“A curse affects both the victim and the caster. A skilled curse-caster can bend this effect so that their share in the curse is something they don’t mind, something that doesn’t inhibit them… but even if they manage that, repeatedly having a share in any curse leaves a mark eventually.”
When Heero rescues an abandoned doll from the gutter, he hardly thinks it’s going to change his life; but now he and his best friend Quatre find themselves involved in the breaking of a curse from almost a hundred years ago, and perhaps in falling for exactly the wrong people.
Heero had accomplished very little at home on Saturday, as he’d been too busy helping Relena get some of her furniture to a consignment store and fondly watching Duo flirt with her. Technically Relena didn’t need to be getting rid of the contents of her apartment just yet, but she was so eager for her wedding and moving in with Colin that apparently certain organizational activities in preparation for that were sometimes the only way she could keep herself from going crazy. So, since she’d known Lindsay would be out most of the day, she’d bribed her brother with pizza to help her make sure the furniture she was selling was clean and in good repair, which had turned into a many-hours-long term of hanging out.
Ironically, when that little party had broken up, it had been so Relena could go off to the dinner with their parents that Heero had claimed a prior engagement to get out of, and Heero could spend the evening not having dinner with his parents. Relena had reminded him that he was going to have to accept the invitation next time or risk insulting their mother, and she threw a surreptitiously thoughtful look at Duo as she said this.
At any rate, this had prevented him from doing much at home besides wasting time and reading to Duo, so his usually weekly cleaning took place on Sunday instead. What he was really concerned about was the vacuuming, which he’d neglected for a while.
As he was getting this done, he came across the doll he’d bought off Amazon a couple of weeks ago in order to divest it of its uniform. He’d completely forgotten it in the midst of Duo’s excitement about the gift, and poor Spock had fallen to the floor and been hidden by the skirt of the sofa in back. Now Heero picked the thing up and looked at it thoughtfully.
“Aww,” said Duo, who was, as often, in Heero’s jeans pocket. “I forgot about him.”
“This one’s an ‘it,'” Heero smirked.
“So it is.” Duo shook his head pityingly. “Put a paper towel on that thing!” He added in a suddenly much-altered tone, as if he was seriously concerned but masking it with casualness, “Unless you’re just going to throw it away.”
Considering how unnerving it would be to see a body that resembled his own tossed carelessly into a trash can, Heero answered immediately, “No, I wouldn’t throw it away; it’s in such good shape. I’ll send Quatre to Goodwill with it; or wait ’til you’re human again, so you won’t have to go, and take it myself.”
“Oh, I think I’d be OK to go to Goodwill if you were there to protect me.”
Heero, who was playing with paper towels and making a skirt for the second time in his life, smiled at this. “You know, I can’t really see you as a damsel in distress.”
“Really?” Duo sounded pleased. “Even though I can barely even move on my own?”
Heero shrugged. “Maybe physically you need some help sometimes, but you definitely don’t have the personality of someone who needs ‘protecting.'” He was heading into the computer room by now, taking Spock to set by his computer so he’d remember to deal with it at some point.
“Well, thanks, Heero!” said Duo in satisfaction. “It’s nice of you to say so.”
Heero liked the way Duo said his name. He couldn’t help contrasting the doll in his left hand with the doll in his right, nor thinking in some interest of how much more real one seemed than the other. Even though he’d never seen Duo except as a doll, even though the Spock figure was modeled after a living person he had seen (on screen, at least), Duo seemed infinitely more human in every possible way. Heero could picture Duo as a human a hundred times more clearly than he could Zachary What’s-His-Name, and he was definitively attracted to one and not the other — hot though Zachary was.
He thought about Duo as a human all too much these days; as he went back to his vacuuming, he was dwelling on the image once again. He wondered how accurate it was. A week from tomorrow night, assuming everything worked properly, he would find out, and he speculated that it might drive him mad. That he would find Duo attractive as a human, whatever he looked like, he had no doubt whatsoever, and he was bracing himself for it. But he feared he could never be adequately prepared for whatever form Duo would present.
Once he’d finished dealing with the carpets and had put the vacuum away in the coat closet where it lived, he pulled Duo out of his pocket and looked at him.
“What?” Duo wondered.
Heero tugged on the untied end of the doll’s little braid. “Was your hair really like this?” he asked.
“Yep!” Duo sounded a little curious, probably wondering where the question had come from, but didn’t seem to mind answering. “I guess the curse liked it too, since it left it like this.”
“That’s a lot of hair,” Heero murmured. He hadn’t really thought about it before, but Duo’s braid went all the way down past his lower back; on a human that would probably equal pounds.
“Yep!” said Duo again, this time in a tone of great pride. “It was the envy of all the lovely ladies.”
“Yeah, I bet. I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy with that much hair.”
“Yes, you have: that super-gay friend of yours.”
“Oh, Zechs?” Heero hadn’t thought of him. “I guess you’re right.”
Deliberately to pet the hair in question as he’d once seen Trowa do Heero did not dare, though his hand longed to feel its texture again. And since he’d never braided anyone’s hair and really had no idea how, he couldn’t even use the excuse of repairing the failing braid. But his brain was flooded with images… he knew what he would be fantasizing about tomorrow in the shower…
“And how ’bout you?” Duo wondered. “Was your hair always all messy and stuff like that? Did you ever bleach it like your sister does?”
“The style’s always been about the same, but…” Heero grimaced slightly. “Quatre once convinced me to bleach part of it, back in high school. Just the top…” He gestured. “He called it ‘frosting’ or something.”
“And you hated it,” Duo guessed, sounding amused.
“I want to see pictures!”
Heero snorted. He was looking around now for The Scarecrow of Oz, since continuing to stare lustfully at Duo didn’t seem advisable.
“There must be some,” persisted Duo. “I remember listening to you guys go on and on and on about those pictures of you and Relena at your parents’ house; it sounded like there were about a million.”
“I wasn’t going on and on and on.”
“No, you never do. But pictures? Are there pictures of your frosty hair?”
“Probably somewhere,” Heero mumbled. “Do you want Oz?”
“Yooouuu are being evasive. I bet there are a bunch of pictures, and you’re embarrassed about them, and I will totally see them one day and see how your hair looked.”
“I plead the Fifth.”
“You are the Fifth!”
Heero laughed. In actuality, though he hadn’t much liked the bleach effect in his hair back then, he wasn’t particularly embarrassed about pictures from high school — but it amused Duo to believe he was, so Heero let him think that.
“Oh, and I do want Oz,” Duo added.
So Heero, who by then had located the book, headed for the couch to make use of it.
“Do you want to come play with the dogs with me again?”
Quatre had made a policy of not mentioning the whole death thing at all if he didn’t have to — thereby refraining both from reprimanding Trowa and from upsetting himself — but that didn’t mean he wasn’t thinking of it just about every moment he was with Trowa. Little unspoken addendums kept appearing after his statements; this one was, “While you have the chance?”
“Certainly,” said Trowa, setting his book aside and rising. “Let me get ready.”
Aware that he would probably rather not know, Quatre did not ask him what he was working on. He’d been buried in that same book when Quatre had visited earlier on his lunch break, and Quatre simply wasn’t interested in hearing what it contained. Instead, he followed Trowa into the next room.
He seemed to have done a good job getting Trowa into the habit of going to bed at night; Trowa almost always had his contacts out when Quatre came over anymore, and had to put them in if they went anywhere — whereas previously he’d never seemed to remove them, as he’d so rarely bothered with intentional sleep. Now as Quatre watched him insert the lenses, he reflected that, for one reason or another, Trowa probably wouldn’t be needing to buy any more of them.
Once again they managed to sneak through the Winner house without encounter, but soon thereafter their luck ran out. Evidently his parents had either noticed or been alerted to their presence, and had come to investigate; Scrat had barely run out after the ball twice when the back door opened and a hearty voice greeted them from up the path.
“Quatre! This is at least the third time you’ve brought this young man here without offering to introduce him to us!” As Quatre turned toward the house, observing both his mother and his father approaching, the latter continued, “Is this the infamous Trowa Barton?”
“‘Infamous?'” Trowa echoed at a barely-audible murmur as he too turned. Quatre really should have warned him that Mr. Winner was likely to say something like this. He probably also should have mentioned that this confrontation was inevitable, and discussed options. But now there was no time to come up with answers to the questions that would undoubtedly be asked, and Quatre had no idea how this meeting was likely to go.
“Yes,” he said as his parents drew up to them at the edge of the lawn. “This is Trowa, my boyfriend. Trowa, these are my parents, Catharine and Bernard Winner.”
Gravely Trowa stepped forward to shake hands. “I’m very pleased to meet you both. Quatre talks about you quite a bit.”
“Oh-ho!” said Mr. Winner. “All good, I hope!”
“He hasn’t told us anything about you, Trowa,” Quatre’s mother said, smiling warmly. “Do you live in town?”
“He lives out east,” Quatre put in.
“In Lujoso? Or past the county line?”
“Farther than that,” Trowa answered with amusing honesty. “But I travel a lot.”
“What do you do, Trowa?” asked Mrs. Winner.
“I’m a human resources consultant.” This lie had the calmness of boring truth, and Quatre was impressed. It occurred to him that of course Trowa was ready with something to say in situations like this; it had probably never been a lover’s parents before, but this couldn’t be the first time Trowa had needed to explain himself without mentioning magic — and that just because he didn’t like dealing with people didn’t mean he was entirely incapable of it.
Quatre was even more impressed when, upon his mother’s remarking politely that that sounded interesting and his father’s more blunt question about how this economy was treating independent contractors, Trowa responded with specifics about this hypothetical job of his that he must have determined upon at some earlier point.
Actually, he seemed to have taken all his experiences doing magical favors to make people’s lives easier and cast them into a business context so as to pass himself off as an expert on the improvement of employer-employee relationships and workplace convenience — and he was so quietly convincing that even Quatre, who knew the truth, found himself almost believing it, and thinking that Trowa would probably make a very good human resources consultant in reality. If he didn’t die. He wondered if Trowa planned on doing any kind of work after the curse was broken. If he wasn’t dead.
Fascinating as it was to watch Trowa thoroughly con Quatre’s parents, the topic itself was rather dull — as dull as anything spoken in Trowa’s voice could hope to be, anyway — and Quatre was certain that Trowa had chosen this particular fake profession so that people wouldn’t be interested enough to ask too many questions. Even so, Quatre completely lost track of the dogs while listening to the conversation, little part though he took in it.
“It can’t be easy to convince employers there’s a direct correlation between that and turnover,” his father was saying.
Trowa shook his head. “I always conduct a survey a year later, so I have a set of hard evidence.”
Mrs. Winner’s interest in this discussion had by now (understandably) lagged, and, turning to Quatre in the next convenient pause, she asked, “Are you two having dinner here tonight?”
Smiling appreciatively at this let’s-move-on question, Quatre answered, “No, we just came by to see the dogs, and then we’re heading out again.”
“Well, Trowa–” and she turned back to him– “you’ll have to come to dinner sometime. We’d love to have you.”
Trowa nodded. “Thank you. I’d like that.”
“Yes!” Mr. Winner took his wife’s hint and addressed his son. “Bring him by sometime and let him meet everyone.” He shook Trowa’s hand again. “It was excellent to meet you, sir. You two be good!” And, though he didn’t wink or otherwise indicate any secondary meaning, Quatre felt his face heat somewhat.
“I’m glad to have met you both,” Trowa agreed politely, without reacting at all to the potentially embarrassing statement (perhaps without even noticing the potentially embarrassing statement).
“We’ll see you later,” said Mrs. Winner. “Have fun with the dogs.” And with a smile she turned and drew her husband back toward the house.
Once his parents were well inside and out of earshot, “That was amazing,” Quatre commented. “You didn’t miss a beat! You must have been expecting that.”
“Not specifically.” Trowa bent to retrieve Scrat’s ball, and threw it across the yard. “But I always have some answers ready, even if I’d rather not have to lie.” He didn’t seem entirely pleased about it — as a matter of fact he looked fairly drained — but he said it placidly enough.
“But you must have known you’d meet my parents eventually, so it’s good you had a plan.” Just like he had a plan for his potential death seven nights from now. Only less depressing.
“No,” said Trowa, “I didn’t think I was likely to meet your parents.”
Quatre hid his frown and bit back his “Why not?” He didn’t really want to hear Trowa explain that he’d speculated he would be dead before the opportunity to meet Quatre’s parents arose.
Trowa was gazing at him consideringly as Scrat brought the ball to Quatre. “You look like your mother,” he noted.
For the millionth time, Quatre tore his thoughts away from Trowa’s possible impending death, and threw the ball again. He could talk about family resemblances; he would be glad to talk about family resemblances. If it took his mind off what he didn’t want, what he never wanted to think about, he could talk about anything.
Traffic was unusually bad on Tuesday morning, and, even standing up out of his door and trying to peer past the other cars at one point when everyone had been at a standstill in the road for at least a minute, Heero couldn’t tell why. “Probably an accident,” he speculated when even Duo down in the passenger seat, who couldn’t see the congestion, noted how much longer than usual the commute was taking. “Probably going the other direction,” he added wryly, “and everyone’s just slowing down to look.”
“Well, let me look,” Duo requested.
Disregarding how it would appear to anyone that happened to have their eyes turned this direction, Heero lifted Duo up to window height and held him there as long as his second hand wasn’t required for driving — or what passed as driving in this stop-and-go.
“Looks like a bunch of cars,” remarked Duo, sounding disappointed. “I was… hoping… for…” He trailed off.
“What, an accident?”
“Just something interesting…” Duo’s tone was quiet and somewhat odd, but Heero had to put him down at this point and couldn’t really look at him.
“Pick me up again,” Duo ordered. “Like at the next light or whatever.”
Immensely curious, Heero did so, and, in response, Duo let out a long, wondering sigh. This was always an interesting action to observe, as it was purely aural: no actual air came from Duo’s lips, nor did his chest rise or fall with the supposed breath. At the moment, however, it was less interesting in itself than in its cause. “What?” Heero demanded.
“I can… feel… your hand…” Duo said, a slow grin growing on his little face. “I mean, there’s still nothing — it’s not, like, tactile… but I can feel the temperature difference.” When Heero had to set him down again, he went on in a more excited tone, “Yeah, your hand is definitely warmer than just sitting here. Come on, come on, pick me up again.”
As the traffic hadn’t really sped up, Heero was soon able to comply, and to observe Duo’s renewed grin. “Oh, god,” the doll exulted, “this is so awesome! I can feel it! I can totally feel temperatures! Ha-hah!” After setting him down again, Heero could see, out of the corner of his eye, little plastic arms and legs waving in excitement.
“It’s working,” Heero forced himself to say. “Six more days!” Mentally, though, he was reeling from the buzz he’d gotten hearing Duo talk about the warmth of his hand and being able to feel him; he knew Duo hadn’t meant it that way, but he couldn’t help considering it downright erotic. It didn’t help that Duo’s hands, and the warmth and strength Heero imagined in them, were a constant feature in his fantasies. It was awfully early in the day and awfully far from the shower to be getting aroused by the thought of something he couldn’t have, and he worried about this one in particular because he was sure Duo wasn’t going to let it go.
He was right. When they eventually reached their destination (it had been some kind of emergency road construction slowing the traffic), Duo proceeded to spend the entire workday demanding that Heero pick him up and put him down repeatedly. And, though the majority of his reaction consisted of, “Warm! …cold! …warm! …cold!” — which was too absurd to be arousing, though it was endearing — there were comments here and there that more than made up for it:
“Every time you put your hand on me, it surprises me all over again! I’m so not used to this anymore!”
“I’d forgotten how nice it is to be warm… not that the cold isn’t fun, even if it’s just for contrast, you know? Now, if only I could feel the texture too, it would be perfect.”
“I can feel it on specific areas, even! Like, I can tell where you’re holding me. I could always tell before, but I couldn’t feel it. Now it’s all warm in particular spots.”
Fortunately, Duo was too caught up in the interest and glee of the circumstance to notice the effect it was having on Heero, but a few of Heero’s co-workers weren’t so preoccupied. Among others, Dorothy raised one of her strange eyebrows at him when he answered only absently a question she asked; and (though it was difficult to tell) even Wufei seemed to be able to see, from the distance of his own private planet, that Heero was paying less attention to him than usual when he came around to find out if Heero had ever seen The Wizard of Speed and Time and relay his own thoughts on it.
The day’s tribulations didn’t end after work, either. Duo wanted to feel the heater and the air conditioner and see if he could detect temperature differences among the various rooms of Heero’s home. Most of this was far less maddening than the earlier comments about Heero’s warm hands on Duo’s body, and Heero humored him in the majority of his requests — but drew the line at holding him under hot and cold water.
“You don’t need a bath right now,” he said with a laugh.
“Well, do I get to take a shower with you tomorrow, then?”
“But I want to feel the hot water!”
“You’ll just have to wait until next week when you’re human.” Heero was really quite pleased with how placid his tone was in the face of the idea of showering with Duo.
“Next week when I’m human,” Duo sighed happily. “Can I use your shower then?”
That definitely didn’t help with the mental images, but Heero was again quite proud of himself when he managed, “Sure,” without any trace of unsteadiness in his voice.
“You gonna shower with me then?” wondered Duo next, slyly. And it was a good thing that such a jokingly flirtatious remark didn’t really require an answer, because, after the type of day this had been, Heero didn’t think there was any way he could have given one.
It got worse when, as they settled down to read some Oz before bed, Duo demanded a seat in Heero’s lap rather than on the end table. This was simultaneously exactly where Heero would like Duo, and probably the last place he should have him if this continued. Because if Duo made any comment about the warmth of Heero’s lap, the temperature increase was unlikely to stop there.
Heero couldn’t at first think of a decent excuse not to comply with this request, since he had held Duo on his lap before. He couldn’t bring himself to explain that, at this moment, having Duo there would make him feel like some kind of rapist, doll-form notwithstanding. What he eventually came up with — and rather cleverly, he thought — was, “No. I don’t want to read if you’re not going to be paying attention.”
“I’ll pay attention!” Duo protested.
“You can sit here,” Heero allowed, placing him on the arm of the couch and curling a hand around him for stability.
“Ahh,” Duo said, which was almost as bad as anything else. “OK. But do I get to sleep in your bed tonight?”
Heero felt himself flush, and wondered whether the heat would make its way down to his hand and Duo’s attention. There had been days when he’d wondered how he was going to get through the lunar cycle… at the moment he was just wondering how he was going to get through today.
Quatre had once asked whether there were schools for magic, and sometimes Trowa thought their casual time together almost qualified as one. Quatre was charmingly eager to learn what he could about magic and how it worked, especially whenever Trowa cast some type of spell he hadn’t seen before, or when an eager couple of magicians showed up at the door with a pie they just innocently thought Mr. Barton might like.
“That’s the disadvantage of having lived in this house for so long,” he told Quatre in a sigh once he’d gotten rid of the followers without answering most of their questions. “Half of the magical community knows my address.”
“So how did you find Denis Roblund’s daughter?” Quatre asked in great interest, echoing one of the things the followers had wanted to know.
Trowa shrugged. “I just jumped to her.”
“How? I mean, if she needed to be found, I assume nobody knew where she was…”
“If you have a very specific knowledge of someone, you can use them as a destination.”
“And you had a very specific knowledge of Denis Roblund’s daughter?” Quatre’s tone and look expressed playful false jealousy. “Who was this, anyway?”
“An eight-year-old girl. She was kidnapped. It was…” Trowa thought back. “1987. And it was her mother who had the very specific knowledge.”
“Oh, OK. So you just…” Quatre paused with a frown. “And this wouldn’t have worked on Duo why?”
“Because that very specific knowledge you need includes the physical, and he was in a completely new body. Don’t think I didn’t try, though.”
Quatre’s frown lingered for several seconds, but finally he let it go and climbed onto Trowa’s lap in the chair, as he often did at moments like this. “So the kidnapped kid… you locked onto her mom’s mental picture of her like you do on a place I want to go?”
“It’s more difficult with an image of a person; people’s images of other people tend to be far more… subjective… more prone to inaccuracy…”
“OK. So what did you have to do?”
It consistently pleased Trowa to find Quatre so fascinated by the topic he could most easily talk about, and so did the further queries Quatre used in trying to understand. Additionally, such discussions were good exercises in wording magical explanations comprehensibly, which was something Trowa would need to be able to do if he ever actually started writing the book he’d been contemplating. So he enjoyed these conversations very much, and not just because he held them with Quatre.
This evening’s culminated in his evicting Quatre from his lap so he would have the space to cast a spell as a demonstration of the principle he was elaborating upon. Gesturing wasn’t technically necessary, as he clarified to the displaced Quatre, but it sometimes helped a great deal in maintaining concentration — which was necessary, especially for a communion spell.
When he’d finished with the illustration, he found to his disappointment that Quatre did not intend to return to his lap; it was getting late. Quatre did pull him forward by his shirt collar, however, and kiss him slowly. When he withdrew, he reiterated the opinion he had expressed before that Trowa still had a hard time believing: “It is so sexy when you do magic.” With a grin he added teasingly, “I should have had that on my list of criteria for boyfriends years ago.”
“You’ll have to add it for your next one.” Trowa tried to match Quatre’s teasing tone, but obviously some of the dismay he felt at thinking about Quatre’s next boyfriend must have sounded in his voice, for Quatre’s expression gradually turned grim.
“You know,” he murmured, looking up into Trowa’s eyes, “I kept thinking it was just because you’d realized you might die soon…” Quatre shook his head. “But not all of this fits, and some of it started before that.”
“Some of what?” Trowa wondered warily.
“You’re just holding your breath waiting for this to end, aren’t you?”
Trowa frowned and said nothing.
“You assume I won’t care if you drop dead. You assumed you wouldn’t ever meet my parents. You talk about my next boyfriend like it’s something that’s going to happen pretty soon. You always look at me like you’re surprised I’m still around. You’ve never really thought this was going to last, have you?”
Finally Trowa admitted, “No, I haven’t. I’m just glad to be with you while you’re here.”
Quatre took a deep breath. “So what is it you’re thinking about me? That I have a short attention span? Or that I’m too spacy to have any idea what I want and I’ll realize pretty soon here that it isn’t you? Or do you think I’m just using you for sex and I’ll get tired of it one of these days?”
“No!” Trowa was horrified. “Of course I wasn’t thinking anything like that.” He hadn’t even realized that what he was thinking might imply any of that. “I just thought…”
Closing his eyes, Quatre sighed. “You just thought I don’t really know you, and the more I find out, the less I’m going to want to stay with you.”
It didn’t sound like speculation. And since it was perfectly true, Trowa could return nothing but a heavy, “Yes.”
“I don’t know what to do to convince you that you’re really, honestly stuck with me. What is it you’re…” Quatre raised both hands in some frustration and shook them beside his head. “Do you have some dark secret I don’t have any idea about yet? Were you a Nazi or something?”
“No! I… it’s just…” Trowa knew Quatre wasn’t going to like this, but there was no way around it. “Everything about me.”
“I thought it would probably come back to that.” Quatre sighed again, and allowed his hands to fall and clasp Trowa’s arms. “Let me tell you what I know about you so far. You are absolutely persistent and devoted; you’re not the kind of person who abandons a friend even after eighty-seven years, no matter what you personally are going through. You are intelligent and skilled and knowledgeable, and you use that to help and teach other people, and only ask for tiny little things in return. You’re blunt and clever, and you think fast on your feet; you’re fun to be around. You’re interested in talking about just about anything, and you make just about anything interesting to talk about. Not only that, but you’re extremely attractive and fun to have sex with. Should I go on?”
Trowa was definitely blushing, and he’d wanted to break in after every other word and deny it all. “I don’t really think that’s–”
“I know you don’t. And it’s driving me crazy. Why is it that you can believe the curse will be broken and everything will be fine, but you can’t believe that I honestly like you?”
“It took me eighty-seven years to believe the first one,” Trowa reminded him, forcing a weak smile.
“Trowa!” Quatre sounded simultaneously fond and very exasperated. “I’m twenty-four! I’m not going to live eighty-seven more years! I can’t wait that long!”
“I’m sorry,” said Trowa, almost automatically.
“I’m going to ask you for another favor.” Quatre slid his arms back up Trowa’s, and, as he had done on previous occasions, took Trowa’s face in both of his hands. “I know I ask a lot of you, my poor Trowa,” he said, half facetiously, “but I hope you can do this one more thing for me.”
“You haven’t asked much of me.”
“Then you shouldn’t mind doing this.”
“I’ll certainly try, whatever it is.”
“Well, it’s this: even if you can’t see anything good about yourself — yet — can you please try to believe that I do see it? That I’m not just arbitrarily with you because I have nothing better to do?” It was that same tone as before — the one that was both reproving and pleading — and Quatre’s facial expression just about matched… only there was a touch of sadness that was almost despairing to it as well.
In response to that look, the only thing for Trowa to say was, “All right.” Unwilling to be dishonest, however, he did add, “I’ll try.” He took a deep breath and attempted again to smile. “It isn’t as if it’s an unpleasant thing to try to believe.”
Quatre murmured approvingly, “That’s the attitude I want to see.”
Heero had changed clothes and was just starting to think about dinner on Thursday evening when Quatre called. “Hey, Heero, I’m running some errands with Cairo in the car, and he’s already getting a little carsick… I’m going to let him walk around outside your apartment for a bit. Do you happen to have a bowl you could fill with water and bring out for him?”
“Sure. Are you already here?”
“I’m a block away.”
“OK, I’ll meet you down there.”
As Heero put his phone away Duo asked, “What’s up?”
“Quatre,” Heero replied briefly.
“Oh, is he actually going to pay attention to us today?” Duo grinned.
“Only because his dog’s getting carsick.” Heero also grinned, though he wasn’t entirely cheerful about the question and answer.
Duo probably thought Quatre hadn’t been around much lately because he was busy with work; Heero, on the other hand, was convinced that Quatre had a magic door of his own into Trowa’s house, where he’d been spending most of his extraprofessional waking time (and probably, if Heero knew Quatre, much of his sleeping time as well). It wasn’t a theory he wanted to relate to Duo, though. Unfortunately, it was a theory he needed to relate to Duo, and undoubtedly couldn’t. It fit with the fact that Quatre was currently running errands with his dog, too: he’d probably been neglecting the animal as well as his friends, and now was giving it the unusual treat of riding in the car with him as an apology.
With a Tupperware bowl full of water held carefully in both hands and Duo in his jeans pocket, Heero headed down to the parking lot, having a little trouble managing doors but eventually making it without spilling too much. Outside, Quatre had already let the dog out of the car and was fussing with something in the back seat — possibly simply adjusting the sheet he kept spread over it for Cairo to sit on, and possibly something less pleasant.
Cairo was a calm, pretty creature that didn’t think much of Heero; Quatre had assured him that Cairo was that way with everyone, and it didn’t bother Heero greatly as he’d never really been a dog person anyway. Now Cairo didn’t appear to mind him, however, as Heero set the water down on the sidewalk and called, for he came slowly over, sniffed at Heero’s hand briefly, and began to drink. Heero, not terribly fond of the smell of vomit and speculating it might be part of what Quatre was dealing with over there, sat down on the curb a couple of parking spaces away and set Duo beside him.
“He looks OK,” he said loudly enough for Quatre to hear him. In response, Quatre made a sardonic noise. Heero smirked. “How’s that other one? The hyper one?”
“How many dogs does he have?” Duo wondered.
“She’s fine,” Quatre replied at volume. “I had to have Darryl come out and distract her so I could get Cairo into the car without making her sad.”
“Hoooowwww many dogs?” Duo reiterated.
“You know, if Scrat didn’t have Cairo for company and such a big yard to run around in, I’d say we should get rid of her… Cameron never pays attention to her.” The guilt in Quatre’s tone told Heero he’d been right in speculating recent neglect of Cairo; the nephew’s offense must be pretty severe if Quatre was still mentioning it in the face of his own.
“Just two dogs?” Duo guessed. “And who’s Cameron?”
“Sorry… Quatre’s oldest nephew,” answered Heero. “And, yes, two dogs.”
“Well, this one is a mighty fiiine-lookin’ animal,” Duo drawled.
Heero laughed a little.
“What was that?” Quatre called.
“My voice is too goddamn quiet!” Duo yelled.
It seemed Quatre still didn’t hear him, so Heero replied, “Nothing.”
Duo sighed and turned his attention to Cairo, who was now sniffing about.
“Four more days,” Heero murmured reassuringly. With his little plastic hands, Duo patted appreciatively at the one of Heero’s that was half curled around him where he sat on the concrete; it was a strange sensation.
Meanwhile Quatre was saying, “I still need to go to Carquest and a grocery store; do you guys want to come with me?”
Heero had a secret love of auto parts stores, but was being perfectly honest when he replied, “Not in a car that smells like dog vomit.”
“We could take your car,” was Quatre’s teasing suggestion.
“That animal in my nice car?”
“Oh,” said Quatre in mock surprise, “did you get a nice car?”
Duo had been talking nonsense at the dog, to which Heero had been half listening in amusement as he held this distance conversation with Quatre; now, all at once, Duo’s tone changed, and his random noises abruptly became a good deal more intelligible: “Whoah! Hey! Hey, stop! Bad dog!” And at the same moment, Heero felt Cairo’s warm, wet, snuffling nose against the hand he’d had on Duo’s body.
It happened with dizzying quickness. At the sound of Duo’s supplicating but somewhat muffled, “Heero!” the latter looked down in time to see Cairo take the doll by the head, pick him right up, and start to turn away. Heero made a grab for Duo, but missed entirely as Cairo began trotting toward Quatre.
“Hey!” cried Heero in his turn, diving after the dog, missing again, and scrambling to his feet. He never actually did manage to get his hands on Duo, and it was a startled and confused Quatre that pulled the doll from Cairo’s mouth.
“What…” Quatre began.
Heero snatched Duo in a panic and began looking him over for damage, despite knowing that he was supposedly indestructible. As he did this, Duo was swearing continually, and only stopped when Heero’s eyes met his. Breathlessly he asked, “How far was that?”
“I don’t know,” replied Heero, his panic settling into horror. “I couldn’t– Quatre, did you see?”
Quatre’s eyes had gone wide as he’d realized what had just happened, and he shook his head. Then they all simply gazed at each other blankly. Cairo leaned complacently against his master, unaware that he’d caused any trouble.
“Shit,” Duo said again at last, sounding distraught.
“It may not have been too far,” said Heero quickly. However, as even he wasn’t sure how far the dog had gone before he’d caught up, his tone was none too certain.
Duo just stared up at him, painted eyes wide.
Heero held him tighter. “I’m sure it’s all right,” he said, though he wasn’t. “I’m sure I got to you in time.” Though he wasn’t.
“I’m so sorry,” Quatre breathed, one hand on the dog’s head rubbing almost absently at its ears. “I don’t know why he did that. Maybe… maybe he thought… I don’t know…”
Duo took what sounded like a deep breath and spoke in that disconcerting tone of false cheer Heero had heard from him a few times before: “I’ve never known what it is about me that dogs like so damn much. They’re pretty common familiar animals… maybe they sense the magic or something.”
“I guess we’ll find out on Monday.” Quatre clearly wasn’t referring to why dogs liked Duo so much. There was a distant, contemplative quality to his voice, which Heero attributed to his suddenly thinking of Trowa and how this might affect him.
Perhaps Duo was on the same wavelength, for he said, “Don’t anyone mention this to Trowa, OK? He shouldn’t have to worry about it before he has to. Especially if it turns out he doesn’t have to worry about it at all.”
Slowly Quatre nodded, though he didn’t look entirely convinced.
Heero also wasn’t sure what to think. If he were the one under a curse and approaching what he believed to be the end of a long period of suffering, he would want to have clear expectations about the day in question, know whether or not he could anticipate success. On the other hand, Trowa didn’t seem the type to get his hopes up — about anything, really — and Heero didn’t feel it was his place to make the decision when Duo and Quatre were both more familiar with Trowa and more concerned for his well-being. So finally he nodded too. Then they all just stared at each other again, bleak and pensive.
When somebody showed signs of wanting to pull into the parking space they were occupying, Quatre finally stirred. “I’ve got to go,” he said reluctantly, looking around as if he’d forgotten where he was. “I am so sorry about this.” Seeing his human moving again, Cairo climbed up through the car’s open back door without being urged.
Duo shook his head, dragging his somewhat slobbery braid back and forth across Heero’s hand. “Not your fault,” he said. “It’s not exactly something you can train your dog not to do.”
Quatre smiled weakly at Duo, then raised his eyes to Heero. There was in his face that thoughtful expression that suggested he wasn’t saying something he had on his mind. Heero remembered him wearing that look a few days before the email about Trowa; he wondered what Quatre was thinking now, and whether he wasn’t saying it because Duo was present or for some other reason. What Quatre did say eventually was, “Thanks for the water.”
Heero nodded. Their goodbyes were subdued, and then he stood on the curb holding Duo in both hands and watching Quatre drive away.
Duo was very quiet as they returned inside, even once the door was closed and they were alone and out of anyone’s earshot. Heero hadn’t put him back in his pocket, but continued to keep both hands possessively on him as he walked with the bowl under his arm dripping down his side, and now he gazed at the doll in similar silence.
Finally Duo said, “If that just ruined everything…”
“Then we start over,” Heero interrupted tensely. “We start a new month and try again. We try harder.”
Heero would not even hear the beginning of an objection. “We start over,” he reiterated.
For a long moment Duo stared at him, his eyes blinking away in their uncannily regular rhythm. And eventually he said, as quietly as before, “Thank you.”
Not trusting himself to answer verbally, Heero nodded.
“And now,” Duo announced next, clearly changing the subject, “I think I really do need a bath.”
Heero forced a smile. “Yes, I think so too.”
“So bring on the hot water! That’ll be my silver lining.”
Smile widening somewhat, if a little sadly, Heero hoped it could be his as well.
So what was going through Cairo’s head? Find out here.
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.
In case you, like Duo, are curious about Heero’s high school hair adventure, have a look at this excerpt from his senior yearbook that I drew:
It tends to be rather a matter of chance whether or not people I draw look attractive, and I’m often just happy if they look human. In this case, that Heero turned out looking not very handsome I don’t mind specifically because of Duo’s thoughts on the matter in part 74; Duo finds him attractive and doesn’t give a damn what the rest of the world thinks, so it kinda doesn’t matter how he looks when I draw him for this story :D
I really would’ve liked to have Mrs. Winner’s name spelled and pronounced differently in order to state that Quatre was named after her, but “Quatarine” looked way too much like “Quarantine,” and I just couldn’t handle it XD