A step Trowa has needed to take ever since the breaking of the curse has unexpected consequences; now unpleasant truths must be faced by everyone, and Quatre is suddenly a completely different person.
The entirety of Saturday had passed without Quatre either answering or returning any of Heero’s calls, and the physical quest to locate him had been equally unrewarding. This, Heero thought at first, was the reason he awoke the next day (and was even inclined to rise) so much earlier than he generally did on weekends; but he rethought this assessment on leaving his bedroom and finding Trowa sitting on his sofa in the living room.
Though he could tell immediately from Trowa’s expression (and, really, mere presence) that it might not be the most welcome good morning he could give, he still offered, “Happy birthday.”
Having learned everything he needed to know from this, Heero didn’t bother asking. Nor did he volunteer to make some breakfast for Trowa, assuming such a discussion would turn out much like yesterday’s. The more upset Trowa was, the less inclined he seemed to be to do normal human things; at the moment he looked like he hadn’t slept much last night, and had probably forgotten what eating was.
Heero wanted to offer some form of comfort, however. His own mood was morose enough; he had no doubt Trowa, especially after a night of whatever had kept him awake, felt even worse. And no matter what Trowa had done or might be that Heero didn’t entirely approve of, he surely deserved some reassurance. So, once Heero had gotten the coffee started, he leaned against the counter down at the end nearest the sofa and said, “Quatre helped me through a couple of the most difficult times of my life.”
Trowa turned halfway toward him, his expression dark and sad, but said nothing.
“And he stood by all of us through the whole process of breaking the curse.”
“Whatever’s happened to him now, I don’t think he’ll abandon us. He doesn’t give up on people.” He restrained himself from adding, “Even when he should,” lest Trowa take it as a personal attack. Instead he finished up with, “We’ll hear from him eventually.”
Brows lowered, Trowa hesitated a moment, then nodded again. He might have been about to speak, but was kept silent by the sounds coming from down the hall.
Though Duo didn’t seem to have any great problem being separated from Heero when it was necessary, still he tended to keep close by whenever they were together. Heero had no idea whether or not Duo had resumed being a ‘sleeper-in,’ as he’d once called himself, when Heero had to get up early and leave the apartment, but whenever Heero was at home it was rare for Duo to stay in bed much longer than Heero did. This was fortunate, since, even after all this time, the instinct to keep Duo close had not yet entirely faded.
“Hey, Trois! Happy birthday!” Duo’s cheer was very unfitting to just about every circumstance currently in place; Heero feared he still wasn’t taking this issue with Quatre seriously enough. Conversation yesterday while Heero had driven around town trying to pretend he was helping had indicated that Duo’s sanguinity arose not from a disinclination to believe his friends that something was definitely wrong with Quatre, but from his great faith in Trowa’s powers; Duo obviously thought Trowa would be able to snap his fingers or something and cure Quatre completely. That he of all people could have so much confidence in the abilities of the man that had been unable to find him for eighty-seven years and then unable to figure out, except by chance, how to break his curse, Heero was more or less astonished, but he’d tried not to make a big issue out of it.
“Thank you,” said Trowa dourly.
“Come on, come on,” said Duo, the increased gentleness of his words seeming at odds with the words themselves, “it’s your first birthday since you started aging again… you’ve got to enjoy it.”
“Duo, what do you want for breakfast?” Heero inquired, thinking to leave this conversation to them and busy himself in the kitchen. After yesterday’s experience, he wasn’t going to attempt a proper, recipe-based breakfast again until things were settled down, but there were plenty of other options.
“Do we have any English muffins left?” Duo wondered as he took a seat next to Trowa on the couch.
Heero had been living with human Duo for almost four months, and in a technical sense had been living with Duo for as long as he’d known him, but it was still possible for Duo to thrill him with a simple use of the word ‘we’ even in the middle of concern about another friend such as Heero was experiencing now. He was smiling as he answered, “I bought a new package.”
“Oh, good, then we can force Trowa to eat a couple too.”
“I don’t really–” Trowa began, but Duo made a noise to stop him and held up an arbitrary hand. Heero, still smiling, turned to prepare some English muffins, jam-loaded for one of his companions and lightly-buttered for the other. His own he took with scrambled eggs, and he only wished he had occasion to round out the eight in the package with the sausage he knew Quatre had no use for English muffins without.
Whether or not Duo’s level of concern was appropriate to the situation, he definitely had that situation on his mind as he continued to address Trowa in that relatively gentle but still fairly cheerful tone. “You’re a hundred and twelve today. It’s not a very round number, but it’s still a pretty important birthday! There’s no way he’ll ditch you.”
“He managed to avoid all of us all day yesterday,” Trowa said dully.
“Well, yes, but I’m sure that was just because he was trying to work off his annoyance or whatever.”
“I worked on spells for twelve hours straight.” Trowa lifted his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I can jump again now without too much trouble, but I can’t use Quatre as a destination, and he wasn’t anywhere I looked. If he ever went back to his bedroom last night, it was after I fell asleep.” He sounded extremely regretful, almost miserably penitent, that he’d done so at all. “And he wasn’t there just now when I checked again.”
“We’ll find him,” Duo reassured seriously. “He can’t stay away forever, and if–”
Heero glanced over when Duo cut off so abruptly, and found his boyfriend’s eyes pointed across the room. Trowa too followed Duo’s gaze, and soon all three of them were staring at where the door in the wall had opened and admitted the very subject of their conversation.
Quatre closed the door behind him and stood before it, looking around at all of them, and Heero could already see the change. He didn’t think it was just because he was seeking the signs, either; he would have noticed that something was off about Quatre’s stance under any circumstances.
“Wow,” Quatre said, with a smile that appeared somewhat forced, “Heero’s up before ten o’clock on a Sunday.”
Not only was this a completely reasonable observation, it was a tease that Quatre might well be expected to direct toward his best friend. But in this instance it seemed to come much more forcefully, much more sharply edged, than many a more serious remark from that source.
“And hasn’t even called me yet,” Quatre went on. He still hadn’t moved from before Trowa’s door. “Whatever you were blowing up my phone about yesterday must be over with.”
Evidently Duo too felt the unusual edge to Quatre’s tone, for now he stood from the couch somewhat impatiently and said, “No, it’s not. We’ve all been worried about you.”
“‘We’ve all,'” Quatre echoed, and the laugh he followed this with had a strange hardness to it. “Why am I not surprised to hear Duo saying that on behalf of all three of you? Oh, it’s because my boyfriend and my best friend like to keep everything a secret from the people it’s important to.”
This was another fairly legitimate point, and something Quatre had teased Heero about in the past — specifically in relation to his reluctance to acquaint Duo with his feelings for him during the curse-breaking month — but not only did it feel a little out of place at the moment, it too was delivered more sharply than teasing remarks from Quatre usually were.
Trowa had also stood and turned to face Quatre, and now he said quietly, “I have at least one important thing to talk to you about right now.”
“Yes, well,” allowed Quatre deprecatingly, “it’s not usually actually me who doesn’t get told, since nobody thinks I’d ever get tired of hanging onto all their secrets for them.”
Heero had stepped to the edge of the kitchen with an intent locked gaze during Quatre’s last couple of statements. For there was appearing around his friend — or at least Heero was just starting to notice — a faint glow, an aura of sorts, that seemed to rise from his body and stream upward. Whatever it was, it dissipated into the air as he spoke, though there was no apparent end to it. Heero had no clue what it was — something magical, no doubt — and he wondered if Trowa and Duo could detect it.
In glancing at those two to see, he was distracted by the expression on Trowa’s face: he looked hurt, and in such a way that it was clear Quatre’s latest accusation had come as a complete surprise. What secrets, Heero wondered, had Quatre been keeping for Trowa that he was perhaps tired of hanging onto, and that Trowa didn’t even like having referenced?
Quatre appeared to have noticed the hurt expression as well, for he said, “I’m sorry” — though the impatience in the phrase sapped any sound of sincerity it might have had, and that strange aura around him didn’t diminish. “I know I’m in a bad mood, and I probably shouldn’t be around people right now. But I was looking for you–” addressing Trowa specifically– “to see if we’re still doing something today.”
“Are we?” asked Trowa hesitantly, his face settling into a more placid look of general unease.
“I don’t know,” replied Quatre impatiently. “It’s your birthday.”
“He may just want to stay here and celebrate with us.” Clearly unhappy with Quatre’s attitude, Duo had moved a step closer to Trowa in a show of solidarity and a somewhat alarming challenge against Quatre.
Quatre’s eyes narrowed as they flicked to Duo, and his tone sounded somewhat disdainful as he said, “Duo, go put a shirt on. I know you’re happy to have a human body, but not everyone wants to see you half-naked all the time.”
Duo’s brows went down and his mouth dropped open, but he didn’t at first appear to have anything to say in reply to that.
“Quatre.” Even Heero didn’t know whether that single word was a query what the hell was wrong, an admonishment not to talk to his boyfriend like that, or just a plea for Quatre to stop acting this way.
“Something on your stove is burning, Heero,” Quatre said dismissively, then turned his complete attention on Trowa. “Well, are we going somewhere or aren’t we?”
With a deep breath, seeming to rally, Trowa was probably realizing that if he didn’t agree to go somewhere with Quatre right now, he would lose track of him again for another unknown length of time; as unpleasant as Quatre was to be around at the moment, Trowa couldn’t afford to miss this chance to determine what was wrong with him and what he could do about it. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, let’s go.”
Quatre nodded sharply and turned. Before following him, Trowa shot a helpless glance at Heero and Duo. Then they two were left watching the door fall shut in stupefied silence.
“What – the hell – was that.” Duo couldn’t take his eyes off Trowa’s door, and he still hadn’t managed to tighten his jaw back up from the disbelieving slackness Quatre had occasioned in it.
“Now you see why we were so worried,” Heero muttered, the sound of his voice allowing Duo finally to look in that direction. Heero had already been frowning, but at his own words he made an even more bitter face, as if realizing they’d sounded very much like the acerbic Quatre that had just left. Abruptly he strode across the room to put his arms around Duo. “And I don’t mind seeing you half-naked all the time,” he added penitently.
Duo returned the embrace, though he found his eyes had been dragged back to Trowa’s door and his frown hadn’t changed. “Good,” he said absently. “Thank you. But… what the hell was that.”
“Something Trowa had better be able to fix.”
“Yeah, but what was it? I’ve never seen Quatre that… bitchy… before. It seemed like every little thing was annoying him, and he was taking it out on us. And why was pure magic coming off him the whole time?”
Heero jerked back. “I saw that,” he said in intense and serious interest. “Is that what it was?”
“That’s what it felt like, anyway — just pure magical energy. I guess he picked it up somehow from the artifact when he destroyed it, but why would that make him mad at everyone?”
“So that’s not anything you’ve heard of?” Heero wondered earnestly. “Someone destroying an artifact and it having that kind of effect?”
Duo shook his head, more as an ‘I don’t know’ than a negative. “I think most people aren’t in the habit of destroying artifacts that powerful even if they have them around in the first place. People wouldn’t usually have much reason to. Trowa didn’t even really need to get rid of this one, I think; I just think he felt like it was too much of a symbol of everything that happened.”
“He spent all day yesterday practicing spells,” Heero said pensively. “He wasn’t researching.”
“Well, he still needs to–”
At the sound of Duo’s somewhat defensive tone, Heero broke in hastily. “I’m not criticizing him. Of course he needs to figure out how to do all his regular magic again without the artifact. But I want to know what’s wrong with Quatre.”
“Maybe Trowa will call later to let us know he’s fixed everything.” Duo wasn’t feeling nearly as hopeful about this as he had been yesterday, and it sounded in his voice.
“I think I’m going to look around online and see if I can find out anything,” Heero determined with a nod. “There’s a lot of stuff online about magic; maybe somebody’s heard of something like this.”
Considering that as good an idea as any at the moment, Duo gave Heero an encouraging kiss more or less at random (it landed on his cheekbone just by his ear), and said, “And I should put a shirt on.”
“I told you I don’t mind.” At the reference to Quatre’s unpleasant comment to Duo, however, Heero was glancing around now to assess the truth of Quatre’s unpleasant comment to him. Something on the stove was burning; that was the second day in a row.
“What was funny,” Duo remarked as he headed for the bedroom, increasing his volume as he drew farther away from Heero, “was that he didn’t say anything that wasn’t totally true. Same with the stuff Trowa said he said on Friday night — it was all true; it just wasn’t like Quatre to say it.” When Heero did not respond, he mused on. “Isn’t there a faery tale where some guy got a piece of glass in his eye that made him see everything as ugly, so it turned him into a complete jerk? And his girlfriend had to cry it out for him or something?”
Heero met him in the hallway. That he’d left the kitchen so soon probably meant there was another damaged pan to scrub, but Duo agreed that it could wait until later. “I’ll check online for the effects of getting glass in your eye too,” Heero said with that solemn facetiousness that was so consistently adorable in him.
“If only it was likely to be that easy,” Duo muttered as he followed Heero into the second bedroom.
“Yeah,” Heero agreed, taking his place before the computer and turning it on, “then all we’d have to do is find Quatre a girlfriend.”
Duo laughed and threw himself down onto the guest bed. Looking up at the popcorned ceiling, sobering, he lay silent for a while, but finally remarked, “He’s not going to be happy about how he’s been acting when this is over.”
“I know,” Heero replied grimly. “Even if everything he said was true. He only seemed a little annoyed… if he gets really angry, I don’t know what he’s likely to say.”
“Whatever secrets he’s still holding onto–” and Duo couldn’t quite keep the curiosity out of his voice as he said this– “I bet he’ll spill them if he gets really mad. So if any of them are about you,” he added in a lighter tone, “you’d probably better tell them all to me now before Quatre does.” He thought the implication of Quatre’s complaint had been that Trowa far more than Heero had secrets Quatre didn’t like keeping, but it would be absolutely inappropriate for Duo to question Trowa about this, so he was teasing Heero instead.
Several moments of silence followed, but the lack of mouse clicks or keystrokes indicated Heero was still waiting for the computer to finish its forever-long process of booting up. Finally, in a completely serious tone, he said, “I can’t think of any secrets I have from you. Quatre certainly knows a lot of my most embarrassing moments, but those aren’t exactly secrets — just things I won’t tell anyone if I don’t have to.”
“Like about your bookshelf,” Duo grinned.
“Yeah, that kind of thing.”
“Well, I’ll try not to take advantage of the situation and make fun of you forever if he does happen to tell me anything like that.”
“Just like you’ve never made fun of what’s on my bookshelf.”
“I don’t make fun of what’s on your bookshelf; I make fun of you for being embarrassed about what’s on your bookshelf.”
“I think it was just last week you were following me around reading random selections from Goosebumps books in a very bad imitation of Vincent Price.”
“Yeah, but just to get your reaction! You do the best wincey embarrassed faces. And it wasn’t Vincent Price; it was Boris Karloff.”
“A bad imitation of Boris Karloff is a bad imitation of Vincent Price.”
Chuckling, Duo acceded to this point and then fell silent as Heero began his search process at last.
In one way, he supposed, this behavior of Quatre’s might have quite a good outcome. Trowa had spent so long living an unnecessary penance for what he’d accidentally done so many decades ago, had gotten into such an unhealthy habit of thinking of himself as a criminal of sorts that owed the world — Duo in particular — a degree of recompense he could never meet, that it might be very desirable to balance that out a trifle by having one of the most important people in his life penitently asking his forgiveness — which Duo was certain Quatre would do once he was cured of his present condition. It might help Trowa realize that mistakes were part of life and simply had to be lived down.
But that, of course, was assuming Quatre could be cured before he got really angry and went too far, did something more truly damaging, said something more hurtful than just pointing out the obvious fact that both Trowa and Heero were taciturn or Duo was overly pleased with his own bare chest. Though Duo thought Quatre’s friends would be willing to forgive him quite a bit, things might still get worse before they got better. Who knew how unkind Quatre was really capable of being, when magic was involved?
Quatre was not going to like looking back on all of this. Even what he’d said and done so far, Duo thought, would make him unhappy in retrospect. And in addition to the guilt of having been unpleasant to his friends, there would be the recollection of having been influenced by magic, of at least certain aspects of his life having been out of his control because of a power he couldn’t fight. There was a road Duo had been down; he couldn’t imagine that adding feelings of personal culpability to that remembered helplessness would make for a more pleasant state of mind.
This train of thought brought him inevitably back around to the therapy idea from yesterday. He’d thought about it off and on since then, never terribly happily, and usually pushed it away after not too long, but it was about time he admitted to himself the conclusion that had been growing on his mental horizon.
He did need therapy. Of course he needed therapy. Probably most people did, in one way or another, to some degree. In his case it was fundamentally obvious, undeniable. And it wasn’t even as if he disliked the thought of going through therapy. He didn’t like the thought that he might be… damaged… might need therapy, but the thought of the treatment itself wasn’t particularly disturbing. Actually he might even specifically relish the idea of pouring out every last little thing he felt in relation to the curse and his unnaturally long life without having to worry about hurting his listener. In his head, he couldn’t even begin to pretend he didn’t need therapy.
It was just the way Heero had presented the concept — so abruptly, and yet in a manner that seemed to indicate they were already in the middle of the business, that things had already been decided and put in motion without any input from Duo — that had caused Duo to become defensive and reject the suggestion in its entirety.
He needed therapy; Trowa needed therapy; Quatre would probably need therapy after this business was over; if he looked hard enough, he could probably come up with a reason for Heero to need therapy too; they were all therapy patients together. It was fine. But Duo still didn’t really want to think about it.
Over at the computer desk, Heero had gone from muttering occasionally to himself as he came up with different ways to word his searches to silent stillness, so Duo assumed he was reading something. Pushing aside what he didn’t want to think about, he asked hopefully, “Anything good?”
“No,” said Heero, slowly and only after a long moment, with the air of one shaking himself from distraction. “No, nothing yet. I’ll tell you when I find something.”
So Duo continued to stare at the ceiling.
Quatre had seemed so intent on going somewhere to celebrate Trowa’s birthday, despite his current mood being about as far from celebratory as Trowa could imagine, that Trowa hadn’t dared suggest they spend the day quietly at home instead. Inability to jump them both somewhere he could, perhaps, have used as an excuse, but not only was he disinclined to lie to Quatre, he also feared that Quatre might interpret ‘at home’ as ‘at their separate homes’ and simply leave him. So he’d tried to come up with someplace he knew well enough to teleport to that would be interesting enough for a birthday and where he could quietly observe Quatre (and possibly cast some spells) to try to figure out what had happened to him.
The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe had made a sufficient impression on him that he felt he could successfully jump them there, but Quatre reminded him cuttingly that New Mexico in August was likely to roast them both alive. When he suggested Paris, Quatre wondered at his lack of originality. The idea of visiting Niagara Falls (where Trowa wasn’t even entirely sure he could take them at this point) was dismissed without much explanation as Quatre asked impatiently whether Trowa couldn’t think of any destination where they could go swimming.
Very unwillingly but seeing no good alternative, Trowa brought up Traverse City and its freshwater beaches. Given that he had no pleasant memories of the place, he didn’t really want to return, but that he had several years’ worth of memories of it at all — outdated though they were — meant he could probably get them there without too much trouble, and it was the first idea Quatre didn’t seem to scorn completely. Besides, if Quatre was going to make this entire day unpleasant for him, that activity might as well take place somewhere that couldn’t be tainted by the experience because Trowa already associated it primarily with unpleasantness from his childhood.
During the century since he’d hitchhiked away from it, Trowa had revisited Traverse a handful of times for different reasons, and had seen how it had changed; in 2010, it was so vastly different a place than it had been in 1906 that only the lakeshores made it at all recognizable. But there was a certain soul to a city that didn’t alter nearly so much even over such a stretch of time, a soul he’d become eminently familiar with on its streets as a child, and this was what allowed him to jump there despite all the cosmetic changes and modernization that had taken place since then.
The idea was to take a hiking trail that led to a beach, where they could then spend the rest of the day lounging or swimming or feeling awkward and unhappy or whatever turned out to be the case; as such, the first step was to obtain some clothing appropriate for these activities, since Trowa owned no hiking apparel and Quatre’s existing swimwear was still wet at home from yesterday. So they endured a silent bus ride, during which Quatre gave many of the other commuters an openly dark eye for no apparent reason, to a shopping center that contained the store Quatre had looked up on his phone and declared dogmatically that they wanted.
At this store, after a disparaging decree that it wasn’t necessary to dress like it was still the 1940’s, Quatre essentially made Trowa’s selections for him, then remarked, when Trowa would have paid for their purchases, “I make a lot of money, Trowa. Or am I not allowed to buy you birthday presents?”
In reference to their second bus ride, this one to near the beginning of the trail Quatre had chosen, he had the somewhat snide comment, “I don’t think I’ve been on a bus for this long since I was in high school. I usually rent a car or take a cab when I’m out of town.”
Between Quatre’s unpleasant behavior and Trowa’s unpleasant recollections — not to mention the fact that Trowa wasn’t in nearly as good physical condition as Quatre was, and already a little tired from the spell he’d used to bring them here in the first place — Trowa was cowed, and their hike began and progressed in extremely uncomfortable silence. He was grateful that it wasn’t too difficult a trail; he wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if Quatre in his current state had chosen a much more intense one to punish Trowa for not being as fit as he should. As it was, the very rugged hiking boots Quatre had bought him weren’t entirely necessary. They were also threatening to blister Trowa’s heels.
At least the forest didn’t hold a lot of memories. It had been the streets his mother had taken him up and down all day back then, looking for simple tasks they could do for money, errands either of them could run, or even, on occasion, unwatched objects that could be stolen. But though the streets had changed beyond recognition and he was currently walking a dirt path, just being here must remind him.
He tried to do what he’d come to do, tried to concentrate on Quatre, whose businesslike stride spoke more of getting this over with than enjoying the hike. If he could determine what had gone wrong on Friday night, perhaps he could mend it. Perhaps the day and even his impression of this area could be salvaged to some extent. But he doubted it.
The aura Quatre had been giving off definitely matched the power from the candlestick; Trowa would know that power anywhere, automatically. What it meant, however, that Quatre had apparently absorbed power from the artifact he’d destroyed, Trowa wasn’t sure. There were some magical conditions with which Trowa was slightly familiar that seemed similar to Quatre’s current state — especially given that Quatre appeared to expend some of that magical energy whenever he said something uncharacteristically cutting — but not in any way that provided any immediate solution.
Well, if Quatre was carrying power that had previously filled the lunar artifact, perhaps that made Quatre, in a sense, an artifact — and in that case, Trowa might be able to tap into that power. And if that power was what made Quatre so unpersonable, perhaps Trowa could use it up and thereby restore Quatre to his normal self. It seemed worth a try.
Having spent so long attuned to this particular energy, Trowa had no difficulty getting back onto the same wavelength now; he could very easily sense the power Quatre was releasing, and should be able to use it deliberately just as he had done for all those years with the artifact. So he murmured a simple spell.
“Hey!” Quatre jerked as if he’d been hurt, and, ceasing his steps, turned abruptly to face Trowa. “What are you trying to do, turn me into a doll or something?”
Trowa’s breath caught, and he thought his body visibly mimicked Quatre’s in its pained stiffening.
Observing this, Quatre looked appalled — though his horror appeared to be mixed equally with anger, this time mostly at himself. “I’m sorry,” he said at once. “That was completely inappropriate.”
Standing still where he’d stopped, Trowa felt he couldn’t quite breathe properly, as if Quatre’s words had been a slamming blow to his chest that had robbed him of air and briefly paralyzed his lungs. As they stared at each other in silence for a long moment, somebody jogged past.
“I’m sorry,” Quatre said again. This time, though still penitent, he sounded impatient, as if annoyed that Trowa hadn’t yet offered some sign of forgiveness.
Trowa, who still couldn’t speak, just shook his head.
“Whatever spell you were trying,” Quatre said, evidently taking the headshake for the sign he wanted, “wasn’t fun, so don’t do it again.”
They restarted, their slightly slower pace perhaps a testament to Quatre’s continued regret for what he’d said. Eventually Trowa was once more able to breathe right, but the aftershock of Quatre’s comment took much longer to fade. And recalling firmly that Quatre was under a magical influence that was rendering all his statements unnaturally unkind did very little to lessen the pain of having been so casually reminded of something horrific and inhumane Trowa had once done and could, conceivably, do again. Something for which he and his best friend had suffered for eighty-seven years. Something Quatre himself had been, up until now, assisting Trowa in recovering from.
The thought that gradually overcame Trowa’s pain and allowed him to concentrate was that, though Quatre’s response had certainly been disproportionate to the provocation, still Trowa had caused him discomfort with his spell. He’d hurt Quatre, and hadn’t even accomplished anything in so doing. For the attempt at making use of the energy Quatre was infected with hadn’t worked; though he could still sense it even now, and though it still seemed to be the same energy he’d been using all these years, Trowa hadn’t been able to grasp it, to connect with it in a practical way.
That, he thought, arose from the fact that it wasn’t the same energy. In the moment of his spell, he’d been able to sense that the power had altered somehow so that it wasn’t quite the same as it had been in the candlestick. The difference was something Trowa couldn’t quite grasp, something just beyond his comprehension, but he thought that was what had defied his attempt to make use of it. He felt as if there probably was some way to draw the energy out of Quatre, but trying to use it in a spell wasn’t it.
If Quatre wasn’t a usable artifact, then, what next? Little faith as he had in his own powers of divination at the moment, Trowa couldn’t help trying a brief string of questions.
Had the power Quatre now contained come from the lunar artifact?
How had that power been transferred into Quatre?
A vision of Quatre out in Trowa’s shed, the muscles of his arms bulging as he brought an old axe down with hard and calculated precision on the candlestick.
Why had destroying the artifact transferred its power to Quatre?
Quatre resumed his previous quick, somewhat annoyed pace at these muttered divining queries, and Trowa wondered whether he was irritated at having the magical language spoken incomprehensibly beside him with no explanation or whether he’d seen something. Non-magical people didn’t get proper visions in response to divinations, but they did sometimes see things; and since one of the visions that had come to Trowa had been something Quatre himself had actually done, that particular memory might have been triggered in Quatre’s mind by the spell. Trowa hurried to catch up.
“First you cast something that hurts,” Quatre remarked, “and then you exclude me entirely.”
Trowa cleared his throat, searching quickly for something he could say that would explain the divinations he’d just been doing. It would have to be a lie, since mentioning what he was actually trying to figure out, he feared, would be counterproductive. He fixed on the first thing that came to mind that he might logically be conducting divinations about. “Did you know I’m related to someone you work with?”
Quatre threw him a quick, narrow-eyed glance that seemed first to wonder how this question was related to what he’d said and then to ponder the words. “Catharine?” he guessed.
“That’s right. She believes we’re fourth cousins, but it appears she’s descended from a brother I didn’t know I had.”
Though he’d looked away, Quatre’s lips were pursed and his eyes remained narrowed. Finally he said, “And that’s what you’re thinking about right now?”
Recognizing that he had perhaps made things worse with his choice of topic, Trowa still had no idea what else he could have said. “Yes,” he replied neutrally.
“That’s great. I’m so happy for you. You’re out hiking with your boyfriend to celebrate your birthday — you claim to have been worried about him all day yesterday — and you’re casting spells to figure out who your great-great-great-grand-niece is. Very appropriate. Did you even remember I was here?”
It probably wouldn’t do much good, but Trowa tried what he hoped would be a soothing explanation. “Being in Michigan again suddenly reminded me that Cathy said her family–”
“‘Cathy?'” Quatre broke in bitingly. “Nobody at work calls her that. When were you planning on telling me you’d gotten so close to her behind my back?”
Now Trowa was fighting the urge to mirror his lover’s anger. The normal Quatre would never make an accusation like that, and Trowa should not react the way he would if the normal Quatre had said it. “I’ve talked to her once,” he said tersely, “at your office. We determined we’re related, and she told me to call her Cathy. I don’t see a problem with that.”
As annoyed as Quatre obviously was, it appeared he couldn’t see a problem with that either, for he continued his quick walk in huffy silence.
Further divination was probably not a good idea right now; Quatre would only assume Trowa was continuing to question the universe about Cathy and his relationship with her, and would go on being jealous or whatever he was about it. So Trowa just studied Quatre wordlessly, trying once again to pinpoint what it was that had changed about the energy he was giving off.
It seemed eventually that Quatre felt bad about his part in the preceding conversation, for he tried to open a new one on a lighter note. He still sounded incongruously annoyed as he asked, “Didn’t you say you were born in Michigan?”
Unfortunately, the topic was ill-chosen. The normal Quatre would have kept in consideration the fact that Trowa always avoided talking about his early history, and would not have thrown out a question about it as part of an attempt at improving the atmosphere between them. “Yes,” was all Trowa said.
When Quatre appeared to become aware that this was the only answer he was going to get, he made an annoyed gesture that seemed to say, “Fine. If you don’t want to talk, then neither do I,” and closed his mouth for the entire remainder of the hike.
If Trowa hadn’t already felt unhappy and awkward and concerned, it certainly didn’t help his mood when the trees thinned and then opened out, leaving them on a little rise overlooking the shops and boardwalk preceding a gorgeous golden beach and the great blue expanse of Lake Michigan beyond. Because it had only been a month before that he’d spent a gloriously happy couple of days with a kind and loving Quatre on a different golden beach with a boardwalk and a great blue expanse, and comparing that vacation with today was dismal and disheartening in the extreme.
Quatre set off wordlessly down some steps that had been set into the trail to ease the grade of the descending path, and Trowa reluctantly followed him. He couldn’t quite say this was the worst birthday he’d ever had — the same fixed superlatives as ever still applied — but so far it was certainly close.
Trowa’s warning had not been untimely. Heero wondered how he would have reacted to this if he hadn’t been given a heads-up beforehand that he would start hearing Duo’s thoughts sometime soon.
From a sort of buzz at first, almost as if some of his own thoughts were developing too lazily and obscurely for him to understand properly, it had grown into an undeniable awareness of conceptions not his own, silent statements he hadn’t formed. Still they were vague — nothing more than general impressions, really — but they were suffused with the idea of Duo, and that familiar and beloved sense served, to some extent, to smooth over a feeling that was odd and might otherwise have been frightening.
Heero believed himself extremely lucky. What if this had started at work, and it had been the thoughts of half the sales floor he’d begun picking up on? He was silently grateful to Trowa for letting him know this would happen, and grateful to Duo just for being here when it did… even if he wasn’t terribly pleased at what he was hearing blurrily from Duo’s head.
That Heero really had screwed up yesterday was clear. It seemed so simplistically obvious, in retrospect, that he should talk to Duo first about something so personal, but somehow that had not occurred to him. And now Duo was reflecting unhappily about therapy and the manner in which Heero had presented that idea. The specifics of those thoughts Heero still wasn’t getting, but the gist of it was clear, and made him feel guilty and uneasy.
“Anything good?” Duo asked suddenly, under the impression that Heero’s long silence resulted from something other than being suddenly captivated by the awareness of his boyfriend’s thoughts.
He was going to have to tell Duo about this, and soon: you couldn’t neglect to inform someone, especially someone so close, that you could hear any thought he didn’t actively try to hide from you. But it would probably be a lengthy conversation, and, no matter how interesting it was to be able to tap into Duo’s brainwaves, Heero had something crucial and possibly time-sensitive to work on right now. So, “No,” he said, forcing himself to concentrate on the computer in front of him even as Duo’s reflections continued behind him. He opened a new window and tried another search. “No, nothing yet. I’ll tell you when I find something.”
On the potential dangers of destroying artifacts, the internet did have some interesting information. Apparently, as made perfect sense, an artifact’s magical energy was released all at once upon its destruction, which could affect spells and cause general havoc. If the artifact had borne some specific affinity, then some specific and potentially unwanted effect could be triggered as well — for example, the destruction of a fire-related item might set its surroundings aflame. Heero didn’t know how this would apply to an artifact with an affinity with the moon, nor did most of these details seem to help much.
“Have you heard of this artifact power scale?” he asked after a while — partially because he really wanted to know, and partially because Duo’s thoughts were distracting him.
“Yeah, a little. They number them one through five, don’t they?”
“It looks like some of them use numbers, and some of them use names.” Heero scrolled down. “But since there are six names, they don’t line up perfectly with the five numbers. Oh, and here’s a third scale… this one has three named classifications that each have three numbered subcategories.”
“That sounds like magicians,” Duo admitted with a half grin. This led him, fairly naturally, to start thinking about Trowa and Trowa’s lengthy experience as a magician, and wondering what Trowa and Quatre were up to and whether Trowa had made any progress or useful discoveries.
It was painfully obvious that Heero was going to have to learn to deal with intruding thoughts if he was ever to get any work done again. Remembering what Trowa had said, Heero guessed that he might not start hearing the thoughts of people he wasn’t as close to for a while, so this was the perfect chance — perhaps the only chance — to practice. He took a deep breath and firmly directed his endeavors.
At least with these classifications of artifact power, he had terms he could use for more productive searches. However, ‘destroying a level 5 artifact,’ ‘destroying a Roussel-class artifact,’ and ‘destroying a rank 1 major artifact’ all continually gave him the same answer: you wouldn’t. These types of artifacts were rare, extremely powerful, and could make someone practically omnipotent; if anyone had ever been crazy enough to want to give all that up by destroying such an artifact, the effects of that action had not been discussed on the internet.
Of course Heero couldn’t be certain that Trowa’s candlestick had fallen into these most powerful categories, but even bumping his search terms down a notch didn’t give him any good results. People just didn’t destroy these higher-level items — which made sense for anyone lacking the trauma associated with one that Trowa had. On the chance that Trowa’s artifact had actually been more powerful than the generally acknowledged levels, Heero looked into that too… but, while he did find a few references to the rumored existence of uniquely powerful artifacts considerably stronger than even the strongest within the accepted scales, this phrase ‘uniquely powerful’ didn’t seem to be universal enough among magicians to turn up any decent information.
Changing his tactics, he searched for ‘artifact magic condition changed attitude angry insulting,’ and this, finally, appeared to yield some real results. Interestingly, these results only started after Google had given him almost nothing for his entire string of terms and suggested instead the removal of ‘artifact’ from the lineup for a better response. That seemed a fairly crucial word under the circumstances, but Heero’s attention was caught by the first suggestion beneath the amended query.
Duo’s thoughts had evolved from wondering what Trowa and Quatre were doing today to wondering about certain details of their sex life. Though Heero considered this not a terribly unusual train of thought for a man about his friends, it was extremely distracting — not least because Heero happened to know the answer (Quatre was sometimes disturbingly open with him on such topics), and wondered how Duo would react if he just casually provided it out of the blue like a pornographic Sherlock Holmes.
Instead he said, “Hey, listen to this,” and was satisfied with the attention Duo gave him. “Red shades are the angry kind. You’ll know when someone is haunted by a red shade because it seems like they’ve changed overnight from a nice person into a total jerk. Symptoms are different for everyone, since everyone is different when they’re mad, but they often include a bad mood that seems to last forever without getting better, getting angry about nothing, taking out their anger on little things (like kicking the furniture), saying rude or insulting things to people, and just generally being more violent than usual.”
“God, shades?” Duo demanded in despair. He’d sat up from where he’d previously been lying on his back staring at the ceiling. “None of us is necrovisual! If Quatre’s haunted, I don’t know what we’ll do about it.”
Heero pointed out, “If Quatre’s haunted, at least that’s something people know about.”
“But it doesn’t quite fit,” protested Duo. “I’ve never heard of somebody who was haunted having that kind of aura Quatre did.”
Continuing to look the page over, Heero shook his head. “No,” he agreed slowly, “it says here that he should have an aura of shade energy if this is what’s happening to him. Though… I’m not sure what… No, here it is: shade energy is emotion combined with death energy. And you said Quatre’s aura felt like pure magic.”
Duo nodded, frowning.
“So this probably isn’t it.” Heero was reluctant to move on from the site, however, and continue his pursuit of Quatre’s symptoms elsewhere; the description of a red shade victim seemed so fitting for Quatre’s current state. So he skimmed down to glance over the other sections of the page, just in case.
Humans can release huge amounts of emotion when they die, but even if the shade is enormous and even if the victim has completely taken it all in, they have to use it up eventually. Everything they do that expresses the shade emotion will let off some of the energy, so eventually it will disappear. But if there’s a lot of it, it can have major negative affects on their life before they manage to get rid of it, so if you don’t want to wait, you may want to consider an exorcism.
Here Heero followed a link leading to a page about exorcism methods. Apparently shade energy could be deliberately absorbed by someone else (who then had to deal with the excess emotion themselves), defeated with willpower channeled through a physical weapon, or ritually banished through some process whose description made it sound so complicated and difficult that Heero didn’t read it all the way through. None of this helped, since these were all things necrovisual people did; as Duo had mentioned, that wasn’t any of Quatre’s friends.
Just the word ‘necrovisual,’ however, was sparking a memory in Heero that, what with the distracting noise of Duo’s thoughts in the way, he couldn’t quite grasp. “Where do I remember hearing someone talk about being necrovisual?”
“Um…” Duo thought for a moment, causing Heero to get a mental visual half an instant before the words, “Dorothy. In the work parking lot.”
“Yeah, that was it. What was it she said she did?”
“I think… didn’t she say something about an exorcist? I think she said she’s only a little necrovisual.”
“But she’s probably enough to look at Quatre and tell us whether he’s haunted.” When Duo enthusiastically agreed, Heero finished with a sigh, “Too bad she’s on vacation this whole coming week.”
“Where?” asked the disappointed Duo.
“She’s doing a caving tour. I think she said she’s starting with something near San Francisco, but she’s going to be all over the place.” Heero turned back to the computer. “Anyway, this site says that for someone who’s haunted there are two options: leave them alone and let them work off the shade energy by themselves, or have the shade exorcised.”
“So it’s good information to have, anyway. If he is haunted, he’ll get better on his own eventually no matter what we do. We can keep trying to figure out what’s wrong with him, but keep our fingers crossed that it really is just a shade that’ll go away after a while.”
“And if it hasn’t gone away and we haven’t found the real answer by the time Dorothy’s back in town, she may have some insight.”
Duo nodded emphatically. Though nothing had really changed, he was clearly relieved at having a slightly better handle on the situation — even if it might be based on totally misplaced expectations. Heero couldn’t say he felt the same — or at least not to quite the same degree — but even with just vague impressions, Duo’s relief was like a little sunlamp whose warmth he could bask in on a small scale.
Therefore it was in a slightly better frame of mind that he turned back to the computer again and continued his research, looking for another possible answer even as he held the first he’d found in a sort of reserve.
Many aspects of Duo’s previous human life felt like little more than a dream to him these days. Certainly during the long sleepless years, those memories had been the only type of dream he’d been capable of seeing. Of course his inability to sleep as a doll had often caused him to think about his frequent difficulties sleeping as a human, but for all the time he’d spend ruminating on this topic, he’d never been able to recall that his insomnia before the curse had arisen from any reasonable cause. He just, he’d always figured, had too much energy. He’d certainly never, until now, considered that having a lot on his mind might be part of it.
That he was a very low-stress person he’d never doubted, but it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that, the night before he started his first job in eighty-seven years, simultaneously worried about his potential need for therapy, he’d taken hours to fall asleep and then had the devil of a time staying there. And these were not the only things on his mind; undoubtedly it was more than just his own concerns that had disturbed his rest.
Trowa had called last night to report his lack of progress throughout the time he’d spent with Quatre yesterday. Trowa didn’t use phones much, and calling Heero in particular was very like calling from two rooms away, but apparently he’d been at the end of what face-to-face interaction he could handle for the day. Of course that meant he’d talked to someone not nearly so inclined to offer copious amounts of verbal comfort as Duo would have been, but at least Heero had been able to convey his theory about red shade haunting to Trowa in his own words. Duo hadn’t needed to hear the other half of the conversation to observe that Trowa was dismissive of the idea, which had engendered some coolness; but he’d also thought Heero had taken pains not to get snippy with a friend that had clearly already had a wretched day.
That today would be significantly better Duo doubted. Even if Trowa did manage to figure out what was wrong with his boyfriend, he would still have to convince the unusually grouchy Quatre to submit to the cure — assuming Trowa, in his less powerful and relearning state, was even capable of carrying out that cure immediately or ever. If he didn’t figure out what was wrong, he would simply be waiting, along with Duo and Heero, to see whether or not Quatre could work off the anger on his own. It was nothing pleasant to look forward to.
And yet, in the face of the worrisome unknown, Duo was very little but excited at the coming day’s prospects (though how much of that excitement was purely positive he couldn’t quite calculate).
He’d become so used to largely ignoring Heero’s alarm clock that, despite still feeling draggingly tired when it went off, despite any stress-based lack of proper rest, he was immediately energized by the novelty of having to respond to the repetitive beeping and get up. As Duo rolled out of bed, disarraying the blanket (they needed a bigger bed), Heero turned onto his side and pulled the cover back up over his shoulder and head in an abrupt movement like a villain with an evil cape. Duo chuckled, yawned, and headed for the bathroom.
Heero had showered last night after many hours at the computer, and Duo with him — but not only were mutual showers far less productive (of thorough cleanliness) than the solitary kind, Duo also happened to really like showers, and felt he could use the simultaneously soothing and galvanizing influence right now. So he coiled his braid up and put a cap on it and removed what little he was wearing. He didn’t waste time, though; he was out of the water again before Heero managed to drag himself into the bathroom.
“Happy job day,” Heero said as he reached for his toothbrush.
“Thank you!” Duo replied in great satisfaction. There might be some uneasiness about today lingering in his subconscious, but in general he didn’t feel terribly concerned about starting work. That he had other sources of concern could not render him less happy to be making a new beginning as a human that could earn his own money. Therefore, though still yawning, he was very cheerful as he went into the kitchen to dig up breakfast.
During the months that had passed since the curse was broken, Duo had visited Heero at work several times and been able to introduce himself to several of Heero’s acquaintances there. Between this and all the time he’d spent at the office as a doll, he was familiar enough with the place and many of its employees… but his dearest wish had yet to be fulfilled. So his attitude about the day went from hopeful to ecstatic when, turning a corner of a second-floor hallway of the Winner Plastics Lexington office, he encountered, beside a water-cooler he’d never yet actually seen used by anyone, Wufei.
The latter was busy with his phone, but not only did Duo get the overwhelming impression that he would be more than happy with any interruption that would allow him to show off the device, Duo also did not care whether or not Wufei minded being bothered at the moment.
“Hey!” He moved enthusiastically forward. “You must be Wufei! I’ve seen you a couple of times, but I never got the chance to talk to you!”
As Wufei glanced up from (but did not put away or even lower) his phone, he looked specifically interested. “Likewise,” he said. “And your name is Duo.”
Duo wished he would follow this up with, “Do you want to know how I knew?” — mostly because he longed to hear Wufei say it, but also because he was a little curious about whose conversations Wufei had been listening in on to catch Duo’s name. Unfortunately, not wanting to be late on his first day, he didn’t have time to try to draw out all his favorite Wufei lines. So he said, “I recognized you right away because Heero’s told me so much about you, and I figure you’re the only hot Chinese guy working here.”
He thought he felt a sort of wince behind him, but wasn’t sure whether his boyfriend was bothered most by the flirtation, the implication that Heero had ever referred to Wufei as a ‘hot Chinese guy,’ or merely the suggestion that Heero talked about Wufei any more than was absolutely necessary. Duo hadn’t been able to help himself, though.
Wufei was momentarily silent, and Duo reflected uncharitably that he probably wasn’t used to people walking up and calling him hot. He was hot, though, objectively speaking, even with the huge glasses, so maybe it was less that people never pointed this fact out, and more the happy idea of his good friend Heero having been talking about him so much, that kept him briefly wordless. Whatever the case, he recovered quickly.
“First of all, thank you for the compliment.” He had such a hilarious self-important seriousness to his speech; Duo was so happy to be here. “Secondly, I’m honored to meet you at last.” And he offered a hand.
Duo took this in both of his for a warm and enthusiastic handshake. “I’m starting here today,” he said, not letting go, “so I can’t hang around, but I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.” He wanted to laugh, not only at Wufei’s slightly nonplussed expression, but simply out of joy at this interaction and the fact that he was here at all.
“Yes, I’m sure that will be the case.” Once Wufei’s hand was free, he made rather a show of setting his phone on vibrate before putting it away as he added, “Welcome aboard. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”
As they moved on down the hallway, passing the doors onto the sales floor since Heero was escorting Duo to his training destination, Duo fully expected some comment on the fact that the plan for messing with Wufei was already getting started, or on Wufei’s pomposity in offering workplace assistance right in front of someone that was both Duo’s boyfriend and corporate superior. But what Heero actually said, in a low tone, was, “You didn’t sleep well last night, but you seem OK now.”
“Oh, did I wake you up?” Duo wondered in some concern.
“No, it was fine. I’m just glad you’re feeling all right now.”
“Well, I am tired,” admitted Duo. “But, yeah, I’m OK.” With a grin he added, “You have no idea how happy I am to be here.”
Heero smiled. “I can guess.” After a glance around, he squeezed Duo’s hand; apparently that was as far as he was willing to proceed in a hallway at work. “This is the place. When she lets you go for lunch, come find me and I’ll take lunch then too.”
Duo nodded, returned the squeeze of hand, and, releasing Heero, turned toward the door they’d stopped at.
The initial paperwork did turn out to be a little stressful, if only because it involved a lot of information any normal person (anyone that had been human most or all of his life) would know off the top of his head without having to try to remember from when a friend had gathered it for him from various sources and given it to him in a long list to memorize. However, the hiring manager, Joyce, whom Duo had met a couple of times before, was patient and good-natured and never gave Duo any strange looks, even when he had to pull out his new Social Security card (twice) in order to transcribe the number because he kept forgetting part of it.
When that process was finished, he was introduced to training manager Latasia, whose wedding ring and response in kind made her perfect to flirt with, which helped put Duo at his ease. She explained the training process, warned him frankly about how tedious it would be before he reached the stage where he was actually working with a living person, and showed him how to access the videos and modules he needed on the computer with a generic login until his information was in the system. Then she left him with a list of what to watch and what to complete.
He almost couldn’t believe he was already racking up money for this. The idea of earning wages every hour — rather than the daily, weekly, or by-task basis used by every previous job he’d held — had long dazzled him; the idea of earning wages sitting around watching absolutely hilarious pantomimes of potential workplace problems and how to deal with them was nearly incredible.
Of course the real beginning had been back in May on the balcony of the apartment he shared with Heero, and there had been numerous points of progress since then, but still he felt as if this was the first step into a new world. It was definitely an early step toward the autonomy he so deeply craved, and he was so happy with it that he actually had to bend his will toward focusing on what he was supposed to be doing and not just sitting here, possibly in tears, thinking in ecstasy about how he really was a human adult capable of contributing to society and taking care of himself.
He couldn’t wait for lunch, when he could share all of these amazing feelings with Heero.
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.