Expectations (cont)

He let me wrap myself around him and just think about it for a few minutes. Holding his tongue while I let myself play the scene through in my head. Guilt sat on the floor beside us and watched me with cocked head, looking like he wasn’t going to refrain from biting me in the ass much longer.

That was kind of an odd notion, and I had to wonder just why the damn critter hadn’t nailed me with his usual enthusiasm. Unless, somehow I didn’t really feel all that horrid about not taking the fall for Mickey? I sighed heavily and swear to God guilt beast winked at me.

I felt guilty for not really feeling all that guilty for not saving the damn, stubborn kid’s legs.

Well, wasn’t that just a kick in the head?

My brain continued to play the scene out, and I watched while I did throw myself at Mickey. Watched as I went down under that engine block. Watched as Heero came running into the garage with Wufei. Saw them not able to get the thing off me. Saw myself die while Heero held my hands and screamed for help.

I shivered hard while he held me close. ‘You see?’ he whispered softly. ‘You aren’t entirely your own person anymore... what happens to you effects me as well.’ His voice, tight with emotion, suddenly lightened just a touch and I could feel the slight curve to his lips as he pressed them to the side of my neck. ‘I would have been royally pissed off if you’d gotten yourself squished.’ Though his body belied the teasing tone as he crushed me close... almost too close for breath.

‘I... I just reacted... I didn’t even think...’ I murmured, still just a little confused on that count. The part where my conscious mind never even considered what should have been my first course of action.

‘It’s natural,’ he told me gently, his hand going to smooth over my frazzled hair. ‘I see it all the time among the agents. See how they change when they marry or have children. They become less... reckless. Less likely to take chances. I do it too... now. My safety has a higher price; I have you to think about.’ I drew back to look at him and he let me. I tried to think what to say, but couldn’t seem to work it out in my head. He smiled lovingly at me, raising a hand to brush affectionately through my bangs. ‘I was a little angry with you... when I saw the footage of that bus accident.’ He said it with a tiny smile curving his lips, just a touch self-deprecating, but I could see the hint of hurt in his eyes.

‘I... I’m sorry,’ I told him, suddenly seeing that day through his eyes. ‘I never thought...’

His smile widened and I had that feeling he can give me sometimes, like I’ve been led down a path of his choosing. ‘Exactly,’ he pounced. ‘And that’s the difference. That was a child... a helpless child, and you did what you had to. That’s the higher price. Mickey just didn’t... measure up.’ He smiled again, and leaned in to kiss me gently. ‘My gut reaction, when I saw you throw yourself into a burning bus, was anger. That you could endanger yourself that way, without a second thought. But then I saw that little girl and knew that I didn’t have the right to be upset with you... had I been in your place, I’d have done the same thing.’

And he would have. I knew that. That selflessness, or sense of duty, or whatever the hell it is, was a large part of what made Heero who he was.

When I looked, guilt beast just seemed confused, like he didn’t know if it was going to be worth his hanging around or not.

‘Enough of this,’ Heero said softly, brushing a kiss across my forehead. ‘How are you feeling this morning?’

‘A little sore,’ I admitted, more than happy to change the subject.

He sighed, frowning a little. ‘I don’t mean that; I mean...’ he struggled with the wording for a second and I took pity on him.

‘I’m not feeling dizzy at all,’ I soothed. ‘A little tired maybe... that’s all.’

I saw his faint unease at my using the word ‘tired’, but he managed to push it aside. ‘You are not doing anything today,’ he told me firmly, tone daring me to argue. ‘Except resting.’

I snorted and shook my head ruefully. ‘Yes, boss.’

It got me a more serious kiss and the offer of breakfast.

‘Heero,’ I told him, getting a little exasperated, ‘you don’t have to...’

He cut me off with a determined, ‘Yes, I do,’ in the voice that I know there’s just no arguing with.

We were half way through a breakfast of omelets, bacon, toast and orange juice before I figured out that he wasn’t planning on going to work either.

I don’t know why it bugs me so much when he does stuff like this, just pokes me rather firmly in that place where I feel ashamed of myself. Makes me feel... lame. Pathetic. Like some damn little kid that still needs Mommy to wipe his ass after he goes to the bathroom.

Not that I actually ever remember having a mother wipe my ass, but I digress.

‘Heero,’ I sighed, picking at my carefully prepared and rather perfect damn omelet, trying to see just what he’d put in the thing. ‘I don’t need you to stay here all day and stare at me while I sit around doing nothing.’

‘Maybe I just want to stay here...’ he began, smiling at me faintly, his face angled so he was looking up at me through the fall of his hair.

I sighed, rather heavily, I’m afraid and told him, ‘I’m not a child. I don’t need...’

His fork slammed down on the table so hard that his glass of orange juice toppled over. He didn’t even reach to catch it, just staring across the table at me while the juice puddled beside his plate. ‘Maybe it’s not fucking about what you need!’ he snapped and before I’d gotten my wide-eyed gaze pulled away from the flood of orange juice, he was out of the room.

Guilt beast showed none of his early hesitation, teleporting back from wherever he goes when I haven’t done anything that requires his attention, and biting me resoundingly in the ass.

Well hell. Made me feel like I’d been pulling the wings off of butterflies all morning. Little conflicting electrical impulses ran through my brain while I tried to decide just what I should do. Scream? Run after him? Sit here and wait for him to come back? Clean up the mess on the table before it ran off onto the floor? Go the hell back to bed?

When it finally registered in my brain that I had not heard the door of the apartment slam, I decided I would take a few minutes and clean up the juice. That stuff is just sticky and gross as hell if you let it dry. Besides, it would give Heero a chance to cool off. Would give me a chance to regroup.

I found him standing in that place by the window where I usually ended up when I needed to think and I went to him, wanting to slip my arms around him, but unsure of his mood. ‘I’m sorry, Heero,’ I told him simply.

He sighed, a sound that might have escaped Atlas on a bad day, and guilt beast happily ripped a chunk out of my ass that felt like it was the size of a small continent. Heero turned his head to look at me over his shoulder, the pain in his eyes making me open my arms and reach for him. He reached in return and I couldn’t have told you later if I’d pulled or been pulled. If I had embraced or been embraced. It didn’t seem to matter.

‘God,’ he choked out, ‘when will I ever get through all these damn defenses of yours?’

The almost palpable distress in his voice made me want to weep. ‘Just... don’t give up, ok?’ I heard myself say and it made his arms clutch me close.

‘Never,’ he breathed against my shoulder, voice little more than a fierce growl. ‘Forever, remember?

Distantly, I heard Relena’s somewhat irritated voice saying, ‘He just wants you to...need him a little bit.’

I’d never known how to tell anybody how scared I was of needing him too much... of leaning so hard he got tired of carrying the burden.

‘Forever,’ I agreed and felt some of the tension go out of him.

We just held each other for the longest time. He seemed to forget about breakfast, for which I was grateful because I’d already eaten more than I’d really wanted before we’d had our... discussion.

Then, ‘Where’s your laptop?’ he asked me out of a clear blue sky.

‘In my room,’ I told him; puzzled. ‘It’s in the bag on the closet floor.’

He drew away and smiled at me. ‘Sit down... I’ll be right back.’

I decided to just go with the flow, making a conscious effort not to be so stubborn, and sat on the couch to wait for him.

He brought it back with him, bag and all, and settled beside me on the couch. He propped the computer across our legs and we waited in silence while it booted up. I stole a glance at him when my wallpaper appeared, noticing the tiny little frown. Heero is not a big fan of Sisyphus. I made myself a mental reminder to change the background to something else. I suppose there was no point in rubbing Heero’s nose in how I felt half the time. My e-mail is set to come up with the system and before I quite realized it, we were sitting there staring at an in-box with something like thirty new messages in it. I quickly hit the close button, but Heero spared me a look.

‘It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to check my messages,’ I muttered defensively. But the truth was that most of them were from people I just wasn’t sure how to talk to anymore. People from my old life. People still on the inside of a thing I’d been ousted from. Toria and Hayden. Howard and Kurt. Smitty. Dusty. I kept going and looking at my e-mail... and coming away not knowing where to start.

Heero didn’t comment, though I had no doubt he’d seen the addresses in the moment before I’d dismissed the thing from the screen. He simply pulled up an Internet connection and typed in a web site from memory, letting it go.

I couldn’t help the double take when I was confronted with a screen full of carpet samples. He couldn’t help the grin at my expression.

‘I thought we might do some... planning together today,’ he offered almost shyly, and it made me feel badly for not seeing that this could be a pleasant day together... if we both let it.

‘That would be... fine,’ I told him and we settled in to pick out bedroom carpet.

Dear God, but there are a lot of stupid choices. I’d thought all we had to do was decide on a color. Please excuse my naiveté. Grade and weight. Fiber content and pile. Sculpted or not? Stain guard? It took us an hour to narrow it down to what we wanted.

Heero shut down my laptop when we were done, turning with a warm smile and kissing me teasingly on the end of the nose. ‘This was nice,’ he told me softly, a hint of hesitation in his voice; feeling his way. It made me feel kind of bad, that he was so cautious around me. Made me feel like some kind of borderline basket case.

‘It was,’ I reassured him. ‘I’m... sorry I don’t always see the... benefits of things.’

There was a question burning in his eyes, that I knew he wasn’t going to ask. He was too afraid of starting the argument back up. Too afraid of spoiling the moment.

‘Because it... unnerves me to be this out of control,’ I told him, answering what he couldn’t ask. ‘Because you and the rest of the guys make me feel so... damn frail, and I hate feeling like I don’t measure up anymore. It... leaves me feeling off balance, and that just kind of makes me... defensive.’

There, see? I did learn a thing or two in my therapy sessions. Dr. Webster had beat some stuff into my head. Of course, understanding a thing and being able to do something about it, are two entirely different things.

He looked keenly frustrated for a second, before managing to banish the look, and then softly told me, ‘I can not fathom how you can feel that way when you are the damn yardstick we all measure ourselves by.’

You’ve seen my deer in headlights routine before, right? I don’t really need to describe it again?

Something came out of my mouth then, I had meant to say ‘what?’ but it might have come out ‘nani?’ or it might have come out ‘fuck?’, I’m not really sure, and honestly, I don’t know that he even heard me. He suddenly had that look on his face that told me he was going to tell me something he thought I should know, but he knew was going to make me squirm. It’s a rather jaw-clenched, determined look.

‘You are the strongest, most stubborn man I have ever met,’ he told me, voice kind of rough. ‘That you lived through that accident was a damn miracle. That you fought your way back to where you are now is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You are not frail. You are not weak. What you have managed, has earned you the highest respect from every one of us. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.’

His eyes were glittering brightly, his gaze boring into mine, willing me to feel the love and pride he seemed to hold for me. I wondered idly if he’d be able to get the couch put out when I spontaneously combusted.

‘So...’ I squeaked out. ‘Were we going to... uhmmm... order that carpet now?’

His breath blew out in an explosion of near exasperation and he pulled me toward him, burying his face in my hair. ‘God, but you’re impossible,’ he chuckled, but I felt him abandoning the discussion.

‘I’ve been told that before,’ I muttered.

‘I’m sure you have, love,’ he whispered in my ear, and it seemed he was going to leave his aggravation with me behind in favor of amusement. ‘I’m sure you have.’

‘About the carpet?’ I persisted, wanting safer conversational ground firmly under my feet.

He drew back to give me a rueful little smile and said, ‘To be honest, I had planned on trying to sneak out this afternoon to make the arrangements and surprise you with it.’

I couldn’t help grinning at him; it was such a non-Heero thing to do. ‘And just how were you planning on doing this sneaking?’ I teased.

He looked a little sheepish, and a little expectant all at once. ‘I was kind of hoping you’d be taking a nap sometime today.’

I snorted and just shook my head. Good God... I hadn’t taken an afternoon nap in ages.

Eventually we agreed that I would pretend to take a nap, he would pretend to sneak out, and later I could pretend to be surprised. He left the apartment chuckling, and though I could see it in his eyes, he managed to keep from telling me to take it easy while he was gone.

Once I wasn’t able to hear his footsteps on the stairs anymore, I went and cleaned up the breakfast mess, knowing full-well that he’d be irritated, but not willing to resort to being a complete slacker. It’s just not in my nature.

Then I decided that it was more than time for me to deal with the nightmare that was my in-box. It was a task I really needed to get to, and sitting on the couch with my laptop was not something that could possibly be construed as ‘taxing myself’.

I fetched a bottle of soda with me, just for perversity’s sake, and took the time to queue up some music despite the total lack of sound quality on a laptop’s speakers. The two things combined would have been soothing if not for the sheer daunting factor of the task ahead of me. I made myself start with the oldest message in the box, slogging forward one at a time, not allowing myself to skip to the next message until the current one had been dealt with.

There was a message several weeks old from Toria. Mostly just one of her not-so-subtle pokes to make sure I was still alive. I knew I had several more messages from her waiting, so I just deleted it.

The one from Dusty was a query, wondering if I would be coming for Christmas dinner again this year. I was almost shocked to make myself think about it, and realize that the darn holiday was actually coming around again. It wasn’t something I’d ever celebrated myself, but Dusty’s wife hadn’t liked the idea of me sitting in my ship alone on Christmas day and had gotten Dusty to ask me over for dinner the last two years. I’d never stayed for more than the meal, not wanting to intrude on their family traditions, but I’d always appreciated the gesture. I politely declined, hinting to Dusty that he could let his wife know that I wasn’t all alone anymore, but not elaborating more than that. I made a mental note to send something over to Dusty’s boy for Christmas. I’d never gone to dinner without bringing the kid something. He was the guy who had hooked me up with my original co-pilot, after all.

I hit another one of Toria’s messages, another unrestrained attempt to force me to reply, threatening to come to Earth to make sure the Heero didn’t have me held captive somewhere. I passed over that one as well, knowing I had at least two more.

There was a smattering of idle messages from some of the Sweepers, a couple simple forwards of jokes and the usual e-mail junk that friends pass among themselves. It reminded me of a day when I’d probably forwarded just as much crap around that group as they had forwarded to me. And though I read every one, replying to the ones that actually had personal messages, I deleted my way through those pretty quickly.

The one from Smitty took me a moment to decipher; he’d obviously been pretty excited when he wrote it. Back when I’d first met the Musketeers, they’d had this silly little garage band thing going on. McMurphy had even let them play at his place once, though just once, mind you. They had scraped together the cash to cut a single CD, had managed to sell a grand total of twenty copies, mostly to their relatives, and called it quits. And yes, I owned a copy, I couldn’t have told you where the damn thing was, but I’d done my part and bought one. Hell, I’d even written some lyrics for them a couple of times. Their playing wasn’t bad... but the poor guys couldn’t have rhymed the word isolation if their lives had depended on it. According to Smitty’s message, one of those CDs had somehow made its way around to some real life musician and the guy wanted to cut a couple of their songs or something.

I replied and told him I was happy for them and moved on, delighted to find that I was well over half-way through the pile of messages. If some of my answers were a little terse, at least they were answers.

There was one from Howard, one of his typical newsy updates. He doesn’t usually require a reply, but I felt bad about not staying in touch and so made the effort to update him right back. I knew he’d be pleased.

Then I finally hit the last one from Toria.

Hey there, out-of-touch asshole-boy. Hope you’re not dead. It would really suck if we missed the funeral. Course, I don’t really know what else to think since somebody has totally dropped off the face of the universe and is refusing to respond to people who used to be his best friends. But then... maybe you just have the black plague or something. I’ll give you the benefit and all that, but if you don’t answer this message, we’re coming to Earth and we’re going to beat the living shit out of that Yuy guy because he’s obviously got you locked away from all forms of communication somewhere. Why else would you not reply to us?

We can do that now. Come to Earth. Because we have a ship. I’ve attached a picture, if you flaming well even care. We named her ‘Buddy’s Gift’ you fucking asshole... though I’m starting to be sorry for that. And you know... I’m damn well going to change it if you don’t freaking answer me this time, because in a more sober state of mind, it’s kind of a dorky sounding name anyway.

I’d ask you to come paint my babies again, but I figure I’ll be doing good just to get an e-mail from you. Anything would be fine; just a note that says ‘not dead’ or something, ok?

We love you, buddy-boy. Please let us know you’re all right.

Toria

Fuck, I was damn near bawling by the time I was done with that one, guilt beast wrapped around one ankle and the screen blurring in front of my eyes. And just to add a certain poignancy to the moment, my God damn music choose that message to get around to ‘Wanderlust’ and before I knew it, I was crying, and fervently wishing I’d left this chore for another day. Maybe another week altogether.

‘For the fever’s upon me, my Captain is callin’. I cannot stay with thee, my destiny’s callin’. I’ll never be free, but I’ll do what I must, I can’t give up my wanderlust with thee...’ [1]

And that was the moment that the knock came on the door.

I’m fairly damn certain that somewhere up there in deity land, there is some cranky little guy whose sole purpose in life is to make sure I have moments like these.

I ditched the laptop and scrubbed furiously at my eyes, wondering who in the hell it could be in the middle of the afternoon.

And that was when I realized that it wasn’t afternoon anymore. I couldn’t believe how many hours dealing with that backlog of e-mail had taken. Then I wondered what in the hell was taking Heero so long.

I hoped that my face wouldn’t betray me and went to get the door. My heart fairly leaped up into my throat when I checked the peephole and found Trowa and Quatre standing there. Heero’s absence, coupled with the memory of the last time those two had come to find me when Heero hadn’t been around, and I about had a heart attack. I flung the door open and blurted, ‘What’s wrong?’ before I had a chance to think about it.

It was Trowa’s light chuckle that brought me back to reality. ‘Hello to you too, Duo,’ he said, eyes laughing at me.

‘Uh...’ I muttered sheepishly. ‘Hi guys... come on in.’

I stepped aside and ducked my head a little. If they’d noticed anything odd about my face, they didn’t speak of it.

‘I take it Heero’s not home?’ Trowa asked as they stepped into the apartment, shedding coats as they came, letting me know they were planning on being there for more than a couple of minutes.

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