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.
At the big wall of window that formed an entire side of his office, Quatre stood looking out with his back to the other men in the room, and Duo wondered what he was thinking. He must recognize at least the presence of an unusual condition; surely he was happy at the prospect of a cure! But the current stiffness of his spine and the abruptness of any movement he made gave him an air extremely annoyed and put-upon, as if he considered waiting around after work for an exorcist a favor he was granting his friends rather than a much-needed therapeutic exercise for himself.
Duo almost couldn’t believe Quatre had agreed to this. What Heero must have gone through to convince him Duo could not imagine; presumably the endeavor had only succeeded at all because friendship and Quatre’s regard for Heero’s opinion still remained even underneath Quatre’s anger, but it couldn’t have been an enjoyable conversation.
Shaking his head, Duo turned to examine the room, which he was visiting for the first time. Perfectly well organized though full of things, and, for a managerial office, very friendly and welcoming, it reflected Quatre’s normal attitude quite well. Duo couldn’t help thinking that he wouldn’t really enjoy spending a lot of time even in an office this pleasant… but maybe that was merely because of how the resident of this one had been behaving lately.
His eye was caught and held by the large picture frame beside Quatre’s computer. It shifted to a new photo every seven seconds or so, displaying the faces of Quatre’s close acquaintances in cheerful succession. There were parents and nieces and nephews and sisters and in-laws at family functions, various friends (including Duo himself) in different states of casual interaction, quite a few images from their beach trip this summer, and… a lot of Trowa. Duo was inclined to smile as he slowly worked out the Trowa:other-people ratio, and wondered if Trowa was aware of just how often Quatre photographed him.
Some of them were even from before the breaking of the curse, and the paleness of Trowa’s skin and eyes was startling after several months of getting used to his restored naturality. Duo wondered with a slight shiver — he wasn’t sure exactly what emotion prompted it, but it was strange and a little uncomfortable — whether Quatre had photos of him as a doll. He didn’t remember Quatre ever taking any, but a lot of these pictures of Trowa looked as if they’d been taken on the sly.
When Duo glanced up again, he twitched as he found that very Trowa, previously absent, standing beside him. Recovering quickly from his startlement, “I didn’t even feel anything,” he said admiringly.
“I’m adjusting to using less power to jump,” Trowa replied with a nod.
Quatre turned from the window, scowling and apparently trying to smile at the same time, which looked uncomfortable and pathetic. And when he said, “So all my audience is here now,” it wasn’t the first recent instance of a remark that might have been a joke now bearing a bite that induced Duo to turn away.
Just at that moment, the phone on the desk made a warbling noise longer than a chirp but not quite a ring; Duo hadn’t yet spent enough time in this corporate world to classify all the sounds made by the phones around here. Quatre, who seemed to know what it signified, strode to the desk and picked up the receiver with a curt, “Yes?” This was followed, after half a moment, by an equally annoyed-sounding, “Yes, send him up.”
Hearing this, Heero slipped out the door, undoubtedly to go meet the man and guide him to the right floor and room.
Not wanting to look back at his angry friend, Duo continued to study anything around him besides Quatre — though, really, studying the room was practically the same as studying Quatre himself.
The level of organization in here was actually somewhat worrisome. Duo knew Quatre for a very neat person, but this seemed almost inhuman. Everything formed such a precise angle to everything else, and even the pens in the wire mesh cup seemed to have been leaned against each other in a pattern of similar sizes and colors. Things couldn’t possibly remain this well arranged for more than a few minutes. Had Quatre just set it all up like this before his friends came into the room? Was that an assertion of personal space or power because he felt threatened by this office invasion? Or had Quatre perhaps been taking out his anger on his desk, and disarrayed his possessions to the point where he’d felt the need to rigidly reorder them?
The image of Quatre in here alone trying to cope with his mood by throwing his pens around might have been funny under normal circumstances, but at the moment was heartrending. Likewise, under normal circumstances, Duo would have been highly tempted to mess things up just to be an ass, but at the moment the thought of such practical joking only made him sad. He didn’t feel guilty, though, when one little thought in the back of his head told him that, eventually, when this was all over, he really would have to come in here at some point and rearrange this desk just to see what Quatre would do. And then the door opened and Heero reentered with the exorcist.
He was a harsh-looking man in a dark blue suit, but even the sheathed sword he unexpectedly carried — something cool enough to demand attention — couldn’t hold Duo’s gaze when the guy had such hilarious hair. After a mere couple of seconds looking at the four or five discrete bundles of bangs like spider legs over his forehead, Duo felt his lips twitching dangerously. Fortunately, the exorcist had immediately fixed his own gaze on Quatre beside the window, probably reading more from the energy rising off him than anyone else in the room could, and didn’t see Duo’s incorrigible mirth.
“Quatre, Trowa, Duo, this is Hajime Saitou.” Heero gestured to each of them in turn, and Duo had mostly managed to get his mouth under control by the time Hajime’s eyes flicked across him.
The exorcist nodded. “I’m pleased to meet you all. I already see how serious your problem is.” And he stepped forward around the desk toward Quatre. Duo felt very strongly that, however polite his words, the man’s movements were calculated to intimidate; he looked taller, somehow, as he stalked across the room, the sword in his hand more dangerous.
Quatre seemed to bristle in response. In an almost sneering tone he remarked, “Jos Banks and a katana? Not what I expected from an exorcist.”
“Some do prefer skulls and black eyeliner,” Hajime allowed, still courteous, “but I’ve never felt the need.”
His technique had been effective, assuming its desired effect had been to increase the amount of energy rising from Quatre. After halting perhaps a step too close to him and standing there for several silent moments, the exorcist began slowly walking back and forth looking critically at Quatre, much as Dorothy had yesterday. Eventually he lifted his sword and partially drew it, causing everyone in the room to stiffen and Quatre to become even more angry. Hajime glanced at the gleaming red blade, nodded, and put it away again. “Do you have any magical abilities yourself, Mr. Winner?” he asked at last.
“Can’t you tell?” Quatre snapped.
“My guess,” Hajime replied, “is that you’re just a very organized and empathetic businessman who isn’t normally so unhappy.”
‘Unpleasant’ might have been a better word, but it was a good guess in any case. Quatre certainly didn’t look or sound happy as he answered, “Well, no, I have no magic. I’m the only one in the room without magic, in fact.”
Hajime nodded, and the slight frown on his face was thoughtful. It seemed he was about to speak when Trowa cut him off:
“He did destroy a powerful artifact for me recently.”
Giving Trowa a pensive look, Hajime asked, “Did you have any particular attachment to it?”
“Not exactly. But I know someone — multiple people, in fact — who did.”
“Multiple people?” Hajime echoed, speaking Duo’s curiosity aloud.
“I just found out that the group that originally created the artifact still exists, and some of them were upset that I decided to destroy it.”
“But you weren’t actually the one who–” Duo began in surprise, but cut himself off as an even more surprising thought struck him. “Was that who set your house on fire??”
Trowa confirmed this with a nod, then added quietly, “Obviously they didn’t realize I personally wasn’t the one to destroy the artifact.”
“Is this that French cult?” Quatre asked in a dangerous tone.
“The email was in English, but it’s the same group.”
“And what did the email say?” Quatre still sounded as if he was collecting information on a potential target.
“It was an apology for the arson.” Trowa, meanwhile, sounded as if this was one of perhaps many things he’d feared about revealing this information.
Turning so he could address all four of them, Hajime got them back on track before the topic of the email and the French cult could be further pursued. “A strong psychic connection between a person and an artifact can cause that artifact to behave like a living being in some ways,” he explained. “Someone thinks of it as a friend, for example, and in response to that psychic energy it becomes one. Normally, a shade is created when emotion combines with the energy of death, and a sort of death energy can be created by something non-living if someone has personified the object strongly enough. And in this case, the emotion in question was probably more a potential than something someone actually felt — if someone with a psychic connection to the artifact would be angry at its destruction, it would be enough to cause a shade to form, turning the artifact’s stored magic into an angry energy very similar to red shade, at the moment of the artifact’s ‘death.'”
Duo thought he understood. “And that’s why there’s so much energy: because that was the artifact that–” Before he could finish, “helped Trowa cast a curse that could last for eighty-seven years,” he amended his intention to something a little less revealing. “–was so super powerful.”
Hajime was nodding again. “It usually takes a fairly powerful artifact to lead to this condition. People rarely have an emotional connection to weaker ones — and if they do, there may not be enough power in a weaker artifact to take hold of the emotion anyway. It’s an unusual circumstance called artifact shade or artifact possession.” He must have noticed dismay somewhere, for he went on with a quirk of thin lips, “It’s unusual, but it can be dealt with like any other shade.”
A breath of relief and a letdown of tension went audibly and palpably through the room.
“Unfortunately,” Hajime went on, “because Mr. Winner here has completely internalized this energy, my technique–” he raised his sword– “isn’t going to help.”
“You can’t help?” Quatre broke in, looking flabbergasted and irate. “What the hell was the point of all this, then?”
“A diagnosis?” Hajime suggested, in a tone that would have been sarcastic with just the tiniest bit more inflection. “And the chance to make an appointment to get this dealt with. My partner shouldn’t have any problem absorbing this energy.”
Quatre demanded, “Why didn’t you bring your partner with you today?”
“He has a rather busy schedule.” Evidently Hajime was offhandedly familiar with this schedule, for he added, “I can bring him here on Friday evening, if five o’clock works for you again.”
“Friday?” Duo echoed in dismay. “Nothing earlier?”
Quatre shot him an angry look. “How about everyone who has nothing to do with this goes home right now?” he suggested acidly. “I’m sure you can get in touch with Mr. Saitou for a boring lecture about possession some other time.”
The implication that Duo was not enough of a friend to have anything to do with Quatre’s recovery stung a bit, but not nearly as much as it would have if Duo hadn’t been well aware that it was the anger speaking. Heero took his hand and said softly, “Come on.” Turning, Duo found his boyfriend’s face grim but resigned. “Hajime,” Heero went on, “thank you for coming. I’ll talk to you on the phone.” Though presumably, if Quatre could be convinced to agree to another appointment, payment wouldn’t need to be arranged until after that had taken place.
Hajime nodded at Heero, and the latter pulled Duo toward the door. Behind them, no one said anything more; perhaps Quatre was too angry, Trowa too reluctant, and Hajime aware that he’d said everything he needed to. Whatever the cause, the door closed on that stubborn silence, cutting Duo and Heero off from any further hope that might have been drawn from the scene.
Looking like an irritated statue, Quatre had gone back to gazing out the window with his arms folded as Heero and Duo left the room; he did not say goodbye. Trowa tried to stop staring at him, since the situation would be little bettered by worry or frustration or the attraction he felt toward Quatre despite everything, and all these and more were excited by the mere sight of his boyfriend’s rigid back. He sincerely hoped the precipitous dismissal of their friends hadn’t been a precursor to Quatre dismissing everyone else from his presence as well and refusing to agree to see the other exorcist on Friday.
Finally Quatre shifted, pulling his phone from his pocket in an abrupt movement. Still with his back to Trowa and Hajime, he started doing something with the device as if completely ignoring them. Trowa glanced at the exorcist, and found him waiting calmly with no sign of impatience.
“Friday at five?” Quatre’s words bounced off the glass in front of him and returned flatly into the room.
“That’s right,” said Hajime.
“And it won’t be another complete waste of time?”
Slowly, revealing gradually the annoyed expression on his face, Quatre turned, still looking down at the object in his hand. “Fine,” he said, his movements exaggerated as he wrapped up whatever he was doing — probably making a calendar entry. Finished, he raised his eyes as he pocketed the phone, then gestured to the door. “Out.”
Though Trowa was unhappy, Hajime didn’t seem to be bothered by this rude command, only turned without a word and moved to leave the office. As Quatre exited after and locked the door behind them, Trowa drew breath and courage to ask what he’d hoped to have a much better context for. The sharp look he received on saying Quatre’s name almost changed his mind, but he forced himself to go on. “Tomorrow I have an appointment with a real estate agent at 10:00 to see some houses here in town. Do you want to come with me?”
He should have known better than to bring this up when Quatre’s delicate mood had already been so taxed, but he hadn’t foreseen any other opportunity to bring it up at all. It was no real surprise that Quatre didn’t jump to accede to the suggestion; it shouldn’t have been any surprise that his response was unnecessarily unkind. “Really, Trowa? You need me to take off work and come hold your hand while you do that? Haven’t you bought a new house before?”
Of course Trowa wasn’t going to shout at his boyfriend, but this time it was even harder to restrain than usual, and he was definitely yelling mentally: I don’t need help; I need your opinion because I want you to move in with me eventually.
As Quatre looked into Trowa’s face, his own changed subtly: its hardness seemed to lessen a trifle, while simultaneously, around the eyes, grew the hint of an expression more haunted than angry. Shortly, but in a less cutting tone than before, he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t miss work.” And he turned in a motion that seemed, to Trowa, to convey just a touch of that same desperate unhappiness beneath the wrath. Watching him walk away, Trowa took a deep, steadying breath — inclined to wonder, as Duo had, whether there was really no possibility of getting the other exorcist over here sooner.
“My partner has full-time work and college classes,” Hajime explained as he came to Trowa’s side.
“You’re a communicator as well?” Trowa wondered somewhat dully.
“Primarily,” Hajime replied. “That was only a guess, though. You, of course, are not projecting — except for that shouting just now — and I’m not trying to read you. But I did read a lot from him.” He glanced after Trowa’s disappearing boyfriend.
Trowa didn’t relish the sound of that ‘You, of course,’ but still inquired, “What did you read?”
“That you’re not doing any good by refusing to engage. He’s running from everyone–” he gestured to the hallway, now empty, down which Quatre had gone– “because he hates the way he behaves under the influence of this anger.” Hajime’s air of excessive politeness had dropped entirely away, leaving behind a tone both serious and somewhat dark. “What he really needs, besides an exorcism, is something to let that anger out on. That’s what he wants, too, even if he doesn’t want to want it. If you would stand up to him, give him that outlet, it would do him good.”
“Yes, but I walk a fine line between drawing out a client’s anger and retaining that client. You have a much surer relationship with him.”
Do I? Trowa wondered. If Quatre could jump so immediately to the conclusion that he needed help looking at houses rather than a prospective sharer of a new home, how sure was their relationship, really?
Hajime sighed faintly, and now looked a little annoyed. “I really have no desire to say this, especially to you, but you need to stop tiptoeing around this Quatre of yours. He specifically wishes you would be more assertive.”
Not liking ‘especially to you,’ wondering with some chagrin just how much detail Hajime had picked out of Quatre’s head, and a little agitated by this conversation as a whole, Trowa said nothing. Here was this man, who seemed to be a decently skilled communicator and had an air of decided competence, essentially giving the same advice Trowa been receiving from multiple sources lately in various forms: that he needed to be more proactive, more in charge of events. He needed to put aside backward concerns — be they based in fear or pride or whatever else — and do what should be done, say what should be said.
If he’d been readier to admit to a lack of knowledge in certain areas, he could have made inquiries about Quatre’s condition much earlier than he had. If he’d been able to disclose that he’d decided to destroy his primary source of power, he could have given an appropriate amount of detail in those emails and perhaps gotten detailed answers much sooner. If he’d been willing to accept the fact, unlikely to change any time soon, that he was a celebrity, he might have reached out to people that were ready to help him, and Heero would not have had to be the first, after almost two weeks, to get in touch with an exorcist.
And perhaps if his relationship with Quatre wasn’t as sure as he would like, that was because he had done little to make it so. Quatre had been the proactive one all along, and now, when Quatre needed help and support, what was Trowa doing for him? Cowering and, as Hajime said, refusing to engage.
A quiet, almost tired determination filled him. It was a sort of epiphanous resolution, though he couldn’t have put it into words. And where to start? Deciding to be more proactive, more assertive, was all well and good, but it wasn’t really something he could just do.
That was where to start. With the man that hadn’t been told his full name but was obviously familiar with it anyway. “You know who I am,” Trowa interrupted.
Trowa gave a sigh, but it was a much fainter sigh than it would have been if he hadn’t just resolved whatever he’d resolved. So he had fans. Sometimes they were annoying, but they weren’t going away, and it was really about time to learn to deal with that. They could, after all, sometimes be useful as well. He took a deep breath and turned toward Hajime. “Communion first and necrovisua second?”
The man nodded.
“I’m not much of a communicator, and not necrovisual at all.”
“Otherwise you could have solved this problem yourself,” Hajime agreed.
“Right now is obviously not the best time, but at some point in the future I could use a necrovisual consultant for the book I’m writing.”
Hajime looked interested. “A book about magic from Trowa Barton,” he mused. “That may change magical history.”
This time Trowa worked to restrain his sigh.
Clearly noticing this reaction, Hajime gave a crooked smile that didn’t appear very sympathetic. His words, however, were somewhat comforting: “If it’s any consolation, I’ve only ever heard of you in the U.S. — your fame hadn’t spread to Japan the last time I was there.” And when Trowa mutely shook his head he added, “I’ll help with your book in any way I can.”
Trowa nodded his thanks. Technically he could have waited until Friday to bring this up, but it had felt more proactive — and thus more affirming of his resolution — to ask here and now. Besides, he might (indeed, hoped he would) be very distracted by a healed Quatre on Friday.
He wanted to go home, and it was like a punch to the gut remembering that he didn’t have one. In an effort at least to get out of here, however, he pulled out his cell phone, relieved that he’d brought it with him. Once in his pocket, it often stayed there until he changed his pants, which, with magical cleaning available to him, sometimes didn’t happen for days — but that was only if he remembered to put it there in the first place. It would have been rather inconvenient at the moment to hunt through this Winner Plastics building for something to write on. “Phone number?”
Hajime told him, and Trowa sent him a quick text so the exorcist would have his as well.
“I’m jumping out of here,” he said when that was done. “Can you find your way down all right?”
“I should be fine.” There was a touch of sarcasm in this response to the suggestion that Hajime might not be able to locate the exit, but his tone was entirely sincere as he added, “It was an honor to meet you.”
Trowa nodded again, getting ready to cast his teleportation spell, and said, “I’ll see you on Friday.”
Heero was definitely getting the hang of dealing with a room full of thoughts as he went about his work each day, adjusting to the specific sound or flavor of each person’s projected reflections, and could complete his own tasks without too much distraction most of the time. Occasionally someone would get boisterous or interesting enough that it became harder to ignore, but he was gradually learning to deal with that too. He had to admit to some pride in this; for having literally no training, and no great freedom to pursue any right now, he felt he was doing very well.
When, just after 10:00, his efforts were interrupted by the silly-sounding laughter Duo had for some reason set as his incoming text alert, Heero reached for his phone with half a sigh and half a laugh of his own, and found Trowa wondering, Do you think Quatre would like living in High Palms?
It seemed a somewhat odd message, but Heero nevertheless took a mental walk into the neighborhood in question. Anything inside the city that lacked four storeys and five acres would be a step down for Quatre, but High Palms was quite a nice area — though not extensively familiar with it, Heero had been there occasionally. He might, he replied. Looking at houses? Trowa, clearly very uncomfortable in his current displacement, had mentioned that he intended to do so sometime soon, but hadn’t given Heero a specific time and date.
Yes, came the reply. I considered Peregrine, but I think Quatre would prefer something more established.
This Heero believed to be accurate. Quatre would love to have neighbors, which wasn’t an immediate guarantee in a brand-new development like Peregrine. You’re probably right.
I also considered the Old Glazebrook Avenue area, was Trowa’s next comment. It seems to have a lot of houses similar to Quatre’s, but it’s not nearly as active a sale market, and the chances of finding something suitable for sale right away seem lower.
Trowa did love his research. It couldn’t have been anything but extremely boring to look into the qualities of different neighborhoods in a new town, and only served to prove more definitely just how much he wanted out of Heero’s apartment. If he weren’t so desperate and uncomfortable, he could wait to look at houses until Quatre could come with him, and wouldn’t be bothering Heero with his least favorite communication medium.
Quatre might prefer a change anyway, Heero texted back.
Do you think so? came the quick reply.
Heero smiled wryly. This (and possibly the entire affair) was insecurity, not ignorance. Of course Heero knew Quatre better than Trowa did, simply from lengthier experience, but that didn’t mean Trowa couldn’t figure out any or all of this stuff on his own. But before Heero could comment on this, assuming he intended to, another message arrived saying, My confidence in my expertise is overwhelming, I know.
Current events, it was true, couldn’t be doing much for Trowa’s confidence. That he could possibly receive a great boost from a text conversation with Heero, the latter doubted. Surely Quatre had acquainted Trowa at some point with Heero’s distaste for text messaging? Not that there was any other way for Trowa to ask questions at the moment, since Heero wouldn’t have sat on a call with him while he wandered around houses… but did he really need to be asking these questions at all? Heero supposed he did.
Quatre might like a change, he reiterated at last. He likes his living situation, but going to a new home that’s very similar might be disappointing.
Sensible, Trowa replied. Thank you.
It was perhaps half an hour before Heero heard from his friend again. I know Quatre has only the one car, but how likely do you think it is that he’ll want a second or a third?
This, Heero judged, was a garage-size question. Two maybe, he wrote back, but probably not three.
Yes, probably, Trowa replied. Do you think Quatre would mind stairs up from the garage to the kitchen?
Heero gave this some consideration, but only very briefly, before answering, No. Having to carry groceries up a flight of stairs would drive him crazy after no great while, but Quatre (as long as he wasn’t magically angry) might not even notice. And honestly Heero was a little tired of this conversation.
That was unfortunate, because it wasn’t over. Trowa’s next query was, What kind of storage capacity do you think Quatre needs? I’ve seen his attic, of course, but how much of that tendency was his family and how much was him?
Not none but not big, Heero typed out with a sigh. He keeps stuff, but organizes well.
Of course, Trowa acknowledged.
Heero had by now silenced his phone, seeing that text messaging was the order of at least the next little while if not the whole day. If he needed to make any phone calls — and at the moment it seemed like he might after not too long — Trowa would have to wait a bit on whatever answer he needed next.
A nice kitchen probably won’t do us any good, Trowa remarked — and that wasn’t even a request for advice; it was just a comment.
Heero tried to keep his annoyance down as he composed and sent his reply. Then he realized he’d sent, You need one anyway for when I come cok for you guys, and grumbled inarticulately under his breath as he sent a correction. This was only one of many reasons he hated texting: you got going so fast, you didn’t double-check what you’d written, and made stupid mistakes.
He was just about finished looking over yesterday’s transactions when the next comment came: Quatre will need a separate room for music, I think. Heero didn’t feel the need to respond to this fairly definitive statement, but then Trowa asked, Do you think he’d want a closed room, like a bedroom, for that, or something more open, like a living room?
This should really be obvious upon viewing the spaces in question, shouldn’t it? Where a huge piano would fit, surely, would immediately solve the problem. But his response was, Aren’t you a musician too? Can’t you tell what would be best?
I haven’t played for years, Trowa answered, but you may be right.
Again some time passed in relative peace, but Heero didn’t fool himself into thinking he’d been let off. So he was ready when Trowa texted, Quatre will obviously want spare rooms.
Separate dining room? He has one now.
Get a big kitchen you can put a table in and then a separate dining room too. After a moment’s thought, despite not wanting to set a precedent of initiating a message rather than just responding, Heero added, Get some kind of rec room for parties. Duo would certainly like the sound of that; he and Quatre could conspire together about social gatherings.
If this all worked, it would actually be fairly interesting to have Quatre inside town rather than on its borders. Quatre had lived in that mansion out there for as long as Heero had known him, and, because of its distance from everything convenient in the city, had visited Heero’s home far more often than Heero had visited him.
Big bathroom, was probably a specific comment on the house Trowa was currently looking at.
Big bathroom good for Quatre. Heero considered this appropriate diction for answering the message in question.
Is bathtub or shower more important?
Only because Heero had known Quatre for ten years was he able to answer, Both. One of those jacuzzi tubs, if possible.
Perhaps ten minutes later came, Do you think Quatre will want another dog after Cairo dies?
Probably. Get a big yard with good fences.
That Trowa was so single-mindedly dedicated to finding a perfect habitat for his boyfriend was sweet, but that very boyfriend would surely want Trowa to consider his own preferences as well. Did Trowa plan on any pets? What did Trowa want in a back yard? Of course Trowa might be simply keeping his own preferences in his own head as unnecessary to mention to Heero, but this entire process still seemed pathetically lopsided. The worst was yet to come, though.
Do you think Quatre will ever want children?
Heero sat back and put a hand over his face. Of course he understood all the aspects of the situation that made him the ideal candidate for an answer to this question at the moment, but it felt so… inappropriate. This was something that, if Trowa did not know already, should be discussed with Quatre himself — a personal part of their future on which Heero should not even be called to give an opinion. But it was also a point worth considering in relation to a house that Quatre might one day inhabit, and therefore something Trowa needed to think about today when Quatre was in no state to discuss it.
Still, only after he’d made the phone call he’d been anticipating — stealing time to collect himself and consider the matter — did Heero finally reply, No, I don’t think so. And if Trowa made some protest against the idea on the basis that Quatre was very attached to his nieces and nephews, Heero would turn his phone off rather than argue the point. But quite a few more minutes passed with no further message, and when another came it was on a different topic:
Does a big deck work as a rec room?
Probably works for parties, but you still need a place for a TV. Naturally Trowa, whom Duo had once called a ‘godless heathen’ for the lack of TV in his life, would not have thought of that; perhaps it was, after all, good for him to be consulting someone. Quatre would have been optimal, of course, but Heero was just about resigned to how things had to be.
Eventually, after another string of questions that mostly began with ‘Would Quatre,’ Heero felt compelled to ask something he’d been wondering all along: Does Quatre know about all this? What he meant was, Does your boyfriend have any idea you want him to move in with you and are tailoring your entire house-buying process to his rather than your needs and desires? Whether or not Trowa would interpret his short question as such, Heero couldn’t be sure.
No, was the answer. I may be setting myself up for serious disappointment.
I don’t think so. One of the few benefits to this method of holding a discussion was the relative smoothness with which some statements that might otherwise be a little awkward could be delivered. As soon as he’s cured.
Thank you, sent Trowa.
You should wait, Heero advised. It’s only till Friday.
I need to get out of your apartment, Trowa replied. I need to get things done.
Heero thought this another odd statement, and that it wasn’t likely Trowa, even if he made a decision on a house, would be out of the apartment any time soon, but he wasn’t going to press the issue.
Finally lunch time approached. Heero wasn’t sure how long Trowa planned on continuing to look at houses and ask him questions — surely whatever agent was showing him around would tire eventually, even if Trowa didn’t — but he had a feeling his lunch hour would not be free of text messaging. Fortunately, Duo was sure to be extremely interested, and that would stave off some of Heero’s annoyance.
Beyond that, they’d been eating lunch out in the car now that Dorothy had returned, so at least Heero could deal with the conversation in freedom from swirling uncontrolled thoughts about what needed to get done after lunch and excitement about going to see Machete tomorrow and plans for this Christmas and how much homework she had and curiosity whether humpback whales were migratory and whether he would be able to make rent next month (actually, Heero would want to figure out who that last one was and be sure the wonderer was going to be all right), and all the rest of it.
It was funny what he’d grown accustomed to since that day he’d picked Duo up from the gutter outside this very building, and since the twenty-second of August in particular; this business of dealing with people’s thoughts, even when he had a difficult time with it, had come to seem perfectly run-of-the-mill, and the situations of Trowa and Quatre — arson and anger and possession — weren’t much farther from feeling like fairly normal day-to-day occurrences in the lives of the magical. Heero couldn’t quite decide whether that was reassuring or troublesome, but it was what it was. He went to lunch.
When Trowa jumped to Quatre’s office on Friday evening, he considered it a bad sign to find the room dark and empty. Where was everyone? Most importantly, where was Quatre? Trowa desperately hoped his boyfriend hadn’t decided he didn’t want to participate in this evening’s activities and gone home early.
A glance through the window into the hall showed the group he was joining, sans Quatre, just outside. When Trowa opened the door to step out of the office, Heero and Duo both turned toward him with a start.
“Where’s Quatre?” Duo demanded at once.
“I don’t know,” Trowa replied, closing the door behind him. “Have you seen him today?”
“No,” Heero said.
Worried but deciding he’d better get the necessary introductions out of the way, Trowa turned his attention to the other two people present. The first was Hajime, and the second, presumably, his partner. Quatre had remarked on Tuesday that Hajime’s appearance was not what he’d expected of an exorcist, and Trowa felt a little guilty for his immediate corresponding thought now that this newcomer did not look at all as he would expect. There was no reason in the world an exorcist, especially one that might not be quite out of his teens, shouldn’t have dozens of earrings and alarmingly spiky hair with a neon blue sheen, but Trowa was… old. And a recluse. Perhaps ‘stodgy’ might be a good word in some contexts.
Hajime gave a gesture that seemed, to Trowa, studiedly casual. “Sano,” he said to his younger and less professional-looking partner, “this is Trowa Barton.”
Sano’s gaze snapped to Trowa and both his pierced eyebrows rose. “The Trowa Barton?” He glanced back to Hajime as if to check whether he was joking. “I mean… really?”
“That’s right,” Trowa said wearily, extending a hand.
“Wow.” Sano shook almost reluctantly. “I have a friend who would go crazy if he knew.” Over his shoulder he accused, “You didn’t tell me we were meeting him.”
Hajime gave a self-satisfied smirk.
With the formalities out of the way, Trowa started looking around again, wondering where Quatre was. “You haven’t seen him at all today?” he said to Heero.
“That does sometimes happen,” Heero replied at a murmur.
“He could show up any time,” Duo said soothingly.
“I haven’t seen him since Tuesday.” Technically Trowa wasn’t whining, but there was some of that quality, ephemerally, to his statement. Trying to pull himself together and not worry too excessively, he gave his head a firm little shake. “But you’re right; he could be here any time. He might be at the other office today.” Quatre probably would have mentioned that, if it had been the case, when he’d made the appointment, but it was a good explanation for now.
Heero looked pensive, and Trowa moved toward him in the hope that he might be able to confirm the guess. At the same moment, Duo went in the other direction and addressed the young exorcist Sano: “So the Raiders!”
“Yeah!” replied Sano with some enthusiasm. “I should have worn this shirt yesterday for the last pre-season, but I didn’t actually have time to watch most of the game.”
“Boller didn’t look too bad,” said Duo.
“Well, seven of thirteen isn’t spectacular,” Sano allowed, “but at least he didn’t throw any interceptions.”
Trowa stopped listening.
“Quatre might have been downtown today,” Heero said, quiet and uncertain.
Shaking aside an almost superstitious reluctance to mention it, Trowa wondered, “Do you think he decided not to go through with this?”
“It’s possible.” With a sigh Heero added, “Just when this all could have been over…”
“Counterproductive decisions are not unusual for people in his situation.” Hajime, apparently also disinterested in the football conversation he’d previously been standing beside, had joined them. “He seemed to be in some denial on Tuesday, and that does sometimes progress to outright defiance of logic.”
With a frown, Heero nodded.
“But it’s only ten minutes after five,” the exorcist went on. “Give him time.”
Silence fell among the three of them, and gradually they all turned toward the other, far more animated discussion. It still wasn’t even a little interesting, however, and Quatre continued not to show up, so Trowa grew increasingly uncomfortable. Finally, just for something to say, he asked quietly, “What are your partner’s skills?”
“Getting angry,” replied Hajime easily. “Wasting time. Not putting DVD’s back in their cases when he’s done watching them.”
“I heard that,” Sano growled over his shoulder. Evidently, though, it wasn’t enough to drag him from his conversation with Duo.
Heero had pulled out his phone and was making a call, and Trowa kept an anxious eye on him as Hajime spoke again. “Sano is extremely good at absorbing and then dealing with red shade. He’s very useful for cases where someone has internalized it, like this situation. I think he’s a natural, though.”
Normally this would have been quite interesting, since naturals were rare and Trowa would have liked to ask a few questions — but just as Hajime made the statement, Heero lowered his phone from his ear.
“You think I’m a what, now?” Sano demanded. And apparently this one was enough to drag him from his conversation with Duo, for he turned rapidly toward Hajime. “Are you serious?”
Trowa drew nearer to Heero, who murmured, “Straight to voicemail.”
“You actually think I’m a natural?” Sano was demanding, stalking over to his partner. “Since when?”
“Since we met,” Hajime replied.
“And why is this the first time I’m hearing about it?”
Duo appeared at Trowa’s side. “Nothing from Quatre still?”
Trowa shook his head. “I wish I could jump to him. Even if he’s too angry to be here right now, I could take the exorcism to him.” He tilted his head toward the exorcists, one of whom was actively berating the other for never having related to him an apparently long-standing theory about his magical talents.
“He might change his mind…” Duo suggested. “He might still show up.”
Though Trowa doubted this, he thought they should give it a bit longer, just in case. Heero was texting now, his expression suggesting that he too had little hope. Meanwhile, Hajime seemed to be endeavoring to bring an end to the conversation with his partner that was threatening to become rather unprofessional.
“This is so stupid,” Duo complained. “Why does he have to be so angry today of all days that he won’t show up right when we’ve got the solution here?”
“Maybe there’s another reason,” Heero murmured. “I’m going to call his house.”
Sano had turned his back on Hajime, looking irritated, and Duo wandered over to talk to him again while Hajime approached Trowa. Heero stepped aside far enough not to involve his phone call in whatever would take place nearby, and Trowa couldn’t help thinking with some faint amusement that this continually rearranging group must appear somewhat funny to anyone watching. He hadn’t noticed anyone walk by in this hallway outside Quatre’s office since he’d arrived, but if they had, some curiosity must have been the result.
“Did you hear about Russell and his drugs?” Duo said.
“How is your divination?” Hajime wondered as he approached Trowa.
“Darryl, it’s Heero. Do you know if Quatre’s home?”
Duo’s reinstated NFL conversation was easier to ignore than Heero’s call to Quatre’s housekeeper, but with an effort Trowa answered Hajime’s question. “I’m an expert on the theory…”
Hajime nodded with a slight smirk at the somewhat facetious statement. “And all I can tell you is that, on Tuesday, he was sincere when he promised to come today.”
“No luck,” Heero said in quiet frustration, lowering his phone.
Under other circumstances, Trowa might have let it go at that; but with what he’d resolved on Tuesday, he couldn’t. He pulled out his own cell phone in order to see if his boyfriend would be more inclined to answer a call from him than one from Heero. Unfortunately, besides the continued football talk from off to his left (at least he thought they were still discussing football; he couldn’t in any way be sure), all he heard was Quatre’s voicemail message. The light, friendly tone of the recording, often so sweet and comforting, was downright depressing under these circumstances.
When Heero observed that Trowa had been as successful as he had, he said, “It’s 5:30. Do we want to keep waiting around here?”
Hajime looked at his watch. “As your friend pointed out, it’s not impossible that Mr. Winner will change his mind and want to keep the appointment. In case that happens, Sano and I should still be accessible for a while. But it might be a good idea to wait outside the building.”
“It looks a little weird for us all to be standing here,” Heero agreed. Then he glanced toward Duo and added, as if struck by a thought, “Maybe we should all go get dinner somewhere close.”
Trowa would rather wait as near as possible to the place Quatre had promised to be, but it wasn’t his building to be paranoid about strangers hanging around in. And his friends were probably hungry; it looked as if Heero had picked the idea out of Duo’s head, in fact. So he nodded at the suggestion.
Hajime nodded too, seeming just as reluctant as Trowa but perhaps, like Heero, reacting to some idea not his own. “We passed a Chili’s on the way here,” he said.
Now Heero shook his head. “There’s a seafood place the other direction.” He gestured. “It’s closer.”
Trowa, who was far from an expert on local restaurants, accepted this decision without a word. He watched as Hajime — rather rudely, he thought — broke into Sano’s conversation with an announcement that they were going to dinner and began walking away down the hall. Sano followed with some apparent pleasure at the news mingled with some annoyance, which he expressed as he prodded Hajime’s suit-coated back: “I still can’t believe you never told me you think I’m a natural.”
“I’ll buy you some seafood, and you’ll get over it,” Hajime replied.
“Is this the place with the amazing catfish?” Duo asked Heero as they too set off down the hall. As Heero somewhat morosely confirmed this, Duo threw a glance back toward Quatre’s office. The look turned to one of pity as it crossed Trowa, demonstrating that he, like Heero, wasn’t entirely distracted from the real concern of the evening even by the prospect of amazing catfish.
With a sigh, Trowa brought up the rear.
Heero was frustrated. Not infrequently lately had this been the case, but this evening’s combination of factors was novel. He honestly hadn’t thought that, even after all the effort it had taken to get his friend to agree to see an exorcist and then agree to make a second appointment, Quatre wouldn’t keep that appointment. Quatre excelled at keeping appointments, and was typically meticulous about polite and early notice if he needed to cancel. Disregarding a scheduled event and failing to notify the other people involved showed that he’d really gotten bad. He must be extremely unhappy, and of course this all meant he needed the service he was currently denying more than ever. If only Heero could get hold of him!
Duo was still eagerly talking football with the punk exorcist. Because Heero largely ignored football, Duo had been mostly on his own in the pursuit of it as the season got started, and now was very pleased at the coincidence of this person he was already spending the evening with being a fellow fan — and even a fan of the correct team. When or why Duo, who’d lived in nearly every state in the country, had picked up the (by all accounts rather pathetic) Oakland Raiders to support, Heero didn’t know, but he did know how annoyed Duo got (at least facetiously) seeing all the San Francisco fans around here.
Trowa and Hajime had struck up a discussion about necrovisual magic. Heero would have listened had their topic been more closely related to Quatre’s condition, but in fact Hajime was describing different colors of shades and how they were dealt with, while Trowa paid close attention and asked the occasional question. Presumably he was using the topic to distract himself, and more power to him… Heero, however, not a nerd about all things magical, could not be distracted in the same manner from his worry about his best friend.
They’d been a few among many coming to the restaurant at just before 6:00 on a Friday evening, so the room around them was aurally noisy as well as swirling with thought. No reason existed for a single person in here besides their party to care about Quatre Winner and whether he was angry or sad or losing control, and whether the appointment he hadn’t shown up for could have fixed all of that; and reasons were equally scarce for Heero to care about anyone’s hopes to get laid tonight after this date or the endless indecision two tables away about what to order or the dull frustration moving through the room in criss-crossing paths in the form of the waitstaff.
Unfortunately, there was also no way for him to escape these thoughts he didn’t care about and that didn’t care about him or his concerns. As normal as it all seemed, he was beginning to find it all more than a little idiotic as well — frustratingly mundane, irrelevant, and unavoidable.
Meanwhile, at his own table,
Duo continued to chat with Sano as if they’d been friends for ages, and that, at least, was interesting (and perhaps just a tiny bit jealousy-inducing) to observe. Duo’s ability to engage people seemed to border on magic in itself, and the two would undoubtedly exchange phone numbers (technically Duo was still giving out Heero’s number at this point) before they parted this evening.
Duo was developing some serious curiosity about the two exorcists — specifically, apparently based on the way Sano referred to Hajime in conversation, about their relationship. In Duo’s opinion, Sano’s talk could lead anyone to believe the two were romantic, but the same impression did not come from Hajime. Heero shared none of this curiosity, but would still like to satisfy Duo on the point, so he concentrated on picking up anything he could from either of the two men.
This, however, was a mostly useless endeavor. Hajime projected nothing at all — undoubtedly too practiced at that sort of thing — and as for Sano… Heero didn’t quite know how to describe it, but it felt as if Sano had a noisy mind that would normally burst out (just like Duo’s and many of the people’s in this room), but was deliberately blocking somehow. It only went to reiterate how much Heero had to learn.
You’re very new at this, aren’t you? This unexpected mental remark didn’t cause even a slight start; it felt too natural, and too clearly came from someone close by. In fact it was more obviously Hajime even than if he’d been speaking aloud, as his psychic voice carried a stronger sense of him than his physical one. Heero glanced at the man, and found him still talking to Trowa about ghosts and things.
Heero nodded without a word in response to the comment, not entirely sure how to reply in kind.
Just give it a try, Hajime urged, sounding a little impatient.
The reason for this impatience became evident when Heero obeyed the injunction, as it proved to be incredibly easy. The thought, All right, I’m trying, went out effortlessly; it was even easier than verbal speech.
When did your communication powers wake up?
Two weeks ago, Heero replied. Or at least that’s when I started noticing things.
And you’re reading everyone around you already?
I pushed for that, Heero admitted. I wouldn’t have if I’d realized how distracting it would be.
Why? Hajime sounded amused.
Duo had a question I was trying to find the answer to. Heero wondered whether the smoothness of this conversation with a near-complete stranger was due to the aforementioned ease of the mental communication technique, or the fact that the aforementioned near-complete stranger seemed to know exactly what Heero was going through. In any case, Heero was far less reluctant to answer this man’s questions than he would have expected.
Is that a habit of yours? Perhaps Hajime had noticed Heero’s response to Duo’s current curiosity just a minute ago. Given that that curiosity had to do with Hajime’s personal life, this idea was a little embarrassing, and Heero tried to change the subject:
How are you having two conversations at once?
Practice, Hajime replied. He still sounded amused, and again Heero wondered how much of his thoughts the exorcist — who was clearly a communicator in addition to that — was picking up. After a moment, though, Hajime added somewhat grudgingly, If you pay attention to my other conversation, you’ll notice I’ve slowed down. Not many people are good enough to keep up two perfect conversations at once.
Heero was more than a little interested, and deliberately came up with something else to ask so as to observe Hajime’s multi-tasking abilities. If you are one, maybe you know if there’s a way for a communicator to help someone else with their nightmares?
Nightmares like someone might have after an 87-year curse?
Trying not to feel startled, Heero attempted to remember what had been said in Hajime’s presence — and what thoughts he’d been able to pick up during that time — that might have revealed this.
It was on Tuesday, Hajime supplied. That Duo of yours has a completely unguarded head.
Yes, I know. The faint regret at the complications this fact had already caused in Heero’s relationship with Duo must have sounded in his mental agreement, for Hajime’s next statement had that same touch of amusement as before:
Even people with no communicative talent can be trained to keep from projecting. There’s a website that offers a lot of tips about various communication techniques; it’s not nearly as useful a resource as working with another communicator, and you’ll have to search for the answer to your nightmare question yourself, but it might still be useful. I’ll text you the address.
A wordless feeling of professional condescension — in the friendliest sense; it was a sort of ‘you’re welcome’ — came in reply.
Heero had partially observed Hajime’s other conversation during all of this, and noted that he had indeed slowed down. Though Trowa had probably noticed his companion paying attention to more than just him — Trowa probably knew better than Heero did what Hajime’s magical talents were — he hadn’t given any indication of being bothered by it. The whole thing was very impressive.
Heero wondered how long it would take him to master something like that. Granted, being able to carry out two conversations at once was not exactly a skill he greatly coveted, but that level of expertise was yet something he was interested in having. He also wondered, suddenly, how long it would have taken his communicative powers to awaken properly if Quatre’s emergency hadn’t prompted that to happen. He also also wondered… Why can’t I get at thoughts that aren’t on the surface? I assume I’ll be able to do that.
It comes with time and practice. The website will help.
But working with an actual communicator would help more.
Yes. If you know one, and you and he or she both have time for that.
Not caring that Hajime wasn’t looking in his direction but assuming that the feeling of his agreement would carry, Heero nodded again. Just as he’d thought, active training with a real communicator was something he would want to line up along with therapy for Duo after this Quatre business was over with. And when would this Quatre business be over with? Not tonight, it seemed.
Heero continued talking silently to Hajime off and on, ate some halibut in peach sauce he thought he must try to find a recipe to imitate at some point, watched Duo winning a new friend and Trowa appearing more and more unhappy as time passed, and worried about Quatre. When they’d been at the restaurant for nearly ninety minutes and it was two hours since when Quatre had promised to meet them, and not one of them had heard from him that evening, Heero gave up. Another look at Trowa’s face showed that he had done so long before.
“Last time he did this,” Heero tried to reassure Trowa in a low voice, “he showed up at my apartment the next day.”
“Only because it was my birthday.” Trowa, staring down into a soda cup that currently contained only ice, clearly wasn’t reassured; honestly, Heero wasn’t either, but what more could he offer?
“Call me as soon as you manage to arrange something with him,” Hajime said. “Assuming Mr. Winner will actually be there, Sano can call off work if he has to.”
“Making plans over my head again?” Sano wondered. The scowl he gave Hajime was brief, however, as he turned an expression toward Trowa that was merely serious. “I actually can call off work, though. I can’t really skip class, but I can probably be somewhere within a few hours whenever.”
Heero got the feeling that having met The Trowa Barton was what had rendered Sano amenable to risking whatever other job he had in order to be somewhere within a few hours whenever. Trowa’s celebrity was definitely good for something, then.
Trowa appeared to think so too, for he thanked the exorcists gravely. Then, as if this discussion had been about immediate practicalities rather than the uncertain future, everyone started to get up to leave the restaurant. The bill had already been split between the two communicators at the table, so all there was left for Heero to do was grab a last sip of his drink and take charge of Trowa’s boxed leftovers in addition to his own, since Trowa would undoubtedly forget his.
Out in the parking lot, the anticipated phone number exchange, along with a few parting thoughts about next year’s draft, took place between Duo and Sano before the exorcists headed off in the direction of Hajime’s car and the other three turned toward Heero’s. Before Sano was two steps away he was already saying, “So you really think I’m a natural?” And Heero realized that this topic had not been closed, only deferred until Sano and Hajime were alone.
Any little echo of Duo’s curiosity about the two that might have arisen in Heero, however, was quashed when he looked at Trowa, for the latter’s dejection seemed to have reached a sort of peak. He’d stopped walking and was glancing around the parking lot as if to check whether anyone was looking at them. “I’m going to… go take a walk,” he said in a low, helpless tone. “I’ll come back to your apartment later and try some divinations.”
“You should come back and get some sleep,” Heero said, but his admonishment probably wasn’t audible over Duo’s sound of pity as he hugged Trowa impetuously. And as soon as Duo withdrew, Trowa spoke a spell and was gone.
With a shake of head at the rueful expression on Duo’s face as he stared at the place their friend had been, Heero adjusted the Styrofoam boxes in his arm and said, “Let’s go home.”
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.