The Slow Heal
The soft snick of the door closing woke me. Immediate awareness more my style, I couldn't help but feel a sense of wonderment as I continued to lay, not moving, not even to open my eyes. The bed felt too delicious, too comfortable to stray from it just yet. And lingering traces of a touch long desired still tingled.
A year. Hard to believe all that time had passed and yet it seems just yesterday I'd been introduced to the one who made me see how truly wrong I'd been. None of Relena's fancy ideals, and thoroughly thought out speeches had. Not even matching wits and skill with the Winner brat had done so. Seeing that pale face so determined to live, so determined to set things back to right, gave me pause.
I'd been shot through the heart, and bled wherever I went. Long after the Peacemillion had been evacuated, long after she's recovered, lived through the physical therapy, and returned to the hole of a colony she'd come from, I continued to bleed. The peace the Nation seemed to experience exploded everywhere I went. But I had none. Tried and pardoned for my crimes, I'd been allowed to go my own way, find myself from the tattered girl I'd been.
By this time, my eyes were opened. Only with restoration of what I'd a hand in demolishing could staunch what threatened to destroy me. Months had passed, and still I bled. The physical labor served me well, learning from those who toiled the land for countless centuries while me, and my ancestors, governed to better ourselves. Little thought had ever been given to how our laws and decrees would impact those around us.
And still her face haunted me.
While she recovered, I made a point to be present when she was wheeled into the day room. A daily visitor to the hospital, no one questioned why I'd linger. Remorse, most believed. Not likely. At least, not where Quatre was concerned. He had been a worthy adversary. And he continued to be, at least mentally.
That last day I'd seen her in the hospital, I'd been sitting at the window, staring out at the lawns watching the rain wash the snow away. He's challenged me once more. Given me a year to find what I sought within myself, and if I hadn't found it, he'd show me.
"It doesn't matter any more, you know," she'd said from across the room.
I looked at her then, without my usual pretense of not looking. Her face was still pale, but lacked the pallor it'd held just a few days before. She sat alone, her body listing to one side. The nurse must have been new, she hadn't strapped her in properly. Her normal visitors hadn't arrived, and no one was around. I went to her, and to my surprise, she smiled at me. Granted it was a small one, short lived, but it'd been a smile.
My hands undid the belts chaining her, confining her to her mobile prison, and gently rearranged her torso so she sat comfortably. "Better?" She nodded, and my heart constricted. I'd caused this, her paralysis. Oh maybe not directly, but what'd I'd been, who I'd been had. I touched her cheek, drawing my fingers down this angled pane. "I'm sorry."
"Don't," she whispered. "It's over now. And I've every belief I'll be walking again in no time." Her smile trembled. I nodded, and was surprised to feel the spot of wetness falling on my arms, from my chin. Hurriedly I wiped it away. This wouldn't do.
"You will. I understand nerve cell regeneration has a 96% success rate." I found a seat next to her chair, and began what I'd seen others do, range of motion exercises with her hands and wrists.
Her eyes had dropped to watch as I worked. "I'll be good to get back on my feet. Duo'd be proud, don't you think?"
"Duo?" I hadn't paused, but continued to work.
"The Gundam pilot, Duo Maxwell. The cocky one with the braid who always visits." I'd known who she meant, but wanted to know what he meant to her.
The snort held more amused derision that would have made Grandfather proud. "Not likely." I glanced at her from under my brows. Her expression seemed puzzled, but open still. "I just... I don't know. I feel like I owe him, want him to know his sacrifice wasn't meaningless."
"Like yours?" I'd moved on to flexing her elbow and rotating her shoulder. When she didn't answer, I paused. "Hilde?"
She shook her head, her lips pressed together. "We needed those plans. We needed to know. It wasn't..." She stopped, her eyes bright, her gaze unwavering.
For several long moments, we stared at one another. Breaking our stalemate, I resumed my self-appointed task. "You helped them win the war. You gave more than your share for this peace."
We spent the next half hour or so, talking as though we were friends, albeit ones who barely knew each other. Having finished range of motion on both her arms, I stood. "I really should be going. Do you want me to call a nurse, or do you want to stay here for awhile?"
"I'll stay here," her voice held a note of... sadness? "Duo told me he'd be later in coming today. He'll take me back to my room later." Her eyes gleamed. "Thank you, Dorothy. For talking with me. For everything." I think she saw the dubiousness in my face. "You didn't pity me. You treated me like I used to be treated." She looked away then. "It means a lot, you know. He acts as though I were a broken doll, when before he'd be oblivious to anything he'd said or did."
I reached out and touched her, squeezed her shoulder. "He'll learn. We can't all be callous bastards." She laughed, and turned a smiling face to me. I smiled back in return. "Would it be all right, if I come see you again?"
"I'd like that." And I believed her.
It'd taken me six months to make my way to L2 and that hole she lived in. By that time, she was walking again with the help of braces and modified crutches. I spent a week with her, listening to her talk about the business she'd grown up in, finding out about the woman she was turning into. Her strength amazed me, her wit amused as no other had, and her tenacity outnumbered Relena's. And the wound I carried slowed in its bleeding.
From then on, we'd visit, spend a little time together. A day here, a week there, and once, only an hour at a port café. Though he'd been thoroughly puzzled, Duo was often in attendance. His initial suspicion slowly waned to grudging respect and a wary friendship. Not that it mattered to me. I believe we only made nice to one another for her sake. Besides, most of the time my presence meant he could run off and do other things he didn't always have time for. I had a guess what that could be, and I think he knew I knew. It could explain his wariness.
Last night we'd celebrated the second ending of a war. The people had come together and shown what they wanted, how they felt. They stood up for their beliefs and were willing to die for them. I'd never been so proud to be part of the ESUN as I had in the square. I'd spotted her later, exhausted and leaning against a wall for support. She'd come to Earth upon hearing Duo'd gone with Heero to find Relena, and knew at least I'd be here. Since Heero wound up in the hospital for an extended stay, I assured Duo I'd see to Hilde.
She stayed with me. A frequent visitor, she had her own room, and even left a few things for impromptu stopovers. But she stayed with me. I want to say I was surprised when she kissed me. But I wasn't. After all, it'd been what I'd wanted to do since I'd spoke to her all those months before.
I'd discovered something about life, about myself. Giving unconditionally had its own rewards. And I enjoyed the giving.
Stretching lazily, I finally opened my eyes, relishing the feel of the sheets sliding over my skin. A flash of color caught my attention, and I leaned over to find it. On her pillow, a single rose lay. It'd been broken off several inches from the bud, its thorns still in place. The flower itself, its beauty, its rich color and heady smell, dew still clinging to its petals, resembled its giver.
I no longer bled, but the wound still exists. She walked, mostly without help.
There were days yet, I could feel the itch of wanting to wrest control and force things to go my way. The games continued around me, and for the most part, I didn't want to play. If I gave into the impulse, at least for a time, I feared of slipping into who I'd been. One day, when peace and contentment didn't feel so new, so odd, I might step into what should have been the role Grandfather had laid out for me. Only this time, I'd do it my way.
Hilde's recovery nearly complete, and though there were still a few more nerve regeneration treatments she had to endure, she continually astounded her doctors. But then, she liked going against what was expected, she reveled in shocking those around her. It's no wonder we're a set.
I found a numb spot last night, above her right breast. Less than two inches in diameter, she'd been nearly as startled by it as she had my teasing the nipple. Sliding from the bed, rose in hand, I went to find my lover. I think tonight we'll see if she has any more numb spots.