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…”
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.