The clock on the wall read 4:00 AM. It was still raining outside and would continue to do so until sunrise.

Lisa leaned against Rick, her head resting on his shoulder. He had an arm draped around her shoulders as well. An empty tea kettle and a pair of cups sat on the table, the hot contents long gone. On the television, an old movie from the 1950's was playing, on low volume.

Rick and Lisa were barely paying attention to the television. The low hum of the movie's soundtrack, along with the sound of raindrops outside, created a soothing ambience for them as they simply rested in the company of each other. The two friends felt their eyelids growing heavy from tiredness.

"Rick?" Lisa said softly.

"Yes," Rick answered.

"What's next for us? What happens now?"

"I wish I knew. I wish we could be at peace, and live like this every day from now on."

That wasn't really the response that Lisa was hoping to draw out of him. She wanted to ask him about their relationship, what would be the next step for them. Would they spend more time together as a couple, grow closer, and share their lives together? Or were they just friends? Instead Rick had given some vague response about wanting peace.

Lisa sighed hopelessly. That man could be so dense sometimes. She wondered if she would ever have the courage to say it out loud.

I love you.

The three precious words.

"Yes," Lisa said at last, snuggling up closer to Rick, feeling acutely the warmth of his arm around her shoulders. "I wish we could be like this all the time. It's relaxing."

"Sometimes when I think about the future, I feel afraid," Rick said. "I feel afraid to face tomorrow."

He was thinking back to the day of the Rain of Death, when Dolza's fleet of five million ships had attacked the earth. Back then, he and Lisa had been reunited in the bowels of Alaska Base. They had wondered if they were the last two people alive on earth.

That wouldn't be so bad, would it. At least you would never be alone.

That day, the two of them had seen the SDF-1 come down from the sky, and they knew that the people of earth had won. There was hope for the future, because there were a few survivors who had the courage and resilience to rebuild. But there was always a lingering fear for Rick. He knew in his heart that the earth had not seen the last of the wars and violence. He knew that terrible things would happen in his lifetime, that he would live to lose the people he loved most.

* * *

Rick was surprised at the sight of Lisa standing in his doorway late at night on Christmas Eve. It was the first Christmas following that cataclysmic battle with Dolza's fleet.

"Lisa?" Rick said, dumbfounded as he stared at his fellow captain, looking forlorn standing there among the snow flurries.

There were no tears in her eyes, but Rick could tell that she had been crying. The marks of tears were visible on her cheeks. Her hands were folded to her heart.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at a time like this, Rick. It's just that I couldn't sleep."

All things considered, Lisa had looked fine at the Christmas Eve party thrown by the crew of the SDF-1. Rick, Lisa, Claudia, Vanessa, Sammy, Kim, Rico, Konda, Bron, Max, and Miriya had all been in attendance. They had held the party in Minmei's Chinese restaurant. For a time, everyone seemed to forget about all that had been lost in the recent war and were simply glad to have each other to continue their lives with. The pregnant Miriya, her belly showing, was the toast of everyone there.

Rick thought about the party as he and Lisa locked eyes. He stepped back and gestured toward his living room.

"Want to come inside and talk about it, Lisa?"

"Thanks," Lisa said as she brushed the snow off her coat and hair, stepped inside, and removed her winter coat.

The two sat down to a hot cup of tea and faced each other on Rick's couch.

"I'm a soldier, I know this," Lisa said as she shook her head sadly. "In war people are hurt and killed. I should have been prepared for it, but it was still a shock when I saw him die. I miss my father, I miss him so much."

"I never thought Christmas would be so hard," Lisa said. "I mean, I left home years ago. But now that it's Christmas, I think of the Christmases we shared together when I was a child, and it's just so hard."

Without wanting to, Rick felt himself thinking back to the Christmas holidays he had enjoyed as a young child. He always used to wake up before sunrise and lay on the carpet near the Christmas tree in his family's living room, admiring the tree and its lights. There was a special present he had gotten one year, a present from a young circus pilot he had met that year named Roy Fokker. It was a model British Spitfire.

He always did like to give me different types of toy planes, Rick reflected.

But that was all in the past. To a child, every day seems fresh and magical. A child thinks and acts like a child. Then one day, that child grows up and puts childish ways behind. The days of heaven are gone, never to return, existing only as bittersweet memories, memories that can be conjured with the full force of a ton of bricks by something so insignificant as a scent, a fragrance that recaptures the feel and sensation of days gone by. Children grow up. The world changes, people change. One day you wake up and realize that the people you grew up with are dead and gone, and you wonder what happened.

Roy. Ben. Mom and Dad. And so many others.

* * *

Lisa was waiting for Rick as he walked in off the flight deck, alone. He was the last plane to return that day, from his patrol for survivors. It was just forty-eight hours since the end of the Rain of Death and the battle with Dolza, and the pilots of the SDF-1 were surveying what was left of the earth, searching for survivors and salvageable material.

On this particular patrol, Rick had requested permission to make a slight detour from his route and check on his parents. A young Rick Hunter had once left home for what was intended to be just a few days as Roy's guest at the celebration for the SDF-1 on Macross Island. A few days turned into years. He had not been home since that fateful day when the Zentraedi had appeared out of hyperspace and the main guns of the SDF-1 had fired, but he had kept in contact with his parents, writing to them to let them know how he was doing on the SDF-1.

"Rick?" Lisa asked expectantly, searching Rick's stoic visage for clues as to the outcome of his visit.

Rick stopped just a few feet short in front of Lisa, and the two friends looked at one another in the dying rays of the setting sun.

She saw the tears well up in Rick's eyes. A sob escaped his throat as he threw himself into Lisa's arms and broke down.

"Oh, Rick," Lisa cried, heartbroken, as she put her arms around him and embraced him on the airfield.

She knew all at that moment even without Rick having to tell her what he had seen. It was not hard to imagine flying over miles and miles of devastated land; enormous craters and piles of concrete and steel rubble were all that remained of much of civilized earth. She could picture in her mind Rick checking his coordinates against the barren visuals below, unwilling to believe and accept that his home, his mother and father, were truly gone. There were no bodies, no graves-- not even any distinguishable wreckage to signify the place he had once known and the people he had loved. All he had left were a few photographs and the ghosts of his distant memories. She could see then that Rick would have landed his aircraft anyway and gotten out. He would have run, alone in the ruins, until he could run no longer. He would collapse on his knees, jerk his head back to the heavens, and cry out for his mother and father. There would be no answer for him but the echoes of his own voice that faded away into nothingness.

"They're gone, Lisa," Rick said, in shock. "Just-gone."

"It's all right," Lisa soothed him as she held him tight, "let it all go."

* * *

That day, she was the strong one, Rick mused as he watched the trembling woman before him on the couch cry for her father. She lifted me up in a way that no one else could. My burden and suffering became hers as well. We both lost so much in the war. But we've gained something special, as well.

Now I have to be strong for her, Rick thought to himself. It's my turn to lift her up now that she's down.

"I feel so dumb for bothering you like this in the middle of the night, especially on Christmas," Lisa said.

"Lisa," Rick said, putting down his tea, "Do you remember the day you met me out of the landing field after I'd gone searching for my family at home?"

Lisa nodded quietly as she put down her empty teacup.

"You were there for me. You were my strength at that moment. You let me know that I wasn't alone."

Rick leaned over and put his arms around her, wrapping her in his embrace.

"You're never alone, Lisa. Please feel free to come over any time you want," Rick said. "I'll even give you the keys to my place for those times when I'm out on duty."

"Thanks, Rick," Lisa said tearfully.

"Hey," Rick said, pulling back and cupping her face with his hands. He looked her straight in the eyes.

"Hey, we're in this together, right? We'll share good times and bad times. That's what friends are for, right?"

Lisa's eyes shined with gratitude.

"Yes," she smiled.

* * *

Sometimes, I feel afraid to face tomorrow.

"What do you mean," Lisa said.

"So much we've lost," Rick said. "So much pain."

They had lost their parents, Rick and Lisa both. They had lost friends close to them. Lisa had lost Karl. Minmei was still alive, but in a way, she was lost to Rick as well.

You can do it, Minmei. Remember, tonight you're singing for everyone!

I know, Rick, but I want you to know I'm really singing for you.

Rick had kissed Minmei, then, really kissed her for the first time. But they both knew that they were really saying goodbye. It was time, Rick knew, to acknowledge that their lives were on different paths and that they would never be together. He had longed for her, desired her, thought about her constantly, but it was time to let go of the dream he had held so close to his heart for so long. Part of him, he knew, would always cherish their relationship. Part of him would always love her. Once upon a time, a young pilot had stared in horror as the guardian Veritech's arm was shot off, releasing Minmei from its hand, and he had thought nothing of pulling off a crazed midair circus stunt to bring her inside his cockpit. He was younger then, more daring, more cocky and brash. Love had seemed simple and pure to him then. There was no reason fairy tale love stories could not come true. The experience of being with Minmei was a part of his past. It was a part of his soul. Circumstances came between them and divided them. A great war came along, a barrier that they could never quite scale. The feeling he had cherished for Minmei slowly ebbed away, almost against his will, supplanted by a new feeling, a growing sense of caring for a certain Lisa Hayes. He could see the both of them even now, standing side by side on that airfield. He was angry with Lisa then for bossing him around like that in front of Minmei, ordering him to go after Khyron. He was also confused. Here were two women with whom he had shared so much. On one hand, here was Minmei, the girl he had saved, just like in the old days. It seemed that the years had disappeared in an instant, and they were carefree, happy-go-lucky kids again.

I know we can't be together, Minmei. But part of me will always love you. You will always be special to me.

On the other hand was Lisa, the woman he had gone through thick and thin with in the war. The woman he had saved in Alaska Base. They had run into each other's arms. They had grown to like and respect one another. Adversity had drawn them closer together.

You know, you could get on without her. She really isn't that much.

Maybe she's my type.

Oh, I don't know. I sort of picture you with someone different. Someone more mature, who's been through a relationship and the pain of a broken heart?

It was true that Rick used to spend a lot of time thinking about Minmei. But now he found himself thinking about Lisa, wanting to be with her, and wishing he had been able to ask her out to dinner. Almost by some kind of magnetic attraction, he found himself drawn to that very park bench where he and Lisa had sat not long ago, admiring the beauty of the earth below them. In his mind, he thought back to the nice moments they had shared together in the course of their budding friendship. It was then that Claudia's words, spoken to him on that park bench, replayed themselves in his head. Claudia knew what Rick was only beginning to become aware of- that Lisa was a woman with a heart capable of loving someone with a deep and selfless love, a love that would always be faithful in spite of all discouragement. A love that most could only dream of sharing.

Rick thought back to that moment, the moment when he had sat down in his cockpit and saluted Minmei and Lisa. Minmei had cheerfully saluted him in return, while Lisa simply stood there with a sullen expression on her face. You're precious to me, Lisa, Rick thought at that moment. I haven't forgotten what we've been through together. But Minmei is precious to me, too. Little by little, the part of me that loved Minmei is dying, every day, and will continue to do so until all that's left is a shadow of that love I once had for her. I knew that this would happen, and I tried to fight it, until the day came when I saw that too much had changed between us and we could no longer share that deep connection we once had. But I was still afraid, afraid to let go. Forgive me.

* * *


Lisa, still leaning her head on Rick's chest, listened quietly for a response from Rick. None came. He was finally asleep.

"My, look at the time," Lisa whispered in a wonder as she looked at the clock on the wall. It read 4:30 AM.

We've been talking and reminiscing all night. I'm so glad, though. I'm so glad we had this chance to be together and share with one another.

"Rick," Lisa said in a soft voice, knowing that he was asleep and wouldn't hear her, "I know we've had our rough times. But even when we're angry with each other, we still care for one another. We're such mixed up people, aren't we?"

Rick only snored in response.

"I never thought I would care for another man again after Karl," Lisa continued in her soft, gentle voice, "but something changed along the line. You changed me, Rick. I was lonely and empty and heartbroken. I never thought I could ever be happy again, but you showed me that it didn't have to always be that way. We reached out for one another and found something, we understood one another, we shared the same feelings, the same heartbreak.

"I love you so much. I just want to be near you and share everything with you. With you, Rick, I have strength and hope. I want to tell you how I feel, you don't know how much. But I'm so afraid to tell you. I know I shouldn't be afraid to tell you anything, but I am. Someday, I know I'll have the courage to tell you that I love you--that I always have and I always will. And when I do tell you, I will not be afraid. And then we will be forever changed."

Rick stirred in his sleep.

"You say something?" he muttered semi-coherently.

Lisa only smiled as she closed her eyes and listened to the steady beating of her loved one's heart.

"Goodnight, Rick," Lisa whispered tenderly.

"I love you," she added, mouthing the words silently.

"Night, Lisa," Rick mumbled.

Someday I'll tell you, Rick. I'll lay my heart bare before you and trust you with my heart, my love, my life.


With this last tender thought, Lisa drifted off as well, lulled to sleep by the gentle pattering of the rain and the sounds of Rick's breaths, and wistfully dreaming of that treasured day when their two hearts would beat together as one.