“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.
Duo didn’t really need much convincing that a shower was the night’s best next step when he knew Heero would be joining him. For one thing, it was a perfectly acceptable location in which to tease Heero about Animorphs and Goosebumps, which had been a long time coming (for all he hadn’t expected it to take place in that particular venue).
For another, he had a certain soreness in his lower half that, while he didn’t at all in any way even the tiniest bit mind, needed some getting used to; standing relatively still in hot water for a time before he did anything else was perfectly welcome.
For a third thing, it meant a chance to wash his hair, which Duo let Heero help him with because Heero so obviously wanted to. Heero’s hands working through its length, unraveling the braid and combing out the long strands with his fingers, then moving up to massage Duo’s scalp and rub shampoo downward, was an absolutely wonderful sensation Duo would probably never forget… but, honestly, just the action of hair-washing, no matter who was doing most of the work, was enough to bring him to tears that were quickly rinsed away by the running water.
He thought about asking Heero to elaborate on what he’d been doing in the shower with Duo right outside the door on prior occasions, but decided to save that for another time; no reason to be wasteful, after all.
The open air chilly against wet flesh, the roughness of towels — not to mention Heero’s hands rubbing him down with the latter and the reversed sensations as Duo did the same for him — were all divine, and so were Heero’s damp lips that found Duo’s at some point during the hair-wringing process and did not let go for some while.
When Duo would have left the bedroom naked a second time, Heero pulled him back. After kissing him again quite thoroughly he said, “Let’s see if my pajamas fit you.”
“OK,” said Duo jovially, but couldn’t help adding, “Why?”
“I can tell you want to go explore,” Heero replied with a smile. “But if you wander around like that, you’re going to find yourself right back in here pretty quick.”
Duo shivered and grinned. “I’d never have thought you were so horny, Heero.”
“For you, yes.”
“What have I gotten myself into??”
Heero laughed and hugged him.
It turned out that Heero’s spare pajama pants were a bit short on Duo, but they were nonetheless comfortable, and there was something so sexy about wearing them that Duo thought he wouldn’t have noticed even if they hadn’t been. Once he had one of Heero’s soft old t-shirts on as well, he spun around the room in glee and fell down. As Heero helped him to his feet Duo remarked, “Now I smell like you!”
“Since I haven’t worn those since I last washed them, I doubt it.” Pulling Duo close and inhaling near his neck Heero added in a pleased murmur, “No, you definitely smell like you.”
“And what does that smell like?” Duo was flirting, of course, but it had been so long since he’d had a scent, or the ability to discern scents, that he also genuinely wanted to know.
Heero’s intense response, “My Duo,” didn’t really answer the question, but Duo was more than happy to accept it anyway.
Duo hoped that Heero wasn’t hurt or offended at the strength of his desire to explore the apartment as a human. He also wanted to touch and taste and smell Heero for the rest of all eternity, and only the awareness that he and Heero had already done plenty of that tonight, and could do more later — whereas he’d barely gotten started on the other goal — sent him out of the room at all… and he hoped Heero didn’t take it personally.
The first thing that attracted Duo’s attention outside of the bedroom was Trowa’s door, and it was with a pang of guilt that he realized he hadn’t even wondered what had become of his friend since he’d left him in the living room earlier. But as he moved toward the door, Heero stopped him. “Now’s probably not the best time.”
“But I want to see how he turned out! If his eyes are all fixed and stuff!”
“Yes, but he and Quatre must have gone in there together when the curse was broken…”
“Well, I want to see Quatre too!”
“Duo, what have we been doing since the curse was broken?”
“Oh!” Duo’s smile widened into a grin, then a laugh. “Oh, OK.” Then he turned away from the door and regarded the rest of the apartment with greedy eyes.
There was nothing he did not get his hands on that night. He felt the texture of the painted walls; turned light-switches on and off in every room because he could; sat in the computer chair long enough to pick out a hypothetical message on the keyboard (“happy human day heero”); pulled some of the books down, mostly just so he could continue teasing Heero about being embarrassed about them; bounced on the guest bed until he fell off on the floor; made out with Heero on the floor for a minute; embraced the TV and assured it that it would always have a special place in his heart and they could still be friends (in the process almost knocking it off its stand, for which he apologized to it heartily); ostentatiously adjusted the lamp on the end table where he used to sit, and turned it on and off; picked up his invitation to Relena’s wedding and, hugging it tightly to his chest, engaged it in a brief, clumsy waltz (he was getting the hang of walking again, but waltzing was still definitely beyond him); sat down on the couch, bounced a few times, stood up, and pulled Heero back down onto it with him; tested its horizontal amenities with Heero for a few minutes; opened every single drawer and cupboard in the kitchen and rifled through them, twanging the silverware and clinking the glasses; messed around with Heero for several minutes against the stove; and abruptly remembered food.
“Oh, my god,” he whispered as his eyes, widening, fell on the fridge and his brain recalled what it was and what lay within. He’d come across edible things in the cupboards, of course, but somehow hadn’t really seen them as anything more than objects to be picked up in celebration of the fact that he could once again pick up objects. But all of a sudden he was conscious of a sensation in his stomach and throat — god, he had a stomach and throat — that he hadn’t felt in so long he’d almost forgotten what it signified.
He turned abruptly to Heero again. “Heero!” he hissed. “I’m hungry.”
Heero had several times tonight given him the world’s most beautiful smile, one that expressed unequivocal happiness in Duo’s current state and in Duo’s own happiness, and he gave it again now.
“I’m fucking hungry,” Duo reiterated with a grin.
“I made extra pasta salad just for you, you know. I hope the crunchy vegetables haven’t gone soggy by now; it’s not as good as leftovers.”
Duo hugged him tightly, momentarily unable to find words to tell him that soggy vegetables prepared by Heero especially for him sounded like the greatest food ever made, then attacked the refrigerator. Before he could get at the pasta salad, however, he had to examine pretty much everything else in the fridge and freezer: pick it all up, revel in the feeling of coldness his fingers could finally minutely discern again — god, he had fingers — and open just about everything and sniff at it. His mouth was watering, and he thought he was feeling a little sick to his stomach (he couldn’t be 100% certain at this point) by the time he finally got to the rectangular Tupperware that held the pasta salad. His pasta salad. The pasta salad made particularly for him by his wonderful boyfriend, who knew what this would mean to him.
He pried off the lid and stared at the noodles and bits of shrimp and vegetables, and inhaled deeply. He thought he was going to cry.
Turning slowly, he found Heero holding out a plate with that same smile again. “It’s your first meal in eighty-seven years,” he said. “You should do it right.”
“That would be easier if you had a dining table.”
“Great… are you going to start that too?”
Heero leaned forward across what each of them was holding and gave Duo a brief kiss, then took the pasta salad from his hand and turned with it toward the counter and the drawer that held the silverware. Soon he had a full plate, accompanied by knife and fork, ready for Duo’s use.
Duo approached with great ceremony and took up the implements. He gave Heero a very grave look, then, slowly and just a little clumsily, as he hadn’t done it in so long, scooped and lifted a forkful.
The sensation was so sharp and overwhelming — suddenly, surprisingly so — that he actually made a startled noise through his full mouth, and so strong in contrast to all those years of nothing that the mere ability to taste food was entirely negating, for the moment, the ability to discern flavor. He had no idea what this tasted like, only that it tasted. And, though he’d never actually thought about the actions of chewing and swallowing, nor thought he specifically missed them, he found now, as he went about them, that tears were again running down his face.
“I think that’s the first time my pasta salad has made someone cry,” Heero murmured.
Duo wiped his face with the back of one hand and took another bite.
The sauce was somehow tangy and buttery at the same time, the pasta was mild, the shrimp was pleasantly firm, and the vegetables (which, he would have to reassure Heero later, had retained a marvelous crispness) were an excellent, somewhat bitter contrast to the rest. “This is amazing,” Duo mumbled through his third or fourth mouthful.
Heero laughed and thanked him; but after a moment he added in some concern, “You’ll make yourself sick if you don’t slow down.”
“Uh-uh,” Duo replied, and kept shoveling it in.
Heero was right, though. Duo had barely finished the contents of the plate, and was attempting to wash it down with a glass of water that Heero had poured for him, when it all came up again. His abused stomach gave a painful heave and him no chance to aim responsibly, and he lost the too-hastily-consumed meal onto the floor at random.
Vomiting, he noted, felt just as horrible, tasted just as nasty, and resulted in just as disgusting a mess as it ever had… which was why it was really quite strange that he’d almost kindof enjoyed it. Stomach still a little sore and throat burning, he turned guilty eyes up toward Heero, who had stepped away.
“You told me so,” Duo said.
“I did,” Heero agreed, mostly stifling a rueful grin and beginning to pick his way around the disaster. “Come on,” he said, taking Duo by the arm. “You’ll have to go a little easier on breakfast tomorrow.” And he led him down the hall.
“I’m sorry,” Duo said. “All over the kitchen…”
“Seems pretty natural to me.” Heero took Duo into the bathroom, where he began rummaging through drawers. “I’m sure I have a…” He stood straight again, holding up a toothbrush two-pack with one remaining brush. Facetiously he finished, “I assume you know how to use this?”
Duo accepted the offer and answered in a mock huff, “We had toothbrushes, thank you very much.”
“Good.” Heero then pointed out the toothpaste and added, “I’ll go clean up the kitchen.”
“I’m not sure how long I’m going to survive,” Duo told him loudly as he left the room, “before I die of how nice you are.”
“Would you prefer me to be mean?” Heero called back.
Duo would have answered, but was too distracted by the toothpaste. It looked much the same as the Pepsodent and Ipana he remembered — just a greyish-white sort of cream stuff — but it smelled better, and, once he got it into his mouth, definitely proved to taste better than what they’d used back then. And, good god, he had teeth. He could rub the brush all over them at different angles, get all their different sides, feel the slight burn of the toothpaste on his gums — he had gums! — and even feel a bit of a gag reflex when he pushed the brush too far toward the back of his mouth.
So engrossed was he in this process that when he noticed Heero standing in the doorway watching him with evident amusement, he couldn’t be sure he hadn’t been there for quite a while. Whether he had or not, it was a good reminder to Duo that, fantastic as his teeth were, he had plenty of time ahead of him to enjoy them and there was really no need to spend any more on them right now.
Once he was all rinsed and finished, he placed the toothbrush (with more than a little thrill) in the cup that held Heero’s, then turned. “All clean!” he announced.
Heero made a businesslike gesture. “Let’s see.” And, pulling Duo close, he kissed him exploringly. When he drew away at last, he gave a satisfied nod. “Now you taste like toothpaste.”
Duo grinned. “OK, there’s one more thing I want to see.”
This quickly turned out to be a lie, or at least an understatement: there were, in fact, about a million more things Duo wanted to see. Granted, some of these were things he’d already seen, just from different angles; but in any case Heero accompanied him throughout with the same look of patient amusement on his face (though as time passed this was more and more frequently split by yawns) as Duo went over everything in the apartment with continual excitement, much of it for the second time.
It was coming up on four in the morning when Duo became aware of a new sensation, another feeling he hadn’t experienced in eighty-seven years and almost didn’t recognize at first. When he did, he was nearly brought to tears again. Instead, abandoning his inspection of the bowl Heero had taken Quatre’s dog water in last Thursday, he turned once more to his companion, gripping his arm and grinning somewhat manically at him as he announced, “Heero, I’m tired!”
“Are you really? Finally?” Heero asked, also grinning. “I was starting to think you were going to end up staying up all night.”
“I probably would have, if I hadn’t had so much excitement.” But now all of a sudden Duo was thinking about curling up with Heero in bed, having him so warm and close by as he’d longed to for so many nights, and sleeping… sleeping… “Let’s go to bed,” he suggested, and it came out in a whisper that was yet deeply enthusiastic.
Smiling warmly, Heero moved to turn off the light in the kitchen. “Good idea.” Then he took Duo’s hand, and they headed down the hall back toward the bedroom.
There were still a huge number of experiences to be had, but Duo would get to them later. In fact, sleep, rather than an interruption of his pursuits, was simply another thing on the list — and not a small one, either. That he would have Heero by his side for his first night’s sleep in almost a century — something he certainly had not expected up until just a few hours ago — made everything that much closer to perfect. And it hadn’t been that far from it to begin with.
Trowa hadn’t slept a minute last night, not even after Quatre had completely worn him out and gone to sleep himself with arms clasping Trowa possessively. Circumstances were simply too agitating.
After eighty-seven years, he had forgotten what it was like not to be cursed, and he’d rather anticipated general sensations more distinctly different than they’d turned out to be. But he felt essentially the same as he had yesterday, and, though he didn’t really mind, the lack of difference was disconcerting. It wasn’t what he’d expected. He wondered how Duo, who had changed a good deal more, was feeling.
It was the thought of Duo, primarily, that had kept him awake. He understood why Quatre had dragged him out of there last night, but still he was dying to see his friend. He wouldn’t really feel that the curse was broken until he did.
Quatre had pulled himself wearily out of bed early this morning and gone over to his own house to shower and change, then come back here to give Trowa a rather frustrated kiss and a longing look before leaving through Heero’s apartment for the airport. Trowa had promised to attempt to jump to him this afternoon and spare him the flight home.
And now, agonizing hours later, Trowa was sitting around idly surfing the internet and wondering whether or not it was still too early to go to Heero’s apartment. Someone that woke Duo from his first sleep in ninety years would probably meet with a violent death, but Trowa was just so desperate to see him… He had no idea what Heero and Duo might be doing if they did happen to be awake, though he doubted they would appreciate its being interrupted, whatever it was… but he wanted to see him… And Duo had the whole world to experience now he was human again… but Trowa still wanted…
There came a knock at the front door, and at its emphatic sound Trowa was instantly out of his chair and the room. It seemed he’d barely gotten the door unlocked, with hands that felt clumsy and slow, when Duo was hugging him. But ‘hugging’ wasn’t the right word. ‘Crushing all the air out of, throwing completely off-balance, half-deafening, and inspiring tears in’ would have been a better description.
“Trowa!” Duo was shouting. “Trowa, look at us! I can hug you for real now! It worked! Check it out, I’m crying again! Your skin’s back to normal! Oh, let me see your eyes!” As Duo abruptly pulled away, his jerky movement almost toppled both of them, and he laughed. “Sorry, I’m still a little– oh, my god, look at your eyes… they’re back to normal…” And he flung his arms around Trowa again, and again sent them both staggering a few steps — this time right into the clock, which gave off a not-unpleasant jangling sound as its weights were rattled. Duo laughed again. “It worked. Oh, my god, it worked.”
Trowa just tried to hold onto him, the tears pouring down his own face once more, overwhelmed by the final, certain knowledge that it was really over; the curse was really broken; Duo, human and healed and happy, was here holding him. He’d forgiven Trowa for what had happened so long ago, and it was all behind them now. It was over.
Duo finally calmed and quieted enough to ask in a more level tone, “So how are you feeling? Everything’s OK now, right?”
Nodding as Duo finally released him and looked at him with a more serious, critical eye, Trowa wiped tears away and said, “Yes, everything’s fine. More than fine. How are you?”
“I still sometimes fall over,” Duo admitted, though he was grinning as he said it, “and there’s other parts of having a human body that I’ve totally forgotten… but I’ll figure it all out. I’m just so glad to see you like this!”
Again Trowa nodded, and this time he smiled as well. And then, as Duo began poking around the entry with eager curiosity, Trowa noticed Heero standing in the open door looking rather stiff. He’d never been in here, after all; Trowa couldn’t help thinking back with some interest to when he’d had Heero in mind when he’d linked the door, only to find Quatre taking advantage of it instead. How differently than he’d expected everything had worked out!
“Come in, Heero,” he said, smiling at him too, “and close the door.”
Heero obeyed, and immediately Trowa went to him, reaching out to clasp Heero’s hand and shake it with both of his own. He hoped — indeed, he suspected — that Heero would understand how meaningful such a physical gesture was from Trowa, even more than his statement, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Heero said quietly. He looked distinctly apologetic, and Trowa thought they reached an understanding in that moment without words: they could forget everything that had passed and become friends. They knew very little of each other, but they cared about the same people, and that was definitely enough for a start.
Trowa drew back and said, a little hesitantly, “So, you two…”
Heero nodded. Although this was all the confirmation Trowa needed, Duo also answered the half-formed question. He came bounding from where he’d progressed some distance into the computer room, and ran into Heero, flinging arms around his neck apparently as much to stop and steady himself as to hug him. “Heero and I are lovarz,” he announced. “L-O-V- A-R-Z- Z-Z-Z.” And he kissed Heero on the cheek.
Heero blushed, but all he said was, “I don’t think you need quite that many Z’s.”
Duo nuzzled his face into Heero’s neck. “You deserve all the Z’s.”
“So– so– so–” Duo pulled away abruptly from Heero and turned toward Trowa again. “You and Quatre! I heard that rumor!”
“Yes,” Trowa replied; it was his turn to blush.
“That is so great,” Duo said heartily. He launched himself from Heero to Trowa, and hugged the latter again. “I’m so glad. I was thinking all along that you guys are perfect for each other. But why didn’t you tell me?”
Trowa wasn’t exactly comfortable explaining in front of Heero, who still rather felt like a stranger to him, but neither did he want to refuse Duo anything. So he forced himself to say, “I’m sorry. I wanted to, but… I felt like I was… letting you down by allowing myself to be distracted.”
Duo had released him and stood back, but, on hearing this, hugged him again tightly. “Oh, Trowa,” he said. “I’m so sorry you felt like that. Because I was hoping all along that you and Quatre would get together. And not just because he fits our number pattern!”
Trowa smiled, simultaneously amused at the comment and glad of the subject shift. “He does, doesn’t he?”
“Yes! So the only odd one out is Heero, unless rhyming with ‘zero’ counts.”
Heero shrugged. “If you squint, you could believe my name is a reference to a Japanese word for ‘one person.'”
“Oh, really?” Duo sounded very interested. “But what is it actually supposed to be? I mean, if you don’t squint?”
“The kanji for my name actually mean a bright red color, like blood.”
“I don’t know what kanji is, but that’s sexy as hell.”
Heero looked pleased.
After this, Duo detached himself from his lovar and resumed his foray through Trowa’s house. “Quatre told me about how crazy this place is,” he said eagerly, “and I’ve been dying to see it. This is the same Victrola, isn’t it?”
Trowa, following him, confirmed this guess.
“Wow, and some of these have got to be the same records from back then, too!” Duo didn’t sound entirely certain, though, and no wonder: Trowa had only bought the machine and started collecting records a few months before the curse. Duo was right again, though, and Trowa said so. Then he helped get a record playing, and stood back to watch as Duo examined everything else in the room to the sound of Phil Napoleon. This exploration seemed to be half out of curiosity, and half to satisfy a desire to pick up and touch as many things as he could. Trowa looked on with a growing sense of joy and relief, and found that, even when the memories Duo called up in exclaiming over his possessions were bittersweet, the bitterness faded first.
When Duo was finished with the computer room and its contents, he bounced across to the study and kept at it there. And as they followed him, Heero remarked in quiet amusement, “He spent most of the night doing this at my place.”
“We’ll have to take him to Quatre’s next.”
“Through your front door?”
Trowa nodded, a gesture Heero mimicked slightly as if this had confirmed a guess.
Then from Duo, who had found his way over to the work table, came the interested call, “Hey, Trowa…”
Glancing in that direction, Trowa knew immediately what Duo wanted. “Yes,” he said, moving to where Duo stood, “that’s it.”
Duo was frowning down at the artifact. One hand moved briefly, as if he were about to reach out and touch it or pick it up, but fell back before it had lifted more than a few inches. “What are you going to do with it?”
“Destroy it, as soon as I know there’s nothing more I specifically need it for.”
Duo nodded thoughtfully, then slowly turned away, putting his back to the artifact in what seemed a deliberate gesture. Trowa wasn’t surprised to see him give no real indication that this was the object that had made his life so excessively long and difficult… though he also wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if Duo had spared it a middle finger or two before leaving it behind him.
Heero had drawn closer to where they stood, and now joined Trowa in looking down at the table. “A candlestick?” he said, somewhat blankly. At Trowa’s nod he went on, “I would have expected…” But he trailed off and shook his head with a shrug.
“Something that seemed more magical?” Trowa finished for him, smiling slightly. “That’s what Quatre said.”
“Wow, Trois, where did you get this chair? Why did you get this chair?” Duo had flopped down into the article in question, and was now bouncing slightly and laughing. “This is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“Quatre said that too,” Trowa admitted.
“It’s a pretty awesome ugly, though. And it’s really comfy! Heero, you should get a chair like this.”
For a moment Trowa, blushing faintly, imagined that Duo was aware of what he’d done with Quatre in that chair, and that there was more than one layer to this suggestion to Heero — but he got hold of himself and said nothing. Heero just made a disdainful noise to let Duo know what he thought of the proposal.
In an impulsive movement, Duo rose and hugged Trowa. “I can sit in chairs again!” he exulted.
Trowa would have pointed out that, technically, Duo had always been able to sit in chairs… if he weren’t still, out of residual guilt and a desire not to injure Duo further, reluctant to tease his friend. Duo was closer today to treating Trowa the way he used to than he had been since they’d reunited — but it still wasn’t quite the same, and Trowa doubted it ever would be again. The curse was broken and forgiven, but it could not be so easily forgotten. He could not expect a relationship like what they’d had; he wondered what he could expect.
“Technically, you always could,” said Heero, earning himself a stuck-out tongue from Duo and a startled look from Trowa. But after the initial surprise, all the statement really did was remind Trowa that, while Duo might not have the same closeness with his old friend that he’d once had, he wasn’t alone. Neither of them was alone, nor even unhappy; time and circumstances were on their side. But even if their friendship never did completely mend, and even if it stung a little to think of someone else closer to and easier with Duo than he was, he was glad Duo had been able to find someone like that.
So, although he wasn’t perfectly content, although he still had a long road to travel before everything would be right again, he felt he had all he could ask for in this — indeed, more than he would have thought to ask for — and that he could continue to celebrate, with his friends, the end of a long era of sorrow.
It had been an effort like none he could remember for Quatre to keep his mind on work today. Like a strong spring snapping back into place, it wanted to retract from the task of giving half the staff clearance reapproval, and the tedious ins and outs of system organization, to the exponentially more interesting topic of his friends whose curse was at last broken.
Of course he’d hurried Trowa out of Heero’s apartment last night — it really had been the only option at the time — then done his best to distract him so he wouldn’t be tempted to wander back in there before it was appropriate to do so… but that didn’t mean Quatre himself wasn’t burning up with curiosity and the wish to see and congratulate Duo (though he knew full well that his desire could only ever hope to be a fraction as strong as Trowa’s was). He flattered himself that Duo would be pleased to see him too, and, besides, that Duo was certain to be glad of congratulations from anyone offering them. It would surely be an interesting meeting.
Heero too was in need of congratulating, since things had evidently finally gone his way. Quatre was very glad of it, though he would be glad of a little more confirmation than just the kiss he’d impartially witnessed last night. He hoped they would be happy together. He thought they would be good for each other.
And besides all of this, of course, there was also the very simple fact that he wasn’t yet done admiring un-cursed and still-alive Trowa. He’d made a fairly extensive exploration of him last night (which was why he’d needed an unusually great amount of caffeine this morning), but it was going to take a while before he was really satisfied. The long and short of it was that he didn’t want to be here.
Fortunately, he had this recovering-from-a-system-failure thing down to a sort of science, and could usually make a fairly accurate estimate beforehand of how long he would need to spend and what time he could reasonably expect to be able to leave. Today’s prediction was 4:00, and, though he had purchased a plane ticket for 5:55, he’d also requested that Trowa attempt to jump to him in the hopes that he would not have to return to the airport at all.
If 4:15 arrived without bringing Trowa, Quatre was to assume he wasn’t yet capable of using Quatre as a destination, and call his cab as usual. He hoped Trowa would succeed, though, for more reasons than one: of course it would be much quicker and more convenient, eat up less of his evening pointlessly than the flight, and thereby give him more time to talk to Trowa and Duo and admire their state of humanity… but he also hoped for success because of what it would say about his relationship with Trowa — a statement that would be pleasing to him and, he hoped, specifically affirming to Trowa.
So at 4:00 he let himself into an empty conference room and stood quietly waiting in the dark, fingers (at least mentally) crossed. And he was more pleased even than he’d expected when Trowa arrived.
He appeared quite close to Quatre, though the angle of his body prevented more than about half-contact. This Quatre immediately rectified, however, by pulling Trowa fully against him and reaching up to kiss him leisurely.
“You did it!” he said when he withdrew. “It worked!”
Trowa smiled at him. Though this had been less infrequent of late than when they’d first met, it still made Quatre’s pulse quicken slightly. He had a feeling it always would. “Yes,” said Trowa. “It was easier than I thought.”
Quatre also smiled, broadly. “Does it help that I was wishing for you?”
“Maybe.” Without any great or easily discernible alteration of expression, Trowa looked pleased.
Quatre rose up on tip-toe to aim a kiss at a freckle on Trowa’s temple. “I don’t think I got them all last night,” he said thoughtfully. He would have gone on, but an irresistible yawn came out instead.
Trowa caught it and yawned as well. “I’ll tell you what you didn’t get last night…”
Quatre chuckled. “Wow, the curse breaking really has changed things if you’re talking to me about not getting enough sleep.”
“If you want your turn,” Trowa replied gravely, “I’ll tell you: I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
“Trowa! You didn’t go sneaking over there bothering Heero and Duo!”
“No, I just thought about it all night. But they came over and spent several hours at my house today. Actually, they just left when I said I needed to pick you up. They invited us over for dinner; I hope you don’t mind I accepted on your behalf, if we could manage to get you there in time.”
Quatre grinned. “No, not at all. I’ll be happy to see Duo eating, I’m sure. And then you and I can go to bed early, and if it’s early enough we won’t even have to go straight to sleep.”
Again Trowa looked pleased. “This sounds like a perfect evening, then.” And he reached down and clasped Quatre around the waist in order to make the jump.
A further report from Trowa indicated that the others had gone shopping — first, to get some dinner components Heero needed; second, to find some shoes for Duo, who was apparently having trouble fitting into Heero’s; third, because Duo, who said he felt like a long-time shut-in, just really wanted to. So Quatre had time to admire Trowa’s freckles and natural green eyes for a while.
The wanderers’ return was heralded by an energetic knocking on Trowa’s door that Quatre assumed, just based on its sound, could only be coming from the hand of Duo — and so it proved. Quatre opened the door and found himself facing someone whose face he’d never before seen, but who was very familiar.
“Quatre!” Duo flung himself enthusiastically at him for a hug that crushed the breath right out of him. “Hi!!”
“Hi, Duo!” Quatre laughed as soon as he was able. “You’re looking good!”
Duo made a long, pleased affirmative noise like a sort of small yell, and finally drew back. Studying his pleasant features, which now held every bit of expressiveness they’d so conspicuously lacked before, Quatre could do nothing but widen his own grin.
In a tone that was much like that of a father conducting a suspicious examination of his child’s first date, “So I hear you’ve got this thing going with my best friend,” Duo said.
“Well, what about you and mine?” Quatre countered.
Duo gave him a transported look and sighed dreamily. “We’re wonderful,” he breathed. It was so very overdone that Quatre had to laugh. Then Duo went on in a more matter-of-fact tone, “He bought me shoes! See?” And pointed down at his feet like a proud child with a new toy.
When Quatre had admired these appropriately, Duo dragged him through Trowa’s door into Heero’s apartment so as to involve Heero in the conversation too. Quatre got the feeling that Duo didn’t much like being separated from Heero, even only by a few yards. It made sense, he supposed — Duo had gotten used to being within five feet of Heero at all times, and there was probably still a lingering, irrational fear of what might happen if they were too long apart. Knowing that Heero appreciated just a little bit of clinginess, Quatre couldn’t help thinking this could only be a herald of good things.
Trowa, who had slipped past them through his entryway, was already in Heero’s kitchen, and Quatre was pleased to see him taking instructions from Heero as he had last night. For those two to get to know each other, become better friends, was one of Quatre’s dearest wishes at the moment.
Remembering something else from last night, “So, Heero,” Quatre said, advancing to the edge of the linoleum, “when are you going to start learning how to cast spells?”
Heero glanced over at him. He was well aware that he was being teased, but his answer was just a calm shrug.
Quatre turned to Duo. “You don’t know how embarrassed he was when you told him you’d been the one to awaken his magical potential.”
Duo’s eyes seemed to spark. “Really?”
“Probably not as embarrassed as I was,” Quatre went on, just to make things fair, “when I thought Trowa might be able to read my mind, though.”
“Quatre! Were you having dirty thoughts?” Duo demanded, stifling a grin in favor of a not-very-successful attempt at a stern expression.
“The worst part of it was that I still thought he was with you at the time.” Quatre didn’t mind laughing, nor relating the details of that particular instance for Duo’s amusement.
The rest of the night went very much like this; there were myriad little moments, misinterpreted statements, and utterly missed cues to be explained on most sides, and a lot of blushing and laughter. And while complete honesty on all topics was not yet possible, they mostly managed without real awkwardness or unhappiness. Duo’s joy at being human again, which apparently could not be expressed too frequently, served to smooth over anything that threatened to become truly uncomfortable, and in general the group dynamic was good.
And it was unexpectedly gratifying, when the little party broke up, to feel that everyone knew where everyone else stood — and was going at the moment! — and approved. To see a smile on every face — even Trowa’s — as they said their goodnights; to see Heero take Duo’s hand when he thought no one was looking; to walk with Trowa back into his house secure in the knowledge that everything had turned out right after all… Quatre didn’t think he’d ever been happier.
When Heero’s alarm sounded on Wednesday morning, his first response, as was frequently the case, was to hit the snooze button. But as he struggled into wakefulness and felt the warmth at his side, it occurred to him that the sleeping Duo didn’t really need to hear the buzzer go off as many times as was often required to get Heero out of bed. So he made an effort, forced his eyes to stay open, sat up, and turned off the alarm entirely.
Duo shifted and abruptly threw an arm around Heero’s waist. “Nooooo,” he groaned. Smiling, Heero bent and hugged him, somewhat awkwardly because of how they were arranged, and found himself looking into sleepy half-lidded eyes. “You hafta stay within five feet of me,” Duo muttered tiredly.
Heero kissed his cheek. “After work I will.” And, really, at the moment, he wanted nothing in the world more than just to sink down into Duo’s embrace and go back to sleep at his side… but he seriously couldn’t afford to miss more work.
Not without a noise of protest, Duo allowed Heero to extricate himself from limb and bedding, then curled up on his side hugging Heero’s pillow. Heero smiled down at him for a moment, then turned away to get ready.
Last night before they’d gone to bed (or what passed as going to bed in a new relationship), they’d discussed today and made arrangements for anything Duo was likely to want to do while Heero was at work. All of Heero’s pants were a little short on Duo, but his shorts functioned perfectly well, so clothing was not a problem now that they’d found Duo some tennis shoes that fit. Duo had made several suggestive comments about wearing Heero’s clothes, to which Heero had finally been in a good position to respond properly.
Heero had given him the last spare key to the apartment in case (as he had no doubt) Duo wanted to go wandering; Heero had also given him his cell phone number in case (as he had little less doubt) he then got lost and needed to figure out where he was. He wished he had a cell phone to give him as well, but it was nothing odd that he didn’t have a spare one of those lying around.
All the cash currently in his possession had gone over to Duo too, and this for some reason had rendered Duo somewhat misty-eyed. Heero was getting used to (and, indeed, rather enjoying) Duo tearing up over random things, and had watched in pleasure and amusement as Duo painstakingly identified the various pieces of currency and added up the total with intense satisfaction. It was the first money to be in his possession in a very long time, and he’d had interesting comments to make about the size and the designs.
After all of this, and a lot of accompanying and rather silly discussion of what Duo could and could not (or, rather, probably should not) do within the apartment, Heero was not concerned about Duo’s ability to keep himself entertained all day without having to resort to television; but he still didn’t want to leave him. He was looking down at him again now as he did up his tie, noting that Duo seemed to have gone back to sleep in earnest and unclenched somewhat from his possessive curl around the pillow, and he found that the wish to crawl back into bed with him and hold him until they both woke up at their leisure — as they had yesterday — had not diminished.
It wasn’t just that it was early and bed was comfortable; Heero found he simply didn’t want to go through an entire day without Duo at his side. He’d known he was attached to having Duo close by at all times, but he hadn’t realized how much it was going to bother him when that was no longer the case. Once he had his jacket on and was essentially ready to leave, he found himself still standing silently staring down, unwilling to move. Finally, though, sluggishly, he shook himself, and bent to kiss Duo’s cheek once more before heading out.
It proved, as he really should have anticipated, the most unproductive work-day he’d ever experienced. None of the previous distractions — checking on a magical message board at frequent intervals, pondering whether the doll on his end table might really be a cursed human, mulling over Duo’s relationship with Trowa and his own feelings on the matter — none of it had been anywhere near this bad.
Between wondering what Duo was up to, wishing Duo were here or that he were at home with Duo, forgetting that Duo was not here and turning to say something to him and finding the desk empty, and the thought of Duo’s human limbs and skin and face and his warmth and the signs of attachment he’d given and their future together, it would be nothing short of a miracle, Heero thought, if he came out of the day with one single item of legitimate business completed.
Dorothy, rather than chiding him, merely rolled her eyes with one of her knowing smiles — and although the latter did look rather condescending, Dorothy’s smiles always did, and she didn’t seem upset with him. On the contrary, she seemed deliberately to be trying to draw off their co-workers’ questions to herself, as far as she could, so as to leave Heero in relative peace. He wondered what she thought was going on.
The distraction, oddly enough, actually made it easier to put up with Wufei. Indeed, the latter had been going on about something in a comic book — apparently there was a movie coming out? and it was destined to suck? or something? — for several minutes before Heero even realized he was speaking. Glancing at his computer clock, he was startled to see that it was almost lunch time. Had he really made it all the way through half the day already? He was doing better than he’d thought. He wished Duo were here.
But wait. He could go home for lunch. Quatre had been making the trip to Heero’s apartment during lunch for a while, hadn’t he? There wouldn’t be a huge amount of time, given how long the drive would take, but he could go home and see Duo before tackling the rest of the day.
So exciting was this thought that he almost got up right then and there and headed out to his car; but he forced himself instead to remain in his seat and continue making noises at Wufei as if he was listening — something about someone’s weakness being the color yellow? no, he couldn’t really have just heard that — and wait out the last quarter hour or so before he could go to lunch with impunity.
With two minutes left on the clock and Wufei having expanded into the territory of the failures of comic book movies in general, Heero’s cell phone unexpectedly rang. It was an unfamiliar local number, and he was tempted to ignore it entirely, but the awareness that it could possibly be Duo prompted his hand rather to dart for the device more quickly than he would have moved if it had been a caller he recognized.
“Hello?” he said a little breathlessly, interrupting and thus silencing Wufei.
“Heero, I figured out the phone all by myself!”
Heero could not have predicted the flood of joy and the increase in heart rate he would experience at hearing Duo’s voice after so many hours apart. Was this how a parent felt after a child’s very first day at school? No, that was creepy. He had no proper analogy. It felt wonderful; that was all.
“Was it difficult?” he answered Duo’s cheerful statement.
“Nope. I just pushed the numbers and it went right through. This is my first phone call! As a human, I mean.”
“You never talked on the phone at all before?” Heero wondered. “Didn’t they have them back then?” In glancing around, he found Wufei still there, giving him a strange and, in fact, perhaps somewhat worried look — whether in response to his odd words or the unusual joy in his face and tone, Heero could not guess and did not care. He gestured apologetically, locked his computer, and stood.
“Yeah, rich people did. I think Trowa even had one, after he started being rich. I just never happened to use one. Hey, they’re starting to give me weird looks here; I don’t think they like people just walking in and asking to use the phone without buying anything.”
“Where are you?” Heero was heading out of the cubicle now, not paying the slightest attention to how Wufei was reacting to all of this.
“The McDonald’s up the street from your apartment. Um, I don’t know which street.”
“I bet I know which one it is,” Heero grinned. “Stay there, and I’ll come meet you.”
Duo gave a very pleased, “Oh!” and followed it up with, “OK! I’ll see you in a minute, then.”
So lunch went unexpectedly well. Heero wasn’t a big fan of McDonald’s, but he hardly noticed what he was eating in the pleasure of seeing Duo enjoying food — and seeing Duo at all. Plus he got some kisses out of it, which won them some scandalized looks from other customers that Heero was better able to ignore than he would ever have thought he could be. And then he went back to work even more distracted than before.
And he found that, whatever the provocation — be it Wufei’s incomprehensible talk, Dorothy’s condescension, or being forced to make up a reason why he no longer had a doll on his desk and a whole new wave of resultant curiosity from his other co-workers — with the bolstering memory of that happy lunch with Duo and the evening and night with Duo to look forward to, he could put up with just about anything.
“Thank you for not asking if I’m sure I can handle this.”
Seated on his bed beside Trowa, Quatre leaned over and kissed his boyfriend on the cheek. “See? I’m getting better.”
“I didn’t think that was possible…” Trowa murmured.
Quatre grinned. “And you’re getting better at flirting.”
Trowa inclined his head gravely.
“And, as a matter of fact, I know you can handle this. You’ve proved you can deal with people; you just don’t like to.”
“That’s mostly true,” Trowa admitted. “I really am not very skilled at it, though.”
“Well, practice makes perfect.”
Almost under his breath Trowa said, “Why you would ever want to be perfect at something like that…”
“My poor Trowa,” Quatre laughed, hugging him. “You’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with me, though.”
“You’re not ‘people.'”
“Thank you. I think.” Quatre glanced at his watch. “It’s probably about time. Let’s go down.” And, standing, he pulled Trowa up after him and gave him another quick kiss before heading for the door.
They met his mother on the landing. “Oh,” she said, “were you up here all along? I didn’t even see you come in.” Quatre thought she was more surprised at the way Trowa looked, though, than that they’d somehow been in Quatre’s room without anyone observing them enter the house. “It’s good to see you again, Trowa,” she smiled, obviously restraining herself from searching his face curiously. They’d decided to claim that Trowa had just recovered from fairly serious anemia if anyone asked about his newly-healthy coloration, but Quatre anticipated that his parents would be too polite to comment and his nephews wouldn’t remember clearly enough to wonder.
When everyone ate together — well, even when two thirds of them ate together — they had to use the larger dining room with its improbably long table and ornate wainscotting. As they entered, Trowa looked around with just the faintest constriction of brows; he’d already expressed to Quatre the feeling he had in certain parts of this house, like nostalgia but not as comfortable, as he was reminded of places he’d sometimes been invited to during that brief part of his life he would most like to forget. But he didn’t balk, and was quietly courteous as he was introduced to those he hadn’t met yet. As this consisted of six different people, the shaking of hands and friendly greetings made it some time before everyone was seated.
Dinner conversation around here was always lively and somewhat random, though there was usually an underlying or recurring theme of Winner Plastics since that topic could easily fill any gap. This allowed Trowa to remain silent throughout most of the meal; certain of Quatre’s housemates at times sought to include him in the conversation, but, though he answered politely enough, it wasn’t difficult to tell that he’d rather listen than talk, so eventually they kindly let him be. Quatre was pleased. He had always thought well of his family, but it was moments like this that made him actively proud.
He’d been almost certain that this was one of those nights when his parents would want to indulge in an after-dinner brandy in the adjoining parlor — an old-fashioned habit they’d mostly abandoned but still conveniently revived whenever they had (for example) a new significant other of one of their children to interrogate. He’d warned Trowa earlier of this probability when he’d briefed him on how the evening in general was likely to go, so Trowa was able to acquiesce to the invitation without any apparent surprise or displeasure.
The routine was nothing unfamiliar to Quatre. Even when he’d been too young to understand what was going on, he’d watched his sisters and the dates they brought home go through this, and he’d experienced it himself a number of times. But he’d never cared quite so much before. This was only in part because he liked Trowa better than he’d liked previous boyfriends; there was also the fact that Trowa had more to fabricate, and felt worse about having to do it, than previous boyfriends.
And it was still surprising how well he pulled it off. Trowa might believe himself unskilled in dealing with people, but the way he combined (unless Quatre was very much mistaken) actual facts from his own life and plausible circumstances he’d observed over the years into a very believable-sounding history was remarkable, and his solemn and somewhat formal manner could come across as nothing less than trustworthy.
In response to the various well-oiled questions put to him with utmost innocence, he told the Winners that he’d been born in 1985 in some town in Michigan that might, for all Quatre knew (he would have to ask sometime), be Trowa’s actual place of birth. He didn’t say much of his childhood, fictional or otherwise, and even in this partially false account seemed reluctant to mention his parents. Tactfully, Mr. and Mrs. Winner did not pursue the issue. Quatre himself, his curiosity aroused, decided that he must sometime see what Duo knew of the matter; that seemed the easiest way to get a general idea without having to ask Trowa what might be painful questions.
Trowa claimed to have moved to this area after high school to stay with a more distant (and, he implied, much kinder) relative, and ended up attending the same college as Quatre. They’d decided on this beforehand, as it provided a way for them to have first met a little more believable than ‘he found me by divination after Heero posted on a message board about the talking doll he picked out of the gutter,’ and Quatre could provide any details Trowa needed to flesh out his remarks.
The story they presented was that they’d known each other casually during school, had recently met again by coincidence, renewed the acquaintance, and after not too long started dating: nothing terribly unusual or exciting. As a sort of distraction tactic, they managed to spin a much more interesting tale out of the account of Trowa’s best friend that had led the poor Pacific Division Sales Coordinator around in dizzy circles for over a month before admitting that he liked him.
Quatre’s parents had grown up in an era during which the phrase ‘good breeding’ had still meant something. Actually, now that he thought about it, that applied to Trowa too, didn’t it? At any rate, Mr. and Mrs. Winner the excellent hosts had never been even the least bit unpleasant to any one of Quatre’s boyfriends in the past, regardless of their real feelings about them. But Quatre had learned to read the signs, and could usually tell, as brandy/interrogation time was winding down, what their general opinion was of the latest subject.
He knew Trowa had made a good first impression during their brief introduction, and tonight, to his great satisfaction, he thought he was picking up pleasure and tentative approbation from his parents in response to this longer meeting. They were hesitant anymore, he knew, about immediate approval, since they’d ended up disliking all of his past boyfriends — even the ones they’d thought well of at first — so this was the most positive reaction that could be expected of them. And it was enough for Quatre. He was absolutely certain they would come to love Trowa eventually; this was good for a start.
“Well, Trowa, it’s been wonderful getting to talk to you so much tonight,” Mrs. Winner was saying politely as they began their slow exodus from the parlor. She was always perfectly friendly, and, though Quatre wasn’t overly fond of the way she had of repeating the name of someone she’d recently met in just about every sentence she addressed to them, her poise was flawless.
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Winner, “feel free to come by any time. Though,” he added with a smile, “I suspect you already do.”
Trowa favored them with a slight smile of his own. “Thank you for having me,” he said.
Their further goodbyes and goodnights were conducted with the same good will, and the fact that Quatre and Trowa were pretty obviously heading upstairs for Quatre’s bedroom did not garner any reaction different than if they’d been walking out the front door. Quatre knew his parents hadn’t been nearly so relaxed about the idea of their children’s sexual activities — especially in the house — back when his first couple of sisters had reached dating age… but, then, that had been in the 70’s. There were benefits to being the youngest of ten (not least of which the fact that there had been three lesbians before him to pave the way of understanding and equity). Just as they began climbing the final stretch of the great staircase and were about to put the first floor entirely out of sight, Quatre glanced back and saw his parents still standing together down there looking up after him; he smiled at them.
As he closed his bedroom door, Trowa beside him let out a long breath and seemed to wilt somewhat, leaning forward against the wall as if exhausted. With a pitying noise that was half a laugh, Quatre took his hand and pulled him over to the bed.
“You’re brilliant,” he said, pushing Trowa into a seated position and crawling onto the bed behind him. “And I think they really liked you.” Settling down cross-legged, he began to massage Trowa’s shoulders and back, trying to release some of the tension that had gathered there during the last hour.
“I’m glad,” Trowa said, sounding a little dull. “But I don’t like having to tell so many lies. If it were somebody I’m never going to see again, or somebody I didn’t care about, it would be different, but…” He shook his head.
Though he pitied Trowa, it was difficult for Quatre to feel anything but happiness at this implication from him that the Winners were neither transient nor unimportant; that seemed like a real breakthrough. “We’ll tell them the truth eventually,” he said reassuringly. “As soon as they realize how wonderful you are and how crazy I am about you.” One step at a time, after all; when his parents were already worrying about Quatre in another relationship — in their minds a fairly significant concern, given the precedent — they didn’t need the added complication that the new boyfriend was a 111-year-old magician and had once cursed his best friend to live as a talking doll for ninety years.
Trowa half-turned to meet Quatre’s eye. He looked simultaneously weary with the entire situation, as if the bulk of human relationships was just too taxing for him to continue thinking about at the moment, and pleased with Quatre’s words. “That’s good,” he said tiredly, “because I won’t be able to remember which details I included in this story. I should have made notes.”
Quatre laughed a little, and, taking Trowa’s arm, pulled at him as he scrambled backward. “Come here,” he said. Trowa obeyed, and soon they were cuddled up comfortably on the pillows, Trowa settling against Quatre with a sigh that sounded far more contented than his previous.
After a few moments of warm silence during which they just held each other comfortably and drowsed a bit, Trowa said simply and quietly, “I’m crazy about you too.”
Having seen fresh proof in Trowa’s willingness to endure such a trying evening full of strangers and cross-examination for his sake, Quatre was already aware of this — but that didn’t mean it didn’t make his heart burn beautifully to hear it spoken aloud. He held Trowa more tightly, pressed a kiss to the first spot his lips could find, and smiled against his lover’s soft brown hair.
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.