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.