“A curse affects both the victim and the caster. A skilled curse-caster can bend this effect so that their share in the curse is something they don’t mind, something that doesn’t inhibit them… but even if they manage that, repeatedly having a share in any curse leaves a mark eventually.”
When Heero rescues an abandoned doll from the gutter, he hardly thinks it’s going to change his life; but now he and his best friend Quatre find themselves involved in the breaking of a curse from almost a hundred years ago, and perhaps in falling for exactly the wrong people.
Business important enough to force a meeting to convene on a Saturday would always be sufficient to drive just about anything else from Quatre’s head, so he’d mostly forgotten about the talking doll. However, the moment he got out of the airport and into his car (for the second time that day) and his cell informed him that he had missed calls and voicemail, he remembered everything.
The message was from a friend, inviting him out this evening, and Quatre deleted it without even listening all the way through. The other caller, as usual, hadn’t bothered leaving a message, and Quatre immediately returned the call.
“Are you coming back over here or going straight home?” Heero wanted to know.
Quatre laughed, his mind again full of the enthusiastic interest Duo had inspired yesterday evening. As if he would go home at this point! “Have you figured out that doll yet?” he asked eagerly. Then, realizing he hadn’t answered the question, appended, “I’m definitely going there.”
“No,” Heero answered Quatre’s badly-placed query. “Not exactly. But I’ve got something to show you.”
“I’m just getting on the highway,” Quatre informed him. “I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes.” And the rest of his trip to Heero’s apartment was conducted in mighty impatience.
“How was your meeting?” Heero greeted him at the door when Quatre arrived.
“I think we may have things straightened out over there,” answered Quatre. “But I can’t think about that right now; what did you want to show me?”
Wordlessly Heero gestured him to follow.
As they moved through the living room, Duo spoke up from where he still sat on the end table wrapped in a paper towel. “Hey, Quatre.” He was watching TV. At least, Quatre assumed he was watching; it was difficult to tell.
“Hi.” It felt strange to be casually greeted by what was essentially a Ken doll, and even stranger to return the greeting as if it were perfectly normal.
Heero didn’t stop, but led Quatre through to the second bedroom, where he pointed at the chair that stood out from the desk. “Last night I tried searching for talking dolls, and didn’t find anything,” he stated as Quatre took the seat as instructed. “But look at what I found today.”
He’d left a number of sites open in multiple tabs, in addition to a search engine, and dutifully Quatre rifled through them.
“Magic?” he wondered. Heero had searched for magic on the internet? Heero Yuy had looked up sites about magic?
Glancing over one after another, Quatre grew more and more interested and surprised. Because these weren’t the type of sites he would have expected on the subject — badly-constructed personal pages hosted by giant, disreputable free servers rattling on with poor syntax about cosmic mysteries in dark blue text on starry black backgrounds. These were articles and journals and archives such as he might have found if he’d searched for knitting or golfing or sudoku or a thousand other hobbies, and they looked every bit as legitimate.
“‘Magical cooking requires less kitchen space,'” he read aloud. “‘The fallacy of magic/computer incompatibility.’ ‘Magical security systems: cheaper than traditional alarm systems, but are they as effective?’ ‘How common artifacts form and what they’re used for.’ Well.”
“Yeah,” Heero said.
Still staring at the screen, Quatre sat back in the chair and ran his hands through his hair. “Well,” he said again. “Either this is the biggest and most dedicated collection of nerds in the world, or magic is the worst-kept secret of the twenty-first century.”
Quatre continued to gaze almost absently at the list of ‘common artifacts,’ trying to decide how he felt about this, while Heero stood behind him without moving or speaking.
Finally Heero said, “I still don’t know that I believe him.”
Slowly Quatre shook his head. “Me neither. But this certainly is… interesting.”
“Yeah,” Heero said a third time. Another few moments passed in silence before he spoke again. “Let me show you one more thing.”
Quatre relinquished the chair and watched as Heero pulled up something he’d evidently bookmarked earlier. Without a word he stood again and gestured Quatre to resume the seat and look.
“‘Magical Help Forum,'” Quatre read. Looking past the moderators’ note advising new members to read the rules and check the ‘Frequently Miscast Spells’ list before posting, he clicked on the first thread.
Help! the post said. My dog wouldnt stop barking at the guy fixing our sprinklers so I cast a silence on him and now I can’t get it off!! He tries to bark or whine and no sound comes out! I tried a spell to clear out other spells, and one of those ‘Put this back to how it was a certain point spells, even just a spell to make things louder, but nothing works, what am I doing wrong?
The first reply read, do u use artifacts? The second requested the exact wording of all the spells attempted by the poster so far. The third remarked, Sounds like artifact interference to me.
Quatre didn’t read any farther, but rather turned to look at Heero again. The latter was watching with arms folded and a dark, pensive expression; Quatre knew exactly what he was thinking. “It couldn’t hurt,” he agreed with the unspoken sentiment.
They switched places again, since Heero seemed even more interested than he professed in writing the post. He certainly was getting into this; Quatre didn’t think Heero had ever posted anything in an online forum in his life. Actually, he wouldn’t have thought there was anything in the world that could ever induce Heero to post anything in an online forum. Quatre leaned over his shoulder, watching as he went about setting up a new account.
“Screen name?” Heero prompted.
“Just shove some random words together,” Quatre shrugged, “and throw some numbers on it.” He started listing unrelated words as they came to mind. “Space… heart… wing… zero…”
Heero muttered something about not wanting to spell out a number and then put digits after it, and entered ‘spaceheart4321.’
Quatre nodded his approval. “Better check the ‘Frequently Miscast Spells’ list before you post.”
“I looked at it earlier,” Heero replied, starting a new post. “It’s all domestic stuff: hair-dyeing and clothes-washing and…” He trailed off as he began typing.
Have found talking doll that claims to be cursed human from 1800’s. Please advise.
“I think you’re going to have to give more details than that,” laughed Quatre.
Heero frowned, and mumbled, “I feel like an idiot going into detail.”
“Nobody knows who you are,” Quatre reminded him. “If this is for real, they’ll want the details anyway… and if it’s all a joke, they’ll just think you have a great imagination.”
A little reluctantly, Heero nodded and began rewriting his message. This time, with some prodding from Quatre, he managed to include everything relevant besides names and places — including the specifics of Duo’s story and their own skepticism on the subject. Even after proofreading it twice, though, he hit the ‘post’ button rather hesitantly.
Quatre stood straight, looking around at the door and listening to the sound of the television from the next room. “I guess that’s all there is to be done right now,” he said.
Heero nodded slowly; as he rose from the desk, his eyes seemed locked on the monitor. Quatre noticed this was the only part of the computer he turned off before moving into the hall.
They sat on the couch in the living room for approximately two minutes, not quite long enough to ascertain what Duo was watching, before Heero stirred and made a movement as if to rise.
Once again Quatre knew exactly what he was thinking. Smiling and putting out a hand to stop him he said, “Give people a chance to respond.” Heero subsided.
“What are you two up to?” Duo wondered. As Heero opened his mouth to reply he added hastily, “I know, I know, none of my business. But you never realize the value of being able to just get up and walk into another room whenever you want until you lose it.”
Maybe Heero was right; maybe Quatre was starting to believe all of this. Whatever the case, he found himself far less inclined to laugh at this just complaint than he would have been yesterday.
Quatre had been right about giving people time to reply, but Heero realized now that he shouldn’t have waited quite so long. He’d returned to the message board the next morning just a little too eager, too hopeful, after that interval, as if expecting a set of detailed, specific answers waiting for him in the replies — either a general consensus that this must be a hoax, or… well, nothing else, really. What else could they possibly have said?
A lot of nonsense about artifacts, that was what.
Heero wasn’t even really sure what an artifact was in this context, but, according to just about everyone on this forum, no single person could have cast a spell this effective and long-lasting without at least one.
Can you get more details from him about the type of magic his friend used? one person asked. And what kinds of artifacts he used?
I once turned half my skin into leather mixing three artifacts by accident, another supplied, and those were just the usual household arties. I can see someome doing something like this if he had something bigger.
A third briefly wondered, What divinations have you tried on him? proving immediately that they hadn’t actually read the original post as Heero had specifically mentioned that he and his friend had no knowledge of magic themselves.
Not that everyone took the reputed curse seriously. Sounds like a trick to me, said one skeptic. I mean, like people said above, there’s no way to cast a spell like that especially for so long without a couple of people working on it AND probably a strong arti or two. You should check that thing again for wires and speakers.
Another didn’t even take the post seriously. Oh great, another troll. You people who come around here making s*** up really ought to look up how magic actually works before you come posting this s***. Better yet, find something better to do. Like diaf.
This last made Heero rather angry, and served as a reminder of why he didn’t hang out online, but his overall mood was one of frustration. He was convinced by now that most of the people on this forum believed in magic and had at least a general knowledge of how it supposedly worked. But what the hell were these artifacts they were all going on about?
He found he was too irritated to look this up, or to answer any of their questions at the moment — even if he decided he was going to in any case, which he might not. After all, though he hadn’t gotten any terribly useful responses, what he had gotten pointed rather decidedly to the original theory that Duo was full of shit. Or perhaps s***. Even if all these people weren’t roleplaying or crazy and magic did exist, they seemed to agree that what Duo had described was impossible — which was exactly what Heero had believed all along.
At the end of the hall he paused, once again looking at the strange little figure on the end table in the living room. The television had probably, in the last two days, aired the Syfy channel for longer than it had in the last two years.
What if it wasn’t impossible? What if Duo really was a — he could barely entertain the thought without shaking his head — human cursed to live forever as a Barbie doll?
Heero didn’t even feel like thinking about that.
“Doesn’t it get boring?” he wondered with an effort, moving forward into the room, determined to distract himself. He wished Quatre hadn’t gone home and left him here alone with Duo.
“Star Trek?” the doll replied in a shocked tone. “Never!”
Heero sat down at the end of the couch nearest the little table, and examined the doll. Quatre the soft-hearted had evidently been more moved by Duo’s complaints than Heero had, and had combed and braided his hair at some point. That was just like Quatre. Heero still couldn’t quite figure out whether his friend was slipping and really believing Duo’s nonsense, or just being nice, the way he usually did, to anyone and everyone.
“I mean watching TV all day and night,” Heero said at last.
“Oh, yes.” Duo nodded his stiff nod. “It’s better than nothing, but, god, it gets old. It gets to the point sometimes where I even prefer having tea parties with Barbie and then having to pretend to make out with her.”
Repressing a laugh Heero said in the most serious tone he could command, “Should I go out and buy a Barbie for you, then?”
“I’d like to see you do that,” Duo replied. “In fact, we could make a date out of it: dinner, a movie, and Toys’R’Us.”
“A sci-fi movie, I assume.”
“Definitely. Is Avatar still in theaters? I wanted to see that.”
“It may still be at the cheap– wait. You’re a doll. Why do you need a theater when my TV is like a big screen to you?”
“So rent it for me. I like that kind of date better anyway.”
“I am not dating you,” Heero said flatly, though he was honestly more amused than anything else.
“That’s OK,” replied Duo in his ‘shrug’ tone. “You can just take me straight to bed.”
One of Heero’s brows went down and the other up. The result was a sort of skeptical scowl. “Maybe if you’re a really good boy. Doll.”
Quatre was lucky he had his own office; otherwise he would have been continually looking over his shoulder in some embarrassment when the very first thing he did on Monday was to email Heero about the doll. He couldn’t imagine how Heero — whose ‘private cubicle’ on the sales floor lived up to its name only by having walls six inches higher than the other cubicles on the sales floor — was going to get through the morning.
Instead of answering Quatre’s question about whether he’d learned anything useful from the people on the message board, Heero responded simply with a link to the thread. The promptness of his reply made Quatre laugh; that Heero had the URL ready without having to go looking for the place meant he’d come to work fully intending to check on the answers to his question during his shift.
A situation such as this, Quatre thought, was a perfectly viable excuse for browsing an online forum to the exclusion of all other work before he really got going on a slow Monday morning. Besides, it wasn’t as if he was paid by the hour… or his father didn’t own the company or anything. And this artifact stuff seemed so interesting.
He was having a rather difficult time grasping exactly what artifacts were in this context, and hadn’t bothered to look it up, but the general idea he got made it clear that they were essential to the spells these people supposedly cast on a daily basis — and probably the cause of Duo’s problem, assuming Duo wasn’t lying. Unfortunately, though so far there was a good deal of back-and-forth in the lengthening forum thread as to whether or not the cursed doll predicament was possible, there were no concrete suggestions as to how to deal with it if it was.
Between his legitimate items of business, Quatre spent the day emailing Heero. The latter seemed reluctant to request the further information the magic people wanted from Duo, and therefore needed to be prodded — and beyond that, the topic was so interesting that they just couldn’t stop discussing it even when there was really very little to be said. They were both keeping a constant eye on the forum, too, and had to confer on every new post added to the thread; but by the end of the day they hadn’t made any significant progress.
That Heero was exceptionally emotionally invested in this was the only aspect of the situation that seemed certain to Quatre. Whether or not magic existed, whether or not the people on the message board really practiced it, whether or not Duo was what he said he was, Heero was taking more than just entertainment from all of this. Why this might be, Quatre wasn’t sure (though he planned on finding out), but it was undoubtedly the reason for the restless irritation Heero evinced as he sat in Quatre’s office after his own shift was over, waiting for his friend.
“Let’s go get dinner,” Quatre said at last, stretching so that his chair creaked.
Heero nodded and rose wordlessly.
“And then go interrogate that doll,” added Quatre pointedly.
Heero frowned, but didn’t protest. Neither did he object to the suggestion that he drive, nor even ask why, which was the last proof Quatre needed of his level of distraction. Quatre always drove when they took one car somewhere, simply because he made more money than Heero did (well, and also because Heero’s car was something of an ancient wreck).
“All right,” Quatre demanded as soon as they were underway, “time to come clean. I know this is all very interesting, but I think you’re getting more into it than really makes sense.”
As Heero was driving, he couldn’t turn and give Quatre a look of some kind — at least not for longer than a few seconds — and therefore had to answer verbally, which was part of the reason Quatre had suggested this arrangement. But, “I am not,” was all he said.
“Yes, you are,” Quatre insisted. “You’re totally wrapped up in this, more than I think I’ve ever seen you in anything. Did you get any work done today?”
“Of course I did.” Heero sounded just the tiniest bit guilty, though.
“Of course you did,” Quatre echoed in a soothing tone. “Whenever you weren’t busy obsessing over that magical message board.”
“I’m not ‘obsessing,'” Heero protested. “You said it yourself: he’s just really interesting. I want to find out what’s true and what isn’t.”
“So you’re starting to believe in magic!” Quatre concluded, amused.
“No. We don’t have enough information yet to make a positive statement.”
Quatre laughed. “The fact that you admit there even is information that might allow us to believe at some point shows just how into this you are.”
“I’m surprised you’re not,” Heero replied, changing tactics with unusual warmth (which, Quatre thought, just helped to prove his point). “A talking doll who might actually be human? Magic might actually exist?”
With a shrug Quatre said, “I’ve already admitted it’s interesting. I just think you’re a lot more interested than I am.”
Heero snorted. “All the different interesting aspects of this situation, and none of them are enough to get you really interested.”
“I think my attitude is more logical than yours,” insisted Quatre. He would have continued, but just at that moment the precise wording of Heero’s earlier statement belatedly struck him: “He‘s just really interesting.” But that couldn’t possibly…
Heero had pulled them into the parking lot of the restaurant they typically preferred after work, and Quatre was still contemplating the odd idea that had occurred to him as they got out of the car. He had only a few more moments to think about it, however.
They didn’t pay any attention whatsoever to the man by the door, just as they would have ignored any other restaurant patron they didn’t know. Quatre, in fact, didn’t so much as glance at him as they moved past — that is, until the man reached out a hand and touched Quatre’s arm lightly. “Excuse me,” he said softly. “Are you two the ones with the talking doll?”
Heero whirled on the stranger, excessively perturbed at having the matter mentioned so abruptly by an outsider — not least because it sounded so absurd. He paused at the sight of the man, however, taken aback by an appearance so odd and an expression so earnest he couldn’t help giving him his attention.
An outdated suit wasn’t the only thing strange about the man; there was also an unnatural, unhealthy-looking paleness, almost a greyness, to his skin, and an unusual brightness to his eyes that reminded Heero of descriptions he’d heard of certain types of drug addicts. He seemed discomposed, restless, worried, tense — and at the same time trying very hard to conceal or subdue it.
Quatre had let his arm fall from where he’d been reaching for the door, and now was examining the stranger alongside Heero. Not quite as willing to be rude to people as Heero was, however, he answered the question. “Yes, that’s us.”
The stranger drew in a deep, quiet breath, apparently tensing even further. “Please,” he said, “may I talk to you?” He repeated, “Please,” with an almost desperate intensity that seemed to coincide exactly with his extreme but repressed agitation.
Heero glanced at Quatre, who raised his eyebrows in an expression as much Why not? as What the hell is this?
“Sure,” Heero agreed. “Let’s go inside and get a table and talk there.”
The stranger nodded and accompanied them through the door. Heero noticed that his coat had tails.
Once seated and once soda orders had been placed by Heero and Quatre, the latter two settled into staring at the stranger across the table, waiting for whatever he had to say.
“I won’t waste your time,” the man began. “Has this doll you found told you his name?”
“Yes,” Heero nodded. “Duo Maxwell.”
At these words the man seemed to crumple as if invisible strings holding him taut had been abruptly cut. He leaned forward with a trembling sigh, evidently too weak all of a sudden to remain upright, put his elbows on the table, and buried his face in his hands. “My god…” he whispered, then repeated the phrase two or three times at lower and lower volumes.
For a moment Heero and Quatre could only watch in fascinated pity, but presently Quatre put out a hesitant hand and touched one of the stranger’s. “Are you his friend?” he guessed. “The one who cast the spell?”
The gentleness of Quatre’s tone must have been a good choice, for the stranger raised his face with a deep breath. There were tears on his cheeks. “Yes,” he replied weakly. “I’ve been looking for him for eighty-seven years.”
Heero tried to soften his stare, but feared he was failing. “You’ll have to forgive me for being a little skeptical of everything you say. You’ve got to be aware of how crazy this all sounds.”
The man nodded, wiping the moisture from his face. “And you will have to forgive me for not caring whether or not you believe what I say.”
“That sounds fair,” Quatre put in quickly. “You look like you could use a drink; what can we order for you?”
“I…” The man shook his head as if to clear it and get back on track. “I would not mind a glass of wine. Thank you.”
Their waiter had by this time returned, ready to take their dinner order, so the drink was requested along with the meal. Heero assumed either that Quatre was paying for this or that whatever the stranger had to say would be worth buying him alcohol on a split check.
Another staring silence fell while the man finished getting himself as under control as the situation permitted and the other two simply waited. Heero wasn’t even quite sure what he was waiting for, but he waited nonetheless. He didn’t doubt the man had more to say than simply seeking confirmation of Duo’s identity and whereabouts, but whether this would confirm the whole thing as a hoax or continue skirting Heero’s full disbelief he was eager to see.
The wine, which the waiter brought out immediately, seemed to help. It didn’t exactly put color into the pale cheeks of the stranger, but a few sips granted him a certain increase in steadiness. When he next spoke, however, it still wasn’t to offer explanation or introduction, but, rather, continue questioning the other two. “Is Duo all right?”
“Other than being a doll?” Heero couldn’t refrain from a touch of sarcasm. “He’s fine.”
“He isn’t… damaged… in any way?” the man wondered. “It’s been so long… he’s still in one piece?”
“I couldn’t pull his leg off when I tried,” Heero shrugged. The man winced.
“He’s not happy about being a doll, if that’s what you want to know,” Quatre put in quietly.
The stranger’s brows contracted beneath his face-shadowing hair, his unusually bright eyes cast down. “That’s only natural,” he murmured, in a tone of such helpless misery and guilt that Heero heard Quatre beside him catch his breath. Even Heero, whatever he might or might not believe about this situation, found himself moved to pity. There was no way to reassure the man, however; Duo had barely mentioned him or the exact circumstances of the curse, and Heero hadn’t wanted to press the doll on what, if it was true, must be a painful subject.
Quatre obviously wished to reassure, however, and therefore gave what little information they had that might: “He didn’t sound angry when he mentioned you. Even if he was upset with you back then, I’m sure he isn’t anymore.”
This did little to clear the unhappiness from the man’s face. He took another sip of wine and a deep breath, then said slowly, “I never meant for it to happen at all, and god knows I’ve been paying for it since.”
“How did it happen?” Heero wondered. This was one of the things he’d been supposed to ask Duo — the specifics of the scene that had purportedly caused all the trouble back in whatever year forever ago — which, once again, he hadn’t wanted to bring up for fear of bothering the doll.
“I’ve never told anyone before.” The stranger looked at him a little unsteadily. “You won’t believe it.”
“I’d like to hear about it too,” Quatre said.
The man transferred his gaze to Quatre, where it remained for several long seconds. Finally, nodding, he swallowed the last of his wine and began to tell his story.
“Duo and I grew up together,” the man began. “I don’t remember a time when we weren’t best friends, until… well, we had been friends since we were children. I had run away from my family, and he was an orphan…”
Quatre found himself unusually riveted on the stranger’s words. Whether this tale was true or whether this was simply a phenomenal actor adding onto the hoax, there was just something so interesting about the man. Heero had marveled that no aspect of this situation was interesting enough to get Quatre really interested; now one seemed to have appeared.
“We did whatever we could to scrape up money… lived together in one room, shared everything we earned…” In a nearly inaudible tone of nostalgia almost unbearably sad the man added, “We shared everything.”
He shook his head and went on. “We’d always known that magic was real; one of our neighbors when we were young was a fortune teller, and it was something we’d simply always accepted. But it wasn’t until years later that it occurred to us to try practicing ourselves. The old woman had died by then, but we managed…” Again he shook his head, this time apparently in self-reproof. “But you don’t need to hear all about how we learned magic.”
Quatre thought that he would very much like to hear how they had supposedly learned magic, but agreed that it was tangential to the overall story.
“By then I had a job at a factory where I made better money than either of us ever had. Duo refused to come work with me; he couldn’t stand that kind of repetitive work.” The man’s tone held a retroactive fondness for his friend, and once again a nostalgia so strong and pathetic it almost seemed too personal for others to be privy to. Quatre suddenly began to wonder what the precise relationship between the two had been.
“We had enough money, for once; the Great War had ended; and magic kept us entertained. Everything in our lives seemed to be going well.”
Here the man was interrupted by the appearance of food. As their meals were set down in front of them, the waiter promised refills on sodas, and in conjunction with this asked whether the stranger would like another glass of wine. Observing hesitance in the stranger’s look, Quatre volunteered, “I believe he would,” with a friendly smile at both parties. The waiter took himself off, the stranger thanked Quatre, and the story continued.
“Late in 1922 I was promoted to general overseer at the factory, and suddenly I was in possession of more money than I’d ever dreamed of having when I was a newsboy on the streets. I thought it was a good thing at first. I believe even Duo thought it was a good thing at first. But it changed things.” He fell silent for a moment, pensive. The waiter reappeared just then with his wine; after giving him a nod of thanks and seeing him gone again, the stranger went on.
“My new salary bought me a place in a higher level of society than I’d ever moved in. It was a different world back then; society wasn’t what it is now. I was never much of a society person, but it was entertaining to be asked to parties and luncheons I could never have attended before. But once Duo saw what it was like, he wouldn’t have any part of it. He wouldn’t move into the new apartment I rented, wouldn’t ride in the new car I bought, and, though he was often included in invitations extended to me, he wanted nothing to do with what he called my ‘new shit-heel friends.’ Until…”
The man pursed his lips slightly, looking perturbed. “I’ve forgotten her name,” he murmured. “She was what started all of this, and I’ve forgotten her name.”
“You argued over a woman?” Quatre asked. Why this should be so surprising he couldn’t guess, but he was definitely startled.
The stranger nodded. “He only started making himself pleasant to her after I’d shown an interest; it was clear — to me, at least — that he wasn’t actually interested in her… but he had a gift for making himself pleasant, which you may have noticed.”
Heero had been sitting, stiff and silent, at Quatre’s side all this time, and, though he still said nothing, at this point he did nod almost imperceptibly.
“I confronted him about it,” the stranger went on with a sigh, “and accused him of toying with her solely to diminish my chances with her. I accused him of being petty and fake and… I believe my exact words were, ‘It’s as if you were made of plastic.'”
With an swift indrawn breath of understanding, half excited and half horrified, Quatre interjected, “And that’s why…!”
The man nodded. “He accused me in return of not caring about him anymore — not caring about anything anymore, except money and what it could buy me. He believed it, too; he really thought I didn’t care about him. My best friend, whom I’d grown up with, who was closer to me than anyone, who knew me better than anyone…”
An expression of pain took hold of the pale face opposite Quatre, twisting the stranger’s handsome features pathetically for several moments before smoothing gradually out again. “I’m not trying to justify what I did,” the man insisted quietly, “only what I felt. It upset me so much that he could think that way, I wanted to force him to feel what I felt, to know exactly how much I cared. I thought I could put together a spell that would do that, that would let him share my emotions just for a few moments. But I’d forgotten…”
“Artifacts?” Heero guessed, speaking for the first time since the story began.
The man nodded. “You’ve been paying attention to that message board, I see. Yes, I’d forgotten that I had recently acquired a new artifact, though I didn’t know its power yet in any case. Some of my shit-heel friends practiced magic as well, and… but, again, you don’t need to know the story of how I came by the artifact. All you really need to know is that it was an extremely powerful one.
“We were in my apartment at the time, and it was in the room. It twisted my spell into something I could never have wanted, and made it more powerful than anything I could ever have cast… and I was just amateur enough not to realize what was happening. If I’d only realized, I might have stopped it…” Bitterly, quietly he repeated, “I might have stopped it.” By now he was on his third glass of wine, and Quatre got the feeling that this entire conversation was a much-needed release for him. After so many years, finally to be unburdening himself… well, assuming it all was true.
“Duo was standing at the window, leaning on the sill,” the stranger went on at last. “When he… when the spell changed him, he fell… he hit the windowsill and fell out… My apartment was on the third floor, and he fell all the way to the ground. I could hardly understand or believe what I’d seen… I thought I’d simply seen him shrink, but the sound he made hitting the windowsill…” He grimaced slightly as he relived the misery and confusion of that scene, and evidently, once again, decided not to go into excessive detail. “I saw him on the ground when I looked out the window, but by the time I got out of the building to the street, he was gone. Someone must have picked him up. After that I… never saw him again.”
“So you–” Horrified as he was at the implications of this, Quatre had to pause until the waiter had taken their plates, promised another glass of wine, and left them in peace. “So you only saw him for a second? You’ve been looking for him all these years without even being sure what he looked like? Or even if he was still alive?”
“I knew he hadn’t died,” the man replied. “I heard him shout as he fell, and he was moving on the sidewalk when I looked down at him. But, yes, I haven’t been certain of much.”
Quatre shook his head. “It must have been terrible,” he murmured.
“I’ve spent my time following any and every possible rumor that might be Duo, and, when there weren’t any, trying to master the artifact so that if I did find him I would be able to undo the curse.”
“And can you?” Heero asked, sounding suddenly a good deal more interested than before.
“I don’t know.” The stranger fixed them each in turn with a very pointed look. “I would have to see him.”
His Own Humanity is an AU series set in modern-day America (plus magic) featuring characters from Rurouni Kenshin (primarily Saitou and Sano) and Gundam Wing (primarily Heero, Duo, Trowa, and Quatre). In chronological order (generally), the stories currently available are:
Sano enlists the help of exorcist Hajime in discovering the nature of the unusual angry shade that's haunting him.
Best friends Heero and Quatre have their work cut out for them assisting longtime curse victims Duo and Trowa.
During Plastic (part 80), Cairo thinks about thinking and other recent changes in his life.
A look at how Hajime and Sano are doing.
A look at how Trowa and Quatre are doing.
A look at how Heero and Duo are doing.
A meeting between Kamatari and Wufei.
Couple analysis among Heero, Duo, Trowa, and Quatre.
Quatre undergoes an unpleasant magical change; Heero, Duo, and Trowa are forced to face unpleasant truths; and Hajime and Sano may get involved.
During La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré (parts 33-35), Sano's 178-day wait is over as what Hajime has been fearing comes to pass.
During Guest Room Soap Opera (part 3), Cathy learns a lot of interesting facts and Trowa is not happy.
A few days before the epilogue of La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré, Duo and Sano get together to watch football and discuss relationships and magical experiences; Heero listens in on multiple levels.
On the same evening as That Remarkable Optimism, Trowa tells Quatre's parents the whole truth, as promised.
There are some gimmicks that are almost impossible to resist at certain moments. Quatre could have suggested any random words in the world (or, rather, actually random words) for Heero’s screen name, but I just couldn’t restrain myself from making a silly reference to canon there. It’s not the last time in the story that this happens, either… though I think this one’s the most blatant.
Later, Heero notes that Trowa’s coat is old-fashioned, but in reality men’s suit coats have changed so little in the last hundred years — at least from the front, which is where Heero’s looking — that this is somewhat of an exaggeration of his powers of observation. Oh, well.
Also, it amuses me that Heero hasn’t asked Duo how the curse supposedly came to be in fear of saddening Duo in case it might be true, but he doesn’t have any qualms asking Trowa the same question.