Expectations (cont)

‘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 deal.

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 away.

‘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 woke you?’

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... walked away.’

‘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 his place?’

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 least.

‘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 another person.

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.’

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