Legal stuff: I don't own Gundam Wing or the characters, they all belong to other people *sniff*. Don't sue me, okay?
"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
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.
End of Part One
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