Expectations (cont)

Quatre had been right, the song was a sweet thing, sounded like a lullaby and to my ears it was perfect. I looked back at the stage and had to grin. ‘Look at him blush!’ I whispered to no one in particular, but there wasn’t an answer.

In the audience, Zinia was sliding down in her seat, until she was almost lying on her back. Without so much as looking, Octavia reached over and gave the kid a tap on the top of her head with a knuckle. I couldn’t help chuckling; she’d gotten that habit from me. Zinia straightened, though she gave Octavia a bored glower. Beside her, Allison frowned darkly and put her finger to her lips. Zinia just stuck her tongue out.

I chuckled again and turned my eyes back to Davey. His face was... all soft, but concentrated somehow, though I know that doesn’t make sense. A lock of hair had escaped whatever concoction Octavia had slicked it back with, and was dangling over one eye. The song wound to a soulful close and Davey’s little cheering section erupted into a standing ovation. I saw Devon reach out and drag the redheaded kid up with them, and I knew without a doubt that he was a new addition to the home. I wondered what his name was.

Davey looked flushed, his eyes were sparkling brightly and I knew he was in that moment of knowing it had been perfect. He looked to Octavia for approval even as the kids were leading the audience in his ovation, and I saw her nod slightly. He grinned.

That grin went right through my heart.

In that moment it hit me like it hadn’t before, that I would never see those kids again. I would never even get to meet the new boy. I would never bring them candy. I wouldn’t listen to their songs and their ABCs. I wouldn’t get to tell them stories. I wouldn’t ever get hugs that came with running tackles. I wouldn’t get kisses that bordered on sloppy. It was like that television’s screen was a glass wall between us and I was suddenly looking at a group of strangers. I wouldn’t get to see them grow up. I wouldn’t be there to help them with their dreams.

The best I would ever manage would be those monthly checks and the occasional package of books. And Davey’s violin lessons. But how was I to know what to do for the next one? If I didn’t get to see them, to talk to them... how would I learn what a kid doesn’t always dare to ask for? It had taken me almost a year to get Davey to admit to me what he really wanted. I was pretty sure that Allison was going into the arts, but what about Zinia? What about the nameless new kid?

My heart ached in my chest as the scene on the television faded to black. I sat, finding my knees drawn up to my chest, and listened to the echo of those little clapping hands. The room seemed very quiet and I knew it was probably up to me to fill the silence.

‘So, Mr. Music-expert,’ I managed to choke out, knowing it sounded strained. ‘Was he any good?’

‘It was very nearly a flawless performance, Duo,’ Quatre said, and there was something in his voice that spoke to me of gentle sadness... I knew they knew.

I nodded, having to take a minute, opening my mouth, closing it, and then trying again. ‘That’s my Davey; he always was a tenacious little...’ my voice broke and I stopped, rather appalled at myself. Well hell.

My hands reached out and popped the disk from the player, slipping it back into its case, turning things off. Somewhere in there I found my voice again and did my best to keep it steady. ‘I gotta talk to Octavia about whatever the hell she did to his hair, though... that was awful. You have to wonder what the woman was thinking. And I need to get her some money for a new suit for the guy; if he’s going to be making a name for himself in the music world, we can’t have him looking like...’ Like an orphan. God... had I just thought that? Didn’t want Davey to look like what he was. Didn’t want people to look at him and be able to tell... to be able to treat him differently because of it. Not like I’d been treated. Not like I’d been shunned. Didn’t want the world to look at my kids and see ‘street trash’.

I could hear the echo of ancient voices in the back of my head, whispering things that I wished I could forget, but had never learned how.

‘Street brat!’

‘Thief!’

‘Smells bad!’

‘Trash!’

‘Never amount to anything!’


It was the sound of the CD case hitting the floor that shook me back into the present, but then strong arms were gathering me in and I sought my sanctuary. Sought Heero’s warmth, all my fatigue coming back to me in a rush.

‘I’m never going to see them again, am I?’ I asked, feeling his arms tighten.

‘I don’t know, baby,’ he said, voice trying to soothe, but I flinched into awareness again at his use of that strange endearment with the guys listening. I tried to pull away, but he held me tight.

‘They went home,’ he told me. ‘It’s just you and me.’

It made me feel weird. It embarrassed me. It rather unnerved me that I hadn’t even heard them go. But they were gone and I just let Heero hold me.

‘God, I miss them,’ I told him, not quite sure why I let it slip out.

‘I know,’ was all he said, but really... what else was there to say?

His fingers stroked through those wispy little hairs at my temples that won’t ever stay in the braid, and he dropped a kiss on my forehead. I could almost feel his need to make things better, could feel his frustration that he couldn’t. So I figured that five minutes of sitting on the floor feeling sorry for myself was probably long enough.

‘Come on,’ I said, doing my best to make my voice a little lighter. ‘Let’s call it a night... these paint fumes are starting to really annoy me.’

He snorted lightly, mostly because I wanted him to, but rose and pulled me off the floor, making sure I was steady on my feet before he went to get our coats. I made sure the back door was locked and then we got out of there.

The late evening air was crisp and sharp and I took a deep, cleansing breath of it once we were out on the front porch. Heero moved in close and slid an arm around my waist. ‘Let’s just leave your car here, all right?’ he asked gently and I was more than ready to agree.

‘I am getting pretty tired,’ I smiled at him, very aware of it. He smiled, obviously relieved, and we walked down to the car with arms around each other. There was no one to see us anyway. I had a twinge of unease as he walked me to the passenger door and opened it for me. It reminded me too much of those days while I was confined to a wheelchair and he had to help me in and out. But he didn’t stay to close my door, nor attempt to buckle me in, so the moment passed.

I think I dozed off before he had the car out on the main street. I roused once to find him driving one handed, his other hand holding mine, and I had to grin muzzily across at him. He squeezed my fingers, smiling back, and I let my eyes fall closed again.

Then we were there and Heero was tugging gently on my hand. ‘Wake up, love... we’re here.’

I blinked open gritty eyes and had to grin ruefully. ‘Guess it was a good thing you drove, huh?’

He chuckled and leaned across to give me a gentle kiss. I was shocked as hell that he’d done that right in the middle of the apartment parking lot, but then I thought... what difference did it make? We were moving out soon anyway. So I caught at him and got him to give me a slightly better kiss.

He drew away smiling at me with that light in his eyes that makes me shiver. ‘You’re damn beautiful when you’re drowsy,’ he quipped and I laughed.

‘You just like me pliant,’ I replied, a little embarrassed.

‘That too,’ was all he said.

We got out of the car and he actually walked me into the building with an arm around my waist. I looked across at him; trying to gauge his mood underneath the smiles he kept giving me. Was he just feeling adventurous? Amorous? Or, more likely... just protective?

‘I really am all right,’ I murmured, caught between pleased and embarrassed. It’s always a rush of warmth to realize in these moments just how much he worries, but it’s also a little humiliating to feel so weak that I worry him in the first damn place.

‘I’m sorry,’ he told me, slowing his steps and looking sideways at me. ‘I can’t help remembering...’

I sighed and he stopped; he didn’t need to tell me. Remembering my passing out in therapy. Remembering finding me on the floor of my cargo bay. ‘Heero, that was ages ago... I am fine. I haven’t...’

His arm suddenly tugged almost roughly, and I found myself chest to chest with him right in the middle of the damn stairwell. ‘Stop that,’ he commanded and I blinked at him. ‘I’m allowed to worry... it’s what I do, and you know it.’

I grinned, opening my mouth with the flippant comeback, but he didn’t give me the chance. And I thought his walking with a supportive arm around me was... flustering? Kissing in the stairwell was something I’m pretty sure I could safely say we’d never done before either. It was a strange, bastard mixture of arousing and mortifying.

Then it slammed solidly toward mortifying when a voice with a slight southern drawl, said, ‘Nice night for a little slap and tickle, isn’t it boys?’

We separated so damn fast I would have fallen down the stupid stairs if Heero hadn’t had me by the elbow. It was a toss-up which one of the two of us was the brighter shade of red.

‘Uh... Good evening, Mrs. Pettigrew,’ I choked out, and even her damn little dog looked amused.

She continued down the stairs toward us, dog tucked under one arm, and we made way.

‘Evening, boys,’ she fairly purred, obviously enjoying herself. ‘Don’t mind us.’

‘No Ma’am,’ I muttered, thought about that, and blushed harder. She snickered, already several steps below us.

She hesitated on the landing, looking back up with a grin. ‘I’m going to miss having you two as neighbors... you’re so much fun.’

I thought Heero was going to die right on the spot. The rest of the climb to the third floor was uneventful, though neither of us could seem to get our faces to return to a semi-normal color. If we’d been working on a... romantic moment, it was pretty well quashed, and when we got into the apartment, just went about getting ready for bed.

I most definitely needed a shower, but got no offers of help. Heero set to closing up for the night while I took care of it on my own, checking for messages, going through the mail, locking up. We met in my bedroom with a matched set of embarrassed grins. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he told me. ‘I don’t know what made me do that.’

I pulled the covers back and climbed in, feeling every ache and strain rising up to make sure I knew I wouldn’t be having a great morning. ‘It’s all right,’ I grinned at him. ‘At least it wasn’t Mrs. Hitchcock.’

He looked rather stricken, blushed again, and then climbed in with me. ‘God; we might have given her a heart-attack!’

I chuckled lightly, but it faded quickly and I looked at him, trying to figure out how to impart my sudden exhaustion. ‘Heero... I...’

‘Hush,’ he admonished, and nudged me until I rolled where he could spoon in behind me in that position I’d grown so accustomed to onboard my ship. ‘Go to sleep, love,’ he said, and I could hear the smile.

‘Love you,’ I murmured, feeling my voice thickening already.

‘Forever,’ he responded, and pulled me tighter into his arms. He was quiet for a minute and then softly, breath warm on my shoulder, ‘I love the bedroom... it’s beautiful.’

‘I’m glad,’ I mumbled, stifling a yawn. ‘I wanted it t’be... different. Not somthin’ from... before.’

He was quiet for a bit, until I was drifting pleasantly. ‘I do love it, it’s perfect. But I want you to slow down... you’re working yourself too hard.’

‘S’rry,’ I murmured and he chuckled warmly.

‘I do so love it when you’re... pliant,’ he told me in a breathy whisper.

‘Just wanna be able to go home,’ I said and the tightening of his arm told me I’d said something odd, but I couldn’t puzzle it out.

‘Go to sleep, heart,’ he sighed, and I did.

I dreamed some bizarre ass shit, mostly involving carting kids around on my shoulders until I was whimpering pathetically with exhaustion, the strange melancholy sound of a violin in the distance. I woke to find I could barely raise my damn arms.

I blinked my eyes open to find Heero gazing at me with a strange amusement in his eyes. ‘You really awake this time?’ he murmured, reaching out to stroke the hair from my eyes.

‘What?’ I grumbled in confusion, wondering if I was going to be able to get my sorry ass out of bed to get ready for work.

‘You’ve been moaning and groaning all damn night,’ he informed me with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.

‘You’re going to be a prick about this, aren’t you?’ I growled, already deciding that my arms had obviously locked in the position they were in and weren’t to be moved.

‘Pretty much,’ he grinned. ‘After all... I told you to take it easy before we ever bought the house. Maybe this will teach you a lesson.’

I would have blown him a raspberry, but my mouth tasted pasty and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to work, so I just glared. ‘What time is it?’

‘Time to get up, if you think you can manage it.’

The only answer to that was to just do it, so I did.

I added two aspirin and a good portion of a tube of Ben-Gay to my morning ritual, something I’d acquired earlier that very week. I was quite proud of the fact that I had my ass in the car within minutes of the usual time. And I didn’t even skip breakfast. Not that Heero would have let me, but the point was that I hadn’t tried. I’m not that stupid. At least, not two days in a row.

Driving in, Heero kept giving me side-long looks, and finally blurted, ‘Duo... what in the hell is that... smell?’

I smirked over at him. ‘Topical analgesic cream, don’t you like it?’

The joking tone left his voice and he reached for my hand. ‘Hey... you’re all right, aren’t you?’

I would have shrugged, but my shoulders kind of didn’t want to. ‘Just a little stiff,’ I reassured. ‘Most of that work was done with my hands raised over my head, my shoulders are a bit sore is all.’

He gave my fingers a squeeze before letting go to return his hands to the wheel for a left hand turn. ‘You’re taking tonight off,’ he told me decisively. ‘You need a break.’

I thought about how close we were to being ready to move in for good, but then I thought about how nice it would be to just stay at the apartment with Heero for the evening. ‘Yes sir,’ I said meekly and won a rather sharp look, but he refrained from commenting.

‘Heero?’ I asked tentatively after a few miles driving in a comfortable quiet. ‘Did I...’ I wasn’t sure how to put it, but had decided that I didn’t want to let the occasion pass completely without comment. ‘Did I thank you for... not over-reacting last night?’

He gave me a funny little look, somewhere between embarrassed and amused. ‘It seemed the... proper way to reward your not hiding it from me,’ he said after a few moments of thinking about wording. It was my turn to be embarrassed.

‘I’m trying,’ I mumbled, feeling a little defensive.

‘I know you are,’ he told me warmly, reaching for my hand again. ‘And I am too.’

I would have sold a body part or two to have been able to kiss him goodbye that morning, and from the look in his eyes... I think he might have too. As it was, there were only our usual discreet touches below line of sight when he pulled up to the garage door.

I went into the bay, clocking in and going to pick up my days assignments. The first damn thing on my docket was changing out a quarter panel on a car that had been in a shoot out. I groaned to myself, thinking about all that bending and twisting, but having to face up to the fact that the only thing that was going to make those muscles loosen up again was using them. Well... without the utilization of a hot tub and Heero’s talented hands. Neither of which was readily available in the middle of the Preventors maintenance bay.

When I went to match the ‘Chrysler A10’ on my work order, up with the actual vehicle, I found that I was going to be working in the spot next to the new kid. I sighed and seriously considered moving the damn car to another slot. The kid is not my biggest fan.

I suppose, to be fair, I should stop calling him ‘the kid’. His name’s Mickey. I’d never bothered to ask, but he might actually be a year or two older than I am. He just... acts like a kid. One of those still stuck in high school. There is something about me that just annoys the hell out of him. I have no idea what it is. My hair? My face? My sparkling wit? I have no fucking clue. I’d done my best at first to be pleasant, but after getting growled at a couple of times, I’d given it up. I don’t stick my hand in the fire over and over again for just anybody. Uhmmm... pardon the pun.

So now I usually just avoided him. He didn’t go out of his way to speak to me, so I didn’t go out of my way to speak to him. Maybe someday I’d ask some of the other guys just what the stick up the kid’s ass was all about.

In the end, moving the car was just too much trouble, so I went and got my toolbox and said the hell with it; if Mickey didn’t like it, he could fucking move.

Taking the old panel off the Chrysler wasn’t a terrible chore since I really didn’t care what shape it was in when I was done. It already had a dozen holes through it and was on its way to the scrap heap anyway. But I had to slow down a little bit when I got around to replacing the torn wiring, and then aligning and attaching the new fender. Not for the first time, I wondered why in the hell the bullet proofing couldn’t be in the damn shell of the car instead of at the frame level. It would save us poor mechanics a lot of work. As predicted, my shoulders did begin to loosen as I used stiff muscles, and after a couple of hours I’d stopped feeling like I wanted to groan every time I had to raise my arms over my head, though I was still cautious about moving suddenly, or bending and straightening too fast.

From what I could tell, Mickey was getting ready to pull an engine block out of the truck he was working on, and by the time I finished the job on the Chrysler he was just positioning the hoist. I tossed my tools back in my tool chest, vaguely aware of him bolting the chains in place. I thought about offering him a hand, I would have with almost any of the other mechanics. Pulling an entire engine block is just easier with two people, but I was pretty sure I’d just get blown off, so I forgot the notion and pulled the Chrysler out of the garage into the back parking lot. My next assignment was at the other end of the bay, a transmission problem that would have me working next to Giles instead of Mickey, for which I was grateful. I was walking across the garage floor, returning for my tool box when Mickey finally hit the hydraulics to start raising the big engine block out of the armored surveillance van. As soon as the hoist was bearing the brunt of the engines weight, I heard the unmistakable sound of metal under stress. I turned away from my task of gathering tools and looked at Mickey, suddenly realizing that the vehicle he was working on was quite heavily armored. The engine in the thing was non-standard and was obviously over the weight rating on the hoist he was using. Mickey seemed oblivious to the noise; just kept on raising the engine, walking up to guide the thing by hand. I glanced around the bay, but nobody else seemed to be hearing the sounds that were so obvious to me.

‘Hey!’ I hollered, knowing he wasn’t going to be thrilled with my interference. ‘Stop that thing! You’re overloading the hoist!’

He turned to look at me, his thumb leaving the suicide ‘up’ button for a second, and the engine ground to a halt. ‘What?’ he asked me, voice cold as all hell.

I wondered again what was up with the guy and walked over to stand closer, so I didn’t have to yell. ‘I said, you need to switch to the heavy-duty hoist; you’re stressing the hell out of this one. It’s not rated for anything over a thousand pounds.’

He gave me the faintly sneering look that was usually on his face when he and I had to deal with each other, and growled, ‘Damn engine isn’t over a thousand damn pounds.’

Francis stuck his head out of my pocket, looking up at me with his ‘repress’ banner hanging a little limply, obviously not all that enthralled with stopping me from called the kid an asshole. So I did the repress thing on my own. ‘Look at the thing, Mickey,’ I tried to lower my voice and sound reasonable. Tried to pretend I was talking to one of the other guys. ‘Standard engine wouldn’t be enough for a vehicle armored this heavily. Trust me... that hoist won’t hold that engine for long.’

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