“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 managed to get out of the club with only a few more hints that he should really be explaining what Duo was all about and a few more, less subtle hints that he should really be dating Quatre. It had all gone a lot better than he’d been expecting.
“So help me out here — is his name ‘Mill’ or ‘Zechs?'” Duo was wondering as they crossed the parking lot.
“His name is Milliardo,” Heero answered, rolling his eyes a little. “‘Zechs’ is an old nickname from dental school or something, I guess, and that’s what everyone but Treize calls him.”
“Those guys are a riot. How did you meet them?”
“Quatre met them here, actually.” Trying as he did so not to let his gym bag squash Duo (who was again in his pants pocket), Heero started fishing for his keys. There was another good thing he hadn’t really expected — very little talk about his car today from his fellow BMW drivers. “I got dragged into it because they needed a fourth for tennis and stuff.”
“But not basketball,” Duo recalled.
“Every once in a while we can convince them. They always act like they’ve done us a huge favor, though; it’s kindof annoying.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” chuckled Duo. “They were acting like everything they did was a huge favor to the whole world.”
Heero laughed too. He liked Treize and Zechs well enough, and tolerated their teasing better than he did that of a great many others, but Duo was certainly right about their attitude.
Once they were in the car and headed home, Duo’s first remark was, “You know a lot of really hot people.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, definitely. These tennis friends of yours… pretty much all your co-workers — I mean, I know there’s a million women there, but they’re mostly pretty hot, for women… and that super nerd has that slick Chinese look going on… and even that other guy… what did you call him… the E.T. guy…”
Heero had to laugh a little at this. “I’m going to assume you’re joking about the IT guy. And I never would have thought to call Wufei ‘really hot.'”
“That’s only because he annoys you,” Duo stated positively.
“He certainly does that,” Heero agreed. “But, really, he’s not my type.”
“Oh? You have a type?” Duo asked his next question in a disturbing mix of his usual flirtatious tone and his excellent Wufei imitation: “And what might that be?”
If Heero himself had been better at flirting, he would have responded immediately, “Oh, a long braid and impossibly purple eyes.” As it was, there was no way to answer accurately without encroaching on confessing-a-crush-on-someone-else’s-boyfriend territory, so he had to resort to equivocation. “Like you said, Wufei looks very slick, and he has this sort of self-contained look to him that I don’t like. I prefer a…” He shrugged, trying to think of the right word. “A more casual look, I guess… something freer, something a little softer-looking, maybe.” He gestured vaguely at his head, thinking of Wufei’s silly little ponytail. “Looser hair, I think, among other things…”
“So more like Quatre?”
Very carefully Heero said, “He’s definitely closer to what I like the look of than Wufei is.”
A long, thoughtful silence followed, during which Heero rather hoped they were done with this subject. He didn’t really have a fixed opinion on what he found most visually attractive in a man, and at this point any description more specific than the largely incomprehensible one he’d just given would be that of his mental image of Duo as a human. He could probably avoid being forced to admit this by inquiring into what Duo found attractive — it would be a perfectly natural next step in the conversation — but he couldn’t bring himself to solicit what would undoubtedly turn out to be a general description of Trowa.
It didn’t matter; Duo shifted the topic anyway. “So why aren’t you dating Quatre? I mean, I know that’s a stupid question — why aren’t you dating any random person you know, right? — but you guys seem like you’re pretty close, and you get along really well, and he’s nice and everything…”
Heero stifled a deep sigh. That everyone at work thought he and Quatre were together was more amusing than anything else, and with Treize and Zechs the quizzing and denial had become something of a tradition… but when Duo started wondering about it, well, that carried an entirely different meaning. Heero didn’t care what anyone else thought, but he didn’t want Duo expressing the opinion that he and Quatre would make a great pair. And this was the reason he answered with more complete honesty than he’d ever used to respond to that question before:
“Quatre is nice. And we do get along really well. But there are some things you can put up with in a friend that would drive you crazy in a boyfriend.”
“Oh, really?” Duo sounded intensely interested. “What’s little Quatre got going on that would drive poor Heero crazy?”
“‘Little Quatre?'” Heero echoed dryly.
Duo chuckled somewhat sheepishly. “‘Little Quatre’ like ‘I-can’t-think-of-a-better-affectionate-nickname-on-the-spur-of-the-moment Quatre,'” he explained.
Briefly Heero considered supplying the Japanese ‘chan’ to meet this particular vernacular need of Duo’s, but upon further reflection decided that, in the long run, nobody would thank him for that. Instead he answered Duo’s question: “Well, little Quatre is very controlling. I’m not criticizing him for it — it’s why he’s so good at his job, and it doesn’t really bother me most of the time — but I don’t think I could deal with it in a relationship.”
Duo hmm‘d thoughtfully, but didn’t say whatever he was thinking. Heero supposed he probably shouldn’t be disappointed at this, since chances were good that it involved something he would rather not hear… but he was disappointed. So, instead of just asking, passive-aggressive though he knew it was, he supplied more information in the hopes that Duo would do the same: “He and I did kiss once, though…”
Rather than extracting the private thoughts from Duo, this seemed to extract Duo momentarily from his private thoughts. “Oh, really?” he repeated. “And how was that?”
Heero shrugged. “It was a long time ago. We thought we might as well try.”
“That good, huh?” Duo was evidently amused that this was the best description Heero could come up with for the experience in question. “Hmm…” And he slipped right back into his previous contemplative silence.
So Duo thought Wufei was hot and that it would be logical for Heero and Quatre to be dating. How discouraging. Heero tried to remind himself that this was perfectly natural behavior for a friend and only to be expected, but that wasn’t really comforting. At the same time, there was nothing to be done about it.
Duo only came out of his reverie after Heero had gone through a drive-thru and obtained some dinner for himself. Heero liked and rather looked forward to being treated by one of his excessively rich friends to a meal at the fancy club restaurant after tennis, but Duo’s comment in the changing room had been absolutely right — he’d wanted to get out of there before he had to talk about the doll in his pocket — so Burger King was the order of the evening. And Duo, on realizing he’d missed the opportunity to talk into the speaker (which was evidently something he enjoyed, since the person on the other end had no way of knowing he wasn’t human), finally set aside whatever had been occupying his thoughts so thoroughly.
“You know, I could count on the number of hands and feet I have total the number of times I’ve eaten at a restaurant.”
“So, four times?” Heero wondered, somewhat amused.
“Well, three actually. But I could count that on the number of hands and feet I have total. I can’t exactly count anything on one hand above, you know, one.” Duo waved one of his single-piece hands in the air. “But, yeah, cheaper restaurants where anyone could just walk in and get a sandwich or something took a while to get started… and the nicer places were way out of my league.”
“But you managed it three times.” Heero was already digging fries out of the bag as he drove; he never managed to get a fast food meal home with any of the fries left.
“Yeah… after Trowa started making bank but before I got sick of his new lifestyle, he took me to a couple of places. And before that, years before that, there was this one time when we thought we were going to get evicted, and we had no idea where we would go if we did, so I convinced Trowa to blow all the money we had on eating out and pretending we were all high-class, just to make us feel better. We were maybe… seventeenish… at the time, I think.”
“So instead of paying rent with your money so you wouldn’t get evicted…”
Duo laughed sheepishly. “It wasn’t that we couldn’t pay rent; it was that the guy who owned the building thought he could get better rent out of some family of eight that was looking for a place. You know, in our two rooms.”
“But still, it sounds like you spent your rent money on food instead.”
“It wasn’t just food… it was an experience. The menus were half in French — which was what got us started on the whole French nickname thing — and the waiters were all looking down their noses at us, and everything they asked, they asked all sarcastically, like, ‘Will you gentlemen have another glass of lemonaid?’ — because we couldn’t afford wine or anything, and they might not have let us have it anyway.”
Heero couldn’t help laughing. “That still doesn’t explain why you spent your rent money on this.”
“Well, it’s a long story…”
And a long story from Duo, Heero decided, even from a Duo that might think Heero ought to be dating Quatre, was the perfect way to spend most of an evening.
Sunday was a very lazy day, beginning with Heero sleeping in until around eleven, continuing with some actual watching of TV for once and then some reading aloud, and eventually leading to looking up funny things on the internet while listening to that favorite band of Heero’s again. A visit from Trowa in the afternoon was the one thing (apart from Duo suddenly finding himself human again twenty-two days early, of course) that could have made the day pretty much perfect.
Trowa still seemed inexplicably happier than he had for most of the time since Duo had been reunited with him, and still didn’t seem inclined to mention why; but Duo, remembering Quatre’s poor performance on the tennis court yesterday, now at least had a theory. Even in this current good mood, Trowa was obviously a little too fragile for much teasing, so Duo wasn’t going to mention it if Trowa wasn’t — but he was on the watch.
What made this particularly interesting was the insight Duo had received yesterday into Quatre’s controlling nature, which he thought he could see now that Heero had pointed it out, but which he might not otherwise have noticed for a while. By coincidence, Duo had just been thinking that what Trowa really needed in his life at this stage was someone to take charge of him, to order things for him, to insist that he did what was healthy and didn’t do anything guiltily self-destructive. And now Trowa was happier and Quatre was distracted… Well, it could still mean nothing. But somebody was going to have to be teased about it at some point.
At the moment, Duo was being introduced to the glorious world of lolcats, a style of humor he found, somewhat to his embarrassment, right up his alley. Granted, Heero was also amused, but evidently this was more at Duo’s amusement than at the actual ‘entertainment.’ At least laughter was something Duo had never had a problem with as a doll, though it probably would have been a good deal louder if he’d been human.
When somebody knocked at the apartment door, Heero muttered, “I thought I saw Quatre go into Trowa’s house earlier…” He rose, picked up Duo, and headed out to answer, obviously thinking it odd to have a non-Quatre visitor on a Sunday evening.
Duo was amused at the picture this painted of Heero’s social life (not that it came as any surprise). After confirming Heero’s assumption about Quatre, he added in a deliberately bitter tone, “And unless we both fell asleep, he hasn’t come back out yet.”
Heero tucked Duo’s legs into his jeans pocket as he approached the door; he looked through the little hole, and all Duo could see was the door itself close to his face. “Oh,” said Heero.
“Who is it?” Duo asked unnecessarily.
Opening the door, Heero disclosed the figure of a woman, who greeted him with a cheerful, “Hi, Heero,” and stepped immediately inside. Her Asian features looked vaguely familiar, though Duo had never seen her before, and her voice was one he’d heard while he’d been bent double inside Heero’s pocket a week ago.
“Hi,” Heero replied, moving quickly out of the way of both his sister and the large cardboard box she carried. Then he shut the door behind her and turned to watch her place her burden on the kitchen counter. “What’s that?”
“Things I’m getting rid of that I thought you might want,” Relena replied. She laughed as she added, “The only time I ever go through things and get rid of stuff I don’t need is when I move.”
Duo heard the smile in Heero’s answer, “Same here.”
Relena had reached into the box, and now held up some strange device Duo didn’t recognize. “You have the same model vacuum I do, don’t you? Didn’t mama buy them both at the same time?”
“Yes,” Heero replied, reaching out to take the object. “Don’t you use this?”
“No, never, and it’s just wasting space. Can you use it?”
“Well, I already have one…”
“I’ll just take it to Goodwill, then,” Relena shrugged. She took whatever it was — some kind of vacuum attachment, presumably — from him again and replaced it in the box. “Then there’s this…” She started to lift something else out, but at that moment, looking back over at her brother, she caught sight of Duo. Pausing in her movement, then straightening and removing empty hands from the box, she stared at him with that faintly confused expression Duo was so accustomed to. “Heero… why do you have a… Barbie doll? in your pocket?”
Duo couldn’t really see Heero’s face from here, but the sound of his sigh was simultaneously defeated and amused. “It’s a…” He lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. “It’s a long story.”
Relena leaned back against the counter, crossing her arms. “OK. I’ve got time.”
Heero’s little laugh was just as helpless as his previous gesture. “Longer than that, even. You’ll probably want to sit down.”
“Wow, are you really going to tell her?” Duo was surprised. He’d gotten the feeling Heero was quite fond of his sister, but hadn’t thought things would come to this.
“Yes,” Heero answered him aloud.
“‘Yes’ what?” wondered Relena.
Again Heero gave that defeated little chuckle. “Come sit down.”
With a skeptical look, she did as he said, accompanying him to the couch. “You know, the other reason I came over was just to say I was so sorry about mama the other night. But if she sees you carrying around a Barbie doll, I don’t know what she’ll do.”
Heero sighed. “You don’t have to apologize for her. It’s not your fault.”
“Yes, but I feel partly responsible when she’s trying to set you up with my roommate, or get you to buy my car. She’s really too much sometimes!”
Heero pulled Duo from his pocket as he settled into one corner of the couch, and held him on his lap. (As an aside, Duo liked being on Heero’s lap, and thought he really must try it again as soon as he was human.) “Don’t worry about it. She’ll calm down eventually, once you guys are all settled and the wedding’s over.”
“I hope so. So tell me about this doll.”
“This,” Heero said seriously, lifting Duo up to chest height, “is Duo Maxwell. Duo, say hi to my sister.”
So obviously they really were going to do this. With a grin and a wave, Duo said, “Hi, Relena. Good to meet you for real at last.”
She didn’t even start, only tilted her head slightly with another, very skeptical look and said in a tone to match, “Douzo yoroshiku, Duo-san.”
“I have no idea what that means,” Duo replied cheerfully.
“Duo was once human, but he’s been cursed to live as a doll,” Heero broke in, in the flattest voice Duo had ever heard from him, before Relena could supply any more Japanese sarcasm. “To break the curse, he has to stay within five feet of me for a month. We’re eight days in.”
For a long, long moment, Relena just stared, and Duo thought she was torn between laughter and reaching out to take Heero’s temperature. Finally she reached out instead to take Duo, with whom Heero parted only reluctantly. Then Duo found himself closely examined by eyes the same color but not nearly as attractive as Heero’s.
“You will find,” he said, “that I am very good-looking. Also notice the awesome Starfleet uniform, which was a present from your brother because he is awesome.” He added with a little sigh as Relena began turning him over and scrutinizing his joints, “Also, I have no speakers or wires or anything. It’s easier if you just accept that.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Relena said at last, slowly. “This is so out there that I have a hard time even thinking it’s a joke, but…”
“It’s not a joke.” In a somewhat peremptory movement, Heero took Duo back and put him in his lap again. “A while back, I was coming out of work, and I saw Duo lying in the gutter……”
The story took some time to tell, since Relena fairly constantly demanded clarification and a greater level of detail than Heero was providing (and because Duo had to put in his two cents’ worth at every opportunity), and when it was over she still had that somewhat stunned look of disbelief and concern on her face.
“Well,” she said finally. “This was not at all what I expected when I came over here tonight.”
“I can’t say I ever expected any of this,” Heero replied mildly.
Relena took a deep breath. “OK, so. Magic is real, you’re living with a guy who was turned into a Barbie doll a hundred years ago, and that door over there–” she gestured at Trowa’s door, which she hadn’t noticed until Heero had pointed it out to her– “opens onto some other guy’s house on the east coast.”
“She’s taking it better than you did,” Duo remarked. He most particularly liked Relena’s use of the phrase ‘living with a guy.’
“Especially for getting it all at once,” agreed Heero at a murmur.
Abruptly Relena stood and turned toward aforementioned door. “OK,” she said. “Let’s just see about that.”
“Quatre has the key,” Heero reminded his sister as she marched toward Trowa’s door.
She shook her head, dismissing this concern, and knocked loudly. Heero had to smile; Relena was nothing if not determined. Standing on tip-toe, she peered through the windows into Trowa’s entryway and murmured, “Well, there’s definitely someone’s house in there. Shouldn’t there be another apartment on the other side of this wall?”
“That’s right,” said Heero.
“The house isn’t on the other side of the wall, though,” Duo supplied.
“And here’s Quatre,” marveled Relena.
The door opened, and there, indeed, was Quatre. He looked surprised, but gave Relena a friendly smile as he greeted her. “So I guess you’re in on all this now?”
She nodded slowly, craning her neck slightly to see past him. “I don’t know if I believe ‘all this’ just yet, but this door thing is pretty amazing.”
Quatre grinned. “Well, come in and meet Trowa. We’ll have you believing in no time.”
“‘Come in,'” Relena echoed faintly. She looked back at Heero, who shrugged, and then, shrugging herself, followed Quatre through the door.
As it closed behind them, Duo began to laugh. “God… you know… this situation sucks a lot of the time, but a lot of the time it’s really funny too.”
Again Heero had to smile. “I’m glad to be able to tell her,” he confessed.
“Maybe it’ll make things easier on you.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Mostly Heero was glad to be able to confide in his sister, period. With the current tension between him and his parents, it was simply a relief.
Relena wasn’t gone long, which didn’t surprise Heero much; he doubted Trowa looked kindly on random strangers appearing in his house. She and Quatre were deep in conversation as they appeared again through the door, and it seemed to be some kind of enthusiastic discussion about magic, so far as Quatre understood it, and what it could do. Evidently Quatre had been true to his word, and Relena was now a believer.
She broke off, however, the moment she came back into the room. Heading straight for the couch, she bent and took Duo’s right hand between her thumb and forefinger. “I’m sorry I was rude before,” she said seriously. “It’s very nice to meet you, Duo.” And she shook his hand. Then she went on in the same level tone, “I find that you are very good-looking, and I notice your Starfleet uniform, and I acknowledge that you have no speakers or wires or anything.”
“Heero,” Duo breathed, “I think I’m going to have to marry your sister.”
Everyone laughed, and Relena, releasing the doll’s hand, sat back down on the couch. “So I may need to hear the story all over again, now that I believe it,” she said.
“Well,” said Quatre, who’d been standing behind Relena and grinning, “I’ve got a card game to finish, and then I’m going to see if I can convince Trowa to actually get some sleep tonight.”
“A card game, huh?” Duo said loudly (as loudly as Duo was capable, anyway; it was more of a tone, really, than a volume). “Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Heero thought there was a touch of bitterness to the tone, and wondered whether Duo recognized the fact that Quatre had a crush on his boyfriend or was simply jealous because he couldn’t spend as much time with Trowa as Quatre did.
Quatre had already turned back toward the door, and acknowledged this pointed statement with only a wave. Soon he was gone.
“Right, then,” said Relena. “Let’s hear it all again.”
The next hour and a half passed very pleasantly; strange as the situation was, to be able to share it with Relena was wonderful. Heero thought, too, that she divined a little more of what was going on than he actually articulated: the looks she gave him occasionally seemed to indicate that she was picking up on his unspoken feelings. That came as no great shock… she’d been his first family member to know he was gay, and hadn’t expressed any surprise; and she seemed to be one of the few people he knew whose mind it had never crossed that Heero and Quatre were anything more than friends. She simply understood him better than many others.
Most of the same questions Heero had asked over the weeks Relena now had, and she showed quite a bit of interest in everything the doll said. She was scrupulously polite, to which Duo responded (predictably) by flirting with her the entire time she was there. Silently watching as diplomacy was met with over-the-top flirtation reminded Heero of work parties; but not only did Relena lack the underhandedness of the office diplomats and Duo the desperation and pathos of those that tried to find dates at work parties, there was a sincerity to the friendliness of their words that further foiled the comparison.
As ten o’clock approached, Relena pulled herself with evident reluctance from the conversation. “I have to get home,” she said. Standing, she added to Heero, “You probably need to get to bed, too, if you’re going to have another fun day at work tomorrow.” And she grinned. She’d been quite amused by the accounts of what Heero had put up with there so far.
With a short, somewhat bitter laugh Heero stood as well, and followed her over to the kitchen counter. “I’ll just leave this here,” Relena went on, tapping the box she’d brought. “You can look through it and decide if you want any of it, and I’ll come by some other time and grab whatever you don’t.”
Heero nodded. “Oh,” he said, remembering suddenly. “Hang on.” And he went quickly into his bedroom to retrieve off his dresser the business card he’d gotten from Treize yesterday.
As he returned, Relena was looking at them both thoughtfully. “You really do just pick him up and take him with you everywhere, don’t you?”
Glancing down at Duo in his hand, Heero nodded again and held out the card.
“Not into the bathroom, though,” Duo said sagely.
Relena laughed, and thanked Heero for the card. “Well, Duo,” she said, turning to leave, “it was great to meet you.”
“Yeah, definitely,” Duo agreed, waving at her as she opened the apartment door.
“Oh, yeah, and Heero…” Relena halted and looked back. “There’s a book in there; it’s a present for you, not something I’m trying to get rid of, since I was pretty sure you didn’t have that one.”
“OK,” said Heero. “Thanks.”
“See you guys later!” She returned Duo’s wave and closed the door behind her as she stepped into the hall beyond.
Immediately Duo suggested, “Let’s see what book it is.” There was a mischievous tone to the statement that Heero thought more likely related to the bookshelf where the gift would eventually have to be placed than to the book itself.
“OK,” said Heero again, smiling, and went back to the box. He set Duo down on the counter next to it and began digging through the mismatched contents — what had led Relena to believe he could use any of this? — looking for a book. When he found one and saw what it was, he smiled again; this was a very clear symbol of solidarity to accompany the apology regarding their mother.
“Well, what is it?” asked Duo impatiently.
“The Tales of Beedle the Bard.” Heero held the book up so Duo could see the cover.
“Harry Potter?” read Duo. “My last kid used to love those books. I thought they were all called ‘Harry Potter and the Something of Something,’ though.”
“So Harry Potter,” Duo mused, “must be some of the books you’re so embarrassed about on your bookshelf.”
“They’re on the bookshelf, but I’m not embarrassed about them anymore.”
Picking the doll up again and heading into the computer room to put the new book in its place, careful not to let Duo see the shelf as usual — at which Duo made a number of amusing frustrated noises, even as Heero spoke — Heero elaborated. “Relena was following the series as it came out, and she kept bugging me to read them. She actually bought me copies of all the books that were out at that point, which was the first four. It turned into our sort of inside joke that she wanted me to read Harry Potter and I wasn’t interested, and it got so that she was calling me every single day to ask whether I’d started the first one yet. Eventually I figured I’d better do it before her head exploded.”
Duo broke off making annoyed noises in order to guess, “And then it turned out you liked it?”
“I…” Heero found himself smiling sheepishly as he admitted, “I liked it so much that I read them all in a month and made Quatre read them all too. Then I got the next three at the midnight ‘parties’ the day they came out.”
Heartily Duo laughed at him. “And then I bet Relena was like, ‘I told you so!!'”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Heero had gone back out to turn off the lights in the kitchen and living room and lock the door. “And she went with me to the midnight things.”
“Well, now I want to read them! I’ve seen some of the movies, and they were boring, but I guess the books are better if you liked them that much.”
“I haven’t liked the movies much,” said Heero, setting Duo down on the dresser and looking for pajamas.
“Well, can we read the books?”
“We have to finish Oz first.”
“But we still have, like, nine of those to go!”
“We have to finish Oz first,” Heero repeated firmly.
“OK, well, then, can we have some Oz tonight before you go to sleep?”
Heero glanced at the clock, thinking about what he needed to get done tomorrow morning — make lunch sandwiches, among other things — and just how early he would have to get up for that.
“Pleeaaase?” Duo begged.
And it turned out there was no part of Heero that could stand up to that word in that tone from that person. “OK,” he said. “Maybe just a little.”
Quatre had come into Trowa’s house to break up a particularly bleak Monday afternoon with the announcement that, as he had meetings all day tomorrow, including through lunch, he was taking an abnormally long break today and they were to have a picnic right now. Trowa, in whom the word ‘picnic’ awakened only a wary avoidant impulse but who wasn’t inclined to disagree with Quatre, jumped them to some place Quatre had in mind that turned out to be a nice park somewhere with a lake.
The neat little sidewalk along which they wandered seemed to be leading over to a playground and some basketball courts, but they left it before it strayed too far from the lake. At this point the latter was eight or ten feet below the level of the path at the bottom of a sort of retaining wall; between this and a railing designed to keep people on the sidewalk, there was a little grassy spot, and on this they sat, dangling their feet over the wall.
The water down beneath was alive with ducks, to which they dropped little bits of the deli sandwiches Quatre had bought for the occasion. It was cool out, but not cold, and, though there was a distant sound of city traffic, the park was quiet and serene, with no other people about to spoil the atmosphere: all in all, not a bad place and time for the first picnic Trowa had been on in almost a century.
When he was done eating — actually, he’d given quite a lot of his lunch to the ducks because they were so funny to watch — he was more than content to sit still and enjoy the scene. Quatre finished his own sandwich and lemonade, gathered up the wrappers and bottles into the shopping bag in which he’d brought them, then stared complacently down at the lake with a little smile on his face.
Trowa, who had been looking around at the park and reflecting that being out of the house wasn’t nearly so bad when you didn’t have to deal with people, eventually found himself watching his companion exclusively. Quatre was swinging his legs, kicking his feet against the brick wall like a little kid in an inexplicably nice business suit, gaze directed intently at the water, hair falling across his face in delicate pale strands that glittered in the sunlight when he moved. Trowa was coming to know well just how firm Quatre was, but he looked so soft… his smooth skin, his perfect lips, the lashes that concealed his downturned eyes… Pushing past the instinct that told him he shouldn’t, Trowa reached out.
As his fingertips brushed, slow and hesitant, across Quatre’s chin and over his lips, Quatre raised his head slightly, eyes closed. After this Trowa could feel no breath from him, nor motion either, as if his hand were a rare butterfly that had landed on that fine face as it would on a flower, and Quatre was trying not to frighten it away. Almost without breathing himself, Trowa leaned forward, his hand sliding a little more surely up the far side of Quatre’s face.
Evidently just the very slightest pressure from Trowa’s wrist against his jaw was all Quatre had been awaiting, for now he turned and met Trowa’s kiss with an unusual gentleness to his commanding enthusiasm, and for a few moments everything in the world was good. Trowa was learning to ignore the prophecies of doom that issued from the darkness in the back of his head at times like this.
And then somebody on the path behind them commented loudly, “Oh, god, why can’t these fucking fags PDA somewhere else?”
Trowa wouldn’t have thought that such a poorly-expressed opinion could have such an effect on him. It wasn’t that he was ashamed of being gay — he’d missed most of the to-do about that issue anyway, and lacked the stigmas — but he was ashamed of being many other things that he was, things that Quatre shouldn’t have to put up with. And it wasn’t that he thought there was anything wrong with kissing his boyfriend, wherever they happened to be — though admittedly he probably couldn’t have done it if he’d known there were people around — but he did have issues with being in this relationship in the first place.
Not to mention that this was the first time he’d ever kissed anyone in a public place, and practically the first time he’d made this sort of overture toward Quatre rather than its being the other way around… and what was the result? The first time? What was the universe trying to tell him? It just seemed to confirm all of his worries about this situation.
His impulse was to pull away, but Quatre, whose hand had come to rest on Trowa’s shoulder, held him firmly still as he asked very quietly, “Can you teleport us to some place in my head if we’re in free-fall?”
“Get ready, then.” And Quatre released him, stood up, and turned in one smooth movement. In a louder and much harsher tone he added, “I can’t take any more of this harassment.”
A little puzzled, Trowa also stood. Half-turning, he saw a couple of boys on the path watching them in a mixture of scorn and curiosity. They appeared to be high-school-aged, but, as he had no idea what time zone they were in, Trowa couldn’t guess whether or not this meant they were truants. One of them carried a basketball, making their destination obvious; they probably found this nearly-empty park convenient for their game, especially if they were, in fact, skipping school.
He felt Quatre’s arms slide around his chest and cling tightly, heard Quatre announce in the same unhappy voice, “This life just isn’t worth it anymore!” And then, startlingly, he was off-balance, flying, falling, when Quatre unexpectedly pushed off and sent them both plunging from the wall toward the lake.
Usually Trowa avoided deliberate use of magic in front of non-magical people, as it tended to do more harm than good, but at this point it was either that or actually fall into the water. Apart from the general discomfort this would cause and the fact that Trowa didn’t really know how to swim, Quatre’s nice suit would be ruined. So he concentrated on the nearness of Quatre and the idea that Quatre knew where they were going, and spoke the spell as quickly as he could. Still it was some sort of miracle, he thought, that they didn’t hit the water before the weightlessness kicked in.
He’d been concerned that, practically horizontal as they were, they would fall hard onto concrete or a wood floor or some other unpleasant surface wherever they arrived, but Quatre was becoming an expert at envisioning destinations; they landed on something soft, bounced a little, and came to rest quite comfortably.
Quatre leaned up and kissed Trowa on the cheek. “Well done,” he said.
Trowa, who had begun looking around to ascertain where they were, turned back to the man in his arms and replied, “That was taking an awful chance.”
With a dark chuckle unlike anything Trowa had ever heard from him, Quatre said, “It was the best I could come up with on such short notice. I had to do something.” He snuggled into Trowa with an air simultaneously annoyed and self-satisfied; the unconstraint of this gesture suggested to Trowa that the bedroom in which they now found themselves was Quatre’s own.
“I doubt it accomplished anything. Your performance was not very convincing.”
Again Quatre gave that unusual, vindictive laugh. “If it made them panic thinking they’d contributed to someone’s suicide attempt, even just for one second, then that’s good enough. At the very least they’ll be confused because we disappeared.”
Trowa smiled against the top of Quatre’s head, and went back to examining the room.
It was nicely furnished. The bed on which they lay, a dresser, and a large desk nearby were all antiques, but it took Trowa, whose own life was so full of dated things and whose eyes were so accustomed to eclectic decorating, a moment to realize this. These well preserved walnut pieces had probably come from before even his time, and looked like a matched set.
It was also scrupulously neat and clean. From the wooden model vehicles on their little shelves — remnants of a childhood hobby of Quatre’s? — to the meticulously well-organized surface of the desk — Trowa, though no real expert on human behavior, hadn’t thought it physically possible to keep a computer desk that neat — to the books that stood in a size order that was probably only secondarily alphabetical, there was no trace of dust or anything that appeared to be the slightest bit out of place.
Even the two items that adorned the walls where they were free of shelves — one an amateur landscape on canvas and the other a bulletin board tiled with photos — had their edges aligned with the seams of the vertical wood paneling so perfectly that if Trowa hadn’t known better he would have thought magic was involved. Everything here was so pointedly, precisely charming somehow… very much like Quatre himself. And here Trowa was lying on Quatre’s bed… and Quatre was kissing him again, starting with his neck and ear and moving over his face to his mouth.
Last Friday’s excursion into the realm of sexual activity had left Trowa very definitely interested in further exploration. His guilt hadn’t disappeared, and he certainly wasn’t ready to take any sort of initiative in the matter, but now when Quatre was this close to him he was conscious of sensations he hadn’t felt in he didn’t remember how long. Quatre was like spring sunlight after a very long winter, and in more ways than just this; now, as Quatre kissed him leisurely and kept them tight against each other with a firm arm, Trowa felt his blood heating and his skin tingling.
By the time Quatre left Trowa’s lips to the cool, hungry air and put his mouth instead by Trowa’s ear to murmur, “I want you to do something for me,” Trowa was ready to comply with any request at all.
At Trowa’s futile attempt to articulate this sentiment, Quatre chuckled and kissed him on the nose. Then he pulled away, disappointingly, and propped himself up on an elbow. “If you can,” he amended. “Would you make your door open onto this room?” He gestured. “I’d like to be able to come see you without having to go through Heero’s apartment.”
Thinking that he would also like this, Trowa readily agreed, despite having been hoping for a more interesting request. And as Quatre was now sitting up beginning to look around in a very practical fashion, thus negating the possibility of any such interesting activities, Trowa joined him in this with as good a grace as he could command.
Quatre, it seemed, had made sure to keep his hand on the bag containing their trash from lunch when they’d jumped here, something Trowa definitely wouldn’t have thought of, and now he took this up again from where he’d let it fall, and went to throw it away beside the desk. And as he did so he remarked, “I don’t have a single empty spot on my walls that’s big enough to put a door into.”
“No,” Trowa agreed. “But that won’t be a problem, if you don’t mind me using your closet door.”
“How will that work?”
“It will be like my door from the inside; you’ll just have to concentrate on what you want it to open onto.”
Quatre grinned. “Well, I didn’t really need that closet anyway.”
Trowa had already turned toward the door in question and begun to run through the necessary magic in his mind before he realized what Quatre meant, and by then it was too late to try to think of an appropriate response. He really wasn’t very good at this flirting thing. But the remark did please him, and, as he set about preparing for the first spell he was to cast, he smiled a little.
If Quatre had known how long the door-linking would take, he wouldn’t have requested it of Trowa so close to the time he’d had to leave. And if he’d known how ritualistic a spell it was, how much effort it required of its caster, he might not have requested it at all. He hadn’t wanted to stop Trowa, however, once the process was started, because working out complicated magic seemed to be something Trowa genuinely enjoyed — and almost without attendant guilt, apparently — and Quatre wouldn’t take that experience from him for the world.
But it had been necessary for him to rush away the very moment Trowa was finished, hurrying to get back to work in something like a timely fashion and leaving a lot of things unsaid. Things like, “It’s amazing to watch you do that,” and, “That is so sexy,” and half a million questions concerning the various elements of the ritual and their purpose. Fortunately, these could all be expressed after work (and after the near-perfect distraction of thinking about it all afternoon during work).
It was with great pleasure that Quatre headed toward his own house rather than Heero’s apartment upon leaving the office, for the first time in… how long had it been? A week? It wasn’t that he minded spending a lot of time at Heero’s apartment — he’d always spent a lot of time at Heero’s apartment — but having direct access to Trowa’s front door from his bedroom was a delightfully more intimate arrangement that he was looking forward to taking advantage of.
There was a joke somewhere in getting into his boyfriend’s house through his closet door, but Quatre couldn’t quite put it together. Duo probably could have; Quatre would have to mention it to him at some point just to see what he would say. Except that, as far as Quatre knew, neither Duo nor Heero was aware of any of this.
Trowa, evidently out of some erroneous sense that this constituted a betrayal of some sort, hadn’t yet been able to bring himself to tell Duo — though Quatre understood he’d gone over there a few times hoping he could manage it — and Quatre had continually failed to mention it to Heero for various reasons. Which meant six days of Heero unnecessarily under the false impression that Duo and Trowa were still in love… six days of Quatre being a terrible person and a miserable friend. He would really have to fix that.
Not right now, though.
Trowa was in his study, in his chair, at his table, with his head bent over a book, but there was about him that look of just having begun to move that indicated he hadn’t been working at least a minute ago, if not all evening. Quatre was aware that the dilution of the amount of work Trowa got done was due in large part these days to the distraction that came from being involved with Quatre… he couldn’t help feeling a little bad about this, but at the same time, it was much better than how things had previously been.
Actually, it looked as if Trowa might just have awakened from another chair-bound nap, which was, on the scale of ways Trowa could spend his time, far toward the desirable end. As was beginning to be something of a custom, Quatre came over and sat down on Trowa’s lap in the chair.
“I take back every negative thought I ever had about this chair,” he said as he did so. “I’m really quite fond of it now.”
Trowa, accepting Quatre’s embrace, paused in the act of reciprocating and asked, “What didn’t you like about it?”
“It’s probably the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Quatre answered seriously, running a hand across the tassels on the underside of one of the arms.
“Is it?” Trowa seemed genuinely surprised.
Quatre laughed and kissed him. When he’d finished with that he told him, “Well, like I said, I like it now.”
They discussed then what Trowa had and hadn’t gotten done on his book today, as well as a few minor and largely uninteresting points of Quatre’s day at work, and finally, at Quatre’s insistence, Trowa explained in detail the spell he’d cast earlier.
Quatre very much enjoyed it when Trowa talked about magic. For one thing, Trowa seemed to enjoy it too, and there weren’t a lot of things about which that could be said, and even fewer he could be said to enjoy without immediately hating himself for it. But there was also the simple fact that Quatre found it all very interesting, and Trowa’s knowledge and understanding very impressive.
This particular spell, though Trowa claimed it was not difficult, was very involved, and required, as Quatre had noticed earlier, a good deal of energy — especially since it drew upon two different branches of magic, one of which was not Trowa’s specific area of skill. Hence, as well, its ritualistic nature.
Really it seemed to be a number of spells wrapped up in one, and the only reason Trowa had even known how to do it was that one of his followers had once built him a new computer in exchange for his working it out so her boyfriend could accept the promotion he’d been offered and still visit her two states away during her last college term. Evidently the couple had broken up not long after, and at least one of them still owed Trowa a favor for his subsequent dismantling of the spell.
Trowa’s explanations often required fairly extensive elaboration, since Quatre didn’t understand a lot of the magical terms he used, and the conversation expanded into one about magic and its various branches. It was extremely engrossing and fascinating, and Quatre had to try his hardest not to act like a raving fanboy. Some expression of appreciation was definitely called for, however, and this Quatre was more than ready to give. Of course this diluted the discussion even further, but neither of them was complaining.
When the clock in the entry struck four, however, Quatre jumped up in some distress. “Why is this the first time I’ve heard the clock?” he demanded of no one. “I mean, it only makes noise every fifteen minutes.” Turning, he pulled Trowa out of the chair to join him standing. “You’ve been distracting me again.”
“I’m sorry,” Trowa offered, and Quatre was glad to find that he seemed a lot more facetious about it than the last time they’d had an exchange like this. Quatre grinned and kissed him, then headed out for the entry. As he still held Trowa’s hand, Trowa was forced to follow.
Given that it was 1AM in his time zone and he had meetings all day tomorrow where he really would have to pay attention, he’d been planning on a relatively quick goodnight and immediate departure… but he found that the kiss just now had been enough only to make him want more. So, since a slightly longer goodnight could not really worsen things, he turned to face Trowa again with a playful smile and slowly backed him into the wall.
Trowa’s hands came to rest on the small of Quatre’s back as Quatre pushed up against him and kissed him slowly and deeply, and Quatre raised his own hands to tangle into Trowa’s smooth hair. He made a satisfied noise as he squirmed slowly, grinding Trowa against the hard surface behind him, then released his lips and began nibbling on his ear instead.
“Oh…” breathed Trowa, apparently somewhat inadvertently. Shifting slightly, Quatre realized exactly why this was.
He looked Trowa in the eye with a smile and a raised brow as he ran the back of his hand very lightly over the sudden bulge in Trowa’s pants. “I wasn’t even grinding all that hard,” he teased.
“But earlier… We were on your bed, and… ever since then…”
Now Quatre’s brows contracted in an expression of both amusement and pity. “You should have said something before! I don’t have time now!” Though admittedly if Trowa were to ask him to stay, Quatre would not require much convincing to do so, meetings or no meetings tomorrow.
Trowa did not ask. He didn’t even complain. He merely nodded. Quatre was disappointed, but not terribly surprised. And that was when he was struck with a thought.
“So I’ve got to go,” he said, and, though his mouth had spread into a wider smile, his tone was almost businesslike. “But I want you to be sure and take care of this, OK?”
For a moment Trowa didn’t seem to understand, but eventually he began, “Oh, I don’t…” And it wasn’t even a tone of protest, simply a statement of fact.
“I know you don’t,” Quatre murmured, leaning up close to Trowa’s ear, “but this time I want you to. I want you to think all about how I would be taking care of it if I didn’t need to get home and go to bed.” His voice dropped even lower as he finished, “I want you to think about me while you’re doing it.”
Drawing back, he gave Trowa his least innocent smile. Was it his imagination, or was there a touch of color, for once, to Trowa’s pale cheeks? Trowa was staring fixedly at him, eyes unblinking and mouth slightly ajar; Quatre had no doubt that he had never been given such an order before in his long life.
“Good night,” Quatre said cheerily, and turned completely away.
One thing was certain: Quatre was definitely thinking of Trowa as he went to sleep. He wondered if Trowa would do as he was told, and whether it would be admissible, tomorrow after work, to make him describe it.
Tomorrow came as early as usual, after a string of particularly provocative dreams, and Quatre could tell already that he was going to have to make an effort not to be horribly distracted all day long. His usual jogging circuit, his shower, and his drive to work were already full of thoughts of Trowa, even when Quatre was specifically trying to concentrate on the day ahead of him. And it didn’t get any better when he was settled in at the first of his many meetings with a cup of iced coffee and already having a hard time focusing on the words of the program director addressing them all. With a monumental effort of will, he dragged his mind off the memory of Trowa’s mouth against his and tried to do his job properly.
The one o’clock meeting at the downtown office was destined to be the worst, as it involved many of those most likely to take note of Quatre’s state. He’d picked up lunch for himself and his father — the only two people that would be physically present at this location — and made it there on time, but, as his father hadn’t arrived yet, had almost immediately slipped back into daydreams without even a struggle.
“Oh, Quatre, you’re all ready to go,” was his father’s greeting as he came into the office.
“Hmm?” wondered Quatre a little absently. Then, figuratively shaking himself, he blushed. It wasn’t that there was anything inherently wrong or embarrassing about his thoughts; it was just that this man was both his father and his boss, and here Quatre was a million miles away thinking about sex on company time.
If Mr. Winner noticed that Quatre was particularly distracted, he made no comment at the moment. Instead he bent his white head over the bags on the table to see what Quatre had brought him for lunch while Quatre double-checked the distance conference setup. Soon they were connected to the other regional managers, and, since nearly all of them were family, commencing the relatively unprofessional series of greetings and superficial catchings-up that came at the beginning of every meeting held at this level of the corporation. Quatre dug into his lunch and tried not to fall behind.
When the meeting properly started, he felt he was doing fairly well — but just the fact that there was still a part of his brain analyzing how much attention he was paying to his work showed that another part still pointedly wasn’t. Overall, however, he thought he kept his thoughts off of Trowa and what he’d like to do to Trowa, and made the expected contributions to the discussion, fairly well.
At least, that was the impression he had of his own performance right up until the moment his father reached out to shut off the projector that had been bringing them the sights and sounds of their familial co-workers, and turned slowly toward him with a conspicuously skeptical look. He didn’t even have to wonder; he went straight to the point. “So what’s his name?”
Quatre grinned sheepishly and turned back toward his laptop to close his programs. “Trowa,” he answered. “Trowa Barton.”
His father nodded slowly. “Is he rational?”
Although Quatre knew that by this he meant, “Does he have a steady job and no socially unacceptable or self-destructive tendencies?” he chose to answer in the affirmative. He didn’t feel like trying to explain all about Trowa at this point.
“Nice?” his father wondered next, and there was an edge to the word. He hadn’t approved of most of the guys Quatre had dated so far.
Again Quatre wasn’t sure that an unqualified ‘yes’ was really the correct answer, but gave it anyway.
“And this is the real reason you took that week off,” his father went on.
Quatre felt a little bad continually giving these half-truths, but what else could he say besides another yes?
His father’s white-mustached mouth spread into an amused grin. “Well, it’s obvious that you’re very fond of this one. You should bring him by sometime so your mother and I can meet him.”
Quatre smiled. “OK, I will.”
“And in the meantime,” his father continued in a more pointed tone (though without any unkindness), “pull yourself together! I thought I was going to have to reach over and shake you a couple of times today!”
“Sorry!” Quatre gave an embarrassed laugh. “I’m usually not quite this bad…”
“Oh?” His father raised a brow. “And what happened last night that’s left you so distracted today in particular?”
“Nothing much,” Quatre told him honestly. “It was more something that got me thinking about what might happen later.”
“So you’re not sleeping with this boy yet?”
“Dad! You’re not allowed to ask that!”
“When it concerns both my son’s happiness and my Pacific Division Regional Manager’s productivity, I’m allowed to ask anything I want.” Mr. Winner was smiling, and there was no real reproof in the statement.
“Well, don’t worry,” Quatre said, returning the smile. “Everything’s going great. And I swear I’m not usually this distracted.”
His father gave him a significant look. “Just make sure you do what you have to to keep it that way. I don’t want to see my little boy in another bad relationship, or one of my excellent managers falling behind.”
“Thanks,” said Quatre, pleased at hearing himself called an excellent manager. “Maybe you’ll meet him one of these days, and then you can see what you think.”
His father nodded and rose. “I’ll see you at home later,” he said. “Oh, and don’t forget to send me those compiled reports; I still want to look over that.”
“I’m going to head back to Lex,” Quatre told him, “so I’ll be able to put those together and send them before I go home.”
“Good. Thanks. Later, then.” And Mr. Winner left the room.
Quatre continued to smile after him for a moment before turning to clean up their lunch things and partially dismantle the computer setup they used for these cross-country meetings. A secretary would deal with the components, but Quatre liked to make sure it was taken apart properly before he left — it made things easier in the long run.
“Do what you have to to keep it that way,” huh? Quatre was more than pleased at having such a father… and pretty sure he knew exactly what he was going to do about Trowa before the week was up.
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 is often very wicked for an author to air her opinions through her characters, but I will frankly admit that Heero thinking he’d better not introduce Duo to the Japanese ‘chan’ is my direct shout-out against the dreadful ‘Hee-chan’ I hear from Duo so often in GW fic. I hate that more than I can adequately express, and will not apologize.
In most of my stories, most of the characters of focus are bisexual (though admittedly in very few of those stories is anyone’s sexuality ever actually announced); this is a rare exception where Heero, Duo, Trowa, and Quatre all specifically identify as homosexual (though admittedly [again] Trowa is more on the Quatresexual side). This isn’t terribly important, but I thought it was somewhat interesting.