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.

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