"So, you spent another night alone with him, in front of a fire, with wine—and still nothing happened?" There was a pause as Hilde let the words sink in. "Where did I go wrong with you?"
Relena stooped next to Millie as her four-legged best friend inhaled the chow she'd just poured. "I don't know."
"You know you won't be out there forever. Earth is a big place and when you add the colonies to that you have the perfect example of a needle in a haystack."
Sliding her feet from underneath her, Relena sat on the floor as she considered Hilde's words.
"Do you really want to spend the rest of your life wondering about the cute neighbour's life skills?"
"Life skills?" Relena asked.
"You don't think sex is a life skill? It's right up there next to cooking."
"Ok, but not everyone can cook."
"And those people look for partners who can. So you see, you've got one box checked already."
Relena couldn't help but laugh at that. "True."
"So, what? What am I supposed to say? Hey, want to have sex before we leave the mountains?"
Hilde laughed. "Just make sure you're wearing something see-through when you do."
Relena didn't bother to tell Hilde about the day she had planned. It was bad enough she had to endure this morning's conversation any more leaked details would be dousing Hilde's flames with gasoline.
Somewhere between comforting her and making her laugh Trowa had suggested ice skating, said it would be fun.
Fun was not the operative word. Fun was hardly how she'd describe watching him twirl and spin on ice in dark grey skinny jeans, and navy sweater while she just glided leisurely in army green cargo pants and white shirt. Her best skill? Avoiding other people with elegance, which was rendered even less impressive by the fact that the crowd wasn't that much of a crowd. It was late evening and the majority of people had already left or were in the process of leaving and the size of the rink made it more than comfortable for the number of people present.
Her pace was slow as she moved around the rink, eyes plastered on the lean but obviously agile man that was now unknowingly the center of attention. Relena smiled as she watched him. He was in his own world totally oblivious to his audience, almost in a trance, dancing and pirouetting to whatever music that was playing in his head. His eyes were closed as if he was trying to recall a routine from memory. If he was having any trouble, it didn't show.
Another twirl and he was facing her, eyes now opened they moved from face to face and she knew he was looking for her, or she hoped.
Confirmation came when their eyes connected, he smiled and began skating toward her. As he approached, he extended a hand to her, a hand she willingly accepted.
"Were you a figure skating Olympian in your past life?"
She shouldn't have been surprised when he raised their joined hands and spun her, but she was caught totally off guard when he dipped her. She held him for dear life which he seemed to find amusing. She was relieved when he set her back on her feet, but that relief was short-lived when she found herself in an even more distressing position.
When he righted her, her eyes found his mouth, it was hard not to because of the height difference. His lips were no longer curved in a smile. Set in a straight line, they were a pale hue of pink not cracked or tight from the cold. Remarkably smooth and firm and….
A muscle in his arm flexed and it was just enough to disrupt her errant thoughts. Only then did she realize she was still holding him, a little too tightly considering they were standing still. It also made her appreciate the firmness under her fingertips. The urge to squeeze was strong.
Maybe being spun had shaken loose some of her inhibitions because she made no move to release him only to further inspect him. Her gaze lifted from his mouth to his philtrum which she had to resist tracing with a finger, up his thin nose before being caught by green spheres.
Unreadable green spheres. His expression was neutral, like a painting just standing still to be appreciated. And she wanted to get the full view.
Tentatively, in a small plea for permission, her hand moved to touch the bang which hung loosely over his face. Just the tip at first, then higher until she raked her hand fully through.
Then it froze midair.
Did she just do that?
She pushed away, but there was momentary resistance from his hands around her waist which meant she didn't get as far as she'd like. Not even an arm's length. But she was free from his embrace as he was hers.
She could feel his stare and decided it best not to return it. Apologizing was the first thing that came to mind but that seemed pointless since she was sure she wasn't sorry. Then there was that little thing of possibly offending him, which would be the opposite of what she wanted to do.
This was all Hilde's fault. Thanks to her less than helpful suggestions she was now battling hormones on top of everything else. Especially at a time when she needed to be in control. She didn't want a quick and easy fix to her problems. Something which her therapist had warned her against several times whether it was drinking or sex.
"My mother was an acrobat, with the circus. I must have inherited some of that."
Relena looked up to see Trowa gesturing with his hands to continue skating.
She followed, this time without his help. The term too good to be true flashed in her thoughts more than once when it came to him. He was eerily in tuned to what she was thinking or maybe she was giving him too much credit. Maybe she was just that transparent.
She wondered just how much he was picking up from her and how much she was telegraphing. Meanwhile, he was unreadable. She never quite knew what he was thinking. If he was upset or annoyed at her actions he didn't show it.
He restarted the conversation as if totally unaffected. He was either thoughtful and wanted to put her at ease or he was the world's biggest douche and didn't care either way. She had no evidence to the latter and she was sure that sentiment was just human nature, to try to find something wrong with a perfectly good person, rearing its head.
He grinned. "But better."
"That explains your athleticism but not how it translates to ice."
"It just kinda happened. Just one of those things you're good at without explanation I guess."
"I've never experienced that." Her low pitch coupled with the tight-lipped way she spoke made it impossible for her not to sound bitter. He just laughed.
After a few more laps Trowa decided it was time to warm up at a nearby cafe. As they sat, her squeezing her cappuccino mug tight to transfer heat to her fingers and him sipping his espresso, she had attempted to apologise for earlier despite his attempts at steering them away from awkwardness she felt compelled to talk about it. Thank therapy for her new found skill at communication and her awareness of anything resembling avoidance.
Naturally, he was gracious in his acceptance, no doubt recognizing that it was as much for him as it was for her. She needed to apologize for her own sanity.
As time ticked on they decided not to go back to the skating rink, not that she was disappointed. Her body was now fully warm thanks to her three cups of coffee and the heated interior of the shop which was serenely quiet. Absent was the usual hum of conversation when people were gathered. Everyone wanted to respect the silence, it seemed almost reverent. If they spoke it was a whisper.
"Ready?" Trowa asked the question but since he was already taking out his wallet Relena figured it was just a courtesy.
They collected their things and started to the door when a loud crash sounded from somewhere in the back, quickly followed by muffled arguing and what sounded suspiciously like swearing. It startled her, and she looked over her shoulder to find the source.
When she turned around she was acutely aware of Trowa watching her every move. His face for once betrayed a hint of emotion which she recognized as concern. She was touched and irritated, hating the fact that people had to hold their breaths around her. Anyone in the situation would have turned at the noise but with her, it took on a different meaning. Relena battled against the feeling she would hate to snap at him for being worried about her. So, she willed a smile and assured him she was fine. He nodded and thankfully, unlike other people, didn't second guess her.
"Besides I live in a big city, loud noises are a way of life, can't hide forever." She added.
Another nod from him, nothing more.
She found it amazing how after all the conversations they'd had they never once discussed where they were from and she couldn't decide if that was a good thing or not.
"What about you?"
"A colonist, hmm. You're definitely putting distance between yourself and whatever it is you're trying to escape from."
For a moment he looked puzzled, then his lips turned up at the side when it clicked. "I don't think there's enough space in the earth's sphere."
That was more cryptic than what she was used to from him. But then what was she used to. Thinking back, it was obvious that where information was concerned she was the one sharing most of it. He knew about her family, what they did, what she did. He knew more than one of her secrets. What did she really know? He cooked and skated, had a sister and a really flexible mother. Essentially nothing.
It was unnerving. True she was emotionally off-kilter but to reveal her entire life to a stranger, without much prodding on his part, made her feel like a green cadet just out the academy floundering in an investigation revealing more than she was collecting. Her professional skills had decided to take a vacation much the same time she did but if she wanted to assure her peers and superiors that she was fit for duty she'd have to locate them and fast.
"Just trying to imagine what would make you run clear across the universe to escape."
Any illusions that he'd share his life story after that statement were quickly dismissed when he shrugged his shoulders and asked how soon she thought she'd be returning to work. A question she wasn't in a hurry to answer all things considered. And the fact that she wasn't exactly sure herself.
"Don't rush things. You've got nothing to prove to anyone."
"And you know this by experience?"
Relena hadn't registered the sarcasm or the contempt in her voice but the faint look of shock he gave her told her it must have been present. Her shoulders sagged when she sighed. "I didn't mean …."
"Not first hand." He interrupted. "But I've watched people struggle with PTSD and other demons."
Eyebrows raised, she waited for him to continue.
Relena felt the weight of that one word.
The war. It had left its scars around the ESUN. She hadn't suffered directly but she knew a lot of people who had. Some personally and others just by general understanding. It was a given in war. Someone, somewhere was suffering or had suffered because of it. Though as silly as it was she was hesitant to compare what she went through to that of a war veteran.
She had been lost in thought for several seconds when she heard him hum beside her. Not a song, just a quick noise, the kind people make when they're thinking. She looked at him which, as usual, caused him to look at her.
He was smiling, and she was all the more curious as to where his thoughts had taken him. He held her eyes a little longer and when he looked away she knew it was an unspoken instruction to follow his gaze.
Across the street was a diner. Ranch style, with faux windows and a single glass door though she couldn't see in since the windows were frosted but glowing gold from the lights inside.
Certainly nothing peculiar, nothing 'hmm' worthy.
"What?" She asked.
"I was about to suggest dinner when I remembered you promised to cook next time." His eyes descended upon her with nothing short of pure mischief.
"I don't remember that."
"Hmm, really." Trowa pushed his hands into his front pockets and rocked back on his heel. "I could've sworn."
"Nice try." She grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the restaurant.
The closer they got to her house the louder Hilde's voice became. Relena had absentmindedly rubbed a hand over her temple more than once to dislodge her friend's voice but so far it hadn't worked.
It did, however, get Trowa's attention. He squinted worried eyes at her and asked if she was feeling alright.
Her mouth twisted to the side. A moment of mischief crept over her and she answered No, I'm being pressured into having sex with you by my friend who's a nympho. Of course, that response was trapped in her head. Out loud she confirmed she was fine.
He didn't say anything, and she could only guess that it was due to the fact that he didn't believe her, but he didn't press and she didn't elaborate.
Relena leaned her head against the glass and tried to think of anything that wasn't Trowa Barton. She commissioned all her senses. Outside there wasn't much to see, nothing she hadn't seen before. Inside the truck smelled of pine and logs and she wondered if he'd been hauling wood for the fireplace. And just like that, her thoughts were back to him. She decided to just go with it.
When she had agreed to go skating she had imagined train rides and coaches. She hadn't expected to see him sitting in the driver's side of a white pickup. But that was the sight that greeted her when she hopped down the front steps that evening. Oddly enough she couldn't remember hearing any vehicles pass her home in the hours prior.
The passenger window fogged in small circles as her breath tickled the glass and she couldn't resist running a finger through the condensation. It was just one of those things life demanded.
'Maybe the reason he had the truck was that he was packing up to leave.' Her mind was hell-bent on not finding another topic to dwell on. This thought, however, was one she wanted to explore. "When are you going back to l3?"
"I'm not, not anytime soon."
"Where do you live when you're not hiding from everything?"
The truck slowed at first, she assumed it was just to avoid something but then they were at a complete stop and he had turned in his seat to face her fully.
"Worried you won't see me again."
That annoying intuitiveness. Or her annoying transparency. She didn't know which she hated more or who she hated more. Probably him, no definitely him. It was an innocent question that he just had to ruin and hit the nail on the head while doing it. How was she supposed to answer that? Be honest and all but tell him how she felt or lie? The only consolation was the fact that the truck was dark. The headlights were still on, but they created only soft glow inside the truck which she hoped would help shield some of her confusion from view.
Deal with situations head-on. Her time and not to mention money in therapy would be wasted if she couldn't apply to her life. "I'd be lying if I said that didn't occur to me."
Trowa's movement was quick, so quick she didn't have time to react or withdraw before his chilled hands were resting on both her cheeks. She gasped, and she knew he heard it since his nose was practically glued to hers.
"That isn't something you'll to have to worry about."