“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.

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