Five Black Dresses (cont)

+

Gundam University Finals Ball, St.James Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, May 2001

+

"Are you happy?" she said.

He had thought of what the man with the dark blue eyes had done to him the night before with a shudder. "Oh, yes."

"Not lonely anymore?" She had turned to him, her skin pale as the moon, and he had fought an absurd desire to reach out and grab her, hold her so tightly that she would never slip away. Because she was.

"No," he had said instead. "Not lonely."

They had been silent a few minutes, and then he had blurted out, "but I haven't really been lonely since fifth grade, Hil. I mean, Beau was good company, and you weren't half bad yourself."

She had snorted, a half laugh, and rolled her eyes.

"Did I ever tell you that I used to pretend you were the reincarnation of my brother?" he said.

"I couldn't be," she said. "You and I are the same age. He didn't die until I was three."

"I know," he said. "But, well, you know how I used to call him Solo?" He knew she knew that he hadn't known his twin brother's name any more than he knew what his own actually was -- Duo had been the only survivor of a car accident that had killed both the woman who must have been his mother and the boy with his face. One of them had died -- the other had come out without a scratch, unable to remember what his mother had called him except "my dynamic duo." So Duo he was, and Solo his brother had been posthumously christened. "Sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of you coming towards me, I think, oh, here comes my Solo -- or when I don't see you, I think, where's my twin?" He reached out and stroked her hair -- she batted his hand away with a smile. "Like you were given to me to fill that space in my life."

Her smile faded. "I'm no consolation prize, Duo."

"No," he said softly, seriously. "You're not."

"And I'm not something you own. And I won't be with you forever."

His own smile faded. "You say it like you're planning on leaving me."

She looked exasperated. "And you say that like I'm your girlfriend." She turned away, again, and stared at the moon. "You've got Heero now."

The simple truth of that statement rocked him to the core. "I know."

She rocked a bit in her high shoes, letting the wind sway her. "And I've got. . . I don't know what I've got."

"Good hair."

"I was thinking more wanderlust." She sighed and took a few steps, away from him, away from the party. "I thought I'd be better once I left Exodus, once I got away from Maine and my childhood, that I'd be able to be somebody different. That I'd be free. And I keep looking, Duo, but I can't find any place where I want to be at home."

"You think I don't know what that feels like?" he said, his voice very quiet.

"You've got a reason, an excuse. You had this gorgeously troubled childhood -- no matter what you do, you're set. You've got a reason for failure and a bonus for success." She flapped her hands. "Don't get mad, Duo, you know I don't mean to insult you in any way. Just -- listen to me for a second. I don't have anything. I had a perfectly normal upbringing -- my parents were married, they're still alive, my siblings were brats but not psychopaths, I had a dog named Beau and took him for walks every day. So what the hell is wrong with me?"

"Nothing," he said, horribly afraid that she might be crying. Her eyes were glinting. . . he took a step closer.

She wrapped her arms around herself. He paused. "I'm not okay," she said, still not looking at him. "I'm not okay. I'm lonely. I want to fall in love. I want to see the whole world. I don't want to have a job, not ever. I want to be like you -- I want to know that the world isn't full of strangers, just friends I haven't met yet. I want to stop being fat and ugly and stupid."

"Jesus, Hilde," he snapped. "You're not fat -- you haven't been since elementary school. And you've never been ugly. You are being sort of stupid, though, right now."

She raised her eyes to him. "I still feel fat."

Duo sighed, not sure what to say. Women -- weight -- bad topic for discussion. Even he knew that.

She sighed and looked away again. "I just -- I'm just jealous. Seeing you and Heero. You're so perfect together, and I just feel so alone."

"Hilde, you're going to find somebody who's right for you. I know it."

"I don't want to," she said. "I don't want that." She shivered; he started to offer her his jacket, but she shook his head. "I don't need it, Duo. I just need -- to walk. I'll see you later, okay? I'm heading home." She glanced inside. "Your boyfriend's waiting for you."

He had watched her walk away into the garden until the black of her dress had blended into the night. Then he had turned and walked back inside to dance with his lover.

+

"Duo, do you really think that you need four copies of this book?"

Duo turned, and laughed. "I sure as hell do. You know how much I love that one."

Heero turned a dubious eye to the multiple copies of Howl's Moving Castle he carried. "You've got four copies."

Duo shrugged, moving over to take the books from his lover. "It used to be out of print, and since it's pretty much the greatest book ever written, I bought a copy every time I came across one. Then, of course, they started printing it again, so I had to buy the new version. To support it." He dropped a kiss on the other boy's nose. "That's why I've got two more copies in that box over there."

Heero surveyed the room full of boxes. "I don't know how well this is going to fit. You got a lot of junk."

"It's not all mine," Duo said. "Some of it. . . we'll find a way." He pressed his cheek against Heero's shoulder; his lover's hands ran over his braid.

+

Hilde's apartment, Virginia. August 2002.

+

"That's quite a dress," Duo said as he stepped inside his best friend's flat. "Do you always wear velvet to register for classes?"

She grinned and spun around. The dress was beautiful, floor length black velvet with a low front and a lower back. "You like?"

He smiled. "I do. Though you shouldn't let Relena play dress up with you. She can afford to buy herself a Barbie."

Hilde whacked him. "Relena had nothing to do with it. I picked it out all by myself when I was in London."

He rolled his eyes. "Ah, yes, the amazing summer job." He hefted his school handbook meaningfully. "Well, back to school, what fun, pip pip, right-o?"

"Actually," she said, and laughed. Nervously. Happily, but nervously. "I've been offered a place in Milan for the semester. It's free -- it transfers -- and so I said I'd take it."

"Milan?" he asked, his voice echoing in the hollowness of his body.

"Yeah. Y'know, Italy." She was twisting the black velvet -- he reached out and stopped her hand. Shouldn't do that to an obviously expensive dress. "I'll be going to school part time and working for the same firm I worked for in London part time. There was some suggestion that if I did well, they might give me a job after I finished."

"In Milan?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "In Milan. With a lot of travel."

He bit his lip and pushed past her. "How long have you known this?" The door to her room was half open -- he could see that the room was almost empty. Two days before it had been cluttered and messily Hilde. He bit harder.

"I applied last spring. They said yes in June."

He turned to look at her, his eyes stark against his pale face. "You've known since June?"

She nodded.

"Right, then," he said, and turned and stalked out. She followed him, running after him in her velvet dress, but he wasn't paying any attention, just started running harder. She burst into the flat he'd spent the summer in -- two floors above the one she shared with Relena -- scant seconds after he did. "Damn it, Duo!"

"How could you not tell me?" he yelled.

"I don't know," she said, and she was crying. "I just couldn't."

"So you just let me go on talking about us being in the same class and so on and so forth? And about all the stuff we could do as seniors?"

"Duo -- " she started.

"I thought we -- I thought -- "

"I'm sorry!"

"No," he said, "you're not. You're too busy practicing your Italian phrases and trying on black velvet to give a damn about me."

He reached out to touch her dress -- she backed away -- and the strap he was holding broke at one end.

The dress slid down, a bit; Hilde looked at it in resignation.

"Fucking velvet, Hilde," he said. "What the hell happened to Ms. I'll never pay that much for a dress while there are children starving? Ms. Comfort is a product of the women's rights movement? Ms. Pantyhose are a tool of satan?"

Hilde shook her head and stepped out of the dress, balling it up and throwing it at him. "Fine! I won't grow up, Duo -- does that make you happy?"

"Your fucking underwear matches," he sneered.

She fumed, crossing her arms over the black strapless bra that did indeed match her panties. "What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"Next you'll be wearing boots with heels and ruining your lower back and what the fuck am I supposed to do without you?" he demanded.

She was crying again. "The same things you do with me! Sleep with Heero, hang out with Quatre, bicker with Wufei and make fun of Relena. You'll be fine."

"You're my best friend," he said.

"Yes," she said, "I am. I am Duo Maxwell's Best Friend. Every time I'm around you, I lost my name. I'm just Duo's Best Friend. I have frickin' teachers who call me that, Duo, and I just. . . need need need to be free."

"You're always talking about being free," he yelled.

"That's because you always make me feel trapped!" she yelled back.

"So you're going to fucking Italy to get away from me?" he screamed.

"No, you idiot," she said, and she was crying so hard he could hardly understand her. "I'm going to get away from me, and to find me, and to be me and I think I'd die if I couldn't get away."

"You run too much," he told her.

"You hold too much," she replied, and turned and walked out, proudly, in her black bra and panties.

He wadded her dress in his hands and watched her go.

+

It was a beautiful dress, he admitted to himself, even on a hanger. He ran a hand over it lightly, touched the hidden seam he'd put there himself. He was good at things like that -- Hilde was always leaving her rips for him to mend. She was rather accident prone. The dress, when he touched his face to it, smelled of Gaultier's femme, of Hilde, and of him.

"I can't believe she's gone," he said softly.

"I can't believe you let her go."

He started, then turned to scowl at his friend. "I didn't exactly give her my blessing. And it's not like I had a choice."

Quatre came closer, sat on the edge of the bed they'd shared numerous times. "I can't believe you let her go like that. Without your blessing."

"She doesn't need it."

"No. I suppose not."

"What the hell would you know about it?"

Quatre shrugged gracefully. "I've got a lot of sisters, Duo. Some of them I tolerate and some of them I love more than breath. And I considered going off to the same college as some of them, or going to school near home, and maybe for somebody else that would have been good. But I needed space."

"Hilde's not my sister."

"If you say so." Quatre shrugged again. "Seems to me the big difference there is you got to pick her and I never got to pick mine."

"Quatre, this is not a sitcom. We are not going to have some cheesy conversation that's going to make everything be all right. Hilde left me."

"No, Duo, she didn't."

Duo narrowed his eyes. "She damn well did."

Quatre stood up. "Don't be such a selfish bastard, Duo. Hilde didn't do this to you or for you or because of you. She did it for her, and she did it by herself."

Duo kicked a box. "I fucking hate growing up. Everything sucks. Christmas isn't as fun, the music isn't as good, and people grow apart."

"I fucking love it," Quatre retorted. "I've got more control, people are more interesting, and sex just plain rocks." He shot Duo an arch glance and slipped from the room.

Alone, Duo looked at five black dresses. And shrugged. "He's got a point with that sex thing."

+

Ten minutes later, Duo shot through the kitchen. Heero paused and looked after his braided lover. "Where you going?"

Duo slid back, kissed his boyfriend, and left again. "Be back soon!"

"Not an answer," Heero muttered.

"You know where he's going," Trowa said.

Heero grunted.

"And you know what that means."

Heero grunted again. "It means I owe you ten bucks. Damn. I was sure that he'd be mad for at least twenty-four hours."

+

"There's a war coming down between my friend and I! I don't want no war! Going down, going down tonight! Stop this war! Stop this war!"

Hilde stirred, and then sat up in bed. "What the hell?"

"We ain't no sect, we ain't no fucking faction! Unity unity you've heard it all before!"

Relena appeared in the doorway. "Do you have any idea why there is a lunatic singing outside our door at eight in the morning?"

Hilde shook her head.

"Unity! As one stand together !"

Relena rolled her eyes. "I'm putting in earplugs and going back to sleep. God. I mean, it's summer. We're supposed to be able to sleep late."

"Right," Hilde managed. Outside, he'd started on a new song. "Do you like American music? I like American music!"

She got up and brushed her teeth -- even he didn't deserve her morning breath. She splashed water on her face and wondered what the hell she was doing.

"I want you to hold me! I want your arms around me! Did you do too many drugs? I did too many drugs! Baby!"

"Can't even get the song right," she mumbled, and stalked over to the door. Opened it.

"I need a date to the prom. . . would you like to come along ?"

"Been there, done that. What are you doing here at this hour?"

Duo's grin was as silly and sloppy as she'd ever seen it. "Whaddya mean, what am I doing? My bestest friend is going far far away in what, two weeks? We don't have time to sleep in! C'mon, baby, let's go paint the town! Pick a color, any color."

"I thought you were getting all packed up to move in with Heero."

Duo waggled his eyebrows. "I promised him lots of good sex in exchange for him doing all the work."

"Why do I have the feeling that it would work that way anyway?" she asked, and let him in.

"Like my shirt?"

She read the message on it and winced. "Um."

"Oh, yeah, and I think these are yours. Five black dresses. They were in my closet."

She took them, slightly bemused. "I remember leaving this one there yesterday. . . and this is from when I crashed at your house after that party. . . but how did you end up with this one?"

"Well," said Duo, and grinned again. "I thought it'd look good on me."

She whacked him with a hanger and he threw a cushion at her and she pulled his braid. "You're so tone deaf."

"I so am not! I was going to do Lost in a Supermarket next. Or maybe You're So Great. . . . "

"Keep the voice off the Coxon," she warned him. "Give me a second to pull on some clothes and then you can buy me coffee. Might as well have a last few hundred cups of American swill before I leave, right?"

"Oh, I have a shirt for you, too," Duo said. "Made it myself."

She eyed it dubiously. "I never would have guessed."

+

Midori raised an eyebrow as Duo and Hilde came in, arm in arm. One had a shirt that said "Hilde Scheibecker," the other had a shirt that said "Hilde Scheibecker's Best Friend." She elbowed Wufei and pointed the sight out.

Wufei took one look and started laughing. When she looked at him quizzically he grinned triumphantly and explained, "not only did I just win twenty bucks off of Heero -- he said it would be at least two days -- but I can't wait to see the look on his face when he realizes that Duo's been raiding his tank top collection."

Midori grinned and smoothed her black dress. "I'll drink to that."

~owari

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