“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.
When Quatre went looking for Heero on the sales floor at lunch time, he found Heero’s jacket draped over the chair in his cubicle and Heero’s briefcase still down by the desk, but no Heero to go with them. The computer had already gone to sleep, though, and Quatre looked around, puzzled, for a few moments.
“He left about twenty minutes ago,” someone said from behind him. The sharply polite tone with its touch of judgmental amusement identified the speaker, even before Quatre turned, as the sales manager Dorothy. “I’m not sure what you two did on your week off,” she went on, “but it must have been distracting.”
If that wasn’t ironic, Quatre didn’t know what was. Still, he’d only come to find Heero in the first place to tell him that he was again going to Trowa’s house for lunch/dinner, so this didn’t exactly throw a wrench in his plans. He thanked Dorothy for her information and left.
As he drove, he spent a few minutes wondering what could have caused Heero to leave so early for lunch without his things. He hoped nothing had gone wrong. He might have considered calling him to find out, but he’d seen a cell phone lying on the desk as well, and speculated that his friend wanted to be out of reach of all human communication at the moment. Besides, the mild concern Quatre felt at these slightly mysterious events couldn’t keep full hold of his mind when he was on his way to see Trowa. Because Dorothy had been right — about him, at least: what he’d done over his week off had left him distracted.
He did reflect, though, as he let himself into Heero’s apartment, that it was a little strange to be doing so under these circumstances.
There was no sound from any of the other dark rooms as he came into Trowa’s entryway, so, in keeping with that, he moved as quietly as he could in closing the front door and heading into the study. And he found, in the light of the lamp Trowa used so exclusively in this room, exactly what he’d been expecting.
It wasn’t the first time he had come in here to find Trowa asleep as if he’d never slept before and would never have another chance. This time, Trowa was slumped forward on the table in a position that looked excessively uncomfortable, his head pillowed on a large, unreadable book. It reminded Quatre of Heero a few nights ago… except that Heero, of course, hadn’t made Quatre want to reach out and touch.
Trowa looked so very tired and pathetic asleep there like that, as if he simply hadn’t been able to keep his eyes open or his body upright one moment longer, his skin slightly grey and almost glowing as if he were feverish — although when Quatre, unable to resist, put out a hand and ran his fingertips lightly across Trowa’s cheek, he felt nothing more than regular human warmth.
The temptation came over Quatre all at once in a sort of heart-pounding shiver when Trowa did not stir even in the slightest at his touch, and he obeyed the impulse almost without thinking: bending, he leaned down and pressed his lips to the pale cheek, feeling the soft skin give just slightly under his kiss and taking in the more pronounced scent of old books that did not come solely from the actual old books in the room. And suddenly he found himself looking into a bright half moon framed by thick, beautiful lashes that had just parted unexpectedly.
Quatre stood straight and stepped back in a quick, startled movement, blushing furiously. He shouldn’t have done that. Why had he done that? Why did Trowa have to look so damned irresistible? “I’m sorry,” he said, almost without meaning to.
Trowa was sitting up slowly — evidently the position in which he’d been sleeping had left him stiff and sore — staring at Quatre. Finally, with a gesture to his eyes, he said in a tone of slightly bitter concession, “They are rather horrifying, aren’t they?”
As he realized what Trowa thought was the reason for his abrupt retreat, Quatre felt his own eyes widen. “Oh, no!” he said in an embarrassingly impassioned tone. “No! Your eyes don’t bother me at all. It’s just, I… I shouldn’t have done that.”
The expression on Trowa’s face did not change, and his tone was completely blank as he asked, “Why?”
It seemed an almost farcical question, and Quatre was for a moment at a loss for what to say, despite the answer being perfectly straightforward. Finally, however, he did manage it: “Well, it’s a little rude to kiss someone else’s boyfriend.” And if his blush intensified as he said this, at least it was only a very little.
“I’m no one else’s boyfriend.” Trowa made the remark flatly, but Quatre thought his demeanor also suddenly held a touch of curiosity and perhaps relief — on which Quatre might have dwelt with some pleasure if the information he’d just received hadn’t abruptly swallowed up the entire world.
A stammered, “But… Duo…” was all he could manage.
A faint smile twisted across Trowa’s face. “Duo and I were never lovers.” He turned his eyes toward the book he’d been asleep on a minute before. “We were in love, back then, I think… I think we were both using that woman to make each other jealous, and that argument that started all of this… was not really about her at all.” He was toying absently with the book’s pages, seemingly looking far past it with unfocused eyes. “We accused each other of not caring, but neither of us had ever admitted that we did care…”
“And…” Quatre felt as if he’d stopped breathing. “And do you still care?”
“Not anymore. Of course I still love him,” Trowa added, pointlessly flipping through the book he wasn’t actually looking at, “but not in that way.” He said it with all the conviction a level, unemotional tone could bring, but Quatre wasn’t sure he believed it. After all, Trowa had gone all these decades without being able to let go of his guilt and misery over a situation that was not entirely his fault… How likely was it that he’d been able to let go of this?
“Are you sure?” Quatre asked quietly.
Abruptly Trowa turned away from the book and the table and looked up at him. His shining eyes were perfectly focused now, the faint moonlight that emanated from them almost piercing with the intensity of the gaze. “Yes, Quatre,” he said very seriously, “I’m sure.”
The smoothness of Quatre’s subsequent movements somewhat belied the fact that they seemed to take place without any initial cerebral impulse: he stepped forward again, leaned down, ran one hand along each side of Trowa’s face and down to his neck so his thumbs could press against Trowa’s jaw and lift his head into a better angle, and kissed him.
Trowa’s lips felt simultaneously fuller and more hesitant than Quatre would have expected. He certainly responded — in fact, he snaked an arm up and around Quatre’s neck, as if to make absolutely certain he stayed where he was, almost immediately — but he seemed very unsure of himself. Abstractly, in one of the few small corners of his consciousness that weren’t on fire, Quatre speculated that Trowa hadn’t kissed anyone in almost a century, and had probably largely forgotten how. And there was something about his inexpert willingness to try it just the same that was overwhelmingly attractive.
When they finally pulled apart, Quatre felt that the almost gasping breath he immediately drew was possibly the first he’d taken since he’d come into this room. He wasn’t sure how much of Trowa’s motion to stand was Trowa’s idea and how much was Quatre tugging at him; and he wondered, as he wrapped his arms around Trowa’s neck and pressed up against him, whether Trowa could feel how rapidly his heart was beating.
“I don’t know why you’d want–” Trowa began in a whisper.
Sensing the self-deprecating nature of the remark even before it was completed, Quatre cut him off somewhat impatiently. “Well, if you’d rather I didn’t…”
“No,” said Trowa almost fiercely. And as his lips sank to meet Quatre’s again he repeated, “No.”
There was a feeling of preciousness to this kiss, as if the moment had been dipped in molten gold, and simultaneously a fragility that suggested it was crystal underneath. The movement of Trowa’s mouth against Quatre’s held a hesitant, almost tremulous quality, as if he might break away and flee at any time, and yet the arms that had slipped around Quatre’s back clutched determinedly at him; and the whole experience was far greater than the sum of the parts doesn’t know what he’s doing and doing it anyway.
Eventually they drew away again, if only by a few inches, and Quatre stood staring into Trowa’s moon eyes for several long moments, feeling the warmth of Trowa’s wiry body against his and breathing in time with him. His heart was still pounding insanely fast in the midst of a tingling heat throughout his chest, and he felt simultaneously giddy and awed. He definitely hadn’t expected this to happen today — to be honest, he didn’t know if he’d expected this to happen at all — and, despite the fact that it had been brought about mostly by his own actions, he felt a bit blindsided.
“Quatre…” Trowa said, almost under his breath, as if he were tasting rather than speaking the name — or perhaps tasting the concept of Quatre’s nearness. He went on quietly, and although Quatre thought he meant the words as a warning, his tone was almost childlike in the simplicity of its concern. “I don’t know if I know how to… how to not be alone…”
The rush of affectionate pity Quatre felt at this statement increased the pressure in his chest and impelled him to pull Trowa close to him once more, to reassure him in almost the same near-whisper, “I’ll help you.”
And though Trowa seemed to have nothing else to say at the moment, his arms tightened again around Quatre’s back as if they would never let go.
Trowa felt as if he’d been pushed unexpectedly into a deep pool, then just as unexpectedly found the water quite comfortably hot. He was off-balance, disoriented, perhaps drowning… and yet disinclined to struggle.
The possibility that he might be attracted to Quatre in such a fashion had never even remotely occurred to him. Only when he’d awakened suddenly to find Quatre’s lips pressed to his cheek and Quatre’s breath on his skin had he realized, abruptly and shockingly, not only just how much he wanted him, but that he wanted him.
It should be no surprise, really, that he hadn’t noticed until the idea was literally shoved in his face: it had been so long since he’d felt anything of the kind; he’d grown so accustomed to being alone; he’d been so used to considering pleasant social interaction something he’d cast off back when he’d cursed Duo — even the concept of Quatre as a friend had been difficult to get his head around… and yet it seemed marvelous, bordering on impossible, that any time had passed since meeting Quatre during which Trowa hadn’t been conscious of a bone-deep desire to have his companionship in any and every way.
Quatre usually sat two chairs down from him and talked cheerfully as they ate, but this evening he’d set his place across the table’s corner from Trowa, right in the next spot, and at the moment was just looking at him and smiling. Trowa was glad there was currently no call for conversation, as his thoughts were a chaos of contradictory ideas and indecision, none of which he was likely to be able to put into words even if he wanted to.
Not least among these was the concern he felt at Quatre getting himself into something like this. He’d been perfectly serious, when Quatre had wondered at the space of time Trowa had gone without friends, reminding him what he’d done to his last one: Trowa’s friend was not a safe thing to be. To be something more was insane; there was nothing about Trowa that was worth that risk. And this was only one of several reasons he didn’t necessarily think this was a good idea, much as he’d realized he wanted it. Yet when he’d tried to give some warning of this, all he’d managed to say was something about his own antisocial nature that Quatre had undoubtedly long since guessed.
And Quatre’s smile was so inviting…
Trowa had been perfectly disinterested in eating for a very long time, but never in seventy years so much as right now. After Quatre’s lips, the taste and texture of food seemed almost offensively bland to Trowa’s mouth. He’d felt like he could go on kissing him forever, but Quatre had insisted on dinner. Now Trowa had no idea what he was eating, and could barely even turn his eyes toward it.
“What are you thinking?” Quatre asked suddenly.
Seeing no reason not to answer with the truth (if not the whole truth), Trowa said, “What a wonderful smile you have.”
“Thank you,” said Quatre, ducking his head slightly and looking momentarily quite pleased. “But you seem awfully serious to be thinking something like that. What else are you thinking?”
For perhaps the first time, Trowa turned his gaze down toward his plate, sighing. “I just,” he said, “don’t know if this is a good idea.”
Without needing to ask what ‘this’ he meant, Quatre inquired quietly, “Why?”
Trowa opened his mouth to answer, but found he didn’t have the words. How could he explain that, among other things, someone like Quatre didn’t need to be putting up with all the trouble and unhappiness that must be attendant upon a relationship with someone like Trowa? That someone like Trowa didn’t have any right to be making a claim on the thoughts and feelings and time and effort of someone like Quatre? ‘I don’t deserve you’ seemed trite and overly dramatic, and yet how else could he put it?
“You’re afraid you’ll hurt me,” Quatre supplied quietly at last.
And there was that too. Trowa nodded.
Quatre said his name very seriously, and reached out to grasp Trowa’s free hand. Trowa looked up into beautiful sober eyes that held his just as tenaciously as Quatre’s arms had held him earlier. “I haven’t seen everything you’ve gone through,” said Quatre, “but I’ve seen what it’s done to you — and I don’t believe for an instant that you will ever do anything like what you did to Duo ever again. You’re an intelligent man who’s learned from his mistakes.” It had only been moments since his smile had faded and given way to that serious look, but its return was reassuring (as Quatre seemed specifically to intend). “You’re not going to turn me into anything.”
“You can’t be sure of that.”
“I can’t,” Quatre agreed levelly, “but I believe it anyway.”
Trowa returned to his tasteless meal without replying, the chaos in his head hardly diminished. He was simultaneously delighted and appalled that Quatre trusted him thus, and none of his other misgivings had been allayed.
After several moments of silence, Quatre spoke again. “You are willing to try, though, aren’t you?” Trowa thought that, despite how confidently he’d phrased the question, there was a touch of concern to his voice that he couldn’t hide.
And right in the face of all his better judgment, Trowa found himself answering, “Yes,” before he even realized what he was saying.
Once it was obvious that each of them had eaten all he was going to — singularly, Quatre seemed nearly as disinterested in food as Trowa was — they set about clearing up. Somehow, though, to Trowa’s pleased bewilderment, this turned into kissing against the kitchen counter. And Trowa certainly didn’t care enough about the cleanliness of his dishes or the state of his dining area to mind neglecting them for this.
He couldn’t begin to think why Quatre was interested in him in any sense, and he couldn’t imagine that someone whose only experience in this area had been almost ninety years ago could be in any way enjoyable to kiss… but since Quatre seemed willing, Trowa didn’t question. He still didn’t really believe this was a good idea, and he was awash with the same guilt that always overcame him the moment he started enjoying something, but he couldn’t bring himself to pull away.
Quatre, he found, was bulkier than he’d expected; he wondered why this should surprise him, when he’d seen Quatre in t-shirts and knew he had well-developed arms at least. There was a firmness, too, to the way those arms held Trowa, not to mention the way Quatre kissed him, a strength and insistence that was also unexpected — and, again, why this should be, Trowa did not know. Perhaps he’d been viewing Quatre as more fragile than he actually was simply because he was aware of what he was capable of doing to him.
Then Quatre’s hand slid into Trowa’s hair, and his tongue teased at Trowa’s lips, and all the cold, dark thoughts in Trowa’s head began first to blur at the edges and then to fade into something shamefully like contentment.
He wasn’t sure how long Quatre put up with his amateurish kissing, but when the entry clock struck a quarter Quatre pulled away from him somewhat abruptly. “What time was that?” he demanded, startled. Trowa, who definitely hadn’t been paying attention, shook his head. Pulling out his cell phone, Quatre checked. “Damn,” he whispered. He was smiling ruefully when he looked back up at Trowa, his slightly-parted pink lips just a little swollen and, for the moment, absolutely riveting. “I’m already late. I’ve got to go.”
Trowa felt the one arm he still had around Quatre’s chest stiffen, tightening almost instinctively, and he had to exert actual will power to make it release. To be honest, he didn’t think this whole thing was going to last very long, but he also didn’t think it was going to end this very same day it had started; there was no reason to hold on desperately to Quatre just yet. Not that he would have any right to do so whenever Quatre did decide to call things off…
Maybe Quatre sensed some of what Trowa wasn’t saying, for he smiled again and said, “I’ll come back after work.” And then maybe he sensed the absurd pleasure Trowa felt at hearing this, for the smile widened into a grin and he lifted his face to kiss Trowa briefly one last time. Then, as he pulled completely away, he let one hand trail lightly down Trowa’s chest before all contact between them ceased.
Trowa followed him to the entry and watched him smooth out his rumpled shirt, then straighten his tie with one hand while he reached for the doorknob with the other. “See you later,” was Quatre’s goodbye. And Trowa, almost without knowing what he did, hastily moved up to the door as it closed to look through the little windows and follow Quatre’s form with his eyes across Heero’s living room and to the next door.
Once Quatre was totally out of sight, Trowa stepped back and gazed dully around the dark entryway, seeing nothing, waiting for the real guilt to make impact.
Duo felt nothing less than resplendent in his new first officer’s uniform, which he hadn’t expected to be wearing for at least another couple of days yet. It was so nice of Heero to have had the thing shipped here so quickly, undoubtedly paying extra money to do so… Of course, he’d probably done it primarily out of desire to get more quickly at the excuse it provided, but, even so, Duo appreciated it. He felt like one of those awesome people that went to those awesome convention things in totally accurate costumes.
So as not to miss anything that was going on around him during the day, he was getting into the habit of putting off his daydreams until Heero was asleep, and now he made a mental note for tonight: think about the (improbable) possibility that his clothing might grow to human size with him when the curse was broken, and he might end up with a full-sized Star Trek uniform he could still wear at that point.
Heero had been keeping him just to the left of his computer monitor ever since yesterday afternoon, which made Duo impossible for anyone to reach if they didn’t want to get right into Heero’s personal space. It had done the trick so far: evidently Heero’s personal space was quite the no-man’s-land to his co-workers. Not terribly surprising, that. Duo’s new location also, sadly, greatly reduced his ability to see much of anything besides Heero and certain dustier corners of the cubicle. Heero was, of course, an absolute treat to look at even at the worst of times, but it did make it more difficult to see who was coming and try to guess why.
The why was still usually ‘to stare at Duo,’ though most of the latest ones had been smart enough to provide work-related excuses as well — and to a few, Duo thought, he was just an attraction additional to the assistance they legitimately needed from Heero. And the traffic was slowing, as Heero had hoped it would. By the end of the week, perhaps, things would be business as usual, with only a new eccentricity added to Heero’s reputation.
Mid-morning, yet another woman showed up to bask in Duo’s splendor. There was something very eye-catching about this one; he thought at first that it was the pleasantly fat curliness of her red-brown hair, but the line of her nose and the shape of her eyes made him rethink this assessment. He certainly had time to do so, since she was just standing there, very quiet, poised slightly on tip-toe to look over Heero’s shoulder. It appeared she didn’t necessarily have any desire to talk to Heero, just to see Duo; and, while this would have been easy enough yesterday morning, Duo’s new location made it nearly impossible today for her to observe him without alerting Heero.
The latter seemed, as he sometimes did, to be very deliberately ignoring her. There was a difference to the way his eyes moved across the computer screen, Duo noticed, when he was only pretending to work. Evidently he was planning to see if she’d go silently away if he had nothing to say; maybe this would be the first gawping co-worker encounter to end without a conversation.
This possibility was negated by Duo himself, however, when, a few moments later, he realized what it was about the woman’s face that was so interesting. “She looks like Trowa!” he said in some surprise.
Hearing this, Heero sat up a little straighter in his chair, pushing it back away from the desk slightly and causing the woman to start. Then he swiveled around to face her as she took a step away from him. By now his tone was more resigned than impatient in asking, “Did you need something?”
“No,” she replied, giving a smile whose irritation was clearly not aimed at Heero, “and I didn’t mean to bother you. I wasn’t going to come over, but they–” she made a somewhat impatient gesture toward the rest of the sales floor– “wouldn’t stop bugging me until I came to see this doll of yours.” Now that Heero had moved, the woman was evidently able to get a more satisfactory look at Duo. She gave a decisive nod. “So now I’ve seen it. I’ll get out of your way.”
Heero didn’t respond verbally, only nodded as well and turned back to his computer. And the woman, true to her word, left without asking him any questions. Duo watched her go, then looked at Heero again. Observing narrowed eyes and lowered brows, Duo remarked, “I’d have thought you’d be happier about that one. It looked like she wouldn’t even have said anything if you hadn’t.”
Heero’s lips tightened before he opened them to answer. “If even the people who don’t want to come over here and look are being pressured into doing it, we’ve still got a ways to go.”
“OK, you’re probably right about that,” Duo admitted. “But don’t you think she looks like Trowa?”
“Not particularly,” replied Heero shortly.
Duo mused on. “Well, I guess I know his face better than you do. I think his nose is pretty much the same as hers… she’s rocking it, too; you don’t see many women who look that good with a nose that strong.” Heero offered no opinion, so after a moment Duo continued, “Something about the eyes, too… I think it was in the outside corners, or…” But without having her in front of him, he couldn’t quite articulate the similarity.
Still Heero said nothing.
“You really didn’t see it?” Duo pressed on. “I wonder if they’re related…”
Finally Heero volunteered something. “Well, her name is Catharine Barton,” he said without removing his gaze from his computer monitor or slowing whatever he was typing, “if that helps.”
“What!? Really?? Barton??” This startled outcry won him a skeptical look from Heero, and he explained immediately, “That’s Trowa’s name!”
Heero nodded his understanding and returned to his work, seeming singularly uninterested.
“I bet they are related. Let’s see… Trowa’ll be a hundred and twelve this year… she could be his great-great-great-great-niece. Do you know where her family comes from, like, five generations ago?”
“It’s not something that’s ever come up in conversation,” Heero replied dryly.
Duo laughed. “No, I guess it wouldn’t. But the next time you talk to her, you should totally ask her. Trowa ran away from his parents when he was eight, but I know they came from–”
“Duo, once you’re human, you can study the genealogy of every single person in this company in detail if you want. But at the moment, I really don’t need to give any of them another excuse to come over here.” Heero sounded a little impatient as he said this, and Duo’s first instinct was to tease him about being grouchy… but he decided against it. After all, it didn’t seem quite fair to be inflicting this situation on him and then to get on his case for reacting naturally to it. So he just watched the reflection of the glowing screen in Heero’s eyes and said nothing more for the moment.
If Heero had been in a bad mood that morning, Duo was pleased to find him over it by lunch time. They went to the same parking lot as yesterday and talked cheerfully while Heero ate, and Duo had nothing to complain of beyond his fierce desire to try a chicken salad sandwich like the one Heero had.
“I’m not a bad cook,” Heero told him when he expressed this sentiment. “When you’re human, I can make you all kinds of things.”
“I have never once seen you cook anything ever,” Duo declared in grinning disbelief. “Unless it came from a package or something, I mean.”
Heero shrugged. “I don’t much like cooking for just myself.”
“But Quatre’s around all the time!” Thoughtfully Duo added, “I bet he’s a great cook, though.”
Heero smirked. “You’d think so… but he’s actually totally useless in the kitchen. It comes from having a paid cook all his life. He lives off leftovers from the stuff that guy makes, and anything you can just throw in the microwave.” As Duo laughed (reflecting that at least the microwave part of that description would probably apply to him someday as well), Heero went on. “And I do sometimes cook for him… but you caught us during March Madness, and you don’t cook for that.”
“Well, I seem to remember something about me owing you lunch every day for a year anyway,” Duo said.
Again Heero shrugged. “That doesn’t mean I can’t make you dinner.” And this statement, Duo thought happily, totally made up for being unable to experience the delicious-looking sandwich. There was a lot about Heero, in fact, that made up for a lot of things. No one person could ever really erase eighty-seven years of tribulation, but Duo was starting to think those eighty-seven years might have been worth it when he’d gotten to meet Heero at the end of them.
Today they were only nine minutes late back from lunch. They’d left about five minutes early (Duo thought; it was hard to tell the time from his angle), and the resulting fourteen or so minutes’ lateness was much better than Monday and Tuesday had been. This was probably a good thing, since Duo was sure that even the best friend of whatever managerial position Quatre occupied could only go so long on that sort of sloppy schedule without some kind of trouble arising.
And just after lunch, they had the most interesting encounter of all.
The first indication that Heero had another pointless visitor was the appearance in front of him of some sort of small torture device. It had a couple of curving lengths of thick wire like a pincer and a long shaft leading to a round piece, all painted a disconcertingly sterile white, and it was held right in Heero’s face by Wufei Chang. The latter had been out working on a contract for the last week, or else Heero might have remembered him and recognized his danger. Now it was too late.
Heero actually started back at the unexpected sight of whatever it was Wufei was shoving at him. Any normal person, seeing this reaction, would have withdrawn the object and possibly apologized for the abrupt entrance; but Wufei just pushed the white claw-thing closer and said, “I happened to have an extra.”
“What the hell is it?” It was never really a good idea to admit any sort of ignorance to Wufei, but Heero was startled.
“It’s a doll stand,” replied Wufei patronizingly.
“Oh, no…” Duo groaned.
Although he hadn’t originally planned on touching the thing, Heero now reached out quickly and took the purported doll stand from Wufei’s hand. If he didn’t, Wufei might (would probably) decide to implement the device himself, and Duo didn’t seem to like that idea. Heero thought he understood; the stand creaked and shifted ominously in his grip, and nothing had occurred to diminish the impression that it had been designed as a means of torturing unsuspecting dolls and their friends.
“I heard you had a Star Trek doll,” Wufei went on, “so I went home at lunch to get you a stand for it.” He was obviously trying for a tone that would imply this to be normal behavior and motivated by generosity, but Heero knew better. Wufei didn’t do things like this because he was nice, but, rather, to show off his expertise: he had an extra doll stand; he had been into the doll scene long before Heero had.
“He just assumed you didn’t have one?” Duo wondered incredulously.
Heero said, “Thank you.” This was another dangerous thing to allow Wufei to hear, but Heero really couldn’t think of anything else. He’d never been entirely solid on how to deal with Wufei.
“Oh, you’re certainly welcome,” Wufei said, sounding pleased with himself. “I’ve had an extra ever since I sold my John Locke figure.” He added unnecessarily, “I didn’t like the direction the writers were taking with his character.”
Noncommittally, Heero nodded.
“He didn’t like what?” said Duo.
“I wasn’t aware that you were also a fan of Star Trek,” Wufei went on. Heero was not at all pleased by the tone of still-slightly-condescending camaraderie. Wufei already had this strange idea that there was some kind of connection between him and Heero because they were both of Asian descent, and in fact had once puzzled over the spelling of Heero’s name so assiduously that Heero had been forced to explain why his parents and grandparents had chosen such American-looking romanizations. Heero was not eager to have something else in common with Wufei.
As it was too late to deny the accusation, however — given that Duo was actually wearing the uniform, and that for Heero to pass himself off as a Star Trek fan was supposedly the point — he simply nodded again.
“If I were to hazard a guess,” Wufei said in what he probably thought was a shrewd tone, “I would say you are a Voyager fan.”
“Yes,” said Heero at once, thinking to avoid prolonging this conversation by agreeing (little hope as he really had of its working).
“If he were to hazard a guess?” Duo demanded. “Heero, who is this guy?”
“Do you want to know how I knew?” asked Wufei. Then, not waiting for Heero to tell him that he didn’t, he explained, “You’ve got him in a 2009 reboot uniform, and no real fan of the original series could ever tolerate that movie.”
Heero really, really didn’t care how Star Trek people felt about the various parts of their universe, but he still didn’t quite see Wufei’s logic. Weren’t there a number of Star Trek series? How did his supposedly not being a ‘real fan of the original series’ mean that he must be a Voyager fan?
Duo also had a problem with Wufei’s statement. “What?!” he yelped. “That was a great movie! What the hell didn’t he like about it?”
It had been Heero’s intention to ask Wufei if he was on the clock and, hopefully, get rid of him that way. Instead, to please Duo, he relayed the question. “What didn’t you like about it?”
Wufei scowled. “It derailed the entire Star Trek continuity! Everything was wrong! I mean, Vulcan being destroyed? It invalidates every part of the story that comes after that!”
“It was an alternate reality!” Duo protested. “They specifically said that in the movie. Who does he think Leonard Nimoy was playing?”
Heero struggled to remember what he could of the film, from the single time he’d seen it the previous year, in order to reword Duo’s statement so that Wufei wouldn’t bite his head off. “It was an alternate reality, though. That was why the other Spock showed up: he came from our world, where all the things in the original show and movies did happen, and Vulcan wasn’t destroyed.” He thought that was right, anyway… God, had he really just said all of that?
“But there’s already an alternate reality in the original series. We know what the alternate reality is like.”
“Um, what…?” said Duo. “I think he needs to go look up the word ‘alternate.'”
“I think there can be multiple alternate realities,” Heero suggested cautiously.
Wufei fumed, “But there doesn’t need to be. There was a lot of material they could have worked with that would have allowed them to give the series a fresh look with new actors without screwing up the timeline and justifying it with ‘oh, it’s just time-travel; it didn’t really happen.'”
Duo started to say something, but Wufei overrode him as he added, “It just didn’t fit with Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Duo burst out laughing. “What, his original vision that included time travel and alternate realities?”
Heero was trying to think of a non-combative way to say this when Wufei snorted and changed his focus. “And Spock was too emotional. He was never that emotional in the original series.”
Dropping the third person and addressing his opponent directly, despite Wufei being unable to hear him, Duo said derisively, “What, you mean after he’d just lost his entire planet and his mom? How did you expect him to react??”
“He had just lost his entire planet and his mother,” was how Heero relayed this, in as reasonable a tone as he could command. He wondered, without wanting to look, if anyone else was around and listening. What on earth would they think? Well, he supposed, a discussion like this could only enhance the idea that he was a fan…
“He went through plenty of trauma in the original series,” Wufei insisted, “without ever displaying that much emotion.”
“Um, yeah, dumbass, but this movie was set before the original series. People do change, you know.” It was actually rather amusing how annoyed Duo was about this. Really, it shouldn’t be surprising that he was such a geek about something that had formed such a big part of his life.
“But the Spock in the movie was younger,” Heero translated. “It was before he’d learned to be that much in control.”
“Stop being so polite, Heero!” Duo complained. “This guy’s bugging the hell out of me.”
“His involvement with Uhura was totally out of character too.” It didn’t seem that any of Duo’s proxy arguments had made any impact whatsoever on Wufei; the latter was simply working his way down a list of complaints and systematically discarding any disagreement.
“Well, I agree that Spock has always been pretty damn gay for Kirk,” Duo said in a milder tone, “but in that movie–” But Heero never got to hear what Duo thought of Spock’s 2009 relationship with Uhura, for at that moment they were interrupted.
“Wufei, are you on the clock?” Dorothy had a way of asking this particular question that made even people that weren’t abusing the timeclock check to see if there was something more productive they could be doing.
Wufei, who lived in his own very serious little world, was largely immune to things that affected other people strongly, but even he could not completely ignore that tone. He cleared his throat. “Yes. I was just discussing something with Heero.”
“I noticed,” said Dorothy dryly. “Back to work now?”
Wufei nodded somberly, then subtly did the ‘Live long and prosper’ gesture at Heero before retreating from the cubicle. Once again Duo burst into startled laughter.
“You should know better than to get him worked up about something like Star Trek at this time of day,” Dorothy chided as she came fully into the cubicle. “Now he won’t get anything done for the rest of the afternoon.”
Heero couldn’t quite bring himself to apologize.
Dorothy stopped just beside him, looking down at Duo with a faint frown and brows drawn slightly together, evidently more pensive than disapproving or even curious. “At least you didn’t agree with him,” she murmured. “So he probably won’t try to sneak back in here and continue the discussion the moment my back is turned.”
Heero acknowledged this point with a nod.
As she went to leave, Dorothy added in a thoughtful tone, “Spock really was always pretty gay for Kirk, wasn’t he…”
The moment she was gone, Heero leaned his elbow on the desk, bent forward, and rested his face in his hand. Torn between amusement and horror, he didn’t quite know what to say or do now, and he felt more than a little tired out. “I am never doing that again,” he murmured. “No more three-way conversations.”
Duo chuckled a little. “Not into threesomes, huh? Especially ones that nerdy, I bet.”
Heero nodded against his hand, and grumbled darkly, “Wufei’s probably going to think he’s my best friend now. I hope you appreciate this…”
It was remarkable how the seriousness of Duo’s reply, “More than I can tell you,” could do so much to make everything in the world tolerable again.
Quatre didn’t know whether Trowa had somehow (perhaps magically) been aware of the exact instant he would arrive on Thursday afternoon, or if he’d been in the entry just at that moment by coincidence; but whatever the cause, the result was the same: immediately inside the door they were in each other’s arms without any verbal intimation that this was the greeting they both had in mind. It had happened exactly like this yesterday too, right down to the almost palpable despair in Trowa’s movements. Quatre still wasn’t quite sure what to do about that.
Trowa was thin — very thin — bordering on what Quatre would have called unhealthily thin. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that Quatre knew what his eating habits were, but he wasn’t used to it yet; every time he was blessed with the opportunity to run his hands over Trowa’s arms and chest and back (and sometimes farther down because he simply couldn’t resist), he was startled all over again at how scrawny his new boyfriend was.
It made him want to sit Trowa down to a three-course meal at least twice a day from now on until he bulked up a little. Since this urge, so far, had arisen almost exclusively while Quatre was kissing Trowa, however, and was usually forgotten when some tentative experimental shift of Trowa’s lips or the desperate clinging of Trowa’s hands thoroughly apprehended Quatre’s attention, he hadn’t given it much thought at any moment when he might have made practical use of it.
This particular kiss came abruptly to an end when the bag Quatre had completely forgotten he was holding slipped from his otherwise-occupied hand and the plastic box inside it let out a crunch as it hit the floor. He pulled away from Trowa and said, somewhat breathlessly, “Look how much you’ve distracted me.”
“I’m sorry,” Trowa replied, and, though Quatre knew he was responding to the laughing comment in kind, there was just a little too much honesty in his tone. Probably better not to tell him how spacy Quatre had been at work over the last couple of days.
Quatre released Trowa and bent to retrieve the bag. “Much as I’d love to keep doing that all day, we need to eat lunch.”
“Must we?” said Trowa.
With a wide grin Quatre turned to face him, excessively pleased. “Trowa, I think you’re flirting with me!”
“I may be,” Trowa replied with a reluctant smile.
“You need to smile more,” Quatre breathed, moving right up against Trowa again. Not wishing to spoil the expression in question, he kissed Trowa’s jaw and cheek and temple instead — but after only that, Trowa turned and caught Quatre’s mouth once more with his. He was getting better at this.
Eventually they did make it into the kitchen and to some sort of rational thought concerning lunch. This was a set of microwaveable components that combined to form what the box claimed was mushroom stroganoff, which made Quatre laugh. At Trowa’s curious look he decided to share his nostalgia.
“As a little kid,” he began, a bit absently as he’d also begun reading the microwave instructions on the side of the box, “I’d gotten it into my head that I hated mushrooms more than anything in the world. I probably really didn’t like them much, but you know how little kids are… they think any food they don’t absolutely love is unbearably disgusting, usually after they’ve tried it exactly once.”
Trowa didn’t much look like he knew ‘how little kids are,’ possibly because he hadn’t been one in a hundred years and his interaction with humans had been at a bare minimum for almost as long. Maybe sometime (sometime when Trowa’s ability to deal with people had improved a bit, that is) Quatre would introduce him to some of his nieces and nephews.
For now Quatre just went on in amusement, “According to my family, I had such a strong aversion to mushrooms that I was actually afraid of them. I don’t remember it exactly like that, but that’s what they tell me: I wouldn’t touch mushrooms; I’d run away from mushrooms; if there were mushrooms on the table, I’d back my chair away and try to eat from a distance…” He mimed eating with his arms stretched out at full length. “I guess they found it pretty hilarious — and I can’t really blame them — because I do remember my sisters chasing me around with mushrooms. I think I ran more just because they were chasing me, though, than because they had mushrooms in their hands.”
By their hot edges, he pulled the flimsy plastic containers from the microwave with his fingertips, and began carefully peeling the already-punctured plastic cover from the sauce. “This smells good,” he murmured.
Then, to his surprise, he felt the warmth of Trowa against him, leaning in somewhat hesitantly to find out what he was talking about. “It does,” Trowa said quietly.
Abruptly Quatre turned, putting himself chest-to-chest with Trowa. “Mmm, so do you,” he said, and buried his face in Trowa’s shoulder and neck. There was a stiff button-up shirt collar in his way, and Quatre pulled it slightly aside to get at Trowa’s skin. Admittedly much of what Quatre could smell at the moment was mushroom sauce, but there was still about Trowa that air of dusty leather and crumbling paper that was so intriguing to Quatre.
At first Trowa stood absolutely still as Quatre nuzzled and then began mouthing the pale flesh of his neck, but his breathing did quicken, and eventually his arms lifted, slid slowly up Quatre’s sides, and came to rest around his back just above his waist. “Now who’s doing the distracting?” Trowa whispered, his breath stirring Quatre’s hair.
Laughing, Quatre withdrew and looked into Trowa’s still-mostly-serious face. He gave him a quick, hard kiss before squirming around in his arms to face the kitchen counter again. “You’re right,” he said. “Our food’s going to get cold before it’s even put together.”
“I wasn’t really complaining,” Trowa murmured into his ear, making Quatre shiver.
As Quatre began stirring up the noodles and the sauce in a couple of bowls, Trowa released him — which was disappointing, but probably better for productivity — and said, “Was there more of your mushroom story?”
“Oh, yes!” Quatre had completely forgotten he’d even been telling a story. “Set the table,” he ordered. “So I was afraid of mushrooms, apparently, and my sisters — at least the youngest three or four — thought this was really funny.” He lifted the two bowls and circumnavigated the counter to bring them to the table. “And one day — I don’t know whose idea it was — one day they decided to take this one step further than just chasing me around with mushrooms. So they went into the kitchen and made some muffins, and they chopped up some mushrooms and mixed them into the muffin dough.”
Trowa, who was now settling into his usual place at the table, raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Quatre laughed. “Yes, I’m sure they did have something better to do,” he said, taking his own seat across from Trowa. “But apparently this was important. So they brought me a muffin and asked if I wanted a ‘muffroom.’ And I told them, no, I didn’t want a mushroom. ‘No, a muffroom,’ they said, and showed me the muffin.”
“And how old were you?” Trowa asked.
Quatre grinned. “Um, six? Maybe five. I’m not sure.”
“And was this before or after they’d started conning you at cards?”
“I think that started soon after this.” Quatre’s grin widened. “Hey, this is good,” he added after taking his first bite of the stroganoff.
“Your opinion on mushrooms has changed,” Trowa observed.
“Yes, it has,” agreed Quatre, and took another bite with relish. When his mouth was free he continued his account. “So I had this ‘muffroom,’ and I was suspicious of it because of the name. But my sisters insisted that they were only calling it that because it was shaped something like a mushroom, and eventually they got me to eat it. And obviously I couldn’t taste the mushroom in it — either that or I just really didn’t hate mushrooms as much as I thought I did — because I ate the whole thing and thought it was pretty good.
“And of course after I’d finished it my sisters told me — gleefully, triumphantly told me — what had been in it. I think at first I didn’t want to believe them, and repeated what they’d said to me about it being called a ‘muffroom’ because of how it was shaped and all that… but eventually I just started screaming and crying. I was upset that I’d eaten mushrooms, of course, but I was even more upset that they’d tricked me.”
“I can’t imagine you screaming and crying,” said Trowa, fixing him with a thoughtful gaze. “Not even as a child.”
“Oh, really?” Quatre found himself rather pleased at this
Trowa shook his head. “No. I can’t imagine you as anything but a very well-behaved child who was always in control of himself.”
At this Quatre laughed heartily. “I’ll show you some pictures sometime of just how well-behaved I was as a kid,” he said.
And to Quatre’s great delight, Trowa smiled.
When they’d finished their lunch/dinner, Quatre with solemn pride brought out the key lime cheesecake he’d bought on the way over. It had smashed somewhat against one side of its box when he’d dropped it earlier, but he doubted this would affect its flavor. Trowa looked at the dessert almost suspiciously, at which Quatre laughed. He opened it with faux ceremony and made a show of plunging a fork into it and taking the first bite. “I have a Cheesecake Factory in my town,” he said complacently.
As Trowa made no move to join him at this pursuit, Quatre forked another bite and, leaning forward, brought it insistently to Trowa’s mouth. Though he still appeared more than a bit wary, Trowa submitted to this and allowed himself to be fed. Then Quatre sat back and watched him, waiting to see how he liked it.
There was no marked change to Trowa’s expression, but Quatre saw the twitches of his eyebrows — first down, then up a little higher than they had been before — because he was looking for them. Mission accomplished, he thought.
“That…” Trowa said presently, slowly, “is very good.”
Quatre beamed. He had a feeling he was going to be late back from lunch again, but he couldn’t really bring himself to worry about it.
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.
It’s a little rude to kiss someone else’s boyfriend, and it’s a little really inappropriate to kiss an unconsenting other secretly in their sleep. But then I went and rewarded him for it… so much for operant conditioning…
So the mushroom story is a true one, of which my brother and I were the stars many years ago. He was perhaps six, I perhaps sixteen, and things pretty well went as described here. To this day I remember it in a mixture of shame and excessive amusement, and I thought it fit quite well in this story. Also, I find it hilarious that Quatre can refer to “the youngest three or four” of his sisters. I would love to have ten children.