“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.
“If only my thumbs moved,” Duo complained, “we could play cards or something. I wouldn’t even need the rest of my fingers to separate even, if I just had one opposable digit.”
Heero laughed sympathetically. They’d been discussing things to do besides watching television, and, while discussion itself sufficed for the moment, this particular topic had already been so thoroughly canvassed as never to last long anymore.
“Why did you take a week off, again?” asked Duo next, partly because it seemed natural in the current conversation and partly because he liked hearing Heero’s answer.
“Because all this magic stuff is so interesting it was distracting us at work,” Heero replied as expected. “We hoped things might be worked out by the end of the week, or at least we’d be used to it, and we could go back to work without all the distraction.”
“Mmmm,” said Duo in a tone of revelry, “I’m a distraction.”
Heero gave another of his cute monosyllabic laughs. “Yes, you are,” he agreed. “But you’re not distracting enough and Duo, I swear to god if you turn that TV on again while I’m in the room, I will–“
“Take me to Goodwill?” Duo broke in, stealing all the thunder from Heero’s threat.
“Yes,” Heero agreed.
“Can it be a date?” Duo wondered.
Heero rolled his eyes.
“Well, what do normal guys do when they’re bored?” Duo asked.
“All sorts of things,” Heero answered in some exasperation, “most of which you can’t do.”
“‘All sorts of things,’ huh?” Duo echoed, but by now he’d approached this type of statement from this particular angle so many times that the suggestive tone was starting to sound a bit stale. “Well, how about…” But he trailed off. The truth was that he really didn’t know much about what normal guys did when they were bored. He knew what children did when they were bored, but apart from the fact that he couldn’t do most of that either, he didn’t think Heero would be terribly interested in any pretending games of that sort.
They’d spent the first half of Heero’s week off talking, trawling YouTube for music videos and generally interesting stuff, talking, and, yes, watching a lot of TV; apparently Heero had reached his breaking point when it came to the latter, and was absolutely determined to find something else to do. Duo was honestly touched that Heero was so bent on doing things with him, and didn’t mind at all that Heero’s insistence was making him miss all his favorite shows.
“You know what we could do…” Heero said eventually into the pensive silence.
Based on Heero’s already somewhat hesitant tone, Duo decided not to respond to this with a suggestive remark that would have been a repeat of something he’d said earlier anyway, and just prompted, “Yeah?”
“If you wanted,” Heero went on, still slowly and a little warily, as if it was something strange or unpleasant he was about to suggest, “I could read a book aloud to you.”
Duo’s first thought was that it was absolutely adorable that Heero was so shy about such a thing. His second thought was that he had no idea why it should be so adorable, nor why Heero should be so shy about it in the first place. His third thought was that he would very much like to know, and would definitely have to keep his eyes open. And his fourth thought was that he’d better answer before Heero decided from his silence that it had been a bad idea and retracted the suggestion.
“That is a thought,” he said, in appropriate thoughtfulness. “Do you have any good books, though?”
With a skeptical look as if to ask, “Would I have suggested it if I didn’t?” Heero rose from where he’d been sitting, as he had been quite a lot these last few days, on the couch. His inexplicable and wholly welcome determination to do things with Duo during his week off had led him to start carrying Duo around with him much of the time, so it was no surprise when he picked Duo up now before he headed down the hall.
But when they entered the room where the computer and bookshelf and spare bed lived, Heero stopped for a moment in the doorway, as if pausing in thought, then reached around behind him with the hand holding Duo so that the doll was facing the opposite direction Heero was and held against the small of his back.
“Is this like making me sit in the corner?” Duo wondered as Heero moved into the room. Heero was clearly perusing the bookshelf, but Duo was now looking at the computer desk and the opposite wall.
“It’s more like not letting you see what kind of awful taste in books I had when I was younger,” Heero replied evenly.
“What?!” Duo yelped. “Now you have to let me see!”
“No, I don’t.”
“Did you read the Babysitters Club, or what?” Duo was flailing his stiff limbs in impotent rebellion. “Come on, put me back around there!”
“No,” Heero said, and there was some laughter in his voice.
“You know, I could have seen them any time yesterday when we were looking at stuff on the computer,” Duo pointed out. “How do you know I don’t already know everything you’ve got up there?”
“Because you were facing the computer, and I notice when you turn your head all the way around,” Heero answered logically and with a slight shudder.
Duo began spinning his head around and around and around.
“Stop that,” Heero commanded; he could undoubtedly tell what Duo was doing by the feel of the doll’s braid rhythmically running counterclockwise over his hand.
“Let me see your books!” Duo replied.
“I am going to make it my life’s work to find out what you have on your bookshelf, Heero Yuy,” Duo declared, finally ceasing his spinning. “You just wait.”
Heero chuckled triumphantly. “All right,” he said. Then he added, “How about the Oz series? Have you ever read those?”
“Aren’t those, like, kids’ books?”
“Um, yes,” Heero admitted, sounding a little embarrassed. “That’s mostly what I have.”
“What else do you have?”
“Well, there’s also the– wait, are you asking because you don’t like the idea of the Oz series, or are you just being sneaky?”
“You just wait,” Duo repeated, then laughed evilly. When he was finished with that he said, “But I have no objection to the Oz series. I’ve seen the movie, of course, and some other version that was a horrible, horrible cartoon with these hilarious songs in it…”
“OK,” said Heero, and a moment later they were returning to the living room. Heero replaced Duo on the end table, and himself on the couch, and now Duo could see The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in his hand. Heero too looked at it, at the very ugly illustration on its old paper cover, and smiled slightly. “I used to love these books, but I haven’t read them for years. I’m still pretty sure they’re not nearly as bad as any of the other series I used to read, though.”
“Other series such as?” Duo prompted.
Heero laughed, and made a great show of settling more comfortably into the couch cushions and opening the book. “‘Chapter one,'” he read: “‘The Cyclone.'”
Trowa was a little surprised, on Friday evening, to see Quatre in his house again despite the fact that he’d been there earlier for lunch. He supposed this shouldn’t have been much of a shock — Quatre was proving excessively tenacious — but he somehow thought he’d met his quota for the day. Or was Quatre going to start insisting Trowa eat dinner, too? Surely not.
He’d essentially given up trying to understand Quatre, who, while clearly a follower like the rest of them, didn’t quite behave like the rest of them. He still hadn’t ever asked for anything, and yet he fussed; he interrupted and intruded, and yet wasn’t necessarily unpleasant to have around. It didn’t make sense, and Trowa had other things to think about.
And now Quatre was walking the room slowly, coming to stand beside the table in front of Trowa, with arms crossed and a frown on his face. “I had a feeling…” was the first thing he said.
From his chair, Trowa looked up at the other man in vague curiosity.
“I’ve been watching you all week,” Quatre said, in a tone that suggested the delivery of bad news, “and…” His frown deepened. “You aren’t really working on anything, are you?”
Startled, Trowa blinked, and at first had nothing to say. It was a blow, and probably more than it should have been coming from a follower. On top of everything else, on top of the guilt and the sorrow and the hopelessness, now Quatre had noticed…
“I’ve seen you really working a couple of times,” Quatre went on, and by now he sounded almost apologetic, “but most of the time — especially these last few days — you just sit there staring into space.”
Trowa lifted his gaze the final few inches necessary to meet Quatre’s, and found there a strange mixture of accusation and pity. This did nothing to help with the weight on Trowa’s heart, which had only been increased by Quatre’s words. Feeling his lips tighten, Trowa stood abruptly, letting the book that had been on his lap — which he never had really looked at today — slide unheeded to the floor, pushed past Quatre, and left the room.
Through the dining room windows he could see the failing light of evening. He noticed as well in the glass the reflection of Quatre immediately behind him. “It’s none of your business,” Trowa said preemptively.
“It is my business,” Quatre replied at once, firmly. “I consider Duo a friend — and you too, no matter how you feel about it. Neither one of you is going to have a decent life until this curse is broken, so I want to know why the only person who has any chance of breaking it seems to have given up.”
Trowa frowned. A friend? Quatre considered him a friend? Was that why he expressed concern without making demands? Why he kept coming over here? Actually, it would explain all of Quatre’s behavior fairly well; Trowa remembered that some people did do things like that sometimes.
It was certainly more than he deserved.
“Being my friend can be unhealthy,” he said stonily, still staring out the window, tackling this secondary issue while he evaded the main one. “It’s best avoided.”
“You haven’t had any real friends since back then, have you?” Quatre guessed in a quiet, pitying tone. “Just those people who wanted magic from you.”
“You’ve seen what I did to my last friend,” Trowa explained a bit harshly.
“Trowa…” Quatre had taken another step forward and put his hand on Trowa’s shoulder, causing the magician to go stiff. “That was an accident. It was a bad combination of circumstances. Duo’s forgiven you for it.”
Although at least part of him didn’t want to, Trowa shrugged Quatre’s hand off. “That’s because that’s what Duo does.” It came out almost in a hiss. “He gets angry, and then he gets over it. But there are some things that shouldn’t be forgiven that easily.”
“That’s why you’ve stopped working, isn’t it?” Quatre wondered next, in the same soft, sympathetic tone as before. “You can’t forgive yourself for what you did to him, and it’s driving you crazy. So instead of trying to solve the problem so you can move past it, you’re just sitting around being miserable doing nobody any good.”
It was many years — decades, perhaps — since Trowa could remember being truly angry, but now the agitation he felt at this conversation was close enough that he thought it counted. He couldn’t deny the truth of what Quatre had said, but he felt that the other man didn’t — couldn’t possibly — understand him. He whirled on him, fixing his cursed eyes on Quatre’s face. “Do you have any idea,” he demanded, “how it feels to know that you’ve destroyed the life of someone you love?”
“No,” said Quatre quietly, steadily. “But I have done things I regretted, and–”
“You haven’t done anything like this,” Trowa interrupted harshly. “Something like this hangs over you forever, so you can never think right or feel like yourself again, so that every single moment of every day you’re…”
He trailed off, and not just because it was so strange to be putting into words how he felt, how he had silently felt for so many years, to someone else. He realized even as he said it that it was no longer entirely true. It wasn’t ‘every single moment of every day’ anymore. Because lately… somehow… with Quatre around… there had been moments…
But that didn’t matter. The fact that he hadn’t been entirely miserable at certain points during the last couple of weeks didn’t change anything.
Realizing that Trowa wasn’t going to continue, Quatre said, “I’m sorry. I can’t claim I know exactly how you feel, but I see what you’re saying. And normally I’d say that you need to get yourself straightened out before you can try to help someone else. But in this case, I think breaking the curse is what will help you. Giving up or slowing down is the worst thing you can do.”
It was sound advice. Whatever his motivation, he should be focused entirely on breaking the curse. But this thought only made Trowa feel worse. He said nothing.
Quatre’s face hardened slightly. “Even if you can’t do it for your own sake, at least think of Duo,” he said flatly. “I assume you haven’t come to see him because it’s painful for you… but it’s hurting him. He acts very casual about it, but he’s obviously unhappy that he hasn’t seen you all week.”
Trowa turned hastily back to the window, unwilling to let Quatre see his face crumple as it was now threatening to. The thought that he was prolonging Duo’s suffering by his own weakness was the worst of it, and made the rest that much harder to bear.
Finally, after several moments of silence, “I don’t know where else to look,” he said in the soft tone of absolute despair. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Again Quatre put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing this time as if eager to give what comfort he could. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish I could help you.”
And it occurred to Trowa that he didn’t have to understand Quatre to know that he wasn’t like the followers — that perhaps he wasn’t like anyone Trowa had ever met. He genuinely cared about Trowa and Duo and their situation, and he honestly wished he could help… and at the same time wasn’t afraid to risk Trowa’s displeasure by confronting him with unpleasant truths Trowa needed to hear. That was something friends did, wasn’t it? God, it had been so long. He’d been alone so long… it was no wonder he’d forgotten what it was like not to be…
“Maybe you can,” he found himself saying in a low, unaccountably level voice. “Will you stay here?” He thought there was a faint hissing breath behind him as he spoke the question, as if the latter had come as a shock to more than only himself. “Just… stay here with me while I work? I think it would help.”
Whether or not Quatre was surprised at the request, however, all he said, in a tone very much like Trowa’s, was, “Of course.”
Quatre had never in his life found himself so distracted from a basketball game, especially not at the beginning of April. He’d done a little better paying attention to today’s earlier game, but after that he’d gone to force lunch on Trowa, and now his thoughts had so overtaken him that he noticed only about half of what was happening onscreen.
He’d sat in Trowa’s study yesterday for hours, doing almost nothing besides watching the magician work — honest, genuine work, if Quatre was any judge — joining in the occasional random brief conversation, and struggling with a mixture of emotions.
The idea that Trowa found his presence helpful in any way was elating, to the point where Quatre had been hard pressed not to sit there grinning the entire time; but he felt guilty too. He hadn’t recognized the depths of Trowa’s unhappiness, despite their being so understandable as to be almost predictable; and surely he shouldn’t be so damn happy about Trowa wanting him there when that stemmed simply from the fact that Trowa had no friends.
He wasn’t sure that Trowa had actually accomplished anything yesterday, but he’d definitely been working — first researching, then setting up another complicated divination ceremony — and that alone felt like a triumph. That alone seemed to make the whole week off worth it, even if the original wish that Duo might be human again before the time was up remained unfulfilled. Just to know that Trowa’s crisis of hope had been averted, at least for now, made everything worth it.
Quatre had been reacting only sluggishly to everything in the game he was supposedly watching, and he was sure Heero had noticed. Uncertain whether he wanted to relate to Heero or Duo what had happened yesterday, Quatre took a deep breath and tried to pay better attention to the TV. So when, not long after, a failed layup was saved by two of their players at once moving in such close synchronization that it was almost impossible to tell which had actually made the dunk, Quatre was able to respond appropriately and in good time.
He noticed when he’d finished cheering, however, that he wasn’t the only one reacting oddly today. Duo’s little voice, usually the most enthusiastic of the three of them, if not exactly the loudest, was even more excited than usual at the moment for some reason, and had transitioned from expressing great appreciation for what he’d just seen to shouting incoherently. It wasn’t long before both Quatre and Heero were staring at him, and a moment after that Heero had jumped to his feet, evidently losing all track of the basketball game.
“What is it?” Quatre asked, watching Duo flail his little plastic arms and swivel his head from side to side. Then, finally, he saw it too, and, like Heero, jumped from the couch.
Heero had picked Duo up and was staring down at him in agitated wonder. The doll was still waving his arms wildly, not as if he was struggling but simply for the sake of the movement itself — for, inexplicably, for the first time that Quatre had ever seen, his elbows were bending. And though Duo was no longer shouting, he was still making noise: babbling almost as incomprehensibly as before, he was exclaiming nonstop about his elbows and how long it had been since he’d had any. Heero, meanwhile, kept interjecting incomplete congratulations and broken questions as to how it could possibly have happened.
Abruptly it occurred to Quatre how utterly absurd this looked, and he laughed out loud. This seemed to break through the ongoing incoherence in front of him, and two heads — one with stiff, messy dark brown hair, the other with a tiny chestnut braid — turned toward him.
“This is wonderful, Duo,” Quatre said, smiling broadly. “I’m going to run over there and tell Trowa.”
Duo, who was still lifting both forearms over and over as if he couldn’t get enough of the motion, stretched his plastic smile as wide as it would go as he looked at Quatre. “Thanks, man!” he said ecstatically. “I don’t want you to have to miss more of the game, though.”
They all glanced almost reflexively back at the TV, which had gone to commercial while they weren’t paying attention, and Quatre shook his head. “Trowa will want to know this good news right away.” He started toward Trowa’s door. “Besides, he’ll know what it means better than we do, and it might help him!”
Despite the purely idiomatic quality of the phrase ‘run over there,’ Quatre was almost running as he came into Trowa’s entryway. All he could think of was that this information would surely give Trowa hope, allow him to work more steadfastly, perhaps even make him happy, if just for a moment. He probably appeared a little wild to the magician as he burst into the study.
In fact, he realized immediately, his desire to deliver a cheering report had been somewhat betrayed by his demeanor; for Trowa, observing his agitation, rose precipitously and came toward him, saying, “What’s wrong?”
Quatre reached out as they met halfway across the room, seizing Trowa’s arm and giving it a little shake. “It’s good news,” he said hastily. He let go of Trowa immediately, lest he be tempted further to test the shape of that wiry arm beneath its long buttoned sleeve and distract himself from the conversation. “Duo,” he went on excitedly, “just bent his elbows. He says he’s never been able to do that before as a doll, but now he can.” He realized even as he voiced this that it sounded every bit as stupid as it had looked back in Heero’s apartment; but there really was nothing to be done.
He wouldn’t have thought Trowa could possibly become any paler, and he would have been wrong; as Trowa’s eyes widened slightly, his face seemed to blanch as if with shock. For a moment he was obviously unsure of what to do, looking as if he might push past Quatre at a run and simultaneously as if he wanted (or perhaps just needed) to return to his chair. Then his face took on a faint expression of concentration, his bright moon eyes seeming to glaze over a bit as if he were no longer seeing anything in front of him, and he said something.
Quatre knew by now that these incomprehensible sounds were words in the magical language, and he wondered what Trowa was doing. He speculated that it was a divination to find out why this had happened, and considered this guess confirmed when Trowa focused again on the world around him and spoke, in almost a whisper, what sounded like an answer to a specific question on the subject:
“Because he’s been with Heero all week.”
Divination was in some ways the simplest branch of magic, since at its most basic level it involved just asking a question. Not infrequently, however, it also proved the most frustrating of the three branches to which Trowa had access, because the universe was so picky about what information it would give out. The more general a question you asked — “How can I break Duo’s curse?” for example — the more general an answer you were likely to receive — such as a meaningless vision of the moon. But to ask a more specific question, you had to have some information already, which was why Trowa had, up until this moment, been consistently thwarted.
Knowing both that Duo had been with Heero all week and that Duo was now able to bend his elbows, an answer that simply pointed out the correlation between the two facts was wonderfully easy to obtain. And that answer was the first step on the path to the greater answer — a path that was an interconnected series of questions, answer leading to question leading to answer. Trowa could see it now before him, bright and clear, and he could feel the stinging of tears in his eyes.
Quatre had brought him what real diviners — which Trowa had never pretended to be — called the ‘gateway fact’ or sometimes just the ‘key:’ the elusive piece of information that, once found, put you onto that path of productive questions. It took only five or six of the latter, after the initial “Why can Duo bend his elbows now?” to reach the complete, final conclusion and to understand why things were the way they were.
It seemed impossibly, almost agonizingly simple now that he saw it; it was the same twisted sort of logic that lay behind all curses, purposeful or unintended, and now that he recognized it he found it almost incredible that he hadn’t seen it all along… He had accused Duo of being fake and superficial, of fabricating an attachment, and then he had cursed him; so what Duo required to escape the curse was a real attachment, a connection to someone that went beyond the superficial.
Of course there was more to it than that, or else the curse would have been broken decades ago, but that was the baseline. And it couldn’t be Trowa, since he was restrained by the curse as well. Obviously it could be Heero, though… and Trowa had a feeling he knew exactly what kind of attachment it was — though naturally he wasn’t going to walk in there and say that. The last time he’d given his opinion on what Duo felt for someone else, it had ended in plastic and almost a century of grief. But he could explain the physicalities that were required, and the curse could be broken.
The curse could be broken. After eighty-seven years, the curse could be broken.
He had completely lost track of what he was doing, so deep in his own thoughts and the attendant emotions that he’d forgotten Quatre was here — and, as a matter of fact, where ‘here’ even was. Now he looked around, gradually noticing and remembering. He was seated in the armchair in his study, very still, staring at nothing, and Quatre was beside him with a box of Kleenex. This was undoubtedly because tears were still pouring down Trowa’s face, running unchecked over his cheeks and neck to soak his collar or sneak beneath it.
Turning his head, he met Quatre’s eyes, and saw hope and curiosity and a certain amount of worry in the attractive face. And he realized belatedly that Quatre, devoid of magical skill, wouldn’t have any idea of the breakthrough he’d just had. He reached out a faintly-trembling hand, took a tissue from the box Quatre held, and said, “I know how to break the curse.” His voice shook a little, but the words came out clear enough.
Quatre drew in and then let out a long breath, his mouth curving into a pleased smile that seemed at once to commend Trowa and invite him to share further insight. “I knew you could do it,” he said quietly, his tone an echo of what that welcoming smile conveyed.
Trowa paused in the act of drying his face and said, “I couldn’t have without the news you brought me. Thank you.”
Quatre’s smile became even warmer, but all he said, in a somewhat amused tone, was, “I was just the messenger.”
“Messenger,” Trowa murmured, echoing him almost blankly. Inside he was momentarily overwhelmed by the thought of carrying this infinitely good message to Duo. When he found that once again he’d moved without really noticing it — this time standing from the chair into which he’d sunk at some point in his shock — he also found himself smiling at Quatre. And it wasn’t the first time he’d smiled at Quatre lately, was it? He looked around, then headed for his bathroom. When he returned, he found Quatre leaning on the doorframe between the study and the bedroom looking curious.
Trowa raised his newly-lensed eyes to meet Quatre’s again and said, “No reason to distract them from the point.” Quatre grinned his understanding and turned to lead the way out of the house.
Stepping into Heero’s apartment for the first time in over a week, Trowa found his old friend and Heero involved in a rather strange-sounding discussion that might have been about basketball and might have been about elbows, and either way seemed to be pushing the limits on how animated each was capable of becoming. Trowa discovered, somewhat to his surprise, that his smile only grew at the sight of them. Yes, he could see it all now.
Heero looked over, his gaze fixing on Quatre. “Duke won,” he said, then added as if in afterthought, “Hello, Trowa.”
At this, Duo’s head swiveled entirely around — causing, Trowa thought, every single human in the room to wince. “Trowa!” he cried. “I have elbows!!”
“I heard.” Trowa had sobered again. Yes, he knew now what needed to be done, but it definitely fell into the category of things easier said. Heero was off to a good start, but could he keep it up for as long as was necessary? If not, was it likely Duo would ever find another person that could? He’d waited eighty-seven years for someone that could get him even this far…
Trowa moved to stand before them, between the silent television and the sofa and end table, looking down at both doll and human. They stared back; his new position (thankfully) required a far less extreme angle of Duo’s head, and Heero gave Trowa the usual polite blankness. Trowa neither knew nor cared why Heero disliked him; Heero liked Duo, and that was all that mattered — and probably, Trowa thought, the reason there was just a touch of intrigued anticipation to his expression as well at the moment: Heero was hoping Trowa had come in here with good news. They’d just have to see how good he considered it.
“I know how to break the curse,” Trowa said at last, slowly and clearly.
Duo went absolutely still. Of course this wasn’t difficult for him, given his construction, but seeing someone go so impossibly motionless, no matter what he was made of, was actually almost as uncanny as seeing a doll moving on his own. It was reminiscent of death, and Trowa didn’t like it. He reached out and picked Duo up in a sudden, impetuous gesture.
Heero twitched forward slightly, as if with an instinctive movement immediately restrained, and seemed to attempt to cover this up by saying a little breathlessly, “How?”
“Yeah,” said Duo, speaking at last nearly inaudibly. “How?” As he had that night when they’d been reunited, he sounded as if Trowa’s words had given him a sudden, desperate hope that he was trying wildly not to indulge lest he be hurt again.
Trowa fixed his gaze on the doll’s face, so disconcertingly, painfully, simultaneously close to and far from the face of the human that had been his best friend. How he wished he could be the one to break the curse. As it was, he wouldn’t have any control whatsoever over whether or not this was successful. Hell, he didn’t even know if Heero was going to be willing to try it. He had the information he needed, but it was crashing down on him more and more heavily just how uncertain the situation still remained.
“Having a friend who knows about the curse and wants to help you out of it is the key,” Trowa said, gesturing at Heero. He’d chosen these words very carefully — they were technically true, but not intrusive enough to get him into trouble. “You and Heero have hardly been apart at all this week, have you?”
A silence followed this statement, but this one was less shocked and anticipatory than it was contemplative. Finally Duo said, “That’s right, isn’t it? Actually, Heero, I don’t think you’ve even gone anywhere since, like, Tuesday or something… except to get the mail, wasn’t it? But you took me with you then…”
Heero confirmed this with a brief sound.
Trowa nodded. “And you’ve seen the result.” He reached up with his free hand and drew a finger over Duo’s arm, from the stiff little sleeve down to what would be his wrist if it were willing to bend.
Immediately Duo lifted his forearm, turning his head to look at it with a little plastic grin, and Trowa saw that the newly-revealed elbow was more like a human joint than a doll’s — that is, there was no sign of it; the arm simply bent. “Yeah, I can totally make rude gestures at people again finally,” Duo was gloating. “I won’t demonstrate on you, though,” he added magnanimously, looking back up at Trowa and continuing to grin.
Despite knowing Duo could not feel it, Trowa squeezed him affectionately at this typical statement. “So what you need to do to become fully human again,” he went on, “is to stay close to Heero.”
“How close?” Heero asked.
“Within your psychic field,” Trowa replied, glancing briefly at him. “For anyone untrained, that’s usually about a five-foot radius, though I’ll do a spell to determine more precisely how large yours is. In your own home, or any place that bears your psychic imprint, you may have a longer working distance, but I would not count on it.”
Duo said nothing, obviously digesting this, but Heero put his finger right onto the center of the issue with another laconic question: “How long?”
Trowa turned his full attention to Heero now, examining his impassive face intently. This, he knew, was the crucial point, the moment that would determine whether Duo would have a chance at being human again or would start another perhaps century-long search for someone else to fulfill the curse’s cruelly personal requirements. He took a deep breath and answered steadily, “A full lunar cycle.”
A moment that seemed to stretch into forever followed as the complete implications of Trowa’s words hit home.
A full lunar cycle.
Heero thought about his ‘private’ cubicle at work. He thought about his co-workers on the sales floor, difficult to put up with at the best of times, and remembered fleetingly how he’d been sure they would react, that first day, if they saw him carrying a doll. He thought about how quickly gossip spread through the building, heard it repeated in a dozen shrill but lowered voices that the Sales Coordinator had a Barbie sitting on his desk. He thought about grocery shopping with a doll seated in the cart, then trying to explain to the checker that, no, he hadn’t pulled it off the shelf and opened it, but had brought it in from home. He thought about going down to the apartment office to drop off May rent holding a doll. He thought about dinner at his parents’ house tomorrow with a doll in his hand, and felt a little faint.
He thought about having Duo with him all the time.
He thought about Duo human, and resolve filled him. Because, really, he didn’t care what it took; he didn’t care what he had to suffer; if he had to live in Hell for a month to break this stupid curse, then that was damn well what he was going to do.
The moment stretched on — it was probably two or three seconds, actually, but it didn’t matter much; his thoughts were moving at light speed in any case — and it occurred to him next how he would react if he were in Duo’s position… if a friend of his were being asked for his sake to go through what he vaguely anticipated now. He knew how he would feel, and he was fairly sure Duo’s response would be much the same. But for Duo to feel guilty or at fault about this was the last thing Heero wanted; the process of breaking the curse shouldn’t make it worse for Duo. He’d gone through enough already.
So as the moment ended, Heero said calmly, “That’s it? Duo just has to stay within five feet of me for a month, and he’ll be human again?”
“‘That’s it?'” Duo, still in Trowa’s hand, echoed weakly. “Heero, are you…” He trailed off, apparently unable to complete the thought.
“No blood sacrifice?” Heero went on coolly. “No dragons to fight or Nome Kings to outwit?”
“That’s it,” Trowa confirmed. He was still staring intently into Heero’s face, and Heero thought he knew why: it was all on his shoulders now, for some reason, and Trowa was anxious to know that he was up to the task. Why Trowa couldn’t do it himself Heero didn’t want to ask; he would rather not even sail near those waters, since he thought the ensuing discussion would probably drive him crazy. He was simply glad (on the level beneath the one on which he was already feverishly bracing himself for the month to come) that he could be of use to Duo — and perhaps secretly, horribly, a little glad that Trowa couldn’t.
“That’s easy,” he said confidently.
“Easy?” Duo burst out. “Easy?? Heero, are you thinking about this? Sneaking me down to the laundry room in a basket is one thing, but a whole month??”
“Yeah, do you think you can put up with me for that long?” Heero asked, trying his damndest to speak lightly.
“Heero, me putting up with you is not going to be the problem.” Duo still sounded shocked, but simultaneously amused and a little exasperated. “Are you thinking at all about what this will involve?”
“He’s right, Heero.” It was the first thing Quatre had said since entering. He too seemed somewhat amused, and a little uneasy. “This may be really hard on you.”
Heero forced a shrug. “If that’s what it takes.”
“Heero…” said Duo faintly.
Trowa still hadn’t withdrawn his pointed gaze, but at Heero’s statement he gave a brief little nod, apparently satisfied. “I’ll go draw up a spell to find the exact dimensions of your psychic field,” he said quietly, and turned to set Duo down.
Duo looked up at him from the table as Trowa’s hand withdrew, and said just as quietly, “Thanks, Trois.”
Trowa appeared startled, and Heero could tell without even asking that nobody had called him ‘Trois’ in a very long time. Trying to stave off jealousy, he reminded himself that a month’s close proximity trumped a cute nickname any day; but that didn’t make it any easier to hear Trowa’s parting, “Just hope it works, Deux,” as the magician touched the top of Duo’s head with two fingertips before he walked away.
When Trowa was gone, a long silence fell. It was very much like the last time he had walked out of this room, back when he’d done his failed divination with the candles. Heero was staring down at Duo thoughtfully, and he knew Quatre was staring at him. Duo was staring straight forward at neither of them, but Heero was certain they were all thinking about the same thing.
This guess was confirmed when Duo finally swiveled his head to look at where Heero still sat on the couch. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.
“It can’t possibly be as tough as being a doll for a hundred years,” Heero said, still struggling for a casual tone.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to suck,” said Duo bluntly. “I mean, I can’t ask… you don’t have to do this for me.”
“But I’m going to anyway,” Heero shrugged.
“Well, thanks.” Duo sounded a bit baffled and perhaps, despite Heero’s best efforts, a little guilty, but definitely grateful.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” Heero reminded him. “Start thanking me a week from now. Oh, and, once you’re human,” he added with a wry smile, “I think you’ll owe me lunch every day for a year.”
Duo laughed. “OK, fine,” he said, in something more like his usual tone. “I just hope you know what you’re getting into.”
“I hope so too,” replied Heero. He looked around, though he couldn’t see down the hall to the glass balcony door from this angle. “What’s the moon like right now, anyway?”
“It was full four nights ago,” Quatre said unexpectedly. “April’s only got thirty days, so May third’s probably the day you want, but I’m not sure. It’ll be easiest to look up a lunar calendar online or something and find the exact date.”
Heero hadn’t had any idea that Quatre paid so much attention to the moon, but wasn’t going to turn down the advice.
Quatre shook his head, evidently not quite sure what to think. “This will be… interesting.”
“Well, I’m going to head home,” Quatre said next, a little reluctantly. “But you guys will definitely be seeing me tomorrow.”
“Night, Quatre,” said Duo abstractedly.
“Yeah, see you,” said Heero.
Quatre nodded and made his way to the door, and Heero thought he was chuckling faintly as he let himself out.
Then Heero turned to stare again at Duo, who seemed lost in contemplation. Several moments passed in silence before Heero finally reached out to pick the doll up and stand. “C’mon, Duo,” he said. “Let’s go to bed.”
And it was a sure sign of how serious were Duo’s thoughts at the moment that all he said in response to this was, “OK.”
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.
For those not in the know, the Nome King is a recurring villain in Baum’s Oz books.
Then as for the French nicknames… Everyone may go around with a straight face in canon being acquainted with someone named Duo and someone named Trowa and someone named Quatre (even if they don’t notice all the other ones), but I don’t think there’s any way a couple of best friends with sequentially numeric names in a relatively modern setting (where the names in question are romance-language-derived and that’s what they’re speaking, at any rate) could possibly let this go unremarked.
I thought a lot about which language to base the nicknames on, and eventually went with French, despite the fact that the French words are very little different from the actual names; of the various languages that Trowa and Duo were logically likely to have heard around (which, in their large, mixed city in the 1910’s and 20’s, was admittedly quite a few), French had numeric words that sounded best to me. Spanish was a close second, but ‘tres’ sounded too much like ‘Treize,’ so that was out. Then I had a couple other little ideas that made French the perfect choice, at least one of which will be mentioned in a later part.