When Heero picked Duo up and left the room with him, Quatre and Trowa looked after them for several moments before the former got up, took his boyfriend firmly by the shoulders, guided him to the couch, and forced him to sit down.

For another little while Trowa still tried to see past the TV stand down the hall in the direction the others had gone. Finally, shaking his head, he murmured, “It’s late.”

Knowing that Trowa meant not, “It’s late in the day,” but, “This is taking longer than I expected,” Quatre drew a deep breath and asked calmly, “Why might that be?”

Trowa gave a slight, helpless shrug. “There’s so little to go on here… no fully transformative curse that I’ve been able to find a record of has been this powerful, never lasted more than few years. I’ve heard of less comprehensive curses lasting this long, but this is different. This is unexplored territory.”

“Groundbreaking magic from the magnificent Trowa Barton.” Quatre was trying for levity, but all he managed was levelness.

Trowa replied in much the same spirit. “As long as ground is the only thing that ends up broken…”

Seconds felt like minutes in an atmosphere like this, and after a while Quatre had no concrete idea of how much time had actually passed. Was it time to start really worrying yet? Or was he getting ahead of himself? The silence grew heavier and heavier, pressing down on him until he wanted to bend over and rest his head in his hands. He wished Heero and Duo would come back inside, just so they could all suffer together, but he suspected they were dealing with the same thing out there in their own ways.

Finally, when he felt he couldn’t take it anymore, he cleared his throat and asked, more or less in the same level tone as before, “Conceivably, what could have gone wrong?” Besides Cairo, of course. Because if this didn’t work… if nothing happened tonight… they might not even really know what, exactly, had caused the process to fail.

“I might have misinterpreted my visions,” Trowa began slowly. “That’s not likely… I’ve had a long time to learn to interpret visions… but I’m no diviner, and there’s always the possibility that I was wrong. We may have been going about this entirely the wrong way, or there may have been some crucial component to the process that I missed, or… god knows what.

“Some magic required even after everything is done… some final, triggering key spell… I may need to be out of Duo’s vicinity… the artifact may need to be in his vicinity… I just don’t know. Of course there’s always the chance that something’s happened… that they haven’t managed to stay within range this entire lunar cycle, and just haven’t told us…”

Quatre couldn’t stand it. With a deep breath that came back out as a sigh, he turned his eyes toward the ceiling and said, “Trowa, listen…” When there was only silence from beside him, he forced himself to go on, “We actually think that might have happened. That they got out of range, I mean.”

Trowa still said nothing, and Quatre finally looked back over to find him staring, blank-faced, clearly waiting for more information.

“Remember I told you I had Cairo in the car with me running errands the other day? And he started getting sick because it’s been a while since I’ve taken him driving?” At Trowa’s nod, he went on, “When I brought him here so Heero could give him some water, he…” Quatre threw his hands up in despair. “I have no idea why he did it! He picked up Duo and brought him over to me. I can’t figure out why he would have–”

“Cairo took Duo out of Heero’s psychic field?” Trowa broke in.

“That’s the thing… we don’t know for sure.” Quatre’s tone was miserable. “I wasn’t looking; I didn’t even know it had happened until Cairo showed up next to me with Duo in his mouth. Heero wasn’t sure how far it was, and I didn’t see.”

Slowly Trowa nodded. “Wasn’t this last week some time?”

“Thursday.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Quatre winced. “I’m sorry… Duo didn’t want to worry you, and he asked me not to.”

“Duo…” With a faint smile, Trowa shook his head.

“I couldn’t decide whether or not to tell you, and that defaulted into not telling you. I didn’t want you to worry either… you were so much happier when you were convinced that the curse would break, and I didn’t want to make you unhappy when we didn’t know for sure whether it was even going to affect anything.”

With a raised brow Trowa pointed out somewhat flatly, “That’s a familiar argument.”

“I know! I know. I…” Quatre looked at him helplessly. “I apologize.”

Trowa took his hand. “It’s all right. Though if you’d told me before, I could have made all of you feel a little better by explaining something about magic. Duo really should know this, but maybe he’s forgotten…”

“What?” Quatre was suddenly eager, even a little startled by the words. There had been hope all along, it seemed, regarding this particular issue, and he’d denied it to himself and his friends by his own indecision.

“Magic is rarely all or nothing.” Trowa paused for a moment, then added seriously, “When there’s ‘a complete cycle of the moon’ involved, I’m less certain about this than I would normally be, but even so… magic is almost never black and white; it’s more of a spectrum. I believe–” he emphasized the word slightly, another reminder that he didn’t feel entirely sure about any of this– “that if your dog really did take Duo outside of Heero’s psychic field, it’s far more likely to have pushed out the time or date than started the entire cycle over.”

For a moment Quatre just sat still with his mouth slightly open, but finally he managed, “So that would explain why this is taking so much longer than we’d expected!”

Trowa nodded.

“God… I feel like an idiot… I should have just told you…”

Again Trowa smiled, more warmly than before, and squeezed Quatre’s hand a little.

Quatre shook his head. “I’m so sorry…” he murmured.

Slowly Trowa’s smile faded, and his brows drew together into a look of concern. “Actually, I feel like I owe you an apology.”

“Why?”

“I want you to know… I’m sorry about the way I spoke when I told you I might die. It took me a while, because I was shut off in my research as usual, but eventually I realized why you probably got up and left so quickly… I just assumed at the time it was because you had better things to do than deal with me, but then after what you said the other day, I realized it had probably… bothered you… to hear me talking about dying.”

Smiling regretfully, Quatre admitted, “Yes. It bothered me a lot. It’s been bothering me ever since, too.”

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t realize how it might sound to you, and then I misinterpreted your behavior because–”

“I know.” Quatre took Trowa’s other hand. “It’s all right. Your self-esteem could still use some work, but we’ll get to that if you survive.”

“I hope I do,” Trowa said, and it came out almost a whisper. “If I implied that I have nothing left to live for, it wasn’t true. I want to see Duo human again. I want Heero not to hate me. I want to be with you.”

Quatre bent so that his forehead rested against Trowa’s, and closed his eyes. “So do I,” he said, agreeing with everything.

They sat thus for some time, until they were abruptly startled by the sound of shouting from outside. Forgetting that he wouldn’t be able to see anything out there with the TV stand blocking his view of the hallway, Quatre glanced in that direction. When he looked back, he caught his breath as his heart suddenly stopped beating for a dizzy moment and then began a hot, startled pounding against his ribcage. “Trowa…!”

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