by Ashura Nagisa
Lyrics by Jen Cass
~I won't forget the day I met you honey
you left your number in my coffee cup
I never met another guy so funny
you took me driving in your pickup truck
the sun was shining when we hit
we rolled the windows down to feel the wind
you bought me flowers at the Texaco
I swear to God I loved you then~
It was a Tuesday morning--grey and overcast, but not raining, not melancholy enough to be inspiring or bright enough to be exhilarating. The citizens of the world, whether the earth or the colonies, went about their dull and ordinary lives in careless monotony, accompanied by the toneless hum of the city going on around them.
Hilde leaned over the counter of the frustratingly trendy coffee-shoppe to reach for the tray and tip a hurried businessman had left her. It was amusing, really--the same girl who had risked her life, infiltrated the Libra battleship, stolen data, and fought off mobile dolls had been reduced to mixing espresso for hordes of ungrateful people who had no idea what they really owed her.
It wasn't a bitter thought, really--more like an amused one. The poetic irony of the universe. Who said God didn't have a sense of humour? He--or She--did, and it was pretty twisted.
"Hey, babe, can I get a cappuccino?"
"Two-fifty," she answered, without looking up, stifling the immediate urge to take a swing at people who insisted on calling her 'babe'. Money changed hands, as did a coffee cup, and then a small crowd of computer programmers from the monolith up the street came in and commanded her attention. They, at least, were polite--and for the most part, so lonely for any female attention that even a smile got her an impressive tip.
It wasn't until later, when the buzz of customers had calmed, that she thought she saw--
No, it couldn't be.
The telltale swing of a long chestnut braid, disappearing out the door and around the side of the building?
"Just a minute--" she called hastily to her co-worker Angela, vaulting the counter and racing out the door.
But there was no-one there. "What the hell--Hilde? What're you /doing/?" Angela called after her, spitting laughter.
Hilde grinned sheepishly. "Nothing, I guess. Thought I saw somebody I knew, but I was wrong."
Angela coughed delicately. "You might not be. Guy in black, long hair, baseball cap?"
Hilde resisted the impulse to shove her friend against the wall and wring the information out of her. "YES! That's the one--where'd you see him?"
Angela rolled her eyes. "You served him his coffee, you idiot. Are you really that out of it? He sat in the corner staring at you for twenty minutes. Here. I get the feeling this is for you."
She handed Hilde a cup, the same innocent sort of cup they used for all their customers. Inside it was a folded-up piece of paper, scribbled in very bad handwriting in black pen.
//Hilde--call me? Duo.// And his number. That was all. Of course, it was all that would fit on the back of a cigarette-paper.
Angela was already pushing her toward the phone. "Call. Right now. Then you tell me all about it," she commanded.
Hilde grinned inanely. "I think I will."
The number was a portable, which only made sense, and Duo was squinting in attempt to see her on the little screen wrapped around his wrist. "Hey babe!" he said cheerfully. "Glad you called! I was a afraid you were ignoring me!"
"I just didn't see you," Hilde reassured him, a goofy grin on her face.
Duo sighed in obvious--no, melodramatic--relief. "That's good to hear! So when do you get done? Come out for a while and catch up on old times with me later?"
Hilde nodded, trying not to laugh at the faces Angela was making at her just out of the vidphone's view. "Pick me up here at three?" She realised immediately after she said it that she probably should have planned to go home first, get a shower, change into non-work clothes...but that would all take time, and when it came down to it, she'd rather just see Duo.
He grinned--that bright, unfathomably gorgeous smile that made her knees go weak. "Sure thing, ba--Hilde. I'll see you then."
The phone clicked off. Hilde let out her breath. Angela burst into laughter. "Not graceful," she chided. "Not graceful at all. But hey, with a face like that, I can't blame you...he doesn't have a brother or anything, does he?"
Hilde was too busy staring dreamily at the doorway to answer her. Angela snorted in mock disgust and started washing mugs.
Never since elementary school had the clock taken so long to reach .
Duo was prompt--no sooner had the clock tower across the street begun to chime three than the door swung open and there he was, still dressed like a priest on holiday, a black cap obscuring part of the hair that hung rebelliously in his face, the rest caught in a long braid that swung behind him with a life of its own. Hilde maintained just enough control /not/ to go sailing into his arms as soon as he wandered in the door, but the silly smile that had been pasted on her face all afternoon never dimmed.
"Hey, Hilde! You look great," Duo said cheerily, as if it hadn't been three years since they'd seen each other last. "Imagine runnin' into you out here, huh? What a stroke of luck. Fate, whatever." He talked as much as ever, too, a constant stream of chatter that eased him into any awkward situation.
Angela cleared her throat pointedly, and Hilde blushed. "Oh. Right. Angie, this is Duo Maxwell. An old friend of mine from...well, less happy times. Duo, this is my friend Angela Reilly."
Duo shook her hand and gave her a smile that /must/ have made Angela a bit goopy as well. "Nice to meet ya. I run, I hide, but I never tell a lie, that's me in a nutshell. So. Hilde, you ready to take off?"
She nodded, brushing her hands on her short black skirt. "Where do you want to go?"
Duo grinned. "Who cares? C'mon!" He grabbed her hand and hauled her outside after him, shouting a cheerful "See you later!" to Angela and a few bemused coffee-shoppe patrons.
~I said I...
hold on to the American dream...but I
keep waking up without the things that I need, baby
and here and now with you I'm finally free
you know we're gone together, please
They wandered aimlessly through the day, content to catch up on three years of life without a destination in mind. Duo explained he was between jobs, and a bout of homesickness had brought him back to L2.
"I thought you'd joined the Preventers with the rest of them," Hilde said curiously.
Duo shrugged. "I did. I quit. It's like...I dunno, Hilde, I'm /tired/ of being a soldier. I'm eighteen, and that's all I've ever been. Came to the conclusion I'd rather be poor and plain and not have to kill anybody ever again."
Hilde chuckled. "I can identify. How are you at pouring coffee?"
Duo laughed. "I'll leave it to you for now. I wouldn't look as good in the skirt. Actually I know a guy who restores motorcycles, he has a shoppe kinda near here. I thought I might hook up with him, for a while at least."
Hilde tried not to let her excitement show /too/ obviously. He'd be staying here? Near her? "That'd be nice, getting to see a bit more of you!"
Duo grinned easily, lacing his fingers through hers and squeezing her hand. "Aw, c'mon...you didn't think you were gonna get rid of me now, did you?"
Hilde blushed, but couldn't help but smile. "At least I hoped not," she admitted.
Duo leaned close, cupping her chin in his other hand and tilting her face up. "I know I just ran into you again," he began, apologetically, "and that I ought to wait til we've hung out for more than an afternoon before trying this, and everything, but I just feel like the chemistry is really intense and I mean, I missed you, and--"
Hilde rolled her eyes. "Duo, do you /ever/ shut up?" she teased, and kissed him.
~My mother cried when we moved in together
found a place above the local pub
the ceiling leaked when there was rainy weather
the floorboards creaked when we were making love
but it was ours and that was all that mattered
we didn't really need a bedroom door
and when the wind blew
and the whole house clattered
we danced around the kitchen floor~
Duo stood with his hands on his hips in the centre of the bare, battered living room, surrounded by a pathetic collection of boxes and belongings. "Not much, is it?" he said, apologetic, shooting Hilde a glance as she leaned against the doorframe. "Wish I could do more for ya, kid--I do. It feels wrong, somehow, that we should end up stuck in a place like this."
Hilde abandoned her post at the door to slide her arms around him and kiss the underside of his chin--it was about all she could reach without standing on tiptoe. "It's a choice we both made, remember?" she admonished him lightly. "And I seem to remember that I made it before you did." It was the decision they'd made to leave the war behind, and everything that went with it, and live in quiet anonymity in the busy city's heart.
"Yeah, you're right." Duo folded her into his arms, his fingers stroking through her short black hair. "Don't pay attention to me, I'm being stupid anyway. Shit, when I was little this place woulda been a castle."
Hilde nestled against his chest, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Silly. It still is."
"Hey! That's enough of that, you two!" Sharp, cheerful, Angela Reilly's voice sailed up the stairs ahead of her--as did the short but bulky stack of boxes the brunette was balancing in her arms. "Brought you some things from my mom's house, Hilde, she was gonna have a garage sale but we thought you could look through it first." Hilde disengaged from Duo to relieve her friend of the boxes, but somewhere in the handoff they both lost their balance and collapsed, giggling, onto the floor. Angela propped herself up on her elbows, straightened her tortoise-shell glasses, and grinned. "So? Let's start unpacking, huh? Figuring out where stuff goes, that's the fun part."
Duo rolled his eyes as he flopped onto the floor next to them. "Women. Sheesh."
Angela leveled a glare at him, and Hilde burst out laughing again. The love of her life and her best friend, and all three of them got along fabulously. Life couldn't get better, even if they could have afforded an apartment with insulation, and windows that weren't cracked in places, and plumbing that worked every day without fail. "You," Angie was saying, fumbling around her for something to throw at Duo, "can make yourself useful and go get us some pizza." Duo, grumbled, laughing, but snapped a sharp salute to both of them and trotted off down the stairs.
"Yeah, yeah, I know when I'm not wanted--and in my own place, no less! You know what Wufei would say if he were here, and it's be INJUSTIIIIICE...!" His rather ridiculous impression of the Chinese pilot was the last the girls could make out as Duo and his tirade vanished down the stairs.
Angie stifled another giggle and started opening Hilde's boxes, peering inside as if trying to decide what she should get into first. "You're /sure/ that boy doesn't have a brother?" she asked plaintively. "Yeah, yeah, I know...so all the good ones are taken, gay, or Gundam pilots." It was an old joke, and not that funny out of context, but the memories it evoked made Hilde laugh anyway. "So let's get to it, girl, stop wastin' time! First thing you're gonna need in here is curtains, unless you want the whole world to see the way you two carry on...."
Hilde snickered, crawling to one of the boxes and poking her head inside. "Is that a bad thing?"
Angie pulled a towel from the box she was unpacking and snapped it at her. "Pervert. Get to work."
"Yes, ma'am!" Laughing, they set about turning secondhand scraps and a beaten-down building into what could be called a real home.
Duo did eventually arrive with the pizza, and they christened the apartment with its first shared meal. They laughed as loud as they wanted to and stayed up late, because the patrons of the bar beneath them would hardly be bothered by something so trivial as noisy teenagers. It was nearing two when Angie donned her Docs and bid them goodnight--"Remember, Hilde--curtains!" and disappeared into the windy autumn night.
"Curtains?" Duo repeated, curious.
Hilde grinned and tickled him. "Nothin', don't worry about it."
"Me worry?" Duo laughed, fending off her fingers and pinning her arms over her head. "Just because you two are constantly plotting against me, why should I worry?" Hilde stuck out her tongue at him. "Tease," he chided, rolling half-atop her and kissing her hungrily.
Hilde was still giggling. "You taste--ew, Duo!!--pepperoni--oh...." It didn't really matter. They both tasted like pizza, and she had to get up for work in four hours, and some of the drunks downstairs had just burst into an out of tune chorus of "Piece of My Heart." The wind was blowing tree branches against the creaking windows, and the smooth hardwood floor was cold and squeaked more than a bed ever would have--but none of it mattered once she was drowning in the kiss and caress of the man she loved.
~You said I...
hold on to the American dream
keep waking up
without the things that I need, baby
and you're the only thing on earth
that sets me free
It's not much to ask for, baby, please~
Hilde awoke to the anguished whine of a diseased alarm clock and the hiss of rain against her window. She mumbled something incoherent and probably impolite, reaching across Duo to slap the clock until it stopped shrieking.
Strong arms wrapped around her as she settled back into the bed. "Gotta go?" her lover asked wistfully, nibbling at the lobe of her ear.
"Fraid so," she answered reluctantly, kissing him soundly before she slipped out of the blankets into the chill air of the bedroom. "If at least one of us doesn't go to work, love, then we don't eat."
"Nnngh...I know. I'm tryin', Hilde, I swear. Not even the Sweepers are taking people lately, though." Duo's dejected look provoked another understanding kiss before she tugged on her clothes. The motorcycle shoppe his acquaintance had run had been a grand idea with little practicality--the man wasn't an adept enough businessman to keep the place running, and when it closed its doors, Duo had been left unemployed.
She wasn't upset. He /was/ trying. She understood. She told him that every day. Unfortunately, she still had to get up at five in the morning and go to work herself. "Don't worry about it. You'll find something. I'll see you later. Love you."
"Love you, Hilde," Duo returned, snuggling back into the blankets.
"Hilde? You coming?" called Angela from the living room. "C'mon, it's too early in the morning for this sappy stuff. I need the rich acrid smell of caffeine in my nose before I kill somebody for having to be up this early."
"You know I love you, too, Angie," Duo called snidely, pulling the pillow over his head. Hilde laughed, rubbed at her eyes, dragged a comb through her hair, and slipped out the door.
~There's an old dirt road that we can take
that runs along the interstate
we can still make Iowa by nine
and we'll start ourselves a brand-new life
oh honey, say you'll be my wife
can't afford a ring, but we'll be fine...together~
It wasn't much of a ceremony. Actually it wasn't a ceremony at all. It was Duo and Hilde, with Angela and Neil, who was actually their landlord and ran the bar downstairs, as witnesses. Four signatures on a piece of paper, and a stamp from a judge, and that was all it took.
Mr and Mrs Maxwell.
The proposal hadn't been any more elabourate than the wedding. It was Sunday, they both had the day off, and without consultation had agreed to spend the better part of the day in bed, making love and watching cartoons. Somewhere in the middle of a Looney Toons marathon, which they'd missed at least half of, Duo had blurted out, "So d'you think you wanna get married?" And Hilde and grinned and answered, "Of course," and that was that.
They'd considered getting in touch with the other four pilots to tell them, but something had held them back. Maybe it was the exhilaration of independence that they felt, living quietly alone, or just plain awkwardness at having been out of touch for so long. It didn't matter. All the former soldiers had found their own new lives, and they couldn't bring themselves to break the isolation that was almost wordlessly agreed on.
Just so everyone was happy, did it make a difference?
So they left the courthouse, and celebrated the wedding with diner acid-coffee and pancakes with two much syrup that were left to cool just a little too long, and their wedding presents were a month when they didn't have to pay Neil rent, and the latest set of curtains discarded by Angela's mother.
"Here." Angie fished two quarters out of her purse and slid them toward her friends. "Check over by the cigarette machine, there's one of those little prize thingies...." When they looked at her blankly, she just laughed at them. "Come on, you need /some/ kind of ring. It's not diamonds, but it's the best I can do for ya."
Duo laughed and went to see, dragging Hilde after him. He dropped the quarter into the machine, and the resulting prize was a little blue plastic egg holding an adjustable metal ring with a crescent moon attached to it. "It'll work," he said with a shrug, and scooted out of the way so she could try. Her egg was green, and the ring inside had a top shaped vaguely like a peace sign.
Duo laughed. "That's irony if I ever saw," he remarked, catching her hand, and for all the silliness of his smile, his eyes were intense. "I love you, Hilde," he whispered as he slid the quarter-ring onto her finger.
"I love you, Duo," she replied--she had to tug the ring open a bit to get it to fit on his finger, and they giggled some more, and finally bent it into something that would fit on his hand. It didn't help that his fingers were sticky with maple syrup, or that hers were shaking, or that Angela was sneaking up on them with a camera held to her eye.
*Click.* The wedding picture--the one that would normally have been displayed proudly on a mantle or in a lace photo album, but ended up spending several years stuck to the refrigerator by an Oreo magnet--was of the bride and groom struggling over a cheap metal ring while trying to get in a really good kiss, with a neon-lit cigarette machine in the background.
~Called in sick and went to church on Sunday
too many questions racing through my mind
I haven't seen you now since late last Monday
your boss has got you working overtime
Heaven knows that we can use the money
The doctor says we're gonna have a son
If you work doubles for the next year, honey
we can just afford this one~
"Hilde, sit /down/. Relax. I'm making you lunch, understand? Now sit in that chair and don't get up til I say you can!" Angela bustled around the Maxwells' kitchen, pulling things out of bare cupboards and having a minor disagreement with the stubborn gas stove. Hilde sighed and obeyed, curling up in her chair and pulling a blanket over her shoulders.
"Thanks," she mumbled. It should have been Duo there, taking care of her during the unfamiliar pangs of a difficult first pregnancy, but it was the same story she'd told him months before--one of them had to work, or neither of them ate. So the former God of Death was working overtime as a grease monkey, and Angela Reilly was coming by after work to look after his pregnant wife. "I hear it's supposed to get better after the first three months...."
Angie shrugged. "That's what my mom says. That and to make sure you tell her if you need anything for the baby when it comes. She's already started knitting the little rugrat a blanket."
Hilde grinned. "What about before? I woke up with the strongest craving for maple nut ice cream last night...."
Angie passed her a bowl of thin tomato soup and made a face at her. "/That/ is definitely Duo's job. Much as I love you, Hilde-babe, if you ever call me at three in the morning with strange food cravings, somebody might have to die."
Hilde bent her head over the soup bowl. "I wouldn't do that! But he gets home so late...I hate waking him up for stupid little things like that."
Angie sighed, kneeling in front of Hilde's chair, brushing long brown hair back from her face. "Listen. You've got a really good guy, hon. He's not gonna mind. He likes taking care of you, anybody can see that. You have to let him be involved in this."
"Yeah, you're right." Hilde finished off the soup and got up to put away the bowl, but Angela pushed her gently back down.
"Didn't I say sit? And don't give me that look. You're not being lazy, your body's being difficult. Maybe if you weren't such a tiny little thing...." She shrugged. "But you are, and it is. So we'll just take care of you the best we can."
Hilde smiled, resting her hand on her belly, and twisting the crescent-moon ring on her finger.
~You know we...
hold on to the American dream
keep waking up
without the things that we need, baby
but this love's the best thing that we got
and that came free
maybe we're just too hard to please~
She lay awake, stroking her fingers slowly through the long mane of chestnut hair that draped Duo's shoulders as she slept peacefully next to her. She had trouble sleeping lately, it was a distinct inability to find a position that was comfortable for both her and the baby doing gymnastics inside her. She could hear the usual sounds of drunks downstairs, but it had ceased to bother her long ago--the noise was actually comforting now, since she and Duo were regarded with almost proprietary protectiveness by most of the regulars, and a number of them had taken up a collection to help support "them kids upstairs, havin' a little one!" Duo had noticed on his way home one night that there was even a "Name the baby" contest going on, with a night of free drinks if one of the submitted names was actually picked. They had spent that night sitting on the bed, sorting through entries. Some were too bizarre to use--they would never consider naming their child "Talulah," for example, or "Crispin," but some had come with scribbled notes explaining their meaning.
"Annabel," one had written, "cause it was my daughter's name, 'fore she died in the war."
"Kelly," said another one. "That was my mother." Another told of a lost son named Nicholas, another of a favourite uncle named Andrew. They were little stories, scribbled hastily on the backs of coasters or matchbooks or wrinkled napkins, but she took them for what they were--sincere wishes from people who had little but wishes to give.
Duo rolled over, violet eyes blinking into slow wakefulness, and he cradled her hand against his chest. "Whatcha thinkin, babe?" he asked quietly.
She smiled, brushing her fingertips across his chin. "All kinds of things. Life. Baby names."
He laughed, a little nervously it seemed, trying to catch her straying fingers with his lips. "Hilde...do you ever think we made the wrong choice? That we should've opted for something a little less peaceful but a little more profitable?"
She shook her head, catching his eyes. "Not at all, Duo, not at all."
He smiled sleepily. "Good. I'm glad. I love you."
She smiled. "I love you too. And that's the important part."
~And that old dirt road we used to take
still runs along the interstate
we could still leave Iowa and drive
but the car hasn't been running well
we'd have to stay at cheap motels
and we don't need that now to feel alive~
The bed creaked, wobbling the mattress, and Hilde stirred just enough to wrap her arms around Duo as he settled back into bed and nestle her head against his chest. "Well?"
"Diaper," came the half-grumbled response as he cuddled her close. "All happy again, we can all go back to sleep."
She giggled sleepily into the hollow of his neck, long strands of hair tickling her face. "Thank you, love."
He tilted her face up and kissed her tenderly. "Hey, you did all the hard stuff. I just got the fun part, figure it's my job to get up in the middle of the night and let you rest."
"Rest. Hmph." She kissed him back, teasing her fingers down his chest. "I'd protest that idea, but I'm too tired."
"Tease," he accused, snuggling down into the blankets with her. They lay there for a long moment, silent, content to rest in each other's arms. Finally he whispered into her hair. "No regrets, babe, right?"
"Of course not." She lifted her face to look up at him, her body comfortable in the curve of his arms, half-draped against his side. "No regrets."
"I know I keep asking you that," he fumbled, "but I really wish I could do better by you, Hilde...I still feel guilty about it sometimes, I mean I know I could--"
"Duo, shut up," she teased, silencing him with a kiss. "I've got everything I /really/ want right here."
~I won't forget the day I met you, honey
you left your number in my coffee cup
I never met another guy so funny
and I guess that I would call that love~