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memories of the place, he didn’t really want to return, but that he had several years’ worth of memories of it at all — outdated though they were — meant he could probably get them there without too much trouble, and it was the first idea Quatre didn’t seem to scorn completely.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.