"Hey, Lisa!" No answer. Captain Rick Hunter raised his hand to knock again, before he could, he heard her cool voice, coming through her open window. "Come in."
Her door was locked, so Rick had to fish out his key ring to let himself in. As he did so, his fingers brushed the small, faux-velvet case. He let himself imagine, for a moment, what it would be like; to have quarters that weren't his or hers, but theirs.
Her quarters were almost exactly the same as they had been in Macross City, before the destruction of the SDF-1 in a suicide attack by enemy forces had made the area uninhabitable. The irony—that the giant spaceship that had been their home for so long would force people from their new homes—wasn't lost on him. Still, if it hadn't been for the survivors on the SDF-1, there wouldn't have been enough humans left to repopulate the planet, after the near-total annihilation of the Earth.
Of the SDF-1's six-member bridge crew, Lisa had been the only one to survive the attack. In the past few months, he'd watched her mourn her friends, well-aware that, but for their sacrifice, he'd be one of the mourners—just when he'd come to understand what Lisa meant to him. And now, he wanted the whole world to know how he felt about her. Except that he'd been trying for a week and a half, and it never seemed like the right time.
He found her in the bedroom, in front of the full-length mirror. She'd pulled her long hair forward over one shoulder, tucking it inside the high rolled collar of the new uniform that had come with her promotion to Admiral, and set the flag-officer's cap squarely on her head. She examined herself critically for a moment, then tilted the hat forward a few degrees.
She looks like a kid playing dress-up, Rick thought—an observation he knew well enough to keep to himself. Besides, for all he knew, she had played dress-up in one of these. Lisa was a military brat; her late father had also held the rank of Admiral.
With a frustrated growl, Lisa tossed the white, high-peaked cap on the bed and shook her head until her hair fell free down her back and over her shoulders, covering the collar.
"Hey," Rick said. "I thought that looked pretty good."
She shrugged out of the jacket, draped it neatly over the back of her chair, then stepped into his arms. "You're not looking half-bad yourself, flyboy."
He nuzzled her hair aside and kissed her neck. "So...how are you holding up?"
"I can't help wishing they'd held off promoting me for a few more months," she said. She let out a mournful chuckle. "Who am I kidding, they could have waited decades, and it would still feel too fast."
"I know," Rick said. "But they needed someone to—"Someone to replace Admiral Gloval," he almost said, but stopped himself just in time. "To oversee the construction of the new fleet."
"And a mere Captain wouldn't have the rank for that," she said.
"You know what I mean," she said, and this time the chuckle held less sorrow. "Besides, if you're not careful, you'll find yourself promoted, too."
"Heaven forbid!" His alarm wasn't feigned. "They don't let Admirals fly combat missions, do they? Hmm...maybe I should get myself into trouble before they decide to try it."
"You? In trouble?" For the first months of their acquaintance, he'd rarely been out of trouble. Heralded, mostly, by one Lieutenant Commander Lisa Hayes. In the intervening years, he'd saved her life more than once, and they'd grown closer as circumstance—or fate—had thrown them together. But he doubted she'd ever forget their first encounter—after all, it wasn't every day some wet behind the ears kid called you an 'old sourpuss'."
"I know," Rick said, after a moment's contemplation. "I could start mouthing off to my superior officer."
"What, you?" She widened her eyes with feigned shock, and then burst into laughter, shoulders shaking, knees buckling. Laughter that, Rick realized, had more to do with her own pent-up tension than his joke. He maneuvered her to her bed and waited until she slowed to an occasional giggle. After one final hiccup, she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.
"Better?" Rick asked.
"Mmm-hmm." She smiled at him, through the curtain of her hair. "Thank you, Rick."
"For being here."
"Always." That was an opportunity, if he'd ever heard one. He slipped down onto one knee. "And when I say always—"
Just then, the phone rang. Lisa straightened and went to answer it. "This is Capt—uh—Adm—uh—Admiral Hayes speaking." She listened for a moment, and then said, "Tell them I'll be there in half an hour. And I'll need a driver." Pause. "Thank you, Lieutenant." She set the phone in the cradle, and turned to pick up the jacket. She sighed, and pulled it on, shrugging her shoulders as if to settle it more securely.
Rick pushed himself to his feet. "You okay?"
"Just a meeting. I'll get used to it." She sighed, and went to retrieve the cap. "It's just—every time someone says 'Admiral Hayes,' I have to keep myself from looking around for my father."
"Yeah, I know what that's like. The first time someone called me Mr. Hunter, it threw me for a loop, too." Of course, his father had still been alive at the time, so it wasn't quite the same thing. But one thing was. "You'll get used to it."
"I know." Lisa looked at the cap in her hands, turning it over to study it from all angles. "I think maybe they sized this one wrong. It doesn't sit right."
He took the hat from her hands, and set it on her head. "You look fine."
"So why do I feel like a little girl who's put on her father's uniform?"
Rick opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't find an answer that wasn't psychobabble, platitude, or just plain dumb. He found himself fumbling in his pocket, and pulled out the velvet box. It wasn't how he wanted it to be—he'd wanted to give her the perfect romantic evening--but maybe it never would be.
In almost five years of terror and pain and death, shouldn't he have learned this lesson? That there might never be a perfect moment. All they had was now.
So. Now or never.
He went down on one knee, as Lisa's mouth dropped open.
"Now or never," he repeated. "Because we never know--we might not get another chance. Lisa—will you marry me?"
"Rick," she said, "oh, Rick—"
"Is that a yes?"
She nodded, repeating, "Oh, Rick. Oh, Rick."
No matter how hard he tried, he never managed to remember slipping the ring on her finger. But she didn't make that meeting.