Trowa couldn’t remember ever feeling so weakened and overcome in his considerably long life. He’d grown so accustomed to false leads and disappointment, to having his crime thrown back into his face by fate again and again, that he’d reached a point where he simply no longer believed he would ever find Duo; somewhere in his subconscious, he saw now, he’d been under the impression — not unjust, he thought — that he would spend the rest of eternity on a vain search for the friend he’d damaged beyond repair.
He hadn’t even been aware that he’d felt this way. When he’d heard Duo’s name again after so long, been informed that the doll the strangers had reported on that message board was, in fact, the one he sought — he’d felt the emotional impact, he’d thought he believed, but even then it had not been real. No, until he’d actually seen Duo, held Duo, heard his voice and looked into his painted eyes… until then, he realized, he hadn’t known what it was to believe. And now he was almost in shock.
Somehow he’d made it onto the sofa, where he sat at the very end next to the little table that seemed to be Duo’s personal space, but he had no recollection of moving there, nor of setting Duo down. The world was at once shadowed by a haze of confusion and the lingering, cloying sorrow of the last eighty-seven years, and ablaze with a brilliance of unexpected, undeserved joy and sudden hope.
Duo had been telling him about a few of the people he’d stayed with over the decades, more as a method of tracing his path around the country than to give any real indication of anyone’s character or habits. It was no surprise that the first had been a child on vacation whose family had left town the very day of the accident. Trowa had scoured that city end to end by every means available to him — magic, social connections, and just plain legwork — and, finding no trace of his friend, had been forced to conclude that Duo had somehow left its boundaries. His despair at the realization that his search must now encompass the entire nation and perhaps beyond had for a while almost completely subdued him.
“I am so sorry for you,” Duo remarked with the uncanny headshake that made Trowa feel alternately guilty and very disturbed. “I was in someone’s suitcase being hauled cross-country at that point. At least I had plenty of time to relax and think about what was going on… you were just going nonstop.”
“I was still in the middle of everything I knew,” Trowa replied, shaking his own head. “Still at home, still… human…”
“Yeah, well… it does suck to be a doll,” admitted Duo, “but there are a few good things about it. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, since I can’t eat; or where I’m going to sleep every night, since I can’t sleep, or freeze to death; I can’t feel pain… There are worse things to live as than an immortal talking doll. Like probably an immortal magical human.”
Trowa shook his head. He didn’t believe for an instant that it hadn’t been far worse for Duo than for him.
“So tell me about that artifact,” Duo pressed, evidently tired of competing to ascribe more misery to Trowa than he’d felt himself. “I didn’t even know you had one that could do something like this; it must have been something you hadn’t shown me yet.”
Trowa nodded. “Albert Payater — if you remember him — he had just given me a good price on it the day before, because it was unpredictable and almost impossible to control. Nobody knew much about it, so he didn’t give me details; he did warn me that it could be dangerous to keep lying around, but I didn’t take him as seriously as I should have.
“When I researched it later I learned that it belonged to an old moon-worshiping cult in the 1700’s. They used to feed their own magical energies into it when they were still active, so it’s very powerful, and it does have some connection with the moon.” He indicated the skin of his face. “That’s the reason for this. It took me almost fifty years to be able to use it as I wanted — and half the time I feel more like it’s using me.”
“And you still have it around? You still use it?”
“I thought about destroying it, but I was afraid that might lock you into this form forever.”
“And you too,” Duo pointed out. “Since it obviously turned your spell into a curse and you got hit with backlash.”
“The skin isn’t the worst of it.” Trowa reached up and removed one of his contact lenses. The desire to surprise his friend a bit was probably the closest thing to a playful impulse he’d felt since he’d last seen him almost ninety years ago. When he turned his eyes on Duo again, allowing his friend to see one of them as it really was, he prompted a startled cry.
“Whoa! What is going on there?”
“Just another part of the backlash,” Trowa said. “I used to have to wear sunglasses everywhere, including indoors, which made me look like an idiot… the invention of color contacts practically saved my life.”
“I bet!” Duo laughed. “Though you’re probably pretty impossible to kill these days.”
“I’ve never tried,” Trowa answered, completely serious. “I had to find you; dying wasn’t an option.” He added more quietly, “Don’t think I didn’t think about it, though.”
“Trowa…” Duo sounded horrified and sympathetic.
“But now that I have found you,” Trowa hastened on, unable to stand Duo’s pity when Duo had been the real sufferer, the real victim, all along, “I can try to break the curse and put you back to normal.”
“I certainly wouldn’t object to that.” The caution in Duo’s voice did little to hide a rising, desperate excitement, and Trowa felt his throat constrict.
“I don’t know if I can. You know how curses work.” It pained him to say this, to admit that he wasn’t certain he could do what they’d both been waiting almost a century for… but Duo had been without hope for so long; false hope now might end up breaking his heart, and Trowa would rather die than hurt him again.
“But it wasn’t a curse at first.” Duo obviously knew his own danger, and was trying to speak levelly, trying not to get his hopes too high. He was failing, but at least he was trying. “It’s possible just a normal counterspell can reverse it.”
Trowa stood up heavily, not entirely certain of his ability to do so until he managed it. He moved to stand before the table on which Duo sat, and looked down at him. “All we can do is try,” he said.