Expectations (cont)

I figured out they were in the room I had designated as the dining room, when I realized the dining table wasn’t in the middle of the living room anymore.

Trowa’s own laugh sounded then, not the one I was used to hearing, but a low, throaty chuckle that rather took me by surprise. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t think it too,’ he murmured.

‘I do not have... kinky thoughts about other people’s furniture,’ Quatre replied in a slightly over-played, haughty voice. I stopped dead in my tracks, blushing furiously and wondering if I could possibly get back down the hall without them noticing me.

‘All I said, Prince of my heart,’ Trowa fairly purred, ‘was the table looked... sturdy.’

Quatre snorted. ‘It was the way you said it.’

‘And how was that, light of my soul?’ I couldn’t believe how damn sexy Trowa’s voice could be while delivering lines like that. I found myself grinning despite the blush.

Quatre groaned rather loudly. ‘I should never have told you that I like pet names.’

There was the sound of a measured footstep. ‘Perhaps not... but don’t try to tell me you don’t love it, my booboo....’

A sharp bark of laughter cut him off. ‘Oh no... not that one again!’

Trowa used that throaty chuckle for a second time, and then it got really quiet. My imagination painted in a damn hot kiss. Even while a thought hamster darted out with a questioning look and a banner that read ‘Booboo...what?’ But I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know.

Then I heard a car door slamming outside and had to try to make it look like I’d just walked in the back door when Trowa and Quatre came out of the dining room. I’m not sure they bought my act, mostly because I couldn’t entirely banish the goofy grin and the blush, but they didn’t speak of it and neither did I. To ease things, I slipped into the kitchen to see what I could dredge up in the way of eating utensils, finding nothing but a roll of paper towels that would have to serve as both napkins and plates. I busied myself tearing them off and making a stack to take to the table. Distantly, I heard the front door open and the buzz of bantering voices. I wondered idly if Trowa and Quatre would rat me out. Then I wondered if maybe I should tell on myself, I still wasn’t feeling... a hundred percent. I’d been trying a little bit harder with that damn honesty thing, since I’d had my nose liberally rubbed in how God-awful it feels to have things kept from you. But... it’s not easy. We’re talking about the habits of a lifetime here. Sometimes, trying to be upfront and open about my damn failings and faults feels like trying to stop my own heartbeat. It’s not something I think about, I just do it. If something hurts... you hide it. If something scares you... you run straight at it. When you can’t go another step... you at least fall forward.

Knowing what I should do didn’t make it any easier to do it.

Then warm, solid arms wrapped around my waist and a soft voice said, ‘Missed you today,’ in my ear. I shivered and leaned into the embrace. Leaned into the strength. I find, when I get this off-balance, wobbly feeling, that some small part of me wants nothing so much as to seek Heero out. To just go step into his arms, to burrow into his warmth and let him... shelter me. Even at times like this, when there is really nothing to be sheltered from. It’s an odd temptation that I try not to let myself indulge in too often. Heero certainly doesn’t need me whining to him over every little headache and splinter. Can’t be expected to support me just because I’ve done something... less than well thought out.

‘Hey there,’ I sighed, making myself straighten, and turned around in his arms. He gave me a quick kiss; neither of us overly comfortable with much more, knowing the guys were right in the next room.

What the hell time did you get up this morning?’ Heero queried, giving me a funny little look.

‘About four thirty, you lay-abed,’ I teased and he snorted, shaking his head, but then things got kind of... still. I don’t really think that I had decided what I was going to tell him and what I wasn’t, but some part of my trepidation must have shown on my face. My hesitation in the teasing sort of committing me. I was just looking at him, trying to figure out how to tell him what I probably ought to be telling him, and he was looking at me, obviously puzzling over my sudden stupid-fish imitation.

‘What’s wrong, love?’ he said gently and it was all it took to make my face flame. He really looked alarmed then, and I couldn’t meet his eyes, feeling like the biggest moron this side of Elmer Fudd.

‘I kind of...’ I began, but floundered for words too quick on that one and tried again. ‘I wanted to get the bedroom finished today, but it’s too cold out to open the windows... I sort of...’

His hand came up to brush my cheek when I hesitated again, making me look up at him. ‘Duo?’ he prompted.

I sighed in a sudden gust, mentally cringing waiting for the explosion. ‘I kind of overdid it today... had one of my dizzy spells. I got some fresh air when Trowa and Quatre got here and I’m feeling better now... but I...’

His hands dropped to take me by the elbows, as though he needed to support me. ‘You didn’t... fall?’ he questioned, voice hesitant.

I started to shake my head, thought better of it and told him, ‘No. Just felt a little... lightheaded. I’ve been resting since, but...’

‘But you won’t be doing any of the heavy lifting this evening,’ he mock growled at me, tapping the end of my nose. I couldn’t help but grin at him. Grin at how he was taking my confession. I’d been half afraid that he would sweep me off to the apartment and put me straight to bed. Or rush me off to the damn emergency room.

He pulled me into a tight hug, despite the proximity of the other guys. ‘I’m... glad you told me,’ he said softly, his voice a little... odd. A little tight.

There was a whole secondary level to what we were talking about here, but neither of us was going to come right out and say it. I got another light kiss, and he had to ask me just once if I was sure I was all right, then he led me and my makeshift plates off to the dining room. Bearing in mind Heero’s usual overreaction to my not feeling well, I was more than happy to tolerate the simple hand under my elbow.

I was careful to find a place that wasn’t directly across from Wufei. Though we’d been around each other a little more lately, there still seemed to be some strange tension between us and I didn’t relish the idea of being that close to him in this intimate a setting. We got along better if there was some kind of buffer between us. A buffer made of other people who could help carry a conversation through the occasional awkward bits that he and I seemed to hit sometimes. I’d pretty much forgiven him for his part in the deception that he and Heero had visited on my poor little person, but I couldn’t quite seem to get around the fact that he had honestly thought that I’d been capable of... something not very nice in relation to Emery Williams. But honestly? I think most of the unease between us came from Wufei’s own inability to forgive himself. That had been half what had made me get over my irritation with him; the more than obvious guilt he had felt over the whole thing. For weeks, whenever we chanced to cross each other’s paths, he had looked at me with an almost palpable pain in his expression, and it had just about undone me. I’d forgiven him. I’d told him as much. But something was still... not quite right.

‘So you’ve been working since five this morning?’ Heero was asking me, passing me the box of pepperoni, and it took me a second to pick up the thread of conversation again. I didn’t miss the sharp looks I got from Trowa and Quatre. I concentrated on picking out a couple of slices of dinner.

‘Wanted to get the bedroom done today,’ I told Heero blandly and he was shaking his head again.

‘There was a lot left to do,’ Heero observed. ‘Did you manage it?’

‘Of course,’ I confirmed haughtily, and passed the pizza on to Quatre. I didn’t mention that I’d ended up altering the original design just a bit, or that if he’d thought there was a lot left before, he wasn’t going to believe it now. I just hoped like hell that he approved; I wasn’t looking forward to redoing it if he didn’t.

Then I took that first bite of pizza and felt like I’d turned into a black hole. I was just suddenly ravenous as hell and had to force myself not to wolf the stupid thing down. The conversation turned away from me for a bit and I quickly put away the two slices I’d picked out, and found myself questing after more. There was a pizza box suddenly stuck under my nose and glanced up to meet Trowa’s amused gaze. I accepted the box from him, blushing furiously, but took two more slices anyway, vowing that I wouldn’t inhale these quite so fast. I knew what a bad idea gorging yourself could be. I couldn’t help but notice he’d made a point of handing me the three-meat pizza... more protein.

I was surprised, but more than a little pleased, to find that Heero and Wufei had brought soda to drink with dinner, until I realized that the pizza place probably hadn’t had anything else. I allowed myself a couple of long swallows and then settled down to sipping and nibbling, trying to focus on the conversation flowing around me.

‘... probably this weekend, if Duo really got the bedroom finished,’ I heard Heero saying and glanced up in time to meet his smile.

‘You doubt me,’ I murmured in mock hurt, and there were a number of amused snorts around the table.

‘Of course I don’t doubt you,’ Heero said, a wicked little grin tugging at his lips. ‘Unless you had to go back down to the Home Depot for anything.’

I raised an eyebrow in indignation. ‘I’m not that bad,’ I grumbled and I thought he would laugh out loud.

‘Duo,’ he deadpanned, ‘you’re on a first name basis with the heads of six out of the eight departments.’

‘Only six?’ Trowa chuckled, and shared a strange little look with Quatre.

I took the moment to sip from my bottle of soda before carefully explaining, ‘We haven’t gotten around to the appliances yet, and it’s the wrong time of year for gardening.’

I managed to draw a little chuckle out of Wufei and smiled his way, rather pleased with myself. He’d been kind of avoiding teasing with me since he’d made that... verbal blunder at the cookout. I wondered if that would become part of my internal vocabulary? ‘The Cookout’, like some damn movie title or something. It had become an event to be identified in the manner of all major events, with the capital letters and all. The Cookout. The Trip to L3. The Accident.

Wufei gave me a tentative little smile back, but didn’t speak. I repressed a sigh, wondering for the millionth time if we would ever get past my cleaning his clock, and his implied accusation that I was a homicidal lunatic.

Heero’s finger was suddenly poking at my bicep and I looked over at him, aware that I had let part of the conversation drift past me. ‘What?’ I murmured, trying to catch back up.

‘I said,’ Heero smiled at me, the faintest hint of concern showing behind the humor in his eyes. ‘Can we go up and see this wondrous paint job of yours?’

I managed to fight down the blush, but couldn’t help ducking my head. ‘That would probably be... a good idea,’ I sighed. ‘But keep in mind that I kind of got... carried away. If you hate it, I can paint over it pretty easily.’

‘Well, now I’m intrigued,’ Quatre chuckled and nothing would do but we all trouped off upstairs to look at our bedroom. I tried dragging my heels to be the last one up, but Heero wouldn’t let me, wanting to keep a hand under my elbow again, during the climb. I was feeling a lot less shaky since resting and getting some damn food, but I was sure he wouldn’t be far from me for the rest of the evening.

Heero had talked of my painting my star field sky in our bedroom, just like I’d painted in my cabin aboard my ship. Aboard my Lady Demon. But I had found when the time had come, that I just couldn’t do it. I know his suggesting it had merely been to offer me the comfort of something familiar. But I had found all it had to offer was the sting of loss. The pain of memory of another time and place. I’d tried; I’d gotten started in one corner, painting the blackness of space. But I hadn’t lasted an hour before I was working with a lump in my throat and a pain in my gut that I knew I couldn’t live with. It had taken three coats of primer to cover the black. Then I’d started over. We were starting out our lives together here, and I didn’t want reminders of a life I’d lived all alone. I wanted something fresh and new for the occasion.

It had taken me all week, coming out to work whenever I had the chance and all day that very day on top of that. Heero had been out of town for part of the week on assignment, and had not seen any of it yet. Had no clue that I’d totally altered direction on him and I could only hold my breath and hope he liked it. I watched his face very closely as we made our way into the room, trailing behind the guys.

I heard Quatre’s delighted exclamation of, ‘Duo! It’s beautiful!’ But I didn’t look his way; I was too busy trying to figure out if Heero hated it.

I had totally tossed the stars and had planted ivy. The walls are oak wainscoting from chair-rail height down. The top half is sponge painted in muted shades of green. That part had actually gone fairly quickly. It was the Celtic interlocking knot work pattern that ran all the way around the top of the walls that had taken me forever. I’d done it in shades of gold and tan to pull out the colors of the oak wood, and then I’d gone back and laced it with ivy. Lots of ivy, winding through the Celtic pattern, sometimes mimicking, sometimes obscuring. There were places where it seemed to dangle down the wall. In one corner I’d brought it clear down and let it trail along the floor. I... liked it. Quatre seemed impressed. Trowa was grinning openly, moving about and studying different places. Wufei looked like he wanted to reach out and pluck one of the leaves off the wall.

But I was only interested in the reaction of one person, and the jury was still out on him.

Surprise was there, first and foremost. Followed by the flash of a confused frown. I bit my lip and waited for him to arrive at his conclusion, almost holding my breath. Damn, I hoped he liked it; it had been a hell of a lot of work; I’d spent every waking hour, that I hadn’t been at work, in the house working on it the entire time he’d been gone.

It seemed to take some effort for him to tear his eyes away from the wall and look at me, but when he did, the faintly questioning smile he gave me was enough to tell me I at least wouldn’t be starting over.

‘I thought...’ he began, speaking softly enough, but I cut him off anyway. Not really all that eager to discuss it in front of the guys.

‘I couldn’t,’ I told him simply and he seemed to understand, reaching out to grasp my hand despite the room full of people. ‘Is it... all right?’ I had to ask and he smiled warmly.

‘It’s beautiful,’ he said, squeezing my hand. ‘I love it. Though we definitely have to get new carpet in here now. This burgundy color wouldn’t have sucked with the black, but there’s no way in hell I can tolerate it with the green.’

I grinned in relief and felt like I relaxed for the first time all afternoon. Heero released my hand to go get a closer look and I just stayed by the door, leaning heavily on the jamb, watching them inspect my work.

I get the strangest feelings from finishing a paint job. There’s a certain amount of pleasure that goes with it. When you first finish, there’s this moment of knowing it’s absolutely perfect. Knowing that it is just how you saw it in your head. Until you start contemplating showing it to another person, then you start second guessing yourself. You start trying to see it the way they’re going to see it. You start thinking about how it will look to the eyes of a stranger, and you just aren’t sure anymore. If things go well and the viewer actually likes it, then you get moments like this one. It’s a fleeting thing, when the work is still fresh and new even to your own eyes, while you’re getting that gut reaction. You can’t help that swell of pride. It never lasts; it doesn’t take long before the impact is lost in the familiarity that comes with the age of the work. So I enjoy the moment while I can.

‘Trowa! Look... there’s a lady bug over here!’

‘Look here, it almost looks like the stuff is rooted in the window sill!’

‘The color of the Celtic part matches so well it looks like it’s carved out of wood!’

‘You’re right, Heero... that carpet has to go.’

‘Duo, how in the hell long did this take?’

I have to confess though, that I enjoy it more while the attention is on the art and not on me.

‘I’ve been working on it off and on all this week,’ I murmured, stuffing my hands in my pockets. ‘The walls themselves went pretty fast.’

Wufei raised a hand as if he would touch, but then dropped it, turning to glance at me with that strange... intense look he gets whenever he’s looking at my work. I’d never been able to fathom it. ‘Duo, this is... exquisite.’

I lost the battle with the blush and felt my face heating up. ‘Thanks,’ I mumbled uncomfortably.

I think Trowa understands my embarrassment over things like that, because he steered Wufei off in another direction, keeping his attention on ivy and not the resident artistically inclined mechanic.

I think Heero understands too, but he seems to have it in his head that it’s good for me to hear things like that or something, because he’ll seldom interject himself the way Trowa does.

I started making noises about furniture and I finally got them moving again. With four strapping young men and one slightly handicapped foreman, things went fairly quickly once I got them going. I was relegated to cleaning up the dinner mess while they worked, something that rankled badly, but I knew I couldn’t fight. The cars were quickly unloaded and boxes stored in my back room for the time being, to be sorted out and put away later.

The new bedroom furniture was stowed upstairs in the spare room until we’d decided what to do about the carpet in the master bedroom. Everything else stayed on the first floor and was quickly distributed. The living room almost looked like somebody actually lived there.

I thought we were just about ready to leave when Heero suddenly brightened and grinned at me. ‘I almost forget,’ he exclaimed and went to fetch his jacket from the dining room. ‘A package came for you today.’

I knew what it was the minute I set eyes on it, only something that comes from off-planet through the ‘turtle-express’ courier system has that many stickers and stamps on it. It was my copy of Davey’s recital sent all the way from L2. I couldn’t help grinning like a kid on Christmas morning, snatching the thing from Heero’s hands and ripping it open even as I headed for the entertainment center. I hadn’t been sure about the idea when we had gone ahead and moved the thing into the new house, but had found that I used it more there than I had time to at the apartment any more. I was doubly glad it was here now.

‘What is it, Duo?’ Quatre asked, ever the solicitous one.

‘Qat!’ I exclaimed. ‘You’ve got to see this; you play the violin... you can tell me if I’m sitting on the next Stradivari, here!’ I thought I heard a snicker behind me, but I was too busy turning knobs and flipping switches, my exhaustion set aside for this thing I’d been waiting for for weeks. I dropped the disk in and sat back on my heels in front of the television set. I was vaguely aware of movement and heard the guys settling onto the new furniture.

‘What on Earth?’ Wufei muttered to no one in particular.

‘The boy that Duo is putting through music lessons?’ I heard Heero reply. ‘You remember, I told you about him?’

There was an ‘ah’ of understanding and I wondered about it; that Heero had actually told anybody about Davey. But then the video kicked in and I forgot about it.

I had a surreal moment, looking at the young man ascending the stage, before I realized the kid was Davey. ‘Oh my God!’ I blurted, leaning toward the screen. ‘Will you look at what Octavia did to that poor kid’s hair? He’s got to be mortified!’

Davey, hair slicked back and dressed in a suit that was just a hair too short, climbed the stairs, back as stiff as a board. The camera work was obviously that of an amateur and jiggled as the frame followed him. It wasn’t very close up, the person doing the filming evidently standing mid-way back in a crowded auditorium. I grimaced as Davey took his stance, turning to face the audience. He looked like he was going to choke to death in his tie. I saw his fingers lift as though he would tug at his collar, but then he dropped them again.

‘Damn!’ I murmured, looking the poor kid over. ‘I wish Octavia had told me he needed a new suit! Look how short the thing is!’

‘It’s not that bad,’ somebody told me. I think it was Trowa, but I wasn’t certain.

A woman came to meet him at the center of the stage to announce his name and the piece he would be playing in a very formal tone.

I turned quickly to look at Quatre. ‘All Through The Night? Is that a good one, Qat?’

I was kind of surprised to find the lot of them grinning widely. ‘It’s actually a little harder than a beginner’s piece,’ Quatre assured me. ‘But it’s very lovely.’

I turned back to the screen just in time to see Davey raise his violin into position. I found myself holding my breath waiting for him to start the song. He waited another heartbeat before raising his bow and I caught his eyes looking into the audience. I had to follow his gaze and could just see the back of Octavia’s head. And beside her were the rest of the kids.

‘Look!’ I cried, pointing at the screen. ‘It’s Sarah! My God... look how big she’s gotten!’ Right next to her was Zinia, squirming all over her seat, as active as ever. ‘And Allison’s hair is all cut off! It was half way down her back; I wonder what in the hell...’

And then Davey began to play and I shut up, though my eyes couldn’t stop looking. I finally spotted Devon and Ethan, sitting just behind Sarah, playing rock-paper-scissors where Octavia couldn’t see. There was another little boy, with rather shockingly red hair, sitting next to Devon, but I couldn’t tell if he was with the Maxwell group or not. I blinked at him, wondering if there was now a seventh child in my little brood.

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