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.”

Previous (Part 16) | Chapter Index | Next (Part 18)