(Companion fic to “Unfaithful” – Duo’s P.O.V)
He could hear her fumbling to get the key in the lock. Maybe he should get up and open the door, but wouldn’t that be telling? He didn’t want her to know he was waiting for her to come home. Another fumble and he heard the clang of keys hitting the cement, but she didn’t seem too upset because he could hear her short laugh – not a giggle, but still feminine, perfect. He closed his eyes against the surge of jealousy that turned his stomach.
It’s not my place.
He forced a casual expression, settling back on the couch, radiating the illusion of ease although inside he was coiled so tight he felt he would snap. He could do this though.
For her he could do anything.
“I’m home.” He heard the door click shut and her shoes hitting the tile. She was worse than the guys about putting her shoes away. Not that he minded.
He hated Fridays: waiting for her to come home from her date, knowing he shouldn’t care that she was out with some jerk who didn’t deserve her. He knew this for a fact because no one deserved her. Not even him. Which was why he pretended that it didn’t bother him.
“How was it?” he kept his eyes focused on the television, but he didn’t need to be watching her to know where she was in the room. Blame it on his former “occupation” or on his increasingly difficult attraction - he could feel her. He watched her from his peripheral vision, resisting the urge to smirk as she eyed his feet propped on the coffee table before sitting down beside him.
“Alright.” She batted his feet as she responded to his casual question and they actually tingled from the playful almost touch. How pathetic was that? He covered his discomfort with a playful pout, but discreetly moved him arm out of the way as her back sank into the couch. He hoped she would see it as a gentlemanly gesture, but it was an act of self preservation. It hurt to be so close to her and know he couldn’t hold her.
“Just alright?” he prayed he didn’t sound as hopeful as he felt. He didn’t know why he bothered, every loser down was just one in several million who could still pop up and take her from him. But despite this he always felt better knowing she hadn’t been thrilled. He was safe for one more day. She wasn’t leaving yet.
“What are you watching?”
She hadn’t answered. Relief flooded through him. He liked it when she came home like this, apathetic. It was better than when she came home excited. When she came home like that fear twisted through him, dark and powerful. He didn’t want things to change. But for tonight he could rest easy.
When she had a good time, she always wanted to talk about it. If she wasn’t answering a point-blank question that meant she wasn’t going to see the guy again. He fought back a triumphant smirk, knowing it would raise questions – and he didn’t want to start something that might end with his losing her. He couldn’t help but give her a look though, letting her know that he heard what she wasn’t saying.
“Nothing much, only trash.” Probably true, though in all honesty he didn’t have a clue what was on. He hadn’t really been paying attention. How could he when he knew she was out with someone else?
She laughed and he felt himself relax. It felt good just to be near her. She wasn’t looking at him, so he allowed his eyes to drift shut as he inhaled her perfume. It was nice, not her usual kind, and he absently wondered what it was. And then his brain was short circuited and his eyes were on her as warm fingers latched around his on the remote and his arm was suddenly dangling over her shoulder.
Desire, swift and overwhelming swept through him before he could squelch it. Possibilities playing out in his mind before he clamped down on them, shutting off the flow. He forced himself to relax again, smiling easily.
“Two thousand and fifty channels and still nothing good on.” She almost snorted, but he saw the laughter in her eyes. “Why do we pay for cable?”
She had to have noticed the look, but she let it pass. And if she wasn’t going to press it he certainly wasn’t. He noticed she hadn’t moved away yet either, which he took as an invitation. He left the remote in her hand, and he left his arm across her shoulders. She settled back into him and he grinned.
“That’s the way it goes, babe.” He studied her content expression and couldn’t resist one jibe, “And just for the record – I pay for cable.”
It was a true statement, but really he had only said it to get a rise out of her. He found her very attractive when she was riled.
He was not disappointed. She pushed at his shoulder, an action which did nothing but bring her closer to him. He decided that was a good thing. She evidently didn’t mind either because she smiled at him and she didn’t move away.
Did she know what that smile did to him?
He had to touch her.
That wasn’t the reason he did what he did next, his fingers just kind of moved of their own accord. They were friends and this was a friendly skirmish, so all was fair. Right? It wasn’t until after he had begun to tickle her that the thought trickled into the back of his mind: it felt so good to be able to touch her, even if it was just like this.
Long fingers jumped along her skin, brushing her sides, tickling her mercilessly.
She giggled and weakly protested, “Stop that.”
He nearly closed his eyes as he suppressed a sigh. He loved that giggle. At times like this it was so easy to fall into her, so easy to forget that she wasn’t his. She was waiting for a response, still writhing under his gentle torture. He shook his head, his bangs obscuring his vision briefly as he gave her his trademark grin.
“Sorry Hilde, babe, can’t do that.” And it was so hard not to lower his voice to something intimate, because she was so warm, and so close, and he could hardly think. To distract them both he brought his fingers down to her side, an especially ticklish spot. She literally shrieked. And a moment later he felt the weak impact of a pillow being flapped in his general direction. He chuckled as he easily caught it, but instead of turning her own weapon against her he used it as a barrier between them, pulling it down to stare into her eyes.
Did she know what it did to him, seeing her there, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling? Hearing her soft gasps for air? He pushed those thoughts aside, reminding himself to enjoy the moment, enjoy their friendship. He would take what he could get and not ask for more because Hilde was worth the wait. He felt his grin stretching so wide it almost hurt and he knew she could see the laughter in his eyes. It felt so good to laugh with her.
Something in her expression shifted, her smile fading into something more… personal. He felt his own grin fading as he stared into her eyes and those thoughts crept in again. He cursed those treacherous thoughts, but they refused to retreat to the back of his mind. How could they when she was looking at him like that – like maybe she was wondering too…
What would it be like to kiss her?
His gaze drifted involuntarily to her lips and his eyes darkened. He didn’t know who moved, but they were suddenly much closer. Whoever had initiated it she wasn’t moving away. And he wanted so badly to have just one taste. What would it hurt? The protective barrier of the pillow he held between them began to slip, jerking him back to the present. He pulled away, staring unemotionally at the television, shutting her out.
Why did this have to be so hard? Why did she have to look so desirable, sitting there with her eyes closed, waiting for his touch?
It hurt to pull away.
But he didn’t want to take that step.
After all, hadn’t she been out with another man tonight?
She didn’t really want this and he wouldn’t take what wasn’t his.
It may well have been the stupidest thing he had ever done, asking Hilde Schbeiker to move in with him. But she was alone, and he had promised to take care of her, and it was the best way he could think of to always look after her. In the beginning it had been duty, and friendship, but with Hilde entwined in every part of his life – his work, his free time, his home – it had quickly become so much more to him. He couldn’t concentrate when she was near, couldn’t breathe when her skin brushed his. He was happy just sitting across from her at the breakfast table.
Duo Maxwell was in love.
Sometimes he hated it; sometimes it ached so deep he thought he’d never heal. Sometimes he thought he was dying…
And always he hid it.
Maybe that was what hurt the most, knowing that he had to hide his love so that she could be happy.
He prayed she was happy.
His thoughts scattered as warm fingers came to rest on his arm. He could feel her almost leaning against him. He flinched at the sudden heat, his eyes drawn to her small hand on his tan arm.
“Duo, are you alright?”
He almost cursed. So much for hidden feelings. He tried to ease some of the tension from his posture, but she was touching him and it was so hard…
“Fine.” He muttered, unable to do anything but stare at the place where their bare skin touched.
She was nervous, he could tell by the way she tucked her hair behind her ear. She was worried too. He felt guilty.
With that inner reminder he forced himself to look up at her and smile, “Yeah.” He patted her hand and turned back to the TV. It was as much as he could give right now, he just hoped she would accept it.
He was afraid she wouldn’t. That she was going to ask questions he didn’t want to answer. That she was going to force him to break whatever it was they shared. And then she seemed to make a decision. She pulled her hand from his arm, stirring feelings of both relief and loss inside him, and she curled up next to him – not touching, but close enough that he could feel her nearness. Maybe she wanted him to know she was still there.
For now it was enough.
She was sleeping, her head lolled to one side, her body slumped against his. And even now she managed to entrance him. He allowed his gaze to wander over her features, and then, more hesitantly, allowed his fingers to follow the same path ever so lightly, tracing her flawless face.
He swallowed convulsively, his eyes clouded with emotions he didn’t dare express to her.
He loved her. He wanted her.
It was late, and as much as he would have loved to sit here with her, to have her close to him, he knew they both needed real sleep – in their beds, not sitting up on the couch. Carefully replacing the mask of friendship he stood over her, gently easing her to the couch before shaking her shoulders.
“Hilde, babe…” it hurt to say those words, wishing they could mean more, but this wasn’t the time.
“Come on Hilde.”
She roused, stretching like a cat and blinking sleepily.
It was adorable and he smiled apologetically.
“Sorry, babe, but it’s time to go to bed.”
He nudged his knee into her side before grasping her ankles lightly and tugging her feet to the floor. She followed his lead reluctantly, obviously not quite awake. He half lifted, half pulled her to her feet and looped her arm around his neck as he guided her toward her bedroom.
Moments like these were the hardest. Desire could be quashed with a few mental admonishments, but tenderness… how could he feel guilty about caring for her?
So he decided not to.
He pulled her in to his chest, wrapping one arm around her waist to hold her to himself as he pulled back her covers with one hand. Then he swept her up in his arms to lay her down before pulling the sheets up over her.
She was still in her clothes, not much he could do about that, but he could help her with other things. He slipped quietly into the bathroom, running the water very low so he wouldn’t disturb her. And then he sank onto the bed beside her, leaning over her, gently running a damp cloth over her face. She hated sleeping in her make up. She made an appreciative noise, and he couldn’t help letting the side of his hand brush against her cheek as he pulled away. She leaned into the touch and tenderness washed over him in a wave.
“You want me to leave the radio on?” he whispered; he would have to trust her sleepiness to filter out the emotion in his voice, because he couldn’t control it.
She grunted an affirmative and he stood, leaning to flip it on before heading for the door. He pulled her door softly shut behind him.
“Night, babe.” He couldn’t resist the soft call, wishing it could be something more. Then he shook his head and stumbled toward his own room. As he tumbled into his own bed he tried to lay his tortured thoughts to rest – at least long enough to sleep.
Maybe he was being selfish – wanting her for himself, keeping her here. But then he remembered her smile when she teased him, her sleepy thanks for his help as he washed her face.
She wasn’t his, but he could still take care of her. No one took care of her like he did. He took pride in that, and comfort. There would always be a place for him in her life.
“Still tired?” he threw her a lopsided smile and reached across the table to tug a loose lock of hair.
She was adorable in the morning. Actually, she was adorable always, but he wasn’t getting into that.
She swiped the newspaper in his general direction, a clear sign she wasn’t annoyed. It was cute, actually.
“That’s what you get staying out late on dates, babe.” He was fortunate to be a natural born teaser, otherwise it would be more than difficult to sit across from her and still smile. Still, on mornings like these it was so easy to pretend that things were how they had always been. On mornings like these he could forget the ache, forget that he wanted so much more than this.
“I believe I got home rather early last night,” she corrected, and he fought a grin, “it was you who kept me up late.”
He lost, the smile splitting his face. He couldn’t deny it – not that he wanted to. He loved that he could do that for her, make her relax like that and just enjoy life.
She was looking down at her plate now and he was curious as to why. Was that a blush he saw spreading over her cheeks? What on earth for? All he’d done was smile at her. He watched her push the potatoes around with her fork. She was definitely nervous about something.
He only knew one way to make her relax, “Gonna eat those or play with them, Hilde?” he gently mocked.
This time she really did throw her newspaper at him, he caught it with a laugh. She still wasn’t really annoyed, he could see it in her eyes as she peered at him from underneath her dark bangs. She was enjoying this. That made him happy.
More than anything Hilde was his best friend. He had promised to take care of her, and he would. When Hilde was happy, Duo was happy. And for now that would be enough.
Hilde was his world. His everything. Sometimes that scared him, because he knew – as important to her as he was – she wasn’t ready to make a commitment. She liked their easy friendship, so that was all he offered. For now…
But he hated it when she went away.
He knew those kinds of thoughts only got in the way; they only made it harder for him to enjoy what they had. So he pushed them away.
He winked at her, throwing her his trademark grin. She smiled back, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, and he wondered why.
He could hear her, in the other room banging around. Hilde never had been very good at stealth. Duo was like a cat, moving without noise, but Hilde was more like a herd of elephants. Maybe that assessment was a little unfair. After all, not everyone had been a Gundam pilot. And not many people had been a thief… Come to think of it, he wouldn’t want her to have stealth skills if that meant she had to go through the things he had. Still, it would be nice to be able to sleep through her morning routine just once.
Running his hands through his messy hair he sat up and decided to begin his day.
He couldn’t fall back asleep anyway, not when he was so acutely aware of the woman down the hall. Was she changing?
He shook his head to clear it. It was bound to happen occasionally. After all, he loved her and she was quite attractive, so naturally he wanted her… but she wasn’t his, so he didn’t have the right to think about her like that. It made him feel dirty.
By the time he had dressed and re-braided his hair he could hear her in the kitchen. He decided to go say hello before she left. Sauntering to the kitchen he paused in the doorway to take in the sight of her.
Man, she looked good.
She hadn’t noticed him yet – stealth of a cat and all…
He took the rare opportunity to watch her. And then his eyes fell to the bag in her hand and his eyes narrowed. Make-up bag? Hilde never took one with her unless she had a date after work. He drew in a harsh breath, careful to mute the sound so she wouldn’t notice. That hurt more than it should have. He closed his eyes, swiping a hand over them before donning a bright smile and speaking.
“Hey.” His voice had a bit of a rough morning edge still. How could he still sound sleepy after lying a wake in bed four forty five minutes listening to her morning routine?
She glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him. Her eyes seemed to linger on his form and he combed his fingers through his bangs, wondering if they were out of place. Then he decided he was probably just making it worse, so he dropped his hands back to his sides and leaned against the door frame.
“Hey yourself.” She grabbed a boxed juice and some crackers. He frowned and almost scolded her, but he wasn’t her mother. At least he made sure she ate a good breakfast every weekend. Poor girl would probably waste away without it.
“Gonna be out late?” he knew the answer so he wasn’t sure what made him ask. Was he trying to hurt himself? Why did he want her to say it? She was going on a date, it wasn’t his business. Though he was curious – she usually only went out on weekends. Did that mean this guy was special?
To his surprise she shook her head, her hair falling into her eyes. “Just going out with Relena. Shopping.” She grinned at him, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
She was lying.
He felt it like a fist in the gut.
When had she started lying to him?
Why did she feel like she had to?
She didn’t love him. He could live with that. He could even accept the fact that she was going out with other guys. He had long ago resigned himself to that pain. But lying to him? They were friends, best friends, they were way too close for that. Why did she feel like she had to lie?
She was waiting for an answer and he didn’t know how to give one. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sound nonchalant, so he settled for the shortest, most non-committal answer possible. “Oh.”
She almost looked angry. Why should she be angry? He wasn’t the one lying. They were roommates, business partners, friends. Didn’t they at least owe one another honesty?
Not that he was being one hundred percent truthful with her. But lying and withholding were two very different things; he was only trying not to push her. He held her gaze for a long moment, struggling to regain his composure enough to speak in a reasonable fashion. He couldn’t very well demand to know why she had lied to him. He wouldn’t press the issue – he couldn’t.
“Well, have fun.” He pulled himself upright as casually as he could and walked toward the living room.
It wasn’t her problem, he decided. Whatever made her feel she needed to lie she hadn’t really done anything wrong. They weren’t involved, so it wasn’t like she was obligated to him. But it still hurt, so he turned away to hide the pain in his eyes.
The best thing to do was just let it go.
He didn’t want to ruin what they had.
But it still hurt to see her walk out the door, knowing she was going to see another man.
It would always hurt.
The shop was always lonely when Hilde was visiting vendors and clients. The day stretched on wearily with nothing but his own thoughts to keep him company. He didn’t know which was worse, the distraction Hilde was when she was there, or the distraction she was when she wasn’t. Too bad he couldn’t pull his mind to something else, anything else. By the time he returned to their adjacent apartment for dinner and a shower he had decided that it was definitely worse when she was gone. At least when she was around he only had to worry about the way his skin burned at her touch, not the fact that she was making someone else feel that way.
Wearily Duo dragged himself to the bathroom, turning on the shower. He stood under the hot water and prayed the pressure would drive away the ache in his soul. How much longer could he live with this? How much longer could he pretend he didn’t want more? He had been afraid that things would change if he told her, that he would break this strange relationship, so he had been willing to wait, to let her sort it out for herself. But it was breaking anyway.
Hilde had lied to him.
What further proof did he need?
He sighed, leaning his head against the shower wall under the shower head. Maybe he should just make a clean break. Hilde could find the right guy and settle down, and he wouldn’t be around for it to break his heart.
It would break anyway, he knew it would. But at least he wouldn’t break hers in the process.
She had to know… well, suspect something. Why else would she have lied to him? He knew he couldn’t hide it as well as he used to. There had to be times that it showed in his eyes. She might not have known the reason, but she knew something was bothering him. Watching her settle down with someone else would break him. And she cared about him too much for that not to affect her. No matter what she felt for other men he would always have a special place in her heart – he knew that. It would kill her to know she had hurt him, however unintentionally.
He should have dated or something, then he could have faked break-up depression.
He turned off the water and stepped out onto the tile, wrapping a towel around his waist before setting to work on his hair.
He watched himself in the fogged over mirror. Thinking of dating reminded him that he spent more evenings like this now, alone with his own reflection, then he did out with friends. His eyes widened as a thought occurred to him and he yanked his hair painfully.
No wonder Hilde thought something was wrong. She wasn’t blind, she had to have noticed he wasn’t dating. He groaned, leaning against the wall next to the sink.
Smooth Maxwell, he thought bitterly. So much for acting like everything was normal. No wonder she had lied to him. Heck, it could even be for his own sake. She probably thought he was frustrated that she went out so much when he didn’t. She was trying not to rub it in his face, and he had acted injured. That must have gone over real well. He was lucky she hadn’t slapped him.
Duo sighed and finished toweling off before pulling on his pants. Maybe they could have a talk in the morning. Nothing too deep, but he would let her know he wasn’t jealous that she was out having fun when he was sitting at home. He didn’t begrudge her a love life just because he didn’t have one. He wouldn’t have to point out that he didn’t want one, or the reason for that. He would be friendly and casual. It would free her from guilt and hopefully that would allay any suspicions that he had a vested interest in keeping her single – providing she had such suspicions, and he hoped that she didn’t. He nodded to himself in the mirror. Yes, that was a good plan. Whatever had caused her to lie that should patch things up nicely.
He had just started to braid his damp locks when he heard the front door slam against the wall.
His heart nearly stopped. It was Hilde, and she sounded panicked. What was wrong? Had that creep she was out with done something to her? He’d kill the guy.
“Duo!” he heard some bumps and then it sounded like she stumbled. Was she hurt?
Abandoning all pretense of calm he ran down the hall and skidded into the entry. “Hilde?”
His eyes wracked her body, looking for signs of injury. He knew he looked worried, but he couldn’t help it. But as his gaze traveled over her a third time and he realized she was completely unharmed his expression slowly transformed into one of utter confusion.
Alright, she wasn’t being attacked, and she wasn’t injured. Then why was she home? Wasn’t she on a date? And why had she been calling his name like that? She had better have a good explanation for scaring him like that.
At least he could breathe again.
“Are you okay?” he moved forward slowly, for some reason he felt as though moving quickly might scare her away. He raised his arms intending to grasp her shoulders when he got close enough, but then she locked gazes with him and he froze.
What was that look for? He parted his lips to ask, and then suddenly she was moving, lunging across the space between them and latching onto his waist. He had to take a step back to avoid being knocked to the floor.
Well, that was certainly unexpected. Cautiously he raised his arms to encircle her waist and he rested his cheek on her head. She tucked her face into his chest and he could feel her breathing.
What was she doing?
His head was spinning, he was missing something here, but he just couldn’t keep up.
She made a sound, just a huff of air and his brow creased in further confusion.
Why was she at home, in his arms, and not out with another guy? This night was just not going as he had expected. And yet, it felt so good to hold her like this. Part of him wanted to forget the questions and just welcome the opportunity.
He felt her face still against his chest, her smile falling away. She whispered something against him, but all he caught was a muffled “sorry”.
“Sorry?” he echoed. His mind was racing once again. Was she apologizing for bowling him over? For scaring him? For this morning? What was going on?
“I’m sorry.” She repeated. She had pulled back, but she wasn’t looking at his face, she was staring at his chin… she was embarrassed? For what? “For everything,” she continued, startling him back to the situation at hand, “for being stupid and blind-”
“Hilde, you’re not-” she wouldn’t let him defend her and he was still too confused to react properly so he let her steamroll over him.
“I’m sorry for hurting you.” He had to strain to hear her whisper, and his heart nearly stopped.
“W-what.” He hoped this was about the lie this morning and not something more. Maybe if he played it cool, if he acted confused, she wouldn’t delve too deeply. That shouldn’t be so difficult since he was confused, but suddenly he had this horrifying suspicion…
“I’m sorry for hurting you.” She rushed on, as though she was afraid she wouldn’t get it all out if she stopped to breathe. “Don’t tell me I didn’t. I know I did. I’ve been so stupid and blind, and I didn’t want to see, but now I know,” her gaze dropped down to his chest and she leaned her forehead in to rest against him, “I know. And I’m sorry.”
Duo swallowed convulsively, his arms dropping to her waist and tightening their hold on her of their own accord. “You know what?” He knew his voice was shaking. She knew, oh she knew! And he was dying inside, really dying. He had only thought it had hurt before, but now the pain was so intense that he nearly buckled. He was struggling not to let it show. Her arms were still wrapped around him, and she was speaking again.
“I know that I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this anymore.”
“Hilde. Babe.” His voice cracked, his heart was breaking.
He couldn’t breathe.
Why did it have to hurt this much? It wasn’t as though he hadn’t known. He had always known Hilde didn’t love him like he loved her, but he had thought, had hoped, maybe with time… And now - now she had rejected him, she was being gentle but… he dropped his arms, turning from her. It hurt to touch her. It hurt to be near her. He had to go now before he made a fool of himself.
And then he was stopped by the touch of her hands on his left wrist. She was clinging to him and he turned to her from mere force of habit.
Why was she doing this? Why couldn’t she let him walk away to sort out the pieces of his broken heart with dignity? Why was she touching him when it hurt so much?
Her hand brushed against his chest, coming to rest over his heart and heat swept over him. It suddenly occurred to him that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. How could he feel such despair and such longing at the same time? Her touch was like fire and he closed his eyes against it.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Duo.” she whispered, and he knew it was true. He wanted to comfort her, to tell her that he didn’t blame her - that it was his own fault, but he couldn’t speak, couldn’t even look at her. “I love you.”
His body reacted before it even registered fully in his overwhelmed mind. His heart raced and he breathed in deeply in a vain attempt to steady himself. His hand flew to hers, touching it lightly.
What had she just said?
“What did you say?” unconsciously he vocalized the question that echoed through his heart and soul. It had to be his own feverish desire, he was hearing things. Hilde Schbeiker didn’t love him. Still he watched her hungrily, waiting for the answer he knew would break him – or perhaps, just maybe, it would redeem him.
“I love you.” She had turned her face away, but in an instant he had caught her chin, drawing her face up, forcing her to look at him as he angled himself to face her directly.
He couldn’t breathe.
But this time it was a good thing.
She loved him. It wasn’t over – it was just beginning. He couldn’t control the grin that spread across his handsome features. She leaned into him and it was nearly unbearable. How could such light, innocent contact wreak such havoc on his body?
He needed more. And since she obviously wasn’t going to object... he leaned in bringing his face down to hers.
Deep inside Duo had always known that he and Hilde were meant to be together. Some things just were, and this was one of them. They were too close not to grow into this. They had only been living together a year when he had known with crystalline clarity that Hilde was his, and he was hers. He had been waiting for so long that he had almost lost sight of that. But now Hilde knew too, and they wouldn’t either one forget again. This was right, this was real. He was just happy that she had finally figured it out.
“It’s about time.” He murmured fervently before pressing his lips to hers in a tender kiss. There would be time for passion later. Right now he just wanted to enjoy the moment.
He just hoped that she realized – now that he had her he wasn’t letting her go.