“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.
Yesterday had been difficult to get through at work, but it was nothing compared with today. It particularly didn’t help that Quatre had two long meetings — one of them at the downtown office — where he really did have to pay attention and during which he couldn’t email Heero.
Poor Heero. He’d been agitated and impatient yesterday; he must be going crazy today. His disappointment must be greater, too, though he would never admit it; Quatre had had only the course of a single conversation to develop the beginnings of an interest in Trowa, but Heero had had Duo around for a few days — weekend days, too, when they’d been free to spend a lot of time together — before the truth became apparent.
Quatre was lucky he enjoyed his job (or at least had the ability to be absorbed by it); he couldn’t say he was perfectly distracted from thoughts of what might be going on with Duo and Trowa, but the day passed more quickly than he might have expected. It was five o’clock precisely when he locked up his office and headed for the car, and he started automatically for Heero’s apartment without thinking.
When he did think, he reflected that he couldn’t stay the night there again unless he went home first for more clothing, and that if he went home he might just as well sleep in his own bed. But for the moment he was definitely going to see what, if anything, was happening at Heero’s place. He had a key, though he rarely used it since he was usually there with Heero; today, arriving before his friend, he didn’t scruple to let himself in.
“Hey, hottie,” Duo greeted from his table.
“Hi,” Quatre replied, setting his briefcase down on the kitchen counter and draping his jacket over it. “Still a doll, I see.”
“Yes,” agreed Duo sullenly. “Hey, can you do me a favor?”
“Sure.” Quatre made his way over to the doll.
“See this key next to my shapely cross-dressed legs?”
Quatre laughed as he picked up the key.
“That opens Trowa’s door. He said that as long as he was invading Heero’s home like this, Heero should have access to his too.”
“OK,” said Quatre, amused at this concept of fairness.
Duo waved an arm up and down, probably in a gesture that wished it could be pointing at the object of their discussion rather than straight ahead of him. “Can you go check on him for me? He hasn’t been back in here since he linked the door, and that was about fifteen hours ago now.”
“Sure,” Quatre said sympathetically, turning toward Trowa’s door. He laughed a little as he admitted, “I’m really curious what it’s like in there anyway.”
“So am I,” said Duo, sullen again, “but there’s that whole artifact thing…”
“I’ll tell you about it,” Quatre promised as he inserted the key into the deadbolt lock. “Be right back, I guess.”
Through the windows in the door Quatre had been able to get some small idea of what at least the front hallway was like, but only from inside could the true eccentricity of the place be appreciated. The decorations and furnishings were sparse, but even so managed to form a sort of gradient of decades spanning almost the entire last century. Quatre’s own house having been in the family for quite some time, he was no stranger to a somewhat unusual combination of styles, but this was beyond anything he’d ever seen.
In the entryway alone his eyes ran over a dreadful hanging light fixture straight out of the 70’s, an actual grandfather clock from who knew when, and a tall brass hat rack with attached umbrella stand. It came as something of a surprise to Quatre that he even knew what an umbrella stand was. When had he ever taken note of the existence of such a thing in his life? Sure, its intended purpose was blatantly indicated by the presence of an umbrella within — one of those old-style gigantic black ones with a curved wooden handle — but since when had the words ‘umbrella’ and ‘stand’ converged so easily in his head? Not that it was terribly important.
This seemed a very small house; a narrow staircase led up to what was probably an attic and down to a tiny cellar, but other than that there only appeared to be a few rooms on a single level. The largest of these, to which the entry led, was a dining/living room and kitchen that stood in complete darkness until he found a light-switch. If Quatre hadn’t already been reminded by the grandfather clock that this was a different time-zone, it would have been confirmed by the starry night sky visible through the dining room windows (between checkered curtains from the 50’s, if Quatre was any judge, and possibly as old as the house).
As there was no sign of Trowa in here, Quatre satisfied himself with only a single look around at an oak china cabinet with stained glass in its doors, and a laminate-top chrome dining table with matching chairs, before moving on. He found, for some reason, that he was taking care to step quietly and make as little noise as possible, but it wasn’t out of nervousness or embarrassment — rather, it was the same hush he would have affected in a library or even a sickroom.
Given that the magician had found them via the internet, Quatre supposed he shouldn’t be surprised at seeing that Trowa had a computer in the room to the left of the entry — nor at learning that the chaotic computer desk was not a phenomenon limited to modern generations, even when the desk itself was an antique probably a century old. As this room was also unlit and uninhabited, he crossed the hall and opened the door to the third chamber.
Here was light, and it was here that he found what he sought. The room was lined with bookshelves on both sides — only one of them a good-old-fashioned solid oak affair, and the rest of a decidedly do-it-yourself variety no older than he was. The relatively narrow remaining space between was somewhat cluttered by a couple of similarly mismatched tables littered with books, papers, and miscellaneous objects. Another room, evidently a bedroom, lay past a door that stood ajar at the far end, and beside this sat Trowa in an armchair — this one, Quatre thought, dating back to the 60’s, to judge by its awful pattern.
An open book lay in his lap, and several others were stacked on a table within arm’s reach beneath the antique lamp that was the room’s only illumination, but Trowa certainly wasn’t reading at the moment. How long he’d been asleep was anybody’s guess, but it was probably for the best; he’d appeared from the moment Quatre first saw him to need a good deal more sleep than he ever got. Even like this his face was serious and sad, and, though its unhealthy color did not look quite so bad in the low light, exceptionally pale against the colors of the cushion behind.
He didn’t so much as change the rhythm of his breathing as Quatre approached, nor stir as the book was removed from between his limp hands. Before placing this on the table with the rest, Quatre glanced at the pages Trowa had been perusing. The language was unfamiliar to him, so he didn’t look long. In setting it down, he noticed a half-empty cup on the table — a genuine teacup in an actual matching saucer — whose contents were long since cold. Quatre gathered this up and switched off the light before leaving the room.
There was a dishwasher in the kitchen — a surprisingly not-ancient-looking one at that — but Quatre wasn’t sure the little cup and plate were safe to be put into it. They were definitely too old to have the answer printed on their undersides, too, so in the end he just rinsed them and set them next to the sink. Then, with one more brief glance around, he made his way back to the front door and thence into Heero’s apartment.
He was greeted by the sound of Duo’s hearty laughter. Heero was apparently relating some amusing tale of a co-worker in that dry way of his. Goodness knew he had enough amusing co-workers on the sales floor to furnish a lifetime of anecdotes; Quatre was never quite sure how he put up with them most of the time.
They both looked over as he entered, which was a good deal less disturbing in Heero’s case as Heero’s head didn’t swivel quite so distressingly. “He’s asleep,” Quatre announced.
“Really?” wondered Duo in pleased surprise.
“Well, in a chair,” Quatre allowed. “He still had a book in his lap. He didn’t look very comfortable, but I didn’t want to wake him up.”
“That’s a relief,” said Duo sincerely. “He sure looked like he needed it.” He proceeded without a pause. “So what’s it like in there? How’s he living these days?”
After the enthusiastic interest in the doll’s tone, Quatre wasn’t much surprised when, as he began describing Trowa’s eclectic house, Heero got up and slipped out of the room.
Trowa had reappeared in Heero’s living room the next morning, looking, if not exactly healthy, at least a good deal better for the sleep he’d gotten. He didn’t seem much happier, though; evidently yesterday’s research hadn’t accomplished much.
“Breakfast?” Hero offered as he got the coffee started. Today he’d made sure to dress before emerging so that, if Duo distracted him again, he could at least dash out the door the moment he realized it had happened.
Trowa looked at him a little blankly, as if he’d forgotten what ‘breakfast’ meant, and Heero was half-hoping he would decline the offer. Heero didn’t make bad money, but it would probably put a strain on his budget if he had to start feeding someone else full time. He’d pretty much only offered because he was attempting to keep jealousy from marring his treatment of Trowa.
“Yes, you want breakfast, Trowa,” Duo prodded. He was turning out to be something of a nag where Trowa was concerned, and Heero was trying his hardest not to find this adorable. “I’d like some breakfast too, thanks, Heero,” he went on, “but only if you hand-feed it to me while I recline on a silken divan and Quatre fans me with one of those big leaves.”
“You want me to hand-spoon cereal onto your head?” Heero wondered dryly. Not giving Duo a chance to answer he said to Trowa, “I have honey Cheerios or Frosted Flakes, or toast, or maybe–” he glanced into the freezer– “yeah, toaster waffles.”
“Oh, and dancing girls,” put in Duo. “I want dancing girls too.”
“Toast sounds perfect, thank you,” Trowa said.
“What do you want on it?” Heero asked as he put the bread into the toaster and then looked for his own breakfast.
“And live music,” Duo continued. “From Spain, maybe.”
“Just butter, if you have it,” said Trowa.
Heero poured himself a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and, leaning against the counter, simultaneously watched the toaster and began to eat.
“And I want a swimming pool of SG-1 boxed sets to swim in, and, Heero, you are so not listening to me.”
With a slight laugh Heero turned to deal with the toast. “No, I’m taking careful notes,” he assured Duo. “Trowa, do you want coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
“You know what you could get me, though?” Duo said next. “Some real clothes. Not that you haven’t done a great job with the paper towel, but it isn’t very sturdy, and I don’t really think it goes with my fabulous hair.”
Despite the frivolity of this word-choice, Heero got the feeling Duo was serious about this request. It seemed strange on the surface, but he supposed it made sense, really; a lack of proper clothing was probably just one more way for Duo to feel less like a person and more like an object. Heero wished he’d thought of it without having to be asked. As he came out of the kitchen to the couch, bringing Trowa his butter toast on a plate, “I’ll see what I can do,” he said.
On and off throughout his nine hours (including lunch) he pondered this issue, and by the end of the shift had decided that he wouldn’t go home again without clothes for Duo. As he wasn’t entirely certain where one went to buy doll clothes, he waited for Quatre to finish being a workaholic for the day so he could ask him.
“Wal-Mart?” Quatre suggested with a tilt of his brows. “Why did you expect me to know this?”
“You have more sisters than I do.”
Quatre gave him a skeptical look. “Well, we’ll try Wal-Mart.”
In the back of his head Heero had always been aware of the existence of that all-pink aisle that seemed to be found in every Wal-Mart in the country; even just walking past the toy section it was impossible to miss. He hadn’t really given it much thought, however; if he had, he probably would have decided he never, never wanted to go there. But here he was entering the headachey lane of brightly colored doom, half determined and half embarrassed out of his wits.
“So I guess this is it,” Quatre was saying as they looked around somewhat helplessly at the aisle’s unfamiliar products and one other shopper. The latter, a little red-headed girl, had obviously been watching them since they stumbled into her territory, but was pretending she hadn’t.
Heero nodded, feeling increasingly out of place with each moment that passed and trying to get his eyes to focus on something — anything — on the racks in front of him.
“I feel like I’ve accidentally walked into the ladies’ room,” Quatre murmured. And it did feel very much like that… they weren’t welcome here.
“There aren’t any Barbies in the ladies’ room,” the little girl said, sotto voce and disdainful.
“They’re all staring at me,” Heero muttered, having got his eyes to focus and not liking it much. They just hung there in their boxes, unmoving, identical, and looming.
“They’re just dolls,” the red-headed girl replied, again under her breath but a bit louder this time.
“This was a bad idea,” said Quatre, seeming to shrink into himself as if to get as far from either side of the aisle as he could. “We should never have come here.”
“Duhh,” said the little girl.
Heero looked desperately from one blank, vapidly-smiling face to another, feeling as if he was going colorblind. “They’re all female…”
“The Kens are over here.” The red-headed girl was now speaking at a normal volume, still utterly contemptuous, and pointing to a spot on the shelf a little further down. Wordlessly, hesitantly, Heero and Quatre approached to look where she indicated.
Seeing that here was, indeed, what they sought went a long way toward lifting the glamour of terror and inadequacy that had fallen over them the moment they set foot in this alien world. But as Heero stared at the single Ken outfit for sale — some type of powder-blue polo-like affair with a grey-and-white sweater-vest attached and matching blue loafers — he felt with sinking heart that this whole dreadful experience might have been a dreadful waste of time.
Quatre reached for the outfit, but Heero stopped him with the stony announcement, “I can’t see him wearing that.”
Quatre seemed glad to pull his hand back empty, but he did protest, “It’s the only one.”
“Well, the dolls have to come with clothes on…” Heero crouched, putting himself face-to-face with the only actual Ken the store seemed to have. The doll stood stiffly, grinning foolishly, in a narrow box that looked for all the world like a pink coffin. If Heero hadn’t already gotten past his disbelief that Duo had once been human, this might have done something to convince him; there was a frightening soullessness to Ken’s eyes that was, thank god, entirely absent in Duo. Also, he was wearing a pink suit coat.
“No,” said Heero.
“You notice he doesn’t even rate an actual tie…” Quatre remarked in a hushed voice, horrified and fascinated. And, indeed, the purple tie adorning Ken’s chest was painted onto a shirt-front that Heero didn’t think was even a separate piece from the jacket. He imagined taking this monstrosity home to Duo, shuddered, and pulled out his cell phone looking for Mapquest.
“You should go online,” the little girl was advising. “There’s a much better selection there.”
“We kinda wanted it right away,” Quatre explained.
Heero wasn’t looking, but he could almost hear the expression the girl was giving them both.
“It’s for a birthday tomorrow,” said Quatre weakly. It wasn’t like him to make up pathetic excuses; moreover, there was a wariness to his words that sounded like it could blossom into panic at any moment. Clearly the aisle was getting to him.
“You’d be better off getting a Barbie horse or something,” the little red-head replied wisely, though there was still a hint of suspicion in her voice. “Nobody cares what Ken wears.”
“But…” Quatre faltered.
“Come on,” Heero declared, not entirely free of panic himself but with a brief thrill of triumph as he found what he was looking for. “There’s a Toys’R’Us on 32nd street.”
When they made it back, scarred and triumphant, to Heero’s apartment, Duo again expressed his surprise at their lateness, and this time got through his question about their work hours that had been interrupted the other night.
“We were clothes-shopping for you,” Heero explained.
“Oh, really?!” Duo’s words were a good deal more indicative of excitement than the slow, awkward movements of plastic limbs by which he shifted his entire body to face them.
Heero went toward him, holding out the package so Duo could examine the outfit. The doll made an appreciative noise at the button-up shirt and khaki shorts, and reached his arms out as if he wanted to hold it, though that was clearly out of the question. “Blaine was the best thing to ever happen to Ken,” he remarked complacently.
“What?” Heero wondered.
“Blaine was Ken’s boyfriend during Ken’s bi-curious phase in the mid-90’s,” Duo explained. “Ken came out of it with much better fashion sense.”
“Seriously?” asked Heero.
“Definitely.” Duo nodded his plastic head. “Blaine was a surfer, and he taught Ken not to dress like he had a stick up his ass.”
“No,” Heero said impatiently, “I mean, did Ken really have a bi-curious phase?”
“Yeah. I guess Mattel figured they’d made Barbie do everything they could think of, so they might as well give Ken a turn. It didn’t go over well with parents, though, so they dropped it pretty quick. I think that’s why Barbie doesn’t sell as well as she used to; people still aren’t over it.”
“That’s understandable,” said Heero. “I mean, predictable.”
“He’s messing with you, Heero,” Quatre put in, laughing. “I think Blaine was Barbie’s boyfriend for a while while she was broken up with Ken or something; I remember hearing about it somewhere. And Ken did not come out of it with better fashion sense; we know this; we were just at the store.”
“Well, they did re-image him,” said Duo, grinning as widely as his frigid mouth would allow at Heero’s subsequent grumbling about having no need to know this kind of thing and that Duo should be grateful for the present since he had no idea what Heero had gone through to get it. “He got a few better outfits out of it.”
Heero broke off grumbling to ask, “So you like it?”
“Yes, definitely,” Duo said emphatically.
“Good.” It was that gruff tone of Heero’s that indicated slight embarrassment; Quatre recognized it, but doubted Duo did. He thought that this time it was more because Heero had bought clothing for a guy he liked and not had his offering rejected than because he’d bought doll clothing at a toy store.
As Heero began trying to tear the package open, Quatre inquired casually, “Where’s Trowa?”
Duo waved an arm; although this movement was always the same, contingent upon the configuration of limb and shoulder, Quatre was beginning to recognize the different intents Duo put into it. This one was, Oh, somewhere over there… “He’s researching again. Hopefully he fell asleep again. I get the feeling he hasn’t slept more than half how much he should have over the last eight bazillion years.”
“I’ll go check on him,” Quatre volunteered with alacrity. Heero made a noise that might have been a snort and might only have been a sound of frustration at the difficult package. Quatre ignored him and moved toward Trowa’s door.
The little house was again dark and quiet, but this time as Quatre entered he heard Trowa’s voice from the room to the right: “Who’s there?”
“It’s Quatre.” He pushed through the door, which had been open just far enough for a line of dim light to shine out across the entryway.
From the horrible chair at the other end of the room Trowa looked over at him. His expression was vague, as if his thoughts were still primarily elsewhere, and he repeated, “Quatre…” slowly and as if he didn’t at first understand what was going on. Finally he seemed to shake himself, more mentally than physically, though he did sit up a little straighter, and said, “Did you need something?”
“Actually,” Quatre said, moving farther forward into the room and the lamplight, “I was wondering if you needed anything.” He smiled. “I don’t know anything about magic, but if there’s anything else I can do to help you while you work…”
Trowa stared at him somewhat blankly. “Such as?”
“I don’t know,” Quatre said with a slight shrug. “It looks like this room at least could use some straightening up. Your teacup’s empty — can I get you some more? Or how about dinner? Have you eaten?”
Trowa’s attention seemed to drift even farther from Quatre as he echoed, “Eaten…?”
Quatre sighed. Even if this man didn’t already have an extremely interesting cursed boyfriend, what chance was there for someone that couldn’t even get himself noticed?
This reaction, at least, Trowa seemed to observe. “I’m sorry,” he said, setting aside the book he’d been reading and standing. “It’s very kind of you to offer.” He stretched slightly, and Quatre noticed that the button-up shirt he wore was, in fact, buttoned all the way up to the neck, though no tie adorned the collar. “I don’t mean to ignore you.”
“That’s all right,” said Quatre charitably. “You’ve been lost in those old books all day, I bet.”
Trowa frowned slightly as he glanced at the one he’d just put on the table, and said nothing.
“No luck yet?” Quatre assumed. This conversation was proving rather tough going.
Trowa shook his head.
“Well, some dinner will do you good.” He turned toward the door.
“I… don’t think I have any food here.”
Quatre turned back. “No food?”
“There… may be some… lettuce…”
Both of Quatre’s brows rose. “Some lettuce?” He supposed echoing each other’s words was as effective a way to communicate as any.
“I don’t remember–” Here Trowa was interrupted by the sound of an old-fashioned and rather awful doorbell ringing in the entry. His frown instantly grew into a scowl. “Would it be too much to ask you to answer that for me?”
“No, not at all,” Quatre said automatically, turning, but hesitated before taking even a single step. “Is it the real door? How do I open it onto the real outside?”
“Just concentrate on it.” Trowa was already walking back toward his bedroom, as if to put as much distance between himself and the unknown visitor as possible. “If they ask for me by name, tell them they have the wrong address.”
Shrugging as Trowa disappeared, Quatre moved out into the hall and toward the door. Even as he approached, thinking about opening it onto whatever actually lay outside, the view through the little windows shivered and darkened, altering so that, instead of seeing into Heero’s apartment where his friend was berating a talking doll for convincing him that Ken had been gay even for a little while, he made out a wooden porch with peeling green paint in the yellowish glow of an old porch-light. And there were two people waiting.
On occasion — a very rare occasion — someone would ask Duo why he flirted so outrageously with every adult he talked to. The real answer was that he’d spent so much time with children — played with by children and taking part in their games, watching children’s television and movies, listening to children’s music and their books read aloud, and even being considered an object designed exclusively for children — that any opportunity to reconnect with the adult world was welcome. There were more meaningful ways of doing so, of course, but pointed and often suggestive flirtation, he’d found, was quick and reliable.
He never actually gave that answer, though, since he hated the question so damn much. It seemed to imply that, from a doll, any expression of romantic or sexual interest in a non-doll was unnatural and out of place. Therefore he usually answered by flirting even more outrageously than before.
So when their discussion of bisexual Ken led Heero eventually to ask him, “Since when does a doll care so much about gay issues anyway?” Duo was less than pleased. Heero was a reasonable sort, and would undoubtedly understand if Duo pointed out seriously that being a doll really made very little difference in his interests and concerns — but Duo didn’t feel like answering seriously.
“When I’m surrounded by so many faaaabulous gay men,” he said flippantly, “of course I care.”
“How do you know we’re all gay?” Heero wondered.
“Well, Quatre I’m not so sure about,” replied Duo pensively, “but you’re obvious.”
“Come on, man, you’ve got an end table. Do straight guys buy end tables?” Duo was able to tap his plastic hand against the table, which was very satisfying after so many gestures that didn’t even begin to indicate the desired object.
“It was a present from my parents,” Heero replied a bit stiffly.
“Oh, do they know you’re gay too?”
“Why are we talking about this?” demanded Heero.
“Isn’t it part of the gay agenda?” Duo responded lazily. “‘Sit around talking about how gay we are?'” This won him a slight laugh and a certain amount of relaxation from Heero. “You’re right about one thing, though,” he went on a little more seriously. “A doll doesn’t really have to worry much about discrimination. Well, parents might get rid of me for being a bad influence on their kids because I’m gay, but they’d probably already have gotten rid of me just for talking in the first place.”
“So you do actually identify specifically as gay,” Heero confirmed.
Heero was odd… he was certainly a nice guy, and a lot of fun to talk to, but just beneath that outward friendliness there was a sort of coldness or hardness that Duo couldn’t seem to get past. It was as if he was only superficially involved in the situation, doing what he did out of actual altruism rather than any real interest. It was a shame, since Duo thought he might otherwise have had a real interest in Heero.
“Ever since…” Duo paused ponderously. “1969. There wasn’t really a ‘gay identity’ for gay people back when I was human — though there were plenty of us wandering around — but I got to watch the whole culture change. The 60’s sucked,” he added thoughtfully. “It isn’t necessarily a good thing when you can’t openly be identified as part of a certain group, even when that group is the butt of some horrible decade.” His voice sank lower as he remembered. “When you want to help… when you want to stand up for something… you’d rather…”
He trailed off; this was becoming far more serious than he’d intended. Heero was behind him, in the kitchen, probably getting some of that food stuff that Duo, even after all this time, tried very hard not to miss desperately; so Duo couldn’t see him or how he might be reacting to the uncharacteristic solemnity of topic and expression. Nor was Heero saying anything. Well, he would just have to say something; that was all. “So what about you?” Duo demanded brightly. “How long have you been out of the closet?”
The silence behind him went on for a few moments, though the sound of cupboards and dishes indicated Heero’s continued presence. Finally Heero said, “I’m not sure you could exactly call me ‘out of the closet.'”
“Well, your parents obviously know,” Duo pointed out, “since they gave you the end table.” And he patted the table beneath him again with satisfaction.
Heero laughed faintly. “Yes, my parents know. They don’t like it much, but they know.”
“And Quatre obviously knows.”
“What do you mean, ‘obviously?'” wondered Heero a little suspiciously.
“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Duo replied innocently.
“We have a couple of friends who won’t stop trying to hook us up, and if you start doing it too I will…” He paused, evidently searching for a suitable threat. “…take you to Goodwill.”
“No!!” Duo cried, trying not to mar the drama by laughing. “I mean, OK, I won’t. So Quatre is definitely gay too, then.”
“I thought he was more obvious than me,” muttered Heero.
Duo laughed again.
“Actually that’s part of why we were friends in the first place,” Heero went on reminiscently after a few moments. “It’s scary to realize you’re gay in high school, and having a friend helps. He was braver than I was; he was out to all his friends by the time we graduated. I didn’t go out with anyone until my sophomore year of college.”
“Well, you’ve got me beat,” Duo said encouragingly. “I never ‘went out’ with anyone ever. Or to college, actually. I’ve been to elementary school, though. Usually in someone’s backpack, but at least I got to hear about times tables and The Voyage of the Mimi.”
This made Heero laugh once more, less faintly than before, as he came to sit on the couch beside Duo with his dinner a little more comfortably than he’d been moving or speaking for the last few minutes. This was the reason Duo had changed the subject; Heero obviously wasn’t entirely easy talking about gay issues — which was probably what he meant when he said he wasn’t exactly out of the closet — and Duo didn’t think it advisable to push him. Though if he’d been human, perhaps…
For the moment, Duo reached down to the remote control that was conveniently positioned next to him and turned on the TV. “It’s about time for Ghost Hunters, I think,” he said.
Trowa’s bedroom window was tiny, the home of more than one spider’s web, hidden by a dingy old curtain, and not positioned well for any good view of the front door. Despite all of this and despite being almost certain he knew who was probably on his porch on a Wednesday night outside of normal visiting hours, Trowa was looking through the window trying to see what was going on. He may actually have looked because he didn’t want to know, and would therefore derive some satisfaction from not being able to see; that was definitely the reason he didn’t use magic to find out.
Eventually he wandered away from the pleasantly unhelpful window and sat down on the bed, and it was there that Quatre found him on entering the room. The gift basket in Quatre’s hands and the puzzled expression on his face confirmed Trowa’s assumption. He did pause looking puzzled for a moment, though, long enough to glance curiously around the room.
“How many were there?” Trowa asked.
“Two.” Quatre’s baffled expression returned as he fixed his eyes on Trowa. “Teenagers, I think, a boy and a girl. They shoved this at me before they said anything–” he held up the basket a little helplessly– “and then asked if Mr. Barton was at home. That’s you, I assume.”
“I said no one with that name lived here, and they apologized about ten times and were backing away like I was going to do something awful to them. I couldn’t even give the basket back because they were so busy apologizing.” He smiled a little as he looked down at the object in question. “There’s food in it, though; at least it’s some dinner for you.”
“Was the girl wearing a low-cut shirt or a short skirt?” wondered Trowa.
“Yes…” Quatre looked over at him. “Do you know her?”
“No,” said Trowa, then added simply, “but they all wear that.” He rose and made his way out of the room, leaving his visitor to follow. If Quatre was determined to feed him, it might as well take place in the dining room as was appropriate.
“Just as I was closing the door,” Quatre was saying as he trailed Trowa through the house, “I heard one of them say something about their dad getting a spell wrong. So they obviously knew who you were and that you’re… magical… Who were they and what did they want?” He was obviously immensely curious; at least some of it was going to have to be explained.
“I am a hundred and eleven years old,” Trowa said with a slight sigh, turning on the lights in the dining room and kitchen. “I can do nearly anything.” So far the line seemed to be drawn at breaking the curse on Duo. “Among magicians that makes me a… sort of… celebrity…”
Quatre grinned admiringly; Trowa had seen him do that once or twice already, and it didn’t bode well. “And your fanclub brings you fruit baskets?” The latest example of such an offering crunched slightly as Quatre set it down on the table and began pulling oranges out of it.
“They bring me a lot of things.” It was fairly useful on the rare occasion that he wanted to eat, or when the hopefuls had the presence of mind to give him something more useful than food… but it never came free. First it was, “Oh, Mr. Barton, you did such a nice job charming Rebecca Thomas’s garden for her back in 1973!” — because the magical community had dreadfully accurate memories like that — “You have to tell me how you did it!” But this turned into, “Wow, what a complicated spell! How do you keep that level of energy up?” Which became, “Well, can you teach me?” and eventually, “I could be your apprentice! Would you train me? I could work for you… I’ll clean your house and bring you anything you need and make all your meals for you!” Then they got a little bit older and it was more along the lines of, “My daughter’s really good at fire spells, and she’d love to hear any tips you have on the subject… she’s a nice girl; I’m sure you’d really like her.”
And now here he had one that he couldn’t ignore or dismiss. He hadn’t worried about leaving a key to his house at Heero’s apartment because Heero obviously didn’t like him very much; he hadn’t realized Heero’s friend might be the one taking advantage of it. Of course he was grateful to both of his new acquaintances for their kindness to Duo and the fact that they’d posted on that message board in the first place… but that didn’t mean he was eager to have one of them in his home being admiring and helpful.
“Either you really like oranges,” Quatre was remarking, “or someone really thinks you do.”
“I do like oranges,” said Trowa. At least he was fairly sure he did. His followers tended to remember what he liked better than he did these days.
Quatre bustled about the kitchen, occasionally exclaiming in wonder or amusement at what he found there, and Trowa felt somewhat powerless to stop him. It was ironic, really; he could jump instantly to just about any place in the world, fix complicated machinery without having the faintest idea how it worked, and essentially destroy anything that annoyed him… yet it seemed that, in the few areas of his long and empty life that actually meant something to him, he was consistently helpless.
Not that it was any more than he deserved.
But he would find a way to restore Duo’s humanity. He would figure this out if it killed him (which seemed more than likely, when he thought about it). No standard counterspell had worked, and no divination had given him any hint as to what he should be doing instead, nor the specific mechanics of the curse… but there had to be something. He refused to believe this was destined to go on forever. That might be an appropriate fate for him, but not for Duo.
During the course of these reflections he’d lost track of what Quatre was doing, but now found him at the table gesturing and smiling. He’d set a place for one, and now stood behind the chair like a butler welcoming his master to supper.
“It’s a strange dinner,” he said ruefully, as if he had been personally responsible for the selection, “but there really isn’t anything in your fridge. Not even lettuce.”
Trowa looked down, observing orange segments and apple wedges on the plate next to three cookies and some slices of what seemed to be some kind of cake or bread with raisins in it, and a glass of water. It was a strange dinner, but he might as well eat it, since it was here. “Thank you,” he said, and sat down.
Quatre just smiled and leaned back against the kitchen counter.
“Don’t stand there watching me eat,” Trowa ordered.
“Sorry.” With a slight laugh, Quatre began moving around the room, examining things he must have missed while preparing this little ‘meal.’
“You’re welcome to eat some of this too,” said Trowa eventually, a little less rudely (he believed).
Quatre turned to look at him, mildly skeptical. “I have food at home. You can save the rest of that for tomorrow.” Yes, he was obviously going to be one of those… the ones that insisted Trowa ‘eat properly’ and ‘get enough sleep’ and always wanted to make sure his linens were clean.
In an attempt at nipping this in the bud, “I don’t need food,” Trowa stated flatly. “I have a part in Duo’s curse; I can’t die.”
Quatre nodded. “Yes, that was the impression I got,” he said calmly. “But eating can only be good for you.”
Trowa considered pushing the plate aside and leaving the table to make his point, but he’d caught the smell of the orange segments by now, and his stomach had remembered, as it did at times like this, what food was and that it liked it; so he really didn’t have the option of walking away at the moment. Without a word he started to eat.
This burst of sensation always took him by surprise. He did like oranges. He liked food. It was just so explosively, unexpectedly enjoyable… which of course came with its own problems. Because he could never start enjoying something this much (or at all, generally) without an immediate kickback of guilt and self-loathing. He, who had doomed his best friend to a life without this kind of pleasure, did not deserve to be taking any pleasure in it himself. So what started out as quick and eager ended up tedious and forced.
And Quatre was watching him again.
“Stop that,” Trowa commanded. What he really wished he could say was, ‘Leave me alone,’ but he was aware of how little good that generally did. Once they got into the house, it was next to impossible to get them to leave; the trick was to keep them from entering in the first place… but this one had a key.
This one also appeared better able to take a hint than most, for he stood straight and said, “Well, I’ll get out of your hair now that I know you’ve eaten. Duo will be relieved to hear that, too.”
“Duo sent you?” Trowa wondered, relenting a little.
“Not exactly,” shrugged Quatre. “Last I saw, he was getting an earful from Heero for fooling him into believing Mattel had made gay Ken dolls. But he did say he hoped you’d fallen asleep, since he doesn’t think you get enough sleep.”
Trowa was silent under a fresh weight of guilt. Duo, who couldn’t sleep, who had specifically mentioned how much he hated his inability to sleep, whose inability to sleep was entirely Trowa’s fault, was worried about how much sleep Trowa was getting.
Quatre stood in the doorway leading to the entry as if waiting for an answer, and Trowa got the feeling that, if he could just give one, Quatre would go away. So with an effort he said, “Tell him… tell him I’ll sleep tonight.”
Quatre smiled and nodded and was gone. Trowa listened to the front door open and close, then looked down at the plate whose contents he doubted he could finish.
Perhaps he really would sleep tonight.
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.