“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.
Heero was used to being a little restless at work on Fridays — not that he showed it, but he liked his weekends. And today there was the added bonus of really wanting this week to end, since he was hoping that the fervor about Duo would die once everyone had had a Saturday and Sunday to calm down and perhaps forget. So it was no surprise that he was a little more impatient even than usual with anyone that approached him for anything less than a perfectly businesslike reason.
“I think you made that one cry,” Duo remarked, and not in a terribly accusatory tone, as someone from HR that had only had the very flimsiest excuse left in something of a hurry.
Heero stood halfway out of his chair, looking after the woman. He certainly didn’t enjoy the undue attention he and Duo were receiving, but making people cry was not something he wanted to do. From here, however, it was impossible to tell whether or not he had.
Evidently seeing the concern on his face and guessing at its cause, Duo hastily reassured him, “I was exaggerating. I don’t think she was really crying.”
With a nod, resolving to try for greater patience with his next visitor just in case, Heero resumed his seat. And as he did so, he caught sight of the doll stand Wufei had brought him on Wednesday. Heero had pulled its three pieces apart and tossed them aside after Wufei had gone, and after that entirely lost track of it. Now he reached around the computer monitor to retrieve each of the parts, and started fitting them back together contemplatively.
“Oh, no,” Duo said. “I hoped you’d forgotten about that.”
“I did,” Heero murmured, “until I saw it just now.”
“Please don’t put me in that thing,” Duo begged.
Heero shook his head, trying to figure out how the last piece went on.
“Please?” reiterated Duo. When Heero still didn’t answer, Duo continued in a sort of chant, “Please? Please? Please? Please? Safe word?”
His full attention most definitely procured by this, Heero was startled into a laugh. “It’s so strange what you know about and what you don’t,” he told the doll.
“Yeah, I know,” replied Duo somewhat bitterly.
“You don’t know what IT people are,” Heero went on, setting the doll stand aside and giving Duo his full attention, “but you know about safe words…”
“Yeah, it’s stupid,” Duo admitted. “I’ve just picked up random things from various people and TV shows, and I don’t know a lot of stuff a normal person would.”
“How do you know about safe words?” persisted Heero. “Or would I rather not know?”
“Weeeelllll… it hasn’t all been kids…” Duo’s tone was somewhere between ‘shrug’ and ‘grimace’ with a touch of sheepishness thrown in, and the fact that he wasn’t using this topic as a springboard for flirtation indicated — to Heero, at least — that he took it very seriously.
“I can see I would rather not know,” Heero said lightly, not wanting to make Duo uncomfortable. And then he tried to return to his work and not think about everything that conversation had just dredged up in the back of his head.
Heero had never done anything that required a safe word, and knew little more about that kind of play than what was supposedly common knowledge. He was aware that there could be ropes or handcuffs involved, and spanking or whipping or something like that… that it was supposed to be about trust, and one person submitting to the control of another…
Duo had been so absolutely under the control of others for so long, with no recourse for decent treatment beyond begging, having mental discomfort and embarrassment forced on him… Even now that he’d found his old friend again and was on his way to having the curse broken, he was still completely at Heero’s mercy… Heero doubted very much that deliberately putting himself in the role of the victim (or whatever it was called in that context) was something that would at all appeal to Duo.
The other way around, however…
No, Heero did not need to be thinking about that. He was at work, and his face was clearly visible to Duo, and he probably shouldn’t be fantasizing about someone else’s boyfriend in the first place. And yet it was proving quite a daunting task to escape from the mental image of Duo — the hypothetical human Duo in Heero’s imagination, with his smooth tanned skin and his strong hands — tying Heero up, blindfolding him, making it Heero’s turn to beg, and–
He wasn’t sure whether he was more irritated or grateful at this. He’d been afraid Wufei might start coming over here to talk to him more frequently now that they’d inadvertently bonded over Star Trek, but at the same time couldn’t really think of a better buzz-kill than the somewhat creepy tone of Wufei’s formal greeting — and a buzz-kill was exactly what he’d needed just now.
Heero swiveled to face him. “Hello,” he said. For some reason, his eyes locked onto and could not tear themselves from Wufei’s tie, which had a vaguely familiar pink heart in the midst of some kind of machiney grey stuff and actually didn’t look too bad against his dark red-grey shirt.
“And how is your first officer today?” Wufei stepped up and reached for Duo before Heero could stop him. To Heero’s dismay, Wufei’s other hand went for the doll stand at the same time, and Heero could not think of a damn thing to say to prevent the union of the two objects. Wufei filled the silence, however. “Who is he supposed to be?” He added with absolute certainty, “He isn’t an original series character, or anyone from that awful movie.”
“He’s a…” Heero scrambled for a plausible answer, and perhaps it was what he’d just been thinking about before Wufei’s appearance that supplied his eventual, “…role-play character.”
Wufei set the newly-ensconced Duo back down on the desk and turned eager, calculating eyes on Heero. “I was not aware that you role-played.”
“I… yeah, sometimes,” said Heero weakly.
“My group–” Wufei began.
Hastily Heero interrupted him. “I think Dorothy is coming over here. You’d better get back to your desk.”
Wufei looked around with a frown, then nodded. “You’re right. We can discuss this later.”
Not if I can help it, Heero reflected as he watched Wufei’s surreptitious departure.
Somebody else approached Heero at that moment looking for information, and throughout this encounter Duo said nothing. But the instant this second co-worker was out of the way, Heero turned to the sound of a pathetic noise from Duo and pulled the doll out of the stand.
“Thank you,” Duo said intensely as Heero replaced him in his previous seated position beside the monitor.
Heero nodded, and began dismantling the stand again.
Duo sighed. “I’m starting to lose track of who’s picked me up and who hasn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” replied Heero. “I try to keep them from doing it.”
In a head-shaking sort of tone, Duo said, “Not your fault,” and sighed again.
“Only twenty-four more days…”
“Hey, that’s only a little more than three weeks!” And Duo sounded a little more hopeful.
Again Heero nodded. Then he opened one of his desk drawers and pulled aside its contents, looking for a place to hide the pieces of the doll stand. “I know this thing is terrifying,” he said as he did so, “but what is it that bugs you about it?”
Now Duo snorted. “Oh, just that I spent three years in one of those as a decoration in somebody’s guest room — which never got used — with nobody to talk to and no TV or anything.”
“Oh,” said Heero softly. Inwardly he was swearing fanatically that Duo would never have to occupy a doll stand ever again if he had the slightest say in the matter.
“Just staring at the horrible picture above the bed across the room…” Duo murmured in a tone that was the emotional polar opposite of nostalgic, “standing there with some nice-looking books nobody ever read on one side and a Happy Holiday Barbie on the other… listening to the world keep moving outside… going crazy…”
“Wow,” Heero breathed. As often happened when Duo spoke of his experiences as a doll over the years, Heero was overcome with an almost physical sensation of pity and horror, and he just wished there was something more he could do to make things right for Duo.
Abruptly Duo shook his head, as if to shake the memories away. Cheerfully — too cheerfully, Heero thought, especially all of a sudden like this — he repeated Heero’s earlier words: “Only twenty-four more days!”
Just as he’d become accustomed in an insanely short period of time to eating lunch with Quatre every day, Trowa was now quickly getting used to Quatre showing up every night after work. This meant he had dual distractions from his own work as he found himself caught between the neverending cycle of guilt facilitated by the artifact in his study and the unfamiliar, warm feeling of pleasure and anticipation regarding Quatre and when he would next appear.
It didn’t help that the latter made the former so much worse. A voice in his head kept asking, Should you really be doing this? Leaving Heero with all the real work for Duo while you enjoy yourself with someone you will never deserve? Someone whose entire life you might destroy at any time? For this he had no real answer, but he couldn’t dismiss it or ignore it during the long hours he spent alone in his house attempting to take notes or do research. Only Quatre’s actual appearance pushed such thoughts farther back into the darkness and let him rest a little for a while.
He’d fallen asleep in his chair again when Quatre showed up at about nine o’clock on Friday night, and was awakened when his new paramour climbed into his lap and made himself comfortable. “Hi,” Quatre said when he noticed Trowa had awakened.
“Hello,” Trowa replied, lifting his arms to wrap around and hold Quatre.
Quatre kissed him briefly and beautifully, then laid his head on Trowa’s shoulder and sighed. “Meetings all afternoon, and all I can think about is you…”
That wasn’t right. Inevitably temporary involvement with someone like Trowa shouldn’t be distracting Quatre from his real life… no matter how much, against his will, Trowa adored the thought that Quatre had been dwelling on him since they’d seen each other earlier.
Abruptly Quatre sat up and fixed Trowa with a stern look. “You just made that noise again.”
“You do that sometimes about things I say… and then you get this look…” Quatre appeared decidedly unhappy all of a sudden. “Trowa, what is it about this that’s bothering you? Is there something I’m doing that you don’t like? Because you seem like you want to push me away.”
Trowa didn’t know what to say. How could he tell Quatre that he was like a drug… that he rendered everything colorful and sensitized when he was around, that he made Trowa feel wonderful… but that the moment he was gone, everything was even more bleak than before he’d come? That the better a time Trowa had with Quatre, the worse he felt when it was over? That having experienced this high only increased Trowa’s guilt and self-loathing once he came down?
“I don’t… I shouldn’t…” He took a deep breath and tried to regulate his thoughts and channel them properly for once. Quatre had asked, and he deserved an answer — at least deserved to know that it was nothing about him personally that Trowa was trying to push away. “I love having you around,” Trowa finally managed. “It makes me… happier… than I have been… in a long time. But that doesn’t feel right, when Duo is still suffering and–”
Quatre broke in with a frustrated noise of his own, shifting all at once so that he was straddling Trowa’s lap, his legs pressed hard into the arms of the chair on either side, and looking him directly in the eye. He took Trowa’s face firmly in his hands and said, “Trowa. You need to get over this thing you have about Duo. This is not about Duo. Duo has nothing to do with this.”
“I know you want me to… forgive myself…” Trowa replied, “but it’s not that easy…”
“It’s not even that,” Quatre sighed. “Just stop thinking of yourself in terms of what you did to Duo eighty-seven years ago. Yes, you hurt him; yes, he’s still suffering. But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have any good experiences ever again. Even if you do buy into the whole karma thing and believe that you have to be punished for your mistake, don’t you think you’ve suffered enough?”
Grey-blue eyes held a pair of crescent moons in an unbreakable lock of gazes as Quatre ranted on. “You don’t have to keep pushing good things away because you think you don’t deserve them. You’re allowed to enjoy food and sleep and — and me — without beating yourself up over whether or not you’re stepping outside some arbitrary boundary set by some mistake you once made.”
Quatre released him, and Trowa felt his eyes sink closed as his head bent forward; Quatre met Trowa’s brow with his lips as Trowa said softly, “Whatever I deserve, I’m sure it’s not you.”
A sad-sounding little laugh vibrated against Trowa’s skin. “What on earth are you thinking about me?” Quatre murmured. “Do you think I’m some kind of valuable prize that should have gone to a better winner?”
“Something like that,” Trowa admitted.
Quatre laughed again, ruefully. “Well, I’m flattered. But seriously, I’m just a normal person like everyone else.” He turned his face so that his cheek rested against Trowa’s forehead. “I am absolutely nothing special, and nothing you should feel like you ‘don’t deserve.'”
“You’re something special to me,” Trowa murmured. He still couldn’t quite find words for the full effect Quatre had on him, but he could at least try to articulate the more straightforward parts of it. “You’ve made me… see the world again… even if I’m not ready for it… I’m more alive now than I have been for decades.” And even when you leave, he didn’t add aloud, I’ll still be alive because of you.
“I’m glad,” said Quatre quietly. “I want you to be happy. I want to make you happy. Can you accept that? As something I want, maybe, instead of something you think you don’t deserve?”
“I can try,” Trowa murmured.
“Thank you,” said Quatre. And he drew back, took Trowa’s face in his hands again, and kissed him.
It was very much like their first kiss had been: Quatre’s hands sliding down to Trowa’s neck, thumbs pressing upward to lift his chin; Quatre seeming a trifle unsure of how willing he would find Trowa, but in no way uncertain about what he wanted himself; Trowa with no real idea how best to respond, but knowing equally well that, if he could have, he would have made this last forever. His hands ran up and down Quatre’s warm back, the latter slightly curved as Quatre, kneeling in the chair, had to bend a little to reach Trowa’s mouth; and Quatre’s hands crumpled and worried the collar of his shirt.
It was good… it was all so good, in fact, that the dark voice in the back of Trowa’s head started muttering grimly about how painful things were going to be later when Quatre had gone, when the guilt came crashing down again and the feelings of inadequacy Quatre had been preaching against returned from their shadowy corners to remind Trowa of what he was and what he had done.
Feeling the strength of Quatre against him, however, Trowa was conscious of a simultaneous steeling of resolve in those same shadowy corners of his mind. Quatre wanted him to be happy… Quatre wanted him not to feel undeserving. And Trowa had promised to try. Tonight, at least, he would not go down without a fight.
On occasion over the last few days, Quatre had gotten the feeling that Trowa was as taken by the novelty of having someone paying him this sort of attention as by Quatre himself — that Trowa was charmed perhaps more by the concept of someone being interested in him for the first time in god knew how long than by Quatre specifically. Quatre couldn’t possibly be pleased by this, but he had to admit that it made a certain sense: Trowa had been waiting so long for someone to love, since the disaster of his last attempt, that anyone willing to make the effort might have sufficed, at least at first — and he couldn’t be blamed for that.
But now, Quatre felt, Trowa’s focus was entirely and intensely on him, on Quatre Winner, not simply on the person that had forced his way into Trowa’s life. He wasn’t sure how he knew this was the case, but it was an understanding he would not deny. Bright eyes met his with purpose, and there was a different sense, somehow, to the usual desperation of Trowa’s movements. Trowa wanted him here now, and nobody else would do. It was an intoxicating feeling.
Quatre kissed him harder and deeper, pushing forward in the chair to bring them into closer contact. Trowa felt so good beneath him, wiry and warm; and his desperate lips and tongue were so precisely what Quatre liked… He had said that he wanted to make Trowa happy, and he’d meant it… at the moment, he wanted to make him very happy in a very specific way. Trowa had said that Quatre had brought him to life… well, how about a little more of that?
His hands were already unbuttoning Trowa’s shirt before he even finished this train of thought, and he’d begun actively grinding against him where his legs were splayed out around him. He could feel the cushion shifting beneath them as he moved, and he could feel Trowa going stiff. He wondered if Trowa was aware that his roving hands had come to rest cupping Quatre’s buttocks.
“Quatre…!” Trowa gasped as Quatre broke away from his mouth, and there was a look of blended desire and near-panic in his uncanny eyes.
“Do you want me to stop?” Quatre whispered.
“No!” said Trowa immediately. As once before at this word (if not precisely this tone), Quatre wasn’t entirely sure he believed him. He wondered how long it had been since Trowa had done anything like this. To be honest, he wouldn’t be surprised if he never had.
At Quatre’s hesitance, Trowa lowered his brows slightly and very deliberately kissed him again. The message was clear, and it sent something white-hot running through Quatre’s chest and down through his stomach and abdomen into his groin. All reluctance burned away, Quatre felt his hands slip into the open shirt and caress his lover’s chest even as he again pulled away from Trowa’s lips and let his own crawl along Trowa’s jaw to his ear and down his neck.
They were positioned awkwardly, but Quatre had no desire whatsoever to let go of the heat that was building up in an attempt to find a better place to do this. Trowa was breathing somewhat heavily in his ear as Quatre bared one of his shoulders and a pallid path for a trailing tongue to follow. Meanwhile his other hand teased briefly at a hard nipple before creeping downward. Trowa’s hands were still clamped on Quatre’s buttocks; Quatre would have preferred them moving like his own, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t fairly happy with them where they were.
Because Trowa had legs that went on forever, which Quatre had already had occasion to admire, Quatre was quite familiar with the slacks Trowa usually wore. It was no difficult or lengthy task to get the button unfastened and attack the zipper, and then his left hand was buried in the heat of underwear and curling hair, seeking out the semi-erect penis he was dying to get at. Trowa let out a little groaning cry as Quatre found it, clutching at him even more tightly. In complacence Quatre sighed against Trowa’s shoulder as his fingers closed around the silky, hot, sensitive flesh and began to explore.
It wasn’t long before Trowa was fully erect in Quatre’s hand, leaking in his readiness, and moaning with every other breath. The rest of his body was likewise stiff and still, allowing Quatre to do whatever he wanted, and Quatre got the feeling that, as with kissing, Trowa hadn’t the faintest idea what he should be doing. So, with his free hand, Quatre worked at his own belt and then the fastening of his pants, and eventually freed his own hard length to increase the heat between them.
He had rather hoped Trowa would take some initiative at this point, but evidently the magician was paralyzed either by the weight of his own inexperience or the pleasure Quatre was giving him (or perhaps both). So instead, Quatre angled his hips better so that their erections were more easily parallel — as much as they could be with the straightness of Trowa’s next to the upward curve of Quatre’s — and widened his grip to encompass both of them together. His own breaths had been fairly quick for some time, but now as he touched himself alongside Trowa they started to come in gasps. He let his head fall back, closing his eyes, and felt Trowa’s face come to rest against his exposed neck.
Trowa was getting closer and closer; Quatre could feel it. He would like to come with him, unlikely as he thought that was, and so, to bring himself faster, concentrated on the feeling of Trowa’s mouth working slowly against his neck, giving out incoherent sounds of pleasure in warm wet breaths on Quatre’s skin; the clutching of Trowa’s long hands at his buttocks, tense and hard, trying to pull him closer, his need of Quatre very evident; the smell of sweat and dust and sex between them.
Then, with a long, ecstatic breath that ended in a faint, helpless moan, Trowa found his release, coming onto his own stomach and Quatre’s hand. The latter thus slickened made even quicker progress toward bringing Quatre to orgasm, and Trowa groaned with each stroke that teased his softening member before Quatre also came with a little cry of pleasure.
Relaxing in the chair, his head falling into the corner between the back and one of its wings, Trowa breathed out Quatre’s name for no apparent purpose. Quatre, still holding their spent penises in one hand, ran the other down Trowa’s upturned jaw and then followed it slowly with his mouth. Then he let his own head rest against Trowa’s shoulder again, and neither of them said anything for some time; their gasping breaths calmed and their heart-rates slowed and their bodies cooled, and Quatre thought they were both quite content.
Finally he sat up straight again, slowly, and looked around. Behind him on the table, just within reach if he stretched, was the box of Kleenex he’d brought over here back when (it seemed forever ago, now) Trowa had shed tears over the realization of how to break the curse. He snagged a tissue with his free hand and set about cleaning them up.
The cushion had come about a third of the way out from where Quatre’s knees had been forcing it away from the back of the chair, and as a consequence Trowa had slumped down somewhat in his seat. Reluctant as he was to move, Quatre eventually had to stand and pull Trowa up after him in order to fix this. He refastened both their pants while he was at it, then pushed Trowa back into the chair and settled again on his lap — in his original position now, sitting almost beside rather than on top of him with his legs draped over Trowa’s. He wrapped his arms around Trowa — a gesture that was immediately reciprocated — laid his head once more on Trowa’s shoulder, and let out another pleased breath.
After a long, comfortable silence, Trowa murmured, “It’s been… a long time… since…”
Quatre raised his face and kissed the first piece of flesh available, which turned out to be the corner of Trowa’s jaw. “I hope you enjoyed it,” he said.
“Yes,” said Trowa. “I didn’t think I would, but I did.”
Stifling a sigh, Quatre wondered, “Dare I ask why you didn’t think you’d enjoy it?”
“You probably won’t want to hear it,” admitted Trowa.
“Well, tell me anyway, and then maybe once you’ve said it you can put it behind you.”
“I stopped… touching myself… not long after the curse. I didn’t feel like I deserved to feel pleasure. And especially once I realized how I felt about Duo… that particular kind of pleasure seemed especially inappropriate, when it was… something I might have shared with him if I hadn’t done what I’d done… and when what I’d done had taken away his ability to feel anything like that, as far as I knew, forever.”
Yes, Quatre still had his doubts about Trowa’s assertion that he was no longer in love with Duo… but, as Trowa was cuddling Quatre in an armchair at the moment, had told Quatre that he was willing to try to overcome his old guilt and build a happy relationship, Quatre didn’t feel it wise or kind to express his jealousy. So he nodded slowly. “I guess that makes sense.”
“So I thought that… you doing something like that to me…” Trowa went on, still in that broken, hesitant way that indicated he was having a hard time finding words for what he wanted to say, “I thought it would feel… wrong. But it didn’t.”
“Good,” said Quatre, and nuzzled his face into Trowa’s collarbone, and then repeated more quietly, almost in a whisper, “Good.”
Heero awoke at a positively insane hour of the morning to, of all things, the sound of Trowa’s voice in his bedroom. That probably explained why he’d been dreaming of fighting Trowa, though not necessarily why they’d been wearing more tattoos than clothing and using spears. Now he sat up groggily, glaring at the clock until the numbers (and there were far too many sevens involved) came into focus, and said, “What the hell are you doing in here?”
“Poor grumpy Heero is rude,” said Duo cheerfully.
“Pardon me,” was Trowa’s stiff answer. “I didn’t mean to wake you up. I’ll go.” He’d been standing by the nightstand, undoubtedly having sneaked in here for a quiet conversation with Duo while Heero couldn’t hear them — only they’d gotten too loud — and now he turned toward the door.
Heero took a deep breath. He shouldn’t even be awake at this time on a Saturday, let alone having to deal with this kind of thing. But he tried to beat back his irritation and jealousy, and said, “No, don’t go. Finish your conversation.” And he returned to his previous position, putting his back to the other two so he wouldn’t have to look at them, and pulled the blanket up to his face.
“Isn’t he sweet?” Duo grinned. “OK, Trois, so, then this guy says, ‘And how is your first officer today?'” Duo’s imitation of Wufei’s inflection was spot-on.
“No, I’m going to go,” said Trowa firmly. “Heero, I am sorry I woke you up.”
Heero just grunted.
“Aww,” said Duo a moment later. “I didn’t get to finish telling him.” Concurrent with this remark, Heero heard the sound of Trowa’s door opening and closing out in the living room. Then, after a few moments of silence, Duo said quietly, “I wonder what’s going on with him…”
Turning again, Heero propped himself up on an elbow and looked at Duo where he sat on the nightstand behind the clock. He knew he probably didn’t really want to know, but he asked anyway. “What do you mean?”
Duo sounded very thoughtful as he answered, “He seemed really… agitated. But not in a bad way. Almost I’d say… well, except… I don’t know. He didn’t tell me anything that would explain it. He said he’s writing a book, but that’s nothing special…”
Reflecting that he’d been right — he really hadn’t wanted to hear all of that — Heero settled back down into bed again. “Well,” he forced himself to say, “you do only have three weeks of your curse left. That seems like a good reason to be happy.”
“But he was so different from just the last time I saw him on… I think it was Tuesday morning,” Duo mused. “I wonder what’s happened… and why he didn’t tell me…”
As Heero made no reply, Duo said nothing more, and Heero closed his eyes and relaxed for several minutes. He found, however, that the exchange had been enough to wake him beyond the point of no return. This was past the time he got up on weekdays, after all… dammit… He sat up and flung the blanket off of him in an abrupt, irritated movement.
“Whoa!” Duo exclaimed. “You startled the hell out of me!”
Heero rose and, seizing the doll without a word, stalked out to the kitchen.
Duo recovered quickly. “So, tennis today, huh?”
“Yes,” Heero said shortly.
“Do you want to know how I knew?” Again Duo imitated Wufei particularly well.
A little cheered, Heero replied, “Sure.”
“Apparently Quatre invited Trowa to come along,” Duo explained. “Not like there’s even the smallest chance he would, but I think he was happy about the invitation.”
Busying himself with coffee, Heero said nothing.
“Sooo….. Oz today?” Duo sounded hopeful as he partially repeated his previous statement.
This seemed like an excellent idea to Heero — and definitely one less likely to make him jealous than Duo talking about Trowa all day. “Yes,” he said. “Right after breakfast.”
Tennis was at two, and eventually Heero reached the point where he couldn’t put off deciding what to wear any longer. This was something that had plagued him in the past, since the athletic club all the others belonged to had certain unspoken dress standards even on the courts; though Heero was not about to wear the type of $250 designer shorts his friends did, he also didn’t want to make them look bad. So, rather painstakingly, he’d built up for these occasions a small collection of pieces that were both functional and relatively smart but hadn’t cost him an arm and a leg… but this time he had to accommodate Duo somehow, and cargo pants obviously weren’t going to work.
After much thought, he chose the one polo that had a breast pocket, and picked at the lower seams of the latter with a fork until there was a sizeable hole. Tests confirmed that Duo’s legs would fit through this so he could sit fairly securely in the pocket, but Heero wasn’t entirely confident; trying to ignore Duo’s fits of laughter at all of these proceedings, he went looking for a safety pin. When it turned out that his apartment was a completely safety-pin-free zone, he determined to leave early and stop somewhere on the way to get one.
Duo was in quite a good mood today, apparently, and was whistling as Heero drove. Heero liked to see him so happy, and tried not to think about the likelihood of its being due to Trowa’s appearance this morning. And the visit to the convenience store only improved Duo’s mood when the cashier that rang up Heero’s safety pins, catching sight of the doll riding in the pocket of his slacks, gave him a very strange look.
A membership at the Glazebrook West Athletic Club was nothing Heero had any interest in, despite the club’s growing reputation as a predominantly gay organization. Having three friends with memberships and guest passes was enough for regular tennis matches, and a YMCA was sufficient the rest of the time. This did mean, however, that Heero had to wait around in the parking lot for one of his friends to show up and get him in.
The sight of a familiar sky-blue Z4, its passengers evidently already having gone inside, indicated that it was Quatre he was waiting for this time, and Heero was somewhat surprised not to find his friend there before him. He turned his car off, rolled down his window, sat back, and explained to Duo what was going on.
“Not like Quatre to be late, is it?” Duo remarked.
Heero shook his head.
He’d seen little of Quatre over the last few days, and each time he had run into him, his friend had seemed very preoccupied; still, Heero doubted that Quatre had been hit with any kind of last-minute conflict to prevent his playing today — not only because Quatre would have called by now, but also because he’d made that odd invitation to Trowa.
About that Heero had to wonder, despite not really wanting to think more about Trowa than necessary. Had Quatre suggested Trowa magically pop into their tennis court, or did he have guest pass plans for him? Heero knew Quatre had been trying to pull Trowa out of reclusion somewhat; he didn’t know how successful that venture had been so far, but, based on what Duo had said this morning, Trowa wasn’t really ready for this kind of social interaction just yet.
But what if Trowa did magically pop into their tennis court? Jealousy or no jealousy, that thought was rather entertaining.
Quatre turned out to be only a few minutes late after all. When Heero saw him pulling into the next spot, he closed his window and gathered up Duo and his gym bag.
“Hi, guys!” Quatre greeted them cheerfully, hefting his own much nicer bag and locking up his car.
“Hi, Quatre!” Duo waved.
Quatre’s smiling gaze rose from Duo to Heero’s face, where it turned thoughtful. “How are you going to manage this?” he asked.
Before Heero could say anything, Duo answered for him almost smugly: “A specially-modified Duo-carrying shirt.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” Quatre grinned. Then he gave Heero another thoughtful look as they fell into step toward the entrance.
Heero could tell that Quatre was doing his absolute best… but evidently the sight of him in the changing room tucking Duo into his pocket, then pinning the back of Duo’s little uniform to his polo, was too much for Quatre; he turned away, his shoulders shaking, his breath coming in audible gasps.
“It’s OK, Quatre,” Duo condescended. “You can go ahead and laugh.”
“He doesn’t have my permission to laugh,” said Heero as he dug out his tennis racquet. “He has to get it OK’d by both of us.”
“Aww, Heero!” Duo exulted. “Are we making decisions together now?”
For once Heero was glad of Duo’s physical insensibility; otherwise, having him so close to his heart might have been something of a problem.
Quatre opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again and shook his head minutely, a hugely amused expression still on his face. When he did eventually speak, all he said was, “Ready?”
Heero nodded. As they left the changing rooms and headed for the tennis courts, Heero steeled himself. People that frequented high-end clubs were often a little eccentric, but what they would make of someone with a Star Trek doll in his pocket he did not like to think. He wasn’t about to try to hide Duo, however; Duo had already had enough of that.
Thankfully, the number of double-takes he occasioned on the way out was minimal, but the real test was yet to come. For soon they were walking through the meticulously-cultivated shrubbery that surrounded the various outdoor sporting areas, and approaching the court where Zechs and Treize awaited them.
Duo was done with jealousy mostly. Regular, human humans could eat, drink, breathe, sleep, smell, walk, and fuck, and Duo had spent more than enough time being jealous of it. He’d eventually decided he was simply done with the emotion.
However, seeing so handsome a man with as much hair as he’d had — proportionally speaking, as much hair as he still had — was enough to make him feel a little green. He missed the weight and sensation of his own hair, missed washing it and brushing it and braiding it, if not exactly more than the other physicalities he lacked at least more precisely than many of them. And this friend of Heero’s, this stunning, shining platinum blonde, was certain not to appreciate these privileges as well as he should.
Of course, with the way the two interacted, Duo guessed that plenty of appropriate appreciation came from the other, also excessively handsome man — the one whose eyebrows looked a little like those of that witchy Dorothy manager woman at Heero’s work — and not just appropriate appreciation of the hair alone. Both men appeared to be in their late thirties, and very, pointedly splendid in their matching tennis outfits.
“There you two are,” said the first as Heero and Quatre let themselves into the chain-link enclosure.
Quickly though Heero turned aside to move around the net and reach for a ball that already lay on the ground there, the others obviously caught sight of Duo anyway. The improbable blonde had evidently been about to say something else, but instead — and Duo could only tell by turning his head hard left — threw a confused frown in Quatre’s direction. Though Quatre was outside of his field of vision, Duo guessed there followed some sort of emphatic Don’t ask gesture; for with fabulous aplomb, the man went on smoothly, perhaps with what he’d originally been intending to say. “How are you two doing?”
“We’re great,” Quatre replied immediately. “How are you guys?” Heero was by now bouncing a ball on his racquet and facing the net, so Duo could see Quatre moving to a corresponding position on the other side.
“Answering for both of you now, are you, Quatre?” asked the one with the eyebrows in a warm, cultured voice. “Does that mean you two are finally dating?”
“No.” Heero spoke a good deal more lightly than Duo had been expecting. “But he does usually know how I’m doing.” And he served.
The conversation continued in a somewhat broken fashion as Heero and Quatre warmed up. Evidently last month’s tennis had been canceled, so these four hadn’t met in quite some time (which, Duo guessed, was the primary reason Heero hadn’t put off today’s get-together until some time when he didn’t have a doll grinning out of his polo pocket). The others wanted to know about various random aspects of the lives of Heero and Quatre, including a lot of boring business stuff, gossip about people whose names Duo didn’t recognize, and whether Heero was still driving the same ancient car.
They also had plenty to tell about their own doings, including some even more boring, largely financial business talk, more gossip about people Duo didn’t know, and accounts of recent luxurious indulgences that — even to Duo, whose concept of the current value of money was rather unclear — marked them as wealthier than anyone should really be allowed to be. He’d always vaguely understood that dentistry was a lucrative field, and this seemed to bear out that understanding, whatever they had to say about the flat economy.
And periodically, they would look at Duo. Duo could tell whenever this happened because a flicker of curious confusion would cross their faces like some sort of brief system malfunction in an otherwise very urbane program. They were obviously dying to know what was going on there, but complying for the moment with Quatre’s unspoken edict.
When a real game started — Duo’s friends on one side and the dazzlers on the other — things got more interesting. For one thing, Quatre either wasn’t very good at tennis or was way off his game today. And the other two guys kept congratulating each other every time something went their way because of this, which quickly became rather insufferable but did at least reveal their names: the improbable blonde was called ‘Mill,’ apparently, while the one with the eyebrows was ‘Treize.’ What kind of names these were Duo didn’t know… but, then, he’d never met anyone else named ‘Duo,’ either.
Positively the most engrossing thing about this tennis match, however, was being so close against Heero as the latter exerted himself, grew hot and sweaty, and breathed hard. Of course Duo could not actually feel any of this, but he was appreciating the hell out of the awareness of it while he had the chance. Beyond that, he thought there might be a market for chest-mounted sportscasting cameras; the game was far more interesting from this angle. Though that might just have been the aforementioned proximity to Heero, and you couldn’t really market that…
The two teams were nicely matched today, it seemed: this side handicapped by whatever was wrong with Quatre (though, for all Duo knew, he always played this badly), the others by their debilitating curiosity about Duo that kept their eyes lingering on him longer than they really should have been if they wanted to watch the ball. Only Heero was really on top of defense, but he couldn’t be everywhere, which meant that a lot of points were scored on both sides simply because nobody was able to prevent it.
They played two games, both of which Heero won, and declined by general agreement to play a third. Then all four of them headed at a leisurely pace back toward the building.
“Well,” said the one with the eyebrows as they walked, gesturing at the chest of Heero, who was at his side, “I don’t know how sportsmanlike this is, but it seems to be an effective strategy.”
“Maybe we should try it in the future,” put in the improbable blonde.
Duo couldn’t quite tell from here, but he thought Heero was actually smiling a bit as he replied, “I would be interested in seeing that.”
The one with the eyebrows laughed softly. “I can only imagine what everyone else would think. They’d probably take us for some exclusive clique.”
“‘The Dolls-on-Chest Society,'” suggested the improbable blonde. “‘The Docs’ for short.”
“Except that you and I are already ‘Docs.'” Eyebrowface’s tone was somewhat self-congratulatory at this.
Blondie indulged in their status right along with him. “We are indeed!”
“That reminds me,” Heero put in, probably hoping to change the subject and avoid ever having to explain Duo. “My sister’s looking for a new dentist — something about a crown or something. Treize, do you have a business card with you? Or can you just write down your office number so I can give it to her?”
“Of course I have business cards here; this place is my best advertising. I think almost all the members of this club are my patients.”
“I’ve fallen behind you there,” lamented the improbable blonde with a touch of drama to his tone. “I’ve only treated a few of them.”
“Not everyone needs braces, my dear,” replied the one with the eyebrows. “You know your percentages are much higher than mine at the local schools.”
“You make me sound like a pedophile.”
“I consider very little beyond you.”
Duo was laughing openly at this exchange. “I think these are the gayest guys I’ve ever met,” he remarked.
Heero gave a snorting laugh, and this pulled the others’ attention back onto him. “So is this a good luck charm or something?” asked the improbable blonde, gesturing in his turn to Duo.
The one with the eyebrows added before Heero could answer, “Or maybe he thinks it’s a boy magnet.”
“It certainly worked on Quatre, in that case–” the improbable blonde laid a hand on Quatre’s shoulder and gave him a teasing shake– “given that he ran right into him at least twice.”
“Oh, but Heero doesn’t need a magnet to attract Quatre, does he?” said the one with the eyebrows.
“You guys are impossible,” laughed Quatre.
By now they’d reached the changing rooms, and there was a lot of pulling out of fancy thick towels with gold embroidered letters going on. “Ooh, do I get to come into a giant communal shower with all of you guys?” Duo wondered in some excitement.
“Treize, I’m going to go shower at home,” was Heero’s indirect answer to this question. “I’ve got to be somewhere. So if you’ve got a card I can give my sister…”
“You don’t have to ‘be somewhere,'” scoffed Duo.
Heero was far enough away from his friends that were not in the know, and busy enough with changing clothes, that he was able to mutter, “Yes I do: at home,” without their hearing or at least questioning.
Super Eyebrow Man turned toward the locker from which he’d withdrawn the towel that was now draped over his shoulder. “I guess we’ll just have to interrogate Quatre,” he said pointedly as he came back out with a business card, which he moved to hand to Heero.
Quatre’s face took on an apologetic look. “Actually, I’m leaving too, as soon as I’m showered and changed; I’ve got some errands to run.”
Duo mimicked his own previous tone. “You don’t have ‘errands to run.’ You both just want to get out of here before you have to talk about me.” Quatre smiled, but smoothed it away almost immediately.
Mr. Sparklehair’s expression as he met the eyes under the strange eyebrows could only, Duo thought, have been described as ‘smarmy.’ “Looks like it’ll just be you and me for dinner, Treize,” he said.
“So it does, Mill,” replied the one with the eyebrows. “Maybe instead of the restaurant here we should just go home to eat. I seem to remember we didn’t finish all of that whipped cream from the other night.”
“That’s enough of that,” Heero said loudly. He was seated and leaning down to deal with his shoes, so Duo, lying on the bench beside him still safety-pinned to a polo shirt, could see his face: his smile looked like it had been formed out of all the component parts of a wince.
Triumphantly, the improbable blonde chuckled.
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.