Expectations (cont)

‘No,’ I informed them, moving away, keeping my back turned. I knew every moment that passed would make my eyes less damp looking. ‘Though he ought to be back any minute, he only ran out to order the carpet for the bedroom.’

I heard them settling on the couch together, so I went to sit in the armchair, as far away as I could get without being obvious.

‘Why in the world did he go without you?’ Quatre asked, voice puzzled.

I sighed, realizing suddenly that they didn’t have a clue about my new Preventor employee entertainment act. On the one hand, I have to admit it was a pleasant change from the normal ex-pilot information net that seemed to pass data instantaneously between all four of them. But on the other hand, I wasn’t all that thrilled with having to sit there and explain things.

‘I...’ I began, sighing again. ‘I kinda had some... more problems with being lightheaded. Heero wanted me to stay home and... rest.’

‘We didn’t wake you, did we?’ Quatre asked, his expression flickering faintly with guilt.

‘Nah,’ I waved dismissively. ‘I was just trying to catch up on some things.’

Quatre seemed to accept that, but Trowa was eyeing me closely, so I looked away. ‘So what brings you guys all the way out here?’ I asked by way of subject change.

Quatre’s face did something funny. He got this weird little smile, this strange glitter coming into his eyes. He looked like... a kid on Christmas morning. He turned his gaze to Trowa, smile widening. ‘Well... we should probably wait for Heero...’ he said, but his tone of voice was clearly asking Trowa’s permission to not wait for Heero.

‘I don’t think it would matter,’ Trowa said, smiling benignly at his partner. Quatre fairly lit up, and a small box was suddenly brought into view. I couldn’t believe I’d missed seeing him carry it in.

‘We wanted to get you and Heero a house-warming present,’ he told me, grinning from ear to ear.

‘Don’t you traditionally give house-warming gifts after the house has been moved into?’ I teased, eyeing the thing in his hands. It was a flat little box, gold with a red ribbon around it. It crossed my mind that it was just about the size of a bank check. I hoped to God Quatre wasn’t getting ready to do something... overblown.

‘We thought you might want this sooner than that,’ Trowa told me, and when I looked, there was a touch of Quatre’s excitement hiding in the backs of his eyes.

Quatre proffered the box and I really didn’t have much choice but to accept it. I glanced from one of them to the other, but really couldn’t get a clue. I kind of wished Heero were there to take some of the focus of their attention.

‘Open it, Duo,’ Quatre prodded me, and I thought for a surreal moment that he was going to start bouncing where he sat.

Let it be known that Quatre Winner likes to give gifts. I suspect that it takes a lot of ‘reining in’ on Trowa’s part, to keep him from showering us all with things like... houses and cars. He is particularly bad if he’s worried about you for some reason. I had been the recipient of everything from new sheets to books, when I’d first gotten out of the hospital after the accident. I wondered if whatever I was holding in my hands had been prompted by my dizzy spell at the house the other day.

I slipped the red bow off, the ribbon falling into my lap in a coil. The box proved to be one of those things that looks wrapped, but really isn’t. I gingerly lifted the lid, only to find a folded up piece of paper nestled in a nest of tissue paper. At least it didn’t look like a check.

Sparing a glance at Trowa and Quatre, I plucked the paper out and set the box aside. When I unfolded it, I discovered a picture that looked like it was cut from a catalog or something of that nature. It was a picture of a large four-poster bed. It was a massive looking thing, solid oak, and looked like it was going to go in our bedroom like it was made for it.

We hadn’t bought a new bed because Heero’d had to buy one when I’d moved in with him. What was now ‘my room’, had been a study prior to my accident. I hadn’t known that the bed was his until we started talking about buying furniture for the new house. There was not a thing wrong with that bed; while it was nothing to write home about, it was perfectly serviceable and we had opted to keep it.

But you know? I hadn’t been thrilled about it. I hate that bed. It reminds me of those dark, dark days at the beginning of my convalescence. Reminds me of nights spent sobbing into my pillow, desperately trying to keep Heero from hearing me. Nights of lying awake and wondering if I’d ever be able to walk again. But that didn’t justify buying a new one. There was technically nothing wrong with the old one.

I didn’t know I’d lost control of those tears I’d fought off until Quatre was sitting on the arm of my chair and I was suddenly wrapped up in his arms.

‘How did you know?’ I had to ask him, scrubbing at my face again, wishing I hadn’t gone through so many of those damn e-mail messages in one sitting.

‘It’s just how I would have felt,’ he said simply.

I took a deep breath and managed to get things stifled, glancing around his arm and noting that Trowa wasn’t in the room anymore. ‘Thank you,’ I told him, not really knowing what else to say.

‘You’re welcome,’ he told me, sounding amused. ‘I take it you like it?’

I snorted and straightened. He let me go, but stayed perched on the arm of the oversized chair. ‘It’s perfect, Quat,’ I smiled for him.

He grinned back at me, satisfied that I was pulling myself together, I think. ‘I had seen it in the furniture shop, and when I saw that room of yours, I just knew they were made to go together.’

I looked at the picture in my hands again, faintly chagrined to find a water spot on it, and blotted it on my sleeve. ‘I wanted a new one... wanted to start... clean somehow,’ I told him, not sure what prompted me to say it. ‘But I didn’t know how to ask. It seemed... stupid.’

‘How you feel about something is never stupid, Duo,’ Quatre told me, sounding oddly defensive. ‘Heero should have thought of it.’

‘I think you can forgive Heero missing the sapling for the forest of redwoods, little heart,’ Trowa said, suddenly reappearing behind us, handing us each a glass of soda. I took mine gratefully, sipping at it and smoothing the picture of my new bed against my thigh.

Quatre chuckled lightly, accepting his own glass. ‘Well, I expect the man to take better care of my big brother,’ he proclaimed in a somewhat arrogant tone. I almost snorted soda out my nose. Quatre looked pleased, and Trowa sympathetically patted my back while I cleared fizzing liquid from my airway.

When I stopped coughing, they moved off to sit on the sofa again. ‘It’s to be delivered before Friday,’ Quatre told me. ‘So if you still think you’re making the move this weekend, you’ll have it.’

I had to sigh, thinking about how hard I’d worked to see to it that we made that self-imposed dead-line. ‘I don’t know,’ I confessed. ‘I’m not sure Heero’s going to try for it... since...’ I trailed off, not sure I wanted to say more. Not sure just what to tell them.

But Trowa was looking at me intently and I knew he was onto the fact that something had happened that they didn’t know about. ‘Duo?’ he questioned gently, cocking his head to look at me in that way he has that makes me feel buck-naked and turned wrong side out. ‘The rest of the story?’

I felt my face flaming and dropped my gaze to the depths of my soda glass. ‘There was an accident at the garage yesterday and I kinda... passed out,’ I muttered. ‘I’m on two days of medical leave per my Boss’s orders.’

Quatre’s eyes flew wide. ‘Are you all right?’ I nodded for him, swirling my drink in my glass, watching the ice cubes drift and turn. The two of them shifted again, Quatre sliding down to the end of the couch closest to me, and Trowa coming to perch on the edge of the coffee table, right in front of me.

‘Tell us what happened?’ he asked, reaching to lightly touch my knee.

So I told them the sordid little Mickey story, leaving out the guilt trip, the hamster improvisation act, the criminal artist thing, and the rumor mill part. Sticking strictly to the injured co-worker narrative. Oh yeah... and the passing out thing.

Quatre had to have a peek at my shoulder, when I got to that confession, wincing compassionately. Trowa grimaced and shuddered when I told them the kid had lost his leg in the end anyway. They both looked concerned when I finally got around to the part where I’d done a swan dive onto the garage floor.

‘So you see,’ I concluded. ‘I seriously doubt that Heero is going to let me lift a damn finger for the rest of this week, much less spend the weekend actually moving.’

‘It’s all right Duo,’ Quatre told me. ‘There’s no rush.’

I nodded, because he was right. The simple fact that I wanted to move into my home, was not enough to make it a high priority item. We had all the time in the world, and it wasn’t going to kill me to wait another week.

Really. It wasn’t.

Trowa was there, as usual, to gently steer the conversation on to something else once his curiosity had been appeased. We talked about the house for a bit. Quatre told me about his new nephew; I couldn’t have told you which sister it was who’d had him. She’d opted to do it the old-fashioned way, going against family tradition and there was a strange light of pride in Quatre’s face while he told about it. Trowa talked for a bit about the last letter he’d gotten from his sister Catherine, about where they’d traveled last and the new guy who was getting knives thrown at him in Trowa’s place. It was rather soothing. Kind of... homey, or something. Or as homey as you can get with stories that involve twenty-nine siblings and circuses.

Then Quatre rather brought me up short again, making me squirm.

‘Duo,’ he ventured, and I thought I saw a faint frown flicker across Trowa’s face. ‘I promised my sister Aleyah that I would ask you something.’

I looked at him, watching him fidget with his glass in a manner that reminded me very much of myself. ‘Aleyah?’ I questioned, not recognizing the name.

‘I told you about her,’ he murmured, his eyes on the floor and his face starting to tinge pink. I wondered about it, until I caught Trowa trying to catch his partner’s eye. ‘She’s gotten rather successful in the art world. She does watercolor?’

I nodded, remembering Heero mentioning her. I had a feeling the woman had to be the pushiest damn person on Earth or in the colonies. I’d never met her, but I still knew her by reputation. ‘I think I remember,’ I told him, so he wouldn’t waste a bunch of time on the back-story.

‘She’s been... badgering me about talking to you,’ he told me and there was a small sound of disapproval from Trowa. Quatre’s eyes flicked his way but he dropped his gaze quickly enough, looking almost ashamed of himself. ‘You certainly don’t have to if you’re not interested... but I promised I would ask... so now I have.’

I couldn’t help laughing at him, the mental picture of an overbearing sister pestering and pestering until he finally caved and agreed, just to shut her up, was simply too funny. He gave me a sheepish little smile and even Trowa looked a little less... unhappy.

‘I’m sorry, Quat,’ I chuckled. ‘But that would just be... ridiculous. I wouldn’t know how in the hell to act in that kind of circle. Just tell her I said no thanks and forget about it.’

He nodded, looking relieved and disappointed all at the same time. I could see him worrying with something though, and Trowa actually reached out to lay a warning hand on his knee.

But all of a sudden, Quatre looked irritated, his rebellious streak showing a mile wide. He looked me right in the eye and ignored Trowa altogether. ‘Duo,’ he said earnestly. ‘You are a damn good artist. Light-years better than ninety percent of the people my sister rubs elbows with in her damn galleries. I’ve gone to a couple of her showings and you can paint rings around those phonies with your eyes closed!’

I blinked. Trowa blinked. Quatre blinked, and then gave me a quiet little, ‘I’m sorry... that just needed to be said.’ Then he pulled a business card out of his shirt pocket and tossed it down on the coffee table. ‘There... I’ve fulfilled my obligation. Trowa? Are you ready to get going?’

It was rather abrupt and I had to assume that the two of them were about to have words, and Quatre preferred to do it elsewhere. I felt kind of bad about that, kind of guilty, like I’d somehow made them fight, so I tried to temper the whole thing just a little bit. ‘It’s all right little brother. Tell Sis I’ll think about it... but not to hold her breath.’

It takes so very little to please Quatre. Whenever I manage to win the kind of smile I got then, I just find that I feel guilty for not trying harder with him. We just have so very little in common, now that we don’t have a war as a shared hobby.

My taking it so flippantly seemed to ease some of the tension from Trowa’s face though, so perhaps I’d managed to derail any major argument between them. The whole thing just made me very apprehensive about ever running into this Aleyah Winner though.

But it didn’t stop their exit, so I just trailed along behind them as they gathered their coats and headed for the door.

‘Tell Heero we said hi,’ Quatre said politely as he stood in the doorway, looking at me just a touch wistfully. I was suddenly taken with the urge to hug the damn guy, and pulled him into a quick embrace where I could tell him, ‘Heero’s going to love the bed too, Quat. Thank you... I can’t tell you what it means.’

His return hug was fierce, but he let me take the lead and let go as soon as I tried to withdraw. ‘I’m glad you like it,’ was all he said and then he stepped into the hall.

I looked up at Trowa and grinned. ‘Don’t be mad at him,’ I said softly. ‘It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It wouldn’t be... if we were talking about anybody else but me.’

He got that little smile that spreads so slowly you almost don’t notice it happening. ‘I promise not to have him caned, all right?’ he vowed, one hand raised in mock pledge.

I snorted and just shook my head. He started to follow after Quatre, but then hesitated, looking back at me for a moment. ‘Don’t bring his fears to life, Duo,’ he told me softly, not talking about Quatre any more. ‘You have all the time you need to make your home... slow down a little.’

All I managed to do was blush, before the door was shut and they were gone.

God, but those two can be emotionally exhausting.

I went back and flung myself down on the couch in front of my laptop, but when I looked, the next message in the queue was from Octavia and I just didn’t know if I was up to it. There weren’t that many more messages left to go through anyway and I decided to just call it a day. I remember shutting the system down, watching the screen while I waited for it to shut off and the next thing I was aware of was gentle fingers brushing my hair from my face.

‘Wake up, love,’ Heero said softly and I blinked open uncooperative eyelids, surprised as hell to find myself curled on the couch. Damn; I’d take that stupid nap after all.

‘This is the part where I’m supposed to act surprised about the carpet, right?’ I asked, voice gravely from sleep.

He smiled, kneeling there beside me, managing to look damn pleased with himself, and for about two seconds I wondered if he’d drugged my soda somehow. But no, my head wasn’t that damn fuzzy.

‘No,’ he chuckled. ‘This is the part where you act surprised that I managed to find it in stock... it’s being installed tomorrow.’

I blinked up at him, not sure I’d heard him right. ‘What?’ I asked, unbelieving; you don’t just get that damn lucky. ‘Is that what took you so long?’

His soft smile turned into a slightly rueful grin. ‘I did have to visit almost every carpet store in the city.’ But then his expression changed again, going tender and fierce, somehow, all at the same time. ‘I’ll have you in our house this weekend, love. I promise.’

I didn’t know whether to be mortified that he’d figured out how much I had wanted that, or thrilled that he’d figured out how much I had wanted that. ‘But...’ I began, not sure what he was saying, and almost afraid that he meant that he would move us all by himself. ‘Does that mean that you’re... I mean...’ I flailed somewhat unattractively after words that were being damned elusive. I blame it on the grogginess of having just woken up.

‘It means I hired movers,’ he informed me with a hint of some kind of warning in his tone.

‘But Heero,’ I objected. ‘We decided against doing that... we can do it...’

‘I’m not going to argue about it,’ he told me, in his firmest ‘mother-hen’ voice. ‘Your health is much more important than a couple of hundred dollars.’

‘Heero...’ I began, but then stopped at the somewhat whining sound of my own voice. This wasn’t the kind of conversation one should have thirty seconds after waking up.

‘I won’t take the chance that you might pass out on the stairs or something,’ he said, and I could see in his eyes that he’d been thinking about this a little too hard. ‘The Doctor said it might be weeks before you build your iron levels back up... it’s not worth the risk. It’s not worth the risk to me.’

His fingers were ghosting over my face still and I had to give in with a snort of annoyance. ‘You make it damn hard to be indignant,’ I told him.

‘You can be indignant if you want,’ he teased gently. ‘As long as you take care of yourself at the same time.’

I felt a stirring of that... pride. That... stubbornness, that always makes me want to struggle to my feet just one more time. Makes me want to object to his coddling. Maybe he felt it too, because he leaned down and pressed a kiss to my collarbone. ‘Please?’ he whispered, breath hot on my skin. ‘For me?’ That breath moved and he kissed the hollow of my throat. ‘Because you love me almost as much as your soda-pop?’ He dusted little kisses up the length of my throat, making me tilt my head to receive them. ‘Because you love me at least as much as Fuzzy-butt?’

No way in hell could I maintain the urge to argue with him. ‘Asshole,’ I muttered, just before he brought his lips to cover mine.

‘I know,’ he sighed, and actually managed to sound contrite.

When he drew away, his eyes were serious, the teasing banished from sight.

‘You know I love you,’ I had to tell him, just to clear the damn point up. ‘More than my stupid co-pilot... more than anything.’

I couldn’t miss the strange wash of emotion that ran through him at the words. It made me feel badly, somehow, like maybe I didn’t say it enough.

‘I know,’ he said simply, smiling softly and tracing the lines of my face with a gentle fingertip. But then he changed the subject all together with a quirk of an eyebrow. ‘So where did the little gold box on the coffee table come from?’

I flashed a wide grin. ‘Quatre and Trowa,’ I told him. ‘Open it... it’s our house-warming gift.’

‘House-warming?’ he queried in amusement and turned to reach for it. I watched his face while he pulled the thing out, saw the same trepidation that I had felt at first, worried that Quatre had gone overboard and gotten us something like... a live-in maid, or worse. Then the expression went to a faint frown, right before he looked at me quizzically. ‘A bed? But we don’t...’

‘Yeah,’ I cut him off, afraid he might be leading up to telling Quatre it was too expensive. ‘But it goes in the room like it was custom made for it, doesn’t it?’

If he understood the deeper reasoning, he didn’t belabor it. Just smiled and agreed with me, opining that it was indeed a beautiful piece of furniture. But he kissed me damn hard one more time before going off to make dinner.

I actually got very little argument out of him when I insisted I was going back to work the next day. I like to think he knew better than to argue with me, but I’m pretty sure it was more that he trusted Griff not to assign me anything much tougher than changing windshield wiper blades.

And don’t laugh, that’s damn near what I ended up doing all that day. And light bulbs, changing out light bulbs. I think the hardest work-order I got all day was putting in a set of spark plugs.

When I grumbled about it, I got this little speech that went something like this;

‘Damnit, Maxwell... I been with the Preventors since they laid the first damn corner stone of this building. I been in charge of this garage since there was only two other guys working in here. I ain’t never had a mechanic pass-out on the job before. It was damn fuckin’ scary, and I ain’t lookin’ to have it happen again, you understand me?’

Having that communicated to me at Griff’s normal volume in the middle of the garage in front of everybody, was enough to convince me to shut the hell up and go change the next set of wiper blades.

[back] [cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]