Out of Touch
The near silence was oppressive.
Relena sat on a stool with her feet tucked under her, the hem of her skirt lying neatly over her knees, staring at the hands folded demurely in her lap. Heero leaned against the brick fireplace, arms crossed, looking away from her. They could both hear the water dripping from the faucet in the kitchen, a continuous "plop plop" that was not quite rhythmic. The water would drip steadily, one drop at a time, then stop, then trickle, then continue dripping at a slightly altered rate. Heero looked over his shoulder at the leaky plumping for a minute, then at the floor where his shoes made imprints in the carpet, then at the pictures hanging on the wall above the television. He didn't look at her.
Her eyes brimmed with constrained emotion. She was in love.
At length, Relena let out a sigh and raised her head. She wondered why her boyfriend refused to look at her. She had gone to great lengths to make herself beautiful today. She had gone to great lengths, at great expense, for several weeks now. In point of fact, their relationship wasn't much longer than that. It was nearing on three months, a pivotal stage, and pivoting, she feared, in the wrong direction.
"Well," she whispered, dropping her eyes to stare at the manicure detail of the nails on her hand. The French tips and polished enamel was lovely, but not lovely enough. "What is it you have to tell me?"
He had become more and more distant the more beautiful she tried to be. It wasn't that he abhorred beauty. Her looks had nothing to do with it. If anything, they blurred the issue. Maybe things would have fallen apart sooner if she had not tried to be so beautiful. She caressed her hands on her lap, hands that were slender and smooth, scented like tropical gardens. Shiny hair, tantalizing aromas, and clothes cut to bare a little skin could ensnare the senses and bewitch the mind of a man, but not for long it seemed, not in Heero's case. That wasn't what she had intended anyway. She wanted love, not enchantment. She had just wanted him to think her beautiful.
She still remembered the first time he touched her hair and looked into her eyes, the way she had felt, the thoughts she had had. She remembered their first kiss, stolen in the hallway in passing, casually, as if he had always been kissing her. She remembered their second kiss, the sweet appeal in his eyes, the clumsy movements of his hands, the way they had bumped foreheads before they got it right. She remembered all the dates and presents and unfinished sentences, the long stares, the awkward silences, and the moment she finally asked him if he wanted to be hers. She remembered the first time she had stayed in his bed, and the first time he had convinced her to let him take off her clothes, first in small pieces and then bit by bit until there were no barriers between them. She remembered how lovingly he had caressed her skin and told her all the things she had desired to hear all her life. She ached to be taken into his embrace now. She remembered when she first gathered the courage to tell him she loved him, alone with him in the dark, in his bed, and how she didn't worry when he didn't say it back.
She didn't think he was going to say it now.
But where and when things had things changed?
She knew she loved him when he went away. A mission, he had said, and she had seen him off with a smile. He was only to be gone two weeks, but he wasn't able to call. During that time all she could do was think about him, and each thought was a testament of how she deeply she loved Heero Yuy. In a way, she always had. She did not claim that they had that much in common. He was a soldier and their lives in the past—and in the present—were completely different. But they were the same sort of person, elegantly arrogant in their youth, serious always, but people who learned they could be happy when they made others happy, people who had to do what was right regardless of the circumstances. He made her feel warm whenever he was near. He gave her strength. They shared the same opinions and those they did not share they still understood and respected. She was more idealistic and he was more practical, but even that served them in its proportion. She loved him. She had never felt so complete as when she could touch him and hold him and delight in his happiness those few times he had let her. She had seen him soft, malleable, his head buried in her shoulder, his body limp in her arms.
If someday he asked her to marry him she would say yes in a heartbeat. It would be the easiest decision she had ever made. She wasn't ready for that sort of commitment now, but that wasn't the point. She knew when she first met him that he was the one she wanted forever, someday, even if she wasn't ready now. He certainly wasn't, but that did not bother her. She felt that someday he would be. She believed in him as strongly as she ever believed in anything. She believed whole-heartedly, believing that all they needed was time and faith and the commitment to keep loving one another; that the rest would fall into place. She had thought of him constantly while he was away, dreaming of the all she would put into him when he came back. There was no pressure, or she didn't mean there to be, but she had hoped that someday he might realize that with time…
But he wasn't in that place.
"Something happened on the mission?" she asked, and realized how cold her fingers were.
He had been gone two weeks. And then he came back. He called her first thing. He must have gotten off the plane and gone right to a payphone. Meet me at my apartment, he said, and hung up. So now here they were, alone together in silence. She had hoped he would lift her up in a hug or kiss her senseless at first sight, but when she came through his front door he waited in this room like a slim statue, but with a dangerous air, like the blade of a sword driven into the ground. There was a wall of steel around him, cold, hard and unyielding. When she tried to touch him, he turned his shoulder, stepped aside and shrunk from her, his eye gleaming like hunted prey. So she backed up, her breathing shallow, and sat here on this stool. Then he told her he had something to tell her.
She couldn't possibly have imagined what next came out of his mouth.
"I met someone else."
Her breathing was surprisingly normal, and she did not think her expression had dramatically changed. But it was like her mind and her body had been disconnected, and now each merely observed the shock of the other. "I don't understand."
Heero raked a hand through his hair. He still did not look at her. He hadn't since he came in. There was something about him that reminded her of a trembling fawn, this wolf of hers, though he stood still as stone and twice as hard. "She's a soldier where I was stationed," he said in that flat, dark tone she was so used to, a deep tenor like a midnight melody. He put his hand on the mantle of her fireplace, his fingers just barely touching the wood, and stared at it. "She's bright and beautiful. She's realistic and she knows…she knows that people are flawed, that this world isn't a perfect place, and that things don't always work out."
His hand clenched into a fist. "Relena, it's not that I don't like you. I still want to keep in touch, but we're very different people."
Her heart fluttered like a hummingbird. Was it really because she was too idealistic? Was there some magic chemistry with this mystery girl that there wasn't with her? Remembering how he had touched her face so delicately, the spark in his kiss that jolted her down to her toes, the feel of his body against hers in bed, the desperate appeal in his eyes, she couldn't believe it. Was it because she had frightened him? She was in love, but maybe he was scared. Maybe there really was no other girl. Maybe he was running. Did that sort of response make any sense? He didn't run when she told him she cared about him. He didn't run when she touched him and kissed him and slept beside him. She had never mentioned forever or given any indication that she expected any sort of permanence…. had she?
"I still don't see why…" Relena began.
"We don't have anything in common," he said. Uncrossing his arms, he straightened with a mood of finality. It was like he had mentally shrugged her off, tossed her away. She had the feeling that he was leaving. "She likes guns."
"Heero…" It came out a breath.
"She likes mechanics and sports and computers. She's very athletic."
"Heero…" She couldn't stop the tears from welling up in her eyes. Relena stood, her feet slipping off the rung of the stool, landing flatly on the ground to support her shaking body. The gloss on her lips seemed to slow her speech. Her hair, long, combed and shining, stuck to her mouth.
Heero kept talking. "She likes realism and strength…"
"I like you!" Relena cried. The world seemed to become Space around her with the utterance. The tears trickled out of her eyes and melted into her cheeks as she barely constrained sobs that threatened to rack her body. She held them in, choking on the effort, wilting as her hands curled into claws and she half sunk down to the floor. She couldn't but let the tears flow like rivers as she knelt on the floor.
He stopped, pausing for a moment, and turned to look at her. She managed to lift her head, but couldn't describe what she saw in his eyes except as what it was: emotions roiling in turmoil like storm clouds in the blue depths of a summer night sky. She could see herself in the reflection, the delicate point of her chin, the softness of her cheeks, the fine strands of blonde hair, the pale blue eyes and the soft pink lips. There was two of her, one in each eye, both beautiful, both heartbroken. But she could see also that he stared right through all of that, and always had, at something in her and of her she could not see. He looked at her like he was looking at the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and could ever want. He seemed at a loss for words. For a moment she thought he was going to come toward her, but then he turned abruptly away. Whatever he might have been thinking never passed his lips, if it even registered in his brain.
"I'm sorry," he said, and walked out the door.