Duo felt he’d just barely closed his eyes when he was startled awake by a ringing phone. In fact, looking at the clock in some confusion, he observed that it hadn’t actually been all that long since the latest nightmare had awakened both him and Heero and they’d struggled back to sleep after a rather incoherent scene.

In a clumsy movement Heero sat up, fighting a blanket that wasn’t really very much in his way and grumbling slurredly about its being before eight and who could possibly be calling so early on a Saturday morning? Duo sat up as well, and pressed himself against Heero with his head on Heero’s shoulder and his arms around him to retain the warmth of lying in bed. Then he denied his inclination to laugh at the Neanderthal manner in which Heero put the phone to his ear and said, “Hllo?”

So close was Duo in this position that he could hear most of the other end of the conversation with little trouble. “Heero, I’m sorry to call you so early on a Saturday. This is Bernard Winner. I was just wondering if you’ve heard from Quatre lately.”

Heero woke up quickly. “No, I haven’t seen him since…” He paused to think. “Wednesday.”

“And no calls or emails?” Mr. Winner persisted.

“No, I haven’t heard from him at all.”

“Do you know what’s been wrong with him lately?”

Heero hesitated before answering. “I know he’s been pretty angry,” he hedged.

Mr. Winner snorted. “That’s an understatement.”

“It’s been… causing some tension,” Heero added carefully.

“He’s been very unpleasant at home for a while… His mother and I have been worried about him… You don’t think that Trowa has anything to do with it, do you?”

Duo stiffened, and pressed even closer.

“No,” Heero said with immediate, purposeful surety. “No, Trowa’s been very worried about him too. He’s been trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“All right…”

“Trowa’s staying with me right now,” Heero pursued. “I have to see how unhappy he is about this every day.”

“All right,” said Mr. Winner again, sounding a little more convinced this time.

Silently, Duo kissed Heero on the cheek.

“The reason I called,” Mr. Winner went on, “is that I woke up to an email this morning from Quatre that… just doesn’t seem like him.”

Heero and Duo waited in tense silence.

“He says he’s taking a vacation, but not where he’s going or for how long.”

“You got this this morning?” wondered the startled Heero.

“It came in the middle of the night.”

“He was supposed to meet us last night — yesterday after work — and he never showed up or even called.”

“I haven’t actually seen him since Wednesday either; his car hasn’t even been at the house.”

“Wednesday,” repeated Heero in some dismay. “And his car hasn’t been home?” His voice sank to a murmur. “Where has he been? Not with Trowa, since he’s been here… And now he’s ‘taking a vacation?'”

“I feel like something strange is going on,” Mr. Winner admitted. “I know he’s been upset lately, but this email… it just didn’t seem like him. Why would he email in the middle of the night, from his phone, instead of just telling us? He’s a responsible manager who would never abandon his work with no notice like that.”

Duo thought that, under the circumstances, Quatre might, but he couldn’t think of any way to explain this to Quatre’s father that would make sense and be at all convincing.

“And an email from his cell phone could have been sent from anywhere… from anyone.”

“You think someone else has his phone?” said Heero in some surprise.

“I don’t know. I’m very worried. With this coming on top of everything that’s been happening with him lately, I’m afraid something is seriously wrong.”

Something was seriously wrong. And it could have been fixed last night if Quatre hadn’t disappeared. But what could be said to this unfortunate man? Besides a helpless-sounding, “Yeah…” what was there to offer?

“Has he gotten into some kind of drug?” Mr. Winner sounded somewhat desperate.

Immediately Heero replied, “No, I don’t think so.” A suggestion of drugs might actually have been a good excuse for Quatre’s behavior, but also might have caused more problems, in the long run, than it solved.

“Then what’s going on? Drugs were the last idea I had that made sense!”

“I wish I knew.”

“I’m going to call the police.”

Duo was impressed with Heero’s calm as he replied, “Do you think there’s enough information for the police to care?”

“None of his friends or family have seen him for three days, and all I have is an email that doesn’t sound like he wrote it that could have come from anywhere. And that’s after he’s been acting strangely for two weeks. I want someone to look into this.”

Duo had to admit that Mr. Winner had a point. Wherever Quatre had gone and whatever he was up to, it probably related back to his possession and mood, but not knowing about those conditions might lead anyone to think he’d developed an addiction or perhaps been abducted. Once again, without explaining the entire situation, there was no way to stop Mr. Winner calling the police — and even an explanation would only help if Mr. Winner believed it. If talking to the police made him feel better while they waited for Quatre to drag himself out of whatever angry hole he’d hidden in, that was all for the good — however inconvenient it might prove to some of the people involved.

“OK,” was presumably the only thing Heero could say. But he did add, “We’re really worried about him; if you hear anything, can you let me know?”

“If you’ll agree to do the same for us here.”

“Of course.” After this they exchanged thanks and good wishes and hung up.

With a helpless sigh, Heero replaced the phone on the nightstand and lay back down. Duo wasted no time cuddling up against him, and Heero put his arm around him.

“We were so close to fixing this. And now his dad’s calling the police.”

“Is that going to cause problems?” Duo wondered.

“I have no idea. If they start some kind of investigation, they might want to talk to us… we should probably think of something to say…” Heero didn’t sound as if he wanted to make the effort at the moment.

Duo squeezed him, trying to offer comfort. The whole situation had already been frustrating and worrying, and now to have Mr. Winner involved made things even less fun. “If we could find Quatre, we could take the exorcism to him — like Trowa said yesterday. Call up those guys and have them meet us wherever Quatre is.”

“I’m afraid he’s hiding,” Heero sighed. “He’s lost control of what’s going on, and he can’t handle being around people.”

“If he could have just held out for a couple more days!”

“I know…”

“Do you think he will feel like he can be around people long enough to get exorcised? Or will he try to keep hiding forever?”

“I have no idea,” Heero said again. “I’m guessing about everything anyway.”

“We’ll need to tell Trowa about all this.” Duo had little enthusiasm for that, but Trowa — assuming last night’s divinations hadn’t already informed him — would need to know. That didn’t mean Duo was ready to move from his current position to hurry out and deliver unpleasant news. Chances were good that Trowa was awake still or again, but there was no reason for Duo to abandon his Heero-comforting/cuddling efforts just yet. He was extremely comfortable (physically) at the moment, and things weren’t likely to get any better than this for the rest of the day.

“You’re so cute,” Heero murmured, nuzzling Duo’s head with his face.

“Doesn’t that make you desperately want to have amazing sex with me?”

Heero was groaning with despair and clutching at Duo tightly even before the question was fully out. “Yes, it does,” he said emphatically, almost miserably. “You know how much better that would make me feel about the entire world right now?”

“I could try really hard to be quiet,” Duo wheedled.

Heero kissed the top of his head, then squirmed out of his arms. “I’m so sorry.”

With an explosive sigh, Duo buried his face in the pillow Heero had abandoned. After a moment, he kicked his legs under the blanket, trying to relieve his frustration. It wasn’t that he didn’t completely respect Heero’s aversion to the very thought of performing for an audience; it was just completely unfair for someone that had been deprived of sensation for eighty-seven years to have sex withheld from him now that he was human again, even for only a few days. Well, it had been seven days, and that already felt like forever. Apart from being something Duo very much enjoyed, and an aspect of their relationship that seemed awkwardly on hold at the moment, it would also, as Heero had said, be an excellent source of comfort for two men with some serious worries on their shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” said Heero again. “Maybe Trowa will go somewhere today and leave us alone.”

Duo returned the frustrated groan Heero had given before. By the time he looked up, Heero had disappeared into the bathroom.

Upon returning to Heero’s apartment late Saturday afternoon, Trowa found both of his temporary roommates evidently somewhat annoyed and trying not to show it. At first he thought this was because the housework they were attempting was somewhat hampered by Trowa’s possessions stacked all over the place, but he became more precisely enlightened when Duo said, “We were expecting you back any time!” — because if that had been the case, they wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the many hours Trowa had left them alone. Try as he might not to think about it, Trowa knew perfectly well how his presence was specifically inconveniencing his friends.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have let you know when I left.”

At this Duo seemed to relent even from the irritation he didn’t want to show in the first place. “Oh, it’s no problem. What have you been up to?”

“I’ve bought a house,” Trowa replied.

Looking surprised, Heero turned from cleaning the front of a kitchen cabinet with one of the Clorox wipes left over from dealing with Trowa’s smoke-damaged furniture. “Actually bought a house?”

Trowa nodded. “It’s in High Palms. I think it should work.”

“But you actually bought it?” Heero reiterated. “Or you’re in the process?”

“No, it’s bought and paid for,” Trowa confirmed.

Apparently Heero wasn’t sure what to say.

“Is that weird?” Duo wondered.

“You were never with anyone who was buying a new house?” Heero returned.

“Maybe a couple of times, but I wasn’t exactly involved in the process.”

“And you weren’t around here in time to hear Relena and Colin complaining about it. It usually takes months.” Heero gave Trowa a wry smile. “When you said the other day that you needed to get things done, you weren’t joking.”

Trowa returned the smile. “It turns out that, if you’ve been burned out of your house and you can pay cash for a new one, it speeds up the process remarkably.”

“So you’re allowed to move in right away?” Trowa didn’t think he was imagining the trace of hope in Duo’s voice. He also didn’t blame him for it.

“Yes. There’s some inspection that needs to take place, but because I’m out of a home right now…” Trowa held up a collection of keys on a small, cheap ring.

Heero stared at them. “And it’s a Saturday,” he said in a marveling tone.

“I probably should have waited instead of making my real estate agent work on the weekend.” Trowa gave a little shrug. “But getting something done like this made me feel better — and I believe she’s happy for the commission in any case.”

“What is all this about getting things done?” Heero, having turned back to his work, was lifting items off the counter — first the toaster, then the bread box — in order to clean beneath them, and asked this question in a carefully casual tone.

Trowa found he rather wanted to answer, to explain himself, to try to connect with his friends on this topic, in the hopes of diminishing some of the aloneness he’d been increasingly weighed down with lately. This was an odd sensation in light of his history (and with perhaps some irony attached when he was cohabitating for the first time in almost a century) — it seemed impossible that he should have become so accustomed to togetherness, to companionship, over the last five months that when some shadow of the aloneness of the preceding 87 years returned it made for a startling and unpleasant contrast. To share his resolution, he believed, would lessen that cold feeling of solitude. Moreover, he understood that personal goals were often better adhered to when you had even the impression of someone holding you accountable.

He looked at his friends in turn, though his eyes moved rapidly over Duo, whose cleaning efforts were much more random and evidently much less effective than those of the industrious Heero, and lingered on the latter. And for an instant — it was an almost automatic response — he shied from the idea of sharing something so personal with Heero.

It was only an instant, though: the thought of how supportive Heero had been lately, with so little reproof on any score, and the recollection of his admonition last night in an almost Quatre-like tone that Trowa should get some sleep… these weren’t even really necessary; they merely formed a capstone on a structure Trowa was a little surprised to find already solid: the awareness that he did trust Heero, even with something so personal. This realization already contributed significantly to the easing of his negative feelings.

As such, he addressed Heero more than Duo as he next spoke. That was only natural, since Heero had asked the question and Trowa’s ability to confide in Duo had never been uncertain, but still it might be somewhat novel. “If you remember, the morning after Quatre destroyed the artifact, when I came to talk to you two, you asked me why I was here, and said I was underreacting. You were right. I’ve developed a bad habit of hesitating… of being passive about things… of not taking charge of situations I should be doing something about. I don’t know if it’s because I was focused on the curse so exclusively for so long that now I have a hard time focusing on anything else, or some other reason… maybe it’s just the way I am… but it has to change. I have to be better at doing what I can without holding back.”

A brief silence and stillness followed this revelation. Trowa’s gaze had left Heero and fixed on the refrigerator as the least threatening place it could possibly rest, but he could tell that the other movement in the kitchen had stopped just for a moment. Then the corner of his eye informed him that Heero had resumed cleaning as if his pause had been perfectly natural. Simultaneously, Duo had come to lean against the counter where Trowa stood and bump one of his shoulders against one of Trowa’s in a friendly and reassuring fashion.

“Sounds like a good plan,” he said in a casual tone with an underlying seriousness to it. “I mean, it seems to me like you’re always busy doing something, but if you feel like you could be doing even better…” He shrugged, then grew more somber. “And actually I think you’re not the only one who’s thinking something like that.” Though Duo went on immediately to explain what he meant, Trowa didn’t properly hear, for at that moment he was very thoroughly distracted from the verbal conversation.

Communion magic was a secondary skill for Trowa, and as such the telepathic communications of others, on the rare occasions when actual communicators saw fit to contact him mentally, came across quietly and often rather vaguely. Physical proximity made a significant difference, however, and there was no way he could ignore the arrival in his head of a foreign thought — or, rather, a bundle of thoughts, like a solid little package of interconnected ideas and emotions wrapped up neatly and sent directly at him from so close by that they were all relatively clear and comprehensible:

Heero couldn’t deny that he’d meant it when he’d said Trowa was underreacting, or that he’d originally blamed Trowa for Quatre’s condition. He still thought Trowa had been underreacting that first day, but he’d completely forgiven him for that — fully admitting that, in these circumstances, not being the one wronged, he wasn’t really in any position to offer forgiveness. And he’d ceased to blame Trowa for the bad situation with Quatre. Trowa hadn’t known this would happen… and if he had taken it upon himself to destroy the artifact — which, though he probably should have done, he couldn’t really be faulted for not doing — then he might be the angry one now, and his friends in an even worse position as far as enacting a cure.

Heero thought Trowa’s resolution to be more proactive was an admirable one; he was impressed that Trowa had made it and started working on it so sincerely, especially without Quatre’s influence. At the same time, Heero was chagrined by the thought that his disapprobation might have made Trowa think worse of himself. Of course Trowa had areas in which he needed to improve — they all did — but it was abhorrent to Heero that Trowa might feel one of his had been thrown into his face by a supposed friend. It might not always have been the case — at least not 100% — but Heero approved of Trowa, and wanted him to know that they were allies in the situation with Quatre as in many other things. Yes, he’d meant what he’d said, but it hadn’t been intended as a stab at Trowa’s character. As if they hadn’t all been getting enough of that from Quatre lately.

Whether Heero had sent all of this mentally because he was embarrassed about saying it aloud, was embarrassed about saying it aloud in front of Duo, felt himself incapable of articulating it at all, or perhaps merely because it was such a numerous list of thoughts that he’d believed could be more quickly and easily conveyed like this, Trowa didn’t know. In any case, it overrode Duo, seized Trowa’s full attention, and resonated with him so strongly that he had to consider himself shaken. Just when he’d been thinking that he really did trust Heero, this was the perfect response, exactly what he needed. They were allies. They really were. They were friends that could be honest with each other, sharing the unpleasant along with the comforting, even about personal and somewhat troubling topics. It was a warmth and a joy and an unexpected relief to Trowa all at once.

“I’m sorry, Duo,” he said, interrupting with a raised hand whatever Duo had been saying. “I’m sorry, but can you wait just a moment?” And as Duo fell silent with a curious expression, Trowa turned away. Heero’s back was to him as he went on doggedly cleaning the kitchen — though Trowa was fairly certain it was a portion of the kitchen he’d already seen to — but Trowa addressed him anyway. “It wasn’t only what you said, Heero. It seems like everyone I’ve talked to lately has said something, and it’s all combined to help me realize this. It’s been more like the entire world reaching out to help me than anybody accusing me of anything.”

The gesture Duo gave at this, though Trowa didn’t see it clearly from this angle, conveyed even greater curiosity and now some confusion. Heero, however, did not turn from his work (increasingly pointless as it seemed with each moment that passed), just said somewhat gruffly, “OK, good.”

Trowa didn’t think there was anything more to offer on the subject, but still he lingered mentally. He wanted to give some indication of his appreciation of this display of solidarity between himself and Heero — without, preferably, embarrassing Heero. Struck with inspiration after a prolonged and somewhat awkward silence, he moved to where the container of Clorox wipes stood at the end of the counter and took one. Almost blindly he began rubbing at the stove, which was already gleaming from Heero’s prior attentions.

Duo cleared his throat. “Sooo…” He sounded curious yet, but his new tone was tinged with growing understanding — or at least hypothesis — that suggested Heero would probably be teased or confronted or grilled about this later.

Hoping he hadn’t set Heero up for an uncomfortable conversation, “Yes, sorry, Duo,” Trowa said. “What were you saying?”

And that Duo had recognized at the very least that Trowa hadn’t heard any of his story the first time was implied by his seeming to restart from the beginning: “Quatre’s dad called this morning…”

This landscaping could use some work, Heero thought. The grass had recently been cut, in the interest of selling the place, but the line of bushes separating the driveway from the lawn was straggling a bit and possibly not a good choice for that spot to begin with. It was all the generic type of outdoor design you got on a new property, progressed far enough that he judged the house had been built four or five years ago and the previous owners hadn’t given much consideration to the layout of their yard. Of course he was far from an expert, but he had his opinions.

They’d come by car rather than magic for a few reasons: first, to get to know the mundane route between Heero’s apartment and Trowa’s new house; second, so they could form an impression of the place properly, from the outside in; and third, because they had already brought a load of stuff — smaller things that would fit in Heero’s trunk and back seat — even on this first visit.

It was, Heero had to admit, exciting to look at the empty residence Trowa was free to alter as he chose, and consider what Heero might do with it if the choice had been his. His imagination couldn’t help wandering off to the idea of him and Duo buying a house together. That was nothing they needed right now, but daydreaming about it made Heero understand Trowa’s persistence on Wednesday when he’d been thinking so fixedly (and texting so interminably) about aspects of the new home he’d like to share with the man he loved.

They’d made plans yesterday to spend as much of Sunday as was necessary getting Trowa moved, and it hadn’t been merely the aforementioned excitement about a new house driving that conversation. Trowa’s eagerness to get back into a place of his own was poignantly obvious, and of course Heero and Duo had their own reasons to want their friend transplanted and their privacy restored.

It amused Heero to see that Trowa didn’t bother to pull out the keys he’d obtained yesterday at the expense of half his real estate agent’s weekend; as they approached the tan door in the beige brick, he spoke a quiet unlocking spell as casually as if that were the most natural way of getting in. Then he stepped inside and gestured his friends to follow and begin the tour.

A large entry or front room stretched all the way up to a twenty-foot ceiling, overlooked by a flight of stairs and the second-floor hallway balcony it led to. Tall windows in two walls made the space bright and warm, but Heero had to think it a bit excessive, even ostentatious, until Trowa, with a gesture at the openness above and around them, remarked, “Good acoustics in here.” Then Heero imagined a grand piano taking up a third of the room, with Quatre seated at its bench, and nodded.

Of course plans to come see this place had only been made after discussing the phone call from Mr. Winner and how his contacting the police might complicate things. The mood of that conversation had been bizarrely eclectic, what with lingering awkward camaraderie between Trowa and Heero that neither was sure how or even whether to express, concern about Quatre and where he might be and how they could go about getting him to emerge and be exorcised, worry and even some irritation regarding the potential police involvement, and Duo’s amusement in inventing stories for any cop that came around to question them about their missing friend.

None of Heero’s ideas on the latter subject had made the cut, and Trowa had contributed very little, but Duo’s energy and inventiveness had served to provide answers to any queries the law might have in the course of a missing persons investigation. Even Trowa had been entertained by some of the more outlandish of the excuses Duo had suggested, and they’d all been surprisingly cheerful at that point.

The same attitude, though a little precarious, remained as they looked over the lower floor of Trowa’s new house. “A long corner sofa there,” he said, pointing along both walls of the living room, “with a few matching chairs facing in around a coffee table for…” Vaguely he finished, “…board games or… that kind of thing…” in a tone that indicated he really had no idea what people did with comfortable couches and coffee tables in living rooms, but was determined to achieve the effect nonetheless.

“Quatre will help with that,” Duo reassured with a grin.

Trowa smiled faintly, and gestured them on into the kitchen. “Heero, does this meet your approval?”

Even in dimness, Heero was already nodding before Trowa found a light switch. It wasn’t granite countertops or anything, but a lovely, commodious kitchen nonetheless, with plenty of room for some friend that happened to love cooking to come over and experiment. There was even space for a small table for casual meals, as Heero had suggested; evidently Trowa had taken him seriously about finding that in addition to a separate dining room — which was what they looked at next.

Yesterday’s discussion of the local police had inevitably led to some questions about Trowa’s current relationship with the police in his previous hometown. Naturally it had been good news that, though a few more conversations with both them and his insurance company had been required, there had yet to be any suggestion that his old house hadn’t really burned because of wiring from the 40’s… but some discomfort remained in the lack of full understanding of that situation. Trowa still didn’t know whether the moon cult representative that had brainwashed everyone had done so thoroughly enough that he would never face any further trouble relating to the arson, or whether things over there were teetering on the edge of severe inconvenience and possible legal ramifications.

And this, of course, had finally led them back around to discussion of Trowa’s new house and what needed to be done for him to inhabit it.

“I envision this as an office,” he said of a sunny upstairs room that looked out over the deck and the plain expanse of grass that formed the back yard. “And this as a spare room,” he added with a gesture to the next empty chamber.

They came to a halt just inside the master bedroom, the last stop on the tour, observing its pleasant corner windows and broad space as well as the touch of a frown on Trowa’s face. This latter, though certainly not like it had been under the influence of the curse, was still fairly pale, so even a very faint blush showed up clearly. In response to the one there now, Heero guessed his friend was specifically wondering whether or not he would be sharing this bedroom.

This guess was echoed in Duo’s head. Instead of bringing it up directly, however, Duo declared, “I love your new house! It’s gorgeous!” He really did want to keep Trowa from melancholy, but he was also a little distracted thinking that he might like to live in such a place. Remembering helping Relena paint the one she’d moved into back in June, he was considering how fun it would be to decide where to put things and how to decorate in a new home. Heero might have been somewhat concerned at these thoughts, except that they didn’t seem to arise from any serious desire and were unaccompanied by any discontentment.

“It is really nice,” Heero agreed. “Seems like a good choice.” Pointedly he added, “I think Quatre will like it.”

Trowa nodded his thanks with a slight smile. “We’ll see.” And Heero didn’t need to hear his thoughts to know what went through his head: he wished Quatre were here right now, that Quatre could have been the first person Trowa had shown around this place, rather than friends that, while certainly close, were not as close or directly concerned.

“So let’s go grab stuff so you can decide where to put it!” Duo added enthusiastically. Again Trowa nodded, the cheer in his expression more pronounced this time, and they all headed out of the master bedroom and down the stairs toward the front door.

Quatre would like this neighborhood, Heero reflected several minutes later as he returned to the open rear of his car for another set of things to bring inside; he’d already caught sight of four or five people walking dogs or jogging past. Now, a man across the street smiled as Heero glanced over at him, and Heero gave him a polite nod. Admittedly this particular guy, suited and sunglassed, looked like an FBI agent more than a friendly neighbor, but the point remained that there were a lot of people around that Quatre would love meeting and making friends with. If only he could be gotten here in a frame of mind appropriate to start that process.

After they had this small load unpacked, they would go back to Heero’s apartment, where Relena and Colin were to meet them with a borrowed pickup and they could begin the tricky task of negotiating Trowa’s larger pieces of remaining furniture (mostly bookshelves) down the apartment halls and stairs so they could be brought to the new house. Conceivably, Trowa could teleport the smaller things, but not only would it exhaust him to be jumping back and forth all day, it seemed to his friends like a more proper move if done the traditional way.

Heero hadn’t mentioned that he’d given Relena a shopping list of essential items Trowa would need — such as an air mattress, toilet paper, a couple of cheap lamps, and some non-perishable food to stock his new kitchen — for which he would pay her back later. Trowa probably hadn’t considered what he would sleep on here, or what to do in the event he needed to use one of his nice new bathrooms.

Of course Trowa might not be doing anything nearly so human any time soon. He’d mentioned that he intended to outfit one of the upstairs rooms (at least temporarily) for divination, explaining that having a space specifically set aside for a magical purpose tended to strengthen that particular magic, and hoping that he might be better able to find Quatre thus. Some candles that hadn’t been destroyed in his old house were already up there, in fact, having been part of the first load to come over.

So it was entirely possible that, happy as he might be to have a new home of his own, Trowa wouldn’t really be conscious of much of it for the next few days. Heero was already pondering how best to go about advising moderation in magical activities and a healthy amount of sleep. Quatre would probably emerge eventually, and his mood wasn’t likely to be improved if he found that his boyfriend had worked himself mostly to death trying to locate him earlier.

Heero knew that in this he would be behaving very much like that same Quatre, but at the moment they all needed some reminders of the better of Quatre’s personal characteristics. At the very least, he would be doing his part, alongside Duo, to keep Trowa relatively cheerful while they went about the rest of the weekend’s work.

Later this same day, elsewhere in the city…

“And as they’re all watching in horror, the unfortunate woman begins pounding her head against the wall, until they rush to stop her.”

Duo was sure Heero already regretted having brought leftover lasagna for lunch; it necessitated their presence in the breakroom to make use of the microwaves before they could head out to the privacy of his car. Which meant having to put up with co-workers for three minutes and twenty-five seconds at least. Duo, of course, was secretly pleased (not that it was a secret from Heero), as he cherished every moment he got to spend with a certain one of them.

“Wufei,” he said, “you have such a good memory for movie scenes. That one reminds me of an episode of that one show — what was it called? The one about the robots that were magical, and the mental breakdown the one guy had spread to the other robots like a virus, and had all these magical consequences?”

Neither the compliment, even with its admiring tone, nor the description of the episode could distract Wufei — though Duo thought he did catch a spark of interest about the robots. Wufei was like one of those beetles that doggedly resumed its precise direction of travel even after having been flicked several feet off course across the sidewalk and onto its back. Now he said, leading and unsubtle, “People are capable of such mental breakdowns, you know. Not with magical ramifications, of course, but to the extent where their normal functions are inhibited.”

This was the latest rumor about Quatre: that his nerves had snapped, preventing him from coming to work. And because this supposed breakdown might have something to do with his split with Heero (which had been upgraded to ‘traumatic’ to fit the circumstance), no one dared approach Heero or Duo about it directly. The level of gossip had intensified madly, though, and even what Duo didn’t overhear, Heero picked up on mentally and relayed to him.

And now Wufei, who thought he was clever, was trying to make himself a hero in the eyes of the sales team by winkling out the truth so he could whisper it to everyone else as soon as Heero and Duo had left the room.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Duo said, ignoring the obvious bait and offering some of his own, “I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for someone’s mental breakdown to have magical ramifications. I mean, nobody’s ever proved magic doesn’t exist, have they?”

This one came so close to derailing Wufei’s attempt at getting information about Quatre that Duo could probably guess the exact wording of his eager reply on the subject of whether or not magic existed. But with an evident effort, Wufei said instead, “That’s true, but the much more mundane results of someone’s mental breakdown would be evident much sooner.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Like the first thing that happened in the robot show was that the one robot couldn’t do his usual routine that kept the power running to his docking-station-house-thing.”

Again Wufei looked as if he might be interested in the robot show, but again he didn’t ask. Evidently seeing that his attempt had failed, he said, “Are you aware that I’m being considered as your partner trainer?”

Now Duo was the one derailed. What Wufei thought to gain by this rather irrelevant interjection he didn’t know, but he was surprised and tickled by the news. “Are you?”

Wufei seemed pleased by Duo’s enthusiasm. “That’s correct,” he said. “Of course Dorothy hasn’t made the final decision yet, and at the moment she isn’t receiving any input on the subject from a higher authority.”

Ah, so that was it: allusions to Quatre and the implication that Duo and Wufei, possibly destined to work closely together, should be ready to confide in each other. Duo didn’t care; he was just happy at the prospect of a lot more daily messing-with-Wufei time.

Heero broke into the conversation at this moment by pressing a hot Tupperware container against Duo’s arm and making him jump. After the laughter that resulted from this, a couple of related comments — one of them silent, intended only for Heero, about how good it was to be able to feel a hot Tupperware — and a brief goodbye to the disappointed Wufei, they left the breakroom and headed down the hall.

“How much time do you think he spends looking up those nerdy-sounding shows and movies you keep making up?” Heero wondered quietly once they were a safe distance away.

Because he’d already asked, Duo knew that Heero didn’t pick anything up from Wufei mentally and therefore didn’t know the answer to this question. “I like to think a lot,” he said smugly. “Convenient how I can never remember the titles, isn’t it? And isn’t it totally nice of me to give him something to entertain himself with?”

“If it distracts him even a little from trying to dig up dirt about Quatre,” Heero muttered, “I won’t complain.”

“Is Dorothy really considering him?”

“Yes.” Heero’s tone hadn’t brightened much. “I think she thinks it’ll be funny.”

“It will!” Duo laughed. “We’ll be like Pinky and the Brain!”

“I’m not even going to ask which of you you’re casting as which of them.”

Duo paused. “That’s good, because I’m not sure myself. Anyway, I feel like he won’t actually be too bad of a trainer even if he is… Wufei.”

“Wufei has the best numbers on the team,” was Heero’s grudging admission. “And if you can get over the way he is, he really is a very good partner trainer. I’m sure Dorothy’s considering him because she wants to see how much social havoc it’ll cause, but besides that it’s because she can see you’re going to be good enough to deserve the best.”

Extremely pleased at this, Duo smiled broadly. “And who else is being considered for deserves-the-best Duo?”

“That would be me.” Out of nowhere as they walked away from the elevators, Catharine fell into step beside them with a smile of her own. “I’m sorry for overhearing and butting in, but I am relevant.”

“Catharine is second place in sales performance,” Heero offered, reiterating the point that Dorothy was seeking the best possible training for Duo.

“I have to choose between Nerdfei and Trowa’s hot cousin?” Duo demanded, delighted.

Heero stifled a laugh. “Please don’t ever call him that again at the office.”

“And it probably won’t be much of a choice.” Catharine seemed to be repressing her own amusement at Duo’s nickname for their co-worker, but she often had such a playful demeanor even when discussing serious subjects that it was a little difficult to tell. “I’m supposedly working on a sales protocol project with Quatre right now. He’s barely been responding to my emails lately, our projected completion date’s been moved out twice, and now the entire thing is on hold, which is why Dorothy’s considering me for you at all… but I may not have time for partner training.”

Sobering a bit, Duo nodded his understanding.

“Listen,” she said, all playfulness dropping from her lowered voice, “I’ll completely understand if you can’t answer, and I’m sorry to ask in the first place — but do you guys know where Quatre is and when he’ll be back?”

The straightforward question, presented only once she had established a legitimate reason to want to know and an apparent concern for the subject, formed an interesting contrast to Wufei’s underhanded gossipy curiosity. Nevertheless, Duo allowed Heero the decision whether or not to answer.

Heero waited until they were out the front doors, past the prying ears of the security guard, to respond, and Duo wondered what he was reading in Catharine’s mind that caused his somewhat surprising frankness: “The last anyone’s heard from him was an email to his dad saying he was going on vacation — but not where or for how long. We think he’s hiding from his own bad mood.”

“I see,” she said, pulling car keys from her purse with a slight frown as they all started into the parking lot. “Thanks.” After a moment she added, “And how is Trowa?”

“Not fabulous,” Duo replied. Immediately he amended the statement. “I mean, Trowa’s always fabulous, of course, but he’s not exactly happy right now.” Skipping most of the detail he finished, “He’s really worried about Quatre.”

“Well, you can tell him his hot cousin says, ‘Hang in there,'” Catharine advised, a touch of playfulness having returned to her tone atop an underlying authoritativeness, “and that he can call me if he ever wants to talk. He has my number.” She’d stopped walking and turned slightly, indicating that her destination lay in a different direction from theirs.

Duo halted beside her. In response to her friendly concern and offer of support, he was inclined to give her a huge hug, but figured that, in this work setting, he’d better restrain himself. In lieu of that he said, “Yooooouuuu are invited to my party.”

“Are you having a party?”

“Eventually. Sometime. When everything’s happy again. And you are totally invited, so don’t forget!”

Seeming amused by his earnestness, she chuckled, “I won’t!” She transferred her smile to Heero, who had progressed a pace past them and turned back to witness the final exchange in silence. “You guys have a good lunch.”

“You too!” Duo said, and turned to join Heero walking toward his car as Catharine waved them away with a friendly hand.

The last thing Trowa said before he cast his spell, under his breath and apostrophically, was, “I’m sorry about this.” Then he murmured the words that would take him where he needed to go, and fell silent as he went there.

Aside from doing something he didn’t feel entirely right about, he was taking a risk here. Though he used a teleportation spell that had a built-in clause against appearing (to great personal detriment) in the same space as some object, there was no guarantee that the room would be devoid of people — and in this case, unless by some phenomenal good luck it turned out to be Quatre, anyone that happened to be there would undoubtedly be startled and astonished, might well run and/or scream, and would certainly require quite a bit of explanation.

Quatre’s bedroom resembled his office last Friday — forlornly dark and empty, door closed. Trowa stood still for a few moments, listening. There was noise outside, rather distressingly close: a couple of people were talking on the landing, and, though Trowa couldn’t specifically identify the voices, they were familiar enough in this setting. They didn’t seem to be discussing anything that might lead them to enter Quatre’s room, but Trowa still stood poised to jump back out again should the sounds approach the door. But in fact they faded into the hallway across from it.

He let out a quiet breath and moved slowly toward the door himself. This old house had creaking floorboards, and it wouldn’t do to give away his presence by carelessness so that some member of Quatre’s family thought the wayward son had returned and came running in to see him. Beside the door, he listened for a moment longer, then murmured a spell. Once magically protected against detection from without, he flipped the light switch and turned to face the room.

The difference in the latter since the last time Trowa had been here was startling. The bulletin board that had previously displayed a number of happy photographs now stood on the floor leaning against the wall as if it had fallen down — or perhaps been knocked down — and Quatre just hadn’t felt equal to rehanging it. The photos were like the board in miniature; it looked as if some overly vigorous movement had ripped many of them off their push-pins, and then they’d all been, instead of put back with Quatre’s usual neatness, stacked and tucked into the corner of the board.

The bookshelf was in similar condition; the books had evidently been knocked off of it and then hastily replaced in a vertical stack that did not represent their previous organization. Even sadder than the books, the model cars on the other shelves all appeared to be damaged. Though they’d been returned to their places, it looked as if they’d been swept off prior to that or even thrown, and the pieces that had broken from each had been only carelessly tossed onto the shelves beside the cars rather than arranged with any care or repaired.

For the first time Trowa had ever seen when he wasn’t currently occupying it, Quatre’s bed was unmade, and one of the pillows lay, limp and lonely, on the floor. Beside it, a line of clothes was scattered from the open closet door all the way to the opposite wall.

No wonder Quatre had fled this place. This room should have been his sanctuary, his escape from a world that wasn’t doing much for his frame of mind… but through that very frame of mind, in breaking down the organization he valued so highly and damaging the comforting items around him, Quatre had turned even his own private space into something that must actually have agitated him more. It only made sense, at that point, to go somewhere else. But where had he gone? This was what Trowa had come to investigate.

He had turned the computer on as he’d looked around, and now he sat down at the desk. The roll-out shelf that held the keyboard and mouse was stuck, and took some wrangling to bring out; it felt a bit as if someone had pounded on it and twisted the metal track a little out of shape. Trowa was glad he had added a sound clause to his spell at the door, because, as quiet as he tried to be, this took some considerable rattling.

The mouse barely worked; perhaps it had been the primary target of the slamming. It required a combination of computer accessories, with emphasis on the keyboard, to get into Firefox and direct it toward the email service Quatre used for personal correspondence. He entered Quatre’s login information, thinking apologies at his absent lover again as he initiated this further violation of privacy.

He was looking for clues as to where Quatre might be, and, given that he was probably the only person that knew Quatre’s email password, he might be the only person that could look in this particular direction. He wanted to see the infamous email Quatre’s father didn’t think Quatre had really written. He wanted to see if Quatre had contacted anyone else about this supposed vacation of his, had said anything to anyone that might indicate where he’d gone. He wanted, he had to admit, to connect with Quatre again, even if it was only a shadow of their real connection and being carried out in a hopeless and underhanded way.

Given that Quatre, as long as he had his phone, could still access this account, it was possible he’d already erased anything that might provide Trowa with any useful information… but Trowa thought it worth checking even so. And there was a faint chance that, in any case, this would make him feel a little better.

The inbox was full; actually, it rather resembled Trowa’s at the moment, with many new items, several replies, and, below that, a long list of messages already read but not yet dealt with. Normally, Trowa knew, Quatre liked to keep his inbox empty by replying as things arrived; he’d even teasingly lamented the state of Trowa’s in the past when he’d seen it. But at the moment it was no surprise that he’d received many more emails lately than he’d had the patience to do anything about.

At a glance, Trowa counted at least four unread messages from Heero. Even Duo (display name ‘The Great And Singular Maxwell’) had tried to raise a response from Quatre once. All of these Trowa skipped, and clicked instead on the email from Bernard Winner whose subject line was Re:Vacation. He scrolled down (or, rather, arrowed down, since the mouse suddenly wasn’t working again) past Mr. Winner’s worried queries to the quoted original message.

It was startlingly brief, rivaling anything Trowa at his most laconic could have written: I am on vacation starting now. I won’t be at home or at work.

Trowa shook his head. With so few words, and knowing how Quatre had been in recent days, he couldn’t judge, as Mr. Winner had, whether or not Quatre himself had written this. He moved back out into the inbox and glanced down the list again. When nothing looked promising, he clicked on the sent mail folder.

After only another half second of visual scanning, he stiffened in his seat and blinked several times. His first thought was that he must be imagining things; he couldn’t be seeing right. His mind already raced with the possibilities implied by this information. He’d come looking for clues, and he’d found one, but it pointed in an unexpected and unpleasant direction.

The name of the recipient of the last email Quatre had sent prior to the ‘Vacation’ notification to his father was Vallis Rheita.

As soon as Trowa could get to it — the mouse refused to cooperate again, so he was forced to tab around — he hastened to try to find out what Quatre had been doing emailing La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré. Not that Trowa couldn’t already guess; he’d heard the way Quatre had sounded last week when he’d asked about ‘that French cult.’ And it was no surprise to find that, just as Trowa happened to know Quatre’s email password, Quatre should know Trowa’s as well in order to get at the address of the person that had written about the arson.

The message was, for some reason, in French — perhaps Quatre had believed this would add a personalized touch — and Trowa worked in impatient haste to copy it so he could paste it, in another window, into Google’s translator. Then he attempted tensely to make sense of what he could now read:

This is Quatre Winner , Trowa boyfriend Barton. How dare you send this email you ? It is a part of your organization hit against him in this way is absolutely unacceptable , and one e -mail is not enough reward. I’ll tell you that it was I who destroyed the artifact you call the artifact Rousell , so your reactionary faction acted against Trowa for any reason whatsoever. His house was destroyed and his life is affected for any reason whatsoever, and all you can say is that it was not your intention? If your management skills are so poor that you can not prevent those under your command to do such dangerous and destructive things for no reason , I do not have to worry about any threat to you in the future : your incompetence is sure to destroy your organization before long. Before that, however , you must Trowa , you claim to revere him a much more meaningful and rewarding to practice .

He had assumed — he and Heero and Duo had all assumed, despite what Mr. Winner might think — that Quatre had gone into hiding trying to avoid everyone and his own behavior, but the contents and timing of this email strongly suggested otherwise. Quatre had told them that he’d been the one to destroy the artifact. Quatre had told them he was Trowa’s boyfriend. Quatre had practically invited retribution, even while demanding recompense. And if La Confrérie was keeping an eye on Trowa, it wasn’t impossible that, with this information, they now knew where the power from their precious artifact had gone. And what had they done then??

The panic sprang up so acutely that Trowa actually stuttered as he spoke a nearly unthinking divination. “Is Quatre alive?

The sense he immediately received in response, not quite a vision but a clear and distinct feeling of Quatre as Trowa knew him (plus a hot, angry sensation that felt very much like the familiar energy from the artifact), made him shudder and his eyes prickle with tears.

His voice was even more unsteady than before, if a little less intense, as he asked, “Where is Quatre?” But to this there was no answer. No more was there to, “Is Quatre with La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré?”

A certain muffled feeling sometimes came in place of an answer to divinatory questions, and it was difficult even for Trowa to tell the difference between not having enough information or needing to alter the wording of the question and something blocking divination. Possibly a third problem in this instance was his not having a clear idea how to pronounce ‘La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré.’ In any case, though he would certainly try further divination when he got home, at the moment it probably wasn’t going to get him anywhere. Quatre was alive, and didn’t seem to be in any worse a state than lately, and that, at least, was enough to get started with.

Purposefully (and somewhat painstakingly), Trowa opened a new window and signed into his own email. He didn’t even glance at his inbox; at present he didn’t care what might be in it. He started a new message and set it to CC to every single magical contact he had. It didn’t matter what they might think of him. It didn’t matter what they’d thought of him all along. This was about Quatre.

Have you heard of La Confrerie de la Lune Revere? They existed in France in the 1700’s; the latest record I’ve come across is dated 1785. But it seems they may have migrated, and now have a presence in the U.S.. If you know anything about them, especially where they might be, please let me know as soon as possible. This is extremely important, and I would appreciate it if you would ask around to anyone else who might know.

Without taking even an instant that might allow him to rethink this, he sent the email. Then he sat back in Quatre’s chair, let out a long breath, and found he was still trembling slightly.

Quatre was alive. The sense of him had even seemed (relatively speaking) all right. Trowa had to keep telling himself this, and trying to refrain from replying to himself that if La Confrérie had done something to Quatre, ‘action against you’ would not be sufficient to describe what would happen; ‘arson’ wouldn’t even begin to cover it. Someone would regret daring to touch the lover of the most practiced command magician in the country.

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.


  1. Sharon

    I hope Duo won’t be too mad next time he talks with Trowa. I know he’ll do his best not to sound frustrated, but it can’t be easy. The sad thing is it would probably help both Duo’s and Heero’s stress levels right now. That’s assuming that they could put everything that’s been happening on the back burner long enough to enjoy being with each other. Stress has a way of interfering with lovemaking, sometimes.

    • kuroiyousei

      I’m just glad Duo isn’t getting annoyed at Heero for his shyness and embarrassment. After all, as Duo pointed out before, it’s not like Trowa doesn’t know, and people manage this roommate problem all the time… but Heero is Heero, and, as he pointed out, Duo is loud. But they’re racking up karma points for this, believe you me! They will have nice times in future. Eventually.

  2. Sharon

    That was a very nice bonding moment between Heero and Trowa. Heero’s new talent has been so useful. I imagine it’s a great timesaver to send an entire conversation by thought. Heero is definitely going to be explaining things to Duo later. But first, they have some catching up to do. ;-)

    • kuroiyousei

      Yeah, I would love to be able to package up a full set of thoughts and send it all at once; it would save so much time writing out a long email and trying to express myself accurately XD And, yes, Duo and Heero have a week of privation to make up for. I think that, if Trowa had stayed long-term, Heero would eventually have given in… but now we’ll never know, heh. Thanks for your comments, as always, and please accept my repeated good wishes for your cat.

  3. Sharon

    Heero and Duo really are good friends to Trowa. Anyone who helps a person move is pretty awesome. I applaud Trowa for being able to move successfully without thoughts of Quatre driving him crazy. I don’t think I’d be able to keep him out of my thoughts long enough to accomplish everything.

    • kuroiyousei

      Yeah, moving is not a lot of fun… but, of course, as mentioned, Heero and Duo have a pretty driving reason to want to help Trowa out of their home XD And this may assist in wanting to keep him distracted, as much as they can, from the Quatre issue, too. Not that that is likely to last long; you can probably guess what’s on Trowa’s mind the instant they’re not there.

  4. Sharon

    I hope we see a lot more of Catherine. I’m liking her a lot. That said, I totally want Wufei to be Duo’s partner trainer. They really would be Pinky and the Brain. *smirk* Besides, I want to know if Wufei ever figures out that he’s being messed with.

    • kuroiyousei

      I do have plans for Cathy, some vague and some quite specific. I also have plans for Wufei and his messed-with-ness, and these are a bit more certain. I have far too many HoH plans in general, really; the whole damn world has exploded in my head and I’m tripping over my own feet trying to write down just the summaries of all these ideas XD

  5. Sharon

    Silly as it is, I’m happy to see that Quatre prefers Firefox (as do I). I think Quatre and I are kindred spirits. I like an empty Inbox, too.

    Quatre sure knows the best way to put himself in danger. Of all the things to say, identifying himself as Trowa’s boyfriend and admitting he destroyed the artifact seem like the worst possible choices. At least Trowa will have an idea where to look for Quatre. That’s assuming he gets some useful replies.

    • kuroiyousei

      I use Opera myself, but Firefox is certainly not a bad option :D

      And, yes, angry Quatre was definitely a little reckless with that email. Will it prove to have had dangerous consequences? We shall see.

      Thanks for your comments, as always!


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