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.