In Times of Need
It was strangely quiet in the office - no radio blaring music, no phones ringing, no Duo telling her some story or other. It was only her and the slight click-clack of the ten-key entry she was working. The second pass through the stack of invoices, and she threw them in a drawer in disgust. The totals still werenít adding up.
She sat there glaring at the LED display, numbers that should have been making her happy, numbers that would put them in the black for the fourth straight month, numbers that didnít jive with what the statements were telling her. For a half a second, she wondered just how she wound up with the dubious honor of bookkeeper in the first place, but knew the answer without thought - by virtue of being born a woman.
Going into business with Duo hadnít been a mistake; she woke with that belief every day. Duo had a way of making things work, and those first struggling months to at least break even looked to be a thing of the past. The business was almost in position to hire their first permanent employee.
Being roommates as well as business partners had its own set of challenges, but she knew she could do worst. At least Duo picked up his own dirty socks. And put the toilet seat down. Though she still had to remind him to take out the trash. And sometimes had to rewash dishes or rescue delicates from the wash.
Her life was good. But...
Life outside the window was a bit brighter than the silence inside the room. Hilde bit the inside of her lip. Duo had disappeared sometime before lunch, citing the need to run errands or some such. There was still that ancient, hulking piece of ship that needed to be taken apart. A few hours pounding the crap out of something might help.
Voice mail switched on, a sign taped to the door, and she was out back, pulling on her stained pair of coveralls and looking for her gloves. The artificial sunlight was bright, and felt warm on her shoulders; the sledge heavy in her hand.
The scrap wasnít going to be complicated to take apart. A little acetylene here and there, a good whack and pieces would behave nicely. The torch tank had already been set up ready to go to work and less than ten minutes under the visor, Hilde was lifting the sledge over her head.
Near to grinning with the absolute power flowing, she swung the hammer back, rolled her shoulders and powered it up and over.
Busting scrap was one of the best parts of this job.
After all, with scrap she didnít have to be careful
of a manís sensitivities.
Scrap didnít care
what she wore, or if she
sweat and smelled.
She didnít have to make nice
to scrap over the phone.
Accounts and balancing werenít
issues to argue over.
And scrap wasnít gay,
Hilde lowered the hammer slowly, wiped her brow with the back of her glove and peered at what used to be the shuttle fender. Her hands were still slightly vibrating with the recoil; her muscles were singing wildly, tingling and she wanted more. Leaning the sledge against the shuttle body, she reached for the fender, already planning on where to haul it off to, and which piece to tackle next.
The dayís cycle was waning, and with the shuttle now a broken skeleton, there was nothing left to work muscle and sinew and heavy metal against. Stripping her gloves off, Hilde lifted sweat-matted hair from the back of her neck. Maybe it was time to quit, time to set aside frustrations and climb back into girl-Hilde.
Her gloves were into the coverall pocket, and she was unzipping the top half of her suit, stripping it off, and letting it hang from her waist. The backdoor to the office was in sight. She slowed her footsteps, not quite ready to return to invoices and customers and the grind. Just off the path was a two-foot stack of plywood, part of a delayed project to build a separate storage shed. She used a corner to sit, lean back on her elbows and turn her face upward, closing her eyes and imagining what the sun looked like shining down on her.
It was springtime - she had seen the proof in their neighborsí yards. She could feel the proof in her own veins, along her nerves and the drenching urge for something more. The physical demand leached some of restlessness away.
The light went to shadow through her eyelids and a faint breeze sent a hint of flowers. Roses and... her brow furrowed. She couldnít identify the other scent, though it was familiar. It was the slight rustle of clothing that had her opening her eyes to look around the yard.
"Duo?" She looked from the gaily-wrapped bundle to his face. "Whatís with the floral? Got a date or something?"
He was standing a half a car length away and shoved the bouquet towards her. "Nah, not a date." He was smiling, though she spotted the intense way he watched her.
She eyed the flowers and looked at him again. "Alright, whatíd you do?"
"Spend too much for something we donít need?" She sniffed ever so slightly.
"Let Heero stay with us again?" She was frowning now; itíd taken a long time to rid her mind of the image of him walking naked from the bathroom to the bedroom.
"Uh... no. He likes his place too well." Duo was grinning; she knew he had encouraged more of those displays.
Hilde was glaring at him now. "Then what the hell are they for?"
"Geesh, Hil. I thought chicks liked flowers or something." His arm dropped back to his side, the flowers hanging bud-side down.
She sat up, no longer glaring. "You bought me... flowers?" Duo nodded and that look was back in his eyes. She reached for them and he lifted his hand, passing them over. Sniffing at them again, she was giving Duo a smile, standing and smelling the flowers again. "I canít believe you got me flowers."
Duo ducked his head away, his ears bright red. "Yeah, well..." he was mumbling into his collar and she bumped his shoulder with hers. "Got some more stuff in the house." He was looking at her now. "How Ďbout I close up shop and meet you there? Brought take-out too."
They had taken some steps toward the door and Hilde halted. "You do know itís not my birthday, right?"
Duo only laughed and tugged on her arm.
A quick shower later, she was standing in the kitchen watching Duo scoop out her favorite Italian meal over beds of spaghetti noodles. "You want out." It had to be the reason.
Duo jerked and looked over his shoulder at her. "Out? What the hell are you talking about?" He shoved a plate and a napkin wrapped fork in her hands.
"Youíre not leaving, you havenít broke anything and youíre not asking for anything special..." Hilde took a seat at the small kitchen table. "You are making me crazy with the nice and..."
"Oh," Duo paused next to his chair. "I just... well, shit Hil." He stuck a sauce-covered thumb in his mouth, staring at her. "Itís been made clear to me that I donít..." He visibly swallowed. "...that sometimes you have these per..." red was flooding his face. "...I mean, there are times you have it rough, and instead of bitching about it, I should just be nicer to you."
Her own face long gone red, Hilde could only stare at Duo, his words chasing one another in her head. "...period... nice..."
Duo was rushing through his words now, walking to the refrigerator. "Heero said I should get chocolate..."
"You spoke to Heero about my... my...?"
"Yeah," he said, nodding, opening the freezer door and looking back at her. "He says Relena always would eat chocolate when she was going through times like that." A round container of double-fudge chocolate mocha cream was being held aloft. "Guess thatís one reason he quit working for her.
"Quatre says his sister watches movies. So..." he brought the ice cream to the table, "I picked up some chick movie he said she liked best." His hand waved in the direction of the living room. "Trowa said..."
Hilde nearly stood. "You talked to all of the guys?"
"...to do something for dinner." Duo sat abruptly. "Well, yeah. I wasnít sure what to do, and they at least had some experience with... women things."
She looked from flowers to ice cream to the food on her plate and back to him. "And the flowers?" Her lips were numb.
"My idea." He was smiling now.
"Oh." And try as she might, the blinking didnít help. Her lips trembled and she was crying.
"Hilde? Whatís wrong?"
Duo was crouching by her chair now, and she wiped the heels of her palms across her eyes. "I donít know..." her breath hitched; her chest ached, "...dinner and flowers and..." Duoís hand was on her shoulder; he tried offering her a napkin, but her sleeve was already there. "And... and damn you all for being gay any way!"
"Gay!" Hilde was nearly shouting now, tears long dried. "The lot of you! Nice and pretty and smart. First it was Trowa and Quatre and the way they couldnít be without one another. And then you!" Her look a glare. "I guess I could understand you, but Heero! Gay! The lot of you."
"Heero?" Duo was blinking up at her, the napkin scrunched into a wad in his hand. "Heeroís not gay."
Eyes wide, she stared at him and her chuckle became a laugh. "Oh pa~lease!You honestly donít think he was parading around here shirtless for me, do you?"
Duoís mouth opened and he paused. Cheeks flooded pink and his mouth closed. "Wufeiís not gay. You canít tell me he is."
"No," Hilde said, slumping back in her chair. "He is definitely not gay."
"Though he did tell me I was going to mess this up - to just leave you alone and bear with it."
Hilde watched him for a moment. "Right then." She stood, picked up the ice cream carton and a spoon, and headed for the living room. "What movie did you get anyway?"
Ten minutes into the movie, Duo was shifting around again. Hilde ignored him, dug her spoon into the cartoon and brought it up to her mouth, her eyes never leaving the screen.
"Think itíll have any explosions?" Duo asked, leaning closer to dip a finger into her ice cream.
"Nope, not a one." Hilde licked the underside of her spoon and then her lips. "Except for that guy there. He gets really pissed off when he finds out Martel is seeing his sister."
Duo grunted and wiped chocolate residue on the leg of his jeans. "There has to be a car chase, though, right?"
Shaking her head, Hilde spared him a glance. "Did you even read what the movie was about before you bought it?"
"No," Duo sighed. "Donít supposed thereíll be a fight or two?"
"Martel and Lana have one," Hilde told him, dividing her attention between the screen and searching for another thick ribbon of chocolate fudge. "But thatís only so they can have the make-up sex."
"Youíve seen this before!"
"Yep, four or five times." Hilde shot him a grin. "Itís one of my favorites."
Hilde was reaching for a kleenx when she heard it. Lana lay dying, and Martel was beside himself with grief. Her throat was choking up, and she was drawing shuddering breaths, fighting the tears. And there it was again.
A tittling beep.
Duo was still sitting on his end of the couch, though she thought he might have dozed off, canted to the side with a couch pillow on his leg. He jerked and Hilde saw his eyes were open. He wasnít watching the movie.
Another tittling beep.
"God damnit Duo!" Hilde snagged the pillow away and threw it across the room. "If you donít want to watch the movie, then go find something else to do!"
"Ah..." Duo glanced down at the mobile phone in his hand and back up at her. "I guess I could go over to Heeroís." His phone beeped again and Hilde could see partial portion of the text message. Duo looked at it and back to her. "Heero says he is, by the way." And he grinned.
"Get out of here, Duo." She was shaking her head as he scrambled off the couch, fingers punching keys as he went.
"See you later, Hil!" Duo called from the hall.
"Yeah," she answered, "just donít do anything I wouldnít do."
His laugh was heard even through the closed door.
Hilde flipped a couple of scenes back on her movie, settled deeper into the cushion and picked up her carton of ice cream.