“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.
As Heero was preparing to leave for lunch on a Wednesday afternoon the week after the breaking of the curse, he received an email from building security that said only, Visitor in entry. Entertained as always by the fact that there was anyone in the company more terse than he was via email, and wondering who the visitor was, Heero gathered his things and made his way down. What was his surprise and delight to find Duo himself waiting in the entry, smiling broadly at the security guard and at Wufei; the latter two appeared to have been talking when Duo entered, and were now unabashedly staring at him without a word.
“Surprise!” Duo greeted Heero as he approached.
“How did you get here?” Heero wasted no time leading Duo out the door and away from the stares of his co-workers, though he knew it would be less easy evading the latter’s questions later.
“Quatre helped me figure out the bus system yesterday so I could come surprise you for lunch sometime.”
In the parking lot, not caring who might be looking, Heero kissed Duo intensely for a moment. “It’s a wonderful surprise,” he said. “What do you want to do for lunch?”
“Let’s go sit in that grocery store parking lot we used to,” Duo grinned.
Heero was even more pleased than he was probably letting on. He wasn’t yet accustomed to the idea, perfectly normal though it was, of Duo having conversations entirely outside his hearing and knowledge; but he loved to see Duo developing such autonomy and figuring the world out so efficiently — not least because the ability to do so made Duo so happy.
They bought random items at the grocery store, then sat in the parking lot and ate them, reminiscing about the days not long ago when these lunchtimes had caused their levels of hope for such a circumstance as this to fluctuate rather wildly. Then they made out across the gear shift like high-schoolers (which one of them had never been) until it was time for Heero to go back. Past time, rather, but they couldn’t bring themselves to move particularly quickly toward parting.
As they were ambling away from Heero’s car in the work parking lot, talking about something inconsequential, Duo broke off whatever he was saying to remark, “Oh, here comes eyebrow lady…”
Heero looked up to see that Dorothy was indeed approaching across the lot, evidently making straight for them. Fearing some censure regarding his repeated (and today particularly egregious) lateness from lunch, Heero braced himself; but Dorothy came instead to Duo and reached out.
“Congratulations,” she said, sounding surprisingly sincere and invested.
“Thanks!” Duo grinned, shaking the hand she’d offered.
She looked him up and down. “It seems to have come off without a hitch.”
“Yeah, everything worked just fine! We were worried for a bit ’cause of something that happened one day near the end, but it turned out not to be anything after all.”
Heero stared from one to another, his brows lowering as he was faced with the only possible meaning of this exchange. Duo, seeing his expression, started to laugh and then abruptly looked thoughtful. “Oh, Heero, didn’t… didn’t she ever say anything…?”
“You knew all along?” Heero wondered of Dorothy.
“It was obvious from the beginning there was some kind of powerful magic about him,” she shrugged, gesturing toward Duo. “So I did a few divinations to find out what was going on.” Her tone and demeanor clearly indicated that she’d been watching with interest ever since then — and that she’d been fully aware of Heero’s ignorance of her abilities and laughing quietly up her sleeve at him the whole time.
Heero turned back to his boyfriend. “You could have said something.”
“You know I thought I had?” Duo shrugged, and turned to Dorothy. “So you’re a diviner?”
“Primarily. I’ve got a little necrovisua and a little command as well.”
“Oooh,” said Duo admiringly. “I’ve always wanted to be necrovisual, but I’m just plain old command.”
“I’ve only got a little, though,” she reiterated with a shrug. “I can’t do much more than confirm presences; I refer people who need help to a real exorcist. But are you sure you don’t have any? Can you be sure you can’t see shades if no shades have ever come near you?”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure I must have been around some at some point in the last hundred years,” Duo laughed. “Besides, I’ve got no communion or divination, so it’d be cross-circle anyway. I’m awesome, but I don’t think I’m that special.”
“How visionary are you?”
“Just the usual command level.”
As Heero listened to this exchange, he found his surprise and slight annoyance melting away into amusement. He’d never heard Dorothy converse with such interest about anything before, and it occurred to him that nerds came in all shapes and colors. He would have liked to stay and listen longer, but instead broke in somewhat reluctantly, “I’m already late; Dorothy, I’ll see you inside.”
“Kiss!” cried Duo, and swooped in to claim one.
Once his mouth was free, blushing a little, Heero asked him quietly, “You’ll be able to get home OK?”
“Mm-hmm! Those bus stops won’t know what hit them!”
Heero had to grin. “OK. I’ll see you later.” And he turned away without looking at Dorothy.
Inside, he made it all the way upstairs before his next encounter. He was traversing the hall that led to the sales floor when he heard the serious greeting, “Heero,” in a voice from which he’d rather been expecting it. Turning to face Wufei, he found the dark, determined expression he’d also rather been expecting. Wufei came up to him and stopped, looking into his face with lowered brows. “It’s none of my affair whom you’re dating and whether or not you’re cheating on anyone,” he began. And wasn’t it just like Wufei to start a conversation by announcing that what he was bringing up was none of his business?
“Quatre and I were never dating,” Heero interjected quickly and smoothly, having been ready with this.
“So you say. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that this new person showed up not long after you stopped bringing your Star Trek figure in to work, and what I wanted to know was: does he know?”
“Oh, don’t play the innocent with me.” Wufei waved an imperious hand. “You’re going to have to tell him sooner or later that you based your role-playing character off of him. He’ll probably find it less creepy if you tell him sooner.”
Heero stood staring somewhat blankly at the glinting light on Wufei’s glasses. Had it really come to this? Was he really being lectured in the hallway at work by Wufei Chang about the relative creepiness of the social behaviors of nerds? And had that same Wufei really just used the phrase, ‘Don’t play the innocent with me?’
He could not wait to tell Duo about this.
“Thank you,” he said in the most serious tone he could muster. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Wufei nodded sharply, and the conversation seemed to be at an end. As Heero turned away to resume his progress toward normalcy, though, he heard Wufei ask in a quieter tone, “So you… are together with that guy?” And was it Heero’s imagination, or did he sound just a little… forlorn… as he said it?
“Yes,” he replied firmly, without turning.
So that left things mostly sorted at work. The general sales floor populace was satisfied with Heero’s explanation that he’d gotten tired of answering questions about his doll and had decided not to bring him in anymore (and very few of them pointed out the incongruity that he never had actually answered most of the questions); Dorothy was unexpectedly on his side, or at least on Duo’s side, which at the moment amounted to something similar; and Wufei was… whatever Wufei was.
Soon everyone would forget that he’d ever had that embarrassing month, and everything would be back to normal. Except that it was a new normal, a normal that involved coming home to Duo every day — and occasionally, by the looks of it, being surprised by him at lunch. And that was a sort of life alteration Heero could easily embrace.
Trowa wasn’t entirely certain how he’d been talked into this. Eating with Heero and Duo had become fairly routine, it was true, but Duo was still nominally his best friend and Heero asked nothing of him. Eating with Quatre’s family had been trying and not a great deal of fun, but he’d been more than willing to make the effort for the sake of having Quatre’s parents’ approval. This… this was completely different. He’d only met Heero’s sister once, briefly, and knew nothing whatsoever of her fiance… and who would have thought the breaking of the curse would be the herald of so many dinners?
He couldn’t help looking back on those few months ever so long ago when he’d been a rising socialite of sorts, welcomed in many circles wherever a self-made man wasn’t an object of disdain, and wonder where all his tolerance for people had gone. Not that he’d been much of a fan even then, but he’d at least been able to interact without difficulty, and take sufficient enjoyment from his private thoughts to make that interaction worth it.
But, then, he’d lived very differently for the last eighty-seven years. His dealings with others had nearly all been business-related; he’d either been asking for something or being asked; there had always been an exchange of some sort that neatly took the place of any sociability. So how had he managed to get himself signed up for a friendly dinner at a restaurant with a group of people that included one he’d never met and another he barely knew?
“It’s not too late, you know… you could still go home.”
Ah, yes. That was how.
“It’s all right,” he insisted.
Quatre liked him. Trowa still didn’t quite understand it, but (largely at the insistence of Quatre himself) he’d come to accept the fact. And Quatre deserved a real person for a boyfriend. Maybe it was unwise, maybe it was unhealthy, maybe it was rather pathetic to be considering changing for someone else’s sake, but until he was in the right frame of mind to do it for his own, Trowa thought that the desire to make himself into something even a little more like the man Quatre deserved wasn’t a bad place to start. And if the first step was to become slightly less reclusive, so be it.
From the driver’s seat, Quatre smiled at him. “At least we don’t have to hide anything this time,” he said encouragingly.
It was a good, an excellent point. Half of what had been so difficult about that long evening with Quatre’s parents had been the inability, rare in the life of such an accomplished and sought-after magician, to tell them what he really was and the greater part of his real history. But, since Relena already knew and had evidently decided to share that knowledge with her fiance, this wouldn’t be a problem tonight.
The fiance didn’t know yet, though, so they’d agreed to meet by conventional means at the restaurant where Relena and whatever the guy’s name was were treating them all. Trowa wasn’t used to riding in cars, so accustomed was he to traveling just about everywhere he went by magic; actually, the last time he’d been buckled into someone’s passenger seat watching the city go by, it had been the same car driven by the same man a month and a half before. How things had changed since then!
As a matter of fact, he realized as they pulled into the parking lot at their destination, even the same restaurant had been involved.
“I didn’t know we were coming here,” he murmured as Quatre stopped the car.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Quatre sounded just the tiniest bit anxious.
Wanting to reassure him, Trowa said in a deadpan, “Are you going to get me drunk again?”
“How could I possibly mind revisiting the place where I first saw you?” Trowa added more quietly.
After reaching briefly to squeeze Trowa’s hand, Quatre got out of the car.
Duo and Heero had been shut up in the bedroom doing… something or other… when Trowa and Quatre had passed through the apartment on the way out, but it appeared they’d left not long after and driven faster, for here they were pulling into the next space at almost the same moment. Trowa knew practically nothing about modern cars, but even he noticed how odd Heero’s aged white thing looked next to Quatre’s shiny plum-colored one. But he thought their vehicles suited them, somehow, and saw nothing wrong with the contrast.
“Look!” cried Duo, jumping out. “I have some clothes of my own now!”
“It’s about time!” Quatre said as they all began to walk together toward the restaurant door. “I was wondering how long you could keep wearing Heero’s shorts before he got tired of doing laundry so often.”
Trowa was then called upon to approve Duo’s new outfit — black jeans and a purple button-up whose sleeves he’d already rolled past his elbows — and by the time this admiration had been duly granted, they were inside and Heero was looking around for the sister he stated was already here. At the direction of the staff, they made their way to where a couple of tables had been pushed together for them in a comfortable back corner and their hosts waited.
“Hi, guys!” Relena greeted them, standing alongside her fiance: a friendly, neat-looking person with a very honest face. Though he appeared, like Heero’s sister, to be only a few years younger than Quatre and Heero, something about him seemed, to Trowa, excessively young and fresh; it made Trowa feel old all of a sudden. Well, he was old; he supposed it was all right to feel it.
Heero hugged Relena — the first time Trowa had seen him hug anyone besides Duo — briefly shook hands with the fiance at the latter’s polite instigation, then took a seat. This left Relena to introduce the rest of them.
“Everyone,” she began with a smile, “this is Colin Morris, my fiance. Col, this is Quatre Winner; he’s the one my mother’s always worried Heero’s going to start going out with any day.”
“Oh, that Quatre Winner.” Colin shook Quatre’s hand with a smile. “It’s good to meet you. Are you sure you’re not the Quatre Winner who’s some kind of manager at Winner Plastics?”
“No, I’m that Quatre Winner too,” Quatre grinned.
“Absolutely no shop talk tonight, though,” Relena warned. “We’re here so everyone can meet everyone else, and to celebrate. I don’t want to hear a single word about offices.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Colin dutifully. “But you only said ‘dinner with Heero and some of his friends.’ What are we celebrating?”
“We’ll get to that. You haven’t met the other two yet.”
“Yeah!” Duo pushed forward. “I’m coming to you guys’ wedding and I’ve never even officially met the groom!”
Relena laughed. “Well, that’s not that unusual. But, Colin, this is Duo Maxwell, Heero’s new boyfriend.”
Colin threw a glance at Heero. “A new boyfriend? Nice work, old boy.” Then he shook hands with Duo, who was deliberately preening as if Colin’s words had been specifically in compliment to him.
“And this is Trowa Barton, Quatre’s boyfriend.” Trowa was a little surprised she’d gotten his name right, given the brevity of their last meeting. He’d only remembered hers because the others had said it a few times earlier.
“Pleased to meet you,” Colin smiled, shaking Trowa’s hand.
As the last introduced, Trowa was the last to take his seat, and found himself, to his pleasure, between Quatre and Duo with his back to the wall; at least one of them must have been looking out for him.
Colin, now sitting opposite Trowa beside Relena, glanced around once the noisy scraping of their chairs had mostly ceased, and asked jovially, “So what is it we’re celebrating?”
There was a lot of side-eying in response to this among the other men. “We’re telling everything, right?” Quatre confirmed at last.
“Only if you want to,” replied Relena placidly. “If not, we can just have a mystery celebration and he can wonder forever.”
“That hardly seems fair!” Colin protested.
“I don’t think any of us mind telling,” grinned Quatre, looking around at his friends.
Trowa and Heero shook their heads in concurrence. Duo shrugged and said, “Sure… it’s not like he’ll believe it anyway,” at which both Quatre and Relena laughed.
“All right, now I’m dying to know,” said Colin.
“Let’s all decide what we want first,” was Relena’s authoritative suggestion, probably in response to the waitress that had been patiently standing nearby watching them get settled.
Trowa chose some kind of salad that had chicken and mandarin oranges on top, declined Quatre’s facetious, sotto voce offer of a glass of wine with only a very slight blush, then sat back and waited for someone else to begin the story. And someone else did, but only after Colin had been commanded not to express his opinion on anything until the entire account was made, and a brief debate over whether it would sound better in chronological order or as Heero and Quatre had experienced it — an exchange that seemed to render poor Colin quite amusingly wild with curiosity.
Quatre made a good tale of it, leaving nothing out except for the more personal details, and even managing to quell Duo’s frequent interruptions fairly skillfully. He told about the curse, some of Duo’s unfortunate history as a doll, and how Trowa had spent so many years looking for him; how he and Heero had come to be involved, and been found by Trowa; what the latter had tried before they’d discovered the answer — Trowa was surprised Quatre remembered so many details there; the little human abilities Duo had gradually attained; Heero’s troubles with co-workers — some of which Trowa hadn’t heard about, and which were rather funny; the misunderstandings that kept them all dancing around important issues for so long — just in general: not enough to be embarrassing, only enough to be entertaining; and about their tension and concern that final evening.
It was a longer story than Trowa had realized. Of course it spanned an entire century, but just in the telling it took over an hour. Part of that was the aforementioned interruptions from Duo and the occasional question from Relena or even Colin (who was apparently allowed to make interjections if they were in search of clarification), but it really did take quite a while; they were all finished eating (except Quatre, whose mouth had been occupied with words) by the time it was done.
When Quatre had fallen silent, everyone else did too, and eventually they were all looking at Colin somewhat expectantly — even Duo, who had formerly been studying the dessert menu with intense purpose. Trowa couldn’t imagine how this must sound to someone that previously hadn’t even known magic existed; he thought back to his last visit to this restaurant, when he’d been so desperate to convince Quatre and Heero to let him see Duo that he’d been willing to pour his heart out to total strangers. Rather to his own surprise, tonight he found himself more entertained and curious to hear what Colin would have to say than anything else.
“Well,” Colin began with a half baffled grin, running his hand through his hair. “I think I’m still waiting for you guys to announce that this is a screenplay you’ve collaborated on and you want to know what I think of it.”
There were a couple of chuckles from around the table indicating that Colin was reacting exactly as expected.
“Or a novel?” he suggested next. “I’ve never heard of four people co-authoring all at once, but…”
Duo covered his mouth to stifle an even louder laugh, but couldn’t hide his grin.
“A pitch for a television series?” Colin looked around at them, still jovially confused. “I mean, it’s a great story, but…”
“It’s totally for real, Col,” said Relena. She patted him on the shoulder with an expression of amused sympathy. “I know it’s a lot to take in at once. It was hard for me even when Duo was a doll.”
Now it was Colin’s turn for a laugh, though his was utterly disbelieving and still a little baffled. “OK,” he said, obviously deciding to play along and not the least bit convinced. “OK, so…” He turned his eyes toward Duo and asked, attempting to keep a straight face, “So how long were you a doll, again?”
“Eighty-seven years,” replied Duo, grinning lopsidedly. He could see as well as the rest of them that Colin didn’t believe any of this yet.
“Right, right.” Colin shook his head. What he must be thinking of their motives and their sense of entertainment at the moment Trowa could only guess, and trying to guess was rather amusing. But it was time to speed things up.
Fixing his eyes on the glass across the table from him, Trowa murmured a spell.
Looking a little startled, as people often did when they heard the magical language for the first time, Colin glanced back abruptly at Trowa and said, “What was tha–whoa!” And he jumped backward, making his chair screech across the tile floor and topple as he left it, upon catching sight of his Diet Coke suddenly bright red fading to orange.
Almost everyone else at the table laughed again (which, in the face of Colin’s startlement, was perhaps a bit insensitive), and Quatre actually leaned over and kissed Trowa on the cheek. “Well done,” he said.
“Sit down,” Relena bade her fiance with a grin, rising to right his chair for him. “You should have seen what he did to convince me” — though, if Trowa recalled correctly, this had been nothing more than some nonsense with cards (well, technically it had been magic, but it probably could have been duplicated by sleight of hand). “We’re fine,” she next told the waiter that came hurrying over, trying not to laugh as she took a step to the side to hide the still-vacillating drink.
At the latter Colin stared as he slowly resumed his seat. It faded from blue to purple, then back to its proper brown, under his eyes, and he then looked up at Trowa. “Can you…” he asked hesitantly. “Can you do that again?”
In the past, Trowa had rarely been pleased with requests for meaningless displays of magic (the most notable exceptions being when Quatre was involved), but at the moment he was only amused and happy to comply. This time he instructed the soda to progress through a series of greens and yellows to white and then back, and Colin watched in open-mouthed astonishment.
“That’s… amazing…” he breathed. “What else can you do?”
Trowa shrugged, casting about for something more interesting. His gaze alighted on the salt and pepper shakers, and he spoke a slightly more complicated spell to make them hover just above the table and engage in a spinning dance.
“I think you’ve got a fan, Trois,” Duo grinned, for Colin still hadn’t managed to shut his gaping mouth and his eyes were shining with wonder.
“It is extremely sexy,” said Quatre seriously.
“I don’t know about sexy…” Colin was beginning to get hold of himself, but at the same time seemed increasingly excited. “But it’s amazing! Is it real magic? Or else how do you do it? Actually…” he added in a mixture of still-agitated pensiveness and loyalty, “it might be pretty sexy if Relena did it.”
“She probably could, eventually,” Duo said thoughtfully. “Heero’s got the talent, and it usually does run in families.”
Colin looked at his fiance with brows raised in pleased surprised. Relena managed to put on a mysterious expression just in time, though there was mirth behind it. This made Quatre and Duo laugh again, and even Trowa had to smile.
“OK, so…” Colin turned back to sweep his eyes somewhat greedily over the rest of them again; they came to rest on Trowa. “You turned him into a doll?”
So the story, essentially, had to be told all over. It didn’t take quite as long as last time, and in this instance the distractions were provided by Trowa himself as he continued to work magic on a small scale all across their dining space for Colin’s entertainment, ceasing only, abruptly, whenever anyone walked by or they ordered dessert or their dessert arrived. At that point Duo tried a few spells of his own, which, he being rather rusty, ended up getting whipped cream from the top of his pie all over his face and his brand-new shirt (and Trowa did not miss the look he and Heero exchanged at this).
There could be no doubt: Colin was convinced, and extremely interested in everything. His innocent fascination drew even Trowa and Heero out of their reticence to answer his very engaging questions, and soon everyone seemed much more at ease than Trowa had thought they (or at least he) could possibly be this evening. Not only that, here he was doing magic — utterly pointless magic — without feeling the least bit bad about it or expecting anything in return. Maybe relearning how to make friends and have fun with them wouldn’t be quite as difficult as he’d thought.
And under the table, he felt Quatre’s hand take hold of his, and everything in the world was fine.
It was becoming something of a tradition for Trowa to help Heero make dinner for the four of them after work on at least a couple of nights of the week. Quatre thought Heero enjoyed observing the magic Trowa used for this purpose, though he hadn’t yet agreed to start learning how to do it himself; and that Trowa liked having the chance to make food for his lover rather than the other way around — though whether this was because Quatre’s hopelessness in the kitchen had shone through even in all those microwave meals or because Trowa simply enjoyed the reversal of roles, Quatre couldn’t guess.
“So, Duo,” Quatre said lazily as they were both lounging on the sofa one Tuesday evening waiting for their boyfriends to cater to their every whim, “you’ve been human for two weeks now… how are you liking it?”
“That,” said Duo solemnly, “is a very stupid question.”
“It is not. You were a doll for a lot longer than you were a human before; I thought maybe after turning back you might have realized you liked being a doll better.”
“That,” Duo echoed himself, “is a very stupid idea.”
Quatre stuck out his tongue. Duo threw one of the smaller couch cushions at him. It was too point-blank for Quatre to catch it except as it bounced off his face, but once it had done so, he propped it behind him and leaned back against it. “Seriously, though,” he went on. “What are your plans?”
Duo, his half of the couch now one cushion less comfortable, nevertheless also leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “Oh, there’s all sorts of stuff I need to do.” His tone sounded as lazy as the one with which Quatre had introduced this topic, yet perfectly serious. “Heero’s going to start teaching me to drive one of these days…”
“Wow, that’s a scary thought,” Quatre murmured.
“Isn’t it?” Heero agreed from the kitchen.
“You two can just both shut up,” said Duo. “Anyway, so then I’ll be able to get a driver’s license. Oh, but first I need a state I.D. and a birth certificate and stuff so I can exist.”
“I’m working on that,” said Trowa, also from the kitchen.
“He could just get you a driver’s license,” Quatre pointed out. “Trowa, your people can get him anything, can’t they?”
“Nobody is driving my car until they actually know how to drive,” Heero put in.
“There you go,” said Duo, grinning. “Also I think I’ll try for one of those GED things. Trowa’s people could get me one of those too, but it’s stuff I’m going to want to be sure I know.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Quatre nodded. “Then I can get you a job.”
“Yeah, we don’t hire high school dropouts. Usually we want a college degree, actually… but if a Regional Manager recommends you, you may be able to get in without one.”
“Well, I think I’ll want a college degree at some point too. But I will need a job for that.”
“If you promise to get real work done every day without distracting Heero too much, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I can’t help it if I’m distracting.” Duo tried to look innocent and failed.
Quatre laughed. “As long as it’s non-contact distraction.”
From the kitchen he barely caught Heero’s muttered, “That’s just as bad.”
“Hey! I said it’s not my fault!” Duo could hardly make this protest with a straight face. “Did I force you guys to take that week off? Besides!” He veered suddenly onto the offensive. “Trowa! How’s your book coming?”
“I haven’t actually started it yet,” replied Trowa placidly.
With a very pointed look at Quatre, Duo said, “See?”
Quatre just laughed again. Then he brought them back around to the real topic of discussion with, “I think it’s about $75 to take the GED; you could probably do it as soon as you think you’re ready. I know there are study guides…”
“Yeah,” Duo nodded. “I’m going to end up owing Heero my soul if he keeps paying for all these things for me.”
Just to see what Heero would say, Quatre suggested, “I could pay for it for you.”
“No.” As expected, Heero advanced to the edge of the linoleum and spoke directly out at them. “If Duo’s going to owe his soul to anyone, it’s going to be me.”
“Awww,” said Duo, sounding pleased. “See,” he added in an undertone to Quatre, “him I can pay back with sex.”
Quatre snorted. Heero said, “What was that?”
“Nothing!” Duo sang.
“Trowa, go see what they’re doing over there,” Heero ordered.
Presently Trowa’s face appeared above Quatre’s, leaning over the back of the couch to look at him. “What are you doing over here?” he asked quietly, appearing amused. Quatre reached up suddenly and dragged him into an upside-down, off-balance kiss.
“PDA! PDA!” cried Duo, and began beating at them with the one small couch cushion still within his reach.
Trowa stepped aside, but Quatre wasn’t going to take this. He retrieved one of the three pillows on his end and retaliated. Soon the combat escalated off the couch, and laughter was threatening to defeat them both before either could force the other to yield. But then Duo called out something in the magical language, and the other two small cushions — which Quatre had been keeping his eye on, as backup weaponry — jumped into the air and flew toward him.
“That is not fair!” Quatre protested breathlessly. “Trowa, help!”
“How old are you two?” wondered Trowa, unmoved.
“I’m a hundred and eleven!” Duo cried triumphantly.
“You shouldn’t be allowed to use magic!” Quatre was laughing helplessly as Duo and Duo’s accomplices battered him and he was rarely able to get in a shot of his own. Then, finally, he heard Trowa’s voice calmly coming to his assistance. In response to the mysterious words, one of the aggressive floating cushions sped off abruptly in another direction — a poorly-chosen direction, it turned out, for it careened into the lamp on the end table. Trowa started forward and spoke a quick, brief phrase, and the lamp halted in response to his outstretched hand, hovering and turning very slowly in mid-air.
Duo, looking impressed, cast a quick spell of his own to make the last couch cushion stop attacking Quatre, then came to look at Trowa’s work. “Good lord, Trois… you didn’t even specify an object! You’ve got to be the best magician of the century or something!”
“I may be,” Trowa replied. “I did gesture, though.” There was only honesty — not even the slightest touch of braggadocio — in his tone; Quatre doubted there could be anything sexier in the world than his quick-thinking use of magic and subsequent modesty.
Heero, having left the kitchen and joined them where they were gathered around the end table, was examining the floating lamp with some interest, peering closely at it and bending to look from all angles. “You just said, ‘Let it hover.'” He sounded as impressed as Duo, though presumably Duo knew better than he did why this was so impressive.
Taking the lamp in his hands almost gingerly, Heero guided it back onto the end table and watched it for a moment as if it might float away now that he’d let go. Then he turned to Duo. From this angle Quatre couldn’t see the expression on his face, but Duo started backing away with raised hands and a winningly sheepish grin. “Duo,” Heero said darkly, pursuing his retreating boyfriend around the TV stand, “you’re going to owe me more than your soul if you start breaking things in my apartment.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Duo protested, disappearing into the hall in his attempt to escape justice.
“You started it.”
“But the spell–” Duo’s words were suddenly cut off, and Quatre assumed that Heero had caught up with him and was exacting whatever revenge he saw fit.
Laughing, Quatre bent to retrieve the scattered cushions and straighten the couch. When he was finished, he found Trowa close beside him, raising his hands to smooth out Quatre’s hair — which, he informed him in a murmur, was a mess. Liking the feeling of those long, slender fingers, Quatre raised his face and smiled. Trowa smiled back, summoning the usual butterflies that this time fluttered up into the joyful thought that it was taking less and less to get Trowa to smile these days.
“Thank you,” Quatre murmured.
Briefly, unexpectedly, Trowa bent and kissed him. “You’re welcome.” Then he returned to the kitchen to resume whatever he’d been working on before all the drama had started. “Heero, can this bread come out?” he called after a moment.
For some time there was no answer from down the hall, but eventually a very disinterested-sounding affirmative floated out to them. Quatre chuckled and returned to the sofa. Eventually their friends emerged, both looking just a little flushed; Heero went back to the kitchen without a word, and Duo came to sit beside Quatre again.
“In answer to your question earlier,” said Duo, putting his hands behind his head once more and relaxing back into the replaced cushions, “I fucking love being human.”
It was going to be a while, Duo thought, before he was really accustomed to his own humanity again. As Quatre had pointed out earlier this week, he’d been a doll a lot longer than he’d been a human, and probably had become more accustomed to not being able to feel or smell or taste than he’d ever been to the ability. And the more he considered the matter, the more he thought that with this contrast in mind was the best way to live.
Everyone else he saw — when he was wandering around aimlessly while Heero was at work, or when he went shopping with Heero and made sure anyone that saw them knew they were a couple — they didn’t appreciate things the way he did. They didn’t recognize how marvelous it was just to be able to breathe, to walk, to eat, to have a choice about where they went or what they did, to have physical sensations and awareness and needs.
Admittedly it was a little bizarre to be so pleased when he had to get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet. Other people didn’t need to be as happy about such a circumstance as Duo was, and, really, Duo didn’t need to be as happy about such a circumstance as Duo was. But he still thought he was lucky, thought he saw life in a better light than anyone that had never been a doll. Though he couldn’t exactly pity them for never having been dolls, he did pity them for not being as happy as he was; the whole entire world could never be as wonderful to them as it was to him, and that was a little sad.
Of course, they didn’t have Heero either, and that — for them — was sadder than anything. But, once again, Duo thought as he crawled back into bed next to his sleeping boyfriend, he wouldn’t wish it otherwise.
He had already spent quite a lot of time — more than two hundred fifty hours, he estimated — watching Heero sleep, but like this it was so different as to seem a completely new and separate experience. Now he could reach over and run his hand through Heero’s hair, push it out of his face if it was being particularly unruly; bend and kiss him if he wished, even press himself fully against him if he was feeling cold or lonely. All this, and also it made a difference knowing that he too could fall asleep at any time, that he would wake up at Heero’s side if not actually in his arms.
Now he touched Heero’s beautiful face softly with his fingertips, and Heero unconsciously responded by wrinkling his nose as if to dislodge a crawling itch. Duo laughed silently, and draped his arm across Heero’s chest. Heero made a faint noise, raised a hand to clasp at the arm, and then settled into stillness again.
Overwhelmed suddenly with burning happiness that made him want to shout out loud, Duo instead pressed his lips to Heero’s cheek and then forced himself to stop moving. He still almost couldn’t believe that things had turned out like this, that he’d found someone like Heero. He was sure there were other people in the world that would have been willing to go through a month of inconvenience with him, but of those, how many was he likely to have fallen in love with? Heero was one in a million; if Duo hadn’t ended up in the gutter outside his office at just the right time, he would not be breathing right now.
He wondered suddenly how things would have gone — for all of them — if the curse had never happened. If he had never met that woman — what had her name been? — or if he and Trowa hadn’t argued, or if Trowa had never gotten hold of that artifact, where would they all be now? Well, now he and Trowa would be dead, of course. But how would their lives have gone? They probably would have been lovers eventually, and perhaps it would have lasted. They would have lived out their days in relative contentment, not knowing what they were missing.
And here in the future, would Heero have stayed lonely? Would he ever have found someone that could get past his walls and make him laugh? Or would he eventually just have hooked up with his best friend, the supportive person he’d once kissed because they ‘might as well try it?’ Duo thought Heero and Quatre could have been happy together too, for all the control issues, not knowing that a greater happiness would have found them if things had happened differently ninety years before.
It was funny how almost a century of suffering could lead to the best possible solution in the end… because Duo couldn’t imagine being happier than he was now. And now that all was said and done, he couldn’t really regret the curse, either. If he had to do it over again, knowing that Heero was at the end of it… well, he would certainly complain about being a doll, but he wouldn’t hesitate.
Falling asleep was marvelous. So far there were no signs of the insomnia that had plagued him in earlier life — but, then, there had been very few nights since the breaking of the curse when he hadn’t been rather worn out by the time he was attempting to sleep; Heero had a lot more energy than Duo had expected, and Duo was not complaining. He loved to sink into fluffy unawareness with his arms around Heero, loved that Heero’s face was routinely the last thing he saw before drifting off.
Of course, waking up was nice these days too. Even if it was at some ungodly hour he would never before deliberately have endured (as a human), it was a reminder both that he was capable of sleep and that Heero was beside him and had been all night. There was very little, in fact, from which Duo could not derive pleasure these days. And that today was Sunday and they were not required to wake to an alarm, that Heero didn’t have work, could only make a good situation better.
Heero, however, seemed to feel things less than perfect, for he made an unhappy noise when Duo’s luxurious stretching woke him up, and buried his face in the pillow.
Duo kissed the back of his neck and said, “What’s wrong?”
“We’re having dinner with my parents tonight, remember?”
Now that he mentioned it, Duo did remember. He might have been dreading it, if not for the fact that being human enough to meet his boyfriend’s parents made him so damn happy. Heero was dreading it, though, Duo knew. He ran his hands through the messy dark hair and kissed him again. “That’s, like…” He glanced at the clock. “Seven hours from now. Why are you thinking about it now?”
“I can’t help it if you’re not distracting me,” Heero muttered.
“Oh! That sounds like a challenge!” Duo scrambled off the bed. As he was already naked, he couldn’t engage in any sort of striptease to capture his reluctant lover’s attention, so, as soon as he knew Heero had turned his eyes out of the pillow and was looking in this direction, he seized the first object to hand off the dresser. It turned out to be a tie that Heero hadn’t bothered to put away on Friday after work — somewhat boring green and gold stripes — and Duo ran it through his hands with a pensive little smile. “You have no idea what I’m about to do in the shower,” he murmured, and headed for the bathroom.
Sounds of bedding being hastily thrown aside came from behind him, along with Heero’s protest, “That’s dry-clean only!”
“Is that really all you can say?” Duo laughed, and turned the hot water on.
They didn’t see anything of Trowa and Quatre that day, and Duo, thinking back to the last time Heero had accepted his parents’ dinner invitation, wondered idly whether they might not be in Paris again. Therefore, since he and Heero had gotten the apartment cleaned up yesterday — an activity that, like most of his new life, Duo enjoyed a good deal more than he might have expected — there was nothing to amuse themselves with but sex and Oz and random conversation. The first was scattered throughout the day; the second, Duo greatly enjoyed because he finally got a turn to read and the opportunity to do voices; the third was as good as always, despite Heero’s apprehension for this evening.
When the latter did eventually come, for all Heero seemed to want to delay it, Duo took him by the hand and said very seriously, “Hey. You only have to do this once, and then it’ll be over.”
Heero just sighed.
Duo kissed his cheek. “They have to come around eventually, and it’ll probably be tonight, since I’m pretty sure nobody in the world could hold out against the power of our love.”
Still Heero looked grim.
“Plus they’re smart people,” Duo tried. “I mean, they’re your parents.” When this contrived compliment also failed to win him a positive reaction, he added, “And I’m sure they really do want you to be happy. You are happy, aren’t you?”
Finally Heero smiled; it looked a little forced, but the fact that he was forcing it for Duo’s sake meant something anyway. “Yes,” he said. “You’re right. I wish it were as simple as you make it sound, but you’re still right.” And he returned the cheek-kiss. Then, with another sigh that was more the release of a deep, determined breath, he added, “Let’s get ready to go.”
The Asian district in this city wasn’t the most stereotypically Asian example of such a neighborhood Heero had ever heard of, which seemed to cause Duo some disappointment as he saw it now for the first time. That didn’t mean Duo wasn’t still behaving like an adorable dog with its panting head out the car window, though, or that he didn’t exclaim over what architecture and decoration did clearly say ‘Asian’ to his American eyes. Heero answered his random questions about the area and growing up there, but otherwise remained silent during the drive. He had no idea how tonight was going to go, and was bracing himself harder than usual.
His father had never been demonstrative, but even he, when Heero had made his announcement four years back, had been direct and rather emotional with his immediate expression of disapproval. Mrs. Yuy’s reaction didn’t bear thinking of. There had been tears and angry words and then that long period of noncommunication, and the wounds occasioned that day had never really been discussed or patched up. Gradually, eventually, they’d begun talking again, without ever really mentioning the confrontation or Heero’s sexuality. Things had smoothed out, for the most part, but for the occasional veiled hint or attempt to set him up with some girl, and hadn’t become truly awkward again until Relena’s engagement.
Quatre and Relena both thought that what Heero needed was a boyfriend, to show his parents that he really was gay, that he was happy that way, that he had the potential for life-long happiness in declining to deny what he was. Heero had always agreed with them, up to a point… and that point, unfortunately, seemed to be where he actually brought the new boyfriend to meet his parents and attempt to prove all those things. Because he didn’t know that he really believed it would help. And he just couldn’t stand the thought of his parents’ continued disapproval. If they were unpleasant to Duo, or if they gave any indication, in his presence, that they still believed this was a game or a mistake… Heero was afraid there would be another row, this one undoubtedly a little more difficult to recover from.
“You OK?” Duo asked presently.
“Yeah.” Heero couldn’t bring himself to say anything more.
Duo made a sympathetic noise, but it seemed he’d run out of reassurances.
At that moment, Heero’s phone gave off an obnoxious beeping he didn’t often hear from it, and he frowned as he fished it out of his pocket. Handing it to Duo he said, “Can you look at that?”
“From Winner, Quatre,” Duo read out. “Texting since you’re probably driving and Duo can read it. Just wishing you luck tonight. Trowa says so too. We’re cheering for you guys.” He made funny noises as he attempted to read aloud Quatre’s signature, which, if Heero remembered correctly, involved a number of unpronounceable symbols as decoration. “That’s so sweet.”
Generally Heero hated text messages, and had forbidden Quatre to send him any, but at the moment couldn’t but appreciate the sentiment written out so definitively — especially since, if Quatre had actually called him this close to the time, Heero probably wouldn’t have answered. He nodded his agreement to Duo’s statement.
His sister and brother-to-be had arrived first, but — bless her heart — Relena had obviously insisted on waiting around outside so everyone could enter together. Heero returned her greeting hug particularly enthusiastically. “How are you guys?” she asked as she withdrew.
“He’s freaking out,” Duo said bluntly before Heero could answer.
“I wouldn’t have put it quite like that,” Heero muttered.
“Oh, Heero.” Relena took his shoulder and squeezed it. “It’s going to be fine!”
“That depends on how you define ‘fine.'”
“Well, it’s going to be really awkward at first, but they’re going to see that you guys are serious about each other, and they’re going to realize that everything is OK. You’ll see.” Though she spoke with certainty, she clearly observed that he wasn’t convinced. Lips tightening, her face took on that authoritative expression so much like one their mother often wore. And in perfect keeping with this, what she said was, “Heero. In case you haven’t noticed any time in the last twenty-two years, I’m just like mama. I know how she’s going to react. Trust me.”
And at this, Heero had to smile. She was a good deal like their mother, and maybe she was right about being able to predict Mrs. Yuy’s reaction because of that. He was still short of words, but he nodded, and she seemed to accept this answer.
“And don’t forget that we have your back,” said Colin, placing his own hand on Heero’s unoccupied shoulder. Everything Colin said usually sounded so polished, but now there was just a touch of uncertainty to his tone. It wasn’t that he doubted what he was saying, Heero thought, but rather that he still wasn’t quite sure yet how brotherly Heero would allow him to be — which actually rendered his expression of support more meaningful, given that he’d still offered it.
“Thank you,” said Heero sincerely. Then he squared his shoulders, dislodging both of his well-wishers, and added, “Let’s get this over with.”
Relena and Colin joined hands as they headed up across the front lawn toward the porch. And as Heero moved to follow, watching them from behind, his steps slowed. Eventually he came to a complete halt, standing in the middle of the grass as his sister and her fiance drew farther and farther away.
“What is it?” Duo asked quietly. “Don’t tell me you’re backing out.”
“No…” Heero took a deep breath and turned to face him. “You know what it’s like in there; or at least you heard what it was like last time. It may be worse tonight. And I’m going to do my best to be a real person, but… if I curl up in a ball, or run screaming, I…”
“I’d like to see that,” Duo teased, though his amused tone was still sympathetic.
“But even if I turn into a… a frigid bitch… I want you to know that I…” It took some effort and another deep breath, but he managed to say it at last. “I love you.”
This time Duo really did knock them both right over with the enthusiasm of his full-contact embrace; he seemed to go from zero to sixty in half an instant and eight inches, and they were suddenly in the grass in a tangle, and from the porch Relena was failing to stifle a laugh. Duo was also laughing at his own inadvertent tackle, but Heero thought this laughter had somewhat the sound of restrained sobbing. When he put his mouth close to Heero’s ear and whispered to him, the tone of his voice confirmed this.
“You just wait, Heero Yuy… later I’m going to tell you exactly what I think of that.”
“Thanks,” Heero said, and found that he sounded a bit choked himself. “That thought should get me through the night.”
Duo’s ecstatic smile as he pulled away from Heero and jumped up, then offered a hand to help Heero up after him, would have been a sufficient reward in itself, even without his words. Once Heero was on his feet again, Duo kissed him hard for a moment before accompanying him on across the lawn. They all filed through the door, Duo still grinning and Heero with a heart just the tiniest bit lighter for it.
As usual, his father was waiting in the front room, and his mother entered when she heard them. There were the typical hearty greetings for Relena and Colin, and then the Yuy parents turned toward their son and the stranger. Relena had been the one to request permission for another friend to join them for dinner tonight, so this would be the first indication not only of said friend’s name but of what, exactly, he was to those present. This would be the moment that would determine quite a bit of Heero’s happiness or pain for the next he knew not how long.
Yet he found, now that it came to it, rather than the reluctance and deep concern he’d been experiencing all day — and, to a certain extent, all week, all month, perhaps every month and every year since he’d realized this moment must come — that this wasn’t going to be nearly as difficult as he’d anticipated. He had a man he loved beside him, and supportive friends around him, and the assurance of good thoughts from those that were absent; he would survive whatever happened here.
“Mama, papa,” he said. Deliberately, he reached for Duo’s hand. “I want you to meet Duo Maxwell, my boyfriend.”
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.
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