the music for. They’re kind of pretty, in an oily sort of way, when the sun shines on them at least. And the sun was shining, here in the backyard where the porch wasn’t covered, and it was warming me, taking the chill of the air away. It was soothing and oddly nice, that contrast of winter air and warm sun. Either the heat or the fresh air was easing my headache, and I decided I’d better get up when I found myself nodding drowsily.
I went in the back door, making my way through my studio yet to be, and down the hall toward the living room. It was the tone of Quatre’s voice; sounding oddly caught somewhere between amused and shocked that made me slow my steps.
‘Trowa!’ he gasped out, sounding like he was trying to stifle a snicker.
I figured out they were in the room I had designated as the dining room, when I realized the dining table wasn’t in the middle of the living room anymore.
Trowa’s own laugh sounded then, not the one I was used to hearing, but a low, throaty chuckle that rather took me by surprise. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t think it too,’ he murmured.
‘I do not have… kinky thoughts about other people’s furniture,’ Quatre replied in a slightly over-played, haughty voice. I stopped dead in my tracks, blushing furiously and wondering if I could possibly get back down the hall without them noticing me.
‘All I said, Prince of my heart,’ Trowa fairly purred, ‘was the table looked… sturdy.’
Quatre snorted. ‘It was the way you said it.’
‘And how was that, light of my soul?’ I couldn’t believe how damn sexy Trowa’s voice could be while delivering lines like that. I found myself grinning despite the blush.
Quatre groaned rather loudly. ‘I should never have told you that I like pet names.’
There was the sound of a measured footstep. ‘Perhaps not… but don’t try to tell me you don’t love it, my booboo….’
A sharp bark of laughter cut him off. ‘Oh no… not that one again!’
Trowa used that throaty chuckle for a second time, and then it got really quiet. My imagination painted in a damn hot kiss. Even while a thought hamster darted out with a questioning look and a banner that read ‘Booboo…what?’ But I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know.
Then I heard a car door slamming outside and had to try to make it look like I’d just walked in the back door when Trowa and Quatre came out of the dining room. I’m not sure they bought my act, mostly because I couldn’t entirely banish the goofy grin and the blush, but they didn’t speak of it and neither did I. To ease things, I slipped into the kitchen to see what I could dredge up in the way of eating utensils, finding nothing but a roll of paper towels that would have to serve as both napkins and plates. I busied myself tearing them off and making a stack to take to the table. Distantly, I heard the front door open and the buzz of bantering voices. I wondered idly if Trowa and Quatre would rat me out. Then I wondered if maybe I should tell on myself, I still wasn’t feeling… a hundred percent. I’d been trying a little bit harder with that damn honesty thing, since I’d had my nose liberally rubbed in how God-awful it feels to have things kept from you. But… it’s not easy. We’re talking about the habits of a lifetime here. Sometimes, trying to be upfront and open about my damn failings and faults feels like trying to stop my own heartbeat. It’s not something I think about, I just do it. If something hurts… you hide it. If something scares you… you run straight at it. When you can’t go another step… you at least fall forward.
Knowing what I should do didn’t make it any easier to do it.
Then warm, solid arms wrapped around my waist and a soft voice said, ‘Missed you today,’ in my ear. I shivered and leaned into the embrace. Leaned into the strength. I find, when I get this off-balance, wobbly feeling, that some small part of me wants nothing so much as to seek Heero out. To just go step into his arms, to burrow into his warmth and let him… shelter me. Even at times like this, when there is really nothing to be sheltered from. It’s an odd temptation that I try not to let myself indulge in too often. Heero certainly doesn’t need me whining to him over every little headache and splinter. Can’t be expected to support me just because I’ve done something… less than well thought out.
‘Hey there,’ I sighed, making myself straighten, and turned around in his arms. He gave me a quick kiss; neither of us overly comfortable with much more, knowing the guys were right in the next room.
What the hell time did you get up this morning?’ Heero queried, giving me a funny little look.
‘About four thirty, you lay-abed,’ I teased and he snorted, shaking his head, but then things got kind of… still. I don’t really think that I had decided what I was going to tell him and what I wasn’t, but some part of my trepidation must have shown on my face. My hesitation in the teasing sort of committing me. I was just looking at him, trying to figure out how to tell him what I probably ought to be telling him, and he was looking at me, obviously puzzling over my sudden stupid-fish imitation.
‘What’s wrong, love?’ he said gently and it was all it took to make my face flame. He really looked alarmed then, and I couldn’t meet his eyes, feeling like the biggest moron this side of Elmer Fudd.
‘I kind of…’ I began, but floundered for words too quick on that one and tried again. ‘I wanted to get the bedroom finished today, but it’s too cold out to open the windows… I sort of…’
His hand came up to brush my cheek when I hesitated again, making me look up at him. ‘Duo?’ he prompted.
I sighed in a sudden gust, mentally cringing waiting for the explosion. ‘I kind of overdid it today… had one of my dizzy spells. I got some fresh air when Trowa and Quatre got here and I’m feeling better now… but I…’
His hands dropped to take me by the elbows, as though he needed to support me. ‘You didn’t… fall?’ he questioned, voice hesitant.
I started to shake my head, thought better of it and told him, ‘No. Just felt a little… lightheaded. I’ve been resting since, but…’
‘But you won’t be doing any of the heavy lifting this evening,’ he mock growled at me, tapping the end of my nose. I couldn’t help but grin at him. Grin at how he was taking my confession. I’d been half afraid that he would sweep me off to the apartment and put me straight to bed. Or rush me off to the damn emergency room.
He pulled me into a tight hug, despite the proximity of the other guys. ‘I’m… glad you told me,’ he said softly, his voice a little… odd. A little tight.
There was a whole secondary level to what we were talking about here, but neither of us was going to come right out and say it. I got another light kiss, and he had to ask me just once if I was sure I was all right, then he led me and my makeshift plates off to the dining room. Bearing in mind Heero’s usual overreaction to my not feeling well, I was more than happy to tolerate the simple hand under my elbow.
I was careful to find a place that wasn’t directly across from Wufei. Though we’d been around each other a little more lately, there still seemed to be some strange tension between us and I didn’t relish the idea of being that close to him in this intimate a setting. We got along better if there was some kind of buffer between us. A buffer made of other people who could help carry a conversation through the occasional awkward bits that he and I seemed to hit sometimes. I’d pretty much forgiven him for his part in the deception that he and Heero had visited on my poor little person, but I couldn’t quite seem to get around the fact that he had honestly thought that I’d been capable of… something not very nice in relation to Emery Williams. But honestly? I think most of the unease between us came from Wufei’s own inability to forgive himself. That had been half what had made me get over my irritation with him; the more than obvious guilt he had felt over the whole thing. For weeks, whenever we chanced to cross each other’s paths, he had looked at me with an almost palpable pain in his expression, and it had just about undone me. I’d forgiven him. I’d told him as much. But something was still… not quite right.
‘So you’ve been working since five this morning?’ Heero was asking me, passing me the box of pepperoni, and it took me a second to pick up the thread of conversation again. I didn’t miss the sharp looks I got from Trowa and Quatre. I concentrated on picking out a couple of slices of dinner.
‘Wanted to get the bedroom done today,’ I told Heero blandly and he was shaking his head again.
‘There was a lot left to do,’ Heero observed. ‘Did you manage it?’
‘Of course,’ I confirmed haughtily, and passed the pizza on to Quatre. I didn’t mention that I’d ended up altering the original design just a bit, or that if he’d thought there was a lot left before, he wasn’t going to believe it now. I just hoped like hell that he approved; I wasn’t looking forward to redoing it if he didn’t.
Then I took that first bite of pizza and felt like I’d turned into a black hole. I was just suddenly ravenous as hell and had to force myself not to wolf the stupid thing down. The conversation turned away from me for a bit and I quickly put away the two slices I’d picked out, and found myself questing after more. There was a pizza box suddenly stuck under my nose and glanced up to meet Trowa’s amused gaze. I accepted the box from him, blushing furiously, but took two more slices anyway, vowing that I wouldn’t inhale these quite so fast. I knew what a bad idea gorging yourself could be. I couldn’t help but notice he’d made a point of handing me the three-meat pizza… more protein.
I was surprised, but more than a little pleased, to find that Heero and Wufei had brought soda to drink with dinner, until I realized that the pizza place probably hadn’t had anything else. I allowed myself a couple of long swallows and then settled down to sipping and nibbling, trying to focus on the conversation flowing around me.
‘… probably this weekend, if Duo really got the bedroom finished,’ I heard Heero saying and glanced up in time to meet his smile.
‘You doubt me,’ I murmured in mock hurt, and there were a number of amused snorts around the table.
‘Of course I don’t doubt you,’ Heero said, a wicked little grin tugging at his lips. ‘Unless you had to go back down to the Home Depot for anything.’
I raised an eyebrow in indignation. ‘I’m not that bad,’ I grumbled and I thought he would laugh out loud.
‘Duo,’ he deadpanned, ‘you’re on a first name basis with the heads of six out of the eight departments.’
‘Only six?’ Trowa chuckled, and shared a strange little look with Quatre.
I took the moment to sip from my bottle of soda before carefully explaining, ‘We haven’t gotten around to the appliances yet, and it’s the wrong time of year for gardening.’
I managed to draw a little chuckle out of Wufei and smiled his way, rather pleased with myself. He’d been kind of avoiding teasing with me since he’d made that… verbal blunder at the cookout. I wondered if that would become part of my internal vocabulary? ‘The Cookout’, like some damn movie title or something. It had become an event to be identified in the manner of all major events, with the capital letters and all. The Cookout. The Trip to L3. The Accident.
Wufei gave me a tentative little smile back, but didn’t speak. I repressed a sigh, wondering for the millionth time if we would ever get past my cleaning his clock, and his implied accusation that I was a homicidal lunatic.
Heero’s finger was suddenly poking at my bicep and I looked over at him, aware that I had let part of the conversation drift past me. ‘What?’ I murmured, trying to catch back up.
‘I said,’ Heero smiled at me, the faintest hint of concern showing behind the humor in his eyes. ‘Can we go up and see this wondrous paint job of yours?’
I managed to fight down the blush, but couldn’t help ducking my head. ‘That would probably be… a good idea,’ I sighed. ‘But keep in mind that I kind of got… carried away. If you hate it, I can paint over it pretty easily.’
‘Well, now I’m intrigued,’ Quatre chuckled and nothing would do but we all trouped off upstairs to look at our bedroom. I tried dragging my heels to be the last one up, but Heero wouldn’t let me, wanting to keep a hand under my elbow again, during the climb. I was feeling a lot less shaky since resting and getting some damn food, but I was sure he wouldn’t be far from me for the rest of the evening.
Heero had talked of my painting my star field sky in our bedroom, just like I’d painted in my cabin aboard my ship. Aboard my Lady Demon. But I had found when the time had come, that I just couldn’t do it. I know his suggesting it had merely been to offer me the comfort of something familiar. But I had found all it had to offer was the sting of loss. The pain of memory of another time and place. I’d tried; I’d gotten started in one corner, painting the blackness of space. But I hadn’t lasted an hour before I was working with a lump in my throat and a pain in my gut that I knew I couldn’t live with. It had taken three coats of primer to cover the black. Then I’d started over. We were starting out our lives together here, and I didn’t want reminders of a life I’d lived all alone. I wanted something fresh and new for the occasion.
It had taken me all week, coming out to work whenever I had the chance and all day that very day on top of that. Heero had been out of town for part of the week on assignment, and had not seen any of it yet. Had no clue that I’d totally altered direction on him and I could only hold my breath and hope he liked it. I watched his face very closely as we made our way into the room, trailing behind the guys.
I heard Quatre’s delighted exclamation of, ‘Duo! It’s beautiful!’ But I didn’t look his way; I was too busy trying to figure out if Heero hated it.
I had totally tossed the stars and had planted ivy. The walls are oak wainscoting from chair-rail height down. The top half is sponge painted in muted shades of green. That part had actually gone fairly quickly. It was the Celtic interlocking knot work pattern that ran all the way around the top of the walls that had taken me forever. I’d done it in shades of gold and tan to pull out the colors of the oak wood, and then I’d gone back and laced it with ivy. Lots of ivy, winding through the Celtic pattern, sometimes mimicking, sometimes obscuring. There were places where it seemed to dangle down the wall. In one corner I’d brought it clear down and let it trail along the floor. I… liked it. Quatre seemed impressed. Trowa was grinning openly, moving about and studying different places. Wufei looked like he wanted to reach out and pluck one of the leaves off the wall.
But I was only interested in the reaction of one person, and the jury was still out on him.
Surprise was there, first and foremost. Followed by the flash of a confused frown. I bit my lip and waited for him to arrive at his conclusion, almost holding my breath. Damn, I hoped he liked it; it had been a hell of a lot of work; I’d spent every waking hour, that I hadn’t been at work, in the house working on it the entire time he’d been gone.
It seemed to take some effort for him to tear his eyes away from the wall and look at me, but when he did, the faintly questioning smile he gave me was enough to tell me I at least wouldn’t be starting over.
‘I thought…’ he began, speaking softly enough, but I cut him off anyway. Not really all that eager to discuss it in front of the guys.
‘I couldn’t,’ I told him simply and he seemed to understand, reaching out to grasp my hand despite the room full of people. ‘Is it… all right?’ I had to ask and he smiled warmly.
‘It’s beautiful,’ he said, squeezing my hand. ‘I love it. Though we definitely have to get new carpet in here now. This burgundy color wouldn’t have sucked with the black, but there’s no way in hell I can tolerate it with the green.’
I grinned in relief and felt like I relaxed for the first time all afternoon. Heero released my hand to go get a closer look and I just stayed by the door, leaning heavily on the jamb, watching them inspect my work.
I get the strangest feelings from finishing a paint job. There’s a certain amount of pleasure that goes with it. When you first finish, there’s this moment of knowing it’s absolutely perfect. Knowing that it is just how you saw it in your head. Until you start contemplating showing it to another person, then you start second guessing yourself. You start trying to see it the way they’re going to see it. You start thinking about how it will look to the eyes of a stranger, and you just aren’t sure anymore. If things go well and the viewer actually likes it, then you get moments like this one. It’s a fleeting thing, when the work is still fresh and new even to your own eyes, while you’re getting that gut reaction. You can’t help that swell of pride. It never lasts; it doesn’t take long before the impact is lost in the familiarity that comes with the age of the work. So I enjoy the moment while I can.
‘Trowa! Look… there’s a lady bug over here!’
‘Look here, it almost looks like the stuff is rooted in the window sill!’
‘The color of the Celtic part matches so well it looks like it’s carved out of wood!’
‘You’re right, Heero… that carpet has to go.’
‘Duo, how in the hell long did this take?’
I have to confess though, that I enjoy it more while the attention is on the art and not on me.
‘I’ve been working on it off and on all this week,’ I murmured, stuffing my hands in my pockets. ‘The walls themselves went pretty fast.’
Wufei raised a hand as if he would touch, but then dropped it, turning to glance at me with that strange… intense look he gets whenever he’s looking at my work. I’d never been able to fathom it. ‘Duo, this is… exquisite.’
I lost the battle with the blush and felt my face heating up. ‘Thanks,’ I mumbled uncomfortably.
I think Trowa understands my embarrassment over things like that, because he steered Wufei off in another direction, keeping his attention on ivy and not the resident artistically inclined mechanic.
I think Heero understands too, but he seems to have it in his head that it’s good for me to hear things like that or something, because he’ll seldom interject himself the way Trowa does.
I started making noises about furniture and I finally got them moving again. With four strapping young men and one slightly handicapped foreman, things went fairly quickly once I got them going. I was relegated to cleaning up the dinner mess while they worked, something that rankled badly, but I knew I couldn’t fight. The cars were quickly unloaded and boxes stored in my back room for the time being, to be sorted out and put away later.
The new bedroom furniture was stowed upstairs in the spare room until we’d decided what to do about the carpet in the master bedroom. Everything else stayed on the first floor and was quickly distributed. The living room almost looked like somebody actually lived there.
I thought we were just about ready to leave when Heero suddenly brightened and grinned at me. ‘I almost forget,’ he exclaimed and went to fetch his jacket from the dining room. ‘A package came for you today.’
I knew what it was the minute I set eyes on it, only something that comes from off-planet through the ‘turtle-express’ courier system has that many stickers and stamps on it. It was my copy of Davey’s recital sent all the way from L2. I couldn’t help grinning like a kid on Christmas morning, snatching the thing from Heero’s hands and ripping it open even as I headed for the entertainment center. I hadn’t been sure about the idea when we had gone ahead and moved the thing into the new house, but had found that I used it more there than I had time to at the apartment any more. I was doubly glad it was here now.
‘What is it, Duo?’ Quatre asked, ever the solicitous one.
‘Qat!’ I exclaimed. ‘You’ve got to see this; you play the violin… you can tell me if I’m sitting on the next Stradivari, here!’ I thought I heard a snicker behind me, but I was too busy turning knobs and flipping switches, my exhaustion set aside for this thing I’d been waiting for for weeks. I dropped the disk in and sat back on my heels in front of the television set. I was vaguely aware of movement and heard the guys settling onto the new furniture.
‘What on Earth?’ Wufei muttered to no one in particular.
‘The boy that Duo is putting through music lessons?’ I heard Heero reply. ‘You remember, I told you about him?’
There was an ‘ah’ of understanding and I wondered about it; that Heero had actually told anybody about Davey. But then the video kicked in and I forgot about it.
I had a surreal moment, looking at the young man ascending the stage, before I realized the kid was Davey. ‘Oh my God!’ I blurted, leaning toward the screen. ‘Will you look at what Octavia did to that poor kid’s hair? He’s got to be mortified!’
Davey, hair slicked back and dressed in a suit that was just a hair too short, climbed the stairs, back as stiff as a board. The camera work was obviously that of an amateur and jiggled as the frame followed him. It wasn’t very close up, the person doing the filming evidently standing mid-way back in a crowded auditorium. I grimaced as Davey took his stance, turning to face the audience. He looked like he was going to choke to death in his tie. I saw his fingers lift as though he would tug at his collar, but then he dropped them again.
‘Damn!’ I murmured, looking the poor kid over. ‘I wish Octavia had told me he needed a new suit! Look how short the thing is!’
‘It’s not that bad,’ somebody told me. I think it was Trowa, but I wasn’t certain.
A woman came to meet him at the center of the stage to announce his name and the piece he would be playing in a very formal tone.
I turned quickly to look at Quatre. ‘All Through The Night? Is that a good one, Qat?’
I was kind of surprised to find the lot of them grinning widely. ‘It’s actually a little harder than a beginner’s piece,’ Quatre assured me. ‘But it’s very lovely.’
I turned back to the screen just in time to see Davey raise his violin into position. I found myself holding my breath waiting for him to start the song. He waited another heartbeat before raising his bow and I caught his eyes looking into the audience. I had to follow his gaze and could just see the back of Octavia’s head. And beside her were the rest of the kids.
‘Look!’ I cried, pointing at the screen. ‘It’s Sarah! My God… look how big she’s gotten!’ Right next to her was Zinia, squirming all over her seat, as active as ever. ‘And Allison’s hair is all cut off! It was half way down her back; I wonder what in the hell…’
And then Davey began to play and I shut up, though my eyes couldn’t stop looking. I finally spotted Devon and Ethan, sitting just behind Sarah, playing rock-paper-scissors where Octavia couldn’t see. There was another little boy, with rather shockingly red hair, sitting next to Devon, but I couldn’t tell if he was with the Maxwell group or not. I blinked at him, wondering if there was now a seventh child in my little brood.
Quatre had been right, the song was a sweet thing, sounded like a lullaby and to my ears it was perfect. I looked back at the stage and had to grin. ‘Look at him blush!’ I whispered to no one in particular, but there wasn’t an answer.
In the audience, Zinia was sliding down in her seat, until she was almost lying on her back. Without so much as looking, Octavia reached over and gave the kid a tap on the top of her head with a knuckle. I couldn’t help chuckling; she’d gotten that habit from me. Zinia straightened, though she gave Octavia a bored glower. Beside her, Allison frowned darkly and put her finger to her lips. Zinia just stuck her tongue out.
I chuckled again and turned my eyes back to Davey. His face was… all soft, but concentrated somehow, though I know that doesn’t make sense. A lock of hair had escaped whatever concoction Octavia had slicked it back with, and was dangling over one eye. The song wound to a soulful close and Davey’s little cheering section erupted into a standing ovation. I saw Devon reach out and drag the redheaded kid up with them, and I knew without a doubt that he was a new addition to the home. I wondered what his name was.
Davey looked flushed, his eyes were sparkling brightly and I knew he was in that moment of knowing it had been perfect. He looked to Octavia for approval even as the kids were leading the audience in his ovation, and I saw her nod slightly. He grinned.
That grin went right through my heart.
In that moment it hit me like it hadn’t before, that I would never see those kids again. I would never even get to meet the new boy. I would never bring them candy. I wouldn’t listen to their songs and their ABCs. I wouldn’t get to tell them stories. I wouldn’t ever get hugs that came with running tackles. I wouldn’t get kisses that bordered on sloppy. It was like that television’s screen was a glass wall between us and I was suddenly looking at a group of strangers. I wouldn’t get to see them grow up. I wouldn’t be there to help them with their dreams.
The best I would ever manage would be those monthly checks and the occasional package of books. And Davey’s violin lessons. But how was I to know what to do for the next one? If I didn’t get to see them, to talk to them… how would I learn what a kid doesn’t always dare to ask for? It had taken me almost a year to get Davey to admit to me what he really wanted. I was pretty sure that Allison was going into the arts, but what about Zinia? What about the nameless new kid?
My heart ached in my chest as the scene on the television faded to black. I sat, finding my knees drawn up to my chest, and listened to the echo of those little clapping hands. The room seemed very quiet and I knew it was probably up to me to fill the silence.
‘So, Mr. Music-expert,’ I managed to choke out, knowing it sounded strained. ‘Was he any good?’
‘It was very nearly a flawless performance, Duo,’ Quatre said, and there was something in his voice that spoke to me of gentle sadness… I knew they knew.
I nodded, having to take a minute, opening my mouth, closing it, and then trying again. ‘That’s my Davey; he always was a tenacious little…’ my voice broke and I stopped, rather appalled at myself. Well hell.
My hands reached out and popped the disk from the player, slipping it back into its case, turning things off. Somewhere in there I found my voice again and did my best to keep it steady. ‘I gotta talk to Octavia about whatever the hell she did to his hair, though… that was awful. You have to wonder what the woman was thinking. And I need to get her some money for a new suit for the guy; if he’s going to be making a name for himself in the music world, we can’t have him looking like…’ Like an orphan. God… had I just thought that? Didn’t want Davey to look like what he was. Didn’t want people to look at him and be able to tell… to be able to treat him differently because of it. Not like I’d been treated. Not like I’d been shunned. Didn’t want the world to look at my kids and see ‘street trash’.
I could hear the echo of ancient voices in the back of my head, whispering things that I wished I could forget, but had never learned how.
‘Never amount to anything!’
It was the sound of the CD case hitting the floor that shook me back into the present, but then strong arms were gathering me in and I sought my sanctuary. Sought Heero’s warmth, all my fatigue coming back to me in a rush.
‘I’m never going to see them again, am I?’ I asked, feeling his arms tighten.
‘I don’t know, baby,’ he said, voice trying to soothe, but I flinched into awareness again at his use of that strange endearment with the guys listening. I tried to pull away, but he held me tight.
‘They went home,’ he told me. ‘It’s just you and me.’
It made me feel weird. It embarrassed me. It rather unnerved me that I hadn’t even heard them go. But they were gone and I just let Heero hold me.
‘God, I miss them,’ I told him, not quite sure why I let it slip out.
‘I know,’ was all he said, but really… what else was there to say?
His fingers stroked through those wispy little hairs at my temples that won’t ever stay in the braid, and he dropped a kiss on my forehead. I could almost feel his need to make things better, could feel his frustration that he couldn’t. So I figured that five minutes of sitting on the floor feeling sorry for myself was probably long enough.
‘Come on,’ I said, doing my best to make my voice a little lighter. ‘Let’s call it a night… these paint fumes are starting to really annoy me.’
He snorted lightly, mostly because I wanted him to, but rose and pulled me off the floor, making sure I was steady on my feet before he went to get our coats. I made sure the back door was locked and then we got out of there.
The late evening air was crisp and sharp and I took a deep, cleansing breath of it once we were out on the front porch. Heero moved in close and slid an arm around my waist. ‘Let’s just leave your car here, all right?’ he asked gently and I was more than ready to agree.
‘I am getting pretty tired,’ I smiled at him, very aware of it. He smiled, obviously relieved, and we walked down to the car with arms around each other. There was no one to see us anyway. I had a twinge of unease as he walked me to the passenger door and opened it for me. It reminded me too much of those days while I was confined to a wheelchair and he had to help me in and out. But he didn’t stay to close my door, nor attempt to buckle me in, so the moment passed.
I think I dozed off before he had the car out on the main street. I roused once to find him driving one handed, his other hand holding mine, and I had to grin muzzily across at him. He squeezed my fingers, smiling back, and I let my eyes fall closed again.
Then we were there and Heero was tugging gently on my hand. ‘Wake up, love… we’re here.’
I blinked open gritty eyes and had to grin ruefully. ‘Guess it was a good thing you drove, huh?’
He chuckled and leaned across to give me a gentle kiss. I was shocked as hell that he’d done that right in the middle of the apartment parking lot, but then I thought… what difference did it make? We were moving out soon anyway. So I caught at him and got him to give me a slightly better kiss.
He drew away smiling at me with that light in his eyes that makes me shiver. ‘You’re damn beautiful when you’re drowsy,’ he quipped and I laughed.
‘You just like me pliant,’ I replied, a little embarrassed.
‘That too,’ was all he said.
We got out of the car and he actually walked me into the building with an arm around my waist. I looked across at him; trying to gauge his mood underneath the smiles he kept giving me. Was he just feeling adventurous? Amorous? Or, more likely… just protective?
‘I really am all right,’ I murmured, caught between pleased and embarrassed. It’s always a rush of warmth to realize in these moments just how much he worries, but it’s also a little humiliating to feel so weak that I worry him in the first damn place.
‘I’m sorry,’ he told me, slowing his steps and looking sideways at me. ‘I can’t help remembering…’
I sighed and he stopped; he didn’t need to tell me. Remembering my passing out in therapy. Remembering finding me on the floor of my cargo bay. ‘Heero, that was ages ago… I am fine. I haven’t…’
His arm suddenly tugged almost roughly, and I found myself chest to chest with him right in the middle of the damn stairwell. ‘Stop that,’ he commanded and I blinked at him. ‘I’m allowed to worry… it’s what I do, and you know it.’
I grinned, opening my mouth with the flippant comeback, but he didn’t give me the chance. And I thought his walking with a supportive arm around me was… flustering? Kissing in the stairwell was something I’m pretty sure I could safely say we’d never done before either. It was a strange, bastard mixture of arousing and mortifying.
Then it slammed solidly toward mortifying when a voice with a slight southern drawl, said, ‘Nice night for a little slap and tickle, isn’t it boys?’
We separated so damn fast I would have fallen down the stupid stairs if Heero hadn’t had me by the elbow. It was a toss-up which one of the two of us was the brighter shade of red.
‘Uh… Good evening, Mrs. Pettigrew,’ I choked out, and even her damn little dog looked amused.
She continued down the stairs toward us, dog tucked under one arm, and we made way.
‘Evening, boys,’ she fairly purred, obviously enjoying herself. ‘Don’t mind us.’
‘No Ma’am,’ I muttered, thought about that, and blushed harder. She snickered, already several steps below us.
She hesitated on the landing, looking back up with a grin. ‘I’m going to miss having you two as neighbors… you’re so much fun.’
I thought Heero was going to die right on the spot. The rest of the climb to the third floor was uneventful, though neither of us could seem to get our faces to return to a semi-normal color. If we’d been working on a… romantic moment, it was pretty well quashed, and when we got into the apartment, just went about getting ready for bed.
I most definitely needed a shower, but got no offers of help. Heero set to closing up for the night while I took care of it on my own, checking for messages, going through the mail, locking up. We met in my bedroom with a matched set of embarrassed grins. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he told me. ‘I don’t know what made me do that.’
I pulled the covers back and climbed in, feeling every ache and strain rising up to make sure I knew I wouldn’t be having a great morning. ‘It’s all right,’ I grinned at him. ‘At least it wasn’t Mrs. Hitchcock.’
He looked rather stricken, blushed again, and then climbed in with me. ‘God; we might have given her a heart-attack!’
I chuckled lightly, but it faded quickly and I looked at him, trying to figure out how to impart my sudden exhaustion. ‘Heero… I…’
‘Hush,’ he admonished, and nudged me until I rolled where he could spoon in behind me in that position I’d grown so accustomed to onboard my ship. ‘Go to sleep, love,’ he said, and I could hear the smile.
‘Love you,’ I murmured, feeling my voice thickening already.
‘Forever,’ he responded, and pulled me tighter into his arms. He was quiet for a minute and then softly, breath warm on my shoulder, ‘I love the bedroom… it’s beautiful.’
‘I’m glad,’ I mumbled, stifling a yawn. ‘I wanted it t’be… different. Not somthin’ from… before.’
He was quiet for a bit, until I was drifting pleasantly. ‘I do love it, it’s perfect. But I want you to slow down… you’re working yourself too hard.’
‘S’rry,’ I murmured and he chuckled warmly.
‘I do so love it when you’re… pliant,’ he told me in a breathy whisper.
‘Just wanna be able to go home,’ I said and the tightening of his arm told me I’d said something odd, but I couldn’t puzzle it out.
‘Go to sleep, heart,’ he sighed, and I did.
I dreamed some bizarre ass shit, mostly involving carting kids around on my shoulders until I was whimpering pathetically with exhaustion, the strange melancholy sound of a violin in the distance. I woke to find I could barely raise my damn arms.
I blinked my eyes open to find Heero gazing at me with a strange amusement in his eyes. ‘You really awake this time?’ he murmured, reaching out to stroke the hair from my eyes.
‘What?’ I grumbled in confusion, wondering if I was going to be able to get my sorry ass out of bed to get ready for work.
‘You’ve been moaning and groaning all damn night,’ he informed me with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.
‘You’re going to be a prick about this, aren’t you?’ I growled, already deciding that my arms had obviously locked in the position they were in and weren’t to be moved.
‘Pretty much,’ he grinned. ‘After all… I told you to take it easy before we ever bought the house. Maybe this will teach you a lesson.’
I would have blown him a raspberry, but my mouth tasted pasty and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to work, so I just glared. ‘What time is it?’
‘Time to get up, if you think you can manage it.’
The only answer to that was to just do it, so I did.
I added two aspirin and a good portion of a tube of Ben-Gay to my morning ritual, something I’d acquired earlier that very week. I was quite proud of the fact that I had my ass in the car within minutes of the usual time. And I didn’t even skip breakfast. Not that Heero would have let me, but the point was that I hadn’t tried. I’m not that stupid. At least, not two days in a row.
Driving in, Heero kept giving me side-long looks, and finally blurted, ‘Duo… what in the hell is that… smell?’
I smirked over at him. ‘Topical analgesic cream, don’t you like it?’
The joking tone left his voice and he reached for my hand. ‘Hey… you’re all right, aren’t you?’
I would have shrugged, but my shoulders kind of didn’t want to. ‘Just a little stiff,’ I reassured. ‘Most of that work was done with my hands raised over my head, my shoulders are a bit sore is all.’
He gave my fingers a squeeze before letting go to return his hands to the wheel for a left hand turn. ‘You’re taking tonight off,’ he told me decisively. ‘You need a break.’
I thought about how close we were to being ready to move in for good, but then I thought about how nice it would be to just stay at the apartment with Heero for the evening. ‘Yes sir,’ I said meekly and won a rather sharp look, but he refrained from commenting.
‘Heero?’ I asked tentatively after a few miles driving in a comfortable quiet. ‘Did I…’ I wasn’t sure how to put it, but had decided that I didn’t want to let the occasion pass completely without comment. ‘Did I thank you for… not over-reacting last night?’
He gave me a funny little look, somewhere between embarrassed and amused. ‘It seemed the… proper way to reward your not hiding it from me,’ he said after a few moments of thinking about wording. It was my turn to be embarrassed.
‘I’m trying,’ I mumbled, feeling a little defensive.
‘I know you are,’ he told me warmly, reaching for my hand again. ‘And I am too.’
I would have sold a body part or two to have been able to kiss him goodbye that morning, and from the look in his eyes… I think he might have too. As it was, there were only our usual discreet touches below line of sight when he pulled up to the garage door.
I went into the bay, clocking in and going to pick up my days assignments. The first damn thing on my docket was changing out a quarter panel on a car that had been in a shoot out. I groaned to myself, thinking about all that bending and twisting, but having to face up to the fact that the only thing that was going to make those muscles loosen up again was using them. Well… without the utilization of a hot tub and Heero’s talented hands. Neither of which was readily available in the middle of the Preventors maintenance bay.
When I went to match the ‘Chrysler A10’ on my work order, up with the actual vehicle, I found that I was going to be working in the spot next to the new kid. I sighed and seriously considered moving the damn car to another slot. The kid is not my biggest fan.
I suppose, to be fair, I should stop calling him ‘the kid’. His name’s Mickey. I’d never bothered to ask, but he might actually be a year or two older than I am. He just… acts like a kid. One of those still stuck in high school. There is something about me that just annoys the hell out of him. I have no idea what it is. My hair? My face? My sparkling wit? I have no fucking clue. I’d done my best at first to be pleasant, but after getting growled at a couple of times, I’d given it up. I don’t stick my hand in the fire over and over again for just anybody. Uhmmm… pardon the pun.
So now I usually just avoided him. He didn’t go out of his way to speak to me, so I didn’t go out of my way to speak to him. Maybe someday I’d ask some of the other guys just what the stick up the kid’s ass was all about.
In the end, moving the car was just too much trouble, so I went and got my toolbox and said the hell with it; if Mickey didn’t like it, he could fucking move.
Taking the old panel off the Chrysler wasn’t a terrible chore since I really didn’t care what shape it was in when I was done. It already had a dozen holes through it and was on its way to the scrap heap anyway. But I had to slow down a little bit when I got around to replacing the torn wiring, and then aligning and attaching the new fender. Not for the first time, I wondered why in the hell the bullet proofing couldn’t be in the damn shell of the car instead of at the frame level. It would save us poor mechanics a lot of work. As predicted, my shoulders did begin to loosen as I used stiff muscles, and after a couple of hours I’d stopped feeling like I wanted to groan every time I had to raise my arms over my head, though I was still cautious about moving suddenly, or bending and straightening too fast.
From what I could tell, Mickey was getting ready to pull an engine block out of the truck he was working on, and by the time I finished the job on the Chrysler he was just positioning the hoist. I tossed my tools back in my tool chest, vaguely aware of him bolting the chains in place. I thought about offering him a hand, I would have with almost any of the other mechanics. Pulling an entire engine block is just easier with two people, but I was pretty sure I’d just get blown off, so I forgot the notion and pulled the Chrysler out of the garage into the back parking lot. My next assignment was at the other end of the bay, a transmission problem that would have me working next to Giles instead of Mickey, for which I was grateful. I was walking across the garage floor, returning for my tool box when Mickey finally hit the hydraulics to start raising the big engine block out of the armored surveillance van. As soon as the hoist was bearing the brunt of the engines weight, I heard the unmistakable sound of metal under stress. I turned away from my task of gathering tools and looked at Mickey, suddenly realizing that the vehicle he was working on was quite heavily armored. The engine in the thing was non-standard and was obviously over the weight rating on the hoist he was using. Mickey seemed oblivious to the noise; just kept on raising the engine, walking up to guide the thing by hand. I glanced around the bay, but nobody else seemed to be hearing the sounds that were so obvious to me.
‘Hey!’ I hollered, knowing he wasn’t going to be thrilled with my interference. ‘Stop that thing! You’re overloading the hoist!’
He turned to look at me, his thumb leaving the suicide ‘up’ button for a second, and the engine ground to a halt. ‘What?’ he asked me, voice cold as all hell.
I wondered again what was up with the guy and walked over to stand closer, so I didn’t have to yell. ‘I said, you need to switch to the heavy-duty hoist; you’re stressing the hell out of this one. It’s not rated for anything over a thousand pounds.’
He gave me the faintly sneering look that was usually on his face when he and I had to deal with each other, and growled, ‘Damn engine isn’t over a thousand damn pounds.’
Francis stuck his head out of my pocket, looking up at me with his ‘repress’ banner hanging a little limply, obviously not all that enthralled with stopping me from called the kid an asshole. So I did the repress thing on my own. ‘Look at the thing, Mickey,’ I tried to lower my voice and sound reasonable. Tried to pretend I was talking to one of the other guys. ‘Standard engine wouldn’t be enough for a vehicle armored this heavily. Trust me… that hoist won’t hold that engine for long.’
‘It seems to be doing just fine,’ he ground out, planting the hand that wasn’t holding the hoist controls, on his hip; taking a very aggressive stance.
I took a calming breath and tried again. ‘Look… I can hear the metal stress, it’s not going to…’
He cut me off with a dismissive jerk of his head, hitting the button on the lift again, yelling over the sound of the motor, ‘Don’t you fucking have a job to do?’
I could feel several sets of eyes on us and decided that there was no way in hell that I was going to get through his thickhead. I hated to run to ‘Daddy’, but I wasn’t about to let the dumbass kid ruin an engine that probably cost more than he made in a year, just because he wanted to piss with me. I turned on my heel and stalked toward Griff’s office.
Behind me I thought I heard a tight little, ‘God-damn Gundam-fucker.’
I could see Griff, standing in his office talking on the phone, which explained why he hadn’t gotten his ass out on the floor to see what two of his mechanics were arguing about. He usually won’t put up with shit like that. But I could see his attention was directed our way, even if he hadn’t been able to do anything about it just yet. I could see the frown on his face getting more… concerned and bothered to read his lips enough to see him say, ‘…have to go. No… something’s going on… shit!’
I turned to look behind me, to see just what had made that kind of pissed off look come into Griff’s eyes. Mickey had the engine block up high enough to clear the edge of the engine compartment and had stopped the hoist. He had hold of the chains and began to pull the whole block along the overhead rail… toward him, his body leaning heavily as he hauled on it.
I could hear the metal of the hoist telling me it couldn’t take anymore. I could look at the weight and the swing of the engine as it moved and see just how it was going to fall. Could plot the trajectory and could see that Mickey was about to die. In a very messy way with a probable twelve hundred pound engine block crushing his chest. I moved. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it.
‘Get the fuck away from it!’ I roared at him, though God knows why I bothered, he wasn’t going to listen to an ex-Gundam-fucker. I wondered just who it was in his past that had died in the war. I wondered if it had actually been at the hands of one of us, or if they had just been a casualty of timing. I guess it didn’t really matter now.
It was one of those slow motion moments. I heard the death shriek of the stressed metal and put on a burst of speed. The noise was finally at a level that no one in the fucking garage could have missed it. I saw Mickey finally damn well believe what I’d been telling him. Saw the fractured moment when he understood what was about to happen. I felt like I was running through molasses.
And then it all kicked back into real time. Mickey tried to twist away and fell. The engine fell. And I hit the damn thing as hard as I could manage with all the weight in my pathetic frame, digging in for all I was worth, and praying to God it was enough.
Never played football as a kid; we never had a ball. But I’d used some of those football field maneuvers often enough, getting clear of some messy situations on the streets. I imagined that my move on that engine block probably looked like a classic block and tackle. One should not tackle a chunk of solid steel. Fucking ouch.
I knew damn well I wasn’t going to have a hell of a lot of effect on the massive stinking thing. I was hoping to simply convince it to swing a little more in the direction it had been thinking about on its own. Was hoping that I could twist it, as much as anything. Even as my head was shrieking obscenities at me, I was plotting mass and inertia… and going over my last will and testament. I had some hope if I could hit one of the chains at just the right angle. This all sounds quite leisurely, but don’t let me fool you; there isn’t a measurement of time short enough to get across how fast this all went through my mind. I was committed before Mickey finished yelling, ‘Shit!’
Despite all my calculations, I rebounded off the thing like I’d hit a wall at top speed, and ended up sprawled on the floor of the bay, sucking air, head spinning and wanting to cuss the bastard-asshole six ways to Sunday. But I wasn’t sure if I’d managed to change the course of the stupid engine enough to save his damn life. You really shouldn’t curse the dead. Then he started to scream and I knew I’d at least altered things enough to miss his chest. So I started the cussing even as I was scrambling to my feet to assess the situation.
‘Moronic God-damn stubborn…’
I’d saved his torso completely, but the block was settled directly on his damn legs.
‘…asshole. Can’t listen to a fucking thing…’
I dropped to my hands and knees, scrabbling around him, finding that his one leg was probably not all that badly damaged, there was a concave place under the block that might have saved him.
‘…anybody says! Risk your stinking life…’
But his right leg looked severely… not good, and even as I was checking, large amounts of blood began to creep out from under the engine. Shit.
‘…just to prove a damn point!’ I staggered back up to my feet. ‘Giles! Griff!’ I looked to see who else was close, ‘Dave! Get the hell over here! We have to get this thing off him!’ Time was something of the essence here and I was kind of surprised to see them moving the wrong damn direction. I wasted almost one and a half seconds gaping at them. ‘Come on!’ I yelled again, hard-pressed to raise my voice over Mickey’s shrieks.
Then I realized that Giles and Dave were running to get the other hoist. My jaw really did hit the floor then, the kid would bleed to death long before they got the damn thing down and repositioned. I looked to Griff, but he had run back toward his office, presumably to call for an ambulance. I wanted to scream at him that it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t get their asses in gear and help me get the damn engine block moved.
‘Damnit!’ I tried again, ‘Somebody get over here and help me!’ I got several blank stares, though Giles redoubled his rather futile efforts with the hoist. I glanced down at the growing pool of blood and noted that Mikey wasn’t screaming quite so lustily. Shit.
Then I heard the sound of running feet and turned to see Heero and Wufei pounding across the garage toward me. I wanted to whoop for joy; it felt like seeing angels coming to my rescue.
I didn’t have to tell them anything. I could see their eyes taking it all in. I saw with a rush of pure, unadulterated relief that they understood exactly what had to be done. I grabbed up the slack chains and jerked the remains of the broken wench off of them, tossing it aside. Trusting the guys to get into position. Hands met mine and some of the chains left my grip. Distantly, I heard Wufei shouting to someone to come and get ready to pull Mikey out, then Heero was calling the count, and it was on three and I strained for all I was worth, hearing the grunting effort of my saviors. Mikey’s cries escalated, then Wufei was calling the all clear, and I let it all fall from hands that were trembling with the effort. Instinct took the three of us down to the floor where the kid lay. Arterial blood was spurting like a damn garden hose. People just made way for us, as our hands flew. Terse words were exchanged, a belt was produced, Mikey was sobbing brokenly. I slipped the makeshift tourniquet on with my own hands. I tried not to look too close… his leg was a mess and he’d be damn lucky if he didn’t lose it.
In a strange moment of clarity, it rose up in my mind that at least I wouldn’t have to work with him glaring at me for a while. Then it occurred to me that, if he lived, he was going to owe his life to a group of ‘Gundam-fuckers’. I shook my head to clear it, quickly wished I hadn’t, but never slowed what I was doing.
It took Heero and Wufei both to get me the hell out of the way when the ambulance finally arrived. Mickey had passed out by then and I wouldn’t have wanted to try and make a guess at his chances. There was a hell of a lot of blood on the floor.
I found myself perched on the damn engine block that had started the whole thing, Heero on one side and Wufei on the other, their hands making sure that I didn’t fall over.
I was vaguely aware that someone was talking to me, but I still had that tunnel-vision thing going on and was having trouble coming back into focus. Or, perhaps more precisely, having trouble coming out of tight focus into the wide world again. Then Wufei’s voice came, rather sharply, ‘Status, Maxwell!’
I blinked up at him, eyes tearing away from the sight of the ambulance pulling out of the garage. I couldn’t help grinning at him. ‘Really… tired?’ I quipped and he smiled back at me, seeming relieved.
‘That’s a pretty lame status report,’ he chuckled and dropped a hand on my shoulder. My wits were still too scattered, head feeling oddly light, and I flat could not hide the flinch. Wufei jerked his hand away, and Heero’s fingers came to pull gently at the collar of my polo shirt; he hissed in irritation. I couldn’t really get turned enough to see what he was seeing. ‘How did you…?’ he muttered. It was Griff who answered.
‘Idiot tried a flying tackle on a thousand pounds of steel and aluminum, that’s how,’ he chuckled, several of the guys clustered around us laughing with him, and a little of the tension seeming to leave the air.
Heero quirked an eyebrow and gave me a confused little frown. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time?’ I muttered sheepishly.
Giles snorted rather mirthlessly, shaking his head in disgust. ‘Saved the damn moron’s life.’
‘Not that the asshole was worth Duo gettin’ hurt,’ Dave muttered, and it seemed to open the comment floodgates, because everybody was suddenly talking.
‘Duo tried to warn him… I heard it!’
‘…guy’s always been a jerk.’
‘Did you see them just lift that damn thing?’
‘Wouldn’t surprise me if they can’t save that leg…’
‘…won’t be coming back anytime soon…’
There were a few more comments tossed back and forth that let me know that I wasn’t the only person in the garage who wasn’t thrilled with working with Mickey. I was actually starting to feel sorry for the guy by the time they were done. But then Griff suddenly seemed to shake himself back into boss mode.
‘That’s enough standin’ around, you’d think you never seen a guy drop an engine before,’ he growled, and began dispensing orders right and left. I felt bad for Giles and Dave… they ended up getting tasked with cleaning the blood up.
But then Griff turned on me. ‘Maxwell, get yourself cleaned up and then you’re with them for the afternoon,’ he jabbed a finger at Heero when he spoke and all I could do was stare at him. What in the hell was that supposed to mean?
Once the rest of the world began to move off and I wasn’t the center of attention anymore, my brain finally seemed to start engaging. The first thing that came into sudden, sharp focus was the fact that Heero was holding my hand. He had his right arm around my back, steadying me, but his left hand was very firmly holding mine and obviously had been for some time. I felt the heat rising to my face and tried not to think about it. Damned if I’d make an issue out of it, but it made me feel a little awkward. The fact that Heero and I were… together wasn’t exactly a huge secret, I suppose, but wasn’t something we usually liked to advertise either. I knew, from some of the things he’d said, that Griff was aware of it, but I wasn’t really sure about the other guys.
I dared a glance around, with this new perspective, but didn’t see anything outside the kind of gossipy talk you would expect after an incident like this one.
‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ Heero prodded gently, the hand on my back rubbing carefully.
I opened my mouth with the flippant answer, but damn it… they were both touching me, I knew damn well they could feel me shaking with reaction. So I just smiled up at him and avoided the whole issue. ‘How the hell did you guys get here so damn fast?’ I asked. Heero frowned slightly, but Wufei snorted, his own hand under my arm squeezing for a second.
‘I was on the phone with Griff when he suddenly started swearing a blue-streak,’ he informed me with a wry chuckle. ‘We didn’t wait for clarification.’
‘Why…?’ I began, but Heero sighed and gave my arm a tug.
‘Let’s get the hell out of the way. You need to sit down for a minute anyway.’
I let them lead me to the bench by the restroom door and managed to get my hand back from Heero in the process. Giles and Dave had gone back to moving the heavy-duty hoist, preparing to get the engine off the floor. I glanced back at the mess they were about to start dealing with and grimaced. A thought hamster was standing on top of the engine block, looking over the side at the puddle on the floor, a slightly sick expression on his furry little face. When he felt my attention, he pulled out a little thought balloon that simply said ‘yuck’.
I heard Heero speaking softly over my head to Wufei and I forced my attention away from Mikey’s… away from the spot on the floor.
‘I don’t know if this is such a great idea under the circumstances,’ Heero was saying.
Wufei hesitated, and I wanted to look up at him where they were standing next to the bench, but I didn’t really want them realizing I was paying attention. ‘I… I don’t know…’ he sighed.
‘Maybe I should take him home,’ Heero said, his voice lowering even more than it had been, his hand dropping to rest protectively on my good shoulder.
‘Yuy,’ Wufei grumbled. ‘We have a witness upstairs… we can’t just…’
‘Ok, fly-boys,’ I interjected, having heard more than enough. ‘What the hell is going on? And will you stop acting like a little adrenaline crash is going to kill me?’
They both jumped rather guiltily, exchanging one of their damn… looks. I frowned up at them, trying to puzzle out what they were up to. ‘Are you going to make me go to Griff to find out what in the hell you called him for, or are you going to just tell me what’s going on?’
Wufei was the one who folded first, and I suspected that he was the driving force behind whatever the hell was up. He was the one who had admitted to placing a call to my boss in the first place, after all. He sat down beside me, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. ‘I was asking Griff to ‘borrow’ you for the afternoon,’ he blurted, and over my head I heard Heero sigh, then he sat down with us.
‘Borrow me?’ I queried, looking from one of them to the other.
‘We’re working on a… murder case,’ Heero told me gently, mimicking Wufei’s pose so that the three of us were sitting close enough to speak without being overheard. ‘We have a witness…’
Then Wufei seemed to catch fire, his eyes showing me a touch of an enthusiasm that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. ‘Duo,’ he said earnestly. ‘She’s working with the sketch artist right now… but it isn’t going very well. The man is too… inflexible. I thought… I thought you could come and give it a try. I saw you working with that little girl at the clinic, and think you could get so much further with this woman than Jones is.’
‘You don’t have to,’ Heero interrupted gently, trying to counter some of Wufei’s fervor. ‘If you don’t want to.’
I wasn’t at all sure the idea appealed to me, but Wufei was looking at me with this weird… faith shining in his eyes and I’m not sure I could have said no to him if I’d wanted to, so I just took a deep breath and said, ‘I don’t mind trying, I guess… but I sure as hell can’t go up there looking like this.’ And I waved a hand down at my blood-spattered clothes.
Wufei couldn’t contain an exultant little sound, though he looked embarrassed when it escaped him. ‘I have clothes in my car,’ he told us, already on his feet.
Heero sighed, an almost defeated sound and nodded at him. ‘We’ll be in the restroom cleaning up.’ Wufei returned the nod and turned on his heel, walking across the bay for the open back doors that would lead him around to the parking garage. I noticed, as he went, that conversations ebbed as he passed. Eyes were turned in his direction and some of the gazes seemed… a little hostile. I wondered about it, but Heero diverted my attention with a touch on my arm.
‘Come on,’ he smiled. ‘Let’s get washed up.’
I agreed whole-heartedly, shoved myself to my feet and let him lead me to the restroom.
Once out of sight of a garage full of mechanics, Heero turned and caught me in a fierce embrace. ‘God,’ he muttered against my hair. ‘That scared the crap out of me… I thought you’d been hurt… I thought…’
I hugged him tight, leaning into his strength. ‘Everything’s ok, love.’
‘You’re sure you’re all right?’ he had to ask again.
‘A little shaky,’ I told him, better able to be honest with him away from prying eyes. ‘Just a bit of post-terror jitters,’ I teased, drawing away to smile for him.
He snorted and shook his head at me. ‘I want a better look at that shoulder,’ he told me then, tone of voice firm enough to tell me he wouldn’t argue about it. I didn’t bother; the shirt had to come off anyway, it was shot. I let him help me pull the thing over my head, my shoulder twinging at me enough that I hoped Wufei brought a button-up shirt, and not another pullover.
I endured his careful probing, getting to look at it in the mirror for the first time. We both decided it was just bruised to hell and back; while it looked rather nasty, I was sure nothing was broken. Though I wasn’t going to say no if anybody offered me a Tylenol.
We had all the blood washed off our exposed skin by the time Wufei got back with a bundle of clothes. He looked… oddly flushed and was rather subdued; I didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t volunteer anything so I let it go.
Wufei washed his hands and arms while I ended up having to strip to my underwear to get the blood off my knees where it had soaked through my pants legs. I was pretty sure my clothes were completely shot, though I thought we could salvage Heero’s shirt. Wufei had miraculously brought the appropriate articles of clothing all around, and we joked about how fortuitous it was that Monday was laundry day for him, and that he’d still had the basket in the trunk of his car.
His jeans were a little loose on me, but Heero gave me his belt, Wufei’s had gone off to the hospital with Mickey, and once I cinched that up, they didn’t look too bad. Wufei owns his own set of Preventor polo shirts and he had brought us a set of those.
Wufei finished dressing first and I glanced up at him with what I hoped was a winning smile. I had figured out that I was going to need a little something to help me get through this, and caffeine seemed just the ticket. ‘Don’t suppose you’d go out to the soda machine and get me a can while you’re waiting, would you?’
He got that… strange, uncomfortable look again, exchanging a glance with Heero. It surprised the hell out of me when Heero quietly told him, ‘I’ll go.’ And promptly did. Wufei seemed to avoid my gaze while Heero was gone.
There was nothing to be done about my work shoes, but they were a dark brown anyway, and what we couldn’t clean off, didn’t show all that badly.
Then we were as straightened up as we could get and it was time to go. I wasn’t at all sure about this. I wondered if the witness had known the murder victim, and hoped to hell she hadn’t; that would be hard to deal with. I wondered if the woman was calm and composed, or bawling her head off or something.
Despite my flustered thoughts, I couldn’t help notice the looks we were getting as we made our way across the garage toward the main building. Or, on second thought, the looks that Wufei was getting. And Heero’s partner was very aware of them, if I could read his body language at all. What the hell? I sipped at my can of soda and tried not to look like I was noticing.
I waited until we exited the garage, walked across the lobby of the main building and had gotten into an elevator. We were, thankfully, alone. I watched while Heero punched the button for our floor, leaning surreptitiously on the rail, and then said ‘What, exactly, does the entire Preventors fleet of mechanics have against you, anyway?’
I thought Wufei was going to turn purple, his color escalating in a rather quick rush. I’d never seen him blush that hard before. He muttered something, but I couldn’t even hear it. I turned to Heero, but he was doing the stone face thing. ‘What?’ I asked no one in particular.
Heero… growled. ‘Rumor mill bullshit,’ he snorted, obviously irritated about it.
‘What rumors?’ I asked, looking from one of them to the other. Wufei looked like he’d swallowed something unpleasant and Heero kind of looked like he wanted to deck somebody.
It took a second, but Heero finally said, obviously picking his words carefully, ‘The popular explanation for Wufei’s… black eye was that I hit him.’
I cringed a little at the reminder of my having decked his partner and felt my own face warming. I glanced at Wufei and found that his expression of having swallowed ‘something bitter’ had escalated almost to ‘something poisonous’.
‘But why in the hell would you have punched your own partner?’ I blurted and Heero sighed gustily.
‘For making a pass at my…’ he began, swallowed and tried again. ‘For making a move on you.’
‘What?’ I choked out, starting to feel like I was watching a tennis match as I tried to look from one of them to the other.
‘Everybody thinks that Wufei tried to… come between us,’ Heero clarified, starting to get just a hint of color in his own cheeks.
‘And,’ Wufei growled, speaking for the first time. ‘Those damn mechanic friends of yours are rather protective of… your current relationship.’
I thought back on the looks we’d been getting with this new bit of information in mind. Saw the glares, saw the cold shoulder Wufei had been getting once the excitement had waned, and I started to chuckle. I got a twin pair of glares and I just freaking lost it.
That was the most priceless thing I’d heard all damn day. I wondered how the rumor mill explained Sally’s presence? I wondered where in the hell people came up with shit like that? I was laughing so damn hard that Wufei reached out and stopped the elevator between floors and Heero took my can of soda away from me lest I spill it.
‘Maxwell!’ Wufei all but snarled. ‘It’s damn well not funny!’
I was laughing so hard that tears were running down my face, as visions of Heero and Wufei in some kind of fist fight over my swooning form came to me all unbidden. ‘I’m sorry, Fei,’ I gasped out. ‘It’s just like something out of one of those really bad bodice-ripper pulp novels! One with a truly bizarre twist at the end!’
Something… strange happened in the air then. Something that I couldn’t understand; but somehow Wufei lost his irritation in the space of a damn heartbeat. It was just gone, and he was smiling at me with a warmth in his eyes that hadn’t been there in a long damn time.
‘You know,’ I snickered. ‘Those awful, horribly unlikely romance books?’ I threw a limp wrist up to cover my eyes in an exaggerated pose. ‘With the fainting heroines on the covers?’
His faint smile grew a little bit toward a grin. ‘You’d look ridiculous in a dress.’
‘With my bodice ripped, of course,’ I simpered and threw a look in Heero’s direction. ‘But then… he’d be dressed in one of those outlandish pairs of painted on leather pants with the gauzy poet shirt, carrying the sword that’s always from the wrong time-period.’
I actually drew a snicker out of Wufei, but Heero looked at us like we were a pair of school children, refusing to be moved by my mirth. ‘And just how many of those things have you read, that you’re so familiar with the covers?’ he dead-panned and won the full-throated laugh from Wufei that I hadn’t been able to. It was a sound I realized I hadn’t heard in too long. I decided I’d missed it.
I opened my mouth to retort, but Heero gave me a look that told me the joke was over. ‘We do have a job we should be doing,’ he informed us, so I dropped it, wiping my eyes and trying to wipe away the mental images as well.
When they seemed to feel I was composed enough, Wufei reached out and hit the elevator release and our trip resumed.
George and Francis appeared on the floor of the elevator, dressed in period costumes and proceeded to put on a floorshow, complete with swooning and bodice ripping. I think they did a pretty good job, but I didn’t dare watch them for fear of bursting into laughter again. They faded when the elevator reached its destination. Then the idea of what I was about to attempt sort of caught up to me and the last of the amusement just bled away.
‘You sure you’re all right with this?’ Heero asked me solicitously, and I gave him a nod, though I couldn’t say I was sure at all. He handed me my can of forgotten soda back and I took a long swallow, kind of wishing it was a beer.
I followed them down a hall, wandering into uncharted territory. This wasn’t the floor their offices were on, and I suspected from the layout, the area was strictly for research and the like. We passed people in the hall, but not many.
They slowed as we neared the end of the corridor, seeming to hesitate, then Wufei stepped into a side door. I glanced at Heero, he was frowning slightly, but he didn’t follow and I opted to wait with him. Wishing I dared just lean against him for a moment. Just for a minute; I was getting very damn tired.
Wufei returned with a sketchpad and a handful of pencils that he offered to me. From the way they were acting, I suspect they’d been borrowed without permission. I wondered idly who they belonged to, this Jones they had mentioned?
Then we were moving again, and I kind of wished they’d done some more explaining, but I figured it was too late for that when a door was opened and I found myself in a room with Commander Une. The look on her face was… annoyed.
‘What took so long?’ she asked, voice low, and glared at Wufei in a manner that made me want to take a step back.
‘There was an accident in the maintenance bay,’ Wufei told her, voice equally low. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but he gave her a look that promised a full explanation later. ‘Is Jones still…’ he began and then I heard voices coming from the other room and we all had the answer to that question.
‘Here you go, Miss Peters,’ a man’s voice was saying. ‘Be careful… it’s hot.’ I imagined a cup of coffee changing hands.
‘Thank you, Mr. Jones,’ a soft, subdued voice said. ‘I’m sorry to be so difficult… I’ve never done anything like this before.’
There was a slight chuckle, meant to sound friendly and warm. ‘Not many people have, I assure you. Shall we try again?’
There was a heavy sigh. ‘I just don’t know… it all happened so fast.’
‘Just try to relax and tell me what you remember.’
Wufei reached out and touched my arm and I realized he meant to insert my ass into the middle of that moment in the next room. I shook my head and he got a rather confused look on his face, somewhere between disappointment and… betrayal. I ignored him, glancing around the little anti-room and finding nothing in the way of furniture, I just sank to the floor, putting the sketchpad in my lap and laying the pencils out beside me. I thought I heard a funny little grunt from Une, but I didn’t look up.
I flipped the sketchpad open and was thankful that it appeared to be unused. It would have felt… odd working in someone else’s book. I carefully picked a pencil from the pile beside me and let my focus home-in on the flow of words coming from the next room.
I wasn’t sure just who this Jones was, but this was obviously his job. Just as obviously, he’d been working with the woman I couldn’t see, for some time, getting her to relax and talk to him. Getting her to open up. I figured stuffing me into his mix right now would probably not be a good thing. I would let him do his job, I would let him ask the questions and I would just sit here quietly on the sidelines and listen.
Over my head, Heero murmured something and Wufei gave him a terse little answer. Then they shut up.
‘…big man…’ I heard from that other room and I set pencil to paper, losing myself in the cadence of her voice.
The lines began to flow across the expanse of white paper, building something from the bone out. Forming something I couldn’t see yet.
‘…frightening, piercing eyes…’
There was the murmur of Jones’ voice, as he pulled information from her and I could detect a hint of the man’s exasperation. He wanted measurements and exacts. Needed them to do his job, but she was giving him impressions and emotions. The lines were forming under my pencil as fast as my hand could move.
‘…cruel mouth… wide…’
Occasionally I heard Heero and Une, conversing in quiet tones off to the side. At one point I was suddenly aware of Wufei sitting close beside me, watching me intently. I spared him a sidelong smile and the look I caught on his face could only be described as… exultant.
After a while I wasn’t really hearing the words anymore, they went straight from her mind to my hand, and my vision had narrowed to the rectangle of paper in front of me. When her voice finally stopped, when the rhythm was finally interrupted, I had a jolting moment of disconnection, feeling oddly… adrift. I might have swayed a little. Wufei’s hand on my arm suggested it. I looked down into my lap and was rather disturbed by the man I found looking back at me.
‘Is it… done?’ Wufei whispered, that reverent tone in his voice that he gets sometimes when he talks about my art.
There was nothing from the other room and I nodded at him. ‘I… think so.’
He took the pad from me and rose from the floor, taking it to show to Heero and Une. I turned to watch, seeing a calculating glint come into Une’s eyes as she looked from the sketch to me and back again.
Heero attempted to school his expression, there in the presence of his commanding officer, but when his eyes sought mine they fairly shone. I couldn’t help the blush, and turned away to gather the pencils from the floor beside me.
Une issued a command, and Wufei immediately took the sketch and strode into the other room. I heard the murmur of his voice, sounding oddly excited as he explained himself to Jones and the woman.
I started trying to get my tired, sorry ass hefted up off the floor, finding that stressed muscles were objecting rather vocally to being dumped here in the first place. A gentle hand caught hold of my arm and I let Heero help me to my feet.
‘You ok?’ he asked, voice low.
‘Tired,’ I assured him with a smile. ‘Remind me not to arm wrestle with a thousand pound hunk of steel again.’
He frowned, hand not leaving my arm, and would have said something else, but from the other room there came a sudden, shocked gasp. ‘That’s him! Oh my God! That’s him!’
A predator’s light came into Heero’s eyes then, mixed up with his concern. I could see his desire to rush off to the other room. Could see his need to stay by me and see to my well-being. Could see the conflict and frustration plain as day. His eyes were searching mine, looking for confirmation that I was ok, looking for reassurance that I would be all right with his leaving.
I was a little… disturbed at the unbelievable rush of warmth I felt inside, having his regard in that way. This may seem an odd thing to say, until you stop to realize how much of my relationship with Heero has fallen under the shadow of that damn accident. But feeling that he isn’t… ashamed of me is damn important to me. I wasn’t about to tell him that he couldn’t go do what he obviously needed to be doing because I was feeling… wobbly.
‘Go on,’ I grinned at him. ‘You’ve got a job to do.’
He gave me his feral grin, the one he gets right before he kicks the shit out of somebody who deserves it, turned on his heel and went to join Wufei. I couldn’t help the rueful shake of my head.
‘That was excellent work, Mr. Maxwell,’ Une’s voice rather took me by surprise; I’d half forgotten she was in the room.
‘Thanks,’ I mumbled and took a step toward the door. ‘But, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.’
She chuckled lightly, seeming highly amused by the comment. ‘I’ll walk you to the elevator.’
‘Uh… I think I can find it,’ I told her, not relishing the trip. Just how do you make idle conversation with a woman like her? Good call losing the hairdo? Not, perhaps, the best opening line. Medication’s been good to you? Ouch. Not that one either. In the end she took control, and I didn’t have to worry about it.
‘I’m headed that way myself,’ she smiled, giving a sweep of her hand to indicate I should proceed her. I fumbled for a moment with the handful of pencils, unsure what to do with them. She took them from me as we passed what had to be Jones’ office door and disposed of them. I caught a glimpse of a small, fairly cluttered office before the door closed on it. We started our walk. ‘I have to admit, I had my doubts when Agent Chang suggested… pulling you in on a consult.’
I blinked at her wording, wondering just how that conversation had really gone. Consult. It sounded so… professional. I didn’t have the brain cells to be witty, only wishing that she’d go away and leave me to be wobbly by myself.
‘You’re very talented,’ she told me, still with that weird little smile that was making my skin crawl. Like she was weighing and judging me.
‘Thanks,’ I mumbled, finding my hand wanting to rub across the back of my neck.
She chuckled, an odd, throaty sound. ‘Agent Yuy said you were rather… modest about your abilities.’
I couldn’t help snorting, though it was as much to cover up how uncomfortable this whole conversation was making me. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. We’d arrived at the elevator bank and I punched the button, a little dismayed that the elevator wasn’t there waiting to get me the hell out of there.
‘In fact,’ she continued, just as though she’d never expected me to answer her anyway. ‘I meant to speak with you after that sniper incident.’
‘Look,’ I sighed. ‘I’m really sorry about that. I would have reported it to Griff right away if I’d realized it was going to become an issue, but technically…’
The sudden sound of her laughter cut me off, and I turned to blink at her in confusion. I’m sure I looked like a pole-axed bush baby with my eyes as wide as saucers; I’d never heard the good commander laugh before. I was opening my mouth to attempt to clarify myself when the sound of running feet made me turn abruptly to face the new interloper.
There was a tall, lanky man running towards us and I knew immediately it had to be the afore-unseen Mr. Jones. He looked… irritated. Great. Guess I should have realized that infringing on his territory wasn’t going to go unchallenged. I was a little ticked that Heero or Wufei hadn’t followed him to back me up. They were the ones who had gotten me into this, after all.
‘You’re Maxwell?’ the guy was panting just from the short run, and I wondered if he ever got out of his cluttered little office at all.
‘Yeah,’ I confirmed and had to resist the urge to take a defensive stance.
‘You’re a God damn mechanic?’ he blurted, voice full of disbelief and irritation.
Somewhere in the back of my head, the little kid growled, Yeah; wanna make somethin’ of it? But my adult voice, more aware of how damn worn out we were, very calmly told him, ‘Yes.’
He threw his hands in the air in that universal gesture of exasperation and turned on Commander Une. ‘What a damn waste!’ he practically yelled at her. Then his finger was stabbing in my direction. ‘I want him. Stupidest thing in the world to have that kind of talent squandered in the damn motor pool!’
Then he turned abruptly back the way he’d come and stormed down the hall. Well. That had certainly not been what I was expecting. Behind me, the elevator dinged its arrival and I thought seriously of just throwing myself backward into it. I glanced at Une and would have to judge that I’d pretty much provided her with all the entertainment the woman was going to need for the rest of the damn day. She was grinning at me like a lousy Cheshire cat. I just wanted to run all the way back to my nice, safe, uncomplicated garage.
‘Since Mr. Jones has made his wishes known,’ she fairly purred. ‘I think I’ll go ahead and make my offer of an Agent’s position as well. Just so you can think both proposals over at the same time. You handled yourself during that bus accident and the sniper incident in an exemplary manner.’ She moved past me to commandeer the elevator, her Cheshire grin toned down to that amused little smile again. ‘Mr. Jones is right about your talents being wasted in your current position. Think about it, Mr. Maxwell… you have a lot of options here.’
Then the doors slid shut and she was gone. Woman knew how to make an exit.
‘Fuck me sideways,’ I murmured to thin air and then punched the call button to get my sorry little ass the hell out of there.
Do I have to tell you the first thing I did was dig the bottle of aspirin out of my toolbox when I got back to the garage? Nothing like a little stress, overwork, and near death experience to give you a bit of a headache. Or maybe that was the darn case of full body whiplash I’d given myself.
If I’d been lacking things to think about, that whole damn sequence would have supplied me with headache fodder for the rest of the freakin’ day.
It took me a minute to remember what my next work order had been, then a minute longer to convince myself that I really could lift my toolbox, before I headed for the transmission job waiting at the end of the bay. I’d no more than gotten my stuff set in place before Griff was striding out of his office toward me.
‘Maxwell, what the hell are you doing back here?’ he hollered from half way across the garage and I had to sigh. I swear to God the man doesn’t have a normal speaking voice.
‘They finished with me, boss-man,’ I told him, hoping he’d just drop it, hoping he’d just go away.
He, rather predictably, kept coming. Not stopping until he came abreast of me, looking at me across the hood of the car I would be working on as soon as he left me alone. He planted his hands firmly on his hips, and asked gruffly, ‘You get the job done?’‘Apparently,’ I sighed, remembering the voice of that woman I’d never seen, saying that’s him!
He frowned at me, looking me up and down. ‘You ok?’
I opened my mouth to tell him I was fine, but had to close it again when I couldn’t remember what I’d meant to say. I seem to recall some small part of my mind noting that he looked… washed out, like all the color had bled away from his clothes… from his face. Then I realized it wasn’t just him.
‘Maxwell?’ he grumbled at me, glaring hard but still managing to look oddly anxious.
I was suddenly just very damn tired. Tired like I hadn’t been in a long time. If Griff would just go away and leave me alone, I thought that sitting down right there on the floor might be a good idea. It sounded like a good idea, anyway. I blinked blurry eyes and thought I saw movement over Griff’s shoulder. ‘Duo?’ he asked, voice going from merely anxious to downright scared, but he sounded so… distant. I had a moment of sharp recognition, understanding suddenly what was happening. I distinctly remember saying ‘son of a bitch’, and then my knees started to buckle. I tried to call Heero, I was so sure that I was seeing him, but I don’t think I managed it, and then it all went to black.
We shall use the term ‘passed out’, because I’ve never liked the somewhat girly connotations of the term ‘fainted’, all right?
I honestly don’t think I was out for very long. Not more than a couple of minutes anyway. Long enough for every damn one of Griff’s employees to come running to stare at me. Long enough for Heero to suddenly be there and have me gathered into his arms. But not so long that an ambulance had been summoned. Not long enough for me to convince myself it was all just a bad dream.
How utterly humiliating.
I had a panicky moment when awareness first started creeping back, a moment when my mind told me I was in a damn vulnerable position. A moment of feeling trapped somehow.
‘You’re safe,’ a familiar voice told me firmly.
I felt muscles that had been tensing, trying to decide whether to attempt fight or flight, go slack again. Then that familiar voice gentled and said, ‘It’s all right… I’m here.’
It really had been Heero I’d seen.
The hardest struggle was with the kid in my head, who only wanted to burrow against the chest I found myself clutched to, and go back to sleep.
I shifted, trying to get myself up, trying to get myself out of what proved to be Heero’s lap.
‘Hold the hell still, damn it!’ Heero snapped and there was absolutely no way out of the embrace he had me wrapped up in, short of an open brawl. I’d lose one of those hands down, so I stilled like I’d been commanded.
I was opening my mouth with the sharp retort, when some part of my still awakening brain registered the completely mad pounding of his heart against the side of my face. He was scared. God… he was so scared.
‘I’m all right,’ I said, trying to sound soothing, trying to sound like I’d not just taken an impromptu nap on the garage floor.
Before Heero could open his mouth, Griff practically snarled in our faces. ‘Maxwell! Your ass is on its way to the clinic; now! And I don’t want to hear another damn peep out of you, or you’re on report! Yuy, you need help getting him up there, or not?’
‘No,’ Heero snapped back and started to rise with me in his arms. I gave serious consideration to screaming. Loudly. For a long time.
‘I can walk,’ I ground out; wishing that ‘petulant’ was not part of my vocal repartee. I was already as humiliated as I’d been in a long damn time and was not relishing the idea of being carried out of the garage like a damn babe in arms in front of all my co-workers.
George and Francis reappeared; still in their period costumes and the one wearing the dress pantomimed a melodramatic swoon while the other one caught him. They faded away, giggling hysterically.
You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’ve been mocked by a hamster.
It shocked the hell out of me when Heero actually let me try my feet. It helped alleviate the terminal blush I was suffering with.
Griff watched me for a moment, as I managed to find my balance, well supported by Heero’s arm around my waist. Then he turned to the ring of my observers and shooed at them like a man herding chickens. ‘Get the hell back to work! I ain’t runnin’ no damn floor show here!’
Heero pulled my good arm over his shoulders, keeping tight hold of me with the other, and started moving us somewhat slowly across the garage. At the last minute, just before we reached the door to the main building, Griff hollered after us, ‘And I don’t want to see your sorry ass back in this garage again today, Maxwell! Hell; I don’t want to see you tomorrow either!’
I sighed heavily and muttered, ‘Yes Unca Griffy,’ under my breath.
‘I heard that!’ he yelled at my retreating back. ‘And a report would be nice, if it’s not too damn much trouble!’
I opened my mouth, but Heero cut me off with a firm, ‘Yes, sir.’ Then we were out of the bay and in the lobby. We were quiet, I wasn’t sure just what to say and Heero didn’t seem to know whether to be pissed off at me or not. I tried to straighten up and bear more of my own weight while we waited for the elevator, but Heero would have none of it. The look on his face was this strange damn bastard mix of possessive and scared, antagonized and concerned. I held my tongue.
Then we were in the elevator with the doors closed and he was holding me tight.
It took all the tension away. Took all the disquiet away.
‘Where did you come from so fast, my guardian angel?’ I whispered, head resting on his shoulder.
‘I was worried about you,’ he told me, turning his face into my neck to rain tiny kisses on whatever the hell he could reach. His own frustration seemed to be bleeding away as well. ‘I didn’t realize Jones had gone after you until he came back. I was coming down to make sure he hadn’t said anything to you, and… and I walked into the garage just in time to see you… see you…’
I chuckled lightly. ‘Take a gainer into the garage floor?’
‘Don’t joke,’ he said softly, voice thick. ‘Please don’t joke… you scared me.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I sighed. ‘I should have seen it coming. Should have recognized the damn signs… it’s just been so long.’
‘Hush,’ he told me, brushing a light kiss on my lips to buy my silence. ‘Not your fault. We’ll find out what’s wrong, it’ll be all right.’
Strangely, it seemed that he was reassuring himself as much as he was reassuring me. I let it go, biting back the dismissive words that wanted to pass my tongue.
So for the next half hour I sat in the clinic on one of those paper-covered exam tables and got poked and prodded and ‘tsked’ at. My history was thoroughly discussed between the good Preventors Doctor and Heero. I opted not to fight it, letting them discuss me as though I wasn’t in the damn room.
I was a little surprised to be declared anemic ‘as hell’, as the doctor put it, within the half hour. I had been expecting a long series of tests and an even longer wait for the results. I objected to the diagnosis and pointed out that I was taking a daily vitamin supplement. The guy laughed and told me that was like ‘pissing in the ocean’. We left the clinic with a prescription, promises that we would be called when my full blood-work came back, and firm orders to take it easy for the next couple of days. I didn’t bother telling him my boss had already seen to that.
I was fairly damn sure that Heero was never more than three feet from me the entire time. I thought about asking the Doctor to take Heero’s blood-pressure, just to be a shit, but figured that low-key was a good idea right then.
We left the clinic, Heero with a hand under my elbow, and I decided that I was just going to have to suck it up and endure his hovering until he worked some of his anxiety out of his system.
‘So,’ Heero said, trying to keep his tone light, even while he was slipping an arm around me to steady me, now that we were away from the Doctor. ‘Ready for me to take you home?’
‘More than,’ I sighed, smiling for him. ‘But… you should be going back to work.’ I spared him a glance, remembering that predatory look that had been in his eyes the last time I’d seen him. ‘In fact… I’m rather surprised that you and Wufei aren’t out chasing the bad guy.’
As if on freakin’ cue, Heero’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out while we stood and waited for the elevator.
‘Yuy,’ he said tersely, face registering a touch of annoyance that quickly faded. ‘Sorry… I should have called. Duo… isn’t feeling well; we’ve been up at the clinic… No. No, he’s fine, but I’m taking him home. I won’t be back today.’ There was a pause then while he listened to something. I had no doubt he was talking to Wufei. He closed with a surprised grunt and the promise to call his partner later.
The elevator arrived and we got on, blessedly alone again.
Heero put his phone away, smiling in a way I had trouble identifying. It was… kind of pleased. Almost exultant. Oddly… a little sheepish, with a touch of satisfaction thrown in there for good measure. And it was directed at me. ‘Wufei says we have a name to go with the face. The guy was identified within minutes of your sketch hitting the boards. The case has been turned over to the local authorities.’
I kind of froze; turning to look at him, understanding suddenly that what I was seeing in his eyes was pride. In me. There was a rush of emotion up through my stomach that came so suddenly, it threatened to turn my knees to water.
I had, however indirectly, helped identify a murderer. I’d had a hand in getting a killer off the streets. And yeah… there was a certain amount of triumphant feeling that came from that, but the sensation that was turning my knees to water was coming strictly from Heero.
Heero was proud of something I’d done. And wasn’t it a sad little commentary on little ol’ Duo, just how much that fact was shaking my world.
‘No shit?’ was all I could come up with.
His warm smile widened into something that was a little more amused. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘No shit.’
I couldn’t think of much else to say to that, was kind of busy holding on to that feeling in my chest. I wanted to get a really good look at it, because it was a feeling I found I liked. A very great deal.
We didn’t say much else while we made our way out of the building. Heero parking me on a retaining wall near the door while he went off to fetch the car. I was extremely grateful, at the same time that I was totally humiliated. He at least refrained from getting out of the car to help me get in when he got back, though if he’d pulled up any closer to where I was sitting, he’d have run over my foot.
I settled in the seat with a heart-felt sigh, aware of Heero’s eyes on me.
‘All right?’ he asked gently before he would pull away.
‘I’m fine,’ he told him, not able to completely keep the heavy sigh from coming through
He opted not to answer as he maneuvered the car away from the building, and I decided to change the subject while I had the chance. ‘Would you mind if we stopped and picked something up for dinner?’ I asked carefully. ‘I really don’t feel like cooking tonight.’
He gave me a sidelong glance as though he couldn’t believe what I’d just said. He held his tongue while he pulling out of the parking lot, nodding absently to the guard on duty at the front entrance as we passed him. ‘You need a good, solid meal,’ he informed me with mock severity. ‘Not more junk food. We are going home and I am going to cook dinner while you soak in a tub of hot water.’
How can you argue with orders like that? Why would you want to? ‘Yes sir,’ I said meekly, and it won me a tender smile.
We stopped on the way, of course, to fill my prescription. Though Heero wouldn’t even let me get out of the car. I was kind of irritated about it, but then almost dozed off waiting for him to come back. He didn’t mock me, only looking concerned and holding my hand for the next couple of blocks.
When we got to the apartment, he even went in and ran the water for me while I undressed, seeing me settled to marinate while he went off to fix something that he deemed nutritional for dinner. I decided I was just tired enough to really enjoy that kind of treatment, and made a conscious effort to relax and let the heat of the bath ease the aches and pains. I sat with my eyes closed for a bit, until I got a funny feeling and opened them to find guilt beast curled on the floor by the tub. I was just trying to make sense of his presence, pondering the top of his ugly head when Heero brought my dinner right into the bathroom.
‘You’re being ridiculous,’ I told him blandly, watching guilt yawn and crawl off to the side to get out of his way.
‘No, I’m being attentive,’ I was told.
I snorted softly, too comfortably relaxed to think about getting out just yet anyway. Heero sat dinner down on the floor, trailing his hand through the water to test the temperature. Finding it had cooled beyond his satisfaction, he turned the hot water back on, opening the drain to make room in the tub. Once done, he settled on the floor beside me and lifted a plate full of what looked like asparagus chicken, proffering a fork full.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ I murmured when it was plain he meant to hand feed me.
‘Hush,’ he commanded. ‘You scared me. Just… just indulge me tonight, all right?’
It sent a funny little thrill through my belly and all I could do was nod.
So I got spoon fed my dinner while soaking in a tub of steaming water, Heero alternating bites with me, not letting me so much as raise a finger. When we were both full, he let me get out, toweling me dry and combing my hair for me with his own hands.
He fussed over my shoulder for a bit, gently probing and checking me over, getting me to take a couple more aspirin and making me start on my iron tablets, before tucking me up in bed.
‘You’re going to spoil me,’ I teased him as I watched him undress to join me. ‘I feel like a kept man.’
‘I thought I already decided to keep you?’ he smiled, climbing onto the bed to look down at me. His desire was plain in his eyes, but when I raised a hand to brush along his arm, he caught it, kissing my fingers and placing it back down on the bed. ‘Not tonight,’ he told me against his own wishes. ‘You need to rest.’
But his fingers lingered on my skin. His eyes lingered on my body and I knew he needed to touch. He needed the kind of reassurance that only comes flesh to flesh.
‘But,’ I called to that need, ‘I want you.’
He shivered, his eyes searching mine. ‘We shouldn’t…’ he told me, almost breathless.
‘Please?’ I sighed, and reached again to brush my fingers up his arm. He moaned softly and knew I had him.
‘Just let me,’ he whispered, leaning down to kiss me. He had that look, the one that’s so full of love and tenderness that it sometimes overwhelms me. He brought lips and hands to my body, loving me like I was made of porcelain, loving me like he’d almost lost me, and I understood that his need was a sheath over his fear. That his desire was fueled so white hot by the knowledge of just how close I’d come to being seriously hurt.
He was gentle and careful, desperate and grasping by turns. I couldn’t have kept up with him had I tried, so just did as I was bade… lying back and letting him stroke and tease me to completion. Letting him take us to that place where thought just… stops.
I’m not even sure I remember him cleaning us up. I have a faint recollection of our trying to find a comfortable position that let us touch without hurting my shoulder, but I couldn’t even have told you just what that position ended up being.
When I woke, we were each on our own side of the bed, Heero curled with his arm tucked under the pillow the way he does, me flat on my back staring at a dark ceiling. The feel of my bladder told me I wouldn’t be going back to sleep without alleviating the thing that had awakened me. A glance at the clock told me I wasn’t likely to be going back to sleep at all. It was four in the morning. I should have known going to bed so early was going to produce that kind of result. Resigned, I slid silently out of bed, feeling very like I had thrown myself at a brick wall, and staggered off to do my business.
I found guilt beast waiting for me in the bathroom, looking peeved at having been left in there all night. When I slipped out, stealing quiet as a shadow to the living room, he padded at my side and I sighed, wondering just what the bastard thing wanted me to think about so badly.
My mouth tasted somewhat unpleasant and I had the vague feeling I hadn’t slept all that well. I went on through to the kitchen and got myself a glass of juice, returning to fetch the afghan off the couch to wrap around my naked and beginning to chill butt. It would be a while before Heero woke up and I wondered idly what I should do with myself until the alarm went off. I thought about my e-mail, but couldn’t work up the energy to dig out my laptop. I thought about sketching, but my sore shoulders weren’t all that interested. I thought about watching Davey’s recital again but realized we’d left the disk at the house. Probably just as well I didn’t start my day off with that anyway. Odds were decent that I’d be a depressed ball of mush on the couch by the time Heero woke up if I’d tried it. Sparing guilt an imaginary pat on the head, I went to stand by the front window, watching the sky think about false dawn. What was that nagging sense of guilt that didn’t want to leave me alone? I suppose, since my faithful, ugly companion was nothing more than an imaginary representation of my own thoughts, I knew damn good and well what it was that was bothering me. I just didn’t much want to think about it.
Though it would be easier to ignore the damn thoughts, if the stupid beast would stop sitting on the floor staring up at me with accusation in his eyes.
I pretty well had it figured out by the time Heero woke and came hunting for me.
I think it bugs him the way I can slip in and out of bed without waking him. It irritates that soldier side of him that will never quite go away. I think it bothers him in the same way it bothers me that he can sneak up on me without half trying. Makes me feel like I’ve been careless somehow, though I doubt another living soul could manage it.
He didn’t surprise me that morning; I was standing where the bedroom door was in my line of sight. I saw him come walking through the doorway, still buttoning his pants, his eyes very obviously hunting for me. He seemed somewhat relieved to find me, though his expression only became more concerned when he saw me just standing, staring out the window.
He padded across the living room and came to stand with me, his fingers reaching to take the afghan from me, pulling it higher and wrapping me in it and his arms. ‘Are you all right, love?’ he asked gently, voice soft as though afraid he might disturb the quiet.
I sighed heavily and leaned back into him. ‘Just couldn’t sleep any more. I didn’t want to bother you.’
He lifted a hand to brush along the edge of my bruise and hissed sympathetically. ‘This looks nasty this morning. Is it what woke you?’
I shook my head and pulled at his hand until he put his arms around me again. ‘Just… can’t stop thinking.’
He was quiet for a moment, kissing my temple and giving me a little squeeze. ‘About what?’
I sighed and let my head fall back to rest on his shoulder. ‘Moving. The kids. That stupid accident at the garage.’ I chuckled mirthlessly. ‘Pick one.’ He stiffened and grew very still. I could practically hear his thoughts buzzing next to my ear. I turned my head to press my face into the side of his neck. ‘What is it?’ I asked gently.
He hesitated, raising a hand to brush over my cheek. ‘We… got a call last night,’ he finally said. ‘While you were in the bathtub.’ There was a tension in his voice that made me apprehensive and I raised my head to look at him. ‘That mechanic… they weren’t able to save his leg.’
‘Damn,’ I muttered, and closed my eyes. That’s all I could say… all I could think; damn. I may not have cared for the guy, but I sure as hell wouldn’t have wished something like that on him. Not on anyone. I suddenly saw him in a wheelchair. Saw him struggling with crutches. I shivered.
Heero took me gently by the upper arms and turned me around to face him. ‘Was he… a friend?’ he asked softly, and looked a little taken-aback when I snorted almost ruthlessly.
‘The kid hated my guts,’ I told him, and found my hand scrubbing over my eyes.
Heero frowned slightly; studying my face, studying the messages my body language always seemed to give to him. Without asking, he took us to the couch, sitting me down and settling beside me, sitting sideways with one knee drawn up. Finally, he prodded gently. ‘You seem… pretty upset over someone you didn’t get along with.’
I had to look him in the eye, though I wanted nothing so much as I wanted to bury my face in the crook of his neck while I made this confession. I was afraid of what I might see there, but I couldn’t look away. ‘Heero… I could have saved him. I… I could have…’ I couldn’t seem to find the right words in the face of those piercing blue eyes. Heero only frowned in confusion.
‘I don’t understand,’ he said, reaching to cup my face in his hand, not letting me look away.
I took a deep breath and tried again. ‘I tried to stop him. Tried to tell him the hoist wouldn’t hold that kind of weight. But he… seems to hate me… hate Gundam pilots… he wouldn’t listen to me. Instead of pushing it with him, I went to get Griff. I just… walked away.’
‘Duo…’ Heero began, his thumb rubbing gently across my cheek, but I shook my head until he quieted.
‘I could have…’ I said, a little surprised to find my throat getting tight. I hesitated, and gave in to the desire to drop my eyes from his. ‘If I had gone after Mickey, instead of that engine, Heero… I could have saved him completely. I could have knocked him out of harm’s way.’
He sighed softly and pulled me against him, bringing my head to rest on his shoulder. ‘And put yourself in harm’s way in his place?’
I didn’t bother to deny or confirm. He had seen the aftermath of the accident. He’d seen Mickey and he’d seen me. He could piece it together as easily as I could.
I could have saved Mickey’s stubborn damn ass, but I would not have been able to get my own out of the way too. Had I shoved him, it would have been my legs under that half-ton of engine. At the very least.
‘You saved his life,’ Heero told me firmly and squeezed almost too tight.
‘But…’ I began, thinking about that kid left with only one leg. Thinking about what his life was going to be like.
‘No buts,’ Heero almost growled. ‘He put himself in that position through his own stupidity. It wasn’t your duty to get yourself killed or crippled to save him.’
I would have just sat and blinked at him, if he hadn’t had me wrapped up so tight in his arms that I couldn’t see him. ‘But Heero…’ I began, thinking about duty and obligation and… just what my lover was. ‘You would have…’
‘No,’ he almost snapped, pushing me away to look me in the eyes. I’m sure I only looked confused. He looked… damn intense. ‘I would not have. Maybe once, a long time ago… I might have. But now I have you, and my life and my health aren’t mine alone anymore. That man got more than he deserved when you risked breaking your shoulder to save his life.’
I couldn’t believe the shivering rush of relief that Heero wasn’t disgusted with me. Didn’t think I’d been selfish and a coward. God… I felt like such a damn coward. There had been a time… but it seemed so long ago. Like another lifetime. Like another person.
Heero caught my hands in his and raised them between us. ‘These don’t look like the hands of a coward,’ he said, voice rough and eyes sparking fire. I felt my face flame with the realization that I’d said that out loud. ‘Duo,’ he said intently. ‘What if that had been me and not Mickey?’
I blinked at him and didn’t have to even voice my answer. We both knew it. I didn’t even have to think about it. He smiled with just a touch of satisfaction. ‘Or a child… an innocent?’ Again, I didn’t have to speak and his smile softened.
‘But,’ I couldn’t help blurting, ‘my not liking Mickey doesn’t excuse my not doing…’
He touched a finger to my lips and gently shook his head. ‘He forfeited his status of innocent when he refused your warning. You are not responsible for everyone in the whole damn world.’
He let me wrap myself around him and just think about it for a few minutes. Holding his tongue while I let myself play the scene through in my head. Guilt sat on the floor beside us and watched me with cocked head, looking like he wasn’t going to refrain from biting me in the ass much longer.
That was kind of an odd notion, and I had to wonder just why the damn critter hadn’t nailed me with his usual enthusiasm. Unless, somehow I didn’t really feel all that horrid about not taking the fall for Mickey? I sighed heavily and swear to God guilt beast winked at me.
I felt guilty for not really feeling all that guilty for not saving the damn, stubborn kid’s legs.
Well, wasn’t that just a kick in the head?
My brain continued to play the scene out, and I watched while I did throw myself at Mickey. Watched as I went down under that engine block. Watched as Heero came running into the garage with Wufei. Saw them not able to get the thing off me. Saw myself die while Heero held my hands and screamed for help.
I shivered hard while he held me close. ‘You see?’ he whispered softly. ‘You aren’t entirely your own person anymore… what happens to you effects me as well.’ His voice, tight with emotion, suddenly lightened just a touch and I could feel the slight curve to his lips as he pressed them to the side of my neck. ‘I would have been royally pissed off if you’d gotten yourself squished.’ Though his body belied the teasing tone as he crushed me close… almost too close for breath.
‘I… I just reacted… I didn’t even think…’ I murmured, still just a little confused on that count. The part where my conscious mind never even considered what should have been my first course of action.
‘It’s natural,’ he told me gently, his hand going to smooth over my frazzled hair. ‘I see it all the time among the agents. See how they change when they marry or have children. They become less… reckless. Less likely to take chances. I do it too… now. My safety has a higher price; I have you to think about.’ I drew back to look at him and he let me. I tried to think what to say, but couldn’t seem to work it out in my head. He smiled lovingly at me, raising a hand to brush affectionately through my bangs. ‘I was a little angry with you… when I saw the footage of that bus accident.’ He said it with a tiny smile curving his lips, just a touch self-deprecating, but I could see the hint of hurt in his eyes.
‘I… I’m sorry,’ I told him, suddenly seeing that day through his eyes. ‘I never thought…’
His smile widened and I had that feeling he can give me sometimes, like I’ve been led down a path of his choosing. ‘Exactly,’ he pounced. ‘And that’s the difference. That was a child… a helpless child, and you did what you had to. That’s the higher price. Mickey just didn’t… measure up.’ He smiled again, and leaned in to kiss me gently. ‘My gut reaction, when I saw you throw yourself into a burning bus, was anger. That you could endanger yourself that way, without a second thought. But then I saw that little girl and knew that I didn’t have the right to be upset with you… had I been in your place, I’d have done the same thing.’
And he would have. I knew that. That selflessness, or sense of duty, or whatever the hell it is, was a large part of what made Heero who he was.
When I looked, guilt beast just seemed confused, like he didn’t know if it was going to be worth his hanging around or not.
‘Enough of this,’ Heero said softly, brushing a kiss across my forehead. ‘How are you feeling this morning?’
‘A little sore,’ I admitted, more than happy to change the subject.
He sighed, frowning a little. ‘I don’t mean that; I mean…’ he struggled with the wording for a second and I took pity on him.
‘I’m not feeling dizzy at all,’ I soothed. ‘A little tired maybe… that’s all.’
I saw his faint unease at my using the word ‘tired’, but he managed to push it aside. ‘You are not doing anything today,’ he told me firmly, tone daring me to argue. ‘Except resting.’
I snorted and shook my head ruefully. ‘Yes, boss.’
It got me a more serious kiss and the offer of breakfast.
‘Heero,’ I told him, getting a little exasperated, ‘you don’t have to…’
He cut me off with a determined, ‘Yes, I do,’ in the voice that I know there’s just no arguing with.
We were half way through a breakfast of omelets, bacon, toast and orange juice before I figured out that he wasn’t planning on going to work either.
I don’t know why it bugs me so much when he does stuff like this, just pokes me rather firmly in that place where I feel ashamed of myself. Makes me feel… lame. Pathetic. Like some damn little kid that still needs Mommy to wipe his ass after he goes to the bathroom.
Not that I actually ever remember having a mother wipe my ass, but I digress.
‘Heero,’ I sighed, picking at my carefully prepared and rather perfect damn omelet, trying to see just what he’d put in the thing. ‘I don’t need you to stay here all day and stare at me while I sit around doing nothing.’
‘Maybe I just want to stay here…’ he began, smiling at me faintly, his face angled so he was looking up at me through the fall of his hair.
I sighed, rather heavily, I’m afraid and told him, ‘I’m not a child. I don’t need…’
His fork slammed down on the table so hard that his glass of orange juice toppled over. He didn’t even reach to catch it, just staring across the table at me while the juice puddled beside his plate. ‘Maybe it’s not fucking about what you need!’ he snapped and before I’d gotten my wide-eyed gaze pulled away from the flood of orange juice, he was out of the room.
Guilt beast showed none of his early hesitation, teleporting back from wherever he goes when I haven’t done anything that requires his attention, and biting me resoundingly in the ass.
Well hell. Made me feel like I’d been pulling the wings off of butterflies all morning. Little conflicting electrical impulses ran through my brain while I tried to decide just what I should do. Scream? Run after him? Sit here and wait for him to come back? Clean up the mess on the table before it ran off onto the floor? Go the hell back to bed?
When it finally registered in my brain that I had not heard the door of the apartment slam, I decided I would take a few minutes and clean up the juice. That stuff is just sticky and gross as hell if you let it dry. Besides, it would give Heero a chance to cool off. Would give me a chance to regroup.
I found him standing in that place by the window where I usually ended up when I needed to think and I went to him, wanting to slip my arms around him, but unsure of his mood. ‘I’m sorry, Heero,’ I told him simply.
He sighed, a sound that might have escaped Atlas on a bad day, and guilt beast happily ripped a chunk out of my ass that felt like it was the size of a small continent. Heero turned his head to look at me over his shoulder, the pain in his eyes making me open my arms and reach for him. He reached in return and I couldn’t have told you later if I’d pulled or been pulled. If I had embraced or been embraced. It didn’t seem to matter.
‘God,’ he choked out, ‘when will I ever get through all these damn defenses of yours?’
The almost palpable distress in his voice made me want to weep. ‘Just… don’t give up, ok?’ I heard myself say and it made his arms clutch me close.
‘Never,’ he breathed against my shoulder, voice little more than a fierce growl. ‘Forever, remember?
Distantly, I heard Relena’s somewhat irritated voice saying, ‘He just wants you to…need him a little bit.’
I’d never known how to tell anybody how scared I was of needing him too much… of leaning so hard he got tired of carrying the burden.
‘Forever,’ I agreed and felt some of the tension go out of him.
We just held each other for the longest time. He seemed to forget about breakfast, for which I was grateful because I’d already eaten more than I’d really wanted before we’d had our… discussion.
Then, ‘Where’s your laptop?’ he asked me out of a clear blue sky.
‘In my room,’ I told him; puzzled. ‘It’s in the bag on the closet floor.’
He drew away and smiled at me. ‘Sit down… I’ll be right back.’
I decided to just go with the flow, making a conscious effort not to be so stubborn, and sat on the couch to wait for him.
He brought it back with him, bag and all, and settled beside me on the couch. He propped the computer across our legs and we waited in silence while it booted up. I stole a glance at him when my wallpaper appeared, noticing the tiny little frown. Heero is not a big fan of Sisyphus. I made myself a mental reminder to change the background to something else. I suppose there was no point in rubbing Heero’s nose in how I felt half the time. My e-mail is set to come up with the system and before I quite realized it, we were sitting there staring at an in-box with something like thirty new messages in it. I quickly hit the close button, but Heero spared me a look.
‘It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to check my messages,’ I muttered defensively. But the truth was that most of them were from people I just wasn’t sure how to talk to anymore. People from my old life. People still on the inside of a thing I’d been ousted from. Toria and Hayden. Howard and Kurt. Smitty. Dusty. I kept going and looking at my e-mail… and coming away not knowing where to start.
Heero didn’t comment, though I had no doubt he’d seen the addresses in the moment before I’d dismissed the thing from the screen. He simply pulled up an Internet connection and typed in a web site from memory, letting it go.
I couldn’t help the double take when I was confronted with a screen full of carpet samples. He couldn’t help the grin at my expression.
‘I thought we might do some… planning together today,’ he offered almost shyly, and it made me feel badly for not seeing that this could be a pleasant day together… if we both let it.
‘That would be… fine,’ I told him and we settled in to pick out bedroom carpet.
Dear God, but there are a lot of stupid choices. I’d thought all we had to do was decide on a color. Please excuse my naiveté. Grade and weight. Fiber content and pile. Sculpted or not? Stain guard? It took us an hour to narrow it down to what we wanted.
Heero shut down my laptop when we were done, turning with a warm smile and kissing me teasingly on the end of the nose. ‘This was nice,’ he told me softly, a hint of hesitation in his voice; feeling his way. It made me feel kind of bad, that he was so cautious around me. Made me feel like some kind of borderline basket case.
‘It was,’ I reassured him. ‘I’m… sorry I don’t always see the… benefits of things.’
There was a question burning in his eyes, that I knew he wasn’t going to ask. He was too afraid of starting the argument back up. Too afraid of spoiling the moment.
‘Because it… unnerves me to be this out of control,’ I told him, answering what he couldn’t ask. ‘Because you and the rest of the guys make me feel so… damn frail, and I hate feeling like I don’t measure up anymore. It… leaves me feeling off balance, and that just kind of makes me… defensive.’
There, see? I did learn a thing or two in my therapy sessions. Dr. Webster had beat some stuff into my head. Of course, understanding a thing and being able to do something about it, are two entirely different things.
He looked keenly frustrated for a second, before managing to banish the look, and then softly told me, ‘I can not fathom how you can feel that way when you are the damn yardstick we all measure ourselves by.’
You’ve seen my deer in headlights routine before, right? I don’t really need to describe it again?
Something came out of my mouth then, I had meant to say ‘what?’ but it might have come out ‘nani?’ or it might have come out ‘fuck?’, I’m not really sure, and honestly, I don’t know that he even heard me. He suddenly had that look on his face that told me he was going to tell me something he thought I should know, but he knew was going to make me squirm. It’s a rather jaw-clenched, determined look.
‘You are the strongest, most stubborn man I have ever met,’ he told me, voice kind of rough. ‘That you lived through that accident was a damn miracle. That you fought your way back to where you are now is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You are not frail. You are not weak. What you have managed, has earned you the highest respect from every one of us. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.’
His eyes were glittering brightly, his gaze boring into mine, willing me to feel the love and pride he seemed to hold for me. I wondered idly if he’d be able to get the couch put out when I spontaneously combusted.
‘So…’ I squeaked out. ‘Were we going to… uhmmm… order that carpet now?’
His breath blew out in an explosion of near exasperation and he pulled me toward him, burying his face in my hair. ‘God, but you’re impossible,’ he chuckled, but I felt him abandoning the discussion.
‘I’ve been told that before,’ I muttered.
‘I’m sure you have, love,’ he whispered in my ear, and it seemed he was going to leave his aggravation with me behind in favor of amusement. ‘I’m sure you have.’
‘About the carpet?’ I persisted, wanting safer conversational ground firmly under my feet.
He drew back to give me a rueful little smile and said, ‘To be honest, I had planned on trying to sneak out this afternoon to make the arrangements and surprise you with it.’
I couldn’t help grinning at him; it was such a non-Heero thing to do. ‘And just how were you planning on doing this sneaking?’ I teased.
He looked a little sheepish, and a little expectant all at once. ‘I was kind of hoping you’d be taking a nap sometime today.’
I snorted and just shook my head. Good God… I hadn’t taken an afternoon nap in ages.
Eventually we agreed that I would pretend to take a nap, he would pretend to sneak out, and later I could pretend to be surprised. He left the apartment chuckling, and though I could see it in his eyes, he managed to keep from telling me to take it easy while he was gone.
Once I wasn’t able to hear his footsteps on the stairs anymore, I went and cleaned up the breakfast mess, knowing full-well that he’d be irritated, but not willing to resort to being a complete slacker. It’s just not in my nature.
Then I decided that it was more than time for me to deal with the nightmare that was my in-box. It was a task I really needed to get to, and sitting on the couch with my laptop was not something that could possibly be construed as ‘taxing myself’.
I fetched a bottle of soda with me, just for perversity’s sake, and took the time to queue up some music despite the total lack of sound quality on a laptop’s speakers. The two things combined would have been soothing if not for the sheer daunting factor of the task ahead of me. I made myself start with the oldest message in the box, slogging forward one at a time, not allowing myself to skip to the next message until the current one had been dealt with.
There was a message several weeks old from Toria. Mostly just one of her not-so-subtle pokes to make sure I was still alive. I knew I had several more messages from her waiting, so I just deleted it.
The one from Dusty was a query, wondering if I would be coming for Christmas dinner again this year. I was almost shocked to make myself think about it, and realize that the darn holiday was actually coming around again. It wasn’t something I’d ever celebrated myself, but Dusty’s wife hadn’t liked the idea of me sitting in my ship alone on Christmas day and had gotten Dusty to ask me over for dinner the last two years. I’d never stayed for more than the meal, not wanting to intrude on their family traditions, but I’d always appreciated the gesture. I politely declined, hinting to Dusty that he could let his wife know that I wasn’t all alone anymore, but not elaborating more than that. I made a mental note to send something over to Dusty’s boy for Christmas. I’d never gone to dinner without bringing the kid something. He was the guy who had hooked me up with my original co-pilot, after all.
I hit another one of Toria’s messages, another unrestrained attempt to force me to reply, threatening to come to Earth to make sure the Heero didn’t have me held captive somewhere. I passed over that one as well, knowing I had at least two more.
There was a smattering of idle messages from some of the Sweepers, a couple simple forwards of jokes and the usual e-mail junk that friends pass among themselves. It reminded me of a day when I’d probably forwarded just as much crap around that group as they had forwarded to me. And though I read every one, replying to the ones that actually had personal messages, I deleted my way through those pretty quickly.
The one from Smitty took me a moment to decipher; he’d obviously been pretty excited when he wrote it. Back when I’d first met the Musketeers, they’d had this silly little garage band thing going on. McMurphy had even let them play at his place once, though just once, mind you. They had scraped together the cash to cut a single CD, had managed to sell a grand total of twenty copies, mostly to their relatives, and called it quits. And yes, I owned a copy, I couldn’t have told you where the damn thing was, but I’d done my part and bought one. Hell, I’d even written some lyrics for them a couple of times. Their playing wasn’t bad… but the poor guys couldn’t have rhymed the word isolation if their lives had depended on it. According to Smitty’s message, one of those CDs had somehow made its way around to some real life musician and the guy wanted to cut a couple of their songs or something.
I replied and told him I was happy for them and moved on, delighted to find that I was well over half-way through the pile of messages. If some of my answers were a little terse, at least they were answers.
There was one from Howard, one of his typical newsy updates. He doesn’t usually require a reply, but I felt bad about not staying in touch and so made the effort to update him right back. I knew he’d be pleased.
Then I finally hit the last one from Toria.
Hey there, out-of-touch asshole-boy. Hope you’re not dead. It would really suck if we missed the funeral. Course, I don’t really know what else to think since somebody has totally dropped off the face of the universe and is refusing to respond to people who used to be his best friends. But then… maybe you just have the black plague or something. I’ll give you the benefit and all that, but if you don’t answer this message, we’re coming to Earth and we’re going to beat the living shit out of that Yuy guy because he’s obviously got you locked away from all forms of communication somewhere. Why else would you not reply to us?
We can do that now. Come to Earth. Because we have a ship. I’ve attached a picture, if you flaming well even care. We named her ‘Buddy’s Gift’ you fucking asshole… though I’m starting to be sorry for that. And you know… I’m damn well going to change it if you don’t freaking answer me this time, because in a more sober state of mind, it’s kind of a dorky sounding name anyway.
I’d ask you to come paint my babies again, but I figure I’ll be doing good just to get an e-mail from you. Anything would be fine; just a note that says ‘not dead’ or something, ok?
We love you, buddy-boy. Please let us know you’re all right.
Fuck, I was damn near bawling by the time I was done with that one, guilt beast wrapped around one ankle and the screen blurring in front of my eyes. And just to add a certain poignancy to the moment, my God damn music choose that message to get around to ‘Wanderlust’ and before I knew it, I was crying, and fervently wishing I’d left this chore for another day. Maybe another week altogether.
‘For the fever’s upon me, my Captain is callin’. I cannot stay with thee, my destiny’s callin’. I’ll never be free, but I’ll do what I must, I can’t give up my wanderlust with thee…’ 
And that was the moment that the knock came on the door.
I’m fairly damn certain that somewhere up there in deity land, there is some cranky little guy whose sole purpose in life is to make sure I have moments like these.
I ditched the laptop and scrubbed furiously at my eyes, wondering who in the hell it could be in the middle of the afternoon.
And that was when I realized that it wasn’t afternoon anymore. I couldn’t believe how many hours dealing with that backlog of e-mail had taken. Then I wondered what in the hell was taking Heero so long.
I hoped that my face wouldn’t betray me and went to get the door. My heart fairly leaped up into my throat when I checked the peephole and found Trowa and Quatre standing there. Heero’s absence, coupled with the memory of the last time those two had come to find me when Heero hadn’t been around, and I about had a heart attack. I flung the door open and blurted, ‘What’s wrong?’ before I had a chance to think about it.
It was Trowa’s light chuckle that brought me back to reality. ‘Hello to you too, Duo,’ he said, eyes laughing at me.
‘Uh…’ I muttered sheepishly. ‘Hi guys… come on in.’
I stepped aside and ducked my head a little. If they’d noticed anything odd about my face, they didn’t speak of it.
‘I take it Heero’s not home?’ Trowa asked as they stepped into the apartment, shedding coats as they came, letting me know they were planning on being there for more than a couple of minutes.
‘No,’ I informed them, moving away, keeping my back turned. I knew every moment that passed would make my eyes less damp looking. ‘Though he ought to be back any minute, he only ran out to order the carpet for the bedroom.’
I heard them settling on the couch together, so I went to sit in the armchair, as far away as I could get without being obvious.
‘Why in the world did he go without you?’ Quatre asked, voice puzzled.
I sighed, realizing suddenly that they didn’t have a clue about my new Preventor employee entertainment act. On the one hand, I have to admit it was a pleasant change from the normal ex-pilot information net that seemed to pass data instantaneously between all four of them. But on the other hand, I wasn’t all that thrilled with having to sit there and explain things.
‘I…’ I began, sighing again. ‘I kinda had some… more problems with being lightheaded. Heero wanted me to stay home and… rest.’
‘We didn’t wake you, did we?’ Quatre asked, his expression flickering faintly with guilt.
‘Nah,’ I waved dismissively. ‘I was just trying to catch up on some things.’
Quatre seemed to accept that, but Trowa was eyeing me closely, so I looked away. ‘So what brings you guys all the way out here?’ I asked by way of subject change.
Quatre’s face did something funny. He got this weird little smile, this strange glitter coming into his eyes. He looked like… a kid on Christmas morning. He turned his gaze to Trowa, smile widening. ‘Well… we should probably wait for Heero…’ he said, but his tone of voice was clearly asking Trowa’s permission to not wait for Heero.
‘I don’t think it would matter,’ Trowa said, smiling benignly at his partner. Quatre fairly lit up, and a small box was suddenly brought into view. I couldn’t believe I’d missed seeing him carry it in.
‘We wanted to get you and Heero a house-warming present,’ he told me, grinning from ear to ear.
‘Don’t you traditionally give house-warming gifts after the house has been moved into?’ I teased, eyeing the thing in his hands. It was a flat little box, gold with a red ribbon around it. It crossed my mind that it was just about the size of a bank check. I hoped to God Quatre wasn’t getting ready to do something… overblown.
‘We thought you might want this sooner than that,’ Trowa told me, and when I looked, there was a touch of Quatre’s excitement hiding in the backs of his eyes.
Quatre proffered the box and I really didn’t have much choice but to accept it. I glanced from one of them to the other, but really couldn’t get a clue. I kind of wished Heero were there to take some of the focus of their attention.
‘Open it, Duo,’ Quatre prodded me, and I thought for a surreal moment that he was going to start bouncing where he sat.
Let it be known that Quatre Winner likes to give gifts. I suspect that it takes a lot of ‘reining in’ on Trowa’s part, to keep him from showering us all with things like… houses and cars. He is particularly bad if he’s worried about you for some reason. I had been the recipient of everything from new sheets to books, when I’d first gotten out of the hospital after the accident. I wondered if whatever I was holding in my hands had been prompted by my dizzy spell at the house the other day.
I slipped the red bow off, the ribbon falling into my lap in a coil. The box proved to be one of those things that looks wrapped, but really isn’t. I gingerly lifted the lid, only to find a folded up piece of paper nestled in a nest of tissue paper. At least it didn’t look like a check.
Sparing a glance at Trowa and Quatre, I plucked the paper out and set the box aside. When I unfolded it, I discovered a picture that looked like it was cut from a catalog or something of that nature. It was a picture of a large four-poster bed. It was a massive looking thing, solid oak, and looked like it was going to go in our bedroom like it was made for it.
We hadn’t bought a new bed because Heero’d had to buy one when I’d moved in with him. What was now ‘my room’, had been a study prior to my accident. I hadn’t known that the bed was his until we started talking about buying furniture for the new house. There was not a thing wrong with that bed; while it was nothing to write home about, it was perfectly serviceable and we had opted to keep it.
But you know? I hadn’t been thrilled about it. I hate that bed. It reminds me of those dark, dark days at the beginning of my convalescence. Reminds me of nights spent sobbing into my pillow, desperately trying to keep Heero from hearing me. Nights of lying awake and wondering if I’d ever be able to walk again. But that didn’t justify buying a new one. There was technically nothing wrong with the old one.
I didn’t know I’d lost control of those tears I’d fought off until Quatre was sitting on the arm of my chair and I was suddenly wrapped up in his arms.
‘How did you know?’ I had to ask him, scrubbing at my face again, wishing I hadn’t gone through so many of those damn e-mail messages in one sitting.
‘It’s just how I would have felt,’ he said simply.
I took a deep breath and managed to get things stifled, glancing around his arm and noting that Trowa wasn’t in the room anymore. ‘Thank you,’ I told him, not really knowing what else to say.
‘You’re welcome,’ he told me, sounding amused. ‘I take it you like it?’
I snorted and straightened. He let me go, but stayed perched on the arm of the oversized chair. ‘It’s perfect, Quat,’ I smiled for him.
He grinned back at me, satisfied that I was pulling myself together, I think. ‘I had seen it in the furniture shop, and when I saw that room of yours, I just knew they were made to go together.’
I looked at the picture in my hands again, faintly chagrined to find a water spot on it, and blotted it on my sleeve. ‘I wanted a new one… wanted to start… clean somehow,’ I told him, not sure what prompted me to say it. ‘But I didn’t know how to ask. It seemed… stupid.’
‘How you feel about something is never stupid, Duo,’ Quatre told me, sounding oddly defensive. ‘Heero should have thought of it.’
‘I think you can forgive Heero missing the sapling for the forest of redwoods, little heart,’ Trowa said, suddenly reappearing behind us, handing us each a glass of soda. I took mine gratefully, sipping at it and smoothing the picture of my new bed against my thigh.
Quatre chuckled lightly, accepting his own glass. ‘Well, I expect the man to take better care of my big brother,’ he proclaimed in a somewhat arrogant tone. I almost snorted soda out my nose. Quatre looked pleased, and Trowa sympathetically patted my back while I cleared fizzing liquid from my airway.
When I stopped coughing, they moved off to sit on the sofa again. ‘It’s to be delivered before Friday,’ Quatre told me. ‘So if you still think you’re making the move this weekend, you’ll have it.’
I had to sigh, thinking about how hard I’d worked to see to it that we made that self-imposed dead-line. ‘I don’t know,’ I confessed. ‘I’m not sure Heero’s going to try for it… since…’ I trailed off, not sure I wanted to say more. Not sure just what to tell them.
But Trowa was looking at me intently and I knew he was onto the fact that something had happened that they didn’t know about. ‘Duo?’ he questioned gently, cocking his head to look at me in that way he has that makes me feel buck-naked and turned wrong side out. ‘The rest of the story?’
I felt my face flaming and dropped my gaze to the depths of my soda glass. ‘There was an accident at the garage yesterday and I kinda… passed out,’ I muttered. ‘I’m on two days of medical leave per my Boss’s orders.’
Quatre’s eyes flew wide. ‘Are you all right?’ I nodded for him, swirling my drink in my glass, watching the ice cubes drift and turn. The two of them shifted again, Quatre sliding down to the end of the couch closest to me, and Trowa coming to perch on the edge of the coffee table, right in front of me.
‘Tell us what happened?’ he asked, reaching to lightly touch my knee.
So I told them the sordid little Mickey story, leaving out the guilt trip, the hamster improvisation act, the criminal artist thing, and the rumor mill part. Sticking strictly to the injured co-worker narrative. Oh yeah… and the passing out thing.
Quatre had to have a peek at my shoulder, when I got to that confession, wincing compassionately. Trowa grimaced and shuddered when I told them the kid had lost his leg in the end anyway. They both looked concerned when I finally got around to the part where I’d done a swan dive onto the garage floor.
‘So you see,’ I concluded. ‘I seriously doubt that Heero is going to let me lift a damn finger for the rest of this week, much less spend the weekend actually moving.’
‘It’s all right Duo,’ Quatre told me. ‘There’s no rush.’
I nodded, because he was right. The simple fact that I wanted to move into my home, was not enough to make it a high priority item. We had all the time in the world, and it wasn’t going to kill me to wait another week.
Really. It wasn’t.
Trowa was there, as usual, to gently steer the conversation on to something else once his curiosity had been appeased. We talked about the house for a bit. Quatre told me about his new nephew; I couldn’t have told you which sister it was who’d had him. She’d opted to do it the old-fashioned way, going against family tradition and there was a strange light of pride in Quatre’s face while he told about it. Trowa talked for a bit about the last letter he’d gotten from his sister Catherine, about where they’d traveled last and the new guy who was getting knives thrown at him in Trowa’s place. It was rather soothing. Kind of… homey, or something. Or as homey as you can get with stories that involve twenty-nine siblings and circuses.
Then Quatre rather brought me up short again, making me squirm.
‘Duo,’ he ventured, and I thought I saw a faint frown flicker across Trowa’s face. ‘I promised my sister Aleyah that I would ask you something.’
I looked at him, watching him fidget with his glass in a manner that reminded me very much of myself. ‘Aleyah?’ I questioned, not recognizing the name.
‘I told you about her,’ he murmured, his eyes on the floor and his face starting to tinge pink. I wondered about it, until I caught Trowa trying to catch his partner’s eye. ‘She’s gotten rather successful in the art world. She does watercolor?’
I nodded, remembering Heero mentioning her. I had a feeling the woman had to be the pushiest damn person on Earth or in the colonies. I’d never met her, but I still knew her by reputation. ‘I think I remember,’ I told him, so he wouldn’t waste a bunch of time on the back-story.
‘She’s been… badgering me about talking to you,’ he told me and there was a small sound of disapproval from Trowa. Quatre’s eyes flicked his way but he dropped his gaze quickly enough, looking almost ashamed of himself. ‘You certainly don’t have to if you’re not interested… but I promised I would ask… so now I have.’
I couldn’t help laughing at him, the mental picture of an overbearing sister pestering and pestering until he finally caved and agreed, just to shut her up, was simply too funny. He gave me a sheepish little smile and even Trowa looked a little less… unhappy.
‘I’m sorry, Quat,’ I chuckled. ‘But that would just be… ridiculous. I wouldn’t know how in the hell to act in that kind of circle. Just tell her I said no thanks and forget about it.’
He nodded, looking relieved and disappointed all at the same time. I could see him worrying with something though, and Trowa actually reached out to lay a warning hand on his knee.
But all of a sudden, Quatre looked irritated, his rebellious streak showing a mile wide. He looked me right in the eye and ignored Trowa altogether. ‘Duo,’ he said earnestly. ‘You are a damn good artist. Light-years better than ninety percent of the people my sister rubs elbows with in her damn galleries. I’ve gone to a couple of her showings and you can paint rings around those phonies with your eyes closed!’
I blinked. Trowa blinked. Quatre blinked, and then gave me a quiet little, ‘I’m sorry… that just needed to be said.’ Then he pulled a business card out of his shirt pocket and tossed it down on the coffee table. ‘There… I’ve fulfilled my obligation. Trowa? Are you ready to get going?’
It was rather abrupt and I had to assume that the two of them were about to have words, and Quatre preferred to do it elsewhere. I felt kind of bad about that, kind of guilty, like I’d somehow made them fight, so I tried to temper the whole thing just a little bit. ‘It’s all right little brother. Tell Sis I’ll think about it… but not to hold her breath.’
It takes so very little to please Quatre. Whenever I manage to win the kind of smile I got then, I just find that I feel guilty for not trying harder with him. We just have so very little in common, now that we don’t have a war as a shared hobby.
My taking it so flippantly seemed to ease some of the tension from Trowa’s face though, so perhaps I’d managed to derail any major argument between them. The whole thing just made me very apprehensive about ever running into this Aleyah Winner though.
But it didn’t stop their exit, so I just trailed along behind them as they gathered their coats and headed for the door.
‘Tell Heero we said hi,’ Quatre said politely as he stood in the doorway, looking at me just a touch wistfully. I was suddenly taken with the urge to hug the damn guy, and pulled him into a quick embrace where I could tell him, ‘Heero’s going to love the bed too, Quat. Thank you… I can’t tell you what it means.’
His return hug was fierce, but he let me take the lead and let go as soon as I tried to withdraw. ‘I’m glad you like it,’ was all he said and then he stepped into the hall.
I looked up at Trowa and grinned. ‘Don’t be mad at him,’ I said softly. ‘It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It wouldn’t be… if we were talking about anybody else but me.’
He got that little smile that spreads so slowly you almost don’t notice it happening. ‘I promise not to have him caned, all right?’ he vowed, one hand raised in mock pledge.
I snorted and just shook my head. He started to follow after Quatre, but then hesitated, looking back at me for a moment. ‘Don’t bring his fears to life, Duo,’ he told me softly, not talking about Quatre any more. ‘You have all the time you need to make your home… slow down a little.’
All I managed to do was blush, before the door was shut and they were gone.
God, but those two can be emotionally exhausting.
I went back and flung myself down on the couch in front of my laptop, but when I looked, the next message in the queue was from Octavia and I just didn’t know if I was up to it. There weren’t that many more messages left to go through anyway and I decided to just call it a day. I remember shutting the system down, watching the screen while I waited for it to shut off and the next thing I was aware of was gentle fingers brushing my hair from my face.
‘Wake up, love,’ Heero said softly and I blinked open uncooperative eyelids, surprised as hell to find myself curled on the couch. Damn; I’d take that stupid nap after all.
‘This is the part where I’m supposed to act surprised about the carpet, right?’ I asked, voice gravely from sleep.
He smiled, kneeling there beside me, managing to look damn pleased with himself, and for about two seconds I wondered if he’d drugged my soda somehow. But no, my head wasn’t that damn fuzzy.
‘No,’ he chuckled. ‘This is the part where you act surprised that I managed to find it in stock… it’s being installed tomorrow.’
I blinked up at him, not sure I’d heard him right. ‘What?’ I asked, unbelieving; you don’t just get that damn lucky. ‘Is that what took you so long?’
His soft smile turned into a slightly rueful grin. ‘I did have to visit almost every carpet store in the city.’ But then his expression changed again, going tender and fierce, somehow, all at the same time. ‘I’ll have you in our house this weekend, love. I promise.’
I didn’t know whether to be mortified that he’d figured out how much I had wanted that, or thrilled that he’d figured out how much I had wanted that. ‘But…’ I began, not sure what he was saying, and almost afraid that he meant that he would move us all by himself. ‘Does that mean that you’re… I mean…’ I flailed somewhat unattractively after words that were being damned elusive. I blame it on the grogginess of having just woken up.
‘It means I hired movers,’ he informed me with a hint of some kind of warning in his tone.
‘But Heero,’ I objected. ‘We decided against doing that… we can do it…’
‘I’m not going to argue about it,’ he told me, in his firmest ‘mother-hen’ voice. ‘Your health is much more important than a couple of hundred dollars.’
‘Heero…’ I began, but then stopped at the somewhat whining sound of my own voice. This wasn’t the kind of conversation one should have thirty seconds after waking up.
‘I won’t take the chance that you might pass out on the stairs or something,’ he said, and I could see in his eyes that he’d been thinking about this a little too hard. ‘The Doctor said it might be weeks before you build your iron levels back up… it’s not worth the risk. It’s not worth the risk to me.’
His fingers were ghosting over my face still and I had to give in with a snort of annoyance. ‘You make it damn hard to be indignant,’ I told him.
‘You can be indignant if you want,’ he teased gently. ‘As long as you take care of yourself at the same time.’
I felt a stirring of that… pride. That… stubbornness, that always makes me want to struggle to my feet just one more time. Makes me want to object to his coddling. Maybe he felt it too, because he leaned down and pressed a kiss to my collarbone. ‘Please?’ he whispered, breath hot on my skin. ‘For me?’ That breath moved and he kissed the hollow of my throat. ‘Because you love me almost as much as your soda-pop?’ He dusted little kisses up the length of my throat, making me tilt my head to receive them. ‘Because you love me at least as much as Fuzzy-butt?’
No way in hell could I maintain the urge to argue with him. ‘Asshole,’ I muttered, just before he brought his lips to cover mine.
‘I know,’ he sighed, and actually managed to sound contrite.
When he drew away, his eyes were serious, the teasing banished from sight.
‘You know I love you,’ I had to tell him, just to clear the damn point up. ‘More than my stupid co-pilot… more than anything.’
I couldn’t miss the strange wash of emotion that ran through him at the words. It made me feel badly, somehow, like maybe I didn’t say it enough.
‘I know,’ he said simply, smiling softly and tracing the lines of my face with a gentle fingertip. But then he changed the subject all together with a quirk of an eyebrow. ‘So where did the little gold box on the coffee table come from?’
I flashed a wide grin. ‘Quatre and Trowa,’ I told him. ‘Open it… it’s our house-warming gift.’
‘House-warming?’ he queried in amusement and turned to reach for it. I watched his face while he pulled the thing out, saw the same trepidation that I had felt at first, worried that Quatre had gone overboard and gotten us something like… a live-in maid, or worse. Then the expression went to a faint frown, right before he looked at me quizzically. ‘A bed? But we don’t…’
‘Yeah,’ I cut him off, afraid he might be leading up to telling Quatre it was too expensive. ‘But it goes in the room like it was custom made for it, doesn’t it?’
If he understood the deeper reasoning, he didn’t belabor it. Just smiled and agreed with me, opining that it was indeed a beautiful piece of furniture. But he kissed me damn hard one more time before going off to make dinner.
I actually got very little argument out of him when I insisted I was going back to work the next day. I like to think he knew better than to argue with me, but I’m pretty sure it was more that he trusted Griff not to assign me anything much tougher than changing windshield wiper blades.
And don’t laugh, that’s damn near what I ended up doing all that day. And light bulbs, changing out light bulbs. I think the hardest work-order I got all day was putting in a set of spark plugs.
When I grumbled about it, I got this little speech that went something like this;
‘Damnit, Maxwell… I been with the Preventors since they laid the first damn corner stone of this building. I been in charge of this garage since there was only two other guys working in here. I ain’t never had a mechanic pass-out on the job before. It was damn fuckin’ scary, and I ain’t lookin’ to have it happen again, you understand me?’
Having that communicated to me at Griff’s normal volume in the middle of the garage in front of everybody, was enough to convince me to shut the hell up and go change the next set of wiper blades.
‘Between you and Mickey,’ Giles voice came from the next bay, where he was working on something interesting. ‘He’s about to have a cow.’
I snorted and turned back to my toolbox, sorting through my screwdrivers until I found the one I wanted. ‘Nothing to worry about where I’m concerned,’ I muttered. ‘I’m fine.’
It was his turn to snort and I glanced that way to find him grinning at me. ‘Oh yeah,’ he chuckled, when he saw he had my attention. ‘That would explain why you’re barely using your right arm at all.’
I flexed that hand and waggled my fingers at him. ‘Just a little sore, is all,’ I informed him and bent to work to prove it.
I did notice though, for the rest of the day, every time I had to do anything that even smacked of heavy lifting, that one of the other guys was suddenly there, helping me out. I wondered if it was their own idea, if Griff had ordered them to keep an eye on me, or, in retrospect, if I just looked that damn pathetic.
I was kind of surprised when Heero showed up for lunch, he’d taken the morning off to let the carpet layers into the house, and I had expected it to take longer.
‘Something go wrong?’ I asked, as he walked across the bay towards me.
He flashed a grin. ‘No, you wouldn’t believe how fast they got done,’ he told me, seeming kind of amazed by the whole thing. ‘I don’t think it took two hours. You ready to go get something to eat?’
He waited while I put my tools back in the box and wiped my hands on a rag, then followed me out to the sidewalk.
I noticed a somewhat satisfied look on Griff’s face as we walked past his office, and I was sure, in that moment, that if I’d tried to skip lunch, I’d have heard about it in no uncertain terms.
Heero doesn’t have the time to come down to go to lunch with me very often, and I hesitated, once outside, not sure if he’d intended on going anyplace special.
‘Where do you usually go?’ he asked, as though reading my mind and I had to grin.
‘I found a new place over on Andover,’ I told him and watched the frown come over his face.
‘That’s kind of far…’ he began and I laughed.
‘Lazy,’ I taunted him, but then relented. ‘I found a short cut.’
So he let me lead and I took him over to the Andover Deli and Sub shop by way of two back alleys and a quick dash across a busy street. I’d found the place because I really just did not like RJ’s sandwich shop across the street from work, where everybody else seemed to eat.
The Andover was nicer, cleaner, a little brighter and more open. They ran it kind of like a buffet. You got your bread and meat at the counter, then picked whatever extras you wanted off the bar, and they charged you by weight of the finished sandwich. There were little tables peppered all over the place and I usually just sat by the front window, ate my lunch and watched people go by.
I was absurdly pleased that Heero seemed to like it. I took our tray and grabbed a table, while Heero brought our drinks.
‘This is nice,’ he said when he came to sit down with me. ‘How did you ever find it?’
‘I just really don’t like RJ’s place,’ I told him and he grinned around a bite of sandwich.
‘Never been all that fond of it either,’ he told me. ‘But it’s right there, so that’s always where everybody goes.’
‘I’ve been coming here since I stumbled across the place,’ I confessed, opening my bag of chips. ‘I kind of like the fact that I almost never run into anybody I know here. It’s more… relaxing.’
He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully for a moment, trying to look me over without appearing to look me over. ‘How are you doing today?’ he finally ventured.
I had to chuckle. ‘It’s not like I can overwork myself with Griff around.’
The comment did more to reassure him than anything else I could have said, I think. It was almost a visible thing to see him relax. He started telling me about his morning’s adventures then, the carpet layers and how they had worked. Describing the weird stretchers and how surprised he had been about the ‘tack strips’ that were used to hold the carpet in place. We’d neither one of us ever bothered to think about just how carpet stayed where you put it before. He was oddly excited about the whole thing and it made me laugh to listen to him. That made him smile, just to hear me laugh, and all in all, it was a pretty decent lunch.
I was almost kind of sorry when our time was up. It’s funny; I usually end up back at work barely having used half my hour, but that day… we took every minute and still felt short-changed.
I led him back down the alley, stopping to grab a soda out of the machine that sits just up the street from the Andover. If there’s one thing about that restaurant that I don’t like, it’s the fact that they carry Coke products and I’m a dyed in the wool Mt. Dew addict. So I was always pretty thirsty after lunch and grabbed a bottle as I went by for the afternoon. There’s a machine in the garage, but it only has cans, which, if you ask me, is hardly more than a couple of swallows. Heero stood beside me as I fed the machine my coins, and sighed faintly.
‘That stuff will end up rotting your insides,’ he grumbled, just as he always did.
I grinned as I uncapped the bottle and took a long swig. ‘Leave me my one vice, Yuy,’ I told him… just as I always did.
He shook his head and we went back to work.
The afternoon went excruciatingly slowly; I wanted to go see our bedroom with the new carpet in it, and all those tedious, boring jobs did not make the time go any faster.
Griff stepped away from his desk about an hour before quitting time, standing in his office door and announced to the room at large that Mickey’s condition was now listed as stable.
I was surprised to find guilt beast sitting behind the wheel of the car I was working on when I turned from listening to Griff. He leered at me in that way he has, tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. I could only stand and blink at him, unsure of the why of his presence. Not for the first time, I wished he came with sub-titles like the hamsters did. I thought we’d been over that whole ‘Mickey guilt’ thing.
‘Duo?’ Giles voice was a gentle summons back to reality, and when I glanced his way, guilt vanished. ‘You ok, man?’
I smiled for him, my fingers sorting through my tools for the wrench I needed. ‘Just wishin’ this day was over,’ I chuckled dryly.
He chuckled along with me but couldn’t help pointing out, ‘You know Griff would let you go ahead and go home early.’
I shrugged, found that the movement hurt kind of good and repeated the roll of muscles with a tiny little groan. ‘Almost there, now,’ I told him. ‘I think I can survive another hour.’
He just shook his head, but kept standing there looking at me like he wanted to say something else. I waited, but he only ended up shaking his head again and turning back to the job he was doing. I can’t say I was sorry.
I thought quitting time would never get there, and though I was a little worried that Heero would be working late to catch up, he rather predictably showed up a few minutes early. I had my head under the hood of a Chevy, but knew Heero was on his way across the garage when I heard Giles snicker. ‘Your mother hen’s here, Maxwell,’ he informed me, voice tinged with amusement.
I found it a little embarrassing, that my private life was obviously not all that private, and turned with my ears trying to turn red. Giles just snickered a little harder. I think Heero missed the whole by-play though, because he didn’t seem to be the least bit perturbed, only watching me like a hawk as I straightened. I knew I was moving stiffly, but just couldn’t help it.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
‘Whenever you are,’ I told him, and went to clock out.
He’d brought his car up to the rear of the garage to save me the walk. He tried acting like it was something he did all the time and I just let it go. I wondered idly how long it would take before he stopped treating me like an invalid. Reflected that the next time I decided I was going to pass out, that doing it without an audience would probably be a good idea.
I was somewhat… shocked when he wouldn’t take me out to the house.
‘What?’ I exclaimed, staring across at him as he drove. ‘But I…’
He grinned at me in a totally unrepentant way. ‘No,’ he told me in a tone of voice that was just a touch self-satisfied. ‘I don’t want you to see it until after the new bed comes tomorrow.’
I wanted to be pissed off at him; I’d been looking forward to going out all afternoon. But… he had this bizarre-ass gleam in his eyes that reminded me a bit of the look on Quatre’s face when he’d handed me our house-warming present the day before. I just couldn’t work up to being really mad in the face of that almost… boyish delight.
Then I thought about what he’d said. ‘Tomorrow? On another workday? Heero… we can’t keep taking off…’
‘It’s all right,’ he informed me. ‘I gave Quatre a key and he’s going to meet the delivery truck and let them in for us. He knows where it goes.’
We got quiet then, I don’t know what he was thinking about, but I was waffling back and forth between feeling thwarted about not getting to see the carpet and elated thinking about actually sleeping in our new bed, in our new bedroom, in our new house, under our new…
‘Sheets,’ I blurted and it made Heero look at me.
‘What?’ he said, sounding vaguely confused.
‘We need new… sheets,’ I muttered, trying to explain myself, and feeling kind of stupid. We certainly didn’t need any new sheets; we had plenty of them since Heero had been supplying for two beds.
‘I think Quatre and Trowa got some to go with the new mattress,’ Heero informed me, reaching across to take my hand and bringing our twined fingers to rest on his thigh.
‘Oh,’ I managed and just shut up. I think I was starting to amuse him.
New sheets. New bed. New room. New house. New life. New start. All new. Mostly. Except for a bit of excess baggage, a troop of thought hamsters, one large guilt beast, a closet full of ghosts, and two ex-Gundam fuckers.
The kind of ‘new’ you had to believe in to make it happen.
Yeah, damn it… I clapped for Tinker Bell too. And don’t ask me how fucking old I was, because I’m not telling.
‘Hey,’ Heero said after a bit of quiet, sounding like he was suddenly remembering something. ‘One of the carpet guys wanted to know which interior decorating place we got to do the bedroom.’
I managed to choke back the laugh and looked across at him to make sure he wasn’t teasing me. But he had that look in his eyes again… the one I really liked, that made my chest feel all tight and kind of warm. ‘What did you tell him?’ I asked.
He smirked at me. ‘That I had connections in the business and had gotten the job done for free.’ I was snickering quietly until he informed me with a smug look on his face, ‘He told me I was damn lucky; that I couldn’t touch that kind of custom, hand-painted work for less than a couple of thousand.’ Deer. Headlights. Need I say more? Heero laughed with delight.
He cooked again that night, and I took the time to sit down at my laptop to have at another batch of e-mails while I waited. I realized that I’d never gotten around to doing more than reading Toria’s latest message and determined that I’d damn well better answer it before Heero ended up murdered over that fact.
I couldn’t resist the perverse urge to fire off a message that simple said ‘not dead’, as she had suggested. But then tackled a somewhat more coherent reply right after.
Sorry spacer-girl, been a tough couple of months, which is no excuse, but the only lame explanation I have. I am a shit and I freely admit it. Love me anyway?
I’m just trying to teach an old ex-spacer how to be a ground-bounder, and finding it not as easy as I’d thought it would be. I promise I’ll try harder to keep in touch.
The ship is a real beaut; looks like you guys picked a good one. Though you’re right, that name is the dorkiest thing I’ve ever heard. Don’t you know better than to christen a ship while you’re drunk? And Hayden let you? I’m surprised at you both.
Let me know the next time you’re going to be dirt-side and I’ll come paint your ship any way you want. Can I give Helen that puppy she’s been begging for?
I really am sorry, and I promise to do better.
I miss you guys.
It was the only message I got to. Dinner was ready by the time I’d managed to compose that little bit, writing and rewriting and staring at the screen. I hit send and went to eat.
I decided when I sat down at the table that Heero wouldn’t be cooking again the next night. Braised pork liver and spinach? Dear God… I am not a picky eater, but freakin’ braised pork liver and spinach? I don’t even know where in the hell it had come from, and could only surmise that Heero’d gone shopping while he’d been off that morning.
I ate what he put in front of me, waiting until we were doing the dishes to question it. ‘What the hell did you do? Go out on the net and look up iron rich foods?’
If the color of his face hadn’t told me, the odd little choking sound he made, would have. ‘Maybe,’ he finally grudgingly admitted.
I gave him a look that was meant to impart my lack of enthusiasm for the menu. ‘Listen Yuy,’ I groused. ‘I am on iron tablets only slightly less strong than pig iron… you do not need to supplement them. Tomorrow night we’re eating something normal.’
He was quiet for a minute and then, reaching to take a clean glass from my hand to dry and put away, ‘Normal for who, you? I’m not eating ration bars and soda for dinner’
His smugness only lasted until he got the handful of dish soap lather down the front of his shirt.
There was a very strange moment then. I kind of froze. He kind of froze. I’d never done something like that to Heero before. It was the kind of teasing that had gone on among the Sweepers all the time. Hayden and I had indulged a little in that kind of horseplay. But… this was Heero, and all I could do was stand there and stare, trying to get my head around what in the hell had possessed me to do that.
But then the stuff started to drip out the bottom of his perfectly proper Preventors’ polo shirt and I just lost it. I started to chuckle, tried vainly to stifle it, but couldn’t, as he just stood there staring at me, soap dribbling down the front of his pants.
I would never have imagined what happened next. He stalked the step or two it took to back me up against the counter and before I really had time to decide if I’d seriously pissed him off or not, he had a rather large handful of lather shoved down the back of my pants. It felt… extremely damn weird trickling down the crack of my ass. I ended up gasping and shuddering rather convulsively at the shivering feel of it. That sort of brought our bodies together in a way that suddenly had nothing what so ever to do with teasing.
We never did get the dishes done. We were supposed to start boxing things up that evening, in preparation for the movers coming Saturday morning, but we didn’t get to that either.
I thought I would bust a gut the next day at work, waiting for the damn shift to be over. Griff had graduated me from the windshield wiper brigade, mostly because there wasn’t a car in the fleet that I hadn’t gotten to the day before. He actually let me take on a couple of oil changes and I even got to patch a flat tire. Go me.
Let this be a lesson to you; fainting on the job is not a good idea.
I had already decided that if Heero refused to take me out to the house again, I was damn well just going to walk; my curiosity was killing me. I had put a lot of work into that bedroom and I wanted to see what it looked like now that it was almost done.
I needn’t have worried, and the almost boyish expectation in Heero’s eyes when he came to pick me up after work, gave me all the reassurance I needed that I was going to get what I wanted.
‘Finished?’ he asked, standing with his hands in his jacket pockets and waiting for me.
‘Absolutely,’ I grinned at him, shutting my toolbox and going to get my jacket. He clocked me out while he waited and then we walked out through the back bay doors.
‘You don’t have to keep bringing the car down here,’ I told him with a mock glare.
He snorted. ‘I need you to keep your strength up,’ he quipped. ‘Since we didn’t get any packing done last night, we have it all to do tonight.’
‘And whose fault was it we didn’t get any packing done?’ I grumbled as we climbed into the car.
Once the doors were shut, he quirked me a grin and said, ‘I believe you were the one who begged to just go to sleep and forget it.’
‘But you are the responsible one in this relationship,’ I told him with a haughty little snort. ‘You should not have let me.’
I got the raised eyebrow thing. ‘It wasn’t my fault; you… said please.’
I had to laugh at him.
God, he was in such a good mood. It always amazes me how much younger he looks when he’s smiling and laughing, and not wearing that little almost-frown. Damn near looks his age.
By the time we got to the house, he was fairly vibrating with tension. One part Christmas-morning, ‘I’m gonna bust’ expectation, and one part ‘What have I done’, ‘I’m gonna puke’ apprehension. I was starting to suspect that there was more going on here than just new carpet.
He led me in, taking me by the hand as soon as we were in the house. He didn’t speak and I didn’t press him, as he took us up the stairs. He did what I’d tried the day I’d shown him the paintjob, bringing up the rear and watching me like a hawk. His hand tightened on mine as we came into the doorway.
My first thought was… somebody lives here. My second thought was… we do.
Yes, there was carpet; a rich golden brown that echoed the Celtic knot work pattern and the oak wood every bit as well as I’d hoped it would. But there was also our bed, massive and solid and sitting right where we’d planned for it to go. It didn’t look like furniture that had just been delivered; it was all made up with brand new sheets and a comforter, pillows looking plump and inviting against that headboard with the leaf pattern carved on it.
There was our afghan from the apartment, thrown artfully across the footboard. There were blinds on the windows and valances that matched the bedclothes, in an ivy print that made me wonder if someone had somehow had them custom made in the scant time since they’d seen my paint job. Somehow Heero’d managed to get the rest of the furniture into the room, our dressers and the bedside tables. Fuzzy-butt was sitting on the dresser, right underneath my portrait of Solo, all neatly matted and framed and hanging on the wall.
Our… things were there. The book Heero had been reading was on the nightstand on his side of the bed. One of my sketchpads and a pencil was on mine. A vase that I had gotten flowers in while I was in the hospital was sitting next to Fuzzy. The picture that Heero had kept in his room at the apartment, of the five of us pilots, sat on the bookcase by the window. My set of Kipling books were there right next to Heero’s Japanese history books.
It… looked lived in.
It looked like we lived there.
Heero seemed to find something in my face that eased his tension and I awakened from my gawking to remember my own trepidation when I had shown him in here. ‘It’s perfect,’ I breathed, feeling oddly like speech was going to spoil something.
He sighed and smiled, pulling me into a tight hug. ‘I wanted it to be… ours. You were doing all the work, and I wanted a hand in it too. Is it… all right?’
‘Perfect,’ I repeated, holding him tight.
I could have wept. He got it. He really fucking got it. I’d had his reassurances, but until that moment I hadn’t been sure that he truly understood how important it was that this become our home and not just the home that Heero gave me.
‘Thank you,’ I told him, and kissed him like tomorrow wasn’t going to dawn.
‘Only eight more rooms to go,’ he sighed, when I let him.
‘Don’t care,’ I whispered against his lips, going back for more of what I needed from him. ‘We can do it… we can do anything together.’
I felt his body stirring in response to my kisses… in response to my words. ‘Oh God, Duo… don’t make me be the responsible one… we’ll never get back to the apartment.’
I laughed, but it took some physical effort to pry myself off him.
We did leave then, because we had to, but at least I got Chinese take-out for dinner and not another form of liver.
It took us until well after midnight to pack up almost all that was left. We were both rather surprised at just how much crap was there. All the dishes and food that we’d hung onto out of the kitchen took us several hours alone. It’s kind of amazing how much stuff you just can’t do without over a long term. The place looked pretty dismal by the time we were done, with a couple of dozen big packing boxes stacked in the living room and all the personal stuff gone. It looked kind of sad and… abandoned.
The last two hours I thought Heero was going to give himself an ulcer trying not to fuss over me. He wanted so desperately to make me stop working and just finish on his own; it was about to kill him. I’ll be the first to admit I was pretty damn tired and sore by the time we were done, but I was not feeling dizzy and I’d be damned if I could sit back and just watch Heero work.
We were barely through with the last of the stuff we could do without in the morning, before Heero was steering me off to the shower.
We were both too tired for any more horsing around though, just getting clean and almost falling into bed still damp. I curled against him with a groan of relief, just happy to finally be prone.
‘You doing ok?’ he asked hesitantly, arm winding around me.
‘I’m fine,’ I smiled against his chest, reaching to rub my knuckles reassuringly up and down his arm, eyes drooping already. ‘I just can’t believe we’re finally going to be doing this tomorrow. Finally getting out of here.’
He was quiet, dropping a kiss on the top of my head, and letting his fingers trace random patterns over my back. ‘Did you… really hate it here that much?’
My eyes blinked open and I contemplated the smooth expanse of his chest as I thought about that one. ‘No, I didn’t hate it. I just… never felt like I belonged. I always felt like your… guest.’
‘Should I have… moved us into someplace new, when you first got out of the hospital?’ he asked, sounding hesitant and very unlike Heero.
I couldn’t help grinning. ‘It wouldn’t have mattered if you’d moved us into a cave at that stage, love, or the Taj Mahal.’ Then I thought about something. ‘Are you… sorry to be leaving here?’
‘No,’ he breathed, pulling me in close and slipping his leg under mine until we were twined together like a couple of snakes. ‘I’ve lived here for a while, but you’ve shown me it was never really a home the way our house is going to be. It’s just…’ he hesitated.
‘Just what, love?’ I prompted, tilting my head to look up at him.
He looked almost… guilty for what he was about to confess. ‘Not all of my memories of our time here are… bad ones.’
That was kind of an odd bend to be making to my head when I was already so tired and groggy. Trying to look at some of my worst moments from the outside. Heero had told me before that he liked taking care of me. While I had been on the edges of a frustration driven nervous breakdown, had he been… enjoying those times? Bathing me, carrying me from place to place until I’d regained enough strength to sit up in a wheel chair for more than five minutes. Cooking for me. Reading to me.
It was too much of a twist to ask my poor brain to make that late at night and I stopped trying. Letting myself drift off to sleep with the feel of Heero’s hand brushing languidly up and down my back.
Morning was pretty much a sucky blur. We had to get up entirely too damn early to finish being ready before the movers were scheduled to arrive. The first thing I did was hunt up the box of bathroom supplies and rip that puppy back open, extracting the bottle of aspirin and the tube of Ben-Gay before even thinking about getting dressed.
The next time I passed Heero in the middle of the strange landscape that was the living room; he wrinkled his nose and caught at my arm. ‘We’re paying these people to do a job. You do not need to be lifting and carrying today… that’s what they’ll be here for.’
‘I won’t, if you won’t,’ I grinned at him, and could tell I took him by surprise.
‘Fair enough,’ he agreed with a sigh that told me he thought it was anything but. I just smirked at him.
The movers were there promptly at nine and looked a little surprised that there wasn’t more stuff to be moved than there was. They actually looked rather pleased when they realized the only furniture that would be going with us was the couch and one bed. It only served to make me feel like more of a wimp though; we really should have been able to handle the last of things on our own.
It was all downstairs and loaded into the somewhat too large moving truck within an hour and a half. I did my best to just stay out of the way.
Heero gave the two guys the address and promised to meet them at the house within the hour. They took off down the stairs talking about the fact that they’d have time to stop and grab lunch on the way.
I couldn’t help making one more walk through of the place, once the whirlwind of burly box movers wasn’t fracturing my thoughts any more. Heero was in his own room, doing the same, I suspected and I made my way into the room that had been mine for… God… for how long? Had it been a year yet? Not quite, but getting close. It looked weird with the bed gone. Though we wouldn’t be using it ourselves, it still belonged to us and there was no reason not to put it in a guest room. I paced around the room, looking for the signs that said this had been my… sanctuary for so long.
Because, I suppose it had been. I’m not sure I’d have gotten by in those early days if I hadn’t had that room to retreat to. Someplace where I could hide for awhile.
‘Still runnin’ and hidin’,’ Solo tsked near my ear. ‘Still a street kid down to yer soul.’
‘Yeah,’ I sighed. ‘Guess I’ll always be one of your street rats, old friend.’
‘Damn straight,’ he muttered, looking around with me. ‘Damn straight.’
‘Let’s blow this place, King-rat,’ I whispered and he went on without me, winking from the sight he’d never really been in.
I found Heero standing in the living room waiting for me, an oddly wistful look on his face. When he saw me, he stretched out a hand, asking me to join him. I went as I was beckoned and found myself taken by the arms to be turned around. ‘See that?’ he whispered.
‘See what?’ I queried, not at all sure what I was supposed to be noticing about the wall.
‘The window,’ he told me, voice very damn strange. ‘Can you remember that for me? The way the sun falls through it… the shape of it?’
I studied it with the artist’s eye that kept things where I could get at them later. Looked at the slant of sunlight. Saw the dance of dust motes. Felt the grain of the wood trim. Knew the mathematics of the grid the windowpanes formed. ‘Yes,’ I told him.
‘I want you to draw that for me some day,’ he said then, hands on my upper arms tightening. ‘I want you to draw yourself, standing there looking out at whatever it was you used to see… I found you there so often… I want you to capture that for me.’
I flushed, but couldn’t deny the almost thick emotion in his voice. ‘All right,’ I promised. ‘I’ll try.’
That seemed to be enough, and he let go of my arms and turned away. ‘Let’s go then,’ he said, voice kind of brusque. I knew better than to poke at him in the mood he seemed to be in. I think leaving that place was a little harder than he admitted to. A little harder than he had realized it would be.
We didn’t look back.
The moving truck was a good ten minutes behind us despite our slight delay, and we had time to get the house opened up and decide where we were going to put the things they would be bringing. The couch we had talked about selling, since we’d already bought an entire matching living room suite, but for the time being at least, it was going into my studio. The boxes were clearly tagged and we could have them hauled off to either the kitchen, the bathroom, or the spare bedroom based on that labeling.
I can remember looking around at the sea of packing boxes that were already all over the house and wondering if we’d ever get it all unpacked. I wondered if we would ever find everything. And then I wondered how the two of us were ever going to fill the space that was our new home. It suddenly seemed… very vast.
When the truck finally arrived, I just assigned myself kitchen-duty and once again tried to stay out of the way, letting Heero direct the offloading and delivery. I didn’t feel quite so bad if I wasn’t actually watching other people sweating and straining to move my stuff.
There was plenty to do, unpacking the food and dishes and deciding where we were going to keep things, that I didn’t have to think too hard about how much I felt like a lazy moron.
Heero had been right about one thing; the kitchen really did need to be gutted and redone. It was horribly unhandy and awkward, almost as though someone had started to remodel and never finished. The refrigerator was a mile and a half from anything else in the room; clear over in the corner across from the doorway into living room. The sink was an old thing, porcelain over some sort of steel or something, and all chipped. The cabinets all had this ugly floral contact paper on the shelves. All told, there were four doors in the damn room, one into the dining room, two on the living room wall, and the door down into the basement. It crossed my mind as I was putting away cans of soup, that it would make sense to close off one of the doors on the living room side; it would offer us more options and we certainly didn’t need another way out of the stupid room.
In the bottom of the box that held some of the dry goods, I found the file folder that had been lying on our kitchen table back at the apartment all week. It had gotten shoved in between the boxes of cereal at the last minute. I pulled it out to put on the counter for later, but then was moved to open the thing one more time.
There was a hell of a lot in that little folder. It held the pre-requisite hopes and dreams, layered in with a whopping big bundle of change. There were a couple of sheets of history right next to a couple more pieces of the future. There were some fears. There were some tears. All wrapped up in a deceptively simple manila folder simply labeled, ‘house’.
It wasn’t all about the house, but if it wasn’t directly related to our acquisition, it had been spawned by that purchase and had ended up in the same folder until we’d moved in enough to have a filing system again.
I looked at our copies of each other’s Power of Attorney. I looked at the copy of our wills. Same sex marriages aren’t exactly legal where we live, but we were about as close as you could get without the flowers and the rice. That kind of hit me for the first time, standing there in our kitchen getting ready to put away a box of saltines in our ugly kitchen cupboards. We were pretty much a married couple. Death do us part and all that damn shit.
That made me think about the woman who had lived here before us. The woman who had loved this house probably more than I could ever imagine. I found my fingers leafing forward, looking for our copy of what was half ours and half the banks, for now. It took a bit of looking to find the woman’s name behind all the legal jargon and the name of the executor of her estate. It kind of made me shiver, thinking about that, having just looked at my own will. I wondered if the woman had ever imagined outliving her husband. Had ever imagined on the day they moved in, how her life would end.
Patricia Dent. I wondered what her husband had called her. Pat? Patti? Tricia? I looked a little farther and found his name too. Lester. Lester and Patricia Dent. Les and Patti, I decided. Mostly because Pat Dent just sounded… weird.
I wondered if she’d hated this kitchen and had nagged at Les to get around to remodeling it. Or maybe she was too busy with her flowers and plants to care that the kitchen was less than… optimally arranged. Maybe she’d loved it. Maybe she wouldn’t be happy with us for thinking about changing it.
I emptied another box, stepping away from the counter to add it to the stack by the door, opening the next full one. I found Heero’s box of tea and decided to store it in the cabinet nearest the stove. Heero had kept it in a similar place and I guess I was hoping it would help things seem more familiar for him. I opened the cabinet door, placing the box inside, and started to close it again before something caught my eye. There was a small piece of paper taped to the inside of the door, down in the corner and I felt my heart give a little leap of discovery. There was a verse printed on it, looking like it had been typed on a manual typewriter.
‘Yes, in the poor man’s garden grow
Far more than herbs and flowers—
Kind thoughts, contentment, peace of mind,
And joy for weary hours.’ 
I had to smile, imagining the woman coming out every morning to get her cup of coffee or maybe even tea like Heero drank. Reading her little verse to remind herself of all the things she had, even in her darker moments. I thought about her puttering with her plants and flowers and thinking about those lines. I’d be willing to bet that once upon a time there had been a vegetable garden in our back yard. I wondered where it was, and in that moment knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would learn to garden someday. I would learn how to grow our own food, could already imagine how good it would taste. Sister Helen would like that. And I would learn how to grow flowers too… because Patricia Dent would like that even better.
‘Duo?’ Heero’s voice, tinged with concern, brought me out of my reverie and I turned to find him standing in the kitchen doorway, holding a box, and looking at me quizzically. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Unpacking,’ I told him absently. ‘Do you know anything about gardening?’
He blinked at me for a second before shaking his head. ‘Not really. Why?’
‘I think… I think I want to learn how,’ I told him and watched while he sat down the box he was holding to come to where I was standing.
‘You do?’ he smiled gently. ‘And what, pray tell, did you find in the tea cabinet that made you want to take up digging in the dirt?’
I flushed and frowned at him. ‘What makes you think that I found anything…’
He chuckled, his hand settling on mine where it still held the doorknob, pulling the door open a little wider. ‘Because you’ve been standing here, staring into an empty cupboard for several minutes now.’
He saw the little square of paper and raised his hand to brush his fingers over it, looking puzzled.
‘Leave it?’ I asked and he glanced at me oddly before looking close enough to read the thing. Then he smiled and leaned in to place a gentle kiss on my cheek.
‘All right,’ he said simply, and went back to work.
I swear, the movers were done moving us in faster than they had moved us out of the apartment. But then, I suppose they didn’t have near as many stairs to deal with. It was something of a relief when I finally heard Heero seeing them out, making arrangements to have the bill mailed to us.
Once they were gone, Heero insisted on keeping the unpacking to the bare minimum. I’d pretty much finished in the kitchen, and Heero had us concentrate on the bathroom supplies and the clothes we would need to get through the weekend.
There was part of me that wanted to tackle more, wanted to clean up the mess and just work until everything was unpacked. I didn’t really like the… chaos. The clutter of boxes and the irritation of not being able to find anything. It went against my spacer ‘everything in its place’ instincts.
But there was another part that was getting really damn tired and just wanted to stop for the night. Part of me that wanted to go lie down on that new bed and just try and let this whole ‘ownership’ thing soak down into my bones.
So when Heero finally made it plain that he wasn’t letting me work any more for the night, I didn’t really fight it all that much. ‘Make you a deal,’ I grinned at him instead. ‘If you’ll let me cook dinner while you shower… I’ll let you wash the dishes while I shower and we’ll be done for the night, ok?’
If he suspected my offer to cook was mostly just to make sure I didn’t get spinach again, he didn’t let on. He even managed to keep from asking me, again, if I was all right before he left for the upstairs bathroom.
In retrospect, I wish I’d thought about that being our first meal in our new home and had managed something better than I did. We had deliberately been letting the perishables dwindle over the last week, so we didn’t have to worry about moving so much. All I could come up with was canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It looked rather damn pathetic when I set it on the table, so I opened a can of fruit cocktail to go with it. That kind of made it look even worse, but when Heero came down from the shower, still toweling his hair dry, he didn’t say a word. Just sat down and dug in like it was a five star meal. It did taste pretty good, or maybe it was just the fact that we were so hungry.
I found my bottle of iron tablets pressed into my hand just as we were finishing and I had to wonder if he’d been carrying them in his pocket all day to make sure they didn’t get misplaced. I suppose it beat being force-fed liver and onions, so I didn’t complain about the touch of obsessive behavior on his part, just took the damn thing and settled the bottle on the shelf over the sink before going off for my shower.
‘The plumbing job is… amateur, apparently,’ Heero warned me just as I was leaving the room. ‘The hot and cold faucets are reversed.’
I had to chuckle, imagining him making the discovery the hard way. ‘Thanks,’ I called back over my shoulder, hearing him rattling around looking for the dish soap.
Heero had left me a stack of fresh towels with my shampoo and conditioner lying on top of them where I couldn’t miss them on the counter. I was tired enough that the gesture got cataloged in my brain under ‘sweet’ and not ‘annoying’.
It felt like… showering in a hotel room, or at a friend’s house. Weird. I wondered how long it would take before things felt more like we belonged there.
Heero had been right about the faucets; though they were labeled the way you would expect them to be, with hot on the left, but hot was cold and cold was hot. I was starting to imagine that good old Lester hadn’t been much of a handyman.
About half way through the shower, it kind of came to me that this would be our first night together in our new home. I stopped thinking about being tired and going to sleep, and started thinking… about other things.
I won’t say that I consciously thought ‘this is our first night in our new home and I want it to be special’. I won’t say I was thinking much of anything. I just suddenly wanted Heero’s arms around me, wanted the anchor his touch always brought. Wished I’d waited and we’d come up here together. I’m afraid I rather rushed the rest of my shower, skipping the conditioner part of the ritual all together.
I was out, combed and toweled to the point I wasn’t dripping, in my ages old time limit without really even meaning to. I couldn’t have told you, in that moment, what I wanted or what was going through my head. I actually felt kind of stupid; there was just the vague need to be with Heero. To find Heero and touch him… hold on to him.
I left the bathroom and drifted to the top of the stairs, not sure about going down to find him. The house was quiet and it seemed wrong to call out for him. It was a very… strange moment. I felt like a stranger in my own skin. In my own home. I hesitated in the hall at the top of the stairs, finally hearing Heero as he moved about on the first floor.
He came to the foot of the stairs, perhaps curious why the shower had stopped running so soon. Perhaps having heard me come to stand there like a loon.
‘Duo?’ he called, voice subdued as if he felt the strangeness of the moment too. I simply held out my hand and he came up the stairs to take it. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked gently.
I nodded, smiling for him, and stepped backwards, drawing him toward our bedroom. Our bedroom. It was like an electric tingle on my skin as we passed through the doorway into that new but familiar place. I felt it starting to sink into my head… into my heart. Our bedroom. I lead him to the side of the bed and stopped, letting go of his hand.
I stood there in front of him; naked as the day I was born and found myself glad my hair was unbound. I needed the cover. Needed the shelter. I felt unbelievably vulnerable like that, him fully dressed and me… not. His eyes were… very intense. Almost… hungry.
I reached and carefully began to undo the buttons on his shirt. Watching my fingers work. His hands came to rest on my hips, just settling there. He didn’t speak, watching my face while I worked his shirt open. I had to tug it free from his jeans to get at the last couple of buttons. I could hear his breath quickening as I finally freed that last button. Then I carefully dipped my hands inside the open shirt and lay them on his chest, palms gently resting against his skin. His breathing actually hitched, and his hands on my hips tightened reflexively. I couldn’t look up at his face, keeping my eyes on the place where I was touching him. Carefully watching my hands as I slowly slid them apart, pushing the shirt further open, pushing it off his shoulders. It fell to the floor, forgotten. Cautiously, I let my hands run down his biceps, following the path the shirt had taken. He had dropped his hands from me to let the cloth fall away, but he returned them to my waist, his thumbs finding the concave of my hips and brushing lightly over my skin. I didn’t dare let it distract me as my own hands left his arms to trace across his stomach, to sweep up his chest again.
He uttered a tiny little cry that might have been my name. Eyes and attention focused completely on my fingers, I dared stroke across one of his nipples, I watched it tighten, I heard him gasp. I found my lower lip caught between my teeth as I carefully brushed across him. I was vaguely aware that his own hands were moving, was vaguely aware that he was making sounds… small little sighs. I bit at my lip, forcing my attention where it had to remain.
But suddenly, my hands were caught and held, and Heero was bringing them to his lips, kissing my fingers, kissing my palms with an almost feverish intensity.
‘Stop, love,’ he whispered and I froze, horrified that I’d hurt him despite my caution.
‘Heero?’ I breathed, unsure of my ground. He looked… intoxicated. He looked… damned aroused. Why was he asking me to stop?
He pulled me into his arms, bringing our bodies together and kissing that place just behind my jaw that makes me shiver. ‘You aren’t even aware of my touches, love,’ he said then; voice a husky sigh in my ear. ‘I don’t want you like this. I want you to feel what I’m doing to you.’
I couldn’t help a sigh. Couldn’t help how my arms went around his neck. ‘I’m sorry,’ I told him, feeling guilty, feeling terribly defective. ‘I wanted to… I…’ I didn’t know what to say to him.
His lips sought mine and he kissed me with a gentle touch, almost timidly.
‘I don’t want our love-making to be this one-sided,’ he whispered when he drew away, his hands sweeping my hair back and twisting it carefully out of the way. Then he was laying me back on the bed.
I looked up at him, feeling something strange stirring in my gut, and watched him finish undressing. ‘Make me want you,’ a quavering voice suddenly said, sounding desperate. Sounding scared. Sounding entirely unsure of themselves and positive all at the same time. It took the both of us a heartbeat to understand that the voice belonged to me.
Heero, pants discarded, came to kneel on the bed, hovering over me. ‘What are you saying?’
‘I’m ready,’ I told him. ‘I want you to touch me… that way, again.’
His hand settled on my hip, caressing gently up and down my side. I couldn’t help the shivering flinch my body made. ‘Duo…’ he began, but I wouldn’t let him go on.
‘Shhh,’ I breathed. ‘Don’t promise me you won’t go that far… please. Don’t say it. Let it happen if it will.’
My words kindled that fire in him that flares so bright and sometimes seems to burn so hot. His kiss then was more hungry than gentle, more fierce than timid. I found myself responding to his touch with shuddering leaps and soft cries, found my heart already racing in fearful anticipation.
His hands were everywhere, dancing over my skin, one minute firm and sure, one minute light and teasing. I tried to keep up, tried to meet his touches with caresses and kisses of my own, but he’s almost overwhelming when he loves me like that. As though he can’t touch enough of me. I would barely register that he was suckling a nipple before his lips found their way to thigh or hip. Was still panting from the feel of his cool fingers stroking over my face when they were suddenly wrapped around my erection.
He plays my body like a master musician, jubilant when he coaxes sound from my lips, delighted when he drives me to rocking motion, desperate for relief he won’t grant me so soon. His eyes are almost feral when he manages to make me plead.
‘God, Heero…’ I begged him, my hips arching up towards him. ‘Touch me… please touch me.’
There was some small part of my head that understood that I was pushing toward unknown ground and was afraid, but the rest of me was lost in his hands and just wanted that feeling only he could give me.
There was suddenly massage oil there and I honestly don’t know where it came from. Had he been prepared for this, our first night together in our house? Had he hoped for this offer from me? Had he intended an offer of his own? I’ll never ask because I don’t really want to spoil the memory of it with details that don’t matter now. Because that night lives in my memory as one of my most precious times with Heero.
It took nothing more than the brush of his fingers down the length of my thigh to prompt me to throw my legs open, accepting his touch with abandon. I think I might have whimpered for him. I think he groaned at the sound.
It was not so hard to accept his tender probing this time. He didn’t try to distract me from it like he had before, letting me feel it as he teased at my entrance, stroking gently until I was unconsciously moving with him. He didn’t speak, but I felt when his caress changed, felt that moment when slick fingers slid within. Gentle… God, his hands are so gentle, it’s hard to remember that he could snap me in half without half trying. I think sometimes it’s that velvet over steel feel of him that I find so intoxicating. He’s so damn strong; but when his hands are on my body… he almost worships me.
That feeling was building within me again, some response to this most intimate of sharings, a need that I didn’t half understand, could not have described. His fingers, moving inside me, were building that feeling into an aching desire past anything I’d ever felt.
I looked up at him, where he hovered over me, and was almost dazed by the look of need in his eyes. He is so damn beautiful, so strong and solid and real. With my heart pounding in my throat until my voice was nothing more than a breath, I called to that need, ‘Please Heero…’
He… growled. Deep throated and husky and he shifted above me until he was kneeling between my thighs. I felt his fingers leaving me, and stared up at him, wide-eyed, knowing what was coming. Wanting it. Afraid of it.
The oil was there again and he stroked it over his length, his eyes not leaving mine. He produced a towel from the same damn place the oil had come from, I suppose, and cleaned his hands before leaning down to kiss me. I could feel his slick cock brushing my thigh and a tremor overtook me. He seemed to be hesitating and I had this sudden sense that if we backed away from this now, it would never happen. I stretched a leg up and wrapped it around his hip, making my own hips tilt to meet his. He groaned, and when I looked into his eyes he seemed lost behind the desire… lost to his need.
His body ground down to meet mine and I felt him pressed against me… against that place he had so carefully prepared. I couldn’t react, felt frozen in place, half my brain telling me to shove him off and the other half wanting to beg him for more. A cry left me and it felt like a steel band was constricting my chest, I couldn’t seem to draw air back into my lungs again. I could feel my body quivering, unsure how to handle the conflicting commands my fear and passion where handing it. All I could do was stare up at him and wait.
Supported on his elbows, he suddenly swept his hands over my face, pushing my hair away, baring me to his eyes. ‘Breathe, love,’ he commanded and it was as though his voice granted me the ability again. Air filled my aching lungs in a sudden gasp and he seemed to be drawn in with it. I felt him penetrate me and I cried out, fighting panic, struggling with a yearning I wasn’t quite ready for. We both froze.
‘Duo?’ he questioned, voice fearful and hips as still as stone. ‘You’re trembling…’
I could only lie beneath him, gasping for breath. I could feel the quivering that was frightening him, but I wasn’t sure I could name its source. I wasn’t sure it was fear.
‘Maybe we should stop,’ he whispered, hands moving gently over my forehead, keeping my bangs pushed back, keeping me from hiding from him.
‘No,’ I whimpered, feeling so strange, so vulnerable. ‘Please don’t stop…’
He shifted and there was a faint lessening of his weight and I knew he intended to pull away from me. ‘No,’ I whimpered and grabbed his hips, holding him tight, suddenly more afraid of his stopping, than of his going forward. He cried out, face suffused with something very akin to joy, and stopped trying to pull back.
‘Take…’ My control, ‘me,’ I breathed, head full of disjointed feelings that barely had words to describe them. I couldn’t have told him what was going on inside me if my life had depended on it. But that growing flood of feelings in my chest was cresting, was within my grasp. Submission. Vulnerability. Trust. Domination. Need. Care. Desire. Command. Control. It was more than I could impart, more than I half understood, the best I could manage was, again, ‘Take me.’
There was something in his eyes, in his expression, that told me he might understand. His body was flushed and sweat-covered, his hunger as plain as the day. But I saw it tempered with a kind of… reverence, a desire not to hurt me that was stronger than his own need. That look washed away the last of my trepidation, battled and won against the nagging mental pictures that had been trying to intrude on my memory. There was nothing of the streets of L2 here. Nothing at all.
My hands pulled at him, kneaded at his hips, and he gave me what we wanted. Sliding into me with excruciating slowness, filling and stretching me in a way I would not have believed possible.
It was strange and wonderful and frightening and so very alien. And it was Heero… inside me. It was like the sealing of a vow. The keeping of a promise. I could barely believe it was happening.
I thought he would never be seated fully, was half afraid I wouldn’t be able to take him completely. And I wanted that very desperately of a sudden. Wanted all of him. I gasped out a sob when I felt the cool press of his sac against me and knew I’d managed it… knew I had him as close as we would ever be.
Bowed over me, he pressed gentle kisses to my chest and sighed against my skin, ‘All right?’
‘Oh God, yes!’ I moaned and let my hands slide up his ribs, wanting to entice him to move. My words made him throb within me and I shivered at the feel. ‘Please…’ I begged, not sure what I wanted… what I needed. I’d never felt anything as near perfect as this joining. Not even that one time that he’d offered himself to me. This just felt… right, somehow.
I think I whined in protest when he shifted and I felt him slipping from me, but then he gave a shallow thrust of his hips and returned to my depths. I panted; suddenly understanding what my body wanted, and I found myself rising to meet him.
‘That’s it,’ Heero sighed, and his next thrust was a little deeper, a little less tentative. My hips began to rock with his and I was lost to it.
Panting, whimpering, clutching at him, straining upward, I have little in the way of coherent memory of that next part. I remember him having to remind me to breath. I remember shouting his name. I remember wishing it would never end. Then I remember thinking I couldn’t handle any more.
What he was doing to me, what he was making me feel, was unreal. The familiar upward spiral seemed to have no end, I was mounting a height unlike anything I’d ever felt before and began to fear the fall. Every plunge he made into me sent stabs of lightning across my sight, sent shocks of pleasure through me until I wasn’t able to do more than hang on to him.
‘Let it go,’ he urged me; voice sounding strained and thick and very far away. ‘Don’t fight me… just let go.’
For a crystalline moment, he came clear in my sight; his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat… his face and chest flushed red… his eyes locked on me. And I understood that he couldn’t take my control, couldn’t take that burden from me… I had to give it.
I just had to trust him. I just had to relax that death grip I held on my own command of myself.
‘Heero… please…’ I gasped out, and the sight of him wavered and watered in front of me.
‘Yes,’ he groaned, his fingers reaching to grasp my erection. ‘Now, baby… with me.’
It was all it took. We came together in that moment; shuddering and heaving and crying out… and it was almost more than my senses could bear. Never before… and never since… have I ever experienced anything quite like that first time.
When my mind chose to house itself in my body again, I was vaguely aware of Heero’s weight, of his breath on the side of my neck, of the feel of him still lodged inside me, pulsing faintly in the final throes of his orgasm. I was aware of the chill of drying sweat. Was aware of the sound of panting breath. Of trembling limbs.
And I was aware of a feeling of being sheltered and cherished. Of being loved and treasured. I felt… somewhat less than flawed. Heero was a comforting, protective presence. An anchor in my uncertain world. I just wanted to curl there with him forever. To set aside the cares and worries of the world and let him watch over me.
When his own synapses decided to function again, there was the brush of soft kisses along my neck and collarbone. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked me, voice soft as though not to disturb the peace of the moment.
I hummed an affirmative and managed to turn my head enough to nuzzle against him.
He grew quiet for a moment and then ventured, ‘Thank you. I’ve wanted this… for so long.’
‘I know,’ I whispered, feeling the niggling presence of guilt and not wanting to deal with it. ‘I’m sorry… I…’
‘Hush,’ he told me, lifting his head to continue his rain of kisses across my chest. ‘You weren’t ready. It wouldn’t have been this… right if we’d pushed it too soon.’
I didn’t quite know what to say to that and so held my tongue, looking up at the ceiling and wondering why it was so hard to focus on it. Heero raised his head to look at me, frowned faintly, and made to lever up. I couldn’t help a sound of protest, desperate not to lose the moment. Afraid that his moving away would steal this precious and rare moment of… peace. Of… surrender.
‘Please don’t take this feeling away from me,’ I gasped, before I had a chance to stop myself, my arms closing around him to hold him where he was.
He hesitated, but then relaxed against me, looking at me intently. ‘Are you… all right?’ he pressed, fingers brushing over my cheek.
‘I’m fine,’ I smiled for him. ‘Just stay a bit longer?’
‘Of course,’ he whispered and bent to kissing his way up the curve of my face, lingering at the corners of my eyes. ‘There’s no place in the world I’d rather be than where I am right now.’
I had to grin, and I’m sure I looked like a loon with my eyes trying to drift shut.
He seemed… terribly fascinated with my face, gently kissing and stroking along my jaw line. ‘God,’ he murmured. ‘I never imagined it would feel this good.’
I blinked open sleepy eyes to regard him, thinking about that, and suddenly understanding that he’d never… taken the dominant role before. I thought my heart would burst in my chest with the knowledge. Of all my regrets, that one had always nagged at me in a way far different than all the others. That Heero’d had his first time with someone else. It was a balm to my spirit to know that we’d finally shared something together that had been new to us both. Don’t ask me why that was so important to me… but it was.
There was a light in his eyes when I looked, that told me he understood just what he’d implied and had said it on purpose, giving me that awareness as a kind of gift. I turned to kiss him, acknowledging it. ‘That… means a great deal to me,’ was all I could manage to tell him, but his soft smile was answer enough.
I dozed off with him still trapped inside me, with his body still covering and shielding mine. At some point he must have actually left the bed, because when I woke a few hours later I had been cleaned up and tucked in, and Heero was asleep beside me.
I will spare you the… somewhat less than romantic reason for my sudden awakening at that ungodly hour. Let’s just suffice it to say I needed to make a trip to the bathroom and leave it at that, shall we? It wasn’t an entirely unexpected thing, but my first experience with it, and by the time I was done and cleaned up, I was wide-awake.
I knew if I tried going back to bed at that point, I’d only end up tossing and turning until I woke poor Heero up, so I snagged my discarded jeans from the bathroom and wandered off downstairs. I had a vague thought about making some hot chocolate or something, but decided I would make too much noise trying to find everything in the not-yet-familiar kitchen, and dismissed the idea.
The house was very strange in the dark. I felt oddly like I was intruding where I didn’t belong, as I padded silently through the maze of boxes, both full and empty. I tried to settle in the living room, but most of the last load from the apartment had been dumped there and it wasn’t very inviting. I paced out of there and through our little dining room, remembering the sound of Trowa and Quatre’s voices as they had teased each other. It gave me a warm feeling, the notion that this house… our house was already filling with new memories. Was already storing the echoes of my friend’s voices. Our friend’s voices. That thought made me feel faintly melancholy, wondering if that room would ever know the sound of Hayden’s deep laugh, would ever hear the bite of Toria’s wit.
Those were my friends, and God how I missed them sometimes. But their voices… their very presence, made me miss something else until my heart ached in my chest. Sometimes it felt like I was drifting between two lives. Like I wasn’t Captain Maxwell the ship’s pilot anymore, but I wasn’t quite… whoever the hell I was going to be someday. Just… drifting.
I left that room and went into the kitchen; eyes adjusted enough to the near darkness that I could see our dishes stacked in the drainer to dry. It was a small touch of the familiar, making me feel a little less lost in the big house.
Lost. Drifting. What odd things to be thinking about after… what had just happened between Heero and me.
I shivered, there in the middle of our ugly kitchen, just thinking about it. God… I’d never in my life felt as anchored and steady as I had with Heero. If I thought about it too much, let myself remember too much… I ached with wanting to go seek him out. Wanting to bury myself in his arms. But it wasn’t fair to wake him just because my mind was so full of thoughts, just because I was so restless.
I left the kitchen, drawn to walk the rest of our house, perhaps checking the parameters. Perhaps just doubting the reality of it. I found myself wondering what the place had looked like when Pat and Lester had lived there. Had there been a table in the hall? Maybe where the phone sat? Or a place where Pat put fresh flowers from her gardens? There were a few nails in the hall and I wondered what pictures had hung there. The kids? Each other? Maybe Lester had painted and there’d been a portrait of the willow tree in the backyard. Or Pat working with her flowers.
I found myself in the back room. In my studio not-quite-born, and there sat the couch from the apartment. It was like finding an old friend in an unexpected place. It rather surprised me, that strange feeling. I had spent a lot of time convalescing on the damn thing, and would have expected it to fill me with the same harsh memories that my old bed did. But it didn’t. Maybe it was the fact that I’d tried to spend my darkest moments in the privacy of my room, in that bed. That I had tried to hide my frustration and fear from Heero, who had been bearing enough burdens during those horrible months. But… the times out in the living room of the apartment, spent with Heero… were not so bitter. Not so dark.
I understood his remark then, when we had left that place for the last time. ‘Not all of my memories of our time here are… bad ones,’ he had said, and it had surprised me a little. But I suppose that not all of mine had been bad ones either.
I think… before the weekend was over… I needed to tell him that.
The studio, with all its windows, was lit by a vibrant moon, shadows from the trees outside dancing across the floor and walls. The play of light spoke to my muse and I found myself hunting for the box that held my art supplies.
It wasn’t hard to find, Heero is every bit as organized as you would have expected, and every box in the house was labeled with a concise list of its contents. I was settled on the end of the couch, sitting in a splash of moonlight, sketchpad in hand, in a matter of minutes.
The room really was not much more than a closed in porch and it was damn cool out there. I pulled my legs up to tuck under me and propped my sketchpad against my knees, burrowing into the couch cushions. I caught a hint of Heero’s scent and couldn’t help smiling softly.
I sketched the ghosts of trees for a bit, and thought about memories.
I tried to capture the ethereal feel of the light, and thought about changes.
I drew leaves on trees that didn’t have them, and thought about the future.
I blocked in shadows as deep as the night, and thought about the past.
Then I just sat for a while, watching the shifting patterns, and tried to still the maelstrom in my head, tried to make sense of the waking dreams.
I seemed strangely bereft of ghosts and hamsters that night. Solo didn’t come to tease me about my ‘virginity’; hamsters did not come to wave banners under my nose. Guilt beast did not come to join me on the couch. It was peaceful. It was lonely, being left to think my own thoughts.
I couldn’t tell you what all ran through my head that night. Visions of Mickey in his hospital bed somewhere. The lines of Toria’s e-mail, requesting my status in the land of the living. Memories of some of those old songs the Musketeers had sung so very badly. Thoughts of space. Thoughts of piloting. Feelings of regret. Feelings of… not regret. Heero. The memory of Heero’s hands on me. The feel of his lips on mine.
I remembered the sketch he had asked me to do for him, of the window in the apartment and I folded back the page that held the fragments of my night, finding a clean page. I thought about that window, pulling up what I had tucked away and began to sketch. I tried to think about those melancholy days of standing in that window looking out, seeing… not much of anything. Trying to capture for Heero what he seemed to want to remember.
But what kept coming to my mind was the sight of him, rising above me. The feel of his hips between my thighs. The sounds of elation passing his lips.
God… what I had seen in his face. What I had felt in my heart.
It threatened to overwhelm me, sitting there in the moonlight, and I had to pause until my sight cleared and my hands stopped shaking.
It’s not sex, damn it. It’s… two souls finding each other in the dark. It’s… when something is broken and is only whole when the two halves come together. I can’t explain it. I can only feel it. If you ever find it, don’t let it go. Don’t ever let it go. Even when it isn’t easy. Even when it hurts. Even when it gets confused. Nothing in all the heavens and the Earth is perfect, but what I had in Heero was as close as it fucking gets. I can’t name it, and I can only sound like a besotted idiot trying to explain the unexplainable. I can’t do it, there just aren’t words.
But when I looked down into my lap, I saw it. I hadn’t sketched the window picture I had intended, is that any surprise? Do I ever damn well draw what I plan to?
You remember that portrait I’d done of myself… selves, on the way to L3? I held its… answer in my hands.
The man and the little boy who had seemed so lost, in the other picture, had been found. The two who had seemed so tired were now resting. The pair that had been so broken and worn, were made whole.
The portrait is of Heero, settled back with a gentle smile on his face. I could have gazed on that expression all damn day. It’s a rare and open moment that my artist’s memory had squirreled away for me. I am tucked up against his right side and his arm is tight around me, holding me close and shielding me. I am resting peacefully in his care, all the lines of worry and exhaustion gone from my face. On his other side, the child… No… I am curled in a ball, head resting on his knee. Sleeping the way only small children can sleep, the fear gone from my face, his hand resting lightly on my back.
He holds all of me.
You need more explanation than that? I can’t give it; just that and no more.
Heero holds all of me.
He found me there, some hours later, asleep on the couch. There was the glow of dawn in the air when I opened my eyes at his touch, but I didn’t notice. Noticed nothing at all but the shine of unabashed tears on Heero’s face. He held my sketchpad in his hands. I half expected him to turn away when he saw me awake. He never lets me see him cry, but he surprised me, only reaching to cup my cheek.
‘That’s all I’ve ever wanted,’ he whispered, voice terribly unsteady.
I reached for him, drawing him into my arms. He was still warm from bed and his heated flesh coming to rest against my chilled skin made us both shiver.
‘I know,’ I told him, tugging until he came to lie with me, wrapping me against him to share his warmth. ‘This is really forever, isn’t it?’ I whispered, not sure I wanted anyone to hear the words but him.
‘I hope so,’ he said, equally softly, lifting his head to look down at me. ‘God, I hope so.’
I pulled his face down to gently kiss the tears away, feeling… almost awed that he’d let me see him like this. Distantly, I heard the sketchpad drop to the floor, and I smiled up at him, feeling that thing inside me letting go and relaxing.
‘Give me that feeling again,’ I sighed, and watched that light come back into his eyes.
We were finally home.
End of Expectations
 ‘Wanderlust’ by Heather Alexander
 ‘The poor Man’s Garden’ by Mary Howitt.
Go back to:Chapter Ten