“I wonder what Merci would make of some of these breakfasts,” Quatre remarked one morning over the meal in question, which today included a fairly complicated-looking fluffy cake-like potato-and-egg substance.

Trowa had to smile at bit. “She would regard this one as a personal challenge,” he replied with certainty.

Quatre’s third-youngest sister had had a hobbyist’s interest in cooking since she’d been old enough to hold any kitchen utensil, and had taken upon herself the duties of family chef after the first move; she was almost the only one of them whose interests before the disaster had directly translated to a useful skill thereafter. As such, she had become the undisputed mistress of the kitchen, and had always taken somewhat possessive charge of all the contents thereof (when there were any). Her dictatorial matter-of-factness in this, combined with her diminutive appearance (she was only nine) made for an amusing overall impression, and even Trowa, who was not technically her brother, felt a pang at the memory of her solemn but childish bustling around the cramped little kitchen in the Beaulea house.

“You’re right,” Quatre agreed, with a smile half reminiscent and half miserable. “She’d be pulling it apart trying to determine every ingredient.”

“Right at the table,” Trowa nodded.

“And then she would try to duplicate it the next day. And I can only imagine what she would think of the kitchen here…”

Again Trowa nodded. That huge kitchen down in the palace’s first cellar would be a paradise to little Merci.

Quatre’s expression had turned thoughtful as he continued eating, and Trowa waited patiently to find out what was on his mind beyond the not-unusual reflections about his sister and undoubtedly the rest of the family. And when Quatre smiled pensively and made a little humming sound as if wondering, Why not? Trowa became even more curious. Finally Quatre said, “Why don’t we go down to the kitchen? Wouldn’t it be fun to try to cook something?”

“‘Try to’ being the operative phrase,” Trowa replied sardonically. His tone lightened, though, as he added, “But it doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend some time.”

“The last time we were in there,” Quatre mused on, “I didn’t notice any actual food; I think all our meals appear by magic. But I bet if we go down intending to cook something, we’ll find a recipe and all the ingredients waiting for us.”

Trowa agreed, though he couldn’t help wondering how effective even a step-by-step guide would be; he’d never been much of a chef. Still, he was rather entertained by this unexpected intention of his master’s. “What did you have in mind to make?” he wondered.

Quatre, who knew even less of cooking than Trowa did, replied vaguely, “Some kind of dessert? That we can eat later after supper, maybe? I don’t know… maybe a cake or something. Are you laughing at me?”

“A little,” Trowa admitted. Though in addition to his amusement, he also felt touched and sad at seeing Quatre planning an activity he undoubtedly thought would give him some dim sense of connection to a family he missed so very much. It had only been just over a month since their arrival at the palace, but already they both talked as if the Winner girls and Quatre’s father were memories from a much more distant past.

In response to Trowa’s acknowledgment that he was teasing, Quatre grinned. “It won’t matter if we make a huge mess and don’t come up with anything edible; the point is just to try it.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Trowa agreed placidly. Quatre, who, having finished his breakfast, was rising from his chair, paused and eyed his servant suspiciously, and in response to this Trowa added, “It sounds like fun.”

“All right,” Quatre allowed, and left the room to go bathe and dress.

Trowa appreciated that Quatre was so concerned with his autonomy and enjoyment here. The Winner family had always been good to their servants, but Quatre in particular was extremely thoughtful. Trowa had decided against explaining that, since he’d spent most of his life with little leisure to choose his own pastimes — and, indeed, specifically at Quatre’s beck and call — this was nothing more or less than precisely what he was accustomed to. Beyond that, though there were a number of things he enjoyed doing, they were all vastly overshadowed by his favorite activity of all: being with Quatre. As if he would ever complain of any pastime he was allowed to share with his master, or seek out some other that would separate them!

Quatre seemed fairly cheerful when, an hour or so later, they headed down to the spacious kitchen, and even moreso when they found, just as he’d predicted, a neat array of ingredients waiting for them beside a detailed recipe. The latter looked as if it had come off a printing press like the page of a book, and they spent some time admiring the crisp evenness of the letters before bothering to read what it actually said.

That Quatre had finally started doing so was evinced by his laugh, simultaneously tickled and somewhat helpless-sounding. “This may end up being hilarious,” he said. “Loosen the chocolate mixture with one third of the egg whites, then fold in the remaining two thirds. What does that mean? What is ‘chocolate?'”

Trowa turned to examine the materials they were to use. His eyes ran over the relatively familiar sight of eggs, sugars, butter, and cream to several unknown substances in bowls: a fine dark powder, a pale tan substance with the texture of dirt, a mass of curling shreds that might have looked like grated cheese were it not so brown, an orange jam, and what appeared on closer inspection to be ground nuts. “I don’t know what half these things are,” he remarked in belated response to Quatre’s rhetorical question.

“Then I guess that’s the first thing to do,” said Quatre cheerfully, setting the recipe down and joining Trowa in looking at the ingredients.

By tasting tiny bits of the unknown substances and referring to the paper for contextual clues about consistency, they managed at least tentatively to assign names. The ginger preserve and ground ginger, at least, were conceptually familiar, but what precisely the chocolate and cocoa were and whence they came remained a solid unknown. Still, having identified the various components, they felt they were ready to attempt combining them.

Line the bottom of the baking pan with a circle of baker’s parchment,” Quatre read out, and began scanning the assembled items for the two in question. His hand found instead the bottle of wine that stood among the ingredients, and, after glancing at the recipe to see that it only called for ‘a splash’ on two different occasions, filled one of a pair of glasses that had been standing nearby apparently for this purpose.

Trowa held up what he assumed was the first thing Quatre needed. Examining it before handing it over, however, he felt compelled to remark, “This is an extremely complicated baking pan.”

Quatre took it from him and turned it around, mimicking Trowa’s interested exploration of the spring-loaded clasp that seemed to keep the parts together. He looked a little skeptical, but chuckled as he said, “It’s hard to tell whether any of this is normal, when we’ve done so little cooking, or if it’s all magical.”

“And I don’t know whether the magic is being helpful or patronizing with this…” Trowa offered next the baker’s parchment, already cut into a circle that would obviously fit quite neatly into the odd pan.

Laughing as he took the paper and ceremoniously placed it inside the pan on the counter, Quatre was obviously about to turn back to the recipe for the next instructions when he was distracted by the wine, of which he’d just taken his first sip. “This is good.”

Trowa’s interest was immediately aroused by the surprised enthusiasm in Quatre’s voice — not to mention the fact that Quatre, never much of a drinker, then emptied his glass and poured a second. When he’d set the bottle down, Trowa took it and, after examining its unlabeled surface, poured himself a helping as well.

It was good. Trowa didn’t know what it had been distilled from, but it had a tang to it and a very pleasant aftertaste. Though Trowa was far from a connoisseur, he thought this was the best wine he’d ever had, and he didn’t scruple to refill his glass.

“All right,” Quatre said, dismissing that distraction even as he continued drinking it. “Coat the interior pan and parchment with butter, then dust it lightly with cocoa. Oh, and it looks like we’re going to need simmering water in a moment here.”

With a nod, Trowa looked around for wherewithal to comply with that request, and found a very even fire already lit inside the stove, and, next to the water pump, a saucepan with a sort of smaller second saucepan fitted into it. Not really certain what the insert was for, Trowa removed it before filling the pan with water and setting it on the stove. Then he returned to Quatre’s side, just in time to get a face full of the powdery cocoa as Quatre, attempting to ‘dust lightly’ the newly-buttered baking pan, blew on a palmful of the stuff and inadvertently sent it in all directions.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” said Quatre at once, though he sounded far more surprised and amused than penitent. He raised a hand to draw one pointer finger down Trowa’s cheek. “It makes your face look dirty.”

Trowa retaliated by taking up a pinch of what cocoa remained in the bowl and flicking it at the lower half of Quatre’s face. “You’re right,” he said. “It does.”

Quatre licked his lips — at which Trowa tried to keep himself from either doing something he would later regret or turning away with telling abruptness to avoid the impulse — and commented, “It’s bitter… I have no idea what this thing is going to taste like.”

“If it tastes anything like it’s supposed to, it’ll be a wonder.”

Grinning, Quatre took a drink of wine and examined the baking pan. “I guess this is dusted enough. Next we’re supposed to Mix the remaining butter with three quarters of the chocolate and a splash of wine. Place them over simmering water and stir the mixture occasionally until it is melted and smooth. Oh, this chocolate stuff is bitter too.”

“Assuming that actually is the chocolate,” Trowa added.

Quatre grinned. “That is what we’re assuming, since we don’t exactly have a choice.”

Trowa moved to bring the insert pan he hadn’t known what to do with over to where they were working, judging now that its purpose was probably to be set over simmering water; then they put in the ingredients as indicated. And as Quatre stirred the mixture with a big silver spoon and Trowa admired the design of the insert pan (which had a little chimney to allow for the escape of steam from the lower pan, and two wooden handles so one pan could be lifted off the other without discomfort), they drank their wine and continued discussing Quatre’s sister Merci and their memories of her culinary exploits.

This expanded, before the stirring and melting and admiring were finished, to a discussion of other of Quatre’s sisters and their habits — and this led to that most precious of circumstances, an expression of satisfaction from Quatre that Trowa was here with him. In this instance, of course, Quatre was really just pleased at having someone around that knew his family and could join him in conversation about them, but Trowa was happy with whatever he could get along those lines.

“Why do you suppose this sugar is brown?” Quatre wondered as he lifted the bowl and examined it.

“‘Brown sugar,’ I guess,” Trowa replied. Realizing that this had been a consummately idiotic statement — really, why had he said it? though Quatre just laughed — he tried to cover it up by asking, “What’s next?”

“Mixing it with the white sugar,” Quatre replied, suiting action to words.

Then the following step was to figure out how to separate egg whites from their yolks. This proved rather difficult and inordinately hilarious — the wine they were drinking probably didn’t help — and they had to snoop around for three more eggs to replace the ones they’d botched. Fortunately, they did not get into any kind of egg fight, though Trowa suspected they were both tempted. And in response to Quatre’s comments about wasted materials (or at least after Quatre’s comments about wasted materials), the eggs whose yolks they’d broken into the whites disappeared — whether to reform uncracked on the shelf where Trowa and Quatre eventually found what they took to be new eggs, to be used as part of a meal at some point, or into nothingness, there was no way of guessing.

“What does ‘whisk’ mean in this context?” Quatre wondered as he reread the current paragraph of instructions. He laughed as he added speculatively, “Take it away quickly? Maybe run around the room with it?”

Trowa traded his wine glass for something else on the table and supplied, “I think this device here is called a ‘whisk,’ so if you stir with this you’ll be ‘whisking’ it.”

“You probably have to do it quickly, though…” Quatre put fingers to his chin in an exaggerated expression of contemplation, drained his glass, then laughed again. “In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they just hold a stiff peak. ‘Just hold a stiff peak?’ What is that supposed to mean?”

“That seems self-evident,” Trowa replied.

“Well, then,” Quatre huffed, “you do it!”

“I will!” declared Trowa. So Quatre set to work on the sugars and the egg yolks and the melted chocolate stuff, and Trowa on the egg whites and a pinch of salt that he somehow misjudged and made rather larger than the recipe probably intended. It would undoubtedly taste all right accompanied by more wine, though.

Then, too, beating egg whites and (a perhaps excessive amount of) salt into stiff peaks was more difficult than he’d anticipated, and nothing even remotely mountainous had appeared in the bowl by the time his arm had grown quite tired and Quatre was already finished with his task. Quatre laughed at him and took over, but he turned out to be every bit as bad at it. Eventually they decided that the cake or whatever it was would just have to do without stiff peaks this time, because they were both weary of stirring.

“All right,” said Quatre when that decision had been reached, “what’s next…” He went to pick up the recipe, nearly upended his wine glass that was standing atop it, drank the wine, moved the glass, retrieved the paper, then peered at it as if it had become significantly more difficult to focus his eyes on in the last few minutes. But he managed to read, “Using a large metal spoon, fold the the almonds and ginger into the chocolate mixture,” without faltering. In evident amusement he wondered, “What other kind of spoon would we be using?”

Refilling both their glasses, Trowa speculated, “A wooden one?”

“Oh, I guess that’s…” Quatre had picked up the remaining clean spoon and had his thoughts derailed by it. “Look how shiny it is…” And he started making faces at his upside-down reflection.

“We never did decide what it means to ‘fold’ something into something else,” Trowa mused.

This drew Quatre’s attention away from his pursuit with the spoon, which was a little disappointing since Trowa had found that more than a little entertaining. “I bet I know!” he said enthusiastically, and seized the bowl. “Hand me the almonds, and the… what else did it say?”

Wordlessly Trowa obeyed, and watched as Quatre demonstrated his theory on how one folded baking ingredients. “We’ll just have to hope I’m right about this,” he laughed halfway through, “since they’re in there now!”

Over the top of his wine glass Trowa peered into the bowl. “I doubt we’d be able to tell the difference anyway.”

Finished with his vigorous (presumed) folding movements, Quatre set down the bowl and for a moment looked around vaguely, as if he’d forgotten what he was doing. Another drink seemed to remind him of their pursuit, however, and he reached for the recipe again. “Loosen the chocolate mixture with one third of the egg whites, then fold in the remaining thirds. What does that mean?”

With an odd feeling of deja vu Trowa remarked, “Well, you figured out folding, I think…”

“But ‘loosen?'”

Trowa stared at the chocolate mixture and the nearby egg white mixture. “I guess that makes sense…”

“Then you do it!”

As Trowa obeyed, Quatre was evidently having trouble with the recipe again. “The printing’s all blurred in this part,” he grumbled (thought it was a laughing grumble). “I think I need to warm up the ginger preserve.” And, somewhat clumsily, he took up all at once the bowl containing the aforementioned, his wine glass, and a spoon, and carried them over to the stove, where he started clattering around looking for an appropriate pan for the warming of jam.

They managed — somehow — to get the dough or whatever it was called into the baking pan (well, most of it) with the ginger preserve (mostly) in its proper place between two layers of chocolate stuff. And, miraculously, they inserted the entire thing into the oven without any serious burns or droppage. Trowa was still extremely curious and rather dubious about how it was going to taste, though.

Back at the counter on which the recipe sat, before they returned to the latter for the final instructions (these on some sort of icing that was to go on the cake-thing when it was done baking), Trowa looked around for the wine bottle again in what had by now become a nearly unconscious movement; and this got him thinking…

He had never been properly intoxicated and rarely even tipsy, and similarly had almost never seen his master in either state, so this realization had taken him rather by surprise. “Quatre,” he couldn’t help remarking when the thought struck him, “I think I’m drunk.”

Quatre laughed. “You can’t possibly be drunk. ‘Cause then I would be too. Have some more wine.”

This seemed like the optimal solution, so Trowa complied. Quatre’s logic was impeccable too: how could either of them possibly be drunk after only half a bottle each? Less than that, even — much less: when Trowa took it to refill his glass, the bottle still felt nearly full. Actually it was heavy enough to have been completely full, but he was probably just misjudging the weight.

Quatre laughed again. “I can’t even read this part.”

It probably wasn’t safe to lean right against Quatre even with the excuse of looking over his shoulder at the recipe, and thinking about leaning right against Quatre and trying to keep himself from doing it made it so that Trowa too was unable for a few moments to read the words on the paper. He was just beginning to make sense of them when Quatre whirled suddenly.

“Can you read it?” he asked, grinning in amusement at his own inability. If he was at all surprised at how close he found Trowa (though not leaning right against him) he gave no indication of it. In fact, he was immediately distracted from his purpose because of that very closeness. Before Trowa could answer the question Quatre remarked, “You’ve been tying your own cravat.” And in direct contrast to the tone of melancholy in which he’d said this, he laughed. “I miss tying it for you.”

Trowa was extremely startled, almost shocked. Quatre missed tying his cravat for him? That was… that was wonderful.

“This one’s so shiny,” Quatre went on admiringly.

“Is it?” In an attempt to look down at the cravat he was wearing, Trowa found his face rather close to Quatre’s. His master’s bright eyes were fixed on the article in question, and he’d laid his arms on Trowa’s chest so as to run his fingers over the allegedly shiny cloth. Whether it really was shiny or not Trowa didn’t know, because his gaze had never made it that far down. He couldn’t quite breathe, either. This was all right, wasn’t it, because Quatre had started it? This wouldn’t give Trowa away or make Quatre hate him, would it? Quatre was so beautiful…

“It’s smooth, too,” Quatre sighed. He gave his sparkling laugh again, and then leaned forward to nuzzle his face against Trowa’s cravat. “Mmm.”

Trowa’s hands rose convulsively to grip Quatre’s shoulders, and only the self-indoctrination of years of desire could prevent them from running down and all over Quatre’s body. But Trowa could not stop a choking breath from catching hard in his throat. At that sound, Quatre abruptly looked up at him, and the moment seemed to freeze.

Trowa had admired Quatre’s eyes for most of his life, but somehow right now they were like nothing he’d ever seen before. He’d wanted for years to feel Quatre’s lips against his own, but never before had they looked so perfectly-shaped and expressive. He’d always loved the sound of Quatre’s laugh, but just at the moment it was downright hypnotic, pulling him closer. His heart had been Quatre’s for longer than he could precisely say, but usually it wasn’t quite such a blaze of ecstacy and despair.

He was moving, he realized in something of a panic, without remembering having decided to do so. He never would have decided — why was he — he absolutely could not — what was going on?? — and Quatre was so beautiful… just standing there with his arms still warm against Trowa’s chest, looking innocently up with those honest eyes, trusting, wonderful, perfect… and Trowa was going to kiss him just like that and break everything. He couldn’t seem to stop; this was really going to happen.

He was going to hate himself afterward. Quatre was going to hate him afterward. And yet, just for a few moments, before everything was irreparably shattered, maybe…

Both rescue and stabbing torment came in the form of Quatre’s attention being seized by something off to the left. “Was that the Beast?” he wondered. He sounded interested and not at all as if he realized he’d just narrowly escaped being kissed on the mouth by his servant.

Trowa felt as if it took an eternity to recover from his shock, but it couldn’t actually have been that long because, when he finally managed to look away from the charming profile in front of him in the direction Quatre had turned, the kitchen door was still in the process of swinging shut. So the Beast had been in here, had he? He had seen… he had interrupted

“I’ll find out,” Trowa said, and his tone was perhaps a bit harsh. And, though it was agony to detach himself from Quatre, he did so and moved toward the door. Behind him, Quatre laughed.

The narrow hallway was empty, and Trowa felt confused at first, until he remembered that the Beast had a tendency to move more quickly than the humans could ever follow — and then for an even longer set of frustrated moments he felt thwarted, until he remembered that the Beast would come when called. So, somewhat defiantly, Trowa called.

“Yes?” the Beast’s calm growl sounded from behind him.

Startled, Trowa turned to face his host, whose approach or appearance or whatever it was he hadn’t heard. “Why did you leave so suddenly?” Trowa demanded, and was once again a little surprised at the harshness of his own tone.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” apologized the Beast. “I thought I would just get out of your way.”

“Well, you did intrude.”

The Beast peered at Trowa with what seemed a keenly thoughtful gaze, perhaps even a little confused, for several moments, his nose wrinkling slightly as if he was sniffing the air, and then he seemed to realize something. At last, “I’m sorry,” was all he said.

‘Sorry’ was a good word. The Beast looked so mild, somehow, despite his monstrous shape, and so pathetic… but that didn’t mean a damned thing, and he needed to know it. “It doesn’t make any difference that he feels sorry for you,” Trowa said intensely. “Or even that I do. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Should it change something?” wondered the Beast emotionlessly.

“You might think it does. But there’s no way he–”

“Trowa,” the Beast broke in, now in a very patient tone, “you’re drunk. We can have this discussion — whatever if is — another time.”

Though Trowa wasn’t exactly sure what this discussion was either, still he insisted, “No, let’s have it now. I’m not drunk.”

But the Beast had already turned and disappeared around a corner, and when Trowa followed was nowhere to be seen. Nor did he reappear when Trowa tried to call him back, and when Quatre put his head out the kitchen door to ask laughingly whether he was doing the rest of the cooking by himself, Trowa stopped calling.

Pulling away from Heero, stretching out on his side, and leaning onto one elbow in the grass, “You are distracted,” declared Duo.

Heero raised a brow. “What did you expect? I’m not complaining, but ‘kisses as a reward for reciting the alphabet correctly’ isn’t the best teaching method.”

“Hey, I would have killed for a system like that when I was learning to read!”

“Didn’t you learn to read as a kid? Wouldn’t it have been your mother kissing you, in that case?”

Completely ignoring this far too logical argument, Duo said, “But I don’t mean just from your alphabet. You’ve got something on your mind. And for it to be distracting you from my kisses, it’s got to be something pretty big.”

Heero sighed faintly, and moved from the pose similar to Duo’s, which he’d adopted in order to look at his lover, to lying flat on his back and gazing up at the stars. “I don’t know that it’s ‘big,'” he said. “I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Wellll…?” Duo prodded.

“That pool out in the woods… not too far from Alan’s house…”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“I’ve been bathing there as long as I’ve been in the area…”

Duo made an encouraging noise, very curious what could possibly have to do with a pool in the woods to engross Heero so.

“I think some people swim there during the day, but I’ve never seen anyone else out there at night,” Heero went on. “The water’s cold. I don’t mind it, but…” He shrugged.

Still wondering what Heero’s point was, Duo put in, “I’d a hundred times rather haul and heat my own bathwater than go for a cold swim at night.”

This made Heero smile. “I’m sure you would.” He squeezed the hand of Duo’s that he’d reached to take, and went on. “Anyway, last night I was just stepping into the water when I heard…” His faint smile faded into a pensive, almost confused expression. “I heard singing,” he finished at last. His tone indicated how odd he found the circumstance.

Abruptly Duo sat up, crossing his legs and looking down at Heero’s moonlit face, extremely interested. “Did you really? What kind of singing? What did it sound like?” He didn’t release Heero’s hand, though, but now held it in both of his own.

Heero looked into Duo’s face for a moment, then into the sky as if again studying the stars; but Duo thought he was actually thinking back to the night before, trying to find the right words to describe what he remembered. “It was a woman singing,” he finally answered the second question. “It was beautiful… very beautiful… I don’t think I’ve ever heard singing that beautiful before.”

Duo nodded; this was what he’d been expecting.

“But something about it was also incredibly sad,” Heero went on, causing Duo to nod again. “She wasn’t singing words, just sounds… It was nonsense, but it sounded good — ah’s and that sort of thing. I don’t know how she even managed to sound so sad without any words, but she did. I felt like I would cry just listening to her.”

“Did you see her?” Duo asked, though he was positive he knew what the answer would be.

“That was the strangest part. I called out and looked all around the pool, but I couldn’t find anyone anywhere. That singing just went on and on.”

With a final, decisive nod, Duo jumped to his feet, and tugged at Heero’s hand to compel him to follow. Appearing a little confused, Heero did so, and Duo kissed him briefly before he began to walk and continued to pull him.

“You’re not from around here,” he began as they headed out of the clearing and into the trees in the direction of the church. “So you don’t know all the local legends yet.”

Heero, following, relaxed a little at these words; obviously he realized Duo was not only going to explain what he was now doing but also knew something about Heero’s adventure of the night before.

“She’s called the yara; everyone around here’s heard of her. She always starts out this way: you hear the singing, but you can’t find her anywhere.”

“What is she?”

“Supposedly she’s the spirit of a girl who drowned the night before her wedding. Usually she only appears to guys who are recently engaged.” Considering the future they’d been discussing over the last couple of weeks, Duo couldn’t help blushing a little as he said this.

He thought that Heero’s, “Oh,” held perhaps a touch of the same not-precisely-displeased embarrassment as well.

“She’ll just sing to you for a while, if you keep going back, but eventually she’ll appear in person. Supposedly she’s incredibly beautiful.”

“Hmm…”

Duo couldn’t help laughing at the doubtful sound. “Hey, I’m just telling you the legend; you’re the one who heard the singing.”

“It was beautiful,” Heero admitted, “but I’m not sure I believe it was magical.”

“I don’t know if I believe in her either, but better safe than sorry, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she’s supposed to try to hypnotize you, once she actually appears so you can see her. Then if you go to her, she’ll drown you. I guess she’s taking out her own fate on other people in the same situation.”

“Only men, though?”

By now they were beginning to catch glimpses of silver spots in the moonlight that marked the road ahead, and Duo reluctantly let go of Heero’s hand. He also lowered his voice warily as he made the comment, “Maybe women who’re like us, too, but I’ve never heard of it. You’d think the yara would have to be that way too to be willing to try it in the first place.”

“How do people know that this supposedly happens?” Heero wondered skeptically. “If she drowns anyone she manages to hypnotize?”

“Stop ruining the legend with logic,” said Duo in mock severity.

“Sorry,” replied Heero in mock contrition.

“Besides,” Duo shrugged, “if someone’s been partway through the process but not drowned, it’s probably not too hard to guess what the yara’s trying to do… and then later if someone does turn up drowned, people put two and two together.”

Again Heero made a disbelieving noise.

They’d reached the back door of the little church, which Duo unlocked and opened. He moved quietly, since his mother typically went to bed at sundown and rose at dawn (he always tried his hardest not to scoff at the belief that temptation was easier to avoid during the light of day, since it led to this practice so convenient to his purposes); Heero, who was well aware of how things worked around here, followed Duo just as silently into the little kitchen he’d by now visited any number of times.

The place was a bit cluttered, but Duo knew where everything was, more or less, so it was only a moment before he found what he sought. Then he seated himself on one of the stools, shook his braid around his shoulder onto his chest, and took it in one hand. Heero, seeing what he was doing, started forward with a noise of protest, but he wasn’t quick enough; Duo had cut firmly into his hair just above the tie with the shears he held, and gotten halfway through the braid before Heero reached him.

“What are you doing?” Heero demanded in quiet dismay.

The knowledge of how Heero felt about his hair was the reason Duo hadn’t announced his intention beforehand. Now he finished cutting off the end of his braid, and held it out toward his lover. “Present for you,” he said.

While Heero didn’t hesitate to accept it, and though it was only the tied tapering end no more than a couple of inches long, he still looked dismayed that it had been cut at all. “Thank you,” he said seriously, staring at the lock of hair that now lay in his strong hand. “But why?”

“Because,” said Duo, just as seriously, “if there is a beautiful hypnotic spirit trying to seduce you into drowning, I want to make it a little harder to forget about me and go to her.”

Abruptly Heero knelt down beside the stool on which Duo sat, gazing up at him with unblinking blue eyes and taking his hand. “You think I could forget you that easily?” he demanded, very quietly but very intensely.

“If there’s magic involved,” Duo said sadly, “yeah, probably.”

He thought Heero looked a little hurt.

What Duo would have really liked to ask was that Heero stay away from that pool in the woods all together; but it was obvious that Heero wasn’t enough convinced that this was a legitimate threat, rather than some kind of coincidence or prank, to change his habits. So what he asked instead was, “Will you keep it with you?”

“Always.” Heero nodded, holding the lock of hair against his chest. “And don’t worry… It would take more than a pretty song to seduce me away from you.”

Duo smiled, though he wasn’t entirely comforted. Because if the legend was true, ‘more than a pretty song’ was exactly what would come next.

The first hint Trowa had that he’d been unconscious was his return to consciousness. For some time, though, coherent thought was extremely difficult. There did seem to be a number of things to feel, so he just sat still and tried to work through them.

Quatre was asleep (or whatever the appropriate term might be) half lying on Trowa’s chest where they were both slumped on a wide bench in a corner of the kitchen, and Trowa had one arm around him. This was at first the only thing Trowa was able to concentrate on (for a given value of ‘concentration’), because Quatre was warm and placid, simultaneously soft and firm, and smelled very nice.

…or at least nicer than the stale taste in Trowa’s mouth was rendering most other scents he could pick up in the room. He wasn’t certain whether it was this unpleasant flavor or the slimy feeling to his teeth and tongue that had caused the nausea he was suddenly keenly aware of, or whether that was simply a natural result of his awakening. Either way, he didn’t feel like moving at all yet, just in case.

The problem was that he needed a visit to a washroom, and this need was steadily and rapidly growing more insistent. If the nausea persisted, it would undoubtedly redouble. He didn’t want to let go of Quatre — ever — but after not too long it was going to become imperative. So he forced himself to open his aching eyes a bit wider and look properly around.

The room was dark, lit only by the softly-glowing oven and a few dim candles. The row of little windows near the ceiling that looked out over the paved ground of the kitchen-yard was completely black. Trowa honestly couldn’t remember what time it had been when… anything… earlier… nor how long they’d spent trying to do whatever they’d been doing in here… but it still struck him as a little surprising that it was dark outside now.

Cautiously he shifted, trying simultaneously to test his powers of mobility and to ease Quatre off without disturbing him. By the feeling of his limbs as he moved and the way his vision was still somewhat blurry around the edges, he judged that he was not yet entirely sober — but at least he was sober enough now to acknowledge that he had been very drunk and probably still was.

Having managed to get Quatre into a more independent slump on the bench, he was preparing to rise and discover whether he could walk in anything like a straight line in response to the previously-mentioned imperative. In doing so, his foot knocked against the wine bottle they’d evidently taken to drinking directly from (given the lack of glasses in the vicinity) before passing out. Bending slowly to retrieve this, weary and curious, he found, not entirely to his surprise, that it still felt heavy enough to be full. So much for never having finished the bottle; how much they’d actually drunk, thinking themselves safe in never having reached the bottom, must always remain a mystery.

Whether the palace realized that the moment he was properly upright his need for the washroom was abruptly exponentially greater, and kindly set one next door, or whether Trowa simply didn’t remember the steps and the route he took to reach the chamber in question, he wasn’t sure. But he did, thankfully, get there, and then was able to take his time (after a few initial hasty actions) doing what was necessary to feel a bit better.

Meanwhile, he was attempting to remember what they’d been doing earlier besides getting unusually drunk. When his memory-sifting came up with first an image of Quatre licking his lips, then the sound of Quatre’s wonderful laugh, and finally a very striking picture of Quatre’s sparkling eyes (in the midst of nothing else even remotely as clear), he gave a sigh that was half laugh and half expostulation; it seemed alcohol only exacerbated his single-mindedness. Still, contextual clues did seem to indicate that they’d been attempting to cook something, and that seemed to fit.

A little less nauseated, with a cleaner mouth, and conscious of a rather disturbing (under the circumstances) desire to drink more wine, he eventually found his way back to the kitchen. He was certain by now, clued by his inability to walk quite straight and a certain dizziness that would persist, that he really wasn’t sober yet, but that didn’t really bother him.

Quatre was sitting up and gazing blearily around when Trowa entered the room, looking somewhat like a finely-dressed little boy with his pink cheeks and lips and sleepy eyes. When he saw Trowa, he smiled angelically as if Trowa was precisely what he’d been looking for and everything he needed. Trowa’s breath caught.

Then, abruptly, Quatre’s expression twisted and changed, and he staggered to his feet with a gulped, “…washroom…” And he stumbled past Trowa out the door.

Absently, drowsily, but not discontentedly, Trowa wandered around the kitchen, and somehow found the wine bottle in his hand without remembering having encountered it or picked it up. There was something very welcoming and familiar — he would have called it ‘reassuring’ if he’d been in need of reassurance — about the taste and feel of the wine in his throat, and what he’d intended as a brief sip just to remind himself of the flavor became a long pull. Then he set the bottle down on the counter beside the next object he wanted to investigate.

This was a covered dish on a sort of pedestal that looked a little out of place on the clean, bare countertop. There was hardly a gleam on the silver cover as Trowa lifted it, and the object beneath looked black in the dimness despite something in the foggy back of Trowa’s head insisting that it was brown. It seemed to be covered in a thick icing that had been applied very smoothly and evenly, and Trowa frowned as he once again attempted to remember his earlier activities.

Hearing the kitchen door open off to his left, he asked, “Did we make this?”

“I think you did, yeah.”

The unexpected voice made Trowa turn. “Oh, hello,” he said, rather stupidly, to the Beast.

“Hello!” the Beast echoed cheerfully as he came into the room, claws and talons clicking on the tiled floor. “You guys finally woke up! Where’s Quatre?”

Trowa squelched the urge to snap at him for no good reason. He didn’t want to be the kind of drunk that directed incoherent accusations at someone he had no actual proof was interested in the same person he was. So he just said briefly, “Washroom,” and returned his scrutiny to the improbable cake.

The Beast joined him, leaning down to snuffle at it before commenting, “This smells good! Do I get some?”

Trowa looked back over at him in some surprise. In the dark room, the Beast was little more than a hulking shadow, with only the faintest golden brighter spots marking where the limited light of oven and candles caught his eyes and horns and nose. Before Trowa could ask the question the Beast’s words had prompted, the kitchen door opened again and Quatre joined them.

His greeting to the Beast was as cheerful as the Beast’s had been to Trowa, and for the latter he had another beautiful smile; Trowa judged by his eyes and his movements, however, that he too was still somewhat intoxicated.

“So what are we doing here?” Quatre asked as he came to stand beside them at the counter. “Getting more drunk?” And he laughed.

“We were about to eat this cake you guys made,” the Beast said in a grinning sort of tone, “and I, at least, was going to try some of the wine that could tempt you sober gentlemen to get so drunk in the first place!”

Quatre’s eyes went wide with surprise, and he asked at once, “Can you eat things like this? And drink wine?” Trowa had a moment of pure delight at hearing Quatre ask the same question he had been about to; they’d had the same thought!

“Well, I shouldn’t,” the Beast said. “It may upset my stomach… but I should be over it by morning. And if you guys made this thing, I just have to try it!”

Quatre’s gaze shifted to the cake, and he started to laugh.

Thinking he knew what had so amused his master, Trowa said, “You may be taking more of a risk than you’re aware of. We’ve never made anything like this before, and we were–” Memories were trickling back, incomplete still, and Trowa interrupted himself in some vague horror to ask, “Quare, what were we doing with those eggs earlier?”

Quatre just laughed harder.

The Beast echoed this sound in his dog-like fashion. “Find me a bowl!” he urged. “I have to taste this dangerous cake!”

Trowa was almost tempted to laugh himself at the Beast’s enthusiasm. As he and Quatre looked around for dishes, somewhat clumsily he had to admit, and eventually found precisely what they needed for the three of them all together on a shelf, he had to worry a little, aloud, about whether eating cake was at all a good idea in his current state.

“My stomach still does feel a little weird,” Quatre conceded in reply. “But I think putting some food in it will help.”

“I don’t know how foodlike anything we made is likely to be,” Trowa worried further.

“We’ll see!” said Quatre cheerfully.

“It’s sure to taste fine if you drink some wine with it,” the Beast said slyly.

Quatre, who had been examining the cake in preparation for cutting it up, rounded on their host. The spinning motion was a bit much for him, and he staggered, laughing, before he caught the counter and regained his balance. “Are you trying to get us drunker?” he finally demanded of the Beast.

“No.” The Beast was clearly lying, and, moreover, failing to keep the mischievous tone from his growling voice. “Of course not!”

“Well, if we keep drinking…” Quatre took up the wine bottle in an almost caressing movement that made Trowa nothing short of ragingly jealous. “You have to too!”

“I already said I was going to!” the Beast protested Quatre’s accusatory tone.

Quatre laughed and, taking apart the two nested bowls they’d found on the shelf, began pouring wine into one of them, mostly without spilling. He set it on the floor before the Beast, then returned his attention to the cake.

“This actually looks really good,” he said, craning his neck to examine the thing from all angles. “I don’t think I can cut it up; it’s too pretty!”

Fortunately, Trowa was the one holding the long and relatively blunt knife they’d picked up along with the other dishes on the shelf, and he had no qualms cutting into the admittedly pretty cake. This is not to say he did it particularly dexterously, and the slices he somehow managed to get off the platter onto their plates and into the Beast’s other bowl were so mismatched that Quatre was laughing again as Trowa distributed them.

“All right, everyone on the count of three–” Quatre began, but it was too late: the Beast had already started.

For a moment the two humans just stood watching him; it was, after all, the first time they’d seen him eat. Trowa could understand why he avoided doing so in front of them. It wasn’t so much that he made an enormous mess — though he did — as that the motions involved were so very… well… bestial. This would certainly look out of place in a fine dining room. Here, however, the sight just made Quatre laugh.

“Fine!” the latter said at last. “Come on, Trowa.” And he dug his fork into the contents of his plate.

Having obeyed, “This… is good…” said Trowa in astonishment.

“It is!” Quatre’s eyes had gone wide. “This chocolate flavor is amazing!”

“Are you sure we made this?” Trowa found himself pouring wine into their glasses almost without even really thinking about what he was doing.

“No,” Quatre replied, accepting his wine glass. “Or at least, the palace probably fixed it up after we were done with whatever we were actually doing in here.” He laughed again. “Beast? How is it?”

The Beast had turned from one bowl to the other and was lapping up wine with a large pink tongue and a noise like an enthusiastic dog attacking a pond. He finally pulled away and looked up at them; there was cake all over his muzzle, at which Quatre made an obvious, futile attempt not to laugh again. “The cake seems pretty good,” he said. “The wine is awful. How the Hell did you guys drink so much of it?”

“I think it’s very good,” was Quatre’s straightforward answer, and he took a long drink to prove it. “Although after this I think I’m never getting drunk again.”

“Why is that?” the Beast wondered.

“Aside from not being able to remember most of what we did earlier…” Trowa suggested at a murmur.

“Oh, that’s definitely part of it!” Completely belying the slight grimace that had taken hold of his face, Quatre laughed yet again. “Maybe we can drink enough right now to make us forget any of this ever happened!” Then he touched first his stomach and then his forehead. “I can already tell this is not going to be nearly as much fun once I’ve sobered up, though. I’m going to be miserable in the morning, I’m afraid!”

The Beast laughed too. “I wish I could be there when you guys wake up.”

“But for now!” Quatre whirled back toward his plate, reeling and steadying himself on the counter as before. “We’ve still got most of a cake to take care of, and it’s better with wine!” And he reached once more for the bottle.

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I’m very happy with how Trowa looks in that picture up there, but Quatre is kinda terrible. Still, it gets the point across.