“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.
He probably shouldn’t have done it, but Quatre simply couldn’t help himself; he had to peek into Heero’s bedroom the next morning. It wasn’t that he expected to see anything terribly interesting; it was just that the whole thing was so interesting he wanted to reconnect.
Duo was sitting on Heero’s cluttered nightstand — which, Quatre reflected in some amusement, was really just the bedroom equivalent of an end table — still and silent, apparently watching Heero sleep in what had to be the most boring way to spend eight or nine hours Quatre could think of. Despite how quietly Quatre moved, Duo looked up as he opened the door and put his head in. The doll said nothing, but gave him a tiny grin and a two-armed wave from the elbows that might have been described as a jazz-hand-wave if his fingers had been capable of splaying.
Amused, Quatre returned the gesture — though he, not being quite so excited about his own elbows, used a more traditional version — also did not risk awakening Heero with a verbal greeting, and withdrew back into the hallway.
He still hadn’t entirely wrapped his brain around what was required to break the curse. On the one hand, as Heero had said, it was a surprisingly easy solution, requiring no blood or complicated magical ceremonies… but on the other, it was likely to be monumentally inconvenient for Heero — Heero, who liked nothing better than never to draw attention to himself over anything. Quatre wasn’t really surprised that his friend was willing to undertake the task, but his mood was a perfect mixture of amusement and horror as he thought about what the task entailed. He would very much have liked to discuss it with Heero in private, but it seemed he wouldn’t have a chance at such a conversation for quite some time now.
Today he had other plans, in any case. He’d specifically turned down a lunch invitation from some other friends in order to carry them out, in fact.
Before Trowa could ask who was there, Quatre was identifying himself and calling out a hearty good morning to the little house in general. He couldn’t be certain of what sort of mood he would find Trowa in after yesterday’s events, but he had a sneaking suspicion there would be guilt or melancholy involved for any of a number of reasons — and therefore some enthusiastic cheerfulness on his part might be exactly what was needed.
What he found, in fact, was nothing short of absolutely typical: Trowa seated in his armchair appearing distant, like he hadn’t slept in days, and neither very happy nor terribly upset. This didn’t necessarily mean, however, that he wasn’t very happy or terribly upset, just that he wasn’t showing it. With this in mind, Quatre asked, “How are you doing?” as he came to stand in front of him.
“I don’t know.” Trowa looked as if he wasn’t used to people asking him how he was — asking and caring, especially — and Quatre fully believed that the frank answer he gave was due solely to the fact that he’d been such a hermit for so long he’d gotten out of the habit of politely lying in response to that particular question as most people did. “I’m glad we’ve found out how to break the curse, of course, but it feels… anticlimactic. It wasn’t that I was hoping for something painful or horrible, but…” He shook his head slightly. “I don’t know what I was hoping.”
“You were hoping you would be the one who could break the curse,” said Quatre with sympathetic surety. And he was almost as sure that Trowa really had hoped it would require something painful or horrible, so he could live out a penance nobody else desired of him. Suddenly Quatre was glad of what the answer had turned out to be — but could Trowa ever see it that way? “Don’t worry,” he continued reassuringly. “Heero’s a great guy, and he cares about Duo too.” If Quatre was any judge of his best friend’s behavior, that was rather an understatement. “You can count on him.”
Perhaps Trowa also recognized the understatement, for his face seemed to darken somewhat. “I’d rather not,” he said bluntly.
“There’s nothing wrong with letting a friend do some of the work.” In Quatre’s haste to vouch for Heero’s pure intentions, he may have stressed the word ‘friend’ a little too much. It made him uneasy, too… because if Trowa needed to be reassured about Heero hanging out with Duo reading books aloud and watching TV, Quatre should probably offer some kind of reassurance to Duo about his own behavior toward Trowa. Except that Duo had never seemed anything but pleased when he noticed Quatre going to visit Trowa. But, then, if Duo was more easygoing, possibly more trusting than his bitter, reclusive boyfriend, it would be no great surprise.
Trowa had nothing to say. Or rather, as on a few previous occasions, it seemed he might well have quite a bit to say if only he wanted to continue the discussion at all. Instead he just glanced around as if reminding himself where he was and murmured, “What’s the time?”
“Almost one, here,” replied Quatre, allowing the subject to be changed. “Let’s go out to lunch.”
Now Trowa looked up at him. “‘Out?'” he echoed blankly.
“Yes.” Quatre gave an explanatory gesture. “Out of your house, where you spend far too much time.”
“Why?” wondered Trowa, still in that baffled tone.
“To celebrate,” Quatre said.
“I think we still have an entire month to hold our breaths before we can celebrate,” Trowa said dully.
With a pitying smile, Quatre restrained himself from rolling his eyes. “After eighty-seven years, you don’t think that finally knowing how to break the curse is something worth celebrating?”
“I’ll celebrate when the curse is actually broken.”
“OK, fine. I’m going to hold you to that. And for now, instead of a celebration, how about just a break? And I don’t mean the kind of break where you sit there staring at that candlestick for hours thinking about how everything’s your fault.”
Trowa’s brows drew together slightly. “I don’t–”
“Yes, you do. We’ve been over this. You need to get away from everything in here for a while, so let’s go out to lunch. Aren’t you hungry?”
Evidently almost against his will, Trowa admitted, “Yes.” Then he gestured at the paper he’d apparently been working on at the table, and said with just a touch of helplessness, “I was planning on finding the dimensions of Heero’s psychic field as soon as he was awake.”
“You can do that later. He knows it’s about five feet, and he’s at home.”
Quatre had feared it might come to this. A little frustrated, he put on his best wheedling tone and puppy-dog eyes, and said daringly, “Come on, Trois. I just know you’ll feel better if you get out of here for a while.”
That got Trowa’s full attention. He stared up at Quatre from behind his unnatural green contacts, brows drawing together again slightly, and seemed at a loss as to what to say.
It was a little horrible to be doing this to someone else’s boyfriend (well, it was always horrible in any case, but it was an effective last resort), but Quatre was not going to lose this debate. He tweaked his expression to look slightly more pathetic and vulnerable, and said softly, sweetly, “Please?”
Appearing almost hypnotized, Trowa said, “All right.”
Trowa drew in a deep breath as he rose slowly from his chair. “Where are we going?”
“Well, there are some highly-rated seafood places around here; I looked it up online.”
“I don’t go out into this town,” said Trowa flatly.
“What?” Quatre was ready to shout in frustration at this newest objection. He just wanted to go out to lunch; was that so hard? He’d even done the big-eyed wheedling thing! But he forced himself to ask calmly, “Why not?”
“Because if people around here get to know what I look like, eventually they will notice I don’t age.”
“How do you ever shop for anything?” Quatre wondered, bemused.
“If I need to, I jump to another city. Never the same one twice, though.”
Quatre stared at him. So in addition to guilt and shame and despair, Trowa had been living with paranoia all this time. Dragging him back into the human world was going to be even more work than Quatre had realized.
Eventually he asked, “Well, can you jump us to some place where we can have lunch, then?” feeling, even as he said it, a sudden bubbling excitement at the thought of Trowa touching him again for the teleportation magic.
Trowa frowned slightly. As far as Quatre could tell, however, it wasn’t an expression of discontentment this time; rather, he seemed to be considering something, as if he’d had an idea he wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to implement. Finally he murmured, “Why not?” and looked up at Quatre once more. The ghost of a smile had replaced the thoughtful frown, and he lifted one arm to welcome Quatre to him.
Although he feared his suddenly-pounding heart might betray him, Quatre stepped forward gladly. Trowa’s arm closed lightly around his waist, his voice sounded, low and incomprehensible, in Quatre’s ear, and then they were lifted into weightlessness and away.
Heero had some cleaning to do on Sunday, to which he had honestly been looking forward more than to the dinner with his parents in the evening. It was good practice making sure he was aware at all times of where Duo was, and at remembering to pick him up and move him whenever he needed to go into another part of the apartment. It was nice having Duo around, too, as he worked, although their ongoing conversation was often broken when Duo’s little voice just couldn’t rise high enough to overcome the normal noises of cleaning. And once everything was spotless (or at least most of the apartment looked better), it was time for a shower.
“Do I get a shower too?” Duo wondered hopefully.
“You don’t need one,” Heero replied.
“It wasn’t me getting clean that I was really thinking of,” said Duo, managing to sound coy and licentious at the same time.
“You sitting outside the door worked just fine earlier.”
“Well, yeah, I’m not interested in toilet business.” Now the tone was ‘righteous indignation’ mixed with ‘shudder.’ “A shower is totally different.”
Heero laughed, set Duo down just outside the bathroom door, and closed the latter against the doll’s further protests.
Having given a lot of thought to what was asked of him for the coming month — both last night while he lay awake in bed with his eyes closed, pretending to sleep, and today on and off while he cleaned — he’d foreseen the shower question arising, and had considered letting Duo sit on the bathroom counter facing away from him. He had found, however, that he couldn’t bear the thought of getting his business done in the shower in the presence of the unavailable, inhuman guy he had a crush on — especially when that guy (in hypothetical human form) figured increasingly in his thoughts at those moments, and even if that guy ostensibly wasn’t looking.
Right now, as he stood under the hot water and felt the sweat and cleaning products of the last couple of hours wash off his skin, his considerations were following a different track. He was thinking about that brief exchange they’d just had, and how interesting it was (and not really in a good way) that Duo flirted constantly with both Heero and Quatre but never with Trowa.
Heero was about as far from being flirtatious by nature as anyone he knew, but somehow with Duo it was easy. Conversation in general was easy with Duo. Duo even made him laugh. He didn’t laugh with most other people, but with Duo it happened frequently. Heero wondered whether all of this was simply because he liked Duo or because Duo, not being human, failed to set off some kind of subconscious alarm in Heero’s head that went off for most of the rest of the world and caused him to stiffen up. Then, maybe it was because Duo didn’t set off the alarm that Heero liked him in the first place.
Thinking about Duo too much in the shower was going to get him in trouble one of these days, especially as things now stood… but thoughts about Duo’s nature and how it had been affecting Heero almost couldn’t help but lead to other reflections… such as a recurring daydream about a human Duo and what he would be like. Which was, in Heero’s mind, the same as the Duo he knew now — the same fascinating mix of casualness and intensity, the same silly carelessness atop intelligence sharp as a knife — but with a knockout body to match. And to such imaginings there was only one possible end. Which was why he really couldn’t have Duo in here while he showered.
Once he was clean (physically), he dried off and wrapped the towel around his waist before leaving the bathroom. And as he bent down to retrieve Duo from the floor, the doll wolf-whistled at him. If Heero managed not to blush — not necessarily at Duo’s teasing reaction to his nudity, but at receiving such a gesture at all from someone about whom he’d been actively fantasizing not five minutes before — it was only because he was so surprised. “I didn’t know you could whistle,” he said.
“Neither did I, until just now,” replied Duo in his ‘shrug’ tone. “I guess necessity really is the mother of invention.”
Heero snorted. “So it was necessary for you to whistle at me?”
“Yeah…” said Duo slowly, pensively. Then, as if he’d thought it through carefully and come to a conclusion, he repeated with more surety, “Yeah. There are some things words just don’t work for.” He started whistling again, seemingly experimentally; at first it was a patternless meandering of notes, but eventually it turned into something that sounded a bit like the intro from Knight Rider (not that Heero planned on admitting he recognized it). Listening to the little sound, which was thin and high like a bird’s song, Heero looked through his closet, abstractedly considering what he should wear.
“That is the greatest thing ever,” Duo declared, breaking off whistling. “I wonder how long I’ve been able to do that.”
“If you could do it all along,” Heero ventured, “you would probably have noticed before now.”
“I think you’re right,” agreed Duo cheerfully. “So it was probably all you.”
Heero set Duo down on the dresser and began looking for clean underwear. “So necessity wasn’t really the mother at all.”
“No,” Duo replied, affecting a serious tone worthy of a soap opera. “It was you all along. You were the mother of my invention, Heero.”
And there Duo had made him laugh again. It was almost uncanny. Heero stepped back into the closet to get dressed.
“Well, now the apartment’s cleaned up,” he said when he emerged, “we’ve got a few hours to kill before dinner.”
“We could watch TV,” Duo suggested as Heero picked him up, but at the expression immediately turned down upon him went on hastily, “No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Don’t kill me!”
“I’m going to find something to eat,” Heero said. “Then maybe we can finish Ozma or something.”
“Oh, good idea,” agreed Duo. “I’ve gotta know what happens.”
Heero smiled slightly and headed for the kitchen.
Interruptions for tangental discussion dragged out their finishing the third Oz book until nearly six o’clock, at which time Heero picked Duo up again and frowned down at him. “It’s about time to go,” he said, and wasn’t really surprised to find his tone somewhat surly.
“And don’t you sound excited,” Duo sympathized. “Why are you looking at me like that.”
“Listen… I’m sorry about this…” Heero sighed. “I can’t… I can’t carry you in there. I’ve thought about it, and I just can’t take a doll to my parents’ house and try to explain it to my mother. You’re going to have to go in my pocket.” He touched one of the cargo pockets on the pants he’d chosen earlier for this very purpose.
“Why are you apologizing?” Duo chuckled a little, apparently half amused and half bitter. “It’s not like I don’t understand.”
“Well, look. This is the only situation where I ever plan on doing this to you. Everywhere else, even work, I plan on keeping you out in the open. But I just don’t think I can face walking into my parents’ house with you in my hand. And I want you to know that’s because you’re a doll, and because things are the way they are with my parents, not because it’s you.”
“I…” Duo at a loss for words was a rare sight, and even now it only seemed to last a moment. Heero wished very much that Duo’s range of facial expressions was greater, because he would have liked to know exactly why his statement had had this effect. As it was, the moment passed and they were back to the usual meaningless flirtation: “So otherwise you wouldn’t mind taking me to meet your parents, huh?”
“That’s right.” Heero smiled faintly. “So it’s really OK to put you in my pocket?”
“You’ll probably have to bend me over,” Duo told him suggestively.
Heero rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling. “Sometimes you try too hard.”
“I’m aaalllllways hard,” Duo drawled, which Heero supposed was perfectly true. “Now help me get into your pants!”
The pocket plan evidently wasn’t actually to be implemented until they reached the place, so Duo got to sit in the passenger seat of Heero’s rusty old car again. He would rather have been on the dashboard so he could see out the windows, but little purchase was available there for someone that couldn’t really hold on, so instead he satisfied himself with looking at Heero. And as they progressed through town toward Heero’s parents’ house, it was as if they were also traveling back in time to the first day they’d met, back to that unresponsive, mistrustful Heero that didn’t smile.
Duo watched him with what would have been undisguised curiosity and concern if his current predicament didn’t so effectively disguise anything he didn’t choose to verbalize, wondering, through the cool silence that had muffled the car’s interior, what in the world was going on between Heero and his parents that could cause this kind of reaction. Heero usually seemed so intensely effective, as if there was nothing he couldn’t do and no situation he couldn’t handle… even a magical talking doll hadn’t fazed him for long… What was it about his family that he seemed to feel he had to put up a barrier against? Duo had to remind himself that people were sometimes really strange about their parents, which was one of several reasons he was rather glad he’d never met his.
He’d been hoping to see some of the Asian district, where Heero had informed him his parents lived, or at least to catch a glimpse of the house that was their destination, but Heero put him into his cargo pocket before leaving the car. He did have to bend him over to get him in, which Duo was definitely going to bring up again later when he got the chance, and, not at all to the doll’s surprise, he was still apologizing as he snapped the pocket shut and trapped Duo in darkness.
Honestly, after the various toyboxes and backpacks Duo had occupied over the years, a pocket was nothing particularly onerous. It was better, as a matter of fact, in that he could still hear what was going on around them fairly well and reflect complacently upon the warmth of Heero’s thigh all along his body. He couldn’t actually feel the warmth of Heero’s thigh, but the awareness that it must be there was comforting, and he could probably work it into a suggestive remark later. For the moment he just listened hard.
Heero seemed to have arrived before his sister, which meant he was alone with his parents in the house for a few minutes, and Duo was hopeful of hearing something informative during this time. At first he was disappointed when they greeted each other and went on in Japanese, but it didn’t take long, even through the unfamiliar language, for him to pick up on the stiffness in their statements. After a brief, cool exchange, the mother left the room, and Heero had only his father to talk to. The latter had a quiet voice much like his son’s, and didn’t seem to have a lot to say — but was this because he was naturally taciturn, or because whatever was going on was making all family conversation awkward?
When the sister, Relena, arrived, bringing with her a guest by the name of Colin, the atmosphere warmed up quite a bit, and Heero dropped out of the conversation almost entirely. Fortunately, Colin didn’t seem to speak Japanese, so things at least became intelligible, even if there was still an entire aspect to the interactions that Duo was missing.
“Hello, Colin,” was the first thing anyone said in English (it was the father). “Very good to see you.”
“We’re always so glad to have you over,” agreed Heero’s mother, who’d come back in to greet the newcomers in a much more welcoming tone than she had used on her son. “Would you like some coffee or tea before dinner?”
“No, thanks, Mrs. Yuy.” Colin had a friendly, polite voice that sounded faintly British. “I think Le wanted to show me something.”
“Yeah, we’re going to look at some of the photo albums. He won’t believe I bleach my hair until he sees photographic evidence.” Relena, like her brother, did not seem to have their parents’ slight accent, and it occurred to Duo to wonder when the family had immigrated.
“All right,” said the mother. “Ten minutes, OK?” She managed to sound both fond and authoritative at the same time.
“Come with us, Heero,” Relena commanded in much the same tone as her mother’s. “It’s no fun to laugh at old pictures of you if you’re not there.”
Heero evidently had nothing to say in response to this, but the alacrity with which he obeyed indicated that he would definitely rather be with Relena having old pictures of himself laughed at than with his parents trying to think of something to say next. And it was also clear, within two minutes of his leaving his father and mother behind, that the problem lay with them, as Duo had guessed, and not with his sister and her friend.
Duo would have given quite a lot (not that he really had anything to give) to see the photos the latter were exclaiming over, which seemed to be twenty years’ worth of Yuy family memories. The question of Relena’s natural hair color was settled almost immediately, but still Colin kept bringing it up. Duo, practiced flirt that he was, could easily tell that this was purely for the sake of complimenting her on the effect she achieved and teasing her about her supposed vanity, and the relationship between the two became a little more clear.
“And here’s another one of us playing in that refrigerator box,” Relena laughed. “I swear we got half a year out of that thing before it fell apart.”
“How many costumes did you two have?” wondered Colin in amusement.
“You could always tell it was us, though,” remarked Relena slyly. “Because I always wore that stupid princess hat with the streamer, and Heero always had that look of heroic determination.”
Now Duo was absolutely dying to see these pictures. This was so unfair.
“And never smiled, apparently,” Colin added. His tone suggested he wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he was allowed to tease Heero yet.
Heero made a noise that might have been a snort and might have been a faint laugh, and there was the slapping sound of more album pages being turned.
“Wow, Le, you were a pretty kid.”
“There’s no need to sound so surprised about it,” said Relena in mock indignation.
Colin laughed, and, from the sound of it, kissed her. “But seriously, look at these… you were even the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen!”
“I think that one’s Heero, actually.”
“Oh. Hey, Heero. You were the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen.”
Heero made the same noise as before; Duo was fairly sure now that it was a sort of quiet snort of vaguely amused acknowledgment. He hadn’t said a word since he came in here, and still the conversation seemed less awkward than the one he’d previously been having with his father.
Relena and Colin continued to discuss the pictures in a manner calculated to allow for as much flirtation between them as possible, Heero remained wordless, and, in the darkness of Heero’s pocket, Duo was kicking himself mentally all of a sudden.
How was it that he had never mentioned to Heero that he could choose who heard him when he spoke? He could make all the comments he was dying to make about Heero’s family and the sister’s boyfriend, and nobody but Heero would hear him… except that doing so might startle Heero into a demonstration of surprise that would be noticed by the others and necessitate some kind of possibly embarrassing explanation, and Heero would not thank him for that. But, dammit, if only Duo had remembered to tell him beforehand…
Eventually — actually, Duo thought it had been very precisely the promised ten minutes — the mother called them to come have dinner. Duo was pleased; if he wasn’t to be allowed to see the photos, at least he could hope for some kind of elucidation on the family issues through the next overheard conversation.
This next conversation turned out to be simply a continuation of the current one. “Mama, whatever happened to those old costumes we always used to wear when we were kids?” Relena was asking as (to the best of Duo’s knowledge) they were all sitting down around the dinner table.
“They are in a box in one of the bedrooms,” the mother answered with surprising immediacy. She didn’t even seem to have to think about it. Duo remembered, back when he’d owned things, sometimes being unable to locate the ones he used every day; something in a box from however many years back would undoubtedly have been lost to him forever (or at least until he came across it by accident while looking for something entirely different).
“Let’s see,” said Colin. “In the pictures I saw a ballerina, a musketeer, a princess–”
“Several princesses,” Relena corrected him. “Different dress, different princess.”
“Several princesses,” Colin conceded in amusement. “And a… was it a fox?”
“And then I’d combine them. Fox-princess Vixine of the Forest Kingdom had a long run, and so did Jzi-Jzi the fencing ballerina — who, actually, I think was also secretly a princess.” This was met with general laughter, and Relena went on enthusiastically, “Heero did that too: I think Princess Jzi-Jzi employed musketeers in addition to being one herself, or they were part of the ballet? Or something… but Heero couldn’t tell anyone that he was a musketeer serving a secret princess, because…” She trailed off, laughing, as she tried to remember.
“Because the coach of my football team had a rule against being part of any other organization,” Heero supplied at a deadpan.
“Yeah, he was a bit of a jerk,” Relena agreed. “But wasn’t that the game where you died in my service and became a zombie? And you were so strong and fast then that you were the star of the team and the coach stopped caring what you did as long as you were there to win the games for them?”
“Because everyone knows how fast zombies are,” put in Colin, breathless with laughter.
“That’s right,” said Heero.
It was a good thing Duo had gotten so much practice keeping silent in the face of extreme provocation, because otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to prevent himself from laughing aloud with the rest of them. This was definitely something he was going to have to bring up with Heero later. He wished he knew how old they’d been… it had probably been obvious from the pictures, but of course he hadn’t seen them.
One thing that made it easier to stay calm and not give himself away was the interesting fact that the laughter of Heero’s parents had ceased rather abruptly the very moment Relena had mentioned his name. Relena and Colin were laughing enough to cover up the lapse, but Duo hadn’t failed to notice. Why was Princess Vixine of the Animal Kingdom amusing when zombie musketeer football player Heero wasn’t? Moreover, why did the mother suddenly change the subject at this point by asking Colin some stupid polite question? What was going on here?
“And how is your work, Colin?” asked Heero’s mother in her formal way.
Colin, the type of casual yuppie you would expect to have a pastel cardigan tied by the arms around his neck, was adjusting admirably to Mrs. Yuy, despite not having spent a huge amount of time with the future in-laws yet. “Very good, thanks,” he replied in equally polite tones. “In my current position, I really enjoy my work, which I think a lot of people can’t say that.”
“And we hear you’re very good at what you do,” Heero’s father commented.
“I like to think so,” Colin smiled. “Of course, it helps that I’m best friends with the manager… but still I think I do pretty good work even without the favoritism.”
Relena laughed. “That sounds just like Heero.” She grinned cheekily at him. “How’s Quatre doing, Heero?”
“Fine,” he replied levelly. “Busy, as always.” He gave one corner of a smile to acknowledge the fact that she was teasing him, but couldn’t complete the expression: once again their parents had gone abruptly, stiffly silent as Relena had sought to include her brother in the conversation.
Relena’s face took on a thoughtful expression. “Do you guys still hang out with those dentists?”
“Yes,” Heero replied. God, they did, didn’t they? In fact, they were all going to be playing tennis on Saturday, weren’t they? And Heero was going to be carrying a doll to that, wasn’t he?
Well, he’d told Duo he meant to keep him out in the open as much as possible, and he didn’t plan on making a lie of that. He would just have to think up an excuse for Duo’s presence before Saturday. He would probably have plenty of opportunity to do so during the coming work-week…
“Are they any good? I need to go see a dentist.”
Here their mother broke in somewhat sharply. “Why do you need a dentist?”
“Oh, this crown in back is bothering me again.”
“But didn’t Lindsay refer you to her dentist?”
“Yes, but I didn’t like it there.” Relena looked like she was going to continue, probably to reiterate her question to Heero, but their mother jumped on her pause. This was no surprise; she was obviously in take-control-of-the-conversation mode.
“Colin, you’ve met Lindsay, haven’t you?” She’d turned to Relena’s fiance again with her polite smile, and when Colin, taken by surprise, nodded rather than answer with his mouth full, she went on immediately. “Lindsay is so nice, isn’t she?”
“I was lucky to find a roommate on such short notice,” Relena said, agreeing only obliquely. “I hope I’ve given her enough notice so she can find someone to take my room in July.”
“Not just that you found a roommate,” their mother said, forcing the issue, “but you found someone so nice.” She looked around pointedly.
“She is nice,” Colin agreed earnestly, as was expected of him.
“She may want to buy my car,” Relena put in somewhat hastily. “That’ll make things easier, since I won’t have to list it anywhere.”
“That would be convenient,” Mrs. Yuy nodded. “What a good friend she is to you. Anyone would be lucky to have someone like her around, I think.” She didn’t have to look over at Heero; she had a way of not looking at someone that produced essentially the same result as if she had. “Didn’t you say she isn’t dating anyone, though?”
Relena shared her mother’s talent for pointedly not looking. Now she, too, didn’t look at Heero as she answered calmly, “That’s right.”
Frustrated, Heero rose somewhat abruptly. “Excuse me,” he said, and left the dining room. He moved briskly down the hall with its noren-hung cream walls, entered the green bathroom, locked the door behind him, and turned on the fan for cover. Then he extracted Duo from his pocket.
“Hi,” said Duo.
“Hi,” replied Heero darkly. He stared at the doll silently for a long moment before asking, “How are you doing in there?”
“Just enjoying the drama,” Duo said in his ‘grin’ tone. “But your sister seems pretty nice.”
“She is.” Heero gave a somewhat curt nod, then felt his lips pressing together as if he never wanted to speak again. Which was pretty much the case.
Duo seemed to pick up on this, for all he said was, “Well, hang in there.”
Heero nodded again, then returned Duo to his pocket. He didn’t want to discuss ‘the drama,’ it was true, but he wouldn’t have minded being able to express to Duo how unexpectedly bolstering it was to be able to exchange even these few, meaningless words with him in the middle of it. Perhaps sometime he would, if he could figure out a way to do it without confessing exactly how he felt about Duo at the same time.
Back in the dining room, the conversation had taken a turn for the slightly less annoying, and Relena smiled apologetically at Heero as he resumed his seat. After that, he was more than happy to be awkwardly ignored for a while. But before it was even time for dessert, it started again.
They’d returned to the briefly-touched-upon topic of Relena’s car, and were discussing how much she was likely to get for it and what sort of vehicle she and Colin were looking to purchase together. Heero knew what was coming; he hadn’t really expected to get through the night without it.
“You should buy Relena’s car, Heero,” said their mother at about the moment he’d know she would. “That would work out nice for everybody.”
“I don’t need Relena’s car, mama,” Heero replied flatly.
“Yes, you do,” she said. “You can’t keep driving that thing you have.”
“There is nothing wrong with my car.”
“It’s disgusting,” she said. And she really sounded disgusted.
“It doesn’t matter what it looks like.” And it didn’t really matter what he said; they never listened. “It gets me places.”
“It’s a disgrace.” And she really sounded disgraced.
“Your mother’s right,” his father put in. “Someone who makes as much money as you do should be ashamed to be driving a car like that.” Because shame always had to come into it somehow.
“Relena’s car would be much more appropriate for you, don’t you think?” said his mother in a tone that mixed wheedling and authoritativeness.
“I don’t think it’s ‘appropriate,'” responded Heero tightly, “to be looking for a different car when mine runs just fine.”
“But, Heero, it isn’t right…” The mixture of exasperation and despair in his mother’s voice was harsher than the discussion really warranted… but, then, the car discussion was never really about the car anymore, so that was no surprise.
“What, that ancient BMW out there?” Colin wondered, seeming a little nonplussed by the fairly rapid-fire and inexplicably intense exchange. “What’s wrong with it? I mean, other than that it’s obviously twenty-five years old…”
“Do you remember,” said Relena suddenly, with the air of one that has just had an idea so striking she can’t help but mention it despite its only tangential relevance to the current conversation, “how when I was younger I was determined that my first car was going to be a pink limo?”
Colin turned to her immediately, obviously captivated by this revelation. “Were you?”
Relena nodded with a somewhat sheepish grin. “Pink used to be my favorite color, like probably every other little girl at some point or other, and I loved limos. I had my heart set on having one for the longest time, even when I should have known better. It was a serious part of my financial planning for the future until I was, I think, seventeen? I had a brand picked out and I was actually looking into dealerships by the time I lost interest.”
Heero’s parents had subsided by the time his sister was done with this explanation; the next time he caught Relena’s eye, he made sure to give her a grateful smile.
“Well, maybe we’ll get you one someday.” Colin was beaming at his fiance; evidently he thought the entire thing was some sort of adorable. Heero, who knew Relena and her determination a little better than did Colin, thought his future brother-in-law would do better to be relieved that Relena had actually given up that particular fixation.
This led to a discussion of the couple’s investment plans — which Heero was convinced would not have been in such an advanced stage at this point if it hadn’t been for the pressure from his parents — and allowed Heero to drop out of the conversation again. Soon it was time for dessert, and Heero began silently counting down to the moment he could leave.
Ice cream in the living room seemed like it was going to turn into a family game of some sort, and it came as no surprise to Heero that no one specifically urged him to join or sought his opinion on what they should play. Therefore it couldn’t have come as a surprise to any of them when he finished eating in fairly hasty silence and stood up to leave.
“Are you going, Heero?” Relena also stood, and went to hug him. It was a very purposeful gesture, but seemed to have been wasted on their parents. Colin, however, shook hands with him and said, in that way of his that would have been smarmy if he weren’t so perfectly honest and straightforward, that it had been good to see him again.
“Goodbye,” was all his parents said, and this when Heero had already turned his back and taken a few steps toward the hall. And it wasn’t particularly cold or unfriendly, just… stiff, as if they couldn’t think of anything more to say, or were unwilling to say what they could think of.
“Bye,” Heero replied in almost exactly the same tone. Then he had to restrain himself from moving with undue speed toward the front door and his car on the driveway and escape.
Duo wanted nothing so much in the world as details about Heero’s family and the current situation thereof, which he had just so imperfectly witnessed, but, as it had in the bathroom halfway through dinner, something about the set of Heero’s jaw during the drive home told Duo not to ask. Heero’s bad mood seemed to have crystallized over the course of the evening, leaving him hard and cold and very unapproachable, and Duo didn’t like it one bit.
Heero obviously didn’t like it much either. With a look that was part scowl and part introspection — Duo wondered if it was the same one he’d worn as a kid, the one Relena had described as ‘heroic determination’ — he stalked into the computer room the moment they were home, pulled a book from the shelf, didn’t forget to disallow Duo to see the rest of the books, and marched back to the living room. There, he put Duo onto his end table and sat down against the near arm of the couch.
“I need to think about something else for a while,” he said darkly, and held up the book, which proved to be the next volume of the Oz series. “Do you mind?” Once hastily assured that Duo didn’t — because, curious as the doll was, there really wasn’t much else to say — Heero started in.
Duo had realized pretty quickly the reason Heero had seemed embarrassed at first about the idea of reading things to him: though he obviously enjoyed it, Heero appeared to regard reading aloud as a type of performance art, and to suffer just a touch of stage fright as a result. This had smoothed as they’d progressed through the Oz series, but it wasn’t entirely gone — and Duo thought Heero was now actually focusing on the slight awkwardness he still felt at doing it in order to forget the other awkwardness of the evening and distract himself from his related feelings. Duo was torn between sympathy and amusement.
Heero also seemed inordinately exhausted; evidently, even considering how little he’d actually done or said at his parents’ house, the dinner had drained him like some kind of physical exertion. He was half-draped over the arm of the couch, almost unmoving, his face slightly overlapping the flat side of the book while his increasingly quiet words echoed off the other, perpendicular side just beyond his nose. And eventually he fell entirely silent, his eyes drifting shut and his hand stilling against the page.
Duo observed this in equally still silence. He’d found last night that watching Heero sleep wasn’t actually the worst boredom he’d ever suffered. Heero really was very pleasant to look at, and there was an unusual softness to him as he slept that merited contemplation. Duo wanted to touch him, to find out the texture of his hair and feel his warm skin; he wanted to cuddle up against him and just breathe with him. Hell, when it came to that, he’d like to breathe at all. Too bad.
Perhaps ten minutes after Heero’s eyes had closed, Duo was startled from his long staring by the sound of Trowa’s door. He swiveled his head in some surprise to see Quatre emerging. As he began the slow process of turning his stiff body to face the newcomer, he said in mock accusation, “You’ve been over there for, like, twelve hours… If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were cheating on me.”
Quatre fixed eyes on Duo that seemed at first not really to see him at all, focused slowly, and finally smiled. “Your boyfriend and I,” he replied, doing a good job getting into the spirit of flirtation despite seeming a little poleaxed for some reason, “just had lunch… dinner… some kind of meal… in… Paris.”
“Huh!” Duo said. “I wouldn’t have thought he knew any place in France well enough to jump to.”
“I guess he used to do research there. That artifact originally came from France.”
“Ohhhhhh. OK.” That explained that, but not what had taken twelve hours. “So… you guys just randomly hopped over to France and had some kind of meal, and then…?”
“Well, he wanted to come back and do that psychic field spell on Heero, but I…” Quatre laughed and shrugged a little. “I took French in college, but I hardly ever get a chance to use it. Once I was actually there, I didn’t want to leave… so I dragged him around with me looking at things all night.” He smiled sheepishly. “It was his idea to go there in the first place, and then I had to go all tourist on him. The sun had come up by the time we left.”
Duo laughed as well, far more heartily than Quatre. “Good!” he said. “Get him out of the house more often, why don’t you? Especially now that he doesn’t need to do all that research anymore.”
Quatre gave him a curious, thoughtful smile, drawing closer and looking down past Duo at the sleeping Heero. “You know, I’m not sure why we didn’t come grab you two and take you with us too… It’s only the house he wants to keep you out of, away from that artifact… I think Paris is far enough away that it wouldn’t have been a problem.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t have intruded for the world,” Duo drawled. “Besides, we had dinner with Heero’s family, remember?”
“Oh, yeah…” Quatre’s smile turned into something more like a grimace. “How did that go?”
“Actually, I wanted to ask if you had any insight on that, while he’s asleep–” Duo made a fabulous elbow-driven gesture in Heero’s general direction– “since it seems like it bugs the hell out of him: what is going on there? I mean, they ignored him half the time, and the rest of the time… I’m not supposed to be able to feel things, and I was in Heero’s pocket anyway, and I could feel that tension.”
Quatre sighed. “Heero came out to his parents when we were juniors in college, and then they barely talked for almost the entire next year. Things kinda smoothed out after that, and they were all OK for a while, but then Relena got engaged a few months ago and reminded her parents all about the straight wedding Heero isn’t going to be having and the grandchildren Heero isn’t going to be providing them.”
“Yeah, OK, that all fits…” It all sucked, too, but at least it fit. “But if it’s been years since he came out, they should totally be over it by now.”
“They try to be reasonable.” Again Quatre sighed. “They try not to get on his case about it… but then their disapproval comes out over other things. Little things.”
“OK, that explains… yeah…”
“The problem is that I think underneath everything else, they still believe all that wonderful stuff people do — he’s going through a phase, he only thinks he’s gay because he hasn’t met the right girl yet, you can’t have real love between two men, that sort of thing — and as long as they think that way, they can never really accept it.”
Duo was trying to force his stiff facial features into a scowl, and feared it wasn’t working. He knew he was frowning, but with painted-on eyebrows the rest of the expression was difficult. “That’s infuriating,” he muttered.
“I think if they could see Heero in a positive, long-term relationship,” Quatre speculated, “they might start to overcome their false impressions. But so far nobody’s been able to get that close to him, because…” He trailed off, looking at the figure on the couch and obviously not wanting to get into such personal details when Heero was right there, asleep or otherwise.
“Really?” Duo wondered. But his momentary surprise quickly dissolved as he considered the invisible wall he’d often thought he observed just beneath Heero’s exterior. He hadn’t felt it so much lately, himself (tonight obviously being an exception), but he could understand how difficult it might be for someone to ‘get that close to’ Heero.
He wondered how close he was, and whether Heero thought of him as a friend or just an object of charity. He would have told himself that people didn’t read their old kids’ books aloud to those they just considered objects of charity, but he had a feeling that reading aloud was about as prototypical a charitable activity as you could possibly take part in. He was fairly sure that charity usually didn’t involve discussing the question of Ozma’s transsexuality, though, whether Tip might not have been her correct gender identity, and whether or not she could therefore be considered gay for Dorothy. That was a reassuring thought.
Finally, somewhat weakly, he took up the lagging conversation again. “Well, I hope he…”
“You guys are talking about me, aren’t you?” Heero mumbled, slowly unsticking his face from the pages of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.
“Shit, he’s waking up!” Duo cried. “Quatre, quick, finish telling me what else he’s got on his bookshelf!”
Quatre raised a skeptical, amused brow, but played along even on such a brief cue. “Well, there’s the Hardy Boys…” He really was remarkable, Quatre; Trowa was an idiot if he didn’t notice. But, then, if they were watching the sun come up together in Paris, that probably wasn’t a problem.
Heero sat bolt upright. “Quatre–” he began in a suddenly dangerous tone.
“And that’s all I remember,” Quatre finished neatly.
Duo laughed. Heero scowled.
Quatre reached out and patted his friend on the head in a deliberately patronizing gesture. “Go to bed, Heero. You don’t want to be late for work in the morning.”
“Go to bed yourself,” grumbled Heero grouchily.
“Good night, then,” Quatre said. But even as he turned away, Duo could see his grin fading into a look similar to the one he’d worn when he’d come in from Trowa’s house: a sort of shell-shocked expression — not displeased, but not entirely sure what to be instead. And as he reached for the apartment door he murmured, apparently entirely to himself, “Quelle journée…”
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.
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.
Once again for those that haven’t read the Oz series (and, yes, it is a spoiler for The Marvelous Land of Oz; sorry), Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, is revealed to have been transformed into a boy as a young child and raised under the name ‘Tip’ by a bad witch. She gets turned back into a girl at the end of the book, though, and takes her place on the throne of Oz, and then I (and Heero and Duo, apparently) spend the rest of the series slashing her with Dorothy Gale.