Hank knocked on the dorm room door and waited nervously, trying not to fidget. Glanced down at himself. Blue and white striped t-shirt under a rust-orange colored long sleeve shirt, and khaki pants. Basic sneakers. Not really an impressive ensemble, but he couldn't think about that right now.
He heard movement, then a muffled voice from within.
"Hang on a second."
Her voice. That was her voice. His entire stomach dropped into his feet and he just knew he was about to throw up. He had to run. Now. Before she opened the door. After everything that had happened, this was crazy, illogical, impossible. They could never be together, it would never work. She was too . . . and he was too . . . everything was too . . .
He thought all this in the frantic space of about three seconds.
And then she opened the door.
Her brown hair was loose and flowing over her shoulders. Her lovely face was devoid of makeup and her brown eyes appeared to be red and puffy from crying. Her button nose looked red. She seemed thinner than he remembered.
She wore faded bellbottom jeans and a sleeveless violet top. Her feet were bare. Her toenails were bright orange, freshly painted.
She stared at him in shock, her mouth falling slightly ajar.
She was beautiful. She was radiant. She was an angel.
He smiled nervously.
This is ridiculous. I am a highly intelligent scientist and accomplished inventor. I've battled mutant-killer sentinels. Am I really afraid of a girl?
"Hi," he managed.
She stood unmoving, her hand still on the doorknob. Her mouth closed in a frown, her eyebrows slowly knitting together above her narrowing gaze.
Hank's anxiety rose to new terrifying heights as she stared fixedly at him. He couldn't decide whether she was angry or sad.
Yes, yes I am. I am completely terrified.
Suddenly, her face twisted and she advanced on him. Her delicate, usually gentle, hands balled into fists, assailing his torso. Pummeling his chest, his stomach.
"Why didn't you tell me, you jerk?! You should have told me! You think I wouldn't have understood?! It's been an entire month! Where were you?!"
She wasn't angry or sad. Not his dear, sweet Hope.
She was furious.
Hank was stunned. Even the Beast blinked in surprise. And couldn't even growl.
"I saw you and I knew it was you! And then you were gone! And I didn't know where . . ."
Hope's attack lasted mere seconds but the sudden force of it pushed the defenseless Hank back against the wall behind him.
A blond girl carrying a small laundry basket of folded clothes down the quiet hall witnessed the assault.
"Hey, Hope, you okay?"
Hope's glaring face never even so much as glanced away from Hank, who stood shocked and paralyzed by her vehement reaction to his appearance.
The blond girl looked offended.
"Jeez, Hope, you don't have to be such a . . ."
With something akin to a snarl, Hope rolled her eyes, and propelled herself backward, dragging Hank with her.
Practically flinging him into the room she had just come out of, Hope slammed the door and locked it.
Hank meanwhile adjusted his askew glasses, looking around the space he had just been manhandled into.
The walls were dull white and covered with various music and movie posters, and two tack boards covered with colorful push-pinned bits of paper. A window separated the two single beds, both of which were unmade. Clothes littered the floor. Scatters of crumpled Kleenex adorned the bed against the far wall. A closet stood unlatched to his right, bursting at the seams with clothing. A dresser on his left was covered with adhesive flowers. Two desks piled with papers and books, pencils and pens.
And then she advanced on him again.
Wrapping her arms around him in a crushing embrace so tight he could barely breathe, she buried her face in his neck. Hank automatically wrapped one arm comfortingly around her back, the other held out slightly. He lowered his head to rest his cheek on the top of her head, closing his eyes.
And realized she was talking again. Quieter. Slower.
". . . you were fighting some guy, and roaring and these weird metal poles trapped you in the air and everybody was freaking out and saying it was a monster but I knew it was just you and I kept looking at my toenails and I couldn't talk to anybody about it . . ."
Her rambling voice was thick and heavy.
" . . . and then a few days later, right before the White House feed cut out, I thought I saw you but it was only for a second and there were those machines and that guy again . . ."
Hope was crying.
". . . kept waiting and watching pointless newscasts. You know they never tell you any real information. I would calm down for a while then I'd think of you again and . . ."
He opened his eyes and released his hold on her. Leaning back a little, Hank tucked a hand under her chin, raising her face up to meet his.
"Hope. Hope, stop. It's okay. I'm okay."
She stopped, searching his blue eyes with her big, liquid-brown ones.
He spoke, barely able to contain himself with her face beseechingly upturned so closely to his.
"I'm sorry, Hope. I'll tell you everything. Just . . . please stop crying. Please?"
Hope took a deep, shaky breath and let it out slowly. He let go of her chin and brushed the tears on her cheeks away with a trembling thumb.
She spoke again, calmer now, though her voice was still shaky.
"If you had told me, I would have been . . . prepared, okay? Hank, I would have been . . . I don't know . . . cheering you on!"
I bet you would have. Then you would have painted everything orange, wouldn't you?
He opened his mouth to speak words though he didn't yet know what would they would be.
There was a sudden knocking on the door of Hope's room. She and Hank both flinched at the abrupt interruption.
If that's Logan, I'm going to kill him.
Reluctantly, Hope let go of him and moved to the door. Unlocking it, she cracked it open a few inches. A sliver of the blond girl from before appeared and immediately started talking in what she apparently thought was a whisper.
It was not.
"Hope, you okay? Who is that? I've never even seen you date another guy much less bring one into your room. I thought you were, like, a nun or . . ."
"Jessie, shut up. I'm fine. Bye."
And shut the door solidly in the girl's ogling face, locking it again. Hope turned, blushing, back to Hank. Hank, who was still standing in the middle of the small room. She swiped at her face with trembling fingers.
And looked down at what was clutched in his hand.
"Hank . . . what are those?"
What are what?
Hank followed her gaze. To the roses.
He still held them in his right hand. He'd managed not to drop them when she attacked him, flung him, or hugged him. Quite a feat, considering the intensity of her various interplays.
"Oh, um, they're . . . uh, I . . . brought them . . . for you."
She slowly moved to him, reached down, and covered his hand with her own, bringing the flowers up closer to inspect them.
Three roses. Red, yellow, and white. Just as Hank had planned.
A month ago. A hundred years ago.
He'd momentarily forgotten he even had them.
"You brought me roses . . . and I attacked you?"
He shrugged again.
"Well, you were mad because I . . ."
She graced him with one of her sweet, soothing smiles. Left hand still touching his with the roses, the right reaching up to rest on his chest. His arm was embracing her again. He could feel her warmth through the thin fabric and he was sure she could feel his pounding heartbeat.
"No, Hank. Why did you bring me roses?"
He stopped and swallowed thickly. He couldn't breathe. His heart thundered in his ears. His mouth felt dry. He was pretty sure he was about to drop dead on the spot.
Were the Sentinels easier than this? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not sure any more.
She watched him expectantly. Waiting patiently. Apparently just as she'd always done.
"Because . . . well . . ."
He took a deep breath, unable to look away from those beautiful brown eyes.
Just say it, man!
"I love you, Hope."
There. He'd said it. The words were out, floating in the air between them and he could not get them back. He just had to stay conscious and hope for the best.
She looked at the roses. And back up at him. And smiled. It was like a warming ray of sunlight breaking through a heavy grey cloudbank.
"Oh Hank . . . I love you, too."
Hank swore his insides swelled and burst with all his emotions. Relief, awe, happiness, love. They stood still, gazing at each other for a few long seconds.
"Can I . . . kiss you?" he asked, voice trembling.
"You'd better," she said with a grin and a quirked eyebrow. "I've been waiting for five years."
He blinked at her, a lopsided smile forming on his face.
She nodded, eyebrows raised.
"Of course, Hank. Didn't you know?"
He blushed, ducking his head just a bit.
Well, maybe a little.
And then he did kiss her.
It was sweet and delicious and perfect.