By the time Drin moved in with Dance and Emma, he knew the charm of the little house was not in its smallness. Any charm it had came from constant work done just to keep it functional. No boxes on the floor, or they can’t get to the bathroom; no clutter left on the sink, or they can’t brush their teeth; no dirty dishes scattered, everything must be clean in its place, or the kitchen is a death-trap. Dance stores his three good skillets in the oven–the drawer beneath the oven has his other pans. So Dance’s skillets get stacked on newspapers on the living room floor when he bakes.
Drin is familiar with theories on tiny working kitchens, from those friends who tell hilarious stories about cramped New York apartments. It’s not funny in their little house.
Of course he’s wary when he comes in the front door. He’s been a soldier too long, he looks first, always–so he’s never tripped on the skillets. But when he sidles around them, he’s wrong-footed to get around the next obstacle in the course, the big flour and sugar canisters. Turn wrong after that, and he’s knocked stuff off Emma’s cramped little desk.
When Dance is tense, when he is worrying about something else, things get piled in the way. He has a knack for setting up pathways nobody can run, a mysterious ability to space perfectly ordinary objects into barriers that would baffle a fire team of perfectly decent Marines. Most days, Drin and Emma can get through all right, because Dance allows for their different stride lengths and handedness. Some days, nobody can get through. This is one of the habits that worries him most about Dance.
When Drin feels claustrophobic enough, sometimes he insists on taking them off with him on a road trip, for sanity’s sake. In hotel rooms, he learned that Dance will blockade any space when he’s nervous. Dance will make the passage negotiable for somebody of their stride and handedness up until they go to bed, and then the portcullis around the bed is dragged in place. Emma just asks Dance to move things for her to reach the bathroom, in the middle of the night, and yawns back to sleep while he rebuilds it. It’s quite something to see him pull it off with perfectly ordinary luggage. Even more infuriatingly, Dance doesn’t even notice he’s doing it.
Neither does Emma. She just assumes it’s routine to go falling over boxes of music manuscript or spare instrument cases or books. She also assumes that Dance will get there in time, if he’s home, and pirouette around to catch either of his partners as they’re falling, saving them neatly from cracking their heads. Even if they weigh twice as much as their beautiful musician does.
The risky part is when he’s not home, and they’re threading the maze he’s left behind. He’s got better about clearing these traps just before he leaves.
It’s always wiser to open the door, check the pathway first, and then go get bags of groceries from the trunk of the car. Drin would do this anyway–that soldierly habit of checking security in the house first, before loading himself down–but such evidence always makes him sad and worried about Dance. Also, it makes him irritated about the tight, unforgiving spaces in the house. It’s like living in a rat’s habitrail made of breakaway stunt glass; ding the slightest thing and they have to replace another part which wasn’t designed for repairs.
It annoys Drin to fix shoddy goods. It annoys him to constantly watch himself, to move carefully in cramped quarters like a submariner, to grip gently, to avoid breaking things that were not built well enough to withstand ordinary wear and tear. It annoys him to see Emma and Dance put up with broken shelves and faucets and cabinet hinges that should have lasted better.
It outright angers him to see them flinch at perfectly common repair bills and the cost of quality parts. But he gulps it down, waits it out, watches them carry on. He listens in amazement when they just start cracking jokes as Emma’s car dies. The rent costs more than they can afford in this tiny place, but hey, at least they can do transit for groceries and walk to work, if they have to. Right, two miles in the rain just before an evening performance.
They don’t have a clue how different their lives could be on just slightly better salaries.
Installing them in ten times more square footage of conventional housing would not solve all the problems. He’s seeing, on a daily basis, how carefully Dance moves, how precise his daily gestures are. Dance has to be, he’s just too bloody strong. Distract him too much, and Dance breaks doorknobs, toilet levers, closet doors, plastic parts, patio chairs. He’s putting on more muscle every month, with more food in the house, he’s getting stronger, so he’s having to adapt to those changes. Dance tries pathetically hard not to damage things, but he also takes alarm easily.
His jumpiness has him leaping back like a wet cat at sharp sudden noises–especially at night, in the dark, jumping from things nobody else even noticed–and he’s described seeing some pretty strange things outside the house. Big enough jumps, he leaves dents in walls, and even in the low ceiling. Well, in some places, it’s a very low ceiling.
Drin himself is wary of barking his skull on low doorways and open cabinets. Dance is meticulous about always closing the cabinets, but Emma occasionally forgets, in her typical rush. It makes Drin feel silly when he bashes his head on them and she apologizes for it.
After the tight quarters in the house, it seems quite odd that Dance wants a great deal of space to exercise; running in the streets, digging in the garden outside, practising at the dojo, swimming in the largest pool he can find. Dance liked Drin’s huge, wide-open apartment for the space it allowed him to practice his katas in the morning, not for sleeping.
In their little house, there’s no space for the athlete to really loosen up during bad weather. The living room is the only place they have to stretch, to sprawl out on the floor, or practice sparring, or use any kind of large equipment; it’s barely ten feet across with all the furniture taken out. They should really carpet it in gym mats to accommodate two of their favorite activities. Both of those involve wrestling around, but only one involves their trio of video game controllers. Mentioning the idea of gym mats makes Dance get a wistful look, and Emma gets pinched-looking about the cost.
Fixing things often brings up nagging money issues. Drin automatically adopted a mental schedule for repairing and replacing nearly every functional part of the house—including the old, fragile, and uncertain plumbing and electrical–but he doesn’t want to frighten his partners by taking over everything, overwhelming their input on finances.
They are, come right down to it, no good as courtesans. They just don’t know how to accept gifts gracefully. They don’t even know how to elicit the gifts they actually need, either. They try very hard not to ask him for things, which is maddening when he really wants to get them something special.
They may be grateful, but it makes them twitchy, and it makes them sad to know they couldn’t take care of themselves. They aren’t independent enough to survive without help, and they don’t really want to think about how to manage without him if something happens.
He does take care to make sure they’ll be okay, if God forbid they ever have to survive without his ongoing salary. He simply confronts them with awkward big gifts to their savings, not even softening it. This embarrasses them, which he just finds charming and irresistible.
Dance will ceremoniously refuse it twice, and pummel Drin about the shoulders–carefully– when he finally accepts it. Emma just yanks Drin close and smacks him, or she bites his ear, or she pulls his hair, and then she kisses him sloppily, making silly noises while she pretends to chew on him. “Ommm nom nom nom,” Dance says, eyes laughing, and ducks when she smacks him too.
He knows there’s going to be bruises from this one.
“Hello, love, you’re home early,” says Emma, blinking up owlishly from her laptop.
Dance comes out of the kitchen, wiping his hands dry on a towel, and there’s a little quirk to his mouth. Oh, he knows something. Then the inquiring gaze narrows. “Oh nooo, you wicked husband you, what did you do?”
Drin coughs into one cupped hand, and rummages in his pockets. “Em, happy birthday.” And holds out a ring of Volvo keys in Emma’s direction. They are much newer keys than hers were.
“Whaa-aat did you do–” she repeats.
“Well, I was taking in my car for an oil change anyway, and the mechanics knew somebody who wanted their old wagon to go to a good home.”
Dance starts to chuckle. He looks over at Emma, grinning, while she just blinks at the keys.
She completely lives up to everything Drin expected when the little frown smooths out and she asks, “Is that the key fob from two model years ago?”
“Yeah, it’s in the driveway,” Drin says helpfully, and puts the keys in her hand. He shrugs. “Easier than borrowing a loaner car, and I needed to pick up stuff to fix the bathroom anyway, you know.”
Dance’s eyes fly wide open, and he makes an outraged noise, and then he’s laughing.
Emma is up on her feet at last, mouth open. Drin pivots neatly aside, just in time, and gives her a tiny little push between the shoulder blades, and says, “Now, you’ll want to go take a look and make sure it’s going to fit you just the way you like. I mean, it is a used car, yeah? And if it doesn’t, we’ll just go back and find you another one that does, how’s that?”
Dance is laughing in delight behind them, and he pounds on Drin’s back as they spill out the front door. Emma is still making confused broken little noises, hands flying about. She exclaims at the very conventional, unremarkable brown vehicle in the driveway, and gives it an awkward little set of pats, as if she’s not quite sure it’s real, or where the key goes in.
“It’s a fob type, you click it–” Drin says, showing her, and the door lock chirrups, startling her. “Here, slide in and let’s see if the driver’s seat works okay for you. And they told me the manual is nice and clean. It’s in the glove compartment if you want to take a look.”
There is some time spent on seat adjustments and trying levers and learning where to change the mirrors, and eventually he admits he also bought them a new bathroom cabinet and some panelling and tools that are taking up space in the back. By the time he’s got those supplies shifted inside the tightly-organized garage, she’s carried the car’s manual away into the house, he has been well and truly pounded about the back and shoulders, and he’s got most thoroughly nommed and kissed silly by both of them.
By the time Emma sits down with the manual and her laptop at her narrow little shelf of a desk–no project is well and truly begun until she’s got the available research under her belt–Dance is bringing out bowls of soup and fresh-cut bread for them all, looking pleased with the world.
Drin turns at the kitchen table and hisses at his husband, “You heard it coming up the street, didn’t you?”
Dance smiles a tiny little smile, and whispers back, “I can keep a secret.”