By: Sunhawk
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.

[ note: again with me not having time to format this my way... >_< ]

Expectations

In the end, it was the stupid closet that sold the house, though I’d certainly never let the Realtor know that. Or Heero either, for that matter, it sounded kind of nuts.

It’s on the first floor, under the stairs. It’s like the builder just put up walls around the bottom of the staircase and put a door into the end. The inside of the closet is like... reverse stairs. Made me think of an Escher painting. Made me think of some of the places we’d hidden in when I was a kid. Made me think... secure, as stupid as that sounds.

When you first stepped into it, of course, it was well over your head but as you moved forward you soon had to squat. If you wanted to get to anything in the very back of the closet, under what would be the first step, you practically had to lie down to reach it.

I was... enchanted. It was like finding a hidden room. I could envision throwing a pile of blankets down way in the back and curling up with Solo and the other kids. It would have been like a cave. Dark and close and all the things that spoke to some ancient part of me of safety. Not that Solo would ever have let us sleep there, since there was only one way in and out, but somehow it was just the feel of the thing.

The upstairs had proven not to be a disaster, even having the added bonus of a second bathroom right next to the master bedroom. There wasn’t a doubt which room we would take for our own, nor was there any question that nothing else would happen before we painted over the horrendous ‘rose-blush’ walls in it.

The day we had looked at the house again, poor Miss Montoya in tow, Heero and I had gone our separate ways, looking at different aspects of the place. Ok... I was exploring, he was looking for signs of termites; that’s what I call different aspects. After about a half an hour, Heero had come hunting for me and found me dangling from the bedroom ceiling, head stuck up into the attic. He had demanded I climb down before I fell. I had complied, grinning like a loon, and proffered a handful of walnut hulls, exclaiming ‘Squirrels!’ in utter delight. He just stood and stared at me for a moment, then shook his head and went to get Miss Montoya.

Heero is very much the hard-ass negotiator that I had imagined he would be. Poor woman never stood a chance. By the time Heero was done with her, I thought she was going to agree to come and move us in herself. We were going to have enough leeway left in our finances to actually furnish the place, which was a good thing because Heero’s apartment came with the furniture... almost none of it was his.

And yeah, I figured out much later that squirrels in your attic are not necessarily a good thing. There were a lot of things I didn’t know in the beginning. Like the ‘domino effect’. A term I had never heard before, but quickly learned. Every homeowner in the world will learn it sooner or later and we opted, quite unknowingly, for sooner.

Before we could paint, we had to pull nails and patch the holes. The former owner must have had a picture fetish, because there had been a couple dozen nails in the walls, some of them in the oddest places. While pulling said nails, we discovered that there had been a leak at some point in time, from a pipe in the wall. Examining the bathroom, on the other side of that wall, had shown us were the repairs had been made, but the water had soaked the plaster in the bedroom and no one had noticed. It had probably been sitting there for years, just waiting for some poor sucker to come along and innocently touch it. I was the sucker. The end result was a great chunk of crumbling plaster all over the floor when I had set nail puller to stubborn nail. And that, children, is an example of the domino effect.

That had led us on a journey into the depths of a thing called a ‘home improvement depot’. We walked through the doors of that place and I am almost certain that I heard angels singing a carol of welcome. Or maybe that was just the sound of Heero’s heavy sigh. Don’t laugh at me; I’d never been in one before. Never had a home to improve before.

My God... those places can sell you anything, and tell you how to use it. Or sell you books that tell you how to use it. And there’s samples! It took Heero three hours to get me pried out of there. We went in for a couple of gallons of paint and the stuff to plaster over the massive defect in our bedroom wall, and left with a load of lumber, three different colors of paint, four kinds of paint brushes, and a brand new plan.

Once we were far enough away that I stopped hearing the siren call of tools and gadgets, appliances and lumber, I started worrying that Heero was irritated with me, but every time I’d looked at him, he’d been giving me one of those gentle little, pleased smiles. So I bulled forward with mastering the art of sponge painting, and the ‘quick coat of paint’ that we’d intended to slap on the bedroom in an afternoon, turned into a three week delay in our moving in.

Instead of plastering over the hole and trying to blend the patch in, I opted to panel the bedroom all around the bottom half and paint the top. A thing called the ‘chair rail’ gave us more trouble than anything. Damn complicated thing this home improvement. We already had a small stack of ‘How-to’ books and we weren’t even moved in yet.

But the bedroom was finally finished, the one thing that we’d wanted done before we’d moved in, and I had to grin to myself as I cleaned out the last of the paint brushes, thinking that we’d probably be sleeping in the house by next weekend.

It was late on a Monday afternoon, and I’d been working all day, doing the paint job in the bedroom. Heero had worked with me on the carpentry, cutting, fitting and nailing up the tongue and groove wainscot, but had adamantly insisted that he wasn’t any good with paint. I’d worked a Saturday to get that Monday off; so that I’d be there when the delivery guys came with the furniture we’d ordered. Heero’d had to work, but was supposed to be bringing the guys afterward, each with a carload from the apartment. The plan was for them to get another round of boxes moved, be there to help us manhandle the furniture into place, and have a pizza dinner with us before going home.

I’d left for the house at the crack of dawn, beating Heero out of the apartment by a good hour, and worked like a mad man all day to get the paint job finished before the guys got there. I was exhausted, fighting a paint-fume headache, but otherwise feeling fairly pleased. The job was done, it looked pretty damn good, even if I did have to say so myself, and we would have enough furniture by the end of the day to get serious about moving out of the apartment for good.

I had just finished with the brushes, and was reaching for the cup on the back of the sink to get a drink when I heard the knock at the front door. Forgetting about the water, I made my way to the living room, running a hand through my sweaty bangs as I went. Who would have thought you could get so damned hot as cold as it was outside?

I could see a big man standing on the front porch... our front porch, through the door glass. Sure looked like a delivery guy to me; he was holding a clipboard and looking a little disgruntled. I imagined this was their last stop for the day and they had a shit-load of stuff to cart up my front steps. I did my best not to grin at him like a loon.

There were four guys all told, three big, burly ones that towered over me and a fourth who wasn’t any bigger than I was. Of course, he was the one who did most of the damn work. It was comical as all hell to watch. I did my best not to laugh, as the guy made two trips for every one the other three managed. It took them a surprisingly short amount of time to dump a truckload of furniture into my living room, get my signature and high tail it off into the sunset. Well, a figurative sunset, it wasn’t that late yet by a long shot. In fact, it would probably be another hour before Heero and the guys showed up, so I started distributing the pieces of furniture I could move on my own. Might as well get as much done as I could, I reasoned, there was no sense in just sitting around waiting. I thought about that drink of water again and promised it to myself as a reward when I was done.

We had a brand new dining room table with a set of six chairs. The chairs were simple enough and I moved them all to the little... you couldn’t call it a dining room, it wasn’t big enough. Breakfast nook? Eating room? Kitchen annex? Whatever. I put the chairs there, against the wall and out of the way, until we got the table moved, and stripped the little bit of token packing material off them. I kind of wanted to get the table in there, but a couple of experimental shoves told me I’d only end up tearing the floor up trying to move it by myself, best to leave it until I had help.

The couch too, was going to have to wait, but I managed the coffee table and matching end tables with no problem. The armchair was a massive thing, but I found I could just reach across the seat, catching the two arms and managed to waddle across the room with it. I set it in place with a massive groan of effort and straightened, rather pleased with myself... and almost fell down. The room tilted dangerously, and I had to reach out for support, my questing fingers finding purchase on the chair I’d just moved. What the hell?

I locked my knees because they were feeling kind of saggy, and just bent over at the waist, supported by my arms on the chair. Ok... this was... unexpected. I won’t try to say that it wasn’t a damn familiar feeling, but one I hadn’t had in months.

That part of my brain that recognized the sensation was quick to supply me with a catalog of my blunders. Paint fumes; no ventilation. Too hot; no water breaks. No breakfast, no lunch.

Oooops.

And then I heard footsteps on the front porch. Well... crap. I straightened, but the room tilted again and I had to clutch at the chair, knowing damn good and well I was swaying on my feet. Fuck.

‘Duo?’ I heard called from outside and I managed to turn myself around and dump my ass into the seat of the chair.

‘Come on in, Qat,’ I called and winced when my voice came out sounding kind of strained.

The door opened and both Quatre and Trowa came hesitantly in, their eyes sweeping the room until they spotted me. I could tell the instant they saw me, they knew something was up. I sighed. They didn’t run across the room, ok? But they didn’t waste any time getting to me either.

‘Duo?’ Quatre asked fearfully. ‘What’s wrong? You look...’ he fumbled for an appropriate word and glanced at Trowa.

Trowa snorted softly. ‘White as a ghost,’ he supplied and his hand brushed across my forehead. ‘And sweat soaked.’

Somewhere in the back of my head, it was in me to try to cover this up. I guess it’s a habit ingrained as deep as my need for independence. At least... that’s what Dr. Webster, my one time therapist, had told me. My upbringing had taught me that signs of weakness were a very bad thing. Therefore all signs of weakness had to be hidden away as fast as possible.

I looked up at my two friends, hovering over me with concern on their faces, sighed again, took a deep breath and made myself say, ‘I... I’m sorry, but I don’t feel so good.’

The admission was almost worth the pole-axed look on their faces.

Quatre knelt in front of me, reaching for my hand. He’d been doing that a lot lately, ever since that stupid disaster of a cookout, forcing himself to touch my hands. I didn’t much care for it, but sometimes there was just no way to avoid it, that didn’t amount to ‘damn rude’.

‘What’s wrong?’ he repeated, his voice gentling, and I flushed. Or I tried to flush. Ok, I didn’t exactly try, but my face seemed to want to without permission and... ah hell; you know what I mean.

Maybe this embarrassment factor had something to do with my normally hiding stupid shit like this?

‘Just a little dizzy,’ I muttered, suddenly not able to look either of them in the eye. The pattern of paint spatters on my jeans was suddenly very damn interesting.

Then Trowa had me by the arm and was pulling me to my feet. ‘Come on,’ he said rather congenially. ‘We need to get you out of these paint fumes.’

‘But,’ I stuttered. ‘Its just water-based latex...’

He cut me off with a chuckle, wrapping an arm around me to steady me as the three of us made our way toward the front door. ‘Duo... it reeks in here. How long have you been working in it?’

‘Since this morning?’ I evaded and evoked a matching set of heavy sighs. ‘I had to get done before the furniture got here!’ I blurted, feeling defensive, and already kind of sorry that I’d opened my mouth.

‘Where’s your coat, Duo?’ Quatre asked, and the tone of his voice made me look up at him. The somewhat... amused affection in his eyes was enough to make the blush happen despite me.

‘In the kitchen,’ I mumbled grudgingly. He and Trowa shared one of those looks, the kind I hate, that passes large amounts of data in some form unreadable by anyone outside the couple involved. The couple’s look. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before.

The end result was Quatre went off to fetch the afore-mentioned article of clothing while Trowa finished the job of maneuvering me out of the house where he settled us on the steps.

I had to admit that the fresh air made me more aware of the cloying taste in my mouth that had been coming from the paint. I took a couple of deep breaths of the stuff and shivered convulsively. My headache settled to a dull throb between my eyes and I was just suddenly very... damn tired.

I slumped forward a little bit and propped my elbows on my knees, wishing that I had someplace I could just go lie down for a few minutes.

‘It’s nice here, Duo,’ Trowa said genially and it rather surprised me.

I snorted softly. ‘It doesn’t seem too... rustic, next to your place?’

He gave me a little grin, leaning back on his elbows and stretching his long legs out in front of us. ‘I think that’s what I like,’ he mused. ‘It’s... peaceful here. Simple.’

I twisted to look over at him, and found him with his head dropped back, looking up at the sky. ‘Peaceful,’ I echoed, and turned away from the sight of him, looking so fit and strong. I looked out across my narrow front yard, watching the black birds hop around the dried grass, looking for whatever the hell it is black birds eat. ‘You know,’ I told him. ‘I’m not sure I’d have this place now, if it weren’t for you. Did I ever thank you?’

I thought I heard a sigh, but he chuckled lightly right on top of it, so I wasn’t sure. ‘Several times, Duo.’

I grinned across at him. ‘Driving it in the ground, am I?

‘Just a little,’ he told me amiably, and grinned back at me to make sure the words didn’t sting.

‘Can’t help it,’ I told him softly. ‘I love this place, it’s full of...’ I started to say ghosts, but stopped myself. ‘History.’

‘I didn’t do anything but nudge the two of you in the right conversational direction,’ he said, voice holding a hint of the amusement he’d gleefully exhibited that night.

I just laughed and shook my head, not really wanting to start an exchange that had anything to do with communication. But the action made my head feel funny again, so I stopped. In the lull, I heard the front screen door open behind us.

Quatre reappeared and I took my coat from him before he could start trying to put it on me. I wondered what had taken him so long as he settled on the step on my other side, but then he held out a glass of water. His expression showing just a hint of trepidation, as though he were afraid I would be angry with him for bringing it. ‘You looked... hot,’ he told me, and almost made me laugh.

I took the glass with a rueful little smirk. ‘Fetch the coat ‘cause it’s too cold... bring water ‘cause it’s too hot...’ I mumbled and he grinned at me.

The water was a damn balm though, and after the first swallow I couldn’t seem to stop until the glass was completely drained. When I lowered the cup again, I found two pairs of eyes watching me suspiciously.

‘Duo...’ Quatre began in a warning tone and I couldn’t help sighing.

‘It was hot working upstairs all day,’ I grumbled.

‘Exactly how long have you been here?’ Trowa asked, a hint of something unnamable coloring his tone.

‘I came out first thing this morning,’ I hedged, glancing from one to the other.

‘Duo,’ Quatre suddenly sounded suspicious. ‘Have you stopped to eat at all today?’

I felt my face warming as I realized how damn predictable I apparently was. ‘I had to get the bedroom painted before the furniture got here.’ I said, feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, hadn’t I explained this once? Quatre gave me a look of mild reproach, but on my other side, Trowa chuckled dryly.

‘So let me summarize briefly,’ he grinned at me. ‘You’ve been working since... what? Seven? Eight this morning? Without a break, without food, without water, in an unventilated, hot room?’

I refrained from mentioning that it had actually been five in the morning, not seven or eight. ‘Well, when you put it that way,’ I muttered, turning the water glass in my hands. ‘It does sound kind of...’

‘Stupid?’ Quatre suggested helpfully and I mock glared at him.

‘Let’s just call it less than bright, all right?’ I finished and endured another round of chuckles at my expense.

Before I knew what was happening, or could decide whether I wanted to object or not, Trowa had pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and punched a button. Watching him hold the thing up to his ear, knowing who he was probably calling, I damn near reached out and grabbed the thing from him.

It was a combination of Francis, my repress hamster, and knowing just how stupid I’d look, wrestling Trowa for his cell phone that kept me from doing it. Hell, I figured I probably already looked stupid enough. And I wasn’t in any kind of shape to win a tussle with Trowa anyway.

‘Hey, Wufei... it’s Trowa,’ he said after a suitable pause and the call was answered. ‘You guys on your way yet?’ Another pause, not as long, and then, ‘No... that’s fine. Quatre and I had an early lunch today and we’re pretty hungry, could you two go ahead and stop for the pizza on your way?’ It took long enough for Wufei to answer, that I suspect he was conferring with Heero. When he came back to the line, the answer must have been yes, because Trowa closed with, ‘Great... see you when you get here.’

I might very well have breathed a sigh of relief when he finally terminated the call. I looked down at the glass that I found rolling between my hands, not really sure I wanted to look at either of them and blurted, ‘You’re going to help me cover this up?’

There was a rather heavy sigh from my left, where Quatre sat, but Trowa only reached out and put his hand on my shoulder for a moment. ‘I didn’t cover up anything,’ he told me in that bland tone he has. ‘What you tell Heero is your business. But understand... I won’t sit by and let you work yourself until you pass out.’

It made me look up at him and the obvious tenderness in his eyes made my face flame and I went back to looking into the empty depths of the water glass.

‘Now we are going to unload our car,’ he informed me in a voice that would brook no argument. ‘And you are going to sit and rest until dinner gets here.’

‘Come on, man,’ I groaned. ‘It was a simple little dizzy spell, it’s not like I even fell!’

‘And we’d like to keep it that way,’ Quatre muttered under his breath.

I grudgingly gave in, because I honestly didn’t have much of a choice. But I felt like a flaming idiot sitting on my ass while they carted box after box past me. I finally had to leave the steps, going around the house to sit on the back stoop before I fiddled the damn end right off my braid. I was feeling completely humiliated, and a little bit angry with myself. I guess it had been kind of a stupid thing to do, but sometimes it’s so easy to forget that physically I’m not quite up to Gundam pilot standards anymore. I’d had to watch myself, and be so damn careful, for so long after that accident. I was so far removed from those first days, that sometimes I could almost forget that I still needed to make allowances, needed to remember that my body wasn’t quite that of a seventeen year old who’d just come off some of the most extreme training known to man.

Hell... sometimes I wondered if I could manage that training now, if I were to have to do it all over again. I consoled my wounded ego with the promise of an elusive ‘someday’ and tried to distract myself with watching the blackbirds hop around the backyard. Someday wouldn’t cure everything, but it truly should eventually cure my physical condition. The doctors had all told me so, that I’d done no permanent damage. So I held out for someday and tried not to let myself wonder when it was going to get here.

Blackbirds are just weird things. They walk with this ridiculous head-bobbing thing going on that usually makes me grin. Like they’re doing some stupid dance that nobody else can hear the music for. They’re kind of pretty, in an oily sort of way, when the sun shines on them at least. And the sun was shining, here in the backyard where the porch wasn’t covered, and it was warming me, taking the chill of the air away. It was soothing and oddly nice, that contrast of winter air and warm sun. Either the heat or the fresh air was easing my headache, and I decided I’d better get up when I found myself nodding drowsily.

I went in the back door, making my way through my studio yet to be, and down the hall toward the living room. It was the tone of Quatre’s voice; sounding oddly caught somewhere between amused and shocked that made me slow my steps.

Trowa!’ he gasped out, sounding like he was trying to stifle a snicker.

[cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]