by FancyFigures
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

How the Other Half Lives + Part 2

There's no way I think Quatre's amusement is justified -- no way at all. I suppose I imagined that he would share my horror at the experience I've just been through. No -- suffered, is the appropriate word.

"Was it really that bad?" he laughs. "Come on, these are smart apartments; the tenants have money and they have to clear some kind of police check before moving in. It can't have been a hell-hole, as you so graphically describe ..."

"It was." I'm still shuddering at the thought. "Dammit, I thought the place had been burgled. I've never seen such a mess in my life. Everything jumbled together; nothing labelled or cleared away." Quatre's still laughing at me, and I'm not sure I approve of his levity. "There were dirty plates, Quatre. And not just in the sink! I found a full set of cutlery in the bathroom, and there was some correspondence pinned to the wall in the lobby with a fork. Like a ... spear. A most aggressive vision. There was dust on the top of every door frame, and a very disturbing colour scheme on the walls of the lounge. I had a headache after my first evening visit."

"So what do you have to do? Do you have to live there while the owner's away? All the time?"

I catch the glint in his eye. "Very amusing, I'm sure. No, I only have to check in on a daily basis. Collect up the mail, check the alarm's set -- things like that."

"Mail?" Quatre's still provoking me. "I believe you can tell a lot by a person's mail."

"I believe so," I reply dryly. "But if that's the case, I'm not much the wiser, having waded through a mass of free flyers and invitations to various gourmet events. Oh, and there were some gaming magazines with lurid covers of impossibly-cantilevered, scantly-clad animated women."

"How the other half lives," murmurs my so-called friend. "You sorted it through for the owner, then?"

I can feel a slight flush on my cheeks. "Of course I did, among other things. The owner obviously needed some help clearing up. I sorted a total mess of CDs into alphabetical order. There was a hideous smell in the laundry room, so I disposed of a filthy bottle of stagnant liquid I found in there. Then there was some particularly challenging washing up -- the tenant appears to cook several times a day and uses some very eccentric ingredients ..." I notice Quatre's raised eyebrow. "I was just looking to pass the time, you understand. You're the one told me to show some neighbourliness."

Quatre's grinning at me again now. One would think he assumed some ulterior motive in me, like common curiosity. Or something.

"So who owns this apartment?"

"I have no idea," I shrug. "The owner never turned up for the introductory meeting. The management committee provided the key and the details. I'm not sure all of this meets your criteria of making new friends and influencing people, so perhaps I should just let it drop ..."

Quatre raises an eyebrow sceptically. I think we've been friends for too long, or else his empathy is improving.

"OK," I sigh. "I'll persist with it. Actually, I had some ideas for a shoe rack in the hallway and some modern storage units in the kitchen -- he might be interested in that. I've never seen so many ill-assorted utensils -- I'm very glad I have the delivery service for my meals. And a formal message board would also be an excellent idea ..."

"He?" Quatre's eyelids flicker. His interest would be imperceptible to anyone else, but maybe my empathy is improving, too.

"I saw his apartment, remember? I saw the mail. And ..." I'm wracked with another shudder. "I saw the piles of unfolded laundry. It's a male tenant. Please don't ask me to elaborate."

"Underwear?" Quatre is relentless. "I believe you can tell a lot by a person's --"

I glare at him and he bites back the rest of the sentence. "I didn't stay any longer than necessary," I insist. "I was going to play the CDs that had been left out of their cases, just to check whether they were still serviceable, but I couldn't get the equipment to work."

Quatre frowns. "It was broken?"

"No, no." I'm impatient with him now, and although I like his company, I'm hoping he'll go soon. There's something disturbing my thoughts and I need to wipe the whole apartment-sitting episode from my mind. I need to settle back in my own place, on my own, with my things around me. I need...

I sigh. "The place was the most appalling jumble, Quatre. I just couldn't find the remote control. Then when I was about to lock up and leave, I found it under the --" Now it's my turn to bite off my unfortunate words, but it's too late; Quatre's all but pouncing on me.

"Where, Heero? Where did you find it?"

"Under the laundry," I admit. The flush is all over my neck now. "If you must know, it was under a pile of boxers illustrated with a character called Link."

+

Wufei is laughing at me and I'm pretty pissed at him. "For God's sake, what's the joke? This is your fault, for bullying me into doing something that I should have known wasn't my thing. I do my Good Samaritan act and all I get in return is being creeped out!"

"Duo." He's shaking his head. "This is a good neighbourhood, a smart apartment block; you don't get ghouls here. You sound like a kid at Halloween."

"Hell, I felt like one!" I'm nearly hysterical, I know, but I reckon I'm suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. "It was like no one lived there at all, you know? Place was cold ... and it was too frigging quiet." I let the shudder run all through me, exorcising it all from my system. "The tenant's got nothing in the cupboards -- no food, no extra pots and pans. Must eat out all the time, though there wasn't a single pizza box in sight. No magazines open at a favourite page, no pile of shoes in the hallway for quick and easy use, no souvenir glasses -- or any ornaments at all. And no notes pinned up anywhere. I don't know how the hell anyone manages life without some gentle reminders ..."

"So you had a good look around," says Wufei, wryly. He's grinning at me again, though I don't know why the hell he's getting such entertainment from my distress. "Aren't you just meant to drop in occasionally over the weekend, check it's safe, collect up the mail --?"

"No mail," I shrug. "Well, nothing interesting. All I found were unopened offers for new credit cards and a magazine featuring old bits of furniture. Boring cover, and that's before you even look inside. No animated logos or Tomb Raider types shooting up oak dressers or anything ..."

"Antiques," murmurs Wufei, approving of the subject if not my attitude.

I scowl. "Like I know what antiques are, thanks. Place is full of old, expensive stuff like that. In fact, the lounge felt like some kind of mausoleum -- pale walls and dark furniture, nothing to look at except books. I got a tension headache just listening for something to crackle or spit or fart, just to break the tedium."

"There were plants to water?"

I shrugged. "Not so's you'd notice. There were some fat little things in pots, looked plastic, all twisted and suchlike, I left them the hell alone. Well, apart from having to shift 'em to one side to look for some bearable music to play. Which was a futile quest, I can tell you. I feel sorry for the owner, in all truth, obviously having no time to make the place personal, or friendly."

"So you ...?" Wufei's voice is a murmur, trailing off.

"Well, yes, I did think I should help out a bit, just in passing. The pale walls were a great backdrop for some prints I found behind the couch -- not sure why they hadn't been put up before; I love modern art like that. And I gathered a few bits and pieces from my kitchen here and rustled up a batch of goulash for the week ahead. Nothing like home cooked food. Bit tricky, working in an unfamiliar kitchen, but most of the mess cleared up OK."

Wufei's eyebrows are raised in that supercilious way he has, where he pretends he knows me better than I know myself. "So did you meet this mystery tenant?"

"No," I grumble. "Didn't bother to come to the introductory meeting."

"You didn't go either, Duo, I suspect." Wufei states the obvious. He knows me far too well. "You're not giving this a proper trial."

I sigh. I feel kinda tired after a couple of weekends away myself, and then my weekend duty as Mausoleum Curator. I'm just really glad to be back amongst all my own stuff, cooking some new recipes I found, music playing loudly in the lounge. Though I was pissed to find my CDs were all out of order ... I can't imagine Wufei would try such a scam on me, but you never know. It'll take a helluva long time to sort them back into my special chronological system.

"OK, I'll give it another try." Wufei only wants the best for me -- albeit that's by his standards. And it had been kind of cool to see someone else's place, even if it was like stepping into a show home. "I wouldn't mind finding out some more about that art work -- and I've got some more ideas I could share about easy weekday meals if there's time pressure. Though I can't see what I'll have in common with a guy who stacks his underwear in colour coordinated piles." I notice Wufei's surprised look for the first time. "I was looking for a towel, OK? I spilled some water on the kitchen table. Well, quite a lot, actually, the water pressure's different in the apartments on that floor ..."

Wufei's frowning at me. Maybe it's because he fell over that packing case again when he came in. "He, Duo? "

I shrug again. "Yeah, it's a guy."

"And you knew that, how --?"

"The mail," I protest. "Obviously. You think I'm going to go nosing through someone's washday piles solely to find out if they wear a bra or boxers?"

"Yes," says Wufei.

"Be sure not to slam the door on your way out," I snap back. "And turn the music up for me, will you? The remote control finally turned up; it's on the hall table." I turn around in the kitchen, looking for something, unaccountably restless. "Hey, you haven't seen a vat of my home brewed sloe gin, have you? I thought I left it in the laundry room. It was just reaching the critical fermentation stage ..."

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