“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.
Though there were currently a number of parts of Trowa that he thought could not possibly feel any better, still, overall, he felt a lot better once the light was off and his body was hidden from sight.
Quatre had flitted around, getting them cleaned up, letting Trowa remain still and contemplative, going to shut off the lamp in the study next door as well as the light in this room, and at last returning to join Trowa underneath the blanket. Then he curled up right against him, one arm across Trowa’s chest and his breath warm on Trowa’s neck.
Trowa was concentrating in some fascination on the sensations in his lower half: a warm, pervasive satisfaction contrasted with an aching soreness, not to mention the very present, very visceral memory of how it had felt to be so filled, so tight… He never could have imagined how good it would be. But he was also pleased by this gentler contact; Quatre’s fingers were sliding slowly over his chest, exploring him almost lazily.
“You know,” Quatre said presently, “I was expecting your skin to glow in the dark.”
Trowa wasn’t really sure what to say to that. His skin was horribly pale; he supposed it would make some sense for it to phosphoresce.
“Your eyes actually glow…” Quatre went on, leaning forward so he was speaking against Trowa’s shoulder in a sort of conversational kiss. “And your skin sort of glows in the light, so I’m a little surprised it doesn’t in the dark.” When Trowa still had nothing to say, Quatre finished, “Either way, you have the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen.”
Now Trowa was startled. He’d thought Quatre was remarking on the properties of his cursed body as an insect collector might note some interesting feature of a new specimen; that there could be admiration in the comment had never crossed Trowa’s mind. “It’s so unnatural,” he protested.
“Oh, I know… but it’s a nice unnatural. It’s like a shell — one of those ones that looks like it’s going to be transparent before you pick it up, but then turns out not to be. Besides…” Quatre nuzzled his face against Trowa’s arm with a little contented sigh. “I doubt it was the curse that made it feel so smooth and soft. I wonder if it’s just that the air here is perfect for it, or that you never bathe, or both, or what…” He pressed his lips to Trowa’s shoulder again and then lay still.
Trowa’s level of pleasure at this compliment was unexpectedly great, perhaps because it had come from someone that had just made him feel so amazingly good. He’d always regarded his skin as vaguely distasteful in this state, but he didn’t think Quatre was lying about finding it attractive.
“I’m interested in seeing what you’ll look like once the curse is broken, too,” mused Quatre. “I do hope it won’t change too much, though.”
“Just the skin and the eyes, as far as I remember… though I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to change the rest of it at the same time.”
Quatre snorted. “The rest of what, Trowa? These amazing shoulders? Your perfect chest? This flat stomach? This nice long cock? Your sexy legs?” He touched each as he mentioned it, and Trowa shivered. “Because if you were thinking of trying to change any of that with magic or whatever, I’ll have to officially complain.”
“But I’m so…” Trowa searched for a word that would describe what he was — a starved little pathetic half-man like some sort of skeletal cave-dwelling creature that should probably never come out into the light — and eventually settled for one that only said a small part: “…skinny.”
“Well, I won’t say you couldn’t do with some meat on your bones, but that doesn’t mean they’re not very nice bones.” Quatre chuckled. “And I’ve already gotten you started on a regular routine of eating once a day!”
“So that’s what that’s about.” Trowa’s tone was only half-joking as he implied that Quatre was trying to fatten him up in order to make him more attractive.
“It’s because,” Quatre said somewhat severely, “eating regularly is healthy. And because you’ll need to be in the habit once the curse is broken. And also,” he added more lightly, “because it’s enjoyable, and I want to tempt you into all the pleasures of the flesh.”
Trowa raised a hand to clasp the one of Quatre’s that lay on his chest. “Well, you’re off to an excellent start.”
“‘Excellent?'” Quatre sounded pleased. “Is that how you’d describe it?”
“If you mean the sex…” Trowa took a deep breath. “I don’t really have words to describe it, but ‘excellent’ isn’t a bad place to start.” He tried a few others anyway, trailing off eventually in a murmur: “Amazing… spectacular… incredible…”
“Oh, good,” Quatre said emphatically.
“Were you worried?” wondered Trowa in surprise that bordered on disbelief.
Quatre’s hand squeezed his, and the arm connected to it pressed down in a sort of half hug. “Of course I was. I don’t think anyone ever has sex without being a little worried that the other person won’t like it… and, besides, it was your first time, and sometimes that’s not… as good as it could be.”
“It was good,” Trowa said, astonished to find himself offering what seemed to be reassurance to Quatre. “Better than ‘good.'”
“I’m glad,” said Quatre happily. “It was great for me too.”
“‘Great?'” Trowa echoed cautiously. “Not ‘All right considering I had no idea what I was doing?'” And even ‘doing’ was a generous term, as Trowa had spent most of the time frozen in uncertainty.
“You did fine. It was ‘great.’ It was wonderful. You felt soooo good.”
Trowa found his face heating. “So did you,” he said softly.
“Mmm,” said Quatre, and clasped him tightly.
A long silence passed in warmth and comfort, and Trowa thought Quatre had fallen asleep until he spoke again quietly, very seriously and perhaps even a little forlornly: “I hope you aren’t regretting it or feeling guilty…”
“I’m…” The best Trowa could manage was, “I’m trying not to.”
“I wish I could help you with that,” Quatre said sadly.
Now it was Trowa’s turn to squeeze Quatre’s hand. “Just having you here helps.”
Eventually Quatre’s breathing lengthened and regulated, and Trowa lay in the dark holding his hand, enjoying the warmth of him at his side, and pondering. There was still a part of him maintaining that someone like him didn’t deserve anything like this, didn’t deserve to feel pleasure or contentment; that Quatre was too good for him, and this entire relationship was an inappropriate distraction from what really mattered…
But there was another part, and it was growing stronger, that argued that this wasn’t hurting Duo or prolonging the curse; that Quatre was a very intelligent man and could choose his dalliances as he saw fit; that perhaps even someone like Trowa, even someone that had cursed his best friend, could enjoy himself every now and then without throwing the universe out of balance. He wasn’t sure how much he believed all of this, and perhaps it was just the afterglow talking anyway, but surely the fact that the thoughts were there at all must be a step in the direction Quatre wanted him to take.
And he had been completely serious before; having Quatre there did help. Quatre was still his buffer against self-loathing and shame, and feeling him lying there, solid and warm beside him, made Trowa’s thoughts, made Trowa’s life — seemed, indeed, to make all of existence significantly brighter.
Heero had laid Duo’s invitation and its envelope on the end table where Duo could easily see them whenever he was sitting there, and Duo had lost track of how often he’d gleefully reread them by Saturday. He was beside them now, staring at them in contentment as he talked to Heero. Without being a dick (given that the transportation and money and television were all Heero’s), Duo was trying to convince his host that renting all the Star Wars movies was a great way to provide themselves with entertainment for the weekend.
Heero, who was eating a leisurely breakfast on the couch, just smiled and said, “If I get my cleaning and laundry done, we’ll go rent them tonight and watch them tomorrow.”
“All six of them? How long will that take?”
“Well, maybe we’ll watch one tonight.”
“Yay!” Duo waved his arms and legs as he cheered, and this reminded him… “Hey, did you notice I can bend my knees now?”
“No! Since when?”
“I’m not really sure,” Duo admitted. “I don’t need them very often since I still can’t walk anyway — doll does not stand alone — so it could have happened a long time before I actually noticed.”
“But when did you notice?” Heero’s tone was accusatory.
“A couple of nights ago while you were asleep. I tried not to freak out about it and wake you up.”
“And then you didn’t tell me until just now?”
Heero looked at him sternly. “You owe me, then. You’ll have to tell me some interesting story about the 1910’s while I do my cleaning.”
Thus they spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon. Heero got his apartment cleaned up, at first to the sound of Duo telling him what he remembered of the orphanage that had been his first home and from which he’d run away while still very young. This concerned the decade before the one Heero had specified, but Heero didn’t seem to mind.
When that story was finished, they experimented with Duo taking a turn reading aloud, but this was a definite no-go for a variety of reasons. First, Duo’s voice was often insufficient to rise above the sounds of bathtub-scrubbing and the like. Then, although he could keep the book open by sitting on it, his subsequent range of vision did not include the full two pages; he couldn’t tilt his head far enough down, and got in his own way. And those same pages proved almost impossible for him to turn; in fact, levering himself up in order to attempt it at one point led to the book’s closing and falling off the bathroom counter into the trash can. This was frustrating, but in an entertaining sort of way, and Duo was generally pleased with anything that could make Heero laugh, even if it was at his expense.
After this, Heero took a shower while Duo sat outside the door and practiced whistling. This was largely for the sake of being able to whistle more loudly and elaborately at Heero’s towel-wrapped figure when it emerged from the bathroom — partly to express his genuine appreciation, and partly because it made Heero laugh.
“You’re getting better at that,” was Heero’s remark upon being greeted with Don’t Be Cruel (as accurately as Duo could remember it).
“It’s all for you,” said Duo solemnly. “You deserve the best whistle I can give!”
Heero rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.
True to his word, Heero agreed that it was Star Wars time once the housework and shower were taken care of. So they went to a rental place, and on the way Heero educated Duo about Netflix. “I don’t have a subscription right now,” he said, “because there haven’t been a lot of things I’ve felt like watching lately, but maybe I’ll start it up again.”
“Aww, would you do that for me?”
“If it keeps you from watching TV all day.”
“How is watching movies different, though?”
“I’m not really sure. But it is.”
The look the rental store clerk gave the somber man that walked in to rent all six Star Wars movies at once with a uniformed Star Trek doll peeking out of his jeans pocket was absolutely priceless. Duo thought he should really stop being so amused at Heero’s embarrassment and discomfort, but at least Heero was relatively good-natured about it; besides, when Duo could actively enjoy some aspect of being a doll, it seemed impractical not to. Besides besides, Heero had laughed at him earlier when he’d dropped the book.
“You guys have fun,” was the clerk’s sarcastic goodbye.
As Heero had his back to her at that point, Duo felt safe in replying audibly, “OK!”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Heero said as he set Duo down in the passenger seat and stacked the DVD’s beside him.
“Having fun?” Duo interrupted in a suggestive tone.
Heero did an excellent imitation of not having heard. “About you talking to people. We’ve been pretty secretive about you and your curse, and pretty careful about you talking where people might hear you… but why? Of course if you talked to people at work, it would turn into complete chaos, but, just in general, is there any particular reason to keep you a secret?”
“Me?” Duo made a thoughtful noise. “Not really, I guess. Most people would just think what you guys did at first: robot, practical joke, whatever… It’s kinda funny how I’m a super-great example of really strong magic, but I seem so mundane that magic’s the last thing anyone thinks when they meet me.”
“You? Mundane?” Heero wondered.
Duo beamed, and could tell they were turning a corner when the entire pile of DVD’s slid over on top of him. From his new position lying on his side underneath at least one of them he said, “My point is that I’m not really something that gives away the existence of magic right away, so, no, it’s probably not all that important to keep me, specifically, secret.”
“But magic in general?” Heero reached over blindly and pushed the DVD’s off the seat (and Duo) onto the floor.
“Thank you.” Painstakingly Duo righted himself as he answered the question. “Back in the day, Trowa and I never bothered hiding the fact that we could do magic, and nobody got on our case about it. But we couldn’t really do anything big at that point, and I don’t know how many people we did tricks for believed it was actual magic and not just… tricks.”
“So there aren’t any laws about magic and who can and can’t see it?”
“Not that I know of, but I’m really not the best person to ask, since I’ve, y’know, been a doll for ninety years. There’s probably got to be something, though, or else more people would know.” He paused. “Huh, now I want to know too. I’ll have to ask Trowa.”
“It makes sense,” Heero mused, “that magic should be a secret, at least most of the time. You said you’ve seen some of the Harry Potter movies, right? In that world, they have all sorts of laws and things preventing non-magical people from finding out that magic exists so they don’t all start demanding magical assistance in their everyday lives.”
“You know, I used to think that was a good idea too, but eventually I changed my mind. I mean, having magic is a natural talent just like being able to sing well, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t people with magic help people who don’t have it, just like people who sing well entertain people who don’t?”
“Good point… But we’ve lived in a society without magic for so long; if magicians started publicly using their magic for non-magical people, it would change everything about how the world works.”
“Only because they’ve been hiding it for so long, though. If magicians hadn’t been holed up in secret cults or whatever for so many centuries, we’d have evolved societies where magic was just a normal part of life.”
“But since we haven’t, it’s probably best to keep things the way they are and keep it a secret, isn’t it?”
This discussion was so interesting that it took them all the way home and then lasted a good while into what they had previously intended to be Star-Wars-watching time. When the latter did eventually arrive, Duo found Heero looking thoughtfully at Trowa’s door as he loaded up the first DVD.
“Quatre mentioned a few weeks ago that he wanted to rewatch these sometime,” Heero murmured. “I wonder what he’s up to…”
“I haven’t seen him in days,” remarked Duo, following Heero’s gaze. “I wonder if he’s gotten sick of going over to Trowa’s and making him eat lunch and stuff.”
“No, he’s… he’s still been going over there. You’ve just missed him.”
“How could I have missed him if you noticed him?”
“I guess your dazzling presence was just distracting me from everything else.”
With a monosyllabic laugh Heero said, “Well, now it’s time to be distracted by Star Wars. Quatre will just have to rewatch them on his own time.”
Duo cheered. Then he settled happily against his lamp on his end table next to Heero on the couch to watch. But that didn’t mean that the interesting and somewhat pleasing revelation that Quatre had still been going over to Trowa’s house on a daily basis — surreptitiously, even — wasn’t a little on his mind until nearly halfway through the movie.
Trowa came to visit Duo on Sunday morning, and, though Heero took almost no part in their conversation, still he watched the two of them like a hawk. He saw exactly what Duo had been talking about a week ago: Trowa was definitely more animated, apparently more happy, than he had been earlier in their acquaintance; and the quiet bitterness that Heero remembered as underlying everything Trowa said seemed diminished, at least slightly. Quatre had that effect on people.
If Heero was any judge, Trowa was also trying to bring himself to tell Duo something specific — and if Heero was any judge, he knew exactly what this was. Trowa never quite got it out, however, and Heero couldn’t even be very annoyed at him for it. Though he couldn’t really comprehend falling out of love with Duo once in, it was not logically impossible to believe that after eighty-seven years of separation Trowa’s feelings had changed… and if Heero thought he would have a hard time telling Duo this, it must seem even more difficult for Trowa himself.
Oddly enough, this actually made Heero like Trowa a little better. That neither of them had the guts to say what needed to be said to poor Duo was pathetic, but that their mutual desire was to avoid hurting Duo — especially now that Heero knew they weren’t rivals — could only bring them closer.
Heero watched Duo too, and not to any particularly pleasant enlightenment. Duo was consistently gentler and more serious with Trowa; it wasn’t that he completely abandoned the more energetic and fun aspects of his personality, but rather that he toned them down as if specifically in response to Trowa’s general solemnity. He didn’t tease Trowa; he didn’t flirt with Trowa; he hardly even made jokes. While Heero could understand that this was possibly the best way to deal with Trowa, he didn’t like to see Duo feeling that he couldn’t be himself around someone — especially someone he loved — for whatever reason.
Trowa looked discernibly surprised when Heero smiled at him as he left. Heero doubted Trowa had any illusions about what Heero’s attitude toward him had been thus far, which was unfortunate… the guy was Heero’s best friend’s boyfriend; things shouldn’t be prickly between them.
“He’s definitely getting better,” Duo said with satisfaction, looking after Trowa at the door in the wall. “He was so miserable and… kinda dead before… he seems a lot happier now. I’m really glad.”
“OK, now Star Wars!” Duo had invited Trowa to watch the remaining five movies with them, but Trowa had declined the offer with disinterest that verged on horror. “Time to find out more about the stupid kid and the obnoxious floppy guy!”
“Let me grab breakfast first,” said Heero in some amusement, and then yawned. “You two and your early weekend hours…”
“Hey, I am a sleeper-in when I can actually sleep.” Duo delivered this announcement proudly, as if it were a serious accomplishment, which made Heero laugh a little. “Course that might have changed; I don’t know. And also it might just have been because I had insomnia most nights and couldn’t fall asleep in the first place until forever late.”
“You had chronic insomnia when you could sleep, and then you got cursed so that you couldn’t sleep?” Heero wondered in severe pity. “That doesn’t seem fair.”
“Welcome to the world of curses,” Duo replied, and Heero could tell without looking down that he was rolling his eyes. “But believe me: once I’m human, I am never going to have a problem sleeping again, I swear to god.”
It didn’t take long for Duo to start making fun of the second Star Wars episode as cheerfully as he had the first last night. And just like the first last night, Heero thought he was enjoying the second; he wondered what Duo would make of the original trilogy once they got there.
Near the end of Revenge of the Sith, Heero’s mother called. It was just another family dinner invitation, but it didn’t come without some leading questions and meaningful remarks. Quatre really did seem to be her greatest fear, and Relena’s roommate Lindsay her greatest hope. Heero couldn’t help grimacing a bit as he pleaded a prior engagement on the night she wanted him over, and navigated the treacherous rapids of her meddlesome homophobia not entirely without mishap.
Originally he had turned the volume on the TV down somewhat so Duo could keep watching, but when he noticed that Duo seemed to be paying more attention to his phone conversation (despite being unable to understand it), he paused the movie entirely. The doll was making frustrated noises as he listened to Heero, and it seemed a little sad that Duo, hearing only half of the discussion and comprehending none of it, could nevertheless tell what its mood was.
When Heero was finally free of his mother for the moment, he flopped back down onto the couch with a sigh. Relena was right: he needed a boyfriend. Unfortunately, the one he had in mind was in love with someone else.
“Man,” Duo grumbled, “for someone who likes to fix things as much as you do, you sure are taking your time fixing this thing with your family.”
This really wasn’t what Heero wanted to hear, especially when he’d been expecting sympathy. “What?”
“I’ve seen you at work,” said Duo knowingly. “You love figuring out what’s wrong with stuff and making it right. You get excited about it. Sure, you act all annoyed when you find something someone’s done wrong, but then you jump all over fixing it.”
“So?” the impatient Heero wondered. “What does that have to do with my family?”
“Well, your parents are being jerks to you for no good reason, and–”
Heero broke in irritably. “And I should be doing something to ‘fix’ that, should I?”
“You’re certainly putting up with it more nicely than I would.”
“And what would you do?”
“Tell them what’s going on! If your mom wants to hook you up with some girl, or wants you to get rid of your car, or whatever, put your foot down! Tell her it’s not going to happen, and she needs to stop wasting both your time!”
“Yeah, well, sometimes, with your mother, you can’t be as blunt as you’d like.”
“You can if she’s being a bitch.”
“Duo!” Heero was on his feet again in his growing annoyance. “You can’t say things like that about someone’s mother!”
“But she’s hurting you,” Duo protested. “She’s being pushy and unfair, and you’re suffering for it.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to start saying awful things to her.”
“Well, maybe it should! If that’s what it takes to get her to stop being so evil to you.”
“That’s what it would take to get her to stop talking to me entirely!”
“That’s her loss, then!”
“Duo…” Heero ran an exasperated hand through his hair. “These are my parents we’re talking about. I’m not just going to… throw them away… because they’re being unreasonable.”
“What is people’s deal about parents?” Duo sounded every bit as exasperated as Heero. “Why would you put up with bullshit you wouldn’t take from anyone else just because it’s coming from your parents?”
Heero gave a frustrated noise and strode out of the room. Of course this gesture didn’t mean quite so much when he took Duo with him, but it was effective nonetheless. He went out onto the balcony into a light rain, and there he stood in silence, holding Duo on the railing.
What really rankled was that, to a large extent, Duo was right: Heero did put up with treatment from his parents that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. But it was more complicated than Duo made it sound; there was no simple algorithm for dealing with your parents, and no instruction manual on how to fix an uncomfortable family situation.
“I guess it’s a little counterproductive of me,” Duo said at last, quietly, “to be a jerk to you about your parents being jerks to you.”
Heero laughed faintly. “I may put up with a little too much sometimes.”
“And I never had parents, so I have no idea what I’m talking about with this stuff anyway.”
Heero stood silently for several more seconds, thinking about various things and becoming quite damp. The thought that kept coming back, even in the midst of his reflections about his parents and what could and couldn’t be done, was one that demanded to be spoken aloud. So, eventually and rather gruffly, he said, “It’s nice to know you care. Just… don’t call my mother a bitch.”
“Yeah, that was out of line. I’m sorry.”
Heero’s specific annoyance with Duo had already mostly faded, though his agitation and discontent regarding the situation they’d been discussing remained. With a sigh of frustration, he gave Duo a squeeze and retreated out of the rain.
Neither of them said anything more until they were seated back in front of the TV, which had gone to screensaver over the paused DVD, and then it was as if there had never been any tension.
“OK, so whiner-boy just killed his wife,” Duo was saying, “and the little green guy was up to something.”
“Right,” Heero agreed, rubbing rain off his hands onto his damp jeans and then reaching for the remote. And soon Anakin was on fire and Duo was laughing, and everything was (relatively) fine again.
The first day of Duo’s third week as Heero’s desk decoration went fairly smoothly, despite the meeting Heero had to attend in the afternoon. To this Duo rode in the pocket of Heero’s slacks, his vision entirely obscured by the suit coat that fell down over and concealed him. The meeting, which was extremely boring to listen to, ran late, and this kept them far enough past five o’clock that Heero didn’t have to worry about encountering Totally Out Of Character Guy on the way out. That didn’t mean their departure from the building was entirely encounter-free, however.
Duo was not at all surprised when Heero turned immediately at the hail, for the tone was so commanding, even in just those two syllables, as to leave very little room for noncompliance.
It was the security guard, the woman with the loopy braid-things that eyed Heero like a laser sight every day when he came into or went out of the building. She’d never talked to him before in Duo’s presence, but evidently curiosity had finally gotten the better of her professionalism, for now she had emerged from behind her high round desk in the entry and beckoned peremptorily to him.
“What,” Heero said.
She didn’t mince words. “Why have you been bringing that doll to work?”
Without actually feeling it, Duo was aware of Heero’s grip on him tightening. “He’s a collector’s item. I like having him on my desk.” Again, Duo wasn’t really surprised that Heero responded so readily; he had a feeling that very few people ever refused this woman anything.
“And why do you take it home every day?”
“So he doesn’t get damaged or stolen.” Heero’s dogged insistence on masculine pronouns, in the face of others’ use of ‘it,’ pleased Duo to no end.
“Let me see it.” It wasn’t a request.
Heero did only exactly as instructed, holding Duo up in a firm hand without stepping any closer, so the woman could see but not reach him.
“First officer,” said the security guard.
“But not Quinto.”
Into Heero’s momentary confused silence Duo hissed, “Zachary Quinto played Spock in the movie, remember?”
“Oh, no,” Heero managed. “He’s a role-play character.”
“Hmm,” said the woman. “Has Chang seen this?”
“Yes.” Heero looked as if he would rather not have answered that one.
She nodded sharply. It seemed to be both acknowledgment and goodbye, for without another word she turned and went back to her desk. Heero hastened to take advantage of her waning attention and make a quiet exit.
Duo managed to stifle his laughter at first, but couldn’t restrain himself any longer when Heero’s first remark in the parking lot was, “I feel like I’ve joined some secret nerd society, and now I’m finding out who all the other members are.”
“Well, at least she didn’t start an argument with me through you.”
“She didn’t have to! Did you see the look she gave you? She might as well just have come out and said I’m not a true fan because you’re in the wrong uniform.”
Again Duo laughed. “Do you think she and that other guy are secret lovers??”
Now Heero too gave a laugh, his somewhat startled. “No!”
“Aw, why not?”
“Because I can’t picture either one of them dating anyone!”
“Well, that’s what makes them perfect for each other!”
It was raining, but Heero hadn’t bothered with an umbrella for the relatively short distance across the parking lot. He did duck into his car in something of a hurry, though, and shake water off his messy hair in a manner that Duo found most adorable.
Duo had no physical urges at this point, of course, and even the remembered urges had long since ceased to manifest, but that didn’t stop him from feeling, not infrequently, a strong impulse to do things like kiss Heero, squeeze Heero, or snuggle Heero into oblivion. Thinking about how Heero would probably react if he did any of these (in any form) was depressing, so he tried not to. Sometimes, though, especially at night when Heero was lying there in bed all relaxed and pretty and often shirtless, Duo couldn’t help but daydream. And this reminded him…
“I keep thinking about what we were talking about the other day…” They were in the apartment by now, walking down the hall toward Heero’s bedroom, and Heero’s immediate stiffening at these words would have been hard to miss. Duo, realizing what he might be thinking, hastened on. “I mean, about sleeping and insomnia and stuff. You know what I wish I had?”
“What?” Heero set Duo down at the end of the dresser and went to change.
From the closet Heero asked, “Like, a Barbie bed? That sort of thing?”
“Yeah, or whatever,” Duo verbally shrugged. “Something that looks like a bed and that’s small enough for me.” There was no comment from the closet, and Duo wanted to shout into it, “Dammit, this is why I love you, Heero Yuy! I say, ‘I want a bed,’ and you don’t say, ‘But you can’t sleep!'” But he decided against it. Instead he gave the explanation Heero hadn’t even asked for. “I know I can’t sleep, but I was thinking… I might as well pretend, right? Feel a little like a real person again?”
“Well, just so you know,” Heero told him very seriously, “I’m never going back onto that Barbie aisle at Wal-Mart or into a big toy store again in my life. But we can look online.”
“Can we?” Duo beamed. “Did I mention you’re my hero?”
Heero seemed to be smiling as he warned, “I’m not promising anything. You are aware they’ll all be pink, right?”
“Pff, like anyone knows that better than I do.”
They were all pink. They were also significantly overpriced. Actually most of the beds they found were collector’s pieces that Duo recognized from previous decades, and the sellers were looking for compensation in triple digits.
“I could get an actual bed for this much,” Heero protested as the third page of search results brought only higher and higher prices. “I’m sorry, Duo, this is just not going to happen.”
Trying to hide how disappointed he was at this utterly insignificant setback, Duo laughed. “Well, whatever. It’s not like I really need it.”
“Well, I’ve got one more idea.” Heero pulled up another window or whatever they were called and started setting up an email. Duo wants a bed, he typed. Any chance any of your sisters had a doll bed and left it behind when they moved out? I know you have an entire antique shop in your attic. And before I forget, are you going to get us the 4th off? I’m sure we’re going to need it.
“Aww, you guys are going to take even more time off for us?” Duo said as Heero sent the email and set the computer to shutting down.
“We may need more time than just that one day, too,” Heero replied, “but after that whole week off we can’t really take a lot more.”
“But that week was what got me my elbows!”
Heero, who’d picked Duo up and was heading out into the living room, was obviously smiling as he agreed with this. “I’m not complaining, and it didn’t cause any problems at work, but too much more and it will. But we’ll probably all be up half the night on the third, and we’ll have a lot to think about on the fourth.”
“Like how to keep Trowa from going completely crazy if this doesn’t work!”
“And on that pleasant note…” Heero muttered.
“Let’s read some Oz!” Duo finished for him. When Heero made a noise like a baffled and somewhat horrified laugh he added, “No use worrying about it now, right?”
Heero seemed to hesitate for a moment before agreeing, “Right.”
Before any reading could take place, Heero had to find himself some dinner, and the time he spent messing around in the kitchen passed in relatively comfortable silence as Duo stood in his pocket and pondered.
The implication with which he’d inadvertently alarmed Heero earlier hadn’t, in fact, been untrue: he hadn’t yet stopped dwelling on their little argument yesterday — or, rather, on the way Heero had behaved: he’d been annoyed and offended, and yet had not given even the slightest hint of wanting to take it out on Duo. He’d stalked out of the room in irritation, yet had picked Duo up without even a trace of hesitation.
Of course Duo didn’t believe that Heero would actually give up or even jeopardize the progress they’d made toward the full curse-breaking month, but he would neither have been surprised nor accusatory if Heero had at least thought about it. But it didn’t seem even to have crossed Heero’s mind, and at this Duo was impressed and touched.
He also still thought Heero should deal with his mom a lot more aggressively, but he wasn’t going to say so again.
Quatre’s kiss of greeting on Tuesday evening was brief; immediately thereafter he took Trowa’s hand and said, “Come with me.”
Though Trowa was still wary of such ambivalent requests, whenever Quatre smiled at him now he was reminded of that first, seemingly angelic smile he’d woken up to last Saturday morning. He trusted Quatre, and would follow him without too much reluctance. He paused, though, long enough to ask, “Do I need shoes?”
“Not if you don’t want them. We’re just going into my house.”
“Where in your house?” Trowa, eschewing the trouble of locating socks since it could be avoided, was following him again, through the front door into Quatre’s bedroom, but his tone was suspicious.
Quatre sounded amused as he answered. “Heero emailed me yesterday and said Duo wants a bed. So we get to look through the attic to see if one of my sisters ever left a doll bed up there.”
“Why does Duo want a bed?” wondered the bemused Trowa as Quatre opened his bedroom door. Admittedly it did sound like a request Duo would make: something he couldn’t really use now and would have absolutely no use for once he was human, but which would make a statement.
Quatre shrugged. “Heero didn’t say.”
They’d come out onto a large landing off of which a number of doors opened and down from which a grand staircase curved past a tall bay window to a lower level. The walls were covered with the same wood paneling as in Quatre’s room, and a couple of blown-up photos in old ornate frames broke up the resultantly wide dark spaces. Cheerful voices — children’s voices, he thought — came from somewhere, and Trowa could hear footsteps both above and below.
As Quatre led him through a door across from his own into a hallway full of more doors and a smaller flight of stairs upward, Trowa asked, “How much of your family actually lives here?” Quatre had talked quite a bit about his family, but Trowa realized he had very little concept of where they all were.
“My parents, of course,” Quatre answered, leading him up the stairs. “My third sister and her husband and kids — you’ll probably see the kids up here. My seventh sister’s still here too — she runs HR at our downtown office — and she’s got a friend (who also works for us) who’s staying here for the moment. Then there’s my eighth sister’s ex-girlfriend who’s renting a room. She works for us too.”
“So that’s… eight adults? And how many of them work for your father’s company?” The family business was something else Quatre sometimes mentioned, but never very specifically.
Quatre laughed. “Oh, most of them. We’re all about nepotism around here.”
On the next landing up, there were indeed three children playing — boys, two perhaps nine and the other maybe eleven — and as Quatre and Trowa appeared they went still and silent, watching. Trowa was used to being stared at by children — it happened just about every time he went out in public — and was ready to walk by without a word, but Quatre stopped.
“Hey, guys, what are you up to?”
“Playing Batman,” answered the oldest boy.
“Cool; who’s Batman?”
“We’re taking turns.” The somewhat surly tone in which this was spoken suggested that the idea to take turns at the lead role had been passed down from some higher authority.
By certain aspects of their faces Trowa had already guessed which two of the three were related to Quatre before Quatre pointed them out. “These are my favorite nephews Isaac and Cameron. Guys, this is Trowa.”
Trowa nodded stiffly at the children, who just stared back at him. Finally one of them — he thought it was the one called Isaac — addressed a question to Quatre. “Is he your boyfriend?”
Smiling, Quatre nodded.
“So that means you kiss him?”
“It sure does.”
“On the mouth?”
The kid’s face twisted into a very comical expression of what he thought of this, and Quatre laughed. Even Trowa couldn’t say he was too terribly disturbed; he didn’t remember 1907 very well, but he was under the impression that this was a fairly typical nine-year-old reaction to romance of any kind.
Turning away from the boys, who were now muttering to each other in a huddle (the visiting friend in particular seemed agitated, and kept looking back over his shoulder at the adults), Quatre shifted his attention to a trap door in the ceiling. With a pensive frown he reached up for it, but was a few inches short of the handle even when he stood on tiptoe. Trowa watched his attempts with enjoyment for a moment or two before moving to assist with his greater height.
The door opened, with some effort as it was old and stiff, into a fold-down ladder staircase, and above was a black rectangle from which a cool draft descended. Quatre climbed first, followed by Trowa, to the sound of silence from the landing below. Only once they were standing on the attic floor, and presumably invisible to the kids, did Batman’s adventures resume.
In the darkness Quatre chuckled. Pulling Trowa to him, he murmured, “On the mouth,” before kissing him soundly as prescribed.
“You didn’t warn me I’d be meeting family members,” Trowa remonstrated when Quatre released him and began shuffling around searching for something.
“I thought you could handle some of the smaller ones.” Quatre found the switch he’d been looking for, and a number of light bulbs hanging bare and free at intervals across the room suddenly came on.
Given what he knew about Quatre, Trowa was rather surprised to find the attic a highly disorganized graveyard of past decades. Stacks of furniture and boxes, littered with a baffling miscellany of smaller items, divided up a space that appeared larger than Trowa’s entire house; little paths wound their way through as in a maze, and in the distance the wasteland of abandoned personal possessions faded almost into darkness where a light bulb had burned out.
Quatre shook his head with a slight frown. Evidently he didn’t think much of the organizational skills of his predecessors either. Still, he waded in cheerfully enough.
“When was this house built?” Trowa asked, looking with bittersweet interest at this jumble of artifacts from various eras he himself had lived through.
“1887, but it’s only been in the family since the 40’s.” Quatre began walking slowly away from the trap door, eyeing the piles of items to either side. “There’s a lot of interesting stuff up here, and I bet you’ll recognize some of it.” He gestured. “Probably that corner’s a good place to start; I remember seeing some more recent things over there. Just look around for anything pink.”
“Well, if we find anything Duo can use, it’ll be a Barbie something… so it’ll definitely be pink.”
Trowa nodded, and, to a certain extent, obeyed. Mostly, however, he was mentally placing the objects around him in their appropriate time periods as far as he remembered how they should fit. He ran his finger around the rim of a large ceramic pot, which had once probably held a plant but now housed something crumpled and velvet (and a spider); lifted the lid on an old pressure cooker (harvest gold with brown flowers) to find a matching smaller dish of some sort inside; set rocking slightly a dusty carved chair on which rested a cardboard box full of photos, all black and white; and nearly knocked over a folded crib that stood against a tall wooden filing cabinet with peeling grey paint.
There was, he had to admit, some fascination and nostalgia to this… but as he continued looking, he found himself sinking into an ever-increasing melancholy under the weight of so many chilly, accusatory years. It was strange and not terribly pleasant to be reminded by a house other than his own of all the time that had stood still for both him and Duo because of what he’d done. Eventually he was simply staring down at a lidless pencil box full of baseball cards without really seeing it, feeling almost numb.
“Oh, here are some toys!” Quatre’s triumphant voice drifted across and into Trowa’s unpleasant reverie. Trowa looked up and over in his direction, but on the way there his eyes were caught and held. His breath was the next to catch.
On top of a couple of old boxes, beside some kind of arrangement of dusty fake flowers in a dusty basket, was a faded catalog from perhaps sixty years ago. The whole world seemed to go silent as Trowa reached for it: the sounds of Quatre rummaging a few yards away, the boys’ voices from downstairs, the footsteps from other parts of the house, even the air moving around him — all vanished for a moment, and only came rushing back with a sort of boom as his fingertips made contact with the brittle old paper. He heard his own voice saying, in what seemed an inaudible whisper against the sudden roar of returning sound, “Quatre.”
There must have been something unusual to his tone, for Quatre immediately stopped what he was doing and came over. “What is it?”
Trowa couldn’t tear his eyes away from the object now clutched tightly in his hands, nor could he say another word.
Quatre moved to stand beside him and look at the catalog. “Oh, yeah,” he said in a tone of recognition. “We don’t do consumer manufacture anymore, but we used to have a line of direct products. These days we just sell materials to manufacturers.”
The words washed over Trowa like an incomprehensible tide, and the only thing that really stuck with him was Quatre’s repeated use of ‘we.’ Finally Trowa managed to choke out the company name from the catalog’s face: “Raberba-Winner Plastics and Manufacturing?”
“Yeah…” Quatre seemed curious and perhaps a little concerned at Trowa’s demeanor. “It didn’t change to ‘Winner Plastics’ until ’77. It started out as–”
“Raberba Manufacturing,” Trowa whispered. And he sank to his knees on the hard floor.
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.