“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.
In some alarm Quatre crouched down beside Trowa, who was kneeling limply on the floor and clutching the old catalog to his chest in much the same way he had held Duo when they’d been reunited — and, Quatre noticed with a start, he was shedding tears now just as he had then.
“Trowa! What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Trowa replied with surprising haste, and repeated, “Nothing…” Continuing the trend, his tone was very similar to the one Quatre had only ever heard from him when he’d been talking to Duo that first evening.
Settling onto his knees and putting an arm across Trowa’s bent shoulders, Quatre made an inquisitive noise and then forced himself to wait patiently to be enlightened.
Trowa brushed moisture from his face with one hand, which subsequently smeared dust in a muddy line across his cheek. “It’s all going to be all right,” he said, and not only were the unusually positive words unexpected, but so was the tone: it was one of absolute certainty, something Quatre hadn’t thought Trowa felt about anything pleasant in this world.
“This is a sign.” Trowa finally released his tight embrace of the catalog and let it sink to his lap, his eyes still fixed on it. “The curse will break. It’s going to work.”
“Because of this catalog?”
“Raberba Manufacturing. That was the factory I worked at in 1922 and ’23. That was where this all started. And now with you I’ve found the same company again. I had no idea it even still existed, but here I’ve come back around to it. To where I started. It’s a complete cycle.”
While Quatre supposed he could to some extent see the logic in this, and the circumstance certainly was interesting, it wasn’t something from which he would have drawn any particular hope. But he would rather die than rain on this unexpected parade. “That’s wonderful,” he said, hugging Trowa tightly.
Trowa twisted to return the embrace, sandwiching the catalog between them. “The curse will break,” he repeated.
“You’ve never really believed it would, have you?”
Against Quatre’s shoulder, Trowa shook his head. Quatre held him tighter.
After some time, during which they simply sat in silence and Trowa’s grip did not loosen, Trowa finally sat back and stared at the catalog again. He wasn’t smiling, but there was an intense, focused look of profound pleasure and relief in his face that took Quatre’s breath away. Trowa was so often unsure and unhappy… in this unusual moment of the precise opposite, he was more beautiful than ever. He was, Quatre thought, going to be consistently, absolutely stunning once he recovered all his vanished confidence and enjoyment of life. And Quatre was determined to help him do so in any way he could.
“I lost my job there eventually,” Trowa murmured, as if continuing a narrative. “I was looking for Duo so obsessively, I couldn’t pay attention to work any longer. And after I left the city, I didn’t even think about the company again for years. But eventually I realized how important a part of all this it had been: plastic wasn’t a common thought back then… if I hadn’t been working at a plastics factory specifically, if I hadn’t had the idea of ‘plastic’ in my head because of the kind of business I was in, the nature of the curse would have been totally different. But since it was… and here, after everything, your company is still in plastics…” He finally looked up at Quatre and smiled.
Quatre took his hand and squeezed it, returning the smile. He still wasn’t certain why Trowa didn’t take these circumstances as a portent of, for example, the whole thing starting all over again, but perhaps this was something a non-magician couldn’t be expected to understand — and he wasn’t complaining.
Unexpectedly, Trowa raised a hand to Quatre’s face, leaned forward, and kissed him. There was no hesitance, no sluggishness in the movement, and simultaneously it seemed less desperate and fearful than Trowa’s kisses had up until now; it felt more real, somehow, than any time Quatre’s lips had been against Trowa’s before. Then Trowa released him and murmured, “Thank you for bringing me here.”
That kiss had left Quatre somewhat stunned, so it was a moment before he managed in a tone of almost giddy breathlessness, “Thank Duo; he’s the one who wanted the bed.”
“Yes!” Trowa got suddenly to his feet, moving with an energy Quatre had rarely seen in him. “We still need to find that.”
Quatre joined him standing and took his free hand. “This way,” he said.
“May I keep this?” Trowa held up the catalog.
“Of course!” Quatre smiled.
Among the promising items he had located there was indeed a dollhouse, Barbie-sized but off-brand, that was protected by a trash bag and hidden behind some other toys. Quatre thought he recognized it as having belonged to at least three of his sisters in turn; it had to be more than thirty years old, and appeared quite well-used. Many of the walls had been decorated with stickers to cover the faded wallpaper, and there were doors and shutters missing here and there.
It was also full of furniture, all jumbled together from the whole ensemble having been carried up here inside a trash bag. Some of this was Mattel, and some of it seemed to have come with the house; the latter was mostly blue and purple and seemed to be the sturdier of the two options, but the pink Barbie bed was the only one to have a blanket and pillows.
“I guess this will have to do,” Quatre said, extracting it from among the mess and glancing through the rest of the little house again just in case an extra pillow had come free from the rubber band holding the bedding to the bed.
Trowa took it from him and examined it. “I suppose,” he said a little doubtfully.
Quatre laughed. “I don’t think there’s any particular function it needs to fulfill besides looking like a bed. Let’s take it to him!”
The way Trowa brightened at this suggestion was delightful to see. And, though he didn’t exactly smile at Quatre’s nephews and their friend on the way down, the look he gave them was a good deal more amiable and open than the one he’d given them on the way up.
It felt a little strange to walk through Trowa’s front door, close it, and then open it again onto Heero’s apartment. After that, though, Quatre’s mood shifted to one of slight guilt as he realized that this was the first time he’d been in here in longer than he could remember off the top of his head. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten into a relationship and rather lost track of the rest of the world; Heero knew what was going on, and knew this tendency of his… but still Quatre felt like he’d abandoned his friend. He could only hope Heero was also distracted by a new relationship and wouldn’t be annoyed with him. This was something he really should have known, rather than having to hope and guess about, but, again, he hadn’t been paying attention. Well, now he could find out.
Heero and Duo were in the kitchen, one apparently making himself dinner and the other apparently entertaining the first. Quatre, who had always been of the opinion that Heero needed to laugh more, smiled when he heard him doing so in response to whatever Duo was saying. Perhaps things were indeed going well over here.
“We brought you a present, Duo!” Quatre announced as he joined them.
Duo, who was seated beside the microwave, waved his arms around excitedly. “Really? What is it??”
Following Quatre into the kitchen (which as a consequence was rather crowded), Trowa set the little bed wordlessly on the counter beside Duo.
Seeing this, Duo flat-out yelled (not that it was particularly loud), “Yeah! Oh, awesome!” And he kicked his legs and waved his arms until he fell over onto his side. Even then, though, he laughed and struggled to get back up until Trowa reached out and righted him.
In contrast to Duo’s extreme joy, Heero just looked quietly pleased. Quatre raised an eyebrow at him in silent query and glanced at the doll. Smile fading, Heero shook his head minutely. Quatre was instantly curious, but not about to ask in company.
“Look at the giant lace around the pillows!” Duo was saying gleefully. He ran a hand stiffly across part of the bed. “Heero, look at this! Isn’t this one of the ones that was going for a million dollars on Amazon?”
Heero bent to examine the object. “I think you’re right.”
Duo turned his grinning face toward first Trowa and then Quatre; as usual, the movement was rather disconcerting, but his apparent happiness somewhat negated the effect. “Where did this come from?”
“My attic,” Quatre volunteered, also grinning.
“Oh, Quatre, I looooooove you!” Duo went on exultantly before anyone could say anything else, “I am so going to little girl it up tonight: pretend the doll is sleeping in the bed!”
Everyone laughed except Trowa, but even he was smiling.
“Seriously, though — thanks, guys.” Duo looked at them both again, beaming.
“Have you two eaten?” Heero asked. “I was about to make something, if you want to stay.”
Quatre was about to reply that, yes, they wanted to stay (though he wouldn’t have added that the reason was so he could watch Heero and Duo and try to figure out what the hell was going on), but checked and looked at Trowa instead; he assumed Trowa wouldn’t mind, but figured he’d let him answer for himself.
Seeing Quatre’s look, Trowa gave a slight nod and turned toward Heero.
“Thank you,” he said in that formal way he sometimes had. “That would be very nice.”
“But everyone seems to despise him, for some reason. I even saw him voted ‘most hated video game character’ on one forum.”
It was Wednesday, and, excepting some minor system issues that IT was working frantically to fix, rather slow. Usually such a day was the time for everyone to catch up on paperwork and processing, but of course Wufei had no such intention. The problem was that he was too damn good at his job and always on top of his paperwork.
“I believe it’s all because of the rumors about the expansion. They don’t dislike him for any other, legitimate reason.”
This was Wufei’s third visit to Heero, who didn’t even know what he was talking about this time.
“But he’s gone through so much; he’s had very believable character growth. People say he’s too hot-headed, or that he has no actual motivations, but I disagree on both counts.”
How had this started, anyway? Oh, yes, Heero’s comment on Wufei’s tie (which, he realized in retrospect, had been a grave mistake) had led Wufei to talk about some costume he was making, and this somehow (unsurprisingly) had segued into a lot of unnecessary information about the character he would be dressing as.
“He has a much more believable viewpoint than Thrall — believable from an orc perspective, that is. Too many players are thinking like humans; that’s their problem.”
And Heero didn’t even have the benefit of Duo’s opinion, since Wufei had once picked the doll up. He was looking forward to whatever Duo would have to say when Wufei was gone, though. Assuming Heero could ever get rid of him.
“He’s still my favorite NPC, and I believe he’ll be a very effective leader.”
The biggest problem was that, although Heero was ostensibly parallel to Dorothy in rank, he wasn’t equipped with disciplinary options that weren’t more trouble for him than they were worth. Usually this wasn’t an issue, since it wasn’t his job to keep an eye on the people around him in that capacity, and Dorothy was usually there anyway — but today she was, like most of the sales staff, buried in catch-up work.
“I’ll be sure to bring in pictures once I get the costume done… though maybe I’ll wait for The Surgery.”
Oh, yes, of course, The Surgery.
“Maybe wear it in on Halloween?” Heero murmured, without much hope.
“Oh, I should have The Surgery before then… I’ll just bring in pictures.”
And I’ll have to look at them, Heero despaired.
“Though I still haven’t decided what to do about the tusks.”
“There may be a surgery for that too.”
Wufei took him seriously. “Yes, I’ve considered that. I don’t believe it would be convenient.”
“No, probably not.”
“Did I tell you I got an estimate for the other one, though?” Before Heero could answer this, however — assuming he was even able to think of an answer that wouldn’t utterly destroy what little professional relationship they had — Wufei went on hurriedly, “Well, I’ll tell you about it later.” Then he turned on his heel and left the cubicle. A moment later Dorothy walked by.
“Is he getting his testicles removed?” Duo wondered. “I didn’t think most veterinarians would do that to a human.”
Heero bent over and buried his face in his arms on the desk. He wasn’t used to restraining uproarious laughter, simply because the impulse almost never came over him, so he wasn’t nearly as good at such restraint as most people would have assumed. His shoulders shook and his head spun, and he was sure that some sound was escaping his lips, for all his efforts. Tears were definitely running from his eyes.
Duo seemed to be trying his best to keep a straight face (figuratively speaking, of course), but it wasn’t working. Also he sounded pleased (if a little startled) that he’d made Heero laugh so hard, and it was several very long moments before either of them was able to stop.
Finally Duo said, “So if he’s not getting neutered, what Surgery is this that he has to assign capital letters to?”
Heero still hadn’t entirely recovered, but he managed to choke out, “It’s a surgery to… to give him pointy ears. He’s been… he’s been talking about having it done as long as he’s worked here… nobody believes anymore that he’s actually ever going to do it.”
“Whaaat?” Duo started laughing again, more heartily this time. “Seriously?”
Heero could only nod.
“Oh, I’m so going to get a job here,” Duo sighed when he’d calmed down a little — though he was still chuckling — “and mess with that guy all day long.”
“Be my guest,” Heero replied. He noticed then that he’d received an email sometime in the last few minutes, and, still laughing somewhat, turned his attention toward the computer. He was loath to open it, though, when he saw that it was from Quatre and had no subject line; he didn’t want to spoil the excellent mood he was suddenly in — but an email from someone that was simultaneously his best friend and his manager was not something he could ignore.
So what page are we all on? Quatre wondered. What’s going on with you and Duo? Does he know about me and Trowa? It’s hard to tell, but it seemed like he was giving us funny looks last night.
Heero hadn’t really wanted to explain this, even to his best friend, but felt now that he had to. Stifling a sigh, he set up a reply and thought about what to say. Finally he forced himself to type, Duo is still in love with Trowa. I haven’t told him about you two. I don’t want to hurt him. I haven’t decided what to do yet. Then he forced himself to send the message immediately. Usually he liked to proofread things a few times beforehand, but knew he would talk himself out of disclosing his personal thoughts if he did that now.
The answer came almost immediately: Are you sure?
No, I’m not, Heero responded. That makes it worse.
Do you want me to talk to him?
Heero smiled bitterly. It was just like Quatre to offer that: kind-hearted and officious. Thank you, but no, he emailed back. I’ll take care of it.
Make sure you do! Quatre returned. I’m getting us the 4th off, and I’ve got some great ideas about what you and Duo could spend that day doing… but that won’t work if you haven’t resolved this. I know what I’ll be spending that day on.
Heero snorted, and replied, I bet you do.
“Stupid emails?” Duo wondered, hearing him.
Heero looked down at the doll, and was struck once again with the idea, suggested by Duo’s comment, of Wufei having his testicles removed in order to dress up as a World of Warcraft character. He felt a grin spreading across his face again, and it only widened when Duo returned it. Heero was surprised and delighted to find Duo capable of putting him into a cheerful frame of mind tenacious enough to last through an uncomfortable reminder of a problem he had with Duo himself. He couldn’t help thinking that to have Duo around in the long-term could only make him consistently happier. Well, depending on the context.
“So tell me everything you plan on doing to Wufei as soon as you work here,” he said.
“Do you like dogs?”
Appearing a little surprised at the question, Trowa looked up at the newly-arrived Quatre. “I suppose so,” he said.
“Good. Come with me. You’ll need shoes this time.”
Today Trowa just smiled and stood from where he’d been sitting at his table with a book and some notes in front of him. He seemed actually to have been working, which was good; but Quatre liked the smile and the immediate compliance even better.
As Trowa went into the next room to don shoes and contact lenses, Quatre followed him and explained. “Usually I play with the dogs after work every day, but lately…”
Trowa made a noise of comprehension.
“My dad pointed out earlier that I’ve been neglecting them. It’s not exactly my responsibility to take care of them, but pretty much nobody else ever does since I always do. So now I feel really bad.” Because the dogs, unlike Heero, didn’t understand about very engrossing new relationships.
“So nobody’s been feeding them?” Trowa wondered, sounding a little startled.
“Oh, no! Darryl feeds them; they’ve always got food and water. Just nobody’s been paying much attention to them.”
As they made their way into Quatre’s house and thence outside, he explained further about the family dog tradition. “Each of us got a turn to choose one, usually for our tenth birthday. It could be any breed as long as it was an outdoor dog, and since we were all spoiled rotten it didn’t matter how expensive it was to get. Most of the time my sisters took theirs with them when they left, but not all of them are still alive. The dogs, I mean — the first one would have been about thirty years ago.”
When this house had been built, it was practically in the middle of nowhere, quite a few miles from the nearest town; evidently the original owner had been a bit of a recluse. The town had grown gradually into a city, and expanded so that its suburban edges were not far from this estate, and these days a few other large properties had come to surround the Winners’; but the area was still a county rather than a city zone, and nothing had ever forced the property lines inward — and therefore what some might call yards were by others still referred to as ‘the grounds.’ And despite having visited four floors of the house and seen its entry hall, small dining room, butler’s pantry, and kitchen, still Trowa glanced around in some surprise when they emerged through the back door and looked out over the yard.
“I used to attend parties at places like this,” he murmured, his eyes tracing the flagstone paths around the edges of the neat lawn and the long strips of garden that lined the tall iron fence surrounding the property.
“Does it bother you to remember?”
“Only a little.” And though his smile was wan, it was the second one Quatre had gotten from him that day. Quatre squeezed Trowa’s hand, then pulled him down the path between the sandbox and the kitchen garden and onto the lawn, where he whistled.
Cairo was a tired old Canaan dog that rarely hurried anywhere anymore and thus was outpaced and quickly overtaken in the race around the house by Scrat. The latter, a hyper little beagle, was a fairly recent acquisition, having been chosen less than a year before by Quatre’s nephew Cameron, who never played with her. Scrat didn’t seem to resent this, mostly because she didn’t seem to resent anything: she loved everyone and everything with an energetic impartiality that consistently annoyed the calmer and more selective Cairo.
Now Scrat came wiggling up to Quatre, whining and occasionally leaping into the air in her excitement. Quatre was able to scratch her all over, worry her ears, and tell her what a good girl she was before Cairo caught up. Then he turned his attention to the Canaan while Scrat turned hers toward Trowa.
Cairo had the dignity of a cat, and always greeted Quatre with a solemnity that seemed barely able to admit any pleasure. Only the fact that, by contrast, he was utterly aloof and indifferent to everyone besides Quatre kept his human from sadly believing that the pet he had personally chosen and named didn’t like him at all. Today Cairo’s look seemed to be one of reproof, too, as if demanding to know why Quatre had been absent from the back yard for so long.
“I’m sorry!” Quatre told him, rubbing his head and neck and back. He found as he did so that Scrat was jumping around him again, which was a little surprising as Quatre would have assumed she couldn’t possibly be finished getting acquainted with Trowa yet. Quatre turned to her and said, “Where’s your ball? Can you get your ball?” Excitedly Scrat ran off, while Cairo moved to investigate Trowa.
“This is Cairo,” Quatre introduced them. “He’s a Canaan dog. He’s usually not very friendly to most people…” Quatre had intended to end that sentence there, but Cairo, as his head and flank were petted, was unexpectedly leaning against Trowa in evident approval. So Quatre went on fairly smoothly, “But he’s got good taste. Good boy, Cairo!”
At this point Scrat came flying back with her ball, which Quatre had to wrestle from her mouth. Then he threw it overarm as far out as he could across the lawn, and he, Trowa, and Cairo stood still watching the beagle run after it. And as she raced off, bounding erratically across the grass, missed the ball, skidded, backtracked, got it half into her mouth and then dropped it, picked it up again, and returned at full speed, ears flopping like fuzzy wild wings, something very unusual happened.
The dogs and their concerns momentarily entirely forgotten, Quatre turned to stare at his boyfriend in wonder and delight. He’d never heard him laugh before. Not once. He realized now, in fact, that he hadn’t ever considered the idea of Trowa laughing, as if the two concepts were just too completely incompatible to have crossed his mind at the same time. Quatre was sure that the grin on his face was one of those silly-looking childish ones he just couldn’t help sometimes, because Trowa had a wonderful laugh. It made Quatre want to drag him inside and up to his room and do any number of things to him.
Scrat was whining and jumping, pushing her slobbery mouth and its slobbery burden against Quatre’s leg, so he eventually forced himself to tear his eyes from Trowa and throw the ball again. But he looked back at his companion immediately he could, feeling his gaze inexorably drawn.
Trowa was petting Cairo, who still seemed to be enjoying the attention more than he generally did. “Does this one play?”
“He’s got a rope he likes to wrestle with, but it’s hard to convince him to bring it to you anymore.” Quatre crouched down to Cairo’s level and scratched the dog’s ears. “Get your rope, Cairo,” he suggested. “Go get your rope!” Cairo looked at him thoughtfully, then stood slowly and wandered away — whether actually to find his rope or not Quatre couldn’t guess.
While Quatre was thus occupied, Trowa had been trying to get Scrat’s ball from her to throw it again, but for some reason she wouldn’t give it to him. She wasn’t being unpleasant, but she backed away whenever he reached for her; and the moment she noticed that Quatre’s attention had been freed up by Cairo’s exit, she bounded over and dropped the ball at his feet, wagging her tail furiously.
“That’s weird,” Quatre remarked as he picked the ball up and threw it again. “Usually Scrat likes everyone and Cairo likes no one.”
“I’m just backwards, I guess,” replied Trowa.
“You’re just adorable, I guess.”
Trowa looked over. “Am I?”
With a roll of eyes, Quatre sidled up to him and kissed him. He’d have hugged him too, but had been handling too much dog to want to put his hands on anyone until after some soapy water.
Trowa was stiff against him, and looked a little embarrassed when Quatre pulled away. Perhaps he was aware of the many windows through which they could potentially be seen. Quatre grinned and turned back to Scrat. At the same time he noticed Cairo returning with his rope.
As the beagle tore off again after the ball, Cairo came with great solemnity to sit beside Trowa, holding his rope in an aloof manner suggesting it was all the same to him whether or not he was played with. When Trowa took the other end of the rope, however, Cairo tugged and growled with his usual level of enjoyment.
Though Cairo quickly tired of wrestling and settled down in the grass nearby, Scrat would chase her ball until she was panting and stumbling. By then it was quite dark out, and there were sounds of a lot of movement inside the house. Assuming Trowa wasn’t ready for more familial introductions yet, Quatre hurried him quietly upstairs. They couldn’t avoid Darryl, the cook, and he would be sure to tell everyone in the house he happened to talk to about Quatre’s visitor — the way he watched them as they went through the kitchen attested to this — but at least he didn’t detain them with questions, and they encountered no one else.
Upstairs, Quatre ushered Trowa first into a bathroom, where they could wash their hands, and then into his bedroom, where he immediately turned upon him and immobilized him by sliding arms up over his shoulders and around his neck.
“Even my dog likes you,” he murmured.
“Only the one,” replied Trowa. “The other one wouldn’t even give me the ball to throw.”
“Yeah, well… Scrat’s an idiot, and she’s Cameron’s anyway.”
As Quatre then began to carry out his delayed reaction to Trowa’s earlier laugh, all Trowa could say in response to this was, “Mmm.”
It was one of those nights… the ones where Heero had gone to bed without a shirt on and the blanket had slipped down his chest as he slept and Duo couldn’t stop staring. The only light in the room came from the half-open door that let in just a little through the glass at the end of the hall, but Duo had better night vision as a doll than he’d had as a human (whether because dolls typically had better night vision than humans, or because he’d spent enough time inside toy chests and closets to develop the skill, he didn’t know). Colors were different and shapes were softened a bit, but he could make out enough details to keep him riveted.
He was wondering about attraction, and how it worked when you happened to be a doll.
As a human, he’d been involved exclusively with women. He’d come to the realization that he liked men only after a number of years missing Trowa, and it had been even longer before he’d ever looked at any other man with interest or attraction. By then he’d already left even his remembered physical sensations behind… so what had that attraction been based on? What had led him to look at any given man and think, He’s hot! (or possibly, depending on the decade, What a sheik!)?
It wasn’t a translation of what he’d found attractive in women, since the criteria were totally different. It couldn’t have been a positive physical response, since he didn’t feel those. And it couldn’t have been based on a deeper interest of some kind, because he’d never been interested-interested in any of those guys. So it really must have been entirely visual: purely superficial aesthetic appeal. He remembered again what Trowa had said to him that black day so long ago, about being petty and fake, and he wondered, as he not infrequently did even after all these years, how true it was.
But whatever Duo might be, his attraction to Heero was different; he was absolutely certain of that. Heero was gorgeous, of course, but Duo honestly didn’t know how much of that was face and figure and how much was the fact that Duo knew him and loved his personality every bit as much as his looks. He would have found Heero handsome even if Heero hadn’t been. Hell, maybe he wasn’t, to the rest of the world, and Duo just couldn’t tell.
He couldn’t even remember what he’d thought of the way Heero looked when they’d first met; perhaps he’d found him attractive, but he hadn’t given it much consideration one way or another. But since that time, his appreciation for Heero’s physique had grown hand-in-hand with his appreciation for everything else about Heero, and the two were now inseparable.
Yes, there was definitely more to this than just the visual. Because Heero still — indeed, increasingly — made Duo yearn to touch him, despite how futile it would be to do so at this point. He just wanted to be closer to him, wanted to be with him in a more definitive sense. The way Heero was lying there right now, for instance — on his back, but twisted a little in this direction, one arm up beneath his pillow — seemed designed for Duo to curl up right against him with his head on Heero’s collarbone and his hand on Heero’s chest, feeling Heero’s warmth and hearing his breath close by.
He wondered what Heero smelled like.
He wondered if he could make any of this happen… if Heero would be any more interested in him once he was human…
He sighed faintly, and his gaze strayed for a moment from his quiet companion in the bed. As it fell on his own bed — his lovely new long, narrow bed with the rose-pattern blanket currently tucked around his legs — he grinned. He was still excessively glad of this; he’d become an expert, in the spirit of taking what he could get, at finding pleasure in even the least significant things. Doll furniture, while it might not really do anything for him, could definitely make him happy if he allowed it to.
This particular happiness he attributed to Heero, even though it had been Quatre and Trowa that had actually brought him the bed. Duo was almost certain they’d made some kind of date out of that, which was weird but pleased him greatly. Still, for some reason, when he looked at the little Duo-sized pillows with their excessive lace and the pink headboard, it was Heero’s kindness and forbearance that came immediately to mind.
At that moment, as Duo sat reflecting, his eye was caught by movement to his right. He looked over and down in time to see a number of hairy legs appear around the alarm clock, followed by more legs, a bunch of creepy eyes, central parts whose names Duo didn’t know, and yet more legs. The spider’s abrupt advent so close by startled a cry out of him, and, quiet though he was — and three in the morning though it was — Heero immediately awoke.
“Whasful?” he asked as he sat halfway up.
“Sorry,” Duo said. “I didn’t mean to yell.”
More coherently this time, Heero asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Just a spider.”
Heero sat up completely now, and pulled his blanket aside. “Where?”
“Riiiiiight here, like, two inches away from me.” Duo gestured to the creature, which had gone motionless in that freaky way spiders did, as if they were pondering their next victim.
Heero stood and peered through the shadows down at the nightstand. He didn’t seem able to see the spider until it moved, which it did when he picked Duo up, but then he deftly scooped it into his other hand and turned toward the door.
“Oh, my god,” Duo shuddered, “you are holding it in your bare hand.”
“If I looked for something else to put in it, it’d get away,” Heero replied, yawning. He shuffled to the balcony door, which he had to open with the hand that held Duo to avoid crushing the spider, and then stepped outside. He let the spider go onto the railing, and Duo watched from his safe distance as, after a moment of further cogitation, it ran off the hand and away.
Then he made another shuddering noise and laughed sheepishly. “Now I feel like a little kid.”
Heero chuckled, then yawned again as he turned to go back inside. “So Duo’s afraid of spiders, is he?”
“You would be too if they were as big as your face!”
“Once one was on me,” Duo recalled, knowing it sounded more childish than ever but unable to restrain himself. “It was super gross. There’s one really good thing about not being able to feel anything: you can’t get that skin-crawling feeling like there’s a million spiders on you after you’ve dealt with one.”
Once more Heero laughed as he set Duo down on the little bed and tucked him in again.
“Sorry I woke you up,” Duo added, watching Heero get back into his own bed and arrange the blanket as he lay down.
“Don’t worry about it.” Heero sounded sleepy, amused, and not even the tiniest bit annoyed. Then he turned onto his side and went still.
As before, Duo stared at him contemplatively in the dark, conscious now of what seemed to be the emotional equivalent of burning heat — an aching combination of fondness and pleasure and longing so intense it felt almost physical. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was about the inconsequential events that had just taken place, which Heero might not even remember in the morning, but he was more than a little moved by the fact that Heero was willing to get up in the middle of the night for something so stupid and didn’t even seem inclined to grumble about it.
This was going to drive Duo crazy more surely than any six months spent on a Goodwill shelf. It was clear that his feelings for Heero were stronger than he’d realized, or perhaps had simply become so lately. Heero was so kind to him, so wonderful… yet there were still moments when Duo received a very definite impression that Heero just didn’t see him in that light. And that uncertainty was the worst. If he could only know for sure, one way or another, he would know how to govern his own thoughts — whether to start trying to get over this, or to look forward to pleasures ahead.
Unfortunately, the chances that Heero regarded him solely as a friend still seemed too high for Duo to say anything. He would not bring that kind of awkwardness into an arrangement that was already trying for Heero. Once he was human again and able to stop inconveniencing Heero on a daily basis, things would be different. Then, if the answer did turn out to be, “I’m sorry, Duo, I’m not interested,” as Duo feared, at least he would be free to walk away and not occasion a week full of unhappy, uncomfortable silences.
Because just a little over a week was all they had left, right? Duo could wait that long, right? This aphysical tightness in the empty region where his heart would have been if he’d had one wouldn’t kill him before then, right?
He sighed. He should probably wait a little longer than that, even. It was entirely possible that Heero just couldn’t muster any particular interest in a doll, however amusing and charismatic. A sad reason, perhaps, but Duo wouldn’t really be able to blame him. And if that was the case, declaring his own interest the very moment he was human again seemed jumping the gun a trifle. Give Heero time to get to know him as a human, and maybe…
God, this was all too frustrating, and he didn’t want to think about it any more. If he could just get through nine more days without these kinds of thoughts… If only he could sleep…
Of course, was his subsequent, bittersweet reflection, if he could sleep, he would probably just dream about Heero anyway, and only end up making things worse.
Quatre thought he could definitely get used to waking up in Trowa’s bed late on Saturday mornings in the warmth of a very long (or possibly just recurring) afterglow. Actually, he thought he could get used to waking up next to Trowa any day, anywhere, no matter what they’d done the night before.
Now the sleeping magician’s hand rested lightly on Quatre’s arm as he lay on his side with his head tilted in this direction; as Quatre awoke, he smiled at the sight of the pale, peaceful face not far from his own. He slid forward to press himself against his lover, wrapped an arm around him, and laid his forehead against Trowa’s. This, of course, woke Trowa up, and Quatre was pleased by the thought that the first thing to meet Trowa’s eyes would be Quatre’s. The moon must be about at the half.
“Good morning,” Quatre smiled.
Slowly Trowa returned the expression. Quatre noted that, for all Trowa’s increased cheer and confidence over the last few days, he yet looked at Quatre as if astonished he was there. And, while Quatre was still flattered that Trowa seemed to attach so much value to his presence and attentions, he still wasn’t terribly pleased that Trowa seemed to believe they might cease at any time. But whatever its type, Quatre loved to see Trowa’s smile.
“Good morning,” Trowa said.
Quatre kissed him on the cheek. “It’s Saturday,” he said contentedly.
“Yes, it is,” Trowa agreed.
“What are you going to do today?” He could provide a suggestion or two if Trowa didn’t have any concrete ideas.
Trowa did, though. “Continue some research I started the other day.”
“For your book?” Quatre ran his fingers idly over Trowa’s smooth, bare arm.
“No… Since the other day, I’ve been thinking about the curse ending, and I’ve been doing some research again into past curses that I have documentation of. I don’t know how likely it is, but I believe there is a possibility that when the curse is broken, all the time I’ve lived will catch up with me at once.”
Quatre’s hand on Trowa’s arm stilled. “What would happen then?” He feared he already knew the answer.
“I would die,” Trowa replied, simply and calmly.
Quatre took a deep breath, trying to push past the cold, clutching feeling these words had called up in his heart. He tried to match Trowa’s disinterest as he remarked, “Like the knights in Indiana Jones.”
“Like M. Valdemar,” Trowa replied in a tone that clearly indicated he had never seen Indiana Jones and was submitting this instead. Quatre, in turn, had no idea who M. Valdemar was, but thought they were nonetheless on the same dreary page.
“What about Duo?” Quatre’s mouth had gone dry.
Trowa shook his head. “The precedent for fully transformative curses is that the victim simply returns to his previous state, takes up where he left off. But for the caster, it’s more of a condition being lifted, which may be a problem for me. I’ll leave information easy to find about whom to contact in case this happens.”
“You seem awfully calm about all this.”
“I should have been dead years ago. I’ve been living for the breaking of this curse for so long, it only seems natural that my life should end with it.”
Quatre stared at him, unsure of what to say. The implication that Trowa had been and still was existing solely for this, and that when this was over it would be perfectly acceptable for him to die; that there was nothing else in the world that meant enough to him even to be referenced in his considerations on the subject…
From someone like Trowa, Quatre definitely didn’t expect a declaration of love and devotion at this point… but to be told, essentially, that he was so unimportant, that he’d made so little difference in Trowa’s life, that his presence weighed nothing in the question of whether Trowa would rather be alive or dead… perhaps he was simply arrogant, but he’d thought he meant more to Trowa than that.
But, then, maybe he was overreacting, applying to himself what really wasn’t about him at all. It might just be Trowa thinking badly of himself again, and assuming it made sense for anyone else to agree with him.
“I don’t know what the physical effects would be,” Trowa went on placidly, “but my guess is that my body would go through rapid decomposition and probably disintegrate.”
Quatre sat up.
“No body for the coroner is the greatest problem I can see if anyone wanted to, for instance, take legal possession of my house. But one of my contacts is a legal consultant, and she understands my situation; she can make sure things go smoothly, though I don’t know what she’s likely to charge if I’m no longer around to do her favors.”
“Are you leaving a will?” Quatre couldn’t quite believe he was having this conversation.
Trowa frowned. “I currently have one that leaves everything to charity. I’d like to leave Duo something, but he doesn’t legally exist at this point.”
Quatre’s manager brain immediately started suggesting possible solutions, but the rest of his head and heart just wanted to get away from this discussion. Of course if what Trowa said did come to pass, it was best to be prepared… but the way he was talking about it was, frankly, quite painful. It wasn’t only the idea of Trowa leaving him so soon, but Trowa’s apparent indifference to how Quatre felt about it. And then there was the fact that the word ‘decomposition’ really shouldn’t ever be used in bed.
Quatre slid out and went to the chair where he’d put his things last night, keeping his back to Trowa. Finally he forced himself to say, “Well, it’s good that you have contacts and some kind of plan, just in case.”
He could hear Trowa behind him rising wordlessly, and Quatre began to dress in the same silence. It seemed they were done with the conversation, but in his head it was far from over. He was so perturbed… he needed to go somewhere else and calm down.
Trowa didn’t ask him to stay; Trowa consistently gave every indication of wanting Quatre around except this. When Quatre was here, Trowa seemed glad of it… but when he was gone, perhaps Trowa forgot about him — at least to the extent where he could calmly consider his upcoming death without thinking of him at all. But Quatre couldn’t keep having these thoughts here in Trowa’s presence. You didn’t chide your boyfriend of less than a month for not thinking of you when he realized he might die soon, no matter how peaceful he was about it… no matter how much you cared about him.
Quatre’s goodbye was a little cool, for all he tried not to let it be, but if Trowa noticed, he said nothing of it. So Quatre went back into his own house feeling cold and sad and agitated. A hot shower didn’t really help his state of mind, for the only thing he could think about was Trowa — Trowa’s quiet conversation and calming presence, and how much he didn’t want to lose him so soon after he’d found him. He didn’t want to say goodbye. He wanted Trowa not to want to say goodbye… but perhaps that was asking too much.
As usual on a Saturday, the house was fairly loud, and Quatre’s phone rang as he walked through it to add to the din. Observing the name of the friend that was calling, knowing it would just be an invitation to go out and drink tonight, he turned the entire thing off. He felt himself drifting toward the conservatory where he could make his own noise and drown everything out for a while. That he found the room empty was a relief, as he didn’t feel like explaining his mood to anyone.
His eyes and intentions moved indecisively from piano to violin, but eventually settled on the former because there was less preparation necessary: he had only to slide onto the bench and uncover the keys to begin playing. This was another thing he normally did on a daily basis but had been neglecting lately, and at the moment he took a bittersweet pleasure from being back at the instrument. He rambled through a few songs he knew by heart before pulling some less familiar sheet music from inside the bench and setting to with a vengeance. And all the while he thought about Trowa.
The biggest problem was that, while Quatre felt he had a decent imagination, he really couldn’t put himself in Trowa’s shoes with any kind of certainty. What did you feel like after living in misery for ninety years? Immortal not by choice but because of your own mistake; knowing you had a task to complete but never seeing how; unable to fulfill your purpose in life but unable to die? Perhaps, after such an existence, death would be specifically appealing. Perhaps Trowa would be surprised to find that Quatre didn’t see it that way.
The conclusion he came to at last was that Trowa’s manner of telling him his news probably wasn’t a reflection of how Trowa felt about him, but rather of a frame of reference so alien that Quatre could only just begin to see it. Trowa hadn’t meant to hurt him, and probably wasn’t even aware that he had — and Quatre would like to keep it that way. He didn’t want to lose Trowa, but that matter was out of his hands. What he did have some control over was how the potentially last days of Trowa’s life would go, and he didn’t want to spoil them with a reproof that Trowa might not even understand.
He stopped playing mid-movement and pulled out his phone to turn it back on and check the time; he found he’d been in here almost two hours with these bleak thoughts. Was Trowa still over there researching his own possible death in cold but placid aloneness, unaware of the reason Quatre had left but believing it was no more than he deserved?
Abruptly an overwhelmingly sorrowful feeling welled up in Quatre, a combination of forlorn longing and an aching pain that, at least at the moment, could not be healed. He knew where he really needed to be right now, whether he’d entirely worked through his thoughts on this or not. With a sad little sound, he scrambled off the piano bench and hastened from the room, hurrying back to his own and the enchanted door therein, desperate to return to Trowa.
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.
Like Trowa, I have never seen an Indiana Jones movie. But I can heartily recommend The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.