A moment that seemed to stretch into forever followed as the complete implications of Trowa’s words hit home.

Five feet.

A full lunar cycle.

Good lord.

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.”

Heero snorted.

“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.”

Previous (Part 34) | Chapter Index | Next (Part 36)

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.