“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.
Trowa found himself unusually restless on Monday afternoon. It wasn’t simply that he was unable to concentrate on the book he held and the notes he was taking — that he was more than accustomed to — but that he could barely bring himself to sit still at all. He kept drifting out of his comfortable chair and out of the study to look through the little windows in the front door, as if he were waiting for someone. And eventually he realized that this was, in fact, precisely the case, and explained what was wrong with him.
It didn’t really matter, of course, that Quatre hadn’t shown up for lunch, nor could it surprise: Quatre had gone back to work today, and wouldn’t have time to be forcing food into antisocial misanthropes… and yet Trowa, almost without knowing it, had been expecting him. Realizing this now, hours after the fact, he found himself recognizably disappointed that Quatre hadn’t appeared. How very different from before, when he’d considered Quatre just another follower…
Ever since Friday evening, he knew, his attitude toward Quatre had been changing, and yesterday had only hastened the process. He doubted anyone could spend an entire day with Quatre and fail to be struck by his almost aggressive good will — a natural talent that Quatre seemed to have honed into a razor-sharp skill and practically made a business procedure out of. Quatre didn’t just want to help people; he strategized to help people.
But even friendly concern had its limits, and perhaps Trowa had been too extravagant yesterday. Maybe the choice of Paris had been a bit… strange. Not that Paris was any more difficult for him to get to than any other place he’d visited before or could fix on a good clear mental picture of… but it said something more. People had a… thing… about Paris, didn’t they? It was a symbol. Trowa was definitely not up to speed on cultural implications, but, even back when he had been, taking someone to Paris meant something totally different, something above and beyond accompanying them to some random seafood restaurant in a little east coast town.
It was just that when Quatre had looked at him with those flawless, shining grey-blue eyes and called him by his old nickname and said “Please?” as if he were asking for a personal favor rather than trying to get Trowa to do something healthy for his own good… well, the impulse that had overwhelmed Trowa hadn’t been just to comply, to do anything Quatre asked — he’d been downright determined to impress. That was what it was. Something about Quatre, at least in that moment, had made him eager to show off.
True, there might have been, in the back of Trowa’s head somewhere, a faint desire to see Paris again for himself, but all that had really done was contribute to the ease with which Quatre had convinced him to stay and walk around the City of Light like an idle tourist instead of getting back home and casting that spell on Heero. And perhaps Quatre, on reflection, had decided he didn’t like how easily-swayed Trowa had been when there was something else he should have been doing. Or maybe Paris really had been too much.
In any case, whatever the reason, Quatre hadn’t come over for lunch today, and that probably meant he was not going to be doing so routinely in the future either, and Trowa would just have to feed himself. He was under the impression that this had been the point: to get him into the habit of eating at about the same time every day so that he would continue even when Quatre was no longer at leisure to come compel him.
Although Trowa was conscious of hunger, however, what he did not feel was any inclination to do anything about it. It had only been seven days in a row that Quatre had come over for lunch — the span of an indrawn breath in comparison to the forty thousand Trowa had lived — and yet, even in that short time, Trowa had gotten used to more than just a regular midday meal: it was the company that made all the difference. Eating lunch simply wouldn’t be the same without Quatre there.
This was not, of course, the only thing about which he was brooding today. He’d gone to Heero’s apartment that morning to catch him before work and divine the precise dimensions of his psychic field, wish him luck, and say hello to Duo — and this had served to remind Trowa of how little control he had over the situation, how much he was being forced to depend on someone else, and how easily everything could go wrong during the coming month. Such was the surface of his thoughts, from which he’d been trying to distract himself with books and notes; but it wasn’t what was causing his restlessness.
And then he heard his front door open.
Surprised, he made his habitual inquiry as to who the visitor was, and felt an even greater surprise at the discernible pleasure the answer, “It’s Quatre,” occasioned in him. He put his book aside and rose, thus meeting Quatre halfway across the room.
“Hi,” Quatre greeted him with brisk cheer. “Have you eaten anything today?”
“No,” Trowa replied, eschewing the explanation of why, precisely, this was.
“OK.” Quatre sounded a little relieved, which seemed amusingly at odds with his desire for Trowa to eat regularly. “I usually take my lunch at one, which I didn’t even think about is four over here. For some reason it never crossed my mind that if I was going to make you eat on a work day, it’d have to be an early dinner.”
Trowa hadn’t considered the time difference either. “Oh,” was all he found to say.
Quatre smiled. “So come have dinner,” he commanded, and turned.
Watching him walk back toward the study door, which he’d left open, Trowa didn’t follow just at first. Quatre had easy but controlled movements that seemed to match his temperament very well, and the suit pieces he wore — charcoal grey slacks and a pale pink shirt with a candy-stripe tie — looked particularly good on him. They also fitted well enough that Trowa judged they must be some expensive brand or perhaps even custom tailoring. None of this was at all important, his brain informed him… but his eyes, for some reason, begged to differ.
As he moved to catch up heading for the kitchen, “How are Heero and Duo doing so far?” Trowa asked.
“I don’t know for sure.” There was a definite hint of laughter to Quatre’s tone. “I haven’t gotten any miserable emails from Heero yet, and that’s a good sign. I’m definitely going to get a report from him after work, though, about how the first day went.” Trowa nodded, and the motion clearly caught Quatre’s eye. “You look like you didn’t get any sleep last night again. What have you been working on?”
“If you can call it working,” replied Trowa somewhat darkly, “I’ve been making some notes about that book I’ve been thinking of writing.”
Quatre looked over at him again from where he’d begun surveying the contents of the freezer as if he hadn’t bought all of them, and his eyes shone with interest. “Really? You’re starting on that already? Before the curse is broken?”
“I need something to distract me,” Trowa admitted. “I can’t help Heero with this, and worrying about it all day won’t do any good.”
“How sensible of you!” Quatre commended him. He’d turned back to the freezer, but Trowa could see the amusement on his face and hear the slight teasing tone in his voice.
“You say that as if I’m generally without sense.” Trowa was a little surprised at the good-naturedness of his own reply.
“Weelllllll…” said Quatre reluctantly, though still with that repressed grin. “When it comes to things about Duo…” He pulled a box from the freezer and turned toward the microwave.
“You’re probably right about that,” Trowa agreed gravely, though in actuality he felt lighter at the moment than he had in longer than he could remember.
Presently, as he set about readying whatever they were eating this evening, Quatre asked, “So what kinds of notes are you making?”
This was something Trowa could talk about more easily. “I’d like to produce something comprehensive,” he explained. “A number of magical guides have been written in the past, but most of them are either too general or only focus specifically on a narrow category.” At Quatre’s nod of understanding he went on, “So I’m looking through existing books on magic and noting down what areas they’re lacking in. And where they’re incorrect,” he added. “They often are.”
“But you know better, huh?”
“You’ll have to take my word that I’m not boasting. With the artifact, I am extremely powerful, which allows me to see the truth about many aspects of magic others can’t.”
Quatre turned his smile on Trowa as he moved to gather dishes. It was such a remarkable smile… it seemed to have its own gravitational pull. “I believe you,” he assured Trowa. Then thoughtfully he added, “Hey, are there schools for magic?”
“I’ve never heard of any, but I’ve never looked.”
“Wouldn’t it be fun to start one?” Quatre’s tone was a mixture of dreaminess and enthusiasm. “You could be the headmaster and I could be your squib caretaker.”
It wasn’t even close to the first time Quatre had made some statement that was clearly a reference to something out in the ever-changing world with which Trowa was totally unfamiliar. Typically when people said things like that, Trowa simply ignored them, as the effort to find out what they were talking about was rarely equal to the satisfaction of knowing… but all of a sudden he felt that, for some reason, he wanted to know what Quatre meant. Unprecedented, but there it was. So he asked.
Quatre turned toward Trowa again, looking amused and contemplative. “I’m not really surprised you don’t know,” he said. He started handing dishes over, which constituted an unspoken command to help set the table. “You’ll probably find it pretty funny, actually.” He lifted their two plates, which were now full of corn and potatoes. “I’ll tell you while we eat.”
Apparently Heero’s psychic field was four feet, ten and a half inches wide on all sides; and apparently that inch and a half off the estimate was due to the fact that he had a certain innate level of control over his area of psychic influence. Among other things, Trowa had explained that untrained magic manifested differently in everyone, depending on personality, and remarked without offering any attempt at interpretation that Heero’s psychic field was simultaneously more withdrawn and more heavily-concentrated than it would have been if he hadn’t had magical ability. None of this information was really all that important, though, as the essential goal of keeping Duo as close to him as possible remained unchanged by it.
They had made it all the way to lunch without anyone remarking on Duo’s presence on his desk — despite at least two people having come to his cubicle — and that alone, Heero felt, was cause for celebration. Having nothing particularly special for lunch, however, and being completely unable to locate Quatre, the celebration consisted of sitting in his car with the windows down talking to Duo. Which was actually something very much like Heero’s idea of a perfect celebration.
“So I keep forgetting to tell you,” Duo was remarking as Heero bit into his sandwich. “If someone hasn’t ever picked me up, I can decide whether or not they hear it when I talk.”
“Really?” Heero wondered in some surprise.
“Yeah. I can move, too, as long as it’s nothing too big, and they won’t see it,” Duo elaborated. “It’s all about psychic field connection. So I can talk to you in front of your co-workers, just as long as they don’t pick me up. Although,” he added in his ‘grin’ tone, “you probably shouldn’t answer anything I say in front of anyone.”
“Yes, I…” Heero shook his head with a sardonic smile. “I figured that much out.” After dealing with another bite of sandwich he went on, “Well, this is good to know.”
“I know! I don’t know why I kept forgetting.”
“You were probably hoping to startle me out of my wits by announcing it in the middle of a conversation with three other people.”
Duo made an insulted noise. “Would I do that to you?”
Heero gave him a skeptical look, but what he said was, “I like to think not.”
With a chuckle, Duo changed the subject. “Well, so far it looks like you’ve got about the most boring job in the world.”
“Maybe… but I do make fifty-five thousand a year,” Heero shrugged.
“God!” If Duo had been human, this exclamation would undoubtedly have been accompanied by his sitting up abruptly straight from a slouch in the passenger seat. “Do you know what I made at my last job?”
“I can’t even begin to guess.”
“Twenty dollars a week!”
“What did things cost back then, though?” Heero wondered reasonably.
He didn’t know what he was asking; he had no idea that such a casual, innocent question could lead to his being late back from lunch. But apparently changing economic conditions and inflation were extremely interesting. Either that or Duo was. In any case, Heero didn’t even think about the time until a figure appeared outside the car and a blonde head bent down to grin at him through the window and interrupt what he was saying with, “Afraid to go back inside, are we?”
Heero started slightly at this, glanced at the clock, then back at Quatre. “Speak for yourself,” he said, beginning to gather up the soda can and Ziplocs that had been lying between the seats and stuffing them into the bag he used for trash. “Where have you been?”
“Trowa’s house,” replied Quatre complacently, “and, yes, I’m late too.”
“Just Trowa’s house?” Duo wondered as Heero reached past him to close the passenger side window. “Nowhere exciting today?”
“Nope,” Quatre confirmed. He withdrew from the window to allow its closing, then stepped back as Heero emerged from the car with Duo in his hand. “So how are you guys doing?”
“Not too badly,” was Heero’s cautious answer. He still felt like everything must blow up in his face at any time, and didn’t want to jinx it into happening sooner. After locking his door and pocketing his keys, he turned to join Quatre walking into the building. Perhaps, he was reflecting, it would be a good idea in the future not to sit in this parking lot… he’d been so distracted by his conversation with Duo that he’d let Quatre walk right up and hear them. If it had been someone else, someone not in on their little secret, Heero would have had some explaining to do.
“So nobody’s given you hell yet?” Quatre was wondering. “Nobody’s tried to steal you, Duo?”
“I am quite a steal,” Duo admitted in a tone of facetious arrogance. “But I don’t think anyone’s even noticed me yet.”
“Was it just me,” Heero remarked conversationally to Quatre, “or did he sound disappointed when he said that?”
“Hey, you’d be disappointed too,” protested Duo, “if you looked this fabulous and then people didn’t notice.”
“I think you’ve just been insulted, Heero,” Quatre said.
“Who says he was talking to me?” was Heero’s deadpan retort.
In a very serious tone Duo reassured them, “I think both of you look extra-special super-fabulous.”
Quatre laughed. Heero rolled his eyes. And after this, following a brief confirmation of their NCAA Championship plans for that evening, it was time for them to go their separate ways.
Heero had made a place for Duo on his desk between the “This is my smiley face” coffee cup in which he kept pens and the calendar that provided a tired Happy Bunny statement for every day of the year (both gifts), and this left the doll visible in the corner of his eye when he faced his computer. He liked that, but tried to remind himself not to get too used to it. It was far too easy to objectify Duo when Duo was, in fact, an object, but Duo wouldn’t be in this state forever.
“So what’s on the work menu for this afternoon?” Duo wondered once they were both settled.
After telling him about the San Jose office that was testing a new sales program the company was working on alongside a software developer, Heero explained, “As Sales Coordinator, I get to work with the transactions made in this new system to see how they integrate with our existing programs. I’m going to take a look at what they did this morning.”
“Oh, wow,” remarked Duo. “That sounds really, um…” He paused as if searching for the right word, but never actually said it. For at that moment someone approached Heero’s cubicle from the sales floor.
It was Sylvia. “Heero,” she began before she even reached him, “you remember the Arons thing from, like, 08? I know it went through; I was there; but for some reason I just cannot find it… anywhere… in… the… Is that a Ken doll?”
“It’s got a double ‘a,'” Heero said, utterly ignoring the spoken question and answering the one she hadn’t completed. “A-a-r-o-n-s.”
“Oh, that explains…” She shook her head as if to get rid of something stuck to it, and her ponytail bounced vigorously from side to side. “Seriously, Heero, why do you have a Ken doll on your desk?”
Heero looked over at Duo, whose stiff little grin, he thought, was a touch wider than usual. “Because I feel like it,” he said stonily.
“Okaaaay…” She was obviously stifling laughter as she turned to walk away without thanking him for the information.
Why had he said that? He’d had an excuse all ready — not a very good one, probably, but better than “Because I feel like it” — but somehow found himself unable to use it. Well, the problem was that her tone had been just a little teasing, in addition to innocently curious, so Heero had gotten defensive. The list of people from whom he accepted teasing was incredibly short.
“Very smooth,” Duo remarked. And how had he gotten onto the list so quickly? It had taken Relena, Heero’s own sister, thirteen years.
“Oh, shut up,” Heero replied, entirely without malice.
Duo saw now what it was that Heero had been afraid of, though the flood of attention and Heero’s reaction to it, after the blonde woman had left and undoubtedly told everyone in the world what she’d discovered, was a little different than what Duo had expected.
The first one’s excuse was something business-related, but she dropped it almost immediately when Heero pointed out that she’d asked him precisely the same question before lunch. “OK,” she confessed, “I just came to see if Sylvia was lying or what. You really do have a Ken doll on your desk!”
Heero just stared at her, expressionless, and she didn’t seem to have the nerve to formulate an actual question. She just looked down at Duo, giggling, for several moments, then retreated.
“I thought you were going to present some reasonable excuse,” Duo said as he watched her disappear from his view.
“Maybe,” replied Heero darkly and cryptically.
The second curious co-worker, not half an hour later, was a pretty, pale lady with glossy black hair the style of which reminded Duo a bit of Trowa’s. She came and leaned against the edge of the cubicle wall, looking in at Duo silently with a mysterious little smile. Her gaze might almost have been called ‘calculating’ if not for the amusement in it.
“This one’s kinda starting to creep me out,” Duo confessed after a minute or so of her staring and Heero stubbornly ignoring her.
Heero started a little; it was the first practical reminder that Duo could talk to him in front of people, after all. But then he turned to face the woman abruptly and said, “Yes?” somewhat snappishly.
“It’s interesting what the contents of someone’s desk say about them, isn’t it?” she mused. “It’s like a little biography.”
“Are you on the clock?”
“Then you shouldn’t be on the floor.”
“Yes,” she conceded, “you’re probably right.” And she continued to stare impudently at Duo. Finally she asked casually, “So is it a character from something?”
“He’s–” Heero began, evidently before he could stop himself, and then stopped himself. “Break room,” he commanded.
She raised a finely-penciled eyebrow. “OK, OK,” she said, and sauntered off.
“Weren’t you going to tell people I was a present or something?” Duo wondered idly.
“Yes,” Heero sighed, “but…”
Duo waited, but the explanation didn’t come. Heero had gone back to his computer with a closed-off expression, and Duo thought he could see why the co-workers were a little hesitant to ask him at least certain questions. What he still couldn’t quite see was Heero’s reluctance to answer.
The third woman to appear was already giggling as she entered the cubicle, and this, Duo thought, accounted for the set of Heero’s jaw as he turned to face her.
“Hee hee, he’s so cute!” she was saying. “Look at his little shoes!”
Heero did not reply, only looked doom. Duo had the feeling that the woman’s original intention had been to reach out and pick him up, but under Heero’s malignant eye she kept her hands to herself. She did ask, however, “What’s his name?”
Heero continued to stare at her for a long moment, then finally said, “Did you have some work-related question, Carol?”
Carol giggled again and bounced away.
“Heero, I don’t think it would kill you to tell them some of these things,” Duo grinned once she was gone.
“It’s none of their business,” Heero muttered.
“Yeah, but you being mysterious about it isn’t going to make them less curious.” Really, Duo was more amused than anything else to find that Heero seemed to consider these innocent questions too personal to be answered despite the fact that he’d come specifically ready to answer them.
After muttering something else unintelligible, Heero went back to what he’d been doing.
Duo was getting the impression that, whatever else ‘Sales Coordinator’ implied, Heero was the go-to guy for the entire sales team, however big that was. Evidently he knew everything that went on in this department throughout the whole Pacific Division (whatever that was), and his computer was like an all-knowing oracle’s pool: an endless supply of information from which any question could be answered if Heero didn’t already know off the top of his head.
Thus it was no surprise, when someone approached him asking something largely incomprehensible about ‘the deal with Tri-Bluestein,’ that Heero knew exactly where to look for the answer and found it in about ten seconds. But Duo watched this time with greater attention than he had when people had asked Heero things this morning; he was more interested now in Heero’s relationship with his co-workers.
Provided there was actual business involved in the exchange, not just people coming to giggle at Duo, Heero wasn’t exactly rude, but he certainly didn’t waste words. His manner was withdrawn, professional in a cool sort of way, and utterly impersonal. Duo was under the impression that Heero had worked here for three or four years and had been in his current position for at least two, but evidently this didn’t translate into any sort of closeness whatsoever with his co-workers.
Slowly it was beginning to dawn on Duo that perhaps the Heero he’d been getting to know, the one he so enjoyed messing around, the one he discussed Oz books with, the one that had played selections from a dozen CD’s for him in an attempt to expand his musical horizons, the one that had agreed to this month of silliness for his sake, was not necessarily the Heero the rest of the world got to see. This Heero was more like the one Duo had met at first and that had emerged again to some extent at his parents’ house: the quiet, suspicious one that was obviously much happier to avoid people than deal with them.
This revelation couldn’t be anything but pleasant. He’d been worrying about Heero’s walls without realizing he was past at least one of them already. And while he definitely wasn’t complaining, he wondered how on earth it had happened.
“Heero!” By the sound of it, here was another encroacher curious and not legitimate. She did have an excuse, though. “Can you email me the information on the convention in San Francisco? You have it, don’t you?”
“Didn’t Dorothy give it to you already?” Heero asked suspiciously, though he’d already started getting it for her even as he said this.
“I lost it,” she said cheerfully.
“You did not,” replied Duo equally cheerfully, although she couldn’t hear him.
She could, however, take advantage of Heero’s distraction to turn on Duo. “He doesn’t look like an actual Ken,” she remarked without preamble. “I had, like, four Kens when I was a kid; they never made them with that much hair even when they had actual hair.”
“She’s right,” Duo acknowledged.
Heero had nothing to add, and didn’t seem to be paying attention. As the woman reached down toward Duo, however, Heero’s hand was suddenly there, blocking her access to the doll, without seeming to have moved. And finally he volunteered some information. “He’s a collector’s item.”
“Special edition,” Duo advised.
“Special edition,” Heero repeated flatly.
“Oh,” said the woman, withdrawing her hand. “So why do you–”
“I sent your information,” interrupted Heero in a tone of finality.
“OK, thanks,” replied she, making an impressively businesslike recovery. And she turned on her heel and departed.
Duo watched her thoughtfully, then said, “I’ve got an idea.”
“Yeah?” said Heero.
“Well, that gal earlier with the eyeshadow–”
“Noin,” Heero interjected, without having to ask for any more details of appearance than that.
“Well, Noin,” Duo went on, “asked if I was a character from something. So, what if I was? Wouldn’t it be easier to put me in, like, a Star Trek uniform or something and just let everyone think you’re a big Star Trek fan? It’d be an easy explanation, if you felt like explaining at all… and if you didn’t, well, it’d still be kinda obvious on its own, because I’d be sitting here in a Star Trek uniform.”
Heero raised an eyebrow. “I think you just want a Star Trek uniform.”
“Um, maybe,” Duo admitted.
“Anyway, don’t you think it’s a bit late for that?” Heero was frowning pensively now, obviously giving the suggestion more thought than he had a moment before. “You’ve been sitting here all day.”
“Well, there has to be someone who hasn’t come to stare at me yet… besides, it’s not like you’ve answered anyone’s questions…”
Heero continued to look thoughtful, but he didn’t say anything for several moments. Finally he admitted, “It’s not a bad idea…” He turned back to his computer. “Let’s see what we can find…”
He was trying to avoid admitting, to himself or anyone else, that the first workday of the curse-breaking month hadn’t been nearly as bad as he’d been expecting. Which didn’t mean it hadn’t been bad, but he hadn’t been ready to pull his hair out at any point during the day, and — more importantly — he’d gotten by without sending a single panicked email to Quatre. Not only that, but he’d been able to enjoy the basketball game after work without (much) brooding over how the day had gone or anxiety for tomorrow.
And then tomorrow had come.
It was 8:03. He was barely settled in his cubicle, had barely arranged Duo in the same spot as yesterday, and had barely started fielding questions about the other contents of his desk — just the questions Duo hadn’t gotten around to yesterday, for one reason or another — when it started.
“Heero, want a donut?”
“Not on the floor,” he answered promptly. “You know food isn’t allowed out here.”
“You are such a hard-ass,” Duo laughed. “Besides, you know she’s only here to see me.”
Heero did know it. If Sally’s real intention had simply been to offer him a donut before everyone else ate them all, she would merely have peeked over the wall of the cubicle, not come walking in and right up to his chair.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “It’s a cake donut…” Some of his co-workers were more perceptive than others, but the number of them that knew of his love for cake donuts could probably be counted on one hand; he might even have said on one finger if it weren’t for Sally’s propensity to tell Noin everything.
“Dooo iiit,” Duo urged.
Repressing a smile, Heero steeled himself. “Not on the floor,” he reiterated. “But thank you.”
“No problem. I’ll put it under a napkin in the break room and maybe nobody will see it.” She was bending down to look at Duo now. “How come he doesn’t have any socks?”
He’d expected some sort of remark or question about Duo eventually, but this one came so smoothly at the end of her statement about the donut, and was so unexpectedly specific, it actually startled him into answering. “I have no idea.” At least he did manage to cut his response short before blurting out that socks hadn’t been included with the outfit and he’d never really thought about it until now.
“It’s OK,” Duo reassured him. “I don’t need ’em.”
Sally peered at Duo even more closely. “I think he’d look better in purple,” she said at last.
Heero was ready this time, and was able to stifle his “So do I” without too much effort.
“Or a different red,” was Duo’s comment. “This one’s kinda blah.”
“Especially if he’s a gay thing,” Sally added as she stood straight again. “Purple would be more appropriate, don’t you think?” And then she walked away.
Left staring alternately after her and back at Duo, the latter’s surprised laughter in his ears, Heero couldn’t help remembering his mother’s comment, “Relena’s car would be much more appropriate for you, don’t you think?” He was reflecting on how strange was a world in which he could be given veiled negative hints about his sexuality on Sunday evening and then commended on an apparent display of it on Tuesday morning in such similar words.
Eventually Duo stopped laughing and said, “So that’s what they’re thinking: that I’m some kind of gay symbol! Isn’t it great to not tell people anything and then see what they come up with on their own?”
Finally Heero smiled. “I doubt that’s something you do very often.”
“And it isn’t a bad idea…” Heero went on musingly. Everyone on the sales floor knew he was gay — actually they all thought he was dating Quatre — though he was damned if he knew how they all knew, since he’d certainly never specifically told any of them. And since they were aware of his disinclination to talk about it, it should make sense to them that he didn’t feel like talking about the new pride symbol on his desk either (as contradictory as it seemed to have a pride symbol you didn’t want to talk about).
“But when I have my Starfleet uniform…” said Duo gleefully, giving the words the emphasis of extreme satisfaction.
Heero’s smile widened. He didn’t really believe that a Star Trek outfit on Duo was going to change anything, make Duo less conspicuous or help him look less like the property of a very gay man; nor did Heero think he could pass himself off as enough of a nerd for it to give the desired unspoken indication to his co-workers as to why Duo was there in the first place. The fact was, there weren’t many gifts he could buy for Duo at this point, and he’d jumped on the chance to get him this one the moment it was obvious Duo wanted it. He’d even paid extra for overnight shipping.
“Knock-knock!” Heero absolutely hated it when people said that instead of just knocking, door or no door, but there wasn’t much to be done about it. In came one of the IT guys from downstairs, moving with that confident restlessness all IT people had when they were moving at all. “Hey, 3-9-1, you know the whole building’s talking about you?”
“I could have guessed,” said Heero through gritted teeth.
The IT guy — whose name Heero could not remember and whose badge currently sat at an impossible-to-read angle — went for Duo so fast that Heero didn’t have a chance to stop him. He snatched the doll up and began turning him over and around, examining him, with an impudent grin on his face. “It’s like you’re that guy from The Simpsons. Um, what’s his name… That guy who’s gay for his boss and has all the Malibu Barbie dolls…”
It so happened that Heero knew exactly what he was referring to, but wasn’t about to offer any assistance.
“Hey, let me take this downstairs and show the–”
At this, Heero was out of his chair so fast it crashed into the desk behind him. “No.” And he’d reached out and taken Duo back, pulling him protectively close to his chest in a tight grip, before the IT guy could even blink. The guy stared at him, and Heero tried hard not to blush at the thought of how utterly bizarre and childish that must have looked. And he was drawing a blank trying to come up with anything to say that might explain it.
Finally the guy forced a laugh, and said, “You’ve lost it, man,” as he turned to leave.
Heero let out a long, frustrated breath once he was again alone with Duo, and reflected that it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. How was he going to get through the day if this sort of thing kept happening? How was he going to get through the month?
“Those are some quick reflexes you’ve got, 3-9-1,” Duo remarked.
“What does it mean?”
“Oh, IT people live in their own little world… they think it’s cool to call people by their workstation numbers.”
“Riiiiight.” Duo’s tone clearly indicated that he’d understood essentially none of Heero’s statement.
With a little snorting laugh, Heero smoothed out Duo’s rumpled hair and clothing and replaced him between the coffee cup and calendar.
“Seriously, though,” Duo went on, “that was well done. You were like whoosh and totally rescued me from that guy.”
Fighting off a blush for the second time in five minutes, Heero mumbled, “Well, I couldn’t just let him walk away with you.”
“My Heero!” said Duo cooingly, forcing Heero to turn hastily toward his computer because there really was no stopping that blush.
Duo thought he could spend many an hour dwelling exclusively on the idea that he was Heero’s gay symbol without getting tired of it. However, since there were other things going on that he wanted to pay attention to, he saved that dwelling for later; it would be a good way to occupy time tonight when Heero was asleep.
For now, he was starting to wonder just how many people worked in this building, and how many of them were willing to abandon their work completely in order to come interrupt someone else’s just because they’d heard he had a doll on his desk. Of course, Duo reflected, it probably had more to do with Heero’s reputation than the mere presence of a doll… but, seriously, this level of general interest was weird and a little scary.
The worst one of the day came just before lunch. She didn’t greet Heero the way most of them did; she didn’t bring an excuse; she didn’t ask questions or hesitate or anything; she only bounded into the cubicle, making an enthusiastic high-pitched noise of some sort, and caught Duo up in both hands.
“He’s so cute!! Carol said he was so cute, and he is!!”
Duo hadn’t even gotten a good look at her before he found himself suddenly becoming acquainted with her chest in a manner that really reinforced the size differences between his body and an actual human’s. Suddenly he couldn’t see a thing, and there was a substantially muffled quality to the woman’s next exclamation. “I have to show him to Stephanie!” And then she was running.
Panic gripped Duo, all the worse for his being completely unable to do anything about it. Well, sure, he could talk to her, try to get her to stop, but it might already be too late. Where was she taking him? Where was Heero? Had he been able to follow, or was the woman too quick? Duo tried desperately to remind himself that they were only a few days into the month, that starting over at this point wouldn’t kill them… but of its effect on morale — particularly Heero’s — he didn’t dare think.
“Hilde!” This was definitely Heero’s voice, reassuringly close, though muffled like everything else. He did not sound happy.
“Oh, my god, look!” cried the woman Duo guessed was called Hilde. “This is that doll of Heero’s!” And Duo emerged at last from the valley in which he’d been clasped to find himself thrust into the face of another woman, presumably Stephanie, who looked surprised.
“Seriously? I thought that was just a joke!”
And Heero was there. As in at least one instance yesterday, he seemed simply to appear, without having moved, to snatch Duo out of the hands of the enemy with adrenaline speed. “Hilde!” he snapped. “You can’t just take things off of people’s desks!”
Hilde made a disappointed sound. Duo would have liked to look at her, but he found himself once again pressed, face-first, up against someone’s chest. He didn’t mind this one so much, though; in fact, in the midst of agitation and confusion, having Heero pull him against his chest was pretty much optimal. If only he could really feel it, instead of just coldly knowing it was happening.
“Well, at least let Stephanie see him!” demanded Hilde, evidently completely unfazed by Heero’s dire tone.
Heero took a breath deep enough to move Duo’s entire body, slowly relaxed (though he did not release) his two-handed grip, and allowed Duo some distance away from him. Duo didn’t dare turn his head, so he could only see the two women out of the corners of his eyes. One of them — Hilde, he thought — seemed to be making some kind of excited gesture, while the other — Stephanie, perhaps less unfazed than her friend — was sitting quite still.
“Isn’t he so cute?” Hilde prompted. “I love his hair!”
“Yeah, he’s cute,” said Stephanie dutifully. Duo definitely thought her lack of enthusiasm was due to Heero’s manner, and this was totally understandable; Heero was now pushing past Hilde, heading away from the two women without saying anything else, and his movements, as far as Duo was able to read them from his current position, could be described as ‘stalking.’
He didn’t dare say anything while he didn’t know whether or not Hilde might be following, and it was a few moments before he noticed that Heero didn’t seem to be returning to his cubicle. Rather, they were now in the hallway outside of the big room Heero referred to as the ‘sales floor.’ Heero stepped briefly into the break room before making his way, if Duo was not mistaken, toward the elevators. And not until they were inside one of the latter, thoroughly alone, did Heero’s tension fade. He slumped back against the railing on the wall and dragged one hand over his eyes with a ragged sigh.
“Did she…” Duo began somewhat tremulously, not certain he wanted to know.
Evidently aware of exactly what Duo was trying to ask, “No, I got after her in time,” Heero said, sounding tired. “But if that happens again I swear my heart’s going to stop.”
“Mine would still be racing if I had one,” replied Duo. “I thought for sure we were going to have to start the month over.”
“This has got to calm down once everyone’s come around and had a look at you,” Heero said desperately. “They can’t all keep doing this forever.”
“You could put me in a drawer or something.”
“No,” Heero said quietly as the elevator doors opened and he stepped out on the ground floor. He checked for anyone nearby that might observe him talking apparently to himself before he went on, “I’m not doing that to you unless I absolutely have to.”
That heart Duo had just mentioned as nonexistent was warmed by this. “Well,” he said reassuringly, “remember, if it comes to that, that I’m totally used to it. Add it all up and I’ve probably spent a total of twenty years or something inside toyboxes with nothing to do but think about how boring it is.”
“God, Duo…” Heero sounded horrified. “That is so–”
Duo broke in hastily, “Hey, I didn’t mean to play a pity card there. I mean, yeah, it sucked, but it’s nothing you need to worry about. Hell, you’re the one who’s going to fix all of that. If you want to pity me,” he added thoughtfully, “do it because boobs have been ruined for me forever.”
Heero was walking through the parking lot now, and forbore from responding just then as he passed somebody coming the other direction. Once he was approaching his own car, however, and nobody else was in earshot, he said, “OK, now, boobs what?”
“Boobs have been ruined for me forever,” Duo repeated. “That was traumatic, man. She pushed me up between those things, and everything went dark, and I couldn’t hear properly, and I didn’t know where you were… I’ll never be able to look at a woman’s chest again!”
“Um, Duo…” Heero seemed torn between laughter and further horror as he set Duo down in the passenger seat. “You are gay, aren’t you?”
“Yes! But that doesn’t mean I can’t — couldn’t appreciate nice breasts. Before. Before today. But never again.” And he made a shuddering sort of noise.
Now Heero really did laugh, though the sound was still somewhat baffled. He’d turned on the car, and was starting to back out of the parking space. “I probably shouldn’t be driving,” he muttered a moment later, “since my wallet’s in my briefcase inside…”
“You did kinda bat-out-of-hell out of there,” Duo grinned.
“And I’m not going back until two,” was Heero’s grim reply. Which, given that it wasn’t even one yet, meant he would be taking an over-long lunch for the second day in a row. This didn’t really bother Duo, of course, but he did hope Heero wouldn’t get in trouble because of it.
“And then I think you’re going to have to put me somewhere other than where I’ve been sitting,” the doll said. “It’s too easy for people to get at me there.”
Evidently wherever he was driving wasn’t too far from the office parking lot, for he was already bringing the old car to a stop and turning off the engine. Then he rolled down the windows, as he had yesterday, and picked up the lunch-cooler-bag-thing he’d seized from the break room fridge.
“Where are we?” Duo asked.
“Shopping center parking lot,” Heero replied. “The far end where nobody parks except when things get really busy.” He’d extracted his sandwich and Coke and little bag of chips. “We should be safe here.”
“Aww, Heero, did you want to be alone with me?”
So startled was Duo by the intensity of Heero’s answer that he couldn’t think of any clever reply. He knew the desire to be away from the curious co-workers probably had a good deal more to do with how emphatically Heero had spoken than any desire to spend time alone with Duo (something he actually did quite a lot); but even so, it was exactly what Duo liked to hear, and might have made him blush a little if he’d had circulation and flesh and all that.
He wondered suddenly why he didn’t just tell Heero that he liked him, instead of giving him stupid lines all the time. Heero seemed totally unaware of him in that sense, responded only neutrally to his flirting, and basically treated him like an unfortunate friend… but Heero was so private about so many things, how could Duo be sure? Heero was a nice guy; he would let him down easy if that was what it came to. What was the worst that could happen?
OK, well, the worst that could happen was that Heero really was every bit as disinterested as he seemed, the confession would make the necessity of keeping Duo within five feet of him incredibly awkward, and Duo might actually lose his chance at becoming human. And that… that was a pretty bad ‘worst.’
But the moment the curse was broken…
For right now, though, he thought something perfectly innocuous to talk about was in order. So, cheerfully, he began relating a dumb story about the Chevrolet 490 Trowa had bought back in the day, and speculating about what had happened to the thing, while Heero sat in the driver’s seat and ate his lunch in silence.
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.
I barely even feel the need to mention this, but just in case… a “squib” is a Harry Potter thing: someone born into a magical family without magical abilities. And in truth, Trowa is not nearly as unfamiliar with it as he thinks; you can’t go online more than a couple of times without eventually learning something about Harry Potter. He may not recognize that term specifically, but he undoubtedly has a general idea of what the series is.