A Gundam Wing Fanfiction by Orla
Legal stuff: I don't own Gundam Wing or the characters, they all belong to other people *sniff*. Don't sue me, okay?
AC 199, Christmas Day
"Okay, you can open your eyes now!" said Duo Maxwell as he placed the present in Hilde Schbeiker's hands. "Merry Christmas!"
The petite brunette opened her tightly shut eyes and looked down. "Ooooh..." she sighed. "Oh Duo! How adorable!" she set the brightly coloured box down and lifted out its occupant - a tiny ginger kitten that mewed as Hilde hugged it.
Duo's mouth stretched into a wide grin as he watched Hilde. "The kitten isn't the only cute thing here!" he commented with a wink.
Hilde blushed and reaching out a hand she snagged his collar and drew him closer to her. "I love it... and I love you," she said softly and kissed him. Duo snaked his arms around her and responded with a follow-up kiss of his own.
They remained close, sitting in the living room under the tree that Duo had bought and Hilde had decorated, contented to be in each other's arms. Then two things happened. The kitten mewed in protest, causing them both to laugh and pull apart, and the front door opened. A young man with spiky brown hair and intense blue eyes walked in.
Duo looked up. "Heero!" he cried, getting to his feet and walking over to his friend. "We weren't expecting ya!"
"Obviously not," said Heero Yuy looking over at Hilde who was slightly flushed. "I can go..."
"Don't be stupid!" Duo grabbed Heero's arm and pulled him forward. "It's Christmas, he can join us, right Hildey? I got a present for you," he told Heero as they approached the tree.
"So did I," Hilde got to her feet. She held up the kitten. "Duo gave me him, isn't he cute?"
Heero looked at the kitten and his mouth twitched. "Very," was his only response.
"Sit down," ordered Duo. "I'll get you a drink and you can tell us where you've been for the past two months," he smirked. "You've been to see Relena I bet!"
Heero frowned. Hilde punched Duo lightly on the arm. "Don't tease him," she said. "Now go and get that drink!"
Duo mock-saluted her. "Yes ma'am, right away ma'am!"
He disappeared into the kitchen and Hilde sat down by Heero. She released her hold on the kitten and let it stand freely on her knees. It wobbled, then steadied itself and sniffed at Heero. His mouth twitched again and he lifted his hand slightly so that the kitten could sniff it.
"He likes you!" Hilde smiled.
Heero gently stroked the top of the kitten's head with his forefinger.
"Have you been keeping yourself alright?" Hilde asked him.
"So you've been working?"
Heero sighed. Sometimes Hilde could be more persistent than Duo. "I did some work for the Preventers," he said referring to the group that both he and Duo occasionally worked for. "Then I went and saw Quatre."
Hilde grinned. "How is he?"
"Duo and I haven't talked to him for ages," said Hilde with a small sigh. "It's been so busy lately. In fact, Duo has a long job to do soon, it's a two month stint with some of the other Sweepers out in space," Hilde shook her head. "Funny, I should be used to his absences, but sometimes it's hard..."
The kitten yawned in the silence that followed and settling down on Hilde's leg it started to purr. Heero continued to stroke it.
"I did see Relena," he said abruptly. "But only in passing, she was at a political forum."
Hilde laid a hand on Heero's arm. He looked up at her and she smiled gently. "Relena is an important person," she said. "But I'm sure she misses you."
"Oi Hilde!" Duo came back into the living room carrying a tray of drinks. "The oven's beeping."
"Oh!" Hilde got to her feet, dumping the offended kitten onto Heero. "Look after him, okay? I've gotta go and check on the turkey, looks like we'll be eating soon!" she brushed past Duo. "You _are_ staying for dinner, Heero." she said over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen.
Duo laughed as he set Heero's drink down. "You do realize that was order I hope!"
Heero leaned forward carefully so as not to further disturb the kitten that had settled on his lap and picked up his drink. "I know."
Duo went over to the stereo and selected some music, and then he came back and took the seat beside Heero that Hilde had vacated.
"Hey," he said. "Did Hilde tell you about my job?"
"Yes," Heero sipped his drink. "I can stay and help with the business," he offered.
Duo grinned. "Just what I was going to ask! Man, it's been wild lately; if it keeps up Hilde'd go mad trying to look after the business by herself. As long as you don't mind?"
Duo leaned back. "Well, that's one thing off my mind," he commented lazily.
They sat in silence for a while. Heero felt a bit concerned, it wasn't like Duo to be quiet for a long stretch. It was a relief when Duo did speak.
"Heero," he looked over at his friend, his violet eyes serious. "Do you want to be my best man?"
Heero blinked and stared at Duo. "Nani?"
Duo shrugged. "Of course, this is all assuming that Hilde wants to get married."
"You haven't asked her?"
"I'm going to," explained Duo. "When I get back. I've been thinking about it for a while, I think I'm ready to settle down with Hilde."
"You're only nineteen," Heero pointed out.
"So? We were only fifteen when we were given the Gundams and sent out to fight!" Duo shook his head. "No, I want to have a normal life now, and I can have it with Hilde."
Before Heero could respond, Hilde came out of the kitchen. "Dinner's ready!" she sang out.
Duo leapt to his feet. "Food at last!"
Ten minutes later they were all seated at the table, large helpings of turkey and vegetables on their plates. Hilde raised her glass of champagne.
"*Achem* A toast!" she said brightly. "To Christmas 199 and the New Year!"
Duo and Heero raised their glasses. Duo was smiling at Hilde, Heero's mouth had stretched, just a fraction, into a half-smile.
"Let's hope that 200 is even better that 199," said Duo looking into Hilde's eyes.
She saw his affection for her there and smiled. "I'm sure it will be."
Two months later:
"Meeeerrrow!" the little kitten scampered across the room and crashed into his owner's legs.
Hilde giggled and looked down at her tiny cat that was purring and winding around her legs.
"What are you doing, AJ?" she teased him. "I can't believe that you're so big already! Hasn't he grown, Heero?" she threw the question at the other occupant of the dining room.
Heero Yuy frowned and continued to examine the microchips in front of him. "Ah," was his response to Hilde.
"And you're so affectionate too!" Hilde knelt down and played with the kitten. "Duo's going to be jealous, right Heero?"
Hilde looked up at the young man who frequently boarded with her and her partner Duo Maxwell. He was totally focused on his work. Hilde smirked.
"There are pink elephants running around the house, aren't there Heero?"
"A…" Heero looked up and glared at her.
Hilde laughed. "I'm sorry Heero, am I chattering too much? I'm just so excited that Duo will be back tomorrow!"
Heero put the microchips down and regarded her. "I can see that," he said briefly. "And he will be happy to see you, and AJ again," he added.
Hilde smiled at him. "Heero, thanks for staying with me, you've been really helpful these last two months, especially as business been so busy this!"
Heero shrugged, but then his head shot up and he glared at the door. Hilde followed his gaze. "Is someone coming?" she asked.
There was a firm rap at the door. Hilde moved to open it, but she was hampered by AJ, so Heero got to it first.
Two of Duo's Sweeper friends stood there, their faces somber. Heero's eyes narrowed. "Duo?" he asked.
They nodded and Hilde, eyes very wide, came to the door holding AJ in her arms.
"What's happened to Duo?" she asked, her tone going a bit shrill.
Heero put his hands on her shoulders and drew her back. "Sit down," he said.
"Sit down," Heero's tone forbade argument. Swallowing, Hilde turned and walked over to the couch where she sat down, holding AJ tightly. The kitten squirmed in her arms and she put him down on the floor. Heero and the two men came over; Heero sat down on the couch next to Hilde and regarded the two men who sat opposite them.
The first Sweeper, a man named Bryson, cleared his throat. "Miss Hilde… I'm sorry," he began.
Hilde moaned softly. "No," she whispered. Heero glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes, but motioned for Bryson to continue.
Bryson hesitated, so the other man, Gerrard, took over. "It was just a freak accident," he said. "Everything was going smoothly until someone noticed the leakage," he paused and looked down at his hands. "Maxwell was in the engine room with four others… they didn't get out in time…"
"Stop it! Stop it!" Hilde put her hands over her ears and doubled over as tears coursed down her cheeks. "You're LYING!!! Duo is not… I won't… he can't…" she swiveled around and grabbed Heero's arm. "Heero… it's not true…"
Heero gently pried her fingers from their deathgrip on his arm. His blue eyes were bright, but otherwise he remained expressionless.
Bryson coughed. "We found… no… uh… remains when we went to investigate the site, there were no other survivors, all we had to go on was their last transmission and some security footage."
"Did you search the surrounding area?" Heero questioned.
Gerrard nodded. "But we found nothing."
"Then you didn't search hard enough!" flashed Hilde. "There is a ton of space junk in that area that could've hidden him! He's alive! Damnit, if you won't do it, I'll go myself!" she tried to rise, but Heero held her down.
"Let me go!!" Hilde stumbled and collapsed back on the couch "Oh God, this can't be happening," she sobbed and covering her face in her hands she began to cry.
Bryson and Gerrard fidgeted on their seats, obviously upset by Hilde's sobs. Heero put his arm around Hilde and drew her head onto his shoulder. He jerked his head at the two men.
After they had left, Heero held Hilde and let her cry herself into exhaustion. He stared straight-ahead and heard Duo's voice in his head. He remembered Duo's words to him two years ago, when Heero started boarding regularly with Duo and Hilde.
*"Heero, if ever something happened to me, like I was killed or something… would you… look after Hilde? I mean, make sure she's okay and stuff… I know I can trust you. Will ya?"
Heero looked into his friend's violet eyes. "Yes, I will."*
Heero looked down at Hilde. *I will look after her, Duo.*
Relena Darlian looked around the interior of the church. *I can't believe this has happened, I can hardly believe I'm _here_,* she thought sadly, *I never imagine this could happen, Duo was so... alive...*
She trod softly down the aisle until she reached the ones occupied by the former Gundam pilots and Hilde. Relena drew in her breath sharply when she saw Hilde. The formally cheerful young woman was pale and silent. She had always been very slim, but now she was almost emaciated and looked ready to blow away in a strong wind. Beside her was Heero, who was holding Hilde's hand.
Beside Heero were Trowa Barton and his sister Catherine. Catherine smiled weakly at Relena and patted the seat beside her. Relena smiled at the older woman and sat down.
"Relena," Catherine said. "Good to see you, although I wish it was under other circumstances."
"I'm glad I could make it," Relena murmured to Catherine. "Sometimes I don't think politicians are supposed to have friends."
"Well, I'm sure you gave them a talking to if they tried to make you miss this," said Catherine.
Relena nodded and drew closer to Catherine. "Is Hilde… oh, I can see she's not 'alright', but…"
Catherine shook her head. "She's been like a zombie for the past three weeks, I've been round frequently to help and she just seems to get worse. If Heero wasn't there…" Catherine left her words hanging.
Relena sighed. "At least he is there, and I know he will do what he can to help Hilde. Duo was his best friend after all."
"I think Heero is the only one who can help her," said Catherine sadly. She pointed to Quatre who was next to Hilde, his face full of pain. "Even Quatre, who she was good friends with can't pull her out."
"I see that Wufei and Sally were able to make it," added Relena noting the Chinese man and his partner beside Quatre.
"Sally has been very good," said Catherine. "She's so calm and practical, she helped Heero organize this."
Relena glanced again at Heero. She half-hoped that he would look up and see her, but he remained focused on Hilde. Relena sighed, and turned her attention to the front as Duo's memorial service began.
Relena managed to get a few words alone with Heero after the service. She knew that the young man she loved was suffering from Duo's death, but she was also aware that Heero would not like this fact to be aired. So, Relena decided to stick to the relatively safe subject of Hilde.
"Will you be staying with her, Heero?" she asked. "Until she gets back on her feet?'
Heero glanced over at Hilde who was sitting in a corner, clutching AJ, with Sally beside her. "I will stay as long as she needs me," he said. He turned back and gazed into Relena's eyes. "As long as it takes."
Relena squashed the selfish whine of the once spoilt girl she had been that came to her lips, *Why are you devoting so much to Hilde? You never do this for me!* She bit her lip. "If there's anything I can do…" she began.
"I'll let you know," said Heero, he paused. "Actually, perhaps you could talk to Hilde."
Relena nodded. "I'll try," she said although she was unsure if she would be helpful. Relena followed Heero through the crowd and wished that she had kept in touch with Hilde. They had become good friends after the battle with White Fang and up until the Mariemaya incident, but Relena had been so busy since then that it had been hard to keep in touch.
Hilde was staring blankly when Heero and Relena approached her. Sally moved aside and let Relena sit next to Hilde.
Relena swallowed. "Hilde... I... I just want you to know that if you need anything just let me know, okay?"
Hilde blinked. She turned her head and looked at Relena. Her blue eyes were swollen from tears and there was a lost look in them. "Relena..."
Relena smiled tremulously. "Hilde, please don't shut yourself away from your friends!" she pleaded. "It doesn't help you..."
Hilde's brows drew together. "Don't tell me what to do!" she snapped suddenly. "I _don't_ need that! I am NOT one of your worshippers Miss Relena ex-Queen of the World Darlian!"
Relena recoiled. "Hilde... I didn't mean..."
"Just leave me alone!" Hilde cried, tears starting to spill down her face. She leapt to her feet, dumping the kitten onto the floor, and fled the room.
Relena looked stricken, but Sally moved closer and laid a hand on Relena's shoulder. "Don't feel bad," she said. "It's actually better that she _is_ reacting," Sally looked at Heero. "But go and check on her Heero, just so that she doesn't do anything rash."
Heero nodded and followed after Hilde; leaving the room without so much as a backward glance at Relena.
Relena twisted her hands together. "Some diplomat I am!" she said bitterly. "I can't even find the right words to help Hilde!"
"It's always hard," said Sally gently. "Saying 'I'm sorry' or 'I know how you feel' always sounds so trite, yet they're the only words that spring readily to mind."
"Maybe," said Relena, she stared after Heero. "Will Hilde be alright?"
"If she didn't have Heero helping her I'd be alot more concerned," confessed Sally. She glanced down at Relena. "I know how you feel about Heero, Relena, but don't begrudge his help to Hilde right now."
Relena flushed. "I know, it's just..."
"It's hard to be generous," Sally smiled. "Love is a very selfish emotion," she pressed Relena's shoulder. "Don't worry, things will turn out, you'll see... maybe not in the way you expect, but I'm sure things will be okay."
"I hope so Sally," Relena smiled weakly at her. "Thank you."
5 months later:
Turning slightly in her bed, Hilde slowly opened her eyes and stared into the darkness. She frowned and turned her head to look at the bedside clock.
*5am?* Hilde blinked. *What kind of time is that to wake up?*
She closed her eyes, but memories stopped her from reclaiming sleep. Jumbled memories of the past five months, blurred and flickering they filtered through her mind.
She remembered and wished she could forget...
Lashing out at Relena and Relena's shocked unhappy expression.
People visiting... Catherine, Trowa and Quatre... and her abuse of their sympathy.
Sally examining her and being screamed at for it.
And then there was Heero...
Hilde drew in a sharp breath and sat up. She swallowed a sob and drew her knees to her chest and clasped them tightly.
Heero had been looking after her for the past months, protecting her from her grief when he must be grieving himself. Hilde recalled the first terrible day and Heero holding her until she cried herself dry. Heero forcing her to eat and drink. Heero waiting by her bed until she collapsed into a sleep of exhaustion and pills.
Hilde dug her fingernails into her flesh as one particular event surfaced. She had been in the kitchen, mechanically chopping vegetables when she cut her forefinger. She had stared at the blood in fascination and then moved the knife until it hovered over her wrist. She wondered how long it would be until she faded into oblivion.
Then... Heero's hand came down and pulled the knife away. He shook her, his normally expressionless face twisted with anger; he told her not to be an idiot and pushed her out of the kitchen.
Hilde's lips curved into a slight smile. She then remembered Heero banning her from the kitchen and removing all sharp objects from her bedroom and the bathroom. He had even said that if she even _looked_ like she was contemplating suicide he would come into the shower _with_ her!
"What would I have done without him?" Hilde wondered aloud. "How can I thank him?"
She shook her head and slipped out of bed. There was no time like the present. Quietly she opened her door and softly tiptoed out. She hesitated at Heero's door, but then rallied herself and opened it.
"What is it, Hilde?" Heero's quiet voice came out of the darkness.
"GYAH!!" Hilde almost jumped eight feet straight up. "I thought you were asleep!"
"I was," Hilde heard Heero move out of the bed. "But I heard you moving."
Hilde blinked. "Do you have supersonic hearing or something?"
"No," Heero leaned over and flicked on the bedside light. The lamp cast a golden glow on him and Hilde saw a glimmer of concern in his eyes. "Why are you up?"
She walked into the room. "I just woke," she said. "And I realized that I've been walking in a fog for the past few months since..." her throat tightened and she choked. "Since... Duo..." *No, no! Please no, I don't want to cry anymore!* Hilde's eyes began to fill and she swallowed violently.
Heero was instantly beside her, steadying her as her body shook with her effort to keep control. He pulled her into his arms and held her, head on his chest, until she was calm.
Hilde breathed deeply and was vaguely aware that once she would have been very embarrassed to be held so by anyone other than Duo, but now she just felt comforted. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I'm a mess and it's not fair to you, Heero. You've been really good to me, but I don't want to tie you to me!"
"No one is making me stay," said Heero.
She lifted her head and looked at him. "But you should leave, you're not responsible for me!"
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked looking down at her.
Hilde opened her mouth to say yes, but instead she said, "No."
Heero nodded. "Then I won't go."
Hilde pulled away from him and smiled. "Well, then... thank you." she felt both guilty and relieved.
"Go back to sleep," said Heero.
"I'll try," said Hilde. She went to the door and paused. "Heero?"
"I'm sorry for being such a burden these past months, I didn't realize I was so emotional..." Hilde laughed sadly. "But I won't tune out anymore, it won't bring _him_ back."
Heero regarded her steadily. "No."
Hilde breathed in deeply and let it out with a sigh. "Well, I'm not going to be a burden anymore! From today on I'm going to get my life back together!" she tilted her head. "Don't worry, I'm fine now."
"That's... good," said Heero slowly. It was obvious he didn't believe her.
"Sleep well, Heero," said Hilde and she left.
Heero turned and went back to his bed. He switched off the light and listened carefully. He heard Hilde open her door and the soft pat pat of her feet. A creak indicated that she was in bed and he closed his eyes.
Duo's face flickered through his mind and Heero turned restlessly. Odd, he never thought that he would miss Duo or that he would care so much that Hilde was alright. It seemed that the most important mission in his life now was to return Hilde's sparkle and smile... because that was all he could do for Duo now.
[Authors note: its never fully explained if the house Duo and Hilde live in is Hilde's or Duo's. The work they take up with the Sweepers in the TV series is the work that Duo was doing before he became a Gundam pilot. I can see ownership of the business and the house going either way, and for the purposes of this story I have made Duo the owner.]
Heero opened his eyes and became aware of a weight on his hip. He was puzzled for all of one second and then realized it was the cat. Heero carefully raised his head and regarded the young ginger cat that was comfortably snoozing across his body. This was becoming a habitual thing, since Hilde was incapable of looking after the cat; AJ had ended up adopting Heero. Of course, Heero was still unsure if this was a _good_ thing...
He lay back down and listened to the sounds within the house. AJ's purring, the clatter of pots in the kitchen...
Heero sat up, abruptly dislodging AJ who yowled in protest.
Someone was in the kitchen.
He and Hilde were the only people in the house.
_He_ wasn't in the kitchen.
So that meant...
Heero vaulted out of bed and ran out of his room. He pounded into the kitchen and brought himself to an abrupt halt at the door.
Hilde looked up from the stove where she was frying something. "Good morning Heero," she said with a smile. "Breakfast will be ready soon."
Heero attempted to pull himself together. "Breakfast?" he said lamely.
Hilde nodded. "Yeah, I woke up half an hour ago and decided to make French toast for both of us!" she looked at Heero and shook her head. "Heero... I'm not going to pick up a knife and stab myself in the heart, I swear!"
Heero stiffened. "I didn't say..."
"But you were _thinking_ it!" Hilde interrupted. She waved her spatula at him reprovingly. "I know I've been a hopeless case for the past five months, but I meant what I said last night!" she said vehemently. "I refuse to be a living zombie! _He_ wouldn't want me to act like that anyway!"
Heero noted the way that Hilde avoided saying Duo's name, but he couldn't help but be relieved that she had pulled herself out of the dark hole she'd been in.
Hilde turned her attention back to the frying pan. "Could you put some plates out?" she asked. "This will be done and after we've eaten this, I'll make lots of waffles, okay?"
Heero pulled plates out of a cupboard. "Can you eat all that?"
Hilde looked at him and blinked. "Ah... maybe, just a couple then..." she bit her lip. "I forgot that not everyone has a big appetite like..."
Heero put the plates on the table and regarded Hilde who was staring into space. "The toast will burn," he said harshly.
Hilde jumped and looked down. "Ack! Sorry!" she removed the pan and turned off the stove. She shook herself slightly and smiled at Heero. "All done!"
For the past five months Heero had eaten breakfast in silence. Hilde would either stare into space or eat half-heartedly and Heero couldn't think of anything to say that would break the silence - not that he was the type to talk alot anyway. However, today was an abrupt change.
Hilde deposited two pieces of toast in front of him and then served herself. Just as she was about to sit down, AJ came into the kitchen and announced that he was hungry with a penetrating meow.
Hilde stared blankly at the cat for a minute, then she smiled. "AJ! Oh, I've been neglecting you haven't I?" she looked at Heero. "Have you been looking after him too?"
"Yes," said Heero. "He likes to sleep on my bed," he added.
Hilde laughed. "I see... well, cats are born opportunists!"
Once AJ had been fed, Heero and Hilde attended to their breakfast. Heero ate quickly and finished long before Hilde.
"Was it good?" Hilde asked anxiously. "I was worried that I might be a bit out of practice."
"It was good," Heero assured her. In fact it had been _very_ good. He had taken over the cooking duties since Hilde's suicide attempt in the kitchen, but he was well aware that his cooking skills were poor next to Hilde's. She had a knack for making even the most plain food taste good Heero remembered how much Duo would enthuse over Hilde's cooking.
"That's a relief," said Hilde as she polished off her toast. "Now, onto business..." she regarded Heero with a serious look that almost matched his own. "I take it that you've been handling the business?"
Heero nodded. "It's been doing well," he said.
"But?" Hilde pressed.
Heero was slightly startled that Hilde had picked up on the hint of trouble in his voice. He paused, not sure whether his news wouldn't depress her further.
"Heero, _tell_ me!" Hilde insisted as the silence grew.
"But," said Heero. "I am not regarded in the same light as Duo was and many of his contacts have been avoiding me."
Hilde frowned. She could understand some of the reluctance of the Sweepers, Duo had been one of them for a long time and he had the knack of talking and bargaining with them. Heero on the other hand, was a harder person to get to know and his serious demeanor didn't invite friendly overtures. Hilde wondered how she could show the other Sweepers that Heero... she paused her thoughts... but then again, did _she_ want to continue the business? After all, she had only started working with the Sweepers because Duo was and it had seemed natural to continue after the war was over. Did she plan on being a Sweeper for the rest of her life?
Heero waited while Hilde sat deep in thought. He didn't know what she was deciding, but somehow he sensed it would decide the direction of Hilde's life from now on. Heero made a promise to himself and Duo's spirit that whatever she did he would be there for her.
One Week later,
Relena turned from her political secretary as the receptionist spoke up behind her. "Yes?" she asked.
"There is a call for you, on the secured line," the young woman told her.
Relena blinked. "Right," she said. "I'm sorry Hokuto," she smiled at her secretary. "I'll get back to you about that speech this afternoon."
Hokuto bowed. "Thank you Miss Darlian."
Relena went into her office and sat at her desk. She activated the communicator... and almost fell off her chair in surprise when Heero's face filled the screen.
Swallowing her surprise, Relena leaned forward and smiled at him. "Heero..." she said softly quelling the skips her heart was making. "I haven't heard from you in a long time, how are you?"
"Fine," said Heero, he looked a little impatient.
Relena realized that this wasn't merely a social call and sat up a little straighter. "Is something the matter?" she asked. "Is Hilde...?"
Heero was pushed to one side and Hilde smiled at Relena. "Hi Relena," she said.
Relena noticed that Hilde's smile, although bright, did not quite reach her eyes. "Hello Hilde," she said. "Are you feeling better now?"
"Yes, and I want to apologize for my _terrible_ behaviour!" said Hilde. "I'm amazed you can actually speak to me!"
Relena laughed slightly. "That's alright, really! Now, what can I do for you?" her eyes sort Heero's again.
"A place on Earth," said Heero briefly.
Relena's eyes widened. "A place...?" she asked baffled - after all, there were lots of 'places' on Earth. She hazarded a guess. "You mean a house?"
Hilde shot Heero a slightly exasperated glance. "Yeah, he means a house. I've basically decided that I don't..." she bit her lower lip. "I don't want to be on L2 anymore," she looked at Relena almost pleadingly. "So many memories... I need somewhere different... you understand?"
Relena nodded. "Yes," she said softly. "I understand, but are you sure, Hilde?"
"Yes... no... maybe," Hilde shrugged. "Heero suggested Earth and I thought 'why not'? It's a chance to start afresh anyway..."
Relena looked back at Heero. "And you will be coming too, Heero?"
"Yes," there was a note of finality in his voice.
"Well, I'll see what I can do," Relena said. "Have you thought about what occupation you'll do?"
Hilde shrugged. "Not really, Heero's a bit annoyed about that," she shot Heero a teasing smile to which he didn't respond. "But the sale of the business brought in alot of cash, so..."
"You _sold_ the business??" Relena squeaked unable to conceal her astonishment.
Hilde's chin came up defiantly. "And why not?" she challenged. "I made a decision and I didn't want to linger over it."
"Hilde, I'm not trying to talk you out of anything," Relena hastened to reassure her. "It just all seems a bit sudden."
Hilde's expression softened. "I know, sorry," she mumbled. "I just want to get it over with..." she looked as if she was going to cry all of a sudden.
Heero put his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her off-screen. "We plan to be down in two weeks," he told Relena.
She nodded. "I'll help," she promised. "In anyway I can, Heero." She met his eyes and smiled into them.
"I know," he said meeting her gaze with a solemn look and then he disconnected.
Relena sat, staring at the blank screen for quite some time. Then she sighed and turned away. *Heero... why do I feel like I've lost you when I was never really sure if I had you?*
Two Weeks later,
Heero lay in bed, one hand gently stroking AJ's head, and listened to Hilde in the next bedroom trying to conceal her crying.
Heero sighed and shifted restlessly. He knew she was trying _not_ to disturb him and if he went in she would probably only be more upset, but...
Heero sat up and frowned. Hilde wasn't going to stop anytime soon and he couldn't just continue to lie down and listen to her suffering. He swung out of bed and walked softly out of his room to Hilde's door.
He stood there, still frowning, trying to determine his best course of action. Also going through his mind, as it had so many times in the past months, was the thought that four years ago he would've left Hilde alone. Heero shook his head, looking after Relena was much simpler; he had never felt that he _had_ to hold her and comfort her as much as he did with Hilde. For someone like Heero who avoided the human touch the whole experience was disconcerting... but then again... if Heero was brutally honest with himself he felt more human now than he ever had. It was as if Duo had started him down the road and now he was gone Hilde was completing the journey with him.
A harsh sob from Hilde startled Heero out of his reflections and he opened the door.
Hilde lifted her head from her pillow and choked as he walked in. "H-heero?" she gasped in surprise. She sat up and stared at him.
Silently Heero crossed over to her bed and flicked on the bedside lamp. Hilde blinked; adjusting her sight to the light while Heero looked down at her. Hilde's face was puffy and tear-streaked and her eyes were red-rimmed, Heero started to have bad flashbacks to the early days after Duo's death.
"I heard you," he said.
Hilde sniffled and looked contrite. "I tried not to... but it just started and I... I couldn't stop..."
"Is it Duo?"
Hilde gulped. "N-no... Not quite. It's alot of things," she bit her lower lip. "I guess it just hit me, that I'm leaving I mean. L2 has been my home all my life and I met Duo here," tears trickled down her cheek. "I just felt so sad about leaving..." she ducked her head. "Sorry."
Heero put a hand under her chin and forced her head up so she met his eyes. "You don't have to leave," he said patiently.
Hilde smiled sadly. "Yes I do," she whispered. "Because I'm just not strong enough to live here anymore," she sighed. "I wish I was stronger..."
"Wanting to starting anew isn't a weakness," Heero told her.
Hilde thought on that for a moment. "Maybe not," she agreed reluctantly, she twisted something between her fingers and Heero glanced at it.
With a slight growl he plucked Duo's old black cap from her. "_This_ is not going to help!" he said irritably.
Hilde flushed. "I found it when I was packing things up today," she confessed.
Heero swore mentally at himself for missing the cap. He had packed up Duo's belongings while Hilde had been in her dazed fog, not wanting her to be further upset by things that would bring up memories.
"Duo's not the only reason, huh?" he muttered. "You're a liar Hilde..."
Hilde sighed. "I know, I'm a hopeless case," she said. "Heero... you know you don't have to come to Earth with me, I know you're only staying with me because you feel obligated to." she shrugged. "I'll be okay, really."
Heero leaned forward. "I don't stay anywhere I don't want to be," he said firmly. "I will come with you to Earth and I _will_ stay with you."
Hilde half-laughed and half-cried at that statement. "I don't have a choice do I?"
Heero straightened. "No," he said sternly.
Hilde smiled properly. "Alright Heero, you win this round, now go to bed," she told him. "We're going to be busy tomorrow," seeing him hesitate she pushed at him. "Go on, I won't cry anymore... over leaving or Duo's clothing, I promise!"
Heero stepped back and surprised her and himself by smiling back at her...
One month later,
"Hello!" Relena stood on the doorstep of Heero and Hilde's new house and peered down the corridor. Mostly all she could see were piles of boxes and wrapping paper and Hilde's cat snoozing on a bunch of newsprint in the sun. "Hilde? Heero?"
"Relena!" Hilde ran down the steps and leapt over several boxes to reach the elegantly dressed blond woman. "Why didn't you call? I wasn't expecting to see you!"
"Sorry," said Relena as she stepped inside, carefully avoiding the mess. "My meeting finished earlier than expected and since I was in this part of town I thought I'd drop by... I can leave if it's inconvenient though."
"No," Hilde smiled at her. "Not at all! It's good to see you, we haven't managed to exchange three words since Heero and I got here, you've been so busy." she threw some boxes out of Relena's way. "It's just that the computers arrived today, at the same time as the rest of my stuff from L2. Heero, of course, has been totally obsessed with uploading the software and fiddling around with it, while I've been attending to the other stuff!"
Relena laughed and followed Hilde into the living room. Heero was seated by three computers, his laptop connected to all of them, fiercely concentrating.
"Heero!" Hilde called. "Relena's here!"
Heero frowned and glanced up. His look plainly said he resented the interruption, but he quickly saved his work and put the laptop down to come over to the two women.
Relena smiled. "Well, it looks like you are really getting started for this data security business. Are the computers good? The company was highly recommended to me."
Heero nodded. "They're alright."
"Which means they're very good in Heero-speak," said Hilde. She turfed some paper off a chair and brushed it down. "This is all I can offer you at the moment, Relena," she said ruefully. "But I can get you a drink!"
"Thank you Hilde," said Relena sitting down.
Hilde shot Heero a significant glance and picked her way across the floor to the kitchen. Relena saw the glance and coloured faintly. Hilde could be very unsubtle sometimes...
The silence stretched between them. Relena had never been fond of small talk and it was possible that Heero didn't even know what casual conversation was.
"So how is Hilde doing?" Relena asked eventually.
"But still not quite right?"
Relena sighed. "Well, I guess at least she seems to like it here and that's a good start."
"Yes," said Heero glossing over Hilde's frequent bouts of tears and her occasional dark moods. If Hilde wanted to confide in Relena that was her choice, Heero was not going to be the one to reveal things.
"How long are you planning to stay?" Relena asked. "Until the business is running smoothly? Or," and her voice faltered a little. "Longer? Until Hilde is completely over Duo?"
Heero said nothing; he just looked at her. Relena examined his face, trying to see something that would indicate that he felt something towards her other than his belief that she was his icon of peace. But as usual, Heero's eyes remained unreadable and Relena suspected, with a heavy sadness, at this point unreachable.
Relena suddenly felt she couldn't bear it any longer. She got to her feet and smiled tremulously at Heero. "Tell Hilde I'm sorry, but I forgot I have a... another meeting, I have to go..." she walked, carefully, out of the room.
As she reached the door she thought she heard Heero say her name. Feeling hopeful Relena turned back to face him.
"I'm sorry, Relena," he said quietly.
Relena drew in a shuddering breath. "Yes, I understand," she said. *I understand that you _can't_ leave, it's not like you to leave something unfinished, whether it's a mission or someone's shattered life, I understand that much Heero...*
She smiled. "I'll see you later then," and then she left.
Heero stared after her and tried to sort out his feelings. He looked at Relena and saw in her the future of humanity, but whether his future was also with her wasn't clear... not that it had ever been. Heero was aware that his understanding of 'love' was limited and confused.
"Where's Relena?" Hilde came out holding a drink in her hand.
"She left," said Heero, he moved back to the computers and reactivated his laptop.
"_Left_?" Hilde shot him an exasperated look and put the drink down. "Heero... How are you and Relena _ever_ going to get anywhere at this rate?"
"Stop pushing Relena at me!" Heero snapped.
Hilde blinked at his tone. "But I..." she paused. "Sorry... I didn't mean to do that, I just thought that you wanted..."
Hilde sighed. "Okay then... if that's how you feel..."
"Hilde? Heero?" a new voice echoed through the house.
"Sally!" Hilde popped her head out of the door. "And Wufei too..."
"What _is_ this mess?" grumbled Wufei entering the room.
"Wufei," Heero acknowledged him.
Wufei nodded and trod carefully over to him. "I've brought the Preventers files for your test run," he said. "Although I thought you'd be up and running by now!"
"The computers were delivered late..." Hilde started to explain but was stopped by Sally's hand on her shoulder.
"Don't worry, Hilde," she said. "Wufei isn't happy unless he's complaining about _something_!"
"Woman!" Wufei glared at Sally.
She ignored him. "Hilde, can we leave the boys here for a while and have a little talk?"
"You mean a check up don't you, Dr Po!"
Sally grinned. "Basically."
Hilde and Sally went upstairs to Hilde's room where Sally did a quick physical examination of Hilde.
"Well, you look alot better," said Sally finally. "I take it you're eating more and not taking the sleeping tablets?"
Hilde nodded. "I still get the occasional bad dream," she admitted. "But it's not as bad as before."
Sally nodded. "That's good," her eyes narrowed and she looked sharply at Hilde. "But something _is_ bothering you."
Hilde told Sally about Relena's visit and what had happened.
"I feel like I'm responsible for them not getting together," she said. "Heero is devoting all this time to _me_ when he could be with Relena!"
Sally leaned against the wall. "Hilde, I think you're being oversensitive here. Heero never indicated that he loves Relena the same way you loved Duo," she smiled at the confused young woman. "There are many different _types_ of love and not all of them involve getting married!"
Hilde flushed. "I know, but..."
"Also, have you considered this? Heero probably needs you as much as you need him," said Sally. "In his way he loved Duo too, from what I could tell they were very close friends - even if Heero would never admit it. Looking after you is probably Heero's way of dealing with _his_ grief."
Hilde considered this. "You think so?"
"It's a good possibility," said Sally. "Of course, we don't know for sure unless Heero tells us."
Hilde smiled. "Trying to get Heero to talk about his emotions is like trying to extract emotions from a Mobile Doll!"
Sally laughed. "Well, you just think about what I said," she suggested. "And don't dwell on feelings of guilt and remorse, that's not going to help you heal!"
Sally left to see how Wufei was doing; Hilde lingered in her room letting Sally's words replay in her mind. Then she went over to her bedside table and opened a drawer. Picking out the photo inside she stared at it.
The photo was of Duo, taken the Christmas of 199, he was raising a glass of champagne and he was looking at the camera with his famous mischievous grin on his face.
Hilde sighed. "Duo... it's odd, but... I still hurt when I say your name," she touched the photo gently. "But it's not so bad now, more like a throbbing ache than something sharp like glass stabbing me all over. I guess I am getting along without you..."
She smiled suddenly. "I loved you and I guess a part of me will always love you, but I'm moving on now, I feel bad, but... can you forgive me for that?"
Hilde dropped the photo in surprise when Heero spoke up behind her. She turned and flushed. "Uh... don't you ever knock?"
Heero bent and picked up the photo. "Duo would want you to be happy," he said placing the photo in her hands. "Don't feel guilty."
Hilde nodded. She remembered Sally's words. "The same goes for you, Heero."
He looked startled, but then dipped his head in agreement. "Yes." his features softened as he smiled slightly.
They looked at each other for some time, both aware of a feeling of harmony in feeling. Then the spell was broken as Wufei called up the stairs, querying their whereabouts.
Both Heero and Hilde blinked. Heero snapped back into his serious mode and Hilde hurriedly put Duo's photo away.
"I came to see if you wanted to have a look at the programs," said Heero.
"Ah... yes, yes definitely," Hilde followed him out. For some reason that she couldn't define she felt relieved and wanted to strangle Wufei at the same time.
Five months later:
Heero pushed open the door and shut it quietly behind him. He shrugged off his coat and hung it on a peg beside Hilde's.
As he brushed the snow off his coat he reflected on how oddly comforting it was to be back. He'd only been away for two weeks, working on installing some new software which required him to be on site, but during those two weeks Heero became aware that he _missed_ things.
Home... this home had been in his mind alot. That and...
Heero frowned. _That_ had been a surprise. Missing Hilde. Missing her talk, her smile, her breakfasts (the cook on site was just _terrible_) and the way she anticipated things he needed. He missed sitting by the fire, AJ stretched across his lap, listening to Hilde talk about things... not just business matters, anything she fancied mentioning to him in her laughing voice.
Heero had also reached another conclusion. Hilde didn't need him anymore. She no longer cried at night, or woke at strange hours after a terrible dream. The sparkle Duo's death had robbed her of was back. But she wasn't exactly like the old Hilde, there was a poise about her, maturity that only experience can bring.
Heero walked down the corridor, mulling his thoughts over. He opened the door to the living room and walked inside.
Hilde had her back to him and was working intently on her computer. Her short back hair was mussed and she was dressed very casually in leggings and a large sweatshirt. AJ was lolling at her feet, but he mewed when Heero entered.
Hilde turned to see what AJ was looking at and her eyes went very wide.
"Heero!" she leapt to her feet and launched herself at him. Heero caught her as she barreled into him, flinging her arms around his neck. "Heero! You're back! Oh, it's so _good_ to see you!"
Heero was a little astonished by her enthusiastic welcome, but a warm feeling spread through his body and he found himself hugging her back.
Hilde had missed him, by the looks of it almost as much as he had missed her. He pulled back and looked down at her. She smiled up at him and he found himself taken aback at the realization that she was very, very important to him. Unconsciously his arms tightened around her.
Hilde blinked. Her initial feelings of simple relief and pleasure at seeing him again were replaced by nervousness as she looked into his face. His eyes looked intently down into hers and she almost felt she was drowning. A shiver ran up her spine.
Suddenly the telephone shrilled and they both leapt apart and eyed each other nervously. Heero picked up the phone and Relena appeared on the screen.
"Heero!" she said happily. "I heard you got back today, how did the job go?"
"Fine," said Heero. He looked at Relena's face and tried to sort out what had just happened. Hilde watched him, her eyes anxious.
"I'm glad," said Relena, then she frowned in concern. "Is something the matter, Heero?"
"No," Heero's tone was very, very neutral.
"Well, I just wanted to say welcome back," said Relena, she sounded a little unsure. "And... I'll see you and Hilde... uh... soon?"
"Yes, goodbye," Heero put down the phone.
"That was a bit abrupt," said Hilde in the silence that followed.
Heero stood by the phone and regarded Hilde. For so long he had protected Relena, even back when her death would have been an advantage, he had watched over her. There was a bond between them, but over the years it had stretched very thin, weakened by her job and his reluctance to allow his feelings to bind him to her. He had wondered if his feelings for Relena were love, because surely, if he loved her he would want to be with her all the time? Looking at Hilde, Heero was very much aware that it was _Hilde_ he wanted to be with, Relena was someone important and keeping her safe was something he had charged himself with, but Hilde was the one now stirring his emotionless heart into life.
Hilde's eyes flickered as Heero stared at her. Relena's face seemed to her to hang between them and Hilde felt an odd, terrible sense of guilt, as if she was betraying her friend.
"Heero, I'm sorry," she said suddenly. "I didn't mean to fling myself at you like that."
Heero blinked. "Hilde..."
"And I just realized something," Hilde continued on recklessly, aware that if she didn't speak now, something was going to happen. Something that both she and Heero could regret. "You've been with me for nearly a year and I'm okay now, so you really don't need to stay here out of a sense of obligation to Duo, and..." her throat constricted and she swallowed. "You should probably call Relena back and..."
"_Why_ do you keep trying to push me at Relena?" Heero interrupted her harshly.
Hilde dropped her eyes and stared at the floor. "You... love her... don't you?" she asked in a very quiet voice.
Heero drew in a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "I thought that I did," he said equally as quietly. "But I don't think so."
Hilde lifted her head and stared at him in confusion. "I don't understand..."
"Relena is important," said Heero, struggling to make Hilde understand what he was only now just beginning to comprehend. "Important to a lot of people, she is... hope and peace... and I want to protect that."
Hilde frowned." So... you don't love her, but she is important?" she shook her head. "Ah... I don't get it, but... still, what I was _trying_ to say is that you should leave." she bit her lip and looked away from him.
Heero walked over to Hilde and stood in front of her. "Do you really want me to leave, Hilde?" he asked her.
Hilde ducked her head. "Heero... I don't want you to tie your life to looking after me because of some supposed debt to Duo. I'm _okay_ now, I'm capable of being on my own!"
Heero put his hands on her shoulders. "Look at me," he commanded. "Look at me and tell me that you want me to go," *And if you do, I'll leave now, forever, if you _want_ me to*
Hilde looked up at him and her eyes were filled with tears. "Damnit Heero, why are you making this so hard?" she choked. "No, I _don't_ want you to go! Are you happy now?!" she cried, a tear trickling down. "I want you to stay!"
Heero touched her damp cheek. "Then I'll stay," he said feeling as if everything was now perfect in his world. "Not out of an obligation, but..."
He bent his head and kissed her very gently on the mouth, letting his actions speak for him. Hilde leaned into the kiss, letting the love for Heero that had been slowly building in her out. Silently she asked Duo to forgive her and laid his ghost to rest in her heart.
Eight months later
Gerrard, former Sweeper and now Chief cargo checker at L2 Colony's largest dockway turned and faced the stout man who had tapped him on the shoulder. "What?" he growled.
"You're Gerrard?" the man asked. When Gerrard nodded he was presented with a cargo list. "Captain said to give you this."
Gerrard took the list and scanned it. "Mining transport, eh? From the outer rim too, must've taken a while to get here!"
The man rolled his eyes. "Yeah, four months cramped in a crappy ship with a bunch of stir-crazy miners! Absolute hell!"
Gerrard signed the list. "Why do you chose that type of life?" he asked curiously.
The man shrugged. "For some it's the only life you know, for others it's 'cos they have a debt to pay," he pointed to his left. "Like young Shin over there."
Gerrard glanced curiously in the direction the man pointed. A young man, not more than 21 years old, was walking towards them. Gerrard took in the worn, stained jeans and the fraying black t-shirt, the long brown hair held in a ponytail that hung halfway down his back, the violet eyes... the grin...
Gerrard gulped and dropped the cargo list as 'Shin' stood before him. "B-but," he stuttered. "Y-you're _dead_!"
"Oi oi, didn't you know that the God of Death never dies?" laughed Duo Maxwell.
"So," Gerrard put the coffee in front of Duo and then took a seat opposite him. "You were rescued by the miners?"
Duo Maxwell grimaced. "If you can call it 'rescued', but yeah, they picked me up out of the debris," he took a gulp of coffee. "Apparently I drifted quite far away from the site of the original accident."
Gerrard frowned. "Why the hell didn't they let anyone know they'd picked you up?" he asked. "Why didn't _you_ tell them?!"
"Believe me, if I could've I would have," said Duo sincerely. "Unfortunately I was in a coma for nearly five months and when I woke up..." he mimed shooting his head. "Bam! No memory. The doctor who treated me said that probably had to do with the oxygen deprivation I suffered," Duo shrugged. "Anyway, as soon as I was strong enough they put me to work to get a return for saving me."
"I've heard that the outer rim mining bosses like to indenture people - without their consent- and that they especially like people who can't be traced," said Gerrard.
Duo smiled bitterly. "Believe those stories, as an amnesiac I just was _perfect_ for them!"
"How long did you work for them?"
Duo stared at his cup. "For over a year," he said softly. "A year of hell... you can't imagine, Gerrard, what it's like in the mines..."
"Didn't you remember anything?"
Duo snorted. "Bits and pieces that made _no_ sense, I thought they were fever dreams, especially the ones that involved the Gundams!" he laughed and then sobered. "But I did get my memory back, six months ago, thanks to a knock on the head! I got caught in a rock fall and when I woke up in medical I knew _exactly_ who I was!"
Gerrard shook his head. "How like you to have to be hit on the head to remember."
Duo stared into the distance. He recalled the terrible shock he'd had on awakening as all his memories assaulted him. He'd grabbed the coat of the nearest medic, babbling. "I'm Duo Maxwell, and I don't belong here!" The medic had stared at him coldly and pried his hands away. "I don't care who you are," he'd said. "Even if your name is God, you belong to the company now." And Duo had lain on his bed, too weak to move, remembering and raging at his helpless state. He'd learnt to play 'nice' though and watched carefully for an opportunity to free himself; the transport going to L2 had appeared in the light of a gift from God and Duo had quickly wrangled a place on board.
"I see they chopped your hair," Gerrard commented in the silence.
"You noticed," said Duo sarcastically. He was _still_ unhappy about that. The full tragedy of his hair hadn't kicked in until he'd regained his memories and was therefore still painful. He stood up abruptly. "Look, Gerrard, thanks for the coffee and all, but I have to get going, I need to be long gone _before_ the captain of the transport comes looking for me!"
Gerrard lifted a bushy eyebrow. "Where are ya going to go, kid?"
Duo smiled. "Home of course! I have to give Hilde a big surprise!"
Gerrard blinked. "Hilde..." he muttered. "Oh yes, your girl."
Duo opened the door. "See you around sometime!" he said cheerfully and left.
Gerrard frown. He was forgetting something, he was sure, something Duo needed to know... about Hilde...
"*@!" He stood up and ran to the door. "Duo! Wait!" he looked outside. There was no sign of Duo. Gerrard swore again. Now he remembered, Hilde had gone. Duo neither had a girlfriend _nor_ a house waiting for him.
Duo sauntered through the main streets of L2, soaking up the atmosphere. God, but it was _good_ to be home! He grinned broadly and pushed the memories of the hot, stinking mines into the depths of his mind, not to be dredged up again. No time for dark thoughts, Duo decided not when he was about to see Hilde after nearly two years!
He chuckled to himself. "Oi oi, she's going to be _so_ surprised! Hope she doesn't pass out!"
He ignored the small voice that tried to tell him that expecting Hilde to be in the same place after his apparent 'death' was a little naive. After all, Hilde loved him; she wouldn't _believe_ he was dead... right?
Duo shook off the little voice as he rounded a corner and found himself staring at his old home.
The house looked just the same, a basic unit in the middle of a bare yard surrounded by a plain fence. Hilde had often complained that the windows looked out on a very boring garden and would make noises about planting some flowers to liven things up. Duo smiled at the memory, he'd always _meant_ to do something about the place, but it had never seemed _that_ important.
He bounced eagerly up to the door and pounded on it. "Hilde! Oi HILDE!!!" he yelled. "Open up, it's me, Duo! I'm ba... ACK!" he stared at the tall brown haired woman who answered the door. "Who are you?"
She glared at him. "I should be asking _you_ that question!" she snapped. "What's the meaning of yelling and pounding on MY door?"
Duo spluttered. "B-but... this is MY house!" he protested. "I live here!"
The woman laughed. "You must be drunk or something," she said. "My husband and I have been living here for over a year!"
Duo swallowed. "Hilde... sold the house?" he whispered. "Then where _is_ she?"
"I don't have time for this," muttered the woman and she started to shut the door on him.
"No!" Duo blocked her.
"Get out!" she yelled. "Or I'll call the police!"
"Wait... please," begged Duo. "You have to tell me... where is the woman who used to live here before you?"
"How would I know?"
"Is something the matter, Mina?" a large man appeared behind the woman. "Hey, who's this punk?"
Duo gritted his teeth. "The name's Maxwell, not 'punk'! And all I want to know is the whereabouts of the woman who lived here before you!"
The man scratched his head. "I don't remember dealing with a woman," he grunted. "Just a man..."
"A man?" Duo blinked. *Hilde... you didn't...*
"Yeah, intense guy, not the type you forget. Kinda looked at you like he knew how to kill ya."
"Heero..." Duo sighed in relief. "So he was with her..." he looked back at the man. "Did he say where he was going?"
"Didn't ask, didn't _want_ to ask," said the man. "He wanted to sell quick, I wanted to buy, simple as that."
Duo sighed. It looked like he had managed to get all the information he could from these two. "Thanks so much for the help!" he said sarcastically with a little bow.
Mina glared at him and slammed the door in his face. Duo turned away and reflected his next move.
So... Heero was with Hilde a year ago. *Looks like he was fulfilling his promise* Duo thought as he trudged back into the centre of the city. *I have no idea _why_ Hilde felt compelled to leave though... now I have to figure out _where_ she's gone!*
Duo frowned. He had a few credits, not enough to fly anywhere, but... "Enough to call a few people who might know something!" he told himself triumphantly.
Hunting for a public phone, Duo ran into a large crowd gathered in one of the major squares. Irritably he tried to get through it, noticing as he sidled by that there were several important-looking people on a podium. They seemed to be dedicating some sort of plaque to peace. One official was getting ready to address the crowd and beside him stood a tall blond woman. Duo stopped in his tracks and stared at her. It was...
"Relena Darlian!!!" Duo cried and started pushing through the crowd to the podium. "RELENA!!!" his shout bringing all eyes to him.
He broke through and ran towards Relena who was staring at him with a puzzled expression. "It's ME! DUO!!" he yelled as several security guards converged on him.
Relena's face went white as she recognized the young man struggling with the guards. "Duo...?"
"Ow!" Duo jerked back as the antiseptic stung the cut on his cheek.
"Hold still," Relena commanded him. She gripped his arm and leaned forward to continue to dab the cotton wool on the cut. "It's your own fault you know, Duo, getting into a fight with the security guards was not the brightest move!" she scolded lightly.
Duo submitted to her treatment with a sigh. "Yeah well, they were a pain in the neck, all I wanted to do was _talk_ to you!"
"Uh huh," Relena smiled. "You burst through the crowd, yelling my name like a lunatic and you expect them to just stand by?'
Duo shrugged. "Maybe not," he admitted.
Relena put a small plaster on the cut and then stood up. "Alright, you're done."
"Thanks Nurse Relena!" Duo grinned at her.
Relena put away the first aid kit and then stood and regarded the young man on her hotel room couch. She took in the short hair and the battered clothing with a frown.
"Well Duo Maxell," she said finally. "I think you have some explaining to do."
Duo laughed. "You're taking my return from the dead much better than I expected!"
Relena lifted an eyebrow. "I'm a politician," she said. "I'm trained to react calmly to surprising news, even if my first inclination is to scream, cry and faint at the same time!"
"Fair enough," said Duo and he proceeded to fill her in on what had happened to him over the past months. "The memory thing is a bit like what happened to Trowa during the war," said Duo. "Except I didn't have a Wing Zero to wake _me_ up!" He then told Relena how he had returned to L2 and discovered that his house had been sold and Hilde was gone.
A shadow passed over Relena's face as he said this and Duo was alarmed.
"Relena... what happened to Hilde?" he asked urgently. "Where is she? Is she alright?!"
Relena closed her eyes. "Duo... Duo, I'm sorry..."
Duo felt cold inside. He got off the couch and went over to her. "Relena," his voice was quiet. "Please... tell me what has happened to Hilde..."
Relena clenched her hands, digging her fingernails into her palms. "I thought I had accepted this," she murmured. "But..." she swallowed and looked at Duo, at his worried expression, and she sighed.
"Hilde was very upset about your... death," she said. "She was almost incapacitated for several months."
Duo couldn't imagine his confident Hilde in such a state and he felt guilt for causing her so much pain. *I was never that good for you, Hildey...*
Relena took a deep breath and continued. "H-Heero... looked after her."
Duo smiled. "I knew he would... What is the matter Relena?" he asked puzzled by the pain in her blue eyes. "Why do you look so sad?"
Relena ignored his question. "Hilde decided that she couldn't bear to stay on L2, so she and... Heero set up a business on Earth."
"Hilde's on _Earth_?" Duo blinked. "And is she still there?"
"And she's okay, right?"
"I guess so, yes."
"And Heero's still with her?"
Relena nodded mutely.
"Well..." Duo frowned slightly. "It seems he's taking his promise a bit too far, but if he's looking after my Hilde..."
Relena's eyes flashed. "She's not _your_ Hilde anymore, Duo!"
Relena struggled to tell him. "Duo... Hilde and Heero... they're engaged." she whispered.
He stared at her blankly for a few seconds and then he began to laugh. "Ha! Good one, Relena! I _almost_ believed you!" He stopped laughing when he saw the sad expression on her face.
Duo stumbled backward and half-fell onto the couch. "You're not joking..."
Relena shook her head.
Duo's face went very pale, his mouth worked but no sound came out. He stared at Relena, making helpless, questioning gestures in the air, trying to fully comprehend what she had just told him. Relena waited, letting the fact trickled through him, her eyes bright with tears for his pain and her own.
Finally Duo croaked out, "W-when... how...?"
"Six months ago," said Relena heavily, she drew in a ragged breath. "They are planning to marry in two months."
"M-married??" Duo lowered his head into his hands. "No... Why?"
Relena hugged herself miserably and looked away from him. "I guess... they fell in love."
"Hilde and _Heero_?" Duo shook his head. "I can't see it!"
Relena swallowed. "They told me... they came and saw me and told me, six months ago, that they were... together..."
Duo laughed harshly and lifted his head. He stared at her, eyes glittering strangely. "And Miss Relena 'perfect' Darlian congratulated the _happy_ pair, am I right?!"
Relena twitched. "What else could I do, Duo?" she cried. "Hilde stood before me, crying because she felt so guilty, almost offering to step aside if I wanted Heero, and I _couldn't_ be so selfish, not after all she'd suffered!"
"How truly noble," sneered Duo.
Relena's eyes flashed with anger. Swiftly she crossed over to him, and before Duo could react, she slapped him sharply on the cheek.
Duo's head rocked back and he stared at her.
"Stop it!" Relena cried. "Don't you think I _want_ to scream over this? I was in love with Heero for _years_ and I always hoped that he returned my feelings! That hope was shattered six months ago and I have worked hard to accept the situation. I do _not_ need you coming in here and acting like a spoilt child, Duo Maxwell!!"
They stared at each other in silence for a long time and then Relena turned away.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "You've just had a terrible shock and it's not surprising that you're lashing out at the most convenient person, I shouldn't have lost my temper."
Duo rubbed his cheek. "No," he said heavily. "You're the _last_ person I should be angry with. You're also suffering..." he got to his feet. "I want to see them, Relena, will you take me?"
Relena looked at him. "I don't know if that's a good idea, Duo, not when you really haven't had time to assimilate..."
There was a glimmer of a smile on Duo's face. "Do you think I'm going to go on a murderous rampage or something?" he asked.
Relena looked at him suspiciously. "I wouldn't put it past you," she said tartly. Then her tone changed to a pleading one. "Duo... please, stay put for a while..."
"Stay _where_?" Duo questioned. "I haven't got a home... Mr Yuy sold it!"
"You can stay with me," said Relena.
He smirked. "Heh, what's going to happen to your reputation when the reporters discover you with a scruffy ex-Sweeper?"
Relena frowned. "You let _me_ worry about that!"
Duo laid a hand on her arm. "Relena, you _have_ to help me get to Earth and see them," he coaxed her. "If there's a chance that Hilde and I can..."
Relena's shoulders slumped. "You're not going to give up until I saw yes, are you?"
"Not at all!"
Relena rubbed her temples. "I know this is a bad idea..." she muttered. "But alright... I'll take you to them."
Three days later, Earth:
"You don't have to come with me," said Duo to Relena as they walked swiftly up the street towards Heero and Hilde's house.
"Yes I do," said Relena grimly. "I told you, I don't trust you to hold onto your anger!"
Duo shook his head. "She maligns me..."
"I _know_ you."
Duo looked around him as they walked. The street was attractively lined with trees. The leaves of the trees were showing the change of season by turning gold and falling to the ground to create a yellow carpet. All the houses lining the street were old, but beautiful with iron-wrought fences and long drives.
"Nice area," Duo commented.
"Yes," said Relena. "_They_ chose to move here about five months ago."
Duo reflected that this _was_ the type of place Hilde had always dreamed of living in. His mouth twisted at the thought of Heero Yuy providing Hilde with her dreams. *Control Maxwell... remember you promised Relena and she's had enough troubles as it is... control...*
Duo glanced at the woman walking beside him. Her expression was very cool and her blue eyes clear, her cheeks pink from the crisp air. He'd always had alot of respect for Relena, but they hadn't been very close. He was with Hilde and she was busy looking after peace as well as being in love with Heero. But over the past three days Duo had become closer to Relena. His appearance had dredged up the pain she had been burying and together they seemed to be able to help each other work through things - to a point.
Relena looked at him "What is it Duo?" she asked seeing his eyes on her.
"Nothing," he said. "Except... I appreciate what you're doing for me, Relena. You must be busy..."
She shook her head. "It's alright Duo, the universe can survive without me looking after it for a few days," she said with a glimmer of a smile.
They smiled into each other's eyes for a while and then Relena looked away and pointed.
"Here we are," she said.
Duo felt a dark wave of anger and depression roll over him as he looked through the gate at the house Relena indicated.
It was a two storey, cream-coloured house with gabled windows. A short flight of steps went up to the front door. At the front was a grey car and two people were getting out of it.
Relena let out a tiny gasp and Duo's eyes narrowed.
It was Heero and Hilde, obviously just returning from some shopping as Heero was pulling out bags from the boot of the car. Duo took in the appearance of his former best friend...
Heero was dressed casually in blue jeans and wore a dark green sweater. His hair still fell into his eyes, but his posture wasn't so stiff and Duo could almost see a smile on his face.
Then Duo spotted Hilde as she came to help Heero with the bags. His throat constricted as he looked at her... she looked so good... so _happy_...
Hilde was as petite and slender as he remembered, dressed in a sleeveless maroon sweater and gray pants. She was laughing and talking to Heero in a lively way, her face beautiful... loving.
Relena looked worriedly at Duo who was gripping the bars of the gate, a look of jealous fury on his face. *I shouldn't have brought him...*
"Duo," she said firmly. "If you _can't_ control yourself we _will_ leave."
He blinked and looked at her. For a moment Relena saw the God of Death that he had styled himself looking at her through his eyes, but she stared back at him boldly without flinching. Then Duo closed his eyes and sighed. When he opened them again he smiled at her.
"I'll behave," he promised.
Relena didn't believe him, but she realized that no force on Earth would remove him now and she would only make things worse if she tried. With a resigned sigh she pushed open the gate.
"Let's go then," she said.
Heero and Hilde had gone inside, so Duo and Relena walked up the drive unnoticed. They walked up the steps and Relena knocked on the door, Duo keeping to the side, out of sight.
The door opened and Heero stood there. His eyes widened slightly when he saw Relena. "Relena?"
She smiled nervously. She hadn't spoken to Heero and Hilde for about three months now and the gulf between her and Heero felt incredibly wide. "Heero," she said almost breathlessly. "I've... er... brought someone to see you..."
Before Relena could beckon Duo over, he was at her side. Duo's lips drew back into a snarl and he glared into Heero's face.
Duo folded his arms and tilted his head. "Well, well... if it isn't Mr Heero Yuy... the girlfriend thief!"
Heero's eyes widened. His reaction was one that Duo would once have died to see - total shock mingled with astonishment and a little fear. "Duo...?"
"Awww... I'm so _glad_ you remember me!" Duo grinned savagely at Heero.
Then, before Relena or the stunned Heero could react, he lunged forward, pushing Heero back into the corridor, grabbing at Heero's collar.
Heero was propelled backwards, his back hitting the wall with a thud. He reached up and grabbed at Duo's hands, trying to pry them away from his throat. But anger, jealousy and grief gave Duo strength that even tested Heero.
"Just was the FUCK are you doing, Yuy?!" Duo hissed. "I asked you to look after Hilde, not _marry_ her!"
"Duo!" Relena grabbed his arm. "Stop it! You said you would behave! Please!"
Duo glared at Heero and then stepped back, releasing him. "Yeah, well... I couldn't help myself..."
Heero, his expression back to its normal sternness, rubbed his throat. He stared at Duo and then took a deep breath. "How and when?" he asked.
"Duo came back a few days ago," Relena explained quickly. "He was picked up by some miners and he lost his memory."
"Betcha didn't expect _me_ to return did you?" Duo demanded of Heero. "So sorry to disappoint your happy little plans!"
Heero's eyes flickered. "It is good you're alive," he said.
Duo snorted. "Like I _believe_ you!"
"Heero?" Hilde's voice filtered downstairs to them. "Who is it?"
Duo pushed past Heero and looked up the stairs. "HILDE!!! Hey, I'm BAAAACCCK!!!" he yelled.
Relena groaned and Heero's face darkened.
There was a long, profound silence from upstairs. Then the sound of pounding feet and Hilde appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked down at Duo who was staring up at her.
Hilde's face went deathly white and she clutched the banister to stop herself from falling. "D-Duo... no... no... It _can't_ be! You're DEAD! DEAD!!!" she shrieked wildly.
Duo opened his arms wide. "But it is me, Hildey. I've returned from Hell!"
Hilde swayed, her eyes glazed and she started to crumple. Heero pushed past Duo and ran up to her, catching her as she fell. He held Hilde to him and glared down at Duo.
Relena jabbed Duo in the ribs. "Stop this!" she said. "You said you wanted to talk, not play games! Behaving like this is not going to solve _anything_!"
Duo rubbed his ribs. "Maybe not, but _I_ feel better for it!"
Heero was bringing Hilde down the stairs; she was walking unsteadily, clinging to him and staring, wide-eyed, at Duo's face.
Relena looked at them. "Perhaps if we moved into the living room we could talk like civilized people?" she suggested.
Heero nodded curtly and half-dragged Hilde into the next room. Relena and Duo followed, Duo taking in the furnishings and the general attractiveness of the room.
"Nice, very nice," he said. "I'm guessing you decorated Hildey?"
Hilde swallowed. "Y-yes," she answered hoarsely. Heero had seated her on a chair and was standing behind her, hands lightly on her shoulders. He squeezed Hilde's shoulders gently and she glanced quickly up at him and smiled.
Duo seethed. "I hear I'm to congratulate you on your engagement!" he burst out. "Fast work, Yuy, not only do you look after Hilde, but also you put yourself in my place to!" he looked bitterly at Hilde. "One bridegroom is as good as another to you I take it!"
Hilde was confused. "W-what do you mean?" she quavered.
Duo's eyes widened and he looked at Heero. "You didn't _tell_ her!" he said incredulously. "You kept a secret from your own fiancée!"
"You were dead, why upset Hilde further?" said Heero. "It was the right thing to do."
Hilde looked from Duo to Heero. "Please... what are you talking about?"
Duo fixed his gaze back on Hilde. "I was going to ask you to marry me when I returned," he said harshly.
Hilde's breath caught in her throat. "Duo..."
"I had plans to present you with a big shiny rock - much like that one on your finger now!" he pointed.
Hilde self-consciously covered her left hand with her right as she looked up at Heero. "Is this... true?"
Heero sighed. "Yes."
Tears welled in Hilde's eyes and she looked back at Duo. "I-I had no idea... I never thought that you... you wanted to... Duo..." the tears began to fall down her cheeks. "Why didn't you _tell_ me?! Why didn't you let me know that you... _cared_ that much!" she sobbed accusingly.
Duo rubbed his forehead. "Because I didn't know how..." he said softly, sadly. "Because I didn't realize... didn't think you loved me that much."
Relena heaved a slight sigh of relief. *Thank goodness, it looks like Duo's going to behave himself now...*
"Duo... you fool..." Hilde got to her feet and lifted her eyes to his. "Blind... stupid..." she trembled and Heero reached out a hand to steady her.
Duo's eyes flashed. "Obviously you didn't care for me that much anyway!" he snarled. "Seeing how quickly you hooked up with my _best friend_!"
Relena winced. *Ulp... spoke too soon, he's still angry...*
Heero's eyes narrowed and he encircled Hilde in his arms. "Stop this!" he said. "You didn't see her after we heard you died..."
"I can see that friendship obviously means nothing to _you_!" Duo cried. "I _trusted_ you! You've stolen..."
"I stole nothing!" Heero flashed back at him.
"Stop it! Stop it please!!" Hilde cried putting herself between the two men. "This isn't going to achieve anything except a fight! And that _mustn't_ happen!"
"I agree," said Relena quietly. "Duo... perhaps you and Hilde should talk alone."
Duo's eyes narrowed and he looked at Hilde.
Hilde nodded. "Yes, I think that's a good idea."
Heero frowned. "_I_ don't."
Hilde smiled tremulously at him. "Heero... please? It'll be okay."
He looked down at her and then nodded resignedly. "Alright, I'll be outside if..."
She smiled. "I know."
Relena and Heero left the room, leaving Duo and Hilde looking at each other.
Hilde swallowed. "Duo, I want to say, I'm glad you're alive and I'm... sorry..."
"Not half as much as I am," said Duo. He looked reproachfully at her. "Damnit Hilde, why couldn't you believe in me? Why did you have to cast me off so quickly?"
Hilde stared at him. "Believe in you?" she asked. "Believe in what? That you were alive? Duo... I held onto that hope for months! I was a walking wreck - abusing my friends and totally unable to do anything!" she gulped back her tears as she remembered the awful early months. "I wanted to die... hell... I even contemplated suicide!"
Duo's eyes widened. "Hilde..."
"I loved you so much," she choked. "And I never knew if you felt as strongly as I did... because you'd never say 'I love you'!"
"Do I have to fucking say it?" Duo yelled furiously. "Didn't I show you how I felt?!"
Hilde shook her head. "Words are important to me, Duo!" she cried angrily. "Was it that hard to say? Really?"
"Does Mr Heero Yuy muttered sweet words of love into your ears?" Duo shot at her. "Tell you he loves you?"
"YES!!" Hilde screamed at him. "For your information, he does!"
Duo rocked back on his heels. "He... does?" he said in a small voice.
Hilde wiped her eyes. "Duo... I hung onto my love for you until it almost destroyed me. I ran away from L2 Colony and started life on Earth because I couldn't bear the memories. I never intended to fall in love with Heero," she gave a watery laugh. "God, I kept pushing him at Relena, wanting him to find happiness as a reward for taking such good care of me..." she looked pleadingly at Duo. "I never meant... _he_ never intended... Duo, it just _happened_..." her voice trailed away and she swallowed convulsively.
Duo stared at the floor for a very long time, listening to Hilde struggle to compose herself. Finally he lifted his head and looked at her.
She was so damned beautiful, he thought. Despite the tear tracks on her face and the red rims around her eyes. He recalled the gamine teenager with the cute face she had been and compared it to the slender, mature woman before him. He recalled her face when he had seen her and Heero unloading the car only a few moments before. Duo's heart ached with a sudden sense of loss... the Hilde he'd known was gone...
"You do love him, don't you?" he asked her gently.
Hilde sniffed. "Yes," she swallowed. "I'm so sorry..."
"And he loves you."
"And he looks after you?"
Duo looked deep into her eyes. "Are you truly happy, Hilde?"
She looked back at him steadily. "Yes Duo, I am happy."
Duo sighed. "Oi oi..." he said softly. "I guess there really is nothing more to say, is there?" he smiled sadly at her. "I can't force you to love me again and I don't want to hurt you... believe me Hilde, I _never_ wanted to hurt you..."
Hilde held out her hand. "Duo... I wish..."
"Shhh..." he took her hand and drew closer to her. "Don't say anything, I don't want to hear it," he squeezed he hand. "But can I ask you one last thing?"
Hilde nodded. "Anything..."
A ghost of Duo's old smile flickered across his face. "Now that's a dangerous thing to say..." he joked.
"Seriously," he put his hands on her shoulders. "Let me kiss you goodbye, Hilde."
Hilde smiled and nodded. "Alright..." she closed her eyes and tilted her head.
Duo touched her cheek with gentle fingers. "Look at me," he said softly. Hilde opened her eyes and he leaned down and kissed her lips.
Hilde could feel Duo's love for her in the kiss and his pain. She ached with sadness for him, but no roaring spark of love for him threatened to overwhelm her.
They parted and Hilde stepped back out of his arms.
"Goodbye, Hilde," said Duo.
She shook her head. "No, not 'goodbye' Duo," she said firmly. "I don't plan on seeing you disappear for ever... we've shared too much to just sever all ties."
Duo grimaced. "Hilde... if you think I can..."
"Duo, I know you're hurting," Hilde said gently. "But it will lessen, believe me. We were friends before we were lovers... and I don't want to lose your friendship."
Duo sighed. "I'll try, Hilde, I'll try," he promised.
She smiled. "Thank you, Duo."
Duo exited the living room and closed the door behind him. He looked up and saw Relena and Heero standing not two feet away. They both looked very tense. Duo laughed suddenly.
"Didn't you two trust me?" he asked.
Relena and Heero glanced at each other and then at him. "No," they said in chorus and Duo rolled his eyes.
Relena stepped forward. "Is everything... I mean, have you...?"
"I'm finished here," said Duo. He fixed his eyes on Heero's face. "You look after Hilde," he said.
"Because if you don't I'll come back and kick your ass!" Duo threatened.
A small smile flickered over Heero's face. "You can try," he said.
Duo glanced at Relena. "Let's go," he said.
Relena nodded. "Goodbye Heero," she said politely. "Please say goodbye to Hilde for me."
He nodded and they departed.
Relena didn't ask Duo what had happened between him and Hilde as they walked down the drive and into the street. Nor did Duo offer up any information. The longhaired man kept unusually silent, his head down and his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jacket, a frown marring his brow. Relena considered drawing _something_ out of him, but decided to hold her tongue and let Duo talk to her in his own time - if he wished.
The silence between them remained all the way back to Relena's house. She pushed open the front door and they divested themselves of their jackets and went into her office. Relena went over to the coffee machine on the sideboard.
"Um... coffee, Duo?" she asked, finally cracking the past half-hour's silence.
"Yeah..." Duo's voice cracked suddenly.
Alarmed by the desolation in his tone, Relena whirled to look at him. With a low cry she ran and caught him as his knees buckled and he started to fall. Duo's weight bore Relena down until she was kneeling on the floor, holding him in her arms. He gripped her upper arms fiercely as he cried, his shoulders shaking with the intensity. Relena stroked his head and rocked him gently. A part of her mind reminded her that she had once been in this position with Heero, but she pushed the memory aside and concentrated on the here and now.
"Duo... Duo, I understand," she whispered. "Let me help you..."
Heero stood at the door and watched Duo and Relena disappear down the street. He half-wished that he had been able to tell Duo how happy he was to see him alive - whatever consequences that held for Heero's future with Hilde. However, Duo's behaviour, while understandable, made it hard for Heero to check his own anger. He sighed and turned away, shutting the door behind him. Going back into the living room he looked for Hilde.
She was sitting on the window seat, idly stroking AJ's head, her eyes staring out into the distance.
Heero hesitated. He had no idea what she and Duo had said and he was almost afraid to ask. He was sure... well, almost sure... that Hilde was not going to suddenly bolt to Duo, but he was still getting used to loving someone and doubt was beginning to nibble at him.
Hilde sighed. Heero's eyes widened ever so slightly and he looked warily at her. She lifted her head and turned to him.
"How long have you been standing there?" she asked with a slight smile.
Heero shrugged. "A while."
Hilde looked down at her hands. "Seeing Duo..." she said slowly. "It was quite a surprise, wasn't it?"
Hilde looked up at him and laughed. "A _bit_? Honestly Heero! You are the _master_ of understatement!" she shook her head and stood up. "I thought I was going to die of shock when I saw him..."
"And now?" Heero asked carefully, he watched her face closely.
Hilde sighed. "I'm glad he's alive," she admitted. "And I'm sorry I hurt him so much, but..." she fiddled with the ends of her hair and glanced at Heero. "I'm not sorry, that I'm with you."
Heero felt a profound sense of relief wash over him. His stiff posture relaxed and Hilde laughed.
"Heero!" she cried. "You were worried that I would fall in love with Duo again!"
He looked away from her. "Maybe... you..."
She went to him and laid a hand on his arm. "I did love him, and I won't forget that, but..." she looped her arms around his neck and gently pushed his face so that he was looking at her. "Now, what's that Japanese phrase you taught me? Ah, Ai...shite...ru Heero."
Heero put his arms around her and looked down at her. "Your accent is appalling," he told her sternly.
Hilde made a face. "Is _that_ all you can say?" she pouted.
"No," Heero moved his face closer to hers. "I can say... Aishiteru, kimi no koto wa itsudemo mamoru, Hilde."
Hilde blinked. "What does _that_ mean?"
Heero smiled and kissed her.
Duo sat on Relena's couch in her office. His expression was one of deep embarrassment.
"Ah... about just now..." he began.
"Don't worry about it," said Relena as she set a cup of coffee in front of him and took a chair opposite him. "Believe me, I completely understand."
Duo looked slyly at her. "Oh? And what did _you_ do Miss _Peace_craft? When you were given the news?"
Relena blushed faintly. "Duo, I hardly think..."
"Uh uh," Duo shook a finger at her. "I just blubbed in front of you! I'll thank you to have the decency to tell me how _you_ reacted!"
Relena drew in a deep breath. "Alright," she said. "But if you _ever_ tell anyone else I will have you... you... well, I'll abandon my ideals long enough to kill you!"
Duo raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"I think Une knows," Relena said. "But I'm not going to ask her..." she bit her lip. "Well, Heero and Hilde told me and I was very polite about it while they were with me," she blushed a bit more. "But after they left I... er... threw a screaming hissy fit..."
Both of Duo's eyebrows went up at this and a choked chuckle escaped him.
Relena went really red and swallowed. "I said alot of... things... threw several objects at the wall and kicked pieces of furniture..." she coughed. "For about two hours."
Duo did laugh now. "Didn't people _hear_ you?" he asked.
Relena smiled faintly. "Well, Une knew about Heero and Hilde coming to see me and I guess she knew what it was about, so she made sure that there was nobody around. When I'd stopped and was just sniveling at my desk, she knocked on the door and asked if the cleaners should come in as soon as I'd left for the day!" Relena shook her head. "And she _never_ said a word about it otherwise."
Duo shrugged. "Maybe she went through that in private after Treize died," he suggested. He looked at Relena and grinned. "If the former Queen of the World can throw a temper tantrum..."
"Duo..." Relena growled warningly.
He held up his hands. "Okay, okay, I won't say a _word_, I promise!" he sobered then and looked into her eyes. "I appreciate you sharing that with me, Relena."
She smiled. "That's alright Duo."
Duo stretched and got to his feet. "Well, I best be off," he said.
Relena blinked. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Duo looked down at her. "Well, I did what I wanted to do," he said. "I should go now."
"Go?" Relena got to her feet. "Go where? Duo, you have no home, no job and no money!"
He grimaced. "Sure, rub it in..." he plucked at his shirt. "Still, you have a point, I don't even own these clothes... _you_ bought them for me!"
"Look, I'm happy to help you out," said Relena. "Do you want to visit any of the other pilots? Trowa? Quatre? Wufei?"
Duo blinked. "_Why_ the hell would I want to visit _Wufei_?" he queried, his train of thought derailed.
Relena spread her hands. "Well, he was a Gundam pilot, I don't know, maybe you two have something in common..."
Duo snorted. "Not likely! He thinks I'm irresponsible and I think he has a brass pole up his... *ahem*... sorry 'bout that..."
Relena fought the urge to giggle as Duo glance apologetically at her. "Well, Wufei does seem to be more relaxed since he and Sally got married," she explained.
Duo's jaw dropped. "Wh...AT??"
"Wufei and Sally got married seven months ago," Relena expanded. "And I think Sally's pregnant... three months... Duo? Are you alright?"
Duo slapped the front of his forehead several times. "I don't know," he muttered. "You're dead for a few months and the world turns upside-down..." he stared at Relena. "_Pregnant_?? Really?!"
She nodded and Duo laughed. "Oh God, I would have _loved_ to have seen Wuffie's face when he got _that_ piece of news!" he shook his head. "Well, then I _definitely_ don't want to see Wufei in that case, I don't think I could stand being around a... couple at the moment..."
"Hmmm... Then I guess Quatre is out too," said Relena thoughtfully.
"Don't tell me _he's_ married!"
Relena shook her head. "No, but he is currently dating Trowa's sister."
"_Catherine_?" Duo blinked. "How did Trowa take it?"
"Apparently he's happier about it than they are," said Relena. "He's been seen smiling an awful lot..."
Duo rolled his eyes. "Great..." he groaned. "My life is in pieces and everyone else is playing happy families!" he sighed. "Looks as if I'll have to go back to L2 and be a Sweeper again..." he looked wistful. "Alone again."
Relena pressed her fingertips together. "Duo... you could always just accompany me for a while," she suggested hesitantly. "I have to go to L4 for a conference tomorrow and I wouldn't mind... the company."
Duo rubbed the back of his head. "Well... I guess I don't have any better offers..."
Relena gave him a slightly peeved look. "Why _thank you_," she said sarcastically.
"Sorry!" Duo grinned disarmingly at her. "I didn't mean it like that! But..." he shrugged. "I don't want to be leeching off you, Relena, I need to get some sort of job and..."
"Oh, but I _need_ a new security guard," said Relena carelessly. "One of my former ones is in hospital with a few broken ribs caused by..."
"Heheheh... Sorry about that." Duo flushed. "Okay, okay... I get the point!"
Relena smiled. "So, you'll come?"
Duo smiled back at her. "Sure, I'll tag along and keep an eye on ya. Who knows? It might be fun!"
Five Years later:
Heero adjusted his collar and checked his watch for the third time in ten minutes.
"Hilde!" He called up the stairs. "We'll be late."
"I _know_!" his wife's slightly breathless voice echoed down to him. "I'm coming!"
"Do you need some help?" Heero asked.
"No, no... Everything's under... control... ACK!" There was a thud, a giggle and a yowl. Heero raised an eyebrow as a ginger streak zoomed down the stairs and out of the open door.
"I take it you tripped over the cat," he said mildly.
"However did you guess?" Hilde came down the stairs a little awkwardly, thrown slightly off-balance by the small burden she held on one hip.
Heero smiled and went to her and relieved her of the weight of their three-year-old son. Shinobu Yuy yawned and rubbed his blue eyes.
"Where we goin'?" he asked.
"To a wedding, Shinobu," said Hilde. "Of two of Mama and Papa's best friends."
"What's a wedding?"
Hilde rolled her eyes. "Hoo boy, you can explain this one!" she said to Heero. "I'll go and get the wedding present."
Heero looked reproachfully at her. Hilde laughed. "It's a mission," she teased.
"Mission acknowledged," he said with a smile.
Heero carried Shinobu out to the car and buckled him into the car seat, all the while trying to explain what a wedding was. He reflected that having an inquisitive small son meant that he could no longer keep his answers short. 'What', 'why' and 'how' were Shinobu's favourite words at the moment and he always expected to be answered! Still, Heero was glad that the boy had inherited Hilde's outgoing temperament and not his more serious demeanour.
Hilde hurried out, locking the door behind her, and got into the front passenger seat. In her hands she held a large well-wrapped present. Shinobu was _very_ interested in the present and had to be quickly distracted. Heero started the car and they were on their way.
The church wasn't far, just half-an-hour away. People were still arriving as they got there, Hilde remarked that obviously not everyone ran to Heero Yuy time, which Heero ignored.
After parking the car, they walked inside.
"Heero! Hilde!" A familiar figure approached them.
"Wufei!" Hilde smiled at the Chinese man. "How are you? Heero and I haven't see you for a few months."
"Well, things have been quite busy lately," Wufei explained.
"How is Sally? And the girls?" Heero asked.
"We're fine," Sally Po Chang stood up to greet Heero and Hilde as they approached the front pews. Beside Sally sat two little girls, one a bit over four and the other just two. Sally bent over them. "Mayling, June, say hello," she prompted.
"Hello!" said Mayling brightly smiling at them. She looked a lot like Sally, except her hair was black. June gazed at them with big black eyes and giggled. She seemed very interested in Shinobu who matched her regard.
"Let them sit together," said Sally. "June quite likes Shinobu."
Heero put Shinobu down next to June and Mayling and the children began giggling and chattering. Mayling would from time to time try and act more aloof, but she kept getting drawn in.
Wufei smiled proudly. "Mayling will be starting school next year," he told Heero and Hilde as they sat down. "But she should be well ahead, Sally and I have already taught her to read, and she can speak some Chinese."
Heero shook his head. "Children grow up so fast," he said with a touch of sadness in his voice.
Hilde pressed his hand. "I know," she said. "Why Wufei, next thing you know Mayling will be dating!"
Wufei frowned. "Not until she's thirty-five," he paused. "If _ever_!"
Sally rolled her eyes. "Wufei..."
Hilde laughed. "I'm sure there will be someone worthy of her!" she said.
"But you should watch out for Heero's kid," said a familiar voice nearby. "He might turn out to be a sneaky as his dad!"
They all turned and saw Duo standing by the pew, his mischievous grin on his face.
Heero got to his feet. "You're not going to let that go are you?" he said resignedly.
Duo chuckled. "Stop using the only ammunition I have against you? Hell no!"
"Duo!" Hilde shot him a reproving frown, although Heero simply smiled slightly.
He just smiled disarmingly at her and Hilde's frown melted into a soft smile. She got up and hugged Duo. "How are you feeling?" she asked him.
Duo swallowed. "As if I'm going up against a hundred mobile dolls in a souped-up Leo! Why did I let you talk me into this?" he wailed. "I'm too young!"
"_I_ talked you into this!" Hilde gasped indignantly. "Duo Maxwell! I did _no_ such thing! All I said was that you had been with Relena for five years and wasn't it time you did something about it!"
"I call that talking me into it," said Duo, he looked appealingly at Heero. "Don't you agree, Yuy?"
Heero raised an eyebrow. "I'm not getting involved in this one," he said calmly.
"Duo!" Quatre raced up to him. "Come on! The ceremony is about to start... oh, hi Heero and Hilde... nice to see you! Come on Duo!"
"It's too late to run, isn't it?" said Duo plaintively as Quatre dragged him up the aisle.
"Is Relena being bullied by her bridesmaids as much as Duo is by his best man?" Hilde asked Sally as they watched Quatre push Duo into place at the top of the aisle, next to Trowa - the other groomsman.
Sally shook her head. "I went to see her earlier and she was having a small bout of pre-wedding nerves, but Mariemaya and Catherine both told me that she's really very happy," she said.
"That's good," said Hilde taking her seat next to Heero. "I see that Zechs and Noin both managed to make it."
"I don't think Zechs would miss his sister's wedding for _anything_!" said Sally.
At that moment the familiar strains of the wedding march began. Sally pulled June onto her lap and Wufei hushed Mayling, while Heero pulled Shinobu onto his lap. Hilde turned and looked down the aisle.
Relena walked up in a beautiful white gown attended by Catherine and Marimaya both wearing pale blue. Relena's eyes were fixed on Duo, but as she passed Heero and Hilde she glanced briefly at them and smiled.
Hilde smiled back and Heero nodded. As Relena moved on Hilde sighed slightly and nestled closer to Heero. He put one arm around her and hugged her shoulders, with his other hand he held Shinobu gently. Hilde laid her head on his shoulder and listened as the priest began the ceremony. Memories swirled through her mind, of her and Duo and what they had once shared, Duo's 'death', her grief and her awakening love for Heero. Hilde looked up at Heero's face and felt no regrets for the change in direction that her life had taken.
*Things are just as they should be. Heero and I are happy, we have Shinobu and each other, and now we're here watching the two other most important people in our lives commit to each other...*
"Perfect," murmured Hilde.
"What is?" Heero asked softly.
She smiled at him. "Everything," she said and turned her attention back to watching Duo and Relena take their vows.
I'm sure alot of people would like to know _what_ the title means! ^_^ Well, it basically translates as 'I will always protect you' - something that Heero does so well for Hilde here!