Quatre had never verbalized his thoughts on the matter, but there had been a time during Trowa’s illness when he’d feared down to his bones that he would lose his friend. Looking back on this, it made Quatre want to cling to Trowa, to hold onto him and never let go; the very idea of doing without him made Quatre feel sick — sick and heart-sore as he’d never felt about anything before. Even losing his mother, terrible as that had been, hadn’t made him feel so absolutely wretched. Perhaps it was because Trowa was all he had left of his old life, the only link he had to a family he missed desperately, but Quatre simply couldn’t bear the idea of him dying. He’d thought it filled him with horror back when the Beast had threatened him, that first day; but that was nothing to what it did to him now.
The Beast had located a number of medical books in the library, and, to the pathetic sound of Trowa’s shallow breathing and occasional incoherent mutterings in his half-sleep, Quatre had perused them in the hope of finding a description of some illness with symptoms that matched Trowa’s — and, more importantly, how to treat it. But for all the tired hours he’d spent at this, and for all the Beast’s continued searching for more useful volumes, it had been in vain; they hadn’t been able to determine what was wrong with Trowa, nor what to do about it.
Quatre thought the Beast had been nearly as grieved and concerned as he had; certainly he’d spent nearly as much time in Trowa’s room, once he’d exhausted the library’s supply of likely books… and as Trowa had seemed to grow weaker and to draw farther from them, there was a look about the Beast, a tone to his voice, that seemed to suggest he was contemplating something desperate. What that might have been Quatre never knew, however, as Trowa had, to the unspeakable relief of his friends, finally begun to mend. The Beast had been extremely pleased, but Quatre had felt as if he too had been given a reprieve from death. He never wanted to go through anything like that again.
For this reason, it was a little difficult to part from Trowa for any significant length of time, and therefore he visited the telescope on the tower less frequently than he previously had. Instead, he would sit in the art room and watch Trowa paint — something he found very little interest in doing himself — listen to Trowa’s intermittent comments on what he was doing or how the consistency of the paints had changed since earlier days here, give his opinion of Trowa’s work, and suggest new subjects when Trowa was at a loss. Often the Beast joined them, though there was no repetition of the battle that had once taken place in that room.
But Quatre yet found the telescope so fascinating that he was drawn to it despite his reluctance to be away from Trowa. The latter, who even months after the fact still suffered at times from headaches and bouts of lethargy, occasionally went to bed early; and, though Quatre was usually happy to join him in this and feel the reassuringly healthy warmth of Trowa’s back against his own, he sometimes would first wander up the tower and gaze for a while at the stars and the moon.
So it was tonight. The clouds that had earlier delivered a light snow had mostly dispersed, and the sky was clear to the north and east. It was quite cold, and his breath misted visibly, sparkling in the moonlight, but the fur-lined cap with its ear flaps that tied around the chin, which the palace had kindly provided when Quatre had looked for something along those lines, kept off the worst of the chill at least for a bit. Of course the loneliness contributed to a faster saturation of cold, but Quatre had grown fairly adept at ignoring it long enough to enjoy the telescope for a little while.
The Beast had found him a book about the stars, and Quatre had been following the progression of the heavens as the seasons changed with great interest. Tonight there happened to be a full moon as well, making the book particularly easy to reference. So, as had become his habit on the tower, Quatre amused himself with charts and the telescope until he became too lonely to continue, and then prepared to go back inside.
As he did so, taking a last look around the moonlit palace walls and the grounds far below, he caught sight of the Beast in the snowy, distant children’s courtyard. Quatre started to laugh quietly at the sight, but paused as he realized that the Beast wasn’t engaged in his usual after-dark pastime down there. He seemed to be sitting very still — though he must have recently moved, or else he probably wouldn’t have caught the human’s eye — and Quatre wondered what he was doing.
Purely out of idle curiosity, Quatre returned to the telescope. He had to reposition it somewhat awkwardly and hold it firmly in place to get it to point down steadily over the railing, but he managed it. And in the time spent adjusting the necessary knobs and getting the thing to focus, the Beast still had not moved. Quatre could now see the individual curls of dark hair on his back, the moonlight shining off his black horns, and the billow of his breath in the cold air. Regardless of what the Beast thought of the telescope at night, he would surely be amused, tomorrow, to hear how he looked through it from above.
Finally the Beast moved, and Quatre had to withdraw from the eyepiece to see which direction he’d taken before he could attempt to follow. Somewhat to Quatre’s surprise, the Beast had gone to the opening in the hedge that led into the northern sleeper’s courtyard; evidently the gate opened for him, as Quatre could then see him on the other side approaching the dais. Now genuinely curious, he fumbled at the telescope and quickly managed to get a fix on the scene.
The sleeping man was covered in a light dusting of snow, which rendered paler but could not wither the vibrant, magical roses that grew all across his form. Where the folds of his clothing did not lie directly against his flesh, the snow whitened them as well; elsewhere it had melted and darkened the fabric, and stood in droplets on the smooth skin of his face. Flakes rested delicately on his thick lashes and dark hair, and overall he presented a strange and somewhat pathetic figure.
Perhaps the Beast thought so too, for he’d approached the dais slowly and was leaning over the man with motions that at first seemed almost hesitant. A moment later, though, Quatre found a little cry arising in his throat as he watched, for the Beast, with a carelessness Quatre had never before seen him exhibit, tore suddenly at the rose vines that grew across the upper body of the sleeping man — occasioning, in doing so, a number of vicious wounds across his own body that glistened in the moonlight as they burst open. It brought tears to Quatre’s eyes to see him thus injuring himself, all the more because Quatre had no idea why he should be doing so. But even these actions did not strike Quatre so poignantly as the next.
Having bared the sleeping man’s face, the Beast seemed to collapse somewhat on top of him, as if he no longer had strength to stand. His great head bent, and with it he nuzzled pathetically at the unconscious human beneath him. And even from the height of the tower, Quatre thought he could catch faintly the sound the Beast was making: a miserable, drawn-out sort of keening, like a wounded animal… of course the Beast was wounded, now, but Quatre didn’t think the noise related to his physical pain.
Quatre knew he should stop watching, should go back inside, but couldn’t break away from the telescope and the unexpected scene. He’d started out carelessly pointing the device at his friend down below with every intention of telling him tomorrow that he’d done so, and had ended up spying on something legitimately private that he didn’t know if he could bring himself to mention he’d seen.
And what did it mean? Who was the sleeping man, and what was he to the Beast? This must be the first time the Beast had done this during Quatre’s residence here, for the wounds thus occasioned could not have gone unnoticed by the palace’s human guests… but why now? Had something happened recently to heighten the Beast’s sorrow? Was today some sort of anniversary, perhaps? Or was this simply a display of momentary weakness?
He remembered the speculations he and Trowa had only half-seriously formed about the sleeping men: that they had picked the Beast’s roses and promised a lifetime to him, then been overwhelmed by the loneliness of the palace and gone to sleep. Perhaps they had been the Beast’s friends, and he wished they would awaken. Quatre knew that the Beast had become rather attached to him and Trowa; what would he do if they lay down and went to sleep forever? Having felt recently the fear of losing his best friend, Quatre thought he could distantly glimpse the agony of, after living alone in a place like this for any length of time, finding friends at last, only to have them taken away.
The worst of all this was that there was nothing Quatre could do about it. Even if he could bring himself to admit to the Beast that he’d witnessed this secret show of sorrow, he knew the Beast did not answer questions about the sleepers, and Quatre’s bringing it up would probably just make the pain worse — especially if it drove the Beast into solitary meditation in some distant part of the palace. And if Quatre couldn’t determine the real cause or nature of the Beast’s sadness, he feared there was little he could do to help assuage it.
Finally he managed to tear himself from the telescope and the miserable tableau it brought far too close. He replaced the device where it usually stood and, refraining with some effort from glancing back down with his naked eyes over the railing, returned into the palace.
After the frigid moonlight and burning cold sorrow of what he’d seen below, Quatre found the golden candle flames and warm air of the building’s interior almost stifling, and suddenly he wanted very badly to be with Trowa. The latter would be asleep by now, of course, but what Quatre had just seen and how it had made him feel was like a wound for which the mere presence of Trowa would be a balm. So, shedding his fur-lined hat and mantle as he descended, stumbling a couple of times before his eyes had readjusted to the indoor light, he made his way to his bedroom and warmth and solace.
“You,” Heero informed Duo as they walked slowly away from the pool in the forest in the darkness, “are an amazing liar.”
“I am!” Duo raised his arms to put his hands behind his head in a gesture of self-satisfied nonchalance that undoubtedly didn’t entirely hide his uneasiness at being so blatantly called out for dishonesty. “But how did you know?”
“Know what? ‘Now that we know for sure she’s real,’ you said. But you must have been searching through those church records ever since I first told you I heard her singing to have found those specific ones in time for this. You never told me.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, I only finished that just today; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to at all. Our cellar could do with some serious reorganization.”
“What did you think I meant?” Though Heero’s tone was a little suspicious, he reached out and took one of Duo’s hands almost as firmly as he’d held it back there in the pool when the yara was approaching them.
For all the confrontation with the murderous spirit had been frightening and sad, the inevitable sense of triumph from the success of his plan, combined with other, even greater considerations, was making Duo a bit giddy. Thus it was with an incongruous grin that he gave his completely serious answer. “I guess it’s pretty standard to deal with the undead that way… they’re usually only around because they need some kind of closure. The real reason priests end up doing it isn’t because it’s a religious thing, but because they’re the ones who have access to the records and can read them.”
“All right…” Heero still sounded suspicious, as if he thought this lead-up to Duo’s real answer to his question might actually be a ploy to avoid answering at all.
“So if the point was just to give her some kind of closure…” Duo shrugged slightly. “Nobody ever said it had to be true.”
In response to this, Heero’s brows formed an angle over his eyes that spoke of surprise, curiosity, and a certain unhappiness that Duo read as retroactive pity for the deceived yara.
“I actually found Julia’s record pretty early on. It was taking a chance to assume she was the yara, but I figured there couldn’t be too many records of girls around here who got engaged and then drowned.”
“It was taking a chance in the first place,” Heero broke in, “assuming the folk-tales were true when they said the yara was the spirit of a local girl who drowned before her wedding.”
“I know,” Duo admitted. “She could actually have been a cursed princess or a bored daemon for all I knew.” Again he shrugged. “But it was the only thing I could think of to try to help you.”
Heero squeezed his hand.
“So, yeah, I found Julia’s record two days after you told me you’d heard her singing and I started looking…” Duo paused as Heero let go of his hand entirely before they stepped out of the trees into the carpenter’s yard.
“Come sit inside,” Heero invited. “I wish you could just stay the night, but…”
Duo made a noise of understanding. He couldn’t wait to have Heero all to himself in their own home where he would be able to stay the night. Every night. Forever. At least there was nobody around at the moment, due to the lateness of the hour — but as the carpenter’s house was just adjacent, it was wise to be watchful still.
Heero unlocked the side door to the shop and led Duo into the little back room where he stayed, which Duo had only seen a couple of times before. As the only furnishings were a chest, a washstand, and a narrow cot, the latter was necessarily their seat, but Duo certainly didn’t object to being in Heero’s bed (even if a more accurate preposition would be ‘on’ and it wasn’t a terribly comfortable bed). They settled down with backs against the wall, arms around each other, and hands clasped, and Heero’s first act in this position was to give Duo a long kiss.
“Thank you for rescuing me,” he said gravely when this was finished.
Duo’s grin had never entirely faded, fueled as it was by certain hot internal reflections that had never entirely moved out of his mind’s eye, but now it came back full force. “I did rescue you, didn’t I? So now I guess I’m your hero!”
Heero rolled his eyes, kissed Duo briefly again, and said, “So you found Julia’s record…”
“Yes. But it took all week to find Alonzo’s, and I was afraid his was the really important one. I knew his name because her record mentioned her engagement to him, but I didn’t think she would believe a thing I said if that was all I knew.”
“What exactly were you hoping to find out about them?”
“I don’t even know. Some information I might be able to use to satisfy her. I thought maybe if I just told her that I knew what had happened and I was sorry for her, that might be enough… And when I did find Alonzo’s record, I definitely wasn’t going to tell her that…”
Still patiently waiting for the point, Heero just looked at him.
“Alonzo never went mad, and he didn’t drown himself.” Duo delivered this statement in the manner of a summary, but, given the succinctness of the records in question, he was already verging on as many words as it had taken for him to learn about the events in the first place. “As a matter of fact, he must have gotten over Julia pretty quickly, because he married her sister less than a year later. I made all that other stuff up, and wrote out some fake records of it on some old blank papers I found down there with the rest, just in case she wanted ‘proof.'”
Heero’s expression was once again the mixture of surprise and pity he’d worn outside. “I knew you must have made up the emotional part,” he said, shaking his head. “But you had me convinced about the rest of it.”
“You and Julia both. I feel bad for lying to her about it, but if that’s what it took to get her to stop drowning people…”
“You’re awfully cheerful for someone who feels bad about lying.”
Immediately Duo tried to stifle his grin, but failed utterly.
Heero raised a brow. “You’re pleased with yourself for rescuing me.”
“Well, yes,” admitted Duo. “But there’s more to it than that.”
The brow rose higher. “Are you going to make me guess?”
Duo squeezed his lover with a slight laugh. “No, but I’m afraid you’re going to think it’s strange.”
“Well, if the stories are true — and we don’t have any reason to think they aren’t, now — the yara always went after guys who were recently engaged. I never heard of her going after anyone who wasn’t. So here we have Heero the carpenter’s man who’s gotten romantic with another man, and right after he and that other man decide they want to live together, the yara shows up. It’s almost like she was acknowledging that we’re betrothed or something. Unless she had some kind of magic that let her know a guy was engaged but not who he was engaged to, she didn’t seem to care that your ‘fiancee’ was male. Hell, I even showed up right in front of her and she didn’t seem to care.”
“So you’re…” Heero appeared somewhat bemused. “You feel like our relationship has been… validated… by a murderous undead pond-monster?”
Duo’s grin turned a bit sheepish. “Well, when you put it like that…”
“I’m sorry, Duo. That really is strange.” Somewhat hastily, as if hoping to avoid hurting Duo, Heero added, “But if it’s made you feel better…”
Now Duo shrugged a little, then leaned his head onto Heero’s shoulder. “Hey, you know I already decided not to let anyone else tell me what I can and can’t do with you. But it was nice to be recognized, even if it was by something like that. It’s almost like the supernatural world approves.”
Heero laughed. “You have an interesting idea of what constitutes ‘the supernatural world’ — and ‘approval,’ too. But I guess I see your point.”
Triumphantly Duo said, “Duo and Heero: Yara-approved!”
Again Heero chuckled, and afterwards went silent for some time. In fact neither of them spoke again until Duo realized he was falling asleep on Heero’s shoulder. But though they then made their reluctant good nights and Duo set off to walk the lonely path back up to his own home by himself, he felt as if something had changed. Maybe he was being irrationally fanciful, but it almost seemed to him that the night’s experiences had tempered his relationship with Heero. ‘Trial by fire’ didn’t seem an appropriate description for an adventure so concerned with water, but in any case, he thought that something wonderful had become perfect, something strong unbreakable.
Or perhaps it had been that way all along, and this had simply brought the fact to light. Either way, Duo was smiling as he walked.
If Quatre’s dreams had not been commandeered by the two sleeping men (who, simultaneously, still seemed unwilling to allow him to retain any actual memory of what he’d seen there), he surely would have dreamed about the events of last night — or something, at least, with a similar mood — which would then have been foremost in his mind the next morning. As it was, though he had not precisely forgotten about the Beast’s visit to the sleeper’s courtyard, he was preoccupied at first by breakfast and Trowa’s conversation. But once they were in the library and the Beast gave them his usual quiet greeting from the sunken reading area, Quatre’s head was suddenly full of the sights and emotions of the previous night.
He hastened forward to see the Beast, to return the good morning and reassure himself that his host was all right, but the words died on his lips as he gazed. It wasn’t that he was surprised, exactly… but that the Beast’s injuries appeared so much worse in the bright daylit room, and that the cushions among which he lay were disturbingly smeared with blood.
In a gesture that seemed somewhat annoyed, as if he had hoped to hide all of this from his guests for as long as he could and wasn’t terribly pleased to have Quatre noticing so soon, the Beast sat up. It was a laborious movement, and, though he made no noises of pain, he didn’t look terribly comfortable. Quatre thought it was out of stubbornness, perhaps even masochism, that he’d decided to lie down among the cushions at all.
Trowa must have observed the sudden stiffness of Quatre’s stance, for he had come to find out what was going on; his expression changed from its usual emotionlessness to a look of surprise as he reached the edge of the sunken area and caught sight of the Beast and his fresh wounds. “What happened?” he demanded.
The Beast threw an impassive glance down at a gash on his arm, and at first it didn’t seem he was going to answer. But finally he said quietly, “I was being typically reckless.”
Quatre thought this an odd response, but he was more concerned, at the moment, with the fact that the Beast’s oozing cuts didn’t seem to have made any progress toward healing during the night. He’d seen the injuries the Beast had incurred on their first day here heal up with impossible quickness, but that had been merely three; today he had at least thrice that many. Finding his voice at last, “We should get some bandages onto those,” he said, “so you don’t lose more blood.”
Seeming to draw back into himself somewhat, the Beast shook his head. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Quatre insisted. “You’re oozing blood out of a dozen places.”
“You’re exaggerating,” said the Beast, and began climbing to his feet.
“Maybe, but it’s still unhealthy for you to have so many open cuts. I know they heal quickly, but we should wrap at least some of them up anyway.” The Beast had turned and begun to walk away, and Quatre followed him doggedly. “I’m sure we can find bandages and some nice hot water in the next room if we want it,” he persisted. “It won’t take long.”
“It’s not necessary.” The Beast’s growling tone was somewhat snappish. He was clearly heading for the stairs out of the library.
“Why not?” Quatre demanded. When the Beast offered no hint of an answer to this question, Quatre added proddingly, “Last time, you didn’t even seem to notice the pain, but you’ve got a lot more cuts this time. And it will hurt even more if you let them get infected. We need–”
Abruptly the Beast wheeled on him. “I want this pain,” he interrupted. A little less intensely he added, as if in afterthought, “And I don’t want bandages.”
Quatre was so taken aback by the strange statement that he stood still just long enough for the Beast to escape down the stairs; then it was no good following him further, as the moment the Beast was out of sight he could be anywhere in the palace.
Frustrated, Quatre scowled at the head of the staircase. He took a deep breath, but didn’t really know what to say, and eventually it was Trowa that spoke: “Are we just going to leave him like that?”
As Quatre turned to face his friend, who had advanced almost to join him, he caught sight of something interesting beyond on the low table that stood with the divans. “No,” he said grimly. “Look. The palace is on our side.” And he directed Trowa’s attention to the big, wide rolls of cream-colored bandage, such as might be used on a horse, that had appeared on the table beside a stack of clean cloths and a large jug whose mouth was steaming. Moving in that direction, “Let’s take these things and find him,” he said.
Immediately Trowa joined him, and as they gathered up the items from the table wondered quietly, “What happened to him?” It was a rhetorical question; he obviously didn’t really expect Quatre to have the answer.
Quatre sighed before he provided it, not entirely certain he wanted to. He found, though, that the story of what he’d seen the Beast doing, when stripped of most of the emotions involved on his own part (which Trowa would undoubtedly deduce anyway), actually made for a brief and relatively easy tale. This didn’t mean, though, that it didn’t appear to disturb Trowa almost as much as the actual events had disturbed Quatre.
“Sometimes I think he’s a little mad,” Trowa murmured when Quatre had finished.
“‘Sometimes?’ ‘A little?'” wondered Quatre. “You’d have to be mad already not to be driven mad by this place.”
Sardonically Trowa smiled. “What does that make us, then?”
There was no sign of the Beast on the next few floors down — but since the humans had a fairly decent idea where he was likely to be, their search in those locations was not thorough. Where they eventually found him was, as they had anticipated, in his room in the wine cellar. It was freezing and lonely and seemed very miserable, and the only change that had taken place in the surroundings since the first time they’d come here was that The Spoils of War now hung on one of the walls in all its mind-boggling ‘collaborative’ smudginess.
“Down here in the dirt and the cold is the perfect place to take your open wounds,” Quatre remarked accusingly as they entered.
“I told you I don’t want that,” the Beast said without looking around from where he stood staring almost sullenly at the painting; by now, however, his tone sounded a bit defeated.
“I know you don’t,” said Quatre more softly. “But we — your friends — are going to worry about you until you let us help.”
The Beast turned now to face them, and his demeanor was suddenly a mixture of hopefulness and something like the anguish Quatre had observed in him last night. Slowly, almost hesitantly, still sounding rather defeated but also with a touch of those other two emotions, he said, “All right.”
It was an awkward business. Neither the principles of doctoring men nor of veterinary medicine — not that Quatre and Trowa were experts in either — could assist them in wrapping up the Beast’s hurts in such a way that he would not lose more blood but could still move relatively freely. He was remarkably patient with them, though; evidently, having decided to let them have their way, he’d also determined to get it over with as quickly as possible. Quatre had rather expected him to squirm, but he stood perfectly still and made no further protest. In fact, he never so much as winced or drew in a quick breath while Trowa and Quatre worked at cleaning and fastening bandages around his various injuries. Quatre couldn’t help wondering just how much the latter actually hurt. And yet, in the library…
“You said you wanted this pain,” Quatre remarked at last. “Why would you…” But he trailed off as the Beast pulled up into the stiffness that said Quatre was asking a forbidden question. “Please don’t leave,” Quatre added quickly. “You don’t have to answer. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
“It’s a… the wounds are…” The Beast seemed to be forcing the words out almost as if they were hurting him to speak, more even than the injuries and the treatment thereof, and he panted as if drawing sufficient breath was difficult. “A… reminder…” He stopped, breathing hard. “I’m sorry,” he finished quietly.
Quatre stared with widened eyes, himself not breathing for a moment. They’d speculated all along that their host was under a curse he wasn’t allowed to mention, but never before had the Beast seemed to attempt to force himself to answer a question like that. Seeing what an effort it was for him just to say those few broken words that explained nothing, Quatre decided in that moment not to ask any more questions. Even if he had to go the rest of his life in an anguish of confusion, he would not hurt his friend like that again.
He remembered, suddenly, the words he’d seen written in the dirt in this very room early on in his stay here: I COULD NEVER FORGET YOU. Three quarters of a year later he was no closer to understanding, and feared now that he never would be. For the Beast’s sake, however, he would try to stop wondering about it, try to be content with what little he did know. He wouldn’t have thought that attempting to repress his own curiosity could be an act of kindness, but so it seemed to him now.
It was more work than just resolving on it, however. Eventually, once they’d blundered their way through the entire bandaging process and wrung a grudging “Thank you” from the Beast, they all returned to the library in a silence that was destined to last for several hours. Quatre sat down with his books and a firm resolve not to think about the strange events and the Beast’s behavior, but he found it genuinely difficult going. He could barely concentrate on what he was reading; the image of the Beast’s miserable show of affection to the sleeping man kept appearing between his eyes and the page, and he seemed to smell again the tang of the Beast’s blood.
So restless did he become in his inability to give proper attention to what he was doing that Trowa took to watching him over the top of whatever he was reading, with an expression perhaps of some concern. At last Quatre drew a deep breath and closed his book. “Let’s go play some music upstairs,” he suggested in a tone that sounded, even to him, more like that of an order. For once, he had to admit, he didn’t really care whether Trowa would rather remain here; Quatre wanted to get away from this ineffectual pursuit, and he didn’t want to go alone.
“Let’s have lunch first,” Trowa countermanded.
“Oh.” Quatre hadn’t realized that so much time had passed, nor that he was hungry again, but glancing at the huge clock that was mounted in wrought iron on the face of one of the balconies, and listening to his stomach, alerted him to these facts. “Yes, that’s a good idea.”
Standing, preparing to leave the room, Quatre looked in some pensive hesitation toward where the bandaged Beast reclined, and it was several moments before he decided to speak. “Beast, you’re welcome to join us for lunch…”
“No, thank you,” came the immediate and somewhat stony reply.
Quatre frowned as, thus dismissed, the humans made their way out of the library. “I wonder if he’s upset with us…”
As often, Trowa just shook his head.
Gem that he was, Trowa seemed fully aware that Quatre wanted distracting, for over lunch he very pointedly brought up a topic of discussion related to the book he was reading, and thereby occupied them throughout the meal; after this, he made no objection to heading up to the music room and dedicating the afternoon to intense musical study. Quatre was extremely grateful for this, but a little concerned that they saw no sign of the Beast during their entire time playing. Usually their host didn’t miss a minute they spent at their instruments, but today, perhaps, he was not in the best temper with them.
Quatre’s concerns on this score were eased, however, when they met the Beast at supper. He seemed a little more somber than was generally the case in the evenings, but he acquiesced with good enough grace when Quatre, noticing that some of the bandages had loosened or shifted, insisted on fixing them.
“You’ve been scratching these, haven’t you?” Quatre accused as he worked.
“Maybe,” replied the squirming Beast in a somewhat embarrassed growl.
“They won’t heal if you do that, you know.”
“I know, I know… but the bandages itch.”
Quatre wanted to reply, “Maybe you should have thought of that before you tore up those rose vines,” but, in keeping with his new resolution, decided to avoid a remark that might be construed as a bid for information the Beast could not give (not to mention just a bit unkind in general). Instead, he did what he could to make his friend comfortable, then returned to his meal.
After this, at first, the Beast’s greater-than-usual quietness was a little disconcerting, but his mood was evidently no reflection of any discontentment toward the humans, and eventually he was drawn out into unrelated and relatively cheerful conversation. Quatre was quite relieved, and not at all concerned about leaving him that night with an admonishment not to worry his injuries or otherwise disturb the bandages.
There was pensive silence between Quatre and Trowa as they walked away from the dining room, through corridors lit by the ever-attentive candles that were long since unnecessary for guidance but still convenient for visibility, and Quatre thought this atmosphere was a direct result of the Beast’s actions and attitude. Since Trowa had made a sort of lifelong art out of silence, it wasn’t uncomfortable — and, further, it was probably also the reason that they were able to approach much closer to the mysterious woman than usual — so Quatre wasn’t complaining.
She stood in the entry, where Quatre and Trowa had seen her a number of times, staring up at the male statue in her usual wordless forlornness. Actually, her expression in this case was perhaps a touch more sad even than it normally was, and she was gazing up so fixedly that she might not have noticed their approach even if they had been talking. As it was, as soon as they saw her, they moved by mutual wordless consent toward the stairs in the usual attempt to get nearer to her. By now there wasn’t really much more motive to the action than that, since they’d never been even remotely successful.
Suddenly Trowa reached out and seized Quatre’s arm. In response to Quatre’s curious and slightly impatient look, Trowa gestured to the woman and then to the other, female statue, then mouthed the word ‘face’ while pointing at his own. Quatre turned back again and observed as instructed, and caught his breath.
The faces were identical.
Of course it was difficult to be certain, in this light and at this angle, but Quatre would have bet money that the human woman had been the model for the huge marble woman. The next time he turned his eyes back toward the stranger for further comparison, she was nowhere to be found. This was not even the least bit startling anymore, and he simply continued his journey down the stairs to stop in front of the statues and continue examining them with Trowa at his side.
Eventually, slowly, seeing his companion’s thoughtful nod, Quatre had to agree aloud. “Exactly the same. I wonder why we never noticed before…”
At this Trowa shook his head.
Still with a pensive and minutely-examining eye turned upward, Quatre ambled over to the other statue, the one at which the woman had been staring. It had occurred to him that if they could find one relatively familiar face in this hall, there was no reason they shouldn’t find another. He’d never really looked closely at the features of either statue; might not the man turn out to be one of the sleeping strangers? It couldn’t represent the one from the southern courtyard, since they would have noticed the braid particularly at that scale, but it could be the northern sleeper.
Though he went specifically to look, Quatre had a feeling — based on no reason he could pinpoint — that this was not the case. And in this he turned out to be correct. The face on the statue at which the anonymous woman had been gazing looked older than the sleeping man’s, and there was a hardness to the expression, somewhat tempered by a knowing placidity, that Quatre somehow could not imagine on the sleeper’s face. And the hair was too short. No, they were certainly not the same person.
As the all-too-familiar curiosity and endless speculation started to overwhelm him, Quatre forced himself to relax and take a deep breath. In a sort of gesture of refusal, he closed his eyes. He thought about the delicious supper he’d just eaten, about his family in Beaulea, about how happy he was that Trowa was here and well. He would not continue allowing the mystery of this place to hold his emotions hostage.
“Quatre?” Trowa wondered curiously from nearby.
Turning, Quatre opened his eyes to meet Trowa’s as if he’d known precisely where he would find them even before looking. He smiled. It was not entirely genuine, but neither was it entirely forced; it was a smile reflective of his new resolve. “I’m not going to wonder about this anymore,” he declared. “I’m not going to wonder about anything.”
Trowa’s expression became skeptical.
“If we ever find anything out, good. But until then, why should I keep agonizing over things like this…” He couldn’t help adding more quietly, in the interest of honesty, “or keep hurting the Beast with my questions… when wondering doesn’t do me any good anyway?” His smile warmed a little as he finished, “I’m going to stop worrying about something I can’t do anything about.”
Now Trowa also smiled faintly. “Always a good policy,” he murmured. “And possibly the best idea here and now.” A little sardonically he added, “Good luck with it, though.”
“You’ll have to help me.” Quatre turned away from the statues and started toward the stairs again. “Keep me distracted. But not by getting sick again, please. Or injured like a certain person we know.”
Trowa followed him, and his sardonic tone had not lessened as he replied, “Yes, sir.”
Not terribly fond of this chapter’s picture, for all the time I spent on it. Once again, it’s difficult to find good references to use when drawing the Beast…