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
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
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
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
‘Duo?’ Quatre asked fearfully. ‘What’s
wrong? You look…’ he fumbled for an appropriate word and glanced
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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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…
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,
‘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
‘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
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
‘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
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
Knowing what I should do didn’t make it any easier to
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
‘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,
I started to shake my head, thought better of it and told
him, ‘No. Just felt a little… lightheaded. I’ve been resting
‘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
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
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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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…
‘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
‘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…
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
‘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
Behind me I thought I heard a tight little, ‘God-damn
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
‘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.
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
‘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
‘…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
‘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…’
‘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
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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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
‘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
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
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
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
‘…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
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
‘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,
‘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
‘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
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
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
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’,
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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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
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…
‘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
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
‘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
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
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
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
‘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…
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
‘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
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
‘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
‘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
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
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
‘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
‘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?’
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
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
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
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
‘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
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
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
‘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
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
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
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
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
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
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
‘I know,’ he sighed, and actually managed to sound
When he drew away, his eyes were serious, the teasing banished
‘You know I love you,’ I had to tell him, just
to clear the damn point up. ‘More than my stupid co-pilot… more
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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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
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
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
‘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
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
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
‘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
The kind of ‘new’ you had to believe in to make
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
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
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
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
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
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
‘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…
‘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…’
‘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
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
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
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
‘Unpacking,’ I told him absently. ‘Do you
know anything about gardening?’
He blinked at me for a second before shaking his head. ‘Not
‘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
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
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
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
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
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,
‘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
‘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
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
‘Let it go,’ he urged me; voice sounding strained
and thick and very far away. ‘Don’t fight me… just let
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…
‘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
‘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
I tried to capture the ethereal feel of the light, and thought
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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