“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.

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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