I Shaved My Legs for This?
On the way from the curb to the door, Hilde patted her hair down making sure the hold managed to stay despite the wild taxi ride. She straightened her dress, balanced precariously on one heel to wipe the smudge off the toe of the other, and did a last minute check of her make-up. All was ready.
Hilde knocked softly, just enough to let Duo know she was there, but not so hard to make him think of her as she'd been – a soldier, a scrapyard worker, an MS pilot. She was a girl; a young woman and her mirror at home reflected that image perfectly.
No one answered the door.
With a little more force, she knocked again and glanced at her watch. It was just after six, and they had reservations for dinner at seven. Leaving soon would give them some time to have a drink in the lounge, talk about something other than the yard, the war or the latest remodeling project he was up to.
The door remained shut.
A hint of a frown nudged at the set pleasant look she held, just in case Duo had been in the bathroom and hadn't heard the knock. No matter that she'd knocked twice – once hard enough to scuff her knuckle. Her hand on the knob, she turned it and walked in, calling out his name as she went.
Duo's living room was how it always had been, books and parts catalogs on tables, floor and seating surfaces. Very little in the way of clutter, otherwise, most of his toys he kept in the garage out behind the house.
"Duo?" Hilde called, keeping her voice low but modulated. She bit the inside of her lip; the frown was more pronounced. When there was no answer, she peeked into the bedroom. Duo wasn't there, and other than an unmade bed, it looked as though he hadn't been in it since he'd gotten up that morning.
The bathroom door was open, the lights off. Almost despising herself for doing so, Hilde opened the shower door and felt the wall – dry as a bone. He hadn't showered. He wasn't ready. He forgot. Again.
In the unaccustomed heels, she should have turned an ankle, slipped on the linoleum in the kitchen, tripped down the concrete stairs or at the very least, fell over digging divots in the lawn as she marched out the back. Out back where music played. Out back where the sounds of an engine being tested revved. Out back where the man who was supposed to be ready for dinner was currently half inside the engine block of his latest custom job.
She switched off the stereo at the same time as she yelled. "Duo Maxwell!"
He jerked, his head bumping on the propped hood. A curse flew as he rubbed his crown and glared over his shoulder. "What's the deal, Hil?"
The engine was shut down, and Heero stepped out of the driver's seat, peering over the hood at her. His eyes opened wide and he gave her a smile. She glared at him.
"Do you notice anything different about me?" she ground out in false sweetness. Painfully applied make-up be damned. She was pissed, and just a hair short of ripping every three foot length strand of his from his ever-loving head!
Duo blinked and wiped at his hands with a rag even dirtier. "Uh... you got your hair cut?" Heero came around to stand by him and leaned over to whisper in his ear. Duo's eyes widened and he grinned. "Hey! You're all dressed up! Going out somewhere nice?"
"A–a–h... Duo!" Hilde sputtered, losing energy faster than a dying battery. "You've forgotten again." She nearly slumped to the floor, shoulders bowed, eyes closed, even her pantyhose decided to weep.
"Forgot... oh shit." Duo looked to Heero and back to Hilde. "I–I uh..." He looked back to Heero again. "I told Hilde the other day we'd go check out that new restaurant. The French one in Market Square. Wanna go?"
Hilde's mouth dropped as she looked from one to the other. Heero was looking at his stained tee shirt and ripped jeans.
"Don't worry about it. You can borrow that blue shirt you liked and those black slacks I wore Christmastime at Quatre's." Duo was nodding his head and Heero answered with a nod of his own. Hilde almost forgave him that he'd invited someone along by his smile alone. "There, we're set. Just give us ten minutes and we'll go get dolled up some."
A bit uncertain and much less upset now that their plans were underway – if somewhat deviated from the original schedule. She smiled in return, and cleared the waver from her throat.
"Good. I'll just call the restaurant to make sure our table will hold three."
The emphasis was lost on the two as they passed her, discussing what could possibly be making the ka-chink sound. Hilde followed at a much more sedate rate from her first pass. The discussion had turned into a debate when she reached the house – she could hear them toss out "transmission clutch" and "piston valve", from the bedroom, as drawers and closet door were opened.
Duo emerged, saying over his shoulder, "I bet you a beer at Charlie's it's in the tranny. I cored the engine and lined the heads myself. So that's out." He had a towel wrapped round his waist, and entered the bathroom after a quick, "make yourself at home." comment to Hilde.
A mild curse sounded from the bedroom, and Heero walked out, blue shirt in hand and a scowl on his face. "The shirt has a stain on it," he announced, seeing Hilde standing halfway between the kitchen and the living room. "I think it's from part of his sandwich that fell out the back at last Thursday's game. It doesn't look like it's greasy." Heero was almost muttering to himself as he picked at the stain, carrying the shirt to the kitchen sink. "Think it'll dry before we have to leave?" he asked, wetting a clean cloth.
Hilde turned to watch him dab water on the shirt. "I–I believe so. But if it will help, I can iron it while you shower."
Heero flashed her one of his rare, wide smiles. "Could you? That'd be great." He scrubbed a bit on the spot. "There, that should do it." Shutting off the water, he handed her the shirt and went back into the bedroom. "I should only be a minute."
She snorted softly, holding the shirt by its collar, her eyes going from the bathroom door to the open bedroom one. Shaking her head, Hilde dropped her purse and light wrap on the arm of the couch, and went to dig out the iron and ironing board. As she was setting it up, Heero walked out just as Duo had – a towel around the waist only. She couldn't help dropping her eyesight and hastily brought her gaze up.
Oblivious to her momentary indiscretion, Heero pushed open the bathroom door. "Time's up. My turn." The door shut, giving her a bare glimpse of steam, and a shadowy image just beyond.
Duo dashed from the bathroom to the bedroom, hair pinned back out of the way, and a towel held to his hips. Hilde stood with the iron in hand, watching the door close behind him. The iron hissed softly, reminding her she did have a job to do. In no time, the spot was dry, the shirt ironed and hanging off the back of the couch.
With his hair loose, wearing the outfit she'd given him for his Chosen Day, Duo reentered the bathroom, leaving the door open. Hilde watched as he divided and combed each section of hair; raising a hand raised to her own head, she wondered what she'd look like with long hair. In the mirror over the sink, she saw that Duo hadn't buttoned the shirt, and his movement pulled it open to expose his chest.
The shower shut off, drawing Hilde's attention. She looked in time to see Heero step from the tub and reach for a towel. Never had she expected to see more than a shirtless Heero at the swimming pool. The difference between the images she knew would remain with her for a long time to come. Towel secured around his hips, Heero bumped Duo aside and began to brush his teeth. Without speaking, the two moved around one another as if in a choreographed dance.
Hilde suddenly realized she was gnawing on her lips. Her deliberately outlined and made up lips. She closed her eyes and counted a quick ten; a sweep of her hand had a spot cleared on the couch for her to sit and repair the damage. Looking in the compact mirror, she blotted patches of equalizing foundation and reapplied the goop. Now she knew why most ladies held sedate expressions – too easy to crack your face and waste twenty minutes.
When both Heero and Duo were ready, Hilde had to admit they looked good. An extra body was definitely not in her plans, but with Duo around, plans often went awry. A short-lived argument on whose car to take was settled when Duo remembered he was still carting several boxes of interesting parts he kept forgetting to drop off at Howard's. At least in Heero's car, they could all squeeze into the front seat.
Not that it made a difference where she sat. Heero and Duo talked around her the entire way to the restaurant and nearly stifled her every attempt to join the conversation.
Their table was designed to seat two comfortably; with the three ranged around the tiny bistro table, she felt as though she would have to balance her plate on her lap to eat in comfort. And the merits of Leo construction versus a Taurus' versatility was still being bandied about.
"Come off it, Heero," Duo demanded waving part of his breadstick for emphasis. "The Taurus was a better MS. More of them, with decent pilots and who knows how the war would have turned out."
"I piloted both, and I still say the Leo was better equipped." Heero reached for one of his own breadsticks in the basket. Hilde saved her drink from being knocked over. "The only thing lacking in a Leo was its inability for space use."
Duo snorted. "Don't forget, I piloted both as well, and what goods an MS if not for space use?" Hilde was surprised when he turned to her suddenly. "Help me out here, Hil. Tell this maniac that the Taurus was a better MS."
Hilde sipped on her drink. This wasn't the enlightening conversation she had wanted to enjoy. Heero waited for her input as Duo continued to ramble low-voiced comments about suicide missions in tin cans.
Saved from furthering the munitions talk, Hilde pushed items out of the way to make room for their main course. Instant silence between her male counterparts settled, as forks were raised. Hilde thanked the waiter as he slipped another drink by her side and retrieved her empties.
She tasted a bit of her meal, and glanced from Heero to Duo as a sharp metallic ring sounded. Heero glared, and Duo retreated with a slice of whatever meat Heero had on his plate.
"Eat your own food," Heero growled, placing his arm between the two as a defensive measure.
Hilde cleared her throat. "So, Heero," she began. "Have you read any good books lately?"
Heero looked up, his fork halfway to his mouth. "Books?" He shot a look to Duo and back. "I've read a couple manuals on the new webcoding program we're about to implement."
His snort loud enough to turn a few heads, Duo dived in. "She means have you read that Harper Lane's latest thriller." His eyes rolled in exaggerated fashion. "The literary world rises and sets with that author according to Hilde."
"That's not true!" Hilde argued. She was frowning, but cracking her face was the least of her concerns. "I was simply making conversation." She glared at the both of them. "Normal, everyday conversation that has nothing to do with mobile suits or the inner workings of an engine."
"Oh." Duo's expression showed his confusion and he exchanged looks with Heero. At the man's silent communication, Duo nodded and turned back to Hilde. "I read in the paper the other day that a new exhibit is opening next Saturday at the Perryman Building. I'm thinking maybe we should go check it out." He went back to eating.
Blinking in surprise, Hilde's displeasure instantly evaporated. "Is that so?" She had never been to a real exhibit before. "What will be on display? Some new artist, or ancient artifacts?" She wondered if she had time to go shopping, and what ladies wore to such an event.
Duo's confused expression was back. "Nah, nothing like that." He shoveled in another bite.
Heero nudged Duo with his elbow and jerked his head towards her. Duo paused, fork still between his lips and raised a brow. Heero bobbed his head and pointed his chin at Hilde again. Duo swallowed and sat his fork down.
"They're showing manufacturing and construction equipment," he supplied meeting her gaze.
She gulped the rest of her drink and signaled for another. "What makes you think I'd want to go check that out?" she asked, striving to keep the irritation from her voice.
"I just thought you'd like to go check out the latest in heavy machinery." Duo picked up his fork. "We should look at getting the back crane replaced, and we could always use a new lift. I can only repair the damned thing so many times, you know."
Her refilled arrived and Hilde snatched it from the waiter, downing it while he stood. "another" she gasped, catching her breath.
"Haven't you had enough, Hilde?" Heero asked. "You haven't touched your food. Don't you care for it?" Duo stopped eating to glance at Hilde's plate.
"Don't worry about it, Heero," she bit out in clipped tones. "This has turned into the biggest disaster and nothing I can do will make it worse at this point."
At her tone, both Heero and Duo looked at her. Duo wiped his mouth.
"Uh, Hilde," he started, shooting a look at Heero and twisting the napkin in his lap. "What's so bad?"
With a deliberate look at Heero, and back to Duo, she snorted. "I had thought it was going to be you and me tonight. I even had my hair done." She sucked up the last ice cube in her glass and crunched on it. "Hell, I even shaved my legs. And for what?" Her hand arced in a near circle. "This?" She started to laugh, and wound up with her face in her palms instead.
Heero's eyes widened and then narrowed. He stared at Duo and opened his mouth.
"What?" Duo demanded, thankful for something he understood a little more. He watched Hilde from the corner of his eyes.
Instead of saying anything, Heero looked back at Hilde. His expression softened minutely. "She likes you."
Duo blinked. "What?"
"She likes you." Heero was smiling at Duo now. Hilde raised her head, brows thick and drawn tight.
"Of course she does, dumbass. We're friends." Duo glared, refusing to look at Hilde again and feel that tiny sense of helplessness.
"No," Heero said leaning closer. "She likes you." He nodded his head, his smile firmly in place. Duo's look became puzzled. "You know, like how Relena liked me?"
Confusion cleared. "Oh." A handful of seconds later, "OH!" He looked at Hilde, his eyebrows disappearing up in hairline. "No way. Not Hilde."
"I'm right here, you two," Hilde told them. She straightened and looked at her empty glass. "It's not like it was a big secret, Duo. Sheesh. Someone would think you lived under a rock."
"See," Heero said with a pleased expression, going back to his dinner.
"See?" Duo exclaimed, unable to draw his attention from the girl who'd always been one of the guys. "See what?"
"Just forget it," Hilde said. She tilted one of the old empties into her mouth, draining the watered alcohol from the bottom.
"Hilde, listen," Duo began in a rush. "I don't understand. I mean…"
"…you're a friend. Someone he trusts but…" Heero added, looking up from his plate.
"…I don't think of you …"
"…that way. More like a …"
"…sister or one of the guys…"
Hilde lolled her head from one speaker to the other. Standing abruptly, she nearly shouted, "Stop it!"
Twin poleaxed expressions stared up at her. Duo leaned closer to Heero and whispered, "Think she's had too much to drink?" Heero nodded, keeping Hilde under surveillance.
She closed her eyes and counted to three before giving up. Disappointment tasted bitter on top of the liquor she'd swallowed. "Never mind." She faced Duo and gave him a sad smile. "You've never had a clue, and I'll have to live with it."
"Sure, Hil." Duo smiled back uncertainly. Heero bumped his shoulder and nodded his head in her direction. Duo hurriedly got to his feet. "Uh… you want me to get you another drink?"
Enlightenment, though late, was a bright and shiny thing; almost floodlight bright, Hilde blinked several times in rapid succession. Her lips parted as her eyes darted from one man to the other. She smiled, slow at first, becoming a soft chuckle as other glimpses of their past was processed. It'd been there all this time and she had been blinded to it.
"Hilde?" Duo asked, stepping around the table to touch her hand. "You going to be okay?"
Sobering, Hilde squeezed his hand and smiled again. The ache threatened to choke her, but Duo held no blame for this one. "Yeah, I'm going to be okay." She let go of his hand, and moved away. "I think since I'm all dressed up, I might as well go dancing."
"Dancing?" Duo asked as though it was a foreign word. And maybe to him, it was.
Hilde nodded. "Yes, dancing. I haven't been in awhile." She pushed him back to his chair. "You and Heero enjoy dinner, and I'll catch up with you later."
Heero half rose. "I don't think you should be out on your own right now." He was frowning slightly, his expression serious. "If you can wait for a few minutes, Duo and I would be happy to take you dancing."
The vision of him stepping out of the tub flashed before her eyes, and she wavered. "No, I don't think so." Hilde shook her head, firming her shaky resolve. "With you two around, I'll never get asked to dance." She stilled the quivering in her chin and gave Heero a quick hug. "Take care of him," she whispered in his ear.
At Heero's bewildered look, she began to chuckle again. "You two are really something."
Exchanging looks, Duo gave her a little wave and Heero a short-lived smile. "So, I'll call you tomorrow, k?" Duo offered, voice hopeful.
"Sure, Duo." Hilde's lips twisted slightly. "Just not too early." She moved to leave, and the two had already turned back to their meal.
"I'm still eating that," Heero's voice was low but clear.
"Not any more." Duo's just as clear.
"Eat your own food, Duo, and leave mine alone."
Hilde shook her head. Not necessarily clueless, the two knew on some level. As she exited the restaurant, she hoped one day she'd share the same comfortable companionship with someone. But not tonight. Tonight, she was going to go dancing. And maybe, she'd get lucky.