Quatre had already observed the state of Trowa’s entryway yesterday evening, before Trowa had dismissed him, but in the light of early afternoon and less of a heart-clenching hurry he was better able to mark specific changes. The walls and ceiling, previously an aged off-white, were stained now an irregular blackish brown; the light fixture above him, normally a translucent plasticky gold, was murky with it. It was as if the entire place has been airbrushed by someone with a penchant for disgusting neutrals.
But smoke damage wasn’t the only difference to the scene. The grandfather clock and the umbrella stand were absent, the former leaving a blur-edged but roughly clock-shaped lighter spot on the wall behind it. Quatre wondered, first, where the clock had gone, and, second, how damaged it had been by the smoke. He was quite fond of that clock, and the thought that it might have been ruined only added to his anger at what had happened here.
He moved into the computer room to his left, stepping slowly and carefully as the charred floorboards creaked under his feet. There was no significant give, so for the moment he felt safe in walking forward, but he didn’t need to advance too far.
The room was a sooty gradient that lightened toward the doorway, and the damage to the furniture so extensive that he had a hard time making sense of the chaos even with prolonged staring. He remembered pretty well what should be in here, but the dark objects that all seemed connected by blackness, and that probably were connected in many places by having melted and fused together, could not be easily distinguished one from another — even in the extra light that streamed through the jagged hole in the wall behind and around what remained of the desk. The smell of scorched electronics still mingled with the lingering, less nasty scent of burned wood, but the computer that had given this chamber its name was nowhere to be seen.
He stared around, frowning. It looked as if Trowa’s entire record collection was destroyed; the Victrola certainly didn’t appear usable. One of the few indulgences Trowa had allowed himself over the years, not to mention a valuable set of, essentially, historic artifacts, had been ruined here. Somebody was going to pay for this. Oh, how his head ached…
Quatre turned entirely around, still frowning, to the closed door of the study.
There was less smoke damage in here, but the room looked very forlorn, in large part because of the removal of half of the shelves. The table, too, was gone, with all its chaos of documents and open books. The old tasseled armchair, faintly discolored, still stood in the corner between a remaining bookshelf and the far wall, and Quatre advanced across the creaking floor to put a hand on one of its wings.
He had so many memories of this room, this chair, from the past few months — most of them good, some bittersweet. Who would have done this? Who had targeted Trowa’s home and all those memories? Quatre didn’t care what was believed of Trowa that made someone feel they had the right to attack him like this. This was going too far.
His movements were jerky, almost reluctant, as he stepped to the bedroom doorway. He didn’t know if he had the heart to look around in here; these memories were, in some ways, even closer and deeper. He was already so angry; he should really just leave… but something drew him on. The inclination to examine a disaster was, he supposed, human nature.
This room, like the computer room, had opened to the sunlight, which streamed past the dark edges of the hole in the wall with incongruous cheerfulness onto the charred interior. The bed, half burned away, was bizarrely misshapen and only recognizable because of its location. The chair that had previously stood beside it was missing, and, indeed, the floorboards failed just before where it should have been. Quatre wondered why the creaking floor didn’t collapse under his weight after this level of destruction. Quite possibly it wasn’t even safe for him to be here. At the moment, he didn’t give a damn.
Trowa’s wardrobe, against the opposite wall, had lost one of its doors, so scorched was it. The other door stood open, allowing Quatre to see that Trowa’s meager and somewhat drab collection of clothing, whatever its state, had been emptied out. Clearly a fair amount of work had already taken place to move the usable items that remained in the house, but where those items had gone was a mystery. The only thing Quatre knew was that they hadn’t gone to the most logical destination.
He didn’t really feel like assessing the damage to the bathroom, but he stepped through it anyway to use its second door out into the living room. The fire must have arisen at three different points, since this too had suffered seriously and been opened to the outside air. The window beside the dining table gaped, and broken glass from the fallen panes littered the floor, mingling with china that had shattered when the cabinet it inhabited had burned away and dropped it.
The ‘living’ area had never been more than sparsely furnished, and now what wasn’t structurally destroyed was still probably completely unusable for smoke damage. He found himself staring angrily down at the old, stiff sofa in front of the ironically minimally-stained fireplace, tempted to reach out and run a finger across the wooden back to see how much soot he could pick up on his skin. This sofa was nearly as ugly as the chair in the study, and far less comfortable, but he had associations with it similar to — if not as numerous as — those he had with the chair. He almost couldn’t believe this had happened.
As he stood, still and contemplative, head throbbing, in the miserable light of the fire-gutted house, the silence was broken by the sound of the front door opening and footsteps and voices in the entryway off behind him — voices far too cheerful and footsteps far too energetic. Quatre’s frown deepened as he listened. Duo’s was the first and most recognizable voice, and cheer was the norm for him, but this hardly seemed the time or place for it. He recognized Heero’s voice as well, briefly, and Relena’s; that less familiar one must be Colin’s. They sounded as if they’d just come off a break and were now getting back to work. That answered a few of Quatre’s questions, but also raised a few more.
Not wanting to see anyone’s smiling face under these circumstances, Quatre hadn’t turned toward the newcomers; he knew it would only make him more angry. But at the sound of Trowa’s surprise from the doorway into the living room, he did turn at last.
Trowa had that rumpled, weary-eyed look that said he’d spent the night in his clothes, and probably slept not for very long if at all. He moved toward Quatre across the room with a hesitant expression, as if he might back off again at any time. Imagining a scared rabbit approaching a fox, Quatre felt his own expression hardening. “What is everyone doing here?” he asked, aware that it came out a little snappishly but feeling fully justified therein. It was only natural, after all, to wonder somewhat acerbically what a group of friends was doing here without having invited him, without even having told him.
“Moving things into Heero’s apartment,” Trowa replied. “For temporary storage.”
Quatre stood silently for a moment, watching the wrath build. He felt as if the anger, though certainly his, was also somehow unrelated to, disconnected from him. The impression was uncomfortably surreal, and how things were changed by the fact that he might be personally responsible for this distance from his own mood, he couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter much; he was angry in any case. “You’re moving things into Heero’s apartment.”
“Yes. He and Duo very kindly offered their extra room and space for my things until I find a new place.” The uneasiness in Trowa’s voice showed clearly that he was aware he’d done something wrong.
“And you felt like you had to wait for me to offer? You wouldn’t even have had to ask to stay at my house, but you didn’t even ask! And suddenly you’re staying at Heero’s house? All of a sudden getting along that well with Heero is some pretty damn fast progress!”
A flicker of annoyance crossed Trowa’s face, and something in Quatre responded like a fire to fuel. He was readier for a confrontation than he thought he’d ever been — especially with Trowa. It made sense for him to be upset about this, and if Trowa thought he’d been right to ignore their relationship completely and seek assistance elsewhere, he needed to state his reasons.
Trowa’s signs of irritation quickly disappeared, however, and his face faded back to the usual indifference, with only a touch remaining of the same unease as before. “I don’t see any way I could move things into your house without explaining everything to your parents, and maybe everyone else who lives there.”
It seemed as if he might go on, but here Quatre broke in. “Yes, god forbid we tell someone something, especially family. But I guess it’s just my family, since Heero’s sister is allowed to know.”
“Heero’s sister already knew. But your parents know nothing about any of this — we would have to explain it to them all at once and then add that we were moving a lot of smoke-damaged furniture into their home.”
“So basically it is just that you don’t want to have that conversation.”
“No, that’s not it.” Signs of annoyance were returning. “But this way was faster and easier. There wasn’t time–”
“And when will you have time, Trowa? It’s been five months; you’ve met my parents a dozen times; they even more or less like you. So when do you think is a good time to tell them that you’re actually older than they are?” This was unfair. The one to suggest they wait until his parents were used to Trowa on a normal level before introducing the abnormal had originally been Quatre, and Trowa the one primarily bothered by lying to them. It was unfair to attack Trowa on this basis, and Trowa really should defend himself.
When Trowa replied, “You should be the one to decide that,” it wasn’t quite a proper defense even if it did reasonably point out a flaw in Quatre’s questioning. Trowa’s voice was somewhat tight, though, as if he was still fighting off irritation, and perhaps by now a little hurt. “You have to live with them.”
Quatre crossed his arms. “Is that a problem?” It was like he was careening down a steep hill at higher and higher speeds. “Does it bother you that I live in my parents’ house at twenty-four?” He probably had brakes he could employ, but it almost seemed horrific to try in case it turned out he didn’t.
“No!” Now Trowa sounded surprised and unhappy. “Why should that bother me?”
“Well, given the huge mystery you’ve made about your parents–” Quatre actually managed to cut himself short with a snap of teeth. It was more than unfair; it was cruel. He was cruel. Of course he could choose not to be, but given the provocation, why bother? It was better just to say nothing more. Better just to leave. He shouldn’t be around people if he could help it. And it didn’t matter that something inside him, something that liked being around people and wanted to bother, felt ready to shrivel up and die.
Movement caught Quatre’s eye, and, looking over his boyfriend’s shoulder, he saw his best friend in the doorway. Heero’s expression was a mixture of unhappiness and concentration, as if he were trying to do something about whatever it was he didn’t like by standing there staring at Quatre. For some reason, Quatre found this extremely annoying, and getting out of here suddenly top priority.
“Quatre…” Trowa said as Quatre pushed past him.
“Quatre…” Heero said as Quatre pushed past him.
“Quatre!” Duo said in some surprise in the entryway.
“Quatre?” came Relena’s interested voice from the next room.
Quatre snorted as he reached for the front door, trying to pretend he was only derisively amused by the repetitive calls. Trying to pretend it didn’t tear him up to hear their concern, to know they had every reason for it, and simply walk away.