A/N: Reader request from Appariti0ns, who asked for a domestic futurefic for Kurz and Mao. Also, a shameless excuse to shake off a troubling case of writer's block. Not really spoiler-ish, more speculative.
Melissa figures that it's just her luck that she would finally (finally!) give in to Kurz Weber's particular brand of perverted charm right before he goes MIA, presumed KIA.
Everyone treats her like a widow, which she finds ridiculous because she and Kurz only spent that one night together. It's not like she loves him.
She doesn't cry over him, not once, which is all the evidence that she thinks she needs to prove everyone (with their stupid, sympathetic stares) completely wrong.
"Why do you smoke all the time? That shit will kill you," Kurz had said to her once, long ago when they first started working together and he was only beginning to see the tremendous shadow of what she would mean to him creeping up from behind.
She had tipped her head to one side, squinting against the glare of sun on sea water, to frown at him.
"I don't do it all the time," she said. "Only when everything sucks."
In those worst moments of his half-cursed life, Kurz remembers that Melissa Mao forgot her cigarettes under the bed that they had used for everything but sleeping on that blue morning-after.
It's a stupidly sentimental detail to cling to as he claws his way back from the brink of nothingness, a sniper's bullet hole punched clean through him, but Kurz hears her reprimand like the clear crack of a rifle when he wants to close his eyes. He smells her skin with every shallow pull of breath, and all he wants is to get back, back, back to that perfect moment when she doesn't think to smoke because he has both of her hands, both of her eyes, both lips, and all her searing focus trained on him, alone.
Kurz shows up at the last minute, like the goddamn calvary.
When the dust of battle clears and Melissa can breathe easy for the first time in months, Kurz finds her through the din of celebration and rowdy victory. He swaggers up with a bloody gash over his left eye and a cock-sure grin to sling an arm around her waist.
"Hey, babe!" he greets her. "You miss me?"
She wants to slug him in the gut but ends up hugging him hard, their bodies colliding and her ribcage rattling with blunt force trauma.
"Shit, Kurz," she gets out. She blinks back the tears born of exhaustion. She swallows down the lump rising in her throat. "I thought you were dead."
He pulls away, touches her cheek. His smile is softer now and meant just for her.
"You think I would up and die after that night we had together?" he says. "No way. That wouldn't be righhhhht..."
His eyes roll back, and she catches him as he falls.
He fades in and out. Nothing changes in the grey, little room but the volume and quality of light in the tiny window.
She is always there when he wakes up.
She holds his hand, sneaks him candy bars, translates the doctor-babble for him, tells the nurses what he wants. Best of all, she crawls into his single bed during the longest hours of the night to tell him dirty jokes and war stories until he smiles.
"You don't look like a guy with brain damage," she tells him after delivering a particularly bawdy punch line about a blonde and a can of hairspray.
"How can you tell?" he asks.
She shrugs. "You've still got that warped sense of humor. Your laugh's the same."
From the other side of wakefulness, Kurz sometimes hears Melissa ask a doctor or a nurse whether he'll be alright.
All of them murmur something comforting. None of them say yes.
Melissa divides her time between work and the hospital. It's not ideal, but she isn't unhappy.
Kurz turns 21, and his shameless flirting pays out when the nurses throw him a party complete with ice cream. They release him soon after that. The Mithril doctors say there is nothing more they can do. The swelling has dissipated. The secondary infection cleared. Kurz is back to normal, but the definition has changed.
His hands shake, and his vision fails without warning. His left leg drags behind the right. He can no longer hold a gun.
An admin comes by with the paperwork and asks where Kurz wants his severance check mailed.
Kurz looks to her with a trace of fear skulking in his blue eyes. It's funny. In all this time, they never talked about what would happen after this inevitable moment. Melissa steps in and rattles off her American P.O. box number.
She asks for, and gets, a leave of absence from duty to be with him. They (her, mostly, but it's all the same now) have enough in savings to take a slow orbit of the world, so they can look for someone who understands how to make Kurz's body and mind work together again.
"Like a quest," he muses. "An adventure."
"Whatever," she complains.
Mithril drops them in Japan first, but it's cold and dirty and, worse yet, expensive as hell. Melissa is certain they can't stay long. They say good-bye to Sousuke and Kaname after a few days.
At the Tokyo airport ticket counter, Kurz takes her hand and asks, "Where to?"
"Let's go right," she kids.
He looks that direction, out the window at the far end of the large room where the dying sun is putting on an ostentatious display.
"Sounds good to me," he says.
They buy tickets and head west.
Every doctor repeats a variation of the same thing. It's too tricky to assess the damage in his brain. There's not a cure. Nothing, technically, is wrong.
Every doctor offers a different therapy. Macrobiotic diets. Vitamin supplements. Physical regimens. Hypnosis. Prescriptions.
When the money starts to run out, they settle in India where a little cash lasts a long time. Since it's a former British colony, the people speak a fair bit of English, and Melissa and Kurz agree on the delicious, healing quality of curry (although no doctor has recommended such a regimen, yet).
Melissa does odd jobs to keep boredom at bay while Kurz spends long hours playing the guitar. He strums bittersweet ballads, idles in easy blues, and shapes sugar-sweet anthems. His fingers refuse to press evenly on the strings at first, and the songs sound garbled, like someone singing with a mouth full of marbles. He tries again, and again. Sweat streams down his face in the saffron-yellow Indian heat, but eventually the notes come out cleaner, stronger.
Sometimes Melissa puts down her laptop, tucks her knees under her chin, and listens.
He learns which songs have the power to lure her away from her work, and he plays them more often. When the spell of one melody wanes, he improvises a long-lost cousin for it. Anything to keep her humming when she moves through their few rooms.
Maybe it's the curry. Or the tone of steel strings against bent cherrywood. Or the purging of toxins as he sweats and struggles to make her listen. Or their long walks through a gritty, vibrant city. Or the slow realization that her love is totally permanent. Whatever it is, something works in India.
Piece by tiny piece, Kurz starts to put himself back together.
She hates dresses on principle, but she owns exactly two of them anyway. When Kurz begs her to wear one on their daily walk, Melissa agrees because he asks so sweetly and because today is a good day for a blessed change.
Kurz wears fresh-pressed slacks held up with dark suspenders over a crisp, collared shirt. Melissa thinks his twist on old-world fashion offers a different explanation to strangers in the street for the cane that he still leans on with every other step.
"See? We're just two beautiful people enjoying a stroll on a beautiful day," he says with a wink as she locks the door to their flat behind them and tucks the key into her small bag.
She rolls her eyes and wonders if the afternoon will be hot (which gives him migraines) or if the clouds will gather into a summer storm (which agitates his gentle palsy into a mad mambo).
She stares at the sky, so caught up in contemplating tiny catastrophes that she nearly runs into Kurz when he stops suddenly in front of her.
He turns to her with a smile that rivals the wattage of a solar flare and says, "Hey. Let's get married."
It's only then that Melissa notices they are standing in front of the courthouse in decent clothes, and there's really no reason that she can think of to say no. She hesitates all the same because it's marriage, and it's her and Kurz, and seriously, is he crazy or what? There's a right way to get married. It involves invitations and rings, family and friends. Possibly a tiered cake and champagne for toasting.
She opens her mouth to protest when Kurz drops his gaze. His smile falls away.
"I'm only going to ask this once," he tells her in a low voice.
She can see the tremors moving down his right arm in syncopated waves. Mithril expects her back in less than three weeks, and she has never loved so much as this or been so well-loved as by him. There's a right way to get married, but the right time matters more. She reaches for his hand.
"Okay," she decides, and then, more sure, "Okay."
He can still trace the paisley, flowered patterns of henna sketched on her hands and feet by their motherly landlady as a traditional wedding present for atypical bride when they have their first major fight.
It starts over, of all things, an unfilled ice tray and explodes like a two-ton bomb.
He calls her one of the usual names, but his anger and frustration twists the teasing term of endearment into an assault on her character. Her pride makes her lash out with a lewd string of choice words that aren't totally true but are true enough to hurt. Voices rise. Fists clench. They drag out long-festering complaints and long-passed wrongs to tear each other down with words.
When she throws the first punch, he acts too wounded for someone who expected her to snap five minutes ago. He is ready with the comeback as he shoves her away.
"When have I ever raised a hand against you, Melissa? When? Christ, are you too stupid to fight me with words or what?" he rages.
"Yeah? Well, I'd have to be a fucking idiot to marry a damn cripple," she shouts in his face before turning on her heel, and running out of their flat.
He doesn't go after her because he's too angry to think straight. Cups are thrown. Curses yelled.
Hours later with her still gone, Kurz puts his head in his hands and cries because, in his short life, he has seen his family butchered, his talent decimated, his health shot, and his control forfeit, and all he can show for his time on this earth is a network of scars and her love. And he isn't so sure that he can keep her anymore.
The sticky night crowds around him while he sits on their front stoop and waits for her. Inside is too empty, and he can't bear the thought of leaving when she might come home, which she does, eventually, ringed with smoke and unbalanced by booze.
She stops in front of him to suck down her last cigarette to the filter.
"You're back," he says, not without wonder.
"I'm back," she says and shifts her weight from one sandaled foot to the other.
The night presses down on them.
Kurz hopes that she can see, even in the darkness, that he had been crying over her.
Melissa rubs at her own bloodshot eyes and elects to sit beside him.
"I don't have the right to hit you, but you sure as fuck don't have the right to say that shit to me," she says at last.
"I didn't mean anything I said," he apologizes.
She sags against him, and he leans into her.
"You know, for a couple of mercenaries, we sure suck at fighting," Kurz jokes.
"I'm too tired to think you're funny," she returns.
Melissa can't stand how slowly the days pass, so she stops counting and tries not to complain. Nothing pays as well as combat pay, and six months of it does amazing things for a drained checking account. Even so, Melissa applies for every stable job with minimal travel that she is vaguely qualified to do. She is a married woman now, damn it, and far too old to play AS cowboys and indians.
At the end of her tour, she hops a flight to Germany, where Kurz went to mooch off the socialized health care and look for some kind of work.
He swoops in and picks her up, literally, when he finds her in the baggage claim.
"Whoa! Put me down!" she cries out.
"Nope." Kurz swings her around just to show her that he can, and when he sets her down on her own feet, she can't stop smiling long enough to kiss him properly because he looks like he did before the injury, right down to the mischievous sparkle in his blue eyes.
She feels the ripple of muscle through his clothes. She sees his sure-footed stance. The hand that cups her cheek as he leans in to kiss her again is steady.
So Melissa kisses him back with everything she's got because she stopped believing months ago that Kurz could find all the jigsaw pieces to complete the picture of who he was before.
Her heart feels like it's cracking because she didn't know she could hope for so much.
When Melissa goes back to Mithril, Kurz comes with her, and for a few short weeks, everything is right back to the way it was, only better because he has her in the way he always wanted her- every night in his bed, every day by his side.
One morning he wakes up with her sitting on the edge of the bunk instead of tangled up in his arms. Her hands trouble the plastic casing on a pack of cigarettes, but she hasn't smoked one yet.
"Is something wrong?" he asks.
"You tell me," she replies cryptically. She flashes him an odd sort of grin. "How do you feel about kids?"
He reaches out to pull her back into the jumble of sheets and arms and legs. He kisses her and kisses her until she can't doubt him anymore.
"Is it a girl? Do you know? I want a girl," he whispers.
She beams at him and shrugs.
Better-equipped enemy AS units. Ambushes. Betrayals. Impossible odds. Melissa has endured it all, but no combat scenario frightens her as much as knocking on her parents' front door after seven years of icy silence.
What should she say, after all this time? What can she possibly say to them?
Kurz puts his hand on the small of her back, and she hitches little Anna higher on her hip.
The door opens. A tiny Chinese woman with bunches of crow-foot lines outside her eyes and more salt than pepper in her hair sizes up the family of strangers on her doorstep.
"Hi Mom," Melissa says and promptly thrusts the baby into the surprised woman's arms.
Little Anna, with her bright blue eyes and soft dark hair, closes her fist over the older woman's finger and laughs.
Nui Mao looks from the perfect infant gurgling with amusment in her arms to the blonde man with the same chin and eyes as the little girl standing behind her long-lost daughter. He has his hand on Melissa's back and his eyes trained on her face. There's love there; any one could see as much. Finally, Nui looks at Melissa, who is much older than Nui remembers but as lovely and as happy as any mother, no matter how estranged, would wish for her child.
Yesterday, Nui would have sworn that nothing could make her step backwards into the brightly lit house and hold open the door for the daughter who trampled on tradition and spat on a mother's dreams, but Nui does just that because the past is dead and cold and the sweet, warm bundle of girl-child, who will grow up to be nothing up trouble for her mother too, is reaching up to tug on an earring.
Nui sees the man look to Melissa with an expression of blanket support and total devotion. He leaves the choice to her. Melissa nods.
"Right," the man confirms to his wife. Then he turns to Nui with a radiant, sunshine grin. He holds out his hand. "Hi, Mrs. Mao. I'm Kurz Weber. I'm married to your daughter."